Davis' Short Stories Vol. 3 HTML version

Peace Manoeuvres
The scout stood where three roads cut three green tunnels in the pine woods, and met at
his feet. Above his head an aged sign-post pointed impartially to East Carver, South
Carver, and Carver Centre, and left the choice to him.
The scout scowled and bit nervously at his gauntlet. The choice was difficult, and there
was no one with whom he could take counsel. The three sun-shot roads lay empty, and
the other scouts, who, with him, had left the main column at sunrise, he had ordered back.
They were to report that on the right flank, so far, at least, as Middleboro, there was no
sign of the enemy. What lay beyond, it now was his duty to discover. The three empty
roads spread before him like a picture puzzle, smiling at his predicament. Whichever one
he followed left two unguarded. Should he creep upon for choice Carver Centre, the
enemy, masked by a mile of fir trees, might advance from Carver or South Carver, and
obviously he could not follow three roads at the same time. He considered the better
strategy would be to wait where he was, where the three roads met, and allow the enemy
himself to disclose his position. To the scout this course was most distasteful. He assured
himself that this was so because, while it were the safer course, it wasted time and lacked
initiative. But in his heart he knew that was not the reason, and to his heart his head
answered that when one's country is at war, when fields and fire-sides are trampled by the
iron heels of the invader, a scout should act not according to the dictates of his heart, but
in the service of his native land. In the case of this particular patriot, the man and scout
were at odds. As one of the Bicycle Squad of the Boston Corps of Cadets, the scout knew
what, at this momentous crisis in her history, the commonwealth of Massachusetts
demanded of him. It was that he sit tight and wait for the hated foreigners from New
York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut to show themselves. But the man knew, and had
known for several years, that on the road to Carver was the summer home of one Beatrice
Farrar. As Private Lathrop it was no part of his duty to know that. As a man and a lover,
and a rejected lover at that, he could not think of anything else. Struggling between love
and duty the scout basely decided to leave the momentous question to chance. In the front
tire of his bicycle was a puncture, temporarily effaced by a plug. Laying the bicycle on
the ground, Lathrop spun the front wheel swiftly.
"If," he decided, "the wheel stops with the puncture pointing at Carver Centre, I'll
advance upon Carver Centre. Should it point to either of the two other villages, I'll stop
"It's a two to one shot against me, any way," he growled.
Kneeling in the road he spun the wheel, and as intently as at Monte Carlo and Palm
Beach he had waited for other wheels to determine his fortune, he watched it come to
rest. It stopped with the plug pointing back to Middleboro.
The scout told himself he was entitled to another trial. Again he spun the wheel. Again
the spokes flashed in the sun. Again the puncture rested on the road to Middleboro.