XXIII. The White Flag
 

Unhappy Mr. Crow could scarcely eat a mouthful of food after that meeting on Saturday night, when he found the stranger talking to the gathering. He was worried, because he knew that if the stranger succeeded in getting Farmer Green to promise that he would not put tar on his corn the following spring, everybody would choose the newcomer to be the leader of all the crows in Pleasant Valley. And that was an honor that old Mr. Crow had had for years.

For two whole days he sulked at home. He wouldn't even go to his door when anybody knocked. But on Monday evening Mr. Crow was the first to reach the meeting-place in the pine woods, long before sunset. He sat himself down in the leader's seat. And there he intended to stay as long as he could.

At last his neighbors came straggling to the woods. And when the stranger arrived he seemed annoyed because he could not have Mr. Crow's seat. And he said in an undertone to Mr. Crow:

"I advise you to go home."

The old gentleman glared at him. And he answered in a loud voice:

"I advise you to go home yourself--if you have a home to go to!"

Now, some people thought that Mr. Crow's answer was a good one. So they laughed. And that made the stranger feel quite uncomfortable.

But there were others who spoke up and said that Mr. Crow's remark was very unkind. They knew that the stranger had a beautiful home, further north, because he had told them all about it.

And that made him feel better once more.

Then old Mr. Crow called the meeting to order. And immediately the stranger announced in a loud voice:

"I saw Farmer Green and he has surrendered!"

Then there was even more noise than is usual at a crow caucus. It was a long time before old Mr. Crow could quiet the meeting. But he succeeded at last. And when it was still he said to the stranger:

"How do you know Farmer Green has surrendered?"

It was so quiet that you could have heard a pine-needle fall, for everyone was straining his ears to hear.

"Farmer Green hung out the white flag to-day!" the stranger told them.

Well, then there was another outburst. Of course, everybody knew that the white flag was the sign of surrender. And it was some time before old Mr. Crow could restore order.

"I doubt it!" he cried, to everyone's astonishment.

"It's true!" a voice shouted. "I know, for I saw--caw--caw! There was not only one white flag; there were dozens of them!"

And then Mr. Crow surprised them by laughing loudly. He stopped at last and wiped his eyes--for he had actually wept, both with joy and amusement.

"What day is this?" he inquired.

And a hundred voices answered: "Monday!"

"Right!" said Mr. Crow. "And Monday is washday at the farmhouse. Those white flags at Farmer Green's--they were the family wash, hung out on the line to dry!"

Then all Mr. Crow's neighbors crowded around him and told him that they wanted him for their leader--and that they always had. They said that they knew all the time that the stranger was a fraud.

"Where is he?" someone inquired. "Let's fix him!"

But when they turned to look for the stranger they couldn't find him anywhere. He had vanished. Though Mr. Crow and his friends searched far and wide for the bold, bad fellow, their efforts were all in vain. During the bustle that had followed Mr. Crow's short speech the newcomer had quietly made his escape. And no doubt it was just as well for him that he left the meeting when he did.

Some said he had hurried off towards the north; while others claimed that he had gone in a southerly direction. And though they have kept an eye out for him ever since, they have not found--or "fixed him"--yet.