When Ernest left, Claude walked as far as the Yoeders' place with him, and came back across the snow-drifted fields, under the frosty brilliance of the winter stars. As he looked up at them, he felt more than ever that they must have something to do with the fate of nations, and with the incomprehensible things that were happening in the world. In the ordered universe there must be some mind that read the riddle of this one unhappy planet, that knew what was forming in the dark eclipse of this hour. A question hung in the air; over all this quiet land about him, over him, over his mother, even. He was afraid for his country, as he had been that night on the State House steps in Denver, when this war was undreamed of, hidden in the womb of time.
Claude and his mother had not long to wait. Three days later they knew that the German ambassador had been dismissed, and the American ambassador recalled from Berlin. To older men these events were subjects to think and converse about; but to boys like Claude they were life and death, predestination.
One stormy morning Claude was driving the big wagon to town to get a load of lumber. The roads were beginning to thaw out, and the country was black and dirty looking. Here and there on the dark mud, grey snow crusts lingered, perforated like honeycomb, with wet weedstalks sticking up through them. As the wagon creaked over the high ground just above Frankfort, Claude noticed a brilliant new flag flying from the schoolhouse cupola. He had never seen the flag before when it meant anything but the Fourth of July, or a political rally. Today it was as if he saw it for the first time; no bands, no noise, no orators; a spot of restless colour against the sodden March sky.
He turned out of his way in order to pass the High School, drew up his team, and waited a few minutes until the noon bell rang. The older boys and girls came out first, with a flurry of raincoats and umbrellas. Presently he saw Gladys Farmer, in a yellow "slicker" and an oilskin hat, and waved to her. She came up to the wagon.
"I like your decoration," he said, glancing toward the cupola.
"It's a silk one the Senior boys bought with their athletic money. I advised them not to run it up in this rain, but the class president told me they bought that flag for storms."
"Get in, and I'll take you home."
She took his extended hand, put her foot on the hub of the wheel, and climbed to the seat beside him. He clucked to his team.