Grace Harlow - Chapter 11
THE HEART OF A DOUGHBOY
The ambulance was not "put together" by any one. It had been blown to bits, its pieces hurled in all directions, some of them going through hospital tents. Grace found a front wheel in. her own tent.
"Where is Jerry" she demanded after a brief glance at the wreck.
"We haven't seen anything of him," answered Ferrot, the Belgian attendant.
"No airplanes have been beard here to-night," added a fellow driver. been flying mighty high."
Major Price and the chief of the ambulance section were investigating. They could not understand it. No shells were falling and, so far as any one had heard, not an enemy plane had been over that region during the evening.
"Have you any theory as to how this occurred?" demanded the major, turning to "Captain" Grace.
"Yes, sir, of course. No shells, no airplanes. The car was blown up by a bomb that was placed in it. The wreckage indicates that. Look at this piece of the top. Can you not see that the explosion was from within!"
Major Price was filled with rage.
"That means we have a traitor here!" he breathed. "I have suspected it; now I know. We have nothing to take its place, but I'll telephone up to the evacuation hospital and ask them to send us a car immediately. Our end of the work must have first call just now."
"Thank you. Do you think we can get it here to-night?"
"If there is a car not in urgent use, I'll get it," promised the major.
"If there is anything I can do for you, Mrs. Gray, it will give me pleasure to serve you," offered the Belgian, sidling up to her.
"Thank you. There is nothing," she replied, giving him a quick, searching look. "That is, unless you can furnish another car."
He shrugged his shoulders and smirked.
"Sorry," lie said.
"Captain" Grace turned away and walked up and down by herself. She wished to think, and she did think, weighing every little detail of the last few weeks that might possibly have a bearing on the disaster. Not that it was material, for the car was old and about ready to be scrapped, but that there was another side to the affair. As the major had said, there must be a traitor among them.
It was a disturbing thought, especially so when Grace considered that this traitor had been there for a long time, if what she had surmised were true. Many little things had occurred to lead her to believe that the field hospital included an enemy among its workers.
The Overton girl suddenly became conscious that she was being followed. This did not disturb her, rather did it make her curious. She halted and so unexpectedly had she turned that the person behind bumped fairly into her. He was a soldier, and apologized profusely.
"What is it, Buddy? You were following me?" she demanded.
"Yes, I wanted to speak to you."
"Why didn't you?" Her tone was encouraging.
"I guess I kind of lost my nerve. You see you don't know me."
"No, I do not believe I do. Have you the advantage of me there?"
"Yes; you are 'Captain' Grace. You brought me in your ambulance one night several weeks ago. I thought maybe you would take a walk with me."
"Captain" Grace knew soldiers, knew them almost better than they knew themselves, and she knew that here was one who had something on his mind that he wished to confide in some one.
"Of course I will walk with you, if you wish, Buddy. Where do you wish to go?"
"Anywhere so no one will overhear."
Grace said she could not go far, that she was on duty and likely to be called any moment- the instant a car was found for her, so they strolled back and forth in. the darkness, speaking of the war, he avoiding the subject that he so much wished to speak of.
"Now, Buddy, what is it! You're homesick, aren't you?"
"Everybody is homesick over here. No, that isn't all that is the matter with me, it is something else. Will you do something for me?"
She assured him that she would, and urged the young soldier to confide in. her fully.
"My big boy is a soldier man too-my husband. He was taken prisoner, wounded, and was missing for many weeks. I know what it is to worry, so you are talking to a real comrade when you tell me your troubles. Out with it, Buddy."
It was a simple tale that he told to "Captain" Grace, to the effect that before sailing from Newport News he was secretly wedded to a girl that his parents had objected to his marrying.
"Is she a nice girl, Buddy!"
"One of the best in. the world, but she is not of the same religion as my people and that's where the trouble is."
"If she is a good girl and will make you a good wife, why worry! Why get so blue?"
"'Captain,' I am going up to the line sometime to-morrow. This time I shall not come back in your ambulance. You have lived up here where things are smashing around promiscuously, and you know by this time that when a soldier gets a hunch that he is going to get his, he sure is out o' luck. I'm going West this time.
She fully understood. It was uncanny the way soldiers were able to foretell their fate a few days or hours before they were taken off.
Grace had known of innumerable cases of that sort, and her interest in the young soldier at her side quickened.
"I hope yours isn't a good hunch, Buddy, but tell me what you wish and it shall be done if in my power."
"Write to the folks and tell them, tell them that I went to it like a man, and that I never whimpered. Ask them for the sake of the boy who died for his love of country-I'm a volunteer, you know-to be good to the girl. She'll get my insurance and my Liberty Bond. I have written an order on the government to give the bond to her. I have also written the story, part of it, to my people. It is all here. What I wish you to do is to take these papers, and when I get mine send them to my mother, all but the order for the bond. That please send to her. I would do it myself, but you see I probably shan't be doing much of anything but fooling round on the field out there and waiting for something, I don't know what, when this big push is ended." He handed the package to her, and she asked:
"Are the addresses here?"
"Yes. This letter is for the girl, the wife. The larger package and letter with it are for mother. I'm sending her a boudoir cap that I got up in Doulons. Mother will like that. You
can enclose your letter to her with mine, and tell her how it all happened."
"Buddy, if the necessity arises I will do all and more than you have asked."
"I know it-that's why I made bold to speak to you. Everybody around here knows that 'Captain' Grace is the soldier's friend, that she is one of their own kind. Thank you. I'll ask the Loot (lieutenant) to let you know when I get it. Good-bye."
Grace shook hands with him, then, coming to attention, brought her hand to her helmet in salute, which the doughboy gravely returned and strode away into the darkness.
"'A soldier of the Legion lay dying at Algiers,' "quoted Grace and burst into tears.
Half an hour later she walked into the office of the commanding officer, her eyes a little red, her face pale and set, for this interview out there in the darkness had affected her deeply, touched her heart to the core.
"May I ask, sir, what are the prospects for a oar!" she questioned.
"One is on the way now. By the way, I missed you."
The ambulance driver gave her superior a quick, appraising glance.
"I was walking with a doughboy who wished me to do something for him in case he fell, sir."
Grace had all she could do to keep back the tears at the recollection of that interview.
"It is unnecessary for you to explain, Mrs. Gray, though it does explain a message that I found on my desk when I came in just now. Here it is. Do not misunderstand me when I ask you to read it. Neither explanation nor apology is necessary from you; I am offering it to you hoping that you may be able to identify the writing. I should like to get hold of the cur who wrote it, that's all."
The message, scrawled on a piece of wrapping paper, read: "If you wish to know where the driver of the ambulance who blew up a car because she didn't like it, is, look for her down the road quizzing a soldier."
The muscles of "Captain" Grace's face tightened. She laid the paper on the desk and directed a level gaze at Major Price.
"What do you think of it, Mrs. Gray!" he questioned.
"I think, sir, that when we find the author of that anonymous communication we shall be hot on the trail of the man who blew up the ambulance this evening," she answered evenly.
"I agree with you. Keep your eyes open. A hound who will write a letter like this will not stop at murder. I hope I get my hands on
"Thank you, sir," replied Grace. "I will get my orders now, if I may. The car probably will be here by the time I am ready." The Overton girl saluted and left the office of the commanding officer of the hospital.
"I think I should like to find that man. myself," she muttered. Grace first went to her tent, where she turned the soldier's package over to Elfreda for safe keeping, telling Miss Briggs the story and asking her, in the event of anything happening both to the doughboy and to Grace, to forward the letters and the packages and to write to the mother and the young wife.
"Are you looking to get smacked, too!" demanded Elfreda.
"No, but my promise to that boy must be kept. I might be captured or I might lose the papers. There's rough work ahead. Good night, I'm off."
Twenty minutes later Grace was in an ambulance, driving with all speed toward the front lines, the earth rocking under her as the big guns of both sides opened up. The battle was
on. The great drive that was to end in the rout of the German army was opening with a great duel of big guns.