Grace Harlow - Chapter 13
ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE
Something was hit," averred "Captain" Grace. "It was rather close, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Come, let's get these men into the ambulance so you may get out of this. It is no place for a woman.
"There may be no ambulance left to put them in, Lieutenant," she replied. "Before we move this case let's have a look."
They stepped outside and gazed about them, flashes from exploding shells lighting up the scene intermittently. Where the ambulance had stood there was a hole in the ground, and about it lay scattered fragments of the car, but that was all that was left of the mercy-wagon to show that it had ever existed.
"Poor fellows," muttered the Overton driver, referring to the men they had so recently placed in the ambulance.
"They never knew what hit them," replied the lieutenant. "It is a merciful way to go, but it's tough luck. What now?"
"I will help out here until I find an opportunity to get back to my station. They will not be at all surprised to hear that the ambulance is lost. Losing ambulances has become a habit with me. This is the second one in two days. Blow many crews with stretchers have you?"
"I can't say. We had a number of them earlier in the night, but it's different now. There comes one man of a pair of them."
Grace observed that the bearer wore a first aid bandage over his head.
"It's purgatory out there!" he shouted. "Got another man for me?"
The lieutenant shook his head.
"Can't give you even a part of one. All of our own men at the station are casualties."
"How far out are you operating?" questioned Grace.
"A few hundred yards. The enemy lines are right in front of us here. Our people are putting down a barrage, and that is all that is holding the Huns back. When the barrage rises the tanks will go over and the reserves will be poured in. I understand the Australians are to go over our men at a certain point in the battle, and take the lead. What am I going to do, Lieutenant?"
"Lead in the walking cases, that's all you can do."
"Get a stretcher. I'll go out with you," offered Grace.
"Can't do, it, Miss," answered the stretcher-bearer.
"I will go alone, then," was her firm rejoinder. "I am not the kind of a woman that folds her hands and sits down in the face of an emergency, Buddy. Come, let's go," she urged with lips close to his ear that the officer might not hear. "It won't be my first time on the line. I am not a weakling."
"If you were you wouldn't be out here. I can't help it if you go out, but I tell you I'll not approve of it."
"Get your stretcher," directed "Captain" Grace sharply. "We are wasting time in talk."
While he was getting a stretcher, Grace slipped away from the station and waited for him just beyond it. After a few moments of waiting she saw the man coming and crept aside until he had passed, after which she followed on close behind him.
"Seven cases in a shell-hole five hundred yards straight ahead," shouted a stretcherbearer on his way in, bearing one end of a litter. "Got them in but that was all we could do for them except to give first aid. Better take them out. Where's the other man?"
The man she was following forged on, not once looking behind him. She wondered if lie were wondering what had become of her, but as a matter of fact he had forgotten all about her. Grace saw him searching for the shell-hole, saw him peer down into one, then crawl down into it.
A moment later the Overton girl was at the edge of the crater, into which she slid without regard to the way she did it.
"I'm here, Buddy," she called cheerfully. "Dusty out on the river this evening, isn't it?"
"What, you?" demanded the litter-bearer.
"Yes, let's get out the worst case first. I expect there will be a barrage along here almost any time now."
"I suppose you'll stay out here if I don't let you go back with me," growled the soldier.
"You have guessed it, Buddy. Better lift him to the top. There isn't room down here to open up the litter." Without waiting for his approval, Grace threw the stretcher out and, following it, opened it up. She then slid back into the shell-crater. "All ready, Buddy. Have you the case?"
"Yes. Get up top and I'll lift him. Too bad, but it can't be'helped."
The head and shoulders of the wounded man appeared about the time Grace reached the top. She grasped the patient under the arms and
gently dragged him onto the litter without assistance from her companion.
"I guess this isn't the first time you've handled cases," he growled.
"I am an ambulance driver. Let's go."
Stumbling over the shell-torn field with the battle raging about them, "Captain" Grace and her companion made all speed possible back to the dressing station with their burden.
Grace and the litter-bearer hurried out.
"You're not going back?" he questioned.
"I am. I lost my car, and this is my work for the present. When you find some one to handle an end of the litter I'll try to get back to my station and get another car." She had no hope that one would be available for her that night, and therefore made up her mind to spend the night on the field or near it.
The litter-bearer grumbled, but offered 110 further objections, evidently concluding that it was useless to argue with a woman. Seven trips were made to the shell-crater and seven live but seriously wounded men were brought in, men who would have died had they not received early attention. She had seen men fall about her that night, she had witnessed such sights as would have unnerved her had she not been so keyed to the needs of the hour, for the Overton girl had put a firm grip on her emotions when
she decided to go out into that field of suffering. She was leg-weary and arm-weary, but her pluck enabled her to keep on and on. Their work carried them further and further toward the enemy lines, where patrols were fighting, where they were but a short distance behind the American barrage, where the barbed wire entanglements before the Hindenburg Line covered acres and acres of No Man's Land. Grace was still there when the first streaks of the early dawn of that memorable September morning grayed the mists that hung over the landscape. 8lie was hollow-eyed, and staggered as she bore tier end of the litter.
At 5.80 that morning two regiments of infantry went over the top and thirty huge tanks lumbered out from their resting place, all far behind where Grace Harlowe and her associate were working close up to the wire of the enemy.
About this time a rifle bullet laid low her litter-bearer. When Grace knelt down beside him she saw that first aid was not needed, that she was alone so far as assistance was concerned. There were men about her, many of them, but each was too fully occupied with his own immediate affairs to give her a thought.
The fire grew hotter, and Grace crawled into a shell-crater for a few moments' relief from the storm and to rest her weary body. The wire
before her, as she well knew, was the outer edge of the formidable defenses of the Hindenburg Line. Beyond those acres of wire were "The Knoll," "Guillemont Farm" and "Quennemont Farm." Picked German troops held these positions, the entire outer defense system bristling with light and heavy machine guns, minenwerfers, anti-tank guns and concealed field pieces, while at Guillemont Farm were powerful flame-throwers.
On rising ground at the rear of this formidable series of outworks was the main Hindenburg system, based on the underground tunnel that carried the St. Quentin Canal. Great numbers of German troops, held in reserve, lived in canal boats in the tunnel under the hills, while underground passages, saps and valleys led from the tunnels to trenches through which to rush reserves to any point of the line.
Grace Harlowe knew in a general way of all these things, for she had been the recipient of many confidences since she had been in such close touch with the lines covering a period of many months. Knowing what she did, she was able to formulate a plan of campaign that she was certain the American forces would attempt to carry out. They were carrying out this plan at that very moment, men to the rear of her already were falling, tanks were bearing down ou
the field of wire, and out in the wire men who had been cutting its strands lay suffering without a helping hand.
A cry for help reached her as she crouched in the shell-crater. Grace sprang up to listen. The cry was repeated.
"Some one is out there!" she cried. "There is an opening just above here. I hope I can get through and find him."
Without considering consequences Grace ran, bending low, found the opening and crept in. A channel had been cut into the wire by the wire-clippers, leading straight in, and through this she made her way, tearing her uniform on the projecting barbs and clipped ends.
The cries had seemed to come from the direction in which she was proceeding. She paused to listen, when the cry was repeated, now sounding much nearer.
"Who calls I Where?" she called.
The voice sounded to the right of her, amid what seemed to her to be a tangled mass of wire. She picked her way through it, between two rows, and stumbled over a man. He was an officer, a second lieutenant who had been wounded while leading a patrol
He gazed up in amazement to see a woman bending over him in that storm-swept space.
"Where are you hit?" she demanded in a business-like tone.
"All over except in the head. The wound in my stomach is serious. Get help."
"The best I can do, sir, is to drag you out of the wire and get you in a shell-hole where the litter-bearers will find you. I can give you first aid there. Can you stand it to be dragged?"
"Yes. I can-" His voice trailed away into a murmur. He bad fainted, as she discovered after a hurried examination. This simplified her work very much. Grabbing him under the arms the Overton girl backed out of the maze with the lieutenant until she reached the channel made by the wire-cutters, whereupon she turned her back to him, placed his back against her own and staggered out with him.
Several times on that journey she was forced to put her burden down and stand gasping for breath. At last she succeeded in reaching the shell-crater, where she revived the man, gave him water from his own canteen and, placing a cigarette between his lips, lighted it for him, his eyes so full of pain, gazing up wonderingly into the face of "Captain" Grace.
"Are there any other men out there, Lieutenant?" she questioned.
"A dozen yards or so from where you found me-I mean a dozen yards nearer the enemy lines. Who are you?"
"Grace Gray, ambulance driver. I lost my car and I'm working with the litter-men, or was. I guess there aren't many of them left. I'm going back to see what I can do. Is there anything more that I may do for you first?"
The officer shook his head.
"Has the attack started?"
Grace said she did not know.
"It was to start at 5.30, zero. The tanks ought to be here soon. I'm afraid you'll be killed if you go out again."
"I never have been," answered Grace brightly. "I'll be back soon, if I am in luck. Have you rations?"
He nodded, following her with those eyes of pain as the girl climbed out of the shell-bole. She waved and smiled to him and disappeared from his range of vision.
Again Grace was successful, this time bringing in a corporal, after she had given him first aid out there in the wire. He was wounded in both legs and had sustained a severe scalp wound, and she found handling him more difficult than had been the case with the officer. It hurt him to be dragged and it hurt him to laid on the ground.
"You will have to stand it, I am afraid, Buddy," she declared finally. "Buck up now, and be good. I must get you in and then come back to look for the others."
"Carry on. I'll not make another groan," he promised. lie kept his promise, though she knew full well that he was suffering great pain. Grace got him in and treated him to water and a cigarette, as she had done a few moments before for the lieutenant.
"Wait! I'll put out a signal," she said. Out-aide she searched for and found a rifle which she stuck into the ground by its bayonet, hanging the corporal's helmet on the butt of the gun, knowing that this unusual signal would attract the attention of any searching litter-bearer. The signal bore fruit, for when Grace next returned with a private who was unconscious, she found that two stretcher-bearers had been there and taken the officer back to a dressing post, promising to return for the corporal as soon as possible.
Once more ''Captain'' Grace went back into the field of wire, where she searched for more wounded, all the time keeping her bearings as best she could, for once lost it were next to impossible to find one's way out. Despite her intuition, however, she lost her way, and the more she tried to locate her position the more
hopelessly did she become entangled in the maze of wire.
"Captain" Grace sat down heavily, worn out, her nerves at the breaking point. She failed at first to hear in the tremendous uproar the wail of a shell until it was close at hand, but when she did hear it, instead of flattening herself on the ground the Overton girl forgot her prudence and leaped to her feet. The shell exploded within fifty yards of her and "Captain" Grace was hurled violently into the wire, where she hung suspended by her clothing for a few moments, then slipped from the barbed points to the ground. She did not move after falling, but lay there motionless,