Grace Harlow - Chapter 15
A REGIMENT THAT LOST ITSELF
WHAT enemy shells had failed to accomplish, the mine trap had. Within the car gasoline fumes, mingling with powder fumes, soon became overpowering. The men of the crew lay where they had fallen, not a movement, not a sound, from any one of them. Grace, when the car had reared its nose into the air, was thrown to the rear with the lieutenant and wheelman. The gunners had clung to their weapons for support and now lay near them.
Back to the rear that thin brown line of American boys might have been seen creeping, now running, now dropping to earth and hugging the ground as shells from the Yankee guns passed over them and broke ahead of them.
The line of Yankee boys was up and coming the moment the wall of steel had cleared the way for them. They were the Blues of the 27th Division, though there was nothing blue about them on this occasion. Their faces, bronzed and rugged, wore the fierce expression that the American soldier knew so well how to assume when he was charging the enemy, this battle face having become a habit, as much a part of him as were his rifle and his bayonet. He couldn't fight without making up a face, and when he assumed his fighting face he meant business. It was a danger signal that many a Hun realized to his sorrow.
The captain of the leading company had seen the tank rear up, but had seen no one emerge from it, and this caused him to wonder if all had been killed in that modern engine of war. As he neared the scene he saw wisps of smoke filtering out through the gun ports of the machine. He called a lieutenant to him.
"Send a squad over to that tank as we go past. There may be some one alive in it. Gasoline burning in the car, I think."
The lieutenant stepped back and ordered a sergeant and his squad to go and look the tank over.
One of the squad upon reaching the wrecked tank pulled away the shattered side port and
then thrust his head in. The fumes inside were so suffocating that he hurriedly withdrew his head.
"Gas burning in there!" he gasped.
A puff of smoke through the open port verified his assertion. A second man thrust him aside and crawled in, dragging, as lie backed out, one of the gunners. The sergeant went in next, and when he came out he brought with him the lieutenant who had been in command of the machine.
"I reckon he's gone West," declared the sergeant between coughs. "Get in there, one of you men. There are more of them in the rear end."
The next man who tried, failed and had to be carried out, but by this time the sergeant had recovered sufficiently to permit his making a second attempt. The sergeant brought out the limp form of "Captain" Grace and laid her down on the ground.
"It's a woman!" shouted a soldier.
"The officer is alive!" cried another who had been bending over the lieutenant. "Better get a surgeon up here."
"The woman's alive, too," added another of the Blues.
The sergeant by this time had re-entered the tank and rescued another man, who had been
the wheelman of the machine. One by one the others of the crew were brought out and laid on the ground, where soldiers got to work trying to revive them.
There were but two from that unfortunate tank who were brought out alive, Grace Harlowe and the commanding officer.
"The woman is in uniform. What is she!" demanded the captain.
"Ambulance woman, I think, sir," answered the sergeant.
"Queer place for an ambulance woman to be," growled the captain, and went on with his men.
"Captain" Grace and the tank lieutenant were carried to a deserted German dugout, where they were given first aid and then the squad went on to rejoin the regiment.
It was not until after the stretcher-bearers had come up and worked over the officer and the ambulance woman that either stirred. The lieutenant was first to regain consciousness, but was unable to collect himself sufficiently to speak. The shock had nearly finished him. Grace began to stir half an hour or so later, then opened her eyes and gazed into the face of a field surgeon who had just come up.
"Close your eyes and keep still," admonished the surgeon gruffly.
Grace did both. She could not have kept her~ eyes open had she wished to, for her eyelids ~ were very heavy, and, as for speaking, she had nothing to say, that is, she could think of nothing at that moment. Her head was confused and she was conscious of an ache that reached from her head to the tips of her toes, though it was her head that gave her the most trouble.
"Shell-shock," declared the surgeon, turning to his other patient. "Let them both rest; then, as soon after dark as possible, get them back to the dressing station. That's the best we can do." The surgeon went away to attend to other sufferers.
Later in the morning he dropped in to see how Grace and the officer were getting along. He found both awake, but still more or less dazed.
"Who are you!" lie demanded, eyeing "Captain" Grace narrowly.
"Grace Gray, ambulance driver. I was out in the wire assisting some of the wounded when I got put out by shock. This officer gathered me in and took me through with him, sir."
"I know you," exclaimed the surgeon, smiling. Colonel Price spoke of you to me a few days ago, and told me how you got the two cars of wounded men through to Paris. Good work. Glad you are not wounded. You aren't as badly
shocked as your long period of unconsciousness led me to believe you were."
"Thank you, sir. How is the battle going!"
"Up to the present it isn't a battle, merely an engagement, though you would have difficulty in convincing the 'Blues' that it isn't a real battle. We have gained our objective and dug in. The plan, I believe, is for the Australians to come up, hurdle us and carry the war on. Our division is spread all along this front-and it's going through the Hindenburg Line," be added proudly.
Grace smiled in sympathy.
"I think I shall be able to get about soon, perhaps in another hour; then I'll go out and see what I can do in first aid."
"Better remain where you are. It's pretty hot outside. Besides, it is no place for a woman," added the surgeon.
Grace turned to the tank officer.
"I suppose, Lieutenant-I don't know what the rest of your name is__"
"Smith," he informed her. "Easy name to remember, Eli!"
"Quite. As I was saying, I suppose you agree with the surgeon that this is no place for a woman!"
"Your conception of woman's sphere is an erroneous one, my dear sir. The great call to
womanhood is to relieve suffering and carry sunshine into human hearts. I am not saying
that they fulfill their mission completely, but they should."
"That is all very well in times of peace or behind the lines in wartime," agreed the lieutenant. "But this is war, and it is a man's game, not a woman's work."
"Then why not have left me where I was? From there I might have got back to the post. Here, I cannot."
"Humph I suppose that is what I should have done, and what would have pleased you most."
"Lieutenant, you are not consistent. I do thank you for picking me up, as I undoubtedly would have been killed where I was. In the second place, I would not have missed that tank experience for anything, including the blow-up. By the way, what really did happen to us?"
"We ran onto a Hun mine-trap and the machine was blown up."
"Were-were any of the others-"
"All killed," answered the lieutenant grimly. "I understand that only three of our squadron
-thirty odd tanks altogether-got through. They too may have been put out by this time. Do you not think it is a man's game!"
"Yes, a game for real men, and those who are in it are real men," she answered earnestly. "It was not of combat work that I spoke as I did, but of mercy work. The men maim and the women must heal. I think I shall get up now."
Grace stood up, but found that she was very dizzy. She leaned against the side of the dugout, with her eyes closed and her face white and drawn. The officer, thinking she was about to fall, got up unsteadily to assist her.
"Please, please sit down," urged "Captain" Grace, opening her eyes and trying to smile at him. "I shall be all right in a moment; then I am going out. I should go now, but I could do nothing. My nerve machinery appears to have been disarranged, though it isn't the first time. You had best let the stretcher-men carry you back. To try to walk would upset you too much."
The officer said he was about to suggest the same thing to her.
"I will tell you what we will do. We will both go back as far as the first dressing post. From there we shall be able to get an ambulance for the rest of the way. Of course it would not be wise to try to do so at present, for the Bodies will not be sufficiently mopped up. We never would get rough were we to start now."
"You are a strategist, Mrs. Gray."
"Thank you. Were I one and in charge of this regiment, or if I were the authority that sent them out here, I believe I should have had reserves to protect the rear."
"You heard the surgeon say that the Aussies were coming up to do that, didn't you?"
"I did, but where are they?"
The lieutenant shrugged his shoulders.
"We are on an isolated sector here," continued Grace. "Were I to venture to express an opinion, I should say that our position at this minute is a perilous one. Of course I do not know anything about military matters."
"There are many in this man's army with bars on their shoulders that know a great deal less, young woman. I think you have done me a lot of good. I am beginning to agree with your point of view. I feel equal to going out. If you will promise to remain here I will do so."
"I am ready," announced "Captain" Grace smilingly, as she adjusted her helmet.
"Orders for you to move up front, sir," announced a sergeant at the door of the dugout. "You too, Miss."
"What is it, Sergeant?" questioned Grace.
"The regiment is isolated."
"Which means that we are surrounded, I presume," said the Overton girl, turning to the lieutenant, who nodded gravely.