Grace Harlow - Chapter 16
A GLORIOUS STAND
"YES, Mrs. Gray, your vision apparently has become a reality," agreed Lieutenant Smith.
"Litter-bearers will carry you up, sir, you and the lady. We are ordered to consolidate the position at once. The Boches are coming out of their holes like prairie dogs, and we must get up before their machine guns get to working," announced the sergeant.
"I for one shall walk," declared Grace with emphasis. "Let the litter-bearers carry in those who cannot walk. They are the ones who need attention. Lieutenant, you and I will have to support each other, with your permission, sir.
"Drop the 'Sir,' Mrs. Gray. I shall be proud to have you call me 'Buddy,'" urged the officer.
"Very good, Buddy. Let's go!"
He extended his hand to her and pressed hers in a firm grip.
"Yes, let's go," said the lieutenant. "Ser
geant, order your stretcher-men to gather up the more urgent cases."
It was an order. The sergeant saluted, executed a right-about and stalked from the dugout. Grace Harlowe 's eyes glowed.
"What splendid fellows our doughboys are," she murmured.
The officer agreed with a nod, and together they left the dugout and turned toward the front.
A ridge of ground served to mask their approach, though in the far distance enemy observation balloons gently swayed high in the skies. Of course the observers up there saw the woman and the man, as Grace well knew that they did, but the Huns were rather busy that day because the Americans were keeping them so.
The whereabouts of this regiment of Blues, as they were known back in the States, was unknown to headquarters. The last that had been seen of them was when they disappeared in the direction of the Hlndenburg Line, but now between them and the main American line there were thousands of enemy troops and a wall of falling steel besides. The situation looked desperate for the plucky regiment.
Under the ridge that the Blues were now occupying were dugouts, with a system of trenches
that really were the beginning of the outworks of the German line, terminating in the St. Quentin tunnel. There might be mines there too, though none had exploded as yet.
Grace and her companion gained the protection of the ridge without disaster, though they had some narrow escapes. They were directed into a hole in the ground where the regimental commander had established his headquarters, and to him Lieutenant Smith reported and asked for assignment. Colonel Mortimer was very glad to have his assistance, as many of the officers of the regiment had been killed or wounded on that great drive.
The lieutenant beckoned to Mrs. Gray, who had been standing back at attention during the brief conversation.
"May I introduce Mrs. Gray, Colonel Ambulance driver who has done great service in this war, I am informed."
"Yes, so I understand. I think I have heard your name mentioned, Mrs. Gray, but I am not certain in what connection. How do you happen to be here"
Lieutenant Smith explained for her.
"Sorry," said the colonel, shaking his head. "It is not a good place for a woman, at least not in the present circumstances."
"I can be of some assistance to you, Colonel,either on the field or in your dressing stations, and I can bear one end of a litter should you need litter-bearers."
The colonel shook his head.
"Not on the field, young woman. I couldn't t have you doing that. If you wish to serve else-where I shall very much appreciate your assistance. Can you give first aid?"
"Yes, sir. I can do almost anything along those lines."
"Mrs. Gray wears the Croix de Guerre, sir, the lieutenant informed his superior. "Your senior surgeon has told me something of her past performances, and therefore I unhesitatingly recommend her for whatever duties you may wish her to assume."
"Very good. I will have an orderly conduct you to the dressing station. You are quite certain that you will not faint, Mrs. Gray?"
"No, sir; not unless I get another smack such as I got in Lieutenant Smith's tank."
"I understand you expected the Aussies to support you?" questioned the lieutenant.
"They are due here now. My messengers inform me that we are cut off, however, and that our support will have difficulty in reaching us, if they make it at all. It looks to me very much as though this regiment will have to fight an army. Our fellows will do it, sir-do it to the
last man, and glory in the opportunity to show the Bodies the stuff that the American soldier is made of."
Messengers were hurrying in with reports, many of them wearing blood-stained bandages, their eyes glowing, uniforms torn from contact with barbed wire, ragged and dirty, but snapping to attention with as much precision as though they were on duty in a summer encampment on the Hudson. The eyes of the Overton girl glowed with pride as she watched them. An orderly soon entered, and was directed to escort her to the dressing station, which he did. This station was in their rear, on the westerly side of the low ridge, but the regiment had entrenched itself on the eastern or enemy side, and was still digging in. At the same time the westerly side was prepared for defense, for the enemy in their rear might descend upon them at any time.
Squads of men could be seen off to the rear, mopping up German dugouts with bayonets and bomb, cleaning out nest after nest of them that had been left behind when the Blues passed over. It was desperate work and the end was not yet in sight.
The surgeon, who had attended Grace and the lieutenant, was busy with sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, working over a wounded dough-boy, nor did he look up until he had finished with his work on that case.
"You're here, are you!" he demanded, straightening up and heaving a deep sigh.
"Yes, sir. I wish to assist you."
"Can you give an anesthetic!"
"Do so until my assistant returns."
Grace stripped off her blouse, rolled her own sleeves up and began work. Not once did the surgeon have to direct her. She seemed to understand his needs and requirements and to supply them before he could formulate them in words. It was not until late in the afternoon that his assistant returned, having been busy on the field to the rear.
"Thank you! You are a woman worth while. You will now go get some rest. That is an order. Your face is ghastly. Know where to go?"
"I-I think I can find a place," stammered Grace, so exhausted that she could barely speak.
The place she found proved to be in the open, on the slope of the bank, where she settled down weak and trembling, and sank into a heavy sleep. Grace as she slept stirred uneasily, but did not awaken when some one tucked a soldier 's blouse under her head. Battle was raglng over and about her, and the ground trembled under her, but none of this disturbed the Overton ambulance driver, nor did she awaken for hours.
When Grace finally opened her eyes it was night. At first she could not collect her thoughts sufficiently to think where she was. It came to her a moment later. Flashings as of many thunder storms lighted the sky accompanied by detonating crashes, while overhead many star-shells hung suspended, swaying as they floated slowly toward the earth.
Grace crept up and peered over the crest toward the enemy lines. Men were fighting everywhere within range of her vision. They had stopped neither for rest nor for food since they arrived at their objective that morning.
"Wonderful!" breathed "Captain" Grace. "Only death can defeat such men as those ~ their spirit cannot be broken. I wonder if the reserves have come up? Lieutenant Smith!" She had caught sight of her rescuer's figure outlined in the light of an exploding shell.
"Eli! Where are you!"
"Here. I have been asleep. Don't let me detain you, but please tell me how the battle is going!"
"The Blues are fighting like wildcats, that's how."
"Have the Aussies come up!"
"No. We're isolated and may be wiped out. Something must have gone amiss in the plans' and our people have forgotten us. What are you doing out here?"
"I have been sleeping for hours, it seems. The anesthetic, I think, rather did me up."
"Humph! Fine place to sleep. Can anything upset you?"
"Oh, yes, sir, I was considerably upset when I came out. Where do you think I can be of most assistance now, in the dressing station or outside!"
"Tie greatest need is for first aid on the field, but I hope you will not go out. It is almost certain death. We are losing our litter- -men about as fast as we can send them out. -Perhaps the colonel may have something that you can do. My advice, however, would be that you crawl in a hole and sleep while you may. Later on, if we are still alive, we may all be prisoners in the hands of the Runs."
"It will not be the first time that I have been in the hands of the Bodies, sir. Tell me, if you will, where our casualties are-I mean those who have not had attention."
"To the rear, principally. They are scattered back there. Ahead of us they are bunched and thus easier to find."
"Then I will go to the rear, sir-after you
pass on," she added. "If you do not see me go you can't order me back."
Uttering an exclamation under his breath, Lieutenant Smith strode away. Grace got up at once and started toward the dressing station. It was her plan to fall in with the litter-bearers and go out on the field.
"Buddies, I am to go out with you and give first aid," she informed two soldiers who had just put down their burden outside the station.
"What!" demanded one peering into her face. "Woman, aren't you!"
"Yes, Buddy. First aid work is my part in this show. I'll go out with you."
They started away without replying. Grace followed them, and the three soon were searching about for "cases which ordinary could be found without difficulty, for the wounded men who were able to do so, guided them by calling out. It was those who could not call out that Grace felt needed her aid the most.
"Buddies, where are the Boches!" she demanded, stepping up to the stretcher-bearers.
"Their rear lines are about a kilometer back. Plenty of them left on the field out here in their holes. What do you propose to do!"
"Look up the bad cases. When you come out I'll have them located so you can take them in without loss of time. Will that help!"
"It'll help them," was the terse reply.
The litter-bearers started in with a wounded man, and Grace was left alone with the wounded-and perhaps with the enemy.
Shell-holes were her field of operation, for it was into these that men ordinarily crawled after being wounded, and there they were more than likely to be overlooked in the darkness. She carried two canteens filled with water, and should these become exhausted there was plenty of water in springs on the field that might be found with little searching.
There were five men in the first shell-crater that she explored, three of whom were seriously wounded. They had given themselves such first aid as they could, but needed immediate attention.
"Buddies, just as soon as I can get the litter-men here, I'll have you out, but you must be patient. We are in a tight fix here, and none of us may get out of it. If you need anything, yell. If you can't yell, ask one of your buddies to do it for you. I shall be somewhere about."
They thanked her in the gruff manner of the fighting men, and Grace climbed out and into the storm of battle.
She did not call out, considering that it would not be prudent to do so, and it was well that she d11 not, as she discovered a few minutes later, but crept about cautiously on her search for wounded men. "Captain" Grace found plenty of evidences of the recent presence of Germans and German cruelty, including two litter-bearers who had been bayoneted while at their work of mercy.
"Oh, the savagery of it!" she cried. "Beasts like that will yet be begging for mercy. Row I wish I were a man. Hark!"
Low-spoken voices attracted her attention. They were German voices.
"Bodies!" breathed the girl.
They were at their work, evidently having come out of a dugout to operate while the coast was clear. In the light of a star-shell she saw them plainly, five men with clubbed rifles looking for wounded doughboys to dispatch.
Grace hurriedly crept back to the shell-crater where she had first found some of her own troops lying wounded.
"Buddies!" she called softly.
Her hail was answered.
"Are any of you boys able to handle a rifle!" Two of them said they were, but that having leg wounds they could not get up to do anything.
"I can assist you up to the top of the bank if you will do the rest. A squad of Bodies are after the wounded less than a hundred yards from here."
A savage growl answered her.
"Give me a lift, I'll fix 'em!" raged a soldier.
"Easy now, don't be too ambitious. I can get at least two of you to the top of the crater, but you must not be imprudent. There are at least five of those follows, and probably many more about here. If you draw attention to yourselves you may be treated as they are treat.. ing our fellows over there."
"Help us up!"
This the Overton girl did by the exertion of all her strength and causing considerable pain to the two men, which they bore without flinching. Next Grace handed their rifles to them.
"Wait until you get a good sight, then give it to the fiends!" she whispered. "Shoot fast and make them think they are attacked, but wait for a star-shell so you can see what you are doing. When they run away, observe where they go, so we can tell our moppers-up. I'm going away now."
Grace crept from the scene on all fours until she considered it prudent to get up and proceed with her work of mercy.