Grace Harlow - Chapter 17
IN DESPERATE STRAITS
Grace did not see, she did not wish to see the result of the mopping up performed by those two wounded dough-boys. It was enough for her that she had done her duty in that direction. It was all she could do, however, to keep from snatching up a rifle and going to their assistance in punishing the merciless Boches, but being a non-combatant she could not do it.
After having worked with the wounded for more than an hour, "Captain" Grace finally got back to the shell-crater.
"Anyone left here!" she called down.
"Yes. One of us is here," answered a weak voice.
"All of them!"
"Yes. My buddy got smacked while he was 'doing it, so I had to finish the job."
"Where is he!"
"Litter-men took him in. Guess he is pretty
badly off. Litter-men took in the rest of the fellows and promised to come back for me."
"Buddy, you have earned my attention. I '11 see if I can find a litter and get you out. How long have you been down here!"
"Most all night."
Grace fixed him up as well as she could, and went out to look for the litter-bearers. A. few minutes later he was on his way to the dressing station. Grace saw him the following morning, pale and weak, but with the fighting spirit of his regiment undimmed.
All that night the Blues fought, now and then pausing to take a few nibbles at the tasteless hardtack and a swig at their canteens. Morning found them still fighting. The Australians had not come up, and the enemy was fighting desperately to drive out the volunteer regiment. All through the day the battle continued, with heavy casualties on both sides. Had it not been that the enemy was fully engaged on other portions of the line they would have thrown in more men and quickly annihilated the little band. That and their own prowess, for they were fighting more than twice their number, saved the Blues, had saved them upto that time.
When darkness fell on the second day the Blues were exhausted, hollow-eyed and savage, though they smiled with their faces, not with their eyes, when "Captain" Grace spoke to them.
A conference was being held in the colonel's dugout when Grace entered it by mistake in searching for a quiet spot in which to lie down. She saluted and started to withdraw when the colonel beckoned to her.
"Come in, Mrs. Gray," he called. "Did you wish something!"
"Only a soft spot for a few moments' rest," she answered wearily.
"Lie down on the blankets in the corner. I have been looking for you. Gentlemen, here is the bravest woman in the world. I mean exactly that and nothing else," said the officer.
"Thank you, but I do not quite deserve that praise. May I ask what our situation is!"
"Bad! No word from the Aussies, ammunition running low and half the regiment on the casualty list, though several hundred of those not seriously wounded are fighting."
"How long can we hold out!"
The officers gazed curiously at the pale-faced girl who was quizzing their commander. Nothing like it had ever occurred in their experience, but knowing him and his kindly instincts as they did, they understood in a way.
"So long as there is a man left and a rifle for him to fire!"
"Thank God no human agency has been o ever will be found that can kill the glorious spirit and devotion to duty that our doughboy have shown, Colonel," breathed Grace Harlow fervently.
The colonel swallowed hard, but did reply.
"May I make a suggestion! I believe I could get through the lines back of us and carry a message for you."
"Mrs. Gray, five men-five brave, resourceful fellows thought the same as you do. They have not returned. It is improbable they will."
"I believe I can do it, sir. I have been through the German lines before. Let me have an hour's sleep and I'll do it."
The officer shook his head slowly.
"I can't do it. It is splendid of you to offer it, but I shall have to decline. Thank you just the same."
"How much longer will your ammunition last, sir!"
"At the present rate of firing we shall be on our last round before to-morrow at this time."
Grace made a brief mental calculation. "A runner should make it before daylight," she murmured reflectively.
"What's that!" demanded the colonel with a rising inflection in his voice.
"I was speaking to myself, sir. I was figuring how long it should take a runner to get through, provided lie made it. I am certain that it can be done," urged the girl eagerly.
"We will not discuss the subject further," answered the officer a little coldly.
Grace drew herself up and saluted.
"Thank you for reminding me, sir. My zeal led me to say more than I should have said." The Overton girl executed a right-about face and left the dugout. She had been rebuffed, and the rebuff hurt, though she needed no one to tell her that she deserved it. Her position was that of a private, and she had been making suggestions to a colonel
"I don't care, I had my say," she declared by way of comforting herself. "He won't send anyone because he cannot afford to lose another man; he won't let me go because I am a woman. Always that sex question! How I do wish I were a man, just for one little while."
While Grace was searching for a dugout into which to crawl, the colonel and his officers were discussing her. Had she heard their words of praise she would have felt less humiliated over the rebuke that had been administered to her.
"I don't believe we are where we should be," reflected "Captain" Grace. "Let me see, I wonder if I could give one a definite idea as to
where we are? I wish I might see Lieutenant Smith." Grace decided to wait outside the headquarters hole in the ground, hoping that the tank lieutenant might soon come out.
It was nine o'clock that night when he left the conference, but Grace was still waiting for bill
"I missed my nap, Lieutenant. I got to wondering where we are, anyway, and in wondering I forgot that I was sleepy. Now truly, can you tell where this regiment is? You will pardon my seeming familiarity, but I have been wondering if the Aussies really know where to look for us."
"Step into the dressing station and I will show you where we are.
He spread out his own map and placed a finger on it as indicating the present position of the regiment, while Grace with wrinkled forehead studied the map critically.
"Where is the ridge, sir? It doesn't show at that point on the contour. Should it not show?"
"Yes, of course. That's odd. I will have to ask the colonel about that."
"Of course I do not know very much about
contour maps, but were I reading this one I
should infer from it that we were now at that
point." She indicated with her forefinger a
spot on the map several miles to the south of where they were supposed to be.
Lieutenant Smith studied the map with great care. He finally raised his eyes. There was concern in his own eyes.
"I believe you are right, Mrs. Gray. The landmarks on the map, while bearing a general resemblance to the point where we are, most certainly do not correspond with our present position. It is a wonder to me that we are as near the mark as we are. Colonel Mortimer should not be blamed for it. If ever a man had a terrible weight on his shoulders it is he. Thank you. I will bring the matter to his attention at once."
"I do not suppose it would be possible for him to work north and form a junction with the Australians, should it prove that we are in the wrong place?"
"No hope of it at all, Mrs. Gray."
"Then we shall have to stay here and fight it out until-"
"Exactly. Pardon me, but you must excuse me."
"Good night, sir," called Grace as he hurried toward the headquarters dugout.
"That woman can ask questions like a lawyer, but she has a head, she has a head," muttered the now thoroughly disturbed tank commander. The information that lie conveyed to his superior officer was a shock to Colonel Mortimer, who, after studying the contour map and discussing it with his officers, came to the conclusion that the regiment was in the wrong place. Further confirmation was had of this when, later in the night, officers who had been sent out to investigate, reported that certain definite landmarks were not to be found and that the regiment undoubtedly had missed its objective.
This news was discouraging; it was an anxious moment for the commanding officer, with the lives of a regiment of men depending upon him and his decision. The perspiration stood out in glistening beads on his forehead, not that lie cared for himself, which he did not, but he loved the regiment, he worshiped the spirit that inspired men to perform the deeds that those soldier boys had performed.
"We'll stick it out as long as there's a man left. That's all we can do," lie decided. "See that the men expose themselves as little as possible in the 'daytime, save their ammunition, and when they use it shoot to kill. We may not be rescued in several days, if at all."
Some one suggested that they try to get another runner through; that perhaps the other runners had gone through and relief had gone
to the objective where the regiment was supposed to be.
"Very good. Send two me;" agreed the colonel.
An orderly stepped into the dugout and saluted.
"Message for Colonel Mortimer," he said, extending a crumpled sheet of paper, which the colonel spread out and peered at in the flickering candle light. He read it through twice, then read it out loud to his officers. They listened in amazement to the reading of the message, which was as follows:
"Sir: Knowing the position the regiment is in, I am going to try to get through as your messenger, informing whatever command I first make contact with that you are holding out here and that you will continue to hold out until your ammunition is exhausted. For that reason alone you need assistance. I believe I can get through. At any rate I can better be spared than any of your force. Grace H. Gray