Grace Harlow - Chapter 3
THE TRICK THAT FAILED
Elfreda was too stunned to think or to act. Their situation was indeed a desperate one, and Grace Harlowe knew it full well. She had known for several moments that the tarn was on fire, but did not wish to alarm her companion until it became absolutely necessary to do so. Now that the ground under the barn was beginning to reveal itself in the light of the fire above them she feared they would be unable to get out without being seen by the enemy, who she believed were standing off at a safe distance and watching for the two girls to come out.
"Look!" exclaimed Miss Briggs, suddenly finding her voice. She was pointing to the wall that her companion's groping fingers had found a few moments previously.
Turning quickly Grace also uttered an exclamation.
The wall that she had found was a short section constructed over the ditch. At the base of this little section of wall there was a hole. It was a shallow hole, too small to permit a human being o get through, the ditch having been partly filled up at that point. What was on the other side the Overton driver did not know, but she believed that here lay their best chance for escape, though they might gain the outer air only to be shot down by the waiting Huns.
"Pass that piece of board! Lively!" commanded Grace sharply.
Having the piece of wood in her hands, Grace began to dig with all her might, pushing the dirt out through the small hole as fast as she could get it loosened.
"I'm gaining on it," she cried. "Get ready for a dash."
"Is-is there anything that I can do ?" begged Elfreda.
"Yes; creep up closer so as to be ready. It won't be much of an opening, but I think you will be able to squeeze through. I Don 't bother me. Keep watch toward the rear, and keep down as much as possible or you may get a Hun bullet through you."
Grace dug desperately for a few moments, then, casting the board aside, began pawing out the earth toward her with her bare hands. Some of it flew back into the face of Elfreda Briggs and got into her eyes, mouth and nose, causing her to cough and sneeze.
"All set! Let's go!" cried the ambulance driver.
Elfreda crawled up and peered into the bole, but found little cheer in so doing, for it was black dark in there.
"Where does it lead to ? she gasped.
"Never mind, get in. I'll push if you get stuck."
"You go first, Loyalheart."
"Get in!" Grace's voice was sharp and incisive.
She drew back to permit her companion to flatten herself in the ditch and grasping Elfreda by both ankles began pushing her forward.
"Don't speak out loud no matter what you find when you are through the hole, and don't get up. Stay flat and wait for me. This is an order, not a request," added Grace, resuming her pushing, Elfreda assisting by clawing at the dirt ahead of her and wriggling and squeezing her body through the narrow opening. Her feet finally disappeared and Grace heard her drawing herself away from the opening.
"Are you all right'0' questioned Grace, her own head already in the hole, her much more slender body wriggling into it rapidly.
"Yes," answered Miss Briggs.
"Be cautious. I must have a look about before we make a move," gasped Grace and resumed her clawing and wriggling.
Her head was soon outside; her shoulders went through, but her hips stuck. Grace backed a little and turned over on her side.
"Get hold of me and pull," she directed.
Elfreda grasped her by the neck.
"No, no! By the shoulders. Wish to pull my head off? There! That's better." She twisted and writhed, gaining slowly, then all at once she found that her hips were clear of the opening in the wall. A moment more and she was out. A dense growth of berry bushes covered the outer entrance, and it was these bushes that had originally kept the light of the stars from filtering through to them, though Grace had seen a ray of that same light some little time before.
The flames were crackling and roaring on the inside of the building and the light was flickering over the ground for many yards on either side of it, the fire not yet having gone through the roof or the sides of the barn. Grace took a sweeping observation while Elfreda sat on the bottom of the ditch with her head between her hands. Grace touched her on the shoulder.
"Look yonder! What do you seen?"
"Something moving about. Is it soldiers'?"
"Huns! Waiting for us to come out when they will shoot at us. Hun kultur again, Elfreda. We shall fool them-their trick will fail to produce expected results, but we must get out of here. I don't know how far this ditch extends, but if it should come to a sudden ending a few yards from here we shall have to cut and run for it. If it comes to that you will turn to the left and run for the road like all possessed, zigzagging like a destroyer. I will oblique a little to the right, reaching the road-if I am in luck-a little further to the westward. Do you understand clearly what you are to do?"
"Yes. What then?"
"Run up the road until you meet me."
"But the Boches, Grace! They are out there," protested Miss Briggs.
"No, they are all over here. They are out
there among the trees and bushes with their rifles at ready. You will see, if we show ourselves. Let's go!"
This time Grace crawled ahead. They soon left the bushes behind them, and it was well they did so, for sparks and burning bits of wood were beginning to shower down on that clump of berry bushes, as Grace observed upon halting to look back.
She had crawled some thirty yards, the ditch growing more and more shallow as she progressed, which indicated to her that it was about to run out to the surface. She halted again.
"Elfreda, what I expected has come to pass. We are at the end of our tunnel. The ditch ends here."
"Oh, that is too bad."
"We will wait here for a few moments, now that we are well out of the way of the fire, and have a breathing spell. Perhaps they may go away after a time. What I fear is that they may come this way when they do move. In that event we must be ready to duck and run before they get so close that we can not run for fear of being shot."
"Cheerful, isn't it'?" observed Miss Briggs.
"According to one's point of view. I should not call it exactly cheerful, though I have been
in worse situations. Perhaps I care more about it now that I have both a husband and an adopted daughter. I owe something to little Yvonne, so I must be more careful and take fewer chances."
"And what about Tom!"
"He is a soldier. He understands that in war one must take the chances of war. He has done so, I have done so, and so have you. However, let's not forget that we are both on sentry duty. I see those fellows have gotten out of sight. Some of them probably are on the other end of the barn-lot so that all the ground around the building may be under observation. I do not quite understand why that patrol is working way out here a full half mile inside of the American lines," wondered Grace.
"They are after you, Loyalheart. That is quite plain."
"And came near bagging you along with myself," chuckled Grace. "I don't know how I am going to convince the chief that ii was not to blame for wrecking the car."
"Yes, if you continue the good work of wrecking ambulances, it will take the entire output of a factory to keep you going. You think-"
"There they come I" cried Grace under her breath.
Elfreda started up and would have risen to
her feet had not her companion jerked her back., "Keep down! Why aren't you more careful?
The Bodies can shoot even if they are thickheaded in other directions. You will find that they can, in a very few moments from now. Get ready, Elfreda."
"To run for it."
"I can't, I simply can't, Grace Harlowe."
"It's not a question of can't. You must unless you wish to be taken. That will mean that I shall be captured too, for I shall not go on and leave you here. You understand that, do you not!"
"Listen, dear! When you start to run try to imagine that the entire Boche army is after you and that, if they catch you, you will be subjected to the rack or some other violent form of torture. Work yourself up into a terrible fright, but keep your head. You will find it will lend fleetness to your feet."
"I don't have to work myself up into a fright, Grace Harlowe."
"Get ready." Grace took a long scrutiny of the skulking figures off there just outside of the bright light from the burning barn, after which she swept other parts of the scene with a searching gaze. No movement was discernible
on any of tie three other quarters within her range of vision.
"All ready, Elfreda dear. I'm sorry I got you into this. If we get out of it I never shall take you out again, no matter how much you may urge me to do so. I didn't stop to think of what it might lead to. I see now that I was assuming a terrible responsibility, and if anything should happen to you I never could f orgive myself. You understand thoroughly what you are to do, don't you?"
Elfreda said she did.
"Should you not find me, you will follow right on along the road, running until you come up with some of our people. When you do you will tell them what has occurred, and ask them to throw a cordon about the place in a wide circle and try to bag the whole bunch of Botches. I will start first to attract their attention, and when they begin to shoot at me, you run for your life. Let's go!"
The two girls rose to a crouching position, shook hands and leaned forward for the start. Grace leaped out and streaked it across the lot to the accompaniment of a shower of whistling rifle bullets.