Grace Harlow - Chapter 4
THE RESCUE OF J. ELFREDA
Elfreda followed directions to the letter. The instant the firing began she too sprang out and, turning to the left, ran on fleet foot, dodging this way and that, stooping low as she ran, proceeding some distance before she was discovered. It was then that the bullets began to whistle overhead and around her, some snipping up the dirt ahead and to one side of the fleeing girl.
Elfreda needed no encouragement to simulate fear. She had it.
"They are shooting at me!" was the thrilling thought that filled her mind. "Shooting at me, Elfreda Briggs!"
It was a new experience for the dignified young lawyeress, one that she wished she might have been spared from. In the meantime Grace Harlowe was running, dropping down, dodging, springing up and dashing ahead in a manner that must have upset the marauding German patrol. At least it did not assist them to accurate shooting, for few bullets came near
enough to the girl to cause her great distress. One went through her gas mask, another clipped the shoulder of her blouse and a third plowed a furrow through her right legging.
"There goes Elfreda!" cried Grace. "Good for her. Just see that girl run." Grace laughed in spite of the desperateness of her own situation. Elfreda disappeared in the shadows, still running, and the young ambulance driver drew a sigh of relief, believing that her companion was now safe, the German patrol no longer able to see her.
In a few moments Grace was creeping down the bank to the road, after first satisfying herself that there were no Germans about, having reached a point some distance to the westward of the place where E7lfreda might be supposed to have made contact with it, and there she sat down to rest briefly and wait for Miss Briggs. After sitting for fully fifteen minutes, Grace, becoming worried over her friend's failure to come on, decided to go back to look for her. She knew very well that it was not a prudent thing to do, but it was what Grace Harlowe was going to do, no matter what obstacles might be met with.
In the meantime Elfreda had topped the crest of the bank, where she stood for a few seconds swaying and gasping for breath, then plunged
headfirst down it and rolled over and over until she finally brought up at the bottom of the ditch in a dead faint.
As Grace neared the scene of their accident, she proceeded with great caution. On the way there she had picked up a rifle, there being many of them about, and, satisfying herself that it was fully loaded, slung it under one arm.
"Just for luck," she muttered. "I'm not a combatant, but having a weapon gives one confidence in such circumstances as these."
A scream brought the Overton girl up short. She recognized the voice as belonging to J. Elfreda Briggs and, throwing prudence aside, dashed ahead at full speed.
"There they are!" she whispered with a tightening at her heart as she made out half a dozen helmeted heads bending over something at the side of the road.
"Help! Oh, help!"
Grace Harlowe took her own self promptly in band. All traces of excitement instantly left her; she was cool and collected, alert and clear visioned as she slipped out of the road and took to the ditch where there would be less danger of discovery.
"The Bodies have found her. They will take her, but I'll drive them off or perish in the effort," declared the Overton girl beginning to
creep up on the scene. She could now see her companion sitting up, the men. bending over her, apparently questioning her.
"Now, Mr. Boche, look out!"
Bringing the butt of the rifle to her shoulder Grace took careful aim over the heads of the men of the enemy patrol and pulled the trigger.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
It sufficed to cause the Bodies to throw themselves flat on the ground, but not enough to start them going.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
"How I wish I dared shoot lower," muttered Grace Harlowe, but she dared not do so for fear of hitting Elfreda.
The need for closer shooting no longer existed, for the handful of Huns had sprung to their feet and were racing down the road. Grace sent two bullets at them, firing so low that if she did bit them at all it would be in a leg or foot. What the result of that shooting was she never knew, but she felt reasonably certain that she had accelerated their movements considerably, for they put on a fresh burst of speed and were almost instantly lost in the gloom.
"Elfreda!" shouted Grace, starting towards heron a run. "Getup and hustle! Don't sit there! They'll be back!"
Miss Briggs got to her feet unsteadily.
"Quick!" cried Grace grabbing her by an arm and rushing her back along the road, Elfreda stumbling, gasping and half fainting. Never since going to war had she so completely given way as she had that night.
"Climb up the bank," directed Grace. "The road isn't safe just yet. What happened!"
"Keep going for a few minutes. We must get further away, for those fellows will soon recover from their fright and realize that it was only one rifle that was shooting at them. Then they will come back. You weren't hit!"
"No. I might as well have been as to be scared to death. I know I shall never get over that terrible fright."
"Yes, you will. Sit down now. I wish to keep near the road. If I can get in touch with some of our own men we may soon. be able to catch those fellows of the Boche patrol."
After a brief rest the two Overton girls resumed their journey, Grace fresh and active, Elfreda scarcely able to drag herself along, and very shortly thereafter the driver of the wrecked ambulance heard troops approaching. She crept up to the edge of the bank and peered at the oncoming men, who proved to be a patrol under command of a sergeant.
"Halt, Sergeant! Friend speaking. Grace Gray, ambulance driver."
"Ambulance! We are looking for two cars that didn't reach their destination. Know anything about it!" demanded the sergeant.
"Yes, I drove one of them. I don't know who had the other, but both cars are in the ditch on the left side of the road about half a mile to the eastward. There may be a man under one of them. I had no time to look, for the Bodies followed us up after we escaped and were shooting at us," Grace informed him.
"Where's the fire!"
"It's a barn burning. We were hiding under the barn, and the Hun patrol, failing to find us, set the barn on fire. We had to run for it. If you hurry you may be able to catch them, as they are quite likely to return in the hope of getting myself and my companion."
The sergeant demanded to know who her companion might be, and Grace gave him the information, whereupon the sergeant ordered his men forward at double time.
"If he keeps that up he will frighten the enemy away and never even catch sight of them," muttered the girl. "Come, Elfreda, we may safely return to the highway now that we have some of our own men between us and the Boche patrol"
They reached the main road later, Elfreda feeling a little better, and Grace in rare good spirits. She bad outwitted a Boche patrol, which in itself was sufficient to put her in good humor with herself and the rest of the world, for at least the rest of the night.
Grace reported the loss of her car at headquarters and inquired who the missing driver was. She learned that it was Corporal Robert Cavanagi, one of the best of that corps of daredevil drivers to whom driving through storms of steel was merely a part of the day's routine.
After making their report the girls turned in. Grace sat on the edge of her cot brushing her hair, while Elfreda with chin in hands sat hunched down on her own side of the tent reflecting over the events of the night. Grace regarded her quizzically.
"A penny for your thoughts!" she called teasingly.
"You're welcome to them," retorted Miss Briggs. "My thoughts are that you are the most successful unsuccess that it has ever been my misfortune to come up with."
"How so, disregarding the English that seems to have become a habit?" demanded Grace.
"You fail to keep out of trouble but you are successful in getting out of it. There will come
a day when you will not, but I shall not be with you. I have had my fill."
"You will feel differently about it tomorrow. Remember, this is war, and war is not gentleness. It is desperate work and those who engage in it must expect to put up with the seamy side. My dear Elfreda, why not be a good soldier? I believe you are, but you won't let yourself believe it and that is nearly your whole trouble. It may surprise you to know that you haven't finished your work with me yet."
"What do you mean?" questioned Miss Briggs, glancing up sharply at her companion.
"There is no car for me to drive to-morrow and I have been directed to escort fifty men to the base hospital at Neuilly near Paris, to the American Hospital there, you know."
"What has that to do with me, Loyalheart!"
"You are going with me," replied Grace smilingly.
"I am going with you! Listen to me, Grace Harlowe, should any one ask you if I am, you may with perfect safety answer, 'NO.' This pitcher has been carried to the well for the last time in this war."
Grace laughed heartily.
"Man both proposes and disposes in this war, my dear Elfreda. Man has not only proposed but directed that you do go on this journey with me. It will be a perfectly safe journey unless the train should run off the track or meet with a collision or-"
"It will do both if you are on board," interjected Elfreda. "Who says that I am to go?"
"Major Price. It seems they are shorthanded at Evacuation Hospital Number One, and I, having nothing to do and needing a rest, have been directed to go to Paris with the evacuated patients. There being too many for one person to properly look after, the major directed that you accompany me."
"Fine! I think I shall make my will to-night. I shall require two witnesses, two who have a reasonable expectation of getting back to America alive. You will not be one of them."
"That matter undoubtedly can be arranged," murmured Grace. "Think what a pleasant time we shall have in Paris too. We shall have ten days all to ourselves, and we shall have such a happy time there with the girls. I have wanted so much to see Yvonne and Tom. He is out now, but still under treatment. Yvonne is calling for her 'Little Mother' in every letter that I get. I am eager, too, to have you meet Emma Dean's William. He is such a splendid fellow. I know you will like him, but remember, Emma has first call on him. Should she discover that he isn't the man for her, then of eourse there may be a chance for you."
"Grace Harlowe! How can you say such foolish things? I'll have you understand that J. Elfreda Briggs is not looking for a secondhand fiancé. What happened to Your ambulance? Why did it jump out of the road in that erratic fashion?"
"I don't know-to change the subject you did not give me time to investigate the cause of the accident. Are you ready to turn in?"
"Yes, but I know I shall have a bight-long nightmare after this night's experiences. Good night."
Elfreda tossed for a long time, then settled down to a dreamless sleep. Grace went to sleep soon after getting into bed. It was shortly after daylight on the following morning when she was aroused by low, chuckling laughter, that she cautiously opened one eye for an observation. What she saw was Miss Briggs sitting on the edge of her own cot rubbing her toes caressingly and laughing to herself immoderately, whereupon Grace's eyes opened wide.
"What's the matter, J. Elfreda?" she demanded. "Did you get shell shock from your experiences last night?"
"I was thinking about what a funny spectacle you made when you were crawling through that hole in the wall, burrowing through, or trying to and I pulling on you. You looked just like some kind of an animal." Elfreda lost herself in a paroxysm of laughter. "I remember once seeing my brother hauling a live woodchuck out of a hole in the ground. You reminded me of that incident."
"Thank you! I think I will get up now. I am glad to see that your point of view has changed after a night's sleep. Don't tell me you did not get a wink of sleep. How about it?"
"I-I don't believe I remember."
Grace bounced out of bed laughing heartily, and soon after that both girls were on their way to their mess tent, where they were the subject of many jests from their companions, all of 'whom had heard of their experiences of the previous night. After mess Grace reported to Major Price and asked for orders, which were to the effect that she and Miss Briggs were to Proceed immediately to Number One, taking a certain number of men to Neuilly, reporting back for duty ten days hence.
"Before you go, Lieutenant Peterson, a liaison officer, wishes to speak with you. If you 'will wait for a few moments I will have him bore."
Lieutenant Peterson's mission there was to question Grace about the occurrences of the previous night, he acting in that affair for the intelligence department. Grace told him briefly what had occurred, knowing the military values fully as well as did the man who was examining her.
"How many men would you say there were in the German patrol?" he asked after listening attentively to what she had to say.
"Perhaps twenty. I did not see all at one time. May I ask how they got through the lines? Also how and why they made their attack on ambulances!" added the Overton girl.
"These are questions that have not yet been satisfactorily answered. One driver was killed in the crash, Corporal Cavanagh."
"Oh, I'm sorry," exclaimed Grace.
"You and your friend had a most narrow escape. Had you any suspicion that their motive was to capture you, Mrs. Gray?"
"Such a thought did occur to me as a possibility," she replied thoughtfully.
"Why should the enemy wish to capture you!"
"It is quite a long story, sir, but I will be as brief as possible." Grace then told the officer of her part in the apprehension of Madame de Beaupre, an enemy agent, and her direct cap-
ture of André, one of the most dangerous spies operating for the enemy in France.
"Following those two incidents I was called upon by an officer from the French Bureau of Information in Paris and there warned that there was a price on my head. It seems that Jerry wanted me very much indeed. He captured me after that, but fortunately failed to identify me as the person he was so eager to get."
"Have any further attempts been made to get you?"
"In the Argonne what looked like a definite attempt was made, but it may not have been to get me especially. It is more than likely that the enemy was trying to cripple our ambulance service. Last night's work may be laid to the same cause. I do not assume to myself the importance of being singled out for attack, sir." Grace smiled brightly. "May I ask how they wrecked us? I had no time to investigate. It was about all I could do to get away with a whole skin."
"Strong wire was stretched across the road-a cable and wires above and below it. It did the work thoroughly, hopelessly wrecking both cars. Corporal (Cavanagh was crushed underneath his car and instantly killed."
Grace said it was some comfort to know that
lie was not living and suffering when she was so close at hand and unable to help him.
"Is there anything else that you think might be of interest to us?" questioned the lieutenant.
"Nothing that I think of now. I am sorry I have not been able to do better for you," she apologized.
"On the contrary you have supplied me with much valuable military information, Mrs. Gray. I thank you. Let me suggest that you exercise great care hereafter that you are not taken."
"Mrs. Gray seldom thinks of her own wellbeing, Lieutenant," interjected Major Price. "She is a soldier, and a good one."
"So I have been given to understand," answered the lieutenant smilingly. "I thank you very much, and shall be able, as a result of what you have told me, to make a comprehensive report to my superiors."
"Is it permissible to ask if any of the German patrol was caught, sir!" asked Grace.
"All made their escape."
"I am sorry about that, being in hopes that at least one of them might be captured and some information wrung from him. That might have answered all your questions, sir.
The lieutenant agreed with a nod, and after shaking hands with Grace he saluted the major and left the hospital.
"At least you will be safe on this journey," 'declared the major, also shaking hands with Grace as she rose to go.
"One never knows, sir. Boches have a habit of appearing at most unexpected moments and in equally unexpected places. I hope we may have a safe journey because of the men we shall have with us." Grace saluted and left the office of the commanding officer of the field hospital, proceeding directly to her tent, where Miss Briggs was awaiting her.
"We are to ride in to the Evacuation hospital and pick up our men there," she informed
A half hour later both young women were on j their way toward what was destined to be and other typically Harlowe adventure, to share again in the fortunes and misfortunes of war, in which both were prepared to do their full duty.