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Grace Harlow - Chapter 7


Cook our breakfast in a locomotive?" exclaimed J. Elfreda.

"Yes. Why not?"

"That goes further than anything I ever heard of. Loyalheart, you surely are a wonder. I actually believe that were you to be turned out to pasture in the middle of the Sahara Desert you would find some way to provide food for yourself."

"One should have plenty of sand," said Grace. "Orderly, have the agent give you a table. Put it in the freight house for a serving table, but don't tell the boys what we propose to do. I wish to surprise them. Don't be rough 'with the agent, for I have him in good humor and prefer to keep him that way. Mr. Engineer, have you any implements by use of which I can place the food over that bed of coals without crawling in. and setting myself on fire?"

"Hang your cooking things on the poker and the fireman will hold it over the coals. I will hold another poker if necessary."

"Fine! That overcomes the difficulty. I am in such a ragged condition that I should catch fire easily. Elfreda, you too are a sight."

J. Elfreda shrugged her shoulders indifferently.

"The police will lock us up anyway the instant we step foot in Paris, but nothing that they can do will in the least disturb me. I'm past all that," declared Miss Briggs.

"Never mind, cut the bacon. Make the slices thin. The coffee is ready to put over. I think this large pot will suffice for about half of the men. It is all I can do to lift it. I wonder what the natives do with such a coffee pot?"

Elfreda suggested that perhaps the housewives used it to bathe the children in.

"I know an infantry company that cooked their Sunday dinner recently in an iron kettle that was used by a peasant family as the family bath tub. It was one of those huge affairs that are used in the states at hog-killing time," she added.

"Omit the details, Elfreda. I'll take your word for it that the proceeding was a little irregular. Pass up the plates, and as fast as they are filled you will run in with them, Orderly. Come right back for more. I shall have to remain here to do the cooking. Elfreda, you had better go along and pour the coffee. Tell the fellows to be patient, that I haven't quite gotten _ used to the stove yet, and that the draft is so strong some of the eggs have been sucked up the chimney. Make them laugh, it will give them an appetite."

"Doughboy appetites need no stimulating,": retorted Elfreda.

"Ours are sick men, remember."

"Makes no difference. There isn't any such thing as a live doughboy without an appetite. All ready."

Men smacked their lips as the aroma of coffee was borne to their nostrils, but when the savory odor of bacon and eggs reached them there were yells of delight, some strong, others weak but no less enthusiastic.

"This isn't France, it's Heaven!" groaned a doughboy. "I'm dead and don't know it."

"All right, Buddy, I will give your mess to some one else."

"What! Hand that over here!" lie commanded, raising himself on one elbow.

Men's eyes were wide open. It was difficult for them to believe what their eyes and noses told them-that here were real food and hot drinks.

"You may thank 'Captain' Grace Gray for this, young men," Elfreda informed them. "She foraged the town and paid for the stuff out of her own pocket." Elfreda did not say that it was with her money instead of Grace's that the food had been purchased.

"The 'Captain' is up in the locomotive now cooking some more for you. She says you are not to overload your stomachs, but that she 'wishes you to have what you need. We shall probably have to remain here all day, and there isn't much more food left in the town, so be as prudent as you can and still be happy."

The way those boys, some of them badly wounded, did eat! Miss Briggs opened her eyes in amazement, as helping after helping 'was brought over by the orderly and the trainman, while Grace and the engine crew cooked coffee in the firebox of the locomotive.

"Three helpings," announced Grace finally. "Tell them we must save the rest for later in the day," was the word "Captain" Grace sent to her companion. "Shall we cook a bite for ourselves now?" she asked turning to the engine crew.

They were willing to eat, but said they would help themselves from their own dinner pails, and take a little of the coffee that Grace had brought.

"Thank you! That's the real American spirit. I am going to make my breakfast on my iron rations, principally hardtack. Orderly, please take this plate of food to Miss Briggs. Then come back and have your breakfast. My back is nearly broken." Grace sank down on a pile of coal, whereupon the engineer picked her up and placed her on the fireman's seat. "I directed the agent to telegraph a report of the accident."

"Yes, he told me so when I went over to report," replied the engineer. "We ought to have a wrecking crew in here by noon, but the road is so congested that it may take hours longer. I hope you will be able to feed the men until we can get started. The water is getting so low in the boiler that we shall soon be obliged to pull the fire. What will you do then about cooking?"

"Cook in the stove in the station, provided there is anything to cook," replied Grace quickly.

"Yes, but the wood. Wood is a scarce article in France. I'll warrant you won't find enough of it in the village to cook a meal. The peasants are out now trying to pick up enough in the woods and the fields to last them through the day. How can you do that?"

"I don't intend to. We have several husky men here and the station is made of wood. If we can get the food I'll risk getting the wood. I'll tear down the railroad station if necessary and use it for firewood. You have been. very kind and I appreciate it. I shall mention your helpfulness in my report."

"I reckon they can't stop you," sighed the engineer.

"Not when the lives of American soldiers are in the balance," she made reply, getting down find starting for the station.

Grace was greeted with yells when she appeared in the station, and a doughboy began to sing, "We're just wild over her, we're just wild over her," which others took up in different keys. "You won't be in a few moments, for we are about to dress your wounds, Buddies, and that may hurt you a little."

The song gave place to long-drawn groans.

"Orderly, if you will fetch water, I shall be obliged. The agent has a pail. I shall need quite a lot of it. Sorry to work you so hard, but it can't be helped."

"You needn't be. I'll run my legs off for the likes of you," returned the orderly.

Dressing the wounds was not accomplished quickly with nearly fifty men to serve and only two women to do the actual dressing.

Sufficient material, in the shape of bandages, towels and other material, had been salvaged from the wrecked cars to enable them to ac complish their task. Antiseptics in tablet form were used in the water, and the utmost care taken that the wounds were not infected. It was a trying ordeal for two girls, but Elfreda had seen so much suffering in the hospitals, and Grace had been so much in contact with all forms of human misery for so long, that they were able to go through their task with steady nerves and hands that never trembled or fumbled.

It was noon when they finally finished their work, and time for luncheon. Grace decided that the men should lunch on their hardtack, which they might soak in coffee if they wished. As the engineer had said, there was no wood to be had for the station stove, so Grace began looking about for something to tear down. She decided upon a platform at the back of the freight and express room, a platform that wagons backed against to be loaded. This, at her direction, the trainman and the fireman attacked with axes and cut up sufficient wood for at least two meals. The patients were not very hungry, but they enjoyed their coffee with milk and sugar in it, and the hardtack, soaked in the coffee, took on a real flavor, which it entirely lacked in its dry state. In the meantime the rain had assumed a steady downpour and the heat from the stove was found to be most comforting to both patients and attendants.

"Any word of the wrecking train!" she inquired after the engineer turned away from the window, where he had been speaking with the agent.

"Doubtful if they get a wrecking train through to-day," he informed her. "Even if they do we shan't get out of here before morning. This is a one-track road, you see. All we can do is sit down and wait. We can't hurry the powers that be."

Grace reflected briefly.

"I am of the opinion that we can. At least I shall try, though I may be called down for an impertinence."

"Grace, what is it you propose to do?" demanded Miss Briggs.

"Wait, I'll show you." Grace wrote a message, penning it in French, which she knew would serve to get it through without being garbled by operators who knew no English, or who perhaps thought they did. She handed it to her companion, and J. Elfreda uttered an exclamation when she read the following message:

"To the Commander-in-Chief, A. E. F., Paris. "Fifty evacuated men from Number One in wreck at X. One killed. Important we have right of way to get the men to Neuilly or have medical attention at once. Men must be attended to or several will die. Am cooking and feeding. Food purchased from villagers. Impossible to get enough to last over to-day. "(Signed) Grace Harlowe Gray, "In Charge Evacuation Party."

"Surely, Grace, you aren't going to send that telegram?" protested Miss Briggs.

"I certainly shall send it."

"You will be court-martialed for impudence to the highest American officer in France."

Grace shrugged her shoulders.

"I can't help that. The need is urgent. If I should be court-martialed because I have tried to save American soldiers from dying I shall be sorry I am an American, that's all. Operator, send this telegram at once. Tell them to rush it. How much will it cost me?"

She paid the fee and turned to her companion.

"In view of the fact that the message has been paid for with your money, I am inclined to believe that you will be found equally guilty with me, my dear Elfreda," declared "Capstan" Grace teasingly.

"I am. As a lawyer I admit it. Remember what I tell you. You will soon hear something drop," warned J. Elfreda.

"I hope to," was the enigmatic reply. "I think I shall lie down for forty winks. Better come along. We will then give the orderly an opportunity to rest."

Elfreda shook her head, so Grace rolled up in a blanket, and, with her gas mask for a pillow, curled up on the station floor and went to sleep in a moment. Miss Briggs sat down with her back against the wall, and without realizing it, she also dropped off to sleep. The orderly gently drew a blanket about her and tiptoed into the freight room.

It was just at dusk when a familiar humming sound in the air awakened Grace Harlowe. She was wide awake and alert on the instant. The station was quiet save for the snores of the men and the rather heavy breathing of her companion, who was still sleeping soundly.

Grace threw off her blanket and stepped to the door. A huge bird was descending from the skies, circling and spiraling down over the little French hamlet. The bird proved to be an American plane, as the Overton girl soon discovered from its markings.

Shaking Elfreda awake, "Captain" Grace informed her that an American airplane was coming down on them. bounced up, rubbing her eyes, and ran out to the platform. The airplane landed in an open lot not fifty yards from the station, and two men got out. One hurried over to the station. "Are you Mrs. Grace Gray!" he demanded. "Yes, sir," replied Grace saluting, she having recognized that he was an officer. "I am Major Cobb of the Medical Department. Headquarters ordered me to proceed here by airplane, stating that you need assistance. This~ looks like it," he said, waving a hand toward the wrecked train. "Yes, sir," answered Grace, stealing a mischievous glance at J. Elfreda Briggs, who was gazing at the major and "Captain" Grace, a puzzled expression on her face.