Grace Harlow - Chapter 9
IN THE HOUSE OF HAPPINESS
As GRACE stepped out into the morning sunlight and drew in a long, delicious breath of freedom, a familiar figure limped across the lawn with the assistance of a cane and sat down on a bench on the hospital grounds.
"Tom!" murmured the Overton girl, her heart beating violently. "It surely is Tom."
She walked slowly toward him, mischief in her eyes, and stepping up behind, clasped both hands over the eyes of the wounded captain. Not a word was spoken by her, but the clasp of the hands set another heart beating faster than was its wont.
"I spy you, Grace Harlowe Gray," laughed the captain, grasping both her hands and pulling her around to the front of the bench.
"Oh, Tom, I am so glad to see you," she cried, leaning over and kissing him with more emotion than Grace ordinarily displayed. "How did you know who it was!"
"How could I help knowing! Do you believe
that you could get that close to me without my very soul responding! But let's get acquainted again before we grow sentimental. Grace, you are a fright-I mean your clothing is. Whatever have you been doing to yourself and what are you doing here!"
"Thank you for the compliment, Tom, dear. Aren't you glad to see me, just a little glad to have your soldier wife with you!"
"Glad! I am so happy that I hardly dare trust myself to look at you. You haven't told me about the clothes."
"I came through with two carloads of evacuated men whom I delivered to this hospital last night. Elfreda came with me. We were wrecked, and had a bad time of it. If you don't like the looks of my clothes you will have to blame the railroad-and Jerry who bombed us off the track. Tell me how you are-and Yvonne! When did you last see her!"
"Three days ago. I bribed a one-horse seagoing hack of the old Paris type to take me over to the school, and took Yvonne for a drive. Grace, she is the most wonderful child in the world."
"She is our daughter. Why shouldn't she seem wonderful to us!" answered Grace with shining eyes. "I can hardly wait until I dare go to see her. First I must make myself more
presentable, or Madame will be shocked. For the sake of Yvonne I must look my best when I go to the school After breakfast I am going over to the Overton quarters for a change of clothing, then I will go to the school. Can you get away for the day without difficulty!"
"Then, on my way back from the school with Yvonne, I will call for you. We can go to the Overton quarters and we three will have a happy day all to ourselves. Ask for leave until to-morrow and we will put up with the girls to-night."
"Will there be room!"
"There is always room for one more at the Overton unit. I must have you with me for the short time that I am here. A big drive is in prospect and I should be back at once, even though I have five days more of leave. How are you coming along, and when do the surgeons think you will be ready to return to the line!" she asked eagerly.
"In about two weeks."
"That will be fine. I fear, however, that you will be too late for the great drive through the Hlndenburg Line."
Tom shook his head.
"They will go through, but at what a cost I" he muttered.
"I don't agree with you. The line is not nearly so formidable as the world has been led to believe. Of course there will be many casualties, but more in the German lines than in our own. However, the depleted ambulance section will be all too insignificant to take care of the work. I presume they will give us more assistance. Goodness knows we shall need it Have you seen the girls!"
"Every week since I have been here. They come singly and in bunches," answered Tom smilingly. "They go to see Yvonne once every week laden with gifts. That Overton unit surely will turn the head of that happy little waif."
"Not a waif any longer, Tom, dear. Our daughter! I am glad I instructed Madame that she was to have no sweets except the limited quantity I named. Is she making progress with her studies!"
"Rapid! Madame is enthusiastic over her. Says she never had a pupil who learned so quickly or who was more studious, and that the child is the sunshine of the whole school. Just like her mother, eh!"
"But not a bit like her father," chided Grace teasingly. "I must run in to breakfast now. I think I can be back here say by eleven o 'clock. See that you are ready. We can have our visit
out when we get home. Is there anything I may fetch. you-anything you wish, Tom!"
"Yvonne and yourself," he answered. "What more could any man ask!"
"You shall have one more kiss for that," cried Grace, tilting up his chin, her own eyes shining down into those of her much-loved husband. She kissed him tenderly, patted his cheek and, blowing a kiss, turned and ran up to the hospital.
The Overton quarters were deserted when Grace got there, as she presumed they would be. She opened her trunk and hauled its contents out over the floor, selecting from her belongings a uniform that had never been worn. This she put on after dressing her hair, then putting everything in order went out in search of a cab. Half an hour later she was ushered into the reception room of the private school, where Madame welcomed her effusively.
"Yvonne! How is she!"
"Charming, like her charming mother," answered the principal.
Grace said that the day being Friday, she wished to take the child with her, promising to return the little one on Monday, to which Madame readily agreed.
"As she is. Then, if I may, I will go to her room and select such things as she will need while with me. Please do not tell her who is waiting for her."
Madame said she understood, and left the room. Grace Harlowe realized that she had never experienced such a thrill as filled her whole being at that moment. "My daughter!" she murmured over and over again. "One day she too will be an Overton girl, the sweetest and most wonderful of them all, and we shall be so proud-and so happy."
The rattle of curtain rings brought the Overton girl back to earth. Glancing up quickly she saw framed between the portieres a golden head from which two startled blue eyes were peering at here Clad in the short little blue skirt that all the pupils of Madame's school wore, crowned by a halo of golden hair, Yvonne presented a picture that Grace Harlowe Gray carried in memory for many days, and that was a solace and an inspiration to her in her work and her pleasures.
"Yvonne! Oh, you darllng"
The little one was in her arms, hugging her and fairly smothering her face with kisses a few seconds later. Yvonne was crying a little, and Grace felt a hot tear drop on her own face.
Finally holding the child off she gazed earnestly into the face that she had learned to love so much.
"Row are you, my darling, and how is kitty!"
"Kitty is watching for the mice. Wait, I will fetch her."
"No, no, not now, dear. You are going with mother to see the girls of the Overton unit. Daddy will go with us, and we shall all be together until Monday, when Yvonne must return to school and mother must go back to the front to help the brave soldier boys. Shall you be happy to be with mother and daddy!"
"Yvonne is always happy, but she will be more so with 'Little Mother,'" replied the child with a depth of feeling that went straight to the heart of "Captain" Grace. "Will kitty go too!"
"If you really wish her to. Perhaps the Overton girls may have mice in their quarters, and if so they will be glad to have kitty catch them. I will ask Madame if we may take the cat with us. I suppose kitty will have to go across the sea with us to America when we all go back to our beautiful home there!"
"Yes, kitty will go. Kitty can swim. She swims every day when I give her a bath in the tub. Can you swim, ma mere"
"Can Daddy?" "Yes, dear."
"Will Daddy teach Yvonne to swim?"
"Yes, every little girl should learn to swim, so that if she falls into the water she will be able to swim out and save herself."
Yvonne nodded thoughtfully.
"Take mother to your room now and we will get your clothes and start. Daddy is waiting for us at the hospital. We will stop there and take him with us."
Yvonne, her hand in that of her "Little Mother," danced all the way to the staircase, up which both ran like the two happy children they were, and to the little single room that Yvonne occupied. From the child's wardrobe Grace selected such things as she required, and packed them in. the little one's suitcase, which they carried downstairs. Grace chatted briefly with Madame, after which mother and daughter went to the cab and drove to the hospital.
The child had learned a few English sentences, but Grace was not eager to have her learn to speak it fluently just yet, preferring to have Yvonne become well grounded in pure French first. English would come soon enough, and it was her intention that the child should never lose her own mother tongue.
Yvonne shed more tears when she found the strong arms of Tom Gray about her. She patted his head and his cheeks and sympathized with him over his wounds, until Tom himself reached a state of emotionalism almost equal to that in which Grace had been ever since she saw the child standing between the portieres at the school.
"Tom Gray, you and I are every bit as much children as this darling child is. We must wake up and come to a realization of our responsibilities or she will never grow up into a dignified woman," declared Grace.
"I hope she never does grow up. Let's keep her a child as long as we can-and ourselves too," he added in a lower tone.
They had the Overton quarters all to themselves, and the yellow cat got busy at once. At the end of the first thirty minutes in the quarters she had killed three mice, then all hands turned in to help the cat nose out some more, but their assistance only served to send the rest of the mice scampering to their holes, so the yellow cat was left to do her own stalking and to watch the holes, while Tom, Grace and Yvonne sat down for a happy afternoon.
Yvonne danced about at intervals, examining everything, and especially the wardrobes of the Overton girls. Later in the afternoon Grace
and Yvonne went out to do some marketing. Upon their return they found Anne Pierson there, and with her was her husband, Lieutenant David Nesbit, U. S. A., on leave to visit his wife, the first time he had seen. her since he went away to war.
Grace introduced Yvonne as "my daughter."
"Hm-m-m," reflected the lieutenant. "If I may venture to pass an opinion, war is not wholly without its compensations. Grace, you have drawn a prize package. You always did draw first prizes except when you drew Tom Gray. How's irrepressible Hippy Wingate!"
"Making a record for himself that will live in history long after you and I have passed on, David."
"I never could, by any stretch of the imagination, see Hippy in the role of a bird," interjected Tom.
"You would were you to see him fly," replied Grace. "He is wonderful, as much at home on a cloud as he is with his feet on the ground, and a great deal more graceful. You people sit still and visit. Yvonne and I will cook supper for the outfit, and at the same time Yvonne will have her first lesson in cooking."
Yvonne was full of eagerness for the lesson, and the two chattered incessantly, the child observing and asking questions in a manner that
told Grace the little one's mentality was something to be proud of.
Yvonne set the table under the critical eyes of ma mere, and was instructed in properly placing the table settings as well as to how the food should be served. Anne came in and offered to assist, but Grace said she needed no assistance outside of what Yvonne was giving her.
"Sit down and talk to us while we are getting the dinner. Tell me all about yourself. I suppose Elfreda wrote to you about our escape from the Bodies. I wish you might have seen her during the journey here with the wounded soldiers. She was splendid. Elfreda Briggs is a wonderful woman, Anne."
"I know that, but if she follows you she will come to a violent end. I learned my lesson a long time ago, early in the war, in fact. You perhaps have observed that I exhibit no eagerness to go outside of the hospital grounds with you. Elfreda will learn her lesson too."
"She has learned it. It is time she were here.
J. Elfreda went out shopping. She must be buying out the stores, for she has been out ever since breakfast this morning. There comes some one now."
It was Elfreda Briggs, flushed and happy. Her bundles clattered to the floor when she saw Yvonne, and her arms, flung wide, received the little golden-haired girl in a bear-like hug.
That was the beginning. It did not end until late that night. Soon after Elfreda 's arrival the girls of the unit came straggling in, uttering little cries of delight, each one running to Yvonne and hugging her delightedly before greeting the others of their guests.
"I fear the child will be utterly spoiled before Monday morning," declared Grace Harlowe disapprovingly.
"Don't be a grouch," begged Elfreda. "This is to be a house of happiness to-night. It may be a long time before we all shall see another like it, perhaps never."