Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross/Chapter 11
That evening the captain joined Dr. Gys on deck.
"That German, Lieutenant Elbl," he began.
"Oh, is that his name?" asked Gys.
"Yes. Will he get well?"
"Certainly. What is a foot, to a man like him? But his soldiering days are past."
"Perhaps that's fortunate," returned the captain, ruminatively. "When I was a boy, his father was burgomaster—mayor—in Munich. People said he was well-to-do. The Germans are thrifty, so I suppose there's still money in the Elbl family."
"Money will do much to help reconcile the man to the loss of his foot," declared the doctor.
"Will he suffer much pain, while it is getting well?"
"Not if I can help it. The fellow bears pain with wonderful fortitude. When I was in Yucatan, and had to slash my face to get out the poisoned darts of the cactus, I screamed till you could have heard me a mile. And I had no anaesthetic to soothe me. Your lieutenant never whimpered or cringed with his mangled foot and he refused morphine when I operated on it. But I fooled him. I hate to see a brave man suffer. I stuck a needle just above the wound when he wasn't looking, and I've doped his medicine ever since."
"Thank you," said Carg; "he's my cousin."
In the small hours of the next morning, while Patsy was on duty in the hospital section, the young Belgian became wakeful and restless. She promptly administered a sedative and sat by his bedside. After a little his pain was eased and he became quiet, but he lay there with wide open eyes.
"Can I do anything more for you?" she asked.
"If you would be so kind," replied Andrew Denton.
"Please read to me some letters you will find in my pocket. I cannot read them myself, and—they will comfort me."
Patsy found the packet of letters.
"The top one first," he said eagerly. "Read them all!"
She opened the letter reluctantly. It was addressed in a dainty, female hand and the girl had the uncomfortable feeling that she was about to pry into personal relations of a delicate character.
"Your sweetheart?" she asked gently.
"Yes, indeed; my sweetheart and my wife."
"Oh, I see. And have you been married long?" He seemed a mere boy.
"Five months, but for the last two I have not seen her."
The letters were dated at Charleroi and each one began: "My darling husband." Patsy read the packet through, from first to last, her eyes filling with tears at times as she noted the rare devotion and passionate longing of the poor young wife and realized that the boyish husband was even now dying, a martyr to his country's cause. The letters were signed "Elizabeth." In one was a small photograph of a sweet, dark-eyed girl whom she instantly knew to be the bereaved wife.
"And does she still live at Charleroi?" Patsy asked.
"I hope so, mademoiselle; with her mother. The Germans now occupy the town, but you will notice the last letter states that all citizens are treated courteously and with much consideration, so I do not fear for her."
The reading of the letters, in conjunction with the opiate, seemed to comfort him, for presently he fell asleep. With a heavy heart the girl left him to attend to her other patients and at three o'clock Ajo came in and joined her, to relieve the tedium of the next three hours. The boy knew nothing of nursing, but he could help Patsy administer potions and change compresses and his presence was a distinct relief to her.
The girl was supposed to sleep from six o'clock—at which time she was relieved from duty—until one in the afternoon, but the next morning at eight she walked into the forward salon, where her friends were at breakfast, and sat down beside Uncle John.
"I could not sleep," said she, "because I am so worried over Andrew Denton."
"That is foolish, my dear," answered Mr. Merrick, affectionately patting the hand she laid in his. "The doctor says poor Denton cannot recover. If you're going to take to heart all the sad incidents we encounter on this hospital ship, it will not only ruin your usefulness but destroy your happiness."
"Exactly so," agreed Gys, coming into the salon in time to overhear this remark. "A nurse should be sympathetic, but impersonally so."
"Denton has been married but five months," said Patsy. "I have seen his wife's picture—she's a dear little girl!—and her letters to him are full of love and longing. She doesn't know, of course, of his—his accident—or that he—he—" Her voice broke with a sob she could not repress.
"M-m," purred Uncle John; "where does she live, this young wife?"
"Well; the Germans are there."
"Yes, Uncle. But don't you suppose they would let her come to see her dying husband?"
"A young girl, unprotected? Would it be—safe?"
"The Germans," remarked Captain Carg from his end of the table, "are very decent people."
"Ahem!" said Uncle John.
"Some of them, I've no doubt, are quite respectable," observed Ajo; "but from all reports the rank and file, in war time, are—rather unpleasant to meet."
"Precisely," agreed Uncle John. "I think, Patsy dear, it will be best to leave this Belgian girl in ignorance of her husband's fate."
"I, myself, have a wife," quoth little Maurie, with smug assurance, "but she is not worrying about me, wherever she may be; nor do I feel especial anxiety for Clarette. A woman takes what comes—especially if she is obliged to."
Patsy regarded him indignantly.
"There are many kinds of women," she began.
"Thank heaven!" exclaimed Maurie, and then she realized how futile it was to argue with him.
A little later she walked on deck with Uncle John and pleaded her cause earnestly. It was said by those who knew him well that the kindly little gentleman was never able to refuse Patsy anything for long, and he was himself so well aware of this weakness that he made a supreme effort to resist her on this occasion.
"You and I," said she, "would have no trouble in passing the German lines. We are strictly neutral, you know, we Americans, and our passports and the Red Cross will take us anywhere in safety."
"It won't do, my dear," he replied. "You've already been in danger enough for one war. I shudder even now as I think of those bullets and shells at Nieuport."
"But we can pass through at some place where they are not fighting."
"Show me such a place!"
"And distances are very small in this part of the Continent. We could get to Charleroi in a day, and return the next day with Mrs. Denton."
"The doctor says he may live for several days, but it may be only for hours. If you could see his face light up when he speaks of her, you would realize what a comfort her presence would be to him."
"I understand that, Patsy. But can't you see, my dear, that we're not able to do everything for those poor wounded soldiers? You have twenty in your charge now, and by to-night there may be possibly a dozen more. Many of them have wives at home, but—"
"But all are not dying, Uncle—and after only five months of married life, three of which they passed together. Here, at least, is one brave heart we may comfort, one poor woman who will be ever grateful for our generous kindness."
Mr. Merrick coughed. He wiped his eyes and blew his nose on his pink bordered handkerchief. But he made no promise.
Patsy left him and went to Ajo.
"See here," she said; "I'm going to Charleroi in an hour."
"It's a day's journey, Patsy."
"I mean I'm going to start in an hour. Will you go with me?"
"What does Uncle John say?" he inquired cautiously.
"I don't care what he says. I'm going!" she persisted, her eyes blazing with determination.
The boy whistled softly, studying her face. Then he walked across the deck to Mr. Merrick.
"Patsy is rampant, sir," said he. "She won't be denied. Go and argue with her, please."
"I have argued," returned Uncle John weakly.
"Well, argue again."
The little man cast a half frightened, half reproachful glance at his niece.
"Let's go and consult the doctor," he exclaimed, and together Uncle John and Ajo went below.
To their surprise, Gys supported Patsy's plea.
"He's a fine fellow, this Denton," said he, "and rather above the average soldier. Moreover, his case is a pitiful one. I'll agree to keep him alive until his wife comes."
Uncle John looked appealingly at Ajo.
"How on earth can we manage to cross the lines?" he asked.
"Take one of our launches," said the boy. "Skim the coast to Ostend, and you'll avoid danger altogether."
"That's the idea!" exclaimed the doctor approvingly. "Why, it's the easiest thing in the world, sir."
Uncle John began to feel slightly reassured.
"Who will run the launch?" he inquired.
"I'll give you the captain and one of the men," said the boy. "Carg's an old traveler and knows more than he appears to. Besides, he speaks German. We can't spare very many, you understand, and the ambulances will keep Maurie and me pretty busy. Patsy will be missed, too, from the hospital ward, so you must hurry back."
"Two days ought to accomplish our object," said Uncle John.
"Easily," agreed Gys. "I've arranged for a couple of girls from the town to come and help us to-day, for I must save the strength of my expert nurses as much as possible, and I'll keep them with us until you return. The French girls are not experienced in nursing, but I'll take Miss Patsy's watch myself, so we shall get along all right."
Mr. Merrick and Jones returned to the deck.
"Well?" demanded Patsy.
"Get ready," said Uncle John; "we leave in an hour."
"Of course; unless you've changed your mind."
Patsy flew to her stateroom.