AFTER Charlie Sands had gone to a training camp in Ohio there was a great change in Tish. She seemed for the first time to regret that she was a woman, and there were times when that wonderful poise and dignity that had always distinguished her, even under the most trying circumstances, almost deserted her. She wrote, I remember, a number of letters to the President, offering to go into the Secret Service, and sending a photograph of the bandits she had caught in Glacier Park. But she only received a letter from Mr. Tumulty in reply, commencing "May I not thank you," but saying that the Intelligence Department had recently been increased by practically the entire population of the country, and suggesting that she could best use her energies for the national welfare by working for the return of the Democratic Party in 1920.
However, as Tish is a Republican she was not interested in this, and for a time she worked valiantly for the Red Cross and spent her evenings learning the national anthem. But she recited it, since, as the well-known writer, Mr. Irvin Cobb, has observed, it can only be properly sung by a boy whose voice is changing. It was evident, however, that she was increasingly restive, and as I look back I wonder that we did not realize that there was danger in her very repression.
As Aggie has said, Tish is volcanic in her temperament; she remains inactive for certain preparatory periods, but when she overflows she does so thoroughly.
The most ominous sign was when, in July of 1917, she stopped knitting and took up French.
Only the other day, while house cleaning, she came across the aëroplane photograph of the French village of V——, where our extraordinary experience befell us, and she turned on us both with that satiric yet kindly gaze which we both knew so well.
"If you two idiots had had your way," she observed, "I should have been knitting so many socks for Charlie Sands that he'd have had to be a centipede to wear 'em all, instead of——"
"Tish," Aggie said in a shivering voice, "I wish you wouldn't talk about it. I can't bear it, that's all. It sets me shivering."
Tish eyed her coldly. "The body is entirely controlled by the mind, Aggie," she reminded her. "And when I remember how nearly your lack of control cost us our lives, when you insisted on sneezing——"
"Insisted! If you had been in a shell hole full of water up to your neck, Tish Carberry——"
"The difference between you and me, Aggie," Tish replied calmly, "is that I should not have been in a shell hole full of water up to my neck." The war was over then, of course, but there was still a disturbed condition in certain countries, and Tish's eyes grew reflective.
"I see they are thinking of sending a real army into Russia," she said thoughtfully. "I suppose that Russian laundress of the Ostermaiers' could teach a body to talk enough to get about with."
Shortly after that Aggie disappeared, and I found her later on in Tish's bathroom crying into a Turkish towel.
"I won't go, Lizzie," she said, "and that's flat! I've done my share, and if Tish Carberry thinks I am going to go through the rest of my life falling into shell holes and being potted at by all sort of strange men she can just think again. Besides that, I have been true to the memory of one man for a good many years, and I simply refuse to be kissed by any more of those immoral foreigners."
Aggie had in her youth been betrothed to a gentleman in the roofing business, who had met with an unfortunate accident, owing to having slipped on a tin gutter, without overshoes, one rainy day; and it is quite true that we had all been kissed by two French generals and a man in civilian clothes who had not even been introduced to us. But up to that time we had kept the osculatory incident a profound secret.
"Aggie," I said with sudden suspicion, "you haven't told Mrs. Ostermaier about that affair, have you?"
Aggie put down the towel and looked at me defiantly.
"I have, Lizzie," she said. "Not all of it, but some. She said she had gone to the moving pictures with the youngest girl, but that she had been obliged to take her away before it was over, owing to a picture from France of Tish's being kissed by a French general. She said that as soon as he had kissed her on one cheek she turned the other, and that she thinks the effect on Dolores was extremely bad."
It was a great shock to us all to learn that the incident of the town of V—— had thus been made public, and that there was a moving picture of our being decorated, et cetera, going about the country. It is, I believe, quite usual to kiss the persons receiving the Croix de Guerre, even when of the masculine sex, and I know positively that Tish never saw that French general again.
However, in view of the unfortunate publicity I have decided to make this record of the actual incident of the French town of V——. For the story has got into the papers, and only yesterday Tish discovered that the pleasant young man who had been trying to sell her a washing machine was really a newspaper reporter in disguise.
Certain things are not true. We did not see or have any conversation with the former Emperor of the Germans; nor were any of us wounded, though Aggie got a piece of plaster in her right eye when a shell hit the church roof, and I was badly scratched by barbed wire. It is not true, either, that Aggie had her teeth knocked out by a German sentry. She unfortunately fell in the darkness and lost her upper set, and it was impossible to light a match in order to search for them.
It was, as I have said, in July of the first year of the war that both Aggie and I noticed the change in Tish. She grew moody and abstracted, and on two Sundays in succession she turned over her Sunday-school class to me and went for long walks into the country. Also, going to her apartment for Sunday dinner on, I believe, the second Sunday of the month we were startled to see the Andersons, very nice people who occupy the lower floor of the building, running out wildly into the street. They said that the janitor had been quarreling with some one in the furnace cellar, and that from high words, which they could plainly hear, they had got to shooting, and a bullet had come up through the floor and hit the phonograph.
I had a strange feeling at once, and I caught Aggie's agonized eyes on me. We remained for some time in the street, and then, everything seeming to be quiet, we ventured in, with two policemen leading the way, and the Anderson baby left outside in its perambulator for fear of accident. All was quiet, however, and we made our way upstairs to Tish's apartment. She was waiting for us, and reading the Presbyterian Banner, but I thought she was almost too calm when we told her of the Andersons' terrible experience.
"It's a good riddance," she said, referring to the phonograph. "Besides, what right have people over here to fuss about one bullet? Think of our boys in the trenches."
After a time she looked up suddenly and said: "It didn't go anywhere near the baby, I suppose?"
We said it had not, and she then observed that the building was a mere shell, and that people with small children should raise them in the country anyhow.
It was during dinner—Tish had been reading Horace Fletcher for some time, and meals lasted almost from one to the next—that Hannah came in and said the janitor wanted to see Tish. She went out and came back somewhat later, looking as irritated as our dear Tish ever looks, and got her pocketbook from behind the china closet and went out again.
"I expected as much," Hannah said. Hannah is Tish's maid. "She's paying blackmail. Like as not that janitor will collect a hundred dollars from her, and that phonograph never cost more than thirty-five. They're paying for it on the installment plan, and the man only gets a dollar a week."
"Hannah," I said sharply, "if you mean to insinuate——"
"Me ?" Hannah replied in a hurt tone. "I don't insinuate anything. If I was called tomorrow before a judge and jury I'd say that for all I know Miss Tish was reading the Banner all morning. But I'd pray they wouldn't take a trip here and look in the upper right-hand sideboard drawer."
She then went out and slammed the door.
Aggie and I make it a point of honor never to pry into Tish's secrets, so we did not, of course, look into the drawer. However, a moment later I happened to upset my glass of water and naturally went to the sideboard drawer in question for a fresh napkin. And Tish's revolver was lying underneath her best monogramed tray cover.
"It's there, Aggie," I said. "Her revolver. She's practicing again; and you know what that means—war."
Aggie gave a low moan.
"I wish we'd let her get that aëroplane. She might have been satisfied, Lizzie," she said in a shaken voice.
"She might have been dead too," I replied witheringly.
And then Tish came back. She said nothing about the Andersons; but later on when the baby started to cry she observed rather bitterly that she didn't see why people had to have a phonograph when they had that, and that personally she felt that whoever destroyed that phonograph should have a vote of thanks instead of—— She did not complete the sentence.
It was soon after that that we went to visit Charlie Sands, Tish's nephew, at the camp where he was learning to be an officer. We called to see the colonel in command first, and Aggie gave him two extra blankets for Charlie Sands' bed and a pair of knitted bedroom slippers. He was very nice to us and promised to see personally that they went to the proper bed.
"I'm always delighted to attend to these little things," he said. "Fine to feel that our boys are comfortable. You haven't by any chance brought an eiderdown pillow?"
He seemed very regretful when he found we had not thought of one.
"That's too bad," he said. "I've discovered that there is nothing so comforting as a down pillow after a day of strenuous labor."
It was rather disappointing to find that the duties of his position kept him closely confined to the office, and that therefore he had not yet had the pleasure of meeting Tish's nephew, but he said he had no doubt they would meet before long.
"They're all brought in here sooner or later, for one thing or another," he said pleasantly.
As Tish observed going out, it was pleasant to to think of Charlie Sands' being in such good hands.
It was, however, rather a shock to find him, when we did find him, lying on his stomach in a mud puddle with a rifle in front of him. We did not recognize him at once, as a lot of men were yelling, and indeed just at first he did not seem particularly glad to see us.
"Suffering cats!" he shouted. "Don't you see we're shooting? You'll be killed. Get behind the line!"
"I guess it won't defeat the Allies if you stop shooting for two minutes," Tish observed with her splendid poise. "But if you will take charge of this homemade apple butter, which I didn't trust your colonel with, we will go to your sitting room, or wherever it is you receive visitors."
There was quite a crowd of young officers round us by that time and we waited to be introduced. But Charlie Sands did not seem to think of it, so Tish put down the apple butter on the ground and said to one of them:
"Now, young man, since we seem to be in your way, perhaps you will take us to some place to wait for my nephew." Then seeing that he looked rather strange she added: "But perhaps you have never met. This is my nephew, Mr. Sands. If you will tell me who you are——"
"Williams is my name," he said. "I—Major Williams. I—I've met your nephew—that is—— Private Sands, take these ladies to the Y. M. C. A. hut, and report back here in an hour."
Tish did not like this; nor did I. As Tish observed later, he might have been speaking to the butler.
"He might at least have said 'Mister,' and a 'please' hurts no one," she said. As for giving him only an hour when we had come a hundred miles—it was absurd. But war does queer things.
It had indeed strangely altered Tish's nephew. We were all worried about him that day. It was his manner that was odd. He seemed, as Tish said later, suppressed. When for instance we wished to take him back to headquarters and present him to the colonel he said at once: "Who? Me? The colonel! Say, you'd better get this and get it right: I'm nothing here. I'm less than nothing. Why, the colonel could walk right over me on the parade ground and never even know he'd stepped on anything. If I was a louse and he was a can of insect powder——"
"Now see here, Charlie Sands," Tish said firmly, "I'll trouble you to remember that there are certain words not in my vocabulary; and louse is one of them."
"Still, a vocabulary is a better place than some others I can think of," he observed.
"What is more," Tish added, "you are misjudging that charming colonel. He told us himself that he tried to be a mother to you all."
She then told him how interested the colonel had been in the blankets, and so on, but I must say Charlie Sands was very queer about it. He stopped and looked at us all in turn, and then he got out the dirtiest handkerchief I have ever seen and wiped his forehead with it.
"Perhaps you'd better say it again," he said; "I don't seem to get it. You are sure it was the colonel?"
So Tish repeated it, but when she came to the eiderdown pillow he held up his hand.
"All right," he said in a strange tone. "I believe you. I—you don't mind if I go and get a drink of water, do you? My mouth is dry."
Dear Tish watched him as he went away, and shook her head.
"He is changed already," she observed sadly. "That is one of the deadliest effects of war. It takes the bright young spirit of youth and feeds it on stuff cooked by men, with not even time enough to chew properly, and puts it on its stomach in the mud, while its head is in the clouds of idealism. I think that a letter to the Secretary of War might be effective."
I must admit that we had a series of disappointments that day. The first was in finding that they had put Tish's nephew, a grandson of a former Justice of the Supreme Court, into a building with a number of other men. Not only that but without so much as a screen, or a closet in which to hang up his clothing.
"What do you mean, hang up my clothes?" he said when we protested. "They're hung up all right—on me."
"It seems rather terrible," Aggie objected gently. "No privacy or anything."
"Privacy! I haven't got anything to hide."
We found some little comfort, however, in the fact that beneath the pitiful cot that he called his bed he had a small tin trunk. Even that was destroyed, however, by the entrance of a thin young man called Smithers, who reached under the cot and dragging out the trunk proceeded to take out one of the pairs of socks that Aggie had knitted.
Charlie Sands paid no attention, but Tish fixed this person with a cold eye.
"Haven't you made a mistake?" she inquired. The young man was changing his socks, with his back to us, and he looked back over his shoulder.
"Sorry!" he said. "Didn't like to ask you to go out. Haven't any place else to go, you know."
"Aren't you putting on my nephew's socks?"
"Extraordinary!" he said. "Did you notice that?"
"I'll trouble you to take them off, young man."
"Well," he said reflectively, "I'll tell you what we'll do: I'll take off these socks if he'll return what he's got on that belongs to me. I don't remember exactly, but I'm darn sure of his underwear and his breeches. You see, while you good people at home are talking democracy we're practicing it, and Sands' idea is the best yet. He swaps an entire outfit for a pair of socks. Even the Democratic Party can't improve on that."
Tish was very thoughtful during the remainder of the afternoon, but she brightened somewhat when, later on, we sat on the steps of a building watching Charlie Sands and a number of others going through what Major Williams called setting-up exercises. She was greatly interested and made notes in her memorandum book. I have a copy of the book before me now. The letter T, S, A and B stand respectively for Toes, Stomach, Arms and Back. I shall not quote all Tish's notes, but this one, for instance, is illustrative of her thorough methods:
"Lying on B. in mud, H. flat on ground, L. rigidly extended: Rise L. in air six times. Retaining prone position rise to sitting position without aid of A., but using S. muscles. Repeat six times. [Note: Director uses language unfitting a soldier and a gentleman. Report to the Secretary of War.]"
She recorded the other movements with similar care, and after one is the thoughtful observation: "Excellent to make Lizzie look less like a bolster."
I find all of Tish's notes taken that day as very indicative of the thoroughness with which she does everything. For instance she made the following recommendations to be sent to the War Department:
"That the camp cooks be instructed to use hemmed tea towels instead of sacking, and to boil the dish towels after each meal, preferably with soap powder and soda.
"That screens be provided between cots, to give that measure of privacy necessary to a man's self-respect.
"Large, commodious clothes closets in the barracks. A bag of camphor in each one would serve to keep away moths. Also, that wearing apparel should not be borrowed.
"All army blankets should be marked as to the end to go to the top of the cot. Sheets should also be provided, as blankets scratch and have a tendency to keep the soldier awake.
"Soda fountains here and there through the camp would do a great deal to prevent the men in training from going to neighboring towns after certain deleterious liquids. [Should, however, be served by male attendants.]
"Pyjamas should be included in every soldier's equipment. [Charlie Sands had told us a startling thing. On inquiring what had become of the raw-silk pyjamas we had made him as a part of his army equipment he confessed that he did not use them, and in fact had torn them into rags to clean his gun. He went even further, and stated that it was not the custom of the men to use pyjamas at all, and that in fact on cold nights some of them merely removed their hats and shoes, and then retired.]
"Table linen, even if coarse, should be provided. Are our men to come back to us savages?"
It may have been purely coincidence, but soon after Tish's recommendations had been received at the War Department the Fosdick Commission was appointed. Yet we carried away a conviction that though certain things had been sadly neglected Charlie Sands was in good hands. The colonel came up to speak to us when, seeing the men standing in rows on the parade ground about sunset while the band played, we stood watching.
He was very pleasant, and said that they were about to bring in the flag. Some such conversation then ensued:
Tish: Do you bring in the flag every night?
The Colonel: Every night, madam.
Tish: Then you are a better housekeeper than I thought you were.
The Colonel: I beg your pardon?
Tish (magnanimously): You may not know much about dishcloths, but you are right about flags. They do fade, and I dare say dew is about as bad as rain for them.
He seemed very much gratified by her approval, and said in twenty-five years in the Army he had never failed to have the flag brought in at night. "I may fail in other things," he said wistfully. "To err is human, you know. But the flag proposition is one I stand pat on."
It was after our return visit to the camp that the real change in Tish began. We had gone to our cottage in Lake Penzance for the summer, and Tish suggested that we study French there. She had an excellent French book, with photographs in it showing where to place the tongue and how to pucker the lips for certain sounds. At first she did not allow us to do anything but practice these facial expressions, and I remember finding Hannah in the kitchen one night crying into her bread sponge and asking her what the trouble was.
"I just can't bear it, Miss Lizzie," she said; "when I look in and see the three of you sitting there making faces I nearly go crazy. I've got so I do it myself, and the milkman won't leave the bottles no nearer than the gate."
After some days of silent practice Tish considered that we could advance a lesson, and we began with syllable sounds, thus:
Ba—Said with tip of tongue against lower teeth.
Be—Show two upper middle teeth.
It was an excellent method, though we all found difficulty in showing only two upper middle teeth.
There were also syllables which called for hollow cheeks, and I remember Tish's irritation at my failure.
"If you would eat less whipped cream, Lizzie," she said scathingly, "you might learn the French language. Otherwise you might as well give it up."
"I dare say there are plump people among the French," I retorted. "And I never heard that a Frenchwoman who put on twenty pounds or so went dumb. That woman who trims your hats isn't dumb so you could notice it. I'd thank my stars if she was. She can say forty dollars fast enough, and she doesn't suck in her cheeks either!"
In the end Aggie and I gave up the French lessons, but Tish kept them up. She learned ten nouns a day, and she made an attempt at verbs, but gave it up.
"I can secure anything I want, if I ever visit our valiant Ally," she said, "by naming it in the French and then making the appropriate gesture."
She made the experiment on Hannah, and it worked well enough. She would say "butter" or "spoon" and point to her place at the table; but Hannah almost left on the strength of it, and when she tried it on Mr. Jennings, the fishman, he told all over Penzance that she had lost either her mind or her teeth.
Aggie and I were extremely uneasy all of July, for Tish does nothing without a motive, and she was learning in French such warlike phrases as "Take the trenches," "The enemy is retiring," and "We must attack from the rear." She also took to testing out the engine of her automobile in various ways, and twice, trying to cross a plowed field with it, had to be drawn out with a rope. She took to driving at night without lights also, and had the ill luck to run into the Penzance doctor's buggy and take a wheel off it.
It was after that incident, when we had taken the doctor home and put him to bed, that I demanded an explanation.
But she only said with a far-away look in her eyes: "It may be a useful accomplishment some time. If one were going after wounded at night it would be invaluable."
"Not if you killed all the doctors on the way!" I snapped.
The limit to our patience came soon after that. One morning about the first of August the boat man from the lake came up the path with a spade over his shoulder. Tish, we perceived, tried to take him aside, but he gave her no time.
"Well, I've done it, Miss Tish," he said, "and God only knows what'll happen if somebody runs into it between now and tomorrow morning."
"Nobody will know you did it unless you continue to shout the way you are doing now."
"Oh, I'll not tell," he observed; "I'm not so proud of it. But 'twouldn't surprise me a mite if we both did some time together in the county jail, on the head of it, Miss Tish."
Well, Aggie went pale, but Tish merely gave him five dollars and spent the rest of the day shut in the garage with her car. I went back and looked in the window during the afternoon, and she was on her back under it, hammering at something.
That night at dinner she made an announcement.
"I have for some time," she said, "been considering—go out, Hannah, and close the door—been considering the values of different engines for an ambulance which I propose to take to France."
"Tish !" Aggie cried in a heart-rending tone.
"And I have come to the conclusion that my own car has the best engine on the market. Tonight I propose to make a final test and if it succeeds I shall have an ambulance body built on it. I know this engine; I may almost say I have an affection for it. And it has served me well. Why, I ask you, should I abandon it and take some new-fangled thing that would as like as not lie down and die the minute it heard the first shell?"
"Exactly," I said with some feeling; "why should you, when you can count on me doing it anyhow?"
She ignored that, however, and said she had fully determined to go abroad and to get as near the Front as possible. She said also that she had already written General Pershing, and that she expected to start the moment his reply came.
"I told him," she observed, "that I would prefer not being assigned to any particular part of the line, as it was my intention, though not sacrificing the national good to it, to remain as near my nephew as possible. Pershing is a father and I felt that he would understand."
She then prepared to take the car out, and with a feeling of desperation Aggie and I followed her.
For some time we pursued the even tenor of our way, varied only by Tish's observing over her shoulder: "No matter what happens, do not be alarmed, and don't yell!"
Aggie was for getting out then, but we have always stood by Tish in an emergency, and we could not fail her then. She had turned into a dark lane and we were moving rapidly along it.
"When I say 'Ready!' brace yourselves for a jar," Tish admonished us. Aggie was trembling, and she had just put a small flash of blackberry cordial to her lips to steady herself when the machine went over the edge of a precipice, throwing Aggie into the road and myself forward into the front of the car.
There was complete silence for a moment. Then Aggie said in a reproachful voice: "You didn't say 'Ready!' Tish."
Tish, however, said nothing, and in the starlight I perceived her bent over the steering wheel. The car was standing on its forward end at the time.
"Tish!" I cried. "Tish!"
She then straightened herself and put both hands over the pit of her stomach.
"I've burst something, Lizzie," she said in a strangled tone. "My gall bladder, probably."
She then leaned back and closed her eyes. We were greatly alarmed, as it is unlike our brave Tish to give in until the very last, but finally she sat erect, groaning.
"I am going back and kill that boatman," she said. "I told him to dig a shell hole, not a cellar." Here she stood up and felt her pulse. "If I've burst anything," she announced a moment later, "it's a corset steel. That boatman is a fool, but at least he has given us a chance to see if we are of the material which France requires at this tragic juncture."
"I can tell you right away that I am not," Aggie said tartly. "I'm not and I don't want to be. Though I can't see how biting my tongue half through is going to help France anyhow."
But Tish was not listening. She had lifted three shovels out of the car, and we could see her dauntless figure outlined against the darkness.
"The Germans," she said at last, "are over there behind that chicken house. The machine is stalled in a shell hole and contains a wounded soldier. We are being shelled and there are those what-you-call-'em lights overhead. We must escape or be killed. There is only one thing to do. Lizzie, what is your idea of the next step?"
"Anybody but a lunatic would know that," I said tartly. "The thing to do is to go home and make an affidavit that we never saw that car, and that the hole in this road is where it was struck by lighting."
"Aggie," Tish said without paying any attention to me, "here is a shovel for you."
But Aggie sniffed.
"Not at all, Tish Carberry," she observed. "I am the wounded soldier, and I don't stir a foot."
In the end, however, we all went to work to dig the car out of the hole, and at three o'clock in the morning Tish climbed in and started the engine. It climbed out slowly, but as Tish observed it gave an excellent account of itself.
"And I must say," she said, "I believe we have all shown that we can meet emergency in the proper spirit. As for the hole, that driveling idiot who dug it can fill it up tomorrow morning and no one be the wiser."
I have made this explanation because of the ugly reports spread by the boatman himself. It is necessary, because it appears that he became intoxicated on the money Tish had so generously given him, and the milk wagon which supplied us going into the hole an hour or so after we had left he shamelessly told his own part and ours in the catastrophe. The result was that waking the next morning with a severe attack of lumbago I heard our splendid Tish being attacked verbally by the milkman and forced to pay an outrageous sum in damages.
By September Tish had had the old body removed from her automobile and an ambulance body built on. She made the drawings for it her self, and it contained many improvements over the standard makes. It contained, for instance, a cigarette lighter—not that Tish smokes, but because wounded men always do, and we knew that matches were scarce in France. It also contained an ice-water tank, a reading lamp, with a small portable library of improving books selected by our clergyman, Mr. Ostermaier, and a false bottom. This last Tish was rather mysterious about, merely remarking that it might be a good place for Aggie to retire to if she took a sneezing spell within earshot of the enemy.
When I look back and recall how foresighted Letitia Carberry was I am filled with admiration of those sterling qualities which have so many times brought us safely out of terrible danger.
We were, however, doomed at first to real disappointment. With everything arranged, with the ambulance ready and our costumes made, we could not get to France. Tish made a special trip to Washington to see the Secretary of War, and he remembered very well her recommendations as to the camps, and so forth, and said that he had referred the matter of pyjamas, for instance, to the Chief of Staff. He himself felt that the point was well taken. He believed in pyjamas, and wore them, but that he had an impression, though he did not care to go on record about it, that the chief of staff advocated nightshirts. He also said that he had a letter from General Pershing asking that no relatives of soldiers go to France, as he was afraid that the gentle and restraining influence of their loved ones would impair their taste for war.
Aggie and I began to have a little hope at that time, and Aggie tore up a will she had made leaving her property to the Red Cross, on condition that it kept up Mr. Wiggins' lot in the cemetery. But just as we were feeling more cheerful Aggie had a warning. She had been reading everywhere of the revival in spiritualism, and once before when she was in doubt she had been most successful with a woman who told the future with the paste letters that are used in soup. She went to a clairvoyant and he told her to be very careful of high places, and that the warning came from some one who had passed over from a high place. He thought it was an aviator, but we knew better, and Aggie looked at me with agonized eyes.
Aggie has said since that when she was in her terrible position at V—— she remembered that warning, but of course it was too late then.
It was when we had gone back to the city that we realized that Tish was still determined to get to France. Only two days after our return she came in with a book called "Military Codes and Signals," and gave it to Aggie. She had it marked at a place which told how to signal at night with an electric flashlight, and from that time on for several weeks she would sit in her window at night, with Aggie on the pavement across the street, also with a pocket flash, both of them signaling anything that came into their heads. It was rather hard on Aggie on cold evenings, and I remember very well that one night she came in and threw her flashlight on the floor, and then burst into tears.
"I'm through, Tish," she said, "and that's all there is to it! I've stood being frozen until my feet are so cold I can't tell one from the other, but I draw the line at being insulted."
"Insulted?" Tish said. "If you are going to mind trifles when your country's safety is in question you'd better stay at home. Who insulted you?"
Well, it seems that by way of conversation Aggie had flashed that the wretch with the cornet who rooms above Tish's apartment was at the window watching and she wished he'd fall out and break his neck.
He had then put out his own light and had appeared in the window again, and had flashed in the same code: "Come, birdie, fly with me."
For certain reasons I have decided not to reveal how Tish finally arranged that we should get to France. As the Secretary of War says, it might make him very unpopular with the many women he had been obliged to refuse. It is enough to say that the wonderful day finally came when we found ourselves on the very ocean which had carried Tish's nephew on his glorious mission. Aggie was particularly exalted as we went down the bay, escorted by encircling aëroplanes.
"I'm not a brave woman, Tish," she said softly, "but as I look back on that glorious sky line I feel that no sacrifice is too great to make for it. I am ready to do or die."
"Humph," said Tish. "Well, as far as I'm concerned, after the prices they charged me at that hotel the Germans are welcome to New York. I'd give it to them and say 'Thank you' when they took it."
We then went below and tried on our life-preserving suits, which the clerk at the steamship office had rented to us at fifteen dollars each.
He said they were most essential, and that when properly inflated one could float about in them for a week. Indeed, as Tish said, with a compass and a small sail one could probably make the nearest land, such as the Azores, supporting life in the meantime with ship's biscuits, and so on, in waterproof packages, carried in the pockets provided for the purpose. She did indeed go so far as to place a bottle of blackberry cordial in the pocket of each suit, and also a small tin of preserved ginger, which we have always found highly sustaining. But we were somewhat uneasy to discover that it required a considerable length of time to get into the suits.
We had barely got into them, when we heard a bugle blowing and men running. Just after that an alarm bell began to ring, and Aggie said "It has come!" and as usual commenced to sneeze violently. We ran out on deck, dear Tish saying to be calm, as more lives were lost through excitement than anything else; though she herself was none too calm, for when we found afterward that it was only a lifeboat drill I discovered that she was carrying her silver-handled umbrella.
Every one was on the deck, and I must say that we were followed by envious glances. As we had inflated the suits they were not immodest, effectually concealing the lines of the figure, but making it difficult to pass through doorways.
There was a very nice young man on deck, in a Red Cross uniform, and he said that as he was the only male in our lifeboat he was pleased to see that three of the eighteen ladies in it were prepared to take care of themselves. He said that he felt he would probably have his hands full saving the fifteen others.
"Not," he added, "that I should feel comfortable until you were safely in the boat anyhow. I should not like to think of you floating about, perhaps for weeks, and possibly dodging sharks and so on."
Tish liked him at once, and said that in case of trouble if the boat were crowded we would only ask for a towing line.
It was while this conversation was going on that Aggie suddenly said: "I've changed my mind, Tish, I'm not going."
Well, we looked at her. She was a green color, and she said she'd thank us to put her off in something or other and let her go back. She wasn't seasick, but she just didn't care for the sea. She never had and she never would. And then she said "Ugh!" and the Red Cross man put his arm around her as far as it would go in the rubber suit, and said that certainly she was not seasick, but that some people found the sea air too stimulating, and she'd better go below and not get too much of it at first.
He helped us get Aggie down to her cabin, but unluckily he put her down on Tish's knitting. We had the misfortune to hear a slow hissing sound, and her inflated suit began to wilt immediately, where a steel needle had penetrated it.
Even then both Tish and I noticed that he had a sad face, and later on, when we had put Aggie to bed in her life suit, for she refused to have it taken off, we sat in Tish's cabin across, listening to Aggie's moans and to his story.
Tish had immediately demanded to know why he was not in the uniform of a fighting man, and he said at once: "I'm glad you asked me that. I've been wanting to tell the whole ship about it, but it's so darned ridiculous. I've tried every branch and they've all turned me down, for a—for a physical infirmity."
"Flat feet?" Tish asked.
"No. The truth is, I've had a milk leg. Fact. I know it is—er—generally limited to the other sex at—er—certain periods. But I've had it. Can't hike any distance. Can't run. Couldn't even kick a Hun," he added bitterly. "And what's more, there's a girl on this ship who thinks I'm a slacker, and I can't tell her about it. She wouldn't believe me if I did—though why a fellow would make up a milk leg I don't know. And she'd laugh. Everybody laughs. I've made a lot of people happy."
"Why don't you tell her you have heart disease?" Tish inquired in a gentler tone. Though not young herself she has preserved a fine interest in the love affairs of youth.
"Oh, I've got that all right," he said gloomily. "But it's not the sort that keeps a fellow out of the Army. It's—well, that doesn't matter. But suppose I told her that? She wouldn't marry me with heart disease."
"Tish!" Aggie called faintly.
In the end we were obliged to cut the rubber suit off with the scissors, as she not only refused to get up but wanted to drown if we were torpedoed. We therefore did not see the young man again until evening, and then he was with a very pretty girl in a Y. M. C. A. uniform. We had gone up on deck for air, and Tish was looking for the captain. She had a theory that if we could put Aggie in a hammock she would feel better, as the hammock would remain stationary while the ship rocked. Just as we passed them the girl said : "He's the best-looking man on the ship anyhow. And he's a captain in the infantry. He says it is the most dangerous branch of the service."
"Oh, he does, does he?" said the Red Cross young man. "Well, you'd better wait six months before you fall too hard for him. He may get his face changed, and there isn't much behind it."
He spoke quite savagely, and both Tish and I felt that he was making a mistake, and that gentleness, with just a suggestion of the caveman beneath, would have been more efficacious. Indeed when we knew Mr. Burton better—that was his name—we ventured the suggestion, but he only shook his head.
"You don't know her," he said. "She is the sort of girl who likes to take the soft-spoken fellow and make him savage. And when she gets the cave type she wants to tame him. I've tried being both, so I know. I'm damned—I beg your pardon—I'm, cursed if I know why I care for her. I suppose it's because she has about as much use for me as she has for a dose of Paris green. But if you hear of that Weber who hangs round her going overboard some night, I hope you'll understand. That's all."
That conversation, however, was later on in the voyage. That first night out Tish saw the captain and he finally agreed, if we said nothing about it, to have a sailor's hammock hung in Aggie's cabin.
"It wouldn't do to have it get about, madam," he said. "You know how it is—I'd have all the passengers in hammocks in twenty-four hours, and the crew sleeping on the decks. And you know crews are touchy these days, what with submarines and chaplains and young shave-tails of officers who expect to be kissed every time they're asked to get off a coil of rope."
We promised secrecy, and that evening a hammock was hung in Aggie's cabin. It was not much like a hammock, however, and it was so high that Tish said it looked more like a chandelier than anything else. Getting Aggie into it required the steward, the stewardess, Mr. Burton and ourselves, but it was finally done, and we all felt easier at once, except that I was obliged to stand on a chair to feed her her beef tea.
However, just after midnight Tish and I in our cabin across heard a terrible thud, followed by silence and then by low, dreadful moans. Aggie had fallen out. She did not speak at all for some time, and when she did it was to horrify Tish. For she said: "Damnation!"
Tish immediately turned and left the cabin, leaving me to press a cold knife against the lump on Aggie's head and to put her back into her berth. She refused the hammock absolutely. She said she had forgotten where she was, and had merely reached out for her bedroom slippers, which were six feet below, when the whole thing had turned over and thrown her out.
She insisted that she did not remember saying anything improper, but that the time Tish's horse had thrown her in the cemetery she had certainty used strong language, to say the least.
I remember telling Tish this, and she justified herself by the subconscious mind, which she was studying at the time. She said that the subconscious mind stored up all the wicked words and impulses which the conscious mind puts virtuously from it. And she recalled the fact that Mr. Ostermaier, our clergyman, taking laughing gas to have a tooth drawn, tried to kiss the dentist on coming out, and called him a sweet little thing—though Mrs. Ostermaier is quite a large woman.
We became quite friendly with Mr. Burton during the remainder of the voyage. He formed the habit of coming down every evening before dinner to our cabin and having a dose of blackberry cordial to prevent seasickness.
"I've had it before," he said on one occasion, "but never with such—er—medicinal qualities. You don't put anything in it but blackberries, do you?"
"Only a little alcohol to preserve it," I told him with some pride. I generally make it myself.
"I will say this for it: It's extremely well preserved," he said, and filled up the tooth mug again. It was after that that he told us that Hilda had refused to marry him, and was flirting outrageously with Captain Weber.
"I only say this," he added gloomily: "He's right when he says he belongs in the infantry. He's got the photographs of five youngsters in his cabin; or he did have. He's probably hidden them now."
"Why don't you tell her?" Tish demanded.
"Why should I? Let her make a fool of herself if she wants to," he said despondently. "What chance have I against a shipload of 'em, anyhow? If it wasn't this one it would be another. She's got her eye on a tank now, and she's only waiting for that aviator to forget his stomach to sit at his feet and worship. God only knows what would happen if we had a Croix de Guerre on board."
He sat for some time, sipping the blackberry cordial and looking into space.
"I've got it figured out this way," he said at last. "I've got to pull off something over there. That's all. Got to get in the papers and get a medal and a wooden leg. She'd stand for a wooden leg better than a milk one," he added viciously.
Both Aggie and I noticed that Tish regarded him with a contemplative eye, and from that time on she spent at least a part of every day with him. He paid no attention at all to Hilda from that time on, and one morning while Tish and Mr. Burton were walking by her chair she dropped a book. But he did not seem to see it, and that evening the captain moved over to her table, and Mr. Burton was very gay, but ate hardly any dinner.
We all went in the same train to Paris, and he had a sort of revenge then. For the captain could not speak French, and she had to ask Mr. Burton to order her dinner for her. But he ordered only one, and the captain was furious, naturally.
"Look here, Burton," he said, "I'm here, you know."
"Why, so you are," said Mr. Burton coldly. "I hadn't noticed you."
"How the devil can I make that woman understand that I'm hungry?"
Mr. Burton reflected.
"I'll tell you," he said. "You might open your mouth and point down your throat. Most of these French know the sign language."
He turned away then, and I saw a gleam of triumph in Tish's eye. She leaned over to him.
"She's furious that he can't speak French," she said. "Talk to me in French, and don't mind what I say. The only thing I can remember is a list of a hundred nouns. I'll string them together somehow."
There was a French officer near us, and I saw him watching Tish carefully as the conversation went on. She said afterward that as near as she could make out, Mr. Burton was telling the history of the country we went through, and that when he paused she would say in French: "Handkerchief, fish, trunk, pencil, book, soup," or some such list.
But it impressed Hilda; I could see that.
It was some time before we got out of Paris, and the news we had of Charlie Sands was that he was at the Front, near V——, which was held by the enemy. Tish went out and bought a map, and decided that she would be sent in that direction or nowhere. But for several weeks nothing happened, and she found the ambulance had come and was being used to carry ice cream to convalescent hospitals round Paris. What was more, she could not get it back.
For once I thought our dauntless Tish was daunted. How true it is that we forget past success in present failure! But after a number of mysterious absences she came into my room after Aggie had gone to bed and said: "I've found where they keep it."
I was putting my hair on wavers at the time, and I saw in the mirror that she had her hat and coat on, and the expression she wears when she has decided to break the law.
"I'm not going to spend this night in a French jail, Tish Carberry," I said.
"Very well," she retorted, and turned to go out.
But the thought of Tish alone, embarked on a dangerous enterprise, was too much for me, and I called her back.
"I'll go," I said, "and I'll steal, if that's what you're up to. But I'm a fool, and I know it. You can't deceive a lot of Frenchmen with your handkerchief-fish-trunk-pencil stuff. And you can't book-soup-oysters yourself out of jail."
"I'm taking my own, and only my own," Tish said with dignity.
Well, I dressed and we went out into the street. I tried to tell Tish that even if we got it we couldn't take it home and hide it under the bed or in a bureau drawer, but she was engrossed in her own thoughts, and besides, the streets were entirely dark and not a taxicab anywhere. She had a city map, however, and a flashlight, and at last about two in the morning we reached the street where she said it was stored in a garage.
I was limping by that time, and there were cold chills running up and down my spine, but Tish was quite calm. And just then there was a terrific outburst of noise, whistles and sirens of all sorts, and a man walking near us suddenly began to run and dived into a doorway.
"Air raid," said Tish calmly, and walked on. I clutched at her arm, but she shook me off.
"Tish!" I begged.
"Don't be a craven, Lizzie," she said. "Statistics show that the percentage of mortality from these things is considerably less than from mumps, and not to be compared with riding in an elevator or with the perils of maternity."
All sorts of people were running madly by that time, and suddenly disappearing, and a man with a bird cage in his hand bumped flat into me and knocked me down. Tish, however, had moved on without noticing, and when I caught up to her she was standing beside a wide door which was open, staring in.
"This is the place," she said. And just then half a dozen men poured out through the doorway and ran along the street. Tish drew a long breath.
"You see?" she said. "Providence watches over those whose motives are pure, even if compelled to certain methods——"
There was a terrible crash at that moment down the street, followed by glass falling all round us.
"——which are not entirely ethical," Tish continued calmly. "We might as well go inside, Lizzie. They may drop another, and we shall never have such a chance again."
"I can't walk, Tish," I said in a quavering voice. "My knees are bending backward."
"Fiddlesticks!" she replied scornfully and stalked inside.
I have since reflected on Tish during that air raid, on the calm manner in which she filled the gasoline tank of her ambulance, on the way in which she flung out six empty ice-cream freezers, and the perfect aplomb with which she kicked the tires to see if they contained sufficient air. For such attributes I have nothing but admiration. But I am not so certain as to the mental processes which permitted her calmly to take three spare tires from other cars and to throw them into the ambulance.
Perhaps there is with all true greatness an element of ruthlessness. Or perhaps she subsequently sent conscience money to the Red Cross anonymously. There are certain matters on which I do not interrogate her.
I was still sitting on the running board of a limousine inhaling my smelling salts when she pronounced all ready and we got into the driving seat and started. Just as we moved out a man came in from the street and began to yell at us. When Tish paid no attention to him he took a flying leap and landed on the step beside us.
"Here, what the —— do you think you are doing?" he said in English. "Where's your permit?"
Tish said nothing, but turned out into the street and threw on the gas. He was on my side and the jerk almost flung him off.
"Stop this car!" he yelled. "Hey, Grogan! Grogan!"
But whoever Grogan was he was still in some cellar probably, and by that time we were going very fast. Unluckily the glass in the street cut all four tires almost immediately, and we swung madly from one side to the other. And just then, too, we struck the hole the shell had made, and went into it with a terrible bump. The man disappeared immediately, but Tish was quite composed. She simply changed gears, and the car crawled out on the other side.
"This motor will go anywhere, Lizzie," she said easily. "I feel that my judgment is entirely vindicated. Where's that man?"
"Killed, probably," I retorted with a certain acidity.
"I hope not," she replied with kindly tolerance. "But if he is it will be supposed that a bomb did it."
As a matter of fact the Herald next morning reported the miraculous escape of an American found on the very edge of a shell hole, recovering, but showing one of the curious results of shell shock, being convinced that two women had stolen a car from his garage, and had run it into the hole in a deliberate attempt to kill him.
Aggie read this to us at breakfast, and Tish merely observed that it was very sad, and that she proposed studying shell shock at the Front. Not until months later did we tell Aggie the story of that night.
That morning Tish disappeared, and at noon she came back to say that she had at last secured the ambulance, and that we would start for the Front at once. Privately she told me that in a pocket of the car she had found permits to get us out of Paris, but that the car would be missed before long, and that we would better start at once.
It is strange to look back and recall with what blitheness we prepared to leave. And it is interesting, too, to remember the conversation with Mr. Burton when he called that afternoon.
"Hello!" he said, glancing about. "This looks like moving on. Where to, oh, brave and radiant spirits?"
"We haven't quite decided," Tish said. She was cleaning her revolver at the time.
"You haven't decided! Great Scott, haven't you any orders? Or any permits?"
"All that are necessary," Tish said, squinting into the barrel of her revolver. "Aggie, don't forget your hay-fever spray."
"But look here," he began, "you know this is France in wartime. I hate to throw a wrench into the machinery, but no one can travel a mile in this country without having about a million papers. You'll be arrested; you'll be——"
"Young man," Tish said quietly, pouring oil on a rag, "I was arrested before you were born. Aggie, will you order some tea? And make mine very weak."
"Weak tea!" he repeated with a sort of groan. "Weak tea! And yet you start for the Front, picking out any trench that takes your fancy, and—weak tea! And I am going to St.-Nazaire! I, a man, with a man's stomach and a mad affection for a girl who thinks I prefer serving doughnuts to fighting! I do that, while you——"
"Why do you go to St.-Nazaire?" Tish inquired. "You can sit with Aggie inside the ambulance, and I'm sure you could be useful, changing tires, and so on. You could simply disappear, you know. That is what we intend to do."
"I'll have a cup of tea," he said in a strange voice. "Very strong, please; I seem rather dazed."
"I figure this way," Tish went on, putting down her revolver and taking up her knitting: "I don't believe an ambulance loaded with cigarettes and stick candy and chocolate, with perhaps lemons for lemonade, is going to be stopped any where as long as it's headed for the Front. I understand they don't stop ambulances anyhow. If they do you can stretch out and pretend to be wounded. This is one way in which you can be very useful—being wounded."
He took all his tea at a gulp, and then looked round in an almost distracted manner.
"Certainly," he said. "Of course. It's all perfectly simple. You—you don't mind, I suppose, if I take a moment to arrange my mind? It seems to be all mussed up. Apparently I think clearly, but somehow or other——"
"We are actuated by several motives," Tish went on, beginning to turn the heel of the sock. "First of all, my nephew is at the Front. I want to be near him. I am a childless woman, and he is all I have. Second, I fancy the more cigarettes and so on our boys have the better for them, though I disapprove of cigarettes generally. And finally, I do not intend to let the biggest thing in my lifetime go by without having been a part of it, even in the most humble manner."
"Entirely reasonable too," he said.
But he still had a strange expression on his face, and soon after that he said he'd walk round a little in the air and then come back and tell us his decision.
At five o'clock he was back and he was very pale and wore what Aggie considered a haunted look. He stalked in and stood, his cap in his hand.
"I'll go," he said. "I'll go, and I don't give a—I don't care whether I come back or not. That's clear, isn't it? I'll go as far as you will, Miss Tish, and I take it that means moving right along. I'll go there, and then I'll keep on going."
"You've seen Hilda!" Aggie exclaimed with the intuition of her own experience in matters of the heart.
"I've seen her," he said grimly. "I wasn't looking for her. I've given that up. She was with that—well, you know. If I had any sense I'd have stolen those photographs and mailed them to her, one at a time. Five days, one each day, I'd have——"
"You might save all that hate for the Germans," Tish said. "I don't care to promise anything, but I have an idea that you may have a chance to use it."
And again, as always, our dear Tish was right.
We left Paris that evening. We made up quite comfortable beds in the ambulance, which had four new tires and which Tish with her customary forethought had filled as full as possible with cigarettes and candy. I have never inquired as to where Tish secured these articles, but I have learned that very early Tish adopted an army term called salvage, which seems to consist of taking whatever is necessary wherever it may be found. For instance, she has always referred to the night when she salvaged the ambulance and the extra tires; and the night later on, when we found the window of a warehouse open and secured seven cases of oranges for some of our boys who had no decent drinking water, she also referred to our actions at that time as salvage.
In fact, so common did the term become that I have heard her speaking of the time we salvaged the town of V——.
In re the matter of passports—in re is also military, and means referring to, or concerning; I find a certain tendency myself to use military terms. In re the matter of passports and permits, since the authenticity of our adventure has recently been challenged here at home, particularly in our church, though we have been lifelong members, it is a strange fact that we never required any. The sacred emblem on the ambulance and ourselves, including Mr. Burton, was amply sufficient. And though there were times when Mr. Burton found it expedient to lie in the back of the car and emit slow and tortured groans I have always contended that it was not really necessary in the two months which followed.
Over those two months I shall pass lightly. Our brave Tish was almost incessantly at the wheel, and we distributed uncounted numbers of cigarettes and so on. We had, naturally, no home other than the ambulance, but owing to Tish's forethought we found, among other articles in the secret compartment under the floor, a full store of canned goods and a nest of cooking kettles.
With this outfit we were able to supplement when necessary such provisions as we purchased along the way, and even now and then to make such occasional delicacies as cup custard or to bake a few muffins or small sweet cakes. More than once, too, we have drawn up beside the road where troops were passing, and turned out some really excellent hot doughnuts for them.
Indeed I may say that we became quite well known among both officers and men, being called The Three Graces.
But when so many were doing similar work on a much larger scale our poor efforts are hardly worthy of record. Only one thing is significant! We moved slowly but inevitably toward the Front, and toward that portion of the Front where Charlie Sands was serving his country.
During all this time Mr. Burton never mentioned Hilda but once, and that was to state that he had learned Captain Weber was a widower.
"Not that it makes any difference to me," he said. "She can marry him tomorrow as far as I'm concerned. I've forgotten her, practically. If I marry it will be one of these French girls. They can cook anyhow, and she can't. Her idea of a meal is a plate of fudge."
"He's really breaking his heart for her," Aggie confided to me later. "Do you notice how thin he is? And every time he looks at the moon he sighs."
"So do I," I said tartly; "and I'm not in love either. Ever since that moonlight night when that fool of a German flew over and dropped a bomb onto the best layer cake I've ever baked I've sighed at the moon too."
But he was thinner; and, when the weather grew cold and wet and we suggested flannels to him as delicately as possible, he refused to consider them.
"I'd as soon have pneumonia as not,," he said. "It's quick and easy, and—anyhow we need them to cover the engine on cold nights."
It was, I believe, at the end of the seventh week that we drew in one night at a small village within sound of the guns. We limped in, indeed, for we had had one of our frequent blowouts, and had no spare tire.
Scattering as was our custom, we began a search for an extra tire, but without results. There was only one machine in the town, and that belonged to General Pershing. We knew it at once by the four stars. As we did not desire to be interrogated by the commander-in-chief we drew into a small alleyway behind a ruined house, and Aggie and I cooked a Spanish omelet and arranged some lettuce-and-mayonnaise sandwiches.
Tish had not returned, but Mr. Burton came back just as I was placing the meal on the folding table we carried for the purpose, and we saw at once that something was wrong. He wore a look he had not worn since we left Paris.
"Leg, probably," I said in an undertone to Aggie. He was subject to attacks of pain in the milk leg.
But Aggie's perceptions were more tender.
"Hilda, most likely," she said.
However, we were distracted by the arrival of Tish, who came in with her customary poise and unrolled her dinner napkin with a thoughtful air. She commented kindly on the omelet, but was rather silent.
At the end of the meal, however, she said: "If you will walk up the road past the Y. M. C. A. hut, Mr. Burton, it is just possible you will find an extra tire lying there. I am not positive, but I think it likely. I should continue walking until you find it."
"Must have seen a rubber plant up that way," Mr. Burton said, rather disagreeably for him, He was most pleasant usually.
"I have simply indicated a possibility," Tish said. "Aggie, I think I'll have a small quantity of blackberry cordial."
With Tish recourse to that remedy indicated either fatigue or a certain nervous strain. That it was the latter was shown by the fact that when Mr. Burton had gone she started the engine of the car and suggested that we be ready to leave at a moment's notice. She then took a folding chair and placed herself in a dark corner of the ruined house.
"If you see the lights of a car approaching," she called, "just tell me, will you?"
However, I am happy to say that no car came near. Somewhat later Mr. Burton appeared rolling a tire ahead of him, and wearing the dazed look he still occasionally wore when confronted with new evidences of Tish's efficiency.
"Well," he said, dropping the tire and staring at Aggie and myself, "she dreamed true. Either that or——"
"Mr. Burton," Tish called, "do you mind hiding that tire until morning? We found it and it is ours. But it's unnecessary to excite suspicion at any time."
I am not certain that Mr. Burton's theory is right, but even if it is I contend that war is war and justifies certain practices hardly to be condoned in times of peace.
Briefly, he has always maintained that Tish being desperate and arguing that the C. in C.—which is military for commander-in-chief—was able to secure tires whenever necessary—that Tish had deliberately unfastened a spare tire from the rear of General Pershing's automobile; not of course actually salvaging it, but leaving it in a position where on the car's getting into motion it would fall off and could then be salvaged.
I do not know. I do know, however, that Tish retired very early to her bed in the ambulance. As Aggie was heating water for a bath, having found a sheltered horse trough behind a broken wall, I took Mr. Burton for a walk through the town in an endeavor to bring him to a more cheerful frame of mind. He was still very low-spirited, but he offered no confidences until we approached the only undestroyed building in sight. He stopped then and suggested turning back.
"It's a Y hut," he said. "We'll be about as welcome there as a skunk at a garden party."
I reprimanded him for this, as I had found no evidence of any jealousy between the two great welfare organizations. But when I persisted in advancing he said: "Well, you might as well know it. She's there. I saw her through a window."
"What has that got to do with my getting a bottle of vanilla extract there if they have one?"
"Oh, she'll have one probably; she uses it for fudge! I'm not going there, and that's flat."
"I thought you had forgotten her."
"I have!" he said savagely. "The way you forget the toothache. But I don't go round boring a hole in a tooth to get it again. Look here, Miss Lizzie, do you know what she was doing when I saw her? She was dropping six lumps of sugar into a cup of something for that—that parent she's gone bugs about."
"That's what she's here for."
"Oh, it is, is it?" he snarled. "Well, she wasn't doing it for the fellow with a cauliflower ear who was standing beside him. There was a line of about twenty fellows there putting in their own sugar, all right."
"I'll tell you this, Mr. Burton," I said in a serious tone, "sometimes I think things are just as well as they are. You haven't a disposition for marriage. I don't believe you'll make her happy, even if you do get her."
"Oh, I'll not get her," he retorted roughly. "As a matter of fact, I don't want her. I'm cured. I'm as cured as a ham. She can feed sugar to the whole blamed Army, as far as I'm concerned. And after that she can go home and feed sugar to his five kids, and give 'em colic and sit up at night and——"
I left him still muttering and went into the Y hut. Hilda gave a little scream of joy when she saw me and ran round the counter, which was a plank on two barrels, and kissed me. I must say she was a nice little thing.
"Isn't France small after all?" she demanded. "And do you know I've seen your nephew—or is it Miss Tish's? He's just too dear! We had a long talk here only a day or two ago, and I was telling about you three, and suddenly he said: 'Wait a minute. You've mentioned no names, but I'll bet my tin hat my Aunt Tish was one of them!' Isn't that amazing?"
Well, I thought it was, and I took a cup of her coffee. But it was poor stuff, and right then and there I made a kettleful and showed her how. But I noticed she grew rather quiet after a while.
At last she said: "You—I don't suppose you've seen that Mr. Burton anywhere, have you?"
"We saw something of him in Paris," I replied, and glanced out the window. He was standing across what had once been the street, and if ever I've seen hungry eyes in a human being he had them.
"He was so awfully touchy, Miss Lizzie," she said. "And then I was never sure—— Why do you suppose he isn't fighting? Not that it's any affair of mine, but I used to wonder."
"He's got a milk leg," I said, and set the coffee kettle off.
"A milk leg! A milk—— Oh, how ridiculous! How—— Why, Miss Lizzie, how can he?"
"Don't ask me. They get 'em sometimes too. They're very painful. My cousin, Nancy Lee McMasters, had one after her third child and——"
I am sorry to say that here she began to laugh. She laughed all over the hut, really, and when she had stood up and held to the plank and laughed she sat down on a box of condensed milk and laughed again. I am a truthful woman, and I had thought it was time she knew the facts, but I saw at once that I had make a mistake. And when I looked out the window Mr. Burton had gone.
I remained there with her for some time, but as any mention of Mr. Burton only started her off again we discussed other matters.
She said Charlie Sands was in the Intelligence Department at the Front, and that when he left he was about to, as she termed it, pull off a raid.
"He's gone to bring me a German as a souvenir; and that Captain Weber—you remember him—he is going to bring me another," she cried. "He gave me my choice and I took an officer, with a nice upcurled mustache and——"
"And five children?"
"Five children? Whatever do you mean, Miss Lizzie?"
"I understand that Captain Weber has five. I didn't know but that you had a special preference for them that way."
"Why, Miss Lizzie!" she said in a strained voice. "I don't believe it. He's never said——"
I was washing out her dish towels by that time, for she wasn't much of a housekeeper, I'll say that, though as pretty as a picture, and I never looked up. She walked round the hut, humming to herself to show how calm she was, but I noticed that when her broom fell over she kicked at it.
Finally she said: "I don't know why you think I was interested in Captain Weber. He was amusing, that's all; and I like fighting men—the bravest are the tenderest, you know. I—if you ever happen on Mr. Burton you might tell him I'm here. It's interesting, but I get lonely sometimes. I don't see a soul I really care to talk to."
Well, I promised I would, and as Mr. Burton had gone I went back alone. Tish was asleep with a hot stone under her cheek, from which I judged she'd had neuralgia, and Aggie was nowhere in sight. But round the corner an ammunition train of trucks had come in and I suddenly remembered Aggie and her horse trough. Unfortunately I had not asked her where it was.
I roused Tish but her neuralgia had ruffled her usual placid temper, and she said that if Aggie was caught in a horse trough let her sit in it. If she could take a bath in a pint of water Aggie could, instead of hunting up luxuries. She then went to sleep again, leaving me in an anxious frame of mind.
Mr. Burton was not round, and at last I started out alone with a flashlight, but as we were short of batteries I was too sparing of it and stepped down accidentally into a six-foot cellar, jarring my spine badly. When I got out at last it was very late, and though there were soldiers all round I did not like to ask them to assist me in my search, as I had every reason to believe that our dear Aggie had sought cleanliness in her nightgown.
It was, I believe, fully 2 a. m. when I finally discovered her behind a wall, where a number of our boys were playing a game with a lantern and dice—a game which consisted apparently of coaxing the inanimate objects with all sorts of endearing terms. They got up when they saw me, but I observed that I was merely taking a walk, and wandered as nonchalantly as I was able into the inclosure.
At first all was dark and silent. Then I heard the trickle of running water, and a moment later a sneeze. The lost was found!
"Aggie!" I said sternly.
"Hush, for Heaven's sake! They'll hear you."
"Where are you?"
"B-b-behind the trough," she said, her teeth chattering. "Run and get my bathrobe, Lizzie. Those d-d-dratted boys have been there for an hour."
Well, I had brought it with me, and she had her slippers; and we started back. I must say that Aggie was a strange figure, however, and one of the boys said after we had passed: "Well, fellows, war's hell, all right."
"If you saw it too I feel better," said another. "I thought maybe this frog liquor was doing things to me."
Aggie, however, was sneezing and did not hear.
I come now to that part of my narrative which relates to Charlie Sands' raid and the results which followed it. I felt a certain anxiety about telling Tish of the dangerous work in which he was engaged, and waited until her morning tea had fortified her. She was, I remember, sitting on a rock directing Mr. Burton, who was changing a tire.
"A raid?" she said. "What sort of a raid?"
"To capture Germans, Tish."
"A lot of chance he'll have!" she said with a sniff. "What does he know about raids? And you'd think to hear you talk, Lizzie, that pulling Germans out of a trench was as easy as letting a dog out after a neighbor's cat. It's like Pershing and all the rest of them," she added bitterly, "to take a left-handed newspaper man, who can't shut his right eye to shoot with the left, and start him off alone to take the whole German Army."
"He wouldn't go alone," said Mr. Burton.
"Certainly not!" Tish retorted. "I know him, and you don't, Mr. Burton. He'll not go alone. Of course not! He'll pick out a lot of men who play good bridge, or went to college with him, or belong to his fraternity, or can sing, or some such reason, and——"
Here to my great surprise she flung down one of our two last remaining teacups and retired precipitately into the ruins. Not for us to witness her majestic grief. Rachel—or was it Naomi?—mourning for her children.
However, in a short time she reappeared and stated that she was sick of fooling round on back roads, and that we would now go directly to the Front.
"We'll never pull it off," Mr. Burton said to me in an undertone.
"She has never failed, Mr. Burton," I reminded him gravely.
Before we started Mr. Burton saw Hilda, but he came back looking morose and savage. He came directly to me.
"Look me over," he said. "Do I look queer or anything?"
"Not at all," I replied.
"Look again. I don't seem to be dying on my feet, do I? Anything wan about me? I don't totter with feebleness; do I?"
"You look as strong as a horse," I said somewhat acidly.
"Then I wish to thunder you'd tell me," he stormed, "why that girl—that—well, you know who I mean why the deuce she should first giggle all over the place when she sees me, and then baby me like an idiot child? 'Here's a chair,'she'd say, and 'Do be careful of yourself'; and when I recovered from that enough to stand up like a man and ask for a cup of coffee she said I ought to take soup; it was strengthening!"
Fortunately Tish gave the signal to start just then, and we moved out. Hilda was standing in her doorway when we passed, and I thought she looked rather forlorn. She blew kisses to us, but Mr. Burton only saluted stiffly and looked away. I have often considered that to the uninitiated the ways of love are very strange.
It was when we were out of the village that he turned to me with a strange look in his eyes.
"She doesn't care for Weber after all," he said. "Didn't I tell you the minute she found she could have him she wouldn't want him? Do you think I'd marry a girl like that?"
"She's a nice little thing," I replied. "But you're perfectly right—she's no housekeeper."
"No housekeeper!" he said in a tone of astonishment. "That's the cleanest hut in France. And let me tell you I've had the only cup of coffee——"
He broke off and fell into a fit of abstraction. Somewhat later he looked up and said: "I'll never see her again, Miss Lizzie."
"Because I told her I wouldn't come back until I could bring her a German officer as a souvenir. Some idiot had told her he was going to, and, of course, I told her if she was collecting them I'd get her one. A fat chance I have too! I don't know what made me do it. I'm only surprised I didn't make it the Crown Prince while I was at it."
But how soon were our thoughts to turn from soft thoughts of love to graver matters!
Tish, as I have said before, has a strange gift of foresight that amounts almost to prophecy.
I have never known her, for instance, to put a pink bow on an afghan and then have the subsequent development turn out to be a boy, or vice versa. And the very day before Mr. Ostermaier fell and sprained his ankle she had picked up a roller chair at an auction sale, and in twenty minutes he was in it.
At noon we stopped at a crossroads and distributed to some passing troops our usual cigarettes and chocolate. We also fried a number of doughnuts, and were given three cheers by various companies as they passed. It was when our labors were over that Tish perceived a broken machine gun abandoned by the roadside, and spent some time examining it.
"One never knows," she said, "what bits of knowledge may one day be useful."
Mr. Burton explained the mechanism to her.
"I'd be firing one of these things now," he said gloomily, "if it were not for that devilish piece of American ingenuity, the shower bath."
"Good gracious!" Aggie said.
"Fact. I got into a machine-gun school, but one day in a shower one of the officers perceived my—er—affliction, badly swollen from a hike, and reported me."
Tish was strongly inclined to tow the machine gun behind us and eventually have it repaired, but Mr. Burton said it was not worth the trouble, and shortly afterward we turned off the main road into a lane, seeking a place for our luncheon. Tish drove as usual, but she continued to lament the gun.
"I feel keenly," she said, "the necessity of being fully armed against any emergency. And I feel, too, that it is my solemn duty to salvage such weapons as come my way at any and all times."
I called to her just then, but she was driving while looking over her shoulder at Mr. Burton, and it was too late to avoid the goat. We went over it and it lay behind us in the road quite still.
"You've killed it, Tish," I said.
"Not at all," she retorted. "It has probably only fainted. As I was saying, I feel that with our near approach to the lines we should be armed to the teeth with modern engines of destruction, and should also know how to use them."
We were then in a very attractive valley, and Tish descending observed that if it were not for the noise of falling shells and so on it would have been a charming place to picnic.
She then instructed Aggie and me to prepare a luncheon of beef croquettes and floating island, and asked Mr. Burton to accompany her back to the car.
As I was sitting on the running board beating eggs for a meringue at the time I could not avoid overhearing the conversation.
First Mr. Burton, acting under orders, lifted the false bottom, and then he whistled and observed: "Great Cæsar's ghost! Looks as though there is going to be hell up Sixth Street, doesn't it?"
"I'll ask you not to be vulgar, Mr. Burton."
"But—look here, Miss Tish. Well be jailed for this, you know. You may be able to get away with the C. in C.'s tires, but you can't steal a hundred or so grenades without somebody missing them. Besides, what the—what the dickens are you going to do with them? If it had been eggs now, or oranges—but grenades!"
"They may be useful," Tish replied in her cryptic manner. "Forearmed is forewarned, Mr. Burton. What is this white pin for?"
I believe she then pulled the pin, for I heard Mr. Burton yell, and a second later there was a loud explosion.
I sat still, unable to move, and then I heard Mr. Burton say in a furious voice: "If I hadn't grabbed that thing and thrown it you'd have been explaining this salvage system of yours to your Maker before this, Miss Carberry. Upon my word, if I hadn't known you'd blow up the whole outfit the moment I was gone I'd have left before this. I've got nerves if you haven't."
"That was an over-arm pitch you gave it," was Tish's sole reply. "I had always understood that grenades were thrown in a different manner."
I distinctly heard his groan.
"You'll have about as much use for grenades as I have for pink eye," he said almost savagely. "I don't like to criticize, Miss Tish, and I must say I think to this point we've made good. But when I see you stocking up with grenades instead of cigarettes, and giving every indication of being headed for the Rhine, I feel that it is time to ask what next?"
"Have you any complaint about the last few weeks?" Tish inquired coldly.
"Well, if we continue to leave a trail of depredations behind us—— It's bad enough to have a certain person think I'm a slacker, but if she gets the idea that I'm a first-class second-story worker I'm done, that's all."
Fortunately Aggie announced luncheon just then.
Every incident of that luncheon is fixed clearly in my mind, because of what came after it. We had indeed penetrated close to the Front, as was shown by the number of shells which fell in it while we ate. The dirt from one, in fact, quite spoiled the floating island, and we were compelled to open a can of peaches to replace it. It was while we were drinking our after-dinner coffee that Tish voiced the philosophy which upheld her.
"When my hour comes it will come," she said calmly. "Viewed from that standpoint the attempts of the enemy to disturb us become amusing—nothing more."
"Exactly," said Mr. Burton, skimming some dust from the last explosion out of his coffee cup. "Amusing is the word. Funny, I call it. Funny as a crutch. Why, look who's here!"
There was a young officer riding up the valley rapidly. I remember Tish taking a look at him and then saying quickly: "Lizzie, go and close the floor of the ambulance. Don't run. I'll explain later."
Well, the officer rode up and jumped off his horse and saluted.
"Some of our fellows said you were trapped here, Miss Carberry," he said. "I didn't believe it at first. It's a bad place. We'll have to get you out somehow."
"I'm not anxious to get out."
"But," he said, and stared at all of us—"you are—— Do you know that our trenches are just beyond this hill?"
"I wish you'd tell the Germans that; they seem to think they are in this valley."
He laughed a little and said: "They ought to make you a general, Miss Carberry." He then said to Mr. Burton: "I'd like to speak to you for a moment."
Looking back I believe that Tish had a premonition of trouble then, for during their conversation aside she got out her knitting, always with her an indication of perturbation or of deep thought, and she spoke rather sharply to Aggie about rinsing the luncheon dishes more thoroughly. Aggie said afterward that she herself had felt at that time that peculiar itching in the palms of her hands which always with her presages bad news.
"If he asks about those grenades, Lizzie, you can reply. Say you don't know anything about them. That's the truth."
"I know where they are," I said with some acidity. "And what's more, I know I'm not going to ride a foot in that ambulance with that concentrated extract of hell under my feet."
She began sternly, but just then the two men came back, and the officer's face was uncomfortable.
"I—from your demeanor," he said, "and—er—the fact that you haven't mentioned it I rather gather that you have not heard the er—the news, Miss Carberry."
"I didn't see the morning papers," Tish said with the dry wit so characteristic of her.
"You have a nephew, I understand, at the Front?"
Tish's face suddenly grew set and stern.
"Have—or had?" she asked in a terrible voice.
"Oh, it's not so bad as all that. In fact, he's a lot safer just now than you are, for instance. But it's rather unfortunate in a way too. He has been captured by the enemy."
Aggie ran to her then with the blackberry cordial, but Tish waved her away.
"A prisoner!" she said. "A nephew of mine has allowed himself to be captured by the Germans? It is incredible!"
"Lots of us are doing it," he said. "It's no disgrace. In fact, it's a mark of courage. A fellow goes farther than he ought to, and the first thing he knows he's got a belt of bayonet points, and it is a time for discretion."
"Leave me, please," Tish said majestically. "I am ashamed. I am humbled. I must think."
Shortly after that she called us back and said: "I have come to this conclusion: The situation is unbearable and must be rectified. Do you know where he is enduring this shameful captivity?"
"I wouldn't take it too hard, Miss Tish," said the officer. "He's very comfortable, as we happen to know. One of our runners got back at dawn this morning. He said he left your nephew in the church at V——, playing pinochle with the German C. O. The runner was hidden in the cellar under the church, and he said the C. O. had lost all his money and his Iron Cross, and was going to hold Captain Sands until he could win them back."
He then urged her, the moment night fell, to retire from our dangerous position, and to feel no anxiety whatever.
"If I know him," were his parting words, "he'll pick that German as clean as a chicken. Pinochle will win the war," he added and rode away.
During the remainder of the afternoon Tish sat by herself, knitting and thinking. It was undoubtedly then that she formed the plan which in its execution has brought us so much hateful publicity, yet without which the town of V—— might still be in German hands.