At highest tension Jeb waited, until he felt not only sure of their strength but reasonably certain that no others remained in the lower strata of catacombs; because they rested at frequent intervals, implying a state of exhaustion, and this, in turn, indicated an absence of relief shifts. Fifteen men in all were there, besides the sentry. On the street level their rifles had been stacked. The hole—a machine-gun redoubt—in which they dug was about five feet deep; the sides were steep; the only weapons near at hand were picks and spades.
Tingling with excitement, he stole carefully back to the ruined door and entered, bringing with him a stout club picked from the debris. The girl's arms flew about him at once, and the wan voice whispered tremulously:
"Oh, Monsieur, if you had not come!"
"But I did come," he took her again upon his lap, seeming in a much better humor than when he had gone out. "We're about to get away, little one; are you big enough to do just what I say?"
There was a look of reproach in her eyes which he could not, of course, have seen, but he felt her arms tighten.
"Everything," she whispered. "Can Monsieur carry the little sisters?"
"Monsieur can, but he isn't going to," he muttered fiercely. "They'll have two-legged horses to ride, and so will you. Now, I'm going over by the door, and when I get there I want you to give a loud cry."
"Oh, Monsieur," she trembled, "he will come and—and——"
"I want him to come, but he won't do any more than that. We're going to take those men and punish them for a lot of things they've done."
"Capture them, Monsieur?—by Monsieur's own self?"
"By Monsieur's own self," he gave her a squeeze, then sat her back upon the ground. "Now, when I get close to the door, cry!—then you may close your eyes until I say look; but don't cry again, whatever happens."
Picking up the club he took a position in the deepest shadow and waited. Spartan little soldier that she was, she now sent a wail into the night that would have brought a dozen sentries; then, as before, everything was silent. Also, as before, hurried, angry steps soon were heard; yet this time, as the sentry passed close outside the rear wall, he talked. Jeb at first thought that it might be the mumbling of an enraged man, but he took a tighter grip upon his club when another voice laughed a reply.
The two Germans turned the angle of the side wall, stumbling over loose stones and uttering words that scarcely needed translation. A patch of moonlight fell athwart the sill, and Jeb watched this, knowing it would tell better than his ears when the crucial time had come. The men were just outside now, and the breathing of one became audible—a workman, doubtless, following to see what would happen. Then a shadow fell across the spot of light, and slowly a bayonet glided within two feet of Jeb's face—the bayonet that might yet be warm from having dried a child's tears! After it came the sentry, stooping as he entered, while his companion, who chortled with a kind of insane glee, pressed closely at his heels.
Jeb had been standing in deep shadow to one side, with the club drawn back. He waited until both men were well within the door, then made a vicious swing, and then another; there were two sharp cracks of wood on bone, and the two who had come to kill lay dead.
"It's all right," he whispered through the darkness. "Bring the children, quick!"
"Thank God, Monsieur," her voice reached him.
Kneeling, he stripped the sentry of ammunition, examined the rifle until he had mastered its mechanism, and saw that it was loaded and ready. When the children reached him—the two smaller ones staring vacantly ahead as if walking in their sleep—he whispered:
"Now, do just as I say: follow closely, keep in the shadows and make no noise. When I put back my hand, stop and wait; when I call, come at once. Is that clear, little one?"
"But, oh, Monsieur," she panted, "should we not run now?"
"We couldn't make it, for one thing," he answered slowly, "and, besides, I—I don't think I'll ever run again, little one," he stooped and kissed her—although she did not understand. "Ready? Come along!"
He felt the call now of three great forces: America, Humanity, and his soul—but the greatest of these was Humanity! Each held him by a new, a strong appeal; each looked confidently to the best there was in him, wrapped him in entreating arms that struggled to inspire the highest type of courage.
Carefully the little refugees followed him out into the calm moonlight, the tots whose minds had gone back to shadowland acting as automatons under the silent direction of their sister. He stopped once, as though with indecision, and looked at them; then set his teeth fast and again went on. Hugging the snagged walls, crossing open places on hands and knees, they came finally to the spot Jeb had previously selected for them to wait, while he crept ahead to reach the pyramids of stacked rifles before letting his presence be known.
He could distinctly hear the sounds of digging now, but there was no exchange of words—doubtless the stilled sentry had been the only loquacious spirit among them. This presence of human beings laboring in silence at dead of night made his task decidedly ticklish, and minutes passed before he gained a position behind the last pile of rubble, overlooking the hole.
Besides the fourteen Germans he had expected to see below, he now made out one other, an officer, who, doubtless because he sat well beneath the opposite wall, had escaped observation during the first reconnaissance. This brought the total to fifteen—three clips of cartridges and no misses, he told himself, if it came to a fight. The men toiled surlily, as though that beaver-like industry, everywhere displayed by the German army in fatigue work, had about reached the quitting point. It was, moreover, possible that they sulked for having been detailed to a duty which meant almost certain death.
Jeb did not know how to challenge them, but a pointed rifle and a stern command in any language is never difficult of translation between soldiers of opposing armies. He saw now that six of them were laboring with a large stone, and there could be no more favorable time for him to act. With a bound he reached the edge.
"Hands up!" he barked.
The fifteen faces turned to him were blank with astonishment.
"Hands up!" he repeated.
The officer, first to recover, made a quick reach for his pistol, and Jeb dropped him in his tracks. This shot, and its effect, broke the spell. Spades and picks were thrown aside, the stone fell with a crash, and the men, thoroughly cowered, raised their hands, calling: "Kamerad! Kamerad!"—the same old cry that has rung from Verdun to the sea, although Jeb was hearing it for the first time.
By gesture he commanded them to climb out, one at a time, and in single file to march farther away from the rifles, since at some personal cost they might have yet attempted a rush and overpowered him. But there was no rush in these exhausted men, and, except for a few who showed signs of relief, they took the situation with stolid gravity.
In a hundred yards he halted them and called the child, who came bravely out of hiding with the remnants of her family; but, confronted by the grimly uniformed line, she drew back screaming.
"It's all right, little one," Jeb called reassuringly. "These are your horses; come quickly, hop up and ride!"
One of the prisoners, understanding French, began to laugh as he translated this to his comrades, but Jeb peremptorily stopped all conversation. To let these fellows get an inch beyond the strictest discipline was to invite disaster. Yet now he could give orders through this interpreter, and soon the column was marching silently southward, its first three men each bearing on his shoulders a wan little victim from the "empire of death." The others followed obediently enough, while Jeb, in a position to enfilade the column—thus maintaining a command of each file—brought up the rear. From his attitude and voice the captives seemed to know that he was on a very dangerous tension, and that the slightest hesitation on their part would mean instant death. They had no desire to test his skill further than that one snap shot through their officer's brain.
His first concern was to drive straight southward and get clear of the machine-gun redoubts, which he felt sure were being extended westward; and as the success of this plan hinged largely upon absolute silence, he had promised fourteen inches of bayonet to the first man who spoke, coughed, sneezed, or stubbed his toe. Moreover, he was recklessly prepared to execute this threat without a second's hesitation, fully realizing that if he would hold supremacy against such overpowering odds he must let his words and acts mesh with the nicety of machine gears, or his authority would vanish.
From time to time, when the burden of this responsibility began to wear down his courage, and fear came creeping in at the sheer audacity of this undertaking, he would raise his eyes to the three little tots ahead—and feel every nerve grow steady. As a consequence, the men were thoroughly in hand, stepping with caution and showing every disposition to carry out his orders.
In this way they covered perhaps a mile, reaching a ground of comparative safety where their silence might have relaxed without bringing about disaster. But Jeb would take no chance, and forced the column to proceed with the same scrupulous care. As he was skirting a group of the dead, that looked frightfully grotesque in the pale moonlight, a voice almost at his back sent terror to his soul—then joy.
"Well, w'ot d'ye know about thot!" it said guardedly.
"Tim!" he cried, instantly calling a halt. There could be no mistaking that voice, were it heard anywhere on earth. "Tim, where are you?"
"If it ain't Jeb, may I be shot for a spy! B'ys, deliverance is come!" And the sergeant raised himself to a sitting position, while several forms about him also began to stir.
"You blessed Irishman," said Jeb, delightedly, "if I could take my eyes off this bunch, darned if I wouldn't kiss you!"
"Ye've brought better'n a kiss, lad—but ye can do thot yit, mind ye, if I see inither sun!"
"Are you too badly hurt to be carried in?"
"Thot's a divil av a question, now! Sure, me an' the b'ys is too continted to move for annything, lest 'tis a pitcher av ice-water——" his voice seemed to crack at the mention of this.
Through the interpreter Jeb ordered a man to lift him; and as a big fellow stepped forward, Tim chuckled:
"If this don't beat the Dutch, may I be shot—ow! me leg! Here, ye butcher, don't ye know better'n to handle a mon like a trunk! Kneel, ye spalpeen, whilst I straddle the neck av ye!"
When the German arose with Tim firmly astride his shoulders Jeb sent out another prisoner, then another, until nine wounded were prepared for transport rearward.
"You're sure there aren't any more, Tim?" he asked.
"Faith, an' I wisht there was, lad," the sergeant answered soberly. "Pass me up me rifle, like a good b'y, forinst we start! I see be the black-and-gold button on me ar-rmy mule thot he's a Landstrumer, an' they's tricky b'ys, at times!"
There was a cheer so spontaneous about this Irishman, whose very genius for happiness had lightened many a heavy burden, that his mount began to shake with laughter; whereupon Tim, in spite of a wound that pained grievously, grinned down at him.
"Laugh away, ye fat-headed Fritz," he said. "But don't go tryin' to buck me off, or 'tis Tim Doreen'll crack yer periscope—bein' as he's settin' on it! Jeb, ye've two spare ar-rmy mules—let thim bring in all the rifles, like a good lad!"
They had gone but a little way when Tim caught the German by the ear, saying:
"Gee-haw, ye beggarly Boche! Turn 'round, an' take me to the boss av this job!"—but, as the prisoner did no more than flinch, he called back: "Jeb, order this outcast to halt, whilst ye come up to us!"
When this had been accomplished through the interpreter, and the two friends were moving side by side, the sergeant asked:
"D'ye think there's no fear av this divil understandin' God's language? Thin, I've a mind to ask w'ot's come over ye, lad—but ye mustn't be takin' it amiss! Ye know thot whin I saw ye last, ye wasn't w'ot I'd call love-sick for a scrap!"
"Tim," he answered, in an awed voice, "it was the sight of those children!"
"The childer, ye say! Thim w'ot's forinst us?"
"Yes. They did it! God, but they were a terrible sight to see—it sort of made me crazy!"
"'Tis a Christian kind av insanity, lad," the sergeant mused. "I hope ye'll be havin' a domn fine lot av it!"
Thus, when the low-lying moon flooded the dressing-station quadrangle, Jeb, with fourteen prisoners, nine wounded comrades and three little citizens from the "empire of death," was challenged by lookouts of a new regiment that had arrived during the night to occupy the old front line trench. The next minute cheers were ringing from a thousand throats.
Crossing the narrow bridge Tim, though weak from pain, yelled:
"Sind a squad after us, lads, an' ye can have our mules whin they're unloaded!"
* * * * *
Dr. Bonsecours had turned with a sigh of relief from the last of his cases and stepped outside for a breath of air, when the sound of cheering reached him.
"There is some good news," he called to Marian, who came and stood nearby, listening. Yet, even at that moment, his thoughts were of her, and he turned, saying gently: "You must rest; I really insist upon it! If you don't, I—I shall break down, myself."
She looked at him searchingly, reading well the fatigue, the unutterable strain, which marked his face, and whispered:
"You're the one who needs it! Don't you realize how helpless we would be here without you?"
"And how helpless I would be without you?" he murmured. "Oh, my wonderful Marian——!" He checked himself with an effort; yet, had the moon been brighter, he would have seen the pallor in her face yield to a flood of warm color.
The tramp of men was coming nearer, men who slipped and stumbled down the steep road, and then a group of curious figures staggered into view, seeming in the uncertain light scarcely to be human. Turning right they marched heavily to the dressing-station entrance and, at Jeb's command, halted.
Bonsecours, with mouth agape, stepped back at their approach, while Marian drew slightly closer to him. There is nothing in the French language which exactly corresponds to our expression of amazement: "Well, I'll be damned!" but whatever comes nearest to it is what the great surgeon now said, like a common sapper. At the same instant the nurse at his side gave a low cry. She was not looking at Jeb, but at the children.
Scarcely were the children lifted down before Marian had kneeled and taken them in her arms. Quicker than Bonsecours she had read the story of their destruction, and now sobbed over them as though her heart would break. One had clasped her neck, but the other two, unable to stand, merely stared with wide-open eyes devoid of the slightest understanding. It was when the great French surgeon looked upon these—little tots whose minds were shattered by cruelties purposely conceived for them, and whose bodies were starved to skeleton thinness in order that thieves and degenerates might grow fat—that he swore a mighty oath and buried his face in his hands.
"Mon Dieu, mon Dieu," he muttered fiercely, "how many more will they add to the thousands I have already seen!"
Jeb had glanced only once at Marian, being afraid of the reproach her eyes might still hold for him; but as soon as a squad trotted up to receive the prisoners he turned away, welcoming another duty which sternly summoned him back to the plain. For the machine-gun redoubts had to be taken before their deadly fire could pour into those brave fellows who had swept ahead—and this must be done before uncompromising daylight made the work too costly! So he turned without glancing again at Marian. Yet no decoration for a brave deed might have been more brilliant than her look which followed him, could she have shut out the torturing picture of his debasement at the shell hole. A quick prayer sprang from her soul into space as she whispered fervently: "God keep his courage stiff!" She had not thought about his body; she did not care about his body! It was to make a soldier that she prayed.
Bonsecours, having seen the look and movement of her lips, asked gently:
"Do you know him?"
"We grew up in the same town, back home," she answered, still gazing after Jeb.
"Oh!" he said. It was a gasp of pain, and he stood as though a shell had burst and stunned him. In his headlong work between guns of opposing armies, he had never stopped to wonder if there might be someone else in this Nurse Marian's life; and now, stung by a possible realization of it, his mind leaped outward to fears and fancied facts—all of which she might have told him were groundless. Turning toward the dug-out, he said briefly over his shoulder: "Please see to the children. My own cases are waiting."
Down into the trench Jeb had run, calling for an officer, and was soon making his report to the Colonel, who peremptorily asked:
"You can show us these positions?"
"Two of them, sir; the others must occupy the same general line."
Silently, but in the highest spirits, three thousand men went over the top, deploying in open order to make their drag-net stretch to its farthest capacity and sweep up the redoubts, whose locations, after all, were largely a matter of conjecture.
Jeb, fighting hard to hold himself steady, pressed toward the right, where he thought the first digging party could be found; yet, before he sighted it, firing broke out to his left, then farther to his left—each time with the unmistakable fusillade of machine-guns answered by cracking rifles. One bunch at a time, the enemy was being flushed from cover; yet at each new outburst he gasped more and more for air,—feeling in his soul what was coming over him, and swearing roundly to drive it back.
"We ain't going to miss anything, are we?" a cheery voice at his back called out.
"We'll find it, all right," he panted; but might have saved his breath, for that very instant they were met by a fire which, in a light less deceptive, would have been gruelling even to their openly deployed skirmish line.
Without awaiting commands—were there any to wait for—the men, ducking low, dashed past him toward the pit, leaped down into it gouging their bayonets right and left. With the sentry's rifle still in his hands he tried to follow; but at the brink, being confronted by sounds of steel upon steel, oaths, grunts, yells of victory and of pain, his legs refused to move. The old fear was wrapping itself about him. But then came cries of "Kamerad!"—and upon hearing these he bounded in, knowing the place had surrendered.
"The ruined hamlet next," he yelled. "There's a lot of supplies there!"
The men sprang out after him, laughing now in sheer exuberance of spirits, and throwing taunts at a few of their disgruntled mates who had been left to watch the prisoners and spoils. But Jeb could not laugh. His jaws were set in grim determination. He was soul-sick and furious. He had not played fair—although his comrades were far from suspecting it. He swore to himself over and over, on the memory of those children whom he had saved at this place, that he would be the first to go in and the last to come out, were it to mean death a hundred times.
But the hamlet put up no resistance; it lay still and deserted, as though some marauding monster had torn it in its teeth and passed on by. This silence, however, did not deceive Jeb. Even through the chaos of his brain he had a rather fair idea of how many small engagements had taken place back on the plain, and judged them to be far short of the newly built redoubts; thereby conjecturing that several of the companies must have deserted their positions and fallen in upon the more secure catacombs. Advising the men to scatter and search the cellars, he discovered at last a large, although artfully disguised, opening to the subterranean area below.
"Who speaks German?" he asked, of those who stood about him.
"I," said one.
"Then yell down and tell 'em to come out, or be blown out!"
But someone below must have understood English and quickly translated, because long cries of "Kamerad, Kamerad," floated eerily up, as if a cover had been lifted from some pit in hell releasing the wails of incarcerated spirits. Answering with yells of derision the troops climbed to the street level and formed to receive prisoners; whereupon, casting rifles aside as they gained the open, the inhabitants of this underworld filed out.
When the catacombs had been searched and quantities of munitions for the machine-guns salvaged, Jeb led the way back across the now silent No Man's Land that had passed into the pages of history. One by one the other units were picked up, standing guard over captured positions. Everything had been swept into the Allied pocket at an insignificant cost.
Dawn had not yet streaked the east. Except for a fitful shot somewhere back across the plain, where an overstrained sentry fired at a shadow, the world slept. The regiment, flushed and happy, sprang down into its trench; and Jeb was turning glumly toward the gravelly road, when the Colonel stepped after him.
"I haven't your name," he said. "I want to send it in."
"Oh, that's all right," Jeb answered, afraid to look at this commander of men, lest even in the dim light his stricken conscience might be revealed.
"But it isn't all right," the officer smiled. "I heard what you did earlier to-night—a rather fine thing, that!—and now you've turned another trick, giving us eight hundred prisoners, twelve machine-gun sections, and various stuff. You deserve a mention."
"Then just tell 'em," Jeb began; but he could not claim it and, blushing guiltily, hurried off, yelling over his shoulder: "It isn't worth while, really!"
Yet there had been something else that happened out on the field which meant a great deal more to him. It had been while they were marching homeward, when this same officer had laid a hand upon his arm and said: "I hope the American army which landed yesterday is made up of your stuff!" The words did not in any sense imply doubt; merely compliment, but Jeb inwardly cringed because the American Army had been graded, even in ignorance, with such as he. At that instant he had made a resolve—an earnest, solemn resolve—to join that army and, by its influence, prove himself worthy.
He now went hurriedly down into the quadrangle and turned to the dug-out where he expected to find Bonsecours—the man who superseded Barrow in authority. For he guessed that an ambulance would be standing farther at the rear, waiting for the nine men whom he had brought in. When it took them back, he determined that it would also take him to the fellows from home who had just landed—to a new opportunity! Perhaps it was ready to leave at any moment, and this thought gave him greater speed.
As he entered Tim, the last to receive attention, lay in a stretcher ready to be moved. He had insisted upon being last, claiming this preference because of the fact that he was a sergeant; and now, although with a badly shattered leg which the surgeon had told him might later have to go, he grinned broadly as Jeb clasped his hand. Bonsecours' greeting also was affectionate and genuine; for, despite his fading hope of happiness, and the memory of Jeb's face which had worn the stamp of abject fear twenty-four hours earlier, he was too big a man to refuse tribute to a manly deed.
"Well, lad," Tim, his mouth drawn with pain, tried to laugh—tried to "bluff it out" so Jeb would not suspect the truth, "I'm thinkin' thot life's wan domn hole after anither! First, mind ye, 'tis the swimmin' hole, thin the shell hole, thin a hole in me leg, an' next we know 'tis a stay-for-keeps hole in the ground! W'ot a divil av a hole the ould world is, after all! But me leg'll be all right in a fortnight, lad," (oh, Tim, you beloved liar!) "an' thin I'll be back wid the b'ys twict as strong as iver!"
"That's mighty fine news," Jeb laughed. "But I hope to go back with you now!"
"I'm not goin' now," Tim cried angrily. "I've swore 'tis not a step I take till I've said 'God bless ye' to thot angel nurse!"
"There, there, Tim, keep quiet! Haven't I promised that you could?" Bonsecours smiled at him.
"Thin w'ot's the lad sayin' about takin' me now?"
"Oh, I only meant when you are ready, Tim," Jeb did his part to quiet the excited little sergeant; then, to the doctor, he added quickly: "I want to go back with the ambulance, that's all. The Americans landed yesterday, and——"
"But," the surgeon gasped at this unusual request, "Barrow needs you!"
"I guess he doesn't, so awfully much," Jeb flushed. "If you can possibly arrange it for me, I'll be greatly obliged. I've—I've just got to get in the ranks, Doctor! I can't explain what I mean—but it's those children! Why, if each of the ten million American fellows who registered for our New Army could see only a part of cruelties I've seen, they'd break their necks getting over here!—and they wouldn't go back, either, not even for Christmas, till the last of these German High-in-Command was in prison, or dead! I'm only asking for a chance to make good——"
"Cut thot out," Tim called huskily. "It hur-rts me leg!"
Bonsecours laughed but, still protesting, said:
"I can't keep the ambulance waiting!"
"You won't have to; I'm ready now."
"But your kit——?"
"Is on my back, sir."
Two big orderlies came in and picked up the stretcher, whereupon Tim grew again excited.
"Put me down, ye little runts," he yelled, "afore I git up an' smash——"
"There, there," Bonsecours hastily interposed; saying to them: "Take this brave fellow to Dug-out Three—he wants to see Nurse Marian. I'll be right after you." But the instant they had left he turned to Jeb, asking sharply: "Do you realize what your leaving means?"
"I think I do, sir."
"You would deliberately put upon me the responsibility of sending you?"
"Why, yes," Jeb answered, somewhat perplexed.
"Then I refuse!" the surgeon snapped. "I refuse, until you bring me word that your little nurse friend from America desires it!"
Unaware of what was passing in Bonsecours' mind, Jeb stared after him in complete amazement. He had intended, of course, to see Marian and say good-bye to her, although it was an interview toward which he looked with so much dread that once or twice he had thought of escaping it, and writing her from somewhere else. Yet now he must bring some word from her to this cranky surgeon, or he dared not leave, at all! His nerves were rattled, and he fumbled through his pockets for the "makings"; spilled the tobacco and threw his ineffectual effort away in disgust. Marian was in Dug-out Three, with Tim, Bonsecours, and the stretcher-bearers! Oh, well, he told himself, perhaps it would be easier to have them all present!—and he went out resolutely, turning toward the third entrance. But on the threshold his resolution failed, and he drew back, staring.
The soft light from an oil lamp made the interior look warm and attractive, particularly because Marian was standing by the side of Tim, smiling tenderly down at him. Across from her Bonsecours stood, also smiling, but with a look of weariness—perhaps it was unhappiness. The bearers were grinning, as the little sergeant now continued with what, evidently, he had been saying:
"So ye see, lass, I couldn't go Blighty till I'd whispered a 'God bless ye' to me own, an' only, sister!"
"I'd be very proud if you were my brother, Tim," she replied, soothingly.
"She'd be very proud if I were," he looked at Bonsecours with a broad grin. "Now w'ot d'ye know about thot, Doctor! If I were, indade!—as if I wasn't! Shure, an' if the same blood don't run in both our veins, 'tis not Tim Doreen as would be here now, a-tellin' av it!"
"You're perfectly right," the surgeon laughed. "I did that deed myself, and it ought to make you her brother!"
"Ought to! Faith, an' it did!—iver since thot day the blessed angel says to ye: 'Thin do yer dooty an' save 'im!', as she put out her ar-rm for the sacrifice thot kept me here on earth!"
"Please stop—both of you!" she implored.
"Shure, lass, an' 'tis no harm speakin' av a noble deed. An' now," he added, folding his hands upon his breast, and closing his eyes in mock contentment, "'tis me last wish an' tistament to make the good Doctor Bonsecours me brother-in-law!"
"One must be in his right mind to make a last 'wish and tistament,'" Marian tried to look at him severely; but, the next instant, she leaned impulsively over and kissed his cheeks—then ran out the doorway.
Jeb had barely time to draw back when she dashed past him and turned toward the road leading above the dug-outs. She might readily have seen him had her haste and confusion been less, because the dawn was coming, and objects in the quadrangle were vaguely beginning to take shape. A new day was creeping up over the hill. The cold, unsympathetic light, matching the compass of his thoughts, made the world look gray and sordid.
He had heard, and now realized with a new depression that henceforth he could be no more a part of her life than any one of the millions who were fighting the battle of Humanity in this stricken land. Not that he pretended to love her inordinately, by any means, but a man need only love a girl with a very small portion of his heart to feel a throb of pain when she surrenders to some one else. It was this sense of being left behind that hurt; of being deserted by his old playmate—and of deserving it! He turned slowly and followed after her.
She did not hear him as he came up, and when he approached to within a few feet of her he saw the reason. The dawn was streaking the sky with pink and salmon tints, and, although her eyes were gazing into it, her thoughts reached far beyond. Standing upon the hilltop, her hands crossed over the red emblem on her breast, the half-light of soft color touching her immobile face, she typified the Spirit of Mercy poised above the unawakened battlefield, ready at the first gun's crash to fly downward with her warmth, her strength, her sympathy.
For the moment forgetting his own mission in the presence of the transfigured Marian, Jeb stood abashed. Yet the minutes were passing, and the ambulance would not wait.
"I—I came up to say good-bye," he stammered, awkwardly. "I'm going."
She turned, seeming reluctant to be torn from her meditations, and quietly asked:
He told her in a few words, adding:
"Bonsecours won't give his permission unless you agree."
"I don't know."
But she knew. From a multitude of small things, and with an intuition almost divine, she read another chapter of the great surgeon's nobility, and turned her eyes again toward the rainbow east. It was perhaps what she saw there in the changing sunrise that impelled her to whisper softly:
"I hope you'll always be as brave as you were last night, Jeb."
His cheeks burned, but he faced her without flinching and replied:
"I'm never going to run away again, if that's what you mean!"
"I had not intended to put it so cruelly, Jeb. You've done a great thing to-night, because you conquered two enemies at the same time—the one within you being infinitely a harder fight than the one without. I appreciate that, and am glad for you."
"I want you to forget that—that disgrace at the shell hole," he said, doggedly.
"Forget?" Her voice broke hysterically, and her eyes filled with tears of pity. "Ask me to forgive it, Jeb, and I may—but, forget it? Oh, how can I? Don't you understand?—I saw it! I saw it!"
"Stop, stop—please!" he cried huskily, passing his hand across his face. "Then don't forget, if—if you can't; but I'd hate to think of the Colonel, and Aunt Sallie, and——"
"Your secret is safe, if that's what you fear," she said, now as composedly as she had a moment before been moved. Again, for half a minute, she faced the sunrise, when her voice came wistfully:
"Oh, God, if—if I just hadn't seen it!"
He realized with full conviction that an impassable gulf lay between him and this girl. It was not his debasing weakness, so much as her discovery of it, that would forever stamp him with the brand of shame. The Arab sheik who one time said: "A thief may loot my tent and I will curse all thieves, but do I catch him at it and he dies!"—expressed the mind of all humanity. Marian had seen Jeb; and this meant that he was dead to her.
He watched her for a moment longer, then in a dispirited voice asked:
"Shall I tell Bonsecours it's all right for me to go?"
Without taking her face from the east, she answered evenly:
"Yes; tell him it's all right for you to go. I am praying God to watch over you, and—and make you truly worthy of a place among our soldiers from home."
He glanced back, and saw, far beyond the quadrangle, two stretcher-bearers carrying Tim to the waiting ambulance. Once more he looked at Marian, tried twice to speak, but stood humbly mute before her—awed by her ennobling beauty. For again her exquisite hands were crossed over the red emblem upon her breast, her eyes gazed into the glorified sky, and her lips moved as she pleaded with the God of Hosts to fire this playmate at her side with the divine spark of courage—and keep him brave.
Jeb bowed his head, feeling as though he were within the precinct of a holy shrine; then in silence turned and went down the road, walking with firm steps which, he prayed, would lead to the dawn of a new manhood.
The first of the "75's" crashed spitefully, and in a chaotic instant the air and earth again were shorn of their blessed peace. Instantly the sky became streaked with trails of smoke from over-passing shells. Far to the north they fell and burst into white spray, as though a long Atlantic comber were pounding on a rocky shore.
She turned once and looked toward it, moved by infinite pity for the men who were being shattered; then started slowly back into the quadrangle, just as Bonsecours dashed wildly up in search of her.
There were no words that he could say; he merely stood in front of her, holding out his arms. Her fingers, still laced over the Red Cross, fluttered nervously, as a butterfly, at the beginning of a summer storm, will cling to a flower—wanting, yet not daring to leave lest its frail wings, caught upon the wind, might carry it far out into an unexplored world. But her eyes gazed at him with illimitable yearning; then gently she swayed, stretched out her hands, and ran to him.
Trees that lined the streets of Hillsdale were touched with tints of red and gold, frescoed by the magic brush of approaching winter.
In the Eagle office sat the Colonel and Mr. Strong, looking thoughtfully into their laps. Tears glistened on their cheeks; for several minutes neither of them had spoken. Held in the editor's fingers was an open letter just received, while in the Colonel's inert hand lay a clipping from the Paris Figaro. The Colonel now glanced up slowly but, seeing Mr. Strong's face, sharply exclaimed:
"I wish you'd stop your infernal weeping, Amos!"
"I wish you'd stop your own!" the editor replied with equal asperity; then both of them began to laugh.
"I confess, Amos, that it's hard to keep back tears. Why, by gad, sir, he has done as much as we ever did in the old fracas over here!—more, sir! And Marian—who the devil is that fellow she eulogizes to the sky? Here," he handed over the clipping, "read this again! It's a pity it isn't printed in English!"
"Let me first read what Marian says, Roger; then we'll take the clipping."
Three times within the last half hour these old gentlemen had followed exactly this same routine: first taking Marian's letter, written from Paris where she had been sent for a well-earned rest, and then laboriously translating the newspaper item she inclosed to them.
Mr. Strong now adjusted his glasses and began the letter a fourth time, while the Colonel leaned forward, hanging upon each word. It recited first what Tim Doreen had magnanimously told about Jeb, losing none of that Irishman's vividness; then it went on at great length to describe a certain Dr. Georges Bonsecours. Page after page she wrote of him; citing innumerable instances of his valor, both while under gruelling fire out on the field and endless hours of indefatigable work beneath the dug-out shelters. Having fully covered his present, she dashed into his past with a reckless disregard of ink and paper, and filled many other pages. Only once did the Colonel interrupt, and then to remark drily:
"Seems like a pretty thorough biographical sketch, Amos."
He had made this same observation, just at this same place, upon each of the previous readings; and the editor had hesitated, cleared his throat—as he now did—before continuing with the only mention Marian had written of this great surgeon's future, which was, briefly:
"When the war is over, he is coming out to Hillsdale."
For a fourth time now Mr. Strong's eyes grew moist, as he asked:
"What do you suppose he wants to come out here to Hillsdale for?"
The Colonel had not previously deigned to answer this; he had merely subsided into silence and let a lump rise in his throat in sympathy with the editor. This time, however, he turned squarely to his friend and asked:
"Amos, are you trying to be a pig-headed old fool, or do you really want the truth!"
Mr. Strong looked at him rather humorously.
"I think I'll dodge the truth, at any rate, Roger—until this doctor arrives. How do you think Miss Sallie and Miss Veemie will take it?"
"Take it? Why, they'll take it just as we do—with joyful hearts, because their boy and our girl have achieved great things! I never wanted her to marry Jeb, anyhow!" And to Mr. Strong's smile of surprise, he thundered: "By cracky, I tell you I didn't, Roger! Jeb was too immature for her—he had yet to prove himself!"
"He's proved himself now," the editor emphatically replied.
"He has, indeed," the Colonel's voice sank to tenderness. "He has, indeed," he added to himself, as though he could not quite understand it. "But, Amos, she needs a man of broader calibre—you know she does! They weren't ever seriously in love with each other, anyhow!—don't interrupt me again!—I tell you they weren't! Just because their dear mothers expressed a wish for them to marry, you, and those two little old maids out there, got to sentimentalizing over it until the poor children were hypnotized. Why, confound it, I call them lucky to have escaped! I wonder, by the way," he added thoughtfully, "if this Doctor What's-his-name talks English, or the jargon in which that clipping is printed! He'll have a stupid time here in Hillsdale, that's all I've got to say."
Mr. Strong laughed outright.
"You're mighty cock-sure about him and Marian!"
"Because I don't admit being a pig-headed old fool," the Colonel grinned. "If ever invisible words were written between lines of a letter, they're there in your hand! He's asked her, to a certainty; and she has either said yes, or intends to! Wait for the next mail! The little vixen is just preparing us—see if I ain't right! Now, read the other, Amos," he added gently.
The clipping was a long one, being a list of men in the American Army who had been recommended for the Croix de Guerre, and, among the many, he read:
"'Soldier Jebediah Tumpson, for going through a heavy barrage to search for a wounded platoon leader, and after two hours under constant fire bringing him back in safety.'"
"What's that thing they want to give him?" the Colonel asked, after they had been silent with their own thoughts for several moments. There was a huskiness in his voice that suggested another approach of tears.
"Croix de Guerre," Mr. Strong coughed and answered. "It means the Cross of War."
"Then why the devil didn't you say Cross of War, Amos," he demanded, trying valiantly to hide his emotion. "What's the sense of using words that sound like a dog fight!—g-r-r-r-r!—Croix de G-r-r-r-r, indeed!—when you know how to say it in decent American English!"
The editor smiled understandingly, and again they relapsed into meditation; their hearts beating happily, the Colonel's stout boot tapping contentedly upon the oaken floor.
"Amos," he shouted, springing at last to his feet, "there's no damned German army ever recruited can stand before our boys when we get good and mad!"
Mr. Strong arose and closed his roll-top desk with a bang. Laying a hand on his friend's shoulder, he said:
"You're damn right! Now get your overcoat——"
"Pouf! I don't need any overcoat!" the Colonel cried disdainfully, feeling himself warmed by the old spirit of 1861, which had been fanned into a comforting glow by the new spirit of 1917.
"Yes, you do, Roger, for I heard you coughing only yesterday!—and you remember what I promised Marian!"
"I will, if you put on your muffler, Amos!"
"Oh, very well. But what I started to say is, that—while I don't make a practice of it—I think we're entitled to go to the hotel for a small—er-a! Then we'll walk out Main street, and take this good news to the little aunts!"
"And some flowers, Amos! Tulips, if we can find any—a big bunch of 'em!"
* * * * *
Of all the charming books that may come forth this year, none will be more welcome than
GEORGINA'S SERVICE STARS
By Annie Fellows Johnston
TO BE PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 1st
In it will be found a new story of beloved Georgina whose Rainbow adventures led into her tenth year. Now she is older—sweet sixteen, if you please—and Richard, her playmate of childhood days, is a grown man of seventeen—and as devoted as ever. Of course he got into the great war enough to give Georgina a second star to her service flag; her father, being a famous surgeon, his star is rightfully at the top. But watch out for Richard! (Beautifully illustrated. $1.35 net.)
AS USUAL—FOR ALL THE FAMILY
- GEORGINA of the RAINBOWS Now selling in beautiful popular edition, 60 cts. -
* * * * *
He has written another one—and it is as good as his famous book "Laugh and Live"
MAKING LIFE WORTH WHILE
—that the title of Douglas Fairbanks' new book to be published in early autumn
It is written in his own inimitable style—another book of inspiration for people of all ages and either sex—a new vein of optimistic cheer for us mortals of a war-worn world—another message from the man who knows how to keep himself happy and well, and who is willing to pass his recipe on to others.
His book makes for Success Everybody will want it
12mo.—Beautifully Illustrated with 16 New Photographic Duotones
Cloth, $1.00 Khaki, $1.00 Leather, $2.00 Ooze, $2.50
To be published September 1
* * * * *
Over the Seas for Uncle Sam
By ELAINE STERNE, Author of "The Road of Ambition"
Miss Sterne is Senior Lieutenant of the Navy League Honor Guard, which has charge of entertainment and visitation in behalf of sick and wounded sailors sent home for hospital treatment. Their experiences, such as may be published at this time, now appear in book form. This book brings out many thrilling adventures that have occurred in the war zone of the high seas—and has official sanction. Miss Sterne's descriptive powers are equaled by few. She has the dramatic touch which compels interest. Her book, which contains many photographic scenes, will be warmly welcomed in navy circles, and particularly by those in active service.
Cloth Illuminated Jacket $1.35 Net
* * * * *
Ambulancing on the French Front
By EDWARD P. COYLE
Here is a collection of intensely interesting episodes related by a Young American who served as a volunteer with the French Army—Red Cross Division. His book is to the field of mercy what those of Empey, Holmes and Peat have been in describing the vicissitudes of army life. The author spent ten months in ambulance work on the Verdun firing line. What he saw and did is recounted with most graphic clearness. This book contains many illustrations photographed on the spot showing with vivid exactitude the terrors of rescue work under the fire of the big guns.
Cloth 16 Full page Illustrations $1.35 Net
Britton Publishing Company New York