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Title: Nancy Dale, Army Nurse
Author: Radford, Ruby Lorraine
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nancy Dale, Army Nurse" ***

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Crawford, Dave Morgan and the Online Distributed


                               NANCY DALE
                               Army Nurse

                               _Story by_
                         RUBY LORRAINE RADFORD


                            _Illustrated by_
                            HENRY E. VALLELY


             [Illustration: FIGHTERS FOR FREEDOM _Series_]



                       WHITMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY
                           RACINE, WISCONSIN

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         _Copyright, 1944, by_
                       WHITMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY
                           Racine, Wisconsin


                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.


            All names, characters, and events in this story
                        are entirely fictitious

------------------------------------------------------------------------



             _To Whom It May Concern_

             Those men wounded beneath their battle flags
             May or may not have a fighting chance.
             Nurses are needed, yet recruiting lags
             While every mile of ground our troops advance
             Is bought with blood and even lives expended;
             Though death to some has always been the price
             Of victory when any right’s defended,
             Nothing excuses useless sacrifice!
             Whether or not the men in foreign lands
             Have little nursing care to ease their pain—
             Life means so much to them! Can you explain
             To any youth who fought, suffered, and bled,
             Why you did not serve, too, beside his bed?

                 —RUTH ARUNDEL PIERCY, R.N.

                 From The American Journal of Nursing,
                 Vol. 44. No. 2. Feb. 1944, p. 97.

                 By permission of The American Journal
                 of Nursing.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                                               PAGE
                        I. Emergency             11
                       II. Hurdles               23
                      III. Suspects              35
                       IV. The Gas Chamber       47
                        V. Official Notice       57
                       VI. Camouflage            65
                      VII. Letters               79
                     VIII. Port of Embarkation   91
                       IX. Alert                101
                        X. Embarkation          110
                       XI. At Sea               119
                      XII. A Dream              131
                     XIII. Tommy’s Bombardier   145
                      XIV. Bruce’s Report       158
                       XV. Parting              168
                      XVI. Beach Landing        178
                     XVII. The Gunner’s Story   192
                    XVIII. A Test               205
                      XIX. Adrift               216
                       XX. The Plane            228
                      XXI. Rescued              238

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Nancy Waved to the Middle-Aged Couple_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               Nancy Dale
                               ARMY NURSE


                              CHAPTER ONE

                               EMERGENCY


Nancy stood on the steps of the train and waved at a misty-eyed couple,
a man and woman of middle years. Strange how she could be so close to
tears, yet so buoyantly happy all in the same moment.

The train began to move slowly and Nancy called back, “Be sure to
forward all Tommy’s letters, Mom!”

Her mother nodded and smiled, while her father lifted his hat in that
courtly way he had. Nancy could scarcely believe that at last she was
on her way to becoming a member of the great Army Nurse Corps. In fact
she was one now, for she had already taken her oath of allegiance. This
slowly moving train marked the beginning of a wonderful journey that
might take her anywhere in the whole world—Africa, Italy, India, the
Arctic or the South Pacific.

She had been praying ever since she joined that it would be the South
Pacific, not only because her brother was there flying a bomber over
the tropical blue waters, but because the tropics had always seemed
fascinating. But little did she dream what she must go through before
she saw again that beloved couple she had just left.

As she turned back into the Pullman she suddenly felt empty, with that
awful, hollow, going-away feeling. She thought how lucky she had been
to get her nurse’s training right in her own home town. She had never
known the feeling of homesickness, for her few brief trips had all been
for pleasure. But this was different and far more exciting, yet she
knew suddenly now that it would also have its heartaches.

From her seat in the car she caught one more glimpse of her parents.
How lonesome they would be with both their children in the service! For
a few minutes, as the train crawled out of the city, Nancy could think
of nothing but the two she was leaving behind.

How concerned poor Mom had been when she said, “Do be careful, darling,
about getting wet. You know how easily you take cold when your feet are
wet.”

Nancy had promised to be as careful as possible, but didn’t fret her
mother by saying she was afraid there would often be days on end when
her feet would always be wet, if her experiences were anything like the
overseas nurses she heard from in Italy and New Guinea.

Not until the last house of her beloved town had vanished beyond the
green hills did Nancy turn her gaze to the inside of the Pullman. She
noticed now that practically everyone was in uniform, both men and
women. There were two WACs across from her, and an ANC captain a little
farther up.

She thought it would have been more fun had someone been going with
her. This trip to the capital was always so slow and boring, then there
would be a tiresome wait before she took the sleeper for Alabama. She
tried to read but was too keyed up to concentrate. She could think of
nothing but the great adventure into which she was going. Settling her
head against the cushion she faced the window, watching the rolling
hills. Suddenly she realized she was tired after all the excitement of
farewell parties and packing. How grand everyone had been to her! Since
she was the only volunteer in her class, she had been given a dance at
the Nurse’s Home. How could anyone stay behind, she wondered, when the
fighting men needed so many nurses?

Drowsiness was creeping over her when she caught the low tones of two
men behind her. The fact that they were speaking in a foreign tongue
pricked her to alertness. She leaned closer to the window and
concentrated. They were talking almost in whispers, but she heard the
gutteral syllables of several German words. She had studied a little
German in her high school days in order to sing some selections from
the Wagnerian operas. Now she caught the words, _ute Abend_ and _acht
Kusches_.

“Tonight ... eight cars,” she translated.

The Pullman conductor came down the aisle, and the men fell silent. If
they hadn’t become so abruptly silent at his approach, Nancy might have
thought little of the whispered conversation. Though she tried to
dismiss her suspicions, attributing her sensitiveness to the fact that
she had just entered the service, she could not forget the two men
speaking German fluently who sat behind her.

After an interval Nancy decided to take a look at the pair. She started
down the aisle under pretense of getting a drink of water. The man
nearest the aisle had the broad face and blond complexion of a typical
German, though he wore the uniform of an American soldier. The other
was in civilian clothes, and wore a small mustache. All Nancy could
glean in her hasty inspection was that he had a lean countenance, dark
coloring, and wore dark-rimmed glasses. On her return she noticed that
the blond had a corporal’s stripes on his sleeve.

If he was a spy, surely the army would have detected it before making
him a corporal, she thought, and promptly tried to dismiss her
suspicions. Not until eleven o’clock that night when she was hurrying
with the crowd to go aboard the west-bound train, did she again think
of those words spoken in German behind her. Her Pullman was at the end
of a very long train. Soldiers were filing into the front coaches. She
counted eight cars ahead of hers.

Suddenly she recalled the words she had heard behind her at the
beginning of her journey, _acht Kusches_. And here they were, eight
coaches of service men. Again she thought of their words, _ute Abend_.
Tonight! Could there possibly be any connection between those words and
this troop train?

Nancy followed the redcap to her Pullman seat with a feeling of
uneasiness. She knew that spies all over the country were busy trying
to get information about the movements of troop trains and transports.
She pressed her eyes to the window and looked out at the milling crowd.
Then suddenly she saw the blond corporal. He did not get aboard the
train, but watched the troops marching down the paved walk between the
tracks. Then he turned sharply and hurried back toward the station. The
man in civilian clothes was not with him.

Nancy tried to shake off the nagging uneasiness that haunted her even
after she was comfortably stretched in her berth, and the train was
rushing out across the red Georgia hills. But her interest in what lay
ahead was too keen for her to remain depressed. Several times she
raised the shade to peep out when the train slowed at small towns where
street lights twinkled sleepily, but at last the hum of the wheels
lulled her to sleep.

Then suddenly, several hours before dawn, there came a terrific crash
and jolt. Nancy caught wildly at the clothes hammock to keep from being
hurled into the aisle, as the Pullman crashed to a stop and toppled
slightly to the right. Screams and moans were heard above the grinding
noises.

Nancy clung to the hammock a moment, too stunned to move. She expected
the tilting coach to crash to earth any moment. Lights had vanished
beyond the cracks of her curtain. With shaking hands she found her
flashlight in the zipper bag left at the foot of her berth. She opened
the curtain and turned the light up and down the aisle. Several who
hadn’t been thrown from their berths were climbing out, wanting to know
what had happened. Groans, curses and cries only added to the confusion.

Then with the speed of a fireman preparing to answer a call to duty,
Nancy put on her clothes. Some sure instinct warned her that in a few
minutes there would be no time to think of herself. At last her long
legs swung down from the berth. Her flashlight showed some people still
lying where they had fallen in the aisle. Some actually climbed over
them in their frantic haste to get out of the leaning Pullman.

She turned her light on the nearest injured person. It was a
gray-haired lady, moaning that her arm was broken. A big man, clad only
in his undershirt and army trousers, emerged from his berth.

“Here, give me a hand,” ordered Nancy. “This lady has a broken arm.”

The soldier, who was of powerful build, braced himself against the
berth on the lower side, and lifted the stunned old lady to his
shoulder. Nancy held her flashlight so he could see as they made their
way toward the exit. She snatched a sheet to use for bandages from one
of the berths as she went.

On reaching the platform they found the Pullman was leaning
precariously against a clay cut on one side, while the steps on the
other were high in air. Flares had already been lighted beside the
track, and eager hands reached up to help with the injured woman. Nancy
never remembered how she got down herself. Her one idea was to help the
little old lady whose wavy gray hair was so like her own mother’s.

“Do you have a pocket knife?” she asked the service man as he was
stretching the woman on the ground.

He dug in his trouser pocket and produced one.

“Cut me a splint off some bush or tree,” she ordered. “I’ll have to
protect this broken arm till it can be X-rayed and properly set.”

She took off her coat to cushion the gray head. While she waited for
the splint she saw that injured people were being brought from the
three rear coaches. Just beyond the clay bank which had saved their car
from greater damage, she saw that several coaches had overturned and
telescoped into a horrible mass of wreckage.

The soldier came back promptly with a good splint from which he was
deftly peeling the bark. To Nancy’s surprise he knelt on the ground,
and in the light of her flash began to manipulate the broken bone into
position. One glance at those skillful fingers and Nancy exclaimed,
“Oh, you’re a doctor!”

“Yes,” was all he said as he proceeded to the business of the moment.

“Thank God,” she said earnestly, and began to tear the sheet into
bandages.

As she had done numberless times before in the emergency room, Nancy
helped bind up the broken arm.

“I see you’ve at least had first aid,” he said as they worked.

“I’m a nurse,” she retorted as tersely as he had informed her he was a
doctor.

“There’ll be plenty for us to do tonight,” he told her.

When the arm was set, he lifted the frail woman and carried her out of
the cut.

“Wait here with her,” the doctor ordered. “I’ll go back for my bag. She
should have a hypo. You can help.”

Someone had placed some boxes for steps at the rear entrance to the
coach and he returned that way. They were still hauling people out and
stretching them beside the end coach, which by some miracle had not
overturned. To Nancy’s surprise she recognized the ANC captain she had
noticed on the train yesterday afternoon. She was trying to stop the
bleeding in a leg wound of a man next to Nancy’s old lady.

“Please, someone try to find a doctor,” she said to no one in
particular.

“One was here just now,” Nancy told her. “He’ll be back in a moment. He
went for his bag.”

Nancy bent to help the captain make a tourniquet below the injured
man’s knee. She had just secured the knot with a stick when she saw the
doctor returning. The ANC captain straightened and saluted.

“This man will have to have some stitches, Major,” she said.

“I’ll look after him.”

To Nancy’s consternation she saw that the soldier she had just been
ordering around, had put on his coat. His gold leaf indicated him a
major, and the caduceus that he was a member of the medical corps. She
felt terribly embarrassed at her mistake.

He seemed to think nothing of it, however, for he explained to the
captain, “I’ll keep this young lady to help me. She says she’s a nurse.”

“Then I’ll go look after some of the others,” said the captain, alertly.

Major Reed was stooping to give attention to the injured man, and asked
as he did so, “Where did you graduate?”

“Stanford Hospital. I’m Nancy Dale. I just joined the Army Nurse Corps
and am on my way for basic training.”

This explanation seemed quite satisfactory to the major. He set his bag
on the ground and pulled the zipper. “Give the lady there a hypo. We’ll
need one here, too. Tell Captain Lewis to get what she needs from my
bag.”

Until the sun rose over the red clay hills Nancy worked beside Major
Reed, setting bones, sewing up cuts and giving sedatives to the
hysterical. Several automobiles had gathered and focused their
headlights upon the scene. Though Nancy had never faced such an
emergency, she did not lose her head, nor did her hands shake as she
worked to relieve the injured.

Only once did she feel an inward tremor and that was when she thought
of how she had ordered Major Reed around. But there was no time to
dwell on that in the busy hours before the arrival of nurses, doctors
and ambulances from the nearest town.

“Someone to relieve us at last,” said Captain Mary Lewis, who now
looked as weary as Nancy felt.

“I phoned the camp for a car to be sent for us,” Major Reed told them.
“There’ll be plenty of room for the three of us and our baggage.”

Nancy glanced from one officer to the other in astonishment. “Oh, are
we really within driving distance of the camp?”

“Only about fifty miles,” replied Major Reed.

“And you’re both going there?”

Captain Lewis nodded and smiled. “I’ve been on a tour of inspection,
and Major Reed has been assigned work there.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“I’m Nancy Dale,” Nancy Told the Major_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Then I can get there almost as soon as scheduled,” said Nancy in
relief. “I was worrying over being off schedule.”

“Young lady, if you ever had a good excuse for being late you have it
this time,” said the major. He looked down at her a moment and smiled
whimsically. “I’d say she’s made of good fighting stuff, wouldn’t you,
Miss Lewis?”

“I’ll say,” agreed Miss Lewis. “She’s had a fine try-out tonight.”

Nancy’s face flushed, then she burst forth impulsively, “Oh, I hope
they’ll think me good enough to send to the South Pacific.”

“That’s something we have to leave to our Uncle Samuel, young lady.”

Nancy was silent a moment, then looked up at the major shyly out of the
corner of her eye. “I owe you an apology, sir.”

“How’s that?”

“For ordering you about—demanding that you cut me a splint. But how
could I know you were a major?”

He broke into a hearty laugh. “Well, Miss Dale, I can’t see that an
officer is due any respect when he goes around in his undershirt. You
did what any nurse should have done.”

“That must be your car over there, Major,” said Miss Lewis.

“So ’tis. Let’s get our baggage and be off.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER TWO

                                HURDLES


At Major Reed’s request a young private brought Nancy’s baggage from
the Pullman and packed it in the car. The major gave the local doctor
last minute instructions about some of the injured, while Nancy and
Captain Mary Lewis waited for him. It was the first five minutes Nancy
had had since the accident to think quietly about the catastrophe.

With a sudden inner jolt she recalled the two German-speaking
passengers who had sat behind her the previous afternoon. Could there
possibly be any connection between their whispered conversation and
this tragedy? The demand for her services during these last horrible
hours had driven out all other thoughts except the use of her skill in
helping the injured.

When the doctor returned to the car and started to get in, Nancy said,
“Major Reed, there’s something I believe I should tell you before we
leave here.”

He glanced at her, his foot lifted to the step, and said
absent-mindedly, “Yes?”

“This may or may not have any connection with the wreck.”

“They’ve already found evidence that it’s the work of saboteurs,” he
told her frankly.

Nancy felt the blood drain from her cheeks. What would they think of
her not mentioning her suspicions sooner? She had gone too far now to
remain silent. Briefly she gave an account of the German conversation
behind her the previous afternoon.

“I might have thought little of it,” she hastened to add, on seeing the
scowl on the major’s face, “but on boarding the train last night I
noticed there were eight troop cars. Instantly I thought of what the
two men behind me had said. I also noticed the blond corporal watching
the entraining men. He stood at the edge of the crowd outside my coach.”

“You should have reported him as a suspect,” stated Captain Mary Lewis
sharply.

Nancy flushed, and asked, “To whom should I have reported him? They
would only have laughed at me. Nobody on that train knew who I was.”

“Never take a chance when it comes to anything like that,” said Major
Reed. “Where large numbers of lives are involved it’s excusable to be
suspicious of your own brother, rather than take any chances.”

Nancy didn’t flare up in anger or burst into tears, but looked the
major squarely in the eyes. “I’m sure you’re right. Had I been at a
hospital, or in camp, I would have reported my suspicions to the right
authorities. Under the circumstances, sir, what would you have done?”

The major got suddenly into the car and slammed the door. “I would
probably have done exactly as you did, young lady.”

Then Nancy did want to cry from sheer relief. Their car crawled off
through the traffic congestion at the scene of the accident. The
highway ran parallel with the track for some distance. They had an
appalling view of the twisted mass of wreckage in the forward part of
the train. At a group of official-looking cars, Major Reed had the
driver stop. He got out to talk to two men. A few minutes later he
brought them over to the car and had Nancy give a description of the
two suspects she had noticed on the train.

“You are to be commended, Miss Dale,” said Mr. Nelson, the taller of
the two strangers, “for at least giving the suspects a looking over.”

“I had to see what they were like after I heard them whispering in
German!” exclaimed Nancy. “But when I saw one was a corporal in the
army I thought perhaps I was being too suspicious.”

Mr. Nelson laughed bitterly. “We’ve picked up several spies lately,
disguised in soldier’s uniforms. A man isn’t always to be trusted just
because he wears our colors.”

“I suppose it would be impossible now to locate the pair,” said Nancy
unhappily. “The blond could be anywhere among the thousands back there
at the station, or hundreds of miles away by this time.”

The other plainclothes official said, “You underrate our Secret
Service, miss. The description you’ve given is elaborate compared with
some we get. We’ve sometimes caught ’em on little more than a
shoestring.”

He saluted respectfully and their car rolled out to the open country,
and across the red clay hills. They were all too tired for
conversation, even if they had had the heart for it after such a
depressing experience. Captain Lewis did not seem inclined to
conversation, and Nancy was glad enough to ride in silence. She
snuggled deep into her corner, and was actually asleep before they had
left the wreck five miles behind.

Some time later she was startled by a gentle hand shaking her shoulder.
“Here we are, my dear,” Miss Lewis was saying. Nancy opened her eyes.

She sat up with a start, wondering if there’d been another wreck. To
her amazement she found they had stopped in front of a long, one-story
building. Some white-uniformed nurses were coming down the steps.
Across the lawn she saw another group in coveralls.

“You mean we are actually there—at camp?” she asked in amazement.

“You slept like a baby all the way,” said Captain Lewis. “That ability
to relax at once will stand you in good stead when you get in the thick
of things.”

Nancy was pleased. “Mother has always said if anyone would give me a
pillow I could go to sleep any time, anywhere.”

“And this time you didn’t even have a pillow.” Then suddenly Captain
Lewis assumed her official air. “Lieutenant Hauser will show you to
your room and help you get settled. Would you like to join me at
breakfast when you get cleaned up?”

“Oh yes, thanks. This brisk morning air has really whipped up my
appetite.”

Not until long afterward did Nancy discover what an honor Captain Lewis
had bestowed upon her. Too many new and exciting things were happening
just then for her to appreciate the full significance of the invitation.

Captain Lewis introduced her to Lieutenant Hauser who was rather short
and stocky and had a ready smile. She gave Nancy the comfortable
feeling that there was really no difference in their positions, even
though Miss Hauser was already a first lieutenant.

“Your roommate is Mabel Larsen,” explained Miss Hauser. “She got in
yesterday and already knows enough to show you the ropes.”

They went down a long, narrow hall. A moment later Miss Hauser opened
the door of a neat little room with two beds, attractive cretonne
drapes and comfortable chairs and floor lamps.

An exclamation of delight escaped Nancy, “Oh, I thought we’d be
sleeping on army cots in tents!”

“You’ll get plenty of that later. Better enjoy these comforts while you
have them,” Lieutenant Hauser warned her. “Mabel’s out on the obstacle
course right now. You’ll have a chance to do some unpacking and clean
up before she comes in.”

Miss Hauser pointed out a list of rules tacked on the door, told Nancy
where the dining room was and left her to her own devices. An hour
later when Nancy came back from a hearty breakfast with Captain Lewis
she found Mabel Larsen stretched on her bed.

Mabel merely lifted her head when Nancy came in, and greeted her
casually. “Oh, hello! You’re the latest shavetail, I suppose?”

“I’m Nancy Dale, and they tell me you’re Mabel Larsen.”

“Glad you came. Sorry I can’t be very formal just now, but I’m all
in—got only fifteen minutes to get my wind back.” She groaned softly.
“Gosh, but my legs ache!”

“What’s wrong? Are you ill?”

“Oh, nothing that won’t be worse tomorrow! Just wait till you try those
hurdles!” Mabel turned over cautiously and groaned again. “I might’ve
been pounded by Japs from the way these shanks feel.”

Nancy laughed in spite of herself. “You must’ve been neglecting your
daily dozen before you came here.”

“I’ve never been one of those exercise addicts,” stated Mabel. “I’ve
always gotten enough floor work in the wards without this one, two,
three business.” Mabel reached for a bottle of rubbing alcohol and
began to massage her rather plump legs.

“Wait, let me do it,” said Nancy.

Mabel lay back on the bed and gave herself up to the enjoyment of the
soothing touch of Nancy’s hands.

“You oughter been a masseuse,” she sighed. Then after a moment she
asked, “Why were you so late? We thought you were coming on that early
train.”

“There was a wreck,” said Nancy, reluctant to recall her trying
experience.

Mabel sat up suddenly. “You mean the train you were on?”

Nancy nodded and gave her a hasty sketch of what had happened, and
their work with the injured.

“Well, if I’m not the daughter of a sloth!” burst forth Mabel. “Here I
am letting you give me an alcohol rub when you’ve already been working
like a trooper for hours!”

“Oh, I got a bit of sleep coming over in the car, but Miss Lewis
suggested that I go to bed again till lunch time. I had breakfast with
her just now.”

“Not Captain Mary Lewis?” asked Mabel.

Nancy nodded as she began to take off her clothes.

“Well, aren’t you the lucky bloke!” exclaimed Mabel. “Hobnobbing with
the majors and captains on the very day of your arrival.”

“It just happened that way.”

“Think of the chance you had to prove to ’em right off the bat what
stuff you’re made of. Some people do have all the luck.”

Nancy didn’t know just what to make of this talkative roommate, but she
was too tired to care just then. She found her rumpled pajamas in the
zipper bag and got them out. In the meantime Mabel was painfully
putting on her uniform to report to class.

“They’ll probably give you a bunch of this gear this afternoon,” Mabel
said. “I never had so many new duds all at one time as they issued to
me yesterday.”

“Miss Hauser said I’d get my uniforms this afternoon, and be given my
schedule, too. After that experience this morning I’m rather glad I
don’t have to get down to business till tomorrow.”

Nancy crawled into bed and was thankful to find it very comfortable.
She watched her new friend straighten her tie and set her new visor cap
at a rakish angle on her reddish curls.

“Boy, do I feel swell in this uniform,” boasted Mabel. “It sure boosts
your morale to feel you’re really one of the bunch at last. I’ve been
raring to get in for months.”

“So have I,” Nancy told her. “But I only graduated last month.”

“Shake, sister! You’re a gal after my own heart. I just finished, too.”
The irrepressible Mabel seized Nancy’s hand that lay on the spread. “I
believe we’re gonner hit it off fine.”

“We’ll make a team to whip the Japs,” Nancy said, entering into the
spirit of her banter.

“Say, that’s swell! So you want to go down under, too?”

“You bet! My brother’s flying a bomber there.”

“I’ve got a sweety out there, too. Yeah, we’ll make a team—the long
and short, the chestnut curls and the strawberry-blond mop, your common
sense and my nonsense.”

Then they were both laughing and the ice was completely broken.

Mabel glanced at her watch and bounded toward the door. “Be seeing you
later,” she called back.

Nancy felt as though a whirlwind had just passed, and she settled into
her pillow with a sigh of relief. She felt certain she was going to
like her new roommate. Though most of her remarks were flippant, she
showed that there was the right sort of stuff underneath.

After a couple of hours’ sleep and a shower, Nancy felt ready to tackle
her new life. She spent the rest of the afternoon being fitted for her
clothes. She was surprised to know the old blue uniforms were no longer
issued, and that she would wear olive drab for dress.

“They found the Japs wearing blue sometimes in the Pacific area. It
proved confusing,” Lieutenant Hauser told her. “White uniforms are not
customarily worn, either, by nurses at the front—too easily spotted
from the air. All these changes are the result of practical experience.”

When Nancy went out to supper with her new friend, Mabel remarked,
“Leisure’s a scarce commodity round here. We put in eight hours of hard
work every day, counting all the classes, ward work, drills and stuff.
Six days a week, too, sister!”

“I’m used to that,” Nancy told her.

Nancy’s real initiation came the next morning when they were routed out
before daylight for half an hour of calisthenics. Mabel stuck close to
give her a prod or hint against doing things wrong. That morning Nancy
also noticed Tini Hoffman for the first time. Unlike her nickname Tini
was of a large build, and she seemed not to have the slightest sense of
rhythm or coordination. She was constantly getting out of step and
throwing the line off.

“All right then I’ll step out!” snapped Tini, when she had been
reprimanded the third time. “I can’t do anything to please you.”

“You’ll stay in ranks and keep trying till you do it correctly,”
Lieutenant Carson stated. “Or else!”

After that the girl stomped about like a spoiled child, making the dust
fly over those around her. Nancy wondered why she was here at all if
she had not come in the spirit of cooperation with the training program.

“Too much silly falderal,” she heard Tini say in a low tone when the
formation broke up. “I came in to nurse the sick, not to do a lot of
crazy drilling.”

That afternoon Tini was close to Mabel and Nancy when they were jumping
some hurdles. Nancy’s long legs swung easily over the first two, but
the last took all the ability she had. Tini, however, didn’t even try
to go over the last, but quickly ducked under when the instructor
wasn’t looking.

“Go back, you cheat!” snapped Mabel. “We’re not going to have any
duckers-under in this unit.”

Mabel’s bluntness attracted the attention of Lieutenant John Warren,
who was putting them through this phase of their training. He called
out good-naturedly, “Now, now, young lady! You have to take it over the
top, you know.”

Tini knocked down the bar twice before she finally made that last
hurdle. She scraped her chin the first time she hit the gravel. When
their instructor was out of hearing she gave him some back talk, and
continued to grumble while she crawled parallel with Nancy and Mabel
under some lengths of chicken wire.

Nancy was sure her palms had as much earth on them as skin when she
finally came triumphantly through on the other side. “Boy, what an
experience!” she burst forth, when she got up to brush herself off.

“Just imagine how much faster we could do it, if the Japs were using
the soles of our G.I. shoes for target practice,” Mabel reminded her.

“There’s just no sense in all this,” complained Tini, wiping her gritty
palms on her coveralls.

Nancy didn’t like this girl, nor her attitude, and found she couldn’t
keep silent any longer.

“Looks as though you’d better get out of this right now,” she snapped.
“If I understand the reason for all this, it’s for our own good—to
prepare us for real trials to come if we’re sent into the fighting
areas.”

“Mind your own business,” snapped Tini like a spoiled child. “I’ve got
a right to blow off if I want to.”

She stalked on to the next test. Here they were required to swing by a
rope down the side of a ravine. Nancy and Mabel followed slowly, and
Mabel said, “If they keep her on she’ll get our unit into trouble, sure
as life.”

“I doubt if they keep her with such an attitude.”

“She griped like that all the way through nurse’s training,” Mabel
explained.

“Oh, was she in your class?”

“Yes. We came here together, too. You have to hand it to Tini, though.
She has a keen mind and makes grand marks. They had no grounds for
turning her down, I suppose.”

“She makes me feel as uncomfortable as those suspects on the train did.”

“Yeah!” agreed Mabel. “There’re more ways of working against Uncle Sam
than outright sabotage.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER THREE

                                SUSPECTS


In the busy days that followed, Nancy, with the other girls of her
unit, was plunged into the intensive work of preparing for service in
the fighting zones. Fully alert to the importance of these
instructions, Nancy worked even harder than she had during her nurse’s
training. Here they must put the lectures and discussions into practice
at once.

The day after her arrival there were lectures on military courtesy and
customs of the service. They were told how to wear their uniforms, and
how to recognize the various insignia of office.

In their room afterwards Nancy and Mabel had lots of fun practicing the
military salute.

“You’ve got to learn to do it automatically,” said Mabel. “Your fingers
should go to your forehead when you see a superior officer as
instinctively as your foot goes to the car brake in an emergency.”

“And I suppose it will prove to be ‘a restriction’ emergency if you
don’t,” Nancy came back with a laugh.

For the next day or two they saluted every time they passed each other
in their room and had some good laughs over their actions.

“Tini Hoffman says she hates to salute,” Mabel confided. “She says it
makes her feel inferior.”

“If Tini isn’t careful she’s going to get kicked out of this training
camp,” Nancy said. “I don’t like her attitude one bit.”

“Neither do the instructors. But she’s got an uncle who’s a colonel or
something—anyhow he’s one of the bigwigs in the training program.”

“I don’t imagine that will have any influence if she doesn’t make the
grade,” Nancy replied. “I’d hate to think of the kind of army we’d have
if it did.”

“You may be right,” Mabel conceded. “But what’s more, I don’t even like
her name. It’s much too German.”

“I think we ought to be careful about things like that,” warned Nancy.
“There’re plenty of good, loyal Americans, you know, with
foreign-sounding names.”

“Yes, of course. But when a foreign name goes along with a rebellious
attitude it makes you wonder.”

Something happened a week later to make the two girls think more
seriously than ever of Tini Hoffman and her strange conduct. After
their eight hours of work, the nurses were free to seek recreation, go
into the village on shopping tours or to movies. And they were usually
ready for a change when their day’s work was over.

One evening Nancy and Mabel had stopped in a drugstore for a soda after
going to the movies, and they came unexpectedly upon Tini. The
drugstore they had entered was very narrow in the rear, with little,
private booths down each wall and an aisle in between for serving. The
girls slipped into one of the booths to have their soda and chat about
the picture. Couples filled all the other seats and crowded around the
tables in front. Most of them were men and women in uniform.

“We’re lucky to get seats,” said Mabel.

While waiting for their order to be filled, Nancy said, “Oh, I meant to
get some cleansing tissues.”

“I’ll get ’em for you,” offered Mabel. “I promised to pick up a package
here for Miss Hauser. She phoned her order over.”

While Mabel was at the drug counter Nancy sat idly gazing around at the
chatting groups. Then suddenly she noticed Tini Hoffman directly across
the aisle. Tini was so busy talking to a man in civilian clothes that
she hadn’t noticed her dormitory mates. She sat with her elbows on the
table, her hands folded under her dimpled chin, while her blond
countenance beamed on her companion. Nancy felt sure Tini’s hair was
bleached, and wondered what it would look like after several months in
the Pacific islands. It was too golden-blond to be natural. It proved
amusing to find Tini so pleased with her situation for once.

So fascinated was Nancy in watching Tini that Mabel was returning
before she gave the gentleman opposite Tini a fleeting glance. Then
suddenly her eyes became fixed. Where had she seen that lean profile
before? She tried to hold herself under control as her mind tied up the
loose ends of memory. The longer she stared, the more positive she
became that the horn-rimmed glasses and small mustache belonged to the
same man who had sat beside the blond corporal the day she left her
home town. Though she had had only a hasty glance as she went down the
aisle of the train those faces had become indelibly impressed upon her
mind.

As Mabel came nearer, Nancy saw Tini’s companion watching covertly. She
couldn’t blame any man for being attracted by Mabel, for she was really
worth looking at in her trimly fitting uniform with her cap sitting
jauntily on her golden curls. But the man’s heavy-lidded glance had
little admiration in it, only a sort of cynical calculation.

Nancy felt she must know if he was really the blond corporal’s train
mate. Impulsively she said as Mabel handed her the package she had
bought, “_Danke schoen_.”

She deliberately used the German word for “thank you,” and spoke loud
enough to be heard across the aisle.

Her trick brought the expected result, for the man turned sharply
toward her. Mabel glided into the seat opposite and glanced at her with
a puzzled frown. When it was too late for regrets, Nancy felt the hot
blood welling to her face. Others may have heard her, too, and what
would they think?

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Nancy Discovered Tini Across the Aisle_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

There was even a chance that the man might recognize her as the same
girl who had sat in front of them on the train, even though she had
worn a green suit then and was now clad in olive drab.

“At least,” she thought ruefully, “I could swear he’s the same man. But
what’s he doing here with Tini Hoffman?”

Mabel had to speak to her twice before she heeded.

“They make grand sodas here, don’t they?”

“Sure do!” Nancy stuck a couple of straws in hers so hard they bent
double.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mabel under her breath.

Nancy glanced warily at the couple across the aisle, nudged Mabel with
her foot, and laid her finger cautiously on her lips before she placed
the fresh straws in her glass.

Mabel wisely changed the subject, and remarked, “Cleansing tissues are
sure hard to get now. Guess we’ll have to get all ours hereafter at the
P.X.”

“We’ll need plenty to take across—if we get to go over.”

“Yeah, my friend Lydia, in North Africa, wrote me we’d better take
along plenty of stuff like that.”

Suddenly Nancy was impatient to be through with their sodas and out of
the drugstore. She meant to take no chances on suspects this time, but
report what she had seen to Captain Lewis. She finished her soda in a
hurry and reached to the back of the table for her purse.

“Let’s get going,” she suggested.

“Not till I finish the last spoonful of this ice cream,” Mabel said
firmly. “I’d think about it regretfully every time I’m marooned
somewhere on a desert over there.”

“Then I’ll go ahead and be paying.”

“What’s all the hurry?” Mabel wanted to know, an edge in her tone.

Out of the corner of her eye Nancy saw that the sleek gentleman across
the aisle was watching them. Then she noticed that Tini’s attention had
wandered sufficiently from her companion to recognize them.

“Hiya!” she said with a proud toss of her head, which plainly showed
her personal triumph over their dateless condition.

Nancy returned the greeting and led the way out. When they were on the
street, Mabel slipped her arm through Nancy’s and inquired, “What’s
wrong? You acted as though you were sitting on nettles.”

“Nettles would have been mild to the prickles I felt.”

“What do you mean?”

“That man with Tini looked exactly like the one who was with the blond
corporal I told you about on the train.”

“Oh! So that’s why you thanked me in German?”

“Of course. I wanted to see if I could get a reaction out of him.”

“And did you?”

“I’ll say. He shot a glance at me as if I’d poked him in the ribs.”

Mabel grunted. “Don’t see where that proves anything. Anybody using
German words in these times should surely make people sit up and take
notice.”

“But I could swear he’s the same, Mabel. Dark-rimmed glasses, small
mustache, lean face, and a very immaculate, tailored look about his
clothes.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Go straight to Captain Lewis. I’m taking no chances again, even if it
gets Tini into trouble.”

“She may be working with him.”

“She’s certainly acted in a way to make us suspicious,” agreed Nancy.

“Oh, she’s always acted like that—behind the backs of those over her.
I never paid much attention to that. She’s an only child, very spoiled.
Her parents have oodles of money.”

“Then she didn’t have to take nurse’s training—for a way to make a
living.”

Mabel laughed significantly again. “At the time she went in she was in
love with one of the hospital internes. It gave her a chance to be with
him more.”

“Evidently she didn’t get him.”

“She sure didn’t. Soon after he got settled with his practice, he
married a real sweet girl. By that time Tini was so nearly through her
training she couldn’t quit without causing lots of talk.”

“Strange for her to take on the hardships of the Army Nurse Corps.”

“She wanted to get away from home and the catty people who enjoyed her
being jilted.”

“Too bad to have such an experience so young,” said Nancy, suddenly
feeling sorry for Tini.

“She surely was thrilled at having that new fellow tonight.”

They were moving into the throng at the bus stop now, and fell silent,
for they had been warned about too much talk within the hearing of
others.

“Spies can find meaning in your most innocent remarks,” Major Reed had
warned them.

They couldn’t find seats together anyhow, so the girls rode in silence
back to the camp. Quite a number of other nurses were coming back to
the camp on the same bus, but Nancy was glad not to sit with any of
them, for she wanted to think about what she would say to Captain Lewis.

When she went straight on to their room with Mabel, her friend said,
“Thought you were going to report what you saw to Cap’n Lewis.”

“I didn’t want any of the others to see me going to her,” explained
Nancy. “I’ll wait a few minutes till they’re all in their rooms. This
thing is best kept under lid.”

“Sure. I agree with you.”

“Tini’s made enough enemies without adding suspicion to her troubles.”

When the halls were empty Nancy slipped downstairs. Miss Lewis’s
bedroom was next to her office, but to her consternation she found all
the lights out. She hesitated to wake her, yet didn’t want to wait till
morning to make her revelations.

Over and over again she had been haunted by the idea that the train
wreck might have been averted if those German-speaking passengers had
been apprehended in time. Yet she still couldn’t see what she might
have done about it. But this time she did know what to do, and she
meant to do it.

She was still hesitating in the hall when she noticed a light in an
office farther down, and heard men talking. Suddenly she recognized
Major Reed’s hearty laughter. The hours they had worked together that
night at the wreck had made him seem so human and likeable to Nancy,
that their difference in station could never again be a barrier to
understanding.

Eagerly she hurried toward his office. The door stood open. She paused
in the doorway till her eyes came to rest on the major among the group
of men.

“May I speak to you, Major Reed?” she asked. He glanced at her,
surprised, then asked, “Anything wrong, Miss Dale?”

He crushed his cigarette into an ash tray before he moved toward the
door.

“I meant to talk to Captain Lewis, but her lights were out,” Nancy
explained, as she backed into the hall, indicating that their
conversation must be private. “I must speak to someone.”

“Yes,” he said when they were outside and the door was closed. “What’s
wrong?”

“I think I just saw the man who was with the corporal that day on the
train.”

“Where?”

“In a drugstore in the village. I don’t want him to get away as the
blond man did.”

“The blond didn’t!” stated Major Reed with a chuckle. “The FBI now have
him in their possession.”

“Not really!” exclaimed Nancy, her face lighting.

“Yes. It will be some time before he’s in circulation again, if ever.
But this other—where’d you say you saw him?”

Nancy gave a hurried report of her encounter with the suspect and Tini
in the drugstore. While she talked the major stroked his chin and
stared at the floor.

“Uh-huh. I see. You say he was dating Miss Hoffman?”

“I haven’t any idea where she met him, of course.”

Major Reed glanced at his watch. “You came in on the last bus?” he
asked.

“Yes, I did.”

“Did Tini Hoffman come with you?”

“I don’t think so. In fact, I’m sure. The bunch of us came up from the
bus stop together.”

“Then she’ll have to come on the next bus, or be late checking in.” He
was silent a moment, then spoke again as if thinking aloud. “He would
already have put her on the camp bus before anyone could make it to
town in a car to follow him.”

Nancy admitted this was true. It seemed too late to put anyone on his
trail tonight. “Tini will probably be dating him again,” she said. “She
seemed tickled pink with him.”

Major Reed dug his hands deep in his pockets and admitted, “Yes, that
seems the surest chance. But I can’t ask you to act as a spy against
one of your fellow students.”

“Nor do I want any such position,” stated Nancy frankly, “but where the
welfare of our unit or our country is involved, Major Reed, I fear we
have no choice.”

He looked her squarely in the eyes then with frank admiration.

“You have a wise head on your shoulders, Miss Dale. If anything else
comes up let me know.”

They heard the last busload of girls out front long after Mabel and
Nancy were already in bed. It was so much later than Nancy expected.
Major Reed might after all have reached the bus station in time to see
their suspect put Tini aboard. She wondered what he had done about it.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER FOUR

                            THE GAS CHAMBER


The following morning a scheduled lecture on military law was postponed
for an impromptu talk by Major Reed. Nancy’s heart skipped a beat when
Lieutenant Hauser introduced the major to the assembled unit.
Instinctively she felt his appearance had something to do with what she
had told him last night. And she was right.

He talked to them for an hour on the subtle ways in which the enemy
succeeded in getting information. He admonished the nurses about
silence in public places, and prohibited discussion outside the camp
grounds about what was going on inside. He warned them against picking
up conversations with strange men who might craftily get information
from them. He finished his talk by giving a half-dozen actual incidents
where absolutely loyal men and women had witlessly supplied the enemy
with vital information.

“This is for your protection as well as for our boys out there on the
battlefronts,” he told them. “I warn you to make no close contacts with
strangers.”

As the girls filed out of the lecture room there was awe in their
whispered remarks. Most of them felt more keenly than ever the
responsibilities of the task ahead.

As they went to the grounds for instructions in using gas masks, Ida
Hall and Tini Hoffman were close to Nancy and Mabel.

“I noticed you had a mighty swell-looking date last night,” Nancy heard
Ida saying to Tini. “Where’d you pick him up?”

“I didn’t pick him up,” retorted Tini. “I met him in Charleston.”

“Recently?”

“When I was on vacation after finishing my nurse’s training.”

“Oh, I see.” Ida’s manner showed she didn’t like Tini any more than
most of the others.

“You surely can’t accuse him of trying to pick me up,” Tini flared,
fully aware of the implications in Ida’s remarks, following so close on
that lecture. “He encouraged me to come into the ANC. In fact he was
the very one who suggested it.”

“You must have made a hit with him,” put in Nancy, “to have him come
all the way over here to see you.”

Tini looked pleased, and toyed with her blond curls before she said,
“Well, you see he’s a traveling salesman and gets around.”

“Huh, he must be luckier than most if he can still get gas to be a
traveling salesman,” commented Mabel.

“Oh, he uses the trains. His territory is too wide for a car in these
times.”

Nancy smiled disarmingly as she asked, trying to seem casual, “Dating
him tonight?”

“If he can arrange his business so he can be back in the village.”

There was no more time for probing, for their instructor, Sergeant
Fuller, was calling them to attention on the pine-clad hill where they
had already received their preliminary instruction in putting on and
taking off their gas masks. The structure of the masks had been
explained in detail, and a lecture given on the various types of gas,
and how to care for gas casualties.

This morning, however, came their first really difficult test. They had
to go through the gas chamber, as they called the little house on the
hill where the tests were made.

“Gosh, I’ll sure be glad when this is over,” moaned a small, brown-eyed
girl, Grace Warner, whom they had dubbed “Shorty.”

Grace actually looked no more than sixteen and wore her hair with a
bang-bob which made her round, childish face seem even more immature.
Her voice, too, had a thin, babyish quality. Though the nurses teased
her quite a bit, she was a general favorite.

Shorty was between Nancy and Mabel when they lined up for the
gas-chamber test. Her big brown eyes were apprehensive as she looked at
Nancy and said, “If we could go through there once and have it over
with I wouldn’t mind so much. But three times—gosh!”

“The first won’t be so hard,” Nancy said consolingly. “We just walk
through the front door and out the back—to be sure our masks don’t
leak or anything.”

“Only tear gas, anyhow,” Mabel added. “It’s not nearly so bad as the
others.”

“That’s what you think,” said Shorty. “One of our nurses back home said
she got badly burned about the neck and wrists when she took the test.”

“She probably wasn’t as snugly protected as we are. That’s why they
make our shirts now with the extra protection flaps at the cuffs and
front. No skin exposed,” explained Mabel.

The nurses stood in line, their gas masks on. Already they could hear
laughter and nervous giggles on the other side, as the first of the
group marched through and came out triumphantly to take off their masks
till time for the next test.

Nancy and her friends didn’t mind the first test so much, though they
were glad enough to hurry out the back door. On the second trip they
went in with their gas masks on, took them off inside, then hurried out.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“I’ll Be Glad When This Is Over,” Moaned Shorty_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Oh, boy, is this fresh air good!” exclaimed Nancy, when she rushed out
the back door.

“It was awful!” wailed Shorty. “My face is stinging all over. I
wouldn’t go in there again for anything!”

“But you have to!” stated Nancy. “The hardest test is yet to come.”

“I can’t! I just can’t!” wailed Shorty, her cheeks wet with tears that
had not all been caused by the stinging gas.

“If you don’t go through it you’ll never get overseas,” Nancy warned
her.

“I don’t see why they put us through all this misery,” wailed Shorty.
“We know how to put on gas masks in case there’s any trouble over
yonder. No sense in torturing ourselves like this when we may never
have to put ’em on again.”

Nancy caught Shorty by the shoulders and shook her slightly. “Now you
cut out that kind of talk, or they’ll not let you go down under with
us.”

“Come on,” warned Mabel. “It’s our turn again.”

Nancy caught Shorty’s hand. “Come on, honey,” she said in a wheedling
tone. “We’ll go through together.”

Nancy, herself, had really dreaded this final ordeal, but having to
bolster Shorty’s confidence left her little thought for her own fears.
She shoved her little friend through the door saying, “Now, put on the
mask—quick!”

Shorty already had her mask over her face when Nancy followed through
the door. In spite of their speed their trembling hands fumbled a bit
before the masks could be put into place, and so they felt a bit of
stinging. When they were securely masked, however, Nancy urged the
excited girl toward the back door.

“It wasn’t so bad after all, was it?” asked Nancy, after she jerked her
mask off and filled her lungs with fresh air.

“Could’ve been worse. But I guess I never would have got through at
all, Nancy, if you hadn’t made me,” Shorty admitted in a shamefaced
manner.

“Hope we don’t ever have to use these for the real thing,” Mabel said.

“I heard a major, just returned from overseas, tell about how the Japs
often cry ‘Wolf’ about gas,” said Nancy, sitting on the brown pine
carpet with the others to rest a bit.

“What do you mean—cry wolf?” asked Shorty.

“When our men are coming ashore from the landing craft the Japs often
throw up a smoke-screen and cry, ‘Gas’. They say there’s nothing breaks
the men’s morale easier than the fear of gas,” Nancy explained.

“That’s just too horrible to conceive of,” said Ida Hall.

“At least it’s consoling to know it hasn’t been used so far,” put in
Mabel.

“No telling what they’ll do at the desperate end,” Nancy warned them.
“I don’t mean to miss a trick in these gas-mask drills.”

“I heard we’ll have to go through the gas chamber again at the port of
embarkation,” Ida Hall informed them.

“Good night!” flared Shorty. “As if three times would not be enough.”

“These masks belong at the training center. They’ll issue us new ones
at the port. We have to test them out,” Ida explained.

The weather had turned warm and Nancy was glad to get back to their
quarters and have a good shower when the day’s classes and drills were
over.

Mail came twice a day, and the nurses always haunted their boxes right
after breakfast and just before the evening meal. Nancy talked with her
parents every Sunday over long-distance telephone and had letters from
them and friends back home almost every day. Letters had never meant so
much to her in all her life. She could now appreciate how important
they were to Tommy and the other boys out there.

That evening Nancy was thrilled to find a letter from Tommy, which had
been sent on from home. “One from the South Pacific!” she cried, waving
the letter at Mabel, who was just opening her own box.

“And I have one from my Jake!” exclaimed Mabel. “What a red-letter day
for the long and short of our unit!”

The girls moved out of the milling crowd at the mail boxes and opened
their letters near a window.

Nancy stopped in the midst of her reading to tell Mabel joyfully, “He
has only a few more missions to fly and then he’ll be coming home. Now
wouldn’t that be something if I got sent out there while he comes back!”

“Surely fate wouldn’t play you such a mean trick as that, Nancy!”

“Is your sweetie all right?” asked Nancy.

“He is now, but the poor chap’s been in the hospital. He didn’t say
what for. Isn’t that just like a man?”

“Better watch out. He may fall for some of those nurses.”

“If he’s that fickle I’d rather know it now,” Mabel said with a toss of
her head. “But really I’m not uneasy. Jake’s sold on my red head. There
aren’t so many redheads, you know.”

“He’d better not go to Turkey then. They tell me there’re plenty of
red-headed dames there,” put in one of the nurses near by, who had
overheard their conversation.

Nancy finished her letters and while waiting for Mabel she noticed Tini
standing not far from them. There was a scowl on her face as she
impatiently tapped her fingers on the window ledge. A slit envelope and
an open letter were in her hands. Nancy couldn’t help noticing the
return address on the envelope, “Hotel Carlton.”

“Bad news?” asked Nancy.

“My good-looking date had to leave unexpectedly,” Tini replied. “Makes
me sick!”

“You’ve been lucky to have him here at all,” Nancy said. “Most of us
have been dateless for three weeks.”

“Huh, I always have dates wherever I go.”

“Sure, you’re different,” Mabel said sarcastically. Her long
acquaintance with Tini left little patience with her superior attitude.
“The rest of us made up our minds when we came into the Army Nurse
Corps, to give personal consideration second place for the duration.”

“Zat so!” snapped Tini, rudely turning her back.

Nancy and Mabel exchanged significant glances as they left for the mess
hall. As Nancy ate her appetizing dinner she thought over what she had
just learned. She felt actually sick at heart over this unpleasant
business of suspecting a fellow student.

She had no desire to be a spy. Yet when she recalled the horrible
scenes at that wreck, caused by sabotage, she shivered. She would never
forget the dead and dying she had ministered to that awful morning. As
much as she hated the unpleasant position into which circumstances had
again thrust her, Nancy was determined to let no squeamishness make her
keep silent. She had no choice but to report what she had just learned
about Tini’s date to Major Reed. If the man was really an enemy spy, he
must not be allowed to escape again.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER FIVE

                            OFFICIAL NOTICE


Nancy excused herself before Mabel and her friends had finished eating,
and left the mess hall. She found Major Reed alone this time, sitting
at his desk. She was not unmindful of the brightening of his face when
he saw her. He was such a large man he seemed older than he really was.
Nancy had at first thought he was about thirty, but now he seemed
nearer twenty-five. He had gone far for one so young.

“Come in, Miss Nancy,” he said cordially. He jumped up and placed a
chair for her, then closed the door. “You have more information?”

“It may or may not be important,” she told him a little sadly.
“Frankly, Major Reed, I don’t like this business of reporting on a
fellow student—yet I dare not hide what I hear.”

“I fully appreciate the awkwardness of the situation,” he said with
understanding, “but these are really times that try men’s souls. We
have to do many things differently now.”

“I’ll say,” she agreed.

“I was just reading here,” said the major, indicating a magazine he had
put down at her entrance, “that our vice-president says the time is
past when we must see no evil, hear no evil, and tell no evil. We must
do all three until evil is wiped out. Right now you are in a peculiar
position and the only one on whom I can rely.”

“I’ll try not to betray your trust,” she said. “I learned just now that
Tini’s friend had been staying at Hotel Carlton over in the city. I’m
afraid he’s already left there. He wrote her he had to leave
unexpectedly.”

Suddenly the major’s hearty laughter filled the little room. “So he got
wise to the fact that he was being watched!”

“Oh—so you already knew he was staying there?”

Major Reed became wary. “We had a line on him.”

“But how?” asked Nancy. “Tini did come in on that next bus the other
night. Nobody here had time to get into the village and follow him
after he put Tini on the bus.”

“I acted on your information promptly. There’s such a thing as the
telephone,” he reminded Nancy.

He made this unsatisfactory explanation with a finality that told her
she must inquire no further into his end of the business.

“Have you learned anything else?” he asked.

“Yes. Tini told us she met him in Charleston. He’s a traveling
salesman, uses the trains instead of a car. He suggested that Tini join
the Army Nurse Corps.”

“So!” Major Reed’s dark eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Mabel Larsen took nurse’s training in the same hospital with her. She
said Tini went into it originally because she was crazy about one of
the internes. But that may be only gossip, for it does sound mean. I’m
afraid Tini isn’t very well liked.”

Major Reed was abstractedly making crosses on a scrap of paper. Finally
his pencil stopped, and he looked squarely across at Nancy.

“Has Miss Hoffman done anything to make you feel she has gotten on the
inside merely to supply information to our enemies?”

“That’s a stiff question, Major.”

“I know it is. But you’re in a better position to judge of such things
than any of the instructors.”

“Tini gripes a lot about regulations and the hardships of the military
training, but Mabel said she was always complaining during her nurse’s
training. She’s an only child. Her family has plenty of money, and
she’s rather spoiled. All those things have to be taken into
consideration.”

Nancy saw the ghost of a smile flicker around the major’s nice lips.
Then he said, “But you’ve evaded my question.”

“Oh, no. I’m not trying to evade, because I honestly don’t think Tini
has the makings of a spy. I think she’s motivated entirely by
selfishness. She would be horribly bored here without dates—she’ll go
with most anybody rather than be dateless.”

“I suppose with a little flattery a man could wheedle a good bit out of
her.”

“You may be right,” Nancy conceded.

She rose to leave and he stood up.

“All this has been a great help,” he told her. “But keep in mind it’s
still between us two.”

She was almost at the door when he added, “And by the way—a notice has
just been put on the bulletin board that will interest you.”

“Oh, are we going to be sent overseas soon?”

He laughed again. “You’re optimistic! Some nurses have been waiting to
go over for a year or more, and here you’re expecting to go in a few
weeks.”

“It has been done,” Nancy came back promptly. “Oh, Major Reed, if
they’d only send me to the South Pacific in a hurry! I have a brother
out there who’s almost finished his flying missions. If I get there
before he comes back, I may have a chance to see him.”

“Just keep your shirt on,” he told her. “You’ll probably get into the
thick of it before it’s all over. I’m afraid there’s more than we
dreamed of ahead. That notice out there says you’re to get a taste of
tent life, starting Monday.”

“Oh, that’s really to my liking!” exclaimed Nancy. She hurried away to
find Mabel and tell her the news.

On Sunday just before supper Nancy and Mabel were packed to start off
by army truck at dawn next morning. It was exciting to put into
practice their instructions about packing compactly for travel, for
they were to move on now as if they were going into a combat area.

“Seems like the real thing,” said Mabel eagerly.

They had had their supper and were ready for bed early when they heard
a knock on their door. It proved to be Lieutenant Hauser.

“Long-distance call for you, Miss Dale,” she said when they opened the
door.

Nancy stood stunned for a moment. Her arrangement with the folks back
home was that she would call them every Sunday at two o’clock, as long
as phone calls of that kind were permissible. She had talked with her
mother and father only a few hours ago, though she had not been able to
tell them she was moving on to another address. They would have to be
informed about that later when the unit had arrived safely. To have
them call back like this alarmed her. She knew no one else who would
call her by long-distance telephone here.

“She said you had a long-distance call,” Mabel repeated, when Nancy
still stood where she had received the message.

“But why would they be calling back?” Nancy wanted to know.

“Oh come on, gal!” exclaimed Mabel, wrapping her housecoat around her
and taking Nancy’s arm. “How will you ever face all those bombs if you
get so scared over a little telephone bell ringing?”

Nancy could think only that something terrible must have happened to
her parents. She let Mabel lead her like a sleep-walker to the phone in
Lieutenant Hauser’s office.

“Hello! Yes—this is Nancy. Oh Dad, that you? I was afraid something
was wrong with you or Mom.”

Mabel could hear Mr. Dale’s deep voice as she stood close to Nancy:
“No, we’re all right, but we had upsetting news just now from the
government—”

“From the government—you—you mean about Tommy?” asked Nancy.

“They report he’s been missing in action over enemy territory since the
second of March.”

“Oh Dad!” wailed Nancy. “It can’t be true! It just can’t! God wouldn’t
let anything happen to our Tommy.”

“Not if our prayers can keep it from happening, darling,” came the firm
voice confidently over the wire. “You just keep on praying like we’ve
been doing all along, and he’ll be taken care of.”

“Oh Dad, how I wish I could be there with you and Mom right now! How is
she?”

“Just the same brave saint she’s always been. She’s writing you a
letter now to hearten you.”

“Kiss her for me,” said Nancy. “And tell her I’ll pray harder than
ever.”

Nancy put down the phone and faced Mabel.

“I could hear what he said,” her friend told her gently. “Don’t give up
hope, Nancy. Lots of times they turn up after they’re reported missing.
Maybe he’s not dead.”

“Oh, no, he’s not!” Nancy asserted firmly. “I’m not going to think of
it for a minute. He wrote me in that last letter he could feel our
prayers helping protect him, and he’s going to feel it more than ever
now.”

From sunrise till mid-afternoon the following day the convoy rolled
smoothly west along the paved highway. At noon they stopped in a large
city to eat a lunch the canteen girls had prepared. It was good to get
out and stretch their legs after sitting on the hard truck seats all
morning. No one knew where they were going, or how long they would be
on their way, so the nurses made the best of their hour’s rest. They
took turns in the canteen dressing room, freshening up to continue
their journey.

While they rested Nancy slipped her brother’s last letter from her
pocket and re-read it. Mabel caught her at it and tried to cheer her.

“Come on now,” she said, “it does no good grieving.”

“I’m not grieving. It—it makes me feel more certain he’s going to come
out all right when I re-read his letter.”

“Let’s take a sprint around the block,” suggested Mabel. “We have a few
minutes before we take off.”

“Not a bad idea. A little exercise will do us good.”

“We may never get a peep at this burg again. I sure don’t mean to miss
anything on the way.”

Other girls were out pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of the
canteen, but Nancy and Mabel wanted to see more. They were in the heart
of town, and the street back of the canteen had many attractive shop
windows. Nancy kept glancing at her watch as they paused to admire the
pretty dresses.

“Do you feel like someone who’s renounced the world when you look at
those dresses?” asked Mabel.

“Oh, well, it won’t be forever,” Nancy said consolingly. “At least we
can still wear evening dresses for dances on the post, Miss Hauser
said.”

“Yeah! That will be a slight morale booster.”

“I never felt more smartly dressed than I do in this uniform,”
continued Nancy.

“I must admit they do look rather stunning,” Mabel agreed.

The next store carried drugs, and they were about to pass by when Nancy
seized Mabel’s arm. “Say, that looks like Tini in there!”

Mabel stepped back and looked in. “Sure is! Come on, I’ll get some
dental floss and see what she’s up to.”

As they went in, Tini’s back was toward them. She sat on a stool at the
soda counter, drinking a coke. Why had she come here for a coke when
they had all the cold drinks they wanted back at the canteen? Tini was
leaning across the counter, turning her charm on the soda jerker who
was at least five years her junior. What was she up to now, Nancy
wondered?

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER SIX

                               CAMOUFLAGE


Nancy was not too surprised when she found Tini having a whispered
conversation with the soda jerker in the strange town. Tini seemed
always involved in some undercurrent.

She glanced at her watch and saw they had only five minutes before the
transport was due to move on. “We’ve got to beat it,” she told Mabel.

“Better come along, Tini, or you’ll be left behind!” warned Mabel as
they went toward the door.

Tini threw her money on the counter and overtook the girls.

“Don’t see why you wanted a coke ’round here when we had plenty of free
ones at the Canteen,” Mabel said.

“Oh, just an excuse to talk to the clerk. I wanted to ask him if Carl
Benton had been here lately.”

“Carl Benton,” repeated Nancy as they almost ran toward their trucks.
“You mean that fellow you dated back yonder?”

“Sure. He sells soda-fountain supplies. Said he came through here
often.”

“Did that chap know him?” asked Nancy.

“Dumb bloke—no! He’s only had that job a few days.”

“Surely you’ve heard from him since he left,” said Mabel, not without
an acid flavor in her tone.

“You bet! But I thought if he was around this way I might get a chance
to see him again.”

“May as well put him out of your mind,” Nancy suggested.

“Gal, if my hunch is right we won’t be doing any dating till we get
through some maneuvers ahead of us,” said Mabel.

Toward sunset it began to look as though Mabel’s hunch had some
material foundation. They turned off the paved highway and bumped for
five miles over a rutted clay road before they entered a swamp made
shadowy by the Spanish moss that hung from the oaks, cypress and sweet
gum trees. Though the nurses were tired after their long day’s travel,
Nancy and Mabel exchanged satisfied glances.

“Say, gal,” whispered Mabel. “Looks like they’re preparing us for the
real thing.”

“We’ll sure have to sleep under nets down here or there won’t be any
snoozing,” said Nancy.

The sun had already gone down, leaving a red glow in the west, when the
convoy circled a clearing in the swamp where there was a small tent
village already set up. The passengers climbed out gratefully, each
nurse loaded with her personal baggage.

Lieutenant Hauser called the roll and assigned four girls to each tent.
The tents were numbered, so the nurses hurried off to see what their
new homes were like.

“Four cots and that’s all!” exclaimed Mabel, the first to reach number
four, their new habitation.

Nancy’s heart had taken a dive when she learned that Tini and her
former room-mate, Ida Hall, were to share the tent with Mabel and
herself. Had this been prearranged by Major Reed, she wondered? She
certainly had no desire to continue serving as a day and night watchman
for Tini Hoffman.

“Must think we’re made of cast iron,” complained Tini when she tried
out her cot.

“But here are mattress cases,” said Nancy. “We can stuff ’em with
Spanish moss from the trees and make grand mattresses. We used to do
that when Dad took us fishing in the river swamp.”

“Not a bad idea,” agreed Ida.

They took their casings and hurried off under the trees to fill them
before dark. The suggestion spread, and soon the swamp was alive with
nurses preparing for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Their mess hall was a long tent in the center of the camp. They ate by
lantern light. The food was all from cans, and cold, but the nurses
were too hungry that night to be critical.

“Say, this is going to be real fun,” said Mabel, as they made their way
back to their tents by G.I. flashlights.

Though it was spring the swampy air had a penetrating chill, which,
however, did not discourage the mosquitoes at all.

“When we used to go camping we drove away the pests with a big
campfire,” said Nancy, thinking sadly of the good times she had had
with her dad, Tommy and their friends at their swamp shack.

“No fires here,” said Ida. “I heard Lieutenant Hauser say we must live
just as if we were in range of enemy fire.”

Each tent had one lantern that hung from the center pole. Under it
Nancy nailed a puny mirror, which had to serve all of them in turn.
They transformed canned goods packing boxes into chairs. Their
individual toilet articles had to be fished out from their musette bags
every time they were used.

As neither Mabel nor Tini had ever been camping, they had their
initiation that night in sleeping under mosquito nets.

“Gosh, feels like a prison in here!” exclaimed Mabel.

“A prison you’ll be glad to stay in,” Nancy informed her, “when you
hear how those mosquitoes sing outside it.”

Long before day, however, each of the nurses was rolled in a blanket
under her net and the discouraged pests had returned to their swamp
muck.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _The Nurses Washed Their Clothes in the River_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the days that followed the nurses discovered what it meant to do all
their bathing and clothes washing in the shallows along the river
shore. With only a compass to guide them, they learned to cut their way
through the dense undergrowth of the river swamp. More than one rattler
had to be killed in the process. But many others they left alone, as
they had been given careful instructions about poisonous snakes and
insects in various parts of the world. They crossed streams and lagoons
in high boots, and several times ate from their mess kits the food they
prepared for themselves on all-day hikes.

All nursing work was suspended while they were put through these
physical fitness tests. To Nancy’s amazement, Tini Hoffman stood hers
along with the others, for she seemed to understand its significance.
Tini became another person when there were no men around on whom to
turn her charms.

They had been camping on the river shore only three days when at
breakfast one morning they were given orders to be prepared to leave by
noon.

“I’m surely ready to go,” said Tini, who sat next to Nancy on the long
bench at the table. “It’s been an eternity since we had any mail.”

They seemed so remote from civilization here that it seemed ages to
Nancy also since she had heard what was going on in the rest of the
world. But their high hopes proved premature as they were not yet
scheduled for city lights.

Lieutenant Hauser gave the orders. “Every group is to take down its own
tent, roll and pack it, according to previous instructions.”

Buzzing with talk and excitement the nurses scattered to their various
quarters. Nancy had left her washing on a bush over night, so snatched
it up as she hurried back to begin packing. Ten minutes before twelve
all tents had been cleared to the last tent peg, and the nurses began
to pack their belongings into the trucks in which they had arrived. It
was thrilling and exciting business, for none of the trainees knew
where the next stop would be.

To their surprise the convoy did not move out by the way it had come.
Instead it turned toward the river. The nurses had discovered no
bridges in all their hikes up and down the small stream, so they were
not surprised when the trucks had to cross the stream at a shallow
ford. For the first time they had a sample of what it would be like to
travel where there were no paved roads and bridges.

After leaving the river the trucks moved on to higher ground. They left
the gray-bearded trees behind and plowed through sand-rutted roads
winding through a pine forest. At noon they stopped to eat from tins
under the sighing pines. Then they learned they were not on their way
back to their original training center.

“In about two hours we will pitch our tents again,” explained
Lieutenant Hauser. “Some of your most difficult work is just ahead. Our
camp will have a public highway on one side, but I warn you to talk to
no one outside our unit, or give out any information about the tests
you’re going through.”

“You mean we can’t even write our friends about what we’ve been doing
on this trip?” asked Mabel.

“Certainly not! Too many times spies have deduced from the nature of a
group’s training what its overseas destination might be.”

A surprised murmur swept over the semicircle of young women sitting on
the carpet of brown pine needles. Nancy wondered about the letters Tini
had written every day while they were in camp. She herself had written
long descriptions of their camping life to her parents, but she
realized now those letters she had been hoping to mail would have to be
torn up.

But Miss Hauser was continuing, “This period is a try-out for actual
overseas duty. We must conform to all restrictions we would have there.”

“Overseas duty!” Those were the magic words they had long wanted to
hear. They brought a joyous outburst from the eager nurses, that ended
in clapping.

“Aren’t we the lucky blokes!” exclaimed Mabel.

“And say, it looks as though it’s going to be in the tropics,” Nancy
whispered.

When they rose to go back to the trucks Tini began to complain. “It’s
utterly silly not letting us tell anything about what we’ve been doing
in the swamp.”

“Ah, gee, who minds that?” asked Mabel. “After all, we agreed to submit
ourselves to this rigorous training.”

“Of course we did,” said Nancy. “I’m sure they have good reasons for
all these restrictions. You can never tell what spies may make of the
smallest bit of information that may leak out.”

When they were rolling along again in their trucks, Nancy recalled how
Tini had spent all her spare time back on the river shore, writing
letters. Every night she had pushed her cot close to the lantern and
sat under her mosquito bar to finish her writing. With her usual lack
of consideration for others she kept the light burning till the tent
swarmed with mosquitoes, moths and other insects.

“I bet she’ll try to mail those letters in spite of what Lieutenant
Hauser said,” Nancy thought with disgust.

For the next twenty-four hours, however, there was no time to dwell on
her tent mate’s tendency to insubordination. The nurses had thought
they had stiff training in the swamp, but they truly got a taste of
real training when their journey ended in the pine thicket at three
that afternoon. No sooner were the ropes tied to the last tent peg than
they were ordered to a near-by field.

They found several soldiers with guns in the bushy cover on the edge of
the field. When the nurses came up in their coveralls and G.I. shoes,
Sergeant Tanner gave them instructions.

“We’re going to let you find out what it feels like to be fleeing with
the enemy firing behind you,” he said, a mischievous twinkle in his
brown eyes. “You’re to start across the field, and every time a blast
of firing comes you’re to fall on your faces.”

“We won’t need any second invitation to do that,” said Mabel with a
giggle.

“When the whistle blows that’s your order to advance again,” continued
the sergeant.

Nancy looked at the guns with some apprehension. She would be truly
glad when this was over. Shorty was all a-jitter again.

“Nancy, I’ll run close to you,” she said.

“Sure,” agreed Nancy, recalling their trying time at the gas chamber.

“Somehow I always feel safer when you’re around.”

At the signal they were off across the corn stubble left from last
year’s harvest. As a child, Nancy had read how that other Nancy—Nancy
Hart, and other women of Georgia, advancing in a field of corn stubble
had taken part in the battle of Kettle Creek, and driven the British
from upper Georgia during the Revolution. How little she had dreamed
that she, another Nancy, six generations later, would be rehearsing for
battle in a war for liberty that encircled the globe in just such a
field.

The nurses had run only about a hundred feet when there came a roar of
gunfire behind and far overhead. Almost everyone wondered if her
neighbor had been struck as she saw her dive for the earth.

“Golly Moses!” groaned Mabel. “I’m scared stiff!”

Nancy giggled nervously as she turned to see her pal’s forehead smeared
with dirt where she had tried to go through the corn furrow.

“Exciting, but awful!” she agreed.

At the sound of the whistle they were off again. Over and over the
gruelling performance was repeated. Then they had to turn and come back
across the field in the face of the fire. Nancy found this easier. At
least they could see that the shots were going far above their heads.

Most of them came in across the goal line triumphantly, though some
were slightly hysterical between laughter and fear. Only two or three
staggered back, tense and shaken.

During the rest of the afternoon their men instructors gave them
illustrations of jungle camouflage. In the densely wooded section below
the pine thicket and bordering a creek, they had to try to locate a
half dozen men whose helmets and garments had been camouflaged.

“Hide and seek when we were kids was never half as thrilling as this,”
said Nancy, as she and Mabel started off on the search.

Next morning Nancy, Mabel and Ida Hall were among the dozen nurses
instructed to camouflage themselves and hide in the woods for the
others to locate. Nancy had dabbled at painting in school, and did a
fairly good imitation of bay leaves across Mabel’s face and coveralls.
Then before their small mirror she touched up her own countenance to
look like woods’ shadows. A net was secured over her helmet and in it
she twisted pieces of jasmine vines and bay leaves, leaving some of the
vines to trail down across her face.

They were given ten minutes to hide before the others of their unit
were sent in search of them. Nancy found a spot of dense growth not far
from the highway where a scuppernong vine trailed over some low bushes,
and a near-by jasmine crowned an old stump with yellow blossoms. She
stretched flat under the scuppernong, and stuck her head among the
yellow blossoms. Certainly she could not have found a more fragrant
hiding place.

She heard the shot fired for the search to begin, then came faint
sounds of the cautious searchers. In spite of orders, whoops and little
screeches escaped the nurses when anyone was discovered. Several passed
close enough for Nancy to touch them, but still she wasn’t noticed.
Like an ostrich sticking his head in the sand, Nancy closed her eyes at
each approach, feeling somehow that she was better hidden that way.
Someone was coming near almost at a run when the shot was fired to end
the race. Nancy was thrilled to know she was among those who had missed
being found.

She was about to crawl out of her hiding place when she saw that the
approaching girl was Tini Hoffman. Tini seemed to have no interest in
the search, however, but was intent on reaching the highway. While
Nancy had crouched under the bushes she had heard several cars go by.
Cautiously she lifted her head as Tini passed and saw some letters
sticking from her coverall pocket. Suspicion stirred. No doubt Tini was
intent on mailing those letters she had written in the swamp describing
their activities.

Instantly Nancy had a hunch that she meant to stop some passing car and
get the driver to put her letters into the nearest post office. But she
couldn’t run out there and accuse her of such an intention. There was
nothing to do but watch her.

She saw Tini running, and in the distance a farmer’s truck coming down
the hill. Nancy crawled from her hiding place and hurried from tree to
bush on Tini’s trail. The car was quite close now and Tini jumped a
ditch and ran to the pavement. So intent was she on attracting the
driver’s attention, she was completely unaware of Nancy’s approach.

Tini waved her letters and the driver slowed. When he stopped, she
called out, “Will you drop these letters at the nearest post office for
me?”

“Sure, lady,” agreed the farmer at the wheel. “Glad to ’comodate you,
miss.”

With a leap across the ditch Nancy was at Tini’s side. She reached for
the letters as Tini extended them toward the man.

“You know you shouldn’t do that, Tini!” she burst forth.

The farmer gaped in amazement at this strange creature draped in leaves
and covered with splotches of paint.

“How dare you?” burst forth Tini. “I’ve a perfect right—”

“You have not!”

“Give me my letters.”

“I will not! And if you try to take them I’ll report the whole business
to Lieutenant Hauser.”

“Reckon I’ll be moving on,” said the farmer uneasily, looking at both
of them as if he thought they had just escaped from an asylum. He
chugged his motor into action, but before he rolled off he glanced at
them compassionately and said, “Y’all better be good now and go back to
the ’sylum, so Doc can take care o’ you.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER SEVEN

                                LETTERS


As the farmer’s truck rolled away Tini glared at Nancy. She stomped her
G.I. shoes on the pavement and burst forth, “How dare you? Hand me my
letters!”

Laughing suddenly Nancy handed them to her. “He thought we had escaped
from the asylum across the hill,” she chuckled.

“You look like a lunatic!”

“And you act like one!”

Tini turned and stalked back into the pine thicket. Nancy took off her
be-decked helmet, mopped her hot face with her sleeve and followed.

She finally overtook Tini and asked, “Why did you do that, Tini?”

“I have a right to mail letters if I like.”

“Then why didn’t you send them through the regular channels at the
camp?”

“Who wants somebody pawing over your letters, looking at addresses?”
asked Tini.

“I don’t believe anybody pries into who our letters are sent to.”

“And what business is it of yours?” Tini stopped suddenly and turned on
Nancy.

“Any regulations given to this unit concern us all,” stated Nancy
firmly.

“Zat so!” Tini’s tone was biting with sarcasm.

“And if I broke the regulations it would be your business to jack me
up.” Suddenly Nancy’s tone became pleading. “Tini, can’t you see that
all these rules are for our own good, and the safety of the boys out
yonder we’re offering our lives to save?”

“I understand what we’re going into the same as you, Nancy Dale. But
some of the restrictions are utterly silly.”

“We’ve got to trust the judgment of our superiors about that. They
understand the whole situation better than we do.”

“I see no reason why we can’t tell our family and friends what we’ve
been doing. I didn’t let out any military secrets in those letters.”

“The other night under the net you asked me how to spell camouflage.
You were evidently telling them about our instructions in camouflage.”

Tini’s fair face flushed. “Well, what of it?” she snapped. “It’s no
secret that our men use camouflage.”

“You shouldn’t write about it for the simple reason that Lieutenant
Hauser ordered us to say nothing of the things we’ve been doing on this
trip. Those are orders. The very fact that you tried to get somebody
outside to post your letters proves you have a guilty conscience about
the whole business.”

“And where did you get the right to jack me up about anything I do?”

“I have only the right that every American should use—to try to see
that information about our military activities doesn’t get into the
hands of our enemies.”

“So you’re implying that my family and friends are enemies!” Tini’s
eyes were flashing fire now.

“Oh, Tini, this is so absurd,” mourned Nancy.

“Of course it’s absurd your trying to stop my sending mail out.”

Suddenly Nancy lost all patience. She stopped short and by her very
manner forced Tini to stop. “You have no reason in you, Tini!” she
exclaimed. “Now I’ll give you two choices—you either hand those
letters to Lieutenant Hauser to be mailed, or burn them.”

“So! Since when have I had to take orders from you?”

Nancy ignored the question and continued, “You know perfectly well that
the rest of us tore up the letters we wrote in the swamp before we knew
we were not to write descriptions of what we had been doing. Those
letters you have must have been written back there. You’ve had no time
for writing since we came on here.”

Tini ignored the plain truth with which she had been faced and started
on toward camp. Nancy caught up with her, saying, “If you don’t do one
or the other you’ll place me in the embarrassing position of having to
report what just happened to Lieutenant Hauser.”

“So you’re one of the spying, little tattletales!”

Nancy’s brown eyes were full of fire now as she said, “Tini Hoffman,
this is no schoolgirl business we’re in. Thousands of lives may
sometime be at stake because some thoughtless person like you has seen
no sense in certain censorship restrictions. If we don’t conform to
those regulations now, it’ll be too late to learn how when we get over
there. I’m taking no chances, Tini, no matter what you or anyone else
may call me.”

With this statement Nancy swung away from Tini and took the nearest
path back to camp. Before the tent tops were in sight, however, Tini
overtook her.

“All right,” she said in a peevish tone, “if it’ll ease your pain I’ll
burn the dern letters.”

“That’s the sensible thing, Tini.”

They stalked on under the sighing pines in silence. Nancy felt quite
wretched over the whole situation, not only at Tini’s persistent
disregard of the regulations, but at the awkwardness of her own
position in discovering her at it, time and again.

However, she was determined to see that Tini did burn the letters, and
said as they came in sight of the cook’s fire, “You could burn the
letters there, Tini, and have it over with.”

Sullenly Tini stuck her four letters into the flames. Nancy paused a
moment beside her to see that they really burned. While they waited a
group of nurses had come in with a camouflaged captive.

“Oh, there’s Tini!” one of them called. “Did you catch Nancy?”

“Me catch Nancy!” exclaimed Tini with mock humility. “It’s Nancy who
catches me always!”

“What do you mean?” asked Ida Hall, who was in the group. She glanced
from one to the other, sensing that something was very wrong between
them.

“Nancy’s much too good for me to catch her at anything,” continued
Tini, unmindful of how her sarcasm might be taken.

When she stalked off alone Nancy spoke to Ida wearily, “I was still
hiding when the gun was fired.”

“Then you and Janice Williams were the only two who weren’t caught,”
Lieutenant Hauser told her a few minutes later. “You’ll have the honor
of presiding at supper and serving the ice cream and cake.”

This brought exclamations of delight, which only subsided when
Lieutenant Hauser lifted her hand for silence. “But I have something
that I think will be even more welcome,” she said.

“Hope it’s mail from home,” said Nancy. During the past week she had
longed for that letter her mother had been writing on the night she
heard about Tommy.

“Exactly what it is,” said Miss Hauser.

As the mail was dug from the big mail pouch and handed to the nurses,
happy exclamations went up. One by one the girls went to their own
quarters to enjoy their letters in the privacy of their cots. Nancy
kicked off her muddy shoes, and discarded her dirty, painted coveralls
and sat cross-legged under her mosquito net. She ripped open her
mother’s oldest letter. She couldn’t keep back the tears as she read
the brave words, written while her own heart must have been so heavy.

    “We must not let ourselves think for a moment that our Tommy is
    dead,” her mother wrote. “If he is a prisoner of the Japs he will
    need all the prayers and helpful thoughts we can send him. Only
    last week at church Philip Brinkley, who was shot down over Germany
    and made a prisoner, told us a little about his escape. But the
    thing that impressed me most was what he said about our prayers. He
    said he could actually feel the prayers we sent up for him at our
    mid-week meeting. You know that’s when we especially hold thoughts
    for those who have gone over. We must make Tommy feel our support
    and God’s that way, too, darling.”

Tears were swimming in Nancy’s eyes when she finished the letter, not
because she feared Tommy was really dead, but for the beautiful bravery
of her mother’s letter. She dried her eyes finally and picked up the
rest of her mail. Two were from girl friends back home, another from an
old beau.

Then her heart skipped a beat when she saw the last was from Australia.
It wasn’t Tommy’s writing, though the script was slightly familiar.
When she ripped open the letter she saw it was from her mother’s
friend, Miss Anna Darien, in Sydney. Miss Anna and her mother had been
in college together. Instead of marrying, Miss Anna had specialized in
philosophy and was now a lecturer of international repute. The war had
caught her in Australia, and there she must stay for the duration.

When Nancy read the prized letter she called across to Mabel on the
next cot, “Say, listen to this—Miss Anna Darien, a friend of ours in
Australia, saw Tommy recently.”

“Not really! What does she say about him?” Mabel asked, dropping her
own letters to listen to Nancy.

“Here—I’ll read it to you. She says, ‘You can imagine my surprise when
Tommy, on a brief furlough, came to call on me. It was hard to believe
that anyone could mature so fast in three years, since I saw him back
in the states.’”

“When was that written?” asked Mabel.

Nancy glanced at the date. “Oh my goodness—two months ago. Took a long
time to come. They used to reach us in a month.”

“Quite a while before your brother took that fatal flight.”

“Yes. But it’s wonderful to hear from somebody who’s seen him that
recently.”

“Go on. What else did she say?” urged Mabel.

“‘He asked me to write you’,” continued Nancy. “‘He knew you would be
delighted to hear from someone who’s seen him over here. You’d really
be proud of this brother of yours, Nancy. What a responsibility it is
to be a pilot on a bomber! Already his chest is gay with decorations,
but to me he’s the same dear boy he used to be when I visited your
home. He told me to tell you not to worry about him, that if the Nips
get on his trail he’ll play the same trick on them he used to play on
you. He said you’d remember his childhood prank that always brought you
to tears.’”

By this time all four nurses in the tent were listening and Ida Hall
asked, “What was that, Nancy?”

Nancy was trembling between tears and laughter as she explained, “He
used to play dead! And he trained our old dog, Bozo, to do it, too. I
used to tag him around something awful, and just to get even he’d
sometimes sprawl on the ground, looking dead as Hector. And Bozo would
be near by, his old legs flopped over. Many times I thought Tommy
wasn’t breathing. I’d shake him and begin to cry, then he’d jump up and
grab me. Then I’d be mad sure enough!”

“Not a bad idea—that playing dead,” commented Mabel. “One of the
fellows we had in the hospital back yonder said he tried it once, and
the Japs just passed right over him in the field. If he’d batted an
eyelash they would have jabbed one of their awful bayonets right
through his vitals.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Nancy Couldn’t Keep Back the Tears_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Before Nancy had a chance to read all her letters the warning bell
sounded for them to prepare for chow. She had only time for a face and
hands washing, using her helmet as a basin. A clean pair of coveralls
was the extent of her dress-up for the honored place beside Janice
Williams at the table.

Every one was in a high mood. They all made merry over the best dessert
they had had since they left their original camp. Through the hilarity
Nancy felt an undercurrent of expectancy, as if some important news
were about to break through. Even Lieutenant Hauser seemed in a buoyant
mood.

When all had been served ice cream and cake Janice leaned closer to
Nancy and said, “I hear that Major Reed came out on the truck that
brought the treat from the Canteen.”

“When?”

“While we were out on camouflage.”

“Something must be cooking,” Nancy said with anticipation.

“Nell Streets cut her foot so didn’t go on the hunt. She saw the major
and Lieutenant Hauser having a long confab.”

“Wonder what’s up?”

“Nell has a hunch we’re going to be alerted before so long.”

“They’ve really been putting us through the paces. Wouldn’t it be
wonderful if they sent us to the South Pacific?”

Tini Hoffman sat next to Janice, and Nancy suddenly became aware that
she was listening to their conversation.

“I can fully understand now why Lieutenant Hauser insists that we say
nothing about the nature of our training,” continued Janice. “It surely
indicates the tropics. That information in a spy’s hands might place a
few bombs in our path.”

“That’s exactly why we can’t be too careful,” said Nancy.

She glanced at Tini, and saw that she actually had the conscience to
flush under the memory of what she had been about to do. Later as they
returned to their tents in the twilight Tini overtook Nancy.

“I’m glad you made me burn those letters, Nancy,” she said. “It was
thoughtless of me to try to send them.”

“I’m glad you realize it, Tini. Of course it’s not easy for any of us
to submit to so many restrictions, but we have to submit if we expect
to be of any use.”

“I was afraid my best beau would think I didn’t care, it’s been so long
since I sent him a letter. But I had two from him just now. He says he
knows there’ll often be long intervals when we can’t hear from each
other. He’s so understanding,” murmured Tini.

“We’ve got to think of the good of our unit and our boys over yonder,
Tini,” said Nancy, “and ourselves last.” But she wasn’t so certain,
even as she spoke, that the spoiled Tini would think of anything but
her own wishes next time she was tempted to break the regulations.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER EIGHT

                          PORT OF EMBARKATION


At breakfast the following morning Lieutenant Hauser rapped for
attention with her knife. Expectant faces turned quickly toward her,
for the feeling that important changes were just ahead had swept the
camp like a tidal wave.

“I have good news for you,” said Lieutenant Hauser.

The nurses waited for no more. Their eager exclamations swelled into
cheers that swept the mess tent.

An odd expression tightened their commanding officer’s face a moment
before she continued, “I see our enemies are not the only ones who get
a foresight of our movements.”

This brought an alarmed silence. But Miss Hauser quickly relieved their
tension by smiling as she said, “Naturally you’ve been looking forward
to, and preparing for this news. We have been ordered to a port of
embarkation.”

This really brought cheers that rang through the pine woods.

“When? Where?” Two thoughtless ones asked eagerly.

“Those are sealed orders,” replied Lieutenant Hauser. “We’ll know where
only when we get there. My immediate orders are to tell you to be ready
to roll out of this camp in an hour.”

Those who had not eaten all their breakfast forgot to finish, as they
hurried off to pack and roll up their tents.

“Just a minute,” she called after the too-eager ones. “The orders I
have already given about writing of our activities are more binding
than ever. If you must write home merely say you’re well and busy.
There was one train wreck not so long ago when someone let it slip
about troop movements. You don’t want to invite any such disaster
again.”

For the first time Nancy felt a gulf widening between herself and the
two loved ones back home. This was really her first great test.

Someone had asked Miss Hauser a question Nancy had not heard, but now
she listened while their First Lieutenant said, “I think it might be
safer just to send out cards. Then you’ll be more careful not to say on
them anything that might betray our movements.”

At noon that day their convoy drew up at the rear of a hotel in a city
so large it had taken them a half hour to reach its busy center. They
were herded into a long room where a hotel clerk assigned them their
quarters. There were to be only two to a room once more, so Nancy and
Mabel managed to get together again.

When Nancy found there was a bath with shower she was exuberant. “Won’t
it be wonderful to get really clean all over once more!”

She was peeling off her coveralls as she talked.

“We’d better enjoy the clean-up while we can get it,” Mabel warned. “I
figure we’ve got a long train journey ahead no matter whether we embark
on the Atlantic or the Pacific.”

The changes were swift from then on. They had lunch and an elaborate
dinner that evening in a private dining room. To Nancy’s delight Major
Reed had lunch with them. Before leaving the dining room Captain Lewis,
who had arrived with him, gave them a talk, praising their diligence
and cooperation during the training period.

Just before she finished she said, “I would suggest that you stay in
your rooms and rest as you must be on your way again during the night.”
That was all. No one knew what would be their method of transportation
or where their destination.

“Might as well be a prisoner,” complained Tini, when she packed into
the elevator beside Nancy. “I wanted to get my hair set. I look a
fright.”

Nancy nudged her and whispered, “Be quiet! Elevator boys have ears,
too.”

The nurses found the hall of the floor they had taken over jammed with
baggage brought over from their basic training camp. Nancy’s and
Mabel’s foot lockers had already been placed in their room.

“Everything seems to run smooth as magic,” said Mabel. “Wish they’d let
us go to the stores to get a few things.”

“I imagine we’ll be given time to get the last-minute necessities at
the port of embarkation,” said Nancy. “I hear we have to take more
shots and physical exams after we get there. That takes time.”

At eleven o’clock that night they marched aboard their Pullman, as
Nancy had seen those soldiers file into the fatal eight cars less than
six weeks earlier. It seemed incredible that she had learned so much in
such a short time.

Though Nancy was generally ready for sleep she felt wide awake that
night. She had no patience to wait till morning to learn whether they
were traveling east or west.

Two nurses had been assigned to each lower berth and one to the upper.
Nancy, Mabel and Tini had one section, so Nancy quickly volunteered to
sleep in the lower with Mabel.

“You’re larger than either of us,” she said to Tini. “You’ll need more
stretching room.”

“Thanks,” said Tini, accepting the favor as if she were really more
entitled to it than the others. “I never slept with anyone—know I
wouldn’t get a wink.”

When the two friends packed into the lower Nancy whispered, “I can
hardly wait till morning to see whether we’re going east or west.”

“Would seem too good to be true to be sent to the South Pacific,” said
Mabel.

“If training’s any indication they’ve certainly been preparing us for
that.”

They turned out the light and after a while Mabel raised the shade a
little. She lifted her head and peered out. After an interval she
whispered, “Nancy, we really are heading west!”

“How can you tell?”

“By the stars. See—yonder’s the North Star, and the Big Dipper low on
the horizon.”

Nancy remembered enough from her Girl Scout days to recognize the
northern constellation at the left of the train. For several minutes
she kept lifting her head to peer out, and assure herself that they
were really keeping an even course into the west. Finally she settled
back with a feeling of great satisfaction and tried to sleep.

The Pullman was silent now, except for the humming of the wheels
beneath them. Nancy was almost asleep when she heard a peculiar sound
overhead. She opened her eyes and saw through a crack at the edge of
the berth that Tini’s light still burned. She concentrated her
attention on the almost imperceptible sound. It was like the scratching
of a pen on paper. Instantly she knew Tini was at her letter writing
again.

“Do you hear something, Mabel?” she asked, nudging her friend.

Mabel lifted a sleepy head to listen. “Somebody writing with a scratchy
pen. Must be Tini. Never would have thought she’d be careful enough to
keep a diary.”

“Maybe it’s a letter.”

“But Miss Hauser asked us only to send cards.”

“I’m afraid Tini doesn’t give much heed to what Miss Hauser asks.”

“Well, it’s not my little red wagon,” said Mabel, and settled back on
her pillow. Her regular breathing soon indicated that she slept.

Nancy stayed awake long after the pen scratching stopped, wondering
uneasily about Tini. It seemed uncanny how the girl was always stuck
right under her nose. Did her superior officers do it by deliberate
intent? Before she finally slept she made up her mind to be more alert
than ever where Tini was concerned.

The following two days, however, were so filled with the wonders of
travel that Nancy temporarily forgot that Tini could be such a thorn in
the flesh. She had never been west of the Mississippi. For the first
time she saw the great western plains and thrilled when the mountain
ranges beyond loomed on the horizon. She had never dreamed mere color
could be so intoxicating until their long train crossed the first
canyon. It was like a fantastic dream, yet a sight never to be
forgotten.

The nurses had the best food the diner afforded. On their swaying
journeys to and from the diner they discovered that the train contained
many soldiers. None of the nurses lacked for diverting companionship
then. But Tini couldn’t be satisfied with one, she must keep two or
three buzzing around her all the time.

On the second day at noon Nancy and Mabel were in the diner when the
train stopped longer than usual at a small-town station. Nancy, sitting
next the window, glanced out to see Tini hurrying across the tracks,
and into the waiting room. Nancy could have sworn her right pocket was
bulky with something, letters no doubt. Tini was gone only a few
minutes before she returned carrying a magazine, but Nancy was sure her
pocket looked less bulky.

“Stubborn as a mule,” said Nancy to herself in disgust. “She was
determined to send a letter to Carl Benton.”

In spite of the number of men available many of the nurses spent their
time playing cards, or catching up on their magazine and book reading,
for which there had been little chance during their weeks of training.

On the third day they de-trained at the city of embarkation. Army
trucks were waiting to take them to another temporary abode. Again it
was a large hotel, where an entire floor was assigned to them. Cots had
been put in the double bedrooms, and again Nancy was packed in with the
room-mates she had had in the tents. They had only an hour before they
were to report in room three for instructions. Everyone was eager to
hear about the next step, and the room was full before the hour was up.

“First and most important,” said Lieutenant Hauser, when she stood
before them once more, “you are to hint to no one that we are preparing
to embark. No nurse is to leave the hotel without signing the register
when she goes out and when she returns. I prefer that you go shopping
or to the theater in groups. There are plenty of Red Cross volunteers
ready to show you around. You may want to buy many last minute items
not included in government issues. Each of you may take one of these
typed lists of suggestions, so you won’t forget something important you
may need out there. Do all you want to do promptly, for when we are
alerted no girl can leave the quarters.”

Lieutenant Hauser glanced at her notes and added, “Nor are you to have
any guests in your rooms. And everyone must check in by eleven o’clock.”

Nancy was relieved that they would be allowed to go out and do some
last-minute shopping.

“I understand the Red Cross has planned several social functions for
you, which you must attend as a unit. There will be one dance here at
the hotel at which you may wear evening clothes.” She smiled knowingly.
“You may not have a chance to dress up again for a long time. I want
you to enjoy yourselves as much as you can here—go to the movies, see
some good shows, but always be careful to observe strictly the rules I
have laid down.”

The nurses found, however, that the evenings were about the only time
they had for recreation, for there were numberless things to be done in
preparation for departure. When Mabel read her list of instructions she
fell back on her bed.

“I’ll never get my last-minute shopping done,” she groaned. “I’ll
feel like a bug-house by the time we finish with all these
inoculations—bubonic plague, cholera, typhus, yellow fever.”

Nancy scoffed. “You’re such a wind-bag, Mabel. You know we’ve already
had lots of them. This final checkup won’t be so bad.”

“At least I’m already immunized to smallpox and have had my typhoid
shots.”

“But say, doesn’t that list really spell the tropics to you?” Nancy
asked happily. “Wouldn’t Dad and Mom be thrilled to know I’m headed in
Tommy’s direction?”

“With present restrictions on mail it’ll be a long time before they
hear that,” Mabel reminded her.

“Anybody heard when we’re sailing?” asked Tini.

“If you ask me I don’t want to know,” Ida Hall told her. “Too much
responsibility to have such knowledge.”

“I figure it’ll take at least a week to unwind all this red tape,” said
Mabel. “They even want us to make our wills. Golly Moses, I haven’t
anything to will anybody! Just a few pieces of cheap jewelry. Money’s
never stuck to my fingers long enough for me to accumulate anything.”

“You’ll be getting more pay overseas,” Nancy reminded her. “And there
won’t be any place to spend it, if we really get near the front lines.”

However, Mabel did make out a will of sorts. The two friends went
together to attend to this bit of business. Nancy’s will was only a
simple statement leaving all she had to her parents. As they left the
office where their signatures had been witnessed Mabel said with rare
seriousness, “I haven’t any near kin, Nancy, so I’m leaving all I have
to you.”

“Oh, Mabel!” she exclaimed, her eyes suddenly blinded with tears.

“Not that I have anything much, but—but I’d just like you to know how
you rate with me.”

Nancy squeezed her friend’s arm and said softly, “I’ve never had a
friend like you, Mabel—so close I mean. You surely find out about
people when you live as close to them as we have these last weeks.”

“Makes us seem we’ve already known each other a lifetime.”

Mabel, always afraid of seriousness and sentiments said with a laugh as
they approached their room, “I wouldn’t have told you about it, if I’d
had enough to make it worth your while to put a spider in my dumpling.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER NINE

                                 ALERT


During those first busy days at the hotel Nancy saw little of Tini.
Though she managed to get in always before eleven, and was at hand for
breakfast, she took most of her other meals out.

One noon when Nancy, Mabel and Shorty were on a shopping expedition
they came across Tini in a swanky Chinese restaurant, sitting at a
table with a smart-looking woman, obviously about ten years her senior.

Nancy’s trio, in a high mood, was having a final fling. They had
carefully checked over their funds to be sure they would have enough
for a meal in this expensive restaurant. They were surprised and not
altogether pleased to find Tini ahead of them with someone who would
probably foot her bill.

“She hasn’t paid a particle of attention to what Miss Hauser said about
our going in groups,” Mabel grumbled on seeing Tini.

“Has she ever paid attention to any regulations she could break and get
by with?” asked Shorty, whose round, babyish eyes took in more than her
guileless face betrayed.

Nancy gave her attention to the menu card, but when the other two were
occupied with thoughts of food she sent the woman sitting opposite Tini
a critical look. The stranger was a blonde like Tini, but her chic hat
and smart clothes could not hide the hard sophistication in her face. A
group of WACs came into the dining room, and Nancy saw the woman’s eyes
follow them to their seats. Two army nurses, not of their unit, entered
a moment later and again she trailed them. Nancy made up her mind to
ask Tini later about the woman, then tried to dismiss the unpleasant
subject, and enjoy this meal they had been anticipating.

The chop suey and Chinese tea proved to be all that had been
anticipated. Though they dawdled long over the food Tini and her
companion were still at their table when Nancy and her friends rose to
go.

When they had left their tips and paid for their food Mabel said in an
impish tone, “I’ve gotter pass by Tini’s table on the way out.”

“Now, Mabel, what are you up to?” asked Nancy.

Mabel made a face at her and retorted, “None of your business!”

Tini’s back had been to them, but now she glanced up and saw them, and
Nancy noticed the flustered look on her face.

“Hiya, Blondie!” burst forth Mabel. “Chow was swell, wasn’t it?”

Tini nodded at them coolly.

At the door Mabel said, “Oh, boy, did she and her high-brow friend
snoot us!”

“High-brow, did you say?” asked Nancy in a sarcastic tone.

“You shouldn’t tease her so, Mabel,” Shorty chided. “Tini’s such a
stickler for form.”

“Social form only,” added Nancy. “Not military form.”

“Dumb bloke! That’s all the sense she has,” said Mabel in disgust.

The girls spent another hour shopping, then were too weary for any more
that day, so returned to the hotel. They stopped in the lobby for Mabel
to get a magazine, and Shorty some mints. Too tired to stand, Nancy
dropped into one of the large chairs in sight of the elevator. She was
sitting there in a fog of weariness when she saw Tini and her luncheon
companion come in and ring for the elevator.

“So,” thought Nancy, “you’re either taking her up to our room—which is
against regulations, or she lives in the hotel herself. In either case
I mean to find out where she goes.”

Nancy had no time to let Mabel and Shorty know she was going up, but
made a dive for the elevator as the passengers crammed in. Their room
was on the eighth floor, but to her relief Tini’s friend got off at the
seventh.

Several other nurses got off at the next floor with Nancy and Tini, but
the two girls found themselves side by side as they approached their
own door.

“Mabel certainly embarrassed me in the restaurant this noon,” said Tini
in an ugly mood.

“Oh, you know Mabel!” exclaimed Nancy. She slipped her key in the lock
and opened the door.

“She’s very common and loud at times!” snapped Tini.

“But with a heart of gold,” stated Nancy. “I’d trust Mabel with my own
soul.”

“Hump!” grunted Tini as she tossed her cap to the bed.

Nancy sat down on her cot and slipped her aching feet into her bedroom
slippers.

“That was a beautifully dressed woman you were with. Where’d you meet
her?” asked Nancy.

“She’s Carl’s aunt, Mrs. Webber. He made me promise to look her up if
we got to the west coast.”

“He did. Does she live at this hotel? I noticed she got off at the
floor below.”

“Oh, no. She’s only visiting here—came to meet me.”

“I see. But how could she know you were here?”

“Carl wired her.”

“How did Carl know?”

Suddenly Tini flared. “And what business is it of yours?”

“Oh, what a nettle you are!” said Nancy.

Mabel came in a few minutes later. “You really got ahead of us,” she
told Nancy. “Didn’t know you were coming on up.” Then her gaze fell on
Tini, and she left the rest of her remark unfinished.

“Sure,” said Tini, sitting up suddenly, “she had to come up and spy on
me and my friend.”

“Why Tini Hoffman!” exclaimed Ida Hall, lifting her head from the bed
where she had been recovering from the after-effects of some shots.
“How can you be so rude?”

Mabel went to the foot of Tini’s bed and fairly shook it in her rage.
“Let me tell you something, Tini Hoffman. If you didn’t have a bad
conscience about the way you’ve broken the regulations ever since you
got into this unit, you wouldn’t make such a remark.”

“Mabel’s right,” Ida Hall agreed. “Anyone who can’t stand up under
watching by all the rest, has no right to stay with us. This is serious
business, Tini. You can bet your bottom dollar none of us is going to
let anything crooked get by.”

Tini began turning the pages of a magazine to show them how little
importance she put on what they said. A strained silence filled the
room, and Nancy was thankful when it was time to dress for dinner.
Mabel was a fast dresser and sat checking over the list of necessities
while she waited for the others.

“Well, I think I have everything mentioned on this list that I want to
take,” she concluded. “Do you gals want me to read it over to see if
you’ve forgotten anything?”

“Good idea,” said Nancy, giving her auburn curls a final touch. She had
had her hair set early that morning, and wondered when she would ever
get inside a hairdresser’s again.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“She’s Carl’s Aunt, Mrs. Webber,” Tini Told Nancy_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Bathrobe, bedroom slippers, brassieres, garters, garter belt, girdle,
handkerchiefs, money belt—” Mabel began.

“For goodness’ sake!” burst forth Tini. “Can’t you see I’m reading?
I’ve checked that list a dozen times and have everything on it.”

“If them’s orders, Shavetail Hoffman, I’ll desist!” exclaimed Mabel,
snapping to attention and giving Tini a mocking salute. “Come on,
girls, let’s beat it,” she added, turning to Ida and Nancy. “I’m ready
for more chow.”

Though Mabel tried to dissipate the stormy atmosphere by her light
mood, Nancy could not shake off her depression and a sense of
foreboding. The nurses and medical officers had a long, private dining
room at the rear of the first floor. Nancy noticed that for a change
everyone seemed to be on hand.

Major Reed was in a high mood as he sat with a group of his medical
officers. Nancy’s heart swelled with pride when she glanced from one to
the other of their personnel. Here were medical men trained in all
branches of healing, and nurses with various specializations for
assisting them.

At the end of the meal, when Nancy was finishing a piece of lemon
chiffon pie, she glanced up to note that the room had been cleared of
waiters, and Sergeant Bohler was standing at the rear door by which
they entered. Then all eyes were drawn, as if by some strong
attraction, toward Major Reed, now standing by his table.

“I have the privilege of informing you,” he began, “that we have been
alerted. No member of this unit will leave the hotel again, nor may you
use any telephone, send out any mail, or by any means communicate with
any person outside this room that we will embark in a few hours.
Everyone must be packed and ready to leave at any moment. When you come
down to meals again come prepared to march to your ship, if necessary.
Everything in your rooms must be ready for instant departure.”

No cheers greeted this long-anticipated order, for any demonstration
might bring information to alert spies they knew were not far off.
Sergeant Bohler left the door, the waiters returned to clear off the
tables and the nurses and doctors went straight to their quarters.

When their door was closed Mabel burst forth exuberantly, “Boy, oh boy!
To think we have sailing orders at last!”

“I’ve got that hollow, going-away feeling for the first time since I
left home,” said Ida Hall a little wistfully.

“It surely does make you feel serious when you stop to think what we
may have to go through before we get back to these shores,” said Nancy.

“But we’re going to see the world, gals, before we get back!” Mabel was
the only one who had no close relatives to leave behind, so her
adventure-loving wings had no silken cords to bind them to home shores.

“Wish they’d waited another day, dern it!” exclaimed Tini. “Just my
luck though. Wonder how long we’ll have to wait.” It was the first time
she had spoken since they returned to the room.

“I imagine Major Reed doesn’t even know that,” said Nancy. “We’ll just
have to be ready to go at any minute.” She was already gathering up her
toilet articles from the dresser as she spoke.

“I’ve heard they often go aboard ship about midnight,” said Ida. “We’d
better keep on most of our clothes.”

It was about ten o’clock before they finished packing and turned out
the lights. Taking off only their coats, the four nurses lay down on
top of their beds. Nancy dropped into a light sleep, but was roused by
an almost imperceptible movement near the door well after midnight.
Though the room was in total darkness she knew someone was moving
across the carpet. A beam of light fell across Tini’s empty bed as the
door was opened with noiseless caution, and Tini herself stepped into
the hall.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER TEN

                              EMBARKATION


The moment Nancy saw Tini step into the hall she knew she was intent on
making some secret contact with someone outside their unit. With
noiseless speed she jumped from her bed and followed through the door
in her stocking feet. In spite of her prompt action Tini had vanished
by the time she reached the dimly lighted hall.

She couldn’t have rung for the elevator and taken it in so short a
time. With swift insight Nancy surmised she was headed for her friend
on the seventh floor by way of the fire-escape stairs. How glad she was
she had made a point of asking Mrs. Webber’s room number at the desk
last night before dinner.

For an instant Nancy stood there in the silent hall in an agony of
indecision. What should she do? She was tortured between two
speculations—that Tini, herself, was a spy in their midst, or had
innocently, but foolhardily let herself be drawn into a net of spies.
No matter which she was it seemed obvious her intention was to let Mrs.
Webber know they were alerted.

She thought of Major Reed. Even had she known his room number she would
have hesitated to go to his room at this hour of the night. Lieutenant
Hauser was three doors down the hall. Even while Nancy was trying to
decide what she should do, she was on her way there.

To her relief she saw light under the crack of Miss Hauser’s door and
found her superior officer fully dressed. Nancy wasted no time in
preliminary explanations, but burst forth as soon as she was inside.
“Tini Hoffman has gone out—to Mrs. Webber’s room, 705,” she said.
“She’s Carl Benton’s sister. They’ll find out we’re alerted.”

“Thanks, Nancy. This is not unexpected,” Lieutenant Hauser said, and
acted promptly, picking up the phone. “Connect me with Major Reed, room
829,” she told the operator.

A moment later she was saying into the phone, “This is Blanche Hauser.
Nancy has reported the expected. Set off the action—705.”

She was as cool as a veteran under fire when she put the phone back in
its cradle. “We’re not surprised, Nancy,” she said, seeing the girl’s
puzzled look. “We have the trap set, and had to let things go this far
in order to spring it.”

Nancy’s brown eyes were wide with wonder as she asked, “Then Tini _is_
a spy?”

“I think not—just a fool in the hands of spies!”

Nancy wanted to cry, but she couldn’t let her superior officer see her
give way in this crisis.

Miss Hauser came to where Nancy had dropped limply on the foot of the
bed. She placed her hand affectionately on her shoulder and said, “Of
course I know all that’s happened before, through Major Reed. You’ve
been wonderful, Nancy—dependable as old Plymouth Rock. Without such as
you our national freedom would long since have been undermined.”

“It hasn’t been an easy position,” Nancy admitted.

“We’ve been fully aware of that. But when you stop to realize you’ve
probably saved our convoy from some horrible disaster what does any of
that matter?”

“Are you sure it’s not too late?”

“I hope so. Your prompt action has always been taken just in time.
You’d better go back to your room now, or your other roommates may
rouse and be curious.”

“I’m afraid I’ll never sleep, not knowing what’s happening.”

“You deserve a full explanation, Nancy, but it probably won’t come
before sailing. I’m not at liberty to say more. Major Reed will have to
do that.”

With what composure she could command, Nancy went back to her room and
crept to her cot without rousing the others. She strained her ears at
the sound of the elevator gliding up and down several times, but it
told her nothing of the stark drama being enacted on the floor below.
Never before had she felt so like a small cog in a gigantic machine.
She must perform her function efficiently, leaving to a greater mind
the finished product that the machine turned out. Toward dawn she
finally went to sleep and didn’t rouse till her two friends were ready
for breakfast.

“Tini must be hungry this morning,” said Ida Hall. “She’s already gone
down.”

“But she left her coat and cap,” Mabel observed.

Nancy said not a word as she touched up her lips. When they returned to
their room an hour later all the things Tini had left on her bed,
musette bag, pistol belt, canteen, short coat and overcoat, were gone.

When Ida Hall commented on this, Mabel observed, “Her foot locker and
suitcase, too. Something’s gone wrong, girls—wonder what?”

Nancy could only remain silent, feeling miserable and deceitful, even
while she wondered what had actually become of Tini. When nothing more
was seen of their blond roommate by lunchtime, Mabel confronted Miss
Hauser with a question about her in the dining room.

Miss Hauser’s manner was as casual as could be when she replied. “Miss
Hoffman didn’t pass all the tests,” she said. “Some do fail to get over
at the last minute, you know.”

Silently the trio went back to their room. Each sat on the side of her
bed, staring into space. After an interval Mabel said, “She didn’t fail
on her physicals, I can bet you that. Tini’s strong as a mule.”

“And just as stubborn about having her own way,” Ida asserted.

Nancy offered no opinion, for fear she would betray more than she
should. The afternoon dragged by. Nancy brought Shorty in to be a
fourth at a table of bridge, and they played until time to go down for
dinner.

“I didn’t think units were held over, after alert, more than
twenty-four hours,” complained Mabel. “Sure wish we’d get on the move.”

“Maybe the convoy is delayed somehow,” suggested Ida.

Nancy wondered if Tini had anything to do with the delay. She tried to
forget the unpleasant incident. When they were in the dining room that
evening she suggested, “You girls had better lay in a good meal. This
may be the last you’ll get before you’re too seasick to eat.”

They took her advice and put in full orders. A few in the crowded
dining room had started eating and Nancy had taken only one bite from
the breast of a chicken when Major Reed came in. His face told all who
turned toward him that the moment had come.

“This is it!” he said, when he rapped for attention. “You will file out
immediately to the room across the hall and wait further orders. Your
room baggage will be taken care of.”

Now they understood why they had been told to come to meals, prepared
for marching orders. They filed into a drawing-room across the hall.
Some did not even sit down, expecting to be on their way to the docks
at once. However, when an hour passed and marching orders had not yet
come, they lit more cigarettes and hunted seats. Nancy, Mabel, Ida and
Shorty huddled together on a window seat.

“Why in heck didn’t they let us finish our dinner?” Mabel wanted to
know. “I’ll see that wasted, juicy steak to my dying day.”

“I’d be glad for even a drink of water,” said Shorty.

“No law against drinking from your canteen,” Nancy told her. “I guess
this situation rates as an emergency.”

The time dragged into an eternity. Everyone wondered what had happened.
Would they be sent back to their rooms for another night’s sleep? Then
at long last Major Reed appeared to give them the final alert. Nancy
glanced at her watch. It was ten minutes of twelve. They had been
waiting in this room over four hours. She wondered what was back of the
delay.

They were packed into trucks waiting in the alley at the back of the
hotel. Then by dark, back streets, their convoy approached the dock.
When the nurses were lined up beside a long warehouse Nancy’s heart
swelled with pride that she was one of this brave, snappy unit. Every
nurse wore her dress uniform and carried her overcoat over one arm. Her
musette bag, filled with a score of oddments she might need in an
emergency, was slung over her shoulder. In her pistol belt was a
first-aid kit, and on her left hip was a freshly filled canteen.

With a rhythmic shush, shush of many feet they passed by the long
warehouse, and went across the dock to the great ship rising like a
giant from the water. To Nancy it seemed incredible that anything so
large could remain afloat. She had taken only two ocean trips in her
life, and those were on small, coast-wise steamers between Charleston
and New York in the good old days when no subs darkened the waters, nor
death wings roared overhead.

They marched up the long gangplank and were directed to their quarters.
Everything moved with oiled smoothness. The staterooms had been turned
into bunk rooms. Some of the larger ones, that had once been luxury
suites, had as many as sixteen bunks lining the walls, three tiers deep
with a double bunk to each tier. Fortunately Nancy, Mabel, Ida and
Shorty got together once more in a small four-bunk cabin. Each nurse
would have to use her bunk for lying, dressing and sitting, for all
floor space was filled with the hand luggage.

Each nurse hung her helmet on the head of the bunk, close to her life
preserver and well-filled canteen. In her musette bag Nancy had crammed
what she thought she might need in case they had to take to lifeboats.
She had a small flashlight, some milk chocolate, a change of undies, an
extra pair of dark glasses, cleansing tissues, a small comb, two tins
of concentrated food, and many other odds and ends.

An hour after going aboard the nurses slipped off their coats and caps
and stretched out on the bunks, prepared to jump up the moment there
was any indication of leaving the dock. But for hours longer there came
that steady tramp, tramp of soldiers’ feet as the transport was packed
to sardine-tin tightness.

It was still dark, however, when Mabel shook Nancy out of a sound sleep
to say, “I think we’re moving!”

The other two girls were already pulling on their overcoats to go on
deck, and together they rushed out. Faint streaks of dawn were in the
sky. Hawsers had already been released and the giant ship was being
eased out of the harbor by tugs that looked like midgets in comparison.

The first light of day was striking glints from the water when they
slipped through the submarine net at the mouth of the harbor. The
net-tender waved at them, and Nancy thought a little wistfully that
this was the only farewell they had had. She watched the shoreline of
our country recede, not without a feeling of sadness dulling her joy.
But her sadness was more for those she left behind than any fear of
what might be ahead. She was young and strong and eager to do her
share, fully aware of the privilege and responsibility of being part of
this great task force.

Her group, huddled close together, had fallen silent when suddenly the
loud speaker began to bellow, “Life jackets—all personnel must wear
life jackets.”

There was a general exodus to individual quarters to don the
uncomfortable rig, which they dubbed their “Mae Wests.” Not until their
journey ended, weeks hence, could they be separated from them again.

Nancy couldn’t sit still after she was safely girded in her life
jacket. She kept popping her head up to the porthole to see what was
happening outside. One of the others filled the spot every time she
vacated it.

They had orders to line up for breakfast at seven. The nurses were
scheduled to eat first. It was an hour, however, before they had been
served and could finish eating.

When they reached the deck again Nancy burst forth, “Look, girls, this
is the real thing!”

They joined her at the rail to see that their transport was now one of
a great convoy of vessels of all sorts, moving steadily into the
southwest.

“Breath-taking, isn’t it?” said Shorty.

“I can hardly believe we’re really on our way at last,” said Nancy
happily.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER ELEVEN

                                 AT SEA


That journey across the Pacific was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
Though the intensive training of the last busy weeks was over there was
still plenty of routine in their lives. “Abandon ship” drills were part
of every day’s program. They never knew when they were coming, nor
whether, this time, it was the real thing. Every nurse, swathed in her
Mae West, must be standing at attention by the lifeboat assigned her
when the Colonel passed for inspection. Nor did his inspection stop
there, but their quarters must always be tidied so as to bear the
scrutiny of those piercing gray eyes.

The soldiers laughed at the women when they appeared with the most
unexpected items to be taken along just in case this life drill was the
real thing. Ida Hall invariably came out wearing dark glasses while
Mabel always brought a rubber bathing cap.

“I’ve got to protect my permanent from the salt water,” she explained,
when a young sergeant asked if she was going swimming. “I figure I
won’t get another wave any time soon.”

Nancy had a horror of being adrift without lights and water, so always
had her flashlight and a well-filled canteen.

“If I forget everything else I hope I won’t leave my knife behind,”
said Janice. “I may need it to slay sharks or cut up fish to eat.”

Though they got what fun they could from this serious business, it gave
Nancy a feeling of safety to know that everything had been so carefully
planned for their welfare. She couldn’t help wondering at times,
however, if Tini’s wilfulness had really supplied the enemy with
information they sought about the convoy. She had caught only
occasional glimpses of Major Reed, but at no time was there opportunity
to speak with him privately, so her curiosity about the whole matter
had to be stilled.

Every time she looked across at the great flotilla of ships to port and
starboard, fore and aft, her sense of security grew stronger. She was
never weary of watching the sea and those other ships.

In spite of their drills and regulations they had much real leisure,
which was most welcome after so many weeks of rigorous training. Most
of the small discomforts of the crowded transport could be endured, but
Nancy did feel the pinch of their limited water supply. With so much
water all about them it seemed strange to be rationed on water, but on
such a packed ship the water supply was a real problem.

They had to line up for the bathroom, then each nurse was allowed only
a basin full of water for bathing and clothes washing. The girls had to
dodge about their cabins to avoid the lines of clothes constantly
drying. However, most of them stayed in their cabins only for sleeping
and dressing, so could make the best of what could not be helped.

For dinner the first evening they changed to their summer beige suits,
for there was to be dancing afterward. There were numberless men for
every girl, so none lacked for partners. Nancy was surprised about ten
o’clock that first evening to glance around and discover Major Reed
asking her for the next dance. This was the first time he had spoken to
her since Tini had vanished from their midst.

“Oh, you!” she exclaimed eagerly.

She gave him her hand and they moved on to the floor, but the place was
so packed it was like trying to dance on a dime.

Nancy laughed and said, “It’s impossible!”

“And the air’s thick enough to slice,” he added. “Why endure it when
there’s so much grand fresh air on deck?”

“Do let’s go outside,” agreed Nancy. “I’ve been wondering what the
stars are like out there.”

They escaped to the deck by a side door and finally worked their way to
the prow. The black-out on the ship made the spangle of stars a
thousand times more brilliant than Nancy had ever seen them. They stood
at the rail a few minutes, watching the brilliant points of light swim
crazily in a dome of purple velvet.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“Abandon Ship” Drills Were Held Every Day_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I can hardly wait to see the southern cross,” said Nancy.

“A wonderful sight,” he told her. “Two of the stars point toward the
south pole, as Polaris indicates the north.”

“You’ve been down under before?” she asked eagerly.

“I came out in the late spring, before Pearl Harbor, a civilian then. I
remember I was sight-seeing at Pago Pago about the middle of May.”

“I’ve never been any farther than New York by steamer,” Nancy
confessed. “I didn’t dare hope I’d really make it down here—right
where I want most to go.”

“Things do work out sometimes,” he said with deep content. “They have
for me.”

They fell silent a moment while they watched the other darkened ships
moving across the wide expanse.

After an interval he said in a low tone, “Miss Dale, this is the first
opportunity I’ve had to thank you for your cooperation.”

“There was nothing else I could do.”

“Of course. But you did it more tactfully and successfully than many
others would have.”

“Naturally I’ve been curious to know what really happened the other
night when I went to Miss Hauser about Tini.”

“It’s a long story that goes way back,” he began, and glanced around
once more to be sure no one else was in hearing distance. “You’ve
helped us trap two of a ring we’ve been trailing a long time.”

“Oh, Major Reed, really?”

“Their specialty has been getting in with women in the service, not
only nurses, but WACs, WAVES, and even Red Cross workers, to worm
information from them by subtle tricks at which they’re very adept.”

“And Tini Hoffman’s temperament made her a gold mine for them, I should
think.”

“Exactly. We took some great chances letting her stay as long as she
did, but it proved to be worth it in the end.”

“Then you did spring the trap Miss Hauser spoke of?”

“Indeed we did. We had had a plainclothes man watching Tini ever since
we got to port, but without you on the inside even he might have
failed.”

“Oh!” breathed Nancy, just beginning to realize fully how important had
been her position.

“We had had an eye on this woman who posed under the name of Mrs.
Webber, before. She serves as the sister of any of the ring who have
girls coming into the port.”

“I see,” said Nancy. “She looked capable of such a post—a hard-looking
sister!”

“Tini got in such a dither to see Mrs. Webber that night, because Carl
said he was flying out to see her before she left. She was to meet him
for lunch at the Chinese restaurant next noon—then alert orders came
and she couldn’t get out, so she thought she had to go to Mrs. Webber
so Carl could understand why she broke the date.”

“Then Tini was not really crooked—a spy,” said Nancy in a tone of
relief. She couldn’t bear to think that, even of Tini.

“No—just foolish when it comes to a realization of the danger she
might have placed this convoy in.”

“Did that have anything to do with the delay in our leaving?”

“I’m afraid it did.”

“But you haven’t told me just what did happen down there in room 705.”

“We had placed a dictaphone in Mrs. Webber’s room while she was out,
and let Tini have her say, to get the record, before we went in to take
them both into custody. Fortunately Tini mentioned the name of the
place she was to meet Carl next noon, and it was a simple matter for
the FBI to be there to pick him up. He had shaved his small mustache,
but otherwise the description you first gave, served an excellent
purpose.”

“Well, what do you know about that?” Nancy said in wonder.

How little she had dreamed when she went into the service that she
would become involved in such a plot!

“I was so miserable over the whole business,” she added after an
interval, “but Tini was always placed right under my nose. I couldn’t
help knowing the awful things she did.”

“We placed her close to you deliberately. We knew you were entirely to
be trusted,” he said.

She flushed in the darkness and after a moment murmured, “Thank you,
Major Reed. I’ll try never to betray that trust.”

“Miss Hauser told me one of your roommates asked about Miss Hoffman
after she had been gone a half day, so I presume you gave no hint of
what you knew to the others.”

“No, I didn’t. Tini had given herself a bad enough name. There was no
use making it worse.”

“You have a wise head on your shoulders, Nancy.”

Her pulse quickened as he called her by her first name.

“No, Tini’s not really a traitor—just one of those thoughtless,
self-willed people, who can do as much harm as a real spy,” said the
major, “and you’d be surprised, Nancy, to know how many of those are
crippling our war effort.”

Nancy sighed. “We really do walk a narrow plank over dangerous waters,
don’t we?”

“Indeed we do!” he agreed. “But for everyone who would betray us
there’s millions loyal to the core, like you.”

“I appreciate your telling me just what happened. Naturally I’ve been
wondering, but hadn’t dared ask.”

“You have a right to know if anyone does. Such service as you’ve
rendered never brings medals, Nancy—we have to keep too quiet about
these undercover activities.”

“At least I’m glad it’s all over, and we don’t have anyone else like
Tini in our unit. They’re a grand bunch—all of them.”

“Are you telling me!” he exclaimed.

Nancy lifted her head, feeling a wonderful sense of freedom as she
drank in great gulps of the clean, fresh air. “My, it’s great to be
here—on our way!” she said.

“It really is,” he agreed. Then he hastened to ask, “Say, Nancy, have
you seen the sick bay?”

“You mean there’s a hospital aboard?”

“Almost inactive now. But it’ll be jammed on the return trip.”

“How do you find it?”

“I’ll take you down and show you through right after breakfast
tomorrow,” he suggested.

“Oh, that would be swell!”

Nancy went to sleep that night with a feeling of eager anticipation for
the morning. Sleeping was a tight squeeze amid all their possessions.
Several times during the night Nancy was vaguely aware of Mabel giving
her a shove and ordering, “Keep to your side, gal!” But on the whole
she got the best sleep she had had in three nights.

When she remarked about resting so well Mabel said, “Yeah, I believe
you could sleep through storms, fire and torpedoes.”

Nancy’s visit to the sick bay was really her first preview of the
seriousness of overseas life. Here were careful preparations for
looking after those who were giving their blood in battle, and must be
taken home for recovery. The sick bay was really a miniature hospital.

“They’ve thought of everything that might possibly be needed to help
our men,” explained Major Reed to the nurses, for Nancy had asked to
bring her three roommates along. “This operating room alone seems a
miracle to me.”

“Looks about like any other to me,” said Nancy.

“It’s so built that any jolt or tilting is overcome before it reaches
the operator’s hand.”

“I’ve heard of such marvels,” said Nancy with deep interest. “Much like
the floating studios which radio companies use to counteract sound.”

“Something of the same idea,” said Major Reed.

They were shown the laboratory, a small pharmacy and some contagious
wards. The double-deck bunks were hung from stanchions. There were
dental chairs and protected sections for psycho-neurotic cases. In
fact, everything was there to make a miniature hospital.

“Maybe we’ll get a chance to work in one of these on the way back,”
said Shorty.

“This one will probably be in use before we get over,” Major Reed told
them. “Among so many passengers there’ll no doubt be some who will need
attention on the way.”

“If you need help let us know,” said Nancy when they thanked the young
doctor who had shown them through.

So the carefree days slipped by. The air was bracing; the food
excellent. Nancy felt her skirts grow a bit tighter at the waist, and
knew she was gaining weight. She didn’t object, for she was sure much
hard work and a rationed diet would soon reduce her to the old
measurements.

There were games of all sorts, long walks along the decks, new
acquaintances to broaden life’s horizon, and every night dancing for
those who liked the bright lights of indoors. Nancy and whoever she
happened to be with, generally chose the deck with its stars and
glimpses of their convoy. There was a hilarious celebration when they
crossed the equator and another when they crossed the international
date line. They began to feel then that they were truly in another sort
of life. Before reaching port they had left the budding summer of their
own hemisphere for the approaching winter of this strange southern
world.

Then one noon Nancy and Mabel stood at the rail and saw their first
flying fish.

“We’re approaching land!” Nancy exclaimed eagerly.

“And look—there’re terns skimming the froth in our wake,” Mabel
noticed.

An hour later planes came out to meet them, circling overhead, like
guardian wings to watch them safely into port. And then at last their
first glimpse of a foreign shore. Then a few minutes later the word
went round, identifying the harbor in which they would land.

“It’s Sydney, they say, Mabel!” cried Nancy joyously. “I can hardly
believe we’ve really reached Australia.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER TWELVE

                                A DREAM


Though there had been no one to bid them farewell there was plenty of
welcome awaiting the Army Nurses on reaching Sydney. Australian Red
Cross workers greeted the young women when they had marched down the
long gangplanks. Cars were ready to drive them to the beautiful house,
set amid lovely trees and flowers, where they were to stay temporarily.

The nurses had so long been accustomed to the motion of the ship that
they now felt a little giddy and unsteady on their feet.

“I’ll surely be glad to get my legs adjusted to earth once more,” said
Nancy.

“Feel as though I couldn’t walk straight,” Mabel complained. “Say, but
isn’t this a swell joint,” she added, glancing around the lovely room
to which she and Nancy had been assigned. There was everything for
their comfort. The pretty curtains and bedspreads were a joy after the
bareness of their ship cabin. The bath had a real tub in which they
could compensate for weeks of indifferent bathing.

They had left late spring at home, but found approaching winter on
their arrival in the southern hemisphere. Their heavy coats were in
order on all excursions outdoors.

“Funny, but I had the idea we’d have to go round out here half dressed,
drinking ices and waving fans,” said Mabel.

“Tommy prepared me for this,” said Nancy a little wistfully. “He left
home last fall and found spring when he got here. Strange, but he seems
so much closer now that I’m here.”

“Gee, Nancy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if he did turn up!”

“Oh, he must! He will, Mabel! Yet sometimes I think it’s sort of
selfish of me to—to think he may be spared when such terrible things
have happened to other people.”

“I guess it’s natural for us all to have such feelings—that these
horrible things can’t happen to us.”

“I suppose we’ll have to get into the thick of it before we fully
realize how terrible it really is,” said Nancy, sensing that their
first real tests were not far off.

That evening after dinner Lieutenant Hauser called them together and
said, “We’ll have several days here in Sydney. We don’t know exactly
how long before we’ll be moved out to an evacuation hospital. You’ve
all earned a little vacation. Take this time to see the city and enjoy
yourselves to the full. Our real work is not far in the future.”

Eyes sparkled, while happy laughter and comments filled the room.

“The only restrictions,” continued Lieutenant Hauser, “are to guard
your tongue and be back in your rooms by eleven at night. The Red Cross
volunteers have planned many things for you, but you’re free to do as
you like. Have a good time, for you’ll need pleasant memories when you
get into the thick of things.”

“I’m going to phone Miss Anna Darien,” Nancy told Mabel at once. “Maybe
I can go over to see her tomorrow.”

“Oh, you mean your mother’s friend who wrote you about seeing Tommy?”

“Yes. I can hardly wait to hear what she has to say about him. Don’t
you want to come with me?”

“Sure! But won’t she be surprised when she hears your voice over the
phone?”

“She lives somewhere on the harbor. It will all be sightseeing just the
same,” explained Nancy.

“I never dreamed Sydney was such a huge place. They say it’s as large
as some of our biggest American cities.”

“It’s surely nice to be in a foreign city where people speak English,”
said Nancy.

“Does make it seem more homelike,” admitted Mabel, “even if they do
express things a little differently.”

Marian Albans, a Red Cross volunteer, helped Nancy get in touch with
Miss Darien in a distant section of the city. Miss Anna was as
delighted to hear Nancy’s voice, as Nancy was to hear a familiar, loved
friend, speaking in a strange land. Even slight bonds grow stronger
when mere acquaintances meet in a strange land, and those bonds that
are already strong are drawn much closer. Nancy felt almost as happy as
if she were going to see her own mother.

“I hope this phone call isn’t all, my dear,” said Miss Anna over the
wire. “We must have time for a visit with each other.”

“That’s what I called for,” explained Nancy. “We have several days to
do just as we please. I want to come out there to see you.”

“Just fine! But it’s not easy to get here, my dear. You’ll have to come
early in the morning on the ferry that crosses the harbor to take
workers from here over to the city. There isn’t another ferry until it
comes to bring the workers home. Our manpower is very much rationed
here.”

“Then I’ll come early and stay late,” Nancy said with a laugh.

When she put down the phone Marian Albans said, “I’ll be glad to see
you to the ferry. It would be rather complicated to give you directions
for going there.”

“That’s awfully nice of you,” said Nancy gratefully. “That will make it
easier, and you can point out the sights as we go.”

When Mabel learned she would have to spend the entire day she decided
to go only to the ferry with Nancy, so she could do more sight-seeing
in the city.

When they went out early next morning a stormy wind was blowing, which
Marian Albans called a “Southerly Buster.”

“Feels as if it’s right off the South Pole,” she said as the two
Americans and the Australian went out into the street bundled in
overcoats and mufflers.

They caught a tram, as the Australians called their street cars, for a
long ride through the fascinating streets of the strange city. By the
time they reached the quay where Nancy was to take a ferry across the
harbor a driving rain cut off their view. Wind whipped the water into
whitecaps, and the crossing promised to be rough.

“Do I have to walk very far after I leave the ferry?” Nancy asked.

“I’ve only been over there once myself—to a place near your friend’s
address. But you take a tram on the other side, up the bluff, and get
off at Military Road,” explained Marian.

Marian was a very English-looking girl, who told them her parents had
come out to Australia a few years before her birth. She had a fair,
aristocratic face and the natural bloom in her cheeks of which so many
English girls may well be proud.

“Maybe Miss Anna will come to meet me,” said Nancy hopefully.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Nancy Was Delighted to Hear a Familiar Voice_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I hope so,” said Marian, “for there’s a half-mile walk through the
bush after you get off the tram on the other side.”

“The bush?” repeated Nancy.

Marian laughed. “I believe you’d call it the woods.”

They put Nancy aboard the almost empty ferry, and started back to the
tram in the storm. It was some time before the ferry moved out across
the harbor in the pelting, chill rain. Nancy thought it was too bad to
have such a miserable day for her excursion, for the rain cut off most
of her view as the ferry finally moved slowly away from the dock.

This was the first time since she had left home that Nancy had really
been alone. Suddenly she felt loosened and detached from all her recent
experiences, and viewed her training as through a telescope. Though the
time had not been long since she left home, she felt as different as if
actual years had been required for her preparation.

The fact that her brother had been on this very ferry on his last visit
to Sydney brought him still closer to her. He had constantly been in
the back of her mind during her trip at sea, and today she felt more
strongly than ever that he was really alive. She thought how lucky she
was to be sent into his field of operations. It seemed prophetic to her
that somehow, somewhere they were going to meet again.

The ferry staggered through the gale around a point of land and soon
came into sight of the woods on the other shore. Nancy was thrilled to
find Miss Anna waiting for her, bracing herself as the wind whipped at
her raincape. Her face was damp with the mist as she caught Nancy to
her and gave her a hearty kiss.

“How good to see a little bit of America!” she said. “And how stunning
you look in that uniform!”

She held Nancy off at arm’s length to inspect her, regardless of the
rain beating down on them. And Nancy felt almost as happy as if she
were being welcomed by her own mother.

“We’ll be wet as rats by the time we get up to the house,” said Miss
Anna, “but it’ll be cozy and warm inside.”

They caught a tram promptly and were soon on the path through the
dripping bush. It swung back toward the water and presently Nancy
caught a glimpse of the large community building in which Miss Anna
made her home with many other workers of various sorts. The house stood
on a hundred-foot bluff overlooking the water.

“What a heavenly place!” exclaimed Nancy, looking around delightedly.

“So it is,” agreed Miss Anna, her small brown eyes twinkling. They
stepped inside the door and she threw back her raincape.

Nancy followed her upstairs after taking off her galoshes and dripping
cap and overcoat. The home-cooked breakfast they sat down to a few
minutes later was a feast indeed to one who had eaten camp and ship
fare so long. There were peaches covered with thick cream to start
with, scrambled eggs, delicious hot muffins and golden butter such as
Nancy had not seen in a long time.

“We have our own cows and chickens here,” explained Miss Anna by way of
apology for the excellent items on which others were so closely
rationed. “I had some coffee made especially for you. Most everyone out
here, you know, drinks tea.”

“And it is really good coffee,” said Nancy gratefully.

Most of the other residents of the house had hurried off to catch the
ferry back to the city, so Nancy and her friend were not disturbed
while at their breakfast. Nancy told of her training and her voyage,
and answered numerous questions about mutual friends back home.

Finally she burst forth, “I can hardly wait to hear about Tommy—how he
looked, what he said when you last saw him.”

“He looked really marvelous in his uniform, but he was a little
nervous, and I’m afraid his visit here wasn’t very relaxing.”

“Why? What happened?”

“The very night he was here they caught some Jap subs in the harbor.”

“Really! Seems I do remember hearing something about the nervy little
Nips slipping into Sydney harbor.”

“And we had a box seat for the whole performance,” Miss Anna went on.

“You mean it was really near enough to see what happened?”

Miss Anna nodded, her alert eyes flashing. “During the night I was
awakened by the most infernal noise—sounded as though it came from the
very bowels of the earth—something you might imagine being a
forerunner of a volcanic eruption. But it really came from under the
water out in the harbor, the sub’s torpedoes.”

“Heavens! You must have been terrified to be so close.”

“That was only the beginning. Then came our big guns roaring from the
forts over on St. George’s Heights. The reverberations shook some
pictures off my wall.”

“It must have been like an earthquake,” put in Nancy.

“Then for a half hour there was peace, and by that time it was almost
daylight. Then the commotion broke loose again. I got into my clothes
and went out to find Tommy looking from the hall window. It was really
the sight of a lifetime. There were four little corvettes dropping
depth bombs as they careened around the harbor in wide circles.”

“Oh boy, I’ll bet Tommy was excited!” Nancy exclaimed.

“He kept saying, ‘Oh, Miss Anna, if I were only in my plane wouldn’t my
bombardier like to drop a few? We’d soon blow those subs to bits.’ But
the corvettes were doing a good job. Every time they dropped a depth
charge a huge waterspout burst high in the air—and such a terrific
noise!”

“I think I should have been yelling—worse than at a football game.”

“We were too tense and frightened. But those corvettes did get that
sub.”

“What happened then?”

“A huge dredge boat came out with cranes, and sat over the spot where
the sub lay on the bottom. But it was three days before they could get
it to the surface.”

“And by that time Tommy was gone,” said Nancy wistfully.

“He was really disappointed not to be able to wait and see it brought
to the top, but he had to go back on duty. I wrote him all about it,
though. The dredge finally brought the sub up vertically, and it was
towed across to Sharpe Island.”

“What an experience that must have been—seeing all that.”

“She had been about sixty-five feet long, but the rear end had been
blown away. What crafty creatures those Japs are! You know the front of
that sub looked like the mandibles of a beetle. It was equipped with
cutting apparatus to tear through the harbor nettings.”

“Gives me the shivers to think how close they came,” said Nancy.

“They say one of the subs got caught in the nets at the harbor
entrance.”

“How many dead Japs were there?” asked Nancy.

“Six. Their bodies were burned, according to Japanese custom, and their
ashes were buried with military honors.”

“They didn’t deserve it!” exclaimed Nancy bitterly.

Miss Anna looked at her with an odd expression. “We must not become
bitter or intolerant, even toward our enemies,” she said with gentle
persuasiveness. “We would appreciate our dead being given honorable
burial, wouldn’t we?”

“Oh, yes, of course!” exclaimed Nancy, thinking at once of her brother,
and how she had prayed that the enemy would treat him humanely if he
had fallen into their hands. But she had seen too many pictures of
scores of people thrown into common graves to credit the enemy with
ever treating any as considerately as these men from the Japanese sub
had been treated.

“If by treating their prisoners fairly it will make life easier for
even a few of ours in their prison camps it will be worth the effort,”
said Miss Anna.

“But it makes me positively ill when I think that Tommy may have fallen
into their hands,” said Nancy.

“It would be better a thousand times if he were dead,” Miss Anna told
her with conviction. “Tommy had nothing to fear in death, but horrible
things to endure if he’s a prisoner of the Japs.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Nancy said. “But I simply can’t believe he’s
dead—I can’t.”

“Don’t let wishful thinking keep you from facing reality, my dear.
There’re many things worse than death in this war.”

“I’m sure of that. But Tommy isn’t dead! I—I just know it!”

Suddenly Miss Anna’s palm stroked Nancy’s cheek caressingly. “I hope
you’re right, my dear. I must admit I, too, have a feeling that Tommy
is alive somewhere and needs help.”

Nancy glanced at her friend’s strong, kindly face, and asked, “What
makes you think that way, Miss Anna?”

“I’ve never lost the feeling since I first learned his plane had gone
down over enemy territory. Then the other night I had such a vivid
dream.”

“A dream?” Suddenly Nancy recalled that one of Miss Anna’s lectures had
been on the significance and meaning of dreams. She added her own
illuminating interpretation to what the psychologists had learned on
the subject.

“I thought I was moving through the jungle, trying to locate a voice
that was calling me. Then as I went nearer I recognized it as Tommy’s.
He was burning with fever and I brought him water from a spring. I was
so distressed because the water didn’t quench his thirst. Then I woke
suddenly with his words ringing in my ears, ‘Thank you just the same,
Miss Anna.’ I’ve hoped all along that Tommy survived a forced landing.
Since that dream I’ve felt certain that he is alive.”

Tears were shining in Nancy’s eyes as she said, “You really are a
comfort, Miss Anna.”

Her friend went to a near-by bookcase and took out a small volume of
poetry. “Here are some verses written by Anna Bright, a friend of mine
who lost her son in the last war. Instead of grieving, she used her
genius to give comfort to those who had had similar sorrows. Listen to
this:

                      “‘Were he dead, could I weep
                      For one who gladly bore
                      A cross that I might sleep
                      In peace? Could I shed tears
                      For one who died for duty;
                      Who laid aside his fears
                      That I might see the beauty
                      Of a brave soul; who went
                      Undaunted to the fray
                      Nor cared though he be rent
                      In twain?’”

“That is really the way most of them go,” said Nancy. “Not only our
Tommy, but thousands of others.”

“Not only our men, but our women, too, in this war,” said Miss Anna. “I
only wish I were young enough to do more. You’re a privileged girl,
Nancy, to be prepared to do so much.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER THIRTEEN

                           TOMMY’S BOMBARDIER


Nancy’s unit went into action in northern Australia. The trip up to the
new hospital was an exciting experience to these nurses, most of whom
had never left the States before.

“Seems queer to find it so much warmer as we go north,” said Nancy
during their first day’s travel by train.

“I feel as though I’m living upside down, or something,” remarked
Mabel. “When we’re asleep it’s broad daylight at home. While it’s warm
at home we’re shivering here.”

Though it was late fall in the southern hemisphere, flowers were still
blooming in great profusion in gardens and parks. Many of the flowers
were unfamiliar, but Nancy did recognize the hibiscus bushes. The
trees, too, were strangers to them and had strange names. They saw the
eucalyptus for the first time. Another tree had needles like the pine
back home, but fewer branches, which made it less picturesque.

To many of the American girls this was like another world. Yet when the
train stopped at stations along the way veterans of the various
campaigns came up to the windows of their carriage to greet them,
speaking English and asking about America. Most of them had old-young
faces, as if each year of fighting had been like ten of ordinary life.
Some were so newly returned from the fighting they still had that
fixed, dull look in their eyes that was to become so familiar to the
nurses later, the look of men who had seen awful things, never to be
forgotten.

“I know your men will be glad to see you American Sisters,” said a
veteran of Dunkirk at one station.

They learned that the Australian nurses were always called “Sisters.”

The hospital to which they were assigned proved to be far more
comfortable than they had anticipated. Several blocks of bungalows in a
small town had been taken over for hospital use. These houses reminded
Nancy of farmhouses in her own southland, for they were built high off
the ground on stilts, so the air could circulate under them. Like the
American houses also, they were surrounded by wide porches.

Again the nurses were packed four in a room, and Nancy had the same
congenial roommates she had had on the boat. There was little chance to
think of their own comfort, however, for they were plunged at once into
work. For the first time since they left California their foot lockers
were brought to their rooms, and once more they had all their baggage.
It seemed good to settle down and actually begin the work for which
they had trained and traveled halfway around the world.

The girls had just started unpacking when news spread that a convoy of
patients, a day overdue, was coming in. These were American boys who
had been given first treatments in field hospitals and had been flown
back from the front.

In a half-hour Nancy had donned her brown-and-white-striped seersucker
uniform and received her first assignment from Lieutenant Hauser. The
walls had been torn out of the entire lower floor of several bungalows
to make wards about seventy-five feet in length. Nancy’s heart went out
in compassion when she caught a glimpse of those long rows of beds and
the faces on those pillows—faces gray with weariness, suffering and
dirt.

Her first job, and that of many other nurses, was to get the men
cleaned up, and begin dressing their wounds. The bandages had not been
touched during the trying convoy journey from the landing field.

“It’s glad I am to see ye,” said the first man to whom Nancy ministered.

It must have taken courage to force that smile to his round Irish face,
for gangrene had taken hold of his shrapnel-shattered leg, and Nancy
knew it would have to be taken off promptly.

“And glad I am to be here,” she told him cheerfully.

“How’s everything back home?” the next boy wanted to know.

“Oh, just fine! We got here only ten days ago.”

“Haven’t had a scratch of mail in nearly four months. I hear you all
are having it pretty tough with the rationing, and strikes and all.”

“We haven’t a thing to complain of as to food,” Nancy retorted. “We’re
still living like royalty.”

“So’re we,” agreed the man whose arm had been shot off, “except once
when we ran short of supplies—caught on an island without
reinforcements.”

“We’ll make that up to you here,” Nancy assured him, and swallowed hard
on the lump in her throat. She wasn’t going to let any of this get her
down, or she couldn’t go on looking after them. “I’ll see you get an
extra helping of dessert this very day.”

“Say, if you get a whiff of apple pie please label a hunk for me.”
Suddenly the blue eyes above the shaggy beard flashed. “You know it was
a funny thing. While I was lying out there on the beach when they blew
my arm into the sea I got to thinking about Ma’s apple pies. Queer how
a fellow can think of such a thing at a time like that. Like a dumb
bloke I didn’t worry about the arm much, just thought, ‘Now it would be
just too bad if I never get to taste one o’ Ma’s apple pies again!’”

Nancy laughed in spite of her stinging tears. “I’ll see that you get a
whole pie if I have to make it myself,” she promised him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“How’s Everything Back Home?” the Boy Asked_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And so she went down the line of beds, cheering and joking with them
while she looked after their wounds. There were few complaints. But how
eagerly they welcomed the gentle hands that came to minister to them.
Most were ready with brave banter, but some, too ill for speech, turned
pleading eyes that spoke volumes toward Nancy.

Nancy’s supper hour was forgotten. There were too many who still needed
attention. When her period of duty was over she went back to her room,
feeling utterly spent. This first contact with those fresh from the
fighting zone had taken more out of her than she had anticipated. In
spite of the physical weariness Nancy had a wonderful sense of
well-being. At the moment she felt certain there was no greater work in
the world than that of any army nurse.

Mabel and Shorty had already gone out on duty when Nancy and Ida Hall
returned to their room. Nancy was relieved to see that Mabel had put
her clothes in order. The two nurses who had been off duty had arranged
hanging places for their garments. Mabel had even put Nancy’s pajamas
on the foot of her bunk, and her bedroom slippers were near by.

“It’s really going to be very comfy here,” said Nancy when she came in
from a shower at the end of the hall. However, she found that Ida Hall
was already asleep.

Nancy scarcely remembered getting into her double decker before she,
also, was asleep. That was the beginning of a routine that lasted for
several weeks; eight hours’ work eight hours’ sleep, eight hours for
eating, bathing, washing clothes, and a bit of recreation.

Even the southern hemisphere mid-winter which came in June had but a
slight cooling effect on them, for they were too close to the equator.
Nancy had been almost two months in Australia before she had her first
letters from home. There were a round dozen from her parents. Eagerly
she climbed up under her mosquito bar to enjoy them.

There was always the possibility that there might be news that Tommy
was found. So many of their friends who had first been reported missing
had later returned. The fact that Miss Anna also had a hunch that Tommy
still lived, had boosted Nancy’s own belief that he would eventually be
returned to them.

With her usual orderliness Nancy arranged the home letters according to
date and opened the oldest first. Each letter was filled with bits of
news of home and friends and encouraging words for herself. But she
read on and on without finding the longed-for news about Tommy. She had
just picked up a letter from a friend when she heard Ida Hall exclaim,
“Oh, say, there comes more work!”

Nancy crawled down from her perch to look out the window and saw a
convoy rolling into the streets between the hospital buildings. First
there were trucks packed with the wounded who were able to sit up.
These were followed by Red Cross ambulances loaded with the seriously
ill.

“They’ll more than fill the long tent they put up back of ward three,”
Nancy predicted.

She was right. They filled the tent to overflowing and some had to be
packed into the already crowded bungalow wards. Nancy was now serving
on night duty. Orders came before she went on that evening to report
for duty in the tent where the new patients had been put.

It was already dark when she took her G.I. flashlight, dimmed with blue
paper, and crossed the street behind the buildings to go to her new
assignment. Bee Tarver, the nurse she was relieving, told her the men
had all been bathed, fed and their wounds looked after. Night duty was
easier of course, though Nancy sometimes had to struggle to keep awake.
She was rather relieved to know there would be plenty to do tonight, as
Bee described the various cases.

“Number three there may have to have another hypo. He’s very
disturbed,” she explained.

Some would have to have sulpha tablets, and others must have attention
at regular intervals. One poor chap, who couldn’t move, must have his
position eased occasionally. Nancy went her rounds and toward midnight
sat down at the end of the long tent, just inside the mosquito netting.
This end of the tent was close to the bush, and the sounds of many
strange insects was like a pulse beat in the night. Once she heard
planes droning far off under the star-studded sky. Occasionally a groan
escaped someone in the tent.

Their new tent ward boasted no floor, and Nancy had to keep on the
alert for frogs and insects that got under the netting in spite of all
their precautions. She finally decided the creatures must come up from
the earth.

She had just caught a green frog in a small box and was taking him to
the door when there came a prolonged groan from cot three. She washed
her hands in the basin near the door, and hurried to the patient, who
had been sleeping ever since she came in. The electric wiring had not
even been finished, so she picked up a lantern and hung it on the tent
post above the suffering patient.

She turned around and was moving closer when the man on the bed lifted
his head and stared at her with wild eyes. Then a joyous expression
broke over the gaunt face as he cried, “Tommy, old boy! I knew you’d
get away from ’em.”

Nancy wore her seersucker trousers and shirt, and had her head tied in
a kerchief, a precaution against the wind that blew eternally across
their campsite.

If the patient had fired a gun at her, however, she could not have been
more shocked when he called her “Tommy!” Could he possibly mean her
Tommy, her own lost brother?

When she recovered from the shock, she went nearer the bed. The
brown-bearded man, his face haggard from suffering, fell back to the
pillow in disappointment.

“Aw-w,” he groaned, “I thought sure you were Tommy.”

“Tommy?” she whispered softly, putting a soothing hand on his forehead,
and brushing back the fever-wet hair. “Tommy who?”

“Tommy Dale of course. Never another pilot like him.”

Nancy was so excited she scarcely knew what she was saying as she
asked, “You thought I was Tommy?”

“I could have sworn those were Tommy’s eyes. But maybe they did get
him. He made me jump first,” the sick man rambled on. “But the plane
was still in the air when I saw it last.”

“And Tommy was in it?” she encouraged him gently, fearing his memories
might be so fragile the least shock would shatter them.

“Tommy would stick it till everybody was safely out.” He broke off as
the feverish eyes came back to the brown ones bending over him. “Your
eyes are enough like Tommy’s to belong to him. But maybe I’m dying at
last and you’re really Tommy come to see me over.”

“I’m Tommy’s sister,” she said with bated breath.

He could only stare for a moment incredulously. “No, it can’t be,” he
finally burst forth. “Things like that don’t happen.”

She pulled her dog tag from under her shirt, and held her flash so he
could read the inscription.

“Glory be to the saints!” he burst forth, seizing her hand and pressing
it to his lips.

Nancy put her flashlight on the foot of the cot for she was trembling.
She pulled a packing box closer to the man and sat down from sheer
inability to stand.

“Do you feel able to tell me what happened?” she asked.

“Gosh yes,” he said emphatically. “I can get well now! Who couldn’t
with Tommy’s sister for nurse? I know all about you,” he said, his eyes
beginning to have a more normal expression. “Tommy read me all your
letters.”

“Oh, then you’re Bruce Williams, his bombardier?”

“Sure! We were real buddies, Tom and I. No crew ever had a finer pilot.
He never gave me an order I didn’t want to follow until that last
command to jump and leave him alone to his fate.”

“Do you think there’s any chance he may be living?”

“We were over Jap-held territory. If he survived the jump there’re nine
chances out of ten he’s a prisoner.”

“But they didn’t make you a prisoner!” she exclaimed.

“Oh, yes, they did! Three long months they held me. That’s why I’m in
this fix—I broke my leg in the parachute landing and it never healed
properly, and we were all but starved to death. I hoped many a time
while I was a prisoner that Tommy was dead and out of such misery.”

“Oh, no, don’t say that!” exclaimed Nancy, tears starting to her eyes.
“I’ve never felt that Tommy was dead. He must come back to us,
sometime, somehow.”

Bruce closed his eyes wearily and turned from her a second. “I guess
you haven’t seen enough, yet, Nancy. The ones who get a clean ticket to
the other side are the lucky blokes!”

Nancy thought of the poem she had copied from Miss Anna Darien’s book:

                      “Were he dead, could I weep
                      For one who gladly bore
                      A cross that I might sleep
                      In peace?”

She took the sunburned hand lying on the sheet and stroked it gently.
Tommy’s friend brought her brother so much closer to her.

“Did any more of Tommy’s crew come through alive?”

He shook his head. “Not that I know of. Two of us were picked up by a
Jap boat and taken to a prison camp. Pete Crawford died of his injuries
three days after we got there.”

“I shouldn’t let you talk any more,” she said gently. “You must sleep
now.”

“I don’t want to sleep. It’s been so long since I talked to anyone who
cared.” He smiled diffidently, then apologized, “That may sound nervy.”

“Oh, I do care—you know I do! It’s next best thing to finding Tommy,
having you here!”

“Thanks, Nancy. Thanks a lot—a fellow gets to feeling awful sorry for
himself when he’s sick out here alone. Now it looks as if I’ve got
something to get well for.”

“But you won’t get well unless you obey my orders and go to sleep,” she
said with playful severity, as she pulled the sheet up around his damp
chest and tucked him in. He caught her hand again and pressed it to his
lips before she turned away.

There were a thousand questions she wanted to ask, but she dared not
tax his frail strength further tonight. Tomorrow, after he had slept,
she would ask him more about Tommy’s last flight.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER FOURTEEN

                             BRUCE’S REPORT


During her off hours next day Nancy went back to see Bruce. She found
him propped up, having his lunch.

“How much better you look!” she said.

He smiled at her brightly. “You gave me a new lease on life last night.”

She laughed, and suddenly he glanced up from his bowl of soup with an
expression of appraisal. “Say, but you’re pretty!” he said after his
inspection. “Much prettier than those pictures Tommy had.”

Nancy was glad she had left her hair unbound and taken pains with her
make-up. But she flushed and said, “Don’t you dare hand me blarney,
Bruce Williams. I’m too tall to be pretty.”

“The idea! I hear that’s the kind they’re hunting for the New York
shows now—tall gals.”

“Tommy’s only one inch taller than I am, and our coloring and eyes are
so much alike—no wonder you thought my eyes were his last night.
Everyone says we do look lots alike.”

“Sure do.”

“People used to take us for twins when we were growing up.”

“It’s the eyes that are so much alike—something in those Dale eyes
that goes straight to your heart.”

She sat down on a packing box by his bed and said, “I wanted to ask you
last night how you finally got away from those Japs.”

“I guess God just answered my prayers and sent our own boys to Manka
Island.”

“Oh, were you there when they took it?”

“That’s where they kept the ones who weren’t able to work in their
fields. I’d been better off if I could have worked. They get more food
I hear, and have a better chance to store up supplies for escape.”

“We’ve had some accounts back home from those who escape,” she told
him. “But just how were you freed?”

“Those Japs just cleared out and left us to our fate when the firing
got too warm. Some of our own men were killed by the American firing.
That’s how I got the spatter of shrapnel in my side.”

“It must have been marvelous to see your own countrymen coming ashore
on that island,” she said.

“You’re tellin’ me!” he exclaimed. “Santa Claus at Christmas when I was
a kid, was never more welcome than those khaki uniforms coming in
through the jungle.”

“Had you been on the same island all the time?”

He nodded as he finished his soup and pushed the bowl to one side of
the tray. “I haven’t a very clear idea of the location,” he admitted.
“I never paid much attention to the directions. My job was to spill
those bombs at the right place. I didn’t worry about the rest.”

He cleared a place on the tray and began to draw an imaginary map with
his finger. “See, it was something like this. Here’s Australia, and
over here’s New Caledonia where we took off, and here’re the islands we
headed for.”

“Wait a minute,” said Nancy. “I’ll get a map, then you can sketch me a
more detailed plan of the area you operated in.”

“Sure,” agreed Bruce. Then a shadow crossed his face. “But what’s the
use? We can’t go out there and look for Tommy.”

“Who knows?” she asked, stubbornly clinging to her hopes. “I may
sometime get to the islands. I want to hear every detail you can recall
about the location.”

“Of course, I’ll do the map for you.” Then he added hastily, “But don’t
go for paper now.”

“Sure. I’ll get that later. But right now I want you to tell me
everything you can remember about that last trip with Tommy.”

“I could never forget any detail of it. Did you know it was Tommy’s
last mission before he would be free to go home?”

Nancy’s heart almost stopped beating for a moment. “No, I didn’t! He
had written us he was almost through, however, and would be coming home
soon.”

“It’s that last flight that generally gives our pilots the jitters,”
Bruce explained. “And the last five or six are no picnics.”

“I can well imagine that.”

“Naturally we had our bird tuned up and checked down to the last bolt.
She took off, singing as sweet as any lark as we flew into the
northwest. We had spilled our load on some Jap oil tankers and were on
our way back when those nasty Zeros knocked one of our engines out of
commission.”

“How about the crew?”

“O.K. then, but the next hail of fire got our co-pilot, Jack Turner.
Tom kept his head until the other engine began to sputter. For a while
he tried to make it closer to our own territory, but it was no go.”

Nancy was folding the hem of the sheet into tight little creases while
she listened tensely. “Then you had to jump?” she asked.

Bruce nodded again. “Every man knew his job, of course. We had done it
time and again in practice. I destroyed my bombsight. All our bombs had
already been spilled, but I saw that the bomb-bay doors were tightly
closed, ready for the plane to hit the water.”

“What was the use of taking all those precautions when you had to jump
anyhow?”

“You know that bombsight, Nancy, is America’s own prize possession. No
bombardier leaves that for anybody to investigate. St. Peter wouldn’t
ever let anybody through the pearly gates who had left that little
instrument intact behind him.”

Nancy smiled in spite of her heavy heart. “I don’t see how you can keep
up your joking like that.”

“Better to laugh than cry.”

Janice, who was on duty, came to take Bruce’s tray away. When she had
gone Nancy asked, “You didn’t see Tommy jump after you hit the water?”

“No. I think he meant to ditch the plane after we were out. He loved
that bird like something human. He meant to stick to her till the last
minute.”

“Then you think he went down with her to the bottom—like a captain
with his ship?”

“Oh, no! If he landed on the water O.K. there’d be a few minutes when
he could get out and try to swim to one of the rubber boats.”

“Oh, you had rubber boats?”

“Sure! Pete Crawford, our radio man, pulled the levers to release the
life boats just before he jumped. You know, they inflate as they go
down. Vernon Goodwin, our top gunner, had filled them with water, food
supplies and navigation instruments.”

“Did you find one of them when you jumped?”

“We were lucky. Pete and I came down close together and reached one of
the boats. We might have made it somewhere with the provisions we had,
if those Japs hadn’t picked us up before dark.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“Did You See Tommy Jump?” Nancy Asked Bruce_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“If you saw Tommy still in the air after you got into the boat he must
have been too far away to swim to any of the other boats after he hit
the water.”

“I’ve worried a lot about that,” Bruce told her. “But it looked to me
as though the plane was turned back in our direction. There was a
wooded island on the horizon, and pretty soon our ship was so low we
lost sight of it behind those trees.”

“An island!” exclaimed Nancy. “Do you think Tommy might have swum to
it?”

“That was our only hope for Tommy and the others. Some jumped after we
did, and might have come down nearer that island. Pete and I started
paddling in that direction, but we’d both been hurt and the distances
were deceiving. My cracked leg had begun to swell, and any movement was
agony. Pete checked out clean for a spell, and I was afraid he was
gone. Before we realized what had happened the island was nowhere to be
seen.”

Nancy smoothed out his sheet, and sat silent. After a moment she said,
“Bruce, when you draw that map of the islands write down the names of
all Tommy’s crew and the positions they held.”

“Now why do you want that?”

“I may run across some of the others somewhere. Maybe someone was
nearer Tommy when he ditched and will know what became of him.”

“Now don’t you go getting your hopes up, Nancy. There’s not a chance in
a hundred that any of the others will turn up.”

“You do what I ask anyhow,” persisted Nancy. “When I get home I’ll
write to the families of all the crew and tell them what I know. Even
though there may be no hope, it’s some comfort to know the details.”

“I suppose that would give our relatives some satisfaction,” Bruce
admitted. “I’ve been so full of my own woes since I got back I haven’t
thought of the folks back home wanting to hear about the others.”

“Who in your condition wouldn’t be preoccupied with his own woes?”
asked Nancy understandingly. “But we’re going to have you on your feet
again before too long.”

Nancy did all in her power to speed Bruce’s recovery in the weeks that
followed. She felt a real personal pride in his improvement. At last
there came a day when he was able to walk to the recreation room with
only the aid of a stick and her arm. The nurses had fixed up this room
for the use of convalescing patients.

“I mustn’t get well too fast,” Bruce said with a twinkle in his nice
gray eyes, “or they’ll be sending me away from here.”

Bruce was sitting opposite Nancy at a game of bridge that day, and she
thought how really handsome he was, now that he had shaved off his
beard, and his gaunt cheeks were beginning to fill out.

Pat Walden, the one-armed chap, for whom Nancy had finally made the
apple pie, sat opposite Mabel. Nancy had devised a rack with nails
driven through wood for Pat to stand his cards in while he played with
his one hand. Her mother had sent out some magazines, published for the
handicapped in the states. Nancy and Pat had quite an interesting time
exploring the back issues in search of gadgets to help the one-armed.
The magazines had gone the rounds of others who must begin life all
over with various handicaps. Pat had a way of making jokes about his
trouble, and Nancy had played the game with him as he learned to do
things with one hand.

Many of the boys, however, were sullen and sensitive about their
afflictions, and with these the nurses had to pretend that their
handicaps didn’t exist. Though the wounds in Bruce’s side had been slow
in healing, and he would always limp from the improperly knit leg bone,
at least his body was whole, and the doctors assured him he would be
strong again.

At the moment the number of cases was slightly reduced in number. Many
of the earlier patients had been sent to ports to be taken home on
ships that brought nurses and men over.

“I heard a rumor today,” said Mabel, “that we may be moved soon—out to
the islands.”

“Soon?” asked Nancy eagerly.

“Don’t know. I just got a whiff of a change.”

“Nothing would thrill me more.”

Bruce threw down a card with vigor and glanced across at his
fellow-sufferer. “That’s the way they treat us, Pat. Eager to leave us
to our fate.”

“You’ll be moving on yourselves before too long,” Nancy assured him.

“Just when I’m beginning to enjoy life here,” said Bruce, “Nancy looks
forward to leaving me.”

Nancy flushed, seeing the other two at the table figuratively cock
their ears.

“Oh, you’ll soon be able to get along without any nursing,” Nancy
assured him.

“I can never get along again in this life without you,” he told her,
regardless of their audience.

“Say, what’s all this?” burst forth Mabel. “A public proposal in broad
open daylight?”

“Don’t be silly!” exclaimed Nancy.

Bruce laughed heartily at Nancy’s chagrin. “Thanks a lot, Mabel, for
helping me out. I’ve been trying to figure out a good opening for a
proposal for the last week.”

“You’ll surely have to make an improvement before I’ll accept you,”
stated Nancy, triumphantly trumping Bruce’s ace.

Bruce looked from Mabel to Pat Walden, and said mischievously, “You’ll
both stand witness that she’s practically accepted me.”

“Stick to your card playing, Bruce,” said Nancy pertly. “This is no
time to settle down to marriage. We have a war to win.”

“But it’s not too early to begin making plans for the peace,” he
retorted promptly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER FIFTEEN

                                PARTING


The nurses made quite a festive occasion out of the Fourth of July.
Although it was midwinter, Northern Australia was close enough to the
equator for the weather to be like midsummer at home. Nancy as chairman
of the program committee, started weeks ahead trying to collect flags
and bunting to decorate the wards. Miss Anna Darien and the Red Cross
workers back in Sydney sent her boxes that were real gold mines for her
purpose.

Their hospital was not far from a camp of negro soldiers from the
states. These colored men were primarily employed in pushing convoys
through northern Australia. Nancy, knowing how beautifully some of them
sang, suggested that Major Reed invite a group over to entertain the
wounded on their American holiday.

Nancy feared rain might spoil their program, which was to be outdoors,
but she took chances on having the bandstand arranged in the middle of
the street within view of most of the buildings. Though they had
sloshed through enough rain to float a transport the last weeks, the
sky actually cleared a few hours before time for their program.

For a change the nurses all donned their white uniforms, and in spite
of the heat the medical officers put on coats and ties. The
convalescents, still in pajamas, were supplied with benches around the
bandstand. Everyone seemed excited at the prospect of a little
diversion.

“Say, but you look like an angel in that white uniform,” Bruce
exclaimed when he saw Nancy.

He could walk almost erect now, without bending to the pain in his
side. He had been given new clothes, which he wore for the first time
that day, and Nancy thought him even more handsome than ever in his
lieutenant’s uniform.

“You’re not bad-looking yourself,” she told him.

“For the forty-ninth time, do I look good enough to be your husband?”

“Now, Bruce,” she began severely, “I have to keep my mind on this
program and can’t think of the future just now.”

“All right! All right!” he said and grinned impishly. “I won’t ask you
again today, but I make no promises for tomorrow.”

“I have a surprise for you,” she said, when she was about to leave him
on one of the seats. “Hope you’ll like it.”

“I like anything you do,” he assured her.

“I’m not so sure,” she retorted. “Remember, I’m from Georgia and you
from New York state.”

“I can’t imagine what difference that would ever make.”

“Just wait and see.”

The convalescents’ band led off with _The Star Spangled Banner_. Though
Nancy had stood at attention a thousand times or more she still
thrilled to the stirring music, and her heart swelled with pride that
she was now an essential part of these great armies, intent upon
keeping their own flags waving over all the lands of the free and homes
of the brave.

After the national anthem Lieutenant Hauser led the nurses in singing
_America the Beautiful_. Then the negro chorus stepped forward to give
them a program of spirituals in sonorous, harmonizing voices. First
they chanted _I’m Goin’ Down De River o’ Jordan_. Then their choir
leader sang a solo with a group behind him humming an accompaniment,
soft and sweet as any deep-toned organ. They finished off their first
group with _Swing Low, Sweet Chariot_, which brought such storms of
applause the spiritual had to be repeated.

When the hospital band struck up a march a group of nurses stepped out,
bearing flags of the Allied Nations, and took a snappy turn around the
flagpole. Every spectator, down to the last crippled convalescent,
sprang to his feet and stood at salute. Then suddenly Sousa’s march
blended into the lilting strains of _Dixie_. As the gallant music rang
through the Australian bush, Nancy, who carried the American flag in
the center of the group of nations, suddenly unfurled a small
Confederate flag beneath the Stars and Stripes.

Bruce Williams and Pat Walden, standing on the sidelines, were the
first to notice the battle-scarred Stars and Bars, and started
cheering. The colored troops caught their enthusiasm and began to sing
with the band. A moment later every spectator was singing the old song
with all the zest possible. When the band crashed out the last notes
the marching group broke up amid much clapping and cheers.

“You made a real hit with that, Nancy,” said Major Reed when Nancy went
back to the grandstand where he sat.

The Major gave a brief talk on the cause for which they were fighting.
He praised the fine courage of the men who had already paid so great a
price, and spoke words of commendation for the nurses and doctors who
were serving them so faithfully.

After the outdoor program Nancy and Miss Hauser went into the wards
with the negro chorus which was glad to sing the familiar songs over
and over so that all might hear.

When they had finished Nancy and Miss Hauser were thanking the singers
when Nancy said to Sam Turner, leader of the chorus, “There’s surely
something very familiar about your face, Sam.”

Sam’s wide mouth spread in a grin, “Reckon so. Plenty people seen dis
mug, Miss. I used to be porter on de Dixie Flyer—dat special ’tween
New York and Miami.”

“Oh, then maybe I’ve seen you there. I used to catch that train north
sometimes.”

“Dem wus de days,” said Sam, rolling his eyes. “Many’s de time I pick
up fifty dollar in tips on de way down.” He grinned knowingly. “Dey wus
neber quite so flush comin’ back from Florida in de spring.”

“That’s all a thing of the past now, Sam—till we get this big job
done,” said Nancy.

“Yas’m, sho is, Miss. I’se mighty glad to see y’all folks from down
home he’pin’ wid it.”

When the singers had driven away, Nancy’s superior officer turned to
her and said, “We have you to thank for a wonderful program, Nancy. I
had no idea you could get up anything so nice.”

“Thanks,” said Nancy happily. “It really went off more smoothly than I
expected. But I never could have done it without Miss Anna Darien, and
the Red Cross back in Sydney. They got me the colors for decorations,
and the flags of the different countries.”

“Not the confederate flag?” questioned Lieutenant Hauser, and smiled
reminiscently at the hurrah it had created.

Nancy lowered her eyes self-consciously. “I was a little nervous as to
how they might receive that,” she admitted.

“You made quite a hit. I’m sure I never felt such a wave of enthusiasm
as they put into _Dixie_.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _“There’s Something Familiar About Your Face, Sam.”_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“So many of the boys here at the hospital are southern boys,” Nancy
explained. “And I knew the negroes would love it.”

“But where did you get the flag?” persisted Miss Hauser.

“I brought it over with me,” Nancy confessed. “You see it’s the same
little flag that my great-grandfather Dale carried all through the
Civil War. Dad gave it to me just before I left. He said it had brought
Grand-dad through his campaigns safely, and he thought it might bring
me good luck.”

“I suppose there’s still a lot of sentiment in the south about that old
flag,” said Miss Hauser.

“Yes, there is. It would be hard for anyone else to understand how we
feel about the lost cause. Not that we would change things as they are
now. But we have a lot of respect and love for those old fellows who
fought and suffered so much for what they thought was right. There were
some marvelous military leaders among them, you know.”

“Indeed there were,” agreed Lieutenant Hauser. “Our men study the
military tactics of Lee, Jackson and the others.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Nancy, “but I’m glad to hear it.”

When they were about to separate, Miss Hauser said, “Oh, I almost
forgot—Major Reed has asked to see you when your work is finished.”

Nancy lifted her eyebrows slightly, wondering what was brewing.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll go now.”

She found Major Reed in his office. He had already discarded his coat
and tie and was drinking a coke.

“I’ll have one sent in for you,” he said, as he motioned Nancy to a
chair beside his desk. Chairs were luxuries and Nancy sat down
gratefully, for she suddenly felt very tired.

“A fresh supply just came in from the States,” Major Reed explained as
he opened her bottle.

“My, that tastes like the corner drugstore at home,” said Nancy.

He studied her a moment, then asked, “Homesick?”

“Oh, no. I’m having a wonderful time.”

His face relaxed. “I was afraid you were homesick.”

“Of course I’d like better than anything else to see Mom and Dad, and
have a peep at all the folks back home, but I’d want to be right here
the next day.”

“You wouldn’t mind going even deeper into it?” he asked.

She sent him a speculative glance. “Oh, Major Reed, are we going to get
out to the islands?”

“You guessed right.”

For a moment Nancy felt as uplifted as she had been on the night she
took her Florence Nightingale pledge so long ago. Major Reed was
opening the door to the goal for which she had worked so long.

“You’ve been such a good scout, Nancy, and put on such a splendid
program today this was the only reward I could offer you right now—to
tell you a little ahead of the others that we’re soon going out into
the Pacific. I fear the work here will seem like play compared with
what we’ll meet there.”

“I’m ready and eager to go,” she assured him. “When do we leave?”

“Shortly. But you are not to mention it until it’s officially
announced.”

The general announcement was made sooner than Nancy dared hope—three
evenings later. They had to be ready to leave the following morning.
The new nursing unit was expected in that night to take over.

Before Nancy started packing she went to find Bruce Williams and tell
him good-bye. He was genuinely distressed.

“I was afraid it was too much good luck, having you here even this
long,” he said.

“But you won’t be here much longer either,” she told him. She leaned
across the table in the recreation room where he had been reading.
“I’ll tell you something if you won’t mention it.”

“Oh, jimminy! Nancy, are you really going to marry me?”

“Don’t be silly!” she exclaimed. “We’ve got a war to win first. I was
going to tell you that you’re going to be sent home with the next bunch
that goes out from here.”

“Say, but that _is_ great!”

“See, if I hadn’t been sent out first, I’d be the one left behind.”

“Seems as if it can’t be true—going home at last. For so long I gave
up hopes of ever seeing the folks, as you call them down south.”

He caught her hand and looked pleadingly into her eyes. “But Nancy,
when you come home, too, will you promise to think seriously about what
I’ve been asking you every day?”

For the first time she took him seriously and said, “I surely will,
Bruce. And you won’t forget to pray that somehow Tommy will get back to
us?”

“You bet I won’t, Nancy.”

When she stood up to leave he started to rise also, but she pressed her
hand on his shoulder, holding him down firmly, for it was still
difficult for him to get up and down.

“Don’t stand,” she said. “I must run along.”

Suddenly she bent and kissed him lightly on the forehead, then hurried
away before he could come after her, making their parting harder. Nancy
found that the most trying aspect of her work was making friends, then
having to leave them behind.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER SIXTEEN

                             BEACH LANDING


The convoy in which they moved out into the Pacific again was quite
different from that in which they had come across. There were beach
landing boats of many kinds in the great fleet. Though this indicated
that they were to go ashore on some beach, Nancy’s unit had no idea
what island that would be. To most it was a matter of indifference, but
to Nancy it was immensely important in which direction their convoy
moved.

In her musette bag she had tucked away the little map Bruce had drawn
for her, with the names of Tommy’s bomber crew. She would never give up
hope of learning more from some of them as to Tommy’s fate.

The crowded transport on which they traveled could not supply all with
sleeping quarters. Nancy and Mabel were among the women who volunteered
to sleep on deck the first night. The second night they took a turn
below, but found it so crowded, and the air so bad they preferred their
bed rolls on deck. Bathing was practically taboo, as their water supply
had to be conserved for drinking. The second day out Jap fliers
discovered them, so that helmets and Mae Wests were their inseparable
companions. Their voyage across from home seemed like a pleasure cruise
by comparison.

“I’ll surely have more sympathy with the dirty men we have to clean up
hereafter,” said Mabel, trying to reach under her “Mae West” to do a
bit of scratching.

“I’ve been wondering if I’ve gotten fleas or something,” said Nancy. “I
remind myself of old Bozo back home. He’s always clawing at some part
of his anatomy.”

When the Jap planes came over they had their first real chance to
discover of what stuff they were made. To Nancy’s consternation she was
almost paralysed with fear. She glanced at the few possessions she had
with her, wondering which she ought to take to the lifeboat. It was
awful to see those busters sending up great waterspouts where they
fell, and never to know if the next would land in their midst. What a
relief it was when their own planes went into action, and the Japs
turned tail.

But the aggravating Zeros came over again in the night. Decks had been
cleared and Nancy and Mabel huddled side by side on a bunk, listening
to attackers and defenders roaring overhead. Nancy had been in a
Florida hurricane once that made her feel like this. All night long the
oncoming gusts of wind had threatened to level the beach cottage. She
wondered how she had ever survived that night when almost momentarily
she had expected death. But tonight she lived the horrible experience
all over again. No one could tell as a plane zoomed low over their ship
whether it was a Jap or American. Time and again they braced themselves
for the explosion they were certain must come. She and Mabel clutched
each other’s hands till their fingers ached.

“It’s beginning to look as though Major Reed has over-estimated my
courage,” she whispered ruefully to Mabel.

“I never before realized how wicked I am,” groaned Mabel. “All my sins
seem rising up to slap me in the face now.”

Suddenly Nancy laughed hysterically, “You’re the limit, Mabel.”

Mabel giggled and their tension was broken. “Let’s put on our helmets
and go out in the hall where we can keep up with what’s happening,”
Mabel suggested. “I always feel better in a thunderstorm when I’m
standing where I can see the lightning strike.”

They went out to the passage nearest their lifeboat, and felt more
comfortable. Almost immediately after they stationed themselves there,
however, the attackers were driven off and peace descended once more on
the dark flotilla.

Not until next morning did they learn that a ship some distance behind
them had been struck and sent to the bottom. She was a tanker, and only
about half her crew were picked up by neighboring vessels.

“But for the grace of God that might have been us,” said Nancy sadly.

When they were approaching the end of their dangerous voyage, the
nurses learned some details of the situation they were to face. Their
destination was Koshu Island, half of which had already been taken from
the Japs. The prolonged struggle to gain complete possession of the
area had caused many casualties, making a hospital unit imperative.

There would be many more casualties they knew from this reinforcing
armada of which they were a part, to replace those being sent out from
the island by plane.

Excitement rippled over the transport when the troops and nurses
sighted their destination, a fluted outline of ragged palms silhouetted
against a white-hot tropical sky. The beach-head which they were to
occupy had been taken weeks ago, so the landing would not be as
dangerous as it had been for the earlier force.

About a mile offshore the flotilla came to anchor. All morning Nancy
and her companions watched the landing craft of many types push in
close against the beach, putting men and munitions ashore. Much of the
infantry had come all the way from Australia aboard the larger landing
craft. When these boats had discharged their passengers they returned
to the transports, and filled up again. On one of these landing craft
for infantry, Nancy’s unit went ashore.

While they waited their turn, watching the maneuvers over the wide
theater of action, Major Reed proffered Nancy his field glasses. She
shared them with Mabel, who stood at her side.

“Do look yonder,” she said, pointing to the eastern end of the island.

Mabel whistled softly when she adjusted the glasses. “That must have
been where they took the beach-head!” she said. “Our artillery surely
did riddle that piece of coconut jungle.”

Most of the trees had been topped, and reminded Nancy of blackened
chimneys she had seen once when several city blocks burned. The open
beach lying between the jungle and the sea was strewn with the wreckage
of a campsite.

No nurse had been allowed to bring more than she could carry in her own
hands, so Nancy’s suitcase and musette bag were packed to heavy
tightness. For two hours they waited with their baggage around them.
But at last they went aboard the landing craft. Nancy was relieved when
finally the boat moved toward shore to see that they were not headed
for that battle-scarred point to the east. Buzzards still circled above
it, and she surmised they had not yet completed their ghastly task of
cleaning up the remains of battle.

It was exciting to see landing ramps go down on each side of the
craft’s bow, like stairs descending into the shallow surf. The nurses
watched while the first men went ashore, their helmets on, their bodies
padded with their packs, their guns held high above the lapping waves.

Then a line of men formed from the long ramps to the sandy beach as
guard while the women went ashore. Nancy, Mabel and fifty others, took
off their G.I. shoes, stuffed their stockings inside, tied their shoes
together by the laces and hung them around their necks. They rolled the
legs of their coveralls high above their knees, and with many excited
squeals and giggles hurried down the ramps and into the cool water
breaking on the shore.

As soon as she reached the beach Nancy sat down to put on her shoes for
the sands were burning hot. Before she rose she paused to say a silent
prayer of thanksgiving that at last she was on one of the Pacific
islands, the goal of her dreams these many months.

“Surely looks as though we’re in for tropical living here,” remarked
Mabel, glancing at the jungle wall not far from the lapping tide.

“Look farther down the beach,” Nancy pointed out. “Isn’t that a
marvelous sight?”

As far as they could see along the beach, landing craft of every sort
were pushing up to shore. The one next their own infantry craft was a
huge affair, and even while they looked its large doors opened toward
land. A tank rumbled forth into shallow water, and rolled up to dry
land. It was followed by several others.

“Gosh, doesn’t it thrill you to think how fast and efficiently our
country works,” said Mabel. “They tell me it wasn’t till the fall of
1942 that the first models of these landing ships were made—and look
at this already.”

“Surely the Japs can’t beat a country like ours!” said Nancy proudly.

But even while she spoke there came a rumbling of heavy guns far beyond
that jungle wall. Mabel had taken off her helmet to let the wind play
through her red hair, that was like a nimbus around her face in the
sunshine. Suddenly at the sound of firing she slapped the helmet back
on her head.

“Say, but that doesn’t sound as if it’s going to be so easy to whip
them!” she groaned.

Farther out in the deep water they could see troops still being
transferred from the great transports to the landing craft. Another
landing boat pushed up to the beach close to where they stood. It
didn’t look to be longer than about a hundred feet. When its ramp was
lowered it disgorged so many trucks and small tanks they wondered how
they had all been stored inside.

As far as they could see along the beach, troops, equipment and boxes
of supplies filled almost every available foot of space. The earlier
invading army had cleared a road with tractors through the heart of the
jungle. The leveled trees had been used on the most swampy ground to
make corduroy roads. But the hospital unit was not to follow the
marching troops into the interior.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Landing Craft Pushed up to Shore_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

A small detachment of men set up camp east of the road, while the
western side was cleared for the hospital site. A small stream
meandered through the grounds to supply them with water for bathing and
laundry. They had brought their own drinking water against the
possibility of not finding pure water.

A squad of negroes cleared underbrush from under the towering palms,
cut a few trees here and there, and with almost magic swiftness the
tent hospital went up. Those men took care of the long tents that were
to serve as hospital wards and mess hall, but the nurses put up their
own sleeping quarters.

The first night they had to sleep on their bedding rolls on the beach,
for their campsite had not been entirely cleared. Before the second
night, however, Nancy, Mabel, Shorty and Ida were prepared to sleep in
their own tent.

“I never dreamed we could be so cozily settled in so short a time,”
said Nancy.

Even their mosquito bars were up, and they had the prospect of a decent
night’s sleep, for the previous one had been a nightmare. Only by
covering up completely could they be free of the torturing pricks of
mosquitoes, and then they sweltered.

At intervals during the first twenty-four hours there had come the
rumble of heavy firing in the distance, like an approaching
thunderstorm. No doubt those troops and tanks that had moved on beyond
the jungle wall were already in the thick of the fight.

An hour before sunset of their second day ashore the thundering
reverberations were increased ten-fold. Before dark, their tent
hospital, not yet ready for patients, was precipitated into action.
Ambulances began rolling in from the north. Those first patients had to
be stretchered on the sands of the beach. To Nancy’s amazement she
found that some were not bloody, wounded men.

In reply to her inquiry about them Captain Crawford said, “They tell me
they’re prisoners—our men, freed when they took over a native village.”

Some had evidently been in line of the attacking fire Nancy discovered
as she bent over a chap with a shredded arm.

“Were you a prisoner of the Japs?” she asked.

“Not me.”

Even as he replied Nancy realized from his well-fed look that he must
have been one of the attackers.

“I got this as we took the village. Those poor creatures in that
ambulance yonder were prisoners.”

“Many of them?” asked Nancy, wishing she could look after them.

“A dozen or so, I suppose. More had been there, but had passed beyond
our help.”

“Who are they? Did you hear any of their names?”

“Sister, we didn’t stop for that. They were Americans and that was
enough for us.”

Nancy had been cutting away the boy’s bloody shirt as she talked, and
now she began to clean his wound. Captain Crawford came to probe for
lead. Nancy gave the soldier a hypo and the doctor went back to his
first patient while it took effect.

“You nurses and doctors got here just in time,” said the young corporal
gratefully.

“Then you were here before?” she asked.

“Three weeks we’ve been driving ’em north.”

“You were lucky to escape so far.”

“Glad they waited till you got here,” he said, beginning to look drowsy.

A few minutes later the boy was sleeping, his wound dressed, and Nancy
rose to go to the next cot. She sent a fleeting glance along the beach
and under the towering palms where men with all manner of wounds were
lying. Here was work enough for a hundred nurses. She saw there would
be no sleep for any of the fifty who were here tonight. A doctor near
by was amputating an arm, working fast while the daylight lasted.

Mabel worked with the released prisoners. She was giving plasma to one,
evidently at the point of death. Nancy paused to give her a hand. She
was amazed to see that the man’s hair was snow white.

“Wonder how anyone this old got into the service?” she whispered to
Mabel.

The man’s face was brown and creased as cracked leather. Only a loin
cloth hung about his waist, while every rib could be counted in his
shriveled body. His limbs were mere skin-covered bones, making the
joints seem abnormally large. In spite of all this they could see he
had once been a powerful, tall man.

“He looks too dark to be an American,” said Nancy dubiously.

“This sun can cook anybody’s skin that brown. Look, his dog tag’s still
on. That gives his data,” said Mabel, for she had already referred to
it to get his blood type.

The man was in a coma. There seemed slight chance they could bring him
around, yet there was life still in his pulse, and they did everything
which modern science knew to strengthen that feeble spark.

Nancy picked up the tag from the bony chest and read, “Vernon Goodwin.”

“Yep. I noticed that when I looked for his blood type,” said Mabel.

“Nearest relative, V. P. Goodwin, Graceville, S. C. Not only an
American, but a southerner!” exclaimed Nancy. “Protestant religion.
Vernon Goodwin—Vernon Goodwin,” she repeated softly.

To her surprise the sick man’s eyelids fluttered, and Nancy thought the
light of consciousness welled up as he looked at her a moment. The lips
tried to move, but no words came.

“There’s something familiar in that name, Mabel.”

“Common enough name back home—Goodwin.”

“Could he be one of Tommy’s bomber crew?”

Again the eyelids fluttered, and again the lips tried to move.

“Mabel, I’ve got to know!” exclaimed Nancy. “I’m going to run up to our
tent to get that list Bruce wrote for me.”

Nancy was back in five minutes, but Mabel had moved to the next man.
Her face was shining with an inner light when she went up to her friend
and said, “It is one of them, Mabel. Vernon Goodwin, Tommy’s gunner.”

“Well of all things!” burst forth Mabel. “It’s a little world after
all.”

“But he may die, poor soul!”

“He has only a slim chance I’d say, even to realize he’s been rescued,
much less to tell you about the disaster.”

“But Mabel, we’ve got to bring him through—somehow! Surely he can tell
us about Tommy. Why Tommy may even be among these prisoners.”

As the idea seized her Nancy hurried off to search the faces of those
prisoners. She looked at each emaciated face with hope, only to turn
away with a heavy heart. Then the idea came to her that Tommy’s
suffering might have changed him beyond recognition, so she went back
among the prisoners, this time examining their dog tags.

When she passed Mabel a second time her friend gave her a sharp look
and said, “Snap out of it, Nancy! You’d better get back on the job or
they’ll be jacking you up for shirking duty.”

Nancy flushed and came to herself with a start. She had never received
a reprimand of that sort and would have felt disgraced to merit it in
this first real testing hour.

Several times during the night, however, she returned to see about
Vernon Goodwin. At last as she turned her light on his face to watch
his breathing she thought she saw a faint color in his dry lips. He
must live, he must! She kept saying the words to herself. If he died
she might never know what had really become of Tommy. Vernon seemed her
last hope of gaining some clue that might lead to rescuing him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

                           THE GUNNER’S STORY


The systematic routine of nursing, in which Nancy and her fellow
workers had been so carefully trained, had to be forgotten in the
trying days that followed. Although the nurses went on duty at stated
intervals, theoretically to work for eight hours, few ever stopped
before reaching the point of exhaustion. Even with their large and
well-balanced unit there were not half enough to meet the need.

“If the nurses back home could fly out here for one night—just to see
how badly we need help,” said Nancy, “they couldn’t get into the ANC
fast enough.”

“Don’t you worry—I’m going to tell ’em a few things in my next letters
home,” Mabel assured her.

Mabel was beginning to look something like a guinea egg, for the hot
sun and constant glare had peppered her fair face with freckles. She
wore her hair pinned up tightly under her kerchief, as most of the
others did. Wind blew almost constantly across the island, and without
some protection hair would always be in their faces.

Nancy had burned badly on their last sea voyage, and was now beginning
to peel. “There’s one consolation,” she remarked to Mabel. “Everybody
looks about as bad as everybody else.”

“And who gives a hang?” Mabel wanted to know. “There’re really more
important things to think about. It’s what you can do and hold up under
that counts these days.”

It took some time for Nancy to condition herself to that constant
rumble of artillery. At first each reverberation that shook their tent
poles set her aquiver. She knew that every blast only increased the
number of dead and wounded.

Life on Koshu was as complicated as a three-ring circus. Besides the
continual rumble of artillery, as the Americans pushed north across the
island, there was the constant drone of planes overhead. At first Nancy
had the impulse to run out and look up to discover whether they were
Japs or Americans, but she soon learned to trust their sirens to give
her warning of danger. She had her job to do. If she was to keep fit
for it she must concentrate on her own part of the great task.

By the third day the hospital was full to overflowing. Nancy and her
quartette offered their private tent to give shelter to more wounded.
Other nurses followed their example. The negro camp helpers built the
nurses a long shelter, roofed with palm fronds. Some of the island
natives, dubbed “Fuzzy Wuzzies” because of their bushy heads, directed
the construction. The nurses called their new quarters the fresh-air
dormitory. Though there was plenty of fresh air there was certainly
little privacy.

“Who has time for privacy these days?” Nancy wanted to know.

Their new quarters proved to be much cooler than the tents. Mosquito
bars were hung from the palm-trunk rafters. By the time the nurses were
able to crawl under their nets they were so exhausted they missed none
of the luxuries of normal life. To be able to stretch out and sleep
awhile on a canvas cot seemed luxury enough.

The little area which each nurse’s cot covered was her small kingdom.
Her gas mask and helmet hung from the head of the bed when she was not
on duty. Her packed musette bag was at the foot. Beneath the cot was
her suitcase and other possessions.

The day after they moved into their fresh-air dormitory Nancy found a
snake reposing in the cool shadows under her cot. He was the harmless
sort, so with a long stick she prodded him until he decided to seek
more peaceful quarters on the path leading to the stream.

Next morning Nancy stuck her foot into her shoe to find a lizard had
spent the night there. She tossed the inhabited G.I. away with such a
screech all her neighbors lifted sleepy heads to see if the Japs had
labeled a bomb for her.

Though Nancy made light of the small difficulties of their quarters her
heart was often heavy as she anxiously watched and prayed for Vernon
Goodwin’s recovery. During the first twenty-four hours after they
placed him in the tent it seemed that life would flicker out at any
moment. The news got round that Vernon had been one of Tommy Dale’s
bomber crew, and the entire staff concentrated their efforts toward his
recovery. Lieutenant Herbert York, in charge of his ward, gave him
every treatment that modern science had discovered for restoring life
to a starved body. To her great satisfaction, they transferred Nancy to
his ward.

On the fourth day Vernon showed the first real promise of recovery. An
hour after daylight Nancy was scheduled to go off duty, but she didn’t
want to leave Vernon. He had roused and his lids had fluttered open
several times. To the watching nurse’s delight his look of confusion
had vanished.

“Wouldn’t you like something to eat?” she asked hopefully. “Lieutenant
York said you could have something this morning.”

He turned his head and looked at her a long time. “You’re an American
nurse,” he whispered as if he could scarcely believe the wonderful
truth.

She nodded and smiled. Then she took a grip on herself to keep from
saying anything that would shock him.

“I suppose I don’t look very much like one in this seersucker suit and
with my head tied up. But you’re safe in an American hospital, Vernon,
and you’re going to get well,” she assured him.

“I never thought it could happen,” he whispered. He turned his head
slowly as if looking for someone. “Did they bring the others out?” he
asked after an interval.

“Who?” she asked. “The rest of the bomber crew?”

A shadow darkened his eyes.

“Was Tommy with them?” she asked. Then she was frightened for fear his
answer would bring an end to all her hopes.

“No.”

“No?” she repeated in an agony of suspense.

“He wouldn’t come back with us.”

“Wouldn’t come back?”

“From that island where we went ashore.”

“You—you mean Tommy really got safely ashore somewhere?”

“Yes. Three of us did.” Suddenly Vernon stopped and fixed his gaze on
her. “Did you know Tommy?”

“He’s my brother.”

The ill man showed no shock or surprise at this. But he stared at her
for some time before he continued, “I think I knew that anyhow.” His
tone grew more puzzled. “Don’t know how, unless it was because you kept
pulling me back from the grave—you wouldn’t let me die.”

“Maybe you realized some of the things we said around you while you
were so desperately ill,” Nancy told him. “Do you feel able to tell me
more about Tommy? Was he injured when he jumped?”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: “_Tommy Made Us Leave Him There._”]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“All of us were one way or another. Tommy got his in here somewhere.”
The emaciated hand lying on the sheet, indicated his stomach. “He made
Jim and me start off in our rubber boat. We had picked up some valuable
information from the Japs that called for counteraction right away.”

“And he made you leave him there?”

“Hardest thing I ever had to do, but he was our captain and we had to
obey. ‘Getting through with that information may save thousands of
lives,’ Tommy told us. He was like that, Tommy was. By staying we
might’ve saved him, but he wouldn’t hear of it when so much was at
stake.”

“But couldn’t you have brought him away with you?” she wailed.

“He was too ill to sit up. That burning sun would have finished him in
a few hours, even if the Japs hadn’t got us.”

“Oh—then they did get you before you came through with the
information?”

He was silent a moment as if gathering strength for the awful memories.

“Picked us up at sea,” he said finally. “We had water, food and
navigation instruments and might have made it all right.”

She feared the thoughts of what followed would be too harrowing, and
stopped him there. “I’ll go get you some milk,” she said. “Then you
must rest before you talk any more.”

Nancy dared not weary Vernon with more questioning just then, so was
silent while she fed him the milk through a tube. The information he
had already given was broken at intervals for him to gather strength
for the effort.

“You must sleep some more,” she suggested when he had taken the
nourishment, “and I’ll come back to see you again this afternoon.”

For the first time in many weeks Nancy found it impossible to sleep
when she was finally stretched on her cot. She often used a blinder
across her eyes to shut out the glare when she had difficulty sleeping
in the day, but this time it did no good at all. She could not stop the
working of her troubled mind, even though her tired body cried out for
rest. Nor did she like to take anything to make herself sleep, for she
knew, under the present stress, how easy it would be to get into such a
habit.

After tossing from side to side for a couple of hours she finally got
up and went down to the spring to do her washing. Soon her undies and
seersucker suits were flapping on a line between two palm trees near
their shelter. Then she took a bath in the wash hole at the stream,
which they had made private by an arrangement of palm leaf screens.

When Nancy was coming back up the path from the stream she met Major
Reed. Since they had landed on the island there had been little thought
or time for military formalities. The entire unit, from the highest
officers to the youngest shavetails, had become a harmonious working
whole. However, Nancy saluted now as she came face to face with the
major on the path.

He was about to pass on when suddenly he paused and said, “Nancy,
there’s no need of killing yourself. You look all washed up.”

“Maybe I look pale because I just had a bath,” she told him. “A rare
luxury!”

He chuckled and admitted, “You do look mighty clean!” Then almost
immediately he was serious again. “I’ve just come from your ward and
York told me you worked long beyond your time this morning.”

“More were coming in than the nurses on duty could handle,” she
explained. Then for fear she would be given more credit than she
deserved Nancy hastened to add, “And Vernon Goodwin was so much better
I thought he might rouse at any moment and be able to tell me
something.”

“And did he?”

“Yes he did, Major. He told me a little about Tommy. He wasn’t able to
talk much.” Briefly Nancy repeated what she had learned from Vernon.

“Did he know the name of the island where they came down?”

“No—or rather I didn’t ask him. I was afraid to let him talk too much.
His life still hangs by a thin thread.”

“How long since you talked with him?”

Nancy glanced at her watch. “Nearly three hours.”

“Want to try again?”

“Oh, yes, if you don’t think it would be too much strain on him.”

They went to the ward and made their way down through the long rows of
cots. They were a pitiful lot, those wounded men with bandages of every
sort. But they wanted no pity, for they called themselves the lucky
guys for having so much comfort and attention. Some were able to be
propped up for the noon meal, while others must be patiently fed a
liquid diet.

Shorty Warner was feeding Vernon a thin broth through a tube when Major
Reed and Nancy paused by his bed. The ghost of a smile flickered to the
gunner’s face when he recognized Nancy.

“He asked for you as soon as he woke,” Shorty explained.

“Feel like talking a bit, old chap?” asked the major, touching the
prematurely white head and giving it a friendly pat.

“Think so, Major. I know Miss Nancy is anxious to hear all about Tom.”

“So he was alive when you left him?”

“He was, sir. But I fear he was mortally wounded. Think he had a
spatter of lead in his stomach—must have got it when they killed our
co-pilot.”

Though Vernon’s voice was very weak Nancy saw that talking was less
effort than it had been earlier.

“Can you give us an idea of the location of that island?” the major
asked.

“Not too accurate, I fear,” Vernon admitted. “I’ve been through such
horrible things since. I’d say it’s not more than a day’s journey by
water from here.”

At this information Nancy’s heart leaped up once more with hope.

“You took that fatal flight, you know, long before we started cleaning
up this area,” Major Reed reminded him.

“So the nurse was just telling me. I’ve sort of lost track of time.”

“Was it a large island?” asked Nancy.

“Big enough for a man to get lost in its jungles—entirely surrounded
by reefs. No large boat could get in close to its shores.”

“Plenty like that in this region,” said Major Reed.

“Jim and I passed no others in our life boat as we came south. Then
those devils picked us up.”

“What about Jim?” Nancy asked.

“He had a nasty wound in his hip. Gangrene ended his misery two days
after they put us in the prison camp. I’ve wished a thousand times it
could have been me, too.”

Looking down on this wreck of a man, Nancy wondered how he had lived
through the ordeal.

“Any Japs on the island where you three got ashore?” asked the major.

“No village there, or camp, nor any sign there’d ever been any. The
place was a solid jungle, except for a narrow fringe of beach. But we
did find a Jap plane wrecked on the reef. Her crew had evidently all
been wiped out by our fire.”

“Was that where you got the information Captain Dale wanted you to
bring back to us?”

Vernon nodded. “I brought the Jap papers away in the lining of my coat.
Later when they were found on me those fiends stripped me of every rag
for fear I might have more of their information hidden in my clothes.”
Vernon managed a rueful smile. “That’s why you found me in only a loin
cloth.”

“Did Tommy have water and food with him?” Nancy asked.

“You bet. There was a good spring close by. He didn’t need water, but
we left him most of our food and medicine, and the supplies we took
from the Zero. We put everything right to hand. Poor Tommy was already
too miserable to crawl more than a few feet from where we left him.”

Tears were streaming down Nancy’s face, but she stubbornly held to her
hopes. She couldn’t give Tommy up now, even after hearing the worst.

“It’s not likely he could be living still. But don’t feel too badly
about it, Miss Nancy,” Vernon said kindly. “There’s plenty of things
worse than death in this war.”

“I’m afraid we’ve let you talk too much this time,” said Major Reed.
“Sleep some more now and we’ll see you again.”

When Nancy and the major were outside she said, “Oh, Major, do you
think there’s anything we could do about it? Would they be willing to
send a searching plane out to look for Tommy?”

“Of course they would, my dear. But Goodwin’s information is rather
vague about some things. We’ll wait till tomorrow. Maybe with the aid
of a map he’ll be able to give us more accurate directions.”

“Oh, Major, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“You don’t have to, young lady. Captain Dale is about as important to
the Air Forces as he is to you. We don’t give up such men without a
struggle.” They walked on a few steps before he added, “Now you must go
back and get some rest. We can’t afford to have any sick nurses on our
hands.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

                                 A TEST


Vernon Goodwin had a relapse that night, and for the next few days
Nancy feared they had learned all from him they would ever know. In the
meantime, however, glorious news was brought back from the fighting
front. The great number of reinforcing troops had finished the job for
which they had come. The last nest of “Yellow Jackets” had been cleaned
from the island.

This news called for such a celebration as the nurses had not had since
July Fourth, for their work had lightened somewhat. Planes had taken
some of their serious cases back to hospitals in Australia. Even when
the wounded were brought in after the final victory there were still
some beds unoccupied, so the nurses found a few hours out of every
twenty-four to give to personal needs once more, and a bit of
recreation.

But Nancy had little heart for amusement during those trying days. She
could think of nothing but Vernon Goodwin lying at the point of death,
and that Tommy might be alive still, somewhere in that jungle a day’s
boat ride to the north.

“Ah, snap out of it, Nancy,” wheedled Mabel, the afternoon before the
party when she came upon her pal sitting on her cot, staring into
space. “We’ve all decided to put on our whites for the shindig. It will
be good for the morale of the patients to see us looking like real
nurses for once.”

“We’ll only make ourselves targets for the Zeros that come over.”

“Can’t you realize yet they’ve cleared out those Yellow Jackets! We’ve
got something to celebrate over.”

“I’m really tired, Mabel,” said Nancy, stretching out on her cot. “I
honestly don’t feel like going up to the mess hall to the party.”

“Oh, but honey, you can’t miss it! I’ll tell you something as an
inducement. We have a surprise. Some of the Fuzzy Wuzzies are going to
put on a special ceremonial dance—the kind they use to celebrate their
own victories.”

These island natives had been most valuable in bringing back the
wounded from the fighting front. Ned Holbrook, one of Nancy’s patients,
who had a broken back, had been brought out by them on a litter.

“They were as careful with me as any mother,” Ned told her. “They saved
my life, Nancy, that’s sure! I never could have stood the jolting of
our ambulance over those corduroy roads.”

Nancy had read many articles in the magazines and papers of Australia
about the Fuzzy Wuzzies, and the help they had been to the Allies, but
she had to see them in action to appreciate their amazing gentleness
and value. It seemed incredible that these dark-skinned men, who looked
so savage, with their bushy heads, and their bodies naked except for
loin cloths, could make such good hospital aides. She had often
wondered how they acted in their native villages, and she knew the
ceremonial dance would be something to remember always.

“The last plane that came out from Australia,” explained Mabel,
“brought some packages from the Red Cross for us to give the native
helpers. We opened one just to see what they contained. Boy, will those
Fuzzies be thrilled!”

“What’s in them?”

“Each one had a loin cloth and a new girdle, a string of beads, a
bracelet, an ornamental hair pin and a package of cigarettes.” Mabel
laughed. “I still can’t get used to those men wearing fancy hair pins.”

“I’m sure they’re meant more for service than ornamentation,” replied
Nancy. “Yesterday a couple of Fuzzies came in with a litter. As soon as
we had the wounded man on the bed they sat down on the ground nearby
and began scratching their woolly heads with those pins.”

“When they start that I always give them a wide berth. I don’t relish
the idea of any of the inhabitants of those bushy mops jumping on me.”
Mabel scratched her head at the very idea, then added, “But it will be
fun watching the dance and seeing them get the packages.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to miss it,” said Nancy ruefully, as she yawned
and stretched on the cot.

Mabel pulled the mosquito net aside and wheedled, “Ah, come on, lazy
bones!”

She caught Nancy’s hand to pull her off the cot, then stopped suddenly.
“Your hand’s hot as fire!” she exclaimed. “Nancy, you’re sick.”

“Not so loud. Somebody will hear. I’m afraid I have malaria. I’ve
already started taking quinine. Think I had a chill on the ward just
now.”

“And you stuck it out—you numskull?”

“Please, Mabel, don’t talk so loud. Somebody will hear. They may even
send me back if they find I have malaria. I’m going to doctor myself
and knock it out.”

“When that bug gets a grip on you it’s not so easy as you think.”

“Please don’t tell anyone, Mabel. It would be awful to be sent away
right now, just as I’m about to get on Tommy’s track.”

“Of course—if you don’t want me to. If you’re not better in a day or
two, though, you’ve got to see one of the doctors.”

When the nurses, who shared their outdoor quarters, started off to the
mess hall in white Nancy said wistfully, “It sure makes me think of
home, seeing you all in regulations.”

Mabel placed a glass of fruit juice on a box under Nancy’s net before
leaving, and ordered her to sleep. The girls had been gone only a few
minutes when Nancy dropped into a feverish sleep. She was roused some
time later by sounds of the Fuzzy Wuzzies’ ceremonial drums. She went
to sleep again with them ringing in her ears, and didn’t rouse till
dawn. She was wet with perspiration and realized her fever had burned
itself out. Though she was weak and her head ringing from quinine, she
got into her clothes and went on duty. She knew she would have
forty-eight hours before a chill gripped her again, if her heavy doses
of quinine were not sufficient yet to knock it out.

How glad she was afterward that she did force herself to go on duty. As
she entered the ward to take Shorty’s place, her little friend said,
“Vernon woke during the night and asked for you.”

“Why didn’t you send for me?”

“Mabel wouldn’t let me. She said you were all in. But he’s much better
this morning—ate some breakfast.”

Nancy waited for no more, but hurried to the gunner’s bed. He was
finishing some cereal, and gave her a wan smile as she drew near.

“That’s the way you must eat,” commented Nancy, taking his emptied mess
kit. “You’ll get well now.”

“I believe I will, Miss Nancy. I may yet be able to point out that
island where we left Tom.”

“Oh, if you only could, Vernon!”

“I believe I could. Though a gunner doesn’t bother his head with where
he’s going—got enough to think about to hit the targets, but I do
remember something about how that island looked from the air, and I
sure had to pay attention to directions when we were leaving in that
rubber boat.”

“Is it due north from here?” she asked.

“No, I’d say to the northeast.”

“Entirely surrounded by coral reefs?”

“As much as we saw. Passages here and there, large enough for small
boats.”

Though Vernon’s voice was still cracked and weak Nancy could see he was
able to coordinate his thoughts more easily than during their earlier
conversations.

“Major Reed said a searching plane would be sent,” Nancy told him. “But
of course we could do nothing while you were so ill.”

“Has it been very long?”

“Almost a week—a sort of reaction I suppose from our too vigorous
efforts to bring you back. But you’re going to make it this time,” she
assured him.

“Sorry I delayed things,” he apologized. “Poor Tom—if he’s still
hanging on I guess he’s given up hope. How long has it been? I’ve lost
track of time.”

“The government notified us that Tommy was missing in action on March
second. This is September.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Slowly Vernon Goodwin Gained Strength_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Lord!” Vernon groaned. “Miss Nancy, I don’t see how he could have made
it till now. There wasn’t enough food.”

“But there would probably be fruits, coconuts, fish like we have on
this island. Tommy would find some way to catch fish,” Nancy said,
stubbornly clinging to her little shreds of hope.

It took all the will power she had to keep on her job that day, for she
hadn’t realized how fever could sap one’s vitality. When she started
back to her quarters in the late afternoon she stopped off to tell
Major Reed what Vernon had said. As she talked an odd expression came
into his face. She feared he had lost interest and would not push the
searching expedition.

“I’m afraid Vernon Goodwin won’t be well enough to go with any
searching party before we have to leave here.” Major Reed finally
revealed what was on his mind.

Nancy’s pale face grew more wan. “Oh, Major Reed!”

“Our job here is almost finished. Planes can clear out the patients
faster and faster now that Koshu has been taken. We can expect orders
for a change at any time.”

Tired and ill as she was the news upset Nancy more than anything had
since she first heard Tommy was missing. She took a grip on the tent
pole to steady her wobbly knees.

Major Reed was aware of her condition and said, “You look actually ill,
Nancy. Don’t drive yourself so hard—ease up a bit.” He turned away a
minute and rummaged in a box of medicines. He found a bottle of golden
pills and handed them to her. “Take these vitamins, two a day, till you
get your pep back.”

Nancy thanked him and hesitated a moment, wondering if she ought to
confess about the chill yesterday. She decided against it, however,
feeling confident she could take care of herself. She was to wonder
later if things might have been different had she spoken then.

Nancy’s second chill struck her the next morning before she was out of
bed, and at the hour she should have reported for duty she was burning
with fever. Mabel was scheduled to have the day off, so offered to take
Nancy’s place. She would report Nancy in need of a day’s rest and
otherwise keep silent. Their other dormitory companions were also asked
not to betray her.

Nancy kept up her medicine and by dinner time that evening was feeling
somewhat better. Hoping to evade too many inquiries she decided to
appear at the mess hall with Mabel, Shorty and Ida. Shorty and Mabel
were in high spirits and kept them laughing with funny stories about
the Fuzzy Wuzzies throughout the meal, and Nancy’s morale mounted
several degrees.

The four friends, who had grown so companionable during these months of
service, little dreamed that was the last meal they would have together
on the other side of the world. But their routine came to an unexpected
end just as they were leaving the mess hall.

Lieutenant Hauser rapped on the table and called out in her clear tone,
“All nurses report for instructions just outside the mess hall.”

“Somethin’ cookin’!” Mabel said with conviction. “I’ve felt it all day.”

The nurses found Major Reed outside, standing beside Lieutenant Hauser
under the palms.

“Orders have come through,” began the major, when he lifted his hand
for attention.

Instantly the ripple of light talk ceased, and every ear became alert
for the coming change.

“Half of us are to move up to open a new hospital. The rest will follow
when this camp has been cleared of patients. The situation is now so
well in hand that any on Koshu Island needing special treatment may be
quickly flown out to larger bases.”

Nancy caught Mabel’s hand at this dreaded news. It threatened to
shatter all her high hopes of an expedition to search for Tommy.

Mabel, fully aware of the cause of Nancy’s concern, whispered
consolingly, “Maybe you’ll be allowed to stay behind and see it
through.”

“I’m afraid no one will push the expedition unless I’m here,” she
replied. “Especially if Vernon’s sent back to a base hospital.”

“The moving unit will be prepared to leave at once. The transport will
stand by to pick us up at any hour now,” explained Major Reed. “The
following nurses will leave for the new base.” He then proceeded to
read a list of about twenty-five names.

When he called Mabel’s name Nancy clutched at her friend’s hand
desperately. She had scarcely recovered from that shock before her own
name was called. Weakened as she was with illness and fatigue she had
to take a grip on herself to keep back the tears.

“You’re too sick now to make a change,” Mabel said, knowing how very
much Nancy wanted to stay here. “I’m going to tell them you’ve been
having chills.”

This was a real temptation to Nancy. A week or two longer on Koshu
might make all the difference in the world where Tommy was concerned.
But had she any right to put her own personal considerations ahead of
this call to more dangerous service? They might even think she was
using her illness or Tommy’s rescue as an excuse to cling to the safer
work here on Koshu Island.

Her thoughts moved swiftly, but her decision was unshakable when she
replied, “No, Mabel. I agreed to give myself to this work. I’ll go
wherever they send me.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            CHAPTER NINETEEN

                                 ADRIFT


Change had always been stimulating to Nancy, but this time she found
she could not shake off her depression even after she was aboard ship.
Koshu Island was a safe haven she was reluctant to leave. In total
darkness they went aboard the transport and in total darkness they
moved out to sea again. This ship had detached itself from the convoy
to pick up the nurses and several hundred troops. Perhaps by daylight
they would again be part of a great flotilla.

The air on deck was cold after the tropical nights they had endured
ashore. Nancy’s weakened condition made her super-sensitive to chill.
She buttoned her overcoat tightly and turned up her collar, keeping her
Mae West slung over her shoulder. Immediately on going aboard, and even
before they were on the move, they had an abandon ship drill and became
acquainted with the position of their lifeboats. Nancy’s and Mabel’s
boat was number four, not more than fifty steps from the lounge where
they were to spend the night.

There was not a bunk left on the tightly packed ship to assign to these
last passengers. They were merely super-cargo, picked up enroute to the
ship’s destination. Since they expected to go ashore some time the
following morning, their discomforts would not be too prolonged.

“I surely hate to leave,” said Mabel as Koshu Island became a dark
smudge on the horizon. “Our life back there will be something to
remember forever.”

As usual leave-takings were hard for Nancy, too. But most of all she
had hated to say good-bye to Vernon Goodwin. He had brought Tommy so
close to her once more. How she had hated to disturb him with the news
of her departure! She had urged him to insist that they send out a
searching plane as soon as he was able to go.

“I’ve made Major Reed promise to see it through,” Nancy told Vernon.
“Now everything depends on your speedy recovery.”

“I’ll do my best,” he promised. “But I surely hate to see you go.”

“No more than I hate to go—with so much at stake here,” she replied.
“But when you’re in the service it’s Uncle Sam who gives the orders.”

Vernon’s bony hand took hers a moment. “If it hadn’t been for you, Miss
Nancy, I doubt if I would have come through.”

“The whole staff was pulling for you,” she reminded him.

He saw how frail and worried she looked, and tried to speak
consolingly. “You go on to your new duties with an easy mind, Miss
Nancy. I’ll give ’em no rest till a plane goes looking for Tom. We’ll
bring him back if he’s still on that island.”

There were others, too, whom Nancy had left behind with real
regret—Miss Hauser, Major Reed, Ida and Shorty were special favorites.
Having Mabel with her, however, meant more than any of the others could
have.

“They’ll be following pretty soon,” said Mabel, who seemed able to
drift more lightly through the changing currents of their life than
Nancy could.

“I know that’s the program now, but you never can tell what will happen
in this man’s war.”

They spoke almost in whispers for they had been warned against loud
speech on deck. The great ship moved silently over the dark waters. So
quiet was everything aboard that the wash of the waves along the hull
was the only audible sound above the low throb of the engines. Only
once did they hear the drone of a plane, low on the horizon. Their
journey promised to be as peaceful and uneventful as a summer excursion
up the Hudson.

Mabel, Janice and a couple of men officers made up a bridge game toward
midnight, but Nancy felt too exhausted to play. With her musette bag
and helmet beside her, her Mae West dangling from one shoulder she
tried to get some sleep on a two-seated couch. By drawing her knees up
under her chin she was fairly comfortable. The game near by was still
going on when she dozed.

At the sound of a terrific explosion, shaking the ship from prow to
stem, Nancy woke with a jolt to find herself on the floor. Total
darkness shut her in like a pall, while pandemonium broke loose. She
clutched at her life-preserver, buckling it into place as she called
through the wild confusion, “Mabel, where are you?”

Her friend must have been sleeping on the floor near by, for she
replied almost in Nancy’s ear, “Here! So this is it!”

Even while she spoke there came the thunderous voice of the captain
through the loud speakers, “Abandon ship! We have been struck! We are
going down!”

To Nancy’s surprise now that the crisis was upon them, she felt calm
and collected. All lights had gone out with that first impact, but she
had carefully memorized the route from her couch to the lifeboat.
Clinging to Mabel with one hand, she felt around for her musette bag
and helmet. She couldn’t locate her helmet, but she did find her bag.

“Got your bag?” she asked Mabel.

“Went to sleep on it.” Even as she spoke Mabel fished out a flashlight,
dimmed with blue paper.

Lights twinkled here and there as people hurried by, some babbling
hysterically, others silently intent on reaching their boats. The deck
listed with a sickening lurch just as Nancy and Mabel got through the
door. They went sliding with alarming speed toward the rail. Some,
caught completely off their guard, were plunged into the water.

“God help us,” moaned Mabel. “She’s going under before we can get to
our boat.”

“No, here it is!” exclaimed Nancy, swinging her own light to a focus on
number four.

It was one of the smaller boats, but three people were already inside.
A man gave them a hand.

A woman spoke as they climbed in, “Where are the rest? There’re
supposed to be many more.”

“I don’t know,” Mabel replied.

The woman’s voice was not that of any of their own nurses.

“We can’t wait much longer,” said the man. “She’s listing badly.”

“Why don’t they hurry?” wailed the woman.

“Don’t be frightened. Here’s someone now,” said another man
reassuringly.

“Is this number eight?” A man’s voice asked as he stumbled toward the
boat.

“No, but you get in,” said the man who had spoken first. “No time to
hunt yours. She’s going down any minute.”

He gave the man’s arm a jerk and pulled him into the boat. Another man,
evidently a sailor, let the boat into the water. The ship lurched
dangerously and oily spray drenched the boat. They were not a dozen oar
strokes away when acrid smoke billowed from every opening as the ship
suddenly burst into flames. The oarsmen had a race to clear the area
where flames lapped at the oil-coated water.

It was awful to see that towering bulk become a flaming carnival for
some Jap, watching through the periscope of the sub that had struck
them. A few minutes later the mighty ship went down with such an
explosive churning of water that those in the lifeboats had to cling to
the gunwale to keep from being swept overboard. For some time after the
flames were extinguished they drifted in Stygian darkness. Nancy
couldn’t even see Mabel sitting next to her.

In those first stunned moments of escape Nancy had been aware of other
boats around them, and people in the water. But when they found
themselves in calmer seas some time after the sinking they seemed to be
utterly alone.

“Where are the others?” the strange woman across from them asked.

“God only knows,” replied her companion.

By the location of their voices Nancy surmised they also were sitting
side by side. There was some comfort in feeling the physical nearness
of another in that vast, empty darkness.

“We’ll drop anchor and ride it out here till morning,” the seaman
decided. “We were due to be in sight of the convoy by dawn. If they got
our SOS somebody should pick us up then.”

The last man they had taken aboard had not spoken since their arrival.
Nancy wondered if he had gone overboard while the boat pitched so
wildly after the ship went down. But a few minutes later she realized
she was ankle deep in water. When she lifted her feet she struck
something in the bottom of the boat.

“Somebody’s lying in the bottom!” she exclaimed. She found she had lost
her flashlight in the scramble, but Mabel had hers.

“Don’t use a flash!” warned the sailor. “Those yellow devils can see
one miles away.”

They could tell he was bending in the bottom of the boat as he spoke.
Then they could hear him tugging at something. “It’s that last chap who
came aboard,” he said. “He must have been knocked out.”

“Lucky he is—not knowing he has anything to worry about,” said the
other man.

The sailor eased the man’s head to a higher level and began bailing out
the water. But the small boat heaved and pulled on her anchor chain so
they took in almost as much as he cleared out. In another hour the girl
across from Nancy was violently sick. But it was not long before Nancy,
Mabel and the other man were all agonizing over the side of the boat.
Only the sailor and the sleeping man in the bottom of the boat kept
steady stomachs.

For the first time in her life Nancy prayed for death to relieve her
suffering. Sick, cold and miserable as she was, the struggle didn’t
seem worth the effort.

From troubled dozing against Mabel’s shoulder Nancy woke to find dawn
breaking on a sea as empty and placid as a mountain lake. No rescue
ship, nor even any lifeboat was visible on all that gray expanse. How
could she endure this awful plight that daylight had revealed?

Nancy’s gaze came back from her futile search to look around at her
companions. The bluejacket sat on the floor in the prow, his arms bent
over the seat, cradling his head. She discovered it was a young
corporal who had come aboard last. He still slept in the bottom of the
boat. The girl across from them was a nurse of another unit. She lay on
the seat. The first class private who sat beside her couldn’t have been
more than nineteen Nancy thought, as she studied the sleeping face.

Everyone was covered with an oily scum that had swept over them from
the sinking boat, and Nancy knew she must look as repulsive as the
rest. Even before her inspection was finished the sailor roused and
dragged himself to the seat. He took one look across the empty water.

“Well if that ain’t a way to do us!” he growled, when the drowsy
corporal sat up and wanted to know what the row was about. “They all
beat it off to safety without ever waiting to see who else was here.”

“They may have gone under for all you know,” said Mabel.

“Where’s the water?” asked the corporal. “I’m dry as a desert.”

“You’ll get your share along with the rest,” stated the bluejacket. He
had the look of a seasoned seaman. Nancy judged him to be well over
thirty, the oldest person aboard. Suddenly he seemed to accept the
situation with what grace he could. He glanced around at his boat-mates
and said, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, looks like we’re in for it.”

Even while he spoke a brilliant red sun slowly became a burning disk
where sea and sky met. It seemed a warning of what they had to endure.

“First thing in order,” said the sailor, “is to take stock of all
supplies—food and water.”

Nancy and Mabel reached into their musette bags to bring out their bars
of chocolate and the small tins of concentrated food to add to the
common stock.

Nancy noticed that the girl across from them had her canteen, but no
bag.

“I see the young ladies are good seamen and have brought their
canteens,” continued the sailor.

“I have mine, too,” said the private, putting his hand to his hip.

“Looks like I forgot mine,” said the dazed corporal, making a futile
search for his canteen.

The bluejacket got out the boat’s supplies and stored with them what
Nancy and Mabel had contributed. There was food and water enough surely
to last until they were picked up, and navigation instruments, too, in
case no help came.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _The Corporal Reached for the Water Keg_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I want some water now,” demanded the complaining corporal, reaching
for the water keg between the bluejacket’s feet.

“You’ll get your water when portions are dealt to all alike,” stated
the sailor.

“That’s what you think,” growled the corporal and made a lunge for the
water.

The young private sitting behind him swung out a strong hand and drew
the man back before he could reach the sailor. It took some handling to
get him quiet in the stem of the boat, well away from the frightened
women.

“You’ll face court martial for this!” growled the corporal. “I’m your
superior officer. I’m in command of this boat!”

“If anyone is put in command it must be one of the nurses,” said the
private promptly. “They are all lieutenants.”

“That suits me fine,” said the bluejacket.

“We know nothing about what should be done here,” Nancy told them
miserably. “Or at least I don’t. I’ll leave it up to Mabel or—” she
paused to glance at the other girl.

“Hilda Newton,” said the strange nurse. “But heavens, I have no idea
what we should do.”

“Neither have I,” stated Mabel. “If you’re all agreed I move we put the
bluejacket in command. He probably knows more about this business than
all of us put together.”

This met with the hearty approval of all except the surly, still
befuddled corporal. The sailor introduced himself as Olan Meyer, and
the rest in turn told their names.

A few minutes later Olan dealt out the morning’s portion of food and
water. And so began the monotonous round of nights and days that were
to stretch on as endlessly as the sea on which they drifted.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER TWENTY

                               THE PLANE


At the end of the first week when there was still no hope of rescue,
nor any sight of land, their water had to be reduced to one portion a
day. Only by the notches Olan Meyer cut on the stem seat, could they
tell how much time had passed. After the first few sunrises, days and
nights seemed a muddled succession without hope of ending.

Once they saw a smudge of smoke on the horizon, but it vanished
swiftly. Another time Nancy thought she heard the drone of a plane, but
no moving speck appeared in all the cloudless, blazing blue overhead.
She wondered if her mind was weakening and she was beginning to hear
sounds, as a wanderer in the desert sees mirages.

On their second day afloat Nancy had had another chill, then to her
amazement, after the fever had burned itself out, the attacks did not
come back. Her illness made her think of the small golden vitamins
Major Reed had given her. She found them still in her musette bag. By
dealing them out one a day to each person there would be enough to last
them two weeks.

A sail had been hoisted after their conference the first morning, and
Olan Meyer steered toward what he believed was their original
destination. But the wind soon died down, the sail fell slack, and it
was only useful as shade from the blazing sun.

The day after her fever cleared Nancy was sitting beside Olan as he
studied the Pacific map, which had been placed in the lifeboat along
with a book of navigation instructions.

“Where is Koshu Island on this map?” she asked.

After a brief search he pointed it out with a grimy finger.

“Do you know of any coral-surrounded islands northeast of it?” she
asked.

“Plenty. Why?”

“There was one—about a day by water from Koshu, where they tell me my
brother’s plane went down,” Nancy explained. “His gunner was made a
prisoner by the Japs. He turned up at our hospital back there on Koshu.
Soon as he’s able he’s going to guide a plane back to the island.”

“Got any more details?” asked Olan.

“Nothing, except that the island was covered with a jungle. As far as
Vernon knew there were no native villages there.”

“And it was surrounded by coral reefs?”

“Entirely, so that no big boats could go close. But he said there were
passages where small boats could enter the lagoons.”

“Twelve hours journey north of Koshu,” repeated Olan, while making some
mental calculations. “We must have been somewhere in that neighborhood
when we were struck.”

“Oh, are we?” asked Nancy eagerly.

“We were,” he corrected. “Lord knows where we’re at now. A fair wind
for forty-eight hours took us in the opposite direction.”

He pointed out where he surmised they had been sunk, and indicated the
approximate direction in which the wind had taken them.

“I figure the group of reefs and islands you’re talking about is
somewhere back here.”

“And northeast of Koshu,” she observed. “Wouldn’t it be safer to try to
go back in that direction?”

“You’re optimistic, lady. Distances in a tub like this take a hundred
times longer to cover than on our transport.”

“I know that. But we may as well be going somewhere definitely as
drifting like this. We might even be able to locate the island where
Tommy was marooned.”

“Any land, no matter what—a jungle would be a thousand times better
than this,” said Hilda Newton.

It was two days later, however, before another breath of wind came to
stiffen their sail. The heat was almost unbearable by day while the
cold penetrated to their marrow at night. Nancy thanked her lucky stars
that she had been wearing her overcoat at the time they were struck,
and that Mabel had brought hers along. Hilda had not been so fortunate.

When the breeze stirred at last Nancy sat beside Olan, watching how he
set the sail into the course he desired. It made little difference to
any of the others what direction they took, so long as it brought an
end to their misery. The very fact that they were moving boosted their
morale.

But the fair wind was only a brief hope. It fell away after a few
hours, and the horrible pall of inaction closed down on them again.
Sometimes for an hour or so they would recite poetry, tell jokes or ask
riddles—anything to keep their minds off reality. In this way the
first week dragged by. Not once during that time was there a drop of
rain to renew their diminishing water supply. So far they had used only
from the lifeboat’s supply, saving the individual canteens for a
reserve.

The corporal, Ned Owens, showed little improvement in disposition, even
after his mind cleared. He kept aloof from the others and seldom took
part in the nurses’ attempts to brighten their situation. The first few
days a fever kept him on fire with thirst, and he was violently
seasick. Knowing something of what he must be enduring Nancy offered
him her portion of water at the end of an unusually hot day.

“You take it and I’ll knock your block off!” Olan flared, when Ned
hesitated at the offer.

Rather than precipitate a fight Nancy finally drank the water herself.
By the end of the first week the feud between the two men, which
started with selfishness on one side and firmness on the other, had
grown to alarming proportions. Every time Olan dealt out the water Ned
accused him of giving him less than his portion.

One evening after they had sat through the worst heat they had yet
endured, Ned demanded that Olan give him his entire allotment of water
and let him drink it as he pleased.

“I won’t do it! You haven’t got the grit to restrain yourself,” Olan
stated.

Nancy had been surprised to find just before their evening ritual of
food and drink that Ned had moved next to Olan on the boat seat.

Suddenly just as Olan was measuring out a portion of water, Ned’s arm
swung round and struck him in the pit of his stomach. Caught unawares
the keg slipped from Olan’s hand to the bottom of the boat, and the
precious fluid gurgled out into the bilge water. While the two men went
into a grip, Nancy grabbed the keg from under their feet, but she was
not quick enough to save more than half of the remaining water.

She dragged the keg with her toward the prow as the raging men
grappled. Jim Benton and Hilda were sitting in the prow, and the slack
sail had at first cut off their view of what was happening. The men
were already at each other’s throats before Jim realized there was a
row, and rushed to separate them.

Terrified, the women feared the struggle would capsize the boat. They
huddled together in the prow to keep a balance. The corporal was a much
larger man than the bluejacket, and soon had him down on the seat, his
hands clawing at his throat. Jim could not break their grip with his
bare hands. Hilda had snatched up one of the oars, as if to help.
Suddenly he seized it from her and cracked it down over Ned Owens’s
head. The corporal crumpled into the bottom of the boat like a crushed
egg.

The moment his hands relaxed their grip on Olan’s throat, the
half-conscious man rolled into the water with a list of the boat.
Without a moment’s hesitation Jim Benton went in after him, shoes and
all. The shock of the cold water revived Olan’s faculties sufficiently
for him to get a death grip on Jim. In spite of all the soldier could
do to break the hold, Olan pulled him down under the waves with him.
The horrified women stared, helpless to save either one.

Nancy was making a motion to get out of her shoes, when Mabel held her
back by main force. “You’re insane!” she screamed. “You haven’t
strength to do anything for them.”

But it was already too late. Even while Mabel held Nancy back the two
men went down again, and they saw them no more. Too stunned for speech
they could only stand and stare, hoping against hope that they might
come up again.

Then Hilda, the little blue-eyed girl, wavered, and Mabel gently eased
her to the bottom of the boat as consciousness slipped from her. After
bathing her face with sea water Mabel and Nancy dragged her up to the
boat seat, and Nancy held her head in her lap. For a long time they
were too stunned for speech.

Mabel was the first to say anything as she stared with fixed eyes at
the bottom of the boat. “Now we’re left to the mercy of that thing!”
she moaned, pointing to the corporal.

“It would be better if we were all dead,” said Nancy in a hollow voice.

Mabel finally prodded Ned Owens with her foot, turning him over. Blood
flowed from the gash on the back of his head made by the oar. Even
though she dreaded to see him regain consciousness, the instincts of
her profession would not be denied. She finally squatted in the bilge
water to do what she could for his injuries. She cleaned the wound
after a fashion and dusted it with some sulfa drug from her first-aid
kit, then drew the edges together with some sticking plaster. They
feared he would roll into the sea if they dragged him to the seat, so
they pulled him into the prow where only his feet were in the water.

When Hilda stirred again she sat up, her fixed eyes turned across the
waves that had swallowed the men. She was like one under the influence
of dope and made no complaint, only sat there hour after hour as if the
life had gone from her, too.

Mabel took a last look at Ned in the twilight and saw he was still
breathing, though he showed no signs of regaining consciousness. “If
he’ll only stay that way till morning,” she said. “I’ll feel much
safer.”

For once Mabel’s wish was fulfilled. The first rays of daylight
revealed the corporal lying where she had left him. She bent over him
almost eagerly. Her shaking fingers, that pressed his wrist, found no
pulse.

“God is good,” she said fervently, looking up from her knees at the
other two. “No telling what we’ve been spared.”

His passing was such a relief to them all, that even Hilda found
interest enough to help them heave the body over into the sea.

When the lapping green water had swallowed him up Nancy said, “Let’s
recite the Twenty-third Psalm for _all_ our dead.”

She emphasized the all, for in spite of their relief at this last
death, she felt that none should be excluded from their simple burial
ritual.

With the knowledge of navigation that she had picked up from Olan,
Nancy steered a southeast course with every fair wind that blew. Though
their number was now only half the original, she dared not increase
their water supply, as so much had been lost when their keg overturned.
By careful economy they would have food and water for a few more days.

After the death of the three men they rarely spoke. There seemed
nothing left to say, and speech was such an effort with rasping vocal
chords and cracked lips.

Once they sighted a smudge of smoke that promised to be a boat on the
horizon. Though there was always the possibility it might be a Japanese
boat, even captivity seemed preferable to their present condition.
Nancy tacked to catch a bit of wind taking her in that direction. But a
nearer approach showed them it was merely mist from spray breaking on a
reef. But the island was barren, with not a single palm to pierce the
burning sky.

Before night closed them in they saw other reefs, but all were barren.
They decided to lower their sail and drop anchor for the night to keep
the current from sweeping them against some hidden reef.

Twice during that day Nancy had thought she heard the drone of a
distant plane. If any had passed they had been hidden by fleecy clouds.

In mid-morning the following day they were becalmed again under a
cloudless sky. By crouching in the bottom of the boat during the
hottest hours they could shade their heads under the boat seat, making
the heat slightly more endurable.

Nancy was lying there almost in a coma, when there came the sound of a
plane, clear and not too far away. For a moment she did not stir,
believing it the sound she had imagined a score of times before. Then
suddenly Mabel called out, “Nancy it _is_ a plane! I can see it!”

“Coming this way,” Hilda added.

“Hoist the sail! They can see us easier with the sail up!” cried Mabel,
her last reserve of strength pouring out into action.

The three of them tugged at the sail a moment, then Mabel stopped to
bend over her musette bag. “I’m going to try flashing a mirror at
them!” she explained. She opened her compact, containing a mirror
almost as large as her palm. “I’ve heard of people catching the sun’s
rays in a mirror and attracting planes that way.”

They had discussed this as one device for getting the attention of
fliers in the early days of their shipwreck. Nancy and Hilda got the
limp sail up, while Mabel set the mirror to catch the sun’s rays and
reflect them toward the approaching plane. Then they realized that the
silver speck was not coming straight over, but would pass well to the
south.

“Oh, dear God, make it come on!” prayed Mabel.

Both the other nurses were praying, too, in a frenzy of hope and
despair. Mabel tried the mirror trick she had practiced several times.
Three long flashes from the sun-touched mirror, then three short, then
three longs—SOS. Again and again she repeated the signal, but the
plane kept steadily on its course.

Nancy felt she couldn’t endure to see it go entirely out of sight.
Moaning she pressed her face into the slack sail, and leaned against
their mast, certain this was their last hope.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

                                RESCUED


“Oh, Mabel, they’re going on! They don’t see us,” wailed Nancy when the
plane dipped low on the horizon.

Better a thousand times that they had never seen it at all than to
endure this agony of disappointment. But Mabel was too intent upon her
sun and mirror trick to heed Nancy’s despair. She shifted her position
as the plane moved on, and continued flashing the mirror into the sky.

Suddenly Hilda cried out, “Look—they’re turning! They’ve seen us.”

Incredible as it seemed, the plane was swinging back toward them, but
it was still very high as it came on.

“It may be a Jap Zero.” Hilda dropped the words like a bomb into their
midst.

They had been so obsessed with the hope of rescue by their own people
that their dulled minds had not counted on that possibility.

“Too late now,” said Mabel. “They evidently saw my light flashing.”

“Could any thing be worse than this?” asked Nancy.

Their bloodshot, sunken eyes watched in an agony of suspense as the
drone of the plane beat harder and harder on their sensitive ears that
were so long conditioned to silence.

Suddenly Nancy’s straining eyes recognized the insignia of her own Air
Force, and she burst forth above the roar of the plane that was now
almost overhead, “There’s our white star in the blue circle. It’s one
of our planes!”

They began waving frantically as the plane circled high above them. The
pilot was obviously taking no chances that this might be some trick of
the Japs. From the burned color of their skins they could be mistaken
for Japs from above.

Then Nancy thought of the American flag she always kept in her musette
bag with the battered confederate relic. It was rather small, but
surely bright enough to be distinguished from above. She was trembling
like a leaf in a gale when she found it and waved it aloft. Almost
immediately the plane dipped lower.

“Why, it’s a hydro!” burst forth Mabel.

The great ship sped south again dipping nearer the water. About a mile
away she turned back, skimming above the waves until she settled down
with a great splash and came gliding easily toward them. Then the broad
wings were at rest and the motor silent.

A hearty voice from the plane called out, “Can you row closer?”

“We’ll try,” replied Nancy, but she feared her faint, cracked voice did
not cover the distance between them.

The oars had not been touched since that horrible day when the men had
died. Mabel found one under the seat. Two of them could scarcely handle
it. They could as well have used toothpicks for all the movement their
feeble efforts brought.

“We can’t make it!” wailed Nancy, and would have wept had her eyes not
been too burned out for tears.

“Never mind. We’ll come over,” replied a kindly voice.

A rubber boat appeared under the plane wings, and two men paddled it
easily toward them. When Hilda fell twice in trying to get over the
gunwale one of the fliers stepped aboard and took her wasted form into
his arms. Though Nancy and Mabel were both weak and trembling with
excitement they managed to get into the rubber boat with the help of
the second man. The other man went back for their coats and bags and
soon they were under the shadow of the great wings. Eager hands lifted
them bodily into the cabin.

Nancy could never recall afterward all that was said and done as they
were lifted inside. But she did remember one man’s hushed voice as he
said, “Three army nurses.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: _Eager Hands Lifted Them Bodily into the Cabin_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Those men in their spotless clothes seemed like angels to the
shipwrecked women. They were put into bunks and almost as if by magic
someone was handing Nancy a thermos top filled with hot tea. These
things couldn’t be real, she kept telling herself. She had only hoped
they would happen for so long that now she believed they could not be
true.

A doctor the fliers called Lieutenant Holmes, questioned them about how
much they had had to eat and drink, then allowed them to have a small
portion of concentrated food from a tin, and gave them a cup of water.
But Nancy came back to her thermos top of tea. It seemed heavenly to
have something hot. She could feel reviving strength flow to her very
toes.

“Good thing we brought that hot thermos along,” one of the men remarked.

“Thought Tom would appreciate it,” replied his companion.

Nancy stared incredulously at the man. “Tom,” she repeated. “I had a
brother named Tom. He was lost, too.”

She saw the men look at each other. “Tom Dale—your brother?” asked the
flier who had given her her food.

She nodded.

“You can’t be—”

“Nancy Dale, Army Nurse,” she replied.

Suddenly a man in army clothes, turned sharply from where he held a can
of food for Hilda, and stared at her. Then Nancy saw that the hair
under his cap was snow white. Her eyes, so long conditioned to the
glare, could see little when she was brought inside, but now she stared
at this man incredulously. Was this another mirage? She brushed her
hands across her hollow eyes and looked again.

“Take it easy,” said the white-haired man with the pale, thin face.
“You’re going to be all right, Miss Nancy. I didn’t recognize you at
first.”

“You can’t be Vernon,” she whispered.

“But I am,” he assured her. “You asked us to come out and look for
Tommy and here we are.”

“You’ve found him?”

“We’re on our way to pick him up now,” Vernon explained. “But you’d
better lie down now and keep yourself quiet or you won’t be able to
greet him when we take him aboard.”

He forced her to lie down, and she glanced across to see others looking
after Mabel and Hilda.

“You may not find him,” she said wearily. “A person can stand just so
much.”

She felt it would not be so terrible after all if Tommy were really
dead. Those who had known bitter depths of suffering had told her many
times that there were things worse than death, and in those awful days
adrift she had learned it was true. She had even stopped praying that
Tommy might live. How could she have been so cruel all along as to try
to hold him to a life of such hardships?

“A plane has already been over the island,” Vernon explained in answer
to her doubts. “A man signaled us from the beach. It must’ve been Tom.”

“When?” she asked.

“Yesterday.”

“We thought we heard a plane yesterday. Why didn’t you rescue him then?”

“There was no place to land. Only a seaplane can get near him.”

The great motors of the plane roared into action again as Vernon
finished speaking. He motioned her to lie back and rest, for even his
voice was not yet strong enough to carry above that roar.

Nancy had a struggle to force her mind to any degree of calmness. The
swift changes of the last few minutes and her renewed hope about Tommy
brought an enervating reaction.

Though the island where Tommy had been marooned was the goal of their
sailing from the time Olan learned of it, Nancy could scarcely believe
they had actually come within reasonable range of it. That the rescue
expedition, which she had instigated back on Koshu Island, would be the
means of saving her own life, too, seemed now almost uncanny. This war
had certainly woven some strange and incredible designs into the
tapestry of life.

So relieved was she to sink into the comfort of that berth and know she
would be taken back to safety, that not even her suspense about Tommy
kept off her drowsiness as the plane gained height. She felt as she
once had when going under an anesthetic.

Some time later a gentle hand on her cheek roused her. “We’re flying
over the island,” Vernon said in her ear.

She was confused for a moment, then asked, “Is there a window where I
can look out?”

He helped her down and over to a window from where she could see the
verdant blotch entirely surrounded by a blue lagoon fringed with reefs
on which tumbling waves broke, an emerald set in sapphire and pearls.
The plane crossed the island at great height, then circled and came
back much lower, just leaving a safe margin above the towering palms.

“He signaled from the western shore,” Vernon said.

Nancy saw the gunner’s hand tremble violently as he steadied himself
against the seat in front.

The great ship roared south, then north above the western shore of the
island.

“There he is! There he is!” cried Nancy, tears of joy streaming down
her thin cheeks.

There really was a man waving something white. From the way he ran back
and forth Nancy saw he was not weak from hunger as she was.

A few minutes later the plane moved off a safe distance from the reefs
and taxied cautiously nearer one of the inlets. A small rubber
motorboat, manned by three men, headed toward a passage in the barrier
reef. Nancy wondered if she could live through the interval until she
could know if the marooned man was really Tommy. She and Vernon crossed
to the opposite window, which gave a view toward the island, but the
plane was too low for them to see beyond the high waves pounding on the
reef.

“I’m sure I look like a scarecrow,” said Nancy, suddenly aware of her
looks. “Could they spare me a little water to try to scrub some of the
grime off my face and hands?”

Vernon put a bit of water in a helmet and took a folded handkerchief
from his pocket to use as a washcloth. He even produced a small piece
of soap. Though Nancy scrubbed and scrubbed, and felt slightly better
for the performance, she decided that nothing less than a day’s soaking
in hot water would produce satisfactory results.

She saw that Mabel and Hilda still slept, and she left them in peace.
Already she was beginning to wonder when they would let her have more
water and another portion of food. But Lieutenant Holmes had been very
positive in dealing out the amount they could have at first.

Vernon and Captain Crawford, the young blue-eyed pilot, filled the
seemingly interminable interval by asking Nancy about the shipwreck.
While she gave them the horrible details Nancy’s gaze kept turning
toward that door through which the boatmen would return.

“How long were you adrift?” asked Captain Crawford.

Nancy shook her head. “I’m not sure. Olan Meyer made notches on the
stern seat until he died—after that it didn’t seem to matter. There’re
seven notches on the seat.”

“They left Koshu Island on October third,” Vernon recalled. “This is
the sixteenth.”

“Thirteen days,” said Nancy. “Seems more like thirteen years.” She
glanced toward the door again. “Why don’t they come back? Could they
have struck a reef?”

The captain glanced at his watch. “Not quite time yet.”

But even as he spoke the throb of the motorboat beat on their ears
again.

“They’re coming!” she cried, and staggered toward the exit.

Minutes had never seemed so long to Nancy, but eventually the boat came
into range. Aquiver with expectancy, she searched the faces of the
boatmen. Then her gaze came to rest on a sun-baked, nut-brown man with
a long brown beard. Sick with suspense, for she could not believe that
man was Tommy, she wavered and the oncoming boat blurred. She felt
Vernon’s arm about her waist, steadying her.

Suspense, fear, then incredible joy followed in swift succession, for
Tommy was calling her name. Her head was whirling so that he seemed
very far away. But there he was really stepping into the plane. A
moment later she was in his arms. Then all her agony was dissolved in
complete joy, for his arms about her gave assurance that their
suffering was over.

“They told me you were here,” he said, when he could command himself to
speak, “and also about the horrible things you’ve been through.”

“No more awful than yours—nor half so bad,” she said, looking up into
his eyes that had been so much like hers before her own became so
hollow.

“After the first month I didn’t fare so badly,” he reassured her. “For
a while I didn’t believe I’d make it. Since my stomach healed, though,
it’s been endurable.”

“You don’t look starved,” she said.

“A man can live a long time on fruit, roots, coconuts and fish. But
say, will I be glad to have a real meal once more!”

“Then what are we waiting for, old scout!” exclaimed Captain Crawford,
slapping the rescued man on the back. “We’ll take you straight back to
Koshu Island where there’s plenty of food and water, and a few
decorations for all of you who’ve shown so much valor in action.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration]

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Transcriber’s Note


Punctuation has been normalized.  Variations in hyphenation have been
retained as they were in the original publication. The following
changes have been made:

The chapter entitled “Camouflage” on Page 65 is the second instance of
Chapter Five. It has been changed to “Chapter Six”, to agree with the
Table of Contents and its sequential position.

Too many times spies have {deducted —> deduced} from the nature of a
group’s training {P. 72}

by the time we finish with all these {innoculations —> inoculations}
{P. 98}

a huge waterspout burst high in {the} air {P. 140}

“Don’t {knew —> know}. I just got a whiff of a change.” {P. 166}

Those first patients had to be {stretched —> stretchered} on the sands
of the beach. {P. 187}

Italicized words and phrases are presented by surrounding the text with
_underscores_.





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