THEY broke camp the following morning and moved slowly, the wounded men still litter borne. Where the trail was wide enough, Corrie walked beside Jerry’s litter. Sarina was behind her, and Rosetti walked with Sarina. Bubonovitch and several Dutchmen formed a rear guard. As none of the latter spoke English and Bubonovitch spoke no Dutch, the American had opportunity for meditation. Among other things, he meditated on the remarkable effect that some women had on some men. Reefers or snow made men goofy. Corrie and Sarina seemed to have a similar effect on Jerry and Rosetti. In Jerry’s case it was not so remarkable. But Shrimp! Shrimp was a confirmed woman hater, yet all of a sudden he had gone overboard for a brown skinned Eurasian murderess old enough to be his mother.
Bubonovitch had to admit that Sarina was plenty good-looking. That was the hell of it. He was mighty fond of Rosetti, and so he hoped that the little sergeant didn’t go too far. He didn’t know much about women, and Sarina didn’t seem exactly the safe type to learn from. Bubonovitch recalled a verse from Kipling;
She knifed me one night ’cause I wished she was white,
Bubonovitch sighed. After all, he thought, maybe Shrimp wasn’t altogether wrong when he said, “Dey don’t have to do nuttin’. Just bein’ a dame spells trouble.”
He abandoned this line of thought as unprofitable, and commenced to wonder about Tarzan. Jerry was wondering about him, too; and he voiced his misgivings to Corrie. “I’m commencing to worry about Tarzan,” he said. “He’s been gone two days now, and shortly after he disappeared some of the men thought they heard firing far off in the forest from the direction in which the Japs retreated.”
“But what in he world would he be doing back there?” objected Corrie.
“He is not like other men; so it would be useless for one of us to try to imagine what might impel him to the commission of any act. At times, as you well know, he acts like a wild beast. So there must be stimuli which cause him to think and react like a wild beast. You know how he feels about taking life, yet you heard him say that it was his duty to kill Japs.”
“And you think he may have followed them in order to kill some more of them?” suggested Corrie.
“Yes, and maybe got killed himself.”
“Oh, no! That is too terrible, even to think.”
“I know, but it is possible. And if he doesn’t show up, we’ll have to carry on without him. Gripes! I haven’t half realized how dependent we have been on him. We’d certainly have been on short rations most of the time if he hadn’t been along to hunt for us.”
“I should long since have quit needing rations but for him,” said Corrie. “I still see that tiger sometimes in my dreams. And Oju—ugh!”
They were silent for a while. Jerry lay with his eyes half closed. He was rolling his head slightly from side to side. “Feeling all right?” Corrie asked.
“Yes—fine. I wonder how much farther it is to camp.”
“I think Kervyn plans on camping for the night about where the outlaws were camping when I escaped,” said Corrie. “That is not far.” She noticed that Jerry’s face was very red, and placed a hand on his forehead. She dropped back and whispered to Sarina, and word was passed down the line for the doctor. Then she returned to the side of Jerry’s litter.
The American was muttering incoherently. She spoke to him, but he did not reply. He was turning restlessly, and she had to restrain him to prevent his rolling off the litter. She was terribly frightened.
She did not speak when Dr. Reyd came up to the other side of the litter. Jerry’s condition was too obvious to require explanation. Practically the only tool of his profession that Dr. Reyd had salvaged was a clinical thermometer. When he read it two minutes later, he shook his head.
“Bad?” asked Corrie.
“Not too good. But I don’t understand it. I expected him to run a little fever the night he was wounded, but he didn’t. I thought he was pretty safe by now.”
“Will he—? Will he—?”
The doctor looked across the litter at her and smiled. “Let’s not worry until we have to,” he said. “Millions of people have survived much worse wounds and higher temperatures.”
“But can’t you do something for him?”
Reyd shrugged. “I have nothing with which to do. Perhaps it is just as well. He is young, strong, in good condition, and physically as near perfect as a man can be. Nature is a damn good doctor, Corrie.”
“But you’ll stay here with him, won’t you, Doctor?”
“Certainly. And don’t you worry.”
Jerry mumbled, “Three Zeros at two o’clock,” and sat up.
Corrie and the doctor forced him back gently. Jerry opened his eyes and looked at Corrie. He smiled and said, “Mabel.” After that he lay quietly for a while. Rosetti had come up and was walking beside the litter. He had seen that perhaps Corrie and the doctor might need help. His eyes reflected worry and fear. Jerry said, “Lucas to Melrose! Lucas to Melrose!”
Rosetti choked back a sob. Melrose had been the tail gunner who had been killed—and Jerry was talking to him! The implication terrified Rosetti, but he kept his head. “Melrose to Lucas,” he said. “All quiet on de western front, Cap’n.”
Jerry relaxed, and said, “Roger.”
Corrie patted Rosetti’s shoulder. “You’re sweet,” she said. Shrimp flushed. “Who is Melrose?” Corrie asked.
“Our tail gunner. He was killed before the Lovely Lady crashed. An’ he was talkin’ to him! Geeze!”
Jerry turned and twisted. It was all that three of them could do to keep him on the litter. “I guess we’ll have to tie him down,” said the doctor.
Rosetti shook his head. “Get Bubonovitch up here, an’ me and him’ll take care of him. The Cap’n wouldn’t want to be tied down.”
Word was passed back down the column for Bubonovitch. Jerry was trying to get off the litter when he arrived. It took the combined strength of four to force him back. Bubonovitch was swearing softly under his breath. “The goddam Japs. The yellow bastards.” He turned on Rosetti. “Why in hell didn’t you send for me before?” he demanded. “Why didn’t somebody tell me he was like this?”
“Keep your shirt on, Bum,” said Rosetti. “I sends for you as soon as he needs you.”
“He hasn’t been this way long,” Corrie told Bubonovitch.
“I’m sorry,” said the latter. “I was frightened when I saw him this way. You see, we’re sort of fond of the guy.”
Tears almost came to Corrie’s eyes. “I guess we all are,” she said.
“Is he very bad, Doctor?” asked Bubonovitch.
“He is running quite a fever,” replied Reyd; “but it isn’t high enough to be dangerous—yet.”
They had come out of the forest into the valley where they were to camp. Now, out of the narrow trail, Sarina had come up beside the litter. When Jerry yelled, “Cripes! I can’t get her nose up. You fellows jump! Make it snappy!” and tried to jump off the litter, she helped hold him down.
Corrie stroked his forehead and said, soothingly, “Everything’s all right, Jerry. Just lie still and try to rest.”
He reached up and took her hand. “Mabel,” he said and sighed. Then he fell asleep. Rosetti and Bubonovitch tried not to look at Corrie.
Reyd sighed, too. “That’s the best medicine he could have,” he said.
A half hour later, van Prins called a halt; and they made camp beneath some trees beside the little stream that ran through the valley.
Jerry slept through the remainder of the afternoon and all the following night. Corrie and Sarina slept on one side of the litter, Bubonovitch and Rosetti on the other. They took turns remaining awake to watch over their patient.
When it was Corrie’s turn to remain awake, she kept thinking of Mabel. She had never heard the name of that girl in Oklahoma City who had married the 4-F, but she knew now that her name was Mabel. So he still loved her! Corrie tried not to care. Wasn’t Mabel lost to him? She was married. Then she thought that maybe it was some other girl named Mabel, and maybe this other girl wasn’t married. She wanted to ask Bubonovitch what the name of the girl in Oklahoma City was, but her pride wouldn’t let her.
When Jerry awoke he lay for several seconds looking up at the leafy canopy above him, trying to coax his memory to reveal its secrets. Slowly he recalled that the last thing he had been conscious of was being very uncomfortable on a litter that was being borne along a narrow forest trail. Now the litter had come to rest and he was very comfortable. Quite near him he heard the purling laughter of the little river rippling among the boulders as it hurried gaily on to keep its assignation with the sea.
Jerry looked toward it and saw Bubonovitch and Rosetti kneeling on its grassy bank washing their hands and faces. He smiled happily as he thought how fortunate he had been in the comrades the war had given him. He fought away the sadness for those he would never see again. A fellow mustn’t brood about things like that, those inescapable concomitants of war.
Turning his head away from the river, he looked for Corrie. She was sitting close beside his litter, cross-legged, elbows on knees, her face buried in her opened palms. Her hair was gold again; but she still wore it bobbed, being, as she was, a very practical little person. That, too, was why she continued to wear pants.
Jerry looked at her fondly, thinking what a cute boy she looked. And also thinking, thank God she’s not. He knew she wasn’t; because he wouldn’t have wanted to take a boy in his arms and kiss him. And that was exactly what he wanted to do with Corrie that very moment, but he didn’t have the nerve. Coward! he thought.
“Corrie,” he said, very softly. She opened her eyes and raised her head. “Oh, Jerry!”
He reached over and took one of her hands. She placed her other hand on his forehead. “Oh, Jerry! Jerry! Your fever is all gone. How do you feel?”
“As though I could eat a cow, hoofs, horns, and hide.”
Corrie choked back a sob. This sudden relief from fear and strain broke down the barriers of emotional restraint that had been her spiritual shield and buckler for so long. Corrie scrambled to her feet and ran away. She took refuge behind a tree and leaned against it and cried. She couldn’t recall when she had been so happy.
“Wot,” Rosetti asked Bubonovitch, “was de name of dat dame in Oklahoma City wot gave de Cap’n de brush-off?”
“I don’t know,” said Bubonovitch.
“I wonder was it Mabel,” wondered Rosetti.
Jerry looked after Corrie, with knitted brows. Now what the hell? he thought. Sarina, having attached herself to Corrie and the Americans, was preparing their breakfast nearby. Dr. Reyd, making the round of his patients, came to Jerry. “How goes it this morning?”
“Feeling great,” Jerry told him. “Won’t have to be carried any longer.”
“Maybe that’s what you think,” said Reyd, grinning. “But you’re wrong.”
Captain van Prins and Tak van der Bos came over. “Think you can stand another day of it?” the former asked Jerry.
“Sure I can.”
“Good! I want to start as soon as possible. This place is too exposed.”
“You had us worrying yesterday, Jerry,” said van der Bos.
“I had a good doctor,” said Jerry.
“If I’d had you back in civilian life,” said Reyd, “I’d have given you a pill yesterday; and this morning I’d have told you how near death’s door you were yesterday.”
Corrie came out from behind her tree and joined them. Jerry saw that her eyes were red, and knew why she had run away. “Just getting up, lazy?” Tak asked her.
“I’ve been out looking for a cow,” said Corrie.
“A cow! Why?”
“Jerry wanted one for breakfast.”
“So he’ll eat rice,” said van Prins, grinning.
“When I get off your lovely island,” said Jerry, “and anyone says rice to me, he’d better smile.”
The others went on about their duties, leaving Corrie alone with Jerry. “I must have passed out cold yesterday,” he said. “Can’t remember a thing after about a couple of hours on the trail.”
“You were a very sick man—just burning up with fever. You kept trying to jump off the litter. It took four of us to hold you down. The doctor wanted to tie you to the litter, but that sweet little sergeant wouldn’t hear of it. He said, ‘De Cap’n wouldn’t want to be tied down’; so he and Bubonovitch and the doctor and Sarina and I walked beside the litter.”
“Shrimp’s a good little guy,” said Jerry.
“Those boys are very fond of you, Jerry.”
“That works both ways,” said Jerry. “Members of a combat crew have to like one another. You don’t trust a guy you don’t like, and we got enough worries when we’re flying a mission without having to worry about some fellow we can’t trust. I’m sorry I was such a nuisance yesterday.”
“You weren’t a nuisance. We were just frightened; because we thought you were so terribly sick. And your being delirious made it seem much worse than it really was.” She paused a moment, and then she said, “Who is Mabel?”
“Mabel? What do you know about Mabel?”
“Nothing. But you kept asking for her.”
Jerry laughed. “That’s what Dad called Mother. It isn’t her name, but he started calling her Mabel even before they were married. He got the name from a series of ‘Dere Mabel’ letters that were popular during World War I; and we kids thought it was funny to call her Mabel, too.”
“We were all wondering who Mabel was,” said Corrie, lamely.
“I suppose it had Shrimp and Bubonovitch and Sarina and the doctor terribly worried,” said Jerry.
“That is not funny, and you are not nice,” said Corrie.