Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross eBook: Page2

L. Frank Baum (2005)



  A sweet-faced girl, very attractive but with a sad and anxiousexpression, descended from the Pullman and brightened as she found herfriends standing with outstretched arms to greet her.

  "Oh, Maud!" cried Patsy, usurping the first hug, "how glad I am to seeyou again!"

  Beth looked in Maud Stanton's face and forbore to speak as she embracedher friend. Then Jones shook both hands of the new arrival and UncleJohn kissed her with the same tenderness he showed his own nieces.

  This reception seemed to cheer Maud Stanton immensely. She even smiledduring the drive to Willing Square--a winning, gracious smile that wouldhave caused her to be instantly recognized in almost any community ofour vast country; for this beautiful young girl was a famous motionpicture actress, possessing qualities that had endeared her to everypatron of the better class photo-dramas.

  At first she had been forced to adopt this occupation by the sternnecessity of earning a livelihood, and under the careful guidance of heraunt--Mrs. Jane Montrose, a widow who had at one time been a favorite inNew York social circles--Maud and her sister Florence had appliedthemselves so intelligently to their art that their compensation hadbecome liberal enough to enable them to save a modest competence.

  One cause of surprise at Maud's sudden journey east was the fact thather services were in eager demand by the managers of the best producingcompanies on the Pacific Coast, where nearly all the American picturesare now made. Another cause for surprise was that she came alone,leaving her Aunt Jane and her sister Flo--usually her inseparablecompanion--in Los Angeles.

  But they did not question her until the cosy home at Willing Square wasreached, luncheon served and Maud installed in the "Guest Room." Thenthe three girls had "a good, long talk" and presently came troopinginto the library to enlighten Uncle John and Ajo.

  "Oh, Uncle! What do you think?" cried Patsy. "Maud is going to the war!"

  "The war!" echoed Mr. Merrick in a bewildered voice. "What on earthcan--"

  "She is going to be a nurse," explained Beth, a soft glow of enthusiasmmantling her pretty face. "Isn't it splendid, Uncle!"

  "H-m," said Uncle John, regarding the girl with wonder. "It is certainlya--a--surprising venture."

  "But--see here, Maud--it's mighty dangerous," protested young Jones."It's a tremendous undertaking, and--what can one girl do in the midstof all those horrors?"

  Maud seated herself quietly between them. Her face was grave andthoughtful.

  "I have had to answer many such arguments before now, as you maysuspect," she began in even tones, "but the fact that I am here, well onmy journey, is proof that I have convinced my aunt, my sister and all mywestern friends that I am at least determined on my mission, whether itbe wise or foolish. I do not think I shall incur danger by caring forthe wounded; the Red Cross is highly respected everywhere, these days."

  "The Red Cross?" quoth Uncle John.

  "Yes; I shall wear the Red Cross," she continued. "You know that I am atrained nurse; it was part of my education before--before--"

  "I had not known that until now," said Mr. Merrick, "but I am glad youhave had that training. Beth began a course at the school here, but Itook her away to Europe before she graduated. However, I wish more girlscould be trained for nursing, as it is a more useful and admirableaccomplishment than most of them now acquire."

  "Fox-Trots and Bunny-Hugs, for instance," said Patricia with finedisdain.

  "Patsy is a splendid nurse," declared Ajo, with a grateful look towardthat chubby miss.

  "But untrained," she answered laughingly. "It was just common sense thatenabled me to cure your malady, Ajo. I couldn't bandage a cut or abullet wound to save me."

  "Fortunately," said Maud, "I have a diploma which will gain for me theendorsement of the American Red Cross Society. I am counting on that toenable me to get an appointment at the seat of war, where I can be ofmost use."

  "Where will you go?" asked the boy. "To Germany, Austria, Russia,Belgium, or--"

  "I shall go to France," she replied. "I speak French, but understandlittle of German, although once I studied the language."

  "Are you fully resolved upon this course, Maud?" asked Mr. Merrick in atone of regret.

  "Fully decided, sir. I am going to Washington to-morrow, to get mycredentials, and then I shall take the first steamer to Europe."

  There was no use arguing with Maud Stanton when she assumed that tone.It was neither obstinate nor defiant, yet it conveyed a quiet resolvethat was unanswerable.

  For a time they sat in silence, musing on the many phases of thiscurious project; then Beth came to Mr. Merrick's side and askedpleadingly:

  "May I go with her, Uncle?"

  "Great Scott!" he exclaimed, with a nervous jump. "_You_, Beth?"

  "Yes, Uncle. I so long to be of help to those poor fellows who arebeing so cruelly sacrificed; and I know I can soothe much suffering, ifI have the opportunity."

  He stared at her, not knowing what to reply. This quaint little man wasso erratic himself, in his sudden resolves and eccentric actions, thathe could scarcely quarrel with his niece for imitating an example he hadfrequently set. Still, he was shrewd enough to comprehend the recklessdaring of the proposition.

  "Two unprotected girls in the midst of war and carnage, surrounded byforeigners, inspired to noble sacrifice through ignorance andinexperience, and hardly old enough to travel alone from Hoboken toBrooklyn! Why, the thing's absurd," he said.

  "Quite impractical," added Ajo, nodding wisely. "You're both too pretty,my dears, to undertake such an adventure. Why, the wounded men would allfall in love with their nurses and follow you back to America in aflock; and that might put a stop to the war for lack of men to fightit."

  "Don't be silly, Ajo," said Patsy, severely. "I've decided to go withMaud and Beth, and you know very well that the sight of my freckled facewould certainly chill any romance that might arise."

  "That's nonsense, Patsy!"

  "Then you consider me beautiful, Uncle John?"

  "I mean it's nonsense about your going with Maud and Beth. I won't allowit."

  "Oh, Uncle! You know I can twine you around my little finger, if Ichoose. So don't, for goodness' sake, start a rumpus by trying to setyour will against mine."

  "Then side with me, dear. I'm quite right, I assure you."

  "You're always right, Nunkie, dear," she cried, giving him a resoundingsmack of a kiss on his chubby cheek as she sat on the arm of his chair,"but I'm going with the girls, just the same, and you may as well makeup your mind to it."

  Uncle John coughed. He left his chair and trotted up and down the room amoment. Then he carefully adjusted his spectacles, took a long look atPatsy's face, and heaved a deep sigh of resignation.

  "Thank goodness, that's settled," said Patsy cheerfully.

  Uncle John turned to the boy, saying dismally:

  "I've done everything in my power for these girls, and now they defy me.They've declared a thousand times they love me, and yet they'd trot offto bandage a lot of unknown foreigners and leave me alone to worry myheart out."

  "Why don't you go along?" asked Jones. "I'm going."


  "Of course. I've a suspicion our girls have the right instinct, sir--thetender, womanly instinct that makes us love them. At any rate, I'm goingto stand by them. It strikes me as the noblest and grandest idea a girlever conceived, and if anything could draw me closer to these threeyoung ladies, who had me pretty well snared before, it is this veryproposition."

  "I don't see why," muttered Uncle John, wavering.

  "I'll tell you why, sir. For themselves, they have all the good thingsof life at their command. They could bask in luxury to the end of theirdays, if they so desired. Yet their wonderful womanly sympathy goes outto the helpless and suffering--the victims of the cruellest war theworld has ever known--and they promptly propose to sacrifice their easeand brave whatever dangers may befall, that they may relieve to someextent the pa
in and agony of those wounded and dying fellow creatures."

  "Foreigners," said Uncle John weakly.

  "Human beings," said the boy.

  Patsy marched over to Ajo and gave him a sturdy whack upon the back thatnearly knocked him over.

  "The spirit of John Paul Jones still goes marching on!" she cried. "Myboy, you're the right stuff, and I'm glad I doctored you."

  He smiled, looking from one to another of the three girls questioningly.

  "Then I'm to go along?" he asked.

  "We shall be grateful," answered Maud, after a moment's hesitation."This is all very sudden to me, for I had planned to go alone."

  "That wouldn't do at all," asserted Uncle John briskly. "I'm astonishedand--and grieved--that my nieces should want to go with you, but perhapsthe trip will prove interesting. Tell me what steamer you want to catch,Maud, and I'll reserve rooms for our entire party."

  "No," said Jones, "don't do it, sir."

  "Why not?"

  "There's the _Arabella_. Let's use her."

  "To cross the ocean?"

  "She has done that before. It will assist our enterprise, I'm sure, tohave our own boat. These are troublous times on the high seas."

  Patsy clapped her hands gleefully.

  "That's it; a hospital ship!" she exclaimed.

  They regarded her with various expressions: startled, doubtful,admiring, approving. Presently, with added thought on the matter, theapproval became unanimous.

  "It's an amazing suggestion," said Maud, her eyes sparkling.

  "Think how greatly it will extend our usefulness," said Beth.

  Uncle John was again trotting up and down the room, this time in astate of barely repressed excitement.

  "The very thing!" he cried. "Clever, practical,and--eh--eh--tremendously interesting. Now, then, listen carefully--allof you! It's up to you, Jones, to accompany Maud on the night express toWashington. Get the Red Cross Society to back our scheme and supply uswith proper credentials. The _Arabella_ must be rated as a hospital shipand our party endorsed as a distinct private branch of the RedCross--what they call a 'unit.' I'll give you a letter to our senatorand he will look after our passports and all necessary papers. I--Ihelped elect him, you know. And while you're gone it shall be mybusiness to fit the ship with all the supplies we shall need to promoteour mission of mercy."

  "I'll share the expense," proposed the boy.

  "No, you won't. You've done enough in furnishing the ship and crew. I'llattend to the rest."

  "And Beth and I will be Uncle John's assistants," said Patsy. "We shallwant heaps of lint and bandages, drugs and liniments and--"

  "And, above all, a doctor," advised Ajo. "One of the mates on my yacht,Kelsey by name, is a half-way physician, having studied medicine in hisyouth and practiced it on the crew for the last dozen years; but what wereally need on a hospital ship is a bang-up surgeon."

  "This promises to become an expensive undertaking," remarked Maud, witha sigh. "Perhaps it will be better to let me go alone, as I originallyexpected to do. But, if we take along the hospital ship, do not beextravagant, Mr. Merrick, in equipping it. I feel that I have been theinnocent cause of drawing you all into this venture and I do not want itto prove a hardship to my friends."

  "All right, Maud," returned Uncle John, with a cheerful grin, "I'll tryto economize, now that you've warned me."

  Ajo smiled and Patsy Doyle laughed outright. They knew it would notinconvenience the little rich man, in the slightest degree, to fit out adozen hospital ships.