Buster by Katharine Holland
Lucien, Mrs. Bellamy’s impeccable chauffeur,
brought me home from Mrs. Bellamy’s bridge that
green-gold summer afternoon of 1914. Looking down
from the cliff road, all Gloucester Harbor was a floor of
rippled amethyst. When we turned into the forest drive
the air breathed deep of pine fragrance, heady as new
“How few people are driving to-day, Lucien! Yet
it’s so perfect—”
“One driver approaches, mademoiselle.” Lucien’s
solid gray shape bore hard on the wheel. The big car
swerved, shot half-way up the bank. I screamed. Past
us like a streak of white lightning tore a headlong white
monster, muffler cut out, siren whooping. Its huge
wheels grazed our hubs; with a roar, it shot round the
curve, plunged down the steep grade toward Gloucester,
and vanished. Its shriek rang back to us like the shriek
of a lost soul.
“Lucien! That car must have been making eighty
miles an hour!”
“Mademoiselle speaks truth.” Lucien, frankly shaken,
took off his cap and wiped a very damp brow. “It is the
car of the great Doctor Lake, he who is guest of Madame
Hallowell, at Greenacres.”
“Doctor Lake! That stodgy old specialist!” I was a
bit shaken myself. “Nonsense. He never ventures out
of a crawl.”
“Pardon, mademoiselle. It is the car of Doctor Lake.
But at the wheel sat not monsieur the doctor. Instead,
there sat, and drove”—here Lucien forgot himself completely—“that
“Buster!” I groaned. For there was only one demon
boy on all Cape Ann, and that was my second cousin
Isabella O’Brien’s only son, Richard Parke O’Brien, rechristened
Buster since the days of his tempestuous infancy.
Isabella (born Sears and Brattle Street, but she
ran away and married Octavius O’Brien, descendant of
an unknown race, at eighteen, and has lived ever since in
the wilds of Oklahoma)—Isabella, I say, had sent her
child to visit Aunt Charlotte and myself, while she and
her Octavius went camping in the Yosemite. From her
letters we had inferred that she needed a vacation from
her Civic League work. Later, we came to realize that
her base secret aim had been to win a vacation from
Buster. What we two sedate Back Bay spinsters had
endured from that unspeakable child!
Octavius O’Brien is a large, emphatic man with large,
emphatic ideas as to the rearing of children. Buster once
summarized his father’s method in a few simple words.
“Here in New England, when I want to learn how to
do anything, you and Aunt Charlotte say: ‘Dear me,
Richard, wait till you grow up. Then you’ll understand.’
Down in Oklahoma, dad just gives me a check and says:
‘Go to it.’”
Such eclecticism bears startling fruits. The maddening
thing about Buster’s activities was that his blackest
crimes, once sifted down, proved not to be crimes at all.
Merely the by-products of his inquiring disposition. Although,
to quote Aunt Charlotte, if your house is burnt
down over your head, it matters little to you whether it
was fired for malice or from a scientific desire to see how
long it would take to burn.
To-day, as we drove on, I looked back on the summer.
As a rule, our months at the shore are compact of slow
and tranquil days, but this season had fled past like a
demented moving-picture film. Buster had arrived at
9 A. M. the 8th of June. By noon he had made his presence
felt. During the next five days he took the gas-range
apart, to see how it worked, and put it together
again, but inaccurately, so that it blew up and all but
annihilated a perfectly good cook. I had to raise Louisiana’s
wages three dollars a week. He drained all the
water out of the fountain pool, to see how long it would
take to refill it; then, at sight of a wayfaring organ-grinder
he rushed away, to bribe the man to open up his
instrument and let him see how its harmonious innards
worked. Thus, he left nine fat, venerable goldfish to
flop themselves to a miserable end. To be sure, he sniffled
audibly at dinner that night and almost declined dessert;
which didn’t bring back aunt’s beloved Chinese carp,
alas! He tried to teach Gulliver, the Leonards’ Great
Dane, to do German police-dog stunts. Gulliver, who is
young, obedient, and muddle-headed, took his training
seriously to heart and made breath-taking leaps at the
Leonards’ gardener’s throat, to the up-blown pride of
both Buster and the gardener. Unhappily, he saw fit to
show off his new accomplishment on an irascible New
York banker, to whom Commodore Leonard was trying
his best to sell his early Pullman place at Beverly Farms.
As Buster hotly declared, if the banker hadn’t squealed
and acted such a sissy, Gulliver would have stopped with
a mere snap at his lapel. But his cries so excited the
poor pup that by the time the horrified commodore came
to his aid most of the banker’s raiment was in tatters, to
say nothing of his dignity. Commodore Leonard lost his
one chance of the year to unload that white elephant of a
house. At that, he congratulated himself because the
banker didn’t sue him for damages.
Subdued and chastened, Buster took himself off to the
harbor to seek diversion among the ancient mariners
who had already found in him a stimulating audience.
He spent, I judge, a pleasant afternoon. He rode back
on the Magnolia ’bus just at dinner-time. He did not
return alone. Proudly he strode up the steps, one eye
cocked over his shoulder at the bland and tarry skipper
who swaggered, all too jovially, behind. Eagerly he ran
to the palsied Aunt Charlotte.
“Aunt Charlotte, this is my friend, Captain Harrigan,
of the Lottie Foster. The captain has come to dinner
and to spend the evening, and he’s promised to tell us
all his adventures and draw the plans for my racing
yacht, when I get one, and teach me how to make her
torpedo-proof and—and everything! Cap Harrigan,
meet Aunt Charlotte!”
Well, as Aunt Charlotte and I agreed later, we were
bound and helpless. The child was so brimful of glad
hospitality. You couldn’t strike him in the face by rebuffing
his friend. But oh, the hours that followed! As
Louisiana put it later, the genman wasn’t plumb drunk,
but he cert’ny was happy drunk. The instant dinner was
ended Aunt Charlotte fled up-stairs, locked her door, and
pushed the bureau against it. I stayed on deck, a quaking
Casabianca, till 11 P. M. Then, by way of a mild suggestion,
I turned down the lights; and Captain Harrigan,
now in mellow tears at the reminiscences of his own
boyhood, kissed my hands and took a fervent leave.
“But Richard, child! The man was intoxicated!
“Gosh, was he? Well, he was bully and interesting,
anyhow. Look at all those sailors’ knots he’s taught me.
And the story he told about crossing the equator the first
time, and the one about the admiral who was always three
sheets to the wind and wouldn’t tie his shoe-strings—what
does three sheets to the wind mean, anyhow? And
he’s showed me how to read a compass and all about
sextants and transits, too. Gee, I bet I could steer a
dreadnought, after what he’s taught me to-night.”
“He certainly was full of information. But don’t invite
any more drunken sailors to the house, dear. Bring
your friends home whenever you wish, but make sure
first that they’re sober.”
“Well, I will. Though I kind o’ hate to ask ’em.”
With that I let the matter drop. You could not blame
the child. Back of every calamity that he brought upon
us lay his ravenous curiosity, his frantic longing to know
how the world was made and ruled. But to-day was
different. No hunger for knowledge could warrant a
boy of fifteen in seizing the sacrosanct car of the most
famous of Boston specialists, and going joy-riding down
the Gloucester hills. Buster should be seriously rebuked.
Incidentally, I’d been playing bridge all afternoon
with two stern dowagers and one irritable maiden lady,
all crack players, while I’m a hopeless amateur. I had
on a tea-rose crêpe de chine and the waitress had spilled
coffee on it. Further, I was wearing brand-new patent-leather
slippers. Yes, Buster would receive his full
Buster pranced home at dusk, afire with triumph from
his crested red head to his comically massive young feet.
Pallid and grave, Aunt Charlotte and I confronted him
on the piazza.
“H’lo, Cousin Edith. Say, is dinner ready? Cracky,
I could eat a whole barbecue!”
“Richard! Where is Doctor Lake’s car?”
Buster gasped slightly, but his jauntiness never
“Over at Mrs. Hallowell’s garage, of course.”
“You have just left it there. Richard, don’t you realize
what a lawless thing you have done? To take another
person’s car without permission—”
“I did too have permission!” Buster’s red crest
reared. His black eyes flamed. “I had her opened up,
and was studying the engine—gee, some peach!—and I
told the doctor’s chauffeur that I’d bet him a box of
Gibraltars I could take that car clear to Doctor Lake’s
Boston office and back in two hours and not get pinched.
And he said, ‘I’m from Saint Joe, son. You gotta show
me.’ So I jumped aboard, and I’d beat it down the
drive before he could say boo. And I made it in one
hour and fifty-seven minutes, though I had to waste ten
minutes, and a dollar besides, on the doctor’s mutt of a
doorman—making him understand why he must sign
his name to a card saying I’d reported there at five sharp.
The big dummy, I don’t believe the real reason has
dawned on him yet. But you oughter seen that chauffeur
wilt when I whizzled her in, two minutes ago!”
“I feel wilted myself. When I think of the apologies
I must make to Doctor Lake—”
“Apologies? What for? He ought to be delighted.
It was a corking speed test for his car. Down that stem-winder
cliff, let me tell you, she just naturally hung on by
“Richard, the chauffeur did not mean to give you permission.
You know that.”
“W-Well. What if he didn’t?”
“Richard, you are inexcusable.” Aunt Charlotte
ruffled her feathers and dashed into the fray. Whereat
“Gee, ain’t it fierce? Ain’t it, now! How’s a fellow
to learn about cars and engines and things if folks won’t
ever give him a chance to try ’em out? And I’ve got to
find out how to do things and make things and run
things; I’ve got to know!”
His solid fists clinched; his voice skittered comically
from a bass bellow to an angry treble crow. I choked.
He was so exactly like a pin-feathered young Shanghai
rooster, hotly contending his right to live his own life,
against two glum, elderly hens. But that didn’t deter
me from marching him over to Madam Hallowell’s later.
“Nonsense, my dear Miss Edith!” Thus Doctor
Lake, just a bit too Olympian in large white waistcoat
and eminent calm. “It was my chauffeur’s doing. He
will answer to me. I beg you, give the matter no more
None the less, in his bland eye lurked a yearning to
seize on Buster and boil him in oil. Buster saw that
“Grown-up folks are so darn stingy!” he mused bitterly
as we went away. He aimed a vicious kick at the
box hedge. “You’d think any man would be glad to
let a fellow take his car to pieces and study it out, then
test it for speed and endurance, ’specially when the fellow
has never owned anything better than a measly little
runabout in all his life. But no. There he stands, all
diked out like a cold boiled owl, with his eyes rolled up
and his lip rolled out—‘My chauffeur will answer to
me.’ When, all the time, he’d lick the hide off me if he
just dasted. Old stuffed shirt!”
“You need not speak so disrespectfully—”
“I wouldn’t—if folks wasn’t so disrespectful to me.”
His eyes began to flash again, his sullen under-lip to
quiver. “‘Learn it all,’ they tell you. ‘Investigate
every useful art.’ That’s what everybody pours down
your throat, teachers, and relations, an’ all the rest of ’em.
How do they s’pose I’m going to learn about things if
they lock everything up away from me? And I’ve got
to find out about things; I’ve got to know!”
I didn’t say anything. What was the use? You might
as well scold an active young dynamo for wanting to
spark. But mild little Aunt Charlotte was quite sputtery,
“Isabella and her Octavius have reared their child to
have the tastes of a common mechanic. It is too ridiculous.
Richard needs to understand problems of finance,
not of cogs and axle-grease. If only American parents
would adopt the German methods! They teach their
children what is best for them to know. They don’t permit
their young people to waste time and money on wild-goose
“N-no.” I shivered a little. For some reason, the
annual percentage of school-boy suicides in Prussia
flashed through my mind. When you multiplied that by
a nation— “But perhaps it’s as well that we give our
boys more rope.”
“To hang themselves with?” sniffed Aunt Charlotte.
So did Buster, for some weeks—weeks so peaceful,
they were all but sinister. Across the ocean, a harebrained
student murdered a reigning duke and his duchess.
It made the newspapers very unpleasant reading
for several days. Across the harbor, the yacht-club gave
the most charming dinner dance of the year. Down East
Gloucester way, a lank and close-mouthed youth from
Salem had set up a shack of a hangar and was giving
brief and gaspy flights to the summer populace at five
dollars a head. Whereat Buster gravitated to East
Gloucester, as the needle to the pole. He bribed Louisiana
to give him his breakfast at seven; he snatched a
mouthful of lunch in the village; he seldom reached home
“Richard, you are not spending your allowance in
“Say, listen, Cousin Edie. Where’d I get the coin
for five-dollar jitney trips? I’m overdrawn sixty dollars
on my allowance now, all on account of that beanery
down the harbor—”
“The beanery? You haven’t eaten sixty dollars’
worth of beans!”
Buster jumped. He turned a sheepish red.
“Gosh, I forgot. Why—well, you see, the boss at
that joint has just put in the grandest big new oven ever—iron
and cement and a steam-chamber and everything.
One day last week he had to go to Boston, and I asked
him to let me fire it for him. It was the most interesting
thing, to watch that steam-gauge hop up, only she
hopped too fast. So I shut off the drafts, but I wasn’t
quick enough. There were forty-eight pounds of beans
in the roaster, and they burnt up, crocks and all, and—well,
between us, we hadn’t put enough water in the
boiler. So she sort of—er—well, she blew up. I wired
dad for the money, and he came across by return mail.
Dad’s a pretty good sport. But I’ll bet he doesn’t loosen
up again before Labor Day.”
Well, I was sorry for the baker. But Buster, penniless,
was far less formidable than Buster with money in his
The green and golden days flowed on. The North
Shore was its loveliest. But the newspapers persisted in
being unpleasant. Serbian complications, amazing pronunciamentos,
rumors that were absurd past credence;
then, appalling, half-believed, the winged horror-tale of
Belgium. Then, in a trice, our bridge-tables were pushed
back, our yacht dinners forgotten. Frowning, angrily
bewildered, we were all making hurried trips to the
village and heckling the scared young telegraph-operator
with messages and money that must be cabled to
marooned kinsfolk at Liverpool or Hamburg or Ostend.
“This moment! Can’t you see how important it is?”
A day or so more and we were all buying shoes and
clothes for little children and rushing our first boggled
first-aid parcels to the wharf. And, in the midst of all
that dazed hurly, up rose Mrs. John B. Connable. Aglow
with panicky triumph, she flung wide the gates of Dawn
Towers, her spandy-new futurist palace, to the first
bazaar of the Belgian relief!
As one impious damsel put it, Belgium’s extremity
was Mrs. Connable’s opportunity. Seven weary years,
with the grim patience of stalwart middle age and seventeen
millions, has Mrs. John B. labored to mount the
long, ice-coated stair that leads from a Montana cow-camp
to the thresholds of Beacon Hill. Six cruel seasons
have beheld her falter and slip back. But on this, the
seventh, by this one soaring scramble, she gained the topmost
gliddery round. A bazaar for the Belgians? For
once, something new. And Dawn Towers, despite its
two-fisted châtelaine, was said to be a poet’s dream.
Well, we went. All of us. Even to Madam Hallowell,
in lilac chiffon and white fox fur, looking like the Wicked
Fairy done by Drian; even to Aunt Charlotte, wearing
the Curtice emeralds, her sainted nose held at an angle
that suggested burnt flannel. I’ll say for Mrs. Connable
that she did it extremely well. The great, beautiful house
was thrown open from turret to foundation-stone. Fortune-tellers
lurked in gilded tents; gay contadinas sang
and sold their laces—the prettiest girls from the Folies
at that; Carli’s band, brought from New York to play
fox-trots; cleverest surprise of all, the arrival, at five
o’clock, of a lordly limousine conveying three heavenborn
“principals,” a haughty young director in puttees, a
large camera. Would Mrs. Connable’s guests consent
to group themselves upon the beach as background for
the garden-party scene of “The Princess Patricia”—with
Angela Meadow, from the Metropolitan, as the
Princess, if you please, and Lou-Galuppi himself as the
Mrs. Connable’s guests would. All the world loves a
camera, I reflected, as I observed Madam Hallowell drift
languidly to the centre-front, the chill Cadwalladers from
Westchester drape themselves unwittingly but firmly in
the foreground, the D’Arcy Joneses stand laughingly
holding hands in the very jaws of the machine. But
Doctor Lake was the strategist of the hour. Chuckling
in innocent mirth, he chatted with the radiant Angela
until the director’s signal brought the villain swaggering
from the side-lines; then, gracefully dismayed, he stepped
back at least six inches. If the camera caught Angela
at all, the doctor would be there—every eminent inch of
The joyous chatter stilled. On every face fell smug
sweetness, as a chrism. Clickety-click, click-click—
Then, amazingly, another sound mingled with that
magic tick, rose, drowned it to silence—the high, snarling
whine of a swift-coming aeroplane.
“Keep your places, please! Eyes right!”
Nobody heard him. Swung as on one pivot, the garden-party
turned toward the harbor, mazed, agape.
Across that silver water, flying so low its propeller
flashed through diamond spray, straight toward the
crowd on the beach it came—the aeroplane from East
“There, I knew he’d butt in just at the wrong minute!
I ordered him for six, sharp!” Mrs. Connable’s voice
rang hotly through the silence. “Hi, there! Land
farther down the beach; we ain’t ready for you. Go on,
I tell you! Oh, oh, my gracious goodness me! He’s
a-headin’ right on top of us—”
That was all anybody heard. For in that second,
pandemonium broke. The great, screaming bird drove
down upon us with the speed of light, the blast of a
howitzer shell. Whir-r-rip! The big marquee collapsed
like a burst balloon. Crash! One landing-wheel grazed
the band-stand; it tipped over like a fruit-basket, spilling
out shrieking men. Through a dizzy mist I saw the
garden-party, all its pose forgot, scuttle like terrified ants.
I saw the scornful Cadwalladers leap behind an infant
pine. I saw D’Arcy Jones seize his wedded wife by her
buxom shoulders and fling her in front of him, a living
shield. I saw—can I believe?—the august Doctor
Lake, pop-eyed and shrieking, gallop headlong across
the beach and burrow madly in the low-tide sands. I saw—but
how could my spinning brain set down those thousand
However, one eye saw it all—and set it down in cold,
relentless truth—the camera. True to his faith, that
camera-man kept on grinding, even when the monster
all but grazed his head.
Then, swifter even than that goblin flight, it was all
over. With a deafening thud, the aeroplane grounded
on a bed of early asters. Out of the observer’s seat
straddled a lean, tall shape—the aviator. From the
pilot’s sheath leaped a white-faced, stammering boy.
White to his lips; but it was the pallor of a white flame,
the light of a glory past all words.
“H’lo, Cousin Edie! See me bring her across the
harbor? Some little pilot!” Then, as if he saw for the
first that gurgling multitude, the wrecked tent, the over-turned
band-stand: “Gee, that last puff of wind was
more than I’d counted on. But she landed like thistledown,
just the same. Just thistledown!”
I’ll pass over the next few hours. And why attempt
to chronicle the day that followed? Bright and early, I
set forth to scatter olive-branches like leaves of Vallombrosa.
Vain to portray the icy calm of the Misses Cadwallader,
the smiling masks which hid the rage of the
D’Arcy Joneses. Hopeless to depict the bland, amused
aplomb of Doctor Lake. To hear him graciously disclaim
all chagrin was to doubt the word of one’s own
vision. Could I have dreamed the swoop of that mighty
bird, the screech of a panic-stricken fat man galloping
like a mad hippopotamus for the shelter of the surf?
As for Mrs. John B. Connable—hell hath no fury
like the woman who has fought and bled for years to
mount that treacherous flight; who, gaining the last
giddy step, feels, in one sick heartbeat, the ladder give
way from under. I went from that tearful and belligerent
empress feeling as one who has gazed into the dusk fires
of the Seventh Ledge.
“We’ll have to give a dinner for her, and ask the
Cadwalladers and Cousin Sue Curtice and the Salem
Bronsons. That will pacify her, if anything can.” Thus
Aunt Charlotte, with irate gloom. There are times when
Aunt Charlotte’s deep spiritual nature betrays a surprising
grasp of mundane things.
“Especially if we can get that French secretary, and
Madam Hallowell. Now I’m off to soothe the aviator.
Where did I put my check-book?”
The aviator stood at his hangar door, winding a coil
of wire. His lean body looked feather-light in its taut
khaki; under the leathern helmet, his narrow, dark eyes
glinted like the eyes of a falcon hooded against the sun.
Blank, unsmiling, he heard my maunder of explanation.
Somehow his cool aloofness daunted me a bit. But when
I fumbled for my checkbook, he flashed alive.
“Money? What for? Because the kid scraped an
aileron? Forget it. I ain’t puttin’ up any holler. He’s
fetched an’ carried for me all summer. I’m owin’ him,
if it comes down to that.”
“But Richard had no right to damage your machine—”
“Well, he never meant to. That squally gust put him
off tack, else he’d ’a’ brought her down smooth’s a
whistle. For, take it from me, he’s a flier born. Hand,
eye, balance, feel, he’s got ’em all. And he’s patient
and speedy and cautious and reckless all at once. And
he knows more about engines than I do, this minute.
There’s not a motor made that can faze him. Say,
he’s one whale of a kid, all right. If his folks would
let me, I’d take him on as flyin’ partner. Fifty-fifty at
I stiffened a trifle.
“You are very kind. But such a position would hardly
“For a swell kid like him?” Under his helmet those
keen eyes narrowed to twin points of light. “Likely not.
You rich hill folks can’t be expected to know your own
kids. You’ll send him to Harvard, then chain him up
in a solid-mahogany office, with a gang of solid-mahogany
clerks to kowtow to him, and teach him to make
money. When he might be flyin’ with me. Flyin’—with
me!” His voice shook on a hoarse, exultant note.
He threw back his head; from under the leathern casque
his eyes flamed out over the world of sea and sky, his
conquered province. “When he might be a flier, the
biggest flier the world has ever seen. Say, can you beat
it? Can you beat it?”
His rudeness was past excuse. Yet I stood before him
in the oddest guilty silence. Finally—
“But please let me pay you. That broken strut—”
“Nothing doing, sister. Forget it.” He bent to his
work. “Pay me? No matter if my plane did get a
knock, it was worth it. Just to see that fat guy in white
pants hot-foot it for deep water! Yes, I’m paid.
Then, to that day of shards and ashes, add one more
recollection—Buster’s face when Aunt Charlotte laid it
upon him that he should never again enter that hangar
“Aunt Charlotte! For Pete’s sake, have a heart!
I’ve got that plane eatin’ out of my hand. If that
plaguy cat’s-paw hadn’t sprung up—”
“You will not go to East Gloucester again, Richard.
That ends it.” Aunt Charlotte swept from the room.
“Gee!” Buster’s wide eyes filled. He slumped into
the nearest chair. “Say, Cousin Edie! Ain’t I got one
friend left on earth?”
“Can’t you see what I’m tryin’ to put over? I don’t
expect Aunt Charlotte to see. She’s a pippin, all right,
but that solid-ivory dome of hers—”
“But you’re different. You aren’t so awful old. You
ought to understand that a fellow just has to know about
things—cars, ships, aeroplanes, motors, everything!”
“Now, Cousin Edith, I’m not stringin’ you. I’m
dead in earnest. I’m not tryin’ to bother anybody; I’m
just tryin’ to learn what I’ve got to learn.” He leaped
up, gripped my arm; his passionate boy voice shrilled;
he was droll and pitiful and insolent all in a breath.
“No, sirree, I ain’t bluffin’, not for a cent. Believe me,
Cousin Edith, us fellows have got to learn how everything
works, and learn it quick. I tell you, we’ve got to
Well.... All this was the summer of 1914. Three
years ago. Three years and eight months ago, to be
exact. Nowadays, I don’t wear tea-rose crêpe frocks nor
slim French slippers. Our government’s daily Hints for
Paris run more to coarse blue denim and dour woollen
hose and clumping rubber boots. My once-lily hands
clasp a scrubbing-brush far oftener than a hand at bridge.
And I rise at five-thirty and gulp my scalding coffee in
the hot, tight galley of Field Hospital 64, then set to
work. For long before the dawn they come, that endless
string of ambulances, with their terrible and precious
freight. Then it’s baths and food and swift, tense minutes
in the tiny “theatre,” and swifter, tenser seconds
when we and the orderlies hurry through dressings and
bandagings, while the senior nurse toils like a Turk alongside
and bosses us meanwhile like a slave-driver. Every
day my heart is torn open in my breast for the pain of
my children, my poor, big, helpless, broken children.
Every night, when I slip by to take a last peep at their
sleepy, contented faces, my heart is healed for me again.
Then I stumble off to our half-partitioned slit and throw
myself on my bunk, tired to my last bone, happy to the
core of my soul. But day by day the work heaps up.
Every cot is full, every tent overflowing. We’re short
of everything, beds, carbolic, dressings, food. And yesterday,
at dusk, when we were all fagged to exhaustion,
there streamed down a very flood of wounded, eight
ambulance-loads, harvest of a bombed munitions depot.
“We haven’t an inch of room.”
“We’ve got to make room.” Doctor Lake, sweating,
dog-tired, swaying on his feet from nine unbroken hours
at the operating-table, took command. “Take my hut;
it’ll hold four at a pinch. You nurses will give up your
cubby-hole? Thought so. Plenty hot water, Octave?
Bring ’em along.”
They brought them along. Every stretcher, every
bunk, every crack was crowded now. Then came the
whir of a racing motor. One more ambulance plunged
up the sodden road.
“Ah! Grand blessé!” murmured old Octave.
“Grand blessé! And not a blanket left, even. Put
him in the coal-hole,” groaned the head nurse.
“Nix on the coal-hole.” Thus the muddy young
driver, hauling out the stretcher with its long, moveless
shape. “This is the candy kid—hear me? Our crack
scout. Escadrille 32.”
“Escadrille 32?” The number held no meaning for
me. Yet I pushed nearer. Grand blessé, indeed, that
lax, pulseless body, that shattered flesh, that blood and
mire. I bent closer. Red hair, shining and thick, the
red that always goes with cinnamon freckles. A clean-cut,
ashen young face, a square jaw, a stubborn, boyish
chin with a deep-cleft dimple.
Then my heart stopped short. The room whirled
“Buster!” I cried out. “You naughty, darling little
scamp! So you got your way, after all. You ran off
from school, and joined the escadrille—oh, sonny-boy,
don’t you hear me? Listen! Listen!”
The gaunt face did not stir. Only that ashy whiteness
seemed to grow yet whiter.
“We’ll do our best, Miss Preston. Go away now,
dear.” The head nurse put me gently back. I knew too
well what her gentleness meant.
“But Doctor Lake can save him! Doctor Lake can
pull him through!”
“Doctor Lake is worn out. We’ll have to manage
“Don’t you believe it!” I flamed. Then I, the greenest,
meekest slavey in the service, dashed straight to the
operating-room, and gripped Doctor Lake by both wrists
and jerked him bodily off the bench where he crouched, a
sick, lubberly heap, blind with fatigue.
“No, you sha’n’t stop to rest. Not yet!” I stormed
at him. Somehow I dragged him down the ward, to my
boy’s side. At sight of that deathlike face, the limp,
shivering man pulled himself together with all his weary
“I’ll do my level best, Miss Edith. Go away, now,
that’s a good girl.”
I went away and listened to the ambulance-driver.
He was having an ugly bullet scratch on his arm tied up.
He was not a regular field-service man, but a young
Y. M. C. A. helper who had taken the place of a driver
shot down that noon.
“Well, you see, that kid took the air two hours ago
to locate the battery that’s been spilling shells into our
munitions station. He spotted it, and two others besides.
Naturally, they spotted him. He scooted for
home, with a shrapnel wound in his shoulder, and made
a bad landing three miles back of the lines, and broke his
leg and whacked his head. Luckily I wasn’t a hundred
yards away. I got him aboard my car and gave him
first aid and started to bring him straight over here.
Would he stand for that? Not Buddy. ‘You’ll take
me to headquarters first, to report,’ says he. ‘So let her
“No use arguing. I let her out. We reported at headquarters,
three miles out of our way, then started here.
Two miles back, a shell struck just ahead and sent a rock
the size of a paving-brick smack against our engine.
The car stopped, dead. Did that faze the kid? Not so
you could notice it. ‘You hoist me on the seat and let
me get one hand on the wheel,’ says he, cool’s a cucumber.
‘There isn’t a car made but will jump through
hoops for me.’ Go she did. With her engine knocked
galley west, mind you, and him propped up, chirk as a
cherub, with his broken leg and his smashed shoulder,
and a knock on his head that would ’a’ stopped his clock
if he’d had any brains to jolt. Skill? He drove that car
like a racer. She only hit the high places. Pluck? He
“We weren’t fifty yards from the hospital when he
crumpled down, and I grabbed him. Hemorrhage, I
guess. I sure do hope they pull him through. But—I
Soon a very dirty-faced brigadier-general, whom I
used to meet at dances long ago, came and sat down on
a soap-box and held my hands and tried to comfort me,
so gently and so patiently, the poor, kind, blundering
dear. Most of his words just buzzed and glimmered
round me. But one thought stuck in my dull brain.
“This isn’t your boy’s first service to his country,
Miss Edith. He has been with the escadrille only a
month, but he has brought down three enemy planes,
and his scouting has been invaluable. He’s a wonder,
anyhow. So are all our flying boys. They tell me that
the German youngsters make such good soldiers because
they’re trained to follow orders blindfold. All very well
when it comes to following a bayonet charge over the
top. But the escadrille—that’s another story. Take
our boys, brought up to sail their own boats and run
their own cars and chance any fool risk in sight. Couple
up that impudence, that fearlessness, that splendid curiosity,
and you’ve got a fighting-machine that not only
fights but wins. All the drilled, stolid forces in creation
can’t beat back that headlong young spirit. If—”
He halted, stammering.
“If—we can’t keep him with us, you must remember
that he gave his best to his country, and his best was a
noble gift. Be very glad that you could help your boy
prepare himself to bestow it. You and his parents gave
him his outdoor life and his daring sports and his fearless
outlook, and his uncurbed initiative. You helped
him build himself, mind and body, to flawless powers
and to instant decisions. To-day came his chance to
give his greatest service. No matter what comes now,
you—you have your royal memory.”
But I could not hear any more. I cried out that I
didn’t want any royal memories, I wanted my dear, bad,
self-willed little boy. The general got up then and
limped away and stood and looked out of the window.
I sat and waited. I kept on waiting—minutes on
gray minutes, hours on hours.
Then a nurse grasped my shoulders, and tried to tell
me something. I heard her clearly, but I couldn’t string
her words together to make meaning. Finally, she drew
me to my feet and led me back to the operating-room.
There stood Doctor Lake. He was leaning against the
wall and wiping his face on a piece of gauze. He came
straight to me and put out both big, kind hands.
“Tell me. You needn’t try to make it easy—”
“There, there, Miss Edith. There’s nothing to tell.
Look for yourself.”
Gray-lipped, whiter than ashes, straight and moveless
as a young knight in marble effigy, lay my boy. But a
shadow pulse flickered in that bound temple, the cheek I
kissed was warm.
“No,” said Doctor Lake very softly. “He won’t die.
He’s steel and whipcord, that youngster. Heaven be
praised, you can’t kill his sort with a hatchet.”
He leaned down, gave Buster a long, searching look.
His puffy, fagged face twisted with bewilderment, then
broke into chuckles of astonishment and delight.
“Well, on my word and honor! I’ve just this moment
recognized him. This blessé is the imp of Satan who
used to steal my car up the North Shore. He’s the chap
who steered that confounded aeroplane into the
garden-party.... I’ve always sworn that, let me once lay
hands on that young scalawag, I’d lick the tar out of
“Well, here’s your chance,” snivelled I.
He did not hear me. He had stooped again over
Buster. Again he was peering into that still face. Over
his own face came a strange look, mirthful, then deep
with question, profoundly tender; then, flashing through,
a gleam of amazing and most piteous jealousy, the bitter,
comic jealousy of the most famous of all middle-aged
American surgeons for insolent, fool-hardy, glorious
Then he turned and went away, a big, dead-tired,
shambling figure. And in that instant my boy’s heavy
eyes lifted and stared at me. Slowly in them awoke a
“Hello, Cousin Edith. When did you blow in?”
I didn’t try to speak. I looked past him at Doctor
Lake, now plodding from the room. Buster’s eyes followed
mine. Over his face came a smile of heaven’s own
“Old stuffed shirt,” sighed Buster with exquisite content.
He turned his gaunt young head on the pillow;
he tucked a brawny fist under his cheek. Before I could
speak he had slipped away, far on a sea of dreams.