SOON after he returned to America in July 1942 I spent a few days almost continuously with Dr. Wassell for the purpose of obtaining the material on which this story is based. I had also interviewed some of the men from the Marblehead (their names are fictional in the story), and had visited Arkansas and talked intimately to many of the doctor's friends and relatives, including his wife and his mother. I did not expect that a task begun so documentarily would become, in retrospect, an almost spiritual experience, but it happened; and therefore I dedicate this story to the hero of it, not only in admiration for his courage, but in personal gratitude for an enrichment of faith during difficult days.
CORYDON WASSELL was born on July 4 (a good date), 1884, at Little Rock, Arkansas—a good place that can also claim Douglas MacArthur as one of its sons. The Wassell family came originally from Kidderminster, England, and the "Corydon" came from well, nobody seems to know.
Young Cory enjoyed a mixed education and a wandering youth; he did not decide on a profession till he was twenty-two. Then he studied at Johns Hopkins, after which he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1909 and began practising in the small Arkansas village of Tillar.
For the next five years he faced the usual struggles, problems, and hardships of a young doctor, but he was a gay sort of fellow, fond of a good time and a good story, and by no means depressed by a world in which the desires of the few so manifestly outweigh the needs of the many. He did, however, find himself taking sides in it—rather as Moliére's M. Jourdain found himself talking prose in it—with a naïve unawareness that anything so natural to him could be given a name. But it could, and doubtless was; and meanwhile he went his own way, working hard, enjoying life, and acquiring considerable popularity among those who could not pay their bills. Two things he did are worth special mention: he organized a sort of group-medicine scheme for Negro workers, and he married a village schoolteacher.
One day in 1913 the President of Suchow University came to Tillar and talked in the Episcopal Church about the needs of China. After the meeting the doctor found himself taking sides again—the same side, actually, though at the other side of the world. His wife being in full agreement, they both left Arkansas as prospective missionaries a few months later to make a new home at Wuchang, on the Yangtze River. Here the doctor studied Chinese, worked in the hospital at Boone University, and raised a family.
Except for a short furlough in 1919 (during which his fourth child, a son, was born at Little Rock), Dr. Wassell spent in all a dozen years in China. Four of them were European War years—all of them were Chinese war years. He did a great many things during this time. He learned to love the Chinese people, and to derive a great personal happiness from being among them; he diagnosed, treated, and operated at hospitals; he took a course in neurology at Peking Medical College and studied parasitology at Hunan Yale; he published articles on encephalitis in medical journals and examined thousands of snails in a search for the carrier of amoebic dysentery; he taught Chinese students, both in Chinese and in English; he mixed well with American and English residents, and had no trouble in avoiding religious friction with Buddhists and Catholics. He was perhaps every other inch a missionary. Presently he resigned from the society and took on the triple tasks of port doctor at Kukiang, consultant in a Catholic hospital, and a private practice; there were changes too in his personal life, for his wife had died, and he married again—an American missionary-nurse (his present wife); and all the time he was intermittently mixed up with war and revolution as well as with disease and pestilence, so that he served with equal readiness a Chinese army at the front and a British Consulate in a besieged concession...a busy, varied, arduous career, confusing only if you look at it as anything but that of a man trying to be of constant use during times and in a country both confusing and confused.
(And—significantly for what happened later—he joined the U. S. Naval Reserve.)
In 1927 confusion, reaching a climax, drove him home—back to Little Rock, where he had another fling at private practice and earned just enough in the first six months to pay his office rent. Soon, however, a county job fell to him, and this was much better—that of organizing and officering a public health system in the schools. But once again—and again with something of M. Jourdain's unawareness—the doctor found himself a pioneer. This time, in addition to the Negro, there was the Catholic, and the man of any race or religion who couldn't afford a two-dollar fee for immunization against a diphtheria epidemic. Dr. Wassell championed them all—not as a crusader, but as a public-health official who very simply believed it was his duty to safeguard public health.
Then came the Depression, when dollars were even scarcer and diseases even more plentiful. Malaria spread in parts of Arkansas, and on account of his Chinese experience Dr. Wassell was given the job of fighting it in local CCC camps, one of which was established in quarterboats on the Mississippi and nicknamed "the CCC Navy." Here he made many young friends and was almost as happy as he had been in China.
But there was another Navy that he had not forgotten and that had not forgotten him. In 1936, at the age of fifty-two, he resumed regular commissioned duty, and 1940 (the CCC era ended) saw him at Key West, serving on a submarine inspection board and wondering if the Navy would think him too old for a real job if a real war emergency should arise.
The blurred line of destiny becomes a little clearer now. In September 1941 he was ordered to Cavite, and was to have sailed from San Francisco on the morning of December 7. That sailing was delayed, and that destination changed. It had to be Java instead—and at the end of January.
On February 4 the cruisers Houston and Marblehead were in action off the Java coast. Badly battered by a much heavier Japanese force, they yet managed to limp into port, and Dr. Wassell, just arrived on the island, was among those detailed to take care of many wounded men.
"Dr. Wassell," said the President in a broadcast speech to the nation on the twenty-eighth of April, 1942, "remained with these men, knowing that he would be captured by the enemy. But he decided to make a desperate attempt to get the men out of Java. He asked each of them if he wished to take the chance and every one agreed. He first had to get the twelve men to the seacoast. The men were suffering severely, but Dr. Wassell kept them alive by his skill and inspired them by his own courage. As the official report said, Dr. Wassell was 'almost like a Christ-like shepherd devoted to his flock.'"
* * * * *
THE men from the Marblehead looked up from their cots and wondered what the doctor would be like. They were wounded, burned, and suffering; thousands of miles from home, in a strange country among people who spoke strange languages; their ship had been smashed up, and the battle lost for their side. Pain, defeat, and loneliness had leagued against them during the journey from Tjilatjap, on the coast, to the inland hospital; there they had been skillfully patched up by Dutch surgeons, and a certain measure of sad tranquillity had come upon them. The Dutch were very kind, and the Javanese nurses flitted about like little friendly animals. But what had really cheered them considerably, after so much disaster, was the news that an American Navy Doctor had been assigned to take care of them all.
When you are ill and in pain and have to have things done for you, the personality of a doctor becomes of absorbing interest. If you have time to wonder about him in advance, you cannot help idealizing; and the picture is hound to be the image of your own ideals. To McGuffey, Ship's Cook, whose injuries were slighter than those of the others, the doctor must surely be a big burly fellow, an earth-bound superman with strong hands and a deep black voice, like the bark of a retriever dog; because that was the kind of man and dog McGuffey loved. To Francini, Second Class Seaman, the image was a little different. His prewar ambitions had been to study mathematics and become a gunnery officer; now his earthly desire, almost the only one he could find room for, was to ease the pain of shrapnel wounds; but all this did not prevent him from picturing the doctor as a quiet, scholarly man, one who could take in the problems of the human body and solve them like some vast quadratic equation.
And so with all the others, though few of them guessed and none confessed that such pictures were shaping in their minds. But when they knew that the doctor was to visit them they looked up with curious eagerness at the sound of new footsteps along the corridor. And presently he came.
For a fraction of a second before they saw him they saw his cigarette in a long white holder; and because none of them had expected that, it prepared them for other unexpected things. But the unexpected was naturally the disappointing, because when you have imagined perfection anything different must be rather a pity. The men thought the doctor's entire appearance was rather a pity. There was nothing striking about him, except perhaps his ears, which were rather large. McGuffey, whose own right ear had been partly burned off by a bomb blast, could not help noticing them especially. Furthermore, he dressed neither carelessly nor smartly enough to inspire a legend; his open shirt and light trousers were just unimpressively neat, and he walked into the ward with an almost apologetic air, as if he were not quite sure he had found the right place.
Moreover, not only was there this long cigarette holder, but he leaned over the rail of one of the end beds and began, in a slow, drawling voice: "Morning, boys." He then gave his name, adding: "But just call me Doc or Commander—anything you like." (McGuffey thought cynically: "I'll call you something if you don't stop dropping ashes all over my bed...") The doctor went on, gaining confidence as he heard his own voice: "The main thing is for you to know that I'm here to help you. So cheer up—our number's on top—everything's going to be all right from now on. Of course the Dutch doctors are in charge of your treatment." ("Thank God for that!" thought McGuffey.) "My job's just to look after you in a general sort of way. So don't worry, we'll have you all well again in no time."
A little sigh was already running through the minds of the men from the Marblehead . The old stuff. Nothing wrong about it, of course, and had it been barked out in a quarter-deck voice it would have sounded well enough, and perhaps even stimulating. But in that curious slow drawl and with the long cigarette holder, it carried a whiff of unconvincingness.
McGuffey, shrugging his shoulders under the bedcovers, thought openly: "Just our luck, on top of everything else, to get a fellow like that..."
And the doctor at that moment was thinking much the same kind of thing about his job. To begin with, he could not quite size up what he had to do, for the hospital was so well-equipped and the Dutch staff were so obviously competent that there did not seem likely to be many tasks left over for him. And that, in a way, caused his initial misgiving—not a cynical one, but rather a degree of humility based on the plain fact that all his life he had had jobs that had come to nothing much (like the amoebic dysentery research in China), or had petered out (like the CCC Camp), or had just failed to click into anything that could be called success. He had never wasted time in self- pity, but he had to recognize, midway through his fifties, that the confidence with which it was natural for him to tackle new things was not, as a rule, justified by results. Perhaps also (but again without self-pity) he had been a shade unlucky in some of his affairs. At any rate, he had been on too many losing sides to feel that his partisanship brought luck to anyone else.
Actually it had been sheer luck (or unluck, whichever way one looked at it) that had handed him this present job. He had been sorting out medical supplies on the docks at Surabaya when he had come across a case labeled 'IODINE that, when opened, was found to contain torpedo noses. Such a thing was serious, with its possible implications of sabotage, and he was just entering the Admiral's office to report the matter when the Admiral himself chanced to be desperately looking for a doctor. The conversation that ensued did not quite reach the torpedo noses.
"Ah, a doctor—good—"
"Yes, sir, but—
"Never mind who you are you're just the man I'm looking for—
"Yes, sir, but I've come to—
"Don't care what you've come for—I must have a man at the upcountry hospital—"
"Dutch hospital—our men—mostly from the Marblehead . Must have a doctor as liaison officer. You'll do. Go there at once."
"Yes, sir, but what I really came for was to report about a case of—"
"No time for reports. Send 'em in later. There's a plane leaving in half an hour."
But the Admiral had gone, leaving the doctor with a torpedo nose in his pocket (just to prove his case if he had ever been able to get so far) and an unmistakable order ringing in his ears. "Go there at once. There's a plane leaving in half an hour."
So he had caught the plane, and here he was, at the hospital, staring at the men whom it was his mission, in some vague way, to look after. Well, he thought, there was one thing about the Navy: if you simply obeyed orders, you were all right; you daren't do less and you weren't expected to do more. And those boys, being of the Navy, would know that as well as he did.
Another thing he made up his mind about (remembering certain incidents in his past career)—he would keep on the right side of the red-tape machine, even if it meant hours at the job he hated most in his life, which was the filling up of official forms. And forthwith, as if to symbolize future good behaviour, he took out a notebook and began to walk between the rows of beds, taking down particulars of name, age, rank. record, religion, and so on, from all who were able to give them.
Thus the doctor met the men from the Marblehead , and perhaps all save one, after that first personal meeting, were confirmed a little in their disappointment. The exception was Sun, a Chinese mess attendant, terribly burned by a bomb explosion that had flashed through the Marblehead's galley several days before. Sun had made no murmur since then, not even during the day-long ordeal of the journey from Tjilatjap; he had let the Dutch doctors work over him without flinching, which was foolish in a way, for had he showed signs of pain they would have given him extra shots to relieve it.
Sun had expected nothing, or rather he had been prepared for anything, and that was why, when the doctor spoke a few words in Chinese at his bedside, he did not even seem surprised.
The doctor went away and copied all the necessary information from his notebook into the official documents that he would later take personally to Navy headquarters in Surabaya. He wrote slowly, laboriously, and with a great awareness of duty being performed. Then he visited another ward where some less serious cases from the Marblehead , and also some from the Houston , had been placed. He made similar notes on these, for he was liaison officer to the whole bunch, forty-two in all. But like every doctor he felt drawn to those who needed him most, and he was soon back in the "serious" ward for a second and less formal visit. It was a fact also that he enjoyed talking almost as much as he hated writing, and now, with the load of writing off his mind, he could indulge himself by chatting pleasantly from bed to bed, with a cheery word and a smile to those who could answer, a smile without words to those too ill to listen, and a glance of sympathetic appraisal over those who were still unconscious. During this second visit, the men began to forget their earlier idealizations, and it was a definite step towards liking him. He seemed especially interested in where their homes were, and when one of them said Arkansas, the doctor immediately asked what county, and, when that was named also, answered in triumph: "Sure, I know it! I had my first practice near there thirty years ago. Plantation job—mostly colored patients—couldn't pay me anything, often as not—I used to get 'em to dump a load of wood in my yard, or a sack of potatoes, or maybe a chicken for Sunday dinner—it was less trouble than botherin' 'em for money. Yes, I had a pretty tough time, what with all the household chores and ridin' miles over the hills to some little cabin—but I'll tell you what, I had a good horse, so I never needed to keep awake only one way if I was called out in the middle of the night—that old horse would bring me home safe while I was fast asleep—like he knew every road and creek and overhangin' tree in the county. Never had a horse like him before or since..."
The Arkansas boy, whose name was Hanrahan, had too many facial bandages to smile, but his one visible eye lightened as the doctor went on gossiping.
Presently his neighbor, who had been listening, interrupted: "Was that Chinese you were speaking just now, Doc?"
The doctor swung round. "Sure it was—I lived in China for years—I was a medical missionary out there...But I'm a regular Arkansas razorback for all that."
Hanrahan's eye gleamed again.
Before he left the ward he addressed the men again from the rail of McGuffey's bed nearest to the door. "You boys all remember now I'm here to help you—anything you want, don't stand on ceremony, you've only got to tell me and I'll do it if I can—that is, if it's not against the rules." He saw that McGuffey was giving him a half-impudent look. "Well, McGuffey, what's on your mind? Anything you want?"
"Plenty, sir, only you wouldn't like to hear about it."
There were a few laughs, but not very many, for the men were not exactly in a laughing mood. The doctor ignored the reply, because he had met McGuffey's type before (or thought he had); they were apt to be a nuisance if you gave any encouragement to their "freshness." He waited a moment, hoping somebody else would say something. Then, from far down the ward, came the deep melancholy voice of Goode, who had lost an eye.
"There's one thing all of us want, Doc, and that's to get home."
Nobody laughed at that, or even echoed it, but it was as if their very silence were an echo. The doctor felt this with an odd sensitivity he could not have explained. Of course the men wanted to go home, it was natural; however kind and efficient the Dutch were, everyone would rather be on the other side of the ocean. But there was nothing he could do about it. He took a few paces along the alley between the line of cots, and said: "I understand, son. You don't have to tell me things like that. But you see—it's out of my province. I've got the job of looking after you here—Navy orders—you know what that means. Maybe there'll be different orders later, it's quite on the cards...But in the meantime, you're pretty lucky—this is a good place, all you've got to do is to hurry up and get well...Matter of fact, I wouldn't worry about the future if I were you—our number's on top." After that it was a blessed relief to turn back to McGuffey, even if the boy was fresh. "Now then...is there anything else anybody would like—something practical—something I can do? Thought of anything yet, McGuffey?"
McGuffey answered, half-derisively: "Aw, don't you worry about me, Doc. But I wouldn't say no to a chocolate malt."
The same halfhearted laughter flickered again along the length of the ward as the doctor walked away.
Across the corridor there was a small room that the Dutch authorities had allotted, on account of his rank but against his protests, to an officer named Wilson. He was very badly burned, and the doctor did not think he would be conscious after the ordeal of the dressings; but when he entered the room through the open doorway a gruff voice came through the bandages.
"Good morning. How do you feel?"
"Just like a truckload of scorched earth. I overheard most of your little speech to the men, by the way. Heartily approve. I mean—no standing on ceremony or anything like that. No salutes if we happen to meet on the way to the—er—"
"You won't do that yet for a while," interrupted the doctor drily. He knew that Wilson's brusque facetiousness was something of a pose. Every man had his own way of fighting agony. "You'll be flat on your back for a month at least." He took out his notebook. "How about supplying me with a few of the necessary derails?"
"Necessary or nauseating?"
"Both are part of my job."
"Mine as well. Filing everything in triplicate."
"That's okay. We'll lick the Japs in triplicate one of these days. Now—just answer these questions."
"All right but before you ask 'em, answer me a few. Tell me about the men—how are they—I don't even know who they are—are they all going to be all right? And shut that door so you can speak the truth."
The doctor shut the door, then came back to the bed and gave the names of the men, and a rough summary of their injuries.
"But they're going to recover all of them?"
"Hope so, but burns are nasty things—it's the shock that kills, not the injuries themselves. The crisis'll come a few days from now—most of 'em won't know how bad they are till then. Bailey's pretty bad, and I'm a bit worried about Edmunds. He's already lost an eye and he may have to lose a leg as well—Dr. Voorhuys wanted to amputate tonight, but I begged him to give it a chance. Not that he isn't a thundering good doctor—it's just that I'd have taken a chance myself and I believe Edmunds would. Goode's also lost an eye, and Muller's arm is smashed up—I don't quite like the look of that either...But the rest might be a whole lot worse."
"What about me? Nothing but the truth, mind!"
The doctor did not tell Wilson the truth, because his burns were among the severest, and he honestly thought he was among those who would die in a few days. He said with a smile: "You'll be all right if you keep quiet...Now just these few questions and I'll let you sleep."
He made his notes, and was about to leave when Wilson called him back with a gruff: "Say, what d'you know about the general situation?"
"Not much," answered the doctor truthfully. "There was an air raid on Surabaya yesterday while I was there."
"Oh, was there? And how d'you like air raids?"
"Not much," repeated the doctor, again truthfully.
From that moment on, the doctor and Wilson knew they could be friends.
The doctor took the Ford car and Javanese chauffeur that had been assigned to him and searched the town for ice cream. He didn't see why he shouldn't; he couldn't remember ice cream as having been listed as either good or bad for men suffering from burns, but McGuffey's condition wasn't serious, anyway; it certainly couldn't do him any harm. And if he wanted it...well, it had always been one of the doctor's ideas that it did people good (within limits) to give them what they wanted.
So he found a likely looking shop in the main street and made his purchases. The ice cream came in a little cardboard cup—it certainly wasn't anything like a chocolate malt, but the doctor didn't think it was so bad for the middle of Java in wartime. Somehow he hadn't expected Java to be quite as modern, so that you could walk along a main street and buy pretty well anything you wanted, almost as you could in Little Rock or San Francisco. Of course people were a bit jittery; you saw knots of people talking urgently at street corners, and the roads were full of Army trucks scurrying about, and there were freshly painted signs pointing to improvised air-raid shelters at strategic points; but there was still a good deal of impetus left in a civilized machine that had only partly broken down. After Surabaya, which would naturally attract air raids on account of its being a naval base, the inland town seemed almost safe. All its inhabitants were assuring themselves and each other that there was no real danger except from casual bombs (one said "casual bombs" as casually as possible), and that no Jap would ever set foot on Javanese soil. The doctor wasn't quite so confident. He thought' Japs might succeed in landing on a few beaches if they were ready (as apparently they were) to commit suicide. Of course he hadn't the slightest doubt that Java would be held at all costs.
"It'll last for at least an hour," said the woman in the shop, referring, of course, to the ice cream.
The doctor carried it carefully back to the hospital and (because it would probably not last more than an hour) woke up McGuffey to have it. The boy blinked and stared, and a little Javanese nurse whose name (in Javanese) sounded like Three Martini began to giggle.
"Well, for the love of Mike..." began McGuffey. "Did you really think I was serious?"
"Eat it," answered the doctor. "It's very good ice cream. I had some myself."
McGuffey sat up in bed and smacked his lips appreciatively after the first swallow. Some of the men along the ward were watching the scene with amusement, and one of them called out: "Hi, Doc, where do we come in?"
The doctor smiled. "I'll tell you what," he said, with sudden expansiveness. "As soon as you're all well enough, I'll get ice cream for the whole bunch of you...and you too," he added, nodding to Three Martini.
Then he went out and wondered what the auditors would think—Navy money spent on ice cream. He had drawn a thousand guilders in Surabaya when they assigned him to the job—just a round sum to spend any way he chose on looking after the men, but of course the authorities would expect medical items, transportation expenses, almost anything, in fact, except ice cream. And he wasn't good at concocting a swindle sheet. He made up his mind that if Nilson passed the crisis he would ask his advice about it.
So the days went by during which the British were falling back on Singapore and Chiang Kai-shek was visiting India and the Japs were already landing in Borneo. To the men from the Marblehead in the hospital none of these things mattered much, because at the extremity of human suffering one is really always alone, islanded from disaster as much as from companionship. There was little the doctor could do for the majority of the patients except watch their fluctuating condition and make his daily reports. There was little that even the nurses could do except wait for the tannic-acid jelly to wage a long slow battle against shock and poison.
Bailey's case seemed the worst; he had shrapnel wounds and one could hear the air going in and out of a hole in his back. Of all the sufferers, too, he was most inclined to he introspective and to speculate unhopefully on his own chances of recovery. He was very friendly with Renny in the next bed, and both men would try to wake at the same time so as to exchange a few words, even amidst pain. Bailey had made an effort to appear detached and clear-minded when the doctor spoke to him first; he wanted to discuss his own injuries, and when the doctor would have none of that, he tried to interest him in a dream he had had. Fie said he had dreamed he was standing in an enormous bookshop when suddenly he noticed, sitting quietly reading, a person whom he half-recognized but whose identity was so terrifying that he wanted to shriek and shriek and yet somehow couldn't. "I guess that must mean something, Doc," he said.
The doctor smiled not very encouragingly, for he didn't want the boy to talk much. "Perhaps it just means you like books."
"Yes, I do. Don't you? Especially modern writers. What do you think of Steinbeck?"
The doctor answered, after a difficult pause: "To tell you the truth, son, I don't advance my knowledge by reading near as much as I should—and that's more shame to me, I know that, because my mother did her best to give me a spanking good education, bless her..."
So instead of talking about books the doctor talked about his mother, and soon, a little happier in mind, the boy fell asleep from the drug that was given him whenever he woke to pain and consciousness. That night he began crying out in his sleep and the doctor vas sent for; he touched the boy's hand and forehead, gently calming him; then he sat with him while he went on sleeping.
When Bailey woke he found the doctor still with hind, and beyond the doctor, separating them both from the outside world, there were high screens and a curious little lizard that hopped about between the top of the screens and the window ledge.
"Hello, Doc," he said, almost cheerfully. "I had that dream again—you know, about the bookshop. Only this time I did shriek out...Hope I didn't disturb anybody."
"That's all right," answered the doctor. "No harm done."
And as the same thing could have been said of Bailey's entire life (he was eighteen), perhaps this was why he lay still and comforted, after that, until he died.
Javanese workmen dug the grave in the local cemetery, and the doctor attended a service conducted by a Dutch padre. There were no Navy men to make up a firing squad, but an Air Force detachment came over from the neighboring airfield. Everything was sunny and bright-colored, and the doctor took a photograph afterwards of the grave covered with the flowers that the local people had sent. He thought he would send this photograph later to Bailey's mother.
The time of crisis came for most of the men, and they faced it as well as they might, enduring the pain of dressings and redressings, while the smell of scorched flesh hung about the ward continually. The doctor had expected other deaths, but none took place, and there came a day when the crisis seemed to pass almost simultaneously for several of the doubtful cases, so that when he entered the ward with his usual cheery "Morning, boys" he was greeted with a chorus of answers in a new key. "Well, you're certainly looking a whole lot worse today!" he cried, striding between the beds and taking in the new situation. "Anybody want any wooden boxes?"...Laughter..."All right, then, but go easy—don't overdo things." He took their temperatures, joking with them all in turn. When he came to Sun he made his jokes in Chinese, laughing at them himself, while Sun remained respectfully impassive. "One of these days," he said, turning to Sun's neighbor, "I'll make this fellow smile if I have to stand on my head to do it."
Then he put on a deliberately thick Arkansas dialect for Hanrahan's benefit, asking the boy how he'd like a dish of sourbelly and cornbread.
Hanrahan said he would, but McGuffey, always ready to bait the doctor, shouted across the ward: "I'll settle for a pack of Camels, Doc. Why can't you get us some smokes?"
McGuffey had bothered him about that before, and he had had to fall back On familiar defenses..."Now look here, boys, there's things I can do for you and things I can't—this isn't an American hospital, you understand—the Dutch have this rule, they've always had it, no smoking in the wards—very strict...You notice I don't smoke any more in here myself—I didn't know the rule when I came. I can't go against rules, especially when the people here are good to us in other ways..."
But now he felt so exultant because the men had turned the corner and were recovering that he exclaimed: "By golly, I don't really sec why you shouldn't smoke! I'll ask the boss about it today."
He caught Dr. Voorhuys after lunch. Voorhuys was a very big man, with steel-blue eyes and apple-red cheeks; a fine surgeon and one with the right kind of personality to run a hospital. He had been educated in England, and was very proud of his English idiom and accent, which he believed perfect. At this moment he looked rather worried, as well he might be by the course of events, but he found time to welcome his American colleague in a few stiffly cordial sentences and to offer him a tot of Bols gin, which was gratefully accepted.
"Your men are getting along very nicely," said Dr. Voorhuys, lifting his glass ceremoniously.
"Very nicely indeed, sir, thanks to you. There's only one thing they ask for—"
"Some of them have made wonderful recoveries."
"Wonderful, I agree, and now that the period of convalescence—"
"But they still have far to go. They must not think they are well yet. New skin has to form—"
"Of course, and in the meantime, while they're waiting, there's just one thing as a special favor—"
"You need not ask, my dear sir. They are our honored guests—everything we do for our own countrymen we will do for yours."
"That's just it—very generous of you, sir, and I'm afraid my men are wrong to want more than that, but they do—just one little thing more."
"I'm afraid 'I don't quite understand, sir. What is it?"
"Will you relax the rule about letting them smoke?"
"Smoke? " Dr. Voorhuys echoed the word as if it were something incredible, almost incomprehensible. "That's it, sir. They just want to smoke."
"I am afraid that is impossible. A most strict rule of the hospital." He added, Englishly: "Sorry, old chap."
"You don't object on moral grounds?"
"Moral? Oh dear me, no—I smoke myself, but not here. A question of fire insurance, that's all."
"Fire insurance? "
Dr. Voorhuys nodded. The doctor from Arkansas took a deep breath, then began to speak with the slow drawl that was not, as it gathered momentum, unimpressive. "Dr. Voorhuys...I understand how you feel about a strict rule, but there's just this in my mind. A billion dollars' worth of oil wells and rubber trees are burning like hell's delight this very minute. And yesterday there was another air raid on Surabaya—the Japs are in Borneo, and the Dutch Government's in London and Queen Wilhelmina's in Canada and the Repulse and the Prince of Wales are at the bottom of the sea...I sure hope that your fire-insurance policy is a good one."
Dr. Voorhuys gulped down another glass of Bols. Then he answered: "I get your point, sir. The men may smoke."
The next day the doctor had to go to Surabaya to present his official reports to the Navy authorities, but before beginning the journey he bought a quantity of American cigarettes in the town and left them at the hospital for the men. He had so little time to catch his train that he could not stay to receive their thanks; or perhaps that was partly an excuse, for he always felt embarrassed to be thanked for things. And actually he was eager to get the Surabaya trip over and done with. He hated going into offices and meeting his superiors on official matters; it was not so bad afterwards if and when (and they usually did) they asked him into some neighboring place (and there usually was a neighboring place) for a drink. But he could never quite escape the initial feeling that he was a schoolboy again, facing an unpleasant half hour with the headmaster.
The Surabaya trip turned out pretty well, as it happened; at any rate, no fault was found with his reports. The Navy, doubtless, had very much else to do besides bother with him, and during his short stay in the dockyard town he picked up a good many rumors which he tried to think were alarmist rather than alarming. There had been several severe air raids on the town and harbor, and others were expected at any time; and despite all the hero stuff that got into the newspapers he did not find one person, whether Dutch or American or British or Javanese, who really disagreed with him about the fundamental unpleasantness of air raids. He was quite glad to make the journey back to a place where people still undressed to go to bed at night.
Of course Singapore would probably stand a long siege, and Java was doubtless invulnerable to full-scale attack (unless the Japs were crazy); but still, one could not deny the fact that the war was coming closer, and it might be uncomfortable even in the interior of the island till the crisis had passed.
He traveled by night, reaching his destination in the early morning, and as he walked through the tree shaded streets, thinking about the men from the Marblehead and their problems, he could not help feeling pleased with himself for having secured permission for them to smoke. There seemed so little he could do, now that his reports were made, and with the Dutch doctors all so efficient; it was good to have found something. But then, as he pondered over it, the thought occurred to him that cigarette smoking could not be very easy for all of them; some had bandaged hands, or oily bandages that would catch fire easily, and others had been burned on the lips, so that the paper from the cigarette would stick to the skin. Perhaps long holders—the kind he used himself—were the solution. He went into a shop and bought some ruefully aware that cigarette holders would look no better than ice cream on a Navy expense sheet. But it was a soundly practical idea, he thought, if only the men would take it seriously.
It was, and most of them did, but McGuffey had devised another solution which, for him at least, seemed definitely preferable. When the doctor entered the ward he saw the boy lying flat on his back, with bandaged hands outstretched in an attitude of serene composure, while the little Javanese nurse whom they called Three Martini sat resignedly at his bedside, holding a cigarette to his lips and at intervals taking it away to flick off the ash. It made a charming picture, and the doctor was almost sorry to put an end to it with the gift of a holder, but the plain fact was that Three Martini's time was far too valuable to be spent in such a way.
She was, indeed, one of the best of the nurses—one of the best nurses he had ever seen anywhere, the doctor later on decided. She was so quiet and skillful in all that she did; one wondered when she ever slept, she seemed to be flitting so constantly about the wards. Despite the efforts of the men, she learned no English, and seemed not to wish to; it was as if all her desires were in things that could be done without words. Even in a hospital so excellently staffed she stood out as someone probably untypical, and though she was obedient to rules and regulations there were often ways in which she acted with a curious patient individuality. For instance, Dr. Voorhuys was very kind and very efficient, but very busy also; when he went round the ward to look at the state of the burns, he sometimes tore off dead skin with a swift movement that was really merciful, because if he had done it slowly the pain would have been greater. But Three Martini was in no such hurry, and while Dr. Voorhuys was doing the rounds from one end she would start at the other, generally getting no farther than the first bed because she took such care. But there was another reason. The occupant of the first bed was Renny, who had severe burns, as well as internal injuries, and the girl paid much attention to this boy. The other patients thought it must be a romantic interest and chaffed them both about it, but actually it was not quite that, or else it was more than that; it depended on how one interpreted the facts, and as nobody except the girl herself (and later on the doctor and another man) knew them, misunderstanding was inevitable. The chief facts were that just before the men from the Marblehead arrived at the hospital Three Martini had donated blood, and blood had been transferred to Renny almost immediately after his arrival. Three Martini was certain (though perhaps not on absolutely reliable evidence) that it was her blood, and it gave her a curious feeling for Renny that she could not have explained even had they had a language to speak in. When, after his friend Bailey's death, Renny seemed depressed and not to be making much of a recovery, the girl attached herself to him in a way that could not be criticized because it really did not mean that she neglected anyone else. It was a great day for her (and for him also) when she learned to pluck off his dead skin with tweezers so that the flesh below was not even touched. None of the other nurses could do this unfailingly, though all of them tried. When Three Martini found that the absence of this little extra pain made such a difference to Renny, she contrived that no one else ever attended to him in this way; she would stoop over his burned arm as over a piece of delicate needlework, saying nothing because there was nothing to say either in his language or in hers. Even when McGuffey talked to her across the ward, cracking jokes that he knew she did not understand, she would merely smile and continue her work.
Only once did the men see her gay and excited, and that was (oddly perhaps) just after Bailey's funeral. The atmosphere of the ward was pretty low- spirited that day; and all at once Three Martini rushed through the doorway carrying a newborn child that had just been delivered in the Maternity Ward which happened to be next to the men's. It was a brown child of her own race, and chattering all the time in Javanese, she held it up for the men to see. Then, as if afraid of being discovered in such a breach of rules, she rushed out of the ward as suddenly as she had entered, and when she returned a little later she was perfectly quiet again.
The doctor found other things to do for the men—little things, mostly, and by no means the kind one had to be trained to be a Navy doctor for. He bought quantities of oranges, for instance, and after much difficulty found shops in the town that stocked certain kinds of canned goods that the men liked. He also bought candy, because he worked it out in his mind that youth requires sugar, therefore candy is a medicine. He did not tell the men he was buying them these things, but gave them to the Dutch hospital authorities and let the men think they were part of the regular rations. Nor was it entirely his dislike of being thanked that made him do this, but chiefly a desire to do his duty as liaison officer in promoting good feeling between the Dutch and the Americans. The Dutch had a fine hospital and were giving the men excellent treatment; their food was good, too, but naturally different from the kind the men had been used to in the Navy, or in Wisconsin or Nebraska, for that matter. The doctor, having lived so many years in China and having acquired a definite taste for Eastern foods, knew how intolerant people can be in these matters, and how many a man will lay down his life for another country more willingly than he will cat that country's delicacies without grumbling. So he spent further sums of Navy Department money in fostering international amity via the stomach.
And then there were other jobs, especially when a batch of long-delayed mail came in, crumpled and soaked from sea-water immersion. Most of the men had letters from home, and most of these had been penned before Pearl Harbor, so that there were undertones of irony in sentences that the men read out to one another. The doctor had already helped the men with bandaged hands to write home (much as he detested the physical act of writing), so it was natural that now, having been initiated, so to say, in their family affairs, he was invited to hear further news of Pa. and Ma and brother Joe and Aunt Nell. And then, also, there was Goode, who had lost one eye and had the over covered over, so that he could not read the letters he had received. They lay in a little heap next to his pillow, and the doctor thought it rather odd that the boy had not asked his neighbor to read them for him. But then Goode perhaps was odd, if it were odd to be far more depressed by his injury than Edmunds was, who had also lost an eye. Or perhaps it was Edmunds who was really odd, for not seeming depressed at all. The doctor could not quite make his mind about the matter, but he went over to Goode's bed and asked if the boy would like to have his letters read, and when the answer was a quiet, almost indifferent affirmative, the doctor sat on the edge of the bed and began to read one letter after another in a low voice, so that no one else could hear. They were all from a small town in Iowa, and the first two that he read were just family gossip about the farm, and the new automobile, and Jim's baby. The third, however, was from someone who signed herself "Helen," and after the opening sentences the doctor had a queer feeling that made him glance ahead and over the page, whilst pretending to clear his throat. He saw then that it was a kind of letter hardly calculated to raise the spirits of an injured sailor lying on a hospital cot ten thousand miles from home; for briefly and leaving out the apologies, it was to tell him that Helen had changed her mind and had already married somebody else.
The doctor had to make a quick decision, which was hard for him, and then to say something glib, which was fairly easy for him when once he had decided. He finished clearing his throat and continued: "Well, that's about all—except that she sends you her love and hopes you'll soon be home on leave because she's simply counting the days..."
"Why don't you go on reading what she says?"
The doctor braced himself for a stupendous feat of improvisation. "Gosh, boy, that's what I am doing, only the handwriting isn't so very clear—I was just summarizing for you in advance. Here's her own words—'Darling, I'm simply counting the days, and that's the truth too, because I love you to death, and when you come back from the war—'"
"She wrote that on December first," interrupted Goode. "Don't tell me she knew we were going to be at war a week before it happened."
The doctor realized he had blundered, but there was nothing for it but to hold fast. "Why shouldn't she? I know plenty of people who had a hunch all this was coming. And she's a smart girl, from the way she writes—maybe she did know, or had an intuition or something—"
"Or maybe she didn't write any of that at all," said Goode, "and you're just kidding me."
The doctor didn't quite know what to say.
"Yes, you are," Goode continued, in a level voice, "because I know the truth. Muller just told me—he's from the same town, and he had a letter with the news in it about Helen. I guess he thought he was breaking it to me gently."
"I'm very sorry," said the doctor.
Goode smiled—a curious, forced smile.
"Nothing to be sorry about. I'm glad she ditched me before she knew. It would have been awful if she'd stuck to me just because she learned I only had one eye. She might have. She's that kind of a girl. Ever know that kind of a girl, Doc?"
The doctor started as if he had suddenly been reminded of something, and when he answered it was in a changed voice. "Sure," he answered, and then added to change the subject quickly: "Now let me read the rest of the letters."
He did so, without comment, then patted the boy's hand and went away. When he reached the corridor outside the ward he saw a group of nurses chattering together as if they too were facing tough luck. They told him, as he passed by, that Singapore had fallen.
That was oil February fifteenth, and the same day the Japs crossed over to Sumatra and also began the invasion of Bali. However impregnable Java was, one could not forget that Sumatra and Bali were the two islands at either end of it.
As the men improved in health they began to talk more about the general situation, for though the radio news kept on dishing out encouragement, the fact that events were growing daily more serious could not be concealed from them. They could read it, if nowhere else, in the eyes of the Dutch doctors and nurses, in the air of expectancy just before the times of the day when news was broadcast, and in the preoccupied look that Dr. Voorhuys carried around with him during his daily visits to the wards.
The doctor from Arkansas did not want to talk much about the war with the men, because he thought it would not be cheering for them; but he would have liked to discuss certain aspects of it with Commander Wilson, because—quite frankly—he was beginning to foresee possibilities in which the advice of a superior officer might be helpful. What, for instance, should he do if an invasion of Java were actually attempted, or if the tide of battle should collie inland? Should he stay at the hospital with his men, or try to get them to some safer place?
Once, in this mood of seeking advice, he called up Surabaya on the telephone, asking for a man at Navy headquarters whom he had got along with pretty well during his last visit. He was surprised to learn then that all Navy officials had left Surabaya and were now concentrated at Tjilatjap, on the south side of the island.
When he asked the Dutch doctors what they thought Would happen, they just shrugged their shoulders and declared for the fiftieth time that there would be no surrender of Java.
And Wilson was still too ill to talk much.
Amidst this mounting tension McGuffey chose to absent himself one night, returning in the morning after adventures which he did not specify, but which included female companionship, and a grand discussion of wartime strategy with some British soldiers stationed at the local airport.
The doctor was furious. "Nov I'm just mad at you, McGuffey—sneaking out at a time like this! And you needn't think I shan't report you for it! I'm here to see you get decent treatment, and by golly you've been given it, and it's up to you to give something in return...not go breaking rules all over the place! I suppose you don't care about all the extra worry you caused us!"
"Sorry, Doc, but you didn't have to worry. There's more than me to worry about, anyway, if you'd heard all that I heard. Some of those English fellers told me things that make your hair stand on end! I mean about Singapore, and the way the Japs carried on when they took the place. Seriously, Doc—isn't it time we got the hell out of here?"
"That's nothing to do with you—or me. We have our orders—and they stand till we get new ones—if we get new ones. Maybe we will." The doctor swerved into his usual line of cheerfulness. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they send us back to America pretty soon. So don't look on the dark side."
"I don't." (And that was certainly obvious.) "Matter of fact I'm not keen to go home—not particularly. I didn't have too good a time there, one way and another. It's the Navy I want to go back to. They've been good to me in the Navy. Treated me well, and gave me a decent job. I was a cook, and a good cook too—you ask the men. I'm all right now—except for this bit of an ear missing—why can't I go back to a ship and cook some more? I like cooking."
The doctor softened, because he liked cooking too—both the job and the result. And he also liked the Navy, and after some of the trouble he had had on shore he could say the same as McGuffey—that the Navy had treated him well, had given him a chance, had offered him the kind of work and also the kind of discipline he had craved for after a lifetime of one thing and another. But of course McGuffey couldn't mean all that. He wondered exactly what the boy did mean. He said, on impulse: "Look here, son—I'm not the Secretary of the Navy. You'll just have to wait for orders, sane as we all have—and if they don't like the way you look without an ear, you better make the best of it. I won't report you this once, but if there's a second time...I'll double what I was going to say. Get that?"
McGuffey smiled. "Sure, I get it. And thanks, Doc."
Every morning, though he was still very ill, Wilson insisted on hearing news of the men's progress. Apparently through one of the nurses he had heard the gist of McGuffey's exploit, for the next morning he said: "Having trouble with the cook, Doctor?"
The doctor was noncommittal. "Oh no." And putting on his richest Arkansas dialect he quoted: "'I ain't one to have no trouble with nobody.'"
"You'll have it with McGuffey, though, I'm telling you. And I'm also telling you this—there's good stuff in that boy."
"There's good stuff in most boys."
"'That's what I think. But how did you find it out? You haven't had a ship to teach you."
The doctor answered: "I was once medical officer of a CCC Camp. I guess that could be a bit like the Navy..." He added after a pause: "Except that the Navy can fight its enemies." He did not explain what he meant by that.
During the week that followed the fall of Singapore the Javanese situation "somewhat rapidly deteriorated"—a newspaper phrase favored by people when they didn't want to mention unpleasant details. At the inland town the routine of hospital life went on with only the faintest slackening, as when a well-oiled machine continues almost effortlessly on its own impetus; the Dutch doctors and nurses were just a shade more preoccupied as they went about their daily business. One could not blame them for this, since most of them had relatives and friends in the Dutch Army, and these men, of all ages from schoolboys to elderly men, were mustering for the emergency throughout all the local countryside. The nurses were so efficient in their hospital tasks that it was hard to realize that outside their hours of duties they had lives and problems of their own.
Suddenly, as if a change of wind had brought an epidemic, the town became a prey to all kinds of rumors: that the Japs had landed on the northern coast, that the Japs had not landed; that parachutists were dropping out of the skies and hiding in the hills; that the Dutch officials were preparing to evacuate, that whatever happened the Dutch would never evacuate; and so on. The men from the Marblehead did not hear more than a fraction of these rumors, but the smell of them was in the air from morning till night, a whiff of something terrifying and intangible, as when a shadow motionless on a dark wall reveals itself as the possible shape of some loathed insect.
The men were not exactly afraid, but they were undeniably uneasy. The doctor was uneasy too. He tried several times to telephone to Navy headquarters at Tjilatjap, but the line was busy, he could not get through. Then, when once he did get through, somebody at the other end yelled back that he ought to know better than bother people with questions nobody could answer.
The doctor kept reiterating to the men: "Navy orders, boys. That's all we can do about it. You know how it is in the Navy."
He would go round the ward at night and cheer them up (he hoped) by saying things he didn't particularly believe. "Things'll work out all right, don't you worry. I'm not worrying. I've been in worse jams than this before and I've come out all right. Once I had to leave my house by the front door as bandits came in at the back. That was in China, during the civil wars. Funny the way they call some kind of wars civil, isn't it? I've never met any kind of war vet that was really civil...or civilized...Say, though, don't you think it's time we had that ice cream I promised all of you? Tomorrow I'll go into the town and get it. That's a deal..."
But it was a deal he could not keep to. That night the Navy headquarters in Tjilatjap telephoned him to get his less serious cases ready for evacuation at once, and bring them down by train to the seacoast the following day. "Bring everybody who can stand a rough passage," snapped a voice at the other end that sounded as if it had no more time to spare.
The doctor did not break the news to the men that night, because he guessed they would not sleep a wink for thinking of it. He did, however, do a few preliminary things: he went round from bed to bed, taking temperatures and re-examining injuries, asking the men how they felt and what kind of ice cream they would prefer the next day. With the bland duplicity of the innocent, he thought that this must surely thwart all suspicion; but he used it too much, until at last McGuffey exclaimed: "What's on your mind, Doc? Why're you making such a fuss about the ice cream?"
The doctor replied that nothing was on his mind, and rather sharply bade them all good-night. Then he went into Wilson's room and told him the truth. "We're getting out in the morning and we'll be on the sea this time tomorrow night."
"What's the name of the ship?"
"Where're we going to?"
"Don't know that either. But we'll be on our way, and I can tell you now that it's happened, I'm mighty glad."
"Same here...but it hasn't happened yet. There's the journey to face. I mean the journey to the ship, and getting on board, and so on. Think all the men can stand it?"
"Listen," answered the doctor, "You've been just about the worst case of the whole bunch—barring Bailey who died. Do you think you can stand it?"
Wilson looked astonished. "You really mean that? That I was the worst case?"
"Sure. I had you measured for a wooden box."
"Like hell you did! Well, after that I'll stand anything if only to spite you."
"That's the spirit," said the doctor, holding the thermometer to the light. He did not tell Wilson that the mercury was still far too high for safety. But what a word—safety ? Where was there safety, anyhow?
Soon after dawn he told the men, and from then until ten o'clock, when the hospital train moved out for its eight-hour journey to the coast, the doctor worked as he had probably never worked before in his life. There was no problem now in finding things to be done; the difficulty was to fit them into the time allowed. First the consent of the Dutch hospital staff had to be secured for each separate departure—by no means a formality, for Dr. Voorhuys would have vetoed the trip for any man if he had thought it dangerous to his life during the few days ahead. Further than that Dr. Voorhuys forbade himself to look; and what degree of doubt he permitted himself was another unknown quantity among the many unknown quantities surrounding them all. He certainly did hesitate over Wilson, fiddling about with his burned skin until Wilson said: "Since you've got such a lot of time to spare, Doctor, did you ever hear the story about the..."
Dr. Voorhuys had no time to spare, and as that kind of story always embarrassed him, he nodded perfunctorily and passed on.
When the men left in ambulances for the railway station the entire hospital staff stood round and waved. Before that there had been a few tearful farewells between the men and individual nurses, as if at such a moment many feelings were revealed that till then had been unsuspected by either party. Three Martini said good-bye to everyone, but lingered afterwards at the door of the ambulance where Renny was. She carried some flowers which she laid on his stretcher at the last moment, just before the doors were closed. She did not weep, or say anything but the one word she had learned especially for him—"good-bye."
Dr. Voorhuys also said good-bye to everyone, wishing them luck and bon voyage ; whereupon the doctor from Arkansas replied that never, never would any of them forget the kindness of the Dutch and Javanese. The fact that he meant it so sincerely brought a tremor into his voice.
Thus the forty-one men from the Marblehead and the Houston began the journey on that February day, and within twenty-four hours nine of them were back at the hospital.
It happened this way. When the hospital train reached Tjilatjap the men's nerves were tense and their physical condition worse after the journey. The doctor had been marvelously busy during the hours of slow travel; he had watched over his charges incessantly, rushing out at every stop to buy them food and drink, and passing along the train every few minutes to see how each man was getting on. But there was nothing he could do about the heat as the railway dropped down towards the coastal plain; nor could he do much to calm the men's excitement when, at one station, the train was held up for over an hour because of an air-raid alert. It was not that they feared the bombs, but they were afraid the delay would mean that the ship would sail without them. Now that they were actually on their way to the coast, they could not think of anything else but getting on board the ship. It was for this that they had nerved themselves for discomforts, so that they welcomed the jolting of the cars that cost them pain, and stirred restlessly whenever the train eased them to a standstill.
"Now don't go grousing all over the place. Try to make 'em think you're all right," the doctor kept saying, as if with some premonition of trouble ahead. He said it for perhaps the fiftieth time as the train reached the terminus.
Some of the men could walk without assistance under favorable conditions; but favorable conditions were not to be had at Tjilatjap, and the doctor soon realized it. To begin with, both railway station and town were swarming with refugees evacuated from the interior; Dutch, American, and British soldiers; and local officials trying to improvise some sort of order amidst conditions which were fast becoming chaotic. There was no panic, but much confusion, and a certain wildness in the behavior of some who were asked too many questions by too many people at once. Beyond the town itself lay the small harbor, glassy under a heat haze; the whole outfit terribly inadequate for the job now pending. So many ships were waiting to sail at nightfall that one might have been reassured—until one saw the press of human movement seeping slowly seawards through the streets of the town.
The doctor knew how tired and anxious his men were, how unaccustomed to the heat, and how likely to be dispirited by the general atmosphere of the scene. He knew that his first task must be to find out exactly where the ship was that would take them away, and to make his arrival known to whoever it was who had charge of the embarkation. Then, when all had been arranged in advance so that there could be no further hitches, the men could be taken aboard as quickly as possible and made comfortable with the sedatives they would need. In the meantime, while he did all these preliminary things, the men must rest somewhere and try to conserve their strength for the ordeal.
There was a hotel opposite the station, and he assembled them there, on a sort of terrace, where they could stay together and keep reasonably cool and out of other people's way. The hotel people were very obliging, but they too were under a strain, not knowing what would soon happen to them. The doctor talked them into providing extra chairs and cold drinks; they could not supply food, because they had none, but he had brought some canned food from the hospital and left it for the men to share.
All this took time, and meanwhile the town kept filling up as if all Java were draining its population southward into this one narrow bottleneck. The sun blazed down the sky towards the end of the afternoon, and wafts of hot air fanned against weary, preoccupied faces.
On his way to the dock the doctor heard that a Jap reconnaissance plane had already been over, taking photographs (Kodak Joe, they called it); which, after the experience of Surabaya, could only mean that Tjilatjap was high on the list of places soon, perhaps immediately, to be bombed. The thought increased his pace as he hurried through the crowds; it even helped him to ignore the heat and humidity.
On the waterfront he had a stroke of luck; he found the Navy headquarters easily, and—even more important—found a man in charge who, whether because he was utterly worn-out or temperamentally acquiescent or from some other reason, gave none of the trouble the doctor had half anticipated. "Sure...Forty-one?...You have the list?...Thanks. All right, I'll okay that...You can sail in a few hours...Get your men here right away..."
The doctor was immensely relieved, and when, almost as an afterthought, the question came: "I suppose they're all able to help themselves?"—he answered expansively: "Oh yes, naturally." It was true of most of them, at any rate, and for the few others there was a point he might have mentioned but did not care to—that it was his job to help those who could not help themselves.
He was in mounting spirits as he went back to the hotel. The men also, when he told them to get ready at once, shared his mood and began to bustle about, collecting their small possessions together. Several were able to walk the short distance to the dock; others climbed into a truck which he persuaded the hotel people to lend; there were ambulances to take the stretcher cases. He said a few words to each of the men, chiefly relative to their own injuries and the best way to adjust themselves during the difficult time that lay ahead. "Once we're on board I'll find you places to sleep, and then I'll give you a shot of something...so don't worry. Keep your chin up and if you feel bad, tell me , but don't tell anyone else."
He hoped he could get the men on board without any further official inspection or red-tape delay. His dislike of red tape rose now to a point where he feared it more than a Jap air raid; and the reason (which he did not analyze) was that often in life the short cuts of his own individual judgment had turned out not so well, so that in blaming red tape he was choosing an enemy more comforting to his pride.
The crowds on the dock were greater now, but at last he got his men near to the ships, the largest and likeliest-looking of which was called the Breskens ; then he helped them down from the trucks and ambulances. To his dismay there was no shade anywhere, and even a moment in the broiling sun must be distressing for the men lying on their backs on the stretchers. Then suddenly, while he was making sure that no one was missing, he found that one person was missing—McGuffey, of course. That sent him into a sharp temper, the sharpest he had known since—well, since before he joined the Navy. "I'm not going back for him," he shouted. "If he finds us here, okay...if not...That boy's been nothing but trouble all the time, and to choose a day like this for...I suppose he sloped off from the hotel when you weren't looking?"
"We were looking," Edmunds said. "But she was good - looking."
The doctor did not smile. He could almost understand why Sun never smiled; there was nothing to smile at in a world where wounded men had to be embarked from crowded docks with the possibility of bombs falling at any moment. He told the men sharply to wait where they were while he arranged for them to go on board, and as he pushed his way through the crowd he tried to push also the thought of McGuffey from his mind. Whatever happened to him, that boy deserved it.
The Breskens was already packed with agitated humanity. All crowds on all steamers are always agitated till a journey begins, but on the Breskens there was a note of extra confusion, a sort of fourth- dimensional tension that matched the third and skyward direction to which so many eyes were turned. The doctor could not even get aboard himself, because a Dutch officer standing at the gangway politely but firmly (and in Dutch) demanded some permit he didn't possess, and when he produced the Navy document waved it gently aside. The doctor could be persuasive, but only in English, and all that the Dutch officer could reply in English was "You talk to the captain, please." Apparently the captain was to be found ashore, in a vaguely indicated building several hundred yards beyond the edge of the crowd. The more the doctor argued and waved his document, the more firmly and politely the Dutch officer insisted that he should talk to the captain; so presently, with a shrug, the doctor set off on this troublesome quest, and in pushing through the crowd collided with a middle-aged high-ranking officer of the American Navy who asked him where the devil he thought he was going. The doctor, as is unusual in such encounters, informed him, whereupon the officer exclaimed: "Good God, sir, I wish you luck! There's a line of them trying to see him!"
The doctor then explained he had forty-one wounded sailors in his charge and wished to get them on board. "They're from the Marblehead , sir—they've been at a hospital inland, and I've brought them here for evacuation." He added: "Acting on Navy instructions."
"Instructions? ...Wait a minute—weren't you the fellow I telephoned last night?...I thought I recognized that accent. Tennessee, isn't it?"
"No, sir, Arkansas."
"And so what? All right, get 'em on board."
"That's what I'm trying to do, but the Dutch officer doesn't understand this paper—he said I must see the captain about it—but perhaps if you could explain—"
"Sure, I'll explain...Where are your men, anyway?"
It was too bad that the Navy officer had at that moment caught sight of the group waiting near by, too bad that there was nothing for the doctor to do but point confirmingly. "Good God, sir!" exclaimed the Navy officer again, so loudly that the men heard him and turned their heads. Sensing that something was wrong, they valiantly remembered the doctor's advice to look as well as they could, but there was something almost more pathetic in that effort than if they had not made any. And the men on the stretchers, lying under the sun, looked most pathetic of all.
The officer swung his glance back to the doctor, and the glance stiffened into a gaze and the gaze into a glare. "What the devil have you been up to? I said to bring only those who could stand a rough passage—"
The doctor's voice was very calm. "These men can stand a rough passage, sir."
"Are you crazy?"
"These men, after what they've gone through, sir, can stand anything."
"But the stretcher cases—don't you realize the ship may be torpedoed—what sort of chance would they have?"
"They'll take that chance, sir, whatever it is."
"They'll do nothing of the kind, and I've no time to argue. I shall have argument enough with the captain to make him take any of these men...and the stretcher cases are simply out of the question. Good God, sir, you might have known that!"
"But—what'll I do with them?"
"Get 'em back where they came from, and that's an order!"
The doctor stood his ground in sheer incredulousness. "You mean I'm to take these eight men back to a hospital hundreds of miles away?"
"Yes, and be thankful it is that far—don't you know an air raid's expected here any time?" Something in the doctor's expression made the other add, less brusquely: "I'll take your walking cases on board now—give me the list of names. And you be off as quick as you can with these others, for God's sake."
The doctor had no time to say good-bye to the men who were leaving, but some of them waved to him and he waved back. As for the eight men on the stretchers, it would not have been easy for him to pass on the bad news to them, so he was rather glad that they must have overheard most of the conversation. The thought that he had suffered humiliation in being rebuked in front of them by a superior officer did not even occur to him, and even if it had, it would have seemed of very small account just then. All he said was: "Well, boys, I guess you heard what's happened. I feel just as sick about it as any of you, but an order's an order...We'd better get going."
Fortunately the ambulances had not left the dock, so that within an hour he had the men back at the railway station. There, however, he had no similar luck with the hospital train, for it had already left for some unknown destination. But it was true enough that there was nothing for it but to return to the hospital somehow. Even apart from the risk of an air raid, there was no place in Tjilatjap that could take the men, and probably not even a roof under which he could find sleeping room for them. Eventually he persuaded the railway authorities to hitch a box car to a train that was about to leave for the interior; it was far from comfortable, but at least the men could stay on their stretchers without being disturbed. And the journey, being by night, would at least be fairly cool.
One thing he hardly noticed till his eyes grew used to the dim light in the box car after the train began to move, and that was the return of McGuffey, slightly the worse for wear.
It was a quiet, sad journey back. There was very little talking. The men did not want to talk at all, except McGuffey, and the doctor did not want to talk to him. The men were depressed and disappointed, and to be frank, he did not blame them. He did not know quite what else he could have done, or how a smarter man might have handled the entire situation better; but he had so often had this kind of mystification in life that he could no longer think of it as much of an excuse. The only cheerful thought was that at least the thirty-two walking cases had had some luck.
He also thought that McGuffey had let him down, but the matter seemed too unimportant to argue about at such a moment. When, however, the train stopped at a junction station for a quarter-hour wait, he told the boy sharply to fetch the men bottles of beer while he went to the telephone. "And don't drink any yourself. You've had enough already, I can see."
He knew he must somehow telephone the hospital to be prepared to receive the men; he had tried to get through from Tjilatjap, but without success.
He managed it now, but the conversation was not easy. He detected a note of quizzical surprise in the reply of Dr. Voorhuys after a long pause that of course, of course they would have everything ready.
Perhaps the anonymity of the telephone released a little of the doctor's private emotion, for he added, in not quite his usual voice: "And please, Dr. Voorhuys, if you could—if you could tell the nurses also—to make the men feel as if you were all glad to have them back."
He was speaking too closely from the heart to think of any aspersion that might be implied by such an appeal; certainly none was intended. There was another long silence before an answer came. Then Dr. Voorhuys said, and hung up immediately afterwards: "But we are glad. We shall not have to pretend anything."
The doctor went back to the train and found the men enjoying their beer as little as beer was ever enjoyed. He could understand that, and made no comment. Nor did the men thank him for the beer.
As soon as the train restarted, McGuffey came over to the corner where he sat and, handing him some change, remarked: "I suppose you're wondering what happened to me, Doc?"
"No, I'm not wondering at all. I know. You went off with a girl and you had some drinks and by doing all that you lost your chance of getting out."
"I know that too."
"Well, it's all your own fault."
"Sure...But besides the girl and the drinks there was something else. I went to the Navy people and tried to join one of the ships."
"Then you must be crazy. You're under orders—same as we all are...don't you realize that? You can't go acting like the lone ranger in this outfit—nobody can...I suppose they made that pretty clear to you."
"Sure, they did, and I got mad. One of them—he was a doctor—told me I had to have plastic surgery on my ear and it would take six months. I told him he was a damn fool and I didn't want any plastic surgery, I wanted to get back in the Navy. So he booted me out, and then I was so mad I had more drinks, and when I got to the dock the Breskens had left. I thought you'd all of you gone on it, but then somebody said you were back at the railway station. I got here just in time to jump on the train."
"Just in time is right. Well, I hope it teaches you a lesson."
"There's only one more thing, Doc. Since I am back with you, and there's nothing either of us can do about it, you might let me give you a hand sometimes."
"I'll not only let you," answered the doctor grimly, "I'll make you."
McGuffey did not seem discomfited by the reply. "Okay, Doc. Then let's have a drink on it." He produced a couple of bottles of beer from some mysterious hide-out.
"I told you not to get one for yourself."
"You said not to drink any, Doc. And I didn't...so far."
"All right, all right."
Presently McGuffey remarked: "I guess it counts against you in the Navy to do what I did."
"You mean asking to be taken back before they want you?"
"No, not so much that—but—well, making a scene and calling a doctor a damn fool."
For some reason (certainly not one he could explain to McGuffey) the doctor began to smile. "Listen," he said, suddenly less angry with McGuffey because of a recollection that crossed his mind. "Listen, son...it's no good crying over spilt milk. And as for the doctor—aw, don't worry about that . I've called plenty of doctors fools in my time..."
He kept recollecting, during the rest of the long train journey; because most of the men had fallen asleep, and he couldn't sleep himself. Even McGuffey had fallen asleep. He remembered that diphtheria business, when he was medical officer and wanted to give free inoculations to everybody and some of the local doctors had claimed it was unethical to do things for nothing if patients could pay for them. "You damn fools," he had said then, at an association meeting, "I suppose you'd rather have a diphtheria epidemic than lose a few of your measly little two and a half bucks..." Which, of course, had possibly been unfair, and had certainly been unwise. But then he had done quite a few unwise things in his life. Enough, anyhow, to give him a slight fellow feeling for McGuffey.
He moved quietly round the box car, watching the men as they slept. And suddenly a queer feeling came over him—that they were not just the men from the Marblehead any more; they were his men, even including McGuffey. It was an awful and yet a rather gentle thought. He lit a cigarette and stuck it into his long cigarette holder and began puffing at the doorway of the car—a sliding door that stood a few inches open to admit enough night air for ventilation. The Javanese countryside rushed past, the strange trees almost brushing the train, and all at once, on a horizon momentarily disclosed by a dip in the slope of the railway cutting, he saw a pale glare flashing upwards to the sky.
They arrived just after dawn, and the doctor thought he had never seen anything more beautiful. It was almost as if he had never before noticed how beautiful the hospital and its grounds really were. The sun rose over the rim of the hill and flooded the tops of the trees with light, while deep in their shadows the bungalows and one-story wings were still half-hidden. Then, as the ambulance took the curving upward drive that led to the main entrance, a little cool breeze stirred the foliage, so that the first sunshine made a patchwork on the stucco walls, on the stone portico when they approached it, and on the faces of the nurses who were there to greet them.
This, the doctor thought, as he began to wave his greeting from a hundred yards distant—this was the place where, in any sane world, the men would stay till they were completely healed, where they could rest till they were ready to make the journey down to the sea and the ships.
But it was not a sane world.
Until dawn he had been able to see flames on the horizon that meant either air raids or that the Dutch were destroying oil wells; he could not see anything now, but from time to time, over the thin air, came the sound of heavy, distant explosions.
The nurses gave the men a wonderful welcome. They had tea for them, and sherry, and little cakes; they laughed and perhaps also cried as they scampered alongside the stretchers, just as if this were some kind of party that had been interrupted and to which the guests were now being welcomed back. Three Martini took special care of Renny, who had stood the journey less well than the others; and Dr. Voorhuys, as soon as the men were settled in their beds, came round and said a few words to all who were not already falling asleep.
The doctor thanked Dr. Voorhuys in words that were few because they were so deeply felt.
Dr. Voorhuys smiled and went so far as to pat the shoulder of his colleague from Arkansas. He was an austere man, and he did not pat shoulders easily. "Of course," he said, "you and your men are doubly welcome because we know how disappointed you must all be. But it could not he helped. And you did right to bring them back here. There has been an air raid on Tjilatjap during the night."
"You know that?"
"It came through—by telephone—a few hours ago. But it was only a very little air raid." Dr. Voorhuys said that almost as if an air raid could be something rather weak and pathetic.
"They tried for the docks, I suppose?"
"Yes, they sank one or two ships. And they will try again and sink more...But of course that does not mean they will invade the country. It will just be very uncomfortable—for places like Tjilatjap."
"And even here?"
"I cannot see any reason why they should raid us. We are not a seaport or an industrial target."
"All the same, though, things are getting closer."
"Undoubtedly. Oh, undoubtedly...And it occurs to me, remembering the argument we had once before, that if there is anything your men would like—whether it is against any of our strict rules or not..."
"You mean like the smoking?"
"Yes, like the smoking."
The doctor had a sudden thought. "Perhaps there is something. The men are so low today that I'd like to give 'em a surprise when they wake up." He hesitated, realizing that what was on his mind required tact. "Your hospital food is always wonderful, but the men are used to plainer dishes...less fancy, if you get me...more like the kind of thing they had in the Navy, or in their own homes..."
"Of course that would be a question of cooking," mused Dr. Voorhuys.
"Yes, sure. And if you like, one of my men could help—he happens to be a cook, and he's spoiling for a job right now..."
"Ah, I know whom you must mean. The man with the burned ears."
"Yes, that's the one."
"How comes it that he returned here with you—surely he was well enough to have gone on with the others?"
The doctor did not feel he could go into the details. "It was just chance," he answered at length. "One of those things that happen. Just chance."
"Let us say then a happy chance," replied Dr. Voorhuys, in a rather stately way to indicate that the conversation might end there. "Perhaps during the day you will introduce him to the kitchen staff..."
The doctor realized that there were many risks in introducing McGuffey to the kitchen staff, but he was so rapidly developing a risk-taking mood that he took the bold plunge, after a talk with McGuffey in which the latter had very little chance to say anything but yes and no. A bit more of this sort of thing, thought the doctor with wry amusement afterwards, and I shall be a real martinet...
The fact that there had been an air raid, even a small one, on Tjilatjap took some of the sting out of his own personal misgivings. He wouldn't bother to tell the men about it (because it might make them fear a raid on the inland town), but for himself it seemed possible that he had got his men away just in time. It could be an omen—or couldn't it?—of some future hairsbreadth saving of their lives. And suddenly, along with the omen, if it were one, came awareness of the job that he had still to do and was still only just beginning to realize. But next time there must be no hitch, no confusion, no mishandling.
While the men still slept he telephoned the local airfield, where there were British and American planes. After a long delay he got through to an American Air Force major, introduced himself and explained his position, then waited for an answer to a question he had not yet asked.
He got another question. "How many are there of you?"
"Eight stretcher cases. And one other."
"Making ten with yourself?"
"It's possible. We haven't any definite orders yet. We're hanging around ourselves waiting for them. Call back in an hour and I'll let you know. But you'd have to pack up quick."
"Quick as you want us."
Then he tried to telephone the Naval officer in Tjilatjap, but could not get through. He did, however, speak to some other man in authority, who replied brusquely: "Get out with your men any way except through here. We were raided last night and expect more today. And there are subs outside the harbor that got two of our ships."
"Not the Breskens ?" queried the doctor in sharp alarm.
"Don't know. Don't know any of the details."
He waited till the hour was over, then telephoned again to the airfield. The major said merely: "We've only thirteen planes and there's a crowd of us have to go—but we can make room for you on the last one."
"Sure, that's fine. We're not superstitious."
"Not what? Oh, I see—you mean the thirteenth plane?...Well, anyway, your bad cases can lie down—more or less. It'll be damned uncomfortable, but it won't last long—that is, if we're lucky."
"How long?" inquired the doctor.
"Say nine or ten hours. That means extra gas, so we can't take luggage. Not even a razor blade. Get that?"
"Sure. When do you want us at the field?"
"I'll call you an hour ahead of time. It's three miles—you'd better know the way. Is an hour long enough for you?"
"All right, I'll call you. It won't be till night." The doctor went back to the ward and looked at the sleeping men. It was still high afternoon, with the sun warm but not oppressive. He went to each plan's bed and stooped over him, knowing that many had worsened and none could possibly have improved after the ordeal of the previous day. He caught Three Martini's eye on him when he stood at Renny's bedside, and he wondered what was in her mind, and if she could possibly be reading his.
Sun, the Chinese, woke when he approached; still in considerable pain, the boy had no complaints. The doctor spoke to him, making a little joke as usual, but there was no smile.
The doctor said in Chinese, for something to say: "You are like a Chinese boy I once knew in China. You are very like him—even in appearance. Many people in my country think that Chinese people all look alike, but of course that is not so to me, because I have lived in China many years. This boy served me at a mission station in Wuchang. He was a nice boy and I was deeply attached to him. And he was just like you."
Sun answered: "Yes, he was very like me. He was my brother."
Then Sun explained. It was not such an extreme coincidence, after all, for it was on the doctor's recommendation that Sun had become a mess boy on one of the Yangtze gunboats of the American Navy. The doctor did not remember making the recommendation, but he had such regard for Sun's brother that he would doubtless have done so without hesitation. "So you are here because of me," said the doctor, hoping that this would make Sun smile.
"Yes," replied Sun, but he did not smile.
The doctor had hoped that the men would wake about the time that McGuffey had finished his job in the kitchen, but actually, towards five P.M., the long shrill whine of the air-raid siren came over the air. Dr. Voorhuys entered the ward almost immediately, ordering that the men be awakened. All, he said, must be carried to the air-raid shelter at once; but as the shelter was some distance away, across an open space, and as at that moment came the first crash of bombs, Dr. Voorhuys shrugged and said maybe after all they'd better stay where they were. The concussion was shaking heavy pieces of plaster from the ceiling; one of the pieces, as large and heavy as a golf ball, fell on Renny's bed and narrowly missed his face. "Pull the mattresses off and have the men lie on them under the beds," ordered Dr. Voorhuys, and showed how this could be done without disturbing the men more than a little. Then he left, very competent and brisk, to see after the patients in other parts of his hospital. But one still had the impression that he was surprised.
When he had gone the doctor supervised the carrying out of instructions, telling the grumblers that it really was a worth-while precaution, because although a bed wouldn't save anyone from a bomb, it might stop those sizable chunks of roof that kept falling. Presently he had them all under cover, and crossed the corridor to recommend the same for Commander Wilson. But Wilson stoutly refused.
"I'm not getting under any damned bed, and I defy anyone to make me. Besides, my roof isn't falling."
And that was true, since it was made of different material, so the doctor smiled and let it go at that.
When he got back to the ward he found that some of the nurses, both Dutch and Javanese, had accepted shelter with the men, and most were enjoying cigarettes, judging from the wreaths of smoke that fringed every bed as if the beds themselves were on fire. The doctor thought it was a very odd spectacle, especially with the murmur of conversation and a few girlish giggles; it reminded him of something, he could not exactly say of what, and perhaps it was best not to remember. He was not sorry about the smoking and giggling; there were worse things that could happen during air raids. As the bombing and the fall of plaster continued he shouted: "All right, boys—you're okay—nothing to worry about!"
Then suddenly he saw a bed whose mattress still lay on top. McGuffey's, of course. "Where's McGuffey?" he thought, and almost exclaimed; but it occurred to him that wherever McGuffey might be, this was no moment to look for him. So he got under McGuffey's bed, not bothering about the mattress, and saw a piece of plaster as big as a cocoanut crash to the floor within reach of his hand. "Gosh," he thought, "getting under here was certainly a good idea."
Three Martini and Renny were under the bed next to his at one side; they were not talking or giggling or smoking, because Renny was too ill. But on his other side were Edmunds and a rather pretty Dutch nurse who spoke a little English.
"Say, Doc," Edmunds called out in a rather impudent voice, "what made you go in for being a doc?"
The doctor did not mind the impudence, if it amused them and kept their minds off the raid. He answered: "Well, it was like this. I was bit by a mad dog in Arkansas when I was a kid and they sent me up to Johns Hopkins at Baltimore for the Pasteur treatment. I guess that impressed me a lot one way and another."
There was an immediate outburst of laughter, as if it were great fun to be bitten by a mad dog in Arkansas.
"Oh, you're kidding, Doc..."
"No, I'm not. It was a mad dog all right. But I guess even a dog had a right to be mad that year. A hundred and ten in the shade, it was, and so much humidity...Why, they say even a snake sweats in Arkansas in August."
"Ever been bit by a snake, Doc?" somebody else asked.
"Sure I have. I lay down in a field once right on top of a rattler. Didn't rattle soon enough—I guess that snake was as tired as I was..."
The men went on laughing. When, half an hour later, the all-clear signal sounded, the doctor felt they had already half forgiven him.
As if in swift reaction the ward became quite cheerful during that early evening. (Except for the few men who were still in heavy pain and could not escape from it save by fresh doses of artificially induced sleep.) The sun went down over the hills, and the waking men and the nurses ate heartily together and enjoyed themselves. And suddenly, in the midst of it, came an intrusion that might have been depressing, or at least sobering; but which, in the mood they were all in, made the atmosphere almost gay. A British Tommy, from whose legs had just been extracted two machine-gun bullets, was wheeled in straight from the operating theater, and for a moment it seemed as if the men from the Marblehead must hush their voices out of respect for a more recent sufferer. But the Tommy soon relieved them from any such obligation. "Gawd," he exclaimed, as they laid him gently down. "A bed, a bath, and a square meal! I ain't 'ad any of 'em for a month—it's worth a couple of Jap bullets, strike me if it ain't!"
The doctor would not permit the square meal, but he gave consent to a less ambitious one, and also to a smoke afterwards; whereat a shower of cigarettes was aimed at the newcomer from all directions.
He was such a cheerful little bloke. He told them he had been shot in the recent raid on the airfield; he wasn't badly hurt, he didn't even seem to be in much pain. "You boys ain't 'arf lucky to be in a place like this," he said, grinning at the Javanese nurse who was attending to him.
The doctor had not liked to hear of the attack on the airfield. He said to the Englishman: "Before you go to sleep, and I think you ought to go to sleep, tell me this...was anything hit at the airfield?"
"Dunno, mate—because they 'it me first, the bastards...But they'll come again for another try, don't you worry. Them bloody Nips don't give up so easy..."
"I know. Nov try to sleep."
"Don't feel sleepy, some 'ow...Excuse me, but you're a Yank, ain't you?"
The man from Arkansas did not like to be called a Yank, but he said tolerantly: "Yes, that's right."
"I got a cousin in America—place called Cleveland. Ever heard of it?"
The doctor admitted he had heard of Cleveland, but said he had never been there.
"Reckon you wouldn't know 'im then...Gimme another fag, will you?"
"Sure, and after that you must sleep." He lit one and placed it between the boy's lips.
"Thanks, mate. These American fags ain't like the English fags."
"You don't like them as well?"
"I didn't at first. Funny what you can get used to, though...and that's a fact. Sellin' tripe and trotters dahn the Mile End Road three years ago, I was, and then I lost me bloody job and joined the bloody army and now look at me..."
He stopped talking rather suddenly, and the doctor did indeed look at him, wondering when the drug would begin to take effect. Two Jap bullets and a dose of morphine—really, the fellow could almost be called impervious. The doctor waited till his eyes closed, then gently took away the cigarette still burning between's the man's fingers.
The doctor did not see this man again. An hour later, evidently on instructions from outside, he was whisked out of the ward and out of the hospital. He was still asleep, but the men stuck cigarettes in his pyjama pocket as the trolley rolled past them.
Night fell, and the doctor found himself walking backwards and forwards along the corridor where the telephone was. He knew he was growing anxious about that call from the airfield. Towards nine o'clock he went into Wilson's room for a chat, and was suddenly minded to take the commander into his confidence about the possibility of getting away by air. "But I haven't told the men, and I won't till the last minute—I'm afraid of another letdown."
Wilson said he thought that was very wise.
The telephone rang in the corridor. "That's probably for me," said the doctor.
When he came back a few moments later his face was rather pale and he carefully closed the door of Wilson's room before speaking. "They can't take us," he said. "One of their planes was smashed up in the raid—that means they can't make room. And they've just had orders to move at once with all their crowd. Doesn't seem to be their fault. The fellow I talked to seemed very upset."
"Like hell he was, and like hell we should be," retorted Wilson. "Live Air Force personnel is more important these days than wounded crocks like us. This is no women-and-children-first war—it's fighters first, and no sentiment about it!"
The doctor was grateful to him for the harsh words.
But later that evening, under a bright moon, a great roaring filled the sky over the hospital. It woke some of the men, who stared through the windows, wondering at first if it were another air raid, until McGuffey cried out: "That's one of ours—you can't mistake those four motors—the Japs haven't got anything like it!"
The roaring died away in the distance and then another came across the sky, and then another. The men, all awake now, were suddenly exultant—thinking that long-awaited reinforcements had arrived at last, and that the planes they had heard were en route to bomb the enemy at sea or on adjacent islands. It was a tonic thought to them lying there—that overhead the tide was already turning, that monster weapons from Seattle and Santa Monica and Long Beach were racing at last to their rescue.
The doctor, wandering in and out of the ward in a state of intense restlessness, said nothing to dampen this feeling.
The roaring went on, plane after plane, until, when it seemed to end, an argument sprang up among the men as to how many had flown over altogether.
"Twelve!" cried Hanrahan.
"Thirteen!" retorted McGuffey. "I counted right from the beginning—you were asleep."
Somebody else joined in: "No, twelve. I'm sure it was only twelve."
"Thirteen, I tell you!"
Renny, who was still in a good deal of pain, muttered from his bed: "Can't you boys find anything better to argue about? Twelve or thirteen—what the hell does it matter?"
The doctor thought that it had really mattered a great deal, but he backed up Renny and urged the men to go to sleep again. Then he went into Wilson's room across the corridor. He did not speak for a long time. Wilson was awake and smoking.
"Twelve it was," said Wilson quietly. "I heard the men arguing."
"Yes, twelve," agreed the doctor. "The thirteenth should have been ours."
After another long pause Wilson lit a fresh cigarette and added more quietly still: "Did you ever feel as bad about anything in your life?"
"About fifteen years ago—in China."
"Anything similar to this?"
"What then? Or is it something private?"
"Oh no. Don't mind telling you if you're interested. I'd been working for years tracking down the carrier of amoebic dysentery, and at last I found it just about a day before an article appeared in a medical journal announcing the same discovery by someone else."
"Well, maybe—in a sense—but after all it's the discovery that counts, not who makes it. Don't you think so?"
Later the doctor could not sleep, and while he was lying awake he heard a tap on his door and went to open it. Dr. Voorhuys was standing in the corridor, fully dressed and apparently quite calm. But there was something a little odd about him that the doctor sensed immediately, though he could not exactly say what it was.
"I'm glad you are awake," said Dr. Voorhuys, "because there is something you ought to know at once. I did not think it would happen. The enemy has landed on Java."
The doctor from Arkansas nodded. It was a blow but he felt himself struck rather than surprised by it. And suddenly, at that singularly inappropriate moment, he began to smile, because he had just noticed what was particularly odd about the doctor. It was something he would not have mentioned, except that he felt he must explain the smile, and there was nothing, he could think of but the truth. Dr. Voorhuys was already walking away along the corridor when the Arkansas doctor overtook him. "Why, Doctor," he exclaimed, "you're smoking !"
Dr. Voorhuys puffed the smoke of his long black cigar into the clean antiseptic air of the hospital corridor. Then he smiled also. "Perhaps, sir, it is a time for breaking the rule of a lifetime, since our lifetime may not be as long as we expect."
The doctor went back to his own room, dressed quickly and glanced into the ward where the men lay. All were asleep, and the Dutch nurse in charge was reading a book so comfortably that it was clear she had not heard the bad news. The doctor then glanced into Wilson's room and saw that he too was asleep. Next he telephoned to Tjilatjap, waiting almost an hour before he could get through. After that he left the hospital and walked into the town. Evidently the news had reached there, for crowds were congregated at street corners, and the lobby of the Grand Hotel was as busy as—indeed, busier than—at a normal noon. There was no panic, but a tensely rising excitement, and just before dawn this excitement soared to fever pitch when the foremost vehicles of an apparently endless British convoy parked in front of the hotel, and its commanding officer, dressed in khaki pants and a brown sun helmet, entered to ask what he could buy in the way of food and supplies. This officer was not the kind of man the doctor took to on sight. There was a sort of languid aloofness about the way he gave his orders to the hotel people and to his subordinates; yet the doctor had to admit that each order was perfectly clear, despite the languor, and perfectly reasonable, despite the air with which it was delivered. The doctor thought about this for a moment, but found it somewhat incomprehensible; so, shrugging off all feelings about it, he nerved himself to approach the fellow and say "Hello." At this the Englishman's manner instantly froze (the mere conditioned reflex of being accosted by a stranger), then unfroze very slightly at the sight of the uniform. "How do you do?" he mumbled as from a great distance.
"Excuse me, but are you evacuating your men to Tjilatjap?" asked the doctor.
"Rather," answered the Englishman, almost yawning.
A sergeant touched the officer's elbow to deliver some message which elicited another expression of languid assent; after which the sergeant saluted and the officer turned again to the doctor. The latter was fidgeting.
"Anything I can do for you by any chance?" continued the Englishman, his politeness now chilled with infinite boredom.
Suddenly the doctor had it. He said abruptly: "Sure you can, if you will. I have nine wounded men in my charge—most of them stretcher cases. How about taking us with you?"
The manager of the hotel was now at hand, proffering chits for the officer to sign. As he signed them he muttered: "Don't mind—provided they can travel in trucks, and you have 'em here in two hours..."
This time the doctor did not fidget. He snapped out "Okay" and dashed off through the crowded lobby.
The doctor woke each man as quietly as he could, then went to the end of the ward and leaned over the rail of McGuffey's bed. "Boys," he said, "we've another chance to get out of here and it's a last chance. Get ready as quick as you can."
They tried to delay him with a chorus of questions, protests, and complaints. "Listen," he shouted, over their voices, "don't ask me for details. You don't have to go, but I'm going and I'll take anybody with me, and I hope it'll be everybody. So hurry up...I'll be back in half an hour for those who've made up their minds." Then from the door he added: "If you want any reasons, I'll give you just two. The Japs are in Java, and those planes we heard last night weren't reinforcements—they were our own planes getting the hell out..."
He woke Wilson and gave him more details. "There's a British convoy in the town—the captain says he'll take us to Tjilatjap. I know there are ships still there, because I telephoned this morning. So get ready...that is, if you want to go. I'm going."
"What, again? " said Wilson, putting all his thoughts into that one word.
"Yes, again," answered the doctor. "And don't pack all that stuff you took the last time—there won't be room."
He knew that it had been a big bluff, talking like that to Wilson and to the men. He knew that if a single one of them refused, he could not leave him, would not leave him—and what would happen then he could lay no plans for. When the half hour had elapsed he hesitated for a second outside the door of the ward, as if aware that he was about to try the last possible key in the lock of fate.
All the men were ready.
He looked at them for a moment, unable to speak; then he made the thumbs- up sign and said: "Good for you, boys. Let's get going."
So the nine men from the Marblehead went down to Tjilatjap a second time.
There had been second farewells at the hospital, but with a new and wilder note in them—the nurses kissed and embraced the men with a half- preoccupied air, for they were already constrained to think of other things, of what would happen to them and to their friends and families later. The men were derisive in an American way that the Dutch and Javanese could not properly understand—how could anyone joke at such a moment? But some of the men kept kidding about the whole situation. "Don't worry, nurse—we'll be back to-morrow. Have a nice meal ready for us, won't you?...The doe's just taking us for another day at the beach, that's all..."
The doctor heard but did not object to these remarks. They seemed to him as helpful as anything else that could have been said.
The nine men from the Marblehead sorted themselves out (under the doctor's supervision) into worse and better cases. The latter rode in a truck, lying down as best they could on the flat boards. The former climbed into the Ford car whose springs and cushions were kinder to their wounds; there were Sun, whose legs were not yet much recovered, and Francini, who had to sit upright. The doctor fixed Sun so that his legs stretched comfortably, over the back of the front seat. Wilson, whose wounds enabled him to sit and almost now to stand, took the seat next to the doctor.
Muller, with the shattered leg, was given a lift in the British captain's car.
The doctor would not start until the entire convoy had passed, so that he knew for certain that his men had not been left behind. This entailed a considerable wait, for there were some two hundred trucks, containing ack-ack guns, field kitchens, traveling repair shops—the whole outfit of a modern mechanized force.
The journey began before the sun was high, and continued slowly but without a pause until well into the afternoon. The doctor did not at first regret the slow pace, for it was years since he had driven a car before, and both the gear shift and the "keep-to-the-left" rule were new to him. It took him several hours to get really used to these novelties and relax a little. Wilson, in pain but not complaining, slept for long stretches. Sun was so quiet that it was hard to tell whether he were even in pain or not. Francini sat carefully upright, trying to minimize the jolts of the roadway by flexing his muscles in advance. The doctor tried as far as he could to avoid such jolts, but sometimes it was impossible and then he would half turn round and say "Sorry" to the boy behind. Somehow he knew there was no point in saying, "Sorry," since the boy knew he couldn't help it, but he still went on saying it.
Towards noon he began to feel sleepy, but fortunately a British motorcyclist, red-faced and incredibly cheerful, rode alongside to shout a warning of possible air attack. The whole convoy was to be spaced out to minimize the risk of bomb hits, and everyone must be prepared to jump out at a moment's notice and take shelter in the roadside ditches. The cyclist rode off in a cloud of dust, having delivered this message, leaving the doctor to wonder how Sun and Nilson and Francini could perform such acrobatic feats in any conceivable emergency. But there was nothing for it but just to drive on and hope for the best. At any rate, the incident had served to wake him up.
But not some other drivers, apparently, for at several places he noticed trucks burning at the roadside, either from driving mishaps or because they had broken down irreparably and had been deliberately fired.
He had to concentrate on his own driving for another reason: the Dutch officer who was leading the way began to pick out side roads which he knew were tree-shaded, so as to lessen the risk of Jap planes spotting the convoy. This meant longer, slower, and (unfortunately for Sun and Francini) much bumpier travel. And there was an increasing amount of opposite traffic—Dutch Army cars loaded with soldiers, Staatswacht troops in forest-green uniforms, Red Cross ambulances, gaudily decorated native oxcarts which were the worst peril of all. The doctor began to fear those oxcarts more than bombs.
He did not talk much during the journey, except now and then a few sentences over his shoulder to Sun and Francini—to the former, of course, in Chinese. Whenever he spoke in Chinese, Wilson would rib him about it—"Aw, for heaven's sake, what sort of a lingo is that? How long did it take you to learn it?"
"About ten years," answered the doctor quietly. "And I still don't know it very well."
"I guess they could use you as an interpreter, though."
The doctor agreed. "I rather thought they would, but they sent me to look after you fellows instead. And what a job!" He laughed, fishing in his pocket meanwhile for a cigarette.
"Keep both your hands on the wheel, man," Wilson shouted. "I'll light one for you."
It was not easy for Wilson to use his hands, but at last he succeeded in getting a cigarette alight; then he leaned over and found the cigarette holder in the doctor's breast pocket. "And don't turn round and poke me in the eye with it," he added.
The more tired they became and the more arduous and perilous the journey the more they grumbled at each other, jokingly, meaninglessly, affectionately. It passed the time, and the doctor thought it probably helped to cheer up Francini behind. Once, when he had said "Sorry" after a particularly bad bump, and the boy had moaned slightly, the doctor continued: "It's just luck that you're here, Francini, and not in that British officer's car instead of Muller. I'd be scared stiff if I was driving with that fellow for two hundred miles...Oh no, he's all right—I've nothing against him—matter of fact, he was pretty good to take us—but he sort of looks at you as if you weren't there."
"We won't be there, either," said 'Wilson, "if you don't keep your eye on the road."
And so they went on, throughout the long hot afternoon. Once they saw planes overhead that looked like a Jap reconnaissance, and for half and hour afterwards thought of nothing but bombers, but presently the very fear in their hearts grew bored with waiting. Then the doctor began to feel sleepy again, and the effort to keep awake drove everything else out of his mind. He would shut his eyes tight for a few seconds and then open them again sharply; he hit himself on the forehead to produce actual pain; and at every stretch of road where there was good shelter he hoped and even prayed that the convoy might decide on a halt. Surely they must stop soon; even soldiers could not keep up the strain indefinitely. Wilson, Francini, and Sun had all fallen asleep—Wilson was snoring, and at first the doctor had thought the snore was a lap bomber approaching over the roadside hedges. He laughed aloud when he found out what it really was, and the laugh kept him awake for another half mile. Then he resumed the struggle, and once—for perhaps ten seconds—he must have been absolutely asleep, for he found the car swerving way out to the right along the other lane. He pulled back sharply, thanking heaven there had been no oxcart. His three passengers were still asleep; no one would ever know how nearly he had come to meeting disaster. The thought nerved him to another effort of wakefulness, and just when this was about spent he saw arms waving from the truck a hundred yards in front. It was the signal for a halt.
He pulled over to the side of the road and clamped on the brake with his last ounce of energy.
Then all was suddenly alive in a still world. For a mile or so ahead British soldiers were jumping down from trucks and cars, shouting excitedly as they threw down gear. The road was lined with tall trees, and beyond the trees were rice fields channeled with running water. The doctor could not help thinking it was rather like Arkansas, for there too were tall trees and rice fields. It was a fine choice for a stopping place—in happier days not a bad place for a picnic, either. He wondered if the Dutch and Javanese had ever had picnics there, and all at once that reminded him of something—he had never kept his promise about that giant ice-cream feast for the men and the nurses. He was sorry about that; he liked to keep his promises, and now, as if to wipe the regret from his mind, he silently made another promise: "I'll get these men safely to Tjilatjap, and I'll put them on a ship, and I'll stay with them till safety..." That, he suddenly realized, was more than a promise; it was a decision made to himself, and in Some ways, come to think of it, it was a prayer.
The doctor rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and got down from the car. Already the sun was lowering, and the air though warm, lay fresh and pleasant under the shade. Wilson and Sun were waking; Francini still slept, but the doctor leaned into the back of the car and gently waked him, for he had to be attended to; that was the first job of all. Meanwhile hundreds of men along the road ahead were scurrying about in units of concentrated yet somehow independent effort—some were changing or washing clothes, others making tea or heating cans of baked beans over blowpots, many sluicing themselves in the rice-field channels and lying naked in the sun to dry. Little Javanese boys, appearing as it were from nowhere, shinned up cocoanut trees and dropped the nuts to the men, who gave them small coins in exchange; the men knocked open the nuts and drank the green milk out of them. All this varied activity the doctor watched out of one eye while he serviced his three passengers; then he restarted the car and drove slowly along the length of the convoy till he spotted the truck in which the five others were.
He found them. Two British soldiers who had driven the truck were making tea by the roadside; they gave him a cheery greeting and shouted that his boys were all right, only tired. The doctor nodded and climbed into the truck. He was glad his boys had at least given the impression they were all right; his last instructions had bidden them do that. He dropped his voice as he saw the supine figures lying on stretchers with British Army coats thrown over them to keep off the glare of the sun; some of the men had nothing but thin pyjamas underneath. "Well, boys," he exclaimed, "how's everything?" He said it quietly, almost confidentially, as if he really wanted them to tell him.
One of them grumbled: "These trucks sure must run on square wheels,"
That was a good sign; the doctor liked to hear a grumble. He moved round to each man, scrutinizing him carefully, seeing if there were any personal thing to be done; and of course there was, and he did it.
"These Britishers treating you all right?" he said meanwhile.
Several answers came then. "Oh, fine. They're swell guys. They gave us candy and corned beef. And now they're making tea for us."
"And if you don't die of a diet like that, then nothing'll kill you," responded the doctor. He turned to McGuffey, who he thought might have been helping him instead of sitting there crouched against a pile of Army uniforms as if he were hiding something. All at once he saw that McGuffey was hiding something. "Well, for heaven's sake..." he began...
Three Martini was behind the uniforms that were behind McGuffey.
The doctor went fighting-mad for about a minute and a half. He cursed McGuffey with a language he hardly knew he knew; then he caught the brown girl's eye and had to stop. Even though she knew no English she must know he was angry, and he did not want her to think he was angry with her personally. So he smiled at her and went on cursing McGuffey as long as he could keep up the joint effort; but that was not very easy, and in the end he just said: "Well, all I can say is, McGuffey, this is about the limit. What the hell do you think will happen to her when we get to Tjilatjap?"
"Dunno, Doc. I guess she figured that out herself. I didn't ask her to come."
"Now don't give me that stuff. I know if there's any trouble anywhere, you're in on it."
"Honest, Doc—I'm telling you the truth. She came on account of Renny."
"Renny? " The doctor swung round. "Well, Renny, what do you say about all this?"
Renny didn't answer, and after a pause McGuffey said: "She thought Renny might get worse on the way."
The doctor snorted and was about to argue the matter further when he saw over the edge of the truck the two British Tommies returning with cans of steaming tea. "Well, anyhow," he added quickly, "you'd better keep her out of sight because if the captain of the convoy sees her he'll put her off, sure as you're born."
McGuffey nodded. "That's what I thought, Doc."
The Tommies clambered aboard, and from the way they looked at the girl the doctor realized that they had thought of it too. In fact everyone seemed to be quite reconciled to the girl's presence except himself, and as he disliked being in a minority of one he couldn't keep up his truculence, especially when one of the Tommies offered him a can of tea. "No, no," he said gallantly. "Ladies first..." And with that he looked across at Three Martini and gave her a distinct wink, to show that he was by that time even less angry with her than before.
So the doctor stayed and drank tea with the men, his own men and the British, and the Javanese nurse; in fact, he even provided out of a flask in his pocket something extra to put in the tea; and by the time the last drops were drained he was feeling quite happy about the whole business.
A mile in front, in the staff car with Muller, the man with the languid aloofness was also drinking a cup of tea. Actually he was neither languid nor aloof, but just overwhelmingly weary, and terribly shy of this American boy to whom he was giving a lift. He was also facing facts himself while concealing them from others, and for this purpose the air of languid aloofness was the only technique he knew. He had been told that he and his men were to remain at Tjilatjap to make a last stand, and he guessed that there was small chance for any of them, save to be killed or to spend uncounted time in a Jap prison camp. Quite calmly—almost languidly—he hoped that he, at the right moment, would be killed. And as he hoped this, he thought of home in England and the road over a hill to the house where his wife and children lived. He did not think they would ever receive the last letters he had written. And half glancing sideways at the American boy, he envied him passionately the chance of escape to fight again with better luck another day; but still he could not think of anything to say. He had been trying to think of something ever since the convoy had stopped, and with every minute's silence he knew that the American boy must be thinking him snootier and snootier.
Presently he cleared his throat and began: "Er...er...how're you feeling, eh? Pretty ghastly, I guess, eh?" (He put the "I guess" in because he thought all Americans said "I guess.")
Muller honestly could not understand a word the Englishman said, but he smiled and said "Okay, okay."
The convoy started again and the nine men from the Marblehead went riding down to the sea.
The doctor felt refreshed after the halt, but that made him eager to get ahead and also—beyond the eagerness—anxious about what would happen in Tjilatjap. It was like climbing a mountain and, when you are getting near the summit, seeing another one higher and further. Every mile made him more confident about the road journey, the British officer, and everything connected with the convoy, but Tjilatjap was another ordeal to face; his memories of it were singularly unpleasant; it was a place to get in and out of, and especially out of, as quickly as possible. The very urgency of this gave him the idea to drive ahead and make speedy arrangements, so when next the convoy halted he rode on, waving as he passed the men in the truck, and asked the British officer's advice. The officer said he thought it was not half a bad idea.
It was almost nightfall by then, but there was no darkness; a terrible bright moon (terrible because of the help it would give to Jap bombers) rose in the sky, and all along the horizons the fires of demolition spurted into a flickering frieze. Fortunately the state of the road improved, so that the doctor could drive at forty miles an hour instead of twenty without bumping his passengers too much; but in any case, they sensed the reason for his haste and would have paid for it willingly with extra discomfort. And this willingness, half enthusiastic, half apprehensive, made all of them increasingly silent as they neared Tjilatjap.
Presently they saw lights in the approaching distance which the doctor thought must be either the town or a great fire. He did not speak his third thought, which was that it might be both, or his fourth thought, which was that Jap air raiders were already at work. He just drove on faster. The roads were more crowded now, and with refugees on foot as well as wheeled traffic; the doctor honked his horn and at each debatable turn in the road yelled "Chillyjap" till someone answered him affirmatively. Despite this, he lost his way several times and had to go back on his tracks. Once the car overheated, and the doctor, who was no mechanic, had an awful fear of being stranded; but Wilson said the radiator might need water, so they stopped by a roadside stream and filled it with some difficulty by means of an empty whiskey bottle. As the bottle was not quite empty at first, the doctor gave Sun and Wilson a stiff drink to make it so; Francini could not have one, because of his injury, and the doctor refused for himself, saying in the half-jocular way that was the only one possible for what was in his mind: "Boys, I'm saving mine for the time we're easin' out of the harbor with all of us safe on board. That's the time I'll feel like percolatin'."
While they were filling the radiator a Javanese passed them. Almost by now automatically, the doctor pointed along the road and exclaimed: "Chillyjap?"
"Tjilatjap," said the man, nodding politely. He gave the name a different pronunciation.
Wilson then asked him, mouthing the words with great distinctness and with much gesturing and finger work to convey their meaning: "How far you say—how many kilometers—Chillyjap? You understand?"
The man then replied: "I do not know precisely, sir, but I should say about thirty-five miles...as the crow flies."
"Well, I'm damned!" muttered Wilson, speechless for any more original comment. It was something to laugh about, however, when they resumed the journey.
From now on every bridge they passed was mined for dynamiting, its structure often loosened so that traffic must crawl over with utmost care; and sometimes when they had crossed and traveled on some distance, a heavy rearward explosion gave them the knowledge that they had been narrowly in time, just before entering Tjilatjap they came to a long suspension bridge over a river. Like the others, it had been mined and was under strict guard and patrol, with a Dutch officer scrutinizing all traffic before he let it go through. He did not know any English, and none of the car's occupants knew any Dutch, but a Javanese sentry spoke a little Chinese, so the doctor became eloquent for several minutes, after which the deal was cemented by opening a fresh whiskey bottle and passing it round for as much as every man could take at one gulp. At the other end of the bridge there were more sentries, but the Javanese who had spoken Chinese obligingly ran across to expedite matters. Then there were more drinks and an extra one for the Javanese. Scotch whiskey, the doctor was finding, was really a universal currency, handier even than dollars—certainly than guilders.
Francini had a sudden gust of pain during that last lap into the town; and this perhaps was why, when the doctor asked how he was feeling, he answered: "Pretty lousy. I hope it won't be like it was before, Doc. I mean—when you didn't get us on the Breskens ."
The doctor answered without turning round (for he was in the town now and had to keep his eyes on the road): "So you think it was bad luck not getting on the Breskens , do you? Well, I'll tell you this...something they just told me there at the bridge. The Breskens was torpedoed. All our men were saved except four, but you'd have made five if you'd been on it."
Francini was silent for a moment, then he said: "Sorry, Doc. We don't know what's best for us always."
"Sure we don't," agreed the doctor cordially. "You gotta be like the hog and know a persimmon tree from an acorn tree...anythin' more'n that's just guesswork."
Tjilatjap, in the middle of the night, was fantastically alive, and yet it was also dead. It had died, as it were, and was attending its own funeral. Or some such metaphor; the doctor had no time to think of any. But he was aware of the unquiet stillness of the place, the almost sinister movement of people who did not talk about what they were doing, but were intensely occupied in doing it; doors wide-open where one would have expected them to be shut; lights burning remotely in isolated rooms. And over it all a curious scent in the hot night air, a scent too faint to be unpleasant till one guessed what it might be rather than knew what it was—the smell of burning over a great distance.
The hotel, with its portico and patio and piazza and other architectural trappings, was crowded yet also strangely quiet; for most of its occupants were asleep, and hundreds of sleepers had not found beds. They sat about in the lobby and lounges, sprawled in chairs, curled up against kit bags or bundles of clothing, open-mouthed, grotesque, sweat-streaked, a litter of humanity—Dutch and English and Javanese, old and young, white and brown (but the white were either dusty-gray with fatigue or sunburnt red), soldier and civilian, man, woman, and child. Little sleeping movements flickered over the strange assemblage as if to symbolize the death of some kind of life, but not of life itself. And over the whole scene, labeling it for history with an ironic finger point, were giant framed posters of the Javanese railway system, inviting the wide world to take its holiday amidst the ruined temples of Boro Budur.
The doctor parked his car at the front of this equally ruined temple of tourism, and walked inside. There was no sound but snoring and a few whimperings of children. He went to the desk near the entrance but there was no one on duty. He pressed a bell, but it did not ring. He went behind the counter and picked up a telephone but there was no answer. He pressed another bell, which rang, but no one came. Then he picked his way amidst sprawled bodies into the hotel's interior. He saw people sleeping on tables, under tables, in passageways, half wedged in telephone booths. There was nothing to eat, and the taps, when turned on, yielded nothing but a slight hiss and a few drops of yellow water. Presently, however, the doctor wandered into the hotel kitchen, where several Chinese were cooking rice over a stove. He talked to them and found that they proposed, when morning came, to serve this rice to the crowd. No one had asked them to do it; they had just made the decision themselves, and it somehow encouraged the doctor immensely. He chatted with them for a little while, asking about boats in the harbor and so on. Then they gave him some bread and several bottles of warm beer. As he was picking his way through the lobby to reach the car again a man in a bathrobe approached him carrying a pair of white shoes.
"Good day." he said, holding them out. "You will take them perhaps? The Admiral left them by mistake...They all went away last night—all your Navy people—it is unfortunate. But I will find you a place to sleep. I am an officer of the Staatswacht and have some influence."
"What'sthat? You say the Navy isn't here?"
"They picked up as many as they could. They were very wise to leave..."
"But surely there are some ships that haven't yet gone?"
"They all left yesterday, but a few more will come tomorrow on their way from other places...It is all very unfortunate."
"I'll say it is. What on earth do you think I'm going to do if I can't find a ship"
"You will sleep first of all. Nothing can be done till daylight."
Later this Dutchman found a room with two beds in it, and helped the doctor to carry his patients one by one out of the car and through the hotel lobby over the sprawled bodies. Sun and Wilson had each a bed; Francini who must sit up all the time, was given a chair.
The Dutch officer placed the white shoes in the exact center of the room, as if he hoped someone would pay attention to them, but nobody did. Then he said, settling himself as if for a pleasant conversation: "Good day to all of you. It is very unfortunate to be here."
The doctor said he would like to go down to the harbor right away and size up the situation: he didn't feel he could sleep.
"But it is very unfortunate there are no ships yet, and nothing can be done till daylight," said the officer. "Then I will go with you."
"All the same, I'd like to have a look around."
He went back to the car and found four or five people, color and race indeterminable in the half light, already sleeping inside it. He was wondering what to do, and how he could get them out, when a Dutch wireless operator came to his rescue, inquiring in excellent English if the car were his and if he needed help. The doctor explained his position, liking the fellow instantly and feeling a kind of sudden confidence that must be a mystic thing since it is no way otherwise explicable. The Dutch wireless man was tall, young, and very handsome. "Nothing can be done till daylight," he said. "Then I will go with you."
Although this was exactly what the Dutch officer had said, it somehow sounded immensely different, so they left the intruders sleeping in the car and returned to the hotel. There were only a couple of hours till dawn and the two men spent them in a very calm conversation. It was the wireless man who told the doctor that most of the people in the hotel hadn't a ghost of a chance of getting away. "There are too many of them for the ships that will come in tomorrow. They will only be small ships. The people do not know that. They think they will find room, and so they sleep here tonight and hope there will be no air raid." He smiled faintly and added: "I hope so too."
The doctor asked if he thought there was a chance of finding passage room for nine American sailors, most of whom must lie on their backs. The man answered quietly: "No, sir. I do not think there will be any chance. But I may be wrong. I have been wrong lately about so many things. I did not think Singapore would be taken. I did not think the Japs would land in Java at all...So maybe I am wrong again."
At dawn the town faced the problems of a new day. The sleepers at the hotel began to move and talk, peering into the gray light; the Dutch officer took a last look at Sun and Wilson (whom he had practically talked to sleep), then a last look at the Admiral's white shoes, before he went to his own room in another part of the hotel and changed out of the bathrobe into his green uniform. He was very sad.
At dawn the Chinese in the kitchen put the finishing touches on a huge dish of rice and assorted oddments—a kind of impromptu ristaffel with a distinctly Cantonese flavor. They carried it steaming into the hotel lobby, blandly smiling. They carried also great urns of tea. It was for all to share, but those who wanted could pay or—meaninglessly—sign chits.
At dawn Francini sat upright in his chair and closed his eyes, sleeping and dreaming instantly, the sleep troubled, but the dreams riding high over pain and fever.
At dawn the sea mist drifted in, covering the hills behind the town; and later the sun did not rise, but a fine rain began. Those who saw this from streets and windows were glad, because they thought it might keep off the air raiders. Soon after dawn, however, the sirens screamed, and for half an hour planes could be heard droning high and invisible over the town. People said they could hear them, anyway.
Two ships edged through the mist and anchored like ghosts in the harbor. The doctor left the wireless man in the Ford car on the pier, and signaled a Javanese whose launch he had already engaged and paid for. With his thin tropical uniform already drenched and sticking to him coldly, the doctor watched the rain whip the harbor waves into a still calm. The downpour increased till the ship they were approaching disappeared behind a wall of rain that fell, no longer in hitting drops, but as long emptying funnels from sky to sea.
Presently the grayness ahead darkened into the side of a ship and the doctor climbed aboard.
The captain, a tall blond man wearing a blue beret, said it was utterly, utterly impossible to take nine wounded men. His was only a small inter-island coastal steamer; he had no sick bay or medical supplies beyond the merest first- aid kit; and furthermore his ship was already chartered and he had only put into Tjilatjap to take on Dutch Army personnel. He would not refuse passage to able-bodied Americans, if any there were; but men who could not look after themselves in an emergency (torpedo attack, for instance) had better stay on land. It would be far safer for them. The doctor had heard that argument before, but never quite so emphatically, for the captain (whose name was Prass) spoke a kind of English that could he called even more ferocious than atrocious. It was, indeed, a very effective language, and after ten minutes of it the doctor sloshed his way back and signaled the waiting Javanese to take him to the other ship. As the launch chugged away he noticed that the ship Captain Prass commanded was called the Janssens , He thought to himself, a little ruefully, that he would always remember Captain Prass of the Janssens .
It took him twenty minutes to reach the other ship, where refugees were already streaming on hoard from rowboats and launches; the whole deck space crammed, he could see, with not an inch to spare. It was not a very roomy ship, anyhow, and neither so modern nor so well-kept as the Janssens . The doctor had already made up his mind that if this second captain said no, he would go back to the Janssens and ask again.
He did not see the second captain, but he got a vaguely helpless "no" from every subordinate officer who could remotely understand what he said. And his own instinct (though he did not realize this till long afterwards) had already supplied the same answer.
So he went back to Captain Prass.
The terrible Captain Prass was shaving in his cabin. Somehow that seemed to give the doctor an initial advantage, for every time the captain took a sweeping stroke with the razor (his mouth being stretched stiff for the purpose), the doctor had a chance to edge in a few quick sentences. These sentences, put together, and leaving out the Prass replies, amounted to something like this: "Sir, I have to get these men aboard some ship and out of Java. They don't mind taking a chance—they want to take a chance. And I'm going to see that they get a chance. And it's no good saying no—I won't take no from you, Captain Prass—now what are you going to do to a fellow who won't take no from you?"
Captain Prass spat gobs of soap across the floor of the cabin, while over a scraped cheek a streak of blood showed itself with difficulty upon skin almost as red. "I have cut myself," he replied mournfully. Then he added, snapping back to normal: "But you understand—you and your men must keep out of my way. This is not a hospital ship, there is no proper accommodation. You must look after them yourself. And get them here soon—we leave anytime after dark. And we shall all be killed doubtless—a hundred to one we shall all be killed...You understand all that?"
The doctor answered joyfully that he understood all that; then he hurried back to the hotel as quick as launch and car could take him.
The street in front of the hotel was wedged tight with British Army trucks; the convoy had arrived. This, on top of his success with Captain Prass, raised the doctor's spirits to a point where people stared at him, wondering incredulously what he could have to be so happy about—especially as he beamed his way through the crowded hotel lobby as if he hadn't heard the air- raid sirens sounding off for the second time that morning. When he opened the door of the bedroom his eyes took in a sight that to most people would have seemed unspeakably tragic—his men in drenched clothes, in drenched bandages, sprawling on floor and beds in attitudes of pain and discomfort; but to him the sight was reassuring, because he had good news for them and their very presence was good news to him. And he noticed, in the trivial way these things obtrude, that McGuffey was wearing the Admiral's white shoes and that the Dutch officer was rubbing one of the men's feet with a towel.
"Boys," he cried, "I've found a ship that'll take us and we go on board just as soon as I can fix you all up and get you there..."
Greetings came from the floor where the men lay. Most of them were too tired to be excited, some were in too great pain to care what happened to them, but none withheld a murmur of cheer.
The Dutch officer said: "It is very unfortunate that the sirens have just gone again—do you want to get your men into the shelter?"
Promptly the doctor answered: "Hell, no—when we move from here, we move out for good, eh, boys?" A murmur of acquiescence answered him. "Sure, I thought so. All you want is a rest and a fixing-up, there can't be much of a raid in this weather." He shook the water from his own dripping clothes.
"Bombs can fall in the rain," said the Dutch officer, with the air of one stating a scientific fact.
"But they can't see where they're dropping 'em—not through this rain."
"You do not have rains like this in America?" said the Dutch officer, making polite conversation.
"Yes, sir—we have everything in America, though this is a pretty good rain, I will say. It's not what I'd call a sprinkle, and it's not a chip washer or a gully washer—it's a real regular toad-strangler, and I've seen 'em like this in Arkansas when it turns all the roads into black gumbo."
The Dutch officer stared uncomprehendingly. "Gumbo," he echoed, as if sampling the word. "Gumbo. That is unfortunate."
The doctor was taking Hanrahan's temperature when his attention was suddenly riveted elsewhere. "Why—there's only seven of you all here? Where's the other two?" His eyes ran round, identifying them. "Where's Muller? Where's Renny?"
McGuffey answered: "Don't know where Muller is—downstairs, maybe. But Renny got left behind."
"They dropped him off at a place along the road. About sixty miles back."
The doctor was on his feet in an instant. "But I don't like this at all...What happened?"
When he had extracted a few more details he rushed downstairs.
The British officer (the one with the air of languid aloofness) sat before a glass-topped table as if waiting for a waiter who never came. The doctor approached hint without preamble. "Look here, sir—I want to know where two of my men are—there's the one who was in the truck, and there's Muller, who was with you in the car..."
The British officer's eyes sought focus and found it momentarily. "Ah yes—the boy with the smashed elbow. I sent him on ahead with my evacuation officer. He caught one of your Navy ships last night..."
"You mean Muller's already out?"
"Rather. Any objection?"
"Good God, no—I'll say he's lucky—"
"I'd say he's damned lucky."
"And what about the other boy—Renny?"
"We dropped him off at a first-aid station."
"You dropped him off? But don't you know we're getting out of here tonight—in a few hours! I don't want to leave any of my boys behind. And you promised—"
The eyes of the British officer stared away into space. "He was very ill. He said he couldn't stand any more. We stopped at the first-aid station to see what they could do for him, and he begged us to leave him there. We left one of our own men too—crashed into a bridge on his motorcycle and broke both legs. There was a nurse—Javanese—who stayed with your man. She told me she'd given him her blood and felt she must look after him whatever happened—at least that's what I thought she said—I don't speak Javanese well. And there wasn't time to argue...You see, I had to use my own judgment—right or wrong, one often has to use one's own judgment."
All at once the officer's face rolled sideways and his body slipped forward across the table. The doctor was just in time to save him from falling to the floor, and the effort of doing so killed his indignation as effectively as it served to waken the other man from the sudden stab of sleep.
"Awfully sorry," he mumbled, forcing his eyes open. "Three days and two nights since we left Surabaya—on the road all the time—sort of a tiring trip...What was I saying? Oh yes, about your man...I tell you frankly, he looked pretty ghastly. I was afraid he'd die. I wouldn't have liked that."
"I understand," said the doctor quietly.
"But I'll tell you what I'll do...I'll keep in touch with him and if any of us get out, we'll take him with us."
"You will?" said the doctor, putting out his hand.
"Oh, rather." The British officer shook hands with extreme embarrassment. "And...er...I'd better give you my name."
He did so, and received the doctor's, after which the latter said gently: "Why don't you try to get some sleep?"
"Not half a bad idea," replied the other, slumping forward across the table instantly.
The seven men from the Marblehead went aboard the Janssens at dusk. They had rested for a while until all arrangements had been made by the doctor, assisted by the Dutch wireless man. The latter had commandeered from somewhere or other a school bus, and into this vehicle the less wounded men piled with their luggage and were driven through the still heavy rain to the dock. The three worse wounded traveled in the doctor's car.
But the Dutchman had done something else: he had procured, also from somewhere or other, some pretty good mattresses, which he presented to the doctor for the use of the men during the sea trip. And it was both reassuring and not so reassuring when he said, handing them over: "These mattresses are made of kapok, so they'll float in water if you just hang onto them."
The doctor did not quite know how to thank him for the mattresses, so he gave him the Ford sedan. "But what shall I do with it," asked the Dutchman, "when the Japs come?"
"There's a can of gas in the back. Pour it over the seat and throw a match inside, and then get the hell out of the way. Matter of fact, I don't see why you should wait here till the Japs come. Why don't you leave with us right now? We could use you."
The other answered: "Thank you, it is very kind of you, but I must stay at my duty. You understand, it is a duty I have here."
The doctor gripped his hand and said he understood.
British boys from the convoy also did things. They were setting up anti- aircraft guns on the pier when the doctor signaled them. "Hey, give me a hand, will you—I can't do all this myself..."
They hadn't realized what exactly he was trying to do until then. In the heavy rain, and with the crowds on the dock, and with the litter of guns and ammunition all around them, it wasn't easy to see what anyone was doing. When they discovered that one man was actually trying to carry six wounded men from a bus to a launch, they left their guns as if (for the moment) even guns were less important. While Javanese took care of the luggage, these British soldiers carried the men piggyback to the launch; and later, when the launch reached the Janssens , Dutch sailors grabbed them one by one and carried them on deck by the same method.
So the doctor and the seven men at last got on the Janssens and the doctor found a place for the mattresses on the stern deck, under an awning through which the rain only dripped a little. Every inch of the decks was occupied; many of the sprawled bodies were already drenched through, but nobody minded the rain, and while the doctor was fixing the men warmly and comfortably he just hoped it would go on raining all night.
The Janssens , packed like a ferryboat after a holiday, waited till dark to nose out into the channel and zigzag through the minefields, and when at last it leaned to the touch of the first sea rollers the doctor leaned with it in a great sigh of content. Then he remembered something he had promised himself during the road journey with the convoy. So he pushed his way through to the bar and was soon in conversation with a newspaper correspondent who had been in Singapore and Batavia and knew so much about what was happening all over the world that the doctor, when eventually asked where he had been during recent weeks, replied humbly: "Oh, just back and forth between Tjilatjap and a place inland. I guess I'm just one of those sure slow Arkansas travelers."
The correspondent, however, proved an interesting companion and the doctor would have enjoyed his conversation thoroughly but for a realization that came to him when he fished in his pocket for the long cigarette holder. "It's in my briefcase," he reminded himself. "I put it there for safety..." Then he added aloud: "But, by golly, I must have left my briefcase some place—either on that dock or at the hotel..."
"Oh, that's nothing. I left a cigarette case that Chiang Kai-shek gave me in a cocktail bar in Calcutta, and my Leica was stolen in Kuala Lumpur, and a fool of a porter dropped my typewriter into the sea crossing to Sumatra..."
"But there were papers in it as well as my cigarette holder," said the doctor, uncomforted. "Important papers..."
The correspondent laughed. "Take it from me, Doctor, no papers are important these days—not even newspapers."
The doctor did not feel he could tell a stranger (and a non-Navy man) what his lost papers were, but later that evening, when he made his good-night check on the condition of the men, he confided in Wilson. "I've lost all those receipts," he blurted out. "You know the Navy people gave me a thousand guilders altogether, and I've spent about half of it, but I can't remember the items exactly—not without the receipts and the notes I made at the time...You'll have to back me up, Wilson, when they come onto me about it, and they sure will—they're all the same—whether it's a school board or a missionary society or the CCC or even the Navy—you've got to show papers for everything..."
"All right, I'll back you up. Did you find a drink on this ocean greyhound?"
"Sure I did, and I'd have brought something for you and the others only it wouldn't mix with the shots I've just pumped into you."
Wilson smiled' again. "That's all right, Doc. Only I'm glad you got a drink. You deserved it, after all you did today—and yesterday...In fact I hope you got several drinks."
The doctor seemed pleased at the tribute. "Well," he answered at length, "there wasn't much to drink—I mean there wasn't Scotch or anything. But I did punish the beer whenever I caught it wandering by..."
All night the M.S. Janssens sailed into the rainy sea. She was a small ship, but good enough of her kind and for her normal class of business, which was interisland travel—rarely out of sight of land or more than overnight from one port to the next. She was even fairly luxurious, with her spick-and-span white-painted cabins, and the teak-paneled smoke room and the picture of Queen Wilhelmina in the lounge which faced (somewhat rebukingly, one could imagine) that of a bare-breasted bronze beauty whose charms in happier days might have tempted the traveler to include Bali in his tour.
But now the Laps had included Bali, and for them there was a small gun on the bow and another on the stern, besides thirty-caliber machine guns on each side of a concrete-protected bridge.
And there were other abnormalities due to recent events. Two hundred passengers the Janssens had often carried with peacetime speed and comfort; but now she had more than thrice that number and her Diesel engine, designed for eleven knots, made seven and a half at best. She was high in the water because, despite her excess passenger list, she had none of her usual heavy cargo of tea and rubber and automobiles—only cases of ammunition and (if one were pessimistic) far too few of them.
Far too few were the lifeboats and rafts also, and the shoulder straps of the cork life jackets had been a little rotted with salt-water spray during all the pleasant years in which they had never been used. One tried not to think of these things, and many other things aboard the Janssens tempted one not to, for a stale whiff of civilization clung to her like a hangover. There was still crested notepaper in the drawers of the lounge writing tables, and still the framed notice over all the cabin washbasins imploring the traveler (in Dutch and English) not to cut towels by wiping razor blades on them.
Towards midnight, when the Janssens had been six hours at sea, the doctor slept a little in a chair in the lounge, but about two o'clock he was on deck again—for fresh air, he told himself, but really see how his men were. He passed them quietly in review—they were all asleep, some of them snoring against the tattoo of the rain on the awning above. He would have enjoyed a smoke there in the darkness, but he knew he dared not strike a match, and he was fumbling his way back to the lounge when he heard the voice of the terrible Captain Prass at his elbow.
"So...Doctor...you got on board all right?"
"Yes, and I'd like to say again—even if I was in too much of a hurry to say it before—that I'm mighty obliged to you, sir."
Captain Prass ignored that. "Please to come with me to my cabin."
They walked together along the crowded darkened decks, Prass taking the doctor's arm in a grip that was controlling rather than intimate. The doctor felt that, and was even a little nervous when he found himself in the Captain's cabin with the door closed and the lights suddenly switched on. He noted that everything was spotlessly clean and perfectly in order. The Captain was taking a sheet of paper out of a desk drawer. "Please to write your name and those of your men here."
"Oh, I see—a passenger list?" The doctor smiled as he took the proffered fountain pen.
"I have never sailed without one," replied the Captain, as if stating a fact that settled the matter. He added, while the doctor began to write: "To me it is correct that a captain should have the names of all who are on board his ship."
The doctor thought of the thronged decks and wondered if anyone else were at that moment worrying about what was correct. But he liked the quality in the Captain—it gave a certain confidence, and while he went on writing he could not avoid noticing that the list was already a long one.
The Captain continued: "I hope your men are comfortable. I warned you, of course, that we had only deck space."
"Oh yes, I understand that."
"Many passengers, however, on learning that wounded American sailors were on board, have wanted to give up their cabins."
"Well, sir, I sure do appreciate it, but the fact is, it's kind of warm weather and the boys are pretty well suited where they are. Those bunks would be twisty to get in and out of..."
The Captain grunted his agreement, then added; "And there is another thing. Where they are is nearer the lifeboats."
"That certainly is a point," answered the doctor, with an air of casualness, "especially if there's a sub on our tail."
"There are several," answered the Captain grimly.
The doctor slept again, while the Janssens pushed through the rain and water, each mile, one hoped, increasing her chance of being alone in an empty sea when dawn carne. Then just before dawn the rain stopped, and just after it the clouds overhead broke into a patch of eggshell blue. Mist still fringed all the horizons, but presently, as the sun rose, those passengers who were staring northward from the Janssens saw something that shocked them unutterably. It was the land .
The land was quite close, not more than a couple of miles away—long, low, jungle-skirted beaches, estuaries with sandbars gleaming through the haze. It could be nothing else but the coast of Java, so that all night long, while they had thought the Janssens was taking them out to sea and safety, they must have been hugging the shore. The doctor was among the first to see it; he was as disappointed as anyone else, and beyond that, apprehensive. Somehow to get far away from the enemy's conquest seemed an obvious first principle; and yet—it was an odd thing—the doctor had faith in Captain Prass. Was it possible that, by doing what was not so obvious, the Captain had outwitted the submarines?
The doctor outlined this optimistic theory when he paid his first visit to the men. They had slept well and were feeling better. Wraiths of steam rose from the drenched awning over them as the sun dried it; the air was warm and salt-fresh, while the Janssens jostled its way due east as if there were nothing on earth or in the sky or beneath the waves to cause a second's fear. But for that sight of the land everyone would have been in a cheerful mood and everyone almost was, when they heard the doctor's theory. The men from the Marblehead agreed that the Captain might have done a smart thing. But they also thought that the Captain might not have counted on such a fine day. "The haze is lifting already," Hanrahan said. And McGuffey added: "In fact we're gonna have the Goddamnedest perfect weather you ever saw..."
Others joined in the argument, chance passers-by walking the decks because they had slept enough, or because they had not slept at all; Dutch, Australian, American. British. Javanese—all had something to say or prophesy about the weather, and all—with their eyes on the shore—cursed the splendor of the day that was beginning.
The doctor looked after the men and brought them breakfast as soon as it was served. Considering the crowd and the nervous tension, the food was not bad and seemed ample—or perhaps it was that many people had small appetites. The men from the Marblehead , however, ate substantially, and afterwards the doctor brought each of them a bottle of beer.
Several who could walk then took a turn along the deck to stretch their legs, but there was no pleasure in it, because of the press of people sprawled around on almost every inch of space; and after a few minutes of such intricate navigation the men returned gratefully to their mattresses. Wilson, however, chose this morning to decide that he was well enough to begin standing on his legs, and the doctor was torn between genuine pleasure at such evidence of recovery and a feeling that he might, perhaps, have deferred the decision until later. Anyhow, he helped Wilson to a chair in the smoke room, where they found the newspaper correspondent arguing politics. The doctor introduced them and slipped out again into the morning air.
He climbed to the top deck and for the first time in weeks felt he had both time and room to breathe. It was curious—this sudden desire to be alone, if only for a moment, to take quiet stock of things and events. He lit a cigarette (no holder now), and leaned over the rail, watching the wake of the Janssens as it grooved through the milky sea. Not a cloud now hung in the sky anywhere, and the shoreline seemed no more than swimming distance away. It was hard to think that this was not a pleasure trip; and yet, in another sense, it was hard to think that there could be any pleasure left in the world. The two ideas mingled in his mind and produced a certain confusion; it was easier, really, to be either an optimist or a pessimist, and not an odd mixture of both. When the doctor gazed over the clear sea and thought how simply a submarine could spot and overtake the Janssens from miles away, he was a pessimist; but when he felt the warmth on his face and the whiff of spray and flower scents on the landward breeze, he could not help feeling that the world was very beautiful and that life was worth living in it, if only for a perilous hour on a sunny morning.
There were some odd people on board. There was a tall, wild-faced man, a Dutch civilian, who kept dashing from side to side of the foredeck with a long telescope, peering through it and then handing it to the nearest stranger for confirmation of something seen or imagined.
There was a Dutch youth, not more than eighteen, studying to be an officer in the Dutch Navy; he sat quietly in a corner of the deck working out trigonometrical problems in an exercise book. The doctor had a few words with him and found that Captain Prass had set him these problems as part of the boy's regular navigation course. The boy had no fear of anything save of not passing his routine examinations, and his only urgent question about the war was whether there would still be a Dutch Navy and whether he could still become an officer in it. The doctor thought he could answer these questions very definitely, and he did so. "And I'll tell you why, my lad. Because there's still an American Navy." The boy then put a question about Annapolis, whereupon the doctor replied: "Don't ask me that, I wasn't there—there's no high cockalorum and sanctum sanctorum about me. Not that I've anything against Annapolis men, mind you—Wilson's one...only what I mean is, I'm not in that bunch myself."
The boy smiled without wholly understanding the answer; then he went back to his problem.
It was odd (the doctor thought as he sunned himself back and forth under the open sky) how differently people behaved at a time like this. There were some who wore their life preservers all the while, others who merely used them as a pillow for sleep, some who carelessly left them lying about and forgot them altogether. (The doctor himself belonged to the second category.) just as there were some who ate heartily, others who had no appetite at all, many who just wanted to drink whenever drinks could be obtained. And some grumbled and were querulous, others talked with loud boastfulness, a few shrank solitary into corners with a secret terror at heart.
And there were a few also, like the Dutch student, who behaved as they probably would have done in far different circumstances.
Like McGuffey too, the doctor realized, a moment later; for he suddenly came upon him talking very fondly and intimately to a girl.
She was a very charming girl, with a clear gentle face and intelligent eyes; and from her first words it was obvious she was American and nearly as obvious that she came from the Middle West. McGuffey made the introduction, and the doctor (who had an eye for a pretty girl himself) chatted and joked with them for a little while. Somehow the idea of McGuffey attaching himself to such a gentle creature made the doctor feel that he ought to give her at least a half-caution. "Well. McGuffey," he said jocularly, "I can see you're in good hands at last." And to the girl he added, in the same mood: "But don't believe all he says—he's a bad boy, you know."
The girl answered, slowly at first: "I was the last woman out of Sumatra. I walked for two hundred miles through the jungle and I was nearly killed by wild elephants and I got ill of something I ate and I nearly died. But I kept on till I got to the coast and then I persuaded a native boy to take me in a small boat. The Japs fired at us and sank the boat, but I managed to swim ashore on Java. Six weeks the whole journey took, and all kinds of people helped me, Dutch, English, native—but somehow I didn't meet any Americans till I came aboard last night. And then—believe me—I felt I could love the worst American sailor in the world."
The doctor chuckled, partly to hide his emotion. "Well, there you are, McGuffey, that sounds to me like a mighty fine proposition."
The girl's face suddenly blushed over. "I guess I really don't know what I'm saying...I'm a missionary."
"So was I too," answered the doctor comfortingly. "And mighty fine folks they are. I've nothing against missionaries—it's a wonderful job and though lots of people sneer at them for one thing or another, the good they really do is more than anyone would believe who hasn't been in China and places to see it." He ended up, a little breathlessly: "I take off my hat to missionaries, and if any young man I knew felt he had a call that way I'd say—'On top to you, my lad, you join 'em—they're the cream of the earth!'"
At that moment a sudden scurry of movement drew their attention to the deck below where Dutch sailors were maiming the two-inch gull and pointing it southward over the sea.
There were submarines. Everyone knew it now. It wasn't merely scuttle- butt talk (as the men from the Marblehead called rumors), but plain truth proved by the extra vigilance of gun crews and the Captain peering from the bridge. At any moment the sea might break to show something, a periscope stalking the sea a mile away, the long steel creature itself near at hand. Only a minority aboard the Janssens had ever seen a submarine, vet all knew they would give it an awful moment of recognition, and for this moment they waited, half hypnotized by the waiting. That they would be sunk by a torpedo now became a certainty in their minds, something not to be denied or even questioned; all that remained discussible were things that might happen afterwards. The doctor, as he left McGuffey and the girl, heard people saying that the Captain was keeping inshore to give the passengers a chance of swimming to land, or at any rate of clinging to rafts and debris until rescue came. And for this reason people began to stare shorewards, noting a smooth beach here, a group of houses at a river mouth, a fringe of surf denoting rocks or crosscurrents. It was almost sometimes as if one would rather stop the Janssens opposite a good place and wait for the submarine to arrive and perform its predestined duty. But Captain Prass evidently had no such qualms, for he kept the ship steadily eastward in its tracks, passing good and bad places alike. Meanwhile the sailors stayed at the guns, moving them around in wide arcs to test the swivel mechanism; and the man with the telescope dashed from one side to another as if mere frenzy would help.
The doctor passed the Dutch boy still busy over his trigonometry problems, and something in the calmness of such an occupation made him say: "Come along with me if you like—I'll take you to a man who can answer anything you ask him about Annapolis."
The Dutch boy closed his exercise book and tagged along gratefully down the stairway to the lower deck, where the doctor led him to the smoke room and presented him to Wilson. Wilson was enjoying a bottle of beer, and had kept another one for the doctor. The newspaper correspondent vas some way of, still arguing politics, so Wilson and the boy plunged immediately into conversation while the doctor poured out his drink.
Presently the doctor remarked, as if answering a question important enough not to have been asked: It's a calm sea, and those mattresses float. And when everyone's looking for trouble that's just when it doesn't come...always."
"The Captain thinks it will this time. He was down here just now—about the cork jackets."
"I see you're not wearing yours."
Wilson grunted: "I've got it by me, but I don't like the damned things till I have to put 'em on. They smell. Or maybe I smell. I guess we all could do with a bath." He sniffed the air of the smoke room in an analyzing way. "Thank God for tobacco."
The doctor smiled. "Nervousness makes some folks like that. Adrenalin in the blood. Not that I blame anybody." (The doctor never blamed anybody.) "I'm a bit nervy myself, come to that."
"Well. I am too, but this kid here isn't. That's a funny thing, Doc—the way he can concentrate on asking me questions about Annapolis and I don't sort of seem able to concentrate properly on the answers."
"You might as well. You might as well try to think of something ."
Wilson laughed. "Well, what are you trying to think of?"
"Oh boy—that's easy. The dinner I'll have when I get back home—some skinned catfish and a couple of squirrels. Or maybe a steak as big as a guitar and three inches thick." The doctor had not really been trying to think of all this, but they were the first things that came to him when he was challenged for an answer.
"You don't really eat squirrels in Arkansas?"
"Sure we do—and they taste mighty good if they're cooked right."
A change in the constant rhythm of the Janssens's Diesel engine communicated itself, a change hardly to be noticed, yet somehow sinister merely because it was a change. Most of the occupants of the smoke room suddenly stopped talking, listened a moment, then went on as if ashamed of themselves for the delay. The doctor paused also, and added: "Sure, there's a lot of whoopedoo about what you eat—eat what you like if it's good for you, that's what I've always said..."
"We seem to be changing course," Wilson murmured.
The doctor watched a bar of sunlight gliding across the floor. "I guess we are. Maybe the coast turns here. Wish we had a map."
"Cully has a map." (Cully was the newspaper correspondent.) "But it's just a page of an atlas that goes all the way down from Shanghai to New Zealand. Not much use...There's one thing, though—we'll probably get five or ten minutes' warning. They generally give you that."
"I'd better go up and see the boys," said the doctor.
"Sure, finish your drink—then I'll go with you. There'll be time, whatever happens..."
But there was no time. The danger was on the Janssens in a matter of seconds. And it came, not from the sea, but from the sky.
Jap bombers were roaring in dozens from Bali to Tjilatjap, their racks full-loaded—flying fast and direct and at a great height. Halfway their leader saw the little Janssens plodding below; he gave a signal, whereupon three of his fighter escort of Zeros detached themselves in a sudden zoom to the south.
This happened while Wilson and the Dutch boy were talking about Annapolis, while the doctor was opening his bottle of beer, while Cully was theorizing about Rudolf Hess, while McGuffey was flirting with a missionary, while Captain Prass was scanning the sea for submarines and not even thinking of other danger. But that danger came—at three hundred miles an hour, throttles open for the dive, cannons at the ready.
No one in the crowded smoke room of Janssens knew what was happening until a few until a few seconds after they heard the roar. It was something which, with their fears concentrated on submarines, made them think first of some strange new undersea weapon preparing to strike; and during those few seconds the mind refused perception that the roar came from above and that the sound of it was recognizable. Then somebody shouted "Planes," and at the same instant the roar expanded into successive explosions as bullets tore through the wooden superstructure.
Everyone dropped to the floor, a few by instinct, some because they really thought it safe, most because they saw others do it. And there was no room on the floor for a roomful of people who had been jammed enough when sitting or standing, so that bodies soon piled on top of bodies, and the lower ones did not object—it seemed to them all the greater protection. Meanwhile the ship swerved sharply, its decks sloping so that bottles and magazines fell off the table tops over the heaped bodies. The picture of the Balinese girl crashed from the wall onto a fat Dutchman who thereafter held its ruined canvas over him like a shield.
The doctor and Wilson were on the floor, half under a table, and because they had been finishing a drink when the roar began they were still holding their half-filled glasses. For some reason that neither of them was afterwards able to explain exactly, they finished their drinks during the first cannonade. It was certainly not bravery, much less bravado; more likely it was because they did not know what else to do with half-glasses of beer in their hands. Anyhow, they finished them off, the liquid spilling a little when the floor began to slope.
The whole incident, from the beginning of the roar to the end of the drinks, could not have lasted more than twenty seconds; there was no time to be heroic, certainly nothing to be heroic about. The chance of being hit was neither much greater nor much less whatever one did; lying down might reduce the target area for one bullet, or increase it for another—it depended on angles unforeseeable and incalculable. And neither tables nor human bodies were any protection if the bullet struck. In this sense (but nobody of course thought or argued about it till afterwards) everything the occupants of the smoke room did was meaningless, ineffective, a mere reshuffling of cards in a game whose rules were unknown.
But the individual will to survive ignored all this, and once the firing stopped there was reason enough to do so; for it then occurred to everyone simultaneously that whereas the roof was of wood, the floor was of steel, and that to get below it, onto the lower deck, was logical, obvious, and imperative. The doctor had another overwhelming urge: he wanted to reach his men. He did not know what had happened to them, or what he could do for them; but he wanted to be with them with the same primitive instinct that had made him drop to the floor.
All the crowd in the smoke room were now pressing into the companionway towards the lower saloon, and the doctor and Wilson could not get further than halfway down the stairway when the roar began again. The steel deck began its overhead protection about six feet in front of the doctor, and try as he could there was no means of jamming humanity more solidly forward than it was. And lie could not move back either, because pressure was increasing from the rear. He could see, from where he stood, the terrible blue unsheltered sky, and when he saw that, he felt as if giant fists were opening and closing inside his stomach.
The roaring increased; few people spoke or made any sound except a heavy strained breathing that could be felt rather than heard. A child whimpered somewhere, clear and shrill over the din. And one incident happened quite close that might have been funny if one had had time (then) to see the joke. Cully, the newspaperman, was jammed up close behind a prim middle-aged woman who suddenly swung round and shouted "Don't push me!" as indignantly as if she had been in a theatre queue. Cully laughed and shouted back: "I wasn't pushing you, lady, I was just trying to lace up your life jacket..."
The roaring expanded again into the shatter of bullet explosions.
The three Jap Zero fighters were raking the Janssens from stem to stern, swooping up when they had finished each dive and circling over to come again. A dozen Dutch sailors manning the guns fore and aft were trying to blast a series of targets moving towards them at three hundred miles an hour. These Dutchmen were brave, disciplined, and intelligent, but most of them had never faced this sort of enemy before. They were too eager, too excited, their hate boiled too high in the blood—too high, anyhow, for the split-second technique of modern warfare. They fired too soon.
Crowded in their cockpits the Japs were doing the things they had practised for years. Their planes were not especially made for ship sinkings, merely for casual terrorism and murder, with perhaps an outside chance of setting a ship on fire; they carried no bombs and must not take too much time over a small impromptu attack of no particular importance—a mere sideshow, as it were, in the business of the day. Aware of this, yet with routine efficiency, the men pressed buttons to deal out a smattering of death to the crowded decks below.
The diving and raking went on, and the gunners would soon have learned the trick of holding fire until the enemy was almost overhead and then blasting him in a short sharp burst of concentrated attack—they would soon have learned this if there had been time. But there was no time, and presently there was no more ammunition. Then the planes dived again and again upon the defenseless ship, till at a signal they suddenly turned off and flew back over the land.
Throughout all this (only a matter of a few minutes in all) Captain Prass had stayed on the bridge, his eyes measuring the track of each dive as against the S-curves his hands could impart to the ship. When the planes flew away he tilted his blue beret over his forehead and set the ship again on her straight eastward course.
No one had been killed outright aboard the Janssens nor had any serious damage been done to the structure of the ship. It seemed almost a miracle that only ten human bodies out of over six hundred had been struck by bullets. Most of these ten had been among the gun crews.
Not till the all-clear whistle sounded was the doctor able to push through to the men from the Marblehead . He found them all safe. Those who could move had somehow dragged the others on their mattresses under the shelter of a projecting upper deck; the awning above the place they had left was torn to shreds. The men were as glad to see the doctor as he was to see them; then suddenly somebody exclaimed: "Where's McGuffey?"
The doctor, knowing where McGuffey had been half an hour before, hurried to the upper deck. It was there, and amongst the gun crews fore and aft, where the casualties had been. One man, riddled with bullets through the stomach and legs, had been watching the attack as if it were a sporting event. A boy of fourteen, hopping around on one leg as the blood ran out of his other shoe, had been shot painfully but not seriously through the instep.
The doctor went far enough to see that McGuffey and his girl companion were, unhurt; then he hurried back to the boy with the smashed foot. He knew he had work to do.
The wounded were carried into the bar, because that was where, for some reason, the first-aid cabinet was situated; and it was found convenient to lay them on the bar counter for treatment. It was odd, too, how apt the bar equipment was for improvised medical uses—water, glasses, swabs, towels, to hand; even the rail that stopped drinks from sliding off in rough weather proved equally useful in holding a human body.
The doctor had not practised serious surgery y for years; but in first- aid emergency stuff he was as good as many a thousand-dollar operator, and perhaps better than some; he had a sound knowledge of the human body and its reactions to pain and shock, plus an ingrained reluctance to do more with the knife than he felt absolutely necessary. (He had already, he hoped, saved Edmunds's leg and Muller's arm by communicating that reluctance to a perhaps bolder surgeon.) In any case, there were no facilities on board the Janssens for final treatment of wounds; all anyone could do was to give the sufferers shots of morphine, splint smashed limbs, swab and stanch and bandage, and prevent some well-intentioned helper from flooding a hole in a man's stomach with iodine. It was an hour's hard and rather horrible work, and while he performed it, a little audience gathered which included passengers, crew members, some of his own men from the Marblehead , and one Dutch pharmacist's mate who gave him useful help.
He did not talk much during this hour, except to ask for things and to give encouragement to each new patient when laid on the bar counter. For instance, as he gave a shot to the whimpering boy with the smashed foot he said, smiling: "Hey, sonny, you just got a rabbit in you if you're afraid of this little needle..."
And when someone said that a man's wound in the lower part of the back didn't look serious, he answered sharply: "It's always serious, when a man's hit in the—" He was about to finish the sentence when he saw that a few women were within hearing, so he amended hastily: "What I mean is, a bullet can go in here right through to the guts and make one hell of a mess—"
When his task was over the doctor washed his hands and face, but it was impossible to do much to improve the look of his clothes, and he had no other clothes. They were streaked with grime and grease and blood, and damp through with sweat. It took him some moments to realize, after he left the bar, that no one shared his sense of relief, and soon he knew why and had to admit that there was nothing to be really relieved about. For of course the attackers would come again. They would return to their headquarters, report the position of the Janssens chugging along at its steady seven and a half knots, and come back or send others to have another try. The flaps were like that.
Everybody on board the Janssens knew that there had been no reprieve, only a postponement of sentence. Captain Prass knew it; the men from the Marblehead knew it, and one of them said to the doctor: "Well, Doc, looks like as if it wasn't such a smart thing to get on this ship after all."
The doctor replied: "Don't you aim to be smart—you leave that to me. And any of you that want anything from the kitchen, just holler out and I'll get it for you, and what's more, I'll race everybody that don't eat with a dipper."
So the doctor fetched food to his men and ate with them, but he soon found he had very little appetite. Apprehension that the planes would come again was already dripping into his veins like ice water.
Meanwhile (and unknown to him because most of it was in the Dutch language) important discussions were being held between some of the passengers and Captain Prass. It was being demanded that, in view of the extreme probability of further attack by air, the Janssens should put ashore and allow those to leave the ship who preferred to take their chances on land. Captain Prass heard out this suggestion grimly and without comment; heard grimly also the prophecy that several of the wounded would die if they were not put ashore to receive hospital attention.
Captain Prass said he would consider the matter and make his decision within half an hour. Then he went down to the deck where the men from the Marblehead lay. As he had expected, the doctor was there with them.
"Well, Doctor," said Captain Prass, his bloodshot eyes staring the man up and down. He did not quite know how to broach the subject, so he said, with a slant of the mouth hardly to be called a smile: "You'll have to send your suit to be cleaned."
"Sure I will, and I could do with a bit of delousing myself."
The slant of the Captain's mouth broadened. "I am obliged to you for your help recently."
"Oh, that was only a patch-up job—they'll need more than that when they can get it."
"Tell me, how many do you think will recover?"
The doctor pondered a moment, then answered: "Most of them ought to—barring complications. One won't, I guess—he's belly-shot through and through. And there's a few doubtfuls—if they were in a hospital, I'd say yes—but of course—"
"Thank you. I understand."
Captain Prass went away, and presently the doctor lit a cigarette while he contemplated his own peculiar problems and anxieties. He was awakened from them by a ship's officer scurrying about the decks with the announcement that the Captain wished to see all the passengers (those who felt well enough, anyhow) in the smoke room immediately. So there the doctor went, drifting in with the quick-gathering crowd whose tension was mounting as conjectures spread as to the reason for such a summons. The litter left by the bombing attack was a grim reminder to them all, the more so as they could now examine it in greater detail. The doctor noticed that at one spot there was blood on the floor; he had not known till then that anyone in the smoke room had been hit. Some of the paneling was shredded with bullet holes, and on the steel deck underfoot bullets had made circular dents the size of a silver dollar. Some of these dents were in the stanchions reaching up to the ceiling. He could not take his eyes off those dents; he could not help thinking of the fateful collision of flesh and steel, of the softest and hardest things on earth.
All at once Captain Prass burst into the room, mounted the small platform, and began in a sort of staccato bark: "'We have decided to put in at a place near here and send the badly wounded ashore. Anyone else who wishes to leave the Janssens may also take that opportunity to do so. You have all time to think it over—ample time—say, half an hour."
He was already striding away when someone called out: "May I ask a question, Captain?"
Captain Prass half-turned. "Certainly, but you already know all the facts that are known to me."
"Do you think we shall be attacked again?"
It was the question on everyone's mind. Captain Prass might even have been thinking about it himself. "Yes, yes, why not?" he snorted, passing through the doorway.
The doctor went to his men and told them very simply what the Captain had said, and how the issue had to be decided one way or another immediately. For once, McGuffey did not have to be searched for; he was there with the others, a little scared after his experience on the top deck. Wilson was there also, smoking and leaning weakly against the gunwale; he could walk around a little now, but only a few paces without tiring. The doctor stated the facts, then went on: "Now I don't feel it's a matter I ought to decide for you, but I'll tell you this much—whatever you decide, I'll stick with you. If you say you'd rather go ashore and take that sort of chance, then right, I'll tag along. Or if you want to take a chance of being bombed or torpedoed, then that's okay with me too." He looked round at them all, hoping they would approve his attitude. "So that's how it is, boys—it's all up to you, and make up your minds quick."
He walked away, noting as he did so the air of tension that had risen to an almost intolerable pitch on board the Janssens . Passengers and crewmen alike, as he glanced at them, seemed dreadfully preoccupied, either with unspoken thoughts or with whispered arguments between one another. And at the same time he noticed that the Janssens was making a wide turn towards a little inlet in the shore. He did not like the look of that inlet. It was shallow and unprotected, and there was nothing beyond the beach but a few houses and low jungle-covered hills. The Janssens would have to tic up at a ramshackle wooden pier, and he could not imagine any easier target for either casual or planned attack.
He went back to the men, with a good deal of the prevalent tension working inside himself, though he hoped he did not show it. He tried to bluff it away on a nice cheery note. "Well, boys, what's it to be? Heads we win or tails the other fellow loses?"
But the men were tense too. Someone turned to Wilson and said: "What do you think, sir?"
Wilson answered: "I think the doctor ought to decide. He's the one who'll have the trouble of looking after us, whatever we do."
The doctor nodded: "I know that, but I don't want to influence you."
"But if you had to decide for yourself, Doc—"
He heard the murmur of the men echoing the point, heard also Wilson's sharp comment: "That's a hell of a fair question."
The doctor hesitated, then suddenly answered, almost to his own surprise: "Okay then, I look at it this way. When fishing's good you better stay where you are and don't go upstream. Yes, sir, that's how I feel, and I'd put my trust in God and Captain Pass and stay on this ship till the cows come home." (It was the first time he had ever mentioned God to the men from the Marblehead .)
The men eased into sudden smiles; then one after another came their answers: they would stay; they felt the same; they were glad he felt that way too.
All at once the doctor saw that Sun was smiling. He cried out, in genuine excitement: "Why, look at Sun! I said I'd make that feller smile before I was finished, but what's he doing it now for, I wonder—he can't understand a word of all this." So he chattered a few sentences rapidly in Chinese, and Sun answered him, still smiling. Then the doctor told the men: "Well, he says okay, so I guess that goes for all of us."
The Janssens put in at the little inlet. By that time it was two o'clock—three hours after the raid. (There had been ample time for the raiders to have reached their base, wherever it was, and to have given full information.) The sun was high and the sky cloudless. The water was too shallow at the pier, so the Janssens anchored offshore, while a single lifeboat transshipped all who wanted to leave in relay trips. There was only one lifeboat that could be used for this; the others had been riddled with bullets and were unseaworthy.
It was a slow job, taking off passengers and crewmen in this one boat, for there were many who wanted to go. They could not be blamed. They were convinced that the Janssens was doomed. Some were women whom the air attacks had so terrified that nothing—nothing at all—seemed more unendurable than the prospect of another. There was such an even balancing of future possibilities, almost all horrible, that it was hard for many to make a decision at all, and easy for some to change it at the last minute. Dutch officers on board were evidently under orders to stay with the ship, for none went ashore; but several sent wives and children, feeling that the slender chance of life on land was better than the torpedoing or bombing that would almost certainly befall the Janssens at sea. The doctor watched these tearful separations and wondered whether physical wounds or simple human misery could be harder to endure.
The Janssens stayed four hours in the little harbor. During this period an air-raid alert sounded from somewhere in the hills behind the village; all on board then waited tensely under cover for a quarter of an hour. No planes appeared, and no all-clear was sounded; presently, however, the various tasks of the occasion were resumed. But a few more passengers decided to leave as a result of this added scare; those jungle-clad hills seemed so much safer than the Janssens . One could lose oneself up there while the bombs fell, whereas on the Janssens there was nowhere but the tiny prison of decks, the awful claustrophobia of life on a slow-moving target.
But there were things to do besides disembarking those who wished it, and the chance was taken to do them during the enforced delay. Materials were sought for repairing the riddled lifeboats, food and fresh water were taken on board, but there was one thing nobody seemed to have in that little place—a map of the seas and islands from Java southward.
The doctor also did a very simple but necessary domestic thing—he washed his clothes as well as he could and put them on again when they had dried sufficiently in the sun. When some of the men found him at the job and kidded him about it, he answered: "Listen, boys, this isn't the first time I've done the family wash." (And it was true, for sometimes back in his early medical days in Arkansas he had helped hardworking women with their housework when he had called on them as patients. All of which had been unhelpful to his reputation as a doctor, though it had won him the good will of many persons whose good will could not help him.) But he joined in the men's amusement when he put on his clothes again and found they had considerably shrunk. It was a good thing to have something to laugh about during those strange tense moments.
Those who stayed on hoard watched the crawl of the sun across the sky, and the crawl of the moments on their watch faces, watched also the long low line of hills whence planes might come at any one of those moments. But to the doctor, as he waited and washed, and then laughed a little, there seemed a new note in his own personal tension, and that was a deep unspoken companionship with the men who now waited with him. He felt closer to them than ever before, and sensed that they also, behind their jokes and kidding, were feeling closer to him. It was a curious, warm, satisfying emotion, to which anxiety added a tang.
During that long wait and while a second air-raid alert was sounding, Wilson said jocularly: "Well, Doc, are you still sure we're doing the right thing?"
"I'll tell you that when we get to Australia," answered the doctor, in the same mood.
"I notice you say when , and not if ."
The doctor smiled. "I hadn't noticed. But I'm glad I did say it. Maybe it's a good omen." He added: "And there's another thing. One of these days our boys'll get back to Java, and I'd sure like to be with 'em. Yes, sir, I would indeed..."
But there seemed no good omen in the moon that rose as the Janssens put out of the little harbor. It was a full moon, in a perfect sky, and to the doctor and his seven men it looked the biggest moon they had ever seen. It shone strong and yellow over land and water, marking the hills and the village and the receding beaches almost more clearly than daylight, for then there had been a touch of heat haze above the jungle. But now every line was etched black and clear, and every surface had a pale sheen especially the cleared decks of a ship as she rode out to sea. And there was not a breath of wind, or more than a ripple stirring, save where the Janssens's wake laid a gleaming comet's tail behind her.
Everyone said, fatalistically: "They'll find us—they can't help finding us. We haven't a dog's chance."
But everyone added: "All the same, though, I wouldn't be back on land where those others are."
For the people on the Janssens were now a different crowd—they were the hardened gamblers who double their stakes when the timid ones are out of the game.
The Janssens was different also. To begin with, there was room oh her and the men from the Marblehead could have moved into cabins if they had wished. But they were not keen. The cabins were small and stuffy, and the bunks smaller than the mattresses; whereas the decks were cool and wide and accessible. Now that repairs had been made, everyone could be assigned a place in the lifeboats, and to the men from the Marblehead one of the advantages of sleeping on deck was that their own lifeboat was only a few paces away. They thought these few paces might be important.
The doctor, however, who had spent the previous night on a chair in the smoke room, accepted the offer of a cabin within easy reach of his men; he would have to share it with two others, one of them a Dutch padre, he was told, but he said: "Sure, I don't mind that—I've known a good many padres in my time."
As the moon rose higher and brighter, the fact that the Janssens was no longer crowded made it seem almost empty. Sonic of the men from the Marblehead who could walk actually circumnavigated the whole deck, and in the dining saloon it was now possible to sit down at a table instead of being served cafeteria-wise. But the food was late in coining and, for once, badly cooked. The doctor ate a little himself and saw that his men had enough, then he settled them comfortably on their mattresses and advised them to go early to sleep. He was glad to note that all seemed better physically, and he thought that in an emergency he could probably get them into a lifeboat in time.
But planes, of course, would not give one any time. Everyone knew that, and small knots of people stood about on deck after dinner watching the sky and the horizon. They did not all admit that they were doing this; they said it was such a beautiful night, so cool and fresh and moonlit, it was a pity to go inside. But the fact was, they did not want to go inside. And almost all of them, without comment, had put on life jackets.
The doctor noticed that the girl missionary, McGuffey's friend, was among those who had stayed with the ship, and he told her he was glad.
The doctor also noticed that both the newspaper correspondent and the Dutch boy who was studying to be a naval officer had stayed on the ship, and to each of them also he said he was glad.
Towards ten o'clock a Dutch officer went around amongst the passengers with word that Captain Prass would again like to meet them all in the smoke room immediately. When the doctor got there he found the Captain scowling down from the platform on which, in happier days, a small orchestra had functioned. He spoke a few sentences in Dutch that sounded ferocious enough; then he switched to his hard-clipped English and began what was evidently both a translation and an amplification. He declared that the Janssens was now heading due south, out to sea, and would reach Australia within ten days—barring unforeseen events. At that he glared as if defying them to occur. And he added, with a special glare to the doctor: "I am glad that the wounded American sailors are with us. They show courage. But courage is not enough. We must pull one another together." (The doctor thought he probably meant "pull ourselves together.") "We must work. We are not numerous enough for this ship unless all take a hand. For that reason you must consider yourselves under my orders—passengers and crew alike—no ranks, no exceptions. I shall set watches and duties for all. And the women must work too—we need cooks and helpers in the galley. You understand?" He concentrated himself into a final glare that seemed to convulse his whole body, then shouted as he marched out: "Some of you begin by clearing up this room. Never in all my life at sea have I permitted such a state of affairs on board a ship!" And he pointed with a swift backward fling to the litter of blood and cigarette butts and broken beer bottles that lay on the floor under the portrait of Queen Wilhelmina.
When he had gone everyone felt much better, not only because he had gone, but because he had talked to them like that. It had been tonic, electric, dynamic. The doctor turned to his neighbor, a tall, broad-shouldered Dutchman whom he had not met before, and said cheerfully: "Well, what about it, brother? Shall we set the example?"
The man agreed, so during the next hour, while the Janssens rolled gently over the waves, the doctor and this Dutchman fell to with mops and pails and brooms, and by midnight they had the smoke room almost spick-and-span, except for a stain that would not come out of part of the floor. The two men had not talked much, chiefly because they had been too busy, but now it seemed natural for the doctor to invite the man to his cabin for a nightcap. "You see," he added gleefully, "I've got a bottle of Scotch somewhere in my bag..."
"Oh, no," protested the other, emphatically. "You must come to my cabin. I have some Bols gin—very good. And my name is Van Ryndt."
The doctor responded with his own name, but continued to argue in favor of himself as the host. Presently they tossed a coin that decided in favor of the Dutchman. On the way to his cabin they passed the men from the Marblehead , and the doctor, peering to see their faces in the moonlight, spoke some of their names softly to himself.
"You like these men a great deal?" queried the Dutchman.
"Sure, I like them all right—they're my men—my men—my job, if you look at it that way. I'd have to like 'em, anyway."
The other mused thoughtfully: "You spoke their names as if—well, it reminded me of saving the heads on a rosary...somehow."
The doctor did not see much similarity. "I spoke their names because I wanted to check up if they were all there—and by golly, one of them isn't...McGuffey, of course."
"I tell you, if there's any place that boy can go where he shouldn't be, you bet he'll find it...Excuse me, but before we do anything else we've got to find him."
They found him some distance away, in the shadow of one of the lifeboats. He was sitting with the girl on a heap of coiled rope.
"Okay," muttered the doctor, checking himself. "I guess we can leave him there."
"You think he is all right?"
"I'm dead sure he's all right. And who wouldn't be?"
"Pardon—I do not fully understand."
"Okay, I say, okay," repeated the doctor, feeling it might be a little indelicate to pass on what exactly was in his mind at that moment. But he smiled and took the Dutchman's arm as they continued on their way to the latter's cabin. Not till they were entering the doorway did the doctor make a belated discovery. "Why, this is my cabin!" he exclaimed, staring round and recognizing his own suitcase.
"Then you must be the American doctor?"
"Sure, that's what I am."
There was another man already in one of the bunks, fast asleep and snoring. For some reason the doctor thought this must be the Dutch padre, until his companion said: "You will pardon him—he is one of the ship's officers who is very tired. He was watching for the submarines all day."
The doctor then grasped the inescapable logic of the situation. "Then you must be the padre?"
"That is right. Are you surprised?"
"Well, I guess it was the way you knuckled to at that clean-up job...Sort of didn't put the right idea in my mind."
"Oh, but I have often done that in my own church. It is—it was, I mean—a very poor church financially and I do not think there is any shame in physical work."
"You bet there isn't," answered the doctor, and began to remember incidents in his own life during his first medical practice—the way he had chopped wood and cooked his own meals because he couldn't afford help. This led to a pleasant exchange of reminiscence over the drinks, and it was past midnight before the doctor felt the first faint onset of drowsiness. And then he thought of something else. "Just an idea, Padre," he said, "but how'd you feel about us having a prayer, tonight before we turn in?"
"Certainly, Doctor. I always do that myself—but in Dutch, of course. If you would like to say your own prayer meanwhile in English..."
The doctor thought this was a very reasonable solution of the language problem, so they both knelt by the side of the bunk and prayed in low voices against the deep basso profundo of the third man's snores. The doctor said the Lord's Prayer first of all, but it did not last out the length of the padre's, so he mumbled on: "Oh God, we thank Thee for keeping us safe so far. Oh God, keep on keeping us safe. Give all the boys a quick recovery, and look after Renny, and let's win the war good and proper this time, so all the boys can go home. In Christ's name, Amen."
He did not think it much of a prayer, but then he had never been much good at extempore praying even in Chinese. After waiting awhile for the Dutchman to finish it occurred to him that he hadn't yet touched on his own personal affairs, so he did so now, briefly and simply. Then the Dutchman got to his feet, so the doctor said a quick Amen and followed suit. He felt much better in every possible way, especially when the Dutchman suggested one more nightcap.
"Ah," said the doctor, smiling in anticipation, "that's something I never did turn down..."
The Dutchman poured out a generous allowance, commenting rather quizzically meanwhile: "I didn't know you were a religious man, Doctor."
"Well, I'm not, in a sort of way, but then I am too, in another sort of way."
The padre touched the doctor's arm gently, as with sudden affection. "Perhaps," he said, raising his glass, "the other sort of way is better."
All night the Janssens pushed through the light, but towards dawn the moon dipped into the sea, and there was a single hour of darkness before the sky unfurled for another day of blue skies and perfect weather.
But there was now no sight of land, and ten days later the Janssens nosed into the harbor of Fremantle.
The doctor took the men from the Marblehead ashore to an Australian hospital and spent the usual busy time getting them settled. After filling out countless forms, his only remaining problem was that of those lost receipts for the goods he had bought with the Dutch guilders given him by the Navy. He still had about five hundred guilders left, and during the days that followed he made several attempts to get rid of them. The top Navy official at Fremantle Harbor listened to his explanation of their existence and then pushed them gently aside as if they were in some way contaminated. "I can't do anything with these, Doctor—you'll have to hand them in somewhere else."
"But it's Navy money—it doesn't belong to me."
"Well, it doesn't belong to me either. Why don't you try the Paymaster's Office?"
So the doctor went to the Paymaster's Office and was there advised to await word from Washington. "Can't do anything here about it. You see, we wouldn't know how to put it in the books."
The doctor did not think this was a very satisfactory reason, so he trundled his evidently hot money to a third office, where the refusal to accept it was even brusquer. Finally, after worrying about the matter for several days, he had an idea: he would put the bills in an envelope and simply mail them to the Navy Department, Washington, D.C. He reached this decision whilst having a bath, and was just enjoying the sensation of a load lifted from his mind when a message came that the Admiral wanted to see him at once.
Now the doctor's feeling for an admiral was similar to that which as a schoolboy he had felt for a headmaster, as a missionary for a bishop, and as a CCC doctor for some high visiting official. That is to say, he respected them all, but because he began by being shy, he ended as often as not by appearing truculent. Anyhow, the shyness carne first, and by the time he had reached the Admiral's house, attired in a clean khaki suit and actually a necktie, he was very shy indeed. The first thing he did on being ushered into the presence was to plank down those five hundred guilders on the desk with a burst of urgent explanation. The Admiral looked rather puzzled as he listened; then he said: "I really don't know anything about this, Doctor. It's not my department, anyhow." ("But that's what they all say," thought the doctor.) "What I asked you to come for is something else altogether...By the way, what's the matter? You look worried..."
"Oh no, no, no," said the doctor.
"Well, the point is," continued the Admiral quite sternly, "I have to give you a message, and as I'm not much of a talker, I'll go right at it. You've been awarded the Navy Cross...Congratulations."
The doctor felt his hand seized and could only stammer: "Wh- what ?"
"I said you've been awarded the Navy Cross. For gallantry in getting your men out of Java. A mighty fine thing to do. You saved their lives—no doubt about it. They say so themselves. They give you all the credit. They say—"
"Oh, no...no...no..." said the doctor. And suddenly tears streamed from his eyes. He couldn't help it. It wasn't only being praised by an admiral, but to think that the men from the Marblehead thought that much of him...the Marblehead ...those boys...
A few days later the Admiral gave a dinner and after a certain amount of preliminary festivity the doctor loosened up. It had begun by his merely answering questions put by various officers, but soon he found himself telling them about Three Martini, and the British officer who had seemed at first so aloof but had really been a grand fellow, and Dr. Voorhuys, and the Dutch wireless operator at Tjilatjap. "All those fellows helped us—we couldn't have done anything without them. And Captain Prass, of course. That man sure was a man if ever there was one...And then there were the boys themselves. I won't say they're perfect, any of them, but it wouldn't have been any use me trying to get 'em out if they hadn't had the guts to be got out." He turned more personally to the Admiral. "And finally, sir, there was something I haven't talked to a soul about till now, but I think I ought to mention it. And that's prayer. There was a Dutch padre on board the Janssens and every night after that first air attack he and I prayed that those bloody Nips wouldn't find us again...Excuse my language—it's what an English soldier called 'em and it's kinda stuck in my mind...Yes, sir, we prayed hard, and I don't really figger anything else could have got us through."
The Admiral was at first slightly embarrassed by the turn the doctor's remarks had taken, for the power of prayer is not a favourite topic among high- ranking Naval officers; but when he looked across the table and saw the face of a man telling very simply what he very simply believed, he felt he must be equally sincere himself.
So he replied quietly: "You might be right, Dr. Wassell."