Hope you like the ride

The blazing, tropical sun beat down unmercifully upon the heads of a
squad of Marines, under the command of a top sergeant, as they made
their way slowly and with uncertainty over an impassable mountain path
to the flat, barren valley below.

Dusty, dog-tired and filthy with grime, the worn-out soldiers of the sea
struggled along over roughshod ground, dragging two stubborn pack mules
behind them. The men were unhappy victims of a powerful sun, casting its
dangerous heat waves over their unprotected persons, and a miserable,
dirty, unfamiliar country of treacherous, dark-skinned men and cruel
mountain passages.

As the squad and their silent, stout and puffing sergeant reached the
base of the mountain, one of the men let himself fall against the trunk
of a huge palm tree with large, welcome leaves that completely shaded
the ground beneath. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small
package of tobacco and some cigarette papers, proceeding to roll himself
a smoke as the other men sat down beneath the tree, following suit.

“What d’ya guys wanna bet there ain’t no such guy as Sandino?” the
Marine leaning against the tree announced. “We’ve been walkin’ all over
this gosh-forsaken country for the past three weeks and we ain’t seen
nothin’ but bugs, filthy natives and fat, ugly, barefooted women
carrying squalling brownskin brats!”

A mean scowl overshadowed the face of the short-winded and wide-of-girth
sergeant. “Listen here, shackle-brain, do you think them guys up in
Washington would send us all the way down here if there was no lunk like
Sandino goin’ around and shootin’ up things?”

“Yeah! Ain’t you read about the leathernecks what was shot by this here
greaser?” a little, sandy-haired, freckled-faced Marine, sprawled out on
the ground, added: “An’ how all them Americans what is in business down
here had their dumps blown up?”

“Aw—that a lot of boloney!” insisted the skeptic against the tree.

“What’s a lot of boloney?” another Marine asked.

“A string of sausages,” replied the sergeant, and the entire squad
roared with laughter.

“You guys kin think what youse please but for me, I still say there
ain’t no Sandino!” the first Marine reiterated, “an’ there ain’t no
other bloke around this country what wants to fight us!”

A tall, lanky leatherneck, who had been watering the pack mules,
shuffled over to the others. “Say, what do you think the Secretary of
the Navy sent you down here for if there ain’t no Sandino?”

“Sure, what are we here for?” another interrupted, “to escape the snow
up north this winter?”

“I don’t know!” the first Marine admitted as he allowed himself to slide
to the ground, gazing longingly at his large, hobnailed shoes, “but, oh,
boy, how my dogs are barkin’!”

“Mine too,” the sergeant announced with a look of pain upon his face,
“they keep talkin’ to me all the time!”

Just then, a large, ugly, tropical ant crawled from the bark of the
shady tree to the shoulder of the first Marine. One of the men sitting
near by saw the man-sized insect and leaned over, slapping it off his
buddy’s neck before any damage could be done.

“I’d rather have a million mosquitoes eat off of me than be bitten by
one of them there man-eating ants!”

The others, now grouped about in a circle, nodded their heads in accord
as their eyes wandered over the tree trunk in search of more pests.

“Oh, gee, I wish I wuz in Coney Island,” the sandy-haired Marine
announced with a sigh, suddenly becoming the target for a lot of small
stones aimed at him by his buddies.

“One more crack like that,” warned the sergeant, “and I’ll punch you in
the nose!”

An uncomfortable silence fell upon the little band as each man gazed at
the other with a bored look of disgust. Three weeks in a broiling desert
sun, three weeks together, searching for a promise of activity that
didn’t materialize; three weeks of walking, scratching, eating canned
food and drinking bad-tasting water; sleeping in the open, preys to
hordes of insects of all descriptions had made these men literally hate
each other. At the slightest provocation, they would fly into a rage,
calling every vile and profane name in the vocabulary of a trooper,
sometimes actually mixing in nasty brawls that would leave marks upon
their faces and bodies; added hurts to their already over-abused
persons.

Being men of small vision and slight education, their most difficult
tasks were to find interesting things to talk about. In the beginning,
it had been yarns of past deeds and great battles in which they had
played parts. This soon became monotonous, also creating much envy and
ill feeling.

After the first week had passed, one of the leathernecks produced a
picture of his girl back in Brooklyn. This inaugurated a series of tales
concerning various love conquests in every part of the globe, but alas,
every man finally told and retold his personal escapades as Don Juan so
there was nothing left to talk about except their present, trying
conditions and the individual complaints of all.

Misery may love company but not for any great length of time. Soon, each
man was hating the other because he was certain that his hurts were the
worst and the other fellow’s complaint, only the whining of a “yellow
egg.”

At the time these nine, weary soldiers arrived at the base of Los Agualo
Mountain, matters were in a pretty dangerous state of affairs. It was
another two days’ walk back to Managua, and if something didn’t arise to
relieve the present state of monotony, it was not unlikely that they
would end up by slaughtering one another.

A familiar noise was heard coming from the sky as each man sat up
instantly with ears trained, looking to each other to see if the purr
from above was real or just the machinations of a mind going loco from
exposure to the sun.

They shaded their eyes from the blinding glare of the sun with their
hands and gazed heavenward, searching the clear blue sky for huge, dark
objects flying toward the south and Managua.

At that moment, two thousand feet above, the planes of the Tenth Marine
Aero Squadron appeared over the ridge of Los Agualo, flying in the
direction of the capital in battle formation.

“It’s the Marines—our planes!” shouted the sergeant, jumping to his feet
and waving his hands frantically above his head as the others rose and
followed suit.

“Them’s the planes what dey told us wuz coming,” the tall, lanky
leatherneck yelled enthusiastically.

“Do you think they see us down here?” the little, sandy-haired Marine
asked the big fellow who was standing alongside of him.

“Sure they do! Don’t we see them?”

“Well,” the undersized leatherneck answered doubtfully, “why don’t they
do something?”

“Whatinell do you want ’em to do—step out on the wings and throw kisses
at you?”

Two thousand feet above ground, in the plane piloted by Panama, the
sergeant and his mechanic, with faces grimed from oil and smoke, peered
over the side of the ship, resting their eyes for the first time upon
the hilly country below.

Panama held the joy stick between his knees as he took out a small white
pad from the pocket of his windjammer and scribbling a note upon it,
passed the message back to Lefty.

“So this is Nicaragua?” Lefty read. “Don’t look so tough to me.”

Panama looked back for a reply as Lefty wrote below the sergeant’s
message, “I’m afraid this war is a joke!”

The two men exchanged knowing smiles as Panama bit off a large chew of
tobacco and Lefty continued to observe the ground far below. As they
passed over the mountains, he spied the figures of the tired Marine
squad and their two pack mules. Unable to distinguish who they were, he
reached for the pad and wrote, “Who do you think those men are below?”

Panama turned his head, read the message and gazed down from over the
side of the ship, straining his eyes in an attempt to distinguish the
men. He lifted his head in a moment, glanced back at Lefty and
pantomimed to the boy to loan him the pad and pencil, upon which he
scribbled, “Looks like a squad of loafing Marines. I’d like to fly low
and give their lazy brains something to think about.”

Lefty nodded his head in approval, laughing at the same time as he
lounged down in the cockpit, closing his eyes in an attempt to grab a
half hour’s sleep before they landed at the Managua airport.

Below, the Marines turned to each other, rubbing their necks to relieve
the strain of gazing so long with their heads upward bent.

“Mamma!” exclaimed the sergeant. “Wait till them flyin’ devils open high
and wide upon this guy Sandino!”

“You said it!” agreed another. “There ain’t goin’ to be much of a war
left for us when those guys get started!”

The skeptic gazed at the two prophesiers with a lingering look of
disdain. “There ain’t no war and there ain’t goin’ to be no war!”

“You’re crazy!” someone shouted. “What are them there planes doin’ here
if there ain’t no war?”

The doubting Thomas scratched his head and looked off in the direction
of the disappearing ships absently.

“I’ll bet any mother’s son here and now that there ain’t no war and
there ain’t goin’ to be no war and furthermore, there ain’t no Sandino!”

“How much’ll you bet there ain’t?” the tall, lanky fellow responded.

“Six bits!”

“Have you got six bits?” one of the other men asked, a trifle eagerly.

“I’ll have it pay day!”

Someone made a peculiar sound with his mouth that in no way added to the
prestige of the Marine who wanted to wager three-quarters of a dollar
out of a pay envelope that, considering the circumstances, might not be
due for the next six months or a year.

“I’d like to take a good poke at you!” the corporal of the squad
ventured to say, eyeing the stubborn Marine from head to foot.

“You and how many others?”

“Me alone, buddy. When it comes to fightin’ a guy like you, well—it’s in
the bag, brother, right in the bag!”

“Oh, yeah?” questioned the unpopular leatherneck. “So sez you!”

“Yeah, so sez me!”

“Then you think yer big enough, huh?”

“Listen, soldier,” the noncom added as a final gesture, “there ain’t
nothin’ in no drug store what will kill you any quicker than me!”

“I suppose you think yer poison, huh?”

“Naw—T.N.T., that’s all!”

The devil dogs gathered their belongings and started south, toward
Managua and the Marine operating base, arguing and threatening as they
went on their way, though secretly each man was thrilled beyond words
over something new to discuss that had so many different angles, certain
to last the two days until they reached the capital without becoming
stale or rehashed.

Three weeks had passed, three weeks for the constantly active Marine
aviators, flying over mountain and jungle, supplying the leathernecks on
foot with food and ammunition, guiding them through an impassable
country in their futile search for Sandino and his rebel band.

With the dawn, came orders to scout over jungle regions in search of
lost parties or else departures on long observation, map-drawing
flights.

Returning to the field, with no other desire than to flop upon a cot and
sleep, the pilots were informed to refuel and take off again, perhaps to
drop medical supplies or food at some temporary base, hundreds of miles
away and to return before daybreak.

The long, constant grind, the terrible hours spent in the air and the
days that passed without sleep, had worn most of the airmen and their
observers down to almost human skeletons. They stumbled around, silent,
nerve-wracked, mostly in a dull stupor, haggard looking with large,
black circles under their glassy, tired eyes. There was little time to
eat, much less to shave, and some of the boys had gone the full three
weeks without shaving or washing off the grime and dirt from their hands
and faces.

War to them was a business and their purpose as part of the government’s
great machine of action was to obey silently until their legs gave way
from under them or else their brains snapped under the terrific strain.

No one complained and there was no discord, no more than there has ever
been known to be in the long history of the Marine Corps on land, sea or
in the air. It was a man’s game they were playing and each man played
his hand to the last card without a question, though it seemed as if the
deck had been stacked against them.

Personal grievances, hurts or questions of safety never entered the
minds of any of those men from the major, commanding the squadron, down
to the rawest of the ground men. They were a part of a grand and
glorious fighting organization, the oldest in the service of their
country and their unit would not be the first to besmirch the colorful
traditions of the service through placing personal safety above duty.

Long before dawn, Panama had been sent out alone to search the jungle
for a company of men missing for more than a week. Hours had passed and
no sign of the absent Marines came to light.

The sergeant, before turning in, made one last attempt. He put the stick
forward and the nose of the plane went downward, flying only a few
hundred feet from the ground.

Haggard and with a chalk white, grim complexion, he straightened out the
ship, intently studying the lay of the land, his eyes eagerly searching
every nook and corner beneath for a sign of human life.

As he went a little farther north, flying between two dangerous crags
that imperiled the safety of the plane, his eyes became fixed upon
something just a little to the west. His taut features softened in an
expression that was intermingled with both hope and anxiety.

There, along the shore of a winding river, just at the edge of a jungle,
a group of Marines rested, most of them lying exhausted, flat upon the
ground. On a panel spread near by, facing upward, was the code signal of
the Marines, “V—V,” meaning: “Have Casualties.”

The muscles of Panama’s jaw again grew taut as he searched the ground
below for a safe place to land.

What had been a snappy, spick-and-span, clear-eyed company of men a
little more than a week previous, leaving the barracks at Managua on a
surveying expedition, was now reduced to twelve, ghost-like Marines,
bearded, haggard, fever sick and near starvation, their faces, legs and
arms bearing huge, red-infected welts from insect bites and their
clothing bedraggled and torn to shreds from traveling through the
treacherous jungle bushes.

The heat was terrific and the sun beat unmercifully down upon the
helpless surviving victims who rested under poorly improvised shelters,
long since giving up all hope of being rescued, silently awaiting the
grim specter of Death like true Marines, completely resigned to their
fate.

One of the men looked up to the sky with wide, glassy eyes that fell
upon Panama’s plane. His parched lips parted in a half-hearted smile and
his long, thin hand lifted feebly. “It’s—it’s a plane!” he managed to
say.

The eyes of the other helpless men followed the direction of the first
man’s finger that pointed upward.

“It’s a Marine plane!” another announced. “Look, he’s circling us—he’s
going to land!”

A few of the poor unfortunates struggled to rise to their feet,
following the progress of the ship with their eyes. Those that were
successful crawled along to the water’s edge, stumbling across the
stream to a semi-flat piece of ground on the opposite side where they
were certain the plane would land.

There they gathered in a small group, with eyes still raised heavenward,
silently following the course of the plane and waiting for it to land.

Panama realized that if he was to even attempt to save these men, he
would have to take a chance and make a landing on the uncertain ground
below, or else leave them to die helpless victims of exposure. He
nervily shot the nose of his ship toward the ground, narrowly escaping
some rough tree tops that might have crippled his wings.

Once the wheels of his landing gear touched earth, he knew he was safe,
and with a feeling of just pride over his accomplishment, he released
the stick and taxied along for a few feet, coming to a stop and finding
himself surrounded by the small group of eager, grateful men.

He rose and reached into the rear cockpit, bringing forth a large bundle
which he clumsily opened, displaying a good quantity of food, cold tea,
chocolate bars and cigarettes.

“Here you are, boys!” he shouted gayly. “The Flying Restaurant! Come and
get it!”

The men didn’t have to be invited a second time. It had been many days
since any of them had tasted food or enjoyed the fragrant aroma of a
lighted cigarette.

“Who’s in command?” Panama asked a man standing by the fuselage,
munching upon a piece of milk chocolate.

“Lieutenant Baker, but he’s too sick to get up.”

Williams cast a sweeping glance over the group, searching for the really
bad cases as he explained that his orders were to return the men to the
base, one at a time, and asking them to choose among themselves who
would be the first to go.

With the announcement came an insistent chorus of replies, “Take the
lieutenant back first!”

A little to the left of the plane, the pitiful, wan shell of a man
lifted his head with every bit of effort he possessed, shaking his
finger in a manner of objection.

“No—no—not me—I’m all right. Take one of the others!”

“But you’re all in, sir!” one of the boys protested.

“Who says so?” the lieutenant demanded to know, without any attempt to
conceal his indignation. “I’m still in command here! Sergeant, take
Shorty in first. His foot needs dressing.”

Shorty, a kindly little fellow seated on the ground, unable to walk
because of a dangerously infected foot, protested vehemently over the
lieutenant’s orders, insisting that he was in better physical condition
than any man among the group of survivors.

“Why, you can’t even stand up on your feet!” Baker answered with a tinge
of derision in his voice.

“I can stand on one foot!” insisted the plucky little Marine, “and
that’s more’n you can do!”

A faint hit of color came to the lieutenant’s pallid cheeks as he
struggled to, lift his head again. “How dare you resort to insolence in
the presence of your superior?”

“But I don’t want to go!” Shorty bewailed futilely. “Let him take you in
first and then he can come back for me.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Baker called out, angrily. “I’m boss here
and you’ll take orders!”

“Well, I think I’m entitled to say when, where and how I’m to be
rescued,” speculated the obdurate little fellow, “and I ain’t going back
now!”

“When I get you back there, I’ll have you court-martialed on nine
different counts!” Baker threatened.

Shorty smiled and winked to Panama, who was standing up in the cockpit,
completely obfuscated over the stubbornness of two hungry, sick men,
arguing as to who should be saved first.

“You’re going to have me court-martialed? Now I know I ain’t going
back!”

The situation was highly amusing to everyone, especially Williams. The
bantering back and forth was refreshing after the trying week these men
had undergone and the sleepless nights Panama had struggled through. The
flying sergeant realized that this argument was sapping the little
remaining strength the lieutenant still possessed so he jumped out of
the cockpit and without a word, picked Shorty up in his arms and placed
the protesting, struggling Marine in the plane, much to the satisfaction
of Baker and the others.

“I’ll be back for another one in the morning,” he promised. “You’ll find
plenty in this sack to eat, smoke and keep you warm until I return.”

“Hope you like the ride, Shorty,” one of the boys called out. “Don’t
stand up on your one good foot or you’ll rock the boat!”

“I’ll punch you in the nose the minute you get back to Managua,” the
little Marine threatened, “and you can court-martial me for that and
make it ten counts!”

The following afternoon, a large Mack truck loaded to capacity with a
variety of heavy baggage, ten nurses and two doctors, recently arrived
from the States for duty in Nicaragua, was slowly rumbling along its way
to Managua, over a treacherous dirt road.

As they came to the end of the road, the Marine, driving the truck,
pulled up at the edge of a river with a jolt.

“What will we have to do, sergeant,” the doctor sitting beside him,
asked, “ferry across or swim?”

The Marine yawned indifferently, stood up and allowed his eyes to search
the river from north to south, shaking his head dubiously and slouching
back in his seat.

“Funny thing, lieutenant,” the Marine announced. “There was a bridge
over this stream last night but it ain’t there now.”

“A washout?” questioned the medical man.

“Or else Sandino came down and busted it up for firewood,” the Marine
speculated. “But don’t worry, we’ll get it across. The water is pretty
shallow up this way. Some of the boys went over on horseback and didn’t
even wet their shoe tops.”

“Yes, but a heavy truck—that’s another thing,” one of the nurses added.
“If the river bed is all sand, we’re liable to get stuck.”

“You just let me attend to that, sister,” the Marine replied with a
broad grin, then stepping on the gas as he shifted his gears, the big
car responded with a snort and leaped forward, jolting its occupants.

No sooner had they reached the center of the stream, than the car
stopped suddenly, throwing its passengers forward as the rear wheels
kept spinning, splashing mud and water but not budging an inch.

Gradually the truck sunk lower and lower in the dirty waters of the
river bed as the terrified female occupants clung to each other with
fright, crying for help.

“Pipe down,” the sergeant yelled. “You’ll scare the fishes.”

The Medical Corps lieutenant rose and vainly attempted to quiet his
charges with an assurance that everything would be all right, then
turning to the man at the wheel, inquired as to what would be done.

“There’s a lot of things we can do,” the Marine drawled indifferently.
“If you’re in a hurry, you might try walking.”

The lieutenant was an amusing little man, slight of stature, without any
sign of hair on his head, though a carefully trained walrus mustachio
gave him an appearance of a comic opera villain. He had been in the
service but a few months and his first taste of campaign duty was
anything but in accord with his gentle senses. He knew that it would be
folly to attempt to argue with the hard-boiled Marine at the wheel,
though he found sufficient relief in planning what he would have done
with this man when they reached Managua and the base of military
activities.

Suddenly it dawned upon him that he was a lieutenant being subjected to
abuse from a mere Marine noncom.

“I’ll have you understand, sir,” he announced, pointing his finger at
the sergeant as his cheeks flushed with rage, “I am a commissioned
officer of the United States Navy and entitled to the consideration
military regulations allow a man of my position!”

The Marine turned about slowly and eyed the little man so conscious of
his own importance. He was unable to suppress any longer a loud,
boisterous laugh. “What d’ya want me to do,” he inquired, “sing ‘Sonny
Boy’?”

“What do I want you to do?” the medical man shrieked with rage. “I want
you to hold your tongue and help me to get out of this terrible mess!”

“Okay, pardner,” the Marine replied, with devilish mischief dancing in
his eyes, “I can’t hold my tongue because it’s too slippery but I’ll
gladly help you out of this truck!” With that, he rose and picked the
unsuspecting doctor up in his arms as the nurses looked on, unmistakably
astonished, believing as the lieutenant did, that he was about to be
carried across safely to the opposite shore.

The Marine stepped out on the mud guard, still holding his
self-inflicted burden.

“Be careful how you do this,” the doctor warned. “Don’t let there be any
slip ups!”

“There won’t be,” assured the sergeant with a blank, indifferent
expression; then suddenly releasing his hands from under the man, he
allowed the obfuscated doctor to fall into the dirty waters below with a
resounding splash.

A terrible, deafening ululation arose from the river bed, emitted by the
doctor, who scrambled to his feet, blind with rage. Drenched to the skin
and covered with grime and mud, he stood shaking his fist up at the
Marine with every conceivable kind of dire threat upon his lips.

The nurses, trained in the art of immobility in the face of all
circumstances, were now helpless victims of fits of laughter that had
literally doubled them in two.

“You’ll pay dearly for this, my good man,” the lieutenant warned
menacingly. “I’ll have you court-martialed; I’ll have you put behind
bars—I’ll have you shot!”

“In the arm?” the Marine retorted tantalizingly.

“Through the heart!” bellowed the little man who was completely devoid
of a sense of humor; “through the heart by a military squad at sunrise!”

“You’ll have to make it later than that, Shorty; I don’t get up so
early,” the sergeant shouted as the doctor scrambled through the water
to the opposite shore, soon disappearing out of sight.

“You’ve ruffled his dignity disgracefully,” said Elinor, among the
nurses who had applied for active duty in Nicaragua and now passengers
of the ill-fated truck, stuck in the river bed.

“I guess I ruffled more than that!”

“But can’t he make it unpleasant for you?” she asked. “After all, he is
a commissioned officer.”

The Marine yawned in a bored fashion and lighted a cigarette he had just
rolled. “I suppose so. He’ll have me court-martialed and I’ll be fined
six months’ pay, then slapped into the brig for a spell, but then,
anything for a laugh, you know!”

“Won’t you mind?” she asked, astonished over his indifference.

“Well, I won’t be tickled silly over the idea, but that ain’t the worst
thing could happen. Besides, I’m about fed up on this racket down here.
This hangin’ around, waitin’ for somethin’ to happen is drivin’ us all
loco.”

A Marine private jumped off the rear of the truck into the water and
waded through to the front wheel mud guard.

“Let’s try and get out of here,” he said to the sergeant. “Give her the
gas and I’ll try and push this wheel forward.”

Once more the rear wheels began to spin furiously, throwing up mud and
water and drenching the Marine standing by the front mud guard.

He reached under, putting all of his weight forward in an effort to
extricate the truck but the front wheels were too securely imbedded to
even as much as budge an inch.

The nurses and the one remaining doctor craned their necks over the side
of the truck, watching the futile progress of the puffing leatherneck in
the water.

“Are we going to make it?” Elinor asked anxiously of the perspiring and
mud-soaked devil dog.

“I don’t think so, lady, but that guy the sergeant threw out, he’ll
probably send help when he arrives at Managua.”

“How long will it take to get another truck down here,” the other doctor
asked.

“That road to the right, on the opposite bank, leads straight in to the
capital,” the Marine in the water announced. “If your friend steps on it
and doesn’t stop to pick daisies, they should have a truck back here in
about five hours.”

The Marine’s prediction was correct, for just as the sun set over the
mountain top to the west of the little river where the truck was
imbedded, Lefty was but a half a mile away, driving a Ford repair car,
loaded with four husky Marines besides himself.

Three weeks in the tropics had completely changed the once uncertain,
overanxious boy into a calloused, self-assured man of the world, whose
entire demeanor betrayed a devil-may-care attitude of total
indifference.

Turning and addressing the men seated in the rear of the truck, he said
with the usual anticipation of the inactive fighting man, “I hope there
are some chic-looking nurses stranded out there!”

“Me too,” one of the others agreed with enthusiasm. “It’ll be a relief
to see a white woman again, homely or otherwise!”

At that moment, the truck passed a couple of native girls who had
stopped to look back after the American men in uniform. Lefty gazed over
his shoulder and waved to them, smiling invitingly as he slowed down his
speed.

The men in the rear jumped to their feet with concern, attempting to
prevent the boy from giving the native women a lift.

“Hey, don’t you ever read orders?” one of them shouted. “You know men in
the service aren’t allowed to mix with the natives!”

“What do I care about orders?” the boy asked with an air of defiance in
his voice, though he reluctantly stepped on the gas, increasing the
car’s speed, “I joined the Marines to become a flyer, not a truck
driver!”

At that moment, the little car loaded with the squad of rescuers pulled
up alongside of the river hank.

“Here they are now!” the driver of the imbedded truck shouted to the
nurses who were drowsily napping on one another’s shoulders.

His announcement brought a stir from the passengers, who rose to their
feet, waving to the approaching Marines wading out in the water toward
them.

Of course, all of the occupants of the motor transport were overjoyed at
the sight of the rescuers. For an entire afternoon, they had sat hunched
together in an open truck, helpless victims of all sorts of insects and
a boiling sun. The arrival of Lefty and the others was gratefully
welcomed by everyone though not near as enthusiastically as by Elinor
who sighted Phelps the minute he jumped from the driver’s seat.

Lefty was the first to reach the imbedded transport, and as he looked up
at the marooned sergeant who sat slouched in his seat with his feet
perched up on the driving wheel, puffing away indifferently upon the
butt of a cigarette, he asked, “What’s the matter, soldier, are you
stuck?”

The sergeant gazed down at his questioner with a cutting look of
disgust, then partaking of one last, long puff on his cigarette, shook
his head and replied sarcastically, “Naw, stupid, we ain’t stuck! I just
drove Emma out here to teach her how to swim!”

“Well, you didn’t seem to teach her much,” Lefty replied, assuming a
serious expression.

“Oh, we was gettin’ on dandy,” the sergeant explained ironically, “but
you know how these women are! When we came this far, the old gal got an
inferiority complex and wouldn’t budge!”

Lefty reached down and splashed some water over the Marine in the
driver’s seat who made no attempt to avoid the barrage. The men in the
water looked up at the nurses, anxiously waiting on the truck to be
carried across to the opposite shore.

They walked around to the rear of the transport, forming a line, with
the idea that each man was to take a waiting nurse.

Elinor felt her heart heat faster, and breathlessly she waited for an
acknowledgment from Lefty who, up to this time, hadn’t seen her. She saw
that he was the third in line so she stepped back, allowing the two
girls behind her to come forward, thus assuring herself that no one
would carry her across but Lefty.

The first Marine stepped up and with arms extended, called to the
waiting nurse who was now first in line: “Allee-oop, baby!”

The woman, a giggling, self-conscious and unusually thin creature was
determined to make the most of this opportunity. She stood on the edge
of the truck, hesitating and grinning, blinking her eyes blithefully as
she held one finger in her mouth. “Oh, I’ve never done a thing like this
before in all my life!” she cooed bashfully.

“Well, I’m taking as much of a chance as you, sister,” the waiting
Marine interrupted with harsh sarcasm, “so come on!”

As the two men who preceded Lefty on the line started to wade back to
shore, carrying their feminine burdens, the boy stepped forward,
impatiently waiting for his passenger and holding up his arms without
looking up.

He felt someone’s hand touch his and then, before he knew it, there was
Elinor in his arms, smiling her prettiest and looking more inviting than
ever.

The unexpected appearance of this girl whom he had completely succeeded
in shutting out of his life was too much for the boy. He gazed at her
with open mouth and surprised, doubting eyes.

“Lefty!” she announced, making no attempt to conceal her eagerness, “I’m
very glad to see you!”

An uncomfortable look shadowed the boy’s face and his eyes shifted
uneasily as Elinor’s happy smile of welcome faded to an expression of
keen disappointment over his indifference.

[Illustration: An uncomfortable look overshadowed the boy’s face at
Elinor’s happy smile of welcome.]

“Aren’t you glad to see me?” she asked hopefully.

“Yeah—sure I am! How have you been?”

Lefty was obviously in exactly the kind of situation that he would have
given anything to avoid, and he strove to divert the trend of
conversation away from anything personal.

Arriving once more upon solid ground, he released her and turned away to
fetch another passenger just as he felt her hand tugging at the sleeve
of his blouse.

“You don’t seem a bit glad to see me,” she said, bewildered over his
enigmatic reticence.

“Sure I am,” he strove to explain in an unconvincing manner. “You’re
just imagining things! Excuse me now because I—er—well, there are some
more to unload!”

She stood on the hank watching him wade out into the water toward the
helpless motor transport. Her eyes grew moist as she sighed deeply and
felt her heart leaden with disappointment.

The little truck Lefty had driven out was standing just a few feet away.
The first two nurses were climbing in the back, assisted by their Marine
rescuers just as Elinor turned in their direction.

An idea came to her and she once more smiled hopefully as she ran to the
car, perching herself in the seat next to the driver’s that she knew
would be occupied by Lefty.

When the last nurse and final piece of baggage had been brought to
shore, one of the Marines, seeing Elinor, climbed up into the seat
beside her.

“Nursie,” he began softly, “you’re the best thing me eyes have lamped
since I left old Joisey City!”

He felt a large hand firmly grip him by the collar and drag him from his
seat to the ground.

“Just cut out that kind of stuff!” Lefty warned. “Miss Martin happens to
be a lady!”

The offending Marine merely muttered something incoherent under his
breath and jumped on the rear ledge of the truck as Lefty returned to
the driver’s seat to be greeted by the warm, inviting and grateful eyes
of Elinor.

One glance in the girl’s direction was sufficient for Lefty. With an air
of uneasiness, he trained his eyes on the road straight ahead, giving
the car plenty of gas and shifting his gears right into high.

Neither the boy or girl had spoken a word all the way in until they
reached the outskirts of Managua with the capital city’s house tops
plainly in view. Elinor then broke the long silence by asking about
Panama with an assumed air of deep interest.

The very mention of his best friend’s name filled Lefty with renewed
enthusiasm. Thankful to Elinor for bringing up a topic that completely
placed him at ease, he once more became his own loquacious self.

“Panama? Say—he’s great! Whenever they buck up against a tough
proposition around here, they elect him to face it. I overheard the
major say that he was the best pilot in the squadron!”

Elinor listened patiently with a gracious smile upon her lips. Her eyes
softened as she allowed her hand to touch the boy’s for a brief moment.

“Tell me about yourself, Lefty. Have they given you a chance to fly
yet?”

The man who had failed, when his big chance came back in Pensacola,
laughed a little ironically, bravely attempting to further lessen his
insignificant rating in the service.

“Me? They know better than to trust me at the joy stick. We haven’t many
planes down here and they can’t afford to have guys like me smash the
few we have got into concrete walls!”

The girl struggled to find something encouraging to say but before she
could bring the words beyond her lips, Lefty was once more engaged in
drawing a colorful word picture of Panama and his accomplishments.

“You know where Panama is now?”

Elinor shook her head, acknowledging her ignorance as to the whereabouts
of the man under discussion.

“He’s risking his life, flying through a treacherous jungle and making
landings in a dangerous and hilly country to rescue some stricken
Marines who had been lost until he discovered their whereabouts
yesterday!”

She lowered her head, not daring to allow her eyes to meet Lefty’s now.

“He’s a very brave man—very brave,” she replied simply.

“You bet he is!” the boy agreed, his eyes sparkling at the mere
recollection of the Marine sergeant’s recent deed, “And wait until he
finds out you’re here! Oh, boy! Won’t that be great?”

Elinor struggled to choke back a huge lump rising in her throat, and at
the same time, brushed away a drop of moisture that had been trickling
down her cheek.

“Yes,” she sighed in despair. “It will be great—won’t it, Lefty?”

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