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Author: Hope, Laura Lee
Title: Or, doing their bit for the soldier boys
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Tag(s): betty; mollie; allen; amy; roy; grace; girls; betty nelson; outdoor girls; asked betty
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Title: The Outdoor Girls in Army Service
       Doing Their Bit for the Soldier Boys

Author: Laura Lee Hope

Release Date: February, 2005 [EBook #7494]
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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE ***




Charles Franks, Greg Weeks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.




THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE

OR

DOING THEIR BIT FOR THE SOLDIER BOYS


BY

LAURA LEE HOPE


AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE," "THE MOVING PICTURE
GIRLS," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS," "BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE," ETC.


1918




THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE

CONTENTS

    I  "I'VE VOLUNTEERED!"
   II  GRIM SHADOWS OF WAR
  III  NEWS FROM THE FRONT
   IV  THE POWDER MILL
    V  A SHOT IN THE DARK
   VI  MOONLIGHT AND MYSTERY
  VII  ROBBED
 VIII  THE BIG GAME
   IX  GAY CONSPIRATORS
    X  MAGIC LANTERNS
   XI  A SLACKER?
  XII  HONOR FLAGS
 XIII  "SMILE, GIRLS, SMILE"
  XIV  THE SPY AGAIN
   XV  MORE SURPRISES
  XVI  THE HOSTESS HOUSE
 XVII  HELPING UNCLE SAM
XVIII  THE EVENING GUN
  XIX  FLAMES
   XX  THE RESCUE
  XXI  ALLEN A HERO
 XXII  MAKING GOOD
XXIII  JUST FRIENDS
 XXIV  CAPTIVE AND CAPTORS
  XXV  THE MYSTERY EXPLAINED




CHAPTER I

"I'VE VOLUNTEERED!"


"Well, who is going to read the paper?"

Amy Blackford stopped knitting for a moment, the half-finished
sweater suspended inquiringly in the air, while she asked her
question and gazed about impatiently at her busy group of friends.

"It's your turn, anyhow, Mollie," she added, fingers flying and head
bent as she resumed her work. "You haven't read to us for five days."

"Oh, don't bother me," snapped the one addressed as Mollie. She was
black-haired and black-eyed, was Mollie Billette, with a little touch
of French blood in her veins that accounted for her restless vivacity
and sometimes peppery temper. "You've made me drop a stitch, Amy
Blackford, and if anybody else speaks to me for the next five
minutes, I'll eat 'em."

"Well, as long as you don't eat any more of my chocolates, I don't
care," remarked Grace Ford, lazily helping herself to one of the
threatened candies. "I had a full box this morning, and now look at
them."

"Haven't time to look at anything," returned Mollie crossly, fishing
in vain for the lost stitch. "If the poor soldiers depended upon the
sweaters you made, Grace, I'd feel sorry for them, I would indeed!"

"Oh, dear, girls, now what's the matter?"

Framed in the doorway of the cottage stood Betty Nelson, their adored
"Little Captain," fresh and sweet as the morning itself, smiling
around at them inquiringly.

"What is the matter?" she repeated as they moved up to make room for
her on the veranda steps. "I'm more afraid than ever to leave you
alone these days when every dropped stitch means a quarrel. Give it
to me, Mollie, I'll pick it up for you."

With a sigh, Mollie relinquished the tiresome sweater and Betty went
to work at it with a skill born of long practice.

"There you are," she announced triumphantly, after an interval during
which the girls had watched with eager eyes and bated breath. "That
was a mean one. Thought it was going to make me rip out the whole
row--but I showed it! Now, please, don't anybody drop any more. I
must finish that pair of socks to-day."

"Oh, dear," sighed Amy resignedly. "Then our last hope is gone."

"Goodness, that sounds doleful," chuckled Betty, stretching her arms
above her head and reveling in the brilliant sunshine. "What
particular thing seems to be the matter now, Amy? Has Will been
misbehaving?"

Amy flushed vividly and bent closer over her work.

"How could he be when he's been in town for over a week?" she
retorted with unusual spirit. "It's just that nobody will read the
paper, and I'm just dying to hear the news. I want to keep up with
the times."

"Well, if that's all," said the Little Captain, sitting up with
alacrity, "I'm always willing to oblige. Mollie, you're sitting on
it!"

"Knit one, purl two," chanted Mollie. "Wait till I get this needle
off and I'll give it to you. I can't stop now!"

"All right, then I'm going to get my knitting."

Betty made as though to rise but Amy held her down and turned
despairingly to Mollie.

"Mollie," she pleaded, "be reasonable. You know very well that if
Betty ever gets started with her knitting then nobody'll read the
news."

"Knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two," sang Mollie imperturbably.
"There, now, isn't that beautiful?"

She sprang from the seat and whirled around upon them, holding up the
almost-finished sweater for their inspection.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she repeated enthusiastically.

"Of course," said Grace, dryly, while Betty deftly grabbed the paper.
"It's the most beautiful and most curious thing I ever laid eyes on.
It isn't as though," she added, with biting sarcasm, "I had seen
hundreds just like it within the last month or two--"

"Oh, you can't make me mad," said Mollie, settling down with energy
to the final finishing. "You're just jealous, that's all, and the
more you turn up your nose, the more you show your real feelings."

"Oh, is that so?" retorted Grace, reaching out for the candy box for
the twentieth time that morning. "Well, as my kind of nose has never,
under any circumstances whatsoever, been known to turn up--"

"Oh, do stop chattering," Mollie interrupted heartlessly. "Who cares
what kind of noses we've got? Go ahead, Betty, you'd better get
started before Grace gets to quarreling on the subject of eyelashes
or something."

"I never quarreled with my eyelashes," said Grace haughtily. "I leave
that to other people."

"My, isn't she conceited!" chuckled Betty. "Now I'm going to read,"
she added, letting her eyes rest upon the glaring headlines of the
first page. "If you want to listen, all right; and if you want to
talk about sweaters and eyelashes--"

"Oh, Betty, do go on," sighed Amy. "We've been waiting so long."

"All right," said Betty obligingly; then, as the full sense of what
she read was borne in upon her, her face clouded and she bit her lip
and shook her head.

"Girls," she began, and something in her tone made them drop their
knitting for a moment and gather anxiously about her. "Those, those--
Germans--"

"Huns, you mean," interrupted Mollie fiercely, as she read over the
Little Captain's shoulder.

"Have sunk another of our ships," said Betty, her lips set in a
straight line. "And--and they think the loss will be heavy. Oh,
girls, I can't read it--it's too horrible!"

She flung down the paper, but Mollie snatched it almost before it
reached the step. Then with eyebrows drawn together, and twin spots
of red flaming in either cheek, she read the account of the disaster
from beginning to end.

"There," she said at last, flinging down the paper and glaring about
her as though the girls themselves were at fault. "Now you see what
we're knitting sweaters for, and--and--everything! Oh, if I could
just put on a uniform, and take up a gun and--and--go after those--
those awful Huns!"

"Goodness, if you looked like that," commented Grace, "you wouldn't
have to fire a shot. They'd all drop dead just from fright."

"So much the better," said Mollie, beginning to knit again
ferociously. "It would be a shame to waste good ammunition on them."

"I wonder," said Betty thoughtfully, her eyes on the far-off horizon,
"what the boys are going to do. They've seemed so mysterious lately,
and the minute you begin to question them about enlisting, they
change the subject."

"Yes, and it's made me desperate," cried Mollie, the tempestuous,
flinging down the unfortunate sweater once more. "I know what I'd do
if I were a man, and Betty and all the rest of us girls! But either
they didn't know or they wouldn't tell. Do you suppose--"

"They've decided to wait for the draft?" finished Grace, settling her
cushions more comfortably. "That's a funny thing to say, Mollie--
about our boys."

"I know," said Mollie, knitting more furiously than ever. "But just
the same, I can't understand why they have been so terribly secretive
about it."

"I guess we needn't worry about that," said Betty, although there was
a little worried line between her brows that belied her words. "Allen
wouldn't--" here she stammered, stopped and flushed, while the girls
turned laughing eyes upon her.

"Of course," she added hastily, "I mean that none of the boys would
hesitate, when it's a question of serving his country."

"That's all right, but you said Allen," teased Mollie, unconvinced.
"And oh, Betty, how you blushed!"

"Nonsense!" returned Betty, blushing more than ever. "It's just
sunburn, that's all. Now do you want me to read the rest of the news,
or don't you? Because I have to finish those socks--"

"Yes, yes, go on," cried Amy. "We won't say another word, Betty."
Which was funny, coming from quiet Amy, who usually spoke one word to
the other girls' ten.

So Betty read the news from one end of the paper to the other, until
even those insatiable young people were content, then ran into the
cottage to get her knitting.

"Now," she said, returning and seating herself with businesslike
alertness on the very edge of the step, "you'll see some real speed."

"Oh, Betty, have you come to the heel?" cried Mollie, running over to
the Little Captain, and regarding the flying needles with a sort of
awe. "Please show me how. They say the Red Cross needs socks for the
boys more than they need anything else. And I know I'll never learn
to do them."

"Oh, it's easy," returned Betty, obligingly slowing down for their
benefit, while they gathered about her, eager and bright-eyed, for
the lesson.

They formed a pretty picture, this group of outdoor girls, with the
morning sunlight falling upon graceful figures and bent heads, ardent
little patriots, every one of them, whole-heartedly eager to give
their all for the service of their country.

They were still engrossed in watching Betty's nimble fingers, when
the shrill and familiar whistle of the little ferryboat caught their
attention.

"Oh, I didn't know it was time," Amy was beginning, when Mollie
interrupted her.

"It's stopping here," she cried. "And somebody's getting off."

"It's the boys!" cried Betty, springing to her feet, the bright color
again flooding her face. "They never told us they'd be back to-day.
There's Allen. Oh, tell me, what is it he is shouting?"

The little ferryboat had steamed away, and four figures were racing
toward them.

"Betty," yelled the foremost of these. "I've volunteered--I've
volunteered!"




CHAPTER II

GRIM SHADOWS OF WAR


"What is that he is yelling?" questioned Mollie.

"He said something about volunteering," returned Betty.

"Volunteering!" came from Mollie, Grace and Amy simultaneously, and
in the excitement of the moment, their knitting was completely
forgotten.

And now while the girls are waiting for the boys to come up, let me
take just a moment to tell my new readers something concerning these
girls and the other volumes in this series of books.

The leader of the quartette was Betty Nelson, often called the
"Little Captain." Betty was a bright, active girl, who always loved
to do things.

Grace Ford was tall and slender, and a charming conception of young
womanhood. She had a brother, Will, who at times was rather hasty,
and occasionally this would get him into trouble, much to the
annoyance of his sister. Grace herself had one failing, if such it
could be called. She was exceedingly fond of chocolates, and was
never without some of this confection in her possession.

Some years before there had been a mystery concerning Amy Blackford.
She had then been known by the name of Stonington, but the mystery
had been unraveled by the finding of her long lost brother, Henry
Blackford. Amy was of a quiet disposition, and more timid than any of
the others.

The quartette was completed by Mollie Billette, often called "Billy."
Mollie was the daughter of a well-to-do widow of French ancestry, and
the girl was a bit French herself in her general make-up.

In our first volume, entitled "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale," the
particulars were given of the organization of a camping and tramp
club by the girls, and of how they went on a tour, which brought
them many adventures.

After this first tour the Outdoor Girls went to Rainbow Lake, and
then took another tour, this time in a motor car. After that, they
had some glorious days on skates and iceboats while at a winter camp,
and then journeyed to Florida, where they took a trip into the wilds
of the interior, and participated in many unusual happenings.

Returning from the land of orange groves, the girls next took a trip
to Ocean View. Here they had a glorious time bathing, and otherwise
enjoying themselves, and also solved the mystery surrounding a box
that was found in the sand.

During those strenuous days the girls had made many friends,
including Allen Washburn, who was now a young lawyer of Deepdale.
Allen had become a particular friend of Betty's, and this friendship
seemed to be thoroughly reciprocal.

Will Ford's particular high-school chum had been Frank Haley, and as
a consequence, Frank had been drawn into the circle, along with Roy
Anderson, another young man of the town.

These young fellows often went off camping, and usually in the
vicinity of where the girls had planned to spend their outing days.

Deepdale was a picturesque city of about fifteen thousand people,
located on the Argono river, which, some miles below, emptied into
Rainbow Lake. Back of Deepdale was a rich farming country, which
tended to make the town a prosperous one.

Returning from Ocean View, the girls started on a new outing, as
related in the volume before this, entitled "The Outdoor Girls on
Pine Island." The girls occupied a bungalow, which had been turned
over for their use by an aunt of Mollie Billette. The boys were in a
camp near by.

Quite by accident both girls and boys had stumbled upon a gypsy cave,
cleverly hidden in the underbrush, and had afterward succeeded in
rounding up the entire gypsy band, incidentally regaining some
property which had been stolen from the girls.

Now, at the time our story opens, the Outdoor Girls were again at
Pine Island, in the cottage lent them by "Aunt Elvira"; but times had
changed, and they were no longer solely upon pleasure bent. The
grumbling, menacing unrest of war seemed in the very air they
breathed, and from dawn to evening they thought of very little else.

Now at the ringing shout, "I've volunteered," they were on their
feet, fairly trembling with excitement and eagerness.

"Allen, Allen!" cried Betty, the color flaming into her face. "Oh,
I'm so glad! I'm so glad!"

"Gee, he's not the only one," cried a big, strapping lad, Frank
Haley, by name, throwing himself upon the steps, and looking up at
the girls triumphantly. "Just because he can run faster than we can,
he gets all the credit."

"You, too, Frank?" cried Betty, turning upon him with shining eyes.

"And here comes Roy," put in Mollie. "Did he--"

"You just bet he did," Roy Anderson, red and perspiring, answered for
himself. "Did you ever hear of an Irishman staying out of a fight?
I'm aching already to get my hands on Fritz."

"What's the matter with Will?" asked Grace a little anxiously, for
the young fellow coming slowly toward them with downcast eyes and
bent head was her brother. "He looks as if he'd lost his last
friend."

Seven pairs of eyes were immediately focused upon the apparently
despondent figure, while the boys shifted uneasily and looked vaguely
troubled.

"Hello, folks," Will saluted them, as he sank down upon the lower
step, and looked out toward the water. "Why the sudden hush?"

For a moment no one spoke. They were all strangely embarrassed by
this unusual attitude of Will's. He had always been so frank and
outspoken. And now--

"Oh, for Pete's sake, say something!" he burst forth at last, looking
up at the silent group defiantly. "You were making enough noise
before, but the minute I come along, you just stop short and stare. I
didn't know I was so fascinating."

"You're not," said Mollie promptly.

With an impatient grunt, Will stuffed his hands into his pockets and
stalked off into the woods.

"Well," said Grace, with a long sigh, "I never saw Will act that way
before. Now what's the matter?"

"Indigestion, probably," said Allen, trying to pass it off. "He acts
just the way I feel when I have it. Which reminds me that I'm getting
mighty all-fired hungry."

"Well, you don't get anything to eat," said Betty decidedly, "until
you tell us all about everything, since the day you left here so
mysteriously to the present time."

"Seems we've got to sing for our supper--or rather, breakfast," said
Frank with a grin. "Go ahead, Allen, but be brief. I want some of
Betty's biscuits."

"Goodness, do you suppose Betty's going to start in and cook
biscuits, now?" cried Mollie. "Why, we just got through our own
breakfast."

"Well, we didn't," said Roy, nibbling a piece of grass for want of
something better. "And you ought to take it as a proof of our
devotion, that we didn't stop for any. We were too anxious to get
here to tell you our news."

"And blow a little," scoffed Mollie, the irrepressible.

"Oh, for goodness' sake stop talking," entreated Betty, with her
hands to her ears. "If the boys want biscuits they shall have them--
if I have to stay up all night to cook some for them. They can have
anything in the house, as far as I'm concerned."

"Hear, hear!" cried the boys in chorus, looking up admiringly at her
flushed face.

"If volunteering has that effect," Roy added, "I'm going back and do
it all over again."

"You said it," agreed Frank. "Gee, but I'm hungry!"

"Did you say we could have anything we wanted?" Allen was demanding
of the Little Captain in an undertone. "No exceptions?"

"None," said Betty, dimpling.

"Then," said Allen deliberately, his eyes fixed steadily upon her
sparkling face. "If you please--I'll take--you!"

"Oh," gasped Betty, her eyes falling before the young lawyer's ardent
gaze, while the rich color flooded her face. "I said anything--not
anybody. Allen, please don't be foolish. They're all looking at us."

"Well, you can't blame 'em," Allen retorted whimsically. "They're not
used to seeing two such good-looking people together," he added in
bland explanation.

"My, don't we hate ourselves!" said Betty, dimpling again. "But go
ahead and tell us your adventures," she added, glad to change a
subject which was becoming too personal. "No story--no supper, you
know."

"We don't want supper--we want breakfast," interrupted Frank, with a
grin. "What have you been saying to her, Allen--to get her dates
mixed like that?"

"Allen Washburn, are you going to tell that story or are you not?"
queried Mollie, in a menacingly quiet tone of voice. "If you're not--"

"Yes, ma'am," said Allen meekly. "Where shall I begin, please?"

"At the beginning," said Grace sarcastically, and reached for her
candy box, grimacing to find it empty.

"Thank you," said Allen courteously. "Well, as you know, we four
husky braves meandered from the island one bright morning in the
early part of the week to seek our fortune, as it were, in the city
of promise."

"Yes, that's all it does do," Roy put in pessimistically. "Promise!"

"As I was saying," Allen continued, settling himself in a more
comfortable position on the steps, and ignoring the interruption. "We
sauntered off, and straightway looked up a recruiting station."

"Oh!" gasped Amy, hands clasped and eyes shining. "That must have
been exciting."

"Well, I don't know," said Allen, scratching his head reflectively,
"that that part was so exciting, but wait till you hear what happened
afterward. After we found where the recruiting office was, we went to
the hotel we were stopping at, and punished a mighty big breakfast.
You see, we figured out that we were going to put our necks into the
noose, as it were, and we wanted something good and big to stand up
on."

"Wouldn't your feet do?" asked Betty innocently.

"Heavens, no!" replied Allen, answering the query in solemn earnest,
while the girls giggled, and the boys grinned appreciatively. "We
were so nervous by that time we weren't sure we had any feet."

"All you had to do was to look," murmured Mollie maliciously. "You
couldn't miss 'em."

Allen looked hurt, got up and sat on his feet.

"If you don't see them, perhaps you'll forget about them," he offered
by way of explanation. "You don't know how sensitive I am on the
subject of feet."

"I couldn't blame you," Mollie was beginning, when Betty broke in
with a little despairing cry for help.

"If we don't stop them," she said, looking appealingly about her, "we
won't get any farther than breakfast. Allen, what did you do next?"

"Next?" queried Allen, stretching his long legs and squinting up at
the sun. "Let me see. Oh yes! Having put down a breakfast that must
have added four pounds to our weight, we sauntered forth once more to
meet our doom. By that time we were so nervous, we almost mistook a
café on the corner for the recruiting station--"

"Hey, speak for yourself, won't you?" queried Roy, adding, as he
turned to the girls with a grin, "We had to show Allen a performing
monkey on the street, and get his mind off, before we succeeded in
engineering him to the right place."

"Gee, some fellows have a gift," said Allen, regarding Roy
admiringly. "If I could tell 'em like that, old man, I'd be Supreme
Court Justice before the month was up.

"Well, as I was saying," he continued, "after much hesitation and
side-stepping, we at last succeeded in reaching our destination.
After that, it took ten minutes to get up nerve to go in.

"When we had at last tremblingly ascended the stairs, we found
ourselves in a large room, with all the windows open and half a dozen
wise-looking men, whom we took to be doctors, presiding. There were
three or four other fellows in the room, come like ourselves, to be
examined. Then we were shoved behind a huge screen with half a dozen
other huskies--they looked like prize fighters to me--and told to
take our clothes off. Then--we were examined."

"Well?" they queried, leaning forward eagerly.

"Well," said Allen, waving his hand in a deprecating gesture, "of
course, being the perfect specimens of manhood we are, the committee
jumped at us."

"If they'd jumped on you they'd have shown more taste," remarked
Mollie unflatteringly.

"But, Allen," put in Grace, who had listened to the recital, with a
troubled frown on her forehead, "was Will with you?"

Allen's glance fell and he shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

"No," he said.




CHAPTER III

NEWS FROM THE FRONT


There was another awkward pause, which nobody seemed able to break.

"But Will went to town with you," Amy remarked at last.

"Yes, he went with us," Allen agreed reluctantly. "But after we
reached the hotel, and were making our plans for enlisting, he
refused to go with us, saying he had business of his own to attend
to. What that business was none of us know, for we were getting ready
to catch the train for here when he rejoined us. However," he added
loyally, "I'd bet my bottom dollar that Will has good reasons for
everything he does, and when he gets ready he'll tell us about them.
In the meantime, how about some biscuits, Betty?"

"Yes, how about them?" added Roy, rousing to sudden life. "We've done
our duty--now we want the reward."

"Goodness, you haven't done anything," said Grace loftily, as the
Little Captain vanished within the house, followed by black-eyed
Mollie. "You just sit around and let all the others do the work and
then take the credit to yourself."

"That's all right if you can get away with it," grinned Allen.
"Besides," he added, with a humorous glance at Grace's languid
figure, "you don't look the soul of energy yourself this morning,
Miss Ford."

"Looks are often deceitful," retorted Grace, languidly turning the
heel of her sock. "If you had to knit all day long, every day in the
week, you'd find out what work is."

"Well, you don't _have_ to do it," returned Roy placidly.

"Yes," said gentle Amy, roused to sudden indignation. "That's all the
credit we get. Goodness knows, we're glad enough to do the work, but
we do like it to be appreciated."

Roy turned half way round, and regarded Amy's flying fingers and bent
head soberly for a moment.

"I'm sorry," he said then, so gravely that she looked up in surprise,
and even Grace stopped knitting. "I didn't mean that we fellows don't
appreciate what you girls are doing for us. We do--and there'll come
a time when we'll appreciate it still more. When we're in the
trenches up to our knees in mud and water, when the wind finds the
chinks in our clothing, and freezes us to the bone, when--"

"Oh, please don't!" cried Amy, clapping her hands to her ears. "I
can't even bear to think of those things."

"Yet those are some of the things we've got to think about," said
Roy, still with that unusual gravity. "It's because you girls have
thought of those things, that you're giving your time and energy to
preparing for them, and warding them off. Please don't ever again
think that we're ungrateful."

"We won't," said Amy softly, fighting back a sudden mistiness which
had come before her eyes. "We'll just go on knitting ten times harder
than before."

"I think we're missing something," came Betty's voice from the
doorway, where she stood with her arm intertwined in Mollie's. "The
biscuits are in the oven now, and we're going to talk to you while
they're baking."

"Will it take long?" asked Roy, sniffing hungrily.

"I like that," said Betty, with a little grimace, as she flung
herself upon the top step, pulling Mollie down beside her. "When Roy
has to choose between biscuits and us--"

"We're not in it," finished Mollie with a merry laugh.

Roy looked pained.

"I never said that, did I?" he inquired. "I haven't had the painful
necessity of making a choice yet."

"What were you talking about so earnestly when we came out?" queried
Betty. "Roy looked solemn, Grace looked surprised, Amy looked
exalted, and Allen was thoughtful, while Frank looked as though--
well, as though he were seeing visions."

"All I have to do is turn my head to see visions," Frank returned
gallantly, suiting the action to the word. "Gee, I never saw a crowd
of prettier girls."

"Hey, you're going to get an extra biscuit for that," put in Roy,
raising himself on his elbow and looking alarmed. "Just because
you're a better flatterer than I am--"

"Oh, hush, hush," protested Betty, showing all her dimples--Allen was
watching, so we have his authority for it. "You boys can never get to
the point, unless we happen to be talking of something to eat. Allen,
what were they talking about?"

Allen roused himself from the happy reverie into which Betty's
dimples had thrown him, and responded good-naturedly. Allen was
invariably good-natured.

"We were talking about some of the things we may be up against, when
we find ourselves in the trenches, face to face with the enemy," he
said. "Also we were saying that these sweaters, and mufflers and
socks you are knitting, will come in mighty handy over there."

A shadow crossed Betty's bright face, and she leaned forward to pick
up the discarded paper she had thrown upon the porch.

"'The enemy attacked in force our lines south of Cambrai,'" she read,
with puckered brow. "'The enemy succeeded in gaining a foothold in
our first line trenches, but were later driven back. The fighting on
both sides was sanguinary, and heavy losses were sustained!'"

She flung the paper from her, and regarded her friends with flaming
eyes, and both little fists clenched close at her sides.

"It doesn't seem as though it _could_ be real!" she cried. "Men
killing each other off by the hundreds and all for--what? Oh, it's
cruel, cruel!"

"Of course it's cruel," said Allen grimly. "But so were the Huns
cruel, centuries ago. The German people have simply never advanced
beyond that state. They're still in the first stages of
civilization."

"Yes, and the worst part of this kind of warfare," said Frank, his
eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the horizon, "is that each man in the
army is simply a unit in a great machine. In the old days, when they
had cavalry charges and hand-to-hand fighting there was some romance,
some adventure, some chance for personal bravery."

"Well, of course there is still some chance for daring," remarked
Allen, "especially in the aviation branch of the service."

"In the army too," added Roy. "Soldiers are being decorated every day
for some special act of bravery."

"I know all that," replied Frank. "But there's nothing particularly
spectacular about it."

"And yet," said Betty thoughtfully, "I should think that kind of
fighting would take more courage than the other. To stand day after
day in those horrible trenches waiting for orders. And then when they
do finally make a charge, nothing much seems to be gained by it."

"Yes, the waiting must be the hardest part," agreed Allen. "We met an
Englishman in town," he added, smiling at the recollection, "and he
was a mighty interesting chap."

"You said it," agreed Frank heartily. "He's been through some of the
heaviest fighting, and to hear him tell some of his experiences is
better than a dozen lectures. I wish we could have brought him along
so you girls could have heard him."

"I don't," Roy interjected. "He was too good-looking."

"All the more reason why you should have brought him," yawned Grace.
"It would be a treat to have around something good to look at."

"Whew," whistled Frank. "That was a bad one, Gracie. We know we're
not Adonises--"

"I'm glad you know something," Grace was beginning, when once more
Betty interrupted her.

"Oh dear!" she said, "if you don't hurry, the biscuits will be done,
and we won't have heard anything about the nice Englishman. And I'm
very much interested."

"Oh, you are, are you?" said Allen, sitting up. "I begin to think we
made a mistake in mentioning that Englishman. I think we must have
dreamed him, fellows."

"Oh, he was real enough," put in Frank. "But I shouldn't wonder if he
dreamt some of those adventures. They sounded too good to be true."

"Perhaps you've heard that old saying," Grace remarked, with her
usual languor, "that truth is stranger than fiction?"

"Oh, hurry," begged Betty. "The biscuits are almost done; I can smell
them."

"So can I," said Roy, with another longing sniff. "Don't let 'em
burn, will you, Betty?"

"I will, if somebody doesn't satisfy my curiosity, right away,"
threatened the Little Captain, her lips set threateningly. "Now, will
you be good?"

"Gee, Allen, did you hear that?" Roy's expression was pathetic.
"Hurry it up, will you?"

"Well," began Allen with aggravating deliberation, "he was a tall,
lean, rangy fellow with sandy hair and twinkling eyes. Seems he had
been wounded several times, and the last shot had cost him his right
arm."

"Oh," cried Mollie, her eyes like two saucers. "How did that happen?"

"Bomb exploding close to him shot it all to pieces," explained Allen
cryptically. "Of course it had to be amputated, permanently disabling
him. That's why he was sent across to America--to stimulate
recruiting."

"As if we needed any stimulating," said Mollie indignantly. "You
don't have to stand behind our boys with a gun to make them go."

"Of course not," agreed Allen. "Just the same, it's almost impossible
for us over here, with the broad Atlantic separating us from the
scene of conflict, actually to realize what we're up against. That's
why it's good to have a fellow like this Englishman, who has really
been right in the thick of it, relate his own experiences. While he
was talking you could almost hear the thunder of cannon and the
bursting of shells. I tell you, we fellows felt like shouldering our
guns, and marching over right away."

"Oh, it's wonderful to be a man these days," sighed Mollie. "You can
get right in the thick of it, while all we can do is stay home and
root for you."

"Well, that's a lot," said Frank soberly. "Just to feel that you
girls are backing us up, and that there's somebody who cares whether
we give a good account of ourselves or not, makes all the difference
in the world."

"But that's not all we can do," cried Betty, her eyes shining with
the light of resolution. "There's real work enough to keep us busy
all day long. Girls, I've got a plan!"

"What?" they cried, leaning forward eagerly.

"I'm going to join the Red Cross!"




CHAPTER IV

THE POWDER MILL


"Who's game for a paddle?"

"I am!"

"And I!"

"Oh, it's the most wonderful night in the world for canoeing!"

"And there's going to be a moon, too!"

"Nobody seems to be eager or anything like that," remarked Frank,
strolling out on the veranda, and regarding the enthusiastic group
with a smile on his lips. "Why didn't you suggest something they
might agree to, Allen?"

Allen, who had indeed made the suggestion, rose lazily to his feet,
and stretched out a hand to Betty.

"I never make any suggestions that aren't good," he replied. "Come
along, Betty. It's a crime to waste a minute of this wonderful
night."

"May we, Mrs. Irving?" queried Betty, smiling up at their chaperon,
who was the same who had shared their adventures, during that other
eventful summer on Pine Island. "You know you love canoeing as much
as the rest of us."

"Of course we'll all go," Mrs. Irving assented readily. "Only we've
had a long day, and mustn't stay out too late."

"I speak for Mrs. Irving in my canoe!" called out Betty.

"No, mine!" "Ours!" were other cries.

Merrily the girls ran into the house to pick up the wraps which were
always necessary on the water at night, and in another minute they
had rejoined the boys.

"Are you glad I enlisted, Betty?" queried Allen, laying a hand on
Betty's arm, and holding her back.

"Glad?" answered Betty, looking up at him with eyes that shone in the
starlight. "Yes, I'm glad that you knew the only right thing to do,
and I'm glad that you did it so promptly. But, Allen--"

"Yes?" he queried, finding her little hand and holding it tight.

"I--I'm like George Washington, I guess," she evaded, looking up at
him with a crooked little smile.

"I don't want you to tell a lie," he countered very softly. "I want
the truth, little Betty. What were you going to say?"

Betty's eyes drooped, and they walked along in silence for a minute.

"Well?" he queried at last, studying her averted profile. "You're not
afraid to tell me, Betty?"

"N-no," she answered, still with her head turned away. "I was only
going to say, that while I'm glad--oh, very glad in one way, I--I'm
not so very glad in another."

"What other?" he asked, leaning over her. "Betty, Betty, tell me,
dear."

Betty hesitated for another moment, then threw up her head defiantly.

"Well," she said, "if you must know--I don't want you to go. I--I'll
be--lonesome--"

"Betty," he cried imploringly, his heart beating like a trip-hammer,
"Betty--wait--"

But she had slipped from him, and had run ahead to join the others,
so that he had no other course but to follow her. His head was in the
clouds--his feet scarcely seemed to touch the ground.

"Well, it's about time you realized you were with us," Mollie
remarked as Betty, breathless with the run and the beating of her
heart, joined them. "We began to think you had eloped for fair this
time."

Betty laughed happily.

"I'm sure I don't know where we'd elope to," she remarked, stepping
one dainty foot exactly in the center of the unstable craft. "We'd
either have to swim or wait for the ferry, and I don't exactly know
which would be the more uncomfortable."

"I'd prefer the swim," said Roy, arranging the pillows carefully
behind Mollie's straight little back. To quote the latter: She would
much rather do things for herself--boys were so clumsy--but they
always looked so funny and downhearted when she told them about it,
that, just in the interest of ordinary kindness, she had to humor
them!

"Well," said Allen, as he dipped his paddle into the still water,
guiding the light craft from the shore, "where shall we go?"

"'Where do we go from here, boys, where do we go from here?'" sang
Roy.

"'Anywhere from Harlem to a Jersey City pier,'" finished Frank,
wickedly splashing some drops of water on Grace's immaculate white
dress.

"That's sensible, isn't it?" retorted the latter, favoring the
offender with a look of cold disdain. "Since we don't happen to be
any more than sixty miles from Harlem or Jersey City, I'm sure Allen
appreciated your suggestion."

"Oof!" said Frank. "I can't open my mouth without putting my foot in
it."

"That's no compliment to your mouth," returned Grace. "Frank, if you
don't stop splashing me with that horrid water, I'm going to get out
and walk."

"That would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire," returned
Frank with a grin, while Mollie, who was in the next canoe, chuckled
audibly.

"Goodness," said Betty, as Allen shortened his stroke to bring the
canoes abreast. "It's almost impossible to think of there being a war
on a night like this. Everything is so calm and peaceful."

"Yes, we haven't even been touched by it yet," said Allen, his mood
sobering. "The Englishman to-day was telling us that nobody in
England began to realize they were at war, until the boys began to
come back wounded and disabled."

"Oh, I can't bear to think of it," cried Amy, who, in the canoe with
Will, still silent and aloof, had scarcely spoken a word till now.
"It seems as if there ought to be some other way of settling disputes
these days."

"That's what every nation thinks, except Germany and her allies,"
returned Frank. "As it is, we've got to fight her as we'd fight a mad
dog--wipe the whole German nation off the map, or at least, bring it
to its knees."

"That reminds me of something one of the recruiting officers told me
the other day," put in Allen, with a whimsical smile. "He said he had
talked to hundreds of American enlisted men, and the great majority
of them were eager to learn German."

"I don't admire their taste," put in Mollie, with spirit. "I hate the
very sound of it."

"Well, the soldier's idea is," explained Allen, "that if he learns
the language he'll be able to flirt with the _frauleins_ when he gets
to Berlin."

"Again I don't admire their taste," remarked Mollie spitefully.
"Almost all the German girls I've ever seen are too stout to suit
me."

"Goodness, I had a German ancestor away back somewhere," remarked Amy
anxiously. "Maybe that's why I'm beginning to gain flesh so fast.
You've got me worried."

The boys laughed, but the girls answered reassuringly.

"It isn't your remote German ancestor that's giving you flesh, Amy,"
said Grace condescendingly. "It's eating three hearty meals a day,
and the sitting still knitting from morning to night. We girls are
used to being on the go all the time."

"What's that you said?" asked Frank, bringing his eyes down from the
stars to the lazy figure in the white dress. "I've never seen you
when you weren't taking life easy."

"What!" said Grace, sitting up straight, the picture of indignation.
"How about our walking tour--didn't I walk just as far, and as much
as the other girls then? And how about swimming?"

"Take it back! take it back!" cried Frank. "If going down on my knees
will help any--"

"Don't be a goose," responded Grace shortly, settling herself once
more in a comfortable position. "Just a little bit of going down on
your knees, and we'll be in the water. Have a chocolate?"

"No, thanks," said Frank absently. His eye had caught a sudden flare
of light, that had flickered for a moment and then disappeared.

"Hey, Allen," he yelled. "Did you see that light--over there, to the
right?"

"Yes," said Allen, looking puzzled. "And I don't remember ever seeing
signs of life over in that direction."

"Isn't that about where the old powder mill stands?" asked Betty, and
Allen turned to her quickly.

"Betty," he said, his eyes shining, "you've got it. The government
has bought that property, and started the old mill to working. By
George, this promises to be interesting."

"There it is again!" cried Frank, while Grace strained her eyes
eagerly toward the point. "What do you say to paddling over there and
having a look?"

"It's up to the girls," replied Allen, watching Betty's face eagerly.
"What they say goes."

"And they say 'go,'" smiled Betty whimsically. "Do you suppose we'd
go back without solving the mystery? Lead on, Macduff--we follow."

So Allen and Frank paddled hard toward the bend in the lake, the
other two canoes, which had fallen somewhat behind, quickening the
stroke to catch up with them, sensing that something unusual was
afoot.

As the canoes in the lead rounded the bend, those in them saw that
indeed the old mill had been renovated, but that the flame they had
seen had come, not from the old mill, but from a small bonfire
started farther in the woods.

And that was not all. What made them catch their breath and signal
for silence, was the figure of a man bent close to the flickering
fire, intent upon deciphering the writing on a long piece of paper,
that looked suspiciously like an official document.

So silent had been their approach that the man had not even changed
his position. Luckily the canoes were screened by heavy, overhanging
branches of trees, so that the occupants could observe without being
observed.

Silently the other two canoes joined them, and noiselessly, scarcely
daring to breathe, the young folks watched.




CHAPTER V

A SHOT IN THE DARK


In the minds of each of the young people in the canoes, one word kept
repeating itself over and over again: "Spy, spy, spy!"

Since the war had begun, the country had been overrun with them, that
they knew; but out here on this remote island... Yet there was
something about the very posture of the man, his hunched-up figure,
the nervous twitching of the fingers that held the document, that
branded him.

As they watched, he started to fold up the paper, glancing stealthily
about meanwhile; then, as though satisfied that no one was watching,
he picked up the heavy bag that lay beside him, evidently preparing
for flight.

Betty, a little tense figure in the bottom of the boat, uttered a
gasp of dismay, as Allen began carefully to lower himself into the
shallow water.

The man on shore heard the slight sound and turned swiftly, staring
suspiciously into the thick shadows of the foliage. Then did the boys
and girls literally hold their breath.

After a few seconds, which seemed an eternity to the taut nerves of
the watchers, the man turned with a guttural growl, and started
cautiously to make off into the denser woodland beyond.

In a second, Allen was out of the boat, and lending a hand to the
gallant Little Captain, who would not be outdone in any adventure, no
matter how perilous.

The other boys and girls followed, silent as ghosts, their training
in woodcraft standing them in good stead. For an instant, they stood
in a tense, excited group on shore, Mrs. Irving in their midst.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," Allen was saying, and they had to lean
close to catch the words, which were barely above a whisper. "There
must be a guard around this mill somewhere. We'll get him, and head
that fellow off."

"I'll take you to a guard," said Will suddenly. "We'll find him at
the other end of the mill."

Without another word, he turned and led the way, careful of the
betraying snap of twigs, along the shore, toward the mill. Even in
that moment of tense excitement, the girls and boys looked at his
suddenly stiffened back in surprise. It was the first time since he
had come ashore that morning, that his comrades had been able to
discover anything of the old Will.

However, they had little time for the solving of riddles. There was
work to be done, work, which in these stirring times, might perhaps
help to make history.

As they neared the mill, Will motioned to them to stay where they
were, and ran ahead to intercept a guard. A moment later he returned
with the latter, and the whole party made its way hurriedly and
stealthily in a roundabout direction, which would almost certainly
intercept the spy--if spy he were.

"Oh, Betty," whispered Grace, close to the Little Captain's ear.
"I've always been horribly afraid of spies. Do you suppose he's got a
gun?"

"I never heard of a spy that didn't," returned Betty grimly. "But
don't worry--we have one, too."

"Better not talk," warned Roy, close at their side. "A whisper may
mean a bullet."

Grace almost screamed, but Betty's firm little hand across her mouth
smothered it into something between a sob and a squeak.

"Hush," whispered Betty fiercely. "You'll spoil everything."

At that moment, the sharp crack of a twig somewhere to the left of
them in the woods, made them stop suddenly and stand motionless,
listening.

Then with a shout, Will rushed forward, followed by the other boys
and the home guard man.

"Hands up!" shouted the latter, leveling his pistol at something that
moved among the bushes. "Stand where you are."

Like a flash of lightning the man wriggled out from his cover, and
made a dash for liberty. With a yell, the guard ran forward, firing
as he went, with the boys close at his heels.

"Oh, oh, they'll get shot!" wailed Amy, her hands before her face. "I
don't see why we couldn't have left the old thing alone, anyway."

"That's a nice thing to say!" cried Mollie, trembling with
excitement. "Is that your idea of patriotism, to let a spy get away
right under our very noses?"

"It's a good deal better than having the boys shot right under our
very noses," retorted Amy with spirit.

"We'll be lucky if we don't get shot ourselves," said Grace, almost
in hysterics. "Oh, there goes another one. I wonder who got shot that
time."

"Let's go and see," said Betty, pale, but determined, "It isn't like
us to stand in the background, when there may be something to do."

"But, Betty," wailed Amy, "we may get shot."

"Well, then, we shall," cried Betty, turning upon her fiercely. "That
may have been the spy that was shot, or it may be one of our boys.
Are we going to stay here, or are we going to find out?"

"I--I'm sorry, Betty," quavered poor Amy. "Of course, we'll go."

Without another word the Little Captain turned and, with Mollie at
her side, made off in the direction the boys had taken. Amy and
Grace, arms entwined about each other, followed a little lingeringly
in the rear of their bolder companions.

They had not gone far, when they heard the welcome sound of masculine
voices in excited altercation, and the heavy tramp of feet coming
toward them.

"Oh," sighed Betty, her lip quivering, now that the need of courage
had passed, "they never sounded so good to me before."

"Thank heaven you're safe," cried Allen, while relief banished the
fear in his eyes. "I don't know what we could have been thinking of,
to leave you all alone--"

"But did you get him?" cried Mollie impatiently.

"No, worse luck," responded Will disgustedly, while the guard mopped
his perspiring forehead. "That spy was a slippery customer. We did
get something out of it, though."

"What?" they cried eagerly.

"This," said Will, holding up something that gleamed white in the
moonlight. "It's a letter, and it ought to tell us a number of things
we want to know about Mr. Adolph Hensler."

"Oh, is that his name?" cried Betty eagerly. "That tells us a good
deal without even opening the letter."

"It's German enough," agreed Will. "But, gee! I'm sorry we didn't
catch the fellow. The government needs him."

"But we're so glad you didn't get shot," Amy ventured mildly. "We
heard that last one back there in the woods, and we thought--"

"We'd gotten ours?" grinned Roy. "Well, we hadn't--not yet."

"It was too near for comfort, just the same," Frank added. "I could
almost hear the wind from it as it whizzed past me."

Here Betty, who had been watching Allen closely, uttered a sharp
exclamation, and all turned to her.

"Allen," she cried, for he had swayed a little and rested his hand
against a tree as though to steady himself, "why didn't you tell us?
Oh, Allen! It's blood!"

"Nothing at all," said Allen, laughing a little unsteadily, as Mrs.
Irving and the girls and boys gathered about him anxiously. "A little
thing will bleed like a shambles sometimes. It's nothing--Betty--"

But Betty, with a little catch in her breath, was tearing aside the
soft shirt, which was clotted with blood at the shoulder.

"Oh, Allen, Allen!" she was murmuring over and over in a way that
sent the blood pounding madly to Allen Washburn's head, and made the
wound a blessing. "Why didn't you tell me? Oh, your poor shoulder!
Some one get some water, quick," she ordered imperiously, turning to
the anxious group. "I don't think it's serious, but we must stop this
bleeding. Please hurry."

And hurry they did, bringing water from a near-by spring in cups they
expertly improvised from leaves as they had done so many times just
for the fun of it.

Then the boys produced some spotless white handkerchiefs, which
served as a makeshift bandage, till they could reach the cottage. The
bullet, as Betty had said, had not much more than grazed the
shoulder, yet the wound had bled profusely, and Allen was beginning
to feel a little sick and dizzy, from the loss of blood.

When at last all had been done, that it was possible to do, Allen was
helped down to the canoe, and they paddled home, a very much sobered
group of young people.

"Never mind," said Allen, in an attempt to lift the general
depression, as they neared the cottage. "We found the letter anyway,
which may be of considerable help to the government. And what's one
shoulder more or less in the cause?"




CHAPTER VI

MOONLIGHT AND MYSTERY


The moon made a rippling path of silver upon the water, a soft wind
whispered drowsily through the trees, and far off in the depths of
the woodland, an owl hooted plaintively. Ordinarily, the romantic
paddle back to the island would have been filled with delight for the
Outdoor Girls and their four boy friends, but tonight the profuse
beauty all about them passed unnoticed.

Betty, sitting beside Allen in the bottom of the canoe, while Frank
and Grace paddled, was very pale and silent. However, the others
talked enough to make up for her silence.

"What do you suppose is in the letter?" said Mollie, for perhaps the
hundredth time.

"How do you suppose we know?" responded Will, exasperated. "We can't
very well read it until we get home; and then perhaps there won't be
anything important in it. Gee, if we'd only gotten that fellow!"

"Well, it's of no use to cry over spilled milk," said Frank
philosophically. "We were mighty lucky to get the letter. Allen's the
only one that ought to kick--he got the rough end of the deal."

"Yes," said Betty fiercely; "and we ought to get that man for
shooting him. The coward!"

Allen laughed softly, and put a hand over Betty's little clenched
one.

"I don't suppose he meant to shoot me, especially," he said. "It was
my fault for getting in the way of the bullet."

"Yes, that's a mighty bad habit to get into," remarked Roy dryly,
"especially in these times, when we're more than likely to get a
chance to exercise it."

"Ooh!" squealed Amy, giving a sudden splash with her paddle, that
sent a geyser of spray all about her, causing several loud protests.
"I wish you'd stop talking about such things. I'd like to stop
shivering for about five minutes."

The girls giggled hysterically and felt more natural.

"Goodness," sighed Grace, after five minutes of silence, during which
each had been busy with his or her own thoughts. "This paddle never
seemed so long to me before."

"Thanks," said Frank. "May I ask whether you are referring to the
company?"

"I wasn't even thinking of the company," retorted Grace ungraciously.

"Gee, we must be impressive," murmured Roy. "She doesn't even know
we're around."

"Stop paddling, Frank," suggested Mollie maliciously, "and see how
soon she'd know you weren't around."

Obediently Frank drew his paddle from the water, and Grace, who had
only been making a pretense of doing her share, looked around
indignantly.

"Well, you can't expect me to do it all," she said, and with a sigh
of utter resignation, Frank resumed his work.

"Say, fellows," he said, "isn't that just like a girl?"

"What's that?" cried Amy suddenly, making them jump nervously.

"What?" queried Grace in a voice scarcely above a whisper, while the
rest looked for an explanation from Amy to the shadowy woodland and
back again.

"It--it was a noise," explained Amy, incoherently, "like a man
moving, and I was sure--I--saw a--couple of eyes watching us--"

"For heaven's sake!" cried Allen, raising himself suddenly in the
canoe, "put on more steam, you fellows! We've got to get the girls
out of this. What do you say, Mrs. Irving?" turning to their
chaperon, who had been a silent spectator until the moment.

"By all means," she said decisively. "We can face these mysteries
better by daylight, and we've had enough excitement for one night."

So they all paddled hard while the girls' eyes remained fixed in
half-fearful, half-hopeful expectation upon the shadowy shore. For
these girls were outdoor girls, and adventure was the breath of life
to them.

However, nothing else happened to disturb the calm of a perfect
summer night, and a few minutes later they landed at the pier, and
hastily fastened the canoes.

"Now for a light and the contents of that letter," cried Will, his
eyes gleaming with anticipation. "We'll soon find out whether Mr.
Adolph Hensler was a regular, honest-to-goodness spy, or just an
impostor. How about it, Allen?" he went on, as the latter stumbled
over a stone, and Will hooked an arm through his. "Feeling pretty
much all in, are you?"

"A little unsteady on my pins, as our friend Captain Kidd would say,"
Allen replied, though his lips were set with the effort to walk
steadily. "It's funny what a little scratch will do to a fellow."

"It wasn't such a little scratch, old man," said Will soberly. "If it
had hit you more directly, you'd have been in for a pretty long
siege. As it is, I'm afraid you'll have to lie low for a week or so.
Here we are. Now, just a couple of steps, old fellow--"

Allen was, in truth, weaker than he thought, for each step seemed
mountains high, and Frank had to grasp his other arm, before they
finally made the floor of the porch, and succeeded in getting him
across the threshold.

"Never mind," whispered Mollie, slipping a comforting arm about
Betty's shoulders as they followed slowly. "He isn't hurt seriously,
dear, and by to-morrow he'll be feeling all right again."

"I know," said Betty, a little catch in her breath. "It isn't so bad
now, but I was just thinking what it would be like, if he were
wounded on the battlefield, with no one to look after him--and--and--"

"Oh, Betty, we just mustn't think of things like that!" said Mollie,
her voice quivering. "No matter how we feel, we've just got to keep
on smiling for the boys' sake."

"I know," said Betty, straightening up with a pathetic little attempt
at a smile. "We'll all have to say like the little boy that fell down
and hurt himself, 'I'm not cryin'; I'm laughin'.' Yes, we're coming."
This last was interpolated by way of encouragement to Frank, who had
been sent back to look for them.

They found Allen propped up in a huge armchair before a fire, which
had been hastily laid in the grate, looking rather pale and wan, but
tremendously interested in the proceedings, nevertheless.

"Betty," he said pleadingly, stretching out a hand to her.

Without a word she went over to him, taking it in both her own.

"I don't want you to go out of my sight," he whispered, while the
others thoughtfully looked the other way. "My shoulder doesn't ache
when you're around," he added whimsically, knowing how clearly Betty
saw through him; "but when you go away, the ache in it is--fiendish!"

"I won't go away," Betty promised, touching the bandaged shoulder
gently.

"Never?" he queried eagerly, twisting around so he could see her
face. "Is that a promise, Betty?"

"While your shoulder hurts," she added quickly, while the color,
which did not come from the fire, flooded her face. "I--I hate to be
cross with you when you're not feeling well," she added, trying to be
severe, "but if you don't stop--looking at me--Allen... See,
they're waiting to read the letter!"

[Illustration: WILL LEANED FORWARD, REGARDING THE PAPER CLOSELY.]

"Does that mean I have to stop looking at you?" queried Allen, with a
smile. "Oh, well, I'll not complain, if you'll only keep on holding
my hand, Betty. I'd have a chronic bullet wound all the rest of my
life--"

"Well, when the invalid and hero of the occasion is ready," Will
broke in, his patience at an end, "we should be pleased to read a
document, which probably will seem dull and uninteresting to him
beside what he has to say--"

"Oh, Will, please don't talk so much," cried Grace. "If you don't
hurry I'll be so sleepy it wouldn't bother me if Adolph Hensler
turned out to be the Kaiser himself."

"Yes, speed up, old man," Roy added. "Expectation may be better than
realization, but I don't believe it."

"Well," said Will, opening the letter which had not been sealed, with
exasperating deliberation, "we shall see--what we shall see."

He leaned forward, regarding the paper closely in the yellow
lamplight, while the others crowded eagerly about him.

"Well--what-do-you-know-about-that!" he said slowly, pushing the
paper from him disgustedly. "All in code--and a code that will need
an expert to figure it out. Gee, that's a mean trick, that is!"

Frank picked up the paper and pored over it for a moment, while the
rest watched him anxiously.

"Yes, that's a stiff one," he said at last. "I guess there's no use
in our wasting time over it."

"It proves one thing anyway," put in Allen, from his corner. "The
paper is important, and our friend to-night is undoubtedly what we
thought he was."

"Much good that does us," said Will, morosely folding the paper and
stuffing it carefully into his pocket. "Of course, it's better than
nothing, and we'll get it into official hands just as soon as we can;
but we certainly ought to have caught that rascal."

"Say!" exclaimed Roy suddenly, his eyes gleaming with the light of
adventure, "maybe it isn't too late yet. Unless Adolph, the spy, had
a boat or swam to the nearest island, which is more than a mile away,
he's still on this island somewhere. We've got our good old trusties
over in the big tent, and there's a bare chance we might be able to
round him up."

"No, you don't!" said Grace decidedly, while all the girls looked
startled. "You're going to use your guns to keep that man away from
here. Do you suppose we're going to lie awake all night listening for
shots?"

"Oh, all right," said Roy, "I'm properly squelched."

"Let's go to bed," yawned Grace, "I'm dying by inches. And, oh,
Mollie, dear, don't forget to bring the candy box!"

Half an hour later the lights in the little cottage were out and the
boys, all except Allen, who had been made as comfortable as possible
in the house, were taking turns at standing guard outside.

Despite the quiet beauty and peace of the night, the girls found it
almost impossible to sleep. They tossed and dozed, and waked and
dozed again until, toward daylight, they fell into a restless, uneasy
sleep.




CHAPTER VII

ROBBED


Crack! Crack!

The girls started to a sitting posture and regarded each other
fearfully.

"What is it?" cried Mollie, her eyes big and round in the semi-dark.
"Betty, what are you doing?"

"That was a shot," responded Betty, her voice quivering with
excitement. "I've been listening for it all night. Who's coming--"

"Oh, dear!" wailed Amy. "I knew some one would get killed! It's worse
than some awful nightmare."

But Betty was already running from the room, with Mollie close at her
heels. Reluctantly, Grace and Amy slipped on their robes and slippers
and followed.

Betty almost ran into Mrs. Irving on the landing, and gasped an
apology.

"Oh, dear, what do you suppose it is?" she panted, as they went on
down the stairs together. "If another of the boys is hurt--"

But at that moment the boys themselves came bursting in upon them,
rumpled, sheepish and out of temper, to confront the excited girls in
the lower hall.

"What do you know about that?" cried Roy disgustedly. "If I'm not the
biggest fool that ever lived, I'll eat my hat."

"Far be it from me to stop you," growled Will. "He must have passed
near enough to touch you, and you let him get away."

"Well, you needn't rub it in," retorted Roy, turning upon him
savagely, while the girls looked from one to the other
uncomprehendingly. "You ought to know I'm sore enough without having
you find fault."

"Cut it out, fellows," Frank put in peaceably. "It wasn't anybody's
fault; just hard luck, that's all."

"But what?" Mollie interrupted impatiently. "What happened?"

"Well, you see it was like this," began Will, still in a bad temper.
"We fellows decided that our friend, Adolph Hensler, might have some
mistaken longings for the code letter he dropped, and might follow us
and try to steal it back. So we thought we'd set a trap for him by
keeping watch, turn and turn about, in such a position that he
couldn't possibly see us."

"Yes, and that's about all," Roy, speaking bitterly, took the story
away from Will, "except that it was yours truly's turn at sentry
duty, and he went to sleep, leaving Adolph a clear field."

"And did he really come back?" asked Betty, glancing apprehensively
over her shoulder as though she was afraid the rascal might be close
at hand.

"Yes, he really did," said Roy, still bitterly. "And if I hadn't
happened to see him coming out of the window--"

"Out of the window!" echoed Grace, who, with Amy, had decided that
the lower hall with company was more to be desired than a room
upstairs alone. "Oh, Roy, from this house?"

"Since this is the only one for three miles around, I suppose it
was," said Roy, with biting sarcasm.

"But he may have been in our room," cried Amy, beginning to shiver
again.

"Very likely," said Will grimly, while Mrs. Irving looked decidedly
worried. "The one good thing about the whole affair is, that he
didn't get the letter."

"Oh, bother the letter," cried Mollie, cross because she could not
stop trembling. "I--I wish it were daylight. I never wanted to see
the sun so much."

"Well, it is, almost," said Frank, waving his hand toward the east
where a dim grey veil was replacing the blackness of night. "Adolph
must have been hanging around for some time, before he got the chance
he wanted."

"Before I went to sleep," put in Roy moodily.

"But didn't you follow him?" queried Betty, eagerly.

"Of course," said Will, "until he disappeared in the woods; and you
might just as well hunt for a needle in a haystack, as look for him
there. Besides, we wanted to see if you girls were all right."

"Well, we're not," said Grace dispiritedly. "We didn't have half
enough sleep, and now we've been scared to death for the second time
in one night"

"Well," said Mrs. Irving, coming out of a brown study, and speaking
decidedly. "There's nothing to be gained by standing here. Probably
none of us will be able to sleep any more to-night, but we can at
least get dressed. Come, girls, we don't want to add sickness to our
problems."

"This time we're all going to watch," Will called after them, as they
started up the stairs. "If Adolph comes back again, he won't get away
so easily."

Slowly the girls reentered their room, and were relieved to find that
the long night with all its weird suggestions and imaginings, was
really over. Beds and dressers were distinctly visible in the faint
grey light that filtered into the room. Soon the sun would be up.

"Oh, I'm so tired," sighed Mollie, sinking down on the edge of her
bed and gazing about her disconsolately. "I feel as if I ought to be
tremendously excited, but I'm too sleepy to care much about
anything."

"Wait till the sun comes up," said Betty, recovering a little of her
old cheeriness. "That makes everything look different. I wonder," she
added, as if the thought had not been in her mind all the time, "how
Allen is. The noise didn't even seem to disturb him. I think I'll ask
Mrs. Irving if I can go--and--see----"

"Why, of course you can," said Mrs. Irving, who happened to be
passing the door at that particular minute, and looking in at her
smilingly. "I was just going to visit the patient myself; so if you
hurry and get dressed, we can go together."

It is safe to say that Betty was fully dressed, to the last little
pattings and fluffings of her blue morning dress, before ten minutes
was up, and, with Mrs. Irving, was walking with rapidly beating heart
down the hall toward Allen's room.

The door had been left open in case he needed anything during the
night, and now his voice greeted them before they reached it.

"Hello," it called imperatively. "I want to know something."

"All right," said Mrs. Irving sunnily, pushing the door open and
advancing toward the patient, while Betty lingered a little in the
background. "You're not the only one. How are you feeling this
morning?"

"All right--fine," he amended, as his eager eye caught sight of
Betty. "Never was feeling better in my life. Decidedly grateful for
being allowed to live at all--when there are so many beautiful things
to look at," this with so direct and ardent a gaze upon Betty, that
she turned and looked out of the window, unwilling to let him see
what her face must reveal.

Mrs. Irving laughed a little and began to adjust his pillows
carefully.

"We are going to have a doctor for you today," she announced, and
Allen sat up in bed with a jerk.

"What for?" he demanded. "I don't need any doctor. I'm feeling all
right now, and ten to one, he'd make me sick. They always do. Please
don't bring one of them in here."

"Don't make a fuss and get excited, please," Mrs. Irving cautioned
him gently, while her eyes dwelt with humorous sympathy upon Betty's
back. "I'm going down to prepare some breakfast, and perhaps Betty
can persuade you about the doctor."

Before either of them realized it, she was gone, leaving them alone.
Still Betty forgot to turn round.

For several minutes, Allen lay and regarded her contentedly. Then he
gave a mountainous sigh, and finally:

"What have I done?" he queried pathetically. "It's one of the
prettiest backs I ever saw, but that's no reason why I should have to
look at it all the time. Besides, you seem to forget that I have a
sore shoulder."

Betty turned to him swiftly, half laughing and half grave.

"I never know when to believe you," she said, coming toward him
slowly and moving a chair up to the edge of the bed. "You see, that's
the worst of having a bad reputation."

"I haven't," he denied stoutly, feeling for her hand, which, however,
persisted in evading his. "I've never said anything to you, Betty
Nelson, that wasn't true. If you'll give me your hand, my shoulder
will stop aching."

Betty laughed whimsically.

"And you said you never had told me anything that wasn't true," she
reminded him.

"I repeat it," he answered doggedly, succeeding at last in finding
her hand, and holding it tight. "Just being near you makes me so
happy, I haven't time to think of pain."

"D--did you hear all the noise just a little while ago?" stammered
Betty hastily. "You must have wondered what it was all about."

"I did," he replied, still with his eyes on her face. "I started to
get out of bed and see for myself, only I found I was kind of wabbly,
and thought better of it. What--"

"Oh, Betty!" Mollie flung wide the door and burst in upon them.
"Excuse me, but I had to tell you. What do you suppose has happened
now?"

She sank down on the edge of the bed, and looked at them
despairingly.

"Well, what?" asked Betty impatiently. "Has anybody else been shot
or--"

"Goodness, it's worse than that!" cried Mollie hysterically. "You
know, we've never bothered to lock up our good things, because there
never seemed any danger at all of robbery on Pine Island--"

"Yes, yes," cried Betty, fairly wild with impatience. "I know all
that. Tell me, what happened?"

"Well," said Mollie, refusing to be hurried, "we thought of our
jewelry, looked for it--and it was----"

"Gone!" cried Betty, reading the answer in Mollie's face. "Oh,
Mollie, my pin and my bracelet----"

"Yes, and my gold watch, and Grace's pearl lavallière, and goodness
knows how many other things," Mollie finished, in the calmness of
despair.

"And of course, it was that spy that did it!" cried Betty. "Now,
we've got to catch him!"




CHAPTER VIII

THE BIG GAME


Betty opened her eyes slowly, and blinked at the sunlight that
flooded the room. She had a vague sort of idea that something unusual
was going to happen, but was too lazy and comfortable to realize just
what that something was.

Then suddenly it came to her, and she sat up in bed with a start.
They were going home! That was the big event; and somehow, she did
not feel as sorry as she usually did at the end of a vacation. In
fact, she was almost eager to leave this island, with its powder
mills and spies that shot boys you liked, and robbed you in the
bargain--quite eager to drop play, and do her bit for the country she
loved.

"Betty, what are you doing awake so early?" queried Grace petulantly.
"If you can't sleep you might lie still, and let me."

"Have some candy, Gracie," Betty invited, pulling the empty candy box
from the table beside the bed, and handing it to her friend. "It may
help your disposition."

"Goodness, what it is to have a reputation!" said Grace plaintively.
"People think they can insult and slight me, and then make it all up
by handing me a bon-bon!"

"Not guilty," laughed Betty merrily. "If you'll look a little closer,
you'll see there is not a bit of candy in that box! No, don't glare
at me like that, Gracie, dear. The only way you could frighten me,
would be by getting up early. Then I'd know there was something
wrong."

"So would I," said Grace, stifling a yawn. "I'm altogether too good-
natured to frighten anybody--even myself."

"Well, you can stay there all day if you want to," said Betty,
inserting two determined little feet into two pretty bedroom
slippers, and running across to the open window, "but I wouldn't if I
were you. It's too wonderful a day in the first place, and in the
second, I can imagine pleasanter things than staying alone on this
island over night."

"Oh, that's so!" cried Grace, sitting up and staring at Betty. "I
forgot we were going home to-day. Oh, dear, now I will have to get
up."

"How awful," mocked Mollie, who had been watching them for some time
from the bed in the alcove. "It's an outrage, having to get up in the
morning. I think we should have been made so we could sleep all the
time."

"Just my idea," Grace was beginning, unmoved, when Mrs. Irving's
voice sounded at the door.

"Seven o'clock," she announced cheerily. "And you know we decided to
get an early start."

For the next hour all was hurry and excitement while four girlish
tongues clattered unceasingly.

"Have you fully decided to join the Red Cross, Betty?" queried Amy.

"Why, of course. Haven't you?" asked the Little Captain, slipping on
the skirt to her pretty traveling suit and fastening it deftly. "I'm
going to make dozens and dozens of scarfs, sweaters and socks. The
boys are giving up everything for us, and I'm sure the least we can
do is, keep them warm."

"Oh, I can't wait to begin," cried Mollie. "I'm so excited all the
time about the war and everything, I can't sit still--"

"You've got to, if you're going to knit," grumbled Grace. "And you
can't eat candy, either, Mollie Billette."

"Oh, look who's talking," crowed Mollie. "If that's true, and the
poor soldiers had to depend upon you to keep them warm, I'd feel
sorry for them, that's all."

"Oh, I don't know," defended Betty, putting an arm about Grace, and
starting for the door. "Grace believes in quality more than quantity.
She may not knit as much as the rest of us, but she does it twice as
well."

Grace laughed and hugged her friend as they ran down the stairs
together.

"That's worth my lavallière, Betty," she said. "If Adolph Hensler
hadn't gotten it first, I'd will it to you!"

They flew around to prepare breakfast, and the smell of sizzling
bacon and baking biscuits sent their spirits soaring to the skies.
The boys, who had finished their own breakfast, and scoured up the
pans, heard the sounds of merriment, and came to inquire the cause.

Betty saw them first and laughingly bade them enter.

"We'd ask you to breakfast," she said, "only this is the last
biscuit, and I wouldn't give it up to my best friend. Why don't you
come in?" she continued, as they lingered on the threshold. "I never
knew you to be bashful before."

"We're not bashful," denied Allen, as they distributed themselves
about the room in various and characteristic attitudes, grinning
happily at the girls. "We were so hypnotized by the charming picture
you made for us we couldn't move, that's all."

"I told you there weren't any more biscuits," said Betty decidedly.

"Goodness, I'm glad somebody else has a bad reputation besides me,"
said Grace languidly. "At least you don't have anything to live up
to."

"How is the shoulder this morning?" Mrs. Irving inquired of Allen.
"You haven't taken the bandage off, have you?"

"Not yet," replied Allen, who, although it was scarcely a week since
the accident, had almost completely recovered from his wound. "The
doctor said he'd be around early this morning, and if it looked all
right, would take it off."

"Gee, but I feel funny this morning," announced Roy, apropos of
nothing in particular.

"You look it," murmured Mollie, pouring herself another cup of
coffee.

"What do you mean--funny?" queried Frank with interest, while Roy
favored Mollie with a hurt look.

"Oh, I don't know how to explain it," said Roy, blushing, as all eyes
were turned upon him. "Just sort of excited and--er--queer."

"Yes, we heard you the first time," said Mollie patiently, while Roy
looked about for help.

"I know what you mean," said Allen, coming to his rescue. "You're
thinking that we're likely to be called almost any time now, and it
gives you stage fright to think about it. It's a great big task we've
taken hold of, and we can't quite grasp it yet, that's all."

"Th-that's the way I feel," said Betty, her eyes shining and her
cheeks flushed, stammering in her eagerness. "I feel somehow as if we
were acting in a great big play, where there are all actors and no
audience, and everybody's sort of flustered and excited and not sure
just where they belong but terribly anxious to get into it
somewhere."

"Well, we're all in it," cried Frank, his eyes fired with enthusiasm.
"Thank heaven, there's not one among us we can call a slacker. We've
all enlisted without waiting to be hauled into it by the scruff of
the neck--we--we----," his eyes happened to fall upon Will as he sat
regarding him steadily from a chair near the window, and as though at
a signal, his enthusiasm died and he stammered incoherently.

"Well, we know what _we're_ going to do," said Betty, hurriedly
changing the subject. "As soon as we reach town we're going to hunt
up the nearest Red Cross headquarters and join."

"Bully!" cried Roy admiringly. "I heard a fellow saying the other day
that it was wonderful the way the American women have come up to the
scratch--pardon the slang, ladies, but that's what he said. He said
the Red Cross was turning out bushels of woolen wear, and that at
this rate there wouldn't be a man in the United States army or navy,
that wouldn't be kept warm and comfortable during the big fight. I
tell you it makes you feel good, to think that mothers and sisters
and sweet girl friends are backing you up like that. It takes away
old Fritz's last shadow of a chance."

"Oh, it's wonderful to hear you talk like that," said Mollie, eyes
bright and cheeks glowing. "Ever since war was declared I've been
dying to put on a uniform and get into the thick of it myself. But if
we can't, it's the next best thing to be able to encourage our boys,
and make them as comfortable and happy as we can. Oh, I think they're
wonderful--and I love them all, every one of them!"

"Hold on, hold on!" cried Roy, while the other boys looked delighted.
"It's all right for you to love me, but why take the whole army into
it? It would be much more exclusive the other way."

"I love them all," said Mollie stubbornly. "And I'll keep on loving
them till this awful war is over. Then I'll consent to be exclusive."

"Is that a promise?" cried Roy, while the others laughed delightedly.

"But I didn't mean what you mean," protested Mollie, flushing
vividly. "Oh, dear, why does everybody have to be so foolish?"

"I call upon the others to witness," said Roy, jumping to his feet
and bringing his fist down upon the table, with a force that made
them jump. "Mollie has consented to be exclusive when the war's over,
and you all know what that means."

"Better get it in writing," Allen suggested. "That's the only safe
way."

"And that isn't," said Mollie, recovering.

"Well, we'll see what we shall see," said Roy, sitting down again,
rebuffed but undaunted.

"Gee, it'll be up to Roy to end the war in a hurry now," grinned
Frank. "If we don't look out, he'll be starting some peace trip, and
getting his name in all the papers."

"Nothing doing," said Roy decidedly. "When I deal with old Fritz, it
will be with a gun!"

"So say we all of us," cried Allen, his eyes kindling, "I tell you,
it won't take us long, when we really begin to get our troops over
there. I'm crazy to get into it."

"So am I," cried Betty, getting up energetically and beginning to
clear away the dishes. "And the first thing to do is to get back to
town where we can really start something. Goodness, I wish these
dishes were washed."

"If all your wishes were granted so quickly," smiled Mrs. Irving, as
the other girls went at the task with equal vigor, "you wouldn't have
anything to worry about."

Two hours later the campers were standing on the deck of the
ridiculous little ferryboat, that still plied between Pine Island and
the mainland, looking with mingled emotions toward the spot where
they had spent so many pleasant hours.

"Do you remember," Amy said thoughtfully, as the girls stood in a
group in the bow of the boat, "how sorry we were to leave the island
that other summer? And now--"

"We're almost glad," finished Grace.

"We're glad because we're going to do our share in the biggest thing
that ever happened to this world," said Betty tensely. "We're glad
because we've got the greatest country in the world, and are going to
do our best to keep it the greatest country in the world. We're glad,
most of all, because--we're Americans!"




CHAPTER IX

GAY CONSPIRATORS


"It's all right," Mollie was saying, "to give our time and labor and
everything like that, but the Red Cross needs money. If we could only
find some way to raise it!"

The four girls were seated on the porch of Betty's house in Deepdale,
busy as always, with their knitting. Mollie and Betty were swaying
gently in the big porch swing, while Grace and Amy were curled up
comfortably in roomy wicker armchairs.

The weather was perfect--a typical fall day, with the brilliant
sunshine peeping in under the edge of the awning, creeping up almost
to the feet of the girls, while vagrant breezes, spicy and pungent
with the smell of burning leaves, fanned their faces, and stirred
them to a new restlessness, a new desire for action.

"Well, why not?" asked Betty, putting down her knitting, and looking
from one to the other. "I don't see why it should be impossible for
us to raise money."

"Betty, have you a plan?" asked Amy, gazing hopefully toward the
Little Captain. "I've thought of all sorts of things, from taking a
course in stenography to taking in washing, but nothing seems to be
just right, somehow."

"Goodness, I should think not," said Grace, while Betty and Mollie
giggled happily. "I can't imagine you in the role of chief
washerwoman to Deepdale, Amy; and as for stenography--think how much
you would have to spend before you began to earn any money."

"My idea's very much simpler than either of those," said Betty
demurely. "I thought--though of course it may not be possible, at
all--that we might give a lawn fête and charge fifty cents admission,
a person. We know pretty nearly everybody in Deepdale, and if only a
third of them came we'd raise quite a big sum."

"Betty, that's splendid," cried Mollie, clapping her hands excitedly,
forgetful of the needles she still held. "We can have fortune-telling
booths and tableaux, and perhaps a sketch of some kind. Oh, won't it
be fun?"

"It ought to be," said Grace conservatively, starting to wind another
skein of wool. "But if we have all those things I think we ought to
charge a dollar."

"Goodness, I don't think they'd get their money's worth," smiled
Betty whimsically. "A dollar's rather a lot of money to pay for a
lawn party."

"Well, they ought to be willing to give something, just for the sake
of patriotism," said Amy quietly--for there was no better patriot in
all of Deepdale than Amy.

"Yes, but don't you see, we want to give them their money's worth,"
Mollie argued excitedly. "Because then we'll feel we've really earned
whatever we raise."

"Well, we will earn it," said Betty earnestly. "We have, as Doctor Morely
says, 'a good deal of local talent' that we ought to be able to win over
to our side, and if we really go into the thing to make it a success,
it will be one. And a successful lawn party is no end of fun."

"Goodness, you've got me so excited, I can't wait to begin," cried
Mollie, waving her needles about in a way to endanger seriously
Betty's eyesight. "I want to start something."

"If you don't stop poking me with those needles, you will start
something," threatened Betty, moving to the opposite corner of the
swing, and as far from danger as possible. "You wouldn't need a
bayonet in the trenches, Mollie dear. The whole German army would
drop dead, if they saw you moving down upon them with a knitting
needle. Stop it, I tell you, or I shall be forced to take them away
from you."

"Oh, look who's going to take them away," mocked Mollie, continuing
her wild dabs and dashes. "There isn't a man, much less a woman, on
this earth could take these knitting needles away from me, against my
will."

"Looks as if I'd have to start a little war of my own," remarked
Betty ruefully, carefully putting away her own knitting and preparing
for action. "I never yet let a challenge like that pass me by--Oh,
Allen, you startled me!"

"Sorry," said Allen, making his usual, though undignified, entrance
over the railing of the porch, and seating himself with a sigh of
content in one of the big chairs. "Say, what was all the row about?"
he added, looking with interest at Mollie's still threatening
needles, and Betty's general air of preparation for attack. "About a
mile away I heard the noise, and thought I'd drop in to see who was
getting killed."

"A mile away," sniffed Mollie, abandoning the attack, while Betty
once more opened her knitting bag. "If girls are good fibbers I
wonder what they'd call men."

"Li--I mean prevaricators," said Allen cheerfully, and the girls
gasped in dismay. "Well, you asked me, didn't you?" he argued,
laughing at their shocked faces. "I only tried to be obliging."

"Then we like you better when you're not," said Betty primly.

"But what was the row?" he persisted. "I'm sure I interrupted
something, and if I'm still intruding, I'll go away so you can finish
it."

"Oh, we were just starting a new kind of war," Mollie explained. "We
call it the war of the knitting needles."

"That's just what I told the fellows," said Allen, shaking his head
sorrowfully, "only they wouldn't believe me."

"Now what are you talking about?" asked Grace, without looking up
from her knitting. "I know you want somebody to ask it, so I'll be--
as you would say in vulgar slang--the goat."

"That's right! Blame it all, even the slang, on us," said Allen
plaintively. "That's the way the girls----"

"Goodness, you can't tell us anything about ourselves we don't know,"
said Mollie impatiently. "We want to know what you told the boys."

"Oh, about the needles," said Allen, stretching out his long legs,
and locking his fingers behind his head. "I just happened to remark
that while we were killing each other off with bayonets in the
trenches, the women and girls would be knitting themselves to death
at home, so there would probably be an equal number of both sexes
when the war was over."

"Oh, dear, there you go, joking about it again," sighed Amy. "And you
made me lose a stitch too. Oh, dear, that's the first one in the
whole sweater."

"Hand it over," said Betty patiently. "I may be able to catch it for
you, so you won't have to rip out too much. Oh, Allen, what do you
suppose we are going to do?"

"What?" queried Allen, gazing admiringly from the busy deft fingers
to the pretty bent head.

"We're going to give a lawn party," she answered. "It's going to be
as elaborate an affair as possible, and we're going to charge a
dollar admission."

"Whew," said Allen, sitting up and regarding each one of the flushed
conspirators in turn. "What's this--a get-rich-quick-scheme?"

"I should say not!" said Mollie hotly. "Isn't that just exactly like
a man? _Everything_ we do isn't selfish."

"Well, what _is_ the idea?" asked poor Allen patiently. "If you'd
just tell a fellow----"

"It's for the Red Cross," Betty explained, "I'm afraid that stitch is
too far down to get back, Amy dear. You'll have to rip out a little.
You see we want to raise a lot of money," she went on, raising her
pretty head and speaking quickly. "When we decided to join the Red
Cross, as you know we have, we didn't mean to go into it half way. It
didn't seem to us enough, just to give our time and labor--we wanted
to raise actual cash. And this seemed the best way to do it."

"I think it's a mighty fine idea," said Allen heartily. "And as I
don't think there's a more patriotic town on the map than little old
Deepdale, I should think you ought to be able to raise quite a
considerable pile. I'll help all I can."

"Oh, Allen, will you?" cried Betty excitedly. "Oh, if you boys will
only help, we'll be _sure_ to make it a success. I can't wait to
begin."

"Well, why do we have to wait?" asked Mollie practically. "Why can't
we start in planning and rehearsing to-night?"

"There's no reason in the world why we can't," cried Betty, putting
away her knitting definitely, and beginning to pace up and down the
porch as she always did when thinking things out. "Allen, do you
think you can round up the boys, and do you think they'll all be
willing to help us?"

"Of course," said Allen, without taking his eyes from her. "I'll
bring them around to-night if you say so."

"Good! Then there's Gladys Alden who plays the violin beautifully,
and Jean Ratcliffe who can recite like a professional and--oh, dear,
there's no end to the talent. And we'll----" she paused dramatically
and surveyed them with dancing eyes. "We'll--give a play!"

"But a play takes time," Allen objected; "and if you're counting us
fellows in on it, you'll have to make it soon. We may be called any
time now."

"Oh, but don't you remember that play we were going to give one
time?" Mollie broke in eagerly. "And then somebody's relative was
taken sick, and broke the whole thing up? That was a good little
sketch, and I don't think it would take us very long to brush it up
again."

"Mollie, you're a genius," cried Betty, stopping before Mollie and
hugging her rapturously. "Why, of course it won't take us any time at
all to get that in shape, and it's sure to take well."

"Do you know what would make a hit?" suggested Allen, catching the
general spirit of enthusiasm. "If this is going to be an outdoor
affair, we ought to have a big tent with a stage at one end, for this
concert and sketch business. We could make it mighty picturesque,
with Japanese lanterns, and we fellows might be able to rig up some
batteries and electric lights for footlights."

"That would be wonderful," cried Grace, shaken out of her usual calm.
"That would be the big attraction. Then we could have little booths
for fortune-telling, and such things, scattered about the place."

"And ice cream and cake counters," cried Amy, her eyes wide and dark
with excitement. "We girls could make the cakes, so it wouldn't cost
so much."

"Allen," interrupted Betty, gazing eagerly down the street. "There
goes Roy now. Won't you go after him, and tell him to be sure to be
here to-night? Frank and Will, too--don't let them say no!"

"All right," said Allen obligingly, untwining his long legs, and
taking the steps two at a time. "I go to do your bidding, Princess."

"And, Allen," Betty ran down the steps to call after him, "whatever
you do--come early!"




CHAPTER X

MAGIC LANTERNS


Two weeks of constant hustle, excitement and preparation passed by
until at last came--the big night!

It was seven o'clock and Betty had started to dress. Mechanically,
with fingers that shook a little from excitement, she went through
the early stages of the process, until it was time to slip into the
pretty filmy lace dress she was to wear for the first part of the
evening.

Then her eyes met the reflected ones in the mirror, and she stopped
short, wondering "if this were really I." She was very sure that that
very pretty girl in the mirror, with the flushed cheeks and brilliant
eyes, could never be the Betty Nelson she had grown up with--it could
not be! And yet she thrilled with a strange new happiness. It was so
good to be pretty.

Then she drew a deep breath, and turned away with a little rippling
laugh at herself.

"Betty Nelson," she scolded, slipping the pretty dress over her head,
and keeping her eyes severely away from the mirror, "you'll be
getting conceited next; and if there's anything I hate, it's a
conceited person."

At a quarter of eight there came a ring at the door bell, and Betty's
heart missed a beat. It proved to be only Allen, however--but,
strange as it may seem, that fact did not seem to improve the
behavior of her heart in the least.

As for Allen, he simply stood and stared, as a transformed Betty ran
down the stairs toward him.

"Oh, Allen, I'm _so_ glad it was only you," she said, holding out her
hands to him--which he seemed by no means reluctant to take. "I was
so hoping you'd get here before the rest. There are one or two things
I want to talk over with you."

"Betty," he whispered, his voice sounding strange, even to himself,
"you're so pretty, I can't think of anything else, or look at
anything else, while you're around. I always did have trouble that
way, but to-night----"

"I--I'm--just the same to-night as I always am," she stammered, not
daring to look at him. "Allen, dear--I----"

"What did you call me?" he shouted, turning her about so she had to
look at him. "Betty, Betty, say it again. I, oh, I--"

"I--I didn't mean it," gasped Betty, joyfully afraid, wanting to run
away, yet wanting desperately not to. "I don't know what made me----"

"Don't you?" he cried, that same wild thrill in his voice. "Then I'll
tell you, Betty. You said it because----"

"Good evening, Allen." It was Mrs. Nelson's voice as she came
unsuspectingly upon them from the dining-room. "I didn't even know
you were here. Betty and I were hoping you would get here early. The
footlights don't work just as they should----" and Allen's golden
hour was gone, for the moment, at least.

He gazed pleadingly toward Betty, but she had put an arm about her
mother--Allen noticed with joy that it trembled a little--and was
leading the way toward the rear of the house, and out upon the lawn,
where the big tent had been erected.

It took Allen, who, besides being a very able and rising young
lawyer, was also something of an electrician, about two minutes to
find the flaw in the wiring and remedy it. Soon after that the first
guests began to arrive.

The rest of the evening was one brilliant panorama, that the girls
never forgot. Until nine o'clock, the time set for the concert and
sketch in the big tent, the guests, about two hundred in number,
wandered happily about the lawn, watching "Denton's trained animals,"
which consisted of a little French poodle, an aristocratic yellow
cat, and a gifted parrot, with an immense and varied vocabulary,
perform.

The animals were the undisputed property of this young Denton, who
had grown up in Deepdale, and who, being a lover of animals, had
untiringly trained his pets, until their fame had spread all over the
town. He had a booth all to himself, and was having more fun than the
spectators--and that was saying a good deal, judging from the merry
laughter and jests issuing from the tent.

There were several other attractions, the favorite, after "Denton's
trained animals," being the fortune-telling booth. This was presided
over by Jessie Johnson--one of the jolliest and wittiest of the
Deepdale girls. She was made up to resemble an old crone, and her
fortune-telling kept her victims in gales of laughter.

"Isn't it great?" cried Mollie, hugging Betty rapturously, as they
met behind the scenes in the big tent about nine o'clock. "I knew it
would be a success, but this is better even than I expected."

"Mollie," returned Betty, and there was a strange new thrill in her
voice, that made her friend look at her quickly, "I'm happy, happy,
happy! I thought I knew what it was to be happy before, but I never
did. I just feel like shouting aloud and hugging everybody I see. Oh,
I never dreamed we'd make such a success of it!"

"It isn't over yet, though," said Mollie, beginning to feel a little
panicky. "We've got to speak _our_ little piece yet, and I never did
feel quite sure of that last line."

"Oh, goodness, don't begin to worry now," cried Betty. "Our last
rehearsal was perfect, and we've never fallen down in anything we've
tried to do yet."

"Well, there has to be a beginning to everything, hasn't there?"
argued Mollie pessimistically. "I'm perfectly sure I'm going to
forget that last line. I feel it coming on."

"Well, then you deserve to lose it," said Betty, knowing very well
how best to handle Mollie. "You'll do just whatever you think you're
going to do, and if you think you're going to fail, you'll fail!"

"I'm not going to fail any more than you are, Betty Nelson," cried
Mollie, her eyes blazing. "I've never seen anything yet I couldn't do
as well as you."

"Goodness, what's this?" cried gentle Amy, aghast, coming upon the
two suddenly. "You're not quarreling, are you?"

"What did it sound like--talk about the weather?" asked Mollie
sarcastically. "You just wait and _see_ what I'll do, Betty Nelson!"
and she marched out with her nose in the air.

"Oh, dear," sighed Amy; "and I thought everything was going so
beautifully."

"It is," chuckled Betty, and hustled the bewildered Amy out another
door of the tent.

Then came Allen, dressed as a herald of olden times, and blew in
golden notes, a message to the people scattered about the lawn, that
the real attraction of the evening was about to begin.

The girls had worried a little for fear the big tent would not be
able to accommodate all the guests, so great had been their response
to the call of patriotism, but it was found to their intense relief
that, although a few had to stand at the back, all could be admitted.

The first part of the program consisted of music, recitations and
some very cleverly arranged tableaux. Everything was remarkably good,
as the hearty applause testified, and behind the scenes everywhere,
was jubilation.

"Now if we only do as well," said Grace, as the improvised curtain
dropped, signaling the intermission, "we'll not have anything to
worry about."

"We will," said Betty confidently. "Jean, you did wonderfully," she
added, to the girl who had been the elocutionist of the evening. "I
thought it was wonderful at the last rehearsal, but you outdid
yourself to-night. And you, too, Larry. Oh, it's such a success!"

They fairly danced with impatience during the intermission, and were
ready with their costumes and stage settings before the ten minutes
was up.

"Oh, I'm so frightened, I can hardly stand up," chattered Amy as she
and Betty stood together, waiting for the endless last minute to drag
past. "Betty, if this is stage fright, it's a lot worse than I
thought. I can't think of a line I have to say."

"Well, you'd better not keep that up _too_ long," returned Betty
grimly. "It might be serious. There, that's Allen's cue."

Local talent had even produced an orchestra for the sketch, and
although once in a while, the cornetist forgot to toot, or the first
violin became excited and left the rest of his flock behind to follow
him as best it might, still the music was pretty good and added
considerably to the general effect.

And the play was the crowning glory of the evening! The stage fright
which had threatened to overwhelm the actors, magically disappeared
when they found themselves put upon their mettle, and they frolicked
through the play, with an ease and naive enjoyment that delighted
their audience and brought storms of applause.

The play was called, "A Day in Court." It was a professional
production which had been almost completely rewritten by Allen and
Betty. The judge was a woman, and the various characters brought
before her, were all more or less funny. One character had originally
been a German servant girl, suing her mistress for wages, but this
character, on account of the war, was changed to Irish, and was
impersonated by Amy with marked success.

Betty was the woman judge, and the way she laid down the law was most
marvelous, and brought forth many peals of laughter.

Will, in a most ridiculous costume, performed the offices of court
clerk.

Mollie impersonated a French flower girl, who had failed to receive
pay for bouquets sold to a local dude, a part played by Roy Anderson,
and it developed during the court scene, that the dude was engaged to
two girls at once, impersonated by Grace and another girl.

There was an irate uncle of one of the girls, none other than Frank
Haley, and Allen as the brother of the other girl, who also demanded
satisfaction, and the mix-up in the courtroom was most realistic.

"About the funniest thing I ever saw in my life," was Mr. Nelson's
comment.

"They are certainly doing remarkably well," answered Mrs. Billette,
who chanced to sit near by.

"If those youngsters keep on doing as well as that, they'll all want
to go on the professional stage," remarked Mr. Ford.

All during the ice cream and cake part of the entertainment the young
performers were fêted and congratulated, till they began, as Roy
expressed it, "to feel themselves some punkins."

It was late before the last guest had departed, still laughingly
bandying jests back and forth, and the Little Captain and the group
of her particular chums and followers were left alone. Then--

"I wish it were beginning all over again," said Amy, leaning her head
against a pillar of the porch and gazing dreamily up at the stars. "I
never had such a good time in my life."

"It seems to me I'm always saying that," sighed Betty, sinking into
the hammock, and laughing up at Allen, as he stood before her. "It's
wonderful when life is just a succession of good times."

"Betty," he answered, sitting down beside her, and finding her hand
under cover of the darkness, "that's my one ambition--to make life
for you just a 'succession of good times.'"

"But I guess that never happens to anybody," she said, trying to
speak lightly. "And I don't know that just having good times is a
very big ambition. No--I--didn't mean that, Allen," she added
quickly, seeing she had hurt him. "You've always been altogether too
good to me. I--I guess I don't deserve it."

"There's nothing half good enough for you," said Allen fervently.
"Betty," he added, after a slight pause, "I--I may have to go away
pretty soon, and before I go I want you to know----"

"Say, Allen, are you going home like a respectable citizen, or shall
we have to use force?" It was Roy who accosted him, and Allen
muttered something under his breath.

"I'm going home when I get good and ready," he was beginning, when
Betty herself jumped to her feet and held out a hand to him.

"It _is_ getting late," she said, "and we're all going to meet to-morrow,
anyway, so we won't even say good-bye. _Au revoir,_ everybody. It's
been such a night!"

As she stood on the porch waving her hand to them, Allen hesitated a
moment, started forward, then ran back again.

"There will come a night," he whispered, close in her ear, "when you
won't get rid of me so easily."

And Betty, left alone, smiled a new smile at the stars.




CHAPTER XI

A SLACKER?


Two weeks went by after the great night, two weeks of ceaseless
activity. The fame of Betty's lawn party had spread all over
Deepdale, and countless smaller affairs on the same order had been
given. As imitation is always the sincerest flattery, the girls were
delighted.

"For we have the fun of knowing we started it," Mollie had said.

"Yes," said Betty. "We've made people understand that the Red Cross
needs money, but, girls, there's another branch of the war work that
isn't receiving much attention."

"What's that?" queried Grace, interested. It was just like Betty to
have things entirely thought out before she said anything about them.
"I never saw anybody with so many plans as you, Betty. You make my
head swim."

"Well, there's the Y.W.C.A.," Betty explained. "It's doing wonderful
work, but it will need a great deal more money than it has now, to
keep it up in these war times."

"Goodness," said Amy. "I wish we'd thought about it sooner. The boys
are sure they're going to be called every day, and if we took time to
get up anything like the entertainment we had before, we couldn't
have them in it."

"Oh, we couldn't give an affair like that without the boys," said
Mollie decidedly, a fact which she would never have admitted in the
hearing of the young men themselves. "And I'd hate to give anything
tame, after the big success we had with the other one."

"That's just it," Betty pursued, holding a sock up to the light and
regarding it critically. "I met Mrs. Barton Ross to-day----"

"Oh, isn't she lovely?" Amy interrupted enthusiastically. "By the
time you've talked with her five minutes you're willing to promise
her anything in the world."

"Goodness, I wish I had a gift like that," said Grace. "I could talk
all day and nobody'd do _anything_ for me."

"That's gratitude, isn't it?" said Mollie, in an aggrieved tone.
"Here I walk two whole blocks out of my way, to buy you a box of
candy when you didn't even ask me to----"

"Did you say you bought that box of candy for me?" asked Grace
bitterly, eying the alluring box, where it lay in Mollie's lap.
"Every time I want one I have to look extra sweet and go down on my
knees."

"More ingratitude," sighed Mollie. "Didn't I hear the doctor say you
must stop eating so much ice cream and candy, if you wanted to keep
your marvelous complexion?"

"No, you didn't," retorted Grace, "for the simple reason, that I
haven't been to the doctor's for over two years."

"That's right, I guess it _was_ your mother," Mollie admitted,
wickedly helping herself to a delicious morsel.

"Goodness, my family's been prophesying that thing ever since I can
remember," Grace retorted, putting aside her knitting, and drawing
nearer to the candy box. "If I had listened to them I'd have worried
myself into all sorts of things by this time."

"Instead you'd rather _eat_ yourself into them," sighed Mollie
primly, handing over the box with an air of resignation. "Betty, what
was it you were saying?"

Betty chuckled.

"First of all, Grace is walking off with your wool," she said. "Look
out, Grace, you'll break it."

"It was about Mrs. Barton Ross, wasn't it?" asked Amy patiently.

"Oh, yes! Well, she suggested that we give the same performance over
again. Everybody liked it, and any number of people had spoken to her
about it, saying they'd like to see it over again. Of course we'd
have to leave out the booths and things; they would take too much
time to get ready, but we might give the sketch."

"Goodness, that's a regular compliment," gurgled Mollie, knitting
furiously. "Instead of--as Roy would say--'getting the hook,' they
ask us to do it all over again. I wouldn't have thought any audience
would stand for it."

"Well," continued Betty, "I told Mrs. Ross I'd talk it over with you
folks, and if we did it at all, it would be for the benefit of the
Y.W.C.A. Of course, we don't know how the boys will feel about it."

But the boys were perfectly willing to give the play again, declaring
that "if Deepdale could stand for it, they surely could."

Deepdale did stand for it to the amount of a sum that made Mrs.
Barton Ross open her eyes wide in delighted astonishment. The affair
was a huge success.

"I don't know how to thank you," she had said to Betty and Grace, who
had been appointed by the others to take the money to her. "You girls
have waked Deepdale up with a vengeance. We were always intensely
patriotic, but we hardly knew how to go about showing it, until you
came and pointed the way."

Mrs. Barton Ross was the manager of the local Y.W.C.A., and every one
in Deepdale both loved and respected her personally and as an
influence for good.

"I believe," said Betty, as the two girls left her and started for
home, "I'd like to join the Y.W.C.A. also if only to be near Mrs.
Barton Ross. When I've talked with her for a little while, I always
feel as if I'd been to church, or something like that."

And that was the way it came about. Not being satisfied with Red
Cross work alone, the Outdoor Girls joined the Y.W.C.A., and from
that time on their days were filled to overflowing.

"It's all very well to knit in the day time," Roy complained one
stormy evening, when the four couples of young folks had congregated
in Mollie's cheerful living-room; "but I don't see why you have to
keep it up all evening too. It gets me dizzy just to watch the
needles."

"Well, why don't you get busy and learn to knit yourselves?" asked
Mollie with a twinkle. "Percy Falconer was telling me that in one
place several men had gotten together, and formed a knitting club. Of
course, they're too old to join the army or the navy, so they thought
they'd do their bit that way."

"Yes, and they've even made up a knitting song," chuckled Betty. "And
while they knit, they sing."

"The little dears," said Frank disgustedly. "Well, thank heaven, I'm
not too old to fight."

"I imagine that's just the sort of club dear Percy would like to
join," remarked Allen, smiling. "It's easier to imagine him in a
corner by the fireside knitting socks for soldiers, than in any other
role."

Percy Falconer was the dude of Deepdale, whom the other vigorous and
hearty young folks pitied more than they despised.

"I wonder if he'll enlist," said Roy interestedly. "It's kind of hard
to picture old Percy washing his own dishes."

"Enlist!" snorted Frank. "Of course he won't. He'll wait till he's
drafted, and then pray every night that he'll be sick or something,
so he won't have to go. I know his kind."

"Oh, there'll probably be a lot that will try to dodge the draft by
dropping hammers on their toes, and cutting off their fingers and all
such clever and noble little things as that," said Allen.

"Oh, Allen, do you think so?" asked Amy, gazing at him with horrified
eyes over her knitting.

"Why, of course," Roy backed him up. "It won't happen so much among
our boys. The slum districts will get most of it. Some of those
suckers would do almost anything to get out of fighting."

"Goodness," said Betty, with a little shiver. "I should think it
would take lots more courage to hurt yourself than to take a chance
on getting shot in the trenches. I don't see how anybody can do it."

"Oh, they're doing worse things than that," said Allen with a
chuckle. "Hundreds of the scared ones are getting married in the hope
that they can get out of it that way."

"Jumping from the frying pan into the fire," grinned Roy.

"Or from one war to another," added Frank, while the girls made faces
at them.

"But isn't Congress going to pass some sort of law," asked Betty
earnestly--Allen reflected how very pretty she was when in earnest--
"that will make that kind of man serve first? It seems to me I read
something about it in the paper."

"Goodness, I don't even get time to read the paper any more," sighed
Amy. "I feel wicked if I stop knitting for five minutes."

"We'll allow you that much," said Allen graciously. "Why, yes, there
is a law like that pending, Betty, and I imagine there will be quite
a few happy homes broken up."

"Did you hear about Herb Wilson?" asked Roy suddenly.

Herbert Wilson was another of the Deepdale boys.

"No," was the answer. "What's he been doing now?"

"Why, he was spending the week-end at a house party when his folks
telegraphed him that his orders had come, and he was to report for
duty the next morning. Well, the poor old chap didn't even have time
to get home and say goodbye--had to rush off the next morning and was
sent down South. His mother came over to see mine, and, the way she
went on about it, you'd have thought Herb was going to be shot at
sunrise!"

"Herb ought to answer like the old negro my uncle had on his
plantation," remarked Allen with a smile. "'Marse,' he said, 'dar
ain't no chaince o' my bein' shot at sunrise--no, sah. I don' never
git up dat early.'"

They laughed, and Grace remarked casually:

"I admire that negro. He has my own idea exactly."

"You know, as far as I'm concerned I rather envy Herb," said Frank,
while the girls stared at him in surprise. "Not for being called away
without having time to say good-bye to his folks, of course, but for
receiving his orders. Waiting and expecting them every day is mighty
hard on your nerves, I can tell you."

"Gee, it's time we were moving, Grace," said Will, jumping up. He had
been silent for the greater part of the evening. "It's getting late
and you've done enough knitting for one day."

This was the signal for a general breaking up, and as the young folks
rose to say good-bye they stole furtive glances at Will.

What was the matter with him? they wondered. Will, who had always
been the life of a party before, and so intensely patriotic and
thoroughly American! Yet he was the only one among them who was not
shouldering his share of the nation's responsibility.

As Allen lingered after he and Betty had reached her home she spoke
her wonderment and worry.

"Allen," she said, a little troubled line between her brows, "do you
know what's the matter with Will? Is he, can he be--a slacker?"

"I don't know," said Allen, shoving his hands deep into his pockets
as he always did when anything was, as he expressed it, "too deep for
him." "I can't make him out at all, Betty. We'll just have to hope
for the best."

"That's all we can do," she answered, and gave a long-drawn sigh.




CHAPTER XII

HONOR FLAGS


"Yes, yes, this is Betty.--Oh, Allen!--When?--To-morrow morning! Oh,
isn't that terribly short notice?--Oh, I can't, I can't believe it!--
Roy and Frank, too?--No, I didn't hear about it--Listen, Allen.--No,
I'm _not_ crying.--What's that?--Well, I'm trying not to!--Please
listen to me.--Bring the boys around here to-night, will you? I'll
get the girls and we'll have a p-party.--No, I'm _not_ crying.--
G-good-bye!"

With a little jerk Betty hung up the receiver, and sat staring out of
the window with the tears streaming down her cheeks. She brushed them
away impatiently and felt feverishly for her pocket handkerchief.

"Oh, I h-hate the old Kaiser, and I hate the old war, and I h-hate
everything!" she wailed, rolling the handkerchief up into a miserable
little ball. "Wh-what will we do when the b-boys are gone and we
haven't anything to do, but just think of the time they'll be sent
over to France to get k-killed? Oh, Betty, don't act so f-foolish,"
she scolded, putting away the handkerchief with an air of decision.
"You know you wouldn't have had them do anything else anyway----

"Oh, there's that old telephone again.

"Yes, hello, Mollie.--Isn't it terrible?--Oh, do come around--and
stay for supper.--I--can't bear to be left alone.--Good-bye."

"Well, what are we going to do?"

The four girls had gathered once more on Betty's porch and were
regarding each other mournfully.

"Do?" echoed Grace. "Why, we can't do anything, of course, but let
them go."

"But it won't seem at all like Deepdale!" mourned Amy.

"Well, the only thing I can see that we can do," sighed Mollie, "is
to become Red Cross nurses and go across with them."

"That probably wouldn't do any good, either," objected Betty, "as far
as being with the boys is concerned, because we'd probably be sent to
another part of the field entirely, and probably wouldn't see them
from the beginning of the war to the end of it. No, I guess we'll
just have to keep on knitting for them."

"They're going to write to us, anyway," said Mollie. "And we must
write to them a good deal, too. They say the boys are just crazy for
letters when they're away from home."

"Yes, and sometimes girls and women correspond with boys they never
saw and never expect to see," added Amy, "just because they haven't
any relatives, and it makes it less lonesome for them."

"I imagine we'll have all we want to do just to keep up our
correspondence with the boys we know," said Betty, knitting steadily.
"I think it's wonderful the way practically all of Deepdale has
volunteered. It makes you proud to live here."

"Yes, and they all seem to be leaving about the same time, too," said
Mollie. "Service flags are springing up all over town."

"It's terrible," said Amy, with another sigh. "I can't walk along the
street and see those flags in the houses of people we've grown up
with, without having a funny lump rise in my throat, and I have to
hurry past to keep myself from acting foolishly."

"I guess none of us really knew we were at war until all the boys we
know began to be called away," said Grace seriously. "And I know you
girls must all think it's strange--" she paused for a moment as if
uncertain just how to proceed, and the girls looked at her in
surprise.

"I--I'm so worried about Will," Grace continued, not raising her eyes
from her knitting. "He hasn't been himself for a month--you girls
must have noticed that--and he won't give me any satisfaction at all
when I ask him what's the matter. We--he and I--used to be such good
friends----" her voice broke and the girls' hearts ached for her,
"and now he acts just like a stranger--only asks to be left alone.
And he's so moody and queer and silent----" Her voice trailed off and
for a long time no one spoke.

The girls were troubled, and they longed to give her sympathy. It was
hard to know just what to say, for Will had puzzled them all sorely.

"I wouldn't worry too much, Gracie, dear," said Betty, at last, going
over and sitting down beside her friend. "Will has some problem that
he's trying to work out all by himself. We know that he's true blue
all the way through, and when he's ready to confide in us, he'll do
it. Until then, we've just got to trust him, that's all, and help him
all we can by our good faith."

Grace's head had dropped on Betty's shoulder and she was crying
softly.

"B-Betty, you're such a comfort," she murmured as Betty gently
stroked her hair. "That was j-just what I w-wanted you to say. I've
been so m-miserable."

That was more than the girls could stand, for they remembered how
gallantly Grace had striven to hide her trouble during all these
weeks, and they gathered around her, whispering little words of
endearment and comfort, till she started to laugh and cry together,
calling herself an "old goose" and clinging to them desperately.

It was some time before they grew calm and could speak coherently.
Then Amy sighed and said:

"Oh, dear, it's a quarter past six and I promised to be home by six
sharp. Now what shall I do?"

"Telephone your brother that you're staying here," said the Little
Captain decidedly. "The boys are coming to-night, you know, and you
can all help me with the spread. No, you needn't waste time arguing--
you're going to stay."

And when Betty spoke in that tone, no one dared dispute with her.

It was half past eight before the boys came, and the girls were
getting so nervous and impatient they could hardly sit still.

"Do you suppose they could have forgotten?" Amy was beginning, when
the sound of masculine voices in excited conversation floated to them
on the breeze, and she stopped short to listen.

"They're coming," cried Mollie. "There's no mistaking Frank's raucous
tones, or Roy's either, for that matter. What do you suppose they're
so excited about?"

A few moments later the boys themselves ran up the steps, greeted the
girls cheerily, and ranged themselves in various attitudes upon the
railing of the porch.

"Say, did you hear the latest news?" asked Roy eagerly, before the
greetings were half over. "Another American ship has been sunk by
those beastly Huns, and quite a number of passengers are reported
missing. Gee, I wish instead of going to a training camp we were
going right across. It seems a crime to be wasting time on this side
when we might be getting at them."

"Another ship!" cried Betty, while the boys eagerly poured forth the
details. "Oh, if I were only a man," she added, clenching her hands
as the recital finished, "I'd fight until there wasn't one German
left on the face of the earth."

"You just leave that to us," said Frank, his eyes gleaming. "We may
not be able to exterminate the whole German nation, but we'll drag
the old Kaiser to his knees and make him kiss the Stars and Stripes
before we get through. Gee, but I'm aching to get right into the
thick of it all!"

"What's this?" asked Betty, as Allen handed her several sheets of
paper, rolled together and fastened with a rubber band.

"Music," explained Allen, who had not taken his eyes from her face
since he had come upon the porch. "A reporter I know handed them to
me. They're all the popular war songs, and I thought perhaps we might
run them over tonight."

They went into the living-room, where Betty's treasured grand piano
was. Betty played and the others sang until they came to "Keep the
Home Fires Burning," when Allen interfered.

"If nobody minds," he said seriously, "I'd like to hear Betty sing
that--alone."

And Betty, who knew the song and had always liked it, started to
sing. But she did not get far. Something swelled and swelled in her
throat and every time she came to the lines:

  "Though our lads are far away
  They think of home--"

tears blinded her eyes, her voice quivered, and she had to stop.

Three times she tried it, then with a little sob, dropped her head on
her arm and sat still. The girls ran to her, while the boys turned
away to hide their own emotion.

"Never mind, Betty dear," whispered Mollie, wiping a tear from the
end of her nose and patting Betty's hand tenderly. "We--we all feel
the same way about it."

Betty raised her head and smiled a little April smile upon them.

"I'll always keep the home fires b-burning," she said unsteadily,
"but I c-can't sing about it."




CHAPTER XIII

"SMILE, GIRLS, SMILE"


"Wake up, Gracie." Betty's voice was low and excited as she shook her
friend into semi-wakefulness. "The boys have to catch the early
train, you know, and we mustn't keep them waiting."

"Yes, I know," said Grace, waking to full consciousness without a
protest--for the first time since Betty had known her. "What time is
it, Betty?"

"Six-thirty," answered Betty, beginning to dress hurriedly. "That's
fifteen minutes later than we should be. Oh, if we should miss seeing
them off!"

"Betty, I don't feel like myself at all," said Grace, after a silence
during which they had both been plunged in thought. She flourished a
shoe in the air and regarded Betty as though it were her fault. "I feel
all quivery and shaky and trembly inside, and I don't think I could
smile if you paid me for it."

"Goodness, I know I couldn't!" said Betty, and then added as she
pinned on the bunch of carnations Allen had brought her the night
before: "We've just got to smile, though, whether we feel like it or
not. We don't want the boys to remember us in tears."

"I should say not!" responded Grace emphatically. "When I cry I'm a
perfect fright. That's why I never do it."

Betty chuckled despite the dull ache at her heart.

"I wasn't quite thinking of that," she said. "But it surely will be
better if we're able to smile a little bit. Come on--let's practice."

They stood together before the mirror, doing their best to smile
naturally, and their very failure to do it made them laugh at
themselves.

"If we're not a couple of geese," said Betty, as arms intertwined,
they descended the stairs. "That's about the first time we ever had
to _try_ to smile. Now for a bite of breakfast."

But, try though they did, they could not eat, and finally had to give
it up entirely.

"We were all to meet at Mollie's, weren't we?" asked Grace, as they
made their way down the sun-flooded street. "Oh, Betty, I'm afraid to
meet anybody, I'm so sure I'm going to make a goose of myself. Will
you hold my hand all the time?"

"Of course," said Betty, laughing unsteadily. "It's always hard to
say good-bye to anybody you--you--like," she added, "but when they're
going away to war and you may never see them again----"

"Please don't," begged Grace, squeezing her hand convulsively. "If
you talk like that I just can't stand it, that's all. It wouldn't
take very much----"

"All right, I won't do it again," cried Betty with forced gaiety.
"Isn't that Mollie waving to us? Of course it is. Come on, Grace,
I'll run you a race."

But Grace was in no mind to run a race, and Betty reached the meeting
place alone, with Grace trailing in the rear.

"Have any of the boys reached here yet?" asked Betty as she ran up
the steps. "I was afraid we'd be late."

"No, they haven't come," said Mollie, looking anxiously down the
street; "and I'm so afraid they'll be late and miss the train, I
don't know what to do. Do you suppose they could have forgotten?"

"Mollie Billette," cried Betty, looking at her wonderingly, "what on
earth----"

"Oh, I know I'm impossibly silly," cried Mollie, dropping into a
chair and rocking nervously; "but I just don't know what I'm saying
this morning. I feel as if somebody was dead."

"Not yet--but soon," boomed a deep voice behind them that made them
jump a foot.

"Roy Anderson!" cried Mollie, her French temper flaring forth.
"That's a nice thing to do--come up behind us and scare us all to
death. And it's not nice to joke about such a serious thing, either."

"Gee, it won't do any good to cry about it," retorted Roy
philosophically, looking around upon the three pretty girls with an
appreciative eye. "I call it a great lark, and if only you girls were
coming along my happiness would be complete."

"Where are the other boys?" broke in Betty. "I thought you were all
coming together."

"I called for both of them," Roy answered, grinning, "but it seems
they'd overslept themselves, and they said they'd be along later."

"Well, if it's very _much_ later," said Grace grimly, "they might as
well go back to bed again. That train isn't going to wait."

"Oh, they'll be here all right," Roy assured her confidently.
"They're not going to be left behind when there's any adventure like
this afoot."

"Here they come now," cried Betty, running to the edge of the porch
and waving frantically. "Amy's with them, too. Must have picked her
up on the way."

"We'll save time if we go on down to meet them," Roy suggested,
taking Grace by the arm. "Come along, girls, we really haven't any
time to waste."

Betty and Mollie needed no such invitation. They were down the steps
and flying along the street before Grace had risen from her chair.

"Oh, we were so afraid you'd be late," gasped Betty, as Allen caught
her on the wing, as it were, and drew her to his side. "And if you
weren't there on time, you might be tried for desertion, mightn't
you?" she added, looking so adorable in her concern that Allen failed
to reassure her right away.

"Well, I don't know that we have to be there just on the minute," he
answered, smiling down at her. "But I may be really tried for
desertion some day. I can't stay away from you very long, Betty."

She flushed and turned her eyes away.

"I wouldn't get you into any trouble for the world," she said
demurely.

"Will you write every day?" pleaded Allen, leaning close, and for the
moment these two were absolutely alone. "Letters are the next best
thing to having you with me, Betty. And if you stop writing, I give
you fair warning I'll come straight home on the next train, furlough
or no furlough, to see what the matter is; and if I get shot at
sunrise, so much the better. Betty, will you promise me?" He said it
pleadingly.

"I--I'll try to write every day," she answered, still not daring to
look at him; "but you mustn't mind if some days it's only a little
line. I'm going to be terribly busy."

"I expect to be busy, too," said Allen, drawing himself up a little;
"but I'd manage to find time to write to you every day if I had to
let other things go."

"Allen," she laid a hand on his arm and he covered it eagerly with
his own, "I _will_ write to you every day and it will be a good long
one, too."

"Not from a sense of duty?" he asked, still a little unbelieving,
though his heart was throbbing painfully. "You won't write just
because you'll think I'll be expecting it, Betty?"

"No," she said, her voice very low, so low that he had to bend close
to catch the words. "I'll write to you, Allen--because I--can't help
myself."

"Betty," he cried, "look at me."

"Th-there's the engine whistle," she said unsteadily.

"Engine whistle be hanged!" cried Allen explosively. "Betty, I want
you to look at me."

Then, as she still turned from him, he deliberately put a hand
beneath her chin and turned her face to meet his.

"Betty, little Betty," he cried tenderly, seeing that her eyes were
wet with tears, "do you care as much as that? Little girl----"

"D-don't be nice to me," she sobbed, feeling for her handkerchief. "I
don't want to c-cry. I want to send you away with a s-smile----"

"Betty," he cried, crushing her to him for a minute, as the train
thundered into the station, "I love you, I love you--do you hear
that? Goodbye, little girl--little girl----"

The boys tore themselves away, not daring to look back until they
reached the train. And the girls stood in a pathetically brave little
group, waving to them and smiling through their tears.




CHAPTER XIV

THE SPY AGAIN


They watched until the train was only a dot in the far distance, then
turned disconsolately away.

"Well, they're gone," said Amy, when they had walked three whole
blocks in silence.

"Goodness, why don't you tell us something we don't know?" snapped
Mollie. "Please forgive me, Amy," she added the next moment, as Amy's
eyes filled with tears. "I know I'm a beast, but I can't seem to
help it this morning."

"Only this morning?" asked Grace maliciously, and Mollie made a face
at her--which went far toward making them feel more normal.

"Didn't the boys say Camp Liberty was only a couple of hundred miles
from here?" asked Betty thoughtfully. Camp Liberty was the cantonment
in which the boys were to receive their initial military training.

"Yes," said Mollie, glancing at her friend sharply. "Now what plan
have you got up your sleeve, Betty Nelson? I never in my life saw a
girl so full of plans."

"Goodness, this isn't a plan," said Betty, though her eyes brightened
eagerly. "It's just a wild idea, that's all. You've all heard of the
Hostess Houses they're establishing at the different camps?"

"Yes," they answered, impatient for what was to come.

"Well, Mrs. Barton Ross said that there was a Y.M.C.A. hut at Camp
Liberty," Betty's face flushed with the daring of this new plan, "but
that there was no Hostess House there, yet."

"Well?" they queried, not quite catching her meaning.

"Of course it's probably absurd," said the Little Captain half
apologetically, "but I thought--I thought--"

"Oh, Betty, for goodness sake, what did you think?" cried Mollie,
unable longer to bear the suspense.

"That--that we might work in it," finished Betty, rather expecting to
be laughed at.

"Betty!" gasped Grace, standing stock-still in the middle of the
sidewalk and gazing at Betty open-mouthed. "Do you suppose there's a
chance that we could?"

"Betty Nelson, you're a wonder!" cried Mollie, throwing her arm about
the Little Captain in a bear's hug. "I'd never have thought of that
in a thousand years."

"Well, I don't know but what it was mighty foolish to think of it,"
said Betty ruefully. "It would be mighty hard to get our hopes all
raised for nothing."

"Let's go around and see Mrs. Ross this morning," Amy suggested,
adding with sublime confidence: "She'll fix it so we can go."

"I only wish I felt as sure," said Betty, still thinking how foolish
she had been not to speak to Mrs. Ross about it herself before she
had proposed it to the girls. Now she had got them all excited--and
it was such a wild idea.

"Oh, Betty, don't be a wet blanket," said Mollie impatiently. "I'd
rather have my hopes raised just to be disappointed than never to
have any hopes at all."

"It would be lots of fun," Grace went on, her eyes shining at the
mere thought. "We've heard so much about these Hostess Houses that
I've just been crazy to see one. But to live right there at the camp----"

"We could help to see that the friends and mothers and sweethearts of
the boys were made comfortable," cried Mollie enthusiastically. "And
if there were too many to be entertained at the Hostess House we
could get families outside to entertain them. Oh, it would be no end
of fun."

"Oh, I wish I hadn't said anything," wailed the poor Little Captain.
"Now if we are disappointed, as we almost certainly shall be, it will
be all my fault."

"I don't know why it would be your fault," said Grace, slipping a
loyal arm about her friend. "You've chased the gloom away for one
morning at least, and if nothing comes of this idea, we'll at least
have had the delights of anticipation."

"There's Mrs. Ross now," cried Mollie suddenly, as a figure emerged
from one of the cross streets and started on ahead of them. "Let's
run after her and learn our fate right away."

And they did run, with the result that a moment later Mrs. Barton
Ross was surrounded by four very much excited, gesticulating and
pretty girls, all talking at once and all clamoring for her
attention.

She watched them a moment, admiring their flushed cheeks and bright
eyes, then laughingly held up her hand.

"One at a time," she begged. "I can play a different air with each
hand on the piano, but I'm not gifted enough to understand four
people all talking at once. Now, if you'll just say it all over
again."

"Betty, you tell her," begged Amy, and so, eagerly, Betty put her
request.

"I know it's probably very foolish," she finished, anxiously watching
Mrs. Ross' kindly, interested face. "But we thought, just perhaps, it
might be possible."

"There's no 'just perhaps' about it," said Mrs. Ross decidedly, and
the girls wondered if they could believe the evidence of their ears.
"In fact," she continued, "I was going to speak to you girls about
that very thing this morning. You have been so successful in rousing
the general spirit here, that I thought you would be just the ones to
make a Hostess House at Camp Liberty a success. Why, yes, I think it
can very easily be arranged."

Then the girls forgot dignity and decorum and everything else and
just celebrated. In the exuberance of their joy they hugged Mrs. Ross
until she gasped for breath, then they danced off down the street on
feet that scarcely touched the ground.

"Oh, it's too good to be true," cried Mollie, when at last their
excitement had quieted down a little; then, gleefully, "Won't the
boys be surprised?"

"Let's not tell them," Grace suggested. "It would be fun not to let
them know a thing about it till we actually got there. I want to see
their faces."

"Who's that?" cried Mollie, grasping Betty's arm as a man sauntered
out from a cross street, glanced at them, then quickly dodged back
behind a house. "It looked like----"

"It was!" finished Betty, running swiftly in the direction the man
had taken.

"The spy!" gasped Amy, who with Grace, as usual, brought up the
rear. "Oh, Betty, be careful! You don't want to get shot!"

Mollie and Betty, panting, just reached the end of the street in time
to see the man disappearing down another and knew that pursuit was
useless.

"Oh, dear!" cried Mollie, ready to cry with vexation. "If we were
only half a dozen men apiece, and could have gotten our hands on
him!"

"Yes, I wouldn't very much mind getting my pearl lavallière back,"
said Grace, as she and Amy joined them.

"And my gold watch," mourned Mollie.

"Look, girls, he dropped something," cried Betty, who had gone on a
few steps in advance of them. "And it's--why, I do believe it's----"

"My opal ring!" cried Mollie, staring at it unbelievingly. "Oh, I
can't believe it. Give it to me, Betty; it has my initials on the
inside. Yes, that's my ring."

The ring passed from one to the other, and the girls regarded it
thoughtfully.

"Which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt," said Betty at last,
"that Adolph Hensler was the thief."

"Oh, if we could only have stopped him!" mourned Amy, for perhaps the
eleventh time. "It's terrible to be so close and then lose sight of
him again."

"If it weren't for getting back our stolen things," said Grace with a
little shiver, "I'd be only too glad not to lay eyes on his beauteous
countenance again. Goodness, I know I'll dream of him to-night."

They walked on after that for some time in silence, each one busy
with her own absorbing thoughts. Then suddenly Betty spoke.

"Do you know, girls," she said, "I may be foolish--probably I am, but
I have a strong conviction that some time we're going to meet that
spy again--and the third time he isn't going to get away from us!"




CHAPTER XV

MORE SURPRISES


The next few weeks were filled with such excitement, that the girls
even forgot to miss the boys. In the letters they received from the
latter--and they were many--they never failed to find comments upon
this strange fact. The boys seemed to feel a little aggrieved that
the girls did not weep a few more tears in the absence of their
devoted swains.

"Of course I want you to be happy, Betty," Allen had written once
upon this theme, "but I'd like to feel that you missed me, a little
anyway. It makes a fellow feel as though it wouldn't make any
difference if he disappeared off the face of the earth. If you missed
me one-tenth as much as I miss you--" etc., etc., until Betty's laugh
bubbled over and she patted the letter consolingly.

"Never mind, Allen, dear," she said, putting the letter away
carefully in the rapidly increasing pile, tied with the blue ribbon.
"If you only knew what I know, you wouldn't have time to miss me so
much either. But I am glad," she added, all to herself, flushed of
face and shy-eyed, "oh, so very glad, Allen, to have you miss me!"

So the days went on, drawing rapidly nearer to the date of their
departure, while the excitement and good spirits of the girls rose
proportionately.

About a week before the great day, they gave another of the affairs
which had grown so rapidly in popularity. This time it was to raise
funds for the Hostess House, and the girls gave heart and soul and
all their time to make it a success.

They were to have some very elaborate tableaux with dancing
afterward, and all Deepdale was on tiptoe with anticipation long
before the night arrived. And how they all enjoyed it!

It spoke well for the patriotism of the young men of Deepdale that
there were very few within the age of enlistment, who had not already
gone to the various training camps, scattered all over the country.
So there were very few at the dance, giving, as Betty's father
jokingly said, a chance for the "young old men" to show their
accomplishments.

And the "young old men," did so well that there had never, in all the
history of Deepdale, been a merrier party. Being an age when
everybody danced, up to the grandfathers of ninety, the girls had no
lack of partners, and were oftentimes amazed at the skill and
dexterity and lightness shown by men who were old enough to be their
fathers twice over.

Of course some of them were stiff and a little "creaky in the
joints," but this only added to the general hilarity, and at one
o'clock the fun was still fast and furious.

"Oh, I never had such a good time," cried Mollie, sinking down beside
Betty on one of the roughly improvised benches, weak from laughing.
"I was just dancing with old Doctor Riley, and he kept me in
stitches. Half the time he had almost to carry me around, I was
laughing so."

Betty nodded and dimpled bewitchingly as Mr. Bailey, father of ten
children, gallantly asked for the next dance.

"You're taking a chance, Miss Betty," he said, the corners of his
eyes crinkling into a million wrinkles as he laughed down at her. "I
used to be considered a fairly good dancer in the old days, but I
haven't danced in the last ten years. I watched the young folks so
much, though, I thought I'd take a chance if you were willing. If I
step on your toes too much we can go over and get some ice cream and
cake."

"You're doing wonderfully," said Betty heartily, amazed to find how
much she was really enjoying the dance. "I'm going to write to the
boys, and say we don't need them any more," she added whimsically.
"I'll tell them we're just beginning to appreciate their fathers!"

When it was over, their proceeds amounted to over a hundred dollars;
and that was not counting an uproarious good time, that none of the
young or middle-aged folk of Deepdale would ever stop talking about.

Then at last came the dawning of the great day--the day the girls had
looked forward to for weeks. They woke with a strange, thrilly
sensation running up and down their spines, and hearts that refused
to beat normally.

In four separate houses, four separate girls dressed with trembling
fingers and eyes on the clock; and four separate girls kept saying
over and over again: "What will they say? What will they say?"

They met at Mollie's as usual--a tense-faced, excited little group--
with parents and relatives who were going to the train to see them
off.

"Have we plenty of time?" asked Amy, who for two days and nights had
lived in the fear of losing that train. "I guess maybe we'd better
hurry."

"Oh, there is oceans of time," Mrs. Ross assured them, who seemed,
for some unaccountable reason, bent on delaying them. "The train
isn't due for ten minutes yet, and then it's more than likely to be
late. Besides, there are a few last words I'd like to say to you
girls that can be said better here than on the station platform."

Then she started to give them some minute instructions, to which they
tried hard to listen respectfully, although the mere effort to sit
still was torture, and Mollie afterward said she "wanted to scream."

However, the harangue lasted at the most, two minutes--although it
seemed to the girls two ages--and they were at last on their way to
the station. It was not till they turned the corner that brought the
familiar platform in view, that they received their first surprise.

The station was fairly thronged with people!

"Wh-what is it?" stammered Betty, rubbing her eyes to make sure she
was not dreaming.

"Is everybody in Deepdale going away?" added Mollie, her eyes big
with wonder.

"I've never seen so many people at the station at one time," added
Grace, bewildered.

"Do you know what it is, Mrs. Ross?" asked Amy.

But Mrs. Ross made no answer--she did not have to. The crowd at the
station caught sight of the four girls, and a great shout went up.

"Hurray," cried a masculine voice. "Hurray for the Outdoor Girls.
Give 'em three cheers and a tiger."

The girls stood still, amazed, bewildered, until suddenly, out of a
maze of tangled thoughts, light dawned.

"They're cheering _us_, Mollie," whispered Betty, squeezing Mollie's
hand until it hurt--at least it would have if Mollie had noticed it.
"All these people have turned out early just to see us off."

"I--I'm afraid I'm going to cry," said Mollie unsteadily.

When the shouts had died down, Doctor Riley made a speech full of
true Irish wit and humor, and pathos, too, telling the girls how
deeply Deepdale had appreciated the active and patriotic work they
had done for their country in the time of its bitterest need and how
very sorry they all were to see them go.

He went on to tell something of what the country was doing and had
done, cracking a few jokes based on camp life, that almost sent the
girls into hysterics--so finely balanced were they between laughter
and tears. Then he ended with another eulogy of the Outdoor Girls and
the hope that health and good fortune would follow them wherever they
went.

He stepped down from the box on which he had been making his address
just as the sharp toot of the whistle gave warning of the train's
approach. Some one handed him four little corsage bouquets of
carnations, which he handed in turn to each one of the tremulous
girls, with an appropriate little speech to each.

With a grinding of brakes the train came to a standstill, and the
crowd gave way to let them pass. Clutching the little bouquets tight
and hoping desperately that they would not cry, the girls started for
the train.

At the bottom of the steps Betty turned and faced them.

"You dear people," she began, but choked and had to try again. "I--
we--want to thank you----" Then, as two tears forced their way
through and rolled unchecked down her face, she turned and ran up the
car steps.

"All we can say," she added, smiling unsteadily down at them as the
train began to move, "is, just that we--we--love you all!"




CHAPTER XVI

THE HOSTESS HOUSE


Once settled comfortably in the seats, the girls smiled across at
each other unsteadily.

"We didn't deserve it," said Amy, brushing away a tiresome tear that
would insist upon trickling down her face.

"None of us did, except Betty," said Grace, recovering enough to open
the chocolate box she had thoughtfully purchased at a drug store.
"She was the one who really thought up all the things, and all we did
was follow where she led."

"That's foolish, and you know it is," said Betty, beginning to get
indignant. "I'd like to know how much of it I could have done without
you girls! And of course the boys helped wonderfully, too."

"Goodness, what's the use of arguing?" Mollie broke in. "The fact
remains that we've been cheered by a crowd of our friends, made
speeches to, and presented with bouquets, and I don't care whose
fault it was it all happened. I'm too happy."

"Happy," echoed Amy, gazing dreamily out of the window at the flying
landscape. "I never was so happy in my life before--except for one
thing." Her face clouded a little and she bit her lip.

"What one thing?" asked Mollie with interest. Grace and Betty turned
to gaze at her inquiringly.

"Oh, n--nothing," stammered Amy, very much confused to find all eyes
upon her. "I was just--thinking aloud, I guess."

"Well, do it some more," suggested Grace, passing her the candy.
"Something tells me it might be interesting."

"Goodness, it is interesting," laughed Betty, changing the subject to
save Amy further embarrassment. "Have any of you girls ever heard
Grace talk in her sleep?"

"Now, Betty," Grace turned upon her reproachfully. "You're never
going to--"

"Yes, she is," cried Mollie gleefully. "What does she say, Betty? It
ought to be good."

"I never say anything that isn't good," put in Grace primly, adding,
as she saw the light of mischief in Betty's eye. "If you tell tales
out of school, Betty Nelson, I'll never forgive you."

"It's awfully funny," began Betty, bubbling over, while Mollie leaned
forward gleefully. "She talks in such a wee small voice, and
sometimes she'll even answer questions--if you speak very coaxingly."

"I know, but what does she _say_?" asked Mollie impatiently.
"Goodness, I've missed a lot."

"Well, I remember one conversation we had," began Betty reflectively.

"Betty," Grace broke in imploringly, "I had a mistaken notion that
you were a friend of mine."

"I am, dear," answered Betty soothingly. "I won't give away any
secrets--not many, anyway----"

"Betty," cried Grace desperately, "I'll stop you if I have to use
force."

"We'll protect you, Betty," Mollie promised. "Go ahead, tell us about
that conversation."

"It was very interesting," complied Betty, with exasperating
deliberation, and eyes brimming over with fun. "It seems to me we
were discussing some of the boys we knew----"

"Betty," cried poor Grace again, her face flaming, "if you say one
word more, I'll never speak to you again."

"Well, in that case," said Betty, settling back and looking
disappointed, "I suppose I'll have to let you out."

"That's a nice way to treat us, I should say," cried Mollie
disgustedly. "Just get our curiosity aroused and then sit on it. No,
you needn't try to make it up by offering me candy, Betty. I'm just
peeved."

"Goodness, I seem to make enemies whatever I do," said Betty
plaintively. "I tell you what I'll do," she added, seized by
inspiration.

"Take care," warned Grace, her mouth full of chocolate.

"We'll wait till some night when Grace has eaten a specially large
amount of chocolates and ice cream----"

"We won't have to wait long," murmured Mollie.

"And then I'll invite you all to a seance," finished Betty, sitting
back and looking tremendously satisfied with herself. "Then you can
question Grace for yourselves."

"But does she actually answer you?" asked Amy, still incredulous.
"I've heard of people talking in their sleep, but I never heard of
anybody's answering questions intelligently."

"Goodness, she doesn't!" said Betty wickedly. "How can you expect
people to do in their sleep what they can't do when they're awake?"

"Betty Nelson!" cried Grace--and if looks could kill, Betty's moments
would have been numbered--"that's the worst yet. Now I _am_
offended."

"Oh, dear," said Betty, while the others giggled merrily. "I always
seem to be getting myself in wrong. Will you pass me some candy,
Grace?"

"No," said the latter firmly. "I only give candies to them what
deserves 'em. Mollie, come back with those--come back with them--I
tell you--"

But Mollie had whisked them off Grace's lap before she could
interfere and had handed them around with great ceremony.

And so the journey continued amid a great deal of fun and merriment
until the train was nearing Camp Liberty. Then the prospect of seeing
the boys and surprising them made the girls so nervous they could
hardly sit still.

"I did such a foolish thing," said Betty, as they, put on their wraps
in a flurry of haste. "I wrote to Allen yesterday and I'll see him
before he gets the letter. It would have been better to have brought
it along."

A few minutes later the train drew into the station, and a quartette
of very pretty girls stepped to the platform. So pretty were they, in
fact, that more than one passerby turned around to look a second
time.

The girls gave their trunk checks to a negro who came bustling up,
stepped into a cab and, almost before they knew it, were being
whirled along the streets at a reckless pace toward the Hostess
House.

"Oh," gasped Amy, holding on tight to the seat. "I have worse stage
fright now than I did on the night we gave the sketch. Everything's
so new and strange."

"Well, what did you expect a strange city to be like?" asked Mollie
practically.

In what seemed to them scarcely a second of time they had stopped
before a very pretty, homelike house, and a polite chauffeur was
holding the door of the cab open for them.

Still feeling as if it were all happening in a dream, they crossed
the sidewalk and ran up the steps of the house. Before they had time
to ring the bell a stout, middle-aged, motherly-looking woman opened
the door and smiled down at them approvingly.

"Well, well," she said, holding the door wide for them, "walk right
in, young ladies, and make yourselves at home."

"We expected you almost an hour sooner," she added, as the girls
followed her into a big, cheerful front room. "I was rather afraid
there might have been an accident on the road--there have been
several lately."

"No, we were simply delayed," replied Betty with her prettiest smile--
winning the woman's affections then and there. "Part of the way we
could have walked faster than the train moved, I think."

"I'm Mrs. Watson," their hostess introduced herself a few minutes
later, as she led the way upstairs. "Mrs. Barton Ross has no doubt
told you I am representing the Y.W.C.A. here in Denton. I hope," she
added, as the girls took off their coats and hats and "did things" to
their hair, "that we are going to be friends."

"We shall be," chorused the girls, smiling at her happily, "if we
have anything to say about it!"




CHAPTER XVII

HELPING UNCLE SAM


After dinner, the girls were taken over their new domain, and were
enthusiastic about it. There were three big parlors where the boys
could entertain their friends and relatives, also bedrooms enough to
accommodate some score of people over night.

"Of course, as you see, we're not nearly in shape yet," Mrs. Watson
apologized, as they came back to the big front room. "There are still
pictures to be hung, some draperies and odds and ends to be bought
that will change the looks of the place entirely. It is with those
things you girls can help me immensely, if you will."

"That's what we came for," replied Betty quickly, while the other
girls looked eager. "And besides, I think it will be a lark. Somehow,
nothing seems half hard or strenuous enough to do for the boys that
are giving up so much for us."

"That's the spirit we like to see," said Mrs. Watson, looking at the
girl's flushed face and shining eyes approvingly. "And it's the
spirit," she added slowly, "that we see among nine-tenths of our
girls and women these days. It's wonderful what we are
accomplishing."

"It's nothing to what our boys are going to accomplish when they get
into the fight," broke in Mollie, her eyes big and dark. "My one
regret is that I can't put on a uniform, and fight side by side with
them."

"But we can fight side by side with them," said Mrs. Watson, leaning
forward very seriously. "Don't you suppose the thought of us and the
certainty that we are backing them up with all our might, will be
with the boys every minute while they're in the trenches, helping
them to fight the Hun as they never would be able to alone?"

"Yes," said Mollie, impressed but still unconvinced. "But I should
think it would help them ever so much more if we were really there in
person. Women have proved themselves just as good fighters as men,
you know."

"That might be all right," said Amy quietly. "But then who would stay
at home to knit sweaters for them, and who would do the nursing work?
We couldn't do that, and be in the trenches at the same time."

"That's the way I look at it," said Mrs. Watson, turning to the quiet
girl and regarding her thoughtfully. "It seems to me we are doing far
more good here at home where we've had experience, than we could
possibly do in the actual fighting. But it's getting pretty late,"
she interrupted herself, "and you girls must be tired after your long
journey. Suppose we get to bed right away, so that in the morning we
can start bright and early to get things in shape."

They assented unanimously, for, although their desire for information
was as unsatisfied as ever, their eyelids were heavy with sleep, and
the thought of bed lured them irresistibly.

"Oh, I can't wait for the morning to come," sighed Betty, as she
slipped in between the cool sheets. "It seems wicked to waste time in
sleep."

"In the morning we'll work," said Mollie, her voice eager with
anticipation; "and in the afternoon--"

"We'll go over and surprise the boys," finished Grace. "I can almost
see their faces when we burst in upon them."

"There'll be no bursting," said Betty primly. "We've got to behave
like perfectly proper young ladies."

"Oh, impossible," murmured Mollie; and five minutes later, they were
all asleep.

Morning, and the sun shining brightly in the window, challenging them
to action.

"Awake?" queried Mollie, leaning over and poking Betty
experimentally.

"If I'm not I soon will be," said Betty, sitting up and regarding
Mollie indignantly. "Goodness, that's a nice thing to do to a person.
Couldn't you see I was asleep?"

"I was just asking you," said Mollie twinkling. "You looked so sweet
and peaceful----"

"That you needs must spoil it all," said Betty plaintively. "My, but
I'd hate to have that kind of a disposition."'

"Won't you let me be your little alarm clock?" begged Mollie, leaning
forward to administer another poke, which Betty skillfully dodged.

"No, I won't," she answered, adding, as she squinted out at the sun:
"We don't need one in this room. We're facing directly east."

Mollie chuckled.

"Mrs. Watson made a mistake," she said, "when she put Grace and Amy
in the other room. She should have put them in this one, so the sun
could take our place and wake them up every morning. Betty, it's a
glorious day."

"Don't you suppose I know it?" asked Betty, shaking herself
impatiently, as the tang of the air and the brilliant sunshine got
into her blood, making her eager for action. "And it's only six
o'clock," she added, appealing to her little wrist watch. "We'll
never be able to get Grace and Amy up this early."

"Won't you, though?" chuckled a voice from the doorway, and they
looked up quickly to find Grace standing there, with Amy laughing at
them over her shoulder. And what was still more wonderful and
startling--they were dressed!

Betty and Mollie stared unbelievingly for a moment, mouths and eyes
wide open, then jumped out of bed and made a rush for the
conspirators.

"I don't see how you did it," gasped Mollie a few minutes later, when
they stopped for lack of breath. "There wasn't a sound----"

"Yes, there were, lots of them," said Grace, stopping before a mirror
to tuck in a stray lock that had come loose in the general confusion.
"Only you and Betty were talking so hard and fast, you didn't hear
us. Goodness, but I'm hungry."

As this was the case with them all, and as the savory odor of bacon
and eggs was wafted up to them at the moment from below stairs, they
wasted scant time in making their way to it.

And after breakfast what a busy morning they spent! Never in all
their active lives could they remember anything to equal it. Downtown
first of all to shop under Mrs. Watson's guidance, in stores that
were so different from those in Deepdale, that they were in great
danger of becoming hopelessly confused.

However, they eventually "got their bearings," as the boys would have
said, and came home at last laden with parcels, and very much
satisfied with themselves.

After luncheon, which was extremely well-cooked and tasted, oh, so
good! Mrs. Watson proposed the one thing they wanted most to do.

"Suppose," she suggested, as they rose from the table, "that we call
this a day and spend the afternoon in getting acquainted with the
cantonment. It's extremely interesting, especially for those who have
never been through one before. What do you say?"

What they said was enough to convince her she could not have struck
upon a happier plan. Half an hour later, all talking at once and
tremendously excited, they set out upon their tour of inspection.

Betty drew Grace a little apart from the others and they held a
whispered consultation.

"What shall we do?" asked the former nervously. "Shall we send the
orderly to hunt up the boys and bring them to us, or shall we just
wait until we meet them by chance?"

"We might be here a week without doing that," said Grace, looking
about at the scores of olive drab figures. "And in the meantime,
they'd think it was very strange we didn't write to them."

"I suppose you're right," said Betty reluctantly, "but the other way
would be so much more fun."

At this moment Mrs. Watson and the two other girls beckoned to them
to hurry, and they had no chance for further conversation.

Then, just as Betty was about to broach the subject of the boys to
Mrs. Watson, the unexpected happened.

A khaki-clad figure, cutting across their path at a dead run, almost
collided with them, paused to gasp an apology, stopped still and
stared. It was Allen!

"Betty!" he cried, with eyes for only one of them. "Wh--what are you
doing here?"

"Just what you're doing," said Betty with spirit, though she was
blushing furiously. "Helping Uncle Sam!"




CHAPTER XVIII

THE EVENING GUN


"But wh-what?" stammered Allen, while Mrs. Watson looked on in
amazement. "Wh-why didn't you let a fellow know?"

"We wanted to surprise you," said Betty gleefully, noting with pride
how splendid he looked in his uniform. "You don't seem at all glad to
see us. Mrs. Watson," remembering her manners in the nick of time,
"this is a friend of ours from Deepdale--Allen Washburn. He didn't
know we were coming."

"So I see," smiled Mrs. Watson, shaking hands warmly with Allen. "I'm
very glad to know you, Mr. Washburn, and I hope we shall see you
often at the Hostess House."

"It's very good of you," said Allen, still very much in the dark, and
totally unable to keep his eyes from Betty's face. "Did you say the
Hostess House?"

"Yes. That's what we came down for," said Mollie, who had been quiet
just about as long as she could. "To help run it, you know--and
everything."

"Especially 'everything,'" drawled Grace.

"Say, that's great!" cried Allen, beginning to see light. "You mean
you're going to stay here--maybe for weeks--and see that everybody
has a good time--us included? Gee, what luck!"

"I'm glad you think so," said Betty demurely, while Allen wished
desperately to have her alone. "What were you in such a hurry about,
when you nearly ran into us?" she asked, with interest.

"I was going to look up Frank and Roy, to tell them we'd been granted
our five-day furlough. We were going to make a bee line home to
Deepdale. Now," he added, eyes still on Betty's averted face, "we won't
have to!"

Mrs. Watson smiled sympathetically, and, being an ardent matchmaker,
looked forward to having even more of an interesting season than she
had expected.

"And it's the greatest luck ever," Allen continued enthusiastically,
as they walked slowly across the parade ground, "that we happened to
get our furlough just now. What are you girls doing this afternoon?"

"Seeing the sights," said Mollie. "We're taking a half-holiday."

"Gee!" cried Allen, fairly capering in his delight. "This is
altogether too good to be true. Wait till I tell the fellows."

"Oh, but we want to surprise them," said Grace, stopping short and
looking abused. "When we've come all this distance to do it, it isn't
fair for you to have all the fun."

"All right, you stay here then," said Allen, conducting them around
the corner of one of the low wooden buildings, which the girls
afterward learned was the mess hall. "I'll look up the fellows, and
lead the poor unsuspecting----"

"Goodness, you'd think we were going to murder them," broke in Mollie
impatiently. "I wish you'd do something and not talk so much."

"Anything to oblige--see you later." Allen saluted smartly and went
off briskly in search of the other boys.

Betty's eyes almost unconsciously followed the fine, stalwart figure
till it disappeared around the corner of one of the buildings, and
Mollie, who had been watching her closely, suddenly put an arm about
her in a little impulsive hug.

"He _is_ splendid, dear," she whispered, and once more Betty flushed
to the roots of her pretty hair.

They had only a few minutes to wait before Allen came striding back
to them, with two other khaki-clad figures. The girls shrank farther
back into the shadows of the building. Not until they were almost
upon them did the boys catch sight of them. Then Roy and Frank just
stood still and gaped, as Allen had done.

"Great jumping jerushaphat!" cried Roy, at last finding his tongue.
"If it isn't the very people we wanted most to see in this world.
Welcome, little strangers! Oh, gee, but you're welcome!"

Then Frank added some equally incoherent phrases, and for a few
moments confusion reigned, while they shook hands over and over
again, all talked at once to nobody in particular, and generally
enjoyed themselves.

"And the best part of it is," said Roy enthusiastically, "that we can
be free to show you girls about the place. And I tell you, it's
something to see!"

Before the girls had been half shown about the place, they more than
agreed with him. It was wonderfully inspiring, to see those hundreds
of boys, with their splendidly trained young bodies and their
determined young faces, knowing they were devoting their lives freely
and cheerfully to the greatest cause in all history.

The girls peeped into the long, low buildings that were the sleeping
quarters of the men, with their cots all in a row and clothes hung
neatly along the wall. They saw the guardhouse, where unruly soldiers
were confined and forced to a state of reasonableness.

They regarded it with awe, and Amy even backed away from it a little.

"I don't like barred windows," she said. "It always makes me shiver."

"Humph," said Mollie, the irrepressible. "You'd better get used to
them, Amy, dear. Some day we'll be feeding the boys peanuts through
the bars."

"Gee, isn't she complimentary?" said Roy, as they walked on. "You
don't know what models of deportment we've been since we came here."

"Yes," put in Grace sweetly, "they say military training does work
miracles!"

"It's too bad you missed guard mount this morning," said Allen, while
the rest laughed at Roy's discomfiture.

"That's when they change the guard, isn't it?" asked Betty.

"Yes, and they're very formal about it," Allen continued. "It's
really very impressive, and the band is a joy forever. You must get
up bright and early in the morning."

"As if we didn't always," said Betty indignantly.

"Oh, listen to the music," cried Amy, her head on one side like a
bird. "Isn't it great? I simply can't keep my feet still."

"It's over at the other end of the parade," said Frank, taking
Grace's arm and leading her in the direction of the stirring strains.
"Every nice afternoon they have a concert from three to four. It's
mighty fine, too."

"Oh, I'm so glad I came," cried Betty, to whom music was like the
wine of life.

"So am I," said Allen, drawing her away from the party and speaking
softly. "I've seen your face so often in my dreams, Betty, that when
you suddenly appeared before me I thought for a minute it was just
another of them--more real and vivid, but still a dream. And you are
a dream, Betty, the most wonderful dream in all the world!"

"Hush, Allen," she begged, though her heart was beating suffocatingly
and she hardly dared to look at him. "Everybody is staring at us."

"At you, you mean." Allen looked about fiercely at his comrades, who
indeed seemed very much attracted by his pretty companion. "I see
where I'll have to lick the whole camp."

Betty's laugh rippled out merrily, and Allen looked more belligerent
than ever.

"Don't think I could do it, I suppose," he was beginning, when they
came suddenly upon the other members of the party, who were waiting
for them.

"Betty, isn't it wonderful?" cried Mollie, lips parted, eyes shining
as she slipped an arm through Betty's. "Now I want more than ever to
be a soldier."

They enjoyed every minute of that hour's concert, and then felt
abused because they could not have more. After that they visited the
Y.M.C.A. hut, saw the officers' quarters from the outside, and
otherwise amused themselves till the boys declared there was nothing
more to be seen.

Then, just as the sun was sinking, the clear notes of the bugle broke
in upon the evening stillness, and the girls glanced inquiringly at
their escorts.

"That's retreat," Allen explained. "If you stand here, you can watch
it at close quarters. Here come all the fellows. They have to stand
at parade rest, left knee bent, weight on the right foot, guns held
in front of them, till the old gun goes off."

"Gun?" Amy repeated questioningly, while the girls watched the
ceremony with beating hearts.

"Yes. At reveille the morning gun goes off; and at retreat, the
evening," Allen explained. "When you hear the gun to-night, just
click your heels and stand at attention like all the rest of us."

Boom! The girls jumped but retained presence of mind enough to stand
at attention as Allen had cautioned them. The boys were standing
stiff and straight as ramrods, hands at salute, their young faces
grave and tense.

The band played the "Star-Spangled Banner," and never had it thrilled
the girls as it thrilled them now. It brought tears to their eyes,
yet they wanted to shout with pride and patriotism. Their star-
spangled banner, oh, long might it wave, o'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave!

"Allen, Allen!" cried Betty when it was all over and they had turned
away, "I'm proud, so proud, just to be--an American!"




CHAPTER XIX

FLAMES


For the girls during the happy, work-filled, pleasure-filled days
that followed, only one cloud darkened the horizon. That was the
continued strange behavior of Will Ford.

About a week after their arrival, Grace had received a letter from
him, saying that he was coming on for an indefinite stay. Betty found
her friend with the letter clenched tight in one hand, while the
other crushed a handkerchief into a hard little ball.

"Why, Grace, what is the matter?" Betty sat down beside her and
slipped a sympathetic arm about her shoulders. "Tell me, have you had
bad news?"

"No, I suppose you couldn't exactly call it that," said Grace
wearily, folding up the letter and replacing it carefully in its
envelope. "As a rule I'd think it was mighty good news. Will is
coming to Camp Liberty."

"Oh, has he enlisted, after all?" cried Betty impulsively, and the
next minute could have bitten her tongue out for her thoughtlessness.

The tears had risen to Grace's eyes and she had turned away.

"No," she said, very softly. "He hasn't enlisted."

Betty's brow puckered in bewilderment.

"Did he say why he was coming on?" she asked, not knowing just what
to say.

"He said he was coming on business," Grace replied listlessly, then
added, with a sudden fierce outburst of emotion: "I wish he'd stay in
Deepdale. I wish, if he can't be honorable and live up to his ideals
like the other boys, he wouldn't come where they are. If he is my
brother, I'm ashamed----"

"Hush, Grace, hush," cried Betty soothingly, putting a firm hand over
her friend's mouth. "You're all excited and worked up now or you
wouldn't say such things. Didn't I tell you before that Will has his
reasons? Are you going to let a friend have more faith in him than
his own sister?"

"Betty Nelson," Grace began angrily, then broke down and began to sob
weakly. "I can't help it," she said, as Betty tried to comfort her.
"I've always loved Will so, and been so proud of him. He's been such
a good brother, too! I simply can't understand it!"

"Never mind," went on Betty soothingly, trying desperately to think
of something really comforting to say. "Maybe after Will gets here
he'll explain things. Till then, as my mother says, we'll just be
'canty wi' thinkin' aboot it.'"

But when the conversation was reported to the other girls, it
troubled them a good deal, and they longed to solve the mystery. And
when Will came he refused to be of any help whatever, keeping almost
entirely to himself, and answering questions put to him vaguely, if
at all. His actions became more and more mysterious, and it was
absolutely impossible to make him out.

"Just leave him alone," was Allen's advice, and the girls were
reluctantly obliged to follow it.

"But I wish I knew!" sighed Betty.

"Yes," was all Allen answered.

Then something happened that for a time drove the mystery from their
minds. It was after a particularly long and hard day, when the girls
had been entertaining at the Hostess House all morning and part of
the afternoon.

Then about three or four o'clock in the afternoon, they had gone
downtown to do some very necessary shopping, and had been unable to
get back to dinner till seven o'clock; and that evening the boys had
arranged to take them to the theater.

By the time it was all over, and the boys had left them at the
Hostess House, they were very, very tired and very, very happy.

"I never felt so sleepy in my life," said Grace, sitting down on the
edge of the bed and stretching her arms above her head. "And yet
we've had such a good time. If somebody doesn't give me another
chocolate I won't be able to stay awake long enough to get undressed.
Thanks, Amy, you always were a friend of mine."

"Well, I never laughed so much in my life," declared Mollie, pulling
off her slipper and wiggling her toes contentedly. "I think it's
perfectly wonderful to go out with the boys in uniform. They look so
splendid and we feel so very important."

"Goodness, don't you think they feel important, too?" yawned Grace.
"I know that Teddy Challenger does."

Teddy Challenger was a new-made friend of the boys, whom Allen had
brought along for Amy, Will having refused to make one of the party
on the plea of having important business to attend to.

"Oh, I don't know," said Betty, thoughtfully running the comb through
her hair. "He seems like a mighty nice fellow to me and the boys all
like him."

"Well, Allen won't, if Teddy doesn't mind his P's and Q's," said
Mollie, with a wickedly significant glance at Betty, which caused
that young person to flush prettily.

"I don't even know what you mean," she announced demurely, and they
all laughed at her.

"I wish you people would stop talking," Grace broke in plaintively.
"I've simply got to get some sleep!"

And they slept the hearty sleep of tired girlhood till about four
o'clock in the morning. Then Amy, in the room next to Betty and
Mollie, rubbed her eyes, coughed a little, then sat up with a cry of
alarm.

Smoke was curling thickly in around the crack in the door and the air
was hot and suffocating. Somewhere the sound of crackling, snapping
wood, the lurid flare of flames----

"Fire! fire!" she gasped, struggling to her feet and feeling blindly
for her clothes. "Grace, Grace, wake up! Grace----" her voice rose to
a scream as she saw that Grace was sleeping on.

"Oh, please, please wake up," she moaned, seizing Grace by the
shoulders and shaking her wildly. "You must, you must! Grace, the
house is on fire!"

Slowly the heavy eyelids opened, then Grace struggled to a sitting
posture, supported by Amy's quivering arm, and gazed wildly about
her. Then she sprang to her feet, swaying dizzily, and with Amy's arm
still about her, they felt blindly for the door.

They found the knob at last and, after a nightmare moment when the
flames roared louder, and the smoke clutched viciously at their
throats, flung the door open and staggered into the hall.

A blast of heat and smoke sent them reeling back into the room. Amy
closed the door with a little moan.

"The other stairs!" gasped Grace, fairly dragging her friend forward.
"Maybe--it hasn't reached--them--yet----"

"There's--Mollie and--Betty," cried Amy, clutching at her throat and
coughing spasmodically. In the frantic terror of the moment they had
forgotten everything but their own great danger.

"We must--get--them--out!" gasped Grace, rushing into their chums'
room and frantically shaking Betty, while Amy vainly tried to waken
Mollie. The girls still slept on in the semblance of ordinary,
healthy slumber.

"What can we do?" cried Amy hysterically. "We can't leave them here,
and we can't----"

"Come on! We've got to--get some--help!" Grace fumbled for the knob
and finally succeeded in getting the door opened.

As they had hoped, the stairway at the rear of the house was still
intact, although the smoke was so dense they had to feel every inch
of the way.

Oh, the nightmare of it! Long years afterward the girls would live it
over again in their dreams, and wake up drenched in perspiration,
quivering and shaking with terror.

When they finally reached the outer air they were smoke begrimed,
wild-eyed and the tears were rolling down their faces unnoticed and
unchecked.

The fire, which had started inside, and had gained a good foothold
before any trace of it could be seen from the outside, had been
discovered by one of the guards, who had immediately sent in an
alarm. Already the shriek of the fire engine could be heard, soldiers
were being hurried out from the barracks to help in the rescue work,
and all was noise and confusion.

A group of women who had escaped from the house before the girls, and
who stood huddled together in a terrified group, rushed forward at
sight of them, and gathered about them eagerly.

But Grace was not to be detained. She pushed ruthlessly past the
women, and ran to intercept a group of firemen who were rushing down
upon them.

"Two girls," she gasped, catching one of them by the arm and holding
on desperately. "At the head of the stairs--unconscious--get them----"

And then Grace, who had done her gallant best, tumbled down in a
little heap, having fainted.




CHAPTER XX

THE RESCUE


Allen, rushing up with his company, gave one quick glance at the
group of women and girls before the burning house, then strode grimly
over to Amy's side.

"Where's Betty?" he demanded roughly, his voice sounding strange,
even to himself.

"Allen, Allen, they've gone to rescue her," cried Amy, shaking like a
leaf. "She's still in the house---"

With a hoarse cry Allen turned, and ran like a madman toward the
burning building. A fireman, stumbling gaspingly from the house,
almost knocked him down.

"Isn't any use!" he cried. "That stair's on fire, too. We've got to
reach 'em from the outside."

"Get out of the way!" cried Allen, shoving him roughly to one side.

The fireman called after him, but there was no stopping the terror
that forced him on. Terror for Betty--up there alone--Betty--Betty.
He clapped a hand before his eyes and stumbled blindly on.

Flames lapped at him hungrily as he forced his mad way through them,
smoke choked him, blinded him, and yet he must go on. Betty--Betty...
A section of the stairs gave way before him and he had to jump to
keep from going with it.

Was this the head of the stairs? He felt for it with his hand and
pulled it back with an involuntary cry of pain. He was horribly
burned, his hands, his face, his hair--his clothing had started. He
beat at them as he ran. He must live until he had rescued Betty--and
then----

A door. Fumblingly he opened it--then forced it shut from the other
side. Blindly he felt for the bed. Yes, she was here. Thank God he
had found her! But there was another figure--someone else to save.

Then he felt a sharp pain. He looked down and found that the flames
were rapidly creeping up--creeping up... There was a rug on the floor--
with feverish haste he wrapped himself in it--smothering the flames.
He must live until----

He staggered to his feet, lifted one of the unconscious figures in
his arms and staggered with it to the door. A hades of flame leaped
at him. It was too late. They were trapped!

He groaned aloud and great tears rolled down his face. Betty--Betty!
Carefully he laid his burden down and staggered to the open window.

The firemen were raising a ladder to another window. He beckoned to
them, he shouted to them in a hoarse voice that seemed to him to make
no noise at all.

But they saw him and shifted the ladder to his window. Was there a
chance, after all? The flames were eating away the door, were leaping
into the room. Down below the firemen had stretched a net.

Sobbing now, his breath coming in great gasps, Allen rushed back to
the bed, picked up one of the figures, and staggered with it back to
the window. They saw him standing there; and a great cheer went up
from the spectators.

Gathering all that wonderful reserve strength that comes to every one
in time of greatest need, he swung his burden far out from the
window--then dropped it.

Allen paused for a moment, steadying hand on the windowsill, then
gathered himself for the last great effort. The bed was invisible
now, the room an inferno--he had to fight every step of the way back
to the bed. Then he found what he sought, and fought the slow fight
back to the window.

But his strength was going--going--his arms were iron weights--the
room was going black. With a great effort he fought off the
faintness. Then he saw a great, helmeted head peering in at him from
the window.

"Give her to me, son," said a hearty voice; then, it seemed to Allen
miraculously, he was relieved of his burden. Swaying, dizzy, he clung
to the windowsill to keep himself erect.

"Now I guess I can die," he heard himself saying, through an eternity
of space.

"You just hold tight, son," said the hearty voice, as its owner
carefully lowered himself and the poor little unconscious figure down
the ladder. "I'll be back for you in jig time."

But it was an eternity while Allen waited, every nerve tense in the
fight for consciousness, red hot irons searing his flesh, that
roaring hades of flames creeping closer, closer----

"Your turn, son!"

Dimly he saw the helmeted head through a haze of smoke and tried to
speak--but no sound came from between his cracked, parched lips. He
swayed. A brawny arm gripped him like a vise.

"Can you climb out," asked the voice, "or will I have to carry you?"

[Illustration: "ALLEN!" SHE CRIED, DRAWING A CHAIR TO THE BED-SIDE.]

Allen's head jerked up proudly, and he forced still a little more
from that splendid reserve of strength. Afterward he could never
remember how he clambered over that windowsill, and got his feet upon
the ladder.

That he did it and managed the descent with the aid of the firemen,
he afterward learned from his friends. All he could remember, was the
great shout which came to him like a little murmur that went up from
the crowd at sight of him.

He was a hero, a great hero, but at the time the fact interested him
not at all. He wanted to sleep--to sleep--if they would only let him
sleep!

Four days later, he awoke and looked around him lazily. A delightful
drowsiness surrounded him; he was too comfortable even to inquire
where he was.

Then a sweet voice reached his ears and he turned his head sharply.

"No, thank you," it said. "I think I'll take these to him myself, if
you don't mind. This door? Thank you."

Fascinated, Allen watched the door as it slowly opened, admitting--
Betty! Betty, sweeter and more beautiful than he had ever seen her.
Her eyes widened at sight of him, and she ran forward impulsively.

"Allen!" she cried, drawing a chair to the bedside and taking his
outstretched hand. "Oh, I'm so glad! I was afraid you were just going
to sleep on forever. How do you feel?"

"Not at all," he responded whimsically, his eyes devouring her face.
"I haven't been awake long enough to feel anything--except your hand
in mine," he added softly.

She thoughtfully regarded the hand he still held, yet did not try to
draw it away. Instead she smiled a little--a smile that set Allen's
heart to throbbing painfully, and said, so softly he could hardly
hear her:

"Aren't you just a little bit curious to know what I think of you--
and everybody else, for that matter--after what you did the other
day?"

"Yes, what do you think of me?" he asked breathlessly. "I've wanted
ever since I can remember, to know that."

"I think," said Betty, flushing, yet meeting his eager eyes steadily,
"you're the dearest and most wonderful person I ever knew."

"Betty," he cried hoarsely and would have leaped from the bed had she
not forcibly restrained him. "Oh, Betty, Betty," he murmured over and
over again. "Did you mean that--did you?"

"I--I'm not the only one," said Betty, startled at what she had done.
"Everybody is talking about you and praising you to the skies, and
there was even a piece about you in the paper. I--I'm afraid when you
are able to get out and hear how everybody is raving about you,
you'll be spoiled entirely."

"Betty," he commanded, in so very different a tone from any he had
ever used before that she started and looked at him shyly, "what are
you running on about such nonsense for? If I did anything, it was for
you and because I loved you, Betty. There wasn't any heroism. I don't
deserve any fuss about it and I don't want any thanks. I don't
deserve any. You weren't hurt, Betty?"

"No," she answered softly, not daring to look at him. This was such a
different Allen and so wonderfully attractive. "Mollie and I were
both a little sick from the smoke and shock, but it didn't take us
long to recover. You were the one who was so terribly burned that for
one horrible long day, the doctors didn't know whether you'd pull
through or not. Oh, Allen, that awful day!"

"Were you worried?" queried Allen gently.

"I--I never want to live through another one like it," she said with
a little shiver, then suddenly rose to go. "The doctor said you
mustn't be excited," she explained as he looked up at her reproachfully.
"And I," she looked away again, "I just wanted to--thank  you, Allen--
but if you won't let me----"

"Betty," he broke in, an eager light of daring in his eyes, "I know
it's sort of taking advantage--but--there's just one way you can--
thank me. Won't you--please----"

Slowly his meaning dawned upon Betty, and the color flamed into her
face. Then, light as thistledown, her lips brushed his cheek and she
was gone, closing the door softly behind her.

With wildly beating heart Allen pressed a hand to his cheek and gazed
longingly after her.

"Betty," he whispered. "Oh, my Betty!"




CHAPTER XXI

ALLEN A HERO


"Gee, Allen, but you're a lucky boy!"

It was Sunday afternoon, and the young folks had hired two
automobiles for a trip out into the country. It was more than two
weeks since the fire, and all but Allen had completely recovered from
it. He, however, still felt a little "wabbly," so the boys and girls
had conferred together, deciding that an automobile trip was just
what he needed to complete his recovery.

Now at Roy's rather vague remark about his luck, he turned to him
inquiringly.

"In just what way?" he asked. "I rather thought I was running out of
it lately."

"Gee," said Roy, waxing excited, "do you call it hard luck to get a
chance at being a hero, twice in three months, and have all the girls
falling down and worshiping you, and all the old ladies patting you
on the back----"

"I imagine that wouldn't have been particularly soothing,"
interrupted Grace, reaching, as always, for the ever-present candy
box, "especially with poor Allen's back in the condition it was."

"Yes," said Allen with a grimace, "if anybody'd started to patting me
at that time, I'd have returned pat for pat--only mine wouldn't have
been gentle. Two cents for your thoughts, Betty. You haven't said a
word all the way."

"Goodness, has the price of thoughts gone up with everything else?"
queried Mollie, snatching a candy from under Grace's very nose.
"Nobody ever offered me more than a penny for mine."

"Probably they weren't worth it," said Roy, to be promptly subdued by
a look from Mollie's black eyes. "As I was saying," he continued,
hastily changing the subject. "I'd consider myself in luck if I'd
rescued two beautiful damsels----"

"They'd be the lucky ones," interrupted Mollie, with a smile.

"From a burning building," he continued, undaunted. "It certainly was
dramatic, Allen, old chap--we have to hand it to you."

"I felt anything but dramatic at the time," said Allen ruefully. "The
funny part of it is that I've always had a secret longing to do
something of the sort--just to get the sensation. That," he paused
dramatically, "cured me!"

"I should think it would cure most anybody," said Mollie with a
grimace. "Neither Betty or I are particularly light weights. I don't
see how you managed it, Allen--in the heat and the smoke and
everything."

"Managed it," scoffed Roy. "Why, it isn't every fellow has the chance
to hold two beauteous maidens in his arms----"

"Still I might have picked out a more appropriate place," said Allen
whimsically.

"Tell me something, Frank," said Grace, taking another piece of candy
and looking her prettiest at him.

"Anything," he answered promptly.

"Under the same conditions, would you have rushed into a burning
house--to save me?"

"Would I?" he replied with a fervor that made Grace jump and the rest
laugh. "You just give me a chance; that's all. I'll show you!"

"Goodness!" exclaimed Betty, twinkling. "I'll be afraid to sleep with
Grace any more. She's apt to set the place on fire just to see what
happens."

"Good-bye, I'm going away from here," said Mollie, making a pretense
of clambering out of the machine. "One fire is just about enough for
me. Let me go, Roy Anderson--don't you dare to hold me."

"Couldn't do anything pleasanter," said Roy cheerfully, at which
Grace held up her hands in pretended horror.

"Heavens, everybody's getting sentimental," she cried. "If we don't
stop it, we'll just ruin everything, that's all. Look out for that
dog, Frank!"

"That's another thing we almost ruined," grinned Frank, as the wheel
just grazed the hind leg of the cur. "Dogs are the curse of tourists,
anyway. If I had my way, they'd all be shot."

Amy screamed and clapped her hand to her ears.

"Frank, how can you say such things?" she cried, adding plaintively,
"I never saw such people, anyway. You can't talk for five minutes
without saying something about people being shot."

"But we were speaking of animals," said Frank politely.

"Same thing," murmured Mollie.

"Speak for yourself, please," he retorted amiably, swerving the car
at a perilous angle about a turn in the road. "Say, this is pretty
country along here, isn't it?"

They all agreed that it was, and for a few minutes sat in silent
enjoyment of it.

While the Hostess House was in process of repair some friendly
families living in the vicinity had opened their doors wide to the
girls and the other visitors at the Hostess House. The fire had done
a great deal of damage, but the house had been amply insured, and the
work of rebuilding was proceeding as fast as possible. Meanwhile, the
girls were going on with their work as usual, though eagerly looking
forward to the time when they should be installed in their proper
quarters again.

The fire had temporarily put the subject of Will and his mysterious
doings out of their minds, but during the last few days their wonder
and curiosity had returned.

To-day he had consented to accompany them, and during the early part
of the ride had seemed in hilarious spirits. Now, for the last
fifteen minutes or so, he had appeared gloomy and preoccupied, but as
they neared the spot where they had decided to eat their lunch, his
spirits seemed to revive somewhat, and he became talkative again.

"Say, I'm hungry," he announced, more like the old Will than he had
been for weeks. "What are you girls going to give us, anyway?"

"Chicken," announced Betty, "and honey and biscuits, and peach cake
and jelly, and hot coffee from the thermos bottle, some ham
sandwiches and deviled eggs----"

"Stop her," pleaded Roy piteously. "Stop her, some one, before I
forget myself and decamp with the hamper----"

"You'd be forgetting us too, if you tried it," said Frank grimly. "Do
you suppose with three ravenous wolves at your back you'd have a
chance of getting away with any of that kind of stuff?"

"Gee, it's awful the appetite camp life gives you," said Roy
mournfully. "I wrote home the other day and told the folks that if I
ate like a wolf before, I eat like a flock of 'em, now."

"Whoever heard of a flock of wolves?" asked Mollie scornfully. "You
must have been thinking of geese."

"No," retorted Roy soberly. "I wasn't speaking of you."

"Strike one for our side," chuckled Allen, while the others laughed
at Mollie's look of surprise. "That was a good one, Roy--right from
the shoulder."

"Now I _know_ I'm going home," said Mollie forlornly. "Everybody's
agin me."

"I'm not," said Betty, putting an arm about her. "The more they try
to down you, the more I love you."

"If that's the way you feel," put in Allen whimsically, "won't
everybody please jump on me at once?"

"Yes, I always had a weakness for the under dog," Betty was beginning
wickedly when Mollie drew sharply away from her, and the others began
to laugh.

"Betty Nelson," said Mollie reproachfully, "I never expected it of
you. Under dog, indeed----"

"Oh, I didn't mean you!" said Betty hurriedly, thereby increasing the
general mirth.

"Oh, well, what does it matter, anyway?" said Frank philosophically,
as he swung the car around a curve, and brought it to a standstill.
"I won't mind being an under dog or anything else as long as I get my
share of the eats. Don't you think this is rather a pretty spot to
have lunch?"

"I know a better spot to _put_ it, though," said Roy jocularly, as
they sprang out upon the soft grass by the roadside. "And if I have
my way it won't be long getting there."

Instinctively, Betty held out a hand to Allen, as he descended more
slowly than the rest--she was very anxious about his "wabbliness."

Allen took the little hand eagerly, but it is doubtful if he gained
much physical support from it.

"How are you feeling?" asked Betty as they followed the others up the
grassy slope to a sort of ledge--just the kind of place for a picnic
lunch. She did not look at him. Somehow, it was almost impossible to
look at Allen, these days.

"Happy," he answered, in reply to her question. "Just being near you,
Betty, makes me the happiest fellow on earth!"




CHAPTER XXII

MAKING GOOD


It was raining torrents outside, and the girls were seated in one of
the big parlors of the Hostess House. As usual, they were knitting,
and their tongues kept time to the rapid click, click, of their
needles.

They were exceptionally thoughtful and, as Amy expressed it, "their
mood matched the weather." The war was not going as well as every one
had hoped. The dark cloud was growing darker and darker every day,
and each morning paper seemed to bring more disquieting news than the
one before.

"And it won't be long now," Mollie was saying, "before our boys are
sent across. It's almost time for the second draft, and the camps
will have to be emptied of the first troops. And when they're gone----"
she bowed her head to hide the unbidden tears that were glistening
in her eyes.

"Yes, it will be terrible," said Betty, trying hard to keep the
telltale tremulousness from her voice--trying desperately to sound
brave and resigned. "But we must remember that thousands of women and
girls all over the United States are going through the same thing.
And for the boys' sake, we must be cheerful."

"The boys themselves are cheerful--heaven bless them," cried Grace,
in a rare burst of enthusiasm. "I never saw anything like their
spirit!"

"Isn't it wonderful?" Mollie agreed, her eyes shining through her
tears. "It makes you want to shout with pride in them, and cry at the
same time."

"Yes," said Amy quietly, "and I don't think anybody who hasn't been
close to military life, as we have been, can realize how great the
American army will be. It's meeting the boys day after day, seeing
them get more enthusiastic as the time comes near for them to face
those terrible guns----"

"I feel as if I wanted to go down on my knees to every boy in
uniform," cried Betty, gripping the arms of her chair till the
knuckles showed white. "No matter how hard we try we can't make up to
them for what they're giving up--and giving up so cheerfully. And
they're so dear and appreciative and thankful for every little thing
that we have done for them, it makes me want to cry.

"And have you noticed," she continued, while the girls stopped their
work to watch her, "what happens if you ask them about their home
folks? Their faces light up, and right away they begin to talk about
'mother.'

"'You know,' one of them said to me just a little while ago, 'when I
first came to camp, I didn't exactly feel homesick, as I'd expected
to; I just felt queer and uneasy and restless. For a couple of nights
I couldn't sleep, just kept tossing and turning till reveille routed
me out again. Then suddenly, one night, I found out what the matter
was. I wasn't homesick; I was just missing my mother.'

"I smiled at him, trying my best not to cry, and said: 'Home is
mother, isn't it?'

"Then the boy just turned away, and I knew it was because his eyes
were misty and he was ashamed to let me see it, and when he looked at
me again he was smiling a little wistfully.

"A few days after that he came up to me. 'You won't laugh, if I tell
you something?' he asked. 'On my word of honor,' I answered him.
'Well,' he said, looking so dear and sheepish, I had all I could do
to keep from hugging him, 'as soon as I found out what you said about
home being mother, I just put the picture I had of her under my
pillow, and honest, I've slept like a baby ever since.'"

The girls were all crying and Mollie impatiently shook a tear from
the tip of her nose. "Betty, you never told us that before. If his
mother could only know about it."

"She probably does," said Betty, wiping her eyes and taking up her
knitting again. "Somehow, most mothers know those things by
instinct."

"And to think boys like that," cried Mollie, knitting fast to keep
time with her feelings, "to think boys like that have to go over to
the other side, and be mowed down by the thousands. Oh, I can't
believe it!"

"I guess we've all sort of closed our eyes to it, till now," said
Grace, so unlike her usual self that she had completely forgotten to
eat candy for fifteen minutes. "But we can't go on like that forever.
When it comes right down to us and we lose somebody we care for--"
her voice broke and the girls went on knitting faster than ever,
fearing a general breakdown.

"We've just got to work so hard we can't think," said Mollie with
decision, adding, a little hysterically: "It never used to be hard
before."

"What, to keep from thinking?" asked Amy, while the other girls
smiled a little and felt better.

"Who's that coming up the walk, Betty?" Grace asked, a moment later.
"The glimpse I got looked like a uniform."

"It's Allen," Betty answered, waving to the splendid specimen of
manhood who was coming up the porch two steps at a time. "He looks as
if he had some good news for us. You let him in, will you, Amy?
You're nearest the door."

So Amy, opening the door, admitted a six-foot cyclone, who swept her
before him into the parlor, where she sank into a chair to get her
breath.

"Well, what in the world?" asked Mollie, round eyes on his face, as
he mopped his face and lowered himself into a seat.

"Talk about good luck," he began, beaming round upon them. "I guess
the fellows were right when they said I was falling into it lately."

"Good news, Allen?" asked Betty, leaning forward eagerly. "I knew
you had something wonderful to tell us the moment I saw you."

"Well, in the first place," said Allen, modestly putting himself
last, "Frank has been promoted to the rank of corporal."

"Oh, isn't that wonderful!" they cried together, and thereafter arose
a very babel of questions as to where, when and how the promotion had
occurred, which Allen answered one after another with equal
enthusiasm.

"Frank's taken hold and worked with all his heart," he finished, "and
he simply got what's coming to him, that's all."

"But, Allen," Betty broke in, struck by a sudden thought, "you said
something about _your_ having run into good luck. Was it something
that happened to you personally, or was it just the good luck of
being the friend of a corporal?"

"Since I've been a corporal myself from the start," said Allen with
dignity, "I don't see why----"

"Yes, yes, go on," said Mollie impatiently.

"Well," said Allen, throwing the news like a bomb into their midst,
"I've been promoted to a sergeant."

"What?" the girls cried, hardly knowing whether to believe him or
not. "Are you really in earnest?"

"You're not very complimentary," he grumbled, though his eyes
twinkled. "You don't suppose I'd come here and tell you a thing like
that if it weren't so, do you?"

Then arose a second babel, louder and more prolonged than the first,
and it was a long time before they quieted down enough to talk
coherently.

"You see," Allen explained, "there's a chance for promotion now that
there never was before. New men are coming in by the hundreds, and
those men have to have officers. There's really no end to the chances
if you just stick to the big game and do your level best. You're sure
to win something good in the end."

"And hasn't Roy been promoted?" asked Grace. "Hasn't he been 'on the
job,' as you say?"

"You bet your life he has," Allen defended loyally. "It's just our
luck that we happened to get it; that's all. His turn will come next,
you take it from me."

For a few minutes no one spoke, and only the ticking of the clock,
and the regular click, click of the knitting needles broke the deep
stillness. Then Allen bethought him of something.

"Saw Will, too, on the way up," he said, and at the name the girls
all put down their knitting and looked at him inquiringly. "He seemed
to be immensely excited about something. Fact is, I don't think he
would even have seen me if I hadn't gotten in his way and flagged
him. Mark my words--that boy's got something big up his sleeve. I bet
he's going to surprise us all some day."

"Did he--did he--tell you anything?" asked Grace. "Anything to make
you think that?"

"No," he answered, adding with a sincerity that brought a light of
unutterable gladness to Grace's eyes: "But I've met lots of fellows
in my business, and have learned to size them up pretty well. And if
there was ever a brainy, plucky, true-blue fellow in this world, his
name is Will Ford!"




CHAPTER XXIII

JUST FRIENDS


"Here comes the sun," cried Betty, "the sun, the sun, the beautiful
sun."

"Well, I should say it was just about time," said Grace, carefully
arranging her hat before the mirror. "If it hadn't cleared up pretty
soon, I'd have stopped hoping. Are the other girls nearly ready?"

"Oh, we've been ready and waiting for hours," came Mollie's voice,
slightly bored, from the other room. "And we took our time, too,
because we knew how long you are getting dressed----"

"Oh, is that so?" Grace was beginning, when Betty interrupted
peaceably.

"Well, we're all ready now. In the words of the army--'let's go.'"

"Oh, it is lovely out!" cried Mollie, drawing in deep breaths of the
invigorating air, as they stood on the steps looking down the street.
"I feel like walking miles and miles and miles."

As the four girls walked down to the main gate of the cantonment,
they nodded and smiled continually to the khaki-clad, respectfully-
saluting boys they passed; for the fame of the girls at the Hostess
House had spread all over the barracks, and the boys always looked
forward to catching a smile or two or a merry word as they passed.

Many there were who had been sentimentally inclined, but the Deepdale
boys had well nigh monopolized the girls from their home town and by
their actions had warned off all would-be intruders almost as plainly
as though they had put out a sign.

There were some hardy souls, however, who refused to recognize any
prior claim, and these had caused much grumbling among the Deepdale
boys.

"I wonder what will happen when we have to go across," Frank had said
once. "I suppose then those chaps will think they have it all their
own way."

And the bright faces of the girls had clouded so suddenly and they
had looked so distressed that poor Frank never dared repeat the
offense.

But stopping every few minutes to speak to some one you know,
necessarily makes progress slow, and it was some time before the
girls succeeded in reaching the gate and turning their steps toward
the country.

"It doesn't seem possible that Thanksgiving can be so near," said Amy
thoughtfully. "I never knew time to run away so."

"Yes, it makes me feel dizzy sometimes," said Mollie, with a little
perplexed frown. "I feel as if I wanted to get hold of him by the
forelock and hold him back. He's in altogether too much of a hurry."

"If we can only see that each one of the boys who can't go home for
Thanksgiving gets a regular, old-fashioned home-cooked dinner," said
Betty earnestly, "I'll feel as if we'd done some good in the world."

"Well, more than half the boys will be able to get home for it," said
Grace, "and I'm sure we'll find enough good-hearted families to
account for the rest."

"Yes, the people around here have certainly helped us more than we
dared to hope," said Betty enthusiastically. "We've hardly found one
so far who wasn't willing to open his house--and his heart, too, for
that matter--to the soldier boys. I love them all for being so
generous. It's done more than anything else to keep up the boys'
spirits and send them away happy and healthy and confident."

"Where are we going first?" queried Mollie, for Betty had made out a
list of the houses they were to canvass.

"The Shroths come first," she answered, consulting her list. "Then
the Atwaters and the Clarks. After that we'll just go up one street
and down the other till supper time."

"Sounds simple," said Amy plaintively, "but, oh, our poor feet!"

"We have walked a good deal, lately," laughed Betty. "But it's
nothing to what we _have_ done. Champion hikers like us shouldn't
complain about ordinary walking. Here we are at the Shroths. Now look
your prettiest and smile your sweetest for the sake of the soldier
boys!"

Mrs. Shroth, a sweet-faced, elderly woman, opened the door to them
herself and smilingly ushered them into the handsome library.

"I saw you coming, my dears," she said, settling down comfortably in
an enveloping armchair, "and I'm almost sure I know what you have
come to ask me. And you needn't even ask," she added, raising her
hand as Betty started to speak, "for the request was granted two
weeks ago. My whole house is at your disposal--to do with as you
please."

"Oh, you're lovely," Betty cried impulsively, and Mrs. Shroth gently
covered the eager young hand on the chair arm with her own, smiling
down into the flushed face.

"The admiration is mutual," she said, and then Betty's heart went out
to her entirely. "I've watched you girls for a long time, and the
work you've done for the boys has been simply splendid. I've tried to
help all I could---"

"You have," broke in Mollie enthusiastically. "And we've been so
grateful to you."

"And I've been grateful to you," Mrs. Shroth added, in her sweet
voice, "for showing me how best I could serve the boys and my
country. Now, how many do you think I could accommodate for
Thanksgiving dinner--or rather, how many would you like me to
accommodate?"

Betty was a little at a loss.

"Why, I hardly know," she said, hesitating. "We didn't expect you to
take in more than two, perhaps three at the outside----"

"Oh, nonsense," said Mrs. Shroth, brushing the suggestion aside. "Two
or three boys would be lost in this big house, even counting all my
relatives who usually spend Thanksgiving day with me. No, I can take
half a dozen, at least."

The girls looked at her a moment, delighted, but incredulous. Then
they told Mrs. Shroth what they thought of such generosity until she
found herself blushing with pleasure.

"It's such a little thing," she said, as she stood on the porch to
say good-bye to them, "that I feel almost guilty to take thanks for
it. Good luck." The girls went on down the street with singing hearts
and a warm sense of friendliness and love for all their fellow
beings.

They found the same spirit in every house they visited, and when they
at last started for home after walking "miles and miles" they were
too happy to feel tired.

"Oh, every one's so kind and dear and anxious to help," cried Mollie,
skipping a little in her delight, "that your heart just feels too big
to stay inside. Seems as if it ought to come out in the open where
everybody can see how hard it's beating."

"Well, I have heard of people wearing their hearts on their sleeves,"
said Betty, twinkling. "But I've never tried it myself."

"It's wonderful," said Amy softly, "what a comfortable, warm feeling
it gives you to find people--some of them you never knew before--who
are really working side by side with you for the same thing, ready to
hold out a helping hand when you need it."

"Yes," agreed Betty, her eyes fixed dreamily on the horizon, "it
makes you feel as if there weren't any strangers in the world, as if
we were all just friends, working for the common good of everybody."

"Betty, how pretty," cried Grace, and there was a thrill in her voice
as she repeated softly; "all just friends, working for the common
good of everybody."

"I'll never forget one thing that happened to me," said Amy, and they
looked at her lovingly. Amy was such a dear--but then everybody was
that to-night! "It was only a little thing, and yet it made me
think."

"Then it couldn't have been very little," Mollie, the irrepressible,
murmured.

"You know," Amy went on, so deep in her own thoughts, she scarcely
noticed the interruption, "I never did talk much--I always felt as if
people were cold and unfriendly--and so kept to myself, except for my
really good friends, of course. Then, one morning, I saw that it was
all my own fault.

"I just happened to be walking along the street, not noticing anybody
particularly, when an old woman dropped her nickel car fare and it
rolled out into the middle of the street. I ran after it and gave it
back to her, and she smiled at me. Somehow, that smile changed
everything for me."

"How, dear?" asked Betty, putting a sympathetic arm about her.

"Why," said Amy, blushing in her enthusiasm, "it just made me feel as
if everybody was ready to smile if you only gave them half a chance.
And I've found out it was true," she finished decidedly. "Because I've
tried it ever so many times since, and it's never once failed!"

"Yes," concluded Mollie. "I guess everybody's just plain nice and
human, after all!"




CHAPTER XXIV

CAPTIVE AND CAPTORS


"Girls," Betty clutched Mollie by the arm and spoke in a tense
undertone, "isn't that the spy?"

The girls gasped, looked, and set off on a dead run. The spy's back
was to them. He seemed to be waiting for somebody and he did not see
the girls till they were almost upon him.

Then, with an exclamation, he dodged around the corner of the house
and commenced to run like a deer.

"Amy!" gasped Betty, as they pursued, fleet of foot, "you go to the
camp for help! I'll try to cut him off!"

With the strategy of a general, Betty dodged a couple of dirt piles--
it was a row of small houses, in process of construction near the
camp--slipped across between two of the houses and did actually
succeed in cutting the spy off.

She caught a fleeting glimpse of him as he dodged into a doorway with
the evident intention of hiding till they got tired of the hunt.
Also, it was certain he had not seen Betty and had no idea that she
had seen him.

With wildly beating heart, but no thought of turning back, the Little
Captain picked up a big piece of wood that could serve excellently as
a weapon and ran for the doorway through which the spy had
disappeared.

Cautiously she opened the door, and the next moment thought her heart
would stop beating altogether as she took in the situation. The man
was fumbling desperately with the knob of the inside door. Evidently
it was locked. He had fallen into a trap!

Breathlessly Betty closed the door and leaned her full weight upon
it. If the girls would only come! They might together manage to hold
it. But alone----

"Betty, Betty, where are you?" cried a voice close at hand and the
Little Captain gave a gasp of dismay. As long as the man had not
known he was trapped, there might be a chance that he would remain
quiet, hoping they would pass without thinking to look into the
house. But now! Some one was pushing against the other side of the
door. He was trying to get out!

"Hurry!" she cried agonizedly as Mollie and Grace ran up to her. "Put
your weight against the door--quick."

So used were they to obeying her without question that they threw
their full weight upon the door, bracing and holding with all their
might.

"He's in there," gasped Betty. "I've sent Amy for help. If we can
hold on--just a few minutes----"

The man was hurling himself against the door with all the force of
desperation, but the girls had not spent most of their life in the
open for nothing. They held on gallantly, though in their hearts they
knew that if help were very long in coming, there could be but one
answer. They were three against one, it is true, but then they were
girls and he was a man, and a desperate man.

"Oh, why does it take her so long?" Grace cried after one
particularly vigorous lunge which it had taken all their combined
strength to withstand. "I don't think we can keep this up much
longer----"

"Hush," gasped Betty, "I thought I heard voices."

"Oh, I hope you did!"

They listened breathlessly for a moment--then the wonderful truth
dawned. Help was coming, and coming swiftly! There was no sound, save
the regular thud-thud of running feet, but the most beautiful music
in the world would have had no charms in comparison with that
rhythmic sound.

Their prisoner must have heard it too, for he redoubled his efforts
to escape and they had to turn all of their attention to the holding
of the door.

"If they should come too late!" gasped Mollie.

"Don't talk," hissed Betty, through clenched teeth. "We've got to
hold him."

And they did!

A moment later several guards, headed by a man not in uniform, came
in sight around the corner of the building and as Will afterward
expressed it "the game was all over but the shouting."

For it was Will who headed the relief party and took charge of the
capture. And so excited were the girls, that they forgot even to
wonder until it was all over.

Adolph Hensler was not easy to handle, even after he found himself
looking into the muzzles of two loaded revolvers. Even then he tried
to escape and the guard was forced to shoot a couple of bullets over
his head before he was scared into submission.

The girls walked home behind captive and captors, too breathless and
excited even to think. They had not gone far before they met Amy
coming toward them, trembling all over from fatigue and excitement.

"They got him, didn't they?" she asked, linking her arm through
Betty's and biting her lip to keep it steady. "I was so afraid they
would be too late."

"So were we," said Grace, examining a big black and blue bruise on
her arm. "We could have held out just about a minute longer."

"How did you do it, Amy?" cried Mollie. "Did you have to go all the
way back to camp to find help?"

"No, I met it coming," she answered.

They stared at her incredulously.

"I was about half way to camp," she explained, "when I saw Will and
the three soldiers coming toward me. When I had managed to gasp out
what I'd come for they didn't say a word--just put on full speed and
ran."

"Mighty lucky for us they did," said Mollie, but Betty interrupted
eagerly.

"Doesn't it seem strange to you," she said, "that an armed guard
should be coming in this direction just when we needed them? And that
Will should be at the head of them?"

"Why, Betty, what do you mean?" Mollie was beginning when Grace
interrupted.

"Oh, do you think it can be true?" she cried, seeing Betty's meaning
and clinging to it desperately. "Oh, Betty, Betty, if it only is!"

"What are you talking about?" cried Mollie impatiently. "Can what be
what?"

"Let's wait," said Betty, quickening her pace, "and let Will tell the
story!"




CHAPTER XXV

THE MYSTERY EXPLAINED


After dinner in the living-room of the Hostess House, a snapping,
dancing, crackling fire in the grate, and the girls gathered in an
expectant semicircle about it.

They were nervous, too, for every once in a while one of them would
get up, look out the window, throw an extra log upon the fire and sit
down again with a "why-don't-they-come?" look of impatience upon her
face.

A ring at the door bell!

"I'll answer it," cried Betty, jumping up and nearly overturning a
chair in her eagerness. When she returned a couple of minutes later,
her face held a look of unutterable disgust.

"Only one of the guests," she said, as the girls looked up eagerly.
"I was sure that must be the boys."

"They're terribly late," grumbled Mollie, kicking an overturned edge
of the rug into place, as if even that small vent to her feelings was
a relief. "They'll be all talked out before they get here."

Another ring at the door bell!

This time there was no mistake. A chorus of excited voices greeted
Betty as she opened the door for them and a moment later the boys
burst into the living-room, fairly exhaling importance. The girls
welcomed them eagerly and drew up more chairs before the fire.

"Gee, but we've had some time," cried Allen, fairly panting from
exertion and excitement. "If you girls were heroines before, you're
more than ever so, now."

"But where's Will?" asked Grace, with that old, anxious look. "I
thought he was coming with you."

"He is," Frank answered her. "But he was summoned to a very important
conference with the colonel----"

"The colonel!" they cried incredulously, while Grace stamped her foot
with impatience.

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"Just that," he answered, enjoying their mystification too much to
enlighten them at once. "When he received the order he told us
fellows to come on over and he'd join us as soon as he could break
away."

"Oh, Allen, please tell me what it all means." Grace was fairly
crying with excitement and eagerness. "Please don't keep me waiting
any longer!"

"I'm sorry, Grace--I didn't think," said Allen, in quick compunction.
"It means," he added, with a ring of pride in his voice, "that Will
is what we always believed him to be--one of the finest fellows that
ever lived. I'm proud to be called his friend!"

"Oh, Allen!" Grace felt blindly for a handkerchief and Betty slipped
it into her hand. "Oh, Allen,----"

"But what did he do?" demanded Mollie impatiently. "You haven't
gotten to the point yet."

"Well," Allen continued, while Betty put a sympathetic arm about her
friend and snuggled close, "all the time we were wondering down in
our hearts why Will didn't enlist--although we never doubted he had
good reasons," he added hastily, "he was really working harder,
spending more time and energy for the government than we ever thought
of spending. There's one important thing we forgot--that Will was a
secret service man!"

"Oh!" cried Betty, her eyes gleaming in the firelight, "now, I know I
guessed right!"

"What did you guess?" asked Allen, remembering to marvel, even in
that moment of excitement, how very becoming firelight was to Betty!
"Out with it."

"Why," said Betty, leaning forward eagerly, "after Amy told us that
she had met Will and the soldiers half way to the spot where we found
the spy, I seemed to see the whole thing as plainly as if some one
had told it to me.

"I remembered Will's special interest in the spy the first time we
met Adolph Hensler on Pine Island--then how, soon after we saw him
here again, Will wrote Grace that he was coming on. That would seem
as though he were hot on his trail--"

"He was," said Allen, while the others hung on every word.

"Well, the rest is simple," said Betty. "I suppose that Will kept on
shadowing him till he got what he wanted. He was on his way to
capture the spy, while we were hanging on to the door, praying for
help. Oh, it all fits together like parts of a puzzle!"

"You're a wonder, Betty!" said Allen, while the others drew a deep
breath, trying to take it all in. "But there was one little bit, or
rather, I should say, big bit, of cleverness on Will's part that
neither you nor anybody else could guess at. You remember the code
letter we picked up that night on Pine Island?"

"Yes," they cried eagerly.

"Well, Will had the code deciphered and found out who wrote the
document. It proved, by the way, that Adolph Hensler is one of the
most dangerous and most wanted German spies in this country."

"And what else?" cried Mollie, who could never wait for the end of a
story.

"The clever part of it," Allen continued, leaning forward, very
handsome and eager in the firelight, "was Will's copying of the
handwriting on the envelope."

"Sure," chuckled Roy. "I told him I wouldn't be surprised to see him
start a life of crime any time now."

"Surely no experienced forger could have done it better," Allen
agreed whimsically, while the girls waited with unconcealed
impatience. "Anyway, he wrote a short note--a decoy--to Adolph in
this handwriting, requesting an interview at the very spot where you
girls came upon him."

"Oh!" cried Betty, in dismay. "Then it would have been better if we'd
left him alone. We took a chance of spoiling all Will's well-laid
plans."

"How could it have been better?" asked Allen. "Will started out to
capture him and found you girls had beat him to it, that's all."

"Yes and they might have had a good deal more trouble rounding him up
than you did," put in Frank. "From what Will tells us, you girls sure
did do a neat job."

The girls flushed with pleasure, but Mollie, being truthful to a
fault, put an arm about Betty and told where most of the credit was
actually due.

"Why, it was Betty who thought of cutting him off," she said, while
Betty vainly tried to stop her. "No, I'm going to tell the truth! And
it was Betty that really captured him. She saw him go in the door,
followed him, and was holding on for dear life when we came upon
her."

"Yes, and how long would I have been able to hold on, I'd like to
know," protested the Little Captain vigorously, "if you girls hadn't
come along just then. No, sir, if there's any credit at all, it's got
to be divided equally among us!"

"You'll be surprised to see how much credit everybody's giving you,"
chuckled Roy. "When you make your next debut into society, I wouldn't
be surprised if they greeted you with brass bands."

"Goodness, I wish they would," cried Mollie eagerly. "For the first
time in my life, I'd have a chance to feel like a regular soldier!"

"But Will is the real hero," said Betty quietly. "To go on working
for your county, taking a chance on having people think things of you
that you don't deserve, that sort of thing is the real heroism."

"And I'm so glad and happy," added Grace, who had been seeing happy
visions in the firelight, "to think that all his friends had faith in
him when he most needed it."

"You bet we did," said Allen heartily. "There wasn't one of us who
doubted him for a minute."

"I wonder when he'll get here," said Amy, rising slowly and strolling
over to the window. "I hope the colonel lets him out before twelve
o'clock."

"Oh, he'll be here almost any minute now," said Allen reassuringly.
"Meanwhile, suppose you play something for us, Betty--something soft
and sweet to match the firelight--and you," this last so softly that
none but Betty heard.

Smiling a little, Betty rose and walked over to the piano. Allen
followed her.

"What shall I play?" she asked, looking up at him with a sweet
seriousness, that made him want desperately to gather her in his arms
and tell her--oh, so many things! Instead, he said:

"Play 'Keep the Home Fires Burning.' It's the most appropriate thing
to-night. And Betty, sing it--sing it--to me----"

"If I can," she murmured. "You know what happened when I tried to
sing it before--and it's apt to be harder to-night."

"Try, anyway," he urged; and so she began, in the sweetest voice in
the world, or so Allen thought, to sing one of the most beautiful
songs ever composed.

And how she sang it! Before she had half finished it, the girls were
feeling for their handkerchiefs and the boys were staring hard into
the fire.

She sang it again--more softly than before, and when the last sweet
note had died away, there was not a dry eye in the room.

"Betty, oh, Betty!" cried Allen, leaning across the piano toward her,
thrilling her with the new earnestness in his voice, "will you keep
the home fires burning for me--so that when I come back--Betty, when
I come back----"

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and held out a trembling
hand to him.

"There will always be one--waiting for you," she whispered softly.

"Hello, folks!"

They turned suddenly and found Will standing in the doorway. Then,
such a welcome as they gave him! It made up to him for all these
months when he had seemed to stand on the outside, looking in.

"Come over to the fire and tell us all about it," Betty commanded.
"Allen told us something, but we want to know the whole story--every
little bit of a detail."

Will fairly beamed and entered into the story with the greatest
enthusiasm.

"I really didn't do anything much," he finished modestly. "And at the
end it was you girls that did all the work. I was just an 'also
ran.'"

"But, isn't there something you left out?" drawled Frank, pretending
to yawn and gazing into the fire. "It seems to me----"

"Gee," said Will, surprised at himself, "if I didn't really forget
the most important part----"

"Now what are you talking about?" cried Mollie, while the girls
pricked up their ears and began to scent a new mystery. "What did you
forget?"

"Well," said Will, his eyes twinkling, and speaking with exasperating
slowness, "do you happen to remember an eventful night on Pine
Island, when Roy went to sleep----"

"Aw, cut it out," grumbled Roy. "I guess I'll never be able to live
that down."

"Well, what about it?" cried Betty, at the limit of her patience,
while the other girls looked threatening. "Please, Will----"

"Do you happen to remember," drawled Will, "that on that same night
you lost some jewelry?"

"Oh, you found it!" they cried, fixing him with four pairs of bright,
incredulous eyes. "Will, where is it?"

"Some of it's here," he went on, pulling a small bag from his pocket
and opening it carefully while they crowded around him, fairly
smothering him in their eagerness, "and the rest of it's in the pawn
shop. We found the tickets on him, though--"

"My watch!"

"My necklace!"

"My lavallière!"

"My pearl brooch!"

These and other exclamations like them made such a babel of sound
that the boys clapped their hands over their ears and looked at one
another in comic dismay. This lasted so long that the boys had to
pick up their caps and start for the door, before the girls consented
to notice them.

"Where are you going?" asked Betty, while the other three stopped
talking long enough to look surprised.

"We didn't think you'd miss us," said Roy plaintively. "So we were
going away from here--that's all."

"Now, who's a flock of geese, I'd like to know," laughed Betty, as
they coaxed their neglected swains back to the fire. "We couldn't
very well help being excited, could we?"

"And to think," said Grace, beaming, "that we not only helped to
catch a wanted spy, but helped to recover our own jewelry at the same
time!"

"No wonder we had to pat ourselves on the back," chuckled Mollie,
"Just wait till we tell the folks at home about it."

"Pretty good day's work," Roy admitted indulgently. "Couldn't have
done much better myself."

They fell silent after that, each one busy with his own thoughts,
each one seeing, in the fantastic, ever-changing heart of the fire, a
little of his or her own future. And they were very happy.

Suddenly Grace broke the silence.

"And now," she said, glancing with love and pride at Will, who smiled
fondly back at her, "what do you expect to do, dear?"

"Enlist," cried Will, jumping to his feet. "Thank heaven I can do it
now with a clear conscience. I'm going to get into the big game quick
and help give Fritz some of his own medicine. Gee, fellows, are we
going to do it--are we?"

"I should smile!" they cried, their eyes gleaming with anticipation.
"All we want is the chance!"

Quick as a flash Betty ran to the piano and began to play the "Star-
Spangled Banner." Instantly the others were on their feet and singing
with all the pent-up fervor of the last six months, emotions almost
too big to master finding expression in the stirring melody.

"And we're all in it together," cried Betty, eyes bright and cheeks
flaming, "for our dear country--for America!"

And, at the greatest moment of their lives, fired by patriotism,
confident of victory, we once more, slowly, reluctantly, with many
backward glances, take leave of our Outdoor Girls.


THE END






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