THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE
DOING THEIR BIT FOR THE SOLDIER BOYS
LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE," "THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS," "BUNNY BROWN AND HIS SISTER SUE," ETC.
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN ARMY SERVICE
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
"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!"
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 caf 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.
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!"
THE POWDER MILL
"Who's game for a paddle?"
"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.
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?"
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!"
"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.
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 lavallire, 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!"
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 lavallire, 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!"
"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 fte 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!"
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."