Chapter VII. Bad Tidings Confirmed
 

"I wish I knew what you were talking about," said Mollie, pausing with a sandwich half-way to her mouth, while Amy and Grace regarded the Little Captain with astonishment. "What names? Where?"

But Betty was paying no attention to them. She was reading hastily the column that had caught her startled attention.

"Listen to this," she said, reading out loud. "Among those who were killed in the last great Allied offensive are the names of these brave soldiers. James Browning of Columbus, Ohio-- No, that isn't what I mean-- Look, here they are-- James Dempsey and Arnold Dempsey, Junior. Girls, do you suppose--" and she looked at them with widening eyes.

"Arnold Dempsey, Arnold Dempsey," repeated Mollie, searching in her memory, but Amy interrupted excitedly.

"That was Professor Dempsey's name, wasn't it?" she asked. "Oh, Betty, do you suppose it could be his son?"

"Why, of course it is his son-- how could it be any one else?" cried Grace, the excitement beginning to communicate itself to her. "Arnold Dempsey, Junior-- and the professor said his sons were over there."

"Didn't it say something about James Dempsey, too, Betty?" asked Mollie, fairly snatching the paper from her chum. "Yes, here it is. Do you suppose that can be his other son?"

Betty shook her head soberly.

"I don't know," she said. "Of course he didn't tell us the name of his other son, but it might easily be James. Oh, I hope it isn't so!" she added, her heart aching for the lonely old man whose one big interest in life was his boys. "I do hope there has been some mistake."

"I guess we all do," said Amy gently, adding with a sigh: "But I'm afraid there isn't very much hope of it. The Government is usually right when it comes to things like that."

"Not always," Mollie retorted quickly. "Look at the time they reported that Allen was among the missing and he wasn't at all. That is the only mistake we happen to know about, but I fancy there are plenty of others."

At mention of that dreadful time when she had read Allen's name in the long list of the missing, Betty experienced again something of the emotion she had felt at that time.

She saw again in imagination the dark room where she had gone to be by herself, she heard the thunder of the surf on the rocks outside and the rumble of the thunder overhead. She saw once more the vision of Allen as she had seen it then. Allen stretched out cold and dead perhaps on some shell-ridden battlefield or perhaps, more terrible still, a prisoner in the hands of the Hun, suffering unspeakable torture----

"But this is not as bad as though the boys were missing," she said suddenly, speaking her thought aloud. "At least the professor will know that his sons are dead."

The girls started and looked at Betty queerly.

"I was thinking of Allen," she explained in response to their rather startled glances, "and the time when we thought he was missing. If this thing is true about Professor Dempsey's sons I think I shall be able to sympathize with him, almost better than any of you."

"I guess you will, honey," said Mollie soberly, putting an arm about her chum. "It was a terrible time for us all-- there at Bluff Point. But it was almost worth the suffering when we found out that Allen was alive and well and never had been missing at all. Do you remember how happy we all were then?"

"Happy," Betty repeated, shaking off her depression and smiling at the memory. "I'll say we were the happiest girls on earth-- especially after we recovered the twins. But what," she said, coming back to the present subject, "are we going to do about Professor Dempsey? We ought to do something, you know."

"I suppose we ought," said Grace, a little vaguely, "but I'm sure I don't know just what."

"I think," suggested Amy practically, "that the best thing would be to try to find out first of all whether these poor boys who were killed are really Professor Dempsey's sons or not."

"Humph, that sounds all right," observed Mollie. "But has any one here any suggestion as to just how we will go about it? I'm sure I don't know any one who is acquainted with Professor Dempsey-- or his family either."

"I've got it," said Betty, leaning forward eagerly. "It may not be much of an idea, but then again it may."

"Speak up, speak up, what's on your mind?" urged Mollie slangily.

"Well," said Betty, "there is Mr. Haig, principal of Deepdale High. He knows pretty nearly every one at the university where Professor Dempsey used to teach and he is more than likely to know whether the professor has any sons and what their names are."

"Yes, that is all right as far as it goes," broke in Mollie impatiently.

"We all know Mr. Haig--" Amy began, but this time it was Grace who interrupted.

"Yes, we all know him," she said. "But I'd like to know if there is any one of us-- except Betty perhaps-- who would have the nerve to go to him and ask him a question like that----"

"Say, who's telling this story I'd like to know," broke in Betty impatiently. "I'm not asking any one to go to Mr. Haig with that question or any other-- although I would be perfectly willing to brave the lion in his den if there were no other way. My plan is this. Dad knows Mr. Haig, you know-- went to school with him-- old college chums and all that. I'm sure that if we asked him real pretty he would go to Mr. Haig and find out about Professor Dempsey for us."

"Then suppose we find out that Professor Dempsey hasn't any sons by the name of James and Arnold?" suggested Grace.

"Then we shall be mighty glad we took the trouble to find out and set our minds at rest," answered Betty soberly.

"And if we find out that they are really his sons, what then?" queried Grace, and this time Betty looked puzzled and Mollie and Amy completely beyond their depth.

"Why then," said Betty hesitatingly, "I'm sure I don't just know what we ought to do. But don't you think," she added, brightening, "that it might be a good idea to wait until we have found out definite facts before we try to solve any more problems?"

Rather reluctantly the girls agreed and, after making Betty promise that she would let them know the very first minute she found out the names of Arnold Dempsey's sons, they said good-bye and started for home.

Of course Betty had already told her father and mother about Professor Dempsey and the part he had played in actually saving their lives; so when she told them that night of what she had read in the paper and begged her father to help her find out whether the dead soldiers were really Arnold Dempsey's sons or not, he readily consented to do what he could.

"I'll drop in and see Haig to-morrow," he promised. "I have often heard him speak of Professor Dempsey as being one of the best professors of zoology up at the university and I am sure I will be able to find out what you want to know. I hope you have been mistaken in your conclusions, for it would be a horrible blow to a man to lose both his grown sons at once and like that. Now run off to bed and tomorrow I may have some news for you."

With this Betty was forced to be content. She went to bed of course, there was nothing else to do, but she tossed restlessly all night and what sleep she got was checkered with horrid dreams and she woke up in the morning feeling as though she had not been to sleep at all.

The next day was a long one to live through, even though the girls did keep calling her up at frequent intervals to see if she had any news for them yet. She became so tired of hearing the telephone bell ring at last that she stuffed a handkerchief between the bell and the clapper and sat down to read a novel and while away the time as best she could till her father came home.

Luckily for her-- and him too, perhaps-- Mr. Nelson did get home early, and he was no sooner inside the door than Betty grabbed him by the arm, led him over to a divan in the corner of the living room, and let loose upon him a flood of questions.

"Did you see him? What did he say? Why didn't you let me know sooner?"

These and various other queries were hurled at Mr. Nelson so fast that it is no wonder the poor gentleman appeared slightly bewildered. But knowing his impetuous young daughter of old, he merely pinched her cheek fondly and waited for her to give him a chance to speak.

"If you will wait just a moment I will try to tell you about it," he said at last, mildly.

"There's only one thing I really want to know, Dad," said Betty soberly. "And that is the name of Professor Dempsey's sons."

Her father shook his head slowly, regretfully.

"I am afraid it is as you have feared, dear," he said, "Professor Dempsey has two sons-- or rather, had-- and their names were James and Arnold."

"Oh, Daddy!" Betty was quiet for a minute, letting the full consciousness of what her father had said sink into her heart. Then her lips trembled and her eyes filled with tears. "I-- I was pretty sure it was true. But, oh, I was hoping so hard that it wouldn't be!"