Chapter XI. A Slacker?
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betty chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbert Wilson was another of the Deepdale boys.

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

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

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

They laughed, and Grace remarked casually:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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