Chapter XIII. "Smile, Girls, Smile"
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betty chuckled despite the dull ache at her heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She flushed and turned her eyes away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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