Chapter XIV. The Spy Again
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And my gold watch," mourned Mollie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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