Chapter XVI. The Hostess House
 

Once settled comfortably in the seats, the girls smiled across at each other unsteadily.

"We didn't deserve it," said Amy, brushing away a tiresome tear that would insist upon trickling down her face.

"None of us did, except Betty," said Grace, recovering enough to open the chocolate box she had thoughtfully purchased at a drug store. "She was the one who really thought up all the things, and all we did was follow where she led."

"That's foolish, and you know it is," said Betty, beginning to get indignant. "I'd like to know how much of it I could have done without you girls! And of course the boys helped wonderfully, too."

"Goodness, what's the use of arguing?" Mollie broke in. "The fact remains that we've been cheered by a crowd of our friends, made speeches to, and presented with bouquets, and I don't care who's fault it was it all happened. I'm too happy."

"Happy," echoed Amy, gazing dreamily out of the window at the flying landscape. "I never was so happy in my life before--except for one thing." Her face clouded a little and she bit her lip.

"What one thing?" asked Mollie with interest. Grace and Betty turned to gaze at her inquiringly.

"Oh, n--nothing," stammered Amy, very much confused to find all eyes upon her. "I was just--thinking aloud, I guess."

"Well, do it some more," suggested Grace, passing her the candy. "Something tells me it might be interesting."

"Goodness, it is interesting," laughed Betty, changing the subject to save Amy further embarrassment. "Have any of you girls ever heard Grace talk in her sleep?"

"Now, Betty," Grace turned upon her reproachfully. "You're never going to--"

"Yes, she is," cried Mollie gleefully. "What does she say, Betty? It ought to be good."

"I never say anything that isn't good," put in Grace primly, adding, as she saw the light of mischief in Betty's eye. "If you tell tales out of school, Betty Nelson, I'll never forgive you."

"It's awfully funny," began Betty, bubbling over, while Mollie leaned forward gleefully. "She talks in such a wee small voice, and sometimes she'll even answer questions--if you speak very coaxingly."

"I know, but what does she say?" asked Mollie impatiently. "Goodness, I've missed a lot."

"Well, I remember one conversation we had," began Betty reflectively.

"Betty," Grace broke in imploringly, "I had a mistaken notion that you were a friend of mine."

"I am, dear," answered Betty soothingly. "I won't give away any secrets--not many, anyway----"

"Betty," cried Grace desperately, "I'll stop you if I have to use force."

"We'll protect you, Betty," Mollie promised. "Go ahead, tell us about that conversation."

"It was very interesting," complied Betty, with exasperating deliberation, and eyes brimming over with fun. "It seems to me we were discussing some of the boys we knew----"

"Betty," cried poor Grace again, her face flaming, "if you say one word more, I'll never speak to you again."

"Well, in that case," said Betty, settling back and looking disappointed, "I suppose I'll have to let you out."

"That's a nice way to treat us, I should say," cried Mollie disgustedly. "Just get our curiosity aroused and then sit on it. No, you needn't try to make it up by offering me candy, Betty. I'm just peeved."

"Goodness, I seem to make enemies whatever I do," said Betty plaintively. "I tell you what I'll do," she added, seized by inspiration.

"Take care," warned Grace, her mouth full of chocolate.

"We'll wait till some night when Grace has eaten a specially large amount of chocolates and ice cream----"

"We won't have to wait long," murmured Mollie.

"And then I'll invite you all to a seance," finished Betty, sitting back and looking tremendously satisfied with herself. "Then you can question Grace for yourselves."

"But does she actually answer you?" asked Amy, still incredulous. "I've heard of people talking in their sleep, but I never heard of anybody's answering questions intelligently."

"Goodness, she doesn't!" said Betty wickedly. "How can you expect people to do in their sleep what they can't do when they're awake?"

"Betty Nelson!" cried Grace--and if looks could kill, Betty's moments would have been numbered--"that's the worst yet. Now I am offended."

"Oh, dear," said Betty, while the others giggled merrily. "I always seem to be getting myself in wrong. Will you pass me some candy, Grace?"

"No," said the latter firmly. "I only give candies to them what deserves 'em. Mollie, come back with those--come back with them--I tell you--"

But Mollie had whisked them off Grace's lap before she could interfere and had handed them around with great ceremony.

And so the journey continued amid a great deal of fun and merriment until the train was nearing Camp Liberty. Then the prospect of seeing the boys and surprising them made the girls so nervous they could hardly sit still.

"I did such a foolish thing," said Betty, as they, put on their wraps in a flurry of haste. "I wrote to Allen yesterday and I'll see him before he gets the letter. It would have been better to have brought it along."

A few minutes later the train drew into the station, and a quartette of very pretty girls stepped to the platform. So pretty were they, in fact, that more than one passerby turned around to look a second time.

The girls gave their trunk checks to a negro who came bustling up, stepped into a cab and, almost before they knew it, were being whirled along the streets at a reckless pace toward the Hostess House.

"Oh," gasped Amy, holding on tight to the seat. "I have worse stage fright now than I did on the night we gave the sketch. Everything's so new and strange."

"Well, what did you expect a strange city to be like?" asked Mollie practically.

In what seemed to them scarcely a second of time they had stopped before a very pretty, homelike house, and a polite chauffeur was holding the door of the cab open for them.

Still feeling as if it were all happening in a dream, they crossed the sidewalk and ran up the steps of the house. Before they had time to ring the bell a stout, middle-aged, motherly-looking woman opened the door and smiled down at them approvingly.

"Well, well," she said, holding the door wide for them, "walk right in, young ladies, and make yourselves at home."

"We expected you almost an hour sooner," she added, as the girls followed her into a big, cheerful front room. "I was rather afraid there might have been an accident on the road--there have been several lately."

"No, we were simply delayed," replied Betty with her prettiest smile-- winning the woman's affections then and there. "Part of the way we could have walked faster than the train moved, I think."

"I'm Mrs. Watson," their hostess introduced herself a few minutes later, as she led the way upstairs. "Mrs. Barton Ross has no doubt told you I am representing the Y.W.C.A. here in Denton. I hope," she added, as the girls took off their coats and hats and "did things" to their hair, "that we are going to be friends."

"We shall be," chorused the girls, smiling at her happily, "if we have anything to say about it!"