Chapter XVII. Helping Uncle Sam
 

After dinner, the girls were taken over their new domain, and were enthusiastic about it. There were three big parlors where the boys could entertain their friends and relatives, also bedrooms enough to accommodate some score of people over night.

"Of course, as you see, we're not nearly in shape yet," Mrs. Watson apologized, as they came back to the big front room. "There are still pictures to be hung, some draperies and odds and ends to be bought that will change the looks of the place entirely. It is with those things you girls can help me immensely, if you will."

"That's what we came for," replied Betty quickly, while the other girls looked eager. "And besides, I think it will be a lark. Somehow, nothing seems half hard or strenuous enough to do for the boys that are giving up so much for us."

"That's the spirit we like to see," said Mrs. Watson, looking at the girl's flushed face and shining eyes approvingly. "And it's the spirit," she added slowly, "that we see among nine-tenths of our girls and women these days. It's wonderful what we are accomplishing."

"It's nothing to what our boys are going to accomplish when they get into the fight," broke in Mollie, her eyes big and dark. "My one regret is that I can't put on a uniform, and fight side by side with them."

"But we can fight side by side with them," said Mrs. Watson, leaning forward very seriously. "Don't you suppose the thought of us and the certainty that we are backing them up with all our might, will be with the boys every minute while they're in the trenches, helping them to fight the Hun as they never would be able to alone?"

"Yes," said Mollie, impressed but still unconvinced. "But I should think it would help them ever so much more if we were really there in person. Women have proved themselves just as good fighters as men, you know."

"That might be all right," said Amy quietly. "But then who would stay at home to knit sweaters for them, and who would do the nursing work? We couldn't do that, and be in the trenches at the same time."

"That's the way I look at it," said Mrs. Watson, turning to the quiet girl and regarding her thoughtfully. "It seems to me we are doing far more good here at home where we've had experience, than we could possibly do in the actual fighting. But it's getting pretty late," she interrupted herself, "and you girls must be tired after your long journey. Suppose we get to bed right away, so that in the morning we can start bright and early to get things in shape."

They assented unanimously, for, although their desire for information was as unsatisfied as ever, their eyelids were heavy with sleep, and the thought of bed lured them irresistibly.

"Oh, I can't wait for the morning to come," sighed Betty, as she slipped in between the cool sheets. "It seems wicked to waste time in sleep."

"In the morning we'll work," said Mollie, her voice eager with anticipation; "and in the afternoon--"

"We'll go over and surprise the boys," finished Grace. "I can almost see their faces when we burst in upon them."

"There'll be no bursting," said Betty primly. "We've got to behave like perfectly proper young ladies."

"Oh, impossible," murmured Mollie; and five minutes later, they were all asleep.

Morning, and the sun shining brightly in the window, challenging them to action.

"Awake?" queried Mollie, leaning over and poking Betty experimentally.

"If I'm not I soon will be," said Betty, sitting up and regarding Mollie indignantly. "Goodness, that's a nice thing to do to a person. Couldn't you see I was asleep?"

"I was just asking you," said Mollie twinkling. "You looked so sweet and peaceful----"

"That you needs must spoil it all," said Betty plaintively. "My, but I'd hate to have that kind of a disposition."'

"Won't you let me be your little alarm clock?" begged Mollie, leaning forward to administer another poke, which Betty skillfully dodged.

"No, I won't," she answered, adding, as she squinted out at the sun: "We don't need one in this room. We're facing directly east."

Mollie chuckled.

"Mrs. Watson made a mistake," she said, "when she put Grace and Amy in the other room. She should have put them in this one, so the sun could take our place and wake them up every morning. Betty, it's a glorious day."

"Don't you suppose I know it?" asked Betty, shaking herself impatiently, as the tang of the air and the brilliant sunshine got into her blood, making her eager for action. "And it's only six o'clock," she added, appealing to her little wrist watch. "We'll never be able to get Grace and Amy up this early."

"Won't you, though?" chuckled a voice from the doorway, and they looked up quickly to find Grace standing there, with Amy laughing at them over her shoulder. And what was still more wonderful and startling--they were dressed!

Betty and Mollie stared unbelievingly for a moment, mouths and eyes wide open, then jumped out of bed and made a rush for the conspirators.

"I don't see how you did it," gasped Mollie a few minutes later, when they stopped for lack of breath. "There wasn't a sound----"

"Yes, there were, lots of them," said Grace, stopping before a mirror to tuck in a stray lock that had come loose in the general confusion. "Only you and Betty were talking so hard and fast, you didn't hear us. Goodness, but I'm hungry."

As this was the case with them all, and as the savory odor of bacon and eggs was wafted up to them at the moment from below stairs, they wasted scant time in making their way to it.

And after breakfast what a busy morning they spent! Never in all their active lives could they remember anything to equal it. Downtown first of all to shop under Mrs. Watson's guidance, in stores that were so different from those in Deepdale, that they were in great danger of becoming hopelessly confused.

However, they eventually "got their bearings," as the boys would have said, and came home at last laden with parcels, and very much satisfied with themselves.

After luncheon, which was extremely well-cooked and tasted, oh, so good! Mrs. Watson proposed the one thing they wanted most to do.

"Suppose," she suggested, as they rose from the table, "that we call this a day and spend the afternoon in getting acquainted with the cantonment. It's extremely interesting, especially for those who have never been through one before. What do you say?"

What they said was enough to convince her she could not have struck upon a happier plan. Half an hour later, all talking at once and tremendously excited, they set out upon their tour of inspection.

Betty drew Grace a little apart from the others and they held a whispered consultation,

"What shall we do?" asked the former nervously. "Shall we send the orderly to hunt up the boys and bring them to us, or shall we just wait until we meet them by chance?"

"We might be here a week without doing that," said Grace, looking about at the scores of olive drab figures. "And in the meantime, they'd think it was very strange we didn't write to them."

"I suppose you're right," said Betty reluctantly, "but the other way would be so much more fun."

At this moment Mrs. Watson and the two other girls beckoned to them to hurry, and they had no chance for further conversation.

Then, just as Betty was about to broach the subject of the boys to Mrs. Watson, the unexpected happened.

A khaki-clad figure, cutting across their path at a dead run, almost collided with them, paused to gasp an apology, stopped still and stared. It was Allen!

"Betty!" he cried, with eyes for only one of them. "Wh--what are you doing here?"

"Just what you're doing," said Betty with spirit, though she was blushing furiously. "Helping Uncle Sam!"