Chapter II. Grim Shadows of War
 

"What is that he is yelling?" questioned Mollie.

"He said something about volunteering," returned Betty.

"Volunteering!" came from Mollie, Grace and Amy simultaneously, and in the excitement of the moment, their knitting was completely forgotten.

And now while the girls are waiting for the boys to come up, let me take just a moment to tell my new readers something concerning these girls and the other volumes in this series of books.

The leader of the quartette was Betty Nelson, often called the "Little Captain." Betty was a bright, active girl, who always loved to do things.

Grace Ford was tall and slender, and a charming conception of young womanhood. She had a brother, Will, who at times was rather hasty, and occasionally this would get him into trouble, much to the annoyance of his sister. Grace herself had one failing, if such it could be called. She was exceedingly fond of chocolates, and was never without some of this confection in her possession.

Some years before there had been a mystery concerning Amy Blackford. She had then been known by the name of Stonington, but the mystery had been unraveled by the finding of her long lost brother, Henry Blackford. Amy was of a quiet disposition, and more timid than any of the others.

The quartette was completed by Mollie Billette, often called "Billy." Mollie was the daughter of a well-to-do widow of French ancestry, and the girl was a bit French herself in her general make-up.

In our first volume, entitled "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale," the particulars were given of the organization of a camping and tramp club by the girls, and of how they went on a tour, which, brought them many adventures.

After this first tour the Outdoor Girls went to Rainbow Lake, and then took another tour, this time in a motor car. After that, they had some glorious days on skates and iceboats while at a winter camp, and then journeyed to Florida, where they took a trip into the wilds of the interior, and participated in many unusual happenings.

Returning from the land of orange groves, the girls next took a trip to Ocean View. Here they had a glorious time bathing, and otherwise enjoying themselves, and also solved the mystery surrounding a box that was found in the sand.

During those strenuous days the girls had made many friends, including Allen Washburn, who was now a young lawyer of Deepdale. Allen had become a particular friend of Betty's, and this friendship seemed to be thoroughly reciprocal.

Will Ford's particular high-school chum had been Frank Haley, and as a consequence, Frank had been drawn into the circle, along with Roy Anderson, another young man of the town.

These young fellows often went off camping, and usually in the vicinity of where the girls had planned to spend their outing days.

Deepdale was a picturesque city of about fifteen thousand people, located on the Argono river, which, some miles below, emptied into Rainbow Lake. Back of Deepdale was a rich farming country, which tended to make the town a prosperous one.

Returning from Ocean View, the girls started on a new outing, as related in the volume before this, entitled "The Outdoor Girls on Pine Island." The girls occupied a bungalow, which had been turned over for their use by an aunt of Mollie Billette. The boys were in a camp near by.

Quite by accident both girls and boys had stumbled upon a gypsy cave, cleverly hidden in the underbrush, and had afterward succeeded in rounding up the entire gypsy band, incidentally regaining some property which had been stolen from the girls.

Now, at the time our story opens, the Outdoor Girls were again at Pine Island, in the cottage lent them by "Aunt Elvira"; but times had changed, and they were no longer solely upon pleasure bent. The grumbling, menacing unrest of war seemed in the very air they breathed, and from dawn to evening they thought of very little else.

Now at the ringing shout, "I've volunteered," they were on their feet, fairly trembling with excitement and eagerness.

"Allen, Allen!" cried Betty, the color flaming into her face. "Oh, I'm so glad! I'm so glad!"

"Gee, he's not the only one," cried a big, strapping lad, Frank Haley, by name, throwing himself upon the steps, and looking up at the girls triumphantly. "Just because he can run faster than we can, he gets all the credit."

"You, too, Frank?" cried Betty, turning upon him with shining eyes.

"And here comes Roy," put in Mollie. "Did he--"

"You just bet he did," Roy Anderson, red and perspiring, answered for himself. "Did you ever hear of an Irishman staying out of a fight? I'm aching already to get my hands on Fritz."

"What's the matter with Will?" asked Grace a little anxiously, for the young fellow coming slowly toward them with downcast eyes and bent head was her brother. "He looks as if he'd lost his last friend."

Seven pairs of eyes were immediately focused upon the apparently despondent figure, while the boys shifted uneasily and looked vaguely troubled.

"Hello, folks," Will saluted them, as he sank down upon the lower step, and looked out toward the water. "Why the sudden hush?"

For a moment no one spoke. They were all strangely embarrassed by this unusual attitude of Will's. He had always been so frank and outspoken. And now--

"Oh, for Pete's sake, say something!" he burst forth at last, looking up at the silent group defiantly. "You were making enough noise before, but the minute I come along, you just stop short and stare. I didn't know I was so fascinating."

"You're not," said Mollie promptly.

With an impatient grunt, Will stuffed his hands into his pockets and stalked off into the woods.

"Well," said Grace, with a long sigh, "I never saw Will act that way before. Now what's the matter?"

"Indigestion, probably," said Allen, trying to pass it off. "He acts just the way I feel when I have it. Which reminds me that I'm getting mighty all-fired hungry."

"Well, you don't get anything to eat," said Betty decidedly, "until you tell us all about everything, since the day you left here so mysteriously to the present time."

"Seems we've got to sing for our supper--or rather, breakfast," said Frank with a grin. "Go ahead, Allen, but be brief. I want some of Betty's biscuits."

"Goodness, do you suppose Betty's going to start in and cook biscuits, now?" cried Mollie. "Why, we just got through our own breakfast."

"Well, we didn't," said Roy, nibbling a piece of grass for want of something better. "And you ought to take it as a proof of our devotion, that we didn't stop for any. We were too anxious to get here to tell you our news."

"And blow a little," scoffed Mollie, the irrepressible.

"Oh, for goodness' sake stop talking," entreated Betty, with her hands to her ears. "If the boys want biscuits they shall have them-- if I have to stay up all night to cook some for them. They can have anything in the house, as far as I'm concerned."

"Hear, hear!" cried the boys in chorus, looking up admiringly at her flushed face.

"If volunteering has that effect," Roy added, "I'm going back and do it all over again."

"You said it," agreed Frank. "Gee, but I'm hungry!"

"Did you say we could have anything we wanted?" Allen was demanding of the Little Captain in an undertone. "No exceptions?"

"None," said Betty, dimpling.

"Then," said Allen deliberately, his eyes fixed steadily upon her sparkling face. "If you please--I'll take--you!"

"Oh," gasped Betty, her eyes falling before the young lawyer's ardent gaze, while the rich color flooded her face. "I said anything--not anybody. Allen, please don't be foolish. They're all looking at us."

"Well, you can't blame 'em," Allen retorted whimsically. "They're not used to seeing two such good-looking people together," he added in bland explanation.

"My, don't we hate ourselves!" said Betty, dimpling again. "But go ahead and tell us your adventures," she added, glad to change a subject which was becoming too personal. "No story--no supper, you know."

"We don't want supper--we want breakfast," interrupted Frank, with a grin. "What have you been saying to her, Allen--to get her dates mixed like that?"

"Allen Washburn, are you going to tell that story or are you not?" queried Mollie, in a menacingly quiet tone of voice. "If you're not--"

"Yes, ma'am," said Allen meekly. "Where shall I begin, please?"

"At the beginning," said Grace sarcastically, and reached for her candy box, grimacing to find it empty.

"Thank you," said Allen courteously. "Well, as you know, we four husky braves meandered from the island one bright morning in the early part of the week to seek our fortune, as it were, in the city of promise."

"Yes, that's all it does do," Roy put in pessimistically. "Promise!"

"As I was saying," Allen continued, settling himself in a more comfortable position on the steps, and ignoring the interruption. "We sauntered off, and straightway looked up a recruiting station."

"Oh!" gasped Amy, hands clasped and eyes shining. "That must have been exciting."

"Well, I don't know," said Allen, scratching his head reflectively, "that that part was so exciting, but wait till you hear what happened afterward. After we found where the recruiting office was, we went to the hotel we were stopping at, and punished a mighty big breakfast. You see, we figured out that we were going to put our necks into the noose, as it were, and we wanted something good and big to stand up on."

"Wouldn't your feet do?" asked Betty innocently.

"Heavens, no!" replied Allen, answering the query in solemn earnest, while the girls giggled, and the boys grinned appreciatively. "We were so nervous by that time we weren't sure we had any feet."

"All you had to do was to look," murmured Mollie maliciously. "You couldn't miss 'em."

Allen looked hurt, got up and sat on his feet.

"If you don't see them, perhaps you'll forget about them," he offered by way of explanation. "You don't know how sensitive I am on the subject of feet."

"I couldn't blame you," Mollie was beginning, when Betty broke in with a little despairing cry for help.

"If we don't stop them," she said, looking appealingly about her, "we won't get any farther than breakfast. Allen, what did you do next?"

"Next?" queried Allen, stretching his long legs and squinting up at the sun. "Let me see. Oh yes! Having put down a breakfast that must have added four pounds to our weight, we sauntered forth once more to meet our doom. By that time we were so nervous, we almost mistook a café on the corner for the recruiting station--"

"Hey, speak for yourself, won't you?" queried Roy, adding, as he turned to the girls with a grin, "We had to show Allen a performing monkey on the street, and get his mind off, before we succeeded in engineering him to the right place."

"Gee, some fellows have a gift," said Allen, regarding Roy admiringly. "If I could tell 'em like that, old man, I'd be Supreme Court Justice before the month was up.

"Well, as I was saying," he continued, "after much hesitation and side-stepping, we at last succeeded in reaching our destination. After that, it took ten minutes to get up nerve to go in.

"When we had at last tremblingly ascended the stairs, we found ourselves in a large room, with all the windows open and half a dozen wise-looking men, whom we took to be doctors, presiding. There were three or four other fellows in the room, come like ourselves, to be examined. Then we were shoved behind a huge screen with half a dozen other huskies--they looked like prize fighters to me--and told to take our clothes off. Then--we were examined."

"Well?" they queried, leaning forward eagerly.

"Well," said Allen, waving his hand in a deprecating gesture, "of course, being the perfect specimens of manhood we are, the committee jumped at us."

"If they'd jumped on you they'd have shown more taste," remarked Mollie unflatteringly.

"But, Allen," put in Grace, who had listened to the recital, with a troubled frown on her forehead, "was Will with you?"

Allen's glance fell and he shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

"No," he said.