Chapter XXI. Allen a Hero
 

"Gee, Allen, but you're a lucky boy!"

It was Sunday afternoon, and the young folks had hired two automobiles for a trip out into the country. It was more than two weeks since the fire, and all but Allen had completely recovered from it. He, however, still felt a little "wabbly," so the boys and girls had conferred together, deciding that an automobile trip was just what he needed to complete his recovery.

Now at Roy's rather vague remark about his luck, he turned to him inquiringly.

"In just what way?" he asked. "I rather thought I was running out of it lately."

"Gee," said Roy, waxing excited, "do you call it hard luck to get a chance at being a hero, twice in three months, and have all the girls falling down and worshiping you, and all the old ladies patting you on the back----"

"I imagine that wouldn't have been particularly soothing," interrupted Grace, reaching, as always, for the ever-present candy box, "especially with poor Allen's back in the condition it was."

"Yes," said Allen with a grimace, "if anybody'd started to patting me at that time, I'd have returned pat for pat--only mine wouldn't have been gentle. Two cents for your thoughts, Betty. You haven't said a word all the way."

"Goodness, has the price of thoughts gone up with everything else?" queried Mollie, snatching a candy from under Grace's very nose. "Nobody ever offered me more than a penny for mine."

"Probably they weren't worth it," said Roy, to be promptly subdued by a look from Mollie's black eyes. "As I was saying," he continued, hastily changing the subject. "I'd consider myself in luck if I'd rescued two beautiful damsels----"

"They'd be the lucky ones," interrupted Mollie, with a smile.

"From a burning building," he continued, undaunted. "It certainly was dramatic, Allen, old chap--we have to hand it to you."

"I felt anything but dramatic at the time," said Allen ruefully. "The funny part of it is that I've always had a secret longing to do something of the sort--just to get the sensation. That," he paused dramatically, "cured me!"

"I should think it would cure most anybody," said Mollie with a grimace. "Neither Betty or I are particularly light weights. I don't see how you managed it, Allen--in the heat and the smoke and everything."

"Managed it," scoffed Roy. "Why, it isn't every fellow has the chance to hold two beauteous maidens in his arms----"

"Still I might have picked out a more appropriate place," said Allen whimsically.

"Tell me something, Frank," said Grace, taking another piece of candy and looking her prettiest at him.

"Anything," he answered promptly.

"Under the same conditions, would you have rushed into a burning house--to save me?"

"Would I?" he replied with a fervor that made Grace jump and the rest laugh. "You just give me a chance; that's all. I'll show you!"

"Goodness!" exclaimed Betty, twinkling. "I'll be afraid to sleep with Grace any more. She's apt to set the place on fire just to see what happens."

"Good-bye, I'm going away from here," said Mollie, making a pretense of clambering out of the machine. "One fire is just about enough for me. Let me go, Roy Anderson--don't you dare to hold me."

"Couldn't do anything pleasanter," said Roy cheerfully, at which Grace held up her hands in pretended horror.

"Heavens, everybody's getting sentimental," she cried. "If we don't stop it, we'll just ruin everything, that's all. Look out for that dog, Frank!"

"That's another thing we almost ruined," grinned Frank, as the wheel just grazed the hind leg of the cur. "Dogs are the curse of tourists, anyway. If I had my way, they'd all be shot."

Amy screamed and clapped her hand to her ears.

"Frank, how can you say such things?" she cried, adding plaintively, "I never saw such people, anyway. You can't talk for five minutes without saying something about people being shot."

"But we were speaking of animals," said Frank politely.

"Same thing," murmured Mollie.

"Speak for yourself, please," he retorted amiably, swerving the car at a perilous angle about a turn in the road. "Say, this is pretty country along here, isn't it?"

They all agreed that it was, and for a few minutes sat in silent enjoyment of it.

While the Hostess House was in process of repair some friendly families living in the vicinity had opened their doors wide to the girls and the other visitors at the Hostess House. The fire had done a great deal of damage, but the house had been amply insured, and the work of rebuilding was proceeding as fast as possible. Meanwhile, the girls were going on with their work as usual, though eagerly looking forward to the time when they should be installed in their proper quarters again.

The fire had temporarily put the subject of Will and his mysterious doings out of their minds, but during the last few days their wonder and curiosity had returned.

To-day he had consented to accompany them, and during the early part of the ride had seemed in hilarious spirits. Now, for the last fifteen minutes or so, he had appeared gloomy and preoccupied, but as they neared the spot where they had decided to eat their lunch, his spirits seemed to revive somewhat, and he became talkative again.

"Say, I'm hungry," he announced, more like the old Will than he had been for weeks. "What are you girls going to give us, anyway?"

"Chicken," announced Betty, "and honey and biscuits, and peach cake and jelly, and hot coffee from the thermos bottle, some ham sandwiches and deviled eggs----"

"Stop her," pleaded Roy piteously. "Stop her, some one, before I forget myself and decamp with the hamper----"

"You'd be forgetting us too, if you fried it," said Frank grimly. "Do you suppose with three ravenous wolves at your back you'd have a chance of getting away with any of that kind of stuff?"

"Gee, it's awful the appetite camp life gives you," said Roy mournfully. "I wrote home the other day and told the folks that if I ate like a wolf before, I eat like a flock of 'em, now."

"Whoever heard of a flock of wolves?" asked Mollie scornfully. "You must have been thinking of geese."

"No," retorted Roy soberly. "I wasn't speaking of you."

"Strike one for our side," chuckled Allen, while the others laughed at Mollie's look of surprise. "That was a good one, Roy--right from the shoulder."

"Now I know I'm going home," said Mollie forlornly. "Everybody's agin me."

"I'm not," said Betty, putting an arm about her. "The more they try to down you, the more I love you."

"If that's the way you feel," put in Allen whimsically, "won't everybody please jump on me at once?"

"Yes, I always had a weakness for the under dog," Betty was beginning wickedly when Mollie drew sharply away from her, and the others began to laugh.

"Betty Nelson," said Mollie reproachfully, "I never expected it of you. Under dog, indeed----"

"Oh, I didn't mean you!" said Betty hurriedly, thereby increasing the general mirth.

"Oh, well, what does it matter, anyway?" said Frank philosophically, as he swung the car around a curve, and brought it to a standstill. "I won't mind being an under dog or anything else as long as I get my share of the eats. Don't you think this is rather a pretty spot to have lunch?"

"I know a better spot to put it, though," said Roy jocularly, as they sprang out upon the soft grass by the roadside. "And if I have my way it won't be long getting there."

Instinctively, Betty held out a hand to Alien, as he descended more slowly than the rest--she was very anxious about his "wabbliness."

Alien took the little hand eagerly, but it is doubtful if he gained much physical support from it.

"How are you feeling?" asked Betty as they followed the others up the grassy slope to a sort of ledge--just the kind of place for a picnic lunch. She did not look at him. Somehow, it was almost impossible to look at Allen, these days.

"Happy," he answered, in reply to her question. "Just being near you, Betty, makes me the happiest fellow on earth!"