Chapter XXII. Making Good
 

It was raining torrents outside, and the girls were seated in one of the big parlors of the Hostess House. As usual, they were knitting, and their tongues kept time to the rapid click, click, of their needles.

They were exceptionally thoughtful and, as Amy expressed it, "their mood matched the weather." The war was not going as well as every one had hoped. The dark cloud was growing darker and darker every day, and each morning paper seemed to bring more disquieting news than the one before.

"And it won't be long now," Mollie was saying, "before our boys are sent across. It's almost time for the second draft, and the camps will have to be emptied of the first troops. And when they're gone----" she bowed her head to hide the unbidden tears that were glistening in her eyes.

"Yes, it will be terrible," said Betty, trying hard to keep the telltale tremulousness from her voice--trying desperately to sound brave and resigned. "But we must remember that thousands of women and girls all over the United States are going through the same thing. And for the boys' sake, we must be cheerful."

"The boys themselves are cheerful--heaven bless them," cried Grace, in a rare burst of enthusiasm. "I never saw anything like their spirit!"

"Isn't it wonderful?" Mollie agreed, her eyes shining through her tears. "It makes you want to shout with pride in them, and cry at the same time."

"Yes," said Amy quietly, "and I don't think anybody who hasn't been close to military life, as we have been, can realize how great the American army will be. It's meeting the boys day after day, seeing them get more enthusiastic as the time comes near for them to face those terrible guns----"

"I feel as if I wanted to go down on my knees to every boy in uniform," cried Betty, gripping the arms of her chair till the knuckles showed white. "No matter how hard we try we can't make up to them for what they're giving up--and giving up so cheerfully. And they're so dear and appreciative and thankful for every little thing that we have done for them, it makes me want to cry.

"And have you noticed," she continued, while the girls stopped their work to watch her, "what happens if you ask them about their home folks? Their faces light up, and right away they begin to talk about 'mother.'

"'You know,' one of them said to me just a little while ago, 'when I first came to camp, I didn't exactly feel homesick, as I'd expected to; I just felt queer and uneasy and restless. For a couple of nights I couldn't sleep, just kept tossing and turning till reveille routed me out again. Then suddenly, one night, I found out what the matter was. I wasn't homesick; I was just missing my mother.'

"I smiled at him, trying my best not to cry, and said: 'Home is mother, isn't it?'

"Then the boy just turned away, and I knew it was because his eyes were misty and he was ashamed to let me see it, and when he looked at me again he was smiling a little wistfully.

"A few days after that he came up to me. 'You won't laugh, if I tell you something?' he asked. 'On my word of honor,' I answered him. 'Well,' he said, looking so dear and sheepish, I had all I could do to keep from hugging him, 'as soon as I found out what you said about home being mother, I just put the picture I had of her under my pillow, and honest, I've slept like a baby ever since.'"

The girls were all crying and Mollie impatiently shook a tear from the tip of her nose. "Betty, you never told us that before. If his mother could only know about it."

"She probably does," said Betty, wiping her eyes and taking up her knitting again. "Somehow, most mothers know those things by instinct."

"And to think boys like that," cried Mollie, knitting fast to keep time with her feelings, "to think boys like that have to go over to the other side, and be mowed down by the thousands. Oh, I can't believe it!"

"I guess we've all sort of closed our eyes to it, till now," said Grace, so unlike her usual self that she had completely forgotten to eat candy for fifteen minutes. "But we can't go on like that forever. When it comes right down to us and we lose somebody we care for--" her voice broke and the girls went on knitting faster than ever, fearing a general breakdown.

"We've just got to work so hard we can't think," said Mollie with decision, adding, a little hysterically: "It never used to be hard before."

"What, to keep from thinking?" asked Amy, while the other girls smiled a little and felt better.

"Who's that coming up the walk, Betty?" Grace asked, a moment later. "The glimpse I got looked like a uniform."

"It's Allen," Betty answered, waving to the splendid specimen of manhood who was coming up the porch two steps at a time. "He looks as if he had some good news for us. You let him in, will you, Amy? You're nearest the door."

So Amy, opening the door, admitted a six-foot cyclone, who swept her before him into the parlor, where she sank into a chair to get her breath.

"Well, what in the world?" asked Mollie, round eyes on his face, as he mopped his face and lowered himself into a seat.

"Talk about good luck," he began, beaming round upon them. "I guess the fellows were right when they said I was falling into it lately."

"Good news, Allen?" asked Betty, leaning forward eagerly. "I knew you had something wonderful to tell us the moment I saw you."

"Well, in the first place," said Allen, modestly putting himself last, "Frank has been promoted to the rank of corporal."

"Oh, isn't that wonderful!" they cried together, and thereafter arose a very babel of questions as to where, when and how the promotion had occurred, which Allen answered one after another with equal enthusiasm.

"Frank's taken hold and worked with all his heart," he finished, "and he simply got what's coming to him, that's all."

"But, Allen," Betty broke in, struck by a sudden thought, "you said something about your having run into good luck. Was it something that happened to you personally, or was it just the good luck of being the friend of a corporal?"

"Since I've been a corporal myself from the start," said Alien with dignity, "I don't see why----"

"Yes, yes, go on," said Mollie impatiently.

"Well," said Allen, throwing the news like a bomb into their midst, "I've been promoted to a sergeant."

"What?" the girls cried, hardly knowing whether to believe him or not. "Are you really in earnest?"

"You're not very complimentary," he grumbled, though his eyes twinkled. "You don't suppose I'd come here and tell you a thing like that if it weren't so, do you?"

Then arose a second babel, louder and more prolonged than the first, and it was a long time before they quieted down enough to talk coherently.

"You see," Allen explained, "there's a chance for promotion now that there never was before. New men are coming in by the hundreds, and those men have to have officers. There's really no end to the chances if you just stick to the big game and do your level best. You're sure to win something good in the end."

"And hasn't Roy been promoted?" asked Grace. "Hasn't he been 'on the job,' as you say?"

"You bet your life he has," Alien defended loyally. "It's just our luck that we happened to get it; that's all. His turn will come next, you take it from me."

For a few minutes no one spoke, and only the ticking of the clock, and the regular click, click of the knitting needles broke the deep stillness. Then Allen bethought him of something.

"Saw Will, too, on the way up," he said, and at the name the girls all put down their knitting and looked at him inquiringly. "He seemed to be immensely excited about something. Fact is, I don't think he would even have seen me if I hadn't gotten in his way and flagged him. Mark my words--that boy's got something big up his sleeve. I bet he's going to surprise us all some day."

"Did he--did he--tell you anything?" asked Grace. "Anything to make you think that?"

"No," he answered, adding with a sincerity that brought a light of unutterable gladness to Grace's eyes: "But I've met lots of fellows in my business, and have learned to size them up pretty well. And if there was ever a brainy, plucky, true-blue fellow in this world, his name is Will Ford!"