Chapter III. News from the Front
 

There was another awkward pause, which nobody seemed able to break.

"But Will went to town with you," Amy remarked at last.

"Yes, he went with us," Allen agreed reluctantly. "But after we reached the hotel, and were making our plans for enlisting, he refused to go with us, saying he had business of his own to attend to. What that business was none of us know, for we were getting ready to catch the train for here when he rejoined us. However," he added loyally, "I'd bet my bottom dollar that Will has good reasons for everything he does, and when he gets ready he'll tell us about them. In the meantime, how about some biscuits, Betty?"

"Yes, how about them?" added Roy, rousing to sudden life. "We've done our duty--now we want the reward."

"Goodness, you haven't done anything," said Grace loftily, as the Little Captain vanished within the house, followed by black-eyed Mollie. "You just sit around and let all the others do the work and then take the credit to yourself."

"That's all right if you can get away with it," grinned Allen. "Besides," he added, with a humorous glance at Grace's languid figure, "you don't look the soul of energy yourself this morning, Miss Ford."

"Looks are often deceitful," retorted Grace, languidly turning the heel of her sock. "If you had to knit all day long, every day in the week, you'd find out what work is."

"Well, you don't have to do it," returned Roy placidly.

"Yes," said gentle Amy, roused to sudden indignation. "That's all the credit we get. Goodness knows, we're glad enough to do the work, but we do like it to be appreciated."

Roy turned half way round, and regarded Amy's flying fingers and bent head soberly for a moment.

"I'm sorry," he said then, so gravely that she looked up in surprise, and even Grace stopped knitting. "I didn't mean that we fellows don't appreciate what you girls are doing for us. We do--and there'll come a time when we'll appreciate it still more. When we're in the trenches up to our knees in mud and water, when the wind finds the chinks in our clothing, and freezes us to the bone, when--"

"Oh, please don't!" cried Amy, clapping her hands to her ears. "I can't even bear to think of those things."

"Yet those are some of the things we've got to think about," said Roy, still with that unusual gravity. "It's because you girls have thought of those things, that you're giving your time and energy to preparing for them, and warding them off. Please don't ever again think that we're ungrateful."

"We won't," said Amy softly, fighting back a sudden mistiness which had come before her eyes. "We'll just go on knitting ten times harder than before."

"I think we're missing something," came Betty's voice from the doorway, where she stood with her arm intertwined in Mollie's. "The biscuits are in the oven now, and we're going to talk to you while they're baking." "Will it take long?" asked Roy, sniffing hungrily.

"I like that," said Betty, with a little grimace, as she flung herself upon the top step, pulling Mollie down beside her. "When Roy has to choose between biscuits and us--"

"We're not in it," finished Mollie with a merry laugh.

Roy looked pained.

"I never said that, did I?" he inquired. "I haven't had the painful necessity of making a choice yet."

"What were you talking about so earnestly when we came out?" queried Betty. "Roy looked solemn, Grace looked surprised, Amy looked exalted, and Allen was thoughtful, while Frank looked as though-- well, as though he were seeing visions."

"All I have to do is turn my head to see visions," Frank returned gallantly, suiting the action to the word. "Gee, I never saw a crowd of prettier girls."

"Hey, you're going to get an extra biscuit for that," put in Roy, raising himself on his elbow and looking alarmed. "Just because you're a better flatterer than I am--"

"Oh, hush, hush," protested Betty, showing all her dimples--Allen was watching, so we have his authority for it. "You boys can never get to the point, unless we happen to be talking of something to eat. Allen, what were they talking about?"

Allen roused himself from the happy reverie into which Betty's dimples had thrown him, and responded good-naturedly. Allen was invariably good-natured.

"We were talking about some of the things we may be up against, when we find ourselves in the trenches, face to face with the enemy," he said. "Also we were saying that these sweaters, and mufflers and socks you are knitting, will come in mighty handy over there."

A shadow crossed Betty's bright face, and she leaned forward to pick up the discarded paper she had thrown upon the porch.

"'The enemy attacked in force our lines south of Cambrai,'" she read, with puckered brow. "'The enemy succeeded in gaining a foothold in our first line trenches, but were later driven back. The fighting on both sides was sanguinary, and heavy losses were sustained!'"

She flung the paper from her, and regarded her friends with flaming eyes, and both little fists clenched close at her sides.

"It doesn't seem as though it could be real!" she cried. "Men killing each other off by the hundreds and all for--what? Oh, it's cruel, cruel!"

"Of course it's cruel," said Alien grimly. "But so were the Huns cruel, centuries ago. The German people have simply never advanced beyond that state. They're still in the first stages of civilization."

"Yes, and the worst part of this kind of warfare," said Frank, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the horizon, "is that each man in the army is simply a unit in a great machine. In the old days, when they had cavalry charges and hand-to-hand fighting there was some romance, some adventure, some chance for personal bravery."

"Well, of course there is still some chance for daring," remarked Allen, "especially in the aviation branch of the service."

"In the army too," added Roy. "Soldiers are being decorated every day for some special act of bravery."

"I know all that," replied Frank. "But there's nothing particularly spectacular about it."

"And yet," said Betty thoughtfully, "I should think that kind of fighting would take more courage than the other. To stand day after day in those horrible trenches waiting for orders. And then when they do finally make a charge, nothing much seems to be gained by it."

"Yes, the waiting must be the hardest part," agreed Allen. "We met an Englishman in town," he added, smiling at the recollection, "and he was a mighty interesting chap."

"You said it," agreed Frank heartily. "He's been through some of the heaviest fighting, and to hear him tell some of his experiences is better than a dozen lectures. I wish we could have brought him along so you girls could have heard him."

"I don't," Roy interjected. "He was too good-looking."

"All the more reason why you should have brought him," yawned Grace. "It would be a treat to have around something good to look at."

"Whew," whistled Frank. "That was a bad one, Gracie. We know we're not Adonises--"

"I'm glad you know something," Grace was beginning, when once more Betty interrupted her.

"Oh dear!" she said, "if you don't hurry, the biscuits will be done, and we won't have heard anything about the nice Englishman. And I'm very much interested."

"Oh, you are, are you?" said Allen, sitting up. "I begin to think we made a mistake in mentioning that Englishman. I think we must have dreamed him, fellows."

"Oh, he was real enough," put in Frank. "But I shouldn't wonder if he dreamt some of those adventures. They sounded too good to be true."

"Perhaps you've heard that old saying," Grace remarked, with her usual languor, "that truth is stranger than fiction?"

"Oh, hurry," begged Betty. "The biscuits are almost done; I can smell them."

"So can I," said Roy, with another longing sniff. "Don't let 'em burn, will you, Betty?"

"I will, if somebody doesn't satisfy my curiosity, right away," threatened the Little Captain, her lips set threateningly. "Now, will you be good?"

"Gee, Allen, did you hear that?" Roy's expression was pathetic. "Hurry it up, will you?"

"Well," began Allen with aggravating deliberation, "he was a tall, lean, rangy fellow with sandy hair and twinkling eyes. Seems he had been wounded several times, and the last shot had cost him his right arm."

"Oh," cried Mollie, her eyes like two saucers. "How did that happen?"

"Bomb exploding close to him shot it all to pieces," explained Allen cryptically. "Of course it had to be amputated, permanently disabling him. That's why he was sent across to America--to stimulate recruiting."

"As if we needed any stimulating," said Mollie indignantly. "You don't have to stand behind our boys with a gun to make them go."

"Of course not," agreed Allen. "Just the same, it's almost impossible for us over here, with the broad Atlantic separating us from the scene of conflict, actually to realize what we're up against. That's why it's good to have a fellow like this Englishman, who has really been right in the thick of it, relate his own experiences. While he was talking you could almost hear the thunder of cannon and the bursting of shells. I tell you, we fellows felt like shouldering our guns, and marching over right away."

"Oh, it's wonderful to be a man these days," sighed Mollie. "You can get right in the thick of it, while all we can do is stay home and root for you."

"Well, that's a lot," said Frank soberly. "Just to feel that you girls are backing us up, and that there's somebody who cares whether we give a good account of ourselves or not, makes all the difference in the world."

"But that's not all we can do," cried Betty, her eyes shining with the light of resolution. "There's real work enough to keep us busy all day long. Girls, I've got a plan!"

"What?" they cried, leaning forward eagerly.

"I'm going to join the Red Cross!"