Chapter VII. Robbed
 

Crack! Crack!

The girls started to a sitting posture and regarded each other fearfully.

"What is it?" cried Mollie, her eyes big and round in the semi-dark. "Betty, what are you doing?"

"That was a shot," responded Betty, her voice quivering with excitement. "I've been listening for it all night. Who's coming--"

"Oh, dear!" wailed Amy. "I knew some one would get killed! It's worse than some awful nightmare."

But Betty was already running from the room, with Mollie close at her heels. Reluctantly, Grace and Amy slipped on their robes and slippers and followed.

Betty almost ran into Mrs. Irving on the landing, and gasped an apology.

"Oh, dear, what do you suppose it is?" she panted, as they went on down the stairs together. "If another of the boys is hurt--"

But at that moment the boys themselves came bursting in upon them, rumpled, sheepish and out of temper, to confront the excited girls in the lower hall.

"What do you know about that?" cried Roy disgustedly. "If I'm not the biggest fool that ever lived, I'll eat my hat."

"Far be it from me to stop you," growled Will. "He must have passed near enough to touch you, and you let him get away."

"Well, you needn't rub it in," retorted Roy, turning upon him savagely, while the girls looked from one to the other uncomprehendingly. "You ought to know I'm sore enough without having you find fault."

"Cut it out, fellows," Frank put in peaceably. "It wasn't anybody's fault; just hard luck, that's all."

"But what?" Mollie interrupted impatiently. "What happened?"

"Well, you see it was like this," began Will, still in a bad temper. "We fellows decided that our friend, Adolph Hensler, might have some mistaken longings for the code letter he dropped, and might follow us and try to steal it back. So we thought we'd set a trap for him by keeping watch, turn and turn about, in such a position that he couldn't possibly see us."

"Yes, and that's about all," Roy, speaking bitterly, took the story away from Will, "except that it was yours truly's turn at sentry duty, and he went to sleep, leaving Adolph a clear field."

"And did he really come back?" asked Betty, glancing apprehensively over her shoulder as though she was afraid the rascal might be close at hand.

"Yes, he really did," said Roy, still bitterly. "And if I hadn't happened to see him coming out of the window--"

"Out of the window!" echoed Grace, who, with Amy, had decided that the lower hall with company was more to be desired than a room upstairs alone. "Oh, Roy, from this house?"

"Since this is the only one for three miles around, I suppose it was," said Roy, with biting sarcasm.

"But he may have been in our room," cried Amy, beginning to shiver again.

"Very likely," said Will grimly, while Mrs. Irving looked decidedly worried. "The one good thing about the whole affair is, that he didn't get the letter."

"Oh, bother the letter," cried Mollie, cross because she could not stop trembling. "I--I wish it were daylight. I never wanted to see the sun so much."

"Well, it is, almost," said Frank, waving his hand toward the east where a dim grey veil was replacing the blackness of night. "Adolph must have been hanging around for some time, before he got the chance he wanted."

"Before I went to sleep," put in Roy moodily.

"But didn't you follow him?" queried Betty, eagerly.

"Of course," said Will, "until he disappeared in the woods; and you might just as well hunt for a needle in a haystack, as look for him there. Besides, we wanted to see if you girls were all right."

"Well, we're not," said Grace dispiritedly. "We didn't have half enough sleep, and now we've been scared to death for the second time in one night"

"Well," said Mrs. Irving, coming out of a brown study, and speaking decidedly. "There's nothing to be gained by standing here. Probably none of us will be able to sleep any more to-night, but we can at least get dressed. Come, girls, we don't want to add sickness to our problems."

"This time we're all going to watch," Will called after them, as they started up the stairs. "If Adolph comes back again, he won't get away so easily."

Slowly the girls reentered their room, and were relieved to find that the long night with all its weird suggestions and imaginings, was really over. Beds and dressers were distinctly visible in the faint grey light that filtered into the room. Soon the sun would be up.

"Oh, I'm so tired," sighed Mollie, sinking down on the edge of her bed and gazing about her disconsolately. "I feel as if I ought to be tremendously excited, but I'm too sleepy to care much about anything."

"Wait till the sun comes up," said Betty, recovering a little of her old cheeriness. "That makes everything look different. I wonder," she added, as if the thought had not been in her mind all the time, "how Allen is. The noise didn't even seem to disturb him. I think I'll ask Mrs. Irving if I can go--and--see---"

"Why, of course you can," said Mrs. Irving, who happened to be passing the door at that particular minute, and looking in at her smilingly. "I was just going to visit the patient myself; so if you hurry and get dressed, we can go together."

It is safe to say that Betty was fully dressed, to the last little pattings and fluffings of her blue morning dress, before ten minutes was up, and, with Mrs. Irving, was walking with rapidly beating heart down the hall toward Alien's room.

The door had been left open in case he needed anything during the night, and now his voice greeted them before they reached it.

"Hello," it called imperatively. "I want to know something."

"All right," said Mrs. Irving sunnily, pushing the door open and advancing toward the patient, while Betty lingered a little in the background. "You're not the only one. How are you feeling this morning?"

"All right--fine," he amended, as his eager eye caught sight of Betty. "Never was feeling better in my life. Decidedly grateful for being allowed to live at all--when there are so many beautiful things to look at," this with so direct and ardent a gaze upon Betty, that she turned and looked out of the window, unwilling to let him see what her face must reveal.

Mrs. Irving laughed a little and began to adjust his pillows carefully.

"We are going to have a doctor for you today," she announced, and Allen sat up in bed with a jerk.

"What for?" he demanded. "I don't need any doctor. I'm feeling all right now, and ten to one, he'd make me sick. They always do. Please don't bring one of them in here."

"Don't make a fuss and get excited, please," Mrs. Irving cautioned him gently, while her eyes dwelt with humorous sympathy upon Betty's back. "I'm going down to prepare some breakfast, and perhaps Betty can persuade you about the doctor."

Before either of them realized it, she was gone, leaving them alone. Still Betty forgot to turn round.

For several minutes, Alien lay and regarded her contentedly. Then he gave a mountainous sigh, and finally:

"What have I done?" he queried pathetically. "It's one of the prettiest backs I ever saw, but that's no reason why I should have to look at it all the time. Besides, you seem to forget that I have a sore shoulder."

Betty turned to him swiftly, half laughing and half grave.

"I never know when to believe you," she said, coming toward him slowly and moving a chair up to the edge of the bed. "You see, that's the worst of having a bad reputation."

"I haven't," he denied stoutly, feeling for her hand, which, however, persisted in evading his. "I've never said anything to you, Betty Nelson, that wasn't true. If you'll give me your hand, my shoulder will stop aching."

Betty laughed whimsically.

"And you said you never had told me anything that wasn't true," she reminded him.

"I repeat it," he answered doggedly, succeeding at last in finding her hand, and holding it tight. "Just being near you makes me so happy, I haven't time to think of pain."

"D--did you hear all the noise just a little while ago?" stammered Betty hastily. "You must have wondered what it was all about."

"I did," he replied, still with his eyes on her face. "I started to get out of bed and see for myself, only I found I was kind of wabbly, and thought better of it. What--"

"Oh, Betty!" Mollie flung wide the door and burst in upon them. "Excuse me, but I had to tell you. What do you suppose has happened now?"

She sank down on the edge of the bed, and looked at them despairingly.

"Well, what?" asked Betty impatiently. "Has anybody else been shot or--"

"Goodness, it's worse than that!" cried Mollie hysterically. "You know, we've never bothered to lock up our good things, because there never seemed any danger at all of robbery on Pine Island--"

"Yes, yes," cried Betty, fairly wild with impatience. "I know all that. Tell me, what happened?"

"Well," said Mollie, refusing to be hurried, "we thought of our jewelry, looked for it--and it was----"

"Gone!" cried Betty, reading the answer in Mollie's face. "Oh, Mollie, my pin and my bracelet----"

"Yes, and my gold watch, and Grace's pearl lavallière, and goodness knows how many other things," Mollie finished, in the calmness of despair.

"And of course, it was that spy that did it!" cried Betty. "Now, we've got to catch him!"