Chapter IX. Gay Conspirators

"It's all right," Mollie was saying, "to give our time and labor and everything like that, but the Red Cross needs money. If we could only find some way to raise it!"

The four girls were seated on the porch of Betty's house in Deepdale, busy as always, with their knitting. Mollie and Betty were swaying gently in the big porch swing, while Grace and Amy were curled up comfortably in roomy wicker armchairs.

The weather was perfect--a typical fall day, with the brilliant sunshine peeping in under the edge of the awning, creeping up almost to the feet of the girls, while vagrant breezes, spicy and pungent with the smell of burning leaves, fanned their faces, and stirred them to a new restlessness, a new desire for action.

"Well, why not?" asked Betty, putting down her knitting, and looking from one to the other. "I don't see why it should be impossible for us to raise money."

"Betty, have you a plan?" asked Amy, gazing hopefully toward the Little Captain. "I've thought of all sorts of things, from taking a course in stenography to taking in washing, but nothing seems to be just right, somehow."

"Goodness, I should think not," said Grace, while Betty and Mollie giggled happily. "I can't imagine you in the role of chief washerwoman to Deepdale, Amy; and as for stenography--think how much you would have to spend before you began to earn any money."

"My idea's very much simpler than either of those," said Betty demurely. "I thought--though of course it may not be possible, at all--that we might give a lawn fête and charge fifty cents admission, a person. We know pretty nearly everybody in Deepdale, and if only a third of them came we'd raise quite a big sum."

"Betty, that's splendid," cried Mollie, clapping her hands excitedly, forgetful of the needles she still held. "We can have fortune-telling booths and tableaux, and perhaps a sketch of some kind. Oh, won't it be fun?"

"It ought to be," said Grace conservatively, starting to wind another skein of wool. "But if we have all those things I think we ought to charge a dollar."

"Goodness, I don't think they'd get their money's worth," smiled Betty whimsically. "A dollar's rather a lot of money to pay for a lawn party."

"Well, they ought to be willing to give something, just for the sake of patriotism," said Amy quietly--for there was no better patriot in all of Deepdale than Amy.

"Yes, but don't you see, we want to give them their money's worth," Mollie argued excitedly. "Because then we'll feel we've really earned whatever we raise."

"Well, we will earn it," said Betty earnestly.

"We have, as Doctor Morely says, 'a good deal of local talent' that we ought to be able to win over to our side, and if we really go into the thing to make it a success, it will be one. And a successful lawn party is no end of fun."

"Goodness, you've got me so excited, I can't wait to begin," cried Mollie, waving her needles about in a way to endanger seriously Betty's eyesight. "I want to start something."

"If you don't stop poking me with those needles, you will start something," threatened Betty, moving to the opposite corner of the swing, and as far from danger as possible. "You wouldn't need a bayonet in the trenches, Mollie dear. The whole German army would drop dead, if they saw you moving down upon them with a knitting needle. Stop it, I tell you, or I shall be forced to take them away from you."

"Oh, look who's going to take them away," mocked Mollie, continuing her wild dabs and dashes. "There isn't a man, much less a woman, on this earth could take these knitting needles away from me, against my will."

"Looks as if I'd have to start a little war of my own," remarked Betty ruefully, carefully putting away her own knitting and preparing for action. "I never yet let a challenge like that pass me by--Oh, Allen, you startled me!"

"Sorry," said Allen, making his usual, though undignified, entrance over the railing of the porch, and seating himself with a sigh of content in one of the big chairs. "Say, what was all the row about?" he added, looking with interest at Mollie's still threatening needles, and Betty's general air of preparation for attack. "About a mile away I heard the noise, and thought I'd drop in to see who was getting killed."

"A mile away," sniffed Mollie, abandoning the attack, while Betty once more opened her knitting bag. "If girls are good fibbers I wonder what they'd call men."

"Li--I mean prevaricators," said Allen cheerfully, and the girls gasped in dismay. "Well, you asked me, didn't you?" he argued, laughing at their shocked faces. "I only tried to be obliging."

"Then we like you better when you're not," said Betty primly.

"But what was the row?" he persisted. "I'm sure I interrupted something, and if I'm still intruding, I'll go away so you can finish it"

"Oh, we were just starting a new kind of war," Mollie explained. "We call it the war of the knitting needles."

"That's just what I told the fellows," said Allen, shaking his head sorrowfully, "only they wouldn't believe me."

"Now what are you talking about?" asked Grace, without looking up from her knitting. "I know you want somebody to ask it, so I'll be-- as you would say in vulgar slang--the goat."

"That's right! Blame it all, even the slang, on us," said Allen plaintively. "That's the way the girls----"

"Goodness, you can't tell us anything about ourselves we don't know," said Mollie impatiently. "We want to know what you told the boys."

"Oh, about the needles," said Allen, stretching out his long legs, and locking his fingers behind his head. "I just happened to remark that while we were killing each other off with bayonets in the trenches, the women and girls would be knitting themselves to death at home, so there would probably be an equal number of both sexes when the war was over."

"Oh, dear, there you go, joking about it again," sighed Amy. "And you made me lose a stitch too. Oh, dear, that's the first one in the whole sweater."

"Hand it over," said Betty patiently. "I may be able to catch it for you, so you won't have to rip out too much. Oh, Allen, what do you suppose we are going to do?"

"What?" queried Allen, gazing admiringly from the busy deft fingers to the pretty bent head.

"We're going to give a lawn party," she answered. "It's going to be as elaborate an affair as possible, and we're going to charge a dollar admission."

"Whew," said Allen, sitting up and regarding each one of the flushed conspirators in turn. "What's this--a get-rich-quick-scheme?"

"I should say not!" said Mollie hotly. "Isn't that just exactly like a man? Everything we do isn't selfish."

"Well, what is the idea?" asked poor Allen patiently. "If you'd just tell a fellow----"

"It's for the Red Cross," Betty explained, "I'm afraid that stitch is too far down to get back, Amy dear. You'll have to rip out a little. You see we want to raise a lot of money," she went on, raising her pretty head and speaking quickly. "When we decided to join the Red Cross, as you know we have, we didn't mean to go into it half way. It didn't seem to us enough, just to give our time and labor--we wanted to raise actual cash. And this seemed the best way to do it."

"I think it's a mighty fine idea," said Allen heartily. "And as I don't think there's a more patriotic town on the map than little old Deepdale, I should think you ought to be able to raise quite a considerable pile. I'll help all I can."

"Oh, Allen, will you?" cried Betty excitedly. "Oh, if you boys will only help, we'll be sure to make it a success. I can't wait to begin."

"Well, why do we have to wait?" asked Mollie practically. "Why can't we start in planning and rehearsing to-night?"

"There's no reason in the world why we can't," cried Betty, putting away her knitting definitely, and beginning to pace up and down the porch as she always did when thinking things out. "Allen, do you think you can round up the boys, and do you think they'll all be willing to help us?"

"Of course," said Allen, without taking his eyes from her. "I'll bring them around to-night if you say so."

"Good! Then there's Gladys Alden who plays the violin beautifully, and Jean Ratcliffe who can recite like a professional and--oh, dear, there's no end to the talent. And we'll----" she paused dramatically and surveyed them with dancing eyes. "We'll--give a play!"

"But a play takes time," Allen objected; "and if you're counting us fellows in on it, you'll have to make it soon. We may be called any time now."

"Oh, but don't you remember that play we were going to give one time?" Mollie broke in eagerly. "And then somebody's relative was taken sick, and broke the whole thing up? That was a good little sketch, and I don't think it would take us very long to brush it up again."

"Mollie, you're a genius," cried Betty, stopping before Mollie and hugging her rapturously. "Why, of course it won't take us any time at all to get that in shape, and it's sure to take well."

"Do you know what would make a hit?" suggested Allen, catching the general spirit of enthusiasm. "If this is going to be an outdoor affair, we ought to have a big tent with a stage at one end, for this concert and sketch business. We could make it mighty picturesque, with Japanese lanterns, and we fellows might be able to rig up some batteries and electric lights for footlights."

"That would be wonderful," cried Grace, shaken out of her usual calm. "That would be the big attraction. Then we could have little booths for fortune-telling, and such things, scattered about the place."

"And ice cream and cake counters," cried Amy, her eyes wide and dark with, excitement. "We girls could make the cakes, so it wouldn't cost so much."

"Allen," interrupted Betty, gazing eagerly down the street. "There goes Roy now. Won't you go after him, and tell him to be sure to be here to-night? Frank and Will, too--don't let them say no!"

"All right," said Allen obligingly, untwining his long legs, and taking the steps two at a time. "I go to do your bidding, Princess."

"And, Allen," Betty ran down the steps to call after him, "whatever you do--come early!"