Read CHAPTER XV - THE FATEFUL DAY of The Outdoor Girls at the Hostess House, free online book, by Laura Lee Hope, on ReadCentral.com.

The rain that had been pouring down steadily all night stopped about dawn.  Betty raised herself on one elbow to look out the window and was greeted by a dazzling burst of sunshine, as the glorious disc dispersed the fog and took possession of the world.

“A good omen,” she murmured to herself, rubbing the sleepiness from her eyes.  “Perhaps that’s how the Huns will melt away before our boys!”

“What are you talking to yourself about?” queried Grace, irritably.  “A person has a fine chance to sleep ­”

“Sleep!” cried Betty, indignantly.  “What on earth do you want to sleep for?  Do you know what day this is?”

“Friday,” Grace answered mechanically, then seeing the point of the question, sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes.

“Oh, I ­forgot,” she stammered.  “They’re ­they’re going away, aren’t they?”

“Yes; unless, they’ve changed their minds since last night,” returned Betty dryly.  “Oh, Grace, please don’t look so sleepy.  You ­you annoy me,” she finished hysterically.

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Grace, trying comically to appear dignified.  “But it really isn’t so strange that I should look the way I feel ­”

“Goodness, if I looked the way I feel, I’d be an awful mess,” sighed Amy from the other bed.

“Maybe you do,” chuckled Mollie.  “Shall I get you a mirror?”

“Well, if you’d been awake almost all night,” Amy began, but Mollie cut her short with a bear’s hug.

“Forgive me, Amy,” she said, with unusual humility.  “I do know how awful it is to lie awake nearly all night and just think.

“And I shouldn’t blame any one the least bit,” she finished, “for calling me a mess, because I know I am.  I’m positively afraid to look in the mirror.”

“All right, we’ll have ’em all draped in black, just for your special benefit,” said Grace dryly.  “Mollie, where did you put my stockings?”

“Goodness, what do you think I am?” retorted Mollie.  “Your little French maid?”

“Nothing half so cute,” returned Grace ungraciously, while Betty and Amy exchanged glances which, interpreted, meant:  “We’ll have our hands full with these two, to-day, all right.”

“Anyway, you didn’t answer my question,” Grace persisted.  “I asked you what you did with my stockings.”

“Oh, I’ve got ’em on,” replied Mollie sarcastically, smothering a yawn.  “I mislaid my slumber shoes and used them instead.”

The girls giggled and Grace looked around for an instrument of punishment.  Not finding any, she was forced to resort to sarcasm.

“I guess you must have caught that particular form of insanity from Roy,” she said.

“Well, as long as it wasn’t the measles ­” Mollie was beginning when Amy broke in with one of those absolutely irrelevant remarks of hers, that made her different from every one else.

“I wonder,” she said thoughtfully, “if the boys will fall in love with those nice little French girls.  They say they’re awfully attractive.”

“Amy, what ever put such a thing into your head?” cried Betty, while the other two stared at her wide-eyed, not knowing whether to laugh or to be indignant.

“Oh ­nothing,” she answered vaguely.  “I was just wondering, that’s all.”

“Well,” said Mollie, throwing back the covers preparatory to rising, “I might suggest that the next time you feel it coming on, you might choose something more comfortable, that’s all.  Wondering about such things might become wearing.  What’s that?” she asked, as a sharp tap sounded on the door.

“A caller, presumably,” Grace remarked, as she slipped on a dressing gown and approached the door.

The early morning caller proved to be, much to their surprise and delight, no other than Mrs. Sanderson.

The old lady’s eyes were unusually bright, and there was a flush on her face.

“I haven’t been able to sleep all night,” she said, her hands fluttering nervously in her lap.  “Ever since Betty told me the boys were going this morning I couldn’t think of anything but just that one thing.”

“I am sorry I told you then until this morning,” cried Betty, reproaching herself.  “I didn’t know it was going to make you feel bad.”

“Oh, it wasn’t your fault, dear,” the old woman hastened to reassure her.  “And it really didn’t make me feel bad ­not for them, anyway.  They’re lucky to be able to fight ­even to die ­for a country like ours.  Only,” she paused, and some of the light died out of her eyes, “I couldn’t help wishing ­”

“Yes,” they prompted gently.

“That my Willie boy could have gone with them,” she said, the words so soft that they had to lean close to her to catch them.  “I would have been so proud of him.”

The girls were silent, not knowing how to comfort the poor old woman.

“Perhaps,” said Amy at last, scarcely knowing what she was saying, yet trying so hard to comfort, “he is a soldier somewhere.  There are so many thousands of them, you know.”

Mrs. Sanderson turned to her with such fierce emotion in her eyes that the girl unconsciously shrank back.

“If I thought that,” she said, her voice tense, her hands clasped so tightly in her lap that the knuckles showed white, “I’d be willing, glad, to die the next minute.  If I could just see my boy in uniform ­even if I knew I could never see him again ­” her voice trailed off, and once more the light died out of her eyes.

“But, of course, that’s impossible,” she said wearily.  “If my boy had been alive, he’d have come back to me.  But that wasn’t why I came in to see you so early,” she added after a moment, straightening up with that indomitable courage that had won, first, the girls’ admiration, then their love.  “I jest wanted to find out when ’twas the boys was startin’.”

“We’re not quite sure.  The boys thought some time between nine and ten o’clock, but they didn’t seem to be at all sure about it.  The only thing we really know is that they’re going to start early,” Betty answered.

“Thank you, dear.”  The old lady rose, and when she started for the door Mollie ran before her and opened it.

When she had gone, the girls sat still, just looking at each other for a few minutes.  Then ­

“Isn’t she wonderful?” breathed Betty.  “After all these years she would give him up gladly for the sake of her country.  That’s real patriotism.”

“She deserves to get him back,” murmured Mollie, as though speaking to herself.

“Well, that’s just the reason she won’t,” said Grace, irritably struggling with an unruly lock of hair.  “Nobody ever gets what he deserves in this awful world.  What is the matter with my hair this morning?  It looks just exactly as I feel.”

“Oh, come away from the mirror, Gracie,” cried Betty, putting an arm about her and dragging her, an unwilling victim, out into the hall.  “You’ll feel better after you’ve had your breakfast.  And remember,” she added diplomatically, “there’s a brand new box of candy in your left-hand dresser drawer.”

The ruse worked, and a smile forced its way through Grace’s discontent.  Then a sudden thought struck her and the smile flickered and went out altogether.

“It was Roy’s parting gift,” she said, striving to speak lightly, though her voice trembled ever so little.  “You know, Betty,” she said in a rare burst of confidence, “I never had the slightest idea I could feel so really b-bad ­” her eyes filled and she brushed her hand across them impatiently.

“Am I not a goose?” she asked plaintively, and Betty, trying to laugh, choked, too, and abandoned the attempt.

Then they both smiled, an April sort of uncertain smile and went in to breakfast.

“I guess,” remarked Betty whimsically, just as Mollie and Amy ran down the stairs and into the room, “that we’re fast becoming what you said you were the other day, Gracie ­a regular flock of geese!”