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The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 18332

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Olga, sitting under a big oak, was embroidering her ceremonial dress, and, as usual, Elizabeth sat near, watching her as she worked. Olga did it as she did most things, with taste and skill, but she listened indifferently when Laura Haven, stopping beside her, spoke admiringly of the work.

"I wouldn't waste time over it if I hadn't promised Miss Grandis to embroider it. She gave us all the stuff, you know," Olga explained.

"It isn't wasting time to make things beautiful," Laura replied. "That is part of our law, you know, to seek beauty, and wherever possible, create it." She looked at Elizabeth and added, "You'll be learning by-and-by to do such work."

There was no response from the Poor Thing, only the usual shrinking gesture and eyes down-dropped. Acting on a sudden impulse, Laura spoke again. "Elizabeth, the cook is short of helpers this morning, and I've volunteered to shell peas. There's a big lot of them to do. I wonder if you would be willing to help me."

To her surprise Elizabeth rose at once with a nod. "Olga will be glad to have her away for a little while," Laura was thinking as they went over to the kitchen.

It certainly was a big lot of peas. Forty girls, living and sleeping in the open, develop famous appetites, and the "telephone" peas were delicious. But as the two worked, the great pile of pods grew steadily smaller, and finally Laura looked at Elizabeth with a laugh. "I've been trying my best, but I can't keep up with you," she said. "How do you shell them so fast, Elizabeth?"

A wee ghost of a smile-the first Laura had ever seen there-fluttered over the girl's face. "I'm used to this kind of work. You have to do it fast when you're cookin' for eight," she explained simply.

"And you have cooked for eight?" Laura questioned, and added to herself, "No wonder you look like a ghost of a girl."

Elizabeth nodded. Laura could not induce her to talk, but still she felt that somehow she had penetrated a little way into the shell of silence and reserve. As they went back across the camp, she dropped her arm over Elizabeth's shoulders, and said,

"You're a splendid helper, Elizabeth. May I call on you the next time I need any one?"

Another silent nod, and then the girl slipped back into her place beside Olga.

"Then I will-and thank you," Laura returned as she passed on. Olga glanced after her with something odd and inscrutable in her dark eyes, and there was a question in the look with which she searched the face of Elizabeth. But she did not put the question into words.

Afterwards Laura spoke to her friend of the Poor Thing with a new hopefulness, telling how willingly she had helped with the peas.

"You know I've tried in vain to get her to do other things, but this time she was so quick to respond! I'm almost afraid to hope, but maybe I've had an inspiration. I must try the child again though before I can feel at all sure."

She made her second trial the next day, when she sent Bessie Carroll to ask Elizabeth to help her with the dishes. "It's my day to work in the kitchen," Bessie told her, "and Miss Laura thought you might be willing to help me. Most of the girls, you know, hate the kitchen work. You don't, do you?"

"I like to help," replied Elizabeth promptly.

"I like Elizabeth!" Bessie confided to Laura that night. "Before, I've tried to get her into things because she seemed so lonesome and 'out of it,' don't you know? But I like her now, she was so willing to help me to-day. I thought she was awfully slow, but she was quick as anybody with the dishes."

Then Laura felt sure she had found the key. "Elizabeth loves to help," she told Anne Wentworth.

"'Love is the joy of service so deep that self is forgotten,'" she quoted. "Anne, I believe that that spirit is in the Poor Thing-deep down in the starved little heart of her-while Olga-with Olga it is the other. She 'glorifies work' because 'through work she is free.' She works 'to win, to conquer, to be master.' She works 'for the joy of the working.' That's the difference."

Anne nodded gravely. "I am sure you are right about Olga. It has always seemed to me that to her 'Wohelo means work' and only that."

"And to Elizabeth it means-or will mean-service and that means, underneath-love," said Laura, her voice full of deep feeling. "O Anne, I so long to help that poor child to get some of the beauty and joy of life into her little neglected soul!"

"If she has love, she has the best thing in life already," Anne reminded. "The rest will come-in time."

A day or two later Laura found another excuse for asking Elizabeth's help, and as before, the response was quick, and again Olga's busy fingers paused as she looked after the two, and quite unconsciously her dark brows came together in a frown. Elizabeth had gone with scarcely a glance at her. A week-two weeks earlier, she would have hung back and refused. Olga shook her head impatiently as she resumed her work, and wondered why she was dissatisfied with Elizabeth for going so willingly. Of course she must do what her Guardian asked. Nevertheless--Olga left it there.

It was an hour before Elizabeth came back, and this time there was in her face something half shy, half exultant, and she did not say a word about what Miss Laura had wanted her for. Olga made a mental note of that, but she was far too proud to make any inquiries.

The next morning after breakfast Elizabeth disappeared again, and this time too it was fully an hour before she returned, and as before she came back with a shining something in her eyes-a something that changed slowly to troubled brooding when Olga did not look at her or speak to her all the rest of the morning.

When the third day it was the same, Olga faced the situation in stony silence. She would not ask why Elizabeth went or where, but she silently resented her going, and Elizabeth, sensitively conscious of her resentment, after that, slipped away each time with a wistful backward glance; and when she returned, there was no shining radiance in her eyes, but only that wistful pleading which Olga coldly ignored. So it went on day after day. Olga always knew where Elizabeth was except for that one hour in the morning, which was never mentioned between them. The other times she was always helping some one-darning stockings for Louise Johnson-Elizabeth knew how to darn stockings-or helping little Bessie Carroll hunt for some of her belongings, which she was always losing, or helping Katie the cook, who declared that nobody in camp could pare potatoes and apples, or peel tomatoes or pick over berries so fast as the Poor Thing. There was not a day now that some one did not call on Elizabeth for something like this, for the girls had found out that she was always willing. She seemed to take it quite as a matter of course that she should be at the service of everybody. But Laura noted the fact that she never asked anybody to help her.

Then came a night when Mrs. Royall detained the girls for a moment after supper in the dining-room.

"I think we are going to have a heavy storm," she said, "and we must be prepared for it. Put all your belongings under cover where they will be secure from wind and rain. I should advise you to sleep in your gymnasium suits-you will be none too warm in this northeast wind-and have your rubber blankets and overshoes handy. Guardians will examine all tent-pins and ropes and see that everything is secure. No tent-sides up to-night, of course. I shall have a fire here, and lanterns burning all night; so if anything is needed you can come right here. Now remember, girls, there is nothing to be afraid of-and Camp Fire Girls, of course, are never afraid. That is all, but attend to these things at once, and as it is too chilly to stay out, we will all spend the evening here."

The girls scattered, and the next half-hour was spent in making everything ready for stormy weather. Only Louise Johnson, her mouth full of mint gum, gaily protested that it was all nonsense. It might rain, of course, but she didn't believe there was going to be any heavy storm-in August--

"If the rest of you want to bundle up in your gym. suits you can, but excuse me!" she said. "And I can't put all my duds under cover."

"All right, Johnny, you'll have nobody but yourself to blame if you find your things soaked, or blown into the bay before morning," Mary Hastings told her. "I'm going to obey orders," and she hurried over to her own tent.

The evening began merrily in the big dining-room. The canvas sides had been securely fastened down, and a splendid wood fire blazed in the wide fireplace. Tables were piled at one side of the room, and the girls played games, and danced to the music of two violins. At bedtime Mrs. Royall served hot chocolate and wafers, and then the girls went to their tents. By that time the sky was covered with a murk of black clouds, and a penetrating wind was blowing up the bay and whistling through the grove. Extra blankets had been put over the cots and rubber blankets over all, and the girls were quite willing to pull their flannel gym. suits over their night cloth

es, and found them none too warm. Even Louise Johnson followed the example of the others. "Gee!" she exclaimed as she tucked the extra blanket closely around her shoulders, "camping out isn't all it's cracked up to be-not in this weather. Isn't that thunder?"

It was thunder, and some of the more timid girls heard it with quaking hearts. But it was distant, low growling thunder, and after a little it died away. The girls, under their wool coverings, were warm and comfortable, and their laughter and chatter ceased as they dropped off to sleep.

It seemed as if the storm spirits had maliciously waited that their onset might be the more effective, for when all was quiet, and everybody in camp asleep, the muttering of the thunder grew louder, lightning began to zigzag across the black cloud masses, and the whistling of the wind deepened to a steady ominous growl. Tent ropes creaked under the strain of the heavy blasts; trees writhed and twisted, and the rain came in gusts, swift, spiteful, and icy cold. In the dining-room Mrs. Royall awoke from a light doze and piled fresh logs on the fire. Anne and Laura, whom she had kept with her in case their help might be needed, peered anxiously out of the windows.

"Can't see a thing but black night except when the flashes come," Anne said, "but this uproar is bound to awaken the girls."

"And some of them are sure to be frightened," added Mrs. Royall.

"It is enough to frighten them-all this tumult," Laura said. "I wish we could get them all in here."

"I'd have kept them all here and made a big field bed on the floor if I had thought we were going to have such a storm as this," Mrs. Royall said anxiously. "If it doesn't lessen soon, I shall take a lantern and go the round of the tents to see if all is right."

As she spoke there came a loud rattling peal of thunder, followed immediately by a blinding flash of lightning that zigzagged across the sky, making the dense darkness yet blacker by contrast.

It was then that Mary Hastings, sitting up in bed, caught a glimpse, in the glare of the lightning, of Annie Pearson's white terrified face in the next cot.

"O Mary, I'm sc-scared to d-death!" Annie whimpered, her teeth chattering with cold and terror.

"We are all right if only our tent doesn't blow over," returned Mary, and her steady voice quieted Annie for the moment. "If it does, we must make a dive for the dining-room. Got your raincoats and rubbers handy, girls?"

"I'm putting mine on," Olga's voice was as cool and undisturbed as Mary's. She turned towards the next cot and added, "Elizabeth, you've no raincoat. Wrap yourself in your rubber blanket if the tent goes."

"Ye-es," returned Elizabeth, with a little frightened gasp.

Under the bedclothes Annie Pearson was sobbing and moaning, "O, I wish I was home! I wish I was home!"

Mary Hastings spoke sternly. "Annie Pearson, if you don't stop that whimpering I'll shake you!"

Annie subsided into sniffling silence. Outside there was a lull, and after a moment, Mary added hopefully, "There, I guess the worst is over, and we're all right."

While the words were yet on her lips, the storm leaped up like a giant refreshed. Rain came down in a deluge, beating through tent-canvas and spraying, with fine mist, the faces of the girls. Another vivid glare of lightning was followed by a long, loud rattling peal ending in a terrific crash that seemed fairly to rend the heavens, while the wind shook the tents as if giant hands were trying to wrest them from their fastenings. Then from all over the camp arose frightened shrieks and wails and cries, but Annie Pearson now was too terrified to utter a word. The next moment there was a loud, ripping tearing sound, and as fresh cries broke out, Mrs. Royall's voice, clear and steady, rose above the tumult.

"Be quiet, girls," she called. "One tent has gone over, but nobody's hurt. Mary Hastings, slip on your coat and rubbers, and come and help us-quick!"

"I'm coming," called Mary instantly, and directly she was out in the storm. Where the next tent had been, nothing but the wooden flooring, the iron cots, and four wooden boxes remained, and over these the rain was pouring in heavy, blinding sheets. Mrs. Royall, as wet as if she had just come out of the bay, was holding up a lantern, by the light of which Mary caught a fleeting glimpse of four figures in dripping raincoats scudding towards the dining-room, while two others followed them with arms full of wet bedding.

Mrs. Royall told Mary to gather up the bedding from a third cot and carry that to the dining-room, "And you take the rest of it," she added to another girl, who had followed Mary. "And stay in the dining-room-both of you. Don't come out again. Miss Anne will tell you what to do there."

She held the lantern high until the girls reached the dining-room, then she hurried to another tent, from which came a hubbub of frightened cries. Pushing aside the canvas curtain she stepped inside the tent, and holding up her lantern, looked about her. The cries and excited exclamations ceased at the sight of her, though one girl could not control her nervous sobbing.

"What is the matter here? Your tent hasn't blown over. What are you crying about, Rose?" Mrs. Royall demanded.

Rose Anderson, an excitable little creature of fifteen, lifted a face white as chalk. "O," she sobbed, "something came in-right up on my bed. It was big and-and furry-and wet! O Mrs. Royall, I never was so scared in my life!" She ended with a burst of hysterical sobbing.

Mrs. Royall cast a swift searching glance around the tent, then-wet and cold and worried as she was, her face crinkled into sudden laughter.

"Look, Rose-over there on that box. That must be the wet, furry big intruder that scared you so!"

Four pairs of round frightened eyes followed her pointing finger; and on the box they saw a half-grown rabbit, with eyes bulging like marbles as the little creature crouched there in deadly terror. One glance, and three of the girls broke into shrieks of nervous laughter in which, after a moment, Rose joined. And having begun to laugh the girls kept on, until those in the other tents began to wonder if somebody had gone crazy. Mrs. Royall finally had to speak sternly to put an end to the hysterical chorus.

"There, there, girls, that will do-now be quiet! Listen, the thunder is fainter now, and the lightning less sharp. I think the wind is going down too. Are any of you wet?"

"Only-only Rose, where the big furry thing--" began one, and at that a fresh peal of laughter rang out. But Mrs. Royall's grave face silenced it quickly.

"Listen, girls," she repeated, "you are keeping me here when I am needed to look after others. I cannot go until you are quiet. I'll take this half-drowned rabbit"-she reached over and picked up the trembling little creature-"with me; and now I think you can go to sleep. I am sure the worst of the storm is over."

"We will be quiet, Mrs. Royall," Edith Rue promised, her lips twitching again as she looked at the shivering rabbit.

"And I hope now you can get some rest," another added, and then Mrs. Royall dropped the curtain and went out again into the rain, which was still falling heavily. All the other tents had withstood the gale, and when Mrs. Royall had looked into each one, answered the eager questions of the girls, and assured them that no one was hurt and the worst of the storm was over, she hurried back to the dining-room. There she found that Anne and Laura had warmed and dried the girls, who had been turned out of their tent, given them hot milk, and made up dry beds for them on the floor.

"They are warm as toast," Anne assured her.

"And now you and I will get back to bed, Elizabeth," Mary Hastings said, again slipping on her raincoat, while Laura quietly threw her own over the other girl's shoulders.

"Wait a minute," Mrs. Royall ordered, and brought them two sandbags hot from the kitchen oven. "You must not go to sleep with cold feet. And thank you both for your help," she added. "I'll hold the lantern here at the door so you can see your way." But Laura quietly took the lantern from her, and held it till Mary called, "All right!"

"Is that you, Mary?" Olga's quiet voice questioned, as the girls entered the tent.

"Yes-Elizabeth and I. The excitement is all over and the storm will be soon. Let's all get to sleep as fast as we can."

"Elizabeth!" Olga repeated to herself. She had not known that Elizabeth had left her cot. "Why did you go?" she asked in a low tone, as Elizabeth crept under the blankets.

"Why-to help," the Poor Thing answered, squeezing the hand that touched hers in the darkness.

The storm surely was lessening now. The lightning came at longer intervals and the thunder lagged farther and farther behind it. The rain still fell, but not so heavily, and the roar of the wind had died down to a sullen growl. In ten minutes the other three girls were sound asleep, but Olga lay long awake, her eyes searching the darkness, as her thoughts searched her own soul, finding there some things that greatly astonished her.

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