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   Chapter 6 A WATER CURE

The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 15527

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


There were some pale cheeks and heavy eyes the next morning, but no one had taken cold from the exposure of the night, and most of the girls were as fresh and full of life as ever. The camp, however, was strewn with leaves and broken branches, and one tree was uprooted. Mrs. Royall's face was grave as she thought of what might have been, had that tree fallen across any of the tents. It was a heavy responsibility that she carried with these forty girls under her charge, and never had she felt it more deeply than now.

The baby bunny was evidently somebody's stray pet, for it submitted to handling as if used to it, showed no desire to get away, and contentedly nibbled the lettuce leaves and carrots which the girls begged of Katie.

"He fairly purrs when I scratch his head," Louise Johnson declared gaily. "Girls, we must keep him for the camp mascot."

"Looks as if we should have to keep him unless a claimant appears," Mary Hastings said. "I've almost stepped on him twice already. I don't believe we could drive him away with a club."

"Nobody wants to drive him away," retorted Louise, lifting him by his long ears, "unless maybe Rose," she added, with a teasing glance over her shoulder. "You know Rose doesn't care for big furry things."

"Well, I guess," protested Rose, "if he had flopped into your face all dripping wet, in the dark, as he did into mine last night, you wouldn't have stopped to measure him before you yelled, any more than I did. He felt as big as-a wildcat, so there!" and Rose turned away with flushed cheeks, followed by shouts of teasing laughter.

"It's-too bad. I'd have been scared too," said a low voice, and Rose, turning, stared in amazement at the Poor Thing-the Poor Thing-for almost the first time since she came to camp, volunteering a remark.

"Why-why, you Po-Elizabeth!" Rose stammered, and then suddenly she slipped her arm around Elizabeth's waist and drew her off to the hammock behind the pines. "Come," she said, "I want to tell you about it. The girls are all laughing at me-especially Louise Johnson-but it wasn't any laughing matter to me last night. I was scared stiff-truly I was!" She poured the story of her experiences into the other girl's ears. The fact that Elizabeth said nothing made no difference to Rose. She felt the silent sympathy and was comforted. When she had talked herself out, Elizabeth slipped away and sought Olga, but Olga was nowhere to be found-not in the camp nor on the beach, but one of the boats was missing, and at last a girl told Elizabeth that she had seen Olga go off alone in it. That meant an age of anxious watching and waiting for the Poor Thing. She never could get over her horror of the treacherous blue water. To her it was a great restless monster forever reaching out after some living thing to clutch and drag down into its cruel bosom. It was agony to her to see Olga swim and dive; hardly less agony to see her go off in a boat or canoe. Always Elizabeth was sure that this time she would not come back.

We pull long, we pull strong, A dip now--a foaming prow

We pull keen and true; Through waters so blue

We sing to the king of the great black rocks

Through waters we glide like a long-tailed fox

She had put on her bathing suit, for Olga still made her wade every morning, and she wandered forlornly along the beach, and finally ventured a little way into the water. It was horrible to do even that alone, but she had promised, and she must do it even if Olga was not there to know. A troop of girls in bathing suits came racing down to the beach, Anne and Laura following them.

"What-who is that standing out in the water all alone?" demanded Anne Wentworth, who was a little near-sighted.

Annie Pearson broke into a peal of laughter. "It's that Poor Thing," she cried. "Did you ever see such a forlorn figure!"

"Looks like a sick penguin," laughed Louise Johnson.

"Why in the world is she standing there all alone?" cried Laura, and hurried on ahead, calling, "Elizabeth-Elizabeth, come here. I want you."

Elizabeth, standing in water up to her ankles, hesitated for a moment, swept the wide stretch of blue with a wistful searching glance, and then obeyed the summons.

"Why were you standing there, dear?" Laura questioned gently, leading her away from the laughing curious girls.

Elizabeth lifted earnest eyes to the kind face bending towards her.

"I promised Olga I'd wade every day-so I had to." Then she broke out, "O Miss Laura, do you think she'll come back? She went all alone, and she isn't anywhere in sight."

Laura drew the shivering little figure close to her side. "Why, of course she'll come back, Elizabeth. Why shouldn't she? She's been out so scores of times, just as I have. What makes you worry so, child?"

Elizabeth drew a long shuddering breath. "I can't help it," she sighed. "The water always makes me so afraid, Miss Laura!"

She lifted such a white miserable face that Laura saw it was really true-she was in the grip of a deadly terror. She drew the trembling girl down beside her on the warm sand. "Let's sit here a little while," she said, and for a few minutes they sat in silence, while further up the beach girls were wading and swimming and splashing each other, their shouts of laughter making a merry din. Some were diving from the pier, and one stood on a high springboard. Suddenly this one flung out her arms and sprang off, her slim body seeming to float between sky and water, as she swept downward in a graceful curving line.

Laura caught her breath nervously as her eyes followed the slender figure that looked so very small outstretched between sky and water, and Elizabeth covered her eyes with a little moan.

"O, I wish she wouldn't do that-I do wish she wouldn't!" she said under her breath.

Laura spoke cheerfully. "She is all right. See, Elizabeth, how fast she is swimming now."

But Elizabeth shook her head and would not look. Laura put her arm across the narrow shrinking shoulders and after a moment spoke again, slowly. "Elizabeth, you love Olga, don't you?"

Elizabeth looked up quickly. She did not answer-or need to.

"Yes, I know you do," Laura went on, answering the look. "But do you love her enough to do something very hard-for her?"

"Yes, Miss Laura. Tell me what. She won't ever let me do anything for her."

"It will be very, very hard for you," Laura warned her.

The girl looked at her silently, and waited.

"Elizabeth, I don't think you could do anything else that would please her so much as to conquer your fear of the water for her sake. Can you do such a hard thing as that-for Olga?"

A look of positive agony swept over Elizabeth's face. "Anything but just that," she moaned. "O Miss Laura, you don't know-you can't know how I hate it-that deep black water!"

"But can't you-even for Olga?" Laura questioned very gently.

Elizabeth shook her head and two big tears rolled down her cheeks. "I would if I could. I'd do anything, anything else for her; but that-I can't!" she moaned.

Laura put her hand under the trembling chin, and lifting the girl's face looked deep into the blue eyes swimming with tears.

"Elizabeth," she said slowly, a world of love and sympathy in her voice, "Elizabeth, you can!"

In that long deep look the dread and horror and misery died slowly out of Elizabeth's eyes, and a faint incredulous hope began to grow in them. It was as if she literally drew courage and determination from the eyes looking into hers, and who can tell what subtle spirit message really passed from the strong soul into the weaker one?

"I never, never could," Elizabeth faltered; but Laura caught the note of wavering hope in the low-spoken words.

"Elizabeth, you can. I k

now you can," she repeated.

"How?" questioned Elizabeth, and Laura smiled and drew her closer.

"You are afraid of the water," she said, "and your fear is like a cord that binds your will just as your arms might be bound to your sides with a scarf. But you can break the cord, and when you do, you will not be afraid of the water any more. Myra Karr was afraid just as you are-afraid of almost everything, but one wonderful day she conquered her fear. Ask her and she will tell you about it, and how much happier she has been ever since, as you will be when you have broken your cords. And just think how it will please Olga!"

There was a little silence; then suddenly Elizabeth leaned forward, eagerly pointing off over the water. "Is it-is she coming?" she whispered.

"Yes, she is coming. Now just think how you have suffered worrying over her this morning, and all for nothing."

Elizabeth drew a long happy breath. "I don't care now she's coming," she said, and it was as if she sang the words.

Laura went on, "Have you noticed, Elizabeth, how different Olga is from the other girls? She never laughs and frolics. She never really enjoys any of the games. She cares for nothing but work. She hasn't a single friend in the camp-she won't have one. I don't think she is happy, do you?"

Elizabeth considered that in silence. She had known these things, but she had never thought of them before.

"It's so," she admitted finally, her eyes on the approaching boat.

"Elizabeth, I think you are the only one who can really help Olga."

"I?" Elizabeth lifted wondering eyes. Then she added hastily, "You mean-going in the water?" She shuddered at the thought.

"Yes, dear, if you will let Olga help you to get rid of your fear of the water, it will mean more to her even than to you. Olga needs you, child, more than you need her, for you have many friends now in the camp, and she has only you."

"I like her the best of all," Elizabeth declared loyally.

"Yes, but you must prove it to her before you can really help her," Laura replied. "See, she is almost in now, and I won't keep you any longer."

Olga secured her boat to a ring and ran lightly up the steps. In a few minutes she came back in her bathing suit. As she ran down the beach, she swept a swift searching glance over the few girls sitting or lying on the sand; then her eyes rested on a little shrinking figure standing like a small blue post, knee deep in the water. It was Elizabeth, her cheeks colourless, her eyes fixed beseechingly, imploringly, on Olga's face. In a flash Olga was beside her, crying out sharply,

"What made you come in alone?"

"I p-promised you--" Elizabeth replied, her teeth chattering.

"Well, you've done it," said Olga. "Cut out now and get dressed."

But Elizabeth stood still and shook her head. "No," though her lips trembled, her voice was determined, "no, Olga, I'm going up to my-my neck to-day," and she held out her hands.

"You are not-you're coming out!" Olga declared. "You're in a blue funk this minute."

"I-know it," gasped Elizabeth, "but I'm going in-alone-if you won't go with me. Quick, Olga, quick!" she implored.

Some instinct stilled the remonstrance on Olga's lips. She grasped Elizabeth by her shoulders and walking backward herself, drew the other girl steadily on until the water rose to her neck. Elizabeth gasped, and deadly fear looked out of her straining eyes, but she made no sound. The next instant Olga had turned and was pulling her swiftly back to the beach.

"There! You see it didn't hurt you," she said brusquely, but never before had she looked at Elizabeth as she looked at her then. "Now run to the bathhouse and rub yourself hard before you dress," she ordered.

But Elizabeth had turned again towards the water, and Olga followed, amazed and protesting.

"Go back," cried Elizabeth over her shoulder, "go back. I'm going in alone this time."

And alone she went until once more the water surged and rippled about her neck. Only an instant-then she swayed and her eyes closed; but before she could lose her footing Olga's hands were on her shoulders and pushing her swiftly back to the beach. This time, however, she did not stop there, but swept the small figure over to the bathhouse. There she gave Elizabeth a brisk rubdown that set the blood dancing in her veins.

"Now get into your clothes in a hurry!" she commanded.

"I'm-n-not c-cold, Olga," Elizabeth protested with a pallid smile, "truly I'm not. I'm just n-nervous, I guess."

"You're just a brick, Elizabeth Page!" cried Olga, and she slammed the door and vanished, leaving Elizabeth glowing with delight.

Each day after that Elizabeth insisted on venturing a little more. Olga could guess what it cost her-her blue lips and the terror in her eyes told that-but day after day she fought her battle over and would not be worsted. She learned to float, to tread water, and then, very, very slowly, she learned to swim a little. Laura, looking on, rejoiced over both the girls. Everybody was interested in this marvellous achievement of the Poor Thing-they spoke of her less often by that name now-but only Laura realised how much it meant to Olga too. The day that Elizabeth succeeded in swimming a few yards, Olga for the first time took her out on the water at sunset; she had never been willing to go before. Even now she stepped into the boat shrinkingly, the colour coming and going in her cheeks, but when she was seated, and the boat floating gently on the rose-tinted water, the tense lines faded slowly from her face, and at last she even smiled a little.

"Well," said Olga, "are you still scared?"

"A little-but not much. If I wasn't any afraid it would be lovely-like rocking in a big, big beautiful cradle," she ended dreamily.

A swift glance assured Olga that they had drifted away from the other boats-there was no one within hearing. She leaned forward and looked straight into the eyes of the other girl. "Now I want to know what made you get over your fear of the water," she said.

"Maybe I've not got over it-quite," Elizabeth parried.

"What made you? Tell me!" Olga's tone was peremptory.

"You," said Elizabeth.

"I? But I didn't-I couldn't. I'd done my best, but I couldn't drag you into water above your knees-you know I couldn't. Somebody else did it," Olga declared, a spark flickering in her eyes.

"Miss Laura talked to me that day you were off so long in the boat," Elizabeth admitted. "She told me I could get over being afraid. I didn't think I could before-truly, Olga. I honestly thought I'd die if ever the water came up to my neck. I don't know how she did it-Miss Laura-but she made me see that I could get over being so awfully afraid-and I did."

"You said I did it," there was reproach as well as jealousy now in Olga's voice, "and it was Miss Laura."

"O no, it was you really," Elizabeth cried hastily, "because I did it for you. I never could have-never in this world!-only Miss Laura said it would please you. I did it for you, Olga."

"Hm," was Olga's only response, but now there was in her eyes something that the Poor Thing had never seen there before-a warm human friendliness that made Elizabeth radiantly happy.

"There comes the war canoe," Olga cried a moment later.

"How fast it comes-and how pretty the singing sounds!" Elizabeth returned.

They watched the big canoe as it flashed by, the many paddles rising and falling as one, while a dozen young voices sang gaily,

"'We pull long, we pull strong,

We pull keen and true.

We sing to the king of the great black rocks,

Through waters we glide like a long-tailed fox.'"

"Next year," said Olga, "I'm going to teach you to paddle, Elizabeth."

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