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   Chapter 13 A CAMP FIRE CHRISTMAS

The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 18450

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


For over a year Olga had been working in the evening classes of the Arts and Crafts school, and she was now doing excellent work in silver. Her designs were so bold and original and her execution so good, that she received from patrons of the school many orders for Christmas gifts-so many that she gave up her other work in order to devote all her time to this. She had now two rooms, a small bedroom and a larger room which served as kitchen, living-room, and workroom. None of the girls had ever been invited to these rooms, nor even Miss Laura. Elizabeth, Olga would have welcomed there; but it was quite useless to ask her before Sadie joined the Camp Fire. Then Olga saw her opportunity, but it was an opportunity hampered by a very unpleasant condition, and the condition was Sadie. Could she admit Sadie even for the sake of having Elizabeth? Olga pondered long over that while she was teaching the girl to work with the beads and the raffia. Sadie was an apt pupil. Those bony little fingers of hers were deft and quick. Within a month she had made her Camp Fire dress and her headband, and was eagerly at work over the requirements for a Fire Maker. But, as Mary Hastings said to Rose Anderson one day,

"She's sharp as nails-that Sadie! I believe she can learn anything she sets her mind on; but she's such a selfish little pig! I can't endure her."

"I wish I had her memory," Rose answered. "How she did reel off the Fire Ode and the Fire Maker's desire the other night! I haven't learned that Ode yet so that I can say it without stumbling."

"O, Sadie can reel it off without a mistake, but she's as blind to the meaning of it as this sidewalk. There's no heart to Sadie Page. She can thank Elizabeth that we ever voted her in."

"Elizabeth-and Olga," Rose amended.

"O, Olga-well, that was for Elizabeth too. Olga did it just for her-got Sadie in, I mean."

"She's-different-lately, don't you think, Molly?"

"Who-Olga?"

Rose nodded.

"Yes, she's getting more human. She's opened her heart to Elizabeth and she can't quite shut it against the rest of us-not quite-though she opens it only the tiniest crack."

"But I think it's lovely the way she is to Sadie. You know she must hate that kind of a girl as much as we do, or more-and yet she endures and helps her in every way just to give Elizabeth her chance. Miss Laura says Olga is doing lovely silver work. I'd like to see some of it, but I don't dare ask her to let me."

"You'd better not," laughed Mary, "unless you are ready to be snubbed. Nobody but Elizabeth will ever be privileged to that extent."

"And Sadie."

"Well, possibly, but not if Olga can help it."

Yet it was Sadie and not Elizabeth who was the first of the Camp Fire Girls to be admitted to Olga's rooms. Sadie was wild to take up the silver work. She wanted to make herself a complete set-bracelet, ring, pin, and hatpin, after a design she had seen. Again and again she brought the matter up, for, once she got an idea in her head, she clung to it with the tenacity of a limpet to a rock.

"I think you might teach me!" she cried out impatiently one day, meeting Olga in the street. "You said you'd teach me all you know-you did, Olga Priest-and now you won't."

"I've taught you basket work and beadwork and embroidery, and the knots, and the Red-Cross things, and I'm helping you to win your honours," Olga reminded her.

"O, I know-but I want to make the silver set just awfully. I can do it-I know I can-and you promised, Olga Priest, you promised!" Sadie repeated, half crying in her eager impatience.

"Well," Olga said with a reluctance she did not try to conceal, "if you hold me to that promise--"

"I do then!" Sadie declared, her black eyes watching Olga's lips as if she would snatch the words from them before they were spoken.

"Then I suppose I must," Olga went on slowly. "But listen, Sadie. You don't seem to realise what you are asking of me. I've been nearly two years learning this work, and I paid for my lessons-a good big price, too-yet you expect me to teach you for nothing."

"Well, you know I've no money to pay for lessons," Sadie retorted sulkily.

"I know-but you see you don't have to learn the silver work. There are plenty of other things for you to learn in handcraft."

Sadie's narrow sharp face flushed and she stamped her foot angrily. "But I don't want the other things, and I do want this. I-I've just got to have that silver set, Olga Priest."

Olga set her lips firmly. She must draw the line somewhere, for there seemed no limit to Sadie's demands. Then a thought occurred to her and she said slowly, "I don't feel, Sadie, that you have any right to ask this of me. It is different from the other things. The silver work is my trade-the way I earn my living. But I will teach you to make your set on one condition."

"It's something about Elizabeth, I know," Sadie flung out with an angry flirt.

"No, not this time. Sadie, have you ever given any one a Christmas present?"

"No, of course not. I don't have any money to buy 'em."

"Well, this is my condition. I'll teach you to make the silver set for yourself if you will first make something for--"

"Elizabeth!" broke in Sadie. "I said so."

"No, not for Elizabeth-for your mother."

Sadie stood staring, her mouth open, her eyes full of amazement.

"What you want me to do that for?" she demanded.

"No matter why. Will you do it?"

Sadie wriggled her shoulders and scowled. "I want to make my set first-then I will."

But Olga shook her head. "No," she replied firmly, "for your mother first, or else I'll not teach you at all."

"But I'll have to wait so long then for mine." Sadie was half crying now.

"That's my offer-you can take it or leave it," Olga said. "I must go on now. Think it over and tell me Saturday what you decide."

"O-if I must, I must, I s'pose," Sadie yielded ungraciously. "How long will it take me to make mother's?"

"Depends on how quickly you learn."

"O, I'll learn quick enough!" Sadie tossed her head as one conscious of her powers. "When can I begin?"

"Monday. Can you come right after school?"

"Uh, huh," and with a brief good-bye Sadie was gone.

Olga had no easy task with her over the making of her mother's gift. It was to be a brass stamp box, and her only thought was to get it out of the way so that she could begin on her own jewelry; but Olga was firm.

"If you don't make a good job of this your lessons will end right here," she declared, and Sadie had learned that when Olga spoke in that tone, she must be obeyed. She gloomed and pouted, but seeing no other way to get what she wanted she set to work in earnest. And as the work grew under her hands, her interest in it grew. When, finally, the box was done, it was really a creditable bit of work for the first attempt of a girl barely fourteen, and Sadie was inordinately proud of it.

It was December now and Christmas was the absorbing interest of the Camp Fire Girls. They were to have a tree in the Camp Fire room, but Laura told them to make their gifts very simple and inexpensive.

"We must not spoil the Great Day by giving what we cannot afford," she said. "The loving thought is the heart of Christmas giving-not the money value. I'll get our tree, but you can help me string popcorn and cranberries to trim it, and put up the greenery."

"Me too-O Miss Laura, can't I help too?" Jim cried anxiously.

"Why, of course. We couldn't get along without you, Jim," half a dozen voices assured him before Laura could answer.

"I wish our old ladies could come to our tree," Elsie Harding said to Alice Reynolds.

"They couldn't. Most of them can't go out evenings, you know. But we might put gifts for them on the tree they have at the Home."

"Or have them hang up stockings," suggested Louise Johnson. "Just imagine forty long black stockings strung around those parlour walls. Wouldn't it be a sight?" she giggled.

"Nancy Rextrew wouldn't have her stocking hung on any parlour wall. It would be in her own room or nowhere," put in Lena.

"Why not get some of those red Christmas stockings from the five cent store, and fill one for each old lady?" Mary Hastings proposed. "We could go late, after they'd all gone to their rooms, and hang the stockings, full, on their doorknobs."

"Or get the superintendent to hang them early in the morning," was Laura's suggestion.

"Yes, we can get the stockings and the 'fillings,'" Mary Hastings went on, "and have all sent to the superintendent's room. Then we can go there and fill them. It won't take long if we all go."

"And not have any tree for them?" Myra asked in a disappointed tone.

"O, they always have a tree with candles and trimmings-the Board ladies furnish that," Frances explained.

The girls lingered late that night talking over Christmas plans. The air was heavy with secrets, there were whispered conferences in corners, and somebody was always drawing Laura aside to ask advice or help. Only Elizabeth had no part in these mysterious whisperings. She had blossomed into happy friendliness with all the girls now that she came regularly to the meetings, but the old sad silence crept over her aga

in in these December days. It was Olga who guessed her trouble and went with it to Sadie, drawing her away from a group of girls who were busy over crochet work.

"Look at Elizabeth," she began.

Sadie stared at her sister sitting apart from the others, listlessly gazing into the fire. "Well, what of her? What's eating her?" Sadie demanded in her most aggravating manner.

Olga frowned. Sadie's slang was a trial to her.

"Elizabeth says she is not coming to the Christmas tree here."

"Well, she don't have to, if she don't want to," Sadie retorted, but she cast an uneasy glance at the silent figure by the fire.

"She does want to, Sadie Page-you know she does."

"Well, then-what's the answer?" demanded Sadie.

"Would you come if you couldn't give a single thing to any one?" Olga asked quietly.

"Why don't she make things then-same's I do?" Sadie's tone was sullen now.

"You know why. Your mother gives you a little money--"

"Mighty little," Sadie interrupted. "I'm going to work when I'm sixteen. Then I'll have my own money to spend."

"And Elizabeth is nearly eighteen and can't work for herself because she spends all her time working for the rest of you at home," said Olga.

A startled look flashed into the sharp black eyes. Sadie had actually never before thought of that.

Olga went on, "I guess you'd miss Elizabeth at home if she should go away to work, but she ought to do it as soon as she is eighteen. And if she should, you'd have to do some of the kitchen work, wouldn't you? And maybe then you wouldn't have a chance to go away and earn money for yourself."

"Is she going to do that-go off to work when she's eighteen?" Sadie demanded, plainly disturbed at the suggestion.

"Everybody would say she had a right to. Most girls would have gone long ago-you know it, Sadie. You'd better make things easier for her at home if you want to keep her there."

"How?" Sadie's voice was despondent now. "Father gets so little pay-we're pinched all the time."

"Yet you have good clothes and money for your silver work--"

"Well, I have to just tease it out of mother. You don't know how I have to tease."

Olga could imagine. "Well," she said, "the girls all guess how it is about Elizabeth, and, if you come to the tree and she doesn't, I shan't envy you, that's all. You are smart enough to think up some way to help Elizabeth out."

"I d'know how!" grumbled Sadie. "I think you're real mean, Olga Priest-always saying things to spoil my fun, so there!" and she whirled around and went back to the other girls.

"All the same," said Olga to herself, "I've set her to thinking."

The next afternoon Sadie burst tumultuously into Olga's room crying out, "I've thought what Elizabeth can do! She can make some cakes-she made some for us last Christmas-awful nice ones, with nuts an' citron an' raisins in 'em. She can put white icing over 'em an' little blobs of red sugar for holly berries, you know, with citron leaves. I thought that up myself, about the icing. Won't they be dandy?"

"Fine! Good for you, Sadie!"

Sadie accepted the approval as her due, and went on breathlessly, "I thought it all out in school to-day. An' say, Olga-I can make baskets of green and white crêpe paper to hold three or four of the cakes, an' stick a bit of holly in each basket. Then they can be from me an' 'Lizabeth both-how's that?"

"Couldn't be better," Olga declared.

"Uh huh, you see little Sadie has a head on her all right!" Sadie exulted. But Olga could overlook her conceit since, for once, she had taken thought for Elizabeth too.

Laura wondered if, amid all the bustle and excitement of Christmas planning and doing, Jim would forget about the Christmas for the Children's Hospital, but he did not forget; and when she told him that she was depending upon him to tell her what the boys there would like, Jim had no trouble at all in deciding. So one Saturday Miss Laura took him down town early before the stores were crowded and they had a delightful time selecting books and toys.

"My-ee!" Jim cried, as they were speeding up Connecticut Avenue, the car piled with packages, "won't this be a splendid Christmas! Ours first at home, and the hospital Christmas and the Camp Fire one and the old ladies' one-it'll be four Christmases all in one year, won't it, Miss Laura?" he exulted.

"Besides a tree and a gift for each one in your outdoor school," Laura added.

Jim stared at her wide-eyed. "O, who's going to give them?" he cried. "You?"

"You and I and the judge, Jim. That is our thank-offering for all that the school is doing for you-and for Jo."

Jim moved close and hid his face for a long moment on Laura's shoulder. She knew that he was afraid he might cry, but this time they would have been tears of pure joy. He explained presently, when he was sure that his eyes were all right.

"That will be the best Christmas of all, 'cause some of the out-doorers wouldn't have a teeny bit of Christmas at home. Jo wouldn't. He says they never hang up stockings or anything like that at his house. He said he didn't care, but I know he did."

That evening Miss Laura asked, "How would you like to put something on our tree for Jo?"

"The Camp Fire tree-and have him come?" Jim cried eagerly.

"Of course."

It took three somersaults to get that out of Jim's system. When he came up, flushed and joyful, Laura said, "I'm going to tell you a Christmas secret, Jim. I am going to have each Camp Fire Girl invite her mother, or any one else she likes, to come to our tree. We can't have presents for them all, of course, but there will be ice cream and cake enough for everybody."

"O, Miss Laura!" Jim cried. "It's going to be the best Christmas that ever was in this world!"

And Jim was not the only one who thought so before the Great Day was over. The tree at the outdoor school, the day before, was a splendid surprise to every one there except the teacher and Jim, and all the little "out-doorers," as Jim called them, went home with their hands full. At the hospital the celebration was very quiet, but in spite of pain and weariness, the boys in the first ward enjoyed their gifts as much as Jim had hoped they would. And the Christmas stocking, full and running over, that each old lady at the Home found hanging to her doorknob, made those old children as happy as the young ones.

Jim's stocking could not hold half his treasures, and words failed him utterly before he had opened the last package. But the Camp Fire celebration was the great success. The tree was a blaze of light and colour, and the gifts which the girls had made for each other were many and varied. Some of the beadwork and basket work was really beautiful, and there were pretty bits of crochet and some knitted slippers-all the work of the girls themselves. Miss Laura had begged them to give her no gift, and hers to each of them was only a little water-colour sketch with "Love is the joy of service," beautifully lettered, beneath it.

Sadie's baskets of crêpe paper were really very pretty, and these filled with Elizabeth's holly cakes were one of the "successes" of the evening. They were praised so highly that Elizabeth was quite, quite happy and Sadie "almost too proud to live," as she confided to Olga in an excited whisper.

But the best of all was the pleasure of the guests of the evening-Jack Harding and Jo Barton and David Chapin, who all came as Jim's guests-Louise Johnson's brother, a big awkward boy of sixteen-Eva Bicknell's mother, with her bent shoulders and rough hands, and other mothers more or less like her. The four boys helped when the cake and ice cream were served, and Jim whispered to Jo that he could have just as many helpings as he wanted-Miss Laura said so-and Jo wanted several. It was by no means a quiet occasion-there was plenty of noise and laughter, and fun, and Laura was in the heart of it all. They closed the evening with ten minutes of Christmas carols in which everybody joined, and then while the girls were getting on their wraps, the mothers crowded about Laura, and the things some of them said filled her heart with a great joy, for they told her how much the Camp Fire was doing for their girls-making them kinder and more helpful at home, keeping them off the streets, teaching them so many useful and pretty sorts of work.

"My girl is so much happier, and more contented than she used to be," one said.

"Mine, too," another added. "I can't be glad enough for the Camp Fire. Johnny's a Scout an' that's a mighty good thing, too, but for girls there's nothing like the Camp Fire."

"Eva used to hate housework, but now she does it thinkin' about the beads she's getting, and she don't hardly ever fret over it," Mrs. Bicknell confided.

"These things you are saying are the very best Christmas gift I could possibly have," Laura told them, with shining eyes.

And the girls themselves, as they bade her good-night said words that added yet more to the full cup of her Christmas joy.

"O, it pays, father-this work with my girls," she said, when all had gone, and they two sat together before the fire. "It has been such a beautiful, beautiful Christmas!"

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