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   Chapter 15 AN OPEN DOOR FOR ELIZABETH

The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 17311

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Sadie Page burst tumultuously into Olga's room one afternoon and hardly waited to get inside the door before she cried out, "I've thought of something Elizabeth can do-something splendid."

"Well," said Olga drily, "if it is something splendid for Elizabeth, I'll excuse you for coming in without knocking."

"All right, please excuse me, I forgot," Sadie responded with unusual good nature, "I was in such a hurry to tell you. It's a way Elizabeth can earn money at home--Now, Olga Priest, I think you're real mean to look so!" she ended with a scowl.

"Look how?" Olga laughed.

"You know. As if-as if I was just thinking of keeping Elizabeth at home."

"But weren't you?"

"No, I wasn't!" Sadie retorted. "At any rate-I was thinking of Elizabeth too. I was, honest, Olga."

"Well, tell me," said Olga.

"Why, you know those Christmas cakes she made?"

"Yes."

"Well, she can make them and other kinds to sell in one of the big groceries. I saw some homemade cakes in Council's to-day that didn't look half as nice as Elizabeth's and they charged a lot for them."

Olga nodded thoughtfully. "I shouldn't wonder if you'd hit upon a good plan, Sadie. But if she does that, you'll have to help her with the work at home, for she has all she can do now."

Sadie scowled. She hated housework. "Guess I have plenty to do myself," she grumbled, "with school and my silver work and all."

"But your silver work is just for yourself," Olga reminded her, "and Elizabeth has no time to do anything for herself."

"Well, anyhow, if she makes lots of cakes she'll have money for herself."

"And she's got to have money for herself," Olga said decidedly. "I've been thinking about that." Sadie wriggled uneasily. She had been thinking about it too, and that Elizabeth would be eighteen soon, and free to go out and earn her own living, if she chose.

"Well, I must go and tell her," she said and left abruptly.

Elizabeth listened in silence to Sadie's eager plans, but the colour came and went in her face and her blue eyes were full of longing.

"O, if I could only do it-if I only could!" she breathed. "But I-I couldn't go around to the stores and ask them to sell for me. I never could do that!"

"Well, you don't have to. I'd do that for you. I wouldn't mind it," Sadie declared. "You just make up some of those spicy Christmas cakes and some others, a few, you know, just for samples, and I'll take 'em out for you. I know they'll sell."

"I-I'm not so sure," Elizabeth faltered.

Sadie's brows met in a black frown. "You're a regular 'fraid-cat, 'Lizabeth Page!" she exclaimed, stamping her foot. "How do you ever expect to do anything if you're scared to try! To-morrow's Sat'-day. Can't you get up early an' make some?"

It was settled that she should. There was little sleep for Elizabeth that night, so eager and excited was she, and very early in the morning she crept down to the kitchen and set to work. Before her usual rising time, Sadie ran downstairs, buttoning her dress as she went.

"Have you made 'em?" she demanded, her black eyes snapping.

"Yes," Elizabeth glanced at the clock, "I'm just going to take them out." She opened the oven door, then she gasped and her face whitened as she drew out the pans.

"My goodness!" cried Sadie. "Elizabeth Page-what ails 'em?"

"O-O!" wailed Elizabeth, "I must have left out the baking powder-and I never did before in all my life!"

"Well!" Sadie exploded. "If this is the way you're going to--" Then the misery in Elizabeth's face was too much for her. She stopped short, biting her tongue to keep back the bitter words.

Elizabeth crouched beside the oven, her tears dropping on the cakes.

"O, come now-no need to cry all over 'em-they're flat enough without any extra wetting," Sadie exclaimed after a moment's silence. "You just fling them out an' make some more after breakfast. I bet you'll never leave out the baking powder again."

"I never, never could again," sobbed Elizabeth.

"O, forget it, an' come on in to breakfast," Sadie said with more sympathy in her heart than in her words.

"I don't want any-I couldn't eat a mouthful. You take in the coffee, Sadie-everything else is on the table."

"Well, you just make more cakes then. They'll be all right-the next ones-I know they will," and coffee-pot in hand, Sadie whisked into the dining-room.

And the next cakes were all right. Sadie gloated over them as Elizabeth spread the icing, and added the fancy touches with pink sugar and citron.

When she had gone away with the cakes Elizabeth cooked and cleaned, washed dishes, and swept, but all the time her thoughts followed Sadie. She dared not let herself hope, and yet the time seemed endless. But at last the front door slammed, there were flying feet in the hall, and Sadie burst into the kitchen, flushed and triumphant.

"O-O Sadie-did you-will they--?" Elizabeth stumbled over the words, her breath catching in her throat.

Sadie tossed her basket on the table and bounced into the nearest chair. "Did I, and will they?" she taunted gaily. "Well, I guess I did and they will, Elizabeth Page!"

"O, do tell me, Sadie-quick!" Elizabeth begged, and she listened with absorbed attention to the story of Sadie's experiences, and could hardly believe that Mr. Burchell had really agreed to sell for her.

"I bet Miss Laura had been talking to him," Sadie ended, "for he asked me if I knew her and then said right away he'd take your cakes every Wednesday and Saturday. Now what you got to say?"

"N-n-nothing," cried Elizabeth, "only-if I can really, really sell them, I'll be most too happy to live!"

All that day Elizabeth went around with a song in her heart. The first consignment of cakes sold promptly, and then orders began to come in. It meant extra work for her, but if only she could keep on selling she would not mind that. And as the weeks slipped away, every Saturday she added to the little store of bills in her bureau drawer. Even when she had paid for her materials and Mr. Burchell's commission, and for a girl who helped her with the Saturday work, there was so much left that she counted it and recounted it with almost incredulous joy. All this her very own-she who never before had had even one dollar of her own! O, it was a lovely world after all, Elizabeth told herself joyfully.

But after a while she noticed a change in Sadie. She was still interested in the cake-making, but now it seemed a cold critical interest, lacking the warm sympathy and delight in it which she had shown at first. Elizabeth longed to ask what was wrong but she had not the courage, so she only questioned with her eyes. Maybe by-and-by Sadie would tell her. If not-with a long sigh Elizabeth would leave it there, wistfully hoping. So April came and Elizabeth was eighteen years old, though still she looked two years younger. She did not suppose that any one but herself would remember her birthday-no one ever had through all the years. Sadie's glance seemed sharper and colder than usual that morning, and Elizabeth sorrowfully wondered why. The postman came just as Sadie was starting for school. He handed her an envelope addressed to Elizabeth, and she carried it to the kitchen.

"For me?" Elizabeth cried, hastily taking her hands from the dish-water. She drew from the envelope a birthday card in water-colour with Laura's initials in one corner.

"O, isn't it lovely!" she cried. "I never had a birthday-anything-before. Isn't it beautiful, Sadie?"

"Uh-huh," was all Sadie's response, but her lack of enthusiasm could not spoil Elizabeth's pleasure in the gift. Somebody remembered-Miss Laura remembered and made that just for her, and joy sang in her heart all day. And in the evening Olga came bringing a little silver pin. Elizabeth looked at it with incredulous delight.

"For me!" she said again. "O Olga, did you really make this for me?"

Olga laughed. "Why not?"

"I-I can't find anything to say-I want to say so much," Elizabeth cried, her lips quivering.

Olga leaned over and kissed her. "I just enjoyed making it-for you," she said.

She was almost startled at the radiance in Elizabeth's eyes then. "It has been the loveliest day of all my life!" she whispered. "I--"

They were in Elizabeth's little room, and now hurried footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Sadie pushed open the door.

"That yours?" she demanded, her sharp eyes on the pin.

Elizabeth held it towards her with a happy smile. "Olga made it for me. Isn't it lovely?"

Sadie did not answer, but plumped herself down on the narrow cot. When Olga had gone, Sadie still sat there, her

black eyes cold and unfriendly. "Don't see why you lugged Olga up here," she began.

"She asked me to."

"Humph!" Sadie grunted.

"Sadie," Elizabeth said, gently, "what is the matter? Have I done anything you don't like?"

"I didn't say so."

"No, but you've been different to me lately, and I don't know why. You were so nice a few weeks ago-you don't know how glad it made me. I hoped we were going to be real sisters, but now," she drew a long sorrowful breath, "it is as it used to be."

Sadie, swinging one foot, gnawed at a fingernail. Finally, "I helped you start the cake-making," she reminded.

"I know-I never forget it," Elizabeth said warmly.

"You've made a lot of money--"

"It seems a lot to me-forty-seven dollars-just think of it! I haven't spent any except for materials."

"And you'll make more."

"Yes, but Mr. Burchell says cakes don't sell after it gets hot. He won't want any after May."

"That's four or five weeks longer. You'll have enough to get you heaps of fine clothes," Sadie flung out enviously, with one of her needle-sharp glances.

"O-clothes!" returned Elizabeth slightingly. "I suppose I must have a few-shoes, and a plain hat and a blue serge skirt, and some blouses-they won't cost much."

"Then what are you going to do with all that money?" Sadie blurted out the question impatiently.

Elizabeth smiled into the frowning face-a beautiful happy smile-as she answered gently, "I'll tell you, Sadie. I've been longing to tell you only-only you've held me off so lately. I'm going to send two girls to Camp Nepahwin for three weeks in August. I'm one of the girls and-you are the other."

For once in her life Sadie Page was genuinely astonished and genuinely ashamed. For a long moment she sat quite still, the colour slowly mounting in her face until it flamed. Then, all the sharpness gone from her voice, she stammered, "I-I-Elizabeth, I never thought of such a thing as you paying for me. I-think you're real good!" and she was gone.

Elizabeth looked after her with a smile, all the shadows gone from her blue eyes.

One hot evening a week later, Elizabeth and Sadie met Lizette at Olga's door. She silently led the way to her own room.

"Olga's sick," she said, dropping wearily down on the bed.

"What's the matter?" Sadie demanded before Elizabeth could speak.

"It's a fever. The doctor can't tell yet whether it's typhoid or malarial, but she's very sick. The doctor has sent a nurse to take care of her."

"I wish I could help take care of her," Elizabeth said earnestly.

"Well, you can't!" Sadie snapped out. "And, anyhow, she doesn't need you if she has a nurse."

"But the nurse must sleep sometimes-I could help then. O Lizette, ask Olga to let me," Elizabeth pleaded.

"She won't." Lizette shook her head. "Much as ever she'll let me do anything. I get the meals for the nurse-Olga takes only milk. The nurse says she can do with only four hours' sleep, and I can see to Olga that little time."

"No," Elizabeth said decidedly, "no, Lizette, you have your work at the shop and the cooking. You mustn't do more than that. I can come after supper-at eight o'clock-and stay till twelve--"

"You couldn't go home all alone at midnight-you know you couldn't," Sadie interrupted.

"I needn't to. I could sleep in a chair till morning."

"As to that, you could sleep on the nurse's cot, I guess," Lizette admitted. "Well, if Olga will let you-I'll ask her."

But as she started up Elizabeth gently pushed her back. "No, don't ask her. I'll just come to-morrow night, anyway."

"Let it go so, then," Lizette answered. "Maybe it will be best, for I'm pretty well tired out myself with the heat, and worrying over Olga, and all. I knew she was overworking but I couldn't help it."

On the way home Elizabeth was silent until Sadie broke out gloomily, "I s'pose if she don't get better you won't go to the camp, 'Lizabeth."

"O, no, I couldn't go away and leave her sick-of course, I couldn't."

"Huh!" growled Sadie. "You don't think about me, only just about Olga, and she isn't your sister."

At another time Elizabeth would have smiled at this belated claim of relationship, but now she said only, "Olga has been so good to me, Sadie-I never can forget it-and now when I have a chance to do a little for her, I'm so glad to do it! I couldn't enjoy the camp if I left her here sick, but it won't make any difference to you. You can go just the same."

Sadie's face cleared at that. "We-ell," she agreed, "I might just as well go. I couldn't do anything much for Olga if I stayed; and maybe, anyhow, she'll get well before the tenth. I'm most sure she will."

"O, I hope so," Elizabeth sighed, but she was not thinking of the camp.

Anxious weeks followed, for Olga was very sick. Day after day the fever held her in restless misery, and when at last it yielded to the treatment, it left her weak and worn-the shadow of her former self.

Then one morning Miss Laura came, and carried her and the nurse off to the yacht, and there followed quiet, restful, beautiful days for Olga-such days as she had never dreamed of. Judge Haven and Jim, and Jo Barton were on the yacht, but she saw little of any one except Miss Laura and the nurse, and day by day strength came back to her body as the joy of life flooded her soul.

One night sitting on deck in the moonlight, she said suddenly, "Miss Laura, I'm glad of this sickness."

"Why?"

"Because I've learned a big lesson. I've learned why Camp Fire Girls must 'Hold on to health.' I didn't know before, else I would not have been so careless-so wicked. I see now that it was all my own fault. I should not have been sick if I had taken care of myself-if I had held on to my health as you tried so hard to make me do."

"Yes, dear, you had to have a hard lesson because you had always had such splendid health that you didn't know what it would mean to lose it."

"Yes," Olga agreed, "I didn't believe that I could get sick-I was so strong. And down in my heart I really half believed that people need not be sick-that it was mostly imagination. I shall not be so uncharitable after this."

"Girls need not be sick many times when they are," Laura said, "if they would be more careful and reasonable."

"I know. I won't go with wet feet any more," Olga promised, "and I won't work fourteen hours a day and go without eating, as I've been doing this summer. You see, Miss Laura, when I got the order for all that silver work, I knew that if I could fill it satisfactorily, it would mean many other orders. And I did-I finished the last piece the day I was taken sick. But now the money I got for it will go to the doctor and the nurse, and I've lost all this time and other work. And that isn't all. My sickness made it harder for Lizette and Elizabeth. I can't forgive myself for that. They were so good to me, and so were all the Camp Fire Girls! Every single one of them came to see me, some of them many times, and they brought so many things, and all wanted to stay and help-O, they are the dearest girls!"

Laura's eyes searched the eyes of the other in the moonlight.

"Olga, are you happy?" she asked softly.

Olga caught her breath and for a moment was silent. When she spoke there was wonder and a great joy in her voice. "O, I am-I am!" she said. "And-and I believe I have been for a long time, but I never realised it till this minute. I didn't want to be happy-I didn't mean to be-after mother died. I shut my heart tight and wouldn't see anything pleasant or happy in all my world. It was so when I went to the camp last year. I went just to please Miss Grandis because she had gotten me into the Arts and Crafts work, and though I wanted to refuse, I couldn't, when she asked me to go. But I'm so glad now that I went-so glad! Just think if I had not gone, and had never known you and Elizabeth, and Lizette, and the others! Miss Laura, I can't ever be half glad enough for all that the Camp Fire has done for me."

"You will pay it all back-to others, Olga," Laura said gently, her eyes shining. "When I made you my Torch Bearer, you did not realise the importance of holding on to health, nor the duty as well as privilege of being happy. Now you do."

"O, I do-I do!" the girl cried earnestly.

"So now my Torch Bearer is ready to lead others."

"I'll be glad to do it now. I want to 'pass on' all that you and the girls have done for me. It will take a lifetime to do it, though. And-I'm not half good enough for a Torch Bearer, Miss Laura."

"If you thought you were good enough I shouldn't want you to be one," Laura answered.

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