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   Chapter 18 THE TORCH UPLIFTED

The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 14534

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


So the next day Olga brought home her work, and Sonia, wearing not only her sister's best suit but her hat, shoes, and gloves as well, set off down town. She departed with a distinctly holiday air, tossing from the doorway a kiss to the baby and a good-bye to Olga. But Olga cherished small hope of her success. She felt no confidence in her sister's sincerity, and did not believe that she really wanted to find work.

For once the baby was awake-usually she seemed half asleep, lying where she was put, and only stirring occasionally with weak whimpering cries. But this morning the blue eyes were open, and Olga stopped beside the chair in which the baby was lying and looked down at the small face, so pathetically grave and quiet.

"You poor little mortal," she said, "I wonder what life holds for you-if you live. I almost hope you won't, for it doesn't seem as if there's much chance for you."

The solemn blue eyes stared up at her as if the baby too were wondering what chance there was for her. Olga laid her face for a moment against one little white cheek; then pulling out her bench she set to work.

At twelve o'clock Sonia came back. "O dear!" she exclaimed with a swift glance around the room, "I hoped you'd have dinner ready, Olga. I'm tired to death."

Without a word Olga put aside her work and went to the gas stove. Sonia pulled off her shoes-Olga's shoes-and took off Olga's hat, and rocked until the meal was ready.

"What luck did you have?" Olga inquired when they were at the table.

"Not a bit. I tell you, Olga, you're a mighty lucky girl to have that work to do." She nodded towards the bench.

Olga ignored that. "Where did you try?" she asked.

"Well, I tried at Woodward & Lothrop's." Sonia's tone was distinctly sulky. "They hadn't any vacancy-or anyhow they said so."

"They always have a long waiting-list, I know. Did you leave your name?"

"No, I didn't. What was the use with scores ahead of me?"

"And where else did you try?"

"I didn't try anywhere else!" Sonia said with a defiant lift of her chin. "You needn't think, Olga, that you can drive me like a slave just because I am staying with you. I'm going to take my time about this business, and don't you forget it!"

Olga waited until she could speak quietly; then she said, "Sonia, there is one thing you've got to understand. I must have peace. I cannot do my work if there is to be discord and friction all the time between you and me."

"It's your own fault," Sonia retorted. "I'm peaceful enough if I'm let alone. I let you alone."

"But, Sonia, don't you see that we can't go on this way?" Olga pleaded. "Don't you feel that you ought to pay half our expenses if you stay with me?"

"No, I don't. Why should I pay half?" Sonia demanded. "Your rent is no higher because I am here."

"No, but I have to sleep on the floor, and it is not very restful as you would find if you tried it once."

"Well, why don't you buy a cot then? You could get one for two dollars."

"I need the two dollars for other things," Olga answered wearily. "Do you mean, Sonia, that you are not going to look for a place anywhere else?"

"O, I'll look-but I won't be hurried about it," Sonia declared moodily.

"Well," Olga spoke with deliberation, "if that is your attitude, there is but one thing for me to do, and that is to go away from here."

"Olga! You couldn't be that mean!" Sonia sat up straight and stared with startled eyes at the grave face opposite her.

"Think, Sonia," said Olga in a low voice, though her heart was beating furiously, "how it would seem to you if I should refuse to work and expect you to support me."

"That's different," Sonia muttered sullenly.

"How is it different?"

"Because you've got your work-I haven't any."

"But you might have if you would."

"Much you know about it! Did you ever try to find a place in a store?"

"When I was thirteen and you left mother and me"-Olga's voice was very low now, but it thrilled with bitter memories-"I walked the streets for three long days hunting for work, and I found it at last in a laundry where I stood from seven in the morning till six at night, with only fifteen minutes at noon. And I stayed there while mother lived, going back to her to care for her through those long dreadful nights of misery. That is what I know about hard work, Sonia!"

It was Sonia's turn now to be silent. There was something in Olga's white face and blazing eyes that stilled even her flippant tongue. For a moment her thoughts drifted back, and perhaps for the first time she fully realised what her going then had meant to the little sister upon whose shoulders she had left the heavy burden. But she banished these unpleasant memories with a shrug. "O well, all that's past and gone-no use in raking it up again," she declared.

"No, no use," Olga admitted. "But, Sonia, I want you to realise that I mean just what I say. You have come here of your own accord. If you stay you must share our expenses. If you will not, I surely shall go away, and leave you to pay all yourself."

Seeing that her sister was determined, Sonia suddenly melted into weak tears. "You are so hard, Olga!" she sobbed. "I don't believe you have any heart at all."

"Maybe not," was the grim response. "I've thought sometimes it was broken-or frozen-five years ago."

"You keep harking back to that!" Sonia moaned. "I'm not the first girl that has gone away with the man she loved. You have no sympathy-you make no allowances. And I didn't realise how sick mother was. If I had--"

"If you had," Olga interrupted, "you would have done exactly the same. But let that pass. Are you going to give me the promise that I ask?"

"What do you want me to promise?" Sonia evaded.

"I want you to promise that you will go out every week day and look for work-that you will keep trying until you do find it. Will you?"

"It seems I can't help myself." Sonia's voice was still sulky.

"Will you? I must have your promise," Olga insisted, and finally Sonia flung out an angry,

"Yes!"

Thereafter Olga worked at home and her sister went out morning or afternoon-sometimes both; but she found no position.

"They all want younger girls-chits of sixteen or seventeen," she complained, "or else those who have had large experience. They won't give me a chance."

Olga crowded down her doubts. Perhaps it was all true-perhaps Sonia really had honestly tried, but the doubts would return, for she felt that her sister was quite content to let things remain as they were as long as Olga made no further protest. But others were not content with things as they were. Elizabeth was not, nor Lizette. Laura met Lizette on the street one day and learned all that the girl could tell her of Olga's trouble.

"She's so changed!" Lizette said, her eyes filling. "When we came home she was so happy, and so full of plans for Camp Fire work, and now-now she takes no interest in it at all. She won't talk about it, or hardly listen when I talk."

"I must see her," Laura said. "I'll take you home now," and when they reached the house, Lizette ran eagerly up the stairs to give Miss Laura's message.

"I've come to invite you to another tea party-with Jim and me," Laura said when O

lga appeared. "You will come-to-morrow night?"

"Thank you, but I can't," the girl answered gravely.

"Why can't you, Olga? I want you very much," Laura urged.

"My sister is with me now. I cannot leave her."

"But just this once-please, Olga."

Laura's eyes-warm, loving, compelling-looked into Olga's, dark, sombre, and miserable; and suddenly with a little gasping sob the girl yielded because she knew if she stood there another minute she would break down.

"I'll-come," she promised, and without another word turned and hurried back into the house.

Laura was half afraid that she would not keep her promise, but at six o'clock she appeared. Jim fell upon her with a gleeful welcome, and she tried to answer gaily, but the effort with which she did it was evident, and earlier than usual Laura took the boy off to bed.

"Something is troubling Olga," she whispered as she tucked him in, "and I'm going to try to find a way to help her."

"You will," he said confidently. "You're the best ever for helping folks," and he pulled her face down to give one of his rare kisses.

Laura, going back to the other room, drew the girl down beside her. "Now, child," she said, her voice full of tenderest persuasion, "let us talk over your problems and find the way out."

For a moment the old proud reserve held the girl, but it melted under the tender sympathy in the eyes looking into hers. She drew a long breath. "It seems somehow wrong to talk about it even to you," she said. "Sonia is my sister."

"I know, dear, but sisters are not always-sisters," Laura replied, "and you are very much alone in the world. I am more truly your sister-am I not, Olga-your elder sister who loves you and wants to help?"

"O yes, yes!" the girl cried. "But I've felt I must not tell any one-even you-and I've crowded it all down in my heart until--"

"Until you are worn out with the strain of it all," Laura said as Olga paused. "Now tell me the whole just as if I were your sister in very fact."

And Olga told it all, from Sonia's unexpected arrival that September night to the present-of the failure of her efforts to get her sister to do some kind of work, and of Sonia's constant demands for money and clothes.

"Do you think she has really tried to get a place in a store, Olga?"

"I don't know. She says she has, but I can't feel that she really wants to do anything, or that she will ever find a place as long as I let her stay on with me. Of course I could support her, though it would not be easy, for she is hard on clothes. She doesn't take care of them and she wears them out much faster than I do. She has almost worn out my best shoes already, and my gloves, as well as my hat and suit, and she uses my handkerchiefs and-and everything, just as if they were her own. I can't earn enough to clothe her and keep myself decent." She glanced down at the old serge skirt she wore. "Miss Laura, tell me-what shall I do? Would it be right for me to leave her? The continual fret and worry of it all are wearing me out."

"I know it, dear-that is why I felt you must come and talk it all over with me."

Olga went on, "It isn't only a matter of money-and clothes, but I have nothing left. If I go out evenings-even across to Lizette's room-she wants to go too, or else she goes off somewhere as soon as I am out of sight, and leaves the baby shut up all alone. That's why I can't go anywhere-not even to the Camp Fire meetings. And, O Miss Laura, I was so happy when I came back from camp-I had so many lovely plans for Camp Fire work! I did mean to be a good Torch Bearer-I did!"

"I know you did."

"And now it's all spoilt. I can't do a single bit of Camp Fire work," she ended sadly.

"Olga," Laura's arm was around the girl's shoulders, her voice very low and tender, "you say that now you cannot do a single bit of Camp Fire work?"

Olga looked up in surprise. "How can I-when I can't be with the girls at all, nor attend the meetings?"

"Do you know what I think is the best Camp Fire service the girls have done? It is the work in their own homes. Mrs. Bicknell says that Eva is getting to be a real comfort to her. She helps with the housework and the younger children as she never used to do, and her influence is making the younger ones so much easier to manage."

"But, Miss Laura, I don't see how that is Camp Fire work," Olga said.

"Don't you?" Very softly Laura repeated, "'Love is the joy of service so deep that self is forgotten.' And isn't the home the place above all others where Camp Fire Girls should render service?"

"I-never-thought of it-that way," Olga said very slowly.

"But isn't it so?" Laura persisted. "Think now."

"Yes-of course it is so. Miss Laura, it will-it will make it easier to think of it as Camp Fire service, for I did so hate to be out of it all-all the Camp Fire work, I mean. I'll try to think of it that way after this. And-and I guess there isn't any way out. I suppose I ought not to long so for a way out, if I am going to be a faithful Torch Bearer." She made a brave attempt to smile.

"There is a way out-I am sure of it, but we may not find it just at once. Meantime you have a great opportunity, Olga. Don't you see? It is easy to be happy as you were in August at the camp, when you were growing stronger every day, and had just begun to realise what Camp Fire might mean to you in your service for and with the girls, and their love for you. Once you had opened your heart, you could not help being happy. But now it is different. Now you must be happy not because of, but in spite of, circumstances. And so if you keep the law of the Camp Fire to give service-a service that it is very hard for you to give-and to be happy in spite of the trying things in your life-don't you see how much more your happiness will mean-how much deeper and stronger and finer it will be?"

"Yes, I see."

"And the girls will see too, Olga. You know how quick they are. You could not deceive them if you tried-Lena, Sadie, Louise Johnson-they will all be watching you-weighing you; and if they see that, in spite of the hard things, you are really and truly happy-that you have really found the 'joy in service so deep that self is forgotten'-don't you see how much stronger your influence over them will be-how immensely stronger?"

Slowly, thoughtfully, Olga nodded, her eyes on the glowing embers in the fireplace.

"So all these things that are making your life now so hard, are your great opportunity, dear," the low voice went on. "If in spite of all, you can hold high the torch of love and happiness, every girl in our Camp Fire will gladly follow her Torch Bearer."

Olga looked up, and now her eyes were shining. "You are the real Torch Bearer, Miss Laura!" she cried. "You have shown me the light to-night when I didn't think there was any."

"I've shown you how to keep your torch burning-that is all. Now you must hold it high to light the way for others; for you know, dear, there are others in our Camp Fire who are stumbling in dark and stony pathways, and we-you and I-must help them too, to find the lighted way."

"O, I'll try, Miss Laura, I will," Olga promised, and in her voice now there was determination as well as humility.

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