Read CHAPTER II of The Torch Bearer A Camp Fire Girls' Story , free online book, by I. T. Thurston, on ReadCentral.com.

INTRODUCING THE PROBLEM

“You did enjoy it, didn’t you?” Anne said as the two walked back through the woods-path to camp.

“I loved every bit of it,” was the enthusiastic response. “It’s so different from anything else so fresh and picturesque and full of interest! I should think girls would be wild to belong.”

“They are. Camp Fires are being organised all over the country. The trouble is that there are not yet enough older girls trained for Guardians.”

“Where can they get the training?”

“In New York there is a regular training class, and there will soon be others in other cities,” Anne returned, and then, with a laugh, “I believe you’ve caught the fever already, Laura.”

“I have hard. You know, Anne, all the time we were abroad I was trying to decide what kind of work I could take up, among girls, and this appeals to me as nothing else has done. It seems to me there are great possibilities in it. I’d like to be a Guardian. Do you think I’m fit?”

“Of course you’re fit, dear. O Laura, I’m so glad. We can work together when we go home.”

“But, Anne, I want to stay right here in this camp now. Do you suppose Mrs. Royall will be willing? Of course I’ll pay anything she says ”

“She’ll be delighted. She needs more helpers, and I can teach you all I learned before I took charge of my girls. But will your father be willing?”

“I’m sure he will. He knows you, and everybody in Washington knows and honours Mrs. Royall. Father is going to Alaska on a business trip and I’ve been trying to decide where I would stay while he is gone. This will solve my problem beautifully.”

“Come then we’ll see Mrs. Royall right now and arrange it,” Anne returned, turning back.

Mrs. Royall was more than willing to accede to Laura’s proposal. “Stay at the camp as long as you like,” she said, “and if you really want to be a Guardian, I will send your name to the Board which has the appointing power.”

“She is lovely, isn’t she?” Laura said as they left the Chief Guardian. “I don’t wonder you call her the Camp Mother.”

Something in the tone reminded Anne that her friend had long been motherless, and she slipped her arm affectionately around Laura’s waist as she answered, “She is the most motherly woman I ever met. She seems to have room in her big, warm heart for every girl that wants mothering, no matter who or what she is.” They were back at the camp now, and she added, “But we must get to bed quickly there’s the curfew,” as a bugle sounded a few clear notes.

“O dear, I’ve a hundred and one questions to ask you,” sighed Laura.

“They’ll keep till morning,” replied the other. “It’s so hard for the girls to stop chattering after the curfew sounds! We Guardians have to set them a good example.”

The cots in the sleeping tents were placed on wooden platforms raised three or four inches from the ground, and on clear nights the sides of the tents were rolled up. Laura, too interested and excited to sleep at once, lay in her cot looking out across the open space now flooded with light from the late-risen moon, and thought of the girls sleeping around her. Herself an only child, she had a great desire almost a passion for girls; girls who were lonely like herself girls who had to struggle with ill-health, poverty, and hard work as she did not.

Suddenly she started up in bed, her eyes wide with half-startled surprise. Reaching over to the adjoining cot, she touched her friend, whispering, “Anne, Anne, look!” and as Anne opened drowsy eyes, Laura pointed to the moonlit space.

Anne stared for a moment, then she laughed softly and whispered back, “It’s a ghost dance, Laura. Some of those irrepressible girls couldn’t resist this moonlight. They’re doing an Indian folk dance.”

“Isn’t it weird in the moonlight and in utter silence!” Laura said under her breath. “I should think somebody would giggle and spoil the effect.”

“That would be a signal for Mrs. Royall to ‘discover’ them and send them back to bed,” Anne returned. “So long as they do it in utter silence so as to disturb no one else, the Guardians wink at it. It is pretty, isn’t it?”

“Lovely!”

Anne turned over and went to sleep again, but Laura watched the slender graceful figures in their loose white garments till suddenly they melted into the shadows and were gone. Then she too slept till a shaft of sunlight, touching her eyelids, awakened her to a new day. She looked across at her friend, who smiled back at her. “I feel so well and so happy!” she exclaimed.

“It is sleeping in the open air,” Anne replied. “Almost everybody wakes happy here except the Problem.”

“The Problem?” Laura echoed.

“I mean Olga Priest, the girl you asked about last night. We Guardians call her the Problem because no one has yet been able to do anything for her.”

“Tell me about her,” Laura begged, as, dropping the sides of the tent, Anne began to dress.

“Wait till we are outside there are too many sharp young ears about us here,” Anne cautioned. “There’ll be time for a walk or a row before breakfast and we can talk then.”

“Good let’s have a walk,” Laura said, and made quick work of her dressing.

“Now tell me about the Problem,” she urged, when they were seated on a rocky point overlooking the blue waters of the bay.

“Poor Olga,” Anne said. “I wonder sometimes if she has ever had a really happy day in the eighteen years of her life. Her mother was a Russian of good family and well educated. She married an American who made life bitter for her until he drank himself to death. There were three children older than Olga two sons who went to the bad, following their father’s example. The older girl married a worthless fellow and disappeared, and there was no one left but Olga to support the sick mother and herself, and Olga was only thirteen then! She supported them, somehow, but of course she had to leave her mother alone all day, and one night when she went home she found her gone. She had died all alone.”

O!” cried Laura.

“Yes, it was pitiful. I suppose the child was as nearly heartbroken as any one could be, for her mother was everything to her. Of course there were many who would have been glad to help had they known, but Olga’s pride is something terrible, and it seems as if she hates everybody because her father and her brothers and sister neglected her mother, and she was left to die alone. I don’t believe there is a single person in the world whom she likes even a little.”

“O, the poor thing!” sighed Laura. “Not even Mrs. Royall?”

“No, not even Mrs. Royall, who has been heavenly kind to her.”

“Is she in your Camp Fire?”

“No, Ellen Grandis is her Guardian, but Ellen is to be married next month and will live in New York, so that Camp Fire will have to have a new Guardian.”

“What about the other girls in it?”

“All but three are working girls salesgirls in stores, I think, most of them.”

“How did Olga happen to join the Camp Fire?”

“I don’t know. I’ve wondered about that myself. She doesn’t make friends with any of the girls, nor join in any of the games; but work she has a perfect passion for work, and it seems as if she can do anything. She has won twice as many honours as any other girl since she came, but she cares nothing for them except to win them.”

“She must be a strange character, but she interests me,” Laura said thoughtfully. “Anne, maybe I can take Miss Grandisplace when she leaves.”

Anne gave her friend a searching look. “Are you sure you would like it? Wouldn’t you rather have a different class of girls?” she asked.

Laura answered gravely, “I want the girls I can help most those that need me most and from what you say, I should think Olga needed some one as much as any girl could.”

“As much perhaps, but hardly more than some of the others. There’s that little Annie Pearson who thinks of nothing but her pretty face and ’good times,’ and Myra Karr who is afraid of her own shadow and always clinging to the person she happens to be with. The Camp Fire is a splendid organisation, Laura, and it will do a deal for the girls, but still almost every one of them is some sort of ‘problem’ that we have to study and watch and labour over with heart and head and hands if we hope really to accomplish any permanent good. But come, we must go back or we shall be late for breakfast.”

“Then let’s hurry, for this air has given me a famous appetite,” Laura replied. But she did not find it easy to keep up with her friend’s steady stride.

“You’ll have to get in training for tramps if you are going to be a Camp Fire Girl,” Anne taunted gaily.

Laura’s eyes brightened as she entered the big dining-room with its canvas sides rolled high.

“Just in time,” Anne said, as she pulled out a chair for Laura and slipped into the next one herself.

The meal was cheerful, almost hilarious. “Mrs. Royall believes in laughter. She never checks the girls unless it’s really necessary,” Anne explained under cover of the merry chatter. “She ”

But Laura interrupted her. “O Anne, that must be Olga the dark still girl, at the end of the next table, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and Myra Karr is next to her. All at that table belong to the Busy Corner Camp Fire.”

After breakfast Laura again paddled off to the yacht with Anne. It did not require much coaxing to secure her father’s permission for her to spend a month at the camp with Anne Wentworth and Mrs. Royall. He kept the girls on the yacht for luncheon, and after that they went back to camp, a couple of sailors following in another boat with Laura’s luggage.

“How still it is I don’t hear a sound,” Laura said wonderingly, as she and her friend approached the camp through the pines.

Anne listened, looking a little perplexed, as they came out into the camp and found it quite deserted not a girl anywhere in sight.

“I’ll go and find out where everybody is,” she said. “I see some one moving in the kitchen. The cook must be there.”

She came back laughing. “They’ve all gone berrying. That’s one of the charms of this camp the spontaneous fashion in which things are done. Probably some one said, ’There are blueberries over yonder loads of them,’ and somebody else exclaimed, ‘Let’s go get some,’ and behold” she waved her hand “a deserted camp.”