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

BOYS AND OLD LADIES

The change into a home atmosphere and the loving care with which he was surrounded, worked wonders in Jim, and when the judge decided that he should remain where he was, and not be sent to any other home, the boy grew stronger by the hour. Then Laura had her hands full to keep him happily occupied; for after a while, in spite of auto rides and visits to the Zoo in spite of books and games and picture puzzles sometimes she thought he seemed not quite happy, and she puzzled over the problem, wondering what she had left undone. When one day she found him watching some boys playing in a vacant lot, the wistful longing in his eyes was a revelation to her.

“Of course, it is boys he is longing for boys and out-of-door fun. I ought to have known,” she said to herself, and at once she called Elsie Harding on the telephone.

“Will you ask your brother Jack if he will come here Saturday morning and see Jim? Tell him it is a chance for his ‘one kindness,’ a kindness that will mean a great deal to my boy.”

“I’ll tell him,” Elsie promised. “I know he’ll be glad to go if he can.”

Laura said nothing to Jim, but when Jack Harding appeared, she took him upstairs at once. Jim was standing at the window, watching two boys and a puppy in a neighbouring yard. He glanced listlessly over his shoulder as the door opened, but at sight of a boy in Scout uniform, he hurried across to him, crying out,

“My! But it’s good to see a boy!” Then he glanced at Laura, the colour flaming in his face. Would she mind? But she was smiling at him, and looking almost as happy as he felt.

“This is Jack Harding, Elsie’s brother,” she said, “and, Jack, this is my boy Jim. I hope he can persuade you to stay to lunch with him.” Then she shut the door and left the two together.

When she went back at noon, she found the boys deep in the mysteries of knots. Jim looked up, his homely little face full of pride.

“Jack is learning me to tie all the different knots,” he cried, “and he’s going to learn me [’teach,’ corrected Jack softly] yes, teach me everything I’ll have to know before I can be a Scout. Jack’s a second class Scout see his badge? We’ve had a bully time, haven’t we, Jack?”

Suddenly his head went down and his heels flew into the air as he turned a somersault. Coming right end upwards again, he looked at Laura with a doubtful grin. “I I didn’t mean to do that,” he stammered. “It just did itself like ”

Jack’s quick laugh rang out then. “I know. You had to get it out of your system, didn’t you?” he said with full understanding.

That was a red-letter day to Jim. He kept his visitor until the last possible moment, and stood at the window looking after him till the straight little figure in khaki swung around a corner and was gone. Then with a long happy breath he turned to Laura and said, half apologetically, half appealingly, “You see a fellow gets kind o’ hungry for boys, sometimes. You don’t mind, do you, Miss Laura?”

“No, indeed, Jim. I get hungry for girls the same way it’s all right,” she assured him. But she made up her mind that Jim should not get so hungry for boys again she would see to that.

After a moment he asked thoughtfully, “Why can’t boys be Scouts till they’re twelve, Miss Laura?”

“I think because younger boys could not go on the long tramps.”

“Oh!” Jim thought that over and finally admitted, “Yes, I guess that’s it.” A little later he asked anxiously, “Do you s’pose they’d let a fellow join when he’s twelve even if he is just a little lame?”

“O, I hope so, Jim,” Laura answered quickly.

“But you ain’t sure. Jack wasn’t sure, but he guessed they would.” Jim pondered a while in silence, then he broke out again, “Seems to me the only way is for me to get this leg cured. I can’t be shut out of things always just ’cause of that, can I now, Miss Laura?”

“Nothing can shut you out of the best things, Jim.”

The boy looked up at her, tipping his round head till he reminded her of an uncommonly wise sparrow. “I don’t quite know what you mean,” he said in a doubtful tone.

“You like stories of men who have done splendid brave things, don’t you?” Laura asked.

Jim nodded, his eyes searching her face.

“But some of the bravest men have never been able to fight or do the things you love to hear about.”

“How did they be brave then?” Jim demanded.

“They were brave because they endured very, very hard things and never whimpered.”

“What’s whimpered?”

“To whimper is to cry or complain or be sorry for yourself.”

Jim studied over that; then coming close to Laura, he looked straight into her eyes. “You mean that I mustn’t talk about that?” He touched his lame leg.

“It would be better not, if you can help it,” she said very gently.

“I got to help it then, ’cause, of course, I’ve got to be brave. And mebbe if I get strong as as anything, they’ll let me join the Scouts when I’m twelve even even if I ain’t quite such a good walker as the rest of ’em. Don’t you think they might, Miss Laura?”

“Yes, Jim, I think they might,” she agreed hastily. Who could say “No” to such pleading eyes?

Jim had been teasing to go to school, and when at the next Camp Fire meeting, Lena Barton told him that Jo had been sent to an outdoor school, Jim wanted to go there too.

“Take him to the doctor and see what he thinks about it,” the judge advised, and to Jim’s delight the doctor said that it was just the place for him.

“Let him sleep out of doors too for a year,” the doctor added. “It will do him a world of good.”

So the next day Miss Laura went with him to the school, Jim limping gaily along at her side, and chuckling to himself as he thought how “s’prised” Jo would be to see him there.

Jo undoubtedly was surprised. He was a thin little chap, freckled and red-haired like his sister, and he welcomed his old comrade with a wide friendly grin.

Jim thought it a very queer-looking school, with teacher and pupils all wearing warm coats, mittens, and hoods or caps, and all with their feet hidden in big woolen bags. There was no fire, of course, and all the windows were wide open.

“But what a happy-looking crowd it is!” Laura said, and the teacher answered,

“They are the happiest children I ever taught, and they learn so easily! They get on much faster than most of the children in other schools of the same grade. We give them luncheon here plain nourishing things which the doctor orders and,” she lowered her voice, “that means a deal to some who come from poor homes where there is not too much to eat.”

“We shall gladly pay for Jim,” Laura said quickly, “enough for him and some of the others too.”

So Jim’s outdoor life began. There was a covered porch adjoining the old nursery, and the judge had the end boarded up to protect the boy’s cot from snow or rain; and there, in a warm sleeping-bag, with a wool cap over his ears, and a little fox terrier cuddled down beside him for company, Jim slept through all the winter weather.

He and the judge were great chums now. It would be hard to say which most enjoyed the half-hour they spent together before Laura carried the boy off to bed. And as for Laura she often wondered how she had ever gotten on without Jim. He filled the big house with life, and she didn’t at all mind the noise and disorder that he brought into it. He whistled now from morning till night, and his pockets were perfect catch-alls. Sometimes they were stuck together with chewing-gum or molasses candy, and sometimes they were soaked with wet sponges, and his hands she counted one Saturday, thirteen times that she sent him to wash them between getting up and bedtime.

The girls always wanted Jim at their Camp Fire meetings, for a part of the time at least. As “Miss Laura’s boy” they felt that in a way he belonged to them too, and Jim was very proud and happy to make one of the company.

“I’m going to be a Camp Fire boy until I’m big enough to be a Scout, if you’ll all let me,” he told the girls one night, and they all gave him the most cordial of welcomes.

He was sitting between Olga and Elizabeth, when the girls were talking about some of the babies they had found.

“We never find one that is just right,” Rose Parsons complained. “Or if the baby is what we would like, there is always some one that wants to keep it.”

“I’m glad of it,” Lena Barton flung out. “It was silly of us to think of taking a baby, anyhow. We better just help out somewhere maybe with some older kid.” Her red-brown eyes flashed a glance at Jim.

It was then that Frances Chapin broke in earnestly, “O girls, I do so wish you’d take one of the old ladies at the Home! They need our help quite as much as the babies more, I sometimes think, for they are so old and tired, and they’ve such a little time to to have things done for them. The babies have chances, but the chances of these old ladies are almost over. There’s one Mrs. Barlow I’m sure you couldn’t help loving her she is so gentle and patient and uncomplaining, although she cannot see to sew or read, and cannot go out alone. She has her board and room at the Home of course, but clothes are not provided, and she hasn’t any money at all. Just think of never having a dollar to buy anything with! And the money we could give would buy so many of the things she needs, and it would make her so happy to have us run in and see her now and then. There are so many of us that no one would have to go often, and she loves girls. She had two of her own once, but they both died in one year, and her husband was killed in an accident. She did fine sewing and embroidery as long as she could see; then an old friend got her into the Home. I took this picture of her to show you.”

She handed the picture to Laura, who passed it on with the comment, “It is a sweet face.”

The girls all agreed that it was a sweet face, and Mary Hastings, stirred by Frances’ earnest pleading, moved that what money they could spare should be given to Frances for Mrs. Barlow, but Frances interposed quickly, “She needs the money, but she needs people almost more. She is so happy when Elsie or I go in to see her even just for a minute! I shall be delighted if we take her for our Camp Fire ‘service,’ but please, girls, if we do, give her a little of your_selves_ not just your money alone,” she pleaded.

“How would I know what to say to an old woman?” Lena Barton grumbled. “I shouldn’t have an idea how to talk to her.”

“You wouldn’t need to have she has ideas of her own a-plenty. Girls, if you’ll only once go and see her, you won’t need to be coaxed to go again, I’m sure,” Frances urged.

“I’m in favour of having Frances’ old lady for our ‘Camp Fire baby,’” laughed Louise Johnson. “I second Mary’s motion.”

But Lena Barton’s high-pitched voice cut in, “Before we vote on that I’d like to say a word. I’ve no doubt that Mrs. Barlow is an angel minus the wings, but before we decide to adopt her I’d like to see some of the other old ladies. I’ve wanted for a long time to get into one of those Homes with a big H. How about it, Frances would they let me in or are working girls ruled out?”

“O no, any one can go there,” Frances replied, but her face and her voice betrayed her disappointment. When Louise spoke, Frances had thought her cause was won.

“All right I’ll go then to-morrow, and maybe I’ll find some old lady I’ll like better than your white-haired angel,” Lena flung out, her red-brown eyes gleaming with sly malice and mischief.

Quite unconsciously, and certainly without intention, the three High School girls held themselves a little apart from Lena and her “crowd,” and Lena was quite sharp enough to detect and resent this. She chuckled as she watched Frances’ clouded face.

“O never mind, Frances,” Elsie Harding whispered under cover of a brisk discussion on old ladies, that Lena’s words had started, “Lena’s just talking for effect. She won’t take the trouble to go to the Home.”