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

LIZETTE

The last night of December brought a heavy storm of sleety rain, with a bitter north wind. Laura, reading beside the fire, heard the doorbell ring, and presently Olga Priest appeared. The biting wind had whipped a fresh colour into her cheeks, and her eyes were clear and shining under her heavy brows.

“You aren’t afraid of bad weather, Olga,” Laura said as she greeted the girl.

“All weather is the same to me,” Olga returned indifferently, but as she sat down Laura cried out,

“Why, child, your feet are soaking wet! Surely you did not come without rubbers in such a storm!”

“I forgot them. It’s no matter,” Olga said, drawing her wet feet under her skirts.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” Laura replied, and left the room, returning with dry stockings and slippers.

“Take off those wet things and heat your feet thoroughly then put these on,” she ordered in a tone that admitted of no refusal.

With a frown, Olga obeyed. “But it’s nonsense I never mind wet feet,” she grumbled.

“You ought to mind them. Your health is a gift. You have no right to throw it away no right, Olga. It is yours only to use like everything else you have.”

Olga paused, one slipper in her hand, pondering that.

“Don’t you see, Olga,” Laura urged gently, “we are only stewards. Everything we have health, time, money, intellect all are ours only to use the little while we are in this world, and not to use for ourselves alone.”

“It makes life harder if you believe that,” Olga flung back defiantly. “I want my things for myself.”

“O no, it makes life easier, and O, so big and beautiful!” Laura leaned forward, speaking earnestly. “When we really accept this idea of service, then ‘self is forgotten.’ We give as freely as we have received.” Olga shook her head with a gesture that put all that aside.

“You said Saturday that you wanted my help ” she began.

“Yes, I do want your help. I’ll tell you how presently. Sadie Page is doing very well in the craft work, isn’t she?”

“Yes. She can copy anything designing is her weak point but she is doing very well.”

“She is improving in other ways.”

“There’s room for improvement still,” Olga retorted in her grimmest voice. Then her conscience forced her to add, “But she is more endurable. She treats Elizabeth some better than she did.”

“Yes, Elizabeth seems so happy now.”

Laura went on thoughtfully, “You are a Fire Maker. Olga, I want you for a Torch Bearer.”

Olga stared in blank amazement, then her face darkened. “But I don’t want to be a Torch Bearer,” she cried. “A Torch Bearer is a leader. I don’t want to be a leader.”

“But I need your help, and some of the girls need you. You can be a splendid leader, if you will. Have you any right to refuse?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“If in our Camp Fire there are girls whom you might hold back from what will harm them, or whom you could help to higher and happier living, don’t you owe it to them to do this?”

“Why? They do nothing for me. I don’t ask them to do anything for me.”

“But that is pure selfishness. That attitude is unworthy of you, Olga.”

The girl stirred restlessly. “I don’t want to be responsible for other girls,” she impatiently cried out.

“Have you any choice you or I? We have promised to keep the law.”

“What law?”

“The law of love and service have you forgotten?” Miss Laura repeated softly, “’I purpose to bring my strength, my ambition, my heart’s desire, my joy, and my sorrow, to the fire of humankind. The fire that is called the love of man for man the love of man for God.’”

Then for many minutes in the room there was silence broken only by the crackling of the fire, and the voices of the storm without. Olga sat motionless, the old sombre shadow brooding in her eyes. At last she stirred impatiently, and spoke.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Have you noticed Lizette Stone lately?” Miss Laura asked.

“No. I never notice her.”

“Poor girl, I’m afraid most of you feel that way about her,” Laura said, with infinite pity in her voice. “She never looks happy, but lately there is something in her face that troubles me. She looks as if she had lost hope and courage, and were simply drifting. I’ve tried to win her confidence, but she will not talk with me about herself. I thought at least, I hoped that you might be able to find out what is the trouble.”

“Why I, rather than any other girl?”

“I don’t know why I feel so sure that you might succeed, but I do feel so, Olga. She may be in great trouble. If you could find out what it is, I might be able to help her. Will you try, Olga?”

The girl shook her head. “I can’t promise, Miss Laura. I’ll think about it,” was all she would concede.

“She works in Silverstein’s,” Laura added, “and I think she has no relatives in the city.”

The talk drifted then to other matters, and when Olga glanced at the clock, Miss Laura touched a bell, and in a few minutes a maid brought up a cup of hot clam bouillon. “You must take it, Olga, before you go out again in this storm,” Laura said, and reluctantly the girl obeyed.

When she went away, Laura went to the door with her. The car stood there, and before she fairly realised that it was waiting for her Olga was inside, and the chauffeur was tucking the fur rug around her. As, leaning back against the cushions, shielded from wet and cold, she was borne swiftly through the storm, something hard and cold and bitter in the girl’s heart was suddenly swept away in a strong tide of feeling quite new to her, and strangely mingled of sweet and bitter. It was Miss Laura she was thinking of Miss Laura who had furnished the beautiful Camp Fire room for the girls and made them all so warmly welcome there who so plainly carried them all in her heart and made their joys and sorrows, their cares and troubles, her own as she was making Lizette Stone’s now. How good she had been to Elizabeth, how patient and gentle with that provoking Sadie, and with careless slangy Lena Barton and Eva! And to her Olga thought of the dry stockings and slippers, the hot broth, and now the car ordered out on such a night just for her. The girl’s throat swelled, her eyes burned, and the last vestige of bitterness was washed out of her heart in a rain of hot tears.

“If she can do so much for all of us I can’t be mean enough to shirk any longer. I’ll see Lizette to-morrow,” she vowed, as the car stopped at her door. She stood for a moment on the steps looking after it before she went in. It had been only “common humanity” to send the girl home in the car on that stormy night, so Miss Laura would have said. She did not guess what it would mean to Olga and through her to other girls many others before all was done.

Silverstein’s was a large department store on Seventh Street. Lizette Stone, listlessly putting away goods the next day, stopped in surprise at sight of Olga Priest coming towards her.

“Almost closing time, isn’t it?” Olga said, and added, as Lizette nodded silently, “I want to speak to you I’ll wait outside.”

In five minutes Lizette joined her. “Do you walk home?” Olga asked.

“Yes, it isn’t far Ninth Street near T.”

“We’re neighbours then. I live on Eleventh.”

“I know. Saw you going in there once,” Lizette replied.

There was little talk between them as they walked. Lizette was waiting Olga wondering what she should say to this girl.

“Well, here’s where I hang out.” In Lizette’s voice there was a reckless and bitter tone.

“O here!” Olga’s quick glance took in the ugly house-front with its soiled “Kensington” curtains its door ajar showing worn oilcloth in the hall.

“Cheerful place eh?” Lizette said. “Want to see the inside, or is the outside enough?”

“I want you to come home to supper with me will you?” Olga said, half against her will.

“Do you mean it?” Lizette’s hard blue eyes searched her face. “Take it back in a hurry if you don’t, for I’d accept an invitation from anybody to-night, rather than spend the evening here.”

“Of course, I mean it. Please come.” Olga laid a compelling hand on the other girl’s arm and they went on down the street.

“Now you are to rest while I get supper,” Olga said as she threw open her own door. “Here give me your things.” She took Lizette’s hat and coat. “Now you lie down in there until I call you.”

Without a word Lizette obeyed.

Olga creamed some chipped beef, toasted bread, and made tea, adding a few cakes that she had bought on the way home. When all was ready, she stood a moment, frowning at the table. The cloth was fresh and clean, but the dishes were cheap and ugly. She had never cared before. Now, for this other girl, she wanted some touch of beauty. But Lizette found nothing lacking.

“Everything tastes so good,” she said. “You sure do know how to cook, Olga.”

“Just a few simple things. I never care much what I eat.”

“You’d care if you had to eat at Miss Rankin’s table,” Lizette declared.

With a question now and then, Olga drew her on to tell of her life at Miss Rankin’s, and her work at the store. After a little she talked freely, glad to pour the tale of her troubles into a sympathetic ear.

“I hate it all that boarding-house, where nothing and nobody is really clean, and the store where only the pretty girls or the extra smart ones ever get on. The pretty girls always have chances, but me I’m homely as sin, and I know it; and I’m not smart, and I know that, too. I shall get my walking ticket the first dull spell, and then ”

“Then, what, Lizette?”

“The Lord knows. It’s a hard world for girls, Olga.”

“You’ve no relatives?”

“Only some cousins. They’re all as poor as poverty too, and they don’t care a pin for me.”

“Is there any kind of work you would really like if you could do it?”

“What’s the use of talking I can’t do it.”

“But tell me,” Olga urged.

“You’ll think I’m a fool.”

“No, I will not,” Olga promised.

“It seems ridiculous ” Lizette hesitated, the colour rising in her sallow cheeks, “but I’d just love to make beautiful white things lingerie, you know, like what I sell at the store. It would be next best to having them to wear myself. I don’t care so much about the outside things gowns and hats but I think it would be just heavenly to have all the underneath things white and lacey, and lovely don’t you think so?”

“I never thought of it. You see I don’t care about clothes,” Olga returned. “Can you sew, Lizette?”

Lizette hesitated, then, with a look half shamefaced and half proud, she drew from her bag a bit of linen.

“It was a damaged handkerchief. I got it for five cents, at a sale,” she explained. “It will make a jabot.”

“And you did this?” Olga asked.

Lizette nodded. “I know it isn’t good work, but if I had time I could learn ”

“Yes, you could if you had the time and a few lessons. Are your eyes strong?”

The other nodded again. “Strong as they are ugly,” she flung out.

“Leave this with me for a day or two, will you, Lizette?”

“Uh-huh,” Lizette returned indifferently. “Give it to you, if you’ll take it.”

“Oh no it’s too pretty. Lizette, you hate it so at Miss Rankin’s why don’t you rent a room and get your own meals as I do?”

“Couldn’t. I’m so dead tired most nights that I’d rather go hungry than get my own supper. Some girls don’t seem to mind being on their feet from eight to six, but I can’t stand it. Sometimes I get so tired it seems as if I’d rather die than drag through another day of it! And besides I don’t much like the other boarders at Rankin’s, but they’re better than nobody. To go back at night to an empty room and sit there till bedtime with not a soul to speak to O, I couldn’t stand it. I’d get in a blue funk and end it all some night. I’m tempted to, as it is, sometimes.” She added, with a miserable laugh that was half a sob, “Nobody’d care,” and Olga heard her own voice saying earnestly,

“I’d care, Lizette. You must never, never think a thing like that again!”

Lizette searched the other’s face with eyes in which sharp suspicion gradually changed into half incredulous joy. “Well,” she said slowly, “if one living soul cares even a little bit what happens to me, I’ll try to pull through somehow. The Camp Fire’s the only thing that has made life endurable to me this past year, and I haven’t enjoyed that so awfully much, for nobody there seems to really care I just hang on to the edges.”

“Miss Laura cares.”

“O, in a way, because I belong to her Camp Fire that’s all,” returned Lizette moodily.

“No, she cares really,” Olga persisted, but Lizette answered only by an incredulous lift of her thin, sandy brows.

“I must go now,” she said, rising, and with her hands on Olga’s shoulders she added, “You don’t know what this evening here has meant to me. I was about at the end of my rope.”

“I’m glad you came,” Olga spoke heartily, “and you are coming again Thursday. Maybe I’ll have something then to tell you, but if I don’t, anyhow, we’ll have supper together and a talk after it.”

To that Lizette answered nothing, but the look in her eyes sent a little thrill of happiness through Olga’s heart.

Olga carried the bit of linen to Laura the next evening, and told her what she had learned of Lizette’s hard life.

“Poor child!” Miss Laura said. “I imagined something like this. We must find other work for her. Perhaps I can get her into Miss Bayly’s Art Store. She would not have to be on her feet so much there, and would have a chance to learn embroidery if she really has any aptitude for it. I know Miss Bayly very well, and I think I can arrange it to have Lizette work there for six months. That would be long enough to give her a chance.”

“Would she get any pay?” Olga asked.

“Of course the same she gets now,” Laura returned, but Olga was sure that the pay would not come out of Miss Bayly’s purse.

Laura went on thoughtfully, “The other matter is not so easily arranged. Even if we get her a better boarding place, she might be just as lonely as at Miss Rankin’s. Evidently she does not make friends easily.”

“No, she is plain and unattractive and so painfully conscious of it that she thinks nobody can want to be her friend, so she draws into herself and and pushes everybody away,” Olga was speaking her thought aloud one of her thoughts the other that had been in her heart since her talk with Lizette, she refused to consider. But it insisted upon being considered when she went away. It was with her in her own room where Lizette’s hopeless words seemed to echo and re-echo. Finally, in desperation she faced it.

“I can’t have her come here!” she cried aloud. “It would mean that I’d never be sure of an hour alone. She’d be forever running in and out and I’d feel I must be forever bracing her up pumping hope and courage into her. It’s too much to ask of me. I’m alone in the world as she is, but I’m not whining. I stand on my own feet and other people can stand on theirs. I can’t have that girl here and I won’t and that ends it!” But it didn’t end it. Lizette’s hopeless eyes, Lizette’s reckless voice, would not be banished from her memory, and when Thursday evening the girl herself came, Olga knew that she must yield there was no other way.

Lizette paused on the threshold. “You can still back out,” she said, longing and pride mingling in her eyes. “I can get back to Rankin’s in time for my share of liver and prunes.”

Olga drew her in and shut the door. “Your days at Miss Rankin’s are numbered,” she said, “that is if you will come here. There’s a little room across the hall you can have if you want it.”

Lizette dropped into a chair, the colour slowly ebbing from her sallow cheeks. “Don’t fool with me, Olga,” she cried, “I’m not up to it.”

“I’m not fooling.”

“But I don’t understand.” The girl’s lips were quivering.

Olga went on, “And your days at Silverstein’s are numbered too. I showed your embroidery to Miss Laura, and she has found you a place at Bayly’s Art Store. You can go there as soon as you can leave Silverstein’s,” she ended. To her utter dismay Lizette dropped her head on the table and began to cry. Olga sat looking at her in silence. She did not know what to do. But presently Lizette lifted her blurred and tear-stained face and smiled through her tears.

“You must excuse me this once,” she cried. “I’m not tear-y as a general thing, but but, I hadn’t dared to hope for anything and it bowled me over. I’ll promise not to do so again; but O, Olga Priest, I’ll never, never forget what you’ve done, as long as I live!”

“It’s not I, it’s Miss Laura. I couldn’t have got you the place.”

“I know, and I’m grateful to Miss Laura, but that isn’t half as much as your letting me come here. I I won’t be a bother, truly I won’t. But O, it will be so heavenly good to be in reach of somebody who cares even a little bit. You shall not be sorry, Olga I promise you that.”

“I’m not sorry. I’m glad,” Olga said. “Come now and see the room.”

It was a small room the one across the hall and rather shabby, with its matting soiled and torn, its cheap iron bedstead and painted washstand and chairs. Lizette however was quite content with it.

“It’s lots better than the one I have at Rankin’s,” she declared.

But the next day Laura came and saw the room, and then sent word to all the girls except Lizette to come on Wednesday evening to the Camp Fire room and bring their thimbles. And when they came she had some soft curtain material to be hemmed, and some cream linen to be hemstitched. Many fingers made light work, and all was finished that evening, and an appointment made with two of the High School girls for the next Monday afternoon. Then two hours of steady work transformed the bare little room. There was fresh white matting on the floor with a new rag rug before the white enamelled bedstead with its clean new mattress, a chiffonier and washstand of oak, with two chairs, and a tiny round table that could be folded to save room. The soft cream curtains that the girls had hemmed shaded the window, and the linen covers were on the chiffonier and washstand.

“Doesn’t it look fresh and pretty!” Alice Reynolds cried, as she looked around, when all was done.

“I’m sure she’ll like it,” Elsie Harding added.

“Like it?” Olga spoke from the doorway. “You can’t begin to know what it will mean to her. You’d have to see her room at Rankin’s to understand. But that isn’t all. Lizette will believe now that somebody cares.”

“O!” Elsie’s eyes filled with tears. “Did she think that that nobody cared?”

“She said she was ‘most at the end of her rope’ the first time she came to see me.”

“She shall never again feel that nobody cares,” Laura said softly.

“Indeed, no!” echoed Alice, and added, “I’m going to bring down a few books to put on that table.”

“I’ll make a hanging shelf to hold them. That will be better than having them on the table,” Elsie said.

“And I’ll bring some growing plants for the window-sill,” Laura promised.

“O, I hope she’ll just love this room,” Elsie cried, when reluctantly they turned away.

“She will you needn’t be afraid,” Olga assured her.

But Olga was the only one privileged to see Lizette when she had her first glimpse of the room. She stopped short inside the door and looked around her, missing no single detail. Then she turned to Olga a face stirred with emotion too deep for words. When she did speak it was in a whisper. “For me? Olga, who did it?”

“Miss Laura, Elsie, and Alice and we all helped on the curtains and covers.”

“I just can’t believe it. I I must be dreaming. Don’t let me wake up till I enjoy it a little first,” she pleaded. After a moment she added, “And this all came through the Camp Fire, and my place at Miss Bayly’s too. Olga Priest, I’m a Camp Fire Girl heart and soul and body from now on. I’ve been only the shell of one before, but now now, I’ve got to pass this on somehow. I must do things for other girls that have no one and nothing as they’ve done this for me.”

And through Olga’s mind floated like a glad refrain, “’Love is the joy of service so deep that self is forgotten.’”

Olga was glad glad with all her heart for Lizette, and yet that first evening she sat in her own room dreading to hear the tap on her door which she expected every moment. At nine o’clock, however, it had not come, and then she went across and did the knocking herself.

“Come in, come in,” Lizette cried, as she opened her door.

“I’ve been expecting you over all the evening,” Olga said, “and when you didn’t come I was afraid you were sick or something.”

Lizette looked at her with a queer little smile. “I know. You sat there thinking that you’d never have any peace now with me so near; but you needn’t worry. I’m not going to haunt you. I’ve got a home corner here all my own, and I know that you are there just across the hall, and that’s enough. It’s going to be enough.”

“But I don’t want you to feel that way,” Olga protested. “I want you to come.”

“You want to want me, you mean. O, I’m sharp enough, Olga, if I’m not smart. I know and I don’t mean that you shall ever be sorry that you brought me here. If I get way down in the doleful dumps some night I’ll knock at your door perhaps. Anyhow, you’re there, and that means a lot to me.”

Almost every evening after that Olga heard light footsteps and voices in the hall, and taps on Lizette’s door. Elsie and Alice were determined she should no longer feel that “nobody cared,” so they were her first callers, but others followed. Lizette welcomed them all with shining eyes, and once she cried earnestly, “I just love every one of you girls now! And I wish I could do something for you as lovely as what you have done for me.”

“And that’s Lizette Stone!” Lena said to Eva after they left. “Who would ever have thought she’d say a thing like that?”

For more than a week Olga, alone in her room, listened to the merry voices across the hall. Then one night, she put aside her work, and went across again.

“I’ve found out that I’m lonesome,” she said as Lizette opened the door. “May I come in?”

“Well, I guess!” and Lizette drew her in and motioned to the bed. “You shall have a reserved seat there with Bessie and Myra,” she cried, “and we’re gladder than glad to have you.”

For a moment sheer surprise held the others silent till Olga exclaimed, “Don’t let me be a wet blanket. If you do I shall run straight back.”

The tongues were loosened then and though Olga said little, the girls felt the difference in her attitude. She lingered a moment after the others left, to say, “Lizette, you mustn’t stay away any more. I really want you to come to my room.”

Lizette’s sharp eyes studied her face before she answered, “Yes, I see you do now, and I’ll come. I’ll love to.”

Back in her own room Olga turned up the gas and stood for some minutes looking about. Clean it was, and in immaculate order, but bare, with no touch of beauty anywhere. The contrast with the simple beauty of Lizette’s room made her see her own in a new light. The words of the Wood Gatherer’s “Desire” came into her mind “Seek beauty.” She had not done that. “Give service.” She had given it, grudgingly at first to Elizabeth, grudgingly all this time to Sadie, grudgingly to Lizette, and not at all to any one else. Only one part of her promise had she kept faithfully to “Glorify work.” She had done that, after a fashion. She drew in her breath sharply. “Lizette is a long way ahead of me. She is trying to be an all-around Camp Fire Girl. If I’m going to keep up with her, I must get busy,” she said to herself. “Before I can be Miss Laura’s Torch Bearer I’ve a lot to make up. Here I’ve been calling Sadie Page a selfish little beast and all the time I’ve been as bad as she in a different way. Well we’ll see.”

She went shopping the next morning. Her purchases did not cost much, but they transformed the bare room. Cheesecloth curtains at the windows, a green crex rug on the dull stained floor, two red geraniums, and on the mantelpiece three brass candlesticks holding red candles. These and a few pretty dishes were all, but she was amazed at the difference they made. At six o’clock she set her door ajar, and when Lizette came, called her in.

“You are to have supper with me to-night,” she said.

“But I’ve had my supper. I ” Lizette began then stopped short with a little cry, “O, how pretty! Why, your room is lovely now, Olga.”

“You see the influence of example,” replied Olga. “Yours is so pretty that I couldn’t stand the bareness of mine any longer.”

“I’m glad.” Lizette spoke earnestly. “Isn’t it splendid the way the Camp Fire ideas grow and spread? They are making me over, Olga.”

Olga nodded. “Take off your things. I’ll have supper ready in two minutes. Did you get yours at the Cafeteria?”

“Yes, I’m getting all my meals there ten cents apiece.”

“Ten cents. I know you don’t get enough for that, Lizette Stone.”

Lizette laughed. “It’s all I can afford,” she said “out of six dollars a week. When I earn more ”

“You can’t cook for yourself as I do you haven’t room. Lizette, why can’t we co-operate?”

“What do you mean?” breathlessly Lizette questioned.

“I mean, take our meals together and share the expense. It won’t cost you more than thirty cents a day, and you’ll have enough then.”

“But I can’t cook I don’t know how,” Lizette objected.

“I’ll teach you. And you’ve got to learn before you can be a Fire Maker, you know.”

“Yes I know,” said Lizette slowly, “and I’d like it, but you Olga, you’d get sick of it. You’re used to being alone. You wouldn’t want any one around every day you know you wouldn’t.”

“It would be better for me than eating alone, and better for you than the Cafeteria. Come, Lizette, say ‘yes.’”

“Yes, then,” Lizette answered. “At least I’ll try it for a month, if you’ll promise to tell me frankly at the end of the month if you’d rather not keep on.”

“Agreed,” said Olga.

“My! But it will be good to have a change from the Cafeteria!” Lizette admitted.

And now, having opened her heart to the sunshine of love, Olga began to find many pleasant things springing up there. She no longer held Miss Laura and the girls at arm’s length. They were all friends, even Lena Barton and Eva Bicknell, whom until now she had regarded with scornful indifference, and Sadie Page, whom she had barely tolerated for Elizabeth’s sake even these she counted now as friends; and Laura, noting the growing comradeship seeing week by week the strengthening of the bond between the girls, said to herself, joyfully,

“It was in Olga’s heart that the fire of love burst into flame, and it has leaped from heart to heart until now I believe in all my girls it is burning ’The love of man to man the love of man to God.’”