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

CLEAR SHINING AFTER DARKNESS

Sonia was an adept in thinking up remarks that carried a taunt or a sting, and she had one ready to greet her sister that night on her return; but as she looked up, she saw in Olga’s face something that held back the provoking words trembling on her tongue. Instead she said, half enviously, “You look as if you’d had a fine time. What you been doing?”

“Nothing but having a firelight talk with Miss Laura. That always does me good.”

Hm!” returned Sonia. She wondered what kind of a talk it could have been to drive away the sullen gloom that had darkened her sister’s face for days, and bring that strange shining look into her eyes. Sonia shrugged her shoulders. At least, Olga wouldn’t hound her about finding work not while she had that look in her eyes and, with a mind at ease, Sonia went off to bed.

She went out the next morning, but came back in the middle of the afternoon in a gay mood. “I didn’t find any place,” she announced, “but I had a good dinner for once. I met an old friend.”

Something in her voice and her heightened colour awakened an indefinite suspicion in Olga’s mind. “Who was it? Any one I know?” she asked.

Sonia made no reply. She had gone into the bedroom to put away her hat and jacket. When she came back she spoke of something else, but all that evening there was a curious air of repressed excitement about her.

“Oh, I forgot the postman gave me a letter for you. It’s in my bag,” she exclaimed later, and bringing it from the other room, tossed it carelessly into her sister’s lap.

Olga read it and handed it back. “It concerns you. O, I do hope you’ll get the place,” she said.

The note was from Miss Laura to say that the manager of one of the large department stores had promised to employ Sonia if she applied at once.

“Isn’t that fine!” Olga cried.

“O perhaps,” Sonia returned with a chilling lack of enthusiasm.

“O Sonia, don’t act so about it,” Olga pleaded. “You know you must get something to do. You will go to-morrow and see the manager, won’t you after Miss Laura has taken so much trouble for you?”

“For me!” There was a sneer in Sonia’s voice. “Much she cares for me. She did it for you you know she did. You needn’t pretend anything else.”

“I don’t pretend anything,” Olga said, the brightness dying out of her face.

In the morning she watched her sister with intense anxiety, but she dared not urge her further, and Sonia seemed possessed by some imp of perversity to do everything in her power to prolong Olga’s suspense. She stayed in bed till the last minute, dawdled over her breakfast, insisted upon giving the baby her bath a task which she usually left to her sister and when at last she was ready to go out it was nearly noon.

“You’ll have to give me money to get something to eat down town, Olga,” she said then. “It will be noon by the time I get to that store, and I can’t talk business on an empty stomach. I’d be sure to make a bad impression if I did. Half a dollar will do.”

With a sigh Olga handed her the money. Sonia took it with a mocking little laugh, and was gone at last.

“O, I wonder I wonder if she will really try to get the place,” Olga said to herself as the door closed. She set to work then, but her restless anxiety affected her nerves and the work did not go well. The baby too fretted and required more attention than usual. As the day wore on Olga began to worry about the baby her small face was so pinched, and the blue shadows under her eyes were more noticeable than usual; so it was with an exclamation of relief that, opening the door in response to a knock in the late afternoon, she saw the nurse who had taken care of her in the summer.

“O, I’m so glad it’s you, Miss Kennan!” she cried. “Do come in and tell me what ails this baby.”

“A baby! Whose is it?” the nurse asked; but as she looked at the child, she forgot her question. “The poor little soul!” she exclaimed. Then with a quick sharp glance at the girl, “What have you been giving it?”

“Giving it?” Olga echoed. “Why, nothing except her food.”

“What kind of food milk?”

“Milk, and this.” Olga brought a bottle of the malted food.

“That’s all right. Let me see some of the milk,” the nurse ordered.

She looked at the milk, smelt it, tasted it. “That seems all right too,” she declared. “And you’ve put nothing no medicine of any sort in her food?”

“Why, of course not.”

“Do you prepare her food always?”

“Not always. Her mother my sister fixes it some times.”

“Ah!” said the nurse.

“What do you mean, Miss Kennan? What is the matter with the baby?”

“She’s been doped,” answered the nurse shortly. “Soothing syrup or something probably, to keep her quiet. Sleeps a lot, doesn’t she?”

“Yes. She never seems really awake. O Miss Kennan, I never knew ”

“I see. Well, you’ll have to know now. Find out what has been given her, and fix all her food after this, yourself. Can you?”

“I don’t know. I’ll try to.”

“If you don’t, she won’t need food much longer,” said the nurse.

“O, how can any one be so wicked!” cried Olga.

“It isn’t wickedness it’s ignorance mostly laziness sometimes, when a mother doesn’t want to be troubled with the care of a baby. Probably this one had an overdose this morning.”

Olga stood silently thinking. Yes, Sonia had given the baby her bottle that morning, and always gave it to her at night. She went into the bedroom and searched the closet and the bed. Sonia usually made the bed. Under the pillow Olga found a bottle which she handed without a word, to the nurse. Miss Kennan nodded.

“That’s it,” she said briefly.

Opening the window Olga flung the bottle passionately into the street.

“Can’t you do anything to to counteract it?” she questioned, her face as white as the child’s.

“I’ll bring you something,” the nurse said, “and now you must stop worrying. You can’t take proper care of this baby if you are in a white heat she’ll feel the mental atmosphere. I wish I could take her home with me to-night.”

“You can. I wish you would. I’d feel safer about her,” said Olga.

“And her mother?” the nurse questioned with a searching look.

“I won’t tell her where you live. You can bring the baby back in the morning if she’s better if not, keep her till she is. I’ll pay you when I can.”

“This isn’t a pay-case,” the nurse said in her crisp way, “it’s a case of life-saving. Then I’ll take her away now, before anybody comes to interfere.”

An hour later Sonia came home. In her absorption over the baby, Olga had quite forgotten about Laura’s note, and she asked no questions. That puzzled Sonia.

“What’s happened?” she demanded abruptly. “You look as if you’d seen a ghost.”

“I feel as if I had,” Olga answered gravely.

“What do you mean, Olga?”

“The baby is sick.”

“The baby?” Sonia cast a swift glance about, then hurried to the bedroom. “Where is she? What have you done with her?” she cried.

“Sonia, a nurse came here this afternoon, and she said some one had been poisoning the baby with soothing syrup.”

“Poisoning her!” Sonia echoed under her breath.

“She had had an overdose,” said Olga. “O Sonia, how could you give her that dangerous stuff?”

“How’d I know it was dangerous? An old nurse told me it was harmless,” Sonia defended herself, but the colour had faded out of her face and her eyes were full of terror.

Olga told her what the nurse had said. “I asked her to take the baby home with her to-night. I knew that she would take better care of her than we could,” she ended.

Sonia was too frightened to object. “I didn’t know. Of course I wouldn’t have given her the stuff if I had known,” she said again and again, and finally to turn her thoughts to something else, Olga asked about the place.

“Yes, they took me. I am to begin Monday,” Sonia answered briefly.

Neither of them slept much that night, and immediately after breakfast Olga hurried over to Miss Kennan’s. The nurse met her with a smile.

“She’s better she’ll pull through and she’s a darling of a baby, Olga,” she said. “But you’ll have to watch her closely for a while. That deadly stuff has weakened her so!”

“O, I will, I will!” Olga promised. A great love for the little creature filled her heart, as she stooped to kiss her.

For a month after this, things went better. Sonia was at the store from eight to six, and Olga in her quiet rooms, worked steadily except when the baby claimed her attention. The baby wanted more and more attention as the days went by. She no longer lay limp and half unconscious, but awoke from sleep, laughing and crowing, to stretch and roll and kick like any healthy baby. She took many precious moments of Olga’s time, but Olga did not grudge them. In that one day of fear and dread, the baby had established herself once for all in the girl’s heart. If things could only go on as they were if Sonia would earn her own clothes even, and be content to stay on and leave the baby to her care, Olga felt that she could be quite happy. But she had her misgivings in regard to Sonia. There was about her at times an air of mystery and of suppressed excitement that puzzled her sister. She spent many evenings out with friends, she said, but she never told who the friends were. Still Olga was happy. Her work, her baby (she thought of it always now as hers), and the Camp Fire friends these filled her days, and she put aside resolutely her misgivings in regard to her sister, worked doubly hard to pay the extra bills, and endured without complaint the discomfort of her crowded rooms where Sonia claimed and kept the most and best of everything. There was a cheery old lady in the room below an old lady who dearly loved to get hold of a baby, and with her Olga left her little niece on Camp Fire nights, and when she went to market or to the school. The girls began to drop in again evenings, now that Sonia was so seldom there, and Olga welcomed them with shining eyes. The baby soon had all the girls at her feet. They called her “The Camp Fire Baby” and would have adopted her forthwith, but Olga would not agree to that.

“You can play with her and love her as much as you like, but she’s my very own,” she told them.

But with her delight in the child was always mingled a haunting fear that Sonia would some day snatch her up and disappear with her as suddenly as she had come.

It was in December that the blow fell. Sonia had not come back to supper, and Olga left the baby with old Mrs. Morris, and set off with Lizette for the Camp Fire meeting. It was a delightful meeting, and Olga enjoyed every minute of it, and the walk home with Elizabeth afterwards, while Sadie followed with Lizette.

“Come down soon and see my baby and me,” she said, as Elizabeth and Sadie turned off at their own corner, and she went on with Lizette.

Before she could knock at Mrs. Morris’s door, it was opened by the old lady. “I’ve been watching for you ” she began, and instantly Olga read the truth in her troubled face.

“My baby ” she gasped.

“She’s gone, dearie her mother took her away,” the old lady said, her arms about the girl. “I tried to make her wait till you came, but she wouldn’t.”

“Gone for good, you mean?” It was Lizette who questioned.

“Yes,” answered Mrs. Morris, “she said so. She said you’d find a note upstairs. Here’s your key. I’m so sorry for you, child O, so sorry!”

Olga made no reply she could not find words then. She went slowly up the stairs, Lizette following. Lighting the gas, she flashed a swift glance about the room. The note lay on her workbench. She snatched it up and read:

“I’m going with Dick he came back a month ago. He says he’s turned over a new leaf, and he’s got a job in New York. I’ve always wanted to live in New York. Good-bye, Olga be good to yourself. Baby sends bye-bye to auntie.

“Sonia.”

She handed the note to Lizette, who read it with a scowl. “Well, of all the ” she began, but a glance from Olga stopped her. “Isn’t there anything I can do?” she begged, her eyes full of tears.

“Nothing, thank you. I’ll I’ll brace up as as soon as I can, Lizette. Good-night,” Olga said gently, and Lizette went away, her honest heart aching with sympathy for her friend, and Olga was alone in the place that seemed so appallingly empty because a little child had gone out of it.

But the next morning when Lizette came in Olga met her with a smile.

“I’m all right,” she said. “I miss my baby every minute, but, Lizette, I mean to be happy in spite of it, and I know you’ll help me. Breakfast is ready you won’t leave me to eat it alone?” Her brave smile brought a lump into Lizette’s throat.

So they dropped back into their old pleasant companionship, and the girls came more often than before evenings, and Olga threw herself whole-heartedly into Camp Fire work, seeking opportunities for service. And the days slipped away and it was Christmas Eve again. Olga had spent the evening in the Camp Fire room helping to put up greens and trim the tree. She had a smile and a helping hand for every one, and Laura, watching her, said to herself, “She is holding her torch high the dear child.”

But it had not been easy holding the torch high. On the way home the reaction came, and Olga was silent. In the merry crowd, however, only Elizabeth and Lizette noticed her silence, for Laura had sent them all home in the car, and the swift flight through the snowy streets was exciting and exhilarating. The others called gay greetings and farewells as they rolled away, leaving Olga and Lizette on the steps in the moonlight.

At Lizette’s door Olga said good-night and went across to her own room. Closing the door behind her she dropped into a chair by the window, and suddenly she realised that she was very tired and O, so lonely! She longed for the pressure of a little head on her arm for tiny fingers curling about hers she wanted her baby.

“O, why couldn’t I keep her? Sonia doesn’t care for her she doesn’t! And I do. I want my baby!” she cried into the night.

But again after a little she caught back her courage. “I’m ashamed ashamed!” she said aloud. “I’m not playing fair. I’ve got to be happy if I can’t have my baby, and I will. But, O, if I were only sure that she is cared for!”

At that moment there came a low rap on her door. Going to it, she called, “Who is it? Who is there?” but she did not open the door.

There was no reply, only the sound of soft retreating footsteps.

“Somebody going by,” she said, turning away, but as she did so she thought she heard a little whimpering cry outside. Instantly she flung the door open, and there in a basket lay her baby.

“It it can’t be!” Olga cried out, incredulous. Then she caught up the baby and hugged her till the little thing whimpered again, half afraid. “O, it is it is!” Olga cried. “You blessed darling if I could only keep you forever!” Still holding the child close, she snatched up the basket, shut the door, and lit the gas. In the basket she found a note from her sister.

“I’m sending back the baby [it read]; I only took her to scare you just to pay you off for nagging me so about work. You can have her now for keeps. Dick doesn’t care for children and they are an awful bother, and you’ve spoiled this one anyhow, fussing so over her. I reckon you and I aren’t exactly congenial, and I shan’t trouble you any more unless Dick goes back on me again, and I don’t think he will.

“Sonia.”

Through the still night air came the sound of bells Christmas bells ringing in the Great Day. To Olga they seemed to call softly:

“‘Love is the joy of service so deep that self is forgotten.’”