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CHAPTER I THE TORCH BEARER’S DESIRE
“That light which has been given to me,
I desire to pass undimmed to others,”

recited Ruth Garnier in clear, purposeful tones.

For a brief instant following her spoken pledge, an eloquent silence reigned over the circle of picturesque figures seated about the brightly-blazing camp fire. Then a storm of acclamation rent the still night air, echoing and re-echoing among the giant oaks that hemmed in the company of ardent fire-worshippers. To hear Ruth Garnier repeat the desire of the Torch Bearer was indeed sufficient reason for applause on the part of her comrades of school and Camp Fire. No one of them was more honestly deserving of that honor than sunny, self-reliant Ruth. It was the highest to which she could attain as a Camp Fire Girl until the passing of years should render her eligible to the post of Guardian.

Her cheeks flaming at this unexpected tribute to herself, Ruth resumed her place in the wide circle of girls to the accompaniment of the ringing vocal cheer, “Wo-he-lo for aye!”

She was feeling strangely humble and a bit overwhelmed at the ovation. At no time vainglorious, she found it hard to conceive of why her promotion to Torch Bearer should elicit such a lively clamor of appreciation. As one in a dream, she listened to Miss Drexal, the Guardian, as the latter proceeded to dwell flatteringly upon the new Torch Bearer’s good qualities, expressing her pleasure at Ruth’s advancement in the Camp Fire Association.

It was not until the chorus of fresh young voices had begun their beautiful good-night song, “Now Our Camp Fire’s Burning Low,” that Ruth emerged sufficiently from her trance of wondering happiness to join in the singing. As she sang, a tender smile flickered about her mobile lips. She knew that among those present a sextette of loyal friends was impatiently longing for the Council Fire to end, so that they might tender their more personal congratulations.

To the group of girls known as the Hillside Camp Fire belonged not only Ruth, but her six chums, Betty Wyndham, Jane Pellew, Frances Bliss, Sarah Manning, Anne Follett and Emmeline Cerrito. Brought into intimate companionship during their first year at Miss Belaire’s Academy, the seven young women had found much in common. In “THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT HILLSIDE” the story of how they met, and one by one became interested in the Camp Fire movement, has already been told.

Later, when the longed-for summer vacation brought them together again for a month’s stay in the Catskills at a house party given by Betty Wyndham, their Camp Fire zeal received fresh impetus. It was while they were at Wanderer’s Roost, the Wyndhams’ cottage, that they came into the real meaning of the word comradeship.

Strangely enough it was the eighth member of the house party, Marian Selby, an unwelcome cousin of Ruth Garnier’s, who showed them the way. Out of a series of dark misunderstandings, which bade fair to wreck that promised month of unalloyed pleasure, rose the Equitable Eight, of whom Marian eventually became the best-loved member. A complete record of their eventful sojourn in the Catskills has been set down in “THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT LOOKOUT PASS.”

And now their second year at Miss Belaire’s was rapidly drawing to a close. So far as the seven Hillside members of the Equitable Eight were concerned, it had been a year of concentrated endeavor, not only as students, but as Camp Fire Girls as well. Devoted followers of the great movement whose watchwords are, “Work, Health and Love,” they had labored conscientiously to forward it at the academy. The Hillside Camp Fire, to which they belonged, now boasted of its full quota of members. The overflow of converts to it had formed themselves into a second group known as the Drexal Camp Fire, named in honor of Miss Drexal, Guardian of the Hillside group, who, with Ruth, had worked unceasingly to organize this second branch.

On the balmy evening in June which marked the elevation of Ruth to Torch Bearer, the two groups had joined forces in a grand Council Fire, as a fitting wind-up to the meetings which had been regularly held during the school year. Though each Camp Fire had its own particular out-door rendezvous, the two groups had elected to hold their last Council Fire at the Hillside meeting-place. It was an ideal spot, less than half a mile from the Academy, and situated in a natural grove of magnificent oaks.

Due to a long warm fall and an especially mild winter, the Hillside group had made it a point to hold as few meetings as possible indoors by candle light. Only in the case of severe storm had they reconciled themselves to the lesser freedom of the house. To quote Ruth’s frequent sturdy assertion: “Camp Fire Girls aren’t supposed to mind a little thing like bad weather.” Her own enthusiasm in the movement always bubbling over, it was not strange that the others in her group had become gradually imbued with the same spirit. Neither was it to be wondered at that those to whom she had been an inspiration to good works were now unselfishly glad to see her thus publicly come into her own.

“Hurrah for our Ruth!” was the first jubilant exclamation that greeted her ears, the instant the Council Fire had ended. Frances Bliss had pounced upon Ruth with the joyous abandon of a playful bear-cub, and was hugging her vigorously.

Free at last to express their individual gratification, her six intimate friends now crowded about her, each one more eager than the next to make herself heard.

“I’m so pleased and so proud of you, Ruth,” was Anne Follett’s affectionate tribute, as Ruth emerged, rosy and laughing, from Frances’ devastating embrace.

“So are the rest of the Equitable Eight,” caroled Jane Pellew, her sharp black eyes glowing. “I speak for Marian, too. It’s just what she’d say if she were here.”

“You truly deserved the honor, Ruth,” chimed in Betty Wyndham. “It was positively thrilling to hear you repeat the Torch Bearer’s Desire.” Betty had been keenly alive to the dramatic value of the ceremony.

“It was just like a play, wasn’t it, Betty?” teased Sarah Manning.

“Certainly it was,” agreed Betty, calmly ignoring Sarah’s intent to tease. “Still I can’t see that your remark is strictly in the nature of a congratulation,” she added slyly.

“Oh, I hadn’t got that far yet,” was Sarah’s unabashed retort. “But here goes. Most estimable and magnificent Ruth, deign to accept the humble and heartfelt congratulations of your lowly admirer, Sarey. Profiting by your unparalleled example, I shall live in the fond hope that sometime during the next hundred years I shall be elevated to a like honor.”

“Fine!” applauded Frances. “Plain Jane and I will proceed to live in the fond hope that we’ll be there to see it. We may be a trifle time-worn and wobbly by that time, but nevertheless, we’ll be there.”

“You needn’t include me in your calculations,” cut in Jane scornfully. “I shall grow old gracefully and never wobble.”

“You only think you won’t,” beamed Frances. “But never mind. No matter what relentless fate Time may bring you, Plain Jane, I shall be on hand to aid and sustain your tottering steps. I refuse to be deprived of my chief pillar of argument.”

“Oh, dear, they’ve begun,” moaned Sarah. “Won’t somebody please stop them?”

“I don’t understand you, Sarah.” Frances fixed a reproving eye on the protestant. “Always try to say clearly what you mean, then we may perhaps believe that you mean what you say.”

“I mean what I say when I say that I don’t intend to argue with you, Frances Bliss. It’s a waste of breath and I—”

“Be calm, children,” laughingly admonished Emmeline Cerrito. Her gaze fixed intently on Ruth, Emmy had thus far remained silent. The very expression of her dark eyes was more eloquent than speech. In reality her light expostulation had cloaked a depth of emotion which she jealously sought to conceal even from her chums. Their second year together as roommates had served greatly to strengthen the bond between herself and Ruth. A well-nigh perfect comradeship now existed between them. Emmy’s happiness in the fulfillment of Ruth’s desire was second only to that of the latter herself.

“I am calm,” declared Frances. “’Tis the calm of inspiration. If you don’t believe it, wait a little. I am on the verge of composing a great epic poem in which Sarah, Plain Jane and little Frances are all sweetly mingled. It begins, ‘Words, idle words, I know not what they mean!’ That’s as far as I’ve progressed. The rest of it will come to me later.”

“I hope it will be after you’ve gone to bed to-night. Then you can’t inflict it upon me,” was Jane’s unappreciative comment.

“What a cruel, unfeeling person you are, Janie.” Frances’ wide smile indicated small injury. “Never mind. Sarah can’t escape me. I’ll wait until she is nicely asleep, then I’ll wake her up and recite it to her.”

“You’re quite capable of it,” giggled Sarah, “but ‘forewarned,’ you know. You’ll wish you’d kept your great epic poem to yourself.”

“More idle words,” murmured Frances. “It’s not wise to take such vague threats too seriously. I—”

Her further remarks on the subject were suddenly cut short by merry cries of “Break away! Break away!” from a bevy of girls who had come up to congratulate Ruth. Signally entertained by Frances’ nonsense, the sextette still hemmed Ruth in. Now obligingly obeying the impetuous demand, it broke up to give place to the newcomers. For at least fifteen minutes an impromptu reception went on by the ruddy light of the fire which Miss Drexal had purposely allowed to remain unextinguished for the time being.

“Come girls. It is almost ten o’clock,” she presently reminded the knots of busy chatterers. “We must put out the sacred flame and depart in a hurry. Remember the ten-thirty bell. I am afraid as it is that there will be a dolorous wail of ‘unprepared’ to-morrow morning. Betty and Jane, will you please help me?”

“With pleasure,” responded both at once, halting only long enough to solemnly join their little fingers and wish, by reason of having said precisely the same thing in the same instant.

“Thumbs, Shakespeare, Knickerbocker, salt, pepper, vinegar,” mumbled Betty glibly.

“Elbows, toes, Webster, Washington, ginger, catsup, paprika,” droned Jane. Whereupon they hastily unlocked fingers, giggled and rushed to the aid of the Guardian who had already begun to beat out the fire with a long stick.

That important task efficiently accomplished, a long procession of gay-voiced Camp Fire followers was soon wending a swinging course across the moonlit fields toward the academy. Almost at its head walked Ruth and Emmy, conversing in low, confidential tones.

“I can’t begin to tell you how sweet it was to hear you repeating the Torch Bearer’s Desire,” Emmy was saying softly. “It made me feel so glad and happy for your sake.”

“I knew you’d feel that way about it,” breathed Ruth. “You understood better than anyone else exactly how much it meant—”

“I thought I’d never catch up with you,” broke in a cross voice, as a tall, auburn-haired girl unceremoniously shattered the confidential little session by shoving herself between the two, causing them to relax their light hold on each other’s arms. In the white moonlight the face of the intruder showed decided sulkiness. “Ever since the Council Fire was over I’ve been trying to get in a word edgewise with Ruth. Much good it did to try with the girls all crowding around her, talking at the top of their lungs.”

“Well, here I am, Blanche. Sorry I happened to be so popular, for once.” Ignoring the pettish inflection in the newcomer’s voice, Ruth spoke with her usual sunny good humor. “Was it something special you had to tell me?”

“Oh, no. I merely thought I’d like to congratulate you,” Blanche answered in anything but a congratulatory tone.

“Thank you ever so much.” Privately, Ruth was at a loss to account for this sudden interest in herself on Blanche Shirly’s part. Long since, she had reached the rueful conclusion that she and Blanche had little in common. It was only of late that the latter had begun to treat her with condescending friendliness.

During her first year at Miss Belaire’s she had earnestly tried to find under Blanche Shirly’s shallow, snobbish exterior some vein of intrinsic worth. Toward the close of that memorable year, when the Camp Fire spirit had begun to manifest itself strongly throughout the freshman class, Ruth had had high hopes of Blanche’s conversion to a more earnest scheme of life which offered loftier ideals than fine clothes, beaux, theatres and dances, and Blanche had even gone so far as to express a desire to be a Camp Fire Girl. Nevertheless she had not put her desire into execution. She had merely made vague promises to join the organization in the fall, before departing homeward on her summer vacation.

Afterward, when the seven friends had chanced to encounter her at Haines Falls, a summer resort in the Catskills, she had apparently changed her mind. On the momentous occasion when Emmeline Cerrito’s perverse stand was responsible for the call Blanche and her mother had paid Betty Wyndham at Wanderer’s Roost, both mother and daughter had offered a most unflattering opinion of the Camp Fire movement. Blanche expressed herself loftily as having lost all interest in it.

Through the major part of her second year at Miss Belaire’s, she had pointedly steered clear of the Equitable Eight. Later, for reasons best known to herself, she had abruptly changed her tactics. Greatly to their surprise she and Jeanette Hayes had recently joined the Drexal Camp Fire and religiously attended the meetings.

Slightly mollified by Ruth’s cordial reception of herself, Blanche marched serenely along between the two whom she had interrupted, apparently oblivious to the fact that Emmy had said not a word to her. Emmy was not only incensed by Blanche’s lack of ceremony, she was also darkly considering the reason for the invasion. She had no illusions concerning Blanche. Far from feeling jealous at this inexplicable display of friendliness toward Ruth, she was nevertheless not favorably impressed by it.

“What’s the matter with you, Emmy?” It had suddenly penetrated Blanche’s somewhat obtuse brain that Emmy was not specially overjoyed at seeing her. “Are you deep in one of your black moods? Anyone might think you weren’t glad on Ruth’s account.”

In the darkness Emmy’s eyes flashed ominously. An angry reply leaped to her lips. Forcing it back she merely said with acid sweetness: “What reason have you for thinking that I’m not?”

“None at all,” Blanche hastily assured. “I was only fooling.” Warned by Emmy’s tone that she had gone too far, Blanche continued nervously, “I must go back to Jean. She will wonder what has become of me. See you to-morrow.” Promptly beating a retreat, she left the danger spot and returned to Jeanette with, “Thank goodness, that’s done. My, but Emmeline Cerrito hates to have anyone say two words to Ruth Garnier! She makes me tired. If it weren’t for certain reasons, I wouldn’t bother my head about Ruth Garnier.”

Left alone, neither Emmy nor Ruth spoke for a moment. It was Emmy who broke the silence. “Blanche has an axe to grind,” she burst forth. “I’ve noticed for over a week now that she is trying her best to be sweet to you, Ruth. Don’t think I’m jealous. I hope I’ve learned that jealousy doesn’t pay. But I know Blanche. Jeanette is the only girl at Miss Belaire’s that she really cares about. They are two of a kind. Mark what I say. Blanche has thought of something that she wants you to do for her.”

“Oh, I hardly think so.” Affection for Emmy kept Ruth from reminding her that to discuss Blanche was not strictly in accordance with Camp Fire ethics. To her alone Emmy spoke her mind freely. To others she was a model of discreet reserve. “I am sure I am willing to help Blanche in any way that I can.”

But in making this whole-hearted statement, Ruth had yet to learn that the favor which Blanche intended presently to ask of her would be far from easy to grant.


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