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Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 16052

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Bitumen was what its name suggested. There was soft coal and smoke everywhere. Each day the clothes on the line were flecked with black. The buildings had the dull, dingy look which soot alone can give. The houses sagged on either side of narrow, unpaved streets, where during a rainy period ducks clattered about with their broods, and a few portly pigs led their shoats for a mud bath.

During a summer shower barefooted urchins waded knee-deep in the gutters, their trousers rolled to their thighs. Irish-Americans shot mud balls at black-eyed Italians; Polanders and Slavs together tried the depths of the same puddles; while the little boys of the Russian Fatherland played in a group by themselves at one end of the square.

The houses were not so much homes as places of shelter. Walls painted red were the popular fancy. Although there was room enough, gardens were unknown, while blooming plants were rare enough to cause comment. Each dooryard had its heap of empty cans and pile of ashes. Ill-kempt women stood idly about the doorways, or sat upon unscrubbed steps with dirty babies in their arms.

Bitumen was not a place of poverty. There was plenty of work for the men, and good wages if they chose to earn them. They lacked nothing to eat or wear. Money, so long as it lasted, was spent with a prodigal hand. The Company store kept nothing too good for their palates. Expensive fruits and early vegetables were in demand. The cheap finery bought for the young folk lasted but a few weeks, and was tossed aside by the next "pay day."

There was one saloon in the place. It did a thriving business in spite of some unseen influence working against it. Its proprietor was one Dennis O'Day, who held the politics of the little town in his palm. He was a little brighter, a little keener and much more unscrupulous than the other men of the place, but he felt at times the force of some one greater than himself, and it was always directed against his business. He perceived it when he received orders that, in fulfillment of the law, he must remove the blinds before his windows, and keep his place open to the public view. He felt it again when he received a legal notice about free lunches, closing hours, and selling to minors. Never once had he stepped beyond the most rigid observance of the law but he was called to account for it. He knew some keen eye was upon him and some one ready to fight him and his business at every turn.

The great blow came when the Club House was established. An empty store-room had been fitted up with chairs and tables and a supply of books and magazines. Here the boys had the liberty of coming to smoke and talk together while Joe Ratowsky served coffee and sandwiches cheaper than O'Day could sell beer.

It was not Ratowsky's doings. There was some one else behind the scenes who provided the brains and money to keep the business moving. Dennis O'Day meant to find out who that person was and square accounts with him. But for three years he had been no nearer the truth than now. To learn anything from Ratowsky was impossible, for the man had a tied tongue when he chose.

In the midst of all the dirt and squalor there was one touch of dainty hominess and comfort. This was found near Mountain Glen, where the superintendent of the mines lived. The house was an unpretentious wooden building with great porches and big, airy rooms, but the windows shone in the sunlight, the curtains were white as snow, and the worn floors of the porches were always scrubbed.

In front and at the sides of the house was a lawn mowed until it looked like a stretch of moss. Masses of scarlet sage and cannas grew near the house, while at the rear a white-washed fence gleamed white.

The superintendency of the Bitumen mines was not the most desirable position, cutting off, as it did, the man and his family from all congenial companionship. The salary attached was fairly good, quite sufficient to provide a comfortable, if not luxurious, living. The present incumbent had begun his profession with other ambitions than living in a little mining town.

Twenty years before, Mr. Hobart, then newly married, had every prospect of becoming prominent in his profession. He had new theories on mining and mine-explosives. He had brought to perfection a substance to destroy the explosive gas which collects in unused chambers of mines.

Just at the time when the mining interests were about to make use of his discovery, his health failed from too close application. He was threatened with consumption, brought about by inhaling poisonous gases. He was ordered from the laboratory into the mountains. The Kettle Creek Mining Company offered him a position at Bitumen, one of the highest soft coal regions in the world. The air was bracing and suited to his physical condition. Confident that a few months would find him restored to health, he accepted. But with each attempted return to lower altitudes the enemy came back, and months passed into years, until he came to look upon Bitumen as the scene for his life work.

Here his only child, Elizabeth, was born. Here she grew into girlhood, knowing no companionship except that of her parents and Miss Hale, a woman past middle age, who, in her youth, had travelled abroad and had spent the greater part of her time in the study of languages and music. She had come to Bitumen with her father for the same reason that had brought Mr. Hobart.

She had a quaint old place just at the edge of town. Here, during the warm weather, she cultivated flowers and vegetables. In her home were unique collections of botanical and geological specimens, books, and music. She found recreation in painting both in oils and water colors, and in plaster-casting.

She paid little attention to dress. Most frequently she might be seen in a gown ten years behind the fashions, driving a dashing span of horses along the rough mountain roads in search of some member of the mission school in which she was interested. Most of the miners were Catholics, but here and there among them she found members of her own church and sought to bring and keep them together. Her appearance might cause a stranger to smile, but when once he heard her cultivated voice, and caught the varying expression of her face, he forgot all else.

Miss Hale taught Elizabeth French and music. Few days in recent years had been too cold or stormy to keep her from driving down the rough road to the Hobart home for the sake of the lessons.

The other branches of his daughter's education, Mr. Hobart took under his own charge. He taught her mathematics as conscientiously as though he expected her to enter his own profession.

This line of work had not been a burden to her. She had her father's aptitude for study, and took up an original problem in geometry as most girls take up their fancy work.

Elizabeth had no girl friends at Bitumen. Her father was the only really young person she knew, for although in years he was not young, yet in the joy he took in living, he was still a boy. He had the buoyancy of youth and the ability of manhood. No laugh came clearer or more often than his. No one could be dull in his presence.

His daughter took part in his pleasures. She was interested in his work; even his business affairs were not unknown to her. There was one subject, however, with which she was not acquainted. Many times while she was at her books, her parents with Miss Hale were deep in a discussion, which ceased when she joined them.

She had finished her second reading of Cicero, and reviewed all the originals in solid geometry. Her summer suspension of study was about to begin. She was conscious that something of importance to herself was brewing in which she took no part. Miss Hale had made unusual visits and had been closeted with her parents for hours. One day Elizabeth sat studying in an upper room, and from her window she saw Miss Hale drive away. At the same instant her father called, "Elizabeth, Elizabe


She ran down-stairs. Her father and mother stood at the foot looking pleased.

"I know she will be glad," her mother said.

"Of course she will," replied her father.

She paused on the stairway in wonder. She was very good to look at as she stood so. Her soft hair was drawn loosely back from her face, and hung in a long, fair plait down her back. She was not beautiful, only wholesome looking, with a clear, healthy color, and large, honest eyes. Her dress was a simple, inexpensive shirtwaist suit, but every article about her was in order. There was no sagging of belts, or loose hooks.

Her father held out a book as she came toward them. He was brimming over with joy at the prospect of her delight.

"It is a catalog of Exeter Hall, Elizabeth. That is the school Miss Hale attended. I've looked over dozens of catalogs and this pleases your mother and me best. We want you to go in the fall."

"Oh!" was all she said then, but it was expressive enough to satisfy her parents. She had read stories of schoolgirl life which seemed more like fairy stories than experiences of real girls.

"Look it all over, Elizabeth. The course of study is mapped out. We think the classical course suited to you. Your mother and I are going to drive down to the mines. Study the catalog while we are gone and be ready to tell us what you think of it when we come back."

She needed no second bidding to do this. By the close of the afternoon, she had read and re-read the prospectus. She became so excited she could scarcely sit still. There was one matter which did not fully satisfy her. She had advanced beyond the course at Exeter in some branches and smiled as she read the amount of work laid out in botany for the Middle Class. She had far exceeded that, for she had found and mounted every specimen of plant and flower that grew for miles around Bitumen.

The cost of a year's schooling was a surprise. Her father and Miss Hale could teach her everything that the course at Exeter included. It seemed foolish to spend so much money when all could be learned at home.

That evening Miss Hale drove over to see how Elizabeth was pleased with the prospect of going away to school. The matter was discussed from all points of view. Then Elizabeth expressed the thought which had come to her while studying the catalog:

"But I have had more work than the Freshman and Middle Classes require. It would not take me long to complete the work for the Senior year. I want to go,-I think I have always wanted to go to school, but it seems such a waste of money. You can teach me more, I can really learn as much at home."

Her father laughed, "Impossible! The girls at Exeter will teach you more in one term than I can in a year. I do not expect you to be a Senior. I shall be more than satisfied with your entering as a 'Middler.' You'll need plenty of time for extras."

"Extras? What extras must I take?"

"Chafing-dish cooking and fudge making," replied Miss Hale, promptly. "It will take a full term for you to find your place among young people, and learn all they will teach you."

"But they will know no more than I do," said Elizabeth.

"Perhaps not so much; but what they know will bear no relation to what they teach you. I'm willing to promise that you will learn more from your roommate than you do from any instructor there."

Elizabeth glanced from one to the other. She failed to understand.

"We will have no more lessons after to-morrow," said Mrs. Hobart. "Elizabeth and I will begin putting her clothes in order. There will be a great deal to do, for she will need so much more at school than she does at home. We do not wish to hurry."

"Only eight weeks yet," said Elizabeth, "I wish I was going next week."

The day following the work on the outfit for school began. "Plain and simple," her mother declared it should be. But Elizabeth fairly held her breath as she viewed the beautiful articles laid out to be made.

"This pale blue organdie will do for receptions and any public entertainments you have," her mother explained. "Every girl at school needs some kind of a simple evening dress. You'll need a cloth suit for church and shopping. Then, of course, the school dresses."

Every morning Elizabeth on her way down-stairs to breakfast slipped into the sewing room to view the new dresses. She had never so much as thought, not to say expected, to own a rain coat and bath robe, and a soft eider-down sacque. But there they lay before her. Their existence could not be questioned.

"Do you think the other girls at Exeter will have so much?" she asked of Miss Hale. "I don't want to look as though I was trying to out-dress anyone."

"If you find they have less than you, keep some of your good things in your trunk. You do not need to wear them all," was Miss Hale's advice. "No doubt they are fixing themselves up, too," she added.

Elizabeth had never thought of the matter before. Now the mere thinking about it seemed to bring her into relation and sympathy with those hundreds of unknown girls who were, like her, counting each penny in order to spend it to the best advantage, all the while looking forward to the first of September.

It came at last. The big trunk was brought down from the attic. The new dresses were folded and packed. The books which she might need at Exeter were put into a box. The trunk was locked and carried into the lower hall, waiting for the drayman to call for it early the following morning.

At this juncture going away from home changed color. It was no longer something to look forward to with pleasure, but something to dread. Elizabeth was not the only one who felt the coming separation. She noticed through a film of tears that the best linen and china were used, and that her favorite dishes had been prepared for the last home supper.

Despite their feelings, each made an effort to be cheerful. Mr. Hobart told incidents of his own school-days, and rallied Elizabeth on being homesick before she had started.

Afterward, they sat together on the porch. The father and mother talked but Elizabeth sat silent. She was thinking that the next evening would find her far away and among strangers. She dreaded meeting girls who had been reared with others of their age, and who had been in school before, feeling that she would appear very awkward and dull until she learned the ways of school. She half wished that her father would tell her she need not go. She came closer and seating herself on the step below him, rested her head on his knee. "Father, I do not wish to go to Exeter. May I stay home with you and mother? Be a good daddy and say 'yes.'"

"I shall be good and say 'no.' Our little girl must go away to-morrow. I can't tell you how lonely we shall be, but we have had you so long that we were almost forgetting that you had a life of your own. We must not be selfish, so we send you off, bag and baggage." Her mother added: "Unless she oversleeps, which I am sure she will unless she goes to bed right away. It is later than I supposed. Come, Elizabeth."

As she spoke, Joe Ratowsky came across the lawn. In the moonlight, he looked like a great tawny giant. He spoke in English: "Mr. Hobart, that beeznez is no good. He no stay to-morrow. To-day homes he goes quick."

"Where is his home? Doesn't he live here?"

"Dennis O'Day, b'gosh, niver. So many as one children he have. Milton, he live."

"Why doesn't he bring his family here? I didn't know the man was married."

"Umh-yes, b'gosh. His girl tall like your girl. He no bring her. He proud like the tivil. Never he tell his girl what he do here-no, b'gosh, he don't."

"Well, come in and I will talk the matter over. We can't do much else than wait." Then turning to his daughter, "Good-night, Elizabeth, I must talk to Joe now."

Elizabeth ascended the stair. Joe's visit had taken her mind from her going away. She wondered what the Pole could have in common with her father. Joe was not even a miner.

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