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   Chapter 2 THE JOURNEY.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 26982

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Only accommodation trains ran between Bitumen and Exeter. Elizabeth found herself in a motley crowd of passengers. To her right sat a shabbily dressed mother with a sick baby in her arms; back of her was a plain little woman of middle age dressed in a gingham suit and rough straw hat; while before her sat two young women, perhaps a year or two older than herself. They talked loudly enough to attract the attention of those about them. Elizabeth learned that the larger was named Landis, and her companion "Min."

They were handsomely though showily dressed. Min seemed to be less self-assertive than her companion. Landis evidently had confidence enough for two. She frequently turned to look around, gazing into the faces of her fellow passengers with a self-assurance that in one of her age amounted almost to boldness.

She had been careful to arrange her jacket that its handsome buckle and silk lining were in evidence. She was a girl of large physique, with broad shoulders, which she carried rigidly. This, with the haughty pose of her head, attracted attention to her even in a crowd.

Her companion was as tall, but more slender. It was evident that she looked up to Landis and depended upon her in every emergency. A reader of human nature could have seen at a glance that she was the weaker.

From their conversation, it appeared they knew all places and people of importance along the route. As the train stopped at Westport, Landis viewed the town with critical eye.

"Tacky little hole, isn't it? I should simply die if I were compelled to live here."

"You would never stand it. You'd run away, Landis, or do something desperate. Isn't this where the Gleasons live?"

"It used to be. But they live at Gleasonton now. They have a perfectly elegant place there. Of course, it is just their summer home. I'd like to take you down there sometime. I feel like taking the liberty for they are such old friends. They are in Washington during the winter. He's United States Senator, you know."

"Have you ever been there to visit them, Landis?"

"How could I, Min? I'll have to leave all such times until I've finished school and have come out. I don't doubt that Mrs. Gleason will ask me there for my first season. She's not a society woman. She hasn't much ability that way, and has sense enough to know it; so she goes in for charity, and temperance work, and all that."

A suppressed exclamation from the seat behind her caused Elizabeth to look around. She was just in time to see the plainly-dressed woman suppress a laugh. As Elizabeth glanced at her, she was pretending absorption in a magazine, but her lips were yet twitching with amusement.

The baby across the aisle began a low, fretful cry. The mother soothed it as best she could, holding it in her arms, patting it on the back, and trying all manner of devices to keep it quiet. A little boy several years old was on the seat beside her, and the instant the baby began to fret, he set up a distinct and independent howl of his own.

Landis made no attempt to conceal her discomfort.

"How annoying!" she exclaimed in tones that could be heard half the length of the car. "Anything but a crying baby! Why don't women with babies stay at home? It wouldn't matter so much if there was a decent train on this road, but one can't get a Pullman for love or money. If there is anything I despise, it's traveling with a mixed set. You never know whom you are getting next to."

Her companion agreed, offering her subtle flattery in sympathizing that one of her station should be compelled to mingle with such people.

Again Elizabeth, in her hurried glance, caught a twinkle of amusement in the eyes of the woman back of her. Elizabeth could form no opinion about the girls in the seat ahead. She had no precedent to guide her. All she knew was learned from her parents and Miss Hale.

The train had been advancing at a steady if not rapid rate. They had descended the mountain, and were moving close to its base through a country barren of vegetation and population. There came a sudden jolt,-then a creaking sound as the train gradually slowed and then stopped.

The passengers looked from the window. No station or village was in sight. There was a moment of uneasiness. A few men got up and went to see what the trouble was. An half-hour passed. The restlessness expressed itself in words. Some complained loudly; some grumbled, others walked up and down the aisle, every few moments looking at their watches, while their faces grew more expressive of displeasure and annoyance.

The baby across the way fretted. The little boy cried aloud. The tired mother worried over them until she herself was almost sobbing.

The half-hour lengthened into an hour. Then a trainman entered the car with the unpleasant news that they would be delayed yet longer. The air-brake had failed them, and they must wait until the wreck-train came down from Westport with another car, so it might be an hour before they would be able to proceed.

The girls, Landis and Min, left their places to walk up and down the aisle. Landis looked infinitely bored. She turned to her companion with deprecatory remarks about second-class traveling, where one could not have either a lunch or dinner.

The dinner hour had passed. Some of the travellers who had a day's journey before them had fortified themselves against hunger with a lunch.

The baby continued crying. The older child clamored loudly for something to eat. Elizabeth crossed the aisle.

"You look tired," she said to the mother. "Will you trust your baby with me?" She held out her arms, but the child clung closer to its mother while its fretful cry grew louder.

"Perhaps I can persuade her to come," said Elizabeth, going to her lunch box and returning with an orange. The bright color attracted the child at once. Elizabeth took her in her arms and began walking up and down. The other passengers, absorbed in their lunches or growling at their own discomfort, paid little attention to her.

The little boy continued his pleadings for something to eat. The mother endeavored to call his attention to other matters.

"Have you nothing for him?" asked Elizabeth.

The woman's face flushed at the question. She was a subdued, worn-out little soul whose experience with the world had made her feel that every one was but awaiting an excuse to find fault with her. Her manner as she replied was more apologetic than explanatory.

"No; I hain't. I counted on being home before noon. My man has a job in the brickyard at Italee, and we'd been there now if the train hadn't stopped. I was up to Leidy a-buryin' my mother," she added, as though she expected that Elizabeth might blame her for being on the train at all.

Landis and Min had gone back to their seats. Hearing this bit of conversation, Landis turned her head to look at Elizabeth and her friend. Judging from her expression, she had no sympathy with a girl like Elizabeth who could hob-nob on a train with a common-looking person like this woman.

Landis turned back to her companion, who had opened a small leather lunch-case and was spreading out napkins on the seat before her. The napkins were of heavy linen with drawnwork borders. The drinking-cup was silver. The lunch was in harmony with its service. There were quantities of dainty sandwiches, olives and pickles, fruits, the choicest bits of roast chicken, slices of meat-loaf, and several varieties of cake and confections. The sight of it was quite enough to make one's mouth water.

The lady back of them had also opened her lunch. She, too, had heard the conversation between Elizabeth and the woman with the babies. Arising with her lunch in her hand, and a traveling cape over her arm, she came over to where Elizabeth stood with the baby.

"The trainmen tell me we shall have an hour to wait," she said, addressing them. "I see a pretty little bit of grass out here, not far from the car. There is shade, too. Don't you think it would be pleasant to sit out there and eat our lunch together? It would be rest from the close car."

Undoubtedly she was one whose suggestions were followed, as she expected them to be now. Before she had ceased speaking she had the boy in her arms, and was on the way to the door. The mother and Elizabeth with the baby followed.

A narrow green bank lay between the railroad and the creek. A large forest oak stood there, making the one bit of shade within sight. The woman, with the boy in her arms, hurried to this. Spreading out her traveling cape, she put him down upon it, and immediately taking a sandwich from her lunch, placed it in his hands. His cries ceased. He fell to munching the sandwich, at intervals giving expression to his enjoyment.

Elizabeth trudged after with the baby. She had never carried such a burden before, and was surprised to find how heavy the frail little child was. It was all she could do to keep it from slipping from her arms, or jumping out over them. The uncertainty of what its next move would be caused her to clutch it so tightly that her muscles and nerves were at a tension, and she was glad to put it down on the cape also. The mother, with her eyes open wide at this unexpected goodness of strangers, was close at her heels.

"It's her sleeping time," she explained. "That's what makes her fret so."

"Will she eat a piece of orange?" asked Elizabeth, preparing to remove the rind.

"I don't know but what she will."

Elizabeth held it out. The baby knew whether she would or not. Instantly her fingers closed about it, and carried it to her mouth. It was only a few moments until the eyes closed and the child was fast asleep with the bit of orange tight in her hand.

"Your husband works at Italee?" asked the woman of the child's mother, as she was arranging her lunch for them.

"Yes'm, he works in the brickyard there. We hain't been there long. I was just up home buryin' my mother."

"What is your husband's name?"

"Koons-Sam Koons. He's a molder. They pay pretty well there. That's why we moved. He used to work up at Keating; but it seemed like we'd do better down here."

"There's no brickyard at Keating?"

"No; but there's mines. Sam, he's a miner, but he's takin' up the brick trade."

"Yes; I see. I do not wonder that you were glad to leave Keating. It surely is a rough place. I have never known a town so reeking with liquor. There's every inducement there for a man's going wrong, and none for his going right."

"Yes'm," said Mrs. Koons. Her deprecatory, worried expression showed that she appreciated the disadvantages of the place. "That's what I've always told Sam," she continued in her apologetic, meek voice. "When a man's trying to do his best and keep sober, there's them what would come right in his house and ask him to drink. A man may be meanin' well, and tryin' to do what's right, but when the drink's in his blood, and there's them what's coaxin' him to it, it hain't much wonder that he gives up. Sam, he's one of the biggest-hearted men, and a good miner, but he's no man for standin' his ground. He's easy-like to lead. We heard there wasn't no drinkin' places about Italee-they wasn't allowed-so we come."

"Yes; I've heard that Mr. Gleason tried to keep the place free from drink."

"Yes'm, but folks down there say that the Senator don't have much to do about that. It's his wife that does all the bothering. She's the one that tends to that. Her bein' a woman and trustin'-like, mebbe, is what makes it easy to deceive her."

"Oh, they do deceive her, then?"

"Yes'm. There hain't no drinkin' places open public-like. A stranger couldn't go in there and buy a glass of anything; but them what's known can get pretty much what they want."

"Someone keeps a speak-easy?"

"Yes'm. Big Bill Kyler gets it every week, and the men get what they want."

"Bill Kyler-um-m," said the lady. "And where does he get it?"

"Dennis O'Day, the man what owns the brewery and the wholesale house, sells to him. Big Bill drives down in the afternoon and comes home after dark."

"Each Saturday, you say?" asked the woman.

"Yes'm."

During the conversation, Elizabeth had also been emptying her lunch-box. She listened eagerly to the conversation between her companions. This Dennis O'Day was the man who was doing all in his power to demoralize Bitumen. She was interested because she knew of him, and moreover, by the feeling that these questions were asked from more than passing curiosity.

"This O'Day is about at the end of his string," continued the lady. "There are too many people watching him, eager to find him overstepping the letter of the law. I can promise you, Mrs. Koons, that he or his friend, Bill Kyler, will not be long at either Gleasonton or Italee. But come, let us dispose of the lunch while the babies are taking care of themselves."

She had arranged the repast as daintily as her surroundings would permit. Several discarded railroad ties served as a table. Over these, she had spread napkins. Together the three sat at the improvised table until not a scrap of lunch remained.

"I didn't know how hungry I was," said Mrs. Koons. "We have to drive five miles to the station and that gets us up pretty early. An' by the time I got the children up and dressed and got dressed myself, I hadn't no time to eat much. I was just settin' down when pap drove round and told me I should hurry up or we'd miss the t

rain, and I couldn't miss it, for Sam was expectin' me to-day. He's been gettin' his own meals and he wanted me back home; so I didn't scarcely finish my coffee. I was expectin' that I'd be home in time for dinner, and I would if the train hadn't been late."

"You can't get to Italee to-night, then," said her benefactress. "There's only one train a day from Gleasonton to Italee and it has gone by this time. They don't wait on the accommodation."

"Can't I? Isn't there?" Mrs. Koons' countenance fell. "But I've got to get there! There hain't no one I know in Gleasonton. If it wasn't for carrying the children, I'd walk. It hain't more than five miles, and mebbe I'd meet someone going up. The trucks come down pretty often. I've got to get there even if I have to walk." Back of her years of repression, her native independence showed. She had set out to reach Italee, and she meant to. Difficulties like a walk of five miles with two children in her arms might hamper but not deter her.

"Do not worry about that. I get off at Gleasonton, and I'll get someone to drive you over. The roads are fine now and it will not take long."

"Yes'm. Oh, thank you! It will be kind of you, I'm sure, for walkin' with two babies in your arms ain't very pleasant. Do you live in Gleasonton, ma'am?"

"I'm not living there now. All summer I have been out on the Creighton farm beyond Keating."

"Hain't it lonely out there? I've driv by. It's fixed up grand with big porches, and swings, and loads of flowers and all that, but there hain't a house for miles about. I'd think you'd find it lonely?"

"Not at all. I take my children along, and I'm too busy while I'm there to be lonely."

"Oh, you're a married woman then, and have a family of your own. I was a-thinkin' just that thing when you picked up little Alec here. You had a knack with him that don't come to a woman unless she's used to handling young ones. How many children have you? They're pretty well grown, I suppose."

Again Elizabeth caught the merry twinkle of amusement in the woman's eyes. "Really, you may think it strange," she replied, "when I declare that I really am not certain how many I have. There are so many that, at times, I almost forget their names. None of them are grown up; for when they are, I lose them. They go off into the world-some do well and some do not. One or two remember me; but the others forget that such a person as I ever lived." It was not in a complaining tone she spoke, rather in a spirit of light-hearted raillery.

Elizabeth smiled. She understood the speaker, but Mrs. Koons did not. Elizabeth had been accustomed to hear Miss Hale speak thus of her mission boys and girls. Miss Hale looked upon them as a little family of which she was the head.

Mrs. Koons was amazed. She had heard, in a misty way, of a woman who had so many children she did not know what to do, but she had never heard of one who had so many that she did not know how many. Yet she supposed that such a thing might be true, and accepted the statement in good faith.

"Pap was tellin' me when I was home that Senator Gleason had bought the farm, and it was him that fixed it up so grand. Pap says they've only Jersey cows on the place,-no common stock-and chickens that they raise for layin', and some for hatchin', and some that's for eatin'. But the Senator don't never stay up there much. He farms just for fun. But he must work pretty hard to get any fun out of it. I was raised on a farm and stayed there till I was married, and I never saw no fun anywhere about."

Again the laugh and again the merry twinkle came to her eyes.

"It's just the way we're used to. If you had never been on a farm, perhaps you'd think it lots of fun to stay on one for awhile. I'm sure I thoroughly enjoy every minute I spend on the Creighton farm. The days are far too short for me."

"But perhaps you don't have no work to do. Gettin' up early is what makes it hard."

"I get up at daybreak, and I am busy every moment. I wash and dress and feed a dozen children. I have no moment to myself."

Suddenly Mrs. Koons seemed to understand. "It's too bad," she said sympathetically. "Life's pretty hard for a woman when she's a family and has to look out for herself."

When they had finished their lunch, and began gathering and folding the napkins, Elizabeth observed something which had escaped Mrs. Koons' notice. The left hand of their unknown companion bore a heavy gold band, undoubtedly a wedding-ring, guarded by a diamond noticeable for its size and brilliance. Her hands, too, were worthy of notice. They were white and soft, showing both good care and skilled manicuring. They were not the hands of one accustomed to manual labor.

As Elizabeth assisted her in clearing away the remains of the lunch, the conversation was directed toward herself.

"You got on the train at Bitumen," she said. "I took particular notice of you, for there one expects to see only foreigners board the car."

Elizabeth smiled. She knew how few were the times when an American-born woman or girl ever was seen near the station.

"We are mostly foreigners there," she replied.

"Don't you find it dull?"

"I never have so far. But then I never have known any life but that at Bitumen. This is my first trip away from home." Her companion looked at her keenly. "Expectant schoolgirl" was written from the top of Elizabeth's fair hair to the soles of her shoes. Her linen traveling dress was conspicuously new, as were her gloves and shoes.

"You are going to school, then?"

"Yes; to Exeter Hall." Elizabeth wondered in her own mind how she knew.

"You'll like it there. That is, unless you are the exception among girls. I was a student there over thirty years ago. I liked it, I'm sure. And every girl student I've ever met, and I meet them by the score, has no voice except to sing its praises."

"Do you know many of the students there now?"

"I met most of those who were there last year. Some I knew quite well. Of course, the Senior class will not return, and there will be many new students. Those I hope to meet."

"I've never had any girl companions," said Elizabeth. "I expect to like all the girls."

Again the smile. She shook her head decidedly in negation at Elizabeth's remark.

"No; you will not like them all," she replied. "Exeter Hall is like a little world. We have some fine girls there, but we have, too, some that are petty and selfish. Exeter Hall has sent forth some of the noblest women I have ever known, and it has also sent forth some that simply cumber the earth with their presence."

"I would think they'd be able to keep that last class out."

"Perhaps it could be done. But the Hall is for the girls-not the girls for the Hall. Some flighty, irresponsible girls, under the influence of the school, develop into strong characters, and leave there to do good work. But there are always a few who fritter their time, and leave the same as they enter. But even these must be given the opportunity for development, if they are capable of it. You know that is true even in public schools."

"I know nothing about it," was the reply. "I never went to school a day in my life."

"How then, child, do you expect to enter Exeter? The requirements are considerable, and the examinations rigid."

"I've been admitted. Miss Hale and my father taught me. Miss Hale said I was ready for the Middle Class, and they admitted me on her statement."

"And well they might. They would take Julia Hale's word for anything. Who that knew her wouldn't?"

"You know her, then?"

"I was a student at Exeter. That means I know Julia Hale by report, at least. But I was more fortunate than the most of girls. I really met her and knew her well. Your father helped Miss Hale prepare you for school? Who is your father? I do not know your name."

"Hobart! My father is superintendent of the mines at Bitumen."

"I've heard of him, but I have never met him. He's doing good work there."

"Yes," was the reply. "He hopes by Christmas to have every chamber supported by new props, and an exhaust engine which will pump out the gas and make explosions impossible."

"I was not thinking of the mines when I said he did good work," said her companion, and after a pause, "I think it is time we were getting into our car. I would not like the train to pull out without us. Look at the babies! Both asleep. Perhaps I can move them without wakening them." But already Elizabeth had taken up the baby in her arms and was at the step of the car. As she waited for a trainman to help her on, she caught bits of the conversation between two men who stood on the rear platform of the smoker. They had been discussing the "coal-fields", and were looking up at the mountain which they had just descended.

"There's plenty there to supply the country for the next ten years. I wasn't thinking of the supply when I spoke, but of the possibility of not being able to get it out. You remember how the hard-coal region was tied up for eight months or more."

"There's little danger here. The miners are satisfied-"

"Yes-satisfied until an agitator comes their way. If I was the Kettle Creek Mining Company, I'd keep that man out of my community. He's bound to stir up bad blood."

"But he's left the mining business. He'll not trouble himself."

"Not unless he sees more money in it. Matters have not been going his way lately. Someone has been dogging his steps, and his business is falling off. You know there's really little money in that business if a man keeps within the law."

"Well, I pity that man Hobart if your friend begins his work. Hobart's a fine fellow, but is not accustomed to deal with men in the underbrush."

"Hobart will take care of himself. He's had his eye on-"

At this moment the porter came to her assistance and Elizabeth heard no more. She wondered at their talk, but she was not uneasy. She had unbounded faith in her father, and felt that he would be able to protect and take care of himself under all circumstances. Entering the car, she deposited her sleeping burden on the seat. The others followed with the boy and the wraps.

Landis and Min had finished their lunch. There were several sandwiches, a chicken breast, half a bottle of olives, and cake untouched. This Landis gathered together in a heap in her napkin. She arose and leaned toward the window. As she did so, the lady with whom Elizabeth had been talking touched her on the arm. But it was too late. The contents of the napkin had at that moment gone out the window.

"I beg pardon," she said, "I was about to ask you not to throw that good lunch away. There's a woman, a foreigner, with her children in the rear of the coach, who has had nothing to eat."

"I do not know that it is my place to provide it for her," cried Landis, with a haughty toss of her head.

"I am sorry that you see the matter in that light," was the rejoinder. "There are so many little mouths to be fed that I dislike to see good food wasted. Extravagance can be so extreme as to become a sin."

"I do not know that it is anyone's affair what I do with my lunch," was the response.

The woman smiled, not at all affronted by the lack of courtesy shown her.

"I make many things my affairs," she said sweetly. "I think it my duty when I see a girl as young as you doing what is not right to remind her, in a spirit of love and tenderness, of her error. I am sorry if my suggestion can not be received in the spirit in which it was given." Then she went back to her place.

From the conversation of the two girls, Elizabeth caught such expressions as "that class of people," "counting each penny," "bound down by poverty," and similar phrases.

The train had started on its way. A half-mile passed before it again slowed up. "This is Gleasonton," said the lady, arising and coming to Mrs. Koons to assist her with the children. With a farewell nod and smile to Elizabeth, they quitted the car. From the window she saw them try to make their way through the crowd of loafers which had gathered about the platform. Suddenly a young colored boy in snuff-colored suit and high hat appeared. He immediately took charge of the children, and with them in his arms pushed his way to where a carriage stood at the curb, the women following close at his heels.

As the train pulled out, Elizabeth saw them bowling down the country road in a wide-open barouche, with coachman and footman in livery.

It was not long until the trainman called "Exeter!" Elizabeth gathered up her wraps and magazines. She knew that she might expect a carriage from the Hall at the station to meet the students.

Landis and Min had also gathered together their belongings. As the train drew into the station, they were first on the platform.

"There's Jimmy Jordan!" they cried together, as a young colored boy with an expansive grin came up to take their luggage.

"Jimmy, how's the Hall?"

Jimmy responded with a grin just a little more expansive than the previous one.

Elizabeth stood close at their side. "Are you from Exeter Hall?" she asked the boy. Having received an answer which she supposed an affirmative, she handed him her checks and the baggage which she carried in her arms. The girls whom the boy had addressed as Miss Kean and Miss Stoner led the way. Elizabeth followed at their heels, and in a few moments the three were being driven rapidly to Exeter Hall.

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