MoboReader > Literature > Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall


Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 23338

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

A drive of several miles through a beautiful country brought them to their destination. Elizabeth was surprised, for neither her father nor mother had prepared her for the beauty of the place; a long stretch of campus, with great forest trees, beyond which were the tennis-courts and athletic fields; then the Hall itself. The original building was a large wooden mansion with wide porches and spacious rooms with low ceilings. But for years this had served as a home for the president of Exeter, the school itself having been removed to the newer buildings of gray stone.

The carriage passed through shaded drives which led to the front entrance. Arm in arm, groups of girls in white gowns were moving about or sat in little groups beneath the trees.

During the drive Elizabeth's companions had chattered continuously. Elizabeth had paid little attention to them. Her eyes were on the new country about her.

"It must be nearly dinner-time," exclaimed Landis, as the carriage turned in at the entrance to the campus. "The girls are all out. I hope we'll be in time to go down with them. But we'll have to go in and do the 'polite' with Miss Morgan."

"Nora O'Day is back," exclaimed Miss Kean. "Isn't that she out there on the campus with Mary Wilson?"

"It can't be. Mary Wilson and she were never friends." As she spoke, Landis leaned eagerly from the window to get a view of the campus. "It can't be Miss O'Day," she repeated. "She and Mary are not the same style at all."

"I think Miss O'Day's swell looking. Don't you?"

"She has plenty of money and knows how to dress," was the rejoinder.

They had reached the entrance door. Jimmy Jordan, who appeared to be general utility boy, dismounted to open the door for them. Then he led the way into the great hall and on to the office, throwing open the doors before him with energetic officiousness, giving one the impression that he was the most important personage at Exeter Hall.

On entering the office, a woman advanced to shake hands with Miss Stoner and Miss Kean. With a few words of greeting, she dismissed them each with a bunch of jangling keys, and the information that they were to occupy the same rooms as the previous year. Then she turned to Elizabeth. "This is Miss Hobart?" she said, shaking her hand cordially, and drawing her forward to a chair. "Your father wrote me that you would arrive to-day. Jordan," to the boy who stood grinning at her side, "Miss Wilson is somewhere on the campus. Ask her to step to the office, please. Miss Wilson will be your roommate. She will take charge of you. If you will excuse me, I'll return to work which claims me." She turned to her desk and was soon absorbed in correspondence.

Elizabeth was thus given an opportunity to study her. She was a tall woman, so tall and slender that these qualities first impressed those who saw her. Yet later, when one stood beside her, you discovered to your surprise that she was merely the average woman in height. It had been her carriage, her manner of holding her head, which gave the impression of unusual height. One might have thought her critical and stern had it not been that the expression of her eyes, which were gray and unusually large, was gentle and shy. Her well-shaped head was crowned with coils of brown hair touched with gray drawn loosely back from a broad, low forehead. She was a woman who could not pass unobserved in a crowd, yet she was not beautiful. It was that her presence was felt, rather than she herself observed. She had said little to the new student; yet the direct effect of her presence caused Elizabeth to be glad she had come to Exeter.

"Oh, here is Miss Wilson!" Dr. Morgan arose. "Miss Wilson, Miss Hobart will be your roommate. I shall put her in your care."

The girl extended her hand. She was not nearly so tall as Elizabeth. Her yellow hair without ribbon or comb hung about her ears. She shook her head and flung back her locks like a spirited young horse tossing its mane. Her eyes were brown and dancing and her face was brimming over with fun. Her voice was high pitched and so cheery that her hearers were compelled to believe that she was at that minute having the best time of her life.

"I have been expecting you," she cried. "I was hoping you would come to-day so that we could get to housekeeping to-morrow, for lessons begin the next day."

She led the way into the hall. Here she stopped to clap her hands in order to call Jimmy's attention. "Here, Jimmy, take this lady's checks and bring her trunks up to No. 10. If they are there before we get back from dinner, Jimmy, there'll be a piece of cake for you."

Jimmy grinned and rolled his eyes, then swung himself down the hall in search of the baggage.

Miss Wilson never ceased her chatter as they entered the side hallway and mounted the stairs.

"The students must not use the main stairway, except during commencement week, under penalty of death," she explained. "That's reserved for the Fac and other Lord-Highs. Here's our room-quite close to the stairway. A nuisance, you'll find it. Every girl on her way up or down will drop in to see us. It won't be because we're popular, but one can't help wanting to rest after climbing stairs, and our chairs are particularly easy." Her voice, as she talked, had a ring of laughter in it which made Elizabeth feel, for the moment, that having your friends love you for your chairs alone was the greatest fun in the world.

She led the way into their apartment. There was a big sitting-room with wide windows overlooking the campus; an open grate with log and gas fixtures, ready for the cooler days of autumn, filled the space between the two windows. From this room a door led to a bedroom devoid of all furnishing except the simple essentials of a sleeping-place.

Miss Wilson drew forward a chair. "Sit here a moment to rest. Let me put your wraps away. I'll make a guest of you to-day. It isn't long until dinner-time. We are expected to change our dresses. But Miss Morgan will excuse you to-day as you have just arrived. I think you will like the girls here."

She chatted on while Elizabeth rested and prepared for dinner. She looked with admiration upon Elizabeth's linen frock and long braid of smooth hair. "I like the way you braid your mane," she laughed, giving a toss of her own. "It's the style of hair I've always coveted. A siege of fever a year ago is responsible for my new crop, short and curly. I look forward to the time when I, too, can appear with dignity and a coil of hair about my head."

"Do you think you could be dignified then?" asked Elizabeth shyly. She was standing in the middle of the bedroom with towel in hand. At her words Miss Wilson tossed her head.

"I'm afraid you will prove like the other girls here. They can not be brought to realize how much such trifles have to do with one's manner. Short curls bobbing over one's shoulders and dignity can never go together. But let me put my hair up high and get on a trained skirt and you will see what you will see. People are bound to live up to their clothes. That is why, on general principles, I disapprove of bathing and gym suits. They give the wearer such a sense of freedom." She laughed again. Elizabeth knew not whether she were serious or joking. She was so effervescing with good humor that her companion had no opportunity for a moment's dullness or homesickness.

"There's the ten-minute bell," she exclaimed, as they returned to the study. "That is our last warning, and gives no one an excuse to be late. You will find Exeter rigid in many ways, Miss Hobart. Miss Morgan is what I call a crank on development of character. She keeps track of the thousand little things that a girl is supposed not to do. In her lectures to us, which she gives twice a semester, she declares that these seeming trifles are neither sins nor crimes in themselves, but getting into the habit of yielding to trifles is detrimental to the development of strong character. Therefore," at this Miss Wilson drew herself up as tall as possible, and assuming Miss Morgan's best manner continued, "trifles must be made subservient to us. We must conquer ourselves even in these." Here Miss Wilson laughed merrily. "Being late; not having your necktie straight; letting your shoes run down at the heel; missing lectures-these, all these, and hundreds more, are trifles."

There was a hurried knock at the door. Without waiting for an invitation to enter, a young lady came in. Elizabeth's fear of out-dressing the other girls vanished at the sight of her. The newcomer was a girl of slender physique and delicate, regular features. Her skin was almost olive in hue; her eyes were dark, with brows so heavy and black as to be noticeable. They were too close together and her lips and nostrils too thin to permit her being beautiful. Her dress was handsome and showy. It was of white silk, elaborated with heavy insertions, and transparent yoke and sleeve-caps made it suitable for an evening gown. Her hands were covered with rings scintillating at every gesture. Each movement of her body suggested silk linings and petticoats. Her manner of speaking had a touch of affectation.

"Ah, Miss Wilson, I'm awfully sorry to intrude, but will you be kind enough to hook my waist? I can't reach the last two hooks on the shoulder. This style of fastening dresses in the back is such a nuisance."

"Surely," replied Miss Wilson. Elizabeth was surprised at the change which came to her roommate's voice. There was neither vivacity nor good humor in it. It was expressive of mere icy courtesy.

"You must bend your knees a little, or I'll be compelled to get on a chair. You're so much taller than I."

The girl complied. Miss Wilson put the refractory hooks to their proper use, then stood quiet. Her guest made some trifling remark as though to continue the conversation; but received no encouragement. Her dark cheeks flushed. "Thank you," she began hurriedly, "I'm sorry to bother you so."

"It was no bother," in the same cold, conventional voice. "I can assist you any time. I understand how difficult it is to get into your clothes when you have no roommate to pull you together." Then with a smile she turned to Elizabeth. "Come, Miss Hobart, we must not be late for dinner the first evening at Exeter." So saying, she held open the door, allowing Elizabeth to precede her from the room. Miss Wilson gave no explanation to Elizabeth of her manner toward the girl; neither did she offer an excuse for not introducing her. As they passed the open door, Elizabeth caught a view of this girl's study. It was more than comfortable. There was a luxury of soft cushions and rich hangings. There were chairs and tables of carved wood.

From all the rooms the students came forth two by two, their tongues flying as they made their way toward the dining-hall. There were frequent stops to greet one another, and a babel of voices expressing pleasure at this reunion. There were handshakes for those who were newcomers, and embraces for old friends. Every one knew every one else or was going through the first process of meeting them.

The olive-skinned girl in the handsome gown came from her room and passed the others. Each girl was careful to nod and bid her good-evening, but none greeted her effusively or even so much as shook hands with her.

Miss Wilson was not lax in courtesy now. Drawing her arm through Elizabeth's, she came up to the group of girls at the head of the main stairway. "I wish you girls to meet Miss Hobart," she cried, "so that you may condole with her. She is to room with me this semester."

"Why t

his semester?" rejoined a tall girl in the group as she came forward extending her hand. "Why not the year?"

"She may not survive," said Miss Wilson. "If she's able to stand me one semester, then she'll be compelled to stay the year out."

"I am Anna Cresswell," continued the tall girl to Elizabeth. "Mary Wilson's introductions leave much to be desired. She rarely sees fit to mention the names of the people she introduces."

Miss Stoner and Miss Kean came up at this juncture. They had changed their traveling dresses, and were wearing light challis. They were introduced to Elizabeth, but neither made mention that they had seen each other in the car or had come up in the carriage together. Landis was most demonstrative in greeting Miss Wilson, chiding her for not writing during vacation, and declaring that they must make up for lost time by spending a great many leisure hours together now. Miss Wilson laughed merrily. She had been busy all summer, she said, and had written only to her own people. Elizabeth noticed that she expressed no desire to mortgage her future leisure hours by any promises.

"You busy?" exclaimed Landis. "Now, what were you doing-reading novels, dressing and driving about?"

"I should scarcely be content with such a summer, Landis. No; I played nurse-girl to Mrs. Gleason's large family. I was busy, too. The place was no sinecure, I assure you."

"Mrs. Gleason-from Gleasonton?" exclaimed Min. "Why, I thought she had no children."

"She hasn't-but she adopts them annually. During July and August we had a dozen babies at their home. We went for them in the morning and took them back at night, and I gave each one of them a bath every day." This last was said triumphantly.

"I've heard she was rather-eccentric!" said Landis.

"Don't you know her?" asked Elizabeth.

"No; I do not-not personally," was the response, "but we have mutual friends."

Miss Wilson would have quitted Miss Stoner and Miss Kean here, but was prevented by Landis telling her experience that day in the train, how a woman, a total stranger, had taken her to task for throwing away her lunch.

"She was a common-looking person," she added. "One could see she belonged to the middle class, and I suppose had been compelled to practice economy, so that my throwing a sandwich away seemed recklessly extravagant."

"Did you think she was common-looking?" asked Elizabeth. "Her skin was as fine as a baby's, and her eyes were beautiful. Didn't you see how expressive they were?"

"No, I didn't. All I could see was her gingham shirtwaist suit with its prudish white linen cuffs and collar, and her rough straw hat."

Miss Wilson put her arm through her roommate's to hurry her.

"Excuse us, girls, if we walk faster; I wish Miss Hobart to meet Nancy. She's the girl ahead with Anna Cresswell."

Elizabeth was borne along toward the dining-hall, at the door of which Miss Cresswell and her companion stopped.

"Nancy, I wish you and Miss Hobart to meet," said Miss Wilson, "and I intend that you shall be good friends. Nancy and I were brought up together, and she's used to me. When you want anyone to sympathize with you because of me, go to Nancy."

"Her name is Miss Eckdahl," added Miss Cresswell with a smile.

"But she should have known. Everyone should know Nancy without being told. What is the good of being famous otherwise? If your name goes not abroad, what is the good of being a champion in mathematics or anything else? When I say 'Nancy,' the intelligent person should know that I mean-"

"Nancy Hanks," added the girl herself. "I might be mistaken for the famous trotter."

So chatting, they entered the dining-hall. Tables set for six each filled the room.

"Miss Cresswell, will you take charge of Elizabeth-I'm going to call you Elizabeth; you don't look nearly old enough to be Miss Hobart."

"Yes; come with me, Miss Hobart. Nancy, I presume you and I part here. I shall be surprised if Miss Morgan permits you and Mary to be together much longer."

She led the way to a table by the window where she seated herself at its head, placing Elizabeth at her right.

"Miss Morgan never allows roommates to sit together at meals," she explained, "or two girls who have been reared together as Mary and Nancy have. She wishes us to know all the students, and tries to prevent our forming little cliques, as we're bound to do when we room and eat and study with the same people."

"But what if you should not like the other people?" asked Elizabeth. "It must be rather unpleasant to sit at meals with someone whom you do not like."

"That is one of the lessons Miss Morgan is giving us the opportunity of learning. We may discover on close acquaintance that one is more likable than we first supposed; and if that is impossible, then we learn to keep our dislikes to ourselves."

The dining-hall was rapidly filling. Landis Stoner and Min Kean came in among the last, the former taking her place at Miss Cresswell's table, sitting beside Elizabeth.

"Why, Anna Cresswell," she exclaimed, leaning forward, "did Miss Morgan put you at the head of the table?"

"How else should I be here? You surely did not think I came unasked."

"Oh, no, I spoke without thinking. Of course, you would not come unless she asked you to do so. I was surprised, that was all."

"Why surprised? You know I am a Senior, and it is customary to give them the head."

"Oh, yes, of course. But there are Seniors who haven't been given the head. That is what made me speak."

Miss Cresswell turned the conversation to other subjects. Elizabeth was the only new student at the table. She felt that some reason other than the one given had caused Miss Stoner to speak as she had. It was not until some days later that she learned that Landis was a Senior. She learned, too, that the girl was ambitious to be first, even in so slight a thing as sitting at the head of a table and playing hostess to five girls, generally of under classes.

"Are you on the second floor again this year, Landis?" asked a little pink-and-white, china-doll girl from the foot of the table.

"Yes, Mame. Min and I have the same rooms as before. The third time is the charm. I presume something good will happen this year."

"Perhaps Min will get through the preliminaries," was the rejoinder. "She won't pull through from any effort she makes herself. If her friends wish to see her graduate, they will be compelled to resort to something. Get her to pick four-leafed clovers and wear them in the toe of her shoe, possibly. That has been known to work where all else fails."

Landis looked serious at the jest. Her manner grew quite self-assertive as she replied, as though expressing herself quite settled the question. Yet throughout there was an assumed self-deprecatory air, as though she would not have her hearers think she was either maligning her friend or lauding herself too highly in the comparison suggested in her speech.

"Don't blame Min too much. Some work which would be possible for you or me, is impossible for her. I did not realize until we roomed together what a difference there can be in-in-minds. I could not have believed that any one would consider a theorem or a page of French difficult. But," with an arch glance, "these past two years have taught me a great deal. I am more sympathetic, and oh so much more thankful that I am-"

"Not as 'these publicans and sinners,'" finished the girl at the foot. As she spoke, her glance swept over the table to include among "these" all who sat there.

Even Elizabeth, though a stranger, could not suppress a smile.

"Who has No. 12-that big room, the one Miss Watson used to have?" continued Miss Welch, ignoring Landis' show of vexation at her words. Landis made no attempt to answer, although the question was addressed to her. After a moment's silence, a little German girl, Elizabeth's vis-a-vis, replied, "If I have not heard it unright, Fraulein-that is, Miss O'Day in it she will room."

She blushed prettily as she spoke, half in shyness and half in embarrassment that her German idioms would intrude themselves when she was trying to speak English. She looked up at Miss Cresswell, as though she sought encouragement from her.

"Why, Miss Hirsch, what have you been doing all summer? Spending all your vacation talking English? You have improved wonderfully. Now Fraulein Kronenberg will complain that you are losing your pure German accent."

"Oh, think you so? It is glad I am. A single German word the whole long summer have I not said. But about the room which on the second floor is; to me it was said Miss O'Day will-will-occupy? it."

"Who is to room with her?" asked Miss Welch.

"I believe she is to room alone," said Miss Cresswell.

"Why doesn't Maud Harris go back with her? They seemed to get along well last fall, and Maud is well enough to enter again!" said Miss Welch.

"Miss Harris with anything could-what you call it?-get along," said Miss Hirsch.

"My words seem to suggest that Miss O'Day is difficult to get along with. I did not mean that. So far as I know, she has a very even temper, and is more than generous with all her possessions. She isn't selfish."

"I can plainly see why Maud has another roommate. Of course you all do. It does seem a little hard." Here Landis' manner grew important. Her head was raised, and her lips curled. "But those of us who have a high sense of honor would not care to room with Miss O'Day. I hope I am not narrow-minded, but I feel that all my finer instincts rebel at the thought of--"

"Miss Stoner, if you please, we will drop the subject. Nothing can be gained by carrying it further." This came from Miss Cresswell. She spoke quietly but her manner and voice was that of one who expected to have her suggestions followed.

Landis tilted her head a little higher, but her face flushed. She was about to tell Miss Cresswell that she would discuss any subject when and where she chose when she remembered suddenly that Miss Cresswell was the head of the table and the one to whom she must pay a certain amount of respect.

The dinner had been brought in. Miss Cresswell served the plates with Maggie, the colored serving-maid, standing at her side. All conversation of a personal nature stopped while the servants were in the room. When the dinner was over, and dessert on the table, the chatter began. As they were about to quit the room, a bell rang. Quiet fell upon them. Dr. Morgan arose from her place at the head table.

She made a few general announcements. Then in her clear, decisive voice continued: "The students will not forget that they are expected to dress for dinner. If you are too indisposed to change your school attire for something fresher, you are too indisposed to come to the dining-hall. But you will bear in mind that this does not mean either dinner or reception gowns. Elaborate and extravagant dressing is not suited to girls in school. Miss O'Day has infringed upon this rule. Consequently she may pass immediately to her apartments, change her gown, and spend the evening in her room, without conversing with anyone. You may be excused, Miss O'Day."

From a table at a distant part of the room, Miss O'Day arose. As she moved through the room with her head high and eyes straight before her, her shoulders and arms gleamed through their transparent covering, and the rustle of her silken petticoats was audible.

As she disappeared, Dr. Morgan gave the signal for dismissal. The hum of conversation among the students began again, as in little groups they passed to the parlors or to the campus.

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