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   Chapter 4 THE RECEPTION.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 27616

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"What have you brought to fix up our quarters?" asked Miss Wilson, the day following Elizabeth's arrival at Exeter. Her trunk and box were in the middle of the study, while she and Miss Wilson stood and looked on as Jimmy Jordan unfastened straps and drew out nails.

"I do not know," was the reply. "Mother slipped in a whole box of extras. I wondered why she was doing it. She said I would see later. There were cups and spoons, and doilies."

"Sensible mother," rejoined Miss Wilson. "She realizes the necessity of frequent spreads in the strenuous life we lead. No doubt we'll find among your traps a glass or so of jelly, and some preserves. Mothers who have been at school themselves appreciate the situation."

Elizabeth laughed. She was beginning to understand her roommate's style of conversation.

Miss Wilson was not one to shirk. Work had no terrors for her. She was never idle, but when she was tired with study she found rest in some other form of occupation. Now, while Elizabeth was unpacking, she assisted her in every way, putting in order bureau drawers, and arranging books.

Elizabeth had depended more or less upon her mother. How much that "more" was greater than that "less" she did not realize until she was alone. Miss Wilson proved her right hand now.

The greater part of the day was spent in arranging their possessions. The pictures which Elizabeth had brought from home were hung; the bright cushions placed at a proper angle on the couch, over which had been placed a covering of gay tapestry. A table had been drawn up near the fireplace.

This was a new experience for Elizabeth so she let Miss Wilson take the lead. She watched her arrange the tea-table. The dainty cups and plates, souvenir spoons, sugar bowl and creamer found their proper places. It was a small edition of their dining-table at home. The chafing-dish and swinging kettle with its alcohol lamp were too much for Elizabeth to bear without comment. She must and did ask their purpose.

"I'll show you in one minute," said Mary. She took a box of cocoa and a bottle of alcohol from a small cabinet. "I must borrow some cream from Anna Cresswell. I saw her get some this morning. But first I must put this water on to boil." She did so, then hurried from the room, soon returning with the cream.

After stirring the cream, cocoa and sugar in the cup, she poured on the boiling water. With a few additional manipulations of the spoon, she held out the cup to Elizabeth. "Here, girlie, drink to the prosperity of Exeter Hall in general, and these quarters in particular. May you get along with your roommate better than people generally do, and may all the scraps between you and her be made up before the retiring-bell rings."

Elizabeth raised her cup to the toast, then drank. "Why, that is fine-and made with such a little fire! I would not have believed it possible."

"You think that is good?" was the reply. "You will open your eyes when you see what can be done with the chafing-dish,-creamed oysters, fudge, soups of all kinds, Welsh rarebits. I hope, Elizabeth, that you spoke to your mother about boxes. At Exeter, boxes are acceptable at all times."

"Boxes?" in surprise. "No; I never mentioned the word to her. I didn't understand that they would be required. The catalog made no mention of them. I know because I looked particularly about the number of napkins and towels required. What do you put in them?"

"I don't know. It is what you take out of them that makes them valuable. Personally, I prefer roast chicken and cake."

"Oh!" cried Elizabeth. "How dull I am! But you know that I was never before at any school, and I never knew any girls my own age."

"They'll teach you a lot," was the response.

"You and father agree in that. He says that the students will teach me more than the faculty. But that is one of the things I cannot understand."

"You will sometime. I wouldn't bother my head much about it now. What do you think about this Gibson head? It doesn't fit in here with the other pictures."

"Let me try it on this side of the room," Elizabeth replied, placing the picture at a better angle.

So the day progressed in doing a score of little odds and ends of work which have the effect of making boarding-school quarters suggestive of home.

Several weeks later Elizabeth had one lesson in what the girls could teach her, something which was not found between the covers of books. At home, there had always been her mother to pick up after her. She might drop hat, gloves and coat anywhere about the house, and when she needed them, find them in their proper places, dusted, mended and ready for use.

During the first week at Exeter, Mary Wilson unconsciously dropped into her mother's place in this particular, perhaps because she was a year older than Elizabeth, and had learned this lesson in her own time. Certain it was, when they dressed for dinner, she looked about the bedroom and put in order each article which was out of place, or called Elizabeth's shortcomings to notice with, "Your dress will muss lying on that chair," or "Is that your slipper in the study, or did I leave mine there?"

During the month of October, the girls at Exeter gave their first reception. Guests came from all the little towns about, and the Hall was filled with flowers, lights and bright music.

Elizabeth and Mary had hurried from the dinner-table to get into their party gowns. Miss Wilson, as a Senior, was one of the reception-committee. Elizabeth was but half-way through with her dressing when Mary had finished.

"There, Elizabeth, I'm done. Look me over and see if my waist is together all right."

Elizabeth was standing before the mirror, pins between her lips, trying to reduce a refractory bow to submission. She turned to look at her roommate. "Sweet-your dress is beautiful."

"Thank you," was the response with a characteristic toss of her head. "With those pins in your mouth you talk like a dialect story. I'm off now. Dr. Morgan wishes the committee to meet in her parlor. I suppose she wants to get our mouths into the 'papa, potatoes, prunes and prisms' shape before we meet the guests. I'm sorry I can't go down with you, Elizabeth. A first reception is so trying. Nancy won't go down until late. Suppose I ask her to wait for you?"

"That may put her to trouble. I thought of asking Miss O'Day to go with me. She's just across the hall, and has no one special to go with her since she rooms alone."

Miss Wilson hesitated a moment, standing in the middle of the doorway. She looked quite serious at the mention of Miss O'Day.

"Miss O'Day might-not like to be bothered. Besides, you do not know her very well. I'll send Nancy."

With that she disappeared.

As the gaslight in the bedroom was not satisfactory Elizabeth went into the sitting-room or study, as the students were accustomed to call it, to finish her dressing. Nancy came to the door just as Elizabeth put on the last touches.

"We'll be late," she exclaimed. "I think it's fun to go early and meet all the strangers. Judge Wilson and his friends will be here if the train was on time at Ridgway."

Elizabeth caught up her fan and handkerchief and started forth. Her attention was claimed by the curious fan Nancy carried.

"It is odd, isn't it?" exclaimed Nancy, unfurling it. "It is hand-carved. You know the Swedes are famous for that kind of work. This is quite old. My grandfather made it for my grandmother when they were sweethearts over in Sweden."

Elizabeth looked her surprise at this statement. Her companion noticed her expression.

"You knew, of course, that I was of Swedish birth!"

"No, I did not. I knew that you made your home with Miss Wilson's family. I took it for granted that you must be a relative."

"Not the least bit," was the response, given without a show of embarrassment. "I'm merely a dependent. My father was a Swedish minister, and worked among our people near the Wilson home. When he died, we were left with nothing to live on. Mother did sewing for the Swedish people. I was very strong and quite as able to work as she. So I went to live at the Wilson home where I helped with the little children and also went to school. I grew to love them, and they seemed to really care for me. When I finished the high school, Mrs. Wilson sent me here. I'm to be a teacher after I graduate at Exeter. I always count the Wilson home mine. Each summer I go back there and help with the children while Mrs. Wilson takes a vacation."

She did not add that she had shown such an aptitude for study, and had proved so efficient and trustworthy that Mrs. Wilson had decided to give her the best advantages to fit her for a profession.

As they passed the open door of the room occupied by Landis Stoner and Min Kean, the voices of the girls came to them. They had evidently taken it for granted that the other students had gone to the parlors and that there wasn't anyone to hear the conversation.

"Well, for my part, Min," Landis was saying, "I do not think you look at all well in that blue silk. You look so sallow. You are so much sweeter in your white organdy with your pink sash."

"But, Landis, I've worn it so often."

"But not here. It will be new to the girls, and it looks perfectly fresh."

"You said you liked the blue silk when I was buying it."

"I did and I do yet, but it isn't suited to you. Now for me, it would be all right, but-"

"I wish you'd come down, Landis. I always have a better time when you are there."

"How can I? I haven't a dress for a reception. You simply cannot get a dress made at home fit to wear, and my staying up in the country all summer with you made my going to the city impossible."

That was all that reached the girls in the hall, and this was forced upon them. Nancy could not forbear a smile. Elizabeth with the guilelessness of an unexperienced child exclaimed, "Why, Landis seems to have so many beautiful clothes. Her father must be very wealthy. Her rings and pins are simply lovely. Isn't that a diamond she wears?"

"Yes; but it's Min's. Landis has been wearing it for the last two years. Min is an only child. She has no mother and her father, who is a millionaire oil-man, allows her to spend what she pleases."

"Is Landis' father an oil-man?"

"No, he isn't," was the reply.

Elizabeth was learning how much could be said by silence. During her short acquaintance with Landis, the girl had suggested many of the possibilities of her future-a cruise on a private yacht, a year's study and travel in Europe. She had not said that money was no consideration with her, yet Elizabeth had gained such an impression from her words.

"I am sorry Landis will miss the reception," she said.

Nancy smiled. "She will not miss it. She enjoys the social side of school life too much to miss anything of this kind. She will be down after awhile."

"But you heard what she said-that she had nothing fit to wear."

"But she will have-or has now. She will appear in a gown that puts all other dresses in the shade. Here we are. How fine the reception committee look. Poor Mary Wilson! this is hard for her. She's doing her best not to toss back her hair and laugh."

As she spoke, they entered the parlors. Jimmy Jordan, arrayed in full dress, announced their arrival to Dr. Morgan.

The girls maintained a dignified and elegant composure until they reached the end of the line where Miss Wilson stood. Nancy's appearance distracted her attention from her social duties.

"You've got too much powder on your nose, Nancy," and with a flutter of her handkerchief, she made Nancy presentable. Then she remembered where she was. Her face flushed. She looked about her. Her words had carried across the room. The smiles of the committee about her were almost audible.

Elizabeth in company with Nancy moved through the room. "Here is someone I wish you to meet," said Nancy, "that is, if you are really interested in people of strong, though peculiar character. She is a Miss Rice. She owns a little farm not far from where my father preached. She works the whole place herself."

They came up to Miss Rice, a woman far past middle age. Her features showed exposure to the sun. Her red-bronze hair was turning into a grizzled, faded gray.

"I'm glad to meet Miss Hobart," she said. "You are from Bitumen, I hear. I have planned to go there as soon as I get my potatoes in, and those odd chores done for the winter. I heard your father had a peculiar plant-something unusual hereabout."

Elizabeth repeated the story of his having found an odd seed in an importation of tea and having planted it. Miss Rice's conversation was interesting. Her voice was full and melodious, but even Elizabeth who was used to the eccentricities of Miss Hale's attire could not repress a smile.

Miss Rice talked of the wheat blight and the damaging effects of potato-bugs, then with equal interest quoted Browning, and debated the question whether there was a present-day literature worthy of the name.

"She's a quaint character," Miss Cresswell said later to Elizabeth. "She might have been independently rich, but she has no idea of the value of money, and she is the sort who always finds someone who needs it more than she. It's been years since she's had a respectable winter coat because she pledged herself to provide for several old ladies in the Home for the Friendless. She has a whole host of doless relatives, whom she props up whenever they need it, and," as though an afterthought, "they always need it."

"Do you know if Landis is coming down?" asked Miss Rice a few moments later, turning to Elizabeth. "I really came purposely to see her. We've been a little uncertain about her finishing the year, but last

week I sold four hundred bushels of potatoes. That means she can stay. She'll be pleased, but no more than I'll be." Then in a confidential tone, "When I was a girl, I didn't have the advantages that I'm trying to give Landis. We were poor, and father and mother were getting on in years, and I couldn't leave them. What I learned I dug out of books and other people's minds. Julia Hale-you know her-got me interested in botany, and someone else came along with a book or so. I was ambitious to go to Exeter, and then be a missionary. That seemed to be such a beautiful life of self-sacrifice; but it seems it wasn't to be. There never was a day when someone right there at home didn't need me, so that after a while I didn't ever have time to think of going. But there was Landis. I mean to prepare her well and send her in my place. When the potatoes turned out better than I'd been counting on, I just sat down and laughed. Then I got ready and came down here to tell Landis. There she is now." She arose, a trace of pleasurable excitement showing in her manner and lighting up her weather-beaten face, and moved to where Landis, radiant and self-confident, stood with Min and others of her satellites.

Elizabeth's eyes followed. She gave a little start of surprise at the sight. Min was wearing an organdy plainly showing signs of service, while Landis was arrayed in a handsome gown of soft blue silk. Elizabeth knew not the reason for it, but as she looked at the girls she had a sensation of being out-of-sorts, and at variance with the world. She might have given up to her feelings had not her roommate joined her. Mary's eyes were a little brighter than usual. She was fairly bubbling over with excitement.

"I've been looking almost everywhere for you, Elizabeth," she cried, tucking her hand within Elizabeth's arm, and leading her into a small room adjoining. "I want you to meet the best father and mother this country ever produced."

"I've met them," responded Elizabeth. "They are in Bitumen at this minute."

Mary laughed and gave her arm a squeeze. "You're getting on, Elizabeth. A month ago you couldn't have made such a remark. You were too literally literal. But as to the best parents; I have them shut up in this room."

"Not my parents," decidedly.

"I should say not. My own. Why should I be wanting anyone's else?"

They entered the room where a little group of the older guests had gathered. Leading Elizabeth to her father and mother, "This is Elizabeth," Mary said. Both father and mother held out their hands to her. Elizabeth felt that they were not strangers. They knew of her father. She was very glad to note the tone in which all people spoke of him. Nothing was said of his being a brilliant man, although he had been that, but all spoke of him as a good man and doing good work.

"The liquor people are getting it strong up your way, Judge," said a little old man in the group. "What is going to happen to our friend Bill?"

"It has happened," responded Mr. Wilson. "We finished him Friday morning-a year and six months in the workhouse."

Elizabeth looked about her in surprise. Miss Cresswell was near her. "Is Mary Wilson's father that famous Judge Wilson?" she asked.

"Yes, didn't you know it?"

Elizabeth shook her head slowly. "How should I know?" she said, sinking back into her chair as though overcome by the news. "No one told me," she continued, "and Mary herself never mentioned it."

"Why should she?" was the response. "She is so used to his honors that she thinks nothing at all about them."

"Isn't it strange," said Elizabeth, having slowly awakened to the condition of affairs in the little world about her, "that it seems to be the people who have the least and do the least that make the most fuss?"

"One thing Exeter has taught you?" said Miss Cresswell with a smile. "The little tugs must make a noise or they may be run down, but the big liners are confident of their own power and so is everyone."

But Elizabeth had not heard this last remark. She was leaning eagerly forward listening to the conversation among the others. Judge Wilson was explaining to those who were interested what Big Bill Kyler had done to justify a year and a half in jail.

"You see," the Judge said, "all the land at Italee and Gleasonton belong to Mrs. Gleason. She won't sell, and leases and rents only under certain conditions. All renters are her husband's workmen. I suppose there's seven or eight hundred in the tannery and brickyard. She won't permit a licensed hotel on her land. Big Bill drives across the country, loads his wagon with contraband goods and retails them from his house. This is all on the quiet. I reckon he's carried this on for six months. But some time in August, Mrs. Gleason had his wagon stopped with the result," with a wave of his hand, "Bill is living at the expense of the State."

"A pretty smart woman, Mrs. Gleason." This remark came from the little old man in the corner.

"Very, but she would never have discovered this if someone had not given her a pointer; for Big Bill outwardly was an advocate of temperance."

"I am out of patience with the way in which justice errs," cried Mrs. Wilson, in the same spirited, sprightly way her daughter might have done. "We all know that Big Bill is not accountable. He has always been the tool of anyone who would make use of him. I doubt if he made any money by this work. There was a shrewder man back of him who planned this and took the money. And that man is the one who should be punished."

"Undoubtedly," responded the Judge. "But that man is shrewd enough to keep himself out of the toils. He has a wholesale license to sell at Westport. He does not obligate himself to question his buyers. He may ask Big Bill a trifle more than anyone else, but that is no infringement of the law. I think there was no doubt in anyone's mind who was the instigator of this 'speak-easy' business at Italee; but he was shrewd enough to keep within the letter of the law. We could not touch him, and he knew it."

"The whole business is nefarious! It is the curse of our country."

Judge Wilson smiled back at his wife. She was always so decided in her opinions, so fearless in expressing them.

"To be sure, to be sure," he responded calmly. "Most of us acknowledge that, but we have power only to interpret and judge. The people make the laws."

"I think this talk is a trifle too heavy for a boarding-school reception," exclaimed a young matron. "I shall return to the reception hall and listen to the chatter of schoolgirls. I haven't outgrown my taste for it." She laughed and passed into the adjoining room.

Her remark lead to the general breaking up of the little group. "We had better go back to the younger set," was the sentiment of the elders.

"You must slip up now and see how nice our rooms look," cried Mary Wilson, clinging to her father and mother. "Elizabeth brought so many pretty things from home, our rooms look quite fine."

"Yes; do come," said Elizabeth. "We'll make you a cup of cocoa-or Mary will. I haven't reached such a high state of perfection that I make it for company."

"Well, just, for one moment then," said Mrs. Wilson. "We must not stay long enough to be missed. Mrs. Williams, will you and your husband come with us? We are going up to see the girls' rooms. They tell me that they are very fine."

Mrs. Williams gladly accepted. She was a little old Quaker lady, in Quaker garb, neat as the proverbial pin, and with the appearance of having just stepped from some old painting.

"It has been so many years since I have seen a schoolgirl's room," she said, "that I should love to see Mary's. In my day ours were plain-painted floors and wooden beds. It was not allowable to have aught else; but we were taught to be orderly-too much so, I thought."

"Dr. Morgan is particular about that. Mrs. Schuyler is preceptress, but she works under Dr. Morgan's orders," said Mrs. Wilson.

"That is well. Book knowledge means little if a woman is untidy and careless," was the response.

Elizabeth and Mary, far in the rear, acting as body-guard to the Judge, did not hear these remarks on neatness. To Mary it would have mattered little, for her conscience was clear so far as keeping her possessions in order was concerned.

"Oh, father, wait just one second," she cried. "There is Miss Watson from Muncy. I must speak with her, and ask her to go with us. She was at a German University all last year." She hurried away, and soon returned with a distinguished-looking young woman whom she introduced as Miss Watson. "She is going up with us," explained Miss Wilson, "to have a cup of cocoa. Oh, yes," as Miss Watson was about to demur, "we have eight cups now. Do you remember the time two years ago when I invited the girls in and forgot that I hadn't dishes enough? Yes; I have the same rooms but they're much nicer. We have so many new things that I'm sure you will not recognize them. Miss Hobart is my roommate. We have gotten along famously so far-haven't had the smallest kind of a difficulty. I'm sure we'll so continue, for I always think the first month is the hardest. We had to learn to adjust ourselves to each other. But there is no danger of a quarrel now. We have passed our rocks."

"Knock on wood, Mary," called back her father on hearing the remark, "that will exorcise the evil spirit of assurance. Knock on wood, I say, or you and Elizabeth will quarrel before the week is out."

Mary tossed her head and laughed. She thoroughly appreciated her father's witticisms.

"I shall not knock on wood-and we will not quarrel," she replied. "That is our room, mother. Yes; right there."

Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Wilson passed into the bedroom. The others of the party followed. Elizabeth and Mary at the end of the line had stepped aside to give precedence to the elders.

They heard Judge Wilson laugh. "It has been nothing less than a cyclone," he said, then laughed again.

"Why, this is not at all like Mary!" began Mrs. Wilson. Mary noticed the tone of apology in her voice.

She and Elizabeth stepped inside. Elizabeth's face grew crimson. In the middle of the floor lay her school shoes which, in her haste to dress, she had kicked off and left. Her coat and hat were on one chair. Stretched out on the end of the couch was her gym suit, glaringly conspicuous with its crimson braid. Every toilet article that she had used was in evidence, and in a place never designed for its occupancy.

Miss Wilson arose to the occasion. With a characteristic toss of the head, she crossed the room and drew forward a chair. "Sit, all of you, and I'll put the kettle to boil for cocoa. Father, tell your story about the boy illustrating 'The Old Oaken Bucket.'" She lighted the alcohol lamp while she was talking. She made no apology for the disorder of the room. One might suppose from her manner that all was as the most fastidious might desire.

Elizabeth sat quietly in the background, hoping that no one would speak to her. Her face was burning. There was a dimness about her eyes suggestive of tears.

Missing her, Mrs. Wilson turned, about. "Where is Elizabeth?" she asked. "Did she not come with us?"

"Yes; I came," said a voice choking with tears. "I'm here-and oh, I am so ashamed. Not one of those articles scattered about are Mary's. They're all mine." At this she could no longer restrain herself, but began to cry.

Both Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Wilson would have consoled her with well chosen words of sympathy. The men laughed and declared that they were so accustomed to dropping their shoes in the middle of the floor that they had not recognized the signs of disorder; that they supposed that the floor was the legitimate place for shoes. But treating the matter lightly did not rid Elizabeth of her shame and embarrassment. She was unable to control herself. Slipping into the bedroom, she threw herself face downward on the pillow and sobbed herself to sleep.

When she awakened, she found that the guests and Miss Wilson had departed. She prepared for bed and was standing in her night clothes when Mary came back into the room, a tearful little maiden. But Miss Wilson was unmoved.

"I'm so sorry and-ashamed," began Elizabeth.

"You should be," was the unfeeling response.

"It shall never happen so again," contritely.

"I'm sure it will not, for after this I'll see to it that the room is in order after you get through dressing."

"Oh, Mary, don't be so hard. Won't you forgive me? I'm sure I'm ashamed enough."

"It is no use talking further about it," was the grim response. "The thing's done and cannot be undone by any amount of talking. You mortified me before my best friends, and I can not forget it soon. When I can, I'll tell you. But please don't mention the subject to me again."

That was all, but it was enough. Elizabeth crept into bed and turned her face to the wall. She had no desire to cry now. Anger and grief were holding equal places with her.

She was too young and healthy and sleepy to stay awake long. She had been sleeping uneasily when she awoke from a horrible nightmare. She had dreamed that a most formidable array of shoes and stockings, hats and coats in the form of grinning spectres were hovering about her ready to seize her. When she was wide awake, she remembered the cause of her dream. She remembered, too, that she had not put the sitting-room in order.

Crawling softly from bed, she crept into the study. It seemed as though each chair, in a conspiracy to make her efforts difficult, stood in her path. She turned on the gas and gathered together her possessions. Then she crept back to her nest again, hoping that the spectres of her negligence would not haunt her.

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