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Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 20913

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Azzie Hogan was the last to appear at the spread. The first course had been diverted to its proper use, and the ice which marked the manner of both Mary Wilson and Landis Stoner because of the presence of Miss O'Day had thawed enough to permit a feeling of ease among the girls, when Azzie arrived.

There was a motley array of every color of kimono that the mind of girl could conceive. Their wearers were being comfortable on chairs and stools so far as they held out. The girls in excess of the number had curled themselves up, Turkish fashion, on cushions on the floor.

"Smiles must have allowed Azzie to practice," said Mary Wilson, with a leg of chicken held aloft.

"Mary looks like Liberty enlightening the world," said Elizabeth. "The drumstick answers very well for a torch."

"Liberty frightening the world," said Mame Welch. "Whatever made her do it-get a red kimono with her hair that shade?"

"Nearest thing I could get to match," said Mary, laughing. "I got it at a bargain. I didn't need it. I have more lounging robes than I can possibly wear; but this piece was reduced from twenty-five cents to fifteen. I saved one-twenty by buying it. We-"

As she was speaking her voice ascended the scale until it might have been audible half-way down the hall. She was called to a halt by a most decided rap upon the door. An awesome silence fell upon the room. Instantly every girl except the rightful owners of the room disappeared. No word had been spoken. Only the moving of the couch draperies, the gentle swaying of the portieres, or the closing of the wardrobe door gave hint as to the places of disappearance. Again came the knock. Mary Wilson with suspicious haste opened the door. "He-he," giggled Azzie, entering. "You thought it was Mrs. Smiles. Come, girls. Come out. Mrs. Schuyler will not appear this night, or to-morrow either, if I am not mistaken."

At her invitation the girls came forth. Azzie was too tall, too long to seat herself with any grace of body. She had the effect of sprawling. That she did now. Her purple kimono, resplendent with green roses and bands, caused her to look like a great rag-doll with most of the sawdust missing. The others of the party arranged themselves on cushions and chairs about her, ready to fall, tooth and nail, upon the remains of the roast chicken. Azzie would not eat, but kept her hand hidden in the folds of her gown.

"You needn't be talking in stage whispers," she began, with a fine touch of Irish in her voice. "Smiles won't hear you-or at least she won't be coming here. Yell, if you choose, or dance a clog. You're as safe as though Smiles was in Halifax."

"Don't be too sure. I never like to run a risk," said Landis. "I should not like to be called into the office to-morrow."

"I have found it this way with Mrs. Schuyler," explained Mary Wilson. "The moment you are sure she isn't about, that is the moment you can be sure she is ready to pounce on you."

"But she won't be here now. I'll yell and see." She yelled-a yell that must have have reached to the end of the dormitory and pierced any number of closed doors. The girls suppressed their half-frightened giggles, and waited. Azzie was right. Mrs. Schuyler did not appear.

"Why doesn't she come?" asked Min Kean in a whisper. "She surely heard that."

"Because I've taken her scalp," said Azzie. So speaking, she drew forth her hand, dangling two sets of false fronts.

"Oh, you didn't dare!"

"How could you!"

"You'll be sent home, Azzie."

"How did you ever get them?" asked Elizabeth. To her, such an act was more than merely hazardous. It was recklessness itself.

"Oh, I got them," said Azzie coolly. "I had a bit of neuralgia. A wisdom tooth has been bothering me for a long time, and I stopped in after the retiring-bell rang to ask Mrs. Schuyler for a drop of medicine to put in it. She was ready for bed. Say, girls, did you ever see her when she wasn't rigged out? She looked like a fright. She hasn't much hair left, but what she has was done up in curling kids. And these," dangling the false fronts before their eyes, "these lay reposing on the top of the dresser. I brought them along to show you girls how fine they are-two grades, one for every day and one for dress-up days."

"Don't shake them so close over my cocoa, please," cried Landis, removing her cup beyond the reach of Azzie's scalps.

"I felt safe about coming so long as I had these," continued Azzie. "Don't be afraid, Landis. A few hairs more or less won't hurt your supper."

"How will you get them back?" asked Elizabeth, who was fearful for Azzie's welfare.

"I hadn't got that far in my thinking," was the droll response. "I knew nothing could induce her to visit us without these," with another Indian flourish of the scalps in the air. "We are safe to-night. To-morrow Smiles will have a headache, and will not be able to come down to breakfast, and perhaps not during the entire day. Drop in to-morrow to ask her something and see if you do not find her with her head tied up."

It was impossible not to laugh at Azzie. There was such a droll dryness to her humor, a peculiar touch to her way of saying things which made her most ordinary expressions masquerade as wit. At times she lacked tact which caused her companions no little embarrassment. This trait was made evident by her turning to Miss O'Day with the remark:

"And, Nora, are you here? I'm as surprised to see you as I am to be here myself." Then turning to Elizabeth, she added as an explanation, "The 'Exclusives' had no time for Miss O'Day last spring, and I was always too much wrapped up in my music to be good company. So we were not invited to the spreads in the hall. I'm glad, Elizabeth, you broke over and invited us."

Miss O'Day's face grew crimson. Elizabeth, too embarrassed to respond, remained silent. Miss Wilson arose to the occasion, changing the subject with the question, "When is Miss Kronenberg going back?"

"Not until Monday," replied Landis, who was rarely embarrassed. These two, with the assistance of Mame Welch and Carrie Hirsch, diverted the attention from Miss O'Day.

"I do not German lessons take. Fraulein is not my instructor."

"Well, she is mine," responded Mary Wilson with a sigh. "As in a dream I hear her say, 'Fraulein Wilson, you have it unright.' I've taken lessons from her for three years, and that is the only remark she has ever made to me."

"She will be giving examinations soon," said Mame. "The Seniors and Middlers finish her work fully a week before the midwinter holiday. It gives us time to cram on something else. It won't be long now."

"Last year, indeed for several years, she has asked the class to write in German a description of a walk in the woods, or our Christmas at home, or what our college life has done for us. It is always the same. She lets you choose one of the three, but you must write a certain amount before she will accept it."

"Landis and I are ready for it," began Min Kean placidly. "We have ours written ready for her. I took a 'Walk in the Woods,' for my subject. I did want to take 'What Exeter has Done for Me,' but Landis persuaded me out of it. Of course, she was right about it. No one expects me to write on subjects as deep as Landis. We have ours all finished and ready."

"Nonsense, Min," cried her roommate. "One would think to hear you talk that we were expecting to pony through. You know such an idea is the one furthest from our minds. You leave such false impressions." Then turning to the girls, she explained, "I knew Fraulein Kronenberg was in the habit of asking for such work in the examinations, so I told Min there would be no harm in our practicing at this work. It would be quite the same thing as though we were reviewing our lessons. Of course, we had no intention of handing them in." Landis always appeared several inches taller when she sought to justify herself.

"The day we are free of German, that day will Miss Brosius put us to extra work in elocution and oratory. If I read the stars right, I discovered a play in the corner of her eye when I saw her last. She has already begun to estimate each one of us, to see who will best serve her purpose. Anna Cresswell is already doomed. She is always dragged in for the beautiful, calm creature who doeth and thinketh no evil. I wonder why she is always selected when I--"

"I suppose they know you'd overdo it," suggested Azzie, lazily. "Thank goodness, there are some things I escape by not being quick to learn my part. They never tried me but once."

"But you always play. I'd rather any day get up and strut over the stage, shrieking 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?' than sit down and keep my fingers on the right keys," said Mame Welch.

"It is certainly wonderful how Azzie can play," said Min. "Every one seems to enjoy it; but, do you know, just for myself, I like popular airs best? Beethoven and Mozart may be fine, but I like the kind that the newsboys whistle and all the hurdy-gurdies play."

"Wouldn't Mozart turn in his grave if he heard her?" asked Mame. "Speak to her, Azzie. Reason with her. You are the only one who has artistic sense enough to be shocked. Tell her to keep quiet, like the others of us do, and pretend to revel in delight at Wagner."

"Will the Middlers be in it, too?" asked Elizabeth. Her heart failed at the thought.

"Yes," said Mary, seeing that Elizabeth was really concerned at the prospect of appearing in public. "Yes, they give the Middlers several parts. You see, their idea is to get the Middlers used to public speaking so that they will appear well when they are Seniors. All the experiences or lessons Middlers ever get are given them in order to fit them to be Seniors."

The lunch had been progressing during the chatter. A few drumsticks and several slices of cake remained to show what had been. Elizabeth and Mary, with true housewifely instinct, put away the remnants of the feast after their guests had finished.

"How economical you are becoming!" said Mame Welch. "If I become hungry to-morrow, I will visit while you are not here. If you miss anything, I think you may give Landis the credit of taking it."

Landis shrugged her shoulders. "To see how careful they are, one would think they never had much to eat before and don't expect much again. Now, I'd throw the whole lot of it into the scrap-basket and let Jimmy Jordan carry it off with

the refuse. You bring to my mind that woman we met the day we came back to Exeter. She was horrified because I didn't take what was left of our lunch and run about offering it to some people who did not have any with them. She went outside and shared hers with such a common-looking woman and two dirty, crying babies."

"And me, too," said Elizabeth, not a whit abashed that she had been one of the party which Landis saw fit to criticise.

"Oh, yes," was the reply, "But I suppose you were forced into it."

"I wasn't forced into it," Elizabeth replied. "Indeed, I was glad to go. It was like a little picnic out there under the tree-"

"With two crying babies?"

"They did not cry after we went out. And the woman whom you laugh at was very agreeable. The wait did not seem at all long. It was rather like a pleasant party."

"Well, tastes differ," was the reply. "I am glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure I should not. Come, Min, don't you think we had better pick our steps back?"

"Walk as you please. The great Hokee Bokee Chief of the Night Hawks has taken the scalp of the pale-faced scout," shouted Mary Wilson, jumping to her feet and, seizing the false fronts, she waved them madly in the air while she executed a war-dance.

"Give them back to Azzie," said Mame. "Sometime early to-morrow morning you will find that the pale-faced scout is close on Azzie's trail."

Azzie took the trophies in her hand, examining them critically. "To-morrow I intend to go in and call upon her. I know she'll have a towel bound around her head."

The girls were about to depart when Mame Welch exclaimed, "There, I almost forgot! Anna Cresswell has been invited down to Gleasonton to visit at the Senator's. Mrs. Gleason is arranging quite a party of Exeter girls as soon as they can have a free Saturday."

"Elizabeth and I were invited to-day," said Mary. "We were to let Mrs. Gleason know what Saturday we would have free."

"They have fine times there-so they tell me," Azzie said. "I've never been invited to see for myself."

"I do not know Mrs. Gleason personally," remarked Landis, "but we have the same set of friends. No doubt if I should tell her that I'm Robert Stoner's daughter, she'd out-do herself to be kind to me."

"Why," said Elizabeth guilelessly, "was she such a friend of your father's?"

Landis shrugged her shoulders. "My father was a man of some prominence," was the response. "But how is it that she invited you? Did you not tell me that you did not know her?"

"I don't. I have never so much as seen her."

"She's very philanthropic-always trying to help people who need it. I suppose she knew you were a new student, and perhaps hadn't a wide acquaintance here, so she invited you that you might not find life too dull."

"Perhaps," was the reply, with a smile of amusement. Elizabeth was learning a great deal, not less important that it lay outside of classes and books.

The other girls had departed. Only Landis and Miss O'Day remained. Then the former with a whispered "good-night" went tip-toeing down the hall. Miss O'Day lingered.

Much to Elizabeth's surprise she bent her head to kiss her. "It was very kind of you, Elizabeth, to ask me to come this evening. But the other girls did not like it. Come to see me. You and I will grow chummy over my tea-table. But you do not need to ask me again when you entertain. I will not feel hurt. If you persist in being good to me, they will drop you and you will find it very lonely."

"They may do as they see fit," she responded with determination. "I will entertain whom I wish. If they do not choose to come, then they have the alternative. Good-night! Don't worry about me, Miss O'Day. I'm learning to take care of myself." Then she put up her lips to be kissed again.

The following morning the preceptress did not appear at breakfast, as Azzie had predicted. The dinner hour, according to the custom for all holidays, had been postponed until two o'clock. Devotional exercises were held in the chapel at ten o'clock. Mrs. Schuyler's place on the rostrum was vacant.

"She's been in her room all morning," giggled Min to Landis on their way to their rooms.

"I hope Azzie will see the error of her ways before dinner time," Mary Wilson said. "I should not like to miss a Thanksgiving dinner."

As though Mary's words had power to call her, Azzie at that moment came down the corridor, swinging herself lazily along.

"This is the sixth time I've started for Mrs. Schuyler's room," she began at the sight of the girls. "But the moment I reach the door, my heart drops down into my shoes, and it's so heavy, I can't move my feet an inch."

"Taking scalps is not all the fun it's supposed to be, is it?" asked Mame Welch.

"The taking is all right. The taking back is what hurts my feelings." Azzie sighed deeply as she began to unwrap the paper about the false fronts. "I don't know whether I'll have the courage to lay them inside her door or not. I'd put it off until to-morrow if it wasn't for the Thanksgiving dinner. Well, there's luck in odd numbers."

"To me there would be something too subtle, too sly, in slipping them in at the door." The remark was from Landis.

As usual, Mary Wilson was the one quick to reply. "Then Azzie will not do it if there be but a suspicion of subtleness about it. Do you not know her well enough, Landis, to know when she is jesting and when she is not?"

"Oh, well, let us hope she was jesting then," was the reply.

The seventh venture had carried a charm for Azzie. Her heart did not go thumping to her heels again. She knocked at Mrs. Schuyler's door and then entered without waiting for permission.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Schuyler," she cried gayly. "I was sorry not to see you down to breakfast, though to be honest I did not expect you. Did you miss anything last evening after I was in? It was too good a chance-there they were lying right under my eyes. I'll leave them here," laying the budget on a table near her, "so you can come down to dinner."

Her manner was not that of one who merited or expected a rebuke. There was such a big-hearted friendliness in her voice that Mrs. Schuyler's heart responded. She smiled in spite of the feeling of vengeance she had been cherishing against her tormentor. Before she could regain her austerity of manner, Azzie had departed and was half way down the dormitory hall, on her way to the music-room for an hour's practice before dinner.

Thanksgiving was not a day of unalloyed happiness to Elizabeth. The afternoon's mail brought her letters and papers from Bitumen. Her father wrote the home news with the same gaiety which marked his conversation. He mentioned, as though it were a subject to be lightly treated, that there was some talk of the miners "going out." He thought their grievance might be adjusted without resorting to extreme measures-a week or so would tell. Then he took up the little matters of the house.

The letter was remarkably cheerful. Yet Elizabeth was disturbed in spirit. She had never lived through a strike; but she had heard the miners' wives tell of the dreadful happenings. So far she thought only of the suffering of the miners' families, with no money, starving and freezing in their little shanties. She had never heard how the lives of the operators and men in the position of her father hung in the balance at such times.

After reading the letter again, she mechanically took up the newspaper. The black headlines heralding the coming strike were before her. She read column after column hurriedly. The newspaper attached greater importance to the rumors than her father. They recounted the horrors of strikes past, and presaged them for strikes to come. No definite reasons had been given for the miners going out. The article hinted that only the grossest imposition of the operators had led them to consider a strike. The names of two men appeared frequently-Dennis O'Day and Ratowsky-who were opposed to each other. Strange to say, neither was a miner. Ratowsky could influence the men because he was foreign-born, a Pole, as the majority of them were. On the other hand, Dennis O'Day was a native American, a class of which the foreign element is suspicious. Yet at his instigation the miners had arisen.

The article caused Elizabeth some uneasiness. She looked forward to the following day's paper, hoping it might contain a brighter outlook. But on the next day when she went to the reading room, she failed to find the papers. For many successive days the same thing occurred. Then at length, she gave up looking for them. It was not until a month later that she learned that they had disappeared at Dr. Morgan's suggestion, and the girls were aiding her in keeping the worrisome news from Elizabeth.

The letters from home came at their usual times, but neither her father nor mother mentioned the trouble at the mines. Elizabeth, believing that no news was good news, took it for granted that the difficulty had been amicably settled.

A week later, in company with Mary Wilson, she set forth to visit Mrs. Gleason. From Exeter to Gleasonton is only an hour's ride. At the station, they found a sleigh with a coachman and footman waiting to convey them to Senator Gleason's home.

"It is the prettiest place in summer," said Mary, as they went flying over the snow-packed roads. "Everything is so beautiful that you can really believe it is fairyland."

On their way, they passed several stately country residences, closed for the winter. Then came acres and acres of bark-sheds filled with bark for the tanneries; then the tanneries themselves. Then, at a distance, upon the brow of the hill were seen the stone walls of Senator Gleason's home.

"Isn't it beautiful?" whispered Elizabeth, as though should she speak aloud the spell would be broken, and the place, like Aladdin's palace, vanish in the air.

"Wait until you see it in summer, with all the vines and beautiful trees," was the response.

They turned into the driveway, and in a few minutes were brought to the front entrance. At the sound of the bells, the door opened and Senator Gleason appeared, smiling and affable, to welcome them, and following him was his wife.

Elizabeth gave a start of surprise. Although more richly dressed than when she had seen her before, Elizabeth recognized in her the plain little woman with whom she had eaten lunch on her journey to Exeter.

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