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Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 28650

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Both Fraulein Kronenberg and Dr. Kitchell announced tests for the week before the Christmas holidays. The Seniors and Middlers arose early and stayed up late to study. The hour for physical exercise was cut as short as Miss Brosins would permit. There was little time for anything that was purely social. There was no lingering in the hall after meals for chats. Carrie Hirsch was the only one who had leisure after Miss Kronenberg's announcement. She laughed as the girls hurried back to their rooms. "German is not so hard," she explained. "What one thinks one must say-so simple are the words. Not at all can I understand why they all look so like a frown because Fraulein Kronenberg gives them but one little story to write in the German."

"Suppose Miss Berard should give you a simple little story to write in English," returned Mary Wilson. "Wouldn't you look like a frown, too?"

Miss Hirsch shrugged her shoulders. "It is true you speak; but English is so different."

Elizabeth felt the excitement attendant upon an examination. Had she paused long enough to analyse her feelings, she would have discovered that she had no fear of failing. She had read German with Miss Hale since she was old enough to read. The Middlers' work in German had been to her like an old tale, oft repeated. But the attitude of the other students and the novelty of an examination made her nervous. She was hurrying back to her room one morning when Anna Cresswell stopped her.

"You have the next period vacant?" she asked.

"Yes, but Wednesday is the German exams and I have been putting in this hour cramming for them."

"Then I'll do you a good turn by taking you away from them. Come, let us take a turn up and down the campus. We'll walk fast enough to keep warm. There is something about which I wish to talk to you."

Half-reluctantly, Elizabeth went with her.

"I feel as though I had been neglecting my work in regard to you," began Miss Cresswell, as they crossed the campus. She tucked Elizabeth's arm under her own. Elizabeth felt that something confidential was forthcoming. She was yet unused to the friendship of girls and any act on their part out of the ordinary made her feel shy and awkward.

"But you were with Mary Wilson, so I knew you were in good hands, although I should have come to you at once. But we had so many new girls this semester that I could not get around sooner. I'm president of the Young Woman's Christian Association at Exeter, you know?"

"Yes; or at least, I suppose so. I have always attended with Mary. You preside, so I took it for granted that you are president."

"It was the public meetings you attended. We have some private conferences where no one is present but active members. We do this that we may talk over the needs of some special student, and act accordingly. Of course, we can not publicly diagnose such cases."

"Yes?" said Elizabeth, feeling that Miss Cresswell had paused to give her an opportunity to reply.

"Part of our work is to interview each new student; to ask them to join us in active Christian work. We need you in the Association and I believe you will find, after you join us, that you have been needing us."

"Perhaps so. There can be no doubt of the latter, but as to helping you, I am afraid I couldn't do that. Not that I am not willing, but I do not believe I am capable of it."

"We'll risk that," with a smile. "I'm confident that you can do much. The mere coming out and announcing yourself as a member of a band of Christian workers will have a good influence."

"Perhaps it will. To be frank with you, Miss Cresswell, I've never thought about such a thing. At home I studied a great deal, helped mother some, and rode about the country hunting flowers with Miss Hale. I never gave a thought to the matters that you talk of."

"Then you are not a Christian?" The question was asked in surprise.

The girl looked with a puzzled expression into the serious face of her companion. Then she spoke slowly, as though the idea was for the first time presented to her.

"I do not know. I-never-really thought anything at all about it. You see it was just this way at home, Miss Cresswell. My father and mother with Miss Hale were all the friends I had. We could not go to church; the miners are foreigners, and when a priest was sent to them for services, he spoke Polish, or Slav, or Russian, so there was little use of our going. Miss Hale had a Mission Sabbath School for the younger people. I asked once to help her. She refused for some reason. She did not tell me why. At home, we read our Bible and have family prayers. Mother taught me a great deal, and I committed a great deal to memory; but as to my being a Christian, I never really thought of it before."

"Then let us think about it now," was the response. She drew Elizabeth's arm closer within her own. Slowly they retraced their steps from the dormitory door to the end of the campus walk, Miss Cresswell talking earnestly all the while. She spoke well on her subject; she believed what she said; and she was honest and simple-minded in her efforts to present these truths to Elizabeth's mind.

The hour passed quickly. With a start of surprise, they heard the bells for the dismissal of classes.

"Is it possible? I did not think the time was half gone. We must hurry. You will think on this matter, Elizabeth?"

"Yes; I will think of it. I can't promise more. It seems so serious. I do not wish to undertake anything without being sure of what I really think and am."

They parted at the door, Miss Cresswell hurrying off to Dr. Kitchell's class-room, while Elizabeth, with tardy step and disturbed mind, went to recite to Miss Brosius.

The same evening Elizabeth accompanied her roommate to a special meeting of the Young Woman's Christian Association. It had become a custom of the school to hold such meetings before the tests began, but Elizabeth, not knowing this, was wholly ignorant of the object of the meeting.

Miss Cresswell as president went through the preliminaries of calling the Association to order. She was tactful and discreet. Landis, to whom public speaking was a coveted opportunity, immediately arose and moved forward to the front of the room where she could face her audience. She carried her head and shoulders unusually erect. Her clear, decisive manner of speaking indicated that she believed the mere stating of her opinion on the subject would forever settle it in the minds of her hearers.

"I regret," she began, "to make such a statement before the new students at Exeter lest they form a bad opinion of us in general. But at Exeter Hall, as in other schools, all pupils do not have the same ideals and views of what is right and wrong. It often happens, and has happened here within our knowledge, that a student who would scorn to take any property which was not hers, has taken another's ability, has actually copied work and handed it in as her own. This has happened and may happen again. So we," the speaker so placed her emphasis that "we" became the dominant spirit of the school, "determined to do as we did last year,-call together the members of the Association to take means to prevent a growth of the spirit of deception."

Landis walked back to her place. Her manner had been forcible and had impressed many.

The president asked for expressions of opinions from the members. The remarks were not slow in coming. Immediately a half-dozen girls were upon their feet demanding recognition.

Mame Welch in her droll, half-humorous way was the first to speak.

"I do not see why we should trouble ourselves because from one to a half-dozen girls among several hundred see fit to copy and carry 'ponies' into class. If they are satisfied, let them do it."

"But, oh," cried Carrie Hirsch, not waiting for permission to speak. "It is not fair. It may be so, one girl must hard work; another girl, work not hard. Yet one mark, oh, so high," she raised her hands to express how high the grades of the delinquent might be, "because into exams she carry papers, or from her friend's paper she learn all she wishes to write."

The other members could not suppress a smile as Carrie talked. She was so entirely in earnest, so carried away by her own enthusiasm, and so badly mixed in her English.

It was Landis who again responded. "That is not the spirit in which we have undertaken this correction. To the real student it matters little who may have higher marks than herself. She studies for the love of study and the hope of improvement. Neither should we say that it is nothing to us whether a half-dozen others are dishonest or not. It is something to us-or it should be. We have banded ourselves together as a set of Christian workers, and it should be something to us whether a half-dozen among us are not doing the honorable thing." There was a war-like tone in Landis' words. Whatever weakness there was in the girl's character, she possessed an overwhelming desire to have people believe that she stood on the side of right. She was ambitious to be thought an earnest Christian girl. She would have left no stone unturned to have been a leader among the girls. She was willing to cajole, to cater in order to win friendship. Yet in spite of all her efforts, she influenced only a few. Among those few were none of the stronger girls of Exeter. Min, to be sure, followed close at her heels, and one or two others; but they were not of the brighter lights from either an ethical or intellectual point of view.

"It is our duty to go to them-to talk to them," she continued.

"And have a hornet's nest buzzing about your ears," exclaimed Mary Wilson, disregarding all the rules of Parliamentary law which Dr. Kitchell tried to teach them. She was on her feet, moving to the front, talking as she went. "I really haven't the self-assertion to walk up to strange students and tell them the error of their ways. To me, that course of action savors too much of conceit of our own virtues. The best we can do is to be perfectly honorable about the examinations. Our mental attitude toward dishonorable proceedings ought to have its influence without our going about making ourselves odious by preaching."

Someone else took up the discussion. It grew warmer and warmer. Landis maintained the position she took in regard to personal work. In the excitement, several talked at once, forgetting that there was a chairman to whom a certain courtesy was due. Miss Cresswell used the gavel until its sound drowned out the voices. For a time peace reigned again.

During the discussion, Elizabeth leaned forward. This was intensely interesting to her. Her lips were parted, and a flush caused by excitement came to her cheeks. She looked with admiration upon those girls who could talk in public. In her eyes they were gifted creatures more richly blessed than the ordinary mortal like herself. Hitherto she had been fond of spunky little Mary Wilson. Now she admired and looked up to her as one must look up to a person of talents.

Miss O'Day, dressed in a striking gown of imported material, sat by the side of Elizabeth. She must have heard the discussion, yet she made no show of interest, but seemed like one whose thoughts were far off.

Suddenly a sprightly little girl sprang up and made herself heard: "I think we had a fairly good plan last year-the plan we copy from the old Greeks-the plan of ostracising. Girls have copied and cheated in examinations ever since examinations were known, and I suppose they will do so as long as examinations are held. There are always a few whose bump of moral responsibility isn't developed. I agree with one of the previous speakers this far-let those half-dozen who desire to cheat, cheat. Let it be nothing to us. But I would add this much more-let them be also nothing to us. Let us ostracise them entirely, cut them off from all invitations."

At her words, the discussion grew warmer again. It was as though she had let loose a swarm of bees. Parliamentary law went to the winds. For a moment, every common courtesy seemed to be forgotten. Her suggestion met with some favor. To the surprise of Elizabeth, Mary Wilson was its strongest advocate. Landis now also favored such a course, and consequently Min Kean. In her heart, Elizabeth disapproved, but she was not able to speak as the others had done. She could only sit silent. Popular opinion was in favor of the ostracism. Then another question was brought up. Landis, again, was the one to set the ball rolling.

"But how are we to find out who does the cheating?" she asked. "If I should see some member of my class make use of a "pony," am I expected to cut her dead, while all the others are friendly with her as usual? I do not see how she would be much affected by that, for she may care very little whether I ignore her or not."

At this Landis sat down but she bent forward and spoke to Min Kean. After a little encouragement, Min arose. She was not quick to grasp ideas even at her best. Now, as she stood upon her feet, she lost what little confidence she possessed, stumbling over her words, looking helplessly toward Landis for encouragement.

"We think-that is, I think-that wouldn't count much-I mean just having one person ostracise you. I think it should be told-I mean if we found anyone cheating, it should be told. Then we would get together and tell that person why we are going to act toward them like we are going to act. That's only fair. That's the way they treat criminals in court."

Then she retired to let Landis take her place. "The speaker has said in part what I had in mind. I do not wish my hearers to believe I would countenance news-carrying or tattling. That, of course, is beneath any right-minded person. But we must-I say we must," Landis raised her finger impressively, and repeated the words as though she intended at that moment to root out the evil with tooth and nail, "We must get rid of this deceptive tendency. It will have an evil effect on Exeter. Perhaps, in time, destroy the school altogether."

"Umph! Exeter has stood a hundred years and will stand a hundred more in spite of anything Landis may do," said Miss O'Day, in a low tone to Elizabeth. This was the first she had spoken since they had entered

the meeting.

Landis continued, "For that reason, I think it would be wise if one sees another cheating, to lay her name before the members and let them act accordingly."

Elizabeth could never tell how it happened. Months after, in thinking the matter over, she could not justify herself in the thought that she had acted from honorable motives or for any good purpose. She had acted upon the impulse of the moment. This last speech was opposed to all Elizabeth's natural instincts. Her finer feelings were hurt, and like a child she must cry out.

"The idea is preposterous," she exclaimed, getting upon her feet and walking to the front of the room. Indignation had turned to crimson the pink which enthusiasm had brought to her cheek. "No good ever comes of using a wrong to make another wrong right. Like every one else, I think there should be no dishonor in examinations. But to my mind, tale-bearing is equally dishonorable. Consider the idea of our pledging ourselves to run and tell every one else when we find that someone has done wrong. I refuse to do such a thing even though I know it would stamp out every bit of cheating in our examinations."

At this came a burst of applause, so that for the time Elizabeth was forced to discontinue. She saw Mary Wilson's eyes beaming upon her. Not another face could she distinguish. When the applause ceased, she began again. It was evident she was thinking of nothing else but the injustice and littleness of the act they had been contemplating. She felt deeply, and talked as she felt. For a moment she was an orator worthy the name.

"For this ostracising, I have as little sympathy. A student does wrong, and you would cut her off immediately from all who are trying to do right. If your purpose is to assist those weaker than yourself, you will never succeed by such a method. If every one was to be ignored for every bit of deceit they practice, I fancy most of us would be going around by ourselves, rather lonely." A smile passed over the faces of her hearers-a smile of amusement and surprise, for hitherto Elizabeth had been a quiet, shy girl, almost timid in company; and now upon the instant she had taken the lead. She had come forth alone when all the odds were against her, boldly declaring her opinion, and fearless to defend the course she believed to be right.

"If we are going to begin this reformation, let us begin aright-at the root of the evil, and carry it through all its branches. Let us begin with the students who leave us under false impressions-telling us romances of their adventures, their powerful friends, their finances." To do Elizabeth justice, the girl with traits like these she mentioned had no definite form in her mind. She was only supposing a case. Yet, unconsciously, her mind had received during these months of school an idea of such a person. She could not embody these qualities with a human form. Yet more than one of her hearers recognized these as characteristics of one who had been foremost in the denunciations of dishonest examinations. "Let us begin with the girls who turn out their lights and go to bed long enough to deceive Mrs. Schuyler, and then get up again to prowl-and to the girl who gets a book from the town library and allows a dozen to read it before it is returned, when she has pledged herself to withdraw the books for her use alone.

"We, as a set of Christian girls"-the expression was new to Elizabeth, but it does not take one long to become a Christian-"would ostracise any who did not come up to our standard of ethics! I say here so that you may all know where I stand"-her cheeks grew scarlet, and in the energy of her emotions she emphasized strongly-"I will not declare the name of anyone who 'ponies' in class, nor will I cut them from my list of acquaintances. I shall let them know I despise such deception, but I shall treat them exactly as I have always treated them."

With that she went back to her place. To her surprise Miss O'Day was not there, having slipped away at the beginning of Elizabeth's talk.

The girls applauded heartily. Someone else arose to speak. Elizabeth's enthusiasm having died suddenly away, she felt very limp and weak. She was surprised at her own boldness.

"I'm going back to our room," she whispered to Mary Wilson. "I feel all gone."

"Yes, I can sympathize with you. I felt just so the first time I got up there. But you'll get over it and enjoy a scrap. I'll go with you. A cup of cocoa will set you up all right."

Together they quitted the hall. As they crossed the campus, Mary continued: "I was afraid you were going to get personal, and hurt someone with your words; but you stopped just in time. One does not mind if the whole set gets a slap in the face; but one does not like to be the only one. It is just this way about the girls you meet at Exeter. We are like a little town. There will be a few whom you will like well enough to be genuine friends with; then there's a whole long line who will be pleasant acquaintances; and some whom you will care nothing at all about, although they will be good people in their way. Some here have opinions of their own, and some are mere copies. A girl must learn to think for herself, and express her opinion without getting angry or giving personal hits. The moment that is done, Miss Cresswell will request the guilty one to leave the room."

"Will they do it?"

"Do it? Haven't you learned that people generally do as Anna Cresswell suggests? She's a very poor girl-too poor to come to Exeter. But her influence over the younger set was so marked that they say Dr. Morgan makes it worth her while to stay."

"What does she do? She seems very quiet."

"She is-and isn't. She's quiet when it's necessary to be. As to what she does, if you keep your eyes open, you'll find her visiting the homesick girls, introducing the shy ones, tutoring the backward ones."

"It is a wonder she did not call upon me earlier in the term then. I might be classified under all three heads."

Mary tossed back her hair, and laughed. "But you had me, and when one has me to look after her she does not need even Anna Cresswell."

"Especially when it comes to keeping rooms in order," added Elizabeth.

"You haven't forgiven me for that yet."

"Yes; I have-long ago."

"Well, you don't need disciplining now. You are growing so particular that I'm almost ashamed of my own carelessness."

Elizabeth replied earnestly. "Well, with me, I must be decided one way or the other. I think I am naturally careless. So I dare not give up to myself even a little bit."

They entered their rooms as she was speaking.

"Just one cup of cocoa, and then we must get down to work. I'm afraid of Dr. Kitchell's mathematics."

"I'm afraid of everything. I never took an examination of any kind."

"Dr. Kitchell is very fair; but he scares you to death weeks before. He is always holding exams up before you like a death's head at the feast."

The decided stand taken by Elizabeth caused no little discussion. The meeting adjourned without any definite action being taken. The only point gained by the discussion was opening the eyes of a few to the fact that their point of view might not be the only one. Many felt as Elizabeth. The matter was dropped for the time.

The examinations began early in the morning, running through several class periods. Elizabeth, provided with a motley array of examination paraphernalia, entered Dr. Kitchell's class-room. The greater part of the class was already present, as were Dr. Kitchell and Miss Brosius. Dr. Kitchell was in the front of the room. Upon Elizabeth's entrance, with a gesture of his hand, he waved her toward a seat in the middle row. It was not her accustomed place of sitting. She looked about her. There seemed to have been a general scattering. Each member of the class sat alone, isolated so far as the size of the room permitted. The reason for this Elizabeth did not understand, but attributed it to the eccentricities of an examination of which she had heard much. The examination questions, printed upon little slips, were handed to each student. Previously each young lady had been cautioned about providing herself with all necessary articles. Elizabeth had conscientiously heeded the caution. The top of her desk had the appearance of a department of a small stationery store.

She began her work. Dr. Kitchell walked up and down the room, never once turning his eyes from them. Miss Brosius rubbed her eye-glasses, and seating herself at the end of the room, kept her gaze fixed upon the back of the students' heads. Such scrutiny was not calculated to make one feel at ease. For one hour no sound save the moving of pencils was heard. Then Miss Brosius spoke. "I have a class the next period, Dr. Kitchell," she said. "I can stay no longer."

"Miss Worden will be here in one moment to relieve you," was the reply. "She has a physical geography class in Room C. It will not detain her long."

Even as he spoke, Miss Worden, out of breath with her hurry, entered and took Miss Brosius' place, while that instructor hurried off to her class-room.

Elizabeth paused in her demonstration. Here was a problem new to her. Why could not Miss Brosius leave until Miss Worden came in, and why did Dr. Kitchell stride up and down, up and down, never for an instant removing his keen eyes from the class before him?

In the daily intercourse with her parents, she had asked questions freely. She did now as she would have done with them. As Dr. Kitchell passed her desk, she spoke to him:

"I could not help hearing what Miss Brosius said to you about leaving the room, and wondered what she meant."

"It is impossible for me to see all the students. Unfortunately, I do not have eyes in the back of my head."

Elizabeth met his glance with a look of surprise.

Dr. Kitchell then spoke more plainly. "I am quite determined there shall be no cheating in my classes. My students will pass on their own merits-or not at all."

"And Miss Brosius then-" she paused, not feeling confident enough of the situation to put her feelings into words.

"Miss Brosius is here to assist me, and to see there is no copying, no cheating done in the class."

Now Dr. Kitchell was an excellent man, an able instructor, but he had a blunt way of expressing himself. Elizabeth's face flushed and then grew pale. For one instant her lips quivered and her eyes filled. But she quickly controlled herself, and began putting together her papers. Arising, she was about to quit the room.

"Have you finished, Miss Hobart?"

"No, I have not." Elizabeth spoke quietly. One could have no suspicion of the fire that lay smoldering beneath.

"Finish and hand me the papers before you leave the room. That has always been the rule at Exeter."

"I do not intend to finish, or to hand in my papers." Although she spoke quietly, her voice was heard over the class-room. Each student paused with uplifted pencil in her hand. For the most part, Dr. Kitchell was feared. Few would have dared oppose him.

"And why not, may I ask?"

"Because I will not stay and take an examination where we are treated as though we were criminals. Having a watch set upon us is an insult to every honest student in the class. Until I have proved myself to be either a liar or a thief, I insist upon being treated with respect. That is why I will not stay to take an examination under police supervision."

Dr. Kitchell was a big man. Elizabeth looked so childish and little as she stood before him that he could not suppress a smile. He rather admired the spunky little lady who dared to express her opinion so freely. Yet discipline must be maintained. "You will report to Dr. Morgan," he replied.

"I certainly shall," was the rejoinder, as she quitted the room.

In this whirl of indignation and hurt pride, she entered her room and found Mary there.

"I was coming for you, Elizabeth," she said. "Here's a telegram for you." She held out the yellow envelope. "I hope there is nothing serious the matter."

Elizabeth tore it open before Mary finished speaking, and read it quickly.

"It's from father," she said. "I do not understand it." She handed the paper to Mary. "You know I was to start for home Saturday morning."

Mary read it aloud:

"Do not start home. Letter follows. Every one well. Business reason for waiting."

"Nothing to worry about in that. My father has often sent me just such word. Perhaps business calls him away. You see he says every one is well."

"And he would not say that unless it were absolutely true," said Elizabeth with conviction.

"You'll have the letter by to-morrow's mail. It's something pleasant, depend upon it."

"I hope so." She sank down despondently into a chair and rested her head upon the study-table. "I wish something pleasant would happen. This is 'blue' week for me. Yesterday I became excited and almost said too much, and to-day I rush madly in and mix up affairs in the math. exams. I told Dr. Kitchell what I thought of his method of conducting them."

Mary's eyes grew bright. They fairly danced in surprise at Elizabeth's action.

"Why, even I would not have dared do that," she said. "I have dared everything at Exeter but Dr. Kitchell. I would as soon think of going to Dr. Morgan and telling her that I do not approve of her method of conducting Exeter."

"That is about what I will do next," said Elizabeth dolefully. "When one begins anything like this, there is no telling where she will end. Oh, dear, I'll be glad to get home where people know me, and don't act as though they expect me to lie or steal."

"No one thinks that here, Elizabeth. You've run up against a snag. We all have our blue days when we wish we were somewhere else, and when we have a poor opinion of every one, ourselves included."

"You never do."

"Yes, often, but I found it didn't pay to give up to them. Come, tell me all the trouble, and when it's all told you may find there's very little of it."

"I wish I could think so. I'll tell you, Mary, and then I'll go and see Dr. Morgan. I'm to report immediately to her."

She proceeded with her tale of woe. And although her listener was sympathetic, she laughed heartily during the recital.

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