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   Chapter 9 JOE’S MESSAGE.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 19318

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


After breakfast the following morning, Elizabeth was summoned to the reception-hall where Joe Ratowsky awaited her. He stood twisting his hat about as she entered. The expansive smile which covered his swarthy face was not so much one of goodwill as embarrassment. He stood in the center of the room so that by no possible chance could he touch any article of furniture. Joe was no coward. He had performed heroic parts when mobs of miners and the militia, during the big strikes, met in conflict. But the thought of sitting down on chairs upholstered in satin of dainty colors made the cold chills run up and down his spine.

It was cruel in Elizabeth to shake his hand so long and so vigorously, even though she was glad to see him. And it was worse than cruel to keep pushing easy chairs before him and insisting upon him sitting down. Elizabeth insisted, and in desperation Joe took a letter from his pocket and thrust it before her.

"Mees-ter Hobart, he write-he write heap-b'gosh."

"He isn't sick, Joe, is he?"

"Sick!" Joe grunted his disgust at the thought of anyone being sick. "He well, so well-he get fat, b'gosh, so fat, Meester O'Day, he look like pole he come long Meester Hobart, b'gosh."

Joe nodded his head vigorously, a habit he had of emphasizing any statement he wished to make particularly strong. Elizabeth could not restrain a smile at the comparison.

"Is mother well, too, Joe?" Joe nodded vigorously while he wiped his brow.

"She well like the tivil, b'gosh. Yes, b'gosh, she so well as that."

"Well, then, Joe, why is it they do not wish me to go home?"

Joe flung out his hand as though what he was about to say was a mere trifle, not worthy her consideration.

"The miner-not so glad, b'gosh. They no work-no-no work. They say they tear up railroad, b'gosh. Meester Hobart, he say, 'No tear up road.' Joe Ratowsky, he say, 'No tear up road.' All time keep watch so no tear up road. You not come. Mebbe no road, mebbe all right, b'gosh."

"A strike, Joe? Do you mean the miners threaten to destroy the road?" He nodded.

"No strike now, b'gosh. Colowski, he say, 'Strike.' Then all say, 'Strike.' Joe Ratowsky, he give him one between his eyes like this." He doubled up his fist, showing how peace had been restored. "He no say strike then. He crawl off. He no come round for day and day."

"Did they go back to work then?" Elizabeth was excited. All her life she had heard of the horrors of a prolonged strike. From childhood she had a dim recollection of someone taking her from her warm bed, and running across fields, seeking safety miles away. As in a dream, she could hear the roar of hoarse voices and see the flickering torches of the mob.

Joe shook his head slowly. "No, b'gosh. They mad like the tivil. They go back some day, so many tollars, every day for work. No more," shaking his head in negation, "No, no more, b'gosh."

Elizabeth grew anxious. She seized Mr. Ratowsky's coat sleeve.

"But, Joe, tell me truly, is my father in danger? They won't hurt him?"

"B'gosh, no. He safe like anything. They no mad like the tivil at him. Emery they mad at."

"Is Mr. Emery there?" Again Joe shook his head. "Meester Emery, he go over ocean. He no come back, mebbe so long till summer. When he come back, the miners so mad they treat him like the tivil, b'gosh."

This Mr. Emery, of whom he spoke, was one of the operators of the soft-coal region; a man who visited the miners once in a dozen years and of whom his workmen knew little.

Joe had evidently been instructed how much to tell Elizabeth in regard to the trouble. Being assured that her father was not in danger, her mind turned toward the letter, her eyes following her thoughts.

"I go back quick. I tell Meester Hobart you look well like everything." He shook his head vigorously to assure her how fine a message he would carry. "I will, b'gosh," he repeated.

He made his way to the door, keeping his eyes upon the chairs and tables in his path. He sighed with relief when he had passed them, and saw a line of retreat open before him. He continued to repeat the message he would carry to her father.

"Grow so tall likes nothing. He will be so glad like the tivil. I tells him so. Yes, he will, b'gosh." These were his parting words as the door closed upon him.

The greater number of the girls in the dormitory hall had packed or were packing their trunks. The hallway was obstructed with baggage of all descriptions, awaiting the coming of Jimmy Jordan and his train of helpers.

Mary Wilson was to leave Exeter immediately after lunch. She had begun her preparations before breakfast. Elizabeth, taking it for granted that their rooms would yet be in confusion, went down to the window-seat where she and Nora had sat the night before, in order to read her letter in quiet. There was nothing unusual in it-nothing to startle her, at least; the home news was told with her father's usual buoyant spirit. If he were harassed or annoyed, his letter writing did not show it. It was not until all the bright little bits of home life had been related that he mentioned the trouble at the mines-just a little local trouble, nothing general. Both her mother and he thought it best that she should not go up the mountain railroad this time of year. There was nothing at all to alarm her. She was to spend her holidays with any one of the girls whom Dr. Morgan advised. It was difficult on account of the snow to get the mails through. She must not be anxious if her accustomed letter did not arrive on time.

As was her habit with home letters, Elizabeth read and re-read it. She was slipping it back into its envelope when Landis and Min appeared. Both were dressed for traveling. They stopped to enquire of Elizabeth when she expected to leave Exeter, being surprised to see her sitting there in her school dress when the others were either packing or already leaving. She told them the possibility of her remaining at the Hall for the holiday season. At this Landis wrinkled her brow in perplexity, and pondered awhile in deep thought.

"I was trying to see my way clear to ask you to go with me to The Beeches-my home, so called because of the magnificent trees which grow near our residence. But I do not see how I can manage it now. I do wish I had known about this sooner. I might have been able to arrange matters somehow. I do not like the idea of your being here alone. Exeter is dull with the girls gone. It's really unbearable. But I have arranged to go home with Min until the day before Christmas. We always have a big family party for that day, and our home is filled. I suppose we could tuck you in somewhere-if you do not object to the third floor."

"Oh, do not think of it, I beg you," began Elizabeth hurriedly. Somehow Exeter without company seemed better to her than The Beeches with Landis. "I would not for the world cause you any inconvenience. Besides, the matter is in the hands of Dr. Morgan. I must do as she decides."

"Well, I hope she will see fit to send you off somewhere. Come to think of it, I do believe I could not let you have even a third floor room. Our cook always takes the privilege of asking in some of her relations, and that leaves no space unfilled. I wish it were otherwise."

"You are kind to think of it. But I could not go in any event. I must go back to my room now. Mary is deep in her packing and will need me. When do you leave?"

"Not until afternoon. But we are going into the city. Shall we see you before we leave?"

"I think not."

Good-byes were said, and Elizabeth went to her room. She was disappointed at not being able to go home, but had no fear of a possible strike, or any danger to her father. Joe Ratowsky had reassured her, and besides her faith in her own father made her confident. There was no question in her mind about his being popular with the miners. He had been not only their superintendent, but physician, friend and banker.

Having packed her trunk so full that the lid would not close, Mary was jumping up and down on it when Elizabeth entered. She hailed her with an exclamation of delight. "I'm so glad you weigh something! Come, sit on my trunk while I turn the key. I can get the lid down, but it springs open the instant I get off, and I cannot stand up there and turn the key at the same time. I have been bouncing on it for the last half-hour."

Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright from her strenuous efforts. Elizabeth did as requested. The trunk closed with a snap.

"And now," asked Mary, "when do you begin to pack? I suppose your Polish friend brought you news from home. I hurried to get my belongings out of the way that you might begin."

"Not until next June," was the reply. Then sitting down on the trunk beside Mary, she related the messages which Joe had brought, and the advice which her father's letter contained.

Mary listened without comment until the story was finished. Then she tossed back her hair, and without a word hurried to the door, flung it open with a great disregard for the amount of noise she was making and began hauling in Elizabeth's trunk.

"You have just three hours to pack, dress, eat and get down to the station," she said, unbuckling straps and removing trays as she spoke.

"But-"

"Don't stop to talk or ask questions, or say you can't." Mary stopped long enough to stamp her foot in order to emphasize her words. "You're going home with me. We'll talk it over afterward. We haven't time now. I'll hear the objections to-morrow. Put on your duds, and I'll pack, while you get yourself ready."

"But you-"

"I'm ready except my coa

t and hat." She was carrying Elizabeth's clothes from the wardrobe, and placing them in the trunk. Elizabeth did as she was told without questioning further. She was only too glad to be taken possession of, for the thought of Exeter Hall without the girls had not been pleasant.

The trunk was packed and her dressing about completed when Nora O'Day entered. She was dressed in a handsome traveling suit, the product of a city importer. As usual, she carried her lithe, slender body proudly, as though no one was quite her equal. Elizabeth understood the girl now and knew that her defiant attitude was assumed.

"I've come in to say goodbye. I haven't a minute. The cab is waiting for me." She shook hands with Mary. Then turned to embrace Elizabeth. There was a great deal of affection in her manner toward this new friend. "We were talking last night of mother's theses. I put some together for you to take with you to read. I really think you will enjoy them. I know you will be careful of them. I mean to keep them all and some day read them over." She kissed Elizabeth again, and with a hurried goodbye was gone.

Elizabeth appreciated this remembrance more than a gift of greater money value. Nora cherished these papers the most of all her possessions, and she gave her best when she confided them to Elizabeth. Slipping them into the tray of the trunk, she turned to the mirror to arrange her collar. At last turning to Mary, she said, "There, I'm clothed and in my right mind, and we yet have half an hour. Now we must report to Dr. Morgan."

"You are evidently clothed," was the response, "but I'm not sure about the right mind. Don't you remember that Dr. Morgan does not return until to-night? By that time we will be home. I'll speak to Miss Brosius as we go down to lunch. She's the high-monkey-monk here when our Ph. D. is roaming. We have no time to waste. Jordan will see to the trunks and tickets. He always does. Put on your wraps. We'll eat our lunch with them on. It is no use coming back up-stairs. There are but few of the girls left. We'll bid them goodbye down-stairs."

It was not until then that Elizabeth had time to think about going to Mary's home. Then she stopped and suddenly put the question: "Perhaps your mother will not want me, Mary. She-"

"Come on! Of course, she'll want you. She is always glad to have company. She would not be pleased if I came home and left you here alone."

"But it might inconvenience her," she began again.

"Nothing ever inconveniences my mother. She won't allow it to. The only trouble we have is that our girls take sudden notions to go off and marry, and sometimes we do not have anyone to do the work. I think Fanny intended being married during the holidays. If she does, you and I will have a position as dishwasher. Can you wash dishes?"

"Yes; I always do at home."

"Well, we may have to do it. But we will have a good time. When the servants take to themselves wings we all help, and such fun as we do have! A little matter like that never inconveniences mother. Once during court week, our only hotel burned. There was a big case on before father, and he brought all the witnesses and lawyers home. They were there three days. Mother seemed to think it was a joke." Then with a look at Elizabeth, she added with conviction, "A little bit of a girl like you could not inconvenience her."

The Wilson home was at Windburne, a two hours' ride from Exeter with a change of cars at Ridgway.

It was extremely cold when the girls left the Hall, but before they reached Ridgway the mercury had gone several degrees lower.

The road to Windburne from the Ridgway junction is a local affair, narrow gauge, with little rocking cars in which a tall person could scarcely stand upright. Windburne is the county-seat and consequently a place of importance, but Ridgway has little traffic and the roads intersecting there take no pains to make close connections.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the girls reached the junction, a bleak little place with a low-roofed station, black and dirty. A hotel stood at the corner-a rough saloon. An engine with a coach usually waited on this narrow gauge track, but this afternoon there was none. Before she entered the waiting-room Miss Wilson looked about, expressing her surprise at the condition of affairs.

"The worst is yet to come," cried a voice back of them. The girls turned to discover the ticket agent, just about to leave for home.

"The narrow gauge is storm-stayed. You will not be able to go through to-night."

"Then we'll turn about and go to Exeter."

"Not to-night. The last train pulled out just before No. 10 came in. There's a hotel over there-"

"Yes, we smelled it," said Elizabeth seriously.

He laughed, and inquired where they were going. Then he suggested a plan. The hotel was not a suitable place in which to spend the night, and they could not return to Exeter; but he would find for them a trustworthy driver who would take them safely to Windburne.

There was no choice. Mary accepted his offer. The girls stayed in the dingy waiting-room until he returned with a sleigh, horses and driver.

"This man will take you there safely," he said, with a nod toward the driver. "He knows the road and knows, too, how to handle horses to get the most out of them." He assisted the girls into the sleigh, tucking the robes well about them. A moment later, they were speeding along the country road. The sleighing was fine but the wind had a clear sweep over the bare fields, and it had grown much colder. They began to shiver in spite of their heavy wraps.

"We are over half-way there," encouraged Mary. "The farmhouse we have just passed is six miles from Ridgway. I know the roads about here. This is beautiful in summer time. Landis Stoner lives in the last farmhouse along this road. After we pass there, we won't see another for five miles, and when we do it will be Windburne. There, you can catch a glimpse of the place now."

"Couldn't we stop and get warm?" asked Elizabeth, her teeth chattering. "My feet are numb!"

"Yes; perhaps it would be better. We'll get Mrs. Stoner to heat bricks for our feet. She's very hospitable, and will make us comfortable." She leaned over to speak to the driver, requesting him to stop at the Stoner place.

Elizabeth was too cold to look about her as they entered the house. She was conscious only that an immense beech was stretching its bare boughs before the doorway, then someone was leading her to an easy chair, removing her wraps and rubbing her hands to make them warm. In a few minutes she was herself. Mrs. Stoner had brought them hot coffee, and was now putting bricks into the fireplace.

Elizabeth looked upon her in surprise. This was not the style of woman she had pictured in her mind as Landis' mother. She was a faded, slender little body, mild and gentle in manner and voice. One felt that she was refined and had devoted the best of her life to serving others. She was dressed in a plain dark calico, which had seen better days, yet its absolute cleanliness and the band of white at her throat gave her an air of being well-dressed.

The room, evidently the best in the house, was homey and comfortable. There was an open fireplace big enough to accommodate a four-foot log, a bright rag carpet, and some wooden rockers with easy cushions. The windows had white sash curtains. In one were pots of blooming geraniums.

"I have never been at Exeter," Mrs. Stoner said. "Of course, I have heard of it all my life. As a young girl, I used to dream what a fine thing it would be to go there to school. But it was not to be. Landis, however, is having that privilege, and I am very thankful. Miss Rice-you have met her; every one hereabouts has-thinks that every girl should have a little more than they get in public schools. She's made it possible for Landis to go."

Their hostess then brought out some pictures Landis had sent home-kodak views of the girls, their rooms, and the campus.

"You see," she added with a smile, "although I have never been at Exeter, I know it well. Landis writes of the teachers and her girl friends until I feel I know them thoroughly."

As the mother continued, her pale face lighting up, Elizabeth saw Landis in a different light. The girl was evidently devoted to her mother, if one could judge from the numerous letters and the many little souvenirs from school displayed.

"It was dull for Landis here," she continued. "There is no company for miles, and only her father and I at home. She did not want to leave us. But I told her we were used to the quiet and were company for each other. I miss her, of course, but it would have been selfish to have kept her here. She must live her own life and have her own experiences, and I can't expect her to be satisfied with what satisfies me."

The hot coffee had made them comfortable; the bricks in the grate were hot, and the time had come to start. Solicitous of their welfare, Mrs. Stoner brought extra wraps, warming them at the open fire, then securely pinning them about the girls. She came to see them off and Elizabeth, with a sudden impulse, kissed her warmly.

When they were safely in the sleigh again and speeding over the frozen roads, she turned to Mary with the explanation: "Do you know, she's really homesick to see Landis? I couldn't help kissing her; she's so gentle and sweet that I could easily love her."

She turned her head to catch a last glimpse and to wave farewell to the little woman standing in the doorway of the humble home which Landis had called "The Beeches."

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