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   Chapter 11 THE PROUD, HUMBLED.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 23023

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


After the midwinter holidays, the question of conducting examinations came up. Dr. Kitchell had decided that, in view of Miss Hobart's refusing to take the examination, she could not enter his classes again until she had explained matters to Dr. Morgan and secured permission from her. Elizabeth dreaded talking matters over with Dr. Morgan no more than with her father. Upon her return to Exeter, she immediately visited the president's office, and explained why she had refused to take the examination. Dr. Morgan was in a lenient frame of mind. She not only forgave Elizabeth her hasty act, but took time to explain to her that this was a custom old as examinations themselves, and a necessity. The explanation satisfied Elizabeth's wounded feelings but did not alter her view of the method. She told Dr. Morgan of the conference the girls had held in her room the night before the holidays and of the plan they had formed which, with the permission of the principal, they meant to carry out.

Dr. Morgan listened to the plan as Elizabeth gave it in detail, then replied: "This much can be said of the plan, Miss Hobart. If it proves a success, it will be a benefit to the students and the school. If it fails, we are just where we were before-nothing gained or lost. You may try it. But just a word of advice. Select as your leaders girls in whom the others have confidence; those who may be trusted to do right; however unpleasant it may be. Young girls may laugh at and seemingly admire a smart bravado of manner and sly deceit, but when it comes to being led, they want none of these. A dozen trustworthy agents will be worth more than a hundred who are not."

Such advice Miss Cresswell had given Elizabeth the evening of the meeting. She had already acted upon it according to her best lights, though it was no easy matter to decide whom to choose. She and her friends worked slowly. They wished the reformation to be the outcome of deliberate thought, rather than of impetuous emotion.

Nora O'Day was one of its staunch supporters. At every opportunity she advocated the acceptance of the new school creed which Elizabeth and Miss Cresswell had drawn up. Considering the part which she had played in the examinations the previous spring, her present position was a difficult one. She knew that her strenuous efforts were looked upon by some with suspicion. But she continued. She might have become discouraged had she not known that Miss Cresswell and Elizabeth both understood.

Since that night before the holidays when she had told Elizabeth the cause of her social ostracism, no mention had been made of the subject. There had been no change in Elizabeth's manner toward her. Nora began to believe that Elizabeth cared enough for her to forgive. Her greatest proof of love for Elizabeth was giving her the essays and theses which had been her mother's. The memory of this mother was the only bit of real sentiment that had ever come into the girl's life. She was fond of her father for he had always been kind to her. As a child, she had idolized him. But as she grew old enough to learn what character meant, the childish faith died. She could not put the feeling into words. She was scarcely conscious that her attitude toward him had changed. But at Exeter she had learned to blush at the way in which his wealth had been gained. She spoke of him, but never of his business. She looked upon the simple gifts and loving letters which Elizabeth received from home with a feeling very much like envy.

Before the Easter holidays, Mrs. Hobart sent Elizabeth a simple school suit of her own making. Joe Ratowsky carried it down to Exeter. So many accidents had occurred on the dinky-road that it had been abandoned until spring. The mines were closed; and the operators were making no effort to open them.

Nora was in the room when Elizabeth spread out her new frock on the bed.

"Look at the button-holes!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Mother always did make beautiful button-holes. And here," seizing a smaller bundle and unwrapping it, "if she hasn't embroidered me two lay-over collars to go with it! Mother always seems to know what I want."

She was already before the mirror laying the bits of embroidered linen in place to see if they fitted.

Her companion stood by, looking on. She had made no comment. Her expression was not cheerful. Turning suddenly about, Elizabeth saw the dubious look.

"You don't like it?" she cried. Then, "I suppose it does look very cheap beside yours, but-" There was no complaint in her tone.

"Cheap? I wasn't thinking of that. I was only wishing I had one made as that was made, by someone who took the trouble because they cared for me." Her voice was tearful. In a moment she might have been crying, but she hurried to her own room. Her new spring dress had come the day before. She had spread it out on the couch to show Elizabeth, and it still lay there. She took it up in her hands, inspecting with care every hook and bit of trimming. It was beautifully made and of handsome material. But Nora O'Day was not satisfied. She missed more and more the mother she had never known. She coveted the plain, simple gown which loving hands had made for her friend.

Elizabeth wasted no time in putting her frock into use. Dressing immediately, she went over to Landis' room to talk over the plan of examinations. Landis had been one of the last interviewed. She was not what might be called a "charter member." Therefore, it was not surprising that she had not shown a great amount of enthusiasm when the matter was broached to her. Playing second fiddle did not suit her ambitious temperament. She had promised to consider the matter.

That promise had been given a week previously. Elizabeth, who decided most questions upon the spur of the moment, thought a week was sufficient. Upon entering Miss Stoner's room, she put the question at once.

"Well, Landis, what are you going to do about joining us?"

Landis looked serious. She sat silent for a few minutes, her gaze fixed upon a design in the rug, as though she wished to consider well before replying. At last she spoke and her voice expressed self-confidence and authority.

"You know me well enough, Elizabeth, to know that I'm always on the side of what is right. I have thought the matter over and have decided that it is worthy of success. I do hope it will succeed. That, of course, depends upon those who are backing it. Yet I can not put my name to it. Now," with a serious and most impressive air such as Landis only could assume, "do not misunderstand me. It is not that I do not approve of your plan, think it needed and all that, but there is a personal reason why I feel that I cannot join the movement."

"Why,-because you feel that you can not live up to the requirements?" was the brusque question.

"Hardly. I fancy I do whatever I make up my mind to do. I'm sure living up to the requirements would be doing just as I have always done."

"Then what is it?"

Again Landis looked serious. Her expression was that of one who could tell much if they would. Her habit of seeming to weigh her words gave them undue value. Her hearers expected her to express lofty sentiments.

"I hesitated about speaking of the matter to anyone. It is so easy to be misunderstood. I would not have anyone think me a cad; but there are some among your signers whom I object to. I wouldn't care to have my name appear there with that of another girl whom I have in mind."

To Elizabeth who blurted out everything, and who was frank and out-spoken, there was nothing more distasteful than insinuations.

"Whom do you mean, Landis?"

"It is not necessary to say," was the response. "I mentioned the fact only to let you understand that it was not the policy to which I objected. As I said before, I am on the side of right. I wish my influence always to be for good."

"But it is necessary to tell. The girls who signed that first petition to Dr. Morgan are friends of mine. They are girls who stand well in school, and they're popular, every one of them. You cannot make such a statement and think that I'm going to let it pass. I'm not. You've insinuated something against either me or my friends, and you must come straight out and say what it is."

Min, who had been sitting by the window mending a pair of old gloves for Landis, gave a nervous giggle. Any little unpleasantness was painful to her. She stopped sewing to listen to the conversation between the girls. Landis was not nonplussed, whatever the circumstances. She was not offended now by Elizabeth's words, but was surprised. She appeared shocked that Elizabeth should be crude enough to show vehemence.

"What a little spitfire you are, Elizabeth! When you're a few years older you'll learn not to express yourself so strongly. As to your knowing who the girl is to whom I object, there is no reason for my keeping silent. I have not mentioned her name because I was considering her feelings and reputation. But since you insist, I'll tell you. I must emphatically object to having my name published over Exeter Hall with Nora O'Day's."

"Why?" Elizabeth asked calmly enough now, yet she was exceedingly annoyed.

"Why? What a question to ask! Surely you know how dishonorably she acted last spring! Someone must have told you. You and Mary Wilson are such friends."

"Yes; someone told me, but it wasn't Mary Wilson. She doesn't do that sort of thing. Nora O'Day told me. Are you afraid to join the same set with her?"

"Not afraid in one sense of the word. To be sure, she would not influence me an iota. I might mingle with her and her kind and be none the worse for it. Do not think I am considering myself in the matter. I have in mind the younger set of girls who are so easily influenced. They know the story of Miss O'Day's methods in examination. What would they think of seeing my name in connection with hers?-that I would countenance anything that was dishonorable! If not that, at least, like me, they might be suspicious of a reform that had among its leaders a girl who had been publicly reprimanded for cheating."

During the talk, Elizabeth had been leaning backward against the study-table, her hands behind her, supporting her weight.

She paused before replying to Landis. Then she asked: "Do you believe in treating every one who has done wrong as you intend treating Nora?"

"Surely. To treat them otherwise would be an open acknowledgment that we are willing to overlook deceit and fraud. No one can afford to do that. You must remember the stand Dr. Morgan takes on such matters. You have heard her lecture often enough to know that she does not countenance treating sin and crime lightly. Why, in her last chapel-talk she said that while some amusements might be legitimate and proper for us, we must refrain from them because of our influencing others who might be harmed. I'm sure I could find no better person to follow than Dr. Morgan."

"I do not think her words applied to this instance. At least I would not have taken it so. Nora did cheat last spring; but perhaps she is sorry for it. You do not know but that she looks upon it now with more scorn than you do."

"I hope so. I hope Exeter has had some influence upon her."

"Don't you think, Landis, the proper thing to do, when we know she is ashamed of what she did last spring, is to help her all we can? It seems so unforgiving to be remembering always the little mean actions. I think she

has suffered enough as it is. I don't see what is to be gained by slighting her now."

"Perhaps you don't; but this is your first year at Exeter and you have lots more to learn. When you have been here two years more, perhaps your ethical standard will be higher."

"Until I am capable of copying other people's essays and passing them off for my own." Elizabeth's lips had grown white as Landis spoke. Never before in all her life had she been as angry as now. It was not alone Landis' words which hurt her, but the girl's manner and tone, which were most insulting.

For an instant Landis' face grew crimson. Elizabeth's remark had struck home. Her embarrassment lasted only for a moment. She was her cool, confident self again.

"I hope you'll never be capable of that," was the rejoinder, spoken lightly as she moved to her desk and took up a pencil preparatory to writing. "Exeter is scarcely a place where one learns such methods. One must have brought the disposition for such things with her."

Elizabeth was not deceived by the light tone of the remark. Having entered into the discussion, she did not intend to retreat with lowered flag. However, it was scarcely fair to Landis to put her at a disadvantage in Min Kean's presence. While Landis was speaking, the situation presented itself clearly to Elizabeth's mind. She turned to Miss Kean.

"Min, would you care to go over to call on my roommate for a few minutes? You'll find some home-made candy which mother sent with Joe Ratowsky. I wish to speak with Landis, and it's really too personal for even you to hear."

"Why, certainly! I'll take the gloves along and finish my mending there. But don't quarrel while I'm gone."

"Scarcely," was the reply from Landis. "I never have quarreled with anyone and I have no desire to begin now." She was much taller than before. She was really quite an impressive person when she was on her dignity.

"Well?" she asked, turning to Elizabeth as the door closed after Min. Her manner and facial expression added, "If you have anything to say, you little insignificant member of the Middlers, say it. Such an august personage as myself has no time to waste in conversation with a little girl."

Elizabeth did not falter. "I did not wish Min to hear what I have to say. She looks up to you as the literary light at Exeter, and I see no reason to undeceive her. I've known these little facts I'm about to mention since last holidays; but I've told no one. I would never have brought up the subject for discussion, even with you, if you had not been so bitter against Nora. It seems so perfectly ridiculous for you to criticise her for cheating once in examination when you've kept up the same system for months."

"I don't know what you mean!"

"You will soon if you do not now. As I have already said, I would have kept this to myself had you not been insulting to me ever since I came in this morning. I won't be patronized by anyone that I have no confidence in. Every one at Exeter praises your fine essays. I used to, but I don't any more."

"What is the matter with you this morning, Elizabeth? I insulting to you! The idea was farthest from my thoughts. I'm nervous. I suppose that accounts for my speaking so you misunderstood me. I'm really working very hard. I'm anxious to make a creditable passing mark, and then I have Min to coach. You know she does not grasp lessons so quickly as you and some of the brighter ones."

But the open flattery did not lead Elizabeth away from the subject. She had grown years wiser in the six months spent at Exeter. Her knowledge had cost her much of her girlish confidence.

"I-" she began.

Landis, determined to ignore unpleasant subjects, interrupted with, "Have you ever been out to the Adams' farm? I suppose you haven't, since this is your first spring at Exeter. There's a big woods near the house. It is filled with arbutus. I suppose it is beginning to leaf now. Min and I go out every spring to spend a day and night. We come home laden with arbutus. We're going again a week from this coming Saturday. I wish you and Mary Wilson would go along. We get a livery rig and drive out. Can't you go with us?"

"No, I-"

"It shall not cost you a cent. Min and I will pay the livery bill."

"Oh, I think I could manage to pay my share," dryly. "It was not that which made me refuse to accept. I feel in this as you do about Nora O'Day. I wish to tell you about what I learned last holidays." She talked hurriedly, allowing Landis no opportunity to interrupt. "Nora O'Day by chance mentioned that you came to see her and read some of her mother's theses. Nora did not suspect you. She thought you were inclined to be literary, and felt pleased that you approved of the work her mother did years ago. That is all she thought about it. I did more thinking while Nora was telling me. I thought that Landis Stoner must be a little mite deceitful or she would not be critical of Nora when others were present and yet slip in to see her during study-hours. It seemed-well-it seemed downright deceitful to me.

"I heard you deliver an oration in the chapel. You know that you speak well, and so you are in every public affair. At least, you have been ever since I've been at Exeter. Your orations have been fine. I thought you were wonderfully bright until the Christmas holidays. When I was leaving, Nora brought me some of her mother's essays to read. I read them while I was at Windburne."

She paused and looked straight at Landis. Landis had no words to reply. She stood, dignified and erect by the study-table, toying with a silver paper-knife. The silence lasted for some minutes. Then feeling that Elizabeth was waiting for some word she gave a non-committal, "Well?"

"But it isn't 'well.' It is anything but 'well'. It's what I call decidedly bad. The instant I read those essays, I discovered that your work was cribbed. You had read-"

"What a fuss you make about nothing at all, Elizabeth! To hear you talk, one might think that I was guilty of wholesale robbery, or murder, or some other horrible crime. You young girls who are new to school-life and have had no experience outside your own little town do not understand these matters. You are, if I may say it, a little narrow in your views. You know only one way, and have the notion that there can be no other. You say I read those essays. Why, of course I did. They were good, too, and I received a great deal of help from them. Every one who writes even a little bit makes an effort to read all the good things along the same lines. That is the only way one can develop talent. I got some excellent ideas from Mrs. O'Day's essays. Is there anything criminal in that? If there is, then we must lock up our histories and reference books when we have any article to prepare for classwork."

"If it were receiving ideas merely, I should scarcely mention the matter to you; or even had you taken the ideas wholesale and expressed them in your own words, I should have said nothing at all. But you did not do that. Landis, you know you did not, and you cannot convince me by a few fine words that you did. The oration you delivered in chapel, the last rhetorical before the holidays, is almost word for word like the original. You gave me your copy to write up for our society paper. I have it, and also the original. If you are still doubtful of my statement, I'll go with you to Dr. Morgan and give them to her to read."

"Oh, I believe you," was the reply given in an indifferent manner. "That was the one 'Character Sketches in Shakespeare.' I had forgotten about that. We were rushed with work. I remember now. I had no time to write an oration suitable for a public affair. I remember I did commit one of those old ones. But I do not think I claimed it was original. You people just took that for granted. If you had taken the trouble to ask me, I would have told you. I do not know that it is my fault that you were deceived."

"Well, Landis," said Elizabeth slowly, "you are surely an adept in slipping out of trouble. Now, Nora O'Day did wrong and made no attempt to deny it. She bore her punishment without a complaint. Your words do not deceive me one iota. They would have done so six months ago. But that time's gone. It really does me good to speak so plainly to you now. I have felt deceitful all along in knowing about those papers, and then listening quietly while you criticized every one else at Exeter-girls who would not be guilty of doing what you have done. We will not discuss the subject further, but do not think that you are deceiving me. You are not. You copied, not one, but most of your orations and theses. But do not worry. Continue to copy if you wish. It is none of my affairs, and I shall tell no one. Now I'm through talking with you, and I feel a great deal better for telling you what I know." Turning, she walked toward the door. "I'm going back to my room to get to work now. I'll tell Min that she can come back if she wishes to."

"But, Elizabeth, you came to talk about the method of examinations," said Landis sweetly. She did not lift her eyes to meet the direct glance of her caller. She still continued to play with the paper-knife, running it up and down the felt of the table, making depressions in geometrical designs. "Since you feel as you do about Nora O'Day, that she is sorry and all that, and since she is a friend of yours, I'll withdraw my objections to her. Of course, I feel as you do. It is not right to judge anyone. I'll not remember her past deeds against her. Bring along your paper when you go into class, and I'll put down my name, and I'll promise for Min, too."

Elizabeth wheeled suddenly about. "I do not wish you to sign it. We shall manage the affair very well without you."

"Just as you please." Here Landis' self-confidence forsook her. She could not believe it possible that any girl would be generous enough to keep to herself such a matter as that of the essay-copying. Should Elizabeth tell but one or two, the affair would soon become public property. Her name would be mentioned with scorn throughout Exeter. Already she saw herself ostracized as she had helped to ostracize Nora O'Day. But if such a condition would result from her dishonesty, she would leave The Hall at once. She was much too proud, too ambitious, to allow anyone to ignore her. She stepped toward Elizabeth, holding out her hands appealingly. "Elizabeth Hobart, don't, I beg of you, let anyone else know of this. Promise me you will tell no one and I'll do whatever you ask me to."

"All I ask of you is to let my friends go free of your criticism. You lead a certain set. Whatever you do, they will also do. I wish you to make them drop that old, worn-out subject of Nora O'Day's cheating."

"I will-I promise you that."

"You and Min need not sign our petition to Dr. Morgan or the pledge we send in. They are to be ready before to-morrow-but you are to give me your promise to live up to the requirements."

"I'll do that. I have never taken advantage in examinations. They have always been easy enough without that."

Elizabeth knew this to be quite true. Landis was one of the strongest members of the Senior class and she worked hard.

"Then we understand each other," said Elizabeth. "From this time on, we'll be just as before. No one need know we have had this talk." She passed into the hall at these words, leaving Landis alone to reflect upon their conversation.

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