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Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 20650

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

When the Seniors and the Middlers, at the close of the spring semester, entered the class-room to take their examination in trigonometry, they found Dr. Kitchell the only member of the faculty present. He remained long enough to pass the small, printed slips of questions, and to explain the manner in which he wished the work done. A smile of relief passed over the class as he took his departure. Soon pencils and rulers were busy. The sound of their moving was all that was heard in the class-room. No word was spoken. The work continued for over an hour. Then one member, having finished, arose and, placing her papers on the table which stood near the front, quitted the room. One by one, as they completed the examination, the others followed her example.

Elizabeth was among the last to leave. Her face was beaming with satisfaction at the spirit in which her plan had been carried out. In the main hall she met Dr. Kitchell.

"The girls are all through," she exclaimed, a thrill of pleasureable excitement showing in her voice. "There was not a word spoken, nor communication of any sort."

"It is truly the only way to conduct an examination," he answered, turning to walk with her down the hall to the dormitory. "The credit should be given to you, Miss Hobart. This police-duty, which so insulted you last fall, was not pleasant work for a teacher; but custom makes slaves of us all. Nothing will please us better than knowing that Exeter can have honest examinations without faculty supervision. We have wished for just such conditions as this, but they seemed rather to be dreamed of than realized. An instructor can do little in such matters. The desire must come from the students. We give you, Miss Hobart, the credit of this change."

"I do not know that I should have it," was the reply. "It is not that I was more sensitive or had higher ideals than the other girls. It was that they were accustomed to such supervision since the days when they entered school, while it was all new to me. And being new, it impressed me greatly. You see," she added, looking up at Dr. Kitchell as though she did not wish him to misinterpret her leaving his class-room that day of the first examination, "outside of class, you would not have thought of such a thing as questioning our word or our honesty, yet by your way of conducting an examination, you did both."

"That is true in part. I questioned the honor of some. Class honor, I should say. But there is yet another side to that. Students who would scorn to be other than strictly fair and upright outside of class have stooped to all manner of subterfuge to pass an examination. All sense of moral responsibility evaporated the instant they took that little slip of printed questions in their hands."

"So I have learned," said Elizabeth. She could not refrain from smiling. Dr. Kitchell had a jocular manner. His words, even in the discussions of the most serious matters, had a touch of humor. "That is what surprised me most. The girls are Christians, that is, the greater number are. But one would have thought it was a reform school. I think those days are gone. Every Senior and Middler is pledged to conduct examinations as they were conducted this morning, and we are heartily glad."

"So say we all of us," was the cordial response.

They had come to the hall leading to the girls' dormitory. So far and no farther could Dr. Kitchell walk with Miss Hobart. Elizabeth hurried to her room. Loud tones came from her apartment. Opening the door quietly, she peered in as though half afraid of what she might encounter. Mary Wilson was pacing up and down the room. Her head was high. Her chest was expanded. A glow of rhetorical enthusiasm was upon her cheeks and in her eye. In one hand, she held several sheets of typewritten paper toward which at intervals her glance wandered. The other hand sawed the air in impressive, if not graceful, gesticulations.

She heeded not the entrance of her roommate. She continued orating in tones which she was striving to make full and round. She gave a hurried glance at her paper, strode up the room, flung out her hand and roared forth, "I'm charged with pride and ambition-"

"What did they charge you for it?"

"The charge is true-"

"Well, then, Mary, all I can advise is to pay the bill and not say anything more about it. If you haven't change enough, I can lend-"

"And I glory in its truth."

Sinking back in her chair as though this was too much to be borne, Elizabeth sighed deeply, then said, "I'm surely surprised at you, Mary. Affairs have come to a pretty pass when you're in debt and take glory in it."

Mary laughed, tossed aside her paper, and coming over to her roommate, sat down beside her. "It's my new oration. Miss Brosius called me into her office, and gave me this to learn. It is really very fine-effective, if my voice was not quite so high-pitched. Listen, I've learned so much already." She tossed back her locks and assumed a rostrum manner, "'I'm charged with pride and ambition. The charge is true and I glory in its truth. Whoever achieved anything great in letters, art or arms who was not ambitious? C?sar was not more ambitious than Cicero, it was only in another way.' That's all I've learned. Miss Brosius went over so much with me that I would get into the spirit of the piece. I wish you might hear her read it! She's such a dainty little creature, but she looked tall when she was rolling this out."

"What is it for? You've had all your oratory work long ago."

"This is especially for commencement. You see, we don't have the old-style exercises. The Dean from some other school or some eminent divine comes to deliver a lecture. There's music wherever there's a loophole to slip it in. Then the class in cap and gown parade across the stage and receive their diplomas from Dr. Morgan. Oh, it's all very fine and elegant and all that. But there's no fun in it. The element of humor is lacking, and after an hour of it, the simple dignity of it palls on one. And as for the dresses! Most of the girls wear simple white shirtwaist suits under their gowns. There are receptions, to be sure; but the Middlers and Freshmen attend them, and dress as much as the Seniors do. The only opportunity a Senior has to trail a long gown after her is on Class-day. Then we have all the old orthodox orations and music with a two-act farce thrown in, and we may wear what we please. And let me announce right here, Elizabeth Hobart, your roommate will appear in the handsomest white evening dress she can get-train, short sleeves, high-heeled shoes, and hair piled on top of my head."

Elizabeth looked at the short locks, barely touching the speaker's shoulders. She laughed.

"You think it can't be done!" exclaimed Mary, with the characteristic toss of her head. "But it can. I'm going to have a hairdresser. Yes, indeed. When I assume the role, I mean to carry it out. Wait until you see Mrs. Jones. She can take two hairs and twist them about until they look like nothing else so much as Paderewski. She has fine switches, too." This was added after a moment's thought, and confidentially, as though it was not information to be passed around. Then with a sigh of satisfaction, "One can work wonders with switches."

"You're not to mention to anyone what I am to do for Class-day. Those matters are supposed to be secrets. Of course, you could not help knowing, for I must practice here."

In the days following, it was made plain that Elizabeth could not have been kept from the knowledge of what Mary was doing. From morning until evening, at all times, opportune and otherwise, Mary orated. When her throat grew husky from her efforts, she compared samples of white tulle, and point d'esprit, and embroidered mull. She insisted upon Elizabeth's opinion in regard to each one of them.

"I've learned one thing," said Elizabeth. "I never knew there were more than a hundred varieties of white material. But-"

"There are thousands of them. I've discovered that this last few weeks. One thing is gained. You do increase your vocabulary. You must have different adjectives to express your admiration of each kind. What do you Middlers plan to do commencement week?"

Elizabeth looked down her nose. She could appear very innocent when she chose. "There was some mention made of a banquet," she replied. "There was talk also of having a caterer from town."

"Well, I guess not!" exclaimed Mary, arising. Her eyes were flashing with the spirit of school warfare. "I think you Middlers will think again about having anything so fine. Never in the history of Exeter have the Middlers given a banquet, and they shall not now. We shall keep them from it. We'll treat you as the Seniors treated us last year. We, too, had a notion that we would give a banquet. We were so confident that we telephoned our order to the caterer; but we didn't have the banquet."

"Didn't he receive the order?" The question was asked in such an innocent, seeking-for-information manner that Mary ought to have been suspicious, but she was not.

"Oh, yes, he received the order and the money to pay for it. We waited in the gym, all togged out in reception gowns, but the caterer came not. Suddenly it came to us that there must be some mistake. We set out to hunt for the banquet. We found its remains up in the laboratory where the Seniors had been feasting at our expense. No, indeed, Elizabeth," Mary shook her head slowly, "no Middlers hold banquets at Exeter Hall. It isn't countenanced."

"We may try it, anyhow."

"I hope you will. I should like to feast my friends at the Middlers' expense."

Elizabeth brought up the subject of the banquet again and again. Apparently inadvertently, she let drop many little points about the affair which were eagerly seized upon by her roommate. Mary was surprised at Elizabeth's want of discretion. She seemed prone to let many a class secret escape.

It was evident the Middlers were laying plans for something. In groups of two and three, they surreptitiously visited each other. They gathered in hallways for whispered conferences. The Seniors were not blind. Each had her appointed work, and when the Middlers gathered together, there was a Senior concealed near by, with ears and eyes open. If the Midd

lers suspected that they were being shadowed, they made no signs.

"It's a banquet, I'm sure," confided Mary Wilson to Landis and Min. "We have our class exercises on Tuesday evening. The time was set for then, but Elizabeth Hobart and some of the others had that changed. They wish to attend our exercises. So it will be Wednesday evening. Elizabeth was writing when I went into the room. Like a flash, she covered the letter; but I saw enough to help us out. The letter was addressed to Achenbach. I saw the word 'Wednesday.'"

"That settles it; for Nancy Eckdahl was making out a menu in chapel yesterday, and the Middlers who take water-colors are painting place-cards."

"What had best be done? I'd like to have them send on the banquet and lead the delivery men off somewhere else."

"But, Mary, that will not be possible. Most of the Middlers know what happened last year. They'll keep a watch on us, and if they are wise, they'll send out scouts to meet the caterer at the train," said Mame Welch.

"They shall not banquet if we take it from them by force!" Then suddenly her face lighted up. "I have it. Landis, you must do this part. You have such a don't-interfere-with-me manner that Achenbach will do exactly as you wish. Get permission to go into town. Go to Achenbach's and tell them that the Seniors have discovered where the banquet is to be served, that you have come to give new orders, as the Seniors are determined to appropriate the banquet for themselves."

There were a dozen Seniors in the room. They all gave their approval to Miss Wilson's plan. Then they discussed it in detail. The laundry, big and bare, would be an unsuspected place. There were ironing boards and folding tables that would do to serve on.

"And if they are not enough," exclaimed Mary Wilson, "there's the floor."

Landis received her instructions. She was to go into the city the following morning and visit Achenbach, the caterer. She was to be as self-confident as possible. He might have been instructed not to tell anyone where and when his services were ordered. Landis was not to be led off by his assumed ignorance. She was to tell him plainly that she referred to the order sent in by Miss Hobart the day before.

"Just raise your head high and look straight at him," advised Mary Wilson. "Scare him into it, Landis."

The following morning, according to plan, Landis, dressed in the trimmest of tailor-made gowns, went to the city. She visited Achenbach's and did as the girls had directed. As had been expected, the clerk pleaded ignorance of such orders as she mentioned. Landis insisted. The clerk then called the proprietor to verify him. If the order had been received, both proprietor and attendant acted their parts well. Landis could obtain no information from them. Yet, to fulfill her errand, still suspecting that they knew more than they would tell, Landis, just as she was going, left orders to have the banquet served in the laundry. "You may think it rather an odd place, Mr. Achenbach; but the Seniors stole the banquet last year. They will do the same now if the opportunity is given them. They will do all they can to mislead the men you send to serve. Pay no attention to orders after this, but have your men go directly to the laundry. They must go around the back way, of course. One of the class will be watching for you."

Still Mr. Achenbach protested that there must be some misunderstanding. He had received no orders from Exeter.

Landis went back to school at once, and recounted her experiences to the girls. Mary Wilson was confident that Elizabeth had sent in the order. They would be on their guard that particular evening, and permit no caterer to enter the Hall unless under their orders.

The Middlers had some plan afoot. If not a banquet-what then? But the Seniors were agreed it was that. Nancy's roommate had found a carefully-written menu. And Landis had surprised another Middler painting menu and place cards. That it was to take place, was evident. But where-when? The group of Seniors separated, each admonishing the others to watch the Middlers, and not permit them to talk together alone.

Mary Wilson's especial duty was to restrain Elizabeth from holding communication with the others. With true diplomacy, she kept her roommate busy so that she had no time to visit other rooms.

"Just hear me go over my oration once more, Elizabeth, please," she would say. "I'm apt to get careless if I recite without an audience. Sit over there by the window. I'll stand here. Now, don't be afraid to tell me if you think I might improve any part."

And Elizabeth would patiently sit and listen. She showed great interest. She followed closely every word. She lost no gesture, no facial expression. "I think I could repeat it word for word," she said, when Mary had practiced for the last time, the morning of Class-day. "I could make every gesture you do. I'm really looking forward to this evening."

Mary's face flushed with pleasure. "I'm glad you like it. I hope it will pass off well. You see, the chapel will be crowded. The galleries are always filled; and, visitors are glad to get standing room below. It's our best day, and I wish to do myself and the school credit." Then suddenly remembering that she was to find out what she could of the Middlers' plans, she asked suddenly, "Have you any engagement for to-morrow evening, Elizabeth? What do you say about getting up a tally-ho party, our own set and a few visitors, and driving out by moonlight?"

Elizabeth turned her head aside as though she did not wish Mary to see her embarrassment. She hesitated before replying. "I-I-don't believe I can, Mary."

"Have you any engagement?"

"Well,-Oh, I don't know what to say. Please don't ask me."

Mary smiled to herself, then turned back to the mirror for the better arrangement of her hair. Her convictions were strengthened. Whatever the Middlers had on hand, to-morrow night was the time for the doings. When to-morrow night came-! Mary smiled at the thought. To-morrow night would find every Middler followed by a Senior.

The week had begun with the excitement usually attendant upon commencement. Relatives and friends began to appear on Monday. The continuous flow of guests taxed to the limit the accommodations of the Hall. Bedrooms were doing double duty. Meals were taken in relays. Every one bore with exceedingly good humor the little inconveniences incident to such an overflow.

Dr. Shull of the Irvington Female College lectured to the class Tuesday morning. This was followed by the presentation of diplomas. The graduates in caps and gowns marched through the chapel and across the stage. So far as commencement proper was concerned, this was their first and last appearance.

"But wait until this evening, and the Thursday night promenade! We'll shine then," Mary Wilson had whispered confidentially to her friends. "Every girl in the class has done herself proud about her new gowns-one for the prom and one for to-night, not to mention a few extras for the tree-planting and the rose parade."

The eventful evening came at last. Mrs. Jones bearing extra switches and fancy combs, her ebony face wreathed in smiles, had already arrived, and stood waiting Miss Wilson's pleasure. The much-talked-of dress of shimmering silk, over which point d'esprit hung like a cloud, lay over the bed ready for its wearer.

The girls were hurrying, as the time was growing short. Elizabeth stood ready to slip into the simple white frock which Joe Ratowsky had brought from Bitumen a few days before. She took up her dress and then laid it down again, and turned to the mirror pretending to put a stray lock in place.

"Hurry, you'll have no time to waste, Elizabeth. You must get in early if you wish a seat."

Just then a knock came at the door. Without waiting an invitation, Nancy thrust her head in. She had not yet dressed; but was wearing a bright kimono, her yellow hair streaming over her shoulders.

"Mary, hurry up to the chapel anteroom. Oh, don't wait to dress. There's a change in the program and every one who is to take part must come at once. Hurry! They are waiting for you."

Picking up the belt she had just discarded, and fastening it as she walked, Mary hurriedly quitted the room. The anteroom was a small place fitted up like a parlor, at the side of the stage and on a level with it. A single pane of glass fixed solidly in the wall gave the occupants a view of the stage, yet they could not be seen by the audience. It was here the teacher of oratory sat during the performance. At times, it served as a dressing-room.

The curtain was down. In order to save time and steps, Mary ran across the stage, between the scenery. At her hurried knock a key was turned, and the door of the anteroom opened wide enough to allow her to slip in.

"Hush!" the doorkeeper whispered, carefully locking the door after admitting her.

Landis, Mame, Anna Cresswell and a dozen others were already there.

"Are we all here now?" whispered the doorkeeper. They began to count. The light was so dim that they could barely distinguish faces.

"Fourteen," said Landis. "That is all."

"Be sure," admonished the keeper of the keys in sepulchral tones. "I would not for worlds have one absent."

"That's all." "Fourteen." "We're all here." "Do tell us so that we can hurry back to dress!" came from the members of the group.

At this, the girl with the keys drew her chair close to a second door leading into a dark, unfinished attic. Over the door which was nailed shut was a small transom. As she mounted the chair, Mary Wilson for the first time recognized her as a Miss Bowman, a special student in music, neither a Middler nor a Senior.

"Then," said Miss Bowman, lifting her hand with the key in it to the open transom, and turning to face the girls, "then we'll stay here." With that she dropped the key into the attic. They were prisoners; she, with them.

"It's those Middlers," groaned Mary Wilson. "We might have known; and my little innocent Elizabeth is at the bottom of this."

"Console yourselves," advised Miss Bowman. "When the curtain goes up, you will have a fine view of the Senior exercises. They will be well worth the price you've paid for admission."

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