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   Chapter 13 IMPRISONMENT.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 13691

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Elizabeth turned the key in the lock the instant Mary stepped from the room. Then, as quickly as possible, she got into her roommate's white gown. Mrs. Jones, with a broad smile playing over her ebony features, stood by with pins and ribbons. From her mysterious boxes, that Mary supposed contained the switches with which one could do wonders, she brought forth a wig of yellow-brown hair.

"'Pears like this 'ud do. The other young lady hab hair what just come to her shoulders."

"It is just fine," exclaimed Elizabeth, "as near the color of Miss Wilson's as I can hope for." She studied herself in the mirror as Mrs. Jones adjusted the wig. "I know every gesture that Mary makes except this." She gave her head a toss, shaking back the fringe of hair about her shoulders.

She hurried dressing for it was almost time for the curtain to rise. "There!" she cried. "I'm ready. I hope the way is clear for me."

Hastening to the door, she peered into the hall. Not a 'noble Senior' was in sight. The girls flitting through the dormitories were Middlers and Freshmen. Confident that she was safe from interference, Elizabeth, her white gown trailing after her, started forth for the chapel. Nancy Eckdahl and Mame Welch joined her at the foot of the stairway.

"Don't I look like a boiled lobster?" cried Nancy. "But this was the only dress anywhere near my size. It's Nora O'Day's. Isn't it handsome? It is unfortunate that she is so dark and I so fair. But it was this or nothing. Think of a yellow-haired girl in an orange-colored gown."

The effect was startling. Nora, with her dark eyes and coloring, would have looked like a picture in this vivid orange; but Nancy, with her blue eyes and flaxen hair, looked anything but picturesque.

"But you are comfortable," gasped Mame, in short breaths. "If Min Kean had had a little more flesh on her bones when this dress was fitted, I would have felt better now. Nancy had to use a shoe-hook to fasten the buttons."

"Have you seen Laura Downs? She looks exactly like Landis. The dress fits except it is a little short in the waist; but Azzie pinned up the skirt. It doesn't look bad. She was in our room before she went down. And she 'did' Landis to perfection-that same haughty manner that Landis has when she means to impress one."

As they moved along, their number increased. The leading spirits of the Middler class were there, each decked out in the new gown that some Senior, whose manner and tricks of speech she had been studying for weeks to impersonate, would have worn had she not been locked up in the little greenroom near the stage of the chapel.

There had been no Middler of sufficient height and dignity to impersonate Dr. Morgan. Yet she was a light of so great magnitude that she could not be ignored. Miss Hogue, a special student, a girl devoted to the classics, and a writer for all the school papers, had been pressed into service. Dr. Morgan when she had appeared upon the rostrum during the commencement exercises had worn a gown of black lace, its sombre tone relieved by cuffs and collar of cream duchess. She was very slender and erect. Her mass of brown hair, touched with gray, was always dressed in the same style. During all the years she had been at Exeter, it had been worn in a great coil on the top of her head. Dr. Morgan was no longer young. During the last year, she had been compelled to use eye-glasses. These were attached to her bodice by a gold chain. As she talked they were held in her hand the greater part of the time. In physique, Miss Hogue was Dr. Morgan's double. Robed in the black gown, which she had borrowed from Dr. Morgan's maid, and with her hair powdered, she could have easily passed as the doctor herself.

Miss Bowman, in company with her fourteen Seniors, sat in the greenroom and waited. There was no lack of conversation, although Miss Bowman took little part in it. However, she was an interested listener, and laughed heartily at the remarks of her charges. They threatened her; they cajoled; they flattered; they offered her all the good things that could be laid at a Senior's feet during Commencement. When these availed nothing, they expressed themselves strongly. At intervals of a few minutes, one of the girls would try the doors, shaking them, and pounding with her fists on the panels.

"There are other Seniors somewhere," cried Mary Wilson. "If we could make them hear, we 'd soon be out of here. We'd stop the Middlers' banquet."

Miss Bowman laughed. "Do you still think it is a banquet? Well, it isn't. They hadn't the least idea of giving one."

"But I saw the letter that Elizabeth Hobart sent to Achenbach, the caterer. Isn't that proof enough?" And Mary looked as if, had this been a legal case, she had Blackstone on her side.

"I saw the orders myself," she asseverated.

"Of course you did! Elizabeth intended you should!"

"But if there was not going to be a banquet, why should they take all the trouble to make us believe there was?"

"Because, while you were hunting on the wrong scent, they could go on with their plans. You poor Seniors," compassionately, "how you did work to stop that banquet! Landis had her trip to the city for nothing. Do you know, I don't believe you could have had it served in the laundry! It gets chilly and damp there in the evening."

"I'll get out of this! I won't stay locked up," cried Mary. "Come, girls, let's all yell together and pound on the floor."

Pandemonium reigned for a few moments. Miss Bowman, exasperatingly cool, sat smiling. When the clamor ceased, she said, "Really, you are very childish. Why not accept this with the spirit of philosophers? You are here-you cannot get out until the Middlers see fit. Why not sit down and converse sweetly? There's the weather. It's a safe subject. Nothing personal about it. Or if you wish-"

"Shut up!" cried Mary, stamping her feet, and wholly losing her temper. "If you had that key we'd fall upon you tooth and nail."

"And take it from you!" It was Landis who finished the remark.

"So I thought!" responded Miss Bowman complacently. "That's why I haven't it."

It was Min Kean who first showed the spirit of a philosopher. "Oh, what's the use of fussing about it? We're here, and I suppose we shall stay here until those Middlers see fit to let us out. The more fuss we make, the more fun for them."

At this Landis drew herself erect. "That is just what I was about to say. A great deal of their fun will vanish when they discover that it is all one to us whether we get out or stay here. I'm about as well satisfied. My throat was a little husky anyway. Perhaps I would not have been able to make that high note. How mortified I should have been!"

She spoke in seeming sincerity. Mary Wilson eyed her suspiciously. She sighed. "Landis believes that we ar

e what we make people believe we are. You would make a capital actress, Landis. The only fault you have is that you would always be playing to the gallery."

Her hearers laughed, accepting the remark as a bit of pleasant chatter. Mary did not fully grasp how much truth her remarks contained. Landis alone appreciated the words. Her face flushed and she turned her head aside for an instant that the girls might not see she was hurt.

"I don't know but that it is a good thing," Mary rattled on. "We're sure of an audience, at least. What shall we do now?"

"What can we do!" wailed a meek-looking little Senior from the darkest corner of the room. "There's nothing except ask conundrums. I'll begin. Why did we ever-?"

"What more do you want?" asked Landis, turning about quickly to face them. "I'll begin. What goes around a-"

"Hush hush," came a chorus of whispers. From the chapel below music could be heard. It was the Germania orchestra of twelve pieces from the city, to secure which the Seniors had heavily taxed themselves.

"All that music going to waste," wailed the little figure from the dark corner.

"It's not going to waste, dearly beloved," came the response from Miss Bowman. "The Middlers will enjoy it even more than you would have done. They are not paying the bill."

The instant the music ceased, the drop went up. Again a groan arose from the prisoners. They could see all that was enacted on the stage, yet could not hear the words.

"There's Dr. Morgan," whispered Mary. "She can't know that anything is wrong, and that we are locked up here. When she turns toward us I'll tap, and she'll see to it that we are set free."

A tall and stately figure, in an imported gown of black lace, crossed the stage. Reaching the center she paused, raised her eye-glasses and swept the audience with her characteristic glance. She began her remarks, and had said but a few words when she was stopped by a round of applause. The Seniors who had not been booked for that evening's performance understood that something had gone amiss. There were hurried remarks-"It isn't the Doctor;" "It's that Miss Hogue;"-"That's the girl that's in our classics;"-"This is the Middlers' work."

Miss Hogue, following Dr. Morgan's manner, gave almost word for word the address of the morning. She did it well. A round of applause followed her from the stage. She returned to receive the flowers which were intended for Dr. Morgan, then announced as the next number an oration by Miss Wilson.

"Well, I couldn't hear what she was talking about," sighed Mary from her place in the greenroom. "But it was just the way Dr. Morgan would have done. Did you notice how she raised her glasses, then turned her head to look sharply? The Doctor does that every time. Who's this dressed in-" She didn't finish her question. She paused to look closely. Then exclaimed, "Oh, Elizabeth Hobart, you little Spaniard! And with my dress on, too."

Elizabeth swept across the stage. She paused a moment, then tossed back her hair.

"Miss Wilson!" "Miss Wilson!" came the appreciative cries from the Freshmen and specials sitting below. The Seniors, in little groups of twos and threes, had their heads together arranging for a general action. They were so scattered throughout the house that quick planning was impossible.

"I am charged with pride and ambition," began Elizabeth, in the same tones and with the same gestures she had heard and seen Mary use hundreds of times while practicing. Even those in the greenroom caught her words.

"I've another charge against her," exclaimed Miss Wilson. "She's purloined my dress. Oh, I wish she would look this way."

But Elizabeth was wise. She let no glance wander toward the greenroom. She tossed back her locks again, threw out her hands and continued, "The charge is true, and I glory in its truth. Whoever achieved anything great in letters, arts or arms who was not ambitious? C?sar was not more ambitious than Cicero. It was only in another way." She went through the oration without a pause, and bowed herself from the stage in the midst of a round of hearty applause from the delighted audience.

Dr. Morgan, with her usual dignity, announced that Miss Landis Stoner from Potter County being absent by foreseen circumstances, Miss Mame Welch would sing the "Jewel Song" from Faust.

Mame, resplendent but uncomfortable in the finery belonging to Landis, then appeared. She raised her head, straightened her shoulders, looking unutterably bored and weary, although self-confident enough for a score of such songs. But the instant her voice arose, the Seniors who had gotten together started to sing. Their voices filled the chapel, drowning out even the laughter and applause.

"Where, oh, where are this year's Seniors,

Where, oh, where are this year's Seniors,

They are not in the cold, cold world.

Every one sing for the grand old Seniors,

Every one sing for the grand old Seniors,

For they're not in the cold, cold world."

The moment there was a lull, Miss Welch caught her own tune and started bravely on her song, only to be again drowned out. She did not give up. She sang in spite of all opposition, for the most part out of the tune. Then with the airs and manner of one who had succeeded beyond all expectations, she left the stage, in some disorder but not vanquished.

The pseudo Dr. Morgan then arose, and with the dignity born of her position and years, requested order, saying that if there was further interruption she must ask the watchmen present to expel the disturbing element. Her speech was a master stroke. Exeter then had a dozen special officers about the grounds and buildings. Most of them had never been in Dr. Morgan's presence. Those in attendance, not understanding the state of affairs, took the request in good faith, believing that it was the real Dean of Exeter addressing them.

Then the farce which the Seniors had prepared was played.

Nancy, or the "boiled lobster," as she had nicknamed herself, was last to appear.

She played on Nora O'Day's guitar "The Spanish Cavalier," the only selection she could pick out, and sang it in a weak, trembling soprano. Nora both sang and played well. Nancy, in her vivid orange gown, did her best. Her audience, by this time conscious that there was something amiss, could no longer be suppressed.

"Oh, say, darling, say,

When I'm far away,

Some times you may think of me, dear-"

"Could he ever think of anything else?" came in a stage-whisper from below. Every one heard, and every one smiled. Nancy sang on:

"I'm off to the war-"

"I don't blame him," came again. Laughter swept over the hall.

"To the war I must go-"

"Don't bother about returning-"

Nancy laughed aloud. The curtain fell. The program for the evening was finished.

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