MoboReader> Literature > Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall

   Chapter 14 RETALIATION.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 18416

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Seniors accepted the Middlers' fun in good part. Even Mary forgave Elizabeth the wearing of her new gown.

"Oh, well," Mary had exclaimed after the affair was over, and a group of girls had gathered in her room, "'Every dog has his day.' We had ours last year; and next year you will pay the fiddler for a new set of Middlers."

"If they don't pay before that," said Landis, sententiously.

"It's a long lane that has no turning," said Min.

"But we will leave before the turn comes," laughed Elizabeth.

"What will you do?"

"Jump the fence and take to the fields," was Elizabeth's reply.

"If I wear my orange gown to-night will I look like Nancy?" asked Nora O'Day.

"I hope not," said Nancy, while a chorus of strong negatives arose from the other girls.

"Then I'll wear it," said Nora.

The excellent spirit with which the Seniors took their imprisonment was quite enough to awaken suspicion in the minds of Middlers had they been in a cautious mood. But they were too uplifted with their recent success to think of aught else. Beside, there was little time now for planning and executing vengeance. Dr. Morgan gave a tea to the Seniors and their friends late that afternoon. Thursday evening was the date for the ball and banquet. Friday the general exodus would begin.

"What have you on hand for this morning?" asked Mary, as she and Elizabeth were dressing for breakfast.

"There's plenty. I'm undecided what to do. One party is going boating; another plans to take a tally-ho ride, and have lunch under the trees which mark the place of the Wyoming massacre. The Freshmen are having a small "feed" down in room B. Everyone in this hall is invited. It's a mild affair. Just drop in, eat a sandwich and salad, exchange addresses, and bow yourself out. I think I'll go out boating first and then attend the Freshmen's 'drop-in.' And you?"

Mary sighed. "I must rest a little for Dr. Morgan's 'at home.' I haven't had enough sleep for a week. I know I look like Medusa. I'll start my packing, sort of get my personal belongings into shape. If I have time, I may walk down to the boat-house. But don't wait for me. Any one of a score of trifles may delay me."

This conversation took place about eight o'clock. That was the last the two girls saw of each other until Mary, decked out in her new gown, came down the hall on the way to Dr. Morgan's apartments. Elizabeth, dusty and tired, had that moment returned from the day's outing.

"You've been out in the sun, with only that brimless cap on your head," was Mary's greeting. "I should have warned you how sunny that boat ride is. I see two new freckles on the bridge of your nose now."

"Well, if there's only two, I shan't mind. When will you be back?"

"In half an hour or so. Put on your cream colored dress for dinner. There's to be doings afterward, and you'll be ready. Were any of our girls with you?"

"No; I haven't seen one to-day; neither at the boat-house nor on our ride."

During commencement week, the regular order of meals was infringed upon. Dinner began earlier and lasted later than usual. The students took second place, giving precedence to the guests and Seniors. So it came about that the Middlers and Freshmen had scarcely finished before time for the beginning of the evening festivities.

"Every one is to go to chapel after dinner," someone started the order. It was passed on and on until all the girls of the first and second classes received the word.

The dresses which they had worn to dinner answered for such an informal affair as this must be, to judge from the manner of issuing the invitations.

As they quitted the dining-hall, Elizabeth looked about for Mary, but could not find her. Nora, Landis, Min and Anna Cresswell also were among the missing. Then she hurried to join Nancy and Mame.

"Mary is not to be found. Perhaps she has already gone to chapel."

The audience hall was almost filled when they entered. Bright fans on the wing looked like a swarm of gay butterflies. The subdued hush of conversation came from all parts of the room. Elizabeth looked about but could not see her roommate.

"How perfectly awful the stage looks!" whispered Mame, who possessed the artistic temperament. "I think I could have decorated it better than that. I feel mournful at the mere looking at it."

The stage had been robbed of its furniture. A high-backed chair and reading-desk of black walnut were the only pieces in sight. White roses were there in profusion but not one bit of color.

While conversation buzzed, and fans fluttered, Azzie, dressed as somberly as the rostrum looked, walked slowly down the main aisle. Her gown was of some thin black stuff. She suited her walk and expression to match the color of her dress. She wore no flowers. A big roll of music was in her hand.

"She's going to play." Each one straightened her shoulders and leaned eagerly forward, fairly holding her breath in anticipation, for Azzie's fame as a pianist was far-reaching.

Moving slowly to the front of the rostrum, she seated herself at the piano. So she sat for a few moments without touching the keys.

Slowly following her came Anna Cresswell, in gown but no cap. Her linen collar and cuffs showed white against the dead black of her student's robe. With glances neither to right nor left, she slowly advanced, mounted the rostrum, and solemnly seated herself in the high-backed chair of polished walnut. Then Azzie touched the keys and gave expression to the most melancholy dirge one could conceive. So sympathetic was her music that a hush fell over the chattering audience.

"What has possessed the girl?" whispered Mame Welch, almost in tears but determined to keep a brave front. "I feel as though I was about to attend my own funeral. This is so unlike Azzie. Her music is generally brilliant."

Still the wail of sorrow sobbed itself out from beneath Azzie's fingers. In a moment more, the audience would have been in tears. She sat for a moment silent. When she touched the keys again, it was to give expression to a march, measured, heavy, solemn. At this, emerging from the rear of the chapel came the Seniors, in caps and gowns, two by two, with heads bowed, and "faces as long as the moral law," whispered Mame to Elizabeth.

The first six carried between them a long narrow box, over which the Middler class colors, green and white, had been draped, and on which rested a stiff wreath of white artificial flowers tied with streamers of vivid green. Advancing to the front, the six bearers deposited their burden before the rostrum, then took their places with the other robed figures upon the front seats. All the while Azzie played her solemn dead march.

At the conclusion, Miss Cresswell arose to announce they would begin the services by singing the popular ballad "Go tell Aunt Nancy." At this, the mournful singers, with Azzie accompanying them, sang in wailing, heart-broken voices:

"Go, tell Doc Morgan,

Go, tell Doc Morgan,

Go, tell Doc Morgan,

Her Middler Class is dead.

"They're unreliable,

They're unreliable,

They're unreliable,

Is what she's often said.

"Their heads illustrate,

Their heads illustrate,

Their heads illustrate,

What a perfect vacuum is.

"Ofttimes she said this,

Ofttimes she said this,

Ofttimes she said this,

Teaching the Seniors 'phis.'

"Go, tell the doctor,

Go, tell the doctor,

Go, tell the doctor,

Wherefore the class is dead.

"An idea came floating,

An idea came floating,

An idea came floating,

And struck its empty head."

Each Senior did her part well, maintaining an expression which was the picture of grief. At the close of the song, Miss Cresswell advanced to the reading-stand. She assumed an oratorical tone. There was a note of pathos in all she said. "There came to Exeter Hall some ten months ago," she began, "the class whose early demise we are now making famous with these ceremonies. They were young then. They continued to remain young-"

"So young," came in a sad-voiced chorus from the singers.

"They were green,-they remained so until their passing away. I repeat, they were green-"

"Oh, so green," came the sobbing chorus.

"The faculty looked upon them and sighed, a great sigh of disappointment. Yet with that noble heartedness, that philanthropic desire to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister unto the feeble-minded which marks our honored Dr. Morgan and her fellow workers, they took up the burden, determined to do their best. Yet, despite their great efforts, the class did not advance as other classes have done. Nor yet could it retrograde for it stood in a position where any backward movement was impossible. It was known throughout Exeter as the 'caudal appendage' class, being 'away back.'

"The Seniors, too, did all that lay in their power to enlighten these Middlers both intellectually and morally. But our efforts were like 'casting pearls before swine.' The Middlers were not only no better for our efforts, but seemed wholly unconscious that they stood in need of moral and intellectual support.

"Yet none of us regret the work that we did in their behalf.

We planted the seed, but the soil was barren. Our efforts toward their cultivation was like breathing a concord of sweet sound into a vacuum. There was no volume of matter to perpetuate and carry it forth. It is not that we wish to censure them. Lacking the capacity to enjoy the higher life of school, we can not blame them that they amused themselves with mere toys. We Seniors who wear the philosopher's cap and gown must bear in mind that it would ill become the clown or jester. We listen to the music which rolls down the ages; but the tinkle of the bells won the ears of the Middlers. It is ever so. The world cannot be all of the higher ideal element. They cannot all be Seniors."

She paused to touch the colors of the Middler class-green and white.

"These are the symbols of the late lamented Middler class. How appropriate! The white represents the conditions of the examination sheets they habitually handed in-not a line, not a letter. Blank, quite blank. It is the opinion of the faculty that this also represented the condition of their brains. I do not fully agree with this. I believe that at rare intervals, and when under the influence of proper environment, for example, the presence of some Senior, the minds of the Middlers did receive some impression;-slight, we acknowledge. Yet we hold an impression, a faint suggestion of an idea, was there.

"The second color! Green! How beautiful, how appropriate. It represents our lamented Middlers as they stood before the world. They were so verdant!

"As to the age of the departed class, both much and little might be said. The records show that as a class they existed just ten short months; to the faculty and Seniors it seems like ten long years.

"During their sojourn, the hospital of Exeter has been filled with-teachers suffering from nervous prostration. Dr. Morgan's ebony locks have turned silver. During the holidays Miss Wilhelm, who tried to teach them classics, in a fit of desperation sought refuge in matrimony. We might speak more fully of the effects of their being among us were it not that we believe in interring the evil they have done with their bones.

"With this short eulogy, I close. Miss Stoner, a Senior, who has suffered much because of the shortcomings of the Middlers, will sing a solo appropriate to the occasion, the others joining in the chorus."

Landis advanced. Azzie struck up an accompaniment, while the whole class of Seniors came out strong on the refrain.

"They were so young, this Middler class of ours.

They brought to mind the newly-opened flowers.

They to the grasses closely were related.

They were so green, so unsophisticated.

(Refrain)

Softly speak, and lowly bow your head,

We are alone. The Middler class is dead.

"We did our best. No duty left undone

Weighs on our hearts at the setting of the sun.

What though their choice was weeds instead of flowers

Censure not us. The fault was never ours.

From early dawn until the dim twilight

We were to them a bright and shining light.

(Refrain)

Weep if you can; slowly, lightly tread.

They are gone. The Middler class is dead.

Th' Middler-class-is-d-e-a-d."

With this, the Seniors arose. Six again took possession of the long box. The procession filed slowly from the room, while Azzie played a dirge.

The Middlers and Freshmen followed after them, and the laughing and chattering began again. Every one was humming "The Middler-class-is dead."

The line of girls passed down the main hall, the audience following them to see what new thing was to take place.

The members of the faculty, with Dr. Morgan, stood here. At the sight of their smile-wreathed faces, the gravity of the Seniors gave way. Landis laughed aloud. The others followed her example. The lines broke. The girls gathered about the teachers, talking and making merry over their escapade.

"I never realized what a nervous strain it is to control oneself so long," said Nora, joining Dr. Morgan. "I felt as though I must shriek and laugh, and there I had to sit and pretend to be overcome with sorrow."

Dr. Morgan had been glancing over a special edition of the evening paper. She folded it quickly as Nora came up to her. "You did admirably, Miss O'Day," she said. "I could not be present all the while."

Nora O'Day did not hear. She was leaning forward, her lips parted; her eyes, bright with excitement, were upon the paper.

"May I see this for a moment, Dr. Morgan?" she asked excitedly. "What is it about the strike?"

She had the paper in her hand, reading the article before Dr. Morgan had time to reply. It was a full resumé of the trouble at Bitumen from early fall until the present, telling of the threatened attack upon Superintendent Hobart and the new miners and the call for State troops. The correspondent prophesied that the militia could not arrive in time to prevent bloodshed, the capital being two hundred miles from the scene of trouble, and the railway up the mountain having already been destroyed by the miners.

Nora grasped the meaning instantly. There was no mention made of the name of Dennis O'Day. He was not a miner. In the eyes of the world, he had no power. Miners themselves did not realize that it was he alone who instigated the strike, and that their leaders had been his choice. Outwardly, Dennis O'Day had washed his hands of the whole affair. So long as he escaped legal responsibility, he would shrug his shoulders, and stand by to watch the fight. He could be eliminated without effecting the result. But Nora O'Day, who understood her father as no one else had ever understood him, saw his work here. She knew that for years he had been the unseen moving power.

The bubble of laughter and fun was about her. She looked up piteously into Dr. Morgan's face, her lips trembling with emotion. She loved her father. Shame and fear for him overwhelmed her.

"I-I know-some-some people there. That is why I-I was anxious."

"I wish you would not mention the matter to anyone. We see no reason to distress Miss Hobart unnecessarily. Her knowing the condition of affairs would result in needless worry without helping matters any."

"Why-Elizabeth-is she-has she-"

"Her father, you know, Miss O'Day, is the superintendent of the Bitumen mines."

At that Nora O'Day gave a startled cry, and buried her face in her hands. "I didn't-know-I didn't know. Poor Elizabeth-" she sobbed.

Her behavior was claiming the attention of others. To shield her from the attention of the passing throng, Dr. Morgan drew her within the private office. She anticipated comforting an hysterical girl. But in a moment Miss O'Day controlled herself.

"When will the troops reach Bitumen?" she asked, drawing herself up, afire with purpose.

"Not before to-morrow night. That is the earliest possible time. It is presumed the miners, hearing of the call for help, will bring matters to a climax at once."

"Dr. Morgan, will you telephone McCantey's livery? They know my father down there. Tell them to send the man Jefferies if they can, and fast horses. Elizabeth Hobart and I will go to Bitumen to-night. I'll stop the trouble."

"Dear child, you're-crazy," said Dr. Morgan, surprised by such a suggestion.

"Far from it. I'm going, with or without your permission. Please telephone now, and I'll explain while I await their coming. Tell them it's a matter of life and death. If I kill the horses with hard driving, I'll pay twice what they're worth. Every minute counts! Won't you telephone?"

Dr. Morgan obeyed the peremptory request. She believed that news of the strike had affected Nora until she did not know what she was about. She would accede to her request, and perhaps by the time the horses were at the Hall, Miss O'Day would listen to reason.

"Now," said Nora, the order having been given, "I'll tell you some facts about myself and my family you never knew. I know who has brought this strike about, and I know how to stop it." She spoke calmly, methodically. Dr. Morgan seated herself to listen. Miss O'Day began her story. When she had finished, the horses were at the door, Jefferies with them. Dr. Morgan hesitated.

"I've known Jefferies for years. He is a friend of my father. He will take care of us," said Nora, studying the expression of Dr. Morgan's face.

"Then go, Nora. My prayers go with you."

A few minutes later, Elizabeth, the center of a laughing group, was drawn hurriedly aside by Nora.

"Here's a long storm coat. Put it on over your light dress. We have no time to change. Put on the cap, and tie a heavy veil upon it. It is raining; but it will matter little." The speaker was enveloped in a long, dark, travelling cloak, beneath which her orange colored gown showed. A soft hat swathed in a heavy veil hid her head and face.

Elizabeth did as she was bid, being wholly carried away by the excitement and force in the speaker's voice.

"Why-what-" she began.

"Don't waste time talking. There, you are ready. Come!"

"Go with your friend," said Dr. Morgan. "She will tell you on the way."

She walked with them to the door. The girls passed out into the storm and the night.

* * *

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