Mary tossed her head and laughed. She thoroughly appreciated her father's witticisms.
"I shall not knock on wood—and we will not quarrel," she replied. "That is our room, mother. Yes; right there."
Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Wilson passed into the bedroom. The others of the party followed. Elizabeth and Mary at the end of the line had stepped aside to give precedence to the elders.
They heard Judge Wilson laugh. "It has been nothing less than a cyclone," he said, then laughed again.
"Why, this is not at all like Mary!" began Mrs. Wilson. Mary noticed the tone of apology in her voice.
She and Elizabeth stepped inside. Elizabeth's face grew crimson. In the middle of the floor lay her school shoes which, in her haste to dress, she had kicked off and left. Her coat and hat were on one chair. Stretched out on the end of the couch was her gym suit, glaringly conspicuous with its crimson braid. Every toilet article that she had used was in evidence, and in a place never designed for its occupancy.
Miss Wilson arose to the occasion. With a characteristic toss of the head, she crossed the room and drew forward a chair. "Sit, all of you, and I'll put the kettle to boil for cocoa. Father, tell your story about the boy illustrating 'The Old Oaken Bucket.'" She lighted the alcohol lamp while she was talking. She made no apology for the disorder of the room. One might suppose from her manner that all was as the most fastidious might desire.
Elizabeth sat quietly in the background, hoping that no one would speak to her. Her face was burning. There was a dimness about her eyes suggestive of tears.
Missing her, Mrs. Wilson turned, about. "Where is Elizabeth?" she asked. "Did she not come with us?"
"Yes; I came," said a voice choking with tears. "I'm here—and oh, I am so ashamed. Not one of those articles scattered about are Mary's. They're all mine." At this she could no longer restrain herself, but began to cry.
Both Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Wilson would have consoled her with well chosen words of sympathy. The men laughed and declared that they were so accustomed to dropping their shoes in the middle of the floor that they had not recognized the signs of disorder; that they supposed that the floor was the legitimate place for shoes. But treating the matter lightly did not rid Elizabeth of her shame and embarrassment. She was unable to control herself. Slipping into the bedroom, she threw herself face downward on the pillow and sobbed herself to sleep.
When she awakened, she found that the guests and Miss Wilson had departed. She prepared for bed and was standing in her night clothes when Mary came back into the room, a tearful little maiden. But Miss Wilson was unmoved.
"I'm so sorry and—ashamed," began Elizabeth.
"You should be," was the unfeeling response.
"It shall never happen so again," contritely.
"I'm sure it will not, for after this I'll see to it that the room is in order after you get through dressing."
"Oh, Mary, don't be so hard. Won't you forgive me? I'm sure I'm ashamed enough."
"It is no use talking further about it," was the grim response. "The thing's done and cannot be undone by any amount of talking. You mortified me before my best friends, and I can not forget it soon. When I can, I'll tell you. But please don't mention the subject to me again."
That was all, but it was enough. Elizabeth crept into bed and turned her face to the wall. She had no desire to cry now. Anger and grief were holding equal places with her.
She was too young and healthy and sleepy to stay awake long. She had been sleeping uneasily when she awoke from a horrible nightmare. She had dreamed that a most formidable array of shoes and stockings, hats and coats in the form of grinning spectres were hovering about her ready to seize her. When she was wide awake, she remembered the cause of her dream. She remembered, too, that she had not put the sitting-room in order.
Crawling softly from bed, she crept into the study. It seemed as though each chair, in a conspiracy to make her efforts difficult, stood in her path. She turned on the gas and gathered together her possessions. Then she crept back to her nest again, hoping that the spectres of her negligence would not haunt her.
A BOX FROM HOME.
For some days the relations between Elizabeth and her roommate were strained. No further words concerning the order of the room passed between them, but each time they dressed, whether for breakfast or dinner, Miss Wilson made a point of looking about both rooms to see that each article was as it should be. The very calmness of her manner was exasperating. Elizabeth was hurt more by it than by words. She paid no attention to Mary's vain efforts, for they had grown to be vain, as Elizabeth was keeping the tightest kind of a rein on herself.
Each article of dress was hung in its proper place as it left her hand. Each pencil went back to the pencil-holder even when she intended using it in a few minutes. She did not grant herself a second's grace. Her efforts were untiring during the first and second week. Many times she went back from the door of the class-room to be sure that every article in her room was where it should be.
Gradually she formed the habit of being orderly. It was but a few weeks until she discovered that she put her clothes away without thinking about it. She discovered, too, that she was actually saving time in not having to hunt for anything.
Mrs. Schuyler, the preceptress, generally looked in upon the rooms while the girls were at class. She was a dainty little widow, with a manner which she supposed to be pleasant and ingratiating but which the girls termed monotonously servile. Her expression was so exceedingly pleasant that the students named her Mrs. Smiles.
One Saturday morning as she made her daily rounds, she found both Elizabeth and Mary in their rooms.
"Miss Hobart, I must speak with you," she said, sweeping in, the long train of her black house gown trailing after her. "I wish to commend you on the improvement you have made in keeping your apartments in order. It has been weeks since I have found an article out of place on your dresser; and your closet has been in excellent order."
"You are very kind to tell me so," was the response. "But I take little credit to myself for the improvement. I've had such an example and mentor always before me that I could scarce be anything else but improved."
Miss Wilson stood by but gave no indication of hearing the remark until Mrs. Smiles, smiling and bowing, dragged her train from the room. Then she turned to Elizabeth.
"I scarcely expect you'll forgive me for the way I spoke that evening. But I was provoked and—and—humiliated. Miss Watson has always been my ideal and I did wish her to see me at my best."
"I think she did. You were all that could be expected of a girl. The Sphinx itself, could not have been more outwardly calm. I fancy Miss Watson went away in admiration of your self-control. If I remember, I was the only one who appeared to disadvantage."
There was a trace of bitterness in the girl's voice, for in spite of her effort to forget, the hurt of that evening still rankled within her.
"Now, Elizabeth, please do not speak in that tone. I was sorry for my words that evening the moment I spoke. But I am hasty. I try my best to keep quiet when I'm angry; but now and then I express myself before I realize it. You can't expect perfection in anyone. A quick temper is my besetting sin. I try to overcome it; but until I do my friends must bear with me. No one is perfection."
"Indeed," was the reply, "I'm rather surprised that you hold such an opinion. From the way you spoke that evening, I could not have judged you to be so liberal."
Miss Wilson knew her words were wasted. With a quick, impulsive movement she crossed the room to where Elizabeth stood, and throwing her arms about her, cried out, "You must not talk like that, Elizabeth. You are not naturally sarcastic. Let me be the disagreeable one—if one there must be."
She drew Elizabeth's head down, kissing her warmly. It was impossible to be vexed long with such a whole-souled, impulsive girl as Miss Wilson. Elizabeth smiled and relented. From that time matters between the two moved smoothly as at first; but Elizabeth did not relax her vigilance. She realized how others might be inconvenienced and mortified by her carelessness. From an economical point of view, too, it was better to reform; for she had lost much time, and been tardy at class frequently on account of having to hunt for some needed article.
This week proved to be one of the most eventful of Elizabeth's school year. She did not plan to go home for Thanksgiving. The Saturday previous she received a box from her mother. It was filled with all the good things a mother's heart could devise and a cook's skillful hands make ready. Miss Wilson carried the news of the arrival of the box to Elizabeth.
"The expressman's on his way up with an immense box," she cried, tossing back her hair, and talking as excitedly as though Exeter Hall were governed by a Board of Starvation.
Elizabeth hurried to the door. The expressman was already there, with about as much as he could carry.
Mary, as usual, arose to the occasion. She assisted to unpack. She expressed the proper amount of enthusiasm and admiration at each edible as it was brought forth. When the contents had been properly disposed of on every available window-sill, study-table and on the floor close to the wall where they would not be in the way of passing feet, she arose from her knees before the empty box. "You'll have the spread to-night, I suppose. Some of the girls will be away to-morrow."
Elizabeth had been long enough at Exeter to learn the meaning of that magic word "spread." There are receptions, socials and spreads, but the greatest of these are spreads. A spread means slipping through dimly lighted corridors long after the retiring-bell has sounded its last warning; it means bated breaths, whispers and suppressed giggles. Its regalia is dressing-gowns or kimonos with bedroom slippers. It means mysterious knocks at the hostess' door; a hurried skirmish within; and when it is found that one of the enlightened is rapping for admission, there is a general exodus from closets, from behind window draperies and from beneath study-tables.
Spreads have never been prohibited. Indeed, it is generally understood that the faculty would gladly grant permission for them, if the time and place were opportune. But never in the history of school-life has permission been asked. With permission granted, a spread would not be a spread. It would be a mere lunch—an opportunity to partake of delicacies.
Elizabeth's eyes grew big at Mary's suggestion. "We'll have it to-night," she exclaimed, "after the lights are out. Do you think we could have it here? Mrs. Smiles is at the end of the hall. We'll have to be so careful."
"So much the more fun. A spread is supposed to be risky, else it would not be a spread. Whom will you invite?"
Elizabeth began to name them on her fingers. "Anna Cresswell, Landis, Min, Mame Welch, and Miss O'Day." Her acquaintance with the last-named student had not progressed far enough to permit calling her by her first name. As far as Miss O'Day was concerned, the Exeter girls knew not friendship. Elizabeth could see that the girl herself made no advances. From her attitude, it was impossible to judge whether she was proud or shy. Scarcely the latter, for she carried herself with a self-poise which was suggestive of confidence. Elizabeth had not learned the cause of the estrangement between her and the other students. No one had ventured an explanation to her and she would not ask. Now at the mention of her name, Miss Wilson grew dignified—a sure sign that she was half angry.
"I wouldn't ask her," she said.
"Oh, simply because I wouldn't. None of the girls ever invite her, or haven't for the last year."
"Oh, well, no doubt I do a great many things which none of the other girls do, so I might as well do this. I don't object to being a little odd."
"Well, if you do—if you take Nora O'Day up and make a friend of her, the other girls will surely cut you."
"Cut me?" exclaimed Elizabeth, for the first time in her life fairly indignant. Her pride was aroused. "Cut me? Well, let that be as they choose. They'll not have the opportunity, for I can let them as severely alone as they do Nora O'Day. If I cannot invite whom I please to my spread without asking the advice of a dozen other girls, then I'll not have it at all. I don't know and don't wish to know why you girls snub Miss O'Day. As far as I can see, she acts quite as well as some others at Exeter."
"We don't snub her, at least I have never done so. I treat her with conventional courtesy."
"Conventional courtesy! Deliver me from it, then. Why, the thermometer falls below zero whenever she comes where you girls are together. I know no evil of her. She has always treated me nicely, and I shall treat her so. When I discover that she is not fit to associate with, then I'll let her alone."
"But, Elizabeth, if you only knew!"
"But I don't know and I don't want to know." Mary hesitated. She was not tempted to tell Elizabeth the whole story of the year before. She was never tempted to tell news or bruit from one student to another what was no concern of hers. She hesitated because she was uncertain whether it paid to carry the discussion further. After a moment's thought, she decided that much talking would not be effective.
"Very well, Elizabeth, do as you please. Ask anyone you choose. Of course the spread is yours. But if you ask Nora O'Day, you may expect to find me occupied at that time. Landis will not mind if I go over to her rooms. I'm off now to geometry! Of course, I'll help you get ready and all that."
With this parting shot, she quitted the room. Elizabeth had a vacant period following, a time generally devoted to looking over her work. To-day she employed it in reviewing her conversation with Mary Wilson. She was gradually awakening to the knowledge that a certain independence of thought and action was necessary if one would not become a mere tool used by each and all of her friends. At Bitumen, her parents and Miss Hale had influenced her. But there had been such a sweet unselfishness in all they did, such an evidence that they were working for her good, that Elizabeth had allowed their will to become her own. As she considered the matter now, she could remember no instance when she had been conscious of feeling that any other course of action save that which they suggested would have been pleasing to her. She was fond of her roommate. Mary had helped her over many a little difficulty in regard to classes and gym work. She was one of those whole-souled girls who was more than ready and willing to divide both her good times and her possessions.
Elizabeth had not become so interested in Miss O'Day that her presence at the spread would cause her any great pleasure. Had Mary Wilson not shown such a spirit of authority, such a desire to have her own will in this, Elizabeth would have dropped the matter without a thought. But now she felt that she would ask Miss O'Day. If she did so, she would be an independent person; if she did not, she would be doing merely as her roommate wished, in a blind way, without knowing the reason for her action.
While she was pondering the matter, there came back to her the words her father had spoken when he had planned to send her to school. "The girls will teach you more than any of the faculty." There was one thing they would teach her, she decided instantly, and that was to form her own opinions of people, and to follow out her own course of action. She would ask Miss O'Day to her spread. Mary Wilson could come or stay away just as she chose. Mary should decide that matter for herself.
When once Elizabeth made a decision, there was no dilly-dallying, no going back and wondering if she had done the right thing. Taking up her pencil, she began to jot down the names of those to be invited. Nora O'Day's name headed the list with Azzie Hogan's tagged on at the last. The majority of the girls were at class. Her only opportunity for seeing them was immediately before dinner or during study-hour in the evening, providing Mrs. Smiles did not keep too close a watch.
She wondered what Mary Wilson would think of asking Azzie Hogan. Azzie did not take advantage of the social privileges of Exeter. Azzie was a genius—a boarding student who put in all her time with music—who sat for hours producing the most marvelous tones from instruments where other girls drew discords—who would sit all day at the piano, and not find the time long; and who spent her leisure in dawdling over sofas, or playing practical jokes on every one about her. She was a long-limbed, fair-haired girl, with a touch of wit from some remote ancestor who must have had O' tacked to his name, and a great inaptitude toward books. She could play. Exeter had never before boasted such skill as hers. Her fame had spread over the state. But other lessons were impossible.
The subject of the guests was not brought up again between the roommates. Mary had a successful interview with the matron, and returned to her rooms with cream for cocoa, and a few forks and spoons, borrowing cups and plates from the girls in the hall. Elizabeth had a class late in the afternoon. When she came back she found the work she planned already done. She started off immediately to issue her invitations.
The rooms occupied by Min and Landis were nearest her own. She stopped there first. She found the girls busy, Landis at the study-table, putting the last touches to a composition for the following day's rhetoric. Min was sitting on a low chair by the window, sewing braid on the bottom of a dress-skirt. Unconsciously, Elizabeth gave the article in Min's hand a second glance, and recognized it as the skirt Landis generally wore to class.
Landis, whose eye was quick to note all that occurred in her presence, caught the second glance. "Isn't Min good?" she asked. "She is putting a new braid on my everyday skirt. I caught my heel in it yesterday and ripped the binding almost off. If there is one piece of work which I detest above another, it is putting on braids."
"How about Min?" asked Elizabeth. "Does she enjoy it?"
"She doesn't dislike it," was the response. "She likes to be busy, and is quite as content to be at that as at some of the greater things of life. Min does that for me, and I'm left free to do a line of work which would not claim her." As she spoke, she arose and moved from the table. Before doing so, she was careful to lay a book across the top of the page on which she had been writing. She might have placed it there to keep the papers from being scattered over the room, but it looked more as though she placed it in a position to hide the title. She sank down in a low chair beside Elizabeth and watched Min work. Her speech impressed her hearer that she was doing work of so high an order that common spirits like her own could not comprehend. Elizabeth had heard Landis make such reference before, but after having talked with Miss Rice, she concluded that Landis, when speaking in her own peculiar way, had in mind the life of a missionary which was to be hers on leaving school. Elizabeth had a great reverence for religion. So while Landis made these speeches, she listened with becoming attention.
But Min, to whom all things were material, and the nearest point the only one seen, blurted out in her slow, uncomprehending way, "Yes, I'd much rather sew on a binding than to do the work Landis does. What one of us likes to do, the other one don't. So we fit fairly well as roommates. This noon when she was complaining about the mending she must do, I told her I'd do it all if she'd get my thesis ready for to-morrow. We have a discussion on the Literature of the Elizabethan Period. As though I could write a thousand words on that! So we traded off."
A flush had come to Landis' cheek while her roommate talked. She stopped her as quickly as was consistent with tact. When once Min started it was impossible to tell when she would stop.
"Tell Elizabeth about the trip your father is planning," said Landis, breaking into Min's discourse.
But Elizabeth arose, declaring that she had no time to stay longer; she had merely stopped in to ask them both to come to her room for a spread that evening, any time after the lights were out.
"A box from home!" exclaimed Min. "Isn't that lovely? That is what it means to have a mother! Our housekeeper is as kind as can be and would be only too glad to send me a box if she thought of it. But that is the difference, a mother would think. If father was there, I'd go home to-morrow. But he won't be, so I would rather stay here than be in that big house alone with servants. Landis has an invitation to go out into the country for dinner. I'm sure I'd go if I were she. Miss Rice has asked her to come but she won't go."
"I do not think it would be kind to leave Min alone," she said, as though that were her sole motive in staying.
"Miss Rice!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "I know her. I met her the evening of the reception."
"Quite a character, isn't she?" responded Landis, as she might have spoken of one with whom she had but a passing acquaintance, instead of one on whom she was depending for all she had. "I often think she would make an admirable character for a novel. If my talent ran in that direction, I would certainly put Betty Rice in a book."
"Isn't she related to you?" asked Elizabeth in that innocent way which springs from the heart of one who has no guile and does not suspect others.
Landis drew down her eyebrows and pondered as though she were figuring out just what the relation was. The impression her manner gave to one who was merely a casual observer was that she deliberated and thought before speaking in order that her statements might not deviate by a hairbreadth from justice and truth.
"I was just trying to think if she really were related at all or if we call her so from mere courtesy. If she be related to us, it is so distant that I cannot explain it. I fancy we call her so without any blood ties at all. You know how it is with a family like ours—in fact all English families of the upper class. We've lived in one place for generations, and always have played the Lady Bountiful to the poorer folk until they grow to believe they have a claim upon us. Betty Rice is not the only one of these hangers-on. But I'm not complaining. She's a good soul and always does her best. I really have a fondness for her. You can be sure that so long as I have a home Betty shall have one too."
Min Kean had never talked with Miss Rice or Miss Rice's friends. She forthwith expressed her admiration of Landis' noble generosity of spirit and purse.
Elizabeth's lack of experience in meeting with people made her slow to comprehend and compare. Although she remembered Miss Rice's statements made the evening of the reception, and now heard those made by Landis, she did not reach a conclusion in regard to them. It was not until weeks later that her mind sifted these conflicting ideas, placing and ticketing each in its proper relation.
"But about the spread! You'll come?"
"It's useless to ask such a question! Of course we'll come. We have never been known to miss a spread."
The other girls accepted with the same readiness. It was not until Azzie was reached that any uncertainty arose.
Azzie was at the piano when Elizabeth found her. "It depends," she replied. "If Smiles will allow me to do overtime this evening, I won't be able to come. I'll be too tired. If she's cranky and locks up the music room, I'll come."
"Then I hope she'll be cranky. We want you," was the response.
"I don't. Professor Van Buren gave me the sweetest thing to-day—a little German composition. I want to work on it. It isn't hard, but the runs need practice." She turned back to her music.
Elizabeth went on to find Miss O'Day. Their acquaintance had not gone beyond that of class-room meetings and hall chats. She had never visited the girl's rooms. She was surprised at their beauty and elegance. All the Exeter girls had comfortable apartments, but this surpassed anything else at the Hall. The draperies between the doors were of imported India material; her tea-table showed many pieces of Royal Worcester; her extra chairs were of fine cabinet woods. The occupant of the room was seated in a low chair by the fire. She was already dressed for dinner. Since the evening Dr. Morgan had sent her to her room because she had appeared in a low-necked gown, her dressing had been less elaborate, yet by no means could it be called simple.
Her hands were covered with rings. Her hair was piled high in quite the fashion of a grown-up woman. It was more noticeable, perhaps, because the younger students at Exeter wore their hair in girlish fashion.
She arose to greet Elizabeth, shaking her by the hand and leading her to a chair. She was pleased that Elizabeth had called, yet her manner had a certain icy courtesy about it which made her guest ill at ease.
"This is the first time you have come to see me," she said. "But I am glad you have come at last. Sit here. This low chair is the most comfortable."
"I haven't time," said Elizabeth. Nevertheless she took the proffered chair. "Your rooms are beautiful, Miss O'Day," she said. "As you say, this is the first time I have been in them, but I had caught glimpses from the hall of your pretty draperies and chairs. Your tea-table is a dream."
"Why haven't you come in before and seen it close at hand?" she asked.
Elizabeth knew no polite way of evading the question. She was not skilled in the little methods of saying much and meaning little.
"You never came to see me," she replied, "and I fancied you did not care to have me come, though you have always been very pleasant when I have met you in the hall. But I supposed if you wanted to know me better, you would have come to see me."
A peculiar expression passed over the hearer's face. She gave Elizabeth a quick, questioning glance, as though she doubted the good faith of this statement. But the glance satisfied her that her visitor was not acting a part. She leaned forward as though to warm her hands at the grate. In reality, she was taking time to consider well her words before she spoke.
"I really wished to call on you," she said, "but hesitated lest I intrude. Your roommate, Miss Wilson, would not be at all pleased to have me. That is why I did not call."
"But the rooms are half mine! She would have nothing at all to do with my callers. Surely that was a queer sort of reason to keep away."
"That was the first reason. Then there was another. How should I know that you would receive me? One girl influences another so. I knew Miss Wilson did not wish me to come. How was I to know that she had not filled your mind so with school gossip that you, too, would be glad to have me keep at a distance?"
The girl's manner of speaking was peculiar. It was difficult to understand whether she were hiding her arrogant pride by an assumption of humility or whether she truly felt that her calls would not be looked upon with favor. Her manner was not easy at any time. It was marked by a self-consciousness that gave her companions the impression that the little courtesies from well-bred people were something new to her.
Elizabeth flared up at her words. "Do you think I'm a handful of putty," she asked, "to be moulded any way my companions choose? I form my own opinions. So long as you treat me fairly, I would do the same by you. But really, you do Mary an injustice. She never told me anything against you. Of course, I knew there was some feeling that was not altogether friendly between you. But I learned that from your manner as much as I did from hers."
Miss O'Day made no response. Elizabeth waited a few moments for her to answer. Being disappointed in this, she turned the conversation to the object of her errand.
"Mother sent me a box. The girls will be in for a spread this evening and I want you to come. It will be at the usual hour—any time after lights are out and you can get rid of Smiles."
Elizabeth arose, moving toward the door. "I'll have less than ten minutes to dress for dinner. Do you think I can do it in that time? I haven't been late since I came to Exeter, so I shall not hurry now. One late mark will keep me in harmony with the rest of the girls." Her hand was upon the knob.
"Wait, Miss Hobart!" Miss O'Day had arisen. There was a sound of rustling petticoats as she moved. She twisted her hands nervously as though dreading to speak. "I should like nothing better than coming. I haven't been to a 'blow-out' this fall. But I hardly think I can come now." She hesitated. She spoke slowly as though she could not put her thoughts into the proper words. "I really wish to come, Miss Hobart. It is kind of you to ask me. I don't want to take advantage of your goodness, so I must tell you why the girls here do not care to know me. I did something wrong last year—something they look upon as dreadful. They all belong to the Christian Association. As an Association they are pledged to discountenance just what I did. I'm not a member. So since last spring I've been cut out of every social affair except those the school gives."
"Well, I call that mean," cried Elizabeth. "Why don't you—"
"No, they were right in one way. I tell you so much because I cannot accept your invitation if you do not know. If you wish me to tell you all about it, I will, although I have spoken of the matter to no one. I couldn't."
"No, I don't want to hear. I wish you to come to-night. I'd rather find matters out for myself. You'll come?"
"Does Miss Wilson know you intend asking me?"
"Yes, of course. I made out the list this morning." She did not add that Miss Wilson had expressed herself rather strongly on the subject.
"Well, then I shall come."
"I must go, or I shall be too late to get any dinner at all. This is roast beef night, too; and that's the night I always pay the cook a compliment by eating two portions—my own and Anna Cresswell's. She doesn't like roast beef, and I don't like rice pudding. So we trade. Good-bye. I'll see you then to-night."
"The mail has come," was Miss Wilson's greeting, as Elizabeth entered her room. "I have a letter from Mrs. Gleason. She writes to invite me to spend a Sabbath with her at my earliest convenience. I am to bring you along. I did not know you knew her. I've mentioned her so often and you never said that you were friends."
"I don't know her." Elizabeth was struggling into a white shirtwaist as she talked. "I never saw her. There must be some mistake about her asking me."
"No; there's the letter. Read it when you have leisure. I thought from the way she wrote that she knew you well. Odd, isn't it? But we'll go. It is the best place to visit."
"But we cannot go for several weeks. I'm to lead Sabbath evening."
"And I can't go until Anna Cresswell can be here. She has been going away on Saturday. They need a soprano. And she and I appear to be the only availables." Mary shook back her hair, as she adjusted the last pin in her cuff. "There's the last bell, Elizabeth, and you're not half ready. Well, I'll hurry on, and if you are locked out, I'll get Maggie to bring your dinner up here. She'll do anything if you give her a small tip."
HOW "SMILES" WAS SCALPED.
Azzie Hogan was the last to appear at the spread. The first course had been diverted to its proper use, and the ice which marked the manner of both Mary Wilson and Landis Stoner because of the presence of Miss O'Day had thawed enough to permit a feeling of ease among the girls, when Azzie arrived.
There was a motley array of every color of kimono that the mind of girl could conceive. Their wearers were being comfortable on chairs and stools so far as they held out. The girls in excess of the number had curled themselves up, Turkish fashion, on cushions on the floor.
"Smiles must have allowed Azzie to practice," said Mary Wilson, with a leg of chicken held aloft.
"Mary looks like Liberty enlightening the world," said Elizabeth. "The drumstick answers very well for a torch."
"Liberty frightening the world," said Mame Welch. "Whatever made her do it—get a red kimono with her hair that shade?"
"Nearest thing I could get to match," said Mary, laughing. "I got it at a bargain. I didn't need it. I have more lounging robes than I can possibly wear; but this piece was reduced from twenty-five cents to fifteen. I saved one-twenty by buying it. We—"
As she was speaking her voice ascended the scale until it might have been audible half-way down the hall. She was called to a halt by a most decided rap upon the door. An awesome silence fell upon the room. Instantly every girl except the rightful owners of the room disappeared. No word had been spoken. Only the moving of the couch draperies, the gentle swaying of the portieres, or the closing of the wardrobe door gave hint as to the places of disappearance. Again came the knock. Mary Wilson with suspicious haste opened the door. "He-he," giggled Azzie, entering. "You thought it was Mrs. Smiles. Come, girls. Come out. Mrs. Schuyler will not appear this night, or to-morrow either, if I am not mistaken."
At her invitation the girls came forth. Azzie was too tall, too long to seat herself with any grace of body. She had the effect of sprawling. That she did now. Her purple kimono, resplendent with green roses and bands, caused her to look like a great rag-doll with most of the sawdust missing. The others of the party arranged themselves on cushions and chairs about her, ready to fall, tooth and nail, upon the remains of the roast chicken. Azzie would not eat, but kept her hand hidden in the folds of her gown.
"You needn't be talking in stage whispers," she began, with a fine touch of Irish in her voice. "Smiles won't hear you—or at least she won't be coming here. Yell, if you choose, or dance a clog. You're as safe as though Smiles was in Halifax."
"Don't be too sure. I never like to run a risk," said Landis. "I should not like to be called into the office to-morrow."
"I have found it this way with Mrs. Schuyler," explained Mary Wilson. "The moment you are sure she isn't about, that is the moment you can be sure she is ready to pounce on you."
"But she won't be here now. I'll yell and see." She yelled—a yell that must have have reached to the end of the dormitory and pierced any number of closed doors. The girls suppressed their half-frightened giggles, and waited. Azzie was right. Mrs. Schuyler did not appear.
"Why doesn't she come?" asked Min Kean in a whisper. "She surely heard that."
"Because I've taken her scalp," said Azzie. So speaking, she drew forth her hand, dangling two sets of false fronts.
"Oh, you didn't dare!"
"How could you!"
"You'll be sent home, Azzie."
"How did you ever get them?" asked Elizabeth. To her, such an act was more than merely hazardous. It was recklessness itself.
"Oh, I got them," said Azzie coolly. "I had a bit of neuralgia. A wisdom tooth has been bothering me for a long time, and I stopped in after the retiring-bell rang to ask Mrs. Schuyler for a drop of medicine to put in it. She was ready for bed. Say, girls, did you ever see her when she wasn't rigged out? She looked like a fright. She hasn't much hair left, but what she has was done up in curling kids. And these," dangling the false fronts before their eyes, "these lay reposing on the top of the dresser. I brought them along to show you girls how fine they are—two grades, one for every day and one for dress-up days."
"Don't shake them so close over my cocoa, please," cried Landis, removing her cup beyond the reach of Azzie's scalps.
"I felt safe about coming so long as I had these," continued Azzie. "Don't be afraid, Landis. A few hairs more or less won't hurt your supper."
"How will you get them back?" asked Elizabeth, who was fearful for Azzie's welfare.
"I hadn't got that far in my thinking," was the droll response. "I knew nothing could induce her to visit us without these," with another Indian flourish of the scalps in the air. "We are safe to-night. To-morrow Smiles will have a headache, and will not be able to come down to breakfast, and perhaps not during the entire day. Drop in to-morrow to ask her something and see if you do not find her with her head tied up."
It was impossible not to laugh at Azzie. There was such a droll dryness to her humor, a peculiar touch to her way of saying things which made her most ordinary expressions masquerade as wit. At times she lacked tact which caused her companions no little embarrassment. This trait was made evident by her turning to Miss O'Day with the remark:
"And, Nora, are you here? I'm as surprised to see you as I am to be here myself." Then turning to Elizabeth, she added as an explanation, "The 'Exclusives' had no time for Miss O'Day last spring, and I was always too much wrapped up in my music to be good company. So we were not invited to the spreads in the hall. I'm glad, Elizabeth, you broke over and invited us."
Miss O'Day's face grew crimson. Elizabeth, too embarrassed to respond, remained silent. Miss Wilson arose to the occasion, changing the subject with the question, "When is Miss Kronenberg going back?"
"Not until Monday," replied Landis, who was rarely embarrassed. These two, with the assistance of Mame Welch and Carrie Hirsch, diverted the attention from Miss O'Day.
"I do not German lessons take. Fraulein is not my instructor."
"Well, she is mine," responded Mary Wilson with a sigh. "As in a dream I hear her say, 'Fraulein Wilson, you have it unright.' I've taken lessons from her for three years, and that is the only remark she has ever made to me."
"She will be giving examinations soon," said Mame. "The Seniors and Middlers finish her work fully a week before the midwinter holiday. It gives us time to cram on something else. It won't be long now."
"Last year, indeed for several years, she has asked the class to write in German a description of a walk in the woods, or our Christmas at home, or what our college life has done for us. It is always the same. She lets you choose one of the three, but you must write a certain amount before she will accept it."
"Landis and I are ready for it," began Min Kean placidly. "We have ours written ready for her. I took a 'Walk in the Woods,' for my subject. I did want to take 'What Exeter has Done for Me,' but Landis persuaded me out of it. Of course, she was right about it. No one expects me to write on subjects as deep as Landis. We have ours all finished and ready."
"Nonsense, Min," cried her roommate. "One would think to hear you talk that we were expecting to pony through. You know such an idea is the one furthest from our minds. You leave such false impressions." Then turning to the girls, she explained, "I knew Fraulein Kronenberg was in the habit of asking for such work in the examinations, so I told Min there would be no harm in our practicing at this work. It would be quite the same thing as though we were reviewing our lessons. Of course, we had no intention of handing them in." Landis always appeared several inches taller when she sought to justify herself.
"The day we are free of German, that day will Miss Brosius put us to extra work in elocution and oratory. If I read the stars right, I discovered a play in the corner of her eye when I saw her last. She has already begun to estimate each one of us, to see who will best serve her purpose. Anna Cresswell is already doomed. She is always dragged in for the beautiful, calm creature who doeth and thinketh no evil. I wonder why she is always selected when I——"
"I suppose they know you'd overdo it," suggested Azzie, lazily. "Thank goodness, there are some things I escape by not being quick to learn my part. They never tried me but once."
"But you always play. I'd rather any day get up and strut over the stage, shrieking 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?' than sit down and keep my fingers on the right keys," said Mame Welch.
"It is certainly wonderful how Azzie can play," said Min. "Every one seems to enjoy it; but, do you know, just for myself, I like popular airs best? Beethoven and Mozart may be fine, but I like the kind that the newsboys whistle and all the hurdy-gurdies play."
"Wouldn't Mozart turn in his grave if he heard her?" asked Mame. "Speak to her, Azzie. Reason with her. You are the only one who has artistic sense enough to be shocked. Tell her to keep quiet, like the others of us do, and pretend to revel in delight at Wagner."
"Will the Middlers be in it, too?" asked Elizabeth. Her heart failed at the thought.
"Yes," said Mary, seeing that Elizabeth was really concerned at the prospect of appearing in public. "Yes, they give the Middlers several parts. You see, their idea is to get the Middlers used to public speaking so that they will appear well when they are Seniors. All the experiences or lessons Middlers ever get are given them in order to fit them to be Seniors."
The lunch had been progressing during the chatter. A few drumsticks and several slices of cake remained to show what had been. Elizabeth and Mary, with true housewifely instinct, put away the remnants of the feast after their guests had finished.
"How economical you are becoming!" said Mame Welch. "If I become hungry to-morrow, I will visit while you are not here. If you miss anything, I think you may give Landis the credit of taking it."
Landis shrugged her shoulders. "To see how careful they are, one would think they never had much to eat before and don't expect much again. Now, I'd throw the whole lot of it into the scrap-basket and let Jimmy Jordan carry it off with the refuse. You bring to my mind that woman we met the day we came back to Exeter. She was horrified because I didn't take what was left of our lunch and run about offering it to some people who did not have any with them. She went outside and shared hers with such a common-looking woman and two dirty, crying babies."
"And me, too," said Elizabeth, not a whit abashed that she had been one of the party which Landis saw fit to criticise.
"Oh, yes," was the reply, "But I suppose you were forced into it."
"I wasn't forced into it," Elizabeth replied. "Indeed, I was glad to go. It was like a little picnic out there under the tree—"
"With two crying babies?"
"They did not cry after we went out. And the woman whom you laugh at was very agreeable. The wait did not seem at all long. It was rather like a pleasant party."
"Well, tastes differ," was the reply. "I am glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure I should not. Come, Min, don't you think we had better pick our steps back?"
"Walk as you please. The great Hokee Bokee Chief of the Night Hawks has taken the scalp of the pale-faced scout," shouted Mary Wilson, jumping to her feet and, seizing the false fronts, she waved them madly in the air while she executed a war-dance.
"Give them back to Azzie," said Mame. "Sometime early to-morrow morning you will find that the pale-faced scout is close on Azzie's trail."
Azzie took the trophies in her hand, examining them critically. "To-morrow I intend to go in and call upon her. I know she'll have a towel bound around her head."
The girls were about to depart when Mame Welch exclaimed, "There, I almost forgot! Anna Cresswell has been invited down to Gleasonton to visit at the Senator's. Mrs. Gleason is arranging quite a party of Exeter girls as soon as they can have a free Saturday."
"Elizabeth and I were invited to-day," said Mary. "We were to let Mrs. Gleason know what Saturday we would have free."
"They have fine times there—so they tell me," Azzie said. "I've never been invited to see for myself."
"I do not know Mrs. Gleason personally," remarked Landis, "but we have the same set of friends. No doubt if I should tell her that I'm Robert Stoner's daughter, she'd out-do herself to be kind to me."
"Why," said Elizabeth guilelessly, "was she such a friend of your father's?"
Landis shrugged her shoulders. "My father was a man of some prominence," was the response. "But how is it that she invited you? Did you not tell me that you did not know her?"
"I don't. I have never so much as seen her."
"She's very philanthropic—always trying to help people who need it. I suppose she knew you were a new student, and perhaps hadn't a wide acquaintance here, so she invited you that you might not find life too dull."
"Perhaps," was the reply, with a smile of amusement. Elizabeth was learning a great deal, not less important that it lay outside of classes and books.
The other girls had departed. Only Landis and Miss O'Day remained. Then the former with a whispered "good-night" went tip-toeing down the hall. Miss O'Day lingered.
Much to Elizabeth's surprise she bent her head to kiss her. "It was very kind of you, Elizabeth, to ask me to come this evening. But the other girls did not like it. Come to see me. You and I will grow chummy over my tea-table. But you do not need to ask me again when you entertain. I will not feel hurt. If you persist in being good to me, they will drop you and you will find it very lonely."
"They may do as they see fit," she responded with determination. "I will entertain whom I wish. If they do not choose to come, then they have the alternative. Good-night! Don't worry about me, Miss O'Day. I'm learning to take care of myself." Then she put up her lips to be kissed again.
The following morning the preceptress did not appear at breakfast, as Azzie had predicted. The dinner hour, according to the custom for all holidays, had been postponed until two o'clock. Devotional exercises were held in the chapel at ten o'clock. Mrs. Schuyler's place on the rostrum was vacant.
"She's been in her room all morning," giggled Min to Landis on their way to their rooms.
"I hope Azzie will see the error of her ways before dinner time," Mary Wilson said. "I should not like to miss a Thanksgiving dinner."
As though Mary's words had power to call her, Azzie at that moment came down the corridor, swinging herself lazily along.
"This is the sixth time I've started for Mrs. Schuyler's room," she began at the sight of the girls. "But the moment I reach the door, my heart drops down into my shoes, and it's so heavy, I can't move my feet an inch."
"Taking scalps is not all the fun it's supposed to be, is it?" asked Mame Welch.
"The taking is all right. The taking back is what hurts my feelings." Azzie sighed deeply as she began to unwrap the paper about the false fronts. "I don't know whether I'll have the courage to lay them inside her door or not. I'd put it off until to-morrow if it wasn't for the Thanksgiving dinner. Well, there's luck in odd numbers."
"To me there would be something too subtle, too sly, in slipping them in at the door." The remark was from Landis.
As usual, Mary Wilson was the one quick to reply. "Then Azzie will not do it if there be but a suspicion of subtleness about it. Do you not know her well enough, Landis, to know when she is jesting and when she is not?"
"Oh, well, let us hope she was jesting then," was the reply.
The seventh venture had carried a charm for Azzie. Her heart did not go thumping to her heels again. She knocked at Mrs. Schuyler's door and then entered without waiting for permission.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Schuyler," she cried gayly. "I was sorry not to see you down to breakfast, though to be honest I did not expect you. Did you miss anything last evening after I was in? It was too good a chance—there they were lying right under my eyes. I'll leave them here," laying the budget on a table near her, "so you can come down to dinner."
Her manner was not that of one who merited or expected a rebuke. There was such a big-hearted friendliness in her voice that Mrs. Schuyler's heart responded. She smiled in spite of the feeling of vengeance she had been cherishing against her tormentor. Before she could regain her austerity of manner, Azzie had departed and was half way down the dormitory hall, on her way to the music-room for an hour's practice before dinner.
Thanksgiving was not a day of unalloyed happiness to Elizabeth. The afternoon's mail brought her letters and papers from Bitumen. Her father wrote the home news with the same gaiety which marked his conversation. He mentioned, as though it were a subject to be lightly treated, that there was some talk of the miners "going out." He thought their grievance might be adjusted without resorting to extreme measures—a week or so would tell. Then he took up the little matters of the house.
The letter was remarkably cheerful. Yet Elizabeth was disturbed in spirit. She had never lived through a strike; but she had heard the miners' wives tell of the dreadful happenings. So far she thought only of the suffering of the miners' families, with no money, starving and freezing in their little shanties. She had never heard how the lives of the operators and men in the position of her father hung in the balance at such times.
After reading the letter again, she mechanically took up the newspaper. The black headlines heralding the coming strike were before her. She read column after column hurriedly. The newspaper attached greater importance to the rumors than her father. They recounted the horrors of strikes past, and presaged them for strikes to come. No definite reasons had been given for the miners going out. The article hinted that only the grossest imposition of the operators had led them to consider a strike. The names of two men appeared frequently—Dennis O'Day and Ratowsky—who were opposed to each other. Strange to say, neither was a miner. Ratowsky could influence the men because he was foreign-born, a Pole, as the majority of them were. On the other hand, Dennis O'Day was a native American, a class of which the foreign element is suspicious. Yet at his instigation the miners had arisen.
The article caused Elizabeth some uneasiness. She looked forward to the following day's paper, hoping it might contain a brighter outlook. But on the next day when she went to the reading room, she failed to find the papers. For many successive days the same thing occurred. Then at length, she gave up looking for them. It was not until a month later that she learned that they had disappeared at Dr. Morgan's suggestion, and the girls were aiding her in keeping the worrisome news from Elizabeth.
The letters from home came at their usual times, but neither her father nor mother mentioned the trouble at the mines. Elizabeth, believing that no news was good news, took it for granted that the difficulty had been amicably settled.
A week later, in company with Mary Wilson, she set forth to visit Mrs. Gleason. From Exeter to Gleasonton is only an hour's ride. At the station, they found a sleigh with a coachman and footman waiting to convey them to Senator Gleason's home.
"It is the prettiest place in summer," said Mary, as they went flying over the snow-packed roads. "Everything is so beautiful that you can really believe it is fairyland."
On their way, they passed several stately country residences, closed for the winter. Then came acres and acres of bark-sheds filled with bark for the tanneries; then the tanneries themselves. Then, at a distance, upon the brow of the hill were seen the stone walls of Senator Gleason's home.
"Isn't it beautiful?" whispered Elizabeth, as though should she speak aloud the spell would be broken, and the place, like Aladdin's palace, vanish in the air.
"Wait until you see it in summer, with all the vines and beautiful trees," was the response.
They turned into the driveway, and in a few minutes were brought to the front entrance. At the sound of the bells, the door opened and Senator Gleason appeared, smiling and affable, to welcome them, and following him was his wife.
Elizabeth gave a start of surprise. Although more richly dressed than when she had seen her before, Elizabeth recognized in her the plain little woman with whom she had eaten lunch on her journey to Exeter.
DEFYING THE POWERS.
Both Fraulein Kronenberg and Dr. Kitchell announced tests for the week before the Christmas holidays. The Seniors and Middlers arose early and stayed up late to study. The hour for physical exercise was cut as short as Miss Brosins would permit. There was little time for anything that was purely social. There was no lingering in the hall after meals for chats. Carrie Hirsch was the only one who had leisure after Miss Kronenberg's announcement. She laughed as the girls hurried back to their rooms. "German is not so hard," she explained. "What one thinks one must say—so simple are the words. Not at all can I understand why they all look so like a frown because Fraulein Kronenberg gives them but one little story to write in the German."
"Suppose Miss Berard should give you a simple little story to write in English," returned Mary Wilson. "Wouldn't you look like a frown, too?"
Miss Hirsch shrugged her shoulders. "It is true you speak; but English is so different."
Elizabeth felt the excitement attendant upon an examination. Had she paused long enough to analyse her feelings, she would have discovered that she had no fear of failing. She had read German with Miss Hale since she was old enough to read. The Middlers' work in German had been to her like an old tale, oft repeated. But the attitude of the other students and the novelty of an examination made her nervous. She was hurrying back to her room one morning when Anna Cresswell stopped her.
"You have the next period vacant?" she asked.
"Yes, but Wednesday is the German exams and I have been putting in this hour cramming for them."
"Then I'll do you a good turn by taking you away from them. Come, let us take a turn up and down the campus. We'll walk fast enough to keep warm. There is something about which I wish to talk to you."
Half-reluctantly, Elizabeth went with her.
"I feel as though I had been neglecting my work in regard to you," began Miss Cresswell, as they crossed the campus. She tucked Elizabeth's arm under her own. Elizabeth felt that something confidential was forthcoming. She was yet unused to the friendship of girls and any act on their part out of the ordinary made her feel shy and awkward.
"But you were with Mary Wilson, so I knew you were in good hands, although I should have come to you at once. But we had so many new girls this semester that I could not get around sooner. I'm president of the Young Woman's Christian Association at Exeter, you know?"
"Yes; or at least, I suppose so. I have always attended with Mary. You preside, so I took it for granted that you are president."
"It was the public meetings you attended. We have some private conferences where no one is present but active members. We do this that we may talk over the needs of some special student, and act accordingly. Of course, we can not publicly diagnose such cases."
"Yes?" said Elizabeth, feeling that Miss Cresswell had paused to give her an opportunity to reply.
"Part of our work is to interview each new student; to ask them to join us in active Christian work. We need you in the Association and I believe you will find, after you join us, that you have been needing us."
"Perhaps so. There can be no doubt of the latter, but as to helping you, I am afraid I couldn't do that. Not that I am not willing, but I do not believe I am capable of it."
"We'll risk that," with a smile. "I'm confident that you can do much. The mere coming out and announcing yourself as a member of a band of Christian workers will have a good influence."
"Perhaps it will. To be frank with you, Miss Cresswell, I've never thought about such a thing. At home I studied a great deal, helped mother some, and rode about the country hunting flowers with Miss Hale. I never gave a thought to the matters that you talk of."
"Then you are not a Christian?" The question was asked in surprise.
The girl looked with a puzzled expression into the serious face of her companion. Then she spoke slowly, as though the idea was for the first time presented to her.
"I do not know. I—never—really thought anything at all about it. You see it was just this way at home, Miss Cresswell. My father and mother with Miss Hale were all the friends I had. We could not go to church; the miners are foreigners, and when a priest was sent to them for services, he spoke Polish, or Slav, or Russian, so there was little use of our going. Miss Hale had a Mission Sabbath School for the younger people. I asked once to help her. She refused for some reason. She did not tell me why. At home, we read our Bible and have family prayers. Mother taught me a great deal, and I committed a great deal to memory; but as to my being a Christian, I never really thought of it before."
"Then let us think about it now," was the response. She drew Elizabeth's arm closer within her own. Slowly they retraced their steps from the dormitory door to the end of the campus walk, Miss Cresswell talking earnestly all the while. She spoke well on her subject; she believed what she said; and she was honest and simple-minded in her efforts to present these truths to Elizabeth's mind.
The hour passed quickly. With a start of surprise, they heard the bells for the dismissal of classes.
"Is it possible? I did not think the time was half gone. We must hurry. You will think on this matter, Elizabeth?"
"Yes; I will think of it. I can't promise more. It seems so serious. I do not wish to undertake anything without being sure of what I really think and am."
They parted at the door, Miss Cresswell hurrying off to Dr. Kitchell's class-room, while Elizabeth, with tardy step and disturbed mind, went to recite to Miss Brosius.
The same evening Elizabeth accompanied her roommate to a special meeting of the Young Woman's Christian Association. It had become a custom of the school to hold such meetings before the tests began, but Elizabeth, not knowing this, was wholly ignorant of the object of the meeting.
Miss Cresswell as president went through the preliminaries of calling the Association to order. She was tactful and discreet. Landis, to whom public speaking was a coveted opportunity, immediately arose and moved forward to the front of the room where she could face her audience. She carried her head and shoulders unusually erect. Her clear, decisive manner of speaking indicated that she believed the mere stating of her opinion on the subject would forever settle it in the minds of her hearers.
"I regret," she began, "to make such a statement before the new students at Exeter lest they form a bad opinion of us in general. But at Exeter Hall, as in other schools, all pupils do not have the same ideals and views of what is right and wrong. It often happens, and has happened here within our knowledge, that a student who would scorn to take any property which was not hers, has taken another's ability, has actually copied work and handed it in as her own. This has happened and may happen again. So we," the speaker so placed her emphasis that "we" became the dominant spirit of the school, "determined to do as we did last year,—call together the members of the Association to take means to prevent a growth of the spirit of deception."
Landis walked back to her place. Her manner had been forcible and had impressed many.
The president asked for expressions of opinions from the members. The remarks were not slow in coming. Immediately a half-dozen girls were upon their feet demanding recognition.
Mame Welch in her droll, half-humorous way was the first to speak.
"I do not see why we should trouble ourselves because from one to a half-dozen girls among several hundred see fit to copy and carry 'ponies' into class. If they are satisfied, let them do it."
"But, oh," cried Carrie Hirsch, not waiting for permission to speak. "It is not fair. It may be so, one girl must hard work; another girl, work not hard. Yet one mark, oh, so high," she raised her hands to express how high the grades of the delinquent might be, "because into exams she carry papers, or from her friend's paper she learn all she wishes to write."
The other members could not suppress a smile as Carrie talked. She was so entirely in earnest, so carried away by her own enthusiasm, and so badly mixed in her English.
It was Landis who again responded. "That is not the spirit in which we have undertaken this correction. To the real student it matters little who may have higher marks than herself. She studies for the love of study and the hope of improvement. Neither should we say that it is nothing to us whether a half-dozen others are dishonest or not. It is something to us—or it should be. We have banded ourselves together as a set of Christian workers, and it should be something to us whether a half-dozen among us are not doing the honorable thing." There was a war-like tone in Landis' words. Whatever weakness there was in the girl's character, she possessed an overwhelming desire to have people believe that she stood on the side of right. She was ambitious to be thought an earnest Christian girl. She would have left no stone unturned to have been a leader among the girls. She was willing to cajole, to cater in order to win friendship. Yet in spite of all her efforts, she influenced only a few. Among those few were none of the stronger girls of Exeter. Min, to be sure, followed close at her heels, and one or two others; but they were not of the brighter lights from either an ethical or intellectual point of view.
"It is our duty to go to them—to talk to them," she continued.
"And have a hornet's nest buzzing about your ears," exclaimed Mary Wilson, disregarding all the rules of Parliamentary law which Dr. Kitchell tried to teach them. She was on her feet, moving to the front, talking as she went. "I really haven't the self-assertion to walk up to strange students and tell them the error of their ways. To me, that course of action savors too much of conceit of our own virtues. The best we can do is to be perfectly honorable about the examinations. Our mental attitude toward dishonorable proceedings ought to have its influence without our going about making ourselves odious by preaching."
Someone else took up the discussion. It grew warmer and warmer. Landis maintained the position she took in regard to personal work. In the excitement, several talked at once, forgetting that there was a chairman to whom a certain courtesy was due. Miss Cresswell used the gavel until its sound drowned out the voices. For a time peace reigned again.
During the discussion, Elizabeth leaned forward. This was intensely interesting to her. Her lips were parted, and a flush caused by excitement came to her cheeks. She looked with admiration upon those girls who could talk in public. In her eyes they were gifted creatures more richly blessed than the ordinary mortal like herself. Hitherto she had been fond of spunky little Mary Wilson. Now she admired and looked up to her as one must look up to a person of talents.
Miss O'Day, dressed in a striking gown of imported material, sat by the side of Elizabeth. She must have heard the discussion, yet she made no show of interest, but seemed like one whose thoughts were far off.
Suddenly a sprightly little girl sprang up and made herself heard: "I think we had a fairly good plan last year—the plan we copy from the old Greeks—the plan of ostracising. Girls have copied and cheated in examinations ever since examinations were known, and I suppose they will do so as long as examinations are held. There are always a few whose bump of moral responsibility isn't developed. I agree with one of the previous speakers this far—let those half-dozen who desire to cheat, cheat. Let it be nothing to us. But I would add this much more—let them be also nothing to us. Let us ostracise them entirely, cut them off from all invitations."
At her words, the discussion grew warmer again. It was as though she had let loose a swarm of bees. Parliamentary law went to the winds. For a moment, every common courtesy seemed to be forgotten. Her suggestion met with some favor. To the surprise of Elizabeth, Mary Wilson was its strongest advocate. Landis now also favored such a course, and consequently Min Kean. In her heart, Elizabeth disapproved, but she was not able to speak as the others had done. She could only sit silent. Popular opinion was in favor of the ostracism. Then another question was brought up. Landis, again, was the one to set the ball rolling.
"But how are we to find out who does the cheating?" she asked. "If I should see some member of my class make use of a "pony," am I expected to cut her dead, while all the others are friendly with her as usual? I do not see how she would be much affected by that, for she may care very little whether I ignore her or not."
At this Landis sat down but she bent forward and spoke to Min Kean. After a little encouragement, Min arose. She was not quick to grasp ideas even at her best. Now, as she stood upon her feet, she lost what little confidence she possessed, stumbling over her words, looking helplessly toward Landis for encouragement.
"We think—that is, I think—that wouldn't count much—I mean just having one person ostracise you. I think it should be told—I mean if we found anyone cheating, it should be told. Then we would get together and tell that person why we are going to act toward them like we are going to act. That's only fair. That's the way they treat criminals in court."
Then she retired to let Landis take her place. "The speaker has said in part what I had in mind. I do not wish my hearers to believe I would countenance news-carrying or tattling. That, of course, is beneath any right-minded person. But we must—I say we must," Landis raised her finger impressively, and repeated the words as though she intended at that moment to root out the evil with tooth and nail, "We must get rid of this deceptive tendency. It will have an evil effect on Exeter. Perhaps, in time, destroy the school altogether."
"Umph! Exeter has stood a hundred years and will stand a hundred more in spite of anything Landis may do," said Miss O'Day, in a low tone to Elizabeth. This was the first she had spoken since they had entered the meeting.
Landis continued, "For that reason, I think it would be wise if one sees another cheating, to lay her name before the members and let them act accordingly."
Elizabeth could never tell how it happened. Months after, in thinking the matter over, she could not justify herself in the thought that she had acted from honorable motives or for any good purpose. She had acted upon the impulse of the moment. This last speech was opposed to all Elizabeth's natural instincts. Her finer feelings were hurt, and like a child she must cry out.
"The idea is preposterous," she exclaimed, getting upon her feet and walking to the front of the room. Indignation had turned to crimson the pink which enthusiasm had brought to her cheek. "No good ever comes of using a wrong to make another wrong right. Like every one else, I think there should be no dishonor in examinations. But to my mind, tale-bearing is equally dishonorable. Consider the idea of our pledging ourselves to run and tell every one else when we find that someone has done wrong. I refuse to do such a thing even though I know it would stamp out every bit of cheating in our examinations."
At this came a burst of applause, so that for the time Elizabeth was forced to discontinue. She saw Mary Wilson's eyes beaming upon her. Not another face could she distinguish. When the applause ceased, she began again. It was evident she was thinking of nothing else but the injustice and littleness of the act they had been contemplating. She felt deeply, and talked as she felt. For a moment she was an orator worthy the name.
"For this ostracising, I have as little sympathy. A student does wrong, and you would cut her off immediately from all who are trying to do right. If your purpose is to assist those weaker than yourself, you will never succeed by such a method. If every one was to be ignored for every bit of deceit they practice, I fancy most of us would be going around by ourselves, rather lonely." A smile passed over the faces of her hearers—a smile of amusement and surprise, for hitherto Elizabeth had been a quiet, shy girl, almost timid in company; and now upon the instant she had taken the lead. She had come forth alone when all the odds were against her, boldly declaring her opinion, and fearless to defend the course she believed to be right.
"If we are going to begin this reformation, let us begin aright—at the root of the evil, and carry it through all its branches. Let us begin with the students who leave us under false impressions—telling us romances of their adventures, their powerful friends, their finances." To do Elizabeth justice, the girl with traits like these she mentioned had no definite form in her mind. She was only supposing a case. Yet, unconsciously, her mind had received during these months of school an idea of such a person. She could not embody these qualities with a human form. Yet more than one of her hearers recognized these as characteristics of one who had been foremost in the denunciations of dishonest examinations. "Let us begin with the girls who turn out their lights and go to bed long enough to deceive Mrs. Schuyler, and then get up again to prowl—and to the girl who gets a book from the town library and allows a dozen to read it before it is returned, when she has pledged herself to withdraw the books for her use alone.
"We, as a set of Christian girls"—the expression was new to Elizabeth, but it does not take one long to become a Christian—"would ostracise any who did not come up to our standard of ethics! I say here so that you may all know where I stand"—her cheeks grew scarlet, and in the energy of her emotions she emphasized strongly—"I will not declare the name of anyone who 'ponies' in class, nor will I cut them from my list of acquaintances. I shall let them know I despise such deception, but I shall treat them exactly as I have always treated them."
With that she went back to her place. To her surprise Miss O'Day was not there, having slipped away at the beginning of Elizabeth's talk.
The girls applauded heartily. Someone else arose to speak. Elizabeth's enthusiasm having died suddenly away, she felt very limp and weak. She was surprised at her own boldness.
"I'm going back to our room," she whispered to Mary Wilson. "I feel all gone."
"Yes, I can sympathize with you. I felt just so the first time I got up there. But you'll get over it and enjoy a scrap. I'll go with you. A cup of cocoa will set you up all right."
Together they quitted the hall. As they crossed the campus, Mary continued: "I was afraid you were going to get personal, and hurt someone with your words; but you stopped just in time. One does not mind if the whole set gets a slap in the face; but one does not like to be the only one. It is just this way about the girls you meet at Exeter. We are like a little town. There will be a few whom you will like well enough to be genuine friends with; then there's a whole long line who will be pleasant acquaintances; and some whom you will care nothing at all about, although they will be good people in their way. Some here have opinions of their own, and some are mere copies. A girl must learn to think for herself, and express her opinion without getting angry or giving personal hits. The moment that is done, Miss Cresswell will request the guilty one to leave the room."
"Will they do it?"
"Do it? Haven't you learned that people generally do as Anna Cresswell suggests? She's a very poor girl—too poor to come to Exeter. But her influence over the younger set was so marked that they say Dr. Morgan makes it worth her while to stay."
"What does she do? She seems very quiet."
"She is—and isn't. She's quiet when it's necessary to be. As to what she does, if you keep your eyes open, you'll find her visiting the homesick girls, introducing the shy ones, tutoring the backward ones."
"It is a wonder she did not call upon me earlier in the term then. I might be classified under all three heads."
Mary tossed back her hair, and laughed. "But you had me, and when one has me to look after her she does not need even Anna Cresswell."
"Especially when it comes to keeping rooms in order," added Elizabeth.
"You haven't forgiven me for that yet."
"Yes; I have—long ago."
"Well, you don't need disciplining now. You are growing so particular that I'm almost ashamed of my own carelessness."
Elizabeth replied earnestly. "Well, with me, I must be decided one way or the other. I think I am naturally careless. So I dare not give up to myself even a little bit."
They entered their rooms as she was speaking.
"Just one cup of cocoa, and then we must get down to work. I'm afraid of Dr. Kitchell's mathematics."
"I'm afraid of everything. I never took an examination of any kind."
"Dr. Kitchell is very fair; but he scares you to death weeks before. He is always holding exams up before you like a death's head at the feast."
The decided stand taken by Elizabeth caused no little discussion. The meeting adjourned without any definite action being taken. The only point gained by the discussion was opening the eyes of a few to the fact that their point of view might not be the only one. Many felt as Elizabeth. The matter was dropped for the time.
The examinations began early in the morning, running through several class periods. Elizabeth, provided with a motley array of examination paraphernalia, entered Dr. Kitchell's class-room. The greater part of the class was already present, as were Dr. Kitchell and Miss Brosius. Dr. Kitchell was in the front of the room. Upon Elizabeth's entrance, with a gesture of his hand, he waved her toward a seat in the middle row. It was not her accustomed place of sitting. She looked about her. There seemed to have been a general scattering. Each member of the class sat alone, isolated so far as the size of the room permitted. The reason for this Elizabeth did not understand, but attributed it to the eccentricities of an examination of which she had heard much. The examination questions, printed upon little slips, were handed to each student. Previously each young lady had been cautioned about providing herself with all necessary articles. Elizabeth had conscientiously heeded the caution. The top of her desk had the appearance of a department of a small stationery store.
She began her work. Dr. Kitchell walked up and down the room, never once turning his eyes from them. Miss Brosius rubbed her eye-glasses, and seating herself at the end of the room, kept her gaze fixed upon the back of the students' heads. Such scrutiny was not calculated to make one feel at ease. For one hour no sound save the moving of pencils was heard. Then Miss Brosius spoke. "I have a class the next period, Dr. Kitchell," she said. "I can stay no longer."
"Miss Worden will be here in one moment to relieve you," was the reply. "She has a physical geography class in Room C. It will not detain her long."
Even as he spoke, Miss Worden, out of breath with her hurry, entered and took Miss Brosius' place, while that instructor hurried off to her class-room.
Elizabeth paused in her demonstration. Here was a problem new to her. Why could not Miss Brosius leave until Miss Worden came in, and why did Dr. Kitchell stride up and down, up and down, never for an instant removing his keen eyes from the class before him?
In the daily intercourse with her parents, she had asked questions freely. She did now as she would have done with them. As Dr. Kitchell passed her desk, she spoke to him:
"I could not help hearing what Miss Brosius said to you about leaving the room, and wondered what she meant."
"It is impossible for me to see all the students. Unfortunately, I do not have eyes in the back of my head."
Elizabeth met his glance with a look of surprise.
Dr. Kitchell then spoke more plainly. "I am quite determined there shall be no cheating in my classes. My students will pass on their own merits—or not at all."
"And Miss Brosius then—" she paused, not feeling confident enough of the situation to put her feelings into words.
"Miss Brosius is here to assist me, and to see there is no copying, no cheating done in the class."
Now Dr. Kitchell was an excellent man, an able instructor, but he had a blunt way of expressing himself. Elizabeth's face flushed and then grew pale. For one instant her lips quivered and her eyes filled. But she quickly controlled herself, and began putting together her papers. Arising, she was about to quit the room.
"Have you finished, Miss Hobart?"
"No, I have not." Elizabeth spoke quietly. One could have no suspicion of the fire that lay smoldering beneath.
"Finish and hand me the papers before you leave the room. That has always been the rule at Exeter."
"I do not intend to finish, or to hand in my papers." Although she spoke quietly, her voice was heard over the class-room. Each student paused with uplifted pencil in her hand. For the most part, Dr. Kitchell was feared. Few would have dared oppose him.
"And why not, may I ask?"
"Because I will not stay and take an examination where we are treated as though we were criminals. Having a watch set upon us is an insult to every honest student in the class. Until I have proved myself to be either a liar or a thief, I insist upon being treated with respect. That is why I will not stay to take an examination under police supervision."
Dr. Kitchell was a big man. Elizabeth looked so childish and little as she stood before him that he could not suppress a smile. He rather admired the spunky little lady who dared to express her opinion so freely. Yet discipline must be maintained. "You will report to Dr. Morgan," he replied.
"I certainly shall," was the rejoinder, as she quitted the room.
In this whirl of indignation and hurt pride, she entered her room and found Mary there.
"I was coming for you, Elizabeth," she said. "Here's a telegram for you." She held out the yellow envelope. "I hope there is nothing serious the matter."
Elizabeth tore it open before Mary finished speaking, and read it quickly.
"It's from father," she said. "I do not understand it." She handed the paper to Mary. "You know I was to start for home Saturday morning."
Mary read it aloud:
"Do not start home. Letter follows. Every one well. Business reason for waiting."
"Nothing to worry about in that. My father has often sent me just such word. Perhaps business calls him away. You see he says every one is well."
"And he would not say that unless it were absolutely true," said Elizabeth with conviction.
"You'll have the letter by to-morrow's mail. It's something pleasant, depend upon it."
"I hope so." She sank down despondently into a chair and rested her head upon the study-table. "I wish something pleasant would happen. This is 'blue' week for me. Yesterday I became excited and almost said too much, and to-day I rush madly in and mix up affairs in the math. exams. I told Dr. Kitchell what I thought of his method of conducting them."
Mary's eyes grew bright. They fairly danced in surprise at Elizabeth's action.
"Why, even I would not have dared do that," she said. "I have dared everything at Exeter but Dr. Kitchell. I would as soon think of going to Dr. Morgan and telling her that I do not approve of her method of conducting Exeter."
"That is about what I will do next," said Elizabeth dolefully. "When one begins anything like this, there is no telling where she will end. Oh, dear, I'll be glad to get home where people know me, and don't act as though they expect me to lie or steal."
"No one thinks that here, Elizabeth. You've run up against a snag. We all have our blue days when we wish we were somewhere else, and when we have a poor opinion of every one, ourselves included."
"You never do."
"Yes, often, but I found it didn't pay to give up to them. Come, tell me all the trouble, and when it's all told you may find there's very little of it."
"I wish I could think so. I'll tell you, Mary, and then I'll go and see Dr. Morgan. I'm to report immediately to her."
She proceeded with her tale of woe. And although her listener was sympathetic, she laughed heartily during the recital.
On going to the office, Elizabeth found that Dr. Morgan had been called unexpectedly to the city, and would not return for several days. She was disappointed, as she much preferred having the thing over and done with than hanging fire for several days. The girls crowded about her, expressing both admiration and criticism and offering advice until Elizabeth did not know whether she was a culprit or a heroine. The maddening part of it was that she must wait three days to find out. Her own opinion in regard to being "policed" into honesty had not changed. She felt confident of the support of her father in the position she had taken. She knew how, from the bottom of his heart, he abhorred any questioning of one's honor. The more she listened to the talk of the other girls, the more indignant she was at the insult.
She was not one to give expression to her feeling in words only. After her remarks to Dr. Kitchell, the other girls did most of the talking while she listened, turning the matter over in her mind. She had her father's way of straightening matters out. "If a thing is wrong, make it right—if you can," she had often heard him say to Joe Ratowsky. Her four months at Exeter had taught her there were people of words and people of action. It was of the last-named class she selected her helpers. Landis was not to be considered. It is doubtful if she could have given a reason for the feeling that she would be of no assistance in a reform movement. It was merely intuition and could not be put into words. Min, too, who was but the shadow of Landis, was to be barred. There was enough to begin with—Anna Cresswell, Nancy Eckdahl, Mary Wilson, Mame Welch, Nora O'Day, strange to say, and herself.
At the dinner table, Elizabeth passed the word around asking the girls to come to her room immediately at the ringing of the study bell. Some of the students were already packing to leave for the holidays; and after the midwinter examinations, no strict observance was paid to study hours.
Miss Brosius heard the invitation and smiled. She was learning to know Miss Hobart. After the experience of the morning, she felt these summonses might be followed by a declaration of war. Her position in regard to overseeing examinations was more distasteful to her than it could possibly be to any of the students. But from time immemorial such had been the custom of most schools. There must have been a reason for it. No doubt, it had been forced upon the instructors by the attitude of the students themselves. New conditions may have arisen, but the old law still held.
"There's something brewing," Miss Brosius said to Miss Watson as they quitted the dining-hall. "If I read the stars aright, Exeter Hall will be reformed before Dr. Morgan returns from the city."
"She comes to-morrow."
"Maybe. Reforms have started in less than twenty-four hours. The fuel has been ready for several years, waiting for someone to apply the match."
"Who is doing that now?"
"Elizabeth Hobart, if I am not mistaken. Did you not notice the flash of her eyes and the message she was passing about to have the girls meet in her room?"
"Yes; but I thought it was nothing more than a taffy pull."
"It is a deep-laid plot to reform us all. I must give her credit in the selection of her colleagues. She has picked those who will carry her plans through if they once see fit to accept them. Oh, no, don't be alarmed," as she noticed Miss Watson's expression, "there may come some good from it; no evil at least, I'm sure. It may be a good thing to have them talk the matter over." Then she related the events of the morning.
The girls did not know the reason for their being called together. Nora O'Day, to Elizabeth's surprise, made no objections, Elizabeth having explained fully that it was not a social but a purely business meeting. Nora came in after the others had gathered. With a nod to them collectively, she took her place before the grate.
Elizabeth stated the reason of the gathering. She related the scene of the morning.
"You know I never was in an examination before," she said. "You have no idea how it impressed me. To think of having two and three teachers in the room to watch us! Why, it seemed to me it was the most insulting thing possible."
"That is because it is new to you. It really was not meant that way," Miss Cresswell explained. "But you must bear this in mind—school life is just like outside life. There are some students who are dishonest. There's no getting around that fact. And because of those few, we must all be put under surveillance."
Elizabeth was not to be convinced. "I do not see why. I felt this morning in class just as I would if I had gone into Dr. Morgan's room and she had immediately locked up her jewelry and her purse. Surely, the teachers themselves must have learned by this time who can be trusted and who can not! Suppose among the fifty girls in our room this morning, there were one or two who cheated. I think it would have been far better to allow them to go their way than have treated us all like criminals. What great difference would it make anyhow? They would be the only losers; and as to being watched, how is that going to make them any better?"
Mary Wilson shook back her hair. Her eyes were beginning to flash. As Elizabeth discussed the question, her enthusiasm grew.
"It makes them worse—far worse. If there is anything in the world that would make me cheat it is being watched to see that I didn't. I'd do it then just to prove that I could be sharper than they."