They talked the matter over thoroughly, each one, with the exception of Nora O'Day, expressing herself freely. She sat silent; but her silence did not spring from lack of interest. She listened keenly to every word, and weighed it fully before she accepted it. Elizabeth wondered at her, for she was not naturally quiet. The others understood, and did not ask for her opinion.
Elizabeth had gained one point. The girls did not treat Miss O'Day with that studied formality which is more galling than open neglect as they had on former occasions. Mary, in particular, was quite agreeable, and Nora herself more at ease.
Elizabeth had a plan for this reformation. She was not attempting the impossible. Her idea was practical. Even Miss Cresswell declared it to be wise.
"Will you be secretary, Miss Cresswell, and jot down our plan?" asked Elizabeth.
She moved to the study-table, taking up a pencil and tablet ready for work. "What have you decided to do about talking with the girls?" she asked. "Will you call them all together and present this plan to them?"
"No; my idea was to interview each one by herself. It seems so much more personal than talking to them all together. I think they will take it so; I'm sure I should."
"Perhaps so. But it will mean a great deal of work."
"We will not object to the work," said Mary Wilson, "if we only succeed in carrying out Elizabeth's idea."
The details were further discussed. Then they began to apportion a certain section of the Hall for each girl to visit.
"We need not visit them all. Each new recruit will be put to work to get other signers."
Anna Cresswell continued her writing. At last she spoke. "We will have this run off on the typewriter. Listen. Is this just what you intend, Elizabeth?" She read:
"We, the undersigned students of Exeter Hall, not being contented with the present method of conducting examinations, believing that it casts reflections upon the honor of each student, do hereby suggest a means of reformation. We pledge ourselves individually to receive no assistance at such times. Furthermore, we will quietly but firmly discountenance among the students any methods not strictly honorable.
"We respectfully request Dr. Morgan to have examinations conducted hereafter without the presence of instructors, we pledging ourselves that under our supervision they will reflect credit both upon Exeter and the students."
"You have done it beautifully. My father could not have done it better," said Elizabeth. "Now we must get the names of the best girls at Exeter."
"Don't have a name of one who does not mean to keep her pledge," advised Miss Cresswell. "Fifty people in earnest are worth more than an hundred, half of whom veer with the wind."
"But as Anna Cresswell said before," began Mary Wilson excitedly, "there will be some who will cheat. What will we do?"
"Most of the girls will agree to this, and the majority can be depended upon to do as they pledge themselves. If you keep your eyes open in the class-room, you can soon discover who has no sense of honor. These may be taken quietly aside and spoken to. If they transgress a second time, we will make the affair public." This advice came from Miss Cresswell.
At the close of her speech, Mame Welch arose. "If we don't scatter soon, the lights will be out, and I do not care to wander down the staircase in the dark. I did it once, and I had a bump on my head for a week. One's head is not the best 'lighting' place. Come, Carrie Hirsch, you go my way. If the lights go out, we will fall together." Slipping her arm through Carrie's, and bidding the others good-night, she quitted the room.
Miss Cresswell and Nancy followed, with cheery words to encourage Mary and Elizabeth for to-morrow's work. Nora O'Day remained. She was quite a striking figure as she stood leaning with her elbow against the mantel, looking down into the grate. As always, she was richly dressed. Her loose robe of crimson silk, her dark hair hanging in a single braid, and her olive-tinted skin presented a glowing picture.
"I waited until the others left," she said, "to speak to you alone, Elizabeth. I have been wishing to for several days, but you were so busy, I didn't feel that I could take you from your work."
"You can talk together here. I am going into the bedroom," said Mary, making ready to disappear.
"No; I do not wish to disturb you. I intended asking Elizabeth to walk to the end of the hall with me. I love to sit on the window-seat at the landing. The campus is beautiful in the moonlight. No one is disturbed by the talking there. I think Mrs. Schuyler will not mind late hours to-night, since we go home to-morrow. Will you come, Elizabeth?"
"Yes; wait one minute until I get a wrap. That window-seat is full of drafts, I know. I have sat there before."
Taking down a golf cape, she wrapped it about her. "Come," she added, drawing Miss O'Day's arm through her own. "We will be night-hawks until Mrs. Schuyler finds us. Don't lock the door, Mary. I'll slip in later."
A delightfully broad window-seat filled with cushions was at the turn of the stairway, where one had a view of the campus, now snow covered, beautiful in the glimmer of the moonlight.
Arranging the cushions here to her satisfaction, Nora began the conversation. "I heard you talk in the meeting yesterday, Elizabeth, and I wish to thank you."
"Why thank me? I only said what I thought."
"Some girls might have done considerably less—to my knowledge some of them have. You ran the risk of being unpopular, and yet you were willing to take that risk because you were my friend. That is the kind of friendship that is worth having. You do not know how pleased, how glad I was! Why, I had not been so happy for months."
"Take the risk! Because I was your friend! Well, I must be awfully dense, but really, Nora, I haven't the faintest idea what you are trying to say."
"You say that to escape my thanks—my gratitude. That is just your way. I might have expected as much. You do a generous, noble deed and then slip away from the gratitude that follows."
"Well, it may be my way, and it may not. I do not know what you are talking about. If I have done what you call a generous, noble deed, this is the first I have heard of it. If your mind is still upon the speech I made yesterday, you may be sure there was nothing noble about that. Why, you have no idea how angry I was! It made me so indignant to hear some explain what should be done and how. I didn't approve of their plans at all, so the only thing left for me to do was to say what I thought about it. It is news to me that being indignant and expressing yourself rather—well, rather forcibly, is noble and generous. Though," dryly, "I'm rather glad it is so, for it will be easy for me to be noble in that fashion."
Miss O'Day turned to look closely at her.
"Really, Elizabeth, upon your honor now, did you really not have me in mind when you made that speech yesterday?"
"I did not, 'pon honor," she laughed softly. Then she gave Miss O'Day's hand a very loving squeeze to mitigate the hurt her next words might contain. "It may be rather galling to your pride, but I did not even think of you after we entered the meeting, although I suppose you must have been sitting by me. I was all eyes and ears for what was going on up front. I suppose you might add all mouth, too, for that matter."
"Then you did not know what happened here last spring? Did none of the girls tell you?"
"I do not know what particular happenings you have in mind. But no one told me of anything that was unusual."
"Well, then I shall tell you. It was not until last evening that I felt that I could talk the matter over with any one; but after you spoke as you did, I knew that you could understand. I have borne it so long without letting any one know, that it is a relief to think I can tell just how I feel, and how awful these months at Exeter have been. I might have gone somewhere else this fall and not returned at all; but when I thought it over, it seemed to me that it would be cowardly to slip away like that. Last summer I wrote to Dr. Morgan that I intended returning. Then I made up my mind that I would stay here until I made every one at Exeter, from Dr. Morgan down to the dining-hall girls, respect me." She paused, then added slowly, "But I don't seem to have made much headway yet."
There was a sadness in the girl's voice which embarrassed Elizabeth. She knew that Nora O'Day was sad—had known that for a long time. She would have been glad to express sympathy, say some word which would show confidence in her companion, but she was so new to anything of this sort that she could do nothing but sit silent and look at her. Then she suddenly blurted out:
"I do not know what you are talking about! Tell me, Nora. I fancy it is not really so bad as you think."
"I do not see how it could be worse! Perhaps, when I tell you, you will feel as the others. If you do, don't stop to explain and give all kinds of reasons for your actions. Just walk off, and I will understand that you do not care to be friends with me. I'll not be surprised. Indeed, I rather expect you to do just that thing—yet, after all, you have always been different."
"Well, wait until I walk off. I may not. Dollars to doughnuts, the 'awful' thing you have done is partly imaginary. The girls are all right, and I love some of them; but even that doesn't make me think them infallible. But you sit there and hint about a dreadful deed you have done. One would think you were little less than a female Captain Kidd. There are cold chills running up and down my spine now, so begin quick and tell me everything."
"Last spring, I went into the geometry examination and took my book with me. I copied three theorems, letter for letter, right out of the book. A half-dozen girls saw me—Mary Wilson, Nancy, Carrie Hirsch, Mame Welch, Landis and Min. That same evening the girls met and decided to cut me. We had all been friends."
"I didn't think Mary or Nancy would have done that—meet and talk over such a matter in public."
"They didn't. Neither would Carrie or Mame. I know none of the four were at the meeting. I think each one of them thought the matter over and decided for herself. They speak to me at the table and any school meetings. But that is a small part of Exeter life. They never enter my room or invite me into theirs."
"Who called the meeting of the girls?" Elizabeth asked.
"Min Kean. I am positive of that, because the notices were signed by her. That is required before any meeting can be held. Then Dr. Morgan knows where to place the responsibility."
Elizabeth gave a gesture of disapproval. She was about to speak, but checked herself, deciding that criticism was not going to help the matter. Nora noticed her hesitancy, and attributed it to a different motive.
"What were you going to say? Do not hesitate. I deserve criticism. I am not afraid to hear it."
"It was not a criticism of you. I was thinking that Min Kean must have been a different person last term. I could not, although I stretched my imagination to its limit, think of her as taking the lead in any matter. What part did Landis take?"
"I do not know. No one ventured to tell me and I would not ask. Before we left Exeter in the spring, she came into my room and stayed almost all of the evening. She told me that she thought the girls acted impulsively, and that she had done what she could to have them wait and consider; but she was only one among many. She was acting-president at that meeting."
"Where was Anna Cresswell?"
"She was here, but would not attend. Someone told me that she refused to be present."
"Did Landis ever come again to see you?"
"Very often this semester. I have all the essays and papers my mother wrote when she was a student at Arlington Seminary. People who remember her say she was gifted in that line. Of course, I do not know, for she died when I was a baby. Somehow I never had the heart to read them, although I have saved every one. Landis says they are quite good, and Landis, you know, has some ability in that line herself."
Elizabeth smiled. She was beginning to understand. New ideas burst upon her suddenly. Unconscious of the meaning which might be given to her words, she said, "I'm just beginning to learn that it is not wise to take any one's opinion in regard to any one else. You must trust and be deceived, and trust again, and just go on learning people for yourself. Did Anna Cresswell never come to see you? I should think she would since she refused to attend the meeting."
"She came twice to ask me to go somewhere with her, once for a drive, and once to walk, but each time I refused. I felt so badly that I had no courage to go out among the girls. It was only a few weeks before we were to go home. I made up my mind to bear it until school was out and then not come back. But I changed my mind, as I told you. She did not ask me again. But I did not expect that for she is very busy with extra work. I suppose she thinks it has all passed away. She doesn't run about to spreads and high teas, so she may not have discovered that I am not among those present."
Elizabeth was silent. She was thinking, not of her companion's misdeed, but of the part which Landis had probably played throughout the affair. Nora waited for her to speak, but receiving no answer put another question.
"Are you, too, so disgusted with me that you can't bear to speak of it?"
"No," slowly, "I am not disgusted. But you certainly cannot expect me to grow enthusiastic or praise you for cheating. I don't like dishonesty in any form; but I do not know that it is my place to pass judgment on you. I may criticise that in you; someone else will find something to criticise in me. One thing I am quite sure of. You are sorry as sorry can be that you did it; and you will never be guilty of cheating again, even if you know that you will fail and be compelled to go to school here forever."
"You may be sure of that. One experience ended such methods for me." There was nothing conciliatory in her tone.
"I will be honest with you, Nora. I am disappointed in you, but I'm glad you told me. You may be quite sure this will make no difference in our friendship."
Much to Elizabeth's surprise, Nora, instead of replying, began to sob, and it was some minutes before she could speak.
"I appreciate this, Elizabeth. I know I did wrong, and I have spent six months in being sorry. Yet I do not believe I should be censured so much as some of you if you had done the same thing. That is rather an odd thing to say, I know. But when I tell you all, you will understand just what I mean. My mother died when I was a few weeks old. She belonged to an excellent family, an only child. Somehow," the girl hesitated. It was difficult to explain without seeming critical of one parent. "Somehow, my father never cared much for what mother cared for most. He could not see anything wrong in cards, and wine-parties, and things like that. When mother died grandmother Loraine took me. But she did not live long. Then I went back home and lived with a housekeeper and the servants. Sometimes they were honest and sometimes not. Mrs. Gager took charge of me. She was a very clean old German woman and not afraid of work, but was not refined. She couldn't even read. I am not complaining, for she was as good to me as she knew how to be. Nothing that I wanted was too much trouble. She was really my slave, and made every one around the house step when I spoke.
"I was a little tyrant. Father spent a great deal of time from home, for he was a very busy man. But he spoiled me, too. I had but to stamp my foot and he would let me do what I wished. He really could not deny me anything, and he doesn't yet. You see, I am the only person in the world he has left, and he thinks I am simply wonderful." She laughed lightly. "I am always amused when I hear him talk to anyone of me. It is nice, though, to have someone think of you in that way. He is wholly sincere. He really believes I'm the brightest and most attractive girl at Exeter.
"Mrs. Gager used to drink occasionally. At such times—I must have been eight years old—she told me what excuses to make to father for her and how to keep Maggie, the second maid, from knowing it. Strange as it may seem, this old woman was my ideal. I never hesitated to carry her false messages, and there was a constant succession of small deceptions. When I was able to fool Maggie, I was commended.
"When I grew older, I met a great number of business men—some of whom were my father's traveling salesmen. And they always made a point of telling how sharp they had been in their transactions. I know now that they were merely dishonest. I do not know whether father approved or not. They told these stories to entertain me and not when they were talking business with him.
"Father was always liberal. I spend as much as I wish. He never questions how, but gives me whatever I ask.
"The conversation I generally heard among the servants—and I spent most of my time with them—was comments on how well or how shabby some one dressed, and how much or how little money people had. Don't blame my father for neglecting me. He hired the best servants he could, and did what he thought was for my good. I was well clothed and fed; and Mrs. Gager took excellent care of my health. His business kept him away from home. And, anyhow, men are not like women. A woman would have understood at once that I needed something more than clothes and food."
"I suppose we can't understand," said Elizabeth. "I'm sure I don't. I've always had a mother. She would punish me severely if I ever deceived anyone. My father, too, and Miss Hale are the same way. I was brought up to abhor anything that wasn't honest. But, then," reflectively, "I'll not take much credit to myself for that. It was my training—not me. If I'm truthful and all that, it's because of my parents."
"If I saw no great harm in copying my examinations, it is because I had been no better taught. It was a surprise to learn that every one looked upon such an act with contempt. I would not do such a thing now. Not because I wish to curry favor with Mary Wilson and her set, but because I feel it is wrong." She paused awhile and then continued, "I think I am like the Loraines in that. My mother would have died before she would have knowingly done wrong."
The talk went on in this strain for some time. Then Elizabeth spoke of the telegram she had received and suggested that she might not go home during the holidays.
Nora offered her sympathy. She did not ask Elizabeth where she lived. It was odd that, although they were friends, she never knew until the close of school that Joseph Hobart, the expert mining engineer of Bitumen, was Elizabeth's father.
It was quite late when Elizabeth slipped back into her bedroom. She undressed in the dark so that she might not waken her roommate, but Mary heard her and spoke:
"You and Nora O'Day must have had a great deal to say. 'Smiles' has trotted down here twice inquiring for you."
"What did you tell her?"
"That I was not your keeper. I think she will interview you privately to-morrow."
"Mary, there's something I wish to ask you. At the meeting last spring, who was it that worked up the case against Nora O'Day?"
"Oh, because. Are you sure? Did she take an active part?"
"Yes; I'm sure. Could you imagine a meeting where Landis didn't put in her oar? Why do you ask?"
"Because I wanted to know."
"An excellent reason," was the sleepy response.
"But, Mary—" But Mary was asleep.
After breakfast the following morning, Elizabeth was summoned to the reception-hall where Joe Ratowsky awaited her. He stood twisting his hat about as she entered. The expansive smile which covered his swarthy face was not so much one of goodwill as embarrassment. He stood in the center of the room so that by no possible chance could he touch any article of furniture. Joe was no coward. He had performed heroic parts when mobs of miners and the militia, during the big strikes, met in conflict. But the thought of sitting down on chairs upholstered in satin of dainty colors made the cold chills run up and down his spine.
It was cruel in Elizabeth to shake his hand so long and so vigorously, even though she was glad to see him. And it was worse than cruel to keep pushing easy chairs before him and insisting upon him sitting down. Elizabeth insisted, and in desperation Joe took a letter from his pocket and thrust it before her.
"Mees-ter Hobart, he write—he write heap—b'gosh."
"He isn't sick, Joe, is he?"
"Sick!" Joe grunted his disgust at the thought of anyone being sick. "He well, so well—he get fat, b'gosh, so fat, Meester O'Day, he look like pole he come long Meester Hobart, b'gosh."
Joe nodded his head vigorously, a habit he had of emphasizing any statement he wished to make particularly strong. Elizabeth could not restrain a smile at the comparison.
"Is mother well, too, Joe?" Joe nodded vigorously while he wiped his brow.
"She well like the tivil, b'gosh. Yes, b'gosh, she so well as that."
"Well, then, Joe, why is it they do not wish me to go home?"
Joe flung out his hand as though what he was about to say was a mere trifle, not worthy her consideration.
"The miner—not so glad, b'gosh. They no work—no—no work. They say they tear up railroad, b'gosh. Meester Hobart, he say, 'No tear up road.' Joe Ratowsky, he say, 'No tear up road.' All time keep watch so no tear up road. You not come. Mebbe no road, mebbe all right, b'gosh."
"A strike, Joe? Do you mean the miners threaten to destroy the road?" He nodded.
"No strike now, b'gosh. Colowski, he say, 'Strike.' Then all say, 'Strike.' Joe Ratowsky, he give him one between his eyes like this." He doubled up his fist, showing how peace had been restored. "He no say strike then. He crawl off. He no come round for day and day."
"Did they go back to work then?" Elizabeth was excited. All her life she had heard of the horrors of a prolonged strike. From childhood she had a dim recollection of someone taking her from her warm bed, and running across fields, seeking safety miles away. As in a dream, she could hear the roar of hoarse voices and see the flickering torches of the mob.
Joe shook his head slowly. "No, b'gosh. They mad like the tivil. They go back some day, so many tollars, every day for work. No more," shaking his head in negation, "No, no more, b'gosh."
Elizabeth grew anxious. She seized Mr. Ratowsky's coat sleeve.
"But, Joe, tell me truly, is my father in danger? They won't hurt him?"
"B'gosh, no. He safe like anything. They no mad like the tivil at him. Emery they mad at."
"Is Mr. Emery there?" Again Joe shook his head. "Meester Emery, he go over ocean. He no come back, mebbe so long till summer. When he come back, the miners so mad they treat him like the tivil, b'gosh."
This Mr. Emery, of whom he spoke, was one of the operators of the soft-coal region; a man who visited the miners once in a dozen years and of whom his workmen knew little.
Joe had evidently been instructed how much to tell Elizabeth in regard to the trouble. Being assured that her father was not in danger, her mind turned toward the letter, her eyes following her thoughts.
"I go back quick. I tell Meester Hobart you look well like everything." He shook his head vigorously to assure her how fine a message he would carry. "I will, b'gosh," he repeated.
He made his way to the door, keeping his eyes upon the chairs and tables in his path. He sighed with relief when he had passed them, and saw a line of retreat open before him. He continued to repeat the message he would carry to her father.
"Grow so tall likes nothing. He will be so glad like the tivil. I tells him so. Yes, he will, b'gosh." These were his parting words as the door closed upon him.
The greater number of the girls in the dormitory hall had packed or were packing their trunks. The hallway was obstructed with baggage of all descriptions, awaiting the coming of Jimmy Jordan and his train of helpers.
Mary Wilson was to leave Exeter immediately after lunch. She had begun her preparations before breakfast. Elizabeth, taking it for granted that their rooms would yet be in confusion, went down to the window-seat where she and Nora had sat the night before, in order to read her letter in quiet. There was nothing unusual in it—nothing to startle her, at least; the home news was told with her father's usual buoyant spirit. If he were harassed or annoyed, his letter writing did not show it. It was not until all the bright little bits of home life had been related that he mentioned the trouble at the mines—just a little local trouble, nothing general. Both her mother and he thought it best that she should not go up the mountain railroad this time of year. There was nothing at all to alarm her. She was to spend her holidays with any one of the girls whom Dr. Morgan advised. It was difficult on account of the snow to get the mails through. She must not be anxious if her accustomed letter did not arrive on time.
As was her habit with home letters, Elizabeth read and re-read it. She was slipping it back into its envelope when Landis and Min appeared. Both were dressed for traveling. They stopped to enquire of Elizabeth when she expected to leave Exeter, being surprised to see her sitting there in her school dress when the others were either packing or already leaving. She told them the possibility of her remaining at the Hall for the holiday season. At this Landis wrinkled her brow in perplexity, and pondered awhile in deep thought.
"I was trying to see my way clear to ask you to go with me to The Beeches—my home, so called because of the magnificent trees which grow near our residence. But I do not see how I can manage it now. I do wish I had known about this sooner. I might have been able to arrange matters somehow. I do not like the idea of your being here alone. Exeter is dull with the girls gone. It's really unbearable. But I have arranged to go home with Min until the day before Christmas. We always have a big family party for that day, and our home is filled. I suppose we could tuck you in somewhere—if you do not object to the third floor."
"Oh, do not think of it, I beg you," began Elizabeth hurriedly. Somehow Exeter without company seemed better to her than The Beeches with Landis. "I would not for the world cause you any inconvenience. Besides, the matter is in the hands of Dr. Morgan. I must do as she decides."
"Well, I hope she will see fit to send you off somewhere. Come to think of it, I do believe I could not let you have even a third floor room. Our cook always takes the privilege of asking in some of her relations, and that leaves no space unfilled. I wish it were otherwise."
"You are kind to think of it. But I could not go in any event. I must go back to my room now. Mary is deep in her packing and will need me. When do you leave?"
"Not until afternoon. But we are going into the city. Shall we see you before we leave?"
"I think not."
Good-byes were said, and Elizabeth went to her room. She was disappointed at not being able to go home, but had no fear of a possible strike, or any danger to her father. Joe Ratowsky had reassured her, and besides her faith in her own father made her confident. There was no question in her mind about his being popular with the miners. He had been not only their superintendent, but physician, friend and banker.
Having packed her trunk so full that the lid would not close, Mary was jumping up and down on it when Elizabeth entered. She hailed her with an exclamation of delight. "I'm so glad you weigh something! Come, sit on my trunk while I turn the key. I can get the lid down, but it springs open the instant I get off, and I cannot stand up there and turn the key at the same time. I have been bouncing on it for the last half-hour."
Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright from her strenuous efforts. Elizabeth did as requested. The trunk closed with a snap.
"And now," asked Mary, "when do you begin to pack? I suppose your Polish friend brought you news from home. I hurried to get my belongings out of the way that you might begin."
"Not until next June," was the reply. Then sitting down on the trunk beside Mary, she related the messages which Joe had brought, and the advice which her father's letter contained.
Mary listened without comment until the story was finished. Then she tossed back her hair, and without a word hurried to the door, flung it open with a great disregard for the amount of noise she was making and began hauling in Elizabeth's trunk.
"You have just three hours to pack, dress, eat and get down to the station," she said, unbuckling straps and removing trays as she spoke.
"Don't stop to talk or ask questions, or say you can't." Mary stopped long enough to stamp her foot in order to emphasize her words. "You're going home with me. We'll talk it over afterward. We haven't time now. I'll hear the objections to-morrow. Put on your duds, and I'll pack, while you get yourself ready."
"I'm ready except my coat and hat." She was carrying Elizabeth's clothes from the wardrobe, and placing them in the trunk. Elizabeth did as she was told without questioning further. She was only too glad to be taken possession of, for the thought of Exeter Hall without the girls had not been pleasant.
The trunk was packed and her dressing about completed when Nora O'Day entered. She was dressed in a handsome traveling suit, the product of a city importer. As usual, she carried her lithe, slender body proudly, as though no one was quite her equal. Elizabeth understood the girl now and knew that her defiant attitude was assumed.
"I've come in to say goodbye. I haven't a minute. The cab is waiting for me." She shook hands with Mary. Then turned to embrace Elizabeth. There was a great deal of affection in her manner toward this new friend. "We were talking last night of mother's theses. I put some together for you to take with you to read. I really think you will enjoy them. I know you will be careful of them. I mean to keep them all and some day read them over." She kissed Elizabeth again, and with a hurried goodbye was gone.
Elizabeth appreciated this remembrance more than a gift of greater money value. Nora cherished these papers the most of all her possessions, and she gave her best when she confided them to Elizabeth. Slipping them into the tray of the trunk, she turned to the mirror to arrange her collar. At last turning to Mary, she said, "There, I'm clothed and in my right mind, and we yet have half an hour. Now we must report to Dr. Morgan."
"You are evidently clothed," was the response, "but I'm not sure about the right mind. Don't you remember that Dr. Morgan does not return until to-night? By that time we will be home. I'll speak to Miss Brosius as we go down to lunch. She's the high-monkey-monk here when our Ph. D. is roaming. We have no time to waste. Jordan will see to the trunks and tickets. He always does. Put on your wraps. We'll eat our lunch with them on. It is no use coming back up-stairs. There are but few of the girls left. We'll bid them goodbye down-stairs."
It was not until then that Elizabeth had time to think about going to Mary's home. Then she stopped and suddenly put the question: "Perhaps your mother will not want me, Mary. She—"
"Come on! Of course, she'll want you. She is always glad to have company. She would not be pleased if I came home and left you here alone."
"But it might inconvenience her," she began again.
"Nothing ever inconveniences my mother. She won't allow it to. The only trouble we have is that our girls take sudden notions to go off and marry, and sometimes we do not have anyone to do the work. I think Fanny intended being married during the holidays. If she does, you and I will have a position as dishwasher. Can you wash dishes?"
"Yes; I always do at home."
"Well, we may have to do it. But we will have a good time. When the servants take to themselves wings we all help, and such fun as we do have! A little matter like that never inconveniences mother. Once during court week, our only hotel burned. There was a big case on before father, and he brought all the witnesses and lawyers home. They were there three days. Mother seemed to think it was a joke." Then with a look at Elizabeth, she added with conviction, "A little bit of a girl like you could not inconvenience her."
The Wilson home was at Windburne, a two hours' ride from Exeter with a change of cars at Ridgway.
It was extremely cold when the girls left the Hall, but before they reached Ridgway the mercury had gone several degrees lower.
The road to Windburne from the Ridgway junction is a local affair, narrow gauge, with little rocking cars in which a tall person could scarcely stand upright. Windburne is the county-seat and consequently a place of importance, but Ridgway has little traffic and the roads intersecting there take no pains to make close connections.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the girls reached the junction, a bleak little place with a low-roofed station, black and dirty. A hotel stood at the corner—a rough saloon. An engine with a coach usually waited on this narrow gauge track, but this afternoon there was none. Before she entered the waiting-room Miss Wilson looked about, expressing her surprise at the condition of affairs.
"The worst is yet to come," cried a voice back of them. The girls turned to discover the ticket agent, just about to leave for home.
"The narrow gauge is storm-stayed. You will not be able to go through to-night."
"Then we'll turn about and go to Exeter."
"Not to-night. The last train pulled out just before No. 10 came in. There's a hotel over there—"
"Yes, we smelled it," said Elizabeth seriously.
He laughed, and inquired where they were going. Then he suggested a plan. The hotel was not a suitable place in which to spend the night, and they could not return to Exeter; but he would find for them a trustworthy driver who would take them safely to Windburne.
There was no choice. Mary accepted his offer. The girls stayed in the dingy waiting-room until he returned with a sleigh, horses and driver.
"This man will take you there safely," he said, with a nod toward the driver. "He knows the road and knows, too, how to handle horses to get the most out of them." He assisted the girls into the sleigh, tucking the robes well about them. A moment later, they were speeding along the country road. The sleighing was fine but the wind had a clear sweep over the bare fields, and it had grown much colder. They began to shiver in spite of their heavy wraps.
"We are over half-way there," encouraged Mary. "The farmhouse we have just passed is six miles from Ridgway. I know the roads about here. This is beautiful in summer time. Landis Stoner lives in the last farmhouse along this road. After we pass there, we won't see another for five miles, and when we do it will be Windburne. There, you can catch a glimpse of the place now."
"Couldn't we stop and get warm?" asked Elizabeth, her teeth chattering. "My feet are numb!"
"Yes; perhaps it would be better. We'll get Mrs. Stoner to heat bricks for our feet. She's very hospitable, and will make us comfortable." She leaned over to speak to the driver, requesting him to stop at the Stoner place.
Elizabeth was too cold to look about her as they entered the house. She was conscious only that an immense beech was stretching its bare boughs before the doorway, then someone was leading her to an easy chair, removing her wraps and rubbing her hands to make them warm. In a few minutes she was herself. Mrs. Stoner had brought them hot coffee, and was now putting bricks into the fireplace.
Elizabeth looked upon her in surprise. This was not the style of woman she had pictured in her mind as Landis' mother. She was a faded, slender little body, mild and gentle in manner and voice. One felt that she was refined and had devoted the best of her life to serving others. She was dressed in a plain dark calico, which had seen better days, yet its absolute cleanliness and the band of white at her throat gave her an air of being well-dressed.
The room, evidently the best in the house, was homey and comfortable. There was an open fireplace big enough to accommodate a four-foot log, a bright rag carpet, and some wooden rockers with easy cushions. The windows had white sash curtains. In one were pots of blooming geraniums.
"I have never been at Exeter," Mrs. Stoner said. "Of course, I have heard of it all my life. As a young girl, I used to dream what a fine thing it would be to go there to school. But it was not to be. Landis, however, is having that privilege, and I am very thankful. Miss Rice—you have met her; every one hereabouts has—thinks that every girl should have a little more than they get in public schools. She's made it possible for Landis to go."
Their hostess then brought out some pictures Landis had sent home—kodak views of the girls, their rooms, and the campus.
"You see," she added with a smile, "although I have never been at Exeter, I know it well. Landis writes of the teachers and her girl friends until I feel I know them thoroughly."
As the mother continued, her pale face lighting up, Elizabeth saw Landis in a different light. The girl was evidently devoted to her mother, if one could judge from the numerous letters and the many little souvenirs from school displayed.
"It was dull for Landis here," she continued. "There is no company for miles, and only her father and I at home. She did not want to leave us. But I told her we were used to the quiet and were company for each other. I miss her, of course, but it would have been selfish to have kept her here. She must live her own life and have her own experiences, and I can't expect her to be satisfied with what satisfies me."
The hot coffee had made them comfortable; the bricks in the grate were hot, and the time had come to start. Solicitous of their welfare, Mrs. Stoner brought extra wraps, warming them at the open fire, then securely pinning them about the girls. She came to see them off and Elizabeth, with a sudden impulse, kissed her warmly.
When they were safely in the sleigh again and speeding over the frozen roads, she turned to Mary with the explanation: "Do you know, she's really homesick to see Landis? I couldn't help kissing her; she's so gentle and sweet that I could easily love her."
She turned her head to catch a last glimpse and to wave farewell to the little woman standing in the doorway of the humble home which Landis had called "The Beeches."
CLOUDS AND GATHERING STORMS.
Dennis O'Day, as he stood at the door of his saloon this autumn afternoon, was an excellent advertisement for the line of goods he carried. He was big and flabby. The skin about his eyes had grown into loose sacks; his eyes were a steel-gray, cruel, keen, crafty, without a particle of humor or affection. He owned the largest breweries in the state, and controlled numerous retail houses where his products were sold.
His dealings were largely with the foreign element. He spoke ready German with its various dialects. His name indicated his nationality. Though an Irishman he lacked the great-heartedness of his countrymen. The humor which made their shanties brimming with life and fun was not for him. He drove the Poles and Slavs who lived about Bitumen like a herd of cattle. The few who voted, voted as Dennis O'Day told them. The labor problem was discussed over his bar. He fixed for them the length of day, and the rate per ton. He was the bell-sheep for all the foreign herd. In return for their allegiance, he bailed them out of jail when necessary. When Gerani in a drunken quarrel, had stabbed the fighting, ugly-tempered little Italian, Marino De Angelo, it was Dennis who established an alibi, and swore all manner of oaths to prove that Gerani, a law-abiding citizen, a credit to the commonwealth, could not possibly have done it. As to the guilty party, O'Day had shaken his head in doubt. He was not quick to remember the faces of these foreigners. There were many about—some new to him. It was impossible to point out the guilty man. He appeared really grieved that the death of De Angelo should go unpunished, and left the court-room with the avowed intent of bringing the murderer to justice. That had been some five years before, and De Angelo's murderer was yet unpunished. But from that time, Gerani was a slave to O'Day. There was no work about the hotel or town that he would not do at the saloonist's bidding. He made good wages in the mines and the proprietor of "The Miner's Rest" received the biggest portion of them.
It was not for love of Landlord O'Day the big Pole served so faithfully, for he muttered and cursed under his breath the instant he was out of range of the cold, steely eyes. O'Day was not in ignorance of this for Coslowski had warned him. The men had been drinking, Gerani among them.
"Keep your eye on the big Polack," he said to Dennis, yet loud enough for all to hear. "If you don't want to hand in your checks soon, don't let him get behind you on a dark night."
At that Gerani had scowled malignantly. O'Day laughed loud and mirthlessly, while he washed glasses and kept his eye on the scowling Pole.
"He'd do it quick enough. Dead men tell no tales; but confessions do. And I've left with Father Brady a nice lot of paper which he's to read when I'm gone. It will be hot enough around here to make more than one swing for a breeze. I'm safe with Gerani—so long as those papers are safe with Father Brady." The big Pole moved away from his place at the front. As O'Day ceased speaking, he disappeared into the darkness.
By such methods O'Day had gained his influence over the foreigners. He was lawless. His place was open on the Sabbath and until all hours of the night. Young boys entered sober and came forth drunk. There was no one to call him to account. Then from somewhere came Joe Ratowsky. And from that time, the troubles of Dennis O'Day began.
Yet big Joe was apparently innocent. He could smatter only a little English. No one seemed to know where he came from and he never furnished the information even when asked; he never seemed to hear the question. He was friendly with his countrymen, and stood by them whenever the need arose. He was often called upon to act as interpreter between the bosses and the men, but still he was different from those about him. He was a Pole, heart and soul, and his faith was bound to the homeland whose ultimate independence was his one dream; he had risen a grade higher in the moral scale than those whom his work made his associates. Joe took baths. Joe read a Polish paper; he did not drink except one glass of beer at his dinner. None of them had ever been able to persuade him to go further than that. Whether it were a wedding or a wake, Joe was staunch. This moderation, with the baths, set him, apart.
He did not mine at Bitumen, but worked his little patch of ground, interpreted when there was need for small consideration, and at last opened a little restaurant where lunches after the German style were served. His black coffee certainly excelled O'Day's beer, while the wienerwurst and "Schnitz-und-Knoepf" put to shame the meals at "The Miner's Rest."
Joe's place consisted of a great room with a bare floor, furnished with wooden chairs and tables. One weekly paper in German was always to be found. The German element at Bitumen could read their own language; and they passed the news on to the others. The innovation of the paper diminished the popularity of O'Day's place. Joe also introduced music, or what was passed for it. Then O'Day offered to buy him out at a price more than the place was worth. Joe smiled blandly, "Me know Slav—me know Polack talk. Me know no English like you say. Me no understand. Meester Hobart, he tell you vat you says. He tell you quick like the tivil." But Dennis O'Day had no desire to speak with Mr. Hobart. His efforts with Joe were futile. The big Pole had made up his mind not to understand.
The superintendent was liked well enough by the saloonist, and consequently by the greater portion of the men. Mr. Hobart was opposed to liquor, and had not hesitated to express himself to that effect. But O'Day cared little for that so long, as he said, the man knew his place and did not interfere. And his place, to O'Day's way of thinking, was to superintend the mines, and let the morals of the men alone. "I'll take good care of them," he was apt to add with a crafty look. His intercourse with Mr. Hobart began and ended with a bow of recognition in the street. So far as the liquor business was concerned, O'Day considered the superintendent harmless, and that was as far as he concerned himself with anyone.
Some subtle influence was working against O'Day. From whence it came he was not able to determine. The time had passed, however, when he could break the law with impunity. He felt that keen eyes were upon him. He was cunning enough to know that his safety now lay in his keeping within the limits of the law. He made ostentatious show of closing at the prescribed hours. All the while he kept his eyes and ears open to discover his enemy.
Big Joe Ratowsky was the only probable one. He made frequent visits to "The Miner's Rest," but never drank. He knew the ages of all the miners. In this respect Joe's watchfulness was clear to O'Day's mind; but there the evidence stopped, and much could be said on the other side. So, still at sea, O'Day kept himself sober and his eyes and ears open to all that was said and done in his place of business. Finally, when his confidence was fully restored, he returned to his old way of doing business, and kept open one Sunday. His place was filled with drunken, riotous Poles and Slavs. In a spirit of recklessness, he sold freely to all. On the following morning a summons was served to appear before the court to answer to the charge of illegal liquor selling. The charge was brought by the Pole, big Joe Ratowsky. Even then O'Day's perception was dull. It did not come to him that Joe was merely the instrument in the hand of someone who would not act openly.
Raffelo Bruno, the little hunchback shoemaker, opened his eyes to the truth. He was by nature suspicious. He had faith in no man. When the summons came to O'Day, Raffelo quit his bench and made his way to the saloon. His dark, swarthy face, with stubby beard, was twisted and contorted. He gesticulated continuously, sawing the air with his hands. "Ye-s—Joe Ratowsky, he run and tell ze—ze. He ees—one—fool. He ze monkee on ze stick. Mees-ter Ho-bart, he meek hims—jump."
The suggestion was enough. Joe was the tool of someone, and that someone was Superintendent Hobart; such was the idea the Italian meant to convey. O'Day in forcible terms cursed himself that he had not seen this before. It was evident enough now. Mr. Hobart, as superintendent, dare not antagonize the drink-indulging miners with open warfare against the saloon. Joe was his tool, carrying out his plans. Joe Ratowsky with his smattering of English did not know enough to make himself a formidable enemy. Some keen mind with a knowledge of the liquor law was the power back of the Pole. The coffee-house and reading-room which Joe had opened were mere subterfuges to draw the men away from the saloon. The man could not and did not make enough to keep himself and family in the poor way they lived.
It was clear enough to O'Day now, though he ridiculed Bruno for suggesting that Mr. Hobart interested himself in such matters.
The summons was served in October. O'Day appeared before the November court. They might have brought half a dozen different counts against him, but they did not. The prosecuting attorney, with great confidence in his own judgment, had drawn up the papers specifically charging Dennis O'Day with selling to minors. He had evidence sufficient on that one count to have his license revoked.
The trial passed off quickly. Four boys, not over sixteen, testified that Dennis O'Day himself had sold liquor to them, not once but many times. It was proof positive without Joe Ratowsky giving his testimony.
O'Day himself sat hunched up in the prisoners' dock, glinting his keen eyes about from witness to juror. When the witnesses had testified against him, his attorney brought forth, in turn, the father of each boy, who declared that he had personally given the saloonist permission to sell liquor to his son. By this the Minor Liquor Law was, in effect, circumvented. That each father was the richer by some of O'Day's money was generally supposed. But that was not the issue at hand. The case was dismissed. O'Day went back to Bitumen wiser in that he knew whom to fear, and with the privilege of freely selling to the young boys who had testified against him.
Though to all appearances the matter ended here, the fight had just begun.
It would have been impossible for anyone, except O'Day, to tell just how the trouble began. But before a month had passed, there arose a feeling of dissatisfaction among the miners. It could be felt rather than expressed. Where once every Slav and Pole smiled at the mention of the boss's name, now there was only silence, a silence ominous to those who knew the signs. Joe Ratowsky understood and went at midnight to ask Mr. Hobart to go away somewhere for a time, until the discontent passed. But Mr. Hobart was not one to leave his work because a man of Dennis O'Day's stamp saw fit to disapprove of him. If there was trouble brewing, there was all the more reason for him to stand at his post. He laughed at Ratowsky's fears, and encouraged him to think that half the discontent among the men was of his own imagination.
A series of accidents, or what passed as such, began immediately after Dennis O'Day was acquitted.
The cable, which drew the coal cars up the incline, broke, letting them fall back at break-neck speed against the engine-house. Fortunately it occurred at a time when the men were not riding up the incline, so no lives were lost. This accident was the subject of discussion that night at "The Miner's Rest." O'Day was over-solicitous about the welfare of the men. He criticised corporations which risked the lives of the workmen for the sake of saving. "Anyone could see the cable was weak in spots," he said. "It wasn't a week ago that I walked up the incline—wouldn't trust myself to such a rotten chain. A new cable costs, of course, and the company used the old one till it fell to pieces. They hain't risking their lives. What does it matter to them if a few Slavs and Polacks hand in their checks? Huns and Dagos are thick as blackberries in June, and about as valuable."
At his words the men about the tables scowled. It mattered to them if a few lives were lost, providing their own were among them.
"I wish I had the corporations by the throat," added O'Day vehemently, all the while watching the effect of his words upon his hearers. He could read these people like an open book, and he was keen enough to know when it was wise to stop talking and when continue. "I'd choke them into taking care of the men's lives. You're all just so many cattle to them. A Hun isn't so much to them as a cow, and they would see you all in perdition rather than lose a good mule."
The faces about him were scowling and malignant. Each man was ready to believe all evil against that great and incomprehensible body known as a corporation. They had heard the war-cry between capital and labor dinned into their ears since the day they set foot upon American soil. It meant nothing to them that their teachers were always men like O'Day, who, while lining their own pockets with the laborers' earnings, cry out against the men who are getting more, though lawfully. It never came to their untrained minds that O'Day proved nothing. He said so, that was enough. O'Day listened to the muttered growls of dissatisfaction.
"But, I suppose," he continued hypocritically, "that we shouldn't blame the men who have put their money in the mines. They are only wanting a fair interest on their investment. That's only right. No doubt they send money enough right into Bitumen to have things kept up first-class, better houses for the miners, and cables that don't break. I'm thinking there hain't one of those big ones in the city who knows how poor you men live, how little you get, and how you risk your lives every day you work. How should they know? They spend money enough to have things fine." Then he added, "They hain't to blame if the men they've put in charge hain't honest."
That was enough for one night. O'Day, still discreet and tactful, dropped the subject. Not so with the men. They rolled the idea about until it grew into immense proportions. A week passed, and yet they talked. If there had been one among them fitted to lead, there would have been open trouble. There was no one. Bruno had daring and sagacity enough, but he was an Italian—a Dago, in common parlance, and the Slavs and Poles hated the Dagos worse than they hated the smallpox.
Sometime later a small stationary engine blew up; and Colowski was hit on the head by a piece of flying iron. Ellis, the engineer, insisted that he was not careless. He had kept his steam-register down to one hundred and fifty pounds when the limit was three hundred. Superintendent Hobart was about to discharge him when Joe Ratowsky appeared.
"It's the tivil's own work, b'gosh, Meester Hobart. Gerani, he comes and he fools with the little boiler-clock. Me come like the tivil, b'gosh, or me could have stopped it quick." He had picked up the steam-register and was holding it in his hand. It was what he called the boiler-clock. It had been hurled a great distance but yet remained whole.
Mr. Hobart took it from Joe's hand to examine it. He had given little credence to Ratowsky's words. He whistled softly to himself as he examined the register. He began to believe the Pole right. Affairs at Bitumen were assuming a serious aspect.
O'Day's acquittal had taught him one lesson—to be prepared for any emergency. For that reason, he handed the register to Ellis. "Look closely at that," he said. "There's evidence enough there to free you from blame. But I wish you and Joe to see this for yourselves and not take my word for it."
Ellis, too, whistled when he examined the register. Little wonder that he had not been able to put on a full head of steam. A strong but almost invisible steel rod had been driven in the face of the register at such a point that the hand moving under the pressure of steam would stop at the one-hundred-and-fifty-pound mark.
"It couldn't have been driven there by the explosion?" asked Ellis.
"Impossible. We haven't a steel brad like that about the place, and never have had. Joe saw Gerani prowling about before you came."
"And I saw him leave, Mr. Hobart. I went up to Bruno's shack to have my shoes fixed, and I came down over the hill instead of the usual way by the road. Gerani was just going up as I came down."
Mr. Hobart made no further comment. But from that time Gerani was watched closely. Joe Ratowsky, while seemingly doing nothing but attend his little lunch-counter, shadowed the man. He knew when Gerani came and went. There was proof enough that he had been interfering with the engine. But it was not he alone whom Mr. Hobart wished to reach. It was the man back of the act who had sent the Pole to do the work.
The superintendent thought at first of dismissing Gerani. But this might bring on more serious complications. His fellow-workmen might object—the Huns and Poles, at least. The Italians were not in the mines but were employed about the dumps, and on the road which wound about the mountain. It was Joe again who thought of a means of subduing Gerani. He had heard enough of O'Day's covert suggestion that he could tell much that Gerani dreaded. Joe undertook the same stratagem. One stormy night he met Gerani on his way home. Catching him by his sleeve, he detained him long enough to say in his native tongue, "I've a word to say to you in secret, brother. O'Day is not the only one that knows about the Dago. The superintendent, he knows, too; but he keeps quiet because you are a good miner when you are not drunk, brother. So a word of warning. Keep friends with Mr. Hobart, and whatever happens, don't let it come to his ears that Gerani went up at daylight to work at the engine. Just a word of warning, brother, all given in good faith, and for the sake of the land from which we came."
That was all. Joe Ratowsky strode on through the darkness without giving the other time to respond. In his own tongue, his speech was impressive. He saw now, from the frightened expression of Gerani's face, that his words had struck home.
The next morning, the big Pole was not at the mines, nor did he come to draw the pay due him. Joe Ratowsky chuckled to himself when several days passed. "Gerani—oh—he all right. We no fear him. Me scare him like the tivil, b'gosh."
Mr. Hobart rested easy again with Gerani at a distance and afraid of him. But men of O'Day's stamp can readily find tools to their need.
There was a week or more of quiet, then the engine and one car, which went down the mountain each morning to bring back the mail, was derailed at the second switchback and crashed into a forest of big oaks. The car was empty, and the train, being on the second switch, was moving backward. The rear end of the coach was crushed but the engine and engineer escaped unhurt.
"Gerani," said Mr. Hobart when he heard the news, but Ratowsky shook his head in negation. "You no see him no more. He be bad man at Bitumen no more, b'gosh." Then Joe laughed heartily and slapped his broad limbs with his hand. He never lost his first appreciation of the manner in which he had settled Gerani's interference. There had been a gang of a dozen Italians somewhere along the road, but they had neither seen nor heard anyone.
For several weeks communication between Bitumen and the rest of the world was cut off. It was then that Joe Ratowsky walked to the foot of the hill to telegraph Elizabeth to remain at Exeter. And the day following he called upon her, with a letter, putting the best construction he could upon the road being disabled.
There was a little mule-driver in the mines who bore the euphonious name of Ketchomunoski. He ate much wienerwurst and drank beer freely, and on holidays devoured, at one sitting, a half-dozen loaves of bread, the centers of which had been previously dug out and filled with melted lard. He visited "The Miners' Rest" and reeled home to his shack at a late hour. All these are mere preliminary details to the statement that his nerves were growing irritable, and his temper uncertain. He beat one mule until it was forced to return disabled to the barn, and a few days later mistreated a second until it was worthless and the boss in a humane spirit had the animal shot.
For such cases a precedent had long been established. The boy deserved to be discharged at once, and discharged he was. Had conditions been normal, discharging a mule-driver would have been of so little moment it would have passed without comment. But O'Day's quiet work had not been without its effect.
The same evening, a delegation of miners waited upon Mr. Hobart. Ketchomunoski was to be put back or the rest of them would go out. Mr. Hobart listened to their terms. He considered the question before replying. Again he felt certain that another brain had put the plan in operation. After deliberation, he spoke to them plainly. Such a movement on their part was ill-advised. First, the largest orders for the year had already been filled, and enough coal was at the dumps and in cars at the foot of the mountain to fill the orders which came in month by month. So far as The Kettle Creek Mining Company and its patrons were concerned, the mines could shut down until spring; as to the miners, they knew that they had neither money nor food to supply them for a month.
He tried to reason with them; but the Hungarians and Polack miners know no reason. Mr. Hobart's present method of talking with them, to their way of thinking, betokened not sound common sense and judgment, but fear.
They blustered and threatened and defied. At this, Mr. Hobart arose, declaring that they might take what course they would, he could not return Ketchomunoski to work. The delegation, expressing their anger in strong words, departed. Mr. Hobart immediately sent word to Ratowsky, Ellis and half a dozen other men whom he knew would stand by him. Together they talked over the situation, cleaned their firearms, and then sent Ratowsky, by moonlight, down the mountain to purchase and bring back a supply of ammunition.
By the following evening the strike at Bitumen was on.
THE PROUD, HUMBLED.
After the midwinter holidays, the question of conducting examinations came up. Dr. Kitchell had decided that, in view of Miss Hobart's refusing to take the examination, she could not enter his classes again until she had explained matters to Dr. Morgan and secured permission from her. Elizabeth dreaded talking matters over with Dr. Morgan no more than with her father. Upon her return to Exeter, she immediately visited the president's office, and explained why she had refused to take the examination. Dr. Morgan was in a lenient frame of mind. She not only forgave Elizabeth her hasty act, but took time to explain to her that this was a custom old as examinations themselves, and a necessity. The explanation satisfied Elizabeth's wounded feelings but did not alter her view of the method. She told Dr. Morgan of the conference the girls had held in her room the night before the holidays and of the plan they had formed which, with the permission of the principal, they meant to carry out.
Dr. Morgan listened to the plan as Elizabeth gave it in detail, then replied: "This much can be said of the plan, Miss Hobart. If it proves a success, it will be a benefit to the students and the school. If it fails, we are just where we were before—nothing gained or lost. You may try it. But just a word of advice. Select as your leaders girls in whom the others have confidence; those who may be trusted to do right; however unpleasant it may be. Young girls may laugh at and seemingly admire a smart bravado of manner and sly deceit, but when it comes to being led, they want none of these. A dozen trustworthy agents will be worth more than a hundred who are not."
Such advice Miss Cresswell had given Elizabeth the evening of the meeting. She had already acted upon it according to her best lights, though it was no easy matter to decide whom to choose. She and her friends worked slowly. They wished the reformation to be the outcome of deliberate thought, rather than of impetuous emotion.
Nora O'Day was one of its staunch supporters. At every opportunity she advocated the acceptance of the new school creed which Elizabeth and Miss Cresswell had drawn up. Considering the part which she had played in the examinations the previous spring, her present position was a difficult one. She knew that her strenuous efforts were looked upon by some with suspicion. But she continued. She might have become discouraged had she not known that Miss Cresswell and Elizabeth both understood.
Since that night before the holidays when she had told Elizabeth the cause of her social ostracism, no mention had been made of the subject. There had been no change in Elizabeth's manner toward her. Nora began to believe that Elizabeth cared enough for her to forgive. Her greatest proof of love for Elizabeth was giving her the essays and theses which had been her mother's. The memory of this mother was the only bit of real sentiment that had ever come into the girl's life. She was fond of her father for he had always been kind to her. As a child, she had idolized him. But as she grew old enough to learn what character meant, the childish faith died. She could not put the feeling into words. She was scarcely conscious that her attitude toward him had changed. But at Exeter she had learned to blush at the way in which his wealth had been gained. She spoke of him, but never of his business. She looked upon the simple gifts and loving letters which Elizabeth received from home with a feeling very much like envy.
Before the Easter holidays, Mrs. Hobart sent Elizabeth a simple school suit of her own making. Joe Ratowsky carried it down to Exeter. So many accidents had occurred on the dinky-road that it had been abandoned until spring. The mines were closed; and the operators were making no effort to open them.
Nora was in the room when Elizabeth spread out her new frock on the bed.
"Look at the button-holes!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Mother always did make beautiful button-holes. And here," seizing a smaller bundle and unwrapping it, "if she hasn't embroidered me two lay-over collars to go with it! Mother always seems to know what I want."
She was already before the mirror laying the bits of embroidered linen in place to see if they fitted.
Her companion stood by, looking on. She had made no comment. Her expression was not cheerful. Turning suddenly about, Elizabeth saw the dubious look.
"You don't like it?" she cried. Then, "I suppose it does look very cheap beside yours, but—" There was no complaint in her tone.
"Cheap? I wasn't thinking of that. I was only wishing I had one made as that was made, by someone who took the trouble because they cared for me." Her voice was tearful. In a moment she might have been crying, but she hurried to her own room. Her new spring dress had come the day before. She had spread it out on the couch to show Elizabeth, and it still lay there. She took it up in her hands, inspecting with care every hook and bit of trimming. It was beautifully made and of handsome material. But Nora O'Day was not satisfied. She missed more and more the mother she had never known. She coveted the plain, simple gown which loving hands had made for her friend.
Elizabeth wasted no time in putting her frock into use. Dressing immediately, she went over to Landis' room to talk over the plan of examinations. Landis had been one of the last interviewed. She was not what might be called a "charter member." Therefore, it was not surprising that she had not shown a great amount of enthusiasm when the matter was broached to her. Playing second fiddle did not suit her ambitious temperament. She had promised to consider the matter.
That promise had been given a week previously. Elizabeth, who decided most questions upon the spur of the moment, thought a week was sufficient. Upon entering Miss Stoner's room, she put the question at once.
"Well, Landis, what are you going to do about joining us?"
Landis looked serious. She sat silent for a few minutes, her gaze fixed upon a design in the rug, as though she wished to consider well before replying. At last she spoke and her voice expressed self-confidence and authority.
"You know me well enough, Elizabeth, to know that I'm always on the side of what is right. I have thought the matter over and have decided that it is worthy of success. I do hope it will succeed. That, of course, depends upon those who are backing it. Yet I can not put my name to it. Now," with a serious and most impressive air such as Landis only could assume, "do not misunderstand me. It is not that I do not approve of your plan, think it needed and all that, but there is a personal reason why I feel that I cannot join the movement."
"Why,—because you feel that you can not live up to the requirements?" was the brusque question.
"Hardly. I fancy I do whatever I make up my mind to do. I'm sure living up to the requirements would be doing just as I have always done."
"Then what is it?"
Again Landis looked serious. Her expression was that of one who could tell much if they would. Her habit of seeming to weigh her words gave them undue value. Her hearers expected her to express lofty sentiments.
"I hesitated about speaking of the matter to anyone. It is so easy to be misunderstood. I would not have anyone think me a cad; but there are some among your signers whom I object to. I wouldn't care to have my name appear there with that of another girl whom I have in mind."
To Elizabeth who blurted out everything, and who was frank and out-spoken, there was nothing more distasteful than insinuations.
"Whom do you mean, Landis?"
"It is not necessary to say," was the response. "I mentioned the fact only to let you understand that it was not the policy to which I objected. As I said before, I am on the side of right. I wish my influence always to be for good."
"But it is necessary to tell. The girls who signed that first petition to Dr. Morgan are friends of mine. They are girls who stand well in school, and they're popular, every one of them. You cannot make such a statement and think that I'm going to let it pass. I'm not. You've insinuated something against either me or my friends, and you must come straight out and say what it is."
Min, who had been sitting by the window mending a pair of old gloves for Landis, gave a nervous giggle. Any little unpleasantness was painful to her. She stopped sewing to listen to the conversation between the girls. Landis was not nonplussed, whatever the circumstances. She was not offended now by Elizabeth's words, but was surprised. She appeared shocked that Elizabeth should be crude enough to show vehemence.
"What a little spitfire you are, Elizabeth! When you're a few years older you'll learn not to express yourself so strongly. As to your knowing who the girl is to whom I object, there is no reason for my keeping silent. I have not mentioned her name because I was considering her feelings and reputation. But since you insist, I'll tell you. I must emphatically object to having my name published over Exeter Hall with Nora O'Day's."
"Why?" Elizabeth asked calmly enough now, yet she was exceedingly annoyed.
"Why? What a question to ask! Surely you know how dishonorably she acted last spring! Someone must have told you. You and Mary Wilson are such friends."
"Yes; someone told me, but it wasn't Mary Wilson. She doesn't do that sort of thing. Nora O'Day told me. Are you afraid to join the same set with her?"
"Not afraid in one sense of the word. To be sure, she would not influence me an iota. I might mingle with her and her kind and be none the worse for it. Do not think I am considering myself in the matter. I have in mind the younger set of girls who are so easily influenced. They know the story of Miss O'Day's methods in examination. What would they think of seeing my name in connection with hers?—that I would countenance anything that was dishonorable! If not that, at least, like me, they might be suspicious of a reform that had among its leaders a girl who had been publicly reprimanded for cheating."
During the talk, Elizabeth had been leaning backward against the study-table, her hands behind her, supporting her weight.
She paused before replying to Landis. Then she asked: "Do you believe in treating every one who has done wrong as you intend treating Nora?"
"Surely. To treat them otherwise would be an open acknowledgment that we are willing to overlook deceit and fraud. No one can afford to do that. You must remember the stand Dr. Morgan takes on such matters. You have heard her lecture often enough to know that she does not countenance treating sin and crime lightly. Why, in her last chapel-talk she said that while some amusements might be legitimate and proper for us, we must refrain from them because of our influencing others who might be harmed. I'm sure I could find no better person to follow than Dr. Morgan."
"I do not think her words applied to this instance. At least I would not have taken it so. Nora did cheat last spring; but perhaps she is sorry for it. You do not know but that she looks upon it now with more scorn than you do."
"I hope so. I hope Exeter has had some influence upon her."
"Don't you think, Landis, the proper thing to do, when we know she is ashamed of what she did last spring, is to help her all we can? It seems so unforgiving to be remembering always the little mean actions. I think she has suffered enough as it is. I don't see what is to be gained by slighting her now."
"Perhaps you don't; but this is your first year at Exeter and you have lots more to learn. When you have been here two years more, perhaps your ethical standard will be higher."
"Until I am capable of copying other people's essays and passing them off for my own." Elizabeth's lips had grown white as Landis spoke. Never before in all her life had she been as angry as now. It was not alone Landis' words which hurt her, but the girl's manner and tone, which were most insulting.
For an instant Landis' face grew crimson. Elizabeth's remark had struck home. Her embarrassment lasted only for a moment. She was her cool, confident self again.
"I hope you'll never be capable of that," was the rejoinder, spoken lightly as she moved to her desk and took up a pencil preparatory to writing. "Exeter is scarcely a place where one learns such methods. One must have brought the disposition for such things with her."
Elizabeth was not deceived by the light tone of the remark. Having entered into the discussion, she did not intend to retreat with lowered flag. However, it was scarcely fair to Landis to put her at a disadvantage in Min Kean's presence. While Landis was speaking, the situation presented itself clearly to Elizabeth's mind. She turned to Miss Kean.
"Min, would you care to go over to call on my roommate for a few minutes? You'll find some home-made candy which mother sent with Joe Ratowsky. I wish to speak with Landis, and it's really too personal for even you to hear."
"Why, certainly! I'll take the gloves along and finish my mending there. But don't quarrel while I'm gone."
"Scarcely," was the reply from Landis. "I never have quarreled with anyone and I have no desire to begin now." She was much taller than before. She was really quite an impressive person when she was on her dignity.
"Well?" she asked, turning to Elizabeth as the door closed after Min. Her manner and facial expression added, "If you have anything to say, you little insignificant member of the Middlers, say it. Such an august personage as myself has no time to waste in conversation with a little girl."
Elizabeth did not falter. "I did not wish Min to hear what I have to say. She looks up to you as the literary light at Exeter, and I see no reason to undeceive her. I've known these little facts I'm about to mention since last holidays; but I've told no one. I would never have brought up the subject for discussion, even with you, if you had not been so bitter against Nora. It seems so perfectly ridiculous for you to criticise her for cheating once in examination when you've kept up the same system for months."
"I don't know what you mean!"
"You will soon if you do not now. As I have already said, I would have kept this to myself had you not been insulting to me ever since I came in this morning. I won't be patronized by anyone that I have no confidence in. Every one at Exeter praises your fine essays. I used to, but I don't any more."
"What is the matter with you this morning, Elizabeth? I insulting to you! The idea was farthest from my thoughts. I'm nervous. I suppose that accounts for my speaking so you misunderstood me. I'm really working very hard. I'm anxious to make a creditable passing mark, and then I have Min to coach. You know she does not grasp lessons so quickly as you and some of the brighter ones."
But the open flattery did not lead Elizabeth away from the subject. She had grown years wiser in the six months spent at Exeter. Her knowledge had cost her much of her girlish confidence.
"I—" she began.
Landis, determined to ignore unpleasant subjects, interrupted with, "Have you ever been out to the Adams' farm? I suppose you haven't, since this is your first spring at Exeter. There's a big woods near the house. It is filled with arbutus. I suppose it is beginning to leaf now. Min and I go out every spring to spend a day and night. We come home laden with arbutus. We're going again a week from this coming Saturday. I wish you and Mary Wilson would go along. We get a livery rig and drive out. Can't you go with us?"
"It shall not cost you a cent. Min and I will pay the livery bill."
"Oh, I think I could manage to pay my share," dryly. "It was not that which made me refuse to accept. I feel in this as you do about Nora O'Day. I wish to tell you about what I learned last holidays." She talked hurriedly, allowing Landis no opportunity to interrupt. "Nora O'Day by chance mentioned that you came to see her and read some of her mother's theses. Nora did not suspect you. She thought you were inclined to be literary, and felt pleased that you approved of the work her mother did years ago. That is all she thought about it. I did more thinking while Nora was telling me. I thought that Landis Stoner must be a little mite deceitful or she would not be critical of Nora when others were present and yet slip in to see her during study-hours. It seemed—well—it seemed downright deceitful to me.
"I heard you deliver an oration in the chapel. You know that you speak well, and so you are in every public affair. At least, you have been ever since I've been at Exeter. Your orations have been fine. I thought you were wonderfully bright until the Christmas holidays. When I was leaving, Nora brought me some of her mother's essays to read. I read them while I was at Windburne."
She paused and looked straight at Landis. Landis had no words to reply. She stood, dignified and erect by the study-table, toying with a silver paper-knife. The silence lasted for some minutes. Then feeling that Elizabeth was waiting for some word she gave a non-committal, "Well?"
"But it isn't 'well.' It is anything but 'well'. It's what I call decidedly bad. The instant I read those essays, I discovered that your work was cribbed. You had read—"
"What a fuss you make about nothing at all, Elizabeth! To hear you talk, one might think that I was guilty of wholesale robbery, or murder, or some other horrible crime. You young girls who are new to school-life and have had no experience outside your own little town do not understand these matters. You are, if I may say it, a little narrow in your views. You know only one way, and have the notion that there can be no other. You say I read those essays. Why, of course I did. They were good, too, and I received a great deal of help from them. Every one who writes even a little bit makes an effort to read all the good things along the same lines. That is the only way one can develop talent. I got some excellent ideas from Mrs. O'Day's essays. Is there anything criminal in that? If there is, then we must lock up our histories and reference books when we have any article to prepare for classwork."
"If it were receiving ideas merely, I should scarcely mention the matter to you; or even had you taken the ideas wholesale and expressed them in your own words, I should have said nothing at all. But you did not do that. Landis, you know you did not, and you cannot convince me by a few fine words that you did. The oration you delivered in chapel, the last rhetorical before the holidays, is almost word for word like the original. You gave me your copy to write up for our society paper. I have it, and also the original. If you are still doubtful of my statement, I'll go with you to Dr. Morgan and give them to her to read."
"Oh, I believe you," was the reply given in an indifferent manner. "That was the one 'Character Sketches in Shakespeare.' I had forgotten about that. We were rushed with work. I remember now. I had no time to write an oration suitable for a public affair. I remember I did commit one of those old ones. But I do not think I claimed it was original. You people just took that for granted. If you had taken the trouble to ask me, I would have told you. I do not know that it is my fault that you were deceived."
"Well, Landis," said Elizabeth slowly, "you are surely an adept in slipping out of trouble. Now, Nora O'Day did wrong and made no attempt to deny it. She bore her punishment without a complaint. Your words do not deceive me one iota. They would have done so six months ago. But that time's gone. It really does me good to speak so plainly to you now. I have felt deceitful all along in knowing about those papers, and then listening quietly while you criticized every one else at Exeter—girls who would not be guilty of doing what you have done. We will not discuss the subject further, but do not think that you are deceiving me. You are not. You copied, not one, but most of your orations and theses. But do not worry. Continue to copy if you wish. It is none of my affairs, and I shall tell no one. Now I'm through talking with you, and I feel a great deal better for telling you what I know." Turning, she walked toward the door. "I'm going back to my room to get to work now. I'll tell Min that she can come back if she wishes to."
"But, Elizabeth, you came to talk about the method of examinations," said Landis sweetly. She did not lift her eyes to meet the direct glance of her caller. She still continued to play with the paper-knife, running it up and down the felt of the table, making depressions in geometrical designs. "Since you feel as you do about Nora O'Day, that she is sorry and all that, and since she is a friend of yours, I'll withdraw my objections to her. Of course, I feel as you do. It is not right to judge anyone. I'll not remember her past deeds against her. Bring along your paper when you go into class, and I'll put down my name, and I'll promise for Min, too."
Elizabeth wheeled suddenly about. "I do not wish you to sign it. We shall manage the affair very well without you."
"Just as you please." Here Landis' self-confidence forsook her. She could not believe it possible that any girl would be generous enough to keep to herself such a matter as that of the essay-copying. Should Elizabeth tell but one or two, the affair would soon become public property. Her name would be mentioned with scorn throughout Exeter. Already she saw herself ostracized as she had helped to ostracize Nora O'Day. But if such a condition would result from her dishonesty, she would leave The Hall at once. She was much too proud, too ambitious, to allow anyone to ignore her. She stepped toward Elizabeth, holding out her hands appealingly. "Elizabeth Hobart, don't, I beg of you, let anyone else know of this. Promise me you will tell no one and I'll do whatever you ask me to."
"All I ask of you is to let my friends go free of your criticism. You lead a certain set. Whatever you do, they will also do. I wish you to make them drop that old, worn-out subject of Nora O'Day's cheating."
"I will—I promise you that."
"You and Min need not sign our petition to Dr. Morgan or the pledge we send in. They are to be ready before to-morrow—but you are to give me your promise to live up to the requirements."
"I'll do that. I have never taken advantage in examinations. They have always been easy enough without that."
Elizabeth knew this to be quite true. Landis was one of the strongest members of the Senior class and she worked hard.
"Then we understand each other," said Elizabeth. "From this time on, we'll be just as before. No one need know we have had this talk." She passed into the hall at these words, leaving Landis alone to reflect upon their conversation.
THE SENIORS OUTWITTED.
When the Seniors and the Middlers, at the close of the spring semester, entered the class-room to take their examination in trigonometry, they found Dr. Kitchell the only member of the faculty present. He remained long enough to pass the small, printed slips of questions, and to explain the manner in which he wished the work done. A smile of relief passed over the class as he took his departure. Soon pencils and rulers were busy. The sound of their moving was all that was heard in the class-room. No word was spoken. The work continued for over an hour. Then one member, having finished, arose and, placing her papers on the table which stood near the front, quitted the room. One by one, as they completed the examination, the others followed her example.
Elizabeth was among the last to leave. Her face was beaming with satisfaction at the spirit in which her plan had been carried out. In the main hall she met Dr. Kitchell.
"The girls are all through," she exclaimed, a thrill of pleasureable excitement showing in her voice. "There was not a word spoken, nor communication of any sort."
"It is truly the only way to conduct an examination," he answered, turning to walk with her down the hall to the dormitory. "The credit should be given to you, Miss Hobart. This police-duty, which so insulted you last fall, was not pleasant work for a teacher; but custom makes slaves of us all. Nothing will please us better than knowing that Exeter can have honest examinations without faculty supervision. We have wished for just such conditions as this, but they seemed rather to be dreamed of than realized. An instructor can do little in such matters. The desire must come from the students. We give you, Miss Hobart, the credit of this change."
"I do not know that I should have it," was the reply. "It is not that I was more sensitive or had higher ideals than the other girls. It was that they were accustomed to such supervision since the days when they entered school, while it was all new to me. And being new, it impressed me greatly. You see," she added, looking up at Dr. Kitchell as though she did not wish him to misinterpret her leaving his class-room that day of the first examination, "outside of class, you would not have thought of such a thing as questioning our word or our honesty, yet by your way of conducting an examination, you did both."
"That is true in part. I questioned the honor of some. Class honor, I should say. But there is yet another side to that. Students who would scorn to be other than strictly fair and upright outside of class have stooped to all manner of subterfuge to pass an examination. All sense of moral responsibility evaporated the instant they took that little slip of printed questions in their hands."
"So I have learned," said Elizabeth. She could not refrain from smiling. Dr. Kitchell had a jocular manner. His words, even in the discussions of the most serious matters, had a touch of humor. "That is what surprised me most. The girls are Christians, that is, the greater number are. But one would have thought it was a reform school. I think those days are gone. Every Senior and Middler is pledged to conduct examinations as they were conducted this morning, and we are heartily glad."
"So say we all of us," was the cordial response.
They had come to the hall leading to the girls' dormitory. So far and no farther could Dr. Kitchell walk with Miss Hobart. Elizabeth hurried to her room. Loud tones came from her apartment. Opening the door quietly, she peered in as though half afraid of what she might encounter. Mary Wilson was pacing up and down the room. Her head was high. Her chest was expanded. A glow of rhetorical enthusiasm was upon her cheeks and in her eye. In one hand, she held several sheets of typewritten paper toward which at intervals her glance wandered. The other hand sawed the air in impressive, if not graceful, gesticulations.
She heeded not the entrance of her roommate. She continued orating in tones which she was striving to make full and round. She gave a hurried glance at her paper, strode up the room, flung out her hand and roared forth, "I'm charged with pride and ambition—"
"What did they charge you for it?"
"The charge is true—"
"Well, then, Mary, all I can advise is to pay the bill and not say anything more about it. If you haven't change enough, I can lend—"
"And I glory in its truth."
Sinking back in her chair as though this was too much to be borne, Elizabeth sighed deeply, then said, "I'm surely surprised at you, Mary. Affairs have come to a pretty pass when you're in debt and take glory in it."
Mary laughed, tossed aside her paper, and coming over to her roommate, sat down beside her. "It's my new oration. Miss Brosius called me into her office, and gave me this to learn. It is really very fine—effective, if my voice was not quite so high-pitched. Listen, I've learned so much already." She tossed back her locks and assumed a rostrum manner, "'I'm charged with pride and ambition. The charge is true and I glory in its truth. Whoever achieved anything great in letters, art or arms who was not ambitious? Caesar was not more ambitious than Cicero, it was only in another way.' That's all I've learned. Miss Brosius went over so much with me that I would get into the spirit of the piece. I wish you might hear her read it! She's such a dainty little creature, but she looked tall when she was rolling this out."
"What is it for? You've had all your oratory work long ago."
"This is especially for commencement. You see, we don't have the old-style exercises. The Dean from some other school or some eminent divine comes to deliver a lecture. There's music wherever there's a loophole to slip it in. Then the class in cap and gown parade across the stage and receive their diplomas from Dr. Morgan. Oh, it's all very fine and elegant and all that. But there's no fun in it. The element of humor is lacking, and after an hour of it, the simple dignity of it palls on one. And as for the dresses! Most of the girls wear simple white shirtwaist suits under their gowns. There are receptions, to be sure; but the Middlers and Freshmen attend them, and dress as much as the Seniors do. The only opportunity a Senior has to trail a long gown after her is on Class-day. Then we have all the old orthodox orations and music with a two-act farce thrown in, and we may wear what we please. And let me announce right here, Elizabeth Hobart, your roommate will appear in the handsomest white evening dress she can get—train, short sleeves, high-heeled shoes, and hair piled on top of my head."
Elizabeth looked at the short locks, barely touching the speaker's shoulders. She laughed.
"You think it can't be done!" exclaimed Mary, with the characteristic toss of her head. "But it can. I'm going to have a hairdresser. Yes, indeed. When I assume the role, I mean to carry it out. Wait until you see Mrs. Jones. She can take two hairs and twist them about until they look like nothing else so much as Paderewski. She has fine switches, too." This was added after a moment's thought, and confidentially, as though it was not information to be passed around. Then with a sigh of satisfaction, "One can work wonders with switches."
"You're not to mention to anyone what I am to do for Class-day. Those matters are supposed to be secrets. Of course, you could not help knowing, for I must practice here."
In the days following, it was made plain that Elizabeth could not have been kept from the knowledge of what Mary was doing. From morning until evening, at all times, opportune and otherwise, Mary orated. When her throat grew husky from her efforts, she compared samples of white tulle, and point d'esprit, and embroidered mull. She insisted upon Elizabeth's opinion in regard to each one of them.
"I've learned one thing," said Elizabeth. "I never knew there were more than a hundred varieties of white material. But—"
"There are thousands of them. I've discovered that this last few weeks. One thing is gained. You do increase your vocabulary. You must have different adjectives to express your admiration of each kind. What do you Middlers plan to do commencement week?"
Elizabeth looked down her nose. She could appear very innocent when she chose. "There was some mention made of a banquet," she replied. "There was talk also of having a caterer from town."
"Well, I guess not!" exclaimed Mary, arising. Her eyes were flashing with the spirit of school warfare. "I think you Middlers will think again about having anything so fine. Never in the history of Exeter have the Middlers given a banquet, and they shall not now. We shall keep them from it. We'll treat you as the Seniors treated us last year. We, too, had a notion that we would give a banquet. We were so confident that we telephoned our order to the caterer; but we didn't have the banquet."
"Didn't he receive the order?" The question was asked in such an innocent, seeking-for-information manner that Mary ought to have been suspicious, but she was not.
"Oh, yes, he received the order and the money to pay for it. We waited in the gym, all togged out in reception gowns, but the caterer came not. Suddenly it came to us that there must be some mistake. We set out to hunt for the banquet. We found its remains up in the laboratory where the Seniors had been feasting at our expense. No, indeed, Elizabeth," Mary shook her head slowly, "no Middlers hold banquets at Exeter Hall. It isn't countenanced."
"We may try it, anyhow."
"I hope you will. I should like to feast my friends at the Middlers' expense."
Elizabeth brought up the subject of the banquet again and again. Apparently inadvertently, she let drop many little points about the affair which were eagerly seized upon by her roommate. Mary was surprised at Elizabeth's want of discretion. She seemed prone to let many a class secret escape.
It was evident the Middlers were laying plans for something. In groups of two and three, they surreptitiously visited each other. They gathered in hallways for whispered conferences. The Seniors were not blind. Each had her appointed work, and when the Middlers gathered together, there was a Senior concealed near by, with ears and eyes open. If the Middlers suspected that they were being shadowed, they made no signs.
"It's a banquet, I'm sure," confided Mary Wilson to Landis and Min. "We have our class exercises on Tuesday evening. The time was set for then, but Elizabeth Hobart and some of the others had that changed. They wish to attend our exercises. So it will be Wednesday evening. Elizabeth was writing when I went into the room. Like a flash, she covered the letter; but I saw enough to help us out. The letter was addressed to Achenbach. I saw the word 'Wednesday.'"
"That settles it; for Nancy Eckdahl was making out a menu in chapel yesterday, and the Middlers who take water-colors are painting place-cards."
"What had best be done? I'd like to have them send on the banquet and lead the delivery men off somewhere else."
"But, Mary, that will not be possible. Most of the Middlers know what happened last year. They'll keep a watch on us, and if they are wise, they'll send out scouts to meet the caterer at the train," said Mame Welch.
"They shall not banquet if we take it from them by force!" Then suddenly her face lighted up. "I have it. Landis, you must do this part. You have such a don't-interfere-with-me manner that Achenbach will do exactly as you wish. Get permission to go into town. Go to Achenbach's and tell them that the Seniors have discovered where the banquet is to be served, that you have come to give new orders, as the Seniors are determined to appropriate the banquet for themselves."
There were a dozen Seniors in the room. They all gave their approval to Miss Wilson's plan. Then they discussed it in detail. The laundry, big and bare, would be an unsuspected place. There were ironing boards and folding tables that would do to serve on.
"And if they are not enough," exclaimed Mary Wilson, "there's the floor."
Landis received her instructions. She was to go into the city the following morning and visit Achenbach, the caterer. She was to be as self-confident as possible. He might have been instructed not to tell anyone where and when his services were ordered. Landis was not to be led off by his assumed ignorance. She was to tell him plainly that she referred to the order sent in by Miss Hobart the day before.
"Just raise your head high and look straight at him," advised Mary Wilson. "Scare him into it, Landis."
The following morning, according to plan, Landis, dressed in the trimmest of tailor-made gowns, went to the city. She visited Achenbach's and did as the girls had directed. As had been expected, the clerk pleaded ignorance of such orders as she mentioned. Landis insisted. The clerk then called the proprietor to verify him. If the order had been received, both proprietor and attendant acted their parts well. Landis could obtain no information from them. Yet, to fulfill her errand, still suspecting that they knew more than they would tell, Landis, just as she was going, left orders to have the banquet served in the laundry. "You may think it rather an odd place, Mr. Achenbach; but the Seniors stole the banquet last year. They will do the same now if the opportunity is given them. They will do all they can to mislead the men you send to serve. Pay no attention to orders after this, but have your men go directly to the laundry. They must go around the back way, of course. One of the class will be watching for you."
Still Mr. Achenbach protested that there must be some misunderstanding. He had received no orders from Exeter.
Landis went back to school at once, and recounted her experiences to the girls. Mary Wilson was confident that Elizabeth had sent in the order. They would be on their guard that particular evening, and permit no caterer to enter the Hall unless under their orders.
The Middlers had some plan afoot. If not a banquet—what then? But the Seniors were agreed it was that. Nancy's roommate had found a carefully-written menu. And Landis had surprised another Middler painting menu and place cards. That it was to take place, was evident. But where—when? The group of Seniors separated, each admonishing the others to watch the Middlers, and not permit them to talk together alone.
Mary Wilson's especial duty was to restrain Elizabeth from holding communication with the others. With true diplomacy, she kept her roommate busy so that she had no time to visit other rooms.
"Just hear me go over my oration once more, Elizabeth, please," she would say. "I'm apt to get careless if I recite without an audience. Sit over there by the window. I'll stand here. Now, don't be afraid to tell me if you think I might improve any part."