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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 13. Caught In A Trap
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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 13. Caught In A Trap Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :736

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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 13. Caught In A Trap


COLLEGE life is school life over again, but with wide differences. The restraints which characterize the existence of a schoolgirl are scarcely felt at all by the girl graduates. There are no punishments. Up to a certain point she is free to be industrious or not as she pleases. Some rules there are for her conduct and guidance, but they are neither many nor arbitrary. In short, the young girl graduate is no longer thought of as a child. She is a woman, with a woman's responsibilities; she is treated accordingly.

Miss Day, Miss Marsh, Miss Merton and one or two other congenial spirits entered heartily into the little plot which should deprive Priscilla of Maggie Oliphant's friendship. They were anxious to succeed in this, because their characters were low, their natures jealous and mean. Prissie had set up a higher standard than theirs, and they were determined to crush the little aspirant for moral courage. If in crushing Prissie they could also bring discredit upon Miss Oliphant, their sense of victory would have been intensified; but it was one thing for these conspirators to plot and plan and another thing for them to perform. It is possible that in school life they might have found this easier; opportunities might have arisen for them, with mistresses to be obeyed, punishments to be dreaded, rewards to be won. At St. Benet's there was no one especially to be obeyed, and neither rewards nor punishments entered into the lives of the girls.

Maggie Oliphant did not care in the least what girls like Miss Day or Miss Marsh said or thought about her, and Priscilla, who was very happy and industrious just now, heard many innuendoes and sly little speeches without taking in their meaning.

Still, the conspirators did not despair. The term before Christmas was in some ways rather a dull one, and they were glad of any excitement to break the monotony. As difficulties increased their ardor also deepened, and they were resolved not to leave a stone unturned to effect their object. Where there is a will there is a way. This is true as regards evil and good things alike.

One foggy morning, toward the end of November, Priscilla was standing by the door of one of the lecture-rooms, a book of French history, a French grammar and exercise-book and thick note-book in her hand. She was going to her French lecture and was standing patiently by the lecture-room door, which had not yet been opened.

Priscilla's strongest bias was for Greek and Latin, but Mr. Hayes had recommended her to take up modern languages as well, and she was steadily plodding through the French and German, for which she had not so strong a liking as for her beloved classics. Prissie was a very eager learner, and she was busy now looking over her notes of the last lecture and standing close to the door, so as to be one of the first to take her place in the lecture-room.

The rustling of a dress caused her to look round, and Rosalind Merton stood by her side. Rosalind was by no means one of the "students" of the college. She attended as few lectures as were compatible with her remaining there, but French happened to be one of the subjects which she thought it well to take up, and she appeared now by Prissie's side with the invariable notebook, without which no girl went to lecture, in her hand.

"Isn't it cold?" she said, shivering and raising her pretty face to Priscilla's.

Prissie glanced at her for a moment, said Yes, she supposed it was cold, in an abstracted voice, and bent her head once more over her note-book.

Rosalind was looking very pretty in a dress of dark blue velveteen. Her golden curly hair lay in little tendrils all over her head and curled lovingly against her soft white throat.

"I hate Kingsdene in a fog," she continued, "and I think it's very wrong to keep us in this draughty passage until the lecture-room is opened. Don't you, Miss Peel?"

"Well, we are before our time, so no one is to blame for that," answered Priscilla.

"Of course, so we are." Rosalind pulled out a small gold watch, which she wore at her girdle.

"How stupid of me to have mistaken the hour!" she exclaimed. Then looking hard at Prissie, she continued in an anxious tone:

"You are not going to attend any lectures this afternoon, are you, Miss Peel?"

"No," answered Priscilla. "Why?"

Rosalind's blue eyes looked almost pathetic in their pleading.

"I wonder"-- she began; "I am so worried, I wonder if you'd do me a kindness."

"I can't say until you ask me," said Priscilla; "what do you want me to do?"

"There's a girl at Kingsdene, a Miss Forbes. She makes my dresses now and then; I had a letter from her last night, and she is going to London in a hurry because her mother is ill. She made this dress for me. Isn't it pretty?"

"Yes," answered Priscilla, just glancing at it. "But what connection has that with my doing anything for you?"

"Oh, a great deal; I'm coming to that part. Miss Forbes wants me to pay her for making this dress before she goes to London. I can only do this by going to Kingsdene this afternoon."

"Well?" said Priscilla.

"I want to know if you will come with me. Miss Heath does not like our going to the town alone, particularly at this time of year, when the evenings are so short. Will you come with me, Miss Peel? It will be awfully good-natured of you, and I really do want poor Miss Forbes to have her money before she goes to London."

"But cannot some of your own friends go with you?" returned Priscilla. "I don't wish to refuse, of course, if it is necessary; but I want to work up my Greek notes this afternoon. The next lecture is a very stiff one, and I sha'n't he ready for it without some hard work."

"Oh, but you can study when you come back. Do come with me. I would not ask you, only I know you are so good-natured, and Annie Day and Lucy Marsh have both to attend lectures this afternoon. I have no one to ask-- no one, really if you refuse. I have not half so many friends as you think, and it would be quite too dreadful for poor Miss Forbes not to have her money when she wants to spend it on her sick mother."

Priscilla hesitated for a moment. Two or three other girls were walking down the corridor to the lecture-room; the door was flung open.

"Very well," she said as she entered the room, followed by Rosalind, "I will go with you. At what hour do you want to start?"

"At three o'clock. I'm awfully grateful. A thousand thanks, Miss Peel."

Prissie nodded, seated herself at the lecture-table and in the interest of the work which lay before her soon forgot all about Rosalind and her troubles.

The afternoon of that day turned out not only foggy but wet. A drizzling rain shrouded the landscape, and very few girls from St. Benet's were venturing abroad.

At half-past two Nancy Banister came hastily into Priscilla's room.

"Maggie and I are going down to the library," she said, "to have a cozy read by the fire; we want you to come with us. Why, surely you are never going out, Miss Peel?"

"Yes, I am," answered Prissie in a resigned voice. "I don't like it a bit, but Miss Merton has asked me to go with her to Kingsdene, and I promised."

"Well, you sha'n't keep your promise. This is not a fit day for you to go out, and you have a cough, too. I heard you coughing last night."

"Yes, but that is nothing. I must go, Miss Banister,", I must keep my word. I dare say it won't take Miss Merton and me very long to walk into Kingsdene and back again."

"And I never knew that Rosalind Merton was one of your friends, Prissie," continued Nancy in a puzzled voice.

"Nor is she-- I scarcely know her; but when she asked me to go out with her, I could not very well say no."

"I suppose not; but I am sorry, all the same, for it is not a fit day for any one to be abroad, and Rosalind is such a giddy pate. Well, come back as soon as you can. Maggie and I are going to have a jolly time, and we only wish you were with us."

Nancy nodded brightly and took her leave, and Priscilla, putting on her waterproof and her shabbiest hat, went down into the hall to meet Rosalind.

Rosalind was also in waterproof, but her hat was extremely pretty and becoming, and Priscilla fancied she got a glimpse of a gay silk dress under the waterproof cloak.

"Oh, how quite too sweet of you to be ready!" said Rosalind with effusion. She took Prissie's hand and squeezed it affectionately, and the two girls set off.

The walk was a dreary one, for Kingsdene, one of the most beautiful places in England in fine weather, lies so low that in the winter months fogs are frequent, and the rain is almost incessant, so that then the atmosphere is always damp and chilly. By the time the two girls had got into the High Street Prissie's thick, sensible boots were covered with mud and Rosalind's thin ones felt very damp to her feet.

They soon reached the quarter where the dressmaker, Miss Forbes, lived. Prissie was asked to wait downstairs, and Rosalind ran up several flights of stairs to fulfil her mission. She came back at the end of a few minutes, looking bright and radiant.

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Miss Peel," she said, "but my boots were so muddy that Miss Forbes insisted on polishing them up for me."

"Well, we can go home now, I suppose?" said Prissie.

"Ye-- es; only as we are here, would you greatly mind our going round by Bouverie Street? I want to inquire for a friend of mine, Mrs. Elliot-Smith. She has not been well."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Priscilla. "Will it take us much out of our way?"

"No, only a step or two. Come, we have just to turn this corner, and here we are. What a dear-- quite too good-natured girl you are, Miss Peel!"

Prissie said nothing. The two started forth again in the drizzling mist and fog, and presently found themselves in one of the most fashionable streets of Kingsdene and standing before a ponderous hall-door, which stood back in a portico.

Rosalind rang the bell, which made a loud peal. The door was opened almost immediately; but, instead of a servant appearing in answer to the summons, a showily dressed girl, with a tousled head of flaxen hair, light blue eyes and a pale face, stood before Rosalind and Prissie.

"Oh, you dear Rose!" she said, clasping her arms round Miss Merton and dragging her into the house; "I had almost given you up. Do come in-- do come in, both of you. You are more than welcome. What a miserable, horrid, too utterly depressing afternoon it is!"

"How do you do, Meta?" said Rosalind, when she could interrupt this eager flow of words. "May I introduce my friend, Miss Peel? Miss Peel, this is my very great and special friend and chum, Meta Elliot-Smith."

"Oh, you charming darling!" said Meta, giving Rose a fresh hug and glancing in a supercilious but friendly way at Prissie.

"We came to inquire for your mother, dear Meta," said Rose in a demure tone. "Is she any better?"

"Yes, my dear darling, she's much better." Meta's eyes flashed interrogation into Rose's: Rose's returned back glances which spoke whole volumes of meaning.

"Look here," said Meta Elliot-Smith, "now that you two dear, precious girls have come, you mustn't go away. Oh, no, I couldn't hear of it. I have perfect oceans to say to you, Rose-- and it is absolutely centuries since we have met. Off with your waterproof and up you come to the drawing-room for a cup of tea. One or two friends are dropping in presently, and the Beechers and one or two more are upstairs now. You know the Beechers, don't you, Rosalind? Here, Miss Peel, let me help you to unburden yourself. Little Rose is so nimble in her ways that she doesn't need any assistance."

"Oh, but indeed I can't stay," said Prissie. "It is quite impossible! You know, Miss Merton, it is impossible. We are due at St. Benet's now. We ought to be going back at once."

Rosalind Merton's only answer was to slip off her waterproof cloak and stand arrayed in a fascinating toilet of silk and lace-- a little too dressy, perhaps, even for an afternoon party at Kingsdene, but vastly becoming to its small wearer.

Priscilla opened her eyes wide as she gazed at her companion. She saw at once that she had been entrapped into her present false position, and that Rosalind's real object in coming to Kingsdene was not to pay her dressmaker but to visit the Elliot-Smiths.

"I can't possible stay," she said in a cold, angry voice. "I must go back to St. Benet's at once."

She began to button up her waterproof as fast as Miss Elliot-Smith was unbuttoning it.

"Nonsense, you silly old dear!" said Rosalind, who, having gained her way, was now in the best of spirits. "You mustn't listen to her, Meta; she studies a great deal too hard, and a little relaxation will do her all the good in the world. My dear Miss Peel, you can't be so rude as to refuse a cup of tea, and I know I shall catch an awful cold if I don't have one. Do come upstairs for half an hour; do, there's a dear Prissie!"

Priscilla hesitated. She had no knowledge of so-called "society." Her instincts told her it was very wrong to humor Rose. She disliked Miss Elliot-Smith and felt wild at the trick which had been played on her. Nevertheless, on an occasion of this kind, she was no match for Rose, who knew perfectly what she was about, and stood smiling and pretty before her.

"Just for a few moments," said Rosalind, coming up and whispering to her. "I really won't keep you long. You will just oblige me for a few minutes."

"Well, but I'm not fit to be seen in this old dress!" whispered back poor Prissie.

"Oh, yes, you are; you're not bad at all, and I am sure Meta will find you a secluded corner if you want it-- won't you, Meta?"

"Yes, of course, if Miss Peel wants it," answered Meta. "But she looks all right, so deliciously quaint-- I simply adore quaint people! Quite the sweet girl graduate, I do declare. You don't at all answer to the role, you naughty Rosalind!"

So Prissie, in her ill-made brown dress, her shabbiest hat and her muddy boots, had to follow in the wake of Rosalind Merton and her friend. At first she had been too angry to think much about her attire, but she was painfully conscious of it when she entered a crowded drawing-room, where every one else was in a suitable afternoon toilet. She was glad to shrink away out of sight into the most remote corner she could find; her muddy boots were pushed far in under her chair and hidden as much as possible by her rather short dress; her cheeks burnt unbecomingly; she felt miserable, self-conscious, ill at ease and very cross with every one. It was in vain for poor Priscilla to whisper to herself that Greek and Latin were glorious and great and dress and fashion were things of no moment whatever. At this instant she knew all too well that dress and fashion were reigning supreme.

Meta Elliot-Smith was elusive, loud and vulgar, but she was also good-natured. She admired Rosalind, but in her heart of hearts she thought that her friend had played Prissie a very shabby trick. She brought Prissie some tea, therefore, and stood for a moment or two by her side, trying to make things a little more comfortable for her. Some one soon claimed her attention, however, and poor Prissie found herself alone.

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