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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 23. The Fashion Of The Day
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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 23. The Fashion Of The Day Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :659

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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 23. The Fashion Of The Day

CHAPTER XXIII. THE FASHION OF THE DAY

A THICK mist lay over everything. Christmas had come and gone, and Priscilla's trunk was packed once more-- Aunt Raby's old-world jacket between folds of tissue-paper, lying on the top of other homely garments.

The little sisters were in bed and asleep and Aunt Raby lay on the sofa. Prissie was accustomed to her face now, so she did not turn it away from the light. The white lips, the chalky gray tint under the eyes, the deep furrows round the sunken temples were all familiar to the younger "Miss Peel." She had fitted once more into the old sordid life. She saw Hattie in her slipshod feet and Katie and Rose in their thin winter jackets, which did not half keep out the cold. She saw and partook of the scanty meals and tried to keep warm by the wretched fires. Once more she was part and parcel of the household. The children were so accustomed to her that they forgot she was going away again.

To-night, however, the fact was brought back to her. Katie cried when she saw the packed trunk. Hattie pouted and flopped herself about and became unmanageable. Rose put on her most discontented manner and voice, and finding that Prissie had earned no money during the past term, gave utterance to skeptical thoughts.

"Prissie just went away to have a good time, and she never meant to earn money, and she forgot all about them," grumbled the naughty little girl.

Hattie came up and pummeled Rose for her bad words. Katie cried afresh, and altogether the scene was most dismal.

Now, however, it was over. The children were in the land of happy dreams. They were eating their Christmas dinner over again and looking with ecstasy at their tiny, tiny Christmas gifts and listening once more to Prissie, who had a low, sweet voice and who was singing to them the old and beloved words:

"Peace and goodwill to men."

The children were happy in their dreams, and Prissie was standing by Aunt Raby's side.

"Why don't you sit down, child? You have done nothing but fidget, fidget for the last half-hour."

"I want to go out, Aunt Raby."

"To go out? Sakes! what for? And on such a night, too!"

"I want to see Mr. Hayes."

"Prissie, I think you have got a bee in your bonnet. You'll be lost in this mist."

"No, I won't. I missed Mr. Hayes to-day when he called, and I must see him before I go back to St. Benet's. I have a question or two to ask him, and I know every step of the way. Let me go, auntie, please, do!"

"You always were a wilful girl, Priscilla, and I think that college has made you more obstinate than ever. I suppose the half-mannish ways of all those girls tell upon you. There, if you must go-- do. I'm in no mood for arguing. I'll have a bit of a sleep while you are out: the muggy weather always makes me so drowsy."

Aunt Raby uttered a very weary yawn and turned her face from the light. Priscilla stepped into the hall, put on her waterproof and oldest hat and went out. She knew her way well to the little vicarage, built of gray stone and lying something like a small, daring fly against the brow of the hill. The little house looked as if any storm must detach it from its resting-place, but to-night there was no wind, only clinging mist and damp and thick fog.

Priscilla mounted the rough road which led to the vicarage, opened the white gate, walked up the gravel path and entered the little porch. Her knock was answered by the vicar himself. He drew her into the house with an affectionate word of welcome, and soon she was sitting by his study fire, with hat and jacket removed.

In the vicar's eyes Priscilla was not at all a plain girl. He liked the rugged power which her face displayed; he admired the sensible lines of her mouth, and he prophesied great things from that brow, so calm, so broad, so full. Mr. Hayes had but a small respect for the roses and lilies of mere beauty. Mind was always more to him than matter. Some of the girls at St. Benet's, who thought very little of poor Priscilla, would have felt no small surprise had they known the high regard and even admiration this good man felt for her.

"I am glad you have called, Prissie," he said. "I was disappointed in not seeing you to-day. Well, my dear, do as well in the coming term as you did in the past. You have my best wishes."

"Thank you," said Prissie.

"You are happy in your new life, are you not, my dear child?"

"I am interested," said Priscilla in a low voice. Her eyes rested on her shabby dress as she spoke. She laid one hand over the other. She seemed to be weighing her words. "I am interested; sometimes I am absorbed. My new life fills my heart; it crowds into all my thoughts. I have no room for Aunt Raby-- no room for my little sisters. Everything is new to me-- everything fresh and broad. There are some trials, of course, and some unpleasantness; but, oh, the difference between here and there! Here it is so narrow, there one cannot help getting enlightenment, daily and hourly."

"Yes," said Mr. Hayes when Priscilla paused, "I expected you to say something of this kind. I knew you could not but feel the immense, the immeasurable change. But why do you speak in that complaining voice, Priscilla?"

Prissies' eyes were raised to his.

"Because Aunt Raby is ill, and it is wicked of me to forget her. It is mean and cowardly. I hate myself for it."

Mr. Hayes looked puzzled for a moment. Then his face cleared.

"My dear Prissie," he said, "I always knew there were depths of morbidness in you, but I did not suppose that you would sound them so quickly. If you are to grow up to be a wise and useful and helpful woman by and by, you must check this intense self-examination. Your feelings are the natural feelings of a girl who has entered upon a very charming life. You are meant to lead that life for the present; you are meant to do your duty in it. Don't worry, my dear. Go back to St. Benet's, and study well, and learn much, and gather plenty of experience for the future. If you fret about what cannot be helped, you will weaken your intellect and tire your heart. After all, Prissie, though you give much thought to St. Benet's, and though its ways are delightful to you, your love is still with the old friends, is it not?"

"Even there I have failed," said Priscilla sadly. "There is a girl at St. Benet's who has a strange power over me. I love her. I have a very great love for her. She is not a happy girl, she is not a perfect girl, but I would do anything-- anything in the wide world for her."

"And you would do anything for us, too?"

"Oh, yes, yes."

"And, though you don't think it, your love for us is stronger than your love for her. There is a freshness about the new love which fascinates you, but the old is the stronger. Keep both loves, my dear: both are of value. Now I must go out to visit poor Peters, who is ill, so I can see you home. Is there anything more you want to say to me?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Hayes, Aunt Raby is very ill."

"She is, Prissie."

"Does she know it?"

"Yes."

"Ought I to be away from her now-- is it right"

"My dear, do you want to break her heart? She worked so hard to get this time at college for you. No, Prissie, don't get that idea into your head. Aunt Raby is most anxious that you should have every advantage. She knows-- she and I both know-- that she cannot live more than a year or two longer, and her greatest hope is that you may be able to support your little sisters when she is gone. No, Prissie, whatever happens, you must on no account give up your life at St. Benet's."

"Then please let me say something else. I must not go on with my classics."

"My dear child, you are managing to crush me with all kinds of queer, disappointing sayings to-night."

"Am I? But I mean what I say now. I love Greek better than anything almost in the world. But I know enough of it already for the mere purposes of rudimentary teaching. My German is faulty-- my French not what it might he."

"Come, come, my dear; Peters is waiting to settle for the night. Can we not talk on our way down to the cottage?"

Aunt Raby was fast asleep when Priscilla re-entered the little sitting-room. The girl knelt down by the slight, old figure, and, stooping, pressed a light kiss on the forehead. Light as it was it awoke the sleeper.

"You are there still, child?" said Aunt Raby. "I dreamt you were away."

"Would you like me to stay with you, auntie?"

"No, my dear; you help me upstairs and I'll get into bed. You ought to be in your own bed, too, Prissie. Young creatures ought never to sit up late, and you have a journey before you to-morrow."

"Yes, but would you like me not to take the journey? I am strong, and could do all the work, and you might rest not only at night, but in the day. You might rest always, if I stayed here."

Aunt Raby was wide awake now, and her eyes were very bright.

"Do you mean what you say, Priscilla?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. You have the first right to me. If you want me, I'll stay."

"You'll give up that outlandish Greek, and all that babel of foreign tongues, and your fine friends, and your grand college, and you hopes of being a famous woman by and by? Do you mean this, Prissie, seriously?"

"Yes, if you want me."

"And you say I have the first claim on you?"

"I do."

"Then you're wrong; I haven't the first claim on you." Aunt Raby tumbled off the sofa and managed to stand on her trembling old legs.

"Give me your arm, child," she said; "and-- and give me a kiss, Prissie. You're a good girl and worthy of your poor father. He was a bookworm, and you are another. But he was an excellent man, and you resemble him. I'm glad I took you home and did my best for you. I'll tell him about you when I get to heaven. He'll be right pleased, I know. My sakes, child! I don't want the little bit of earth's rest. I'm going to have a better sort than that. And you think I've the first claim on you? A poor old body like me. There, help me up to bed, my dear."

Aunt Raby did not say any more as the two scrambled up the narrow stairs in silence. When they got into the little bedroom, however, she put her arms round Priscilla's neck and gave her quite a hug.

"Thank you for offering yourself to me, my love," she said, "but I wouldn't have you on any terms whatever. Go and learn all you can at your fine college, Prissie. It's the fashion of the day for the young folk to learn a lot, and there's no going against the times. In my young life sewing was the great thing. Now it's Latin and Greek. Don't you forget that I taught you to sew, Prissie, and always put a back stitch when you're running a seam; it keeps the stuff together wonderfully. Now go to bed."

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