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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 31. A Message
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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 31. A Message Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :839

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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 31. A Message

CHAPTER XXXI. A MESSAGE

EARLY the next morning Rosalind Merton left St. Benet's College never to come back. She took all her possessions with her, even the pink coral, which, to their credit be it spoken, not a girl in the college would have accepted at her hands. Annie Day and Lucy Marsh were not the sort of people to keep their secret long, and before the day of her departure had expired nearly everyone at Heath Hall knew of Rosalind's crime. Miss Heath was made acquainted with the whole story at an early hour that morning.

"I may have done very wrong to let her go without obtaining your permission, Miss Heath," said Maggie, when the story was finished. "If so, please forgive me, and also allow me to say that, were the same thing to occur again, I fear I should act in the same way. I think my primary object in giving Rosalind money to go home this morning was to save the college from any open slur being cast upon it."

Miss Heath's face had grown very pale while Maggie was speaking. She was quite silent for a moment or two after the story was finished; then, going up to Miss Oliphant, she took her hand and kissed her.

"On the whole, my dear," she said, "I am obliged to you. Had this story been told me while Miss Merton, was in the house I should have been obliged to detain her until all the facts of this disgraceful case were laid before the college authorities, and then, of course, there would have been no course open but to publicly expel her. This, at least, you have spared St. Benet's, and I am relieved from the terrible responsibility. I'll say nothing now about the rule you have broken, for, of course, you had no right to assist Rosalind to go home without permission. It lies within my discretion to forgive you, Maggie, however, so take my kiss, dear."

The vice-principal and Miss Oliphant talked for some little time longer over Rosalind's terrible fall, and, as Miss Heath felt confident that the story would get abroad in the college, she said she would be forced to mention the circumstances to their principal, Miss Vincent, and also to say something in public to the girls of Heath Hall on the subject.

"And now we will turn to something else," she said. "I am concerned at those pale cheeks, Maggie. My dear," as the young girl colored brightly, "your low spirits weigh on my heart."

"Oh, don't mind me," said Maggie hastily.

"It is scarcely kind to say this to one who loves you. I have been many years vice-principal of this hall, and no girl, except Annabel Lee, has come so close to my heart as you have, Maggie. Some girls come here, spend the required three years and go away again without making much impression on any one. In your case this will not be so. I have not the least doubt that you will pass your tripos examination with credit in the summer; you will then leave us, but not to be forgotten. I, for one, Maggie can never forget you."

"How good you are!" said Maggie.

Tears trembled in the eyes which were far too proud to weep except in private.

Miss Heath looked attentively at the young student, for whom she felt so strong an interest. Priscilla's words had scarcely been absent from her night or day since they were spoken.

"Maggie ought to marry Mr. Hammond. Maggie loves him and he loves her, but a bogie stands in the way." Night and day Miss Heath had pondered these words. Now, looking at the fair face, whose roundness of outline was slightly worn, at the eyes which had looked at her for a moment through a veil of sudden tears, she resolved to take the initiative in a matter which she considered quite outside her province.

"Sit down, Maggie," she said. "I think the time has come for me to tell you something which has lain as a secret on my heart for over a year."

Maggie looked up in surprise, then dropped into a chair and folded her hands in her lap. She was slightly surprised at Miss Heath's tone, but not as yet intensely interested.

"You know, my dear," she said, "that I never interfere with the life a student lives outside this hall. Provided she obeys the rules and mentions the names of the friends she visits, she is at liberty, practically, to do as she pleases in those hours which are not devoted to lectures. A girl at St. Benet's may have a great, a very great friend at Kingsdene or elsewhere of whom the principals of the college know nothing. I think I may add with truth that were the girl to confide in the principal of her college in case of any friendship developing into-- into love, she would receive the deepest sympathy and the tenderest counsels that the case would admit of. The principal who was confided in would regard herself for the time being as the young girl's mother."

Maggie's eyes were lowered now; her lips trembled; she played nervously with a flower which she held in her hand.

"I must apologize," continued Miss Heath, "for having alluded to a subject which may not in the least concern you, my dear. My excuse for doing so is that what I have to tell you directly bears on the question of marriage. I would have spoken to you long ago, but, until lately, until a few days ago, I had not the faintest idea that such a subject had even distantly visited your mind."

"Who told you that it had?" questioned Maggie. She spoke with anger. "Who has dared to interfere-- to spread rumors? I am not going to marry. I shall never marry."

"It is not in my power at present to tell you how the rumor has reached me," continued Miss Heath, "but, having reached me, I want to say a few words about-- about Annabel Lee."

"Oh, don't!" said Maggie, rising to her feet, her face pale as death. She put her hand to her heart as she spoke. A pang, not so much mental as bodily, had gone through it.

"My dear, I think you must listen to me while I give you a message from one whom you dearly loved, whose death has changed you, Maggie, whose death we have all deeply mourned."

"A message?" said Maggie; "a message from Annabel! What message?"

"I regarded it as the effects of delirium at the time," continued Miss Heath, "and as you had fever immediately afterward, dreaded referring to the subject. Now I blame myself for not having told you sooner, for I believe that Annabel was conscious and that she had a distinct meaning in her words."

"What did she say? Please don't keep me in suspense."

"It was shortly before she died," continued Miss Heath; "the fever had run very high, and she was weak, and I could scarcely catch her words. She looked at me. You know how Annabel could look, Maggie; you know how expressive those eyes could be, how that voice could move one."

Maggie had sunk back again in her chair; her face was covered with her trembling hands.

"Annabel said," continued Miss Heath, "'tell Maggie not to mistake me. I am happy. I am glad she will marry'-- I think she tried to say a name, but I could not catch it-- tell her to marry him, and that I am very glad.'"

A sob broke from Maggie Oliphant's lips. "You might have told me before!" she said in a choked voice.

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