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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 32. The Princess
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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 32. The Princess Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3116

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A Sweet Girl Graduate - Chapter 32. The Princess

CHAPTER XXXII. THE PRINCESS

THE great event of the term was to take place that evening. The Princess was to be acted by the girls of St. Benet's, and, by the kind permission of Miss Vincent, the principal of the entire college, several visitors were invited to witness the entertainment. The members of the Dramatic Society had taken immense pains; the rehearsals had been many, the dresses all carefully chosen, the scenery appropriate-- in short, no pains had been spared to render this lovely poem of Tennyson's a dramatic success. The absence of Rosalind Merton had, for a short time, caused a little dismay among the actors. She had been cast for the part of Melissa:


"A rosy blonde, and in a college gown
That clad her like an April daffodilly."


But now it must be taken my some one else.

Little Ada Hardy, who was about Rosalind's height, and had the real innocence which, alas! poor Rosalind lacked, was sent for in a hurry, and, carefully drilled by Constance Field and Maggie Oliphant, by the time the night arrived she was sufficiently prepared to act the character, slight in itself, which was assigned to her. The other actors were, of course, fully prepared to take their several parts, and a number of girls were invested in the


"Academic silks, in hue
The lilac, with a silken hood to each,
And zoned with gold."


Nothing could have been more picturesque, and there was a buzz of hearty applause from the many spectators who crowded the galleries and front seats of the little theater when the curtain rose on the well-known garden scene, where the Prince, Florian and Cyril saw the maidens of that first college for women-- that poet's vision, so amply fulfilled in the happy life at St. Benet's.


There
One walk'd, reciting by herself, and one
In this hand held a volume as to read,
And smoothed a petted peacock down with that:
Some to a low song oar'd a shallop by,
Or under arches of the marble bridge
Hung, shadow'd from the heat: some hid and sought
In the orange thickets: others tost a ball
Above the fountain jets, and back again
With laughter: others lay about the lawns,
Of the older sort, and murmur'd that their May
Was passing: what was learning unto them?
They wish'd to marry: they could rule a house;
Men hated learned women. . . ."


The girls walked slowly about among the orange groves and by the fountain jets. In the distance the chapel bells tolled faint and sweet. More maidens appeared, and Tennyson's lovely lines were again represented with such skill, the effect of multitude was so skilfully managed that the


"Six hundred maidens, clad in purest white,"

appeared really to fill the gardens,

"While the great organ almost burst his pipes,
Groaning for power, and rolling thro' the court
A long melodious thunder to the sound
Of solemn psalms, and silver litanies."


The curtain fell, to rise in a few moments amid a burst of applause. The Princess herself now appeared for the first time on the little stage. Nothing could have been more admirable than the grouping of this tableau. All the pride of mien, of race, of indomitable purpose was visible on the face of the young girl who acted the part of the Princess Ida.


"She stood
Among her maidens, higher by the head,
Her back against a pillar."


It was impossible, of course, to represent the tame leopards, but the maidens who gathered round the Princess prevented this want being apparent, and Maggie Oliphant's attitude and the expression which filled her bright eyes left nothing to be desired.

"Perfect!" exclaimed the spectators: the interest of every one present was more than aroused; each individual in the little theater felt, though no one could exactly tell why, that Maggie was not merely acting her part, she was living it.

Suddenly she raised her head and looked steadily at the visitors in the gallery: a wave of rosy red swept over the whitness of her face. It was evident that she had encountered a glance which disturbed her composure.

The play proceeded brilliantly, and now the power and originality of Priscilla's acting divided the attention of the house. Surely there never was a more impassioned Prince.

Priscilla could sing; her voice was not powerful, but it was low and rather deeply set. The well-known and familiar song with which the Prince tried to woo Ida lost little at her hands.


"O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her what I tell to thee.
"O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North.
"Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,
Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?
"O tell her, brief is life but love is long,
And brief the sun of summer in the North,
And brief the moon of beauty in the South.
"O Swallow, flying from the golden woods,
Fly to her, and pipe and woo her, and make her mine,
And tell her, tell her that I follow thee."


The wooing which followed made a curious impression; this impression was not only produced upon the house, but upon both Prince and Princess.

Priscilla, too, had encountered Hammond's earnest gaze. That gaze fired her heart, and she became once again not herself but he; poor, awkward and gauche little Prissie sank out of sight; she was Hammond pleading his own cause, she was wooing Maggie for him in the words of Tennyson's Prince. This fact was the secret of Priscilla's power; she had felt it more or less whenever she acted the part of the Prince; but, on this occasion, she communicated the sensations which animated her own breast to Maggie. Maggie, too, felt that Hammond was speaking to her through Priscilla's voice.


"I cannot cease to follow you, as they say
The seal does music; who desire you more
Than growing boys their manhood; dying lips,
With many thousand matters left to do,
The breath of life; O more than poor men wealth,
Than sick men health-- yours, yours, not mine-- but half
Without you; with you, whole; and of those halves
You worthiest, and howe'er you block and bar
Your heart with system out from mine, I hold
That it becomes no man to nurse despair,
But in the teeth of clench'd antagonisms
To follow up the worthiest till he die."


In the impassioned reply which followed this address it was noticed for the first time by the spectators that Maggie scarcely did herself justice. Her exclamation--


"I wed with thee! I, bound by precontract
Your bride, your bondslave!"


was scarcely uttered with the scorn which such a girl would throw into the words if her heart went with them.

The rest of the play proceeded well, the Prince following up his advantage until his last words--


"Accomplish thou my mandhood and thyself;
Lay thy sweet hands in mine and trust to me,"


brought down the house with ringing applause.

The curtain fell and rose again. The Prince and Princess stood with hands clasped. The eyes of the conquered Princess looked again at the people in the gallery, but the eyes she wanted to see did not meet hers.

An hour later Maggie Oliphant had occasion to go back to the forsaken green-room to fetch a bracelet she had left there. Priscilla was standing in the corridor when she passed. Quick as lightning Prissie disappeared, and, making her way into the library, which was thrown open for a general reception that evening, sought out Hammond, and, taking his hand, said abruptly:

"I want you; come with me."

In surprise he followed her into the hall.

"Maggie is in the green-room. Go to her," said Priscilla.

He raised his brows; his eyes seemed to lighten and then grow dark. They asked Priscilla a thousand questions; his lips refused to ask one.

Replying to the look in his eyes, Priscilla said again: "It is cruel of you to leave her alone. Go to her; she is waiting for you-- and oh, I know that her heart has been waiting for you for a long, long time."

"If I thought that," said Hammond's eyes.

He turned without a word and went down the long corridor which led to the little theater. ______

Late that evening, after all the bustle and excitement were over and most of the guests had left, Miss Heath was standing in her own sitting-room talking to Prissie.

"And you have quite made up your mind, Prissie?"

"Yes," answered Priscilla. "I heard from Aunt Raby to-day; she told me all about Mr. Hammond's visit, for Mr. Hayes went to see her and told her everything."

"Well, Prissie," said Miss Heath, "what have you decided? It is a great chance for you, and there is nothing wrong in it; indeed, for aught we can tell, this may be the direct guiding of Providence."

"But I don't think it is," said Priscilla in a slow voice. "I have thought it all over very carefully, and I don't think the chance offered by dear Maggie would be a good one for me."

"Why not, my dear? Your reasons must be strong when you say this."

"I don't know if they are strong," answered Priscilla, "but they are at least decided. My father and mother were poor and independent. Aunt Raby is very poor and also independent. I fancy that were I rich in comparison, I might cease to be independent. The strong motive power might go. Something might be taken out of me which I could never get back, so I----" Her lips trembled.

"Pause a minute, Prissie; remember what Maggie offers, a sufficient income to support your aunt, to educate your sisters and to enable you to pursue those studies at St. Benet's for which you have the greatest talent. Think of the honors that lie before you; think how brilliantly you may pass your tripos examination with your mind at rest."

"That's not the point," said Priscilla. There was a ring in her voice which she must have inherited from a long line of rugged, proud but worthy ancestors. "In a question of this kind, I ought never to content myself with looking at the brilliant and tempting side. Forgive me, Miss Heath. I may have done wrong after all; but, right or wrong, I have made my resolve. I will keep my independence."

"Have you considered your Aunt Raby in this?"

"She has put herself absolutely out of the question by declining all aid as far as she is concerned. She says such assistance would kill her in a week. If I can earn money to help her before she dies, she will accept it from me with thankfulness, but from no one else."

"Then you will give up your Latin and Greek?"

"For the present, I must."

"And you are quite happy?"

"If Maggie and Mr. Hammond will only marry one another, I shall be one of the happiest girls in the world."

There came a knock at the door. Priscilla opened it.

"Prissie, darling!" said Maggie Oliphant's voice. She flung her arms round the young girl's neck and kissed her several times.

"It's all right, Priscilla," said Hammond.

Miss Heath made a step or two forward.

"Come and tell Miss Heath," said Prissie. "Miss Heath, here is Maggie! Here is dear Maggie and here is Mr. Hammond, and it is all right." Tears of gladness filled Priscilla's eyes. She went up to Hammond, took one of his hands in both her own and said in a voice of rapture, "I did help you to-night, didn't I? You know I said I would do anything in the world for you."

"You have done everything for me, Priscilla," replied Hammond. "I shall bless you while I live."

Maggie Oliphant's arms were round Miss Heath's neck; her head rested against her breast. "We have come straight to you," she said; "you told me that if such an occasion came, you would act as a mother to me."

"So I can and so I will, dear child. God bless you. You are happy now."

"Happy!" Maggie's eyes were glistening through the softest rainbow of tears. Hammond came and took the hand which she had suddenly thrown at her side.

"We both owe everything to Priscilla," he said.

CONCLUSION

BEFORE Maggie Oliphant left St. Benet's she brought some of the honor which had long been expected from her to the dearly loved halls: she took a first class in her tripos examination. With her mind at rest, a great deal of the morbidness of her character disappeared, and her last term at St. Benet's reminded the students who had known her in Annabel Lee's time of the old, brilliant and happy Maggie. Miss Oliphant's bad half-hours became rarer and rarer, and Hammond laughed when she spoke to him of them and said that she could not expect him to believe in their existence.

Shortly after the conclusion of the summer term Maggie and Hammond were married, and her little world at St. Benet's had to get on without the presence which had always exerted the influence of a strong personality and which had been potent both for good and evil.

By this time, however, a girl whose personal charms were few, whose poverty was apparent and whose gaucherie was even now often extreme, was more than filling the place left vacant by Maggie. Extreme earnestness, the sincerity of a noble purpose, the truthfulness of a nature which could not stoop to deceit, was spreading an influence on the side of all that was good and noble. No girl did more honor to Heath Hall than she who, at one time, was held up to derision and laughed at as odd, prudish and uninteresting.

Every one prophesied well for Priscilla in the future which lay before her; her feet were set in the right direction; the aim of her life was to become-- not learned, but wise; not to build up a reputation, but to gain character; to put blessedness before happiness-- duty before inclination.

Women like Priscilla live at the root of the true life of a worthy nation. Maggie Oliphant had brilliance, beauty, wealth; she had also strong personal influence and the power of creating love wherever she went; but, when Priscilla Peel leaves St. Benet's, she will be more missed than was Maggie.


(THE END)
L. T. Meade's Novel: Sweet Girl Graduate

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