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´╗┐Title: A Sweet Girl Graduate
Author: Meade, L.T.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Sweet Girl Graduate" ***

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A Sweet Girl Graduate
By L.T. Meade
Illustrations by Hal Ludlow
Published by Cassell and Company, Limited, London, Paris, Melbourne.
This edition dated 1891.

A Sweet Girl Graduate, by L.T. Meade.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
A SWEET GIRL GRADUATE, BY L.T. MEADE.

CHAPTER ONE.

GOING OUT INTO THE WORLD.

Priscilla's trunk was neatly packed.  It was a new trunk, and had a nice
canvas covering over it.  The canvas was bound with red braid, and
Priscilla's initials were worked on the top in large plain letters.  Her
initials were P.P.P., and they stood for Priscilla Penywern Peel.  The
trunk was corded and strapped and put away, and Priscilla stood by her
aunt's side in the little parlour of Penywern Cottage.

"Well, I think I've told you everything," said the aunt.

"Oh, yes, Aunt Raby, I sha'n't forget.  I'm to write once a week, and
I'm to try not to be nervous.  I don't suppose I shall be--I don't see
why I should.  Girls aren't nervous nowadays, are they?"

"I don't know, my dear.  It seems to me that if they aren't they ought
to be.  I can understand girls doing hard things if they must.  I can
understand anyone doing anything that has to be done, but as to not
being nervous--well--there!  Sit down, Prissie, child, and take your
tea."

Priscilla was tall and slight.  Her figure was younger than her years,
which were nearly nineteen, but her face was older.  It was an almost
careworn face, thoughtful, grave, with anxious lines already deepening
the seriousness of the too serious mouth.

Priscilla cut some bread-and-butter, and poured out some tea for her
aunt and for herself.

Miss Rachel Peel was not the least like her niece.  She was short and
rather dumpy.  She had a sensible, downright sort of face, and she took
life with a gravity which would have oppressed a less earnest spirit
than Priscilla's.

"Well, I'm tired," she said, when the meal was over.  "I suppose I've
done a great deal more than I thought I had all day.  I think I'll go to
bed early.  We have said all our last words, haven't we, Priscilla?"

"Pretty nearly, Aunt Raby."

"Oh, yes, that reminds me--there's one thing more.  Your fees will be
all right, of course, and your travelling, and I have arranged about
your washing money."

"Yes, Aunt Raby, oh, yes; everything is all right."

Priscilla fidgeted, moved her position a little, and looked longingly
out of the window.

"You must have a little money over and above these things," proceeded
Miss Peel, in her sedate voice.  "I am not rich, but I'll allow you--
yes, I'll manage to allow you two shillings a week.  That will be for
pocket-money, you understand, child."

The girl's old-young face flushed painfully.

"I'll want a few pence for stamps, of course," she said.  "But I sha'n't
write a great many letters.  I'll be a great deal too busy studying.
You need not allow me anything like so large a sum as that, Aunt Raby."

"Nonsense, child.  You'll find it all too small when you go out into the
world.  You are a clever girl, Prissie, and I'm going to be proud of
you.  I don't hold with the present craze about women's education.  But
I feel somehow that I shall be proud of you.  You'll be learned enough,
but you'll be a woman with it all.  I wouldn't have you stinted for the
world, Prissie, my dear.  Yes, I'll make it ten shillings a month--yes,
I will.  I can easily screw that sum out of the butter money.  Now, not
another word.  I'm off to bed.  Good-night, my love."

Priscilla kissed her aunt and went out.  It was a lovely autumn evening.
She stepped on to the green sward which surrounded the little cottage,
and with the moonlight casting its full radiance on her slim figure,
looked steadily out over the sea.  The cottage was on the top of some
high cliffs.  The light of the moon made a bright path over the water,
and Priscilla had a good view of shining, silvered water, and dark, deep
blue sky.

She stood perfectly still, gazing straight out before her.  Some of the
reflection and brightness of the moonlight seemed to get into her
anxious eyes, and the faint dawn of a new-born hope to tremble around
her lips.  She thought herself rich with ten shillings a month
pocket-money.  She returned to the house, feeling overpowered at Aunt
Raby's goodness.

Upstairs in Prissie's room there were two beds.  One was small; in this
she herself slept.  The other had now three occupants.  Three heads were
raised when Prissie entered the room, and three shrill voices
exclaimed--

"Here we are, all wide-awake, Prissie, darling!"  This remark, made
simultaneously, was followed by prolonged peals of laughter.

"Three of you in that small bed!" said Priscilla.  She stood still, and
a smile broke all over her face.  "Why, Hattie," she said, catching up
the eldest of the three girls, and giving her a fervent hug--"how did
you slip out of Aunt Raby's room?"

"Oh, I managed to," said Hattie, in a stage whisper.  "Aunt Raby came
upstairs half an hour ago, and she undressed very fast, and got into
bed, and I heard her snoring in about a minute.  It was then I slipped
away.  She never heard."

"Hop up on the bed now, Prissie," exclaimed Rose, another of the
children, "and let us all have a chat.  Here, Katie, if you'll promise
not to cry you may get into the middle, between Hattie and me, then
you'll be very close to darling Prissie."

Katie was the youngest of the three occupants of the bed: she was about
eight years old; her small face was delicate in its outline, her mouth
peevish; she did not look a strong child, and self-control could
scarcely be expected of her.

Priscilla placed her candle on the chimney-piece, jumped on the bed
according to orders, and looked earnestly at her three small sisters.

"Now, Prissie," said Hattie, in the important little voice which she
always used, "begin, go on--tell us all about your grand college life."

"How can I, Hattie, when I don't know what to say.  I can't _guess_ what
I am to do at college."

"Oh dear," sighed Rose, "I only wish I were the one to go!  It will be
very dull living with Aunt Raby when you are away, Priscilla.  She won't
let us take long walks, and if ever we go in for a real, jolly lark we
are sure to be punished.  Oh dear, oh dear!"

"Even though it is for your good, I wish with all my heart you were not
going away, Prissie," said Hattie, in her blunt fashion.

Katie burst into sudden loud wails.

Priscilla coloured.  Then she spoke with firmness.  "We have had enough
of this kind of talk.  Katie, you shall come and sit in my lap, darling.
I'll wrap you up quite warm in this big shawl.  Now, girls," she said,
"what _is_ the use of making things harder?  You know, perfectly, you
two elder ones, why I must go away, and you, Katie, you know also, don't
you, pet?"

"Yes, Prissie," answered Katie, speaking in a broken, half-sobbing
voice, "only I _am_ so lonely."

"But you're not going to be selfish, darling.  By-and-by I'll come back
to you all.  Once every year, at least, I'll come back.  And then, after
I've gone through my course of study, I'll get a situation of some
sort--a good situation--and you three shall come and live with me.
There, what do you say to that?  Only three years, and then such a jolly
time.  Why, Katie will be only eleven then."

Priscilla spoke in a remarkably cheerful voice, but the appalling
magnitude of three years could not be diminished, and the three little
sisters who were to stay behind with Aunt Raby were still disposed to
view things dismally.

"If _she_ wasn't just what she is--" began Hattie.

"If she didn't think the least tiny morsel of a lark wrong--" continued
Rose.

"Why, then we could pull along somehow," sighed Hattie.

"Oh, you'll pull along as it is," said Priscilla.  "I'll write to you as
often as ever I can.  If possible I'll keep a sort of journal, and send
it to you.  And perhaps there'll be stories and larks in it.  Now you
really must go to sleep, for I have to get up so early in the morning.
Katie, darling, I'll make a corner for you in my bed to-night.  Won't
that be a treat?"

"Oh, yes, Prissie."

Katie's pale face was lit up by a radiant smile; Hattie and Rose lay
down side by side, and closed their eyes.  In a few moments they were
sound asleep.

As they lay in the sound happy sleep of healthy childhood Priscilla bent
over them and kissed them.  Then before she lay down herself she knelt
by the window, looked up at the clear, dark sky in which the moon sailed
in majesty, bent her head, murmured a few words of prayer, then crept
into bed by her little sister's side.

Prissie felt full of courage and good resolves.  She was going out into
the world to-morrow, and she was quite determined that the world should
not conquer her, although she knew that she was a very poor maiden with
a specially heavy load of care on her young shoulders.

CHAPTER TWO.

THE DELIGHTS OF BEING A FRESHER.

The college was quite shut away in its own grounds, and only from the
upper windows did the girls get a peep of the old University town of
Kingsdene.  From these, however, particularly in the winter, they could
see the gabled colleges, the chapels with their rich glory of
architecture, and the smooth lawns of the college gardens as they sloped
gently down to the river.

St Benet's, the College for Women, was approached by a private road,
and high entrance gates obstructed the gaze of the curious.  Inside
there were cheerful halls and pleasant gardens, and gay, fresh,
unrestrained life.  But the passer-by got no peep of these things unless
the high gates happened to be open.

This was the first evening of term, and most of the girls were back.
There was nothing very particular going on, and they were walking about
the gardens, and greeting old friends, and telling each other their
experiences, and more or less picking up the threads which had been
broken or loosened in the long vacation.

The evenings were drawing in, but the pleasant twilight which was soon
to be rendered brilliant by the full moon seemed to the girls even nicer
than broad daylight to linger about in.  They did not want to go into
the houses; they flitted about in groups here and there, chatting and
laughing merrily.

St Benet's had three Halls, each with its own Vice-Principal, and a
certain number of resident students.  Each Hall stood in its own
grounds, and was more or less a complete home in itself.  There were
resident lecturers and demonstrators for the whole college, and one Lady
Principal, who took the lead, and was virtually head of the college.

Miss Vincent was the name of the present Principal.  She was an old
lady, and had a Vice-Principal under her at Vincent Hall, the largest
and newest of these spacious homes, where young women received the
advantages of University instruction to prepare them for the battle of
life.

Priscilla was to live at Heath Hall--a slightly smaller house, which
stood at a little distance away--its grounds being divided from the
grounds of Vincent Hall by means of a rustic paling.  Miss Heath was the
very popular Vice-Principal of this Hall, and Prissie was considered a
fortunate girl to obtain a home in her house.  She sat now a forlorn and
rather scared young person, huddled up in one corner of the fly which
turned in at the wide gates, and finally deposited her and her luggage
at the back entrance of Heath Hall.

Priscilla looked out into the darkness of the autumn night with
frightened eyes.  She hated herself for feeling nervous.  She had told
Aunt Raby that, of course, she would have no silly tremors, yet here she
was, trembling, and scarcely able to pay the cabman his fare.

She heard a girl's laugh in the distance, and it caused her to start so
violently that she dropped one of her few treasured sixpences, which
went rolling about aimlessly almost under the horse's hoofs.

"Stop a minute, I'll find it for you," said a voice.  A tall girl with
big, brown eyes suddenly darted into view, picked up the sixpence as if
by magic, popped it into Priscilla's hand, and then, vanished.
Priscilla knew that this was the girl who had laughed; she heard her
laughing again as she turned to join someone who was standing beside a
laurel hedge.  The two linked their arms together, and walked off in the
darkness.

"Such a frightened poor Fresher!" said the girl who had picked up the
sixpence to her companion.

"Maggie," said the other in a warning voice, "I know you, I know what
you mean to do."

"My dear good Nancy, it is more than I know myself.  What awful
indiscretion does your prophetic soul see me perpetrating?"

"Oh, Maggie, as if anything could change your nature!  You know you'll
take up that miserable Fresher for about a fortnight, and make her
imagine that you are going to be excellent friends for the rest of your
life, and then--p-f! you'll snuff her out as if she had never existed; I
know you, Maggie, and I call it cruel."

"Is not that Miss Banister I hear talking?" said a voice quite close to
the two girls.

They both turned, and immediately with heightened colour rushed up
eagerly to shake hands with the Vice-Principal of their college.

"How do you do, my dears?" she said in a hearty voice.  "Are you quite
well, Maggie, and you, Nancy?  Had you a pleasant holiday?  And did you
two great chums spend it together?"

The girls began answering eagerly; some other girls came up and joined
the group, all anxious to shake hands with Miss Heath, and to get a word
of greeting from her.

At this moment the dressing-gong for dinner sounded, and the little
group moved slowly towards the house.

In the entrance-hall numbers of girls who had recently arrived were
standing about; all had a nod, or a smile, or a kiss for Maggie
Oliphant.

"How do you do, Miss Oliphant?  Come and see me to-night in my room,
won't you, dear?" issued from many throats.

Maggie promised in her good-natured, affectionate, wholesale way.

Nancy Banister was also greeted by several friends.  She, too, was gay
and bright, but quieter than Maggie.  Her face was more reliable in its
expression, but not nearly so beautiful.

"If you accept all these invitations, Maggie," she said, as the two
girls walked down the corridor which led to their rooms, "you know you
will have to sit up until morning.  Why will you say `yes' to everyone?
You know it only causes disappointment and jealousy."

Maggie laughed.

"My dear, good creature, don't worry your righteous soul," she answered.
"I'll call on all the girls I can, and the others must grin and bear
it.  Now we have barely time to change our dresses for dinner.  Stay,
though, Nance, there's a light under Annabel Lee's door; who have they
dared to put into her room?  It must be one of those wretched Freshers.
I don't think I can bear it.  I shall have to go away into another
corridor."

"Maggie, dear--you are far too sensitive.  Could the college afford to
keep a room empty because poor dear Annie Lee occupied it?"

"They could, they ought," burst from Maggie.  She stamped her foot with
anger.  "That room is a shrine to me.  It will always be a shrine.  I
shall hate the person who lives in it."  Tears filled her bright brown
eyes.  Her arched proud lips trembled.  She opened her door, and going
into her room, shut it with a bang, almost in Nancy Banister's face.

Nancy stood still for a minute.  A quick sigh came from her lips.

"Maggie is the dearest girl in the college," she said to herself; "the
dearest, the sweetest, the prettiest, yet also the most tantalising, the
most provoking, the most inconsequent.  It is the greatest wonder she
has kept so long out of some serious scrape.  She will never leave here
without doing something outrageous, and yet there isn't a girl in the
place to be named with her.  I wish--" here Nancy sighed again, and put
her hand to her brow as if to chase away some perplexity.  Then, after a
moment's hesitation, she went up to the door of the room next to
Maggie's and knocked.

There was a moment's silence, then a constrained voice said--

"Come in."

Nancy entered at once.

Priscilla Peel was standing in the centre of the room.  The electric
light was turned on, revealing the bareness and absence of all ornament
of the apartment; a fire was laid in the grate but not lit, and
Priscilla's ugly square trunk, its canvas covering removed, stood in a
prominent position, half on the hearthrug, half on the square of carpet,
which covered the centre of the floor.  Priscilla had taken off her
jacket and hat.  She had washed her hands, and removed her muddy boots,
and smoothed out her straight, light brown hair.  She looked what she
felt--a very stiff and unformed specimen of girlhood.  There was a great
lump in her throat, brought there by mingled nervousness and
home-sickness, but that very fact only made her manner icy and
repellent.

"Forgive me," said Nancy, blushing all over her rosy face.  "I thought
perhaps you might like to know one or two things as you are quite
strange here.  My name is Banister.  I have a room in the same corridor,
but quite at the other end.  You must come and visit me, presently.  Oh,
has no one lit your fire?  Wouldn't you like one?  The evenings are
turning so chilly now, and a fire in one's room gives one a home-like
feeling, doesn't it?  Shall I light it for you?"

"No, no, thank you," said Priscilla stiffly.  She longed to rush at
Nancy, and smother her with kisses, but she could only stand in the
middle of her room, helpless and awkward, held in a terrible bondage of
shyness.

Nancy drew back a step, chilled in spite of herself.

"I see there are matches on the chimney-piece," she said, "so you can
light the fire yourself, whenever you like.  The gong that will sound in
a minute will be for dinner, and Miss Heath always likes us to be
punctual for that meal.  It does not matter about any other.  Do you
think you can find your way to the dining-hall?  Or shall I come and
fetch you?"

"No--thank you.  I--I can manage."

"But I'll come with pleasure if you like me to."

"No, I'd rather you didn't trouble, please."

"Very well; if you're sure you know the way.  You go down the broad
stairs, then turn to the right, then to the left.  Good-bye, I must rush
off, or I shall be late."

Nancy shut the door behind her.  She did it gently, although she did not
feel gentle, for she had a distinct sensation of being irritated.

Meanwhile Priscilla, clasping her hands together behind the closed door,
looked yearningly in the direction where the bright face and trim, neat
girlish figure had stood.  She was trembling slightly, and her eyes
slowly filled with tears.

"I feel sick and lonely and horrid," she said, under her breath.  "Talk
of nerves; oh, if Aunt Raby could see me now! why, I'm positively
shaking, I can scarcely speak, I can scarcely think properly.  What
would the children say if they saw their Prissie now?  And I'm the girl
who is to fight the world, and kill the dragon, and make a home for the
nestlings.  Don't I feel like it!  Don't I look like it!  Don't I just
loathe myself!  How hideously I do my hair, and what a frightful dress I
have on.  Oh, I wish I weren't shaking so much.  I know I shall get red
all over at dinner.  I wish I weren't going to dinner.  I wish, oh, I
wish I were at home again."

Crash! bang! pealed the great gong through the house.  Doors were opened
all along the corridor; light steps passed Priscilla's room.  She heard
the rustle of silk, and the sweet, high tinkle of girlish laughter.

She stayed in her room till the last footsteps had died away, then in
desperation made a rush for it, flew down the wide stairs in a bashful
agony, and, as a matter of course, entered the spacious dining-hall by
the door devoted to the dons.

A girl's life at one of the women's colleges is supposed to be more or
less an unfettered sort of existence; the broad rules guiding conduct
are few, and little more than those which must be exercised in any
well-organised family.  But there is the unspoken etiquette made chiefly
by the students themselves, which fills the place like an atmosphere,
and which can only be transgressed at the risk of surly glances and
muttered comments, and even words of derision.

No student was expected to enter the hall by the dons' entrance, and for
this enormity to be perpetrated by a Fresher immediately made her the
cynosure of all eyes.  Poor Priscilla was unconscious of any offence.
She grew scarlet under the gaze of the merciless young eyes, and further
added to her sins by sitting down at one of the tables at the top of the
hall.

No one reproved her in words, or requested her to take a lower seat, but
some rude giggles were not inaudible; and Priscilla, who would
thankfully have taken her dinner in the scullery, heard hints about a
certain young person's presumption, and about the cheek of those
wretched Freshers, which must instantly be put down with a high hand.

Priscilla had choked over her soup, and was making poor way with the
fish that followed, when suddenly a sweet, low voice addressed her.

"This is your first evening at St Benet's," said the voice.  "I hope
you will be happy.  I know you will, after a little."

Priscilla turned, and met the full gaze of lovely eyes, brown like a
nut, soft and deep as the thick pile of velvet, and yet with a latent
flash and glow in them which gave them a red, half-wild gleam now and
then.  The lips that belonged to this face were slightly parted in a
smile; the smile and the expression in the eyes stole straight down with
a glow of delicious comfort into Priscilla's heart.

"Thank you," she said, in her stiff, wooden tone; but her eyes did not
look stiff, and the girl began to talk again.

"I believe my room is next to yours.  My name is Oliphant--Margaret
Oliphant, but everyone calls me Maggie.  That is, of course, I mean my
friends do.  Would you like to come into my room, and let me tell you
some of the rules?"

"Thank you," said Priscilla again.  She longed to add, "I should love
beyond words to come into your room;" but instead she remarked icily, "I
think Miss Heath has given me printed rules."

"Oh, you have seen our dear Dorothea--I mean Miss Heath.  Isn't she
lovely?"

"I don't know," answered Priscilla.  "I think she's rather a plain
person."

"My dear Miss--(I have not caught your name)--you really are too
deliciously prosaic.  Stay here for a month, and then tell me if you
think Dorothea--I mean Miss Heath--plain.  No, I won't say any more.
You must find out for yourself.  But now, about the rules.  I don't mean
the _printed_ rules.  We have, I assure you, at St Benet's all kinds of
little etiquettes which we expect each other to observe.  We are
supposed to be democratic, and inclined to go in for all that is
advanced in womanhood.  But, oh dear, oh dear! let any student dare to
break one of our own little pet proprieties, and you will see how
conservative we can be."

"Have I broken any of them?" asked Priscilla in alarm.  "I did notice
that everyone stared at me when I came into the hall, but I thought it
was because my face was fresh, and I hoped people would get accustomed
to me by-and-by."

"You poor dear child, there are lots of fresh faces here besides yours.
You should have come down under the shelter of my wing, then it would
have been all right."

"But what have I done?  Do tell me.  I'd much rather know."

"Well, dear, you have _only_ come into the hall by the dons' entrance,
and you have _only_ seated yourself at the top of the table, where the
learned students who are going in for a tripos take their august meals.
That is pretty good for a Fresher.  Forgive me, we call the new girls
Freshers for a week or two.  Oh, you have done nothing wrong.  Of course
not, how could you know any better?  Only I think it would be nice to
put you up to our little rules, would it not?"

"I should be very much obliged," said Priscilla.  "And please tell me
now where I ought to sit at dinner."

Miss Oliphant's merry eyes twinkled.

"Look down this long hall," she said.  "Observe that door at the farther
end--that is the students' door; through that door you ought to have
entered."

"Yes--well, well?"

"What an impatient `Well, well.'  I shall make you quite an enthusiastic
Benetite before dinner is over."

Priscilla blushed.

"I am sorry I spoke too eagerly," she said.

"Oh, no, not a bit too eagerly."

"But please tell me where I ought to have seated myself."

"There is a table near that lower entrance, Miss--"

"Peel," interposed Priscilla.  "My name is Priscilla Peel."

"How quaint and great-grandmotherly.  Quite delicious!  Well, Miss Peel,
by that entrance door is a table, a table rather in a draught, and
consecrated to the Freshers--there the Freshers humbly partake of
nourishment."

"I see.  Then I am as far from the right place as I can be."

"About as far as you can be."

"And that is why all the girls have stared so at me."

"Yes, of course; but let them stare.  Who minds such a trifle?"

Priscilla sat silent for a few moments.  One of the neat waiting-maids
removed her plate; her almost untasted dinner lay upon it.  Miss
Oliphant turned to attack some roast mutton with truly British vigour.

By-and-by Priscilla's voice, stiff but with a break in it, fell upon her
ear.

"I think the students at St Benet's must be very cruel."

"My dear Miss Peel, the honour of the most fascinating college in
England is imperilled.  Unsay those words."

Maggie Oliphant was joking.  Her voice was gay with badinage, her eyes
brimful of laughter.  But Priscilla, unaccustomed to light repartee or
chaff in any form, replied to her with heavy and pained seriousness.

"I think the students here are cruel," she repeated.  "How can a
stranger know which is the dons' entrance, and which is the right seat
to take at table?  If nobody shows her, how can a stranger know?  I do
think the students are cruel, and I am sorry--I am very sorry I came."

CHAPTER THREE.

AN UNWILLING "AT HOME."

Most of the girls who sat at those dinner-tables had fringed or tousled
or curled locks.  Priscilla's were brushed simply away from her broad
forehead.  After saying her last words, she bent her head low over her
plate, and longed even for the protection of a fringe to hide her
burning blushes.  Her momentary courage had evaporated; she was shocked
at having betrayed herself to a stranger; her brief fit of passion left
her stiffer and shyer than ever.  Blinding tears rushed to Priscilla's
eyes, and her terror was that they would drop on to her plate.  Suppose
some of those horrid girls saw her crying?  Hateful thought.  She would
rather die than show emotion before them.

At this moment a soft, plump little hand was slipped into hers, and the
sweetest of voices said--

"I am so sorry anything has seemed unkind to you.  Believe me, we are
not what you imagine.  We have our fun and our prejudices, of course,
but we are not what you think we are."

Priscilla could not help smiling, nor could she resist slightly
squeezing the fingers which touched hers.

"You are not unkind, I know," she answered; and she ate the rest of her
dinner in a comforted frame of mind.

After dinner one of the lecturers who resided at Heath Hall, a pleasant,
bright girl of two- or three-and-twenty, came and introduced herself,
and presently took Priscilla with her to her own room, to talk over the
line of study which the young girl proposed to take up.  This conference
lasted some little time, and then Priscilla, in the lecturer's company,
returned to the hall for tea.

A great many girls kept coming in and out.  Some stayed to have tea, but
most helped themselves to tea and bread-and-butter, and took them away
to partake of in their own private rooms.

Maggie Oliphant and Nancy Banister presently rushed in for this purpose.
Maggie, seeing Priscilla, ran up to her.

"How are you getting on?" she asked brightly.  "Oh, by-the-bye, will you
cocoa with me to-night at half-past ten?"

"I don't know what you mean," answered Priscilla.  "But I'll do it," she
added, her eyes brightening.

"All right, I'll explain the simple ceremony when you come.  My room is
next to yours, so you'll have no difficulty in finding me out.  I don't
expect to have anyone present except Miss Banister," nodding her head in
Nancy's direction, "and perhaps one other girl.  By-bye, I'll see you at
half-past ten."

Maggie turned to leave the hall, but Nancy lingered for a moment by
Priscilla's side.

"Wouldn't you like to take your tea up to your room?" she asked.  "We
most of us do it.  You may, you know."

"I don't think I wish to," answered Priscilla, in an uncertain voice.

Nancy half-turned to go, then came back.

"You are going to unpack by-and-by, aren't you?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, when I get back to my room."

"Perhaps you ought to know beforehand; the girls will be coming to
call."

Priscilla raised her eyes.

"What girls?" she asked, alarm in her tone.

"Oh, most of the students in your corridor.  They always call on a
Fresher the first night in her room.  You need not bother yourself about
them; they'll just talk for a little while and then go away.  What is
the matter, Miss Peel?  Maggie has told me your name, you see."

"What you tell me sounds so very--very formal."

"But it isn't--not really.  Shall I come and help you to entertain
them?"

"I wish--" began Priscilla.  She hesitated; the words seemed to stick in
her throat.

"What did you say?"  Nancy bent forward a little impatiently.

"I wish--yes, do come," with a violent effort.  "All right, you may
expect me."

Nancy flew after Maggie Oliphant, and Priscilla went slowly up the wide,
luxurious stairs.  She turned down the corridor which led to her own
room.  There were doors leading out of this corridor at both sides, and
Priscilla caught glimpses of luxurious rooms bright with flowers and
electric light.  Girls were laughing and chatting in them; she saw
pictures on the walls, and lounges and chairs scattered about.  Her own
room was at the far end of the corridor.  The electric light was also
brightening it, but the fire was unlit, and the presence of the unpacked
trunk, taking up a position of prominence on the floor, gave it a very
unhomelike feel.  In itself the room was particularly picturesque.  It
had two charming lattice windows, set in deep square bays.  One window
faced the fireplace, the other the door.  The effect was slightly
irregular, but for that very reason all the more charming.  The walls of
the room were painted light blue; there was a looking-glass over the
mantelpiece set in a frame of the palest, most delicate, blue.  A
picture-rail ran round the room about six feet from the ground, and the
high frieze above had a scroll of wild roses painted on it in bold, free
relief.

The panels of the doors were also decorated with sprays of wild flowers
in picturesque confusion.  Both the flowers and the scroll were boldly
designed, but were unfinished, the final and completing touches
remaining yet to be given.

Priscilla looked hungrily at these unexpected trophies of art.  She
could have shouted with glee as she recognised some of her dear, wild
Devonshire flowers among the groups on the door panels.  She wondered if
all the rest of the students were treated to these artistic decorations,
and grew a little happier and less homesick at the thought.

Priscilla could have been an artist herself had the opportunity arisen,
but she was one of those girls all alive with aspiration and longing who
never up to the present had come in the way of special culture in any
style.

She stood for some time gazing at the groups of wild flowers, then
remembering with horror that she was to receive visitors that night, she
looked round the room to see if she could do anything to make it appear
home-like and inviting.

It was a nice room, certainly.  Priscilla had never before in her whole
life occupied such a luxurious apartment, and yet it had a cold, dreary,
uninhabited feel.  She had an intuition that none of the other students'
rooms looked like hers.  She rushed to light the fire, but could not
find the matches, which had been removed from their place on the
mantelpiece, and felt far too shy to ring the electric-bell.  It was
Priscilla's fashion to clasp her hands together when she felt a sense of
dismay, and she did so now, as she looked around the pretty room, which
yet with all its luxuries looked to her cold and dreary.

The furniture was excellent of its kind.  A Turkey carpet covered the
centre of the floor, the boards round the edge were stained and brightly
polished.  In one corner of the room was a little bed, made to look like
a sofa by day, with a Liberty cretonne covering.  A curtain of the same
shut away the wardrobe and washing apparatus.  Just under one of the
bay-windows stood a writing-table, so contrived as to form a
writing-table, and a bookcase at the top, and a chest of drawers to hold
linen below.  Besides this there was a small square table for tea in the
room, and a couple of chairs.  The whole effect was undoubtedly bare.

Priscilla was hesitating whether to begin to unpack her trunk or not
when a light knock was heard at her door.  She said "Come in," and two
girls burst rather noisily into the apartment.

"How do you do?" they said, favouring the fresh girl with a brief nod.
"You came to-day, didn't you?  What are you going to study?  Are you
clever?"

These queries issued rapidly from the lips of the tallest of the girls.
She had red hair, tousled and tossed about her head.  Her face was
essentially commonplace; her small restless eyes now glanced at
Priscilla, now wandered over the room.  She did not wait for a reply to
any of her queries, but turned rapidly to her companion.

"I told you so, Polly," she said.  "I was quite sure that she was going
to be put into Miss Lee's room.  You see I'm right, this _is_ Annabel
Lee's old room; it has never been occupied since."

"Hush!" said the other girl.

The two walked across the apartment and seated themselves on Priscilla's
bed.

There came a fresh knock at the door, and this time three students
entered.  They barely nodded to Priscilla, and then rushed across the
room with cries of rapture to greet the girls who were seated on the
bed.

"How do you do, Miss Atkins?  How do you do, Miss Jones?"

Miss Jones and Miss Atkins exchanged kisses with Miss Phillips, Miss
Marsh, and Miss Day.  The babel of tongues rose high, and everyone had
something to say with regard to the room which had been assigned to
Priscilla.

"Look," said Miss Day, "it was in that corner she had her rocking-chair.
Girls, _do_ you remember Annabel's rocking-chair, and how she used to
sway herself backwards and forwards in it, and half-shut her lovely
eyes?"

"Oh, and don't I just seem to _see_ that little red tea-table of hers
near the fire," burst from Miss Marsh.  "That Japanese table, with the
Japanese tea-set--oh dear, oh dear! those cups of tea--those cakes!
Well, the room _was_ luxurious, _was_ worth coming to see in Annabel's
time."

"It's more than it is now," laughed Miss Jones in a harsh voice.  "How
bare the walls look without her pictures.  It was in that recess the
large figure of `Hope' by Burne-Jones used to hang, and there, that
queer, wild, wonderful head looking out of clouds.  You know she never
would tell us the artist's name.  Yes, she had pretty things everywhere!
How the room is altered!  I don't think I care for it a bit now."

"Could anyone who knew Annabel Lee care for the room without her?" asked
one of the girls.  She had a common, not to say vulgar, face, but it
wore a wistful expression as she uttered these words.

All this time Priscilla was standing, feeling utterly shy and miserable.
From time to time other girls came in; they nodded to her, and then
rushed upon their companions.  The eager talk began afresh, and always
there were looks of regret, and allusions, accompanied by sighs, to the
girl who had lived in the room last.

"Well," said one merry little girl, who was spoken to by the others as
Ada Hardy, "I have no doubt that by-and-by, when Miss--" She glanced
towards Priscilla.

"Peel," faltered Priscilla.

"When Miss Peel unpacks her trunk, she'll make the room look very
pretty, too."

"She can't," said Miss Day, in a tragic voice; "she never could make the
room look as it used to--not if she was to live till the age of
Methuselah.  Of course you'll improve it, Miss Peel; you couldn't
possibly exist in it as it is now."

"I can tell you of a capital shop in Kingsdene, Miss Peel," said Miss
Marsh, "where you can buy tables and chairs, and pretty artistic cloths,
and little whatnots of all descriptions.  I'd advise you to go to
Rigg's! he's in the High Street, Number 48."

"But Spilman has much the most _recherche_ articles, you know, Lucy,"
interposed Miss Day.  "I'll walk over to Spilman's to-morrow with you,
if you like, Miss Peel."

Before Priscilla had time to reply there was again a knock at the door,
and this time Nancy Banister, looking flushed and pretty, came in.

She took in the scene at a glance: numbers of girls making themselves at
home in Priscilla's room, some seated on her trunk, some on her bureau,
several curled up in comfortable attitudes on her bed, and she herself
standing, meek, awkward, depressed, near one of the windows.

"How tired you look, Miss Peel!" said Nancy Banister.

Priscilla smiled gratefully at her.

"And your trunk is not unpacked yet?"

"Oh! there is time enough," faltered Priscilla.

"Are we in your way?" suddenly spoke Miss Marsh, springing to her feet.
"Good-night.  My name is Marsh, my room is thirty-eight."

She swung herself lazily and carelessly out of the room, followed, at
longer or shorter intervals, by the other girls, who all nodded to
Priscilla, told her their names, and one or two the numbers of their
rooms.  At last she was left alone with Nancy Banister.

"Poor thing!  How tired and white you look!" said Nancy.  "But now that
dreadful martyrdom is over, you shall have a real cosy time.  Don't you
want a nice hot cup of cocoa?  It will be ready in a minute or two.  And
please may I help you to unpack?"

"Thank you," said Priscilla; her teeth were chattering.  "If I might
have a fire?" she asked suddenly.

"Oh, you poor, shivering darling!  Of course.  Are there no matches
here?  There were some on the mantelpiece before dinner.  No, I declare
they have vanished.  How careless of the maid.  I'll run into Maggie's
room and fetch some."

Miss Banister was not a minute away.  She returned with a box of
matches, and, stooping down, set a light to the wood, and a pleasant
fire was soon blazing and crackling merrily.

"Now, isn't that better?" said Nancy.  "Please sit down on your bed, and
give me the key of your trunk.  I'll soon have the things out, and put
all to rights for you.  I'm a splendid unpacker."

But Priscilla had no desire to have her small and meagre wardrobe
overhauled even by the kindest of St Benet's girls.

"I will unpack presently myself, if you don't mind," she said.  She felt
full of gratitude, but she could not help an almost surly tone coming
into her voice.

Nancy drew back, repulsed and distressed.

"Perhaps you would like me to go away?" she said.  "I will go into
Maggie's room, and let you know when cocoa is ready."

"Thank you," said Prissie.  Miss Banister disappeared, and Priscilla sat
on by the fire, unconscious that she had given any pain or annoyance,
thinking with gratitude of Nancy, and with feelings of love of Maggie
Oliphant, and wondering what her little sisters were doing without her
at home to-night.

By-and-by there came a tap at her door.  Priscilla ran to open it.  Miss
Oliphant stood outside.

"Won't you come in?" said Priscilla, throwing the door wide open, and
smiling with joy.  It was already delightful to her to look at Maggie.
"Please come in," she added, in a tone almost of entreaty.

Maggie Oliphant started and turned pale.  "Into that room?  No, no, I
can't," she said in a queer voice.  She rushed back to her own, leaving
Priscilla standing in amazement by her open door.

There was a moment's silence; then Miss Oliphant's voice, rich, soft,
and lazy, was heard within the shelter of her own apartment.

"Please come in, Miss Peel, cocoa awaits you.  Do not stand on
ceremony."

Priscilla went timidly across the landing, and the next instant found
herself in one of the prettiest of the students' rooms at St Benet's.
A few rare prints and some beautiful photogravures of well-known
pictures adorned the walls.  The room was crowded with knick-knacks, and
rendered gay and sweet by many tall flowers in pots.  A piano stood open
by one of the walls, and a violin lay carelessly on a chair not far off.
There were piles of new music, and some tempting, small, neatly-bound
books lying about.  A fire glowed on the hearth, and a little brass
kettle sang merrily on the hob.  The cocoa-table was drawn up in front
of the fire, and on a quaintly shaped tray stood the bright little
cocoa-pot, and the oddly devised cups and saucers.

"Welcome to St Benet's?" said Maggie, going up and taking Priscilla's
hand cordially within her own.  "Now you'll have to get into this low
chair, and make yourself quite at home and happy."

"How snug you are here," said Prissie, her eyes brightening, and a pink
colour mounting into her cheeks.  She was glad that Maggie was alone;
she felt more at ease with her than with anyone, but the next moment she
said, with a look of apparent regret--

"I thought Miss Banister was in your room?"

"No; Nancy has gone to her own room at the end of the corridor to do
some work for an hour.  She will come back to say good-night.  She
always does.  Are you sorry to have me by myself?"

"Indeed I am not," said Priscilla.  The smile, which made her rather
plain face attractive, crept slowly back to it.  Maggie poured out a cup
of cocoa and brought it to her, then, drawing another chair forward, she
seated herself in it, sipped her own cocoa, and began to talk.

Long afterwards Priscilla remembered that talk.  It was not what Maggie
said, for her conversation in itself was not at all brilliant, but it
was the sound of her rich, calm, rather lazy voice, the different lights
which glanced and gleamed in her eyes, the dimples about her mouth, the
attitude she put herself in.  Maggie had a way of changing colour, too,
which added to her fascinations.  Sometimes the beautiful oval of her
face would be almost ivory white, but then again a rosy cloud would well
up and up the cheeks, and even slightly suffuse the broad, low forehead.
Her face was never long the same, never more than a moment in repose;
eyes, mouth, brow, even the very waves of her hair seemed to Priscilla,
this first night as she sat by her hearth, to be all speech.

The girls grew cosy and confidential together.  Priscilla told Maggie
about her home, a little also about her past history, and her motive in
coming to St Benet's.  Maggie sympathised with all the expression she
was capable of.  At last Priscilla bade her new friend good-night, and,
rising from her luxurious chair, prepared to go back to her own room.

She had just reached the door of Maggie's room, and was about to turn
the handle, when a sudden thought arrested her.  She came back a few
steps.

"May I ask you a question?" she said.

"Certainly," replied Miss Oliphant.

"Who is the girl who used to live in my room?  Annabel Lee, the other
girls call her.  Who is she?  What is there remarkable about her?"

To Priscilla's astonishment Maggie started a step forward, her eyes
blazed with an expression which was half frightened--half angry.  She
interlocked one soft hand inside the other, her face grew white, hard,
and strained.

"You must not ask me about Annabel Lee," she said in a whisper, "for I--
I can tell you nothing about her.  I can _never_ tell you about her--
never."

Then she rushed to her sofa-bed, flung herself upon it face downwards,
and burst into queer, silent, distressful tears.

Someone touched Priscilla softly on her shoulder.

"Let me take you to your room, Miss Peel," said Nancy Banister.  "Don't
take any notice of Maggie; she will be all right by-and-by."

Nancy took Priscilla's hand, and walked with her across the corridor.

"I am so sorry I said anything to hurt Miss Oliphant," said Priscilla.

"Oh, you were not to blame.  You could not know any better.  Of course,
now that you do know, you will never do it again."

"But I don't know anything now.  Please will _you_ tell me who Annabel
Lee is?"

"Hush! don't speak so loud.  Annabel Lee--" Nancy's eyes filled with
tears--"no girl in the college was so popular."

"Why do you say _was_? and why do you cry?"

"I did not know that I cried.  Annabel Lee is dead."

"Oh!"

Priscilla walked into her room, and Nancy went back to Maggie Oliphant.

CHAPTER FOUR.

AN EAVESDROPPER.

The students at St Benet's were accustomed to unlimited licence in the
matter of sitting up at night.  At a certain hour the electric lights
were put out, but each girl was well supplied with candles, and could
sit up and pursue her studies into the small hours, if she willed.

It was late when Priscilla left Maggie Oliphant's room on this first
night, but, long as her journey had been, and tired as she undoubtedly
felt, the events of the evening had excited her, and she did not care to
go to bed.  Her fire was now burning well, and her room was warm and
cosy.  She drew the bolt of her door, and, unlocking her trunk, began to
unpack.  She was a methodical girl, and well trained.  Miss Rachel Peel
had instilled order into Priscilla from her earliest days, and she now
quickly disposed of her small but neat wardrobe.  Her linen would just
fit into the drawers of the bureau.  Her two or three dresses and
jackets were hung tidily away behind the curtain which formed her
wardrobe.

Priscilla pushed her empty trunk against the wall, folded up the bits of
string and paper which lay scattered about, and then, slowly undressing,
she got into bed.

She undressed with a certain sense of luxuriousness and pleasure.  Her
room began to look charming to her now that her things were unpacked,
and the first sharp pain of her home-sickness was greatly softened since
she had fallen in love with Maggie Oliphant.

Priscilla had not often in the course of her life undressed by a fire,
but then had she ever spent an evening like this one?  All was fresh to
her, new, exciting.  Now she was really very tired, and the moment she
laid her head on her pillow would doubtless be asleep.

She got into bed, and, putting out her candle, lay down.  The firelight
played on the pale blue walls, and lit up the bold design of the
briar-roses, which ran round the frieze at the top of the room.

Priscilla wondered why she did not drop asleep at once.  She felt vexed
with herself when she discovered that each instant the chance of slumber
was flying before her, that every moment her tired body became more
restless and wide-awake.  She could not help gazing at that scroll of
briar-roses; she could not help thinking of the hand that had painted
the flowers, of the girl whose presence had once made the room in which
she now lay so charming.

Priscilla had not yet been twelve hours at St Benet's, and yet almost
every student she had met had spoken of Annabel Lee--had spoken of her
with interest, with regret.  One girl had gone further than this; she
had breathed her name with bitter sorrow.

Priscilla wished she had not been put into this room.  She felt
absolutely nervous; she had a sense of usurping someone else's place, of
turning somebody else out into the cold.  She did not believe in ghosts,
but she had an uncomfortable sensation, and it would not have greatly
surprised her if Annabel had come gliding back in the night watches to
put the finishing touches to those scrolls of wild flowers which
ornamented the panels of the doors, and to the design of the briar-rose,
which ran round the frieze of the room.  Annabel might come in, and
pursue this work in stealthy spirit fashion, and then glide up to her,
and ask her to get out of this little white bed, and let the strange
visitor, to whom it had once belonged, rest in it herself once more.

Annabel Lee!  It was a queer name--a wild, bewitching sort of a name--
the name of a girl in a song.

Priscilla knew many of Poe's strange songs, and she found herself now
murmuring some words which used to fascinate her long ago:--

  "And the angels, not half so happy in heaven,
          Went envying her and me;
  Yes! that was the reason (as all men know
          In this kingdom by the sea)
  That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
          Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee!

  "But our love it was stronger by far than the love
          Of those who were older than we,--
          Of many far wiser than we;
  And neither the angels in heaven above,
          Nor the demons down under the sea,
  Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
          Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."

Some ashes fell from the expiring fire; Priscilla jumped up in bed with
a start.  Her heart was beating fast.  She thought of Maggie's exquisite
face.  She remembered it as she had seen it that night when they were
sitting by the fire, as she had seen it last, when it turned so white,
and the eyes blazed at her in anger.

Priscilla stretched out her hand for a box of matches.  She would light
her candle, and, as there was no chance of her going to sleep, sit up,
put her dressing-jacket on, and begin to write a long letter home to
Aunt Raby and to her little sisters.  Such methodical work would calm
nerves not often so highly strung.

She rose, and fetching her neat little leather writing-case from where
she had placed it on the top of her bureau, prepared to open it.

The little case was locked.  Priscilla went over to her curtained
wardrobe, pushed it aside, and felt in the pocket of the dress she had
worn that day for her purse.  It was not there.  Within that purse the
little key was safely hiding, but the purse itself was nowhere to be
found.

Priscilla looked all round the room.  In vain; the neat brown-leather
purse, which held the key, some very precious memoranda of different
sorts, and her small store of worldly wealth, was nowhere to be found.

She stood still for a moment in perplexity.  All her nervous fears had
now completely vanished; a real calamity and a grave one stared her in
the face.  Suppose her purse were gone?  Suppose it had been stolen?
The very small supply of money which that purse contained was most
precious to Priscilla.  It seemed to her that nothing could well be more
terrible than for her now to have to apply to Aunt Raby for fresh funds.
Aunt Raby had stinted herself dreadfully to get Priscilla's modest
little outfit together, and now--oh, she would rather starve than appeal
to her again.

Suddenly as she stood in the middle of her room a memory came back to
her.  It was the recollection of a very trivial incident.  She
remembered something dropping on the floor as she sat by Maggie's side
at dinner.  She had felt too nervous and miserable at the time to take
any notice of the slight sound made by the fall, but now it returned
vividly to her memory.  She was sure that her purse must have dropped
out of her pocket at that moment, and was convinced that it was now
lying quietly under the table where she had sat.

Priscilla felt far too excited to wait until the morning to make herself
sure on this point.  No; happen what might, she would set her fears at
rest now, and find her way somehow through the strange and sleeping
house until she discovered her lost treasure.

Partly re-dressing, she took her candle in her hand, and softly unhasped
her door.  It was a well-oiled lock, and made no click or noise of any
kind as she turned the handle.  When she opened the door wide it did not
creak.  The long corridor outside had a stone floor, and was richly
carpeted.  No fear of treacherous, creaking boards here.  Priscilla
prepared to walk briskly down the length of the corridor, when she was
arrested by seeing a light streaming out of Maggie Oliphant's room.

The electric lights were all extinguished, and this light alone shone
like a ray in the darkness.

Prissie stood still, with a gasp of dismay.  She did not want Maggie to
hear her now.  She would have been distressed at Maggie being acquainted
with her carelessness.  She felt sure that a girl like Maggie Oliphant
could never understand what a little purse, which only contained a
sovereign or two, would mean to her.

On tiptoe, and shading the candle with her hand, she stole past the
partly open door.  A rich tapestry curtain hung at the other side, and
Maggie doubtless thought the door was shut.

Priscilla had almost gone past the open door, when her steps were again
arrested by the sound of voices.  Someone said "Priscilla Peel," and
then someone else laughed.

Priscilla stood perfectly still.  Of course she had no right to listen,
but she did; she waited breathless, in an agony of expectation, for the
next words.

"I would not be jealous if I were you, Nancy," said Maggie's lazy, sweet
voice.  "The poor girl is as queer as her name, but it gives me a kind
of aesthetic pleasure to be good to people.  _You_ have no cause to be
jealous, sweet pet."

Priscilla raised one trembling hand, and noiselessly put out her candle.
Her feet seemed rooted to the spot.

Nancy murmured something, which Priscilla could not hear.  Then there
was the sound of one girl kissing another, and Maggie's light laugh was
heard again.

"The unfortunate girl has fallen in love with you, there's no doubt
about that, Maggie," said Nancy.

"Well, my dear, she'll get over that little fever presently.  When I'm
kind to them, they all have it.  I believe I am gracious to them just
because I like to see that grateful, affectionate expression in their
eyes.  The fact is, Nance, I have a perfectly crazy desire to excite
love."

"But do you give love, Maggie?  Do you ever give it back in return?"

"Sometimes.  I don't know, I believe I am rather fond of you, for
instance."

"Maggie, was Geoffrey Hammond at St Hilda's this afternoon?"

"I can't possibly say," replied Maggie, in a cold voice.  Then she added
excitedly, "I don't believe the door is shut!  You are so careless,
Nannie, so indifferent to the fact that there _may_ be eavesdroppers
about."

Priscilla crept back to her room.  She had forgotten all about her
purse; every other feeling was completely swallowed up in a burning,
choking sense of anger.

CHAPTER FIVE.

WHY PRISCILLA PEEL WENT TO ST BENET'S.

Priscilla had received a shock, and hers was not the sort of nature to
take such a blow easily.  She was a reserved girl, but her feelings were
deep, her affections very strong.  Priscilla had a rather commonplace
past, but it was the sort of past to foster and deepen the peculiarities
of her character.  Her father had died when she was twelve, her mother
when she was fourteen.  They were north-country folk, and they possessed
all the best characteristics of their class.  They were rigidly upright
people, they never went in debt; they considered luxuries bad for the
soul, and the smaller refinements of life altogether unnecessary.

Mr Peel managed to save a little money out of his earnings.  He took
year by year these savings to the nearest County Bank, and invested them
to the best of his ability.  The bank broke, and in one fell stroke he
lost all the savings of a life.  This affected his health, and he never
held up his head or recovered his vigour of mind and body again.

He died, and two years afterwards his wife followed him.  Priscilla was
then fourteen, and there were three little sisters several years
younger.  They were merry little children, strong, healthy, untouched by
care.  Priscilla, on the contrary, was grave, and looked much older than
her years.

On the night their mother was buried, Aunt Rachel Peel, their father's
sister, came from her home far away on the borders of Devonshire, and
told the four desolate children that she was going to take them away to
live on her little farm with her.

Aunt Raby spoke in a very frank manner.  She concealed nothing.

"It's only fair to tell you, Prissie," she said, addressing the tall,
gawky girl, who stood with her hands folded in front of her--"it's only
fair to tell you that hitherto I've just made two ends meet for one
mouth alone, and how I'm to fill four extra ones the Lord knows, but I
don't.  Still, I'm going to try, for it shall never be said that Andrew
Peel's children wanted bread while his sister, Rachel Peel, lived."

"We have none of us big appetites," said Priscilla, after a long, solemn
pause; "we can do with very little food--very little.  The only one who
ever is _really_ hungry is Hattie."

Aunt Raby looked up at the pale face, for Prissie was taller than her
aunt even then, and said in a shocked voice--

"Good gracious, child! do you think I'd stint one of you?  You ought all
to be hearty, and I hope you will be.  No, no, it isn't that, Prissie,
but there'll be no luxuries, so don't you expect them."

"I don't want them," answered Priscilla.

The children all went to Devonshire, and Aunt Raby toiled, as perhaps no
woman had ever toiled before, to put bread into their mouths.  Katie had
a fever, which made her pale and thin, and took away that look of
robustness which had characterised the little Yorkshire maiden.  Nobody
thought about the children's education, and they might have grown up
without any were it not for Priscilla, who taught them what she knew
herself.  Nobody thought Priscilla clever; she had no brilliance about
her in any way, but she had a great gift for acquiring knowledge.
Wherever she went she picked up a fresh fact, or a fresh fancy, or a new
idea, and these she turned over and over in her active, strong, young
brain, until she assimilated them, and made them part of herself.

Amongst the few things that had been saved from her early home there was
a box of her father's old books, and as these comprised several of the
early poets and essayists, she might have gone farther and fared worse.

One day the old clergyman who lived at a small vicarage near called to
see Miss Peel.  He discovered Priscilla deep over Carlyle's "History of
the French Revolution."  The young girl had become absorbed in the
fascination of the wild and terrible tale.  Some of the horror of it had
got into her eyes as she raised them to return Mr Hayes' courteous
greeting.  His attention was arrested by the look she gave him.  He
questioned her about her reading, and presently offered to help her.
From this hour Priscilla made rapid progress.  She was not taught in the
ordinary fashion, but she was being really educated.  Her life was full
now; she knew nothing about the world, nothing about society.  She had
no ambitions, and she did not trouble herself to look very far ahead.
The old classics which she studied from morning till night abundantly
satisfied her really strong intellectual nature.

Mr Hayes allowed her to talk with him, even to argue points with him.
He always liked her to draw her own conclusions; he encouraged her
really original ideas; he was proud of his pupil, and he grew fond of
her.  It was not Priscilla's way to say a word about it, but she soon
loved the old clergyman as if he were her father.

Some time between her sixteenth and seventeenth birthday that awakening
came which altered the whole course of her life.  It was a summer's day.
Priscilla was seated in the old wainscotted parlour of the cottage,
devouring a book lent to her by Mr Hayes on the origin of the Greek
Drama, and occasionally bending to kiss little Katie, who sat curled up
in her arms, when the two elder children rushed in with the information
that Aunt Raby had suddenly lain flat down in the hayfield, and they
thought she was asleep.

Prissie tumbled her book in one direction, and Katie in the other.  In a
moment she was kneeling by Miss Peel's side.

"What is it, Aunt Raby?" she asked, tenderly.  "Are you ill?"

The tired woman opened her eyes slowly.

"I think I fainted, dear love," she said.  "Perhaps it was the heat of
the sun."

Priscilla managed to get her back into the house.  She grew better
presently, and seemed something like herself, but that evening the aunt
and niece had a long talk, and the next day Prissie went up to see Mr
Hayes.

"I am interested," he said, when he saw her enter the room, "to see how
you have construed that passage in Cicero, Priscilla.  You know I warned
you of its difficulty."

"Oh, please, sir, don't," said Prissie, holding up her hand with an
impatient movement, which she now and then found herself indulging in.
"I don't care if Cicero is at the bottom of the sea.  I don't want to
speak about him, or think about him.  His day is over, mine is--oh, sir,
I beg your pardon."

"Granted, my dear child.  Sit down, Prissie.  I will forgive your
profane words about Cicero, for I see you are excited.  What is the
matter?"

"I want you to help me, Mr Hayes.  Will you help me?  You have always
been my dear friend, my good friend."

"Of course I will help you.  What is wrong?  Speak to me fully."

"Aunt Raby fainted in the hayfield yesterday."

"Indeed?  It was a warm day; I am truly concerned.  Would she like to
see me?  Is she better to-day?"

"She is quite well to-day--quite well for the time."

"My dear Priscilla, what a tragic face!  Your Aunt Raby is not the first
woman who has fainted, and got out of her faint again and been none the
worse."

"That is just the point, Mr Hayes.  Aunt Raby has got out of her faint,
but she _is_ the worse."

Mr Hayes looked hard into his pupil's face.  There was no beauty in it.
The mouth was wide, the complexion dull, the features irregular.  Even
her eyes--and perhaps they were Prissie's best point--were neither large
nor dark; but an expression now filled those eyes and lingered round
that mouth which made the old rector feel solemn.

He took one of the girl's thin unformed hands between his own.

"My dear child," he said, "something weighs on your mind.  Tell your old
friend--your almost father--all that is in your heart."

Thus begged to make a confidence, Priscilla did tell a commonplace, and
yet tragic, story.  Aunt Raby was affected with an incurable illness.
It would not kill her soon; she might live for years, but every year she
would grow a little weaker, and a little less capable of toil.  As long
as she lived the little farm belonged to her, but whenever she died it
would pass to a distant cousin.  Whenever Aunt Raby died, Priscilla and
her three sisters would be penniless.

"So I have come to you," continued Prissie, "to say that I must take
steps at once to enable me to earn money.  I must support Hattie and
Rose and Katie whenever Aunt Raby goes.  I must earn money as soon as it
is possible for a girl to do so, and I must stop dreaming and thinking
of nothing but books, for perhaps books and I will have little to say to
each other in future."

"That would be sad," replied Mr Hayes, "for that would be taking a
directly opposite direction to the path which Providence clearly intends
you to walk in."

Priscilla raised her eyes, and looked earnestly at the old rector.
Then, clasping her hands tightly together, she said with suppressed
passion--

"Why do you encourage me to be selfish, Mr Hayes?"

"I will not," he replied, answering her look; "I will listen patiently
to all you have to say.  How do you propose to earn bread for yourself
and your sisters?"

"I thought of dressmaking."

"Um!  Did you--make--the gown you have on?"

"Yes," replied Priscilla, looking down at her ungainly homespun garment.

The rector rose to his feet, and smiled in the most sweet and benevolent
way.

"I am no judge of such matters," he said, "and I may be wrong.  But my
impression is that the style and cut of that dress would scarcely have a
large demand in fashionable quarters."

"Oh, sir!"  Prissie blushed all over.  "You know I said I should have to
learn."

"My dear child," said Mr Hayes, firmly, "when it becomes a question of
a woman earning her bread, let her turn to that path where promise lies.
There is no promise in the fit of that gown, Prissie.  But here--here
there is much."

He touched her big forehead lightly with his hand.

"You must not give up your books, my dear," he said, "for, independently
of the pleasure they afford, they will also give you bread-and-butter.
Go home now, and let me think over matters.  Come again to-morrow.  I
may have important things to say to you."

From this conversation came the results which, shortly after the
completion of her eighteenth year, made Priscilla an inmate of St
Benet's far-famed College for Women.  Mr Hayes left no stone unturned
to effect his object.  He thought Priscilla could do brilliantly as a
teacher, and he resolved that for this purpose she should have the
advantages which a collegiate life alone could offer to her.  He himself
prepared her for her entrance examination, and he and Aunt Raby between
them managed the necessary funds to give the girl a three-years' life as
a student in these halls of learning.

Prissie knew very little about the money part of the scheme.  She only
guessed what had become of Aunt Raby's watch and chain; and a spasm
crossed her face when one day she happened to see that Aunt Raby's poor
little jewel case was empty.  The jewels and the watch could certainly
not fetch much, but they provided Prissie with a modest little outfit,
and Mr Hayes had got a grant from a loan society, which further
lightened expenses for all parties.

Priscilla bade her sisters, her aunt, and the old rector good-bye, and
started on her new life with courage.

CHAPTER SIX.

COLLEGE LIFE.

The routine of life at St Benet's was something as follows:--

The dressing-bell was rung at seven, and all the students were expected
to meet in the chapel for prayers at eight.  Nothing was said if they
did not appear; no reproofs were uttered, and no inquiries made; but the
good-fellowship between the students and the dons was so apparent in the
three Halls, that known wishes were always regarded, and, as a rule,
there were few absentees.

The girls went to chapel in their white-straw sailor-hats, simply
trimmed with a broad band of ribbon of the college colours, green with a
narrow stripe of gold.  Breakfast immediately followed chapel; tea and
coffee and different cold meats were placed on the side-tables, and the
girls helped themselves to what they pleased.

The great event at breakfast was the post.  Each student, when she
entered the breakfast-hall, would make an eager rush to the side-table
where the letters were neatly placed.  During breakfast these were read
and chatted over.  The whole meal was most informal, and seldom lasted
more than a quarter of an hour.

After breakfast the notice-board in the large entrance-hall was visited
and eagerly scanned, for it contained a detailed account of the hours
for the different lectures, and the names of the lecturers who would
instruct the students during the day.  By the side of the large official
notice-board hung another, which was read with quite as deep interest.
This contained particulars of the meetings of the different clubs and
societies for pleasure or profit got up by the girls themselves.

On the morning after her arrival, Priscilla, with the other students,
read the contents of these two boards, and then, in the company of a
Fresher, nearly as shy as herself, she wandered about the lovely grounds
which surrounded Heath Hall until nine o'clock, when lectures began.

Lectures continued without interruption until lunch-time, a meal which
was taken very much when the girls pleased.  The time allowed for this
light midday refreshment was from half-past twelve to two.  The
afternoons were mostly given up to games and gymnastics, although
occasionally there were more lectures, and the more studious of the
girls spent a considerable part of the time studying in their own rooms.

Tea was the convivial meal of the day; to this the girls invited outside
friends and acquaintances, and, as a rule, they always took it in their
own rooms.

Dinner was at half-past six, and from half-past seven to half-past nine
was usually the time when the different clubs and societies met.

There was a regularity and yet a freedom about the life; invisible
bounds were prescribed, beyond which no right-minded or conscientious
girl cared to venture, but the rules were really very few.  Students
might visit their friends in Kingsdene, and receive them at the college.
They might entertain them at luncheon or dinner, or at tea in their own
rooms, at a fixed charge; and provided the friends left at a certain
hour, and the girls themselves asked for leave of absence when they
wished to remain out, and mentioned the place to which they proposed to
go, no questions were asked, and no objections offered.

They were expected to return to the college not later than eleven at
night, and one invitation to go out in the week was, as a rule, the most
they ever accepted.

Into this life Priscilla came, fresh from the Devonshire farm and from
all the pursuits and interests which had hitherto formed her world.  She
had made a very firm niche for herself in Aunt Raby's old cottage, and
the dislodgment therefrom caused her for the time such mental disquiet
and so many nervous and queer sensations that her pain was often acute
and her sense of awkwardness considerable.

Priscilla's best in her early life always seemed but a poor affair, and
she certainly neither looked nor was at her best at first here.  After a
few days, however, she fitted into her new grooves, took up the line of
study which she intended to pursue, and was quickly absorbed in all the
fascinations which it offered to a nature like hers.

Her purse was restored to her on the morning after her arrival, and
neither Maggie Oliphant nor Nancy Banister ever guessed that she had
overheard some words of theirs on the night of her arrival, and that
these had put bitterness into her heart and nearly destroyed her faith
in her fellow-students.  Both Maggie and Nance made several overtures of
kindness to Prissie, but the cold manner which was more or less habitual
to her never thawed, and, after a time, they left her alone.  There is
no saying what might have happened to Prissie had she never overheard
this conversation.  As it was, however, after the first shock it gave
her courage.

She said to herself--

"I should think very little of myself if I did not despise a girl like
Miss Oliphant.  Is it likely I should care to imitate one whom I
despise?  There was a brief, dreadful hour when I absolutely pined to
have pretty things in my room as she has in hers; now I can do without
them.  My room shall remain bare and unadorned.  In this state it will
at least look unique."

It did.  The other students who lived in the same corridor came to visit
Priscilla in the free and easy manner which characterised them, and made
remarks the reverse of flattering.  When _was_ she going to put her
pictures up?  Miss Day would be delighted to help her whenever she chose
to do it.  When did she intend to go down to Kingsdene to order her
easy-chairs and little Japanese tables, and rugs, and the other small
but necessary articles which would be required to make her room
habitable?

For several days Priscilla turned these inquiries aside.  She blushed,
stammered, looked awkward, and spoke of something else.  At last,
however, she summoned up courage, and, once for all, delivered herself
from her tormentors.  She did that remarkably brave thing which
sometimes very nervous people can brace themselves to do.

It was evening, and Miss Day, Miss Marsh, and Nancy Banister had all
come in for a few minutes to see Priscilla on their way to their own
rooms.

"Do come and cocoa with me to-night, Miss Peel," said Miss Day.  "You're
so dreadfully unsociable, not a bit like an ordinary St Benet's girl.
If you go on in this fashion you'll be moped to death before your first
term is over."

"I am accustomed to a very quiet life," responded Priscilla, "and I want
to work; I have come here to work."

"Dear, dear! anyone would suppose you were going in for a tripos.  If
this were your last term I could understand it--but your first!"

It was Miss Marsh who said these words.  She was a bright-eyed,
merry-looking girl, the reverse of over-studious herself.

"Oh, come along, dear: I'll give you such a delicious cup of cocoa,"
said Miss Day.

She crossed the room, and tried to link her hand affectionately in
Prissie's arm.  Miss Peel drew back a step.

"Thank you," she said, "but I--I--cannot come."

"I must say you have a blunt way of refusing," said Miss Day.  She felt
inclined to be offended, but Nancy Banister, who was standing by, and
had not hitherto spoken, bestowed a quick glance of approval on
Priscilla, and then said something soothing to Miss Day.

"May I cocoa with you instead, Annie?" she said.  "I am afraid no one
can accuse me of killing myself with work, but we all respect earnest
workers--we must.  It is for them St Benet's is really meant.  It was
endowed for them, and built for them, and we poor drones must not throw
disparaging remarks on the busy bees."

"Oh, nonsense!" said Miss Marsh; "St Benet's was made for sociability
as well as study, and I have no patience with the students who don't try
to combine the two.  By the way," she added, turning round, and speaking
in a rather impertinent voice to Priscilla, "I sent you a message to say
I was going down to Kingsdene this afternoon, and would be happy to take
you with me if you would care to visit Spilman's."

"Thank you," said Priscilla, "I got your note just too late to answer
it.  I was going to speak to you about it," she added.

"Then you would have come?"

Priscilla's face grew very red.

"No, I should not have come."

It was Miss Marsh's turn to get red.

"Come!  Annie," she exclaimed, turning to Miss Day, "we had better waste
no more time here.  Miss Banister, we'll see you presently, won't we?
Good-night, Miss Peel.  Perhaps you don't mind my saying something very
frank?"

"I do," said Priscilla, "but that won't prevent your saying it, will
it?"

"I don't think it will.  After you have been at St Benet's a little
longer you will know that we not only appreciate cleverness and studious
ways, but also obliging and sociable and friendly manners; and--and--
pretty rooms--rooms with easy-chairs, and comfortable lounges, and the
thousand and one things which give one a feeling of home.  Take my
advice, Miss Peel, there's no use fighting against the tide.  You'll
have to do as others do in the long run, and you may as well do it at
once.  That is my plain opinion, and I should not have given it to you,
if I had not thought you needed it.  Good-night."

"No, stop a minute," said Priscilla.  Every scrap of colour had left her
face, every trace of nervousness her manner.  She walked before the two
girls to the door, and closed it.  "Please stay just for a minute
longer, Miss Day and Miss Marsh, and you too, Miss Banister, if you
will."

She went across the room again, and, opening the top drawer of her
bureau, took out her purse.  Out of the purse she took a key.  The key
fitted a small padlock, and the padlock belonged to her trunk.  She
unlocked her empty trunk and opened it.

"There," she said, turning to the girls--"there," she continued, "you
will be good enough to notice that there are no photographs concealed in
this trunk, no pictures, no prints."  She lifted the tray.  "Empty, you
see," she added, pointing with her hand to the lower portion of the
trunk--"nothing here to make my room pretty, and cosy, and home-like."
Then she shut the trunk again and locked it, and going up to where the
three girls stood, gazing at her in bewilderment and some alarm, she
unfastened her purse, and turned all its contents into the palm of her
hand.

"Look, Miss Marsh," she said, turning to the girl who had spoken last.
"You may count what is here.  One sovereign, one half-sovereign, two or
three shillings, some pence.  Would this money go far at Spilman's, do
you think?"

Priscilla put it all slowly back again into her purse.  Her face was
still absolutely colourless.  She laid the purse on the top of her
bureau.

"I do not suppose," she said, in a low, sad voice, "that I am the sort
of girl who often comes to a place of this sort.  I am poor, and I have
got to work hard, and I have no time for pleasure.  Nevertheless," she
added--and now a great wave of colour swept over her face, and her eyes
were lit up, and she had a sensation of feeling quite glad, and strong,
and happy--"I am not going away because I am poor, and I am not going to
mind what anyone thinks of me as long as I do right.  My room must stay
empty and bare, because I have no money to make it full and beautiful.
And do you think that I would ask those--those who sent me here--to add
one feather's weight to their cares and expenses, to give me money to
buy beautiful things because I am afraid of you?  No, I should be
_awfully_ afraid to do that; but I am not afraid of you."

Priscilla opened the drawer of her bureau and put her little light purse
back again in its hiding-place.

"Good-night, Miss Peel," said Miss Day, in a thin, small kind of voice.

"Good-night, Miss Peel," said Miss Marsh.  The girls went gently out of
the room.  They closed the door behind them, without making any noise.
Nancy Banister remained behind.  She came up to Priscilla, and kissed
her.

"You are brave," she said.  "I admire you.  I--I--am proud of you.  I am
glad to know that a girl like you has come to live here."

"Don't--don't," said poor Prissie.  Her little burst of courage had
deserted her.  She covered her face with her trembling hands.  She did
not want Nancy Banister to see that her eyes were full of tears.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

IN MISS OLIPHANT'S ROOM.

"My dear," said Nancy Banister that same evening--"my dear and beloved
Maggie, we have both been guilty of a huge mistake."

"What is that?" asked Miss Oliphant.  She was leaning back in a deep
easy-chair, and Nancy, who did not care for luxurious seats, had perched
herself on a little stool at her feet.  Nancy was a small,
nervous-looking person; she had a zealous face, and eager, almost too
active movements.  Nancy was the soul of bustling good-nature, of
brightness and kindness.  She often said that Maggie Oliphant's laziness
rested her.

"What is it?" said Maggie, again.  "How are we in the wrong, Nance?"

She lifted her dimpled hand as she spoke, and contemplated it with a
slow, satisfied sort of smile.

"We have made a mistake about Miss Peel, that is all; she is a very
noble girl."

"Oh, my dear Nance!  Poor little Puritan Prissie!  What next?"

"It is all very fine to call her names," replied Nancy--here she sprang
to her feet--"but _I_ couldn't do what she did.  Do you know that she
absolutely and completely turned the tables on that vulgar Annie Day and
that pushing, silly little Lucy Marsh.  I never saw any two look smaller
or poorer than those two when they skedaddled out of her room.  Yes,
that's the word--they skedaddled to the door, both of them, looking as
limp as a cotton dress when it has been worn for a week, and one almost
treading on the other's heels; and I do not think Prissie will be
worried by them any more."

"Really, Nancy, you look quite pretty when you are excited!  Now, what
did this wonderful Miss Peel do?  Did she box the ears of those two
detestable girls?  If so, she has my hearty congratulations."

"More than that, Maggie--that poor, little, meek, awkward, slim creature
absolutely demolished them.  Oh! she did it in such a fine, simple,
unworldly sort of way.  I only wish you had seen her!  They were
twitting her about not going in for all the fun here, and, above
everything, for keeping her room so bare and unattractive.  You know she
has been a fortnight here to-day, and she has not got an extra thing--
not one.  There isn't a room in the Hall like hers--it's so bare and
unhomelike.  What's the matter, Maggie?"

"You needn't go on, Nancy: if it's about the room, I don't want to hear
it.  You know I can't--I can't bear it."

Maggie's lips were trembling, her face was white, she shaded her eyes
with her hand.

"Oh, my darling, I am so sorry.  I forgot--I really did!  There, you
must try and think it was any room.  What she did was all the same.
Well, those girls had been twitting her.  I expect she's had a nice
fortnight of it!  She turned very white, and at last her blood was up,
and she just gave it to them.  She opened her little trunk.  I really
could have cried.  It was such a poor, pathetic sort of receptacle to be
capable of holding all one's worldly goods, and she showed it to them--
empty!  `You see,' she said, `that I have no pictures nor ornaments
here!'  Then she turned the contents of her purse into her hand.  I
think, Maggie, she had about thirty shillings in the world, and she
asked Lucy Marsh to count her money, and inquired how many things she
thought it would purchase at Spilman's.  Then, Maggie, Priscilla turned
on them.  Oh, she did not look plain, then, nor awkward either.  Her
eyes had such a splendid, good, brave sort of light in them.  And she
said she had come here to work, and she meant to work, and her room must
stay bare, for she had no money to make it anything else.  `But,' she
said, `I am not afraid of you, but I _am_ afraid of hurting those'--
whoever `those' are--`those'--oh, with such a ring on the word--`who
have sent me here!'

"After that the two girls skedaddled; they had had enough of her, and I
expect, Maggie, your little Puritan Prissie will be left in peace in the
future."

"Don't call her my little Puritan," said Maggie.  "I have nothing to say
to her."

Maggie was leaning back again in her chair now; her face was still pale,
and her soft eyes looked troubled.

"I wish you wouldn't tell me heroic stories, Nancy," she remarked, after
a pause.  "They make me feel so uncomfortable.  If Priscilla Peel is
going to be turned into a sort of heroine, she'll be much more
unbearable than in her former character."

"Oh, Maggie, I wish you wouldn't talk in that reckless way, nor pretend
that you hate goodness.  You know you adore it--you know you do!  You
know you are far and away the most lovable and bewitching, and the--the
very best girl at St Benet's."

"No, dear little Nance, you are quite mistaken.  Perhaps I'm
bewitching--I suppose to a certain extent I am, for people always tell
me so--but I'm _not_ lovable, and I'm _not_ good.  There, my dear, do
let us turn from that uninteresting person--Maggie Oliphant.  And so,
Nancy, you are going to worship Priscilla Peel in future?"

"Oh, dear no! that's not my way.  But I'm going to respect her very
much.  I think we have both rather shunned her lately, and I _did_ feel
sure at first that you meant to be very kind to her, Maggie."

Miss Oliphant yawned.  It was her way to get over emotion very quickly.
A moment before her face had been all eloquent with feeling; now its
expression was distinctly bored, and her lazy eyes were not even open to
their full extent.

"Perhaps I found her stupid," she said, "and so for that reason dropped
her.  Perhaps I would have continued to be kind if she had reciprocated
attentions, but she did not.  I am glad now, very glad, that we are
unlikely to be friends, for, after what you have just told me, I should
probably find her insupportable.  Are you going, Nancy?"

"Yes, I promised to have cocoa with Annie Day.  I had almost forgotten.
Good-night, Maggie."

Nancy shut the door softly behind her, and Maggie closed her eyes for a
moment with a sigh of relief.

"It's nice to be alone," she said, softly, under her breath, "it's nice,
and yet it isn't nice.  Nancy irritated me dreadfully this evening.  I
don't like stories about good people.  I don't wish to think about good
people.  I am determined that I will not allow my thoughts to dwell on
that unpleasant Priscilla Peel, and her pathetic poverty, and her burst
of heroics.  It is too trying to hear footsteps in that room.  No, I
will not think of that room, nor of its inmate.  Now, if I could only go
to sleep!"

Maggie curled herself up in her luxurious chair, arranged a soft pillow
under her head, and shut her eyes.  In this attitude she made a charming
picture: her thick, black lashes lay heavily on her pale cheeks; her red
lips were slightly parted; her breathing came quietly.  By-and-by repose
took the place of tension--her face looked as if it were cut out of
marble.  The excitement and unrest, which her words had betrayed,
vanished utterly; her features were beautiful, but almost
expressionless.

This lasted for a short time, perhaps ten minutes; then a trivial
circumstance, the falling of a coal in the grate, disturbed the light
slumber of the sleeper.  Maggie stirred restlessly, and turned her head.
She was not awake, but she was dreaming.  A faint rose tint visited
each check, and she clenched one hand, then moved it, and laid it over
the other.  Presently tears stoic from under the black eyelashes, and
rolled down her cheeks.  She opened her eyes wide; she was awake again;
unutterable regret, remorse, which might never be quieted, filled her
face.

Maggie rose from her chair, and, going across the room, sat down at her
bureau.  She turned a shaded lamp, so that the light might fall upon the
pages of a book she was studying, and, pushing her hands through her
thick hair, she began to read a passage from the splendid _Prometheus
Vinctus_ of Aeschylus--

"O divine ether, O swift-winged winds!"

She muttered the opening lines to herself, then turning the page began
to translate from the Greek with great ease and fluency:

  "O divine ether, and swift-winged winds,
  O flowing rivers, and ocean with countless-dimpling smile,
  Earth, mother of all, and the all-seeing circle of the sun,
      to you I call;
  Behold me, and the things that I; a god, suffer at the hands of gods.
  Behold the wrongs with which I am worn away, and which I shall suffer
      through endless time.
  Such is the shameful bondage which the new ruler of the Blessed Ones
  has
      invented for me.
  Alas!  Alas!  I bewail my present and future misery--"

Anyone who had seen Maggie in her deep and expressionless sleep but a
few minutes before would have watched her now with a sensation of
surprise.  This queer girl was showing another phase of her complex
nature.  Her face was no longer lacking in expression, no longer
stricken with sorrow, nor harrowed with unavailing regret.  A fine fire
filled her eyes; her brow, as she pushed back her hair, showed its
rather massive proportions.  Now, intellect and the triumphant delight
of overcoming a mental difficulty reigned supreme in her face.  She read
on without interruption for nearly an hour.  At the end of that time her
cheeks were burning like two glowing crimson roses.

A knock came at her door; she started and turned round petulantly.

"It's just my luck," muttered Maggie.  "I'd have got the sense of that
whole magnificent passage in another hour.  It was beginning to fill me:
I was getting satisfied--now it's all over!  I'd have had a good night
if that knock hadn't come--but now--now I am Maggie Oliphant, the most
miserable girl at St Benet's, once again."

The knock was repeated.  Miss Oliphant sprang to her feet.

"Come in," she said in a petulant voice.

The handle of the door was slowly turned, the tapestry curtain moved
forward, and a little fair-haired girl, with an infantile expression of
face, and looking years younger than her eighteen summers, tripped a few
steps into the room.

"I beg your pardon, Maggie," she said.  "I had not a moment to come
sooner--not one, really.  That stupid Miss Turner chose to raise the
alarm for the fire brigade; of course I had to go, and I've only just
come back and changed my dress."

"You ought to be in bed, Rosalind: it's past eleven o'clock."

"Oh, as if that mattered!  I'll go in a minute.  How cosy you look
here."

"My dear, I am not going to keep you out of your beauty sleep.  You can
admire my room another time.  If you have a message for me, Rosalind,
let me have it, and then--oh, cruel word, but I must say it, my love--
Go!"

Rosalind Merton had serene baby-blue eyes; they looked up now full at
Maggie.  Then her dimpled little hand slid swiftly into the pocket of
her dress, came out again with a quick, little, frightened dart, and
deposited a square envelope with some manly, writing on it on the
bureau, where Maggie had been studying _Prometheus Vinctus_.  The letter
covered the greater portion of the open page.  It seemed to Maggie as if
the Greek play had suddenly faded and gone out of sight behind a
curtain.

"There," said Rosalind, "that's for you.  I was at Kingsdene to-day--
and--I--I said you should have it, and I--I promised that I'd _help_
you, Maggie.  I--yes--I promised.  I said I would help you, if you'd let
me."

"Thank you," replied Miss Oliphant, in a lofty tone.  The words came out
of her lips with the coldness of ice.  "And if I need you--I--promise--
to ask your help.  Where did you say you met Mr Hammond?"  Maggie took
up her letter, and opened it slowly.  "At Spilman's; he was buying
something for his room.  He--" Rosalind blushed all over her face.

Maggie took her letter out of its envelope.  She looked at the first two
or three words, then laid it, open as it was, on the table.

"Thank you, Rosalind," she said in her usual tone.  "It was kind of you
to bring this, certainly; but Mr Hammond would have done better--yes,
undoubtedly better--had he sent his letter by post.  There would have
been no mystery about it then, and I should have received it at least
two hours ago.  Thank you, Rosalind, all the same--good-night."
Rosalind Merton stepped demurely out of the room.  In the corridor,
however, a change came over her small childish face.  Her blue eyes
became full of angry flame, and she clenched her baby hand and shook it
in the direction of the closed door.

"Oh, Maggie Oliphant, what a deceiver you are!" she murmured.  "You
think that I'm a baby, and notice nothing, but I'm on the alert now, and
I'll watch--and watch.  I don't love you any longer, Maggie Oliphant.
Who loves being snubbed?  Oh, of course, you pretend you don't care
about that letter!  But I know you _do_ care; and I'll get hold of all
your secrets before many weeks are over, see if I don't!"

CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE KINDEST AND MOST COMFORTING WAY.

Maggie was once more alone.  She stood quite still for nearly half a
minute in the centre of her room.  Her hands were clasped tightly
together.  The expression of her face and her attitude showed such
intense feeling as to be almost theatrical.  This was no acting,
however; it was Maggie's nature to throw herself into attitudes before
spectators or alone.  She required some vent for all her passionate
excitement, and what her girl-friends called Miss Oliphant's poses may
have afforded her a certain measure of relief.

After standing still for these few seconds, she ran to the door and drew
the bolt; then, sinking down once more in her easy-chair, she took up
the letter which Rosalind Merton had brought her, and began to read the
contents.  Four sides of a sheet of paper were covered with small, close
writing, the neat somewhat cramped hand which at that time characterised
the men of St Hilda's College.

Maggie's eyes seemed to fly over the writing; they absorbed the sense,
they took the full meaning out of each word.  At last all was known to
her, burnt in, indeed, upon her brain.

She crushed the letter suddenly in one of her hands, then raised it to
her lips and kissed it; then fiercely, as though she hated it, tossed it
into the fire.  After this she sat quiet, her hands folded meekly, her
head slightly bent.  The colour gradually left her cheeks.  She looked
dead tired and languid.  After a time she arose, and, walking very
slowly across her room, sat down by her bureau, and drew a sheet of
paper before her.  As she did so her eyes fell for a moment on the Greek
play which had fascinated her an hour ago.  She found herself again
murmuring some lines from _Prometheus Vinctus_:--

"O divine ether, and swift-winged winds--"

She interrupted herself with a petulant movement.  "Folly!" she
murmured, pushing the book aside.  "Even glorious, great thoughts like
those don't satisfy me.  Whoever supposed they would?  What was I given
a heart for?  Why does it beat so fiercely, and long, and love? and why
is it wrong--wrong of me to love?  Oh, Annabel Lee! oh, darling! if only
your wretched Maggie Oliphant had never known you!"

Maggie dashed some heavy tears from her eyes, then, taking up her pen,
she began to write.

  "Heath Hall,--

  "St Benet's.--

  "Dear Mr Hammond--

  "I should prefer that you did not in future give letters for me to any
  of my friends here.  I do not wish to receive them through the medium
  of any of my fellow-students.  Please understand this.  When you have
  anything to say to me, you can write in the ordinary course of post.
  I am not ashamed of any slight correspondence we may have together;
  but I refuse to countenance, or to be in any sense a party to, what
  may even seem underhand.

  "I shall try to be at the Marshalls' on Sunday afternoon, but I have
  nothing to say in reply to your letter.  My views are unalterable.

  "Yours sincerely,--

  "Margaret Oliphant."

Maggie did not read the letter after she had written it.  She put it
into an envelope and directed it.  Hers was a large and bold hand, and
the address was swiftly written--

  "Geoffrey Hammond, Esq,
  "St Hilda's,
  "Kingsdene."

She stamped her letter and, late as it was, took it down herself, and
deposited it in the post-bag.

The next morning, when the students strolled in to breakfast, many pairs
of eyes were raised with a new curiosity to watch Priscilla Peel.  Even
Maggie, as she drank her coffee, and munched a piece of dry toast, for
she was a very poor eater, could not help flashing a keen and interested
glance at the young girl as she came into the room.

Prissie was the reverse of fashionable in her attire; her neat brown
cashmere dress had been made by Aunt Raby.  The hemming, the stitching,
the gathering, the frilling, which went to make up this useful garment
were neat, were even exquisite; but then, Aunt Raby was not gifted with
a stylish cut.  Prissie's hair was smoothly parted, but the thick plait
on the back of the neck was by no means artistically coiled.  The girl's
plain pale face was not set off by the severity of her toilet; there was
no touch of spring or brightness anywhere, no look or note which should
belong to one so young, unless it was the extreme thinness of her
figure.

The curious eyes of the students were raised when she appeared, and one
or two laughed and turned their heads away.  They had heard of her
exploit of the night before.  Miss Day and Miss Marsh had repeated this
good story.  It had impressed them at the time, but they did not tell it
to others in an impressive way, and the girls, who had not seen Prissie,
but had only heard the tale, spoke of her to one another as an
"insufferable little prig."

"Isn't it too absurd," said Rosalind Merton, sidling up to Maggie, and
casting some disdainful glances at poor Priscilla, "the conceit of some
people!  Of all forms of conceit, preserve me from the priggish style."

"I don't understand you," said Maggie, raising her eyes and speaking in
her lazy voice.  "Are there any prigs about?  I don't see them.  Oh,
Miss Peel,"--she jumped up hastily--"won't you sit here by me?  I have
been reserving this place for you, for I have been so anxious to know if
you would do me a kindness.  Please sit down, and I'll tell you what it
is.  You needn't wait, Rosalind.  What I have got to say is only for
Miss Peel's ears."

Rosalind retired in dudgeon to the other end of the room, and, if the
laughing and muttering continued, they now only reached Maggie and
Priscilla in the form of very distant murmurs.

"How pale you look," said Maggie, turning to the girl, "and how cold you
are!  Yes, I am quite sure you are bitterly cold.  Now you shall have a
good breakfast.  Let me help you.  Please, do.  I'll go to the
side-table, and bring you something so tempting; wait and see."

"You mustn't trouble, really," began Prissie Miss Oliphant flashed a
brilliant smile at her; Prissie found her words arrested, and, in spite
of herself, her coldness began to thaw.  Maggie ran over to the
side-table, and Priscilla kept repeating under her breath--

"She's not true--she's beautiful, but she's false; she has the kindest,
sweetest, most comforting way in the world, but she only does it for the
sake of an aesthetic pleasure.  I ought not to let her.  I ought not to
speak to her.  I ought to go away, and have nothing to do with her
proffers of goodwill, and yet somehow or other I can't resist her."

Maggie came back with some delicately carved chicken and ham, and a hot
cup of delicious coffee.

"Is not this nice?" she said; "now eat it all up, and speak to me
afterwards.  Oh, how dreadfully cold you do look!"

"I feel cold--in spirit as well as physically," retorted Priscilla.

"Well, let breakfast warm you--and--and--a small dose of the tonic of
sympathy, if I may dare to offer it."

Priscilla turned her eyes full upon Miss Oliphant.

"Do you mean it?" she said, in a choked kind of voice.  "Is that quite
true what you said just now?"

"True?  What a queer child!  Of course it is true.  What do you take me
for?  Why should not I sympathise with you?"

"I want you to," said Prissie.  Tears filled her eyes; she turned her
head away.  Maggie gave her hand a squeeze.

"Now eat your breakfast," she said.  "I shall glance through my letters
while you are busy."

She leant back in her chair, and opened several envelopes.  Priscilla
ate her chicken and ham, drank her coffee, and felt the benefit of the
double tonic which had been administered in so timely a fashion.  It was
one of Miss Oliphant's peculiarities to inspire in those she wanted to
fascinate absolute and almost unreasoning faith for the time being.
Doubts would and might return in her absence, but in the sunshine of her
particularly genial manner they found it hard to live.

After breakfast the girls were leaving the room together, when Miss
Heath, the Principal of the Hall in which they resided, came into the
room.  She was a tall, stately woman of about thirty-five, and had seen
very little of Priscilla since her arrival, but now she stopped to give
both girls a special greeting.  Her manners were very frank and
pleasant.

"My dear," she said to Prissie, "I have been anxious to cultivate your
acquaintance.  Will you come and have tea with me in my room this
afternoon?  And, Maggie, dear, will you come with Miss Peel?"

She laid her hand on Maggie's shoulder as she spoke, looked swiftly into
the young girl's face, then turned with a glance of great interest to
Priscilla.

"You will both come," she said.  "That is right.  I won't ask anyone
else.  We shall have a cosy time together, and Miss Peel can tell me all
about her studies, and aims, and ambitions."

"Thank you," said Maggie, "I'll answer for Miss Peel.  We'll both come;
we shall be delighted."

Miss Heath nodded to the pair, and walked swiftly down the long hall to
the dons' special entrance, where she disappeared.

"Is not she charming?" whispered Maggie.  "Did I not tell you you would
fall in love with Dorothea?"

"But I have not," said Priscilla, colouring.  "And I don't know whether
she is charming or not."

Maggie checked a petulant exclamation, which was rising to her lips.
She was conscious of a curious desire to win her queer young companion's
goodwill and sympathy.

"Never mind," she said, "the moment of victory is only delayed.  You
will tell a very different story after you have had tea with Dorothea
this evening.  Now, let us come and look at the notice-boards, and see
what the day's programme is.  By the way, are you going to attend any
lectures this morning?"

"Yes, two," said Prissie--"one on Middle History, from eleven to twelve,
and I have a French lecture afterwards."

"Well, I am not doing anything this morning.  I wish you were not.  We
might have taken a long walk together.  Don't you love long walks?"

"Oh, yes; but there is no time for anything of that sort here--nor--"
Priscilla hesitated.  "I don't think there's space for a very long walk
here," she added.  The colour rushed into her cheeks as she spoke, and
her eyes looked wistful.

Maggie laughed.

"What _are_ your ideas with regard to space, Miss Peel?  The whole of
Kingsdene-shire lies before us.  We are untrammelled, and can go where
we please.  Is not that a sufficiently broad area for our roamings?"

"But there is no sea," said Priscilla.  "We should never have time to
walk from here to the sea, and nothing--nothing else seems worth while."

"Oh, you have lived by the sea?"

"Yes, all my life.  When I was a little girl, my home was near Whitby,
in Yorkshire, and lately I have lived close to Lyme--two extreme points
of England, you will say; but no matter, the sea is the same.  To walk
for miles on the top of the cliffs, that means exercise."

"Ah," said Maggie, with a sigh, "I understand you--I know what you
mean."

She spoke quickly, as she always did under the least touch of
excitement.  "Such a walk means, more than exercise; it means thought,
aspiration.  Your brain seems to expand then, and ideas come.  Of course
you don't care for poor flat Kingsdene-shire."

Priscilla turned and stared at Miss Oliphant.  Maggie laughed; she
raised her hand to her forehead.

"I must not talk any more," she said, turning pale, and shrinking into
herself.  "Forgive my rhapsodies.  You'll understand what they are worth
when you know me better.  Oh, by the way, will you come with me to
Kingsdene on Sunday?  We can go to the three o'clock service at the
chapel, and afterwards have tea with some friends of mine--the
Marshalls--they'd be delighted to see you."

"What chapel is the service at?" inquired Priscilla.

"What chapel?  Is there a second?  Come with me, and you will never ask
that question again.  Get under the shade of St Hilda's--see once those
fretted roofs, and those painted windows.  Listen but once to that angel
choir, and then dare to ask me what chapel I mean, when I invite you to
come and taste of heaven beforehand."

"Thank you," said Priscilla, "I'll come.  I cannot be expected to know
about things before I have heard of them, can I?  But I am very much
obliged to you, and I shall be delighted to come."

CHAPTER NINE.

A NEW LIKE.

The Vice-Principal's room at Heath Hall was double the size of those
occupied by the students.  Miss Heath had, of course, a separate
sleeping apartment.  Her delightful sitting-room, therefore, had not the
curtained-off effect which took slightly from the charm of the students'
rooms.  In summer Miss Heath's room was beautiful, for the two deep
bay-windows--one facing west, the other south--looked out upon smoothly
kept lawns and flower-beds, upon tall elm trees, and also upon a distant
peep of the river, for which Kingsdene was famous, and some of the
spires and towers of the old churches.  In winter, too, however--and
winter had almost come now--the Vice-Principal's room had a unique
effect, and Priscilla never forgot the first time she saw it.  The young
girl stepped across the threshold of a new life on this first evening.
She would always remember it.

It was getting dark, and curtains were drawn round the cosy bays, and
the firelight blazed cheerfully.

Prissie was a little before rather than behind her time, and there was
no one in the room to greet her when she entered.  She felt so
overmastered by shyness, however, that this was almost a relief, and she
sank down into one of the many comfortable chairs with a feeling of
thankfulness, and looked around her.

The next moment a servant entered with a lamp, covered with a gold silk
shade.  She placed it on a table near the fire, and lit a few candles,
which stood on carved brackets round the walls.  Then Prissie saw what
made her forget Miss Heath, and her shyness, and all else--a great bank
of flowers, which stretched across one complete angle of the room.
There were some roses, some chrysanthemums, some geraniums.  They were
cunningly arranged in pots, but had the effect at a little distance of a
gay, tropical garden.  Prissie rushed to them, knelt down by a tall,
white, Japanese chrysanthemum, and buried her face in its long, wavy
petals.

Prissie had never seen such flowers, and she loved all flowers.  Her
heart swelled with a kind of wonder; and when, the next moment, she felt
a light and very soft kiss on her forehead she was scarcely surprised.

"My dear child," said Miss Heath, "I am so sorry I was not in the room
when you came in; but, never mind, my flowers gave you welcome."

"Yes," said Prissie, standing up pale, and with a luminous light in her
eyes.

"You love flowers?" said Miss Heath, giving her a keen glance.

"Oh, yes; but I did not know--I could not guess--that any flower could
be as beautiful as this," and she touched the great white chrysanthemum
with her finger.

"Yes, and there are some flowers even more wonderful.  Have you ever
seen orchids?"

"No."

"Then you have something to live for.  Orchids are ordinary flowers
spiritualised.  They have a glamour over them.  We have good orchid
shows sometimes at Kingsdene.  I will take you to the next."

The servant brought in tea, and Miss Heath placed Prissie in a
comfortable chair, where she was neither oppressed by lamplight nor
firelight.

"A shy little soul like this will love the shade," she said to herself.
"For all her plainness this is no ordinary girl, and I mean to draw her
out presently.  What a brow she has, and what a light came into her eyes
when she looked at my white chrysanthemum."

There came a tap at the door, and Maggie Oliphant entered, looking fresh
and bright.  She gave Prissie an affectionate glance and nod, and then
began to busy herself, helping Miss Heath with the tea.  During the meal
a little pleasant murmur of conversation was kept up.  Miss Heath and
Maggie exchanged ideas.  They even entered upon one or two delicate
little skirmishes, each cleverly arguing a slight point on which they
appeared to differ.  Maggie could make smart repartees, and Miss Heath
could parry her graceful young adversary's home-thrusts with excellent
effect.

They talked of one or two books which were then under discussion; they
said a little about music, and a word or two with regard to the pictures
which were just then causing talk among the art critics in London.  It
was all new to Prissie, this "light, airy, nothing" kind of talk.  It
was not study; could it be classed under the head of recreation?

Prissie was accustomed to classify everything, but she did not know
under what head to put this pleasant conversation.  She was bewildered,
puzzled.  She listened without losing a word.  She forgot herself
absolutely.

Miss Heath, however, who knew Maggie Oliphant, but did not know Prissie,
was observant of the silent young stranger through all the delights of
her pleasant talk.  Almost imperceptibly she got Prissie to say a word
or two.  She paused when she saw a question in Prissie's eyes, and her
timid and gentle words were listened to with deference.  By slow degrees
Maggie was the silent one, and Priscilla and Miss Heath held the field
between them.

"No, I have never been properly educated," Prissie was saying.  "I have
never gone to a high school.  I don't do things in the regular fashion.
I was so afraid I should not be able to pass the entrance examination
for St Benet's.  I was delighted when I found that I had done so."

"You passed the examination creditably," said Miss Heath.  "I have
looked through your papers.  Your answers were not stereotyped.  They
were much better; they were thoughtful.  Whoever has educated you, you
have been well taught.  You can think."

"Oh, yes, my dear friend, Mr Hayes, always said that was the first
thing."

"Ah, that accounts for it," replied Miss Heath.  "You have had the
advantage of listening to a cultivated man's conversation.  You ought to
do very well here.  What do you mean to take up?"

"Oh, everything.  I can't know too much."

Miss Heath laughed, and looked at Maggie.  Maggie was lying back in her
easy-chair, her head resting luxuriously against a dark velvet cushion.
She was tapping the floor slightly with her small foot; her eyes were
fixed on Prissie.  When Miss Heath laughed, Maggie echoed the sound, but
both laughs were in the sweetest sympathy.

"You must not overwork yourself, my dear," said Miss Heath.  "That would
be a very false beginning.  I think--I am sure--that you have an earnest
and ardent nature, but you must avoid an extreme which will only end in
disaster."

Prissie frowned.

"What do you mean?" she said.  "I have come here to study.  It has been
done with such, such difficulty.  It would be cruel to waste a moment.
I mustn't; it wouldn't be right.  You can't mean what you say."

Miss Heath was silent.  She thought it kinder to look away from Prissie.
After a moment she said, in a voice which she on purpose made intensely
quiet and matter-of-fact--

"Many girls come to St Benet's, Miss Peel, who are, I fancy,
circumstanced like you.  Their friends find it difficult to send them
here, but they make the sacrifice, sometimes in one way, sometimes in
another--and the girls come.  They know it is their duty to study; they
have an ulterior motive, which underlies everything else.  They know
by-and-by they must pay back."

"Oh, yes," said Priscilla, starting forward, and a flush coming into her
face.  "I know that--that is what it is for.  To pay back worthily--to
give back a thousandfold what you have received.  Those girls can't be
idle, can they?" she added in a gentle, piteous sort of way.

"My dear, there have been several such girls at St Benet's, and none of
them has been idle; they have been best and first among our students.
Many of them have done more than well--many of them have brought fame to
St Benet's.  They are in the world now, and earning honourable
livelihoods as teachers, or in other departments where cultivated women
can alone take the field.  These girls are all paying back a
thousandfold those who have helped them."

"Yes," said Prissie.

"You would like to follow their example?"

"Oh, yes; please tell me about them."

"Some of them were like you, and thought they would take up everything--
everything I mean in the scholastic line.  They filled their days with
lectures, and studied into the short hours of the night.  Maggie, dear,
please tell Miss Peel about Good-night and Good-morning."

"They were such a funny pair," said Maggie.  "They had rooms next to
each other in our corridor, Miss Peel.  They were both studying for a
tripos, and during the term before the examination one went to bed at
four, and one got up at four.  Mary Joliffe used to go into Susan
Martin's room and say good-morning to her.  Susan used to raise such a
white face and say, `Good-night, my dear.'  Well, poor things, neither
of them got a tripos; they worked too hard."

"The simple English of all this," said Miss Heath, "is that the
successful girl here is the girl who takes advantage of the whole life
mapped out for her, who divides her time between play and work, who
joins the clubs, and enters heartily into the social life of the place.
Yes," she added, looking suddenly full at Priscilla, "these last words
of mine may seem strange to you, dear.  Believe me, however, they are
true.  But I know," she added with a sigh, "that it takes rather an old
person to believe in the education of _play_."

Priscilla looked unconvinced.

"I must do what you wish," she said, "for, of course, you ought to
know."

"What a lame kind of assent, my love!  Maggie, you will have to gently
lure this young person into the paths of frivolity.  I promise you, my
dear, that you shall be a very cultivated woman some day; but I only
promise this if you will take advantage of all sides of the pleasant
life here.  Now tell me what are your particular tastes?  What branch of
study do you like best?"

"I love Latin and Greek better than anything else in the world."

"Do you truly?" said Maggie, suddenly starting forward.  "Then in one
thing we have a great sympathy.  What have you read?  Do tell me."

Miss Heath stepped discreetly into the background.  The two girls
conversed for a long time together.

CHAPTER TEN.

ST. HILDA'S CHAPEL.

"Here we are now," said Maggie Oliphant, touching her young companion;
"we are in good time; this is the outer chapel.  Yes, I know all that
you are thinking, but you need not speak: I did not want to speak the
first time I came to St Hilda's.  Just follow me quickly.  I know this
verger; he will put us into two stalls: then it will be perfect."

"Yes," answered Priscilla.  She spoke in an awed kind of voice.  The
cool effect of the dark oak, combined with the richness of the many
shafts of coloured light coming from the magnificent windows, gave her
own face a curious expression.  Was it caused by emotion, or by the
strange lights in the chapel?

Maggie glanced at her, touched her hand for a moment, and then hurried
forward to her seat.

The girls were accommodated with stalls just above the choir; they could
read out of the college prayer-books, and had a fine view of the church.

The congregation streamed in, the choir followed; the doors between the
chapel and ante-chapel were shut, the curtains were dropped, and the
service began.

There is no better musical service in England than that which Sunday
after Sunday is conducted at St Hilda's Chapel at Kingsdene.  The
harmony and the richness of the sounds which fill that old chapel can
scarcely be surpassed.  The boys send up notes clear and sweet as
nightingales' into the fretted arches of the roof; the men's deeper
notes swell the music until it breaks on the ears in a full tide of
perfect harmony; the great organ fills in the breaks and pauses.  This
splendid service of song seems to reach perfection.  In its way earth
cannot give anything more perfect.

Maggie Oliphant did not come very often to St Hilda's.  At one time she
was a constant worshipper there; but that was a year ago, before
something happened which changed her.  Then Sunday after Sunday two
lovely girls used to walk up the aisle side by side.  The verger knew
them, and reserved their favourite stalls for them.  They used to kneel
together, and listen to the service, and, what is more, take part in it.

But a time came when one of the girls could never return to St Hilda's,
and the other, people said, did not care to sit in the old seat without
her.  They said she missed her friend, and was more cut up than anyone
else at the sudden death of one so fair and lovely.

When Maggie took her place in the old stall to-day more than one person
turned to look at her with interest.

Maggie always made a picturesque effect; she wore a large hat, with a
drooping plume of feathers; her dress was very rich and dark; her fair
face shone in the midst of these surroundings like an exquisite flower.

The service went on.  During the prayers Maggie wept, but, when a great
wave of song filled the vast building, she forgot all her sorrow; her
voice rose with the other singers, clear, sweet, and high.  Her soul
seemed to go up on her voice, for all the sadness left her face; her
eyes looked jubilant.

Prissie had never been in any place like St Hilda's before.  It had
been one of her dreams to go to the cathedral at Exeter, but year after
year this desire of hers had been put off and put off, and this was the
first time in her life that she had ever listened to cathedral music.
She was impressed, delighted, but not overpowered.

"The organ is magnificent," she said to herself, "but not grander than
the sea.  The sea accompanies all the service at the dear little old
church at home."  People met, and talked to one another in the green
quadrangle outside the chapel.  Several other St Benet's girls had come
to the afternoon service.  Amongst them was Miss Day, and that fair,
innocent-looking little girl, Rosalind Merton.

Miss Day and Miss Merton were together.  They were both stepping back to
join Maggie and Prissie, when a tall, dark young man came hastily
forward, bowed to Rosalind Merton, and, coming up to Maggie Oliphant,
shook hands with her.

"I saw you in chapel," he said.  "Are you coming to the Marshalls' to
tea?"

"I am.  Let me introduce to you my friend, Miss Peel.  Miss Peel, this
is Mr Hammond."

Hammond raised his hat to Prissie, said a courteous word to her, and
then turned to speak again to Maggie.

The three walked through the gates of the quadrangle, and turned up the
narrow, picturesque High Street.  It would soon be dusk; a wintry light
was over everything.  Rosalind Merton and Miss Day followed behind.
Maggie, who was always absorbed with the present interest, did not heed
or notice them, but Priscilla heard one or two ill-bred giggles.

She turned her head with indignation, and received scornful glances from
both girls.  The four met for a moment at a certain corner.  Maggie said
something to Annie Day, and introduced Mr Hammond to her.  As she did
so, Rosalind took the opportunity to come up to Priscilla and whisper to
her--

"You're not wanted, you know.  You had much better come home with us."

"What do you mean?" replied Prissie in her matter-of-fact voice.  "Miss
Oliphant has asked me to go with her to the Marshalls'."

"Oh, well--if you care to be in the--" resumed Rosalind.

Maggie suddenly flashed round on her.

"Come, Miss Peel, we'll be late," she said.  "Good-bye."  She nodded to
Rosalind; her eyes were full of an angry fire; she took Prissie's hand,
and hurried down the street.

The two girls walked away, still giggling; a deep colour mantled
Maggie's cheeks.  She turned and began to talk desperately to Mr
Hammond.  Her tone was flippant; her silvery laughter floated in the
air.  Priscilla turned and gazed at her friend.  She was seeing Maggie
in yet another aspect.  She felt bewildered.

The three presently reached a pleasant house standing in its own
grounds.  They were shown into a large drawing-room, full of young
people.  Mrs Marshall, a pretty old lady, with white hair, came forward
to receive them.  Maggie was swept away amid fervent embraces and
handshakes to the other end of the room.  Mrs Marshall saw that
Priscilla looked frightened; she took her under her wing, sat down by
her on a sofa, and began to talk.

Prissie answered in a sedate voice.  Mrs Marshall had a very gentle
manner.  Prissie began to lose her shyness; she almost imagined that she
was back again with Aunt Raby.

"My dear, you will like us all very much," the old lady said.  "No life
can be so absolutely delightful as that of a girl graduate at St
Benet's.  The freedom from care, the mixture of study with play, the
pleasant social life, all combine to make young women both healthy and
wise.  Ah, my love, we leave out the middle of the old proverb.  The
girls at St Benet's are in that happy period of existence when they
need give no thought to money-making."

"Some are," said Prissie.  She sighed, and the colour rushed into her
cheeks.  Mrs Marshall looked at her affectionately.

"Helen," she called to her grand-daughter who was standing near, "bring
Miss Peel another cup of tea--and some cake, Helen--some of that nice
cake you made yesterday.  Now, my love, I insist.  You don't look at all
strong.  You really must eat plenty."

Helen Marshall supplied Prissie's wants, was introduced to her, and,
standing near, joined in the talk.

"I am so glad you know Miss Oliphant," said Mrs Marshall.  "She will
make a delightful friend for you."

"And isn't she lovely?" said Helen Marshall.  "I don't think I know
anyone with such a beautiful face.  You ought to be very proud to have
her as a friend.  Aren't you very proud?"

"No," said Prissie, "I don't know that I am.  I am not even sure that
she is my friend."

"Of course she is--she wrote most affectionately of you to grandmother.
You can't think how nicely she spoke.  We were glad, we were delighted,
because Maggie--dear Maggie--has had no great friends lately.  Now, if
you have had your tea, Miss Peel, I'll take you about the room, and
introduce you to one or two people."

Priscilla rose from her seat at once, and the two girls began to move
about the crowded drawing-room.  Helen Marshall was very slight and
graceful; she piloted Prissie here and there without disturbing anyone's
arrangements.  At last the two girls found themselves in an immense
conservatory, which opened into the drawing-room at one end.

A great many of the guests were strolling about here.  Priscilla's eyes
sparkled at the sight of the lovely flowers.  She forgot herself, and
made eager exclamations of ecstasy.  Helen, who up to now had thought
her a dull sort of girl, began to take an interest in her.

"I'll take you into our fern-house, which is just beyond here," she
said.  "We have got such exquisite maidenhairs, and such a splendid
Killarney fern.  Come; you shall see."

The fern-house seemed to be deserted.  Helen opened the door first, and
ran forward.  Prissie followed.  The fern-house was not large; they had
almost reached the end when a girl stood up suddenly, and confronted
them.  The girl was Maggie Oliphant.  She was sitting there alone.  Her
face was absolutely colourless, and tears were lying wet on her
eyelashes.

Maggie made a swift remark, a passing jest, and hurried past the two
into the outer conservatory.

Priscilla could scarcely tell why, but at that moment she lost all
interest in both ferns and flowers.  The look of misery on Maggie's face
seemed to strike her own heart like a chill.

"You look tired," said Helen Marshall, who had not noticed Maggie's
tearful eyes.

"Perhaps I am," answered Prissie.

They went back again into the drawing-room.  Prissie still could see
nothing but Miss Oliphant's eyes, and the look of distress on her pale
face.

Helen suddenly made a remark.

"Was there ever such a merry creature as Maggie?" she said.  "Do look at
her now."

Prissie raised her eyes.  Miss Oliphant was the centre of a gay group,
among whom Geoffrey Hammond stood.  Her laugh rang out clear and joyous;
her smile was like sunshine, her cheeks had roses in them, and her eyes
were as bright as stars.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

CONSPIRATORS.

Annie Day and her friend Rosalind ceased to laugh as soon as they turned
the corner.  Annie now turned her eyes and fixed them on Rosalind, who
blushed and looked uncomfortable.

"Well," said Annie, "you are a humbug, Rose!  What a story you told me
about Mr Hammond--how he looked at you, and was so anxious to make use
of you.  Oh, you know all you said.  You told me a charming story about
your position as `gooseberry.'  You expected a little fun for yourself,
didn't you, my friend?  Well, it seems to me that if anyone is to have
the fun, it is Priscilla Peel."

Rosalind had rather a nervous manner.  She bit her lips now; her
baby-blue eyes looked angry, her innocent face wore a frown.  She
dropped her hold of Annie Day's arm.

Miss Day was one of the most commonplace girls at Heath Hall.  She had
neither good looks nor talent; she had no refinement of nature, nor had
she those rugged but sterling qualities of honesty and integrity of
purpose which go far to cover a multitude of other defects.

"I wish you wouldn't speak to me in that way," said Rosalind, with a
little gasp.  "I hate people to laugh at me, and I can't stand sneers."

"Oh, no! you're such a dear little innocent baby.  Of course, I can
quite understand.  And does she suppose I'll ruffle her pretty little
feathers?  No, not I.  I'd rather invent a new cradle song for you,
Rosie, dear."

"Don't, don't!" said Rosalind.  "Look here, Annie, I must say
something--yes, I must.  I _hate_ Maggie Oliphant!"

"You hate Miss Oliphant?"  Annie Day stood still, turned round, and
stared at her companion.  "When did this revolution take place, my dear?
What about Rose and Maggie sitting side by side at dinner?  And Rose
creeping away all by herself to Maggie's room, and angling for an
invitation to cocoa, and trying hard, very hard, to become a member of
the Dramatic Society, just because Maggie acts so splendidly.  Has it
not been _Maggie--Maggie_--ever since the term began, until we girls,
who were not in love with this quite too charming piece of perfection,
absolutely hated the sound of her name?  Oh, Rose, what a fickle baby
you are.  I am ashamed of you!"

"Don't!" said Rose, again.  She linked her hand half timidly in Miss
Day's arm.  Miss Day was almost a head and shoulders above the little,
delicate, fairy-like creature.  "I suppose I can't help changing my
mind," she said.  "I _did_ love Maggie, of course I loved her--she
fascinated me; but I don't care for her--no, I _hate_ her now!"

"How vehemently you pronounce that naughty word, my fair Rosalind.  You
must give me some reasons for this grievous change in your feelings."

"She snubbed me," said Rosalind; "she made little of me.  I offered to
do her a kindness, and she repulsed me.  Who cares to be made little of,
and repulsed?"

"Who, truly, Rosie?--not even an innocent baby.  Now then, my love, let
me whisper a little secret to you.  I have never loved Miss Oliphant.  I
have never been a victim to her charms.  Time was when she and Miss
Lee--poor Annabel!--ruled the whole of our Hall.  Those two girls
carried everything before them.  That was before your day, Rose.  Then
Miss Lee died.  She caught a chill, and had a fever, and was dead in a
couple of days.  Yes, of course, it was shocking.  They moved her to the
hospital, and she died there.  Oh, there was such excitement, and such
grief--even _I_ was sorry; for Annabel had a way about her, I can't
describe it, but she _could_ fascinate you.  It was awfully interesting
to talk to her, and even to look at her was a real pleasure.  We used
not to think much about Maggie when Annabel was by; but now, what with
Maggie and her mystery, and Maggie and her love affair, and Maggie and
her handsome face, and her wealth, and her expectations, why she bids
fair to be more popular even than the two were when they were together.
Yes, little Rose, I don't want her to be popular any more than you do.
I think it's a very unhealthy sign of any place to have all the girls
sighing and groaning about one or two--dying to possess their
autographs, and kissing their photographs, and framing them, and putting
them up in their rooms.  I hate that mawkish kind of nonsense,"
continued Miss Day, looking very virtuous, "and I think Miss Heath ought
to know about it, and put a stop to it.  I do, really."

Rosalind was glad that the gathering darkness prevented her sharp
companion from seeing the blush on her face; for amongst her own sacred
possessions she kept an autograph letter of Maggie's, and she had
passionately kissed Maggie's beautiful face as it looked at her out of a
photograph, and, until the moment when all her feelings had undergone
such a change, was secretly saving up her pence to buy a frame for it.
Now she inquired eagerly--

"What is the mystery about Miss Oliphant?  So many people hint about it,
I do wish you would tell me, Annie."

"If I told you, pet, it would cease to be a mystery."

"But you might say what you know.  _Do_, Annie!"

"Oh, it isn't much--it's really nothing; and yet--and yet--"

"You know it isn't nothing, Annie!"

"Well, when Annabel died, people said that Maggie had more cause than
anyone else to be sorry.  I never could find out what that cause was;
but the servants spread some reports.  They said they had found Maggie
and Annabel together; Annabel had fainted, and Maggie was in an awful
state of misery--in quite an unnatural state, they said; she went into
hysterics, and Miss Heath was sent for, and was a long time soothing
her.  There was no apparent reason for this, although, somehow or other,
little whispers got abroad that the mystery of Annabel's illness and
Maggie's distress was connected with Geoffrey Hammond.  Of course,
nothing was known, and nothing is known; but, certainly, the little
whisper got into the air.  Dear me, Rosalind, you need not eat me with
your eyes.  I am repeating mere conjectures, and it is highly probable
that not the slightest notice would have been taken of this little
rumour but for the tragedy which immediately followed.  Annabel, who had
been as gay and well as anyone at breakfast that morning, was never seen
in the college again.  She was unconscious, the servants said, for a
long time, and when she awoke was in high fever.  She was removed to the
hospital, and Maggie had seen the last of her friend.  Poor Annabel died
in two days, and afterwards Maggie took the fever.  Yes, she has been
quite changed since then.  She always had moods, as she called them, but
not like now.  Sometimes I think she is almost flighty."

Rosalind was silent.  After a while she said, in a prim little voice,
which she adopted now and then when she wanted to conceal her real
feelings--

"But I do wonder what the quarrel was about--I mean, what really
happened between Annabel and Maggie."

"Look here, Rosalind, have I said anything about a quarrel?  Please
remember that the whole thing is conjecture from beginning to end, and
don't go all over the place spreading stories and making mischief.  I
have told you this in confidence, so don't forget."

"I won't forget," replied Rosalind.  "I don't know why you should accuse
me of wanting to make mischief, Annie.  I can't help being curious, of
course, and, of course, I'd like to know more."

"Well, for that matter, so would I," replied Annie.  "Where there is a
mystery it's much more satisfactory to get to the bottom of it.  Of
course, something dreadful must have happened to account for the change
in Miss Oliphant.  It would be a comfort to know the truth, and, of
course, one need never talk of it.  By the way, Rosie, you are just the
person to ferret this little secret out; you are the right sort of
person for spying and peeping."

"Oh, thank you," replied Rosalind; "if that's your opinion of me I'm not
inclined to do anything to please you.  Spying and peeping, indeed!
What next?"

Annie Day patted her companion's small white hand.

"And so I've hurt the dear little baby's feelings!" she said.  "But I
didn't mean to--no, that I didn't.  And she such a pretty, sweet, little
pet as she is!  Well, Rosie, you know what I mean.  If we can find out
the truth about Miss Maggie we'll just have a quiet little crow over her
all to ourselves.  I don't suppose we shall find out; but opportunities
may arise--who knows?  Now I want to speak to you about another person,
and that is Maggie's new friend."

"What new friend?"  Rosalind blushed brightly.

"That ugly Priscilla Peel.  She has taken her up.  Anyone can see that."

"Oh, I don't think so."

"But I do--I am sure of it.  Now I have good reason not to like Miss
Priscilla.  You know what a virtuous parade she made of herself a few
nights ago?"

"Yes, you told me."

"Horrid, set-up minx!  Just the sort of girl who ought to be suppressed,
and crushed out of a college like ours.  Vaunting her poverty in our
very faces, and refusing to make herself pleasant or one with us in any
sort of way.  Lucy Marsh and I had a long talk over her that night, and
we put our heads together to concoct a nice little bit of punishment for
her.  You know she's horridly shy, and as _gauche_ as if she lived in
the backwoods, and we meant to `send her to Coventry.'  We had it all
arranged, and a whole lot of girls would have joined us, for it's
contrary to the spirit of a place like this to allow girls of the
Priscilla Peel type to become popular, or liked in any way.  But, most
unluckily, poor, dear, good, but stupid, Nancy Banister was in the room
when Prissie made her little oration, and Nancy took her up as if she
were a heroine, and spoke of her as if she had done something
magnificent, and, of course, Nancy told Maggie, and now Maggie is as
thick as possible with Prissie.  So you see, my dear Rosalind, our
virtuous little scheme is completely knocked on the head."

"I don't see--" began Rosalind.

"You little goose, before a week is out Prissie will be the fashion.
All the girls will flock round her when Maggie takes her part.  Bare,
ugly rooms will be the rage; poverty will be the height of the fashion,
and it will be considered wrong even to go in for the recognised college
recreations.  Rosie, my love, we must nip this growing mischief in the
bud."

"How?" asked Rosalind.

"We must separate Maggie Oliphant and Priscilla Peel."

"How?" asked Rose again.  "I'm sure," she added, in a vehement voice,
"I'm willing--I'm more than willing."

"Good.  Well, we're at home now, and I absolutely must have a cup of
tea.  No time for it in my room to-night--let's come into the hall and
have some there.  Look here, Rosalind, I'll ask Lucy Marsh to have cocoa
to-night in my room, and you can come too.  Now keep a silent tongue in
your head, Baby."

CHAPTER TWELVE.

A GOOD THING TO BE YOUNG.

It was long past the tea-hour at Heath Hall when Maggie Oliphant and
Priscilla started on their walk home.  The brightness and gaiety of the
merry party at the Marshalls' had increased as the moments flew on.
Even Priscilla had caught something of the charm.  The kindly spirit
which animated everyone seemed to get into her.  She first became
interested, then she forgot herself.  Prissie was no longer awkward; she
began to talk, and when she liked she could talk well.

As the two girls were leaving the house, Geoffrey Hammond put in a
sudden appearance.

"I will see you home," he said to Maggie.

"No, no, you mustn't," she answered; her tone was vehement.  She forgot
Prissie's presence, and half-turned her back on her.

"How unkind you are!" said the young man, in a low tone.

"No, Geoffrey, but I am struggling--you don't know how hard I am
struggling--to be true to myself."

"You are altogether mistaken in your idea of truth," said Hammond,
turning, and walking a little way by her side.

"I am not mistaken--I am right."

"Well, at least allow me to explain my side of the question."

"No, it cannot be; there shall be no explanations, I am resolved.
Good-night, you must not come any further."

She held out her hand.  Hammond took it limply between his own.

"You are very cruel," he murmured, in the lowest of voices.

He raised his hat, forgot even to bow to Priscilla, and hurried off down
a side street.

Maggie walked on a little way.  Then she turned, and looked down the
street where he had vanished.  Suddenly she raised her hand to her lips,
kissed it, and blew the kiss after the figure which had already
disappeared.  She laughed excitedly when she did this, and her whole
face was glowing with a beautiful colour.

Prissie, standing miserable and forgotten by the tall, handsome girl's
side, could see the light in her eyes, and the glow on her checks in the
lamplight.

"I am here," said Priscilla, at last, in a low, half-frightened voice.
"I am sorry I am here, but I am.  I heard what you said to Mr Hammond.
I am sorry I heard."

Maggie turned slowly, and looked at her.  Prissie returned her gaze.
Then, as if further words were wrung from her against her will, she
continued--

"I saw the tears in your eyes in the fern-house at the Marshalls'.  I am
very sorry, but I did see them."

"My dear Prissie!" said Maggie.  She went up suddenly to the girl, put
her arm round her neck, and kissed her.

"Come home now," she said, drawing Prissie's hand through her arm.  "I
don't think I greatly mind your knowing," she said, after a pause.  "You
are true; I see it in your face.  You would never tell again--you would
never make mischief."

"Tell again!  Of course not."  Prissie's words came out with great
vigour.

"I know you would not, Priscilla; may I call you Priscilla?"

"Yes."

"Will you be my friend, and shall I be your friend?"

"If you would," said Prissie.  "But you don't mean it.  It is impossible
that you can mean it.  I'm not a bit like you--and--and--you only say
these things to be kind."

"What do you mean, Priscilla?"

"I must tell you," said Prissie, turning very pale.  "I heard what you
said to Miss Banister the night I came to the college."

"What I said to Miss Banister?  What did I say?"

"Oh, can't you remember?  The words seemed burnt into me: I shall never
forget them.  I had left my purse in the dining-hall, and I was going to
fetch it.  Your door was a little open.  I heard my name, and I
stopped--yes, I did stop to listen."

"Oh, what a naughty, mean little Prissie!  You stopped to listen.  And
what did you hear?  Nothing good, of course?  The bad thing was said to
punish you for listening."

"I heard," said Priscilla, her own cheeks crimson now, "I heard you say
that it gave you an aesthetic pleasure to be kind, and that was why you
were good to me."

Maggie felt her own colour rising.

"Well, my dear," she said, "it still gives me an aesthetic pleasure to
be kind.  You could not expect me to fall in love with you the moment I
saw you.  I was kind to you then, perhaps, for the reason I stated.  It
is very different now."

"It was wrong of you to be kind to me for that reason."

"Wrong of me?  What an extraordinary girl you are, Priscilla--why was it
wrong of me?"

"Because I learnt to love you.  You were gentle to me, and spoke
courteously, when others were rude and only laughed; my whole heart went
out to you when you were so sweet and gentle and kind.  I did not
think--I could not possibly think--that you were good just because it
gave you a sort of selfish pleasure.  When I heard your words I felt
dreadful.  I hated St Benet's; I wished I had never come.  Your words
turned everything to bitterness for me."

"Did they really, Priscilla?  Oh, Prissie! what a thoughtless, wild,
impulsive creature I am.  Well, I don't feel now as I did that night.
If those words were cruel, forgive me.  Forget those words, Prissie."

"I will, if you will."

"I?  I have forgotten them utterly."

"Thank you, thank you."

"Then we'll be friends--real friends; true friends?"

"Yes."

"You must say `Yes, Maggie.'"

"Yes, Maggie."

"That is right.  Now keep your hand in my arm.  Let's walk fast Is it
not glorious to walk in this semi-frosty sort of weather?  Prissie,
you'll see a vast lot that you don't approve of in your new friend."

"Oh, I don't care," said Priscilla.

She felt so joyous she could have skipped.

"I've as many sides," continued Maggie, "as a chameleon has colours.  I
am the gayest of the gay, as well as the saddest of the sad.  When I am
gay you may laugh with me, but I warn you when I am sad you must never
cry with me.  Leave me alone when I have my dark moods on, Prissie."

"Very well, Maggie, I'll remember."

"I think you'll make a delightful friend," said Miss Oliphant, just
glancing at her; "but I pity your side of the bargain."

"Why?"

"Because I'll try you so fearfully."

"Oh, no, you won't.  I don't want to have a perfect friend."

"Perfect!  No, child--Heaven forbid.  But there are shades of
perfection.  Now, when I get into my dark moods, I feel wicked as well
as sad.  No, we won't talk of them; we'll keep them away.  Prissie, I
feel good to-night--good--and glad: it's such a nice feeling."

"I am sure of it," said Priscilla.

"What do you know about it, child?  You have not tasted life yet.  Wait
until you do.  For instance--no, though--I won't enlighten you.
Prissie, what do you think of Geoffrey Hammond?"

"I think he loves you, very much."

"Poor Geoffrey!  Now, Prissie, you are to keep that little thought quite
dark in your mind--in fact, you are to put it out of your mind.  You are
not to associate my name with Mr Hammond's--not even in your thoughts.
You will very likely hear us spoken of together, and some of the stupid
girls here will make little quizzing, senseless remarks.  But there will
be no truth in them, Prissie.  He is nothing to me, nor I to him."

"Then why did you blow a kiss after him?" asked Priscilla.

Maggie stood still.  It was too dark for Priscilla to see her blush.

"Oh, my many-sided nature!" she suddenly exclaimed.  "It was a wicked
sprite made me blow that kiss.  Prissie, my dear, I am cold: race me to
the house."

The two girls entered the wide hall, flushed and laughing.  Other girls
were lingering about on the stairs.  Some were just starting off to
evening service at Kingsdene; others were standing in groups, chatting.
Nancy Banister came up, and spoke to Maggie.  Maggie took her arm, and
walked away with her.

Prissie found herself standing alone in the hall.  It was as if the
delightful friendship cemented between herself and Miss Oliphant in the
frosty air outside had fallen to pieces like a castle of cards the
moment they entered the house.  Prissie felt a chill.  Her high spirits
went down a very little.  Then, resolving to banish the ignoble spirit
of distrust, she prepared to run upstairs to her own room.

Miss Heath called her name as she was passing an open door.

"Is that you, my dear?  Will you come to my room after supper to-night?"

"Oh, thank you," said Prissie, her eyes sparkling.

Miss Heath came to the threshold of her pretty room, and smiled at the
young girl.

"You look well and happy," she said.  "You are getting at home here.
You will love us all yet."

"I love you now!" said Prissie, with fervour.

Miss Heath, prompted by the look of intense and sincere gladness on the
young face, bent and kissed Priscilla.  A rather disagreeable voice said
suddenly at her back--

"I beg your pardon," and Lucy Marsh ran down the stairs.

She had knocked against Prissie in passing; she had witnessed Miss
Heath's kiss.  The expression on Lucy's face was unpleasant.  Prissie
did not notice it, however.  She went slowly up to her room.  The
electric light was on, the fire was blazing merrily.  Priscilla removed
her hat and jacket, threw herself into the one easy-chair the room
contained, and gave herself up to pleasant dreams.  Many new aspects of
life were opening before her.  She felt that it was a good thing to be
young, and she was distinctly conscious of a great, soft glow of
happiness.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

CAUGHT IN A TRAP.

College life is school life over again, but with wide differences.  The
restraints which characterise the existence of a school-girl are
scarcely felt at all by the girl graduate.  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 ardour 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, towards 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 a 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 note-book, 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'm 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 be 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 cosy
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 daresay 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 anyone 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 possibly 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 humour 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 everyone else was in 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 checks burnt
unbecomingly; she felt miserable, self-conscious, ill at ease, and very
cross with everyone.  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 effusive, 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.
Someone soon claimed her attention, however, and poor Prissie found
herself alone.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

IN THE ELLIOT-SMITHS' DRAWING-ROOM.

The fun and talk rose fast and furious.  More and more guests arrived;
the large drawing-rooms were soon almost as full as they could hold.
Priscilla, from her corner, half-hidden by a sheltering window curtain,
looked in vain for Rosalind.  Where had she hidden herself?  When were
they going away?  Surely Rosalind would come to fetch her soon?  They
had to walk home and be ready for dinner.

Dinner at St Benet's was at half-past six, and Prissie reflected with a
great sensation of thankfulness that Rosalind and she must go back in
good time for this meal, as it was one of the rules of the college that
no girl should absent herself from late dinner without getting
permission from the Principal.

Prissie looked in agony at the clock which stood on a mantelpiece not
far from where she had ensconced herself.  Presently it struck five; no
one heard its silver note in the babel of sound, but Priscilla watched
its slowly moving hands in an agony.

Rose must come to fetch her presently.  Prissie knew--she reflected to
her horror that she had not the moral courage to walk about those
drawing-rooms hunting for Rose.

Two or three exquisitely dressed but frivolous-looking women stood in a
group not far from the window where Priscilla sat forlorn.  They talked
about the cut of their mantles, and the price they had given for their
new winter bonnets.  Their shrill laughter reached Prissie's ears, also
their words.  They complimented one another, but talked scandal of their
neighbours.  They called somebody--who, Prissie could not imagine--"a
certain lady," and spoke of how she was angling to get a footing in
society, and how the good set at Kingsdene would certainly never have
anything to do with her or hers.

"She's taking up those wretched girl graduates," said one of these
gossips to her neighbour.  Then her eye fell upon Prissie.  She said
"Hush!" in an audible tone, and the little party moved away out of
earshot.

The minute hand of the clock on the mantelpiece pointed to nearly
half-past five.  Poor Prissie felt her miseries grow almost intolerable.
Tears of mortification and anguish were forcing themselves to her eyes.
She felt that, in addition to having lost so many hours of study, she
would get into a serious scrape at St Benet's for breaking one of the
known rules of the college.

At this moment a quiet voice said, "How do you do?"

She raised her tearful eyes.  Geoffrey Hammond was standing by her side.
He gave her a kind glance, shook hands with her, and stood by her
window uttering commonplaces until Priscilla had recovered her
self-possession.  Then, dropping into a chair near, he said, abruptly--

"I saw you from the other end of the room.  I was surprised.  I did not
suppose you knew our hostess."

"Nor do I really," said Prissie, with sudden vehemence.  "Oh, it's a
shame!" she added, her face reddening up woefully; "I have been
entrapped!"

"You must not let the people who are near us hear you say words of that
kind," said Hammond; "they will crowd around to hear your story.  Now, I
want it all to myself.  Do you think you can tell it to me in a low
voice?"

To poor Hammond's horror Prissie began to whisper.

"I beg your pardon," he said, interrupting her, "but do you know that
the buzzing noise caused by a whisper carries sound a long way?  That is
a well authenticated fact.  Now, if you will try to speak low."

"Oh, thank you; yes, I will," said Prissie.  She began a garbled account
Hammond looked at her face and guessed the truth.  The miseries of her
present position were depriving the poor girl of the full use of her
intellect.  At last he ascertained that Priscilla's all-absorbing
present anxiety was to be in time for the half-past six dinner at St
Benet's.

"I know we'll be late," she said, "and I'll have broken the rules, and
Miss Heath will be so much annoyed with me."

Hammond volunteered to look for Miss Merton.

"Oh, thank you," said Prissie, the tears springing to her eyes.  "How
very, very kind you are."

"Please don't speak of it," said Hammond.  "Stay where you are.  I'll
soon bring the young truant to your side."

He began to move about the drawing-rooms, and Prissie from her
hiding-place watched him with a world of gratitude in her face.  "Talk
of my stirring from this corner," she said to herself, "why, I feel
glued to the spot!  Oh, my awful muddy boots.  I daren't even think of
them.  Now I do hope Mr Hammond will find Miss Merton quickly.  How
kind he is!  I wonder Maggie does not care for him as much as he cares
for her.  I do not feel half as shy with him as I do with everyone else
in this dreadful--dreadful room.  Oh, I do trust he'll soon come back,
and bring Miss Merton with him.  Then, if we run all the way, we may,
perhaps, be in time for dinner."

Hammond was absent about ten minutes; they seemed like so many hours to
anxious Prissie.  To her horror she saw him returning alone, and now she
so far forgot her muddy boots as to run two or three steps to meet him.
She knocked over a footstool as she did so, and one or two people looked
round, and shrugged their shoulders at the poor _gauche_ girl.

"Where is she?" exclaimed Prissie, again speaking in a loud voice.  "Oh,
haven't you brought her?  What shall I do?"

"It's all right, I assure you, Miss Peel.  Let me conduct you back to
that snug seat in the window.  I have seen Miss Merton, and she says you
are to make yourself happy.  She asked Miss Heath's permission for you
both to be absent from dinner to-day."

"She did?  I never heard of anything so outrageous.  _I_ won't stay.  I
shall go away at once."

"Had you not better just think calmly over it?  If you return to St
Benet's without Miss Merton, you will get her into a scrape."

"Do you think I care for that?  Oh, she has behaved disgracefully!  She
has told Miss Heath a lie.  I shall explain matters the very moment I go
back."

Priscilla was not often in a passion, but she felt in one now.  She lost
her shyness, and her voice rose without constraint.

"I am not supposed to know the ways of society," she said, "but I don't
think I want to know much about this sort of society."  And she got up,
prepared to leave the room.

The ladies, who had been gossiping at her side, turned at the sound of
her agitation.  They saw a plain, badly-dressed girl, with a frock
conveniently short for the muddy streets, but by no means in tone with
her present elegant surroundings, standing up and contradicting, or at
least appearing to contradict, Geoffrey Hammond, one of the best known
men at St Hilda's, a Senior Wrangler, too.  What did this _gauche_ girl
mean?  Most people were deferential to Hammond, but she seemed to be
scolding him.

Prissie for the time being became more interesting even than the winter
fashions.  The ladies drew a step or two nearer to enjoy the little
comedy.

Priscilla noticed no one, but Hammond felt these good ladies in the air.
His checks burned, and he wished himself well out of his present
position.

"If you will sit down, Miss Peel," he said, in a low, firm voice, "I
think I can give you good reasons for not rushing away in this headlong
fashion."

"Well, what are they?" said Prissie.  Hammond's voice had a sufficiently
compelling power to make her sit down once more on her window-ledge.

"Don't you think," he said, seating himself in front of her, "that we
may as well keep this discussion to ourselves?"

"Oh, yes; was I speaking too loud?  I wouldn't vex _you_ for anything."

"Pardon me; you are still speaking a little loud."

"Oh!"  Poor Prissie fell back, her face crimson.  "Please say anything
you wish," she presently piped in a voice as low as a little mouse might
have used.

"What I have to say is simply this," said Hammond: "You will gain
nothing now by rushing off to St Benet's.  However hard you struggle,
you cannot get there in time for dinner.  Would it not be best, then, to
remain here quietly until Miss Merton asks you to accompany her back to
the college?  Then, of course, it will remain with you to pay her out in
any way you think well."

"Thank you; perhaps that is best.  It is quite hopeless now to think of
getting back in time for dinner.  I only hope Miss Merton won't keep me
waiting very long, for it is very, very dull sitting here, and seeing
people staring at you."

"I would not look at them if I were you, Miss Peel; and, if you will
permit me, I shall be only too pleased to keep you company."

"Oh, thank you," said Prissie.  "Then I sha'n't mind staying at all."

The next half-hour seemed to pass on the wings of the wind.

Priscilla was engaged in an animated discussion with Hammond on the
relative attractions of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey;" her opinion
differed from his, and she was well able to hold her ground.  Her face
was now both eloquent and attractive, her eyes were bright, her words
terse and epigrammatic.  She looked so different a girl from the cowed
and miserable little Prissie of an hour ago that Rosalind Merton, as she
came up and tapped her on the shoulder, felt a pang of envy.

"I am sorry to interrupt you," she said, "but it is time for us to be
going home.  Have you given Mr Hammond his message?"

"What do you mean?" asked Priscilla.  "I have not any message for Mr
Hammond."

"You must have forgotten.  Did not Miss Oliphant give you a letter for
him?"

"Certainly not.  What do you mean?"

"I felt sure I saw her," said Rosalind.  "I suppose I was mistaken.
Well, sorry as I am to interrupt a pleasant talk, I fear I must ask you
to come home with me now."

She raised her pretty baby eyes to Hammond's face as she spoke.  He
absolutely scowled down at her, shook hands warmly with Priscilla, and
turned away.

"Come and bid Mrs Elliot-Smith good-bye," said Rosalind, her eyes still
dancing.  "She is at the other end of the drawing-room; come, you can
follow me."

"How disgracefully you have behaved, Miss Merton!" began Priscilla at
once.  "You cannot expect me ever to speak to you again, and I shall
certainly tell Miss Heath."

They were walking across the crowded drawing-room now.  Rosalind turned,
and let her laughing eyes look full at Prissie.

"My dear Miss Peel, pray reserve any little scolding you intend to
bestow upon me until we get out into the street, and please do not tread
upon my dress!"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

POLLY SINGLETON.

Miss Day was having quite a large party for cocoa in her room.  She had
invited not only her own chosen friends from Heath Hall, but also two or
three congenial spirits from Katharine Hall.  Five or six merry-looking
girls were now assembled in her room.  Miss Day's room was one of the
largest in the college; it was showily furnished, with an intention to
produce a Japanese effect.  Several paper lanterns hung from the
ceiling, and were suspended to wire supports, which were fastened to
different articles of furniture.

In honour of Miss Day's cocoa, the lanterns were all lit now, and the
effect, on fans and pictures and on brilliant bits of colour, was
grotesque and almost _bizarre_.

Miss Day thought her room lovely.  It was dazzling, but the reverse of
reposeful.

The girls were lounging about, chatting and laughing; they were having a
good time, and were absolutely at their case.  One, a red-haired girl,
with frank, open blue eyes, and a freckled face, an inmate of Katharine
Hall, was sending her companions into fits of laughter.

"Yes," she was saying, in a high, gay voice, "I'm not a bit ashamed of
it; there's never the least use in not owning the truth.  I'm used up,
girls: I haven't a penny piece to bless myself with, and this letter
came from Spilman to-night.  Spilman says he'll see Miss Eccleston if I
don't pay up.  Madame Clarice wrote two nights ago declaring _her_
intention of visiting Miss Eccleston if I didn't send her some money.  I
shall have no money until next term.  There's a state of affairs!"

"What do you mean to do, Polly?" asked Lucy Marsh, in a sympathising
tone.

"Do?  My dear creature, there's only one thing to be done.  I must have
an auction on the quiet I shall sell my worldly all.  I can buy things
again, you know, after dad sends me his next allowance."

"Oh, Polly, but you cannot really mean it!"  Miss Marsh, Miss Day, and
two or three more crowded round Polly Singleton as they spoke.

"You can't mean to have an auction," began Miss Day; "no one ever heard
of such a thing at St Benet's.  Why, it would be simply disgraceful!"

"No, it wouldn't--don't turn cross, Annie.  I'll have an auction first,
and then a great feed in the empty room.  I can go on tick for the feed;
Jones, the confectioner, knows better than not to oblige me.  He's not
like that horrid Spilman and that mean Madame Clarice."

"But, Polly, if you write to your father, he'll be sure to send you what
you want to clear off those two debts.  You have often told us he has
lots of money."

"My dears, he has more tin than he knows what to do with; but do you
think I am going to have the poor old dear worried?  When I was coming
here he said, `Polly, you shall have thirty pounds every term to spend
as pocket-money; not a penny more, not a penny less.  And you must keep
out of debt on it; mind that, Polly Singleton.'  I gave the dear old dad
a hug.  He's the image of me--only with redder hair and more freckles.
And I said, `I'll do my best, dad, and anyhow, you sha'n't be put out
whatever happens.'"

"Then you didn't tell him you'd keep out of debt?"

"No, for I knew I'd break my word.  I've always been in debt ever since
I could remember.  I wouldn't know how it felt not to owe a lot of
money.  It's habit, and I don't mind it a bit.  But I don't want dad to
know, and I don't want Miss Eccleston to know, for perhaps she would
write to him.  If those old horrors won't wait for their money till next
term, why there's nothing for it but an auction.  I have some nice
things, and they'll go very cheap; so there's a chance for you all,
girls."

"But if Miss Eccleston finds out?" said Miss Day.

"What if she does?  There's no rule against auctions, and, as I don't
suppose any of you will have one, it isn't worth making a rule for me
alone.  Anyhow, I'm resolved to risk it.  My auction will be on Monday,
and I shall make out an inventory of my goods to-morrow."

"Will you advertise it on the notice-board in your hall, dear?" asked
Lucy Marsh.

"Why not?  A good idea!  _The great A. will be held in Miss Singleton's
room, from eight to ten o'clock on the evening of Monday next.  Great
Bargains!  Enormous Sacrifice!  Things absolutely given away_!  Oh, what
fun!  I'll be my own auctioneer."

Polly lay back in her armchair, and laughed loudly.

"What is all this noise about?" asked a refined little voice, and
Rosalind Merton entered the room.

Two or three girls jumped up at once to greet her.

"Come in, Rosie; you're just in time.  What _do_ you think Miss
Singleton is going to do now?"

"I can't tell; what?" asked Rosalind.  "Something _outre_, I feel
certain."

Polly made a wry face, and winked her eyes at her companions.

"I know I'm not refined enough for you, Miss Merton," she drawled.  "I'm
rough, like my dad, rough and ready; but, at any rate, I'm honest--at
least, I think I'm honest.  When I owe money, I don't leave a stone
unturned to pay what I owe.  Having sinned, I repent.  I enter the
Valley of Humiliation, and give up all: who can do more?"

"Oh, dear, Polly, I don't think I'd call owing a little money, sinning,"
said Lucy Marsh, whose ideas were known to be somewhat lax.

"Well, my dear, there's nothing for those in debt but to sell their
possessions.  My auction is on Monday.  Will you come, Rosalind?"

"You don't mean it?" said Rose, her blue eyes beginning to sparkle.

"Yes, I do, absolutely and truly mean it."

"And you will sell your things--your lovely things?"

"My things, my lovely, lovely things must be sold."

"But not your clothes?  Your new sealskin jacket, for instance?"

Polly made a wry face for a moment.  Putting her hand into her pocket
she pulled out Spilman's and Madame Clarice's two bills.

"I owe a lot," she said, looking with a rueful countenance at the sum
total.  "Yes, I even fear the sealskin must go.  I don't want to part
with it; dad gave it me just before I came here."

"It's a lovely seal," said Annie Day, "and it seems a sin to part with
it; it's cut in the most stylish way too, with those high shoulders."

"Don't praise it, please," said Polly, lying back in her chair, and
covering her eyes with her hand.  "It cuts like a knife to part with
dad's last present.  Well, I'm rightly punished.  What a fool I was to
get all those Japanese things from Spilman, and that fancy ball-dress
for the theatricals.  Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"

"Perhaps you won't want to part with your seal, dear," said Lucy, who
was not so greedy as some of the other girls, and really pitied Polly.
"You have so many beautiful things without that, that you will be sure
to realise a good bit of money."

"No, Lucy, I owe such a lot; the seal must go.  Oh, what a worry it is!"

"And at auctions of this kind," said Rosalind, in her low voice, "even
beautiful things don't realise much.  How can they?"

"Rosalind is after that seal," whispered Lucy to Annie Day.

"The seal would swallow you up, Rosie," said Annie, in a loud voice.
"Don't aspire to it; you'd never come out alive."

"The seal can be brought to know good manners," retorted Rose, angrily.
"His size can be diminished, and his strength abated.  But I have not
said that I want him at all.  You do so jump to conclusions, Miss Day."

"I know what I want," said a girl called Hetty Jones, who had not yet
spoken: "I'm going in for some of Polly's ornaments.  You won't put too
big a price upon your corals, will you, Poll?"

"I shall bid for your American rocking-chair, Polly," exclaimed Miss
Day.

"I tell you what you must do, Miss Singleton," shouted another girl,
"you must get those inventories ready as soon as possible, and send them
round the college for everyone to read, for you have got such nice
things that there will be sure to be a great rush at your auction."

"Don't sell any of the college possessions by mistake, my dear," said
Lucy Marsh.  "You would get into trouble then.  Indeed, as it is, I
don't see how you are to keep out of it."

Polly pushed her hands impatiently through her bright red hair.

"Who's afraid?" she said, and laughed.

"When are we to see your things, Polly?" asked Miss Jones.  "If the
auction is on Monday, there must be a show day, when we can all go round
and inspect.  I know that's always done at auctions, for I've been at
several in the country.  The show day is the best fun of all.  The
farmers' wives come and pinch the feather-beds between their thumbs and
forefingers, and hold the blankets up to the light to see if the moths
have got in."

"Hetty, how vulgar!" interposed Miss Day.  "What has Polly's auction of
her _recherche_ things to do with blankets and feather-beds?  Now the
cocoa is ready.  Who will help me to carry the cups round?"

"I had some fun to-day," said Rosalind, when each of the girls, provided
with their cups of cocoa, sat round and began to sip.  "I took Miss
Propriety to town with me."

"Oh, did you, darling?  Do tell us all about it!" said Annie Day,
running up to Rosalind and taking her hand.

"There isn't much to tell.  She behaved as I expected; her manners are
not graceful, but she's a deep one."

"Anybody can see that who looks at her," remarked Lucy Marsh.

"We went to the Elliot-Smiths'," continued Rosalind.

"Good gracious, Rosie!" interrupted Hetty Jones.  "You don't mean to say
you took Propriety to _that_ house?"

"Yes; why not?  It's the jolliest house in Kingsdene."

"But fancy taking poor Propriety there.  What did she say?"

"Say?  She scolded a good deal."

"Scolded!  Poor little proper thing!  How I should have liked to have
seen her.  Did she open her purse, and exhibit its emptiness to the
company at large?  Did she stand on a chair and lecture the frivolous
people who assemble in that house on the emptiness of life?  Oh, how I
wish I could have looked on at the fun!"

"You'd have beheld an edifying sight then, my dear," said Rosalind.
"Prissie's whole behaviour was one to be copied.  No words can describe
her tact and grace."

"But what did she do, Rosie?  I wish you would speak out and tell us.
You know you are keeping something back."

"Whenever she saw me she scolded me, and she tripped over my dress
several times."

"Oh, you dear, good, patient Rosalind, what a bore she must have been."

"No, she wasn't, for I scarcely saw anything of her.  She amused herself
capitally without me, I can tell you."

"Amused herself?  Propriety amused herself?  How diverting!  Could she
stoop to it?"

"She did.  She stooped and--conquered.  She secured for herself an
adorer."

"Rosalind, how absurd you are!  Poor, Plain Propriety!"

"As long as I live I shall hate the letter P," suddenly interrupted
Annie Day, "for since that disagreeable girl has got into the house we
are always using it."

"Never mind, Rosalind; go on with your story," said Miss Jones.  "What
did Plain Propriety do?"  Rosalind threw up her hands, rolled her eyes
skywards, and uttered the terse remark--

"She flirted!"

"Oh, Rosie! who would flirt with her?  I suppose she got hold of some
old rusty, musty don.  But then I do not suppose you'd find that sort of
man at the Elliot-Smiths'."

This remark came from Lucy Marsh.  Rosalind Merton, who was leaning her
fair head against a dark velvet cushion, looked as if she enjoyed the
situation immensely.

"What do you say to a Senior Wrangler?" she asked, in a gentle voice.

"Rosalind, what--not _the_ Senior Wrangler?"  Rosalind nodded.

"Oh! oh! oh! what could he see--Geoffrey Hammond, of all people!  He's
so exclusive, too."

"Well," said Hetty Jones, standing up reluctantly, for she felt it was
time to return to her neglected studies, "wonders will never cease!  I
could not have supposed that Mr Hammond would condescend to go near the
Elliot-Smiths', and most certainly I should never have guessed that he
would look at a girl like Priscilla Peel."

"Well, he flirted with her," said Rosalind, "and she with him.  They
were so delighted with one another that I could scarcely get Prissie
away when it was time to leave.  They looked quite engrossed--you know
the kind of air--there was no mistaking it!"

"Miss Peel must have thanked you for taking her."

"Thanked me?  That's not Miss Prissie's style.  I could see she was
awfully vexed at being disturbed."

"Well, it's rather shabby," said Polly Singleton, speaking for the first
time.  "Everyone at St Benet's knows to whom Mr Hammond belongs."

"Yes, yes, of course, of course," cried several voices.

"And Maggie has been so kind to Miss Peel," continued Polly.

"Yes--shame!--how mean of little Propriety!" the voices echoed again.

Rosalind gave a meaning glance at Annie Day.  Annie raised her eyebrows,
looked interrogative, then her face subsided into a satisfied
expression.  She asked no further questions, but she gave Rosalind an
affectionate pat on the shoulder.

Soon the other girls came up one by one to say good-night.  Rosalind,
Annie, and Lucy were alone.  They drew their chairs together, and began
to talk.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

PRETTY LITTLE ROSALIND.

"I have done it now," said Rosalind; "the estrangement will come about
naturally.  Propriety won't head a party at this college, for she will
not have Miss Oliphant's support.  My dear girls, we need do nothing
further.  The friendship we regretted is at an end."

"Did you take Priscilla Peel to the Elliot-Smiths' on purpose, then?"
asked Miss Day.

"I took her there for my own purposes," replied Rosalind.  "I wanted to
go.  I could not go alone, as it is against our precious rules.  It was
not convenient for any of my own special friends to come with me, so I
thought I'd play Prissie a nice little trick.  Oh, wasn't she angry!  My
dear girls, it was as good as a play to watch her face."

Rosalind lay back in her chair and laughed heartily.  Her laughter was
as melodious as the sound of silver bells.

"Well," said Miss Marsh, after a pause, "I wish you would stop laughing
and go on with your story, Rose."

Rosalind resumed her grave deportment.

"That's all," she said; "there's nothing, more to tell."

"Did you know, then, that Mr Hammond would be there?"

"No, I had not the least idea that piece of luck would fall in my way.
Meta managed that for me most delightfully.  You know, girls, how
earnestly the poor dear Elliot-Smiths aspire, and how vain are their
efforts, to get into what we are pleased to call the `good set' here.
It isn't their fault, poor things, for, though they really have no
talent nor the smallest literary desires, they would give their eyes to
be `hail-fellows-well-met' with some of our intellectual giants.  Well,
Meta got to know Mr Hammond at a tennis party in the summer, and when
she met him last week she asked him to come to her house to-day.  She
told me she was dying to have him, of course, but when she asked him she
could see by his face and manner that he was searching his brains for an
excuse to get out of it.  All of a sudden it flashed into her head to
say, `Some of our friends from St Benet's will be present.'  The moment
she said this he changed, and got very polite, and said he would
certainly look in for a little while.  Poor Meta was so delighted!  You
can fancy her chagrin when he devoted himself all the time to Prissie."

"He thought he'd meet Maggie Oliphant," said Annie Day; "it was a shame
to lure him on with a falsehood.  I don't wonder at people not
respecting the Elliot-Smiths."

"My dear," responded Rosalind, "Meta did not tell a lie.  I never could
have guessed that you were strait-laced, Annie."

"Nor am I," responded Annie, with a sigh, which she quickly suppressed.

"The whole thing fitted in admirably with our wishes," continued Rose,
"and now we need not do anything further in the matter.  Rumour, in the
shape of Hetty Jones's tongue, and Polly Singleton's hints, will do the
rest for us."

"Do you really think that Maggie Oliphant cares for Mr Hammond?" asked
Lucy Marsh.

"Cares for him!" said Rosalind.  "Does a duck swim?  Does a baby like
sweet things?  Maggie is so much in love with Mr Hammond that she's
almost ill about it--there!"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the other two girls.

"She is, I know she is.  She treats him shamefully, because of some whim
of hers.  I only wish she may never get him."

"He'd do nicely for you, wouldn't he, Rose?" said Annie Day.

A delicate pink came into Rosalind's cheeks.  She rose to leave the
room.

"Mr Hammond is not in my style," she said.  "Much too severe and too
learned.  Good-night, girls.  I must look over the notes of that
wretched French lecture before I go to bed."

Rosalind sought her own room, which was in another corridor.  It was
late now--past eleven o'clock.  The electric light had been put out.
She was well supplied with candles, however, and lighting two on the
mantelpiece and two on her bureau, she proceeded to stir up her fire and
to make her room warm and cosy.

Rosalind still wore the pretty light silk which had given her such an
elegant appearance at the Elliot-Smiths' that afternoon.  Securing the
bolt of her door, she pushed aside a heavy curtain, which concealed the
part of her room devoted to her wardrobe, washing apparatus, etc.
Rosalind's wardrobe had a glass door, and she could see her _petite_
figure in it from head to foot.  It was a very small figure, but
exquisitely proportioned.  Its owner admired it much.  She turned
herself round, took up a hand-glass, and surveyed herself in profile,
and many other positions.  Then, taking off her pretty dress, she
arrayed herself in a long white muslin dressing-robe, and letting down
her golden hair, combed out the glittering masses.  They fell in showers
below her waist.  Her face looked more babyish and innocent than ever as
it smiled to its own fair image in the glass.

"How he did scowl at me!" said Rosalind, suddenly speaking aloud.  "But
I had to say it.  I was determined to find out for myself how much or
how little he cares for Maggie Oliphant, and, alas! there's nothing of
the `little' in his affection.  Well, well!  I did not do badly to-day.
I enjoyed myself, and I took a nice rise out of that disagreeable Miss
Peel.  Now _must_ I look through those horrid French notes?  Need I?"
She pirouetted on one toe in front of the glass.  The motion exhilarated
her, and, raising her white wrapper so as to get a peep at her small,
pretty feet, she waltzed slowly and gracefully in front of the mirror.

"I can't and won't study to-night," she said again.  "I hate study, and
I will not spoil my looks by burning the midnight oil."

Suddenly she clasped her hands, and the colour rushed into her cheeks.

"How fortunate that I remembered!  I must write to mother this very
night.  This is Thursday.  The auction is on Monday.  I have not a post
to lose."

Hastily seating herself in front of her bureau, Rosalind scribbled a few
lines:--

  "Dearest, Precious Mamsie--

  "Whatever happens, please send me a postal order for 10 pounds by
  return.  One of the richest girls in the place is going to have an
  auction, and I shall pick up some _treasures_.  If you could spare 15
  pounds, or even 20 pounds, the money would be well spent, but ten at
  least I must have.  There is a sealskin jacket, which cost at least
  eighty pounds, and _such_ coral ornaments--you know, that lovely pink
  shade.  Send me all you can, precious mamsie, and make your Baby
  happy.

  "Your own little Rose.

  "P.S.--Oh, mamsie, _such_ a sealskin! and _such_ coral!"

This artless epistle was quickly enclosed in an envelope, addressed, and
deposited in the post-box.  Afterwards pretty little Rosalind spent a
night of dreamless slumber, and awoke in the morning as fresh and
innocent-looking as the fairest of the babies she compared herself to.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

SEALSKIN AND PINK CORAL.

Monday arrived.  It wanted now less than three weeks to the end of the
term.  A good many girls were talking about home and Christmas, and
already the hard-worked, the studious, the industrious were owning to
the first symptoms of that pleasant fatigue which would entitle them to
the full enjoyment of their merited holiday.

Priscilla was now a happy girl.  She had found her niche in the college;
her work was delightful.  Under Maggie's advice she became a member of
the Debating Society, and rather reluctantly allowed her name to be
entered in the Dramatic Club.  She felt very shy about this, but that
was because she did not know her own power.  To her astonishment,
Priscilla found that she could act.  If the part suited her she could
throw herself into it so that she ceased to be awkward, ungainly
Priscilla Peel.  Out of herself she was no longer awkward, no longer
ungainly.  She could only personate certain characters; light and airy
parts she could not attempt, but where much depended on passion and
emotion Priscilla could do splendidly.  Every day her friends found
fresh points of interest in this queer girl.  Nancy Banister was really
attached to her, Maggie was most faithful in her declared friendship,
and Miss Heath took more notice of Priscilla than of any other girl in
the Hall.  The different lecturers spoke highly of Miss Peel's
comprehension, knowledge, and ability.  In short, things were going well
with her, and she owned to her own heart that she had never felt happier
in her life.

Prissie, too, was looking forward to the Christmas holidays.  She was to
return home then, and her letters to her three little sisters, to Aunt
Raby, and to Mr Hayes were full of the delights of her college life.

No one could have been more angry than poor Prissie during that
miserable time at the Elliot-Smiths'.  Many complaints did she resolve
to make, and dire was the vengeance which she hoped would fall on Rose's
devoted head.  But, during her talk with Mr Hammond, some of her anger
had cooled down.  He had touched on great subjects, and Prissie's soul
had responded like a musical instrument to the light and skilled finger
of the musician.  All her intellectual powers were aroused to their
utmost, keenest life during this brief little talk.  She found that
Hammond could say better and more comprehensive things than even her
dear old tutor, Mr Hayes.  Hammond was abreast of the present-day
aspect of those things in which Prissie delighted.  Her short talk with
him made up for all the tedium of the rest of that wretched afternoon.

On her walk home Priscilla made up her mind to have nothing further to
say to Rose, but also not to make a complaint about her.  She would pass
the matter over in silence.  If questioned, she would tell her own
friends where she had been; if not questioned, she would volunteer no
information.

Maggie and Nancy did ask her casually what had kept her out so long.

"I was at the Elliot-Smiths' with Miss Merton," replied Priscilla.

They both started when she said this, and looked at her hard.  They were
too well-bred, however, to give utterance to the many comments which
crowded to their lips.  Prissie read their thoughts like a book.

"I did not like it at all," she said; "but I'd rather say nothing about
it, please.  After Mr Hammond came I was happy."

"Mr Hammond was there?" said Nancy, in an eager voice.  "Geoffrey
Hammond was at the Elliot-Smiths'?  Impossible!"

"He was there," repeated Prissie.  She glanced nervously at Maggie, who
had taken up a book, and was pretending to read.  "He came, and he spoke
to me.  He was very, very kind, and he made me so happy."

"Dear Prissie," said Maggie, suddenly.  She got up, went over to the
young girl, tapped her affectionately on the shoulder, and left the
room.

Prissie sat, looking thoughtfully before her.  After a time she bade
Nancy Banister "Good-night," and went off to her own room to study the
notes she had taken that morning at the French lecture.

The next few days passed without anything special occurring.  If a
little rumour were already beginning to swell in the air, it scarcely
reached the ears of those principally concerned.  Maggie Oliphant
continued to make a special favourite of Miss Peel.  She sat near her at
breakfast, and at the meetings of the Dramatic Society was particularly
anxious to secure a good part for Prissie.  The members of the society
intended to act _The Princess_ before the end of the term, and as there
was a great deal to work up, and many rehearsals were necessary, they
met in the little theatre on most evenings.

Maggie Oliphant had been unanimously selected to take the part of the
Princess.  She electrified everyone by drawing Miss Peel towards her,
and saying in an emphatic voice--

"You must be the Prince, Priscilla."

A look of dismay crept over several faces.  One or two made different
proposals.

"Would not Nancy Banister take the part better, Maggie?" said Miss
Claydon, a tall, graceful girl, who was to be Psyche.

"No; Nancy is to be Cyril.  She sings well, and can do the part
admirably.  Miss Peel must be the Prince: I will have no other lover.
What do you say, Miss Peel?"

"I cannot; it is impossible," almost whispered Prissie.

"`Cannot' is a word which must not be listened to in our Dramatic
Society," responded Maggie.  "I promise to turn you out a most
accomplished Prince, my friend; no one shall be disappointed in you.
Girls, do you leave this matter in my hands?  Do you leave the Prince to
me?"

"We cannot refuse you the privilege of choosing your own Prince,
Princess," said Miss Claydon, with a graceful curtsy.

The others assented, but unwillingly.  Miss Oliphant was known to be
more full of whims than anyone else in the college.  Her extraordinary
and sudden friendship for Prissie was regarded as her latest caprice.

Rosalind Merton was not a particularly good actress, but her face was
too pretty not to be called into requisition.  She was to take the part
of Melissa.

The society had a grand meeting on the day of Polly Singleton's auction.
Matters were still very much in a state of chaos, but the rehearsal of
some of the parts was got through with credit under the directions of
the clever stage-manager, one of the nicest and best girls in the
college, Constance Field.  She had a knack of putting each girl at her
ease--of discovering the faintest sparks of genius, and fanning them
into flame.

Priscilla had learned her speeches accurately: her turn came; she stood
up trembling and began.  Gradually the stony (or was it yearning?) look
in Maggie's face moved her.  She fancied herself Hammond, not the
Prince.  When she spoke to Maggie she felt no longer like a feeble
school-girl acting a part.  She thought she was pleading for Hammond,
and enthusiasm got into her voice, and a light filled her eyes.  There
was a little cheer when Priscilla got through her first rehearsal.
Nancy Banister came up to Rosalind.

"I do believe Maggie is right," she said, "and that Miss Peel will take
the part capitally."

"Miss Oliphant is well-known for her magnanimity," retorted Rosalind, an
ugly look spoiling the expression of her face.

"Her magnanimity?  What do you mean, Rose?"

"To choose _that_ girl for her Prince!" retorted Rosalind.  "Ask Mr
Hammond what I mean.  Ask the Elliot-Smiths."

"I don't know the Elliot-Smiths," said Nancy, in a cold voice.  She
turned away; she felt displeased and annoyed.

Rose glanced after her; then she ran up to Maggie Oliphant, who was
preparing to leave the little theatre.

"Don't you want to see the auction?" she said, in a gay voice.  "It's
going to be the best fun we have had for many a long day."

Maggie turned and looked at her.

"The auction?  What auction do you mean?" she asked.

"Why, Polly Singleton's, of course.  You've not heard of it?  It's _the_
event of the term!"

Maggie laughed.

"You must be talking nonsense, Rose," she said.  "An auction at St
Benet's!  A real auction?  Impossible!"

"No, it's not impossible.  It's true.  Polly owes for a lot of things,
and she's going to pay for them in that way.  Did you not get a notice?
Polly declared she would send, one without fail to every girl in the
college."

"Now I remember," said Miss Oliphant, laughing.  "I got an extraordinary
type-written production.  I regarded it as a hoax, and consigned it to
the waste-paper basket."

"But it wasn't a hoax; it was true.  Come away, Miss Oliphant, do.
Polly has got some lovely things."

"I don't think I even know who Polly is," said Maggie.  "She surely is
not an inmate of Heath Hall?"

"No, no--of Katharine Hall.  You must know her by sight, at least.  A
great, big, fat girl, with red hair and freckles."

"Yes, now I remember.  I think she has rather a pleasant face."

"Oh, do you really?  Isn't she awfully common and vulgar-looking?"

"Common and vulgar-looking people are often pleasant, nevertheless,"
retorted Maggie.

"You'll come to her auction?" insisted Rose.

"I don't know.  She has no right to have an auction.  Such a proceeding
would give great displeasure to our Principals."

"How can you tell that?  There never was an auction at the college
before."

"How can I tell, Rose?  Instinct is my guide in a matter of this sort."

Maggie stepped back and looked haughty.

"Well," said Rose, "the Principals won't ever know; we are taking good
care of that."

"Oh!  I hope you may be successful.  Good-night."

Maggie turned to walk away.  She saw Priscilla standing not far off.

"Come, Prissie," she said, affectionately, "you did admirably to-night,
but you must have another lesson.  You missed two of the best points in
that last speech.  Come back with me into the theatre at once."

Rose bit her lips with vexation.  She was wildly anxious to be at the
auction.  The sealskin might be put up for sale, and she not present.
The corals might go to some other happy girl; but she had made a resolve
to bring some of the very best girls in the college to this scene of
rioting.  Her reckless companions had dared her to do this, and she felt
what she called "her honour" at stake.  Nancy Banister had declined her
invitation with decision; Constance Field had withered her with a look.
Now she _must_ secure Maggie.

"I wish you'd come," she said, following Maggie and Prissie to the door
of the theatre.  "It will be an awful disappointment if you don't!  We
all reckoned on having you."

"What _do_ you mean, Rose?"

"We thought you wouldn't be above a bit of fun.  You never used to be,
you know.  You never used to be strict and proper, and over-righteous,
used you?"  Priscilla was startled to see the queer change these few
words made on Maggie.  Her cheeks lost their roses; her eyes grew big,
pathetic, miserable.  Then a defiant expression filled them.

"If you put it in that way," she said, "I'll go and peep at the thing.
It isn't my taste, nor my style, but goodness knows I'm no better than
the rest of you.  Come, Prissie."

Maggie seized Priscilla's hand; her clasp was so tight as to be almost
painful.  She hurried Prissie along so fast that Rose could scarcely
keep up with them.

They entered the hall.  Maggie seized a hat for herself and another for
Prissie from the hat-stand; then the three girls crossed the garden to
Katharine Hall.  A moment or two later they had reached the scene of the
evening's amusement.

Loud voices and laughter greeted them; they entered a large room crowded
to overflowing.  The atmosphere here was hot and stifling, and chaos
reigned supreme.  Pictures, ornaments of all kinds had been removed
roughly and hastily from the walls; clothes, and even jewels, were piled
on the tables, and a tall girl, standing on a chair, was declaiming
volubly for the benefit of her companions.  When Maggie, Rose, and
Priscilla entered the room Polly was exhibiting the charms of a yellow
silk dress somewhat the worse for wear.  Laughter choked her voice; her
bright blue eyes shone with excitement and amusement.

"Who'll try this?" she began.  "It has a double charm.  Not only has it
reposed round this fair and lovely form, but the silk of which it is
made was given to me by my mother's aunt, who had it from her mother
before her.  When I part with this, I part with a relic.  Those who
purchase it secure for themselves a piece of history.  Who will buy, who
will buy, who will buy?  An historical dress going--such a bargain!
Who, who will buy?"

"I'll give you five shillings, Polly," screamed a dark-eyed girl who
stood near.

"Five shillings!  This lovely dress going for five shillings!" proceeded
Polly.

"And sixpence," added another voice.

"This beautiful, historical robe going for five-and-sixpence," said Miss
Singleton, in her gay voice.  "Oh, it's a bargain--it's dirt cheap!  Who
will buy? who will buy?"

The bids went up, and finally the yellow dress was knocked down to a
rosy-faced country girl for the sum of thirteen shillings and ninepence.

Polly's various other possessions were one by one brought to the hammer,
some of them fetching fairly large sums, for they were most of them good
and worth having, and there were wealthy girls at the college, who were
not above securing a bargain when it came in their way.

At last the prize on which all Rose's hopes were set was put up for
sale.  Polly's magnificent sealskin jacket was held aloft, and displayed
to the admiring and covetous gaze of many.  Rose's face brightened; an
eager, greedy look filled her eyes.  She actually trembled in her
anxiety to secure this prize of prizes.

Maggie Oliphant, who was standing in a listless, indifferent attitude
near the door, not taking the smallest part in the active proceedings
which were going forward, was for the first time roused to interest by
the expression on Rosalind's face.  She moved a step or two into the
crowd, and when one or two timid bids were heard for the coveted
treasure, she raised her own voice, and for the first time appeared
eager to secure something for herself.

Rose bid against her, an angry flush filling her blue eyes as she did
so.  Maggie nonchalantly made her next bid a little higher--Rose raised
hers.  Soon they were the only two in the field; other girls had come to
the limit of their purses, and withdrew vanquished from the struggle.

Rosalind's face grew very white.  Could she have knocked Maggie Oliphant
down with a blow she would have done so at that moment.  Maggie calmly
and quietly continued her bids, raising them gradually higher and
higher.  Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten pounds: Rose had come to the
end of her resources.  She stepped away with a bitter smile on her face.
The sealskin jacket was Maggie Oliphant's property for ten guineas.

Maggie laid it carelessly on a table near, and returning once more to
her position near the door, watched the sale proceed.  One by one Polly
Singleton parted with her dresses, her pictures, her furniture.  At
last, opening a case, she proceeded to dispose of some trinkets, none of
which, with the exception of the pink coral set, was of very high value.
This, which consisted of necklace, bracelets, and earrings, and some
pretty pins for the hair, was most eagerly coveted by many.  Several
girls bid for the coral, and Maggie, who had not raised her voice since
she secured the sealskin jacket, once more noticed the greedy glitter in
Rosalind's eyes.

"I can't help it," she said, turning and speaking in a low voice to
Priscilla, who stood by her side--"I can't help it, Prissie; I don't
want that coral a bit--coral doesn't suit me: I dislike it as an
ornament.  But something inside of me says Rose Merton shall not wear
it.  Stay here, Prissie, I'll be back in a minute."

Miss Oliphant moved forward; she was so tall that her head could be seen
above those of most of the other girls.

The bids for the coral had now risen to three pounds ten.  Maggie at one
bound raised them ten shillings.  Rose bid against her, and for a short
time one or two other girls raised their previous offers.  The price for
the coral rose and rose.  Soon a large sum was offered for it, and still
the bids kept rising.  Rosalind and Maggie were once more alone in the
field, and now any onlooker could perceive that it was not the desire to
obtain the pretty ornaments, but the wish for victory which animated
both girls.

When the bids rose above ten guineas Rosalind's face assumed a ghastly
hue, but she was now far too angry with Maggie to pause or consider the
fact that she was offering more money for the pink coral than she
possessed in the world.  The bids still went higher and higher.  There
was intense excitement in the room; all the noisy babel ceased.  No
sound was heard but the eager voices of the two who were cruelly
fighting each other, and the astonished tones of the young auctioneer.
Twelve, thirteen, fourteen pounds were reached.  Maggie's bid was
fourteen pounds.

"Guineas!" screamed Rose, with a weak sort of gasp.

Maggie turned and looked at her, then walked slowly back to her place by
Priscilla's side.

The coral belonged to Rose Merton, and she had four guineas too little
to pay for it.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

A BLACK SELF AND A WHITE SELF.

"It is quite true, Maggie," said Nancy Banister.  "It _is_ about the
auction.  Yes, there is no doubt about that.  What possessed you to go?"

Maggie Oliphant was standing in the centre of her own room with an open
letter in her hand.  Nancy was reading it over her shoulder:--

  "Katharine Hall,--

  "_December 3_.

  "Miss Eccleston and Miss Heath request Miss Oliphant and Miss Peel to
  present themselves in Miss Eccleston's private sitting-room this
  evening at seven o'clock."

"That is all," said Maggie.  "It sounds as solemn and unfriendly as if
one were about to be tried for some capital offence."

"It's the auction, of course," repeated Nancy.  "Those girls thought
they had kept it so quiet; but someone must have `peached,' I suppose,
to curry favour.  Whatever made you go, Maggie?  You know you have never
mixed yourself up with that Day, and Merton, and Marsh set.  As to that
poor Polly Singleton, there's no harm in her, but she's a perfect
madcap.  What could have possessed you to go?"

"My evil genius," repeated Maggie, in a gloomy tone.  "You don't suppose
I _wished_ to be there, Nancy; but that horrid little Merton girl said
something taunting, and then I forgot myself.  Oh, dear, Nancy! what
shall I ever do with that other self of mine?  It will ruin me in the
end.  It gets stronger every day."

Maggie sat down on the sofa.  Nancy suddenly knelt by her side.

"Dear Meg," she said, caressingly, "you're the noblest, and the
sweetest, and the most beautiful girl at St Benet's!  Why can't you
live up to your true self?"

"There are two selfs in me," replied Maggie.  "And if one even
approaches the faintest semblance of angelhood, the other is black as
pitch.  There, it only wastes time to talk the thing over.  I'm in for
the sort of scrape I hate most.  See, Nancy, I bought this at the
auction."

She opened her wardrobe, and taking out Polly Singleton's magnificent
eighty-guinea sealskin jacket, slipped it on.

"Don't I look superb?" said Maggie.  She shut the wardrobe-door, and
surveyed herself in its long glass.  Brown was Maggie Oliphant's colour.
It harmonised with the soft tints of her delicately rounded face, with
the rich colour in her hair, with the light in her eyes.  It added to
all these charms, softening them, giving to them a more perfect lustre.

"Oh, Maggie!" said Nancy, clasping her hands, "you ought always to be
dressed as you are now."

Maggie dropped her arms suddenly to her sides.  The jacket, a little too
large for her, slid off her shoulders, and lay in a heap on the floor.

"What?" she said, suddenly.  "Am I never to show my true and real self?
Am I always to be disguised in sham beauty and sham goodness?  Oh,
Nancy, Nancy! if there is a creature I hate--I _hate_--her name is
Maggie Oliphant!"

Nancy picked up the sealskin jacket, and put it back into the wardrobe.

"I am sorry you went to the auction, Maggie," she repeated, "and I'm
more sorry still to find you bought poor Polly Singleton's sealskin.
Well, it's done now, and we have to consider how to get you out of this
scrape.  There's no time for you to indulge in that morbid talk of yours
to-day, Maggie, darling.  Let us consider what's best to be done."

"Nothing," retorted Maggie.  "I shall simply go to Miss Heath and Miss
Eccleston, and tell them the truth.  There's nothing else to be done.
No hope whatever of getting out of the affair.  I went to Polly
Singleton's auction because Rosalind Merton raised the demon in me.  I
tried to become the possessor of the sealskin jacket because her heart
was set on it.  I won an eighty-guinea jacket for ten guineas.  You see
how ignoble my motives were, also how unworthy the results.  I did worse
even than that--for I will out with the truth to you, Nancy--I revenged
myself still further upon that spiteful little gnat, Rosalind, and
raised the price of her coveted coral to such an extent that I know by
her face she is pounds in debt for it.  Now, my dear, what have you to
say to me?  Nothing good, I know that.  Let me read Aristotle for the
next hour just to calm my mind."

Maggie turned away, seated herself by her writing bureau, and tried to
lose both the past and the present in her beloved Greek.

"She will do it, too," whispered Nancy as she left the room.  "No one
ever was made quite like Maggie.  She can feel tortures, and yet the
next moment she can be in ecstasy.  She is so tantalising that at times
you are almost brought to believe her own stories about herself.  You
are almost sure that she has got the black self as well as the white
self.  But through it all, yes, through it all, you love her.  Dear
Maggie!  Whatever happens, I must always--always love her."

Nancy was walking slowly down the corridor when a room door was gently
opened, and the sweet childish innocent face of Rosalind peeped out.

"Nancy, is that you?  Do, for Heaven's sake, come in and speak to me for
a moment."

"What about, Rosalind?  I have only a minute or two to spare.  My German
lecture is to begin immediately."

"Oh, what does that signify?  You don't know the awful trouble we've got
into."

"You mean about the auction?"

"Yes--yes; so you have heard?"

"Of course I've heard.  If that is all, Rosalind, I cannot wait to
discuss the matter now.  I am very sorry for you, of course, but as I
said to Maggie, why did you do it?"

"Oh, you've been talking to Miss Oliphant?  Thank goodness she'll have
to answer for her sins as well as the rest of us."

"Maggie is my friend, so you need not abuse her, Rosalind."

"Lucky for her that she has got one true friend!" retorted Rosalind.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say.  Maggie is making such a fool of herself that we are
all laughing at her behind her back."

"Indeed?  I fail to understand you."

"You are being made a fool of, too, Nancy.  Oh, I did think you'd have
had more sense."

"How?  Speak.  Say at once what you want to say, Rosalind, and stop
talking riddles, for I must fly to my work."

"Fly, then," retorted Rosalind, "only think twice before you give your
confidence to a _certain person_.  A person who makes a fine parade of
poverty and so-called honesty of purpose, but who can, and who does,
betray her kindest and best friend behind her back.  It is my private
belief we have to thank this virtuous being for getting us into the
pleasant scrape we are in.  I am convinced she has tried to curry favour
by telling Miss Heath all about poor Polly's auction."

"You mean Priscilla Peel?" said Nancy, in a firm voice.  She forgot her
German lecture now.  "You have no right to say words of that kind.  You
have taken a dislike to Prissie, no one knows why.  She is not as
interesting nor as beautiful as Maggie, but she is good, and you should
respect her."

Rosalind laughed bitterly.

"Good?  Is she?  Ask Mr Hammond.  You say she is not beautiful nor
interesting.  Perhaps he finds her both.  Ask him."

"Rosalind, I shall tell Maggie what you say.  This is not the first time
you have hinted unkind things about Priscilla.  It is better to sift a
matter of this kind to the bottom than to hint it all over the college
as you are doing Maggie shall take it in hand."

"Let her!  I shall only be too delighted!  What a jolly time the saintly
Priscilla will have."

"I can't stay any longer, Rosalind."

"But, Nancy, just one moment.  I want to put accounts right with Polly
before to-night.  Mother sent me ten pounds to buy something at the
auction.  The coral cost fourteen guineas.  I have written to mother for
the balance, and it may come by any post.  _Do_ lend it to me until it
comes!  _Do_, kind Nancy!"

"I have not got so much in the world, I have not really, Rosalind.
Good-bye; my lecture will have begun."

Nancy ran out of the room, and Miss Merton turned to survey ruefully her
empty purse, and to read again a letter which had already arrived from
her mother:--

  "My Dear Rosalind--

  "I have not the additional money to spare you, my poor child.  The ten
  pounds which I weakly yielded at your first earnest request was, in
  reality, taken from the money which is to buy your sisters their
  winter dresses.  I dare not encroach any further on it, or your father
  would certainly ask me why the girls were dressed so shabbily.
  Fourteen guineas for coral!  You know, my dear child, we cannot afford
  this extravagance.  My advice is to return it to your friend, and to
  ask her to let you have the ten guineas back.  You might return it to
  me in a Postal Order, for I want it badly.  It was one thing to
  struggle to let you have it in the hopes that you would secure a
  really valuable garment like a sealskin jacket, and another to give it
  to you for some rather useless ornaments.

  "Your affectionate mother,--

  "Alice Merton."

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

IN MISS ECCLESTON'S SITTING-ROOM.

Miss Eccleston was a dark, heavy-looking person; she was not as
attractive either in appearance or manner as Miss Heath.  She was
estimable, and the college authorities thought most highly of her, but
her character possessed more hardness than softness, and she was not as
popular with the girls and young lecturers who lived in Katharine Hall
as was Miss Heath with her girls.

When Maggie entered Miss Eccleston's sitting-room that evening, she
found the room about half-full of eager, excited-looking girls.  Miss
Eccleston was standing up and speaking; Miss Heath was leaning against
the wall; a velvet curtain made a background which brought out her
massive and grand figure in full relief.

Miss Eccleston looked excited and angry; Miss Heath's expression was a
little perplexed, and a kind of sorrowful mirth brought smiles to her
lips now and then, which she was most careful to suppress instantly.

As Maggie made her way to the front of the room she recognised several
of the girls.  Rosalind Merton, Annie Day, Lucy Marsh, were all present.
She saw them, although they were standing hidden behind many other
girls.  Prissie, too, was there--she had squeezed herself into a corner.
She looked awkward, plain, and wretched.  She was clasping and
unclasping her hands, and trying to subdue the nervous tremors which she
could not conceal.

Maggie, as she walked across the room, singled Prissie out.  She gave
her a swift glance, a brilliant and affectionate smile, and then stood
in such a position that neither Miss Eccleston nor Miss Heath could
catch a glimpse of her.

Miss Eccleston, who had been speaking when Maggie entered the room, was
now silent.  She had a note-book in her hand, and was rapidly writing
something in it with a pencil.  Someone gave Maggie a rather severe prod
on her elbow.  Polly Singleton, tall, flushed, and heavy, stood close to
her side.

"You'll stand up for me, won't you, Miss Oliphant?" whispered Polly.

Maggie raised her eyes, looked at the girl, who was even taller than
herself, and began to reply in her usual voice.

"Silence," said Miss Eccleston.  She put down her note-book.  "I wish
for no conversation between you at the present moment, young ladies.
Good-evening, Miss Oliphant; I am pleased to see you here.  I shall have
a few questions to ask you in a minute.  Now, Miss Singleton, if you
please, we will resume our conversation.  You have confessed to the fact
of the auction.  I wish now to ascertain what your motive was."

Poor Polly stammered and reddened, twisted her hands as badly as Prissie
herself could have done, and looked to right and left of her in the most
bewildered and unhappy manner.

"Don't you hear me, Miss Singleton?  I wish to know what your motive was
in having an auction in Katharine Hall," repeated Miss Eccleston.

"Tell her the truth," whispered Maggie.

Polly, who was in a condition to catch even at a straw for support,
said, falteringly--

"I had the auction in my room because of dad."  Miss Eccleston raised
her brows.  The amused smile of sorrow round Miss Heath's mouth became
more marked.  She came forward a few steps, and stood near Miss
Eccleston.

"You must explain yourself, Miss Singleton," repeated the latter lady.

"Do tell everything," said Maggie, again.

"Dad is about the only person I hate vexing," began Polly once more.
"He is awfully rich, but he hates me to get into debt, and--and--there
was no other way to raise money.  I couldn't tell dad--I--_couldn't_
keep out of debt, so I had to sell my things."

"You have made a very lame excuse, Miss Singleton," said Miss Eccleston,
after a pause.  "You did something which was extremely irregular and
improper.  Your reason for doing it was even worse than the thing
itself.  You were in debt.  The students of St Benet's are not expected
to be in debt."

"But there's no rule against it," suddenly interrupted Maggie.

"Hush! your turn to speak will come presently.  You know, Miss
Singleton--all the right-minded girls in this college know--that we deal
in principles, not rules.  Now, please go on with your story."

Polly's broken and confused narrative continued for the next five
minutes.  There were some titters from the girls behind her--even Miss
Heath smiled faintly.  Miss Eccleston alone remained grave and
displeased.

"That will do," she said at last.  "You are a silly and rash girl, and
your only possible defence is your desire to keep the knowledge of your
extravagance from your father.  Your love for him, however, has never
taught you true nobility.  Had you that even in the most shadowy degree,
you would abstain from the things which he detests.  He gives you an
ample allowance.  Were you a school-girl and I your mistress, I should
punish you severely for your conduct."

Miss Eccleston paused.  Polly put her handkerchief up to her eyes and
began to sob loudly.

"Miss Oliphant," said Miss Eccleston, "will you please account for the
fact that you, who are looked up to in this college, you who are one of
our senior students, and for whom Miss Heath has a high regard, took
part in the disgraceful scenes which occurred in Miss Singleton's room
on Monday evening?"

"I shall certainly tell you the truth," retorted Maggie.  She paused for
a moment.  Then, the colour flooding her cheeks, and her eyes looking
straight before her, she began--

"I went to Miss Singleton's room knowing that I was doing wrong.  I
hated to go, and did not take the smallest interest in the proceedings
which were being enacted there."  She paused again.  Her voice, which
had been slightly faltering, grew a little firmer.  Her eyes met Miss
Heath's, which were gazing at her in sorrowful and amazed surprise.
Then she continued--"I did not go alone.  I took another and perfectly
innocent girl with me.  She is a newcomer, and this is her first term.
She would naturally be led by me, and I wish therefore to exonerate her
completely.  Her name is Priscilla Peel.  She did not buy anything, and
she hated being there even more than I did, but I took her hand and
absolutely forced her to come with me."

"Did you buy anything at the auction, Miss Oliphant?"

"Yes, a sealskin jacket."

"Do you mind telling me what you paid for it?"

"Ten guineas."

"Was that, in your opinion, a fair price for the jacket?"

"The jacket was worth a great deal more.  The price I paid for it was
much below its value."

Miss Eccleston made some further notes in her book.  Then she looked up.

"Have you anything more to say, Miss Oliphant?"

"I could say more.  I could make you think even worse of me than you now
think, but as any further disclosures of mine would bring another girl
into trouble I would rather not speak."

"You are certainly not forced to speak.  I am obliged to you for the
candour with which you have treated me."

Miss Eccleston then turned to Miss Heath, and said a few words to her in
a low voice.  Her words were not heard by the anxiously listening girls,
but they seemed to displease Miss Heath, who shook her head; but Miss
Eccleston held very firmly to her own opinion.  After a pause of a few
minutes, Miss Heath came forward and addressed the young girls who were
assembled before her.

"The leading spirit of this college," she said, "is almost perfect
immunity from the bondage of rules.  The Principals of these Halls have
fully trusted the students who reside in them, and relied on their
honour, their rectitude, their sense of sound principle.  Hitherto we
have had no reason to complain that the spirit of absolute trust which
we have shown has been abused; but the circumstance which has just
occurred has given Miss Eccleston and myself some pain."

"It has surprised us; it has given us a blow," interrupted Miss
Eccleston.

"And Miss Eccleston feels," proceeded Miss Heath, "and perhaps she is
right, that the matter ought to be laid before the college authorities,
who will decide what are the best steps to be taken."

"You don't agree with that view, do you, Miss Heath?" asked Maggie
Oliphant suddenly.

"At first I did not.  I leant to the side of mercy.  I thought you might
all have learnt a lesson in the distress which you have caused us, and
that such an occurrence could not happen again."

"Won't Miss Eccleston adopt your views?" questioned Maggie.  She glanced
round at her fellow-students as she spoke.

"No--no," interrupted Miss Eccleston.  "I cannot accept the
responsibility.  The college authorities must decide the matter."

"Remember," said Maggie, stepping forward a pace or two, "that we are no
children.  If we were at school you ought to punish us, and, of course,
you would.  I _hate_ what I have done, and I own it frankly.  But you
cannot forget, Miss Eccleston, that no girl here has broken a rule when
she attended the auction, and bought Miss Singleton's things; and that
even Miss Singleton has broken no rule when she went in debt."

There was a buzz of applause and even a cheer from the girls in the
background.  Miss Eccleston looked angry, but perplexed.  Miss Heath
again turned and spoke to her.  She replied in a low tone.  Miss Heath
said something further.  At last Miss Eccleston sat down, and Miss Heath
came forward and addressed Maggie Oliphant.

"Your words have been scarcely respectful, Miss Oliphant," she said,
"but there is a certain justice in them which my friend, Miss Eccleston,
is the first to admit.  She has consented, therefore, to defer her final
decision for twenty-four hours; at the end of that time the students of
Katharine Hall and Heath Hall will know what we finally decide to do."

After the meeting in Miss Eccleston's drawing-room the affair of the
auction assumed enormous proportions.  There was no other topic of
conversation.  The students took sides vigorously in the matter: the
gay, giddy, and careless ones voting the auction a rare bit of fun, and
upholding those who had taken part in it with all their might and main.
The more sober and high-minded girls, on the other hand, took Miss
Heath's and Miss Eccleston's views of the matter.  The principles of the
college had been disregarded, the spirit of order had been broken; debt,
which was disgraceful, was made light of.  These girls felt that the
tone of St Benet's was lowered.  Even Maggie Oliphant sank in their
estimation.  A few went to the length of saying that they could no
longer include her in their set.

Katharine Hall, the scene of the auction itself, was, of course, now the
place of special interest.  Heath Hall was also implicated in it, but
Seymour Hall, which stood a little apart from its sister Halls, had sent
no student to the scene of dissipation.  Seymour Hall was the smallest
of the three.  It was completely isolated from the others, standing in
its own lovely grounds on the other side of the road.  It now held its
head high, and the girls who belonged to the other Halls, but had taken
no part in the auction, felt that their own beloved Halls were lowered,
and their resentment was all the keener because the Seymour Hall girls
gave themselves airs.

"I shall never live through it," said Ida Mason, a Heath Hall girl to
her favourite chum, Constance Field.  "Nothing can ever be the same
again.  If my mother knew, Constance, I feel almost sure she would
remove me.  The whole thing is so small and shabby and horrid, and then
to think of Maggie taking part in it!  Aren't you awfully shocked,
Constance?  What is your true opinion?"

"My true opinion," said Constance, "is this: it is our duty to uphold
our own Hall and our own chums.  As to the best of us, if we are the
best, going away because a thing of this sort has occurred, it is not to
be thought of for a moment.  Why, Ida," Constance laughed as she spoke,
"you might as well expect one of the leading officers to desert his
regiment when going into battle.  You know what Maggie Oliphant is, Ida.
As to deserting her because she has had one of her bad half-hours,
which she frankly confessed to, like the brave girl she is, I would as
soon cut off my right hand.  Now, Ida, my dear, don't be a little goose.
Your part, instead of grumbling and growling, and hinting at the place
not being fit for you, is to go round to every friend you have in Heath
Hall, and get them to rally round Maggie and Miss Heath."

"There's that poor Miss Peel, too," said Ida, "Maggie's new friend--that
queer, plain girl; she's sure to be frightfully bullied.  I suppose I'd
better stick up for her as well?"

"Of course, dear, you certainly ought.  But as to Miss Peel being plain,
Ida, I don't think I quite agree with you.  Her face is too clever for
that.  Have you watched her when she acts?"

"No, I don't think I have.  She seems to be very uninteresting."

"Look at her next time, and tell me if you think her uninteresting
afterwards.  Now I'm off to find Maggie.  She is sure to be having one
of her bad times, poor darling."

Constance Field was a girl whose opinion was always received with
respect.  Ida went off obediently to fulfil her behests; and Constance,
after searching in Maggie's room, and wandering in different parts of
the grounds, found the truant at last, comfortably established with a
pile of new books and magazines in the library.  The library was the
most comfortable room in the house, and Maggie was leaning back
luxuriously in an easy-chair, reading some notes from a lecture on
Aristotle aloud to Prissie, who sat at her feet, and took down notes of
her own from Maggie's lips.

The two looked up anything but gratefully when Constance approached.
Miss Field, however, was not a person to be dismissed with a light and
airy word, and Maggie sighed and closed her book when Constance sat down
in an armchair, which she pulled close to her.  There were no other
girls in the library, and Prissie, seeing that Miss Field intended to be
confidential, looked at Maggie with a disconsolate air.

"Perhaps I had better go up to my own room," she said, timidly.

Maggie raised her brows, and spoke in an impatient voice.

"You are in no one's way, Priscilla," she said.  "Here are my notes from
the lecture.  I read to the end of this page; you can make out the rest
for yourself.  Well, Constance, have you anything to say?"

"Not unless you want to hear me," said Miss Field, in her dignified
manner.

Maggie tried to stifle a yawn.

"Oh, my dear Connie, I'm always charmed, you know that."

"Well, I thought I'd like to tell you that I admired the way you spoke
last night."

"Were you present?"

"No, but some friends of mine were.  They repeated the whole thing
verbatim."

"Oh, you heard it second-hand.  Highly coloured, no doubt, and not the
least like its poor original."

Maggie spoke with a kind of bitter, defiant sarcasm, and a delicate
colour, came into Miss Field's cheeks.

"At least, I heard enough to assure me that you spoke the truth and
concealed nothing," she said.

"It is the case that I spoke the truth, as far as it went; but it is not
the case that I concealed nothing."

"Well, Maggie, I have come to offer you my sincere sympathy."

"Thank you," said Maggie.  She leant back in her chair, folded her
hands, and a tired look came over her expressive face.  "The fact is,"
she said, suddenly, "I am sick of the whole thing.  I am sorry I went; I
made a public confession of my sorrow last night; now I wish to forget
it."

"How can you possibly forget it, until you know Miss Heath's and Miss
Eccleston's decision?"

"Frankly, Constance, I don't care what decision they come to."

"You don't care?  You don't mind the college authorities knowing?"

"I don't care if every college authority in England knows.  I have been
humbled in the eyes of Miss Heath, whom I love; nothing else matters."

When Maggie said these words, Prissie rose to her feet, looked at her
with a queer, earnest glance, suddenly bent forward, kissed her
frantically, and rushed out of the room.

"And I love that dear true-hearted child, too," said Maggie.  "Now,
Constance, do let us talk of something else."

"We'll talk about Miss Peel.  I don't know her as you do, but I'm
interested in her."

"Oh, pray don't; I want to keep her to myself."

"Why?  Is she such a _rara avis_?"

"I don't care what she is.  She suits me because she loves me without
question.  She is absolutely sincere; she could not say an untrue thing;
she is so clever that I could not talk frivolities when I am with her;
and so good, so really, simply good, that she keeps at bay my bad
half-hours and my reckless moods."  Constance smiled.  She believed part
of Maggie's speech; not the whole of it, for she knew the enthusiasm of
the speaker.

"I am going to Kingsdene," said Maggie suddenly.  "Prissie is coming
with me.  Will you come, too, Constance?  I wish you would."

"Thank you," said Constance.  She hesitated for a moment.  "It is the
best thing in the world for Heath Hall," she thought, "that the girls
should see me walking with Maggie to-day."  Aloud she said, "All right,
Maggie, I'll go upstairs and put on my hat and jacket, and meet you and
Miss Peel in the porch."

"We are going to tea at the Marshalls'," said Maggie.  "You don't mind
that, do you?  You know them, too?"

"Know them?  I should think so.  Isn't old Mrs Marshall a picture?  And
Helen is one of my best friends."

"You shall make Helen happy this afternoon, dear Constance."

Maggie ran gaily out of the room as she spoke, and a few minutes later
the three girls, in excellent spirits, started for Kingsdene.

As they entered the town they saw Rosalind Merton coming to meet them.
There was nothing in this, for Rosalind was a gay young person, and had
many friends in Kingsdene.  Few days passed that did not see her in the
old town on her way to visit this friend or that, or to perpetrate some
little piece of extravagance at Spilman's or at her dressmaker's.

On this occasion, however, Rosalind was neither at Spilman's or the
dressmaker's.  She was walking demurely down the High Street, daintily
dressed and charming to look at, in Hammond's company.  Rosalind was
talking eagerly and earnestly, and Hammond, who was very tall, was
bending down to catch her words, when the other three girls came briskly
round a corner, and in full view of the pair.

"Oh!" exclaimed Priscilla aloud, in her abrupt, startled way.  Her face
became suffused with a flood of the deepest crimson, and Maggie, who
felt a little annoyed at seeing Hammond in Rosalind's company, could not
help noticing Prissie's almost uncontrollable agitation.

Rosalind, too, blushed, but prettily, when she saw the other three girls
come up.

"I will say good-bye, now, Mr Hammond," she said, "for I must get back
to St Benet's in good time to-night."

She held out her hand, which the young man took, and shook cordially.

"I am extremely obliged to you," he said.

Maggie was near enough to hear his words.  Rosalind tripped past her
three fellow-students with an airy little nod, and the faint beginning
of a mocking curtsy.

Hammond came up to the three girls and joined them at once.

"Are you going to the Marshalls'?" he said to Maggie.

"Yes."

"So am I.  What a lucky _rencontre_."

He said another word or two, and then the four turned to walk down the
High Street.  Maggie walked on in front with Constance.  Hammond fell to
Priscilla's share.

"I am delighted to see you again," she said, in her eager, agitated,
abrupt way.

"Are you?" he replied in some astonishment.  Then he hastened to say
something polite.  "I forgot, we had not ended our discussion.  You
almost convinced me with regard to the superior merits of the `Odyssey,'
but not quite.  Shall we renew the subject now?"

"No, please don't.  That's not why I'm glad to see you.  It's for
something quite, quite different.  I want to say something to you, and
it's most important.  Can't we just keep back a little from the others?
I don't want Maggie to hear."

Now why were Miss Oliphant's ears so sharp that afternoon?  Why, even in
the midst of her gay chatter to Constance, did she hear every word of
Priscilla's queer, garbled speech?  And why did astonishment and even
anger steal into her heart?

What she did, however, was to gratify Prissie immensely by hurrying on
with her companion, so that she and Hammond were left comfortably in the
background.

"I don't quite know what you mean," he said, stiffly.  "What can you
possibly have of importance to say to me?"

"I don't want Maggie to hear," repeated Prissie, in her earnest voice.
She knew far too little of the world to be in the least alarmed at
Hammond's stately tones.

"What I want to say is about Maggie, and yet it isn't."

"About Miss Oliphant?"

"Oh, yes, but she's Maggie to me.  She's the dearest, the best--there's
no one like her, no one.  I didn't understand her at first, but now I
know how noble she is.  I had no idea until I knew Maggie that a person
could have faults, and yet be noble.  It's a new sort of experience to
me."

Prissie's eyes, in which even in her worst moments there always sat the
soul of a far-reaching sort of intelligence, were shining now through
tears.  Hammond saw the tears, and the lovely expression in the eyes,
and said to himself--

"Good heavens, could I ever have regarded that dear child as plain?"
Aloud, he said, in a softened voice, "I'm awfully obliged to you for
saying these sorts of things of Miss--Miss Oliphant, but you must know,
at least you must guess, that I--I have thought them for myself long,
long ago."

"Yes, of course, I know that.  But have you much faith?  Do you keep to
what you believe?"

"This is a most extraordinary girl!" murmured Hammond.  Then he said
aloud, "I fail to understand you."

They had now nearly reached the Marshalls' door.  The other two were
waiting for them.

"It's this," said Prissie, clasping her hands hard, and speaking in her
most emphatic and distressful way.  "There are unkind things being said
of Maggie, and there's one girl who is horrid to her--horrid!  I want
you not to believe a word that girl says."

"What girl do you mean?"

"You were walking with her just now."

"Really, Miss Peel, you are the most extraordinary--"

But Maggie Oliphant's clear, sweet voice interrupted them.

"Had we not better come into the house?" she said.  "The door has been
open for quite half a minute."

Poor Prissie rushed in first, covered with shame; Miss Field hastened
after, to bear her company; and Hammond and Maggie brought up the rear.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

A PAINTER.

The Marshalls were always at home to their friends on Friday afternoons,
and there were already several guests in the beautiful, quaint old
drawing-room when the quartette entered.  Mrs Marshall, her white hair
looking lovely under her soft lace cap, came forward to meet her
visitors.  Her kind eyes looked with appreciation and welcome at one and
all.  Blushing and shamefaced Prissie received a pleasant word of
greeting, which seemed in some wonderful way to steady her nerves.
Hammond and Maggie were received as special and very dear friends, and
Helen Marshall, the old lady's pretty grand-daughter, rushed forward to
embrace her particular friend, Constance Field.

Maggie felt sore; she scarcely knew why.  Her voice was bright, her eyes
shining, her cheeks radiant in their rich and lovely bloom.  But there
was a quality in her voice which Hammond recognised--a certain ring
which meant defiance, and which prophesied to those who knew her well
that one of her bad half-hours was not very far off.

Maggie seated herself near a girl who was a comparative stranger and
began to talk.  Hammond drew near, and made a third in the conversation.
Maggie talked in the brilliant, somewhat reckless fashion which she
occasionally adopted.  Hammond listened, now and then uttered a short
sentence, now and then was silent, with disapproval in his eyes.

Maggie read their expression like a book.

"He shall be angry with me," she said to herself.  Her words became a
little wilder.  The sentiments she uttered were the reverse of those
Hammond held.

Soon a few old friends came up.  They were jolly, merry, good-humoured
girls, who were all prepared to look up to Maggie Oliphant, and to
worship her beauty and cleverness if she would allow them.  Maggie
welcomed the girls with effusion, let them metaphorically sit at her
feet, and proceeded to disenchant them as hard as she could.

Some garbled accounts of the auction at St Benet's had reached them,
and they were anxious to get a full report from Miss Oliphant.  Did she
not think it a scandalous sort of thing to have occurred?

"Not at all," answered Maggie in her sweetest tones; "it was capital
fun, I assure you."

"Were you really there?" asked Miss Duncan, the eldest of the girls.
"We heard it, of course, but could scarcely believe it possible."

"Of course I was there," replied Maggie.  "Whenever there is anything
really amusing going on, I am always in the thick of it."

"Well!"  Emily Duncan looked at her sister Susan.  Susan raised her
brows.  Hammond took a photograph from a table which stood near, and
pretended to examine it.

"Shall I tell you about the auction?" asked Maggie.

"Oh, please, if you would be so kind.  I suppose, as you were present,
such a thing could not really lower the standard of the college?"  These
words came from Susan Duncan, who looked at Hammond as she spoke.  She
was his cousin, and very fond of him.

"Please tell us about the auction," he said, looking full at Maggie.

"I will," she replied, answering his gaze with a flash of repressed
irritation.  "The auction was splendid fun!  One of our girls was in
debt, and she had to sell her things.  Oh, it was capital!  I wish you
could have seen her acting as her own auctioneer.  Some of us were
greedy, and wanted her best things.  I was one of those.  She sold a
sealskin jacket, an expensive one, quite new.  There is a legend in the
college that eighty guineas were expended on it.  Well, I bid for the
sealskin, and it was knocked down to me for ten.  It is a little too big
for me, of course, but when it is cut to my figure, it will make a
superb winter garment."

Maggie was clothed now in velvet and sable; nothing could be richer than
her attire; nothing more mocking than her words.

"You were fortunate," said Susan Duncan.  "You got your sealskin a great
bargain.  Didn't she, Geoffrey?"

"I don't think so," replied Hammond.

"Why not?  Oh, do tell us why not," cried the sisters, eagerly.

He bowed to them, laughed as lightly as Maggie would have done, and
said, in a careless tone: "My reasons are complex, and too many to
mention.  I will only say now that what is objectionable to possess can
never be a bargain to obtain.  In my opinion, sealskin jackets are
detestable."

With these words he strode across the room, and seated himself with a
sigh of relief by Priscilla's side.

"What are you doing all by yourself?" he said, cheerfully.  "Is no one
attending to you?  Are you always to be left like a poor little forsaken
mouse in the background?"

"I am not at all lonely," said Prissie.

"I thought you hated to be alone."

"I did, the other day, in that drawing-room; but not in this.  People
are all kind in this."

"You are right.  Our hostess is most genial and sympathetic."

"And the guests are nice, too," said Prissie; "at least, they look
nice."

"Ay, but you must not be taken in by appearances.  Some of them only
look nice."

"Do you mean?" began Prissie in her abrupt, anxious voice.

Hammond took alarm.  He remembered her peculiar outspokenness.

"I don't mean anything," he said, hastily.  "By the way, are you fond of
pictures?"

"I have scarcely ever seen any."

"That does not matter.  I know by your face that you can appreciate some
pictures."

"But, really, I know nothing of art."

"Never mind.  If the painter who paints knows _you_--"

"The painter knows me?  I have never seen an artist in my life."

"Nevertheless, there are some artists in the world who have conceived of
characters like yours.  There are some good pictures in this house--
shall I show you one or two?"

Prissie sprang to her feet.

"You are most kind," she said, effusively.  "I really don't know how to
thank you."

"You need not thank me at all; or, at any rate, not in such a loud
voice, nor so impressively.  Our neighbours will think I have bestowed
half a kingdom upon you."

Prissie blushed, and looked down.

"Don't be shocked with me," said Hammond; "I can read your grateful
heart.  Come this way."  They passed Maggie Oliphant and her two or
three remaining satellites.  Prissie looked at her with longing, and
tripped awkwardly against her chair.  Hammond walked past Maggie as if
she did not exist to him.  Maggie nodded affectionately to Priscilla,
and followed the back of Hammond's head and shoulders with a
supercilious, amused smile.

Hammond opened the outer drawing-room door.  "Where are we going?" asked
Priscilla.  "Are not the pictures here?"

"Some are here, but the best are in the picture gallery--here to the
left, and down these steps.  Now, I'm going to introduce to you a new
world."

He pushed aside a heavy curtain, and Prissie found herself in a rather
small room, lighted from the roof.  It contained in all about six or
eight pictures, each the work of a master.

Hammond walked straight across the gallery to a picture which occupied a
wall by itself at the further end.  It represented a summer scene of
deep repose.  There was water in the foreground; in the back, tall
forest trees in the fresh, rich foliage of June.  Overhead was a sunset
sky, its saffron and rosy tints reflected in the water below.  The
master who painted the picture was Corot.

Hammond motioned Priscilla to sit down opposite to it.

"There is summer," he said; "peace, absolute repose.  You have not to go
to it; it comes to you."

He did not say any more, but walked away to look at another picture in a
different part of the gallery.

Prissie clasped her hands; all the agitation and eagerness went out of
her face.  She leant back in her chair.  Her attitude partook of the
quality of the picture, and became restful.  Hammond did not disturb her
for several moments.

"I am going to show you something different now," he said, coming up to
her almost with reluctance.  "There is one sort of rest; I will now show
you a higher.  Here, stand so.  The light falls well from this angle.
Now, what do you see?"

"I don't understand it," said Prissie, after a long, deep gaze.

"Never mind, you see something.  Tell me what you see."

Priscilla looked again at the picture.

"I see a woman," she said at last, in a slow, pained kind of voice.  "I
can't see her face very well, but I know by the way she lies back in
that chair, that she is old, and dreadfully tired.  Oh, yes, I know well
that she is tired--see her hand stretched out there--her hand and her
arm--how thin they are--how worn--and--"

"Hard worked," interrupted Hammond.  "Anyone can see by the attitude of
that hand, by the starting veins and the wrinkles, that the woman has
gone through a life of labour.  Well, she does not occupy the whole of
the picture.  You see before you a tired-out worker.  Don't be so
unhappy about her.  Look up a little higher in the picture.  Observe for
yourself that her toils are ended."

"Who is that other figure?" said Priscilla.  "A woman too, but young and
strong.  How glad she looks, and how kind.  She is carrying a little
child in her arms.  Who is she?  What does she mean?"

"That woman, so grand and strong, represents Death, but not under the
old metaphor.  She comes with renewed life--the child is the type of
that--she comes as a deliverer.  See, she is touching that poor worn-out
creature, who is so tired that she can scarcely hold her head up again.
Death, with a new aspect, and a new grand strength in her face, is
saying to this woman, `Come with me now to your rest.  It is all over,'
Death says: `all the trouble and perplexity and strife.  Come away with
me and rest.'  The name of that picture is `The Deliverer.'  It is the
work of a painter who can preach a sermon, write a book, deliver an
oration, and sing a song, all through the medium of his brush.  I won't
trouble you with his name just now.  You will hear plenty of him and his
wonderful, great pictures by-and-by, if you love art as I do."

"Thank you," said Prissie, simply.  Some tears stole down her cheeks.
She did not know she was crying; she did not attempt to wipe them away.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

"I DETEST IT."

Shortly after the girls got home that evening, they received letters in
their rooms to inform them that Miss Heath and Miss Eccleston had come
to the resolution not to report the affair of the auction to the college
authorities.  They would trust to the honour of the students at St
Benet's not to allow such a proceeding to occur again, and would say
nothing further on the matter.

Prissie's eyes filled again with tears as she read the carefully worded
note.  Holding it open in her hand she rushed to Maggie's room and
knocked.  To her surprise, instead of the usual cheerful "Come in," with
which Miss Oliphant always assured her young friend of a welcome, Maggie
said from the other side of the locked door--

"I am very busy just now--I cannot see anyone."

Priscilla felt a curious sense of being chilled; her whole afternoon had
been one of elation, and Maggie's words came as a kind of cold _douche_.
She went back to her room, tried not to mind, and occupied herself
looking over her beloved Greek until the dinner-gong sounded.

After dinner Priscilla again looked with anxious, loving eyes at Maggie.
Maggie did not stop, as was her custom, to say a kind word or two as
she passed.  She was talking to another girl, and laughing gaily.  Her
dress was as picturesque as her face and figure were beautiful.  But was
Priscilla mistaken, or was her anxious observation too close?  She felt
sure as Miss Oliphant brushed past her that her eyelids were slightly
reddened, as if she had been weeping.

Prissie put out a timid hand and touched Maggie on the arm.  She turned
abruptly.

"I forgot," she said to her companion.  "Please wait for me outside,
Hester; I'll join you in a moment, I have just a word to say to Miss
Peel.  What is it, Prissie?" said Maggie, then, when the other girl had
walked out of hearing.  "Why did you touch me?"

"Oh, for nothing much," replied Prissie, half frightened at her manner,
which was sweet enough, but had an intangible hardness about it, which
Priscilla felt, but could not fathom.  "I thought you'd be so glad about
the decision Miss Heath and Miss Eccleston have come to."

"No, I am not particularly glad.  I can't stay now to talk it over,
however; Hester Stuart wants, me to practise a duet with her."

"May I come to your room later on, Maggie?"

"Not to-night, I think; I shall be very busy."  Miss Oliphant nodded
brightly, and disappeared out of the dining-hall.

Two girls were standing not far off.  They had watched this little
scene, and they now observed that Prissie clasped her hands, and that a
woe-begone expression crossed her face.

"The spell is beginning to work," whispered one to the other.  "When the
knight proves unfaithful the most gracious lady must suffer resentment."

Priscilla did not hear these words.  She went slowly upstairs and back
to her own room, where she wrote letters home, and made copious notes
from her last lectures, and tried not to think of the little cloud which
seemed to have come between her and Maggie.

Late, on that same evening, Polly Singleton, who had just been
entertaining a chosen bevy of friends in her own room, after the last
had bidden her an affectionate "Good-night," was startled at hearing a
low knock at her door.  She opened it at once.  Miss Oliphant stood
without.

"May I come in?" she asked.

"Why, of course.  I'm delighted to see you.  How kind of you to come.
Where will you sit?  I'm afraid you won't find things very comfortable,
for most of my furniture is gone.  But there's the bed; do you mind
sitting on the bed?"

"If I want to sit at all the bed is as snug a place as any," replied
Maggie.  "But I'm not going to stay a moment, for it is very late.  See,
I have brought you this back."

Polly looked, and for the first time observed that her own sealskin
jacket hung on Maggie's arm.

"What do you mean?" she said.  "My sealskin jacket!  Oh, my beauty!  But
it isn't mine, it's yours now.  Why do you worry me--showing it to me
again?"

"I don't want to worry you, Miss Singleton.  I mean what I say.  I have
brought your jacket back."

"But it is yours--you bought it."

"I gave a nominal price for it, but that doesn't make it mine.  Anyhow,
I have no use for it.  Please take it back again."

Poor Polly blushed very red all over her face.

"I wish I could," she said.  "If there has been anything I regretted in
the auction, besides getting all you girls into a mess, it has been my
sealskin jacket.  Dad is almost certain to ask me about it, for he never
made me such a handsome present before.  Poor dad! he was so proud the
night he brought it home.  He said, `Look here, Poll, I paid a whole
sheaf of fivers for this, and although it cost me a good round eighty
guineas, I'm told it's cheap at the price.  Put it on, and let me see
how you look in it,' he said.  And when I had it on he twisted me round,
and chucked me under the chin, and said I was `a bouncer.'  Poor old
dad!  He was as proud as Punch of me in that jacket I never saw anything
like it."

"Well, he can be as proud as Punch of you again.  Here is the jacket for
your very own once more.  Good-night."

She walked to the door, but Miss Singleton ran after her.

"I can't take it back," she said.  "I'm not as mean as all that comes
to.  It's yours now; you got it as fair as possible."

"Listen, Miss Singleton," said Maggie.  "If I keep that jacket I shall
never wear it.  I detest sealskin jackets.  It won't be the least scrap
of use to me."

"You detest sealskin jackets?  How can you?  Oh, the lovely things they
are.  Let me stroke the beauty down."

"Stroke your beauty, and pet it as much as you like, only let me say
`Good-night,' now."

"But, please, Miss Oliphant, please, I'd do anything in the world to get
the jacket back, of course.  But I've ten guineas of yours, and
honestly, I can't pay them back."

"Allow me to lend them to you until next term.  You can return me the
money then, can you not?"  Polly's face became on the instant a show of
shining eyes, gleaming white teeth, and glowing cheeks.

"Of course I could pay you back, you--_darling_," she said with
enthusiasm.  "Oh, what a relief this is to me; I'd have done anything in
all the world to have my jacket back again."

"It's a bargain, then.  Good-night, Miss Singleton."

Maggie tossed the jacket on Polly's bed, touched her hand lightly with
one of her own, and left the room.  She went quickly back to her own
pretty sitting-room, locked her door, threw herself on her knees by her
bureau, and sobbed long and passionately.

During the few days which now remained before the end of the term no one
quite knew what was wrong with Miss Oliphant.  She worked hard in
preparation for her lectures, and when seen in public was always very
merry.  But there was a certain hardness about her mirth which her best
friends detected, and which caused Nancy Banister a good deal of puzzled
pain.

Priscilla was treated very kindly by Maggie; she still helped her
willingly with her Greek, and even invited her into her room once or
twice.  But all the little half-beginnings of confidence which, now and
then, used to burst from Maggie's lips, the allusions to old times, the
sentences which revealed deep thoughts and high aspirations, all these,
which made the essence of true friendship, vanished out of her
conversation.

Priscilla said to herself over and over that there was really no
difference--that Miss Oliphant was still as kind to her, as valued a
friend as ever--but in her heart she knew that this was not the case.

Maggie startled all her friends by making one request.  Might they
postpone the acting of _The Princess_ until the middle of the following
term?

"I cannot do it justice now," she said.  "I cannot throw my heart and
soul into my part.  If you act the play now you must allow me to
withdraw."

The other girls, Constance Field in particular, were astonished.  They
even felt resentful.  All arrangements had been made for this especial
play.  Maggie was to be the Princess herself; no one could possibly take
her place.  It was most unreasonable of her to withdraw now.

But it was one of the facts well-known at St Benet's that, fascinating
as Miss Oliphant was, she was also unreasonable.  On certain occasions
she could even be disobliging.  In short, when Maggie "took the bit
between her teeth," to employ an old metaphor, she could neither be led
nor driven.  After a great deal of heated discussion and indignant
words, she had her will.  The play was deferred till the following term,
and one or two slight comedies, which had been acted before, were
revived in a hurry to take its place.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

A BLACK SATIN JACKET.

Very active preparations were being made in a certain rather humble
little cottage in the country for the heroine's return.  Three small
girls were making themselves busy with holly and ivy, with badly-cut
paper flowers, with enormous texts coarsely illustrated, to render the
home gay and festive in its greeting.  A little worn old woman lay on a
sofa, and superintended these active measures.

"How soon will she be here now?" said Hattie the vigorous.

"Do stay still, Hattie, and don't fidget.  Don't you see how tired Aunt
Raby looks?" exclaimed Rose.  "Prissie can't be here yet, and you are
such a worry when you jump up and down like that, Hattie."

Rose's words were quite severe, and Hattie planted herself on the edge
of a chair, folded her plump hands, managed to get a demure look into
her laughing eyes and dimpled mouth, and sat motionless for about half a
minute.  At the end of that time she tumbled on the floor with a loud
crash, and Aunt Raby sprang to her feet with some alarm.

"Good gracious, child! are you hurt?  What's the matter?"

Hattie was sitting on the floor in convulsions of mirth.

"I'm not hurt," she exclaimed.  "I slipped off the chair.  I didn't mean
to; I couldn't help it, really.  I'm sorry I woke you, Aunt Raby."

"I wasn't asleep, child."  Miss Peel walked across the room, and
vanished into the kitchen, from which very savoury smells issued.

Hattie and Rose began to quarrel and argue, and Katie, who was more or
less of a little peacemaker, suggested that they should draw up the
blind, and all three get into the window to watch for Prissie.

"I wonder how she will look?" said Rose, when they were all comfortably
established.

"I hope she won't talk in Latin," exclaimed Hattie.

"Oh, it is nice to think of seeing Prissie so soon," murmured Katie in
an ecstasy.

"I wonder," began Rose in her practical voice, "how soon Prissie will
begin to earn money.  We want money even more than when she went away.
Aunt Raby isn't as well as she was then, and since the cows were sold--"

"Hush!" said Hattie.  "You know we promised we wouldn't tell Prissie
about the cows."

Just then a distant sound of wheels was heard.  The little girls began
to jump and shout; a moment later and Priscilla stood in the midst of
her family.  A great excitement followed her arrival.  There were kisses
and hugs, and wild, rapturous words from the affectionate little
sisters.  Aunt Raby put her arms round Priscilla, and gave her a solemn
sort of kiss, and then the whole party adjourned into the supper-room.

The feast which was spread was so dainty and abundant that Katie asked
in a puzzled sort of way if Aunt Raby considered Prissie like the
Prodigal Son.

"What fancies you have, child!" said Aunt Raby.  "The Prodigal Son,
indeed!  Thank Heaven, I've never had to do with that sort!  As to
Priscilla here, she's as steady as Old Time.  Well, child, and are you
getting up your learning very fast?"

"Pretty well, Aunt Raby."

"And you like your grand college, and all those fine young-lady friends
of yours?"

"I haven't any fine young-lady friends."

"H'm!  I daresay they are like other girls; a little bit of learning,
and a great deal of dress, eh?"  Priscilla coloured.

"There are all sorts of girls at St Benet's," she said after a pause.
"Some are real students, earnest, devoted to their work."

"Have you earned any money yet, Prissie?" exclaimed Hattie.  "For if you
have, I do want--look--" She thrust a small foot, encased in a broken
shoe, prominently into view.

"Hattie, go to bed this minute!" exclaimed Aunt Raby.  "Go up to your
room all three of you little girls.  No more words--off at once, all of
you.  Prissie, you and I will go into the drawing-room, and I'll lie on
the sofa, while you tell me a little bit about your college life."

"Aunt Raby always lies oh the sofa in the evenings now," burst from
Hattie the irrepressible.

Miss Peel rushed after the plump little girl, and pushed her out of the
room.

"To bed, all of you!" she exclaimed.  "To bed, and to sleep!  Now,
Prissie, you are not to mind a word that child says.  Come into the
drawing-room, and let us have a few words quietly.  Oh, yes, I'll lie on
the sofa, my dear, if you wish it.  But Hattie is wrong; I don't do it
every night.  I suffer no pain either, Prissie.  Many a woman of my age
is racked with rheumatics."

The last words were said with a little gasp.  The elder woman lay back
on the sofa, with a sigh of relief.  She turned her face so that the
light from the lamp should not reveal the deathly tired lines round it.

Aunt Raby was dressed in a rough homespun garment.  Her feet were clad
in unbleached cotton stockings, also made at home; her little, iron-grey
curls lay flat at each side of her hollow cheeks.  She wore list
slippers, very coarse and common in texture.  Her whole appearance was
the essence of the homely, the old-fashioned, even the ungainly.

Priscilla had seen elegance and beauty since she went away; she had
entered into the life of the cultivated, the intellectually great.  In
spite of her deep affection for Aunt Raby, she came back to the ugliness
and the sordid surroundings of home with a pang which she hated herself
for feeling.  She forgot Aunt Raby's sufferings for a moment in her
uncouthness.  She longed to shower riches, refinement, beauty upon her.

"How has your dress worn, Prissie?" said the elder woman, after a pause.
"My sakes, child, you have got your best brown cashmere on!  A
beautiful fine bit of cashmere it was, too.  I bought it out of the
money I got for the lambs' wool."

Aunt Raby stretched out her hand, and, taking up a fold of the cashmere,
she rubbed it softly between her finger and thumb.

"It's as fine as velvet," she said, "and I put strong work into it, too.
It isn't a bit worn, is it, Prissie?"

"No, Aunt Raby, except just round the tail.  I got it very wet one day,
and the colour went a trifle; but nothing to signify."

A vivid picture rose up before Priscilla's eyes as she spoke of Mrs
Elliot-Smith's drawing-room, and the dainty, disdainful ladies in their
gay attire, and her own poor, little, forlorn figure in her muddy
cashmere dress--the same dress Aunt Raby considered soft and beautiful
as velvet.

"Oh, Aunt Raby," she said with sudden impulse, "a great many things have
happened to me since I went away.  On the whole I have had a very good
time."

Aunt Raby opened her mouth to emit a prodigious yawn.

"I don't know how it is," she said, "but I'm a bit drowsy to-night.  I
suppose it's the weather.  The day was quite a muggy one.  I'll hear
your news another time, Priscilla; but don't you be turned with the
vanities of the world, Priscilla.  Life's but a passing day: you mind
that when you're young, and it won't come on you as a shock when you are
old.  I'm glad the cashmere has worn well--ay, that I am, Prissie.  But
don't put it on in the morning, my love, for it's a sin to wear through
beautiful fine stuff like that.  And, even if the colour is gone a bit
round the hem, the stuff itself isn't worn, and looks don't signify.
You'll have to make up your mind to wear the cashmere for best again
next term, Prissie, for, though I'm not pinched in any way, I'm not
overflush either, my love."

Priscilla, who had been sitting in a low chair near her aunt, now rose
to her feet.

"Ought we not to come to bed?" she said.  "If you don't feel tired, you
look it, Aunt Raby.  Come upstairs, do, and let me help you to take your
things off, and put you into bed.  Come, Aunt Raby, it will be like old
times to help you, you know."

The girl knelt by the old woman, took one of her withered hands, raised
it suddenly to her lips, and kissed it.  Aunt Raby's face was still
turned from the light.

"Don't you keep kneeling on your cashmere," she said.  "You'll crease it
awfully, and I don't see my way to another best dress this term."

"You needn't, Aunt Raby," said Priscilla, in a steady voice.  "The
cashmere is quite neat still.  I can manage well with it."

Aunt Raby rose slowly and feebly from the sofa.

"You may help me to get into bed if you like," she said.  "The muggy day
has made me wonderfully drowsy, and I'll be glad to lie down.  It's only
that: I'll be as pert as a cricket in the morning."

The old woman leant on the girl's strong, young arm, and stumbled a bit
as she went up the narrow stairs.

When they entered the tiny bedroom Aunt Raby spoke again--

"Your dress will do, but I have been fretting about your winter jacket,
Prissie.  There's my best one, though--you know, the quilted satin which
my mother left me; its loose and full, and you shall have it."

"But you want it to go to church in yourself, Aunt Raby."

"I don't often go to church lately, child.  I take a power of comfort
lying on the sofa, reading my Bible, and Mr Hayes doesn't see anything
contrary to Scripture in it, for I asked him.  Yes, you shall have my
quilted satin jacket to take back to college with you, Prissie, and then
you'll be set up fine."

Priscilla bent forward and kissed Aunt Raby.  She made no other
response, but that night before she went to sleep she saw distinctly a
vision of herself.  Prissie was as little vain as a girl could be, but
the vision of her own figure in Aunt Raby's black satin quilted jacket
was not a particularly inspiriting one.  That jacket, full in the
skirts, long in the shoulders, wide in the sleeves, and enormous round
the neck, would scarcely bear comparison with the neat, tight-fitting
garments which the other girl graduates of St Benet's were wont to
patronise.  Prissie felt glad she was not attired in it that unfortunate
day when she sat in Mrs Elliot-Smith's drawing-room; and yet--and yet--
she knew that the poor, quaint, old-world jacket meant love and
self-renunciation.

"Dear Aunt Raby!" whispered the girl.

Tears lay heavily on her eyelashes as she dropped asleep, with one arm
thrown protectingly round her little sister Katie.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

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 grey 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 sceptical 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 pummelled 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
grey 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?"

Prissie's 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 be."

"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 reentered 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 your 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."

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

TWO EXTREMES.

"Have you heard the news?" said Rosalind Merton.  She skipped into Miss
Day's room as she spoke.

"No; what?" asked that untidy person, turning round and dropping a lot
of ribbon which she was converting into bows.  "What's your news, Rose?
Out with it.  I expect it's a case of `great cry and little wool.'
However, if you want a plain opinion from me--"

"I don't ask for your opinion, Annie.  I'm quite accustomed to the
scornful way in which you have received all my words lately.  I need not
tell you what I have heard at all, unless you wish to hear it."

"But, of course, I wish to hear it, Rosie; you know that as well as I
do.  Now sit down and make yourself at home, there's a dear."

Rose allowed herself to be mollified.

"Well," she said, sinking back into Miss Day's most comfortable chair,
"the feud between a certain small person and a certain great person
grows apace."  Miss Day's small eyes began to dance.

"You know I am interested in that subject," she said.  She flopped down
on the floor by Rosalind Merton's side.  "Go on, my love," she murmured;
"describe the development of the enmity."

"Little things show the way the wind is blowing," pursued Rose.  "I was
coming along the corridor just now, and I met the angelic and unworldly
Priscilla.  Her eyelids were red as if she had been crying.  She passed
me without a word."

"Well?"

"That's all."

"Rose, you really are too provoking.  I thought you had something very
fine to tell."

"The feud grows," pursued Rose.  "I know it by many signs.  Prissie is
not half so often with Maggie as she used to be.  Maggie means to get
out of this friendship, but she is too proud not to do it gradually.
There is not a more jealous girl in this college than Maggie, but
neither is there a prouder.  Do you suppose that anything under the sun
would allow her to show her feelings because that little upstart dared
to raise her eyes to Maggie's adorable beau, Mr Hammond?  But oh, she
feels it; she feels it down in her secret soul.  She hates Prissie; she
hates this beautiful handsome lover of hers for being civil to so
commonplace a person.  She is only waiting for a decent pretext to drop
Prissie altogether.  I wish with all my heart I could give her one."

As she spoke, Rosalind shaded her eyes with her hand; her face looked
full of sweet and thoughtful contemplation.

"Get your charming Prissie to flirt a little bit more," said Miss Day,
with her harsh laugh.

"I don't know that I can.  I must not carry that brilliant idea to
extremities, or I shall be found out."

"Well, what are you going to do?"

"I don't know.  Bide my time."

Miss Day gave a listless sort of yawn.

"Let's talk of something else," she said, impatiently.  "What are you
going to wear at the Elliot-Smiths' party next week, Rose?"

"I have got a new white dress," said Rose, in that voice of strong
animation and interest which the mere mention of dress always arouses in
certain people.

"Have you?  What a lot of dresses you get!"

"Indeed, you are mistaken, Annie.  I have the greatest difficulty in
managing my wardrobe at all."

"Why is that?  I thought your people not only belonged to the county,
but were as rich as Jews."

"We are county people, of course," said Rose, in her most affected
manner, "but county people need not invariably be rich.  The fact is my
father has had some losses lately, and mother says she must be careful.
I wanted a great many things, and she said she simply could not give
them.  Oh, if only that spiteful Miss Oliphant had not prevented my
getting the sealskin jacket, and if she had not raised the price of
Polly's pink coral!"

"Don't begin that old story again, Rose.  When all is said and done, you
have got the lovely coral.  By the way, it will come in beautifully for
the Elliot-Smiths' party.  You'll wear it, of course?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"What do you mean?  Of course you'll wear it."

"I don't know.  The fact is I have not paid the whole price for it yet."

"Haven't you, really?  You said you'd bring the money when you returned
this term."

"Of course I thought I could, but I was absolutely afraid to tell mother
what a lot the coral cost; and as she was so woefully short of funds, I
had just to come away without the money.  I never for a moment supposed
I should have such ill luck."

"It is awkward.  What are you going to say to Polly Singleton?"

"I don't know.  I suppose you could not help me, Annie?"

"I certainly couldn't.  I never have a penny to bless myself with.  I
don't know how I scrape along."  Rosalind sighed.  Her pretty face
looked absolutely careworn.

"Don't fret, Rose," said Miss Day, after a pause; "whether you have paid
for the coral or not, you can wear it at the Elliot-Smiths'."

"No, alas! that's just what I can't do.  The fact is Polly is turning
out awfully mean.  She has come back this time with apparently an
unlimited supply of pocket-money, and she has been doing her best to
induce me to sell her the coral back again."

"Well, why don't you?  I'm sure I would, rather than be worried about
it."

Miss Merton's face flushed angrily.

"Nothing will induce me to give up the coral," she said.  "I bought my
new white dress to wear with it.  I have looked forward all during the
holidays to showing it to Meta Elliot-Smith.  It's the sort of thing to
subdue Meta, and I want to subdue her; no, nothing will induce me to
part with my lovely coral now."

"Well, my dear, keep it, of course, and pay for it how you can.  It's
your own affair.  You have not yet explained to me, however, why, when
it is in your possession, you can't wear it with your new dress at the
Elliot-Smiths' next week?"

"Because that wretched Polly has been invited also; and she is quite
mean enough and underbred enough to walk up to me before everyone and
ask me to give her back her property."

"What fun if she did?" laughed Miss Day.

"Annie, you are unkind!"

"My dear, of course I don't mean what I say, but I can't help seeing the
whole picture: you, so fine and so self-conscious, and so--so _perfect_
in all your appointments--and looking--for all you are a little thing,
Rose--a good inch above everyone else--and then our poor, good-natured,
downright Polly catching sight of her unpaid-for ornaments round your
sweet baby throat--all the John Bull in her instantly coming to the
fore, and she demanding her rights in no measured terms.  Oh, your face,
Rosie! your face! and Meta Elliot-Smith's enjoyment--oh, how delicious
the picture is!  Dear Rosalind, do wear the coral, and please--please
get me an invitation to the Elliot-Smiths'.  I'll love you all my life
if you give me leave to witness so lovely a spectacle!"

Miss Merton's face changed colour several times while Annie Day was
speaking.  She clenched her small hands, and tried hard to keep back
such a torrent of angry words as would have severed this so-called
friendship once and for all; but Rose's sense of prudence was greater
even now than her angry passions.  Miss Day was a useful ally--a
dangerous foe.

With a forced laugh, which concealed none of her real feelings, she
stood up and prepared to leave the room.

"You are very witty at my expense, Annie," she said.  Her lips trembled.
She found herself the next moment alone in the brightly lighted
corridor.

It was over a week now since the beginning of the term; lectures were
once more in full swing, and all the inmates of St Benet's were trying,
each after her kind, for the several prizes which the life they were
leading held out to them.  Girls of all kinds were living under these
roofs--the idle as well as the busy.  Both the clever and the stupid
were here, both the good and the bad.  Rosalind Merton was a fairly
clever girl.  She had that smart sort of cleverness which often passes
for wide knowledge.  She was liked by many of her girl-friends; she had
the character of being rather good-natured; her pretty face and innocent
manner, too, helped to win her golden opinions among the lecturers and
dons.

Those who knew her well soon detected her want of sincerity; but then it
was Rose's endeavour to prevent many people becoming intimately
acquainted with her.  She had all the caution which accompanies a
deceitful character, and had little doubt that she could pursue those
pettinesses in which her soul delighted, and yet retain a position as a
good, innocent, and fairly clever girl before the heads of the college.

Rose generally kept her angry passions in check, but, although she had
managed not to betray herself while in Miss Day's room, now as she stood
alone in the brilliantly lighted corridor, she simply danced with rage.
Her small hands were clenched until the nails pierced the flesh, and her
delicately coloured face became livid with passion.

At that moment she hated Annie Day--she hated Polly Singleton--she
hated, perhaps, most of all Maggie Oliphant.

She walked down the corridor, her heart beating fast.  Her own room was
on another floor; to reach it she had to pass Miss Peel's and Miss
Oliphant's rooms.  As Rose was walking slowly down the corridor, she saw
a girl come out of Miss Oliphant's room, turn quickly in the opposite
direction to the one from which she was coming, and, quickening her pace
to a run, disappear from view.  Rose recognised this girl: she was
Priscilla Peel.  Rose hastened her own steps, and peeped into Maggie's
room.  To her surprise, it was empty; the door had swung wide open, and
the excited, perturbed girl could see into every corner.  Scarcely
knowing why she did it, she entered the room.  Maggie's room was
acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful in the college, and Rose
said to herself that she was glad to have an opportunity to examine it
unobserved.

She went and stood on the hearthrug and gazed around her; then she
walked over to the bureau.  Some Greek books were lying open here--also
a pile of manuscript, several note-books, a few envelopes, and sheets of
letter-paper.  Still scarcely knowing why, Rose lifted the note-paper,
and looked under it.  The heap of paper concealed a purse.

A sealskin purse with gold clasps.  Rose snatched her hands away, flung
down the note-paper as if she had been stung, and walked back again to
the hearthrug.  Once more the colour rushed into her cheeks; once more
it retreated, leaving her small, young, pretty face white as marble.

She was assailed by a frightful temptation, and she was scarcely the
girl to resist it long.  In cold blood she might have shrunk from the
siren voice, which bade her release herself from all her present
troubles by theft, but at this moment she was excited, worried, scarcely
capable of calm thought.  Here was her unexpected opportunity.  It lay
in her power now to revenge herself on Miss Oliphant, on Prissie, on
Polly Singleton, and also to get out of her own difficulties.

How tempting was Maggie's purse! how rich its contents were likely to
prove!  Maggie was so rich and so careless, that, it was quite possible
she might never miss the small sum which Rose meant to take.  If she
did, it would be absolutely impossible for her to trace the theft to
innocent baby Rose Merton.  No; if Maggie missed her money and suspected
anyone, she would be almost forced to lay the crime to the door of the
girl she no longer, in her heart, eared about--Priscilla Peel.

A very rich flood of crimson covered Rose's cheeks as this consequence
of her sin flashed before her vision.  Less even than before was she
capable of seeing right from wrong.  The opportunity was far too good to
lose; by one small act she would not only free herself, but accomplish
the object on which she had set her mean little heart: she would
effectually destroy the friendship of Maggie and Priscilla.

Stealthily, with her cheeks burning and her eyes bright with agitation,
she once more approached the bureau, took from under the pile of papers
the little sealskin purse, opened it, removed a five-pound note, clasped
the purse again, and restored it to its hiding-place, then flew on the
wings of the wind from the room.

A moment or two later Priscilla came back, sat calmly down in one of
Maggie's comfortable chairs, and, taking up her Greek edition of
Euripides, began to read and translate with eagerness.

As Prissie read she made notes with a pencil in a small book which lay
in her lap.  The splendid thoughts appealed to her powerfully; her face
glowed with pleasure.  She lived in the noble past; she was a Greek with
the old Greeks; she forgot the nineteenth century, with its smallness,
its money worries--above all, she forgot her own cares.

At last in her reading she came to a difficult sentence, which, try as
she would, she could not render into English to her own satisfaction.
She was a very careful student, and always disliked shirking
difficulties; the pleasure of her reading would be lost if she did not
do full justice to the lines which puzzled her.  She resolved to read no
further until Maggie appeared: Maggie Oliphant, with her superior
information, would soon cut the knot for her.  She closed the copy of
Euripides with reluctance, and, putting her hand into her pocket, took
out a note she had just received, to mark the place.

A moment or two later Maggie came in.

"Still here, Prissie!" she exclaimed, in her somewhat indifferent but
good-natured voice.  "What a bookworm you are turning into!"

"I have been waiting for you to help me, if you will, Maggie," said
Priscilla.  "I have lost the right clue to the full sense of this
passage--see!  Can you give it to me?"

Maggie sat down at once, took up the book, glanced her eyes over the
difficult words, and translated them with ease.

"How lovely!" said Prissie, clasping her hands, and giving herself up to
a feeling of enjoyment.  "Don't stop, Maggie, please; do read some
more!"  Miss Oliphant smiled.

"Enthusiast!" she murmured.

She translated with brilliancy to the end of the page; then, throwing
the book on her knee, repeated the whole passage aloud in Greek.

The note that Prissie put in as a mark fell on the floor.  She was so
lost in delighted listening that she did not notice it, but, when Maggie
at last stopped for want of breath, Priscilla saw the little note,
stooped forward to pick it up, glanced at the handwriting, and a shadow
swept over her expressive face.

"Oh! thank you, Maggie, thank you," she exclaimed; "it is beautiful,
entrancing!  It made me forget everything for a short time, but I must
not listen to any more; it is, indeed, most beautiful; but not for me."

"What do you mean, you little goose?  You will soon read Euripides as
well as I do.  What is more, you will surpass me, Priscilla; your talent
is greater than mine."

"Don't say that, Maggie; I can scarcely bear it when you do."

"Why do you say you can scarcely bear it?  Do you love me so well that
you hate to excel me?  Silly child, as if I cared!"

"Maggie, I know you are really too great to be possessed by petty
weaknesses.  If I ever did excel you, which is most unlikely, I know you
would be glad both for me and yourself.  No, it is not that; I am
unhappy because of no fancy."

"What worries you then?"

"Maggie, do you see this note?"

"Yes; it is from Miss Heath, is it not?"

"It is.  I am to see her to-night."

"Well, Prissie, you must be quick with your revelation, for I have some
notes to look over."

"I won't keep you a moment.  I am to see Miss Heath to tell her--"
Prissie paused.  Her face grew deadly white.  "I am to see Miss Heath to
tell her--to tell her--that I.--Oh, Maggie!  I must give up my classics.
I must; it's all settled.  Don't say anything.  Don't tempt me to
reconsider the question.  It can't be reconsidered, and my mind is made
up.  That's it; it's a trouble, but I must go through with it.
Good-night, Maggie."

Prissie held out her long, unformed hand; Miss Oliphant clasped it
between both her own.

"You are trembling," she said, standing up and drawing the girl towards
her.  "I don't want to argue the point if you so firmly forbid me.  I
think you quite mad, of course.  It is absolutely impossible for me to
sympathise with such wild folly.  Still, if your mind is made up, I
won't interfere.  But, seeing that at one time we were very firm
friends, you might give me your reasons, Priscilla."

Priscilla slowly and stiffly withdrew her hands; her lips moved.  She
was repeating Miss Oliphant's words under her breath--

"At one time we were friends."

"Won't you speak?" said Maggie, impatiently.

"Oh, yes, I'll speak; I'll tell you the reason.  You won't understand,
but you had better know--" Prissie paused again; she seemed to swallow
something; her next words came out slowly with great difficulty: "When I
went home for the Christmas recess I found Aunt Raby worse.  You don't
know what my home is like, Miss Oliphant; it is small and poor.  At home
we are often cold, and often hungry.  I have three little sisters, and
they want clothes and education; they want training, they want love,
they want care.  Aunt Raby is too weak to do much for them now; she is
very, very ill.  You have not an idea--not an idea--Miss Oliphant, in
your wealth and your luxury what the poverty of Penywern Cottage is
like.  What does such poverty mean?  How shall I describe it to you? we
are sometimes glad of a piece of bread; butter is a luxury; meat we
scarcely taste."  Prissie again broke off to think and consider her next
words.  Maggie, whose sympathies were always keenly aroused by any real
emotion, tried once again to take her hands; Prissie put them behind
her.  "Aunt Raby is a good woman," continued Priscilla; "she is brave,
she is a heroine.  Although she is just a commonplace old woman, no one
has ever led a grander life in its way.  She wears poor clothes--oh, the
poorest; she has an uncouth appearance, worse even than I have, but I am
quite sure that God--_God_ respects her--God thinks her worthy.  When my
father and mother died (I was fourteen when my dear mother died) Aunt
Raby came and took me home and my three little sisters.  She gave us
bread to eat.  Oh, yes, we never quite wanted food, but before we came
Aunt Raby had enough money to feed herself, and no more.  She took us
all in and supported us, because she worked so very, very hard.  Ever
since I was fourteen--I am eighteen now--Aunt Raby has done this.
Well," continued Priscilla, slow tears coming to her eyes and making
themselves felt in her voice, "this hard work is killing her; Aunt Raby
is dying because she has worked so hard for us.  Before my three years
have come to an end here, she will be far, far away: she will be at rest
for ever--God will be making up to her for all she has done here.  Her
hard life which God will have thought beautiful will be having its
reward.  Afterwards I have to support and educate the three little
girls.  I spoke to Mr Hayes--my dear clergyman, about whom I have told
you, and who taught me all I know--and he agrees with me that I know
enough of Greek and Latin now for rudimentary teaching, and that I shall
be better qualified to take a good paying situation if I devote the
whole of my time while at St Benet's to learning and perfecting myself
in modern languages.  It's the end of a lovely dream, of course, but
there is no doubt--no doubt whatever--what is right for me to do."

Prissie stopped speaking; Maggie went up again and tried to take her
hand; she drew back a step or two, pretending not to see.

"It has been very kind of you to listed," she said; "I am very grateful
to you, for now, whatever we may be to each other in future, you will
understand that I don't give up what I love lightly.  Thank you, you
have helped me much.  Now I must go and tell Miss Heath what I have said
to you.  I have had a happy reading of Euripides and have enjoyed
listening to you.  I meant to give myself that one last treat--now it is
over.  Good-night."

Priscilla left the room--she did not even kiss Maggie as she generally
did at parting for the night.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

A MYSTERIOUS EPISODE.

When she was alone, Maggie Oliphant sat down in her favourite chair, and
covered her face with her hands.  "It is horrible to listen to stories
like that," she murmured under her breath.  "Such stories get on the
nerves.  I shall not sleep to-night.  Fancy any people calling
themselves ladies wanting meat, wanting clothes, wanting warmth.  Oh, my
God! this is horrible.  Poor Prissie!  Poor brave Prissie!"  Maggie
started from her chair and paced the length of her room once or twice.
"I must help these people," she said; "I must help this Aunt Raby, and
those three little sisters.  Penywern Cottage shall no longer be without
coal, and food, and warmth.  How shall I do this?  One thing is quite
evident--Prissie must not know.  Prissie is as proud as I am.  How shall
I manage this?"  She clasped her hands, her brow was contracted with the
fulness of her thought.  After a long while she left her room, and,
going to the other end of the long corridor, knocked at Nancy Banister's
door.  Nancy was within.  It did not take Maggie long to tell the tale
which she had just heard from Priscilla's lips.  Prissie had told her
simple story with force, but it lost nothing in Maggie's hands.  She had
a fine command of language, and she drew a picture of such pathos that
Nancy's honest blue eyes filled with tears.

"That dear little Prissie!" she exclaimed.

"I don't know that she is dear," said Maggie.  "I don't profess quite to
understand her; however, that is not the point.  The poverty at Penywern
Cottage is an undoubted fact.  It is also a fact that Prissie is forced
to give up her classical education.  She shall not! she has a genius for
the old tongues.  Now, Nancy, help me; use your common sense on my
behalf.  How am I to send money to Penywern Cottage?"

Nancy thought for several minutes.

"I have an idea," she exclaimed at last.

"What is that?"

"I believe Mr Hammond could help us."

Maggie coloured.

"How?" she asked.  "Why should Geoffrey Hammond be dragged into
Priscilla's affairs?  What can he possibly know about Penywern Cottage
and the people who live in it?"

"Only this," said Nancy: "I remember his once talking about that part of
Devonshire where Prissie's home is, and saying that his uncle has a
parish there.  Mr Hammond's uncle is the man to help us."

Miss Oliphant was silent for a moment.

"Very well," she said; "will you write to Mr Hammond and ask him for
his uncle's address?"

"Why should I do this, Maggie?  Geoffrey Hammond is your friend; he
would think it strange for me to write."

Maggie's tone grew as cold as her expressive face had suddenly become.
"I can write if you think it best," she said; "but you are mistaken in
supposing that Mr Hammond is any longer a person of special interest to
me."

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie, if you only would--"

"Good-night, Nancy," interrupted Maggie.  She kissed her friend, and
went back to her room.  There she sat down before her bureau and
prepared to write a letter.  "I must not lose any time," she said to
herself; "I must help these people substantially; I must do something to
rescue poor Prissie from a life of drudgery.  Fancy Prissie, with her
genius, living the life of an ordinary underpaid teacher: it is not to
be thought of for a moment!  Something must be done to put the whole
family on a different footing, but that, of course, is for the future.
From Priscilla's account they want immediate aid.  I have two five-pound
notes in my purse: Geoffrey shall have them and enclose them to the
clergyman who is his relation, and who lives near Priscilla's home."

Maggie wrote her letter rapidly.  She thought it cold; she meant it to
be a purely business note; she did not intend Hammond to see even the
glimpse of her warm heart under the carefully studied words.  "I am sick
of money," she said to him, "but to some people it is as the bread of
life.  Ask your friend to provide food and warmth without a moment's
delay for these poor people out of the trifle I enclose.  Ask him also
to write directly to me, for the ten pounds I now send is only the
beginning of what I mean really to do to help them."

When her letter was finished, Maggie put her hand in her pocket to take
out her purse.  It was not there.  She searched on the table, looked
under piles of books and papers, and presently found it.  She unclasped
the purse, and opened an inner pocket for the purpose of taking out two
five-pound notes which she had placed there this morning.  To her
astonishment and perplexity, this portion of the purse now contained
only one of the notes.  Maggie felt her face turning crimson.  Quick as
a flash of lightning a horrible thought assailed her--Priscilla had been
alone in her room for nearly an hour--Priscilla's people were starving:
had Priscilla taken the note?

"Oh, hateful!" said Maggie to herself; "what am I coming to, to suspect
the brave, the noble--I won't, I can't.  Oh, how shall I look her in the
face and feel that I ever, even for a second, thought of her so
dreadfully."  Maggie searched through her purse again.  "Perhaps I
dreamt that I put two notes here this morning," she said to herself.
"But no, it is no dream; I put two notes into this division of my purse,
I put four sovereigns here; the sovereigns are safe--one of the notes is
gone."

She thought deeply for a few moments longer, then added a postscript to
her letter:--

"I am very sorry, but I can only send you one note for five pounds
to-night.  Even this, however, is better than nothing.  I will give
further help as soon as I hear from your friend."  Maggie then folded
her letter, addressed, stamped it, and took it downstairs.

Miss Oliphant was an heiress; she was also an orphan; her father and
mother were mere memories to her; she had neither brothers nor sisters;
she did not particularly like her guardian, who was old and
worldly-wise, as different as possible from the bright, enthusiastic,
impulsive girl.  Mr Oliphant thought money the aim and object of life:
when he spoke to Maggie about it, she professed to hate it.  In reality
she was indifferent to it; money was valueless to her because she had
never felt its want.

She lay awake for a long time that night, thinking of Penywern Cottage,
of tired Aunt Raby, of the little girls who wanted food, and education,
and care, and love.  After a time she fell asleep.  In her sleep she
ceased to think of Priscilla's relations: all her thoughts were with
Priscilla herself.  She dreamt that she saw Priscilla move stealthily in
her room, take up her purse with wary fingers, open it, remove a note
for five pounds, and hide the purse once more under books and papers.

When Maggie awoke, she professed not to believe in her dream; but,
nevertheless, she had a headache, and her heart was heavy within her.

At breakfast that morning Miss Oliphant made a rather startling
announcement.  "I wish to say something," she remarked, in her full,
rich voice.  "A strange thing happened to me last night.  I am not
accounting for it; I am casting no aspersions on anyone; I don't even
intend to investigate the matter; still, I wish publicly to state a
fact--a five-pound note has been taken out of my purse!"

There were no dons or lecturers present when Miss Oliphant made this
startling announcement, but Nancy Banister, Rosalind Merton, Priscilla
Peel, Miss Day, Miss Marsh, and several other girls were all in the
room; they, each of them, looked at the speaker with startled and
anxious inquiry.

Maggie herself did not return the glances; she was lazily helping
herself to some marmalade.

"How perfectly shameful!" burst at last from the lips of Miss Day.  "You
have lost five pounds, Miss Oliphant; you are positively certain that
five pounds have been taken out of your purse.  Where was your purse?"
Maggie was spreading the marmalade on her bread-and-butter; her eyes
were still fixed on her plate.  "I don't wish a fuss made," she said.

"Oh, that's all very fine!" continued Miss Day; "but if five pounds are
lost out of your purse, someone has taken them!  Someone, therefore,
whether servant or student, is a thief.  I am not narrow-minded or
prudish; but I confess I draw the line at thieves."

"So do I," said Maggie, in an icy tone; "still, I don't mean to make a
fuss."

"But where was your purse, Maggie dear?" asked Nancy Banister; "was it
in your pocket?"

"No.  I found it last night in my bureau, under some books and papers."
Maggie rose from the table as she spoke.  With a swift flash her brown
eyes sought Priscilla's face; she had not meant to look at her, she did
not want to; but a fascination she could not control obliged her to dart
this one glance of inquiry.

Prissie's eyes met hers.  Their expression was anxious, puzzled, but
there was not a trace of guilt or confusion in them.  "I don't know how
that money could have been taken, Maggie," she said, "for I was in your
room studying my Greek."  Prissie sighed when she mentioned her Greek.
"I was in your room studying Greek all the evening; no one could have
come to take the money."

"It is gone, however," said Maggie.  She spoke with new cheerfulness.
The look on Prissie's face, the tone in her voice, made Maggie blush at
ever having suspected her.  "It is gone," she said, in quite a light and
cheerful way, "but I am really sorry I mentioned it.  As I said just
now, I don't intend to investigate the matter.  I may have fallen asleep
and taken the five-pound note out in a dream and torn it up, or put it
on the fire.  Anyhow, it has vanished, and that is all I have to say.
Come, Prissie, I want to hear what Miss Heath said to you last night."

"No," suddenly exclaimed Annie Day, "Miss Peel, you must not leave the
room just now.  You have made a statement, Miss Oliphant, which I for
one do not intend to pass over without at least asking a few questions.
You did not tear up that note in a dream.  If it is lost, someone took
it.  We are St Benet's girls, and we don't choose to have this kind of
thing said to us.  The thief must confess, and the note must be
returned."

"All right," said Maggie, "I sha'n't object to recovering my property.
Priscilla, I shall be walking in the grounds; you can come to me when
your council of war is over."

The moment Maggie left the room, Rosalind Merton made a remark.  "Miss
Peel is the only person who can explain the mystery," she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Priscilla.

"Why, you confess yourself that you were in Miss Oliphant's room the
greater part of the evening."

"I confess it?" remarked Priscilla; "that is a curious phrase to apply
to a statement.  I confess nothing.  I was in Maggie's room, but what of
that?  When people confess things," she added, with a naivete which
touched one or two of the girls, "they generally have done something
wrong.  Now, what was there wrong in my sitting in my friend's room?"

"Oh, Miss Oliphant is `your friend'?" said Rosalind.

"Of course, of course."  But here a memory came over Priscilla; she
remembered Maggie's words the night before--"You _were_ my friend."  For
the first time her voice faltered, and the crimson flush of distress
covered her face.  Rosalind's cruel eyes were fixed on her.

"Let me speak now," interrupted Miss Day.  She gave Rosalind a piercing
glance which caused her, in her turn, to colour violently.  "It is just
this, Miss Peel," said Annie Day: "you will excuse my speaking bluntly,
but you are placed in a very unpleasant position."

"I?  How?" asked Prissie.

"Oh, you great baby!" burst from Rosalind again.

"Please don't speak to me in that tone, Miss Merton," said Priscilla,
with a new dignity, which became her well.  "Now, Miss Day, what have
you to say?"

To Prissie's surprise, at this juncture, Nancy Banister suddenly left
her seat, and came and stood at the back of her chair.

"I am on your side whatever happens," she remarked.

"Thank you," said Prissie.

"Now, please, Miss Day."

"You must know who took the note," said Annie Day.

"I assure you I don't; I can't imagine how it has disappeared.  Not a
soul came into the room while I was there.  I did go away once for about
three minutes to fetch my Lexicon; but I don't suppose anyone came into
Miss Oliphant's room during those few minutes--there was no one about to
come."

"Oh, you left the room for about three minutes?"

"Perhaps three--perhaps not so many.  I had left my Lexicon in the
library; I went to fetch it."

"Oh," said Rosalind, suddenly taking the words out of Miss Day's mouth,
"when did you invent this little fiction?"

Prissie's eyes seemed suddenly to blaze fire; for the first time she
perceived the drift of the cruel suspicion, which her fellow-students
were seeking to cast upon her.  "How wicked you are!" she said to
Rosalind.  "Why do you look at me like that?  Miss Day, why do you
smile?  Why do you all smile?  Oh, Nancy," added poor Prissie, springing
to her feet, and looking full into Nancy's troubled eyes, "what is the
matter?--am I in a dream?"

"It is all very fine to be theatrical," said Miss Day, "but the fact is,
Miss Peel, you are not at all popular enough at St Benet's to induce
any of us to consent to live under a ban for your sake.  Miss Oliphant
has lost her money.  You say that you spent some time in her room; the
purse was on her bureau.  Miss Oliphant is rich, she is also generous,
she says openly that she does not intend to investigate the matter.  No
doubt, if you confess your weakness and return the money, she will
forgive you, and not report this disgraceful proceeding to the college
authorities."  While Miss Day was speaking, some heavy panting breaths
came two or three times from Priscilla's lips.  Her face had turned cold
and white; but her eyes blazed like living coals.

"Now I understand," she said, slowly; "you think--you think that I--I
stole a five-pound note from my friend; you think that I went into her
room and opened her purse, and took away her money; you think that of
me--you!  I scorn you all, I defy you, I dare you to prove your dreadful
words!  I am going to Miss Heath this moment; she shall protect me from
this dishonour."

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

IN THE ANTE-CHAPEL OF ST HILDA'S.

Priscilla ran blindly down the corridor which opened into the wide
entrance-hall.  Groups of girls were standing about; they stared as the
wild-looking apparition rushed past them: Prissie was blind to their
puzzled and curious glances.  She wanted to see Miss Heath; she had a
queer kind of instinct, rather than any distinct impression, that in
Miss Heath's presence she would be protected, that Miss Heath would know
what to say, would know how to dispel the cloud of disgrace which had
suddenly been cast over her like a cloak.

"Is there anything wrong, Miss Peel?" said gentle little Ada Hardy,
coming up and speaking to her affectionately.  Miss Hardy stood right in
Prissie's path, barring her way for a moment, and causing her, in spite
of herself, to stop her headlong rush to the Vice-Principal's room.
Priscilla put up her hand to her brow; she looked in a dazed sort of way
at the kind-hearted girl.

"What is the matter--can I help you?" repeated Ada Hardy.

"You can't help me," said Prissie.  "I want to see Miss Heath; let me
pass."  She ran forward again, and some other girls, coming out of the
dining-hall, now came up to Ada and distracted her attention.

Miss Heath's private sitting-room was on the ground floor.  This lovely
room has been described before.  It was open now, and Prissie went in
without knocking; she thought she would see Miss Heath sitting as she
usually was at this hour, either reading or answering letters; she was
not in the room.  Priscilla felt too wild and impetuous to consider any
action carefully, just then; she ran up at once to the electric-bell,
and pressed the button for quite a quarter of a minute.  A maidservant
came quickly to answer the summons.  She thought Miss Heath had sent for
her, and stared at the excited girl.

"I want to see Miss Heath," said Priscilla; "please ask her to come to
me here; say Miss Peel wants to see her--Priscilla Peel wants to see
her, very, _very_ badly, in her own sitting-room at once.  Ask her to
come to me at once."

The presence of real tragedy always inspires respect; there was no
question with regard to the genuineness of Prissie's sorrow just then.

"I will try and find Miss Heath, Miss, and ask her to come to you
without delay," answered the maid.  She softly withdrew, closing the
door after her.  Priscilla went and stood on the hearthrug.  Raising her
eyes for a moment, they rested on a large and beautiful platinotype of
G.F.  Watts's picture of "Hope."  The last time she had visited Miss
Heath in that room, Prissie had been taken by the kind Vice-Principal to
look at the picture, and some of its symbolism was explained to her.
"That globe on which the figure of Hope sits," Miss Heath had said, "is
meant to represent the world.  Hope is blindfolded in order more
effectually to shut out the sights which might distract her.  See the
harp in her hand, observe her rapt attitude--she is listening to
melody--she hears, she rejoices, and yet the harp out of which she makes
music only possesses one string--all the rest are broken."  Miss Heath
said nothing further, and Prissie scarcely took in the full meaning of
the picture that evening.  Now she looked again, and a passionate agony
swept over her.  "Hope has one string still left to her harp with which
she can play music," murmured the young girl; "but oh! there are times
when all the strings of the harp are broken; then, Hope dies."

The room door was opened, and the servant reappeared.

"I am very sorry, Miss," she said, "but Miss Heath has gone out for the
morning.  Would you like to see anyone else?"

Priscilla gazed at the messenger in a dull sort of way.  "I can't see
Miss Heath?" she murmured.

"No, Miss, she is out."

"Very well."

"Can I do anything for you, Miss?"

"No, thank you."

The servant went away with a puzzled expression on her face.

"That plain young lady, who is so awful poor--Miss Peel, I mean--seems
in a sad taking," she said by-and-by to her fellow-servants.

Priscilla, left alone in Miss Heath's sitting-room, stood still for a
moment, then, running upstairs to her room, she put on her hat and
jacket, and went out.  She was expected to attend two lectures that
morning, and the hour for the first had almost arrived.  Maggie Oliphant
was coming into the house when Prissie ran past her.

"My dear!" she exclaimed, shocked at the look on Priscilla's face.
"Come here; I want to speak to you."

"I can't--don't stop me."

"But where are you going?  Mr Kenyon has just arrived.  I am on my way
to the lecture-hall now."

"It doesn't matter."

"Aren't you coming?"

"No."

This last word reached Miss Oliphant from a distance; Prissie had
already almost reached the gates.

Maggie stood still for a moment, half inclined to follow the excited,
frantic-looking girl, but that queer inertia, which was part of her
complex character, came over her.  She shrugged her shoulders, the
interest died out of her face; she walked slowly through the
entrance-hall and down one of the side corridors to the lecture-room.

When the Greek lecture had come to an end, Nancy Banister came up and
slipped her hand through Maggie's arm.

"What is the matter, Maggie?" she asked, "you look very white and
tired."

"I have a headache," answered Maggie.  "If it does not get better, I
shall send for a carriage and take a drive."

"May I come with you?"

"No, dear Nancy, when I have these bad headaches it is almost necessary
to me to be alone."

"Would it not be better for you to go and lie down in your room?"

"I, to lie down in my room with a headache like this?--no, thank you."
Maggie shuddered as she spoke.  Nancy felt her friend's arm shiver as
she leant on it.

"You are really ill, darling!" she said, in a tone of sympathy and
fondness.

"I have not felt right for a week, and am worse to-day, but I daresay a
drive in this nice frosty air will set me up."

"I am going to Kingsdene.  Shall I order a carriage for you?"

"I wish you would."

"Maggie, did you notice that Priscilla was not at her lecture?"

"She was not.  I met her rushing away, I think, to Kingsdene; she seemed
put out about something."

"Poor little thing; no wonder--those horrid girls!"

"Oh, Nancy, if there's anything unpleasant, don't tell me just now; my
head aches so dreadfully, I could scarcely hear bad news."

"You are working too hard, Maggie."

"I am not; it is the only thing left to me."

"Do you know that we are to have a rehearsal of _The Princess_ to-night?
If you are as ill as you look now, you can't be present."

"I will be present.  Do you think I can't force myself to do what is
necessary?"

"Oh, I am well acquainted with the power of your will," answered Nancy,
with a laugh.  "Well, good-bye dear, I am off; you may expect the
carriage to arrive in half an hour."

Meanwhile, Priscilla, still blind, deaf, and dumb with misery, ran,
rather than walked, along the road which leads to Kingsdene.  The day
was lovely, with little faint wafts of spring in the air; the sky was
pale blue and cloudless; there was a slight hoar frost on the grass.
Priscilla chose to walk on it, rather than on the dusty road; it felt
crisp under her tread.

She had not the least idea why she was going to Kingsdene; her wish was
to walk, and walk, and walk until sheer fatigue, caused by
long-continued motion, brought to her temporary ease and forgetfulness.

Prissie was a very strong girl, and she knew she must walk for a long
time; her feet must traverse many miles before she effected her object.
Just as she was passing St Hilda's College she came face to face with
Hammond.  He was in his college cap and gown, and was on his way to
morning prayers in the chapel.  Hammond had received Maggie's letter
that morning, and this fact caused him to look at Priscilla with new
interest.  On another occasion, he would have passed her with a hurried
bow.  Now he stopped to speak.  The moment he caught sight of her face,
he forgot everything else in his distress at the expression of misery
which it wore.

"Where are you going, Miss Peel?" he asked; "you appear to be flying
from something, or, perhaps, it is _to_ something.  Must you run?  See,
you have almost knocked me down."  He chose light words on purpose,
hoping to make Prissie smile.

"I am going for a walk," she said; "please let me pass."

"I am afraid you are in trouble," he replied then, seeing that
Priscilla's mood must be taken seriously.

His sympathy gave the poor girl a momentary thrill of comfort; she
raised her eyes to his face, and spoke huskily.

"A dreadful thing has happened to me," she said.

The chapel bell stopped as she spoke; groups of men, all in their caps
and gowns, hurried by; several of them looked from Hammond to Priscilla,
and smiled.

"I must go to chapel now," he said; "but I should like to speak to you.
Can I not see you after morning prayers?  Would you not come to the
service?  You might sit in the ante-chapel, if you did not want to come
into the chapel itself.  You had much better do that.  Whatever your
trouble is, the service at St Hilda's ought to sustain you.  Please
wait for me in the ante-chapel.  I shall look for you there after
prayers."

He ran off just in time to take his own place in the chapel, before the
doors were shut, and curtains drawn.

Without a moment's hesitation, Priscilla followed him.  She entered the
ante-chapel, sat down on a bench not far from the entrance door, and
when the service began, she dropped on her knees, and covered her face
with her hands.

The music came to her in soft waves of far-off harmony.  The doors which
divided the inner chapel from the outer gave it a faint sound, as if it
were miles away; each note, however, was distinct; no sound was lost.
The boys' voices rose high in the air; they were angelic in their
sweetness.  Prissie was incapable, at that moment, of taking in the
meaning of the words she heard, but the lovely sounds comforted her; the
dreadful weight was lifted, or, at least, partially lifted, from her
brain; she felt as if a hand had been laid on her hot, angry heart; as
if a gentle, a very gentle, touch was soothing the sorrow there.

"I am ready now," said Hammond, when the service was over; "will you
come?"

She rose without a word, and went out with him into the quadrangle; they
walked down the High Street.

"Are you going back to St Benet's?" he asked.

"Oh, no--oh, no!"

"`Yes,' you mean; I will walk with you as far as the gates."

"I am not going back."

"Pardon me," said Hammond, "you _must_ go back; so young a girl cannot
take long walks alone.  If one of your fellow-students were with you, it
would be different."

"I would not walk with one of them now for the world."

"Not with Miss Oliphant?"

"With her, least of all."

"That is a pity," said Hammond, gravely, "for no one can feel more
kindly towards you."

Prissie made no response.

They walked to the end of the High Street.

"This is your way," said Hammond, "down this quiet lane; we shall get to
St Benet's in ten minutes."

"I am not going there.  Good-bye, Mr Hammond."

"Miss Peel, you must forgive my appearing to interfere with you, but it
is absolutely wrong for a young girl, such as you are, to wander about
alone in the vicinity of a large university town.  Let me treat you as
my sister for once, and insist on accompanying you to the gates of the
college."

Prissie looked up at him.  "It is very good of you to take any notice of
me," she said, after a pause.  "You won't ever again after--after you
know what I have been accused of.  If you wish me to go back to St
Benet's, I will; after all, it does not matter, for I can go out
by-and-by somewhere else."

Hammond smiled to himself at Prissie's very qualified submission.  Just
then a carriage came up and drove slowly past them.  Miss Oliphant, in
her velvet and sables, was seated in it.  Hammond sprang forward with
heightened colour, and an eager exclamation on his lips.  She did not
motion to the coachman to stop, however, but gave the young man a
careless, cold bow.  She did not notice Priscilla at all.  The carriage
quickly drove out of sight, and Hammond, after a pause, said gravely--

"You must tell me your trouble, Miss Peel."

"I will," said Prissie.  "Someone has stolen a five-pound note out of
Maggie Oliphant's purse; she missed it late at night, and spoke about it
at breakfast this morning.  I said that I did not know how it could have
been taken, for I had been studying my Greek in her room during the
whole afternoon.  Maggie spoke about her loss in the dining-hall, and
after she left the room Miss Day and Miss Merton accused me of having
stolen the money."  Priscilla stopped speaking abruptly; she turned her
head away; a dull red suffused her face and neck.

"Well?" said Hammond.

"That is all.  The girls at St Benet's think I am a thief.  They think
I took my kindest friend's money.  I have nothing more to say: nothing
possibly could be more dreadful to me.  I shall speak to Miss Heath, and
ask leave to go away from the college at once."

"You certainly ought not to do that."

"What do you mean?"

"If you went from St Benet's now, people might be induced to think that
you really were guilty."

"But they think that now."

"I am quite certain that those students whose friendship is worth
retaining think nothing of the sort."

"Why are you certain?" asked Prissie, turning swiftly round, and a
sudden ray of sunshine illuminating her whole face.  "Do _you_ think
that I am not a thief?"

"I am as certain of that fact as I am of my own identity."

"Oh!" said the girl, with a gasp.  She made a sudden dart forward, and
seizing Hammond's hand, squeezed it passionately between both her own.

"And Miss Oliphant does not think of you as a thief," continued Hammond.

"I don't know--I can't say."

"You have no right to be so unjust to her," he replied, with fervour.

"I don't care so much for the opinions of the others now," said Prissie;
"_you_ believe in me."  She walked erect again; her footsteps were light
as if she trod on air.  "You are a very good man," she said; "I would do
anything for you--anything."

Hammond smiled.  Her innocence, her enthusiasm, her childishness were
too apparent for him to take her words for more than they were worth.

"Do you know," he said, after a pause, "that I am in a certain measure
entitled to help you?  In the first place, Miss Oliphant takes a great
interest in you."

"You are mistaken, she does not--not now."

"I am not mistaken; she takes a great interest in you.  Priscilla, you
must have guessed--you _have_ guessed--what Maggie Oliphant is to me; I
should like, therefore, to help her friend.  That is one tie between us;
but there is another--Mr Hayes, your parish clergyman--"

"Oh!" said Prissie, "do you know Mr Hayes?"

"I not only know him," replied Hammond, smiling, "but he is my uncle.  I
am going to see him this evening."

"Oh!"

"Of course, I shall tell him nothing of this, but I shall probably talk
of you.  Have you a message for him?"

"I can send him no message to-day."

They had now reached the college gates.  Hammond took Priscilla's hand.
"Good-bye," he said; "I believe in you, and so does Miss Oliphant.  If
her money was stolen, the thief was certainly not the most upright, the
most sincere girl in the college.  My advice to you, Miss Peel, is to
hold your head up bravely, to confront this charge by that sense of
absolute innocence which you possess.  In the meanwhile, I have not the
least doubt that the real thief will be found.  Don't make a fuss; don't
go about in wild despair--have faith in God."  He pressed her hand, and
turned away.

Priscilla took her usual place that day at the luncheon table.  The
girls who had witnessed her wild behaviour in the morning watched her in
perplexity and astonishment.  She ate her food with appetite; her face
looked serene--all the passion and agony had left it.

Rosalind Merton ventured on a sly allusion to the scene of the morning.
Priscilla did not make the smallest comment; her face remained pale, her
eyes untroubled.  There was a new dignity about her.

"What's up now?" said Rosalind, to her friend Miss Day.  "Is the little
Puritan going to defy us all?"

"Oh, don't worry any more about her," said Annie, who, for some reason,
was in a particularly bad humour.  "I only wish, for my part, Miss Peel
had never come to St Benet's; I don't like anything about her.  Her
heroics are as unpleasant to me as her stoicisms.  But I may as well say
frankly, Rosalind, before I drop this detestable subject, that I am
quite sure she never stole that five-pound note: she was as little
likely to do it as you, so there!"

There came a knock at the door.  Rosalind flew to open it; by so doing
she hoped that Miss Day would not notice the sudden colour which filled
her cheeks.

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

BEAUTIFUL ANNABEL LEE.

Circumstances seem to combine to spoil some people.  Maggie Oliphant was
one of the victims of fortune, which, while appearing to favour her,
gave her in reality the worst training which was possible for a nature
such as hers.  She was impulsive, generous, affectionate, but she was
also perverse, and, so to speak, uncertain.  She was a creature of
moods, and she was almost absolutely without self-control; and yet
nature had been kind to Maggie, giving her great beauty of form and
face, and a character which a right training would have rendered noble.

Up to the present, however, this training had scarcely come to Miss
Oliphant.  She was almost without relations, and she was possessed of
more money than she knew what to do with.  She had great abilities, and
loved learning for the sake of learning, but, till she came to St
Benet's, her education had been as desultory as her life.  She had never
been to school; her governesses only taught her what she chose to learn.
As a child she was very fickle in this respect, working hard from
morning till night one day, but idling the whole of the next.  When she
was fifteen her guardian took her to Rome; the next two years were spent
in travelling, and Maggie, who knew nothing properly, picked up that
kind of superficial miscellaneous knowledge which made her conversation
brilliant and added to her many charms.

"You shall be brought out early," her guardian had said to her.  "You
are not educated in the stereotyped fashion, but you know enough.  After
you are seventeen I will get you a suitable chaperon, and you shall live
in London."

This scheme, however, was not carried out.  For, shortly after her
seventeenth birthday, Maggie Oliphant met a girl whose beauty and
brilliance were equal to her own, whose nature was stronger, and who had
been carefully trained in heart and mind while Maggie had been
neglected.  Miss Lee was going through a course of training at St
Benet's College for Women at Kingsdene.  She was an uncommon girl in
every sense of the word.  The expression of her lovely face was as
piquant as its features were beautiful; her eyes were dark as night;
they also possessed the depth of the tenderest, sweetest summer night,
subjugating all those who came in contact with her.  Annabel Lee won
Maggie's warmest affections at once; she determined to join her friend
at St Benet's.  She spoke with ineffable scorn of her London season,
and resolved, with that enthusiasm which was the strongest part of her
nature, to become a student in reality.  Under Annabel's guidance she
took up the course of study which was necessary to enable her to pass
her entrance examination.  She acquitted herself well, for her abilities
were of the highest order, and entered the college with _eclat_.  Miss
Lee was a student in Heath Hall, and Maggie thought herself supremely
happy when she was given a room next to her friend.

Those were brilliant days at the Hall.  Some girls resided there at this
time whose names were destined to be known in the world by-and-by.  The
workers were earnest; the tone which pervaded the life at Heath Hall was
distinctly high.  Shallow girls there must always be where any number
are to be found together, but, during Maggie Oliphant's first year,
these girls had little chance of coming to the front.  Maggie, who was
as easily influenced as a wave is tossed by the wind, rose quickly to
the heights with her companions.  Her splendid intellect developed each
day; she was merry with the merry, glad with the glad, studious with the
studious.  She was also generous, kind, and unselfish in company with
those girls who observed the precepts of the higher life.  Next to Miss
Lee, Maggie was one of the most popular girls in the college.  Annabel
Lee had the kindest of hearts, as well as the most fascinating of ways.
She was an extraordinary girl; there was a great deal of the exotic
about her; in many ways she was old for her years.  No one ever thought
or spoke of her as a prig, but all her influence was brought to bear in
the right direction.  The girl who could do or think meanly avoided the
expression in Annabel's beautiful eyes.  It was impossible for her to
think badly of her fellow-creatures, but meanness and sin made her
sorrowful.  There was not a girl in Heath Hall who would willingly give
Annabel Lee sorrow.

In the days that followed people knew that she was one of those rare and
brilliant creatures who, like a lovely but too ethereal flower, must
quickly bloom into perfection and then pass away.  Annabel was destined
to a short life, and after her death the high tone of Heath Hall
deteriorated considerably.

This girl was a born leader.  When she died no other girl in the college
could take her place, and for many a long day those who had loved her
were conscious of a sense which meant a loss of headship.  In short,
they were without their leader.

If Annabel in her gaiety and brightness could influence girls who were
scarcely more than acquaintances, the effect of her strong personality
on Maggie was supreme.  Maggie often said that she never knew what love
meant until she met Annabel.  The two girls were inseparable; their love
for each other was compared to that of Jonathan and David of Bible
story, and of Orestes and Pylades of Greek legend.  The society of each
gave the other the warmest pleasure.

Annabel and Maggie were both so beautiful in appearance, so far above
the average girl in their pose, their walk, their manner, that people
noticed these friends wherever they went.  A young and rising artist,
who saw them once at St Hilda's, begged permission to make a picture of
the pair.  It was done during the summer recess before Annabel died, and
made a sensation in the next year's Academy.  Many of the visitors who
went there stopped and looked at the two faces, both in the perfection
of their youthful bloom and beauty; few guessed that one even now had
gone to the Home best fitted for so ardent and high a spirit.

Annabel Lee died a year before Priscilla came to the college.  Whatever
Maggie inwardly felt, she had got over her first grief; her smile was
again as brilliant as when Annabel was by her side, her laugh was as
merry; but the very few who could look a little way into Maggie's
perverse and passionate heart, knew well that something had died in her
which could never live again, that her laugh was often hollow, and her
brilliant smile had only a foundation in bitterness.

Maggie did not only grieve for her friend when she mourned for Annabel.
She had loved her most deeply, and love alone would have caused her
agony in such a loss; but Maggie's keenest and most terrible feelings
were caused by an unavailing regret.

This regret was connected with Geoffrey Hammond.

He had known Annabel from her childhood.  He was an old friend of some
of her friends, and during those last, long summer holidays, which the
two girls spent together under the roof of Maggie's guardian, Hammond,
who was staying with relations not far away, came to see them almost
daily.  He was the kind of man who could win both respect and
admiration; he was grave in his nature; and his aspirations, aims, and
ambitions were high.  In their conversations during this lovely summer
weather these young people dreamt happy dreams together, and planned a
future which meant good to all mankind.  Maggie, to all appearance, was
heart and soul with Annabel and Geoffrey in what they thought and said.

Nothing could have been simpler or more unconventional than the
intercourse between these young people.  Miss Lee had known Hammond all
her life; Maggie always spoke and thought of herself as second to
Annabel in Geoffrey Hammond's regard.  One brilliant autumn day,
however, he surprised Maggie by asking her to take a long walk alone
with him.  No words were said during this ramble to open Maggie
Oliphant's eyes to the true state of Hammond's feelings for her, but,
when she returned from her walk, she could not help noticing Annabel
Lee's unaccountable depression.  It was not until later, however, that
Maggie attributed a certain pathetic, almost heart-broken, look in her
friend's lovely eyes to its true cause.

Hammond was a graduate of St Hilda's College at Kingsdene, and the
three friends often talked of the happy meetings they would have during
the coming winter.  He was a man of large property, and the favourite
amusement of these young people was in talking over the brilliant life
which lay before Hammond when he took possession of his estates.  He
would be the ideal landlord of his age; the people who lived on his
property would, when he attained his majority, enter into a millennium
of bliss.

Maggie returned to St Benet's, imagining herself quite heart-whole; but
happiness shone out of her eyes, and there was a new tender ring in her
voice for which she could not account to herself, and which added a new
fascination to her beauty.

Shortly after the commencement of the term, Hammond met Miss Oliphant by
accident just outside Kingsdene.

"I was going to post a letter to you," he said.  His face was unusually
pale, his eyes full of joy and yet of solicitude.

"You can tell me what you have written," replied Maggie, in her gayest
voice.

"No, I would rather you read my letter."

He thrust it into her hand and immediately, to her astonishment, left
her.

As she walked home through the frosty air she opened Hammond's letter,
and read its contents.  It contained an earnest appeal for her love, and
an assurance that all the happiness of the writer's future life depended
on her consenting to marry him.  Would she be his wife when her three
years' term at St Benet's came to an end?

No letter could be more manly, more simple.  Its contents went straight
to the depths of a heart easily swayed and full of strong affection.

"Yes, I love him," whispered the girl; "I did not know it until I read
this letter, but I am sure of myself now.  Yes, I love him better than
anyone else in the world."

A joyous light filled Maggie's brown eyes; her heart was gay.  She
rushed to Annabel's room to tell her news, and to claim the sympathy
which had never hitherto been denied her, and which was essential to the
completion of her happiness.

When Maggie entered her friend's room, she saw, to her surprise, that
Annabel was lying on her bed with flushed cheeks.  Two hours before she
had been, to all appearance, in brilliant health; now her face burned
with fever, and her beautiful dark eyes were glazed with pain.

Maggie rushed up and kissed her.  "What is it, darling," she asked;
"what is wrong?  You look ill; your eyes have a strange expression."

Annabel's reply was scarcely audible.  The pain and torpor of her last
short illness were already overmastering her.  Maggie was alarmed at the
burning touch of her hand; but she had no experience to guide her, and
her own great joy helped to make her selfish.

"Annabel, look at me for a moment; I have wonderful news to give you."

Annabel's eyes were closed.  She opened them wide at this appeal for
sympathy, stretched out her hand, and pushed back a tangle of bright
hair from Maggie's brow.

"I love you, Maggie," she said, in that voice which had always power to
thrill its listeners.

Maggie kissed her friend's hand, and pressed it to her own beating
heart.  "I met Geoffrey Hammond to-day," she said.  "He gave me a
letter; I have read it.  Oh, Annabel, Annabel!  I can be good now.  No
more bad half-hours, no more struggles with myself.  I can be very good
now."

With some slight difficulty Annabel Lee drew her hot hand away from
Maggie's fervent clasp; her eyes, slightly distended, were fixed on her
friend's face; the flush of fever left her cheeks; a hot flood of
emotion seemed to press against her beating heart; she looked at Maggie
with passionate longing.

"What is it?" she asked, in a husky whisper.  "Why are you so glad,
Maggie?  Why can you be good now?"

"Because I love Geoffrey Hammond," answered Maggie: "I love him with all
my heart, all my life, all my strength, and he loves me; he has asked me
to be his wife."

Maggie paused.  She expected to feel Annabel's arms round her neck; she
waited impatiently for this last crowning moment of bliss.  Her own
happiness caused her to lower her eyes; her joy was so dazzling that for
a moment she felt she must shade their brilliance even from Annabel's
gaze.

Instead of the pressure of loving arms, however, and the warm kiss of
sympathy, there came a low cry from the lips of the sick girl.  She made
an effort to say something, but words failed her: the next moment she
was unconscious.  Maggie rushed to the bell, and gave an alarm, which
brought Miss Heath and one or two servants to the room.

A doctor was speedily sent for, and Maggie Oliphant was banished from
the room.  She never saw Annabel Lee again.  That night the sick girl
was removed to the hospital, which was in a building apart from the
Halls, and two days afterwards she was dead.

Typhus fever was raging at Kingsdene at this time, and Annabel Lee had
taken it in its most virulent form.  The doctors (and two or three were
summoned) gave up all hope of saving her life from the first.  Maggie
also gave up hope.  She accused herself of having caused her friend's
death; she believed that the shock of her tidings had killed Annabel,
who, already suffering from fever, had not strength to bear the agony of
knowing that Hammond's love was given to Maggie.

On the night of Annabel's death, Maggie wrote to Hammond refusing his
offer of marriage, but giving no reason for doing so.  After posting her
letter, she lay down on her own sick bed, and nearly died of the fever
which had taken Annabel away.

All these things happened a year ago.  The agitation caused by the death
of one so young, beautiful, and beloved had subsided.  People could talk
calmly of Annabel, and although for a long time her room had remained
vacant, it was now occupied by a girl in all respects her opposite.

Nothing would induce Maggie to enter this room, and no words would
persuade her to speak of Annabel.  She was merry and bright once more,
and few gave her credit for secret hours of misery, which were seriously
undermining her health, and ruining what was best of her character.

On this particular day, as she lay back in her carriage, wrapped in
costly furs, a great wave of misery and bitterness was sweeping over her
heart.  In the first agony caused by Annabel's death, Maggie had vowed a
vow to her own heart never, under any circumstances, to consent to be
Hammond's wife.  In the first misery of regret and compunction it had
been easy to Maggie Oliphant to make such a vow; but she knew well, as
the days and months went by, that its weight was crushing her life, was
destroying her chance of ever becoming a really strong and good woman.
If she had loved Hammond a year ago her sufferings made her love him
fifty times better now.  With all her outward coldness and apparent
indifference, his presence gave her the keenest pain.  Her heart beat
fast when she caught sight of his face; if he spoke to another, she was
conscious of being overcome by a spirit of jealousy.  The thought of him
mingled with her waking and sleeping hours; but the sacrifice she owed
to the memory of her dead friend must be made at all hazards.  Maggie
consulted no one on this subject.  Annabel's unhappy story lay buried
with her in her early grave; Maggie would have died rather than reveal
it.  Now, as she lay back in her carriage, the tears filled her eyes.

"I am too weak for this to go on any longer," she said to herself.  "I
shall leave St Benet's at the end of the present term.  What is the
winning of a tripos to me? what do I want with honours and distinctions?
Everything is barren to me.  My life has no flavour in it.  I loved
Annabel, and she is gone.  Without meaning it, I broke Annabel's heart.
Without meaning it, I caused my darling's death, and now my own heart is
broken, for I love Geoffrey--I love him, and I can never, under any
circumstances, be his wife.  He misunderstands me--he thinks me cold,
wicked, heartless--and I can never, never set myself right with him.
Soon he will grow tired of me, and give his heart to someone else, and
perhaps marry someone else.  When he does, I too shall die.  Yes,
whatever happens, I must go away from St Benet's."

Maggie's tears always came slowly; she put up her handkerchief to wipe
them away.  It was little wonder that when she returned from her drive
her head was no better.

"We must put off the rehearsal," said Nancy Banister.  She came into
Maggie's room, and spoke vehemently.  "I saw you at lunch, Maggie: you
ate nothing--you spoke with an effort.  I know your head is worse.  You
must lie down, and, unless you are better soon, I will ask Miss Heath to
send for a doctor."

"No doctor will cure me," said Maggie.  "Give me a kiss, Nance; let me
rest my head against yours for a moment.  Oh, how earnestly I wish I was
like you."

"Why so?  What have I got?  I have no beauty; I am not clever; I am
neither romantically poor, like Prissie, nor romantically rich, like
you.  In short, the fairies were not invited to my christening."

"One or two fairies came, however," replied Maggie, "and they gave you
an honest soul, and a warm heart, and--and happiness, Nancy.  My dear, I
need only look into your eyes to know that you are happy."

Nancy's blue eyes glowed with pleasure.  "Yes," she said, "I don't know
anything about dumps and low spirits."

"And you are unselfish, Nancy; you are never seeking your own pleasure."

"I am not obliged to: I have all I want.  And now to turn to a more
important subject.  I will see the members of our Dramatic Society, and
put off the rehearsal."

"You must not; the excitement will do me good."

"For the time, perhaps," replied Nancy, shaking her wise head, "but you
will be worse afterwards."

"No.  Now, Nancy, don't let us argue the point.  If you are _truly_ my
friend, you will sit by me for an hour, and read aloud the dullest book
you can find, then perhaps I shall go to sleep."

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

"COME AND KILL THE BOGIE."

Notwithstanding Nancy's dismal prognostications, Maggie Oliphant played
her part brilliantly that night.  Her low spirits were succeeded by gay
ones; the Princess had never looked more truly regal, nor had the Prince
ever more passionately wooed her.  Girls who did not belong to the
society always flocked into the theatre to see the rehearsals.  Maggie's
mood scarcely puzzled them.  She was so erratic that no one expected
anything from her but the unexpected: if she looked like a drooping
flower one moment, her head was erect the next, her eyes sparkling, her
voice gay.  The flower no longer drooped, but blossomed with renewed
vigour.  After reading for an hour Nancy had left her friend asleep.
She went downstairs, and, in reply to several anxious inquiries,
pronounced it as her opinion that Maggie, with all the good will in the
world, could scarcely take part in the rehearsals that night.

"I know Maggie is going to be ill," said Nancy, with tears in her eyes.
Miss Banister was so sensible and so little given to undue alarms, that
her words had effect, and a little rumour spread in the college that
Miss Oliphant could not take her part in the important rehearsals which
were to take place that evening.  Her appearance, therefore, in more
than her usual beauty, with more vigour in her voice, more energy and
brightness in her eyes, gave at once a pleasing sense of satisfaction.
She was cheered when she entered the little theatre, but, if there was a
brief surprise, it was quickly succeeded by the comment which generally
followed all her doings--"This is just like Maggie; no one can depend on
how she will act for a moment."

At that rehearsal, however, people were taken by surprise.  If the
Princess did well, the young Prince did better.  Priscilla had
completely dropped her _role_ of the awkward and _gauche_ girl.  From
the first there had been vigour and promise in her acting.  To-night
there was not only vigour, but tenderness--there was a passion in her
voice which arose now and then to power.  She was so completely in
sympathy with her part that she ceased to be Priscilla: she was the
Prince who must win this wayward Princess or die.

Maggie came up to her when the rehearsals were over.

"I congratulate you," she said.  "Prissie, you might do well on the
stage."

Priscilla smiled.  "No," she said, "for I need inspiration to forget
myself."

"Well, genius would supply that."

"No, Maggie, no.  The motive that seems to turn me into the Prince
himself cannot come again.  Oh, Maggie, if I succeed!  If I succeed!"

"What do you mean, you strange child?"

"I cannot tell you with my voice: don't you guess?"

"I cannot say.  You move me strangely; you remind me of--I quite forget
that you are Priscilla Peel."

Priscilla laughed joyously.

"How gay you look to-night, Prissie, and yet I am told you were
miserable this morning.  Have you forgotten your woes?"

"Completely."

"Why is this?"

"I suppose because I am happy and hopeful."

"Nancy tells me that you were quite in despair to-day.  She said that
some of those cruel girls insulted you."

"Yes, I was very silly; I got a shock."

"And you have got over it?"

"Yes; I know you don't believe badly of me.  You know that I am honest
and--and true."

"Yes, my dear," said Maggie, with fervour, "I believe in you as I
believe in myself.  Now, have you quite disrobed?  Shall we go into the
library for a little?"

The moment they entered this cheerful room, which was bright with two
blazing fires and numerous electric lights, Miss Day and Miss Marsh came
up eagerly to Maggie.

"Well," they said, "have you made up your mind?"

"About what?" she asked, raising her eyes in a puzzled way.

"You will come with us to the Elliot-Smiths'?  You know how anxious Meta
is to have you."

"Thank you; but am I anxious to go to Meta?"

"Oh! you are, you must be; you cannot be so cruel as to refuse."

After the emotion she had gone through in the morning, Maggie's heart
was in that softened, half-tired state when it could be most easily
influenced; she was in no mood for arguing--or for defiance of any sort.
"Peace at all hazards" was her motto just now.  She was also in so
reckless a mood as to be indifferent to what anyone thought of her.  The
Elliot-Smiths were not in her "set;" she disliked them and their ways,
but she had met Meta at a friend's house a week ago.  Meta had been
introduced to Miss Oliphant, and had pressed her invitation vigorously.
It would be a triumph of triumphs to Meta Elliot-Smith to introduce the
beautiful heiress to her own set.  Maggie's refusal was not listened to.
She was begged to reconsider the question; implored to be merciful, to
be kind; assured of undying gratitude if she would consent to come even
for one short hour.

Miss Day and Miss Marsh were commissioned by Meta to secure Maggie at
all costs.

"You will come?" said Miss Day; "you must come."  Then coming up close
to Maggie, she whispered in an eager voice--"Would not you like to find
out who has taken your five-pound note?  Miss Peel is your friend; would
it not gratify you to clear her?"

"Why should I clear one who can never possibly be suspected?" replied
Miss Oliphant, in a voice of anger.  Her words were spoken aloud, and so
vehemently that Annie Day drew back a step or two in alarm.

"Well, but you would _like_ to know who really took your money?" she
reiterated, again speaking in a whisper.

Maggie was standing by one of the bookcases; she stretched up her hand
to take down a volume.  As she did so, her eyes rested for a moment on
Priscilla.

"I would as soon suspect myself as her," she thought, "and yet last
night, for a moment, even I was guilty of an unworthy thought of you,
Prissie, and if I could doubt, why should I blame others?  If going to
the Elliot-Smiths' will establish your innocence, I will go."

"Well," said Miss Day, who was watching her face, "I am to see Meta
to-morrow morning; am I to tell her to expect you?"

"Yes," replied Maggie, "but I wish to say at once, with regard to that
five-pound note, that I am not interested in it.  I am so careless about
my money matters, that it is quite possible I may have been mistaken
when I thought I put it into my purse."

"Oh! oh! but you spoke _so_ confidently this morning."

"One of my impulses.  I wish I had not done it."

"Having done it, however," retorted Miss Day, "it is your duty to take
any steps which may be necessary to clear the college of so unpleasant
and disgraceful a charge."

"You think I can do this by going to the Elliot-Smiths'?"

"Hush! you will spoil all by speaking so loud.  Yes, I fully believe we
shall make a discovery on Friday night."

"You don't suppose I would go to act the spy?"

"No, no, nothing of the sort; only come--only come!"

Maggie opened her book, and glanced at some of its contents before
replying.

"Only come," repeated Annie, in an imploring voice.

"I said I would come," answered Maggie.  "Must I reiterate my assurance?
Tell Miss Elliot-Smith to expect me."

Maggie read for a little in the library; then, feeling tired, she rose
from her seat and crossed the large room, intending to go up at once to
her own chamber.  In the hall, however, she was attracted by seeing Miss
Heath's door slightly open.  Her heart was full of compunction for
having, even for a moment, suspected Priscilla of theft.  She thought
she would go and speak to Miss Heath about her.

She knocked at the Vice-Principal's door.

"Come in," answered the kind voice, and Maggie found herself a moment
later seated by the fire: the door of Miss Heath's room shut, and Miss
Heath herself standing over her, using words of commiseration.

"My dear," she said, "you look very ill."

Maggie raised her eyes.  Miss Heath had seen many moods on that charming
face; now the expression in the wide-open, brown eyes caused her own to
fill with sudden tears.

"I would do anything to help you, my love," she said, tenderly, and,
stooping down, she kissed Maggie on her forehead.

"Perhaps, another time," answered Miss Oliphant.  "You are all that is
good, Miss Heath, and I may as well own frankly that I am neither well
nor happy, but I have not come to speak of myself just now.  I want to
say something about Priscilla Peel."

"Yes, what about her?"

"She came to you last night.  I know what she came about."

"She told me she had confided in you," answered the Vice-Principal,
gravely.

"Yes.  Well, I have come to say that she must not be allowed to give up
her Greek and Latin."

"Why not?"

"Miss Heath, how can you say, `why not'?  Prissie is a genius; her
inclination lies in that direction.  It is in her power to become one of
the most brilliant classical scholars of her day."

Miss Heath smiled.  "Well, Maggie," she said, slowly, "even suppose that
is the case--and you must own that, clever as Priscilla is, you make an
extreme statement when you say such words--she may do well, very well,
and yet turn her attention to other subjects for the present."

"It is cruel!" said Maggie, rising and stamping her foot, impatiently.
"Priscilla has it in her to shed honour on our college; she will take a
first-class when she goes in for her tripos, if her present studies are
not interfered with."

Miss Heath smiled at Maggie in a pitying sort of way.  "I admit," she
said, "that first-class honours would be a very graceful crown of bay to
encircle that young head; and yet, Maggie, yet--surely Priscilla can do
better?"

"What do you mean?  How can she possibly do better?"

"She can wear a nobler crown.  You know, Maggie, there are crowns to be
won which cannot fade."

"Oh!"  Maggie's lips trembled; she looked down.

After a pause, she said, "Priscilla told me something of her home and
her family.  I suppose she has also confided in you, Miss Heath?"

"Yes, my dear."

"Well, I have come to-night to say that it is in my power to use some of
that money which I detest in helping Prissie--in helping her family.  I
mean to help them; I mean to put them all in such a position that
Priscilla shall not need to spend her youth in uncongenial drudgery.  I
have come to say this to you, Miss Heath, and I beg of you--yes, I beg
of you--to induce my dear Prissie to go on with her classical studies.
It will now be in your power to assure her that the necessity which made
her obliged to give them up no longer exists."

"In short," said Miss Heath, "you will give Miss Peel of your charity,
and take her independence away?"

"What do you mean?"

"Put yourself in her place, Maggie.  Would you take money for yourself
and those dear to you from a comparative stranger?"

Maggie's face grew very red.  "I think I would oblige my friend, my dear
friend," she said.

"Is Prissie really your dear friend?"

"Why do you doubt me?  I love her very much.  Since--since Annabel died,
no one has come so close to me."

"I am glad of that," replied Miss Heath.  She went up to Maggie and
kissed her.

"You will do what I wish?" asked the girl, eagerly.

"No, my dear: that matter lies in your hands alone.  It is a case in
which it is absolutely impossible for me to interfere.  If you can
induce Priscilla to accept money from you, I shall not say a word; and,
for the sake of our college, I shall, perhaps, be glad, for there is not
the least doubt that Prissie has it in her to win distinction for St
Benet's.  But, on the other hand, if she comes to me for advice, it will
be impossible for me not to say to her--`My dear, character ranks higher
than intellect.  You may win the greatest prizes and yet keep a poor and
servile soul.  You may never get this great earthly distinction, and yet
you may be crowned with honour--the honour which comes of uprightness,
of independence, of integrity.'  Prissie may never consult me, of
course, Maggie; but, if she does, I must say words something like these.
To tell the truth, my dear, I never admired Priscilla more than I did
last night I encouraged her to give up her classics for the present, and
to devote herself to modern languages, and to those accomplishments
which are considered more essentially feminine.  As I did so I had a
picture before me, in which I saw Priscilla crowned with love, the
support and blessing of her three little sisters.  The picture was a
very bright one, Maggie, and your crown of bay looks quite tawdry beside
the other crown which I hope to see on Prissie's brow."

Maggie rose from her chair.  "Good-night," she said.

"I am sorry to disappoint you, my love."

"I have no doubt you are right," said Maggie, "but," she added, "I have
not made up my mind, and I still long for Priscilla to wear the crown of
bay."

"You will win that crown yourself, my dear."

"Oh, no, it is not for me."

"I am very anxious about you, Maggie.  Why do you speak in that reckless
tone?  Your position and Prissie's are not the least alike: it is your
duty to do your very utmost with those talents which have been bestowed
upon you."

"Perhaps," answered Maggie, shrugging her shoulders, "but I am tired of
stretching out my hand like a baby to catch soap-bubbles.  I cannot
speak of myself at all to-night, Miss Heath.  Thank you for what you
have said, and again good-night."

Maggie had scarcely left the room before Priscilla appeared.

"Are you too tired to see me to-night, Miss Heath?"

"No, my love; come in and sit down.  I was sorry to miss you this
morning."

"But I am glad as it turned out," replied Priscilla.

"You were in great trouble, Prissie.  The servant told me how terribly
upset you were."

"I was.  I felt nearly mad."

"But you look very happy now."

"I am; my trouble has all vanished away.  It was a great bogie.  As soon
as I came boldly up to it, it vanished into smoke."

"Am I to hear the name of the bogie?"

"I think I would rather not tell you--at least not now.  If Maggie
thinks it right, she will speak to you about it; but, as far as I am
concerned, it cannot touch me again."

"Why have you come to see me then to-night, Priscilla?"

"I want to speak about Maggie."

"What about her?  She has just been here to speak of you."

"Has she?"

"It is possible that she may make you a proposition which will affect
your whole future, but I am not at liberty to say any more.  Have you a
proposition to make about her?"

"I have, and it will affect all Maggie's life.  It will make her so
good--so very, very happy.  Oh, Miss Heath! you ought to do it: you
ought to make her marry Mr Hammond at once."

"My dear Priscilla!"  Miss Heath's face turned crimson.  "Are you
alluding to Geoffrey Hammond?  I know great friends of his; he is one of
the cleverest men at St Hilda's."

"Yes, and one of the best," pursued Prissie, clasping her hands and
speaking in that excited way which she always did when quite carried out
of herself.  "You don't know how good he is, Miss Heath.  I think he is
one of the best of men.  I would do anything in the world for him--
anything."

"Where have you met him, Priscilla?"

"At the Marshalls', and once at the Elliot-Smiths', and to-day, when I
was so miserable, when the bogie ran after me, you know, at St Hilda's,
just outside the chapel.  Mr Hammond asked me to come to the service,
and I went, and afterwards he chased the bogie away.  Oh, he is good, he
is kind, and he loves Maggie with all his heart.  He has loved her for a
long time, I am sure, but she is never nice to him."

"Then, of course," said Miss Heath, "if Miss Oliphant does not care for
Mr Hammond, there is an end of the matter.  You are a very innocent and
very young girl, Priscilla; but this is a subject in which you have no
right to interfere.  Far from me to say that I disapprove of marriage
for our students, but, while at St Benet's, it is certainly best for
them to give their attention to other matters."

"For most of us," replied Prissie, "but not for Maggie.  No one in the
college thinks Maggie happy."

"That is true," replied Miss Heath, thoughtfully.

"And everyone knows," pursued Prissie, "that Mr Hammond loves her."

"Do they?  I was not aware that such reports had got abroad."

"Oh, yes: all Maggie's friends know that, but they are so dreadfully
stupid they cannot guess the other thing."

"What other thing?"

"That dear Maggie is breaking her heart on account of Mr Hammond."

"Then you think she loves him?"

"I do--I know it.  Oh, won't you do something to get them to marry each
other?"

"My dear child, these are subjects in which neither you nor I can
interfere."

"Oh!"  Prissie's eyes filled with sudden tears.  "If you won't do
anything, I must."

"I don't see what you can do, Priscilla; I don't know what you have a
right to do.  We do not care that our students should think of love and
courtship while here, but we have never limited their freedom in the
matter.  If Miss Oliphant cares for Mr Hammond, and he cares for her,
they know perfectly that they can become engaged.  Miss Oliphant will be
leaving St Benet's at the end of the summer term, she is completely, in
every sense of the word, her own mistress."

"Oh, no, she is not her own mistress, she is oppressed by a bogie.  I
don't know the name of the bogie, or anything about it; but it is
shadowing all Maggie's life; it is taking the sunshine away from her,
and it is making it impossible for her to marry Mr Hammond.  They are
both so fond of each other; they have both noble hearts, but the
dreadful bogie spoils everything--it keeps them apart.  Dear Miss Heath,
I want you to come and kill the bogie."

"I must find out its name first," said Miss Heath.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

AT THE ELLIOT-SMITHS' PARTY.

Rosalind Merton had been in the wildest spirits all day; she had laughed
with the gayest, joined in all the games, thrown herself heart and soul
into every project which promised fun, which gave a possibility for
enjoyment.  Rosalind's mood might have been described as reckless.  This
was not her invariable condition; she was a girl who, with all her gay
spirits, took life with coolness.  She was not given to over-excitement;
her nerves were too well balanced for anything of this kind.

To-day, however, something seemed wrong with these equable nerves of
hers: she could not keep still; her voice was never quiet; her laugh was
constant.  Once or twice she saw Annie Day's eyes fixed upon her; she
turned from their glance; a more brilliant red than usual dyed her
cheeks; her laugh grew louder and more insolent.

On this evening the Elliot-Smiths would give their long-promised party.
The wish of Annie Day's heart was gratified; she had angled for an
invitation to this merry-making and obtained it.  Lucy Marsh was also
going, and several other St Benet's girls would be present.

Early in the evening Rosalind retired to her own room, locked her door,
and, taking out her new white dress, laid it across her bed.  It was a
very pretty dress, made of soft silk, which did not rustle, but lay in
graceful puffs and folds on body and skirt.  It was just the dress to
make this young, slight figure of Rosalind's look absolutely charming.
She stood over it now and regarded it lovingly.  The dress had been
obtained, like most of Rosalind's possessions, by manoeuvres.  She had
made up a piteous story, and her adoring mother had listened and
contrived to deny herself and some of Rosalind's younger sisters to
purchase the white robe on which the young girl's heart was set.

Deliberately and slowly Rosalind made her toilet, her golden, curling
hair was brushed out, and then carefully coiled round her head.
Rosalind had no trouble with her hair: a touch or two, a pin stuck here,
a curl arranged there, and the arrangement became perfect--the
glistening mass lay in natural waves over the small, graceful head.

Rosalind's hair arranged to her satisfaction, she put on her lovely
white dress.  She stood before her long glass, a white-robed little
figure, smiles round her lips, a sweet, bright colour in her cheeks, a
dewy look in her baby-blue eyes.  Rosalind's toilet was all but
finished; she stood before her glass now and hesitated.  Should she go
to the Elliot-Smiths' as she was, or should she give the last finishing
touch to render herself perfect?  Should she wear her beautiful coral
ornaments?

The coral was now her own, paid for to the uttermost farthing; Polly
Singleton could not come up to Rosalind now, and disgrace her in public
by demanding her coral back again.  The coral was no longer Polly's; it
was Rosalind's.  The debt was cleared off; the exquisite ornaments were
her own.  Unlocking a drawer in her bureau she took out a case, which
contained her treasures; she touched the spring of the case, opened it,
and looked at them lovingly.  The necklace, the bracelets, the earrings,
and pins for the hair looked beautiful on their velvet pillow.  For the
sake of the pink coral, Rosalind had manoeuvred for her white dress; for
its sake she had knowingly stinted her mother and sisters; for its sake
she had also stolen a five-pound note from Maggie Oliphant.  She dreamt
many times of the triumphs which would be hers when she appeared at the
Elliot-Smiths' in her white silk dress, just tipped with the slight
colour which the pink coral ornaments would bestow.  Rosalind had
likened herself to all kinds of lovely things in this beautiful yet
simple toilet--to a daisy in the field, to a briar-rose: in short, to
every flower which denoted the perfection of baby innocence.

Yet, as she held the coral necklace in her hand to-night, she hesitated
deeply whether it would be wise to appear at the Elliot-Smiths' in her
treasured ornaments.

Rose had not felt comfortable all day.  She had banished thought with
the usual device of extra hilarity; she had crushed the little voice in
her heart which would persistently cry, "Shame! shame!" which would go
on telling her, "You are the meanest, the most wicked girl in St
Benet's; you have done something for which you could be put in prison."
The voice had little opportunity of making itself heard that day, and,
as Maggie Oliphant evidently did not intend to investigate the matter,
Rosalind had every hope that her sin would never be found out.
Nevertheless, she could not help feeling uneasy; for why did Annie Day,
her own chosen and particular friend, so persistently avoid her?  Why
had Lucy Marsh refused to walk with her yesterday? and why did Annie so
often look at her with meaning and inquiry in her eyes?  These glances
of Annie's caused Rosalind's heart to beat too quickly; they gave her an
undefined sense of uneasiness.

She felt as she stood now before her glass that, after all, she was
doing a rash thing in wearing her coral.  Annie Day knew of her money
difficulties; Annie knew how badly Rosalind had wanted four guineas to
pay the debt she still owed for the ornaments.  If Rosalind wore them
to-night, Annie would ask numerous questions.  Oh, yes, there was a
risk--there was a decided risk--but Rosalind's vanity was greater than
her fears.

There came a knock at her room door.  To Rosalind's surprise, Annie
Day's voice, with an extremely friendly tone in it, was heard outside.

"Are you ready, Rosie?" she cried; "for, if you are, there is just room
for you in the fly with Lucy Marsh and Miss Singleton and myself."

"Oh, thank you!" cried Rosalind from the other side of the door; "just
wait one moment, Annie, and I will be with you."

Both fear and hesitation vanished at the friendly tones of Annie's
voice.  She hastily fastened on her necklace and earrings, slipped on
her bracelets, and stuck the coral pins in her hair.  She saw a dazzling
little image in the glass, and turned away with a glad, proud smile.

"We can't be kept waiting; are you ready?" called Miss Day's voice in
the passage.

"Yes, yes; in one moment, Annie, dear," replied Rosalind.  She wrapped
herself from head to foot in a long white opera cloak, pulled the hood
over her head, seized her gloves and fan, and opened the door.  The
coral could not be seen now, and Annie, who was also in white, took her
hand and ran with her down the corridor.

A few moments later the four girls arrived at the Elliot-Smiths' and
were shown into a dressing-room on the ground floor to divest themselves
of their wraps.  They were amongst the earliest of the arrivals, and
Annie Day had both space and opportunity to rush up to Rosalind and
exclaim at the perfect combination of white silk and pink coral.

"Lucy, Lucy!" she said, "do come and look at Rosalind's coral!  Oh, poor
Polly! you must miss your ornaments; but I am obliged frankly to
confess, my dear, that they are more becoming to this little cherub than
they ever were to you."

Polly was loudly dressed in blue silk.  She came up, and turned Rosalind
round, and, putting her hand on her neck, lifted the necklace, and
looked at it affectionately.

"I did love those ornaments," she said; "but, of course, I can't grudge
them to you, Rose.  You paid a good sum for them--didn't you, dear?--
although nothing like what they were worth, so, of course, they are
yours by every right."

"You have paid off the debt?  I congratulate you, Rose," said Annie Day.

"Yes," said Rosalind, blushing.

"I am glad you were able to get the money, my dear."

"And I wish she hadn't got it," retorted Polly.  "Money is of no moment
to me now.  Dad is just rolling in wealth, and I have, in consequence,
more money than I know what to do with.  I confess I never felt crosser
in my life than when you brought me that five-pound note last Monday
night, Miss Merton."

Rosalind coloured, then grew very pale; she saw Annie Day's eyes blaze
and darken.  She felt that her friend was putting two and two together,
and drawing a conclusion in her own mind.  Annie turned abruptly from
Rosalind, and, touching Lucy Marsh on the arm, walked with her out of
the dressing-room.  The unsuspecting Polly brought up the rear with
Rosalind.

The four girls entered the drawing-room, and Rosalind tried to forget
the sick fear which was creeping round her heart in the excitement of
the moment.

Nearly an hour later Maggie Oliphant arrived.  She was also in white,
but without any ornament, except a solitary diamond star which blazed in
the rich coils of her hair.  The beautiful Miss Oliphant was received
with enthusiasm.  Until her arrival Rose had been the undoubted _belle_
of the evening, but beside Maggie the _petite_ charms which Rose
possessed sank out of sight.  Maggie herself never felt less conscious
of beauty; the heaviness at her heart made her cheeks look pale, and
gave her brown eyes a languid expression; she was indifferent to the
admiration which greeted her.  The admiration which greeted her gave her
a momentary feeling of surprise--almost of displeasure.

Meta Elliot-Smith and her mother buzzed round Maggie, and expressed
their gratitude to her for coming.

"We expect a friend of yours to arrive presently," said Meta--"Mr
Hammond.  You know Mr Hammond, don't you?  I have had a note from him.
He says he will look in as soon after ten as possible.  I am so glad; I
was dreadfully afraid he couldn't come, for he had to go suddenly into
the country at the beginning of this week.  You know Mr Hammond very
well, don't you, Miss Oliphant?"

"Yes," replied Maggie, in her careless voice; "he is quite an old friend
of mine."

"You will be glad to see him?"

"Very glad."

Meta looked at her in a puzzled way.  Reports of Hammond's love affair
had reached her ears.  She had expected to see emotion and confusion on
Maggie's face; it looked bright and pleased.  Her "very glad" had a
genuine ring about it.

"I am so delighted he is coming!" repeated Meta.  "I do trust he will be
here in good time."

She led Miss Oliphant to a prominent seat at the top of the room as she
spoke.

"I shall have to leave soon after ten," replied Maggie, "so, if Mr
Hammond cannot arrive until after that hour, I shall not have the
pleasure of seeing him."

"Oh, but you must really stay later than that; it would be too cruel to
leave us so early."

"I am afraid I cannot.  The gates are closed at St Benet's at eleven
o'clock, and I do not care to remain out until the last moment."

Meta was obliged, with great reluctance, to leave her guest, and a
moment later Annie Day came up eagerly to Maggie's side.

"It's all right," she said, drawing Miss Oliphant into the shelter of a
window; "I have found out all I want to know."

"What is that?" asked Maggie.

"Rosalind Merton is the thief."

"Miss Day, how can you say such dreadful things?"

"How can Rosalind do them?  I am awfully sorry--indeed, I am disgusted--
but the facts are too plain."  Miss Day then in a few eager whispers,
which Maggie in vain endeavoured to suppress, gave her chain of
evidence.  Rosalind's distress; her passionate desire to keep the coral;
her entreaties that Miss Day would lend her four guineas; her assurances
that she had not a penny in the world to pay her debt; her fears that it
was utterly useless for her to expect the money from her mother.  Then
the curious fact that, on that very same evening, Polly Singleton should
have been given a five-pound note by her.  "There is not the least
doubt," concluded Miss Day, "that Rosalind must have gone into your
room, Miss Oliphant, and stolen the note while Priscilla was absent.
You know Miss Peel said that she did leave your room for a moment or two
to fetch her Lexicon.  Rosalind must have seized the opportunity; there
cannot be a doubt of it."

Maggie's face turned white; her eyes were full of indignation and
horror.

"Something must be done," continued Annie.  "I am no prude, but I draw
the line at thieves.  Miss Merton ought to be expelled; she is not fit
to speak to one of us."

"The affair is mine," said Maggie, after a pause.  "You must let me deal
with it."

"Will you?"

"I certainly will."

"To-night?"

"I cannot say; I must think.  The whole thing is terrible, it upsets
me."

"I thought you would feel it.  I am a good bit upset myself, and so is
Lucy Marsh."

"Does Miss Marsh know, too?  In that case, Miss Day, it will, I fear, be
my duty to consult Miss Heath.  Oh, I must think; I can do nothing
hastily.  Please, Miss Day, keep your own counsel for the present, and
ask Miss Marsh to do the same."

Annie Day ran off, and Maggie stood by the open window looking out at
the starry night.  Her head ached; her pulses beat; she felt sick and
tired.  The noise and laughter which filled the gaily thronged rooms
were all discordant to her--she wished she had not come.  A voice close
by made her start--a hand not only clasped hers, but held it firmly for
a moment.  She looked up, and said with a sudden impulse, "Oh, Geoffrey!
I am glad you are here."  Then, with a burning blush, she withdrew her
hand from Hammond's.

"Can I help you?" he asked.  His heart was beating fast; her words were
tingling in his ears, but his tone was quiet.  "Can I help you?" he
repeated.  "Here is a seat."  He pulled a chair from behind a curtain,
and Maggie dropped into it.

"Something is wrong," she said; "something dreadful has happened."

"May I know what it is?"

"I don't think I have any right to tell you.  It is connected with the
college; but it has given me a blow, and I was tired beforehand.  I came
here against my will, and now I don't want to talk to anyone."

"That can be easily managed.  I will stand here, and keep off all
intruders."

"Thank you."  Maggie put her hand to her forehead.

The headache, which had scarcely left her for a fortnight, was now so
acute that all her thoughts were confused; she felt as if she were
walking in a dream.  It seemed perfectly right and natural that Hammond
should stand by her side and protect her from the crowd; it seemed
natural to her at that moment, natural, and even right, to appeal to
him.

After a long pause, he said--

"I am afraid I also have bad news!"

"How?"

"I went to see my uncle, Mr Hayes."

"Yes; it was good of you--I remember."

"I failed in my mission.  Mr Hayes says that Miss Peel, our Prissie's
aunt, would rather die than accept help from anyone."

"Oh, how obstinate some people are!" replied Maggie, wearily.
"Happiness, help, and succour come to their very door, and they turn
these good things away."

"That is true," replied Hammond.  "I am firmly convinced," he added,
"that the good angel of happiness is within the reach of most of us once
at least in our lives; but for a whim--often for a mere whim--we tell
him to go."

Maggie's face grew very white.  "I must say `Good-bye': I am going
home," she said, rising; then she added, looking full at Hammond,
"Sometimes it is necessary to reject happiness; and necessity ought not
to be spoken of as a whim."

CHAPTER THIRTY.

"IF I HAD KNOWN YOU SOONER."

As Maggie was leaving the crowded drawing-room, she came face to face
with Rosalind.  One of those impulses which always guided her, more or
less, made her stop suddenly and put her hand on the young girl's
shoulder.

"Will you come home with me?" she asked.

Rosalind was talking gaily at the moment to a very young undergraduate.

"I am obliged to you," she began; "you are kind, but I have arranged to
return to St Benet's with Miss Day and Miss Marsh."

"I should like you to come now with me," persisted Maggie in a grave
voice.

Something in her tone caused Rosalind to turn pale.  The sick fear,
which had never been absent from her heart during the evening, became on
the instant intolerable.  She turned to the young lad with whom she had
been flirting, bade him a hasty and indifferent "Good-night," and
followed Maggie out of the room.

Hammond accompanied the two girls downstairs, got their cab for them,
and helped them in.

After Rosalind consented to come home, Miss Oliphant did not address
another word to her.  Rosalind sat huddled up in a corner of the cab;
Maggie kept the window open, and looked out.  The clear moonlight shone
on her white face and glistened on her dress.  Rosalind kept glancing at
her; the guilty girl's terror of the silent figure by her side grew
greater each moment.

The girls reached Heath Hall, and Maggie again touched Rosalind on her
arm.

"Come to my room," she said; "I want to say something to you."

Without waiting for a reply she went on herself in front.  Rosalind
followed abjectly; she was shaking in every limb.

The moment Maggie closed her room door, Rosalind flung her cloak off her
shoulders, and, falling on her knees, caught the hem of Maggie's dress
and covered her face with it.

"Don't, Rosalind; get up," said Miss Oliphant, in a tone of disgust.

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie, do be merciful!  Do forgive me!  Don't send me to
prison, Maggie--don't!"

"Get off your knees at once, or I don't know what I shall do," replied
Maggie.

Rosalind sprang to her feet; she crouched up against the door; her eyes
were wide open.  Maggie came and faced her.

"Oh, don't!" said Miss Merton, with a little shriek, "don't look at me
like that!"  She put up her hand to her neck and began to unfasten her
coral necklace.  She took it off, slipped her bracelets from her arms,
took her earrings out, and removed her pins.

"You can have them all," she said, holding out the coral; "they are
worth a great deal more--a great deal more than the money I--_took_!"

"Lay them down," said Maggie.  "Do you think I could touch that coral?
Oh, Rosalind," she added, a sudden rush of intense feeling coming into
her voice, "I pity you!  I pity any girl who has so base a soul."

Rosalind began to sob freely.  "You don't know how I was tempted," she
said.  "I went through a dreadful time, and you were the cause--you know
you were, Maggie.  You raised the price of that coral so wickedly, you
excited my feelings.  I felt as if there was a fiend in me.  You did not
want the sealskin jacket, but you bid against me, and won it.  Then I
felt mad, and, whatever you had offered for the coral, I should have
bidden higher.  It was all your fault; it was you who got me into debt.
I would not be in the awful, awful plight I am in to-night but for you,
Maggie."

"Hush!" said Maggie.  The pupils of her eyes dilated curiously; she put
her hand before them.

"The fruits of my bad half-hours," she murmured under her breath.  After
a long pause, she said--

"There is some truth in your words, Rosalind; I did help you to get into
this false position.  I am sorry; and when I tell Miss Heath the whole
circumstance--as I must to-morrow--you may be sure I shall not exonerate
myself."

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie, you won't tell Miss Heath!  If you do, I am certain
to be expelled, and my mother--my mother will die; she is not over
strong just now, and this will kill her.  You cannot be so cruel as to
kill my mother, Maggie Oliphant, particularly when you yourself got me
into this."

"I did not get you into this," retorted Maggie.  "I know I am not
blameless in the matter; but could I imagine for a moment that any girl,
any girl who belonged to this college, could debase herself to steal,
and then throw the blame on another.  Nancy Banister has told me, Rose,
how cruelly you spoke to Priscilla--what agony your cruel words cost
her.  I did wrong I own, but no act of mine would have tempted another
girl to do what you have done.  Now, stop crying; I have not brought you
here to discuss your wickedness with you.  I shall tell the whole
circumstance to Miss Heath in the morning.  It is my plain duty to do
so, and no words of yours can prevent me."

With a stifled cry, Rosalind Merton again fell on her knees.

"Get up," said Maggie, "get up at once, or I shall bring Miss Heath here
now.  Your crime, Rosalind, is known to Miss Day and to Miss Marsh.
Even without consulting Miss Heath, I think I can take it upon me to say
that you had better leave St Benet's by the first train in the
morning."

"Oh, yes--yes! that would be much the best thing to do."

"You are to go home, remember."

"Yes, I will certainly go home.  But, Maggie, I have no money--I have
literally no money."

"I will ask Priscilla Peel to go with you to the railway-station, and I
will give her sufficient money to pay your fare to London--you live in
London, don't you?"

"Yes, at Bayswater."

"What is your address?"

"19, Queen Street, Bayswater."

"Priscilla shall telegraph to your mother, when you start, and ask her
to meet you at.  King's Cross."

Rosalind's face grew paler and paler.  "What excuse am I to give to
mother?" she asked.

"That is your own affair; I have no doubt you will find something to
say.  I should advise you, Rosalind, to tell your poor mother the truth,
for she is certain to hear all about it from Miss Heath the following
morning."

"Oh, what a miserable, miserable girl I am, Maggie!"

"You are a very miserable and sinful girl.  It was a wretched day for
St Benet's when a girl such as you are came to live here.  But I don't
want to speak of that now, Rosalind; there is something you must do
before you leave."

"What is that?"

"You must go to Priscilla Peel, and humbly beg her pardon."

"Oh, I cannot, I cannot!  You have no idea how I hate Priscilla."

"I am not surprised; the children of darkness generally hate those who
walk in the light."

"Maggie, I _can't_ beg her pardon."

"You can please yourself about that: I certainly shall not force you;
but, unless you beg Priscilla's pardon, and confess to her the wicked
deed you have done, I shall lend you no money to go home.  You can go to
your room now, Rosalind; I am tired, and wish to go to bed.  You will be
able to let me know your decision in the morning."

Rosalind turned slowly away.  She reached her room before the other
girls had arrived home, and tossing the coral ornaments on her
dressing-table, she flung herself across her bed, and gave way to the
most passionate, heart-broken sobs that had ever rent her baby frame.

She was still sobbing, but more quietly, for the force of her passion
had exhausted her, when a very light touch on her shoulder caused her to
raise herself, and look up wildly.  Prissie was bending over her.

"I knocked several times," she said, "but you did not hear me, so I came
in.  You will be sick if you cry like this, Rose.  Let me help you to go
to bed."

"No, no; please don't touch me.  I don't want you, of all people, to do
anything for me."

"I wish you would let me undress you.  I have often helped Aunt Raby to
go to bed when she was very tired.  Come, Rose, don't turn away from me.
Why should you?"

"Priscilla, you are the last person in the world who ought to be kind to
me just now; you don't know, you can never, never guess, what I did to
you."

"Yes, I can partly guess, but I don't want to think of it."

"Listen, Prissie: when I stole that money, I hoped people would accuse
you of the theft."

Prissie's eyes filled with tears.  "It was a dreadful thing to do," she
said, faintly.

"Oh, I knew you could never forgive me."

"I do forgive you."

"What! aren't you angry?  Aren't you frantic with rage and passion?"

"I don't wish to think of myself at all: I want to think of you.  You
are the one to be pitied."

"I?  Who could pity me?"

"Well, Rosalind, I do," answered Priscilla in a slow voice; "you have
sunk so low, you have done such a dreadful thing, the kind of thing that
the angels in heaven would grieve over."

"Oh, please don't talk to me of them."

"And then, Rosalind," continued Prissie, "you look so unlike a girl who
would do this sort of thing.  I have a little sister at home--a dear,
little innocent sister, and her eyes are blue like yours, and she is
fair, too, as you are fair.  I love her, and I think all good things of
her.  Rosalind, I fancy that your mother thinks good things of you.  I
imagine that she is proud of you, and that she loves to look at your
pretty face."

"Oh, don't--don't?" sobbed Rosalind.  "Oh, poor mother, poor mother!"
she burst into softened and sorrowful weeping.  The hardness of her
heart had melted for the time under the influence of Priscilla's tender
words.

"I wish I had known you sooner," whispered Rose when Prissie bent down
and kissed her before leaving her for the night.  "Perhaps I might have
been a good girl if I had really known you sooner, Priscilla Peel."

CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

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 coloured
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 anyone.  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 apologise," 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 rumours?  I am not going to
marry.  I shall never marry."

"It is not in my power at present to tell you how the rumour 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 afterwards, 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--I 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.

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

"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 by someone 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 theatre 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 amongst 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 everyone present
was more than aroused; each individual in the little theatre 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 whiteness 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 bond-slave!"

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 manhood 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 theatre.

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 honours 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 Miss Heath's door.  Priscilla flew to open 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--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.

CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

CONCLUSION.

Before Maggie Oliphant left St Benet's she brought some of the honour
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 honour to
Heath Hall than she who, at one time, was held up to derision, and
laughed at as odd, prudish, and uninteresting.

Everyone 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.





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