L. T. Meade.

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A SWEET GIRL GRADUATE ***




Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England




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.


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