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A Sweet Girl Graduate, Page 2

L. T. Meade

majesty, bent her head, murmured a few words of prayer, then creptinto bed by her little sister's side.

  Prissie felt full of courage and good resolves. She was going out intothe world to-morrow, and she was quite determined that the world shouldnot conquer her, although she knew that she was a very poor maiden witha specially heavy load of care on her young shoulders.



  The college was quite shut away in its own grounds, and only from theupper windows did the girls get a peep of the old University town ofKingsdene. From these, however, particularly in the winter, they couldsee the gabled colleges, the chapels with their rich glory ofarchitecture, and the smooth lawns of the college gardens as they slopedgently 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. Insidethere were cheerful halls and pleasant gardens, and gay, fresh,unrestrained life. But the passer-by got no peep of these things unlessthe 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 aboutthe gardens, and greeting old friends, and telling each other theirexperiences, and more or less picking up the threads which had beenbroken or loosened in the long vacation.

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

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

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

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

  Priscilla looked out into the darkness of the autumn night withfrightened eyes. She hated herself for feeling nervous. She had toldAunt Raby that, of course, she would have no silly tremors, yet here shewas, 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 soviolently that she dropped one of her few treasured sixpences, whichwent rolling about aimlessly almost under the horse's hoofs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  In the entrance-hall numbers of girls who had recently arrived werestanding about; all had a nod, or a smile, or a kiss for MaggieOliphant.

  "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 gayand bright, but quieter than Maggie. Her face was more reliable in itsexpression, but not nearly so beautiful.

  "If you accept all these invitations, Maggie," she said, as the twogirls walked down the corridor which led to their rooms, "you know youwill 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 bearit. 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 theydared 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 anothercorridor."

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

  "They could, they ought," burst from Maggie. She stamped her foot withanger. "That room is a shrine to me. It will always be a shrine. Ishall hate the person who lives in it." Tears filled her bright browneyes. Her arched proud lips trembled. She opened her door, and goinginto 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; "thedearest, the sweetest, the prettiest, yet also the most tantalising, themost provoking, the most inconsequent. It is the greatest wonder shehas kept so long out of some serious scrape. She will never leave herewithout doing something outrageous, and yet there isn't a girl in theplace to be named with her. I wish--" here Nancy sighed again, and puther hand to her brow as if to chase away some perplexity. Then, after amoment's hesitation, she went up to the door of the room next toMaggie'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 electriclight was turned on, revealing the bareness and absence of all ornamentof the apartment; a fire was laid in the grate but not lit, andPriscilla's ugly square trunk, its canvas covering removed, stood in aprominent position, half on the hearthrug, half on the square of carpet,which covered the centre of the floor. Priscilla had taken off herjacket and hat. She had washed her hands, and removed her muddy boots,and smoothed out her straight, light brown hair. She looked what shefelt--a very stiff and unformed specimen of girlhood. There was a greatlump in her throat, brought there by mingled nervousness andhome-sickness, but that very fact only made her manner icy andrepellent.

  "Forgive me," said Nancy, blushing all over her rosy face. "I thoughtperh
aps you might like to know one or two things as you are quitestrange 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 areturning so chilly now, and a fire in one's room gives one a home-likefeeling, doesn't it? Shall I light it for you?"

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

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

  "I see there are matches on the chimney-piece," she said, "so you canlight the fire yourself, whenever you like. The gong that will sound ina minute will be for