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 parlor 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 any one 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 traveling, 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 colored. 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 isthe 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.
Categories: English Literature