Part 5 out of 5
of an ideal. She was brought so low, was so humbled, so uncertain of
herself, that she felt it would bring her peace if she might go down
to Mrs. Morrison and acknowledge all her vileness; tell her how wrong
she had been, ask her forgiveness for her rudeness, beg her for pity,
for help, for counsel. She needed some kind older woman,--oh she
needed some kind older woman to hold out cool hands of wisdom and show
her the way. But then she would have to make a complete confession of
everything she had done, and how would Mrs. Morrison or any other
decent woman look upon her flight from her father's home? Would they
not turn away shuddering from what she now saw was a hideous
selfishness and ingratitude? The altercation going on below rose
rapidly in heat. Just at the end it grew so heated that even through
the pillow Priscilla could hear its flaming conclusion.
"Man, I tell you your niece is to all intents and purposes a
murderess, a double murderess," cried Mrs. Morrison. "Not only has she
the woman's murder to answer for, but the ruined soul of the murderer
Upon which there was a loud shout of "Hence! Hence!" and a great
slamming of the street door.
For some time after this Priscilla heard fevered walking about in her
parlour and sounds as of many and muffled imprecations; then, when
they had grown a little more intermittent, careful footsteps came up
her stairs, footsteps so careful, so determined not to disturb, that
the stairs cracked and wheezed more than they had ever yet been known
to do. Arrived at the top they paused outside her door, and Priscilla,
checking her sobs, could hear how Fritzing stood there wrestling with
his body's determination to breathe too loud. He stood there listening
for what seemed to her an eternity. She almost screamed at last as the
minutes passed and she knew he was still there, motionless, listening.
After a long while he went away again with the same anxious care to
make no noise, and she, with a movement of utter abandonment to woe,
turned over and cried herself sick.
Till evening she lay there alone, and then the steps came up again,
accompanied this time by the tinkle of china and spoons. Priscilla was
sitting at the window looking on to the churchyard, staring into the
dark with its swaying branches and few faint stars, and when she heard
him outside the door listening again in anxious silence she got up and
Fritzing held a plate of food in one hand and a glass of milk in the
other. The expression on his face was absurdly like that of a mother
yearning over a sick child. "_Mein liebes Kind_--_mein liebes Kind_,"
he stammered when she came out, so woebegone, so crushed, so utterly
unlike any Priscilla of any one of her moods that he had ever seen
before. Her eyes were red, her eyelids heavy with tears, her face was
pinched and narrower, the corners of her mouth had a most piteous
droop, her very hair, pushed back off her forehead, seemed sad, and
hung in spiritless masses about her neck and ears. "_Mein liebes
Kind_," stammered poor Fritzing; and his hand shook so that he upset
some of the milk.
Priscilla leaned against the door-post. She was feeling sick and
giddy. "How dreadful this is," she murmured, looking at him with
weary, woeful eyes.
"No, no--all will be well," said Fritzing, striving to be brisk.
"Drink some milk, ma'am."
"Oh, I have been wicked."
Fritzing hastily put the plate and glass down on the floor, and
catching up the hand hanging limply by her side passionately kissed
it. "You are the noblest woman on earth," he said.
"Oh," said Priscilla, turning away her head and shutting her eyes for
very weariness of such futile phrases.
"Ma'am, you are. I would swear it. But you are also a child, and so
you are ready at the first reverse to suppose you have done with
happiness for ever. Who knows," said Fritzing with a great show of
bright belief in his own prophecy, the while his heart was a stone,
"who knows but what you are now on the very threshold of it?"
"Oh," murmured Priscilla, too beaten to do anything but droop her
"It is insisting on the commonplace to remind you, ma'am, that the
darkest hour comes before dawn. Yet it is a well-known natural
Priscilla leaned her head against the door-post. She stood there
motionless, her hands hanging by her side, her eyes shut, her mouth
slightly open, the very picture of one who has given up.
"Drink some milk, ma'am. At least endeavour to."
She took no heed of him.
"For God's sake, ma'am, do not approach these slight misadventures in
so tragic a spirit. You have done nothing wrong whatever. I know you
accuse yourself. It is madness to do so. I, who have so often scolded
you, who have never spared the lash of my tongue when in past years I
saw fair reason to apply it, I tell you now with the same reliable
candour that your actions in this village and the motives that
prompted them have been in each single case of a stainless nobility."
She took no heed of him.
He stooped down and picked up the glass. "Drink some milk, ma'am. A
few mouthfuls, perhaps even one, will help to clear the muddied vision
of your mind. I cannot understand," he went on, half despairing, half
exasperated, "what reasons you can possibly have for refusing to drink
some milk. It is a feat most easily accomplished."
She did not move.
"Do you perchance imagine that a starved and badly treated body can
ever harbour that most precious gift of the gods, a clear, sane mind?"
She did not move.
He looked at her in silence for a moment, then put down the glass.
"This is all my fault," he said slowly. "The whole responsibility for
this unhappiness is on my shoulders, and I frankly confess it is a
burden so grievous that I know not how to bear it."
He paused, but she took no notice.
"Ma'am, I have loved you."
She took no notice.
"And the property of love, I have observed, is often to mangle and
kill the soul of its object."
She might have been asleep.
"Ma'am, I have brought you to a sorry pass. I was old, and you were
young. I experienced, you ignorant. I deliberate, you impulsive. I a
man, you a woman. Instead of restraining you, guiding you, shielding
you from yourself, I was most vile, and fired you with desires for
freedom that under the peculiar circumstances were wicked, set a ball
rolling that I might have foreseen could never afterwards be stopped,
put thoughts into your head that never without me would have entered
it, embarked you on an enterprise in which the happiness of your whole
life was doomed to shipwreck."
She stirred a little, and sighed a faint protest.
"This is very terrible to me--of a crushing, killing weight. Let it
not also have to be said that I mangled your very soul, dimmed your
reason, impaired the sweet sanity, the nice adjustment of what I know
was once a fair and balanced mind."
She raised her head slowly and looked at him. "What?" she said. "Do
you think--do you think I'm going mad?"
"I think it very likely, ma'am," said Fritzing with conviction.
A startled expression crept into her eyes.
"So much morbid introspection," he went on, "followed by hours of
weeping and fasting, if indulged in long enough will certainly have
that result. A person who fasts a sufficient length of time invariably
parts piecemeal with valuable portions of his wits."
She stretched out her hand.
He mistook the action and bent down and kissed it.
"No," said Priscilla, "I want the milk."
He snatched it up and gave it to her, watching her drink with all the
relief, the thankfulness of a mother whose child's sickness takes a
turn for the better. When she had finished she gave him back the
glass. "Fritzi," she said, looking at him with eyes wide open now and
dark with anxious questioning, "we won't reproach ourselves then if we
can help it--"
"Certainly not, ma'am--a most futile thing to do."
"I'll try to believe what you say about me, if you promise to believe
what I say about you."
"Ma'am, I'll believe anything if only you will be reasonable."
"You've been everything to me--that's what I want to say. Always, ever
since I can remember."
"And you, ma'am? What have you not been to me?"
"And there's nothing, nothing you can blame yourself for."
"You've been too good, too unselfish, and I've dragged you down."
"Well, we won't begin again. But tell me one thing--and tell me the
truth--oh Fritzi tell me the truth as you value your soul--do you
anywhere see the least light on our future? Do you anywhere see even a
bit, a smallest bit of hope?"
He took her hand again and kissed it; then lifted his head and looked
at her very solemnly. "No, ma'am," he said with the decision of an
unshakable conviction, "upon my immortal soul I do not see a shred."
Let the reader now picture Priscilla coming downstairs the next
morning, a golden Sunday morning full of Sabbath calm, and a Priscilla
leaden-eyed and leaden-souled, her shabby garments worn out to a
symbol of her worn out zeals, her face the face of one who has
forgotten peace, her eyes the eyes of one at strife with the future,
of one for ever asking "What next?" and shrinking with a shuddering
"Oh please not that," from the bald reply.
Out of doors Nature wore her mildest, most beneficent aspect. She very
evidently cared nothing for the squalid tragedies of human fate. Her
hills were bathed in gentle light. Her sunshine lay warm along the
cottage fronts. In the gardens her hopeful bees, cheated into thoughts
of summer, droned round the pale mauves and purples of what was left
of starworts. The grass in the churchyard sparkled with the fairy film
of gossamers. Sparrows chirped. Robins whistled. And humanity gave the
last touch to the picture by ringing the church bells melodiously to
Without doubt it was a day of blessing, supposing any one could be
found willing to be blest. Let the reader, then, imagine this outward
serenity, this divine calmness, this fair and light-flooded world,
and within the musty walls of Creeper Cottage Priscilla coming down to
breakfast, despair in her eyes and heart.
They breakfasted late; so late that it was done to the accompaniment,
strangely purified and beautified by the intervening church walls and
graveyard, of Mrs. Morrison's organ playing and the chanting of the
village choir. Their door stood wide open, for the street was empty.
Everybody was in church. The service was, as Mrs. Morrison afterwards
remarked, unusually well attended. The voluntaries she played that day
were Dead Marches, and the vicar preached a conscience-shattering
sermon upon the text "Lord, who is it?"
He thought that Mrs. Jones's murderer must be one of his parishioners.
It was a painful thought, but it had to be faced. He had lived so long
shut out from gossip, so deaf to the ever-clicking tongue of rumour,
that he had forgotten how far even small scraps can travel, and that
the news of Mrs. Jones's bolster being a hiding-place for her money
should have spread beyond the village never occurred to him. He was
moved on this occasion as much as a man who has long ago given up
being moved can be, for he had had a really dreadful two days with
Mrs. Morrison, dating from the moment she came in with the news of the
boxing of their only son's ears. He had, as the reader will have
gathered, nothing of it having been recorded, refused to visit and
reprimand Priscilla for this. He had found excuses for her. He had
sided with her against his son. He had been as wholly, maddeningly
obstinate as the extremely good sometimes are. Then came Mrs. Jones's
murder. He was greatly shaken, but still refused to call upon
Priscilla in connection with it, and pooh-poohed the notion of her
being responsible for the crime as definitely as an aged saint of
habitually grave speech can be expected to pooh-pooh at all. He said
she was not responsible. He said, when his wife with all the emphasis
apparently inseparable from the conversation of those who feel
strongly, told him that he owed it to himself, to his parish, to his
country, to go and accuse her, that he owed no man anything but to
love one another. There was nothing to be done with the vicar. Still
these scenes had not left him scathless, and it was a vicar moved to
the utmost limits of his capacity in that direction who went into the
pulpit that day repeating the question "Who is it?" so insistently, so
appealingly, with such searching glances along the rows of faces in
the pews, that the congregation, shuffling and uncomfortable, looked
furtively at each other with an ever growing suspicion and dislike.
The vicar as he went on waxing warmer, more insistent, observed at
least a dozen persons with guilt on every feature. It darted out like
a toad from the hiding-place of some private ooze at the bottom of
each soul into one face after the other; and there was a certain youth
who grew so visibly in guilt, who had so many beads of an obviously
guilty perspiration on his forehead, and eyes so guiltily starting
from their sockets, that only by a violent effort of self-control
could the vicar stop himself from pointing at him and shouting out
then and there "Thou art the man!"
Meanwhile the real murderer had hired a waggonette and was taking his
wife for a pleasant country drive.
It was to pacify Fritzing that Priscilla came down to breakfast. Left
to herself she would by preference never have breakfasted again. She
even drank more milk to please him; but though it might please him, no
amount of milk could wash out the utter blackness of her spirit. He,
seeing her droop behind the jug, seeing her gazing drearily at nothing
in particular, jumped up and took a book from the shelves and without
more ado began to read aloud. "It is better, ma'am," he explained
briefly, glancing at her over his spectacles, "than that you should
give yourself over to gloom."
Priscilla turned vague eyes on to him. "How can I help gloom?" she
"Yes, yes, that may be. But nobody should be gloomy at breakfast. The
entire day is very apt, in consequence, to be curdled."
"It will be curdled anyhow," said Priscilla, her head sinking on to
"Ma'am, listen to this."
And with a piece of bread and butter in one hand, from which he took
occasional hurried bites, and the other raised in appropriate varying
gesticulation, Fritzing read portions of the Persae of AEschylus to
her, first in Greek for the joy of his own ear and then translating it
into English for the edification of hers. He, at least, was off after
the first line, sailing golden seas remote and glorious, places where
words were lovely and deeds heroic, places most beautiful and brave,
most admirably, most restfully unlike Creeper Cottage. He rolled out
the sentences, turning them on his tongue, savouring them, reluctant
to let them go. She sat looking at him, wondering how he could
possibly even for an instant forget the actual and the present.
"'Xerxes went forth, Xerxes perished, Xerxes mismanaged all things in
the depths of the sea--'" declaimed Fritzing.
"He must have been like us," murmured Priscilla.
"'O for Darius the scatheless, the protector! No woman ever mourned
for deed of his--'"
"What a nice man," sighed Priscilla. "'O for Darius!'"
"Ma'am, if you interrupt how can I read? And it is a most beautiful
"But we do want a Darius badly," moaned Priscilla.
"'The ships went forth, the grey-faced ships, like to each other as
bird is to bird, the ships and all they carried perished, the ships
perished by the hand of the Greeks. The king, 'tis said, escapes, but
hardly, by the plains of Thrace and the toilsome ways, and behind him
he leaves his first-fruits--sailors unburied on the shores of Salamis.
Then grieve, sting yourselves to grief, make heaven echo, howl like
dogs for the horror, for they are battered together by the terrible
waters, they are shredded to pieces by the voiceless children of the
Pure. The house has no master--'"
"Fritzi, I wish you'd leave off," implored Priscilla. "It's quite as
gloomy as anything I was thinking."
"But ma'am the difference is that it is also beautiful, whereas the
gloom at present enveloping us is mere squalor. 'The voiceless
children of the Pure--' how is that, ma'am, for beauty?"
"I don't even know what it means," sighed Priscilla.
"Ma'am, it is an extremely beautiful manner of alluding to fish."
"I don't care," said Priscilla.
"Ma'am, is it possible that the blight of passing and outward
circumstance has penetrated to and settled upon what should always be
of a sublime inaccessibility, your soul?"
"I don't care about the fish," repeated Priscilla listlessly. Then
with a sudden movement she pushed back her chair and jumped up. "Oh,"
she cried, beating her hands together, "don't talk to me of fish when
I can't see an inch--oh not a single inch into the future!"
Fritzing looked at her, his finger on the page. Half of him was still
at the bottom of classic seas with the battered and shredded sailors.
How much rather would he have stayed there, have gone on reading
AEschylus a little, have taken her with him for a brief space of
serenity into that moist refuge from the harassed present, have
forgotten at least for one morning the necessity, the dreariness of
being forced to face things, to talk over, to decide. Besides, what
could he decide? The unhappy man had no idea. Nor had Priscilla. To
stay in Symford seemed impossible, but to leave it seemed still more
so. And sooner than go back disgraced to Kunitz and fling herself at
paternal feet which would in all probability immediately spurn her,
Priscilla felt she would die. But how could she stay in Symford,
surrounded by angry neighbours, next door to Tussie, with Robin coming
back for vacations, with Mrs. Morrison hating her, with Lady
Shuttleworth hating her, with Emma's father hating her, with the blood
of Mrs. Jones on her head? Could one live peacefully in such an
accursed place? Yet how could they go away? Even if they were able to
compose their nerves sufficiently to make new plans they could not go
because they were in debt.
"Fritzi," cried Priscilla with more passion than she had ever put into
speech before, "life's too much for me--I tell you life's too much for
me!" And with a gesture of her arms as though she would sweep it all
back, keep it from surging over her, from choking her, she ran out
into the street to get into her own room and be alone, pulling the
door to behind her for fear he should follow and want to explain and
comfort, leaving him with his AEschylus in which, happening to glance
sighing, he, enviable man, at once became again absorbed, and running
blindly, headlong, as he runs who is surrounded and accompanied by a
swarm of deadly insects which he vainly tries to out-distance, she ran
straight into somebody coming from the opposite direction, ran full
tilt, was almost knocked off her feet, and looking up with the
impatient anguish of him who is asked to endure his last straw her
lips fell apart in an utter and boundless amazement; for the person
she had run against was that Prince--the last of the series,
distinguished from the rest by his having quenched the Grand Duke's
irrelevant effervescence by the simple expedient of saying Bosh--who
had so earnestly desired to marry her.
"Hullo," said the Prince, who spoke admirable English.
Priscilla could only stare.
His instinct was to repeat the exclamation which he felt represented
his feelings very exactly, for her appearance--clothes, expression,
everything--astonished him, but he doubted whether it would well bear
repeating. "Is this where you are staying?" he inquired instead.
"Yes," said Priscilla.
"May I come in?"
"Yes," said Priscilla.
He followed her into her parlour. He looked at her critically as she
walked slowly before him, from head to foot he looked at her
critically; at every inch of the shabby serge gown, at the little head
with its badly arranged hair, at the little heel that caught in an
unmended bit of braid, at the little shoe with its bow of frayed
ribbon, and he smiled broadly behind his moustache. But when she
turned round he was perfectly solemn.
"I suppose," said the Prince, putting his hands in his pockets and
gazing about the room with an appearance of cheerful interest, "this
is what one calls a snug little place."
Priscilla stood silent. She felt as though she had been shaken
abruptly out of sleep. Her face even now after the soul-rending time
she had been having, in spite of the shadows beneath the eyes, the
droop at the corners of the mouth, in spite, too, it must be said of
the flagrantly cottage fashion in which Annalise had done her hair,
seemed to the Prince so extremely beautiful, so absolutely the face of
his dearest, best desires, so limpid, apart from all grace of
colouring and happy circumstance of feature, with the light of a sweet
and noble nature, so manifestly the outward expression of an
indwelling lovely soul, that his eyes, after one glance round the
room, fixed themselves upon it and never were able to leave it again.
For a minute or two she stood silent, trying to collect her thoughts,
trying to shake off the feeling that she was being called back to life
out of a dream. It had not been a dream, she kept telling herself--bad
though it was it had not been a dream but the reality; and this man
dropped suddenly in to the middle of it from another world, he was the
dream, part of the dream she had rebelled against and run away from a
Then she looked at him, and she knew she was putting off her soul with
nonsense. Never was anybody less like a dream than the Prince; never
was anybody more squarely, more certainly real. And he was of her own
kind, of her own world. He and she were equals. They could talk
together plainly, baldly, a talk ungarnished and unretarded by
deferences on the one side and on the other a kindness apt to become
excessive in its anxiety not to appear to condescend. The feeling that
once more after what seemed an eternity she was with an equal was of a
singular refreshment. During those few moments in which they stood
silent, facing each other, in spite of her efforts to keep it out, in
spite of really conscientious efforts, a great calm came in and spread
over her spirit. Yet she had no reason to feel calm she thought,
struggling. Was there not rather cause for an infinity of shame? What
had he come for? He of all people. The scandalously jilted, the
affronted, the run away from. Was it because she had been looking so
long at Fritzing that this man seemed so nicely groomed? Or at Tussie,
that he seemed so well put together? Or at Robin, that he seemed so
modest? Was it because people's eyes--Mrs. Morrison's, Lady
Shuttleworth's--had been so angry lately whenever they rested on her
that his seemed so very kind? No; she did remember thinking them that,
even being struck by them, when she saw him first in Kunitz. A dull
red crept into her face when she remembered that day and what
followed. "It isn't very snug," she said at last, trying to hide by a
careful coldness of speech all the strange things she was feeling.
"When it rains there are puddles by the door. The door, you see, opens
into the street."
"I see," said the Prince.
There was a silence.
"I don't suppose you really do," said Priscilla, full of strange
"My dear cousin?"
"I don't know if you've come to laugh at me?"
"Do I look as if I had?"
"I dare say you think--because you've not been through it
yourself--that it--it's rather ridiculous."
"My dear cousin," protested the Prince.
Her lips quivered. She had gone through much, and she had lived for
two days only on milk.
"Do you wipe the puddles up, or does old Fritzing?"
"You see you _have_ come to laugh."
"I hope you'll believe that I've not. Must I be gloomy?"
"How do you know Fritzing's here?"
"Why everybody knows that."
"Everybody?" There was an astonished pause. "How do you know we're
here--here, in Creeper Cottage?"
"Creeper Cottage is it? I didn't know it had a name. Do you have so
"How did you know we were in Symford?"
"Why everybody knows that."
Priscilla was silent. Again she felt she was being awakened from a
"I've met quite a lot of interesting people since I saw you last," he
said. "At least, they interested me because they all knew you."
"Knew you and that old scound--the excellent Fritzing. There's an
extremely pleasant policeman, for instance, in Kunitz--"
"Oh," said Priscilla, starting and turning red. She could not think of
that policeman without crisping her fingers.
"He and I are intimate friends. And there's a most intelligent
person--really a most helpful, obliging person--who came with you from
Dover to Ullerton."
"I found the conversation, too, of the ostler at the Ullerton Arms of
"And last night I slept at Baker's Farm, and spent a very pleasant
evening with Mrs. Pearce."
"She's an instructive woman. Her weakest point, I should say, is her
"I wonder why you bother to talk like this--to be sarcastic."
"About the junkets? Didn't you think they were bad?"
"Do you suppose it's worth while to--to kick somebody who's down? And
so low down? So completely got to the bottom?"
"Kick? On my soul I assure you that the very last thing I want to do
is to kick you."
"Then why do you do it?"
"I don't do it. Do you know what I've come for?"
"Is my father round the corner?"
"Nobody's round the corner. I've muzzled your father. I've come quite
by myself. And do you know why?"
"No," said Priscilla, shortly, defiantly; adding before he could
speak, "I can't imagine." And adding to that, again before he could
speak, "Unless it's for the fun of hunting down a defenceless quarry."
"I say, that's rather picturesque," said the Prince with every
appearance of being struck.
Priscilla blushed. In spite of herself every word they said to each
other made her feel more natural, farther away from self-torment and
sordid fears, nearer to that healthy state of mind, swamped out of her
lately, when petulance comes more easily than meekness. The mere
presence of the Prince seemed to set things right, to raise her again
in her own esteem. There was undoubtedly something wholesome about the
man, something everyday and reassuring, something dependable and sane.
The first smile for I don't know how long came and cheered the corners
of her mouth. "I'm afraid I've grown magniloquent since--since--"
"Since you ran away?"
She nodded. "Fritzing, you know, is most persistently picturesque. I
think it's catching. But he's wonderful," she added quickly,--"most
wonderful in patience and goodness."
"Oh everybody knows he's wonderful. Where is the great man?"
"In the next room. Do you want him?"
"Good Lord, no. You've not told me what you suppose I've come for."
"I did. I told you I couldn't imagine."
"It's for a most saintly, really nice reason. Guess."
"I can't guess."
"Oh but try."
Priscilla to her extreme disgust felt herself turning very red. "I
suppose to spy out the nakedness of the land," she said severely.
"Now you're picturesque again. You must have been reading a tremendous
lot lately. Of course you would, with that learned old fossil about.
No my dear, I've come simply to see if you are happy."
She looked at him, and her flush slowly died away.
"Simply to convince myself that you are happy."
Her eyes filling with tears she thought it more expedient to fix them
on the table-cloth. She did fix them on it, and the golden fringe of
eyelashes that he very rightly thought so beautiful lay in long dusky
curves on her serious face. "It's extraordinarily nice of you if--if
it's true," she said.
"But it is true. And if you are, if you tell me you are and I'm able
to believe it, I bow myself out, dear cousin, and shall devote any
energies I have left after doing that to going on muzzling your
father. He shall not, I promise you, in any way disturb you. Haven't
I kept him well in hand up to this?"
She raised her eyes to his. "Was it you keeping him so quiet?"
"It was, my dear. He was very restive. You've no notion of all the
things he wanted to do. It wanted a pretty strong hand, and a light
one too, I can tell you. But I was determined you should have your
head. That woman Disthal--"
"You don't like her?" inquired the Prince sympathetically.
"I was afraid you couldn't. But I didn't know how to manage that part.
She's in London."
Priscilla started again. "I thought--I thought she was in bed," she
"She was, but she got out again. Your--departure cured her."
"Didn't you tell me nobody was round the corner?"
"Well, you don't call London round the corner? I wouldn't let her come
any nearer to you. She's waiting there quite quietly."
"What is she waiting for?" asked Priscilla quickly.
"Come now, she's your lady in waiting you know. It seems natural
enough she should wait, don't it?"
"No," said Priscilla, knitting her eyebrows.
"Don't frown. She had to come too. She's brought some of your women
and a whole lot"--he glanced at the blue serge suit and put his hand
up to his moustache--"a whole lot of clothes."
"Clothes?" A wave of colour flooded her face. She could not help it at
the moment any more than a starving man can help looking eager when
food is set before him. "Oh," she said, "I hope they're the ones I was
expecting from Paris?"
"I should think it very likely. There seem to be a great many. I never
saw so many boxes for one little cousin."
Priscilla made a sudden movement with her hands. "You can't think,"
she said, "how tired I am of this dress."
"Yes I can," the Prince assured her.
"I've worn it every day."
"You must have."
"Every single day since the day I--I--"
"The day you ran away from me."
She blushed. "I didn't run away from you. At least, not exactly. You
were only the last straw."
"A nice thing for a man to be."
"I ran because--because--oh, it's a long story, and I'm afraid a very
A gleam came into the Prince's eyes. He took a step nearer her, but
immediately thinking better of it took it back again. "Perhaps," he
said pleasantly, "only the beginning was foolish, and you'll settle
down after a bit and get quite fond of Creeper Cottage."
She looked at him startled.
"You see my dear it was rather tremendous what you did. You must have
been most fearfully sick of things at Kunitz. I can well understand
it. You couldn't be expected to like me all at once. And if I had to
have that Disthal woman at my heels wherever I went I'd shoot myself.
What you've done is much braver really than shooting one's self. But
the question is do you like it as much as you thought you would?"
Priscilla gave him a swift look, and said nothing.
"If you don't, there's the Disthal waiting for you with all those
charming frocks, and all you've got to do is to put them on and go
"But I can't go home. How can I? I am disgraced. My father would never
let me in."
"Oh I'd arrange all that. I don't think you'd find him angry if you
followed my advice very carefully. On the other hand, if you like
this and want to stay on there's nothing more to be said. I'll say
good-bye, and promise you shall be left in peace. You shall be left to
be happy entirely in your own way."
Priscilla was silent.
"You don't--look happy," he said, scrutinizing her face.
She was silent.
"You've got very thin. How did you manage that in such a little
"We've muddled things rather," she said with an ashamed sort of smile.
"On the days when I was hungry there wasn't anything to eat, and then
when there were things I wasn't hungry."
The Prince looked puzzled. "Didn't that old scamp--I mean didn't the
excellent Fritzing bring enough money?"
"He thought he did, but it wasn't enough."
"Is it all gone?"
"We're in debt."
Again he put his hand up to his moustache. "Well I'll see to all that,
of course," he said gravely. "And when that has been set right you're
sure you'll like staying on here?"
She summoned all her courage, and looked at him for an instant
straight in the face. "No," she said.
There was another silence. He was standing on the hearthrug, she on
the other side of the table; but the room was so small that by putting
out his hand he could have touched her. A queer expression was in his
eyes as he looked at her, an expression entirely at variance with his
calm and good-natured talk, the exceedingly anxious expression of a
man who knows his whole happiness is quivering in the balance. She did
not see it, for she preferred to look at the table-cloth.
"Dreadful things have happened here," she said in a low voice.
"Horrid sorts. Appalling sorts."
"I couldn't bear to."
"But I think I know."
She looked at him astonished.
"She told you?"
"What she knew she told me. Perhaps there's something she doesn't
Priscilla remembered Robin, and blushed.
"Yes, she told me about that," said the Prince nodding.
"About what?" asked Priscilla, startled.
"About the squire intending to marry you."
"Oh," said Priscilla.
"It seems hard on him, don't it? Has it struck you that such things
are likely to occur pretty often to Miss Maria-Theresa Ethel
"I'm afraid you really have come only to laugh," said Priscilla, her
"I swear it's only to see if you are happy."
"Well, see then." And throwing back her head with a great defiance she
looked at him while her eyes filled with tears; and though they
presently brimmed over, and began to drop down pitifully one by one,
she would not flinch but went on looking.
"I see," said the Prince quietly. "And I'm convinced. Of course, then,
I shall suggest your leaving this."
"I want to."
"And putting yourself in the care of the Disthal."
"Only her temporary care. Quite temporary. And letting her take you
back to Kunitz."
Priscilla winced again.
"Only temporarily," said the Prince.
"But my father would never--"
"Yes my dear, he will. He'll be delighted to see you. He'll rejoice."
"I assure you he will. You've only got to do what I tell you."
"Shall you--come too?"
"If you'll let me."
"But then--but then--"
"Then what, my dear?"
She looked at him, and her face changed slowly from white to red and
red to white again. Fritzing's words crossed her mind--"If you marry
him you will be undoubtedly eternally lost," and her very soul cried
out that they were folly. Why should she be eternally lost? What
cobwebs were these, cobwebs of an old brain preoccupied with shadows,
dusty things to be swept away at the first touch of Nature's vigorous
broom? Indeed she thought it far more likely that she would be
eternally found. But she was ashamed of herself, ashamed of all she
had done, ashamed of the disgraceful way she had treated this man,
terribly disillusioned, terribly out of conceit with herself, and she
stood there changing colour, hanging her head, humbled, penitent,
every shred of the dignity she had been trained to gone, simply
somebody who has been very silly and is very sorry.
The Prince put out his hand.
She pretended not to see it.
The Prince came round the table. "You know," he said, "our engagement
hasn't been broken off yet?"
Her instinct was to edge away, but she would not stoop to edging. "Was
it ever made?" she asked, not able to induce her voice to rise above a
There was another silence.
"Why, then--" began Priscilla, for the silence had come to be more
throbbing, more intolerably expressive than any speech.
"Yes?" encouraged the Prince, coming very close.
She turned her head slowly. "Why, then--" said Priscilla again, her
face breaking into a smile, half touched, half mischievous, wholly
"I think so too," said the Prince; and he shut her mouth with a kiss.
* * * * *
"And now," said the Prince some time afterwards, "let us go to that
old sinner Fritzing."
Priscilla hung back, reluctant to deal this final blow to the heart
that had endured so many. "He'll be terribly shocked," she said.
But the Prince declared it had to be done; and hand in hand they went
out into the street, and opening Fritzing's door stood before him.
He was still absorbed in his AEschylus, had been sitting absorbed in
the deeds of the dead and departed, of the long dead Xerxes, the long
dead Darius, the very fish, voiceless but voracious, long since as
dead as the most shredded of the sailors,--he had been sitting
absorbed in these various corpses all the while that in the next room,
on the other side of a few inches of plaster and paper, so close you
would have thought his heart must have burned within him, so close you
would have thought he must be scorched, the living present had been
pulsing and glowing, beating against the bright bars of the future,
stirring up into alertness a whole row of little red-headed souls till
then asleep, souls with golden eyelashes, souls eager to come and be
princes and princesses of--I had almost revealed the mighty nation's
name. A shadow fell across his book, and looking up he saw the two
standing before him hand in hand.
Priscilla caught her breath: what white anguish was going to flash
into his face when he grasped the situation? Judge then of her
amazement, her hesitation whether to be pleased or vexed, to laugh or
cry, when, grasping it, he leaped to his feet and in tones of a most
limitless, a most unutterable relief, shouted three times running
"_Gott sei Dank_!"
So that was the end of Priscilla's fortnight,--according to the way
you look at it glorious or inglorious. I shall not say which I think
it was; whether it is better to marry a prince, become in course of
time a queen, be at the head of a great nation, be surfeited with
honour, wealth, power and magnificence till the day when Death with
calm, indifferent fingers strips everything away and leaves you at
last to the meek simplicity of a shroud; or whether toilsome paths,
stern resistances, buffetings bravely taken, battles fought inch by
inch, an ideal desperately clung to even though in clinging you are
slain, is not rather the part to be chosen of him whose soul would sit
attired with stars. Anyhow the goddess laughed, the goddess who had
left Priscilla in the lurch, when she heard the end of the adventure;
and her unpleasant sister, having nothing more to do in Creeper
Cottage, gathered up her rags and grinned too as she left it. At least
her claws had lacerated much over-tender flesh during her stay; and
though the Prince had interrupted the operation and forced her for the
moment to inactivity, she was not dissatisfied with what had been
Priscilla, it will readily be imagined, made no farewell calls. She
disappeared from Symford as suddenly as she had appeared; and Mrs.
Morrison, coming into Creeper Cottage on Monday afternoon to unload
her conscience yet more, found only a pleasant gentleman, a stranger
of mellifluous manners, writing out cheques. She had ten minutes talk
with him, and went home very sad and wise. Indeed from that day, her
spirit being the spirit of the true snob, the hectorer of the humble,
the devout groveller in the courtyards of the great, she was a
much-changed woman. Even her hair felt it, and settled down unchecked
to greyness. She no longer cared to put on a pink tulle bow in the
afternoons, which may or may not be a sign of grace. She ceased to
suppose that she was pretty. When the accounts of Priscilla's wedding
filled all the papers she became so ill that she had to go to bed and
be nursed. Sometimes to the vicar's mild surprise she hesitated before
expressing an opinion. Once at least she of her own accord said
she had been wrong. And although she never told any one of the
conversation with the gentleman writing cheques, when Robin came home
for Christmas and looked at her he knew at once what she knew.
As for Lady Shuttleworth, she got a letter from Priscilla; quite a
long one, enclosing a little one for Tussie to be given him if and
when his mother thought expedient. Lady Shuttleworth was not surprised
by what she read. She had suspected it from the moment Priscilla rose
up the day she called on her at Baker's Farm and dismissed her. Till
her marriage with the late Sir Augustus she had been lady-in-waiting
to one of the English princesses, and she could not be mistaken on
such points. She knew the sort of thing too well. But she never
forgave Priscilla. How could she? Was the day of Tussie's coming of
age, that dreadful day when he was nearest death, a day a mother could
ever forget? It had all been most wanton, most cruel. We know she was
full of the milk of human kindness: on the subject of Priscilla it was
As for Tussie,--well, you cannot have omelettes without breaking eggs,
and Tussie on this occasion was the eggs. It is a painful part to
play. He found it exquisitely painful, and vainly sought comfort in
the consolation that it had been Priscilla's omelette. The consolation
proved empty, and for a long while he suffered every sort of torment
known to the sensitive. But he got over it. People do. They will get
over anything if you give them time, and he being young had plenty of
it. He lived it down as one lives down every sorrow and every joy; and
when in the fulness of time, after a series of years in which he went
about listlessly in a soft felt hat and an unsatisfactory collar, he
married, it was to Priscilla's capital that he went for his honeymoon.
She, hearing he was there, sent for them both and was kind.
As for Annalise, she never got her twenty thousand marks. On the
contrary, the vindictive Grand Duke caused her to be prosecuted for
blackmailing, and she would undoubtedly have languished in prison if
Priscilla had not interfered and sent her back to her parents. Like
Mrs. Morrison, she is chastened. She does not turn up her nose so
much. She does not sing. Indeed her songs ceased from the moment she
caught sight through a crack in the kitchen door of the Prince's broad
shoulders filling up Fritzing's sitting-room. From that moment
Annalise swooned from one depth of respect and awe to the other. She
became breathlessly willing, meek to vanishing point. But Priscilla
could not forget all she had made her suffer; and the Prince, who had
thought of everything, suddenly producing her head woman from some
recess in Baker's Farm, where she too had spent the night, Annalise
was superseded, her further bitter fate being to be left behind
at Creeper Cottage in the charge of the gentleman with the
cheque-book--who as it chanced was a faddist in food and would allow
nothing more comforting than dried fruits and nuts to darken the
doors--till he should have leisure to pack her up and send her home.
As for Emma, she was hunted out by that detective who travelled down
into Somersetshire with the fugitives and who had already been so
useful to the Prince; and Priscilla, desperately anxious to make
amends wherever she could, took her into her own household, watching
over her herself, seeing to it that no word of what she had done was
ever blown about among the crowd of idle tongues, and she ended, I
believe, by marrying a lacquey,--one of those splendid persons with
white silk calves who were so precious in the sight of Annalise.
Indeed I am not sure that it was not the very lacquey Annalise had
loved most and had intended to marry herself. In this story at least,
the claims of poetic justice shall be strictly attended to; and
Annalise had sniffed outrageously at Emma.
As for the Countess Disthal, she married the doctor and was sorry ever
afterwards; but her sorrow was as nothing compared with his.
As for Fritzing, he is _Hofbibliothekar_ of the Prince's father's
court library; a court more brilliant than and a library vastly
inferior to the one he had fled from at Kunitz. He keeps much in his
rooms, and communes almost exclusively with the dead. He finds the
dead alone truly satisfactory. Priscilla loves him still and will
always love him, but she is very busy and has little time to think.
She does not let him give her children lessons; instead he plays with
them, and grows old and patient apace.
And now having finished my story, there is nothing left for me to
do but stand aside and watch Priscilla and her husband walking
hand-in-hand farther and farther away from me up a path which I
suppose is the path of glory, into something apparently golden and
rosy, something very glowing and full of promise, that turns out on
closer scrutiny to be their future. It certainly seems radiant enough
to the superficial observer. Even I, who have looked into her soul
and known its hungers, am a little dazzled. Let it not however be
imagined that a person who has been truthful so long as myself is
going to lapse into easy lies at the last, and pretend that she was
uninterruptedly satisfied and happy for the rest of her days. She was
not; but then who is?