The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim
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 accomplished.
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 unmixed gall.
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?