21. Mrs. Pryor
While Shirley was talking with Moore, Caroline rejoined Mrs. Pryor upstairs. She
found that lady deeply depressed. She would not say that Miss Keeldar's
hastiness had hurt her feelings; but it was evident an inward wound galled her.
To any but a congenial nature, she would have seemed insensible to the quiet,
tender attentions by which Miss Helstone sought to impart solace; but Caroline
knew that, unmoved or slightly moved as she looked, she felt, valued, and was
healed by them.
'I am deficient in self-confidence and decision,' she said at last. 'I always have
been deficient in those qualities: yet I think Miss Keeldar should have known my
character well enough by this time, to be aware that I always feel an even painful
solicitude to do right, to act for the best. The unusual nature of the demand on
my judgment puzzled me, especially following the alarms of the night. I could not
venture to act promptly for another: but I trust no serious harm will result from my
lapse of firmness.'
A gentle knock was here heard at the door: it was half-opened.
'Caroline, come here,' said a low voice.
Miss Helstone went out: there stood Shirley in the gallery, looking contrite,
ashamed, sorry as any repentant child.
'How is Mrs. Pryor?' she asked.
'Rather out of spirits,' said Caroline.
'I have behaved very shamefully, very ungenerously, very ungratefully to her,'
said Shirley. 'How insolent in me to turn on her thus, for what after all was no
fault, only an excess of conscientiousness on her part. But I regret my error most
sincerely: tell her so, and ask if she will forgive me.'
Caroline discharged the errand with heartfelt pleasure. Mrs. Pryor rose, came to
the door: she did not like scenes; she dreaded them as all timid people do: she
said falteringly - 'Come in, my dear.'
Shirley did come in with some impetuosity: she threw her arms round her
governess, and while she kissed her heartily, she said - 'You know you must
forgive me, Mrs. Pryor. I could not get on at all if there was a misunderstanding
between you and me.'
'I have nothing to forgive,' was the reply. 'We will pass it over now, if you please.
The final result of the incident is that it proves more plainly than ever how
unequal I am to certain crises.'
And that was the painful feeling which would remain on Mrs. Pryor's mind: no
effort of Shirley's or Caroline's could efface it thence: she could forgive her
offending pupil, not her innocent self.
Miss Keeldar, doomed to be in constant request during the morning, was
presently summoned downstairs again. The Rector called first: a lively welcome
and livelier reprimand were at his service; he expected both, and, being in high
spirits, took them in equally good part.
In the course of his brief visit, he quite forgot to ask after his niece: the riot, the
rioters, the mill, the magistrates, the heiress, absorbed all his thoughts to the