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   Chapter 3 THE INFURIATED SWAINS

Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl By Edgar Jepson Characters: 16559

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Flossie's news filled Pollyooly with a considerable anxiety; but she was at a loss what to do. She knew that Hilary Vance was at the Savage Club, but she did not know whether she could reach it in time to find him there, for it was now a quarter of two. It did not seem to her a matter to be trusted to the electric telegraph; and living as she did in the old-time Temple, it never occurred to her to telephone.

There was nothing to do but await his return and give him Flossie's note of warning the moment he entered. She had been going to take the Lump for a walk on the embankment; she must postpone it. Then, unused to idleness, she cast about how she might fill up her time till his return.

She had swept and dusted the room that morning, after the departure of Mrs. Thomas, who had busied herself in them, for a short time, and ineffectually, with a dustpan, a brush, and a duster, so that there was no cleaning to be done. Presently it occurred to her that perhaps there might be some holes in the linen of her host which would be the better for her mending. A brief examination of his wardrobe showed her that her surmise was accurate: there was at least a month's hard mending to be done before that wardrobe would contain garments really worthy of the name of underclothing. She decided to begin by darning his socks, for she chanced to have some black darning wool in her workbox. She brought three pairs of them into the studio, and began to darn. Nature had been generous, even lavish, to Hilary Vance in the matter of feet; and his socks were enormous. So were the holes in them. But their magnitude did not shake Pollyooly's resolve to darn them.

She had been at work for about three-quarters of an hour when there came a knock at the door. She went to it in some trepidation, expecting to find a raging Butterwick on the threshold. She opened it gingerly, and to her relief looked into the friendly face of Mr. James, the novelist.

On that friendly face sat the expression of weary resignation with which he was wont to intervene in the affairs of his great-hearted, but impulsive, friend.

He greeted Pollyooly warmly, and asked if Hilary Vance were in. Pollyooly told him the artist was lunching at the Savage Club.

Mr. James hesitated; then walking down the passage into the studio, he said:

"Well, I expect that you'll be able to tell me the latest news of the affair. I've just got back from Scotland to find a letter from Mr. Ruffin to say that Mr. Vance has at last found the lady of his dreams and is engaged to be married to a florist's assistant of the name of Flossie. I expect Mr. Ruffin's rotting; he knows what a bother Mr. Vance is. But I thought I'd better come round and make sure. Do you know anything about it?"

"I don't think he's engaged to her quite. But he's expecting to be every day," said Pollyooly.

"Oh, he is, is he?" said Mr. James in a tone of some exasperation. "What's she like?"

"She's fair, with a lot of fair hair and a very large hat with lots of flowers in it," said Pollyooly.

"She would be!" broke in Mr. James with a groan.

"And she gives herself airs because of that hat."

"Just what I supposed," said Mr. James, fuming.

"But she's engaged to Mr. Reginald Butterwick," said Pollyooly.

"The deuce she is!" cried Mr. James; and a faint gleam of hope brightened his face. "And who is Mr. Reginald Butterwick?"

"He's with Messrs. Mercer & Topping; but he can always get an afternoon off to knock the stuffing out of any one, because he boxes at the Chiswick Polytechnic. And he's going to get his afternoon off to-day to knock the stuffing out of Mr. Vance."

"The deuce he is!" cried Mr. James. "Well, a good hiding would do Hilary a world of good," he added in a vengeful tone. "Teach him not to go spooning florists' assistants."

"Oh, no. He might get hurt ever so badly," said Pollyooly firmly.

Mr. James' face grew stubborn; then it softened, and he said:

"Well, there's always the danger of his getting a finger broken; and that wouldn't do. I suppose we must stop the affray-it might get into the papers too."

"Yes: we must stop it, if we can," said Pollyooly anxiously.

"Well, if he's lunching at the Savage he'll play Spelka after it; and I shall catch him there. I'll keep him out all the afternoon-till his rival has tired of waiting and gone."

"Oh, yes. That would be much the best," said Pollyooly gratefully.

Mr. James went briskly to the door. At it he stopped and said:

"There's a chance that I may miss him. There may not be a game of Spelka; and he may come straight home. Perhaps you'd better wait in till about five."

"Yes: I think I'd better. He'd be sure to come back and not know anything about Mr. Butterwick, if there weren't anybody here," said Pollyooly.

He bade her good-bye; and let himself out of the house. She returned to her darning.

It was as well that she had not left the house, for about twenty minutes later the front door was opened, and the passage and studio quivered gently to Hilary Vance's weight. Pollyooly sprang up and met him at the door of the studio with Flossie's note.

At the sight of the handwriting, a large, gratified smile covered all the round expanse of his face. But as he read, the smile faded, giving way to an expression of the liveliest surprise and consternation.

"What the deuce is this?" he cried loudly.

"She said he was going to knock the stuffing out of you, Mr. Vance, and he might be here any time this afternoon," said Pollyooly.

"And what the deuce for? What's it got to do with him?" cried Hilary Vance.

"She said he was her fiongsay," said Pollyooly, faithfully reproducing Flossie's pronunciation.

"Her fiancé?" roared Hilary Vance in accents of the liveliest surprise, dismay, and horror. "Oh, woman! Woman! The faithlessness! The treachery!"

With a vast, magnificent expression of despair he dropped heavily on to the nearest chair without pausing to select a strong one. Under the stress of his emotion and his weight the chair crumpled up; and he sat down on the floor with a violence which shook the house. He sprang up, smothered, out of regard for the age and sex of Pollyooly, some language suggested by the occurrence, and with a terrific kick sent the fragments of the chair flying across the studio. Then he howled, and holding his right toes in his left hand, hopped on his left leg. He had forgotten that he was wearing thin, but patent-leather, shoes.

Then he put his feet gingerly upon the floor, ground his teeth, and roared:

"Knock the stuffing out of me, will he? I'll tear him limb from limb! The insidious villain! I'll teach him to come between me and the woman I love!"

Sad to relate Pollyooly's heart, inured to violence by her battles with the young male inhabitants of the slum behind the Temple, where she had lodged before becoming the housekeeper of the Honourable John Ruffin, leapt joyfully at the thought of the fray, in spite of her friendship with Hilary Vance; and her quick mind grasped the fact that she might watch it in security from the door of her bedroom. Then her duty to her host came uppermost.

"But please, Mr. Vance: he's a boxer. He boxes at the Chiswick Polytechnic," she cried anxiously.

"Let him box! I'll tear him limb from limb!" roared Hilary Vance ferociously; and he strode up and down the studio, limping that he might not press heavily on his aching toes.

Pollyooly gazed at him doubtfully. Flossie's account of Mr. Butterwick's prowess had impressed her too deeply to permit her to believe that anything but painful ignominious defeat awaited Hilary Vance at his hands.

"But he blacks people's eyes and makes their noses bleed," protested Pollyooly.

"I'll tear him limb from limb!" roared Hilary Vance, still ferociously, but with less conviction in his tone.

"And he doesn't care how big anybody is, if they don't know how to box," Pollyooly insisted.

"No more do I!" roared Hilary Vance.

He stamped up and down the studio yet more vigorously since his aching toes were growing easier. Then he sank into a chair-a stronger chair-gingerly; and in a more moderate tone said:

"I'll have the scoundrel's blood. I'll teach him to cross my path."

He paused

, considering the matter more coldly, and Pollyooly anxiously watched his working face. Little by little it grew calmer.

"After all it may not be the scoundrel's fault," he said in a tone of some magnanimity. "I know what women are-treachery for treachery's sake. Why should I destroy the poor wretch whose heart has probably been as scored as mine by the discovery of her treachery? He is a fellow victim."

"And perhaps you mightn't destroy him-if he's such a good boxer," said Pollyooly anxiously.

"I should certainly destroy him," said Hilary Vance with a dignified certainty. "But to what purpose? Would it give me back my unstained ideal? No. The ideal once tarnished never shines as bright again."

His face was now calm-calm and growing sorrowful. Then a sudden apprehension appeared on it:

"Besides-suppose I broke a finger-a finger of my right hand. Why should I give this blackguard a chance of maiming me?" he cried, and looked at Pollyooly earnestly.

"I don't know, Mr. Vance," said Pollyooly, answering the question in his urgent eyes.

"If I did break a finger, it might be weeks-months before I could work again. Why, I might never be able to work again!" he cried.

"That's just what Mr. James was afraid of," said Pollyooly.

"Mr. James! Has he been here?" cried Hilary Vance; and there was far more uneasiness than pleasure in his tone on thus hearing of his friend's return.

"Yes. He came to know if you were engaged yet," said Pollyooly.

"Oh, did he?" said Hilary Vance very glumly.

"Yes. And I told him you weren't."

"That's right," he said in a tone of relief.

"And he said we must stop the affray."

"He was right. It would be criminal," said Hilary Vance solemnly. "After all it isn't myself: I have to consider posterit-"

A sudden, very loud knocking on the front door cut short the word.

"That's him!" said Pollyooly in a hushed voice.

Hilary Vance rose, folded his two big arms, and faced the door of the studio, his brow knitted in a dreadful frown.

"Hadn't I better send him away?" said Pollyooly anxiously.

Hilary Vance ground his teeth and scowled steadily at the studio door for a good half-minute. Then he let his arms fall to his sides, walked with a very haughty air to his bedroom, opened the door, and from the threshold said:

"Yes: you'd better send him away-if you can."

As Pollyooly went to let the visitor in, she heard him (Mr. Vance) turn his key in the lock of his bedroom door.

It was perhaps as well that he did so; for as Pollyooly opened the front door a young man whose flashing eye proclaimed him Mr. Reginald Butterwick, pushed quickly past her and bounced into the studio.

Pollyooly followed him quickly, somewhat surprised by his size. He bounced well into the studio with an air of splendid intrepidity, which would have been more splendid had he been three or four inches higher and thicker, and uttered a snort of disappointment at its emptiness.

He turned on Pollyooly and snapped out:

"Where's your guv'ner? Where's Hilary Vance?" Pollyooly hesitated; she was still taken aback by the young man's lack of the formidable largeness Flossie had led her to expect; and she was, besides, a very truthful child. Then she said:

"I expect he's somewhere in Chelsea."

"When'll he be back?" snapped the young man.

"He's generally in to tea," with less hesitation; and she looked at him with very limpid eyes.

"He is, is he? Then I'll wait for him," said the young man in as bloodcurdling a tone as his size would allow: he did not stand five feet three in his boots.

He stood still for a moment, scowling round the studio; then he said in a dreadful tone:

"There'll be plenty of room for us."

He fell into the position of a prizefighter on guard and danced two steps to the right, and two steps to the left.

Pollyooly gazed at him earnestly. Except for his flashing eye, he was not a figure to dread, for what he lost in height he gained in slenderness. He was indeed uncommonly slender. In fact, either he had forgotten to tell Flossie that he was a featherweight boxer, or she had forgotten to pass the information on. The most terrible thing about him was his fierce air, and the most dangerous-looking his sharp, tip-tilted nose.

Then Pollyooly sat down in considerable relief; she was quite sure now that did Mr. Reginald Butterwick discover that his rival was in his bedroom and hale him forth, the person who would suffer would be Mr. Reginald Butterwick. She took up again the gigantic sock she was mending; and she kept looking up from it to observe with an easy eye the pride of the Polytechnic as he walked round the studio examining the draperies, the pictures, and the drawings on the wall. Whenever his eye rested on one signed by Hilary Vance he sniffed a bitter, contemptuous sniff. For these he had but three words of criticism; they were: "Rot!" "Rubbish!" and "Piffle!"

Once he said in a bitterly scoffing tone:

"I suppose your precious guv'ner thinks he's got the artistic temperament."

"I don't know," said Pollyooly.

He squared briskly up to an easel, danced lightly on his toes before it, and said:

"I'll give him the artistic temperament all right."

At last he paused in his wanderings before the industrious Pollyooly, and his eyes fell on the gigantic sock she was darning. She saw his expression change; something of the fierce confidence of the intrepid boxer passed out of his face.

"I say, what's that you're darning?" he said quickly.

"It's a sock," said Pollyooly.

"It looks more like a sack than a sock. Whose sock is it?" said Mr. Reginald Butterwick; and there was a faint note of anxiety in his tone.

"It's Mr. Vance's sock," said Pollyooly; and with gentle pride she held it up in a fashion to display its full proportions.

Mr. Reginald Butterwick took two or three nervous steps to the right, looking askance at the sock as he moved. It was not really as large as a sack.

"Big man, your guv'ner? Eh?" he said in a finely careless tone.

"I should think he was!" cried Pollyooly with enthusiasm.

Mr. Reginald Butterwick looked still more earnestly at the sock and said:

"One of those tall lanky chaps-eh?"

"He's tall, but he isn't lanky-not a bit," said Pollyooly quickly. "He's tremendously big-broad and thick as well as tall, you know. He's more like a giant than a man."

"Oh, I know those giants-flabby-flabby," said Mr. Reginald Butterwick; and he laughed a short, scoffing laugh which rang uneasy.

"He's not flabby!" cried Pollyooly indignantly. "He's tremendously strong. Why-why-when he heard you were coming he smashed that chair and kicked it into the corner just because he was annoyed."

Mr. Reginald Butterwick looked at the smallish fragments of the chair in the corner; and his face became the face of a quiet, respectable clerk.

"He did, did he?" he said coldly.

"Yes, and he wanted to tear you limb from limb. He said so," said Pollyooly.

"That's a game two can play at," said Mr. Reginald Butterwick; but his tone lacked conviction.

"Oh, he'd do it-quite easily," said Pollyooly confidently.

Mr. Reginald Butterwick stared at her and then at the sock. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again. Then he whistled a short, defiant whistle which went out of tune toward the end. Then he walked the length of the studio and back. Then he stopped and said to Pollyooly very fiercely:

"Do you think I've got nothing else to do but wait here all the afternoon for your precious guv'ner to come home to tea?"

"I don't know," said Pollyooly politely.

"Well, I have-plenty," said Mr. Reginald Butterwick savagely.

Pollyooly said nothing.

"And what's more, I'm going to do it!" said Mr. Reginald Butterwick yet more savagely; and he strode firmly to the door. On the threshold he paused and added: "But you tell your guv'ner from me-Mr. Reginald Butterwick-that he hasn't seen the last of me-not by a long chalk. One of these fine nights when he's messing round with-well, you tell him what I've told you-that's all. He'll know."

With that he passed through the door and banged it heavily behind him. The front door was larger and heavier, so that he was able to bang it more loudly still.

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