MoboReader> Literature > Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl

   Chapter 4 THE DUCHESS HAS AN IDEA

Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl By Edgar Jepson Characters: 18478

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Pollyooly heaved a sigh as the studio trembled to the shock of the banged front door, a sigh chiefly of relief, but tinged also with a faint regret that she had not seen Mr. Reginald Butterwick torn limb from limb. She knew that she would not really have enjoyed the sight; and the mess in the cleaned studio would have been exceedingly annoying; but there were primitive depths in her heart, and somewhere in them was the regret that she had missed the thrilling spectacle.

The studio still quivered to the bang, the sigh still trembled on Pollyooly's lip, when the bedroom door opened, and Hilary Vance came forth with an immense scowl on his spacious face and said fiercely:

"So the scoundrel's gone, has he?"

"Yes. When I told him how big you were, he didn't seem so eager to fight. And he went away," said Pollyooly quickly. "But he told me to tell you that you hadn't seen the last of him-not by a long chalk."

Her host's scowl lightened a little; there was almost a faint satisfaction on his face as he said:

"So he fears my rivalry still, does he?" Then his face grew gloomier than ever; and he added: "There's no need. I am not one to sit at the feet of a tarnished ideal. There will be a gap-there is a gap-but I have done with HER for good and all. I have-done-with-HER."

He had drawn himself up to utter the last words with a splendid air; then he said sadly:

"I think I should like my tea."

"I'll get it at once," said Pollyooly cheerfully.

She was not long about it. Hilary Vance took the Lump on his knee, gave him a lump of sugar, poured out the tea, and began to drink it with an air of gloomy resignation.

Presently he patted the Lump's bright red curls and said:

"Let this be a warning to you, red cherub, never to trust a woman-never as long as you live."

The Lump grunted peacefully.

"He's too young to understand, or it wouldn't be right to teach him such a thing as that," said Pollyooly in a tone of disapproval.

"Not right?" cried Hilary Vance stormily. "But you've seen for yourself! You've seen how that girl led me on to squander the treasure of a splendid passion on her unresponsive spirit while, all the time, she was abasing herself before a miserable, preposterous scoundrel like that ruffian Butterwick."

"He was rather small," said Pollyooly thoughtfully. "But I daresay he'd make her a good husband. He looked quite respectable."

"A good husband!" cried Hilary Vance with a dreadful sneer.

"But I expect she'll lead him a life. She looked like it," said Pollyooly, thoughtfully pursuing the subject.

"Serve him right!" cried Hilary Vance with terrible scorn. "He has learnt her treachery to me; and if he marries her after that, he deserves all he gets. If she betrays my trust, she'll betray his."

Pollyooly was silent, considering the matter. Then, summing it up, she said with conviction:

"I don't think she's the kind of girl to trust at all."

"I must have been blind-blind," said Hilary Vance.

Then came the sound of a taxicab drawing up before the house, and then a knocking at the front door. Pollyooly opened it, and found Mr. James on the threshold. He looked uncommonly anxious and said quickly:

"I missed him. Has he come back?"

"Yes; he's having his tea."

"And this fellow Butterwick?" said Mr. James.

"Oh, he came; and then, when he found how big Mr. Vance is, he went away. But he hasn't done with Mr. Vance-not by a long chalk. He told me to tell him so," said Pollyooly.

"Well, I'm glad they didn't scrap," said Mr. James in a tone of relief. "If they didn't at once, they're not very likely to later."

"Oh, no: they won't now," said Pollyooly confidently. "You see as soon as he heard that Mr. Butterwick was her-her fiongsay"-she hesitated over the word because Hilary Vance had shaken her original conception of its pronunciation-"he gave her up for good."

"That is a blessing," said the novelist in a tone of yet greater relief.

He had been looking forward to a disagreeable and very likely hopeless struggle with his friend's infatuation.

He walked down the passage and into the studio briskly. But not quickly enough to prevent an expression of funereal gloom flooding Hilary Vance's face.

"How are you?" said Mr. James cheerfully.

"In the depths-in the depths-my last illusion shattered," said the artist in the gloomiest kind of despairing croak.

"Oh, you never know," said Mr. James.

"I shall never trust a woman again-never," said the artist in an inexorable tone.

"But I thought you'd given up trusting them months ago," said Mr. James in considerable surprise.

"I was deceived-this one seemed so different. She was a serpent-a veritable serpent," said Hilary Vance in his deepest tone.

"Yes. They are apt to be like that," said Mr. James with some carelessness. "May I have some tea?"

Gloomily the artist poured him out a cup of tea; gloomily he watched him drink it. Heedless of his gloom, Mr. James plunged into an account of his stay in Scotland, telling of the country, the food, and the people with an agreeable, racy vivacity. Slowly the great cloud lifted from Hilary Vance's ample face. He grew interested; he asked questions; at last he said firmly:

"I must go to Scotland. Nature-Nature pure and undenied is what my seared soul needs."

"It wouldn't be a bad idea," said Mr. James.

"I shall wear a kilt," said Hilary Vance solemnly. "The winds of heaven playing round my legs would assist healing nature; and I must be in complete accord with the country."

"A kilt wouldn't be a bad idea," said Mr. James.

Hilary Vance paused and appeared to be thinking deeply; then he said:

"The Scotch peasant lassies, James-are they as attractive nowadays as they appear to have been in the days of Burns?"

"I thought you'd done with women!" cried Mr. James.

"I have done with women," said the poet with cold sternness. "I have done with the cold-hearted, treacherous, meretricious women of the town. But the simple, trusting and trustworthy country girl, the daughter of the soil, in perpetual touch with nature-surely communion with her would be healing too."

"Oh, hang it all!" said Mr. James quite despondently.

Hilary Vance plunged once more into deep thought; then he said:

"Where does one buy a kilt-and a sporran?"

"Whiteley's, I suppose," said Mr. James. Then he added hastily: "But I say, oughtn't we to do something to amuse these children?"

At once his friend forgot his seared heart; for the while the process of healing it did not exercise his wits. He flung himself heart and soul into the business of amusing Pollyooly and the Lump; and presently the studio rang with their screams of joy. There may have been some truth in the assertion of his detractors that Hilary Vance's drawing was facile and too far on the side of mere prettiness; but no one in the world could deny that he made a splendid elephant: his trumpeting was especially true to life.

Ten days passed pleasantly at his studio; and both Pollyooly and the Lump were the better for the change. Three times she went to the King's Bench Walk and cleaned the rooms against the Honourable John Ruffin's return; four times she went to the dancing class in Soho, where she was training for a career on the stage. On the evening of the tenth day came a letter to say that he would be back at noon on the morrow. After breakfast, therefore, Hilary Vance despatched the two children back to the King's Bench Walk in a taxicab, the Lump hugging a large box of chocolate creams, Pollyooly, in no less joy, clasping firmly her shabby little purse which contained, beyond the silver she carried to meet any natural expense, a golden sovereign, the artist's parting gift. Her sky was now serene; but she was still mindful of the days when the jaws of the workhouse had yawned for her and the Lump, and she lost no chance of adding to her hoard in the Post Office Savings Bank. Immediately on her arrival at the Temple she went to the post office and added the sovereign to it.

The Honourable John Ruffin arrived from Buda-Pesth, looking the browner for the change, and in very good spirits. He brought the friendliest messages and Hungarian gifts to Pollyooly and the Lump from the Esmeralda, and was able to assure them that she was in excellent health, and enjoying a genuine triumph.

When he had delivered the Esmeralda's gifts and assured Pollyooly of her prosperity, there came a short silence; then Pollyooly said:

"And the Moldo-Wallachian, sir?"

The fine grey eyes of the Honourable John Ruffin twinkled, as he said gravely:

"The Moldo-Wallachian has returned to Moldo-Wallachia. When the ideal was once more clearly presented to the Esmeralda, the attractions of the Moldo-Wallachian faded as flowers fade in a drought."

"I'm glad she isn't going to marry a foreigner," said Pollyooly with true patriotism.

"She would never be happy in Moldo-Wallachia," said the Honourable John Ruffin with conviction.

"Oh, no, sir," said Pollyooly.

There was a pause; then he said:

"And how did you leave Mr. Vance?"

"Oh, he was all right, sir," said Pollyooly.

"Oh, he was, was he? Did you by any chance come across a young

lady of the name of Flossie while you were staying at Chelsea?"

"Yes, sir. But he doesn't have anything to do with her now, sir. He goes past the shop with an air of cold dignity-he says he does; and he's going to Scotland to wear a kilt to get quite cured-he says he is," said Pollyooly quickly.

"It sounds most efficacious," said the Honourable John Ruffin. "But how did it all happen?"

Pollyooly told the story of the intervention of Mr. Butterwick; and the Honourable John Ruffin chuckled freely, for no reason that she could see, as he listened to it. At the end of it he said sententiously:

"Well, all's well that ends well. These foreign countries are not suited to English girls: Miss Flossie would never be happy in Bohemia."

The next morning, when she brought in his grilled bacon, he said that they might now congratulate themselves on the prospect of leading their quiet, industrious lives in peace for a while.

These congratulations, however, were premature, for only three days later he was sitting in his rooms, having just come from the Law Courts, where he had been acting as junior counsel in an awkward case, and was bracing himself to the effort of getting himself his afternoon tea, since Pollyooly had gone with the Lump to take the air in Hyde Park.

Suddenly there came a sharp, hurried knocking on his outer door.

The Honourable John Ruffin raised his eyebrows, opened his eyes rather wide, and said to his cigarette:

"A woman in distress, evidently. Who on earth can it be?"

He did not spring to his feet and dash to the door to offer instant aid to the distressed one. He rose slowly and walked slowly to the door, assuming slowly as he went an air of deep, but patient, resignation.

He opened the door gingerly. On the threshold stood the beautiful, high-spirited and wilful Duchess of Osterley.

"Caroline, by Jove! Why, I thought you were out of England, still hiding Marion from Osterley," he cried, and smiled with pleasure at the sight of her beautiful face.

The Duke and Duchess of Osterley had been at daggers drawn for nearly two years; and since both of them had sought to bring their feud forcibly to an end in the Law Courts, the Anglo-Saxon peoples had had no cause to complain of any lack of effort on their part to be entertaining. The upshot of the law proceedings had been that the Court, with a futility almost fatuous, had ordered the duchess to return to her husband, and, what was far more important, had given the custody of their little daughter of twelve, Lady Marion Ricksborough, to the duke.

The Anglo-Saxon peoples felt that the duke had scored heavily; and the duchess agreed with them. She was not one to sit submissive under defeat; and presently those peoples read with the liveliest interest and pleasure that she had carried off her daughter and hidden her with such skill that the detectives, official and unofficial, had failed utterly to find her.

In this carrying off and hiding Pollyooly had played the important part. It had been a freak of nature to make her and Lady Marion Ricksborough so closely alike, that even when they were together it was hard to tell which was which. The duchess had taken advantage of this likeness to substitute Pollyooly for Lady Marion at Ricksborough Court, the duke's chief country seat, for a fortnight.

The duke, Lady Marion's nurse, and her governess had believed Lady Marion Ricksborough to be still with them, and had given the duchess all the time she needed to hide her.

For a whole fortnight Pollyooly had played her part with such skill that only the duke's nephew and heir, Lord Ronald Ricksborough, had discovered that she was not Lady Marion. A most discreet boy of fourteen, and already Pollyooly's warm friend, he was the last person to spoil the sport; and at the end of the fortnight she had slipped away and returned by motor car to her post of housekeeper to the Honourable John Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in the King's Bench Walk.

Ignorant of the fact that Lady Marion Ricksborough had fled a fortnight previously, the detectives, both official and private, had taken up the search for her from the moment of Pollyooly's disappearance from the Court. It is hardly a matter for wonder that they did not go far along a trail which had been cold for a fortnight.

As he said, the Honourable John Ruffin had believed the duchess to be hiding out of England; and he showed himself unfeignedly pleased to see her. He put her in his most comfortable chair, made her take off her hat, and said:

"Now, I'll make you some tea."

The Honourable John Ruffin went to the kitchen; the duchess rose restlessly and followed him. As he made the tea he lectured her on the importance of making it not only with boiling water, but with water which had not been boiling for more than a quarter of a minute, and that poured on to a fine China tea in a warmed pot without taking the kettle right off the stove.

The rebellious duchess, impatient to tell him the object of her visit, made several faces at him; and twice she said contemptuously:

"You and your old tea!"

But when she came to drink it, she admitted handsomely that it was better than she could have made it herself.

She drank it; grew suddenly serious, and said:

"John, I'm in a mess, and I've come to you for help."

"It is yours to the half of my fortune-at present about fourteen shillings," said the Honourable John Ruffin warmly.

"Well, I didn't take Marion abroad," said the duchess. "They always look abroad for people who bolt. I borrowed Pinky Wallerton's car and drove her down, myself, to a cottage I bought in Devonshire-in the pinewoods above Budleigh Salterton."

"That sounds all right."

"It was-quite-till this morning. Then, without a word of warning, at eleven o'clock, one of Osterley's lawyers turned up with a detective."

"And got her?"

"No. Fortunately she was out in the wood with her nurse. I gave Eglantine, my maid, twenty pounds and told her to get quietly to Marion while I kept the brutes in play, rush her down to the station, and catch the London train. They'd just time if they ran most of the way."

"But the lawyer would only have to wire to Osterley to meet the train at Waterloo," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"I thought of that," said the duchess quickly. "I told her to leave the express at Salisbury, go on to Woking by a slow train, take a taxi from there to my old nurse's, Mrs. Simpson's, in Camden Town, and leave Marion with her."

"Excellent," said the Honourable John Ruffin in warm approval.

"Then she's to come on here with Marion's clothes in time to catch the six o'clock to Exeter from Paddington."

"Here? With Marion's clothes? What for?" said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Why, to put on Mary Bride-Pollyooly as you call her. I want to borrow her again, substitute her for Marion, and let her keep the brutes quiet while I carry Marion off to a cottage I have bought in the north of Scotland for just such an emergency as this."

The Honourable John Ruffin sprang to his feet with flashing eyes:

"What? Rob me of my bacon-griller again? The last time my breakfast was spoilt for a fortnight. You don't know what you ask!" he cried in tones in which indignation and horror were nicely blended.

"Oh, but this won't be for a fortnight-a couple of days at the outside. Surely you could eat fish for breakfast for a couple of mornings," pleaded the duchess.

"I never eat fish for breakfast," said the Honourable John Ruffin coldly. "I am an Englishman and a patriot-eggs and bacon."

"But just for once," said the duchess.

The hard expression faded slowly from his face; he took a turn up and down the room; then he said in a tone of infinite sadness:

"Well, well, I suppose I must sacrifice myself again. What a thing it is to be a cousin! But how are you going to work it? Surely you're being followed?"

"Rather," said the duchess cheerfully. "But I don't take Mary Bride with me. I go back to Budleigh Salterton by the four forty-five from Waterloo; and my follower will no doubt go with me. Eglantine and Mary Bride will go down to Exeter by the six o'clock from Paddington, motor over, and slip into the house late at night. There's sure to be some one watching it; and once they believe Marion to be in it, they'll go on watching it without bothering about me. I only want to be left alone for six hours, and I'll get Marion away without leaving a trace."

"Strategist," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of admiring approval. "I hope you'll pull it off. You deserve to for having thought it out so thoroughly. Fortunately, Pollyooly is due home at a quarter of five, so there'll be no trouble there. She's the most punctual person in the Temple."

"That's lucky," said the duchess with a sigh of thankfulness.

There was nothing more to be arranged; and if she were going to catch her train comfortably, it was time that she started for Waterloo. He escorted her to Fleet Street, put her into a taxicab, and bade her good-bye.

The taxicab started; he turned to return to his rooms, stopped short, and said sharply:

"Bother! I forgot to arrange about Pollyooly's salary!"

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