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

   Chapter 17 THE DUKE HAS AN IDEA

Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl By Edgar Jepson Characters: 18392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Pollyooly did not again entertain royalty. She kept firmly to her resolve to superintend only the outdoor manners and behaviour of Prince Adalbert. She would not have her feelings again harrowed by his painfully exact rendering of the noises made by a sturdy, happy porker over its trough. But out of doors he continued, for the rest of her stay, to be her perpetual, noiseless, devoted, and generally perspiring squire.

That stay came to an end along with the Honourable John Ruffin's windfall. It had been a very pleasant stay; Pollyooly had enjoyed it more than any time of her life, more even than the days she had spent at Ricksborough Court when Lord Ronald Ricksborough had come there from Eton to spend his holidays. She was a little doubtful (for all that they were engaged to be married when she should have grown up and fitted herself to become the wife of an English peer by dancing for a while in musical comedy) whether the days at Pyechurch would be more pleasant if he were there, for he would naturally take the place of leader, and she was very happy in that position herself.

She wrote only one letter, a brief letter, to him from Pyechurch, for she was really too busy to write more often (at the Temple she wrote at least once every ten days) and he wrote back to say that he wished he were with her instead of mugging away at his beastly work in his stuffy study. His letter brought home to Pollyooly the great advantage she had over richer children in having years ago passed the seven standards at the Muttle Deeping school, and so done with tedious school-books for good and all.

It was a sad day for her and the Lump when their stay at Pyechurch came to an end; but it was an even sadder day for Prince Adalbert. He was losing the one friend he had ever made, the only person in the world for whom he felt a warm admiration and a genuine respect-as warm an admiration indeed as his somewhat limited spirit was capable of feeling. It was not able to attain to the great heights of emotion; but to such a height of grief as it could rise to, it rose. As for his display of that grief, had he been a pretty boy the onlookers could not have failed to find it pathetic; as it was, for all that they were most of them keenly sensible of his royal condition, they were hard put to it not to find it grotesque.

Tears were not in keeping with his Hohenzollern face; and when he at last realised that Pollyooly was really going and for good, he bellowed like a very small, but broken-hearted bull.

A number of Pollyooly's friends and subjects had come to bid her good-bye; Prince Adalbert was no little hindrance to their farewells, for he had a tight grip on Pollyooly's skirt; and not only did his bellowing drown the sound of their voices but also he kept her chiefly busy trying to soothe him.

When at last she detached him from her skirt and bade him good-bye, and climbed into the wagonette, he tried to climb into it to go with her; and the Baron von Habelschwert had to lift him down and hold him firmly.

The wagonette drove off amid a loud chorus of farewells; and little given to the softer emotions as Pollyooly was, there were tears in her eyes as she looked back on the friends she was leaving. Her last sight of the prince was somewhat depressing: in a final access of despair he was kicking the baron's shins.

Pollyooly said, with far more indulgence than she had generally shown him:

"I don't suppose he'll break out like that very often."

"Still, after all your training, it is sad to see him massacring his faithful mentor," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Yes: it isn't nice of him," said Pollyooly without any great annoyance in her tone. "But really it's the baron's fault; he'd only have to smack him about twice."

"I expect he has conscientious scruples against smacking princes of the blood royal. Many people undoubtedly have," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Perhaps he has. But I think he'll miss me," said Pollyooly in a tone of sufficient satisfaction.

The baron would indeed miss her; and he was one of the saddest men in Pyechurch that day. With the departure of Pollyooly his hours of ease came to an end. No longer could he in his sunnily disposed deck-chair read the sweet books he loved in a perfect serenity. Once more he must follow his royal charge up and down the sands and keep an ever watchful eye on him.

The change from Pyechurch to the Temple was trying; but the unrepining Pollyooly soon grew used to it, though she missed for a while the wide spaces of the sea and marsh, and the inspiriting breezes from the sea.

The Honourable John Ruffin made some changes: she was to continue to call him John, or Cousin John; she was to do her work in gloves; and she was always to wear a large apron. The use of a large apron, though it might prevent her from working with her wonted speed, was to enable her to wear under it always a nice linen frock. Then, when any one knocked at the door of the chambers, she could slip off the apron, and let them in no longer in the guise of the Honourable John Ruffin's housekeeper, but as a member of his family.

He did not for a moment dream of relieving her altogether of her housework. In the first place he could not afford to do so; in the second place he thought it very good for her to be busy most of the day, and to feel that she was independent, earning her own living. He did not even bid her give up her post of housekeeper to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. He was quite sure that a girl might have too little work to do, but he was very doubtful whether she could have too much.

Then he was talking one afternoon to Pollyooly, who had just made his tea and brought it to him; and she said:

"Who is Mr. Francis?"

"Mr. Francis who?" said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"I don't know," said Pollyooly, knitting her brow. "It was Mrs. Brown who talked about him. I took the Lump to see her the day after we came back from Pyechurch; and she said I was growing quite the lady."

"She would put it like that," said the Honourable John Ruffin sadly.

"And then she said that after all it wasn't to be wondered at, seeing who Mr. Francis was. But when I asked her what she meant, she wouldn't say any more."

The Honourable John Ruffin sat straighter up in his chair with a somewhat startled air. But he said in an indifferent enough tone:

"Ah, she grew mysterious, did she?"

"Ever so mysterious," said Pollyooly.

"It's a habit of her class, I believe," said the Honourable John Ruffin carelessly. "Probably she meant nothing at all."

Pollyooly went back to the Lump content; but the Honourable John Ruffin kept his brow puckered by a thoughtful frown for some time after she had gone. Then he shrugged his shoulders, and his face resumed its wonted serenity.

Three afternoons later there was a knocking at the door of the chambers; and Pollyooly opened it to find the Duke of Osterley standing on the threshold. She was surprised, because she had no reason to believe that the coldness which the Honourable John Ruffin had told her subsisted between himself and the duke had been dissipated; but, like the well-mannered child she was, she did not let her surprise be seen, but bowed politely as she had seen ladies at Pyechurch bow, for since she had been promoted to the position of the Honourable John Ruffin's cousin she had abandoned the curtsey as out of keeping with that more exalted station.

The duke gazed gloomily at her, for it was very present to his mind that their earlier meetings had, for him, been barren of joy; then he said gloomily:

"Ah, you are here. Is Mr. Ruffin back from the Law Courts yet?"

"No, your Grace; but he won't be long. He'll be back to tea in a minute or two: the clock's just struck four," she said; and she drew aside for him to enter.

The duke stared at her angel face with gloomy thoughtfulness for nearly a minute. She found it somewhat discomfitting. Then he said gloomily:

"Very well: I'll come in and wait."

He walked with a determined air down the passage into the sitting-room.

Pollyooly ran up to the attic to assure herself that the Lump was not in mischief-it was the last thing in the world that placid, but red-headed cherub was likely to get into; none the less she was always making sure of it. Then she came down to the kitchen, and set about cutting thin bread and butter for two persons.

As she cut it she wondered uneasily what had brought the duke to the King's Bench Walk. If there was one person in the world with regard to whom she did not enjoy a clear conscience, it was the duke.

Had he come for the reason:

(1) That she had helped the duchess in the original evasion of his daughter?

(2) That she had spent a fortnight at Ricksborough Court as his daughter?

(3) Or had he discovered that she had helped the duchess in the second evasion of Lady Marion?

(4) Had Mr. Wilkinson revealed how she had tricked him and the detective?

Truly there were reasons why she should be afflicted by an uneasy conscience with regard to the duke. It was no wonder that his gloomy stare had made her uncomfortable. She tried to reassure

herself by the consideration that if he had discovered anything, he would surely have been far grumpier with her; he would never have confined himself to a gloomy stare.

She had just finished cutting the bread and butter when the latchkey of the Honourable John Ruffin grated in the keyhole.

She stepped to the kitchen door; and as he entered she said:

"Please, sir, the duke's here."

The Honourable John Ruffin showed no surprise; he only said:

"Ah, he must be wanting me to do something for him. I told you that he would warm to me when he did."

"Yes, sir. But, please sir, he doesn't look very warm yet," said Pollyooly doubtfully.

"He never does. It runs in the family-the Osterley chill. Bring us some tea," said the Honourable John Ruffin lightly; and he went down the passage.

He came into the sitting-room briskly, and found the duke sitting in an easy chair, with his silk hat thrust well back on his head, in a fashion which gave him a far from ducal, an even raffish air.

"How are you, Ruffin?" he said, with an amiable smile, but in a somewhat nervous and deprecatory tone.

"How are you, Osterley? Got over the sulks?" said the Honourable John Ruffin lightly.

"Sulks? I never sulk!" said the duke with some heat.

"What do you call them then?" said the Honourable John Ruffin with a good display of the liveliest most unaffected interest.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" said the duke coldly; but he flushed.

It is likely that the Honourable John Ruffin would have raised him to a considerable temperature on this matter; but the entrance of Pollyooly, bearing the tea-tray, closed the discussion of it. The Honourable John Ruffin poured out the tea and handed the bread and butter to the duke.

They ate some bread and butter and drank some tea; and then the duke said plaintively:

"This is jolly good tea. Why don't I ever get tea like this?"

"You ought to. You pay enough for it," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone which lacked sympathy.

"I do. I believe I employ every incompetent jackass in London," said the duke bitterly.

"And I expect you don't make any secret of your conviction at home," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"I don't," said the duke firmly; then yet more plaintively he added: "Oh, it's a dog's life for a man trying to run places like Ricksborough House and the court on his own!"

"I expect it does try you a bit too high," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"It would any man," said the duke with conviction.

The Honourable John Ruffin thought that a man of tact and amiability could probably do it quite easily; but he did not say so. He thought that such a statement might be inhospitable. They went on with their tea in silence, the duke frowning over his luckless lot.

Then the Honourable John Ruffin said in a distinctly patient and long-suffering tone:

"Well, what is it you want me to do for you this time?"

"I don't want you to do anything for me!" said the duke sharply.

"Then what have you come for?" said the Honourable John Ruffin in the same distinctly patient and long-suffering tone.

The duke hesitated; then he said:

"Well, I want you to help me. I've got an idea."

The Honourable John Ruffin looked skeptical, indeed, and he said a little wearily:

"You have? What is it?"

The duke cleared his throat, assumed a portentous air, and said:

"I tell you I'm getting devilish sick of this business-living by myself, without any family, and that sort of thing. And I've come to the conclusion that it's time Caroline and I were reconciled-"

"High time," said the Honourable John Ruffin readily.

"I'm fond of Caroline-in a way-"

"Your own way-an obscure, secret way," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a cheerful tone.

The duke scowled at him, but went on: "You don't know how contrary Caroline is-"

"How should I? I'm not married to her," said the Honourable John Ruffin patiently.

"Well, she is. And I've been thinking that if she found she was getting her way without interference, she wouldn't want it any longer."

The keen grey eyes of the Honourable John Ruffin sparkled:

"By Jove! This is subtlety! Marriage makes Machiavellis of us all. Continue, Solomon," he said, with more respect in his tone.

"But I couldn't think of any way of letting her know she was getting it. It's no use writin' to those scoundrels of lawyers of hers and telling them. She'd only think it was a trap; or she'd think I'd caved in, and be so cockahoop we should never get any forrader. Then I got the idea. It looks a bit roundabout, but I believe it'll work, I do really. But it'll take a lot of working, and I'm wondering whether that little housekeeper of yours-what's her name-Mary Bride-will be up to it."

"What on earth has Pollyooly got to do with it?" cried the Honourable John Ruffin.

"A lot," said the duke firmly. "You know how like Marion she is. Why, even Mrs. Hutton, who'd been with Marion for years, couldn't tell them apart. Well, I want Mary Bride to be Marion."

"The deuce you do!" cried the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Yes," said the duke in the tone of a man who had quite made up his mind. "I want her to come and live at the court as Marion. I'm going to run her as my daughter, Lady Marion Ricksborough."

"But what on earth for?" cried the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of the liveliest bewilderment.

"Why, don't you see? At first Caroline will be awfully cockahoop at getting her own way. Then she'll begin to see that Marion's out in the cold, and I've got another daughter in her place. Then she'll kick like fury. She'll send Marion back in a brace of shakes to take her proper place. Then it'll be my turn to kick. I shan't be taking any Marion-at least, not without Caroline comes back too," said the duke with an air of uncommon animation.

He was looking brighter than ever the Honourable John Ruffin had seen him. His eyes were positively gleaming with a manly fire.

"By Jove-by Jove!" said the Honourable John Ruffin softly.

"I thought you'd see it," said the duke complacently.

The Honourable John Ruffin rose from his chair, strode solemnly across the hearthrug, seized the duke's hand, wrung it, and in a voice trembling with emotion said:

"Osterley, I have done you an injustice. I have underrated your intellect. Under that mild and irritated appearance you hide genius-veritable genius. The idea is, as you say, roundabout, but it will work. It will certainly work. You are dealing with a woman."

The duke smiled with an air of the deepest self-satisfaction. Compliments from the Honourable John Ruffin were indeed rare.

"Yes; that's what I thought," he said. Then he chuckled, and added:

"Won't Caroline be mad when she finds I'm running another Marion?"

"'Mad' isn't the word for it," said the Honourable John Ruffin with conviction.

"I shall certainly be getting a little of my own back," said the duke, beaming.

The Honourable John Ruffin frowned at him heavily and said in a tone of the coldest severity:

"That's a stupid way of looking at it. The important thing about your idea is that it will very likely bring you together again. But I wonder if you can work it. You won't find it an easy job."

"It all depends on whether Mary Bride can take Marion's place," said the duke somewhat anxiously.

The Honourable John Ruffin looked at him queerly. It was not for him to say that Pollyooly had already spent a fortnight at Ricksborough Court as Lady Marion and that during that fortnight the duke had been as completely duped as his household.

He only said:

"It isn't Pollyooly I'm doubtful about. You need have no fears about her. She's by far the cleverest child I know, and she'll play her part all right. But, unfortunately, when you kidnapped her in Piccadilly and took her to Ricksborough House, your butler and Marion's nurse-what's her name?-Mrs. Hutton, learnt that Marion has a double, and they may suspect things."

"Oh, no: Lucas doesn't go to the court; and I discharged Mrs. Hutton for being an idiot. Also, I dismissed Miss Marlow, Marion's governess. I had no use for her. Really there's no one at the court now who came into close contact with Marion at all," said the duke.

"That does simplify things," said the Honourable John Ruffin cheerfully. "But of course it's going to be a matter of weeks. Caroline won't hear about it at once probably, for her friends won't hear about it to let her know. Then it'll take her some time to get over her satisfaction at having got her way, and to realise that Marion is out in the cold."

"Then she'll come back like a knife," said the duke.

"Yes; but Pollyooly has got to keep the game going for a good six weeks. Let's hear what she thinks about taking it on," said the Honourable John Ruffin, and he rang the bell.

"Of course she'll take it on. Besides having her at the court, I shall pay her a trifle," said the duke in a tone of complete assurance.

"You won't. You'll pay her at least five pounds a week," said the Honourable John Ruffin in an equally assured tone. "But even so, she may refuse to leave her little brother for so long."

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