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   Chapter 22 THE DUKE WINS

Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl By Edgar Jepson Characters: 13967

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Pollyooly had been at Ricksborough Court rather more than a month when the Honourable John Ruffin arrived, uninvited and without notice, on the Friday evening. He found the duke in the garden with the three children.

"The kicking has begun," he said to the duke briefly, by way of explanation.

The duke seemed taken aback by the suddenness of the news, but soon he recovered and showed himself in very good spirits.

That night after dinner, after Pollyooly and Ronald had been dismissed from dessert to bed, the Honourable John Ruffin said:

"I got a letter from Caroline, pitching into me like one o'clock for being a party to a disgraceful plot to rob Marion of her name and birthright."

"Where is it?" said the duke quickly.

"I didn't bring it with me. The home-truths about me on it were nothing to the home-truths about you. It would sear your soul to read them," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a very grave voice.

"Would it?" said the duke.

"It would. But I thought I would come down, in case she made a descent and you wanted some one to stand by and stiffen you."

"Do you know, I don't think I do," said the duke. "I really believe I can stick it out on my own."

"Good," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"All the same I'm glad you came. If we get beyond having a tremendous row, we shall very likely want some one to arrange things for us," said the duke.

"I shouldn't think a tremendous row was quite your game," said the Honourable John Ruffin thoughtfully.

"Oh, I'm not going to row. But you know what Caroline is: she can have all the row there is to have, without any help from any one," said the duke. "I'm just going to sit tight as wax and let her wear herself out, if she does start rowing."

"That is undoubtedly the course for a man of sense to pursue," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of approval.

The duke was on tenterhooks the next day, for though he was braced for the struggle with the duchess, he found the uncertainty when that struggle would begin trying. Then he was taking his afternoon tea with the Honourable John Ruffin on the cedar lawn; Ronald and Pollyooly mindful of the cakes, had sociably joined them; and they were laughing at a story the Honourable John Ruffin was telling them, when he stopped short, staring at the entrance to the lawn. They turned to see the duchess standing in it, and surveying them with the eyes of an avenging angel.

[Illustration: They turned to see the Duchess]

They all rose; and the Honourable John Ruffin said calmly:

"How are you, Caroline? I suppose you motored down. Charming weather for motoring."

"Very," said the duchess in a terrible voice. "And a charming gathering I find at the end of it."

"Yes; sit down and have some tea. You must be thirsty," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"How are you, Caroline? Sit down and have some tea," said the duke, seizing on the opening, in rather uncertain tones.

"Tea!" said the duchess, in a yet more terrible voice.

"And bread and butter," said the duke hastily.

"Do you think I came here to drink tea?" said the duchess in the tone of one who had come to drink blood.

"A lemon squash then," said the duke hastily.

"I haven't come here to drink tea, or lemon squashes," said the duchess. "I've come to learn what this means-to put an end to this ridiculous farce?"

"Eh? What? What farce?" said the duke.

"This farcical substitution of this wicked child, Mary Bride, for Marion," said the duchess, glaring at Pollyooly.

"But you're not going to do any substituting. I won't have it," said the duke firmly.

"Me? It's you! You've done it already!" cried the duchess, with a sudden note of astonishment in her voice.

The duke shook his head, and with a smile of superior knowledge said firmly:

"It won't do, Caroline. It's no good your trying it on."

The duchess gasped: "What do you mean? What do you mean?" she cried; and her tone was now all astonishment.

The Honourable John Ruffin created a diversion by saying:

"As far as I can make out this is a private matter; and little pitchers have long ears. Come along, little pitchers." And he was sweeping Pollyooly and Ronald off the lawn.

The duchess glared at him, and stopped them for a moment with the words:

"Is this your doing, John?"

"Heavens, no! Osterley is the originator, and organiser, and perpetrator of the whole arrangement," he cried over his shoulder in a tone which carried conviction; and he vanished with the children.

The duchess turned and glared again at the duke, as if she could not believe her eyes; she looked almost as if she saw him for the first time.

"Sit down and have some tea. You must be wanting it," said the duke firmly; and he began to pour it out.

The duchess sat down, with a somewhat helpless air, still staring at him. Matters seemed to be going differently from what she had expected. Her fine brown eyes looked very big.

"You did this all yourself?" she said, in a somewhat breathless voice.

"Did what? Two lumps, isn't it?" said the duke, putting two lumps into the cup and handing it to her.

"Deliberately substituted a strange child for your own," said the duchess solemnly.

"Oh, that," said the duke carelessly. "That's all right. You needn't worry about that. I've quite taken to Mary Bride. She's so-so companionable-and-and as clever as they make 'em, and as pretty as a picture. She makes a ripping Lady Marion Ricksborough. Why, when she comes into a room, or on to a lawn, it's beginning to make as much sensation as if it were yourself. I was awfully lucky to get hold of her." His tone had grown truly enthusiastic.

The duchess ground her teeth and cried:

"And do you think I'm going to stand it?"

"Stand it? I thought you'd like it," said the duke in a perplexed tone. "Of course I'm not going to bother you about Marion any more; you can keep her. And it's all so deucedly comfortable; you've got the Marion you want, and I've got the Marion I want. And so we're both happy." And he smiled amiably.

"Happy! Happy when a strange child is usurping the place of my child?" cried the duchess furiously.

"Oh, that's all right. Marion's got you," said the duke. "Besides, I'm not going to go all my life without any family. It wouldn't be fair; and you've no right to expect it. I say, how jolly you're looking!"

"Jolly!" said the duchess thickly.

"Well, pretty then. And your figure is better than ever-perfectly ripping," said the duke with enthusiasm.

"You can leave me out of it!" cried the duchess in a tone of the last exasperation. "And if you think I'm going to stand this, I'm not!"

"But what are you going to do about it?" said the duke mildly.

"Stop it!" said the duchess through her set teeth.

"But you can't stop it," said the duke in his most amiable tone. "I'm getting domesticated, and I'm bent on having something in the way of a family. Set on it. Of course you can say t

hat your Marion is Lady Marion Ricksborough; and I shall say that mine is. And some people will believe you, but most people will believe me. And of course I shall settle a good lump sum on Mary Bride when she marries, and leave her all the unentailed property."

"Oh, but it's impossible!" cried the duchess writhing in her chair. "Leaving your child out in the cold for a perfect stranger!"

"But she isn't. I tell you, she and I get on like a house on fire," said the duke with some impatience. "And it's perfectly all right; you stick to your Marion; and I'll stick to mine."

The duchess rose and cried:

"It's abominable! The most cold-blooded thing I ever heard of! And if you think you're going to get rid of us like this, you're wrong! I stay here till this matter has been put right."

"Oh, I don't want to get rid of you," said the duke amiably.

The duchess ground her teeth and walked across the lawn with the air of a Boadicea saving her country. The duke watched her graceful figure till it disappeared through a long window into the pink drawing-room, with admiring eyes. Then he smiled a Machiavellian smile.

The duchess went to her rooms in a mood of seething, but somewhat helpless, fury. She was softened a little by finding them just as she had left them two years before. Plainly some one had taken care of the clothes she had left behind her; and her anxiety about a dress to dine in was lulled to rest. She thought for a while that she would go and berate Pollyooly; but she came to the conclusion that it would be absurd to blame her for the action of the duke. It was much more annoying to find that she could not reasonably blame the duke. She was forced to admit that he had a right to the domestic life, if he wished for it. She was also annoyed to feel an uncommonly pleasant sense of home-coming. She resented it, but she could not rid herself of it.

She came to dinner very dignified and stern; but the Honourable John Ruffin saw to it that the meal was unconstrained. He spared no effort to keep the talk in a light vein; and the duke, after his talk with the duchess that afternoon, was sufficiently at his ease to second him to the best of his not very great ability. He won the Honourable John Ruffin's golden opinions by remembering the other two occasions on which the duchess had worn the gown she was wearing to-night.

Little by little, against her will, she thawed. The sense of home-coming grew stronger. The easy, reminiscent talk-reminiscent of pleasant days-the familiar room, and, perhaps, her favourite brand of champagne, softened her till her smiles came easily. Moreover it was delightful to be amused again; and it was borne suddenly in upon her that the months she had been living in hiding had been tiresome, boring months, from the point of view of life, utterly wasted months. Again and again she looked at the duke as if she saw him for the first time. Plainly she was amending her opinion of him.

She yielded readily to the entreaties of the two men to stop and drink her coffee and smoke her cigarette with them. The Honourable John Ruffin talked on; she laughed several times. Then, having finished his cigarette, and lighted a cigar, he said:

"I have a sonnet to write to the eyebrow of a lady-no, Caroline: you do not know her-and I must have perfect solitude, by the side of still water, in the moonlight. So I am going down to the long pool; and I must on no account be interrupted. So long."

And he went quickly through the long window.

He spoke quickly and went quickly, before the duchess could suggest that he should wait a while. She felt unequal to a tête-à-tête with her husband, and nervously she half rose.

"Oh, don't you rush away too," said the duke somewhat plaintively.

She sank back into her chair.

The duke looked at her for a while in silence with eyes full of an admiration at once gratifying and discomfiting; then he said:

"I say, Caroline, can you remember what it was we first quarrelled about?"

The duchess knitted her brow in the effort to recall it, and said:

"No, I can't. Oh, yes! You grumbled at the way my hair was done." Then she added in a tone of triumph, "And I've done it exactly the same ever since; it's done like it now!"

"Something must have upset me, for it looks perfectly ripping," said the duke with warm conviction.

The duchess felt herself blushing under his admiring eyes, and disliked herself very much for doing so.

She rose hastily and said:

"I think I'll go into the garden."

This time the duke let her go. He finished his cigar before he followed her. He found her walking up and down the cedar lawn; and when the moonlight fell on her face, he saw that it was troubled.

He fell into step beside her and said with enthusiasm:

"It's a ripping night."

She said nothing; and they crossed the lawn and turned.

He said, again with enthusiasm:

"I do like this lawn. I first kissed you under that old tree."

The duchess started to leave the lawn with some speed.

The duke kept pace with her.

Half-way across the lawn he said in an affectionate tone:

"There's no need for you to fret about Marion, old girl. You can arrange it just as you like."

Then deftly, he slipped his arm round her waist.

"How dare you, Archie?" she cried, and made to thrust him away with some vigour.

It was not enough vigour. The duke's arm did not slip; indeed he tightened his clasp as he said:

"I could do much better with a complete family-a wife and a daughter."

"After the way you've behaved!" cried the duchess.

"Oh, well, one doesn't always behave the same. One changes," said the duke.

Three days later Pollyooly and Ronald stood by a gate at the end of the home wood, awaiting the coming of the motor car, in which the Honourable John Ruffin was bringing the real Lady Marion Ricksborough to slip quietly into the place which Pollyooly had occupied with such signal success. The Lump, in the care of Emily Gibbs, was already speeding in the train to London, to be met at Waterloo and conveyed to the Temple by Mrs. Brown.

Ronald looked gloomy; and an air of sadness marred Pollyooly's serenity.

"It's perfectly rotten your going off like this-before we've done half the things we were going to. Why on earth couldn't uncle have waited till the end of the holidays to make the change?" said Ronald in a bitterly aggrieved tone.

"Well, you'll have Marion to go about with you," said Pollyooly.

"Nothing doing!" snapped Ronald.

His vehemence pleased her.

"It's a pity," she said sadly. "It's been splendid; and I'm awfully sorry to have to go."

Then her face cleared and brightened into an angel smile; she crinkled in her pocket the five ten-pound notes which the grateful duke had given her; and added:

"But it's splendid to think that with what I've got in the Savings Bank and this, I can keep the Lump out of the workhouse for years and years!"

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