Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 1
THE HONOURABLE JOHN RUFFIN MAKES AN ARRANGEMENT
The angel child looked at the letter from Buda-Pesth with lively interest, for she knew that it came from her friend and patroness Esmeralda, the dancer, who was engaged in a triumphant tour of the continent of Europe. She put it on the top of the pile of letters, mostly bills, which had come for her employer, the Honourable John Ruffin, set the pile beside his plate, and returned to the preparation of his breakfast.
She looked full young to hold the post of house-keeper to a barrister of the Inner Temple, for she was not yet thirteen; but there was an uncommonly capable intentness in her deep blue eyes as she watched the bacon, sizzling on the grill, for the right moment to turn the rashers. She never missed it. Now and again those deep blue eyes sparkled at the thought that the Honourable John Ruffin would presently give her news of her brilliant friend.
She heard him come out of his bedroom, and at once dished up his bacon, and carried it into his sitting-room. She found him already reading the letter, and saw that it was giving him no pleasure. His lips were set in a thin line; there was a frown on his brow and an angry gleam in his grey eyes. She knew that of all the emotions which moved him, anger was the rarest; indeed she could only remember having once seen him angry: on the occasion on which he had smitten Mr. Montague Fitzgerald on the head when that shining moneylender was trying to force from her the key of his chambers; and she wondered what had been happening to the Esmeralda to annoy him. She was too loyal to suppose that anything that the Esmeralda had herself done could be annoying him.
He ate his breakfast more slowly than usual, and with a brooding air. His eyes never once, as was their custom, rested with warm appreciation on Pollyooly's beautiful face, set in its aureole of red hair; he did not enliven his meal by talking to her about the affairs of the moment. She respected his musing, and waited on him in silence. She had cleared away the breakfast tray and was folding the table-cloth when, at last, he broke his thoughtful silence.
"There's nothing for it: I must go to Buda-Pesth," he said with a resolute air.
"There's nothing the matter with the Esmeralda, sir?" said Pollyooly with quick anxiety.
"There's something very much the matter with the Esmeralda—a Moldo-Wallachian," said the Honourable John Ruffin with stern coldness.
"Is it an illness, sir?" said Pollyooly yet more anxiously.
"No; it's a nobleman," said the Honourable John Ruffin with even colder sternness.
Pollyooly pondered the matter for a few seconds; then she said: "Is he—is he persecuting her, sir, like Señor Perez did when I was dancing with her in 'Titania's Awakening'?"
"It ought to be a persecution; but I fear it isn't," said the Honourable John Ruffin grimly. "I gather from this letter that she is regarding his attentions, which, I am sure, consist chiefly of fulsome flattery and uncouth gifts, with positive approbation."
Pollyooly pondered this information also; then she said:
"Is she going to marry him, sir?"
"She is not!" said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of the deepest conviction but rather loudly.
Pollyooly looked at him and waited for further information to throw light on his manifest disturbance of spirit.
He drummed a tattoo on the bare table with his fingers, frowning the while; then he said:
"Constancy to the ideal, though perhaps out of place in a man, is alike woman's privilege and her duty. I should be sorry—indeed I should be deeply shocked if the Esmeralda were to fail in that duty."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in polite sympathy, though she had not the slightest notion what he meant.
"Especially since I took such pains to present to her the true ideal—the English ideal," he went on. "Whereas this Moldo-Wallachian—at least that's what I gather from this letter—is merely handsome in that cheap and obvious South-European way—that is to say he has big, black eyes, probably liquid, and a large, probably flowing, moustache. Therefore I go to Buda-Pesth."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly with the same politeness and in the same ignorance of his reason for going.
"I shall wire to her to-day—to give her pause—and to-morrow I shall start." He paused, looking at her thoughtfully for a moment, then went on: "I should like to take you with me, for I know how helpful you can be in the matter of these insolent and infatuated foreigners. But Buda-Pesth is too far away. And the question is what I am going to do with you while I'm away."
"We can stay here all right, sir—the Lump and me," said Pollyooly quickly, with a note of surprise in her voice.
Her little brother, Roger, who lived with her in the airy attic above the Honourable John Ruffin's chambers, had acquired the name of "The Lump" from his admirable placidity.
"I don't like the idea of your doing that," he said, shaking his head and frowning. "I don't know how long I may be away—the affirmation of the ideal is sometimes a lengthy process. Of course the Temple is a quiet place; but I don't like to leave two small children alone in it for a fortnight, or three weeks. It isn't as if Mr. Gedge-Tomkins were at home. If he were at hand—just across the landing, it would be a very different matter."
"But I'm sure we should be all right, sir," said Pollyooly with entire confidence.
"Oh, I'm bound to say that if any child in the world could take care of herself and a little brother, it's you," he said handsomely. "But I want to devote all my energies to the affirmation of the ideal; and I must not be troubled by anxiety about you. I shall have to dispose of you safely somehow."
With that he rose, lighted a cigar, and presently sallied forth into the world. The matter of learning the quickest way to Buda-Pesth and procuring a ticket for the morrow took him little more than half an hour. Then the matter of disposing safely of Pollyooly and the Lump during his absence rose again to his mind and he walked along pondering it. Presently there came to him a happy thought: there was their common friend, Hilary Vance, an artist who had employed Pollyooly as his model for a set of stories for The Blue Magazine. Hilary Vance was devoted to Pollyooly, and he had a spare bedroom. But for a while the Honourable John Ruffin hesitated; the artist was a man of an uncommonly mercurial, irresponsible temperament. Was it safe to entrust two small children to his care? Then he reflected that Pollyooly was a strong corrective of irresponsibility, and took a taxicab to Chelsea.
Hilary Vance, very broad, very thick, very round, with a fine, rebellious mop of tow-coloured hair, which had fallen forward so as nearly to hide his big, simple eyes, opened the door to him. At the sight of his visitor a spacious round smile spread over his spacious face; and he welcomed him with an effusive enthusiasm.
At his christening the good fairy had given to the Honourable John Ruffin a very lively interest in his fellow-creatures and a considerable power of observation with which to gratify it. He was used to the splendid expansiveness of Hilary Vance; but it seemed to him that to-day he was boiling with an added exuberance; and that curiosity was aroused. He took up a chair and hammered its back on the floor so that the dust fell off the seat, sat down astride it, and, bending forward a little, proceeded to observe the artist with very keen eyes. Hilary Vance, who was very busy, fell to work again, and after his manner, grew grandiloquent about the pleasures of the day before, which he had spent in the country.
Soon it grew clear to the Honourable John Ruffin that his friend had swollen with the insolent happiness so hateful to the Fates, and he said:
"You seem to be uncommonly cheerful, Vance. What's the matter?"
Hilary Vance looked at him gravely, drew himself upright in his chair, laid down his pencil, and said in a tone of solemnity calculated to awaken the deepest respect and awe:
"Ruffin, I have found a woman—a WOMAN!"
The quality of the Honourable John Ruffin's gaze changed; his eyes rested on the face of his friend with a caressing, almost cherishing, delight.
"Isn't it becoming rather a habit?" he said blandly.
"I don't know what you mean," said Hilary Vance with splendid dignity. "But this is different. This is a WOMAN!"
His face filled with an expression of the finest beatitude.
"They so often are," said the Honourable John Ruffin. "Does James know about her?"
At the sound of the name of the mentor and friend who had rescued him from so many difficulties, something of guilt mingled with the beatitude on Hilary Vance's face, and he said in a less assured tone:
"James is in Scotland."
The Honourable John Ruffin sprang from his chair with a briskness which made Hilary Vance himself jump, and cried in a tone of the liveliest commiseration and dismay:
"Good Heavens! Then you're lost—lost!"
"What do you mean?" said Hilary Vance quite sharply.
"I mean that your case is hopeless," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a less excited tone. "James is in Scotland; I'm off to Buda-Pesth; and you have found a WOMAN—probably THE WOMAN."
"I don't know what you mean," said Hilary Vance, frowning.
"That's the worst of it! That's why it's so hopeless!" said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of deep depression.
"What do you mean?" cried Hilary Vance in sudden bellow.
"Good-bye, old chap; good-bye," said the Honourable John Ruffin in the most mournful tone and with the most mournful air. "I can not save you. I've got to go to Buda-Pesth." He walked half-way to the door, turned sharply on his heel, clapped his hand to his head with the most dramatic gesture, and cried: "Stay! I'll wire to James!"
"I'm damned if you do!" bellowed Hilary Vance.
"I must! I must!" cried the Honourable John Ruffin, still dramatic.
"You don't know his address, thank goodness!" growled Hilary Vance triumphantly. "And you won't get it from me."
"I shan't? Then it's hopeless indeed," said the Honourable John Ruffin with a gesture of despair.
He stood and seemed to plunge into deep reflection, while Hilary Vance scowled an immense scowl at him.
The Honourable John Ruffin allowed a faint air of hope to lighten his gloom; then he said:
"There's a chance—there's yet a chance!"
"I don't want any chance!" cried Hilary Vance stormily. "You can jolly well mind your own business and leave me alone. I can look after myself without any help from you—or James either."
"Whom the gods wish to destroy they first madden young," said the Honourable John Ruffin sadly. "But there's always Pollyooly; she may save you yet. I came to suggest that while I'm away in Buda-Pesth you should let Pollyooly and the Lump occupy that spare bedroom of yours. I don't like leaving them alone in the Temple; and I thought that you might like to have them here for a while, though I fear Pollyooly will clean the place." He looked round the studio gloomily. "But you can stand that for once, I expect," he went on more cheerfully. "At any rate it would be worth your while, because you'd learn what grilled bacon really is."
At the mention of the name of Pollyooly the scowl on Hilary Vance's face began to smooth out; as the Honourable John Ruffin developed his suggestion it slowly disappeared.
"Oh, yes; I'll put them up. I shall be delighted to," he said eagerly. "Pollyooly gives more delight to my eye than any one I know. And there are so few people in town, and I'm lonely at times. I wish I liked bacon, since she is so good at grilling it; but I don't."
The Honourable John Ruffin came several steps down the room wearing an air of the wildest amazement:
"You don't like bacon?" he cried in astounded tones. "That explains everything. I've always wondered about you. Now I know. You are one of those whom the gods love; and I can't conceive why you didn't die younger."
"I don't know what you mean," said Hilary Vance, bristling and scowling again.
"You don't? Well, it doesn't matter. But I'm really very much obliged to you for relieving me of all anxiety about those children."
They discussed the hour at which Pollyooly and the Lump should come, and then the Honourable John Ruffin held out his hand.
But Hilary Vance rose and came to the front door with him. On the threshold he coughed gently and said:
"I should like you to see Flossie."
"Flossie?" said the Honourable John Ruffin. "Ah—the WOMAN." He looked at Hilary Vance very earnestly. "Yes, I see—I see—of course her name would be Flossie." Then he added sternly: "No; if I saw her James might accuse me of having encouraged you. He would, in fact. He always does."
"She's only at the florist's just at the end of the street," said Hilary Vance in a persuasive tone.
"She would be," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of extraordinary patience. "I don't know why it is that the WOMAN is so often at a florist's at the end of the street. It seems to be one of nature's strange whims." His face grew very gloomy again and in a very sad tone he added:
"Good-bye, poor old chap; good-bye!"
He shook hands firmly with his puzzled friend and started briskly up the street. Ten yards up it he paused, turned and called back:
"She's everything that's womanly, isn't she?"
"Yes—everything," cried Hilary Vance with fervour.
The Honourable John Ruffin shook his head sadly and without another word walked briskly on.
Hilary Vance, still looking puzzled, shut the door and went back to his studio. He failed, therefore, to perceive the Honourable John Ruffin enter the florist's shop at the end of the street. He did not come out of it for a quarter of an hour, and then he came out smiling. Seeing that he only brought with him a single rose, he had taken some time over its selection.