Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 11
POLLYOOLY MEETS THE UNPLEASANT PRINCE
Tea over, the Honourable John Ruffin proposed that he should take them to the sands; and Pollyooly agreed eagerly. But as they came out of the house, two little girls, bare-legged and wearing sandals, passed them.
He looked from them to Pollyooly's stout shoes and black stockings, stopped short and said firmly:
"We must change all this."
He turned to the right down the street and led them into the chief shop of the village. Apparently he was well known there, for the proprietor greeted him with respectful warmth. He bought sandals, bathing-dresses, blue linen frocks, a sunbonnet for Pollyooly, a linen hat for the Lump, spades and buckets.
Loaded with these purchases he came out into the street, and took his way back to Mrs. Wilson's, saying:
"You must hurry up and change into these things. First impressions are so important at the seaside; people have so much leisure to be pernickety in; and you must look all right!"
Pollyooly was not long making the change; and when she came out of the house in the blue linen frock and sunbonnet, he smiled at her with warm approval and said:
"There's no doubt about it, you have got the knack of wearing clothes, Pollyooly."
To Pollyooly his utterance was entirely cryptic; but she gathered that it was complimentary and returned his smile.
He took them down to the sands; and they were soon at the height of happiness, building a castle, paddling, and picking up shells. He left them to it; and went for a stroll down the sea wall. Since it was a hot evening, at seven he fetched them to bathe; and since he let them bathe in their own timid way, the timid way of children bathing for the first time, they enjoyed it exceedingly. The Lump found eight inches of water deep enough for him, Pollyooly eighteen.
The next morning they bathed again at seven.
The house was near enough to the sea to allow them to go straight from their bedrooms to it in their bathing dresses. After their bath the Honourable John Ruffin returned firmly to bed for an hour and so gave Pollyooly time to make a leisurely and complete breakfast before grilling his bacon. He had explained to Mrs. Wilson that it was necessary to his happiness that it should be grilled by Pollyooly, and she had raised no objection. She observed the process with interest, but not with approval.
"All that time spent over cooking a few slices of bacon!" she said with the womanly air of one sniffing, when it was transferred from the frying-pan to the dish.
Pollyooly's brow puckered in a thoughtful frown; and she said gravely:
"But that's the only way to get it right."
Mrs. Wilson sniffed outright.
After his breakfast the Honourable John Ruffin departed to Littlestone to golf; and Pollyooly and the Lump went down to the sands. There are no niggers, pierrots, or bands at Pyechurch, only a few donkeys and a cocoanut-shy. But at low tide there are a thousand acres of firm sand, a children's paradise. Pollyooly enjoyed it beyond words: not only the sands and the sea but also the freedom from care. Food, excellent food and plenty of it, awaited them, paid for, at Mrs. Wilson's.
The Lump was the cause of Pollyooly's first introduction to fellow-sojourners in this delectable land. A little girl of four, with very large brown eyes, who was playing near them, was quite suddenly attracted by him, and without further ado took possession of him. Pollyooly was pleased that he should have a playmate of his own age; the little girl's nurse, observing that they were dressed as other children and that Pollyooly spoke "prettily," and was inclined to be uncommonly haughty with her, assented to the acquaintance. The little brown-eyed girl's blue-eyed sister, Kathleen, who was seven, mothered her little sister, whose name was Mary. Also now and again she mothered the Lump; but Pollyooly was not jealous.
At first the Lump was somewhat taken aback by this sudden acquisition of a female friend; but his remarkable placidity stood him in good stead, and he endured it with an even mind. Presently indeed he seemed to be taking pleasure in it, for he began to bully her in the manliest fashion.
Then the mother of the little girls joined them and was at once charmed by the Lump. Pollyooly found no need to display the airs of a red Deeping, with which she had been treating the nurse, to her; and presently they were chatting in the friendliest way. Mrs. Gibson, as the nurse called her, seemed as taken with Pollyooly's serious outlook on life as with the charm of the Lump; and presently she asked her if her mother would let them come to tea with Kathleen and Mary and to games on the sands after it that afternoon.
Pollyooly explained that they were staying with their cousin John, who had gone to golf at Littlestone and would not be back till late; therefore she accepted the invitation herself. Mrs. Gibson was impressed by the discovery that cousin John was the Honourable John Ruffin; but she expressed her surprise that he should have gone away for the day and left them to themselves without a nurse to look after them. Pollyooly, with an air of considerable dignity, assured her that she would never dream of trusting the Lump to a nurse; and Mrs. Gibson admitted that she was right.
Pollyooly and the Lump enjoyed the party exceedingly. There were a dozen children, fellow-guests; and at tea the manners of the Lump, under Pollyooly's anxious eye, were beyond reproach. Her hands indeed troubled her, and she kept them out of sight as much as she could. After all they were not very large hands to withdraw from view. After tea the younger children played in the charge of nurses; the elder children, to the extreme delight of Pollyooly, who loved to run fleetly, disported themselves in more swift and violent games. She had much to tell the Honourable John Ruffin on his return from Littlestone. He congratulated her warmly on their début.
The next day she found herself well launched in the society of the sands, with many playmates, and entered upon the fullest and most delightful life. But there is always a fly in the finer ointments; and the Pyechurch fly was Prince Adalbert of Lippe-Schweidnitz.
That morning Pollyooly had her first sight of him. She and the Lump were playing with Kathleen and Mary, when Kathleen cried in a tone of dismay, "Here's the prince!" picked up Mary, who would have gone quicker on her own feet, and staggered off toward their nurse with her.
Pollyooly picked up the Lump and came with her, though she could see no reason for Kathleen's dismay, for the prince was but a fat little boy of ten, small-eyed, thick-lipped, and snub-nosed. His white sailor suit seemed to give his ugliness its full values.
Under the wing of their nurse Kathleen and Mary surveyed him with the eyes of terror; and Kathleen poured into Pollyooly's attentive ear the story of his dreadful doings: how he had pushed a little boy over the edge of the sea-wall, kicked several others; how he had hit little girls with their own spades and pulled the hair of others; how he never passed a carefully built castle without kicking a breach in it, and always threw any spades or buckets he could lay hands on far into the sea.
Pollyooly observed this terror with the unimpressed eye of a connoisseur. When she had lived with her Aunt Hannah in the little slum at the back of the King's Bench Walk, she had fought many battles with the small boys of Alsatia; and she was not at all impressed by the physique of the prince. She was of the opinion that Henry Wiggins would make very short work of him; and she could hold Henry Wiggins (by the hair) with her left hand and smack him with her right till she was nearly as tired of smacking as he was of being smacked. She knew that she could because she had done it.
The prince came to the castle they themselves had been building and kicked down one wall of it.
"If only you weren't a prince, I'd teach you, my fine young gentleman," said the nurse softly.
"You mind the Lump! I'll go and smack him hard!" cried Pollyooly with eager confidence.
"No! No! He's a prince! You mustn't touch a prince, miss!" cried the nurse in a tone of the last horror, gripping Pollyooly's wrist tightly. "Besides, he'd hurt you. He's a very nasty, spiteful little boy."
"Oh, I don't mind him! I'm not afraid of a little boy like that!" cried Pollyooly; and she tugged at the restraining grip, hard but in vain, eying the pest with the bright light of battle in her eyes.
"I wouldn't let my children play with him like some people do just because he's a prince—not was it ever so. I should be frightened all the time," said the nurse.
"If he ever touches the Lump, I'll teach him!" Said Pollyooly with a cold, impressive ferocity.
"If ever he touches one of us, papa will spank him hard. Papa doesn't care much for princes," said Kathleen.
"I should think he didn't—if they're like that," said Pollyooly with conviction.
They watched the devastating royal progress with indignant eyes. The back view of the prince was nearly as unpleasant as the front, for he slouched along with his fat little figure hunched forward in a very ugly fashion. The children fled before him as he came, and from the shelter of their nurses, or their mothers, angrily watched him destroy the castles they had built. But most of their mothers regarded him with a gloating admiration; they felt that the beach was more glorious for his royal presence.
About forty yards behind him came a companion figure, his equerry the Baron von Habelschwert, a stout, pig-eyed, snub-nosed man of forty-five who walked with the stiffness of a ramrod of the best Bessemer steel. His legs were, unfortunately, rather short, and since the lower part of his body was of a fine protuberant rotundity which the breadth of his shoulders and the thickness of his chest failed dismally to equal, he displayed an uncommonly exact resemblance of a perambulating pear. He had a rich expanse of fat cheek and a small, but dimpled, chin. He was saved by his fierce moustache, which, upturned in the imperial fashion, gave him the ferocious air required by his military profession and his sentiments of a superman of the latest Prussian brand.
Happiness sat enthroned upon his brow. A passion for blacking is a distinguishing characteristic of his military caste; and his natural love of licking the boots of members of the many royal families of the Fatherland was finding its full expression. In Prince Adalbert he had a perpetual boot to lick. Sometimes indeed the boot licked him: that very morning the prince had kicked his shins in a masterly fashion, on being invited to wash his face for the day. The baron bore it very well.
His clothes fitted him with an extreme, but somewhat unfortunate, military tightness. They were of an unpleasant greenish tint which did not match the green Homberg hat he wore. In his right hand he carried a short cane and yellow gloves. The morning was hot; his boots were patent leather. Diffusing an agreeable odour of pomatum on the breeze, he walked with the air of one taking his ease in a conquered country, for he was one of the gallant German war-party, and he looked forward with touching certainty to the day when the mailed fist of his imperial master should sweep England with fire and sword from sea to sea. He often talked in a gloating fashion of that great day to his young charge. Possibly that was one of the reasons which induced Prince Adalbert of Lippe-Schweidnitz to make so free with the castles and persons of the children of the so-soon-to-be-subjugated English.
The ogres of the sands having disappeared down the beach, the children repaired the damage to their castles and once more played in peace. That afternoon there was another royal progress of the same devastating kind but more complete, since the prince surprised a little girl and pulled her hair. The fond English mothers still observed him with a gloating air, happy to be on the same stretch of sand with him. They said indulgently to one another: "Boys will be boys," or, with conviction: "Such a manly little fellow."
This time the Baron von Habelschwert walked only fifteen yards behind the prince. He smiled benignly on the destruction of the castles; plainly he felt that his young charge was treating the so-soon-to-be-subjugated English in the right spirit.
There was only one check to the royal progress. The sand-castle on which Pollyooly and Kathleen had worked so hard stood directly in the line of it. Kathleen and Mary fled to their nurse at the approach of the prince, calling wildly to Pollyooly to follow. Pollyooly leaving the Lump in the castle, stepped out of it, and spade in hand calmly awaited the coming of the prince.
When he was three yards from her she said quietly but very distinctly:
"You keep away."
The prince advanced two steps and stopped. There was that in Pollyooly's deep blue eyes which gave him pause. He advanced another step, and stopped again. Then he called her "pig-dog," in his native tongue, turned aside, and pursued his way. As he went he kept looking back at her, scowling malevolently.
Pollyooly gazed after him with unchanging face. She would have liked to put her tongue a long way out at him; but she felt that red Deepings did not do so.
The nurse came down to the castle with Kathleen and Mary, and said in a tone of respectful awe:
"However you dare, miss! And him a prince too!"
"I don't care a pin for him," said Pollyooly calmly.
She stepped back to the castle and continued the work of construction.