Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 13
The noble-hearted humanitarian is ever of the opinion that violence, physical violence, is degrading alike to those who employ it, and to those on whom it is employed. In the main, doubtless, he may be right; but there must be natures, exceptional natures, on which it does not exercise this disastrous effect; and it is curious that there should be two human beings in so small a place as Pyechurch at the same time of this very nature.
There can be no doubt that Pollyooly had smacked Prince Adalbert of Lippe-Schweidnitz with far greater violence than ever she had smacked the abhorred Henry Wiggins for yelling "Ginger!" at her. There can be no doubt that the prince had been so smacked. Yet Pollyooly's face remained the face of an angel child; her devotion to the Lump and her politeness to those with whom she came into contact showed no signs of weakening; and no one could honestly assert that Prince Adalbert looked a bit more like a pig than he had always done. If anything he had lost something of his likeness to that nutritious animal.
At any rate there was no sign of degradation in his behaviour. He now walked about Pyechurch beach as peacefully as you could wish: he destroyed no castles; he kicked no children.
Even that fierce, stout, moustachioed and military Prussian, the Baron von Habelschwert, seemed to have derived benefit from his violent impingement on the left shoulder of the Honourable John Ruffin. Though his more mature nature should have been fixed, there can be no doubt that he wore a softer air, and no longer trod the English sand with the air of a disdainful but perfumed conqueror.
He was by no means an observant man; but stupid as he was, he could not fail to perceive the change in his pupil, for it was forced on his attention by the fact that the prince did not kick his shins for seventy-two hours. The baron was at first surprised, then dismayed: he feared that the fine Hohenzollern spirit of his young charge might have suffered a lasting, weakening shock from his encounter with that angel child; and when the prince for three successive mornings and afternoons did not assault a single little girl, however much smaller than himself those who came within his reach chanced to be, the fear deepened.
Oddly enough the subdued prince did not seem to regard Pollyooly with the bitterness which might have been expected. He did not even shun the sight of her. Indeed, as he made his royal progress along the beach, he would pause and regard her with puzzled but manifestly quite respectful interest, as she played actively not far from her little brother, the Lump, with her young friends.
The baron regarded the Honourable John Ruffin in a very different manner; he could not set eyes on him without scowling horribly. It was the desire of his heart to have the blood of Pollyooly's protector; and though the conduct of Pollyooly had oddly but considerably weakened his confident expectation of the immediate subjugation of the English people by his imperial master he longed with a greater fervour than had ever before burned in him for the day.
The conversations, strictly confined to the British tongue, between the baron and his pupil, were always of the briefest and often truculent. The prince was a silent child, by reason of the fact that he had nothing to say. But one morning as they came down to the beach he startled the baron by saying:
"I want to blay."
"Yes, 'ighness, whad shall we blay ad?" said the Baron von Habelschwert uncomfortably, after a little hesitation.
"I don't want to blay wiz you," said the prince in a tone which showed, beyond any possibility of misconception, that on that matter his mind was made up.
"Bud zere's no one else for you do blay wiz," said the baron in English.
"I want to blay wiz childrens," said the pupil.
The baron drew his heels together and became, though still pear-like, splendidly rigid. His eyes flashed with haughty, but a trifle vicarious pride, as he said:
"Zere are no children for your 'ighness do blay wiz 'ere. Zese are nod 'igh and well-born ones."
"I do nod care," said the prince in the tone of one who knew his own mind quite well.
"Id is imbossible," said the baron in a tone of finality.
The rhinocerine eyes of his little charge flashed in sudden wrath; and he uttered a curious, pig-like snort as he sprang at the baron, and got in one severe kick on his left shin before that thoughtless Prussian, who should have known so well what to expect, could abate his rigidity and bend forward and hold him off at the length of his arms. He well knew that, in that constrained attitude to his bellowing pupil, he was presenting no dignified spectacle. None the less he was aware that he was affording considerable entertainment to the visitors taking the air on the sea-wall above him; and his joy in his young charge was not increased by the fact that among those visitors the Honourable John Ruffin smiled on the scene with amiable interest.
Having ascertained beyond all doubting that his well-shod toes could not reach the shins of his preceptor, the young prince ceased his futile effort, and with a most ungracious air moved along the beach. The limping baron followed him gloomily, with itching fingers. He felt that, in spite of the fact that his imperial master would shortly sweep her land with fire and sword from sea to sea, the lot of the happy English child Pollyooly was to be envied, since she could, and did, smack princes, with a mind untroubled by the sense of their sacrosanctity. Moreover he felt a sad prescience that his young charge, careless of the magnificent blood that flowed in his veins, would play with these children, who were neither high nor well-born. But he was quite unprepared for the actual group of children his young charge chose for playmates. He passed no less than four animated and excited groups before he arrived at that adorned and ruled by Pollyooly.
It chanced that it had decided to play rounders, and was gathered into an excited knot in which everybody was discussing, all at the same time, the process of picking sides.
The prince, shouldering aside, with proud Hohenzollern manliness, two or three little girls, thrust into the centre of the group and said:
"I want do blay."
The debating voices hushed; the other children stared at him with startled eyes, then drew aside leaving him face to face with Pollyooly.
"We don't want him to play with us!" cried Kathleen, who occupied the position of chief friend to Pollyooly.
"No, we don't!" cried the two other little girls.
The prince paid no heed to them; he looked at Pollyooly and said:
"I want do blay."
Pollyooly considered him thoughtfully, weighing the question of his admission to their circle with the care it demanded. He was not very pleasant to look at since he was so podgy, snub-nosed, pasty-faced, and small-eyed; but Pollyooly, mindful of their late encounter, and inspired by the magnanimity of the victor, did not at once reject the appeal.
"Will you promise to behave properly, if we let you play with us?" she said coldly.
The Baron von Habelschwert, standing over the group and nervously twirling his fierce moustache, shuddered and groaned. It was bad enough that his young, but pig-headed Hohenzollern should play at all with children who were neither high, nor well-born; but that he should only be admitted to play with them on terms passed the limit of human decency. He had read often in the sterner, but agrarian, papers of his Fatherland, that, owing to the increase of the Socialist vote, the world was coming to an end. He felt its once so solid mass trembling beneath his feet.
But the hope of the house of Lippe-Schweidnitz, insensible to the tremor, said eagerly:
"All right: then we'll try letting you play with us and see," said Pollyooly.
There came a faint murmur of protest from her friends, or rather from her followers; and she added with comforting assurance:
"Oh, it's all right; you needn't worry about him; I'll see that he behaves, myself."
With that assurance they were content—they had to be; the prince was admitted to the circle; and Pollyooly picked him on her side.
It had the first innings; and the baron expected the prince to be put in first. He was annoyed to observe that, as a mere matter of tactics, since she was by far the fastest of her side, that Pollyooly took that position herself. He was further annoyed when she put in her friend Kathleen next, an act of sheer favouritism unjustified by Kathleen's capacity; and after Kathleen she put in a little boy, and then another little girl. As they played their innings, she stood beside the prince and instructed him in the game. Once, since he appeared slow to grasp her meaning, she caught him by the shoulder and shook him to make it clearer. The Baron von Habelschwert ground his teeth. When at last the prince did go in, the baron's heart swelled with proud expectation: his gallant little charge would display to those English children (they were neither high, nor well-born) the natural superiority of his royal blood and race.
The prince, however, did not fulfil this loyal expectation. He hit the ball, indeed, and in obedience to Pollyooly's shriek of instruction, started to run. But he started to run the wrong way round. His side shrieked as one child, as Pollyooly sprang upon him, swung him round, and shoved him along in the right direction. She succeeded in arresting his mad course at the first base by one of the shrillest shrieks of "Stop!" that ever burst from human lung. The next time the ball was hit she set him going again by a companion shriek; and with others of a like piercing quality (they seemed to flow from her lungs in an inexhaustible abundance) she guided him safely round the bases and home. From the blundering, stumbling way he ran, her shrieks seemed to be the only things in the world of which he was really conscious.
The baron watched the confused performance of his little charge with a strong feeling that something very serious indeed was the matter with the order of nature. When Pollyooly's side went out to field, he was no more satisfied by the prince's performance. Whenever the ball came to him, in spite of the fact that an encouraging, instructive shriek from Pollyooly reached him first, he either missed it, or fumbled it; and he always shied it in short. The baron's feeling that there was something very wrong with the cosmos grew stronger. He became depressed and yet more depressed by the fact that the prince was playing to an audience; for all the respectful and admiring nurses edged down the beach to behold him play; and those of them whose little charges were playing in the same game with him, assumed insufferable airs.
After a while the children tired of rounders and betook themselves to building a sand-castle. Since he had been admitted to their circle on her instance, Pollyooly seemed to feel herself responsible for the prince. She seemed also to feel it more important that he should learn to dig properly than that she should dig herself. For, giving him her spade, she stood over him and urged him to ply it with the exacting persistence of a biblical Egyptian superintending the making of bricks. The baron walked moodily up and down outside the castle wall, considering bitterly the while the defects in the cosmos.
The morning sped; and the prince perspired. At last the punctual baron observed that it was time to return home to lunch. In fact his vigilant stomach apprised him of the fact before his watch.
He came close to the castle wall and said:
"It's time for your Highness to coom 'ome."
His highness took no notice of him.
In a louder tone the baron said:
"Coom along, your Highness. Id's dime we go 'ome."
His highness shot a savage glance at him out of the corner of his eye, hunched his shoulders, and went on digging.
"Don't you hear the baron calling you, Prince?" said Pollyooly in a tone of some displeasure.
His highness seemed likely to withdraw his head right out of sight between his shoulders, and went on digging. He was still perspiring.
"Now you go along at once—like a good boy!" said Pollyooly sharply.
His highness raised his disappearing head and saw the cold resolve in her deep-blue eyes. He gave himself a little shake, stuck his spade into the sand, stretched his neck and went: but not like a good boy. He stumbled down the castle wall with his teeth set very tight, and immediately on reaching level ground kicked the shins of his unprepared preceptor. The baron, as was his wont, bent like a bow and held his little charge out at the length of his arms beyond the range of his shins, till his wrath should have abated.
Pollyooly's face filled with horror; she came springing lightly down the castle wall; cried: "Don't do that, you naughty little boy!" and caught the prince a resounding slap on the cheek.
The pent-up feelings of the prince escaped in a loud yell. He loosed his preceptor and pressed a hand to his stinging cheek.
It was too much for the baron. He tore his hat from his head, flung it to earth, ground it into the earth with his heel, and flung his arms to heaven in one frenzied movement:
"Ach Gott!" he cried to the unregarding sky. "Thad a liddle Eengleesh-she-devil-child should strike a Hohenzollern!"
Moved by his emotion, Pollyooly looked at him in anxious surprise:
"It's all right," she said in a soothing voice. "You don't know how to manage him. He'll go like a lamb."
Her surmise (it could have been no more than a surmise) proved accurate. The prince went blubbering, but he went like a lamb.
It might be supposed that his proud, Hohenzollern blood would have boiled for hours at the blow. Nothing of the kind.
After a hearty lunch he rose and said firmly:
"I'm going to blay wiz Bollyooly."
He went. The baron followed him gloomily. Now he knew the cosmic all to be a mere time-honored cheat.
In this order they came down on to the beach and approached a group of children in which Pollyooly reigned. The prince entered it with the air of an uninvited guest, very doubtful of his welcome, and said to Pollyooly in a tone half assertive, half beseeching:
"I've coom to blay."
Pollyooly looked at him with very stern eyes and said: "Well, you quite understand you've got to behave yourself."
The baron groaned.
Pollyooly turned to him and said with polite interest:
"Has he kicked you again?"
"Ach Himmel!" said the baron; and he thrust his hands into his pockets, clenched his fingers very tightly, and walked away with bowed head.