Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 14
THE TRAINING OF ROYALTY
On that day began the real instruction of Prince Adalbert of Lippe-Schweidnitz in the art of life and the graces of social intercourse. Pollyooly continued it with unswerving firmness. Her method of treating a Hohenzollern was indeed entirely subversive of all current ideas on the matter of the deference due to the members of a family which has practically made the history of Europe since the beginning of this century. It seemed at times as if to her a Hohenzollern was a hardly animate object which you shoved here and there as you might an easy-chair which kept catching in the carpet, or at other times a mere beast of burden which you shoved, or shook, or cuffed gently into doing what you wanted with a moderate, but uncertain, degree of precision. Often however a piercing shriek was sufficient to produce the required action.
The prince was always in a perspiration, and often out of breath. But he seemed to thrive on the treatment: his appetite improved; his pastiness lessened; his skin grew clearer; and his flesh became less abundant and harder. He also became quicker in his movements, and showed many more glimmerings of intelligence, sometimes sustained for seconds at a time.
The baron's deferential soul could not endure the situation; and it never occurred to him to make the enquiries which would have informed him that Pollyooly, as a red Deeping, was of an older strain than the Hohenzollerns. He made many efforts to withdraw the prince from her society. He remonstrated both with her and with his little charge on the extraordinary impropriety of their being acquainted. But they seemed to find it entirely natural; and his efforts were vain. The prince, in truth, followed Pollyooly about; and what he followed her about like was a dog. He did not indeed spring to do her bidding, for he was not built to spring; but it was plain that if he could have sprung he would.
Perhaps the most remarkable fact about him was the improvement in his spirits: he was losing his air of gloomy savagery; often he smiled—at a dish which took his fancy, and on setting out for the sands to join Pollyooly. At times, when he had performed some small feat, clumsily indeed, but not with a quite incredible clumsiness, he would turn to her a triumphant, but appealing, eye which begged for a word, or a smile of approval. The humane Pollyooly rarely failed to give him that word or smile to brace him to fresh efforts. With other little girls he had come to be civil but uninterested; and little boys he ignored.
There are minds to whom it would have occurred that there were other seaside resorts equally healthy with Pyechurch to one of which the young prince might be removed to save him from the social degradation of playing with children who were neither high, nor well-born. The baron's was not one of these minds: he was a soldier of the emperor; he had been instructed that his young charge was to spend a month at Pyechurch; at Pyechurch he must spend it. But he wrote a long and earnest letter to his august master, the Grand Duke of Lippe-Schweidnitz, informing him, with full details, of his son's unfortunate social entanglement with a red-haired English child, and of the impossibility, in the circumstances, of his putting an end to it. He got no answer, for the grand duke was splendidly busy maintaining the agrarian interests of his Fatherland. The baron therefore found himself compelled to accept the situation gloomily. Presently he was accepting it with resignation. He found that Pollyooly lightened his work. She relieved him of his little charge for the greater part of the day. He could now carry a deck-chair on to the sands, and stretched at full length in it, with a large, but not extravagantly fragrant, cigar in his mouth, could spend the sunny hours in the perusal of the works of the English novelists who appealed most strongly to his idealistic Teutonic sensibilities.
Sometimes however he was disturbed in this resigned acceptance of the situation. One afternoon he raised his head from the enthralled perusal of "Maiden Sweet" to find that the sands were empty of his charge. He struggled up from his chair, dropped the luscious masterpiece into it, and hurried in search of him. Pollyooly was a good sixty yards away; and he was breathless when he reached her. He clamoured wheezily for information as to the whereabouts of the prince. Pollyooly told him, indifferently enough, that he had gone to the village. The baron sought the village at his best, but curious, toddling rush. In the middle of it he met his young charge plodding along with an air of perfect content. In his hand he bore a paper bag.
"Vot 'af your 'ighness been doing?" cried his richly purple preceptor.
"Bollyooly zent me to buy bebbermints," said his charge stolidly, without stopping.
"Mein Gott!" cried the baron. "And now that she-devil-child uses you as a lackey!"
"She wanted zem," said his charge stolidly, pursuing his way without turning his head.
"Bud bebbermints you do not like!" cried the baron.
"Bollyooly wanted bebbermints," said the prince stolidly.
The baron said no more because there was no more to say.
He followed his charge to the beach and sought his chair; his charge sought Pollyooly. Gloomily the baron resumed his perusal of "Maiden Sweet." He had not read half a page when the thoughtful Pollyooly sent the prince to offer him a peppermint. The baron refused it with the proper cold scorn. The prince put it into his own mouth.
"Bud bebbermints you do not like!" said the baron again.
"Bollyooly says bebbermints is goot," said the prince stolidly; and he turned on his heel.
The baron searched the far-smiling sea with wild, questioning eyes. It offered neither explanation nor comfort.
It chanced a few days later that the Honourable John Ruffin put Pollyooly's skilful cooking to the further test of grilling mushrooms along with his bacon. They came from the marsh. Presently to Pollyooly's prudent mind it seemed foolish to pay for vegetables which might be gathered for nothing. She resolved to gather them herself; and one afternoon with that end in view she came down to the sands, leading the Lump, and carrying a basket, and suggested to Kathleen and others of her young friends that they should accompany her on her quest and share the spoil. But their nurses, fore-seeing extra work from the mud in the marsh, would not allow them to go.
The prince, who had been waiting patiently for the arrival of Pollyooly, while the baron slept in his deck-chair, listened to the discussion with uncomprehending ears. It did not occur to her to invite the be-tutored Hohenzollern to accompany her; but when she started, the prince, doubtful of the reception of a direct offer to escort her would receive, followed her at a distance of about thirty yards. Pollyooly was giving her attention to the Lump, and was not aware of her follower until she had crossed the bridge over the dyke, from the road into the marsh. There she turned and saw him; and at the first sight of him she was minded to send him back to his sleeping tutor. Then it occurred to her that the company of the prince would be better than no company at all; and she suffered him to come.
Though neither of them had any conversation, Pollyooly talked away to the prince and the Lump, and was quite content with the grunts of assent with which the prince punctuated her observations. But she was presently annoyed to find that he shone no more as an assistant mushroomer than as a conversationalist. It was not so much that he was ignorant of the difference between mushrooms and toadstools, and equally unskilful in discovering either, as that he often trod on the fairest members of the group he was picking. Pollyooly therefore gave him the basket to carry and picked the mushrooms herself. Twice he dropped it and scattered them over the turf. She chid him but gently and carried it herself.
But destiny, which dogs the steps of princes, was leading him to a catastrophe. The basket was large and growing heavy; but the indefatigable Pollyooly pushed deeper into the marsh. They had crossed several dykes safely; then they came to a plank over a small dyke, nearly dried up. Pollyooly took every possible care to get the expedition across safely. She carried the Lump across and then the basket of mushrooms. Then she turned to watch the passage of the prince. The plank was not more than ten feet long; and it was destiny which chose the exact middle of it for the prince to fall off. He struck the dyke with a splash which drew a cry of delight from the Lump, and sank up to his knees in the thick mud. He burst into a terrified bellow; and Pollyooly hurried down the steep bank to help him out. But destiny had arranged that he should be just out of her reach; and he was too frightened to make the effort to struggle to her helping hand.
For a while Pollyooly, for all her power of resource, was at a loss; and the bellowing of the prince did nothing to clear her wits. Then she saw how she could reach him. She dug her feet into the bank, hugged the plank over the dyke with her left arm, and leaning forward, succeeded in getting a grip of his left wrist, and began to tug. Her grip seemed to inspirit him, for he began to struggle hard toward the bank. It was not an easy business in the thick mud, but thanks to the purchase afforded by the plank, Pollyooly could put most of her strength into the effort and slowly dragged him on to the firmer mud at the edge and then on to the bank.
Still blubbering a little, he followed Pollyooly up the bank; on the top of it she turned and surveyed him with horrified eyes. He was wrapped nearly up to his waist in a smooth, dripping garment of greenish mud; and patches of it adorned the rest of him. It would have been difficult to imagine anything more unlike a Hohenzollern in a white sailor suit; and his face was hardly attractive enough to justify you in comparing him to the dripping, weed-be-draped Lorelei of his native land.
"Well! You are an aggravating little boy! Whatever am I to do with you?" cried Pollyooly in a tone of despair.
The prince uttered an apologetic grunt.
"The only thing to do is to get you home as quick as I can," she said heavily.
She carried the Lump back across the dyke, then the basket of mushrooms. Then she led the prince across it. They took their slow way back to the village, the prince leaving behind him a trail which would have gladdened the heart of the last, or any other, of the Cherokees.
The Baron von Habelschwert, sleeping peacefully beside a sweet work of genius, called "Dove Wifie," which had fallen from his hand, missed the departure of his young charge in the wake of Pollyooly. He slept for an hour; and when he did awake, her friends had moved a long way down the beach. He struggled to his feet, and set out in search of the prince, assured that he was somewhere on the sands playing with his active, but socially impossible, protector. At first he sought him with careless eyes, then with keener; but it was some twenty minutes before he satisfied himself that neither his charge nor Pollyooly were on the sands. Then he set out, in some annoyance to search the village; and when he had drawn blank all the village shops at which sweets were sold, he began to grow anxious and alarmed. For all his military contempt for the English as a people soon to be subjugated, he had a deep distrust of them. It awoke suddenly in its most violent form; and he began to suspect that the perfidious politicians of England had stolen his Hohenzollern.
The suspicion presently became a conviction; and he acted on it with splendid, but unwonted, energy. In little more than ten minutes the village was ringing with the news that the prince was lost; and the baron was toddling furiously along at the head of a band composed of the village children, the village idiot, some idle fishermen, and a number of unoccupied visitors who had leapt at the chance of action. There was no lack of theories. Every other member of the group had one of his own. The baron himself made no secret of his belief that the prince was the victim of a political plot, till the Honourable John Ruffin, out of mere idle curiosity, stopped the procession to enquire its object and on learning it proclaimed his firm conviction that the prince was neither lost, stolen, nor strayed.
By this time the news had spread to the sands; and a nurse came hurrying up with the information that the prince had gone into the marsh, mushrooming with Pollyooly.
"Ach Gott! Then that little she-devil-child haf 'im drowned in a dyke!" said the baron cheerfully.
The suggestion increased greatly the interest of his followers; and they accompanied him into the marsh eagerly. On that expanse figures are seen at a great distance; but the searchers had gone a long way into it before they caught sight of the children. At some distance the figures of Pollyooly and the Lump, and even the basket of mushrooms were plainly recognised. But what was that strange object which moved beside them? The baron and his band quickened their steps, Pollyooly still walked at the leisurely gait which suited the Lump.
It was not till he was within ten yards of them that the procession and the baron recognised his young charge. The procession began to laugh heartily.
The baron flung his arms to heaven and cried, or, to be exact, howled:
"Vhat is it you haf done ad 'im?"
"I didn't do anything!" cried Pollyooly with indignant heat. "He did it himself! He would fall into the dyke! He's the most aggravating little boy I ever knew!"
"You trow 'im into ze dyke! You id on purpose did!" cried the furious baron.
"Bollyooly didn't," said his little charge stolidly.
"Do try and have a little sense, Baron von Habelschwert," said the Honourable John Ruffin, smiling upon the hope of the house of Lippe-Schweidnitz. "Pollyooly wouldn't throw any one into dykes."
"Bud look at 'im!" cried the baron. "'e will the enteric fever haf!"
"Oh, no. He didn't get any water into his mouth," said Pollyooly quickly. "I made him open it and looked, because Mr. Ruffin told me the marsh water gave people fever. It's only mud on his clothes."
"Moodd! Onlie moodd!" howled the baron. "His cloze, zey are spoiled! Ze cloze of the bezd dailor of Schweidnitz!"
That was a misfortune which appealed deeply to Pollyooly. She looked at the spoiled suit of the prince very sadly, and said generously:
"Well, I'll give him half of the mushrooms—though really he didn't gather them; and I had to carry the basket."
"Mooshrooms!" howled the baron. "Vhat is mooshrooms wiz cloze? Zeze English, zey are all mad!"
In his emotion the baron had not kept his usual wary watch on his young charge, and so failed to observe the light of battle gather and gleam in his eyes. But as he finished the prince sprang at him, cried angrily: "Bollyooly isn't!" and kicked him on the shin.
The kick was stiff and lacked its usual snap; but it was sufficiently vigorous to dislodge a good deal of the mud from the once white trouser-leg and bespatter the legs of the baron, who uttered a short howl and bent like a bow, holding off his little charge, and gazing wildly round the marsh. This time Pollyooly did not come to his aid; she gazed at him with a cold eye.
"It serves you right—talking like that about people when they try to make up," she said coldly.
The prince, encouraged by this quite unexpected approval, made another fine effort to plant a second kick of remonstrance on the shin of his preceptor. His foot missed it; but plenty of mud hit it.
"That's enough, Adalbert. Stop it!" said the magnanimous Pollyooly sharply.
Adalbert stopped it.
The baron ground his teeth at this new familiarity; but was glad to be loosed by his admonished charge; and the procession took its triumphant way back to the village.
The prince's valet was a long while cleaning him; but directly after his tea he was out on the sands again, seeking Pollyooly.