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CHAPTER XVI
POLLYOOLY ENTERTAINS ROYALTY

Pollyooly came away from the presence of the grand duke in something of a daze. She came down the steps in the sea-wall quite unconscious of the fact that she was not moving over level ground. The eleven golden sovereigns in her hand felt too good to be true; and at the bottom of the steps she stopped and counted them with eyes which could hardly believe what they saw: eleven golden sovereigns.

She gave them into the care of Mrs. Gibson while, in obedience to the behest of the grand duke, she continued to play rounders.

The game had fallen into a state of suspended animation during her absence from it. Her return enlivened it. Presently she was again absorbed in it, playing it with the concentration with which she did most things, the concentration which is so large a part of genius, which made her one of the finest grillers of bacon in England. She forgot the grand duke; she forgot the eleven golden sovereigns; she thought only of the game; and she drove her team and the perspiring prince with merciless vigor.

The grand duke watched it closely, now and then applauding in an excited, ringing voice. Prince Adalbert had performed his one great exploit and was now declined upon a lower level. He played his best, obeying with his natural clumsiness the shrieked commands of Pollyooly; but he did not again arise to a really meritorious feat. Nevertheless, the grand duke was content with him.

He did not indeed watch him very closely; he had chiefly eyes for Pollyooly.

Once he said with enthusiasm:

"She is ze gompanion Adalbert 'af need of."

And again he said with enthusiasm:

"'ow it would be goot if she goom to Schweidnitz and blay wiz 'im all ze days, Erkelenz!"

The slim equerry shook his head and said in a tone of conviction:

"She would nod coom, Highness."

Being of a younger generation, he spoke better English than his royal master.

The grand duke shook his head sadly, and said;

"No: she would nod goom. Would she nod goom for mooch money, you zink?"

"I do nod zink she could be persuaded to coom," said his equerry.

"No: she would nod goom," said the grand duke. The baron had an inspiration; he said in a stern voice:

"Ze day, 'ighness; ze day will goom soon. Zen you will gommand only; and Bollyooly will obey."

"Ach, yes: ze day," said the grand duke, watching the playing children. "It will goom soon doubtlez. Bud Bollyooly, will she obey? Zeze English blay zere creeket very 'ard."

"She would be made obey," said the baron firmly.

The grand duke changed the subject by raising his voice in a splendid, heartening roar at Pollyooly, who was running swiftly around the bases; and for nearly an hour he did his best to burst the welkin. Then he summoned the perspiring prince, shouted and waved good-bye to Pollyooly, and walked to his son's lodgings to take a little unnecessary nourishment before driving to the station.

Pollyooly went on playing till a quarter of five, when the game broke up to let the players go to their tea. She collected the Lump from the Gibson nurse and the eleven sovereigns from Mrs. Gibson, and started down the beach tea-wards. As she went down the beach several earnest enquirers stopped her to ask what the grand duke had said to her and what she had said to the grand duke. They wore the air of being very deeply impressed by the occurrence.

Pollyooly gratified their curiosity. Four of them said that they would have been so confused by being suddenly hurried into the presence of royalty that, not knowing whether they were standing on their heads or their heels, they would not have found a word to say.

Pollyooly said quite truly that she had not suffered from any such confusion. She did not add, as with no less truthfulness she might have done, that what had induced a slight access of confusion in her had been the sudden and unexpected possession of eleven golden sovereigns. But she had a feeling, somewhat obscure, that such a happening should not confuse a red Deeping; therefore she did not say anything about it.

She and the Lump were still at tea when the Honourable John Ruffin returned from his golf and joined them. She told him of the coming of the grand duke, of his thanks for the improvement in Prince Adalbert's health, and of the eleven splendid golden sovereigns.

"And very nice too. I congratulate you," said the Honourable John Ruffin cheerfully.

"Thank you," said Pollyooly.

"I always have heard that the grand duke is a very decent sort, as well as being astute; and this proves it," he said.

"But it does seem such a lot for the little I've done. I could have done a lot more, if I'd known," said Pollyooly in a tone of discomfort.

"Not a bit of it," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a confident tone. "As what you've done goes, eleven golden sovereigns isn't a penny too much for it. I haven't observed the treatment; but I have no doubt that you're making another boy of Prince Adalbert."

"Well, he does look better and he does get about quicker than he did," said Pollyooly slowly, weighing her words.

"Well, that's a good deal," said the Honourable John Ruffin in an encouraging tone.

"And he is a little brighter too, though he does only grunt; and of course he behaves better; he doesn't knock the other children about like he used to."

"Well, there you are," said the Honourable John Ruffin, in the tone of one completely satisfied.

"Oh, but he is slow!" Pollyooly protested. "It would take weeks and weeks to really do anything with him—weeks and weeks."

"But what can you expect?" said the Honourable John Ruffin amiably. "The red Deepings were notable people, ruling a county, and hacking and hewing the best people in four counties round, when the ancestors of the prince were swineherds in a Prussian forest. And those ancestors stayed in that forest for five hundred years after that. Prince Adalbert doesn't throw back more than a hundred and fifty years. If a red Deeping produced an Adalbert, he would throw back six hundred and fifty years; and it isn't done."

"Yes," said Pollyooly politely, though she did not follow at all his abstruse dissertation.

"So you see you needn't feel overpaid at all," he said.

"No," said Pollyooly in the tone of one perfectly satisfied.

"Besides, if you do, you can always put in a little more training."

"Oh, yes: that was what I was meaning to do," she said.

Now that Pollyooly had been approved, or rather enthusiastically welcomed, as the ideal companion of Prince Adalbert, the baron was all affability and winning smiles. He had indeed reason to be, for she made life much easier for him. Without a care he abandoned Prince Adalbert to her whenever she would have him, and sat reading or sleeping in his deck-chair on the sunny sands with a mind wholly at peace. With that approved guardian the prince must be safe.

Thus it came about that he became Pollyooly's perpetual companion, or, to be exact, her perpetual hanger-on. He could not be said to afford companionship to her, for, like the Lump, he preferred the grunt to articulate speech. He played in all the games in which she played—at least, if they were not too difficult for his understanding. If they were, he watched her play them with the dogged attention of an enthusiast.

As she came to know him better and better, it is to be feared that Pollyooly remembered his exalted station less and less. She quite forgot the prince in the boy. She sometimes deplored the fact to Mrs. Gibson that though Adalbert could now be trusted not to get into mischief by any act of will, he was so stupid that he needed a perpetual eye on him.

The Honourable John Ruffin sometimes enquired about his progress in morals, manners, and intelligence; Pollyooly's report on it was always dispirited. But he was surprised, on returning home from Littlestone to tea one evening, to find Pollyooly entertaining royalty in the parlour of the flustered Mrs. Wilson.

The prince had come back from a walk through the marsh with her, tired; and she had thought it better that he should have tea before walking the length of the village to his own lodging.

The Honourable John Ruffin did not let his surprise be seen; he greeted his royal guest civilly and sat down. Pollyooly questioned him closely and with genuine interest about his successes and reverses on the links. Then the Honourable John Ruffin observed that his royal guest was flushed; then he discovered that Pollyooly was entertaining him in a fashion at once negligent and drastic: she made no effort to include him in their talk, but she was watching him with the eye of a lynx and giving him a lesson in table manners with the coldest serenity.

"What is the matter with our royal guest exactly?" said the Honourable John Ruffin presently.

"He is so hard to teach," said Pollyooly plaintively. "You'd be surprised. I keep telling him not to eat like a pig; and for about four mouthfuls he doesn't. Then he forgets all about it; and I have to begin all over again."

The guilty flush deepened in the cheeks of the prince.

"You must give it time to sink in. He's not used to learning things; he has been so neglected," said the Honourable John Ruffin with a hospitable desire to make things easier for her royal guest.

Pollyooly shook her head doubtfully, and frowned sadly upon the prince.

"It would take weeks and weeks; and I don't really ever see him at meals," she said.

"Never mind: do what you can when you get the chance," said the Honourable John Ruffin in a heartening tone.

"That's what I must do," said Pollyooly; but there was no great hopefulness in her voice.

Sadly she handed a plate of cake to Prince Adalbert. There was a sudden gleam in his small, but Hohenzollern, eye, and in one swift gesture he took, or rather, to be exact, grabbed a slice, and thrust a corner of it into his mouth.

As Pollyooly had said, for the first four bites all was well; but the next three were accompanied by a slushy noise such as arises in a pigstye at mealtime.

"There! There it is again!" she cried in tones of the bitterest protest. "Isn't it dreadful?"

The prince flushed a darker red and hushed the slushy accompaniment.

The Honourable John Ruffin looked sympathetically sad.

"I couldn't have believed that anybody could be so hard to teach a little thing like that to," said Pollyooly mournfully.

The prince grunted.

"Yes. I know you try to do your best—you needn't tell me that," said Pollyooly, who appeared to understand his syncopated Prussian. "But what is the good of a best like that?"

The prince finished the slice of cake with only two more slushy sounds. Pollyooly sighed once or twice; and tea came to an end.

They rose; and Pollyooly said with resolution:

"I see what I shall have to do. I shall have to look after his outdoor manners only."