Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 18
THE DUKE'S IDEA TAKES FORM
Pollyooly came quickly, but she came in some trepidation lest after all the duke might be going to scold her. A glance at his face reassured her: he was certainly not angry.
The Honourable John Ruffin said gravely:
"The duke wants you to do a piece of work for him, Pollyooly—a very well-paid piece of work."
At the words "well-paid" the duke started in his chair with a look of pain; but Pollyooly's deep blue eyes shone suddenly like bright stars, and she smiled a heavenly smile. It was not that she was mercenary. But it was the chief aim of her life to raise a wall of gold (it could not be too thick or too high) between the Lump and the workhouse.
"Yes?" she said a little breathlessly.
"He wants you to go down to his house in the country and pretend to be his little daughter, Lady Marion Ricksborough. You're exactly like her, and if you pretend properly, no one will know you're not her. Do you think you could do it?" said the Honourable John Ruffin briskly.
Pollyooly smiled again, and said confidently:
"Oh, yes. I'm sure I could."
"And the duke will pay you seven or eight pounds a week for six weeks—so that it will mean thirty-five or forty pounds," said the Honourable John Ruffin with the same business briskness.
Pollyooly smiled another heavenly smile, but the duke sprang to his feet with harried air and cried fiercely:
"Oh, hang it all! Draw it mild, Ruffin! Seven or eight pounds a week for a child like that! Oh, hang it! It's too stiff!"
"Not a bit of it!" said the Honourable John Ruffin with cold business incisiveness. "Pollyooly has the monopoly of the likeness of Marion, and she must be paid a monopoly price. Besides, this business has been costing you over a thousand a year; surely you can't kick at seven or eight pounds a week for six weeks, or so, to stop it for good and all. Why, as a monopoly price, seven or eight pounds a week isn't enough. We must make it ten—or, say, a hundred for the whole job."
"No, no; seven pounds a week!" cried the duke hastily.
The Honourable John Ruffin looked at him with an air of considerable disapproval, almost contemptuous, and said coldly:
"Well, you can't expect me to haggle—seven let it be."
He would have been very well content to get five pounds a week for Pollyooly; and she would have been overjoyed to get it. But he did not think it wise to show any pleasure at getting seven.
But during this discussion of terms Pollyooly's face had fallen; and its brightness was dimmed. Somewhat plaintively she said:
"But please, your Grace. If it's going to take six weeks what's to become of the Lump?"
"Yes: there's certainly the Lump to be considered," said the Honourable John Ruffin, frowning.
"I couldn't go away for six whole weeks and leave the Lump," said Pollyooly.
"And who, or what, is the Lump?" said the duke somewhat impatiently.
"The Lump's her little brother. She mothers him," explained the Honourable John Ruffin.
"Well, surely she can find some one to take charge of him for six weeks. I'm paying her enough," said the duke.
"Oh, no, your Grace. I couldn't let anybody but myself look after him for a whole six weeks. I couldn't really. I shouldn't feel that they would do it properly—all the time. I can't go away and leave him for six weeks," said Pollyooly; and it was plain enough that she was quite sincere in her aversion from doing so.
Indeed she spoke in a tone of unshakable resolution; and the Honourable John Ruffin and the duke gazed at one another nonplussed. Pollyooly gazed at the Honourable John Ruffin with expectant eyes; she had a great belief in his powers. But he only frowned, pondering; and the duke scratched his head.
Then she said in a tone of faint hopefulness:
"But couldn't I take the Lump with me?"
"That's a solution," said the Honourable John Ruffin quickly.
"Oh, hang it! I couldn't turn up with two children. It would upset the apple-cart," the duke protested.
The face of the Honourable John Ruffin grew clear; and he said firmly:
"It looks the only solution; and after all why shouldn't you adopt the Lump? People do adopt children."
"Not dukes," said the duke coldly.
"Oh, if you break the ice, I expect they'll adopt them by the dozen," said the Honourable John Ruffin cheerfully. "There isn't any real reason why you shouldn't. You have this new and very proper desire to become thoroughly domesticated. The Lump is one of the very people to gratify it. Besides, it will give the people at the court something to talk about, and take their minds off Pollyooly."
"I should jolly well think it would!" growled the duke.
"Well, it's the only thing to do," said the Honourable John Ruffin.
"Do you think so?" said the duke doubtfully; and he blinked.
"I'm sure of it," said the Honourable John Ruffin confidently. "You can't have Pollyooly without the Lump."
The duke shook his head, turned to Pollyooly, and said:
"I tell you what: I'll make it eight pounds a week, if you'll come alone."
Pollyooly shook her head and said sadly:
"I couldn't, your Grace. I couldn't really."
It looked indeed like a blind alley; but in the end the duke yielded. His heart was set on carrying through this scheme for regaining his duchess. His mind was so rarely guilty of ingenuity that he could not bear to discourage it. They set themselves, therefore, to making the presence of the Lump at Ricksborough Court plausible. Fortunately he was too young to spoil their plan by indiscreet babble, had he been a babbling child. To the minds of the servants at Ricksborough Court, minds so carefully trained in the board schools of England, his pregnant grunts would convey no meaning.
Then arose the question of a becoming outfit; and into this matter the Honourable John Ruffin threw himself with enthusiasm. He saw his way to remove the burden of new summer clothes for herself and the Lump from Pollyooly's slender resources for several years.
More than once the duke protested that he was not taking the children to live at the court for the rest of the century; and when the Honourable John Ruffin thoughtfully tried to edge in a few winter vests, he protested hotly that he was not fitting out an expedition to discover the North Pole, or the South.
His warm opposition only excited the combative instinct of the Honourable John Ruffin. Coldly he urged the well-known inclemency of the English summer; surely the duke did not wish to have two pneumonic children on his hands; and the vests slipped into the outfit.
The duke was resolved to give the affair the strongest possible air of verisimilitude; and he engaged a governess, a Miss Belthrop, for Pollyooly. That led to his engaging a nurse, Emily Gibbs, for the Lump, though Pollyooly protested that it was quite unnecessary.
The duke was indeed falling more and more deeply in love with his scheme the nearer it came to putting it into effect. On three afternoons he came to coach Pollyooly in the topography of Ricksborough Court and its gardens, and in the habits of Lady Marion Ricksborough. He was astonished and impressed by her intelligence. He was called on to tell her hardly a single thing twice. He spoke of it to the Honourable John Ruffin with great respect.
Then on the tenth day after his first visit he came in a taxicab, greatly excited, for them and their luggage, and drove them to Waterloo Station. On the platform they found Emily Gibbs, in charge of Lawrence, the duke's valet, awaiting them. She found favour in the exigent eyes of Pollyooly, who let her take charge of the Lump without a single anxious qualm. Emily Gibbs fell in love with him at first sight.
Pollyooly, though all the while she kept a careful eye on him, left him in the care of Emily Gibbs, till the train was actually outside London. Then she took him into her corner and pointed out objects of interest to him. She was convinced that he had made a great advance in intelligence since his journey down to Pyechurch: not once did he hail a sheep as a gee-gee. She promoted him to the use of his proper Christian name, and called him Roger. The duke had grown calm once more, and read a four-penny-half-penny magazine with every appearance of absorbed interest.
In the motor car which carried them from Ricksborough station to the court, Pollyooly insisted on having the Lump on her knee. Motor drives did not come their way so often that she could bear to be parted from him in an hour of such delight.
Once out of the peaceful seclusion of the railway carriage the duke's excitement had returned; and now that the real ordeal was at hand, he had grown uncommonly nervous. It may be that he was unused to deceit. He had set Emily Gibbs beside the chauffeur that he might have Pollyooly to himself; and all the way he poured jumbled instructions into her ear in a fashion which would have brought her to the court hopelessly confused had she been paying much attention to him. As she followed him up the steps of the court she fancied that he was even shaky on his legs.
Rawlings, the butler, greeted them with a cold and dignified civility which showed him thoroughly aware of his own value. Also there was a lack of geniality in his tone which showed that he did not greatly love the duke; and the one smile he lavished on Pollyooly was stiff and wooden. But she certainly passed his careless scrutiny.
Then, they had gone but a few steps into the hall when a slim and serpentine dachshund trotted forward to greet them. It avoided the duke and sniffed at Pollyooly. Then it uttered a yelp of joy, and began to dance round her. At the yelp, four more small dogs hurried down the hall, and flung themselves on Pollyooly with every sign of the warmest affection.
The duke gasped and blinked, suddenly assumed a Machiavellian air, and said, for the benefit of the butler and footman, in a high, unnatural voice:
"Well, at any rate, the dogs haven't forgotten you, Marion."
"No, papa," said Pollyooly with an angel smile.