Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 19
POLLYOOLY IS INTRODUCED TO THE COUNTY
He had never done it before, but to-day, to the surprise of his butler, the duke accompanied his supposed daughter up the stairs to Lady Marion Ricksborough's suite of rooms. His face was flushed; and he stumbled twice. His mind was full of the strange behaviour of the serpentine dachshund and the other dogs.
When they had risen above the range of hearing of the butler and footmen in the hall, he said somewhat breathlessly:
"I was never so flabbergasted in my life. Fancy dogs taking to you like that! When I saw Hildegarde, who is one of the most particular dogs I ever came across, dancing round you like that, you could have knocked me down with a feather."
"Yes: it is funny," said Pollyooly; and she smiled.
"But what a blessing it is!" the duke went on quickly. "It will be all over the place that the dogs recognised you; and after that it's no good whatever any one's saying that you're not Marion. It settles it—absolutely."
"I suppose it does," said Pollyooly calmly.
She had no intention in the world of telling him that the dogs had the best of reasons for recognising her, in that they actually had known her before. It did not trouble her at all to leave him in error. It suited his purpose so well that no one should know that she had ever been at the court before.
The suite of rooms when Pollyooly had last occupied it, had consisted of her bedroom and school-room, and the bedroom and the sitting-room of the governess. To these the duke had added a nursery bedroom for the Lump and a bedroom for his nurse.
In the schoolroom they found Miss Belthorp awaiting them; and the duke presented her to Pollyooly. Then with the air of an operating Camorrist he showed Pollyooly which was her bedroom by the crafty device of pretending to make sure that her sheets had been aired.
Pollyooly at once demanded that the Lump should also sleep in it. It seemed a very natural desire on the part of a little girl; and, much to the disgust of Emily Gibbs, who wished to have him to herself as much as possible, the duke ordered a cot to be brought into it.
Then with the same Machiavellian air, he said to Miss Belthorp:
"Lady Marion has taken a strong fancy to this little boy I'm adopting. I hope it will last."
"It's sure to, your Grace. He's such a dear little boy," said Miss Belthorp with conviction, for she, too, had fallen a victim to the silent charm of the Lump.
Having done his best to secure the first success of his plan, the duke left them. Pollyooly made haste to have their trunk unpacked; and then, having put on a linen frock, while Emily Gibbs put one on the Lump, she took him out into the gardens. Miss Belthorp accompanied them; and it seemed to Pollyooly that she was uncommonly like Miss Marlow, Lady Marion's earlier governess, whom she had found at the court during her last stay there. She realised very soon that it was really unnecessary to listen to her conversation; the chance of her saying anything of any real interest being so very small.
From the windows of the smoking-room the duke saw the two children crossing the terrace, accompanied by a large proportion of the dogs of the establishment. In his glowing self-satisfaction with the success of the first part of his plan, he found that they greatly improved the appearance of the gardens.
The Lump approved greatly of the gardens; but he was a little doubtful about the dogs, and kept a firm hold of Pollyooly's skirts. It was nearly ten minutes before, encouraged by the very friendly way in which Pollyooly treated them, he really unbent. He showed a truly marvellous instinct for discovering which dog would let him pull his tail, and which would not.
Pollyooly thought it wise to relax a little from her usual exact mothering of him. She had him sit by her at tea of course; but she let Emily Gibbs give him his bath, and contented herself with watching the operation. She was pleased that the Lump did not accept the change without objection. He pointed to her and said quite severely:
"It's all right, Roger dear," she said in a soothing tone. Then turning to Emily Gibbs, she added: "I wonder what he means?"
"I don't know, your ladyship. But he is the dearest little boy I ever see!" said Emily Gibbs with enthusiasm. "I never knew as how there was such a little boy!" and she kissed him.
Pollyooly frowned slightly. These transports seemed to her misplaced. They were an invasion of her proprietary rights in him. But she did not frown long: after all, the fonder Emily Gibbs was of him the more carefully she would watch over him.
At supper in the servants' hall Emily Gibbs underwent a severe cross-examination. The coming of the Lump to the court had indeed set tongues wagging; and Rawlings, since he had failed to find the duke quite satisfactory, was doing nothing to check it. The chief housemaid and the second cook (the chef was a Frenchman with a strong Italian accent which marked also his cooking) seemed to have made up their minds that Emily Gibbs must necessarily have been made the repository of the secret of the Lump's origin; and they spared no effort to extract that secret from her. Emily Gibbs had the most uncomfortable supper of her life: her fellow-servants, naturally, resented bitterly the fact that she had met the Lump for the first time that very day at Waterloo station. They wanted pegs on which to hang romance; and she did not provide them.
At last the second cook said:
"Well: it's as plain as a pikestaff to me that that little boy is the son of a young lady as his grace was in love with before he ever met the duchess. And she married somebody else; and they're both dead; and his grace 'as adopted their little boy for old sake's sake."
The first housemaid and the second housemaid accepted this theory warmly; and then Emily Gibbs said:
"And I expect she had red hair."
The basic facts of the affair having been thus comfortably settled, the talk turned on the identity of the lady, and then on the colour of her hair. Rawlings was of the opinion that the redness of the Lump's hair was evidence that either his father or his mother had been a relation of the duke, since there was so much red hair in the Osterley family. His suggestion met with general approval.
"It certainly makes his adopting him more natural-like," said the second housemaid.
Pollyooly was awake the next morning before any one else at the court; and soon after six she rose. She dressed the Lump, gave him biscuits, ate some herself; and accompanied by all the loose dogs in the house, they went out into the gardens through one of the long windows of the blue drawing-room. She led the Lump round to the stables and there unloosed several more dogs, so that they went about the world well attended, and spent two very pleasant hours before their exigent appetites demanded their return to breakfast.
The duke saw them returning from his dressing-room; and once more he was of the opinion that they improved the appearance of the gardens.
As it was Lady Marion's first day at the court after so many months, Miss Belthorp decided that it should be a holiday—a holiday for Pollyooly, that is; the Lump did not appear to be yet ripe to learn even the alphabet.
After breakfast therefore they went out again; and Miss Belthorp went with them. This was of no advantage to them, for the excursion became a formal walk, much less attractive than their erratic wanderings when alone. Also it was a walk along paths; there were no incursions into the heart of the woods they went through, nor did they go in a single meadow and roll in the grass with the dogs. Also, since the hour was undeniably shining, she thought it well to improve it by imparting a little instruction in botany. Pollyooly found it quite uninteresting; she did not care at all whether a flower had four stems or fourteen. Stamens seemed to her childish mind quite unimportant; the colour and fragrance of the flower seemed to her the only important things.
As they came into the court Miss Belthorp chanced to say:
"I do hope that you haven't been neglecting your piano, Marion. I always think that music is so important in the formation of character."
Pollyooly had not been neglecting her piano, because she had no piano to neglect. The piano played no part in any of the seven standards she had passed at Muttle Deeping school; and she did not know one note from another. She was taken aback by the suggestion that she was expected to show herself accomplished in music. Evidently she must consult the duke.
She and the Lump and Miss Belthorp lunched with him, or rather they dined and he lunched. After it, having seen the Lump safely on his way upstairs with Miss Belthorp, Pollyooly followed the duke into the smoking-room.
"Please, your Grace: Miss Belthorp seems to expect me to know how to play the piano; and I don't know how to at all," she said gravely.
"The deuce you don't!" said the duke. "Here's another thing I never thought of."
"I don't mind learning the piano," said Pollyooly with a sigh.
"Yes; but if you showed that you didn't know anything about it, it would look very suspicious indeed," said the duke; and he frowned deeply as he cudgelled his brains for a way out of this unexpected difficulty.
"I expect it would," said Pollyooly.
He frowned on, fidgeting; then he said with decision:
"Well, the only thing to do is to stop it altogether."
"That would be quite safe," said Pollyooly brightening.
"All right: I'll see to it," said the duke.
Pollyooly left him with her heart at ease.
He frowned over the matter for some time, for it did not seem to him to be quite in the natural order of things that a duke should actually refuse to allow his daughter to learn the piano. But he could find no other way of concealing Pollyooly's damning ignorance of the art of music.
At last therefore he sent for Miss Belthorp and said:
"I—er—have decided that—er—Poll—er—Lady Marion is not to learn the piano."
"Not learn the piano?" said Miss Belthorp in the tone of one afflicted with the last amazement.
"I—er—have never observed the—er—slightest aptitude in her for it," said the duke with perfect truthfulness.
Miss Belthorp blinked. She prided herself on the brilliancy with which she played the piano—especially the scherzo passages.
"But—b—but she looks such an intelligent child," she said.
"Yes. That's why," said the duke happily.
Miss Belthorp blinked again; then in a somewhat helpless tone she said:
"Oh, very well, your Grace."
When the door closed behind her, the duke smiled happily and rubbed his hands together.
Pollyooly was expecting to spend a quiet afternoon in the gardens and home wood with the Lump and the dogs and perhaps Miss Belthorp. She hoped that Miss Belthorp would have some more important way of spending her time. Of Emily Gibbs she could easily dispose, since already she was giving her orders with a quiet firmness there was no gainsaying. Indeed, Emily Gibbs had been far too well brought up not to receive orders from what she called "A Lady of Title," with humble gratitude, and execute them with vigour and despatch; and already she was hard at work making linen overalls for the Lump. But at half-past three, just as Miss Belthorp had left them to write letters and they had started for the home wood, the obedient Emily came hurrying along the garden to say that the duke wished Pollyooly to put on her prettiest clothes and come with him to pay a call.
Pollyooly frowned deeply at the thought that had not Miss Belthorp lingered with them, they would by now have been safely hidden in some recess of the wood. For the moment she almost wished that the Lump were not so attractive. But very soon she was serene again. After all it was a pleasant thing to be prettily dressed and ride in a motor car; and there was always the exciting anticipation that the cakes at tea would not only be delicious but quite uncommon.
She dressed therefore in a complete serenity and gave Emily Gibbs careful and exact instructions about the care of the Lump during her absence. Then a footman came up to say that the car was ready; and she went down the stairs comfortably assured that she was looking her prettiest. She saw that the duke looked pleased at the sight of her; his face grew quite bright.
He put her into the tonneau of the car and stepped in after her. It was not the first time they had been alone together, but for the moment she felt somewhat oppressed. But he at once began to instruct her in the manners and deportment in vogue at garden parties; and presently she was talking to him with the most amiable affability.
Three-quarters of an hour's drive brought them to Ilkeston Towers, their destination; and when Pollyooly and the duke, coming on to the lawn, which was set with groups of brightly dressed, shrilly chattering people, were loudly announced by a strong-lunged butler, there was a sudden hush and a general, quickly checked movement toward them. Then Lady Ilkeston greeted them; and the duke said to her in a somewhat loud voice:
"It's rather dull going about alone, so I brought Marion with me."
"But how nice!" said Lady Ilkeston; and she welcomed Pollyooly warmly.
There was by no means an immediate rush to make Pollyooly's acquaintance; but for half an hour Lady Ilkeston found herself busy introducing to her people who were firmly resolved to make her acquaintance, since she was, so to speak, the sub-heroine of the most interesting local scandal.
The duke had not looked for anything of the kind; and he was on tenterhooks; he had expected that as a child she would be left peacefully in the background. He found her the central figure of the gathering; and he was in the liveliest dread lest she should fail to come through the ordeal with her secret safe.
It never for a moment occurred to Pollyooly that her secret was in any danger. Naturally therefore she wore an air of perfect ease; and answered the innumerable questions about her fondness for different things, the country, dolls, flowers and so forth with serene simplicity. He was somewhat surprised by her air (it was not accentuated, or even obvious) of faintly haughty aloofness. He had a feeling that it was exactly the right air for a daughter of a duke. He wondered how it had come to her, whether the Honourable John Ruffin was right in his red Deeping theory. He did not know his experienced cousin had often laid before Pollyooly the advantage of giving herself airs, and she had not been slow to see it. He grew easier in mind.
Lady Ilkeston was the person really pleased. She had not expected to have any really interesting central figure at her afternoon; and she was all the more grateful at getting one. Her gratitude took the practical form of instructing Sir Miles Walpole, an amiable young man of twenty-four, very fond of children, to take Pollyooly to the long table under the cedars, and give her a very nice tea indeed. The ices and the cakes, which surpassed her hopes and expectation, to no small degree compensated Pollyooly for the loss of that untrammelled ramble through the home wood. Also she enjoyed the society of Sir Miles Walpole; she was at once thoroughly at home with him.
Soon after tea the duke took her away. When the car had started, he said triumphantly:
"Well, we came through that all right. Not a soul spotted that you weren't Marion."
"But how could they?" said Pollyooly in a tone of lively surprise.
"Oh, I was a bit afraid at first," said the duke.
"I wasn't," said Pollyooly simply.
He took off his hat, let the rushing air cool his brow, and smiled broadly at the horizon. It seemed to him that if Pollyooly were the central figure in yet another gathering, or two, the duchess would not be long in hearing that he had with uncommon success replaced his lost daughter.