Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 2
HILARY VANCE FINDS A CONFIDANTE
That afternoon, when Pollyooly was helping him pack his portmanteau for his journey to Buda-Pesth, the Honourable John Ruffin told her of the arrangement he had made with Hilary Vance, that she and the Lump should spend the time till his return at the studio at Chelsea.
Pollyooly's face brightened; and there was something of the joy which warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel in the tone in which she said:
"Thank you, sir. I shall like that. It will be a change for the Lump; and I've always wanted to know what that studio would look like if once it were properly cleaned. That Mrs. Thomas who works for Mr. Vance does let it get so dirty."
"Yes; I told Mr. Vance that I was sure that you'd get the place really clean for him," said the Honourable John Ruffin with a chuckle.
"Oh, yes; I will," said Pollyooly firmly.
The Honourable John Ruffin chuckled again, and said:
"Mr. Vance is going to have the spring cleaning of a lifetime."
"Yes, sir. It's not quite summer-time yet," said Pollyooly.
The next morning before taking the train to Buda-Pesth, he despatched her, the Lump, and the brown tin box which contained their clothes, to Chelsea in a taxicab. Hilary Vance welcomed them with the most cordial exuberance, led the way to his spare bedroom, and with an entire unconsciousness of that bedroom's amazing resemblance to a long-forgotten dust-bin, invited Pollyooly to unpack the box and make herself at home.
Pollyooly gazed slowly round the room, and then she looked at her host in some discomfort. She was a well-mannered child, and careful of the feelings of a host. Then she said in a hesitating voice:
"I think I should like to—to—dust out the room before I unpack, please."
"By all means—by all means," said Hilary Vance cheerfully; and he went back to his work.
Owing to his absorption in it he failed to perceive the curious measures Pollyooly took to dust out the bedroom. She put on an apron, fastened up her hair and covered it with a large cotton handkerchief, rolled up her sleeves, and carried a broom, two pails of hot water from the kitchen, a scrubbing-brush, and a very large piece of soap into the room she proposed to dust. She shut herself in, took the counterpane off the bed, shook it with furious vigour, and even more vigourously still banged it against the end of the bedstead. When she had finished with it the counterpane was hardly white, but the room was dustier than ever. She covered up the bed again, took down the pictures and again made the room dustier. Then she swept the ceiling and the walls. After doing so she shook the counterpane again. And the room was still dusty; but the dust was nearly all on the floor, or on the black face of Pollyooly. She swept it up. Then she went quietly out into the street with the strips of carpet and banged them against the railings of the house; this time it was the street that was dustier than ever; and Pollyooly appeared to have come from the lower Congo. For the next half-hour, had he not been absorbed in his work, Hilary Vance might have heard a steady and sustained rasp of a scrubbing-brush.
Pollyooly came to the laying of the lunch with her angel face deeply flushed; but she wore a very cheerful air. Also she displayed an excellent appetite. In the middle of lunch she said in dreamy reminiscence, apropos of nothing in particular:
"I got this place clean once."
"Isn't it clean now?" said Hilary Vance in a tone of anxious surprise.
"It depends on what you call clean," said Pollyooly politely.
After lunch she brought the drawers from the chest of drawers in the bedroom into the kitchen and washed them and dried them in the sun. Then, at last, she unpacked the brown tin box and put away their clothes.
After that she took the Lump for an hour's walk on the embankment. She preferred it to the embankment below the Temple; it seemed to her airier. She returned to tea, and had a little struggle with the teaspoons. They enjoyed, after the lapse of months, the experience of shining. After tea Hilary Vance told her regretfully that he would not be able to come home to supper, but that she would find provisions in the cupboard, and advising them to go to bed early, bade them an affectionate good-night and went out in a northeasterly direction to talk about Art.
When the door closed behind him Pollyooly heaved a faint sigh of satisfaction and looked round the studio with the light of battle in her eye. Then she took the canvases, which were set against the wall three and four deep, into the street and brushed them. The dust in the street had been a tedious grey; in front of the house of Hilary Vance it became a warm black.
Then she put the Lump, with the toys she had brought with her, into the clean bedroom, and fell upon the studio. By the time she had brushed the pictures and the walls and the ceiling its floor had become very dusty indeed, and she was once more black. She swept it, and then she was an hour scrubbing it. When it was done she gave the Lump his supper and put him to bed. After supper she dealt faithfully with the windows. The skylight gave her trouble; it was so high. But she tied a wet cloth round the top of a broom, and by standing on the table reached it. It made her arms ache, but slowly the panes assumed a transparency to which they had long been unused. When she had cleaned them from the inside she considered thoughtfully the possibility of sitting astride the roof and cleaning their outside surfaces. But there was no way of getting on to the roof. Then she had a hot bath; she needed it.
Mrs. Thomas had been apprised of her coming and greeted her amiably. It is only fair to say that she gave the studio the cleaning it generally received without observing that anything whatever had happened to it.
Hilary Vance, who was of that rare, but happy, disposition, came to breakfast in splendid spirits. He also did not observe that anything had happened to the studio. But when he got to his work he kept looking up from it with a puzzled air.
At last he said:
"It's odd—very odd. Lately I've been thinking that my sight was beginning to weaken. But this morning I can see quite clearly. Yet it isn't a very bright morning."
"Perhaps if you had the skylight cleaned on the outside, too, you'd see clearer still," said Pollyooly in the tone of one throwing out a careless suggestion.
Hilary Vance looked round the studio more earnestly:
"By Jove! You've cleaned it again!" he cried. "You are a brick, Pollyooly. But all the same you're my guest here; and it's not the function of a guest to clean her host's house. I ought to have remembered it and had it cleaned before you came."
"But I liked doing it. I did, really," said Pollyooly.
"You are undoubtedly a brick—a splendid brick," he said enthusiastically.
Hilary Vance was one of those great-hearted men of thirty who crave for sympathy; he must unbosom himself. Pollyooly was not quite the confidante of his ideal; but his mentor, James, the novelist (not Henry), was in Scotland; and the salt sea flowed between him and the Honourable John Ruffin. Pollyooly was at hand, and she was intelligent. No later than the next morning he began to talk to her of Flossie—her beauty, her charm, her sympathetic nature, her womanliness, and her intelligence.
Pollyooly received his confidences with the utmost politeness. She could not, indeed, follow him in his higher, finer flights; but she succeeded in keeping on her angel face an expression of sufficient appreciation to satisfy his unexacting mind. It is to be feared that she did not really appreciate the splendour of the passion he displayed before her; it is even to be feared that she regarded it as no more than a further eccentricity in an eccentric nature. She grew curious, however, to see the lady who had so enthralled him, and was, therefore, pleased when she suggested that she should relieve Mrs. Thomas of the housekeeping, that he accepted the suggestion and told her to procure, among other things, some flowers for the studio.
She found Flossie to be a fair, fluffy-haired, plump and pretty girl of twenty, entirely pleased with herself and the world. It seemed to Pollyooly that she gave herself airs. She came away with the flowers, finding the ecstasies of Mr. Hilary Vance as inexplicable as ever. But she did not puzzle over the matter at all, for it was none of her business; Mr. Vance was like that.
Having once begun, Hilary Vance fell into the way of confiding to her from day to day his hopes and fears, the varying fortunes of his suit. Some days the skies of his heaven were fair and serene; some days they were livid with the darkest kind of cloud. Pollyooly, by dint of hearing so much about it, began to get some understanding of the matter, and consequently to take a greater interest in it. Always she made an excellent listener. Her intercourse with the Honourable John Ruffin had taught her that a comprehension of the matter under discussion was by no means a necessary qualification of the excellent listener; and Hilary Vance grew entirely satisfied with his confidante.
The affair was pursuing the usual course of his affairs of the heart: one day he was well up in the seventh heaven, talking joyfully of an early proposal and an immediate marriage; another he was well down in the seventh hell. Pollyooly was always ready with the kind of sympathy, chiefly facial, the changing occasion demanded.
Then one day her host had gone out to lunch with an editor and she was taking hers with the Lump, when there came a rather hurried knocking at the front door. She opened it, and to her surprise found Flossie standing without. She was at once stricken with admiration of Flossie's hat, which was very large and apparently loaded with the contents of several beds of flowers. But Flossie herself looked to be in a state of considerable perturbation.
"Is Mr. Vance in?" she said somewhat breathlessly.
She seemed to have been hurrying, and the hat was a little on one side.
Pollyooly eyed her with some disfavour, and said coldly: "No, he isn't."
"Will he be in soon?" said Flossie anxiously.
"I don't know," said Pollyooly yet more coldly.
Flossie gazed up and down the street with a helpless air; then she said:
"Then I'd better come In and write a note for him and leave it." And she walked down the passage and into the studio.
Still wearing an air of disapproval, Pollyooly found paper and pencil for her; and she sat down and began to write. She wrote a few words, stopped, and bit the end of the pencil.
"It's dreadful when gentlemen will quarrel about you," she said in a tone and with an air in which gratified vanity forced itself firmly through the affectation of distress.
"What gentlemen?" said Pollyooly.
"Mr. Vance and my fiongsay, Mr. Reginald Butterwick," said Flossie. "I don't know how he found out that Mr. Vance is friendly with me; and I'm sure there's nothing in it—I told him so. But he's that jealous when there's a gentleman in the case that he can't believe a word I say. It isn't that he doesn't try; but he can't. He says he can't. He's got a passionate nature; he says he has. And he can't do anything with it. It runs away with him; he says it does. And now it's Mr. Vance. How he found out I can't think—unless it was something I let slip by accident about his taking me to the Chelsea Empire. He's so quick at taking you up—Reginald is; and before you know where you are, there he is—making a fuss. And what's going to happen I don't know."
Her effort to look properly distressed failed.
Pollyooly was somewhat taken aback by the flood of information suddenly gushed upon her; but she said calmly:
"But what's he going to do?"
"He's going to knock the stuffing out of Mr. Vance—he said he would. And he'll do it, too—I know he will. He's done it before. There was a gentleman friend of mine who lives in the same street as me in Hammersmith; and he got to know about him—not that there was anything to know, mind you—but he thought there was. And he blacked his eyes and made his nose bleed. You see, Reginald's a splendid boxer; he boxes at the Chiswick Polytechnic. And if he goes for Mr. Vance he'll half kill him—I know he will. Reginald's simply a terror when his blood's up."
"But Mr. Vance is very big," said Pollyooly in a doubting tone.
"But that makes no difference; bigness is nothing to a good boxer," said Flossie with an air of superior knowledge. "Mr. Butterwick says he doesn't mind taking on the biggest man in England, if he's not a boxer. And he knows that Mr. Vance isn't a boxer, because I asked him about boxing—knowing Reginald put it into my head—and he told me he didn't know a thing about it. And he'd have no chance at all against Reginald. And I let it out when I was telling Reginald that Mr. Vance was a friend of mine—only just a friend of mine—and he mustn't hurt him, and there was nothing to make a fuss about."
"I don't see why you wanted to tell him about Mr. Vance at all for, if you knew he'd make a fuss," said Pollyooly in a tone of disapproval.
"I told you it slipped out when I wasn't thinking," said Flossie, in a tone which carried no conviction; and she bent hastily to the note and added a couple of lines.
Then she broke out again in the same high-pitched, excited tone:
"And I came round here as soon as I could get away, because there wasn't any time to be lost. Reginald says he doesn't believe in losing time in anything. And he's going to take an afternoon off and come round and knock the stuffing out of Mr. Vance this very day. He can always get an afternoon off, for he's with Messrs. Mercer & Topping, and the firm has the greatest confidence in him; he says they have."
She finished the note and folded it, saying with the air which Pollyooly found hypocritical:
"It's really dreadful when gentlemen will quarrel about one so. But what am I to do? There's no way of stopping them. You'll know what it is when you get to my age—at least you would if you hadn't got red hair."
With this almost brilliantly tactful remark, she rose, gave Pollyooly the note, and adjured her to give it to Mr. Hilary Vance the moment he came in.
"What time will Mr. Butterwick get here?" said Pollyooly anxiously.
"There's no saying," said Flossie cheerfully. "But he'll get here as soon as the firm can spare him. He never loses time—Reginald doesn't."
Again she adjured Pollyooly to give Hilary Vance the note as soon as he returned, and hurried down the street to the florist's shop.