Happy Pollyooly: The Rich Little Poor Girl/Chapter 6
POLLYOOLY PLAYS HER FAVOURITE PART
At half-past eight Eglantine, already bubbling, in spite of the earliness of the hour, with excited animation, awoke Pollyooly and pulled up the blind of the bedroom window.
Then she cried:
"'E ees 'ere! Queek! Queek! Coom to ze window! Let 'im see you!"
Pollyooly jumped out of bed and ran to the window. The detective stood on the lawn regarding the house gloomily. At the sight of her face he beamed sleepily.
Eglantine laughed and cried:
"Good! Now 'e zinks you are 'ere! But you must eat your breakfast queek, and be ready to run fast into ze wood when ze lawyer coom!"
Pollyooly bathed and dressed quickly, putting on a dark frock that she might be less visible in the thickets. Then she came briskly down-stairs and made an excellent breakfast.
She was just finishing it when Eglantine, on the watch at the window, cried:
"'Ere is ze lawyer! You must fly! Oh, but queek!"
Pollyooly seized a cap and the packet of sandwiches which lay ready to hand, and as she put on the cap she saw the lawyer, a middle-aged, but stout gentleman, conferring with the detective and smiling triumphantly and rubbing his hands at the news of her presence in the house. She smiled too—a smile of pleasant anticipation. But then, as the lawyer walked to the front door, the detective walked briskly to the back, and she frowned.
"Oh, bothaire! What are we to do?" cried Eglantine.
"Isn't there a window I could get out of?" said Pollyooly quickly.
"But yes! Coom quick!" cried Eglantine, running out of the room.
Pollyooly hurried after her; and there came the loud rat-tat of the lawyer at the front door. They ran into the drawing-room and Eglantine opened the window gently. The detective knocked at the back door; the lawyer knocked again, louder. Pollyooly leaned out of the window, weighing her chances. She saw that to get to the little gate into the wood she would have to pass the detective. But on her left, in the fence of the wood, was a gap which had been filled by a post and rails. Though it would bring her in sight of the lawyer at the front door, that seemed the safer way, since he was stouter, and probably less swift of foot than the detective. She climbed out of the window and made a dash for it. She reached the fence, went over it like a cat; and her foot already touched the ground on the other side as the lawyer saw her, and in his indignation and surprise howled like a skelped hound.
He was more used to office work than action; and it was fully five seconds before he started for the wood. In those five seconds Pollyooly had gone a good thirty yards into it. He rushed for the post and rails, and climbed them with his eyes nearly starting out of his head in his anxiety to see her. Then, instead of trying to hear in which direction she was moving, he stood on the fence and bellowed to the detective to come to him.
The detective, tired by his night watch, was slow in grasping what had happened. By the time he had reached the lawyer, had learned that Pollyooly had taken to the woods, and was himself over the fence, many valuable seconds had been lost; and Pollyooly, who had turned sharply to the left, was sixty yards down the wood, moving noiselessly, out of hearing.
She threaded the mazes of the wood swiftly, with straining ears, marking the loud rustling of her pursuers in the undergrowth. It grew fainter and fainter, for they plunged on straight ahead of them; and then it died quite away. She went on slowly, enjoying the wood, the fragrance of the flowers, and the song of the birds in the sun-flecked glades.
About twenty minutes later she heard again the rustling of her pursuers, faint and far away, but drawing nearer. She moved along before it, and came to a gate opening into a leafy lane. Below, about a mile away, lay the town of Budleigh Salterton, and the sea, shining in the sun.
She climbed on to the gate to get a better view (she had time enough), her active brain working swiftly. She perceived that there were even pleasanter ways of spending a summer's day in Devonshire than playing hide-and-seek in a wood with a lawyer and a detective. Then she cast one look back into the green depths of the wood, slipped over the gate, and bolted down the lane as hard as she could run. Her only task had been to keep the lawyer and the detective busy during the morning; and she thought that the wood might be trusted to keep them busy without any help from her. Eight minutes later she arrived, panting, in the High Street of the town, slowed down, and strolled to the beach.
But the lawyer and the detective ranged the wood like questing hounds.
As she came on to the esplanade a very large gentleman in grey flannel was so impressed by her flower-like, angel face that, without pausing to cast about for an introduction, he entered into conversation with her. She was very affable with him, but not wholly open; for after a while she left him under the impression that, so far from being an orphan, she was staying with her parents in lodgings in the station road. But she bore away from their colloquy a pleasing shilling with which he had invited her to buy chocolate.
She walked along the esplanade somewhat disappointed that the beach should all of it be large pebbles. She had always believed the shore of the sea to be sand. She did not, however, repine, but walked along to the end of it, watching the bathers and the playing children, in a great content. Then she went down the path beyond the esplanade, between the sea and marshes, to the mouth of the swift-flowing Otter. She walked out over the slippery rocks to the edge of the ebbing sea, and finding some children paddling about in a pool, joined them.
And still the lawyer and the detective ranged the wood like questing hounds.
The pleasant feel of the warm salt water on her legs inspired Pollyooly with larger desires. She put on her shoes and stockings and came back to the esplanade. She soon learned that a bathing-dress and a bathing-machine could be hired. She hired them and bathed. She bathed for a long time, a longer time than was good for her.
And still the lawyer and the detective ranged the wood like questing hounds.
At last she tore herself from the water, dressed, and lay on the warm pebbles, drying her beautiful red hair in the sun. The church clock struck twelve; slowly, but with a good appetite, she ate her sandwiches—chicken sandwiches.
And still the lawyer and the detective ranged the wood like questing hounds.
After her lunch Pollyooly bought herself a bottle of lemonade at a confectioner's shop in the High Street; then once more she sought the mouth of the Otter. There, hunting among the rocks, paddling, watching the sea-gulls on the red cliffs beyond the stream, she enjoyed herself greatly. It is to be doubted that a happier child could have been found out of London.
The lawyer and the detective no longer ranged the wood like questing hounds. They had already done all the ranging the weather permitted. Moreover, the lawyer was not of sleuth-hound build, and the chase had reddened his face almost to the colour of the carapace of a boiled lobster. Unfortunately his face was not of the durable texture of a carapace; and the skin was peeling off his nose.
They had returned to the pretty garden from which they had started on their quest; and the detective had gone into the town to get the food he needed so badly and to bring back lunch for the lawyer. The lawyer sat on a bench, awaiting his return impatiently. Searching the wood like a questing hound had given him also a fine appetite.
It was soon after two o'clock that Pollyooly made the acquaintance of the boy Edward, or the boy Edward made the acquaintance of Pollyooly. It is difficult to be sure how these things happened. But both of them were lonely; Pollyooly was of far too simple and direct a nature to be much hampered by the cold conventions of a sophisticated civilisation; and Edward was but ten.
For all his extreme youth, he was an agreeable companion; and so it came about that Pollyooly, who had meant to return to the house at three o'clock, was detained by Edward and the sea till half-past four. She was not loth to be detained; she was indeed pleased to be giving the duchess her full measure of hours, and the lawyer and detective a really good run for their money.
But as a matter of fact they did no running at all that afternoon. At three o'clock the replete detective returned with the lunch of the raging lawyer. From half-past three till four they prowled gently about the wood; at four they returned to the garden and sat on a bench in the garden, confident that their quarry must very soon return for food.
At four o'clock a flaming Eglantine came out of the house and accused them furiously of having murdered Lady Marion Ricksborough in the wood. It took them nearly twenty minutes to persuade her that they had not. They found it hard work; and doubted even then that they had wholly succeeded.
At half-past four Pollyooly said good-bye to the regretful Edward at the end of the High Street, whither he had accompanied her. She did not hurry up the hill, but as she went picked flowers to adorn the Honourable John Ruffin's chambers. When she did come into the garden, her eyes fell at once on the lawyer and the detective. They slept on the bench. The lawyer's head rested affably on the detective's shoulder. He looked not only redder but thinner, as if his quest in the warm wood had shrunk him a little.
Pollyooly did not awaken them; she went quietly into the house, and was welcomed by Eglantine with kisses and reproaches for the fright she had given her by her delay. Though in the end persuaded that she had not been murdered by the lawyer and the detective, she had begun to fear lest she were lost in the wood. She received Pollyooly's account of the pleasant day she had spent with many expressions of pleased amazement; and then she gave her a noble tea.
Pollyooly was coming to the end of it, listening with an agreeable show of interest to the further details of Eglantine's affair of the heart with the landed proprietor of the market-garden, when they were both startled by a loud snort at the window. The lawyer and the detective were looking in upon them, their faces beaming with satisfaction at the sight of their quarry. The detective guarded the window while the lawyer sprang lithely round the house, through the front door, and into the room.
"Thank goodness! I've caught your ladyship at last!" he cried.
Pollyooly scowled at him and said nothing. It was her habit in the part of Lady Marion Ricksborough to give herself airs. He snatched his watch from his pocket and cried:
"Oh, hang it! We've missed the last train to London!"
Pollyooly smiled coldly.
"Well, we must spend the night at the hotel," he said grumpily. "If I left your ladyship here, there's no saying when I should see you again."
Pollyooly scowled again, and Eglantine burst into loud and excited protest:
"Her ladyship must sleep in the house—in her own bed—properly."
The lawyer paid no heed to her protest, but bade her pack her young mistress's clothes at once. He said that the sooner she was at the hotel, the safer he would feel. He did not get his way without further and louder protests from Eglantine; but in the end he got it. She packed the little kit-bag for Pollyooly with clothes of Lady Marion. The detective carried it. As they were starting she gave Pollyooly two sovereigns wrapped up in a five-pound note, saying that the duchess had left it for her. The extra two sovereigns were for expenses, since she might need money to escape.
The sum warmed Pollyooly's heart.
She bade Eglantine an affectionate farewell and invited her to come to see her whenever she was in London. Then she set out with her captors. On the way down the hill the lawyer was very respectful and agreeable to Pollyooly, proclaiming his eager desire to secure her welfare, and dwelling on the pleasure she must be feeling at the prospect of being re-united with her affectionate father, the duke. No such prospect lay before her; and she displayed no interest in the matter. But when the lawyer, with a fatherly solicitude of his own, suggested that it would be safer if he took care of her money for her, she rejected the proposal with an uncommon, haughty curtness. He seemed somewhat hurt, but he did not press the matter. The detective addressed him as Mr. Wilkinson.
Pollyooly was not pleased to leave the pleasant and comfortable house of the duchess and its so noble breakfasts and teas, though it was some consolation that she was moving from it to an hotel where, in her ignorance of provincial England, she supposed that she would fare luxuriously. She was much less pleased to exchange the society of the lively Eglantine, so full of interesting confidences, for that of the ponderous and doubtless uncommunicative Mr. Wilkinson.
He was fully alive to his importance as being in charge of the daughter of a duke, and did not dream for a moment of putting her into the care of the detective. Indeed, in spite of his greater experience in taking charge of people, that worthy fellow was far too sleepy to be trusted with so elusive a child.
Mr. Wilkinson was far more affable and urbane with her than any one whom Pollyooly had ever met. He was careful to ask her whether she disliked the smell of tobacco smoke before taking her into the smoking-room, where he made a light meal on whiskey and soda and biscuits. He invited her to share his biscuits; but the noble tea was so recent that she was forced to decline.
As soon as he had finished it he accepted, with the readiest urbanity, her suggestion that they should go out on the sea-front. It was exceedingly gratifying to him to be seen walking hand in hand with the daughter of a duke. But his hand was hot and moist, and at the end of fifty yards of it Pollyooly withdrew hers from it with considerable decision.
"I'm not going to run away—to-day," she said firmly, putting it behind her back.
Mr. Wilkinson protested feebly; but since there seemed no likelihood of his recovering the hand, in the end he accepted the situation, saying pompously:
"I accept your ladyship's assurance that you will not try to escape."
"Not to-day," said Pollyooly haughtily; and she looked at him darkly.
"Oh, to-morrow you will be with his grace, and my responsibility ends," said Mr. Wilkinson in a tone of some satisfaction.
Pollyooly did not think that she would be with his grace on the morrow; but she did not say so.
Presently they sat down on a seat; and under the influence of the slight meal of which he had recently partaken, Mr. Wilkinson grew drowsily eloquent about the inestimable privilege she was about to enjoy of once more sharing her father's ducal home. But since the duke was not her father, and she had no intention whatever of sharing his ducal home, again the subject did not really interest her.
They returned to the hotel to dine; and since, while she was preparing for it, Mr. Wilkinson informed the manager of what he believed to be her rank and romantic history, during the meal she enjoyed a fine sense of self-importance, as the other guests stared at her—frequently with their mouths full.
Their interest compelled her to exercise her best manners; that she did not mind; but she did mind wasting the beautiful evening over a long dinner of no interest to her. In view of the fact that she had so lately eaten that noble tea, the earlier courses could hardly be expected to interest her; but the sweets to which she had been looking forward proved of a most disappointing, though painstaking, insipidity; and she was indeed glad when the meal came to an end.
Mr. Wilkinson talked affably, though with a touch of condescension not unnatural in one in charge of the daughter of a duke, to a colonel and golfer from Scotland, about the political situation. Pollyooly did not realise how much their deference to his opinions, drawn from that morning's Daily Mail, which both of them had read, was due to her presence beside him. After dinner they returned to the bench on the esplanade; and Pollyooly, for the first time in her life, had the opportunity of learning how sentimental, after a bottle of champagne, a middle-aged man can become about the moon. She gathered that he was deeply attached to a lady named Myra.
At half-past nine they returned to the hotel; and when she went to bed Mr. Wilkinson thoughtfully locked her in.
She slept well and rose early. The sea, smiling in the morning sun, attracted her greatly; and it seemed good to her to bathe. In view of the rank she was enjoying, it also seemed to her that she might very well have her way in the matter. She dressed quickly, and with the heel of her own stout shoe, a stouter shoe than Lady Marion ever wore, she began to hammer on her bedroom door.
She had not hammered long before an eager, respectful chambermaid came and asked her what she wanted. When she learned she hurried off to Mr. Wilkinson and awoke him. Mr. Wilkinson, desiring to sleep yet another hour, would not hear of any bathing. On learning this, Pollyooly hammered on the door yet more loudly than before with the heels of her two stout shoes. The chambermaid summoned the manager; both of them betook themselves to Mr. Wilkinson, and anxiously informed him that her young ladyship was awaking the whole hotel. Mr. Wilkinson, as angry as he could be with the daughter of so distinguished a client, was on the point of rising, when he had a happy thought. He bade the manager rouse the detective and tell him to take her young ladyship to bathe, and to look after her very carefully indeed.
The detective, also desiring to sleep yet another hour, rose gloomily and gloomily escorted Pollyooly to the sea. His gloom did not at all lessen Pollyooly's enjoyment of her bath and she spent the pleasantest half-hour in the sea. She graciously suffered the detective to pay for it.
She returned to the hotel with a glorious appetite and made a glorious breakfast. Mr. Wilkinson congratulated her on the healthiness of her appetite, with a somewhat envious air. It seemed to her that the hotel was more attractive in the matter of breakfasts than of dinners.
At a few minutes to eleven they started to walk to the station. Remembering that her parole only covered the day before, Mr. Wilkinson set her between himself and the detective. Pollyooly had not forgotten the Honourable John Ruffin's urgent instruction that she should wire him the time of the arrival of their train at Waterloo, and she learned from Mr. Wilkinson that it was three twenty-five. When, therefore, they reached the post office, she made a sudden dash across the road into it.
Mr. Wilkinson and the detective bustled after her and found her writing the telegram. It ran:
I arrive at three twenty-five. Pollyooly.
It puzzled them a little; and Mr. Wilkinson said:
"Why do you telegraph to Mr. Ruffin?"
"Because he told me to," said Pollyooly.
"He told you to?" said Mr. Wilkinson with a puzzled air. "When did he tell you to?"
"The day before yesterday," said Pollyooly.
Mr. Wilkinson shook his head with a pained air. He thought that her ladyship was fibbing.
"Why do you sign it 'Pollyooly'?" he said.
"Because it's my name," said Pollyooly.
Mr. Wilkinson shook his head with a yet sadder air. Had she been the daughter of a commoner, he would not have let her send the telegram; as it was he did. Half-way to the station he had grown yet more curious about it; and he asked her again why she had sent it.
"You'll know all about it when we get to London," said Pollyooly coldly.
He could get no more from her.
They lunched on the train, and under the expanding influence of a small bottle of champagne, the air of Mr. Wilkinson grew more and more triumphant at the success of his difficult mission.
When they descended from the train he clasped Pollyooly's right hand firmly, the detective clasped her left, and they walked down the platform. They had not gone thirty yards when they met the Honourable John Ruffin smiling agreeably.
"Hullo, Wilkinson! How are you?" he said cheerfully.
"How are you, Mr. Ruffin? At last we've found her little ladyship, and we're taking her to his grace. He will be pleased," said Mr. Wilkinson in tones of ringing triumph.
"Will he? Where is she?" said the Honourable John Ruffin with an air of lively curiosity.
"Here," said Mr. Wilkinson, drawing Pollyooly forward.
"Where?" said the Honourable John Ruffin, looking at Pollyooly with a somewhat puzzled air.
"Here!" said Mr. Wilkinson a little louder.
"Oh—there?" said the Honourable John Ruffin. "How are you, Pollyooly? I hope you had a pleasant time with Eglantine. But why have you come back so soon? I didn't expect you for some days."
"It was Mr. Wilkinson. He made me. He almost dragged me to his hotel," said Pollyooly.
"Oh, come, Wilkinson: this won't do, you know. This is kidnapping, you know—high-handed kidnapping," said the Honourable John Ruffin indignantly. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm taking her to the duke," said Mr. Wilkinson.
"And do you suppose that Osterley will be pleased at your bringing him my housekeeper, Wilkinson? On the last occasion, when he did the kidnapping and took her home himself, he seemed very far from pleased."
The puzzled look had shifted from the Honourable John Ruffin's face to that of Mr. Wilkinson, and he said sharply:
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what I say," said the Honourable John Ruffin firmly. "I find you dragging my housekeeper, Mary Bride, along the platform of Waterloo Station, by main force, and with the help of a tall, strong man."
"I don't know what you are talking about!" cried Mr. Wilkinson stormily. "And if you'll forgive my saying so, I haven't any time to waste on your jokes, Mr. Ruffin!"
"Joke? Do you want me to show you how much of a joke it is by giving you in charge here and now for kidnapping my housekeeper, Mary Bride?" said the Honourable John Ruffin coldly.
Mr. Wilkinson's expression grew yet more puzzled and doubtful, and he said:
"Mary Bride? Who is Mary Bride?"
"Now what's the good of a subterfuge of this kind when you're holding her by the hand, Wilkinson? You should keep such tricks for maiden ladies!" cried the Honourable John Ruffin with a fine show of indignation.
"This is Lady Marion Ricksborough!" cried Wilkinson; but his tone lacked conviction.
"It isn't. It's my housekeeper, Mary Bride. I wonder that a man of your knowledge of the world did not see at once that you were kidnapping the wrong person," said the Honourable John Ruffin; and his tone was full of conviction.
"I'm not Lady Marion, and I never said I was. It was you who said so. I am Mr. Ruffin's housekeeper, Mary Bride," said Pollyooly very firmly.
"B-b-b-but I've been c-c-c-calling her Lady Marion all the t-t-t-time, and she never p-p-p-protested once!" cried Mr. Wilkinson, gazing wildly at Pollyooly.
"Then all I can say is, you must have frightened the life out of her," said the Honourable John Ruffin indignantly. "And it will look bad—devilish bad—a man of your age kidnapping a child of twelve and frightening her to such an extent that she was afraid to tell you who she really was. Look here, am I to give you in charge here and now, and thresh the matter out in a police court? That will please Osterley!"
"Hold on a bit—hold on a bit," said Mr. Wilkinson faintly. "You're really not joking?"
"Certainly not," said the Honourable John Ruffin.
"Let's go into a waiting-room and talk it over quietly. We don't want to make any silly mistakes," said Mr. Wilkinson yet more faintly.
"I should think you didn't! You've made enough already," said the Honourable John Ruffin frankly. "But you'd better come along to my chambers. I've got Mary Bride's little brother there and a woman who has known her all her life. If you can't take my word for it, she'll convince you all right."
Mr. Wilkinson was very limp in the taxicab: he perceived that he had allowed his enthusiasm to carry him away with the result that he had been hopelessly duped. It was indeed mortifying, the more mortifying that he could not blame any one but himself—himself and nature. The more carefully he examined Pollyooly the more impressed he was by her likeness to Lady Marion Ricksborough. The detective was gloomy; he had lost a night's rest for nothing, as well as his hope of forthwith receiving the reward for the capture of the missing child, for it was he who had tracked her to the house in Devon. Now he might be months recovering her trail.
The Honourable John Ruffin on the other hand was in excellent spirits. He had no desire to embroil himself with his cousin, by definitely taking the side of the duchess in their quarrel; and he began to see plainly that the matter would never come to the duke's ears. Neither the lawyer nor the detective would talk about it; they both cut too ridiculous a figure.
At 75 the King's Bench Walk, they found Mrs. Brown and the Lump. Mr. Wilkinson needed no more evidence than the warmth with which Pollyooly kissed and hugged her little brother; but none the less he received Mrs. Brown's convincing assurances that she was Mary Bride.
When that worthy woman had been dismissed to the kitchen, he said heavily:
"This has been an unfortunate mistake—very unfortunate."
"Not so unfortunate as it would have been if Pollyooly had been ten years older. It would have cost you hundreds. As it is, I shouldn't wonder if she would be content with a fiver as compensation," said the Honourable John Ruffin with a soothing smile.
Mr. Wilkinson groaned; then he said:
"Well, I've made a mistake, and I suppose I must pay for it."
Slowly and sadly he drew a five-pound note from his notebook and handed it to Pollyooly.
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly; and dropped a curtsey, like the well-mannered child she was.
"Your housekeeper? To think that she should have roused the whole hotel to get that bath!" said Mr. Wilkinson bitterly.
"She was for the time being the daughter of a duke—by your appointment," said the Honourable John Ruffin suavely.
Mr. Wilkinson waved the detective out of the room, and followed him. At the door he paused to say very heavily:
"I shall never trust my eyes again."
"No: I shouldn't," said the Honourable John Ruffin gently. "I think another time, if I were you, I should try glasses."