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CHAPTER VIII
THE QUESTION OF A HOME

Millicent left his presence almost dazed with relief and joy. Not only was the imminent workhouse removed to a distance; but she herself was transported to a sphere of astonishing luxury. She settled down in a quiet content, only broken at rare intervals by a fit of weeping for her dead mother. She helped Pollyooly with the work of the two sets of chambers, displaying a considerable lack of knowledge and efficiency, and played untiringly with the Lump.

Between their dinner and the Honourable John Ruffin's tea she and Pollyooly hunted for work for her. Mr. Hilary Vance would have been an ideal, unexacting employer for her; but he was on the point of going to Paris for six months. They consulted all Pollyooly's friends; and all of them promised to look out for work for her; but it seemed likely to be hard to find.

The Honourable John Ruffin seeing Millicent often, watched and studied her carefully in the hope that his mind would produce a happy thought in the way of work for her. He perceived that she needed some well paid sinecure.

Then one morning when Pollyooly was clearing away his breakfast, he said:

"I have been considering Millicent, and I should be charmed to let her stay here. You and she are such admirable foils to one another's fairness and darkness that no cultivated eye can rest on you together without great pleasure. But I don't think that you are doing the right thing in trying to find her a job like your own. She couldn't keep it. She is not a stern red Deeping like you. She is the clinging kind of orphan, not made to stand alone."

"But perhaps I should be able to go on helping her if she got work, sir," said Pollyooly, gazing at him with puckered brow. "I'm sure anybody would find her very willing."

"I'm sure they would. So many people are willing. Even the Government says it's willing. But I don't think that she is fitted to support herself by her own efforts yet. She has had no training; and evidently she hasn't been properly fed, and she isn't strong. What I think is that she's the kind of orphan for whom homes for orphans were created," he said with the air of one who has weighed the matter very carefully.

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in somewhat unhappy assent.

"At a home they would feed her up, give her open air exercise, and get her strong. Then they would train her to become the accomplished wife of one of our empire-builders in—er—er—in Canada, or British Columbia, or Rhodesia. And when she reached the marriageable age, they would export her and marry her to him. I think that that would suit her much better than being an independent, ill-paid worker in London."

Pollyooly considered his words carefully, frowning deeply. Then she said:

"Yes, sir: there's only herself. There isn't any one she wants living with her like I do the Lump. Perhaps a home would be better for her."

"I think it would," he said gravely. "You think it over."

Pollyooly told Millicent at once of his suggestion; and they discussed it seriously, and at great length. Indeed they talked of nothing else for the rest of the day. The more they talked of it the more they approved it. As Pollyooly said many times it was being settled in life for good—not like a job which you might lose; and always down the vista of the future, beyond the home, loomed the impressive and alluring figure of the marriageable empire-builder. They both came to the conclusion that the suggestion of the Honourable John Ruffin was indeed excellent.

Accordingly when she brought in his bacon next morning Pollyooly said:

"Please, sir: I think you're right about Millicent's going to a home; and so does she."

"Good," said the Honourable John Ruffin. "There can be no reasonable doubt that the mantle of Solomon, to say nothing of Benjamin Franklin's, has descended on your shoulders."

Pollyooly looked at him with the air of polite interest with which she was wont to receive his obscure sayings; then she said:

"Yes, sir. But how could she get into a home?"

"Oh, there are nominations and elections and that kind of thing," said the Honourable John Ruffin vaguely. "I'll find out all about it for you."

"Thank you, sir. I'll tell Millie."

Two days later he said to Pollyooly:

"I've been making enquiries about that home for orphans; and I've found a very good one. It's called the Bellingham Home. I had an idea that there was one in the family; and I find that my cousin and your acquaintance, the Duke of Osterley, is the president of it; and of course he can get an orphan into it in a brace of shakes. He only has to nominate her."

"Oh, that is nice, sir!" cried Pollyooly; and her eyes sparkled.

"Wait a bit," said the Honourable John Ruffin gloomily. "Unfortunately at the moment there is a coldness between me and the duke; and we may not warm to one another for months—not, in fact, till he wants me to do something for him. In these circumstances if I were to present an orphan to his attention he would be much more likely to wring her neck than nominate her."

"That is a pity, sir," said Pollyooly, and her face fell.

"Of course there are ladies of my acquaintance who dabble in charity; but they're not in the position of the duke. It would take them weeks to get Millicent into the Bellingham Home, while, if he nominated her, she would be dragged into it at full speed. She wouldn't be given time to breathe."

Pollyooly frowned in earnest consideration of the matter; then she said:

"Couldn't you ask a lady to ask him, sir?"

"It would be difficult to persuade one," said the Honourable John Ruffin doubtfully. "You see, the duke has the reputation of being unamiable; and he has earned it well. My friends are only dabblers in charity; and I don't think they're keen enough on it to risk getting snubbed by him."

Pollyooly's thoughtful frown deepened as she cudgelled her small, but active, brain for a solution of this problem. Then she said:

"Perhaps if I was to go and ask him, he'd do it, sir."

"You?" said the Honourable John Ruffin very doubtfully. "I don't think that would do at all. You see there was that business of his kidnapping you in Piccadilly and carrying you off to Ricksborough House. He's not at all the kind of man to forget that he played the fool and had to pay you six pounds for doing it."

"But, please, sir, that wasn't my fault," said Pollyooly.

"No: it was his. That's why he's sure to be disliking you very much for it."

Pollyooly looked puzzled by this view of the working of the ducal mind.

"No: it wouldn't be any use at all," said the Honourable John Ruffin decisively.

For the while Pollyooly accepted his decision. But she accepted it with deep reluctance, for she was nearly as disappointed as Millicent by this dashing of their hopes. Naturally in that disappointment the Bellingham Home grew more and more attractive as it receded into the distance. She did not cease to discuss it with Millicent; and it grew clearer and clearer to her that it was worth her while to make the attempt to procure the duke's assistance in the scheme.

"He may be disagreeable. But he won't bite," she said in a somewhat contemptuous tone.

Accordingly a few mornings later she came to the Honourable John Ruffin with a very earnest face and said:

"Please, sir: I think after all I should like to go and ask the duke to put Millie into that home."

"You do?" said the Honourable John Ruffin in a tone of surprise. "Well, it's any odds that he'll refuse nastily."

"Yes, sir: but I think I ought to try. It would be so nice for Millie. Besides he won't bi—hurt me, sir," said Pollyooly firmly.

"No, he won't bite you. Dukes don't. Well, after all, if you don't mind being rebuffed, it is worth trying," said the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly eagerly, very pleased to find that he did not forbid her outright to make the attempt.

The Honourable John Ruffin gazed at her thoughtfully; then he said in his best judicial tone:

"Well, if you're going to have a shot at it, there are one or two things you'd better do to give yourself the best chance of success. In the first place you must try to catch him after lunch, about a quarter to three—he's in a good temper then. And when you do catch him, don't be too gentle with him. Gentleness is rather wasted on Osterley. Be civil, of course, and be sure to address him as 'Your Grace' all the time. But be firm. Give yourself a few airs. After all, you are undoubtedly as much a red Deeping as Lady Marion; and Osterley's great grandfather was a Manchester tradesman."

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly, and her eyes began to shine.

"And be sure to wear your prettiest frock," the Honourable John Ruffin went on. "I think your amber silk. Osterley, for all his cantankerousness, is as susceptible as the next duke."

"Oh, yes, sir: I'll wear my amber silk of course. And do you think I'd better take Millie with me so that he can actually see what she's like?"

The Honourable John Ruffin hesitated, pondering the question. Then he said with decision:

"No. Go alone. I think you'll be more effective alone. It will make Osterley feel more helpless."

"Very well, sir," said Pollyooly cheerfully.

During the morning she discussed with the excited and sympathetic Millicent the coming interview. She had the advantage of going to it in utter fearlessness. She knew the duke: he had been at Ricksborough Court during ten days of her stay there; and she had seen something of him every day. Also there had been the second and more violent meeting in Piccadilly when he had picked her up and carried her off to Ricksborough House under the firm conviction that she was his lost daughter. As a result of these two meetings Pollyooly had made up her mind that the duke was not a man to be feared by women. Millicent admired her fearlessness greatly.

After their dinner Pollyooly put on her amber costume, a silk frock, a pretty hat, stockings and gloves, all amber in colour and all matching, gifts of Hilary Vance. Regarding her thus attired, Millicent's great admiration became an even greater awe.

"Why, you look the perfect lydy," she said in a hushed voice.

"If I'm a red Deeping, I'm of the oldest blood in England, and I must be a lady. Mr. Ruffin says so," said Pollyooly in the tone of one quite sure of herself.

She charged Millicent to be very careful of the Lump, and to be sure to have the kettle boiling by four o'clock so that, should she be detained till then, she would have nothing to do on her return but forthwith make the tea. Then she sallied forth.

As she came into Fleet Street she met the Honourable John Ruffin.

"Ah: so you're off to the fray," he said; and his eyes warmed to the angel vision. "Well, you certainly have looks on your side; and that is three-quarters of the woman's battle. It's rather a score for you, too, that Osterley is one of the most susceptible dukes in England. But remember: don't be too civil to him; just bow. And then be firm—very firm."

"Yes, sir: I will," said Pollyooly very firmly indeed.

He stood considering her thoughtfully a moment; then he added:

"And I tell you what: if your prayers fail to move Osterley you might, as a last resort, try a few tears. Tears are dreadful things; and these cantankerous men can rarely stand them."

"Oh yes, sir: I will," said Pollyooly, her face growing bright with a look of perfect understanding.

He conducted her to her omnibus, put her on it, and wished her good luck.

Then he said after the bus had started:

"Don't forget the tears!"

He raised his voice in order to overcome the din of the traffic, and succeeded admirably.