POLLYOOLY CHANGES HER ADDRESS
"THE Lump shan't go into the workhouse—ever," said the angel child, with the red hair, firmly. Then after a pause she added even more firmly, "I won't let him."
Mrs. Brown shook her shapely head: she was the wife of a policeman. The gloom on her so round and usually so cheerful face deepened; and she said despondently, "I don't know how you'll manage—you bein' so young, an' work that 'ard to git."
"Aunt Hannah told me never to let the Lump go into the workhouse the last afternoon I saw her at the hospital; and I promised her he never should; and he shan't," said the angel child in the same tone of cold resolution. "I've got twenty-two shillings as it is."
"An' that won't last long, Pollyooly, my dear," said Mrs. Brown gloomily.
"But on Saturday there'll be another ten shillings—five shillings from Mr. Ruffin and five shillings from Mr. Gedge-Tomkins; and perhaps I'll go on doing their work for quite a long time," said Pollyooly, still undismayed.
"That's too much to 'ope," said Mrs. Brown, her words and tone once more belying her naturally cheerful face.
"They don't know that Aunt Hannah's dead," said Pollyooly.
"They'll 'ear," said Mrs. Brown conscientiously, in the same comforting vein.
"They won't hear from me," said Pollyooly curtly.
"But if they know how bad she. was, they'll 'ave bin expectin' 'er to die," said Mrs. Brown.
"They only know that she's ill. I didn't tell them that it was an accident, and how bad it was. And I'm not going to tell them she's dead. I'm going to go on doing her work just as long as I can," said Pollyooly in the same tone of cold resolution.
"Lord, Pollyooly, what lies you'll have to tell! An' whatever would your Aunt Hannah have said to that? An' she so strict with you," said Mrs. Brown, raising her plump hands.
"It isn't for me—it's for the Lump. And it's all there is to do," said Pollyooly with a touch of distress in her resolute voice. "And I shan't tell any lies, Mrs. Brown; I shan't really. If they ask me straight out if Aunt Hannah is dead, I shall tell them the truth."
"What a row there'll be, when, they do find out," said Mrs. Brown.
"I can't help that—there's the Lump," said Pollyooly. "Besides, I cook their breakfasts for them and clean their rooms quite well—ever so much better than that dirty old Mrs. Meeken does the floor below."
"I must say that your aunt did bring you up to do things proper. And I expect you to do them two sets of chambers quite well. What's two sets of chambers, after all? And gentlemen too who never know whether a room's clean, or whether it isn't. I do 'ope as you'll keep the jobs a good long time. I don't see who's to tell the gentlemen that your Aunt Hannah's dead. But things do out so," said Mrs. Brown; and she surveyed the two children gloomily.
Yet they were not of an appearance to cast a gloom on the faces of those who beheld them. Pollyooly was, to the eye, the genuine angel child. Her eyes were a deep blue; her mouth was shaped like Cupid's bow; the hue of wild roses stained faintly her pale cheeks; and her white skin was translucent like mother-of-pearl. Her chin was perhaps a little squarer than the chin of the conventional angel; and her red hair was further at variance with the Christmas-card tradition and ideal. But to the eye of persons of taste she was the genuine angel child.
Even so was her little brother Roger, whose magnificent placidity had earned for him the name of "The Lump," the genuine cherub, with the round, chubby face, little curls, and Cupid's bow mouth of all the cherubs that the painters have limned, the sculptors carved. But in him also there was no slavish adherence to tradition: his curls, like Pollyooly's silken hair, were red.
Pollyooly's black frock and the Lump's black tunic threw their clear complexions and delicate coloring into vivid relief. They had just returned from the funeral of their great-aunt, Hannah Bride. Five days earlier an enthusiastic motorist, engaged in a spirited effort to beat the speed-limit along the Thames Embankment, had knocked her down, and she had died of her injuries in St. Thomas' hospital.
The motorist, one of the wealthy aliens who help so hard to make England what she should not be, on observing that he had knocked down a woman, beat the speed-limit to a frazzle in his passionate effort to escape the payment of a doctor's bill, and since it chanced that no one saw, or at any rate remembered, the number of his car, he made good that escape.
Hannah Bride died none the more peacefully for the thought that she left a grand-niece of twelve and a grand-nephew of two to face the world with about a pound in money and some indifferent furniture. Yet she did not die in utter dismay, for she believed that Heaven would temper the wind to these two lambs shorn of their great-aunt; and she had great confidence in Pollyooly as the protector of the Lump.
Mrs. Brown had helped Pollyooly draw her aunt's burial money from the insurance company, and had arranged the funeral. Now, on their return from it, she was giving the children the lavish tea the sorrowful occasion demanded.
She and her husband, a rising young policeman, were the children's only friends in London, or indeed in the world. Mrs. Brown was a native of Muttle-Deeping, and had been in service at Deeping Hall when Hannah Bride was its housekeeper, in the days of Lady Constantia Deeping. Three years before Hannah Bride had retired to private life in a cottage at Muttle-Deeping, on her savings and a pension from Lady Constantia, in order that she might devote herself to the rearing of the Lump, whose mother had died in bringing him into the world.
A year later misfortunes befell her. Lady Constantia Deeping died; and her heir, the Duke of Osterley, had marked his disapproval of the Old Age Pensions Act by stopping all the pensions of the old servants who had for so many years served his father and uncles and aunts. It had proved a great saving to him: in the case of Hannah Bride alone he saved thirty pounds a year.
Then Hannah Bride had lost the savings of her forty-seven years' service with Lady Constantia Deeping in an imaginary gold-mine, the offspring of the fertile fancy of three gentlemen who spent their laborious days in the City of London, and the instrument with which they extracted money from simple old men and women whose country experience had gifted them with an insufficient distrust of the Oriental imagination.
Thus it came about that, thanks to the Duke of Osterley and these three gentlemen, Hannah Bride came to London to begin the world afresh at the age of sixty-seven.
Mrs. Brown had been her mainstay. She had found for her lodging an attic at the top of the house in which she herself lived, and it was from her that Hannah Bride had learned that the post of laundress to two sets of rooms in the Inner Temple was vacant, had applied for them, and had been so lucky as to obtain them.
After the manner of her class, Mrs. Brown reckoned a funeral an occasion for feasting, and she was giving the children buttered toast with jam on it. They both enjoyed it; the Lump with the natural freedom from care of his two and a half years, Pollyooly in spite of her anxiety about the future, and her grief at her aunt's death. During the rest of the meal she discussed with Mrs. Brown the prospects of getting work, when she should have lost her Temple posts. Mrs. Brown assured her with confident conviction that, as soon as Mr. Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins learned of her aunt's death, they would insist on having a laundress—those who clean and cook in chambers in the Temple have from times immemorial borne the title of 'Laundress'—staider and of more trustworthy years; and Pollyooly sadly believed her.
After tea she took the Lump up to their attic and washed him. Then they sallied forth into their street, that little slum, much of it seventeenth century, on which the back windows of the middle block of the King's Bench Walk look down, and which is all that is left of the Alsatia of the Stuarts. It is not unlikely that in the very room in which they had eaten the funeral feast of buttered toast and jam, the great hero of the restoration, Colonel Blood, caroused, drinking the English sun to sleep, and lighting lamps that would have outburned the Eddystone had it chanced to have been built at the time.
It is to be feared that Pollyooly, in spite of her mourning, walked down that immemorial slum with a truculent swagger which went ill with her angelic air. She was at variance with certain young Alsatians who had taken shrill exception to the redness of her hair, and she prosecuted a relentless feud against them with a vigor, the result of a childhood spent in the healthy air of Muttle-Deeping, which they feared and envied. The two children came down the street without encounter, and went to the gardens on the Embankment. There, while the Lump disported himself, in his sedate way, on the dry turf with an unmaned wooden horse, Pollyooly sat and considered the dark future. In her black frock, with her desolate, delicate air, she looked but a frail creature to face the world, a frail provider of the needs of the carefree cherub.
Next morning, however, when she betook herself in her oft-washed blue print frock, for she was keeping the black frock, which had been purchased out of the burial-money, as best, to No. 75 in the King's Bench Walk, she wore the serene and cheerful air proper to a dauntless spirit; and as she swept and dusted the rooms in her care, she sang softly the songs of the country child.
It was half-past eight; she was cooking the breakfast of the Honorable John Ruffin, when there came a knock at his oak, as the outer door of a set of chambers is inexplicably called, seeing that it is so often made of pitch-pine. She peered cautiously through the slit of the letter-box, as she had been carefully instructed to do lest she should open the oak to the seedy dun. She saw, standing without, a stout gentleman of a rich Assyrian air, wearing a very shiny silk hat: a well-to-do figure, reassuring to her childish mind; and she opened the oak.
"I want to see Mr. Ruffin," said the stout gentleman sharply.
There was a touch of hostility in his tone, and Pollyooly's quick ear caught it: "You can't see him. He's not had breakfast; it's no use bothering him before breakfast," she said quickly.
"Rats," said the stout gentleman shortly; and he pushed rudely past her, went along the passage to the sitting-room, and, without knocking, entered it.The sitting-room was empty of human occupant, but bestrewn with human wearing apparel; and then the Honorable John Ruffin came into it from his bedroom.
"What the deuce do you mean by forcing your way unannounced, Fitzgerald?" he said sharply.
"I've come for my money—the rest of my money," said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald in a tone of fierce bluster.
The tone seemed to soothe the Honorable John Ruffin; the slight frown cleared from his excellent brow; and he smiled an amiable, though mocking smile.
"Didn't you get my letter?" he said in a gentle, rather drawling voice.
"Yes; I got it all right. And I've come to find out what it means," said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald yet more blusterously.
"It means what it says. You've come to the end of fleecing me. I've paid off your loan and twenty per cent. interest on it; and I'm not going to pay a farthing more," said the Honorable John Ruffin in the sweetest tone of his well-modulated voice.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald gasped; then he thundered, "My money! I'm going to 'ave it!"
"Not from me," said the Honorable John Ruffin with unabated sweetness.
"I will have it! I'll show you what's what, if you try to come any of these swindling games over me! I will have it!" roared Mr. Montague Fitzgerald.
"You can get it from the devil—or the High Court," said the Honorable John Ruffin with cloying sweetness.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald burst into a warm perspiration. The Honorable John Ruffin's first suggestion was absurd—there was no money there. His second suggestion was little better—the High Court was the last place to which Mr. Montague Fitzgerald wished to go for several months. On a recent visit to it, to obtain a little matter of sixty per cent. from another unfortunate client, the judge had taken occasion to remark on his methods of dealing with inexperienced youth with a crude frankness which had considerably contracted the sphere of his lucrative usefulness to the community; he wished it contracted no further.
He hesitated a moment; then in a very different, indeed a honeyed, tone, he said, "Now, Mr. Ruffin, you're a man of honor—"
"Am I?" said the Honorable John Ruffin sharply.
"You are," said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald warmly.
"In that case you ought not to be in my rooms for a moment; and if you don't clear out this very instant, I'll kick you out," said the Honorable John Ruffin; and he made a step forward with such a stern light of resolution shining in his eyes that Mr. Montague Fitzgerald reached the door in a single bound and vanished through it.
"Ruffin by name and Ruffin by nature," he said as he came down the passage; and he pushed back his hat to wipe his warm and beaded brow with a large silk handkerchief of garish hue.
"I told you not to go and bother Mr. Ruffin before breakfast," said Pollyooly with unsympathetic severity.
The money-lender scowled at her, and said ferociously, "I'll make him pay for it as sure as my name's Montague Fitzgerald!"
"I shouldn't think you will. Mr. Ruffin doesn't pay anything unless he wants to," said Pollyooly with an air of superior knowledge; and she laughed gleefully as she turned to the bacon she was grilling, for she had heard heart to heart talks before between the Honorable John Ruffin and other creditors.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald flung across the threshold and slammed the inner door violently behind him. It can not have seemed to him that he had signalized his departure with sufficient emphasis, for on the instant he slammed to the oak as well.
Pollyooly smoothed the joyous smile from her face, carried the bacon into the sitting-room, and set it on the table.
The Honorable John Ruffin was reading the Morning Post with an entirely unruffled serenity. He rose briskly and said, "Ah, ha! Breakfast. I fear the vulgar taste for altercation is growing on me, Pollyooly. It improves my appetite."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
He began his breakfast, and she went round the room tidying it up. She had done that already that morning; but in the few minutes which the Honorable John Ruffin had spent in it, he had unconsciously, but thoroughly, effaced the traces of her earlier work. On one chair lay the jacket of his pajamas, on the other his bath-towel, on another his sponge. He had apparently had some difficulty in making up his mind what clothes he would wear that day, for three pairs of trousers, a coat, and two waistcoats had been thrown on the sofa; and the drawer in which he kept his ties stood on the floor by the window in a good light.
Now and again Pollyooly glanced at him with approval. He was not a handsome man. No fabricator of waxworks would ever offer him a salary to sit as a model for busts of the Apollos which adorn the windows of the hairdressers. But he had an uncommon air of breeding and distinction. His well-shaped, firm lips, square chin, and steadfast gray eyes showed him a young man of a resolute spirit; and about the corners of those firm lips and steadfast, but kindly, eyes lurked a spirit of humor, mocking and elusive. What though his nose was too large for his somewhat lean face? The ancients have for ever decided that it is better to have a nose too large than too small.
For his part, as he ate his bacon with slow approval, he watched Pollyooly with the pleased eye of a lover of beauty; and presently he said, in a tone of gentle apology, "I'm afraid you find me rather trying, Pollyooly. The fact is I was born to enjoy the services of a valet; and every morning the effort of deciding what to wear brings home to me afresh the unkindness of fortune in robbing me of my birthright."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly politely. She liked the conversation of the Honorable John Ruffin, though she rarely put the strain of trying to understand it on her tender mind.
"How is your aunt this morning?" he said.
Pollyooly flushed faintly and said quickly, "She's no better, sir, thank you."
"Well, I hope she'll soon be well enough to begin work again."
"Don't I do it right, sir?" said Pollyooly anxiously.
"Quite—quite. You keep the place quite as clean, and you have a way with bacon your aunt could never hope to rival. I can only ascribe it to the possession of genius—genius, Pollyooly; and when Fortune relents, I shall attach you to my person, at a large salary, for the sole purpose of grilling my breakfast bacon for me. I have decided that when I start on my tour round the world I shall take with me a valet, you, and six well-fed pigs, to be killed and cured at such intervals as the occasion demands."
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly gravely. "But I couldn't leave the Lump—my brother Roger, sir."
"We will take brother Roger with us. I must have my bacon; and traveling will expand his mind," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a lordly air.
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly; and she carried the drawer, the garments, the bath-towel, and the sponge into the bedroom. Then she went to the kitchen, boiled two eggs, and brought them to her employer.
"Perfectly done—an angel of genius," he said, after opening the first of them. "Has it ever occurred to you, Pollyooly, how extraordinarily like an angel you look?"
"Angels don't have red hair, sir," said Pollyooly quickly.
"Yes; your red hair is against the best British traditions, but not against the Italian. I must assure you that in spite of your red hair you are, to the cultivated eye, the authentic angel child," said the Honorable John Ruffin firmly.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly doubtfully.
The gray eyes of the Honorable John Ruffin twinkled, and he said, "Surely your neighbors have pointed this out to you?"
For the first time the respectful seriousness of Pollyooly's face was broken by a frown; and her eyes flashed. "The big boys call me 'Ginger,' sir," she said.
"The big boy is an insensate creature," said the Honorable John Ruffin with the sententious assurance of an expert anthropologist. "And what do little boys call you?"
"They don't call me anything. I've taught them not to," said Pollyooly with a sudden, unangelic truculence.
The Honorable John Ruffin chuckled. "I might have known it—red hair will out," he said in the pleased tone of one who chances on yet another proof of a cherished theory.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
Reluctantly she left him to finish his breakfast and betook herself to the set of chambers on the other side of the landing to prepare the breakfast of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins felt no need of converse with his fellow-creatures at breakfast time; and if he had, it could not have been gratified by, converse with a little girl. He was a strong, silent man, with a soul above girls, little or big. All his powerful mind was seriously bent on a brilliant career at the Bar and in politics; and he refrained sternly from frittering away his intelligence on lighter things. It is an odd, but pregnant, fact that though his face was longer and broader than the face of the Honorable John Ruffin, neither his nose nor his eyes were as big as those of the younger and less earnest man.
Pollyooly rarely had a word from him beyond his instructions about procuring the food he desired for his breakfast next morning, though she often heard him snort like a war-horse as he browsed sternly on his morning paper. It is to be feared that she did not lavish on his bacon the thoughtful care she lavished on that of the Honorable John Ruffin; but the appeal of the really sterling qualities of God's Englishman to a child of twelve is seldom strong.
Till noon she was busy with the rest of the work of the two sets of chambers, washing up the crockery, dusting the bedrooms, and making the beds. Then, having finished her work, she shut the two oaks with a deep sigh of relief that she had earned her wages for yet another day before her employers learned of her aunt's death.
As she came down the stairs, Mrs. Meeken, the extremely decayed lady who acted as laundress to the tenants of the two sets of chambers on the floor below, contrived to be on the landing to greet her.
"And how's your poor aunt to-day?" she said with a carneying smile.
"She's not any better, thank you," said Pollyooly quickly.
"Ah, at 'er hage, poor dear, we knows what hillness his. I shouldn't wonder as she hisn't long for this world," said Mrs. Meeken, with an air she believed to be pious, but which was merely cunning.
"Oh, she's not any worse," said Pollyooly coldly; and she went on briskly down the stairs.
But Mrs. Meeken's inquiry had banished her peace of mind; and she walked down the King's Bench Walk on lagging feet, her brow puckered by an anxious frown.
None the less, in spite of her carking care, as she turned into Alsatia she assumed a truculent air, which sat but curiously on her slender form, and swaggered up to the door of the house in which she lived. As she came to it, a careless, but active little boy of her own size came running out of it. With the spring of a panther Pollyooly was upon him, her fingers clenched in his abundant hair.
"I'll teach you to call me 'Ginger,' Henry Wiggins," she said, and she smacked him with striking vigor.
Henry yelled and scratched and kicked, but not till she had lavished on him his due meed of smacks did Pollyooly loosen her grip. Henry bolted, howling, down the street, and Pollyooly went up the stairs smiling the serene smile of one who had done her duty and done it well.
For the next twenty days Pollyooly retained her two posts of laundress undisturbed. Five or six times the Honorable John Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins inquired how her aunt was; and she replied that she was no better. Mrs. Meeken was more frequent in her inquiries, and she received the same answer.
But Pollyooly was not happy; always the fear of the inevitable discovery hung upon her spirit, sometimes depressing it for as long as ten minutes at a time. She was on the way to develop a cleft between her eyebrows from her frequent anxious frowns. Most children would have taken a fortnight's security as a guarantee that her secret would remain for ever undiscovered; but Pollyooly had too active an imagination; and the dreadful fear of finding herself and the Lump adrift on the world was always with her.
In the meantime she was doing everything in her power to provide against the evil day of discovery, but her power was not great. The rent of their attic was three shillings a week, the Lump's milk cost another shilling and twopence, since her aunt had held a pint of milk a day to be a necessity for a child of two; and Pollyooly adhered firmly to the practice. The stale bread, the bacon-fat, which the Honorable John Ruffin spurned, and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins got no chance of spurning, and an occasional uneaten egg, made the chief part of their food; and there was sometimes a red-letter day when too many brandies and sodas on the top of too much champagne made even his beloved bacon abhorrent to the Honorable John Ruffin, and Pollyooly brought home six slices of untouched bacon and two boiled, but uneaten eggs.
But in spite of these heavy demands on her slender purse, Pollyooly had contrived to raise the twenty-two shillings bequeathed by her aunt to thirty-four shillings and sixpence; and she reckoned that, even if the evil day of discharge came upon her at once, she could support the pair of them for another month, or even five weeks, while she sought work in the place of the posts she had lost.
On the afternoon of the twenty-first day she brought the toddling Lump out of the house to escort him to gardens on the Thames Embankment in which he was wont to take the fresh air which kept him chubby, and passed Mrs. Meeken a few steps from their door. The sight of Mrs. Meeken in Alsatia was disquieting enough; but the look of cunning triumph which that good lady bestowed on her, as she passed, was more disquieting still, and stirred in Pollyooly a strong qualm of uneasiness. The sun was shining too brightly for the uneasiness to last; but if she had known how Mrs. Meeken had been spending her time, no sunshine would have eased her mind.
Mrs. Meeken was one of the genuine, old-fashioned Temple laundresses, who apparently earned that title by washing nothing, not even themselves. She was slovenly, dirty, dishonest, and gin-sodden. Indeed, from her aroma she might have been a perambulating juniper tree. She had resented bitterly the intrusion of Hannah Bride into No. 75 in the King's Bench Walk, because she had expected on the death of her no less gin-sodden crony, Hannah Bride's predecessor, to obtain herself the post of laundress to the Honorable John Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. She could not, indeed, have done the work of four sets of chambers, but that would not have distressed her at all, as long as she was drawing the money, and enjoying double the quantity of gin. Her original bitterness had been increased by a distinct lack of sociability on the part of Hannah Bride, who had not only failed to treat her to gin, but had refused to come and be treated, with a contemptuous asperity exceedingly galling to a highly spirituous woman. Her rival's prolonged absence from her work had awakened in Mrs. Meeken the strong hope that she was too ill to return, and that the coveted posts would at last fall to her lot.
Mrs. Meeken was not an active woman, naturally, since gin in excess does not tend to conserve the energy even of the sprightly; and sprightly, even in her bright, unwashed youth, Mrs. Meeken had never been. But her passionate desire for gin had urged her to a splendid effort. She had torn herself for a whole hour from the public bar of the Prince of Wales' Head, an old-time tavern, grown flamboyant with the years, which she and several of her friends used as a club in which to spend their thirsty afternoons, and had betaken herself to Alsatia in search of information about her sick supplanter.
Her effort had been gloriously rewarded. She had learned to her infinite amazement and delight that Hannah Bride had been dead for more than three weeks. She argued, very justly, that Pollyooly would not have withheld this fact from her unless she were also withholding it from her employers, that she was keeping her aunt's posts under false pretenses. With infinite joy she saw her way to take a vicarious vengeance on her detested supplanter. Glorious visions of unlimited gin floated before the rheumy vision of what she had of a mind.
Mrs. Meeken has since, with some alcoholic suddenness, been taken to her mothers. The good sociologist can not regard the world as much the worse for her loss.
It was about six o'clock that evening, what time Pollyooly, unconscious of her doom, was peacefully washing the sleepy Lump before putting him to bed, that the Honorable John Ruffin became aware, chiefly through the medium of his olfactory nerve, of the presence of Mrs. Meeken waiting at his door, and gave a curt, but grudging, assent to her request for an interview. He led the way into his sitting-room, lighted the gas, and surveyed his visitor with an expression of considerable disfavor.
"If you please, sir, it's about that little gel what does your work, sir, that I've been wyting to speak to you, sir. It bein' only my plyne dooty, sir," said Mrs. Meeken.
"Your duty would be plain," said the Honorable John Ruffin, looking critically at Mrs. Meeken's ill-favored face.
"Yes, sir; it were; an' what I've come to tell yer, sir, is as that there little gel 'as bin deceivin' you, sir, most shameful—the hartful little 'uzzy, she is," said Mrs. Meeken, with an admirable display of virtuous indignation.
"How rarely do we find beauty and virtue conjoined," said the Honorable John Ruffin sadly, but in a guarded tone.
"You mye well say so, sir," said Mrs. Meeken piously. "An' when I 'eard this very afternoon as ever was as 'ow that little 'uzzy's aunt was dead, an' 'ad been dead this three weeks, an' you knowin' nothink about it, Hi sez to myself, 'Not a single wink of sleep will you get this night, Maria Meeken, knowin' as 'ow those two poor gentlemen are bein' hart fully deceived, hunless you hups an' houts wiv it."
"In matter of morals one should never wait," said the Honorable John Ruffin sententiously. "I congratulate you, Mrs. Meeken, on the speed with which you have performed this painful duty. Good evening."
Mrs. Meeken's face fell; and she looked at him with a sudden, uneasy surprise. Then she said, "You'll be wantin' a laundress, sir."
"You are wrong, Mrs. Meeken—what I shall be wanting—what I am wanting is a valet," said the Honorable John Ruffin, in a very firm voice.
"And well did I know it," said Mrs. Meeken, cheering up. "An' offen an' offen 'ave I said to myself, 'If Mr. Ruffin would let me walet them there rooms of 'is, 'e wouldn't know 'isself, or them."
Another whiff of Mrs. Meeken struck on the sensitive nostrils of the Honorable John Ruffin, and he shuddered. "I can well believe it," he said coldly. "But I am afraid that the proprieties would not permit of my being valeted by a married woman."
"But Hi'm a widder, sir—a lone widder," said Mrs. Meeken.
"Thrice fortunate Mr. Meeken," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "But there would be even less propriety in a widowed valet than a married one."
"But you'll be wantin' some one to attend to you, sir. That there little 'uzzy can't do rooms like these properly. She can't keep them clean—not what I calls clean," cried Mrs. Meeken, persisting in her effort to realize her golden vision of gin.
"I should think that very likely indeed," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "But it is wiser to endure the evils we have than to fly to those we smell. Good evening, Mrs. Meeken. You will find the front door open. I left it open."
Gathering from his tone that she had failed in her mission, a change came over the spirit of Mrs. Meeken. She lost the generous air of the philanthropist and regarded the young man she had striven to benefit, with a bitter scowl. Then she took two steps toward the door, paused, and said, with a bitterness of tone which matched her scowl, that had she been aware of the insensibility of the Honorable John Ruffin to what was right and proper, she would never have taken the trouble to inform him of Pollyooly's deceit.
The Honorable John Ruffin gazed calmly at her, unmoved and, to all seeming, ungrateful.
Mrs. Meeken advanced two more steps toward the door, paused again, and said truculently that she expected a gentleman who was a gentleman to reward her handsomely for the services she rendered him.
The Honorable John Ruffin smiled agreeably and said, "Virtue, Mrs. Meeken—virtue is its own reward."
Mrs. Meeken gazed for a moment at his placid face and with a snort expressive of a whole tumult of emotions, all of them unpleasant, left his room and his chambers.
She was compelled by the violence of the emotions his insensibility and ingratitude had awakened in her to descend the stairs at a considerable speed and betake herself to the very nearest tavern. There she revived her flagging energy and further inflamed her philanthropic ardor. Then she climbed the stairs again and awaited the coming of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
He received her information in a very different and far more gratifying spirit. Deceit, when applied to himself, he could not bear; and his righteous indignation at the conduct of Pollyooly matched Mrs. Meeken's own.
He expressed it in whirling words; and Mrs. Meeken, appreciated and appeased, heard him shout himself out, with a considerable pleasure.
Then she put forward her contention that a child of Pollyooly's tender years could not possibly keep his rooms in the immaculate condition a woman of her experience could. The contention appealed to the reason by which he guided his regular life; and after a short discussion in which they settled the matter of her wages, he engaged her in Pollyooly's place. It must, in all fairness, be urged in his excuse that he lacked the Honorable John Ruffin's sensitiveness of nostril.
Mrs. Meeken returned to the Prince of Wales' head in triumph, the proudest woman in London. She had vindicated the straight, undeceptive path and in performing this noble deed, gained the desire of her heart.
Pollyooly came to her work next morning unwitting of the misfortune which had befallen her. She only learned it from the sight, and smell, of Mrs. Meeken in Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' kitchen; and at that sight the hue of wild roses which faintly stained her clear pale cheeks faded from them utterly.
The good woman greeted her with a malevolent grin of triumph and said, "It's all up with you 'ere, you bryzen little 'uzzy. 'E's a-wytin' for you, 'e is; an' I wouldn't be in your shoes not for nothink, I wouldn't. In you go."
In Pollyooly went, and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins received her with a scowl and a terrible snort of indignation. His righteous wrath was much increased by the fact that for the last hour he had been engaged in preparing the defense of an uncommonly violent burglar, of whose guilt he himself was perfectly assured, and had found it extremely difficult to find any means by which he could possibly hope to convince any passably intelligent jury of his innocence. At the sight of Pollyooly, in his best forensic manner, he burst forthwith into a loud, but impassioned, harangue on the vileness of lying and deceit.
Pollyooly heard him patiently to the end of it; but since she prided herself on the veracity her aunt had so firmly instilled into her, her spirit began to glow; and she said with some heat, "I didn't tell any lie, sir; I wouldn't. I said that my aunt wasn't any better, and she wasn't. How could she be when she was dead?"
For a moment Mr. Gedge-Tomkins was taken aback by the justness of this reasoning; then he cried, with even more eloquent indignation, and an even redder face, "It was worse; you acted a lie—you deliberately acted a lie. Oh, I see a black future before you! If, at the age of twelve, you can form a dishonest plan of this kind, and carry it out with this—this cool and unswerving deliberation, at twenty you will be a callous and hardened criminal of the most abandoned type."
"It was for the Lump," said Pollyooly somewhat faintly, for she was shaken by the terrible picture he had painted.
"Not a word!" cried Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a terrible voice. "I have done with you! I discharge you. Here is seven shillings—two shillings for your work from Saturday to to-day, and five shillings in lieu of a week's notice." And he banged down seven shillings on the table.
Pollyooly gave a little gasp of surprise and relief. Her spirit lightened. She had expected to be sent about her business with no money at all. She caught up the seven shillings quickly, said, "Good morning, sir," and hurried out of the room with it lest he should change his mind about paying it.
As she came down the passage, Mrs. Meeken said, "That'll learn you to go taking a honest woman's bread out of 'er mouf, you little 'uzzy. An' Mr. Ruffin is that wild, I'm afraid to go near him."
Pollyooly gazed at her perhaps ten seconds with eyes that blazed; then she made the hideous face of an unregenerate and unbroken spirit at her, and walked out of the door with a fine, defiant air.
But her heart was heavy within her as she swept and dusted the Honorable John Ruffin's sitting-room. The only bright spot in her future was the seven shillings in her pocket. That meant another eight days at least, perhaps ten, in which to seek work. All the while she cudgeled her small but active brain for a plan of getting work, but in vain. When she heard the Honorable John Ruffin in his bath, she retired to the kitchen in a panic, her little heart hammered so furiously against her ribs that she had to press her hand against it to quiet it.
She grilled his bacon with the greatest care, resolved that the last meal she cooked him should be as good as she could make it. She had parted from Mr. Gedge-Tomkins without a pang beyond that at losing five shillings a week; but the thought of leaving the Honorable John Ruffin filled her with regret. His unfailing kindliness, the gentleness with which he always spoke to her, the appreciation he always accorded to her careful efforts to grill his bacon to perfection, the flattering tributes he paid to her looks, even to her red hair, had filled her with a feeling stronger than liking for him. She was indeed coming to grow fond of him. Her childish admiration of him was immense; she listened to his talk, so often incomprehensible, with the most respectful admiration. It was but natural that she should look forward to his anger with acute distress. In her shrinking from it she kept him waiting for his breakfast a good three minutes.
Then she carried the dish of bacon into his sitting-room with shaking hands; but she was relieved to perceive, from a quick glance at his face, that he wore an air of serenity which seemed to promise that his anger would not be very dreadful. But when she had set the dish on the table, her heart failed her; and it was only by a violent effort that she refrained from bolting from the room, and began, with trembling, fumbling fingers, to gather up the scattered garments which he had decided not to wear that day.
He was not in a talkative humor that morning; and when she saw that he had finished his fourth slice of bacon, she went to the kitchen, put the two eggs into the water ready boiling for them, and turned the sand-glass upside down.
Just before the last of the sand had trickled from the top of it into the bottom, she took them out of the boiling water and carried them to him.
She had set them before him, and was taking away the dirty plate, when the Honorable John Ruffin said gravely, "A noble type of English womanhood, one Mrs. Meeken, has informed me that you have been deceiving me, Pollyooly."
Pollyooly gasped and flushed and stood still and stared at him with frightened eyes, plucking nervously at her frock.
"I will not disguise from you that your conduct has saddened me," he said in a mournful tone, breaking the top of one of the eggs. "It is on a par with the way in which your agreeable sex has always treated me. It is a sad blow—a bitter blow, indeed. Yet I should have known that your transcendent power of grilling bacon was incompatible with sterner virtues."
"I wouldn't have done it, not to you, sir, if it had only been me. But there was the Lump. And I knew that you wouldn't think that I could do for you as well as a grown-up laundress," said Pollyooly in a trembling voice; and she wrung her hands.
"The modesty of great minds. I might have expected it. And yet I have assured you again and again that your method of grilling bacon shows undoubted genius," said the Honorable John Ruffin sententiously; and then his kindly gray eyes grew keen as he added, "But how does your brother Roger, a child of even tenderer years than your own, come to be a well-spring of deceit."
"I'm not going to let him go to the workhouse," said Pollyooly.
"A laudable ambition. Am I to take it that the ten shillings a week which I and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins pay you stands between your brother and the workhouse?" said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"I've saved up twenty-one shillings, and there's twenty-two shillings aunt had saved," said Pollyooly with a note of courage in her tone, inspired by the greatness of the sums.
"Am I to understand that you have saved twenty-one shillings out of the ten shillings a week Mr. Gedge-Tomkins and I have paid you during the last three weeks?"
"Mr. Gedge-Tomkins has just paid me seven shillings when he discharged me," said Pollyooly.
"So Mr. Gedge-Tomkins discharged you on information received from Mrs. Meeken, did he? A lofty-minded fellow," said the Honorable John Ruffin; and his gray eyes darkened as they sparkled. "And so now only five shillings a week stand between the Lump and the workhouse?"
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Ours is a wonderful civilization!" said the Honorable John Ruffin with warm enthusiasm. "I trust, Pollyooly, that you are properly thankful that you are a happy English child, living in the heart of the greatest and wealthiest city the world has ever known."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly a little doubtfully.
He asked Pollyooly how much she paid in rent, how much she spent on food and clothes; then he drew a small handful of silver from his pocket, looked at it, frowned, and said sadly, "Lean years—lean years."
He reflected for a moment; then he said, "As I expected, rent is your chief burden. I suppose you occupy a furnished apartment."
"Oh, no, sir, there aren't any furnished apartments at three shillings a week. Aunt Hannah brought her own furniture from Muttle-Deeping," said Pollyooly, somewhat apathetically. The subject, at the moment, had little interest for her; she was awaiting sentence.
The Honorable John Ruffin's face cleared. "That does simplify matters," he said in a cheerful tone. "Now I have had a great deal of experience for my years—which are not as many, Pollyooly, as I am sure you believe—and my advice to a young man or young woman beginning the world is first of all to have a good address. That's what you need, Pollyooly—a good address."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"How would it be if you came to live here?"
"But—but aren't I to go? Are you keeping me on, sir?" stammered Pollyooly; and she stared at him with amazed eyes, as if she could not believe her ears, which was, indeed, the case.
"Of course, I'm keeping you on," said the Honorable John Ruffin in some surprise. "Your transcendent power of grilling bacon has touched my heart. Besides, for generations my family has been patrons of genius."
In her relief Pollyooly gave a great gasp, and then she burst out crying. The Honorable John Ruffin looked at her with an expression of extreme discomfort for a minute or two; then he rose, patted her gently on the shoulder, and begged her to stop.
Tears were really foreign to Pollyooly's strenuous nature, and they soon ceased. The Honorable John Ruffin resumed his seat with an air of considerable relief.
He went on with his breakfast, till she grew quite calm. Then he said, "Well, Seventy-five, the King's Bench Walk is a very good address—it is my own. If you and your brother, who, as I gather from his name, is a boy of pacific tendencies, were to remove your furniture to the garret above this room, and take up your abodes there, you would be supplied with that indispensable requirement to a successful modern career. Moreover, I have long felt that it is absolutely wrong, in the present congested condition of housing in central London, to keep that garret empty. It is an airy room, but a good oil stove in the winter would make it quite habitable for the young and hardy."
"But the rent, sir . . . a room like that," gasped Pollyooly.
"Yes; I could not charge you less than a shilling a week rent owing to the economic law of supply and demand. Intrinsically it can not be worth sixpence. Yet who am I to fly in the face of Political Economy? But as I have for some time intended to raise your salary, as a mark of my appreciation of your skill in grilling bacon, to six shillings a week you will be able to pay a shilling a week, and still save three shillings. So that puts the matter on a purely business footing. There is no obligation on either side."
"Oh, sir," said Pollyooly breathlessly.
"You had better have your furniture brought in as soon as possible; and as is the custom of intelligent London landlords, I will pay the cost of its removal."
"Oh, thank you, sir," said Pollyooly; and her eyes shone on him with a devouring gratitude.
"Not a word, not a word," said the Honorable John Ruffin, with a graceful wave of his hand. "Business is business. I have no doubt that with this good address you will soon get another post as laundress, and double your income."
For a while Pollyooly did not know whether she stood on her head or her heels so great were her joy and relief at the passing of the black cloud which had lowered over their fortunes. Her fingers, usually so deft, fumbled the crockery; and she nearly let a plate fall. Her nimble feet stumbled twice on the stairs. There was a fine flush on her cheeks; and her eyes shone all the while.
When she had finished her morning's work she hurried to Mrs. Brown with the joyful news. Mrs. Brown was delighted by Pollyooly's good fortune, and then she was saddened by the thought that she would enjoy less of the society of the Lump, who had been wont to spend with her the hours during which Pollyooly worked. Pollyooly comforted her by telling her that she would bring the Lump to visit her as often as she liked: Then Mrs. Brown said that she had always expected it, that all was well that ended well, and that Heaven helped those that helped themselves.
Then Pollyooly sought out the father of Henry Wiggins, who earned a somewhat precarious livelihood by doing odd jobs about the Temple, and after some stern bartering arranged with him to transfer her belongings from the attic in Alsatia to the attic in the King's Bench Walk for the sum of three shillings.
Then she betook herself to that attic, taking the Lump with her, and set about scrubbing and cleaning it with joyous vigor. Now and again she had to stop to hug the Lump and tell him yet once more the story of their good fortune.
By four o'clock she had finished cleaning it. The walls must have been whitewashed within the last two or three months, because after she had brushed them they were quite white. Then Mr. Wiggins in three journeys carried her heavier belongings up to the attic and she carried the smaller ones. At half-past five she and the Lump took their tea in one of the cleanest attics in central London.
The Honorable John Rufiin learned that Pollyooly and the Lump had taken up their quarters in their new home by hearing them moving about overhead on his first awakening. He turned over and went to sleep again peacefully, quite untroubled by any doubts about the results of his philanthropy.
When Pollyooly brought him his bacon, he said, "So you have established yourselves in your new quarters, Pollyooly?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly; and her eyes shone on him gratefully.
He gazed at her with a considerable pleasure, for he was not one of those on whose æsthetic sensibilities the possession of an angel child as Temple laundress could pall.
Then he said, "On consideration, Pollyooly, I have come to the conclusion that, now that you have become my resident housekeeper, you can no longer be truly reckoned a Temple laundress."
"No, sir," said Pollyooly.
The Honorable John Ruffin surveyed her gravely for a minute; then he went on, "Moreover I do not think that the name 'Pollyooly' is quite the name for the housekeeper of a gentleman of—of—shall we say, rank and fashion. It is a position of dignity, you know."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly gravely.
"And naturally the holder of a position of dignity should have a dignified name."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Therefore I shall call you 'Mrs. Hooley,'" said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly. "But my name isn't 'Hooley,' sir. It's Bride—like Aunt Hannah's; and my other name's 'Mary.'"
"The deuce it is!" said the Honorable John Ruffin in no little surprise. "I'd made up my mind that it was Hooley—pronounced '’Ooley' in the metropolitan fashion."
"No, sir. They always called me Pollyooly instead of plain Polly," said Pollyooly in a somewhat apologetic tone.
"Ah, I see: the 'ooly' is a diminutive affix expressive of affection," said the Honorable John Ruffin with an air of enlightenment.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly politely, though she knew neither what a diminutive nor an affix was.
"Mary Bride—Mary Bride," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of thoughtful approval. "It's an incredibly appropriate name for an angel child. Well, I shall call you 'Mrs. Bride.'"
"Aren't I rather young to be called 'Mrs.,' sir?" said Pollyooly in a doubtful tone.
"Undoubtedly. But housekeepers are always 'Mrs.' in the best families. We must follow the custom and ignore your youth," said the Honorable John Ruffin firmly.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
The Honorable John Ruffin surveyed her thoughtfully; then he said in a somewhat rueful tone, "I feel that something ought to be done in the matter of your dress. But, alas! the exchequer (not the public exchequer, of which I intend to be one day chancellor), but my own private exchequer is empty."
Pollyooly looked ruefully down at her oft-washed blue print frock, which had grown uncommonly short in the skirt; and, a faint flush mantled her cheeks.
"Mrs. Brown is going to make me a new frock, sir, when I get the stuff," she said.
"I must get the stuff—as soon as something in the nature of a ship comes home," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "My mother used to give all the maids what, I believe, are called 'dress-lengths,' every Christmas; and we must not let the fact that Christmas has stolen several months' march on us cause any breach of a time-honored custom. Only the time is not yet."
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly. "And in the afternoon, sir, when I have done my work and you have visitors, I can wear my new black frock, the one that came out of the burial-money."
"Good," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "That will tide us over the present crisis."
He found no reason to regret that he had established Pollyooly and the Lump in his attic. He had been right in supposing that the Lump had gained his name from the enjoyment of a pacific nature. He never heard his voice raised in a wail or a whimper. Indeed, he seemed a noiseless child. It also pleased the Honorable John Ruffin greatly that he should be an authentic, but red-haired, cherub, the perfect match of his angel sister. The Honorable John Ruffin had a very strong sense of the fitness of things; and he would not for the world have had it ruffled.
Pollyooly was considerably surprised by his making, or rather trying to make, a change in his diet. At least once a week he would order in a cold roast chicken or a tongue, from Messrs. Spiers and Pond, with whom, for some quite inexplicable reason, his credit was good, and eat a scrap of it after his eggs at breakfast.
Always he said, as he laid down his knife and fork: "It is no use, Pollyooly. In vain I try to train myself to become a fine old English gentleman, one of the olden time. I can not bring myself to devour these solid meats at breakfast. Do not let my appetite be weakened by the sight of this severe dish again. Take it away and eat it up at the hours at which it is appropriate."
Pollyooly always thanked him gratefully. She needed to spend no money at all on solid foods, only on the Lump's milk. She found herself growing affluent in the midst of luxury.
She contrived to see very little of Mrs. Meeken. It was not only that she disliked the scent with which the air round that old-time type of English womanhood was laden, but also she shunned her because she brought back the painful memory of her dark hour. Sometimes Mr. Gedge-Tomkins passed her on the stairs, drawing aside the skirt of his barrister's robe, as if he feared it would be contaminated by brushing against her. That Pollyooly did not mind at all. She had never respected Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. Besides she was quite sure that were the deception to be practised again, for the Lump's sake she would practise it again.
She had been established some ten days in her new home, when one morning Mr. Gedge-Tomkins and the Honorable John Ruffin came out of the doors of their respective chambers at the same moment, on their way to the Law Courts. They greeted each other amicably enough, though either enjoyed something of the contempt for the other of the ant for the butterfly and of the butterfly for the ant Neither contempt was really well-grounded, for there was more of the ant in the Honorable John Ruffin and more of the butterfly in Mr. Gedge-Tomkins than either of them dreamed.
They walked down the stairs in the dignified fashion their robes demanded, talking, with the Englishman's passionate interest, of the weather.
But as they were crossing the King's Bench Walk, Mr. Gedge-Tomkins said, "I see that you've kept on that dishonest little girl, in spite of the way she tricked us about her aunt's death, as your laundress."
"No, not my laundress; she is my housekeeper—my resident housekeeper," said the Honorable John Ruffin coldly.
"Well, all I can say is, it's putting a premium on dishonesty," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a firmly moral tone.
"I am quite sure that Pollyooly is as honest as the day," said the Honorable John Ruffin; and his eyes sparkled.
"Well, on deception then," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
"As long as they do their work and do not rob him a gentleman has no concern whatever with the morals of his servants. I leave that kind of thing to the middle classes," said the Honorable John Ruffin haughtily.
"The morals of our servants concern us very deeply," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins ponderously. "And mark my words: you'll live to regret having that child about—the deceitful little minx!"
"Evidently you have never come across a real minx, or you wouldn't call Pollyooly one. I hope you'll come across one very soon. She'd do you a world of good," said the Honorable John Ruffin amiably.
"That child will rob you to a dead certainty," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with solemn conviction.
"Well, if she does—not that I believe for an instant she will—I shall never know it. Pollyooly is very intelligent," said the Honorable John Ruffin flippantly. "At any rate she is not a perpetual torture to my olfactory nerve. She doesn't smell like an Indian village at Earl's Court."
"I attach far more importance to honesty," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins even more ponderously.
"I hope you've got it," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of considerable doubt. Then he added warmly, "Why, hang it all! If Pollyooly hadn't tried to keep her little brother out of the workhouse by concealing the fact that a blackguardly road-hog had run over her unfortunate aunt, I should have thought very poorly of her indeed."
"Ah, you're one of our unmoral aristocracy," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a tone of sad indulgence. "I'm a plain Englishman."
"And you've got a plain Englishwoman—a devilish plain Englishwoman—for housekeeper. So if you're not happy, you ought to be," said the Honorable John Ruffin in the tone of one closing a discussion.
But though he had so firmly deprecated the retention of Pollyooly after her lack of openness, it is to be doubted that Mrs. Meeken brought true happiness to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. The impression, though he was no expert in the matter, that his rooms were not so clean as in the days of Pollyooly, was growing stronger and stronger in his mind. Also he had not failed to perceive the aroma which Mrs. Meeken diffused into the ambient air of the King's Bench Walk. The Honorable John Ruffin's reference to it had the effect of making his nostrils grow more sensitive to it; and he learned that it was a lingering aroma loath to leave a haunt so proper to it as his blackening chambers. Other matters also troubled him at times; but, absorbed in his work, he could give them but little attention.
It was a full ten days after he had so solemnly warned the Honorable John Ruffin. against Pollyooly that, one morning as she was on the very point of setting the rashers of the Honorable John Ruffin to grill, she heard a loud roaring from the chambers of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. It was a sound of a surprising volume; and she hastily opened the door of the Honorable John Ruffin's chambers, to discover what it meant, just in time to see Mrs. Meeken scuttle forth from the opposite doorway with all the appearance of a panic-stricken, but aromatic, hen.
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins stood, four-square and dreadful, in the doorway from which she had fluttered. His large face was flushed; and his eyes glowed with a volcanic indignation.
"Go!" he bellowed in a terrible voice. "My weekly bill has gone up seven shillings! My rooms are filthy! You have stolen half my underlinen! You have not only stolen my whisky, but you have watered what you left—watered it—watered it! Go! and never come near the place again."
"I wants a week's wages instead of notice. I knows my rights," cried Mrs. Meeken, quavering, but shrill.
"Not a penny! Not a penny! Go, or I'll throw you down the stairs," bellowed Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, with a quite extraordinary air of meaning what he said.
He was plainly past the chivalrous stage; and Mrs. Meeken did not wait She shuffled down the stairs as fast as her feet could slop—there is no other word for their curious action. As she went her voice rose in shrill lamentation: this was what she got for slaving her life out for "ha 'ulkin' brute" . . . never again as long as she lived would she rescue a stranger from "hartful 'uzzies" . . . Oh, how mistaken she had been in ever reckoning Mr. Gedge-Tomkins a gentleman!
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins stood in his doorway, breathing heavily, his heart still sore from his unsatisfying encounter with watered whisky the night before. The lament of Mrs. Meeken came up fainter from the well of the staircase. An angelic smile wreathed the lips of Pollyooly who had been a grave spectator of the distressing scene.
The eyes of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins rested on her thoughtfully. His work must not be interrupted again by watered whisky; he shrank from the trouble of seeking a new laundress.
"You can come back at once. Get my breakfast," he said in the surly tone of one who reluctantly yields under the pressure of circumstances.
Pollyooly's heart leaped with joy at this sudden, unexpected doubling of her income. It was on the tip of her tongue to accept the offer. But she checked herself, and gazed at Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with a cold eye:
"I couldn't come back for less than six shillings a week, sir," she said firmly. "It would take me ever so long to get your rooms clean again after that dirty old woman. Besides, you said I told lies."
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins scowled darkly at her. Without a word he turned round, went back into his chambers, and slammed the door. Pollyooly's face fell at this sudden fortune's sudden flight. But a quarter of an hour later his door opened again, and out he came.
He walked across the landing and said heavily, "I'll pay you six shillings a week. After all, with you I know the worst that is to be known, and you do not drink whisky. Get my breakfast."
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly, with an angel smile; and she dropped a curtsey.