FOR a while life moved smoothly and affluently for Pollyooly in the chambers of the Honorable John Ruffin. On his suggestion and with his aid she opened an account with the Post-Office Savings Bank and enjoyed the felicity of seeing the balance to her credit increase every week. For his part, the Honorable John Ruffin was no less content: his bacon was grilled entirely to his liking; his rooms were dustless; and he had to hand an intelligent messenger who relieved him of many small, but tiresome, errands. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins was content: his weekly bills had shrunk to their natural size; his whisky was unwatered save by his own firm hand.
The discontented one was Mr. Montague Fitzgerald. In the course of his predatory life in the jungle of the Money-lending Acts he had grown well used to rebuffs; but he liked them none the better for that. But that the Honorable John Ruffin should have been the one to rebuff him filled him with a resentment bitter beyond all words.
It was a shock to his faith in human nature. He had always looked upon him as the model client, a striking type of the great body of the amiable whom a kindly Providence has provided to be the prey of sharks, the model client who pays sixty per cent., not without a murmur indeed, not even without pressure, but pays it. It was no wonder that he was filled with an extraordinary bitterness by this favorite client's revolt against the specious, but iniquitous, bond with which he had tricked his inexperience.
Besides this natural resentment at having been mistaken in his client, Mr. Montague Fitzgerald was wounded to the quick by the thought that he was going to lose forty per cent. of the sixty he had been expecting. He could not act on the Honorable John Ruffin's suggestion and take the case to the High Court because he would lose it in a fashion which would injure his lately injured business yet more. At one fell blow, and that from the hand of a favorite client, he had lost his faith in human nature and forty per cent.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald forgot the stern business principles which had hitherto governed his, from a business point of view, exemplary career, and allowed himself to become a mere human being burning for revenge.
His vengeance lay ready to his hand in the form most congenial to his spirit. He had made it his business to acquire an exact knowledge of the Honorable John Ruffin's position, a far more exact knowledge of it indeed than the Honorable John Ruffin had ever possessed himself. He knew to a penny the amount of the Oxford debts which the Honorable John Ruffin was paying off by instalments; he bought them up with the intention of making his life a burden to him by setting the law at work to make him pay them forthwith.
Thus it came about that just before breakfast one morning, what time Pollyooly, her angel brow puckered by an anxious frown, was carefully grilling his bacon, the Honorable John Ruffin stood on his hearth-rug, his brow puckered by a yet more anxious frown, reading a letter from the lawyer who did the almost invariably dirty work for Mr. Montague Fitzgerald, a letter threatening him with the unpleasant processes of the law unless he paid forthwith the sum of seven hundred and fifty-four pounds.
Pollyooly gave the bacon a last, carefully considered turn, carefully drained the grease from each slice, put them on a carefully warmed dish, and carried it into the sitting-room. The face of the Honorable John Ruffin, usually so careless and serene, was set in a gloomy frown which filled her with surprise and a sympathetic uneasiness; but it cleared somewhat at the sight of bacon; and he came briskly to the table, sat down, and began to eat it, while Pollyooly set about her regular morning task of collecting the garments with which, in the course of selecting his apparel for the day, he had bestrewn the room.
He ate two slices of bacon; then he said in a gloomy voice, "The evil day is upon us, Pollyooly."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in a tone of respectful sympathy.
It moved the Honorable John Ruffin to unbosom himself; and he went on: "Do you remember a rogue of the name of Montague Fitzgerald who came to see me one morning?"
"Yes, sir. His hair shone like his hat, and he was very angry when he went away," said Pollyooly with a gentle smile of pleased remembrance.
"He does shine, the greasy usurer," said the Honorable John Ruffin with vindictive conviction. "But I made him rather too angry by refusing to pay his confounded loan twice over. He has bought up all my Oxford debts, and is going to writ me for the whole amount. You do not know what Oxford debts are, being, fortunately for yourself, of the sheltered, but overwhelming, female sex; and you don't know what writting is, since you are a happy English child. But both are very unpleasant things. I was paying those debts comfortably, or rather uncomfortably, by instalments. You know what instalments are, Pollyooly?"
"Burial-money," said Pollyooly, after a little thoughtful consideration.
"Instalments are the curse of the British Empire; and whole amounts are worse," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of genuine feeling. "Well, I can't pay the whole amount at present, so we must stave off the evil day."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"I must not be writted. That is the first evil day to stave off. I must have time. Time, Pollyooly, is a wonderful thing."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"With time I can set about arranging to get the money to pay this abominable whole amount I must, Pollyooly, strain my credit."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly, moving toward the bedroom with an armful of assorted trousers.
"Have you ever reflected what a weakly thing credit is—how easily it is strained?" said he.
"No, sir," said Pollyooly, pausing.
"It is a weakling indeed—alas, that it should be so!" said the Honorable John Ruffin very sadly.
Pollyooly said nothing; but she gazed at him with the limpid, sympathetic eyes of a sorrowing angel.
The Honorable John Ruffin paused, considering. Pollyooly carried the armful of trousers into the bedroom and restored them to their presses.
When she came back into the sitting-room, the Honorable John Ruffin said, "Well, you see, Pollyooly, the first thing to do is to postpone the pain of being writted. Till I am writted the law is powerless—paralyzed. Therefore I proclaim a state of siege. Do you know what a state of siege is, Pollyooly?"
"No, sir," said Pollyooly.
"It means that no stranger must be let into my rooms between daybreak and after dark, when the king's writ ceases to run. Fortunately the king's writ is not a night-bird. We shall have to shut ourselves in."
"Do you mean all day, sir?" said Pollyooly knitting her brow.
"I fear so," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "From daybreak till after dark."
"But how am I to get Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' breakfast?" said Pollyooly anxiously.
"That's a difficulty," said the Honorable John Ruffin, frowning. Then he said cheerfully: "However, it's no good meeting trouble half-way; when the time comes we shall find a plan. You and the Lump can always steal out early in the morning, take up your abode in the chambers of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, and return after the king's writ has ceased its baneful activity for the day, and stopped running. I can get my own breakfast"
"But you can't cook your bacon, sir," said Pollyooly in a tone of dismayed conviction.
"I must be content with cold ham," said the Honorable John Ruffin sadly. "I think I could boil my eggs."
"I think you'd boil them hard, sir," said Pollyooly doubtfully.
"There's no saying. I might get into it," said the Honorable John Ruffin hopefully.
Pollyooly shook her head sadly; and her face showed no hopefulness at all as she carried the other garments she had carefully collected into his bedroom.
For the next half-hour, and for the next few days, when she happened to think of the danger which threatened the quiet peace of their little household, Pollyooly wore a grave air. The Honorable John Ruffin on the other hand, whom that danger chiefly concerned, showed himself entirely serene. He was even cheerful. He talked freely and frequently of the slow approach of the besiegers, with the impersonal interest of one regarding the evil fortune of an acquaintance.
On the morning on which he reckoned that the lawyer of Mr. Montague Fitzgerald, having received no answer to his demand for the sum of seven hundred and fifty-four pounds, would set the law in motion by issuing a writ, he proclaimed the state of siege.
Then he said, "The object, Mrs. Bride, of this state of siege in which we are now living, is to prevent the common bailiff from presenting me with a blue document purporting to come from his Gracious Majesty the King, but really coming from a most unpleasant little greasy shark in Bloomsbury."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly gravely.
"Well, I'm relying very much on you to prevent a common bailiff from entering my presence. Do you know what a common bailiff is like?"
"No, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Well, a common bailiff is a very respectable man with a quite inconsistently red nose. He wears either a black frock-coat of ancient fashion, or a morning coat of the same shape as I wear at the Courts. But whether he wears a frock-coat or a morning coat, the elbows of that coat are shiny, and in places it will be green."
He looked at Pollyooly to see whether she was grasping these important details and found her regarding him with an air of grave and concentrated attention.
He gathered that she was grasping them, and went on, "His trousers are nearly sure to be of the hue which colorists describe as pepper and salt—dark speckled trousers, Mrs. Bride. His cravat will be a flat, black plaster, slightly greenish; and he will wear a bowler hat. Do you think you will know one when you see him?"
"Oh, yes, sir," said Pollyooly with assured conviction.
"Well, then, you keep the oak always shut; and when any one knocks on it, you go to it gently, and peep at them through the slit of the letter-box. When you see a common bailiff on the landing, you leave him there. If I'm at home you tell me; and if I'm not at home, and he waits for me on the landing, you hang a towel out of my bedroom window, and, like Orion, I slope slowly to the West and remain there till the shades of night have fallen fast, and the king's writ has ceased its baneful activity for the day. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir—quite," said Pollyooly—with assurance.
"Well, it's a considerable burden to lay on such little shoulders," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a sigh. "But if my furniture were seized and I were hauled away to the darkest dungeons of Holloway, I don't know what I could do for you and the Lump."
"I don't mind, sir. I shall like doing it very, much," said Pollyooly quickly; and she smiled a ravishing smile.
The Honorable John Ruffin sighed again: "I can't fly with you and the Lump, for I haven't the money at the moment," he said. "Besides, there's my work. But I do hope it will be another lesson to me not to be swindled so easily. I doubt if I had a hundred pounds' worth of goods for that seven hundred and fifty." Then he smiled and added cheerfully, "But let me not idly repine. I grow wiser and wiser."
After that day as soon as the bacon of the Honorable John Ruffin had been grilled, Pollyooly and the Lump betook themselves to the chambers of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins that she might be free to cook his breakfast.
At last the besiegers, or to be exact, the besieger, came at half-past ten in the morning. Pollyooly and the Lump were in Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' chambers, when she heard a knocking at the Honorable John Ruffin's door. She peeped through Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' letter-box, and there, knocking steadily away, stood a respectable, but red-nosed, man in a greenish-black morning coat, a high, but dirty collar, a greenish-black plaster of a tie, and a dingy, flat-topped bowler hat. After the Honorable John Ruffin's admirable description of the species, Pollyooly recognized him at a glance as the common bailiff.
He was plainly unused to working in the Temple, or he would not have gone on rapping so hopefully on the Honorable John Ruffin's oak, for when once the unknockered oak is 'sported' (Anglice, shut) it means that the occupant of the chambers is literally, or figuratively, out. The besieger could not have known this, for he remained a quarter of an hour, rapping patiently, at three minute intervals, on the Honorable John Ruffin's oak.
Then he came and knocked at Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' door. Pollyooly opened it.
"Mr. Ruffin in?" he said, jerking a dirty thumb toward the door opposite.
Pollyooly had not heard the Honorable John Ruffin start for the Law Courts, and he might not have done so. This ignorance served her well, for she had been brought up a very truthful child; and with exact accuracy she said, "I don't know. I haven't seen him go in or out since yesterday morning."
"What's he like to look at?" said the respectable, but red-nosed, man gloomily.
Pollyooly knitted her brow, as if in an earnest effort to remember; then she said, "Well, he looks very nice in his wig."
"What colored eyes 'as 'e got?" said the red-faced man.
"They might be brown, and again they might not," said Pollyooly after a little thought.
As a matter of fact, the eyes of the Honorable John Ruffin are a very fine gray. But Pollyooly was resolved with an equal firmness neither to impart any information, nor to depart from the truth.
"A fat lot you kids learn at school," said the red-nosed man with some heat.
"They didn't teach us those sort of things," said Pollyooly simply.
"What time does 'e come 'ome?" said the red-nosed man.
"Late at night, very late at night," said Pollyooly truthfully.
The respectable, but red-nosed, man gazed at her gloomily for a minute, then he turned on his heel and went slowly down the stairs.
Pollyooly ran to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' sitting-room window and watched him leave the building and the Inner Temple. She thought it well to let the Honorable John Ruffin know at once that the tardy besieger had at last come, and, taking the Lump, she went across to the Law Courts, induced the door-keeper of Court No. IV, in which he practised, to summon him forth, and informed him of the danger. He thanked her, and bade her be ready to signal to him at a quarter past four, if the red-faced man was waiting to pounce on him. He went back into the Court, and after finishing her work in Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' chambers, she took the Lump to the gardens on the Thames Embankment, and let him play there for the rest of the morning.
When she returned to the Temple at half-past one, there, knocking patiently on the Honorable John Ruffin's oak, stood the red- faced man.
"'As 'e come in?" he said gloomily.
"I haven't seen him come in," said Pollyooly coldly but with literal accuracy, and she and the Lump went into Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' chambers.
Pollyooly was in a quandary. Both their dinner and her money were in the chambers of the Honorable John Ruffin; and the red-nosed man stood an insuperable and patiently knocking barrier between.
She watched him through the letter-box of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with growing impatience. He seemed to her to be a creature of the most painful persistence, for he stood there, rapping at intervals for nearly twenty minutes; and the Lump, usually the most placid of children, was pulling at her frock, and protesting that he was hungry in an uncommonly querulous tone.
Pollyooly was debating in her active mind whether she should sally forth with him to the Honorable John Ruffin's green-grocer in Fetter Lane and try to procure food on credit, when, to her great relief, the exasperated besieger bestowed three violent kicks on the Honorable John Ruffin's quite unoffending oak, and went heavily down the stairs. She was quick in getting the Lump into their own quarters and to his dinner. She resolved to have the materials for that meal in Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' chambers for the future.
At three o'clock the besieger returned and knocked for a quarter of an hour, then once more he went away. Pollyooly took up her station at the window of the sitting-room and kept her patient watch while the Lump either played peacefully about the floor, or sat in her lap, and, deaf to her remonstrances, sucked his thumb. At four o'clock the unwearying besieger came slouching gloomily back. Pollyooly ran for the signal towel and hung it out of the window.
At a quarter-past four the Honorable John Ruffin appeared at the mouth of the archway opposite, approaching his home warily. At the sight of the signal he paused, then came swiftly across the broad space to the pavement below the window.
"Where is he?" he said, hardly raising his clear, carrying voice.
"In the landing," said Pollyooly.
"Then please drop me down my hat and stick, my angel watcher," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
Pollyooly made haste to drop them out of the window. He caught them deftly, slipped off his wig and gown, went to the porter's lodge, left them there and walked briskly out of the Tudor Street entrance. As he was passing out of sight, he waved a reassuring hand to his faithful sentinel.
At half-past four the red-nosed besieger, who had been waiting in a sinister silence, began to knock on the oak. At twenty-five minutes to five he was knocking firmly; at twenty minutes to five he was knocking wildly; at a quarter to five he seemed to have lost his temper, for he was interspersing violent, blows on the oak with even more violent kicks. At five minutes to five he went away. Pollyooly thought that they had done with him until to-morrow. She wronged his indefatigable soul; he was back again and hammering away at seven o'clock and again at eight. He may have returned later, just before the king's writ had ceased running its baneful course for the day; but Pollyooly was sleeping the sound sleep of the young and just, and she did not hear him.
The next morning the besieger arrived betimes. Pollyooly had cleaned both sets of rooms and was back cooking the Honorable John Ruffin's breakfast, when she recognized his heavy footfall on the stairs.
She was not dismayed at first. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins worked at his briefs from seven to nine and then breakfasted. It was now only half-past eight. Pollyooly had grasped the fact that the patience of the besieger became exhausted in less than half an hour. She had forgotten, if indeed she had ever known, the stimulating effect of the sense of smell. He knocked; and then he was quiet for a while. Then the trained olfactory nerve of his red, but sleuth-hound, nose carried the smell of grilling bacon to his astute brain; and he leapt to the conclusion that the chambers were not empty. He began to knock. Pollyooly was in hopes that he would soon tire and go away. She carried in the Honorable John Ruffin's breakfast; and the knocking still went on. At a quarter to nine she went to the Honorable John Ruffin with a distressed air, and asked him what she should do about Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' breakfast.
"Mr. Gedge-Tomkins is one of those splendid Spartan fellows who will rejoice to go into court breakfastless," said the Honorable John Ruffin with calm cheerfulness.
"He'll be very angry with me, and he does make such a noise when he's angry," said Pollyooly with a somewhat plaintive dismay.
"We can't have that," said the Honorable John Ruffin quickly; and he knitted his brow and tried to think out a plan.
He could think of none. All those that his fertile mind conceived were unfeasible or quite extravagant. It was impossible in the time, or with the means at his disposal, a small hammer, a corkscrew, and the poker, to make a sufficiently large opening in the wall between the two sets of chambers to admit the passage of Pollyooly.
Then Pollyooly said, "Please, sir, if I stood close against your oak and you had the front door nearly shut, when I opened the oak you could shut it quite before he got in. I'm very narrow."
"You have not only the face of an angel, but the brain of a first-class strategist. For a child of twelve you are a marvel, Mrs. Bride. But do not—oh, do not let it lead you to suffragism," said the Honorable John Ruffin with warm admiration; and he rose briskly.
The besieger was now taking a rest from his labor at the oak and, through the slit of the letter-box, Pollyooly saw him leaning against the banisters. She flattened herself against the oak, and the Honorable John Ruffin nearly closed the inner door. "Ready," he said.
The oak flew open; like a jack-in-the-box, Pollyooly sprang out on to the landing, and the Honorable John Ruffin shut the inner door with a snap.
The besieger opened his mouth and started forward. "'Ere? Where? What?" he stuttered.
Pollyooly darted past him into Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' door, which she had left just unshut against emergency, and slammed it behind her.
The besieger, in a veritable fury, fell upon the knocker on the Honorable John Ruffin's inner door, and plied it with a will.
It made a grand noise; never before in his life had he had such a thoroughly satisfying time with a knocker. The landing and the staircase reverberated the filling sound. But it did not open the door. It did, however, seem to interfere with the work of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. He rushed down his passage, bounced on to the landing, and suddenly bellowed into the absorbed besieger's happy ear:
"What on earth are you doing? What are you making this infernal row for?"
The besieger sprang lightly into the air. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins was a fine, upstanding, broad-chested man; and his bellow was of about the same sound and volume as the trumpeting of a well-grown bull elephant. As the besieger landed on his feet, he howled with some spirit: "What's it got to do with you? I am doing my dooty."
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins presented to him a fist of the size of a small leg of lamb; held it firmly a few inches from his eyes that he might thoroughly inspect it; then he bellowed: "Do you see what this is? Be off, or I'll do a little knocking on my own accountThe besieger gazed earnestly for ten seconds at that able fist, and retired, or, to be exact, skipped half-way down the first flight of stairs.
There he stopped, and glaring up at the majestic presence above him, cried, "Hi'm a hofficer of the lor. Hi'm servin' a writ on this 'ere Mr. Ruffin." And he brandished a blue document at Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
"Serve it! But you be as quiet as a mouse about it or I'll push it down your throat!" bellowed Mr. Gedge-Tomkins; and he went back into his chambers with a fine, majestic air, and slammed the door.
The besieger wiped his brow with a dirty blue pocket-handkerchief, then stole gingerly up the stairs, and leaning against the banisters, resumed his watch, panting softly. His morning nerves, of the kind which so frequently accompany a red nose, were all to pieces. He was shaken to the depths of his being.
Pollyooly cooked Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' breakfast with uncommon care—she had suddenly begun to respect him.
Hitherto she had rather despised him. His refusal, on hearing of the death of her Aunt Hannah, to let her retain the post of housekeeper, the duties of which she had discharged with so thorough an efficiency, on the ground that she had deceived him, had not only ruffled her sensibilities but also given her a very poor opinion of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' intelligence. The alternative to herself he had chosen, was to any intelligent eye utterly unworthy to be the housekeeper of even a tramp.
Accordingly she had regarded Mr. Gedge-Tomkins as merely a taciturn, earnest, hard-working barrister, wholly unworthy any genuine admiration or esteem, not at all the kind of man to whom one could attach oneself. His sudden, terrific explosion in the part of a man of violence raised him immeasurably in her estimation. For the first time he took her girlish fancy; and she grilled his bacon with some of the loving care she was used to devote to that of the Honorable John Ruffin.
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins ate that bacon more slowly and thoughtfully than usual. At the end of it, when she brought him his eggs, he said with a judicial air and in a judicial tone:
"I think that in er—er—more favorable circumstances you might be trained to be a cook of some merit."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
She was pleased by the compliment, and went on with her work in a complacent frame of mind. But her troubles were by no means over; for his little altercation with Mr. Gedge-Tomkins seemed to have braced all the dogged Englishman in the red-nosed besieger to the highest pitch; and he had apparently made up his mind to stay the day.
At half-past eleven he still leaned against the banisters, and Pollyooly began to grow anxious about the Lump. She was sure that the Honorable John Ruffin would look after him—not that he needed much looking after. But his dinner-hour was approaching; he would not fail to make firmly known that it was his dinner-hour; and her instinct warned her that her kind-hearted employer would give him indigestible things to eat, and then have him ill on his hands all the afternoon. She cudgeled and cudgeled her brains for some method of getting back into her own quarters without letting in the besieger on her heels; but she could find none.
Even her natural serenity could not stand the strain of her dire imaginings; and by a quarter to one she had worked herself into a fever of anxiety. Then a happy idea came to her. She ran up to the attic above Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' sitting-room, opened the window and looked out.
The window of her own attic was fifteen feet away, and open. The slope of the roof was not very steep; also, if she did slip, there was a broad gutter; and she thought it looked strong. She took off her shoes, slipped out of the window, and tested the grip of her feet on the tiles. Her feet gripped them firmly; for the course of time had worn away their original seventeenth-century smoothness, and many little tufts of lichen helped to hold the sole. She began to crawl, firmly, in a course slanting slightly upward, to a point above her own window.
Of course, a policeman on the farther pavement of the King's Bench Walk, having nothing else to do, espied her in her perilous transit, and with all the intelligence of his force and race, shouted at her. Pollyooly had perfect nerves; but it was just as well at the moment that she did not hear him, though, indeed, she was not thinking at all of the danger, but only of getting as quickly as possible to the Lump, who might even now be devouring indigestible things.
The policeman's shouts quickly gathered together a little crowd; and the Honorable John Ruffin at his window could not for the life of him understand at what they were pointing in such excitement, or why some of them danced up and down in such a curious and apparently aimless fashion.
Pollyooly arrived presently at a point four feet above the dormer window of her attic, and slid quickly down on to its little roof. She sat astride it for a moment, and took a brief and calm survey of the Temple. She observed the anxious crowd of watchers, still excited and gesticulating, and waved her hand to it. Then she slipped over the edge of the roof, on to the window ledge, and into the window.
The Honorable John Ruffin was still wondering at the little burst of cheers from the crowd which greeted the safe conclusion of her perilous transit, when Pollyooly entered his sitting-room, to find the Lump with a large slice of the uncommonly rich and indigestible cake, with which the Honorable John Ruffin was wont to regale his friends at afternoon tea, half eaten in his hand.
"Where on earth have you come from?" cried the Honorable John Ruffin in extreme astonishment.
"I crawled along the roof, and in through the window of our bedroom, sir," said Pollyooly, firmly removing the slice of cake from the reluctant hand of the Lump.
"But it's a sloping roof!" cried the Honorable John Ruffin yet more loudly.
"Yes, sir. It does slope," said Pollyooly, looking surprised at his vehemence.
The Honorable John Ruffin said no more at the moment. He ran out of the room, rushed up the stairs to the attic, and looked out of the window.
He came down, his face somewhat pale and said in a scared tone, "Never, on any account, crawl along that roof again. I forbid it absolutely. I'd rather be writted ten times over than that you should do such a dangerous thing."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly meekly, but she looked a little puzzled by his vehemence.
"What on earth did you do it for?" he said in an easier tone.
"I thought that the Lump would bother you, sir, and you wouldn't know what to give him for dinner," said Pollyooly.
"You thought the Lump would bother me and I shouldn't know what to give him for dinner! So you crawl along a sloping roof, sixty feet from the ground to get to us!" cried the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of stupefaction.
"He might have had indigestion," said Pollyooly.
The Honorable John Ruffin raised both hands toward the ceiling, and cried loudly, "I tell you, Pollyooly, that the female sex is one of the most remarkable phenomena that crawl about the earth!"
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in amiable assent
She did not resent the doubtful tribute to her sex; she did not understand it. That did not matter; often she did not understand the Honorable John Ruffin. None the less she did not doubt that he was right. She took the eager Lump up to their attic to give him his dinner.
She had barely reached their attic when there came the tramp of many feet on the staircase. The policeman, in a rapture at having something to do, was coming to express his disapproval of Pollyooly's startling activity; and some of the crowd came with him. He knocked; and the door was not opened to him. He had a short talk with the red-nosed besieger; then, apprised of the delicacy of the situation, he went away.
The red-nosed man did not. An hour after lunch the Honorable John Ruffin grew tired of his own society, fetched Pollyooly and the Lump from their attic, and told them stories. He drew a keen pleasure from changing the grave and serious expression, which for the most part rested on Pollyooly's angel face, to a natural, careless, childlike gleefulness.
At six o'clock the red-nosed watcher on the threshold could no longer withstand the demands of his so long unslaked gullet, unslaked, that is, by anything more alluring that the water that flowed from the tap on the ground floor. With that thin beverage he had washed down the lunch of bread and cheese he had brought so snug and warm in the tail pocket of his morning coat. He heard the summoning, clear call of the beer; and he went.
The Honorable John Ruffin escaped swiftly but discreetly. Pollyooly scouted ahead of him, as far as Middle Temple lane. It was empty; and he hurried down it to breathe with relief the free air of the Thames Embankment. He did not return till the king's writ had gone to its well-earned rest.
At eight o'clock the next morning the red-nosed besieger was at his post, teeming with dogged resolution. But Pollyooly was careless of him; the Honorable John Ruffin now understood the diet of the Lump: she had explained it to him fully and at length. As soon as she had cooked his bacon, she made her jack-in-the-box exit from his chambers into those of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins; and the red-nosed watcher observed her passage in silence, but with a very gloomy eye.
When she carried in his breakfast, Mr. Gedge-Tomkins broke from his usual taciturnity, and asked her how the siege was progressing. Since his manly explosion of the morning before had disposed her to regard him with the kindliest favor, Pollyooly was affably open with him. She told him of the red-nosed besieger's dogged pertinacity, and how she had had to crawl along the roof from his attic to her own to get back to the Lump.
"You're not going to do that again to-day?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins sharply.
"No, sir. Mr. Ruffin is going to look after the Lum'—Roger, sir, and give him the right things to eat."
"The offshoots of the aristocracy are the curse of the professions," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with stern precision. "Why doesn't he pay his debts instead of looking after young children, an avocation for which he is entirely unqualified?"
"The Lump doesn't want much looking after, sir," said Pollyooly in a tone of apology.
"I do not like that red-nosed fellow. I believe he drinks," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins thoughtfully, with a gloomy frown.
"I shouldn't wonder, sir," said Pollyooly.
"When you're ready to go back to Mr. Ruffin's chambers, let me know. I will manage it for you," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a tone of gloomy menace which boded ill to the dogged Englishman.
"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly joyfully.
At ten o'clock she had finished her work in his rooms, and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins had finished his morning pipe, and was ready for the Courts.
He went to the window and shouted, "Ruffin! Ruffin!"
The Honorable John Ruffin put his head out of his window.
"If you'll stand at your door and be ready to let Mary Bride in, I think I can clear the dipsomaniac fellow off the landing," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
"Thank you—thank you very much," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins put on his wig and gown, and, followed by Pollyooly, went to his front door, flung it violently open, bounded heavily out on to the landing, and bellowed at the besieger: "Why are you loafing about on my half of the landing? I won't have it! Do you hear, you bottle-nosed ruffian! I won't have it!"
The morning nerves of the red- faced man jumped all ways at the shock, he bolted half-way down the flight of stairs, then turned to expostulate.
"You're on my half of the staircase now! Get off it!" bellowed Mr. Gedge-Tomkins; and Pollyooly passed quickly behind him into the Honorable John Ruffin's chambers.
The red-nosed, but dogged, Englishman uttered a short howl of grief at the sight; then he said: "Which is your 'alf, guv'nor?"
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins came down the staircase, his majestic presence nearly rilling it. "What's that to you, my man?" he bellowed. "Do you think I'm going to spend my day answering the questions of every idle loafer in London?"
The red-nosed man shuffled down the stairs before the majestic advance. There was nothing else to do. In a tweed suit Mr. Gedge-Tomkins filled most of the wide staircase; in his gown he filled all of it. The besieger did not go up the stairs till Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' majestic form had disappeared through the archway on the farther side of the King's Bench Walk. He was too busy shaking his fist at that spreading back and relieving his overburdened heart of the sentiments which oppressed it.
He returned to his post more dogged than ever; and thanks to the kindly offices of the vengeful Mrs. Meeken, who for a small, gin-procuring consideration, brought him beer in a jug, he was able to prolong his watch to the very hour at which the king's writ ceased to run.
But the Honorable John Ruffin and his household, entertaining one another in simple pastimes, were heedless of him. Both Pollyooly and the Lump came to consider a state of siege the most fortunate condition of life.
The next morning there was no red-nosed man. He had not appeared at ten o'clock. But the Honorable John Ruffin was not to be lured carelessly into the open.
"Will you go on a scouting expedition, Pollyooly?" he said.
Pollyooly opened her beautiful blue eyes in a mute question.
"Will you go and hunt the Temple carefully, and a little of Fleet Street, and see that the besieger is not lurking about? I'll mind the Lump—a girl scout should travel unhampered."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly eagerly; and she went quickly forth.
Now the absence of the red-nosed watcher on the threshold was brought about by the fact that the night before he had found awaiting him in his little Poplar home an imperative summons to visit Mr. Montague Fitzgerald at his private flat in Mount Street at nine o'clock that morning. He had made haste to obey the summons because Mr. Montague Fitzgerald added much, by his tips, to the salary which he received for plaguing his fellow creatures by the faithful discharge of the function of bailiff.
He found the money-lender grossly breakfasting on liver and bacon horribly fried in the same pan; and the money-lender greeted him with a black scowl, for he could not brook the law's delay when he was on the right side of it.
"Why hasn't the writ been served on that fellow Ruffin, Goole?" he said sharply. "Are you going to take a month or two about it? I got you appointed to the job, though it's off your usual beat, because I thought I could rely on you to be smart about it."
"There's no gettin' at 'im to serve it," said the dogged one doggedly.
"No getting at him? Nonsense! A careless young ass like that!" cried Mr. Montague Fitzgerald contemptuously.
The long pent-up emotion of the faithful Goole burst forth in an eloquently passionate, but husky, denunciation of the Honorable John Ruffin, Pollyooly, and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. In hoarse but rasping tones he related how they had so far foiled him.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald heard him to the end with close attention; then, frowning darkly, he said in a sinister tone, "The thing for you to do, Goole, is to pounce—pounce."
"But 'ow, guv'nor?" said the sorrowful Goole.
"I'll show you. I'll put you on to him," said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald with heartening confidence. "Your not going to the Temple this morning will put him off his guard. We shall catch him at once. It's a dead snip."
"Right, O guv'nor," said the bailiff hopefully.
Mr. Montague Fitzgerald handed him over to his man, with instructions that he was to have beer, and once more addressed himself grossly to his liver and bacon. After his breakfast he smoked much of a large, thick, black cigar; and then, his heart aglow at the prospect of not only himself worsting the man who had not paid him sixty per cent., but also of witnessing his discomfiture, he drove to the Law Courts with Goole. He had reckoned without Pollyooly.
Pollyooly came forth from the chambers of the Honorable John Ruffin fully alive to the seriousness of the mission with which she was charged. None the less, after a while she could not help feeling that it was one of the most interesting and amusing games of hide-and-seek she had ever played. She peeped round corners before turning them; she ran swiftly through archways and out of passages in hope to surprise the enemy slinking out of sight. She found no red-nosed man, or, to be exact, no red-nosed man she sought, in the Temple; and Fleet Street was also free from him. She slipped across the road and peered into the great hall of the Law Courts. There stood the red-nosed besieger; and beside him shone Mr. Montague Fitzgerald. They were on the lookout for a tall figure in wig and gown, not for a slip of a child in a blue frock; and their eager, expectant eyes missed her. She ran quickly back to the Temple with her information.
The Honorable John Ruffin sang a cheerful little song as he put on a morning coat and a silk hat; then he said: "I'm going, Pollyooly, in search of an uncle—a rich uncle. I must have a rich uncle somewhere; and I will find him; for I feel that this siege is wearing you out, that you are on the way to a nervous breakdown."
"Oh, I don't mind it at all, sir," said Pollyooly cheerfully. "I like it."
"So much excitement is bad for one so young," he said sententiously; and he departed gaily by the Tudor Street entrance.
Pollyooly put their dinner into Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' kitchen, and took the Lump to the Embankment Gardens for fresh air and exercise. It was well that she had taken precautions; for on her return she found the red-nosed man at his post. With an air of contemptuous dignity, Pollyooly led the Lump past him into Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' chambers.
The red-nosed besieger gazed at the closed door with a bitter scowl. He had waited for an hour in the Law Courts with a money-lender who as he waxed more and more impatient at the waste of a morning he would fain have spent fleecing the high-spirited youth of his adopted country, had waxed more and more bitter in his criticism of the incompetence of the salaried instruments of the Law.
Before he lost hope that the Honorable John Ruffin would fall into his hands, and departed to his congenial employment, he bade the exacerbated bailiff wait on him at his office at five o'clock that afternoon. He was of the opinion that by that hour his ingenious mind would have found the solution of this writ-serving problem.
At five o'clock, therefore, the bailiff presented himself to the money-lender; and the money-lender beamed on him with a proud smile.
"I've got it," he said with enthusiastic confidence. "It ain't often that the intelleck of Monty fails to do the trick when once it gets working. That little red-haired brat is our game. She has the key of Ruffin's door in her pocket. We take it from her—I'll lend you a 'elping 'and—you open his door and serve the writ; and there you are!"
"There may be trouble, guv'nor," said the red-nosed one doubtfully.
"Trouble? Trouble?" said the money-lender with a bright cheerfulness, slapping his pocket so that the money in it clinked. "There's no trouble—no serious trouble where those are, my boy."
The event proved him right. But then there is trouble and trouble.
The next morning when Pollyooly was ready to go to the chambers of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins she took a peep through the letter-box and saw that the red-nosed besieger had returned to his watch and was leaning against the banisters. She was not dismayed. It was all one to her blithe spirit whether she left the chambers of the Honorable John Ruffin in the manner of a jack-in-the-box or sedately. But she did not see Mr. Montague Fitzgerald, who was shining against the wall a few steps down the staircase.
She flattened herself against the oak; the Honorable John Ruffin made ready to snap to the inner door; she drew back the latch and sprang out with the opening oak. Then the red-nosed besieger stepped in front of her; and Mr. Montague Fitzgerald bounded up the stairs and caught her by the arm.
"The key! Give me Mr. Ruffin's key!" he cried in a tone of exultant triumph.
It was instinct which caused Pollyooly to kick him violently on the shins; but it was reason which caused her to grasp the gravity of the situation and scream with all the force of her young and healthy lungs.
She was half-way through the second scream when the door of both sets of chambers opened. The Honorable John Ruffin, emerging lightly, hit Mr. Montague Fitzgerald on the left side of the head with a force which would have driven him and Pollyooly right across the landing had not Mr. Gedge-Tomkins chanced at about the same instant to hit him on the right side of the head with a force that restored their equilibrium.
With a quiet, but thoroughly satisfied grunt, Mr. Montague Fitzgerald sat heavily down on the floor. The morning nerves of the red-nosed besieger again went jagged; and with a howl he bolted down the stairs as Pollyooly bolted through Mr. Gedge-Tomkins' door.
"She's all right! Get back, Ruffin, or you'll be writted!" cried Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
The Honorable John Ruffin got back, and slammed his oak.
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins bent down over the somewhat dazed money-lender, enveloped the scruff of his neck in his voluminous grip, jerked him painfully to his feet, marched him down the stairs, and handed him over to the policeman at the Tudor Street gate of the Temple. From there he accompanied them to the Police Station, and on behalf of Pollyooly preferred against him a charge of assault and battery. He left him there, still too dazed to make any defense, and returned to the Temple in majestic triumph.
The red-nosed besieger was not at his post; indeed he was still busy applying the balm of beer to his jagged nerves; and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins went into the Honorable John Ruffin's sitting-room. They held a conference of some length, and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins was apprised of the exact situation. They decided to press to the utmost the charge of assault against Mr. Montague Fitzgerald.
There was, however, no occasion to press it. That afternoon on his return from the Law Courts an extremely unpleasant looking person called on Mr. Gedge-Tomkins and declared himself to be Mr. Montague Fitzgerald's solicitor equipped with the powers of a plenipotentiary.
He was a smoothly spoken man, but quite frank and open. Indeed, he told Mr. Gedge-Tomkins that he would be quite frank with him. A prosecution for assaulting a child would be very painful to his high-spirited client, who abhorred above all things a reputation for harshness. Therefore he was prepared to withdraw the writ for the whole amount of the Honorable John Ruffin's Oxford debts, and let him continue to pay them by instalments. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins was no less frank; he was even brutal. He showed an entire lack of consideration for the fine feelings of Mr. Montague Fitzgerald, whom he called "that blackguardly shark," and in the end protracted the time of payment of the Oxford debts one-third, by the simple device of lessening each instalment by one-third.
That settled, he called in the Honorable John Ruffin and Pollyooly, and informed him of the arrangement he had made. The Honorable John Ruffin thanked him warmly for having handled his affairs in such a thoroughly satisfactory manner.
Then he turned to the lawyer and said:
"Fitzgerald's proposal is all very well for me; but where does Mary Bride here come in? It was she who was assaulted and battered."
"Mr. Fitzgerald commissioned me to offer her two pounds as a solatium," said the lawyer.
"Make it twenty," said the Honorable John Ruffin quietly.
"Twenty! But she was not really hurt!" cried the lawyer in a tone of horror.
"There is such a thing as nervous shock," said the Honorable John Ruffin coldly.
"I must say she doesn't look to me to be suffering from nervous shock," said the lawyer, peering at Pollyooly, with his little ferret eyes.
"Do you mean to say that you don't see how pale she is?" said the Honorable John Ruffin with some heat.
Apparently he had for the moment forgotten that there was never much color in Pollyooly's clear, pale cheeks, save on those rare occasions when she blushed.
"Very well; we'll make it twenty," said the lawyer in a tone of the bitterest pain.
Pollyooly smiled like a contented angel.