Pollyooly/Chapter 3


 

CHAPTER III

POLLYOOLY VINDICATES HER PERSONAL HUMAN DIGNITY


AS he devoured his bacon next morning the Honorable John Ruffin gazed at the angel face of Pollyooly with a warmer approval than ever.

Presently he said, "By the way, Mrs. Bride, in the stress and turmoil of our negotiations I forgot to congratulate you on the readiness and resource you displayed yesterday morning."

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in polite but somewhat doubtful assent, for she did not know with any exactitude what either readiness or resource was.

"Yes, you screamed," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "You screamed splendidly."

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in a somewhat perplexed tone, for she had never associated a scream with any kind of splendor.

"Ah, I see that you don't appreciate the admirable nature of your own action. It must have been instinctive," he said gravely; then he added in his most impressive tone: "But remember, Pollyooly, that a woman's chief armor is her scream never forget that."

"No, sir," said Pollyooly, properly impressed.

"A woman's chief weapon of offense is her tears—and deucedly offensive they are. Her chief armor is her scream. Bear that in mind always; and the world will hold no terrors for you," he said again impressively.

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.

The Honorable John Ruffin returned to his bacon with the profound air of satisfaction of a sage who has just conferred upon the world a boon of priceless wisdom.

Pollyooly carried an armful of scattered garments into his bedroom, pondering his words of wisdom with extreme gravity.

The next morning there came to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins her check for twenty pounds from Mr. Montague Fitzgerald.

When she brought in his breakfast he took the check out of its envelope and regarded her somberly; then he said in gloomy tones, "Here's your check for twenty pounds from that money-lending rascal. What are you going to do with it?"

Pollyooly looked at the slip of paper in some bewilderment, for it was probably the first time in her life she had ever given any attention to a check, if, indeed, she had ever seen one before.

"Is it—is it twenty pounds, sir?" she said.

"Yes; it's an open check, and if you take it to the City of London Bank they will give you twenty pounds for it. It's a great deal of money for a child like you to have; and if you'd been properly brought up you'd have an account with the Post-Office Savings Bank, and put it into it," he said gloomily.

"I was properly brought up!" cried Pollyooly with some heat. "Mrs. Brown always says that Aunt Hannah brought me up ever so properly. And I have a Post-Office Savings Bank book."

"Oh, you have, have you?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a tone of considerable surprise, for he still cherished his unfavorable opinion of Pollyooly's character.

"And there's more than two pounds in it," said Pollyooly.

"Um. Well, if you pay that check into it you'll have more than twenty-two pounds in it," he said with a complete freedom from gloom. "I'll tell you what, I'll go with you to the post-office on my way to the Courts and see you pay it in. They may be rather surprised that so young a child should pay so large a check as twenty pounds."

"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly.

Pollyooly fetched her bank-book and trotted along beside the far-striding Mr. Gedge-Tomkins to the post-office. He explained to her that she had to indorse the check by writing her name on the back of it, and saw it safely paid in. Pollyooly thanked him politely, and returned to the Temple with the air of a plutocrat. Mr. Montague Fitzgerald had lifted the burden from her spirit. Of the many actions of his busy life few were noble, more were in the High Court; and it is to be regretted that he did Pollyooly this service with such a bitter reluctance. He had written the check with tears in his eyes.

Had she known this, it is to be doubted that Pollyooly would have been deeply moved; she was too full of joy at her relief from her worst care. Should her work suddenly cease, the Post-Office Savings Bank stood as a firm barrier between the Lump and the workhouse for the best part of a year; one British institution counteracted another. She moved about the world a blither creature.

It was perhaps owing to this blitheness that one afternoon some ten days later she lapsed for a few minutes from the high dignity she had prescribed for herself as fitting the housekeeper of the Honorable John Ruffin. It was a high and fine dignity; she always walked sedately; she even walked up Alsatia without the truculent swagger she had been wont to assume, when she went to visit Mrs. Brown; she shunned her old Alsatian acquaintances; she never ran nowadays save when she forgot herself.

After their dinner that afternoon she mended a rent in the Lump's frock with neatness and expedition, for not only had she passed at Muttle-Deeping school the seven standards Great Britain sets before its young, but also she had occupied a high place in a sewing class. Then they sallied forth to take the air in the gardens on the Thames Embankment.

But as they went out of the Tudor Street gate, the dulcet strains of a barrel-organ fell on their ears; and half-way up Alsatia they saw the usual far-too-intelligent-to-work alien grinding out the opera of the poor. The music was too much for Pollyooly's dignity; it was too much for her years. She gave the Lump into the care of a somewhat black Alsatian maiden and joined the dancing children.

She danced lightly, with a natural grace and a delightful abandon. She danced with a spirit so entranced that she did not notice the presence of the big man with the sombrero hat and the mop of curls till she stopped to take breath, and he was patting her on the back.

"What did I tell you, James?" he cried in a ringing, sonorous voice to the slight, keen-eyed man who was with him. "I have always said that the fairies have migrated to the slums because only there can they find that atmosphere of the vivid joy of life in which alone they can live."

"Vivid joy of grandmother!" said Mr. James unsympathetically.

"But here—here in Alsatia we have seen a fairy dance," cried the big man with a loudness little short of roaring.

"You idealists!" said Mr. James in a scoffing tone.

"You moderns! You disgusting moderns!" cried the big man indignantly. "What's your name, little girl?"

"Pollyooly, sir," said Pollyooly, dropping a curtsey, like the well-mannered child she was; and she took the Lump's hand.

"Pollyooly, the Queen of the slum fairies," said the big man. "Well, I want a model for a set of fairy stories I'm illustrating; and you're the very model I want. Will you sit for me? You understand? I want to draw you."

"Would it take long, sir?" said Pollyooly, politely ready to oblige him.

"Three hours a day for about a month. I'll pay you a shilling an hour."

Pollyooly's eyes sparkled; the very mines of Golconda opened before them. Then her face fell; and she said, "But I have to look after the Lump—my little brother here."

"Bring him with you; he can play about the studio—it's large enough," said the big man; and he stooped and looked at him. "By Jove, it's a cherub—a genuine cherub. Look, James: did you ever see a finer cherub? Look at his dimples," he cried.

"Why, he's clean!" said Mr. James with the liveliest surprise.

"The Lump's always clean, sir," said Pollyooly.

"There! He's always clean," cried the big man. "Will you be my model, little girl?"

Pollyooly considered for a moment: here was wealth indeed. Then she said loyally, "I could do it in the afternoon without interfering with my work, if Mr. Ruffin would let me; but I should have to ask him."

"Bother Mr. Ruffin!" cried the big man with tremendous impatience.

"Mr. Ruffin won't say 'no,' when he learns that it's eighteen shillings a week. He'll drown—in floods of unexpected beer," said Mr. James.

"No: he wouldn't! He's a gentleman. He lives in the Temple. I'm his housekeeper; and he doesn't drink beer. It isn't good enough for him," said Pollyooly with indignant heat.

"Oh, come: beer is good enough for any man," said the big man in a pained tone.

"It must be our friend the Honorable John," said Mr. James.

"So it must," said the big man. "But come along, little girl, let's go and have a drink and arrange things."

"You can't take these children into a pub," said Mr. James.

"That's it! That's it!" cried the big man furiously. "I find a fairy dancing in a slum; and I can't take her into a public-house to stand her a drink. What a country!"

"Better come to the Honorable John's rooms; and settle it with him," said Mr. James.

"He won't be in yet. He doesn't come in from the Law Courts till four; and then he has his tea and goes out again," said Pollyooly.

"Well, we'll call at four," said the big man.

"And please, I'd rather you didn't say you saw me dancing to that organ. Mr. Ruffin mightn't think it dignified; and I'm his housekeeper," said Pollyooly a little anxiously.

"There's a conspiracy! A conspiracy for the repression of fairies! I have always thought it; and now I know it. It's as plain as a pikestaff," roared the big man. "Ruffin is in it. He's the head of it. I've always suspected him. He represses fairies."

"All right, little girl. Your secret shall be preserved," said Mr. James. "Come on, Vance. Where shall we go for an hour?"

"I must have beer. I have been thrilled to the depths of my being by this amazing discovery. I must have lots of beer," cried the big man.

"All right. Only come along. You're collecting a crowd," said Mr. James, thrusting an arm through his and dragging him away.

Pollyooly took the Lump for his airing, and with an eager eye on the face of Big Ben, in the Clock Tower up the river, she dreamed the dreams of Alnaschar.

At a few minutes to four she returned to the Temple; and at four she admitted the big man and Mr. James into the chambers of the Honorable John Ruffin. Almost on their heels came the Honorable John Ruffin himself; and she followed him into his sitting-room.

At the sight of the big man he assumed swiftly a defensive air, raised his hand, and said sternly, "Now, do not gush upon me, Vance. I will not have it. An Englishman's house is his castle. Be moderate—be sane."

"Gush? I never gush!" roared the big man indignantly. "I have come for this little girl—for Pollyooly."

"You won't get her," said the Honorable John Ruffin with curt decision.

"I don't want her," said the big man. "At least I don't want to take her away from you. I want her to sit to me. I'm illustrating a set of fairy stories; and I must have her. She must sit for me. She's the one model in London—in England—in the world."

His voice rose to a bellow beside which the most wrathful trumpeting of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins would have sounded but as the cooing of a dove.

"An artist's model?" said the Honorable John Ruffin looking at Pollyooly with a pained air. "I once obliged a friend by sitting as model for a Roman patrician watching a gladiatorial show—a disreputable occupation—and I found it uncommonly dull and stiffening."

"Please, sir: it's a shilling an hour," said Pollyooly anxiously.

"Wealth—wealth beyond the dreams of avarice," said the Honorable John Ruffin, smiling at her. "You can do as you like, Mrs. Bride."

"Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly with shining eyes.

"But I observe that Mr. Vance calls you 'Pollyooly,'" he went on in a tone of cold disapproval. "This is to be too familiar on so short an acquaintance. We can not have that kind of thing. These artists are presumptuous fellows, Mrs. Bride. You must insist on being treated respectfully; the dignity of your position as my housekeeper demands it."

"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.

"Understand then, Vance, that to you Pollyooly is 'Mrs. Bride.' In my unbending moments I may call her Pollyooly! but you—never. The artist must keep his place," said the Honorable John Ruffin with an air of splendid hauteur.

"You swells! The airs you give yourselves!" roared Hilary Vance.

"I am one of the sixty thousand living Britons with Plantagenet blood in my veins; and we will now have tea," said the Honorable John Ruffin.

Over their tea they discussed the matter of Pollyooly's hours, and decided that from three to six she should sit to Hilary Vance. He instructed her very earnestly to come in the frock she was wearing and not in her best.

At two o'clock the next afternoon therefore she was at the Temple station, very eager to begin earning a shilling an hour. She took a half return ticket to Chelsea for herself, since the ingrained frugality of her mind impelled her to reckon herself under eleven for purposes of traveling by rail.

Hilary Vance welcomed her with loud enthusiasm to a large and lofty studio, of which the chief furniture was a line of canvases, ranged three and four deep, with their faces to the wall, along two sides of the room.

Pollyooly was soon posed in the required fairy-like attitude on a chair on a little dais at the end of the room; Hilary Vance fell to work; and the Lump, deserting the maneless, but wooden, horse which Pollyooly had brought for his entertainment, proceeded on a toddling tour of examination round this new and spacious chamber. He soon discovered that on the other side of the canvases were bright colors, and turned several of them over. Unfortunately each, like the floor and everything else in the studio, was covered with a thick layer of black dust; and as she saw him grow grimier and grimier, an expression of acute anguish deepened and deepened on Pollyooly's face.

At last Hilary Vance perceived it and said, "What's the matter, Pollyooly? Why are you unhappy?"

"Oh, sir, it is so dirty," said Pollyooly.

"What is so dirty?" said Hilary Vance in a tone of lively surprise.

"Everything," said Pollyooly.

Hilary Vance looked round the studio and the expression of surprise deepened on his face: "So it is," he said. "Curious—I never noticed it. Mrs. Thomas must neglect it."

"I expect she's an old woman who drinks," said Pollyooly thoughtfully, but with grave conviction.

"Now, that's an admirable description of Mrs. Thomas!" cried Hilary Vance in even greater surprise. "How on earth did you guess it?"

"They're generally like that, sir," said Pollyooly in the tone of one who has had wide experience. "Can I clean it after I've done sitting?"

"Robin Goodfellow and Titania in one," said Hilary Vance in a hushed voice. "Amazing! How unfortunate it is that Ruffin has already engaged you as his housekeeper! I have missed a chance—a great chance. If ever you find yourself unable to tolerate his unbearable airs of the aristocrat, come to me. Come at once."

"I shan't ever want to leave Mr. Ruffin, sir," said Pollyooly firmly.

"You can never tell. I find those airs very wearing; and when you do, come to me."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. And may I clean this room?" said Pollyooly, still heavily oppressed by its dirtiness.

"You shall," said Hilary Vance.

Soon after four he stopped working; Pollyooly washed the Lump in the bedroom adjoining the studio; and they had tea, a splendid tea of cakes and milk. Over it Hilary Vance returned to his theory that the fairies had migrated to the slums, and discoursed on it with a flamboyant enthusiasm which impressed but did not convince Pollyooly.

Alsatia had afforded her no evidence whatever of the truth of his theory.

After tea he worked again till a quarter to six; then he paid Pollyooly, went out, and left the studio to her ministrations.

She found brooms and brushes and dusters, all very dirty, in the very dirty little kitchen; and she was glad that Hilary Vance had required her to sit to him in her blue print working-frock. She swept and dusted with an eager vigor till half-past seven. For the last hour of her toil the Lump slept on Hilary Vance's bed.

When she had done she wrote a note to the artist, and set it on the mantelpiece. It ran:


"Please, Mr. Vance, the rugs ought to be taken outside and shook and the floor scrubbed."


Then, filled with a gratifying sense of having accomplished a meritorious task, she conveyed the sleepy Lump home.

The next afternoon Hilary Vance welcomed her buoyantly, his large face shining richly with a warm satisfaction.

"I had to be very firm with Mrs. Thomas; and I was," he cried with beaming pride. "The memory of your pained face, Pollyooly, nerved me to the manly effort; it spurred me on to the stern expression of human dignity. The woman collapsed before it—collapsed utterly. Do you always exercise this stimulating effect on human character?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," said Pollyooly, as ever polite before the incomprehensible.

The floor was still wet (far too wet, Pollyooly thought) from its scrubbing; the rugs had gone to the carpet-beaters; and Pollyooly sat and watched the exploring Lump wander about the transformed studio in peace. He could no longer acquire grime. For much of the afternoon Hilary Vance talked on in tones of triumph about his masterly handling of Mrs. Thomas; and that evening at the end of her sitting he gave Pollyooly eight shillings instead of three.

Pollyooly looked at the extra five shillings with her brow knitted in a perplexed frown and said, "Please, sir, you've given me too much."

"No: three shillings for sitting and five for cleaning," said Hilary Vance.

"Oh, but five shillings is ever so much too much for a little bit of work like that!" said Pollyooly.

"Not at all!" cried Hilary Vance. "Five shillings is really too little. There's not only the actual work; there's the invaluable moral effect on my character. I have learned that I can be firm with a woman. I am another, stronger man."

Against this view of her services Pollyooly could urge nothing. She did not know what to urge, since she had very little understanding of what she had done. She put the eight shillings in her pocket and thanked him warmly.

Henceforward she came every day at three to his studio; and every morning she added to the Savings Bank barrier between the Lump and the workhouse. Sometimes when she came she found Hilary Vance still working with another model, of the name of Ermyntrude, his morning model. She was a young woman of masterful air, a vinegarish aspect, a high color, and a most deplorable squint. Always she wore an execrable feathered hat even more deplorable than her squint. Hilary Vance was not using her as a model for the illustrations of the set of fairy stories. She posed to him for the illustrations of a very different set of stories, realistic slum stories. Either she ignored Pollyooly altogether, or gave herself insufferable airs. Pollyooly did not like her at all; she could not understand the satisfaction Hilary Vance drew from her; he hardly ever failed to say in tones of the warmest approval that she was an absolutely perfect type.

Sometimes a friend of Hilary Vance would come in and talk to him as he worked; but for the most part, Pollyooly sat for hour after hour in a quiet, untiring content. Sometimes Hilary Vance would ask her what she thought about. Sometimes she could tell him; sometimes she could not. She thought about so many things. Often she thought about her swelling bank account.

Then one afternoon he was surprised to observe a deep frown on her usually so serene brow.

"Hullo! Whatever's the matter? What are you thinking about, Pollyooly?" he cried in great surprise. "I was getting into the way of believing you to be the serene and ageless fairy, utterly free from all the cares which harass us common mortals. What is it? I must know. I insist on knowing."

Pollyooly flushed faintly and said, "Please, sir: it's Henry Wiggins. He—he bothers me."

"Who is Henry Wiggins? How dare he bother you? What does he do?" cried Hilary Vance in a terrible voice.

"Please, sir, he's a little boy who lives in the house we used to live in with Aunt Hannah. And when he sees me go out with the Lump he follows us and shouts Ginger at me because my hair is red."

"Monstrous! Monstrous!" cried Hilary Vance. "Why don't you smack him—hard?"

"I used to, sir," said Pollyooly in a tone of mournful regret. "But I can't do it any longer, now that I'm Mr. Ruffin's housekeeper."

"And why not?" cried Mr. Hilary Vance. "Who prevents you?"

"It's a position of dignity, sir. Mr. Ruffin said it was," said Pollyooly in an explanatory tone. "And it wouldn't do for me to smack Henry Wiggins now. Housekeepers aren't supposed to. I'm sure they're not."

Hilary Vance looked at her sadly and shook his head gloomily, "I'm afraid that association with that young aristocrat is corrupting you, Pollyooly."

"I'm sure it isn't!" said Pollyooly, in her indignant heat forgetting to be polite and say "sir."

"I'm a Socialist myself; and I'm thankful to say that I grow more and more class-conscious every day," said Hilary Vance still gloomily. "But if you feel it due to your personal human dignity to smack Henry Wiggins, you oughtn't to let your official dignity stand in your way."

"No, sir," said Pollyooly politely.

"The vindication of one's personal human dignity is the most important thing in life. You must resign!" he roared, warming to a sudden enthusiasm.

"What's that, sir?" said Pollyooly calmly.

She had grown used to his roaring enthusiasms. They no longer ruffled her serenity.

"You must give up being the Honorable John's housekeeper," he roared.

"Oh, I couldn't do that!" cried Pollyooly, startled. "How should we live, the Lump and me?"

"You—must—vindicate—your—personal—human—dignity!" roared Hilary Vance.

He laid down his pencil in order to punctuate each word by slapping his right hand down on his left. The action and the voice produced emphasis. Pollyooly gazed at him with calm eyes.

"You will find other work," he roared on a more gentle note. "I can not employ you myself because you will have left the service of John Ruffin by my advice; and it would not be friendly of me. The action would be open to misconstruction. But you will find other work—you are sure to." Pollyooly shook her head: "It would be very hard to do, sir," she said with the conviction born of experience. Then she added in a tone of finality, "Besides, it isn't only that—there's Mr. Ruffin's bacon."

"Bacon! Mr. Ruffin's bacon! What is bacon when personal human dignity is at stake?" roared Hilary Vance louder than ever.

"No one but me can cook it just as he likes it," said Pollyooly.

Hilary Vance raged and stormed for a while, for personal human dignity bulked enormous in his mind at the moment; but he could not dislodge Pollyooly from her inexpugnable position behind the bacon of the Honorable John Ruffin. He went on with his work growling, at first loudly then more quietly.

Pollyooly resumed her thoughtful meditation on Henry Wiggins.

Presently her face brightened.

"What is it? Have you decided to resign?" said Hilary Vance eagerly.

"No, sir. But I think I can see how to do it. Next time I come across Henry Wiggins, I'll pretend I'm not Mr. Ruffin's housekeeper for a bit—just till I've smacked him," said Pollyooly with an angel smile.

Hilary Vance stared at her; then he groaned, "Compromise—dastardly compromise! Oh, woman—woman!"

Pollyooly was not one to let grass grow under her feet, little likely as it was to make the attempt in the paved and macadamized King's Bench Walk; and that very evening she sallied forth to the encounter with Henry Wiggins.

As she had hoped, he was vociferous among his comrades in Alsatia, and he caught sight of her as she passed very slowly across the bottom of it. With a shrill yell of "Ginger!" he dashed in pursuit

Pollyooly quickened her steps, and she was just turning the corner of Temple Chambers, that short, quiet and empty street leading to the Thames Embankment.

He dashed after her with another yell of "Ginger!" and as he came round the corner, he saw her running down the street. Flight—flight on the part of Pollyooly—seemed too good to be true; and the street echoed and reechoed to his yells of "Ginger!"

She turned the right-hand corner of the Embankment. He bolted round it, and fetched up with a jerk that nearly brought both of them to the ground as the waiting Pollyooly sprang and gripped him by the hair.

He let out a yell of horrified surprise; and then the smacks came with all the righteous force of Pollyooly's vengeful arm. He kicked but feebly at her shins; but his howls of repentance were of the piercing kind which comes from the heart.

Pollyooly jerked his hair and smacked, and jerked and smacked till she could smack no more.

Then she flung the remorseful boy from her and said, "That will teach you to call me Ginger, Henry Wiggins."

She spoke with a certain lack of accuracy; but Henry Wiggins understood her. He would not call her Ginger for many days; and after that he would call her Ginger only from a safe distance. He would never again be lured to headlong pursuit.

Pollyooly walked down the Thames Embankment with the truculent swagger of the avenger who has vindicated his personal human dignity. But as she turned into the Temple her gait suddenly changed. It had become the gait of the perfect housekeeper. She had ceased pretending.