POLLYOOLY PLAYS THE CHANGELING
POLLYOOLY was very busy next morning. She arranged with Mrs. Brown that she should take charge of the Lump for two weeks at a pound a week, and also that she should act during that period as laundress to the Honorable John Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins.
Naturally, Mrs. Brown was exceedingly curious to know the reasons of Pollyooly's so sudden journey; but all she learned was that Pollyooly was going into the country to do something for a lady, and her mission was secret and might not be told.
"It's wunnerful how you do git jobs, Pollyooly," said Mrs. Brown in a marveling tone; and with that she let the matter rest.
At breakfast she recommended Mrs. Brown to the Honorable John Ruffin; and on that recommendation he accepted her.
But he shook his head and said sadly, "She will do her best, I've no doubt. But I dare not think of my bacon. I shall buy a calendar and mark off the days till your return."
After breakfast he said, "And now I'll go and break the news of your departure to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. I hope he will not weep, for I have read in many books that a strong man's tears are terrible."
"I don't think that Mr. Gedge-Tomkins will cry, sir," said Pollyooly hopefully. "I shouldn't think he ever cried."
"Let us hope not," said the Honorable John Ruffin gloomily. "But I shall cry. I shall cry on my bacon at breakfast to-morrow morning. I shall salt it with my tears."
"I've told Mrs. Brown how you like it done, sir," said Pollyooly.
"What is telling?" said the Honorable John Ruffin sternly. "Bacon-grillers are like poets—nascuntur non fiunt."
"It's only for a fortnight, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Only—ha, ha! Only!" said the Honorable John Ruffin in a deep, tragical voice.
He went into the chambers of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins and knocked at his sitting-room door. Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, in a gruff voice, bade him enter, and surveyed him, on his entrance, with cold, disapproving eyes.
"Good morning," said the Honorable John Ruffin in his most amiable tone. "I've arranged for Mary Bride to get away into the country for a fortnight. She's looking pale; and fresh air will do her good. I hope you don't mind. It was all arranged on the spur of the moment, and there was no time to consult you."
"M'm: what am I to do for a laundress?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins not at all ungraciously.
"Well, I have a very respectable woman coming in to look after me. She could do for you, too, if you like."
"Does she drink?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins quickly, as a vision of Mrs. Meeken rose before the eyes of his mind.
"Certainly not. She's the wife of a policeman," said the Honorable John Ruffin with decision.
"Is she? Then if you get a chance you might hint to her that I do not mind her drinking my whisky—in moderation—but I do object to her watering it," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins cynically.
"Certainly—certainly—I'll make it quite clear to her," said the Honorable John Ruffin readily.
"Right. And I'll pay half Pollyooly's trip," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins gruffly.
"Oh, a lady's paying all that," said the Honorable John Ruffin cheerfully. "It's very good of you not to put any obstacle in the way of her going."
"Not at all—not at all," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins gruffly.
The Honorable John Ruffin returned to his chambers and informed Pollyooly of his colleague's urbanity; and when she brought in his breakfast to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, she thanked him herself. He said that he hoped that the change would do her good; and as he was starting for the Law Courts, he gave her five shillings and gruffly bade her buy something useful with it.
Pollyooly was touched by this mark of his appreciation, for he had always been silent with her. She thought it well to take the money with her in case she should in some emergency need it.
At three o'clock that afternoon she took the Lump to Mrs. Brown and left him with her. It was indeed a wrench parting with him, for they had never before been separated for as long as four hours at a time since the day he was born. Though she knew that Mrs. Brown would look after him as the apple of her eye and she had no fears for his well-being, she came away from him with a very sad heart, hating the need to earn twenty pounds, which severed them. The shining vision of Eldorado was blurred.
At a quarter to six the Honorable John Ruffin set out to Waterloo Station. At five minutes to six the duchess arrived at his chambers, very anxious, nervous, excited. She walked up and down the room and at intervals she said, "Oh, I do hope he won't make a mess of it!… I hope nothing's going wrong!… That clock in the tower there moves slower than any clock I ever saw!"
Pollyooly, confident of the wisdom and resource of the Honorable John Ruffin, stood at the window, unruffled and serene.
She was very patient with the excited duchess, and at intervals she said, "Mr. Ruffin is sure to bring her."
In her heart of hearts she was wishing that he might make a mess of it. She would lose the twenty pounds indeed; but she would not be parted from the Lump.
Then at a quarter past six a taxicab came fast along Paper Buildings; and in it she saw the Honorable John Ruffin and a little girl.
"Here they are, ma'am," she said in a tone of resignation.
The duchess rushed to the window, saw the Honorable John Ruffin and Lady Marion descend from the taxicab, and ran half-way down the stairs to meet them.
Then Pollyooly's double came into the sitting-room, and the two children stared at each other seriously, with the keenest curiosity.
At once the Honorable John Ruffin set them side by side to assure himself of the likeness.
"By Jove, it's wonderful!" he cried. "Wonderful!"
The likeness was wonderful. By some curious freak of nature, Marion was Pollyooly's double. She was the same length, breadth, and thickness; she carried herself in the same fashion; she had Pollyooly's red hair to a shade; she had her white skin and blue eyes; she had her delicate features. It was only when you looked at her closely that you perceived that she was but an inferior copy of Pollyooly. Her hair lacked the luster of Pollyooly's; it was duller and less abundant. Her skin was not of so fine a texture as Pollyooly's, and lacked its translucence. Her eyes were blue, but not of the intense deep blue of Pollyooly's. Her features were like, but Nature had molded them with a clumsier hand, and she lacked wholly Pollyooly's angelic expression. But you could only see these differences by a close scrutiny of the children together. Take either of them apart, and she was Pollyooly, or Lady Marion Ricksborough, according as you found her in the King's Bench Walk or at Ricksborough Court.
Having once satisfied themselves of the likeness, the Honorable John Ruffin and the duchess lost no time. With the duchess as maid, the children had exchanged every stitch of their clothing in less than five minutes. Then Pollyooly was truly Lady Marion Deeping, and Marion was Pollyooly; there was no doubt about it. The duchess kissed Pollyooly, and wished her good luck. The Honorable John Ruffin hurried her down the stairs, out of the Temple into Fleet Street, into a taxicab, and they drove off to Waterloo.
As the cab started he said, "Everything has gone right so far. All you've got to do at the station is to stand still, and a policeman will recognize you and take you to Mrs. Hutton. Mrs. Hutton's your maid—you'll call her 'Hutton.' Then you understand what you've got to do is to sit tight, and let the other people do the talking."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Marion's a fairly silent child, I believe, so no one will notice any change," he said thoughtfully. "And if she isn't there, as a test, they'll hardly see that she has suddenly—very suddenly—grown much better looking."
"No, sir," said Pollyooly.
"But of course you won't be able to keep silent all the time; and when you do have to speak, give yourself airs—plenty of airs. Remember that you're no longer my housekeeper, but Lady Marion Ricksborough," he said earnestly.
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly firmly.
"In fact be what you are—a red Deeping. Be a scarlet Deeping, if you can."
"Yes, sir; I will. I—I—should like to," said Pollyooly with a resolute smile.
"That's the right spirit," he said in a tone of warm approval. "And about getting away. I'll meet you at half-past two at the top of Ricksborough home-wood. You'll easily find out where that is. I shall wait till half-past four. If you're not there that day, I shall come the day after that and the day after that."
"I shall be there the first day, sir," said Pollyooly with a resolute air, thinking of the Lump.
"I think you will. But don't take any risks," he said, smiling at her. "And one last word: make the best of the country and the fresh air, and put on weight."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
Half-way between Waterloo Bridge and the station he stopped the cab, and they got out of it. She walked on, and he followed her, keeping twenty yards behind.
In this order they came into the station; and near the booking-office she stopped
She had stood there barely three minutes, when one of the railway policemen gazed at her earnestly, bounded up to her and cried, "Are you Lady Ricksborough—Lady Marion Ricksborough?"
"What business is it of yours?" said Pollyooly truculently. "Where's my maid—Hutton?"
"I beg pardon, your ladyship, but we've been 'untin' everywhere for your ladyship. If your ladyship will come to the superintendent's hoffices, you'll find your maid," said the policeman.
Pollyooly followed him haughtily.
As he entered the superintendent's office, he cried triumphantly, "I've found 'er! 'Ere she is!"
Clerks sprang from their desks and gathered round her. The superintendent himself leaped lithely out of an inner office and asked her where she had been.
"Looking at London," said Pollyooly curtly.
Seeing that for a long while she had not set eyes on any portion of the earth's surface, this was literally true.
The policeman was despatched to the north station, whither Mrs. Hutton had repaired in the course of her search. The clerks gloated over Pollyooly with respectful admiration induced in them by her rank, then, they went back to their work. Pollyooly sat down and waited for her maid.
In a few minutes Mrs. Hutton, a buxom, round-faced woman of fifty summers, arrived, purple, flustered and vociferous. She enlarged on her terrors and exertions, on the fact that they had missed their train, on her ignorance of what his grace would say when he heard of his daughter's escapade. Then she inquired what Pollyooly had been doing during the half-hour that she had been missing.
"Looking at London," said Pollyooly with cold curtness.
They had not long to wait for a train, and Pollyooly enjoyed the journey through the country exceedingly. She had not known how much she had been missing it during the two years she had lived in London. Once or twice, indeed, the prettier pieces of scenery were a little blurred by the tears which rose to her eyes. If only the Lump were with her.
Half-way to Ricksborough, Mrs. Hutton, who seemed to have at last recovered from the shock, told the entirely indifferent Pollyooly that if she behaved very nicely during the next three days, she would not tell the duke of her escapade at Waterloo. But had Pollyooly behaved like a Borgia during those three days, Mrs. Hutton would not have told of it, for she would have got into serious trouble herself for letting her charge give her the slip. Indeed, she would certainly have been discharged.
In this way it came about that neither the Duke of Osterley nor Lady Salkeld, the widowed sister who kept house for him, knew that there had been any break in the continuity of their possession of Marion; and Miss Marlow, Marion's governess, enjoyed an equal ignorance.
Pollyooly enjoyed the drive in the motor-car from the station to the court even more than the railway journey. But for all her wonted courage, she went up the broad steps and into the great hall on faltering feet.
Only a butler and footman were in it; and they looked at her with careless eyes. If they had been men of any observation, they would have been surprised by the behavior of the half-dozen dogs of different sizes which were in the hall. They all came forward to greet Pollyooly, but they greeted her with the cautious sniffs of investigators, rather than with the tail-waggings of intimate friends. Fortunately, neither the butler, nor the footman, nor Mrs. Hutton, were observant persons.
Pollyooly seemed in no hurry to go to her own suite of rooms, and that vas hardly to be wondered at, since she did not know that she had a suite of rooms to go to, much less where it was. She lingered till Mrs. Hutton had given the butler her impressions of the condition of London that day, then she followed her up-stairs, and without knowing it, that good woman acted as guide to that suite.
There, in her sitting-room, Pollyooly found Miss Marlow, her governess—a mild and sentimental-looking lady of thirty-five—who greeted her tepidly, and enlarged on the discomfort of a journey to London on such a hot day. Mindful of the advice of the Honorable John Ruffin, Pollyooly let her talk, an exercise to which she seemed not at all disinclined.
Pollyooly escaped from her presently, and went out into the gardens, where she would have been entirely happy but for the thought that the Lump was not there to share her pleasure. She wandered about them, full of delight and admiration. Three dogs, of shapes strange to her, joined her and accompanied her on her wanderings.
Later, a footman summoned her in to her supper, and at the summons she realized that she had already derived a very keen appetite from the country air. The three dogs, who had been growing more and more respectful and friendly, accompanied her to her suite of rooms.
Miss Marlow was awaiting her, and at the sight of her following she said in some surprise, "Why, I thought you didn't like dogs, Marion."
Pollyooly hesitated a moment, then she said, "I've changed my mind."
Miss Marlow graced the meal with a gentle flow of conversation, in which she did not seem to expect Pollyooly to take any active part. Pollyooly confined herself to saying "yes," or "no," when Miss Marlow paused.
It seemed to her, indeed, that conversation at such an excellent meal, with foods so varying and so appetizing to tax her powers of appreciation, was somewhat superfluous.
She went to bed soon after supper and was up and out betimes. She left the trim gardens for the home-wood, and was happier than ever exploring it. Five dogs accompanied her, and fortunately the keepers had gone home to breakfast. Hunger informed her of her own breakfast-hour; she breakfasted with Miss Marlow, and made a hearty and delicious meal. Never before had it fallen to her lot to spread jam on her bread and butter, as much jam as ever she wanted—and such jam. Miss Marlow had indeed reason to remark on the excellence of her appetite.
At ten o'clock lessons began, and there Pollyooly made her first slip. She had passed all seven standards at the Muttle-Deeping school, and it never occurred to her that the daughter of a duke would not possess the learning she had acquired. She astonished Miss Marlow by a display of knowledge for which there was really no accounting. Fortunately, Miss Marlow was not intelligent, and she set down this sudden advance to some unexpected and, indeed, uncommon development of her charge's intellect. But her astonishment warned Pollyooly of her mistake, and she proceeded to move along the path of learning at a much slower pace.
After lessons she went for a walk with Miss Marlow and six dogs. The dogs relieved the dullness of Miss Marlow's vapid, but unceasing, talk. Pollyooly lunched with Lady Salkeld, who greeted her with a tepidness like Miss Marlow's, and since some friends had motored over to lunch, paid no more attention to her. Pollyooly was relieved by this lack of attention; it enabled her to devote all her mind to the food and her table manners, which, thanks to her Aunt Hannah's acquaintance with customs of the great, were good enough to pass muster. Tea and supper she took with the unobservant Miss Marlow in her own sitting-room. She went to bed that night with an easy mind; so far, she was sure, no suspicion whatever that she was a changeling had entered any one's mind.
The next day, also, nothing occurred to disquiet her. It was not unnatural, for the last thing that would occur to any one was that nature had been peculiarly prolific of Lady Marion Ricksborough. Besides, no one had been greatly interested in Marion. It was not as if she had been a boy and heir to the dukedom. Pollyooly began to understand that her double had led a somewhat lonely life.
This general lack of interest in her made her task much easier: none the less, it was a difficult one for a child of twelve. There were so many things to learn—the names of the dogs and the servants, of Lady Salkeld's cats; her way about the court; the places in which Marion kept her possessions. She had to learn them without letting any one of the family or the servants perceive that she was learning them. The need for perpetual wariness was trying.
Now and again, of course, in spite of the faithfulness with which she followed the instructions of the Honorable John Ruffin to let other people do the talking, she did make a slip, displaying an ignorance of some familiar fact which should have astounded those about her. It was fortunate, indeed, that she had to do with unobservant persons. The servants were her chief danger; and she felt it. By the circumstances of their life they had to be more observant. But with them the Honorable John Ruffin's other injunction to be a red Deeping and give herself airs, stood her in good stead. They, too, were not interested in Marion, and though they noticed this change, it was not of a kind to awake their suspicions. With them Pollyooly was at times almost truculent.
More than once, in the secrecy of the housekeeper's room, Mrs. Hutton said gloomily: "I don't know what's come to that there Marion. She's taken to giving herself such airs that there's no doing anything with her. The way she orders me about, she might be twenty."
"Lady Marion's a red Deeping; and they're like that. And, what's more, she's getting to the age when it comes out," said the housekeeper sagely.
In spite of the trying need for continuous wariness, Pollyooly was enjoying her stay in the country beyond all words. Her pleasure was only marred by the frequent thought that the Lump was not with her to share it; the desire for him was persistent. She would have liked also a companion of her own age; but the dogs proved fairly efficient substitutes. They attached themselves to her to a dog. Firmly and with devotion, big dogs and little dogs, they accompanied her on all her excursions.
They were not, indeed, welcome in the woods, and were the occasion of her displaying her best red Deeping manner to an under-keeper, who had the fond idea that so much noise was not good for his sacred, but nesting, pheasants.
Pollyooly felt very strongly that it was the inalienable right of a daughter of a duke to disturb nesting pheasants if she wanted to; and before she had done with him, the keeper felt it too. The feeling that she was the daughter of a duke was growing on her and changing her. Before coming to Ricksborough Court she had always been able, without an effort, to assume a most truculent air; but for the most part, she had looked a gentle, angel child. Now though she remained the angel child, under the influence of the excellent food and fresh air, she was growing the angel child with an air of serene confidence in herself and her destiny.
It was on the fifth day of her stay that a new disquieting figure, the first real menace to her security, came to the court. The duke was to arrive at four o'clock; and Mrs. Hutton dressed Pollyooly in a somewhat too elaborate frock of amber silk to have tea with him and Lady Salkeld.
When Pollyooly came into the drawing-room, she found not only the duke, but also his nephew and heir, Lord Ronald Ricksborough, a dark, good-looking boy of fourteen, of an almost girlish delicacy of complexion. The duke, a dapper little thin-lipped man of thirty-five with a small, unhappy drab mustache with which he for ever fidgeted, gave her an indifferent glance and protruded two limp fingers. Pollyooly shook them gingerly. Ronald shook hands with her in a somewhat perfunctory and condescending fashion.
Then another new-comer, a fox-terrier, came forward and sniffed at her skirts with an air of inquiring doubt.
Their elders, who were talking to one another, did not observe it; but Ronald said in a tone of great astonishment, "Why, what's the matter with Wiggs? He's pretending he doesn't know Marion."
It seemed to Pollyooly that now, if ever, was the time for airs; she drew herself up and said scornfully: "He's a silly dog."
"That he isn't! He's one of the most intelligent dogs in the world; and you know it as well as I do," said Ronald hotly.
"He's not intelligent now, anyhow," said Pollyooly coldly.
"He must be kidding," said Ronald; but he looked with a puzzled air from Wiggs to Pollyooly and from Pollyooly to Wiggs.
Pollyooly felt that she would have to be very careful indeed in his presence, and she made up her mind to have as little to do with him as possible. At tea she only gave the shortest answers to his questions, and seemed to be sulking. After tea she changed her frock and slipped away to the home-wood.
But she soon learned that it would be difficult to avoid him, for he took his breakfast, tea and supper with her and Miss Marlow; and at lunch he sat beside Pollyooly.
To remain silent was foreign to his nature, and she found his talk awkward to deal with, for it was full of allusions to events which had happened during his last holidays in which they had both taken part. Sometimes she extricated herself successfully from her difficulties; sometimes she did not. He fell into the way of regarding her with a puzzled air which sometimes disquieted her exceedingly.
One morning at breakfast, after one of her failures, he said to Miss Marlow: "Marion's memory's getting jolly bad."
"Then it's like your manners," said Pollyooly, exercising the somewhat dangerous gift of retort she had acquired during her two years' residence in Alsatia.
"Now last holidays you'd never have said a thing like that. You weren't a bit cheeky," said Ronald; and he looked at her with the disquieting, puzzled air.
"Cheeky yourself," said Pollyoofy with some heat.
"I think you've changed tremendously," said Ronald. "Don't you think she's changed, Miss Marlow?"
"I think her intelligence is improving," said Miss Marlow.
"I don't think it's only that," said Ronald doubtfully. "She looks different. Her skin is clearer and her eyes are bluer."
"We all change," said Miss Marlow sapiently.
Pollyooly said nothing.
She grew more and more alive to her danger, and she found him more and more difficult to avoid. The fancy took him, in default of other companionship, to spend more and more of his time with her; and the fancy was much strengthened by her plain desire that he should do nothing of the kind. That desire also surprised him, for he had been used to regard Marion as a respectful admirer. Pollyooly could not indeed make it as clear as she would have liked, that she did not desire his companionship; her natural politeness forbade it.
It was not only the danger that made her shun him, it was also her deeply ingrained distrust of boys in general. To her they were a savage tribe, who pulled your hair when you were not looking, or when you were: a tribe which rudely called you "Ginger."
As she came to see more of Ronald she was greatly surprised to find that he lacked the barbarous hair-pulling habit. To her even greater surprise, he was most of the time courteous. She was the less surprised therefore to find herself, at the end of a couple of days of his society, regarding an indubitable boy with approval, even with liking. She began to find the task of deceiving him not only trying but also somewhat ungrateful.
For his part, he was most agreeably surprised by the changes in his cousin. She had acquired an untiring activity which she had before utterly lacked; she displayed a very quick and observant intelligence; she entered into all his pursuits, except riding, with a zest which made her an admirable comrade.
But for all Pollyooly's wariness, when they were together, Ronald's face was never for long free from its puzzled air. She could not help the occasional display of an astounding ignorance. Above everything the changed behavior of the dogs puzzled him.
One day he said, "It's no good. I can't understand these dogs. You used to say that you didn't like dogs; but the thing was that the dogs didn't like you. They didn't find you sporting enough."
"Well, now they do. We all change: Miss Marlow said so," said Pollyooly quickly.
"Yes, but such a change in such a little time. You were quite different last time I was here," said Ronald, frowning.
Pollyooly said nothing. She seemed quite uninterested in the matter.
"And there are the other things," said Ronald, looking at her with an almost worried air.
Pollyooly did not ask what they were; her limpid blue eyes were scanning the surrounding country.
Sometimes he would deliberately set a trap for her and as often as not he caught her. His suspicions grew and grew, but he did not confide them to any one. Even if he had been willing to get Pollyooly into trouble, as he was not, he was very strongly of the opinion that all the grown-ups would laugh at him for such suspicions. After all, that Marion should be some one else was incredible.
Then he attained certainty. One afternoon they had wandered into a part of the estate new to Pollyooly, and they came out of a wood to see on the hillside, half a mile away, a windmill with whirling sails.
"Whatever's that?" cried Pollyooly, startled out of her caution by the sight. There had been no windmills in the country round Muttle-Deeping.
"Whatever's what?" said Ronald.
"That thing turning round," said Pollyooly, pointing to the windmill.
"That settles it," said Ronald, throwing himself down on the turf. "If you were Marion, you'd have seen that windmill a dozen times and the windmill at Wootton a hundred times. You didn't know that it was a windmill; you're not Marion."
Pollyooly opened her mouth to declare that she was Marion, but shut it without uttering a word. Thanks to her strict training, it was always hard for her to lie; she found it almost impossible to lie to Ronald.
She looked round the landscape rather wildly, seeking inspiration; then she said: "Well, something must have gone wrong with my memory."
"Rats! You're not Marion, and it's no good pretending you are—to me. Who are you?" said Ronald firmly.
Pollyooly said nothing; she scowled horribly at the innocent windmill.
"Now, out with it. If you tell me straight away I won't split. I give you my word," said Ronald earnestly.
Pollyooly shook her head; but her puckered brow smoothed a little.
"Now, come on. What's the good of keeping a secret which isn't a secret?" said Ronald, in a tone half pleading, half commanding.
"It all comes of not letting you do all the talking. But it was so sudden—that thing going round," said Pollyooly ruefully. "You won't really tell any one?"
"Not a soul," said Ronald.
"Well, I can't tell you who I am, because I mustn't; but I'm not Marion. I'm only here in her place for a while."
"Where is she?" said Ronald.
"I don't know where she is; but she has run away with her mother—ever so far—where they'll never, never be found. I'm just staying here till they've got there safely."
"By Jove, but this is a game! It's like a story in a book. You do have luck," said Ronald enviously.
"Yes; but it isn't very comfortable—sometimes. I'm always being afraid of being found out," said Pollyooly.
"Oh, there's no fear of that—not here. They're not sharp enough," said Ronald with a touch of contempt in his tone.
"No, they're not very sharp," assented Pollyooly in a tone of satisfaction. "It's a good job they're not."
"No; it took me to find it out," said Ronald with pardonable self-satisfaction.
"And the windmill," said Pollyooly.
"Oh, I should have found it out without the windmill," said Ronald confidently.
"Perhaps you would," said Pollyooly politely.
"Really, I knew it all the time—only it was so extraordinary," said Ronald.
He lay still gazing at her for a while; then he said reflectively: "Well, I'm glad that kid has got away to her mother. She was rather a rotter, and I never cared much for her, though I believe I'm going to marry her when we grow up. She had a poor time here."
"Fancy having a poor time in a beautiful place like this! She must have been silly!" cried Pollyooly in amazement.
"I said she was rather a rotter. But what am I to call you? I'm not going to call you Marion. She's rather set me against the name."
Pollyooly considered a while. It seemed safe to impart her Christian name, and she told him that it was Mary, adjuring him not to call her by it before any one.
"No fear," he said. "And if I did, they'd never notice. Why, they never noticed that you were worth two of Marion, and ever so much prettier."
"Am I?" said Pollyooly with some gratification.
"Now, it's nothing to get vain about; you can't help it," said Ronald in an admonitory tone.
"I'm not going to," said Pollyooly firmly.
"It's a funny thing that when you grow up you never seem to notice anything. You'd have thought that somebody would have spotted you," he said meditatively.
"They don't notice much," said Pollyooly.
"It's often a jolly good thing they don't," said Ronald smiling.
He went on to inquire about her plans; and his face fell when he learned that she was only going to stay a few days longer. He begged her to stay till the end of his holidays, pointing out that it would make it much safer for Marion if she did. But Pollyooly assured him that that was the term fixed; and in her heart of hearts she would not have had it longer. Pleasant as the court was, she wanted to get back to the Lump. Her uneasy feeling that it was not right that she should be having this splendid time in the country while the Lump was in stuffy London, was growing stronger and stronger, though not strong enough to prevent her enjoying it.
Ronald's discovery made it even more pleasant, for it set them on far more intimate terms with each other as sharers of a great secret. He was no longer condescending with her; he felt that the fact that she was playing the chief part in such a difficult game relieved her to a great degree from the disability, under which she suffered, of being a girl.
Now, too, that she no longer needed to be so much on her guard, she talked to him more freely, and proved so lively and sympathetic a companion that he found his ideas on the subject of girls changing utterly. They became the closest of comrades, inseparable. Miss Marlow was deeply, romantically touched by the fact that so early in life such a warm sympathy prevailed between two beings who were destined later to be welded together by the marriage bond.
Naturally, when the morning of the fatal day of parting arrived, they were both sad. Quite unconsciously they spent it in a pilgrimage to the haunts in which they had most enjoyed themselves. At the end of the morning they were coming along one of the shrubberies toward the house when the lunch-bell rang.
Pollyooly stopped short and said:
"We'd better say good-by now. I've got to slip away directly after lunch. You'd better not see who I go with in case it's found out some day, and you're asked questions."
"I suppose I'd better not," said Ronald, and he put his hands in his pockets and kicked at the gravel.
They gazed at each other awkwardly; then he said, "Well, you're the jolliest kid I ever came across."
"I didn't know boys could be as nice as you," said Pollyooly with conviction.
There was another rather awkward silence; then, with a determined, almost heroic air, Ronald stepped forward, put his arm clumsily round Pollyooly's shoulders, and kissed her full on the lips.
They both gasped and flushed; then with one accord they turned and walked quickly toward the house, saying nothing, looking shamefaced.
On the top of the steps Pollyooly paused and said softly, "Good-by, Ronnie."
"Good-by, old girl," said Ronald.
The food at lunch did not taste to her as nice as usual, though there was really no fault to find with her appetite. Ronald wore a gloomy air, and was captious with Lady Salkeld. As soon as lunch was over Pollyooly went up to her bedroom and changed into the frock and hat and shoes in which she had come to the court. Then, avoiding the servants, she slipped out of the house by a side door into one of the long shrubberies. Once screened by it, she ran swiftly along it, and then up the sloping lawn to the gate of the home-wood.
At the gate of the wood she turned for a last look at the court and saw Ronald standing on the lawn before the drawing-room windows, with his hands in his pockets, gazing up at her. She waved her hand to him and he waved his. Then she went through the gate to the wood. She did not find breathing quite easy for a minute or two, and the aisle of the wood was a little blurred to her vision; but of course she did not cry.
She went swiftly through the wood. As she came out of the gate at the end of it the clock over the stables of the court struck half-past two; and thirty yards down the road a motor-car was coming slowly up to the gate.
The Honorable John Ruffin, masked by his goggles, was driving it, and on the seat beside him, placid and serene, sat the Lump. At the sight of him Pollyooly gave a little cry, rushed down the road, sprang into the car, caught him up and kissed and hugged him furiously.
The Honorable John Ruffin smiled and said, "I thought you'd be dying to see him. But take him into the tonneau, and put on the goggles and the cloak on the seat. Cover your hair with the hood."
Pollyooly made haste to transfer herself and the Lump to the tonneau and slip on the hooded cloak and the goggles.
"You'll do. No one will recognize us," said the Honorable John Ruffin, and he set the car going.
For a long time Pollyooly was busy with the gurgling Lump, assuring herself that he had not suffered for lack of her care, trying to ascertain the degree of his joy at being restored to her. At last she settled back in the tonneau with a sigh of content. It had been hard to leave the court, but after all the Lump was the Lump.