POLLYOOLY FINDS A CAREER
IT was nearly five o'clock before they reached the Temple; and the Honorable John Ruffin bade Pollyooly give the Lump his tea in the sitting-room that he himself might forthwith hear the story of her stay at Ricksborough Court. She was not long getting the tea and beginning her narrative.
The Honorable John Ruffin listened to her with a pleased smile till she came to Ronald's discovery of her secret; then he frowned and said, "That's awkward. It means that sooner or later they'll find out the trick we played on them; and then there'll be fine alarms and excursions."
"Oh, no, sir. They'll never find out. Ronald will never tell," said Pollyooly confidently.
"He won't mean to. But he's young," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
Pollyooly went on with her story; and when she came to the end of it, he congratulated her on the success with which she had played her difficult part. Then he said:
"And how did the people at the court strike you, Mrs. Bride—your revered, but temporary, sire, the duke, your amiable aunt, your intelligent governess, and the visitors?"
Pollyooly gazed at him earnestly and knitted her brow in the effort to get her impressions clear; then she said, "I thought they were very quiet, sir."
"Empty—quite empty," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"Yes, sir. That was it," said Pollyooly with an angel smile.
"Very different from Mr. Gedge-Tomkins talking to a common bailiff, or Mr. Vance talking about a new idea, or Mr. James talking to Mr. Vance about Mr. Vance's new idea? Eh?" he said smiling.
"Yes, sir; quite different," said Pollyooly.
"Ah, Mrs. Bride, I fear we are spoiling you for the common life. You will grow up to expect too much from your fellow-creatures—too many brains. However, it can't be helped," he said mournfully.
"No, sir. I don't mind, sir," said Pollyooly in a soothing tone.
"You're an obliging creature, Mrs. Bride," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
Next morning he seized his Morning Post with the liveliest interest; but there was no word of the vanishing of Lady Marion Ricksborough. For the next five mornings its columns were no less barren. Then on the sixth morning its personal column was headed by an advertisement from the duke's lawyers, offering five hundred pounds reward for information which would lead to her recovery.
When Pollyooly brought in his bacon, the Honorable John Ruffin said joyously, "Your revered, but temporary, sire, the duke, has put the fat in the fire with a lavish hand."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"He's offering five hundred pounds reward for your double; and he's going to have the time of his life with all the amateur detectives of England, Scotland, Ireland and gallant little Wales," said the Honorable John Rufrln with immense delight.
The duke had indeed opened the sluices; and since there was little doing at home or abroad,the newspapers took the matter up with fiery energy. Pollyooly's quiet feat gave the presses of the world columns upon columns of excited narrative and conjecture; it drew from them scores of pictures of the missing child and every person and place connected with her. The Honorable John Ruffin would read interesting, but perhaps fatuous, extracts to her as he ate his breakfast; and he brought her a collection of the illustrated weeklies that she might have the pictures of the affair.
Pollyooly was very pleased to have the pictures because many of them were of Ricksborough Court; but her interest in the matter soon waned. It was fortunate that only the cheaper illustrated papers circulated in Alsatia; and in those the portraits of Marion were unvarying and not to be recognized. Had the more expensive weeklies circulated in it, it is Lombard Street to a China orange that the solicitors of the Duke of Osterley would have had the vain task of investigating Pollyooly's past.
In nine days the clamor died down. The newspapers and the amateur detectives found other affairs no less important to the community; and the Honorable John Ruffin declared that the worst was over, that the only danger now was the splitting of Ronald, and that he thought that that, too, was past.
Pollyooly had settled down quietly to the even tenor of her life. She often thought of Ronald; she sometimes longed to be in the green coolness of the Ricksborough woods with the Lump. Then one afternoon she had just taken his tea to the Honorable John Ruffin and retired to the Lump in their attic, when there came a knocking on the door of the chambers. She went down and opened it; and there, on the landing, stood a dazzling vision—a lady in a confection of scarlet and yellow, in which only a beauty that was as dark and as brilliant as hers could dare to deck itself. So fine, however, was her coloring, so dark her eyes and hair, that even those primary colors seemed hardly to give them their full value.
She smiled with pleasure at the sight of Pollyooly's angel face, in its frame of red hair, and said in a delightful, eager voice:
"You're the little girl Mr. Hilary Vance, the painter, calls 'Pollyooly, the Queen of the Slum Fairies?' You sat to him for the pictures of those fairy stories in the Blue Magazine, didn't you?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Pollyooly dropping a curtsey, like the well-mannered child she was.
"Well, I'm the Esmeralda, the dancer," said the vision, her face all alight with eagerness. "I want a little girl to dance with me in a fairy dance at the Varolium. I've tried at the dancing schools in London without finding the exact right one; then I saw the picture of you in the Blue Magazine, and I was sure that you were just what I wanted, if you could dance a little. I went to Mr. Vance; and he gave me your address, and told me that you could dance, because the first time he saw you, you were dancing to a barrel organ."
"Yes, ma'am," said Pollyooly.
"Well, it isn't really dancing I want from you, only just to move about lightly, and be a fairy in the picture; and I'll pay you a pound a week," said the Esmeralda, with the same eager quickness.
"A pound a week?" said Pollyooly; and her blue eyes opened very wide, shining.
"Yes; and I'll find your dresses—and send you home every night after the show. But perhaps I'd better arrange it with your father and mother," said the Esmeralda quickly.
"I haven't got any father and mother," said Pollyooly; and her face was aglow with hopes.
"Then will you come and dance with me?" said the Esmeralda.
"I must ask Mr. Ruffin. I'm his housekeeper. He's in; I'll go and ask him now," said Pollyooly.
The Esmeralda smiled a little mischievously.
"I'll come with you. You can introduce me; and I'll arrange it with him," she said confidently, as if she had never had reason to doubt her power of persuading men.
They went to the sitting-room door; Pollyooly knocked at it, opened it, ushered in the Esmeralda, followed her in, and said:
"Please, sir, this is the Esmeralda. And may I go on the stage?"
From the unruffled coolness with which the Honorable John Ruffin rose from his easy-chair and bowed to the Esmeralda, the sudden irruption of dazzling visions in scarlet and yellow might have been the commonest occurrence in his daily round.
He drew forward a chair for her, saying:
"I'm charmed to make your acquaintance. Like the rest of London, I'm looking forward with the wildest impatience to seeing you dance."
Murmuring a polite hope that he would not be disappointed, the Esmeralda sat down and said, "I've come about this little—"
He checked the words on her tongue with a wave of his hand, turned to Pollyooly, and said in grave tones:
"Did my horrified ears deceive me? Or did I hear you ask leave to go on the stage, Mrs Bride?"
"Yes, please, sir," said Pollyooly firmly.
He shook his head sadly, and said in a reproachful tone:
"Oh, Mrs. Bride, Mrs. Bride! This must be the result of your country up-bringing. No London child of twelve would dream of going on the stage. This is the pernicious effect of life at Muttle-Deeping."
"But it's a pound a week, sir," said Pollyooly, plucking at her frock. "And you told me to make all the money I could, and save all I could, because your creditors might win the victory and consign you to the deepest dungeon in Holloway Castle, and the Lump and I would be turned out. That was what you said, sir."
"A pound a week? That's a very different matter," said the Honorable John Ruffin, with a great air of relief. "As long as it's the honest desire for hard cash, and no silly glamour of the footlights, I see no harm in the stage. But has a London manager offered you an engagement? A gleam of intelligence in a London manager—amazing! It's incredible! Mrs. Bride, you're pulling the leg of a man old enough to be your uncle."
"It's me," said the Esmeralda quickly, with a dazzling smile. "I want her to go on the stage."
"Ah, that explains the intelligence," said the Honorable John Ruffin politely.
"I want her to dance with me—in a fairy pastoral. It will be quite easy," said the Esmeralda.
"Anything with you would be quite easy—mountaineering—deep-sea fishing—writing—poetry—the inspiration," said the Honorable John Ruffin politely. "And if the hours are not such as to spoil her complexion, which would be a crime, and ruin her constitution, which would be a pity, she must surely accept your offer. A pound a week is certainly fortune; and who knows but what it may lead to fame?" he ended in a tone of enthusiasm.
"I'll look after her," said the Esmeralda.
"I'm sure you will, I already feel that I can trust her with you. And yet I am not one in whom confidence is easily inspired," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "Bring some fresh tea, please, Pollyooly; and we will discuss the details. Be sure you cut the bread and butter very thin."
"No: thick for me, please," said the Esmeralda quickly. "I've been in South America for months, and there is no bread and butter in South America, so I can't get it too thick."
"Good Heavens!" said the Honorable John Ruffin. "Do not tell me that there is no grilled bacon there either."
"There certainly isn't," said the Esmeralda.
"What a country!" said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"Oh, it is!" said the Esmeralda with conviction.
Pollyooly went to make some fresh tea. When she returned, the Esmeralda was saying with her eager animation:
"No, no; the men are worse. The food and the insects were bad enough; but the men were worse— perfectly detestable—horrors."
"How very unfortunate!" said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of profound commiseration. "And I was under the impression that they were charming—full of fire and passion and southern romance."
"I shouldn't wonder if it was that that made them so detestable," said the Esmeralda thoughtfully. "It was a perfect persecution."
"I can not greatly wonder at it," said the Honorable John Ruffin, looking at her with some earnestness.
Their eyes kept meeting in half challenging, half exploring glances. There was a glow in them, as if they had kindled one another.
Over their tea they discussed the matter of Pollyooly's embarkation on a theatrical career. The rehearsals were from eleven to one; and it was arranged that Pollyooly should take the Lump with her to them, but that at night, during the actual performance, Mrs. Brown should take care of him, and that Pollyooly should fetch him on her return from the theater.
The last detail fixed, the Honorable John Ruffin said, "And so once more, Mrs. Bride, you fill a long-felt want. Her capacity for filling long-felt wants is truly wonderful. Mr. Vance saw her dancing and knew at once that she was the only child in London he could draw for his fairy tales; you see his drawings and know at once that she is the only child in London who can dance the fairy part with you. Yet neither of you has grasped the great, essential fact of her nature, that she can grill bacon better than any one in England."
"It's very nice to be wanted as a model and a dancer; but grilling bacon—" said the Esmeralda; and she shrugged her shoulders in a way she had acquired in South America, in her a very attractive way.
"Ah, you are young—young. The great things of life have not yet their full attraction for you," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of amiable indulgence.
"Oh—as to being young, I shouldn't think that you were were—much over fifty," said the Esmerelda; and her eyes sparkled.
"Ah, I see that you're a judge of your fellow-creatures. I am not much over fifty. But compared with you and Mrs. Bride, I feel a Methuselah—that knowledge of the world which comes of sad experience," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a weary air.
"It must be that which has given you those wrinkles," said the Esmeralda.
"You are right," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "But don't you think that, as Mrs. Bride's practical guardian, I ought to come to some of those reearsals? I feel it a duty—an almost imperative duty."
"The rules are very strict," said the Esmeralda, hesitating a little.
"You'd be surprised how often I come up against strict rules and how rarely we agree with one another. One of us generally gets broken before we part," said the Honorable John Ruffin sadly. "Still, if you don't forbid me to wrestle with these particular rules, I think I should like to see what stuff they are made of."
"It isn't for me to forbid you—it's the manager's business," said the Esmeralda, smiling a faintly challenging smile; and she rose.
The Honorable John Ruffin escorted her down to her motor brougham. On his return, smiling amiably, he said to Pollyooly, who was clearing the table, "I have to thank you for a valuable acquaintance, Mrs. Bride. I foresee that vast improvement in my work which comes of the proper stimulation."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in polite assent.
A whirling week followed. There were rehearsals every morning, rehearsals during which Esmeralda bullied or cajoled the band to the highest pitch of excellence; there were visits to the costumier, where Pollyooly was decked out in the most beautiful fairy robes. There were lunches at wonderful restaurants, where she and the Lump ate strange and delicious food. Twice the Honorable John Ruffin came to rehearsals, after brisk but brief struggles with the strict rules; and twice the three of them lunched with him. Pollyooly enjoyed those two lunches very much, though she could not follow much of the talk of the Esmeralda and the Honorable John Ruffin. For the most part, they sparred with each other lightly; and it amused her. She was too young to perceive that their eyes did not spar.
The Esmeralda had been right in her choice of Pollyooly; she learned to do all that was required of her in three rehearsals. She had indeed no real dancing to do—it would, of course, have been impossible—she had to move lightly and gracefully about the stage in her part of a decoration, a charming foil to the Esmeralda's dark beauty. On the night of the first performance of Titania's Awakening, as the Esmeralda's act was named, Pollyooly was much the less nervous of the two, for she hardly gave a thought to the audience; she was only intent on doing her part properly; and she did her simple business as well as it could be done. She only became really aware of the audience when she stood hand in hand with the Esmeralda, bowing to the storm of applause.
Titania's Awakening was a prodigious success; and Pollyooly found her pound a week assured for many weeks. Once more her bank account would swell. To the two children the Esmeralda was unfailingly delightful; she always hugged them and kissed them at meeting and at parting; she would often spend an hour playing with them in her flat as if she were a child herself. Indeed, time and again, Pollyooly felt very strongly that she was really the older and more serious of the two.
Often the Esmeralda talked to the Honorable John Ruffin about Pollyooly, asserting that she would make an admirable dancer, and that it would be a shame to let her talent be lost for want of the proper training. The Honorable John Ruffin was impressed by her earnestness, and discussed with her at length the matter of the proper training and how it was to be obtained.
At last he said, "Well, it is quite clear that the time has come for the friends of Pollyooly to rally round her—that is the right phrase, 'To rally round her.' A fund must be formed and administered by some serious person—Gedge-Tomkins would be an admirable man to administer it—to pay for her training."
"I must come into that fund," said the Esmeralda.
"You shall," said the Honorable John Ruffin, smiling.
At first the Esmeralda was very careful to drive Pollyooly back to the Temple immediately after the performance. Then she fell into the way of sometimes taking her with her to supper, for late hours had no effect on Pollyooly. Sometimes one of her admirers had pressed her for an introduction to her angelic foil; sometimes she did not care to sup alone with one of them, and she would say to Pollyooly:
"I want you to come and play little red gooseberry to-night."
At these suppers Pollyooly became acquainted with some of the most ornamental members of the British peerage, men whose ancestors had fought at Agincourt and Flodden, or brewed beer for nearly two generations. She was too young to appreciate her great privilege; and she very much preferred the suppers at which the Honorable John Ruffin (between whom and a peerage stood as many as nine lives) was host, because there was so much more laughter at them.
There are reasons for believing that the Esmeralda preferred them, too; if not, why was he her most frequent host? And why did her eyes shine so much more brightly and her smiles follow one another so much more quickly when she supped with him? Sometimes, too, in her talks with Pollyooly, she showed herself curious about him. It was not much that Pollyooly could tell her; but she seemed quite interested in such little intimate details as his habit of chanting poetry (Pollyooly believed it to be poetry) in his bath, and of bestrewing his sitting-room with half the garments in his wardrobe in the course of choosing his clothes for the day. Moreover, it was after a talk with Pollyooly about the cold resolution with which he battled with his creditors, that the Esmeralda proclaimed her fancy to sup in a little café in Soho rather than in the shinier and more expensive restaurants in Piccadilly, and made this their practice.
But one evening he met them at the stage-door of the Varolium and said: "To-day is my birthday, and to-night we sup at Prince's."
"The Café Grice is very nice, and so cozy," the Esmeralda protested.
"Yes, yes; but a man's birthday fancies are sacred. Nothing must stand in the way of following them. Besides, to-day I had an exceedingly agreeable meeting with my cousin, the Duke of Osterley, a friend of Pollyooly, to whom, indeed, he quite unconsciously stood in loco parentis for a while. At least it was a very agreeable meeting for me, though he went away from it in a state of entirely unreasonable depression, considering his income. And now my pocket is a positive volcano; there is that in it which burns—burns." And he slapped it with the grand air.
"You've touched a duke? How very splendid!" cried the Esmeralda joyfully. "But if it's your birthday, it's my supper. I shall be hostess; so there!"
The three of them got into her motor brougham, and all the way to Prince's he and she wrangled amiably about who should be host. In the end the Esmeralda prevailed, and she ordered the supper in a generous, broad-minded fashion, displaying an accurate knowledge of the Honorable John Ruffin's tastes, which seemed to show that she had paid no little attention to them.
The supper was proceeding joyously when, in the middle of it, there came to the next table a tall, barrel-shaped young man with an unspeakably terrifying mustache. So fierce and big and bristly was it that at first it absorbed all the attention of the tremulous beholder.
Only when this natural panic had abated could he observe that the young man had cheeks uncommonly like little yellow cushions, thick lips of a scarcely, agreeable purplish red, and little black eyes of the best boot-button type. His short-cropped black hair looked a more excellent clothes-brush than ever came out of a factory.
The Esmeralda acknowledged his profound and elaborate bow with the slightest inclination, and a faint look of dismay swept across her face. Pollyooly looked at him at length with fascinated, half-frightened eyes. The Honorable John Ruffin gave him half a glance, and went on talking.
But a cloud seemed to have fallen on the Esmeralda's gaiety; now and again a little frown puckered her brow, and, in spite of herself, her eyes would wander to the remarkable stranger. She seemed to withdraw their gaze from him with a jerk.
Presently the Honorable John Ruffin said: "The yellow gentleman from foreign parts who keeps staring at you as if he were quite fresh from his simple village, is worrying you. Shall I beg him to confine his sparkling glances to the waiters?"
"No, no!" said the Esmeralda quickly. "Leave him alone; he's a very dangerous man. He's Diego Perez, the son of a famous Bolivian brigand, and they call him the Lion of Montevideo."
"He looks more like a yellow dog," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a dispassionate tone, surveying him coldly.
The South American twisted his fierce mustache, scowled fiercely at the Honorable John Ruffin, and again turned his passionate gaze on the Esmeralda.
"He was an awful nuisance out there," she said, frowning. "He must have been dreadfully spoiled when he was young."
"He'll get dreadfully spoiled, now that he's old, if he goes on staring like that," said the Honorable John Ruffin grimly, "though it would need painstaking work to spoil a face like that."
"Oh, no, no! You must leave him alone—you must, really," said the Esmeralda. "He's really very dangerous. The people out there were terrified of him. They said he would stick at nothing."
"A chip of the old brigand block, eh?" said the Honorable John Ruffin calmly. "But we must remember that the Lion of Montevideo is the Lamb of Piccadilly."
"But he carries weapons—a revolver. They all do," said the Esmeralda.
"Nature gave me all the weapons I need for dealing with South American princes," said the Honorable John Ruffin calmly. "But after all, we're not yellow dog fanciers. Let us talk about more interesting things—the art of grilling bacon, now."
Pollyooly did not understand their talk very clearly, but she gathered that her friends did not like the big, yellow gentleman with the splendid diamond in his shirt-front; therefore, loyally, she took a strong dislike to him herself.
The next time his eyes fell on her, observing that her companions were absorbed in one another, she made a most hideous face at him. He started, drew himself upright in his chair, and scowled at her.
Pollyooly did not abate her hideous grimace, and, with an air of dignity, he withdrew his eyes from her. But, owing to defective training in his youth, his was such an unbalanced nature that he could not keep them off her; they were dragged back to her by his unhealthy curiosity to see what dreadful shape her exquisite features had assumed. Consequently she enjoyed the rest of that supper very much. Whenever the yellow gentleman's boot-button eyes strayed to their table, she was ready for him with some fresh grimace, suggested by a truly fertile fancy.
He was bitterly annoyed to find himself no longer able to impress the Esmeralda with the fiery glances of passion; he felt that the need to see what new distortion of her angel face Pollyooly had ready for him weakened his power of concentrating himself in a burning gaze, and so impaired its intensity.
At the end of twenty minutes of it he gave it up, rose with a jerk from his chair, and strode out of the restaurant in a petulant fury.
"I congratulate you, Pollyooly—a very valuable accomplishment," said the Honorable John Ruffin, smiling.
Pollyooly flushed in a lively dismay. She had never perceived that the Honorable John Ruffin had brought to perfection the admirable art of seeming to see nothing while seeing everything.
"What has she been doing?" said the Esmeralda, smiling at him.
"Pollyooly has routed your yellow pet," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"How clever of you! How ever did you do it?" cried the Esmeralda.
"By the intensity of her forbidding gaze," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
It soon grew plain that Diego Perez had come to England in pursuit of the Esmeralda, and he became her yellow shadow. He took up his abode at the Savoy; and she hardly ever came out of her rooms without finding him, bowing and smiling with a conquering air, somewhere on her path to the street.
He was always at the stage-door to greet her as she came out after her performance. Did she lunch or dine at a restaurant, he sat gazing at her in his passionate way. Every day he sent her flowers—to her rooms and to the theater; sometimes there was a bracelet or a ring with the flowers; always there was a note, ill-spelled, perhaps, but very passionate.
Sometimes among the passion was an invitation to lunch or dinner; sometimes an invitation to accompany the adoring writer to a wanner climate and dwell in a palace. Whenever he got a few words with the object of his passionate adoration he would prefer this petition orally, and ever with a firmer insistence; twice he talked of procuring a special marriage license against her succumbing to his yellow charm.
The Esmeralda was an icicle to him. She returned his flowers, his jewelry, and his notes. She broke away from him in the middle of his passionate protestations. At restaurants she tried not to give him a glance; often she succeeded.
But there was no discouraging him; he was plainly under the deepest-rooted conviction that a woman must succumb to a series of attacks.
His perseverance was not without its effect. It compelled the Esmeralda to be always talking of him—to Pollyooly and to other admirers, who could not long remain ignorant of that yellow, passionate presence. But to the Honorable John Ruffin she said nothing about him save when his adoring presence at the same restaurant drew their talk to him. Then she made light of the matter, laughed at it. She was greatly afraid lest the Honorable John Ruffin should intervene; and she dreaded the Montevidean's dangerous temper. Then there came a lapse from her caution.
"It's really getting awful!" she cried to the Honorable John Ruffin, when her large round admirer made his first appearance in the little Soho café, for it was so unexpected that it took her off her guard.
"If he goes on sticking to it like this, you'll have to marry him to get rid of him," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"I wouldn't marry him for one of his silly palaces in every country in the world!" cried the Esmeralda. "Why, he'd probably murder me out of jealousy before we'd been married a week. Look how he scowls when he sees me with you—with anybody."
"Yes; I've noticed that the presence of Pollyooly affects him painfully," said the Honorable John Ruffin pensively. "And those scowls do belie that tender heart of his about which he writes to you."
"It's all very well to laugh," said the Esmeralda unhappily. "But I'm getting more and more uneasy about him. He won't go on in this peaceful way much longer—I know he won't. I've heard stories about him. You don't know what Montevideo is."
Her tone grew more and more anxious; she looked almost scared.
"My dear child, I'd no notion that the brute was worrying you like this," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a sudden earnestness; and he regarded the Esmeralda with a sudden, tender concern. "Why, I'd have stopped it at once. But it seemed just a joke to me. I'll stop it to-morrow."
"There! I've done it now! And I did so mean to say nothing!" cried the Esmeralda in the liveliest dismay. "It isn't really anything. It's just my silliness. He doesn't really bother me at all. You mustn't take any notice of him. He doesn't matter at all."
"I'll bring you his yellow head on a charger for breakfast—no, for lunch to-morrow," said the Honorable John Ruffin calmly. "It will make a pretty table decoration; and it will go admirably with one of those yellow, or perhaps orange, dresses which you alone of all women in this drab world can properly wear."
He spoke gently enough, but there was an undertone of resolve in his tone which promised ill to Señor Perez.
"No! No! I won't have it! I won't have you interfere at all! It isn't myself at all! It's his doing something horrid to you I'm afraid of!" cried the Esmeralda in a panic.
"Oh, come; we're in London—in the Twentieth Century—not in Montevideo in the Nineteenth," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a reassuring tone.
"If you have a row with him, I'll never speak to you again! Never!" cried the Esmeralda in acute anxiety.
"It is my duty as a plain Englishman to bring you the head of that yellow dog on a charger—a charger of Sheffield plate, I think; for I can not run to gold; and my duty I must do," said the Honorable John Ruffin.
"No, no, John; you mustn't interfere with him. You mustn't really," said the Esmeralda in a pleading tone; and she leaned forward with her hands clasped.
"But I don't want you to eat his head—it would be impossible indeed to make a brain sauce to go with it, owing to his unfortunate and disgraceful lack of brains. I only want you to have it as a table decoration," protested the Honorable John Ruffin earnestly. "I want to lay it on your lunch-table as a tribute to your all-conquering charm. It's a tribute paid to so few women in this milk and watery age. You'd feel immensely proud."
"Oh, there's no doing anything with you!" said the Esmeralda in a tone of despair; and she rose. "But come along. We won't talk about it here. You'll never promise with his ugly face in front of you!"
"Women certainly have a wonderful intuition," said the Honorable John Ruffin, regarding the face of Señor Perez with the most critical attention as he rose. "Perhaps it would be more pleasant to take Mrs. Bride, who can hardly keep her eyes open, back to the Temple and finish our supper at the Savoy. It's only eleven."
He smiled graciously at the scowling Montevidean; and they distinctly heard that yellow one's fine teeth grind in his purple mouth.
They conveyed the sleepy Pollyooly to the bottom of Alsatia; and waited till she came down it bearing the sleeping Lump. Such was his splendid placidity that it was seldom indeed that the transit from Mrs. Brown's to his own bed awoke him. Then they walked down to the Thames Embankment and along it to the Savoy.
The next morning at breakfast the Honorable John Ruffin said very sadly: "Have you ever observed, Mrs. Bride, how terrible a thing it is to have a soft heart? But probably you haven't got one, for it is not a feminine attribute. But for a man it is terrible; it robs him of the most thrilling joys of life."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly sympathetically.
"Now you saw last night that I had promised myself the pleasure of continuing the work of the parents of the Lion of Montevideo by spoiling him a little more. I was going to spoil his face. Was it not plain—not the face, but my intention?"
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly with conviction.
"Well, my soft heart has, as usual, robbed me of a joy; and I have pledged myself to leave his parents' work unfinished."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly; and she looked a little disappointed.
"And now of course I am in a hole. The offensive ruffian must be checked; and I can't do it. The only form of remonstrance that sort of a bounder understands is the remonstrance by boot; and I can't remonstrate with him now," he went on, talking to himself, and frowning.
"He does bother the Esmeralda, sir," said Pollyooly.
"Yes; I expect you know ever so much more about it than I do," said the Honorable John Ruffin; and he frowned again. "Of course the boot for our purpose is the boot of Mr. Gedge-Tomkins. But I'm hanged if I can see how to bring it to the application point."
"No, sir. I don't think he'd do it, sir," said Pollyooly.
"He wouldn't," said the Honorable John Ruffin with decision. "He is much fonder of his career than I am of mine. And there might be a fuss."
He was silent, with puckered brow, cudgeling his brain.
"Please, sir; Mr. Vance is very big," said Pollyooly gently.
"By Jove! Genius! Genius again!" cried the Honorable John Ruffin loudly and joyfully. "Oh, how I envy you your resourceful mind, Mrs. Bride! Vance is the very man; he boils with chivalry! The thing is done! I will bring him and the Esmeralda together again—at tea—this very afternoon! Splendid!"
He wasted no time. Directly after breakfast he betook himself, as fast as a swift new taxicab could bear him, to Chelsea, to Hilary Vance's studio, and found him regarding his brushes with the gloomy dislike of a man who is about to get to congenial work. He asked him if he remembered the Esmeralda, the charming creature who had called on him to ask for the address of Pollyooly.
Remember her?… Hilary Vance protested that he did nothing but remember her!… He dreamed of her!… He had been to see her dance fourteen times!… It was the desire of his heart to paint her!… It would mean undying fame!… She would be the inspiration of a lifetime!
The Honorable John Ruffin let him talk about her. He talked about her himself. And then he insinuated into his discourse, deftly and without emphasis, the story of her impassioned persecution by Señor Diego Perez.
Hilary Vance flamed and flared. His chief desire seemed to be to know whether the Honorable John Ruffin called himself a man. He reiterated the question till the Honorable John Ruffin lost count of the reiterations. When lack of breath reduced the chivalrous artist to a passing silence, he explained that his hands were tied. Forthwith Hilary Vance sprang into the breach. He would free the Esmeralda from the persecution at once—that very afternoon. He demanded to be led to the Lion of Montevideo without a moment's delay.
"There is a season for everything; and the evening is the time for Montevideans," said the Honorable John Ruffin calmly. "I don't know how it strikes you, but I always associate the Lion of Montevideo with the fountains in Trafalgar Square—it must be the lions at the foot of Nelson's column. In my dreams I see him in the basin of the left-hand fountain—I do not know why the left-hand fountain—sprawling."
"Splendid!" said Hilary Vance in a tone of rich enthusiasm.
"As a matter of fact, I have often wondered what those fountains were for," said the Honorable John Ruffin thoughtfully. "Now I know."
"You do have good ideas. You're rather like me," said Hilary Vance.
The Honorable John Ruffin looked at him earnestly. "Yes; but we are nothing to Mrs. Bride."
"Ah, that child's a wonder," said Hilary Vance with appreciation.
"Well, will you come to tea this afternoon and meet the Esmeralda? Then we can arrange to do everything in our power to wash the Lion of Montevideo," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a businesslike tone. "He must be lured to the bath."
"I shall be charmed—delighted," said Hilary Vance with even warmer enthusiasm. "I'll bring James with me, if I may. I think he had better be with me at the fountain. He keeps so cool."
"Bring him by all means," said the Honorable John Ruffin. "The meeting with the Esmeralda will make him enthusiastic, too; and when it comes to bathing the Lion, he will have all his coolness about him."
Hilary Vance and Mr. James came to tea; and the Esmeralda set their patriotic detestation of the foreigner burning furiously. She was always charming; but to friends of the Honorable John Ruffin she was charming indeed.
After she had gone, the three men arranged the details of the bath of Señor Perez. They did not take Pollyooly into their confidence, for they did not wish the Esmeralda to know anything of their cooling plan.
When, with Pollyooly, she came out of the stage door of the Varolium, she found the Honorable John Ruffin awaiting her. Señor Perez did not appear till they had walked several yards down the street; and then, as was sometimes his curious way, he appeared suddenly ten yards behind them, and proceeded to follow them with the purpose of supping at the same restaurant, and pouring broadside after broadside of passionate glances into the Esmeralda. There can be no reasonable doubt that he believed that he shone in the part of the basilisk. It may be that he had found the attitude of that intent, but probably mythical, beast prove effective with the ladies of his native land.
The Esmeralda kept casting uneasy glances over her shoulder, for she really feared that he might dash upon the Honorable John Ruffin, knife in hand (a Montevidian custom, according to the manager who had arranged her triumphs in that country) and she wished to be ready to throw herself between them. It was only natural that she should desire to adapt her conduct as far as possible to the dramatic tradition.
The Honorable John Ruffin talked carelessly, as if he were unaware of his rival's nearness, though once, with a quick glance, he measured the distance which separated that rival from the two trusty friends who followed him, Hilary Vance almost transpontine in his stealthy gait. Pollyooly walked sedately beside the Honorable John Ruffin; only once, when he was talking in an animated fashion to the Esmeralda, did she turn in the full light of a street-lamp and bestow a hideous grimace on their follower.
The Esmeralda, dearly as she would have loved to be in a taxicab, after some urging accepted the Honorable John Ruffin's suggestion that they should stroll back to the Savoy, since the night was hot, and the Strand still empty, for the crowds had not yet poured forth from the theaters.
In this order they came into Trafalgar Square, Señor Perez, a menacing figure, stalking them grimly, never dreaming that he in his turn was being stalked by a fiery artist.
It must have been some inborn instinct for the tragic event which caused Pollyooly to lag behind; and she was not more than five yards away from them when, a few feet from the fountain, Hilary Vance tapped Señor Perez on the shoulder, and in the hissing tones of melodrama informed him that the time had come for an infernal foreigner to cease persecuting an English star.
With infinite swiftness and presence of mind Señor Perez smacked Hilary Vance's face. With a roar Hilary Vance closed with him, and rapt him from the earth, or rather, to be exact, from the pavement. At the roar the Esmeralda turned, but the Honorable John Ruffin's arm went round her, and he drew her quickly across the Square.
Hilary Vance with long strides bore Señor Perez, struggling violently and expostulating in shrieks of the most idiomatic Montevidean, to the basin of the fountain. Then it would have been both more fitting and more decorous that he should have dropped him into it without falling into it himself; but that was not how it happened. They both fell into the basin together with a magnificent splash—so glorious a splash that Pollyooly shrieked with joy.
Once in it, they did not arise swiftly, for they were entangled with each other. They floundered well out toward the middle of the basin before they disentangled themselves, rose, and came floundering toward its rim. Mr. James frankly sat down on the cold pavement to laugh in greater comfort; Pollyooly danced lightly in her childish glee.
The Honorable John Ruffin had halted his wondering charge in the shadow of one of the Nelson's lions, and laughing joyfully, surveyed the dim leviathans in the fountain.
"What is it? What's happening?" cried the Esmeralda.
"Nothing—nothing;" said the Honorable John Ruffin in reassuring, but shaken, tones. "It's only Mr. Vance collecting materials for his great historical picture of the Lion of Montevideo taking his evening bath."
"You're a perfect terror, John!" said the Esmeralda in a tone of profound conviction. "It's your doing, this! I'm sure of it!"
"The Ruffins have always been patrons of the arts. And I do what I can—the family tradition, you know," he said with amiable self-congratulation.
"But it will make him more dangerous than ever," said the Esmeralda in a tone of extreme disquiet.
"Not a bit of it. It will cool his ardor—so don't you worry about it, my dear child," he said firmly and kissed her.
The dripping bathers climbed stiffly over the fountain's rim, Hilary Vance explaining in a roar that if Señor Perez continued to annoy the Esmeralda, this evening bath would become his nightly practice, Señor Perez threatening Hilary Vance in a scream with assassination, the duel, and the law.
It was the keen eye of Mr. James which marked the policeman arriving in tardy haste. He shoved Hilary Vance's hat into his hand and cried, "Bolt, man! Bolt! Off you go, Pollyooly!"
Hilary Vance left the Square in immense bounds; Pollyooly ran lightly toward the other corner. Señor Perez turned on Mr. James and threatened him. He was being very shrill and idiomatic in broken English and Montevidean when the eager policeman arrived.
"'Ere! Wot's all this about?" said the policeman.
Señor Perez was chiefly pantomimic, for he was almost past the point of articulate speech.
The policeman listened to his husky Montevidean execrations attentively. Then he turned to Mr. James and said, "Look 'ere; wot's it all about?"
"You'd better ask another policeman," said Mr. James calmly. "I was walking across the Square, and I saw this gentleman in the fountain taking a bath. I think he's a foreigner."
"’E's a forriner all right," said the policeman with decision. "But there was another of 'em. I sor 'im."
"Yes; there was a curly-headed man in the fountain, too—another foreigner to judge from his curly hair," said the deceitful Mr. James carelessly. "Besides, Englishmen bathe in the morning—at home."
The policeman surveyed the gasping Montevidean with a gloomy frown; then he said, "’Ere; you come along er me an' give a hexplanation of yourself."
Señor Perez said something in Montevidean.
"You—come—along—er—me," said the policeman, raising his voice to make his meaning perfectly plain.
Señor Perez got a little breath, and pointing to Mr. James and then to the fountain was again shrill in Montevidean.
"He was trying to explain things to me when you came. Can you make out what he's driving at? Does he want me to take a bath, too?" said Mr. James coolly.
"It looks like it," said the policeman; then even more loudly he said, "You—come—along—er—me."
Señor Perez gibbered.
The policeman took him by the arm; Señor Perez promptly closed with him in a damping wrestle. The policeman blew his whistle; Mr. James walked quietly but quickly to the southwestern corner of the Square. There he turned and looked back for a moment at the wavering group by the left-hand fountain; then he went down Pall Mall.
At the first sight of the hasting policeman the Honorable John Ruffin drew the Esmeralda along toward the Strand. Pollyooly caught them up as they entered it. They had never seen her so animated, or with such a fine color in her cheeks.
"It was lovely!" she said breathlessly. "They did splash and grunt."
She was still smiling a happy, angel smile when they reached the Temple.
The next morning the Honorable John Ruffin made a point of attending Señor Perez's first public appearance in England—at the Police Court. He found him very hazy; so did the interpreter, the magistrate, and the evening papers. It may be that the police had confused his wits; it may have been the cold water. But his immersion in the left-hand fountain in Trafalgar Square remained a mystery.
The Honorable John Ruffin thought that the chastened Montevidean remained obscure in his account of his ducking from a desire that it should not be generally known that he had been persecuting the Esmeralda. Plainly he was a wiser man than he had supposed. Perhaps, like a social reformer, he had acquired wisdom in Trafalgar Square.
They saw him no more; his ardor had been thoroughly damped; and the cloud lifted from the Esmeralda's light spirits. It did not fall on them again till the last week of her engagement at the Varolium. From it she was going to Berlin, from Berlin to Petersburg, from Petersburg to Rome, and from Rome to Australia.
During that last week both she and the Honorable John Ruffin were much quieter as they supped together after the theater than they had used to be; their eyes lingered on each other in clinging glances. Pollyooly observed their fallen spirits with sympathy; she was sorrowful herself at the coming departure of the Esmeralda. But she took it as a matter of course that the Esmeralda must go, that their work must sunder them. Life was like that. It is to be doubted that either the Esmeralda or the Honorable John Ruffin took their approaching severance in as resigned a spirit.
The Esmeralda had not abandoned her plan that Pollyooly should learn to become a dancer; and many were the discussions the friends of Pollyooly held about the matter. The Honorable John Ruffin made prevail his idea that a fund should be established from which to pay her teachers; and slowly he brought it about that each of them should fix his yearly subscription to it at the lowest he could afford, in order that the collector of the fund need be under no scruples about harrying it out of him, and might have the less trouble in doing so. His suggestion that he should try to get Mr. Gedge-Tomkins to become the collector of the funds was welcomed by all of them. If one of them were collector, it was conceivable that he would find coolness arising between himself and those who proved tardy payers. None of them admitted the possibility of tardy payment; they were all too enthusiastic about promoting a great Art and Pollyooly. Yet they perceived clearly that the Honorable John Ruffin had good reason in his suggestion.
When, therefore, all their subscriptions had been fixed, he went one morning after breakfast to Mr. Gedge-Tomkins and found him in the middle of his soothing morning pipe.
He bade him good morning in a very brisk and businesslike tone, and said, "Some friends of Mary Bride have decided that she is to adopt the career of dancing—stage dancing."
"Stage dancing—that child?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins in a tone of great surprise. Then he frowned severely and added, "Why not let her stay in her proper station? She makes a very fair laundress; and she is earning very good wages for a child of her age—very good indeed."
"Well, we don't feel that the station of Temple laundress is the right station for an angel child. We feel that Providence called her to it as a stepping-stone to higher things; to this art in fact," said the Honorable John Ruffin firmly.
Mr. Gedge-Tomkins grunted dissent.
"Besides, you have to bear in mind that Mary Bride has very good blood in her veins. There can be no doubt that she is a red Deeping," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a very serious gravity.
"What's that?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins quickly.
"Haven't you ever heard of the Norfolk Deepings?" said the Honorable John Ruffin, allowing a little contempt for the social ignorance of his colleagues at the Bar to steal into his tone.
"Of course—of course," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins hastily, but quite untruthfully.
"Well, the red Deepings are the oldest and strongest strain of the Norfolk Deepings. Red Roger in fact was the big man of the family," said the Honorable John Ruffin in the tone of a historian.
"Of course—of course," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, to whom it was the newest of news.
"Well, quite by accident we found out that Mary Bride is a red Deeping, an undoubted descendant of that romantic old scoundrel Red Roger. The Duchess of Osterley herself made the discovery."
"Did she indeed?" said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, deeply impressed.
"She did; and you see it makes a lot of difference. It explains Pollyooly; and it makes it imperative on her friends to see that she does not spend all her days as a Temple laundress."
"There's certainly something in that," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with genuine conviction.
"Well, we're going to cultivate her talent for dancing, since, as things go nowadays, it is a career most likely to afford her an opportunity of marrying into the sphere to which, by blood, she belongs."
"I see the idea. Of course the aristocracy is marrying the dramatic profession at a great rate," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins thoughtfully.
"Well, we have formed a fund for the training of Mary Bride in this art; and we want some one to manage the fund for us and collect it. I suggested that you would do it better than any of us, for you have more strength of character than any of us and a much greater knowledge of business."
"M'm," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins doubtfully.
"Of course it won't be an easy job; I am one of the subscribers and another is the artist to whom Pollyooly sat for the illustrations to the fairy stories in the Blue Magazine. But that makes you all the more the right man to manage the fund. If it were an easy job, I wouldn't ask you."
"I must think it over," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins, properly flattered and properly unconscious of the fact. "If I don't undertake to manage the fund, I'll subscribe to it. She's certainly a remarkable child; and it would be money well spent."
He had only just had it brought home to him that Pollyooly was a remarkable child, but now he saw it very clearly indeed.
"Good," said the Honorable John Ruffin, going toward the door.
"By the way, I don't think she ought to be called Pollyooly any longer—now that you've found out that she's a red Deeping," said Mr. Gedge-Tomkins with conviction.
"Oh, while she's young—even red Deepings should be kept young," said the Honorable John Ruffin as he went out of the room.
That afternoon the Esmeralda took Pollyooly to her own mistress, the dancing-mistress who had guided her own early steps, introduced her with a strong assurance that she had found for her a most promising pupil, and arranged for her first lessons.
The next morning Mr. Gedge-Tomkins treated Pollyooly with a new respect; and on the way to the Law Courts he told the Honorable John Ruffin that he would undertake the management and collection of the fund for her training in her art. He then went on to warn him that if he once grew interested in the matter, he would assuredly exact the last farthing of their subscriptions from the subscribers, so they had better make up their minds to it.
"That's what I want," said the Honorable John Ruffin with decision.
The Esmeralda was pleased indeed to have arranged a future for Pollyooly before she departed on her continental and Australian tours, and told her many times that she looked to find her on the way to excellence when she returned. Pollyooly promised her that she would do her best. At the last performance of Titania's Awakening they received an ovation which made the management of the Varolium sorry indeed that they had not engaged the Esmeralda for another six weeks; such popularity was independent of the times and the season.
Pollyooly was sad when they came out of the theater for the last time; and in spite of their best efforts to be light-hearted, their last supper with the Honorable John Ruffin was a somewhat mournful meal.
The next morning they saw the Esmeralda off from the Charing Cross Station. It was not a scene for sad farewells; some fifty of the Esmeralda's friends and admirers were there, resolved to make her departure a triumph. The Esmeralda seconded their enthusiastic effort nobly; but her smiles were a little strained; and she had only eyes for the Honorable John Ruffin. Pollyooly was the last person she kissed; his was the last hand she clasped.
He and Pollyooly came gloomily out of the station together and turned down the Strand. Pollyooly's eyes were still a little misty; and his face was so deeply overcast that without thinking what she was doing she slipped a comforting little hand into his.
He looked down at her with mournful eyes, squeezed her hand, and said sadly, "Ships that pass in the night, Pollyooly—ships that pass in the night."