THE DUKE'S MISTAKE
AFTER the going of the Esmeralda the world ceased to whirl for Pollyooly; its pace slackened; it grew quiet, and save for an altercation now and again with one of the more aggressive creditors of the Honorable John Ruffin, altercations which left the face of the creditor far more brightly red than that of Pollyooly, humdrum. Indeed of that whirling world into which that delightful dancer had led her, there only remained some fairy robes, some pretty silk-lined boxes which had held chocolates, and four thin gold bangles which had come with moving, but ill-spelled, epistles from young, but lavishly tipped, adorers of the ruling class.
Pollyooly's regret for the whirling world was neither deep nor lasting. Very soon she went about her work, tended the Lump, played with him, and took him for his airings quite contented and unrepining. To all seeming, life presented itself dimly to her sage mind as something in the nature of a kaleidoscope, and you acquiesced in its changes. Sometimes the squares fell into a bright picture, sometimes into a dull one. You took them as they came; and that was all there was to it. That at any rate was the impression the Honorable John Ruffin derived from her answers to the questions he put to her twice or thrice when curiosity came on him to discover what lay behind that serene angel mask.
He expressed his impression in the pregnant words: "Mrs. Bride, you are a philosopher."
Hilary Vance, Mr. James and Madam Plehve, her dancing-mistress, sometimes saw another Pollyooly. She devoted herself to her dancing in the careful, painstaking fashion in which she grilled the bacon of the Honorable John Ruffin, or tended the Lump. But it was a very different matter; she loved it. Sometimes to dance was something very like an intoxication to her. Once every week she took Lump to tea with Hilary Vance and Mr. James at the studio in Chelsea; and she always danced for them that they might see what progress in the art she was making.
Hilary Vance, watching her dancing with the genuine artist's eye for form, would presently begin to mutter and ruffle his mop of curls. Sometimes he would cry, "Oh, what a poor thing the pencil is! Never—no, never shall I be able to get into a drawing the whole of the motion in one of Pollyooly's movements once she has warmed up to her dancing."
"If you could get the whole of Pollyooly dancing, you would set down, plain for all who have eyes to see, the secret of the Dionysiac ecstasy," said Mr. James one day. "Pollyooly is the Mænad? When she warms to her dancing, I see the Bacchic frenzy rise. But I—I am a wise man; I know that manufacturers do not make the paper on which either pencil or pen can set down these things."
About a month, or perhaps it was five weeks, after the going of the Esmeralda, Pollyooly had just finished dusting the bedroom of the Honorable John Ruffin one morning when there came a knocking on the door of his chambers.
She went to it as she was, duster in hand, the sleeves of her print frock rolled up to her elbows, and opened it.
There at the threshold stood Lord Ronald Ricksborough, very elegant and fashionable in his Eton jacket, white waistcoat, and light trousers. His very shiny top hat was pushed on to the back of his head, for the morning was hot and the four flights of stairs consequently mountainous.
"Why—why, it's Ronald!" cried Pollyooly; and her clear, pale cheeks flushed scarlet; and her eyes shone on him with more than the radiance of sapphires.
"By Jove! It's Mary!" cried Ronald; and his dark eyes brightened with an equal pleasure.
They shook hands, and Pollyooly led the way into the sitting-room, where, at the sight of a stranger, the Lump rose from the floor and gazed at Ronald with solemn eyes.
"It's my little brother, Roger. But everybody calls him the Lump," said Pollyooly, by way of explanation and introduction.
"Goodness! He is red-headed. His hair is redder than yours," said Ronald, with the frankness of the astonished.
"He is a cherub—a genuine cherub—everybody says so," said Pollyooly quickly and with decision.
"Ah, yes," said Ronald a little vaguely.
He turned to her, and they looked at each other with eyes full of interest and pleasure. Then, as he took in the duster, the print frock and rolled-up sleeves, Ronald's face fell a little, and he said, "What are you doing here—in my cousin's chambers?"
"We live here—the Lump and me," said Pollyooly, her grammar weakened by this sudden pleasure.
"Yes. But what do you do? Are you—are you John Ruffin's servant?" said Ronald with some hesitation, and a touch of anxiety in his tone.
"I'm his housekeeper; it's a position of dignity; he often says so," said Pollyooly with an air of great dignity herself.
"Oh, I see," said Ronald with some relief.
"Is the court just as nice as it was in May? And the dogs? And has any one else but you found out that I wasn't Marion? And have they found her?" said Pollyooly quickly, almost in a breath, in her eagerness to learn all that had happened since her flight.
"The court's all right," said Ronald, sitting down in an easy chair. "It's jolly enough, though not so jolly as when you were there to knock about with. And the dogs are all right. There's two new ones—not up to much. And nobody has ever guessed you weren't Marion. I told you they wouldn't; you're too much like her—on the outside. And they haven't found her, and they're not likely to. They didn't begin hunting for her till you bolted from the court; and of course she'd really been lost a fortnight then."
"Did they bother you much about me? Where I'd got to?"
"Well, that was quite simple. We never thought of it; but of course they kept asking where Marion was; and of course I didn't know; so it was quite easy to say I didn't. I could tell the truth all the time," said Ronald in a tone of satisfaction.
"Of course they would. That was nice," said Pollyooly.
"It was rather a blessing. They can't catch you out in the truth," said Ronald.
"And how's Miss Marlow?" said Pollyooly with more politeness than interest.
"Oh, she's still there—waiting for Marion to come back. But they'll never find her now," said Ronald.
"I don't think they will," said Pollyooly.
They were silent for a minute, gazing at each other with pleased eyes.
Then Pollyooly sighed and said: "I do wish I was going to the court again—with the Lump."
"I wish you were," said Ronald. "It would be ripping. You're the only girl I ever came across one could really be pals with. And then, of course, you were in the great mystery. It was awful luck for a girl." He ended with a faint sigh of envy.
"I didn't care much for the mystery myself," said Pollyooly thoughtfully. "I was so afraid of getting found out. But I did like being at the court."
"We did have a good time. But the mystery was the thing," said Ronald.
They paused to gaze at each other again with pleased eyes. Then Pollyooly asked him what he had been doing since they parted; and he told her of the term at school, his riding, fishing, birds-nesting, and adventures on his wanderings with the dogs at Ricksborough Court; and Pollyooly's many questions lengthened it out.
When he came to the end of it she sighed and said, "Oh, I do wish I had been there."
"I wish you had," said Ronald with fervor. "But, I say, this is a very jolly morning. Couldn't you put on some clothes and come out? The park isn't up to much, but it's better than nothing at all."
Pollyooly's eyes shone, but she said, "I can't leave the Lump."
"Bring him along; he won't howl, I suppose?"
"He never howls," said Pollyooly quickly.
"Right O; hurry up," said Ronald.
Pollyooly was not long dressing herself and the Lump. She put on her blue silk frock because her golden frock was very like the amber frock she had worn at Ricksborough Court; and Ronald had seen her in that. She dressed the Lump in his blue silk tunic because it matched her frock.
Ronald looked at her a little anxiously as she came into the room; but at the sight of the Liberty confection which so admirably adorned her angelic beauty his face cleared and he said: "By Jove! you do look all right!"
Pollyooly smiled the gracious smile of one who has received tribute known to be deserved.
They sallied forth from the Temple into Fleet Street, and found it very like an oven.
"We'd better take a taxi to the park," said Ronald.
"What for?" cried Pollyooly, aghast at the extravagance. "There's lots of motorbuses and they'll take us there just as quickly. It's no use spending money on taxis when there are so much nicer things to spend it on."
"But I've lots of money. My grandmother gave me a five-pound note last night, and I only changed it this morning," Ronald protested.
"The thing to do is to save money, not to spend it," said Pollyooly with a solemn severity born of lessons in the school of necessity. "But if you do spend it, it's silly not to spend it on really useful or nice things."
"All right; we'll go on a 'bus," said Ronald, yielding to this cogent reasoning.
When they had settled themselves on the top of a motorbus, the Lump in Pollyooly's lap, she said: "What did your grandmother give you the five-pound note for?"
"A tip," said Ronald.
"Yes, but what did you do for it?"
"Nothing. It was a tip."
"But what have you got to buy with it?" said Pollyooly, puzzled.
"Anything I like," said Ronald.
"Not clothes, or boots, or things like that?" said Pollyooly, knitting her brow in her perplexity.
"No; I can spend it just as I like—on tuck, theaters, cricket-bats—anything," said Ronald.
"Well, that is funny. Nobody ever gives me money unless I do something for it," said Pollyooly.
"That's because you haven't any relations," said Ronald.
"Oh, of course, Aunt Hannah sometimes gave me a penny, but five pounds all at once; it's wonderful!" said Pollyooly in a tone of awe.
"Oh, I get a fiver quite often. It's all luck," said Ronald.
At the corner of Bond Street they descended from the 'bus, and Ronald ushered them into a confectioner's shop. The entry of an angel child and an authentic, but red-headed cherub, under the escort of such a good-looking boy as Ronald, aroused an uncommon interest amidst the lunchers from the Kensingtons, of which the children were quite unaware, for they devoted themselves to the sweets and cakes with a whole-hearted intentness, Pollyooly watching over the Lump with her usual motherly care.
When, judging by his own feelings, Ronald believed that they could hold no more, they took another 'bus to Hyde Park Corner, and from there betook themselves to the banks of the Serpentine. They sat for half-an-hour in pleasant somnolence, talking but little; then their natural activity asserted itself again; and they went for a row.
At a quarter-past three Pollyooly said that she must be going back to the Temple to get the Honorable John Ruffin's tea ready against his return at four o'clock. Ronald escorted them back to the gate of the Temple, and on the way he invited Pollyooly to lunch with him on the morrow, and afterward go with him to the Varolium, if she could find someone to take care of the Lump, since the entertainment would be above the head of a child of three. She said that she could leave the Lump in the care of Mrs. Brown; and if Mr. Ruffin would give her leave she would like to come very much. But she must ask him.
Accordingly, when she took the Honorable John Ruffin's tea into his sitting-room, she said: "Please, sir, Ronald—Lord Ronald Ricksborough, I mean—has been here."
"The deuce he has!" said the Honorable John Ruffin. "And what did he say when he saw you?"
"He seemed pleased, sir. You see, we got to know each other very well at the court," said Pollyooly in an explanatory tone.
"I've no doubt he was pleased—the pleasing sight gives pleasure to the ingenuous boy, as his Latin exercise book doubtless assures him. I expect he was surprised, too."
"Yes, sir. We went to the park," said Pollyooly.
The Honorable John Ruffin raised his hands with an air of the liveliest surprise, and cried: "We live indeed in a precocious age. I did not expect to be confronted by the question of followers for years and years. Oh, Pollyooly, Pollyooly, what is your sex coming to?"
"I don't know, sir," said Pollyooly gravely.
"And in your case the question of followers is a difficult one. If I had not decided that since you resided here you were my housekeeper, and must be called Mrs. Bride, it would be quite easy. But I do not know what the rules about a housekeeper's followers are. They may be allowed in the house."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly.
"You see, it's a very important matter; it must be put on a proper footing. It would never do to have any laxness in it, for we might run counter to the established tradition, which would be horrible. Besides, one scion of a noble family is sure to lead to others."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly. "Can I go with him to the Varolium to-morrow afternoon, sir?"
"That's awkward. Suppose you were mistaken for Lady Marion Deeping?" said the Honorable John Ruffin doubtfully. "Of course, you danced there. But that was very different; no one would ever dream that Lady Marion Ricksborough would be on the Varolium stage. But they would be quick enough to recognize her in the auditorium—with her cousin, too."
Pollyooly's face fell.
"Well, that can't be helped. It wouldn't be fair that you should be deprived of the simple pleasures of London because you once helped to restore a daughter to her mother," the Honorable John Ruffin went on in a lighter tone. "And, after all, I should think that Ronald could stand cross-examination very well. If there is trouble, tell him to refer all inquirers to me."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly, and her face grew bright again.
"And I tell you what: if any one persists that you are Lady Marion, and wants to carry you off to Ricksborough House, you be firm with them; just call a policeman and give them in charge. You'll like doing that."
"Yes, sir. They wouldn't have any right to, sir," said Pollyooly.
"None whatever. So mind you're firm with them."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly in a tone of determination; and at the joyful thought of the morrow she went up to her attic, to fetch the Lump, on very light feet.
When Ronald arrived at one o'clock the next day he found her ready to go with him, the Lump already in the safe keeping of Mrs. Brown. He smiled at her with great contentment, for she was looking her most angelic; and on their way down the stairs he put his arm round her clumsily and kissed her.
Pollyooly flushed a little, but returned his kiss frankly; then she said: "It's funny, but I don't often get kissed except by the Lump."
"I don't care about kissing myself—much. In fact, I hate having women slobbering over me," said Ronald frankly. "But, somehow, you're different," he added thoughtfully.
"I like it rather," said Pollyooly. "Aunt Hannah used to kiss me, of course; but she's dead. And the Esmeralda used to kiss me when I was dancing with her; but she's gone to Paris and Berlin."
"The Esmeralda! You danced with the Esmeralda?" cried Ronald, in the liveliest amazement; and he stopped short on the stairs.
"Yes; at the Varolium; and I got a pound a week for six weeks. It's saved, every bit—in the Post-Office Savings Bank," said Pollyooly with natural pride.
"You were that kid! The fairy in Titania's Awakening! Why, I've heard no end about you! Half-a-dozen of the fellows talked of nothing else for days after the mid-term holiday. Lascelles minor went to see you four times, and Carruthers minor three; and they wrote to you."
"I wonder if they sent me any of these bangles," said Pollyooly, jingling them on her wrists. "But I got such a lot of things—boxes of chocolates, you know. And I got the letters and the names mixed up; so I don't know who sent me different things. The smeralda told me not to write and thank them or I should have nothing else to do."
"I call it rather cheek, their sending you bangles—chocolate is all right," said Ronald with a touch of jealousy in his tone.
"Oh, people always do, when you dance," said Pollyooly carelessly.
They went on down the stairs; and suddenly Ronald laughed joyfully, and said in a tone of triumph: "By Jove! I wonder what they'll say when they hear that I know you, and we've been going about together!" He kissed her again in the fullness of his heart. "Fancy your not telling me that sooner! Most girls would have told me the first thing."
"We were talking about you and the court all yesterday," said Pollyooly simply. "But when I grow up I am going to be a dancer like the Esmeralda myself. I'm working hard at it."
"That's ripping," said Ronald in a tone of the warmest approval.
But he could not properly discuss a matter of such weight while he was in motion, and at the bottom of the stairs he came to a standstill and gazed at her earnestly.
"So you've really been on the stage?" he said, knitting his brows into a thoughtful frown. "I tell you what: ever since you were at the court I've been thinking that you're the kind of a girl I should like to marry. In fact, you're the only girl I ever felt like that about. But when I found you were John Ruffin's housekeeper I was a good deal put off—"
"It's a position of dignity. He said so," Pollyooly interrupted in a very firm tone.
"Yes; but fellows don't marry housekeepers. But if you're going on the stage—dancing, too—that makes it all right. Lots of fellows marry girls on the stage—in the choruses of musical comedy—"
"They can't dance for nuts," interrupted Pollyooly, mindful of the Esmeralda's strictures on that deserving but incompetent class.
"I dare say not; but they're on the stage, so fellows can marry them. And I can marry you if you're going on the stage. Don't you see?" said Ronald eagerly.
"Yes," said Pollyooly gravely.
"You're sure you don't mind?" said Ronald a little anxiously.
"No; I should like it," said Pollyooly with her angel smile.
"Then we might as well be regularly engaged."
"All right," said Pollyooly in a pleased tone.
"But, of course, we won't get married till you've been on the stage for a bit—just to make it quite right," he said with a thoughtful caution.
"But I've been on the stage," said Pollyooly.
"Yes; of course you have. But we shan't be able to get married for a good many years; and I think you'd better go on it a bit more before we get married. It mightn't count properly, your being so young."
"All right. I should like it," said Pollyooly. "People take you to supper at beautiful restaurants."
Ronald breathed the sigh of relief of a man who has arranged an important matter satisfactorily, and said:
"Well, we'd better get on or we shan't have proper time for lunch."
They walked briskly out of the Temple and climbed on to a motorbus. When they had settled down in their seats, Ronald chuckled and said: "By Jove! the fellows will be sick when they hear we're engaged. It's something like a score, besides being jolly itself."
Then he turned a little gloomy, and said: "But we ought to have taken a taxi. I don't believe Lascelles minor would let the girl he was engaged to go on a 'bus."
"I shouldn't have thought he was engaged if he wrote letters to me," said Pollyooly in some surprise.
"Now I come to think of it, he isn't," said Ronald.
"Then how does he know what he'd do?" said Pollyooly triumphantly.
Ronald's face cleared.
After some discussion about where they should lunch, they decided, at Pollyooly's suggestion, to go to the Café Grice in Soho, where the Esmeralda had been used to sup with the Honorable John Ruffin. She said that the French pastry there was delicious. There Ronald enjoyed another surprise. When they entered the proprietor and his staff leaped forward to a man to greet Pollyooly, their faces wreathed in smiles of welcome. The proprietor himself took Ronald's orders with a great air of deference; and Ronald found the attention very much to his liking.
They ate some poulet en casserole, and the rest was pastry and ices.
Ronald was surprised by the bill; but he said nothing till they came out. Then he said: "By Jove! That's an awfully good place for the money. I must go there when I'm lunching in town on my own. I shall be rather short, you know, when I've bought you a decent engagement ring."
"A ring? Oh, I shall like having it!" said Pollyooly, flushing, with shining eyes. "Wearing a ring will make me always remembering you."
"I expect that's what they're for," said Ronald.
They walked quickly to the Varolium; and when they came into its vestibule Ronald was making for the box-office when Pollyooly checked him.
"I mustn't be paid for," she said firmly. "When you're on the stage you don't pay for seats. The Esmeralda told me so. It wouldn't be right."
She crossed the vestibule to the manager and held out her hand. The manager greeted her with a warmth as deep, though not so effusive, as that of the proprietor of the Café Grice. He asked her news of the Esmeralda; and since the Honorable John Ruffin had read her parts of the Esmeralda's letters to him she was able to give him the latest accounts of her triumph in Berlin. She told him, with natural pride, that she had not found in Germany a little girl who suited her nearly as well as she had done; and the manager said that she might very well hunt the world through without finding one. She introduced Ronald to him, and after the interchange of the due civilities, he himself conducted them to a box in the middle tier. Again Ronald found the attention very much to his liking.
They enjoyed the entertainment greatly. Pollyooly watched the dancing with the keenest eyes, and discussed it very gravely indeed. After the entertainment they walked down Piccadilly, discussing the different turns, to the Bond Street confectioner's. There they made an excellent tea.
They were strolling back down Piccadilly, still talking earnestly, when a motor-car drew up at the curb with a jerk, ten feet before them, and the Duke of Osterley sprang out of it.
He caught Pollyooly by the arm, crying triumphantly : "Marion at last! Where did you find her?"
"I'm not Marion!" cried the startled Pollyooly, trying to tug her arm away.
"That isn't Marion, sir!" cried Ronald.
"Not Marion? What do you mean? What are you talking about?" cried the duke.
"She's Mary Bride," said Ronald.
"Yes, I'm Mary Bride. Let go my arm!" said Pollyooly, tugging harder.
"Do you two impudent young devils think I don't know my own daughter?" cried the duke; and his prim face began to redden with anger.
"I'm not your daughter!" cried Pollyooly.
"Indeed, she isn't, Uncle. She's Mary Bride—John Ruffin's housekeeper," Ronald emphatically protested.
"Let go my arm or I'll call a policeman," cried Pollyooly fiercely, mindful of the Honorable John Ruffin's instructions.
Already a large group was regarding with interest the dapper but purple gentleman squabbling with two elaborately dressed children in the middle of Piccadilly; and, keenly alive to the risk of seeing his domestic affairs once more in print, the duke picked Pollyooly up bodily and stepped into the car with her. Ronald sprang in after him, and the duke cried, "Home!"
During the four minutes that it took them to reach Ricksborough House the duke said nothing and Pollyooly said nothing. He scowled at Pollyooly, and pulled at his neat and harmless mustache; Pollyooly gave him scowl for scowl. Ronald, to whom the occurrence was an extremely agreeable ending to an agreeable afternoon, twice assured the incredulous duke that he was making a mistake.
When the car stopped, the duke hurried Pollyooly into the house, through the hall, calling to the interested, but impassive, butler to send Mrs. Hutton to him at once, and into the dining-room.
"Now what do you mean by this cock-and-bull story?" he said with all the truculence he could muster.
"It isn't a cock-and-bull story—it isn't really. It's the literal truth. She isn't Marion at all. She's Mary Bride—John Ruffin's housekeeper. She has been for months," said Ronald.
"Yes; that's who I am; and I've got a little brother called Roger—so there!" said Pollyooly, with a truculence that more than matched the duke's.
"Yes; she has. I've seen him," said Ronald. "I went to the Temple to see John Ruffin, and I found her there; and she's so like Marion I asked her to come out with me. And she's been on the stage, which Marion couldn't have done, because she's too much of a duffer—dancing with the Esmeralda at the Varolium. Hundreds of people can tell you so."
The duke was staggered. The attitude and firmness of the two children shook his conviction that his daughter Marion, whom after all he only knew by sight, was before him.
Then Mrs. Hutton bustled into the room, in a panting and purple excitement, and at the sight of Pollyooly cried fussily, "Why, if it isn't her ladyship come back! Oh, if your ladyship only knew the trouble and anxiety you've given everybody, especially your good father—"
"He's not my father! I haven't got a father!" cried Pollyooly, interrupting her.
"That settles it. Mrs. Hutton recognizes you at once," said the duke triumphantly. "I knew I couldn't be mistaken."
"She's a silly old idiot!" said Pollyooly fiercely, but with intense conviction.
"But it is a mistake, Uncle. Can't you see how much better looking and intelligent Mary is than Marion?" Ronald protested earnestly, with more regard for the truth than for a father's pride.
"Both of them say that this isn't Marion, that it's another little girl, Mrs. Hutton," said the duke.
"There can't be two Lady Marions, your Grace," said Mrs. Hutton, in a tone of finality.
"Of course there can't," said the duke.
As he spoke Ronald's fox terrier, Wiggs, trotted into the room and with no hesitation whatever greeted Pollyooly with every demonstration of affectionate regard.
"That does settle it," said the duke in a tone of mingled relief and triumph. "That dog couldn't know you if you weren't Marion. Take her to her room, Mrs. Hutton, and lock her in it Pack her things and take her down to the court by the ten-fifteen to-morrow. If she gets away from you again I shall discharge you."
"I won't go!" said Pollyooly firmly; and she sat down in an easy-chair.
The exasperated duke sprang forward, caught her by her arm and jerked her to her feet. Mindful of the teaching of the Honorable John Ruffin, Pollyooly uttered a shrill and piercing scream.
The startled duke loosed her and and stepped back. "Oh, I see what it is," he said, grinding his teeth. "Your mother has put you up to this."
"My mother's been dead years and years. You leave me alone," said Pollyooly firmly; and she sat down again.
"Take her up-stairs, Mrs. Hutton," said the duke thickly.
"If she touches me I'll bite her," said Pollyooly, in a tone of the grimmest resolution.
The duke scratched his head and said: "Look here, if you don't go with Mrs. Hutton, Lucas shall take you, you naughty child."
"If he touches me I'll bite him," said Pollyooly.
The duke panted and rang the bell.
The portly butler came to the summons.
"Take Lady Marion to her rooms, Lucas," said the duke.
"If you touch me I'll bite you," said Pollyooly, glowering at him and baring her teeth.
Lucas scratched his head.
"D'you hear what I say? Take her to her room!" cried the duke furiously; and he executed a short, poor dance on the hearthrug.
Lucas advanced slowly, looking unhappy.
"Look here, you go quietly. You'll only get hurt and get your clothes torn," said Ronald in a tone of decision. "And I'll go and fetch John Ruffin. He'll make them understand."
The thought of getting her clothes torn hampered Pollyooly's freedom of action, and, scowling at Lucas and the duke, she said: "All right; if you'll fetch him I'll go quietly." And she rose with a most ungracious air.
Ronald bolted out of the room and house. Pollyooly followed Mrs. Hutton up-stairs, closely guarded behind by the relieved Lucas. They conducted her to a large and airy bedroom, with a pleasing view over the Green Park; but they did not lock her in because, with a forethought admirable in one so young, she contrived to reach the door of it just before Mrs. Hutton and sequestered the key. This compelled that stout Argus to sit on a chair against the door; and Pollyooly, admiring the view, paid little heed to her repinings.
Meanwhile the duke went to his smoking-room and sat down in an easy-chair to recover from the perturbation occasioned by the conduct of Pollyooly, still haunted by a certain dread, aroused by the steadfast attitude of the two children, that he had imprisoned a perfect, but red-haired, stranger. As he sat soothing himself and pulling nervously at his unhappy mustache, he pondered gloomily over his quarrel with the duchess, which, beginning as a most trivial molehill, had swelled to such mountainous proportions.
Then Ronald arrived with the Honorable John Ruffin, whom by the luckiest chance he had actually found in his chambers.
The grave and gloomy air with which the Honorable John Ruffin entered the smoking-room was, to an observant person, utterly belied by the sparkle in his eyes, which showed him simmering with quiet joy.
"To say nothing of an assault, an action for malicious imprisonment will certainly lie," he said in a gloomy tone, without any phrase of greeting to the duke.
"Look here; you're not in this cock-and-bull story, too, Ruffin?" said the duke anxiously, rising hastily as he spoke.
"You forget yourself, Osterley. I shouldn't dream of being in any cock-and-bull story," said the Honorable John Ruffin with a most dignified air. "I'm talking about my unfortunate housekeeper, whom you have abused, assaulted, and maliciously imprisoned. Really, Osterley, if your peerage were five centuries older, I could have understood it. I should simply say that the old robber baron strain had suddenly broken out in you. But you were ordinary London burgesses till the middle of the seventeenth century. You have no excuse for behaving like this. It's uppishness—mere uppishness."
"Oh, stop your confounded rotting," said the duke irritably. "Do you mean to tell me that that red-haired child is not Marion? Why, Mrs. Hutton, Marion's maid, recognized her at once; and what's more, Ronald's dog, Wiggs, recognized her, too. I'll swear he did."
"Old women and dogs! Do you mind my feeling your ducal skull, Osterley? You must be suffering from softening of the brain. The child is my housekeeper, Mary Bride. She has been about the Temple for the last two years; and scores of people can swear that she was at Muttle-Deeping for ten years before that," said the Honorable John Ruffin in incisive tones.
"If I could only be sure that Caroline herself had not put you all up to this game," said the duke dismally.
"Look here; do you think I'd have Marion as my housekeeper?" said the Honorable John Ruffin with some heat. "Do you think Marion could grill bacon so that a self-respecting human being could eat it?"
"She might have been taught," said the duke.
"Taught! Taught!" cried the Honorable John Ruffin. "Oh, this is a father's fond partiality. I did not expect to find it in a man of the world like you, Osterley. You must know that the power of grilling bacon is a heaven-sent gift. It can't be learned."
"But how do you explain that dog?" said the duke obstinately.
The Honorable John Ruffin could very well have explained that Wiggs had made the acquaintance of Pollyooly when she was impersonating Marion at Ricksborough Court. Instead of doing so, he cried indignantly: "I don't explain dogs; I explain the law. I'm a barrister, not a biologist—as you very well know, if you will only stop to think. But I'll tell you what we'll do; we'll all go down to the kitchen, and Pollyooly—Mary Bride—shall grill you some bacon. That will quite convince you."
"I've no fancy for bacon at six o'clock in the day," said the duke gloomily. "I suppose I've made a mistake."
"You have—a bad mistake—and with a red Deeping, too. You know what the red Deepings are."
"A red Deeping?" said the duke.
"Of course Pollyooly is a red Deeping. That's why she's so like Marion. I told you she came from Muttle-Deeping; and you know how these old strains crop up among the village folk. Has she bitten anybody?" said the Honorable John Ruffin with a sudden air of anxiety.
"She said she was going to bite Lucas—wish she had," said the duke gloomily. "But she hadn't when she went up-stairs."
"That's all right," said the Honorable John Ruffin with an air of relief. "If a red Deeping bit me, I should have the bite cauterized at once. But never mind. I'll soothe her. Send for her."
The duke rang the bell, and bade Lucas fetch Pollyooly. She came into the room, looking like an aggrieved but very defiant angel. At the sight of the Honorable John Ruffin her face cleared. She crossed the room swiftly, and took her stand at his side. Then she scowled at the duke.
The duke cleared his throat, and with an air of deep discomfort, said: "I—er—er—find I've made er—er—a mistake. It—er—er—seems you aren't Marion after all."
"I told you so, and you wouldn't believe me. And so did Ronald," said Pollyooly in a tone of unmistakable triumph.
"It was er—er—the likeness. You're very like my little girl," said the duke in the unhappiest tone.
"Only more intelligent looking—Ronald says so," said Pollyooly firmly.
"Perhaps—perhaps. And then the clothes you're wearing; and then—er—er—finding you with my nephew—"
"I asked her to come out because she's so like Marion," Ronald interposed quickly.
"We seem somehow or other to be drifting away from the subject of compensation," said the Honorable John Ruffin in his most agreeable tone.
"Ah, yes; compensation," said the duke with a fresh air of gloom. "I suppose a couple of sovereigns—"
"My dear Osterley—assault, abuse, and malicious imprisonment," said the Honorable John Ruffin in a tone of protest.
"Well, five pounds," said the duke more gloomily.
Pollyooly puckered her brow thoughtfully: "I think it ought to be six," she said very firmly.
"All right—six," said the duke with tears in his voice.
He drew a note-case from his pocket, took a five-pound note from it, drew a handful of money from his trousers pocket, chose a thin-looking sovereign from it, and gave them to Pollyooly.
She thanked him politely, but without undue warmth.
Every one but the duke looked relieved and pleased.
Then Ronald said, "May I have the car and take Mary home, Uncle?"
The duke growled an assent, and Pollyooly dropped a curtsey and bade him good evening like the well-mannered child she was.
In the car Ronald said: "By Jove! It was fun! You did stand up to them; and John Ruffin did pull uncle's leg. He's a fair knock-out, John Ruffin is. I'd no idea. And you have all that money—six quid! What are you going to do with it?"
"Save it," said Pollyooly.
"It seems funny to save money," said Ronald.
"Yes; but when Mr. Ruffin's creditors are victorious, and consign him to the deepest dungeon in Holloway Castle—he says they may—then the Lump and I will live on the money I've saved; and we shan't go to the workhouse," said Pollyooly in the tone of a conqueror of Fate.
"Oh, it's like that—I see," said Ronald.
He kept the car in King's Bench Walk, while he went round with her to Mrs. Brown's to fetch the Lump; and he carried him up the stairs to the Honorable John Ruffin's chambers.
Then he put his arm around her neck and kissed her and said: "I'll come round for you to-morrow about one; and I'll bring that engagement ring."
"Oh, it will be nice!" said Pollyooly; and she kissed him.