Pollyooly. A Romance of Long Felt Wants and the Red Haired Girl Who Filled Them - Edgar Jepson - ebook

Pollyooly. A Romance of Long Felt Wants and the Red Haired Girl Who Filled Them ebook

Edgar Jepson



Edgar Alfred Jepson was an English writer, principally of mainstream adventure and detective fiction, but also of some supernatural and fantasy stories that are better remembered. The story „Pollyooly. A Romance of Long Felt Wants and the Red Haired Girl Who Filled Them” (1912) takes place prior to World War I. Pollyooly, whose given name is Mary Bride, is the 12-year-old housekeeper of John Ruffin, a London barrister. Pollyooly and her younger brother, Roger are orphans. Raised by their aunt in a village, they come to London when her aunt is swindled out of her life’s savings and forced to find work as Ruffin’s cook and housekeeper. When their aunt is killed by a motorist, Pollyooly tries to fill in for her aunt in order to keep both her and her brother out of the workhouse.

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“The Lump shan’t go into the workhouse–ever,” said the angel child, with the red hair, firmly. Then after a pause she added even more firmly, “I won’t let him.”

Mrs. Brown shook her shapely head: she was the wife of a policeman. The gloom on her so round and usually so cheerful face deepened; and she said despondently, “I don’t know how you’ll manage–you bein’ so young, an’ work that ’ard to git.”

“Aunt Hannah told me never to let the Lump go into the workhouse the last afternoon I saw her at the hospital; and I promised her he never should; and he shan’t,” said the angel child in the same tone of cold resolution. “I’ve got twenty-two shillings as it is.”

“An’ that won’t last long, Pollyooly, my dear,” said Mrs. Brown gloomily.

“But on Saturday there’ll be another ten shillings–five shillings from Mr. Ruffin and five shillings from Mr. Gedge-Tomkins; and perhaps I’ll go on doing their work for quite a long time,” said Pollyooly, still undismayed.

“That’s too much to ’ope,” said Mrs. Brown, her words and tone once more belying her naturally cheerful face.

“They don’t know that Aunt Hannah’s dead,” said Pollyooly.

“They’ll ’ear,” said Mrs. Brown conscientiously, in the same comforting vein.

“They won’t hear from me,” said Pollyooly curtly.

“But if they know how bad she was, they’ll ’ave bin expectin’ ’er to die,” said Mrs. Brown.

“They only know that she’s ill. I didn’t tell them that it was an accident, and how bad it was. And I’m not going to tell them she’s dead. I’m going to go on doing her work just as long as I can,” said Pollyooly in the same tone of cold resolution.

“Lord, Pollyooly, what lies you’ll have to tell! An’ whatever would your Aunt Hannah have said to that? An’ she so strict with you,” said Mrs. Brown, raising her plump hands.

“It isn’t for me–it’s for the Lump. And it’s all there is to do,” said Pollyooly with a touch of distress in her resolute voice. “And I shan’t tell any lies, Mrs. Brown; I shan’t really. If they ask me straight out if Aunt Hannah is dead, I shall tell them the truth.”

“What a row there’ll be, when they do find out,” said Mrs. Brown.

“I can’t help that–there’s the Lump,” said Pollyooly. “Besides, I cook their breakfasts for them and clean their rooms quite well–ever so much better than that dirty old Mrs. Meeken does the floor below.”

“I must say that your aunt did bring you up to do things proper. And I expect you to do them two sets of chambers quite well. What’s two sets of chambers, after all? And gentlemen too who never know whether a room’s clean, or whether it isn’t. I do ’ope as you’ll keep the jobs a good long time. I don’t see who’s to tell the gentlemen that your Aunt Hannah’s dead. But things do out so,” said Mrs. Brown; and she surveyed the two children gloomily.

Yet they were not of an appearance to cast a gloom on the faces of those who beheld them. Pollyooly was, to the eye, the genuine angel child. Her eyes were a deep blue; her mouth was shaped like Cupid’s bow; the hue of wild roses stained faintly her pale cheeks; and her white skin was translucent like mother-of-pearl. Her chin was perhaps a little squarer than the chin of the conventional angel; and her red hair was further at variance with the Christmas-card tradition and ideal. But to the eye of persons of taste she was the genuine angel child.

Even so was her little brother Roger, whose magnificent placidity had earned for him the name of “The Lump,” the genuine cherub, with the round, chubby face, little curls, and Cupid’s bow mouth of all the cherubs that the painters have limned, the sculptors carved. But in him also there was no slavish adherence to tradition: his curls, like Pollyooly’s silken hair, were red.

Pollyooly’s black frock and the Lump’s black tunic threw their clear complexions and delicate coloring into vivid relief. They had just returned from the funeral of their great-aunt, Hannah Bride. Five days earlier an enthusiastic motorist, engaged in a spirited effort to beat the speed-limit along the Thames Embankment, had knocked her down, and she had died of her injuries in St. Thomas’ hospital.

The motorist, one of the wealthy aliens who help so hard to make England what she should not be, on observing that he had knocked down a woman, beat the speed-limit to a frazzle in his passionate effort to escape the payment of a doctor’s bill, and since it chanced that no one saw, or at any rate remembered, the number of his car, he made good that escape.

Hannah Bride died none the more peacefully for the thought that she left a grand-niece of twelve and a grand-nephew of two to face the world with about a pound in money and some indifferent furniture. Yet she did not die in utter dismay, for she believed that Heaven would temper the wind to these two lambs shorn of their great-aunt; and she had great confidence in Pollyooly as the protector of the Lump.

Mrs. Brown had helped Pollyooly draw her aunt’s burial money from the insurance company, and had arranged the funeral. Now, on their return from it, she was giving the children the lavish tea the sorrowful occasion demanded.

She and her husband, a rising young policeman, were the children’s only friends in London, or indeed in the world. Mrs. Brown was a native of Muttle-Deeping, and had been in service at Deeping Hall when Hannah Bride was its housekeeper, in the days of Lady Constantia Deeping. Three years before Hannah Bride had retired to private life in a cottage at Muttle-Deeping, on her savings and a pension from Lady Constantia, in order that she might devote herself to the rearing of the Lump, whose mother had died in bringing him into the world.

A year later misfortunes befell her. Lady Constantia Deeping died; and her heir, the Duke of Osterley, had marked his disapproval of the Old Age Pensions Act by stopping all the pensions of the old servants who had for so many years served his father and uncles and aunts. It had proved a great saving to him: in the case of Hannah Bride alone he saved thirty pounds a year.

Then Hannah Bride had lost the savings of her forty-seven years’ service with Lady Constantia Deeping in an imaginary gold-mine, the offspring of the fertile fancy of three gentlemen who spent their laborious days in the City of London, and the instrument with which they extracted money from simple old men and women whose country experience had gifted them with an insufficient distrust of the Oriental imagination.

Thus it came about that, thanks to the Duke of Osterley and these three gentlemen, Hannah Bride came to London to begin the world afresh at the age of sixty-seven.

Mrs. Brown had been her mainstay. She had found for her lodging an attic at the top of the house in which she herself lived, and it was from her that Hannah Bride had learned that the post of laundress to two sets of rooms in the Inner Temple was vacant, had applied for them, and had been so lucky as to obtain them.

After the manner of her class, Mrs. Brown reckoned a funeral an occasion for feasting, and she was giving the children buttered toast with jam on it. They both enjoyed it; the Lump with the natural freedom from care of his two and a half years, Pollyooly in spite of her anxiety about the future, and her grief at her aunt’s death. During the rest of the meal she discussed with Mrs. Brown the prospects of getting work, when she should have lost her Temple posts. Mrs. Brown assured her with confident conviction that, as soon as Mr. Ruffin and Mr. Gedge-Tomkins learned of her aunt’s death, they would insist on having a laundress–those who clean and cook in chambers in the Temple have from times immemorial borne the title of ‘Laundress’–staider and of more trustworthy years; and Pollyooly sadly believed her.

After tea she took the Lump up to their attic and washed him. Then they sallied forth into their street, that little slum, much of it seventeenth century, on which the back windows of the middle block of the King’s Bench Walk look down, and which is all that is left of the Alsatia of the Stuarts. It is not unlikely that in the very room in which they had eaten the funeral feast of buttered toast and jam, the great hero of the restoration, Colonel Blood, caroused, drinking the English sun to sleep, and lighting lamps that would have outburned the Eddystone had it chanced to have been built at the time.

It is to be feared that Pollyooly, in spite of her mourning, walked down that immemorial slum with a truculent swagger which went ill with her angelic air. She was at variance with certain young Alsatians who had taken shrill exception to the redness of her hair, and she prosecuted a relentless feud against them with a vigor, the result of a childhood spent in the healthy air of Muttle-Deeping, which they feared and envied. The two children came down the street without encounter, and went to the gardens on the Embankment. There, while the Lump disported himself, in his sedate way, on the dry turf with an unmaned wooden horse, Pollyooly sat and considered the dark future. In her black frock, with her desolate, delicate air, she looked but a frail creature to face the world, a frail provider of the needs of the carefree cherub.

Next morning, however, when she betook herself in her oft-washed blue print frock, for she was keeping the black frock, which had been purchased out of the burial-money, as best, to No. 75 in the King’s Bench Walk, she wore the serene and cheerful air proper to a dauntless spirit; and as she swept and dusted the rooms in her care, she sang softly the songs of the country child.

It was half-past eight; she was cooking the breakfast of the Honorable John Ruffin, when there came a knock at his oak, as the outer door of a set of chambers is inexplicably called, seeing that it is so often made of pitch-pine. She peered cautiously through the slit of the letter-box, as she had been carefully instructed to do lest she should open the oak to the seedy dun. She saw, standing without, a stout gentleman of a rich Assyrian air, wearing a very shiny silk hat: a well-to-do figure, reassuring to her childish mind; and she opened the oak.

“I want to see Mr. Ruffin,” said the stout gentleman sharply.

There was a touch of hostility in his tone, and Pollyooly’s quick ear caught it: “You can’t see him. He’s not had breakfast; it’s no use bothering him before breakfast,” she said quickly.

“Rats,” said the stout gentleman shortly; and he pushed rudely past her, went along the passage to the sitting-room, and, without knocking, entered it.

The sitting-room was empty of human occupant, but bestrewn with human wearing apparel; and then the Honorable John Ruffin came into it from his bedroom.

“What the deuce do you mean by forcing your way unannounced, Fitzgerald?” he said sharply.

“I’ve come for my money–the rest of my money,” said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald in a tone of fierce bluster.

The tone seemed to soothe the Honorable John Ruffin; the slight frown cleared from his excellent brow; and he smiled an amiable, though mocking smile.

“Didn’t you get my letter?” he said in a gentle, rather drawling voice.

“Yes; I got it all right. And I’ve come to find out what it means,” said Mr. Montague Fitzgerald yet more blusterously.

“It means what it says. You’ve come to the end of fleecing me. I’ve paid off your loan and twenty per cent. interest on it; and I’m not going to pay a farthing more,” said the Honorable John Ruffin in the sweetest tone of his well-modulated voice.

Mr. Montague Fitzgerald gasped; then he thundered, “My money! I’m going to ’ave it!”

“Not from me,” said the Honorable John Ruffin with unabated sweetness.

“I will have it! I’ll show you what’s what, if you try to come any of these swindling games over me! I will have it!” roared Mr. Montague Fitzgerald.

“You can get it from the devil–or the High Court,” said the Honorable John Ruffin with cloying sweetness.

Mr. Montague Fitzgerald burst into a warm perspiration. The Honorable John Ruffin’s first suggestion was absurd–there was no money there. His second suggestion was little better–the High Court was the last place to which Mr. Montague Fitzgerald wished to go for several months. On a recent visit to it, to obtain a little matter of sixty per cent. from another unfortunate client, the judge had taken occasion to remark on his methods of dealing with inexperienced youth with a crude frankness which had considerably contracted the sphere of his lucrative usefulness to the community; he wished it contracted no further.

He hesitated a moment; then in a very different, indeed a honeyed, tone, he said, “Now, Mr. Ruffin, you’re a man of honor–”

“Am I?” said the Honorable John Ruffin sharply.

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