Miss Polly Harrington entered her kitchen a little hurriedly this June morning. Miss Polly did not usually make hurried movements; she specially prided herself on her repose of manner. But today she was hurrying-actually hurrying. Nancy, washing dishes at the sink, looked up in surprise. Nancy had been working in Miss Polly's kitchen only two months, but already she knew that her mistress did not usually hurry. "Nancy!" "Yes, ma'am." Nancy answered cheerfully, but she still continued wiping the pitcher in her hand. "Nancy,"-Miss Polly's voice was very stern now-"when I'm talking to you, I wish you to stop your work and listen to what I have to say." Nancy flushed miserably. She set the pitcher down at once, with the cloth still about it, thereby nearly tipping it over-which did not add to her composure.
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In the little attic room Nancy swept and scrubbed vigorously, paying particular attention to the corners. There were times, indeed, when the vigor she put into her work was more of a relief to her feelings than it was an ardor to efface dirt—Nancy, in spite of her frightened submission to her mistress, was no saint.
"I—just—wish—I could—dig—out the corners—of—her—soul!" she muttered jerkily, punctuating her words with murderous jabs of her pointed cleaning-stick. "There's plenty of 'em needs cleanin' all right, all right! The idea of stickin' that blessed child 'way off up here in this hot little room—with no fire in the winter, too, and all this big house ter pick and choose from! Unnecessary children, indeed! Humph!" snapped Nancy, wringing her rag so hard her fingers ached from the strain; "I guess it ain't CHILDREN what is MOST unnecessary just now, just now!"
For some time she worked in silence; then, her task finished, she looked about the bare little room in plain disgust.
"Well, it's done—my part, anyhow," she sighed. "There ain't no dirt here—and there's mighty little else. Poor little soul!—a pretty place this is ter put a homesick, lonesome child into!" she finished, going out and closing the door with a bang, "Oh!" she ejaculated, biting her lip. Then, doggedly: "Well, I don't care. I hope she did hear the bang,—I do, I do!"
In the garden that afternoon, Nancy found a few minutes in which to interview Old Tom, who had pulled the weeds and shovelled the paths about the place for uncounted years.
"Mr. Tom," began Nancy, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure she was unobserved; "did you know a little girl was comin' here ter live with Miss Polly?"
"A—what?" demanded the old man, straightening his bent back with difficulty.
"A little girl—to live with Miss Polly."
"Go on with yer jokin'," scoffed unbelieving Tom. "Why don't ye tell me the sun is a-goin' ter set in the east ter-morrer?"
"But it's true. She told me so herself," maintained Nancy. "It's her niece; and she's eleven years old."
The man's jaw fell.
"Sho!—I wonder, now," he muttered; then a tender light came into his faded eyes. "It ain't—but it must be—Miss Jennie's little gal! There wasn't none of the rest of 'em married. Why, Nancy, it must be Miss Jennie's little gal. Glory be ter praise! ter think of my old eyes a-seein' this!"
"Who was Miss Jennie?"
"She was an angel straight out of Heaven," breathed the man, fervently; "but the old master and missus knew her as their oldest daughter. She was twenty when she married and went away from here long years ago. Her babies all died, I heard, except the last one; and that must be the one what's a-comin'."
"She's eleven years old."
"Yes, she might be," nodded the old man.
"And she's goin' ter sleep in the attic—more shame ter HER!" scolded Nancy, with another glance over her shoulder toward the house behind her.
Old Tom frowned. The next moment a curious smile curved his lips.
"I'm a-wonderin' what Miss Polly will do with a child in the house," he said.
"Humph! Well, I'm a-wonderin' what a child will do with Miss Polly in the house!" snapped Nancy.
The old man laughed.
"I'm afraid you ain't fond of Miss Polly," he grinned.
"As if ever anybody could be fond of her!" scorned Nancy.
Old Tom smiled oddly. He stooped and began to work again.
"I guess maybe you didn't know about Miss Polly's love affair," he said slowly.
"Love affair—HER! No!—and I guess nobody else didn't, neither."
"Oh, yes they did," nodded the old man. "And the feller's livin' ter-day—right in this town, too."
"Who is he?"
"I ain't a-tellin' that. It ain't fit that I should." The old man drew himself erect. In his dim blue eyes, as he faced the house, there was the loyal servant's honest pride in the family he has served and loved for long years.
"But it don't seem possible—her and a lover," still maintained Nancy.
Old Tom shook his head.
"You didn't know Miss Polly as I did," he argued. "She used ter be real handsome—and she would be now, if she'd let herself be."
"Handsome! Miss Polly!"
"Yes. If she'd just let that tight hair of hern all out loose and careless-like, as it used ter be, and wear the sort of bunnits with posies in 'em, and the kind o' dresses all lace and white things—you'd see she'd be handsome! Miss Polly ain't old, Nancy."
"Ain't she, though? Well, then she's got an awfully good imitation of it—she has, she has!" sniffed Nancy.
"Yes, I know. It begun then—at the time of the trouble with her lover," nodded Old Tom; "and it seems as if she'd been feedin' on wormwood an' thistles ever since—she's that bitter an' prickly ter deal with."
"I should say she was," declared Nancy, indignantly. "There's no pleasin' her, nohow, no matter how you try! I wouldn't stay if 'twa'n't for the wages and the folks at home what's needin' 'em. But some day—some day I shall jest b'ile over; and when I do, of course it'll be good-by Nancy for me. It will, it will."
Old Tom shook his head.
"I know. I've felt it. It's nart'ral—but 'tain't best, child; 'tain't best. Take my word for it, 'tain't best." And again he bent his old head to the work before him.
"Nancy!" called a sharp voice.
"Y-yes, ma'am," stammered Nancy; and hurried toward the house.
In due time came the telegram announcing that Pollyanna would arrive in Beldingsville the next day, the twenty-fifth of June, at four o'clock. Miss Polly read the telegram, frowned, then climbed the stairs to the attic room. She still frowned as she looked about her.
The room contained a small bed, neatly made, two straight-backed chairs, a washstand, a bureau—without any mirror—and a small table. There were no drapery curtains at the dormer windows, no pictures on the wall. All day the sun had been pouring down upon the roof, and the little room was like an oven for heat. As there were no screens, the windows had not been raised. A big fly was buzzing angrily at one of them now, up and down, up and down, trying to get out.
Miss Polly killed the fly, swept it through the window (raising the sash an inch for the purpose), straightened a chair, frowned again, and left the room.
"Nancy," she said a few minutes later, at the kitchen door, "I found a fly up-stairs in Miss Pollyanna's room. The window must have been raised at some time. I have ordered screens, but until they come I shall expect you to see that the windows remain closed. My niece will arrive to-morrow at four o'clock. I desire you to meet her at the station. Timothy will take the open buggy and drive you over. The telegram says 'light hair, red-checked gingham dress, and straw hat.' That is all I know, but I think it is sufficient for your purpose."
"Yes, ma'am; but—you—"
Miss Polly evidently read the pause aright, for she frowned and said crisply:
"No, I shall not go. It is not necessary that I should, I think. That is all." And she turned away—Miss Polly's arrangements for the comfort of her niece, Pollyanna, were complete.
In the kitchen, Nancy sent her flatiron with a vicious dig across the dish-towel she was ironing.
"'Light hair, red-checked gingham dress, and straw hat'—all she knows, indeed! Well, I'd be ashamed ter own it up, that I would, I would—and her my onliest niece what was a-comin' from 'way across the continent!"
Promptly at twenty minutes to four the next afternoon Timothy and Nancy drove off in the open buggy to meet the expected guest. Timothy was Old Tom's son. It was sometimes said in the town that if Old Tom was Miss Polly's right-hand man, Timothy was her left.
Timothy was a good-natured youth, and a good-looking one, as well. Short as had been Nancy's stay at the house, the two were already good friends. To-day, however, Nancy was too full of her mission to be her usual talkative self; and almost in silence she took the drive to the station and alighted to wait for the train.
Over and over in her mind she was saying it "light hair, red-checked dress, straw hat." Over and over again she was wondering just what sort of child this Pollyanna was, anyway.
"I hope for her sake she's quiet and sensible, and don't drop knives nor bang doors," she sighed to Timothy, who had sauntered up to her.
"Well, if she ain't, nobody knows what'll become of the rest of us," grinned Timothy. "Imagine Miss Polly and a NOISY kid! Gorry! there goes the whistle now!"
"Oh, Timothy, I—I think it was mean ter send me," chattered the suddenly frightened Nancy, as she turned and hurried to a point where she could best watch the passengers alight at the little station.
It was not long before Nancy saw her—the slender little girl in the red-checked gingham with two fat braids of flaxen hair hanging down her back. Beneath the straw hat, an eager, freckled little face turned to the right and to the left, plainly searching for some one.
Nancy knew the child at once, but not for some time could she control her shaking knees sufficiently to go to her. The little girl was standing quite by herself when Nancy finally did approach her.
"Are you Miss—Pollyanna?" she faltered. The next moment she found herself half smothered in the clasp of two gingham-clad arms.
"Oh, I'm so glad, GLAD, GLAD to see you," cried an eager voice in her ear. "Of course I'm Pollyanna, and I'm so glad you came to meet me! I hoped you would."
"You—you did?" stammered Nancy, vaguely wondering how Pollyanna could possibly have known her—and wanted her. "You—you did?" she repeated, trying to straighten her hat.
"Oh, yes; and I've been wondering all the way here what you looked like," cried the little girl, dancing on her toes, and sweeping the embarrassed Nancy from head to foot, with her eyes. "And now I know, and I'm glad you look just like you do look."
Nancy was relieved just then to have Timothy come up. Pollyanna's words had been most confusing.
"This is Timothy. Maybe you have a trunk," she stammered.
"Yes, I have," nodded Pollyanna, importantly. "I've got a brand-new one. The Ladies' Aid bought it for me—and wasn't it lovely of them, when they wanted the carpet so? Of course I don't know how much red carpet a trunk could buy, but it ought to buy some, anyhow—much as half an aisle, don't you think? I've got a little thing here in my bag that Mr. Gray said was a check, and that I must give it to you before I could get my trunk. Mr. Gray is Mrs. Gray's husband. They're cousins of Deacon Carr's wife. I came East with them, and they're lovely! And—there, here 'tis," she finished, producing the check after much fumbling in the bag she carried.
Nancy drew a long breath. Instinctively she felt that some one had to draw one—after that speech. Then she stole a glance at Timothy. Timothy's eyes were studiously turned away.
The three were off at last, with Pollyanna's trunk in behind, and Pollyanna herself snugly ensconced between Nancy and Timothy. During the whole process of getting started, the little girl had kept up an uninterrupted stream of comments and questions, until the somewhat dazed Nancy found herself quite out of breath trying to keep up with her.
"There! Isn't this lovely? Is it far? I hope 'tis—I love to ride," sighed Pollyanna, as the wheels began to turn. "Of course, if 'tisn't far, I sha'n't mind, though, 'cause I'll be glad to get there all the sooner, you know. What a pretty street! I knew 'twas going to be pretty; father told me—"
She stopped with a little choking breath. Nancy, looking at her apprehensively, saw that her small chin was quivering, and that her eyes were full of tears. In a moment, however, she hurried on, with a brave lifting of her head.
"Father told me all about it. He remembered. And—and I ought to have explained before. Mrs. Gray told me to, at once—about this red gingham dress, you know, and why I'm not in black. She said you'd think 'twas queer. But there weren't any black things in the last missionary barrel, only a lady's velvet basque which Deacon Carr's wife said wasn't suitable for me at all; besides, it had white spots—worn, you know—on both elbows, and some other places. Part of the Ladies' Aid wanted to buy me a black dress and hat, but the other part thought the money ought to go toward the red carpet they're trying to get—for the church, you know. Mrs. White said maybe it was just as well, anyway, for she didn't like children in black—that is, I mean, she liked the children, of course, but not the black part."
Pollyanna paused for breath, and Nancy managed to stammer:
"Well, I'm sure it—it'll be all right."
"I'm glad you feel that way. I do, too," nodded Pollyanna, again with that choking little breath. "Of course, 'twould have been a good deal harder to be glad in black—"
"Glad!" gasped Nancy, surprised into an interruption.
"Yes—that father's gone to Heaven to be with mother and the rest of us, you know. He said I must be glad. But it's been pretty hard to—to do it, even in red gingham, because I—I wanted him, so; and I couldn't help feeling I OUGHT to have him, specially as mother and the rest have God and all the angels, while I didn't have anybody but the Ladies' Aid. But now I'm sure it'll be easier because I've got you, Aunt Polly. I'm so glad I've got you!"
Nancy's aching sympathy for the poor little forlornness beside her turned suddenly into shocked terror.
"Oh, but—but you've made an awful mistake, d-dear," she faltered. "I'm only Nancy. I ain't your Aunt Polly, at all!"
"You—you AREN'T?" stammered the little girl, in plain dismay.
"No. I'm only Nancy. I never thought of your takin' me for her. We—we ain't a bit alike we ain't, we ain't!"
Timothy chuckled softly; but Nancy was too disturbed to answer the merry flash from his eyes.
"But who ARE you?" questioned Pollyanna. "You don't look a bit like a Ladies' Aider!"
Timothy laughed outright this time.
"I'm Nancy, the hired girl. I do all the work except the washin' an' hard ironin'. Mis' Durgin does that."
"But there IS an Aunt Polly?" demanded the child, anxiously.
"You bet your life there is," cut in Timothy.
Pollyanna relaxed visibly.
"Oh, that's all right, then." There was a moment's silence, then she went on brightly: "And do you know? I'm glad, after all, that she didn't come to meet me; because now I've got HER still coming, and I've got you besides."
Nancy flushed. Timothy turned to her with a quizzical smile.
"I call that a pretty slick compliment," he said. "Why don't you thank the little lady?"
"I—I was thinkin' about—Miss Polly," faltered Nancy.
Pollyanna sighed contentedly.
"I was, too. I'm so interested in her. You know she's all the aunt I've got, and I didn't know I had her for ever so long. Then father told me. He said she lived in a lovely great big house 'way on top of a hill."
"She does. You can see it now," said Nancy.
"It's that big white one with the green blinds, 'way ahead."
"Oh, how pretty!—and what a lot of trees and grass all around it! I never saw such a lot of green grass, seems so, all at once. Is my Aunt Polly rich, Nancy?"
"I'm so glad. It must be perfectly lovely to have lots of money. I never knew any one that did have, only the Whites—they're some rich. They have carpets in every room and ice-cream Sundays. Does Aunt Polly have ice-cream Sundays?"
Nancy shook her head. Her lips twitched. She threw a merry look into Timothy's eyes.
"No, Miss. Your aunt don't like ice-cream, I guess; leastways I never saw it on her table."
Pollyanna's face fell.
"Oh, doesn't she? I'm so sorry! I don't see how she can help liking ice-cream. But—anyhow, I can be kinder glad about that, 'cause the ice-cream you don't eat can't make your stomach ache like Mrs. White's did—that is, I ate hers, you know, lots of it. Maybe Aunt Polly has got the carpets, though."
"Yes, she's got the carpets."
"In every room?"
"Well, in almost every room," answered Nancy, frowning suddenly at the thought of that bare little attic room where there was no carpet.
"Oh, I'm so glad," exulted Pollyanna. "I love carpets. We didn't have any, only two little rugs that came in a missionary barrel, and one of those had ink spots on it. Mrs. White had pictures, too, perfectly beautiful ones of roses and little girls kneeling and a kitty and some lambs and a lion—not together, you know—the lambs and the lion. Oh, of course the Bible says they will sometime, but they haven't yet—that is, I mean Mrs. White's haven't. Don't you just love pictures?"
"I—I don't know," answered Nancy in a half-stifled voice.
"I do. We didn't have any pictures. They don't come in the barrels much, you know. There did two come once, though. But one was so good father sold it to get money to buy me some shoes with; and the other was so bad it fell to pieces just as soon as we hung it up. Glass—it broke, you know. And I cried. But I'm glad now we didn't have any of those nice things, 'cause I shall like Aunt Polly's all the better—not being used to 'em, you see. Just as it is when the PRETTY hair-ribbons come in the barrels after a lot of faded-out brown ones. My! but isn't this a perfectly beautiful house?" she broke off fervently, as they turned into the wide driveway.
It was when Timothy was unloading the trunk that Nancy found an opportunity to mutter low in his ear:
"Don't you never say nothin' ter me again about leavin', Timothy Durgin. You couldn't HIRE me ter leave!"
"Leave! I should say not," grinned the youth.
"You couldn't drag me away. It'll be more fun here now, with that kid 'round, than movin'-picture shows, every day!"
"Fun!—fun!" repeated Nancy, indignantly, "I guess it'll be somethin' more than fun for that blessed child—when them two tries ter live tergether; and I guess she'll be a-needin' some rock ter fly to for refuge. Well, I'm a-goin' ter be that rock, Timothy; I am, I am!" she vowed, as she turned and led Pollyanna up the broad steps.
Miss Polly Harrington did not rise to meet her niece. She looked up from her book, it is true, as Nancy and the little girl appeared in the sitting-room doorway, and she held out a hand with "duty" written large on every coldly extended finger.
"How do you do, Pollyanna? I—" She had no chance to say more. Pollyanna, had fairly flown across the room and flung herself into her aunt's scandalized, unyielding lap.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, I don't know how to be glad enough that you let me come to live with you," she was sobbing. "You don't know how perfectly lovely it is to have you and Nancy and all this after you've had just the Ladies' Aid!"
"Very likely—though I've not had the pleasure of the Ladies' Aid's acquaintance," rejoined Miss Polly, stiffly, trying to unclasp the small, clinging fingers, and turning frowning eyes on Nancy in the doorway. "Nancy, that will do. You may go. Pollyanna, be good enough, please, to stand erect in a proper manner. I don't know yet what you look like."
Pollyanna drew back at once, laughing a little hysterically.
"No, I suppose you don't; but you see I'm not very much to look at, anyway, on account of the freckles. Oh, and I ought to explain about the red gingham and the black velvet basque with white spots on the elbows. I told Nancy how father said—"
"Yes; well, never mind now what your father said," interrupted Miss Polly, crisply. "You had a trunk, I presume?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, Aunt Polly. I've got a beautiful trunk that the Ladies' Aid gave me. I haven't got so very much in it—of my own, I mean. The barrels haven't had many clothes for little girls in them lately; but there were all father's books, and Mrs. White said she thought I ought to have those. You see, father—"
"Pollyanna," interrupted her aunt again, sharply, "there is one thing that might just as well be understood right away at once; and that is, I do not care to have you keep talking of your father to me."
The little girl drew in her breath tremulously.
"Why, Aunt Polly, you—you mean—" She hesitated, and her aunt filled the pause.
"We will go up-stairs to your room. Your trunk is already there, I presume. I told Timothy to take it up—if you had one. You may follow me, Pollyanna."
Without speaking, Pollyanna turned and followed her aunt from the room. Her eyes were brimming with tears, but her chin was bravely high.
"After all, I—I reckon I'm glad she doesn't want me to talk about father," Pollyanna was thinking. "It'll be easier, maybe—if I don't talk about him. Probably, anyhow, that is why she told me not to talk about him." And Pollyanna, convinced anew of her aunt's "kindness," blinked off the tears and looked eagerly about her.
She was on the stairway now. Just ahead, her aunt's black silk skirt rustled luxuriously. Behind her an open door allowed a glimpse of soft-tinted rugs and satin-covered chairs. Beneath her feet a marvellous carpet was like green moss to the tread. On every side the gilt of picture frames or the glint of sunlight through the filmy mesh of lace curtains flashed in her eyes.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly," breathed the little girl, rapturously; "what a perfectly lovely, lovely house! How awfully glad you must be you're so rich!"
"PollyANNA!" ejaculated her aunt, turning sharply about as she reached the head of the stairs. "I'm surprised at you—making a speech like that to me!"
"Why, Aunt Polly, AREN'T you?" queried Pollyanna, in frank wonder.
"Certainly not, Pollyanna. I hope I could not so far forget myself as to be sinfully proud of any gift the Lord has seen fit to bestow upon me," declared the lady; "certainly not, of RICHES!"
Miss Polly turned and walked down the hall toward the attic stairway door. She was glad, now, that she had put the child in the attic room. Her idea at first had been to get her niece as far away as possible from herself, and at the same time place her where her childish heedlessness would not destroy valuable furnishings. Now—with this evident strain of vanity showing thus early—it was all the more fortunate that the room planned for her was plain and sensible, thought Miss Polly.
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