Chapter VIII. Pollyanna Pays a Visit
 

It was not long before life at the Harrington homestead settled into something like order--though not exactly the order that Miss Polly had at first prescribed. Pollyanna sewed, practised, read aloud, and studied cooking in the kitchen, it is true; but she did not give to any of these things quite so much time as had first been planned. She had more time, also, to "just live," as she expressed it, for almost all of every afternoon from two until six o'clock was hers to do with as she liked--provided she did not "like" to do certain things already prohibited by Aunt Polly.

It is a question, perhaps, whether all this leisure time was given to the child as a relief to Pollyanna from work--or as a relief to Aunt Polly from Pollyanna. Certainly, as those first July days passed, Miss Polly found occasion many times to ejaculate "What an extraordinary child!" and certainly the reading and sewing lessons found her at their conclusion each day somewhat dazed and wholly exhausted.

Nancy, in the kitchen, fared better. She was not dazed nor exhausted. Wednesdays and Saturdays came to be, indeed, red-letter days to her.

There were no children in the immediate neighborhood of the Harrington homestead for Pollyanna to play with. The house itself was on the outskirts of the village, and though there were other houses not far away, they did not chance to contain any boys or girls near Pollyanna's age. This, however, did not seem to disturb Pollyanna in the least.

"Oh, no, I don't mind it at all," she explained to Nancy. "I'm happy just to walk around and see the streets and the houses and watch the people. I just love people. Don't you, Nancy?"

"Well, I can't say I do--all of 'em," retorted Nancy, tersely.

Almost every pleasant afternoon found Pollyanna begging for "an errand to run," so that she might be off for a walk in one direction or another; and it was on these walks that frequently she met the Man. To herself Pollyanna always called him "the Man," no matter if she met a dozen other men the same day.

The Man often wore a long black coat and a high silk hat--two things that the "just men" never wore. His face was clean shaven and rather pale, and his hair, showing below his hat, was somewhat gray. He walked erect, and rather rapidly, and he was always alone, which made Pollyanna vaguely sorry for him. Perhaps it was because of this that she one day spoke to him.

"How do you do, sir? Isn't this a nice day?" she called cheerily, as she approached him.

The man threw a hurried glance about him, then stopped uncertainly.

"Did you speak--to me?" he asked in a sharp voice.

"Yes, sir," beamed Pollyanna. "I say, it's a nice day, isn't it?"

"Eh? Oh! Humph!" he grunted; and strode on again.

Pollyanna laughed. He was such a funny man, she thought.

The next day she saw him again.

" 'Tisn't quite so nice as yesterday, but it's pretty nice," she called out cheerfully.

"Eh? Oh! Humph!" grunted the man as before; and once again Pollyanna laughed happily.

When for the third time Pollyanna accosted him in much the same manner, the man stopped abruptly.

"See here, child, who are you, and why are you speaking to me every day?"

"I'm Pollyanna Whittier, and I thought you looked lonesome. I'm so glad you stopped. Now we're introduced--only I don't know your name yet."

"Well, of all the--" The man did not finish his sentence, but strode on faster than ever.

Pollyanna looked after him with a disappointed droop to her usually smiling lips.

"Maybe he didn't understand--but that was only half an introduction. I don't know his name, yet," she murmured, as she proceeded on her way.

Pollyanna was carrying calf's-foot jelly to Mrs. Snow to-day. Miss Polly Harrington always sent something to Mrs. Snow once a week. She said she thought that it was her duty, inasmuch as Mrs. Snow was poor, sick, and a member of her church--it was the duty of all the church members to look out for her, of course. Miss Polly did her duty by Mrs. Snow usually on Thursday afternoons--not personally, but through Nancy. To-day Pollyanna had begged the privilege, and Nancy had promptly given it to her in accordance with Miss Polly's orders.

"And it's glad that I am ter get rid of it," Nancy had declared in private afterwards to Pollyanna; "though it's a shame ter be tuckin' the job off on ter you, poor lamb, so it is, it is!"

"But I'd love to do it, Nancy."

"Well, you won't--after you've done it once," predicted Nancy, sourly.

"Why not?"

"Because nobody does. If folks wa'n't sorry for her there wouldn't a soul go near her from mornin' till night, she's that cantankerous. All is, I pity her daughter what has ter take care of her."

"But, why, Nancy?"

Nancy shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, in plain words, it's just that nothin' what ever has happened, has happened right in Mis' Snow's eyes. Even the days of the week ain't run ter her mind. If it's Monday she's bound ter say she wished 'twas Sunday; and if you take her jelly you're pretty sure ter hear she wanted chicken--but if you did bring her chicken, she'd be jest hankerin' for lamb broth!"

"Why, what a funny woman," laughed Pollyanna. "I think I shall like to go to see her. She must be so surprising and--and different. I love different folks."

"Humph! Well, Mis' Snow's 'different,' all right--I hope, for the sake of the rest of us!" Nancy had finished grimly.

Pollyanna was thinking of these remarks to-day as she turned in at the gate of the shabby little cottage. Her eyes were quite sparkling, indeed, at the prospect of meeting this "different" Mrs. Snow.

A pale-faced, tired-looking young girl answered her knock at the door.

"How do you do?" began Pollyanna politely. "I'm from Miss Polly Harrington, and I'd like to see Mrs. Snow, please."

"Well, if you would, you're the first one that ever 'liked' to see her," muttered the girl under her breath; but Pollyanna did not hear this. The girl had turned and was leading the way through the hall to a door at the end of it.

In the sick-room, after the girl had ushered her in and closed the door, Pollyanna blinked a little before she could accustom her eyes to the gloom. Then she saw, dimly outlined, a woman half-sitting up in the bed across the room. Pollyanna advanced at once.

"How do you do, Mrs. Snow? Aunt Polly says she hopes you are comfortable to-day, and she's sent you some calf's-foot jelly."

"Dear me! jelly?" murmured a fretful voice,

"Of course I'm very much obliged, but I was hoping 'twould be lamb broth to-day."

Pollyanna frowned a little.

"Why, I thought it was chicken you wanted when folks brought you jelly," she said.

"What?" The sick woman turned sharply.

"Why, nothing, much," apologized Pollyanna, hurriedly; "and of course it doesn't really make any difference. It's only that Nancy said it was chicken you wanted when we brought jelly, and lamb broth when we brought chicken--but maybe 'twas the other way, and Nancy forgot."

The sick woman pulled herself up till she sat erect in the bed--a most unusual thing for her to do, though Pollyanna did not know this.

"Well, Miss Impertinence, who are you?" she demanded.

Pollyanna laughed gleefully.

"Oh, that isn't my name, Mrs. Snow--and I'm so glad 'tisn't, too! That would be worse than 'Hephzibah,' wouldn't it? I'm Pollyanna Whittier, Miss Polly Harrington's niece, and I've come to live with her. That's why I'm here with the jelly this morning."

All through the first part of this sentence, the sick woman had sat interestedly erect; but at the reference to the jelly she fell back on her pillow listlessly.

"Very well; thank you. Your aunt is very kind, of course, but my appetite isn't very good this morning, and I was wanting lamb--" She stopped suddenly, then went on with an abrupt change of subject. "I never slept a wink last night--not a wink!"

"O dear, I wish I didn't," sighed Pollyanna, placing the jelly on the little stand and seating herself comfortably in the nearest chair. "You lose such a lot of time just sleeping! Don't you think so?"

"Lose time--sleeping!" exclaimed the sick woman.

"Yes, when you might be just living, you know. It seems such a pity we can't live nights, too."

Once again the woman pulled herself erect in her bed.

"Well, if you ain't the amazing young one!" she cried. "Here! do you go to that window and pull up the curtain," she directed. "I should like to know what you look like!"

Pollyanna rose to her feet, but she laughed a little ruefully.

"O dear! then you'll see my freckles, won't you?" she sighed, as she went to the window; "--and just when I was being so glad it was dark and you couldn't see 'em. There! Now you can--oh!" she broke off excitedly, as she turned back to the bed; "I'm so glad you wanted to see me, because now I can see you! They didn't tell me you were so pretty!"

"Me!--pretty!" scoffed the woman, bitterly.

"Why, yes. Didn't you know it?" cried Pollyanna.

"Well, no, I didn't," retorted Mrs. Snow, dryly. Mrs. Snow had lived forty years, and for fifteen of those years she had been too busy wishing things were different to find much time to enjoy things as they were.

"Oh, but your eyes are so big and dark, and your hair's all dark, too, and curly," cooed Pollyanna. "I love black curls. (That's one of the things I'm going to have when I get to Heaven.) And you've got two little red spots in your cheeks. Why, Mrs. Snow, you are pretty! I should think you'd know it when you looked at yourself in the glass."

"The glass!" snapped the sick woman, falling back on her pillow. "Yes, well, I hain't done much prinkin' before the mirror these days--and you wouldn't, if you was flat on your back as I am!"

"Why, no, of course not," agreed Pollyanna, sympathetically. "But wait--just let me show you," she exclaimed, skipping over to the bureau and picking up a small hand-glass.

On the way back to the bed she stopped, eyeing the sick woman with a critical gaze.

"I reckon maybe, if you don't mind, I'd like to fix your hair just a little before I let you see it," she proposed. "May I fix your hair, please?"

"Why, I--suppose so, if you want to," permitted Mrs. Snow, grudgingly; "but 'twon't stay, you know."

"Oh, thank you. I love to fix people's hair," exulted Pollyanna, carefully laying down the hand-glass and reaching for a comb. "I sha'n't do much to-day, of course--I'm in such a hurry for you to see how pretty you are; but some day I'm going to take it all down and have a perfectly lovely time with it, she cried, touching with soft fingers the waving hair above the sick woman's forehead.

For five minutes Pollyanna worked swiftly, deftly, combing a refractory curl into fluffiness, perking up a drooping ruffle at the neck, or shaking a pillow into plumpness so that the head might have a better pose. Meanwhile the sick woman, frowning prodigiously, and openly scoffing at the whole procedure, was, in spite of herself, beginning to tingle with a feeling perilously near to excitement.

"There!" panted Pollyanna, hastily plucking a pink from a vase near by and tucking it into the dark hair where it would give the best effect. "Now I reckon we're ready to be looked at!" And she held out the mirror in triumph.

"Humph!" grunted the sick woman, eyeing her reflection severely. "I like red pinks better than pink ones; but then, it'll fade, anyhow, before night, so what's the difference!"

"But I should think you'd be glad they did fade," laughed Pollyanna, " 'cause then you can have the fun of getting some more. I just love your hair fluffed out like that," she finished with a satisfied gaze. "Don't you?"

"Hm-m; maybe. Still--'twon't last, with me tossing back and forth on the pillow as I do."

"Of course not--and I'm glad, too," nodded Pollyanna, cheerfully, "because then I can fix it again. Anyhow, I should think you'd be glad it's black--black shows up so much nicer on a pillow than yellow hair like mine does."

"Maybe; but I never did set much store by black hair--shows gray too soon," retorted Mrs. Snow. She spoke fretfully, but she still held the mirror before her face.

"Oh, I love black hair! I should be so glad if I only had it," sighed Pollyanna.

Mrs. Snow dropped the mirror and turned irritably.

"Well, you wouldn't!--not if you were me. You wouldn't be glad for black hair nor anything else--if you had to lie here all day as I do!"

Pollyanna bent her brows in a thoughtful frown.

"Why, 'twould be kind of hard--to do it then, wouldn't it?" she mused aloud.

"Do what?"

"Be glad about things."

"Be glad about things--when you're sick in bed all your days? Well, I should say it would," retorted Mrs. Snow. "If you don't think so, just tell me something to be glad about; that's all!"

To Mrs. Snow's unbounded amazement, Pollyanna sprang to her feet and clapped her hands.

"Oh, goody! That'll be a hard one--won't it? I've got to go, now, but I'll think and think all the way home; and maybe the next time I come I can tell it to you. Good-by. I've had a lovely time! Good-by," she called again, as she tripped through the doorway.

"Well, I never! Now, what does she mean by that?" ejaculated Mrs. Snow, staring after her visitor. By and by she turned her head and picked up the mirror, eyeing her reflection critically.

"That little thing has got a knack with hair and no mistake," she muttered under her breath. "I declare, I didn't know it could look so pretty. But then, what's the use?" she sighed, dropping the little glass into the bedclothes, and rolling her head on the pillow fretfully.

A little later, when Milly, Mrs. Snow's daughter, came in, the mirror still lay among the bedclothes it had been carefully hidden from sight.

"Why, mother--the curtain is up!" cried Milly, dividing her amazed stare between the window and the pink in her mother's hair.

"Well, what if it is?" snapped the sick woman. "I needn't stay in the dark all my life, if I am sick, need I?"

"Why, n-no, of course not," rejoined Milly, in hasty conciliation, as she reached for the medicine bottle. "It's only--well, you know very well that I've tried to get you to have a lighter room for ages and you wouldn't."

There was no reply to this. Mrs. Snow was picking at the lace on her nightgown. At last she spoke fretfully.

"I should think somebody might give me a new nightdress--instead of lamb broth, for a change!

"Why--mother!"

No wonder Milly quite gasped aloud with bewilderment. In the drawer behind her at that moment lay two new nightdresses that Milly for months had been vainly urging her mother to wear.