Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XII. From Behind a Counter
Mrs. Carew was very angry. To have brought herself to the point where she was willing to take this lame boy into her home, and then to have the lad calmly refuse to come, was unbearable. Mrs. Carew was not in the habit of having her invitations ignored, or her wishes scorned. Furthermore, now that she could not have the boy, she was conscious of an almost frantic terror lest he were, after all, the real Jamie. She knew then that her true reason for wanting him had been--not because she cared for him, not even because she wished to help him and make him happy--but because she hoped, by taking him, that she would ease her own mind, and forever silence that awful eternal questioning on her part: "What if he were her own Jamie?"
It certainly had not helped matters any that the boy had divined her state of mind, and had given as the reason for his refusal that she "did not care." To be sure, Mrs. Carew now very proudly told herself that she did not indeed "care," that he was not her sister's boy, and that she would "forget all about it."
But she did not forget all about it. However insistently she might disclaim responsibility and relationship, just as insistently responsibility and relationship thrust themselves upon her in the shape of panicky doubts; and however resolutely she turned her thoughts to other matters, just so resolutely visions of a wistful-eyed boy in a poverty-stricken room loomed always before her.
Then, too, there was Pollyanna. Clearly Pollyanna was not herself at all. In a most unPollyanna-like spirit she moped about the house, finding apparently no interest anywhere.
"Oh, no, I'm not sick," she would answer, when remonstrated with, and questioned.
"But what is the trouble?"
"Why, nothing. It--it's only that I was thinking of Jamie, you know,--how he hasn't got all these beautiful things--carpets, and pictures, and curtains."
It was the same with her food. Pollyanna was actually losing her appetite; but here again she disclaimed sickness.
"Oh, no," she would sigh mournfully. "It's just that I don't seem hungry. Some way, just as soon as I begin to eat, I think of Jamie, and how he doesn't have only old doughnuts and dry rolls; and then I--I don't want anything."
Mrs. Carew, spurred by a feeling that she herself only dimly understood, and recklessly determined to bring about some change in Pollyanna at all costs, ordered a huge tree, two dozen wreaths, and quantities of holly and Christmas baubles. For the first time in many years the house was aflame and aglitter with scarlet and tinsel. There was even to be a Christmas party, for Mrs. Carew had told Pollyanna to invite half a dozen of her schoolgirl friends for the tree on Christmas Eve.
But even here Mrs. Carew met with disappointment; for, though Pollyanna was always grateful, and at times interested and even excited, she still carried frequently a sober little face. And in the end the Christmas party was more of a sorrow than a joy; for the first glimpse of the glittering tree sent her into a storm of sobs.
"Why, Pollyanna!" ejaculated Mrs. Carew. "What in the world is the matter now?"
"N-n-nothing," wept Pollyanna. "It's only that it's so perfectly, perfectly beautiful that I just had to cry. I was thinking how Jamie would love to see it."
It was then that Mrs. Carew's patience snapped.
"'Jamie, Jamie, Jamie'!" she exclaimed. "Pollyanna, can't you stop talking about that boy? You know perfectly well that it is not my fault that he is not here. I asked him to come here to live. Besides, where is that glad game of yours? I think it would be an excellent idea if you would play it on this."
"I am playing it," quavered Pollyanna. "And that's what I don't understand. I never knew it to act so funny. Why, before, when I've been glad about things, I've been happy. But now, about Jamie--I'm so glad I've got carpets and pictures and nice things to eat, and that I can walk and run, and go to school, and all that; but the harder I'm glad for myself, the sorrier I am for him. I never knew the game to act so funny, and I don't know what ails it. Do you?"
But Mrs. Carew, with a despairing gesture, merely turned away without a word.
It was the day after Christmas that something so wonderful happened that Pollyanna, for a time, almost forgot Jamie. Mrs. Carew had taken her shopping, and it was while Mrs. Carew was trying to decide between a duchesse-lace and a point-lace collar, that Pollyanna chanced to spy farther down the counter a face that looked vaguely familiar. For a moment she regarded it frowningly; then, with a little cry, she ran down the aisle.
"Oh, it's you--it is you!" she exclaimed joyously to a girl who was putting into the show case a tray of pink bows. "I'm so glad to see you!"
The girl behind the counter lifted her head and stared at Pollyanna in amazement. But almost immediately her dark, somber face lighted with a smile of glad recognition.
"Well, well, if it isn't my little Public Garden kiddie!" she ejaculated.
"Yes. I'm so glad you remembered," beamed Pollyanna. "But you never came again. I looked for you lots of times."
"I couldn't. I had to work. That was our last half-holiday, and--Fifty cents, madam," she broke off, in answer to a sweet-faced old lady's question as to the price of a black-and-white bow on the counter.
"Fifty cents? Hm-m!" The old lady fingered the bow, hesitated, then laid it down with a sigh. "Hm, yes; well, it's very pretty, I'm sure, my dear," she said, as she passed on.
Immediately behind her came two bright-faced girls who, with much giggling and bantering, picked out a jeweled creation of scarlet velvet, and a fairy-like structure of tulle and pink buds. As the girls turned chattering away Pollyanna drew an ecstatic sigh.
"Is this what you do all day? My, how glad you must be you chose this!"
"Yes. It must be such fun--such lots of folks, you know, and all different! And you can talk to 'em. You have to talk to 'em--it's your business. I should love that. I think I'll do this when I grow up. It must be such fun to see what they all buy!"
"Fun! Glad!" bristled the girl behind the counter. "Well, child, I guess if you knew half--That's a dollar, madam," she interrupted herself hastily, in answer to a young woman's sharp question as to the price of a flaring yellow bow of beaded velvet in the show case.
"Well, I should think 'twas time you told me," snapped the young woman. "I had to ask you twice."
The girl behind the counter bit her lip.
"I didn't hear you, madam."
"I can't help that. It is your business to hear. You are paid for it, aren't you? How much is that black one?"
"And that blue one?"
"No impudence, miss! You needn't be so short about it, or I shall report you. Let me see that tray of pink ones."
The salesgirl's lips opened, then closed in a thin, straight line. Obediently she reached into the show case and took out the tray of pink bows; but her eyes flashed, and her hands shook visibly as she set the tray down on the counter. The young woman whom she was serving picked up five bows, asked the price of four of them, then turned away with a brief:
"I see nothing I care for."
"Well," said the girl behind the counter, in a shaking voice, to the wide-eyed Pollyanna, "what do you think of my business now? Anything to be glad about there?"
Pollyanna giggled a little hysterically.
"My, wasn't she cross? But she was kind of funny, too--don't you think? Anyhow, you can be glad that--that they aren't all like her, can't you?"
"I suppose so," said the girl, with a faint smile, "But I can tell you right now, kiddie, that glad game of yours you was tellin' me about that day in the Garden may be all very well for you; but--" Once more she stopped with a tired: "Fifty cents, madam," in answer to a question from the other side of the counter.
"Are you as lonesome as ever?" asked Pollyanna wistfully, when the salesgirl was at liberty again.
"Well, I can't say I've given more'n five parties, nor been to more'n seven, since I saw you," replied the girl so bitterly that Pollyanna detected the sarcasm.
"Oh, but you did something nice Christmas, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes. I stayed in bed all day with my feet done up in rags and read four newspapers and one magazine. Then at night I hobbled out to a restaurant where I had to blow in thirty-five cents for chicken pie instead of a quarter."
"But what ailed your feet?"
"Blistered. Standin' on 'em--Christmas rush."
"Oh!" shuddered Pollyanna, sympathetically. "And you didn't have any tree, or party, or anything?" she cried, distressed and shocked.
"O dear! How I wish you could have seen mine!" sighed the little girl. "It was just lovely, and--But, oh, say!" she exclaimed joyously. "You can see it, after all. It isn't gone yet. Now, can't you come out to-night, or to-morrow night, and--"
"Pollyanna!" interrupted Mrs. Carew in her chilliest accents. "What in the world does this mean? Where have you been? I have looked everywhere for you. I even went 'way back to the suit department."
Pollyanna turned with a happy little cry.
"Oh, Mrs. Carew, I'm so glad you've come," she rejoiced. "This is--well, I don't know her name yet, but I know her, so it's all right. I met her in the Public Garden ever so long ago. And she's lonesome, and doesn't know anybody. And her father was a minister like mine, only he's alive. And she didn't have any Christmas tree only blistered feet and chicken pie; and I want her to see mine, you know--the tree, I mean," plunged on Pollyanna, breathlessly. "I've asked her to come out to-night, or to-morrow night. And you'll let me have it all lighted up again, won't you?"
"Well, really, Pollyanna," began Mrs. Carew, in cold disapproval. But the girl behind the counter interrupted with a voice quite as cold, and even more disapproving.
"Don't worry, madam. I've no notion of goin'."
"Oh, but please," begged Pollyanna. "You don't know how I want you, and--"
"I notice the lady ain't doin' any askin'," interrupted the salesgirl, a little maliciously.
Mrs. Carew flushed an angry red, and turned as if to go; but Pollyanna caught her arm and held it, talking meanwhile almost frenziedly to the girl behind the counter, who happened, at the moment, to be free from customers.
"Oh, but she will, she will," Pollyanna was saying. "She wants you to come--I know she does. Why, you don't know how good she is, and how much money she gives to--to charitable 'sociations and everything."
"Pollyanna!" remonstrated Mrs. Carew, sharply. Once more she would have gone, but this time she was held spellbound by the ringing scorn in the low, tense voice of the salesgirl.
"Oh, yes, I know! There's lots of 'em that'll give to rescue work. There's always plenty of helpin' hands stretched out to them that has gone wrong. And that's all right. I ain't findin' no fault with that. Only sometimes I wonder there don't some of 'em think of helpin' the girls before they go wrong. Why don't they give good girls pretty homes with books and pictures and soft carpets and music, and somebody 'round 'em to care? Maybe then there wouldn't be so many--Good heavens, what am I sayin'?" she broke off, under her breath. Then, with the old weariness, she turned to a young woman who had stopped before her and picked up a blue bow.
"That's fifty cents, madam," Mrs. Carew heard, as she hurried Pollyanna away.