Chapter XVII. When Pollyanna Came
 

As the train neared Beldingsville, Pollyanna watched her aunt anxiously. All day Mrs. Chilton had been growing more and more restless, more and more gloomy; and Pollyanna was fearful of the time when the familiar home station should be reached.

As Pollyanna looked at her aunt, her heart ached. She was thinking that she would not have believed it possible that any one could have changed and aged so greatly in six short months. Mrs. Chilton's eyes were lusterless, her cheeks pallid and shrunken, and her forehead crossed and recrossed by fretful lines. Her mouth drooped at the corners, and her hair was combed tightly back in the unbecoming fashion that had been hers when Pollyanna first had seen her, years before. All the softness and sweetness that seemed to have come to her with her marriage had dropped from her like a cloak, leaving uppermost the old hardness and sourness that had been hers when she was Miss Polly Harrington, unloved, and unloving.

"Pollyanna!" Mrs. Chilton's voice was incisive.

Pollyanna started guiltily. She had an uncomfortable feeling that her aunt might have read her thoughts.

"Yes, auntie."

"Where is that black bag--the little one?"

"Right here."

"Well, I wish you'd get out my black veil. We're nearly there."

"But it's so hot and thick, auntie!"

"Pollyanna, I asked for that black veil. If you'd please learn to do what I ask without arguing about it, it would be a great deal easier for me. I want that veil. Do you suppose I'm going to give all Beldingsville a chance to see how I 'take it'?"

"Oh, auntie, they'd never be there in that spirit," protested Pollyanna, hurriedly rummaging in the black bag for the much-wanted veil. "Besides, there won't be anybody there, anyway, to meet us. We didn't tell any one we were coming, you know."

"Yes, I know. We didn't tell any one to meet us. But we instructed Mrs. Durgin to have the rooms aired and the key under the mat for to-day. Do you suppose Mary Durgin has kept that information to herself? Not much! Half the town knows we're coming to-day, and a dozen or more will 'happen around' the station about train time. I know them! They want to see what Polly Harrington poor looks like. They--"

"Oh, auntie, auntie," begged Pollyanna, with tears in her eyes.

"If I wasn't so alone. If--the doctor were only here, and--" She stopped speaking and turned away her head. Her mouth worked convulsively. "Where is--that veil?" she choked huskily.

"Yes, dear. Here it is--right here," comforted Pollyanna, whose only aim now, plainly, was to get the veil into her aunt's hands with all haste. "And here we are now almost there. Oh, auntie, I do wish you'd had Old Tom or Timothy meet us!"

"And ride home in state, as if we could afford to keep such horses and carriages? And when we know we shall have to sell them to-morrow? No, I thank you, Pollyanna. I prefer to use the public carriage, under those circumstances."

"I know, but--" The train came to a jolting, jarring stop, and only a fluttering sigh finished Pollyanna's sentence.

As the two women stepped to the platform, Mrs. Chilton, in her black veil, looked neither to the right nor the left. Pollyanna, however, was nodding and smiling tearfully in half a dozen directions before she had taken twice as many steps. Then, suddenly, she found herself looking into a familiar, yet strangely unfamiliar face.

"Why, it isn't--it is--Jimmy!" she beamed, reaching forth a cordial hand. "That is, I suppose I should say 'Mr. Pendleton,'" she corrected herself with a shy smile that said plainly: "Now that you've grown so tall and fine!"

"I'd like to see you try it," challenged the youth, with a very Jimmy-like tilt to his chin. He turned then to speak to Mrs. Chilton; but that lady, with her head half averted, was hurrying on a little in advance.

He turned back to Pollyanna, his eyes troubled and sympathetic.

"If you'd please come this way--both of you," he urged hurriedly. "Timothy is here with the carriage."

"Oh, how good of him," cried Pollyanna, but with an anxious glance at the somber veiled figure ahead. Timidly she touched her aunt's arm. "Auntie, dear, Timothy's here. He's come with the carriage. He's over this side. And--this is Jimmy Bean, auntie. You remember Jimmy Bean!"

In her nervousness and embarrassment Pollyanna did not notice that she had given the young man the old name of his boyhood. Mrs. Chilton, however, evidently did notice it. With palpable reluctance she turned and inclined her head ever so slightly.

"Mr.--Pendleton is very kind, I am sure; but--I am sorry that he or Timothy took quite so much trouble," she said frigidly.

"No trouble--no trouble at all, I assure you," laughed the young man, trying to hide his embarrassment. "Now if you'll just let me have your checks, so I can see to your baggage."

"Thank you," began Mrs. Chilton, "but I am very sure we can--"

But Pollyanna, with a relieved little "thank you!" had already passed over the checks; and dignity demanded that Mrs. Chilton say no more.

The drive home was a silent one. Timothy, vaguely hurt at the reception he had met with at the hands of his former mistress, sat up in front stiff and straight, with tense lips. Mrs. Chilton, after a weary "Well, well, child, just as you please; I suppose we shall have to ride home in it now!" had subsided into stern gloom. Pollyanna, however, was neither stern, nor tense, nor gloomy. With eager, though tearful eyes she greeted each loved landmark as they came to it. Only once did she speak, and that was to say:

"Isn't Jimmy fine? How he has improved! And hasn't he the nicest eyes and smile?"

She waited hopefully, but as there was no reply to this, she contented herself with a cheerful: "Well, I think he has, anyhow."

Timothy had been both too aggrieved and too afraid to tell Mrs. Chilton what to expect at home; so the wide-flung doors and flower-adorned rooms with Nancy courtesying on the porch were a complete surprise to Mrs. Chilton and Pollyanna.

"Why, Nancy, how perfectly lovely!" cried Pollyanna, springing lightly to the ground. "Auntie, here's Nancy to welcome us. And only see how charming she's made everything look!"

Pollyanna's voice was determinedly cheerful, though it shook audibly. This home-coming without the dear doctor whom she had loved so well was not easy for her; and if hard for her, she knew something of what it must be for her aunt. She knew, too, that the one thing her aunt was dreading was a breakdown before Nancy, than which nothing could be worse in her eyes. Behind the heavy black veil the eyes were brimming and the lips were trembling, Pollyanna knew. She knew, too, that to hide these facts her aunt would probably seize the first opportunity for faultfinding, and make her anger a cloak to hide the fact that her heart was breaking. Pollyanna was not surprised, therefore, to hear her aunt's few cold words of greeting to Nancy followed by a sharp: "Of course all this was very kind, Nancy; but, really, I would have much preferred that you had not done it."

All the joy fled from, Nancy's face. She looked hurt and frightened.

"Oh, but Miss Polly--I mean, Mis' Chilton," she entreated; "it seemed as if I couldn't let you--"

"There, there, never mind, Nancy," interrupted Mrs. Chilton. "I--I don't want to talk about it." And, with her head proudly high, she swept out of the room. A minute later they heard the door of her bedroom shut up-stairs.

Nancy turned in dismay.

"Oh, Miss Pollyanna, what is it? What have I done? I thought she'd like it. I meant it all right!"

"Of course you did," wept Pollyanna, fumbling in her bag for her handkerchief. "And 'twas lovely to have you do it, too,--just lovely."

"But she didn't like it."

"Yes, she did. But she didn't want to show she liked it. She was afraid if she did she'd show--other things, and--Oh, Nancy, Nancy, I'm so glad just to c-cry!" And Pollyanna was sobbing on Nancy's shoulder.

"There, there, dear; so she shall, so she shall," soothed Nancy, patting the heaving shoulders with one hand, and trying, with the other, to make the corner of her apron serve as a handkerchief to wipe her own tears away.

"You see, I mustn't--cry--before--her," faltered Pollyanna; "and it was hard--coming here--the first time, you know, and all. And I knew how she was feeling."

"Of course, of course, poor lamb," crooned Nancy. "And to think the first thing I should have done was somethin' ter vex her, and--"

"Oh, but she wasn't vexed at that," corrected Pollyanna, agitatedly. "It's just her way, Nancy. You see, she doesn't like to show how badly she feels about--about the doctor. And she's so afraid she will show it that she--she just takes anything for an excuse to--to talk about. She does it to me, too, just the same. So I know all about it. See?"

"Oh, yes, I see, I do, I do." Nancy's lips snapped together a little severely, and her sympathetic pats, for the minute, were even more loving, if possible. "Poor lamb! I'm glad I come, anyhow, for your sake."

"Yes, so am I," breathed Pollyanna, gently drawing herself away and wiping her eyes. "There, I feel better. And I do thank you ever so much, Nancy, and I appreciate it. Now don't let us keep you when it's time for you to go."

"Ho! I'm thinkin' I'll stay for a spell," sniffed Nancy.

"Stay! Why, Nancy, I thought you were married. Aren't you Timothy's wife?"

"Sure! But he won't mind--for you. He'd want me to stay--for you."

"Oh, but, Nancy, we couldn't let you," demurred Pollyanna. "We can't have anybody--now, you know. I'm going to do the work. Until we know just how things are, we shall live very economically, Aunt Polly says."

"Ho! as if I'd take money from--" began Nancy, in bridling wrath; but at the expression on the other's face she stopped, and let her words dwindle off in a mumbling protest, as she hurried from the room to look after her creamed chicken on the stove.

Not until supper was over, and everything put in order, did Mrs. Timothy Durgin consent to drive away with her husband; then she went with evident reluctance, and with many pleadings to be allowed to come "just ter help out a bit" at any time.

After Nancy had gone, Pollyanna came into the living-room where Mrs. Chilton was sitting alone, her hand over her eyes.

"Well, dearie, shall I light up?" suggested Pollyanna, brightly.

"Oh, I suppose so."

"Wasn't Nancy a dear to fix us all up so nice?"

No answer.

"Where in the world she found all these flowers I can't imagine. She has them in every room down here, and in both bedrooms, too."

Still no answer.

Pollyanna gave a half-stifled sigh and threw a wistful glance into her aunt's averted face. After a moment she began again hopefully.

"I saw Old Tom in the garden. Poor man, his rheumatism is worse than ever. He was bent nearly double. He inquired very particularly for you, and--"

Mrs. Chilton turned with a sharp interruption.

"Pollyanna, what are we going to do?"

"Do? Why, the best we can, of course, dearie."

Mrs. Chilton gave an impatient gesture.

"Come, come, Pollyanna, do be serious for once. You'll find it is serious, fast enough. What are we going to do? As you know, my income has almost entirely stopped. Of course, some of the things are worth something, I suppose; but Mr. Hart says very few of them will pay anything at present. We have something in the bank, and a little coming in, of course. And we have this house. But of what earthly use is the house? We can't eat it, or wear it. It's too big for us, the way we shall have to live; and we couldn't sell it for half what it's really worth, unless we happened to find just the person that wanted it."

"Sell it! Oh, auntie, you wouldn't--this beautiful house full of lovely things!"

"I may have to, Pollyanna. We have to eat--unfortunately."

"I know it; and I'm always so hungry," mourned Pollyanna, with a rueful laugh. "Still, I suppose I ought to be glad my appetite is so good."

"Very likely. You'd find something to be glad about, of course. But what shall we do, child? I do wish you'd be serious for a minute."

A quick change came to Pollyanna's face.

"I am serious, Aunt Polly. I've been thinking. I--I wish I could earn some money."

"Oh, child, child, to think of my ever living to hear you say that!" moaned the woman; "--a daughter of the Harringtons having to earn her bread!"

"Oh, but that isn't the way to look at it," laughed Pollyanna. "You ought to be glad if a daughter of the Harringtons is smart enough to earn her bread! That isn't any disgrace, Aunt Polly."

"Perhaps not; but it isn't very pleasant to one's pride, after the position we've always occupied in Beldingsville, Pollyanna."

Pollyanna did not seem to have heard. Her eyes were musingly fixed on space.

"If only I had some talent! If only I could do something better than anybody else in the world," she sighed at last. "I can sing a little, play a little, embroider a little, and darn a little; but I can't do any of them well--not well enough to be paid for it.

"I think I'd like best to cook," she resumed, after a minute's silence, "and keep house. You know I loved that in Germany winters, when Gretchen used to bother us so much by not coming when we wanted her. But I don't exactly want to go into other people's kitchens to do it."

"As if I'd let you! Pollyanna!" shuddered Mrs. Chilton again.

"And of course, to just work in our own kitchen here doesn't bring in anything," bemoaned Pollyanna, "--not any money, I mean. And it's money we need."

"It most emphatically is," sighed Aunt Polly.

There was a long silence, broken at last by Pollyanna.

"To think that after all you've done for me, auntie--to think that now, if I only could, I'd have such a splendid chance to help! And yet--I can't do it. Oh, why wasn't I born with something that's worth money?"

"There, there, child, don't, don't! Of course, if the doctor--" The words choked into silence.

Pollyanna looked up quickly, and sprang to her feet.

"Dear, dear, this will never do!" she exclaimed, with a complete change of manner. "Don't you fret, auntie. What'll you wager that I don't develop the most marvelous talent going, one of these days? Besides, I think it's real exciting--all this. There's so much uncertainty in it. There's a lot of fun in wanting things--and then watching for them to come. Just living along and knowing you're going to have everything you want is so--so humdrum, you know," she finished, with a gay little laugh.

Mrs. Chilton, however, did not laugh. She only sighed and said:

"Dear me, Pollyanna, what a child you are!"