Chapter XVIII. A Matter of Adjustment
 

The first few days at Beldingsville were not easy either for Mrs. Chilton or for Pollyanna. They were days of adjustment; and days of adjustment are seldom easy.

From travel and excitement it was not easy to put one's mind to the consideration of the price of butter and the delinquencies of the butcher. From having all one's time for one's own, it was not easy to find always the next task clamoring to be done. Friends and neighbors called, too, and although Pollyanna welcomed them with glad cordiality, Mrs. Chilton, when possible, excused herself; and always she said bitterly to Pollyanna:

"Curiosity, I suppose, to see how Polly Harrington likes being poor."

Of the doctor Mrs. Chilton seldom spoke, yet Pollyanna knew very well that almost never was he absent from her thoughts; and that more than half her taciturnity was but her usual cloak for a deeper emotion which she did not care to show.

Jimmy Pendleton Pollyanna saw several times during that first month. He came first with John Pendleton for a somewhat stiff and ceremonious call--not that it was either stiff or ceremonious until after Aunt Polly came into the room; then it was both. For some reason Aunt Polly had not excused herself on this occasion. After that Jimmy had come by himself, once with flowers, once with a book for Aunt Polly, twice with no excuse at all. Pollyanna welcomed him with frank pleasure always. Aunt Polly, after that first time, did not see him at all.

To the most of their friends and acquaintances Pollyanna said little about the change in their circumstances. To Jimmy, however, she talked freely, and always her constant cry was: "If only I could do something to bring in some money!"

"I'm getting to be the most mercenary little creature you ever saw," she laughed dolefully. "I've got so I measure everything with a dollar bill, and I actually think in quarters and dimes. You see, Aunt Polly does feel so poor!"

"It's a shame!" stormed Jimmy.

"I know it. But, honestly, I think she feels a little poorer than she needs to--she's brooded over it so. But I do wish I could help!"

Jimmy looked down at the wistful, eager face with its luminous eyes, and his own eyes softened.

"What do you want to do--if you could do it?" he asked.

"Oh, I want to cook and keep house," smiled Pollyanna, with a pensive sigh. "I just love to beat eggs and sugar, and hear the soda gurgle its little tune in the cup of sour milk. I'm happy if I've got a day's baking before me. But there isn't any money in that--except in somebody else's kitchen, of course. And I--I don't exactly love it well enough for that!"

"I should say not!" ejaculated the young fellow.

Once more he glanced down at the expressive face so near him. This time a queer look came to the corners of his mouth. He pursed his lips, then spoke, a slow red mounting to his forehead.

"Well, of course you might--marry. Have you thought of that--Miss Pollyanna?"

Pollyanna gave a merry laugh. Voice and manner were unmistakably those of a girl quite untouched by even the most far-reaching of Cupid's darts.

"Oh, no, I shall never marry," she said blithely. "In the first place I'm not pretty, you know; and in the second place, I'm going to live with Aunt Polly and take care of her."

"Not pretty, eh?" smiled Pendleton, quizzically. "Did it ever--er--occur to you that there might be a difference of opinion on that, Pollyanna?"

Pollyanna shook her head.

"There couldn't be. I've got a mirror, you see," she objected, with a merry glance.

It sounded like coquetry. In any other girl it would have been coquetry, Pendleton decided. But, looking into the face before him now, Pendleton knew that it was not coquetry. He knew, too, suddenly, why Pollyanna had seemed so different from any girl he had ever known. Something of her old literal way of looking at things still clung to her.

"Why aren't you pretty?" he asked.

Even as he uttered the question, and sure as he was of his estimate of Pollyanna's character, Pendleton quite held his breath at his temerity. He could not help thinking of how quickly any other girl he knew would have resented that implied acceptance of her claim to no beauty. But Pollyanna's first words showed him that even this lurking fear of his was quite groundless.

"Why, I just am not," she laughed, a little ruefully. "I wasn't made that way. Maybe you don't remember, but long ago, when I was a little girl, it always seemed to me that one of the nicest things Heaven was going to give me when I got there was black curls."

"And is that your chief desire now?"

"N-no, maybe not," hesitated Pollyanna. "But I still think I'd like them. Besides, my eyelashes aren't long enough, and my nose isn't Grecian, or Roman, or any of those delightfully desirable ones that belong to a 'type.' It's just nose. And my face is too long, or too short, I've forgotten which; but I measured it once with one of those 'correct-for-beauty' tests, and it wasn't right, anyhow. And they said the width of the face should be equal to five eyes, and the width of the eyes equal to--to something else. I've forgotten that, too--only that mine wasn't."

"What a lugubrious picture!" laughed Pendleton. Then, with his gaze admiringly regarding the girl's animated face and expressive eyes, he asked:

"Did you ever look in the mirror when you were talking, Pollyanna?"

"Why, no, of course not!"

"Well, you'd better try it sometime."

"What a funny idea! Imagine my doing it," laughed the girl. "What shall I say? Like this? 'Now, you, Pollyanna, what if your eyelashes aren't long, and your nose is just a nose, be glad you've got some eyelashes and some nose!'"

Pendleton joined in her laugh, but an odd expression came to his face.

"Then you still play--the game," he said, a little diffidently.

Pollyanna turned soft eyes of wonder full upon him.

"Why, of course! Why, Jimmy, I don't believe I could have lived--the last six months--if it hadn't been for that blessed game." Her voice shook a little.

"I haven't heard you say much about it," he commented.

She changed color.

"I know. I think I'm afraid--of saying too much--to outsiders, who don't care, you know. It wouldn't sound quite the same from me now, at twenty, as it did when I was ten. I realize that, of course. Folks don't like to be preached at, you know," she finished with a whimsical smile.

"I know," nodded the young fellow gravely. "But I wonder sometimes, Pollyanna, if you really understand yourself what that game is, and what it has done for those who are playing it."

"I know--what it has done for myself." Her voice was low, and her eyes were turned away.

"You see, it really works, if you play it," he mused aloud, after a short silence. "Somebody said once that it would revolutionize the world if everybody would really play it. And I believe it would."

"Yes; but some folks don't want to be revolutionized," smiled Pollyanna. "I ran across a man in Germany last year. He had lost his money, and was in hard luck generally. Dear, dear, but he was gloomy! Somebody in my presence tried to cheer him up one day by saying, 'Come, come, things might be worse, you know!' Dear, dear, but you should have heard that man then!

"'If there is anything on earth that makes me mad clear through,' he snarled, 'it is to be told that things might be worse, and to be thankful for what I've got left. These people who go around with an everlasting grin on their faces caroling forth that they are thankful that they can breathe, or eat, or walk, or lie down, I have no use for. I don't want to breathe, or eat, or walk, or lie down--if things are as they are now with me. And when I'm told that I ought to be thankful for some such tommyrot as that, it makes me just want to go out and shoot somebody!' Imagine what I'D have gotten if I'd have introduced the glad game to that man!" laughed Pollyanna.

"I don't care. He needed it," answered Jimmy.

"Of course he did--but he wouldn't have thanked me for giving it to him."

"I suppose not. But, listen! As he was, under his present philosophy and scheme of living, he made himself and everybody else wretched, didn't he? Well, just suppose he was playing the game. While he was trying to hunt up something to be glad about in everything that had happened to him, he couldn't be at the same time grumbling and growling about how bad things were; so that much would be gained. He'd be a whole lot easier to live with, both for himself and for his friends. Meanwhile, just thinking of the doughnut instead of the hole couldn't make things any worse for him, and it might make things better; for it wouldn't give him such a gone feeling in the pit of his stomach, and his digestion would be better. I tell you, troubles are poor things to hug. They've got too many prickers."

Pollyanna smiled appreciatively.

"That makes me think of what I told a poor old lady once. She was one of my Ladies' Aiders out West, and was one of the kind of people that really enjoys being miserable and telling over her causes for unhappiness. I was perhaps ten years old, and was trying to teach her the game. I reckon I wasn't having very good success, and evidently I at last dimly realized the reason, for I said to her triumphantly: 'Well, anyhow, you can be glad you've got such a lot of things to make you miserable, for you love to be miserable so well!'"

"Well, if that wasn't a good one on her," chuckled Jimmy.

Pollyanna raised her eyebrows.

"I'm afraid she didn't enjoy it any more than the man in Germany would have if I'd told him the same thing."

"But they ought to be told, and you ought to tell--" Pendleton stopped short with so queer an expression on his face that Pollyanna looked at him in surprise.

"Why, Jimmy, what is it?"

"Oh, nothing. I was only thinking," he answered, puckering his lips. "Here I am urging you to do the very thing I was afraid you would do before I saw you, you know. That is, I was afraid before I saw you, that--that--" He floundered into a helpless pause, looking very red indeed.

"Well, Jimmy Pendleton," bridled the girl, "you needn't think you can stop there, sir. Now just what do you mean by all that, please?"

"Oh, er--n-nothing, much."

"I'm waiting," murmured Pollyanna. Voice and manner were calm and confident, though the eyes twinkled mischievously.

The young fellow hesitated, glanced at her smiling face, and capitulated.

"Oh, well, have it your own way," he shrugged. "It's only that I was worrying--a little--about that game, for fear you would talk it just as you used to, you know, and--" But a merry peal of laughter interrupted him.

"There, what did I tell you? Even you were worried, it seems, lest I should be at twenty just what I was at ten!"

"N-no, I didn't mean--Pollyanna, honestly, I thought--of course I knew--" But Pollyanna only put her hands to her ears and went off into another peal of laughter.