Chapter XXVII. The Day Pollyanna Did Not Play
 

And so one by one the winter days passed. January and February slipped away in snow and sleet, and March came in with a gale that whistled and moaned around the old house, and set loose blinds to swinging and loose gates to creaking in a way that was most trying to nerves already stretched to the breaking point.

Pollyanna was not finding it very easy these days to play the game, but she was playing it faithfully, valiantly. Aunt Polly was not playing it at all--which certainly did not make it any the easier for Pollyanna to play it. Aunt Polly was blue and discouraged. She was not well, too, and she had plainly abandoned herself to utter gloom.

Pollyanna still was counting on the prize contest. She had dropped from the first prize to one of the smaller ones, however: Pollyanna had been writing more stories, and the regularity with which they came back from their pilgrimages to magazine editors was beginning to shake her faith in her success as an author.

"Oh, well, I can be glad that Aunt Polly doesn't know anything about it, anyway," declared Pollyanna to herself bravely, as she twisted in her fingers the "declined-with-thanks" slip that had just towed in one more shipwrecked story. "She can't worry about this--she doesn't know about it!"

All of Pollyanna's life these days revolved around Aunt Polly, and it is doubtful if even Aunt Polly herself realized how exacting she had become, and how entirely her niece was giving up her life to her.

It was on a particularly gloomy day in March that matters came, in a way, to a climax. Pollyanna, upon arising, had looked at the sky with a sigh--Aunt Polly was always more difficult on cloudy days. With a gay little song, however, that still sounded a bit forced--Pollyanna descended to the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast.

"I reckon I'll make corn muffins," she told the stove confidentially; "then maybe Aunt Polly won't mind--other things so much."

Half an hour later she tapped at her aunt's door.

"Up so soon? Oh, that's fine! And you've done your hair yourself!"

"I couldn't sleep. I had to get up," sighed Aunt Polly, wearily. "I had to do my hair, too. You weren't here."

"But I didn't suppose you were ready for me, auntie," explained Pollyanna, hurriedly. "Never mind, though. You'll be glad I wasn't when you find what I've been doing."

"Well, I sha'n't--not this morning," frowned Aunt Polly, perversely. "Nobody could be glad this morning. Look at it rain! That makes the third rainy day this week."

"That's so--but you know the sun never seems quite so perfectly lovely as it does after a lot of rain like this," smiled Pollyanna, deftly arranging a bit of lace and ribbon at her aunt's throat. "Now come. Breakfast's all ready. Just you wait till you see what I've got for you."

Aunt Polly, however, was not to be diverted, even by corn muffins, this morning. Nothing was right, nothing was even endurable, as she felt; and Pollyanna's patience was sorely taxed before the meal was over. To make matters worse, the roof over the east attic window was found to be leaking, and an unpleasant letter came in the mail. Pollyanna, true to her creed, laughingly declared that, for her part, she was glad they had a roof--to leak; and that, as for the letter, she'd been expecting it for a week, anyway, and she was actually glad she wouldn't have to worry any more for fear it would come. It couldn't come now, because it had come; and 'twas over with.

All this, together with sundry other hindrances and annoyances, delayed the usual morning work until far into the afternoon--something that was always particularly displeasing to methodical Aunt Polly, who ordered her own life, preferably, by the tick of the clock.

"But it's half-past three, Pollyanna, already! Did you know it?" she fretted at last. "And you haven't made the beds yet."

"No, dearie, but I will. Don't worry."

"But, did you hear what I said? Look at the clock, child. It's after three o'clock!"

"So 'tis, but never mind, Aunt Polly. We can be glad 'tisn't after four."

Aunt Polly sniffed her disdain.

"I suppose you can," she observed tartly.

Pollyanna laughed.

"Well, you see, auntie, clocks are accommodating things, when you stop to think about it. I found that out long ago at the Sanatorium. When I was doing something that I liked, and I didn't want the time to go fast, I'd just look at the hour hand, and I'd feel as if I had lots of time--it went so slow. Then, other days, when I had to keep something that hurt on for an hour, maybe, I'd watch the little second hand; and you see then I felt as if Old Time was just humping himself to help me out by going as fast as ever he could. Now I'm watching the hour hand to-day, 'cause I don't want Time to go fast. See?" she twinkled mischievously, as she hurried from the room, before Aunt Polly had time to answer.

It was certainly a hard day, and by night Pollyanna looked pale and worn out. This, too, was a source of worriment to Aunt Polly.

"Dear me, child, you look tired to death!" she fumed. "What we're going to do I don't know. I suppose you'll be sick next!"

"Nonsense, auntie! I'm not sick a bit," declared Pollyanna, dropping herself with a sigh on to the couch. "But I am tired. My! how good this couch feels! I'm glad I'm tired, after all--it's so nice to rest."

Aunt Polly turned with an impatient gesture.

"Glad--glad--glad! Of course you're glad, Pollyanna. You're always glad for everything. I never saw such a girl. Oh, yes, I know it's the game," she went on, in answer to the look that came to Pollyanna's face. "And it's a very good game, too; but I think you carry it altogether too far. This eternal doctrine of 'it might be worse' has got on my nerves, Pollyanna. Honestly, it would be a real relief if you wouldn't be glad for something, sometime!"

"Why, auntie!" Pollyanna pulled herself half erect.

"Well, it would. You just try it sometime, and see."

"But, auntie, I--" Pollyanna stopped and eyed her aunt reflectively. An odd look came to her eyes; a slow smile curved her lips. Mrs. Chilton, who had turned back to her work, paid no heed; and, after a minute, Pollyanna lay back on the couch without finishing her sentence, the curious smile still on her lips.

It was raining again when Pollyanna got up the next morning, and a northeast wind was still whistling down the chimney. Pollyanna at the window drew an involuntary sigh; but almost at once her face changed.

"Oh, well, I'm glad--" She clapped her hands to her lips. "Dear me," she chuckled softly, her eyes dancing, "I shall forget--I know I shall; and that'll spoil it all! I must just remember not to be glad for anything--not anything to-day."

Pollyanna did not make corn muffins that morning. She started the breakfast, then went to her aunt's room.

Mrs. Chilton was still in bed.

"I see it rains, as usual," she observed, by way of greeting.

"Yes, it's horrid--perfectly horrid," scolded Pollyanna. "It's rained 'most every day this week, too. I hate such weather."

Aunt Polly turned with a faint surprise in her eyes; but Pollyanna was looking the other way.

"Are you going to get up now?" she asked a little wearily.

"Why, y-yes," murmured Aunt Polly, still with that faint surprise in her eyes. "What's the matter, Pollyanna? Are you especially tired?"

"Yes, I am tired this morning. I didn't sleep well, either. I hate not to sleep. Things always plague so in the night, when you wake up."

"I guess I know that," fretted Aunt Polly. "I didn't sleep a wink after two o'clock myself. And there's that roof! How are we going to have it fixed, pray, if it never stops raining? Have you been up to empty the pans?"

"Oh, yes--and took up some more. There's a new leak now, further over."

"A new one! Why, it'll all be leaking yet!"

Pollyanna opened her lips. She had almost said, "Well, we can be glad to have it fixed all at once, then," when she suddenly remembered, and substituted, in a tired voice:

"Very likely it will, auntie. It looks like it now, fast enough. Anyway, it's made fuss enough for a whole roof already, and I'm sick of it!" With which statement, Pollyanna, her face carefully averted, turned and trailed listlessly out of the room.

"It's so funny and so--so hard, I'm afraid I'm making a mess of it," she whispered to herself anxiously, as she hurried down-stairs to the kitchen.

Behind her, Aunt Polly, in the bedroom, gazed after her with eyes that were again faintly puzzled.

Aunt Polly had occasion a good many times before six o'clock that night to gaze at Pollyanna with surprised and questioning eyes. Nothing was right with Pollyanna. The fire would not burn, the wind blew one particular blind loose three times, and still a third leak was discovered in the roof. The mail brought to Pollyanna a letter that made her cry (though no amount of questioning on Aunt Polly's part would persuade her to tell why). Even the dinner went wrong, and innumerable things happened in the afternoon to call out fretful, discouraged remarks.

Not until the day was more than half gone did a look of shrewd suspicion suddenly fight for supremacy with the puzzled questioning in Aunt Polly's eyes. If Pollyanna saw this she made no sign. Certainly there was no abatement in her fretfulness and discontent. Long before six o'clock, however, the suspicion in Aunt Polly's eyes became conviction, and drove to ignominious defeat the puzzled questioning. But, curiously enough then, a new look came to take its place, a look that was actually a twinkle of amusement.

At last, after a particularly doleful complaint on Pollyanna's part, Aunt Polly threw up her hands with a gesture of half-laughing despair.

"That'll do, that'll do, child! I'll give up. I'll confess myself beaten at my own game. You can be--glad for that, if you like," she finished with a grim smile.

"I know, auntie, but you said--" began Pollyanna demurely.

"Yes, yes, but I never will again," interrupted Aunt Polly, with emphasis. "Mercy, what a day this has been! I never want to live through another like it." She hesitated, flushed a little, then went on with evident difficulty: "Furthermore, I--I want you to know that--that I understand I haven't played the game myself--very well, lately; but, after this, I'm going to--to try--where's my handkerchief?" she finished sharply, fumbling in the folds of her dress.

Pollyanna sprang to her feet and crossed instantly to her aunt's side.

"Oh, but Aunt Polly, I didn't mean--It was just a--a joke," she quavered in quick distress. "I never thought of your taking it that way."

"Of course you didn't," snapped Aunt Polly, with all the asperity of a stern, repressed woman who abhors scenes and sentiment, and who is mortally afraid she will show that her heart has been touched. "Don't you suppose I know you didn't mean it that way? Do you think, if I thought you had been trying to teach me a lesson that I'd--I'd--" But Pollyanna's strong young arms had her in a close embrace, and she could not finish the sentence.