Chapter III. A Dose of Pollyanna
 

As the eighth of September approached--the day Pollyanna was to arrive--Mrs. Ruth Carew became more and more nervously exasperated with herself. She declared that she had regretted just once her promise to take the child--and that was ever since she had given it. Before twenty-four hours had passed she had, indeed, written to her sister demanding that she be released from the agreement; but Della had answered that it was quite too late, as already both she and Dr. Ames had written the Chiltons.

Soon after that had come Della's letter saying that Mrs. Chilton had given her consent, and would in a few days come to Boston to make arrangements as to school, and the like. So there was nothing to be done, naturally, but to let matters take their course. Mrs. Carew realized that, and submitted to the inevitable, but with poor grace. True, she tried to be decently civil when Della and Mrs. Chilton made their expected appearance; but she was very glad that limited time made Mrs. Chilton's stay of very short duration, and full to the brim of business.

It was well, indeed, perhaps, that Pollyanna's arrival was to be at a date no later than the eighth; for time, instead of reconciling Mrs. Carew to the prospective new member of her household, was filling her with angry impatience at what she was pleased to call her "absurd yielding to Della's crazy scheme."

Nor was Della herself in the least unaware of her sister's state of mind. If outwardly she maintained a bold front, inwardly she was very fearful as to results; but on Pollyanna she was pinning her faith, and because she did pin her faith on Pollyanna, she determined on the bold stroke of leaving the little girl to begin her fight entirely unaided and alone. She contrived, therefore, that Mrs. Carew should meet them at the station upon their arrival; then, as soon as greetings and introductions were over, she hurriedly pleaded a previous engagement and took herself off. Mrs. Carew, therefore, had scarcely time to look at her new charge before she found herself alone with the child.

"Oh, but Della, Della, you mustn't--I can't--" she called agitatedly, after the retreating figure of the nurse.

But Della, if she heard, did not heed; and, plainly annoyed and vexed, Mrs. Carew turned back to the child at her side.

"What a shame! She didn't hear, did she?" Pollyanna was saying, her eyes, also, wistfully following the nurse. "And I didn't want her to go now a bit. But then, I've got you, haven't I? I can be glad for that."

"Oh, yes, you've got me--and I've got you," returned the lady, not very graciously. "Come, we go this way," she directed, with a motion toward the right.

Obediently Pollyanna turned and trotted at Mrs. Carew's side, through the huge station; but she looked up once or twice rather anxiously into the lady's unsmiling face. At last she spoke hesitatingly.

"I expect maybe you thought--I'd be pretty," she hazarded, in a troubled voice.

"P--pretty?" repeated Mrs. Carew.

"Yes--with curls, you know, and all that. And of course you did wonder how I did look, just as I did you. Only I knew you'd be pretty and nice, on account of your sister. I had her to go by, and you didn't have anybody. And of course I'm not pretty, on account of the freckles, and it isn't nice when you've been expecting a pretty little girl, to have one come like me; and--"

"Nonsense, child!" interrupted Mrs. Carew, a trifle sharply. "Come, we'll see to your trunk now, then we'll go home. I had hoped that my sister would come with us; but it seems she didn't see fit--even for this one night."

Pollyanna smiled and nodded.

"I know; but she couldn't, probably. Somebody wanted her, I expect. Somebody was always wanting her at the Sanatorium. It's a bother, of course, when folks do want you all the time, isn't it?--'cause you can't have yourself when you want yourself, lots of times. Still, you can be kind of glad for that, for it is nice to be wanted, isn't it?"

There was no reply--perhaps because for the first time in her life Mrs. Carew was wondering if anywhere in the world there was any one who really wanted her--not that she wished to be wanted, of course, she told herself angrily, pulling herself up with a jerk, and frowning down at the child by her side.

Pollyanna did not see the frown. Pollyanna's eyes were on the hurrying throngs about them.

"My! what a lot of people," she was saying happily. "There's even more of them than there was the other time I was here; but I haven't seen anybody, yet, that I saw then, though I've looked for them everywhere. Of course the lady and the little baby lived in Honolulu, so probably they wouldn't be here; but there was a little girl, Susie Smith--she lived right here in Boston. Maybe you know her though. Do you know Susie Smith?"

"No, I don't know Susie Smith," replied Mrs. Carew, dryly.

"Don't you? She's awfully nice, and she's pretty--black curls, you know; the kind I'm going to have when I go to Heaven. But never mind; maybe I can find her for you so you will know her. Oh, my! what a perfectly lovely automobile! And are we going to ride in it?" broke off Pollyanna, as they came to a pause before a handsome limousine, the door of which a liveried chauffeur was holding open.

The chauffeur tried to hide a smile--and failed. Mrs. Carew, however, answered with the weariness of one to whom "rides" are never anything but a means of locomotion from one tiresome place to another probably quite as tiresome.

"Yes, we're going to ride in it." Then "Home, Perkins," she added to the deferential chauffeur.

"Oh, my, is it yours?" asked Pollyanna, detecting the unmistakable air of ownership in her hostess's manner. "How perfectly lovely! Then you must be rich--awfully--I mean exceedingly rich, more than the kind that just has carpets in every room and ice cream Sundays, like the Whites--one of my Ladies' Aiders, you know. (That is, she was a Ladies' Aider.) I used to think they were rich, but I know now that being really rich means you've got diamond rings and hired girls and sealskin coats, and dresses made of silk and velvet for every day, and an automobile. Have you got all those?"

"Why, y-yes, I suppose I have," admitted Mrs. Carew, with a faint smile.

"Then you are rich, of course," nodded Pollyanna, wisely. "My Aunt Polly has them, too, only her automobile is a horse. My! but don't I just love to ride in these things," exulted Pollyanna, with a happy little bounce. "You see I never did before, except the one that ran over me. They put me in that one after they'd got me out from under it; but of course I didn't know about it, so I couldn't enjoy it. Since then I haven't been in one at all. Aunt Polly doesn't like them. Uncle Tom does, though, and he wants one. He says he's got to have one, in his business. He's a doctor, you know, and all the other doctors in town have got them now. I don't know how it will come out. Aunt Polly is all stirred up over it. You see, she wants Uncle Tom to have what he wants, only she wants him to want what she wants him to want. See?"

Mrs. Carew laughed suddenly.

"Yes, my dear, I think I see," she answered demurely, though her eyes still carried--for them--a most unusual twinkle.

"All right," sighed Pollyanna contentedly. "I thought you would; still, it did sound sort of mixed when I said it. Oh, Aunt Polly says she wouldn't mind having an automobile, so much, if she could have the only one there was in the world, so there wouldn't be any one else to run into her; but--My! what a lot of houses!" broke off Pollyanna, looking about her with round eyes of wonder. "Don't they ever stop? Still, there'd have to be a lot of them for all those folks to live in, of course, that I saw at the station, besides all these here on the streets. And of course where there are more folks, there are more to know. I love folks. Don't you?"

"Love folks!"

"Yes, just folks, I mean. Anybody--everybody."

"Well, no, Pollyanna, I can't say that I do," replied Mrs. Carew, coldly, her brows contracted.

Mrs. Carew's eyes had lost their twinkle. They were turned rather mistrustfully, indeed, on Pollyanna. To herself Mrs. Carew was saying: "Now for preachment number one, I suppose, on my duty to mix with my fellow-men, a la Sister Della!"

"Don't you? Oh, I do," sighed Pollyanna. "They're all so nice and so different, you know. And down here there must be such a lot of them to be nice and different. Oh, you don't know how glad I am so soon that I came! I knew I would be, anyway, just as soon as I found out you were you--that is, Miss Wetherby's sister, I mean. I love Miss Wetherby, so I knew I should you, too; for of course you'd be alike--sisters, so--even if you weren't twins like Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Peck--and they weren't quite alike, anyway, on account of the wart. But I reckon you don't know what I mean, so I'll tell you."

And thus it happened that Mrs. Carew, who had been steeling herself for a preachment on social ethics, found herself, much to her surprise and a little to her discomfiture, listening to the story of a wart on the nose of one Mrs. Peck, Ladies' Aider.

By the time the story was finished the limousine had turned into Commonwealth Avenue, and Pollyanna immediately began to exclaim at the beauty of a street which had such a "lovely big long yard all the way up and down through the middle of it," and which was all the nicer, she said, "after all those little narrow streets."

"Only I should think every one would want to live on it," she commented enthusiastically.

"Very likely; but that would hardly be possible," retorted Mrs. Carew, with uplifted eyebrows.

Pollyanna, mistaking the expression on her face for one of dissatisfaction that her own home was not on the beautiful Avenue, hastened to make amends.

"Why, no, of course not," she agreed. "And I didn't mean that the narrower streets weren't just as nice," she hurried on; "and even better, maybe, because you could be glad you didn't have to go so far when you wanted to run across the way to borrow eggs or soda, and--Oh, but do you live here?" she interrupted herself, as the car came to a stop before the imposing Carew doorway. "Do you live here, Mrs. Carew?"

"Why, yes, of course I live here," returned the lady, with just a touch of irritation.

"Oh, how glad, glad you must be to live in such a perfectly lovely place!" exulted the little girl, springing to the sidewalk and looking eagerly about her. "Aren't you glad?"

Mrs. Carew did not reply. With unsmiling lips and frowning brow she was stepping from the limousine.

For the second time in five minutes, Pollyanna hastened to make amends.

"Of course I don't mean the kind of glad that's sinfully proud," she explained, searching Mrs. Carew's face with anxious eyes. "Maybe you thought I did, same as Aunt Polly used to, sometimes. I don't mean the kind that's glad because you've got something somebody else can't have; but the kind that just--just makes you want to shout and yell and bang doors, you know, even if it isn't proper," she finished, dancing up and down on her toes.

The chauffeur turned his back precipitately, and busied himself with the car. Mrs. Carew, still with unsmiling lips and frowning brow led the way up the broad stone steps.

"Come, Pollyanna," was all she said, crisply.

It was five days later that Della Wetherby received the letter from her sister, and very eagerly she tore it open. It was the first that had come since Pollyanna's arrival in Boston.

"My dear Sister," Mrs. Carew had written. "For pity's sake, Della, why didn't you give me some sort of an idea what to expect from this child you have insisted upon my taking? I'm nearly wild--and I simply can't send her away. I've tried to three times, but every time, before I get the words out of my mouth, she stops them by telling me what a perfectly lovely time she is having, and how glad she is to be here, and how good I am to let her live with me while her Aunt Polly has gone to Germany. Now how, pray, in the face of that, can I turn around and say 'Well, won't you please go home; I don't want you'? And the absurd part of it is, I don't believe it has ever entered her head that I don't want her here; and I can't seem to make it enter her head, either.

"Of course if she begins to preach, and to tell me to count my blessings, I shall send her away. You know I told you, to begin with, that I wouldn't permit that. And I won't. Two or three times I have thought she was going to (preach, I mean), but so far she has always ended up with some ridiculous story about those Ladies' Aiders of hers; so the sermon gets sidetracked--luckily for her, if she wants to stay.

"But, really, Della, she is impossible. Listen. In the first place she is wild with delight over the house. The very first day she got here she begged me to open every room; and she was not satisfied until every shade in the house was up, so that she might 'see all the perfectly lovely things,' which, she declared, were even nicer than Mr. John Pendleton's--whoever he may be, somebody in Beldingsville, I believe. Anyhow, he isn't a Ladies' Aider. I've found out that much.

"Then, as if it wasn't enough to keep me running from room to room (as if I were the guide on a 'personally conducted'), what did she do but discover a white satin evening gown that I hadn't worn for years, and beseech me to put it on. And I did put it on--why, I can't imagine, only that I found myself utterly helpless in her hands.

"But that was only the beginning. She begged then to see everything that I had, and she was so perfectly funny in her stories of the missionary barrels, which she used to 'dress out of,' that I had to laugh--though I almost cried, too, to think of the wretched things that poor child had to wear. Of course gowns led to jewels, and she made such a fuss over my two or three rings that I foolishly opened the safe, just to see her eyes pop out. And, Della, I thought that child would go crazy. She put on to me every ring, brooch, bracelet, and necklace that I owned, and insisted on fastening both diamond tiaras in my hair (when she found out what they were), until there I sat, hung with pearls and diamonds and emeralds, and feeling like a heathen goddess in a Hindu temple, especially when that preposterous child began to dance round and round me, clapping her hands and chanting, 'Oh, how perfectly lovely, how perfectly lovely! How I would love to hang you on a string in the window--you'd make such a beautiful prism!'

"I was just going to ask her what on earth she meant by that when down she dropped in the middle of the floor and began to cry. And what do you suppose she was crying for? Because she was so glad she'd got eyes that could see! Now what do you think of that?

"Of course this isn't all. It's only the beginning. Pollyanna has been here four days, and she's filled every one of them full. She already numbers among her friends the ash-man, the policeman on the beat, and the paper boy, to say nothing of every servant in my employ. They seem actually bewitched with her, every one of them. But please do not think I am, for I'm not. I would send the child back to you at once if I didn't feel obliged to fulfil my promise to keep her this winter. As for her making me forget Jamie and my great sorrow--that is impossible. She only makes me feel my loss all the more keenly--because I have her instead of him. But, as I said, I shall keep her--until she begins to preach. Then back she goes to you. But she hasn't preached yet.

"Lovingly but distractedly yours,

"RUTH."

"'Hasn't preached yet,' indeed!" chuckled Della Wetherby to herself, folding up the closely-written sheets of her sister's letter. "Oh, Ruth, Ruth! and yet you admit that you've opened every room, raised every shade, decked yourself in satin and jewels--and Pollyanna hasn't been there a week yet. But she hasn't preached--oh, no, she hasn't preached!"