Pollyanna/Chapter 28

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Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter 28: The Game and its Players
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE GAME AND ITS PLAYERS


It was not long after John Pendleton's second visit that Milly Snow called one afternoon. Milly Snow had never before been to the Harrington homestead. She blushed and looked very embarrassed when Miss Polly entered the room.

"I — I came to inquire for the little girl," she stammered.

"You are very kind. She is about the same. How is your mother?" rejoined Miss Polly, wearily.

"That is what I came to tell you — that is, to ask you to tell Miss Pollyanna," hurried on the girl, breathlessly and incoherently. "We think it's — so awful — so perfectly awful that the little thing can't ever walk again; and after all she's done for us, too — for mother, you know, teaching her to play the game, and all that. And when we heard how now she couldn't play it herself — poor little dear! I'm sure I don't see how she CAN, either, in her condition! — but when we remembered all the things she'd said to us, we thought if she could only know what she HAD done for us, that it would HELP, you know, in her own case, about the game, because she could be glad — that is, a little glad —" Milly stopped helplessly, and seemed to be waiting for Miss Polly to speak.

Miss Polly had sat politely listening, but with a puzzled questioning in her eyes. Only about half of what had been said, had she understood. She was thinking now that she always had known that Milly Snow was "queer," but she had not supposed she was crazy. In no other way, however, could she account for this incoherent, illogical, unmeaning rush of words. When the pause came she filled it with a quiet:

"I don't think I quite understand, Milly. Just what is it that you want me to tell my niece?"

"Yes, that's it; I want you to tell her," answered the girl, feverishly. "Make her see what she's done for us. Of course she's SEEN some things, because she's been there, and she's known mother is different; but I want her to know HOW different she is — and me, too. I'm different. I've been trying to play it — the game — a little."

Miss Polly frowned. She would have asked what Milly meant by this "game," but there was no opportunity. Milly was rushing on again with nervous volubility.

"You know nothing was ever right before — for mother. She was always wanting 'em different. And, really, I don't know as one could blame her much — under the circumstances. But now she lets me keep the shades up, and she takes interest in things — how she looks, and her nightdress, and all that. And she's actually begun to knit little things — reins and baby blankets for fairs and hospitals. And she's so interested, and so GLAD to think she can do it! — and that was all Miss Pollyanna's doings, you know, 'cause she told mother she could be glad she'd got her hands and arms, anyway; and that made mother wonder right away why she didn't DO something with her hands and arms. And so she began to do something — to knit, you know. And you can't think what a different room it is now, what with the red and blue and yellow worsteds, and the prisms in the window that SHE gave her — why, it actually makes you feel BETTER just to go in there now; and before I used to dread it awfully, it was so dark and gloomy, and mother was so — so unhappy, you know.

"And so we want you to please tell Miss Pollyanna that we understand it's all because of her. And please say we're so glad we know her, that we thought, maybe if she knew it, it would make her a little glad that she knew us. And — and that's all," sighed Milly, rising hurriedly to her feet. "You'll tell her?"

"Why, of course," murmured Miss Polly, wondering just how much of this remarkable discourse she could remember to tell.

These visits of John Pendleton and Milly Snow were only the first of many; and always there were the messages — the messages which were in some ways so curious that they caused Miss Polly more and more to puzzle over them.

One day there was the little Widow Benton. Miss Polly knew her well, though they had never called upon each other. By reputation she knew her as the saddest little woman in town — one who was always in black. To-day, however, Mrs. Benton wore a knot of pale blue at the throat, though there were tears in her eyes. She spoke of her grief and horror at the accident; then she asked diffidently if she might see Pollyanna.

Miss Polly shook her head.

"I am sorry, but she sees no one yet. A little later — perhaps."

Mrs. Benton wiped her eyes, rose, and turned to go. But after she had almost reached the hall door she came back hurriedly.

"Miss Harrington, perhaps, you'd give her — a message," she stammered.

"Certainly, Mrs. Benton; I shall be very glad to."

Still the little woman hesitated; then she spoke.

"Will you tell her, please, that — that I've put on THIS," she said, just touching the blue bow at her throat. Then, at Miss Polly's ill-concealed look of surprise, she added: "The little girl has been trying for so long to make me wear — some color, that I thought she'd be — glad to know I'd begun. She said that Freddy would be so glad to see it, if I would. You know Freddy's ALL I have now. The others have all —" Mrs. Benton shook her head and turned away. "If you'll just tell Pollyanna — SHE'LL understand." And the door closed after her.

A little later, that same day, there was the other widow — at least, she wore widow's garments. Miss Polly did not know her at all. She wondered vaguely how Pollyanna could have known her. The lady gave her name as "Mrs. Tarbell."

"I'm a stranger to you, of course," she began at once. "But I'm not a stranger to your little niece, Pollyanna. I've been at the hotel all summer, and every day I've had to take long walks for my health. It was on these walks that I've met your niece — she's such a dear little girl! I wish I could make you understand what she's been to me. I was very sad when I came up here; and her bright face and cheery ways reminded me of — my own little girl that I lost years ago. I was so shocked to hear of the accident; and then when I learned that the poor child would never walk again, and that she was so unhappy because she couldn't be glad any longer — the dear child! — I just had to come to you."

"You are very kind," murmured Miss Polly.

"But it is you who are to be kind," demurred the other. "I — I want you to give her a message from me. Will you?"

"Certainly."

"Will you just tell her, then, that Mrs. Tarbell is glad now. Yes, I know it sounds odd, and you don't understand. But — if you'll pardon me I'd rather not explain." Sad lines came to the lady's mouth, and the smile left her eyes. "Your niece will know just what I mean; and I felt that I must tell — her. Thank you; and pardon me, please, for any seeming rudeness in my call," she begged, as she took her leave.

Thoroughly mystified now, Miss Polly hurried up-stairs to Pollyanna's room.

"Pollyanna, do you know a Mrs. Tarbell?"

"Oh, yes. I love Mrs. Tarbell. She's sick, and awfully sad; and she's at the hotel, and takes long walks. We go together. I mean — we used to." Pollyanna's voice broke, and two big tears rolled down her cheeks.

Miss Polly cleared her throat hurriedly.

"We'll, she's just been here, dear. She left a message for you — but she wouldn't tell me what it meant. She said to tell you that Mrs. Tarbell is glad now."

Pollyanna clapped her hands softly.

"Did she say that — really? Oh, I'm so glad!"

"But, Pollyanna, what did she mean?"

"Why, it's the game, and —" Pollyanna stopped short, her fingers to her lips.

"What game?"

"N-nothing much, Aunt Polly; that is — I can't tell it unless I tell other things
that — that I'm not to speak of."

It was on Miss Polly's tongue to question her niece further; but the obvious distress on the little girl's face stayed the words before they were uttered.

Not long after Mrs. Tarbell's visit, the climax came. It came in the shape of a call from a certain young woman with unnaturally pink cheeks and abnormally yellow hair; a young woman who wore high heels and cheap jewelry; a young woman whom Miss Polly knew very well by reputation — but whom she was angrily amazed to meet beneath the roof of the Harrington homestead.

Miss Polly did not offer her hand. She drew back, indeed, as she entered the room.

The woman rose at once. Her eyes were very red, as if she had been crying. Half defiantly she asked if she might, for a moment, see the little girl, Pollyanna.

Miss Polly said no. She began to say it very sternly; but something in the woman's pleading eyes made her add the civil explanation that no one was allowed yet to see Pollyanna.

The woman hesitated; then a little brusquely she spoke. Her chin was still at a slightly defiant tilt.

"My name is Mrs. Payson — Mrs. Tom Payson. I presume you've heard of me — most of the good people in the town have — and maybe some of the things you've heard ain't true. But never mind that. It's about the little girl I came. I heard about the accident, and — and it broke me all up. Last week I heard how she couldn't ever walk again, and — and I wished I could give up my two uselessly well legs for hers. She'd do more good trotting around on 'em one hour than I could in a hundred years. But never mind that. Legs ain't always given to the one who can make the best use of 'em, I notice."

She paused, and cleared her throat; but when she resumed her voice was still husky.

"Maybe you don't know it, but I've seen a good deal of that little girl of yours. We live on the Pendleton Hill road, and she used to go by often — only she didn't always GO BY. She came in and played with the kids and talked to me — and my man, when he was home. She seemed to like it, and to like us. She didn't know, I suspect, that her kind of folks don't generally call on my kind. Maybe if they DID call more, Miss Harrington, there wouldn't be so many — of my kind," she added, with sudden bitterness.

"Be that as it may, she came; and she didn't do herself no harm, and she did do us good — a lot o' good. How much she won't know — nor can't know, I hope; 'cause if she did, she'd know other things — that I don't want her to know.

"But it's just this. It's been hard times with us this year, in more ways than one. We've been blue and discouraged — my man and me, and ready for — 'most anything. We was reckoning on getting a divorce about now, and letting the kids well, we didn't know what we would do with the kids. Then came the accident, and what we heard about the little girl's never walking again. And we got to thinking how she used to come and sit on our doorstep and train with the kids, and laugh, and — and just be glad. She was always being glad about something; and then, one day, she told us why, and about the game, you know; and tried to coax us to play it.

"Well, we've heard now that she's fretting her poor little life out of her, because she can't play it no more — that there's nothing to be glad about. And that's what I came to tell her to-day — that maybe she can be a little glad for us, 'cause we've decided to stick to each other, and play the game ourselves. I knew she would be glad, because she used to feel kind of bad — at things we said, sometimes. Just how the game is going to help us, I can't say that I exactly see, yet; but maybe 'twill. Anyhow, we're going to try — 'cause she wanted us to. Will you tell her?"

"Yes, I will tell her," promised Miss Polly, a little faintly. Then, with sudden impulse, she stepped forward and held out her hand. "And thank you for coming, Mrs. Payson," she said simply.

The defiant chin fell. The lips above it trembled visibly. With an incoherently mumbled something, Mrs. Payson blindly clutched at the outstretched hand, turned, and fled.

The door had scarcely closed behind her before Miss Polly was confronting Nancy in the kitchen.

"Nancy!"

Miss Polly spoke sharply. The series of puzzling, disconcerting visits of the last few days, culminating as they had in the extraordinary experience of the afternoon, had strained her nerves to the snapping point. Not since Miss Pollyanna's accident had Nancy heard her mistress speak so sternly.

"Nancy, WILL you tell me what this absurd 'game' is that the whole town seems to be babbling about? And what, please, has my niece to do with it? WHY does everybody, from Milly Snow to Mrs. Tom Payson, send word to her that they're 'playing it'? As near as I can judge, half the town are putting on blue ribbons, or stopping family quarrels, or learning to like something they never liked before, and all because of Pollyanna. I tried to ask the child herself about it, but I can't seem to make much headway, and of course I don't like to worry her — now. But from something I heard her say to you last night, I should judge you were one of them, too. Now WILL you tell me what it all means?"

To Miss Polly's surprise and dismay, Nancy burst into tears.

"It means that ever since last June that blessed child has jest been makin' the whole town glad, an' now they're turnin' 'round an' tryin' ter make her a little glad, too."

"Glad of what?"

"Just glad! That's the game."

Miss Polly actually stamped her foot.

"There you go like all the rest, Nancy. What game?"

Nancy lifted her chin. She faced her mistress and looked her squarely in the eye.

"I'll tell ye, ma'am. It's a game Miss Pollyanna's father learned her ter play. She got a pair of crutches once in a missionary barrel when she was wantin' a doll; an' she cried, of course, like any child would. It seems 'twas then her father told her that there wasn't ever anythin' but what there was somethin' about it that you could be glad about; an' that she could be glad about them crutches."

"Glad for — CRUTCHES!" Miss Polly choked back a sob — she was thinking of the helpless little legs on the bed up-stairs.

"Yes'm. That's what I said, an' Miss Pollyanna said that's what she said, too. But he told her she COULD be glad — 'cause she DIDN'T NEED 'EM."

"Oh-h!" cried Miss Polly.

"And after that she said he made a regular game of it — findin' somethin' in everythin' ter be glad about. An' she said ye could do it, too, and that ye didn't seem ter mind not havin' the doll so much, 'cause ye was so glad ye DIDN'T need the crutches. An' they called it the 'jest bein' glad' game. That's the game, ma'am. She's played it ever since."

"But, how — how —" Miss Polly came to a helpless pause.

"An' you'd be surprised ter find how cute it works, ma'am, too," maintained Nancy, with almost the eagerness of Pollyanna herself. "I wish I could tell ye what a lot she's done for mother an' the folks out home. She's been ter see 'em, ye know, twice, with me. She's made me glad, too, on such a lot o' things — little things, an' big things; an' it's made 'em so much easier. For instance, I don't mind 'Nancy' for a name half as much since she told me I could be glad 'twa'n't 'Hephzibah.' An' there's Monday mornin's, too, that I used ter hate so. She's actually made me glad for Monday mornin's."

"Glad — for Monday mornings!"

Nancy laughed.

"I know it does sound nutty, ma'am. But let me tell ye. That blessed lamb found out I hated Monday mornin's somethin' awful; an' what does she up an' tell me one day but this: 'Well, anyhow, Nancy, I should think you could be gladder on Monday mornin' than on any other day in the week, because 'twould be a whole WEEK before you'd have another one!' An' I'm blest if I hain't thought of it ev'ry Monday mornin' since — an' it HAS helped, ma'am. It made me laugh, anyhow, ev'ry time I thought of it; an' laughin' helps, ye know — it does, it does!"

"But why hasn't — she told me — the game?" faltered Miss Polly. "Why has she made such a mystery of it, when I asked her?"

Nancy hesitated.

"Beggin' yer pardon, ma'am, you told her not ter speak of — her father; so she couldn't tell ye. 'Twas her father's game, ye see."

Miss Polly bit her lip.

"She wanted ter tell ye, first off," continued Nancy, a little unsteadily. "She wanted somebody ter play it with, ye know. That's why I begun it, so she could have some one."

"And — and — these others?" Miss Polly's voice shook now.

"Oh, ev'rybody, 'most, knows it now, I guess. Anyhow, I should think they did from the way I'm hearin' of it ev'rywhere I go. Of course she told a lot, and they told the rest. Them things go, ye know, when they gets started. An' she was always so smilin' an' pleasant ter ev'ry one, an' so — so jest glad herself all the time, that they couldn't help knowin' it, anyhow. Now, since she's hurt, ev'rybody feels so bad — specially when they heard how bad SHE feels 'cause she can't find anythin' ter be glad about. An' so they've been comin' ev'ry day ter tell her how glad she's made THEM, hopin' that'll help some. Ye see, she's always wanted ev'rybody ter play the game with her."

"Well, I know somebody who'll play it — now," choked Miss Polly, as she turned and sped through the kitchen doorway.

Behind her, Nancy stood staring amazedly.

"Well, I'll believe anythin' — anythin' now," she muttered to herself. "Ye can't stump me with anythin' I wouldn't believe, now — o' Miss Polly!"

A little later, in Pollyanna's room, the nurse left Miss Polly and Pollyanna alone together.

"And you've had still another caller to-day, my dear," announced Miss Polly, in a voice she vainly tried to steady. "Do you remember Mrs. Payson?"

"Mrs. Payson? Why, I reckon I do! She lives on the way to Mr. Pendleton's, and she's got the prettiest little girl baby three years old, and a boy 'most five. She's awfully nice, and so's her husband — only they don't seem to know how nice each other is. Sometimes they fight — I mean, they don't quite agree. They're poor, too, they say, and of course they don't ever have barrels, 'cause he isn't a missionary minister, you know, like — well, he isn't."

A faint color stole into Pollyanna's cheeks which was duplicated suddenly in those of her aunt.

"But she wears real pretty clothes, sometimes, in spite of their being so poor," resumed Pollyanna, in some haste. "And she's got perfectly beautiful rings with diamonds and rubies and emeralds in them; but she says she's got one ring too many, and that she's going to throw it away and get a divorce instead. What is a divorce, Aunt Polly? I'm afraid it isn't very nice, because she didn't look happy when she talked about it. And she said if she did get it, they wouldn't live there any more, and that Mr. Payson would go 'way off, and maybe the children, too. But I should think they'd rather keep the ring, even if they did have so many more. Shouldn't you? Aunt Polly, what is a divorce?"

"But they aren't going 'way off, dear," evaded Aunt Polly, hurriedly. "They're going to stay right there together."

"Oh, I'm so glad! Then they'll be there when I go up to see — O dear!" broke off the little girl, miserably. "Aunt Polly, why CAN'T I remember that my legs don't go any more, and that I won't ever, ever go up to see Mr. Pendleton again?"

"There, there, don't," choked her aunt. "Perhaps you'll drive up sometime. But listen! I haven't told you, yet, all that Mrs. Payson said. She wanted me to tell you that they — they were going to stay together and to play the game, just as you wanted them to."

Pollyanna smiled through tear-wet eyes.

"Did they? Did they, really? Oh, I am glad of that!"

"Yes, she said she hoped you'd be. That's why she told you, to make you — GLAD, Pollyanna."

Pollyanna looked up quickly.

"Why, Aunt Polly, you — you spoke just as if you knew — DO you know about the game, Aunt Polly?"

"Yes, dear." Miss Polly sternly forced her voice to be cheerfully matter-of-fact. "Nancy told me. I think it's a beautiful game. I'm going to play it now — with you."

"Oh, Aunt Polly — YOU? I'm so glad! You see, I've really wanted you most of anybody, all the time."

Aunt Polly caught her breath a little sharply. It was even harder this time to keep her voice steady; but she did it.

"Yes, dear; and there are all those others, too. Why, Pollyanna, I think all the town is playing that game now with you — even to the minister! I haven't had a chance to tell you, yet, but this morning I met Mr. Ford when I was down to the village, and he told me to say to you that just as soon as you could see him, he was coming to tell you that he hadn't stopped being glad over those eight hundred rejoicing texts that you told him about. So you see, dear, it's just you that have done it. The whole town is playing the game, and the whole town is wonderfully happier — and all because of one little girl who taught the people a new game, and how to play it."

Pollyanna clapped her hands.

"Oh, I'm so glad," she cried. Then, suddenly, a wonderful light illumined her face. "Why, Aunt Polly, there IS something I can be glad about, after all. I can be glad I've HAD my legs, anyway — else I couldn't have done — that!"