BEFORE THE LADIES' AID
Dinner, which came at noon in the Harrington homestead, was a silent meal on the day of the Ladies' Aid meeting. Pollyanna, it is true, tried to talk; but she did not make a success of it, chiefly because four times she was obliged to break off a "glad" in the middle of it, much to her blushing discomfort. The fifth time it happened, Miss Polly moved her head wearily.
"There, there, child, say it, if you want to," she sighed. "I'm sure I'd rather you did than not—if it's going to make all this fuss."
Pollyanna's puckered little face cleared.
"Oh, thank you. I'm afraid it would be pretty hard—not to say it. You see I've played it so long."
"You've—what?" demanded Aunt Polly.
"Played it—the game, you know, that father—" Pollyanna stopped with a painful blush at finding herself so soon again on forbidden ground.
Aunt Polly frowned and said nothing. The rest of the meal was a silent one.
Pollyanna was not sorry to hear Aunt Polly tell the minister's wife over the telephone, a little later, that she would not be at the Ladies' Aid meeting that afternoon, owing to a headache. When Aunt Polly went up-stairs to her room and closed the door, Pollyanna tried to be sorry for the headache; but she could not help feeling glad that her aunt was not to be present that afternoon when she laid the case of Jimmy Bean before the Ladies' Aid. She could not forget that Aunt Polly had called Jimmy Bean a little beggar; and she did not want Aunt Polly to call him that—before the Ladies' Aid.
Pollyanna knew that the Ladies' Aid met at two o'clock in the chapel next the church, not quite half a mile from home. She planned her going, therefore, so that she should get there a little before three.
"I want them all to be there," she said to herself; "else the very one that wasn't there might be the one who would be wanting to give Jimmy Bean a home; and, of course, two o'clock always means three, really—to Ladies' Aiders."
Quietly, but with confident courage, Pollyanna ascended the chapel steps, pushed open the door and entered the vestibule. A soft babel of feminine chatter and laughter came from the main room. Hesitating only a brief moment Pollyanna pushed open one of the inner doors.
The chatter dropped to a surprised hush. Pollyanna advanced a little timidly. Now that the time had come, she felt unwontedly shy. After all, these half-strange, half-familiar faces about her were not her own dear Ladies' Aid.
"How do you do, Ladies' Aiders?" she faltered politely. "I'm Pollyanna Whittier. I—I reckon some of you know me, maybe; anyway, I do you—only I don't know you all together this way."
The silence could almost be felt now. Some of the ladies did know this rather extraordinary niece of their fellow-member, and nearly all had heard of her; but not one of them could think of anything to say, just then.
"I—I've come to—to lay the case before you," stammered Pollyanna, after a moment, unconsciously falling into her father's familiar phraseology.
There was a slight rustle.
"Did—did your aunt send you, my dear?" asked Mrs. Ford, the minister's wife.
Pollyanna colored a little.
"Oh, no. I came all by myself. You see, I'm used to Ladies' Aiders. It was Ladies' Aiders that brought me up—with father."
Somebody tittered hysterically, and the minister's wife frowned.
"Yes, dear. What is it?"
"Well, it—it's Jimmy Bean," sighed Pollyanna. "He hasn't any home except the Orphan one, and they're full, and don't want him, anyhow, he thinks; so he wants another. He wants one of the common kind, that has a mother instead of a Matron in it—folks, you know, that'll care. He's ten years old going on eleven. I thought some of you might like him—to live with you, you know."
"Well, did you ever!" murmured a voice, breaking the dazed pause that followed Pollyanna's words.
With anxious eyes Pollyanna swept the circle of faces about her.
"Oh, I forgot to say; he will work," she supplemented eagerly.
Still there was silence; then, coldly, one or two women began to question her. After a time they all had the story and began to talk among themselves, animatedly, not quite pleasantly.
Pollyanna listened with growing anxiety. Some of what was said she could not understand. She did gather, after a time, however, that there was no woman there who had a home to give him, though every woman seemed to think that some of the others might take him, as there were several who had no little boys of their own already in their homes. But there was no one who agreed herself to take him. Then she heard the minister's wife suggest timidly that they, as a society, might perhaps assume his support and education instead of sending quite so much money this year to the little boys in far-away India.
A great many ladies talked then, and several of them talked all at once, and even more loudly and more unpleasantly than before. It seemed that their society was famous for its offering to Hindu missions, and several said they should die of mortification if it should be less this year. Some of what was said at this time Pollyanna again thought she could not have understood, too, for it sounded almost as if they did not care at all what the money did, so long as the sum opposite the name of their society in a certain "report" "headed the list"—and of course that could not be what they meant at all! But it was all very confusing, and not quite pleasant, so that Pollyanna was glad, indeed, when at last she found herself outside in the hushed, sweet air—only she was very sorry, too: for she knew it was not going to be easy, or anything but sad, to tell Jimmy Bean to-morrow that the Ladies' Aid had decided that they would rather send all their money to bring up the little India boys than to save out enough to bring up one little boy in their own town, for which they would not get "a bit of credit in the report," according to the tall lady who wore spectacles.
"Not but that it's good, of course, to send money to the heathen, and I shouldn't want 'em not to send some there," sighed Pollyanna to herself, as she trudged sorrowfully along. "But they acted as if little boys here weren't any account—only little boys 'way off. I should think, though, they'd rather see Jimmy Bean grow—than just a report!"