A QUESTION ANSWERED
The sky was darkening fast with what appeared to be an approaching thunder shower when Pollyanna hurried down the hill from John Pendleton's house. Half-way home she met Nancy with an umbrella. By that time, however, the clouds had shifted their position and the shower was not so imminent.
"Guess it's goin' 'round ter the north," announced Nancy, eyeing the sky critically. "I thought 'twas, all the time, but Miss Polly wanted me ter come with this. She was worried about ye!"
"Was she?" murmured Pollyanna abstractedly, eyeing the clouds in her turn.
Nancy sniffed a little.
"You don't seem ter notice what I said," she observed aggrievedly. "I said yer aunt was worried about ye!"
"Oh," sighed Pollyanna, remembering suddenly the question she was so soon to ask her aunt. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare her."
"Well, I'm glad," retorted Nancy, unexpectedly. "I am, I am."
"Glad that Aunt Polly was scared about me! Why, Nancy, that isn't the way to play the game—to be glad for things like that!" she objected in a worried tone of voice.
"There wa'n't no game in it," retorted Nancy. "Never thought of it. You don't seem ter sense what it means ter have Miss Polly worried about ye, child!"
"Why, it means worried—and worried is horrid—to feel," maintained Pollyanna. "What else can it mean?"
Nancy tossed her head.
"Well, I'll tell ye what it means. It means she's at last gettin' down somewheres near human—like folks; an' that she ain't jest doin' her duty by ye all the time."
"Why, Nancy," demurred the scandalized Pollyanna, "Aunt Polly always does her duty. She—she's a very dutiful woman!" Unconsciously Pollyanna repeated John Pendleton's words of half an hour before.
"You're right she is—and she always was, I guess! But she's somethin' more, now, since you came."
Pollyanna's face changed. Her brows drew into a troubled frown.
"There, that's what I was going to ask you, Nancy," she sighed. "Do you think Aunt Polly likes to have me here? Would she mind—if—if I wasn't here any more?"
Nancy threw a quick look into the little girl's absorbed face. She had expected to be asked this question long before, and she had dreaded it. She had wondered how she should answer it—how she could answer it honestly without cruelly hurting the questioner. But now, now, in the face of the new suspicions that had become convictions by the afternoon's umbrella-sending—Nancy only welcomed the question with open arms. She was sure that, with a clean conscience to-day, she could set the love-hungry little girl's heart at rest.
"Likes ter have ye here? Would she miss ye if ye wa'n't here?" cried Nancy, indignantly. "As if that wa'n't jest what I was tellin' of ye! Didn't she send me posthaste with an umbrella 'cause she see a little cloud in the sky? Didn't she make me tote yer things all down-stairs, so you could have the pretty room you wanted? Why, Miss Pollyanna, when ye remember how at first she hated ter have—"
With a choking cough Nancy pulled herself up just in time.
"And it ain't jest things I can put my fingers on, neither," rushed on Nancy, breathlessly. "It's little ways she has, that shows how you've been softenin' her up an' mellerin' her down—the cat, and the dog, and the way she speaks ter me, and—oh, lots o' things. Why, Miss Pollyanna, there ain't no tellin' how she'd miss ye—if ye wa'n't here," finished Nancy, speaking with an enthusiastic certainty that was meant to hide the perilous admission she had almost made before. Even then she was not quite prepared for the sudden joy that illumined Pollyanna's face.
"Oh, Nancy, I'm so glad—glad—glad! You don't know how glad I am that Aunt Polly—wants me!"
"As if I'd leave her now!" thought Pollyanna, as she climbed the stairs to her room a little later. "I always knew I wanted to live with Aunt Polly—but I reckon maybe I didn't know quite how much I wanted Aunt Polly—to want to live with me!"
The task of telling John Pendleton of her decision would not be an easy one, Pollyanna knew, and she dreaded it. She was very fond of John Pendleton, and she was very sorry for him—because he seemed to be so sorry for himself. She was sorry, too, for the long, lonely life that had made him so unhappy; and she was grieved that it had been because of her mother that he had spent those dreary years. She pictured the great gray house as it would be after its master was well again, with its silent rooms, its littered floors, disordered desk; and her heart ached for his loneliness. She wished that somewhere, some one might be found who— And it was at this point that she sprang to her feet with a little cry of joy at the thought that had come to her.
As soon as she could, after that, she hurried up the hill to John Pendleton's house; and in due time she found herself in the great dim library, with John Pendleton himself sitting near her, his long, thin hands lying idle on the arms of his chair, and his faithful little dog at his feet.
"Well, Pollyanna, is it to be the 'glad game' with me, all the rest of my life?" asked the man gently.
"Oh, yes," cried Pollyanna. "I've thought of the very gladdest kind of a thing for you to do, and—"
"With—you?" asked John Pendleton, his mouth growing a little stern at the corners.
"Pollyanna, you aren't going to say no!" interrupted a voice deep with emotion.
"I—I've got to, Mr. Pendleton; truly I have. Aunt Polly—"
"Did she refuse—to let you—come?"
"I—I didn't ask her," stammered the little girl, miserably.
Pollyanna turned away her eyes. She could not meet the hurt, grieved gaze of her friend.
"So you didn't even ask her!"
"I couldn't, sir—truly," faltered Pollyanna. "You see, I found out—without asking. Aunt Polly wants me with her, and—and I want to stay, too," she confessed bravely. "You don't know how good she's been to me; and—and I think, really, sometimes she's beginning to be glad about things—lots of things. And you know she never used to be. You said it yourself. Oh, Mr. Pendleton, I couldn't leave Aunt Polly—now!"
There was a long pause. Only the snapping of the wood fire in the grate broke the silence. At last, however, the man spoke.
"No, Pollyanna; I see. You couldn't leave her—now," he said. "I won't ask you—again." The last word was so low it was almost inaudible; but Pollyanna heard.
"Oh, but you don't know about the rest of it," she reminded him eagerly. "There's the very gladdest thing you can do—truly there is!"
"Not for me, Pollyanna."
"Yes, sir, for you. You said it. You said only a—a woman's hand and heart or a child's presence could make a home. And I can get it for you—a child's presence;—not me, you know, but another one."
"As if I would have any but you!" resented an indignant voice.
"But you will—when you know; you're so kind and good! Why, think of the prisms and the gold pieces, and all that money you save for the heathen, and—"
"Pollyanna!"the man, savagely. "Once for all let us end that nonsense! I've tried to tell you half a dozen times before. There is no money for the heathen. I never sent a penny to them in my life. There!"
He lifted his chin and braced himself to meet what he expected—the grieved disappointment of Pollyanna's eyes. To his amazement, however, there was neither grief nor disappointment in Pollyanna's eyes. There was only surprised joy.
"Oh, oh!" she cried, clapping her hands. "I'm so glad! That is," she corrected, coloring distressfully, "I don't mean that I'm not sorry for the heathen, only just now I can't help being glad that you don't want the little India boys, because all the rest have wanted them. And so I'm glad you'd rather have Jimmy Bean. Now I know you'll take him!"
"Jimmy Bean. He's the 'child's presence,' you know; and he'll be so glad to be it. I had to tell him last week that even my Ladies' Aid out West wouldn't take him, and he was so disappointed. But now—when he hears of this—he'll be so glad!"
"Will he? Well, I won't," ejaculated the man, decisively. "Pollyanna, this is sheer nonsense!"
"You don't mean—you won't take him?"
"I certainly do mean just that."
"But he'd be a lovely child's presence," faltered Pollyanna. She was almost crying now. "And you couldn't be lonesome—with Jimmy 'round."
"I don't doubt it," rejoined the man; "but—I think I prefer the lonesomeness."
It was then that Pollyanna, for the first time in weeks, suddenly remembered something Nancy had once told her. She raised her chin aggrievedly.
"Maybe you think a nice live little boy wouldn't be better than that old dead skeleton you keep somewhere; but I think it would!"
"Yes. Nancy said you had one in your closet, somewhere."
"Why, what—" Suddenly the man threw back his head and laughed. He laughed very heartily indeed—so heartily that Pollyanna began to cry from pure nervousness. When he saw that, John Pendleton sat erect very promptly. His face grew grave at once.
"Pollyanna, I suspect you are right—more right than you know," he said gently. "In fact, I know that a 'nice live little boy' would be far better than—my skeleton in the closet; only—we aren't always willing to make the exchange. We are apt to still cling to—our skeletons, Pollyanna. However, suppose you tell me a little more about this nice little boy." And Pollyanna told him.
Perhaps the laugh cleared the air; or perhaps the pathos of Jimmy Bean's story as told by Pollyanna's eager little lips touched a heart already strangely softened. At all events, when Pollyanna went home that night she carried with her an invitation for Jimmy Bean himself to call at the great house with Pollyanna the next Saturday afternoon.
"And I'm so glad, and I'm sure you'll like him," sighed Pollyanna, as she said good-by. "I do so want Jimmy Bean to have a home—and folks that care, you know."