A QUESTION OF DUTY
It was nearly seven o'clock when Pollyanna awoke that first day after her arrival. Her windows faced the south and the west, so she could not see the sun yet; but she could see the hazy blue of the morning sky, and she knew that the day promised to be a fair one.
The little room was cooler now, and the air blew in fresh and sweet. Outside, the birds were twittering joyously, and Pollyanna flew to the window to talk to them. She saw then that down in the garden her aunt was already out among the rose-bushes. With rapid fingers, therefore, she made herself ready to join her.
Down the attic stairs sped Pollyanna, leaving both doors wide open. Through the hall, down the next flight, then bang through the front screened-door and around to the garden, she ran.
Aunt Polly, with the bent old man, was leaning over a rose-bush when Pollyanna, gurgling with delight, flung herself upon her.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, I reckon I am glad this morning just to be alive!"
"Pollyanna!" remonstrated the lady, sternly, pulling herself as erect as she could with a dragging weight of ninety pounds hanging about her neck. "Is this the usual way you say good morning?"
The little girl dropped to her toes, and danced lightly up and down.
"No, only when I love folks so I just can't help it! I saw you from my window, Aunt Polly, and I got to thinking how you weren't a Ladies' Aider, and you were my really truly aunt; and you looked so good I just had to come down and hug you!"
The bent old man turned his back suddenly. Miss Polly attempted a frown—with not her usual success.
"Pollyanna, you—I—Thomas, that will do for this morning. I think you understand—about those rose-bushes," she said stiffly. Then she turned and walked rapidly away.
"Do you always work in the garden, Mr.—Man?" asked Pollyanna, interestedly.
The man turned. His lips were twitching, but his eyes looked blurred as if with tears.
"Yes, Miss. I'm Old Tom, the gardener," he answered. Timidly, but as if impelled by an irresistible force, he reached out a shaking hand and let it rest for a moment on her bright hair. "You are so like your mother, little Miss! I used ter know her when she was even littler than you be. You see, I used ter work in the garden—then."
Pollyanna caught her breath audibly.
"You did? And you knew my mother, really—when she was just a little earth angel, and not a Heaven one? Oh, please tell me about her!" And down plumped Pollyanna in the middle of the dirt path by the old man's side.
A bell sounded from the house. The next moment Nancy was seen flying out the back door.
"Miss Pollyanna, that bell means breakfast—mornin's," she panted, pulling the little girl to her feet and hurrying her back to the house; "and other times it means other meals. But it always means that you're ter run like time when ye hear it, no matter where ye be. If ye don't—well, it'll take somethin' smarter'n we be ter find anythin' ter be glad about in that!" she finished, shooing Pollyanna into the house as she would shoo an unruly chicken into a coop.
Breakfast, for the first five minutes, was a silent meal; then Miss Polly, her disapproving eyes following the airy wings of two flies darting here and there over the table, said sternly:
"Nancy, where did those flies come from?"
"I don't know, ma'am. There wasn't one in the kitchen." Nancy had been too excited to notice Pollyanna's up-flung windows the afternoon before.
"I reckon maybe they're my flies, Aunt Polly," observed Pollyanna, amiably. "There were lots of them this morning having a beautiful time up-stairs."
Nancy left the room precipitately, though to do so she had to carry out the hot muffins she had just brought in.
"Yours!" gasped Miss Polly. "What do you mean? Where did they come from?"
"Why, Aunt Polly, they came from out of doors, of course, through the windows. I saw some of them come in."
"You saw them! You mean you raised those windows without any screens?"
"Why, yes. There weren't any screens there, Aunt Polly."
Nancy, at this moment, came in again with the muffins. Her face was grave, but very red.
"Nancy," directed her mistress, sharply, "you may set the muffins down and go at once to Miss Pollyanna's room and shut the windows. Shut the doors, also. Later, when your morning work is done, go through every room with the spatter. See that you make a thorough search."
To her niece she said:
"Pollyanna, I have ordered screens for those windows. I knew, of course, that it was my duty to do that. But it seems to me that you have quite forgotten your duty."
"My—duty?" Pollyanna's eyes were wide with wonder.
"Certainly. I know it is warm, but I consider it your duty to keep your windows closed till those screens come. Flies, Pollyanna, are not only unclean and annoying, but very dangerous to health. After breakfast I will give you a little pamphlet on this matter to read."
"To read? Oh, thank you, Aunt Polly. I love to read!"
Miss Polly drew in her breath audibly, then she shut her lips together hard. Pollyanna, seeing her stern face, frowned a little thoughtfully.
"Of course I'm sorry about the duty I forgot, Aunt Polly," she apologized timidly. "I won't raise the windows again."
Her aunt made no reply. She did not speak, indeed, until the meal was over. Then she rose, went to the bookcase in the sitting room, took out a small paper booklet, and crossed the room to her niece's side.
"This is the article I spoke of, Pollyanna. I desire you to go to your room at once and read it. I will be up in half an hour to look over your things."
Pollyanna, her eyes on the illustration of a fly's head, many times magnified, cried joyously:
"Oh, thank you, Aunt Polly!" The next moment she skipped merrily from the room, banging the door behind her.
Miss Polly frowned, hesitated, then crossed the room majestically and opened the door; but Pollyanna was already out of sight, clattering up the attic stairs.
Half an hour later when Miss Polly, her face expressing stern duty in every line, climbed those stairs and entered Pollyanna's room, she was greeted with a burst of eager enthusiasm.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, I never saw anything so perfectly lovely and interesting in my life. I'm so glad you gave me that book to read! Why, I didn't suppose flies could carry such a lot of things on their feet, and—"
"That will do," observed Aunt Polly, with dignity. "Pollyanna, you may bring out your clothes now, and I will look them over. What are not suitable for you I shall give to the Sullivans, of course."
With visible reluctance Pollyanna laid down the pamphlet and turned toward the closet.
"I'm afraid you'll think they're worse than the Ladies' Aid did—and they said they were shameful," she sighed. "But there were mostly things for boys and older folks in the last two or three barrels; and—did you ever have a missionary barrel, Aunt Polly?"
At her aunt's look of shocked anger, Pollyanna corrected herself at once.
"Why, no, of course you didn't, Aunt Polly!" she hurried on, with a hot blush. "I forgot; rich folks never have to have them. But you see sometimes I kind of forget that you are rich—up here in this room, you know."
Miss Polly's lips parted indignantly, but no words came. Pollyanna, plainly unaware that she had said anything in the least unpleasant, was hurrying on.
"Well, as I was going to say, you can't tell a thing about missionary barrels—except that you won't find in 'em what you think you're going to—even when you think you won't. It was the barrels every time, too, that were hardest to play the game on, for father and—"
Just in time Pollyanna remembered that she was not to talk of her father to her aunt. She dived into her closet then, hurriedly, and brought out all the poor little dresses in both her arms.
"They aren't nice, at all," she choked, "and they'd been black if it hadn't been for the red carpet for the church; but they're all I've got."
With the tips of her fingers Miss Polly turned over the conglomerate garments, so obviously made for anybody but Pollyanna. Next she bestowed frowning attention on the patched undergarments in the bureau drawers.
"I've got the best ones on," confessed Pollyanna, anxiously. "The Ladies' Aid bought me one set straight through all whole. Mrs. Jones—she's the president—told 'em I should have that if they had to clatter down bare aisles themselves the rest of their days. But they won't. Mr. White doesn't like the noise. He's got nerves, his wife says; but he's got money, too, and they expect he'll give a lot toward the carpet—on account of the nerves, you know. I should think he'd be glad that if he did have the nerves he'd got money, too; shouldn't you?"
Miss Polly did not seem to hear. Her scrutiny of the undergarments finished, she turned to Pollyanna somewhat abruptly.
"You have been to school, of course, Pollyanna?"
"Oh, yes, Aunt Polly. Besides, fath—I mean, I was taught at home some, too."
Miss Polly frowned.
"Very good. In the fall you will enter school here, of course. Mr. Hall, the principal, will doubtless settle in which grade you belong. Meanwhile, I suppose I ought to hear you read aloud half an hour each day."
"I love to read; but if you don't want to hear me I'd be just glad to read to myself—truly, Aunt Polly. And I wouldn't have to half try to be glad, either, for I like best to read to myself—on account of the big words, you know."
"I don't doubt it," rejoined Miss Polly, grimly. "Have you studied music?"
"Not much. I don't like my music—I like other people's, though. I learned to play on the piano a little. Miss Gray—she plays for church—she taught me. But I'd just as soon let that go as not, Aunt Polly. I'd rather, truly."
"Very likely," observed Aunt Polly, with slightly uplifted eyebrows. "Nevertheless I think it is my duty to see that you are properly instructed in at least the rudiments of music. You sew, of course."
"Yes, ma'am." Pollyanna sighed. "The Ladies' Aid taught me that. But I had an awful time. Mrs. Jones didn't believe in holding your needle like the rest of 'em did on buttonholing, and Mrs. White thought backstitching ought to be taught you before hemming (or else the other way), and Mrs. Harriman didn't believe in putting you on patchwork ever, at all."
"Well, there will be no difficulty of that kind any longer, Pollyanna. I shall teach you sewing myself, of course. You do not know how to cook, I presume."
Pollyanna laughed suddenly.
"They were just beginning to teach me that this summer, but I hadn't got far. They were more divided up on that than they were on the sewing. They were going to begin on bread; but there wasn't two of 'em that made it alike, so after arguing it all one sewing-meeting, they decided to take turns at me one forenoon a week—in their own kitchens, you know. I'd only learned chocolate fudge and fig cake, though, when—when I had to stop." Her voice broke.
"Chocolate fudge and fig cake, indeed!" scorned Miss Polly. "I think we can remedy that very soon." She paused in thought for a minute, then went on slowly: "At nine o'clock every morning you will read aloud one half-hour to me. Before that you will use the time to put this room in order. Wednesday and Saturday forenoons, after half-past nine, you will spend with Nancy in the kitchen, learning to cook. Other mornings you will sew with me. That will leave the afternoons for your music. I shall, of course, procure a teacher at once for you," she finished decisively, as she arose from her chair.
Pollyanna cried out in dismay.
"Oh, but Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, you haven't left me any time at all just to—to live."
"To live, child! What do you mean? As if you weren't living all the time!"
"Oh, of course I'd be breathing all the time I was doing those things, Aunt Polly, but I wouldn't be living. You breathe all the time you're asleep, but you aren't living. I mean living—doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills, talking to Mr. Tom in the garden, and Nancy, and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere all through the perfectly lovely streets I came through yesterday. That's what I call living, Aunt Polly. Just breathing isn't living!"
Miss Polly lifted her head irritably.
"Pollyanna, you are the most extraordinary child! You will be allowed a proper amount of playtime, of course. But, surely, it seems to me if I am willing to do my duty in seeing that you have proper care and instruction, you ought to be willing to do yours by seeing that that care and instruction are not ungratefully wasted."
Pollyanna looked shocked.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, as if I could be ungrateful—to you! Why, I love you—you aren't even a Ladies' Aider; you're an aunt!"
"Very well; then see that you don't act ungrateful," vouchsafed Miss Polly, as she turned toward the door.
She had gone halfway down the stairs when a small, unsteady voice called after her:
"Please, Aunt Polly, you didn't tell me which of my things you wanted to—to give away."
Aunt Polly emitted a tired sigh—a sigh that ascended straight to Pollyanna's ears.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Pollyanna. Timothy will drive us into town at half-past one this afternoon. Not one of your garments is fit for my niece to wear. Certainly I should be very far from doing my duty by you if I should let you appear out in any one of them."
Pollyanna sighed now—she believed she was going to hate that word—duty.
"Aunt Polly, please," she called wistfully, "isn't there any way you can be glad about all that—duty business?"
"What?" Miss Polly looked up in dazed surprise; then, suddenly, with very red cheeks, she turned and swept angrily down the stairs. "Don't be impertinent, Pollyanna!"
In the hot little attic room Pollyanna dropped herself on to one of the straight-backed chairs. To her, existence loomed ahead one endless round of duty.
"I don't see, really, what there was impertinent about that," she sighed. "I was only asking her if she couldn't tell me something to be glad about in all that duty business."
For several minutes Pollyanna sat in silence, her rueful eyes fixed on the forlorn heap of garments on the bed. Then, slowly, she rose and began to put away the dresses.
"There just isn't anything to be glad about, that I can see," she said aloud; "unless—it's to be glad when the duty's done!" Whereupon she laughed suddenly.