«I’ll work — don’t forget to say that.»
«Of course not,» promised Pollyanna, happily. «Then I’ll let you know tomorrow. By the road, where I found you today; near Mrs. Snow’s house.»
«All right. I’ll be there.»
«I’m sure, tomorrow I’ll have a home and family for you. Goodbye!» she called brightly, as she turned back toward the house.
At the window of the sitting room at that moment, Miss Polly, who had been watching the two children, followed with sombre eyes the boy until a bend of the road hid him from sight. Then she sighed, turned, and walked listlessly upstairs. In her ears there still was the boy’s scornful «you are so good and kind». In her heart there was a curious sense of desolation as of something lost.
Dinner, which came at noon in the Harrington homestead, was a silent meal on the day of the Ladies’ Aid meeting. Pollyanna tried to talk but she did not make a success of it, because four times she was obliged to break off the word «glad» in the middle of it. The fifth time it happened, Miss Polly moved her head wearily.
«Well, child, say it, if you want to,» she sighed.
Pollyanna’s 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 because of a headache. 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 to the church, half a mile from home. She planned her going so that she could get there a little before three.
«I want them all to be there,» she said to herself; «or else the very one that wasn’t there might be the one who would want 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 sound 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 unusually shy.
«How do you do, Ladies’ Aiders?» she asked politely. «I’m Pollyanna Whittier. I reckon some of you know me, maybe.»
The silence could almost be felt now. Some of the ladies knew 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.
«Did your aunt send you, my dear?» asked Mrs. Ford, the minister’s wife.
Pollyanna coloured a little.
«Oh, no. I came all by myself.»
«Yes, dear. What is it?»
«Well, 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 that has a mother instead of a Matron in it and some folks. He’s ten years old. I thought some of you might like him — to live with you, you know.»
A dazed pause followed Pollyanna’s words.
With anxious eyes Pollyanna swept the circle of faces about her.
«Oh, I forgot to say; he will work,» she added eagerly.
Still there was silence; then, coldly, one or two women began to question her. When they all had the story, the ladies began to talk among themselves, animatedly.
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. It was all very confusing, and not quite pleasant. Pollyanna was glad, indeed, when at last she found herself outside in the sweet air — only she was very sorry. She knew it was not going to be easy to tell Jimmy Bean tomorrow 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».