The break had come then. Miss Polly remembered it well, though she had been a girl of fifteen at the time. The family had learnt that Jennie had named her last baby «Pollyanna» for her two sisters, Polly and Anna — the other babies had all died. This had been the last time that Jennie had written; and a few years later there had come the news of her death, told in a short, but heart — broken little note from the minister himself.
Miss Polly was forty now, and quite alone in the world. Father, mother, sisters — all were dead. For years, now, she had been the sole mistress of the house and of the thousands left her by her father. There were people who had openly pitied her lonely life, and who had urged her to have some friend or companion to live with her; but she had not welcomed either their sympathy or their advice. She was not lonely, she said. She liked being by herself. She preferred quiet. But now —
Miss Polly was glad, of course, that she was a good woman, and that she not only knew her duty, but had sufficient strength of character to perform it. But — POLLYANNA! — what a ridiculous name!
In the little attic room Nancy swept and scrubbed vigorously, paying particular attention to the corners. The vigor she put into her work was a relief to her feelings — Nancy, in spite of her frightened submission to her mistress, was no saint.
«I — just — wish — I could — dig — out the corners — of — her — soul!» she muttered jerkily, punctuating her words with murderous jabs of her pointed cleaning-stick.
When her task was finished, she looked about the bare little room in plain disgust.
«Well, it’s done — my part, anyhow,» she sighed. «There is no dirt here. Poor little soul! — a pretty place this is to put a homesick, lonesome child into!» she finished, going out and closing the door with a bang.
In the garden that afternoon, Nancy found a few minutes to talk to Old Tom, who had pulled the weeds and shovelled the paths about the place for uncounted years.
«Mr. Tom,» began Nancy, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure she was unobserved; «did you know a little girl was coming here to live with Miss Polly?»
The man’s jaw fell, and then a tender light came into his faded eyes.
«Why, Nancy, it must be Miss Jennie’s little girl,» he muttered.
«Who was Miss Jennie?»
«She was an angel straight out of Heaven,» breathed the man. «She was twenty when she married and went away from here many years ago. Her babies all died, I heard, except the last one; and that must be the one who is coming.»
«She’s eleven years old and she’s going to sleep in the attic!» scolded Nancy, with another glance over her shoulder toward the house behind her.
Old Tom frowned. The next moment a curious smile curved his lips.
«I’m wondering what Miss Polly will do with a child in the house,» he said.
«Humph! Well, I’m wondering what a child will do with Miss Polly in the house!» snapped Nancy.
The old man laughed.
«I’m afraid you aren’t fond of Miss Polly,» he grinned. «I guess maybe you didn’t know about Miss Polly’s love affair. The fellow is living today right in this town.»
«Who is he?»
«I can’t tell you that.» In Tom’s dim blue eyes there was the loyal servant’s honest pride in the family he has served and loved for long years.
«But it doesn’t seem possible — her and a lover,» still maintained Nancy.
«You didn’t know Miss Polly as I did,» Tom argued. «She used to be handsome — and she would be now, if she’d let herself be. And she isn’t old, Nancy.»
«Nancy!» called a sharp voice.
«Y-yes, madam,» stammered Nancy and hurried toward the house.