A RED ROSE AND A LACE SHAWL
It was on a rainy day about a week after Pollyanna's visit to Mr. John Pendleton, that Miss Polly was driven by Timothy to an early afternoon committee meeting of the Ladies' Aid Society. When she returned at three o'clock, her cheeks were a bright, pretty pink, and her hair, blown by the damp wind, had fluffed into kinks and curls wherever the loosened pins had given leave.
Pollyanna had never before seen her aunt look like this.
"Oh—oh—oh! Why, Aunt Polly, you've got 'em, too," she cried rapturously, dancing round and round her aunt, as that lady entered the sitting room.
"Got what, you impossible child?"
Pollyanna was still revolving round and round her aunt.
"And I never knew you had 'em! Can folks have 'em when you don't know they've got 'em? Do you suppose I could?—'fore I get to Heaven, I mean," she cried, pulling out with eager fingers the straight locks above her ears. "But then, they wouldn't be black, if they did come. You can't hide the black part."
"Pollyanna, what does all this mean?" demanded Aunt Polly, hurriedly removing her hat, and trying to smooth back her disordered hair.
"No, no—please, Aunt Polly!" Pollyanna's jubilant voice turned to one of distressed appeal. "Don't smooth 'em out! It's those that I'm talking about—those darling little black curls. Oh, Aunt Polly, they're so pretty!"
"Nonsense! What do you mean, Pollyanna, by going to the Ladies' Aid the other day in that absurd fashion about that beggar boy?"
"But it isn't nonsense," urged Pollyanna, answering only the first of her aunt's remarks. "You don't know how pretty you look with your hair like that! Oh, Aunt Polly, please, mayn't I do your hair like I did Mrs. Snow's, and put in a flower? I'd so love to see you that way! Why, you'd be ever so much prettier than she was!"
"Pollyanna!" (Miss Polly spoke very sharply—all the more sharply because Pollyanna's words had given her an odd throb of joy: when before had anybody cared how she, or her hair looked? When before had anybody "loved" to see her "pretty"?) "Pollyanna, you did not answer my question. Why did you go to the Ladies' Aid in that absurd fashion?"
"Yes'm, I know; but, please, I didn't know it was absurd until I went and found out they'd rather see their report grow than Jimmy. So then I wrote to my Ladies' Aiders—'cause Jimmy is far away from them, you know; and I thought maybe he could be their little India boy same as—Aunt Polly, was I your little India girl? And, Aunt Polly, you will let me do your hair, won't you?"
Aunt Polly put her hand to her throat—the old, helpless feeling was upon her, she knew.
"But, Pollyanna, when the ladies told me this afternoon how you came to them, I was so ashamed! I—"
Pollyanna began to dance up and down lightly on her toes.
"You didn't!—you didn't say I couldn't do your hair," she crowed triumphantly; "and so I'm sure it means just the other way 'round, sort of—like it did the other day about Mr. Pendleton's jelly that you didn't send, but didn't want me to say you didn't send, you know. Now wait just where you are. I'll get a comb."
"But Pollyanna, Pollyanna," remonstrated Aunt Polly, following the little girl from the room and panting up-stairs after her.
"Oh, did you come up here?" Pollyanna greeted her at the door of Miss Polly's own room. "That'll be nicer yet! I've got the comb. Now sit down, please, right here. Oh, I'm so glad you let me do it!"
"But, Pollyanna, I—I—"
Miss Polly did not finish her sentence. To her helpless amazement she found herself in the low chair before the dressing table, with her hair already tumbling about her ears under ten eager, but very gentle fingers.
"Oh, my! what pretty hair you've got," prattled Pollyanna; "and there's so much more of it than Mrs. Snow has, too! But, of course, you need more, anyhow, because you're well and can go to places where folks can see it. My! I reckon folks'll be glad when they do see it—and surprised, too, 'cause you've hid it so long. Why, Aunt Polly, I'll make you so pretty everybody'll just love to look at you!"
"Pollyanna!" gasped a stifled but shocked voice from a veil of hair. "I—I'm sure I don't know why I'm letting you do this silly thing."
"Why, Aunt Polly, I should think you'd be glad to have folks like to look at you! Don't you like to look at pretty things? I'm ever so much happier when I look at pretty folks, 'cause when I look at the other kind I'm so sorry for them."
"And I just love to do folks' hair," purred Pollyanna, contentedly. "I did quite a lot of the Ladies' Aiders'—but there wasn't any of them so nice as yours. Mrs. White's was pretty nice, though, and she looked just lovely one day when I dressed her up in— Oh, Aunt Polly, I've just happened to think of something! But it's a secret, and I sha'n't tell. Now your hair is almost done, and pretty quick I'm going to leave you just a minute; and you must promise—promise—promise not to stir nor peek, even, till I come back. Now remember!" she finished, as she ran from the room.
Aloud Miss Polly said nothing. To herself she said that of course she should at once undo the absurd work of her niece's fingers, and put her hair up properly again. As for "peeking"—just as if she cared how—
At that moment—unaccountably—Miss Polly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror of the dressing table. And what she saw sent such a flush of rosy color to her cheeks that—she only flushed the more at the sight.
She saw a face—not young, it is true—but just now alight with excitement and surprise. The cheeks were a pretty pink. The eyes sparkled. The hair, dark, and still damp from the outdoor air, lay in loose waves about the forehead and curved back over the ears in wonderfully becoming lines, with softening little curls here and there.
So amazed and so absorbed was Miss Polly with what she saw in the glass that she quite forgot her determination to do over her hair, until she heard Pollyanna enter the room again. Before she could move, then, she felt a folded something slipped across her eyes and tied in the back.
"Pollyanna, Pollyanna! What are you doing?" she cried.
"That's just what I don't want you to know, Aunt Polly, and I was afraid you would peek, so I tied on the handkerchief. Now sit still. It won't take but just a minute, then I'll let you see."
"But, Pollyanna," began Miss Polly, struggling blindly to her feet, "you must take this off! You—child, child! what are you doing?" she gasped, as she felt a soft something slipped about her shoulders.
Pollyanna only chuckled the more gleefully. With trembling fingers she was draping about her aunt's shoulders the fleecy folds of a beautiful lace shawl, yellowed from long years of packing away, and fragrant with lavender. Pollyanna had found the shawl the week before when Nancy had been regulating the attic; and it had occurred to her to-day that there was no reason why her aunt, as well as Mrs. White of her Western home, should not be "dressed up."
Her task completed, Pollyanna surveyed her work with eyes that approved, but that saw yet one touch wanting. Promptly, therefore, she pulled her aunt toward the sun parlor where she could see a belated red rose blooming on the trellis within reach of her hand.
"Pollyanna, what are you doing? Where are you taking me to?" recoiled Aunt Polly, vainly trying to hold herself back. "Pollyanna, I shall not—"
"It's just to the sun parlor—only a minute! I'll have you ready now quicker'n no time," panted Pollyanna, reaching for the rose and thrusting it into the soft hair above Miss Polly's left ear. "There!" she exulted, untying the knot of the handkerchief and flinging the bit of linen far from her. "Oh, Aunt Polly, now I reckon you'll be glad I dressed you up!"
For one dazed moment Miss Polly looked at her bedecked self, and at her surroundings; then she gave a low cry and fled to her room. Pollyanna, following the direction of her aunt's last dismayed gaze, saw, through the open windows of the sun parlor, the horse and gig turning into the driveway. She recognized at once the man who held the reins.
Delightedly she leaned forward.
"Dr. Chilton, Dr. Chilton! Did you want to see me? I'm up here."
"Yes," smiled the doctor, a little gravely. "Will you come down, please?"
In the bedroom Pollyanna found a flushed-faced, angry-eyed woman plucking at the pins that held a lace shawl in place.
"Pollyanna, how could you?" moaned the woman. "To think of your rigging me up like this, and then letting me—be seen!"
Pollyanna stopped in dismay.
"But you looked lovely—perfectly lovely, Aunt Polly; and—"
"'Lovely'!" scorned the woman, flinging the shawl to one side and attacking her hair with shaking fingers.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, please, please let the hair—stay!"
"Stay? Like this? As if I would!" And Miss Polly pulled the locks so tightly back that the last curl lay stretched dead at the ends of her fingers.
"O dear! And you did look so pretty," almost sobbed Pollyanna, as she stumbled through the door. Down-stairs Pollyanna found the doctor waiting in his gig.
"I've prescribed you for a patient, and he's sent me to get the prescription filled," announced the doctor. "Will you go?"
"You mean—an errand—to the drug store?" asked Pollyanna, a little uncertainly. "I used to go some—for the Ladies' Aiders."
The doctor shook his head with a smile.
"Not exactly. It's Mr. John Pendleton. He would like to see you to-day, if you'll be so good as to come. It's stopped raining, so I drove down after you. Will you come? I'll call for you and bring you back before six o'clock."
"I'd love to!" exclaimed Pollyanna. "Let me ask Aunt Polly."
In a few moments she returned, hat in hand, but with rather a sober face.
"Didn't—your aunt want you to go?" asked the doctor, a little diffidently, as they drove away.
"Y-yes," sighed Pollyanna. "She—she wanted me to go too much, I'm afraid."
"Wanted you to go too much!"
Pollyanna sighed again.
"Yes. I reckon she meant she didn't want me there. You see, she said: 'Yes, yes, run along, run along—do! I wish you'd gone before.'"
The doctor smiled—but with his lips only. His eyes were very grave. For some time he said nothing; then, a little hesitatingly, he asked:
"Wasn't it—your aunt I saw with you a few minutes ago—in the window of the sun parlor?"
Pollyanna drew a long breath.
"Yes; that's what's the whole trouble, I suppose. You see I'd dressed her up in a perfectly lovely lace shawl I found up-stairs, and I'd fixed her hair and put on a rose, and she looked so pretty. Didn't you think she looked just lovely?"
For a moment the doctor did not answer. When he did speak his voice was so low Pollyanna could but just hear the words.
"Yes, Pollyanna, I—I thought she did look—just lovely."
"Did you? I'm so glad! I'll tell her," nodded the little girl, contentedly.
To her surprise the doctor gave a sudden exclamation.
"Never! Pollyanna, I—I'm afraid I shall have to ask you not to tell her—that."
"Why, Dr. Chilton! Why not? I should think you'd be glad—"
"But she might not be," cut in the doctor.
Pollyanna considered this for a moment.
"That's so—maybe she wouldn't," she sighed. "I remember now; 'twas 'cause she saw you that she ran. And she—she spoke afterwards about her being seen in that rig."
"I thought as much," declared the doctor, under his breath.
"Still, I don't see why," maintained Pollyanna, "—when she looked so pretty!"
The doctor said nothing. He did not speak again, indeed, until they were almost to the great stone house in which John Pendleton lay with a broken leg.