"For the land's sake, Miss Pollyanna, what a scare you did give me," panted Nancy, hurrying up to the big rock, down which Pollyanna had just regretfully slid.
"Scare? Oh, I'm so sorry; but you mustn't, really, ever get scared about me, Nancy. Father and the Ladies' Aid used to do it, too, till they found I always came back all right."
"But I didn't even know you'd went," cried Nancy, tucking the little girl's hand under her arm and hurrying her down the hill. "I didn't see you go, and nobody didn't. I guess you flew right up through the roof; I do, I do."
Pollyanna skipped gleefully.
"I did, 'most—only I flew down instead of up. I came down the tree."
Nancy stopped short.
"Came down the tree, outside my window."
"My stars and stockings!" gasped Nancy, hurrying on again. "I'd like ter know what yer aunt would say ter that!"
"Would you? Well, I'll tell her, then, so you can find out," promised the little girl, cheerfully.
"Mercy!" gasped Nancy. "No—no!"
"Why, you don't mean she'd care!" cried Pollyanna, plainly disturbed.
"No—er—yes—well, never mind. I—I ain't so very particular about knowin' what she'd say, truly," stammered Nancy, determined to keep one scolding from Pollyanna, if nothing more. "But, say, we better hurry. I've got ter get them dishes done, ye know."
"I'll help," promised Pollyanna, promptly.
"Oh, Miss Pollyanna!" demurred Nancy.
For a moment there was silence. The sky was darkening fast. Pollyanna took a firmer hold of her friend's arm.
"I reckon I'm glad, after all, that you did get scared—a little, 'cause then you came after me," she shivered.
"Poor little lamb! And you must be hungry, too. I— I'm afraid you'll have ter have bread and milk in the kitchen with me. Yer aunt didn't like it—because you didn't come down ter supper, ye know."
"But I couldn't. I was up here."
"Yes; but—she didn't know that, you see," observed Nancy, dryly, stifling a chuckle. "I'm sorry about the bread and milk; I am, I am."
"Oh, I'm not. I'm glad."
"Why, I like bread and milk, and I'd like to eat with you. I don't see any trouble about being glad about that."
"You don't seem ter see any trouble bein' glad about everythin'," retorted Nancy, choking a little over her remembrance of Pollyanna's brave attempts to like the bare little attic room.
Pollyanna laughed softly.
"Well, that's the game, you know, anyway."
"Yes; the 'just being glad' game."
"Whatever in the world are you talkin' about?"
"Why, it's a game. Father told it to me, and it's lovely," rejoined Pollyanna. "We've played it always, ever since I was a little, little girl. I told the Ladies' Aid, and they played it—some of them."
"What is it? I ain't much on games, though."
Pollyanna laughed again, but she sighed, too; and in the gathering twilight her face looked thin and wistful.
"Why, we began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel."
"Yes. You see I'd wanted a doll, and father had written them so; but when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn't any dolls come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent 'em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that's when we began it."
"Well, I must say I can't see any game about that, about that," declared Nancy, almost irritably.
"Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what 'twas," rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly. "And we began right then—on the crutches."
"Well, goodness me! I can't see anythin' ter be glad about—gettin' a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll!"
Pollyanna clapped her hands.
"There is—there is," she crowed. "But I couldn't see it, either, Nancy, at first," she added, with quick honesty. "Father had to tell it to me."
"Well, then, suppose you tell me," almost snapped Nancy.
"Goosey! Why, just be glad because you don't—need—'em!" exulted Pollyanna, triumphantly. "You see it's just as easy—when you know how!"
"Well, of all the queer doin's!" breathed Nancy, regarding Pollyanna with almost fearful eyes.
"Oh, but it isn't queer—it's lovely," maintained Pollyanna enthusiastically. "And we've played it ever since. And the harder 'tis, the more fun 'tis to get 'em out; only—only—sometimes it's almost too hard—like when your father goes to Heaven, and there isn't anybody but a Ladies' Aid left."
"Yes, or when you're put in a snippy little room 'way at the top of the house with nothin' in it," growled Nancy.
"That was a hard one, at first," she admitted, "specially when I was so kind of lonesome. I just didn't feel like playing the game, anyway, and I had been wanting pretty things, so! Then I happened to think how I hated to see my freckles in the looking-glass, and I saw that lovely picture out the window, too; so then I knew I'd found the things to be glad about. You see, when you're hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind—like the doll you wanted, you know."
"Humph!" choked Nancy, trying to swallow the lump in her throat.
"Most generally it doesn't take so long," sighed Pollyanna; "and lots of times now I just think of them without thinking, you know. I've got so used to playing it. It's a lovely game. F-father and I used to like it so much," she faltered. "I suppose, though, it—it'll be a little harder now, as long as I haven't anybody to play it with. Maybe Aunt Polly will play it, though," she added, as an afterthought.
"My stars and stockings!—her!" breathed Nancy, behind her teeth. Then, aloud, she said doggedly: "See here, Miss Pollyanna, I ain't sayin' that I'll play it very well, and I ain't sayin' that I know how, anyway; but I'll play it with ye, after a fashion—I just will, I will!"
"Oh, Nancy!" exulted Pollyanna, giving her a rapturous hug. "That'll be splendid! Won't we have fun?"
"Er—maybe," conceded Nancy, in open doubt. "But you mustn't count too much on me, ye know. I never was no case fur games, but I'm a-goin' ter make a most awful old try on this one. You're goin' ter have some one ter play it with, anyhow," she finished, as they entered the kitchen together.
Pollyanna ate her bread and milk with good appetite; then, at Nancy's suggestion, she went into the sitting room, where her aunt sat reading.
Miss Polly looked up coldly.
"Have you had your supper, Pollyanna?"
"Yes, Aunt Polly."
"I'm very sorry, Pollyanna, to have been obliged so soon to send you into the kitchen to eat bread and milk."
"But I was real glad you did it, Aunt Polly. I like bread and milk, and Nancy, too. You mustn't feel bad about that one bit."
Aunt Polly sat suddenly a little more erect in her chair.
"Pollyanna, it's quite time you were in bed. You have had a hard day, and to-morrow we must plan your hours and go over your clothing to see what it is necessary to get for you. Nancy will give you a candle. Be careful how you handle it. Breakfast will be at half-past seven. See that you are down to that. Good-night."
Quite as a matter of course, Pollyanna came straight to her aunt's side and gave her an affectionate hug.
"I've had such a beautiful time, so far," she sighed happily. "I know I'm going to just love living with you—but then, I knew I should before I came. Good-night," she called cheerfully, as she ran from the room.
"Well, upon my soul!" ejaculated Miss Polly, half aloud. "What a most extraordinary child!" Then she frowned. "She's 'glad' I punished her, and I 'mustn't feel bad one bit,' and she's going to 'love to live' with me! Well, upon my soul!" ejaculated Miss Polly again, as she took up her book.
Fifteen minutes later, in the attic room, a lonely little girl sobbed into the tightly-clutched sheet:
"I know, father-among-the-angels, I'm not playing the game one bit now—not one bit; but I don't believe even you could find anything to be glad about sleeping all alone 'way off up here in the dark—like this. If only I was near Nancy or Aunt Polly, or even a Ladies' Aider, it would be easier!"
Down-stairs in the kitchen, Nancy, hurrying with her belated work, jabbed her dish-mop into the milk pitcher, and muttered jerkily:
"If playin' a silly-fool game—about bein' glad you've got crutches when you want dolls—is got ter be—my way—o' bein' that rock o' refuge—why, I'm a-goin' ter play it—I am, I am!"