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- Pollyanna Grows Up - 3/47 -
"She won't bother a bit. She must be nearly or quite thirteen by this time, and she's the most capable little thing you ever saw."
"I don't like 'capable' children," retorted Mrs. Carew perversely--but she laughed; and because she did laugh, her sister took sudden courage and redoubled her efforts.
Perhaps it was the suddenness of the appeal, or the novelty of it. Perhaps it was because the story of Pollyanna had somehow touched Ruth Carew's heart. Perhaps it was only her unwillingness to refuse her sister's impassioned plea. Whatever it was that finally turned the scale, when Della Wetherby took her hurried leave half an hour later, she carried with her Ruth Carew's promise to receive Pollyanna into her home.
"But just remember," Mrs. Carew warned her at parting, "just remember that the minute that child begins to preach to me and to tell me to count my mercies, back she goes to you, and you may do what you please with her. _I_ sha'n't keep her!"
"I'll remember--but I'm not worrying any," nodded the younger woman, in farewell. To herself she whispered, as she hurried away from the house: "Half my job is done. Now for the other half--to get Pollyanna to come. But she's just got to come. I'll write that letter so they can't help letting her come!"
SOME OLD FRIENDS
In Beldingsville that August day, Mrs. Chilton waited until Pollyanna had gone to bed before she spoke to her husband about the letter that had come in the morning mail. For that matter, she would have had to wait, anyway, for crowded office hours, and the doctor's two long drives over the hills had left no time for domestic conferences.
It was about half-past nine, indeed, when the doctor entered his wife's sitting-room. His tired face lighted at sight of her, but at once a perplexed questioning came to his eyes.
"Why, Polly, dear, what is it?" he asked concernedly.
His wife gave a rueful laugh.
"Well, it's a letter--though I didn't mean you should find out by just looking at me."
"Then you mustn't look so I can," he smiled. "But what is it?"
Mrs. Chilton hesitated, pursed her lips, then picked up a letter near her.
"I'll read it to you," she said. "It's from a Miss Della Wetherby at Dr. Ames' Sanatorium."
"All right. Fire away," directed the man, throwing himself at full length on to the couch near his wife's chair.
But his wife did not at once "fire away." She got up first and covered her husband's recumbent figure with a gray worsted afghan. Mrs. Chilton's wedding day was but a year behind her. She was forty-two now. It seemed sometimes as if into that one short year of wifehood she had tried to crowd all the loving service and "babying" that had been accumulating through twenty years of lovelessness and loneliness. Nor did the doctor--who had been forty-five on his wedding day, and who could remember nothing but loneliness and lovelessness--on his part object in the least to this concentrated "tending." He acted, indeed, as if he quite enjoyed it--though he was careful not to show it too ardently: he had discovered that Mrs. Polly had for so long been Miss Polly that she was inclined to retreat in a panic and dub her ministrations "silly," if they were received with too much notice and eagerness. So he contented himself now with a mere pat of her hand as she gave the afghan a final smooth, and settled herself to read the letter aloud.
"My dear Mrs. Chilton," Della Wetherby had written. "Just six times I have commenced a letter to you, and torn it up; so now I have decided not to 'commence' at all, but just to tell you what I want at once. I want Pollyanna. May I have her?
"I met you and your husband last March when you came on to take Pollyanna home, but I presume you don't remember me. I am asking Dr. Ames (who does know me very well) to write your husband, so that you may (I hope) not fear to trust your dear little niece to us.
"I understand that you would go to Germany with your husband but for leaving Pollyanna; and so I am making so bold as to ask you to let us take her. Indeed, I am begging you to let us have her, dear Mrs. Chilton. And now let me tell you why.
"My sister, Mrs. Carew, is a lonely, broken-hearted, discontented, unhappy woman. She lives in a world of gloom, into which no sunshine penetrates. Now I believe that if anything on earth can bring the sunshine into her life, it is your niece, Pollyanna. Won't you let her try? I wish I could tell you what she has done for the Sanatorium here, but nobody could TELL. You would have to see it. I long ago discovered that you can't TELL about Pollyanna. The minute you try to, she sounds priggish and preachy, and--impossible. Yet you and I know she is anything but that. You just have to bring Pollyanna on to the scene and let her speak for herself. And so I want to take her to my sister--and let her speak for herself. She would attend school, of course, but meanwhile I truly believe she would be healing the wound in my sister's heart.
"I don't know how to end this letter. I believe it's harder than it was to begin it. I'm afraid I don't want to end it at all. I just want to keep talking and talking, for fear, if I stop, it'll give you a chance to say no. And so, if you ARE tempted to say that dreadful word, won't you please consider that--that I'm still talking, and telling you how much we want and need Pollyanna.
"There!" ejaculated Mrs. Chilton, as she laid the letter down. "Did you ever read such a remarkable letter, or hear of a more preposterous, absurd request?"
"Well, I'm not so sure," smiled the doctor. "I don't think it's absurd to want Pollyanna."
"But--but the way she puts it--healing the wound in her sister's heart, and all that. One would think the child was some sort of--of medicine!"
The doctor laughed outright, and raised his eyebrows.
"Well, I'm not so sure but she is, Polly. I ALWAYS said I wished I could prescribe her and buy her as I would a box of pills; and Charlie Ames says they always made it a point at the Sanatorium to give their patients a dose of Pollyanna as soon as possible after their arrival, during the whole year she was there."
"'Dose,' indeed!" scorned Mrs. Chilton.
"Then--you don't think you'll let her go?"
"Go? Why, of course not! Do you think I'd let that child go to perfect strangers like that?--and such strangers! Why, Thomas, I should expect that that nurse would have her all bottled and labeled with full directions on the outside how to take her, by the time I'd got back from Germany."
Again the doctor threw back his head and laughed heartily, but only for a moment. His face changed perceptibly as he reached into his pocket for a letter.
"I heard from Dr. Ames myself, this morning," he said, with an odd something in his voice that brought a puzzled frown to his wife's brow. "Suppose I read you my letter now."
"Dear Tom," he began. "Miss Della Wetherby has asked me to give her and her sister a 'character,' which I am very glad to do. I have known the Wetherby girls from babyhood. They come from a fine old family, and are thoroughbred gentlewomen. You need not fear on that score.
"There were three sisters, Doris, Ruth, and Della. Doris married a man named John Kent, much against the family's wishes. Kent came from good stock, but was not much himself, I guess, and was certainly a very eccentric, disagreeable man to deal with. He was bitterly angry at the Wetherbys' attitude toward him, and there was little communication between the families until the baby came. The Wetherbys worshiped the little boy, James--'Jamie,' as they called him. Doris, the mother, died when the boy was four years old, and the Wetherbys were making every effort to get the father to give the child entirely up to them, when suddenly Kent disappeared, taking the boy with him. He has never been heard from since, though a world-wide search has been made.
"The loss practically killed old Mr. and Mrs. Wetherby. They both died soon after. Ruth was already married and widowed. Her husband was a man named Carew, very wealthy, and much older than herself. He lived but a year or so after marriage, and left her with a young son who also died within a year.
"From the time little Jamie disappeared, Ruth and Della seemed to have but one object in life, and that was to find him. They have spent money like water, and have all but moved heaven and earth; but without avail. In time Della took up nursing. She is doing splendid work, and has become the cheerful, efficient, sane woman that she was meant to be--though still never forgetting her lost nephew, and never leaving unfollowed any possible clew that might lead to his discovery.
"But with Mrs. Carew it is quite different. After losing her own boy, she seemed to concentrate all her thwarted mother-love on her sister's son. As you can imagine, she was frantic when he disappeared. That was eight years ago--for her, eight long years of misery, gloom, and bitterness. Everything that money can buy, of course, is at her command; but nothing pleases her, nothing interests her. Della feels that the time has come when she must be gotten out of herself, at all hazards; and Della believes that your wife's sunny little niece, Pollyanna, possesses the magic key that will unlock the door to a new existence for her. Such being the case, I hope you will see your way clear to granting her request. And may I add that I, too, personally, would appreciate the favor; for Ruth Carew and her sister are very
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