By Eleanor H. Porter
My Cousin Belle
CHAPTER I. MISS POLLY
Miss Polly Harrington entered her kitchen a little hurriedly this June morning. Miss Polly did not usually make hurried movements; she specially prided herself on her repose of manner. But to-day she was hurrying – actually hurrying.
Nancy, washing dishes at the sink, looked up in surprise. Nancy had been working in Miss Polly’s kitchen only two months, but already she knew that her mistress did not usually hurry.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nancy answered cheerfully, but she still continued wiping the pitcher in her hand.
“Nancy,” – Miss Polly’s voice was very stern now – “when I’m talking to you, I wish you to stop your work and listen to what I have to say.”
Nancy flushed miserably. She set the pitcher down at once, with the cloth still about it, thereby nearly tipping it over – which did not add to her composure.
“Yes, ma’am; I will, ma’am,” she stammered, righting the pitcher, and turning hastily. “I was only keepin’ on with my work ’cause you specially told me this mornin’ ter hurry with my dishes, ye know.”
Her mistress frowned.
“That will do, Nancy. I did not ask for explanations. I asked for your attention.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nancy stifled a sigh. She was wondering if ever in any way she could please this woman. Nancy had never “worked out” before; but a sick mother suddenly widowed and left with three younger children besides Nancy herself, had forced the girl into doing something toward their support, and she had been so pleased when she found a place in the kitchen of the great house on the hill – Nancy had come from “The Corners,” six miles away, and she knew Miss Polly Harrington only as
the mistress of the old Harrington homestead, and one of the wealthiest residents of the town. That was two months before. She knew Miss Polly now as a stern, severe-faced woman who frowned if a knife clattered to the floor, or if a door banged – but who never thought to smile even when knives and doors were still.
“When you’ve finished your morning work, Nancy,” Miss Polly was saying now, “you may clear the little room at the head of the stairs in the attic, and make up the cot bed. Sweep the room and clean it, of course, after you clear out the trunks and boxes.”
“Yes, ma’am. And where shall I put the things, please, that I take out?”
“In the front attic.” Miss Polly hesitated, then went on: “I suppose I may as well tell you now, Nancy. My niece, Miss Pollyanna Whittier, is coming to live with me. She is eleven years old, and will sleep in that room.”
“A little girl – coming here, Miss Harrington? Oh, won’t that be nice!” cried Nancy, thinking of the sunshine her own little sisters made in the home at “The Corners.”
“Nice? Well, that isn’t exactly the word I should use,” rejoined Miss Polly, stiffly. “However, I intend to make the best of it, of course. I am a good woman, I hope; and I know my duty.”
Nancy colored hotly.
“Of course, ma’am; it was only that I thought a little girl here might – might brighten things up for you,” she faltered.
“Thank you,” rejoined the lady, dryly. “I can’t say, however, that I see any immediate need for that.”
“But, of course, you – you’d want her, your sister’s child,” ventured Nancy, vaguely feeling that somehow she must prepare a welcome for this lonely little stranger.
Miss Polly lifted her chin haughtily.