Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXIV. John Pendleton
Pollyanna did not go to school "to-morrow," nor the "day after to-morrow." Pollyanna, however, did not realize this, except momentarily when a brief period of full consciousness sent insistent questions to her lips. Pollyanna did not realize anything, in fact, very clearly until a week had passed; then the fever subsided, the pain lessened somewhat, and her mind awoke to full consciousness. She had then to be told all over again what had occurred.
"And so it's hurt that I am, and not sick," she sighed at last. "Well, I'm glad of that."
"G-glad, Pollyanna?" asked her aunt, who was sitting by the bed.
"Yes. I'd so much rather have broken legs like Mr. Pendleton's than life-long-invalids like Mrs. Snow, you know. Broken legs get well, and lifelong-invalids don't."
Miss Polly--who had said nothing whatever about broken legs--got suddenly to her feet and walked to the little dressing table across the room. She was picking up one object after another now, and putting each down, in an aimless fashion quite unlike her usual decisiveness. Her face was not aimless-looking at all, however; it was white and drawn.
On the bed Pollyanna lay blinking at the dancing band of colors on the ceiling, which came from one of the prisms in the window.
"I'm glad it isn't smallpox that ails me, too," she murmured contentedly. "That would be worse than freckles. And I'm glad 'tisn't whooping cough--I've had that, and it's horrid--and I'm glad 'tisn't appendicitis nor measles, 'cause they're catching--measles are, I mean--and they wouldn't let you stay here."
"You seem to--to be glad for a good many things, my dear," faltered Aunt Polly, putting her hand to her throat as if her collar bound.
Pollyanna laughed softly.
"I am. I've been thinking of 'em--lots of 'em--all the time I've been looking up at that rainbow. I love rainbows. I'm so glad Mr. Pendleton gave me those prisms! I'm glad of some things I haven't said yet. I don't know but I'm 'most glad I was hurt."
Pollyanna laughed softly again. She turned luminous eyes on her aunt. "Well, you see, since I have been hurt, you've called me 'dear' lots of times--and you didn't before. I love to be called 'dear'--by folks that belong to you, I mean. Some of the Ladies' Aiders did call me that; and of course that was pretty nice, but not so nice as if they had belonged to me, like you do. Oh, Aunt Polly, I'm so glad you belong to me!"
Aunt Polly did not answer. Her hand was at her throat again. Her eyes were full of tears. She had turned away and was hurrying from the room through the door by which the nurse had just entered.
It was that afternoon that Nancy ran out to Old Tom, who was cleaning harnesses in the barn. Her eyes were wild.
"Mr. Tom, Mr. Tom. guess what's happened," she panted. "You couldn't guess in a thousand years--you couldn't, you couldn't!"
"Then I cal'late I won't try," retorted the man, grimly, "specially as I hain't got more'n ten ter live, anyhow, probably. You'd better tell me first off, Nancy."
"Well, listen, then. Who do you s'pose is in the parlor now with the mistress? Who, I say?"
Old Tom shook his head.
"There's no tellin'," he declared.
"Yes, there is. I'm tellin'. It's--John Pendleton!"
"Sho, now! You're jokin', girl."
"Not much I am--an' me a-lettin' him in myself--crutches an' all! An' the team he come in a-waitin' this minute at the door for him, jest as if he wa'n't the cranky old crosspatch he is, what never talks ter no one! jest think, Mr. Tom--him a-callin' on her!"
"Well, why not?" demanded the old man, a little aggressively.
Nancy gave him a scornful glance.
"As if you didn't know better'n me!" she derided.
"Oh, you needn't be so innercent," she retorted with mock indignation; "--you what led me wildgoose chasin' in the first place!"
"What do ye mean?"
Nancy glanced through the open barn door toward the house, and came a step nearer to the old man.
"Listen! 'Twas you that was tellin' me Miss Polly had a lover in the first place, wa'n't it? Well, one day I thinks I finds two and two, and I puts 'em tergether an' makes four. But it turns out ter be five--an' no four at all, at all!"
With a gesture of indifference Old Tom turned and fell to work.
"If you're goin' ter talk ter me, you've got ter talk plain horse sense," he declared testily. "I never was no hand for figgers."
"Well, it's this," she explained. "I heard somethin' that made me think him an' Miss Polly was lovers."
"Mr. Pendleton!" Old Tom straightened up.
"Yes. Oh, I know now; he wasn't. It was that blessed child's mother he was in love with, and that's why he wanted--but never mind that part," she added hastily, remembering just in time her promise to Pollyanna not to tell that Mr. Pendleton had wished her to come and live with him. "Well, I've been askin' folks about him some, since, and I've found out that him an' Miss Polly hain't been friends for years, an' that she's been hatin' him like pizen owin' ter the silly gossip that coupled their names tergether when she was eighteen or twenty."
"Yes, I remember," nodded Old Tom. "It was three or four years after Miss Jennie give him the mitten and went off with the other chap. Miss Polly knew about it, of course, and was sorry for him. So she tried ter be nice to him. Maybe she overdid it a little--she hated that minister chap so who had took off her sister. At any rate, somebody begun ter make trouble. They said she was runnin' after him."
"Runnin' after any man--her!" interjected Nancy.
"I know it; but they did," declared Old Tom, "and of course no gal of any spunk'll stand that. Then about that time come her own lover an' the trouble with him. After that she shut up like an oyster an' wouldn't have nothin' ter do with nobody fur a spell. Her heart jest seemed to turn bitter at the core."
"Yes, I know. I've heard about that now," rejoined Nancy; "an' that's why you could 'a' knocked me down with a feather when I see him at the door--him, what she hain't spoke to for years! But I let him in an' went an' told her."
"What did she say?" Old Tom held his breath suspended.
"Nothin'--at first. She was so still I thought she hadn't heard; and I was jest goin' ter say it over when she speaks up quiet like: 'Tell Mr. Pendleton I will be down at once.' An' I come an' told him. Then I come out here an' told you," finished Nancy, casting another backward glance toward the house.
"Humph!" grunted Old Tom; and fell to work again.
In the ceremonious "parlor" of the Harrington homestead, Mr. John Pendleton did not have to wait long before a swift step warned him of Miss Polly's coming. As he attempted to rise, she made a gesture of remonstrance. She did not offer her hand, however, and her face was coldly reserved.
"I called to ask for--Pollyanna," he began at once, a little brusquely.
"Thank you. She is about the same," said Miss Polly.
"And that is--won't you tell me how she is? His voice was not quite steady this time.
A quick spasm of pain crossed the woman's face.
"I can't, I wish I could!"
"You mean--you don't know?"
"Dr. Warren himself seems--at sea. He is in correspondence now with a New York specialist. They have arranged for a consultation at once."
"But--but what were her injuries that you do know?"
"A slight cut on the head, one or two bruises, and--and an injury to the spine which has seemed to cause--paralysis from the hips down."
A low cry came from the man. There was a brief silence; then, huskily, he asked:
"And Pollyanna--how does she--take it?"
"She doesn't understand--at all--how things really are. And I can't tell her."
"But she must know--something!"
Miss Polly lifted her hand to the collar at her throat in the gesture that had become so common to her of late.
"Oh, yes. She knows she can't--move; but she thinks her legs are--broken. She says she's glad it's broken legs like yours rather than 'lifelong-invalids' like Mrs. Snow's; because broken legs get well, and the other--doesn't. She talks like that all the time, until it--it seems as if I should--die!"
Through the blur of tears in his own eyes, the man saw the drawn face opposite, twisted with emotion. Involuntarily his thoughts went back to what Pollyanna had said when he had made his final plea for her presence: "Oh, I couldn't leave Aunt Polly--now!"
It was this thought that made him ask very gently, as soon as he could control his voice:
"I wonder if you know, Miss Harrington, how hard I tried to get Pollyanna to come and live with me."
The man winced a little at the tone of her voice; but his own voice was still impersonally cool when he spoke again.
"Yes. I wanted to adopt her--legally, you understand; making her my heir, of course."
The woman in the opposite chair relaxed a little. It came to her, suddenly, what a brilliant future it would have meant for Pollyanna--this adoption; and she wondered if Pollyanna were old enough and mercenary enough--to be tempted by this man's money and position.
"I am very fond of Pollyanna," the man was continuing. "I am fond of her both for her own sake, and for--her mother's. I stood ready to give Pollyanna the love that had been twenty-five years in storage."
"Love." Miss Polly remembered suddenly why she had taken this child in the first place--and with the recollection came the remembrance of Pollyanna's own words uttered that very morning: "I love to be called 'dear' by folks that belong to you!" And it was this love-hungry little girl that had been offered the stored-up affection of twenty-five years:--and she was old enough to be tempted by love! With a sinking heart Miss Polly realized that. With a sinking heart, too, she realized something else: the dreariness of her own future now without Pollyanna.
"Well?" she said. And the man, recognizing the self-control that vibrated through the harshness of the tone, smiled sadly.
"She would not come," he answered.
"She would not leave you. She said you had been so good to her. She wanted to stay with you--and she said she thought you wanted her to stay," he finished, as he pulled himself to his feet.
He did not look toward Miss Polly. He turned his face resolutely toward the door. But instantly he heard a swift step at his side, and found a shaking hand thrust toward him.
"When the specialist comes, and I know anything--definite about Pollyanna, I will let you hear from me," said a trembling voice. "Good-by--and thank you for coming. Pollyanna will be pleased."