Chapter XXII. Comrades
 

They were a merry party--the six of them--and a congenial one. There seemed to be no end to the new delights that came with every new day, not the least of which was the new charm of companionship that seemed to be a part of this new life they were living.

As Jamie said one night, when they were all sitting about the fire:

"You see, we seem to know each other so much better up here in the woods--better in a week than we would in a year in town."

"I know it. I wonder why," murmured Mrs. Carew, her eyes dreamily following the leaping blaze.

"I think it's something in the air," sighed Pollyanna, happily. "There's something about the sky and the woods and the lake so--so--well, there just is; that's all."

"I think you mean, because the world is shut out," cried Sadie Dean, with a curious little break in her voice. (Sadie had not joined in the laugh that followed Pollyanna's limping conclusion.) "Up here everything is so real and true that we, too, can be our real true selves--not what the world says we are because we are rich, or poor, or great, or humble; but what we really are, ourselves."

"Ho!" scoffed Jimmy, airily. "All that sounds very fine; but the real common-sense reason is because we don't have any Mrs. Tom and Dick and Harry sitting on their side porches and commenting on every time we stir, and wondering among themselves where we are going, why we are going there, and how long we're intending to stay!"

"Oh, Jimmy, how you do take the poetry out of things," reproached Pollyanna, laughingly.

"But that's my business," flashed Jimmy. "How do you suppose I'm going to build dams and bridges if I don't see something besides poetry in the waterfall?"

"You can't, Pendleton! And it's the bridge--that counts--every time," declared Jamie in a voice that brought a sudden hush to the group about the fire. It was for only a moment, however, for almost at once Sadie Dean broke the silence with a gay:

"Pooh! I'd rather have the waterfall every time, without any bridge around--to spoil the view!"

Everybody laughed--and it was as if a tension somewhere snapped. Then Mrs. Carew rose to her feet.

"Come, come, children, your stern chaperon says it's bedtime!" And with a merry chorus of good-nights the party broke up.

And so the days passed. To Pollyanna they were wonderful days, and still the most wonderful part was the charm of close companionship--a companionship that, while differing as to details with each one, was yet delightful with all.

With Sadie Dean she talked of the new Home, and of what a marvelous work Mrs. Carew was doing. They talked, too, of the old days when Sadie was selling bows behind the counter, and of what Mrs. Carew had done for her. Pollyanna heard, also, something of the old father and mother "back home," and of the joy that Sadie, in her new position, had been able to bring into their lives.

"And after all it's really you that began it, you know," she said one day to Pollyanna. But Pollyanna only shook her head at this with an emphatic:

"Nonsense! It was all Mrs. Carew."

With Mrs. Carew herself Pollyanna talked also of the Home, and of her plans for the girls. And once, in the hush of a twilight walk, Mrs. Carew spoke of herself and of her changed outlook on life. And she, like Sadie Dean, said brokenly: "After all, it's really you that began it, Pollyanna." But Pollyanna, as in Sadie Dean's case, would have none of this; and she began to talk of Jamie, and of what he had done.

"Jamie's a dear," Mrs. Carew answered affectionately. "And I love him like an own son. He couldn't be dearer to me if he were really my sister's boy."

"Then you don't think he is?"

"I don't know. We've never learned anything conclusive. Sometimes I'm sure he is. Then again I doubt it. I think he really believes he is--bless his heart! At all events, one thing is sure: he has good blood in him from somewhere. Jamie's no ordinary waif of the streets, you know, with his talents; and the wonderful way he has responded to teaching and training proves it."

"Of course," nodded Pollyanna. "And as long as you love him so well, it doesn't really matter, anyway, does it, whether he's the real Jamie or not?"

Mrs. Carew hesitated. Into her eyes crept the old somberness of heartache.

"Not so far as he is concerned," she sighed, at last. "It's only that sometimes I get to thinking: if he isn't our Jamie, where is--Jamie Kent? Is he well? Is he happy? Has he any one to love him? When I get to thinking like that, Pollyanna, I'm nearly wild. I'd give--everything I have in the world, it seems to me, to really know that this boy is Jamie Kent."

Pollyanna used to think of this conversation sometimes, in her after talks with Jamie. Jamie was so sure of himself.

"It's just somehow that I feel it's so," he said once to Pollyanna. "I believe I am Jamie Kent. I've believed it quite a while. I'm afraid I've believed it so long now, that--that I just couldn't bear it, to find out I wasn't he. Mrs. Carew has done so much for me; just think if, after all, I were only a stranger!"

"But she--loves you, Jamie."

"I know she does--and that would only hurt all the more--don't you see?--because it would be hurting her. She wants me to be the real Jamie. I know she does. Now if I could only do something for her--make her proud of me in some way! If I could only do something to support myself, even, like a man! But what can I do, with--these?" He spoke bitterly, and laid his hand on the crutches at his side.

Pollyanna was shocked and distressed. It was the first time she had heard Jamie speak of his infirmity since the old boyhood days. Frantically she cast about in her mind for just the right thing to say; but before she had even thought of anything, Jamie's face had undergone a complete change.

"But, there, forget it! I didn't mean to say it," he cried gaily. "And 'twas rank heresy to the game, wasn't it? I'm sure I'm glad I've got the crutches. They're a whole lot nicer than the wheel chair!"

"And the Jolly Book--do you keep it now?" asked Pollyanna, in a voice that trembled a little.

"Sure! I've got a whole library of jolly books now," he retorted. "They're all in leather, dark red, except the first one. That is the same little old notebook that Jerry gave me."

"Jerry! And I've been meaning all the time to ask for him," cried Pollyanna. "Where is he?"

"In Boston; and his vocabulary is just as picturesque as ever, only he has to tone it down at times. Jerry's still in the newspaper business--but he's getting the news, not selling it. Reporting, you know. I have been able to help him and mumsey. And don't you suppose I was glad? Mumsey's in a sanatorium for her rheumatism."

"And is she better?"

"Very much. She's coming out pretty soon, and going to housekeeping with Jerry. Jerry's been making up some of his lost schooling during these past few years. He's let me help him--but only as a loan. He's been very particular to stipulate that."

"Of course," nodded Pollyanna, in approval. "He'd want it that way, I'm sure. I should. It isn't nice to be under obligations that you can't pay. I know how it is. That's why I so wish I could help Aunt Polly out--after all she's done for me!"

"But you are helping her this summer."

Pollyanna lifted her eyebrows.

"Yes, I'm keeping summer boarders. I look it, don't I?" she challenged, with a flourish of her hands toward her surroundings. "Surely, never was a boarding-house mistress's task quite like mine! And you should have heard Aunt Polly's dire predictions of what summer boarders would be," she chuckled irrepressibly.

"What was that?"

Pollyanna shook her head decidedly.

"Couldn't possibly tell you. That's a dead secret. But--" She stopped and sighed, her face growing wistful again. "This isn't going to last, you know. It can't. Summer boarders don't. I've got to do something winters. I've been thinking. I believe--I'll write stories."

Jamie turned with a start.

"You'll--what?" he demanded.

"Write stories--to sell, you know. You needn't look so surprised! Lots of folks do that. I knew two girls in Germany who did."

"Did you ever try it?" Jamie still spoke a little queerly.

"N-no; not yet," admitted Pollyanna. Then, defensively, in answer to the expression on his face, she bridled: "I told you I was keeping summer boarders now. I can't do both at once."

"Of course not!"

She threw him a reproachful glance.

"You don't think I can ever do it?"

"I didn't say so."

"No; but you look it. I don't see why I can't. It isn't like singing. You don't have to have a voice for it. And it isn't like an instrument that you have to learn how to play."

"I think it is--a little--like that." Jamie's voice was low. His eyes were turned away.

"How? What do you mean? Why, Jamie, just a pencil and paper, so--that isn't like learning to play the piano or violin!"

There was a moment's silence. Then came the answer, still in that low, diffident voice; still with the eyes turned away.

"The instrument that you play on, Pollyanna, will be the great heart of the world; and to me that seems the most wonderful instrument of all--to learn. Under your touch, if you are skilful, it will respond with smiles or tears, as you will."

Pollyanna drew a tremulous sigh. Her eyes grew wet.

"Oh, Jamie, how beautifully you do put things--always! I never thought of it that way. But it's so, isn't it? How I would love to do it! Maybe I couldn't do--all that. But I've read stories in the magazines, lots of them. Seems as if I could write some like those, anyway. I love to tell stories. I'm always repeating those you tell, and I always laugh and cry, too, just as I do when you tell them."

Jamie turned quickly.

"Do they make you laugh and cry, Pollyanna--really?" There was a curious eagerness in his voice.

"Of course they do, and you know it, Jamie. And they used to long ago, too, in the Public Garden. Nobody can tell stories like you, Jamie. You ought to be the one writing stories; not I. And, say, Jamie, why don't you? You could do it lovely, I know!"

There was no answer. Jamie, apparently, did not hear; perhaps because he called, at that instant, to a chipmunk that was scurrying through the bushes near by.

It was not always with Jamie, nor yet with Mrs. Carew and Sadie Dean that Pollyanna had delightful walks and talks, however; very often it was with Jimmy, or John Pendleton.

Pollyanna was sure now that she had never before known John Pendleton. The old taciturn moroseness seemed entirely gone since they came to camp. He rowed and swam and fished and tramped with fully as much enthusiasm as did Jimmy himself, and with almost as much vigor. Around the camp fire at night he quite rivaled Jamie with his story-telling of adventures, both laughable and thrilling, that had befallen him in his foreign travels.

"In the 'Desert of Sarah,' Nancy used to call it," laughed Pollyanna one night, as she joined the rest in begging for a story.

Better than all this, however, in Pollyanna's opinion, were the times when John Pendleton, with her alone, talked of her mother as he used to know her and love her, in the days long gone. That he did so talk with her was a joy to Pollyanna, but a great surprise, too; for, never in the past, had John Pendleton talked so freely of the girl whom he had so loved--hopelessly. Perhaps John Pendleton himself felt some of the surprise, for once he said to Pollyanna, musingly:

"I wonder why I'm talking to you like this."

"Oh, but I love to have you," breathed Pollyanna.

"Yes, I know--but I wouldn't think I would do it. It must be, though, that it's because you are so like her, as I knew her. You are very like your mother, my dear."

"Why, I thought my mother was beautiful!" cried Pollyanna, in unconcealed amazement.

John Pendleton smiled quizzically.

"She was, my dear."

Pollyanna looked still more amazed.

"Then I don't see how I can be like her!"

The man laughed outright.

"Pollyanna, if some girls had said that, I--well, never mind what I'd say. You little witch!--you poor, homely little Pollyanna!"

Pollyanna flashed a genuinely distressed reproof straight into the man's merry eyes.

"Please, Mr. Pendleton, don't look like that, and don't tease me--about that. I'd so love to be beautiful--though of course it sounds silly to say it. And I have a mirror, you know."

"Then I advise you to look in it--when you're talking sometime," observed the man sententiously.

Pollyanna's eyes flew wide open.

"Why, that's just what Jimmy said," she cried.

"Did he, indeed--the young rascal!" retorted John Pendleton, dryly. Then, with one of the curiously abrupt changes of manner peculiar to him, he said, very low: "You have your mother's eyes and smile, Pollyanna; and to me you are--beautiful."

And Pollyanna, her eyes blinded with sudden hot tears, was silenced.

Dear as were these talks, however, they still were not quite like the talks with Jimmy, to Pollyanna. For that matter, she and Jimmy did not need to talk to be happy. Jimmy was always so comfortable, and comforting; whether they talked or not did not matter. Jimmy always understood. There was no pulling on her heart-strings for sympathy, with Jimmy--Jimmy was delightfully big, and strong, and happy. Jimmy was not sorrowing for a long-lost nephew, nor pining for the loss of a boyhood sweetheart. Jimmy did not have to swing himself painfully about on a pair of crutches--all of which was so hard to see, and know, and think of. With Jimmy one could be just glad, and happy, and free. Jimmy was such a dear! He always rested one so--did Jimmy!