Chapter XXIII. "Tied to Two Sticks"
 

It was on the last day at camp that it happened. To Pollyanna it seemed such a pity that it should have happened at all, for it was the first cloud to bring a shadow of regret and unhappiness to her heart during the whole trip, and she found herself futilely sighing:

"I wish we'd gone home day before yesterday; then it wouldn't have happened."

But they had not gone home "day before yesterday," and it had happened; and this was the manner of it.

Early in the morning of that last day they had all started on a two-mile tramp to "the Basin."

"We'll have one more bang-up fish dinner before we go," Jimmy had said. And the rest had joyfully agreed.

With luncheon and fishing tackle, therefore, they had made an early start. Laughing and calling gaily to each other they followed the narrow path through the woods, led by Jimmy, who best knew the way.

At first, close behind Jimmy had walked Pollyanna; but gradually she had fallen back with Jamie, who was last in the line: Pollyanna had thought she detected on Jamie's face the expression which she had come to know was there only when he was attempting something that taxed almost to the breaking-point his skill and powers of endurance. She knew that nothing would so offend him as to have her openly notice this state of affairs. At the same time, she also knew that from her, more willingly than from any one else, would he accept an occasional steadying hand over a troublesome log or stone. Therefore, at the first opportunity to make the change without apparent design, she had dropped back step by step until she had reached her goal, Jamie. She had been rewarded instantly in the way Jamie's face brightened, and in the easy assurance with which he met and conquered a fallen tree-trunk across their path, under the pleasant fiction (carefully fostered by Pollyanna) of "helping her across."

Once out of the woods, their way led along an old stone wall for a time, with wide reaches of sunny, sloping pastures on each side, and a more distant picturesque farmhouse. It was in the adjoining pasture that Pollyanna saw the goldenrod which she immediately coveted.

"Jamie, wait! I'm going to get it," she exclaimed eagerly. "It'll make such a beautiful bouquet for our picnic table!" And nimbly she scrambled over the high stone wall and dropped herself down on the other side.

It was strange how tantalizing was that goldenrod. Always just ahead she saw another bunch, and yet another, each a little finer than the one within her reach. With joyous exclamations and gay little calls back to the waiting Jamie, Pollyanna--looking particularly attractive in her scarlet sweater--skipped from bunch to bunch, adding to her store. She had both hands full when there came the hideous bellow of an angry bull, the agonized shout from Jamie, and the sound of hoofs thundering down the hillside.

What happened next was never clear to her. She knew she dropped her goldenrod and ran--ran as she never ran before, ran as she thought she never could run--back toward the wall and Jamie. She knew that behind her the hoof-beats were gaining, gaining, always gaining. Dimly, hopelessly, far ahead of her, she saw Jamie's agonized face, and heard his hoarse cries. Then, from somewhere, came a new voice--Jimmy's--shouting a cheery call of courage.

Still on and on she ran blindly, hearing nearer and nearer the thud of those pounding hoofs. Once she stumbled and almost fell. Then, dizzily she righted herself and plunged forward. She felt her strength quite gone when suddenly, close to her, she heard Jimmy's cheery call again. The next minute she felt herself snatched off her feet and held close to a great throbbing something that dimly she realized was Jimmy's heart. It was all a horrid blur then of cries, hot, panting breaths, and pounding hoofs thundering nearer, ever nearer. Then, just as she knew those hoofs to be almost upon her, she felt herself flung, still in Jimmy's arms, sharply to one side, and yet not so far but that she still could feel the hot breath of the maddened animal as he dashed by. Almost at once then she found herself on the other side of the wall, with Jimmy bending over her, imploring her to tell him she was not dead.

With an hysterical laugh that was yet half a sob, she struggled out of his arms and stood upon her feet.

"Dead? No, indeed--thanks to you, Jimmy. I'm all right. I'm all right. Oh, how glad, glad, glad I was to hear your voice! Oh, that was splendid! How did you do it?" she panted.

"Pooh! That was nothing. I just--" An inarticulate choking cry brought his words to a sudden halt. He turned to find Jamie face down on the ground, a little distance away. Pollyanna was already hurrying toward him.

"Jamie, Jamie, what is the matter?" she cried. "Did you fall? Are you hurt?"

There was no answer.

"What is it, old fellow? Are you hurt?" demanded Jimmy.

Still there was no answer. Then, suddenly, Jamie pulled himself half upright and turned. They saw his face then, and fell back, shocked and amazed.

"Hurt? Am I hurt?" he choked huskily, flinging out both his hands. "Don't you suppose it hurts to see a thing like that and not be able to do anything? To be tied, helpless, to a pair of sticks? I tell you there's no hurt in all the world to equal it!"

"But--but--Jamie," faltered Pollyanna.

"Don't!" interrupted the cripple, almost harshly. He had struggled to his feet now. "Don't say--anything. I didn't mean to make a scene--like this," he finished brokenly, as he turned and swung back along the narrow path that led to the camp.

For a minute, as if transfixed, the two behind him watched him go.

"Well, by--Jove!" breathed Jimmy, then, in a voice that shook a little, "That was--tough on him!"

"And I didn't think, and praised you, right before him," half-sobbed Pollyanna. "And his hands--did you see them? They were--bleeding where the nails had cut right into the flesh," she finished, as she turned and stumbled blindly up the path.

"But, Pollyanna, w-where are you going?" cried Jimmy.

"I'm going to Jamie, of course! Do you think I'd leave him like that? Come, we must get him to come back."

And Jimmy, with a sigh that was not all for Jamie, went.