Chapter XXV. The Game and Pollyanna
 

Before the middle of September the Carews and Sadie Dean said good-by and went back to Boston. Much as she knew she would miss them, Pollyanna drew an actual sigh of relief as the train bearing them away rolled out of the Beldingsville station. Pollyanna would not have admitted having this feeling of relief to any one else, and even to herself she apologized in her thoughts.

"It isn't that I don't love them dearly, every one of them," she sighed, watching the train disappear around the curve far down the track. "It's only that--that I'm so sorry for poor Jamie all the time; and--and--I am tired. I shall be glad, for a while, just to go back to the old quiet days with Jimmy."

Pollyanna, however, did not go back to the old quiet days with Jimmy. The days that immediately followed the going of the Carews were quiet, certainly, but they were not passed "with Jimmy." Jimmy rarely came near the house now, and when he did call, he was not the old Jimmy that she used to know. He was moody, restless, and silent, or else very gay and talkative in a nervous fashion that was most puzzling and annoying. Before long, too, he himself went to Boston; and then of course she did not see him at all.

Pollyanna was surprised then to see how much she missed him. Even to know that he was in town, and that there was a chance that he might come over, was better than the dreary emptiness of certain absence; and even his puzzling moods of alternating gloominess and gayety were preferable to this utter silence of nothingness. Then, one day, suddenly she pulled herself up with hot cheeks and shamed eyes.

"Well, Pollyanna Whittier," she upbraided herself sharply, "one would think you were in love with Jimmy Bean Pendleton! Can't you think of anything but him?"

Whereupon, forthwith, she bestirred herself to be very gay and lively indeed, and to put this Jimmy Bean Pendleton out of her thoughts. As it happened, Aunt Polly, though unwittingly, helped her to this.

With the going of the Carews had gone also their chief source of immediate income, and Aunt Polly was beginning to worry again, audibly, about the state of their finances.

"I don't know, really, Pollyanna, what is going to become of us," she would moan frequently. "Of course we are a little ahead now from this summer's work, and we have a small sum from the estate right along; but I never know how soon that's going to stop, like all the rest. If only we could do something to bring in some ready cash!"

It was after one of these moaning lamentations one day that Pollyanna's eyes chanced to fall on a prize-story contest offer. It was a most alluring one. The prizes were large and numerous. The conditions were set forth in glowing terms. To read it, one would think that to win out were the easiest thing in the world. It contained even a special appeal that might have been framed for Pollyanna herself.

"This is for you--you who read this," it ran. "What if you never have written a story before! That is no sign you cannot write one. Try it. That's all. Wouldn't you like three thousand dollars? Two thousand? One thousand? Five hundred, or even one hundred? Then why not go after it?"

"The very thing!" cried Pollyanna, clapping her hands. "I'm so glad I saw it! And it says I can do it, too. I thought I could, if I'd just try. I'll go tell auntie, so she needn't worry any more."

Pollyanna was on her feet and half way to the door when a second thought brought her steps to a pause.

"Come to think of it, I reckon I won't, after all. It'll be all the nicer to surprise her; and if I should get the first one--!"

Pollyanna went to sleep that night planning what she could do with that three thousand dollars.

Pollyanna began her story the next day. That is, she, with a very important air, got out a quantity of paper, sharpened up half-a-dozen pencils, and established herself at the big old-fashioned Harrington desk in the living-room. After biting restlessly at the ends of two of her pencils, she wrote down three words on the fair white page before her. Then she drew a long sigh, threw aside the second ruined pencil, and picked up a slender green one with a beautiful point. This point she eyed with a meditative frown.

"O dear! I wonder where they get their titles," she despaired. "Maybe, though, I ought to decide on the story first, and then make a title to fit. Anyhow, I'M going to do it." And forthwith she drew a black line through the three words and poised the pencil for a fresh start.

The start was not made at once, however. Even when it was made, it must have been a false one, for at the end of half an hour the whole page was nothing but a jumble of scratched-out lines, with only a few words here and there left to tell the tale.

At this juncture Aunt Polly came into the room. She turned tired eyes upon her niece.

"Well, Pollyanna, what are you up to now?" she demanded.

Pollyanna laughed and colored guiltily.

"Nothing much, auntie. Anyhow, it doesn't look as if it were much--yet," she admitted, with a rueful smile. "Besides, it's a secret, and I'm not going to tell it yet."

"Very well; suit yourself," sighed Aunt Polly. "But I can tell you right now that if you're trying to make anything different out of those mortgage papers Mr. Hart left, it's useless. I've been all over them myself twice."

"No, dear, it isn't the papers. It's a whole heap nicer than any papers ever could be," crowed Pollyanna triumphantly, turning back to her work. In Pollyanna's eyes suddenly had risen a glowing vision of what it might be, with that three thousand dollars once hers.

For still another half-hour Pollyanna wrote and scratched, and chewed her pencils; then, with her courage dulled, but not destroyed, she gathered up her papers and pencils and left the room.

"I reckon maybe I'll do better by myself up-stairs," she was thinking as she hurried through the hall. "I thought I ought to do it at a desk--being literary work, so--but anyhow, the desk didn't help me any this morning. I'll try the window seat in my room."

The window seat, however, proved to be no more inspiring, judging by the scratched and re-scratched pages that fell from Pollyanna's hands; and at the end of another half-hour Pollyanna discovered suddenly that it was time to get dinner.

"Well, I'm glad 'tis, anyhow," she sighed to herself. "I'd a lot rather get dinner than do this. Not but that I want to do this, of course; only I'd no idea 'twas such an awful job--just a story, so!"

During the following month Pollyanna worked faithfully, doggedly, but she soon found that "just a story, so" was indeed no small matter to accomplish. Pollyanna, however, was not one to set her hand to the plow and look back. Besides, there was that three-thousand-dollar prize, or even any of the others, if she should not happen to win the first one! Of course even one hundred dollars was something! So day after day she wrote and erased, and rewrote, until finally the story, such as it was, lay completed before her. Then, with some misgivings, it must be confessed, she took the manuscript to Milly Snow to be typewritten.

"It reads all right--that is, it makes sense," mused Pollyanna doubtfully, as she hurried along toward the Snow cottage; "and it's a real nice story about a perfectly lovely girl. But there's something somewhere that isn't quite right about it, I'm afraid. Anyhow, I don't believe I'd better count too much on the first prize; then I won't be too much disappointed when I get one of the littler ones."

Pollyanna always thought of Jimmy when she went to the Snows', for it was at the side of the road near their cottage that she had first seen him as a forlorn little runaway lad from the Orphans' Home years before. She thought of him again to-day, with a little catch of her breath. Then, with the proud lifting of her head that always came now with the second thought of Jimmy, she hurried up the Snows' doorsteps and rang the bell.

As was usually the case, the Snows had nothing but the warmest of welcomes for Pollyanna; and also as usual it was not long before they were talking of the game: in no home in Beldingsville was the glad game more ardently played than in the Snows'.

"Well, and how are you getting along?" asked Pollyanna, when she had finished the business part of her call.

"Splendidly!" beamed Milly Snow. "This is the third job I've got this week. "Oh, Miss Pollyanna, I'm so glad you had me take up typewriting, for you see I can do that right at home! And it's all owing to you."

"Nonsense!" disclaimed Pollyanna, merrily.

"But it is. In the first place, I couldn't have done it anyway if it hadn't been for the game--making mother so much better, you know, that I had some time to myself. And then, at the very first, you suggested typewriting, and helped me to buy a machine. I should like to know if that doesn't come pretty near owing it all to you!"

But once again Pollyanna objected. This time she was interrupted by Mrs. Snow from her wheel chair by the window. And so earnestly and gravely did Mrs. Snow speak, that Pollyanna, in spite of herself, could but hear what she had to say.

"Listen, child, I don't think you know quite what you've done. But I wish you could! There's a little look in your eyes, my dear, to-day, that I don't like to see there. You are plagued and worried over something, I know. I can see it. And I don't wonder: your uncle's death, your aunt's condition, everything--I won't say more about that. But there's something I do want to say, my dear, and you must let me say it, for I can't bear to see that shadow in your eyes without trying to drive it away by telling you what you've done for me, for this whole town, and for countless other people everywhere."

"Mrs. Snow!" protested Pollyanna, in genuine distress.

"Oh, I mean it, and I know what I'm talking about," nodded the invalid, triumphantly. "To begin with, look at me. Didn't you find me a fretful, whining creature who never by any chance wanted what she had until she found what she didn't have? And didn't you open my eyes by bringing me three kinds of things so I'd have to have what I wanted, for once?"

"Oh, Mrs. Snow, was I really ever quite so--impertinent as that?" murmured Pollyanna, with a painful blush.

"It wasn't impertinent," objected Mrs. Snow, stoutly. "You didn't mean it as impertinence--and that made all the difference in the world. You didn't preach, either, my dear. If you had, you'd never have got me to playing the game, nor anybody else, I fancy. But you did get me to playing it--and see what it's done for me, and for Milly! Here I am so much better that I can sit in a wheel chair and go anywhere on this floor in it. That means a whole lot when it comes to waiting on yourself, and giving those around you a chance to breathe--meaning Milly, in this case. And the doctor says it's all owing to the game. Then there's others, quantities of others, right in this town, that I'm hearing of all the time. Nellie Mahoney broke her wrist and was so glad it wasn't her leg that she didn't mind the wrist at all. Old Mrs. Tibbits has lost her hearing, but she's so glad 'tisn't her eyesight that she's actually happy. Do you remember cross-eyed Joe that they used to call Cross Joe, be cause of his temper? Nothing went to suit him either, any more than it did me. Well, somebody's taught him the game, they say, and made a different man of him. And listen, dear. It's not only this town, but other places. I had a letter yesterday from my cousin in Massachusetts, and she told me all about Mrs. Tom Payson that used to live here. Do you remember them? They lived on the way up Pendleton Hill."

"Yes, oh, yes, I remember them," cried Pollyanna.

"Well, they left here that winter you were in the Sanatorium and went to Massachusetts where my sister lives. She knows them well. She says Mrs. Payson told her all about you, and how your glad game actually saved them from a divorce. And now not only do they play it themselves, but they've got quite a lot of others playing it down there, and they're getting still others. So you see, dear, there's no telling where that glad game of yours is going to stop. I wanted you to know. I thought it might help--even you to play the game sometimes; for don't think I don't understand, dearie, that it is hard for you to play your own game--sometimes."

Pollyanna rose to her feet. She smiled, but her eyes glistened with tears, as she held out her hand in good-by.

"Thank you, Mrs. Snow," she said unsteadily. "It is hard--sometimes; and maybe I did need a little help about my own game. But, anyhow, now--" her eyes flashed with their old merriment--"if any time I think I can't play the game myself I can remember that I can still always be glad there are some folks playing it!"

Pollyanna walked home a little soberly that afternoon. Touched as she was by what Mrs. Snow had said, there was yet an undercurrent of sadness in it all. She was thinking of Aunt Polly--Aunt Polly who played the game now so seldom; and she was wondering if she herself always played it, when she might.

"Maybe I haven't been careful, always, to hunt up the glad side of the things Aunt Polly says," she thought with undefined guiltiness; "and maybe if I played the game better myself, Aunt Polly would play it--a little. Anyhow I'm going to try. If I don't look out, all these other people will be playing my own game better than I am myself!"