Chapter XXVI. John Pendleton
 

It was just a week before Christmas that Pollyanna sent her story (now neatly typewritten) in for the contest. The prize-winners would not be announced until April, the magazine notice said, so Pollyanna settled herself for the long wait with characteristic, philosophical patience.

"I don't know, anyhow, but I'm glad 'tis so long," she told herself, "for all winter I can have the fun of thinking it may be the first one instead of one of the others, that I'll get. I might just as well think I'm going to get it, then if I do get it, I won't have been unhappy any. While if I don't get it--I won't have had all these weeks of unhappiness beforehand, anyway; and I can be glad for one of the smaller ones, then." That she might not get any prize was not in Pollyanna's calculations at all. The story, so beautifully typed by Milly Snow, looked almost as good as printed already--to Pollyanna.

Christmas was not a happy time at the Harrington homestead that year, in spite of Pollyanna's strenuous efforts to make it so. Aunt Polly refused absolutely to allow any sort of celebration of the day, and made her attitude so unmistakably plain that Pollyanna could not give even the simplest of presents.

Christmas evening John Pendleton called. Mrs. Chilton excused herself, but Pollyanna, utterly worn out from a long day with her aunt, welcomed him joyously. But even here she found a fly in the amber of her content; for John Pendleton had brought with him a letter from Jimmy, and the letter was full of nothing but the plans he and Mrs. Carew were making for a wonderful Christmas celebration at the Home for Working Girls: and Pollyanna, ashamed though she was to own it to herself, was not in a mood to hear about Christmas celebrations just then--least of all, Jimmy's.

John Pendleton, however, was not ready to let the subject drop, even when the letter had been read.

"Great doings--those!" he exclaimed, as he folded the letter.

"Yes, indeed; fine!" murmured Pollyanna, trying to speak with due enthusiasm.

"And it's to-night, too, isn't it? I'd like to drop in on them about now."

"Yes," murmured Pollyanna again, with still more careful enthusiasm.

"Mrs. Carew knew what she was about when she got Jimmy to help her, I fancy," chuckled the man. "But I'm wondering how Jimmy likes it--playing Santa Claus to half a hundred young women at once!"

"Why, he finds it delightful, of course!" Pollyanna lifted her chin ever so slightly.

"Maybe. Still, it's a little different from learning to build bridges, you must confess."

"Oh, yes."

"But I'll risk Jimmy, and I'll risk wagering that those girls never had a better time than he'll give them to-night, too."

"Y-yes, of course," stammered Pollyanna, trying to keep the hated tremulousness out of her voice, and trying very hard not to compare her own dreary evening in Beldingsville with nobody but John Pendleton to that of those fifty girls in Boston--with Jimmy.

There was a brief pause, during which John Pendleton gazed dreamily at the dancing fire on the hearth.

"She's a wonderful woman--Mrs. Carew is," he said at last.

"She is, indeed!" This time the enthusiasm in Pollyanna's voice was all pure gold.

"Jimmy's written me before something of what she's done for those girls," went on the man, still gazing into the fire. "In just the last letter before this he wrote a lot about it, and about her. He said he always admired her, but never so much as now, when he can see what she really is."

"She's a dear--that's what Mrs. Carew is," declared Pollyanna, warmly. "She's a dear in every way, and I love her."

John Pendleton stirred suddenly. He turned to Pollyanna with an oddly whimsical look in his eyes.

"I know you do, my dear. For that matter, there may be others, too--that love her."

Pollyanna's heart skipped a beat. A sudden thought came to her with stunning, blinding force. Jimmy! Could John Pendleton be meaning that Jimmy cared that way--for Mrs. Carew?

"You mean--?" she faltered. She could not finish.

With a nervous twitch peculiar to him, John Pendleton got to his feet.

"I mean--the girls, of course," he answered lightly, still with that whimsical smile. "Don't you suppose those fifty girls--love her 'most to death?"

Pollyanna said "yes, of course," and murmured something else appropriate, in answer to John Pendleton's next remark. But her thoughts were in a tumult, and she let the man do most of the talking for the rest of the evening.

Nor did John Pendleton seem averse to this. Restlessly he took a turn or two about the room, then sat down in his old place. And when he spoke, it was on his old subject, Mrs. Carew.

"Queer--about that Jamie of hers, isn't it? I wonder if he is her nephew."

As Pollyanna did not answer, the man went on, after a moment's silence.

"He's a fine fellow, anyway. I like him. There's something fine and genuine about him. She's bound up in him. That's plain to be seen, whether he's really her kin or not."

There was--another pause, then, in a slightly altered voice, John Pendleton said:

"Still it's queer, too, when you come to think of it, that she never--married again. She is certainly now--a very beautiful woman. Don't you think so?"

"Yes--yes, indeed she is," plunged in Pollyanna, with precipitate haste; "a--a very beautiful woman."

There was a little break at the last in Pollyanna's voice. Pollyanna, just then, had caught sight of her own face in the mirror opposite--and Pollyanna to herself was never "a very beautiful woman."

On and on rambled John Pendleton, musingly, contentedly, his eyes on the fire. Whether he was answered or not seemed not to disturb him. Whether he was even listened to or not, he seemed hardly to know. He wanted, apparently, only to talk; but at last he got to his feet reluctantly and said good-night.

For a weary half-hour Pollyanna had been longing for him to go, that she might be alone; but after he had gone she wished he were back. She had found suddenly that she did not want to be alone--with her thoughts.

It was wonderfully clear to Pollyanna now. There was no doubt of it. Jimmy cared for Mrs. Carew. That was why he was so moody and restless after she left. That was why he had come so seldom to see her, Pollyanna, his old friend. That was why--

Countless little circumstances of the past summer flocked to Pollyanna's memory now, mute witnesses that would not be denied.

And why should he not care for her? Mrs. Carew was certainly beautiful and charming. True, she was older than Jimmy; but young men had married women far older than she, many times. And if they loved each other--

Pollyanna cried herself to sleep that night.

In the morning, bravely she tried to face the thing. She even tried, with a tearful smile, to put it to the test of the glad game. She was reminded then of something Nancy had said to her years before: "If there is a set o' folks in the world that wouldn't have no use for that 'ere glad game o' your'n, it'd be a pair o' quarrellin' lovers!"

"Not that we're 'quarrelling,' or even 'lovers,'" thought Pollyanna blushingly; "but just the same I can be glad he's glad, and glad she's glad, too, only--" Even to herself Pollyanna could not finish this sentence.

Being so sure now that Jimmy and Mrs. Carew cared for each other, Pollyanna became peculiarly sensitive to everything that tended to strengthen that belief. And being ever on the watch for it, she found it, as was to be expected. First in Mrs. Carew's letters.

"I am seeing a lot of your friend, young Pendleton," Mrs. Carew wrote one day; "and I'm liking him more and more. I do wish, however--just for curiosity's sake--that I could trace to its source that elusive feeling that I've seen him before somewhere."

Frequently, after this, she mentioned him casually; and, to Pollyanna, in the very casualness of these references lay their sharpest sting; for it showed so unmistakably that Jimmy and Jimmy's presence were now to Mrs. Carew a matter of course. From other sources, too, Pollyanna found fuel for the fire of her suspicions. More and more frequently John Pendleton "dropped in" with his stories of Jimmy, and of what Jimmy was doing; and always here there was mention of Mrs. Carew. Poor Pollyanna wondered, indeed, sometimes, if John Pendleton could not talk of anything--but Mrs. Carew and Jimmy, so constantly was one or the other of those names on his lips.

There were Sadie Dean's letters, too, and they told of Jimmy, and of what he was doing to help Mrs. Carew. Even Jamie, who wrote occasionally, had his mite to add, for he wrote one evening:

"It's ten o'clock. I'm sitting here alone waiting for Mrs. Carew to come home. She and Pendleton have been to one of their usual socials down to the Home."

From Jimmy himself Pollyanna heard very rarely; and for that she told herself mournfully that she could be glad.

"For if he can't write about anything but Mrs. Carew and those girls, I'm glad he doesn't write very often!" she sighed.