Chapter XXVIII. Jimmy and Jamie
 

Pollyanna was not the only one that was finding that winter a hard one. In Boston Jimmy Pendleton, in spite of his strenuous efforts to occupy his time and thoughts, was discovering that nothing quite erased from his vision a certain pair of laughing blue eyes, and nothing quite obliterated from his memory a certain well-loved, merry voice.

Jimmy told himself that if it were not for Mrs. Carew, and the fact that he could be of some use to her, life would not be worth the living. Even at Mrs. Carew's it was not all joy, for always there was Jamie; and Jamie brought thoughts of Pollyanna--unhappy thoughts.

Being thoroughly convinced that Jamie and Pollyanna cared for each other, and also being equally convinced that he himself was in honor bound to step one side and give the handicapped Jamie full right of way, it never occurred to him to question further. Of Pollyanna he did not like to talk or to hear. He knew that both Jamie and Mrs. Carew heard from her; and when they spoke of her, he forced himself to listen, in spite of his heartache. But he always changed the subject as soon as possible, and he limited his own letters to her to the briefest and most infrequent epistles possible. For, to Jimmy, a Pollyanna that was not his was nothing but a source of pain and wretchedness; and he had been so glad when the time came for him to leave Beldingsville and take up his studies again in Boston: to be so near Pollyanna, and yet so far from her, he had found to be nothing but torture.

In Boston, with all the feverishness of a restless mind that seeks distraction from itself, he had thrown himself into the carrying out of Mrs. Carew's plans for her beloved working girls, and such time as could be spared from his own duties he had devoted to this work, much to Mrs. Carew's delight and gratitude.

And so for Jimmy the winter had passed and spring had come--a joyous, blossoming spring full of soft breezes, gentle showers, and tender green buds expanding into riotous bloom and fragrance. To Jimmy, however, it was anything but a joyous spring, for in his heart was still nothing but a gloomy winter of discontent.

"If only they'd settle things and announce the engagement, once for all," murmured Jimmy to himself, more and more frequently these days. "If only I could know something for sure, I think I could stand it better!"

Then one day late in April, he had his wish--a part of it: he learned "something for sure."

It was ten o'clock on a Saturday morning, and Mary, at Mrs. Carew's, had ushered him into the music-room with a well-trained: "I'll tell Mrs. Carew you're here, sir. She's expecting you, I think."

In the music-room Jimmy had found himself brought to a dismayed halt by the sight of Jamie at the piano, his arms outflung upon the rack, and his head bowed upon them. Pendleton had half turned to beat a soft retreat when the man at the piano lifted his head, bringing into view two flushed cheeks and a pair of fever-bright eyes.

"Why, Carew," stammered Pendleton, aghast, "has anything--er--happened?"

"Happened! Happened!" ejaculated the lame youth, flinging out both his hands, in each of which, as Pendleton now saw, was an open letter. "Everything has happened! Wouldn't you think it had if all your life you'd been in prison, and suddenly you saw the gates flung wide open? Wouldn't you think it had if all in a minute you could ask the girl you loved to be your wife? Wouldn't you think it had if--But, listen! You think I'm crazy, but I'm not. Though maybe I am, after all, crazy with joy. I'd like to tell you. May I? I've got to tell somebody!"

Pendleton lifted his head. It was as if, unconsciously, he was bracing himself for a blow. He had grown a little white; but his voice was quite steady when he answered.

"Sure you may, old fellow. I'd be--glad to hear it."

Carew, however, had scarcely waited for assent. He was rushing on, still a bit incoherently.

"It's not much to you, of course. You have two feet and your freedom. You have your ambitions and your bridges. But I--to me it's everything. It's a chance to live a man's life and do a man's work, perhaps--even if it isn't dams and bridges. It's something!--and it's something I've proved now I can do! Listen. In that letter there is the announcement that a little story of mine has won the first prize--$3,000, in a contest. In that other letter there, a big publishing house accepts with flattering enthusiasm my first book manuscript for publication. And they both came to-day--this morning. Do you wonder I am crazy glad?"

"No! No, indeed! I congratulate you, Carew, with all my heart," cried Jimmy, warmly.

"Thank you--and you may congratulate me. Think what it means to me. Think what it means if, by and by, I can be independent, like a man. Think what it means if I can, some day, make Mrs. Carew proud and glad that she gave the crippled lad a place in her home and heart. Think what it means for me to be able to tell the girl I love that I do love her."

"Yes--yes, indeed, old boy!" Jimmy spoke firmly, though he had grown very white now.

"Of course, maybe I ought not to do that last, even now," resumed Jamie, a swift cloud shadowing the shining brightness of his countenance. "I'm still tied to--these." He tapped the crutches by his side. "I can't forget, of course, that day in the woods last summer, when I saw Pollyanna--I realize that always I'll have to run the chance of seeing the girl I love in danger, and not being able to rescue her."

"Oh, but Carew--" began the other huskily.

Carew lifted a peremptory hand.

"I know what you'd say. But don't say it. You can't understand. You aren't tied to two sticks. You did the rescuing, not I. It came to me then how it would be, always, with me and--Sadie. I'd have to stand aside and see others--"

"Sadie!" cut in Jimmy, sharply.

"Yes; Sadie Dean. You act surprised. Didn't you know? Haven't you suspected--how I felt toward Sadie?" cried Jamie. "Have I kept it so well to myself, then? I tried to, but--" He finished with a faint smile and a half-despairing gesture.

"Well, you certainly kept it all right, old fellow--from me, anyhow," cried Jimmy, gayly. The color had come back to Jimmy's face in a rich flood, and his eyes had grown suddenly very bright indeed. "So it's Sadie Dean. Good! I congratulate you again, I do, I do, as Nancy says." Jimmy was quite babbling with joy and excitement now, so great and wonderful had been the reaction within him at the discovery that it was Sadie, not Pollyanna, whom Jamie loved. Jamie flushed and shook his head a bit sadly.

"No congratulations--yet. You see, I haven't spoken to--her. But I think she must know. I supposed everybody knew. Pray, whom did you think it was, if not--Sadie?"

Jimmy hesitated. Then, a little precipitately, he let it out.

"Why, I'd thought of--Pollyanna."

Jamie smiled and pursed his lips.

"Pollyanna's a charming girl, and I love her--but not that way, any more than she does me. Besides, I fancy somebody else would have something to say about that; eh?"

Jimmy colored like a happy, conscious boy.

"Do you?" he challenged, trying to make his voice properly impersonal.

"Of course! John Pendleton."

"John Pendleton!" Jimmy wheeled sharply.

"What about John Pendleton?" queried a new voice; and Mrs. Carew came forward with a smile.

Jimmy, around whose ears for the second time within five minutes the world had crashed into fragments, barely collected himself enough for a low word of greeting. But Jamie, unabashed, turned with a triumphant air of assurance.

"Nothing; only I just said that I believed John Pendleton would have something to say about Pollyanna's loving anybody--but him."

"Pollyanna! John Pendleton!" Mrs. Carew sat down suddenly in the chair nearest her. If the two men before her had not been so deeply absorbed in their own affairs they might have noticed that the smile had vanished from Mrs. Carew's lips, and that an odd look as of almost fear had come to her eyes.

"Certainly," maintained Jamie. "Were you both blind last summer? Wasn't he with her a lot?"

"Why, I thought he was with--all of us," murmured Mrs. Carew, a little faintly.

"Not as he was with Pollyanna," insisted Jamie. "Besides, have you forgotten that day when we were talking about John Pendleton's marrying, and Pollyanna blushed and stammered and said finally that he had thought of marrying--once. Well, I wondered then if there wasn't something between them. Don't you remember?"

"Y-yes, I think I do--now that you speak of it," murmured Mrs. Carew again. "But I had--forgotten it."

"Oh, but I can explain that," cut in Jimmy, wetting his dry lips. "John Pendleton did have a love affair once, but it was with Pollyanna's mother."

"Pollyanna's mother!" exclaimed two voices in surprise.

"Yes. He loved her years ago, but she did not care for him at all, I understand. She had another lover--a minister, and she married him instead--Pollyanna's father."

"Oh-h!" breathed Mrs. Carew, leaning forward suddenly in her chair. "And is that why he's--never married?"

"Yes," avouched Jimmy. "So you see there's really nothing to that idea at all--that he cares for Pollyanna. It was her mother."

"On the contrary I think it makes a whole lot to that idea," declared Jamie, wagging his head wisely. "I think it makes my case all the stronger. Listen. He once loved the mother. He couldn't have her. What more absolutely natural than that he should love the daughter now--and win her?"

"Oh, Jamie, you incorrigible spinner of tales!" reproached Mrs. Carew, with a nervous laugh. "This is no ten-penny novel. It's real life. She's too young for him. He ought to marry a woman, not a girl--that is, if he marries any one, I mean," she stammeringly corrected, a sudden flood of color in her face.

"Perhaps; but what if it happens to be a girl that he loves?" argued Jamie, stubbornly. "And, really, just stop to think. Have we had a single letter from her that hasn't told of his being there? And you know how he's always talking of Pollyanna in his letters."

Mrs. Carew got suddenly to her feet.

"Yes, I know," she murmured, with an odd little gesture, as if throwing something distasteful aside. "But--" She did not finish her sentence, and a moment later she had left the room.

When she came back in five minutes she found, much to her surprise, that Jimmy had gone.

"Why, I thought he was going with us on the girls' picnic!" she exclaimed.

"So did I," frowned Jamie. "But the first thing I knew he was explaining or apologizing or something about unexpectedly having to leave town, and he'd come to tell you he couldn't go with us. Anyhow, the next thing I knew he'd gone. You see,"--Jamie's eyes were glowing again--"I don't think I knew quite what he did say, anyway. I had something else to think of." And he jubilantly spread before her the two letters which all the time he had still kept in his hands.

"Oh, Jamie!" breathed Mrs. Carew, when she had read the letters through. "How proud I am of you!" Then suddenly her eyes filled with tears at the look of ineffable joy that illumined Jamie's face.