Chapter XXX. John Pendleton Turns the Key
 

Jimmy went back to Boston that night in a state that was a most tantalizing commingling of happiness, hope, exasperation, and rebellion. Behind him he left a girl who was in a scarcely less enviable frame of mind; for Pollyanna, tremulously happy in the wondrous thought of Jimmy's love for her, was yet so despairingly terrified at the thought of the possible love of John Pendleton, that there was not a thrill of joy that did not carry its pang of fear.

Fortunately for all concerned, however, this state of affairs was not of long duration; for, as it chanced, John Pendleton, in whose unwitting hands lay the key to the situation, in less than a week after Jimmy's hurried visit, turned that key in the lock, and opened the door of doubt.

It was late Thursday afternoon that John Pendleton called to see Pollyanna. As it happened, he, like Jimmy, saw Pollyanna in the garden and came straight toward her.

Pollyanna, looking into his face, felt a sudden sinking of the heart.

"It's come--it's come!" she shivered; and involuntarily she turned as if to flee.

"Oh, Pollyanna, wait a minute, please," called the man hastening his steps. "You're just the one I wanted to see. Come, can't we go in here?" he suggested, turning toward the summerhouse. "I want to speak to you about--something."

"Why, y-yes, of course," stammered Pollyanna, with forced gayety. Pollyanna knew that she was blushing, and she particularly wished not to blush just then. It did not help matters any, either, that he should have elected to go into the summerhouse for his talk. The summerhouse now, to Pollyanna, was sacred to certain dear memories of Jimmy. "And to think it should be here--here!" she was shuddering frantically. But aloud she said, still gayly, "It's a lovely evening, isn't it?"

There was no answer. John Pendleton strode into the summerhouse and dropped himself into a rustic chair without even waiting for Pollyanna to seat herself--a most unusual proceeding on the part of John Pendleton. Pollyanna, stealing a nervous glance at his face found it so startlingly like the old stern, sour visage of her childhood's remembrance, that she uttered an involuntary exclamation.

Still John Pendleton paid no heed. Still moodily he sat wrapped in thought. At last, however, he lifted his head and gazed somberly into Pollyanna's startled eyes.

"Pollyanna."

"Yes, Mr. Pendleton."

"Do you remember the sort of man I was when you first knew me, years ago?"

"Why, y-yes, I think so."

"Delightfully agreeable specimen of humanity, wasn't I?"

In spite of her perturbation Pollyanna smiled faintly.

"I--I liked you, sir." Not until the words were uttered did Pollyanna realize just how they would sound. She strove then, frantically, to recall or modify them and had almost added a "that is, I mean, I liked you then!" when she stopped just in time: certainly that would not have helped matters any! She listened then, fearfully, for John Pendleton's next words. They came almost at once.

"I know you did--bless your little heart! And it was that that was the saving of me. I wonder, Pollyanna, if I could ever make you realize just what your childish trust and liking did for me."

Pollyanna stammered a confused protest; but he brushed it smilingly aside.

"Oh, yes, it was! It was you, and no one else. I wonder if you remember another thing, too," resumed the man, after a moment's silence, during which Pollyanna looked furtively, but longingly toward the door. "I wonder if you remember my telling you once that nothing but a woman's hand and heart, or a child's presence could make a home."

Pollyanna felt the blood rush to her face.

"Y-yes, n-no--I mean, yes, I remember it," she stuttered; "but I--I don't think it's always so now. I mean--that is, I'm sure your home now is--is lovely just as 'tis, and--"

"But it's my home I'm talking about, child," interrupted the man, impatiently. "Pollyanna, you know the kind of home I once hoped to have, and how those hopes were dashed to the ground. Don't think, dear, I'm blaming your mother. I'm not. She but obeyed her heart, which was right; and she made the wiser choice, anyway, as was proved by the dreary waste I've made of life because of that disappointment. After all, Pollyanna, isn't it strange," added John Pendleton, his voice growing tender, "that it should be the little hand of her own daughter that led me into the path of happiness, at last?"

Pollyanna moistened her lips convulsively.

"Oh, but Mr. Pendleton, I--I--"

Once again the man brushed aside her protests with a smiling gesture.

"Yes, it was, Pollyanna, your little hand in the long ago--you, and your glad game."

"Oh-h!" Pollyanna relaxed visibly in her seat. The terror in her eyes began slowly to recede.

"And so all these years I've been gradually growing into a different man, Pollyanna. But there's one thing I haven't changed in, my dear." He paused, looked away, then turned gravely tender eyes back to her face. "I still think it takes a woman's hand and heart or a child's presence to make a home."

"Yes; b-but you've g-got the child's presence," plunged in Pollyanna, the terror coming back to her eyes. "There's Jimmy, you know."

The man gave an amused laugh.

"I know; but--I don't think even you would say that Jimmy is--is exactly a child's presence any longer," he remarked.

"N-no, of course not."

"Besides--Pollyanna, I've made up my mind. I've got to have the woman's hand and heart." His voice dropped, and trembled a little.

"Oh-h, have you?" Pollyanna's fingers met and clutched each other in a spasmodic clasp. John Pendleton, however, seemed neither to hear nor see. He had leaped to his feet, and was nervously pacing up and down the little house.

"Pollyanna," he stopped and faced her; "if--if you were I, and were going to ask the woman you loved to come and make your old gray pile of stone a home, how would you go to work to do it?"

Pollyanna half started from her chair. Her eyes sought the door, this time openly, longingly.

"Oh, but, Mr. Pendleton, I wouldn't do it at all, at all," she stammered, a little wildly. "I'm sure you'd be--much happier as--as you are."

The man stared in puzzled surprise, then laughed grimly.

"Upon my word, Pollyanna, is it--quite so bad as that?" he asked.

"B-bad?" Pollyanna had the appearance of being poised for flight.

"Yes. Is that just your way of trying to soften the blow of saying that you don't think she'd have me, anyway?"

"Oh, n-no--no, indeed. She'd say yes--she'd have to say yes, you know," explained Pollyanna, with terrified earnestness. "But I've been thinking--I mean, I was thinking that if--if the girl didn't love you, you really would be happier without her; and--" At the look that came into John Pendleton's face, Pollyanna stopped short.

"I shouldn't want her, if she didn't love me, Pollyanna."

"No, I thought not, too." Pollyanna began to look a little less distracted.

"Besides, she doesn't happen to be a girl," went on John Pendleton. "She's a mature woman who, presumedly, would know her own mind." The man's voice was grave and slightly reproachful.

"Oh-h-h! Oh!" exclaimed Pollyanna, the dawning happiness in her eyes leaping forth in a flash of ineffable joy and relief. "Then you love somebody--" By an almost superhuman effort Pollyanna choked off the "else" before it left her delighted lips.

"Love somebody! Haven't I just been telling you I did?" laughed John Pendleton, half vexedly. "What I want to know is--can she be made to love me? That's where I was sort of--of counting on your help, Pollyanna. You see, she's a dear friend of yours."

"Is she?" gurgled Pollyanna. "Then she'll just have to love you. We'll make her! Maybe she does, anyway, already. Who is she?"

There was a long pause before the answer came.

"I believe, after all, Pollyanna, I won't--yes, I will, too. It's--can't you guess?--Mrs. Carew."

"Oh!" breathed Pollyanna, with a face of unclouded joy. "How perfectly lovely! I'm so glad, glad, glad!"

A long hour later Pollyanna sent Jimmy a letter. It was confused and incoherent--a series of half-completed, illogical, but shyly joyous sentences, out of which Jimmy gathered much: a little from what was written; more from what was left unwritten. After all, did he really need more than this?

"Oh, Jimmy, he doesn't love me a bit. It's some one else. I mustn't tell you who it is--but her name isn't Pollyanna."

Jimmy had just time to catch the seven o'clock train for Beldingsville--and he caught it.