Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXXI. After Long Years
Pollyanna was so happy that night after she had sent her letter to Jimmy that she could not quite keep it to herself. Always before going to bed she stepped into her aunt's room to see if anything were needed. To-night, after the usual questions, she had turned to put out the light when a sudden impulse sent her back to her aunt's bedside. A little breathlessly she dropped on her knees.
"Aunt Polly, I'm so happy I just had to tell some one. I want to tell you. May I?"
"Tell me? Tell me what, child? Of course you may tell me. You mean, it's good news--for me?"
"Why, yes, dear; I hope so," blushed Pollyanna. "I hope it will make you--glad, a little, for me, you know. Of course Jimmy will tell you himself all properly some day. But I wanted to tell you first."
"Jimmy!" Mrs. Chilton's face changed perceptibly.
"Yes, when--when he--he asks you for me," stammered Pollyanna, with a radiant flood of color. "Oh, I--I'm so happy, I had to tell you!"
"Asks me for you! Pollyanna!" Mrs. Chilton pulled herself up in bed. "You don't mean to say there's anything serious between you and--Jimmy Bean!"
Pollyanna fell back in dismay.
"Why, auntie, I thought you liked Jimmy!"
"So I do--in his place. But that place isn't the husband of my niece."
"Come, come, child, don't look so shocked. This is all sheer nonsense, and I'm glad I've been able to stop it before it's gone any further."
"But, Aunt Polly, it has gone further," quavered Pollyanna. "Why, I--I already have learned to lo-- --c-care for him--dearly."
"Then you'll have to unlearn it, Pollyanna, for never, never will I give my consent to your marrying Jimmy Bean."
"First and foremost because we know nothing about him."
"Why, Aunt Polly, we've always known him, ever since I was a little girl!"
"Yes, and what was he? A rough little runaway urchin from an Orphans' Home! We know nothing whatever about his people, and his pedigree."
"But I'm not marrying his p-people and his p-pedigree!"
With an impatient groan Aunt Polly fell back on her pillow.
"Pollyanna, you're making me positively ill. My heart is going like a trip hammer. I sha'n't sleep a wink to-night. Can't you let this thing rest till morning?"
Pollyanna was on her feet instantly, her face all contrition.
"Why, yes--yes, indeed; of course, Aunt Polly! And to-morrow you'll feel different, I'm sure. I'm sure you will," reiterated the girl, her voice quivering with hope again, as she turned to extinguish the light.
But Aunt Polly did not "feel different" in the morning. If anything, her opposition to the marriage was even more determined. In vain Pollyanna pleaded and argued. In vain she showed how deeply her happiness was concerned. Aunt Polly was obdurate. She would have none of the idea. She sternly admonished Pollyanna as to the possible evils of heredity, and warned her of the dangers of marrying into she knew not what sort of family. She even appealed at last to her sense of duty and gratitude toward herself, and reminded Pollyanna of the long years of loving care that had been hers in the home of her aunt, and she begged her piteously not to break her heart by this marriage as had her mother years before by her marriage.
When Jimmy himself, radiant-faced and glowing-eyed, came at ten o'clock, he was met by a frightened, sob-shaken little Pollyanna that tried ineffectually to hold him back with two trembling hands. With whitening cheeks, but with defiantly tender arms that held her close, he demanded an explanation.
"Pollyanna, dearest, what in the world is the meaning of this?"
"Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, why did you come, why did you come? I was going to write and tell you straight away," moaned Pollyanna.
"But you did write me, dear. I got it yesterday afternoon, just in time to catch my train."
"No, no;--again, I mean. I didn't know then that I--I couldn't."
"Couldn't! Pollyanna,"--his eyes flamed into stern wrath,--"you don't mean to tell me there's anybody else's love you think you've got to keep me waiting for?" he demanded, holding her at arm's length.
"No, no, Jimmy! Don't look at me like that. I can't bear it!"
"Then what is it? What is it you can't do?"
"I can't--marry you."
"Pollyanna, do you love me?"
"Yes. Oh, y-yes."
"Then you shall marry me," triumphed Jimmy, his arms enfolding her again.
"No, no, Jimmy, you don't understand. It's--Aunt Polly," struggled Pollyanna.
"Yes. She--won't let me."
"Ho!" Jimmy tossed his head with a light laugh. "We'll fix Aunt Polly. She thinks she's going to lose you, but we'll just remind her that she--she's going to gain a--a new nephew!" he finished in mock importance.
But Pollyanna did not smile. She turned her head hopelessly from side to side.
"No, no, Jimmy, you don't understand! She--she--oh, how can I tell you?--she objects to--to you--for--me."
Jimmy's arms relaxed a little. His eyes sobered.
"Oh, well, I suppose I can't blame her for that. I'm no--wonder, of course," he admitted constrainedly. "Still,"--he turned loving eyes upon her--"I'd try to make you--happy, dear."
"Indeed you would! I know you would," protested Pollyanna, tearfully.
"Then why not--give me a chance to try, Pollyanna, even if she--doesn't quite approve, at first. Maybe in time, after we were married, we could win her over."
"Oh, but I couldn't--I couldn't do that," moaned Pollyanna, "after what she's said. I couldn't--without her consent. You see, she's done so much for me, and she's so dependent on me. She isn't well a bit, now, Jimmy. And, really, lately she's been so--so loving, and she's been trying so hard to--to play the game, you know, in spite of all her troubles. And she--she cried, Jimmy, and begged me not to break her heart as--as mother did long ago. And--and Jimmy, I--I just couldn't, after all she's done for me."
There was a moment's pause; then, with a vivid red mounting to her forehead, Pollyanna spoke again, brokenly.
"Jimmy, if you--if you could only tell Aunt Polly something about--about your father, and your people, and--"
Jimmy's arms dropped suddenly. He stepped back a little. The color drained from his face.
"Is--that--it?" he asked.
"Yes." Pollyanna came nearer, and touched his arm timidly. "Don't think--It isn't for me, Jimmy. I don't care. Besides, I know that your father and your people were all--all fine and noble, because you are so fine and noble. But she--Jimmy, don't look at me like that!"
But Jimmy, with a low moan had turned quite away from her. A minute later, with only a few choking words, which she could not understand, he had left the house.
From the Harrington homestead Jimmy went straight home and sought out John Pendleton. He found him in the great crimson-hung library where, some years before, Pollyanna had looked fearfully about for the "skeleton in John Pendleton's closet."
"Uncle John, do you remember that packet father gave me?" demanded Jimmy.
"Why, yes. What's the matter, son?" John Pendleton had given a start of surprise at sight of Jimmy's face.
"That packet has got to be opened, sir."
"I can't help it. It's got to be. That's all. Will you do it?"
"Why, y-yes, my boy, of course, if you insist; but--" he paused helplessly.
"Uncle John, as perhaps you have guessed, I love Pollyanna. I asked her to be my wife, and she consented." The elder man made a delighted exclamation, but the other did not pause, or change his sternly intent expression. "She says now she can't--marry me. Mrs. Chilton objects. She objects to me."
"Objects to you!" John Pendleton's eyes flashed angrily.
"Yes. I found out why when--when Pollyanna begged if I couldn't tell her aunt something about--about my father and my people."
"Shucks! I thought Polly Chilton had more sense--still, it's just like her, after all. The Harringtons have always been inordinately proud of race and family," snapped John Pendleton. "Well, could you?"
"Could I! It was on the end of my tongue to tell Pollyanna that there couldn't have been a better father than mine was; then, suddenly, I remembered--the packet, and what it said. And I was afraid. I didn't dare say a word till I knew what was inside that packet. There's something dad didn't want me to know till I was thirty years old--when I would be a man grown, and could stand anything. See? There's a secret somewhere in our lives. I've got to know that secret, and I've got to know it now."
"But, Jimmy, lad, don't look so tragic. It may be a good secret. Perhaps it'll be something you'll like to know."
"Perhaps. But if it had been, would he have been apt to keep it from me till I was thirty years old? No! Uncle John, it was something he was trying to save me from till I was old enough to stand it and not flinch. Understand, I'm not blaming dad. Whatever it was, it was something he couldn't help, I'll warrant. But what it was I've got to know. Will you get it, please? It's in your safe, you know."
John Pendleton rose at once.
"I'll get it," he said. Three minutes later it lay in Jimmy's hand; but Jimmy held it out at once.
"I would rather you read it, sir, please. Then tell me."
"But, Jimmy, I--very well." With a decisive gesture John Pendleton picked up a paper-cutter, opened the envelope, and pulled out the contents. There was a package of several papers tied together, and one folded sheet alone, apparently a letter. This John Pendleton opened and read first. And as he read, Jimmy, tense and breathless, watched his face. He saw, therefore, the look of amazement, joy, and something else he could not name, that leaped into John Pendleton's countenance.
"Uncle John, what is it? What is it?" he demanded.
"Read it--for yourself," answered the man, thrusting the letter into Jimmy's outstretched hand. And Jimmy read this:
"The enclosed papers are the legal proof that my boy Jimmy is really James Kent, son of John Kent, who married Doris Wetherby, daughter of William Wetherby of Boston. There is also a letter in which I explain to my boy why I have kept him from his mother's family all these years. If this packet is opened by him at thirty years of age, he will read this letter, and I hope will forgive a father who feared to lose his boy entirely, so took this drastic course to keep him to himself. If it is opened by strangers, because of his death, I request that his mother's people in Boston be notified at once, and the inclosed package of papers be given, intact, into their hands.
Jimmy was pale and shaken when he looked up to meet John Pendleton's eyes.
"Am I--the lost--Jamie?" he faltered.
"That letter says you have documents there to prove it," nodded the other.
"Mrs. Carew's nephew?"
"But, why--what--I can't realize it!" There was a moment's pause before into Jimmy's face flashed a new joy. "Then, surely now I know who I am! I can tell--Mrs. Chilton something of my people."
"I should say you could," retorted John Pendleton, dryly. "The Boston Wetherbys can trace straight back to the crusades, and I don't know but to the year one. That ought to satisfy her. As for your father--he came of good stock, too, Mrs. Carew told me, though he was rather eccentric, and not pleasing to the family, as you know, of course."
"Yes. Poor dad! And what a life he must have lived with me all those years--always dreading pursuit. I can understand--lots of things, now, that used to puzzle me. A woman called me 'Jamie,' once. Jove! how angry he was! I know now why he hurried me away that night without even waiting for supper. Poor dad! It was right after that he was taken sick. He couldn't use his hands or his feet, and very soon he couldn't talk straight. Something ailed his speech. I remember when he died he was trying to tell me something about this packet. I believe now he was telling me to open it, and go to my mother's people; but I thought then he was just telling me to keep it safe. So that's what I promised him. But it didn't comfort him any. It only seemed to worry him more. You see, I didn't understand. Poor dad!"
"Suppose we take a look at these papers," suggested John Pendleton. "Besides, there's a letter from your father to you, I understand. Don't you want to read it?"
"Yes, of course. And then--" the young fellow laughed shamefacedly and glanced at the clock--"I was wondering just how soon I could go back--to Pollyanna."
A thoughtful frown came to John Pendleton's face. He glanced at Jimmy, hesitated, then spoke.
"I know you want to see Pollyanna, lad, and I don't blame you; but it strikes me that, under the circumstances, you should go first to--Mrs. Carew, and take these." He tapped the papers before him.
Jimmy drew his brows together and pondered.
"All right, sir, I will." he agreed resignedly.
"And if you don't mind, I'd like to go with you," further suggested John Pendleton, a little diffidently.
"I--I have a little matter of my own that I'd like to see--your aunt about. Suppose we go down today on the three o'clock?"
"Good! We will, sir. Gorry! And so I'm Jamie! I can't grasp it yet!" exclaimed the young man, springing to his feet, and restlessly moving about the room. "I wonder, now," he stopped, and colored boyishly, "do you think--Aunt Ruth--will mind--very much?"
John Pendleton shook his head. A hint of the old somberness came into his eyes.
"Hardly, my boy. But--I'm thinking of myself. How about it? When you're her boy, where am I coming in?"
"You! Do you think anything could put you one side?" scoffed Jimmy, fervently. "You needn't worry about that. And she won't mind. She has Jamie, you know, and--" He stopped short, a dawning dismay in his eyes. "By George! Uncle John, I forgot--Jamie. This is going to be tough on--Jamie!"
"Yes, I'd thought of that. Still, he's legally adopted, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes; it isn't that. It's the fact that he isn't the real Jamie himself--and he with his two poor useless legs! Why, Uncle John, it'll just about kill him. I've heard him talk. I know. Besides, Pollyanna and Mrs. Carew both have told me how he feels, how sure he is, and how happy he is. Great Scott! I can't take away from him this--But what can I do?" "I don't know, my boy. I don't see as there's anything you can do, but what you are doing."
There was a long silence. Jimmy had resumed his nervous pacing up and down the room. Suddenly he wheeled, his face alight.
"There is a way, and I'll do it. I know Mrs. Carew will agree. We won't tell! We won't tell anybody but Mrs. Carew herself, and--and Pollyanna and her aunt. I'll have to tell them," he added defensively.
"You certainly will, my boy. As for the rest--" John Pendleton paused doubtfully.
"It's nobody's business."
"But, remember, you are making quite a sacrifice--in several ways. I want you to weigh it well."
"Weigh it? I have weighed it, and there's nothing in it--with Jamie on the other side of the scales, sir. I just couldn't do it. That's all."
"I don't blame you, and I think you're right," declared John Pendleton heartily. "Furthermore, I believe Mrs. Carew will agree with you, particularly as she'll know now that the real Jamie is found at last."
"You know she's always said she'd seen me somewhere," chuckled Jimmy. "Now how soon does that train go? I'm ready."
"Well, I'm not," laughed John Pendleton. "Luckily for me it doesn't go for some hours yet, anyhow," he finished, as he got to his feet and left the room.