IN PENDLETON WOODS
Pollyanna had not turned her steps toward home, when she left the chapel. She had turned them, instead, toward Pendleton Hill. It had been a hard day, for all it had been a "vacation one" (as she termed the infrequent days when there was no sewing or cooking lesson), and Pollyanna was sure that nothing would do her quite so much good as a walk through the green quiet of Pendleton Woods. Up Pendleton Hill, therefore, she climbed steadily, in spite of the warm sun on her back.
"I don't have to get home till half-past five, anyway," she was telling herself; "and it'll be so much nicer to go around by the way of the woods, even if I do have to climb to get there."
It was very beautiful in the Pendleton Woods, as Pollyanna knew by experience. But to-day it seemed even more delightful than ever, notwithstanding her disappointment over what she must tell Jimmy Bean to-morrow.
"I wish they were up here—all those ladies who talked so loud," sighed Pollyanna to herself, raising her eyes to the patches of vivid blue between the sunlit green of the tree-tops. "Anyhow, if they were up here, I just reckon they'd change and take Jimmy Bean for their little boy, all right," she finished, secure in her conviction, but unable to give a reason for it, even to herself.
Suddenly Pollyanna lifted her head and listened. A dog had barked some distance ahead. A moment later he came dashing toward her, still barking.
"Hullo, doggie—hullo!" Pollyanna snapped her fingers at the dog and looked expectantly down the path. She had seen the dog once before, she was sure. He had been then with the Man, Mr. John Pendleton. She was looking now, hoping to see him. For some minutes she watched eagerly, but he did not appear. Then she turned her attention toward the dog.
The dog, as even Pollyanna could see, was acting strangely. He was still barking—giving little short, sharp yelps, as if of alarm. He was running back and forth, too, in the path ahead. Soon they reached a side path, and down this the little dog fairly flew, only to come back at once, whining and barking.
"Ho! That isn't the way home," laughed Pollyanna, still keeping to the main path.
The little dog seemed frantic now. Back and forth, back and forth, between Pollyanna and the side path he vibrated, barking and whining pitifully. Every quiver of his little brown body, and every glance from his beseeching brown eyes were eloquent with appeal—so eloquent that at last Pollyanna understood, turned, and followed him.
Straight ahead, now, the little dog dashed madly; and it was not long before Pollyanna came upon the reason for it all: a man lying motionless at the foot of a steep, overhanging mass of rock a few yards from the side path.
A twig cracked sharply under Pollyanna's foot, and the man turned his head. With a cry of dismay Pollyanna ran to his side.
"Mr. Pendleton! Oh, are you hurt?"
"Hurt? Oh, no! I'm just taking a siesta in the sunshine," snapped the man irritably. "See here, how much do you know? What can you do? Have you got any sense?"
Pollyanna caught her breath with a little gasp, but—as was her habit—she answered the questions literally, one by one.
"Why, Mr. Pendleton, I—I don't know so very much, and I can't do a great many things; but most of the Ladies' Aiders, except Mrs. Rawson, said I had real good sense. I heard 'em say so one day—they didn't know I heard, though."
The man smiled grimly.
"There, there, child, I beg your pardon, I'm sure; it's only this confounded leg of mine. Now listen." He paused, and with some difficulty reached his hand into his trousers pocket and brought out a bunch of keys, singling out one between his thumb and forefinger. "Straight through the path there, about five minutes' walk, is my house. This key will admit you to the side door under the porte-cochère. Do you know what a porte-cochère is?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Auntie has one with a sun parlor over it. That's the roof I slept on—only I didn't sleep, you know. They found me."
"Eh? Oh! Well, when you get into the house, go straight through the vestibule and hall to the door at the end. On the big, flat-topped desk in the middle of the room you'll find a telephone. Do you know how to use a telephone?"
"Oh, yes, sir! Why, once when Aunt Polly—"
"Never mind Aunt Polly now," cut in the man scowlingly, as he tried to move himself a little. "Hunt up Dr. Thomas Chilton's number on the card you'll find somewhere around there—it ought to be on the hook down at the side, but it probably won't be. You know a telephone card, I suppose, when you see one!"
"Oh, yes, sir! I just love Aunt Polly's. There's such a lot of queer names, and—"
"Tell Dr. Chilton that John Pendleton is at the foot of Little Eagle Ledge in Pendleton Woods with a broken leg, and to come at once with a stretcher and two men. He'll know what to do besides that. Tell him to come by the path from the house."
"A broken leg? Oh, Mr. Pendleton, how perfectly awful!" shuddered Pollyanna. "But I'm so glad I came! Can't I do—"
"Yes, you can—but evidently you won't! Will you go and do what I ask and stop talking," moaned the man, faintly. And, with a little sobbing cry, Pollyanna went.
Pollyanna did not stop now to look up at the patches of blue between the sunlit tops of the trees. She kept her eyes on the ground to make sure that no twig nor stone tripped her hurrying feet.
It was not long before she came in sight of the house. She had seen it before, though never so near as this. She was almost frightened now at the massiveness of the great pile of gray stone with its pillared verandas and its imposing entrance. Pausing only a moment, however, she sped across the big neglected lawn and around the house to the side door under the porte-cochère. Her fingers, stiff from their tight clutch upon the keys, were anything but skilful in their efforts to turn the bolt in the lock; but at last the heavy, carved door swung slowly back on its hinges.
Pollyanna caught her breath. In spite of her feeling of haste, she paused a moment and looked fearfully through the vestibule to the wide, sombre hall beyond, her thoughts in a whirl. This was John Pendleton's house; the house of mystery; the house into which no one but its master entered; the house which sheltered, somewhere—a skeleton. Yet she, Pollyanna, was expected to enter alone these fearsome rooms, and telephone the doctor that the master of the house lay now—
With a little cry Pollyanna, looking neither to the right nor the left, fairly ran through the hall to the door at the end and opened it.
The room was large, and sombre with dark woods and hangings like the hall; but through the west window the sun threw a long shaft of gold across the floor, gleamed dully on the tarnished brass andirons in the fireplace, and touched the nickel of the telephone on the great desk in the middle of the room. It was toward this desk that Pollyanna hurriedly tiptoed.
The telephone card was not on its hook; it was on the floor. But Pollyanna found it, and ran her shaking forefinger down through the C's to "Chilton." In due time she had Dr. Chilton himself at the other end of the wires, and was tremblingly delivering her message and answering the doctor's terse, pertinent questions. This done, she hung up the receiver and drew a long breath of relief.
Only a brief glance did Pollyanna give about her; then, with a confused vision in her eyes of crimson draperies, book-lined walls, a littered floor, an untidy desk, innumerable closed doors (any one of which might conceal a skeleton), and everywhere dust, dust, dust, she fled back through the hall to the great carved door, still half open as she had left it.
In what seemed, even to the injured man, an incredibly short time, Pollyanna was back in the woods at the man's side.
"Well, what is the trouble? Couldn't you get in?" he demanded.
Pollyanna opened wide her eyes.
"Why, of course I could! I'm here," she answered. "As if I'd be here if I hadn't got in! And the doctor will be right up just as soon as possible with the men and things. He said he knew just where you were, so I didn't stay to show him. I wanted to be with you."
"Did you?" smiled the man, grimly. "Well, I can't say I admire your taste. I should think you might find pleasanter companions."
"Do you mean—because you're so—cross?"
"Thanks for your frankness. Yes."
Pollyanna laughed softly.
"But you're only cross outside—you aren't cross inside a bit!"
"Indeed! How do you know that?" asked the man, trying to change the position of his head without moving the rest of his body.
"Oh, lots of ways; there—like that—the way you act with the dog," she added, pointing to the long, slender hand that rested on the dog's sleek head near him. "It's funny how dogs and cats know the insides of folks better than other folks do, isn't it? Say, I'm going to hold your head," she finished abruptly.
The man winced several times and groaned once softly while the change was being made; but in the end he found Pollyanna's lap a very welcome substitute for the rocky hollow in which his head had lain before.
"Well, that is—better," he murmured faintly.
He did not speak again for some time. Pollyanna, watching his face, wondered if he were asleep. She did not think he was. He looked as if his lips were tight shut to keep back moans of pain. Pollyanna herself almost cried aloud as she looked at his great, strong body lying there so helpless. One hand, with fingers tightly clenched, lay outflung, motionless. The other, limply open, lay on the dog's head. The dog, his wistful, eager eyes on his master's face, was motionless, too.
Minute by minute the time passed. The sun dropped lower in the west and the shadows grew deeper under the trees. Pollyanna sat so still she hardly seemed to breathe. A bird alighted fearlessly within reach of her hand, and a squirrel whisked his bushy tail on a tree-branch almost under her nose—yet with his bright little eyes all the while on the motionless dog.
At last the dog pricked up his ears and whined softly; then he gave a short, sharp bark. The next moment Pollyanna heard voices, and very soon their owners appeared—three men carrying a stretcher and various other articles.
The tallest of the party—a smooth-shaven, kind-eyed man whom Pollyanna knew by sight as "Dr. Chilton"—advanced cheerily.
"Well, my little lady, playing nurse?"
"Oh, no, sir," smiled Pollyanna. "I've only held his head—I haven't given him a mite of medicine. But I'm glad I was here."
"So am I," nodded the doctor, as he turned his absorbed attention to the injured man.