"JUST LIKE A BOOK"
John Pendleton greeted Pollyanna to-day with a smile.
"Well, Miss Pollyanna, I'm thinking you must be a very forgiving little person, else you wouldn't have come to see me again to-day."
"Why, Mr. Pendleton, I was real glad to come, and I'm sure I don't see why I shouldn't be, either."
"Oh, well, you know, I was pretty cross with you, I'm afraid, both the other day when you so kindly brought me the jelly, and that time when you found me with the broken leg at first. By the way, too, I don't think I've ever thanked you for that. Now I'm sure that even you would admit that you were very forgiving to come and see me, after such ungrateful treatment as that!"
Pollyanna stirred uneasily.
"But I was glad to find you—that is, I don't mean I was glad your leg was broken, of course," she corrected hurriedly.
John Pendleton smiled.
"I understand. Your tongue does get away with you once in a while, doesn't it, Miss Pollyanna? I do thank you, however; and I consider you a very brave little girl to do what you did that day. I thank you for the jelly, too," he added in a lighter voice.
"Did you like it?" asked Pollyanna with interest.
"Very much. I suppose—there isn't any more to-day that—that Aunt Polly didn't send, is there?" he asked with an odd smile.
His visitor looked distressed.
"N-no, sir." She hesitated, then went on with heightened color. "Please, Mr. Pendleton, I didn't mean to be rude the other day when I said Aunt Polly did not send the jelly."
There was no answer. John Pendleton was not smiling now. He was looking straight ahead of him with eyes that seemed to be gazing through and beyond the object before them. After a time he drew a long sigh and turned to Pollyanna. When he spoke his voice carried the old nervous fretfulness.
"Well, well, this will never do at all! I didn't send for you to see me moping this time. Listen! Out in the library—the big room where the telephone is, you know—you will find a carved box on the lower shelf of the big case with glass doors in the corner not far from the fireplace. That is, it'll be there if that confounded woman hasn't 'regulated' it to somewhere else! You may bring it to me. It is heavy, but not too heavy for you to carry, I think."
"Oh, I'm awfully strong," declared Pollyanna, cheerfully, as she sprang to her feet. In a minute she had returned with the box.
It was a wonderful half-hour that Pollyanna spent then. The box was full of treasures—curios that John Pendleton had picked up in years of travel—and concerning each there was some entertaining story, whether it were a set of exquisitely carved chessmen from China, or a little jade idol from India.
It was after she had heard the story about the idol that Pollyanna murmured wistfully:
"Well, I suppose it would be better to take a little boy in India to bring up—one that didn't know any more than to think that God was in that doll-thing—than it would be to take Jimmy Bean, a little boy who knows God is up in the sky. Still, I can't help wishing they had wanted Jimmy Bean, too, besides the India boys."
John Pendleton did not seem to hear. Again his eyes were staring straight before him, looking at nothing. But soon he had roused himself, and had picked up another curio to talk about.
The visit, certainly, was a delightful one, but before it was over, Pollyanna was realizing that they were talking about something besides the wonderful things in the beautiful carved box. They were talking of herself, of Nancy, of Aunt Polly, and of her daily life. They were talking, too, even of the life and home long ago in the far Western town.
Not until it was nearly time for her to go, did the man say, in a voice Pollyanna had never before heard from stern John Pendleton:
"Little girl, I want you to come to see me often. Will you? I'm lonesome, and I need you. There's another reason—and I'm going to tell you that, too. I thought, at first, after I found out who you were, the other day, that I didn't want you to come any more. You reminded me of—of something I have tried for long years to forget. So I said to myself that I never wanted to see you again; and every day, when the doctor asked if I wouldn't let him bring you to me, I said no.
"But after a time I found I was wanting to see you so much that—that the fact that I wasn't seeing you was making me remember all the more vividly the thing I was so wanting to forget. So now I want you to come. Will you—little girl?"
"Why, yes, Mr. Pendleton," breathed Pollyanna, her eyes luminous with sympathy for the sad-faced man lying back on the pillow before her. "I'd love to come!"
"Thank you," said John Pendleton, gently.
After supper that evening, Pollyanna, sitting on the back porch, told Nancy all about Mr. John Pendleton's wonderful carved box, and the still more wonderful things it contained.
"And ter think," sighed Nancy, "that he showed ye all them things, and told ye about 'em like that—him that's so cross he never talks ter no one—no one!"
"Oh, but he isn't cross, Nancy, only outside," demurred Pollyanna, with quick loyalty. "I don't see why everybody thinks he's so bad, either. They wouldn't, if they knew him. But even Aunt Polly doesn't like him very well. She wouldn't send the jelly to him, you know, and she was so afraid he'd think she did send it!"
"Probably she didn't call him no duty," shrugged Nancy. "But what beats me is how he happened ter take ter you so, Miss Pollyanna—meanin' no offence ter you, of course—but he ain't the sort o' man what gen'rally takes ter kids; he ain't, he ain't."
Pollyanna smiled happily.
"But he did, Nancy," she nodded, "only I reckon even he didn't want to—all the time. Why, only to-day he owned up that one time he just felt he never wanted to see me again, because I reminded him of something he wanted to forget. But afterwards—"
"What's that?" interrupted Nancy, excitedly. "He said you reminded him of something he wanted to forget?"
"Yes. But afterwards—"
"What was it?" Nancy was eagerly insistent.
"He didn't tell me. He just said it was something."
"The mystery!" breathed Nancy, in an awe-struck voice. "That's why he took to you in the first place. Oh, Miss Pollyanna! Why, that's just like a book—I've read lots of 'em; 'Lady Maud's Secret,' and 'The Lost Heir', and 'Hidden for Years'—all of 'em had mysteries and things just like this. My stars and stockings! Just think of havin' a book lived right under yer nose like this—an' me not knowin' it all this time! Now tell me everythin'—everythin' he said, Miss Pollyanna, there's a dear! No wonder he took ter you; no wonder—no wonder!"
"But he didn't," cried Pollyanna, "not till I talked to him, first. And he didn't even know who I was till I took the calf's-foot jelly, and had to make him understand that Aunt Polly didn't send it, and—"
Nancy sprang to her feet and clasped her hands together suddenly.
"Oh, Miss Pollyanna, I know, I know—I know, I know!" she exulted rapturously. The next minute she was down at Pollyanna's side again. "Tell me—now think, and answer straight and true," she urged excitedly. "It was after he found out you was Miss Polly's niece that he said he didn't ever want ter see ye again, wa'n't it?"
"Oh, yes. I told him that the last time I saw him, and he told me this to-day."
"I thought as much," triumphed Nancy. "And Miss Polly wouldn't send the jelly herself, would she?"
"And you told him she didn't send it?"
"Why, yes; I—"
"And he began ter act queer and cry out sudden after he found out you was her niece. He did that, didn't he?"
"Why, y-yes; he did act a little queer—over that jelly," admitted Pollyanna, with a thoughtful frown.
Nancy drew a long sigh.
"Then I've got it, sure! Now listen. Mr. John Pendleton was Miss Polly Harrington's lover!" she announced impressively, but with a furtive glance over her shoulder.
"Why, Nancy, he couldn't be! She doesn't like him," objected Pollyanna.
Nancy gave her a scornful glance.
"Of course she don't! That's the quarrel!"
Pollyanna still looked incredulous, and with another long breath Nancy happily settled herself to tell the story.
"It's like this. Just before you come, Mr. Tom told me Miss Polly had had a lover once. I didn't believe it. I couldn't—her and a lover! But Mr. Tom said she had, and that he was livin' now right in this town. And now I know, of course. It's John Pendleton. Hain't he got a mystery in his life? Don't he shut himself up in that grand house alone, and never speak ter no one? Didn't he act queer when he found out you was Miss Polly's niece? And now hain't he owned up that you remind him of somethin' he wants ter forget? Just as if anybody couldn't see 'twas Miss Polly!—an' her sayin' she wouldn't send him no jelly, too. Why, Miss Pollyanna, it's as plain as the nose on yer face; it is, it is!"
"Oh-h!" breathed Pollyanna, in wide-eyed amazement. "But, Nancy, I should think if they loved each other they'd make up some time. Both of 'em all alone, so, all these years. I should think they'd be glad to make up!"
Nancy sniffed disdainfully.
"I guess maybe you don't know much about lovers, Miss Pollyanna. You ain't big enough yet, anyhow. But 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; and that's what they be. Ain't he cross as sticks, most gen'rally?—and ain't she—"
Nancy stopped abruptly, remembering just in time to whom, and about whom, she was speaking. Suddenly, however, she chuckled.
"I ain't sayin', though, Miss Pollyanna, but what it would be a pretty slick piece of business if you could get 'em ter playin' it—so they would be glad ter make up. But, my land! wouldn't folks stare some—Miss Polly and him! I guess, though, there ain't much chance, much chance!"
Pollyanna said nothing; but when she went into the house a little later, her face was very thoughtful.