It was Nancy who was sent to tell Mr. John Pendleton of Dr. Mead's verdict. Miss Polly had remembered her promise to let him have direct information from the house. To go herself, or to write a letter, she felt to be almost equally out of the question. It occurred to her then to send Nancy.
There had been a time when Nancy would have rejoiced greatly at this extraordinary opportunity to see something of the House of Mystery and its master. But to-day her heart was too heavy to rejoice at anything. She scarcely even looked about her at all, indeed, during the few minutes she waited for Mr. John Pendleton to appear.
"I'm Nancy, sir," she said respectfully, in response to the surprised questioning of his eyes, when he came into the room. "Miss Harrington sent me to tell you about—Miss Pollyanna."
In spite of the curt terseness of the word, Nancy quite understood the anxiety that lay behind that short "well?"
"It ain't well, Mr. Pendleton," she choked.
"You don't mean—" He paused, and she bowed her head miserably.
"Yes, sir. He says—she can't walk again—never."
For a moment there was absolute silence in the room; then the man spoke, in a voice shaken with emotion.
Nancy glanced at him, but dropped her eyes at once. She had not supposed that sour, cross, stern John Pendleton could look like that. In a moment he spoke again, still in the low, unsteady voice.
"It seems cruel—never to dance in the sunshine again! My little prism girl!"
There was another silence; then, abruptly, the man asked:
"She herself doesn't know yet—of course—does she?"
"But she does, sir," sobbed Nancy; "an' that's what makes it all the harder. She found out—drat that cat! I begs yer pardon," apologized the girl, hurriedly. "It's only that the cat pushed open the door an' Miss Pollyanna overheard 'em talkin'. She found out—that way."
"Poor—little—girl!" sighed the man again.
"Yes, sir. You'd say so, sir if you could see her," choked Nancy. "I hain't seen her but twice since she knew about it, an' it done me up both times. Ye see it's all so fresh an' new to her, an' she keeps thinkin' all the time of new things she can't do—now. It worries her, too, 'cause she can't seem ter be glad—maybe you don't know about her game, though," broke off Nancy, apologetically.
"The 'glad game'?" asked the man. "Oh, yes; she told me of that."
"Oh, she did! Well, I guess she has told it generally ter most folks. But ye see, now she—she can't play it herself, an' it worries her. She says she can't think of a thing—not a thing about this not walkin' again, ter be glad about."
"Well, why should she?" retorted the man, almost savagely.
Nancy shifted her feet uneasily.
"That's the way I felt, too—till I happened ter think—it would be easier if she could find somethin', ye know. So I tried to—to remind her."
"To remind her! Of what?" John Pendleton's voice was still angrily impatient.
"Of—of how she told others ter play it—Mis' Snow, and the rest, ye know—and what she said for them ter do. But the poor little lamb just cries, an' says it don't seem the same, somehow. She says it's easy ter tell lifelong invalids how ter be glad, but 'tain't the same thing when you're the lifelong invalid yerself, an' have ter try ter do it. She says she's told herself over an' over again how glad she is that other folks ain't like her; but that all the time she's sayin' it, she ain't really thinkin' of anythin' only how she can't ever walk again."
Nancy paused, but the man did not speak. He sat with his hands over his eyes.
"Then I tried ter remind her how she used ter say the game was all the nicer ter play when—when it was hard," resumed Nancy, in a dull voice. "But she says that, too, is diff'rent—when it really is hard. An' I must be goin', now, sir," she broke off abruptly.
At the door she hesitated, turned, and asked timidly:
"I couldn't be tellin' Miss Pollyanna that—that you'd seen Jimmy Bean again, I s'pose, sir, could I?"
"I don't see how you could—as I haven't seen him," observed the man a little shortly. "Why?"
"Nothin', sir, only—well, ye see, that's one of the things that she was feelin' bad about, that she couldn't take him ter see you, now. She said she'd taken him once, but she didn't think he showed off very well that day, and that she was afraid you didn't think he would make a very nice child's presence, after all. Maybe you know what she means by that; but I didn't, sir."
"Yes, I know—what she means."
"All right, sir. It was only that she was wantin' ter take him again, she said, so's ter show ye he really was a lovely child's presence. And now she—can't!—drat that autymobile! I begs yer pardon, sir. Good-by!" And Nancy fled precipitately.
It did not take long for the entire town of Beldingsville to learn that the great New York doctor had said Pollyanna Whittier would never walk again; and certainly never before had the town been so stirred. Everybody knew by sight now the piquant little freckled face that had always a smile of greeting; and almost everybody knew of the "game" that Pollyanna was playing. To think that now never again would that smiling face be seen on their streets—never again would that cheery little voice proclaim the gladness of some everyday experience! It seemed unbelievable, impossible, cruel.
In kitchens and sitting rooms, and over back-yard fences women talked of it, and wept openly. On street corners and in store lounging-places the men talked, too, and wept—though not so openly. And neither the talking nor the weeping grew less when fast on the heels of the news itself, came Nancy's pitiful story that Pollyanna, face to face with what had come to her, was bemoaning most of all the fact that she could not play the game; that she could not now be glad over—anything.
It was then that the same thought must have, in some way, come to Pollyanna's friends. At all events, almost at once, the mistress of the Harrington homestead, greatly to her surprise, began to receive calls: calls from people she knew, and people she did not know; calls from men, women, and children—many of whom Miss Polly had not supposed that her niece knew at all.
Some came in and sat down for a stiff five or ten minutes. Some stood awkwardly on the porch steps, fumbling with hats or hand-bags, according to their sex. Some brought a book, a bunch of flowers, or a dainty to tempt the palate. Some cried frankly. Some turned their backs and blew their noses furiously. But all inquired very anxiously for the little injured girl; and all sent to her some message—and it was these messages which, after a time, stirred Miss Polly to action.
First came Mr. John Pendleton. He came without his crutches to-day.
"I don't need to tell you how shocked I am," he began almost harshly. "But can—nothing be done?"
Miss Polly gave a gesture of despair.
"Oh, we're 'doing,' of course, all the time. Dr. Mead prescribed certain treatments and medicines that might help, and Dr. Warren is carrying them out to the letter, of course. But—Dr. Mead held out almost no hope."
John Pendleton rose abruptly—though he had but just come. His face was white, and his mouth was set into stern lines. Miss Polly, looking at him, knew very well why he felt that he could not stay longer in her presence. At the door he turned.
"I have a message for Pollyanna," he said. "Will you tell her, please, that I have seen Jimmy Bean and—that he's going to be my boy hereafter. Tell her I thought she would be—glad to know. I shall adopt him, probably."
For a brief moment Miss Polly lost her usual well-bred self-control.
"You will adopt Jimmy Bean!" she gasped.
The man lifted his chin a little.
"Yes. I think Pollyanna will understand. You will tell her I thought she would be—glad?"
"Why, of—of course," faltered Miss Polly.
"Thank you," bowed John Pendleton, as he turned to go.
In the middle of the floor Miss Polly stood, silent and amazed, still looking after the man who had just left her. Even yet she could scarcely believe what her ears had heard. John Pendleton adopt Jimmy Bean? John Pendleton, wealthy, independent, morose, reputed to be miserly and supremely selfish, to adopt a little boy—and such a little boy?
With a somewhat dazed face Miss Polly went up-stairs to Pollyanna's room.
"Pollyanna, I have a message for you from Mr. John Pendleton. He has just been here. He says to tell you he has taken Jimmy Bean for his little boy. He said he thought you'd be glad to know it."
Pollyanna's wistful little face flamed into sudden joy.
"Glad? Glad? Well, I reckon I am glad! Oh, Aunt Polly, I've so wanted to find a place for Jimmy—and that's such a lovely place! Besides, I'm so glad for Mr. Pendleton, too. You see, now he'll have the child's presence."
Pollyanna colored painfully. She had forgotten that she had never told her aunt of Mr. Pendleton's desire to adopt her—and certainly she would not wish to tell her now that she had ever thought for a minute of leaving her—this dear Aunt Polly!
"The child's presence," stammered Pollyanna, hastily. "Mr. Pendleton told me once, you see, that only a woman's hand and heart or a child's presence could make a—a home. And now he's got it—the child's presence."
"Oh, I—see," said Miss Polly very gently; and she did see—more than Pollyanna realized. She saw something of the pressure that was probably brought to bear on Pollyanna herself at the time John Pendleton was asking her to be the "child's presence," which was to transform his great pile of gray stone into a home. "I see," she finished, her eyes stinging with sudden tears.
Pollyanna, fearful that her aunt might ask further embarrassing questions, hastened to lead the conversation away from the Pendleton house and its master.
"Dr. Chilton says so, too—that it takes a woman's hand and heart, or a child's presence, to make a home, you know," she remarked.
Miss Polly turned with a start.
"Dr. Chilton! How do you know—that?"
"He told me so. 'Twas when he said he lived in just rooms, you know—not a home."
Miss Polly did not answer. Her eyes were out the window.
"So I asked him why he didn't get 'em—a woman's hand and heart, and have a home."
"Pollyanna!" Miss Polly had turned sharply. Her cheeks showed a sudden color.
"Well, I did. He looked so—so sorrowful."
"What did he—say?" Miss Polly asked the question as if in spite of some force within her that was urging her not to ask it.
"He didn't say anything for a minute; then he said very low that you couldn't always get 'em for the asking."
There was a brief silence. Miss Polly's eyes had turned again to the window. Her cheeks were still unnaturally pink.
"He wants one, anyhow, I know, and I wish he could have one."
"Why, Pollyanna, how do you know?"
"Because, afterwards, on another day, he said something else. He said that low, too, but I heard him. He said that he'd give all the world if he did have one woman's hand and heart. Why, Aunt Polly, what's the matter?" Aunt Polly had risen hurriedly and gone to the window.
"Nothing, dear. I was changing the position of this prism," said Aunt Polly, whose whole face now was aflame.