Pollyanna Grows Up/Chapter 24
JIMMY WAKES UP
Outwardly the camping trip was pronounced a great success; but inwardly—
Pollyanna wondered sometimes if it were all herself, or if there really were a peculiar, indefinable constraint in everybody with everybody else. Certainly she felt it, and she thought she saw evidences that the others felt it, too. As for the cause of it all—unhesitatingly she attributed it to that last day at camp with its unfortunate trip to the Basin.
To be sure, she and Jimmy had easily caught up with Jamie, and had, after considerable coaxing, persuaded him to turn about and go on to the Basin with them. But, in spite of everybody's very evident efforts to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, nobody really succeeded in doing so. Pollyanna, Jamie, and Jimmy overdid their gayety a bit, perhaps; and the others, while not knowing exactly what had happened, very evidently felt that something was not quite right, though they plainly tried to hide the fact that they did feel so. Naturally, in this state of affairs, restful happiness was out of the question. Even the anticipated fish dinner was flavorless; and early in the afternoon the start was made back to the camp.
Once home again, Pollyanna had hoped that the unhappy episode of the angry bull would be forgotten. But she could not forget it, so in all fairness she could not blame the others if they could not. Always she thought of it now when she looked at Jamie. She saw again the agony on his face, the crimson stain on the palms of his hands. Her heart ached for him, and because it did so ache, his mere presence had come to be a pain to her. Remorsefully she confessed to herself that she did not like to be with Jamie now, nor to talk with him — but that did not mean that she was not often with him. She was with him, indeed, much oftener than before, for so remorseful was she, and so fearful was she that he would detect her unhappy frame of mind, that she lost no opportunity of responding to his overtures of comradeship; and sometimes she deliberately sought him out. This last she did not often have to do, however, for more and more frequently these days Jamie seemed to be turning to her for companionship.
The reason for this, Pollyanna believed, was to be found in this same incident of the bull and the rescue. Not that Jamie ever referred to it directly. He never did that. He was, too, even gayer than usual; but Pollyanna thought she detected sometimes a bitterness underneath it all that was never there before. Certainly she could not help seeing that at times he seemed almost to want to avoid the others, and that he actually sighed, as if with relief, when he found himself alone with her. She thought she knew why this was so, after he said to her, as he did say one day, while they were watching the others play tennis:
"You see, after all, Pollyanna, there isn't any one who can quite understand as you can."
"'Understand'?" Pollyanna had not known what he meant at first. They had been watching the players for five minutes without a word between them.
"Yes; for you, once—couldn't walk—yourself."
"Oh-h, yes, I know," faltered Pollyanna; and she knew that her great distress must have shown in her face, for so quickly and so blithely did he change the subject, after a laughing:
"Come, come, Pollyanna, why don't you tell me to play the game? I would if I were in your place. Forget it, please. I was a brute to make you look like that!"
And Pollyanna smiled, and said: "No, no—no, indeed!" But she did not "forget it." She could not. And it all made her only the more anxious to be with Jamie and help him all she could.
"As if now I'd ever let him see that I was ever anything but glad when he was with me!" she thought fervently, as she hurried forward a minute later to take her turn in the game.
Pollyanna, however, was not the only one in the party who felt a new awkwardness and constraint. Jimmy Pendleton felt it, though he, too, tried not to show it.
Jimmy was not happy these days. From a care-free youth whose visions were of wonderful spans across hitherto unbridgeable chasms, he has come to be an anxious-eyed young man whose visions were of a feared rival bearing away the girl he loved.
Jimmy knew very well now that he was in love with Pollyanna. He suspected that he had been in love with her for some time. He stood aghast, indeed, to find himself so shaken and powerless before this thing that had come to him. He knew that even his beloved bridges were as nothing when weighed against the smile in a girl's eyes and the word on a girl's lips. He realized that the most wonderful span in the world to him would be the thing that could help him to cross the chasm of fear and doubt that he felt lay between him and Pollyanna—doubt because of Pollyanna; fear because of Jamie.
Not until he had seen Pollyanna in jeopardy that day in the pasture had he realized how empty would be the world—his world—without her. Not until his wild dash for safety with Pollyanna in his arms had he realized how precious she was to him. For a moment, indeed, with his arms about her, and hers clinging about his neck, he had felt that she was indeed his; and even in that supreme moment of danger he knew the thrill of supreme bliss. Then, a little later, he had seen Jamie's face, and Jamie's hands. To him they could mean but one thing: Jamie, too, loved Pollyanna, and Jamie had to stand by, helpless—"tied to two sticks." That was what he had said. Jimmy believed that, had he himself been obliged to stand by helpless, "tied to two sticks," while another rescued the girl that he loved, he would have looked like that.
Jimmy had gone back to camp that day with his thoughts in a turmoil of fear and rebellion. He wondered if Pollyanna cared for Jamie; that was where the fear came in. But even if she did care, a little, must he stand aside, weakly, and let Jamie, without a struggle, make her learn to care more? That was where the rebellion came in. Indeed, no, he would not do it, decided Jimmy. It should be a fair fight between them.
Then, all by himself as he was, Jimmy flushed hot to the roots of his hair. Would it be a "fair" fight? Could any fight between him and Jamie be a "fair" fight? Jimmy felt suddenly as he had felt years before when, as a lad, he had challenged a new boy to a fight for an apple they both claimed, then, at the first blow, had discovered that the new boy had a crippled arm. He had purposely lost then, of course, and had let the crippled boy win. But he told himself fiercely now that this case was different. It was no apple that was at stake. It was his life's happiness. It might even be Pollyanna's life's happiness, too. Perhaps she did not care for Jamie at all, but would care for her old friend, Jimmy, if he but once showed her he wanted her to care. And he would show her. He would—
Once again Jimmy blushed hotly. But he frowned, too, angrily: if only he could forget how Jamie had looked when he had uttered that moaning "tied to two sticks!" If only— But what was the use? It was not a fair fight, and he knew it. He knew, too, right there and then, that his decision would be just what it afterwards proved to be: he would watch and wait. He would give Jamie his chance; and if Pollyanna showed that she cared, he would take himself off and away quite out of their lives; and they should never know, either of them, how bitterly he was suffering. He would go back to his bridges—as if any bridge, though it led to the moon itself, could compare for a moment with Pollyanna! But he would do it. He must do it.
It was all very fine and heroic, and Jimmy felt so exalted he was atingle with something that was almost happiness when he finally dropped off to sleep that night. But martyrdom in theory and practice differs woefully, as would-be martyrs have found out from time immemorial. It was all very well to decide alone and in the dark that he would give Jamie his chance; but it was quite another matter really to do it when it involved nothing less than the leaving of Pollyanna and Jamie together almost every time he saw them. Then, too, he was very much worried at Pollyanna's apparent attitude toward the lame youth. It looked very much to Jimmy as if she did indeed care for him, so watchful was she of his comfort, so apparently eager to be with him. Then, as if to settle any possible doubt in Jimmy's mind, there came the day when Sadie Dean had something to say on the subject.
They were all out in the tennis court. Sadie was sitting alone when Jimmy strolled up to her.
"You next with Pollyanna, isn't it?" he queried.
She shook her head.
"Pollyanna isn't playing any more this morning."
"Isn't playing!" frowned Jimmy, who had been counting on his own game with Pollyanna. "Why not?"
For a brief minute Sadie Dean did not answer; then with very evident difficulty she said:
"Pollyanna told me last night that she thought we were playing tennis too much; that it wasn't kind to—Mr. Carew, as long as he can't play."
"I know; but—" Jimmy stopped helplessly, the frown plowing a deeper furrow into his forehead. The next instant he fairly started with surprise at the tense something in Sadie Dean's voice, as she said:
"But he doesn't want her to stop. He doesn't want any one of us to make any difference—for him. It's that that hurts him so. She doesn't understand. She doesn't understand! But I do. She thinks she does, though!"
Something in words or manner sent a sudden pang to Jimmy's heart. He threw a sharp look into her face. A question flew to his lips. For a moment he held it back; then, trying to hide his earnestness with a bantering smile, he let it come.
"Why, Miss Dean, you don't mean to convey the idea that—that there's any special interest in each other—between those two, do you?"
She gave him a scornful glance.
"Where have your eyes been? She worships him! I mean—they worship each other," she corrected hastily.
Jimmy, with an inarticulate ejaculation, turned and walked away abruptly. He could not trust himself to remain longer. He did not wish to talk any more, just then, to Sadie Dean. So abruptly, indeed, did he turn, that he did not notice that Sadie Dean, too, turned hurriedly, and busied herself looking in the grass at her feet, as if she had lost something. Very evidently, Sadie Dean, also, did not wish to talk any more just then.
Jimmy Pendleton told himself that it was not true at all; that it was all, what Sadie Dean had said. Yet nevertheless, true or not true, he could not forget it. It colored all his thoughts thereafter, and loomed before his eyes like a shadow whenever he saw Pollyanna and Jamie together. He watched their faces covertly. He listened to the tones of their voices. He came then, in time, to think it was, after all, true: that they did worship each other; and his heart, in consequence, grew like lead within him. True to his promise to himself, however, he turned resolutely away. The die was cast, he told himself. Pollyanna was not to be for him.
Restless days for Jimmy followed. To stay away from the Harrington homestead entirely he did not dare, lest his secret be suspected. To be with Pollyanna at all now was torture. Even to be with Sadie Dean was unpleasant, for he could not forget that it was Sadie Dean who had finally opened his eyes. Jamie, certainly, was no haven of refuge, under the circumstances; and that left only Mrs. Carew. Mrs. Carew, however, was a host in herself, and Jimmy found his only comfort these days in her society. Gay or grave, she always seemed to know how to fit his mood exactly; and it was wonderful how much she knew about bridges—the kind of bridges he was going to build. She was so wise, too, and so sympathetic, knowing always just the right word to say. He even one day almost told her about The Packet; but John Pendleton interrupted them at just the wrong moment, so the story was not told. John Pendleton was always interrupting them at just the wrong moment, Jimmy thought vexedly, sometimes. Then, when he remembered what John Pendleton had done for him, he was ashamed.
"The Packet" was a thing that dated back to Jimmy's boyhood, and had never been mentioned to any one save to John Pendleton, and that only once, at the time of his adoption. The Packet was nothing but rather a large white envelope, worn with time, and plump with mystery behind a huge red seal. It had been given him by his father, and it bore the following instructions in his father's hand:
"To my boy, Jimmy. Not to be opened until his thirtieth birthday except in case of his death, when it shall be opened at once."
There were times when Jimmy speculated a good deal as to the contents of that envelope. There were other times when he forgot its existence. In the old days, at the Orphans' Home, his chief terror had been that it should be discovered and taken away from him. In those days he wore it always hidden in the lining of his coat. Of late years, at John Pendleton's suggestion, it had been tucked away in the Pendleton safe.
"For there's no knowing how valuable it may be," John Pendleton had said, with a smile. "And, anyway, your father evidently wanted you to have it, and we wouldn't want to run the risk of losing it."
"No, I wouldn't want to lose it, of course," Jimmy had smiled back, a little soberly. "But I'm not counting on its being real valuable, sir. Poor dad didn't have anything that was very valuable about him, as I remember."
It was this Packet that Jimmy came so near mentioning to Mrs. Carew one day,—if only John Pendleton had not interrupted them.
"Still, maybe it's just as well I didn't tell her about it," Jimmy reflected afterwards, on his way home. "She might have thought dad had something in his life that wasn't quite—right. And I wouldn't have wanted her to think that—of dad."