It was just a week before Christmas that Pollyanna sent her story (now neatl_ypewritten) in for the contest. The prize-winners would not be announce_ntil April, the magazine notice said, so Pollyanna settled herself for th_ong wait with characteristic, philosophical patience.
"I don't know, anyhow, but I'm glad 'tis so long," she told herself, "for al_inter I can have the fun of thinking it may be the first one instead of on_f the others, that I'll get. I might just as well think I'm going to get it, then if I do get it, I won't have been unhappy any. While if I don't get it—_on't have had all these weeks of unhappiness beforehand, anyway; and I can b_lad for one of the smaller ones, then." That she might not get any prize wa_ot in Pollyanna's calculations at all. The story, so beautifully typed b_illy Snow, looked almost as good as printed already—to Pollyanna.
Christmas was not a happy time at the Harrington homestead that year, in spit_f Pollyanna's strenuous efforts to make it so. Aunt Polly refused absolutel_o allow any sort of celebration of the day, and made her attitude s_nmistakably plain that Pollyanna could not give even the simplest o_resents.
Christmas evening John Pendleton called. Mrs. Chilton excused herself, bu_ollyanna, utterly worn out from a long day with her aunt, welcomed hi_oyously. But even here she found a fly in the amber of her content; for Joh_endleton had brought with him a letter from Jimmy, and the letter was full o_othing but the plans he and Mrs. Carew were making for a wonderful Christma_elebration at the Home for Working Girls: and Pollyanna, ashamed though sh_as to own it to herself, was not in a mood to hear about Christma_elebrations just then—least of all, Jimmy's.
John Pendleton, however, was not ready to let the subject drop, even when th_etter had been read.
"Great doings—those!" he exclaimed, as he folded the letter.
"Yes, indeed; fine!" murmured Pollyanna, trying to speak with due enthusiasm.
"And it's to-night, too, isn't it? I'd like to drop in on them about now."
"Yes," murmured Pollyanna again, with still more careful enthusiasm.
"Mrs. Carew knew what she was about when she got Jimmy to help her, I fancy,"
chuckled the man. "But I'm wondering how Jimmy likes it—playing Santa Claus t_alf a hundred young women at once!"
"Why, he finds it delightful, of course!" Pollyanna lifted her chin ever s_lightly.
"Maybe. Still, it's a little different from learning to build bridges, yo_ust confess."
"But I'll risk Jimmy, and I'll risk wagering that those girls never had _etter time than he'll give them to-night, too."
"Y-yes, of course," stammered Pollyanna, trying to keep the hate_remulousness out of her voice, and trying very hard NOT to compare her ow_reary evening in Beldingsville with nobody but John Pendleton to that o_hose fifty girls in Boston—with Jimmy.
There was a brief pause, during which John Pendleton gazed dreamily at th_ancing fire on the hearth.
"She's a wonderful woman—Mrs. Carew is," he said at last.
"She is, indeed!" This time the enthusiasm in Pollyanna's voice was all pur_old.
"Jimmy's written me before something of what she's done for those girls," wen_n the man, still gazing into the fire. "In just the last letter before thi_e wrote a lot about it, and about her. He said he always admired her, bu_ever so much as now, when he can see what she really is."
"She's a dear—that's what Mrs. Carew is," declared Pollyanna, warmly. "She's _ear in every way, and I love her."
John Pendleton stirred suddenly. He turned to Pollyanna with an oddl_himsical look in his eyes.
"I know you do, my dear. For that matter, there may be others, too—that lov_er."
Pollyanna's heart skipped a beat. A sudden thought came to her with stunning, blinding force. JIMMY! Could John Pendleton be meaning that Jimmy cared THA_AY—for Mrs. Carew?
"You mean—?" she faltered. She could not finish.
With a nervous twitch peculiar to him, John Pendleton got to his feet.
"I mean—the girls, of course," he answered lightly, still with that whimsica_mile. "Don't you suppose those fifty girls—love her 'most to death?"
Pollyanna said "yes, of course," and murmured something else appropriate, i_nswer to John Pendleton's next remark. But her thoughts were in a tumult, an_he let the man do most of the talking for the rest of the evening.
Nor did John Pendleton seem averse to this. Restlessly he took a turn or tw_bout the room, then sat down in his old place. And when he spoke, it was o_is old subject, Mrs. Carew.
"Queer—about that Jamie of hers, isn't it? I wonder if he IS her nephew."
As Pollyanna did not answer, the man went on, after a moment's silence.
"He's a fine fellow, anyway. I like him. There's something fine and genuin_bout him. She's bound up in him. That's plain to be seen, whether he's reall_er kin or not."
There was—another pause, then, in a slightly altered voice, John Pendleto_aid:
"Still it's queer, too, when you come to think of it, that she never—marrie_gain. She is certainly now—a very beautiful woman. Don't you think so?"
"Yes—yes, indeed she is," plunged in Pollyanna, with precipitate haste; "a—_ery beautiful woman."
There was a little break at the last in Pollyanna's voice. Pollyanna, jus_hen, had caught sight of her own face in the mirror opposite—and Pollyanna t_erself was never "a very beautiful woman."
On and on rambled John Pendleton, musingly, contentedly, his eyes on the fire.
Whether he was answered or not seemed not to disturb him. Whether he was eve_istened to or not, he seemed hardly to know. He wanted, apparently, only t_alk; but at last he got to his feet reluctantly and said good-night.
For a weary half-hour Pollyanna had been longing for him to go, that she migh_e alone; but after he had gone she wished he were back. She had foun_uddenly that she did not want to be alone—with her thoughts.
It was wonderfully clear to Pollyanna now. There was no doubt of it. Jimm_ared for Mrs. Carew. That was why he was so moody and restless after sh_eft. That was why he had come so seldom to see her, Pollyanna, his ol_riend. That was why—
Countless little circumstances of the past summer flocked to Pollyanna'_emory now, mute witnesses that would not be denied.
And why should he not care for her? Mrs. Carew was certainly beautiful an_harming. True, she was older than Jimmy; but young men had married women fa_lder than she, many times. And if they loved each other—
Pollyanna cried herself to sleep that night.
In the morning, bravely she tried to face the thing. She even tried, with _earful smile, to put it to the test of the glad game. She was reminded the_f something Nancy had said to her years before: "If there IS a set o' folk_n the world that wouldn't have no use for that 'ere glad game o' your'n, it'_e a pair o' quarrellin' lovers!"
"Not that we're 'quarrelling,' or even 'lovers,'" thought Pollyann_lushingly; "but just the same I can be glad HE'S glad, and glad SHE'S glad, too, only—" Even to herself Pollyanna could not finish this sentence.
Being so sure now that Jimmy and Mrs. Carew cared for each other, Pollyann_ecame peculiarly sensitive to everything that tended to strengthen tha_elief. And being ever on the watch for it, she found it, as was to b_xpected. First in Mrs. Carew's letters.
"I am seeing a lot of your friend, young Pendleton," Mrs. Carew wrote one day;
"and I'm liking him more and more. I do wish, however—just for curiosity'_ake—that I could trace to its source that elusive feeling that I've seen hi_efore somewhere."
Frequently, after this, she mentioned him casually; and, to Pollyanna, in th_ery casualness of these references lay their sharpest sting; for it showed s_nmistakably that Jimmy and Jimmy's presence were now to Mrs. Carew a matte_f course. From other sources, too, Pollyanna found fuel for the fire of he_uspicions. More and more frequently John Pendleton "dropped in" with hi_tories of Jimmy, and of what Jimmy was doing; and always here there wa_ention of Mrs. Carew. Poor Pollyanna wondered, indeed, sometimes, if Joh_endleton could not talk of anything—but Mrs. Carew and Jimmy, so constantl_as one or the other of those names on his lips.
There were Sadie Dean's letters, too, and they told of Jimmy, and of what h_as doing to help Mrs. Carew. Even Jamie, who wrote occasionally, had his mit_o add, for he wrote one evening:
"It's ten o'clock. I'm sitting here alone waiting for Mrs. Carew to come home.
She and Pendleton have been to one of their usual socials down to the Home."
From Jimmy himself Pollyanna heard very rarely; and for that she told hersel_ournfully that she COULD be GLAD.
"For if he can't write about ANYTHING but Mrs. Carew and those girls, I'm gla_e doesn't write very often!" she sighed.