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- Pollyanna Grows Up - 20/47 -
get so sorry for them that I CAN'T be glad any longer. Of course we COULD be glad there were poor folks, because we could help them. But if we DON'T help them, where's the glad part of that coming in?" And to this Pollyanna could find no one who could give her a satisfactory answer.
Especially she asked this question of Mrs. Carew; and Mrs. Carew, still haunted by the visions of the Jamie that was, and the Jamie that might be, grew only more restless, more wretched, and more utterly despairing. Nor was she helped any by the approach of Christmas. Nowhere was there glow of holly or flash of tinsel that did not carry its pang to her; for always to Mrs. Carew it but symbolized a child's empty stocking--a stocking that might be--Jamie's.
Finally, a week before Christmas, she fought what she thought was the last battle with herself. Resolutely, but with no real joy in her face, she gave terse orders to Mary, and summoned Pollyanna.
"Pollyanna," she began, almost harshly, "I have decided to--to take Jamie. The car will be here at once. I'm going after him now, and bring him home. You may come with me if you like."
A great light transfigured Pollyanna's face.
"Oh, oh, oh, how glad I am!" she breathed. "Why, I'm so glad I--I want to cry! Mrs. Carew, why is it, when you're the very gladdest of anything, you always want to cry?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, Pollyanna," rejoined Mrs. Carew, abstractedly. On Mrs. Carew's face there was still no look of joy.
Once in the Murphys' little one-room tenement, it did not take Mrs. Carew long to tell her errand. In a few short sentences she told the story of the lost Jamie, and of her first hopes that this Jamie might be he. She made no secret of her doubts that he was the one; at the same time, she said she had decided to take him home with her and give him every possible advantage. Then, a little wearily, she told what were the plans she had made for him.
At the foot of the bed Mrs. Murphy listened, crying softly. Across the room Jerry Murphy, his eyes dilating, emitted an occasional low "Gee! Can ye beat that, now?" As to Jamie--Jamie, on the bed, had listened at first with the air of one to whom suddenly a door has opened into a longed-for paradise; but gradually, as Mrs. Carew talked, a new look came to his eyes. Very slowly he closed them, and turned away his face.
When Mrs. Carew ceased speaking there was a long silence before Jamie turned his head and answered. They saw then that his face was very white, and that his eyes were full of tears.
"Thank you, Mrs. Carew, but--I can't go," he said simply.
"You can't--what?" cried Mrs. Carew, as if she doubted the evidence of her own ears.
"Jamie!" gasped Pollyanna.
"Oh, come, kid, what's eatin' ye?" scowled Jerry, hurriedly coming forward. "Don't ye know a good thing when ye see it?"
"Yes; but I can't--go," said the crippled boy, again.
"But, Jamie, Jamie, think, THINK what it would mean to you!" quavered Mrs. Murphy, at the foot of the bed.
"I am a-thinkin'," choked Jamie. "Don't you suppose I know what I'm doin'--what I'm givin' up?" Then to Mrs. Carew he turned tear-wet eyes. "I can't," he faltered. "I can't let you do all that for me. If you--CARED it would be different. But you don't care--not really. You don't WANT me--not ME. You want the real Jamie, and I ain't the real Jamie. You don't think I am. I can see it in your face."
"I know. But--but--" began Mrs. Carew, helplessly.
"And it isn't as if--as if I was like other boys, and could walk, either," interrupted the cripple, feverishly. "You'd get tired of me in no time. And I'd see it comin'. I couldn't stand it--to be a burden like that. Of course, if you CARED--like mumsey here--" He threw out his hand, choked back a sob, then turned his head away again. "I'm not the Jamie you want. I--can't--go," he said. With the words his thin, boyish hand fell clenched till the knuckles showed white against the tattered old shawl that covered the bed.
There was a moment's breathless hush, then, very quietly, Mrs. Carew got to her feet. Her face was colorless; but there was that in it that silenced the sob that rose to Pollyanna's lips.
"Come, Pollyanna," was all she said.
"Well, if you ain't the fool limit!" babbled Jerry Murphy to the boy on the bed, as the door closed a moment later.
But the boy on the bed was crying very much as if the closing door had been the one that had led to paradise--and that had closed now forever.
FROM BEHIND A COUNTER
Mrs. Carew was very angry. To have brought herself to the point where she was willing to take this lame boy into her home, and then to have the lad calmly refuse to come, was unbearable. Mrs. Carew was not in the habit of having her invitations ignored, or her wishes scorned. Furthermore, now that she could not have the boy, she was conscious of an almost frantic terror lest he were, after all, the real Jamie. She knew then that her true reason for wanting him had been--not because she cared for him, not even because she wished to help him and make him happy--but because she hoped, by taking him, that she would ease her own mind, and forever silence that awful eternal questioning on her part: "What if he WERE her own Jamie?"
It certainly had not helped matters any that the boy had divined her state of mind, and had given as the reason for his refusal that she "did not care." To be sure, Mrs. Carew now very proudly told herself that she did not indeed "care," that he was NOT her sister's boy, and that she would "forget all about it."
But she did not forget all about it. However insistently she might disclaim responsibility and relationship, just as insistently responsibility and relationship thrust themselves upon her in the shape of panicky doubts; and however resolutely she turned her thoughts to other matters, just so resolutely visions of a wistful-eyed boy in a poverty-stricken room loomed always before her.
Then, too, there was Pollyanna. Clearly Pollyanna was not herself at all. In a most unPollyanna-like spirit she moped about the house, finding apparently no interest anywhere.
"Oh, no, I'm not sick," she would answer, when remonstrated with, and questioned.
"But what IS the trouble?"
"Why, nothing. It--it's only that I was thinking of Jamie, you know,--how HE hasn't got all these beautiful things--carpets, and pictures, and curtains."
It was the same with her food. Pollyanna was actually losing her appetite; but here again she disclaimed sickness.
"Oh, no," she would sigh mournfully. "It's just that I don't seem hungry. Some way, just as soon as I begin to eat, I think of Jamie, and how HE doesn't have only old doughnuts and dry rolls; and then I--I don't want anything."
Mrs. Carew, spurred by a feeling that she herself only dimly understood, and recklessly determined to bring about some change in Pollyanna at all costs, ordered a huge tree, two dozen wreaths, and quantities of holly and Christmas baubles. For the first time in many years the house was aflame and aglitter with scarlet and tinsel. There was even to be a Christmas party, for Mrs. Carew had told Pollyanna to invite half a dozen of her schoolgirl friends for the tree on Christmas Eve.
But even here Mrs. Carew met with disappointment; for, though Pollyanna was always grateful, and at times interested and even excited, she still carried frequently a sober little face. And in the end the Christmas party was more of a sorrow than a joy; for the first glimpse of the glittering tree sent her into a storm of sobs.
"Why, Pollyanna!" ejaculated Mrs. Carew. "What in the world is the matter now?"
"N-n-nothing," wept Pollyanna. "It's only that it's so perfectly, perfectly beautiful that I just had to cry. I was thinking how Jamie would love to see it."
It was then that Mrs. Carew's patience snapped.
"'Jamie, Jamie, Jamie'!" she exclaimed. "Pollyanna, CAN'T you stop talking about that boy? You know perfectly well that it is not my fault that he is not here. I asked him to come here to live. Besides, where is that glad game of yours? I think it would be an excellent idea if you would play it on this."
"I AM playing it," quavered Pollyanna. "And that's what I don't understand. I never knew it to act so funny. Why, before, when I've been glad about things, I've been happy. But now, about Jamie--I'm so glad I've got carpets and pictures and nice things to eat, and that I can walk and run, and go to school, and all that; but the harder I'm glad for myself, the sorrier I am for him. I never knew the game to act so funny, and I don't know what ails it. Do you?"
But Mrs. Carew, with a despairing gesture, merely turned away without a word.
It was the day after Christmas that something so wonderful happened that Pollyanna, for a time, almost forgot Jamie. Mrs. Carew had taken her shopping, and it was while Mrs. Carew was trying to decide between a duchesse-lace and a point-lace collar, that Pollyanna chanced to spy farther down the counter a face that looked vaguely familiar. For a moment she regarded it frowningly; then, with a little cry, she ran down the aisle.
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