The matter of repairs and improvements having been properly and efficiently attended to, Mrs. Carew told herself that she had done her duty, and that the matter was closed. She would forget it. The boy was not Jamie—he could not be Jamie. That ignorant, sickly, crippled boy her dead sister's son? Impossible! She would cast the whole thing from her thoughts.
It was just here, however, that Mrs. Carew found herself against an immovable, impassable barrier: the whole thing refused to be cast from her thoughts. Always before her eyes was the picture of that bare little room and the wistful-faced boy. Always in her ears was that heartbreaking "What if it were Jamie?" And always, too, there was Pollyanna; for even though Mrs. Carew might (as she did) silence the pleadings and questionings of the little girl's tongue, there was no getting away from the prayers and reproaches of the little girl's eyes.
Twice again in desperation Mrs. Carew went to see the boy, telling herself each time that only another visit was needed to convince her that the boy was not the one she sought. But, even though while there in the boy's presence, she told herself that she was convinced, once away from it, the old, old questioning returned. At last, in still greater desperation, she wrote to her sister, and told her the whole story.
"I had not meant to tell you," she wrote, after she had stated the bare facts of the case. "I thought it a pity to harrow you up, or to raise false hopes. I am so sure it is not he—and yet, even as I write these words, I know I am not sure. That is why I want you to come—why you must come. I must have you see him.
"I wonder—oh, I wonder what you'll say! Of course we haven't seen our Jamie since he was four years old. He would be twelve now. This boy is twelve, I should judge. (He doesn't know his age.) He has hair and eyes not unlike our Jamie's. He is crippled, but that condition came upon him through a fall, six years ago, and was made worse through another one four years later. Anything like a complete description of his father's appearance seems impossible to obtain; but what I have learned contains nothing conclusive either for or against his being poor Doris's husband. He was called 'the Professor,' was very queer, and seemed to own nothing save a few books. This might, or might not signify. John Kent was certainly always queer, and a good deal of a Bohemian in his tastes. Whether he cared for books or not I don't remember. Do you? And of course the title 'Professor' might easily have been assumed, if he wished, or it might have been merely given him by others. As for this boy—I don't know, I don't know—but I do hope you will!
|"Your distracted sister,|
Della came at once, and she went immediately to see the boy; but she did not "know." Like her sister, she said she did not think it was their Jamie, but at the same time there was that chance—it might be he, after all. Like Pollyanna, however, she had what she thought was a very satisfactory way out of the dilemma.
"But why don't you take him, dear?" she proposed to her sister. "Why don't you take him and adopt him? It would be lovely for him—poor little fellow—and—" But Mrs. Carew shuddered and would not even let her finish.
"No, no, I can't, I can't!" she moaned. "I want my Jamie, my own Jamie—or no one." And with a sigh Della gave it up and went back to her nursing.
If Mrs. Carew thought that this closed the matter, however, she was again mistaken; for her days were still restless, and her nights were still either sleepless or filled with dreams of a "may be" or a "might be" masquerading as an "it is so." She was, moreover, having a difficult time with Pollyanna.
Pollyanna was puzzled. She was filled with questionings and unrest. For the first time in her life Pollyanna had come face to face with real poverty. She knew people who did not have enough to eat, who wore ragged clothing, and who lived in dark, dirty, and very tiny rooms. Her first impulse, of course, had been "to help." With Mrs. Carew she made two visits to Jamie, and greatly did she rejoice at the changed conditions she found there after "that man Dodge" had "tended to things." But this, to Pollyanna, was a mere drop in the bucket. There were yet all those other sick-looking men, unhappy-looking women, and ragged children out in the street—Jamie's neighbors. Confidently she looked to Mrs. Carew for help for them, also.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Carew, when she learned what was expected of her, "so you want the whole street to be supplied with fresh paper, paint, and new stairways, do you? Pray, is there anything else you'd like?"
"Oh, yes, lots of things," sighed Pollyanna, happily. "You see, there are so many things they need—all of them! And what fun it will be to get them! How I wish I was rich so I could help, too; but I'm 'most as glad to be with you when you get them."
Mrs. Carew quite gasped aloud in her amazement. She lost no time—though she did lose not a little patience—in explaining that she had no intention of doing anything further in "Murphy's Alley," and that there was no reason why she should. No one would expect her to. She had canceled all possible obligations, and had even been really very generous, any one would say, in what she had done for the tenement where lived Jamie and the Murphys. (That she owned the tenement building she did not think it necessary to state.) At some length she explained to Pollyanna that there were charitable institutions, both numerous and efficient, whose business it was to aid all the worthy poor, and that to these institutions she gave frequently and liberally.
Even then, however, Pollyanna was not convinced.
"But I don't see," she argued, "why it's any better, or even so nice, for a whole lot of folks to club together and do what everybody would like to do for themselves. I'm sure I'd much rather give Jamie a—a nice book, now, than to have some old Society do it; and I know he'd like better to have me do it, too."
"Very likely," returned Mrs. Carew, with some weariness and a little exasperation. "But it is just possible that it would not be so well for Jamie as—as if that book were given by a body of people who knew what sort of one to select."
This led her to say much, also (none of which Pollyanna in the least understood), about "pauperizing the poor," the "evils of indiscriminate giving," and the "pernicious effect of unorganized charity."
"Besides," she added, in answer to the still perplexed expression on Pollyanna's worried little face, "very likely if I offered help to these people they would not take it. You remember Mrs. Murphy declined, at the first, to let me send food and clothing—though they accepted it readily enough from their neighbors on the first floor, it seems."
"Yes, I know," sighed Pollyanna, turning away. "There's something there somehow that I don't understand. But it doesn't seem right that we should have such a lot of nice things, and that they shouldn't have anything, hardly."
As the days passed, this feeling on the part of Pollyanna increased rather than diminished; and the questions she asked and the comments she made were anything but a relief to the state of mind in which Mrs. Carew herself was. Even the test of the glad game, in this case, Pollyanna was finding to be very near a failure; for, as she expressed it:
"I don't see how you can find anything about this poor-people business to be glad for. Of course we can be glad for ourselves that we aren't poor like them; but whenever I'm thinking how glad I am for that, I 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.