It was a delightful plan. Pollyanna had it entirely formulated in about five minutes; then she told Mrs. Carew. Mrs. Carew did not think it was a delightful plan, and she said so very distinctly.
"Oh, but I'm sure they'll think it is," argued Pollyanna, in reply to Mrs. Carew's objections. "And just think how easy we can do it! The tree is just as it was—except for the presents, and we can get more of those. It won't be so very long till just New Year's Eve; and only think how glad she'll be to come! Wouldn't you be, if you hadn't had anything for Christmas only blistered feet and chicken pie?"
"Dear, dear, what an impossible child you are!" frowned Mrs. Carew. "Even yet it doesn't seem to occur to you that we don't know this young person's name."
"So we don't! And isn't it funny, when I feel that I know her so well?" smiled Pollyanna. "You see, we had such a good talk in the Garden that day, and she told me all about how lonesome she was, and that she thought the lonesomest place in the world was in a crowd in a big city, because folks didn't think nor notice. Oh, there was one that noticed; but he noticed too much, she said, and he hadn't ought to notice her any—which is kind of funny, isn't it, when you come to think of it. But anyhow, he came for her there in the Garden to go somewhere with him, and she wouldn't go, and he was a real handsome gentleman, too—until he began to look so cross, just at the last. Folks aren't so pretty when they're cross, are they? Now there was a lady to-day looking at bows, and she said—well, lots of things that weren't nice, you know. And she didn't look pretty, either, after—after she began to talk. But you will let me have the tree New Year's Eve, won't you, Mrs. Carew?—and invite this girl who sells bows, and Jamie? He's better, you know, now, and he could come. Of course Jerry would have to wheel him—but then, we'd want Jerry, anyway."
"Oh, of course, Jerry!" exclaimed Mrs. Carew in ironic scorn. "But why stop with Jerry? I'm sure Jerry has hosts of friends who would love to come. And—"
"Oh, Mrs. Carew, may I?" broke in Pollyanna, in uncontrollable delight. "Oh, how good, good, good you are! I've so wanted—" But Mrs. Carew fairly gasped aloud in surprise and dismay.
"No, no, Pollyanna, I—" she began, protestingly. But Pollyanna, entirely mistaking the meaning of her interruption, plunged in again in stout championship.
"Indeed you are good—just the bestest ever; and I sha'n't let you say you aren't. Now I reckon I'll have a party all right! There's Tommy Dolan and his sister Jennie, and the two Macdonald children, and three girls whose names I don't know that live under the Murphys, and a whole lot more, if we have room for 'em. And only think how glad they'll be when I tell 'em! Why, Mrs. Carew, seems to me as if I never knew anything so perfectly lovely in all my life—and it's all your doings! Now mayn't I begin right away to invite 'em—so they'll know what's coming to 'em?"
And Mrs. Carew, who would not have believed such a thing possible, heard herself murmuring a faint "yes," which, she knew, bound her to the giving of a Christmas-tree party on New Year's Eve to a dozen children from Murphy's Alley and a young salesgirl whose name she did not know.
Perhaps in Mrs. Carew's memory was still lingering a young girl's "Sometimes I wonder there don't some of 'em think of helpin' the girls before they go wrong." Perhaps in her ears was still ringing Pollyanna's story of that same girl who had found a crowd in a big city the loneliest place in the world, yet who had refused to go with the handsome man that had "noticed too much." Perhaps in Mrs. Carew's heart was the undefined hope that somewhere in it all lay the peace she had so longed for. Perhaps it was a little of all three combined with utter helplessness in the face of Pollyanna's amazing twisting of her irritated sarcasm into the wide-sweeping hospitality of a willing hostess. Whatever it was, the thing was done; and at once Mrs. Carew found herself caught into a veritable whirl of plans and plottings, the center of which was always Pollyanna and the party.
To her sister, Mrs. Carew wrote distractedly of the whole affair, closing with:
"What I'm going to do I don't know; but I suppose I shall have to keep right on doing as I am doing. There is no other way. Of course, if Pollyanna once begins to preach—but she hasn't yet; so I can't, with a clear conscience, send her back to you."
Della, reading this letter at the Sanatorium, laughed aloud at the conclusion.
"'Hasn't preached yet,' indeed!" she chuckled to herself. "Bless her dear heart! And yet you, Ruth Carew, own up to giving two Christmas-tree parties within a week, and, as I happen to know, your home, which used to be shrouded in death-like gloom, is aflame with scarlet and green from top to toe. But she hasn't preached yet—oh, no, she hasn't preached yet!"
The party was a great success. Even Mrs. Carew admitted that. Jamie, in his wheel chair, Jerry with his startling, but expressive vocabulary, and the girl (whose name proved to be Sadie Dean), vied with each other in amusing the more diffident guests. Sadie Dean, much to the others' surprise—and perhaps to her own—disclosed an intimate knowledge of the most fascinating games; and these games, with Jamie's stories and Jerry's good-natured banter, kept every one in gales of laughter until supper and the generous distribution of presents from the laden tree sent the happy guests home with tired sighs of content.
If Jamie (who with Jerry was the last to leave) looked about him a bit wistfully, no one apparently noticed it. Yet Mrs. Carew, when she bade him good-night, said low in his ear, half impatiently, half embarrassedly:
"Well, Jamie, have you changed your mind—about coming?"
The boy hesitated. A faint color stole into his cheeks. He turned and looked into her eyes wistfully, searchingly. Then very slowly he shook his head.
"If it could always be—like to-night, I—could," he sighed. "But it wouldn't. There'd be to-morrow, and next week, and next month, and next year comin'; and I'd know before next week that I hadn't oughter come."
If Mrs. Carew had thought that the New Year's Eve party was to end the matter of Pollyanna's efforts in behalf of Sadie Dean, she was soon undeceived; for the very next morning Pollyanna began to talk of her.
"And I'm so glad I found her again," she prattled contentedly. "Even if I haven't been able to find the real Jamie for you, I've found somebody else for you to love—and of course you'll love to love her, 'cause it's just another way of loving Jamie."
Mrs. Carew drew in her breath and gave a little gasp of exasperation. This unfailing faith in her goodness of heart, and unhesitating belief in her desire to "help everybody" was most disconcerting, and sometimes most annoying. At the same time it was a most difficult thing to disclaim—under the circumstances, especially with Pollyanna's happy, confident eyes full on her face.
"But, Pollyanna," she objected impotently, at last, feeling very much as if she were struggling against invisible silken cords, "I—you—this girl really isn't Jamie, at all, you know."
"I know she isn't," sympathized Pollyanna quickly. "And of course I'm just as sorry she isn't Jamie as can be. But she's somebody's Jamie—that is, I mean she hasn't got anybody down here to love her and—and notice, you know; and so whenever you remember Jamie I should think you couldn't be glad enough there was somebody you could help, just as you'd want folks to help Jamie, wherever he is."
Mrs. Carew shivered and gave a little moan.
"But I want my Jamie," she grieved.
Pollyanna nodded with understanding eyes.
"I know—the 'child's presence.' Mr. Pendleton told me about it—only you've got the 'woman's hand.'"
"Yes—to make a home, you know. He said that it took a woman's hand or a child's presence to make a home. That was when he wanted me, and I found him Jimmy, and he adopted him instead."
"Jimmy?" Mrs. Carew looked up with the startled something in her eyes that always came into them at the mention of any variant of that name.
"Yes; Jimmy Bean."
"Oh—Bean," said Mrs. Carew, relaxing.
"Yes. He was from an Orphan's Home, and he ran away. I found him. He said he wanted another kind of a home with a mother in it instead of a Matron. I couldn't find him the mother-part, but I found him Mr. Pendleton, and he adopted him. His name is Jimmy Pendleton now."
"But it was—Bean?"
"Yes, it was Bean."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Carew, this time with a long sigh.
Mrs. Carew saw a good deal of Sadie Dean during the days that followed the New Year's Eve party. She saw a good deal of Jamie, too. In one way and another Pollyanna contrived to have them frequently at the house; and this, Mrs. Carew, much to her surprise and vexation, could not seem to prevent. Her consent and even her delight were taken by Pollyanna as so much a matter of course that she found herself helpless to convince the child that neither approval nor satisfaction entered into the matter at all, as far as she was concerned.
But Mrs. Carew, whether she herself realized it or not, was learning many things—things she never could have learned in the old days, shut up in her rooms, with orders to Mary to admit no one. She was learning something of what it means to be a lonely young girl in a big city, with one's living to earn, and with no one to care—except one who cares too much, and too little.
"But what did you mean?" she nervously asked Sadie Dean one evening; "what did you mean that first day in the store—what you said—about helping the girls?"
Sadie Dean colored distressfully.
"I'm afraid I was rude," she apologized.
"Never mind that. Tell me what you meant. I've thought of it so many times since."
For a moment the girl was silent; then, a little bitterly she said:
"'Twas because I knew a girl once, and I was thinkin' of her. She came from my town, and she was pretty and good, but she wa'n't over strong. For a year we pulled together, sharin' the same room, boiling our eggs over the same gas-jet, and eatin' our hash and fish balls for supper at the same cheap restaurant. There was never anything to do evenin's but to walk in the Common, or go to the movies, if we had the dime to blow in, or just stay in our room. Well, our room wasn't very pleasant. It was hot in summer, and cold in winter, and the gas-jet was so measly and so flickery that we couldn't sew or read, even if we hadn't been too fagged out to do either—which we 'most generally was. Besides, over our heads was a squeaky board that some one was always rockin' on, and under us was a feller that was learnin' to play the cornet. Did you ever hear any one learn to play the cornet?"
"N-no, I don't think so," murmured Mrs. Carew.
"Well, you've missed a lot," said the girl, dryly. Then, after a moment, she resumed her story.
"Sometimes, 'specially at Christmas and holidays, we used to walk up here on the Avenue, and other streets, huntin' for windows where the curtains were up, and we could look in. You see, we were pretty lonesome, them days 'specially, and we said it did us good to see homes with folks, and lamps on the center-tables, and children playin' games; but we both of us knew that really it only made us feel worse than ever, because we were so hopelessly out of it all. 'Twas even harder to see the automobiles, and the gay young folks in them, laughing and chatting. You see, we were young, and I suspect we wanted to laugh and chatter. We wanted a good time, too; and, by and by—my chum began to have it—this good time.
"Well, to make a long story short, we broke partnership one day, and she went her way, and I mine. I didn't like the company she was keepin', and I said so. She wouldn't give 'em up, so we quit. I didn't see her again for 'most two years, then I got a note from her, and I went. This was just last month. She was in one of them rescue homes. It was a lovely place; soft rugs, fine pictures, plants, flowers, and books, a piano, a beautiful room, and everything possible done for her. Rich women came in their automobiles and carriages to take her driving, and she was taken to concerts and matinees. She was learnin' stenography, and they were going to help her to a position just as soon as she could take it. Everybody was wonderfully good to her, she said, and showed they wanted to help her in every way. But she said something else, too. She said:
"'Sadie, if they'd taken one half the pains to show me they cared and wanted to help long ago when I was an honest, self-respectin', hard-workin' homesick girl—I wouldn't have been here for them to help now.' And—well, I never forgot it. That's all. It ain't that I'm objectin' to the rescue work—it's a fine thing, and they ought to do it. Only I'm thinkin' there wouldn't be quite so much of it for them to do—if they'd just show a little of their interest earlier in the game."
"But I thought—there were working-girls' homes, and—and settlement-houses that—that did that sort of thing," faltered Mrs. Carew in a voice that few of her friends would have recognized.
"There are. Did you ever see the inside of one of them?"
"Why, n-no; though I—I have given money to them." This time Mrs. Carew's voice was almost apologetically pleading in tone.
Sadie Dean smiled curiously.
"Yes, I know. There are lots of good women that have given money to them—and have never seen the inside of one of them. Please don't understand that I'm sayin' anythin' against the homes. I'm not. They're good things. They're almost the only thing that's doing anything to help; but they're only a drop in the bucket to what is really needed. I tried one once; but there was an air about it—somehow I felt— But there, what's the use? Probably they aren't all like that one, and maybe the fault was with me. If I should try to tell you, you wouldn't understand. You'd have to live in it—and you haven't even seen the inside of one. But I can't help wonderin' sometimes why so many of those good women never seem to put the real heart and interest into the preventin' that they do into the rescuin'. But there! I didn't mean to talk such a lot. But—you asked me."
"Yes, I asked you," said Mrs. Carew in a half-stifled voice, as she turned away.
Not only from Sadie Dean, however, was Mrs. Carew learning things never learned before, but from Jamie, also.
Jamie was there a great deal. Pollyanna liked to have him there, and he liked to be there. At first, to be sure, he had hesitated; but very soon he had quieted his doubts and yielded to his longings by telling himself (and Pollyanna) that, after all, visiting was not "staying for keeps."
Mrs. Carew often found the boy and Pollyanna contentedly settled on the library window-seat, with the empty wheel chair close by. Sometimes they were poring over a book. (She heard Jamie tell Pollyanna one day that he didn't think he'd mind so very much being lame if he had so many books as Mrs. Carew, and that he guessed he'd be so happy he'd fly clean away if he had both books and legs.) Sometimes the boy was telling stories, and Pollyanna was listening, wide-eyed and absorbed.
Mrs. Carew wondered at Pollyanna's interest—until one day she herself stopped and listened. After that she wondered no longer—but she listened a good deal longer. Crude and incorrect as was much of the boy's language, it was always wonderfully vivid and picturesque, so that Mrs. Carew found herself, hand in hand with Pollyanna, trailing down the Golden Ages at the beck of a glowing-eyed boy.
Dimly Mrs. Carew was beginning to realize, too, something of what it must mean, to be in spirit and ambition the center of brave deeds and wonderful adventures, while in reality one was only a crippled boy in a wheel chair. But what Mrs. Carew did not realize was the part this crippled boy was beginning to play in her own life. She did not realize how much a matter of course his presence was becoming, nor how interested she now was in finding something new "for Jamie to see." Neither did she realize how day by day he was coming to seem to her more and more the lost Jamie, her dead sister's child.
As February, March, and April passed, however, and May came, bringing with it the near approach of the date set for Pollyanna's home-going, Mrs. Carew did suddenly awake to the knowledge of what that home-going was to mean to her.
She was amazed and appalled. Up to now she had, in belief, looked forward with pleasure to the departure of Pollyanna. She had said that then once again the house would be quiet, with the glaring sun shut out. Once again she would be at peace, and able to hide herself away from the annoying, tiresome world. Once again she would be free to summon to her aching consciousness all those dear memories of the lost little lad who had so long ago stepped into that vast unknown and closed the door behind him. All this she had believed would be the case when Pollyanna should go home.
But now that Pollyanna was really going home, the picture was far different. The "quiet house with the sun shut out" had become one that promised to be "gloomy and unbearable." The longed-for "peace" would be "wretched loneliness"; and as for her being able to "hide herself away from the annoying, tiresome world," and "free to summon to her aching consciousness all those dear memories of that lost little lad"—just as if anything could blot out those other aching memories of the new Jamie (who yet might be the old Jamie) with his pitiful, pleading eyes!
Full well now Mrs. Carew knew that without Pollyanna the house would be empty; but that without the lad, Jamie, it would be worse than that. To her pride this knowledge was not pleasing. To her heart it was torture—since the boy had twice said that he would not come. For a time, during those last few days of Pollyanna's stay, the struggle was a bitter one, though pride always kept the ascendancy. Then, on what Mrs. Carew knew would be Jamie's last visit, her heart triumphed, and once more she asked Jamie to come and be to her the Jamie that was lost.
What she said she never could remember afterwards; but what the boy said, she never forgot. After all, it was compassed in six short words.
For what seemed a long, long minute his eyes had searched her face; then to his own had come a transfiguring light, as he breathed:
"Oh, yes! Why, you—care, now!"