Aunt Polly did not answer. Her hand was at her throat, her eyes were full of tears. Then she turned away and hurried from the room.
In the ceremonious «parlour» of the Harrington homestead, Mr. John Pendleton did not have to wait long before a swift step warned him of Miss Polly’s coming. As he attempted to rise, she made a gesture of remonstrance. She did not offer her hand, however, and her face was coldly reserved.
«I called to ask for Pollyanna,» he began at once, a little brusquely.
«Thank you. She is about the same,» said Miss Polly.
«You mean — you don’t know? But — the doctor?»
«Dr. Warren himself seems at sea. He is in correspondence now with a New York specialist. They have arranged for a consultation at once.»
«But what were her injuries?»
«A slight cut on the head, one or two bruises, and an injury to the spine which has seemed to cause paralysis from the hips down.»
A low cry came from the man. There was a brief silence; then, huskily, he asked:
«And how does Pollyanna take it?»
«She doesn’t understand how things really are. And I can’t tell her.»
Miss Polly lifted her hand to the collar at her throat in the gesture that had become so common to her of late.
«Well, she knows she can’t move; but she thinks her legs are broken. She says she’s glad it’s broken legs like yours rather than ‘lifelong invalids’ like Mrs. Snow’s because broken legs will get well. She talks like that all the time.»
Through the blur of tears in his own eyes, the man saw the drawn face opposite, twisted with emotion.
«I wonder if you know, Miss Harrington, how hard I tried to get Pollyanna to come and live with me,» he asked very gently. «I wanted to adopt her — legally, you understand; making her my heiress, of course.»
The woman in the opposite chair relaxed a little. It came to her, suddenly, what a brilliant future this adoption would have meant for Pollyanna.
«I am very fond of Pollyanna,» the man went on, «and I am ready to give her the love that had been twenty-five years in storage.»
Miss Polly remembered suddenly why she had taken this child in the first place, and Pollyanna’s own words: «I love to be called ‘dear’ by folks that belong to you!» This love-hungry little girl had been offered the stored-up affection of twenty-five years! With a sinking heart Miss Polly realized the dreariness of her own future now without Pollyanna.
«Well?» she said. And the man, recognizing the self-control that vibrated through the harshness of the tone, smiled sadly.
«She would not come,» he answered. «She would not leave you. She said you had been so good to her. She wanted to stay with you — and she said she thought you wanted her to stay,» he finished, as he pulled himself to his feet.
When he turned his face resolutely toward the door, he heard a swift step at his side and saw a shaking hand thrust toward him.
«When the specialist comes, and I know anything definite about Pollyanna, I will let you hear from me,» said a trembling voice. «Goodbye and thank you for coming. Pollyanna will be pleased.»
On the day after John Pendleton’s call at the Harrington homestead, Miss Polly started preparing Pollyanna for the visit of the specialist.
«Pollyanna, my dear,» she began gently, «we have decided that we want another doctor besides Dr. Warren to see you. Another one might tell us something new to help you get well faster, you know.» A joyous light came to Pollyanna’s face.
«Dr. Chilton! Oh, Aunt Polly, I’d so love to have Dr. Chilton! I’ve wanted him all the time, but I was afraid you didn’t, so I didn’t say anything. But I’m so glad you want him!»
Aunt Polly’s face had turned white, then red, then white again. But when she answered, she showed very plainly that she was trying to speak lightly and cheerfully.
«Oh, no, dear! It is a new doctor — a very famous doctor from New York, who knows a great deal about hurts like yours.»
Pollyanna’s face fell.
«But it was Dr. Chilton who doctored Mr. Pendleton’s broken leg, Aunt Polly. If you don’t mind, I would like to have Dr. Chilton — truly I would!»
For a moment Miss Polly did not speak at all; then she said gently:
«Pollyanna, I would do almost anything for you, my dear; but, for reasons which I do not care to speak of now, I don’t want Dr. Chilton called in on this case. And believe me, he cannot know so much about your trouble, as this great doctor does, who will come from New York tomorrow.»
Pollyanna still looked unconvinced.
The nurse entered the room at that moment, and Aunt Polly rose to her feet abruptly with a look of relief on her face.
«I am very sorry, Pollyanna,» she said, a little stiffly; «but it’s already arranged. The New York doctor is coming tomorrow.»
As it happened, however, the New York doctor did not come «tomorrow.» At the last moment a telegram told of a delay because of the sudden illness of the specialist himself. As the days of waiting passed, one by one, Aunt Polly was doing everything that she could do to please her niece.