Nancy was sent to tell Mr. John Pendleton of Dr. Mead’s verdict. Miss Polly had remembered her promise to let him have direct information from the house.
There had been a time when Nancy would have rejoiced greatly at this extraordinary opportunity to see something of the House of Mystery and its master. But today her heart was too heavy to rejoice at anything. She scarcely even looked about her at all, indeed, during the few minutes she waited for Mr. John Pendleton to appear.
«I’m Nancy, sir,» she said respectfully, in response to the surprised questioning of his eyes, when he came into the room. «Miss Harrington sent me to tell you about Miss Pollyanna.»
In spite of the terseness of the word, Nancy quite understood the anxiety that lay behind it.
«It isn’t well, Mr. Pendleton,» she choked.
«You don’t mean -» He paused, and she bowed her head miserably.
«Yes, sir. He says she can’t walk again.»
For a moment there was absolute silence in the room; then the man spoke in a voice shaken with emotion.
«Poor little girl! Poor little girl!»
Nancy glanced at him, but dropped her eyes at once. She had not supposed that cross and stern John Pendleton could look like that. In a moment he spoke again, still in the low, unsteady voice.
«It seems cruel — never to dance in the sunshine again! My little girl!»
There was another silence; then, abruptly, the man asked:
«She herself doesn’t know yet, does she?»
«Yes, she does, sir,» sobbed Nancy. «The cat pushed open the door and Miss Pollyanna overheard them talking.»
«Poor little girl!» sighed the man again.
«Yes, sir,» choked Nancy. «I must be going, now, sir. Goodbye!» And Nancy fled precipitately.
It did not take long for the whole town of Beldingsville to learn that the great New York doctor had said Pollyanna Whittier would never walk again. Everybody knew by sight now the little freckled face that had always a smile of greeting; and almost everybody knew of the «glad game» that Pollyanna was playing. Now this smiling face would never be seen again in the streets; this cheery little voice would never again proclaim the gladness of some everyday experience! It seemed unbelievable, impossible and cruel.
In kitchens and sitting rooms, and over back-yard fences women talked of it, and wept openly. On street corners and in stores the men talked, too, and wept — though not so openly. Nancy’s pitiful story that Pollyanna was bemoaning most of all the fact that she could not play the game, that she could not now be glad over anything didn’t make this talking and weeping less.
Then the same thought must have come to Pollyanna’s friends. At all events, almost at once, the mistress of the Harrington homestead, greatly to her surprise, began to receive calls from people she knew, and people she did not know; calls from men, women, and children, many of whom Miss Polly had not supposed that her niece knew at all.
First came Mr. John Pendleton. He came without his crutches today.
«I don’t need to tell you how shocked I am,» he began almost harshly. «But can’t anything be done?»
Miss Polly gave a gesture of despair.
«Oh, we’re ‘doing,’ of course, all the time. Dr. Mead prescribed certain treatments and medicines that might help, and Dr. Warren is carrying them out to the letter, of course. But Dr. Mead held out almost no hope.»
John Pendleton rose abruptly. His face was white, and his mouth was set into stern lines. Miss Polly, looking at him, knew very well why he felt that he could not stay longer in her presence. At the door he turned.
«I have a message for Pollyanna,» he said. «Will you tell her, please, that I have seen Jimmy Bean and that he’s going to be my boy. Tell her I thought she would be glad to know. I shall adopt him, probably.»
For a brief moment Miss Polly lost her usual well-bred self-control.
«You will adopt Jimmy Bean!» she gasped.
The man lifted his chin a little.
«Yes. I think Pollyanna will understand. You will tell her I thought she would be glad!»
«Why, of course,» faltered Miss Polly.
«Thank you,» bowed John Pendleton, as he turned to go.
In the middle of the floor Miss Polly stood, silent and amazed, still looking after the man who had just left her. She could scarcely believe what her ears had heard. John Pendleton, wealthy, independent, morose, reputed to be miserly and supremely selfish, is going to adopt a little boy?
With a somewhat dazed face Miss Polly went upstairs to Pollyanna’s room.
«Pollyanna, I have a message for you from Mr. John Pendleton. He has just been here. He has taken Jimmy Bean for his little boy. He said he thought you’d be glad to know it.»
Pollyanna’s wistful little face flamed into sudden joy.
«Glad? Well, I reckon I am glad! Oh, Aunt Polly, I’ve so wanted to find a place for Jimmy, and that’s such a lovely place! Besides, I’m so glad for Mr. Pendleton, too. You see, now he’ll have the child’s presence.»
«The — what?»
Pollyanna coloured painfully. She had forgotten that she had never told her aunt of Mr. Pendleton’s desire to adopt her — and certainly she would not wish to tell her now that she had ever thought for a minute of leaving her — this dear Aunt Polly!
«The child’s presence,» stammered Pollyanna, hastily. «Mr. Pendleton told me once, you see, that only a woman’s hand and heart or a child’s presence could make a home. And now he’s got it — the child’s presence.»
«Oh, I see,» said Miss Polly very gently; she understood more than Pollyanna realized — John Pendleton had asked her niece to be the «child’s presence» to transform his great pile of gray stone into a home. «I see,» she finished; her eyes were full of sudden tears.
Pollyanna, fearful that her aunt might ask further embarrassing questions, hastened to lead the conversation away from the Pendleton house and its master.
«Dr. Chilton says so, too, that it takes a woman’s hand and heart, or a child’s presence, to make a home, you know,» she remarked.
Miss Polly turned with a start.
«Dr. Chilton! How do you know that?»
«He told me so. It was when he said he lived in just rooms, not a home. So I asked him why he didn’t get them — a woman’s hand and heart, and have a home.»
«Pollyanna!» Miss Polly turned sharply. Her cheeks showed a sudden colour.
«Well, he looked so sorrowful.»
«What did he say?» Miss Polly asked the question in spite of some force within her that was urging her not to ask it.
«He didn’t say anything for a minute; then he said very low that you couldn’t always get them for the asking.»
There was a brief silence. Miss Polly’s eyes turned to the window. Her cheeks were still unnaturally pink.
«He wants one, anyhow, I know, and I wish he could have one.»
«Why, Pollyanna, how do you know?»
«Because, afterwards, on another day, he said something else. He said that low, too, but I heard him. He said that he’d give the entire world if he had one woman’s hand and heart. Why, Aunt Polly, what’s the matter?» Aunt Polly had risen hurriedly and gone to the window.
«Nothing, dear. I was changing the position of this prism,» said Aunt Polly, whose whole face now was aflame.