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   Chapter 14 LITTLE JERRY.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 14095

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It was nearly noon when Harold left Tracy Park the previous day and started for home, eager and anxious with regard to the child whom he claimed as his own. He had found her. She was his and he should keep her, he said to himself, and then he wondered how his grandmother had managed with her, and if she had cried for him or for her mother, and as he reached the house he stood still a moment, to listen. But the sounds which met his ear were peals of laughter, mingled with mild, and, as it would seem, unavailing expostulations from his grandmother.

Opening the door suddenly he found the child seated at the table in the high chair he used to occupy, and which Mrs. Crawford had brought from the attic, where it was stored. Standing before the child was a dish of bread and milk, of which she had evidently eaten enough, for she was playing with it now, and amusing herself by striking the spoon into the milk, which was splashed over the table, while three or four drops of it were standing on the forehead and nose of the distressed woman, who was vainly trying to take the spoon from the little hand clenching it so firmly.

Mrs. Crawford had had a busy and exciting day with her charge, who, active and restless, and playful, kept her on the alert and made her forget in part how lame she was. As she could not put her foot to the floor without great pain, and as she must move about, she adopted the expedient of placing her knee on a chair to the back of which she held, while she hobbled around the room, followed by the child, who, delighted with this novel method of locomotion, put her knee in a low chair, and holding to Mrs. Crawford's skirts, limped after her, imitating her perfectly, even to the groans she sometimes uttered when a twinge sharper than usual ran up her swollen limb. It was fun for the child, but almost death to the woman, who, when she could endure it no longer, sank into a chair, and tried by speaking sharply, to make the little girl understand that she must keep quiet. But when she scolded, baby scolded back, in a language wholly unintelligible, shaking her curly head, and sometimes stamping her foot by way of emphasizing her words.

When Mrs. Crawford laughed the child laughed, and when once a pang severer than usual wrung the tears from her eyes, baby looked at her compassionately a moment, while her little face puckered itself into wrinkles as if she too were going to cry; then, putting up her soft hand she wiped the tears from Mrs. Crawford's cheeks, and, climbing into her lap, became as quiet as a kitten. But a touch sufficed to start her up, for she was full of fun and frolic, and her laughing blue eyes, which were of that wide-open kind which see everything, were brimming over with mischief. Once or twice she called out 'Mahnee,' and going to the window, stood on tip-toe looking out, to see if she were coming. But on the whole she seemed happy and content, exploring every nook and corner of the kitchen and examining curiously every article of furniture as if it were quite new to her.

Once when Mrs. Crawford was talking earnestly to her, trying to make her understand, she stood for a moment watching and imitating the motion of the lady's lips and the expression of her face; then going up to her she began to examine her mouth and her teeth, as if she would know what manner of machinery it was which produced sounds so new and strange to her. She certainly was a remarkable child for her age, though Mrs. Crawford was puzzled to know just how old she was. She was very small, and, judging from her size, one would have said she was hardly three; but the expression of her face was so mature, and she saw things so quickly and understood so readily, that she must have been older. She was certainly very precocious, with a most inquiring turn of mind, and Mrs. Crawford felt herself greatly interested in her as she watched her active movements and listened to the musical prattle she could not understand.

She had examined the carpet-bag, in which were found the articles necessary for an ocean voyage, and little else. Most of these were soiled from use, but there was among them a little clean, white apron, and this Mrs. Crawford put upon the child, after having washed her face and hands and brushed her wavy hair, which had a trick of coiling itself into soft, fluffy curls all over her head.

The bread and milk had been given her about twelve o'clock, and the laugh she gave when she saw it showed her appreciation of it quite as much as the eagerness with which she ate it. Her appetite appeased, however, she began to play with it and throw the milk over the table and into Mrs. Crawford's face, just as Harold came in, full of what he had seen at the park, and anxious to see his baby, as he called her.

Taking her on his lap and kissing her rosy cheeks, he began to narrate to his grandmother all that had been done, and told her that Mr. St. Claire had given it as his opinion that the woman was French.

'And if so,' he continued, 'baby must be French, too, though she does not look a bit like her mother, who is very dark and not-well, not at all like you or Mrs. St. Claire.'

Then he told of the trunk which the baggage-master had taken to the park, and of what it contained.

'The woman's clothes were marked "N.B."' he said, 'and some of the baby's-such a funny name. Mr. St. Claire said it was French, and pronounced "Jerreen," though it is spelled "Jerrine."'

'That is the name of the child's things in the bag,' Mrs. Crawford said.

'Of course it is baby's, then,' Harold replied; 'but, I shall call her Jerry for short, even if it is a boy's name, and so my little lady, I christen you Jerry;' and kissing the forehead, the eyes, the nose, and the chin, he marked the shape of the cross upon the face upturned to his, and named his baby 'Jerry.'

Later, when he knew more of the world, he would change the 'y' into 'ie,' but now she was simply Jerry, and when he called her that she laughed and nodded as if the sound were not new to her. She was a beautiful child, with complexion as pure as wax, and eyes which might have borrowed their color from the blue lakes of Italy, or from the skies of England when they are at their brightest.

'I wish she could talk to me. I suppose she must speak French,' he said, as he was trying in vain to make her understand him. 'Don't you know a word I say?' he asked her, and her reply was what sounded to him like 'We, we.'

'That's English,' he cried, delighted with her progress, but when he spoke to her again, her answer was, 'Yah, yah,' which seemed to him so nonsensical that after a few attempts to make her say 'yes,' and to teach her what it meant, he gave up his lesson for the remainder of the day and talked to her by signs and gestures which she seemed to understand.

Whatever he did she did, and he saw her more than once imitating his grandmother's motions as well as his own, to the life.

Late in the afternoon Mr. St. Claire came to the cottage, curious to

see the child, who, at sight of him, retreated behind Harold, and then peered shyly up at him, with a look in her great blue eyes which puzzled him on the instant, as one is frequently puzzled with a likeness to something or somebody he tries in vain to recall. In this instance it was hardly the eyes themselves, but rather the way they looked at him, and the sweep of the long lashes, together with a firm shutting together of the lips, which struck Mr. St. Claire as familiar, and when with a swift movement of her little hand, she swept the mass of golden hair back from her forehead, he would have sworn that he had seen that trick a thousand times, and yet he could not place it. That she was the child of the dead woman he believed, and as the mother was French, so also was she. He had once passed two years in France, and was master of the language; so he spoke to the child in French, but though she seemed to understand him she made no reply, until he said to her:

'Where is your mother, little one?'

'Then she answered, promptly, 'Dead,' but the language was German, not French.

'Ho-ho! You are a little Dutchman,' Mr. St. Claire said, with some surprise in his voice.

Then as he noted the purity of her complexion, her fair hair and blue eyes, he said to himself:

'Her father was a German, and probably they lived in Germany, but the mother was certainly French.'

His own knowledge of German was very limited, but he could speak it a little, and turning again to the child he managed to say:

'What is your name!'

'Der-ree,' was the reply, and Harold exclaimed:

'That's it; she means Jerry; that's short for the name on her clothes, which you said was pronounced Jereen. I have christened her Jerry, and she is my little girl, ain't you, Jerry!'

'Yah-oui-'ess,' was the answer, and there was a gleam of triumph in the blue eyes which flashed up to Harold for approbation.

She had not, of course, understood a word he said, except, indeed her name; but the tone of his voice was interrogatory, and seemed to expect an affirmative answer, which she gave in three languages, emphasizing the ''ess' with a nod of her head, as if greatly pleased with herself.

'Bravo!' Harold shouted. 'She can say yes. I taught her, and I shall have her talking English in a few days as well as I do, shan't I, Jerry?'

'Yah-'ess,' was the reply.

Then Mr. St. Claire tried to question her further with regard to herself and her home, but his phraseology was probably at fault, for no satisfactory result was reached beyond the fact that her mother was dead, that her name was Jerry, or Derree, as she called it, and that she had been on a ship with Mah-nee, who did so-and she imitated perfectly the motions and contortions of one who is deathly sea-sick.

'I suppose she means her mother by Mah-nee,' said Mr. St. Claire; and when he asked her if it were not so, she answered 'yah,' and ''ess,' as she did to everything, adopting finally the latter word altogether because she saw it pleased Harold.

No matter what was the question put to her, her reply was ''ess,' which she repeated quickly, with a prolonged sound on the 's.'

When at last Mr. St. Claire took his leave, it was with a strange feeling of interest for the child, whose antecedents must always be shrouded in mystery, and whose future he could not predict.

It seemed impossible for Mrs. Crawford to keep her, poor as she was, and as he had no idea that the Tracys would take her, there was no alternative but the poor-house, unless he took her himself and brought her up with his own little five-year-old Nina. He would wait until after the funeral and see, he decided, as he went back to his home at Brier Hill, where his children, Dick and Nina, were eager to hear all he had to tell them of the poor little girl whose mother had been frozen to death.

The next morning the sleigh from Tracy Park stopped before the cottage door, and Frank, who had been to meet the coroner, alighted from it. He was pale and haggard as he entered the room where Jerry was playing on the floor with Harold's Maltese kitten. As he came in she looked up at him, and, lifting her hand, swept the hair back from her forehead just as she had done the day before when Mr. St. Claire was there. The peculiar motion had struck the latter as something familiar, though he could not define it; but Frank did, or in his nervous condition he thought he did, and his knees shook so he could hardly stand as he talked with Mrs. Crawford and told her he had come for the child, who ought to be where her mother was until after the funeral.'

'Then she will come back again. You will not keep her. She is mine, ain't you, Jerry?' Harold exclaimed, eagerly; while Jerry, who, with a child's instinct scented danger from Harold's manner and associated that danger with the strange man looking so curiously at her, sprang to her feet, which she stamped vigorously, while she cried, ''ess, 'ess, 'ess,' with her face all in wrinkles, and her blue eyes anything but soft and sunny, as they usually were.

In this mood she was not much like Gretchen in the picture, but she was like some one else whom Frank had seen in excited moods, and he grew faint and sick as he watched her, and saw the varying expression of her face and eyes. The way she shook her head at him and flourished her hands was a way he had seen many times and remembered so well, and he felt as if his heart would leap from his throat as he tried to speak to her. A turn of the head, a gesture of the hands, a curve of the eyelashes, a tone in the voice, seemed slight actions on which to base a certainty; but Frank did feel certain, and his brain reeled for a second as his thoughts leaped forward years and years until he was an old man, and he wondered if he could bear it and make no sign.

Then, just as he had decided that he could not, the tempter suggested a plan which seemed so feasible and fair that the future, with a secret to guard, did not look so formidable, and to himself he said:

'It is not likely I can ever be positive; and so long as there is a doubt, however small, it would be preposterous to give up what otherwise must come to my children, if not to me; but I will not wrong her more than I can help.'

'Come, little girl, go with me,' he said, in his kindest tones, as he advanced toward her, while Harold went for her cloak and hood.

Jerry knew then that she was expected to go with the stranger, and without Harold, and resisted with all her might. Standing behind him, as if safe there, and clinging to his coat, she sobbed piteously, intermingling her sobs with 'Ess, 'ess, 'ess,' the only English word she knew, and which she seemed to think would avail in every emergency.

And it did help her now, for Harold pleaded that he might go, too, and when Jerry saw him with his coat and hat, and understood that he was to be her escort, she ceased to sob, and allowing herself to be made ready, was soon in the sleigh, and on her way to Tracy Park.

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