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   Chapter 15 JERRY AT THE PARK.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 18726

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

And so this is the poor little girl. We'll take her right to the kitchen, where she can get warm,' Mrs. Tracy said, as she met her husband in the hall, with Harold and the mite of a creature wrapped in the foreign looking cloak and hood.

'No, Dolly!' and Frank spoke very decidedly, as Harold was turning in the direction of the kitchen. 'She is going to the nursery, with the other children, and when they have their dinner she shall have hers with them.'

'Ess, 'ess, 'ess,' Jerry said, as if she comprehended that there was a difference of opinion between the man and woman, and that she was on the affirmative side.

'Take her to the nursery! Oh, Frank! she may have something about her which the children will catch,' Mrs. Tracy said, blocking the way as she spoke.

But Jerry, who through the half-open door had caught sight of the pretty sitting-room, with its warm carpet and curtains, and cheerful fire, shook her head defiantly at the lady, and brushing past her, went boldly into the room, whose brightness had attracted her.

Marching up to the fire, she stood upon the rug and looked about her with evident satisfaction; then glancing at the three who were watching her, she nodded complacently, and said, ''ess, 'ess, 'ess,' while she held her little cold hands to the fire.

'Acts as if she belonged here, doesn't she?' Frank said to his wife, who did not reply, so intent was she upon watching the strange child, who deliberately took off her cloak and hood and tossing them upon the floor, drew a small low chair to the fire, and climbing into it, sat down as composedly as if she were mistress there instead of an intruder.

Once she swept the hair back from her forehead with the motion Frank knew so well, and then the lump came into his throat again, and he steadied himself against the mantel, while he looked curiously at the young girl, making herself so much at home and seeming so well pleased with her surroundings.

'Take her to the nursery now. I must see to that coroner,' he said to his wife, adding: 'Harold must go too, or there will be the Old Harry to pay.'

''Ess, 'ess,' came decidedly from the child, who went willingly with Harold, and was soon ushered into the large upper room, which was used as both nursery and school-room, for Mrs. Tracy could not allow her two sons, Tom and Jack, to come in contact with the boys at school; so she kept a governess, a middle-aged spinster, who, glad of a home, and the rather liberal compensation, sat all day in the nursery and bore patiently with Tom's freaks and Jack's dullness: to say nothing of the trouble it was to have the three-year-old Maude toddling about and interfering with everything.

'Hallo!' Tom cried, as his mother came in, followed by Harold and Jerry. 'Hallo, what's up?' And throwing aside the slate on which he had been trying to master the difficulties of a sum in long division, he went toward them, and said: 'Has the coroner come, and can't I go and see the inquest? You said maybe I could if I behaved, and I do, don't I, Miss Howard?'

Just then he caught sight of Jerry, and stopping short, exclaimed:

'By Jingo! ain't she pretty! I mean to kiss her.'

And he made a movement toward the little face, which looked up so shyly at him. But his mother caught his arm and held him back, as she said, sharply:

'Don't touch her, there is no tolling what you may catch. I wanted her to go to the kitchen, the proper place for her, but your father insisted that she should be brought here. I hope, Miss Howard, you will see that she does not go near the children.'

'Yes, Madam,' Miss Howard replied, 'but I am sure there can be no danger. She looks as clean and sweet as a rose.'

Miss Howard was fond of children, and she held out her hand to the little girl, who seemed to have a most wonderful faculty for discriminating between friends and enemies, and who went to her readily, and leaning against her arm, looked curiously at the group of children-at Tom, and Jack, and Maude, the latter of whom wished to go to her, but was restrained by the nurse. The moment the door closed on Mrs. Tracy, Tom walked up to the child, and said:

'I shall kiss her now, anyhow.'

But Jerry hid her face, and could not be induced to look up until he had moved away from her.

'Catty as well as pretty,' Tom said. 'I wonder who she is anyway, and how she will like the poor-house?'

'Who said she was going to the poor-house?' Harold exclaimed indignantly.

'Mother said so,' Tom replied. 'I heard her talking to the cook. Where would she go if she did not go to the poor-house? Who would take care of her?'

'I!' Harold answered, and to Miss Howard he seemed to grow older a dozen years, as he stood there with his arms folded and the light of a brave manhood in his brown eyes. 'I shall take care of her. She will live with grandmother and me. I found her, and she is mine.'

''Ess, 'ess, 'ess,' came from Jerry, as she swung one little foot back and forth and looked confidingly at her champion.

'You take care of her!' Tom sneered, with that supercilious air he always assumed toward those he considered his inferiors. Why, you and your grandmother can't take care of yourselves, or you couldn't if it wasn't for Uncle Arthur. Mother says so. You wouldn't have any house to live in if he hadn't given it to you,'

Harold's arms were unfolded now and the doubled fists were in his pockets clenching themselves tighter and tighter as he advanced to Tom, who, remembering his black eye, began to back towards the nurse for safety.

'It's a lie, Tom Tracy,' Harold said. 'Mr. Arthur does not take care of us. We do it ourselves, and have for ever so long. He did give us the house, but it ain't for you to twit me of that. Whose house is this, I'd like to know? It isn't yours, nor your father's, and there isn't a thing in it yours. It is all Mr. Arthur's.'

'Wall, we are to be his hares-Jack, and Maude, and me. Mother says so,' Tom stammered out, while Jerry, who had been looking intently, first at one boy, and then at the other, called out in her own language:

'Nein, nein, nein,' and struck her hand toward Tom.

'What does she mean by her "Nine, nine, nine,'" he asked of Miss Howard, who replied that she thought it was the German for 'No, no, no,' and that the child probably did not approve of him.

Tom knew she did not, and though she was only a baby, be felt chagrined and irritable. Had he dared, he would have struck Harold, who asked him what he meant by being his uncle's hare. But he was afraid of Miss Howard, and remembering it must be time for the inquest, he slipped from the room, whispering fiercely to Harold as he passed him:

'Darn you, Hal Hastings, I'll thrash you yet.'

'Let me know when you are ready, and also when you get to be your uncle's hare,' was Harold's taunting reply, as the door closed upon the discomfited Tom.

* * *

The inquest was a mere matter of form, for there was no doubt in any one's mind that the woman had been frozen to death, and she had no friends to complain that due attention had not been paid her. So after a few questions put to Mr. Tracy, and more to Harold, who was summoned from the nursery to tell what he knew, and a look at the cold rigid face, a verdict was rendered of 'Frozen to death.'

Then came the question of burial, as to when, and where, and at whose expense. Quite a number of people had assembled and the little room was full. Conspicuous among them was Peterkin, who, having been elected to an office, which necessitated a care for the expenditures of the village, was swelled with importance, and dying for a chance to be heard.

When Harold came into the room Jerry was with him. She had refused to let him leave her, and he led her by the hand into the midst of the men, who grew as silent and respectful the moment she appeared as if she had been a woman instead of a little child, who could speak no word of their language, or understand what was said to her. It was her mother lying there dead, and they made way for her as, catching sight of the white face, she uttered a cry of joy, and running up to the body, patted the cold cheeks, while she kept calling 'Mah-nee, Mah-nee,' and saying words unintelligible to all, but full of pathos and love, and child-like coaxing for the inanimate form to rouse itself, and speak to her again.

'Poor little thing,' was said by more than one, and hands went up to eyes unused to tears, for the sight was a touching one-that lovely child bending over the dead face, and imprinting kisses upon it.

Harold took her away from the body, and lifting her into a chair, kept by her, as with her arm around his neck, she stood listening to, and watching, and sometimes imitating the gestures of the men around her.

It was Peterkin who spoke first; standing back so straight that his immense stomach, with the heavy gold watch-chain hanging across it, seemed to fill the room, he gave his opinion before any one had a chance to express theirs.

It was the first time he had been in the house since the morning after the party, when Arthur had turned him from the door. He had vowed vengeance against the Tracys then, and kept his vow by spending two thousand dollars in order to defeat Frank as member of Congress and to get himself elected as one of the village

trustees, and now he had come, partly out of curiosity to see the woman, and partly to oppose her being buried by the town, if such a thing were suggested.

'Let them Tracys bury their own dead,' he said to his wife before he left home, and he said it again in substance now, as with a tremendous 'ahem!' he commenced his speech standing close to little Jerry, who never took her eyes from him, but watched him with a face which varied in its expression with every variation in his voice and manner, and reached its climax when he said: 'I don't b'lieve in saddlin' the town with a debt we don't orto pay. Let the Tracys bury their own dead, I say!'

''Ess, 'ess, 'ess,' Jerry chimed in with an emphatic shake of her head with each ''ess,' and a flourish of her hand more threatening than approving toward the speaker, who glanced at her and went on:

'Do you see, gentlemen of the jury, who this cub looks like. I do! and so can you with half an eye. She looks like Arthur Tracy!'

Just then Jerry swept back her golden hair, and, opening her eyes, flashed them around the room until they rested by accident upon Frank, who, pale, and faint, and terrified, was leaning against the door-way trying to seem only amused at the tirade which was concluded as follows:

'Yes, Arthur Tracy! Not her skin, perhaps, nor hair, nor her eyes, leastwise not the color, but something I can't describe; and this woman, her mother, you say is a furriner; that may be, but I've seen her afore, or I'm mistaken. She took passage once on the 'Liza Ann, I'm sure on't, and Arthur look passage same day as far as Chester and was as chipper as you please with her. I don't say nothin', nor insinerate nothin', but I won't consent to have the town pay what belongs to the Tracys. Let 'em run their own canoes and funerals, too, I say; and as for this young one with the yaller hair-though where she got that the lord only knows; 'tain't her's,' pointing to the corpse; 'nor 'tain't his'n,' pointing in the direction of Arthur's rooms; 'as for her, I'm opposed to sendin' to the poor-house another pauper.'

'She is not a pauper, and she is not going to the poor-house either,' Harold exclaimed, while Jerry came in with her nein, nein, nein, which made the bystanders laugh, as Peterkin went on, addressing himself to Harold:

'You are her champion, hey, and intend to take care of her. Mighty fine, I'm sure, but hadn't you better fetch back May Jane's pin that you took at the party.'

'It is false,' Harold cried. 'I never saw the pin, never!' and the hot tears sprang to his eyes at this unmanly assault.

By this time Peterkin, who felt that everybody was against him, was swelling with rage, and seizing Harold by the collar, roared out:

'Do you tell me I lie! You rascal! I'll teach you what belongs to manners!' and he would have struck the boy but for Jerry, who had been watching him as a cat watches a mouse, and who, raising her war-cry of 'nein, nein, nein,' sprang at him like a little tiger, and by the fierceness of her gestures and the volubility of her German jargon actually compelled him to retreat step by step until she had him outside the door, which she barred with her diminutive person. No one could help laughing at the discomfited giant and the mite of a child facing him so bravely, while she scolded at the top of her voice.

Peterkin saw that he was beaten and left the house, vowing vengeance against both Harold and Jerry, if he should ever have it in his power to harm them.

When he was gone, Frank, who had recovered his composure during the ludicrous scene, said to those present:

'I would not explain to that brute, but it is not my intention to trouble the town. I have no more idea who this woman is than you have, and I'll swear that Peterkin's vile insinuations with regard to her are false. My brother says he never saw her in his life, and he speaks the truth. She may have been on Peterkin's boat, but I doubt it. She has every appearance of a foreigner, and her child'-here Frank's tongue felt a little thick, but he cleared his throat and went on-'her child speaks a foreign language-German, they tell me. This poor woman died on my-or rather my brother's premises. I have consulted with him, and he thinks as I do, that she should be cared for at our expense. He says, further, that there is room on the Tracy lot; she is to be buried there. I shall attend to it at once, and the funeral will take place to-morrow morning at ten o'clock from this house. What disposition will be made of the child I have not yet decided, but she will not go to the poor-house.'

'Oh, Mr. Tracy,' Harold burst out, 'she is mine. She is to live with grandma and me. You will not take her from me-say you will not?'

'Vill not,' Jerry reiterated, imitating as well as she could Harold's last words.

For a moment Mr. Tracy looked fixedly at the boy, pleading for a burden which would necessitate toil, and self-denial, and patience of no ordinary kind and never had he despised himself more than he did then, when, believing what he did believe, he said at last:

'I will talk with your grandmother, and see what arrangements we can make. I rather think you have the best right to her. But she must stay here to-night and until after the funeral, when she can go with you, if you like.'

To this Harold did not object, and as Jerry seemed very happy and content, he left her, while she was exploring the long drawing-room, and examining curiously the different articles of furniture. As she did not seem disposed to touch anything, she was allowed to go where she liked, although Mrs. Frank remonstrated against her roaming all over the house as if she belonged there, and suggested again that she be sent to the kitchen. But Frank said 'no,' decidedly, and Jerry was left to herself, except as the nurse-girl and Charles looked after her a little.

And so it came about that towards evening she found herself in the upper hall, and after making a tour of the rooms, whose doors were open, she came to one whose door was shut-nor could she turn the knob, although she tried with all her might. Doubling her tiny fist, she knocked upon the door, and then, as no one came, kicked against it with her foot, but still with no result.

Inside the room, with Gretchen's picture, Arthur sat in his dressing-gown, very nervous and a little inclined to be irritable and captious. He knew there had been an inquest, and that many people had come and gone that day, for he had seen them from his window, and had seen, too, the sleigh, with Frank, and the coroner, and Harold, and a blue hood, drive into the yard. But to the blue hood he never gave a thought, as he was only intent upon the dead woman, whose presence in the house made him so nervous and restless.

'I shall be glad when she is buried. I have been so cold and shaky ever since they brought her here,' he said to Charles, as, with a shiver, he drew his chair nearer to the fire and leaning back wearily in it fixed his eyes upon Gretchen's picture smiling at him from the window, 'Dear little Gretchen,' he said in a whisper, 'you seem so near to me now that I can almost hear your feet at the door, and your voice asking to come in. Hush!' and he started suddenly, as Jerry's kicks made themselves heard even to the room where he sat. 'Hush! Charles, who is that banging at the door? Surely not Maude? They would not let her come up here. Go and see, and send her away.'

He had forgotten that he was listening for Gretchen, and when Charles, who had opened the door cautiously and described the intruder, said to him. 'It is that woman's child. Shall I let her in? She is a pretty little thing,' he replied, 'Let her in? No; why should you and why is she allowed to prowl around the house? Tell her to go away.'

So Jerry was sent away with a troubled disappointed look in her little face, and as the chill March night came on and the dark shades crept into the room and Gretchen's picture gradually faded from sight in the gathering gloom until it seemed only a confused mixture of lead and glass, Arthur felt colder, and drearier, and more wretched than he had ever felt before. It was a genuine case of homesickness, if one can be homesick who is in his own house, surrounded by every possible comfort and luxury. He was tired, and sick, and disappointed, and his head was aching terribly, while thoughts of the past were crowding his brain where the light of reason seemed struggling to reinstate itself. He was thinking of Gretchen, and longing for her so intensely that once he groaned aloud and whispered to himself:

'Poor Gretchen! I am so sorry for it all. I can see it clearer now, how I left her and did not write, and I don't know where she is, or if she will ever come; and yet, I feel as if she had come, or tidings of her. Perhaps my letter reached her. Perhaps she is on her way. God grant it, and forgive me for all I have made her suffer.'

It was very still in the room where Arthur sat, for Charles had gone out, and only the occasional crackling of the coal in the grate and ticking of the clock broke the silence which reigned around him; and at last, soothed into quiet, he fell asleep and dreamed that on his door he heard again the thud of baby feet, while Gretchen's voice was calling to him to let the baby in.

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