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   Chapter 17 MR. CRAZYMAN, DO YOU WANT SOME CHERRIES

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 20169

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


More than two years had passed away since the terrible March night when the strange woman was frozen to death in the Tramp House, and her history was still shrouded in mystery. Not a word had been heard concerning her, and her story was gradually being forgotten by the people of Shannondale. Her grave, however, was tolerably well kept, and every Saturday afternoon, in summer time, a few flowers were put upon it by Harold. Not so much for the sake of the dead as for the beautiful child who always accompanied him, laughing, and frolicking, and sometimes dancing around the grave where he told her her mother was buried.

As there had been no date on which to fix Jerry's birth, they had called the first day of March her birthday, so that when more than two years later we introduce her to our readers on a hot July morning, she was said to be six years and four months old. In some respects, however, she seemed much older, for there was about her a precocity only found in children who have always associated with people much older than themselves, or into whose lives strange experiences have come. In stature she was very short, though round and plump as a partridge. 'Dutchy,' Mr. Tracy called her, for Mrs. Tracy did not like her, and took no pains to conceal her dislike, though it was based upon nothing except the money which she knew was paid regularly to Mrs. Crawford for the child's maintenance.

There could be no reason, she said to her husband, why he should support the child of a tramp, and the woman had been little better, judging from appearances, unless, indeed-and then she told what old Peterkin had said more than once, to the effect that Jerry Crawford, as she was called, was growing to be the image of the Tracys, especially Arthur.

'And if so,' she added, 'you'd better let Arthur take care of her, and save your money for your own children,'

To this Frank never replied. He knew better than old Peterkin that Jerry was like the Tracys, or, rather, like his brother, and that it was not so much in the features as in the expression and certain movements of the head and hands, and tones of the voice when she was very much in earnest, and raised it to a higher pitch than usual. She could speak English very well now, and sometimes, when Frank, who was a frequent visitor at the cottage, sat watching her at her play, and listening to her as she talked to herself, as was her constant habit, he could have shut his eyes and sworn it was his brother's voice calling to him from the hay-loft or apple tree where they had played together when boys.

Jerry's favorite amusement when alone was to make believe that either herself, or a figure she had made out of a shawl, was a sick woman, lying on a settee which she converted into a bed. Sometimes she was the nurse and took care of the sick woman to whom she always spoke in German, bending fondly over her, and occasionally holding up before her a doll which Mrs. St. Claire had given her, and which she played was the woman's baby. Then she would be the sick woman herself, and trying on the broad frilled cap which had been found in the trunk, would slip under the covering, and laying her head upon the pillow, go through with all the actions of some one very sick, occasionally hugging to her bosom and kissing the doll.

Once she enacted the pantomime of dying. Folding her hands together and closing her eyes, her lips moved as if in prayer, for a moment, then stretching out her feet she lay perfectly motionless, with a set expression in the little face which looked so comical under the broad frilled cap. Then, as if it had occurred to her that action was necessary from some one, she exchanged places with the lay figure, and tying the cap upon its head, tucked it carefully in the bed, by which she knelt, and covering her face with her hands imitated perfectly the sobs and moans of a middle-aged person, mingled occasionally with the clearer, softer notes of a child's crying.

The first time Frank witnessed this piece of acting was on a Saturday afternoon, when he had come to the cottage as usual to pay his weekly due. Both Mrs. Crawford and Harold were gone, but knowing they would soon return, as it was not their habit to leave Jerry long alone he sat down to wait, while she went back to the corner in the kitchen, which she used as her play-house.

'Somebody is sick and I am taking care of her,' she said to Mr. Tracy, who watched her through the pantomime of the death scene with a feeling, when it was over, that he had seen Gretchen die.

There was not a shadow of doubt in his mind that the sick woman was Gretchen, the nurse the stranger found in the Tramp House, and the doll baby the little girl upon whose memory that scene had been indelibly stamped, and who, with her wonderful powers of imitation, could rehearse it in every particular. To herself she always spoke in German, which no one could understand sufficiently to make out what she meant. Once Mr. St. Claire suggested to Frank that he take her to his brother, to whom German was as natural as English, and who might be able to learn something of her antecedents. And Frank had answered that he would do so, knowing the while that nothing could tempt him to bring her and his brother together until all the recollections of her babyhood, if she had any, were obliterated, and she had in part forgotten her own language.

His first step in evil doing had to be followed by others until he was so far committed that he could not retrace his steps, and two shadows were with him constantly now, one always reproaching him for what he had done, and the other telling him it was now too late to turn back.

He was very fond of Jerry, and on the Saturday afternoon when he sat watching her strange play, noticing how graceful was every movement, and how lovely the constantly varying expression of her face-from concern and anxiety when she was the nurse to distress and pain and then resignation and quietude in death when she took the role of the sick woman-he felt himself moved by some mighty influence to right her at once and put her in her proper place.

'It is more than I can bear. I can't even look Dolly straight in the eye,' he said to his evil shadow, which answered back.

'You know nothing sure. Will you give up your prospects for a photograph and a likeness which may be accidental?'

So his conscience was smothered again; but he would question the child, and after her play was over he called her to him and taking her in his lap, kissed the little grave face upon which the shadow of the scene she had been enacting had left its impress.

'Jerry,' he said, 'that lady who just died in the bed with the cap on was your mamma, was it not?'

''Ess,' was Jerry's reply, for she still adhered to her first pronunciation of the word.

'And the other was the nurse?'

''Ess,' Jerry said again; 'Mah-nee.'

This was puzzling, for he had always supposed that by 'mah-nee' the child meant 'mam-ma;' but he went on:

'Try to understand me, Jerry; try to think away back before you came in the ship.'

''Ess, I vill,' she said, with a very wise look on her face, while Mr. Tracy continued:

'Had you a papa? Was he there with you?'

'Nein,' was the prompt reply, and Mr. Tracy continued:

'Where did your mamma live? Was it in Wiesbaden?'

He knew he did not pronounce the word right, and was surprised at the sudden lighting up of the child's eyes as she tried to repeat the name. 'Oo-oo-ee,' she began, with a tremendous effort, but the W mastered her, and she gave it up with a shake of her head.

'I not say dat oo-oo-ee,' she said, and he put the question in another form:

'Where did your mamma die?'

'Tamp House; f'oze to deff,' was now the ready answer, a natural one, too, for she had been taught by Harold that such was the case, and had often gone with him to the house where he found her, and where the old table still stood against the wall.

No one picnicked there now, for the place was said to be haunted, and the superstitious ones told each other that on stormy nights, when the wild winds were abroad, lights had been seen in the Tramp House, where a pale-faced woman, with her long, black hair streaming down her back, stood in the door-way, shrieking for help, while the cry of a child mingled with her call. But Harold shared none of these fancies. He was not afraid of the building, and often went there with Jerry, and sitting with her on the table, told her again and again how he had found her mother that wintry morning, and how funny she herself had looked in the old carpet-bag, and so it is not strange that when Mr. Tracy asked her where her mother died, she should answer, 'In the Tramp House,' although she had acted a pantomime whose reality must have taken place under very different circumstances.

'Of course your mother died in the Tramp House, and I have nothing with which to reproach myself. I am altogether too morbid on the subject,' Frank said, and he had decided that he was a pretty good sort of fellow, after all, when at last Mrs. Crawford came in and he paid her for Jerry's board.

It was a part of Frank's plan to save the money out of his own personal expenses, so he smoked two cigars less each day and went without claret for dinner, except on Sunday, and never touched champagne, and wore his hats and coats until his wife said they were shabby and insisted upon new ones. In this way he saved more than three dollars a week, but the overplus was laid aside for the time when Jerry must necessarily cost him more because she would be older. In some respects he was doing his duty by the child, who, next to Harold and Mrs. Crawford, whom she called grandma, loved him better than any one else. She always ran to meet him when he came, and sometimes, when he went away, accompanied him down the lane, holding his hand and asking him numberless questions about Tracy Park and about his little girl, and why she never came to see her.

Frank could not tell Jerry of his wife's bitter prej

udice against her, and that this was the reason why Maude had never been to the cottage or Jerry to the park. But if Jerry had not visited it in person, she was greatly interested in the handsome house and grounds, and the lovely rooms where the crazy man lived. This was Harold's designation of Mr. Arthur-the crazy man-and perhaps of all the things at Tracy Park, Jerry was most desirous to see him and his rooms. Harold, who, on one of the rare occasions when Arthur was out to dine, had been sent to the house on an errand, had gone with Jack into these rooms, which he described minutely to his grandmother and Jerry, dwelling longest upon the beautiful picture in the window. 'Gretchen, he calls it,' he said; and then Jerry, who was listening intently, gave a sudden upward and sidewise turn to her Lead, just as she had done when Mr. Tracy spoke to her of Wiesbaden.

'Detchen,' she repeated, with a little hesitancy. 'Vat the name vas? Say again.'

He said it again, and over the child's face there came a puzzled expression, as if she were trying to recall something which baffled all her efforts. But she did not forget the name, and that evening Mrs. Crawford heard her singing to herself,

'Detchen, Detchen, who are you? Detchen, Detchen, where are you?' and she noticed that the doll baby with which Jerry played the most was ever after called 'Detchen,' instead of Maude, as it had been christened when first given to her.

Jerry had seen Maude Tracy many times and had admired her greatly, with her pretty white dresses and costly embroideries; and once, at church, when Maude passed near where she was standing, she stood back as far as possible out of the way and held her plain gingham dress aside, as if neither it nor herself had any right to come in close contact with so superior a being. Of the house in the park she knew nothing, except what Harold had told her, and that it was a place to be admired and gazed at breathlessly at a respectful distance. She had never been there since the day of the funeral But she was going at last with Harold, who had permission to gather cherries for his grandmother from some of the many trees which grew upon the place.

It was a hot morning in July, and the air seemed thunderous and heavy when she set off on what to her was as important an expedition as is a trip to Europe to an older person. She had wanted to wear her pink gingham dress, the one kept sacred for Sunday, and had even hoped that she might be allowed to display her best straw hat with the blue ribbons and cluster of apple blossoms. She had no doubt that she should go into the house and see the crazy man, and Mrs. Tracy, who she had heard wore silk stockings every day, and she wished to be suitably attired for such honor.

But Mrs. Crawford dispelled her air castles by telling her that she was only to go into the side yard where the cherry trees were, and that she must be very quiet, so as not to disturb Mr. Arthur, whose windows looked that way. To wear her pink dress was impossible, as she would get it stained with the juice of the cherries, while the best hat was not for a moment to be thought of.

So Jerry submitted to the dark calico frock and high-necked, long-sleeved apron which Mrs. Crawford thought safe and proper for her to wear on a cherry expedition. A clean, white sun-bonnet with a wide cape covered her head and concealed her face when she started from the cottage, with her quart tin pail on her arm; but no sooner was she on the path which led to the park that the obnoxious bonnet was removed and was swinging on her arm, while she was admiring the shadow which, her long, bright curls made in the sunshine as she shook her head from side to side.

To tell the truth, our little Jerry was rather vain. Passionately fond of pictures and flowers, and quick to detect everything beautiful both in art and nature, she knew that the little face she sometimes saw in Mrs. Crawford's old-fashioned mirror was pretty, and after the day when Dick St. Claire told her that her hair was 'awful handsome,' she had felt a pride in it and in herself, which all Mrs. Crawford's asseverations that 'Handsome is that handsome does' could not destroy. Maude Tracy's hair was black and straight, and here she felt she had the advantage over her.

'I do hope we shall see her,' she said to Harold, as she danced along, swaying her bonnet and shaking her hair. 'Do you think we shall?'

Harold thought it doubtful, and, even if they did, it was not likely she would speak to them, he said.

'Why not?' Jerry asked, and he replied:

'Oh, I suppose they feel big because they are rich and we are poor.'

'But why ain't I rich, too? Why don't I live at the park like Maude, and wear low-necked aprons instead of this old high one?' Jerry asked; but Harold could not tell, and only said:

'Would you rather live at the park than with me?'

'No,' Jerry answered, promptly, stopping short and digging her heel into the soft loam of the path. 'I would not stay anywhere without you; and when I live at the park you will live there, too, and have codfish and tatoe every day.'

Strangely enough this was Harold's favorite dish, and, as it was not his grandmother's, his taste was not gratified in that respect as often as he would have liked, hence Jerry's promise of the luxury.

Just here, at a sudden turn in the path, they came upon Jack and Maude Tracy playing on a bench under a tree, while the nurse was at a distance either reading or asleep. Harold would have passed them at once, as he knew his grandmother was in a hurry for the cherries, but Jerry had no such intention.

Stopping short in front of Maude, she inspected her carefully, from her white dress and bright plaid sash to the string of amber beads around her neck; while, side by side with this picture, she saw herself in her dark calico frock and high-necked apron, with her sun-bonnet and tin pail on her arm. Jerry did not like the contrast, and a lump began to swell in her throat. Then, as a happy thought struck her, she said, with something like exultation in her tone:

'My hair curls and yours don't.'

'No,' Maude answered, slowly-'no it don't curl, but it's black, and yours is yaller.'

This was a set back to Jerry, who hated everything yellow, and who had never dreamed of applying that color to her hair. She only knew that Dick St. Claire had called it pretty, but in this new light thrown upon it all her pride vanished, for she recognized like a flash that it might be 'yaller,' and stood there silent and vanquished, until Maude, who in turn had been regarding her attentively, said to her:

'Ain't you Jerry Crawford?'

That broke the ice of reserve, and the two little girls were soon talking together familiarly, and Jerry was asking Maude if she wore beads and her best clothes every day.

'Phoo! These ain't my best clothes. I have one gown all brawdery and lace,' was Maude's reply, while Jack, who was standing near, chimed in:

'My father's got lots of money, and so has Uncle Arthur, and when he dies we are going to have it; Tom says so.'

Slowly the shadows gathered on Jerry's brow as she said, sadly;

'I wish I had an Uncle Arthur, and could wear beads and a sash every day' Then, as she looked at Harold, her face brightened immediately and she exclaimed.

'But I have Harold and a grandma, and you hain't,' and running up to Harold, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him lovingly, as if to make amends for the momentary repining.

'We must go now,' Harold said, and taking her hand in his, he led her away toward the house, which impressed her with so much awe that as she drew near to it, she held her breath and walked on tiptoe, as if afraid that any sound from her would be sacrilege in that aristocratic atmosphere.

'Oh, isn't it grand, Harold?' Isn't it grand!' she kept repeating, with her mouth full of cherries, after they had reached the trees on which the ripe, red fruit hung so thickly. 'Do you s'pose we shall see the crazy man?' she asked, and Harold replied:

'I don't know. I guess not, unless he comes to the window. Those are his rooms, and that window which looks so ugly outside, is the one with the picture in it,' and he pointed to the south wing, most of the windows of which were open, while against one a long ladder was standing.

It had been left there by a workman who had been up on it to fix the hinge of a blind, and who had gone to the village in quest of something he needed, Jerry saw the ladder and its close proximity to the open window, and she thought to herself.

'I mean to fill my pail with cherries, and go up that ladder and take them to him, I wonder if he would bite me?'

Suiting the action to the word she stopped eating; and began to pick from the lower limbs as rapidly as possible until her pail was full.

'Pour them into the basket,' Harold called to her from the top of the tree, but Jerry did not heed him. She had seen the tall figure of a man pass before the window, and a pale, thin face had for a moment, looked out, apparently to discover whence the talking came.

'I'm going to take the crazyman some cherries,' she tried, and almost before Harold could protest, she was half way up the ladder, which she climbed with the agility of a little cat.

'Jerry, Jerry! What are you doing!' Harold exclaimed, 'Come back this minute. He doesn't like children; he tried to throw me over the banister once; he will knock you off the ladder; oh, Jerry!' and Harold's voice was almost a sob as he watched the girl going up round after round until the top was reached, and she stood with her flushed, eager face, just on a level with the window so that by standing on tiptoe, she could look into the room.

It was Arthur's bedroom, and there was no one in it, but she heard the sound of footsteps in the adjoining apartment, and raising herself as far as possible, and holding up her pail, she called out in a clear, shrill voice;

'Mr. Crazyman, Mr. Crazyman, don't you want some cherries?'

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