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   Chapter 24 JERRIE—NINE YEARS LATER.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 16996

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


She spelled her name with an ie now, instead of a y. She was nineteen years old; she had been a student at Vassar for four years, together with Nina St. Claire and Ann Eliza Peterkin, and in July was to be graduated with the highest honors of her class. In her childhood, when we knew her as little Jerry, she had been very small, but at the age of twelve she suddenly shot up like an arrow, and had you first seen her, with her back to you, you might have said she was very tall, but had you waited till she turned her face toward you, or walked across the floor, you would have thought that if an eighth of an inch were taken from her height it would spoil her splendidly developed form. Her school companions called her the Princess, she was so tall and straight, and graceful in every movement, with that sweet graciousness of manner which won all hearts to her and made her a general favorite. Whether she spelled her name with an ie or a y and stood five feet six or four feet five, she was the same Jerry who had defended Harold against Tom Tracy, and been ready to go to prison, if need be, for Mr. Arthur. Frank, unselfish, truthful, and original, she had been as a child, with perhaps a little too much pride in her hair, which she hid once cut off to see how it would seem, and she was original, and truthful, and unselfish now, with a pardonable pride in her luxuriant tresses, which lay in waves upon her finely-shaped head and glistened in the sunlight like satin of a golden hue. But nothing could spoil Jerrie, not even the adulation of her friends or the looking-glass which told her she was beautiful, just as Nina St. Claire told her every day.

'Yes; I am not blind, and I know that I am rather good-looking,' she once said to Nina, 'and I am glad, for, as a rule, people like pretty things better than ugly ones, but I am not an idiot to think that looks are everything, and I don't believe I am very vain. I used to be though, when a child, but Harold gave me so many lectures upon vanity that I should not do credit to his teachings were I now to be proud of what I did not do myself.'

'But Harold thinks you are beautiful,' Nina replied.

'He does? I did not know that. When did he say so?' Jerrie asked; with kindling eyes and a quick, sideways turn of her head, of which she had a habit when startled by some sudden emotion.

'He said so last vacation, when we were home, and I had that little musicale, and you played and sang so divinely, and wore that dress of baby-blue which Mr. Arthur gave you, with the blush-rose, in your belt.' Nina said; 'I was so proud of you and so was mamma and Mrs. Atherton. You remember there were some New Yorkers there who were visiting Mrs. Grace, and I was glad for them to know that we had some talent, and some beauty, too, in the country; and Harold was proud, too. I don't think he ever took his eyes off you from the time you sat down to the piano until you left it, and when I said to him, "Doesn't she sing like an angel, and isn't the lovely?" he replied: "I think my sister Jerry has the loveliest face I ever saw, and that blue dress is very becoming to her."'

'Wasn't that rather a stiff speech to make about his sister?' Jerry said, with a slight emphasis upon the last word, as she walked away, leaving Nina to wonder if she were displeased.

Evidently not, for a few minutes later she heard her whistling softly the air 'He promised to buy me a knot of blue ribbon to tie up my bonny brown hair,' and could she have looked into Jerry's room she would have seen her standing before the mirror examining the face which Harold had said was the loveliest he had ever seen. Others had said the same, and their sayings had been repeated to her. Billy Peterkin, and Tom Tracy, and Dick St. Claire, and even Fred Raymond, from Kentucky, who was supposed to be devoted to Nina. But Jerry cared little for the compliments of either Fred or Dick, while those of Tom she scorned and those of Billy she ridiculed. One word of commendation from Harold was worth more to her than the praises of the whole world besides. But Harold had always been chary of his commendations, and was rather more given to reproof than praise, which did not altogether suit the young lady.

As Jerry had grown older, and merged from childhood into womanhood, a change had come over both the girl and boy, a change which Jerry discovered first, awaking suddenly one day to find that the brother and sister delusion was ended, and Harold stood to her in an entirely new relation. Just when the change had commenced she could not tell. She only knew that it had come, and that she was not quite so happy as she had been in the days when she called Harold her brother, and kissed him whenever she felt like it, which was very often, for she was naturally affectionate, and showed her affection to those she loved. She was seventeen when the dream came-the old, old story which transformed her from a romping, a rather gushing child, into a woman more quiet and more dignified, especially with Harold, who missed and mourned in secret for the playful loving ways which had been so pleasant to him, even if he did not always make a return.

Though capable of loving quite as devotedly and unselfishly as Jerry, he was not demonstrative, while a natural shyness and depreciation of himself made him afraid to tell in words just what or how much he did feel. He would rather show it by acts; and never was brother tenderer or kinder toward a sister than he was to Jerry, whose changed mood he could not understand. And so there gradually arose between them a little cloud, which both felt, and neither could exactly define.

Arthur had kept his promise well with regard to Jerry, who had passed from him to Vassar, and he would have kept it with Harold, if the latter had permitted it. But the boy's pride and independence had asserted themselves at last. He had accepted the course at Andover, and one year at Harvard, on condition that he should be allowed to pay Arthur back all he had received as soon as he was able to do it. As he entered Harvard in advance, he was a junior when he decided to care for himself, and during the remainder of his college course, which, of course, was longer than usual, he struggled on, doing what he could during the summer vacation-teaching school for months at a time-and in the college reducing his expenses by acting as proctor, and compelling obedience to the rules of the institution. Even the few who were aware of his limited means, and his efforts to increase them, had to acknowledge, as he stood before the multitude, delivering the valedictory, and exciting thunders of applause by his graceful gestures and thrilling eloquence, that he was not only an orator, but every inch a gentleman.

His fellow students who saw him then, and listened entranced to his clear, well-trained voice, thought not of Harold's threadbare coat and shining old-fashioned pants, which were so conspicuous as he pursued his studies in the class-room, but which were now concealed by the gown he wore over them. They saw only the large, dark eyes, the finely chiseled features, and the manly form. But as they listened to the burning words which showed so much clear, deep thought, they said to each other:

'The young man has a future before him. Such eloquence as that could move the world, and rouse or quiet the wildest mob that ever surged through the streets of mad Paris.'

Jerry was there, and saw and heard. And when Harold's speech was over, and the building was shaking with applause, and flowers were falling around him like rain, she, too, stood up and cheered so loudly that a Boston lady, who sat in front of her, and who thought any outward show of feeling vulgar and ill-bred, turned and looked at her wonderingly and reprovingly. But in her excitement Jerry did not see the disapprobation in the cold, proud eyes. She saw only what she mistook for enquiry, and she answered eagerly:

'That's Harold-that's my brother! Oh, I am so proud of him!'

And leaning forward so that a curl of her bright hair touched the Boston woman's bonnet, she threw the bunch of pond lilies which she had herself gathered that day on the river at home, before the sun was up, and while the white petals were still folded in sleep. For Jerry had come down on the early train to see Harold graduated, and Maude had found her in the crowd and sat beside her, almost as pleased and happy as herself to see Harold

thus acquit himself.

Maude's roses had been bought at a florist's in Boston at a fabulous price, for they were the choicest and rarest in market. Harold had seen both the roses and the lilies long before they fell at his feet. It was a fancy, perhaps, but it seemed to him that it sweet perfume from the latter reached him with the brightness of Jerry's eyes. He knew just where the lilies came from, for he had often waded out to the green bed when the water was low to get them for Jerry; and all the time he was speaking there was in his heart a thought of the old home, and the woods, and the river, and the tall tree on the bank, with the bench beneath, and on it the girl, whose upturned, eager face he saw above the sea of heads confronting him.

Jerrie's approval was worth more to the young man than that of all the rest; for he knew that, though she would be very lenient toward him, she was a keen and discriminating critic, and would detect a weakness which many an older person would fail to see. But she was satisfied-he was sure of that; and if there had been in his mind any doubt it would have been swept away when, after the exercises were over, and he stood receiving the congratulations of his friends, she worked her way through the crowd and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him fondly, and bursting into a flood of tears as she told him how proud she was of him.

The eyes of half his classmates were upon him, and though Harold felt a thrill of keen delight run through his veins at the touch of Jerrie's lips, he would a little rather she had waited until they were alone.

'There, there, Jerrie, that will do!' he whispered, as he unclasped her arms, and put her gently from him, though he still held her hand. 'Don't you see they are all looking at us.'

With a sudden, jerk Jerrie withdrew her hand from his and stepped back into the crowd, her heart beating wildly, and her cheeks burning with shame, as she thought what she had done and how it must have mortified Harold.

Maude was speaking to him now-Maude with her bright black eyes and brilliant color. But she was neither crying nor strangling him with kisses. She was shaking hands with him very decorously, and telling him how pleased and glad she was. And in his hand he held her roses, which he occasionally smelled as he listened, and smiled upon her with that peculiar smile of his which made him so attractive. But the lilies were nowhere to be seen; and when, an hour later, all the baskets and bouquets bearing his name were piled together, the lilies were not there.

'He has thrown them away! He did not care for them at all, and I might as well have staid in bed as to have gotten up at four o'clock and risked my neck to get them. He likes Maude and her roses better than he does me,' Jerrie thought, with a swelling heart and all through the journey home-for they returned that night-she was very quiet and tactiturn, letting Maude do all the talking, and saying when asked why she was so still, that her head was aching, and that she was too tired and sleepy to talk.

That was the last time for years that Jerrie put her arms around Harold's neck, or touched her lips to his; for it had come to her like a blow how much he was to her, and, as she believed, how little she was to him.

'Maude is preferred to me-I see it now so plainly; he likes me well enough, but he loves her-I saw it in the way he looked at her that time I mortified him so dreadfully with my gush,' she thought; and although of all her girl friends, not even excepting Nina St. Claire, Maude was the nearest and dearest, she was half-glad when a week or two later, Maude said good-bye to her, and with her mother sailed away to Europe, where she remained for more than a year and a half.

During her absence the two girls corresponded regularly, and Jerrie never failed to write whatever she thought would please her friend to hear of Harold; and when at last Maude returned, and wrote to Jerrie of failing health, and wakeful nights, and lonely days, and her longing for the time when Jerrie would be home, and be with her, and read to her, or recite bits of poetry, as she had been wont to do, Jerrie trampled every jealous, selfish thought under her feet, and in her letters to Harold urged him to see Maude as often as possible, and read to her whenever she wished him to do so.

'You have such a splendid voice, and read so well,' she wrote, 'that it will rest her just to listen to you, and will keep her from being so lonely; so offer your services if she does not ask for them-that's a good boy.'

Then, as she remembered how weak Maude was, mentally, she thought:

'He never can be happy with her as she is now. A girl who cannot do a sum in simple fractions, and who, when abroad, thought only of Rome as a good place in which to buy sashes and ribbons, and who asked me in a letter to tell her who all those Caesars were, and what the Forum was for, is not the wife for a man like Harold, and however much he might love her at first he would be sure to tire of her after a while, unless he can bring her up. Possibly he can.'

Resuming her pen, she wrote:

'Don't give her all sentimental poetry and love trash, but something solid-something historical, which she can remember and talk about with you.'

In his third letter to Jerrie, after the receipt of her instructions, Harold wrote as follows:

'I have offered my services as reader, and tried the solid on Maude as you advised-have read her fifty pages of Grote's History of Greece; but when I got as far as Homeric Theogony, she looked piteously at me, while with Hesiod and Orpheus she was hopelessly bewildered, and by the time I reached the extra Hellenic religion she was fast asleep! I do not believe her mind is strong enough to grapple with those old Greek chaps; at all events they worry her, and tire her more than they rest. So I have abandoned the gods and come down to common people, and am reading to her Tennyson's poems. Have read the May Queen four times, until I do believe she knows it by heart. She has a great liking for the last portion of it, especially the lines:

"I shall not forget you, mother:

I shall hear you when you pass,

With your feet above my head

In the long and pleasant grass."

'I saw her cry one day when I read that to her. Poor little Maude! She is very frail, but no one seems to think her in danger, she has so brilliant a color, and always seems so bright.'

Jerrie read this letter two or three times, and each time with an increased sense of comfort. No man who really loved a girl could speak of her mental weakness to another as Harold had spoken of Maude's to her, and it might be after all that he merely thought of her as a friend, whom he had always known. So the cloud was lifted in part, and she only felt a greater anxiety for Maude's health, which as the spring advanced, grew stronger, so that it was almost certain that she would come to Vassar in the summer and see her friend graduated.

Such was the state of affairs when Nina repeated to Jerrie what Harold had said to her at the musicale the previous winter. All day long there was a note of gladness in Jerrie's heart which manifested itself in snatches of song, and low, warbling, whistled notes, which sounded more as if they came from a canary's than from a human throat. Jerrie did not chew gum, but she whistled, and the teachers who reproved her most for what they called a boyish trick, always listened intently, when the clear, musical notes, now soft and low, now loud and shrill, were heard outside, or in the building.

'Whistling Jerrie,' the girls sometimes called her, but she rather liked the name, and whistled on whenever she felt like it.

And it was a very joyous, happy song she trilled, as she thought of Harold's compliment, and wished she might wear at commencement the dress of baby-blue which he had admired, for Harold would, of course, be there to see and hear, and as, when he wrote his valedictory two years before there had been in every line a thought of her, so in her essay, which was peculiarly German in its method and handling, thoughts of Harold had been closely interwoven. She knew she should receive a surfeit of applause-she always did; but if Harold's were wanting the whole thing would be a failure. So she wrote him twice a week, urging him to come, and he always replied that nothing but necessity would keep him from doing so.

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