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Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 17907

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Toward the last of May Arthur came to Vassar, bringing with him the graduating dress which he had bought in New York, with Maude as his adviser. He had Jerrie at the hotel to spend Saturday and Sunday with him, and took her to drive and to shop, and then in the evening asked her to put on her finery, that he might see how it looked.

'I shall not come to hear you spout out your erudition,' he said, 'for I detest crowds, with the dreadful smell of the rooms. I have gotten the park house tolerably free from odors, though the cook's drain is terrible at times, and I shall have brimstone burned in the cellar once a week. But what was I saying? Oh, I know-I shall not be here at commencement, and I wish to see if my Cherry is likely to look as well as any of them.'

So Jerrie left him alone while she donned the white dress, which fell in soft, fluffy folds around her feet, and fitted her superb figure perfectly. She knew how well it became her, and sure of Arthur's approbation, went back to the parlor, where she had left him. Arthur was standing with his back to the door when she came in, and going up to him, she said:

'Here I am in all my gewgaws. Do you think I shall pass muster?'

She spoke in German, as she always did to him, and when he turned quickly, there was a startled look on his face, as he said:

'Oh, Cherry, it's you! I thought for a moment it was Gretchen speaking to me. Just so she used to come in with her light footstep and soft voice, so much like yours. Where is she, Cherry, that she never comes nor writes? Where is Gretchen now?'

His chin quivered as he talked, and there was a moisture in his eyes, bent so fondly upon the young girl beside him. He was worn with the fatigue and excitement of his journey and the long drive he had taken, and Jerrie knew that whenever he was tired his mind was weaker and wandered more thin usual. So she tried to quiet and divert him by calling his attention to her dress, and asking how he liked it.

'It is lovely,' he said, examining the lace and the soft flounces. 'It is the prettiest Maude and I could find. You know, she was with me, and helped me select it. Yes, it's lovely, and so are you, Cherry, with Gretchen's eyes and hair, and smile, and that one dimple in your cheek. She used to wear soft, white dresses, and in this you are enough like her to be her daughter.'

They were standing side by side before a long mirror, she taller for a woman than he was for a man, so that her face was almost in a range with his, as he stooped a little forward.

Glancing into the mirror at the two faces so near to each other, Jerrie saw something which for an instant made her cold and sick, and set every nerve to quivering as she stepped suddenly back, looking first at the man's face and then at her own in the mirror. It was gone now, the look which had so startled her, but it had certainly been there-a likeness between the two faces-and she had seen it plainer than she had ever seen any resemblance between herself and the picture. Gretchen had blue eyes, and fair hair, and fair complexion, and so had she, and so had hundreds of German girls, and all Arthur had ever said to her had never brought to her mind a thought like the two faces in the mirror. What if it were so? That was the thought which had flashed like lightning through her brain, making her so weak that she grasped Arthur's arm to steady herself as she tried to speak composedly.

'You are white as your dress,' he said. 'It is this confounded hot room; let us sit nearer the window.'

They sat down together on a sofa, and taking up a newspaper, Arthur fanned Jerrie gently, while she said to him:

'Do you really think I look like Gretchen?'

'Yes; except that you are taller. You might be her daughter.'

'Had she-had Gretchen a daughter?' was Jerrie's next question, put hesitatingly.

'None that I ever heard of,' Arthur replied. 'Why do you ask that?'

'And her name when a girl was Marguerite Heinrich, was it not?' Jerrie went on.

'Yes. Who told you that?' Arthur said.

'I saw it on a letter which you gave me to post years ago, when I was a child,' Jerrie replied. 'You never received an answer to that letter, did you?'

'What letter did you post for me to Marguerite Heinrich? I don't know what you mean,' Arthur said, the old worried look settling upon his face, which always came there when he was trying to recall something he ought to remember.

As he grew older he seemed to be annoyed when told of things he had forgotten, and as the letter had evidently gone entirely from his mind, Jerrie said no more of it. She remembered it well; and never dreaming that it had not been posted, she had watched a long time for an answer, which never came. Gretchen was dead; that was settled in her mind. But who was she? With the words, 'What if it were so?' still buzzing in her brain, the answer to this question was of vital importance to her, and after a moment, she continued, as if she had all the time been talking of Gretchen:

'She was Marguerite Heinrich when a girl in Wiesbaden, but she had another name afterward, when she was married.'

'You are talking of something you know nothing about. Can't you let Gretchen alone?' Arthur said, petulantly, and springing up he began to pace the room in a state of great excitement, while Jerrie sat motionless, with a white, stony look on her face and a far off look in her eyes, as if she were seeing in a vision things she could not retain, they passed to rapidly before her, and were so hazy and indistinct.

The likeness she had seen in the glass was gone now. She was not like Arthur at all; it was madness in her to have thought so. And she was not like Gretchen either. Her mother was lying under the little pine tree which she and Harold had planted above the lonely grave. Her mother had been dark, and coarse, and bony, and a peasant woman-so Ann Eliza Peterkin, who had heard it from her father, had told her once, when angry with her, and Harold, when sorely pressed, had admitted as much to her.

'Dark, with large, hard hands,' he had said; and Jerrie with the great tears shining in her eyes, had answered, indignantly:

'But hard and black as they were, they always touched me gently and tenderly, and sometimes I believe I can remember just how lovingly and carefully they wrapped the old cloak around me to keep me warm. Dear mother, what do I care how black she was, and coarse. She was mine, and gave her life for me.'

This was when Jerrie was a child, and now that she was older she was seeking to put away this woman with the dark face and the coarse hands, and substitute in her place a fairer, sweeter face, with hands like wax and features like a Madonna. But only for a few moments, and then the wild dream vanished, and the sad, pale face, the low voice, the music, the trees, the flowers, the sick-room, the death-bed, the woman who died, and the woman who served, all went out together into the darkness, and she was Jerrie Crawford again, wearing her commencement dress to please the man still pacing the floor abstractedly, and paying no heed to her when she went out to change her dress for the blue muslin she bud worn through the day.

When she returned to the parlor she found him seated at the tea-table, which had been laid during her absence. Taking her seat opposite to him, she made his tea, and buttered his toast, and chatted, and laughed until she succeeded in bringing back a quiet expression to the face which bore no likeness now to her own, but looked pale and haggard as it always did after any excitement. He was talking of the commencement exercises, and regretting that he could not be present.

'I may not be home,' he said. 'And if I am. I shall not come. Crowds kill me, and smells kill me, and we are sure to have both. I wish I had a different nose, but it is as it was made, and I think I detect some bad odor in here, don't you?'

Jerrie, who knew from experience that the better way was to humor his fancy, said she did smell something; perhaps it was the carpet, or the curtains, both of which were new.

'Very likely, and in that case the smell is a clean one,' he replied, and began again to speak of commencement.

'Harold is sure to be here,' he said, 'and he is better than forty old coves like me. It is astonishing what a fancy I have taken to that young man. I don't see a fault in him, except that he is too infernally proud. Think of his refusing to take any more money from me unless I would accept his note promising to pay it all back in time-just as if he ever can, or will.'

'Indeed he will,' Jerrie exclaimed, rousing at once in Harold's defence. 'He will pay every dollar, and I shall help him.'

'You!' and Arthur laughed, merrily, 'How will you help him, I'd like to know.'

'I shall teach school, or give music lessons, or do both to earn something for grandmother,' Jerrie answered, qui

ckly. 'And I shall help Harold, and shall pay Mr. Frank all he gave grandmother for my board. I know just how much it is. Three dollars a week from the time I was four years old until I was sixteen and came here to school-almost two thousand dollars; a big sum, I know, but I shall pay it. You will see,' she went on rapidly and earnestly; as she saw the amused look on Arthur's face, and felt that he was laughing at her.

'You are going to pay my brother to the uttermost farthing, but what of me? Am I to be left in the cold?' he asked, as he arose from the table and seated himself upon the sofa near the window.

'I expect to be your debtor all my life,' Jerrie said, as went over to him and laid her soft, white arms around his neck. 'I can never pay you for all you have done for me, never. I can only love you, which I do so dearly, as the kindest and best of men.'

She was stooping over him now; and putting up his hands Arthur drew her close to him, so that the two faces were again plainly reflected, side by side in the mirror opposite-the man's gentle and tender as a woman's, the girl's flushed, and eager, and excited as she caught a second time the likeness which had made her cold and faint when she first saw it, and which made her faint again as she clasped her hands tightly together, and leaning a little forward, looked earnestly at the faces in the mirror, while she listened to what Arthur was saying.

'You owe me nothing, Cherry; the indebtedness is all on my side, and has been since the day when a little white sun-bonnet showed itself at my window, and a clear, ringing voice, which I can hear yet, said to me, "Mr. Crazyman, don't you want some cherries?" You don't know how much of life and sunshine you brought me with the cherries. My sky was very black those days, and but for you I am certain that I should long ere this have been what you called me-a crazy man for sure, locked up behind bars and bolts. My little Cherry has been all the world to me; and though she is very grand, and tall, and stately now, I love to remember her as the child in the sun-bonnet, clinging to the ladder, and talking to the lunatic inside. That would make a fine picture, and it I were an artist I would paint it some day. Perhaps Maude will. Poor little Maude! Did I tell you that while she was absent she dabbled in water-colors? and now she has what she calls a studio, where she perpetrates the most atrocious daubs you ever saw. Poor Maude! She is weak in the upper story, but is, on the whole, a nice girl, and very pretty, too, with her black eyes, and brilliant color, and kittenish ways. I did not care for her once, but we are great friends now, and she is a comfort to me in your absence. I am afraid, though, that she is not long for this world. Everything tires her, and she has grown so thin that a breath might blow her away. I think it would kill Frank to lose her. His life is bound up in hers; and he once said to me, either that he had sold, or would sell, his soul for her. What do you suppose he meant?'

Jerrie did not reply. The likeness in the mirror had disappeared as Arthur grew more in earnest, and she listened more intently to what he was saying of Maude, every word as he went on a blow from which she shrank as from some physical pain.

'Yes,' Arthur continued, 'Maude is weak, mentally and physically, though I believe she is trying hard to improve her wind, or rather, that young man, Harold, is trying to improve it for her. He is at the house nearly everyday, or she is at the cottage. But, hold on! I wasn't to tell, and I haven't told-only he reads to her, sometimes outside when the weather will admit, but oftener in her studio, where she talks to him of art, and where I once saw him giving her a sitting while she tried to sketch his face. A caricature, I called it, ridiculing it so much that she put it away unfinished, and is now at work on some water-lilies he brought her, and which are really very good. Mrs. Tracy is not pleased with Harold's visits, and I once overheard her saying to Maude, "Why do you encourage the attentions of that young man? why do you run after him so, down there every day?" Hold on, again! What a tattler I am! Why don't I stick to Dolly, who said, "You certainly do not care for him. He hasn't a cent to his name, nor any family and has even worked in Peterkin's furnace." What Maude replied I do not know, I only heard Dolly bang the door hard as she left the room, so I suppose the answer was not a pleasing one. Dolly is a grand lady and would not like her daughter to marry an ordinary man like Harold.'

'No,' Jerrie said, slowly, as if speaking were an effort. 'N-no; and you think Harold likes Maude very much?'

'Likes her? Yes. Why shouldn't he like a girl as pretty as she is, especially when she meets him more than half way?' Arthur replied, and Jerrie continued in the same measured tone:

'Ye-es, and you think he would marry her if her mother would permit it?'

'He is not at all likely to do that,' Arthur answered, quickly, 'A man seldom marries a woman who throws herself at his head and lets him see how much she cares for him, and Maude is doing just that. She cannot conceal anything. I tell you, Cherry, if the time ever comes when you love somebody better than all the world beside, don't let him know until he speaks for himself. Don't be lightly won. Better be shy and cold, than demonstrative and gushing, like Maude. Gretchen was shy as a fawn, and after I told her I loved her she would not believe it possible. But, child, you look fagged and tired. It is time you were in bed. I have talked you nearly to death.'

'I am not tired,' Jerrie said, 'and I want to know what it is about Maude's going to the cottage, which you must not tell me. Is she there very, very often, and does Harold like to have her come, and is that throwing herself at his head, as you call it?'

She had her arm around his neck in a coaxing kind of way, and Arthur smoothed the soft white hand resting on his coat-collar, as he answered, laughingly:

'Mother Eve herself. You would have eaten the apple, too, had you been Mrs. Adam. No, no, I shall not tell any secrets. You must wait and see for yourself. And now you must go, for I am tired myself.'

She said good-night, and went to her room, but not to sleep at once, because of the tumult of emotions which had been roused by what Arthur had told her of Maude and Harold.

'I don't believe now that I really meant him to make love to her when I asked him to amuse her,' she whispered to herself, as she dashed away two great tear-drops from her cheeks.

Then, after a moment, she continued:

'But they shall never know. No one shall ever know that I care, for I don't, or I am not going to. Harold is my brother, and I shall love Maude as my sister, and I will do all I can to make her more like what Harold's wife should be. She is beautiful, and good, and sweet, and true, and with money and position can do far more for him than I could-I, the daughter of a peasant woman, the child of the carpet bag; and yet-'

Here Jerrie's hands beat the air excitedly as she recalled the wild fancy which had twice taken possession of her that night, and which had been born of that likeness seen in the mirror. Many times since she had passed from childhood to womanhood had she speculated upon the mystery which enshrouded her, while one recollection after another of past events flitted through her brain, only to bewilder her awhile and then to disappear into oblivion. But never before had she been affected as she was that night when the possibility of what might be nearly drove her wild.

'Oh, if that were so,' she said, 'I could help Harold, and I'd give everything to him and make him my king, as he is worthy to be. There is something far back,' she continued 'something different from the woman who died at my side. That face which haunts me so often was a reality somewhere. It has kissed me and called me darling, and I saw the life fade out of it-saw it cold and dead. I know I did, and sometime, when I have paid that debt to Mr. Frank Tracy, and have helped Harold, and made grandmother comfortable, I'll go to Germany, to Wiesbaden and everywhere, and clear the mystery, if possible; and if mother was a peasant girl, with hands coarse and hard, and black from labor in the field, then, I, too, will be a peasant girl, and marry a peasant lad, and draw his potatoes home in a cart, while he trudges at my side.'

At this picture of herself Jerrie laughed out loud, and while trying to think how it would seem to draw potatoes in a cart, after having dug them, she fell asleep and dreamed of Maude and Harold, and studios and lilies, and a face which was a caricature, as Arthur had said, and which, when at a late hour she awoke, proved to be that of the chambermaid, whom Arthur had sent to rouse her, as he was waiting for his breakfast.

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