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   Chapter 26 MAUDE'S LETTER.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 16003

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


TRACY PARK, June --, 18-.

'My darling Jerrie:-I wish I could send you a whiff of the delicious air I am breathing this morning from the roses under my window and the pond-lilies which Harold brought me about an hour ago. Don't you think he was up before the sun, and went out upon the river to get them for me because he knows how fond I am of them, and I told him yesterday that they always made me think of you, they are an sweet, and pure, and fair. I wish you could have seen him, or, rather, have heard his voice and seen the look in his eyes, as he said: "Yes; Jerrie is the lily and you are the rose; you set each other off admirably. I am glad you are so good friends."

'Harold thinks the world of you, Jerrie, and were you his own sister, I am sure he could not love you better than he does. How handsome he has grown since I went away. I always thought him splendid-looking, but he is more than that now; so tall and straight, with his head set on his shoulders in such an aristocratic kind of way, and then his eyes, which look at you so-well, I don't know how they do look at you, but they are eyes you would trust and never be afraid of anything bad behind them. Uncle Arthur says his mother was lovely, and that his father was one of the handsomest men of his time, but I am certain that Harold looks better than either of them, and has inherited the good qualities of both, without a single bad one. He is so nice and gentlemanly, and has such a kind, courteous way of saying and doing things. Fred Raymond-who, you know, is so sweet on Nina St. Clair-says that if Harold had all the blood of a hundred kings in his veins he could not be more courtly or dignified in his manner than he is, and that is a great deal for a Kentuckian to say. Fred is now at Grassy Spring, visiting Dick St. Claire, and will stay until Nina comes home. I wish Harold was rich, and if I had money of my own, I believe I'd give it to him, only he wouldn't take it, he is so awfully proud, and afraid somebody will help him; and yet I respect him for the pride, which has made him teach school, and do everything he could find to do in order to go through college the last two years and pay his own way. But I did not like it a bit when I heard he had accepted a situation in Peterkin's furnace. I know he had good wages, but it is dreadful to think of Harold under such a man, even if Billy is there. When I told Uncle Arthur he laughed, and said: "Honor and shame from no condition rise." I wonder what he meant? I asked Tom, and he said I was a fool.

'Weren't you proud of Harold, though, the day he graduated? What an oration that was! and how the building shook with applause when he came on and when he went off! And do you remember the expression of his face when he picked up the bouquet of roses I threw him, and looked over where we sat? I thought he touched his lips to them, but was not sure. Do you remember? He is studying law now all the time he can get in Judge St. Claire's office, but he comes to read to me for an hour or more nearly every day. He came of his own accord, too. I did not ask him, or even hint, as Tom says I do, when I want anything; and sometimes I half think he is trying to drive something into my head, or was, when he began to read to me about those old Greeks, Hesiod, or Herod, I don't know which, and Theogony-that's rather a pretty name, don't you think so? But I could not stand the Greeks. My mind is too weak to be impressed by anything Grecian, unless it is the Grecian bend. You tried it until you were discouraged and gave it up, telling me I was the stupidest idiot you ever saw! That was the time we had the a spelling-school in the Tramp House, and you were the teacher, and Harold chose me first, and I spelled biscuit "bisket!" Do you remember how I cried? and when you told me nobody would ever like me unless I knew something, Harold said. "Don't talk like that, Jerrie; those who know the least are frequently liked the best."

'What a comfort those words have been to me; and especially at the time when I failed so utterly in examination at Vassar and had to give it up. Oh, Jerrie, you do not know how mortified I was over that failure, to think I knew so little; and the worst of it is I can't learn, or understand; or remember, and it makes my head ache so to try. I am sorry most on father's account, he is so proud of me and would like to see me take the lead in everything. Poor father! he is growing old so fast. Why, his hair is white as snow, and he sometimes talks to himself just as Uncle Arthur does. I wonder what ails him that he never smiles or seems interested in anything except when I am smoothing his hair or sitting on his knee; then he brightens up and calls me his pet and darling, and talks queer kind of talk, I think. He asks me if I am glad I live at Tracy Park-if I like the pretty things he buys me, and if I should be as happy if I were poor-not real poor, you know, but as we were at Langley before I was born. I went there with him a few weeks ago for the first time; and oh, my goodness gracious! such a poky little house, with the stairs going right up in the room, and such a tiny, stuffy bedroom! I tried to fancy mamma's scent bottles, and brushes, and combs, and the box for polishing her nails, transported to that room, and her in there with Rosalie dressing her hair. It made me laugh till I cried, and I think papa did actually cry, for he sat down upon the stairs and turned his head away, and when he looked up his eyes were all wet and red, with such a sorry look in them that I went straight up and kissed him, and asked him playfully if he was crying for the old days when he lived in that house and sold codfish in the store.

'"Yes, Maude," he said. "I believe I'd give the remainder of my life if I could be put back right here as I was when your uncle Arthur's letter came and turned my head. Oh, if the years and everything could be blotted out!"

'What do you suppose he meant? I was frightened, and did not say a word until he asked me those questions I told you about; did I like pretty things? did I like to live at Tracy Park, and could I bear to be poor and live in the Langley house? I just told him, 'No, I should not like to live in Langley, that I did like living at Tracy Park, and did like the pretty things which money bought.'

'"Then I ought to be content, if my beautiful Maude is so," he said, and the tired look on his face lifted a little.

'He calls me beautiful so often. But I don't see it, do you? Of course you don't. You think me too black, and small, and thin, and so I am. Harold never told me I was pretty, and-I tell this in confidence, and you must never breathe it to any one-I have tried to wring a compliment from him so many times, but it's no use, I can't do it, he never understands anything, though he does sometimes say, when he brings me a bright rose: "Wear it, Maude; it will become your style."

'He never says you are pretty, either, and that is strange, for I think you have the loveliest and sweetest face I ever saw, except Gretchen's in the picture, you look like her; I saw it so plainly two years ago, when you were here one evening, and I spoke of it to father. Who was she, I wonder? Uncle Arthur does not talk much of her now, though I believe he kisses her every night and morning. How much he thinks of you, and how much he has talked of Cherry since his visit to you in May. I am so glad you liked the dress, he was so anxious about it. Did he say any thing to you of a trip to California? He took us quite by surprise two weeks ago by telling us he was going. He wanted to see the Yosemite Valley before he died, he said, and June was the time to see it. So he started off with Charles about ten days ago, and the house seems like a tomb without him.

'If I can, I shall come and see you graduate with the other Vassars, though I shall be ashamed to be seen where I failed so utterly. I might have known I should, for I

haven't about me a single quality which would entitle me to be a Vassar, unless it is my fondness for gum. Do you really chew an awful lot there, or is it a fib? How learned you and Nina will be, and how you will cast me in the shade, making me seem stupider than ever. I did try very hard to learn to speak German when I was abroad with mamma, for father wished it particularly; but I could not do it, and gave it up. I have not a capacity for anything, except to love and suffer and sacrifice for those I love. Do you know, it sometimes frightens me to think how devotedly I could love some one. Not a girl, but a man-a lover-a husband, who loved me. Why, I would give my life for him, and bear any kind of torture if it would add to his happiness. But why write this nonsense to you, who never acted as if you cared an atom for any boy, not even Dick St. Claire, who used to give you sugar hearts and call you his little wife. Entre nous (who says I do not know two French words?) mamma would like to make a match between Dick and me, but she never will-never! Dick is nice, and I like him, but not that way. Poor mamma! How much she thinks of money and position! I tell her she ought to have a photograph of the old Langley House hung up in her room to keep her in mind of her former condition. Just now she has the craze to hammer brass and paint in water-colors, and goes over to Mrs. Atherton's to take lessons. Don't you think that Mrs. Peterkin-May Jane-had like aspirations with mamma, and wanted to join the class; but the teacher found that she had as many pupils as she could attend to, and so May Jane is left out in the cold. But Mr. Peterkin says, 'By George, my wife shall have 'complishments if money can buy em!' And so, I suppose, she will. What strides those Peterkins have taken, to be sure, and what a big house he has built with such a funny name.-"Le Batteau", which, as he pronounces it, sounds like Lubber-too! It is just finished, and they have moved into it. I have not been there, but Tom has, and he says it fairly glitters, it is so gorgeous, and looks inside like those chariots which come with circuses.

'You ought to hear Peterkin talk about his 'Ann Lizy, who, he says, "is to Vassar, gettin schoolin' with the big bugs, and when she comes hum he is goin' to get her a hoss and cart for her own, and a maid, and a vally, too, if she wants one." Well, there are some bigger fools in the world than I am, and that's a comfort. As for Billy, he stammers worse, if possible, than he used to when he told us we were "pl-p-plaguey mean to pl-pl-plague Ann Lizy so;" but I guess I will let him burst upon you in all the magnificence of his summer attire-his almost white clothes, short coat, tight pants, pointed shoes, and stove-pipe hat to make him look taller. He comes here occasionally to see Tom, and always talks of you. I do believe you might be Mrs. Billy Peterkin and live at Lubber-too, if you wanted; but, really, Billy is very kind to Harold, who gets twice as much wages in the office, when he writes there, as he would if it were not for Billy.

'Tom is home, doing nothing, but taking his ease and aping an English swell. You know he was with mamma and me in England, and since his return has effected everything English, and looks quite like the dude of the period. He, too, seems interested in your return; and I don't know but you might be mistress of Tracy Park, if you could fancy the incumbrance. Dick St. Claire is going to Vassar to see you and Nina graduate; and Harold, too, if he possibly can. He is very busy just now with something he must finish, and perhaps he cannot be there. Tom is going, and Fred Raymond, and Billy Peterkin-quite a turn-out from Shannondale.

'I can hardly wait to see you. Only think, it is almost two years since I said good-bye; for we went to Europe just after Harold was graduated, and your last Christmas holidays were over before we came home.

'What a long letter I have written you, and have not told you a word of my health, about which you inquired so particularly. Did Uncle Arthur tell you anything? I wish he had not, for it worries me to have people look, and act, and talk as if I were sick, when I am not. If I had not a pain in my side, and a tickling cough, which keeps me awake nights and makes me sweat until my hair is wet, I should be perfectly strong; and but for the pain and the weariness, I feel as well as I ever did; and I go out nearly every day, and I don't want to die and leave my beautiful home, and father, and mother, and you, and-everybody I love. I am too young to die. I cannot die.

'Oh, Jerrie, I am glad you are coming home! You will do me good, just as Harold does. He is so strong every way, and so kind I can't begin to tell you what he has been to me since I came home in March-more than a friend-more than a brother. I do not see why you never fell in love with him, thought I suppose it is living with him always, as you have, and looking upon him as a brother.

'And now I must say good-bye, for I am getting tired and must rest. I was at the cottage this morning, and Harold is coming here this afternoon to read Tennyson's "May Queen" to me. He has read it a dozen times, but I am never tired of it, although it makes me cry to think of that grave in the long grass, with little Alice in it, cold and dead, listening for those she loved to come and weep over her. You know, she says to her mother:

'"I shall hear you when you pass,

With your feet above me, in the long and pleasant grass."

'Oh, Jerrie, if it should be-you know what I mean; if there should come a time when people say to each other, "Maude Tracy is dead!" you'll come often, won't you, and think of me always as the friend, who, weak and stupid as she was, loved you dearly-dearly.

'Now, good-bye again. Harold has just come in, and says, "Remember me to Jerrie, and tell her I shall hope to see her graduated, but do not know, I am so busy."

'Truly and lovingly,

'MAUDE TRACY.'

'P.S.-Tom has come in, and says, "Give my love to Jerrie."

'P.S. No. 2.-Dick St. Claire and Fred Raymond are here, and both send their regards.

'P.S. No. 3.-If you will believe me, Billy Peterkin is here, nibbling his little cane, and says, "Present my compliments to Miss Crawford."

'Just think of it. Five, or, rather, four young men-for Tom don't count-for me to entertain. But I can do it, and rather like it, too, though they all tire me, except Harold.'

Jerrie read this letter, which was received a few days before commencement, two or three times, and each time she read it, the little ache in her heart kept growing larger, until at last it was actual pain, and covering her face with her hands, she cried like a child.

'It is Maude I am crying for,' she kept saying to herself. 'I know she is worse than they have told me. She is going to die, and I am mean to grudge her Harold's love, if that will make her happier. Why does she go to the cottage so often, I wonder? Is it to see him? He would not like me to do that. He was chagrined when I kissed him at Harvard. But, then, he does not love me, and he does Maude; but he must see me graduate. I'll write and tell him so. That, surely, will not be "throwing myself at his head;"' and seizing her pen, Jerrie wrote, rapidly and excitedly:

'DEAR HAROLD: I have just heard from Maude, who says there is a possibility that you will not come to Vassar; but I shall be so disappointed if you do not. I would rather have you here than all the wise old heads in the State. So come without fail, no matter what you are doing. I can't imagine anything which should keep you. Tell grandma I am longing to be home, and keep thinking just how cool and nice the kitchen looks, with the hop-vine over the door; but she will I have to raise the roof soon, for I do believe I've grown an inch since last winter and am in danger of knocking my brains out in those low rooms.

'Good-bye till I see you.

'JERRIE.'

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