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   Chapter 29 WHY HAROLD DID NOT GO TO VASSAR.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 19684

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The cottage in the lane, as its name implied, was not very pretentious, and all its rooms were small and low, and mostly upon the ground floor, except the one which Jerrie had occupied since she had grown too large for the crib by Mrs. Crawford's bed. In this room, in which there was but one window, and where the roof slanted down on both sides, Jerrie kept all her possessions-her playthings and her books, and the trunk and carpet-bag which had been found when she was found. Here she had cut off her hair and slept on the floor, to see how it would seem, and here she had enacted many a play, in which the scenes and characters were all of the past. For the cold in winter she did not care at all, and when in summer the nights were close and hot, she drew her little bed to the open window and fell asleep while thinking how warm she was. That she ought to have a better room had never occurred to her, and never had she found a word of fault or repined at her humble surroundings, so different from those of her girl friends. Only, as she grew taller, she had sometimes laughingly said that if the kept on she should not much longer be able to stand upright in her den, as she called it.

'I hit my head now everywhere except in the middle,' she once said. 'I wonder if we can't some time manage to raise the roof.'

The words were spoken thoughtlessly, and almost immediately forgotten by Jerrie: but Harold treasured them up, and began at once to devise ways and means to raise the roof and give Jerrie a room more worthy of her. This was just after he had left college, and there was hanging over him his debt to Arthur and the support of his grandmother. The first did not particularly disturb him, for he knew that Arthur would wait any length of time, while the latter seemed but a trifle to a strong, robust young man. Mrs. Crawford was naturally very economical, and could make one dollar go further than most people could two; so that very little sufficed for their daily wants when Jerrie was away.

'I must earn money somehow,' Harold thought, 'and must seek work where I can do the best, even if it is from Peterkin.'

So, swallowing his pride, he went to Peterkin's office and asked for work. Once before, when a boy of eighteen, and sorely pressed, he had done the same thing, and met with a rebuff from the foreman, who said to him gruffly:

'No, sir; we don't want no more boys; leastwise, gentlemen boys. We've had enough of 'em. Try t'other furnace. Mr. Warner is allus takin' all kinds of trash, out of pity, and if he says "No," go to his wife; she'll get you in.'

But the Warner factory, where Harold had once worked, was full of boys, whom the kind-hearted employer, or his wife, or both, had taken in, and there was no place for Harold. So he waited awhile until Jerrie needed a new dress and his grandmother a bonnet, and then he tried Peterkin again, and this time with success.

'Yes, take him,' Peterkin said to his foreman, 'take him, and put him to the emery wheel; that's the place for such upstarts; that'll take the starch out of him double quick. He's a bad egg, he is, and proud as Lucifer. I don't suppose he'd touch my Bill or my Ann'Lizy with a ten-foot pole. Put him to the wheel. Bad egg! bad egg!'

For some moat unaccountable reason, old Peterkin had a bitter prejudice against the boy, on whose account he had once been turned from the Tracy house; and though he had forgiven the Tracys, and would now have voted for Frank for Congressman if he had the chance, he still cherished his animosity against Harold, designating him as an upstart and a bad egg, who was to be put to the wheel. So Harold was 'put to the wheel' until he got a bit of steel in his eye, and his hands were blistered. But he did not mind the latter so much, because Jerrie cried over them at night and kissed them in the morning, and bathed them in cosmoline, and called Peterkin a mean old thing, and offered to go herself to the wheel.

But to this Harold only laughed. He could stand it, he said, and a dollar a day was not to be sneezed at. He could wear gloves and save his hands.

But the appearance of gloves was the signal for a general hooting and jeering from the boys of his own age who were employed there, and who had from the first looked askance at Harold because they knew how greatly he was their superior, and fancied an affront in everything he did and every word he said, it was spoken so differently from their own dialect.

'I can't stand it,' Harold said to Jerrie, after a week's trial with the gloves. 'I'd rather sweep the streets than be jeered at as I am. I don't mind the work. I am getting used to it, but the boys are awful. Why, they call me 'sissy,' and 'Miss Hastings,' and all that.'

So Harold left the employ of Peterkin, greatly to the chagrin of that functionary, who had found him the most faithful boy he had ever had. But this was years ago, and matters had changed somewhat since then. Harold was a man now-a graduate from Harvard, with an air and dignity about him which commanded respect even from Peterkin, who was sitting upon his high stool when Harold came in with his application. Billy, who was Harold's fast friend, was now in the business with his father, and as he chanced to be present, the thing was soon arranged, and Harold received into the office at a salary of twelve dollars per week, which was soon increased to fifteen and twenty, and at last, as the autumn advanced and Harold began to talk of taking the same school in town which he had once before taught, he was offered $1,500 a year, if he would remain, as foreman of the office, where his services were invaluable. But Harold had chosen the law for his profession, and as teaching school was more congenial to him than writing in the office, and would give him more time for reading law, he declined the salary and took the school, which he kept for two successive winters, going between times into the office whenever his services were needed, which was very often, as they knew his worth, and Billy was always glad to have him there.

In this way he managed to lay aside quite a little sum of money, besides paying his interest to Arthur, and when Maude came home from Europe in March he felt himself warranted in beginning to raise the roof. He was naturally a mechanic, and would have made a splendid carpenter; he was also something of an architect, and sketched upon paper the changes he proposed making. The roof was to be raised over Jerrie's room; there was to be a pretty bay-window at the south, commanding a view of the Collingwood grounds and the river. There was to be another window on a side, but whether to the east or the west he could not quite decide. There was to be a dressing-room and large closet, while the main room was to be carried up in the centre, after the fashion of a church, and to be ceiled with narrow strips of wood painted alternately with a pale blue and gray. He showed the sketch to his grandmother, who approved it, just as she approved everything he did, but suggested that he submit it to Maude Tracy, who she heard, had become an artist and had a studio; so he took the plan to Maude, explaining it to her, and saying it was to be a surprise to Jerrie, when she came home for good in the summer. Maude was interested and enthusiastic at once, and entered heart and soul into the matter, making some suggestions which Harold adopted, and deciding for him where the extra window was to be placed.

'Put it to the east,' she said, 'for Jerrie is always looking toward the rising sun, because, she says her old home is that way. And, besides, she can see the Tramp House she is so fond of. For my part, I think it a poky place, and never like to pass it after dark, lest I should see the dark woman standing in the door, with the candle in her hand, crying for help. Where was Jerry then, I wonder! In the carpet-bag, asleep, perhaps. Wouldn't that make a very effective picture! The storm, the open door, the frantic woman in it, with the candle held high over her head, and Jerrie clutching her dress behind, with her great blue eyes staring out in the darkness. That is the way I have always seen it since you told me about it, and the light you saw. I mean to paint the picture, and hang it in the new room as another surprise to Jerrie.'

'Oh, don't!' Harold said, with a shudder. 'Jerrie would not like it. It almost killed her when she first knew of the cry which Mr. Arthur heard, and the light I saw that night. She insisted upon knowing everything there was to know; and when I told her all the color left her face, and for a moment she sat rigid as a stone, with a look I shall never forget, and then she cried as I never saw anybody cry before. This was three years ago, and she has never spoken to me of it since.'

Harold's voice trembled as he talked, while Maude cried outright. The idea of the picture was given up, and she went back to the subject of the new room in which she seemed quite as much interested as Harold himself. When the roof was raised, and the floor laid, and the frame-work of the bay-window up, she went nearly every day to the cottage to watch the progress of the work, and to keep Harold's one hired man up to the mark, if he showed the least sign of lagging.

'She is wus than a slave-driver,' the man said to Harold one day. 'Why, if ever I stop to take a chair, or rest my bones a bit, she's after me in a jiffy, and asks if I don't think I can get so much done in an hour if I work as tight as I can clip it. I was never so druv in my life.'

And yet both the man and Harold liked to see the little lady there, walking through the shavings, and holding high her dainty skirts as she clambered over piles of boards and shingles, or perching herself on the work bench, superintende

d them both, and twice by her intervention saved a door from swinging the wrong way, and from being a little askew.

Mrs. Tracy was greatly opposed to Maude's going so often to the cottage, wondering what pleasure she could find in seeing an old house repaired, and predicting that she would make herself sick. But Maude was headstrong and would have her way, especially as her father did not object, but himself took her frequently to the cottage. Frank was almost as much interested in the work as she was, and once offered his services, as did Dick St. Claire and Billy Peterkin.

'That's splendid. We'll have a bee, and get a lot done,' Maude said; and she pressed into the bee her father and Dick, and Billy, and Fred Raymond, and Tom, the latter of whom did nothing but find fault, saying that the ceiling ought to have been of different woods, the floor inlaid, and the tops of the windows cathedral glass.

'And I suppose you will find the money for all that elegance,' Maude said, as she held one end of a board for Harold to nail. 'We are cutting our garment according to the cloth, and if you don't like it you'd better go away. We do not want any drones in the hive, do we, Hally?'

'She had taken to address him thus familiarly since they had commenced their carpenter work together, and Harold smiled brightly upon her as upon a child, as she stood on tip-toe at his side.

Tom went away, but he soon came back again; for there was for him a peculiar fascination about this room for Jerrie, and sitting down upon a saw-horse, he looked on, and whittled, and smoked, while Dick blistered his hands, and Fred raised a blood-blister by striking his finger with the hammer, and Billy ran a huge splinter under his thumb nail.

Then they all went away, and Harold was left alone, for his man had been obliged to leave, and thus the finishing up devolved upon him. But he was equal to it. The worst was over, and all that was now required was hard and constant work if he would accomplish it in time to see Jerrie graduated, as he greatly wished to do, provided he should have money enough left for the trip when everything was paid for.

But whoever has repaired an old house needs not to be told that the cost is always greater than was anticipated, and that there are a thousand difficulties which beset the unwary workman and hinder his progress. And Harold found it so. Still he worked bravely on, early and late, taking no rest except for an hour or so in the afternoon, when he found it a very pleasant change to walk through the leafy woods, so full of summer life and beauty, to where Maude waited for him, with her sunny face and bright smile, which always grew brighter at his coming. How could he know what was in her mind?-he, who never dreamed it possible that she, of all other girls, could fall in love with him-'that Hastings chap, poor as poverty,' as he knew Tom sometimes called him.

That Maude liked him, he was sure; but he supposed it was mostly for the amusement he afforded her, and for the sake of Jerrie, of whom she was never tired of talking. Maude's friendship was very sweet to the young man, who had so few means of enjoyment, and whose life was one of toil and care. So he went blindly on toward the pitfall in the distance, and began at last to look forward with a great deal of pleasure to the readings or talks with Maude, even though he did not find her very intellectual. She amused and rested him, and that was something to the tired and overworked man.

The room was finished inside at last, and looked exceedingly cool and pleasant in its dress of blue and gray, and its two rows of colored glass in each window; for Harold had carried out Tom's suggestion in that respect, and by going without a new hat and a pair of pants, which he needed, had managed to get the glass, which he set himself; for, as he said to Maude, who assisted him in the matching and arrangement, he was a kind of jack-at-all-trades. Maude had also helped him to putty up the nail-holes, and had tried her hand at the painting until it gave her a sick-headache, and she was obliged to quit.

When Arthur first heard of the raised roof, he went down to see it, and approving of everything which had thus far been done, insisted upon furnishing the room himself. But Harold refused, saying decidedly that it was his own surprise for Jerrie, and no one must help him. So Arthur went away, and told Maude confidentially that the young man Hastings was made of the right kind of stuff, that he liked his independence, and that, although he should allow him to pay his debt, he should deposit the money as fast as received to his credit in the savings bank, so that he would eventually get it all.

'You are the darlingest uncle in the world!' Maude said, rubbing her soft cheek against his, in that purring way many men like, which made Arthur kiss her, and tell her she was a little simpleton, but rather nice on the whole.

'And you'll not tell Jerrie a word about the room!' Maude charged him again and again, while they were in New York selecting the dress.

'Not if I can help it,' was his reply, although, as the reader knows, he came near letting it out twice, but held on in time, so that the raised roof was still a secret from Jerrie when she reached the station and was met by Maude and Harold.

The room, was all ready, and a most inviting looking room it was, with its pretty carpet of blue and drab, and a delicate shading of pink in it; its cottage furniture, simple, but suitable; its muslin curtains and chintz covered lounge, and the willow chair and round table, which Maude had insisted upon furnishing. She would have some part in furnishing the room, she said, and Harold allowed her to get the chair, which she put by the window looking toward the Tramp House, and the round table, which stood in the bay-window, with a Japanese bowl upon it filled with the lilies Harold had gathered in the early morning. He had found it impossible to go to Vassar there were so many last things to be done, and so little money left in his purse with which to make the journey, and as Maude had more confidence in her own taste for the arrangement of furniture than in his, she too decided to remain at home and see it through. The carpet was not put down until the morning of the day when the young men started for Vassar, and it was the noise of the tack-hammer which Tom had heard and likened to the shingling of a roof.

'There must be flowers everywhere, Jerrie is so fond of them,' Maude said; and she brought great baskets full from the park gardens, and a costly Dresden vase, which Arthur had left for Jerrie when he went away, together with his card and his photograph, and a note in which he had written as follows:

'MY DEAR CHILD:-Welcome, welcome home again. I wish I could see you when your blue eyes first look upon the room I came so near telling you about. Maude would have killed me if I had. You have no idea how Harold has worked to get it done, and where he got the money is more than I know. Pinched himself, in every way, of course. He is a noble fellow, Jerrie. But you know that. I saw it in your face at Vassar, and saw something else, too, which you may think is a secret. Will talk with you about it when I come home. I am off to-morrow for California. Would like to take you with me. Maybe I shall meet with robbers in the Yosemite. I'd rather like to. God bless you!

'ARTHUR TRACY.'

'Uncle Arthur was very queer the day he went away,' Maude said to Harold, as she put the note, and the photograph, and the card upon the dressing-bureau. 'I heard him talking to Gretchen, and saying, "Gretchen, Gretchen, Jerrie will be here by-and-by, to keep you company while I am gone-little Jerrie, when I first knew her, but a great tall Jerrie now, with the air of a duchess. Yes, Jerrie is coming, Gretchen." How he loves her-Jerrie, I mean; and I do not wonder, do you?'

Harold's mouth was full of tacks and he did not reply, but went steadily on with his work until everything was done.

'Isn't it lovely, and won't she be pleased!' Maude kept saying, as she gave the room a last look and then started for home, charging Harold to be on time at the train, and to try and not look so tired.

Harold was very tired, for the constant strain of the last few weeks had told upon him, and he felt that he could not have gone on much longer, and that only for Maude's constant enthusiasm and sympathy he should have broken down before the task was done. It was not easy work, shingling roofs and nailing down floors, and painting ceilings, and every bone in his body ached, and his hands were calloused like a piece of leather, and his face looked tired and pale when he at last sat down to rest awhile before changing his working suit for one scarcely better, although clean and fresher, with no daubs of paint or patches upon it.

'They don't look first-rate, that's a fact,' he said to himself as he surveyed his pants, and boots, and hat, and thought what a contrast he should present to the elegant Tom and his other friends at the station. 'But Jerrie won't care a bit; she understands, or will, when she sees her new room. How pretty it is!' he added, as he stopped to look in and admire it.

A blind had swung open, letting in a flood of hot sunshine and as it was desirable to keep the room as cool as possible, Harold went in to close the shutter. But something was the matter with both fastening and hinge, and he was fixing it when Maude drove up, telling him the train was late.

'That's lucky,' he said, 'for this blind is all out of gear;' and it took so much time to fix and rehang it that the whistle was heard among the hills a mile away, just as he entered the victoria with Maude and started for the station upon a run.

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