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   Chapter 30 THE WALK HOME.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 14337

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


All the way from the station to the gate Harold was trying to think of something to say besides the merest commonplaces, and wondering at Jerrie's silence. She had seemed glad to see him, he had seen that in her eyes, and seen there something else which puzzled and troubled him, and he was about to ask her what it was when she stopped so abruptly, and said:

'Why didn't you come to Vassar? Tom Tracy said you were shingling a roof, and Billy Peterkin said Maude was helping you.'

'Oh, that's it, is it?' Harold said, bursting into a laugh. 'That is why you have been so stiff and distant, ever since we left the depot, that I could not touch you with a ten-foot pole.'

'Well, I don't care,' Jerry replied, with a sob in her voice. 'I was so disappointed, for I wanted you so badly. Everybody had some friend there, but myself. You don't know how lonely I felt when I went on the stage and knew there was no home face looking at me in all that crowd. I think you might have come any way.'

'But, Jerrie,' Harold said, laying his hand upon her shoulder, as they slowly walked on, 'wait a little before you condemn me utterly. I wanted to come quite as much as you wanted to have me. I remembered what a help it was to me when I was graduated to see your face in the crowd, and know by its expression that you were satisfied.'

'I did not suppose you saw me,' Jerry exclaimed, her voice very different in its tone from what it had been at first.

'Saw you!' and Harold's hand tightened its grasp on her shoulder. 'Saw you! I scarcely saw any one else except you, and Maude, who sat beside you. I knew you would be there, and I looked the room over, missing you at first, and feeling as if something were wanting to fire me up; then, when I found you, the inspiration came, and if I began to flag ever so little, I had only to look at your blue eyes and my blood was up again.'

This was a great deal for Harold to say and he felt half frightened when he had said it; but Jerrie's answer was reassuring.

'Oh, I didn't know that. I am so glad you told me.'

They were close to the Tramp House now. The walk from the station had been hot and dusty, and Jerry was tired, so she said to Harold:

'Let's go in a moment; it looks so cool in there.'

So they went in, and Jerry sat down upon a bench, while Harold took a seat upon the table where Jerrie once had slept, with the shadow of death around her, and the carpet-bag for her covering.

'I suppose you had peals of applause and flowers by the bushel,' Harold said.

'Yes,' Jerry replied, 'applause enough, and flowers enough-twenty bouquets and baskets in all, including yours. It was kind in you to send it.'

She did not tell him of the wilted condition of his flowers, or that one of the faded roses was pressed between the lids of her Latin grammar.

'Billy sent up a heart of blue forget-me-nots,' she continued, 'and Tom a bunch of daisies on a standard of violets. What a prig Tom is, and what a dandy Billy has grown to be, and he stammers worse than ever.'

'But he is one of the best-hearted fellows in the world;' Harold said, 'he has been very kind to me.'

'Yes, I know;' Jerry rejoined, quickly, 'he makes his father pay you big wages in the office and gives you a great many holidays; that is kind. But, oh, Harold, how I hate it all-your being obliged to work for such a man as Peterkin. I wish I were rich! Maybe I shall be some day. Who knows?'

The great tears were shining in her eyes as she talked, and brushing them away she suddenly changed the conversation, and said:

'I never come in here that a thousand strange fancies do not begin to flit through my brain, and my memory seems stretched to the utmost tension, and I remember things away back in the past before you found me in the carpet-bag.'

She was gazing up toward the rafters with a rapt look on her face, as if she were seeing the things of which she was talking; and Harold, who had never seen her in this way, said to her very softly:

'What do you remember, Jerrie? What do you see?'

She did not move her head or eyes, but answered him.

'I see always a sweet pale face, to which I can almost give a name-a face which smiles upon me; and a thin, white hand which is laid upon my hair-a hand not like those you have told me about, and which must have touched me so tenderly that awful night. Did you ever try to recall a name, or a dream, which seems sometimes just within your grasp, and then baffles all your efforts to retain it?'

'Yes, often,' Harold said.

'Just so it is with me,' she continued, 'I try to keep the fancies which come and go so fast, and which always have reference to the past and some far off country-Germany, I think. Harold, I must have been older when you found me than you supposed I was.'

'Possibly,' Harold replied. 'You were so small that we thought you almost a baby, although you had an old head on your shoulders from the first, and could you have spoken our language I believe you might have told us where you were and where you came from.'

'Perhaps,' Jerry said. 'I don't know; only this, as I grow older, the things way back come to me, and the others fade away. The dark woman; my mother,'-she spoke the name very low-'is not half as real to me as the pale, sick face, on which the firelight shines. It is a small house, and a low room, a poor room, I think, with a big, white stove in the corner, and somebody is putting wood in it; a dark woman; she stoops; and from the open door the firelight falls upon the face in the chair-the woman who is always writing when she is not in bed; and I am there, a little child; and when the pale face cries, I cry, too; and when she dies-oh, Harold! but you saw me play it once, and wondered where I got the idea. I saw it. I know I did; I was there, a part of the play. I was the little child. Then, there is a blur, a darkness, with many people and a crying-two voices-the dark woman's and mine; then, a river, or the sea, or both, and noisy streets, and a storm, and cold; and you taking me into the sunshine.'

As she talked she had unconsciously laid her hand on Harold's knee, and he had taken it in his, and was holding it fast, when she startled him with the question:

'Do you-did you-ever think-did anybody ever think it possible, that the woman found dead in here, was not my mother?'

'Not your mother!' Harold exclaimed, dropping her hand in his surprise. 'Not your mother! What do you mean?'

'No disrespect to her,' Jerrie replied-'the good, brave woman, who gave her life for me, and whose dear hands caressed and shielded me from the cold as long as there was power in them to do it. I love and reverence her memory as if she had been my mother; but Harold, do I look at all as she did? You saw her-here, and at the park house. Think-am I like her-in any thing?'

'No,' Harold answered. 'You are like her in nothing; but you may resemble your father.'

'Ye-es,' Jerrie said, slowly, 'I may. Oh, Harold, the spell is on me now so strong that I can almost remember. Tell me again about that night, and the morning; what they did at the park house-Mr. Arthur, I mea

n. He was expecting somebody; Nina told me a little once, but not much. Do you know? Was it Gretchen he expected?'

She had grasped his hand again, and was looking into his face as if his answer would be life or death to her. And Harold who had no idea what was in her mind, and who had never thought that the dark woman was not her mother, looked at her wonderingly, as he replied:

'Yes, I remember that he had a fancy in his mind that Gretchen was coming; but he has had that fancy so often. He said she was in the ship with him and on the train, but she wasn't. I think Gretchen is dead.'

'Yes, she is dead,' Jerry said, decidedly; 'but tell me all you know of the time I came.'

So Harold told her again what he knew personally of the tragedy, and all he remembered to have heard. There was little which Jerrie did not already know, for as Harold had been a boy when it happened, he had not heard all that was said, and since that time other matters had crowded the incidents of the death and burial out of his mind. The thing most real to him was Jerrie herself, the beautiful girl sitting by his side, astonishing him so with her mood and her questions. He had seen her often in her spells, as he called them; when she acted her pantomimes, and talked to people whom she said she saw; but he had only thought of them as the vagaries of a peculiar mind-a German mind his grandmother said, and he accepted her theory as the correct one.

He had never seen Jerrie as she was now, with that rapt look in her face and in her eyes, which shone with a strange light as she went on to speak of the things which sometimes came and went so fast, and which she tried in vain to retain. It had never occurred to him that the woman he had found dead was not her mother, and he thought her crazy when she put the question to him. But he was a man, solid and steady, with no vagaries of the brain, and not a tithe of the impetuosity and immigration of the girl, who went on to ask him if he had ever seen any one whom she resembled.

He was wondering, in a vague kind of way, how long she meant to stay there, and if the tea-cakes his grandmother was going to make for supper would be spoiled, when she asked the question, to which he replied.

'No, I don't think I ever did, unless it is Gretchen. You are some like her, but I suppose many German girls have her complexion and hair.'

The answer was not very reassuring, and Jerrie showed it in her fact, which was still upturned to Harold, who, looking down upon it and the earnest, wistful expression which had settled there, started suddenly as if an arrow had struck him, for he saw the likeness Jerry had seen in the glass, and taking the upturned face between both his hands, he studied it intently, while, like lightening, the possibility of the thing flashed through his brain, making him colder and fainter than Jerrie herself when she looked into the mirror.

'What if it were so?' he said to himself, while everything seemed slipping away from him, but mostly Jerrie, who, if it were so, would be separated from him by a gulf he could not pass; for what could the daughter of Arthur Tracy care for him, the poor boy, whose life had been one fight with poverty, and whose worn, shabby clothes, on which the full western sunlight was falling, told plainer than words of the poverty which still held him in thrall.

'Jerrie!' he cried, rising to his feet, and letting the hands which had clasped her face drop down to her shoulders, which they pressed tightly, as if he thus would keep her with him-'Oh, Jerrie, you are like Arthur Tracy, or you were when you looked at me so earnestly; but it is gone now. Do you-have you thought that Gretchen was your mother?'

He was pale as a corpse, and Jerrie was the calmer of the two, as she told him frankly all she had thought and felt since Arthur's visit to her.

'I meant to tell you,' she said, 'though not quite so soon; but when I came in here I could not help it, things crowd upon me so. It may be, and probably is, all a fancy, but there is something in my babyhood different from the woman who died, and when I am able to do it I am going to Wiesbaden, for that is where Gretchen lived, and where I believe I came from, and if there is anything I shall find it. Oh, Harold!' and she grasped his hand in hers, 'I may not be Gretchen's daughter, but if I am more than a peasant girl-if anything good comes of my search, my greatest joy will be that I can share with you who have been so kind to me. I will gladly give you and grandma every dollar I may ever have, and then I should not pay you.'

'There is nothing owing me,' Harold said, the pain in his heart and his fear of losing her growing lean as she talked. 'You have brought me nearly all the happiness I have ever known; for when I was a boy and every bone ached with the hard work I had to do-the thought that Jerry was waiting for me at home, that her face would greet me at the window, or in the door, made the labor light; and now that I am a man-' He paused a moment, and Jerrie's head dropped a little, for his voice was very low and soft, and she waited with a beating heart for him to go on. 'Now that I am a man, life would be nothing to me without you.'

Was this a declaration of love? It almost seemed so, and but for a thought of Maude, Jerry might have believed it was such, and lead him on to something more definite. As it was, her heart gave a great bound of joy, which showed itself on her face as she replied:

'If I make your life happier, I am glad; for never had a poor, unknown girl so good and true a brother as I. But come, I have kept you here too long, and grandma must be wondering where we are.'

'Yes, and supper will be spoiled,' Harold said, as he followed her to the door. 'We are to have it in the back porch, where it is so cool, and to have tea-cakes, with strawberries from our own vines, and cream from our own cow, or rather your cow. Did I write you that she had a splendid calf, which we call Clover-top.

They had come back to commonplaces now, Jerrie's clairvoyant spell had passed and she was herself again, simple Jerrie Crawford, walking along the familiar path, and talking of the cow which Frank Tracy had given her when it was a little sickly calf, whose mother had died. She had taken it home and nursed it so carefully that it was now a healthy little Jersey, whom she called Nannie.

'A funny name for a cow,' Harold had said, and she had replied:

'Yes, but it keeps repeating itself in my brain. I have known a Nannie sometime, sure, and may as well perpetuate the name in my bossy as anywhere.'

Nannie was in a little enclosure by the side of the lane, and at Harold's call she came at once to the fence, over which she put her face for the caress she was sure to get, while Clover-top kicked up her heels and acted as if she, too, understood and were glad Jerrie had come.

'Oh, it is so pleasant everywhere, and I am so glad to be home again,' Jerrie said, as her eyes went rapidly from one thing to another, until at last they fell upon the raised roof shining to new and yellow in the sunlight.

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