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   Chapter 31 AT HOME.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 12036

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Oh, Harold, what is that? What have you been doing?' Jerrie cried, stopping short, while a suspicion of the truth began to dawn upon her.

'That is the roof Tom told you I was shingling,' Harold replied; and taking her by the arm, he hurried her into the cottage where Mrs. Crawford stood at the door, in her broad white apron and the neat muslin cap which Maude has fashioned for her.

With a cry of joy, Jerrie took the old lady in her arms, and kissed and cried over her.

'It is so nice to be home, and everything is so pleasant!' she said, as her eyes swept the sitting-room and kitchen, and back porch where the tea-table was laid, with its luscious berries and pitchers of cream. 'Go right up stairs with Harold. I have just come down, and cannot go up again,' Mrs. Crawford said, excitedly; and, with a bound, Jerry was up the stairs and into the lovely room.

When she saw them coming in the lane, Mrs. Crawford had gone up and opened the shutters, letting in a flood of light, so that nothing should escape Jerrie's notice. And she saw it all at a glance-the high walls, the carpet, the furniture, the curtains, and the flowers-and knew why Harold did not come to Vassar.

He was standing in the bay-window, watching her, and the light fell full upon his shabby clothes, which Jerrie noticed for the first time, knowing exactly why he must wear them, and understanding perfectly all the self-denials and sacrifices he had made for her, who had been angry because he did not come to see her graduated. Had she been three years younger, she would have thrown herself into his arms and died there. Harold half thought and hoped she was going to do so now, for she made a rush toward him, then stopped suddenly, and sinking into the willow chair-Maude's gift-began to sob aloud, while Harold stood looking at her, wishing she had not cried, and wondering what he ought to do.

'Don't you like it, Jerrie?' he said at last.

'Like it?' and in the blue eyes so full of tears which she flashed upon him, he read her answer. 'Like it! Oh, Harold, it is perfect! I never saw a room I liked better. But why did you do it? Was it because of that foolish speech of mine about knocking my brains out, the ceiling was so low?'

'Not at all,' Harold replied. 'I had the idea in my head long before you wrote that to me, but could not quite see my way clear until last spring. I have seen Nina's room and Maude's, and have heard that Ann Eliza Peterkin's was finer than the Queen's at Windsor, and I did not like to think of you in the cooped up place this was, with the slanting roof and low windows. I am glad you like it.'

And then, knowing that she would never let him rest until he had done so, he told her all the ways and means by which he had been able to accomplish it, except indeed, his own self-denials and sacrifices of pride, and even comfort. But this she understood, and noticed again more carefully the shabby coat, and pants, and shoes, and the calloused hands, which lay upon his knees as he talked, and which she wished so much to take in hers and kiss and pity, for the hard work they had done for her. But this would have been 'throwing herself at his head.'

She was constantly thinking of Arthur's words, and so she only cried the more, as she told Harold how much she thanked him, and never could repay him for what he had done for her.

'But it was a pleasure, Jerrie,' he said.' I never enjoyed anything in my life as I have working in this room, with Maude to help me. She was here nearly every day, and by her courage and enthusiasm kept me up to fever heat. She puttied up the nail-holes and painted your dressing-room, and would have helped shingle the roof if I had permitted it. She gave the chair you sit in, and the table in the window. She would do that and I let her; but when Mr. Arthur offered his assistance, and the other Mr. Tracy, I refused, for I wanted it all my own, for you.'

He was speaking rapidly and excitedly, and had Jerrie looked she would have seen in his face all she was to him; but she did not look up, and at mention of Maude a cloud fell suddenly upon her. But she would not let it remain; she would be happy and make Harold so, too. So she told him again of her delight, and what a joyous coming home it was.

She had not yet seen Arthur's card, and photograph, and note; but Harold called her attention to them; and taking up the latter, she opened it, while her heart gave a great throb of something between joy and pain as she saw the words, 'My dear child,' and then went on to read the note so characteristic of him.

'What a strange fancy of his to go off so suddenly to California. I wonder Mr. Frank allowed it,' she said, as she put the note in her pocket, and then, at a call from Mrs. Crawford, went down to where the supper was waiting for her.

The tea cakes were a little cold, but everything else was delicious, from the fragrant tea to the ripe berries and thick, sweet cream, and Jerrie enjoyed it all with the keen relish of youth and perfect health.

After supper was over Jerrie made her grandmother sit still while she washed up and put away the dishes, singing as she worked, and whistling, too-loud, dear, ringing strains, which made a robin in the grass fly up to the perch, where, with his head turned on one side he listened, as if in wonder, to this new songster, whose notes were strange to him.

And Jerrie did seem like some joyous bird just let loose from prison, as she flitted from one thing to another, now setting her grandmother's cap a little more squarely on her head, and bending to kiss the silvery hair as she said to her, 'Your working days are over now, for I have come home to care for you, and in the future you have nothing to do but to sit still, with your dear old lame feet on a cushion;' now helping Harold water the flowers in the borders, and pinning a June pink in his buttonhole, while he longed to take her in his arms and kiss her as in the days when they were children t

ogether; now, going with him to milk Nannie, who, either remembering Jerrie, or recognizing a friend in her, allowed her gentle face to be petted and her horn to be decorated with a knot of blue ribbon, which Jerrie took from her throat, and which Harold afterward took from Nannie's horn and hid away with the withered lillies Jerrie had thrown him that day at Harvard when her face and her eyes had been his inspiration.

They kept early hours at the cottage, and the people at the Park House were little more than through the grand dinner they were giving, when Jerrie said good-night to her grandmother and Harold, and went up to her new room under the raised roof. It was a lovely summer night, and the moonlight fell softly upon the grass and shrubs outside, and shone far down the long lane where the Tramp House stood, with its thick covering of woodbine.

Leaning from the window Jerrie looked out upon the night, while a thousand thoughts and fancies came crowding into her brain, all born of that likeness seen by her in the mirror when Arthur was with her at Vassar, and which Harold, too, had recognized that afternoon when she sat with him in the Tramp House. After Arthur had left her in May, she had been too busy to indulge often in idle dreams, but they had come back to her again with an overwhelming force, which seemed for a few moments to lift the veil of mystery and show her the past, for which she was so eagerly longing. The pale lace was clearer, more distinct in her mind, as was the room with the tall white stove and the high-backed settee beside it, and on the settee a little girl-herself, she believed-and she could hear a voice from the cushioned chair where the pale face was resting speaking to her and calling her by the name Arthur had given her in his note.

'My child,' he had written; but he had only put it as a term of endearment; he had no suspicion of the truth if it were truth; and yet why should he not know? Could anything obliterate the memory of a child, if there had been one, Jerrie asked herself, as her eyes wandered in that direction of the park, which had once seemed to her like Paradise.

'I will know some time. I will find it out myself,' she said, as she withdrew from the window and commenced her preparations for bed.

As she stepped into her dressing room, her eye fell upon the foreign trunk, which had come with her, and with the contents of which she was familiar. They had been kept intact by Mrs. Crawford, who hoped that by them Jerrie might some day be identified. The girl went now to the old trunk, and, lifting the heavy lid, took out the articles one by one with a very different feeling from what she had ever experienced before when handling them. The alpaca dress came first, and she examined it carefully. It was coarse, and plain, and old-fashioned, and she felt intuitively that a servant had worn it and not she whose pale, refined face seemed almost to touch hers as she knelt beside the box. The cloak and shawl, in which she had been wrapped, were inspected next, and on these Jerrie's tears fell like rain, while there was in her heart an indefinable feeling of pity for the woman who had resolutely put away the covering from herself to save a life which was no part of her own.

'Oh, Mah-nee,' she sobbed, laying her face upon the rough, coarse garments, 'I am not disloyal to you in trying to believe that you were not my mother, and could you come back to me, Mah-nee, whoever you are, I'd be to you so loving and true. Tell me, Mah-nee, who I am; give me some sign that what comes to me so often of that far-off land is true. There was another face than yours, which kissed me fondly, and other hands, dead now, as are the dear old hands which shielded me from the cold that awful night, have caressed me lovingly.'

But to this appeal there came no response, and Jerrie would have been frightened if there had. The shawl, the cloak, the dress were as silent and motionless as she to whom they had belonged; and Jerrie folded them reverently, kissing each one as she did so; then she took out the carpet-bag, which had once held her tiny body. She always laughed when she looked at this and tried to imagine herself in it, and she did so now as she held it up and said:

'I could not much more than get my two feet in you now, old bag; but you did me good service once, and I respect you, although I have outgrown you.'

Her own clothes came next-the little dresses, which showed a mother's love and care; the handkerchief, marked 'J;' the aprons, and the picture book with which she had played, and from which it seemed to her she had learned the alphabet, standing by that cushioned chair before the tall white stove. There was only the fine towel left of the clothing, and Jerrie gazed along and thoughtfully at the letter 'M,' embroidered with flowers in the corners.

'Marguerite begins with M,' she said, 'and Gretchen's name was Marguerite. Oh, if it were Gretchen who worked this letter, then I can touch what her hands have touched-the little dimpled hands in the picture,' and she kissed the 'M' as fervently as if it had been Gretchen's lips and Gretchen were her mother.

On the old brass ring the key to the trunk and carpet-bag were still fastened, together with the small straight key, for which no use had ever been found. Jerrie had never thought much about this key before, but now she held it in her hand a long, long time, while the conviction grew that this was the key to the mystery; that could she find the article which this unlocked, she would know what she so longed to know-something definite with regard to herself. But where to look she could not guess; and with her brain in a whirl which threatened a violent headache, she closed the chest at last, and crept wearily to bed just as the clock, which Peterkin had set up in one of his towers, struck for half-past ten, and Grace Atherton's carriage was rolling down the avenue from the big dinner at the Park House.

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