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   Chapter 33 AT THE PARK HOUSE.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 10249

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It was six months since Jerrie had seen Frank Tracy, and even in that time he had changed so much that she noticed it at once, and looked at him wonderingly as he came quickly toward her with a smile on his haggard face, and an eager welcome in his voice, as he gave her both his hands, and told her how glad he was to see her.

His hair was very white, and she noticed how he stooped as he walked with her to the house and told her how anxiously Maude was waiting for her.

'But she cannot talk just yet,' he said. 'You must do all that. The doctor tells us there is no danger, if she is kept quiet for a few days. Oh, Jerrie, what if I should lose Maude after all.'

They were ascending the staircase now, and Frank was holding Jerrie's hand while she tried to comfort and reassure him, and then thanked him for the fruit and the flowers he had sent to the cottage for her the day before.

'You are so good to me,' she said, 'you and Mr. Arthur. How lonely the house seems without him.'

'Yes,' Frank replied, though in his heart he felt his brother's absence as a relief, for his presence was a constant reproach to him, and helped to keep alive the remorse which was always tormenting him.

The sight of Jerrie, too, was a pain, but she held a nameless fascination for him, and he was constantly wondering what she would say and do when she knew, as he was morally sure she would sometime know what he had done. He was thinking of this now, and saying to himself, 'She will not be as hard upon me as Arthur,' as he led her up the stairs and stopped at the door of Arthur's rooms.

'Would you like to go in?' he asked. 'I have the keys,' and he proceeded to unlock the door.

But Jerrie held back.

'No,' she said, as she glanced in at the silent, deserted rooms. 'It is like a grave. The ruling spirit is gone.'

'But you forget Gretchen. She is here, and one of Arthur's last injunctions was that I should visit her every day, and tell her he was coming back. I have not seen her this morning. Come.'

He was leading her now by the waist through the front parlor, where the furniture in its white shrouds looked like ghosts, and the pictures were covered with tarletan. It was dark, too, in the Gretchen room, as they called it now, but Frank threw open the blinds and let in a flood of light upon the picture, before which Jerrie stood reverently, and with feelings such as she had never experienced before, as she looked upon that lovely, girlish face.

A new idea had taken possession of Jerrie since she had last seen that picture, and while, unsuspected by her, Frank was studying first her features and then those of Gretchen, she was struggling frantically with the past, which seemed clearer than before. Again she saw the low room far away-the tall stove in the corner, the dark woman opening the door, the firelight on the white face in the chair; and this time memory added another item to the picture, and she of the white face and wavy golden hair seemed to hold a writing-desk on her lap and a piece of paper on which the pale hands were tracing words slowly and feebly, as if the effort were a pain.

'Oh, I can almost remember,' she whispered, just as Frank's voice broke the spell by saying:

'Good-morning, Gretchen. Arthur is in California, but he is surely coming back; he bade me tell you so.'

'Is he crazy as well as Mr. Arthur? Are we all crazy together?' Jerrie asked herself, as she watched him closing the blinds and shutting out the sunlight from the room, so that the picture was in shadow now and seemed nothing but bits of colored glass.

'I have kept my promise to Arthur; and now for Maude,' Frank said, and Jerry was conscious of a new and strange sensation-a feeling of ownership and possession, as she went through the broad hall, glancing in at one handsome room after another, until she reached Maude's door.

On the threshold she met Mrs. Frank, just coming out, and elegantly attired in a tasteful muslin wrapper, with more lace and embroidery upon it than Jerrie had ever worn in her life; her hair was carefully dressed with a cap which looked like a pen-wiper or doll's bonnet, it was so small, perched on the top of it; her face was powdered, and her manner was one of languor and fine-ladyism, which she had cultivated so assiduously and achieved so successfully. Not a muscle of her face changed when she saw Jerrie, but she closed Maude's door quickly, and stepping into the hall, offered the tips of her fingers, as she said, in a fretful, rather than a welcoming tone:

'Good-morning. You are very late. Maude expected you two hours ago, almost immediately after Tom went out. She has worked herself into a great state of feverish nervousness.'

'I am so sorry,' Jerry replied. 'But I could not come sooner. I had a large washing to do, and that takes time, you know.'

Jerry meant no reflection upon the days when Dolly had done her own washing, and knew that it took time, but the thought she did, and a frown settled upon her face as she replied:

'Surely your grandmother might have helped you, or Harold; and Maude is so im

patient and weak this morning. The doctor says there is no danger if she is kept quiet. She is only tired out with that room of yours. Why, I am told she has actually puttied up nail-holes, and painted walls, and sawed boards! I hope you like it. You ought to, for a part of Maude's life and strength is in it.'

'Oh, Mrs. Tracy,' Jerry cried, with tears in her eyes, 'I am so sorry. Of course I like the room, or did; but if it has injured Maude, I shall hate it.'

Dolly had given her a little stab and was satisfied, so she said in a softer tone:

'Maude may recover-I think she will; but everything must be done to please her, and she cannot talk to you this morning-remember that. You must do the talking, but must not stay too long.'

'Mamma-mamma, let Jerrie in,' came faintly from the closed room; and then Mrs. Tracy stood aside and let Jerrie pass into the luxurious apartment, where Maude lay upon a silken couch, with a soft, rose-colored shawl thrown over her shoulders, her eyes large and hollow, and her face as white almost as a corpse.

One looking at her needed not to be told of her danger, or of the peril there was in exciting her; and Jerrie felt a cold thrill creep over her as she went to the couch, and kneeling beside it, kissed the pale, quivering lips and smoothed the dark hair, while she tried to speak naturally and cheerfully, as if in her mind there was no thought of danger to the beautiful girl, who smiled so lovingly upon her and kept caressing her hands and her face, as if she would thus express her gladness to see her.

'I know all about it, Maude,' Jerrie said. 'Tom told me, and your mother. You tired yourself out for me. Hush! Don't speak, or I shall go away,' she continued, as she saw Maude's lips move. 'You are not to talk. You are to listen, just for a day or two, and then you will he better, and come to the cottage and see my lovely room. It is so pretty, and I like it so much, and thank you and Harold so much. He has gone to the Allen farm to-day to paint,' she said, in answer to an eager questioning look in Maude's eyes. 'He does not know you are sick. He will come when he can see you-to-morrow, maybe. Would you like to have him?'

A warm pressure of the hand was Maude's reply, as the moisture gathered upon her heavy eyelashes. But Jerrie kissed it away, though her own hot tears fell upon Maude's hair, which, however, was so thick that she did not feel them; nor did she dream what it cost Jerrie to sit there and tell her everything of Harold which she could think of, because she knew that would please the sick girl better. Once she made Maude laugh, as she took off little Billy, imitating his voice so perfectly that a person outside would have said he was in the room. Jerrie's talent for imitation and ventriloquism had not deserted her, although as she grew older, she did not so often practice it as when a child; but she brought it into full play now to amuse Maude, and imitated every individual of whom she spoke, except Arthur. He was the one person whose peculiarities she could not take off.

'I have been to Mr. Arthur's room,' she said, 'but it seems so desolate without him. Do you hear from him often?'

'I have only had one letter, and then he was in Salt Lake City, at the Continental, in a room which he said was big enough for three rooms, and had not a single bad smell in it, except the curtains, which were new, and in which he did detect a little odor.'

Here Maude laughed again, while there came into her face a faint color and a look which made Jerrie's breath come quickly as, for the first time, the thought flashed across her mind that if what she had been foolish enough to dream of were true Maude was her cousin-her own flesh and blood.

'Maude,' she said suddenly, with a strong desire to fold the frail little body in her arms and tell her what she had thought.

But when Maude looked up inquiringly at her she only put her head down upon the rose-colored shawl and began to cry. Then, regardless of consequences, Maude raised herself upon her elbow, and laying her face on Jerrie's head began herself to cry piteously.

'Jerrie, Jerrie,' she sobbed, 'you think I am going to die, I know you do, and so does everybody, but I am not; I cannot die when there is so much to live for, and my home is so beautiful, and I love everybody so much, and-'

Terrified beyond measure, Jerrie put her hand over Maude's mouth and said, almost sharply:

'If you want to live you must not talk. Be careful and you will get well; the doctor says so.'

But Jerrie's tears belied her words when she saw the palor in Maude's face as she sank back upon her pillow exhausted, while, with her handkerchief she wiped a faint coloring of blood from her lips.

'I have stayed too long,' Jerrie said, as she arose from her low seat by the couch. Then Maude spoke again in a whisper and said:

'Send Harold soon.'

'I will,' Jerrie replied, and kissing the death-like face again she went softly from the room, thinking to herself, as she descended the stairs, 'I believe I could give Harold to her now.'

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