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   Chapter 34 UNDER THE PINES WITH TOM.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 13647

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Jerrie found Tom just where she had left him, on the piazza outside, waiting for her, it would seem, for the moment she appeared he arose, and going with her down the steps walked by her side along the avenue toward the point where she would turn aside into the road which led to the cottage.

'How did you find Maude!' he asked.

'Weaker than I supposed,' Jerrie replied, 'and so tired. Oh, Tom, I know she hurt herself worrying about my room as she did, and if she dies I shall never like it again.'

'Nonsense,' Tom answered, carelessly. 'Maude won't die. She's got the Tracy constitution, which nothing can kill. Don't fret about your room. Maude liked being there. Nothing could keep her away. And don't flatter yourself that it was all love for you which took her there so much, for it wasn't. She is just mashed with Harold, while he-well, what can a young man do when a pretty girl-and Mamie is pretty-when she gushes at him all the time? It is a regular flirtation, and everybody knows about it except mother and the Gov.'

'Who is the Gov.?' Jerry asked, sharply.

'Why, you Vassars must be very innocent,' Tom replied, with a laugh, 'not to know that Gov. is one's respected sire: the old man, some call him, but I am more respectful. My gracious, though! isn't it sweltering? I'm nearly baked, you make me walk so fast!' and he wiped the great drops of swat from his forehead.

'Why don't you go back then? Why are you walking here in the hot sun?' Jerrie asked.

'I am going home with you,' he replied. 'Do you think I'd let you go alone?'

'Go alone?' Jerrie repeated, stopping short and fixing her blue eyes upon him. 'You have let me go alone a hundred times, and after dark, too, when I was much smaller than I am now, and less able to defend myself, supposing there was anything to fear, which there is not. Pray go back, and not trouble yourself for me.'

'I shall not go back,' Tom said. 'I waited on purpose to come with you. There is something I must say to you, and I may as well say it now as any other time.'

Jerrie was tall, but Tom was six inches taller, and he was looking down straight into her eyes with an expression in his before which hers fell, for she guessed what it was he wished to say to her, and her heart beat painfully as, without another word, she walked rapidly on until they were in the woods near a place where four tall pines formed a kind of oblong square. Here an iron seat had been placed years before, when the Tracy children were young, and held what they called their picnics there under the thick boughs of the pines which shaded them from both heat and cold. Laying his hand on Jerrie's shoulder, Tom said to her:

'Sit here with me under the pines while I tell you what for a long time I have wanted to tell you, and which may as well be told at once.'

Still Jerrie did not speak, but she sat down upon the seat, and, taking off her hat, began to fan herself with it, while with the end of her parasol she tried to trace letters in the thick carpet of dead pine needles at her feet.

Her attitude was not encouraging, and a less conceited man than Tom would have felt disheartened, but he was not. No girl would be insane enough to refuse Tom Tracy, of Tracy Park; and at last he made the plunge, and told her of his love for her and his desire to make her his wife.

'I know I was a mean little scamp when I was a boy,' he said, 'and did a lot of things for which I am ashamed; but I believe that I always loved you, Jerrie, even when I was teasing you the worst. I know I used to think you the prettiest little girl I ever saw, and now I think you the prettiest big one, and I have had splendid opportunities for seeing girls. You know I have travelled a great deal, and been in the very best society; and, if I may say it, I think I can marry almost any one whom I choose. I used to fear lest you and Hal would hit it off together, or, rather, that he would try to get you, but, since he and Maude are so thick, my fears in that quarter have vanished, and I am constantly building castles as to what we will do. I did not mean to ask you quite so soon, but the sight of you this morning washing your clothes, with all that soapy steam in your face, decided me not to put it off. A Tracy has no business in a washtub.'

'Did no Tracy ever wash her own clothes?' Jerrie asked, with an upward and sidewise turn of her head, habitual with her when startled or stirred.

There was a ring in her voice which Tom did not quite like, but he answered, promptly:

'Oh, of course, years ago; but times change, and you certainly ought not to be familiar with such vulgar things, and at Tracy Park you will be surrounded with every possible luxury, Father, and Maude, and Uncle Arthur will be overjoyed to have you there; and if, on my part, love and money can make you happy, you certainly will be so.'

'You have plenty of money of your own?' Jerrie said, with another upward toss of her golden head.

The question was full of sarcasm, but Tom did not see it, and answered at once:

'Why, yes, or I shall have in time. Uncle Arthur, you know, is in no condition to make a will now. It would not stand a minute. All the lawyers say that.'

'You have taken counsel, then?'

The parasol dug a great hole in the soft pines and was in danger of being broken, as Tom replied:

'Oh, yes; we are sure of that. Whatever Uncle Arthur has, and it is more than a million, will go to father, and, after him, to Maude and me; so you are sure to be rich and to be the mistress of Tracy Park, which will naturally come to me. Think, Jerrie, what a different life you will lead at the Park House from what you do now, washing old Mrs. Crawford's stockings and Harold's overalls.'

'Yes, I am thinking,' Jerrie answered, very low; and if Tom had followed the end of her parasol, he would have seen that it was forming the word Gretchen in front of him.

'Suppose Mr. Arthur has a wife somewhere?' Jerrie asked.

'A wife!' Tom exclaimed. 'That is impossible. We should have heard of that.'

'Who was Gretchen?' was the next query.

'Oh, some sweetheart, I suppose-some little German girl with whom he amused himself a while and then cast off, as men usually do such incumbrances.'

Tom did not quite know himself what he was saying, or what it implied, and he was not at all prepared to see the parasol stuck straight into the ground, while Jerrie sprang to her feet and confronted him fiercely.

'Tom Tracy! If you mean to insinuate a thing which is not good and pure against Gretchen, I'll never speak to you as long as I live! Take back what you said about Mr. Arthur's casting her off! She was his wife, and you know it? Dead, perhaps-I think she is; but she was his wife-his true and lawful wife; and-I-sometimes-'

She could

not add 'think she was my mother,' for the words stuck in her throat, where her heart seemed to be beating wildly and choking her utterance.

'Why, Jerrie,' Tom said, startled at her excited appearance, and anxious to appease her, 'what can ail you? I hardly know what I said, and if I have offended you, I am sorry, I know nothing of Gretchen; her face is a good one and a pretty one, and Maude says you look like her; though I don't see it, for I think you far prettier than she. Perhaps she was my uncle's wife-I guess she was: but that does not injure my prospects, for of course she is dead, or she would have turned up before this time. We have nothing to fear from her.'

'She may have left a child. What then?' Jerrie asked, with as steady a voice as she could command.

'Pshaw! humbug!' Tom replied, with a laugh. 'That is impossible. A child would have been heard from before this time. There is no child; I'm sure I hope not, as that would seriously interfere with our prospects. Think of some one-say a young lady-walking in upon us some day and claiming to be Arthur Tracy's daughter!'

'What would you do?' Jerrie asked, in a tone of smothered excitement.

'I believe I'd kill her,' Tom said, laughingly, 'or marry her, if I had not already seen you. But don't worry about that. There is no child; there is nothing between us and a million, and you have only to appoint the day which will make me the happiest of men, and free you from a drudgery, which just to think of sets my teeth on edge. Will you name the day, Jerrie?'

If it had been possible for a look to have annihilated Tom, the scorn which blazed in Jerrie's eyes would have done so. To hear him talk as if the matter were settled and the money he was to inherit from his uncle could buy her made her blood boil, and seizing her poor parasol, still standing up so straight in the piny sand, she stepped backward from him and said, in a mocking voice:

'Thank you, Tom, for the honor you would confer upon me, and which I must decline, for I would rather wash grandma's stockings all my life, and Harold's overalls, too, than marry a man for money.'

'Jerrie, oh, Jerrie, you don't mean it! You do not refuse me!' Tom cried, in alarm, stretching out his arm to reach her but touching only the parasol, to which he clung desperately as a drowning man to a straw.

'I do mean it, Tom,' she said, softened a little by the pain she saw in his face. 'I can never be your wife.'

'But why not!' Tom demanded. 'Many a girl who stands higher socially in the world than you would gladly bear my name. I might have married Governor Storey's daughter, at Saratoga, last summer. She threw herself at my head, but one thought of you was enough to keep me from her. You cannot be in earnest.'

'But I am. I care nothing for your money, which may or may not be yours. I do not love you, Tom; and without love I would not marry a prince.'

It was very hard for Tom to believe that Jerrie really meant to refuse him, Tom Tracy, who with all his love for her-and he did love her as well as he was capable of loving any one-still felt that he was stooping a little, or at least was honoring her greatly when he asked her to be his wife. And she had refused him, and kept on refusing him in spite of all he could say; and worse than all, made him feel at last that she did not consider it an honor to be Mrs. Tom Tracy, of Tracy Park, and did not care either for him or his prospective fortune. She called it that finally, then Tom grew angry and taunted her with fostering a hope that Arthur might make her his heir, or at least leave her some portion of his money.

'But I tell you he can't do it. A crazy man's will would never stand, and he is crazy and you know it. You will never touch a dollar of Uncle Arthur's money, if you live to be a hundred, unless it comes to you from me. Don't flatter yourself that you will, and don't flatter yourself either that you will ever catch Hal Hastings, who is the real obstacle in my way. I know that very well, and so do you; but let me tell you that what heart he has is given to Maude, who is silly enough to encourage him; though I doubt if she would ever marry him when it comes to that. She will look higher than a painter, a carpenter, a-'

'Tom Tracy!' and Jerrie's parasol was raised so defiantly and her eyes flashed so indignantly that Tom did not finish what he was going to say, but cowered a little before the angry girl, who stood so tall before him and hurled her words at him with such scathing vehemence. 'Tom Tracy! Stop! You have said enough. When you made me believe that you really did care for me; and I suppose you must, or you would not have thrown over a governor's daughter for me, or left so many lovelorn, high-born maidens out in the cold, I was sorry for you, for I hate to give any one pain, and I would rather have you my friend than my enemy; but when you taunt me with expectations from your uncle-.'

Here Jerrie paused, for the lump in her throat would not suffer the words to come, and there arose before her as if painted upon canvas the low room, the white stove, the firelight on the whiter face, the writing on the lap, and the little child in the far-off German city. But she would have died sooner than have told Tom of this, or that the conviction was strong upon her that she should one day stand there under the pines, herself the heiress of Tracy Park, Gretchen's memory honored, and Gretchen's wrongs wiped out.

After a moment she went on:

'I care nothing for your money, and less for you, who show the meanness there is in your nature when you speak of Harold Hastings as you have done. Supposing he is poor-suppose he is a painter and a carpenter, and has been what you started to call him-is he less a man for that? A thousand times no, and there is more of true manhood and nobility in his little finger than in your whole body; and if Maude has won his love, she should be prouder of it than of a duchess' coronet. I do not wish to wound you, but when you talk of Harold, you make me so mad. Good-morning; it is time for me to be at my drudgery, as you call it.'

She walked rapidly away, leaving her parasol, which she had again thrust into the ground, flopping in the breeze which had just sprung up, and each flop seemed to mock the discomfited Tom, who, greatly astonished but not at all out of conceit with himself, sat staring blankly after her, and with her head and shoulders more erect than usual, if possible, she went on almost upon a run until a turn in the road hid her from view. Then he arose and shook himself together, and picking up the soiled parasol, folded it carefully and put it upon the seat, saying as he did so:

'By George! did that girl know what she was about when she refused to marry me?'

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