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   Chapter 37 UNDER THE PINES WITH DICK.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 9767

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Jerrie was soaked through, but she did not sprain her ankle as Ann Eliza had done. And yet, had she been given her choice, rather than inflict the pain she did inflict upon poor Dick, she would have chosen the former unhesitatingly, and felt herself happy in doing it. Like Tom and Ann Eliza, she and Dick had run when they saw how fast the storm was coming, but it was of no use, for by the time they entered the park, the shortest route to the cottage, the rain came down in torrents, and drenched them to the skin in a few moments. Jerrie's hat was wrenched off, as Ann Eliza's had been by the wind, which tossed her long golden hair in a most fantastic fashion. But Dick put his hat upon her head, and would have given her his coat had she allowed it.

'No, Dick,' she said, laughingly, as she saw him about to divest himself of it. 'Keep your coat. I am wet enough without that. But what an awful storm, and how dark it grows. We shall break our necks stumbling along at this rate.'

Just then a broad glare of lightning illuminated the darkness, and showed Dick the four pines close at hand. He knew the place well, for, with the Tracy children, he had often played there when a boy, and knew that the thick bushes would afford them some protection from the storm.

'By Jove, we are in luck!' he said. 'Here's the pine room, as we used to call it when you played you were Marie Antoinette, and had your head cut off. I can remember just how I felt when your white sun-bonnet, with Mrs. Crawford's false hair pinned it in, dropped into the basket, and how awful it seemed when you played dead so long that we almost thought you were; and when you came to light, the way you imitated the cries of a French mob, I would have sworn there were a hundred voices instead of one yelling: "Down with the nobility!" You were a wonderful actress, Jerrie; and it is a marvel you have not gone upon the stage.'

While he talked he was groping for the bench under the pines, where they sat down, Dick seating himself upon the parasol, which Jerrie had left there that morning after her interview with Tom.

'Hallo! what's this?' he said, drawing the parasol from under him. 'An umbrella, as I live! We are in luck. What good fairy do you suppose left it here for us?'

Jerrie could not tell him that she had left it there, and she said nothing; while he opened and held it so that every drop of rain which slipped from it fell upon her neck and trickled down her back. 'Great C?sar! that was a roarer!' Dick said, as the peal of thunder which had so frightened Ann Eliza burst over their heads, and, echoing through the woods, went bellowing off in the direction of the river, 'That's a stunner! but I rather like it, and like being here, too, with you, if you don't mind it. I've wanted a chance to speak to you alone, ever since-well, ever since this morning, when I saw you in that bewildering costume that showed your feet and your arms so-you know, with that thing like a napkin pinned up in front, and that jimcrack on your head, and the red stockings-and-and-'

Dick was getting bewildered and did not quite know what he was saying, so he stopped and waited for Jerrie to reply. But Jerrie did not speak, because of the sudden alarm which possessed her. She could not see Dick's face, but in his voice she had recognized a tone heard in Tom's that morning when she sat with him under pines as she was sitting now with Dick and he had asked her to be his wife. Something told her that Dick was feeling for her hands, which she resolutely put behind her out of his way, and as he could not find them, he wound his arm around her and held her fast, while he told her how much he loved her and wanted her for his wife.

'I believe I have loved you,' he said, 'ever since the day I first saw you at the inquest, and you flew so like a little cat at Peterkin when he attacked Harold. I used to be awfully jealous of Hal, for fear he would find in you more than a sister, but that was before he and Maude got so thick together. I guess that's a sure thing, and it makes me bold to tell you what I have. Why are you so silent Jerrie? Don't you love me a little? That is all I ask at first, for I know I can make you love me a great deal in time. I will be so kind and true to you. Jerrie, and father, and mother, and Nina will be so glad. Speak to me, Jerrie, and say you will try to love me, if you do not now.'

As he talked he had drawn the girl closer to him, where she sat rigid as a stone, wholly unmindful of the little puddles of water-and they were puddles now-running down her back, for Dick had tilted the parasol in such a manner that one of the points rested upon the nape of her neck. But she did not know it, or think of any thing except the pain she must inflict upon the young man wooing her so differently from what Tom Tracy had done. No hint had Dick give

n of the honor he was conferring upon her, or of his own and his family's superiority to her family and herself. All the honor and favor to be conferred were on her side; all the love and humility on his, and for one brief moment the wild wish flashed upon her:

'Oh, if I could love him as a wife ought, I might he so happy, for he is all that is noble and good and true.'

But this was while she was smarting under the few words he had said of Harold and Maude. He, too, believed it a settled thing between the two-everybody believed it-and why should she waste her love upon one who did not care for her as she did for him? Why not encourage a love for Dick, who stood next in her heart to Harold? Questioning herself thus until there flushed upon her the recollection of Harold's voice as it had spoken to her that morning, and the look in his eyes when they rested upon her, as he said good-bye, lingering a moment as if loth to leave her, and then Dick's chance, if he had ever had any, was gone!

'I do not believe it,' she said to herself, and then, turning her face to Dick she cried: 'Oh, Dick, I am so sorry you have said this to me; sorry that you love me-in this way-for I can't-I can't-. I do love you as a friend, a brother, next to Harold, but I cannot be your wife. I cannot.'

For a moment there was perfect silence in the darkness, and then a lurid flame of lightning showed the two faces-that of the man pale as ashes, with a look of bitter pain upon it, and that of the woman, whiter than the man's and bathed in upon which fell almost as fast as the rain drops were falling tears, the pines.

Then Dick spoke, but his voice sounded strange and unnatural and a great ways off:

'If I wait a long, long time-say a year, or two, or three-do you think you could learn to love me just a little? I will not ask for much; only, Jerrie, I do hunger so for you that without you life would seem a blank.'

'No, Dick; not if you waited twenty years. I must still answer no. I cannot love you as your wife should love you, and as some good, sweet girl will one day love you when you have forgotten me.'

This is what Jerrie said to him, with much more, until he knew she was in earnest and felt as if his heart were breaking.

'I shall never forget you, Jerrie,' he said, 'or cease to hope that you will change your mind, unless-' and here he started so suddenly that the wet parasol, down which streams of water were still coursing their way to Jerrie's back, dropped from his hand and rolled off upon the bed of fine needles at his feet, just where it had been in the morning when Tom was there instead of himself-'unless there is some one between us, some other man whom you love. I will not ask you the question, but I believe I could bear it better if I knew it was because your love was already given to another, and not because of anything in me.'

For a moment Jerrie was silent; then suddenly facing Dick, she laid her hand on his and said:

'I can trust you, I am sure of that; there is some one between us-some one whom I love. If I had never seen him, Dick, never known that he lived-and if I had known you just as I do, I might not have answered just as I have. I am very sorry.'

Dick did not ask her who his rival was, nor did Harold come to his mind, so sure was he that an engagement existed between him and Maude. Probably it was some one whom she had met while away at school; and if so, Nina would know, and he would sound her cautiously, but never let her know, if he could help it, the heart-wound he had received.

Poor Dick! every nerve was quivering with pain and disappointment when at last, as the rain began to cease, he rose at Jerrie's suggestion, and offering her his arm, walked silently and sadly with her to the door of the cottage. Here for a moment they stood side by side and hand in hand, until Jerrie said:

'Dick, your friendship has been very dear to me. I do not want to lose it.'

'Nor shall you,' he answered; and winding his arms around her, he kissed her lips, saying as he did so:

'That is the seal of our eternal friendship. The man you love would not grudge me that one kiss, but perhaps you'd better tell him. Good-bye, and God bless you. When I see you again I shall try to be the same Dick you have always known.'

For a few moments Jerrie stood listening to the sound of his footsteps as he went splashing through the wet grass and puddles of water; then, kissing her hands to him, she whispered:

'Poor Dick! it would not be difficult to love you if I had never known Harold.'

Opening the door softly, she found, as she had expected, that both her grandmother and Harold had retired; and taking the lamp from the table where it had been left for her, she stole quietly up to her room and crept shivering into bed, more wretched than she had ever been before in her life.

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