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   Chapter 39 MAUDE.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 23092

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Harold did not finish his work at the Allen farm-house until Tuesday, so it was not until Wednesday afternoon that he started to pay his promised visit to Maude. Jerrie had seen her twice, and reported her as much better, although still very weak.

'She is so anxious to see you. Don't you think you can go this afternoon?' she said to Harold, in the morning, as she helped him weed the garden and pick the few strawberries left upon the vines.

'Ye-es, I guess I can-if you'll go with me,' he said.

He was so loth to be away from Jerrie when it was not absolutely necessary, that even a call upon Maude without her did not seem very tempting. But Jerrie could not go now, for Nina and Marian Raymond came down to the cottage to spend the afternoon, and Harold went alone to the park house, where he found Maude in the room she called her studio trying to finish a little water-color which she had sketched of the cottage as it was before the roof was raised.

'I mean it for Jerrie,' she had said to Harold, who stood by her when she sketched it, 'and I am going to put her under the tree, with her sun bonnet hanging down her back, as she used to wear it when she was a little girl, and you are to be over there by the fence, looking at me coming up the lane.'

It was the best thing Maude had ever done, for the likeness to Jerrie and to herself was perfect, while the cottage, embowered in trees and flowers, made it a most attractive picture. Harold had praised it a great deal, and told her that it would make her famous. But when the carpenter work came in Maude put it aside until now, when she brought it out again, and was just beginning to retouch it in places, as Harold was announced.

She was looking very tired, and it seemed to Harold that she had lost many pounds of flesh since he saw her last. Her face was pale, and pinched, and wan, but it flushed brightly as Harold came in, and she went eagerly forward to meet him.

'Hally, you naughty boy!' she began, as she gave him her little, thin hand. 'Why didn't you come before? You don't know how I have missed you. You must not forget me now that Jerrie is at home.'

She had led him to a seat, and then herself sank into a large cushioned easy chair, against which she leaned her head wearily, while she looked at him with eyes which ought to have told Harold how much he was to her, and so put him on his guard, and saved the misunderstanding which followed.

'No, Maude, I couldn't forget you,' he said; and without really knowing that he was doing it, he put his hand upon the little soft white one lying on the arm of the chair.

Every nerve in Maude's body thrilled to the touch of that hand upon which she involuntarily laid her other one, noticing as she did so the signs of toil upon it, and feeling sorry for him. One would have thought them lovers, sitting there thus together, but nothing could have been farther from Harold's mind. He was thinking only of Jerrie, and his resolve to confide in Maude, and get her opinion with regard to his chance.

'Now is as good a time as any,' he thought, wondering how he should begin, and finding it harder than he had imagined it would he.

At last after a few commonplaces, Maude told him again that he must not neglect her now that Jerrie was at home.

'Neglect you? How can I do that?' he said, 'when I look upon you as one of my best friends, and in proof of it, I am going to tell you something, or, rather, ask you something, and I hope you will answer me truly. Better that I know the worst at first than learn it afterward.'

Maude's face was aflame now with a great and sudden joy, and her soft eyes drooped beneath Harold's as he went on stammeringly, for he began to feel the awkwardness of telling one girl that he loved another, even though that other were her dearest friend.

'I hardly know how to begin,' he said, 'it is such a delicate matter, and perhaps I'd better say nothing at all.'

'Was he going to stop? Had he changed his mind-and would he not after all, say the words she had so longed to hear?' Maude asked herself, as she turned her eyes appealingly to him, while he sat silent and unmoved, his thoughts very, very far from her to whom he was all in all.

Poor Maude! She was weak and sick, and impulsive and mistaken in the nature of Harold's feelings for her; so judge her not too harshly, my prudish reader, if she at last did what Arthur would have called 'throwing herself at his head.'

'I can guess what you mean,' she said, after a long pause, during which he did not speak. 'I have long suspected that you cared for me just as I care for you, and have wondered you did not tell me so, but supposed that you refrained because I was rich and you were poor; but what has that to do with those who love each other? I am glad you have spoken; and you have made me very happy; and even if we can never be more to each other than we are now, because I may die, as I sometimes fear I shall-'

'Oh, Maude, Maude, you are mistaken. I-,' came from Harold like a cry of horror as he wrenched away his hand lying between hers, and to which her slender fingers hung caressingly.

What could she mean? How had she understood him? he asked himself, while great drops of sweat gathered upon his forehead and in the palms of his hands, as like lightning the past came back to him, and he could see as in a printed page that what he had thought mere friendship for himself was a far different and deeper feeling, while he unwittingly had fanned the flame; and was now reaping the result.

'What can I do?' he said aloud, unconsciously, while from the depths of the chair on which Maude was leaning back so wearily came a plaintive voice like that of a child:

'Ring the bell, and give me my handkerchief.'

He was at her side in a moment, bending over her, and looking anxiously into the pallid face from which the bright color had faded, leaving it gray, and pinched, and drawn, it seemed to him. Had he killed her by blurting out so roughly that she was mistaken; and thus filling her with mortification and shame? No, that could not be, for as he brought her handkerchief and bent still closer to her, she whispered to him:

'I am not mistaken, Hally. I am going to die, but you have made the last days of my life very, very happy.'

She thought he was referring to herself and her situation when he told her she was mistaken, and with a smothered groan he was starting for the camphor, as she bade him do, when the door opened, and Mrs. Tracy herself appeared.

'What is it?' she asked, sharply; then, as she saw Maude's face she knew what it was, and going swiftly to her, said to Harold:

'Why did you allow her to talk and get excited? What were you saying to her?'

Instantly Maude's eyes went up to Harold's with an appealing look, as if asking him not to tell her mother then-a precaution which was needless, as he had no intention to tell Mrs. Tracy, or any one, of the terrible blunder he had made; and with a hope that the reality might dawn upon Maude, he answered, truthfully:

'I was talking to her of Jerrie. I am very sorry.'

If Maude heard she did not understand, for drops of pinkish blood were oozing from her lips, and she looked as if she were already dead, as in obedience to Mrs. Tracy's command, Harold took her in his arms and carried her to the couch near the open window, where he laid her down as tenderly as if she were indeed his affianced wife.

'Thanks,' she sighed, softly, and her bright, beautiful eyes looked up at him with an expression which half tempted him to kiss the quivering lips from which he was wiping the stains so carefully, while Mrs. Tracy, at the door, gave some orders to a servant.

'You can go now,' she said, returning to the couch, and dismissing him with her usual hauteur of manner; while Maude put up her hand and whispered:

'Come soon-and Jerrie.'

Had Harold been convicted of theft or murder he could scarcely have felt worse than he did as he walked slowly through the park, reviewing the situation and wondering what he ought to do.

'If it almost killed her when she thought I loved her, it would surely kill her to know that I do not,' he thought. 'I cannot undeceive her now, while she is so weak; but when she is better and able to bear it, I will tell her the truth.'

'And if she dies?' came to him like the stab of a knife, as he remembered how white she looked as he held her in his arms. 'If she does,' he said, 'no one shall ever know of the mistake she made. In this I will be true to Maude, even should the world believe I loved her and had told her so. But, oh, Heaven! spare me that, and spare Maude's life for many years. She is too young, too sweet, too good to die.'

This was Harold's prayer as he rested for a moment in the pine-room, where he had often played with the little girl, and where he could now see her so plainly picking up the cones, or sitting on the soft bed of needles, with the bloom on her cheeks and the brightness in her soft black eyes which had looked so lovingly at him an hour ago. 'Spare Maude; do not let her die!' was his prayer, and that of many others during the week which followed, when Maude's life hung on a thread, and every bell at the park house was muffled, and the servants spoke only in whispers; while Frank Tracy sat day and night in the room where his daughter lay, perfectly quiet, except as she sometimes put up her hand to stroke his white hair or wipe away the tears constantly rolling down his cheeks.

In Frank's heart there was a feeling worse than death itself, for keen remorse and bitter regret were torturing his soul as he sat beside the wreck of all his hopes and felt that he had sinned for naught. He knew Maude would die, and then what mattered it to him if he had all the money of the Rothschilds at his command?

'Oh, Gretchen, you are avenged, and Jerrie, too! Oh, Jerrie!' he said, one day, unconsciously, as he sat by his daughter, who, he thought, was sleeping. But at the mention of Jerrie's name her eyes unclosed and fixed themselves upon her father with a look in which he read an earnest desires for something.

'What is it, pet?' he asked. 'Do you want anything?'

They had made her understand that, she must not speak, for the slightest effort to do so always brought on a fit of coughing which threatened a hemorrhage, of which she could not endure many more. But they had brought her a little slate, on which she sometimes wrote her requests, though that, too, was an effort. Pointing now to the slate, she wrote, while her father held it:

'I want Jerrie.'

'I thought so; and you shall have her for just as long as she will stay,' Frank said; and a servant was dispatched to the cottage with the message that Jerrie must come at once, and come prepared to pass the night, if possible.

It had been very dreary for Maude during the time she had been shut up in her room, to which no one was admitted except her father and mother, the doctor, and the nurse. Many messages of enquiry and sympathy, however, had come to her from the cottage, and Grassy Spring, and Le Bateau, where Ann Eliza was still kept a prisoner with her sprained ankle; and once Jerrie had written to Maude a note full of love and solicitude and a desire to see her. As a postscript she added:

'Harold sends his love, and hopes you will soon be better. You don't know how anxious he is about you. Why, I believe he has lost ten pounds since your attack, for which he seems to blame

himself, thinking he excited you too much by talking to you.'

Maude listened to this note, which her father read to her, with a smile on her face and tears on her long eyelashes; but when he came to the postscript she laughed aloud, as a little child laughs at the return of its mother, for whom it has been hungering. This was the first word she had had from him, except that he had called to enquire for her, and she had so longed for something which should assure her that he remembered her even as she did him. She had no distrust of him, and would as soon have doubted that the sun would rise again as to have doubted his sincerity; but she wanted to hear again that he loved her, and now she had heard it, and, folding her hands upon her breast, she fell into the most, refreshing sleep she had had since her illness. Could Maude have talked and seen people, or if she had been less anxious to live, she would probably have told Jerrie and Nina, and possibly Ann Eliza Peterkin, of what had passed between herself and Harold, but she had not seen them; while life, with Harold to love her, looked so bright and sweet, that if by keeping silence she could prolong it, she would do so for months, if necessary. To live for Harold was all she wished or thought about; and often when they hoped she was sleeping, she lay so still, with her eyes closed and her arms folded upon her breast, just as if she were praying in her dreams, her father thought. She was praying for life and length of days, with strength to make Harold as happy as he ought to be, and was thinking of and planning all she meant to do for him when once they were married. First to Europe, where she would be so proud to show him the places she had seen, and where Jerrie would be with them, for in all her plans Jerrie had almost as prominent a place as herself.

'I am nothing without Jerrie,' she thought 'She keeps me up, and Jerrie will live with us, and Mrs. Crawford; that makes four, just enough for a nice game of whist in long winter evenings, when it is so cold outside but warm and bright within-always bright for Harold, whose life has been so full of care and toil. Poor boy! how I pitied his great warm hand when it was holding mine so lovingly, and how I could have kissed every seam and scar upon it. But by and by his hands shall be white like Tom's, though not so soft. I hate a hand which feels like a fluff of cotton. He shall not live here, for Harold could never get along with mother and Tom; but we will build a house together, Hally and I, with Jerrie to help and plan-build one where the cottage stands, or near it, so Jerrie can still see the old Tramp House she is so fond of. Not a house like this, with such big rooms, but a pretty, modern Queen Ann house, with every room a corner room, and a bay-window in it. And Harold will have an office in town, and I shall drive down for him every afternoon and take him home to dinner and to Jerrie.'

Such was the nature of Maude's thoughts, as she lay day after day upon the couch, too weak to do more thin lift her hands or rise her head when the dreadful paroxysms of coughing seized her and racked her fragile frame. Still she was very happy, and the happiness showed itself upon her, where there rested a look of perfect content and peace, which her father and mother had noticed and commented upon, and which Jerrie saw the moment she entered the room and stood by Maude's side.

'Dear Maude,' she said, as she took the hot hands in hers and kissed them tenderly.

Then she sat down beside her, and smoothed her hair, and told her how lovely she looked in her pretty rose-colored wrapper, and how sorry every one was for her, and that both she and Nina would have been there every day, only they knew they could not see her. Then, as the great black eyes fixed themselves steadily upon her, with a look of enquiry in them, she set her teeth hard, and began:

'I don't think anyone has been more sorry than Harold. Why, for the first few days after you were taken so ill he just walked the floor all the time he was in the house, and when grandma asked what ailed him, he said, "I am thinking of Maude, and am afraid my call upon her was the cause of the attack."'

'N-n-,' Maude began, but checked herself in time, and taking up her slate, wrote, 'Tell him it was not his call. I am glad he came.'

'Yes I will,' Jerrie replied, scarcely able to keep back her tears, when she saw how cramped and irregular the handwriting was, so unlike Maude's, and realized more and more how weak and sick was the little girl whose eyes followed her everywhere and always grew brighter and softer when she was talking to her of Harold.

All day and all night Jerrie sat by her, sometimes talking to her and answering the questions she wrote upon the slate, but oftener in perfect silence, when Maude seemed to be asleep. Then Jerrie's tears fell like rain, the face upon the pillow looked so much like death, and she kept repeating to herself the lines:

'We thought her dying when she slept.

And sleeping when she died.'

When the warm July morning looked in at the windows of the sick-room, bringing with it the perfume of hundreds of flowers blooming on the lawn, and the scent of the hay cut the previous day, it found Jerrie still watching by Maude, her own face tired and pale, with dark rings about her eyes, which were heavy with tears and wakefulness. She had not slept at all, and her head was beginning to ache frightfully when the nurse came in and relieved her, telling her breakfast was ready. Maude was awake, and wrote eagerly upon the slate:

'You'll come back? You'll stay all day? You do me so much good, and I am a great deal better for your being here.'

Jerrie hesitated a moment; her head was aching so hard that she longed to get away. But selfishness was not one of Jerrie's faults, and putting her own wishes aside, she said:

'Yes, I will stay until afternoon, and then I must go home. I did not tell you that Harold was going away to-night, did I?'

Maude shook her head, and Jerry went on:

'You know, perhaps, that some time ago a Mr. Wilson, of Truesdale, sued Peterkin for some infringement on a patent, or something of that sort.'

Maude nodded, and Jerrie continued:

'The suit comes off to-morrow, and Harold is subpoenaed as a witness, as he was in Peterkin's office a while and knows something about the arrangement between them. I am sorry he has got to swear against Peterkin; it will make him so angry, and he hates Harold now. The suit is to be called in the morning and Judge St. Claire and Harold are going to-night on the five o'clock train; and as he may be gone a day or two I must be home to see to packing his bag. But I will stay with you just as long as I can.'

She said nothing of her head which throbbed in a most peculiar way, making her dizzy and half blind as she went down to breakfast, which she took alone with Mrs. Tracy. Frank had eaten his long before, and was now pacing up and down the long piazza with his head bent forward and his hands locked together behind him.

'I shall never have rest or peace again until it is known. Oh, if it would only come out without my telling,' he said to himself, little dreaming how near it was to coming out and that before that day's sun had set Jerrie would know!

Tom seldom appeared until after ten, and when Jerrie went for a few moments into the grounds, to see if the fresh air would do her good, she found him seated in an arm-chair under a horse chestnut tree, stretching himself and yawning as if he were just out of bed.

'Jerrie, you here? Did you stay all night? If I'd known that, I'd have made an effort to come down to breakfast, though I think getting up in the morning a bore. Why, what's the matter? You look as if you were going to faint. Sit down here,' he continued, as he saw Jerrie reel forward as if she were about to fall.

He put her into the chair and stood over her, fanning her with his hat and wondering what he should do, while for a moment she lost consciousness of the things about her, and her mind went floating off after the picture on the wall in Wiesbaden, which was haunting her that morning.

When she came to herself, Tom and Dick and Billy were all three hovering around, and so close to her that without opening her eyes she could have told exactly where each one was standing, Tom by the smell of tobacco, with which his clothes were saturated, Billy by the powerful scent of white rose with which he always perfumed his handkerchief, and Dick, because, as she had once said to Nina when a child, he was so clean and looked as if he had just been scrubbed. The two young men had come to enquire for Maude, and had found Jerrie half swooning under the tree, with Tom fanning her frantically and acting like a wild man.

Jerrie had seen Dick twice since her refusal of him, and both times her manner, exactly like what it had always been to him, had put him at his ease, so that a looker-on would never have dreamed of that episode under the pines when she nearly broke his heart. Billy, however, was more conscious. He had not seen Jerrie since he took her home in his dog-cart, and his face was scarlet and his manner nervous and constrained as he stood before her, longing and yet not daring to fan her with his hat just as Tom was doing.

Of the three young men who had sought her hand, Billy's wound was the deepest, and Billy would remember it the longest; for, mingled with his defeat, was a sense of mortification and hatred of his own personal appearance, which he could not help thinking had influenced Jerrie's decision. 'And I don't blame her, by Jove!' he said to himself a hundred times. 'She could not marry a pigmy, and I was a fool to hope it; but I shall love her just the same as long as I live, and if I can ever help her I will.'

And when at last Jerrie was better, and assured him so with her own sweet graciousness of manner, and put her hand upon his shoulder to steady herself as she stood up, he felt that paradise was opening to him again, and that although he had lost Jerrie as a wife, he still had her as a friend, which was more than he had dared expect.

'Are you better now? Can you walk to the house?' Tom asked.

'Oh, yes; I can walk. The giddiness is gone,' Jerrie replied. 'I don't quite know what ails me this morning.'

Never before could she remember having felt as she did now, with that sharp pain in her head, that buzzing in her ears, and more than all, that peculiar state of mind which she called "spells," and which seemed to hold her now, body and soul. Even when she returned to Maude's room, and sat down beside her couch, her thoughts were far away, and everything which had ever come to her concerning her babyhood came to her now, crowding upon her so fast that once it seemed to her that the top of her head was lifting, and she put up her hand to hold it in its place. And still she staid on with Maude, although two or three times she arose to go, but something kept her there-chance, if one chooses to call by that name the something which at times moulds us to its will and influences our whole lives. Something kept her there until the morning was merged into noon and the noon into the middle of the afternoon, and then she could stay no longer. The hour had come when she must go, for the other force which was to be the instrument in changing all her future was astir, and she must go to keep her unconscious appointment with it.

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