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   Chapter 44 JERRIE CLEARS HAROLD.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 14386

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The next day two items of news went like wildfire through the little town of Shannondale-the first, set afloat by Peterkin and helped on by Mrs. Tracy, that Harold had run away from public opinion, which was fast turning against him since he could not explain where he found the diamonds; and the second, that both Maude Tracy and Jerrie Crawford were at the point of death, which made Harold's sudden departure all the more heinous in the eyes of his enemies; for what but conscious guilt could have prompted him to leave his sister, who, it was said, was calling for him with every breath, and charging him with having taken the diamonds? Now, this was false; for although Jerrie's fever had increased rapidly during the night, and her babbling was something terrible to hear, there was in it no accusation of Harold, although she was constantly talking to him, and asking for the diamonds and the bag.

'It is a pity he ever told her about them,' the doctor said, as twice each day, morning and night, for four successive days, he came and looked upon her fever-stained cheeks, and counted her rapid pulse, and took her temperature, and listened to her strange talk; and then, with a shake of his head, drove over to Tracy Park and stood by poor little Maude's couch, and looked into her death-white face, and counted her faint heartbeats, and tried in vain to find some word of encouragement for the stricken man, who looked about as much like death as the young girl so dear to him. And every morning, on his way from the cottage to Tracy Park, the doctor saw under the pines two young men, Tom and Dick, seated upon the iron bench each whittling a bit of pine, which one was unconsciously fashioning into a cross and the other into a grave-stone.

Tom had found Dick there working at his cross, and, after a simple good-morning, had sat down beside him and whittled in silence upon another bit of wood until the doctor appeared on his way to Tracy Park. Then the whittling ceased, and both young men arose, and, going forward, asked how Jerrie was.

'Pretty bad. Hal oughtn't to have gone, though I told him there was no danger. We must telegraph if she gets worse,' was the reply, as the doctor rode on.

Tom and Dick separated, and saw no more of each other until the next morning, when they went again, and whittled in silence under the pines until the doctor came in sight, when the same questions were asked and answered as on the previous day.

Billy never joined them, but sat under the butternut tree where Jerrie had refused him, for hours and hours watching the sluggish river, and wondering what the world would be to him if Jerrie were not in it. Had Billy been with Tom and Dick, he could not have whittled as they did, for all the nerve power had left his hands, which lay helplessly in his lap, and when he walked he looked more like a withered old man than a young one of twenty-seven.

Maude was the first to rally-her first question for Harold, her second for Jerrie-and her father, who was with her, answered truthfully that Harold had not returned, and that Jerrie was sick and could not come to her. He did not say how sick, and Maude felt no alarm, but waited patiently until Jerrie should appear. For Maude, on her brass bedstead with its silken hangings, and every possible luxury around her, there were hired nurses and a mother's care, with many kind inquiries, while it would seem as if every hand in town was stretched out to Jerrie, who was a general favorite. Flowers and fruit and delicacies of every kind were sent to the cottage, carriage after carriage stopped before the door, offer after offer of assistance was made to Mrs. Crawford, while Nina and Marian Raymond were there constantly; and Billy went to Springfield for a chair in which to wheel his sister to the cottage, for she could not yet mount into the dog-cart; and Tom and Dick whittled on until the cross and the grave-stone were finished, and, with a sickly smile, Tom said to Dick:

'Would you cut Jerrie's name upon it?'

'No; oh, no!' Dick answered, with a gasp. 'She may be better to-morrow.'

When, after a few days, the crisis was past, and Jerrie's strong constitution triumphed over the disease which had grappled with it, the whole town wore a holiday air as the people said to each other gladly: 'Jerrie is better; Jerrie will live!'

Her recovery was rapid, and within a week after the fever left her and she awoke to perfect consciousness, she was able to sit up a part of every day, and had walked across the floor and read a letter from Harold to his grandmother, full of solicitude for herself and enthusiasm for his trip over the wild mountains and across the vast plains to the lovely little city of Tacoma, built upon a cliff and looking seaward over the sound.

'Dear Harold,' Jerrie whispered. 'I shall be so glad when he comes home. Nothing can be done till then, and I am so bewildered when I try to think.'

In her weak state, everything seemed unreal to Jerrie, except the fact that she had found her mother-and such a mother!-and many times each day she thanked her God who had brought her this unspeakable joy, and asked that she might do right when the time came to act. She knew the bag was safe, for she had climbed to the top shelf and found it just where she had put it. But where were the diamonds? Had Harold taken them with him? Had he told any one? Did his grandmother know anything about them? she wondered. She tried in many ways to draw Mrs. Crawford out, but was unsuccessful, for there were now too much pain and bitterness connected with the diamonds for Mrs. Crawford to speak to her of them. The poisonous breath of gossip had been at work ever since Harold went away, quietly aided and abetted by Mrs. Tracy, who never failed to roll her eyes and shrug her shoulders when Harold's name was mentioned, and openly pushed on by Peterkin, until Tom Tracy went to him one day and threatened to have him tarred and feathered and ridden on a rail, if he ever breathed Harold's name again in connection with the diamonds.

'Wall, I swow!' was all Peterkin said, as he put an enormous quid of tobacco in his mouth, and walked away, thinking to himself, 'Twould take an all-fired while to scrape them tar and feathers off of me, I'm so big, and I b'lieve the feller meant it. Them high bucks wouldn't like no better fun than to make a spectacle of me; so I guess I'll dry up a spell.'

But the trouble did not stop with Peterkin's talk, for a neighboring Sunday paper, which fed its readers with all the choicest bits of gossip, came out with an article headed 'The Tracy Diamonds,' and after narrating the story in the most garbled and sensational manner, went on to comment upon the young man's having run away, rather than face public opinion, and to comment upon the law which could not touch him because the offence was committed so long ago.

One after another, and without either knowing that the other had done so, Tom, and Dick, and Billy, waited upon the editor of the Sunday News, threatening to sue him for libel if he did not retract every word of the offensive article in his next issue, which he did. But the

mischief was done, and the paper found its way at last to Jerrie, sent unwittingly by Ann Eliza, who covered it over a basket of fruit and flowers which was carried one afternoon to the cottage.

Jerrie had been down stairs several times, but was in her room when the basket was brought to her. Raising the paper, she was about to throw it on the floor, when her eye caught the words, 'The Tracy Diamonds,' and with bloodless lips and wildly beating heart she read the article through, understanding the situation perfectly, and resolving at once how to act. It seemed to her that she was lifted above and out of herself, she felt so strong, and light, and well, as she threw on her bonnet and shawl, and taking the leather bag in her hand, hurried down stairs in quest of Mrs. Crawford.

'Grandma!' she exclaimed, 'why haven't you told me about Harold, and the suspicion resting on him, and why did you let him go until I was better, and what are the people saying? Tell me everything.'

Jerrie would not be put off, and Mrs. Crawford told her everything she knew, and that she herself had added to the mystery by the strange things she had said in her delirium about the diamonds, which she insisted were hers.

'And they are mine!' Jerrie said, while Mrs. Crawford looked at her in alarm, for her madness had returned.

'Where are you going?' she gasped, as Jerrie turned toward the door.

'To Tracy Park, to claim my own and clear Harold!' was the reply. 'When I come back I will tell you all, but now I cannot wait.'

'But, Jerrie, you are not strong enough to walk there, and besides they have company this afternoon, some kind of a new-fangled card party, and you must not go,' Mrs. Crawford said.

'I have the strength of twenty horses,' Jerrie said, 'and if they have company, so much the better, for there will be more to hear my story. Good-bye.'

She was off like an arrow, and went almost upon a run through the leafy woods until the house was reached, and then she stopped a moment to take breath and look about her. How very fair and beautiful it was, that home of the Tracys, and Jerrie's heart beat so hard that she felt for a moment as if she were choking to death as she sat under a maple tree and tried to think it all over, to make sure there was no mistake. Opening the box she took out two documents, and read them again as she had the night she was taken sick. One was a certificate of marriage, the other of a birth and baptism; there was no mistake.

Holding the papers in one hand and the bag in the other, she went on to the house, from which shouts of laughter were issuing, Nina's voice, and Marian's, and Tom's, and Dick's, and Mrs. Tracy's. Jerrie shuddered a little when she heard that, for it brought back to her mind all the slights she had received from that woman who was so cruel to Harold, and the pity which had been springing up in her heart ever since she looked up at the windows of Maude's room and thought of the white-faced girl lying there, died out, and it was more a Nemesis than a gentle, forgiving woman who walked boldly into the hall and entered unbidden at the drawing-room door.

Mrs. Tracy was having a progressive euchre party that afternoon. A friend in Boston had written her about it, and, proud to be the first to introduce it in Shannondale, she stood, flushed and triumphant, with the restored diamonds in her ears and at her throat, laughing merrily with the others at Judge St. Claire, who had won the booby prize-a little drum, as something he could beat-and who, with a perplexed look in his face, was staring at the thing as if he did not quite get the joke.

Apart from the rest, Frank Tracy sat looking on, though with no apparent interest in the matter. He had joined in the game because his wife told him he must, and had borne meekly her sarcastic remarks when he trumped her ace and ordered up on nothing. His thoughts were not with the cards, but up stairs with Maude, who seemed to be much better, and for whom there was constantly a prayer in his heart.

'Spare her, and I will make reparation; I will tell the truth.'

He was trying to bribe the Lord to hear him, and there was some such thought in his mind when he saw Jerrie in the door-tall, thin, and white from her recent sickness, with eyes which rolled, and shone, and flashed as Arthur's did sometimes, and falling at last upon Mrs. Tracy, where they rested with an intensity which must have drawn that lady's notice to her, if Frank had not exclaimed, as he rose to his feet:

'Jerrie! How did you get here?'

Then all turned and looked at her, and crowded around her with exclamations of surprise and inquiries as to how she got there.

For a moment Jerrie stood like one in a catalepsy, with no power to move or speak, but when Mrs. Tracy came forward, and in her iciest tones said to her: 'Good-afternoon, Miss Crawford. To what am I indebted for this unexpected pleasure?' her faculties came back, her tongue was loosened, and she replied in a clear voice, which rang through the room like a bell, and was, indeed, the knell to all the lady's greatness:

'I am here to claim my own, and to clear Harold from the foul suspicion heaped upon him-by whom, at first, I do not know, but it was helped on by you. I have seen the paper, have heard the whole from grandma, and am here to defend him. It was I who gave him the diamonds! It was for me he kept silent, and let you think what you would.'

'You gave him the diamonds?' Mrs. Tracy repeated, as one by one all the members of the party, even the judge and Tom, gathered close to her in their astonishment. 'You gave him the diamonds! You! and have come to confess yourself a-'

She never finished the sentence, for something in Jerrie's face frightened her, while her husband, who had come forward, laid his hand warningly upon her arm.

So absorbed were they all that no one saw the little white-robed girl, who, they supposed, was lying up stairs in her room, but who at the sound of Jerrie's voice had, in her eagerness to see her, crept down the stairs, and now stood in the door-way opposite to Jerrie, her large, bright eyes looking in wonder upon the scene, and her ears listening intently to what was as new to her as it had been to Jerrie an hour ago.

'Don't give me the name you have more than once given to Harold,' Jerrie said, as with a gesture she silenced Mrs. Tracy. 'The diamonds are mine, not yours. Can one steal his own?'

'Yours! Your diamonds! What do you mean?' Mrs. Tracy asked.

'They were my mother's,' Jerrie replied, 'and she sent them to me.'

They all thought her crazy except Frank, to whom there had come a horrid presentiment of the truth, and who had clutched hard his wife's arm as she said questioningly, in a mocking, aggravating tone:

'And your mother was-?'

Then Jerrie stepped into the room, and stood in their midst like a queen among her subjects as she answered:

'My mother was Marguerite Heinrich, of Wiesbaden, better known to you as Gretchen; and my father is Arthur Tracy, and I am their lawful child. It is so written here,' and she held up the papers and the bag; 'I am Jerrie Tracy!'

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