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   Chapter 48 WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND HAD DONE IN SHANNONDALE.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 25677

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


If the earth had opened suddenly and swallowed up half the inhabitants of Shannondale the other half could not have been more astonished than they were at the news which Peterkin was the first to tell them, and which he had risen very early to do, before some one else should be before him. Irascible and quick-tempered as he was, he was easily appeased, and the fact that Jerrie was Arthur Tracy's daughter changed his opinion of her at once.

'The biggest heiress in the county except my Ann 'Liza, and, by gum, I'm glad on't for her and Arthur. I allus said she was hisen, and by George, to think that I helped her into her fortin, for if I hadn't of knocked that rotten old table down she'd of never found them memoirs,' he said to the first person to whom he communicated the news, and then hurried off to buttonhole and enlighten others, until everybody knew and was discussing the strange story.

Before noon scores of people had found it in their way to walk past the cottage, hoping to catch sight of Jerrie, while several went in and told her how glad they were for her and Mr. Arthur, and looked at her with wondering eyes as if she were not quite the same girl they had known as Jerrie Crawford.

When, the previous night, Mrs. Crawford had listened to the story Jerrie told her after her return from the Park House, she had been for a few moments stupefied with amazement, and had sat motionless on her chair until she felt Jerrie's soft hands upon her head smoothing her silvery hair, and Jerrie's voice said to her:

'Dear grandma, I told you your working days were over, and they are, for what is mine is yours and Harold's, and my home is your home always, so long as you live.'

The poor old lady put her head upon Jerrie's arm and cried hysterically for a moment; then she rallied, and brushing away her tears, kissed the young girl who had been so much to her, and whom for a brief moment she feared she might have lost. Far into the night they sat, talking of the past and the future, and of Harold, who was in Tacoma, where he might have to remain for three or four weeks longer. He had written several times to his grandmother and once to Jerrie, but had made no mention of the diamonds, while in her letters to him Mrs. Crawford had refrained from telling him what some of the people were saying, and the construction they were putting upon his absence. Jerrie had not yet written to him, but, 'I shall to-morrow,' she said, 'and tell him to hurry home, for I need him now, if ever.'

Jerrie was very tired when she went at last to bed, but the dreamless sleep which came upon her, and which lasted until a late hour in the morning, did her good, and probably saved her from a relapse, which might have proved fatal. Still she was very pale and weak when she went down stairs about nine o'clock and found Tom waiting for her. He had been up since sunrise, strolling through the park, with a troubled, sorry look on his face for he was extremely sorry for himself, though very glad for Jerrie, whose sworn ally he was and would be to the end. In a way he had tried to comfort his mother by telling her that neither his uncle nor Jerrie would be unjust to her, if she'd only behave herself, and treat the latter as she ought, and not keep up such a high and mighty and injured air, as if Jerrie had done something wrong in finding out who she was.

But Dolly would not be comforted, and her face wore a sullen, defiant expression, as she moved about the handsome house where she had queened it so long that she really looked upon it as her own, resenting bitterly the thought that another was to be mistress there. She had talked with her husband, and made him tell her exactly how much he was worth in his own right, and when he told her how little it was, she had exclaimed, angrily:

'We are beggars, and may as well go back to Langley and sell codfish again.'

She had seen Tom that morning, and when to her question, 'Why are you up so early?' he replied, 'To attend to Jerrie's affairs,' she tossed her head scornfully, and said: 'Before I'd crawl after any girl, much less Jerrie Crawford! You'd better be attending to your own sister. She's worse this morning, and looks as if she might die any minute.'

Then Tom went to Maude, who, since the shock of the night before, had lain as if she were dead, except for her eyes, in which there was a new and wondrous light, and which looked up lovingly at Tom as he came in and kissed her, a most unusual thing for him to do.

'Dear Tom,' she whispered, 'come closer to me,' and as he bent down to her, she continued, 'is every thing Jerrie's?'

'Yes, or will be. She is Uncle Arthur's daughter.'

'Shall we be very poor?'

'Yes, poor as a church mouse.'

Then there was a pause, and when Maude spoke again she said slowly:

'For me, no matter-sorry for you, and father and mother; but glad for Jerrie. Stand by her, Tom; tell mother not to be so bitter-it hurts me. Tell Harold, when he comes, I meant to do so much for him, but Jerrie will do it instead. Tell her I must see her, and send for Uncle Arthur.'

There was a lump in Tom's throat as he left his sister's room, and going to the village, telegraphed to his uncle's head-quarters at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, that he was to come at once.

At least a hundred people stopped him on his way to the office, asking if what they had heard was true, and to all he replied:

'True as the gospel; we are floored, as Peterkin would say.'

And then he hurried to the cottage to see Jerrie, and tell her of the message sent to Arthur, though not how it was worded After a moment he continued, hesitatingly, as if half ashamed of it:

'I called at Lubbertoo last night to enquire after Ann Eliza's foot, and you ought to have seen Peterkin when I told him the news. At first he could not find any word in his vocabulary big enough to swear by, but after a little one came to him, and what do you think it was?'

Jerrie could not guess, and Tom continued.

He said, "by the great Peterkin!" and then he swowed, and vowed, and snummed, and vummed, and dummed, and finally said he was glad of it, and had always known you were a Tracy. Ann Eliza was so glad she cried, and I think Billy cried, too, for he left the room suddenly, with very suspicious-looking eyes. Why, everybody is glad for you, Jerrie, and nobody seems to think how mean it is for us; but I'm not going to whine. I'm glad it's you, and so is Maude, and she wants to see you. I believe she's going to die, and-and-Jerrie-'

Something choked Tom for a moment, then he went on:

'If Uncle Arthur should get high, and order us out at once, as father seems to think he will, you'll-you'll-let us stay while Maude lives, won't you?'

'Tom,' Jerrie said, reproachfully, 'What do you take me for, and why does your father think his brother will order him out?'

'I don't know,' Tom replied, 'but he seems awfully afraid to meet him. Mother says he was up all night walking the floor and talking to himself, and yet he says he is glad, and he is coming this morning to see you and talk it over. I believe I hear him now speaking to Mrs. Crawford. Yes, 'tis he; so I guess I'll go; and when I hear from my telegram I'll let you know. Good-bye.'

A moment after Tom left the room his father entered it, looking haggard and old, and frightened, too, it seemed to Jerrie, as she went forward to meet him with a cheery 'good-morning, Uncle Frank.'

It was the first time she had addressed him by that name, and her smile was so bright and her manner so cordial that for an instant the cloud lifted from his face, but soon came back darker than ever as he declined the seat she offered him and stood tremblingly before her.

Frank had not slept a wink the previous night, nor had he been in bed, but had walked his room until his wife said to him angrily:

'I thought you were glad; seems to me you don't act like it; but for pity's sake stop walking, or go somewhere else do it and not keep me awake.'

Then he went into the hall outside, and there he walked the livelong night, trying to think what he should say to Jerrie, and wondering what she would say to him, for he meant to tell her everything. Nothing could prevent his doing that; and as soon as he thought she would see him he started for the cottage, taking with him the Bible, the photograph and the letter he had secreted so long. All the way there, he was repeating to himself the form of speech with which he should commence, but when Jerrie said to him, so graciously, 'Good morning, Uncle Frank,' the words left him, and he began, impetuously;

'Don't call me uncle. Don't speak to me, Jerrie, until you have heard what I have come to confess on my knees, with my white head upon the floor, if you will it so, and that would not half express the shame and remorse with which I stand before you and tell you I am a cheat, a liar, a villain, and have been since that day when I first saw you and that dead woman we thought your mother.'

Jerrie was dumb with surprise, and did not speak or move as he went on rapidly, telling her the whole, with no attempt at an excuse for himself, except so far as to report what he had done in a business point of view, making provision for her in case of his death and enjoining it upon his children to see that his wishes were carried out.

'Here is the Bible,' he said, laying the book in her lap. 'Here is the photograph, and here the letter which you gave me to post, and which, had it been sent, might have cleared the mystery sooner.'

He had made his confession, and he stood before her with clasped hands and an expression upon his face such as a criminal might wear when awaiting the jury's decision. But Jerrie neither looked at him nor spoke, for through a rain of tears she was gazing upon the sweet face, sadder and thinner than the face of Gretchen in the window, but so like it that there could be no mistaking it, and so like to the face which had haunted her so often, and seemed so near to her.

'Mother, mother! I remember you as you are here, sick and sorry, but oh, so lovely!' she said, as she pressed her lips again and again to the picture, with no thought or care for the wretched man who had come a step nearer to her, and who said at last:

'Will you never speak to me, Jerrie? Never tell me how much you despise me?'

'Then she looked up at the face quivering with anguish and entreaty, and the sight melted her at once. Indeed, as he had talked she had scarcely felt any resentment toward him, for she was sure that though his error had been great, his contrition and remorse had been greater, and she thought of him only as Maude's father and the man who had always been kind to her. And she made him believe at last that she forgave him for Maude's sake, if not for his own.

'Had my life been a wretched one because of your conduct,' she said, 'I might have found it harder to forgive you, but it has not. I have not been the daughter of Tracy Park, it is true, but I have been the petted child of the cottage, and I would rather have lived with Harold in poverty all these years than to have been rich without him. And do you know, I think it was noble in you to tell me, when you might have kept it to yourself.'

'No, no. I couldn't have done that much longer,' he exclaimed, energetically, as he began to walk up and down the room. 'I could not bear it. And the shadow which for years has been with me night and day, counselling me for bad, was growing so black, and huge, and unendurable that I must have confessed or died. But it is gone now, or will be when I have told my brother.'

'Told your brother! Mr. Tracy-Uncle Frank-you cannot mean to do that?' Jerrie exclaimed.

'But I do mean to do it,' Frank replied, 'as a part of my punishment, and he will not forgive as you have done. He will turn me out at once, as he ought to do.'

Jerrie thought this very likely, and with all her powers she strove to dissuade Frank from making a confession which could do no possible good, and might result in untold harm.

'Remember Maude,' she said, 'and the effect this thing would have upon her if your brother should resort to immediate and violent means, as he might in his first frenzy.'

'But, I mean to tell Maude, too,' Frank replied.

Then Jerrie looked upon him as madder than Arthur himself, and talked so rapidly and argued so well that he consented at last to keep his own counsel, for the present at least, unless the shadow still haunted him, in which case he must tell as an act of contrition or penance.

'He will think the photograph came with the other papers in the bag,' Jerrie said, as she kissed the sweet face, which looked so much like life that it was hard to think there was not real love and tenderne

ss in the eyes which looked into hers so steadfastly.

It was the hardest to forgive the letter hidden so long, and Jerrie did feel a pang of resentment, or something like it, as she took it in her hand and thought of the day when Arthur had confided it to her, saying he could trust her when he could not another. And she had trusted Frank, who had not been true to the trust, and here, after the lapse of years, was the letter, in her hands, with its singular superscription, covering its whole side, and its seal unbroken. But she would break it now. Surely she might do that, if Arthur was never to see it; and after a moment's hesitancy, she opened it, and read, first, wild, crazy sentences, full of love and tenderness for the little Gretchen to whom they were addressed, and whom the writer sometimes spoke to as living, and again as dead. There was the expression of a strong desire to see her, a wish for her to come where her husband was waiting for her, and her diamonds too. Here Jerrie started with an exclamation of surprise, and involuntarily read aloud:

'The most exquisite diamonds you ever saw, and I long to see them on you. They are safe, too-safe from her-Mrs. Frank Tracy-who had the boldness to flaunt them in my face at a party the other night. How she came by them I can't guess; but I know how she lost them, I found them on her dressing-table, where she left them when she went to breakfast, and took possession at once. That was no theft, for they are mine, or rather yours, and are waiting for you in my private drawer, where no one has ever looked, except a young girl called Jerrie, who interests me greatly, she is so much like what you must have been when a child. There has been some trouble about the diamonds-I hardly know what, my head is in such a buzzing most of the time that everything goes from me but you. Oh, if I had remembered you years ago as I do now-'

Jerrie could read no further, for the letter dropped from her hands, as she cried joyfully:

'I knew he had them. I was sure of it, though I did not know where they were.'

Then very briefly she explained to Frank that on the morning when the diamonds were missed, Arthur was so excited because Harold had been in a way accused, and had rambled off into German, and said many things which made her know that he had taken them himself and secreted them.

'You remember my sickness,' she said, and how strangely I talked of going to prison as an accessory or a substitute? Well, it was for your brother I was ready to go; and when he told me, as he did one day, that he knew nothing of the diamonds, I was never more astonished in my life; but afterward, as I grew older, I came to believe that he had forgotten them, as he did other things, and that some time he would remember and make restitution, I am glad we know where they are, but we cannot get them until he returns. When do you think that will be?'

Frank did not know. It would depend, he said, upon whether he was in San Francisco when Tom's telegram was received. If he were and started at once, travelling day and night, he would be home in a week.

It seemed a long time to wait in Jerrie's state of mind, and very, very short to the repentant man, who shrank from his brother's return as from an impending evil, although it was a relief to think that he need not tell him what a hypocrite he had been.

'Thank you, Jerrie,' he said at last, as he rose to go, 'Thank you for being so kind to me. I did not deserve it. I did not expect it. Heaven bless you. I am glad for you, and so is Maude. Oh, Jerrie, heaven is dealing hard with me to take her from me, and yet it is just. I sinned for her; sinned to see her in the place I was sure was yours, although the shadow was always telling me that I did not and never could know for sure that you were Arthur's child; but I did, and I meant to go to Germany some day, when I had the language a little better, and clear it up, and then I had promised myself to tell you. Will you lay again that you forgive me before I go back to Maude?'

He was standing before her with his white head dropped upon his hat, the very picture of misery and remorse, and Jerrie laid her hand upon his head, and said:

'I do forgive you, Uncle Frank, fully and freely, for Maude's sake if no other; and if she lives what is mine shall be hers. Tell her so, and tell her I am coming to see her as soon as I am able, I am so tired to-day, and everything is so strange. Oh, if Harold were here.'

Jerrie was indeed so tired and exhausted that for the remainder of the day she lay upon the couch in her room, seeing no one but Judge St. Claire and Tom, both of whom came up together, the latter bringing the answer to his telegram, and asking what to do next.

'Why, Tom,' Jerrie said, as she read Arthur's reply, 'pay him then, for I shan't come,' what does he mean? What did you say to him, and whom are you to pay?'

With a half comical smile Tom replied, 'I told him the Old Nick was to pay, though I am afraid I used a stronger name for his Satanic majesty than that. I guess you'll have to try what you can do.'

And so Jerrie's message, 'I need you,' went across the continent, and brought the ready response, 'coming on the wings of the wind.' It was Judge St. Claire who wrote to Harold, for Jerrie's nerveless fingers could not grasp the pen, and she could only dictate what she wished the judge to say.

'Tell him everything,' she said, 'and how much I want him here; and tell him, too, of Maude, whose life hangs on a thread. That may bring him sooner.'

It was three days before Jerrie went again to the Park House, and then Tom came for her, saying Maude was failing very fast. The shock which had come upon her so suddenly with regard to Jerrie's birth and the suspicions resting upon Harold had shortened the life nearing its close, and the moment Jerrie entered the room she knew the worst, and with a storm of sobs and tears knelt by the sick girl's couch and cried:

'Oh, Maude, Maude, I can't bear it. I'd give up everything to save you. Oh, Maude, Maude, you don't know how much I love you!'

Maude was very calm, though her lips quivered a little and the tears filled her eyes as she put her hand caressingly upon Jerrie's golden hair. A great change had come over Maude since the night when she heard Jerrie's strange story-a change for the better some might have thought, although the physician who attended her gave no hope. She neither coughed nor suffered pain, and could talk all she liked, although often in a whisper, she was so very weak. 'Yes, Jerrie,' she said, 'I know you love me, and it makes me very glad, and dying seems easier for it; for, Jerrie, oh, Jerrie! once before I knew about you, and when I feared I might die, I wrote something on paper for father to see when I was dead, and it was that he should take you in my place, you and Harold.'

Maude's voice shook a little here, but she soon steadied it and went on:

'I wanted him to give you what I thought would be mine had I lived, and what all the time was yours. Oh, Jerrie, how can you help hating me, who have stood so long where you ought to have stood, and enjoyed what you ought to have enjoyed?'

'Maude,' Jerrie cried, as she kissed the little wan face, 'don't talk like that; as if I, or any one, could ever have hated you. Why, I worshiped you as some little empress when I used to see you in your bright sashes and yellow kid boots, with the amber beads around your neck; and if the contrast between your finery and my high-necked gingham apron and white sun-bonnet sometimes struck me painfully, I had no wish to take the boots and sashes from you, whom they fitted so admirably; and as we grew older and you did not shrink from or slight Jerrie Crawford, I cannot tell you how great was the love which grew in my heart for you, the dearest girl friend I ever had, and a thousand times dearer now that I know you are my cousin.'

Maude was silent for a moment, and then she asked abruptly:

'Jerrie, why did you never fall in love with Harold?'

'Oh, Maude!' and Jerrie started as if Maude had struck her, while the tell-tale blood rushed to her face, and into her eyes there came a look which even Maude could not understand.

'Jerrie,' she exclaimed, 'forgive me. I didn't know, I never guessed, I was go stupid; but I have been thinking so much since Harold went away. Does he know about you? who you are? and how long before he will come home?'

'Judge St. Claire wrote him everything three days ago,' Jerrie replied, 'and told him how sick you were. That will surely bring him at once, if it is possible for him to leave; but it will he three or four days now before the letter will reach him, and take a week for him to come. Would you like to see him very much?'

'Yes,' Maude answered with a sob, 'very much, but I never shall. Jerrie, did Harold ever-did he-does he-love you?'

'He never told me so,' Jerrie answered, frankly; 'but I have thought that he loved you'

'N-no,' Maude answered, piteously, with the great tears in her eyes. 'It is all a mistake, and when I am dead and Harold comes, promise to tell him something from me, will you?'

'Yes,' Jerrie answered, and Maude continued:

'Tell him the very first time you and he are alone together, and speak of me, that I have been thinking and thinking until it came to me clear as day that it was all a mistake, a stupid blunder on my part. I was always stupid, you know; but I believe my brain is a little clearer now. Will you tell him, Jerrie?'

'Mistake about what?' Jerrie asked with a vague apprehension that the task imposed upon her might not be a pleasant one if she know all it involved.

'Harold will tell you what,' Maude answered 'He will understand what I mean, and you must tell him, for I shall not be here when he comes, I am sure of it. I hope to live till Uncle Arthur comes, for I must see him and ask him not to be hard on poor father, and tell him that I am sorry that I have been so long in your place where you should have been. You will stay here when he comes, and be with me to the last. I want you with me-want you to hold my hand when I say good-bye for ever. You are so strong that I shall not be afraid with you to see and hear as long as I hear and see anything.'

'And are you afraid?' Jerrie asked, and Maude replied:

'Of the death struggle, yes; but not what lies beyond where He is, the Saviour, for I know I am going to Heaven; and when you think me asleep I am often praying silently for more faith and love, and for you all, that you may one day come where I soon shall be. Heaven is very, very beautiful, for I have seen it in my dreams-a material heaven some would say, for there are trees and flowers, and grass; and on a golden bench, beneath a tree whose leaves are like emeralds, and whose blossoms are like pearls, I am sitting, on the bank of a shining river, resting, resting, and waiting, as little Pilgrim waited for the coming of the Master, and for you all.'

Maude was very tired now, and her voice was so low that Jerrie could scarcely hear it, while the eyelids drooped heavily, and in a few moments she fell asleep, with a rapt look on her as if she were already resting on the golden seat beneath the tree whose leaves were emeralds and whose blossoms were like pearls.

That night Jerrie wrote as follows:

'Dear Harold, come home as soon as you can, for Maude is very low, and, unless you come soon, you will never see her again. The judge has written you of me, but I must tell you myself that nothing can ever change me from the Jerrie of old; and the fact which makes me the happiest is that now I can help you who have been so kind to me. How I long to see you and talk it all over. We expect Mr. Arthur in a few days. I cannot call him father yet, until he has given me the right to do so by calling me daughter first; but to myself I am calling Gretchen mother all the time-dear, sweet, darling little mother! Oh, Harold, you must come home and share my happiness. Truly Harold, you ought to see how stiffly Mrs. Tracy carries herself toward me-stiffer, if possible, than she did when I came up the front steps in my muddy shoes and she bade me go round to the back door. Poor Mrs. Tracy!'

During the next few days Jerrie stayed with Maude, who constantly grew weaker and weaker, and who asked about every hour if anything had been heard from her uncle since his message that he was coming.

'I shall never see Harold,' she said to Jerrie; but I must live till uncle Arthur comes, and you are put in your right place.'

And at last, one lovely September morning, a telegram was brought to Frank from Charles, which said the travellers would be home that afternoon, and that the carriage must be sent to meet them.

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