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   Chapter 50 THE FLOWER FADETH.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 15281

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It took some days after Arthur's return for the household to settle down into anything like order and quiet, Arthur was so restless and so happy, and so anxious for everyone to recognise Jerrie as his daughter-Miss Tracy, as he called her when presenting her to the people who had known her all her life-the St. Claires, and Athertons, and Crosbys, and Warners-who came to call upon and congratulate him. Even Peterkin came in his coat-of-arms carriage, with a card as big as the back of Webster's spelling book, and himself gotten up in a dress coat, with lavender kids on his burly hands, which nearly crushed Arthur's in their grasp as he expressed himself 'tickleder than he ever was before in his life.'

'And to think I was the means on't,' he said, 'for if I hadn't of kicked that darned old table into slivers when I was givin' on't to Jerrie, she'd never of know'd what was in that dumbed rat-hole. I was a leetle too upstrupulous, I s'spose, but I'll be darned if she didn't square up to me like a catamount, till my hair riz right up, and I concluded the Tramp House was no place for me. But I respect her for it; yes, I do, and by George, old chap, I congratulate you with my whole soul, and so does May Jane, and so does Ann 'Lizy, and so does Bill, and so does the whole caboodle on us.'

This was Peterkin's speech, which Arthur received more graciously than Jerrie, who, remembering Harold, could not be very polite to the man who had injured him so deeply. As if divining her thoughts, Peterkin turned to her and said:

'Now, one word, Miss Tracy, about Hal. I hain't one to go halves in any thing, and I was meaner to him than pussly; but you'll see what I'll do. I've met with a change, I swow, I have,' and he laid his lavender kid on his stomach. 'He never took them diamonds, nor May Jane's pin, nor nothin', and I've blasted it all over town that he didn't, and I've got a kerridge hired, and some chaps, and a brass band, and a percession, and when Hal comes, there's to be an oblation to the depot, with the bugle a playin' "Hail to the Chief," and them hired chips a histen' him inter the kerridge, with the star-spangled banner a floatin' over it, and a drawin' him home without horses! What do you think of that for high?' and he chuckled merrily as he represented the programme he had prepared for Harold's reception.

Jerrie shuddered, mentally hoping that Harold's coming might be at night, and unheralded, so as to save him from what she knew would fill him with disgust.

That call of Peterkin's was the last of a congratulatory nature made at Tracy Park for weeks, for the shadow of death had entered the grand old house, the doors and windows of which stood wide open, one lovely September morning, about a week after Arthur's return. But there was no stir or sign of life, except in the upper hall, near the door, and in the room where Maude Tracy was dying. Jerrie had been with her constantly for two or three days, and the converse the two had held together would never be forgotten, Maude was so peaceful and happy, so sure of the home beyond, where she was going, and so lovely and sweet to those around her, thinking of everything and planning everything, even whose hands were to lower her into the grave.

'Dick, and Fred, and Billy, and Harold,' she said to Jerrie, one day, 'Something tells me Harold will be here in time for that; and if he is, I want those four to put me in the grave. They can lift me, for I shall not be very heavy,' and, with a smile, she held up her wasted arms and hands, not as large now as a child's. 'And, Jerrie,' she went on, 'I want the grave lined with boughs from our old playing place-the four pines, you know-and many, many flowers, for I shudder at the thought of the cold earth which would chill me in my coffin. So, heap the grave with flowers, and come often to it, and think lovingly of me, lying there alone. I am thinking so much of that poem Harold read me long ago of poor little Alice, the May queen, who said she should hear them as they passed, with their feet above her in the long and silent grass. Maybe the dead can't do that. I don't know, but if they can, I shall listen for you, and be glad when you are near me, and I know I shall wait on the golden seat by the river. Remember your promise to tell Harold that it was all a mistake. My mind gets clearer toward the end, and I see things differently from what I did once, and I know how I blundered. You will tell him?'

Again Jerrie made the promise, with a sinking heart, not knowing to what it bound her; and as Maude was becoming tired, she bade her try to rest while she sat by and watched her.

The next day, at the same hour, when the balmy September air was everywhere, and the mid-afternoon sun was filling the house with golden light, and the crickets' chirp was heard in the long grass, and the robins were singing in the tree-tops, another scene was presented in the sick room, where Frank Tracy knelt at his dying daughter's side, with his face bowed on his hands, while her fingers played feebly with his white hair as she spoke to Arthur, who had just come in. They had told him she was dying and had asked for him, and with his nervous horror of everything painful and exciting, he had shrunk from the ordeal; but Jerrie's will prevailed, and he went with her to the room, where Frank, and his wife, and Tom were waiting-Tom standing, with folded arms, at the foot of the bed, and looking, with hot, dry eyes, into the face on the pillow, where death was setting his seal; the mother, half-fainting upon the lounge, with the nurse beside her; and Frank, oblivious of everything except the fact that Maude was dying.

'Kiss me good-bye, Uncle Arthur,' she said, when he came in, 'and come this side where father is.' Then, as he went round and stood by Frank, she reached her hand for his, and, putting it on her father's head, said to him: 'Forgive him, Uncle Arthur; he is so sorry, poor father-the dearest, the best man in the world. It was for me; say that you forgive him.'

Only Frank and one other knew just what she meant, although a sudden suspicion darted through Jerrie's mind, and, when Arthur looked helplessly at her, she whispered to him:

'Never mind what she means-her mind may be wandering; but say that you forgive him, no matter what it is.'

Thus adjured, Arthur said to the grief-stricken man, who shook like an aspen:

'I know of nothing to forgive except your old disbelief in Gretchen, and deceiving me about sending the carriage the night Jerrie came; but if there is anything else, no matter what it is, I do forgive you freely.'

'Thanks,' came faintly from Maude, who whispered:

'It is a vow, remember, made at my death-bed.'

She had done all she could, this little girl, whose life had been so short, and who, as she once said, had been capable of nothing but loving and being loved; and now, turning her dim eyes upon Jerrie, who was parting the damp hair upon her brow, she went on:

'Remember the promise, and the flowers, and the golden seat where you will find me resting by the flowing river whose shores I am now looking upon, for I am almost there, almost to the golden seat, and the tree whose leaves are like emeralds, and where the grass and flowers are like the flowers and grass of summer just after a rain. I am glad for you, Jerrie. Good-bye; and you, father dear, good-bye.'

That was the last, for Maude was dead; and the servants, who had been standing about the door, stole noiselessly back to their work, with wet eyes and a sense of pain and loss in their hearts, for not one of them but

had loved the gentle girl now gone forever from their midst.

If was Jerrie who led Frank from the room to his own, where she left him by himself, knowing it would be better so, and it was Arthur who took Dolly out, for Tom had disappeared, and no one saw him again until the next day, when he came down to breakfast, with a worn, haggard look upon his face, which told that he did care, though his mother thought he did not, and taunted him with his indifference. Poor Tom! He had gone directly to his room and locked the door, and smoked and smoked, and thought and thought, and then, when it was dark, he had stolen out into the park as far as the four pines, and smoked, and looked up at the stars and wondered if Maude were there with Jack, sitting on the golden seat by the river. Then going back to the house where no one saw him, he went into the silent room where Maude was lying, and looked long and earnestly upon her white, still face, and wondered in a vague kind of way if she knew he was there, and why he had never thought before what a nice kind of girl she was, and why he had not made more of her as her brother.

'Maude,' he whispered, with a lump in his throat, 'if you can hear me, I'd like to tell you I am sorry that I was ever mean to you, and I guess I did like you more than I supposed.'

Then he kissed her pale forehead and went to his room, where he smoked the night through, and in the morning felt as if he had lived a hundred years since the previous night, and wondered how he should get through the day. It occurred to him that it might be the proper thing to see his mother; and after his breakfast he went to her room, and was received by her with a burst of tears and reproaches for his indifference and lack of feeling in keeping himself away from everybody, as if it were nothing to him that Maude was dead, or that there was nothing for him to do.

'Thunderation, mother!' Tom exclaimed, 'would you have me yell and scream, and make a fool of myself? I sat up all night long, which was more than you did, and I've been meditating in the woods, and have seen Maude and made it square with her. What more can I do?'

'You can see to things,' Mrs. Tracy replied. 'Your father is all broken up and has gone to bed, and it is not becoming in me to be around. Somebody must take the helm.'

'And somebody has,' Tom answered her. 'Uncle Arthur is master of the ceremonies now. He is running the ranch, and running it well, to.'

And Tom was right, for Arthur had taken the helm, and aided and abetted by Jerrie, was quietly attending to matters and arranging for the funeral, which Dolly said must be in the house, as she would not go to the church, with a gaping crowd to stare at her. So it was to take place at the house on Friday afternoon, and Arthur ordered a costly coffin from New York, with silver mountings and panels, and almost a car-load of flowers and floral designs, for Jerrie had explained to him Maude's wishes with regard to her grave, which they lined first with the freshest of the boughs from the four pines, filling these again with flowers up to the very top, so that the grave when finished seemed like one mass of flowers, in which it would not be hard to lie.

Dolly had objected to Billy as one of the pall-bearers. He was too short and inferior looking, she said, and not at all in harmony with Dick, and Fred, and Paul Crosby, the young man who, in Harold's absence, had been asked to take his place. But Arthur overruled her with the words 'It was Maude's wish,' and Billy kept his post.

The day arrived, and the hour, and the people came in greater crowds than they had done when poor Jack was buried, or the dark woman, Nannine, with only Jerrie as chief mourner, and the procession was the longest ever seen in Shannondale; and Dolly, even while her heart was aching with bitter pain, felt a thrill of pride that so many were following her daughter to the grave.

Arrived at the cemetery, there was a halt for the mourners to alight and the bearers to take the coffins from the hearse and carry it to the grave-a halt longer than necessary, it seemed to Jerrie, who under the folds of her veil did not see the tall young man making his way through the ranks of the people crowding the road, straining every nerve to reach the hearse, which he did just as the four young men were taking the coffin from it.

With a quick movement he put Paul Crosby aside, saying, apologetically:

'Excuse me, Paul. I must carry Maude to her grave. She wished it so.'

Then, taking the young man's place, he went slowly on to the open grave near which piles and piles of flowers were lying ready to cover the young girl who it was hard for him to believe was there beneath his hand, cold and dead, with no word of welcome for him who had tried so hard to see her, and was only in time for this, to help lay her in the grave and to listen to the solemn words 'ashes to ashes,' and hear the dreadful sound of earth to earth falling upon the box which held the beautiful coffin and the lovely girl within it.

Even then Jerrie did not see him, but when she took a step or two forward to look into the grave before it was filled up, and someone put a hand upon her shoulder and said, 'Not too near, Jerrie,' she started suddenly, with a suppressed cry, and turning, saw Harold standing by her, tall, and erect, and self-possessed, as he faced the multitude, some of whom had suspected him of a crime, but all of whom were ready now to do him justice and bid him welcome home.

'Oh, Harold,' Jerrie said, as she grasped his arm, 'I am so glad you are here. I wish you had come before.'

Harold could not reply, for they were now leaving the spot, and many gathered around him; first and foremost, Peterkin, who came tramping through the grass, puffing like an engine, and, unmindful of the time or place, slapping him upon the shoulder, as he said: 'Well, my boy, glad to see you back, 'pon my soul, I be; but you flustrated all my plans. I was meanin' to give you an oblation; got it, all arranged, and you spiled it by takin' us onawares, like a thief in the night. I beg your pardon,' he continued, as he met a curious look in Harold's eyes, 'I'm a blunderin' cuss, I be. I didn't mean nothin', I've ever meant nothin', and if I hev' I'm sorry for it.'

Harold did not hear the last, for he was handing Jerrie into the carriage with her father, who bade him enter, too; saying they would leave him at the cottage where he wished to go as soon as possible. There was no time for much conversation before the cottage was reached, and Harold alighted at the gate, and no allusion whatever had been made to Jerrie's changed relations until Harold stood looking at her as she kept her seat by her father and made no sign of an intention to stop. Then he said, as calmly as he could:

'Do you stay at the Park House altogether now?'

'Oh, no,' she answered quickly. 'I have been there a great deal with Maude, but am coming home to-night. I could not leave grandma alone, you know.'

She acknowledged the home and the relationship still, and Harold's face flushed with a look of pleasure, which deepened in intensity when Arthur, with a wave of the hand habitual to him, said:

'I must keep her now that you are here to see to the grandmother, but will let you have her to-night. Come up later, if you like, and walk home with her.'

'I shall be most happy to do so,' Harold said, and then the carriage drove away, while he went in to his grandmother, who had not attended the funeral, but who knew that he had returned and was waiting for him.

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