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   Chapter 51 UNDER THE PINES WITH HAROLD.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 12379

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It seemed to Harold that it had been a thousand years since he had left Shannondale, so much had come into and so much had gone out of his life since he said good-bye to the girl he loved and to the girl who loved him. One was dead, and he had only come in time to help lay her in her grave; while the other, the girl he loved, was, some might think, farther removed from him than death itself could have removed her.

But Harold did not feel so. He had faith in Jerrie-that she would not change, though there had been a time during the first homesick weeks in Tacoma, when, knowing from his grandmother of her convalescence, and still hearing from her no explanation with regard to the diamonds, which he knew a few still suspected him of having taken, in his impatience and humiliation he had cried out, 'Jerrie has forgotten. She is not standing by me, forever and ever, amen, as she once promised to do.' But this feeling quickly passed, and there came a day when he read the judge's letter in the privacy of his room at the Tacoma, and rejoiced with an exceeding great joy for Jerrie, whose house and birthright had been so strangely restored. He never doubted the story for a moment, but felt rather as if he had known it always, and wondered how any one could have imagined for a moment that blue-eyed, golden-haired Jerrie was the child of the dark, coarse looking woman found dead beside her. 'I am so glad for Jerrie,' he said, without a thought that her relations to himself would in any way be changed.

Once, when she had told him of the fancies which haunted her so often, he had put them from him with a fear that, were they true, Jerrie would be lost to him forever. But he had no such misgivings now; and when Jerrie's letter came, urging his return, both for her own sake and Maude's, he wrote a few hurried lines to her, telling her how glad he was for her, and of his intention to start for the East as soon as possible. 'To-morrow, perhaps,' he wrote, 'in which case I may be there before this letter reaches you, for the mails are sometimes slow, and the judge's communication was overdue three or four days.'

Starting the second day after his letter, Harold travelled day and night, while something seemed beckoning him on-Maude's thin, white face, and Jerrie's, too; and when, between St. Paul and Chicago, there came a detention from a freight car off the track, he felt that he must fly, so sure was he that he was wanted and anxiously looked for at Tracy Park, where at that very time Maude was dying. The next afternoon he left Chicago, and with no further accident reached Shannondale just as the long procession was winding its way to the cemetery.

He had heard from an acquaintance in Springfield that Maude was dead, and of her request that he should be one of the pall-bearers, together with Dick, and Fred, and Billy. 'And I will do it yet,' he said, with a throb of pain, as he thought of the little girl who had died believing that he loved her. Once or twice he had resolved to write and tell her as carefully as possible of her mistake, but as often had changed his mind, thinking to wait until she was better; and now she was dead, and the chance for explanation gone forever; but he would, if possible, carry out the wish she had expressed with regard to himself.

Striking into the fields from the station, he reached the cemetery in time to take his place by Billy and carry poor little Maude to her last resting place; and then he looked for Jerrie, and felt an indefinable thrill when he saw her on her father's arm, and began to realize that she was Jerrie Tracy. But all that was over now; he had talked with her face to face, and had found her the Jerrie he had always known, and he was going to see her in her own home, at Tracy Park-the daughter of the house, the heiress of Arthur Tracy, and of more than two millions, it was said-for, despite Frank's extravagance, all of which Arthur had met without a protest, his money had accumulated rapidly, so that he was a much richer man now, than when he first came home from Europe.

Harold found the family at dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Tracy and Tom in the dining-room, and Arthur and Jerrie in the Gretchen room, to which he was taken at once.

'Come in-come in, my boy. You are just in time for dessert,' Arthur said, rising with alacrity and going forward to meet him; while Jerrie, too, arose and took his hand, and made him sit by her, and questioned him on his journey, and helped him to the fairest peach and the finest bunch of grapes, and, without seeming to do so, examined him from head to foot, and thought how handsome and grand he was, and felt sure that her father thought so too.

With a part of the first money Billy had paid him, or rather had told him to draw in Tacoma, Harold had bought himself the clothes which he needed sadly; and though it was only a business suit, and had travelled thousands of miles, it fitted him well, and it was not at all a shabby Harold sitting at Arthur's table, but a young man of whom anyone might have been proud. And Jerrie was proud of him and of her father, too, as they talked together; and Harold showed no sign of any inequality, even if he felt it, which he did not.

'A fine young man, with the best of manners, and carries himself as he were the lord high chancellor,' Arthur said, when, after dinner, Harold left there to pay his respects to the other inmates of the family, whom he found just leaving the dining-room.

Dolly bowed to him coldly at first, and was about to pass on, when, with a burst of tears, she offered him her hand, and sobbed:

'Oh, Harold, why didn't you come before? Maude wanted to see you so badly.'

This was a great deal for Dolly, and Tom stared at her in amazement, while Harold explained that he had come as soon as he possibly could, and tried to say something of Maude, but could not, for the tears which choked him. Frank was unfeignedly glad to see him, and told him so.

'Our dear little girl was fond of you, Hal. I am sure she was, and I shall always like you for that. Heaven bless you, my boy,' he said, as he wrung Harold's hand and then hurried away after his wife,

leaving Harold alone with Tom, who, awfully afraid he should break down, said, indifferently:

'Glad to see you, Hal. Wish you had come before Maude died. She was in a tearin' way to see you. Have a cigar? Got a prime lot in my room. Will you go there?

Harold was in no mood for cigars, and, declining Tom's offer, sauntered awhile around the grounds, where he found himself constantly expecting to find the dead girl sitting under a tree wailing for him with the light whose meaning he now knew kindling in her beautiful eyes as she bade him welcome and told him how glad she was to see him. He was glad now that he had not written and told her of her mistake, and he felt in his heart a greater tenderness for the Maude dead than he ever could have felt for the Maude living.

It was beginning to grow dark when he returned to the house where he found Jerrie in the hall ready to go home. Arthur was at her side, with his arm thrown lovingly around her, and as he passed her over to Harold, he said:

'Make the most of her to-night, my boy, for to-morrow she comes home to stay. Heaven bless you, my daughter!'

His words sent a thrill through both Harold and Jerrie, who walked on in silence until they reached the four pines, where Jerrie halted suddenly and said:

'Let us sit down, Harold. I have a message from Maude, which I promised to deliver the first time we were alone together after you came home.'

Jerrie's voice trembled a little, and after they were seated she was silent until Harold said to her:

'You were going to tell me of Maude;' then she started and replied:

'Yes; she wanted so much to see you and tell you herself. I don't know what she meant, but she said she had made a mistake, and I must tell you so, and that you would understand it. She had been thinking and thinking, she said, and knew it was a stupid blunder of hers; that was what she called it-a stupid blunder; and she was sorry for you that she had made it, and bade me say so, and tell you no one knew but herself and you. Dear little Maude! I wish she had not died.'

Jerrie was crying now, and perhaps that was the reason she did not mind when Harold put his arm around her and drew her closer to him, so close that his brown hair touched her golden curls, for the night was warm and she had brought her bonnet in her hand all the way, while he had taken off his hat when they sat down under the pines, which moaned and sighed above them for a moment, and then grew still, as if listening for what Harold would say.

'Yea,' he began slowly, 'I think I know what Maude meant by the mistake. Did she say I must tell you what it was?'

'She said you would tell me, but perhaps you'd better not,' Jerrie replied,

'Yes, I must tell you,' he continued, 'as a preliminary to what I have to say to you afterward, and what I did not mean to say quite so soon; but this decides me,' and Harold drew Jerrie a little closer to him as he went on: 'Did you ever think that I loved poor little Maude?'

'Yes, I have thought so,' was Jerrie's answer.

'She thought so, too,' Harold continued, 'and it was all my fault; my blunder, not hers. I loved her as I would a sister; as I did you in the olden days, Jerrie. She was so sweet and good, and so interested in you and all I wanted to do for you, that I regarded her as a very dear friend, nothing more. And because I looked upon her this way, I foolishly went to her once to confess my love for another; her dearest and most intimate friend, and ask if she thought I had a chance for success. I must have bungled strangely, for she mistook my meaning and thought I was speaking of herself and in a way she accepted me; and before I had time to explain, her mother came in and I have never seen her since; but I shall never forget the eyes which looked at me so gladly, smiting me so cruelly for the delusion in which I had to leave her. That is what Maude meant. She saw the mistake, and wished to rectify it by giving me the chance to tell you myself what I wanted to tell you then and dared not.'

Jerrie trembled violently, but made no answer, and Harold went on:

'It may seem strange that I, who used to be so much afraid of Jerrie Crawford that I dared not tell her of my love, have the courage to do it now that she is Jerrie Tracy, and I do not understand it myself. Once when you told me your fancies concerning your birth, a great fear took possession of me, lest I should lose you, if they were true; but when I heard that they were true, I felt so sure of you that I could scarcely wait for the time when I could ask you, as I now do, to be my wife, poor as I am, with nothing but love to give you. Will you, Jerrie?'

His face was so close to hers now that her hot cheeks touched his as she bent her head lower and lower, but she made no reply for a moment, and then she cried:

'Oh, Harold, it seems so soon, with Maude only buried to-day. What shall I say? What ought I to say?'

'Shall I tell you?' he answered, taking her hand in his. 'Say the first English word you ever spoke, and which I taught you. Do you remember it?'

'Iss' came involuntarily from Jerrie, in the quick, lisping accent of her babyhood, when that was all the English she could master; and almost before it had escaped her, Harold smothered it with the kisses he pressed upon her lips as he claimed her for his own.

'But, Harold,' she tried to explain between his kisses, 'I meant that I did remember. You must not-you must not kiss me so fast. You take my breath away. There! I won't stand it any longer. I'm going straight home to tell grandma how you act!'

'And so am I,' Harold said, rising as she did, but keeping his arm around her as they went slowly along in the soft September night, with the stars, which were shining for the first time on Maude's grave, looking down upon then, and a thought of Maude in their hearts, and her dear name often upon their lips, as they talked of the past as lovers will, trying to recall just when it was that friendship ceased and love began, and deciding finally that neither knew nor cared when it was, so great was their present joy and anticipation of the future.

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