Mary Jane Holmes.

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did not know what he believed, and this object, whose outline, seen
against, the western sky, where a little dim light was lingering, seemed
almost like that of a human form, made his heart beat faster than its
wont, and he involuntarily checked his horse, just as a clear, shrill
voice called out:

'Mr. Tracy, is that you? I have waited so long, and I'm so cold sitting
here. Did you post the letter?'

It was Jerry who, after he had left her in his office, had been seized
with an indefinable terror lest he might not post the letter after all.
It seemed wrong to doubt him, and she did not really think that she did
doubt him; still she would feel happier if she knew, and after supper
was over she started along the grassy road until she reached the gate.
Here she waited a long time, and then, as Mr. Tracy did not appear, she
walked up and down the lane until the sun was down and the ground began
to feel so damp and cold that she finally climbed up to the top of the
gate-post, which was very broad, and where, on her way to town, she had
frequently sat for a while. It was very cold and tiresome waiting there,
and she was beginning to get impatient and to wonder if it could be
possible that he had gone home by some other road, when she heard the
sound of a horse's hoofs and felt sure he was coming.

'Why, Jerry, how you frightened me!' Frank said, as he reined his horse
close up to her. 'Jump down and get up behind me. I will take you home.'

She obeyed, and with the agility of a little cat, got down from the
gate-post and on to the horse's back, putting both arms around Frank's
waist to keep herself steady, for the big horse took long steps, and she
felt a little afraid.

'Did you post the letter?' she asked again, as they left the gate behind
them and struck into the lane.

To lie now was easy enough, and Frank answered without hesitation:

'Of course. Did you think I would forget it?'

'No,' Jerry answered. 'I knew you would not. I only wanted to be sure,
because he trusted it to me, and not to have sent it would have been
mean, and a sneak, and a lie, and a steal. Don't you think so?'

She emphasized the 'steal,' and the 'lie,' and the 'sneak,' and the
'mean,' with a kick that made the horse jump a little and quicken his
steps.

'Yes,' Frank assented; it would be all she affirmed, and more too, and
the man who could do such a thing was wholly unworthy the respect of any
one, and ought to be punished to the full extent of the law.

'That's so,' Jerry said, with another emphatic kick and a slight
tightening of her arm around the conscience-stricken man, who wondered
if he should ever reach the cottage and be free from the clasp of those
arms, which seemed to him like bands of fire burning to his soul. 'I'd
never speak to him again,' Jerry continued, 'and Mr. Arthur wouldn't
either. He is so right-up, and hates a trick. I don't believe, either,
that any harm will come to Maude from that letter, as you said. If there
does, and Mr. Arthur can fix it, he will, I know, for I shall ask him,
and he once told me he would do anything for me, because I look as he
thinks Gretchen must have looked when she was a little girl like me.'

They had reached the cottage by this time, where they found Harold in
the yard looking up and down the lane for Jerry, whose protracted
absence at that hour had caused them some anxiety, even though they were
accustomed to her long rambles by herself and frequent absences from
home. It was not an unusual thing for her to linger in the Tramp House,
even after dark, talking to herself, and Gretchen, and Mah-nee, and her
mother and a sick woman, whose face was far back in the past. She was
there now, Harold supposed, and this belief was confirmed when Mr. Tracy
said to him:

'You see I have picked up your little girl and brought her home. Jump
down, Jerry, and good-night to you.'

She was on the ground in an instant, and he was soon galloping toward
home, saying to himself:

'I don't believe I can even have a death-bed repentance now. I have told
too many lies for that, and more than all, must go on lying to the end.
I have sold my soul for a life of luxury, which after all is very
pleasant,' he continued, as he drew near the house, which was
brilliantly lighted up, while through the long windows of the
drawing-room he could see the table, with its silver and glass and
flowers, and the cheerful blaze upon the hearth of the fire-place, which
Dolly had persuaded Arthur to have built. There was every kind of
bric-a-brac on the tall mantel, and Frank saw it as he passed, and saw
the colored man moving slowly about the room after the manner of a
well-trained servant who understands his business. There was company
staying in the house, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond, from Kentucky, father and
mother to Fred; and Mr. and Mrs. St. Claire, and Grace Atherton, and
Squire Harrington had been invited to dinner, and were already in the
dining-room when Frank entered it after a hasty toilet.

He had been out in the country and ridden further than he had intended,
he said by way of apology, as he greeted his guests, and then took Mrs.
Raymond into dinner, which, with the exception of the soup and fish, was
served from side tables. This was Dolly's last new kink, as Frank called
it, and Dolly was very fine, in claret velvet, with her new diamonds,
which were greatly admired, Grace Atherton declaring that she liked them
quite as well as the stolen ones, whose setting was rather _passé._

'That is just why I liked them so, because they were old-fashioned; it
made them look like heir-looms, and showed that one had always had a
family,' Dolly said.

Grace Atherton shrugged her still plump shoulders just a little, and
thought of the first call she ever made upon Dolly, when she entered
through the kitchen and the lady entertained her in her working-apron!

Dolly did not look now as if she had ever seen a working-apron, and was
very bright and talkative, and entertaining, and all the more so because
of her husband's silence. He was given to moods, and sometimes
aggravated his wife to desperation when he left all the conversation to
her.

'Do talk,' she would say to him when they were alone. 'Do talk to people
and not sit so glum, with that great wrinkle between your eyes as if you
were mad at something; and do laugh, too, when anybody tells anything
worth laughing at, and not leave it all to me. Why, I actually giggle at
times until I feel like a fool, while you never smile or act as if you
heard a word. Look at me occasionally, and when I elevate my
eyebrows - _so_ - brace up and say something, if it isn't so cunning.'

This _elevating of the eyebrows_ and _bracing up_ were matters of
frequent occurrence, as Frank grew more and more silent and abstracted,
and now after he had sat through a funny story told by Mr. St. Claire
and had not even smiled, or given any sign that he heard it, he suddenly
caught Dolly's eye and saw that both eyebrows, and nose, and chin were
up as marks of unusual disapprobation, for how could she guess of what
he was thinking as he sat with his head bent down, and his eyes
seemingly half shut. But they came open wide enough, and his head was
high enough when he saw Dolly's frown; and turning to Mrs. Raymond he
began to talk rapidly and at random. She had just returned from Germany,
where she had left her daughter, Marion, in school, and Frank asked her
of the country, and if she had visited Wiesbaden, and had there met or
heard of anyone by the name of Marguerite Heinrich.

Mrs. Raymond had spent some months in Wiesbaden, for it was there her
daughter was at school, and she was very enthusiastic in her praises of
the beautiful town. But she had never seen or heard of Marguerite
Heinrich, or of anyone by the name of Heinrich.

'Marguerite Heinrich?' Dolly repeated. 'Who in the world is she - and
where did you know her?'

'I never did know her. I have only heard of her,' Frank replied, again
lapsing into a silence from which he did not rouse again.

He was thinking of the letter hidden away with the photograph and the
book - of the lies he had told since his deception began, and now sure it
was that he had sinned beyond forgiveness. When he was a boy he had
often listened, with the blood curdling in his veins, to a story his
grandmother told him with sundry embellishments, for he was not well
versed in German literature, of a man - Foster it seemed to him was the
name - who sold his soul to the devil in consideration that for a certain
number of years he was to have every pleasure the world could give. It
had been very pleasant listening to the recital of the fine things the
man enjoyed, for Satan kept his promise well; but the boy's hair had
stood on end as the story neared its close, and he heard how, when the
probation was ended, the devil came for his victim down the wide-mouthed
chimney, scattering bricks and fire-brands over the floor, as he carried
the trembling soul out in the blackness of the stormy night.

Strangely enough this story came back to him now, and notwithstanding
the horror of the thing he laughed aloud as he glanced up at the tall
oak fire-place, wondering if it would be that way he would one day go
with his master, and seeing in fancy Dolly's dismay when the tea-cups,
and saucers, and vases, and plaques, came tumbling to the floor as he
disappeared from sight in a blue flame, which smelled of brimstone.

It was a loud, unnatural laugh, but fortunately for him it came just as
Grace Atherton had set the guests in a roar with what she was saying of
the Peterkin's final struggle to enter society, and so it passed
unnoticed by most of them. But that night in the privacy of his room,
where Dolly delivered most of her lectures, she again upbraided him with
his taciturnity, telling him that he never laughed but once, and then it
sounded more like a groan than a laugh.

'You have hit the nail on the head this time, for it was a groan,' Frank
said, as he plunged into bed; and Dolly, as she undressed herself
deliberately, and this time put her diamonds carefully away, little
dreamed what was passing in the mind of the man, who, all through the
long hours of the night, lay awake, seldom stirring lest he should
disturb her, but repeating over and over to himself, the words:

'Lost now forever and ever, but if Maude is happy I can bear it.'




CHAPTER XXIV.

JERRIE - NINE YEARS LATER.


She spelled her name with an _ie_ now, instead of a _y._ She was
nineteen years old; she had been a student at Vassar for four years,
together with Nina St. Claire and Ann Eliza Peterkin, and in July was to
be graduated with the highest honors of her class. In her childhood,
when we knew her as little Jerry, she had been very small, but at the
age of twelve she suddenly shot up like an arrow, and had you first seen
her, with her back to you, you might have said she was very tall, but
had you waited till she turned her face toward you, or walked across
the floor, you would have thought that if an eighth of an inch were
taken from her height it would spoil her splendidly developed form. Her
school companions called her the Princess, she was so tall and straight,
and graceful in every movement, with that sweet graciousness of manner
which won all hearts to her and made her a general favorite. Whether she
spelled her name with an _ie_ or a _y_ and stood five feet six or four
feet five, she was the same Jerry who had defended Harold against Tom
Tracy, and been ready to go to prison, if need be, for Mr. Arthur.
Frank, unselfish, truthful, and original, she had been as a child, with
perhaps a little too much pride in her hair, which she hid once cut off
to see how it would seem, and she was original, and truthful, and
unselfish now, with a pardonable pride in her luxuriant tresses, which
lay in waves upon her finely-shaped head and glistened in the sunlight
like satin of a golden hue. But nothing could spoil Jerrie, not even the
adulation of her friends or the looking-glass which told her she was
beautiful, just as Nina St. Claire told her every day.

'Yes; I am not blind, and I know that I am rather good-looking,' she
once said to Nina, 'and I am glad, for, as a rule, people like pretty
things better than ugly ones, but I am not an idiot to think that looks
are everything, and I don't believe I am very vain. I used to be though,
when a child, but Harold gave me so many lectures upon vanity that I
should not do credit to his teachings were I now to be proud of what I
did not do myself.'

'But Harold thinks you are beautiful,' Nina replied.

'He does? I did not know that. When did he say so?' Jerrie asked; with
kindling eyes and a quick, sideways turn of her head, of which she had a
habit when startled by some sudden emotion.

'He said so last vacation, when we were home, and I had that little
musicale, and you played and sang so divinely, and wore that dress of
baby-blue which Mr. Arthur gave you, with the blush-rose, in your belt.'
Nina said; 'I was so proud of you and so was mamma and Mrs. Atherton.
You remember there were some New Yorkers there who were visiting Mrs.
Grace, and I was glad for them to know that we had some talent, and some
beauty, too, in the country; and Harold was proud, too. I don't think
he ever took his eyes off you from the time you sat down to the piano
until you left it, and when I said to him, "Doesn't she sing like an
angel, and isn't the lovely?" he replied: "I think my sister Jerry has
the loveliest face I ever saw, and that blue dress is very becoming to
her."'

'Wasn't that rather a stiff speech to make about his _sister_?' Jerry
said, with a slight emphasis upon the last word, as she walked away,
leaving Nina to wonder if she were displeased.

Evidently not, for a few minutes later she heard her whistling softly
the air 'He promised to buy me a knot of blue ribbon to tie up my bonny
brown hair,' and could she have looked into Jerry's room she would have
seen her standing before the mirror examining the face which Harold had
said was the loveliest he had ever seen. Others had said the same, and
their sayings had been repeated to her. Billy Peterkin, and Tom Tracy,
and Dick St. Claire, and even Fred Raymond, from Kentucky, who was
supposed to be devoted to Nina. But Jerry cared little for the
compliments of either Fred or Dick, while those of Tom she scorned and
those of Billy she ridiculed. One word of commendation from Harold was
worth more to her than the praises of the whole world besides. But
Harold had always been chary of his commendations, and was rather more
given to reproof than praise, which did not altogether suit the young
lady.

As Jerry had grown older, and merged from childhood into womanhood, a
change had come over both the girl and boy, a change which Jerry
discovered first, awaking suddenly one day to find that the brother and
sister delusion was ended, and Harold stood to her in an entirely new
relation. Just when the change had commenced she could not tell. She
only knew that it had come, and that she was not quite so happy as she
had been in the days when she called Harold her brother, and kissed him
whenever she felt like it, which was very often, for she was naturally
affectionate, and showed her affection to those she loved. She was
seventeen when the dream came - the old, old story which transformed her
from a romping, a rather gushing child, into a woman more quiet and more
dignified, especially with Harold, who missed and mourned in secret for
the playful loving ways which had been so pleasant to him, even if he
did not always make a return.

Though capable of loving quite as devotedly and unselfishly as Jerry,
he was not demonstrative, while a natural shyness and depreciation of
himself made him afraid to tell in words just what or how much he did
feel. He would rather show it by acts; and never was brother tenderer or
kinder toward a sister than he was to Jerry, whose changed mood he could
not understand. And so there gradually arose between them a little
cloud, which both felt, and neither could exactly define.

Arthur had kept his promise well with regard to Jerry, who had passed
from him to Vassar, and he would have kept it with Harold, if the latter
had permitted it. But the boy's pride and independence had asserted
themselves at last. He had accepted the course at Andover, and one year
at Harvard, on condition that he should be allowed to pay Arthur back
all he had received as soon as he was able to do it. As he entered
Harvard in advance, he was a junior when he decided to care for himself,
and during the remainder of his college course, which, of course, was
longer than usual, he struggled on, doing what he could during the
summer vacation - teaching school for months at a time - and in the
college reducing his expenses by acting as proctor, and compelling
obedience to the rules of the institution. Even the few who were aware
of his limited means, and his efforts to increase them, had to
acknowledge, as he stood before the multitude, delivering the
valedictory, and exciting thunders of applause by his graceful gestures
and thrilling eloquence, that he was not only an orator, but every inch
a gentleman.

His fellow students who saw him then, and listened entranced to his
clear, well-trained voice, thought not of Harold's threadbare coat and
shining old-fashioned pants, which were so conspicuous as he pursued his
studies in the class-room, but which were now concealed by the gown he
wore over them. They saw only the large, dark eyes, the finely chiseled
features, and the manly form. But as they listened to the burning words
which showed so much clear, deep thought, they said to each other:

'The young man has a future before him. Such eloquence as that could
move the world, and rouse or quiet the wildest mob that ever surged
through the streets of mad Paris.'

Jerry was there, and saw and heard. And when Harold's speech was over,
and the building was shaking with applause, and flowers were falling
around him like rain, she, too, stood up and cheered so loudly that a
Boston lady, who sat in front of her, and who thought any outward show
of feeling vulgar and ill-bred, turned and looked at her wonderingly and
reprovingly. But in her excitement Jerry did not see the disapprobation
in the cold, proud eyes. She saw only what she mistook for enquiry, and
she answered eagerly:

'That's Harold - that's my brother! Oh, I am so proud of him!'

And leaning forward so that a curl of her bright hair touched the Boston
woman's bonnet, she threw the bunch of pond lilies which she had herself
gathered that day on the river at home, before the sun was up, and while
the white petals were still folded in sleep. For Jerry had come down on
the early train to see Harold graduated, and Maude had found her in the
crowd and sat beside her, almost as pleased and happy as herself to see
Harold thus acquit himself.

Maude's roses had been bought at a florist's in Boston at a fabulous
price, for they were the choicest and rarest in market. Harold had seen
both the roses and the lilies long before they fell at his feet. It was
a fancy, perhaps, but it seemed to him that it sweet perfume from the
latter reached him with the brightness of Jerry's eyes. He knew just
where the lilies came from, for he had often waded out to the green bed
when the water was low to get them for Jerry; and all the time he was
speaking there was in his heart a thought of the old home, and the
woods, and the river, and the tall tree on the bank, with the bench
beneath, and on it the girl, whose upturned, eager face he saw above the
sea of heads confronting him.

Jerrie's approval was worth more to the young man than that of all the
rest; for he knew that, though she would be very lenient toward him, she
was a keen and discriminating critic, and would detect a weakness which
many an older person would fail to see. But she was satisfied - he was
sure of that; and if there had been in his mind any doubt it would have
been swept away when, after the exercises were over, and he stood
receiving the congratulations of his friends, she worked her way through
the crowd and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him fondly, and
bursting into a flood of tears as she told him how proud she was of him.

The eyes of half his classmates were upon him, and though Harold felt a
thrill of keen delight run through his veins at the touch of Jerrie's
lips, he would a little rather she had waited until they were alone.

'There, there, Jerrie, that will do!' he whispered, as he unclasped her
arms, and put her gently from him, though he still held her hand. 'Don't
you see they are all looking at us.'

With a sudden, jerk Jerrie withdrew her hand from his and stepped back
into the crowd, her heart beating wildly, and her cheeks burning with
shame, as she thought what she had done and how it must have mortified
Harold.

Maude was speaking to him now - Maude with her bright black eyes and
brilliant color. But she was neither crying nor strangling him with
kisses. She was shaking hands with him very decorously, and telling him
how pleased and glad she was. And in his hand he held her roses, which
he occasionally smelled as he listened, and smiled upon her with that
peculiar smile of his which made him so attractive. But the lilies were
nowhere to be seen; and when, an hour later, all the baskets and
bouquets bearing his name were piled together, the lilies were not
there.

'He has thrown them away! He did not care for them at all, and I might
as well have staid in bed as to have gotten up at four o'clock and
risked my neck to get them. He likes Maude and her roses better than he
does me,' Jerrie thought, with a swelling heart and all through the
journey home - for they returned that night - she was very quiet and
tactiturn, letting Maude do all the talking, and saying when asked why
she was so still, that her head was aching, and that she was too tired
and sleepy to talk.

That was the last time for years that Jerrie put her arms around
Harold's neck, or touched her lips to his; for it had come to her like a
blow how much he was to her, and, as she believed, how little she was to
him.

'Maude is preferred to me - I see it now so plainly; he likes me well
enough, but he loves _her_ - I saw it in the way he looked at her that
time I mortified him so dreadfully with my _gush_,' she thought; and
although of all her girl friends, not even excepting Nina St. Claire,
Maude was the nearest and dearest, she was half-glad when a week or two
later, Maude said good-bye to her, and with her mother sailed away to
Europe, where she remained for more than a year and a half.

During her absence the two girls corresponded regularly, and Jerrie
never failed to write whatever she thought would please her friend to
hear of Harold; and when at last Maude returned, and wrote to Jerrie of
failing health, and wakeful nights, and lonely days, and her longing for
the time when Jerrie would be home, and be with her, and read to her, or
recite bits of poetry, as she had been wont to do, Jerrie trampled every
jealous, selfish thought under her feet, and in her letters to Harold
urged him to see Maude as often as possible, and read to her whenever
she wished him to do so.

'You have such a splendid voice, and read so well,' she wrote, 'that it
will rest her just to listen to you, and will keep her from being so
lonely; so offer your services if she does not ask for them - that's a
good boy.'

Then, as she remembered how weak Maude was, mentally, she thought:

'He never can be happy with her as she is now. A girl who cannot do a
sum in simple fractions, and who, when abroad, thought only of Rome as a
good place in which to buy sashes and ribbons, and who asked me in a
letter to tell her who all those Caesars were, and what the Forum was
for, is not the wife for a man like Harold, and however much he might
love her at first he would be sure to tire of her after a while, unless
he can bring her up. Possibly he can.'

Resuming her pen, she wrote:

'Don't give her all sentimental poetry and love trash, but something
solid - something historical, which she can remember and talk about with
you.'

In his third letter to Jerrie, after the receipt of her instructions,
Harold wrote as follows:

'I have offered my services as reader, and tried the solid on Maude as
you advised - have read her fifty pages of Grote's History of Greece; but
when I got as far as Homeric Theogony, she looked piteously at me, while
with Hesiod and Orpheus she was hopelessly bewildered, and by the time I



Online LibraryMary Jane HolmesTracy Park → online text (page 19 of 41)