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   Chapter 4 GETTING ACCUSTOMED TO IT.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 22196

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the absence of Mrs. Crawford, who for a week or more had been domesticated in the cottage in the lane, as the house was designated which Arthur had given her, there was no one to receive the strangers except the cook and the house-maid, and as Mrs. Tracy entered the hall the two came forward, bristling with criticism, and ready to resent anything like interference in the new-comers.

The servants at the park had not been pleased with the change of administration. That Mr. Arthur was a gentleman whom it was an honor to serve, they all conceded; but with regard to the new master and mistress, they had grave doubts. Although none of them had been at the park on the occasion of Mrs. Tracy's first visit there, many rumors concerning her had reached them, and she would scarcely have recognized herself could she have heard the remarks of which she was the subject. That she had worked in a factory-which was true-was her least offence, for it was whispered that once, when the winter was unusually severe, and work scarce, she had gone to a soup-house, and even asked and procured coal from the poor-master for herself and her mother.

This was not true, and would have argued nothing against her as a woman if it had been, but the cook and the house-maid believed it, and passed sundry jokes together while preparing to meet 'the pauper,' as they designated her.

In this state of things their welcome could not be very cordial, but Mrs. Tracy was too tired and too much excited, to observe their demeanor particularly. They were civil, and the house was in perfect order, and so much larger and handsomer than she had thought it to be, that she felt bewildered and embarrassed, and said 'Yes 'em,' and 'No, ma'am,' to Martha, the cook, and told Sarah, who was waiting at dinner, that she 'might as well sit down in a chair as to stand all the time; she presumed she was tired with so many extra steps to take.'

But Sarah knew her business, and persisted in standing, and inflicting upon the poor woman as much ceremony as possible, and then, in the kitchen, she repeated to the cook and the coachman, with sundry embellishments of her own, the particulars of the dinner, amid peals of laughter at the expense of the would-be lady, who had said 'she could just as soon have her salad with her other things, and save washing go many dishes.'

It was hardly possible that mistress and maids would stay together long, especially as Mrs. Tracy, when a little more assured, and a little less in awe of her servants, began to show a disposition to know by personal observation what was going on in the kitchen, and to hint broadly that there was too much waste here and expenditure there, and quite too much company at all hours of the day.

'She didn't propose to keep a boarding-house,' she said, 'or to support families outside, and the old woman who came so often to the basement door with a big basket under her cloak must discontinue her calls.'

Then there occurred one of those Hibernian cyclones which sweep everything before them, and which in this instance swept Mrs. Tracy out of the kitchen for the time being, and the cook out of the house. Her self-respect, she said, would not allow her to stay with a woman who knew just how much coal was burned, how much butter was used, and how much bread was thrown away, and who objected to giving a bite now and then to a poor old woman, who, poor as she was, had never yet been helped by the poor-master, or gone to a soup-house like my lady!

Martha's departure was followed by that of Sarah, and then Mrs. Tracy was alone, and for a few days enjoyed herself immensely, doing her own work, cooking her own dinner, and eating it when and where she liked-in the kitchen mostly, as that kept the flies from the dining-room, and saved her many steps, for Dolly was beginning to find that there was a vast difference between keeping a house with six rooms and one with twenty or more.

Her husband urged her to try a new servant, saying there was no necessity for her to make a slave of herself: but she refused to listen. Economy was a part of her nature, and besides that she meant to show them that she was perfectly independent of the whole tribe; the tribe and them referring to the hired girls alone, for she knew no one else in town.

Nobody had called except the clergyman, not even Mrs. Crawford, whose friendship and possible advice Mrs. Tracy had counted upon, and with whom she knew she should feel more at ease than with Mrs. Atherton from Brier Hill, or Miss Hastings from Collingwood. She had seen both the last named ladies at church and had a nod from Mrs. Atherton, and that was all the recognition she had received from her neighbors up to the hot July morning, a week or more after the house-maid's departure, when she was busy in the kitchen canning black raspberries, of which the garden was full.

Like many housekeepers who do their own work, Dolly was not very particular with regard to her dress in the morning, and on this occasion her hair was drawn from her rather high forehead, and twisted into a hard knot at the back of her head; her calico dress hung straight dawn, for she was minus hoops, which in those days were worn quite large; her sleeves were rolled above her elbows, and, as a protection against the juice of the berries, she wore a huge apron made of sacking. In this garb, and with no thought of being interrupted, she kept on with her work until the last kettle of fruit, was boiling and bubbling on the stove, and she was just glancing at the clock to see if it were time to put over the peas for dinner, when there came a quick, decisive ring at the front door.

'Who can that be?' she said to herself, as she wiped her hands upon her apron. 'Some peddler or agent, I dare say. Why couldn't he come round to the kitchen, door, I'd like to know?'

She had been frequently troubled with peddlers and agents of all kinds, and feeling certain that this was one-ringing the bell a second time, as if in a hurry-she started for' the door in no very amiable frame of mind, for peddlers were her abomination. Something ailed the lock or key, which resisted all her efforts to turn it; and at last, putting her mouth to the keyhole, she called out, rather sharply:

'Go to the back door: I cannot open this,'

Then, as she caught a whiff of burnt syrup, she hurried to the kitchen, where she found that her berries had boiled over, and were hissing and sputtering on the hot stove, raising a cloud of smoke so dense that she did not see the person who stood on the threshold of the door until a voice wholly unlike that of any peddler or agent said to her;

'Good morning, Mrs. Tracy. I hope I am not intruding.'

Then she turned, and to her horror and surprise, saw Grace Atherton, attired in the coolest and daintiest of morning costumes, with a jaunty French bonnet set coquettishly upon her head, and a silver card-case in her hand.

For the moment Dolly's wits forsook her and she stood staring at her visitor, who, perfectly at her ease, advanced into the room and said:

'I hope you will excuse me, Mrs. Tracy, for this morning call I came-'

But she did not finish the sentence, for by this time Dolly had recovered herself a little, and throwing off her apron, she replied, nervously:

'Not at all-not at all, I supposed you were some peddler or agent when I sent you to this door. They are the plague of my life, and think I'll buy everything and give to everything because Arthur did. I am doing my own work, you see. Come into the parlor;' and she led the way into the dark drawing-room, and where the chairs and sofas were surrounded in white linen, looking like so many ghosts in the dim, uncertain light.

But Dolly opened one of the windows, and pushing back the blinds, let in a flood of sunshine, so strong and bright that she at once closed the shutters, saying, apologetically, that she did not believe in fading the carpets, if they were not her own. Then she sat down upon an ottoman and faced her visitor, who was regarding her with a mixture of amusement and wonder.

Grace Atherton was an aristocrat to her very finger-tips, and shrank from contact with anything vulgar and unsightly, and, to her mind, Mrs. Tracy represented both, and seemed sadly out of place in that handsome room, with her sleeves rolled up and the berry stains on her hands and face. Grace knew nothing by actual experience of canning berries, or of aprons made of sacking, or of bare arms, except it were of an evening when they showed white and fair against her satin gown, with bands of gold and precious stones upon them, and she felt that there was an immeasurable distance between herself and this woman, whom she had come to see partly on business and partly because she thought she must call upon her for the sake of Arthur Tracy, the former occupant of the park.

Grace and Arthur had been fast friends, and Brier Hill was almost the only place where he had visited on anything like terms of intimacy. Indeed, it was rumored by the busy knowing ones of Shannondale that, had the pretty widow been six years his junior instead of his senior, she would have left no art untried to win him. But here the wise ones were in fault, for though Grace Atherton's heart was not buried in her husband's grave, and, in fact, had never been her husband's at all, it was given to one who, though he cared for it once, did not prize it now, for, with all the intensity of his noble nature, Richard Harrington, of Collingwood; loved the beautiful girl whom, years ago, he had taken to his home as his child, and whom, it was said, he was to marry. But if the belief that the love she once refused and which she would fain recover was lost to her forever rankled in her breast, Grace never made a sign, and laughed as gayly and looked almost as young and handsome as in the days when Richard was wooing her in the pleasant old English town across the sea. She had loved Richard then, but, alas! loved money more, and she chose a richer man, old enough to be her father, who had died when she was twenty-one and left her the possessor of nearly half a million, every dollar of which she would have given to have recalled the days which were gone forever.

Grace had been intending to call upon Mrs. Tracy ever since she came to the park. 'Not,' as she said to her friend, Edith Hastings, 'for the woman's sake, for she knew her to be vulgar: but because she was a neighbor and the sister-in-law of Arthur Tracy,' And so at last she came, partly out of compliment and partly on business, into which last she plunged at once. She was going to the mountains with Mr. Harrington and Miss Hastings: her cook, who had been with her seven years, had gone to attend a sick mother, and had recommended as a fit person to take her place the woman who had just left Tracy Park.

'I do not like to take a servant without first knowing something of her from her last employer,' she said: 'and, if you do not mind, I should like to ask if Martha left for anything very bad.'

Mrs. Tracy colored scarlet, and for a moment was silent. She could not tell that fine lady in the white muslin dress, with seas of lace and embroidery, that Martha had called her second classy, and stingy and strooping, and mean, because she objected to the amount of coal burned, and bread thrown away, and time consumed at the table, besides turning down the gas in the kitchen when she thought it too light, to say nothing of turning it off at the meter at ten o'clock, just when the servants were beginning to enjoy themselves. All this she felt would scarcely interest a person like Mrs. Atherton, who might sympathize with Martha more than with herself, so she finally said:

'Martha was saucy to me, and on the whole it was better for them all to go; and so I am doing my own work.'

'Doing your own work!' and Grace gave a little cry of surprise, while her shoulders shrugged meaningly, and made Mrs. Tracy almost as angry as she had been with Martha when she called her mean and second-class. 'It cannot be possible that you cook, and wash, and iron, and do everything,' Mrs. Atherton continued. 'My dear Mrs. Tracy, you can never stand it in a house like this, and Mr. Arthur would not like it if he knew. Why he kept as many as six servants, and sometimes more. Pray let me advise you, and commend to you a good girl; who lived with me three years, and can do everything, from dressing my hair to making a blanc-mange. I only parted with her because she was sick, and now that she is well, her place is filled. Try her, and do not make a servant of yourself. It is not fitting that you should.'

Grace was fond of giving advice, and had said more than she intended saying when she began, but Mrs. Tracy, though annoyed, was not angry, and consented to receive the girl who had lived at Brier Hill three years, and who, she reflected, could be of use to her in many ways.

While sitting there in her soiled working dress talking to the elegant Mrs. Atherton she had felt her inferiority more keenly than she had ever done before, while at the same time she was conscious that a new set of ideas and thoughts had taken possession of her, reawaking in her the germ of that ambition to be somebody which she had felt so often when a girl, and which now was to bud and blossom, and bear fruit a hundred fold. She would take the girl, and from her learn the ways of the world as presented at Brier Hill. She would no longer wear sacking aprons, and open the door herself. She would be more like Grace Atherton, whom she watched admiringly as she went down the walk to the handsome carriage waiting for her, with driver and footman in tall hats and long coats on the box.

This was the beginning of the fine lady into which Dolly finally blossomed, and when that day Frank went home to his dinner he noticed something in her manner which he could not understand until she told him of Mrs. Atherton's call, and the plight in which that lady had found her.

'Served you right, Dolly,' Frank said, laughing till the tears ran. 'You have no business to be digging round like a slave when we are able to have what we like. Arthur said we were to keep up the place us he had done, and that does not mean that you should be a scullion. No, Dolly; have all the girls you want, and hold up your head with the best of them. Get a new silk gown, and return Mrs. Atherton's call at once, and take a card and turn down one corner or the other, I don't know which, but this girl of hers can tell you. Pump her dry as a powder horn; find out what the quality do, and then do it, and not bother about the expense. I am going in for a good time, and don't mean to work either. I told Colvin this morning that I thought I ought to draw a salary of about four thousand a year, besides our living expenses, and though he looked at me pretty sharp over his spectacles he said nothing. Arthur is worth half a million, if he is worth a cent. So, go it, Dolly, while you are young,' and in the exuberance of his joy Frank kissed his wife on both cheeks, and then hurried back to his office, where he spent most of his time trying to be a gentleman.

That day they dined in the kitchen with a leaf of the table turned up as they had done in Langley, but the next day they had dinner in the dining-room, and were waited upon by the new girl as well as it was possible for her to do with her mistress' interference.

'Never mind; Mr. Tracy's in a hurry. Give him his pie at once,' she said, as Susan was about to clear the table preparatory to the dessert, but she repented the speech when she saw the look of surprise which the girl gave her and which expressed more than words could have done.

'Better let her run herself,' Frank said, when Susan had left the room, 'and if she wants to take every darned thing off the table and tip it over to boot, let her do it. If she has lived three years with Mrs. Atherton, she knows what is what better than we do.'

'But it takes so long, and I have much to see to in this great house,' Dolly objected, and her husband replied:

'Get another girl, then; three of them if you like. What matter how many girls we have so long as Arthur pays for them, and he is bound to do that. He said so in his letter. You are altogether too economical. I've told you so a hundred times, and now there is no need of saving. I want to see you a lady of silks and satins like Mrs. Atherton. Pump that girl. I tell you, and find out what ladies do!'

This was Frank's advice to his wife, and as far as in her lay she acted upon it, and whatever Susan told her was done by Mrs. Atherton at Brier Hill, she tried to do at Tracy Park: all except staying out of the kitchen. That, from her nature, she could not and would not do. Consequently she was constantly changing cooks, and frequently took the helm herself, to the great disgust of her husband, who managed at last to imbue her with his own ideas of things.

In course of time most of the neighbors who had any claim to society called at the park, and among them Mrs. Crawford. But Mrs. Tracy had then reached a point from which she looked down upon one who had been housekeeper where she was now mistress, and whose daughter's good name was under a cloud, as there were some who did not believe that Harold Hastings had ever made her his wife. When told that Mrs. Crawford had asked for her Mrs. Tracy sent word that she was engaged, and that if Mrs. Crawford pleased she would give her errand to the girl.

'I have no errand. I came to call,' was Mrs. Crawford's reply, and she never crossed the threshold of her old home again until the March winds were blowing and there was a little boy in the nursery at the park.

At the last moment the expected nurse had fallen sick, and in his perplexity Mr. Tracy went to the cottage in the lane and begged of Mrs. Crawford to come and care for his wife. Mrs. Crawford was very proud, but she was poor, too, and as the price per week which Frank offered her was four times as much as she could earn by sewing, she consented at last and went as nurse to the sick-room, and the baby, Tom, on whose little red face she imprinted many a kiss for the sake of her daughter who was coming home in June, and over whom the shadow of hope and fear was hanging.

Dolly Tracy's growth after it fairly commenced, was very rapid, and when Mrs. Crawford went to her as nurse she had three servants in her employ, besides the coachman, and was imitating Mrs. Atherton to the best of her ability; and when, early in the summer, she received the wedding cards of Edith Hastings, the young lady from Collingwood, who had married a Mr. St. Claire instead of her guardian, she felt that her position was assured, and from that time her progress was onward and upward until the October morning, ten years later, when our story proper opens, and we see her standing upon the piazza of her handsome house, with every sign of wealth and luxury about her person, from the silken robe to the jewels upon her soft, white hands, which once had washed her own dishes, and canned berries in her own kitchen, where she had received Grace Atherton, with her sleeves above her elbows.

There were five servants in the house now, and they ran over and against each other, and quarrelled, and gossipped, and worried her life nearly out of her, until she was sometimes tempted to send them away and do the work herself. But she was far too great a lady for that. She dressed in silk and satin every day, and drove in her handsome carriage, with her driver and footman in tall hats and long coats. She was thoroughly up in etiquette, and did not need Susan to tell her what to do. She knew all about visiting cards, and dinner cards, and cards of acceptance, and regret, and condolence, and she read much oftener than she did her Bible a book entitled 'Habits of Good Society.'

Three children played in the nursery now, Tom, and Jack, and baby Maude, and she kept a nurse constantly for them, and strove with all her might to instil into their infant minds that they were the Tracys of Tracy Park, and entitled to due respect from their inferiors; and Tom, the boy of ten and a half, had profited by her teaching, and was the veriest little braggart in all Shannondale, boasting of his father's house, and his father's money, without a word of the Uncle Arthur wandering no one knew where, or cared particularly for that matter.

Arthur had never been home since the day he quitted it to look after Amy Crawford, now lying in the grave-yard of Shannondale, under the shadow of the tall monument which Arthur's money had bought. At first he had written frequently to Mrs. Crawford, and occasionally to his brother, and his agent, Mr. Colvin; then his letters came very irregularly, and sometimes a year would intervene between them. Then he would write every week, and he once told them not to be anxious if they did not hear from him in a long time, as in case of his death he had arranged to have the news communicated to his friends at once. After this letter nothing had been heard from him for more than two years, until the morning when his telegram came and so greatly disturbed the mental equilibrium of Mr. Frank Tracy that for an hour or more he sat staring into the street in a bewildered kind of way, wondering what would be the result of his brother's return, and if he should be required to give up the investments he had made from the exorbitant sum he had charged for looking after the place. Once he thought he would ask Colvin's opinion; but he was a little afraid of the old man, who had sometimes hinted that his salary was far greater than the services rendered, but as Mr. Arthur, to whom he made reports of the expenditures, had never objected, it was not for him to do so, he said. And still Frank distrusted him, and decided that, on the whole, his better plan was to wait, or at least to consult no one but his wife, and he was glad when lunch-time came, and he started home, where preparations were going forward for the first large party they had ever given.

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