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   Chapter 5 AT THE PARK.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 13631

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Frank Tracy had at first grown faster than his wife, and the change in his manner had been more perceptible; for with all her foolishness Dolly had a kind heart, and a keen sense of right, and wrong, and justice than her husband. She had opposed him stoutly when he raised his own salary from $4,000 to $6,000 a year, on the plea that his services were worth it, and that two thousand more or less was nothing to Arthur; and when he was a candidate for the Legislature she had protested loudly against his inviting to the house and giving beer and cider to the men whose votes he wanted, and for whom as men he did not care a farthing; but when he came up for Congress she forgot all her scruples, and was as anxious as himself to please those who could help him secure the nomination and afterward the election. It was she who had proposed the party, to which nearly everybody was to be invited, from old Peterkin, with his powerful influence among a certain class, and Widow Shipleigh with her four sons, to Mr. and Mrs. St. Claire, from Grassy Spring, Squire Harrington, from Collingwood, and Grace Atherton, from Brier Hill. Very few who could in any way help Frank to a seat in Congress were omitted from the list, whether Republican or Democrat, for Frank was popular with both parties and expected help from both. Over three hundred cards had been issued for the party, which was the absorbing topic of conversation in the whole town, and which brought white kids and white muslins into great requisition, while swallow-tails and non swallow-tails were discussed in the privacy of households, and discarded or decided upon according to the length of the masculine purse or the strength of the masculine resistance, for dress coats were not then the rule in Shannondale. It was said that Mr. St. Claire and Squire Harrington always wore them to dinner, but they were the nobility par excellence of the town, and were expected to do things differently from the middle class, who had their bread to earn. Old Peterkin, however, whom Frank in his soliloquy, had designated a canal bummer, had become a rich man, and was resolved to show that he knew what was au fait for the occasion; a new suit throughout, in the very latest style, was in progress of making for him, and he had been heard to say that 'Tracy should have his vote and that of fifty more of the boys to pay for his ticket to the doin's'. This speech, which was reported to Mrs. Tracy, reconciled her to the prospect of receiving as a guest the coarsest, roughest man in town, whose only recommendation was his money and the brute influence he exercised over a certain class.

Dolly has scarcely slept for excitement since the party had been decided upon, and everything seemed to be moving on very smoothly and in order. They were to have music, and flowers, and a caterer from Springfield, where a lovely party-dress for herself of peach-blow satin was making, and nothing occurred of any importance to disturb her until the morning of the day appointed for the party, when it seemed as if every evil culminated at once. First, the colored boy who was to wait in the upper hall came down with measles. Then Grace Atherton drove round in her carriage to say that it would be impossible for her to be present, as she had received news from New York which made it necessary for her to go there by the next train. She was exceedingly sorry, she said, and for once in her life Grace was sincere. She was anxious to attend the party, for, as she said to Edith St. Claire in confidence, she wanted to see old Peterkin in his swallow-tail and white vest, with a shirt-front as big as a platter. There was a great deal of sarcasm and ridicule in Grace Atherton's nature, but at heart she was kind and meant to be just, and after a fashion really liked Mrs. Tracy, to whom she had been of service in various ways, helping her to fill her new position more gracefully than she could otherwise have done, and enlightening her without seeming to do so on many points which puzzled her sorely; on the whole they were good friends, and, after expressing her regret that she could not be present in the evening, Grace stood a few moments chatting familiarly and offering to send over flowers from her greenhouse, and her own maid to arrange Mrs. Tracy's hair and assist her in dressing. Then she took her leave, and it was her carriage Mrs. Tracy was watching as it went down the avenue, when little Harold Hastings appeared around the corner of the house, and, coming up the steps, took off his cap respectfully as he said:

'Grandma sends you her compliments, and is very sorry that she has rheumatism this morning and cannot come to-night to help you. She thinks, perhaps, you can get Mrs. Mosher.'

'Your grandmother can't come, when I depended so much upon her, and she thinks I can get Mrs. Mosher, that termagant, who would raise a mutiny in the kitchen in an hour!' Mrs. Tracy said this so sharply that a flush mounted to the handsome face of the boy, who felt as if he were in some way a culprit and being reprimanded. 'She must come, if she does nothing but sit in the kitchen and keep order,' was Mrs. Tracy's next remark.

'She can't,' Harold replied; 'her foot and ankle is all swelled and aches so she almost cries. She is awful sorry, and so am I, for I was coming with her to see the show.'

This speech put a new idea into Mrs. Tracy's mind, and she said to the boy:

'How would you like to come anyway, and stay in the upper hall, and tell the people where to go? The boy I engaged has disappointed me. You are rather small for the place, but I guess you'll do, and I will give you fifty cents.'

'I'd like it first-rate,' Harold said, his face brightening at the thought of earning fifty cents and seeing the show at the same time.

Half-dollars were not very plentiful with Harold, and he was trying to save enough to buy his grandmother a pair of spectacles, for he had heard her say that she could not thread her needle as readily as she once did, and must have glasses as soon as she had the money to spare. Harold had seen a pair at the drug-store for one dollar, and, without knowing at all whether they would fit his grandmother's eyes or not, had asked the druggist to keep them until he had the required amount. Fifty cents would just make it, and he promised at once that he would come; but in an instant there fell a shadow upon his face as he thought of Tom, his tormentor, who worried him so much.

'What is it?' Mrs. Tracy asked, as she detected in him a disposition to reconsider.

'Will Tom be up in the hall?' Harold asked.

'Of course not,' Mrs. Tracy replied. 'He will be in the parlors until ten o'clock, and then he will go to bed. Why do you ask?'

'Because,' Harold answered fearlessly, 'if he wa

s to be there I could not come; he chaffs me so and twits me with being poor and living in a house his uncle gave us.'

'That is very naughty in him, and I will see that he behaves better in future,' said Mrs. Tracy, rather amused than other wise at the boy's frankness.

As the mention of the uncle reminded Harold of the telegram, he took it from his pocket and handed it to her.

'Mr. Tracy said I was to bring you this. It's from Mr. Arthur, and he's coming to-night. I'm so glad, and grandma will be, too!'

If Mrs. Tracy heard the last of Harold's speech she did not heed it, for she had caught the words that Arthur was coming that night, and, for a moment, she felt giddy and faint, and her hand shook so she could scarcely open the telegram.

Arthur had been gone so long and left them in undisputed possession of the park, that she had come to feel as if it belonged to them by right, and she had grown so into a life of ease and luxury, that to give it up now and go back to Langley seemed impossible to her. She could see it all so plainly-the old life of obscurity and toil in the little kitchen where she had eaten her breakfast on winter mornings so near the stove that she could cook her buckwheats on the griddle and transfer them to her own and her husband's plates without leaving her seat. She had been happy, or comparatively so there, she said to herself, because she knew no better. But now she did know better, and she ate her breakfast in an oak-paneled dining-room, with a waitress at her elbow, and her buckwheats hot from a silver dish instead of the smoking griddle. She had a governess for her two boys, Tom and Jack, and a nurse for her little Maude, who, in her ambitious heart, she hoped would one day marry Dick St. Clair, the young heir of Grassy Spring.

It never occurred to Dolly that they might possibly remain at the park if Arthur did come home. She felt sure they could not, for Arthur would hardly approve of his brother's stewardship when he came to realize how much it had cost him. They would have to leave, and this party she was giving would be her first and last at Tracy Park. How she wished she had never thought of it, or, having thought of it, that she had omitted from the list those who, she knew, would be obnoxious to the foreign brother, and who had only been invited for the sake of their political influence, which would now be useless, for Frank Tracy as a nobody, with very little money to spend, would not run as well, even in his own party, as Frank Tracy of Tracy Park, with thousands at his command if he chose to take them.

'It is too bad, and I wish we could give up the party,' she said aloud, forgetting in her excitement that Harold was still standing there, gazing curiously at her. 'You here yet? I thought you had gone!' she said, half angrily, as she recovered herself a little and met the boy's wondering eyes.

'Yes'm; but you ain't going to give the party up?' he said, afraid of losing his half-dollar.

'Of course not. How can I, with all the people invited?' she asked, questioningly, and a little less sharply.

'I don't know, unless I get a pony and go round and tell 'em not to come,' Harold suggested, thinking he might earn his fifty cents as easily that way as any other.

But, much as Mrs. Tracy wished the party had never been thought of, she could not now abandon it, and declining the services of Harold and his pony, she again bade him go home, with a charge that he should be on time in the evening, adding, as she surveyed him critically:

'If you have no clothes suitable, you can wear some of Tom's. You are about his size.'

'Thank you; I have my meetin' clothes, and do not want Tom's,' was Harold's reply, as he walked away, thinking he would go in rags before he would wear anything which belonged to his enemy, Tom Tracy.

The rest of the morning was passed by Mrs. Frank in a most unhappy frame of mind, and she was glad when, at an hour earlier than she had reason to expect him, her husband came home.

'Well, Dolly,' he said, the moment they were alone, 'this is awfully unlucky, the whole business. If Arthur must come home, why couldn't he have written in advance, and not take us by surprise? Looks as if he meant to spring a trap on us, don't it? And if he did, by Jove, he has caught us nicely. It will be somewhat like the prodigal son, who heard the sound of music and dancing, only I don't suppose Arthur has spent his substance in riotous living, with not over nice people; but there is no telling what he has been up to all these years that he has not written to us. Perhaps he is married. He said in his telegram, "Send to meet us." What does that mean, if not a wife?'

'A wife! Oh, Frank!' and with a great gasp Dolly sank down upon the lounge near where she was standing, and actually went into the hysterics her husband had prophesied.

In reading the telegram she had not noticed the little monosyllable 'us,' which was now affecting her so powerfully. Of course it meant a wife and possibly children, and her day was surely over at Tracy Park. It was in vain that her husband tried to comfort her, saying that they knew nothing positively, except that Arthur was coming home and somebody was coming with him; it might be a friend, or, what was more likely, it might be a valet; and at all events he was not going to cross Fox River till he reached it, when he might find a bridge across it.

But Frank's reasoning did not console his wife, whose hysterical fit was succeeded by a racking headache, which by night was almost unbearable. Strong coffee, aconite, brandy, and belladonna, were all tried without effect. Nothing helped her until she commenced her toilet, when in the excitement of dressing she partly forgot her disquietude, and the pain in her head grew leas. Still she was conscious of a feeling of wretchedness and regret as she sat in her handsome boudoir and felt that it might be for the last time-that on the morrow another would be mistress where she had reigned so long.

It was known in the house that Arthur was expected, and some one with him, but no hint had been given of a wife, and Mrs. Tracy had ordered separate rooms prepared for the strangers, who were to arrive on the half-past ten train. How she should manage to keep up and appear natural until that time Mrs. Tracy did not know, and her face and eyes wore an anxious, frightened look, which all her finery could not hide. And still she was really very handsome and striking in her dress of peach blow satin, and the bare arms which had once been more familiar with soap-suds and dishwater than lace and gold bracelets, looked very fair and girlish when at last she descended to the drawing-room and stood waiting for the first ring which would open the party.

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