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   Chapter 6 THE COTTAGE IN THE LANE.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 15249

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It was called thus because it stood at the end of a broad, grassy avenue or lane, which led from the park to the entrance of the grounds of Collingwood, whose chimneys and gables were distinctly visible in the winter when the trees were stripped of their foliage. At the time when Mrs. Crawford took possession of it its color was red, but the storms and rains of eleven summers and winters had washed nearly all the red away; and as Mrs. Crawford had never had the money to spare for its repainting, it would have presented a brown and dingy appearance outwardly, but for the luxurious woodbine, which she had trained with so much care and skill that it covered nearly three sides of the cottage, and made a gorgeous display in the autumn, when the leaves had turned a bright scarlet.

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Arthur Tracy, the cottage was furnished comfortably and even prettily when Mrs. Crawford entered it, and it was from the same kind friend that her resources mostly had come up to the day when, three years after her marriage, Amy Hastings came home to die, bringing with her a little two-year-old boy, whom, she called Harold, for his father. Just where the father was, if indeed he were living, she did not know. He had left her in London six months before, saying he was going over to Paris for a few days, and should be back almost before she had time to miss him. Just before he left her he said to her, playfully:

'Cheer up, petite. I have not been quite as regular in my habits as I ought to have been, but London is not the place for a man of my tastes-too many temptations for a fellow like me. When I come back we will go into the country, where you can have a garden, with flowers and chickens, and grow fat and pretty again. You are not much like the girl I married. Good-bye.'

He kissed her and the baby, and went whistling down the stairs. She never saw him again, and only heard from him once. Then he was in Paris, and had decided to go for a week to Pau, where he said they were having such fine fox hunts. Weeks went by and he never wrote nor came, and Amy would have been utterly destitute and friendless but for Arthur Tracy, who, when her need was greatest, went to her, telling her that he had never been far from her, but had watched over her vigilantly to see that no harm came to her. When her husband went to Paris he knew it through a detective, and from the same source knew when he went to Pau, where all trace of him had been lost.

'But we are sure to find him again,' he said, encouragingly; 'and meantime I shall see that you do not suffer. As an old friend of your husband, you will allow me to care for you until he is found.'

And Amy, who had no alternative, accepted his care, and tried to seem cheerful and brave while waiting for the husband who never came back.

At last when all hope of seeing him again was gone, Arthur sent her home to the cottage in the lane, where her mother received her gladly, thanking Heaven that she had her daughter back again. But not for long. Poor Amy's heart was broken. She loved her husband devotedly, and his cruel desertion of her-for she knew now it was that-hurt her more than years of suffering with him could have done. Occasionally she heard from Arthur, who was still busy in search of the delinquent, and who always sent in his letter a substantial proof of his friendship and generosity.

And so the weeks and months went by; and then, one day, there came a letter in the well-known handwriting. But it was Mrs. Crawford who opened it and read that Harold Hastings was dead: that Amy was free, and that Arthur Tracy, who through all had loved her just as well as when he first asked her to be his wife, now put the question again, offering to make her the mistress of Tracy Park and surround her with every possible comfort.

'Say yes, darling Amy,' he wrote, 'and we may yet be very happy. I will be a good husband to you and a father to your child, who shall share my fortune as if he were my own. Answer at once, telling me to come, and, before you know it I shall be there to claim you for my wife.'

With a low moan, Mrs. Crawford hid her face in her hands and sobbed aloud, for the Amy who might have been the honored wife of Arthur Tracy lay dead in her coffin; and that day they buried her under the November snow, which was falling in great sheets upon the frozen ground. What Arthur felt when he heard the news no one ever knew, for he made no sign to any one, but at once gave orders to Colvin that a costly monument should be placed at her grave, with only this inscription upon it:

AMY

Aged 23.

Of course the low-minded people talked, and Mrs. Crawford knew they did; but her heart was too full of sorrow to care what was said. Her beautiful daughter was dead, and she was alone with the little boy, the child Harold, who had inherited his mother's beauty, with all her lovely traits of character. Had Mrs. Crawford consented, Arthur would have supported him entirely; but she was too proud for that. She would take care of him herself as long as possible, she wrote him, but if, when Harold was older, he chose to educate him, she would offer no objection.

And there the matter dropped, and Mrs. Crawford struggled on as best she could, sometimes going out to do plain sewing, sometimes taking it home, sometimes going to people's houses to superintend when they had company, and sometimes selling fruit and flowers from the garden attached to the cottage. But whatever she did, she was always the same quiet, lady-like woman, who commanded the respect of all, and who, poor as she was, was held in high esteem by the better class in Shannondale. Grace Atherton's carriage and that of Edith St. Claire stood oftener before her door than that at Tracy Park; and though the ladies came mostly on business, they found themselves lingering after the business was over to talk with one who, in everything save money, was their equal.

Harold was his grandmother's idol. For him she toiled and worked, feeling more than repaid for all she did by his love and devotion to her. And Harold was a noble little fellow, full of manly instincts, and always ready to deny himself for the sake of others. That he and his grandmother were poor he knew, but he had never felt the effects of their poverty, save when Tom Tracy had jeered at him for it, and called him a pauper. There had been one square fight between the two boys, in which Harold had been the victor, with only a torn jacket, while Tom's eye had been black for a week, and Mrs. Tracy had gone to the cottage to complain and insist that Harold should be punished. But when she heard that Dick St. Claire had assisted in the fray, taking Harold's part, and himself dealing Tom the blow which blackened his eye, she changed her tactics, for she did not care to quarrel with Mrs. Arthur St. Claire, of Grassy Spring.

Harold and Richard St. Claire, or Dick, as he was familiarly called, were great friends, and if the latter knew there was a difference between himself and the child of poverty he never manifested it, and played far oftener with Harold than with Tom, whose domineering disposition and rough manners were distasteful to him. That Harold would one day be obliged to earn his living, Mrs. Crawford knew, but he was still too young for anything of that kind; and when Grace Atherton, or Mrs. St. Claire offered him money for the errands he sometimes did for them, she steadily refused to let him take it. Had she known of Mrs. Tracy's proposition that he should be present at the party as hall-boy, she would have

declined, for though she could go there herself as an employee, she shrank from suffering Harold to do so. That Mrs. Tracy was not a lady, she knew, and in her heart there was always a feeling of superiority to the woman even while she served her, and she was not as sorry, perhaps, as she ought to have been, for the attack of rheumatism which would prevent her from going to the park to take charge of the kitchen during the evening.

'I am sorry to disappoint her, but I am glad not to be there,' she was thinking to herself as she sat in her bright, cheerful kitchen, waiting for Harold, when he burst in upon her, exclaiming:

'Oh, grandma, only think! I am invited to the party, and I told her I'd go, and I am to be there at half-past seven sharp, and to wear my meetin' clothes.'

'Invited to the party! What do you mean? Only grown up people are to be there,' Mrs. Crawford said.

'Yes, I know;' replied Harold, 'but I'm not to be with the grown-ups. I'm to stay in the upper hall and tell 'em where to go.'

'Oh, you are to be a waiter,' was Mrs. Crawford's rather contemptuous remark, which Harold did not heed in his excitement.

'Yes, I'm to be at the head of the stairs, and somebody else at the bottom; and they are to have fiddlin and dancin'; I've never seen anybody dance; and ice-cream and cake, with something like plaster all over it, and oranges and grapes, and, oh, everything! Dick St. Claire told me; he knows; his mother has had parties, and she's going to-night, and her gown is crimson velvet, with black and white fur in it like our cat, only they don't call it that; and-oh, I forgot-they have had a telegraph, and I took it to Mrs. Tracy, who looked mad and almost cried when she read it, Mr. Arthur Tracy is coming home to-night.'

Harold had talked so fast that his grandmother could hardly follow him, but she understood what he said last, and started as if he had struck her a blow.

'Arthur Tracy! Coming home to-night!' she exclaimed. 'Oh, I am so glad, so glad.'

'But Mrs. Tracy did not seem to be, and I guess she wanted to stop the party,' Harold said, repeating as nearly as he could what had passed between him and the lady.

Harold was full of the party to which he believed he had been invited, and when in the afternoon Dick St. Claire came to the cottage to play with him, he felt a kind of patronizing pity for his friend who was not to share his honor.

'Perhaps mother will let me come over and help you,' Dick said, 'I know how they do it. You mustn't talk to the people as they come up the stairs, nor even say good-evening, only;

'"Ladies will please walk this way, and gentlemen that!"

And Dick went through with a pantomime performance for the benefit of Harold, who, when the drill was over, felt himself competent to receive the Queen's guests at the head of the great staircase in Windsor Castle.

'Yes, I know,' he said, '"Ladies this way, and gentlemen that;" but when am I to go down and see the dancing and get some ice-cream?'

On this point Dick was doubtful. He did not believe, he said, that waiters ever went down to see the dancing, or to get ice cream, until the party was over, and then they ate it in the kitchen, if there was any left.

This was not a cheerful outlook for Harold, whose thoughts were more intent upon cream and dancing than upon showing the people where to go, and it was also the second time the word waiter had been used in connection with what he was expected to do. But Harold was too young to understand that he was not of the party itself. Later on it would come to him fast enough, that he was only a part of the machinery which moved the social engine. Now, he felt like the engine itself, and long before six o'clock he was dressed, and waiting anxiously for his grandmother's permission to start.'

'I'll tell you all about it,' he said to her. 'What they do, and what they say, and what they wear, and if I can, I'll speak to Mr. Arthur Tracy and thank him for mother's grave-stone.'

By seven o'clock he was on his way to the park, walking rapidly, and occasionally saying aloud with a gesture of his hand to the right and the left, and a bow almost to the ground.

'Ladies this way,' and 'gentlemen that.'

When he reached the house the gas-jets had just been turned up, and every window was ablaze with light from the attic to the basement.

'My eye! ain't it swell!' Harold said to himself, as he stood a moment, looking at the brilliantly lighted rooms. 'Don't I wish I was rich and could burn all that gas, and maybe I shall be. Grandma says Mr. Arthur Tracy was once a poor boy like me; only he had an uncle and I haven't. I've got do earn my money, and I mean to, and sometimes, maybe, I'll have a house us big as this, and just such a party, with a boy up stairs to tell 'em where to go. I wonder now if I'm expected to go into the kitchen door. Of course not, I've got on my Sunday clothes, and am invited to the party. I shall ring,'

And he did ring-a sharp, loud ring, which made Mrs. Tracy, who had not yet left her room, start nervously as she wondered who had come so early.

'Old Peterkin, of course. Those whom you care for least always come first.'

Peering over the banister Tom Tracy saw Harold when the door was opened, and screaming to his mother at the top of his voice, 'It ain't old Peterkin, mother; it's Hall Hastings, come to the front door,' he ran down the stairs, and confronting the intruder just as he was crossing the threshold, exclaimed:

'Go 'long; go back. You hain't no business ringin' the bell as if you was a gentleman. Go to the kitchen door with the other servants!'

With a thrust of the hand he pushed Harold back and was about to shut the door upon him when, with a quick, dextrous movement, Harold darted past him into the hall, saying, as he did so:

'Darn you, Tom Tracy, I won't go to the back kitchen door, and I'm not a servant, and if you call me so again I'll lick you!'

How the matter would have ended is doubtful, if Mrs. Tracy had not called from the head of the stairs:

'Thomas! Thomas Tracy! I am ashamed of you! Come to me this minute! And you, boy, go to the kitchen; or, no-now you are here, come up stairs, and I'll tell you what you are to do.'

Her directions were much like those of Dick St. Claire, except that she laid more stress upon the fact that he was not to speak to any one familiarly, but was to be in all respects a machine. Just what she meant by that Harold did not know; but he hung his cap on a bracket, and taking his place where she told him to stand, watched her admiringly as she went down the staircase, with her peach-blow satin trailing behind her, and followed, by her husband, who looked and felt anxious and ill at ease.

Tom had disappeared, but his younger brother, Jack, who was wholly unlike him, came to Harold's side, and began telling him what quantities of good things there were in the dining-room and pantry, and that his Uncle Arthur was coming home that night, and his mother was so glad, she cried; then, with a spring he mounted upon the banister of the long staircase and slipped swiftly to the bottom. Ascending the stairs almost as quickly as he had gone down, he bade Harold try it with him.

'It's such fun! and mother won't care. I've done it forty times,' he said, as Harold demurred; and then, as the temptation became too strong to be resisted, two boys instead of one rode down the banister and landed in the lower hall, and two pairs of little legs ran nimbly up the stairs just as the door opened and admitted the first arrival.

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