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   Chapter 8 ARTHUR.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 25092

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


All the time that Frank Tracy had been receiving his guests and trying to seem happy and at his ease, his thoughts had been dwelling upon his brother's telegram and the ominous words, 'Send some one to meet us.' How slowly the minutes dragged until it was ten o'clock, and he knew that John had started for the station to meet the dreaded 'us.' He had told everybody that he was expecting his long-absent brother, and had tried to seem glad on account of it.

'You and he were great friends, I believe,' he said to Squire Harrington.

'Yes, we were friends,' the latter replied; 'but when he lived here my health was such that I did not mingle much in society. I met him, however, in Paris four years ago, and found him very companionable and quite Europeanized in his manner and tastes. He spoke French or German altogether, and might easily have passed for a foreigner. I shall be glad to see him.'

'And so shall I,' chimed in Peterkin, whose voice was like a trumpet and could be heard everywhere. 'A first-rate chap, though we didn't use to hitch very well together. He was all-fired big feelin', and them days Peterkin was nowhere; but circumstances alter cases. He'll be glad to see me now, no doubt;' and with the most satisfied air the half millionaire put his hand as if by accident to his immense diamond pin, and pulling down his swallow-tail, walked away.

Frank saw the faint smile of contempt which showed itself in Squire Harrington's face, and his own grew red with shame, but paled almost instantly as the outer door was opened by some one who did not seem to think it necessary to ring; and a stranger, in Spanish cloak and broad-brimmed hat, stepped into the hall.

Arthur had come, and was alone. The train had been on time, and at just half-past ten the long line of cars stopped before the Shannondale station, where John, the coachman from Tracy Park, was waiting. The night was dark, but by the light from the engine and the office John saw the foreign-looking stranger, who stepped upon the platform, and felt sure it was his man. But there was no one with him, though it seemed as if he were expecting some one to follow him from the car as he stood for a moment waiting. Then, as the train moved on, he turned with a puzzled look upon his face to meet John, who said to him, respectfully:

'Are you Mr. Arthur Tracy?'

'Yes; who are you?' was the not very cordial response.

'Mr. Frank Tracy sent me from the park to fetch you,' John replied. 'I think he expected some one with you. Are you alone?'

'Yes-no, no!' and Arthur's voice indicated growing alarm and uneasiness as he looked rapidly around him, 'Where is she? Didn't you see her? She was with me all the way. Surely she got off when I did. Where can she have gone?'

He was greatly excited, and kept peering through the darkness as he talked; while John, a good deal puzzled, looked curiously at him, as if uncertain whether he were in his right mind or not.

'Was there some one with you in the car?' he asked.

'Yes, in the car, and in New York, and on the ship. She was with me all the way,' Mr. Tracy replied. 'It is strange where she is now. Did no one alight from the train when I did?'

'No one,' John answered, more puzzled than ever.... 'I was looking for you, and there was no one else. She may have fallen asleep and been carried by.'

'Yes, probably that is it,' Mr. Tracy said, more cheerfully, 'she was asleep and carried by. She will come back to-morrow.'

He seemed quite content with this solution of the mystery, and began to talk of his luggage, which lay upon the platform-a pile so immense that John looked at it in some alarm, knowing that the carriage could never take it all.

'Eight trunks, two portmanteaus, and a hat-box!' he said, aloud, counting the pieces.

'Yes, and a nice sum those rascally agents in New York made me pay for having them come with me,' Arthur rejoined. 'They weighed them all, and charged me a little fortune. I might as well have sent them by express; but I wanted them with me, and here they are. What will you do with them? This is hers,' and he designated a black trunk or box, longer and larger than two ordinary trunks ought to be.

'I can take one of them with the box and portmanteau, and the expressman will take the rest. He is here. Hallo, Brown,' John said, calling to a man in the distance, who came forward, and, on learning what was wanted, begun piling the trunks into his wagon, while Arthur followed John, to the carriage, which he entered, and, sinking into a seat, pulled his broad-brimmed hat over his face and eyes, and sat as motionless as if he had been a stone.

For a moment John stood looking at him, wondering what manner of man he was, and thinking, too, of the woman who, he said, had been with him in the train, and who should have alighted with him. At last, remembering suddenly a message his master had given him, he began:

'If you please, sir, Mr. Tracy told me to tell you he was very sorry that he could not come himself to meet you. If he had known that you were coming sooner, he would have done different; but he did not get your telegram till this morning, and then it was too late to stop it. We are having a great break-down to-night.'

During the first of these remarks Arthur had given no sign that he heard, but when John spoke of a break-down, he lifted his head quickly, and the great black eyes, which Harold noticed later as peculiar, flashed a look of inquiry upon John, as he said:

'Break-down? What is that!'

'A party-a smasher! Mr. Tracy is running for Congress.' was John's reply.

And then over the thin face there crept a ghost of a smile, which, faint as it was, changed the expression wonderfully.

'Oh, a party!' he said. 'Well, I will be a guest, too. I have my dress-suit in some of those trunks. Frank is going to Congress, is he? That's a good joke! Drive on. What are you standing there for?'

The carriage door was shut, and, mounting the box, John drove as rapidly toward Tracy Park as the darkness of the night would admit, while the passenger inside sat with his hat over his eyes, and his chin almost touching his breast, as if absorbed in thought, or else not thinking at all. Once, however, he spoke to himself, and said:

'Poor little Gretchen! I wonder how I could have forgotten and left her in the train. What will she do alone in a strange place? But perhaps Heaven will take care of her. She always said so. I wish I had her faith and could believe as she does. Poor little Gretchen!'

They had turned into the park by this time, and very soon draw up before the house, from every window of which lights were flashing, while the sounds of music and dancing could be distinctly heard.

Something like Frank's idea came into Arthur's mind at the sight.

'It makes me think of the return of the prodigal, only I have not wasted my substance and my father does not come to meet me,' he said, as he descended from the carriage and went up the broad steps to the piazza, on which a few young people were walking, unmindful of the chill night air.

'I need not ring at my own house,' Arthur thought, as he opened the door and stepped into the hall; and thus it was that the first intimation which Frank had of his arrival was when he saw him standing in the midst of a crowd of people, who were gazing curiously at him.

'Arthur!' he exclaimed, rushing forward and taking his brother's hand. 'Welcome home again! I did not hear the carriage, though I was listening for it. I am so glad to see you! Come with me to your room;' and he led the way up stairs to the apartment prepared for the stranger.

He had seen at a glance that Arthur was alone, unless, indeed, he had brought a servant who had gone to the side door; and thus relieved from a load of anxiety, he was very cordial in his manner, and began at once to make excuses for the party, repeating in substance what John had already said.

'Yes, I know; that fellow who drove me here told me,' Arthur said, throwing off his coat and hat, and beginning to lave his face, and neck, and hands in the cold water which he turned into the bowl until it was full to the brim, and splashed over the sides as he dashed it upon himself.

All this time Frank had not seen his face distinctly, nor did he have an opportunity to do so until the ablutions were ended and Arthur had rubbed himself with, not one towel, but two, until it seemed as if he must have taken off the skin in places. Then he turned, and running his fingers through his luxuriant hair, which had a habit of curling around his forehead as in his boyhood, looked full at his brother, who saw that he was very pale and thin, and that his eyes were unnaturally large and bright, while there was about him an indescribable something which puzzled Frank a little. It was not altogether the air of foreign travel and cultivation which was so perceptible, but a something else-a restlessness and nervousness of speech and manner as he moved about the room, walking rapidly and gesticulating as he walked.

'You are looking thin and tired. Are you not well?' Frank asked.

'Oh, yes, perfectly well,' Arthur replied: 'only this infernal heat in my blood, which keeps me up to fever pitch all the time. I shall have to bathe my face again,' and, turning a second time to the bowl, he began to throw water over his face and hands as he had done before.

'I'd like a bath in ice water,' he said, as he began drying himself with a fresh towel. 'If I remember right, there is no bath-room on this floor, but I can soon have one built. I intend to throw down the wall between this room and the next, and perhaps the next, so as to have a suite.'

He was asserting the ownership at once, and Frank had nothing to say, for his brother was master there, and had a right to tear the house down if he chose. The second washing must have cooled him, for there came a change in his manner, and he moved more slowly and spoke with greater deliberation, as he asked some questions about the people below.

'Will you come down by-and-bye,' Frank said, after having made some explanations with regard to his guests.

'No, you will have to excuse me,' Arthur replied. 'I am too tired to encounter old acquaintances or make new. I do not believe I could stand old Peterkin, who you say is a millionaire. I suppose you want his influence; your coachman told me you were running for Congress,' and Arthur laughed the old merry musical laugh which Frank remembered so well: then, suddenly changing his tune, he said: 'When does the next train from the East pass the station?'

Frank told him at seven the next morning, and he continued:

'Please send the carriage to meet it. Gretchen will probably be there. She was in the train with me, and should have gotten out when I did, but she must have been asleep and carried by.'

'Gr-gr-gretchen! Who is she?' Frank stammered, while the cold sweat began to run down his back.

The 'us' in the telegram did mean something, and mischief, too, to his interests, he felt intuitively.

Instantly into Arthur's eyes there stole a look of cunning, and a peculiar smile played round his mouth as he replied:

'She is Gretchen. See that the carriage goes for her, will you?'

His voice and manner indicated that he wished the conference ended, and with a great sinking at his heart Frank left the room and returned to his guests and his wife, who had not seen the stranger when he entered the hall, and thus did not know of Arthur's arrival until her husband rejoined her.

'He has come,' he whispered to her, while she whispered back:

'Is he alone?'

'Yes, but somebody is coming to-morrow; I do not know who; Gretchen, he calls her,' was Frank's reply.

'Gretchen!' Mrs. Tracy repeated, in a trembling voice. 'Who is she?'

'I don't know. He merely said she was Gretchen; his daughter, perhaps,' was Frank's answer, which sent the color from his wife's cheeks, and made her so faint and sick that she would have given much to be alone and think over this evil coming upon her the next day in the shape of the mysterious Gretchen.

Meantime when left to himself, Arthur changed his mind with regard to going down into the parlors to see his brother's guests, and, unlocking the trunk which held his own wardrobe he took out an evening suit fresh from the hands of a London tailor, and, arraying himself in it, stood for a moment before the glass to see the effect. Everything was faultless, from his ne

ck-tie to his boots; and, opening the door, he went out into the hall, which was empty, except for Harold, who was sitting near the stairs, half asleep again. Most of the guests were in the supper-room, but a few of the younger portion were dancing, and the strains of music were heard with great distinctness in the upper hall.

'Ugh!' Arthur said, with a shiver, as he stopped a moment to listen, while his quick eye took in every detail of the furniture and its arrangement in the hall. 'That violinist ought to be hung-the pianist, too! Don't they know what horrid discord they are making? It brings that heat back. I believe, upon my soul, I shall have to bathe my face again.'

Suiting the action to the word, he went back and washed his face for the third time; then returning to the hall, he advanced toward Harold, who was now wide awake and stood up to meet him. As Arthur met the clear-brown eyes fixed so curiously upon him, he stopped suddenly, and put his hand to his head as if trying to recall something; then going a step or two nearer to Harold, he said:

'Well, my little boy, what are you doing up here?'

'Telling the folks which way to go,' was Harold's answer.

'Who are you?' Arthur continued. 'What is your name?'

'Harold Hastings,' was the reply; and instantly there came over the white, thin face, and into the large, bright eyes, an expression which made the boy stand back a little as the tall man came up to him and, laying a hand on his shoulder, said, excitedly:

'Harold Hastings! He was once my friend, or, I thought he was; but I hate him now. And he was your father, and Amy Crawford was your mother? N'est ce pas? Answer me!'

'Yes, sir-yes, sir; but I don't know what you mean by "na-se par,"' Harold said, in a frightened voice; and Arthur continued, as he tightened his grasp on his shoulder:

'Don't you know you ought to have been my son, instead of his?'

'Yes, sir-yes, sir; I'll never do so again,' Harold stammered, too much alarmed now to know what he was saying, or of what he was accused.

'No, you never will do it again. I hated your father, and I hate you, and I am going to throw you over the stair railing!' Arthur said, and seizing Harold's coat-collar, he swung him over the banister as if he had been a feather, while the boy struggled and fought, and held onto the rails, until help appeared in the person of Frank Tracy, who came swiftly up the stairs, demanding the cause of what he saw.

He had been standing near the drawing-room door, and had caught the sound of his brother's voice and Harold's as if in altercation. Excusing himself from those around him, he hastened to the scene of action in time to save Harold from a broken limb, if not a broken neck.

'What is it? What have you been doing?' he asked the boy, who replied, amid his tears:

'I hain't been doing anything, only minding my business, and he came and asked me who I was, and when I told him, he was going to chuck me over the railing-darn him! I wish I was big; I'd lick him!'

Harold's cheeks were flushed, and the great tears glittered in his eyes, as he stood up, brave and defiant, and resentful of the injustice done him.

'Are you mad, Arthur?' Frank said.

And whether it was the tone of his voice, or the words he uttered, something produced a wonderful effect upon his brother, whose mood changed at once, and who advanced toward Harold with outstretched hand, saying to him:

'Forgive me, my little man. I think I must have been mad for the instant; there is such a heat in my head, and the crash of that music almost drives me wild. Shall it be peace between us, my boy?'

It was next to impossible to resist the influence of Arthur Tracy's smile, and Harold took the offered hand and said, between a sob and a laugh:

'I don't know now why you wanted to throw me down stairs.'

'Nor I, and I will make it up to you some time,' was Arthur's reply, as he took his brother's arm and said: 'Now introduce me to your guests.'

The moment the gentlemen disappeared from view Harold's resolution was taken. He was of no use there any longer, as he could see. It was nearly midnight. He was very tired and sleepy, and his head was aching terribly. He could not see the dancing. He had had nothing to eat; he had stood until his legs were ready to drop off, and to crown all a lunatic had tried to throw him over the banister.

'I won't stay here another minute,' he said.

And leaving the hall by the rear entrance, and slipping down a back stairway, he was soon in the open air, and running swiftly through the park toward the cottage in the lane.

Meanwhile the two brothers had descended to the drawing-room, where Arthur was soon surrounded by his friends and old acquaintances, whom he greeted with that cordiality and friendliness of manner which had made him so popular with those who knew him best. Every trace of excitement had disappeared, and had he been master of ceremonies himself, at whose bidding the guests were there, he could not have been more gracious or affable. Even old Peterkin, when he came into notice, was treated with a consideration which put that worthy man at ease, and set his tongue again in motion. At first he had felt a little overawed by Arthur's elegant appearance, and had whispered to his neighbor:

'That's a swell, and no mistake. I s'pose that's what you call foreign get up. Well, me and ma is goin' to Europe some time, and hang me if I don't put on style when I come home. I'd kind of like to speak to the feller. I wonder if he remember that I was runnin' a boat when he went away?'

If Arthur did remember it he showed no sign when Peterkin at last pressed up to him, claiming his attention, as Captain Peterkin, of the 'Liza Ann, the fastest boat on the canal, and by George, the all-tiredest meanest, too, I guess, he said: 'but them days is past, and the old captain is past with them. I dabbled a little in ile, and if I do say it, I could about buy up the whole canal if I wanted to; but I ain't an atom proud, and I don't forget the old boatin' days, and I've got the old 'Liza Ann hauled up inter my back yard as a relict. The children use it for a play-house, but to me it is a-a-what do you call it? a-gol darn it, what is it?'

'Souvenir,' suggested Arthur, vastly amused at this tirade, which had assumed the form of a speech, and drawn a crowd around him.

'Wall, yes; I s'pose that's it, though 'taint exactly what I was trying to think of,' he said. It's a reminder, and keeps down my pride, for when I get to feelin' pretty big, after hearin' myself pointed out as Peterkin the millionaire, I go out to that old boat in the back yard, and says I, ''Liza Ann,' says I, 'you and me has took many a trip up and down the canal, with about the wust crew, and the wust hosses, and the wust boys that was ever created, and though you've got a new coat of paint onto you, and can set still all day and do nothing while I can wear the finest broadcloth and set still, too, it won't do for us to forget the pit from which we was dug, and I don't forget it neither, no more than I forgit favors shown when I was not fust cut. You, sir, rode on the 'Liza Ann with that crony of yours-Hastings was his name-and you paid me han'some, though I didn't ask nothin'; and ther's your brother-Frank, I call him. I don't forgit that he used to speak to me civil when I was nobody, and now, though I'm a Dimocrat, as everybody knows me knows, and everybody most does know me, for Shannondale allus was my native town, I'm goin' to run him into Congress, if it takes my bottom dollar, and anybody, Republican or Dimocrat; who don't vote him ain't my friend, and must expect to feel the full heft of my-my-'

'Powerful disapprobation,' Arthur said, softly, and Peterkin continued:

'Thank you, sir, that's the word-powerful, sir, powerful, powerful,' and he glowered threateningly at two or three young men in white kids and high shirt collars, who were known to prefer the opposing candidate.

Peterkin had finished his harrangue, and was wiping his wet face with his handkerchief, when Arthur, who had listened to him with well-bred attention, said:

'I thank you, Captain Peterkin, for your interest in my brother, who, if he succeeds, will, I am sure, owe his success to your influence, and be grateful in proportion. Perhaps you have a bill you would like him to bring before the House?'

'No,' Peterkin said, with a shake of the head. 'My Bill is a little shaver, eight or nine years old; too young to go from home, but'-and he lowered his voice: a little-'I don't mind saying that if there should be a chance, I'd like the post-office fust-rate. It would be a kind of hist, you know, to see my name in print, Captain Joseph Peterkin, P.M.'

Here the conversation ended, and the aspirant for the post-office, who had tired himself out, stepped aside and gave place to others who were anxious to renew their acquaintance with Arthur. It was between one and two o'clock in the morning when the party finally broke up, and, as the Peterkins had been the first to arrive, so they were the last to leave, and Mrs. Peterkin found herself again in the gentlemen's dressing-room, looking after her wraps. But they were not there, and after a vain and anxious search she said to her husband:

'Joe, somebody has stole my things, and 'twas my Indian shawl, too, and gold-headed pin, with the little diamond.'

Mrs. Tracy was at once summoned to the scene, and the missing wraps were found in the ladies' room, where Harold had carried them, but the gold-headed shawl-pin was gone and could not be found.

Lucy, the girl in attendance, said, when questioned, that she knew nothing of the pin or Mrs. Peterkin's wraps either, except that on first going up to the room after the lady's arrival, she found Harold Hastings fumbling them over, and that she sent him out with a sharp reprimand. Harold was then looked for and could not be found, for he had been at home and in bed for a good two hours. Clearly, then, he knew something of the pin; and Peterkin and his wife said good-night, resolving to see the boy the first thing in the morning, and demand their property.

When the Peterkins were gone, Arthur started at once for his room, but stopped at the foot of the stairs and said to his brother:

'Don't forget to have the carriage at the station at seven o'clock. Gretchen is sure to be there.'

'All right,' was Frank's reply.

While Mrs. Tracy asked:

'Who is Gretchen?'

If Arthur heard her he made no reply, but kept on up the stairs to his room, where they heard him for a long time walking about, opening and shutting windows, locking and unlocking trunks, and occasionally splashing water over his face and hands.

'Your brother is a very elegant-looking man,' Mrs. Tracy said to her husband as she was preparing to retire. 'Quite like a foreigner, but how bright his eyes are, and they look at you sometimes as if they would see through you and know what you were thinking. They almost make me afraid of him.'

Frank made no direct reply. In his heart there was an undefined fear which he then could not put into words, and with the remark that he was very tired, he stepped into bed, and was just falling into a quiet sleep when there came a knock upon his door loud enough, it seemed to him, to waken the dead. Starting up he demanded who was there and what was wanted.

'It is I,' Arthur said. 'I thought I smelled gas, and I have been hunting round for it. There is nothing worse to breathe than gas, whether from the furnace, the pipes, or the drain. I hope that is all right.'

'Yes,' Frank answered, a little crossly. 'Had a new one put in two weeks ago.'

'If there's gas in the main sewer it will come up just the same, and I am sure I smell it,' Arthur said. 'I think I shall have all the waste-pipes which connect with the drain cut off. Good-night. Am sorry I disturbed you.'

They heard him as he went across the hall to his room, and Frank was settling down again to sleep when there came a second knock, and Arthur said, in a whisper:

'I hope I do not trouble you, but I have decided to go myself to the station to meet Gretchen. She is very timid, and does not speak much English. Good-night once more, and pleasant dreams.'

To sleep now was impossible, and both husband and wife turned restlessly on their pillows, Frank wondering what ailed his brother, and Dolly wondering who Gretchen was and how her coming would affect them.

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