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   Chapter 9 WHO IS GRETCHEN

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 25734

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

This was the question which Mr. and Mrs. Tracy asked of themselves and each other many times during the hours which intervened between their retiring and rising. But speculate as they might they could reach no satisfactory conclusion, and were obliged to wait for what the morning and the train might bring. The party had been a success, and Frank felt that his election to Congress was almost certain; but of what avail would all this be if he lost his foothold at Tracy Park, as he was sure to do if a woman appeared upon the scene. Both he and his wife had outgrown the life of eleven years ago, and could not go back to it without a struggle, and it is not strange if both wished that the troublesome brother had remained abroad instead of coming home so suddenly and disturbing all their plans. They heard him moving in his room before the clock struck six, and knew he was getting himself in readiness to meet the dreaded Gretchen. Then, long before the carriage came round they heard him in the hall opening the windows and admitting a gust of wind which blew their door open, and when Frank arose to shut it he saw the top of Arthur's broad-brimmed hat disappearing down the stairs.

'I believe he is going to walk to the station; he certainly is crazy,' Frank said to his wife, as they dressed themselves and waited with feverish impatience for the return of the carriage.

Arthur did walk to the station, which he reached just as the ticket agent was unlocking the door, and there, with his Spanish cloak wrapped around him, he stalked up and down the long platform for more than an hour, for the train was late, and it was nearer eight than seven when it finally came in sight.

Standing side by side Arthur and John looked anxiously for some one to alight, but nobody appeared and the expression of Arthur's face was pitiable as he turned it to John, and said:

'Gretchen did not come. Where do you suppose she is?'

'I am sure I don't know. On the next train, may be,' was John's reply, at which Arthur caught eagerly.

'Yes, the next train, most likely. We will come and meet it; and now drive home as fast as you can. This disappointment has brought that heat to my head, and I must have a bath. But, stop a bit; who is the best carpenter in town?'

John told him that Belknap was the best, and Burchard the highest priced.

'I'll see them both,' Arthur said. 'Take me to their houses;' and in the course of half an hour he had interviewed both Burchard and Belknap, and made an appointment with both for the afternoon.

Then he was driven back to Tracy Park, where breakfast had been waiting until it was spoiled, and the cook's temper was spoiled, too, and when Frank and Dolly met him at the door, both asked in the same breath:

'Where is she?'

'She was not on this train. She will come on the next. We must go and meet her,' was Arthur's reply, as he passed up the stairs, while Frank and his wife looked wonderingly at each other.

The spoiled breakfast was eaten by Mr. and Mrs. Tracy alone, for the children had had theirs and gone to their lessons, and Arthur had said that he never took anything in the morning except a cup of coffee and a roll, and these he wished sent to his room, together with a time-table.

After breakfast Mrs. Tracy, who was suffering from a sick headache, declared her inability to sit up a moment longer and returned to her bed, leaving her husband and the servants to bring what order they could out of the confusion reigning everywhere, and nowhere to a greater extent than in Arthur's room, or rather the rooms which he had appropriated to himself, and into which he had had all his numerous boxes and trunks brought, so that he could open them at his leisure. There were more coming by express, he said, boxes which came through the custom-house, for he had brought many valuable things, such as pictures, and statuary, and rugs and inlaid tables and chinas, with which to adorn his home.

The house, which was very large, had a wing on either side, while the main building was divided by a wide hall, with three rooms on each side, the middle one being a little smaller than the other two, with each of which it communicated by a door. And it was into this middle room on the second floor Arthur had been put, and which he found quite too small for his use. So he ordered both the doors to be opened and took possession of the suite, pacing them several times, and then measuring their length, and breadth, and height, and the distance between the windows. Then he inspected the wing on that side of the house, and, going into the yard, looked the building over from all points, occasionally marking a few lines on the paper he held in his hand. Before noon every room in the house, except the one where Dolly lay sick with a headache had been visited and examined minutely, while Frank watched him nervously, wondering if he would think they had greatly injured anything, or had expended too much money on furniture. But Arthur was thinking of none of these things, and found fault with nothing except the drain and the gas fixtures, all of which he declared bad, saying that the latter must be changed at once, and that ten pounds of copperas must be bought immediately and put down the drain, and that quantities of chloride of lime and carbolic acid must be placed where there was the least danger of vegetable decomposition.

'I am very sensitive to smells, and afraid of them, too, for they breed malaria and disease of all kinds,' he said to the cook, whose nose and chin both were high in the air, not on account of any obnoxious odor, but because of this unreasonable meddling with what she considered her own affairs. If things were to go on in this way, she said to the house-maid, and if that man was going to poke his nose into drains, and gas-pipes, and kerosene lamps, and bowls of sour milk which she might have forgotten, she should give notice to quit.

But when, half an hour later, some boxes and trunks which had come by express were deposited in the back hall, and Arthur, who was superintending them, said to her, as he pointed to a large black trunk, 'I think this has the dress patterns and shawls I brought for you, girls; for though I did not know you personally, I knew that women were always pleased with anything from Paris' her feelings underwent a radical change, and Arthur was free to smell the drain and the gas fixtures as much as he liked.

He was very busy, and though always pleasant, and even familiar at times, there was in all he said and did an air of ownership, as if he had assumed the mastership. And he had. Everything was his, and he knew it, and Frank knew it, too, and gave no sign of rebelling when the reins were taken from him by one who seemed to be driving at a break-neck speed.

At lunch, while the brothers were together, Arthur announced his intentions in part, but not until Frank, who was anxious to get it off his mind, said to him:

'By the way, I suppose you will be going to the office this afternoon, to see Colvin and look over the books. I believe you will find them straight, and hope you will not think I have spent too much, or drawn too large a salary. It you do, I will-'

'Nonsense!' was Arthur's reply, with a graceful shrug of his shoulders. 'Don't bother about that there is money enough for us both. What I invested in Europe has trebled itself, and more too, and would make me a rich man if I had nothing else. I am always lucky. I played but once at Monte Carlo, just before I came home, and won ten thousand dollars, which I invested in-But no matter; that is a surprise-something for your wife and Gretchen. I have come home to stay. I do not think I am quite what I used to be. I was sick all that time when you heard from me so seldom, and I am not strong yet. I need quite a rest. I have seen the world, and am tired of it, and now I want a house for Gretchen and myself, and you too. I expect you to stay with me as long as we pull together pleasantly and you do not interfere with my plans. I am going to take the three south rooms on the second floor for my own. I shall put folding-doors, or rather a wide arch between two of them, making them almost like one, and these I shall fit up to suit my own taste. In the smaller and middle room, where I slept last night, I shall have a large bow window, with shelves for books in the spaces between and beneath, and by the sides of the windows. I got the idea in a villa a little way out of Florence. Opposite this bow window, on the other side of the room, I shall have niches in the wall and corners for statuary, with shelves for books above and below. I have some beautiful pieces of marble from Florence and Rome. The Venus de Milo, Apollo Belvidere, Nydra and Psyche, and Ruth at the Well. But the crowning glory of this room will be the upper half of the middle window of the bow. This is to be of stained glass, bright but soft colors which harmonize perfectly, two rows on the four sides, and in the centre a lovely picture of Gretchen, also of cathedral glass, and so like her that it seems to speak to me in her soft German tongue. I had it made from a photograph I have of her, and it is very natural-the same sad, sweet smile around the lips which never said an unkind word to any one-the same bright, wavy hair, and eyes of blue, innocent as a child-and Gretchen is little more than that. She is only twenty-one-poor little Gretchen!' and, leaning back in his chair, Arthur seemed to be lost in recollections of the past.

Not pleasant, all of them, it would seem, for there was a moisture in his eyes when he at last looked up in response to his brother's questioning.

'Who did you say Gretchen was?'

Instantly the expression of the eye changed to one of weariness and caution, as Arthur replied:

'I did not say who she was, but you will soon know. I saw by the time-table that the train which passes here at eleven does not stop, but the three o'clock does, and you will please see that John goes with the carriage. I may be occupied with the carpenters, Burchard and Belknap, who were coming to talk with me about the changes I purpose to make, and which I wish commenced immediately. It is a rule of mine that when I am to do a thing, to do it at once. So I shall employ at least twenty men, and before Christmas everything will be finished, and I will show you rooms worthy of a palace. It is of Gretchen I am thinking, more than of myself. Poor little Gretchen!'

Arthur's voice was inexpressibly sad and pitiful as he said 'Poor Gretchen,' while his eyes again grew soft and tender, with a far-away look in them, as if they were seeing things in the past rather than in the future.

There was not a particle of sentiment in Frank's nature, and Gretchen was to him an object of dread rather than a romance. So far as he could judge, his brother had no intention of routing him; but a woman in the field would be different, and he should at once lose his vantage-ground.

'You seem to be very fond of Gretchen,' he said, at last.

'Fond!' Arthur replied, 'I should say I am, though the poor child has not much cause to think so. But I am going to atone, and this suite of rooms is for her. I mean to make her a very queen, and dress her in satin and diamonds every day. She has the diamonds. I sent them to her when I wrote to her to join me in Liverpool.'

'And she did join you, I suppose?' Frank said, determined by adroit questioning to learn something of the mysterious Gretchen.

'Yes, she joined me,' was the reply.

'Was she very seasick?' Frank continued.

'Not a minute. She sat by me all the time while I lay in my berth, but she would not let me hold her hand, and if I tried to touch even her hair, she always moved away to the other side of the state-room, where she sat looking at me reproachfully with those soft blue eyes of hers.'

'And she was with you at the Brevoort in New York!' Frank said.

'Yes, with me at Brevoort.'

'And in the train?'

'Yes, and in the train.'

'And you left her there?'

'No; she left herself. She did not follow me out. She went on by mistake, but is sure to come back this afternoon,' Arthur replied, rather excitedly, just as a sharp ring at the bell announced the arrival of Burchard and Belknap, the leading carpenters of the town, with whom he was closeted for the next two hours, and both of whom he finally hired in order to expedite the work he had in hand.

At precisely three o'clock the carriage from Tracy Park drew up before the station, awaiting the arrival of the train and Gretchen, but though the former came, the latter did not, and John returned alone, mentally avowing to himself that he would not be sent on a fool's errand a third time; but five o'clock found him there again with the same result. Gretchen

did not come, and Arthur's face wore a sad, troubled expression, and looked pale and worn, notwithstanding the many times he bathed it in the coldest water and rubbed it with the coarsest towels.

He had unpacked several of his trunks and boxes, and made friends of all she servants by the presents, curious and rare, which he gave them, while Dolly's headache had been wholly cured at sight of the exquisite diamonds which her husband brought to her room and told her were hers, the gift of Arthur, who had bought them in Paris, and who begged her to accept them with his love.

The box itself, which was of tortoise shell, lined with blue velvet, was a marvel of beauty, while the pin was a cluster of five diamonds with a larger one in the center, but the ear-rings were solitaires, large and brilliant, and Dolly's delight knew no bounds as she took the dazzling stones in her hands and examined them carefully. Diamond were the jewels of all others which she coveted, but which Frank never felt warranted in buying, and now they were hers, and for a time she forgot even Gretchen, whose arrival, or rather non-arrival, troubled her as much as it did her brother-in-law.

Arthur had been very quiet and gentle all the afternoon, showing no sign of the temper he had exhibited the previous night at sight of Harold until about six o'clock, when Tom, his ten-year-old nephew, came rushing into the library, followed by Peterkin, very hot and very red in the face, which he mopped with his yellow silk handkerchief.

'Oh, mother,' Tom began, 'what do you think Harold Hastings has done? He stole Mrs. Peterkin's gold pin last night. It was stuck in her shawl, and she couldn't find it, and Lucy saw him fumbling with the things, and he denies it up hill and down, and Mr. Peterkin is going to arrest him. I guess Dick St. Claire won't think him the nicest boy in town now. The thief! I'd like-

But what he would like was never known, for with a spring Arthur bounded toward him, and seizing him by the coat collar, shook him vigorously, while he exclaimed:

'Coward and liar! Harold Hastings is not a thief! No child of Amy Crawford could ever be a thief, and if you say that again, or even insinuate it to any living being, I'll break every bone in your body. Do you understand?'

'Yes, sir; no sir, I won't; I won't,' Tom gasped, as well as he could, with his head bobbing forward and back so rapidly that his teeth cut into his under lip.

'But I shall,' Peterkin roared. 'I'll have the young dog arrested, too, if he don't own up and give up.'

There was a wicked look in Arthur's black eyes, which he fastened upon Peterkin, as he said;

'What does it all mean, sir? Will you please explain?'

'Yes, in double quick time,' replied Peterkin, a little nettled by Arthur's manner, which he could not understand. 'You see, me and Mary Jane was early to the doin's; fust ones, in fact, for when your invite says half past seven it means it, I take it. Wall, we was here on time, and Mary Jane has been on a tear ever since, and says Miss St. Claire nor none of the big bugs didn't come till nine, which I take is imperlite, don't you?'

'Never mind, we are not discussing etiquette. Go on with the pin and the boy,' Arthur said haughtily.

'Mary Jane,' Peterkin continued, 'had a gold-headed shawl pin, with a small diamond in the head-real, too, for I don't b'lieve in shams, and haint sense the day I quit boatin' and hauled ther 'Liza Ann up inter my back yard. Well, she left this pin stickin' in her shawl, and no one up there but this boy of that Crawford gal's, and nobody knows who else.'

Something in Arthur's face and manner made Frank think of a tiger about to pounce upon its prey, and he felt himself growing cold with suspense and dread as he watched his brother, while Peterkin continued:

'When Mary Jane came to go home, her things wa'n't there, and the pin was missin'; and Lucy, the girl, said she found the boy pullin' them over by himself, when he had no call to be in there; and, sir, there ain't a lawyer in the United States that would refuse a writ on that evidence, and I'll get one of St. Claire afore to-morrow night. I told 'em so, the widder and the boy, who was as brassy as you please, and faced me down and said he never seen the pin, nor knowed there was one; while she-wall, I swow, if she didn't start round lively for a woman with her leg bandaged up in vinegar and flannel. When I called the brat a thief and said I'd have him arrested, she made for the door and ordered me out-me, Joe Peterkin, of the 'Liza Ann! I'll make her smart, though, wus than the rheumatiz. I'll make her feel the heft-'

He did not have time to finish the sentence, for the tiger in Arthur was fully roused, and with a bound toward Peterkin he opened the door, and, in a voice which seemed to fill the room, although it was only a whisper, he said:

'Clown! loafer! puff-ball! Leave my house instantly, and never enter it again until you have apologized to Mrs. Crawford and her grandson for the insult offered them by your vile accusations. If it were not for soiling my hands, I would throw you down the steps,' he continued, as he stood holding the door open, and looking with his flashing eyes and dilated nostrils, as if he were fully equal to anything.

Like most men of the boasting sort, Peterkin was a coward, and though he probably had twice the strength of Arthur, he went through the door-way out upon the piazza, where he stopped, and, with a flourish of his fist, denounced the whole Tracy tribe, declaring them but a race of upstarts, no better than he was, and saying he would yet be even with them, and make them feel the heft of his powerful disapprobation. Whatever else he said was not heard, for Arthur shut the door upon him, and returning to the library, where his brother stood, pale, trembling, and anxious for the votes he felt he had lost, he became on the instant as quiet and gentle as a child, and, consulting his watch, said in his natural tone:

'Quarter of seven, and the train is due at half-past. Please tell John to have the carriage ready. I am going myself this time.'

Frank opened his lips to protest against it, but something in his brother's manner kept him quiet and submissive. He was no longer master there-unless-unless-he scarcely dared whisper to himself what; but when the carriage went for the fourth time to the station after Gretchen and returned without her, he said to his wife:

'I think Arthur is crazy, and possibly we shall have to shut him up.'

'Yes, I wish you would,' was Dolly's reply, in a tone of relief, for, thus far, Arthur's presence in the house had not added to her comfort. 'Of course he is crazy, and ought to be taken care of before he tears the house down over our heads, or does some dreadful thing.'

'That's so, and I will see St. Claire to-morrow and find out the proper steps to be taken,' said Frank.

That night he dreamed of windows with iron bars across them, and strait-jackets, into which he was thrusting his brother, while a face, the loveliest he had ever seen, looked reproachfully at him, with tears in the soft blue eyes, and a pleading pathos in the voice which said words he could not understand, for the language was a strange one to him who only knew his own.

With a start Frank awoke, and found his wife sitting up in bed, listening intently to sounds which came from the hall, where some one was evidently moving around.

'Hark!' she said, in a whisper. 'Do you hear that? There's a burglar in the house after my diamonds. What shall I do?'

But Frank knew that no burglar ever made the noise this disturber of their rest was making and stepping out of bed he opened the door cautiously, and looking out, saw his brother, wrapped in a long dressing-gown, with a candle in his hand, opening one window after another until the hall was filled with the cold night wind, which swept down the long corridor banging a door at the farther end and setting all the rest to rattling.

'Oh! Frank, is that you?' Arthur said. 'I am sorry I woke you, but I smelled an awful smell somewhere, and traced it to the hall, which you see I am airing; better shut the door or you will take cold. The house is full of malaria.'

He was certainly crazy; there could be no doubt of it; and next morning, when Mr. St. Claire entered his office, he found Frank Tracy waiting there to consult him with regard to the legal steps necessary to procure his brother's incarceration in a lunatic asylum.

Arthur St. Claire's face wore a grave, troubled look as he listened, for he remembered a time, years before, when he, too, had been interested in the lunatic asylum at Worcester, where a beautiful young girl, his wife, had been confined. She was dead now, and the Florida roses were growing over her grave, but there were many sad, regretful memories connected with her short life, and not the least sad of these were those connected with the asylum.

'If it were to do over again I would not put her there, unless she became dangerous,' he had often said to himself, and he said much the same thing to Frank Tracy with regard to his brother.

'Keep him at home, if possible. Do not place him with a lot of lunatics if you can help it. No proof he is crazy because he smells everything. My wife does the same. Her nose is over the registers half the time in winter to see if any gas is escaping from the furnace. And as to this Gretchen, it is possible there was some woman with him on the ship, or in New York, and he may be a little muddled there. You can inquire at the hotel where he stopped.'

This was Mr. St. Claire's advice, and Frank acted upon it, and took immediate steps to ascertain if there had been a lady in company with his brother at the Brevoort House, where he had stopped, or if there had been any one in his company on the ship, which was still lying in the dock at New York. But there no one had been with him. Arthur Tracy alone was registered among the list of passengers, and only Arthur Tracy was on the books at the hotel. He had come alone, and been alone on the sea and at the hotel.

Gretchen was a myth, or at least a mystery, though he still persisted that she would arrive with every train from Boston; and for nearly a week they humored him, and the carriage went to meet her, until at last there seemed to dawn upon his mind the possibility of a mistake, and when the carriage had made its twentieth trip for nothing, and Mr. St. Claire, who was standing by him on the platform when the train came up and brought no Gretchen, said to him:

'She did not come.'

'I am afraid she will never come,' he answered, sadly. 'No, she will never come. There has been some mistake. She will never come. Poor little Gretchen!' Then, after a moment he added, but there is a Gretchen, and I wrote to her to join me in Liverpool, and I thought she did and was with me on the ship and in the train, but sometimes, when my head is so hot, I get things mixed, and am not sure but-' and he looked wistfully in his companion's face, while his voice trembled a little. 'Don't let them shut me up; I have a suspicion that they will try it, but it will do no good. I was in an asylum nearly three years near Vienna; went of my own accord, because of that heat in my head.'

'Been in an asylum?' Mr. St. Claire said, wonderingly.

'Yes,' Arthur continued, 'I was only out three months ago. I wrote occasionally to Frank and Gretchen, but did not tell them where I was. They called it a maison de santé, and treated me well because I paid well, but the sight of so many crazy people made me worse, and if I had staid I should have been mad as the maddest of them. As it was, I forgot almost everything that ever happened, and fancied I was an Austrian. As soon as I came out I was better, though I was not quite myself till I got to Liverpool. Then things came back to me. Stand by me, St. Claire. I can see I am in the way, and Frank would like to be rid of me; but stand by me, and don't let them do it.'

His manner was very pleading, and like one who was in fear of something, and remembering the past when a golden-haired girl had begged him to save her from iron bars and bolts, Mr. St. Claire assured him of his support against any steps which might be taken to prove him mad enough for the asylum.

'But I would not come for Gretchen any more,' he said. 'I would give her a rest. Who is she?'

Instantly the old look of cunning came into Arthur's eyes, as he replied:

'She is Gretchen;' and then he walked toward the carriage, while Mr. St. Claire looked curiously after him, and said to himself:

'That fellow is not right, but he is not a subject for a mad house, and I should oppose his being sent there. I do not believe, however, that they will try it on.'

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