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   Chapter 11 THE STORM.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 20428

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The winter since Christmas had been unusually severe, and the oldest inhabitant, of whom there are always many in every town, pronounced the days as they came and went the coldest they had ever known. Ten, twelve, and even fourteen degrees below zero the thermometers marked more than once, while old Peterkin's, which was hung inside the Lizy Ann and always took the lead, went down one morning to seventeen, and all the water-pipes and pumps in town either froze or burst, and Arthur Tracy, who, with his absorption of self, never forgot the poor, sent tons and tons of coal to them, and whispered to himself:

'Poor Gretchen! It is hard for her if she is on the sea in such weather as this. Heaven protect her, poor little Gretchen!'

That night when Frank went, as his custom was, to sit a few moments with his brother, he found him on his knees, with his face toward the picture, repeating the prayer for those upon the sea.

The next day there was a change for the better, and the next, and the next, until when the last day of February dawned Peterkin's thermometer registered only two, and people began to show themselves in the streets, while the sun tried to break through the grey clouds which shrouded the wintry sky. But this was only temporary, for before noon the mercury fell again to eight below, the wind began to rise, and when the New York train came panting to the station at half-past six, clouds of snow so dense and dark were driving over the hills and along the line of track that nothing could be distinctly seen.

It was not until the train had moved on that the station-master, who, half blinded with the sleet, was gathering up the mail-bag, which had been unceremoniously dropped, saw across the track at a little distance from him the figure of a woman who seemed to be trying to examine a paper she held in her hand, while clinging to her skirts and crying piteously was a little child, but whether boy or girl, he could not tell.

'Can I do anything for you?' he said advancing toward the stranger, who, thrusting the paper from sight, caught up the child in her arms, and without word of answer, hurried away in the storm and rapidly-increasing darkness.

'Curis! She must have got off t'other side of the cars. I wonder who she is and where she is goin'. Not fur, I hope, such a night as this. Ugh! the wind is like so many screech owls and almost takes a feller off his feet, the agent said to himself, as he looked after the stranger, and then went back to the light and warmth of his office, where he soon forgot the woman, who, with the child held closely in her arms, walked rapidly on, her eyes strained to their utmost tension as they peered through the darkness and the storm until she reached a gate opening into a grassy road which led through the fields in a straight line to Tracy Park and Collingwood beyond.

Carriages seldom traversed this road, but in the summer time the people from Collingwood and Tracy Park frequently walked that way, as it was a much nearer route to town than the main highway. Here the woman stopped, and looking up at the tall arch over the gate, said aloud, as if repeating a lesson learned by heart, 'Leave the car on your right hand; take the road to the right, as I have drawn it on paper; go straight on for a quarter of a mile until you come to a wide iron gate with a tall arch over it. This gate is also at your right. You cannot mistake it.'

'No,' she continued, 'I cannot mistake it. This is the place. We are almost there,' and putting down the child, she tugged with all her strength at the ponderous gate, which she at last succeeded in opening, and resuming her burden, passed through into the field where the snow lay on the ground in great white drifts, while the blinding flakes and cutting sleet from the leaden clouds above, beat pitilessly upon her as she struggled on the wearisome way.

And while she toiled on, fighting bravely with the storm, and occasionally speaking a word of encouragement to the little child nestled in her bosom, Arthur Tracy stood at one of the windows in his library, with his white face pressed close against the pane, as he looked anxiously out into the gathering darkness, shuddering involuntarily as the wind came screaming round a corner of the house, bending the tall evergreens until their slender tops almost touched the ground, and then rushing on down the carriage-drive with a shriek like so many demons let loose from the ice-caves of the north, where the winds are supposed to hold high carnival.

They were surely holding carnival to-night, and their king was out with all his legions, and as Arthur listened to the roar of the tempest he whispered to himself:

'A wild, wild night for Gretchen to arrive, and her dear little feet and hands will be so cold; but there is warmth and comfort here, and love such as she never dreamed of, poor Gretchen! I will hold her in my arms and chafe her cold fingers and kiss her tired face until she feels that her home-coming is a happy one. It must be almost time,' and he glanced at a small cathedral clock which stood upon the mantel.

In the adjoining room the dinner table was as usual laid for two, but one could see that more care than usual had been given to its arrangement, while the roses in the centre were the largest and finest of their kind. In the low, wide grate a bright fire was burning, and Arthur placed a large easy chair before it, and then brought from the library a covered footstool, with a delicate covering of blue and gold. No foot had ever yet profaned this stool with a touch, for it was one of Arthur's specialties, bought at a great price in Algiers; but he brought it now for Gretchen and saw in fancy resting upon it the cold little feet his hands were to rub and warm and caress until life came back to them, and Gretchen's blue eyes smiled upon him and Gretchen's sweet voice said:

'Thank you, Arthur. It is pleasant coming home.'

For the last two or three weeks, Arthur had been very quiet and taciturn, but on the morning of this day he had seemed restless and nervous, and his nervousness and excitability increased until a violent headache came on, and Charles, the servant, who attended him, reported to Mrs. Tracy that his midday meal had been untouched and that he really seemed quite ill. Then Frank went to him, and sitting down beside him as he lay upon a couch in the room with Gretchen's picture, said to him, not unkindly:

'Are you sick to-day? What is the matter?'

For a few moments Arthur made no reply, but lay with his eyes closed as if he had not heard. Then suddenly rousing himself, he burst out, vehemently:

'Frank, you think me crazy, or you have thought so, and you have based that belief in part on the fact that I am always expecting Gretchen. And so for a long time I have suppressed all mention of her, though I have never ceased to look for her arrival, since-since-well, I may as well tell you the truth. I know now that she could not have been with me on the ship and in the train, although I thought she was. I wrote her to join me in Liverpool, and fancied she did. But my brain must have been a little mixed. She did not come with me, but I wrote to her weeks ago, telling her to come at once, and giving her directions how to find the park if she should arrive at the station and no one there to meet her. She has had more than time to get here, but I have said nothing about sending the carriage for her, as that seemed to annoy you. But to-day, Frank, to-day'-and Arthur's voice grew softer and pleading, and trembled as he went on. 'I dreamed of her last night, and to-day she seems so near to me that more than once I have put out my hand to touch her. Frank, it is not insanity, this presentiment of mine that she is near me, that she is coming to me, or tidings of her; it is mind acting upon mind; her thoughts of me reaching forward and fastening upon my thoughts of her, making a mental bridge on which to see her coming to me. And you will send for her. You will let John go again. Think if she should arrive in this terrible storm and no one there to meet her. You will send this once, and if she is not there I will not trouble you again.'

There was something in Arthur's white face which Frank could not resist, and though he had no idea that anything would come of it, he promised that John should go.

'Oh, Frank,' Arthur exclaimed, his face brightening at once, 'you have made me so happy! My headache is quite gone,' and then he began to plan for the dinner, which was to be more elaborate than usual, and served an hour later, so as to give plenty of time for Gretchen to rest and dress herself if she wished to do so.

'And she will when she sees the lovely dress I have for her,' he thought to himself, and after his brother had gone he went to the large closet where he kept the long black trunk which he called Gretchen's, and into which Dolly's curious eyes had never looked, although she longed to know the contents.

This Arthur now opened, and had Dolly been there she would have held her breath in wonder at the many beautiful things it contained. Folded in one of the trays, as only a French packer accustomed to the business could have arranged it, was an exquisite dinner-dress of salmon-colored satin, with a brocaded front and jacket of blue and gold, and here and there a knot of duchess lace, which gave it a more airy effect. This Arthur took out carefully and laid upon the bed in his sleeping-apartment, together with every article of the toilet necessary to such a dress, from a lace pocket handkerchief to a pair of pale-blue silk hose, which he kissed reverently as he whispered to himself:

'Dear little feet, which, no doubt, are so cold now in the wretched car; but they will never be cold when once I have them here.'

He was talking in German, as he always did when Gretchen was the subject of his thought, and so Dolly, who came to say that some things which he had ordered for dinner were impossible now, could not understand him, but she caught a glimpse of the dress upon the bed, and advanced quickly toward the open door, exclaiming:

'Oh, Arthur, what a lovely

gown! Whose-?'

But before she completed her question Arthur was upon the threshold and had closed the door, saying as he did so:

'It is Gretchen's. I had it made at Worth's. She is coming to-night, you know.'

Dolly had heard from her husband of Arthur's fancy, and though she had no faith in it, she replied:

'Yes, Frank told me you were expecting her again, and I came to say that we cannot get the fish you ordered, for no one can go to town in this storm, and I doubt if we could find it if we did. You will have to skip the fish.'

'All right; all right. Gretchen will be too much excited to care,' Arthur replied, standing with his hand upon the door-knob until Dolly left the room and went to this kitchen, where Frank was interviewing the coachman.

He had found that important personage before the fire, bending nearly double and complaining bitterly of a fall he had just had on his way from the stable to the house. According to his statement, the wind had taken him up bodily, and carrying him a dozen rods or so, had set him down heavily upon a stone flowerpot which was left outside in the winter, nearly breaking his back, as he declared. This did not look very promising for the drive to the station, and Frank opened the business hesitatingly, and asked John what he thought of it.

'I think I would not go out in such a storm as this with my back if Queen Victoria was to be there,' John answered gruffly. 'And what would be the use?' he continued. 'I have been to meet that woman, if she is a woman, with the outlandish name, more than fifty times, I'll bet; he don't know what he is talking about when he gets on her track. And s'posin' she does come, she can find somebody to fetch her. She ain't going to walk.'

This seemed reasonable; and as Frank's sympathies were with his coachman and horses rather than with Gretchen and his brother, he decided with John that he need not go, but added, laughingly, as he saw the man walk across the floor as well as he ever did on his way to the woodshed:

'Seems to me your broken back has recovered its elasticity very soon.'

To this John made no reply except an inaudible growl, and Frank returned to the library, resolving not to go near his brother until after train time, but to let him think that John had gone to the station.

At half-past five, however, Arthur sent for him, and said:

'Has he gone? It must be time.'

'Not quite; it is only half-past five. The train does not come until half-past six, and is likely to be late,' was Frank's reply.

'Yes, I know,' Arthur continued, 'but he should be there on time. Tell him to start at once, and take an extra robe with him, and say to Charles that I will have sherry to-night, and champagne, too, and Hamburg grapes, and-'

The remainder of his speech was lost on Frank, who was hurrying down the stairs with a guilty feeling in his heart, although he felt that the end justified the means, and that under the circumstances he was justified in deceiving his half-crazy brother. Still he was ill at ease. He had no faith in Arthur's presentiments, and no idea that any one bound for Tracy Park would be on the train that night, but he could not shake off a feeling of anxiety, amounting almost to a dread of some impending calamity, which possibly the sending of John to the station might have averted, and going to a window in the library, he, too, stood looking out into the night, trying not to believe that he was watching for some possible arrival, when, above the storm, he heard the shrill scream of the locomotive as it stopped for a moment and then dashed on into the white snow clouds; trying to believe, too, that he was not glad, as the minutes became a quarter, the quarter a half, and the half three-quarters, until at last he heard the clock strike the half-hour past seven, and nobody had come.

'I shall have to tell Arthur,' he thought, and, with something like hesitancy, he started for his brother's room.

Arthur was standing before the fire, with his arm thrown caressingly across the chair where Gretchen was to sit, when Frank opened the door and advanced a step or two across the threshold.

'Has she come? I did not see the carriage. Where is she?' Arthur cried, springing swiftly forward, while his bright, eager eyes darted past his brother to the open door-way and out into the hall.

'No, she has not come. I knew she wouldn't; and it was nonsense to send the horses out such a night as this,' Frank said, sternly, with a mistaken notion that he must speak sharply to the unfortunate man, who, if rightly managed, was gentle as a child.

'Not come! Gretchen not come! There must be some mistake!' Arthur said, all the brightness fading from his face, which seemed to grow pinched and pallid as he turned it piteously toward his brother and continued: 'Not come! Oh, Frank! did John say so? Was no one there? Let me go and question him-there must be a mistake.'

He was hurrying toward the door, when Frank caught his arm and detained him, while he said, decidedly:

'No use to see John. Can't you believe me when I tell you no one was there-and I knew there would not be. It was folly to send.'

For a moment a pale, haggard face, which looked still more haggard and pale with the firelight flickering over it, confronted Frank steadily; then the lips began to quiver, and the eyelids to twitch, while great tears gathered in Arthur's eyes, until at last, covering his face with his hands, he staggered to the couch, and throwing himself upon it, sobbed convulsively.

'Oh, Gretchen, my darling!' he said. 'I was so sure, and now everything is swept away, and I am left so desolate.'

Frank had never seen grief just like this, and, with his conscience pricking him a little for the deception he had practised, he found himself pitying his brother as he had never done before; and when at last the latter cried out loud, he went to him, and laying his hand gently upon his bowed head, said to him, soothingly:

'Don't, Arthur; don't feel so badly. It is terrible to see a man cry as you are crying.'

'No, no; let me cry,' Arthur replied. 'The tears do me good, and my brain would burst without them. It is all on fire, and my head is aching so hard again.'

At this moment Charles appeared, asking if his master would have dinner served. But Arthur could not eat, and the table which had been arranged with so much care for Gretchen was cleared away, while Gretchen's chair was moved back from the fire and Gretchen's footstool put in its place, and nothing remained to show that she had been expected except the pretty dress, with its accessories, which lay upon Arthur's bed. These he took care of himself, folding them with trembling hands and tear-wet eyes, as a fond mother folds the clothes her dead child has worn, sorrowing most over the half-worn shoes, so like the dear little feet which will never wear them again. So Arthur sorrowed over the high-heeled slippers, with the blue rosettes and pointed toes, fashionable in Paris at that time. Gretchen had never worn them, it is true, but they seemed so much like her that his tears fell fast as he held them in his hands, and, dropping upon the pure white satin, left a stain upon it.

When everything was put away and the long trunk locked again, Arthur went back to the couch and said to his brother, who was still in the room:

'Don't leave me, Frank; at least not yet, till I am more composed. My nerves are dreadfully shaken to-night, and I feel afraid of something, I don't know what. How the wind howls and moans! I never heard it like that but once before, and that was years ago, among the Alps in Switzerland. Then it blew off the roof of the chalet where I was staying, and I heard afterward that Amy died that night. You remember Amy, the girl I loved so well, though not as I love Gretchen. If she had come, I should have told you all about her, but now it does not matter who she is, or where I saw her first, knitting in the sunshine, with the halo on her hair and the blue of the summer skies reflected in her eyes. Oh, Gretchen, my love, my love!'

He was talking more to himself than to Frank, who sat beside him until far into the night, while the wild storm raged on and shook the solid house to its very foundations. A tall tree in the yard was uprooted, and a chimney-top came crushing down with a force which threatened to break through the roof. For a moment there was a lull in the tempest, and, raising himself upon his elbow, Arthur listened intently, while he said, in a whisper which made Frank's blood curdle in his veins:

'Hark! there's more abroad to-night than the storm! Something is happening or has happened which affects me. I have heard voices in the wind-Gretchen calling me from far away. Frank, Frank, did you hear that? It was a woman's cry; her voice-Gretchen's. Yes, Gretchen, I am coming!'

And with a bound he was at the window, which he opened wide, and leaning far out of it, listened to hear repeated a sound which Frank, too, had heard-a cry like the voice of one in mortal peril calling for help.

It might have been the wind, which on the instant swept round the corner in a great gust, driving the snow and sleet into Arthur's face, and making him draw in his body, nearly half of which was leaning from the window as he waited for the strange cry to be repeated. But it did not come again, though Frank, whose nerves were strung to almost as high a tension as his brother's, thought he heard it once above the roar of the tempest, and a vague feeling of disquiet took possession of him as he sat for an hour longer watching his brother and listening to the noise without.

Gradually the storm subsided, and when the clock struck one the wind had gone down, the snow had ceased to fall, and the moon was struggling feebly through a rift of dark clouds in the west. After persuading his brother to go to bed, Frank retired to his own room and was soon asleep, unmindful of the tragedy which was being enacted not very far away, where a little child was smiling in its dreams, while the woman beside it was praying for life until her mission should be accomplished.

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