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Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 20655

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Long before ten o'clock, the hour appointed for the funeral, the next morning, people began to gather at the Park House, and the avenue seemed full of them. The news that an unknown woman had been frozen to death in the Tramp House had spread far and wide, awakening in many a curiosity to see the stranger, and discover, if possible, a likeness to some one they might have known.

It was strange how many reminiscences were brought to mind by this circumstance of girls who had disappeared years before and were supposed to be dead-or worse. And this woman might be one of them; indeed, Peterkin had said that she was, and they came in crowds to see her, and to see, as well, the inside of the handsome house, of which they had heard so much, especially since Mr. Arthur's return. But in this they were disappointed, for all the front rooms were locked against them, and only the large dining-room, the breakfast-room, the servants' hall, and the little back office were thrown open to the public. In the first of these the corpse was lying in a substantial, handsome coffin, for Frank, who ordered it, would have no other; and when the undertaker suggested a cheaper one would answer just as well, had said, decidedly:

'I mean to bury her decently. Give me this one, and send the bill to me, not to Arthur.'

It was his funeral, and, judging from his face, he was burying all his friends, instead of a poor, unknown woman, whose large, coarse features and plain woollen dress looked out of place in that handsome black coffin, with its silver-plated trimmings. Frank had suggested that she should have a white merino shroud, but his wife had overruled him. It was not her funeral, and she had no interest in it, except that it should be over as soon as possible, and the house cleansed from the atmosphere of death. So when her husband asked if the child ought not to have a mourning-dress, she scoffed at him for the suggestion saying she did not like to see children in black anyway, and even if she died herself she should not wish hers to wear it.

'I cannot imagine,' she continued, 'why you have taken so unaccountable a fancy to and interest in these people, especially the child. One would think she belonged to royalty, the fuss you make over her. What are we to do with her to-night? Where is she to sleep?'

'In the nursery,' was his reply; and he saw his wishes carried out and ordered in a crib, which used to be Jack's, and bade the nurse see that she was comfortable.

So Jerry was put to bed in the nursery and slept very quietly until about, ten o'clock when she awoke and cried piteously for both 'Man-nee' and 'Ha-roll.' Frank, who was sitting alone in the library, heard the cry, and knew it was not Maude's. Had it been he would not have minded it, for he knew that she would be cared for without his interference. But something in the crying of this little foreign girl stirred him strangely, and after listening to it a few moments he arose, and going softly to the door of the nursery, stood listening until a sharp hush from the nurse girl decided him to enter, and going to the crib he bent over the sobbing child and tried to comfort her. She could not understand him, but the tone of his voice was kind, and when he put his hand on her hot head she took it in hers and held it fast, as if she recognized in him a friend. And Frank as he felt the clasp of the soft, warm fingers, and saw the confiding look in the wide-open eyes, grew faint and cold, and asked himself again, as he had many times that day, if he could do it.

Jerry was asleep at last, but she sobbed occasionally in her sleep, and there were great tears on her eyelashes, while her fingers clutched Frank's hand tightly as if fearing to let it go. But he managed to disengage it and stealing cautiously from the room went back to the library where he sat late into the night, facing the future and wondering if he could meet it.

He had Jerry at the table next morning and saw that she was helped to everything she wanted without any regard to its suitability for her, and when his wife said rather curtly that she never knew that he was so fond of children before, he answered her:

'I am only doing as I would wish some one to do to Maude if she were like this poor little girl.'

When, at last, the hour for the funeral arrived he placed her himself upon the high chair close to the coffin, where she sat through the short service, conspicuous in her gray cloak and blue hood, with her golden hair falling on her neck and piled in wavy masses on her forehead, while her bright eyes scanned the crowd curiously as if asking why they were there and why they were all looking so intently at her. More than one kind-hearted woman went up and kissed her, and when, at the close of the services, Mr. Tracy held her in his arms for a last look at her mother, their tears fell fast for the child, so unconscious of the meaning of what was passing around her.

'Isn't she beautiful! Such lovely hair, and eyes, and dazzling complexion!' was said by more than one; and then they speculated as to her future.

Would she go to the poor-house? Would Frank Tracy keep her with all his children, or was it true, as they had heard, that Mr. Arthur Tracy was to adopt her at his own? And where was Mr. Arthur? He might, at least, have shown enough respect for the dead woman to come into the room, and they wanted so much to see him, for there was a great deal of curiosity with regard to the lunatic of Tracy Park among the lower class of people who had come to Shannondale during the eleven years of his absence.

But Arthur was sick in bed, suffering alternately from chills and a raging fever, which set his brain on fire and made him wilder than usual. He had not slept well during the night. Indeed, he said, he had not slept at all. But this was a common assertion of his, and one to which Charles now paid little heed.

'A man can't snore and not sleep,' was the unanswerable argument with which he refuted the sleepless nights of his master.

On this occasion, however, he had heard no snoring, and Arthur's face, seen by the morning light, was a sufficient proof of the wakeful hours he had passed. He, too, had heard the distant crying, and felt instinctively that it was not Maude's. Starting up in bed to listen, he said:

'What's that? Is that child here yet?'

'Yes sir: she is to stay till after the funeral,' was Charles' reply, and Arthur continued:

'Bring me some cotton for my ears. I never can stand that noise. It is a peculiar cry.'

The cotton was brought. A window in the hall which had a habit of rattling with every breath of wind was made fast with a bit of shingle whittled out for that purpose, and then Arthur became tolerably quiet until morning, when he began to talk to himself in the German language, which Charles could not understand. But he caught the name Gretchen, and knew she was the subject of the sick man's thoughts. Suddenly turning to his attendant, to whom he always spoke in English, Arthur said:

'The funeral is to-day?'

'Yes, sir, at ten o'clock.'

'Well, lock every door leading up this way, and shut out the gossipping blockheads who will come by hundreds, and, if we would let them, swarm into my room as thick as the frogs were in the houses of the Egyptians. Shut the doors, Charles, and keep them out.'

So the doors were shut and bolted, and then Arthur lay listening with that intensity which so quickens one's hearing, that the faintest sounds are distinct at great distances. He heard the trampling footsteps as the people came crowding in, and the tread of horses' feet as sleigh after sleigh drove up the avenue, and once, with a shudder, he said:

'That is the hearse. I am sure of it.'

Then all was still, and listen as he might he could not distinguish the faintest sound until the services were over and the people began to leave the house.

'There,' he said, with a sigh of relief; 'it will soon be over. Bring me my clothes, Charles. I am going to get up and see the last of this poor woman. God help her, whoever she was.'

He was beginning to feel a great pity for the woman whose coffin they were putting in the hearse, which moved off a few rods, and then stopped until the open sleigh came up, the sleigh in which Frank Tracy sat, muffled in his heavy overcoat, for the day, though bright and sunny, was cold, and a chill March wind was blowing. Dolly had taken refuge in a headache which had prevented her from being present at the funeral and kept her from going to the grave as her husband had wished her to do. So only Harold and Jerry occupied the sleigh with Frank, and these sat opposite him, with their backs to the horses, Jerry in her gray cloak and blue hood showing conspicuously as she came into full view of the window where Arthur stood looking at the procession with a feeling at his heart, as if in some way he were interested in the sad funeral, where there was no mourner, no one who had ever seen or known the deceased, save the little helpless girl, looking around her in perfect unconcern save as she rather liked the stir and all that was going on.

They had tied a thin veil over her head to shield her from the cold, and thus her face was not visible to Arthur. But he saw the blue hood and the golden hair on the old gray cloak, and the sight of it moved him mightily, making him hold fast to the window-casing for support, while he stood watching it. Just as far as he could see it his eye followed that hood, and when it disappeared from view, he turned from the window, deathly sick, and tottering back to his bedroom, vomited from sheer nervous excitement.

'Thank Heaven it is over and the rabble gone,' he said, when he became easier. 'Go now and open all the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and out the smell they are sure to have left. Ugh! I get a whiff of it now. Burn some of that aromatic paper; but open the hall windows first.'

Charles did as he was ordered, and the wind was soon sweeping through the wide hall, while Arthur's rooms were filled with an odor like the sweet incense burned in the old cathedrals.

'I am very giddy and faint,' Arthur said, when Charles came back to him after his ventilating operation. 'I have looked at the bright snow t

oo long, and there are a thousand rings of fire dancing before my eyes, and in every ring I see a blue hood and veil, with waves of hair like Gretchen's, when she was a child. There is a redder tinge now on Gretchen's hair, because she is older. Wheel me out there, Charles, where I can see her.'

Charles obeyed, and moved the light bed-lounge into the library, where his master could feast his eyes upon the sweet face which knew no change, but which always, night and day, smiled upon him the same. The picture had a soothing effect upon Arthur, and he gazed at it now until it began to fade away and lose itself in the blue hood and veil he had seen in the sleigh far down the avenue; and when, a few minutes later, Charles came in to look at him, he found him fast asleep.

Meantime the funeral train had reached the cemetery, where the snow was piled in great drifts, and where, in a corner of the Tracy lot, they buried the stranger, with no tear to hallow her grave, and no pang of regret save that she had ever come there, with the mystery and the doubt which must always cling to her memory. Frank Tracy's face was very pale and stern as he held little Jerry in his arms during the committal of the body to the grave, and then bade her take one last look at the box which held her mother. But Jerry, who was growing cold and tired, began to cry, and so Frank took her back to the sleigh, which was driven to the cottage in the lane. Here she felt at home, and drawing to the fire the low rocking chair she had appropriated to herself, was soon supremely happy devouring the ginger cookie which Mrs. Crawford had given her, and in trying to pronounce English words under Harold's teaching.

While the children were thus employed, Mr. Tracy was divulging to Mrs. Crawford the object of his visit. He could hardly explain, he said, why he was so deeply interested in the child, except it were that her mother had died on his premises and she seemed to be thrown upon his care.

'I cannot see her go to the poor-house,' he continued, with a trembling in his voice which made Mrs. Crawford wonder a little, as she had never credited him with much sympathy for anything outside his own family. 'I cannot see her go to the poor-house, and I cannot well take her into my family, as we have three children of our own. But I have made up my mind to care for her, and I have come to ask if, for a compensation, you will keep her here?'

'Yes, grandma-say yes!' Harold cried; while Jerry, with her mouth full of cookie, repeated, 'ay 'ess.'

'You see, the children plead for me,' Mr. Tracy said, with a smile at the little girl, whose hand just then swept back the hair from her eyes, which looked steadily at him as he went on: 'While she is young-say, until she is ten years old-I will pay you three dollars a week, and after that more, if necessary. I know you will be kind to her, and that she will be happy here and well brought up. Is it a bargain?'

Mrs. Crawford had never seen him so interested in anything and felt somewhat surprised and puzzled, but she expressed her willingness to take the child and do what she could for her.

'It will be a good thing for Harold,' she said, 'as he is in danger of growing selfish here alone with me.'

And so Jerry's future was settled, and counting out twelve dollars, Frank handed them to Mrs. Crawford, saying:

'I will pay you for four weeks in advance, as you may need the money, and-and-perhaps-' His face grew very red as he stammered on, 'perhaps it may be as well not to tell how much I pay you. People-or rather-well, Mrs. Tracy might think it strange, and not understand why I feel such an interest in the child. I don't understand it myself.'

But he did understand, and his knees were shaking under him as, when the transaction was over, and he was on his way to the Park, he felt that he had sold himself to Satan.

'And yet I know nothing for sure,' he kept repeating to himself. 'Arthur is expecting Gretchen, whoever she may be. He says he has written to her, and he has one of his presentiments that she is coming on the night when this woman arrives, who is no more like the Gretchen he raves about than I am. This woman has a child. He says Gretchen has none, and that he never saw this woman. And yet I find among the things a photograph exactly like the picture in the window, and also like the child, who certainly bears a resemblance to my brother, though no one else, perhaps, would see it. Now, sir,' he appeared to be addressing himself to some person unseen, from whom he shrank, for he drew himself as far as was possible to his side of the sleigh and shivered as he went on: 'Now, sir, is that sufficient proof to warrant me in turning everything topsy-turvy, and making Arthur crazier than he is?'

'Certainly not,' he seemed to hear in reply, either from within or without, he hardly knew which, and he went on:

'I shall try to find out who the woman was, and where she came from; but how am I to do it? how begin? Arthur will not tell me a word about Gretchen, who she is, or what she is to him. Still, I mean to be on the safe side, and do right by the child. Arthur cannot live many years. His nerves will wear him out, if nothing else, and when he does, his money will naturally come to me.'

'Naturally,' his spectral companion replied, and he continued:

'Well, what I intend doing is this: I shall make my will, in which Jerry will share equally with my children, and I shall further draw up a written request that in case I die before my brother, any money which may fall to my children from him shall be shared equally with her. I shall, out of my own private funds, provide for her support and education, until she comes of age, or marries, and if possible, I shall bring about a marriage between her and Tom, who will probably one day be master of Tracy Park. Can anything more be required of me?'

'Nothing,' was the consoling reply; and as the sleigh just then drew up before his door, Frank alighted from it, and said to himself as he ran up the steps:

'I believe I have been riding with the devil, and have made a league with him!'

He found the house thoroughly aired and cleansed from all signs of the recent funeral; and when, at one o'clock, he sat down to lunch in the handsome dining-room, and sipped his favorite claret, and ate his foreign preserves, and thought how much comfort and luxury money could buy, he was sure he had done well for himself and his children after him. But, like Bishop Hatto, of Mouse-Tower memory, Frank Tracy never knew real peace of mind from the day he deliberately sold himself to the Evil One for filthy lucre, until the day, years after, when full restitution was made, and, with the sin confessed, he held his head up again, free from the shadow which he did not leave in the sleigh, but which followed him day and night, walking by him when he walked, sitting by him when he sat, and watching by him when he slept, so as to be ready when he woke with the specious argument that he was acting justly and even generously by the little waif, who was like a sunbeam in the cottage in the lane, whom many people went to see, marvelling at her beauty and wondering in vain whose likeness they sometimes saw in her as she frolicked around the house, full of life, and fun, and laughter.

Frank made his will, as he promised his shadow he would, but he went to Springfield to have it drawn up, for he knew that Colvin, or any lawyer whom he might employ in Shannondale, would wonder at it. He also wrote out himself what he called his dying request to his children, in case he should die before his brother. In this he stated emphatically his wish that Jerry should have her share of whatever might come to them from the Tracy estate, the same as if she were his own child.

'I have a good and sufficient reason for this,' he wrote in conclusion, 'and I enjoin it upon you to carry out my wishes as readily as you would were I to speak to you from my grave,'

This done, Frank felt a little better, and the shadow at his side was not quite as real as it had been before. He put his will and his dying request together in a private drawer with Gretchen's photograph, and the testament with the handwriting in it. He had kept this back when the stranger's trunk was sent to the cottage, thinking that if it were missed and inquired for, he could easily produce it as having been mislaid. At the suggestion of Mr. St. Claire he went to New York, to the office of the German line of steamers, and made inquiries with regard to the passengers who had come on a certain ship at such a time. But nothing could be learned of any woman with a child, and after inserting in several of the New York papers a description of the woman, with a request for any information concerning her which could be given, he returned home, with a feeling that he had done all that could be required of him, and that he might now enjoy himself.

He was accordingly kind and even tender to his brother, who for several weeks suffered from low nervous depression, which kept him altogether in his room, to which he refused to admit any one except his attendant and Frank. He had ceased for the time being, to talk of Gretchen, or to expect her, and he never inquired for the child, whose blue hood had so affected him. Once Frank spoke of her to him and told him where she was, and that she was learning to speak English very rapidly, and growing prettier every day. But Arthur did not seem at all interested and only said:

'How can Mrs. Crawford afford to keep the child?'

Others than Arthur asked that question, and among them Dolly, who with a woman's quick wit, sharpened by something she accidentally saw, divined the truth, which she wrung at last from her husband. There was a fierce quarrel-almost their first-a sick headache which lasted three days, and a month or more of coldness between the married pair, and then, finding she could accomplish nothing, for Frank was as firm as a rock, Dolly gave up the contest, and tried by economizing in various ways, to save the money which she felt was taken from her children by the little girl, who had become so dear to Mrs. Crawford, that she would not have parted with her had nothing been paid for her keeping.

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