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   Chapter 20 THE WORKING OF ARTHUR'S PLAN.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 25967

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


As Arthur was wholly uncommunicative with regard to his affairs, and as Mrs. Crawford kept her own counsel, and bade Harold and Jerry do the same, the Tracys knew nothing whatever of the plan until the September morning when Jerry presented herself at the park house, and was met in the door-way by Mrs. Frank, who was just going out. Very few could have resisted the bright little face, so full of childish happiness, or the clear, assured voice, which said so cheerily:

'Good-morning, Mrs. Tracy. I'm come to school.'

But, prejudiced as she was against the girl, Mrs. Tracy could resist any thing, and she answered, haughtily;

'Come to school! What do you mean? This is not a school-house, and if you have any errand here, go round to the other door. Only company come in here.'

'But I'm company. I'm going to get learning; he told me to come,' Jerry answered, flushed and eager, and altogether sure of her right to be there.

Before Mrs. Frank could reply, a voice, distinct and authoritative, and to which she always yielded, called from the top of the stairway inside:

'Mrs. Tracy, if that is Jerry to whom you are talking, send her up at once. I am waiting for her.'

Jerry did not mean the nod she gave the lady as she passed her to be disrespectful, but Mrs. Frank felt it as such, and went to her own room in a most perturbed state of mind, for which she could find no vent until her husband came in, when she stated the case to him, and asked if he knew what it meant.

But Frank was as ignorant as herself, and could not enlighten her until that night, after he had seen his brother, and heard from him what he was intending to do.

'God bless you, Arthur. You don't know how happy you have made me,' Frank said, feeling on the instant that a great burden was lifted from his mind.

Jerry was to be educated and cared for, and would probably receive all that the world would naturally concede to her if the truth were known. He believed, or thought he did, that Gretchen had never been his brother's wife, though to believe so seemed an insult to the original of the sweet face which looked at him from the window every time he entered his brother's room. Jerry was a great trouble to him, and he would not have liked to confess to any one how constantly she was in his mind, or how many plans he had devised in order to atone for the wrong he knew he was doing her. And now his brother had taken her off his hands, and she was to be cared for and receive the education which would fit her to earn her own livelihood, and make her future life respectable. No particular harm was done her after all, and he might now enjoy himself, and cast his morbid fancies to the winds, he reflected, as he went whistling to his wife's apartment, and told her what he had heard.

For a moment Dolly was speechless with astonishment, and when at last she opened her lips, her husband silenced her with that voice and manner of which she was beginning to be afraid.

It was none of their business, he said, what Arthur did in his own house, provided they were not molested, and if he chose to turn schoolmaster, he had a right to do so. For his part, he was glad of it, as it saved him the expense of Jerry's education, for if Arthur had not taken it in hand, he should; and Dolly was to keep quiet and let the child come and go in peace.

After delivering himself of these sentiments, Frank went away, leaving his wife to wonder, as she had done more than once, if he, too, were not a little crazy, like his brother. But, she said no mare about Jerry's coming there, except to suggest that she might at least come in at the side door instead of the front, especially on muddy days when she was liable to soil the costly carpets. And Jerry, who cared but little how she entered the house, if she only got in, came through the kitchen after the second day, and wiped her feet upon the mat; and once, when her shoes were worse than usual, took them off, lest they should leave a track.

It is not our intention to linger over the first few months of Jerry's school days at Tracy Park, but rather to hasten on to the summer four years after her introduction to Tracy Park as Arthur's pupil. During all that time he had never once seemed to grow weary of the task he had imposed upon himself, but, on the contrary, his interest had daily deepened in the child who developed so rapidly under his training that he sometimes looked at her in astonishment, marvelling more and more who she was and from whom she had inherited her wonderful memory and power to grasp points which are usually far beyond the comprehension of a child of ten, or even twelve, and which Maude Tracy could no more have mastered than her brother, the stupid Jack. His intellect had not grown with his body, and when at thirteen he was asked the question, 'If there are five peaches on the table, and Tom eats three of them, how many will there be left?' he answered, promptly:

'None, 'cause Tom would eat them all.'

In this reply there was a shrewdness which poor Jack never intended, and the laugh which followed his answer confused and bewildered him. There was a tutor now at Tracy Park for Jack, but Maude had been transferred to Arthur's care. This was wholly due to Jerry, who alone could have induced him to let Maude share her instruction. Arthur did not care for Maude. She was dull, he said, and would never learn her lessons. But Jerry coaxed so hard that Arthur consented at last, and when Jerry had been with him about three years, Maude became his pupil, and that of Jerry as well, for nearly every day when the lessons were over the two little girls might have been seen sitting together under the trees in the park, or in some corner of the house, Maude puzzled, and perplexed, and worried, and Jerry anxious, decided, and peremptory, as she went over and over again with what was so clear to her and so hazy to her friend.

'Oh, dear me, suz, what does ail you?' she said, one day, with a stamp of her foot, after she had tried in vain to make Maude see through a simple sum in long division. 'Can't you remember first to divide, second multiply, third subtract, and fourth bring down?'

'No, I can't. I can't remember anything, and if I could, how do I know what to divide or what to bring down? I am stupid, and shall never know anything,' was Maude's sobbing reply, as she covered her face with her slate.

Maude's tears always moved Jerry, who tried to reassure the weeping girl with the assurance that perhaps, if she tried very hard, she might some time know enough to teach a district school. This was the height of Jerry's ambition, to teach a district school and board around; but Maude's aspirations were different. She was rich. She was to be a belle and wear diamonds and satins like her mother; and so it did not matter so much whether she understood long division or not, though it did hurt her a little to be so far outstripped by Jerry, who was younger than herself.

To Arthur, Jerry was a constant delight and surprise, and nothing astonished or pleased him more than the avidity with which she took up German. This language was like play to her, and by the time she was ten years old she spoke, and read, and wrote it almost as well as Arthur himself.

'It takes me back somewhere, I can't tell where,' she said to him; 'and I seem to be somebody else than Jerry Crawford, and I hear music and see people, and a pale face is close to me, and I get all confused trying to remember things which come and go.'

Only once after her first day at the park had she enacted the pantomime of the sick woman and the nurse, and then she had done it at Arthur's request. But it was not quite as thrilling as at first; the him for whom the dying woman had prayed was omitted, and the whole was mixed with the Tramp House, and the carpet-bag, and Harold, who was now a youth of seventeen, and a student at the high school in Shannondale, where he was making as rapid progress in his studies as Jerry was at the park.

But Harold's life was not as serene and happy as Jerry's, for it was not pleasant for him to hear, as he often did, that he was a charity student, supported by Arthur Tracy. Such remarks were very galling to the high-spirited boy, and he was constantly revolving all manner of schemes by which he could earn money and cease to be dependent. All through the summer vacations, which were long ones, he worked at whatever he could find to do, sometimes in people's gardens, sometimes on their lawns, but oftener in the hay-fields, where he earned the most. Here Jerry was not infrequently his companion. She liked to rake hay, she said; it came natural to her, and she had no doubt she inherited the taste from her mother, who had probably worked in the fields in Germany.

One afternoon, when Jerry knew that Harold was busy in one of Mr. Tracy's meadows, she started to join him, for he had complained of a headache at home, and had expressed a fear that he might not be able to finish the task he had imposed upon himself. The road to the field was by the Tramp House, which looked so cool and quiet, with its thick covering of woodbine and ivy over it, that Jerry turned aside for a moment to look into the room which had so great a fascination for her, and where she spent so much time. Indeed, she seldom passed near it without going in for a moment and standing by the old table which had once held her and her dead mother. Things came back to her there, she said, and she could almost give a name to the pale-faced woman who haunted her so often.

As she entered the damp, dark place now, she started, with an exclamation of surprise, which was echoed by another, as Frank Tracy sprang up and confronted her. It was not often that he entered the Tramp House, and he would not have confessed to any one his superstitious dread of it, or that, when he did visit it, he always had a feeling that the dead woman found there years ago would start up to accuse him of his deceit and hypocrisy. Could he have had his way he would have pulled the building down, but it was not his, and when he suggested it to Arthur, as he sometimes did, the latter opposed it, saying latterly, since Jerry had been so much to him:

'No, no, Frank; let it stand. I like it, because but for it Jerry might have perished with her mother, and I should not have had her with me.'

So the Tramp House stood, and grew damper and mustier each year, as the moss and ivy gathered on the walls outside, and the dust and cobwebs gathered on the walls within. These, however, Jerry was careful to brush away, for she had a play house in one corner, and a little work-bench and chair, and she often sat there alone and talked to herself, and the woman dead so long ago, and to others whose faces were dim and shadowy, but whom she had felt sure she had known. Very frequently she went through the process of cleaning up, as she called it, and her object in stopping there now was, in part, to see if it did not need her care again.

'Oh, Mr. Tracy! are you here! How you scared me? I thought it was a tramp!' she said, as he came toward her.

'Do you come here often?' he asked, as he offered her his hand.

'Yes, pretty often. I like it, because mother died here, and sometimes I feel as if she would make it known to me here who she was. I talk to her and ask her to tell me, but she never has. Oh, don't you wish she would?'

Frank shuddered involuntarily, for to have Jerry told who she really was, was the last thing he could desire, but as a criminal is said always to talk about the crime he has committed and is hiding, so Frank, when with Jerry, felt impelled to talk with her of the past and what she could remember of it. Seating himself upon the bench with her at his side, he said:

'And you really believe the woman found here was your mother?'

'Why, yes. Don't you? Who was my mother, if she wasn't?' and Jerry's eyes opened wide as he looked at him.

'I don't know, I am sure. Does my brother talk of Gretchen now?' was the abrupt reply.

'Yes, at times,' Jerry answered: 'and yesterday, after I sang him a little German song, which he taught me, he had them pretty bad-the bees in his head, I mean: that is what he calls it when things are mixed; and he says he is going to write to her, or her friends.'

'Write to her! I thought he had given that up. I thought he-Did he say, "Write to her friends?"' Frank gasped as he felt himself grow cold and sick with this threatened danger.

Arthur had seemed so quiet and happy with Jerry, and had said so little of Gretchen, that Frank had grown quite easy in his mind, and the black shadow of fear did not trouble him quite so much as formerly. But now it was over him again, and grew in intensity as he questioned the child.

'Have you ever tried to find out who Gretchen is?' he asked at last.

'No,' she replied, 'but I guess she is his wife.'

'Yes,' Frank sa

id, falteringly, 'his wife; and where do you think she lived?'

'Oh, I know that. In Wiesbaden. He told me so once, and it seems as if I had been there, too, when he talked about it, and I hear the music and see the flowers, and a white-faced woman is with me, not at all like mother, who, they say, was ugly and dark; black as a nigger, Tom told me once, when he was mad. Was she black?'

Mr. Tracy made no reply to this, but said, suddenly:

'Jerry, do you like me well enough to do me a favor, a great favor?'

'Why, yes, I guess I do. I like you very much, though not as well as I do Harold and Mr. Arthur. What do you want?' was Jerry's answer.

After hesitating a moment, Mr. Tracy began:

'There are certain reasons why I ought to know if my brother writes to Gretchen, or her friends, or any one in Germany, especially Wiesbaden. A letter of that kind might do me a great deal of harm; if he should write to any one in Germany, you would, perhaps, he asked to post the letter, as he never goes to town?'

He said this interrogatively, and Jerry answered him promptly:

'I think he would give it to me.'

'Yes, well; Jerry, can you keep a secret, and never tell any one what I am saying to you?' was Frank's next remark, to which Jerry responded:

'I think I should tell Harold, and, perhaps, Mr. Arthur.'

'No, no, no, Jerry, never!' and Frank laid his hand half menacingly upon the little girl's shoulder. 'I have been kind to you, have paid your board to Mrs. Crawford ever since you have been there-'

He felt how mean it was to say this, and do not at all resent Jerry's quick reply:

'Yes, but Mrs. Peterkin says you do not pay enough.'

'Perhaps not,' he continued, 'but if Mrs. Crawford is satisfied, it matters little what Mrs. Peterkin thinks. Jerry, you must do this for me,' he went on rapidly, as his fears kept growing. 'You must never tell anyone of our conversation, and if my brother writes that letter soon, or at any time, you must bring it to me. Will you do it? Great harm would come if it were sent-harm to me, and harm to Maude, and-'

'To Maude!' Jerry replied. 'I would do anything for Maude. Yes, I will bring the letter to you if he writes one. You are sure it would be right for me to do so?'

Frank had touched the right cord when he mentioned his daughter's name, for during these years of close companionship the two little girls had learned to love each other devotedly, though naturally Jerry's was the stronger and less selfish attachment of the two. To her Maude was a queen who had a right to tyrannize over and command her if she pleased; and as the tyranny was never very severe, and was usually followed by some generous act of contrition, she did not mind it at all, and was always ready to make up and be friends whenever it suited the capricious little lady.

'Yes, I will do it for Maude,' she said again; but there was a troubled look on her face, and a feeling in her heart as if, in some way, she was false to Arthur in thus consenting to his brother's wishes.

But, she reflected, Arthur was crazy, so people said, and she herself knew better than anyone else of his many fanciful vagaries, which, at times, took the form of actual insanity. For weeks he would seem perfectly rational, and then suddenly his mood would change, and he would talk strange things to himself and the child, who was now so necessary to him, and who alone had a soothing influence over him. Only the day before, as Jerry had told Frank, Arthur had been unusually excited, after listening to a simple air which he had taught to her, and which, at his request, she sang to him after Maude had gone out and left them alone.

'I could swear you were Gretchen, singing to me in the twilight, and across the meadow comes the tinkle of the bells where the cows and goats are feeding,' he said to her, as he paced up and down the room.'

Then, stopping suddenly, he went up to her, and pushing her soft, wavy hair from her forehead, looking long and earnestly into her face.

'Cherry,' he said at last, using the pet name he often gave her, 'you are some like Gretchen as she must have been when of your age. Oh, if you only were hers and mine! But there was no child; and yet-and yet-'

He seemed to be thinking intently for a moment, and then going to a drawer in his writing desk, which Jerry had never seen open before, he took out a worn, yellow letter, and ran his eye rapidly over it until he found a certain paragraph, which he bade Jerry read.

The paragraph was as follows:

'I have something to tell you when you come, which I am sure will make you as glad as I am.'

Jerry read it aloud slowly, for the handwriting was cramped and irregular, and then looked up questioningly to Arthur, who said to her:

'What do you think she meant by the something which would make me glad as she was?'

'I don't know,' Jerry answered him. 'Who wrote it? Gretchen?'

'Yes, Gretchen; it is her last letter to me, and I never went back to see what she meant, for the bees were bad in my head and I forgot everything, even Gretchen herself. Poor little Gretchen! What was the idea which came to me like a flash of lightning, in regard to this letter, when I heard you sing? It is gone, and I cannot recall it.'

There was a worried, anxious look on his face as he put the letter away, and went on talking to himself of Gretchen, saying he was going to write her again, or her friends, and find out what she meant.

The next day Jerry met Frank in the Tramp House, as we have described, and gave him the promise to bring him any letter directed to Germany which Arthur might entrust to her. But the promise weighed heavily upon her as she walked slowly on towards the field where Harold was at work, and where she found him resting for a moment under the shadow of a wide-spreading butternut. He looked tired and pale, and there were great drops of sweat upon his white forehead, and an expression on his face which Jerry did not understand.

Harold was not in a very happy frame of mind. Naturally cheerful and hopeful, it was not often that he gave way to fits of despondency, or repining at his humble lot, so different from that of the boys of his own age, with whom he came in daily contact, both at school and in the town.

Dick St. Claire, his most intimate friend, always treated him as if he were fully his equal, and often stood between him and the remarks which boys made thoughtlessly, and which, while they mean so little, wound to the quick such sensitive natures as Harold's. But not even Dick St. Claire could keep Tom Tracy in check. With each succeeding year he grew more and more supercilious and unbearable, pluming himself upon his position as a Tracy of Tracy Park, and this wealth he was to inherit from his Uncle Arthur. For the last year he had been at Andover, where he had formed a new set of acquaintances, one of whom was spending the vacation with him. This was young Fred Raymond, whose home was at Red Stone Hall, in Kentucky, and whose parents were in Europe. Between the two youths there was but little similarity of taste or disposition, for young Raymond represented all that was noble and true, and though proud of his State and proud of his name, never assumed the slightest superiority over those whom the world considered his inferiors. He was Tom's room-mate, and hence the intimacy between them which had resulted in Fred's accepting the invitation to Tracy Park. If anything had been wanting to complete Tom's estimate of his own importance this visit of the Kentuckian would have done it. All his former friends were cut except Dick St. Claire, while Harold was as much ignored as if he had never existed. Tom did not even see him or recognize him with so much as a look, but passed him by as he would any common day laborer whom he might chance to meet. All through the summer days, while Harold was working until every bone in his body ached, Tom and his friend were enjoying themselves in hunting, fishing, driving, or rowing, or lounging under the trees in the shady lawns.

That afternoon when Jerry joined him in the hayfield, Tom and the Kentuckian had passed him in their fanciful hunting-suits with their dogs and guns, but though Harold was within a few yards of them, Tom affected not to see him, and kept his head turned the other way, as if intent upon some object in the distance.

Leaning upon his rake, Harold watched them out of sight, with a choking sensation in his throat as he wondered if it would always be thus with him, and if the day would never come when he, too, could know what leisure meant, with no thought for the morrow's bread.

'I am Tom's superior in everything but money, and yet he treats me like a dog,' he said, as he seated himself upon the grass, where he sat fanning himself with his straw hat.

When Jerry appeared in view he brightened at once, for in all the world there was not anything half so sweet and lovely to him as the little blue-eyed girl who seated herself beside him, and, nestling close to him, laid her curly head upon his arm.

'I've come to help you rake the hay,' she said, 'for grandma told me you had a headache at noon, and couldn't eat your huckleberry pie. I am awfully sorry, Harold, but I ate it myself, it looked so good, instead of saving it for your supper. It was nasty and mean in me, and I hope it will make me sick.'

But Harold told her he did not care for the pie, and would rather that she would eat it if she liked it. Then he questioned her of the park house and of Arthur; asking if the bees were often in his head now, or had she driven them out.

'No, I guess I haven't. They were awful yesterday and to-day,' Jerry replied. 'He was talking of Gretchen all the time. I wonder who she was. Sometimes I look at her until it seems to me I have seen her or something like her, a paler face with sadder eyes. How he must have loved her, better than you or I could ever love anybody; don't you think so?'

Harold hesitated a moment, and then replied:

'I don't know, but it seems to me I love you as much as a man could ever love another.'

'Phoo! Of course you do; but that's boy love; that isn't like when you are old enough to have a beau!' and Jerry laughed merrily, as she sprang up, and, taking Harold's rake, began to toss the hay about rapidly, bidding him sit still and see how fast she could work in his place.

Harold was very tired, and his head was aching badly, so for a time he sat still, watching the graceful movements of the beautiful child, who, it seemed to him, was slipping away from him. Constant intercourse with a polished man like Arthur Tracy had not been without its effect upon her, and there was about her an air which with strangers would have placed her at once above the ordinary level of simple country girls. This Harold had been the first to detect, and though he rejoiced at Jerry's good fortune, there was always with him a dread lest she should grow beyond him, and that he should lose the girl he loved so much.

'What if she should think me a clown and a clodhopper, as Tom Tracy does?' he said to himself, as he watched her raking up the hay faster, and quite as well as he could have done himself. 'I believe I should want to die.'

It was impossible that Jerry should have guessed the nature of Harold's thoughts, but once, as she passed near him, she dropped her rake, and going up to him, wiped his forehead with her apron, and, kissing him fondly, said to him:

'Poor, tired boy, is your head awful? You look as if you wanted to vomit? Do you?'

'No, Jerry,' Harold answered, laughingly. 'I am not as bad as that. I was only thinking and wishing that I were rich and could sometime give you and grandma a home as handsome as Tracy Park. How would you like it?'

'First-rate, if you were there,' Jerry replied; 'but if you were not I shouldn't like it at all. I never mean to live anywhere without you; because, you know, I am your little girl, the one you found in the carpet-bag, and I love you more than all the world, and will love and stand by you forever and ever, amen!'

She said the last so abruptly, and it sounded so oddly, that Harold burst into a laugh, and taking up the rake she had dropped, began his work again, declaring that the headache was gone, and that he was a great deal better.

'Forever and ever, amen!' The words kept repeating themselves over and over in Harold's mind as he walked homeward in the gathering twilight with Jerry hip-pi-ty-hopping at his side, her hand in his, and her tongue running rapidly, as it usually did when with him.

She would 'love and stand by him forever and ever, amen!' It was a singular remark for a child, and in after years, when his sky was the blackest, the words would come back to the man Harold like so many stabs as he whispered in his anguish:

'She has forgotten her promise to "stand by me forever and ever, amen!"'

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