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   Chapter 21 MRS. TRACY'S DIAMONDS.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 18209

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Mrs. Tracy was going to have a party-not a general one, like that which she gave when our readers first knew her, and Harold Hastings stood at the head of the stairs and bade 'the ladies go this way and the gentlemen that.' Since Dolly had become so exclusive and a leader of fashion, she had ignored general parties and limited her invitations to a select few, which, on this occasion, numbered about sixty or seventy. But the entertainment was prepared as elaborately as if hundreds had been expected, and the hostess was radiant in satin and lace, and diamonds, as she received her guests and did the honors of the occasion.

The September night was soft and warm, and the grounds were lighted up, while quite a crowd collected near the house to hear the music and watch the proceedings.

Mrs. Tracy would have liked to have had Jerry in the upper hall, where Harold had once stood.

'It would help to keep the child in her place,' she thought, 'for she is getting to feel herself of quite too much consequence, with so much attention from Arthur.'

But her husband promptly vetoed the proposition, saying that when Jerry Crawford came to the park house to an entertainment it would be as a guest, and not as a waiter. So a colored boy stood in the upper hall, and a colored boy stood in the lower hall, and there were colored waiters everywhere, and Dolly had never been happier or prouder in her life: for Governor Markham and his wife, from Iowa, were there, and a judge's wife from Springfield-all guests of Grace Atherton, and, in consequence, bidden to the party.

Another remarkable feature of the evening was the presence of Arthur in the parlors. He had known both Governor Markham and his wife, Ethelyn Grant, and had been present at their wedding, and it was mostly on their account that he had consented to join in the festivities. Jerry, it is true, had done a great deal toward persuading him to go down, repeating, in her own peculiar way, what she had heard people say with regard to his seclusion from society.

'You just make a hermit of yourself,' she said, 'cooped up here all the time. I don't wonder folks say you are crazy. It is enough to make anybody crazy, to stay in one or two rooms and see nobody but Charles and me. Just dress yourself in your best clothes and go down and be somebody, and don't talk of Gretchen all the time! I am tired of it, and so is everybody. Give her a rest for one evening, and show the people how nice you can be if you only have a mind to.'

Jerry delivered this speech with her hands on her hips, and with all the air of a woman of fifty; while Arthur laughed immoderately, and promised her to do his best not to disgrace her, and to appear as if he were not crazy.

Jerry's anxiety was somewhat like that of a mother for a child whose ability she doubts; and, after her supper was over she took her way to the park house to see that Arthur was dressed properly for the occasion.

'It would be like him to go without his neck-tie and wear his every-day boots,' she thought.

But she found him as faultlessly gotten up as he well could be in his old-fashioned evening dress, which sat rather loosely upon him, for he had grown thinner with each succeeding year.

Jerry thought him splendid, and watched him admiringly as if he left the room and started for the parlors, with her last injunction ringing in her ears:

'Not a word out of your head about Gretchen, but try and act as if you were not crazy.'

'I'll do it, Cherry. Don't you worry,' he said to her, with a little reassuring nod, as he descended the stairs.

And he kept his promise well. There was no word out of his head about Gretchen, and no one ignorant of the fact would ever have suspected that his mind was unsettled as he moved among the guests, talking to one another with that pleasant, courtly manner so natural to him. A very close observer, however, might have seen his eyes dilate and even flash with some sudden emotion when his brother's wife passed him and her brilliant diamonds, his gift, sparkled in the bright gaslight. The setting was rather peculiar, but Mrs. Tracy liked it for the peculiarity, and had never had it changed. She was very proud of her diamonds, they were so large and clear, and she had the satisfaction of knowing that there were no finer, if as fine, in town. She seemed to know, too, just in what light to place herself in order to show them to the best advantage, and at times the gleams of fire from them were wonderful, and once Arthur put his hand before his eyes as she passed him, and muttering something to himself moved quickly to another part of the room. This was late in the evening, and soon after he excused himself to those around him, saying it was not often that he dissipated like this, and as he was growing tired he must say good-night.

The next morning Charles found him looking very pale and worn, with a bad pain in his head. He had rested badly, he said, and would have his coffee in bed, after which Charles was to leave him alone and not come back until he rang for him, as he might possibly fall asleep.

It was very late that morning when the family breakfasted, and as they lingered around the table, discussing the events of the previous night, it was after eleven o'clock when at last Mrs. Tracy went up to her room.

As she ascended the stairs to the upper hall, she caught a glimpse of Harold disappearing through a door at the lower end of the hall, evidently with the intention of going down the back stairway and making his exit from the house by the rear door, rather than the front. Mrs. Tracy knew that he was sometimes sent by his grandmother on some errand to Arthur, and giving no further thought to the matter went on to her own room, which her maid had put in order. All the paraphernalia of last night's toilet were put away, diamonds and all. Contrary to her usual custom, for she was very careful of her diamonds, and very much afraid they would be stolen, she had left them in their box on her dressing bureau. But they were not there now. Sarah, who knew where she kept them, had put them away, of course, and she gave them no more thought until three days later, when she received an invitation to a lunch party at Brier Hill.

'I shall wear my dark blue satin and diamonds,' she said to her maid, who was dressing her hair, but the diamonds, when looked for, were not in their usual place.

Sarah had not put them away, nor in fact had she seen them at all, for they were not upon the bureau when she went to arrange her mistress' room the morning after the party. The diamonds were gone, nor could any amount of searching bring them to light. And they looked everywhere, in every box and drawer and corner, and Mrs. Tracy grew cold and sick and faint, and finally broke down in a fit of crying, as she explained to her husband that her beautiful diamonds were stolen. She called it that, now, and the whole household was roused and questioned as to when and where each had last seen the missing jewels. But no one had seen them since they were in the lady's ears, and she knew she had left them upon her bureau when she went down to breakfast. She was positive of that. No one had been in the room, or that part of the house, except Tom, Fred Raymond, Charles and Sarah. Of these the first two were not to be thought of for a moment, while the last two had been in the family for years, and were above suspicion. Clearly, then, it was some one from outside, who had watched his or her portunity and come in.

Had any one been seen about the house at that hour? Yes, Charles remembered having met Harold Hastings coming out of the rear door; 'but,' he added, 'I would sooner suspect myself than him.'

And this was the verdict of all except Mrs. Tracy, who now recalled the fact that she, too, had seen Harold 'sneaking through the door as if he did not wish to be seen.'

That was the way she expressed herself, and her manner had in it more meaning even than her words.

'What was Harold doing in the house? What was his errand? Does any one know?' she asked, but no one volunteered any information until Charles suggested that he probably came on some errand to Mr. Arthur; he would inquire, he said, and he went at once to his master's room.

Arthur was sitting by his writing-desk, busy with a letter, and did not turn, his head when Charles asked if he remembered whether Harold Hastings had been to his room the morning after the party.

'No, I have not seen him for more than a week,' was the reply.

'But he must have been here that morning,' Charles continued. 'Try and think.'

'I tell you no one was here. I am not quite demented yet. Now go. Don't you see you are interrupting me?' was Arthur's rather savage response, and without having gained any satisfactory information Charles returned to the group anxiously awaiting him:

'Well?' was Mrs. Tracy's sharp interrogatory, to which Charles responded:

'He does not remember what happened that morning; but that is not strange. He was very tired and unusually excite

d after the party, and when he is that way he does not remember anything. Harold might have been there a dozen times and he would forget it.'

'Bring the boy, then. He will know what he was doing here,' was Mrs. Tracy's next peremptory remark, and her husband said to her, reproachfully:

'Surely you do not intend to charge him with the theft?'

'I charge no one with the theft until it is proven on him; but I must see the boy and know what he was doing here. I never liked this free running in and out of those people in the lane. I always knew something would come of it,' Mrs. Tracy said, and Charles was despatched for Harold.

He found him mowing the lawn for a gentleman whose premises joined Tracy Park, and without any explanation told him that he was wanted immediately at the park house.

'But it is noon,' Harold said, glancing up at the sun. 'And there is Jerry coming to call me to dinner.'

'No; better come at once. Jerry can go with you, if she likes,' Charles said, feeling intuitively that in the little girl Harold would find a champion.

Harold left his lawn mower, and explaining to Jerry, who had come up to him, that he had been summoned to the park house, whither she could accompany him if she chose, he started with her and Charles, whom he questioned as to what was wanted with him.

'Were you in the park house the morning after the party? That would be Wednesday,' Charles asked.

'Yes, I went to see Mr. Arthur Tracy, but could get no answer to my knock,' Harold promptly replied, while his face flushed scarlet, and he seemed annoyed at something. He could not explain to Charles his motive in going to see Arthur, as, now that the first burst of indignation was over, he felt half ashamed of it himself. On the afternoon of the day of the party he had been at Grassy Spring, helping Mrs. St. Claire with her flowers, and after his work was done he had gone with Dick into the billiard-room, where they found Tom Tracy and his friend, young Raymond. They had come over for a game, and the four boys were soon busily engaged in the contest. Harold, who had often played with Dick and was something of an expert, proved himself the most skilful of them all, greatly to the chagrin of Tom, who had not recognized him even by a nod. Dick, on the contrary, had introduced him to Fred Raymond with as much ceremony as if he had been the Governor's son, instead of the boy who sometimes worked in his mother's flower garden. And the Kentuckian had taken him by the hand and greeted him cordially, with a familiar:

'How d'ye do, Hastings? Glad to make your acquaintance'

There was nothing snobbish about Fred Raymond, whose every instinct was gentlemanly and kind, and Harold felt at ease with him at once, and all through the game appeared at his best, and quite as well bred as either of his companions.

When the play was over Dick excused himself a moment, as he wished to speak with his father, who was about driving to town. As he stayed away longer than he had intended doing, Tom grew restless and angry, too, that Fred should treat Harold Hastings as an equal, for the two had at once entered into conversation, comparing notes with regard to their standing in school and discussing the merits of Cicero and Virgil, the latter of which Harold had just commenced.

'We can't wait here all day for Dick,' Tom said. 'Let us go out and look at the pictures.'

So they went down the stairs to a long hall, in which many pictures were hanging-some family portraits and others, copies of the old masters which Mr. St. Claire had brought from abroad. Near one of the portraits Fred lingered a long time, commenting upon its beauty, and the resemblance he saw in it to little Nina St. Claire, the daughter of the house, and whose aunt the original had been. The portrait was not far from the stairway which led to the billiard-room, and Harold, who had remained behind, and was listlessly knocking the balls, could not help hearing all they said:

'By the way, who is that Hastings? I don't think I have seen him before; he is a right clever chap,' Fred Raymond said.

Tom replied, in that sneering, contemptuous tone which Harold knew so well, and which always made his blood boil and his fingers tingle with a desire to knock the speaker down:

'Oh, that's Hal Hastings, a poor boy, who does chores for us and the St. Claires. His grandmother used to work at the park house, and so uncle Arthur pays for his schooling, and Hal allows it, which I think right small in him. I wouldn't be a charity student, anyway, if I never knew anything. Besides that, what's the use of education to chaps like him. Better stay as he was born. I don't believe in educating the masses, do you?'

Of himself Tom could never have thought of all this, but he had heard it from his mother, who frequently used the expression 'not to elevate the masses,' forgetting that she was once herself a part of the mass which she would now keep down.

Just what Fred said in reply Harold did not hear. There was a ringing in his ears, and he felt as if every drop of blood in his body was rushing to his head as he sat down, dizzy and bewildered, and smarting cruelly under the wound he had received this time. He had more than once been taunted with his poverty and dependence upon Mr. Tracy, but the taunts had never hurt him so before, and he could have cried out in his pain as he thought of Tom's words, and knew that in himself there was the making of a far nobler manhood than Tom Tracy would ever know.

Was poverty, which one could not help, so terrible a disgrace, an insuperable barrier to elevation, and was it mean and small in him to accept his education from a man on whom he had no claim? Possibly; and if so, the state of things should not continue. He would go to Arthur Tracy, thank him for all he had done, and tell him he could receive no more from him; that if he had an education, he must get it himself by the work of his own hands, and thus be beholden to no one.

Full of this resolution, he went down the stairs and out into the open air, which cooled his hot head a little, though it was still throbbing terribly as he went through the leafy woods toward home.

In the lane he saw Jerry coming toward him, with her sun-bonnet hanging down her back and her soft, curly hair blowing around her forehead. The moment she saw him she knew something was the matter, and, hastening her steps to run, asked him what had happened, and why he looked so white and mad.

Harold was sure of sympathy from Jerry, and he told her his story, which roused her to a high pitch of indignation.

'The miserable, nasty, sneaking Tom!' she said, stopping short and emphasizing each adjective with a stamp of her foot as if she were trampling upon the offending Tom. 'I wish I had heard him. I'd have scratched his eyes out! talking of you as if you were dirt! I hate him, and I told him so the other day, and spit at him when he tried to kiss me.'

'Kiss you! Tom Tracy kiss you!' Harold exclaimed, forgetting his own grief in this insult to Jerry; for it seemed to him little less than profanity for lips like Tom Tracy's to touch his little Jerry.

'No, he didn't, but he tried, right before that boy from Kentucky; but I wriggled away from him, and bit him, too, and he called me a cat, and said he guessed I wouldn't mind if you or Dick St. Claire tried to kiss me, and I shouldn't; but I'll fight him and Bill Peterkin every time. I wonder why all the boys want to kiss me so much!'

'I expect it is because you have just the sweetest mouth in the world,' Harold said, stooping down and kissing the lips which seemed made for that use alone.

This little episode had helped somewhat to quiet Harold's state of mind, but did not change his resolve to speak to Mr. Tracy, and tell him that he could not receive any more favors from his hands. He would, however, wait until to-morrow, as Jerry bade him to.

'You will worry him so that he will be crazier than a loon at the party,' she said, and so Harold waited, but started for the park the next morning as soon as he thought Mr. Tracy would see him.

He had rung at the door of the rear hall, but as no one heard him he ventured in, as he had sometimes done before, when sent for Jerry if it rained, and ascending the stairs to the upper hall, knocked two or three times at Arthur's door, first gently, and then louder as there came no response.

'He cannot be there, and I must come again,' he thought as he retraced his steps, reaching the door at the lower end of the hall just as Mrs. Tracy came up the broad staircase on her way to her room.

As that day wore on, and the next, and the next, Harold began to care less for Tom's insult, and to think that possibly he had been hasty in his determination to decline Arthur's assistance, especially as he meant to pay back every dollar when he was a man. He would at all events wait a little, he thought, and so had made no further effort to see Mr. Tracy, when Charles found him, and told he was wanted at the park house.

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