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   Chapter 49 TELLING ARTHUR.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 27375

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Who should do the telling was the question which for some time was discussed by Frank and Judge St. Claire and Jerrie. Naturally the task fell upon the latter, who for three or four days prior to Arthur's arrival remained altogether at the Park House, watching by Maude, and going over and over again in her mind what she should say and how she should commence.

At last the announcement came that Arthur was in Albany, and then it seemed to Jerrie that she had suddenly turned into stone, for every thought and feeling had left her, and she had no plan or action or speech as she moved mechanically about Arthur's rooms, making them bright with flowers, especially the Gretchen room, which seemed a bower of beauty when her skilful hands had finished it. Once, as she was passing through the hall with her arms full of flowers she met Mrs. Tracy, whose face wore a most forbidding expression as she said:

'I hope you will leave a few flowers for Maude. You know she likes them so much.'

Jerrie made no reply, but by the pang of resentment which shot through her heart at the smallness of the woman, she knew she was not past all feeling, and that there was still something human in the stone, as she had styled herself.

Slowly the day wore on, every minute seeming an hour, and every hour a day, until at last Jerrie heard the carriage driving down the avenue, and not long after the whistle of the engine in the distance. Then, bending over Maude and kissing her fondly, she said:

'Pray for me, darling, I am going to meet my father.'

Arthur had been very quiet during the first part of the journey from San Francisco, and it was with difficulty that Charles could get a word from him.

'Let me alone,' he said once, when spoken to. 'I am with Gretchen. She is on the train with me, and I'm trying to make out what it is she is telling me.'

But after Chicago was left behind his mood changed, and he became as wild and excitable as he had before been abstracted and silent. Sometimes he was on the top of old Capitan, looking down into the valley below, and singing 'glory, hallelujah,' at the top of his voice, while the startled passengers kept aloof from him as from a lunatic. Again he was out upon the platform urging the conductor to greater speed; and when at last Shannondale was reached, he bounded from the car upon the platform before the train stopped, and was collaring Rob, the coachman, and demanding of him to know what was the matter with Jerrie, and why he had been sent for. Rob, who had received his instructions to be wholly non-committal answered stolidly that nothing was the matter with Jerrie, but that Miss Maude was very sick and probably would not live many days.

'Is that all?' Arthur said, gloomily, as he entered the carriage. 'I do not see what the old Harry has to do with Maude's dying, and certainly Tom's telegram said something about that chap. I have it in my pocket. Yes, here it is. "Come immediately. The devil is to pay." That doesn't mean Maude. There is something else Rob has not told me. 'Here, you rascal, you are keeping something from me! What is it? Out with it!' he shouted to the driver, as he thrust his head from the carriage window, where he kept it, and in this way was driven to the door of the Park House, where Frank was waiting for him outside, and where, inside, Jerrie stood, holding fast to the banisters of the stairs, her heart throbbing wildly one moment, and the next seeming to lie pulseless as a piece of lead.

She heard Arthur's voice as he came up the steps, speaking to Frank, and asking why he had been sent for; and the next moment she saw him entering the hall, tall and erect, but with the wild look in his eyes which she knew so well, but which changed at once to a softer expression as they fell upon her.

'Cherry, you here!' he cried, with a joyful ring in his voice as he sprang to her side and kissed her forehead and lips.

Then Jerrie grew calm instantly, although she could scarcely restrain herself from falling on his neck and sobbing out, 'Oh, my father! I am your daughter Jerrie!' But the time for this had not come, and when he questioned her eagerly as to why she had sent for him, she only replied:

'Maude is very sick. But come with me to your rooms, and I will tell you everything.'

'Then there is the deuce to pay; I thought so,' he said, as he followed her upstairs into the Gretchen room, where he stood for a moment, amazed at the effect produced by the flowers and vines which Jerrie had arranged so skilfully, 'It is like Eden,' he said, 'and Gretchen is here with me. Darling Gretchen!' he continued, as he walked up to the picture and kissed the lovely face which, it seemed to Jerrie, smiled in benediction upon them both, the husband and the daughter, as they stood there side by side, Jerrie's hands resting on his shoulder, which she pressed hard, as if to steady herself, while he talked to the inanimate face before him.

'Have you been lonesome, Gretchen, and are you glad to have me back again! Poor little Gretchen!' And now he turned to Jerrie, who was pale to the lips, and said: 'It all came to me on the top of those mountains about Gretchen-who she was, and how I forgot her so long-that is the strangest of all; and, Cherry,' here his voice dropped to a whisper, 'I know for sure that Gretchen is dead-that came to me, too.'

'Yes, Gretchen is dead,' Jerrie answered him, with the sound of a sob in her own voice, while her hands tightened their grasp on his shoulder, as she went on; 'I have had a message from Gretchen, and that is why we sent for you.'

Jerrie's hands were not strong enough to hold him then, and, wrenching himself from her, he stood confronting her with a look more like that of a maniac than any she had ever seen in him before, and which might have frightened one with nerves less strong than Jerrie's. But she was not afraid, and a strange calmness fell upon her, now that she had actually reached a point where she must act, and her eyes, which looked so steadily into Arthur's, held them fast, even while he interrogated her rapidly.

'A message from Gretchen! How, when, and where is it? Give it to me quick, or tell me about it? Where is she, and when is she coming?'

'Never!' answered Jerrie sadly. 'I told you she was dead. But sit here,' and she motioned him to a large cushioned chair. 'Sit here and let me tell you what I know of Gretchen.'

Something in the girl's manner mastered him and made him a child in her hands.

Sinking into the chair, pale and panting with excitement, he leaned his head back wearily, and closing his eyes, said to her:

'Begin. What did Gretchen write?'

Jerrie felt that she could not stand all through the interview, and bringing a low ottoman to Arthur's side, seated herself upon it just where she could look into his face and detect every change in it.

'Let me tell you of Gretchen as she was when you first knew her,' she said, 'and then you will be better able to judge of the truth of all I know.'

He did not reply, and she went on:

'Gretchen was very young-sixteen or seventeen-when you first saw her knitting in the sunshine under the trees in Wiesbaden, and very beautiful, too-so beautiful that you went again and again to look at her and talk to her, until you came to love her very much, and told her so at last; but you seemed so much above her that she could not believe you at first. At last, however, you made her understand, and when her mother died suddenly-'

'Her mother was Mrs. Heinrich, and kept a kind of fancy store,' Arthur interposed, as if anxious that nothing should be omitted.

'Yes, she kept a fancy store,' Jerrie rejoined; 'and when she died suddenly and left Gretchen alone, you said to her, "We must be married at once," and you were, in the little English chapel, by the Rev. Mr. Eaton, who was then rector.' Here Arthur's eyes opened wide and fixed themselves wonderingly upon Jerrie, as he said:

'Are you the old Harry that you know all this? But go on; don't stop; it all comes back to me so plain when I hear you tell it. She wore a straw bonnet trimmed with blue, and a white dress, but took it off directly for a black one because her mother was dead. Did she tell you that?'

'No,' Jerrie replied. 'She told me nothing of the dress, only how happy she was with you, whom she loved so much, and who loved her and made her so happy for a time that earth seemed like heaven to her, and then-'

Here Jerrie faltered a little, but Arthur's sharp 'What then?' kept her up, and she continued:

'Then something came to you, and you began to forget everything, even poor little Gretchen, and went away for weeks and left her very sad and lonely, not knowing where you were; and then, after some months, you went away and never came back again to the little wife who waited, and watched, and prayed, and wanted you so badly.'

'Oh, Cherry! oh, Gretchen! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to do it; I surely didn't. May God forgive me for forgetting the little wife! Was it long? Was it months, or was it years? I can't remember, only that there was a Gretchen, and I left her,' Arthur said.

'It was years, four or five, and-and'-Jerrie's breath came heavily now and her words slowly, for she was nearing the point relating to herself and wondering what the effect would be upon him. 'After a while there came into Gretchen's life the dawning of a great hope, a great joy, which she felt would make you glad, and wishing to keep it a secret till you came home, she only gave you a hint of it. She wrote: "I have something to tell you which will make you as happy as it does me-"'

'Stop!' and Arthur put out both his hands as if groping for something which he could not find; then he said, 'Go on,' and Jerrie went on, slowly now, for every word was an effort, and spoken so low that Arthur bent forward to listen to her.

'I don't know just where Gretchen's home was when she lived alone waiting for you. I only know that after a while there came to it a little baby-a girl baby-Gretchen's and yours-'

She did not get any further, for with a bound Arthur was on his feet, every faculty alert, every nerve strung to its utmost pitch, and every muscle of his face quivering with wild excitement, as he exclaimed:

'A baby! Gretchen's baby and mine! A little girl! Oh, Cherry, if you are deceiving me now!'

Jerrie, too, had risen, and was standing before him with her hands upon his arm and her eyes, so like Gretchen's, looking into his, as she said:

'I am not deceiving you. There was a baby born to you and Gretchen sometime in January, 18-, and it was christened in the little church where you were married by the Rev. Mr. Eaton. Oh, Mr. Arthur, how can I tell you; she, the baby, is living yet-grown to womanhood now, for this happened about twenty years ago, and the girl is almost twenty-and is waiting and longing so much for her father to recognize and claim her. Oh, don't you understand me? Look at me and then at Gretchen's picture!'

For an instant Arthur stood like one stricken with catalepsy, his eyes leaping from Jerry's face to Gretchen's, and from Gretchen's back to Jerrie's, and then, with a motion of his hands as if fanning the air furiously, he gasped:

'Twenty years ago-twenty years ago? How old are you, Cherry?'

'About twenty,' she answered, but her voice was a whisper, and her head fell forward a little, though she kept her eyes upon Arthur, who went on:

'And they christened my baby and Gretchen's you say? What name did they give her? Speak quick, for I believe I am dying.'

'They called her Jerrine, but you know her as Jerrie, for-for I am Gretchen's daughter,' fell from Jerrie's lips.

With a wild, glad cry, 'My daughter! oh, my daughter! Thank God! thank God!' Arthur sank back into the chair, from which he had risen, fainting and insensible.

For hours he lay in a state so nearly resembling death that but for the physician's reassurance that there was no danger, Jerrie would have believed the great joy given her was to be taken from her at once. But just as the twilight shadows began to gather in the room he came to himself, waking as from some quiet dream, and looking around him until his eyes fell upon Jerrie sitting by his side; then into his white face there flashed a look of ineffable joy and tenderness and love, as he said, with a smile the most willing and sweet Jerrie had ever seen.

'My daughter, my little Cherry, who came to me up the ladder, with Gretchen's eyes and Gretchen's voice, and I did not know her-have not known her all these years, although she has so puzzled and bewildered me at times. My daughter! oh, my daughter!'

He accepted her unquestioningly, and with a glad cry Jerrie threw herself into the arms he stretched toward her, and on her father's bosom gave free vent to the feelings she had restrained so long, sobbing passionately as she felt Arthur's kisses upon her face, and his caressing hands upon her hair, as he kept repeating:

'My daughter! Gretchen's baby and mine!'

'There is more to tell. I have not heard it all, or how you came by the information,' he said, when Jerrie was little composed and could look at and speak to him without a burst of tears.

'Yes, there is much more. There is a letter for you, with those you wrote to her,' Jerrie said, 'but you must not have them to-night. To-morrow you will be stronger, now you must rest.'

She spoke like one with authority, and he did just what she bade him do-took the food she brought him, went to bed when she said he must, and, with her hand locked in his, fell into a heavy slumber, which lasted

all through the night, and late into the next morning. It almost seemed as if he would never waken, the sleep was so like death; but the doctor who watched him carefully quieted Jerrie's fears and told her it would do her father good, and that in all probability he would awake with a clearer mind than he had had in years, for as a great and sudden shock sometimes produces insanity, so, contrarywise, it sometimes restored a shattered mind to its equilibrium.

And the doctor was partially correct, for when at last Arthur awoke he seemed natural and bright, with a recollection of all which had happened the day before, and an earnest desire for the letters and the rest of the story which Jerrie told him, with her arm across his neck, and her cheek laid occasionally against his, as she read him the letter directed to his friends, and then showed him the certificate of her birth and her mother's death.

'Born January 1st, 18-, to Arthur Tracy and Marguerite, his wife, a daughter,' Arthur repeated, again and again, and as often as he did so he kissed the bright face which smiled at him through tears, for there was almost as much sadness as joy mingled with the reading of those messages from the dead.

Just what Gretchen's letter to Arthur contained, Jerrie never knew, except that it was full of love and tenderness, with no word of complaint for the neglect and forgetfulness which must have hastened her death.

'Oh, Gretchen, I can't bear it, I can't,' Arthur moaned, as he laid his hand upon Jerrie's shoulder and sobbed like a child. 'To think I could forget her, and she so sweet and good.'

Everything came back to him for a time, and he repeated to Jerrie much which was of interest to her concerning her mother, but with which the reader has nothing to do; while Jerrie, in turn, told him all she could remember of her life in the old house where Gretchen had died. Idle fancies she had sometimes thought these memories of the past, but now she knew they were real. And Arthur hung upon her words with breathless interest, moaning occasionally when she told of the sweet-faced woman who cried so much and prayed so much, and whose death scene she had once enacted for him when a little child. At his own letters addressed to Gretchen he barely glanced, muttering, as he did so, 'how could I have written such crazy bosh as that?' and then suddenly recollecting himself, he asked for the photograph mentioned in Gretchen's letter to his friends, and which he seemed to think had come with the other papers, just as Jerrie meant he should. Taking it from the bag she handed it to him, while his tears fell like rain as he gazed upon the face which was far too young to wear the sad, wan look it did.

'That is as I remember her,' Jerrie said, referring again to the strange ideas which had filled her brain and made her sure that not the dark woman found dead at her side was her mother, but another and far different person, whose face haunted her so continually and whose voice she sometimes seemed to hear speaking to her from the dim shadows of the far-off past when they lived in the little house in Wiesbaden, where the picture hung on the wall.

Arthur remembered the picture well and when it was taken, though that, too, had faded from his mind, until Jerrie told him of it.

'We will go there together, Cherry,' he said, 'you and I, and find the house and the picture, and Gretchen's grave, and bring them home with us. There is room for them at Tracy Park.

He was beginning to talk wildly now, but Jerrie quieted him, and taking up the box of diamonds opened it suddenly and held it before his eyes. In reading the letters he had not seemed to pay any attention to the diamonds, but when Jerrie said to him; 'These were mother's. You sent them to her from England,' he replied, 'Yes, I remember. I bought them in Paris with other things-dresses, I think-for her,' while into his face there came a troubled look as if he were trying to think of something.

Jerrie, who could read him so well, saw the look, and, guessing at once its cause, hastened to say:

'Father, do you remember that you gave Mrs. Tracy some diamonds like these, and that some one took them from her? Try and think,' she continued, as she saw the troubled look deepen on his face, and the fire beginning to kindle in his eyes. 'It was years ago, just after a party Mrs. Tracy gave, and at which she wore them. You were there and thought they were Gretchen's, did you not?'

'Ye-es,' he answered slowly. 'I believe I did. What did I do with them? Do you know?'

'I think you put them in your private drawer. Suppose you look and see.'

Obedient to her as a child, Arthur opened his private drawer, bringing out one thing after another, all mementoes of the old Gretchen days, and finally the diamonds, at which be looked with wonder and fear, as he said to Jerrie:

'Did I take them? Will they call it a steal? I thought they were Gretchen's. I remember now.'

Jerrie did not tell him then of the trouble the secreting of the diamonds had brought to her and Harold, but she said:

'No one will think it a steal, and Mrs. Tracy will be glad to get her jewels back. May I take them to her now?'

'Take them to her?-no,' Arthur said, decidedly. 'She has another set-I bought them for her, and she wears them all day long. Ha, ha! diamonds in the morning, with a cotton gown;' and he laughed immoderately at what be thought Dolly's bad taste. 'Take them to her? No! They are yours.'

'But I have mother's,' Jerrie pleaded; 'and I cannot wear two sets.'

'Yes, you can-one to-day, one to-morrow. I mean you shall have seven-one for everyday in the week. What has Dolly to do with diamonds. They are for ladies, and she is only a whitewashed one.'

He was very much excited, and it took all Jerrie's tact to soothe and quiet him.

'Father,' she began and then he stopped short, for the sound of that name spoken by Jerrie had a mighty power over him-'Father, listen to me a moment.'

And then she told him of the suspicions cast upon Harold, and said:

'You do not wish him to suffer any more?'

'Harold? The boy who found you in the carpet-bag-Amy's boy! No, never! Where is he that I have not seen him yet? Does he know you are my daughter?'

Jerrie had not mentioned Harold before, but she told her father now where he was, and why he had gone, and that she had written him to come home, on Maude's account, if on no other.

'Yes-Maude-I remember; but Harold did not care for Maude. Still, he had better come. I want him here with you and me; and you must stay here now, day and night. Select any room or rooms you please; all is yours, my daughter.'

'But I cannot leave grandma,' Jerrie said.

'Let her come, too,' Arthur replied. 'There is room for her.'

'No,' Jerrie persisted; 'that would not be best. Grandma could not live with Mrs. Tracy.'

'Then let Dolly go at once, I'll give the order now;' and Arthur put out his hand to the bell-cord.

But Jerrie stopped him instantly, saying to him:

'Remember Maude. While she lives she must stay here.'

'Yes, I forgot Maude. Poor little Maude, I have not seen her yet,' Arthur replied, subdued at once, and willing now that Jerrie should take the jewels to Dolly, who deserved but little forbearance from Jerrie's hand.

Up to the very last Mrs. Tracy had, unconsciously perhaps, clung to a shadowy hope that Arthur might repudiate his daughter and call it a trumped-up affair; but when she heard how joyfully he had acknowledged and claimed her, she lost all hope, and her face wore a sullen, defiant expression as she walked about the house and through the handsome rooms, the very furniture of which had nearly all been bought with Arthur's money, and consequently was not her own. Since the coming of Jerrie, when the dark shadow settled upon Frank, and remorse was always torturing him, he had had no heart for business, and had, to all intents and purposes, lived upon his brother's generosity, which had never failed.

'Get what you like; there is money enough,' was always Arthur's reply, when a request for anything was made to him, and thus they had literally been sponges, taking everything and giving nothing, until now, when all was lost-the luxury, the elegance, the ease, and the prestige of Tracy Park, which they had enjoyed so much. It was hard, and Dolly felt that she could not bear it, and that she hated the girl through whom this change had come, and in every possible way she meant to wound and annoy her; so when the cook came to her that day for orders for dinner, she answered, curtly:

'Go to the heiress. She is mistress now.'

In the hall, coming to seek her, Jerrie met the cook, who, with a comical look on her face, asked what she would have for dinner.

'I don't know what you mean,' Jerrie said, and when the cook explained, her cheeks flushed for an instant and her eyes blazed with resentment But she controlled herself quickly and said, 'Tell Mrs. Tracy-but, no, I am going to her room and will tell her myself.'

Knocking at Mrs. Tracy's door, she was admitted to the presence of the lady, who simply stared at her as if asking why she were there. Jerrie told her in a few words that her own diamonds had been found, and where they had been secreted, and that she had come to return them.

'Then your father was the thief,' Dolly said, with that rasping, aggravating tone so hard to hear unmoved.

'Call him what you please. A crazy man is not responsible for his acts,' Jerrie answered, calmly; then, more proudly and decidedly, went on, 'By the way, Mrs. Tracy, I was met by the cook with a singular request, and I wish to say that as there can be but one mistress in a house, it is my wish that so long as you remain here you are that mistress in your own department; of course I shall take charge of my father's, and see that his wishes are carried out. Good afternoon,' and with a proud, lofty bearing, Jerrie walked from the room, leaving Dolly to her own morbid and angry thoughts.

Not even the restored diamonds had power to conciliate her, and they were so beautiful as she held them up, admiring their brilliancy and their size.

'I'll never wear them, never, because she has some like them,' she said to herself; and then the thought flashed upon her that she could sell them, and thus add to the sum which her husband had invested in his own name.

Ten thousand dollars, that was all, he had told her, and she had calculated the income, only six hundred dollars a year to live on-less than she now wasted yearly upon bric-a-brac and things of which she tired so soon.

It was a sombre outlook, and it is not strange that her tears fell fast upon the costly stones, whose value she could not guess, although she knew it must be great, they were so superior in size and quality to any she had ever seen.

'Yes, I will sell them,' she said, 'and invest the proceeds in my own name; but even that will hardly keep the wolf from the door, for Frank is growing more and more imbecile every day, and Tom is good for nothing. He'll have to scratch for himself, though, I can tell him.'

Here her ladylike, but very characteristic, soliloquy was brought to an end by a faint call, which had the power to drive every other thought from her heart, for the mother-love was strong even with her, and going to Maude, she asked what she wanted.

'Uncle Arthur,' Maude replied; 'I have not seen him yet. And Jerrie, too, she has scarcely been here to-day.'

Maude's request was made known to Arthur, who, two or three hours later, went to her room, and kissing her lips, told her how sorry he was to see her so sick, and that he hoped she would soon be better.

Frank had been alone with Maude for a long time that day, and he was with her now, sitting upon the side of her bed, near the head, with his arm across her pillow, and his eyes fixed anxiously upon her as she held her conference with his brother.

'No, uncle,' she said; 'I shall never be any better in this world; but by-and-by, pretty soon, I shall be well in the other And I want to tell you how glad I am for you and Jerrie, and to thank you for your kindness to us all these years, when Jerrie should have been here in our place.'

'Yes, yes,' Arthur said, with a wave of his hand. 'Only I didn't know. If I had-'

'It would have been so different,' Maude interrupted him. 'I know that, but I want you to be kind to poor father still, and forgive him, he is sorry, and-'

'Oh, Maude, Maude,' came like a groan from Frank, as he laid his hand on Maude's lips, while Arthur replied:

'Forgive him! For what? He couldn't help being here. I sent for him. He did not keep Jerrie from her rightful position as my daughter. If he had I could never forgive him. Why, I believe I'd kill him, or any other one who, knowing that Jerrie was my daughter, kept it from me.'

He was gesticulating now with both hands, and Jerrie, who had listened wonderingly to the conversation, took hold of them as they were swaying in the air, and said to him softly:

'Father!'

The word quieted him, and with a gasp his mind seemed to change at once.

'Maude is very tired,' Jerrie went on; 'perhaps we'd better go now and come again to-morrow.'

'Yes, yes, that's best, child. I'm not fond of sick rooms, though I must say this is very free from smells,' Arthur replied; then stooping down he kissed Maude again, saying to her as he rose to go:

'Don't worry about your father; he is my brother, and he was kind to Jerry. I shan't forget that. Come, my daughter.'

And putting his arm fondly around Jerrie he left the room.

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