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   Chapter 53 AFTER TWO YEARS.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 27009

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Two years since Harold and Jerrie went away, and it was October again, and the doors and windows of the Park House were all open to the warm sunshine which filled the rooms, where the servants were flitting in and out with an air of importance and pleased expectancy, for that afternoon the master was coming home, with Harold and Jerrie; and what was more wonderful and exciting still, there was in the party a little boy, born in Wiesbaden six months before, and christened Frank Tracy. They had gone directly to Germany-Arthur, Harold, and Jerrie-for the former would not stop a day until Wiesbaden was reached; and there, overcome with fatigue and the recollections of the past which crowded upon him so fast, Arthur fell sick and was confined to his room in the hotel for a week, during which time Jerrie explored the city with Harold and a guide, finding every spot connected with Gretchen and her life, even to the shop were Frau Heinrich had sold her small wares.

As soon as her father was able, she took him to them one by one. Hand in hand, for he seemed weak as a little child, they went to the bench under the trees where he had first seen Gretchen knitting in the sunshine, with the halo on her hair, and here Arthur took off his hat as if on consecrated ground, and whispered, 'May God forgive me!' then to the little shop once kept by Frau Heinrich, where Arthur astonished the woman by buying out half her stock, which he ordered sent to his hotel, and afterward gave away; then to the English church, where he knelt before the altar and seemed to be praying, though the words he said were spoken more to Gretchen than to God; then to the house where he had lived with his bride, when heaven came down so close that she could touch it, or rather, to the site of the house, for fire had done its work there and they could only stand before the ruins, while Arthur said again and again, 'May God forgive me!' then to the house where Jerrie had lived and Gretchen had died, and where the picture still hung upon the wall, a wonder and delight to all who had rented the place since Marian's parents parents lived there. Jerrie recognized it in a moment, and so did Arthur, but he could only wring his hands before it and sob, 'Oh, Gretchen, my darling, my darling!' Changed as the house was, Jerrie found the room she remembered so well, where she had played and her mother had died.

'The big stove stood here,' she said, indicating the spot, 'and mother sat there writing to you, when Nannine opened the door and let the firelight shine upon the paper. I can see it all so distinctly, and over there in the corner was the bed where she died.'

Then Arthur knelt down upon the spot, and as if the oft-repeated ejaculation, 'May God forgive me!' were wholly inadequate now, he said the Lord's Prayer, with folded hands and streaming eyes, while Jerrie stood over him, with her arm around his neck.

'Oh, Gretchen,' he cried; 'do you know I am here after so many years?-Arthur, your husband, who loved you through all? Come back to me, Gretchen, and I'll be so tender and true-tender and true! My heart is breaking, Gretchen, and only for Cherry, our dear little girl baby, I should wish I were dead, like you. Oh, Gretchen! Gretchen! sweetest wife a man ever called his! and yet I forgot you, darling-forgot that you had ever lived! May heaven forgive me for I could not help it; I forgot everything. Where are you, Cherry? It's getting so dark and cold, and Gretchen is not here-I think you must take me home.

Jerrie took him back to the hotel, where he kept his room for three days, and then they went to Gretchen's grave beside her mother, which Jerrie had found after some little search and enquiry. Here Arthur stood like a statue, holding fast to Jerrie, and gazing down upon the neglected grave, on which clumps of withered grass were growing and blowing in the November wind.

'Gretchen is not here in this place,' he said mournfully, with a shake of his head. 'She couldn't rest there a moment, for she liked everything beautiful and bright, and this is like the Potter's field. But we'll put up a monument for her, and make the place attractive; and by and by, when she is tired of wandering about, she may come back and rest when she sees what we have done, and knows that we have been here. We will buy that house too, he said, as he walked away from the lonely grave; and the next day Harold found the owner of the place and commenced negotiations for the house, which soon changed hands and became the property of Arthur.

Just what he meant to do with it he did not know, until Jerrie suggested that he should make it an asylum for homeless children, who should receive the kindest and tenderest care from competent and trustworthy nurses, hired for the purpose.

'Yes, I'll do it,' Arthur said, 'and will call it "The Gretchen Home." Maybe she will come there some time, and know what I have done.'

This idea once in his mind, Arthur never let go of it until the house was fitted up with school-rooms and dormitories, with the little white beds and chairs suggestive of the little ones rescued from want and misery and placed in the Gretchen home until it would hold no more. The general supervision of this home was placed in the hands of the English rector, the Rev. James Dennis, whose many acts of kindness and humanity among the poor had won for him the sobriquet of St. James, and with whom the interests of the children were safe as with a loving father.

'There is money enough-money enough,' said Arthur, when giving his instructions to the matron, a good-natured woman, who, he knew, would never abuse a child. 'Money enough; to give them something besides bread and water for breakfast, and mush and molasses for supper. Children like cookies and custard pie, and if there comes a circus to town let them go once in a while; it won't hurt them to see a little of the world.'

Frau Hirch looked at him in some surprise, but promised compliance with his wishes; and when in the middle of December he left Wiesbaden for Italy he had the satisfaction of knowing that the inmates of the Gretchen home were enjoying a bill of fare not common in institutions of the kind.

Another odd fancy had entered his brain, upon which he acted with his usual promptness. Every child not known to have been baptized, was to be christened with a new name, either Gretchen, or Jerrie, or Maude or Arthur, or Harold, or Frank.

'Suppose you have Tom, and Ann Eliza, and Hilly,' Jerrie suggested, and after a little demur Arthur consented, and the names of Tom, and Ann Eliza, and Billy were added to the list, which, in the course of time, created some little confusion in the Gretchen home, where Jerries, and Maudes, and Harolds, and Arthurs abounded in great profusion, these being the favorites of the children, who in most instances were allowed to choose for themselves.

It was not difficult to find in Wiesbaden people who had remembered Gretchen and the grand marriage she had made with the rich American, who afterward abandoned her. That was the way they worded it, and they remembered too, the little girl, Jerrine, whom, after her mother's death, the nurse, Nannine, took to her father's friends, since which nothing had been heard from her. Thus, had there been in Arthur's mind any doubt as to Jerrie's identity, it would have been swept away; but there was none. He had accepted her from the first as his daughter, and he always looked up to her as a child to its mother whom it fears to lose sight of.

The winter was mostly spent in Rome, where Harold and Jerrie explored every part of the city, while Arthur staid in his room talking to an unseen Gretchen, who afforded him almost as much satisfaction as the real one might have done. In May they visited the lakes and in June drifted to Paris, where Jerrie was overjoyed to meet Nina and Dick, who were staying with the Raymonds at a charming chateau just outside the city. Here she and Harold passed a most enjoyable week, and before she left she was made happy by something which she saw and which told her that Dick was forgetting that night under the pines, and that some day not far in the future he would find in Marian all he had once hoped to find in her. In Paris, too, she came one day upon Ann Eliza at the Bon Marché, with silks and satins piled high around her, and two or three obsequious clerks in attendance, for La Petite Américaine, who bought so lavishly everything she saw and fancied, was well known to the tradespeople, who eagerly sought her patronage and that of my lord monsieur, who inspired them greatly with his air of importance and dignity. Tom was enjoying himself immensely, and was really a good deal improved and a good deal in love with his little wife, whom he always addressed as Petite or Madame, and who was quite a belle and a general favorite in the American colony. Following a fashion, which Tom was sure had been made for his benefit, she had cut off her obnoxious red hair and substituted in its place a wig of reddish brown, which for naturalness and beauty was a marvel of art and skill, and became her so well that Tom really thought her handsome, or at least very stylish and stunning, which was better than mere beauty. They had a suite of rooms at the Continental, and there Harold and Jerrie dined with them in their private parlor, for Tom was quite too fine a gentleman to go to table d'h?te with the common herd. Ann Eliza's grand maid, Doris, was with her still, and had come to look upon her young mistress as quite as great a personage as the Lady Augusta Hardy, whom she had ceased to quote, and who, with her mother, Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, was now in the city, attended, it was said, by a Polish count, who had an eye upon her money. Once, when they were alone, Jerrie asked Tom when he was going home, and, with a comical twinkle in his eye, he replied, 'When I hear that my respected father-in-law has gone off with apoplexy, and not before.' Jerrie thought this a shocking speech, but she was glad to see him so happy, and, as she told Harold, 'so much more of a man than she had ever supposed he could be.'

That summer Harold and Jerrie spent in Switzerland, with the Raymonds and St. Claires and Tracys, while Arthur went to Wiesbaden to see to the Gretchen Home, which he found so much to his taste that he remained there until Harold and Jerrie, after a trip through Austria and Germany, joined him in November, when they went again for the winter to Italy, coming back in the spring to Wiesbaden, and because Arthur would have it so, taking up their abode for a while in the Gretchen Home, which had been greatly enlarged and improved, and now held thirty deserted and homeless children. Here, in April, Jerrie's little boy was born, in the same room and corner where Gretchen had died, and where Arthur again went down upon his knees and said the Lord's Prayer, to which he added a fervent thanksgiving for Jerrie spared and a baby given to him.

'I hoped it would be a girl,' he said, 'for then we should have called it Gretchen; but as it is a boy, suppose we name it Heinrich?'

'No, father,' Jerrie said decidedly, 'Baby is not to be Heinrich, or Arthur, or Harold, although I think the last the dearest name in the world,' and she put up her hand caressingly to the brown beard of the tall young man bending over to kiss her pale face and look at his son. 'We will call the baby Frank Tracy.'

And so Frank Tracy was the name given to the child, who was more like its father than its mother, and whom Arthur called Tracy, which he liked better, he said, than he did Frank.

They remained in Wiesbaden until June, then went to Switzerland and Paris, and in October sailed for home, where the Park House was ready for them, with no mistress to dispute Jerrie's rights and no master except the lawful one. Just out of town on a grassy ridge overlooking the river, a gentleman from New York had built a pretty little cottage, which, as his wife died suddenly, he never occupied, but offered for sale, with all its furniture and appointments.

'Let's buy it,' Dolly said to her husband. 'We must go somewhere before Arthur comes home, and we can live there very respectably and economically, too.'

She was beginning to count the cost of everything now, and was almost penurious in her efforts to make their income go as far as possible. So they bought the pretty place, which she called Ridge Cottage, but Frank did not live to occupy it. After Tom went away and left him alone with his wife, who was not the most agreeable of companions, he failed rapidly, both in body and mind, and those who saw him walking about the house, with his white hair and bent form, would have said he was seventy rather than fifty years old. Every day, when the weather permitted, he visited Maude's grave, where he sometime stayed for hours looking down upon the mound talking to the insensible clay beneath.

'I am coming soon, Maude, very soon, to be here beside you,' he would say. 'Everybody has gone, even to Tom, and your mother is sometimes hard upon me because of what I did. And I am tired, and cold, and old, and the world is dark and dreary, and I am coming very soon.'

Then he would walk slowly back, taking the post office on his way, to inquire for letters from the folks, as he designated the absent ones. These letters were a great comfort to him, especially those from Jerrie, who wrote him very

often and told him all they were doing and seeing, and tried to make him understand how much she loved and sympathised with him. Not a hint had been given him of the baby; and when, in June, he received a letter from her containing a photograph of the little boy named for him, he seemed childish in his joy, and started with the picture at once for Maude's grave. Kneeling down, with his face in the long grass, he whispered:

'Look, Maude!-Jerrie's baby boy, named for me-Frank Tracy! Do you hear me, Maude? Frank Tracy, for me-who wronged her so. God bless Jerrie, and give her many years of happiness when I am dead and gone, which will not now be long. I am coming very soon, Maude; sooner than you think, and shall never see Jerrie's little boy, God bless him!'

That night Frank seemed brighter than usual, and talked a great deal with his wife, who, to the last day of her life, was glad that she was kind to him and humored all his fancies; and once, when he lay upon the couch, with the baby's picture in his hand, she went and sat by him and ran her fingers caressingly through his white hair, and asked if he were not better.

'Yes, Dolly,' he said, taking her fingers in his hand and holding them fast. 'A great deal better. Jerrie's baby has done me good, and you, too, Dolly. You don't knew how nice it seems to have you smooth my hair; it is like the old days at Langley, when we sang in the choir together, and you were fond of me.'

'I am fond of you now, Frank,' Dolly replied, as she stooped to kiss the face in which there was a look she had never seen before, and which haunted her long after he had said good-night and gone to Maude's room, where he said he would sleep, as he was likely to be restless and might keep her awake.

The next morning Dolly took her breakfast alone, for Frank did not join her.

'Let him sleep,' she said to the servant, who suggested calling him; but when some time later, he did not appear, she went herself to Maude's room, into which the noonday sun was shining, for every blind and window was open and the light was so dazzling that for a moment she did not see the still figure stretched upon the bed, where with Maude's picture in one hand and Jerrie's baby's in the other, her husband lay, calmly sleeping the sleep which knows no waking.

On his face there was a look of rapturous joy, and on his lips a smile as if they were framing the loved name of Maude when death came and sealed them forever. Around him was no sign of struggle or pain, for the covering was not disturbed; and the physician when he came said he must have died quietly and possibly instantly without a note of warning. They buried him beside his daughter and then Dolly was alone in the great house, which became so intolerable to her that she left it early in August and took possession of the cottage on the Ridge, which, though scarcely less lovely, was not as large as the Park House and did not seem haunted with the ghosts of the dead.

And so it happened that Mrs. Crawford alone stood in the door-way to welcome the travellers when, late in the bright October afternoon they came, tired and dusty, but oh, so glad to be home once more and to feel that now it really was home to all intents and purposes.

'I never was so glad in my life, and if Uncle Frank were here I should be perfectly happy,' Jerrie cried, as she threw herself upon Mrs. Crawford's neck, hugging and kissing her awhile, and then taking her baby from the nurse she put it into the old lady's arms, saying as she did so:

'Another grandson for you-Harold's baby. Isn't he a beauty?'

And little Tracy was a most beautiful child, with his father's features and complexion, but Jerrie's expression and ways, and Mrs. Crawford felt, as she folded him to her bosom and cried over him, that he would be the crowning joy of her old age. At first Harold puzzled and perplexed her, he was so changed from the Harold who had shingled roofs and painted barns and worked in Peterkin's furnace. Foreign travel and prosperity set well upon him, and one could scarcely have found a more refined or polished young man than Harold as he moved about the premises, every inch a gentleman and every inch the master, with a bright smile and pleasant word for everyone, whether of high or low degree. He had known what poverty meant, with slights on account of it, and had risen above it all, and remembering the days when he worked in the Tracy fields and envied his companions their leisure and freedom from toil, he had resolved that, if possible, some portion of mankind should be happier because of him. He knew he was very fine-looking, for his tailor told him so, and his mirror told him so, and Jerrie told him so twenty times a day as she kissed his handsome face, and his grandmother frequently took off her spectacles to wipe away her glad tears as she looked at her boy and felt so proud of him.

All Shannondale hastened to call upon the travellers, and no one was louder or more demonstrative in his welcome than Peterkin, who called himself their kin, and was very proud of the connection and of his son Thomas, for whom he made many inquiries. It did not take long for the family to settle down into every-day quiet, Jerrie proving herself a competent and thorough housekeeper, while Harold was to all intents and purposes the head to whom everyone deferred and went for directions. Arthur, who had half died from seasickness, had at once taken to his rooms and his old mode of life, telling Harold and Jerrie to do what they liked and not bother him. One change, however, he made; he put Harold into the office in the place of Colvin, who had done his business for so many years, and who was glad to give it up, while Harold was glad to take it, as it gave him something to do and did not greatly interfere with his law studies, which he immediately resumed, applying himself so closely that he was admitted to practice within the year, and in time became one of the ablest lawyers in the State.

And now there remains but little to do except to gather up the few tangled threads of our story and bring it to a close. For another year the Raymonds and St. Claires remained abroad, and then, just before they sailed for home, there was a double wedding one morning in London, when Fred and Dick were the bridegrooms, and Marian and Nina were the brides. Dick had not forgotten the night under the pines, but he had ceased to remember it with pain; and when he asked Marian to be his wife he told her of it, and of his old love for Jerrie, while she in turn told him of a grave among the Alps by which she had stood with an aching heart, while strangers buried from her sight forever a young artist from Boston, who, had he lived, would have made it impossible for her to be the wife of Dick St. Claire. But Allan was dead, and Jerrie was a wife and mother, and so across the graves of a living and a dead love the two grasped hands, and, forgetting the past as far as possible, were content with the new happiness offered to them.

* * *

It is five years now since Harold and Jerrie came home, and toddling about the house is a little girl two years old, whom they call Gretchen, and who has all the soft beauty of the Gretchen in the picture, together with Jerrie's stronger and more marked features. This little girl is Arthur's idol, and has succeeded in luring him from his den, in which, until she came, he was staying closer than ever. Now, however, he is with her constantly, either in the house or in the grounds, or sitting under a tree holding her in his lap, while he talks his strange talk to the other Gretchen, and the child listens wonderingly, with her great blue eyes fixed upon him.

'This is our grandchild,' he will say, nodding to the space beside him, while little Gretchen nods too, as if she also saw a figure sitting there. 'Our grandchild and Jerrie's baby, and you are its grandmother. Grandma Gretchen! That's funny;' and then he laughs, and baby laughs, and says after him, lispingly, 'Danma Detchen, that's funny.'

Then Tracy comes up with his whip and his cart, and his straw hat hanging down his back, and Arthur points him out to the spirit Gretchen as her grandson, who, he says, is all Hastings, with a very little Tracy and not a grain of German in him, 'but very nice, very nice; and you are his grandmother, too, and I am his grandfather, whom he once called an old crazy man because I wouldn't let him play in my room with a little alligator which his Aunt Dolly sent him from Florida.'

'Well, you be crazy, ain't you?' the boy says, seating himself upon the bench and nestling his brown head against the arm of the man, who replies:

'I don't know whether I am or not, but if to be very happy in the companionship of the living and of the dead, and to have one as real as the other is craziness, then I am crazy.'

And then, for the hundredth time, he tells to the boy, and to the baby, too, who seems to understand the story of the carpet-bag and the little girl, their mother, whom the boy, their father, found in the Tramp House one wintry morning years ago, and carried through the snow. And Tracy starts to his feet with dilating eyes, and says:

'I just wish I'd been there. I'd carried mamma, and wouldn't let her drop in the snow as papa did. Where was I then, grandpa?'

But grandpa does not answer, and begins the story of the cherries and the ladder, which Tracy likes even better than that of the carpet bag, particularly the part where the white sun-bonnet appears in the window, and the shrill voice calls out: 'Mr. Crazyman, Mr. Crazyman, don't you want some cherries?'

This Arthur makes very dramatic and real, and Tracy holds his breath; and sometimes when the question is more real than usual, little Gretchen puts out her hand, and says:

'Iss, div me some.'

Then the boy and the old man laugh, and Tracy runs off after a passing butterfly, and Arthur goes on with talk to the baby and the other Gretchen beside him, until the former falls asleep, and he takes her to the crib he has had put in the bay window under the picture which smiles down upon the sleeping infant, whose guardian angel it seems to be.

The Tramp House has been repaired and renovated, the table mended, and the rat hole stopped up; and the trio frequently go there together, for it is the children's play-house, where Arthur is sometimes a horse, sometimes a bear, and sometimes a whole menagerie of animals. Once or twice he has been the dead woman on the table, with little Gretchen beside him in the carpet-bag, and Tracy tugging with all his might to lift her out; but after the day when he let her fall, and gave her a big bump upon the forehead, that kind of play ceased, and the boy was compelled to try some other make believe than that of the tragedy on the wintry night many years before.

Billy Peterkin has never married, and never will. His heart-wound was too deep to heal without a scar to tell where it had been; but he and Jerrie are the best of friends, and he is very fond of her children.

Tom is still abroad, waiting for that fit of apoplexy which is to be the signal for his return; but the probabilities are that he will wait a long time, for Peterkin, who is himself afraid of apoplexy, has gone through the Banting process, which has reduced his weight from fifty to seventy-five pounds, and as he is very careful in his diet Tom may stay abroad longer than he cares to do, unless Ann Eliza's persuasions bring him home to his dreaded father-in-law. There was a little girl born to them in Rome, whom they called Maude, but she only lived a few weeks, and then they buried her under the daisies in the Protestant burying ground, where so many English and Americans are lying. Ann Eliza sent a lock of the little one's hair to her father, who had it framed and hung in his bedroom, and wore on his hat a band of crape which nearly covered it.

Dolly still calls the Ridge Cottage her home, but she is not often there, for a mania for travelling has seized her, and she is always upon the move, searching for some new place, where she hopes to find rest and quiet. She still dresses in black, relieved at times with something white, but she has laid aside crape and sports her diamonds, which she did not find it necessary to sell, and which attract a great deal of attention, they are so clear and large. One year she spent in Europe with Tom and Ann Eliza, the latter of whom she made so uncomfortable with her constant dictation and assumption of superiority that Tom at last came to the rescue, and told her either to mind her business and let his wife alone or go home. As she could not do the former she came home, and joined a Raymond party to California, but soon separated herself from it, as the members were not to her taste. Every summer she goes either to Saratoga or the sea-side or the mountains, and every winter she drifts southward to Florida, where, at certain hotels, she is as well known as the oldest habituée. We saw her recently at Winter Park, where, at the Seminole, she has a maid and a suit of rooms, and as far as possible keeps herself aloof from the common herd, consorting only with the noted ones of the place, those she knows who have money and position at home. Poor foolish Dolly, who has forgotten Langley and its humble surroundings. There are many like her in real life, but only one in our story, to which we now write

THE END.

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