MRS. MARY J. HOLMES,
Author of Bessie's Fortune, Queenie Hetherton, Edith Lysle's Secret, Homestead on the Hillside, etc., etc., etc.
Toronto: Rose Publishing Company Hunter Rose & Co. Printers & Book Binders Toronto 25 Wellington St
"Don't stand and cry; press forward and remove the difficulty."—Dickens.
'BREVOORT HOUSE, NEW YORK, Oct. 6th, 18—.
'To Mr. Frank Tracy, Tracy Park, Shannondale.
'I arrived in the Scotia this morning, and shall take the train for Shannondale at 3 p.m. Send someone to the station to meet us.
This was the telegram which the clerk in the Shannonville office wrote out one October morning, and despatched to the Hon. Frank Tracy, of Tracy Park, in the quiet town of Shannondale, where our story opens.
Mr. Frank Tracy, who, since his election to the State Legislature for two successive terms, had done nothing except to attend political meetings and make speeches on all public occasions, had an office in town, where he usually spent his mornings, smoking, reading the papers and talking to Mr. Colvin, his business agent and lawyer, for, though born in one of the humblest of New England houses, where the slanting roof almost touched the ground in the rear, and he could scarcely stand upright in the chamber where he slept, Mr. Frank Tracy was a great man now, and as he dashed along the turnpike behind his blooded bays, with his driver beside him, people looked admiringly after him, and pointed him out to strangers as the Hon. Mr. Tracy, of Tracy Park, one of the finest places in the county. It is true it did not belong to him, but he had lived there so long that he had come to look upon it as his, while his neighbors, too, seemed to have forgotten that there was across the ocean a Mr. Arthur Tracy, who might at any time come home to claim his own, and demand an account of his brother's stewardship. And it was this very Arthur Tracy, whose telegram announcing his return from Europe was read by his brother with mingled feelings of surprise and consternation.
'Not that everything isn't fair and above-board, and he is welcome to look into matters as much as he likes,' Frank said over and over to himself, as he sat stating blankly at the telegram, while the cold chills ran up and down his back and arms. 'Yes, he can examine all Colvin's books and he will find them straight as a string, for didn't he tell me to use what I needed as remuneration for looking after his property while he was gallivanting over the world; and if he objects that I have paid myself too much, why, I can at once transfer those investments in my name to him. No, it is not that which affects me so, it is the suddenness of the thing, coming without warning and to-night of all nights, when the house will be full of carousing and champagne. What will Dolly say! Hysterics of course, if not a sick headache. I don't believe I can face her till she has had a little time to get over it. Here, boy, I want, you!' and he rapped at the window at a young lad who happened to be passing with a basket on his arm. 'I want you to do an errand for me,' he continued, as the boy entered the office, and, removing his cap, stood respectfully before him 'Take this telegram to Mrs. Tracy, and here is a dime for you.'
'Thank you, but I don't care for the money,' the boy said 'I was going to the park anyway to tell Mrs. Tracy that grandma is sick and can't go there to-night.'
'Cannot go! Sick! What is the matter?' Mr. Tracy asked, in some dismay, feeling that here was a fresh cause of trouble and worry for Dolly, as he designated his wife when off his guard and not on show before his fashionable friends, to whom she was Dora, or Mrs. Tracy.
'She catched cold yesterday fixing up mother's grave,' the boy replied; and, as if the mention of that grave had sent Mr. Tracy's thoughts straying backward to the past, he looked thoughtfully at the child a moment, and then said:
'How old are you, Harold?'
'Ten, last August,' was the reply; and Mr. Tracy continued:
'You do not remember your mother?'
'No, sir, only a great crowd, and grandma crying so hard,' was Harold's reply.
'You look like her,' Mr. Tracy said.
'Yes, sir,' Harold answered, while into his frank, open face there came an expression of regret for the mother who had died when he was three years old, and whose life had been so short and sad.
'Now, hurry off with the telegram, and mind you don't lose it. It is from my brother. He is coming to-night.'
'Mr. Arthur Tracy, who sent the monument for my mother—is he coming home? Oh, I am so glad!' Harold exclaimed, and his handsome face lighted up with childish joy, as he put the telegram in his pocket and started For Tracy Park, wondering if he should encounter Tom, and thinking that if he did, and Tom gave him any chaff, he should lick him, or try to.
'Darn him!' he said to himself, as he recalled the many times when Tom Tracy, a boy of his own age, had laughed at him for his poverty and coarse clothes. 'Darn him! he ain't any better than I am, if he does wear velvet trousers and live in a big house. 'Taint his'n; it's Mr. Arthur's, and I'm glad he is coming home. I wonder if he will bring grandma anything. I wish he'd I bring me a pyramid. He's seen 'em, they say.'
Meantime, Mr. Frank Tracy had resumed his seat, and, with his hands clasped together over his head, was wondering what effect his brother's return would have upon him. Would he be obliged to leave the park, and the luxury he had enjoyed so long, and go back to the old life which he hated so much.
'No; Arthur will never be so mean,' he said. 'He has always shown himself generous, and will continue to do so. Besides that, he will want somebody to keep his house for him, unless—' and here the perspiration started from every pore, as Frank Tracy thought: 'What if he is married, and the us in his telegram means a wife, instead of a friend or servant, as I imagined!'
This would indeed be a calamity, for then his own and Dolly's reign was over at Tracy Park, and the party they were to give that night to at least three hundred people would be their last grand blow-out.
'Confound the party!' he thought, as he arose from his chair and began to pace the room. 'Arthur won't like that as a greeting after eleven years' absence. He never fancied being cheek by jowl with Tom, Dick and Harry; and that is just what the smash is to-night. Dolly wants to please everybody, thinking to get me votes for Congress, and so she has invited all creation and his wife. There's old Peterkin, the roughest kind of a canal bummer when Arthur went away. Think of my fastidious brother shaking hands with him and Widow Shipley, who kept a low tavern on the tow-path! She'll be there; in her silks and long gold chain, for she has four boys, all voters, who call me Frank and slap me on the shoulder. Ugh! even I hate it all; and in a most perturbed state of mind, the Hon. Frank and would-be Congressman continued to walk the room lamenting the party which must be, and wondering what his aristocratic brother would say to such a crowd in his house on the night of his return.
And if there should be a Mrs. Arthur Tracy, with possibly some little Tracys! But that idea was too horrible to contemplate, and so he tried to put it from his mind, and to be as calm and quiet as possible until lunch-time, when, with no very great amount of alacrity and cheerfulness, he started for home, where, as he had been warned by his wife when he left her in the morning, 'he was to lunch standing up or anyhow, as she had no time for parade that day.'
Although it was a morning in October, the grass in the park was as green as in early June, while the flowers in the beds and borders, the geraniums, the phlox, the stocks, and verbenas were handsomer, if possible, than they had been in the summer-time: for the rain, which had fallen almost continually during the month of September, had kept them fresh and bright. Here and there the scarlet and golden tints of autumn were beginning to show on the trees; but this only added a new charm to a place which was noted for its beauty, and was the pride and admiration of the town.
And yet Mrs. Frank Tracy, who stood on the wide piazza, looking after a carriage which was moving down the avenue which led through the park to the highway, did not seem as happy as the mistress of that house ought to have been, standing there in the clear, crisp morning, with a silken wrapper trailing behind her, a coquettish French cap on her head, and costly jewels on her short, fat hands, which once were not as white and soft as they were now. For Mrs. Frank Tracy, as Dorothy Smith, had known what hard labor and poverty meant, and slights, too, because of the poverty and labor. Her mother was a widow, sickly and lame, and Dorothy in her girlhood had worked in the cotton mills at Langley, and bound shoes for the firm of Newell & Brothers, and had taught a district school, 'by way of elevating herself,' but the elevation did not pay, and she went back to the mills in the day-time and her shoes at night, and rebelled at the fate which had made her so poor and seemed likely to keep her so.
But there was something better in store for her than binding shoes, or even teaching a district school, and, from the time when young Frank Tracy came to Langley as clerk in the Newell firm, Dorothy's life was changed and her star began to rise. They both sang in the choir, standing side by side, and sometimes using the same book, and once or twice their hands met as both tried to turn the leaves together. Dorothy's were red and rough, and not nearly as delicate as those of Frank, who had been in a store all his life: and still there was a magnetism in their touch which sent a thrill through the young man's veins, and made him for the first time look critically at his companion.
She was very pretty, he thought, with bright black eyes, a healthful bloom, and a smile and blush which went straight to his heart and made him her slave at once. In three months' time they were married and commenced housekeeping in a very unostentatious way, for Frank had nothing but his salary to depend upon. But he was well connected, and boasted some blue blood, which, in Dorothy's estimation, made amends for lack of money. The Tracys of Boston were his distant relatives, and he had a rich bachelor uncle who spent his winters in New Orleans and his summers in Shannondale, at Tracy Park, on which he had lavished fabulous sums of money. From this uncle Frank had expectations, though naturally the greater part of his fortune would go to his god-son and name-sake, Arthur Tracy, who was Frank's elder brother, and as unlike him as one brother could well be unlike another.
Arthur was scholarly in his tastes, quiet and gentlemanly in his manners, with a musical voice which won him friends at once, while in his soft black eyes there was a peculiar look of sadness, as if he were brooding over something which filled him with regret. Frank was very proud of his brother, and with Dorothy felt that he was honored when, six months after their marriage, he came for a day or so to visit them, and with him his intimate friend Harold Hastings, an Englishman by birth, but so thoroughly Americanized as to pass unchallenged for a native. There was a band of crape on Arthur's hat, and his manner was like one trying to be sorry, while conscious of a great inward feeling of resignation, if not content. The rich uncle was dead. He had died suddenly in Paris, where he had gone on business, and the whole of his vast fortune was left to his nephew Arthur—not a farthing to Frank, not even the mention of his name in the will: and when Dorothy heard it she put her white apron over her face, and cried as if her heart would break. They were so poor, she and Frank, and they wanted so many things, and the man who could have helped them was dead and had left them nothing. It was hard, and she might not have made the young heir very welcome if he had not ensured her that he should do something for her husband. And he kept his word, and in course of time bought out a grocery in Langley and put Frank in it, and paid the mortgage on his house, and gave him a thousand dollars, and invited them for a few days to visit him; and then it would seem as if he forgot them entirely; for with his friend Harold he settled himself at Tracy Park, and played the role of the grand gentleman to perfection.
Dinner parties and card parties, where it was said the play was for money, and where Arthur always allowed himself to lose and his friends to win; races and hunts were of frequent occurrence at Tracy Park, where matters generally were managed on a magnificent scale, and created a great deal of talk among the plain folks of Shannondale, whose only dissipation then was going to church twice on Sunday and to the cattle show once each year.
Few ladies ever graced these festivities, for Arthur was very aristocratic in his feelings, and with two or three exceptions, held himself aloof from the people of Shannondale. It was said, however, that sometimes, when he and his friend were alone, there was the sweep of a white dress and the gleam of golden hair in the parlor, where sweet Amy Crawford, daughter of the housekeeper, played and sang her simple ballads to the two gentlemen, who always treated her with as much deference as if she had been a queen, instead of a poor young girl dependent for her bread upon her own and her mother's exertions. But beyond the singing in the twilight Amy never advanced, and so far as her mother knew she had never for a single instant been alone with either of the gentlemen. How, then, was the household electrified one morning when it was found that Amy had fled, and that Harold Hastings was the companion of her flight?
'I wanted to tell you,' Amy wrote to her mother in the note left on her dressing table. 'I wanted to tell you and be married at home, but Mr. Hastings would not allow it. It would create trouble, he said, between himself and Mr. Tracy, who I may confess to you in confidence, asked me twice to be his wife, and when I refused, without giving him a reason, for I dared not tell him of my love for his friend, he was so angry and behaved so strangely, and there was such a look in his eyes, that I was afraid of him, and it was this fear, I think, which made me willing to go away secretly with Harold and be married in New York. We are going to Europe; shall sail to-morrow morning at nine o'clock in the Scotia. The marriage ceremony will be performed before we go on board. I shall write as soon as we reach Liverpool. You must forgive me, mother, and I am sure you would not blame me, if you knew how much I love Mr. Hastings. I know he is poor, and that I might be mistress of Tracy Park, but I love Harold best. It is ten o'clock, and the train, you know, passes at eleven; so I must say good-bye.
'Amy Crawford, now, but when you read this,
This was Amy's letter which her mother found upon entering her room after waiting more than an hour for her daughter's appearance at the breakfast, which they always took by themselves. To say that she was shocked and astonished would but faintly portray the state of her mind as she read that her beautiful young daughter had gone with Harold Hastings, whom she had never liked, for though he was handsome, and agreeable, and gentlemanly as a rule, she knew him to be thoroughly selfish and indolent, and she trembled for her daughter's happiness when a little time had quenched the ardor of his passion. Added to this was another thought which made her brain reel for a moment an she thought what might have been. Arthur Tracy had wished to make Amy his wife, and mistress of Tracy Park, which she would have graced so well, for in all the town there was not a fairer, sweeter girl than Amy Crawford, or one better beloved.
It did not matter that she was poor, and her mother was only a housekeeper. She had never felt a slight on that account, and had been reared as carefully and tenderly as the daughters of the rich, and if away down, in her mother's heart there had been a half defined hope that some time the master of Tracy Park might turn his attention to her, it had been hidden so closely that Mrs. Crawford scarcely knew of it herself until she learned what her daughter was and what she might have been. But it was too late now. There was no turning back the wheels of fate.
Forcing herself to be as calm as possible, she took the note to Arthur, who had breakfasted alone, and was waiting impatiently in the library for the appearance of his friend.
'Lazy dog!' Mrs. Crawford heard him say, as she approached the open door. 'Does he think he has nothing to do but to sleep? We were to start by this time, and he in bed yet!'
'Are you speaking of Mr. Hastings?' Mrs. Crawford asked, as she stepped into the room.
'Yes,' was his crisp and haughty reply, as if he resented the question, and her presence there.
He could be very proud and stern when he felt like it, and one of these moods was on him now, but Mrs. Crawford did not heed it, and sinking into a chair, for she felt that she could not stand and face him, she began:
'I came to tell you of Mr. Hastings and—Amy. She did not come to breakfast, and I found this note in her room. She has gone to New York with him. They took the eleven o'clock train last night. They are to be married this morning, and sail in the Scotia for Europe.'
She had told her story, and paused for the result, which was worse than she had expected.
For a moment Arthur Tracy stood staring at her, while his face grew white as ashes, and into his dark eyes, usually so soft and mild, there came a fiery gleam like that of a madman, as he seemed for a time to be.
'Amy gone with Harold, my friend!' he said at last. 'Gone to New York! Gone to be married! Traitors! Vipers! Both of them. Curse them! If he were here I'd shoot him like a dog; and she—I believe I would kill her.'
He was walking the floor rapidly, and to Mrs. Crawford it seemed as if he really were unsettled in his mind, he talked so incoherently and acted so strangely.
'What else did she say?' he asked, suddenly, stopping and confronting her. 'You have not told me all. Did she speak of me? Let me see the note,' and he held his hand for it.
For a moment Mrs. Crawford hesitated, but as he grew more and more persistent she suffered him to take it, and then watched him as he read it, white the veins on his forehead began to swell until they stood out like a dark blue net-work against his otherwise pallid face.
'Yes,' he snapped between his white teeth. 'I did ask her to be my wife, and she refused, and with her soft, kittenish ways made me more in love with her than ever, and more her dupe. I never suspected Harold, and when I told him of my disappointment, for I never kept a thing from him—traitor that he was—he laughed at me for losing my heart to my housekeeper's daughter! I, who, he said, might marry the greatest lady in the land. I could have knocked him down for his sneer at Amy, and I wish now I had, the wretch! He will not marry your daughter, madam; and if he does not I will kill him!'
He was certainly mad, and Mrs. Crawford shrank away from him an from something dangerous, and going to her room took her bed in a fit of frightful hysterics. This was followed by a state of nervous prostration, and for a few days she neither saw, nor heard of, nor inquired for Mr. Tracy. At the end of the fourth day, however, she was told by the house-maid that he had that morning packed his valise and, without a word to any one, had taken the train for New York. A week went by, and then there came a letter from him, which ran as follows:
'New York, May ——, 18—.
'Mrs. Crawford:—I am off for Europe to-morrow, and when I shall return is a matter of uncertainty. They are married; or at least I suppose so, for I found a list of the passengers who sailed in the Scotia, and the names, Mr. and Mrs. Hastings, were in it. So that saves me from breaking the sixth commandment, as I should have done if he hid played Amy false. I may not make myself known to them, but I shall follow them, and if he harms a hair of her head I shall shoot him yet. My brother Frank is to live at Tracy Park. That will suit his wife, and as you will not care to stay with her, I send you a deed of that cottage in the lane by the wood where the gardener now lives. It is a pretty little place, and Amy liked it well. We used to meet there sometimes, and more than once I have sat with her on that seat under the elm tree, and it was there I asked her to be my wife. Alas! I loved her so much, and I love her still as I can never love another woman, and I could have made her so happy; but that is past, and I can only watch her at a distance. When I have anything to communicate, I will write again.
'Yours truly, 'Arthur Tracy.'
'P.S.—Take all the furniture in your room and Amy's, and whatever else is needful for your house. I shall tell Colvin to give you a thousand dollars, and when you want more let him know, I shall never forget that you are Amy's mother.
This was Arthur's letter to Mrs. Crawford, while to his brother he wrote:
'Dear Frank:—I am going to Europe for an indefinite length of time. Why I go it matters not to you or any one. I go to suit myself, and I want you to sell out your business at Langley and live at Tracy Park, where you can see to things as if they were your own. You will find everything straight and square, for Colvin is honest and methodical. He knows all about the bonds, and mortgages, and stocks, so you cannot do better than to retain him in your service, overseeing matters yourself, of course, and drawing for your salary what you think right and necessary for your support and for keeping up the place as it ought to be kept up. I enclose a power of attorney. When I want money I shall call upon Colvin. I may be gone for years and perhaps forever.
'I shall never marry, and when I die, what I have will naturally go to you. We have not been to each other much like brothers for the past few years, but I do not forget the old home in the mountains where we were boys together, and played, and quarreled, and slept up under the roof, where the blankets were hung to keep the snow from sifting through the rafters upon our bed.
'And, Frank, do you remember the bitter mornings, when the thermometer was below zero, and we performed our ablutions in the wood-shed, and the black-eye you gave me once for telling mother that you had not washed yourself at all, it was so cold? She sent you from the table, and made you go without your breakfast, and we had ham and johnny-cake toast that morning, too. That was long ago, and our lives are different now. There are marble basins, with silver chains and stoppers, at Tracy Pack, and you can have a hot bath every day if you like, in a room which would not shame Caracalla himself. And I know you will like it all, and Dolly, too; but don't make fools of yourselves. Nothing stamps a person as a come-up from the scum so soon as airs and ostentation. Be quiet and modest, as if you had always lived at Tracy Park. Imitate Squire Harrington and Mr. St. Claire. They are the true gentlemen, and were to the manner born. Be kind to Mrs. Crawford. She is a lady in every sense of the word, for she comes of good New England stock.
'And now, good-bye. I shall write sometimes, but not often.
MR. AND MRS. FRANK TRACY.
Mr. Frank, in his small grocery store at Langley, was weighing out a pound of butter for the Widow Simpson, who was haggling with him about the price, when his brother's letter was brought to him by the boy who swept his store and did errands for him. But Frank was too busy just then to read it. There was a circus in the village that day, and it brought the country people into the town in larger numbers than usual. Naturally, many of them paid Frank a visit in the course of the morning, so that it was not until he went home to his dinner that be even thought of the letter, which was finally brought to his mind by his wife's asking if there was any news.
Mrs. Frank was always inquiring for and expecting news, but she was not prepared for what this day brought her. Neither was her husband, and when he read his brother's letter, which he did twice to assure himself that he was not mistaken, he sat for a moment perfectly bewildered, and staring at his wife, who was putting his dinner upon the table.
'Dolly,' he gasped at last, when he could speak at all—'Dolly, what do you think? Just listen. Arthur is going to Europe, to stay forever, perhaps, and has left us Tracy Park. We are going there to live, and you will be as grand a lady as Mrs. Atherton, of Brier Hill; or that young girl at Collingwood.'
Dolly had a platter of ham and eggs in her hand, and she never could tell, though she often tried to do so, what prevented her from dropping the whole upon the floor. She did spill some of the fat upon her clean tablecloth, she put the dish down so suddenly, and sinking into a chair, demanded what her husband meant. Was he crazy, or what?
'Not a bit of it,' he replied, recovering himself and beginning to realize the good fortune which had come to him. 'We are rich people, Dolly. Read for yourself;' and he passed her the letter, which she seemed to understand better than he had done.
'Why, yes,' she said. 'We are going to Tracy Park to live; but that doesn't make us rich. It is not ours.'
'I know that,' her husband replied. 'But we shall enjoy it all the same, and hold our heads with the best of them. Besides, don't you see, Arthur gives me carte blanche as to pay for my services, and, though I shall do right, it is not in human nature that I should not feather my nest when I have a chance. Some of that money ought to have been mine. I shall sell out at once if I can find a purchaser, and if I cannot, I shall rent the grocery and move out of this hole double quick.'
His ideas were growing faster than those of his wife, who was attached to Langley and its people, and shrank a little from the grander opening before her. She had once spent a few days at Tracy Park, as Arthur's guest, and had felt great restraint even in the presence of Mrs. Crawford and Amy, whom she recognized as ladies notwithstanding their position in the house. On that occasion she had, with her brother-in-law, been invited to dine at Brier Hill, the country-seat of Mrs. Grace Atherton, a gay widow, whose dash and style had completely overawed the plain, matter-of-fact Dolly, who did not know what half the dishes were, or what she was expected to do. But, by watching Arthur, and declining some things which she felt sure were beyond her comprehension, she managed tolerably well, though when the dinner was over, and she could breathe freely again, she found that the back of her new silk gown was wet with perspiration, which had oozed from every pore during the hour and a half she had sat at the table. And even then her troubles were not ended, for coffee was served in the drawing-room, and as Arthur took his clear, she did not know whether she was expected to do the same or not, but finally ventured to say she would have hers with 'trimmin's.' There was a mischievous twinkle in Mrs. Atherton's eyes which disconcerted her so much that she spilled her coffee in her lap, and felt, as she afterward told a friend to whom she was describing the dinner, as if she could have been knocked down with a feather.
'Such folderol!' she said. 'Changing your plates all the time—eating peas in the winter greener than grass, with nothing under the sun with them, and drinking coffee out of a cup about as big as a thimble. Give me the good old-fashioned way, I say, with peas and potatoes, and meat, and things, and cups that will hold half a pint and have some thickness that you can feel in your mouth.'
And now she was to exchange the good, old-fashioned way for what she termed 'folderol,' and for a time she did not like it. But her husband was so delighted and eager that he succeeded in impressing her with some of his enthusiasm, and after he had returned to his grocery, and her dishes were washed, she removed her large kitchen apron, and pulling down the sleeves of her dress, went and stood before the mirror, where she examined herself critically and not without some degree of complacency.
Her hair was black and glossy, or would be if she had time to care for it as it ought to be cared for; her eyes were bright, and perhaps in time she might learn to use them as Mrs. Atherton used hers.
Mrs. Atherton stood as the criterion for everything elegant and fashionable, and naturally it was with her that she compared herself.
'She is older than I am,' she said to herself; 'there are crow-tracks around her eyes, and her complexion is not a bit better than mine was before I spoiled it with soap-suds, and stove heat, and everything else.'
Then she looked at her hands, but they were red and rough, and the nails were broken and not at all like the nails which an expert has polished for an hour or more. Mrs. Atherton's diamond rings would be sadly out of place on Dolly's fingers, but time and abstinence from work would do much for them, she reflected, and after all it would be nice to live in a grand house, ride in a handsome carriage, and keep a hired girl to do the heavy work. So, on the whole, she began to feel quite reconciled to her change of situation, and to wonder how she ought to conduct herself in view of her future position. She had intended going to the circus that night, but she gave that up, telling her husband that it was a second-class amusement any way, and she did not believe that either Mrs. Atherton or the young lady at Collingwood patronized such places. So they staid at home and talked together of what they should do at Tracy Park, and wondered if it was their duty to ask all their Langley friends to visit them. Mrs. Frank, as the more democratic of the two, decided that it was. She was not going to begin by being stuck up, she said, and when at last she left Langley four weeks later, every man, woman, and child of her familiar acquaintance in town had been heartily invited to call upon her at Tracy Park if ever they came that way.
Frank had disposed of his business at a reasonable price, and had rented his house with all the furniture, except such articles as his wife insisted upon taking with her. The bureau, and bedstead, and chairs which she and Frank had bought together in Springfield just before their marriage, the Boston rocker her mother had given her, and in which the old mother had sat until the day she died, the cradle in which she had rocked her first baby boy who was lying in the Langley grave-yard, were dear to the wife and mother, and though her husband told her she could have no use for them at Tracy Park, where the furniture was of the costliest kind, and that she would probably put them in the servants' rooms or attic, there was enough of sentiment in her nature to make her cling to them as something of the past, and so they were boxed up and forwarded by freight to Tracy Park, whither Mr. and Mrs. Tracy followed them a week later.
The best dressmaker in Langley had been employed upon the wardrobe of Mrs. Frank, who, in her travelling dress of some stuff goods of a plaided pattern, too large and too bright to be quite in good taste, felt herself perfectly au fait as the mistress of Tracy Park, until she reached Springfield, where Mrs. Grace Atherton, accompanied by a tall, elegant looking young lady, entered the car and took a seat in front of her. Neither of the ladies noticed her, but she recognized Mrs. Atherton at once and guessed that her companion was the young lady from Collingwood, who, rumor said, was soon to marry her guardian, Mr. Richard Harrington, although he was old enough to be her father.
Dolly scanned both the ladies very closely, noting every article of their costumes from their plain linen collars and cuffs to their quiet dresses of gray, which seemed so much more in keeping with the dusty cars than her buff and purple plaid.
'I ain't like them, and never shall be,' she said to herself, with a bitter sense of her inferiority pressing upon her. 'I ain't like them, and never shall be, if I live to be a hundred. I wish we were not going to be grand. I shall never get used to it,' and the hot tears sprang to her eyes as she longed to be back in the kitchen where she had worked so hard.
But Dolly did not know then how readily people can forget the life of toil behind them and adapt themselves to one of luxury and ease; and with her the adaptability commenced in some degree the moment Shannondale station was reached, and she saw the handsome carriage waiting for them. A carriage finer far and more modern than the one from Collingwood, in which Mrs. Atherton and the young lady took their seats, laughing and chatting so gayly that they did not see the woman in the big plaid who stood watching them with a rising feeling of jealousy and resentment as she thought of Mrs. Atherton, 'She does not even notice me.'
But when the Tracy carriage drew up, Grace Atherton saw and recognized her, and whispered, in an aside to her companion:
'For goodness' sake, Edith, look! There are the Tracys, our new neighbors.' Then she bowed to Mrs. Tracy, and said: 'Ah, I did not know you were on the train.'
'I sat right behind you,' was Mrs. Tracy's rather ungracious reply: and then, not knowing whether she ought to do it or not, she introduced her husband.
'Yes, Mr. Tracy—how do you do?' was Mrs. Atherton's response; but she did not in return introduce the young girl, whose dark eyes were scanning the strangers so curiously, and this Dolly took as a slight and inwardly resented it.
But Mrs. Atherton had spoken to her and that was something, and helped to keep her spirits up as she was driven along the turnpike to the entrance of the park.
On the occasion of Mrs. Frank's first and only visit to her brother-in-law it was winter, and everything was covered with snow. But it was summer now, the month of roses, and fragrance, and beauty, and as the carriage passed up the broad, smooth avenue which led to the house, Dolly's eyes wandered over the well-kept lawn, sweet with the scent of newly-mown grass, the parteries of flowers and shrubs, the winding walks and clumps of evergreens here and there formed into fancy rooms, with rustic seats and tables under the over-hanging boughs; and when she reflected that all this was hers to enjoy for many years, and perhaps for her life-time, she felt the first stirring of that pride, and satisfaction, and self-assertion which was to grow upon her so rapidly and transform her from the plain, unpretentious woman who had washed, and ironed, and baked, and mended in the small house in Langley into the arrogant, haughty lady of fashion, who courted only the rich and looked down upon her less fortunate neighbors. Now, however, she was very meek and humble, and trembled as she alighted from the carriage before the great stone house which was to be her home.
'Isn't this grand, Dolly?' her husband said, rubbing his hands together and looking about him complacently.
'Yes, very grand,' Dolly answered him; but somehow it makes me feel weaker than water. I suppose, though, I shall get accustomed to it.'
GETTING ACCUSTOMED TO IT.
In the absence of Mrs. Crawford, who for a week or more had been domesticated in the cottage in the lane, as the house was designated which Arthur had given her, there was no one to receive the strangers except the cook and the house-maid, and as Mrs. Tracy entered the hall the two came forward, bristling with criticism, and ready to resent anything like interference in the new-comers.
The servants at the park had not been pleased with the change of administration. That Mr. Arthur was a gentleman whom it was an honor to serve, they all conceded; but with regard to the new master and mistress, they had grave doubts. Although none of them had been at the park on the occasion of Mrs. Tracy's first visit there, many rumors concerning her had reached them, and she would scarcely have recognized herself could she have heard the remarks of which she was the subject. That she had worked in a factory—which was true—was her least offence, for it was whispered that once, when the winter was unusually severe, and work scarce, she had gone to a soup-house, and even asked and procured coal from the poor-master for herself and her mother.
This was not true, and would have argued nothing against her as a woman if it had been, but the cook and the house-maid believed it, and passed sundry jokes together while preparing to meet 'the pauper,' as they designated her.
In this state of things their welcome could not be very cordial, but Mrs. Tracy was too tired and too much excited, to observe their demeanor particularly. They were civil, and the house was in perfect order, and so much larger and handsomer than she had thought it to be, that she felt bewildered and embarrassed, and said 'Yes 'em,' and 'No, ma'am,' to Martha, the cook, and told Sarah, who was waiting at dinner, that she 'might as well sit down in a chair as to stand all the time; she presumed she was tired with so many extra steps to take.'
But Sarah knew her business, and persisted in standing, and inflicting upon the poor woman as much ceremony as possible, and then, in the kitchen, she repeated to the cook and the coachman, with sundry embellishments of her own, the particulars of the dinner, amid peals of laughter at the expense of the would-be lady, who had said 'she could just as soon have her salad with her other things, and save washing go many dishes.'
It was hardly possible that mistress and maids would stay together long, especially as Mrs. Tracy, when a little more assured, and a little less in awe of her servants, began to show a disposition to know by personal observation what was going on in the kitchen, and to hint broadly that there was too much waste here and expenditure there, and quite too much company at all hours of the day.
'She didn't propose to keep a boarding-house,' she said, 'or to support families outside, and the old woman who came so often to the basement door with a big basket under her cloak must discontinue her calls.'
Then there occurred one of those Hibernian cyclones which sweep everything before them, and which in this instance swept Mrs. Tracy out of the kitchen for the time being, and the cook out of the house. Her self-respect, she said, would not allow her to stay with a woman who knew just how much coal was burned, how much butter was used, and how much bread was thrown away, and who objected to giving a bite now and then to a poor old woman, who, poor as she was, had never yet been helped by the poor-master, or gone to a soup-house like my lady!
Martha's departure was followed by that of Sarah, and then Mrs. Tracy was alone, and for a few days enjoyed herself immensely, doing her own work, cooking her own dinner, and eating it when and where she liked—in the kitchen mostly, as that kept the flies from the dining-room, and saved her many steps, for Dolly was beginning to find that there was a vast difference between keeping a house with six rooms and one with twenty or more.
Her husband urged her to try a new servant, saying there was no necessity for her to make a slave of herself: but she refused to listen. Economy was a part of her nature, and besides that she meant to show them that she was perfectly independent of the whole tribe; the tribe and them referring to the hired girls alone, for she knew no one else in town.
Nobody had called except the clergyman, not even Mrs. Crawford, whose friendship and possible advice Mrs. Tracy had counted upon, and with whom she knew she should feel more at ease than with Mrs. Atherton from Brier Hill, or Miss Hastings from Collingwood. She had seen both the last named ladies at church and had a nod from Mrs. Atherton, and that was all the recognition she had received from her neighbors up to the hot July morning, a week or more after the house-maid's departure, when she was busy in the kitchen canning black raspberries, of which the garden was full.
Like many housekeepers who do their own work, Dolly was not very particular with regard to her dress in the morning, and on this occasion her hair was drawn from her rather high forehead, and twisted into a hard knot at the back of her head; her calico dress hung straight dawn, for she was minus hoops, which in those days were worn quite large; her sleeves were rolled above her elbows, and, as a protection against the juice of the berries, she wore a huge apron made of sacking. In this garb, and with no thought of being interrupted, she kept on with her work until the last kettle of fruit, was boiling and bubbling on the stove, and she was just glancing at the clock to see if it were time to put over the peas for dinner, when there came a quick, decisive ring at the front door.
'Who can that be?' she said to herself, as she wiped her hands upon her apron. 'Some peddler or agent, I dare say. Why couldn't he come round to the kitchen, door, I'd like to know?'
She had been frequently troubled with peddlers and agents of all kinds, and feeling certain that this was one—ringing the bell a second time, as if in a hurry—she started for' the door in no very amiable frame of mind, for peddlers were her abomination. Something ailed the lock or key, which resisted all her efforts to turn it; and at last, putting her mouth to the keyhole, she called out, rather sharply:
'Go to the back door: I cannot open this,'
Then, as she caught a whiff of burnt syrup, she hurried to the kitchen, where she found that her berries had boiled over, and were hissing and sputtering on the hot stove, raising a cloud of smoke so dense that she did not see the person who stood on the threshold of the door until a voice wholly unlike that of any peddler or agent said to her;
'Good morning, Mrs. Tracy. I hope I am not intruding.'
Then she turned, and to her horror and surprise, saw Grace Atherton, attired in the coolest and daintiest of morning costumes, with a jaunty French bonnet set coquettishly upon her head, and a silver card-case in her hand.
For the moment Dolly's wits forsook her and she stood staring at her visitor, who, perfectly at her ease, advanced into the room and said:
'I hope you will excuse me, Mrs. Tracy, for this morning call I came—'
But she did not finish the sentence, for by this time Dolly had recovered herself a little, and throwing off her apron, she replied, nervously:
'Not at all—not at all, I supposed you were some peddler or agent when I sent you to this door. They are the plague of my life, and think I'll buy everything and give to everything because Arthur did. I am doing my own work, you see. Come into the parlor;' and she led the way into the dark drawing-room, and where the chairs and sofas were surrounded in white linen, looking like so many ghosts in the dim, uncertain light.
But Dolly opened one of the windows, and pushing back the blinds, let in a flood of sunshine, so strong and bright that she at once closed the shutters, saying, apologetically, that she did not believe in fading the carpets, if they were not her own. Then she sat down upon an ottoman and faced her visitor, who was regarding her with a mixture of amusement and wonder.
Grace Atherton was an aristocrat to her very finger-tips, and shrank from contact with anything vulgar and unsightly, and, to her mind, Mrs. Tracy represented both, and seemed sadly out of place in that handsome room, with her sleeves rolled up and the berry stains on her hands and face. Grace knew nothing by actual experience of canning berries, or of aprons made of sacking, or of bare arms, except it were of an evening when they showed white and fair against her satin gown, with bands of gold and precious stones upon them, and she felt that there was an immeasurable distance between herself and this woman, whom she had come to see partly on business and partly because she thought she must call upon her for the sake of Arthur Tracy, the former occupant of the park.
Grace and Arthur had been fast friends, and Brier Hill was almost the only place where he had visited on anything like terms of intimacy. Indeed, it was rumored by the busy knowing ones of Shannondale that, had the pretty widow been six years his junior instead of his senior, she would have left no art untried to win him. But here the wise ones were in fault, for though Grace Atherton's heart was not buried in her husband's grave, and, in fact, had never been her husband's at all, it was given to one who, though he cared for it once, did not prize it now, for, with all the intensity of his noble nature, Richard Harrington, of Collingwood; loved the beautiful girl whom, years ago, he had taken to his home as his child, and whom, it was said, he was to marry. But if the belief that the love she once refused and which she would fain recover was lost to her forever rankled in her breast, Grace never made a sign, and laughed as gayly and looked almost as young and handsome as in the days when Richard was wooing her in the pleasant old English town across the sea. She had loved Richard then, but, alas! loved money more, and she chose a richer man, old enough to be her father, who had died when she was twenty-one and left her the possessor of nearly half a million, every dollar of which she would have given to have recalled the days which were gone forever.
Grace had been intending to call upon Mrs. Tracy ever since she came to the park. 'Not,' as she said to her friend, Edith Hastings, 'for the woman's sake, for she knew her to be vulgar: but because she was a neighbor and the sister-in-law of Arthur Tracy,' And so at last she came, partly out of compliment and partly on business, into which last she plunged at once. She was going to the mountains with Mr. Harrington and Miss Hastings: her cook, who had been with her seven years, had gone to attend a sick mother, and had recommended as a fit person to take her place the woman who had just left Tracy Park.
'I do not like to take a servant without first knowing something of her from her last employer,' she said: 'and, if you do not mind, I should like to ask if Martha left for anything very bad.'
Mrs. Tracy colored scarlet, and for a moment was silent. She could not tell that fine lady in the white muslin dress, with seas of lace and embroidery, that Martha had called her second classy, and stingy and strooping, and mean, because she objected to the amount of coal burned, and bread thrown away, and time consumed at the table, besides turning down the gas in the kitchen when she thought it too light, to say nothing of turning it off at the meter at ten o'clock, just when the servants were beginning to enjoy themselves. All this she felt would scarcely interest a person like Mrs. Atherton, who might sympathize with Martha more than with herself, so she finally said:
'Martha was saucy to me, and on the whole it was better for them all to go; and so I am doing my own work.'
'Doing your own work!' and Grace gave a little cry of surprise, while her shoulders shrugged meaningly, and made Mrs. Tracy almost as angry as she had been with Martha when she called her mean and second-class. 'It cannot be possible that you cook, and wash, and iron, and do everything,' Mrs. Atherton continued. 'My dear Mrs. Tracy, you can never stand it in a house like this, and Mr. Arthur would not like it if he knew. Why he kept as many as six servants, and sometimes more. Pray let me advise you, and commend to you a good girl; who lived with me three years, and can do everything, from dressing my hair to making a blanc-mange. I only parted with her because she was sick, and now that she is well, her place is filled. Try her, and do not make a servant of yourself. It is not fitting that you should.'
Grace was fond of giving advice, and had said more than she intended saying when she began, but Mrs. Tracy, though annoyed, was not angry, and consented to receive the girl who had lived at Brier Hill three years, and who, she reflected, could be of use to her in many ways.
While sitting there in her soiled working dress talking to the elegant Mrs. Atherton she had felt her inferiority more keenly than she had ever done before, while at the same time she was conscious that a new set of ideas and thoughts had taken possession of her, reawaking in her the germ of that ambition to be somebody which she had felt so often when a girl, and which now was to bud and blossom, and bear fruit a hundred fold. She would take the girl, and from her learn the ways of the world as presented at Brier Hill. She would no longer wear sacking aprons, and open the door herself. She would be more like Grace Atherton, whom she watched admiringly as she went down the walk to the handsome carriage waiting for her, with driver and footman in tall hats and long coats on the box.
This was the beginning of the fine lady into which Dolly finally blossomed, and when that day Frank went home to his dinner he noticed something in her manner which he could not understand until she told him of Mrs. Atherton's call, and the plight in which that lady had found her.
'Served you right, Dolly,' Frank said, laughing till the tears ran. 'You have no business to be digging round like a slave when we are able to have what we like. Arthur said we were to keep up the place us he had done, and that does not mean that you should be a scullion. No, Dolly; have all the girls you want, and hold up your head with the best of them. Get a new silk gown, and return Mrs. Atherton's call at once, and take a card and turn down one corner or the other, I don't know which, but this girl of hers can tell you. Pump her dry as a powder horn; find out what the quality do, and then do it, and not bother about the expense. I am going in for a good time, and don't mean to work either. I told Colvin this morning that I thought I ought to draw a salary of about four thousand a year, besides our living expenses, and though he looked at me pretty sharp over his spectacles he said nothing. Arthur is worth half a million, if he is worth a cent. So, go it, Dolly, while you are young,' and in the exuberance of his joy Frank kissed his wife on both cheeks, and then hurried back to his office, where he spent most of his time trying to be a gentleman.
That day they dined in the kitchen with a leaf of the table turned up as they had done in Langley, but the next day they had dinner in the dining-room, and were waited upon by the new girl as well as it was possible for her to do with her mistress' interference.
'Never mind; Mr. Tracy's in a hurry. Give him his pie at once,' she said, as Susan was about to clear the table preparatory to the dessert, but she repented the speech when she saw the look of surprise which the girl gave her and which expressed more than words could have done.
'Better let her run herself,' Frank said, when Susan had left the room, 'and if she wants to take every darned thing off the table and tip it over to boot, let her do it. If she has lived three years with Mrs. Atherton, she knows what is what better than we do.'
'But it takes so long, and I have much to see to in this great house,' Dolly objected, and her husband replied:
'Get another girl, then; three of them if you like. What matter how many girls we have so long as Arthur pays for them, and he is bound to do that. He said so in his letter. You are altogether too economical. I've told you so a hundred times, and now there is no need of saving. I want to see you a lady of silks and satins like Mrs. Atherton. Pump that girl. I tell you, and find out what ladies do!'
This was Frank's advice to his wife, and as far as in her lay she acted upon it, and whatever Susan told her was done by Mrs. Atherton at Brier Hill, she tried to do at Tracy Park: all except staying out of the kitchen. That, from her nature, she could not and would not do. Consequently she was constantly changing cooks, and frequently took the helm herself, to the great disgust of her husband, who managed at last to imbue her with his own ideas of things.
In course of time most of the neighbors who had any claim to society called at the park, and among them Mrs. Crawford. But Mrs. Tracy had then reached a point from which she looked down upon one who had been housekeeper where she was now mistress, and whose daughter's good name was under a cloud, as there were some who did not believe that Harold Hastings had ever made her his wife. When told that Mrs. Crawford had asked for her Mrs. Tracy sent word that she was engaged, and that if Mrs. Crawford pleased she would give her errand to the girl.
'I have no errand. I came to call,' was Mrs. Crawford's reply, and she never crossed the threshold of her old home again until the March winds were blowing and there was a little boy in the nursery at the park.
At the last moment the expected nurse had fallen sick, and in his perplexity Mr. Tracy went to the cottage in the lane and begged of Mrs. Crawford to come and care for his wife. Mrs. Crawford was very proud, but she was poor, too, and as the price per week which Frank offered her was four times as much as she could earn by sewing, she consented at last and went as nurse to the sick-room, and the baby, Tom, on whose little red face she imprinted many a kiss for the sake of her daughter who was coming home in June, and over whom the shadow of hope and fear was hanging.
Dolly Tracy's growth after it fairly commenced, was very rapid, and when Mrs. Crawford went to her as nurse she had three servants in her employ, besides the coachman, and was imitating Mrs. Atherton to the best of her ability; and when, early in the summer, she received the wedding cards of Edith Hastings, the young lady from Collingwood, who had married a Mr. St. Claire instead of her guardian, she felt that her position was assured, and from that time her progress was onward and upward until the October morning, ten years later, when our story proper opens, and we see her standing upon the piazza of her handsome house, with every sign of wealth and luxury about her person, from the silken robe to the jewels upon her soft, white hands, which once had washed her own dishes, and canned berries in her own kitchen, where she had received Grace Atherton, with her sleeves above her elbows.
There were five servants in the house now, and they ran over and against each other, and quarrelled, and gossipped, and worried her life nearly out of her, until she was sometimes tempted to send them away and do the work herself. But she was far too great a lady for that. She dressed in silk and satin every day, and drove in her handsome carriage, with her driver and footman in tall hats and long coats. She was thoroughly up in etiquette, and did not need Susan to tell her what to do. She knew all about visiting cards, and dinner cards, and cards of acceptance, and regret, and condolence, and she read much oftener than she did her Bible a book entitled 'Habits of Good Society.'
Three children played in the nursery now, Tom, and Jack, and baby Maude, and she kept a nurse constantly for them, and strove with all her might to instil into their infant minds that they were the Tracys of Tracy Park, and entitled to due respect from their inferiors; and Tom, the boy of ten and a half, had profited by her teaching, and was the veriest little braggart in all Shannondale, boasting of his father's house, and his father's money, without a word of the Uncle Arthur wandering no one knew where, or cared particularly for that matter.
Arthur had never been home since the day he quitted it to look after Amy Crawford, now lying in the grave-yard of Shannondale, under the shadow of the tall monument which Arthur's money had bought. At first he had written frequently to Mrs. Crawford, and occasionally to his brother, and his agent, Mr. Colvin; then his letters came very irregularly, and sometimes a year would intervene between them. Then he would write every week, and he once told them not to be anxious if they did not hear from him in a long time, as in case of his death he had arranged to have the news communicated to his friends at once. After this letter nothing had been heard from him for more than two years, until the morning when his telegram came and so greatly disturbed the mental equilibrium of Mr. Frank Tracy that for an hour or more he sat staring into the street in a bewildered kind of way, wondering what would be the result of his brother's return, and if he should be required to give up the investments he had made from the exorbitant sum he had charged for looking after the place. Once he thought he would ask Colvin's opinion; but he was a little afraid of the old man, who had sometimes hinted that his salary was far greater than the services rendered, but as Mr. Arthur, to whom he made reports of the expenditures, had never objected, it was not for him to do so, he said. And still Frank distrusted him, and decided that, on the whole, his better plan was to wait, or at least to consult no one but his wife, and he was glad when lunch-time came, and he started home, where preparations were going forward for the first large party they had ever given.
AT THE PARK.
Frank Tracy had at first grown faster than his wife, and the change in his manner had been more perceptible; for with all her foolishness Dolly had a kind heart, and a keen sense of right, and wrong, and justice than her husband. She had opposed him stoutly when he raised his own salary from $4,000 to $6,000 a year, on the plea that his services were worth it, and that two thousand more or less was nothing to Arthur; and when he was a candidate for the Legislature she had protested loudly against his inviting to the house and giving beer and cider to the men whose votes he wanted, and for whom as men he did not care a farthing; but when he came up for Congress she forgot all her scruples, and was as anxious as himself to please those who could help him secure the nomination and afterward the election. It was she who had proposed the party, to which nearly everybody was to be invited, from old Peterkin, with his powerful influence among a certain class, and Widow Shipleigh with her four sons, to Mr. and Mrs. St. Claire, from Grassy Spring, Squire Harrington, from Collingwood, and Grace Atherton, from Brier Hill. Very few who could in any way help Frank to a seat in Congress were omitted from the list, whether Republican or Democrat, for Frank was popular with both parties and expected help from both. Over three hundred cards had been issued for the party, which was the absorbing topic of conversation in the whole town, and which brought white kids and white muslins into great requisition, while swallow-tails and non swallow-tails were discussed in the privacy of households, and discarded or decided upon according to the length of the masculine purse or the strength of the masculine resistance, for dress coats were not then the rule in Shannondale. It was said that Mr. St. Claire and Squire Harrington always wore them to dinner, but they were the nobility par excellence of the town, and were expected to do things differently from the middle class, who had their bread to earn. Old Peterkin, however, whom Frank in his soliloquy, had designated a canal bummer, had become a rich man, and was resolved to show that he knew what was au fait for the occasion; a new suit throughout, in the very latest style, was in progress of making for him, and he had been heard to say that 'Tracy should have his vote and that of fifty more of the boys to pay for his ticket to the doin's'. This speech, which was reported to Mrs. Tracy, reconciled her to the prospect of receiving as a guest the coarsest, roughest man in town, whose only recommendation was his money and the brute influence he exercised over a certain class.
Dolly has scarcely slept for excitement since the party had been decided upon, and everything seemed to be moving on very smoothly and in order. They were to have music, and flowers, and a caterer from Springfield, where a lovely party-dress for herself of peach-blow satin was making, and nothing occurred of any importance to disturb her until the morning of the day appointed for the party, when it seemed as if every evil culminated at once. First, the colored boy who was to wait in the upper hall came down with measles. Then Grace Atherton drove round in her carriage to say that it would be impossible for her to be present, as she had received news from New York which made it necessary for her to go there by the next train. She was exceedingly sorry, she said, and for once in her life Grace was sincere. She was anxious to attend the party, for, as she said to Edith St. Claire in confidence, she wanted to see old Peterkin in his swallow-tail and white vest, with a shirt-front as big as a platter. There was a great deal of sarcasm and ridicule in Grace Atherton's nature, but at heart she was kind and meant to be just, and after a fashion really liked Mrs. Tracy, to whom she had been of service in various ways, helping her to fill her new position more gracefully than she could otherwise have done, and enlightening her without seeming to do so on many points which puzzled her sorely; on the whole they were good friends, and, after expressing her regret that she could not be present in the evening, Grace stood a few moments chatting familiarly and offering to send over flowers from her greenhouse, and her own maid to arrange Mrs. Tracy's hair and assist her in dressing. Then she took her leave, and it was her carriage Mrs. Tracy was watching as it went down the avenue, when little Harold Hastings appeared around the corner of the house, and, coming up the steps, took off his cap respectfully as he said:
'Grandma sends you her compliments, and is very sorry that she has rheumatism this morning and cannot come to-night to help you. She thinks, perhaps, you can get Mrs. Mosher.'
'Your grandmother can't come, when I depended so much upon her, and she thinks I can get Mrs. Mosher, that termagant, who would raise a mutiny in the kitchen in an hour!' Mrs. Tracy said this so sharply that a flush mounted to the handsome face of the boy, who felt as if he were in some way a culprit and being reprimanded. 'She must come, if she does nothing but sit in the kitchen and keep order,' was Mrs. Tracy's next remark.
'She can't,' Harold replied; 'her foot and ankle is all swelled and aches so she almost cries. She is awful sorry, and so am I, for I was coming with her to see the show.'
This speech put a new idea into Mrs. Tracy's mind, and she said to the boy:
'How would you like to come anyway, and stay in the upper hall, and tell the people where to go? The boy I engaged has disappointed me. You are rather small for the place, but I guess you'll do, and I will give you fifty cents.'
'I'd like it first-rate,' Harold said, his face brightening at the thought of earning fifty cents and seeing the show at the same time.
Half-dollars were not very plentiful with Harold, and he was trying to save enough to buy his grandmother a pair of spectacles, for he had heard her say that she could not thread her needle as readily as she once did, and must have glasses as soon as she had the money to spare. Harold had seen a pair at the drug-store for one dollar, and, without knowing at all whether they would fit his grandmother's eyes or not, had asked the druggist to keep them until he had the required amount. Fifty cents would just make it, and he promised at once that he would come; but in an instant there fell a shadow upon his face as he thought of Tom, his tormentor, who worried him so much.
'What is it?' Mrs. Tracy asked, as she detected in him a disposition to reconsider.
'Will Tom be up in the hall?' Harold asked.
'Of course not,' Mrs. Tracy replied. 'He will be in the parlors until ten o'clock, and then he will go to bed. Why do you ask?'
'Because,' Harold answered fearlessly, 'if he was to be there I could not come; he chaffs me so and twits me with being poor and living in a house his uncle gave us.'
'That is very naughty in him, and I will see that he behaves better in future,' said Mrs. Tracy, rather amused than other wise at the boy's frankness.
As the mention of the uncle reminded Harold of the telegram, he took it from his pocket and handed it to her.
'Mr. Tracy said I was to bring you this. It's from Mr. Arthur, and he's coming to-night. I'm so glad, and grandma will be, too!'
If Mrs. Tracy heard the last of Harold's speech she did not heed it, for she had caught the words that Arthur was coming that night, and, for a moment, she felt giddy and faint, and her hand shook so she could scarcely open the telegram.
Arthur had been gone so long and left them in undisputed possession of the park, that she had come to feel as if it belonged to them by right, and she had grown so into a life of ease and luxury, that to give it up now and go back to Langley seemed impossible to her. She could see it all so plainly—the old life of obscurity and toil in the little kitchen where she had eaten her breakfast on winter mornings so near the stove that she could cook her buckwheats on the griddle and transfer them to her own and her husband's plates without leaving her seat. She had been happy, or comparatively so there, she said to herself, because she knew no better. But now she did know better, and she ate her breakfast in an oak-paneled dining-room, with a waitress at her elbow, and her buckwheats hot from a silver dish instead of the smoking griddle. She had a governess for her two boys, Tom and Jack, and a nurse for her little Maude, who, in her ambitious heart, she hoped would one day marry Dick St. Clair, the young heir of Grassy Spring.
It never occurred to Dolly that they might possibly remain at the park if Arthur did come home. She felt sure they could not, for Arthur would hardly approve of his brother's stewardship when he came to realize how much it had cost him. They would have to leave, and this party she was giving would be her first and last at Tracy Park. How she wished she had never thought of it, or, having thought of it, that she had omitted from the list those who, she knew, would be obnoxious to the foreign brother, and who had only been invited for the sake of their political influence, which would now be useless, for Frank Tracy as a nobody, with very little money to spend, would not run as well, even in his own party, as Frank Tracy of Tracy Park, with thousands at his command if he chose to take them.
'It is too bad, and I wish we could give up the party,' she said aloud, forgetting in her excitement that Harold was still standing there, gazing curiously at her. 'You here yet? I thought you had gone!' she said, half angrily, as she recovered herself a little and met the boy's wondering eyes.
'Yes'm; but you ain't going to give the party up?' he said, afraid of losing his half-dollar.
'Of course not. How can I, with all the people invited?' she asked, questioningly, and a little less sharply.
'I don't know, unless I get a pony and go round and tell 'em not to come,' Harold suggested, thinking he might earn his fifty cents as easily that way as any other.
But, much as Mrs. Tracy wished the party had never been thought of, she could not now abandon it, and declining the services of Harold and his pony, she again bade him go home, with a charge that he should be on time in the evening, adding, as she surveyed him critically:
'If you have no clothes suitable, you can wear some of Tom's. You are about his size.'
'Thank you; I have my meetin' clothes, and do not want Tom's,' was Harold's reply, as he walked away, thinking he would go in rags before he would wear anything which belonged to his enemy, Tom Tracy.
The rest of the morning was passed by Mrs. Frank in a most unhappy frame of mind, and she was glad when, at an hour earlier than she had reason to expect him, her husband came home.
'Well, Dolly,' he said, the moment they were alone, 'this is awfully unlucky, the whole business. If Arthur must come home, why couldn't he have written in advance, and not take us by surprise? Looks as if he meant to spring a trap on us, don't it? And if he did, by Jove, he has caught us nicely. It will be somewhat like the prodigal son, who heard the sound of music and dancing, only I don't suppose Arthur has spent his substance in riotous living, with not over nice people; but there is no telling what he has been up to all these years that he has not written to us. Perhaps he is married. He said in his telegram, "Send to meet us." What does that mean, if not a wife?'
'A wife! Oh, Frank!' and with a great gasp Dolly sank down upon the lounge near where she was standing, and actually went into the hysterics her husband had prophesied.
In reading the telegram she had not noticed the little monosyllable 'us,' which was now affecting her so powerfully. Of course it meant a wife and possibly children, and her day was surely over at Tracy Park. It was in vain that her husband tried to comfort her, saying that they knew nothing positively, except that Arthur was coming home and somebody was coming with him; it might be a friend, or, what was more likely, it might be a valet; and at all events he was not going to cross Fox River till he reached it, when he might find a bridge across it.
But Frank's reasoning did not console his wife, whose hysterical fit was succeeded by a racking headache, which by night was almost unbearable. Strong coffee, aconite, brandy, and belladonna, were all tried without effect. Nothing helped her until she commenced her toilet, when in the excitement of dressing she partly forgot her disquietude, and the pain in her head grew leas. Still she was conscious of a feeling of wretchedness and regret as she sat in her handsome boudoir and felt that it might be for the last time—that on the morrow another would be mistress where she had reigned so long.
It was known in the house that Arthur was expected, and some one with him, but no hint had been given of a wife, and Mrs. Tracy had ordered separate rooms prepared for the strangers, who were to arrive on the half-past ten train. How she should manage to keep up and appear natural until that time Mrs. Tracy did not know, and her face and eyes wore an anxious, frightened look, which all her finery could not hide. And still she was really very handsome and striking in her dress of peach blow satin, and the bare arms which had once been more familiar with soap-suds and dishwater than lace and gold bracelets, looked very fair and girlish when at last she descended to the drawing-room and stood waiting for the first ring which would open the party.
THE COTTAGE IN THE LANE.
It was called thus because it stood at the end of a broad, grassy avenue or lane, which led from the park to the entrance of the grounds of Collingwood, whose chimneys and gables were distinctly visible in the winter when the trees were stripped of their foliage. At the time when Mrs. Crawford took possession of it its color was red, but the storms and rains of eleven summers and winters had washed nearly all the red away; and as Mrs. Crawford had never had the money to spare for its repainting, it would have presented a brown and dingy appearance outwardly, but for the luxurious woodbine, which she had trained with so much care and skill that it covered nearly three sides of the cottage, and made a gorgeous display in the autumn, when the leaves had turned a bright scarlet.
Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Arthur Tracy, the cottage was furnished comfortably and even prettily when Mrs. Crawford entered it, and it was from the same kind friend that her resources mostly had come up to the day when, three years after her marriage, Amy Hastings came home to die, bringing with her a little two-year-old boy, whom, she called Harold, for his father. Just where the father was, if indeed he were living, she did not know. He had left her in London six months before, saying he was going over to Paris for a few days, and should be back almost before she had time to miss him. Just before he left her he said to her, playfully:
'Cheer up, petite. I have not been quite as regular in my habits as I ought to have been, but London is not the place for a man of my tastes—too many temptations for a fellow like me. When I come back we will go into the country, where you can have a garden, with flowers and chickens, and grow fat and pretty again. You are not much like the girl I married. Good-bye.'
He kissed her and the baby, and went whistling down the stairs. She never saw him again, and only heard from him once. Then he was in Paris, and had decided to go for a week to Pau, where he said they were having such fine fox hunts. Weeks went by and he never wrote nor came, and Amy would have been utterly destitute and friendless but for Arthur Tracy, who, when her need was greatest, went to her, telling her that he had never been far from her, but had watched over her vigilantly to see that no harm came to her. When her husband went to Paris he knew it through a detective, and from the same source knew when he went to Pau, where all trace of him had been lost.
'But we are sure to find him again,' he said, encouragingly; 'and meantime I shall see that you do not suffer. As an old friend of your husband, you will allow me to care for you until he is found.'
And Amy, who had no alternative, accepted his care, and tried to seem cheerful and brave while waiting for the husband who never came back.
At last when all hope of seeing him again was gone, Arthur sent her home to the cottage in the lane, where her mother received her gladly, thanking Heaven that she had her daughter back again. But not for long. Poor Amy's heart was broken. She loved her husband devotedly, and his cruel desertion of her—for she knew now it was that—hurt her more than years of suffering with him could have done. Occasionally she heard from Arthur, who was still busy in search of the delinquent, and who always sent in his letter a substantial proof of his friendship and generosity.
And so the weeks and months went by; and then, one day, there came a letter in the well-known handwriting. But it was Mrs. Crawford who opened it and read that Harold Hastings was dead: that Amy was free, and that Arthur Tracy, who through all had loved her just as well as when he first asked her to be his wife, now put the question again, offering to make her the mistress of Tracy Park and surround her with every possible comfort.
'Say yes, darling Amy,' he wrote, 'and we may yet be very happy. I will be a good husband to you and a father to your child, who shall share my fortune as if he were my own. Answer at once, telling me to come, and, before you know it I shall be there to claim you for my wife.'
With a low moan, Mrs. Crawford hid her face in her hands and sobbed aloud, for the Amy who might have been the honored wife of Arthur Tracy lay dead in her coffin; and that day they buried her under the November snow, which was falling in great sheets upon the frozen ground. What Arthur felt when he heard the news no one ever knew, for he made no sign to any one, but at once gave orders to Colvin that a costly monument should be placed at her grave, with only this inscription upon it:
Of course the low-minded people talked, and Mrs. Crawford knew they did; but her heart was too full of sorrow to care what was said. Her beautiful daughter was dead, and she was alone with the little boy, the child Harold, who had inherited his mother's beauty, with all her lovely traits of character. Had Mrs. Crawford consented, Arthur would have supported him entirely; but she was too proud for that. She would take care of him herself as long as possible, she wrote him, but if, when Harold was older, he chose to educate him, she would offer no objection.
And there the matter dropped, and Mrs. Crawford struggled on as best she could, sometimes going out to do plain sewing, sometimes taking it home, sometimes going to people's houses to superintend when they had company, and sometimes selling fruit and flowers from the garden attached to the cottage. But whatever she did, she was always the same quiet, lady-like woman, who commanded the respect of all, and who, poor as she was, was held in high esteem by the better class in Shannondale. Grace Atherton's carriage and that of Edith St. Claire stood oftener before her door than that at Tracy Park; and though the ladies came mostly on business, they found themselves lingering after the business was over to talk with one who, in everything save money, was their equal.
Harold was his grandmother's idol. For him she toiled and worked, feeling more than repaid for all she did by his love and devotion to her. And Harold was a noble little fellow, full of manly instincts, and always ready to deny himself for the sake of others. That he and his grandmother were poor he knew, but he had never felt the effects of their poverty, save when Tom Tracy had jeered at him for it, and called him a pauper. There had been one square fight between the two boys, in which Harold had been the victor, with only a torn jacket, while Tom's eye had been black for a week, and Mrs. Tracy had gone to the cottage to complain and insist that Harold should be punished. But when she heard that Dick St. Claire had assisted in the fray, taking Harold's part, and himself dealing Tom the blow which blackened his eye, she changed her tactics, for she did not care to quarrel with Mrs. Arthur St. Claire, of Grassy Spring.
Harold and Richard St. Claire, or Dick, as he was familiarly called, were great friends, and if the latter knew there was a difference between himself and the child of poverty he never manifested it, and played far oftener with Harold than with Tom, whose domineering disposition and rough manners were distasteful to him. That Harold would one day be obliged to earn his living, Mrs. Crawford knew, but he was still too young for anything of that kind; and when Grace Atherton, or Mrs. St. Claire offered him money for the errands he sometimes did for them, she steadily refused to let him take it. Had she known of Mrs. Tracy's proposition that he should be present at the party as hall-boy, she would have declined, for though she could go there herself as an employee, she shrank from suffering Harold to do so. That Mrs. Tracy was not a lady, she knew, and in her heart there was always a feeling of superiority to the woman even while she served her, and she was not as sorry, perhaps, as she ought to have been, for the attack of rheumatism which would prevent her from going to the park to take charge of the kitchen during the evening.
'I am sorry to disappoint her, but I am glad not to be there,' she was thinking to herself as she sat in her bright, cheerful kitchen, waiting for Harold, when he burst in upon her, exclaiming:
'Oh, grandma, only think! I am invited to the party, and I told her I'd go, and I am to be there at half-past seven sharp, and to wear my meetin' clothes.'
'Invited to the party! What do you mean? Only grown up people are to be there,' Mrs. Crawford said.
'Yes, I know;' replied Harold, 'but I'm not to be with the grown-ups. I'm to stay in the upper hall and tell 'em where to go.'
'Oh, you are to be a waiter,' was Mrs. Crawford's rather contemptuous remark, which Harold did not heed in his excitement.
'Yes, I'm to be at the head of the stairs, and somebody else at the bottom; and they are to have fiddlin and dancin'; I've never seen anybody dance; and ice-cream and cake, with something like plaster all over it, and oranges and grapes, and, oh, everything! Dick St. Claire told me; he knows; his mother has had parties, and she's going to-night, and her gown is crimson velvet, with black and white fur in it like our cat, only they don't call it that; and—oh, I forgot—they have had a telegraph, and I took it to Mrs. Tracy, who looked mad and almost cried when she read it, Mr. Arthur Tracy is coming home to-night.'
Harold had talked so fast that his grandmother could hardly follow him, but she understood what he said last, and started as if he had struck her a blow.
'Arthur Tracy! Coming home to-night!' she exclaimed. 'Oh, I am so glad, so glad.'
'But Mrs. Tracy did not seem to be, and I guess she wanted to stop the party,' Harold said, repeating as nearly as he could what had passed between him and the lady.
Harold was full of the party to which he believed he had been invited, and when in the afternoon Dick St. Claire came to the cottage to play with him, he felt a kind of patronizing pity for his friend who was not to share his honor.
'Perhaps mother will let me come over and help you,' Dick said, 'I know how they do it. You mustn't talk to the people as they come up the stairs, nor even say good-evening, only;
'"Ladies will please walk this way, and gentlemen that!"
And Dick went through with a pantomime performance for the benefit of Harold, who, when the drill was over, felt himself competent to receive the Queen's guests at the head of the great staircase in Windsor Castle.
'Yes, I know,' he said, '"Ladies this way, and gentlemen that;" but when am I to go down and see the dancing and get some ice-cream?'
On this point Dick was doubtful. He did not believe, he said, that waiters ever went down to see the dancing, or to get ice cream, until the party was over, and then they ate it in the kitchen, if there was any left.
This was not a cheerful outlook for Harold, whose thoughts were more intent upon cream and dancing than upon showing the people where to go, and it was also the second time the word waiter had been used in connection with what he was expected to do. But Harold was too young to understand that he was not of the party itself. Later on it would come to him fast enough, that he was only a part of the machinery which moved the social engine. Now, he felt like the engine itself, and long before six o'clock he was dressed, and waiting anxiously for his grandmother's permission to start.'
'I'll tell you all about it,' he said to her. 'What they do, and what they say, and what they wear, and if I can, I'll speak to Mr. Arthur Tracy and thank him for mother's grave-stone.'
By seven o'clock he was on his way to the park, walking rapidly, and occasionally saying aloud with a gesture of his hand to the right and the left, and a bow almost to the ground.
'Ladies this way,' and 'gentlemen that.'
When he reached the house the gas-jets had just been turned up, and every window was ablaze with light from the attic to the basement.
'My eye! ain't it swell!' Harold said to himself, as he stood a moment, looking at the brilliantly lighted rooms. 'Don't I wish I was rich and could burn all that gas, and maybe I shall be. Grandma says Mr. Arthur Tracy was once a poor boy like me; only he had an uncle and I haven't. I've got do earn my money, and I mean to, and sometimes, maybe, I'll have a house us big as this, and just such a party, with a boy up stairs to tell 'em where to go. I wonder now if I'm expected to go into the kitchen door. Of course not, I've got on my Sunday clothes, and am invited to the party. I shall ring,'
And he did ring—a sharp, loud ring, which made Mrs. Tracy, who had not yet left her room, start nervously as she wondered who had come so early.
'Old Peterkin, of course. Those whom you care for least always come first.'
Peering over the banister Tom Tracy saw Harold when the door was opened, and screaming to his mother at the top of his voice, 'It ain't old Peterkin, mother; it's Hall Hastings, come to the front door,' he ran down the stairs, and confronting the intruder just as he was crossing the threshold, exclaimed:
'Go 'long; go back. You hain't no business ringin' the bell as if you was a gentleman. Go to the kitchen door with the other servants!'
With a thrust of the hand he pushed Harold back and was about to shut the door upon him when, with a quick, dextrous movement, Harold darted past him into the hall, saying, as he did so:
'Darn you, Tom Tracy, I won't go to the back kitchen door, and I'm not a servant, and if you call me so again I'll lick you!'
How the matter would have ended is doubtful, if Mrs. Tracy had not called from the head of the stairs:
'Thomas! Thomas Tracy! I am ashamed of you! Come to me this minute! And you, boy, go to the kitchen; or, no—now you are here, come up stairs, and I'll tell you what you are to do.'
Her directions were much like those of Dick St. Claire, except that she laid more stress upon the fact that he was not to speak to any one familiarly, but was to be in all respects a machine. Just what she meant by that Harold did not know; but he hung his cap on a bracket, and taking his place where she told him to stand, watched her admiringly as she went down the staircase, with her peach-blow satin trailing behind her, and followed, by her husband, who looked and felt anxious and ill at ease.
Tom had disappeared, but his younger brother, Jack, who was wholly unlike him, came to Harold's side, and began telling him what quantities of good things there were in the dining-room and pantry, and that his Uncle Arthur was coming home that night, and his mother was so glad, she cried; then, with a spring he mounted upon the banister of the long staircase and slipped swiftly to the bottom. Ascending the stairs almost as quickly as he had gone down, he bade Harold try it with him.
'It's such fun! and mother won't care. I've done it forty times,' he said, as Harold demurred; and then, as the temptation became too strong to be resisted, two boys instead of one rode down the banister and landed in the lower hall, and two pairs of little legs ran nimbly up the stairs just as the door opened and admitted the first arrival.
The invitations had been for half-past seven, and precisely at that hour Peterkin arrived, magnificent in his swallow-tail and white shirt front, where an enormous diamond shone conspicuously. With him came the second Mrs. Peterkin, whose name was Mary Jane, but whom her husband always called May Jane. She was a frail, pale faced little woman, and had once been Grace Atherton's maid, but had married Peterkin for his money. This was her first appearance at a grand party, and in her excitement and timidity she did not hear Harold's thrice repeated words, 'Ladies go that way,' but followed her husband into the gentlemen's dressing-room, where she deposited her wraps, and then, shaking in every limb, descended to the drawing-room, where Peterkin's boisterous laugh was soon heard, as he slapped his host on the shoulder, and said:
'You see, we are here on time, though May Jane said it was too early. But I s'posed half-past seven meant half-past seven and then I wanted a little time to talk up the ropes with you. We are going to run you in, you bet!' and again his coarse laugh thrilled every nerve in Mrs. Tracy's body, and she longed for fresh arrivals to help quiet this vulgar man.
Soon they began to come by twos, and threes, and sixes, and Harold was kept busy with his 'Ladies this way, and gentlemen that.'
After Mrs. Peterkin had gone down stairs, leaving her wraps in the gentlemen's rooms, Harold, who knew they did not belong there, had carried them to the ladies' room and deposited them upon the bed, just as the girl who was to be in attendance appeared at her post, asked him sharply why he was in there rummaging the ladies' things.
'I'm not rummaging. They are Mrs. Peterkin's. She left them in the other room, and I brought them here,' Harold said, as he returned to the hall, never dreaming that this little circumstance, trivial as it seemed, would be one of the links in the chain of evidence which must for a time overshadow him so darkly.
Now, he was eager and excited, and interested in watching the people as they came up the stairs and went down again. With the quick instinct of a bright, intelligent boy, he decided who was accustomed to society and who was not, and leaning over the banister when not on duty, watched them when they entered the drawing-room and were received by Mr. and Mrs. Tracy. Unconsciously he began to imitate them, bowing when they bowed, and saying softly to himself:
'Oh, how do you do? Good evening. Happy to see you. Pleasant to-night. Walk in. Ye-as!'
This was the monosyllable with which he finished every sentence, and was the affirmation to the thought in his mind that he, too, would some day go down those stairs and into those parlors as a guest, while some other boy in the upper hall bade the ladies go this way and the gentlemen that.
It was after nine when Mr. and Mrs. St. Claire arrived, with Squire Harrington, from Collingwood. Harold had been looking for them, anxious to see the crimson satin trimmed with ermine, of which Dick had told him. Many of the guests he had mentally criticised unsparingly, but Mrs. St. Claire, he knew, was genuine, and his face beamed, when in passing him, she smiled upon him with her sweet, gracious manner, and said, pleasantly:
'Good evening, Harold. I knew you were to be here. Dick told me, and he wanted to come and assist you, but I thought he'd better stay home with Nina.'
Up to this time no one had spoken to Harold, and he had spoken to no one except to tell them where to go, but had, as far as possible, followed Mrs. Tracy's injunction to be a machine. But the machine was getting a little tired. It was hard work to stand for two hours or more, and Mrs. Tracy had impressed it upon him that he was not to sit down. But when Mrs. St. Claire came from the dressing-room and stood before him a moment in her crimson satin and pearls, he forgot his weariness and forgot that he was not to talk, and said to her, involuntarily:
'Oh, Mrs. St. Claire, how handsome you look! Handsomer than anybody yet, and different, too, somehow.'
Edith knew the compliment was genuine, and she replied:
'Thank you, Harold,' then, laying her hand on the boy's head and parting his soft, brown hair, she said, as she noticed a look of fatigue in his eyes, 'are you not tired, standing so long? Why don't you bring a chair from one of the rooms and sit when you can?'
'She told me to stand,' Harold replied, nodding toward the parlors, from which a strain of music then issued.
The dancing had commenced, and Harold's feet and hands beat time to the lively strains of the piano and violin, until he could contain himself no longer. The dancing he must see at all hazards and know what it was like, and when the last guests came up the stairs there was no hall boy there to tell them, 'Ladies this way, gentlemen that,' for Harold was in the thickest of the crowd, standing on a chair so as to look over the heads of those in front of him and see the dancers. But, alas, for poor Harold! He was soon discovered by Mrs. Tracy, who, asking him if he did not know his place better than that, ordered him back to his post, where he was told to stay until the party was over.
Wholly unconscious of the nature of his offence, but very sorry that he had offended, Harold went up the stairs, wondering why he could not see the dancing, and how long the party would last. His head was beginning to ache with the glare and gas; his little legs were tired, and he was growing sleepy. Surely he might sit down now, particularly as Mrs. St. Claire had suggested it, and bringing himself a chair from one of the rooms he sat down in a corner of the hall and was soon in a sound sleep, from which, however, he was roused by the sound of Mr. Tracy's voice, as he came up the stairs, followed by a tall, distinguished-looking man, who wore a Spanish cloak wrapped gracefully around him, and a large, broad-brimmed hat drawn down so closely, as to hide his features from view.
As he reached the upper landing he raised his head, and Harold, who was now wide awake and standing up, caught a glimpse of a thin, pale face and a pair of keen, black eyes, which seemed for an instant to take everything in; than the head was dropped, and the two men disappeared in a room at the far end of the hall.
'I'll bet that's Mr. Arthur. How grand he is! looks just like a pirate in that cloak and hat,' was Harold's mental comment.
Before he had time for further thought, Frank Tracy came from the room and hurried down the stairs to rejoin his guests.