To all this Tom listened, with great drops of cold sweat running down his back as he thought of the ridicule he should incur if Peterkin should carry out his intentions to 'take the rag off the bush,' as he expressed it. The trip to Europe pleased him, but the party filled him with a horror from which he saw no escape, until he consulted his mother, to whom he at once announced his engagement, but did not tell her of the check on a Springfield bank for $2,000 which Peterkin had slipped into his hand at parting with him, saying, when he protested against taking it:
'Don't be a fool, Thomas. I'm to be your dad, so take it; you'll need it. I know your circ.u.mstances; they ain't what they was, and I don't s'pose you've got enough to buy the engagement ring, I want a big one. A solitary--no cl.u.s.ter for me. I know what 'tis to be poor. Take it, Thomas.'
So Tom took it with a sense of shame which prompted him several times to tear it in shreds and throw them to the winds. But this he did not do, for he knew he should need money, as he had none of his own; and when, a few days before, he had asked Colvin for some, that worthy man, who had never taken kindly to him, had bidden him go to a very warm place for money, as he had no orders to give him any.
'Your uncle,' he said, 'settled one hundred thousand dollars on your father--the more fool he--and expects him to live on it. So my advice to you is that you go to work.'
Now, Tom couldn't work, and after a little Peterkin's gift did not seem so very humiliating to him, although he could not bring himself to tell his mother of it when he announced his engagement to her, which he did bluntly and with nothing apologetic in his manner or speech.
'I am going to marry Ann Eliza Peterkin some time during the holidays, and start at once for Europe,' he said, and then brought some water and dashed it in her face, for she immediately went into hysterics and declared herself dying.
When she grew calm, Tom swore a little, and talked a good deal, and told her about the million, which he said was not to be sneezed at, and told her what Colvin had said to him, and asked what the old Harry he was to do if he didn't marry Ann Eliza, and told her of the proposed party, asking her to save him from it if she could.
When she found she could not help herself, Dolly rose to the situation, and said she would see her daughter-in-law elect, whom Tom was to bring to her, as she could not think of calling at Le Bateau in her present state of affliction. So Ann Eliza came over in the coat-of-arms carriage, and her mother came with her. But her Dolly declined to see.
She could not endure everything, she said to Tom, and was only equal to Ann Eliza, whom she met with a bow and the tips of her fingers, without rising from her chair. Still, as the representative of a million, Ann Eliza was ent.i.tled to some consideration, and Dolly motioned her to a seat beside her, and, with her black-bordered handkerchief to her eyes, said to her:
'Tom tells me you are going to marry him, and I trust you will try to make him happy. He is a most estimable young man now, and if he should develop any bad habits, I shall think it owing to some new and bad influence brought to bear upon him.'
'Yes'm,' Ann Eliza answered, timidly; and the great lady went on to talk of family, and blood, and position, as something for which money could not make amends, and to impress upon her a sense of the great honor it was to be a member of the Tracy family.
Then she spoke of the wedding party, which she trusted Ann Eliza would prevent, as nothing could be in worse taste when they were in such affliction, adding that neither herself nor Mr. Tracy could think of being present.
'Be married quietly, without any display, if you wish to please me,' she said; and with a wave of her cobweb handkerchief she signified that the conference was ended.
'Well, Annie, how did you and my lady hit it?' Tom asked, meeting Ann Eliza in the hall as she came out, flushed and hot from the interview.
'We didn't hit it at all,' Ann Eliza replied, with a sound of tears in her voice, and a gleam in her eye which Tom had never seen before. 'She just talked as if I were dirt, and that you were only marrying me for money. She don't like me and I don't like her, there!' and the indignant little girl began to cry.
Tom laughed immoderately, and, pa.s.sing his arm around her as they went down the stairs, he said:
'Of course you don't like her. Who ever did like her mother-in-law? But you are marrying me, not my mother, so don't cry, _pet.i.te_.'
Tom was making an effort to be very kind, and even lover-like to his _fiancee_, who was easily comforted, and who, on her return to Le Bateau told her father plainly that the party must be given up, as it would be sadly out of place and deeply offend the Tracys. Very unwillingly Peterkin gave it up, and sent word to that effect to Mrs.
Rossiter-Browne, who had already been apprised of the coming event and was having a wonderful gown made for the occasion.
'I find,' he wrote, 'that it wouldn't be at all _rachelshay_ to have a blow out whilst the family is in deep black; but when they git into lavender, and the young folks is home from their tower, I'll have a tearer.'
Peterkin tried two or three times to see Mrs. Tracy, but she put him off with one excuse after another, until Tom took the matter in hand and told her she was acting like a fool and putting on quite too many airs.
Then she appointed an interview, and, bracing herself with a tonic, went down to the darkened, cheerless room, and by her manner so managed to impress him with her superiority over him and his that he forgot entirely the speech he had prepared with infinite pains, and which had in it a good deal about family _bonds_, and family _units_, and _Aaron's beard_, and brotherly love. This he had rehea.r.s.ed many times to May Jane, with wonderful gestures and flourishes; 'but, I'll be b.u.mped' he said to her on his return from the Park House, 'if I didn't forget every blessed word, she was so high and mighty. Lord! as if I didn't know what she sprung from; but that's the way with them as was born to nothin'.
May Jane, if I ever catch you puttin' on airs 'cause you're a Peterkin, I b'lieve I'll kill you!'
After this, anything like familiar intercourse ceased between the heads of the two families until the morning after Christmas day, when Frank and Dolly drove over to Le Bateau, where were a.s.sembled the same people who had been present at Jerrie's wedding, and where Peterkin insisted upon darkening the rooms and lighting the gas, as something a little out of the usual order of things in Shannondale. Peterkin was very happy, and very proud of this alliance with the Tracy, and his pride and happiness shone in his face all through the ceremony; and when the clergyman asked, 'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?' his manner was something grand to see as he stepped forward and responded, 'I do, sir,' in a voice so loud and full of importance that Dolly involuntarily groaned, while Tom found it hard to refrain from laughing.
Tom behaved very well, and kissed his bride before any one else had a chance to do so, and called May Jane mother and Peterkin father, after he saw the papers which made Ann Eliza own in her own right a million dollars; and when, an hour later, she handed over to him as his own, a deed of property valued at one hundred thousand dollars, he took her in his arms and kissed her again, telling her what was very true, that she was worth her weight in gold. Tom had felt his poverty keenly, and all the more so that Ann Eliza's engagement-ring, a superb solitaire, had actually been bought with her father's gift, as had their pa.s.sage tickets to Europe. But now he was a rich man, made so by his wife's thoughtful generosity, and he was conscious of a new set of feelings and emotions with regard to her, and inwardly vowed that, so far as in him lay, he would make her happy.
They took the train for New York that afternoon, accompanied by Peterkin, who, when the ship sailed away next day, stood upon the wharf waving his hands and calling out as long as they could hear him, 'G.o.d bless you, my children! G.o.d bless you, my children!' Then he went back to Shannondale and called at Tracy Park, and reported to Frank, the only one he saw, that the youngsters had gone, and that Mrs. Thomas Tracy looked as well as the best on 'em in the ship, and a darned sight better than some!
After this the great houses of Le Bateau and Tracy Park settled down into perfect quiet, especially that of Tracy Park, where Dolly shut herself up in her mourning and c.r.a.pe, and Frank spent most of his time in Maude's room, with her photograph in his hand, and his thoughts busy with memories of the dear little girl lying in her grave of flowers under the winter snow.
AFTER TWO YEARS.
Two years since Harold and Jerrie went away, and it was October again, and the doors and windows of the Park House were all open to the warm sunshine which filled the rooms, where the servants were flitting in and out with an air of importance and pleased expectancy, for that afternoon the master was coming home, with Harold and Jerrie; and what was more wonderful and exciting still, there was in the party a little boy, born in Wiesbaden six months before, and christened Frank Tracy. They had gone directly to Germany--Arthur, Harold, and Jerrie--for the former would not stop a day until Wiesbaden was reached; and there, overcome with fatigue and the recollections of the past which crowded upon him so fast, Arthur fell sick and was confined to his room in the hotel for a week, during which time Jerrie explored the city with Harold and a guide, finding every spot connected with Gretchen and her life, even to the shop were Frau Heinrich had sold her small wares.
As soon as her father was able, she took him to them one by one. Hand in hand, for he seemed weak as a little child, they went to the bench under the trees where he had first seen Gretchen knitting in the sunshine, with the halo on her hair, and here Arthur took off his hat as if on consecrated ground, and whispered, 'May G.o.d forgive me!' then to the little shop once kept by Frau Heinrich, where Arthur astonished the woman by buying out half her stock, which he ordered sent to his hotel, and afterward gave away; then to the English church, where he knelt before the altar and seemed to be praying, though the words he said were spoken more to Gretchen than to G.o.d; then to the house where he had lived with his bride, when heaven came down so close that she could touch it, or rather, to the site of the house, for fire had done its work there and they could only stand before the ruins, while Arthur said again and again, 'May G.o.d forgive me!' then to the house where Jerrie had lived and Gretchen had died, and where the picture still hung upon the wall, a wonder and delight to all who had rented the place since Marian's parents parents lived there. Jerrie recognized it in a moment, and so did Arthur, but he could only wring his hands before it and sob, 'Oh, Gretchen, my darling, my darling!' Changed as the house was, Jerrie found the room she remembered so well, where she had played and her mother had died.
'The big stove stood here,' she said, indicating the spot, 'and mother sat there writing to you, when Nannine opened the door and let the firelight shine upon the paper. I can see it all so distinctly, and over there in the corner was the bed where she died.'
Then Arthur knelt down upon the spot, and as if the oft-repeated e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.n, 'May G.o.d forgive me!' were wholly inadequate now, he said the Lord's Prayer, with folded hands and streaming eyes, while Jerrie stood over him, with her arm around his neck.
'Oh, Gretchen,' he cried; 'do you know I am here after so many years?--Arthur, your husband, who loved you through all? Come back to me, Gretchen, and I'll be so tender and true--tender and true! My heart is breaking, Gretchen, and only for Cherry, our dear little girl baby, I should wish I were dead, like you. Oh, Gretchen! Gretchen! sweetest wife a man ever called his! and yet I forgot you, darling--forgot that you had ever lived! May heaven forgive me for I could not help it; I forgot everything. Where are you, Cherry? It's getting so dark and cold, and Gretchen is not here--I think you must take me home.
Jerrie took him back to the hotel, where he kept his room for three days, and then they went to Gretchen's grave beside her mother, which Jerrie had found after some little search and enquiry. Here Arthur stood like a statue, holding fast to Jerrie, and gazing down upon the neglected grave, on which clumps of withered gra.s.s were growing and blowing in the November wind.
'Gretchen is not here in this place,' he said mournfully, with a shake of his head. 'She couldn't rest there a moment, for she liked everything beautiful and bright, and this is like the Potter's field. But we'll put up a monument for her, and make the place attractive; and by and by, when she is tired of wandering about, she may come back and rest when she sees what we have done, and knows that we have been here. We will buy that house too, he said, as he walked away from the lonely grave; and the next day Harold found the owner of the place and commenced negotiations for the house, which soon changed hands and became the property of Arthur.
Just what he meant to do with it he did not know, until Jerrie suggested that he should make it an asylum for homeless children, who should receive the kindest and tenderest care from competent and trustworthy nurses, hired for the purpose.
'Yes, I'll do it,' Arthur said, 'and will call it "The Gretchen Home."
Maybe she will come there some time, and know what I have done.'
This idea once in his mind, Arthur never let go of it until the house was fitted up with school-rooms and dormitories, with the little white beds and chairs suggestive of the little ones rescued from want and misery and placed in the Gretchen home until it would hold no more. The general supervision of this home was placed in the hands of the English rector, the Rev. James Dennis, whose many acts of kindness and humanity among the poor had won for him the sobriquet of St. James, and with whom the interests of the children were safe as with a loving father.
'There is money enough--money enough,' said Arthur, when giving his instructions to the matron, a good-natured woman, who, he knew, would never abuse a child. 'Money enough; to give them something besides bread and water for breakfast, and mush and mola.s.ses for supper. Children like cookies and custard pie, and if there comes a circus to town let them go once in a while; it won't hurt them to see a little of the world.'
Frau Hirch looked at him in some surprise, but promised compliance with his wishes; and when in the middle of December he left Wiesbaden for Italy he had the satisfaction of knowing that the inmates of the Gretchen home were enjoying a bill of fare not common in inst.i.tutions of the kind.
Another odd fancy had entered his brain, upon which he acted with his usual promptness. Every child not known to have been baptized, was to be christened with a new name, either Gretchen, or Jerrie, or Maude or Arthur, or Harold, or Frank.
'Suppose you have Tom, and Ann Eliza, and Hilly,' Jerrie suggested, and after a little demur Arthur consented, and the names of Tom, and Ann Eliza, and Billy were added to the list, which, in the course of time, created some little confusion in the Gretchen home, where Jerries, and Maudes, and Harolds, and Arthurs abounded in great profusion, these being the favorites of the children, who in most instances were allowed to choose for themselves.
It was not difficult to find in Wiesbaden people who had remembered Gretchen and the grand marriage she had made with the rich American, who afterward abandoned her. That was the way they worded it, and they remembered too, the little girl, Jerrine, whom, after her mother's death, the nurse, Nannine, took to her father's friends, since which nothing had been heard from her. Thus, had there been in Arthur's mind any doubt as to Jerrie's ident.i.ty, it would have been swept away; but there was none. He had accepted her from the first as his daughter, and he always looked up to her as a child to its mother whom it fears to lose sight of.
The winter was mostly spent in Rome, where Harold and Jerrie explored every part of the city, while Arthur staid in his room talking to an unseen Gretchen, who afforded him almost as much satisfaction as the real one might have done. In May they visited the lakes and in June drifted to Paris, where Jerrie was overjoyed to meet Nina and d.i.c.k, who were staying with the Raymonds at a charming chateau just outside the city. Here she and Harold pa.s.sed a most enjoyable week, and before she left she was made happy by something which she saw and which told her that d.i.c.k was forgetting that night under the pines, and that some day not far in the future he would find in Marian all he had once hoped to find in her. In Paris, too, she came one day upon Ann Eliza at the Bon Marche, with silks and satins piled high around her, and two or three obsequious clerks in attendance, for La Pet.i.te Americaine, who bought so lavishly everything she saw and fancied, was well known to the tradespeople, who eagerly sought her patronage and that of my lord monsieur, who inspired them greatly with his air of importance and dignity. Tom was enjoying himself immensely, and was really a good deal improved and a good deal in love with his little wife, whom he always addressed as Pet.i.te or Madame, and who was quite a belle and a general favorite in the American colony. Following a fashion, which Tom was sure had been made for his benefit, she had cut off her obnoxious red hair and subst.i.tuted in its place a wig of reddish brown, which for naturalness and beauty was a marvel of art and skill, and became her so well that Tom really thought her handsome, or at least very stylish and stunning, which was better than mere beauty. They had a suite of rooms at the Continental, and there Harold and Jerrie dined with them in their private parlor, for Tom was quite too fine a gentleman to go to _table d'hote_ with the common herd. Ann Eliza's grand maid, Doris, was with her still, and had come to look upon her young mistress as quite as great a personage as the Lady Augusta Hardy, whom she had ceased to quote, and who, with her mother, Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, was now in the city, attended, it was said, by a Polish count, who had an eye upon her money. Once, when they were alone, Jerrie asked Tom when he was going home, and, with a comical twinkle in his eye, he replied, 'When I hear that my respected father-in-law has gone off with apoplexy, and not before.' Jerrie thought this a shocking speech, but she was glad to see him so happy, and, as she told Harold, 'so much more of a man than she had ever supposed he could be.'
That summer Harold and Jerrie spent in Switzerland, with the Raymonds and St. Claires and Tracys, while Arthur went to Wiesbaden to see to the Gretchen Home, which he found so much to his taste that he remained there until Harold and Jerrie, after a trip through Austria and Germany, joined him in November, when they went again for the winter to Italy, coming back in the spring to Wiesbaden, and because Arthur would have it so, taking up their abode for a while in the Gretchen Home, which had been greatly enlarged and improved, and now held thirty deserted and homeless children. Here, in April, Jerrie's little boy was born, in the same room and corner where Gretchen had died, and where Arthur again went down upon his knees and said the Lord's Prayer, to which he added a fervent thanksgiving for Jerrie spared and a baby given to him.
'I hoped it would be a girl,' he said, 'for then we should have called it Gretchen; but as it is a boy, suppose we name it Heinrich?'
'No, father,' Jerrie said decidedly, 'Baby is not to be Heinrich, or Arthur, or Harold, although I think the last the dearest name in the world,' and she put up her hand caressingly to the brown beard of the tall young man bending over to kiss her pale face and look at his son.
'We will call the baby Frank Tracy.'
And so Frank Tracy was the name given to the child, who was more like its father than its mother, and whom Arthur called Tracy, which he liked better, he said, than he did Frank.
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