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Tracy Park, 3/11

March 30, 2007

Links to parts one and two.

There’s an abandoned cottage on the grounds of Tracy Park. It’s called the Tramp House because tramps often sleep there, and when Arthur Tracy came home, Frank suggested they have it torn down. But Arthur is kind, and when he hears that tramps sleep there, he doesn’t try to get rid of them. Instead, he puts in a new door and windows so that the tramps will be more comfortable. Isn’t that cool?

The morning after the storm, Mrs. Crawford’s rheumatism is pretty bad, so she sends Harold for the doctor. On the way, he stops to take a look at the Tramp House, having seen a light there the night before. Inside, on the table that’s the only piece of furniture there, is the dead body of a woman. Ten-year-old Harold is horrified, obviously. Then he hears a noise. He goes closer and realizes that in the carpet bag next to the dead woman is a child. It’s obvious that the woman wrapped the baby in every warm piece of clothing she had in order to keep it from getting cold, and then ended up freezing to death herself.

The child is a little girl, blonde and blue-eyed and three or four years old. She doesn’t speak English — only German — but she takes an immediate liking to Harold and seems quite happy to have him take her home with him. Harold leaves her with his grandmother and runs to the Park House to tell the Tracys about the dead woman in the Tramp House.

Frank and Mr. St. Claire go investigate. The woman is dark-haired and dark-complexioned, with a large nose. Mr. St. Claire says she looks French. They look through her belongings but can find nothing to identify her. Frank feels awful, because if he had sent John to meet the train, he might have been able to help the woman. But that’s nothing next to how awful he feels when he opens the Bible in the woman’s luggage and, along with a lock of the baby’s hair and some notes in the margins, a photograph of Gretchen.

After struggling with himself for a little while, he conceals the Bible and photograph. He’s afraid of Arthur finding out that he didn’t really send John to the station, and he’s terrified of becoming poor again — he’s not worrying about himself so much, but he wants Maude to grow up rich and have pretty things. So he pretends he believes, with everyone else, that the dead woman was the child’s mother, and that he doesn’t see a resemblance between the baby and Arthur — not so much in the features as in their expressions and mannerisms. From here on, Frank is slowly consumed by guilt. He hates himself from the minute he hides what he’s found, and every time he has to do something else to protect the secret, he hates himself more.

Arthur doesn’t see the baby, although she spends a night at the Park House. He can’t stand to hear babies crying, and the buzzing in his head — which is what he calls it when “things get mixed” — is pretty bad just then.

The child’s clothes that were found in the luggage were marked “Jerrine”, and when Harold hears that he christens her “Jerry”. He and Jerry become very attached to each other, and when the inquest is over and the dead woman is buried, he tells everyone that he and his grandmother will take her in. They can’t really afford it, but Frank, who has sort of decided to take responsibility for her and make sure she always has everything she needs, tells Mrs. Crawford that he’ll give her three dollars a week as long as Jerry lives with her.

Dolly is seriously unhappy when she finds that her husband is supporting this child, but she finds him absolutely determined to continue. Several other people remark on his odd interest in Jerry, too, but he’s just doing what he can to make himself feel less guilty. And sure, it’s very bad of him to do what he does, but he’s really one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel. In spite of the fact that he talks to himself about having made a pact with the devil, and thinks of the secret as a shadow that goes everywhere with him — silly flourishes on the part of the author — he’s really convincingly troubled. And that’s better than a villainous moneylender with a mustache any day.

So. The dead woman is buried on the Tracy lot in the graveyard at Frank’s expense. Jerry goes to live with Harold and his grandmother, also at Frank’s expense. The next chapter starts up two years later, and I’ll post about that tomorrow.

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