Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

The Cromptons, an electronic edition

by Mrs. Mary J. Holmes [Holmes, Mary Jane, 1825-1907]

date: 1902
source publisher: P. F. Collier & Son
collection: Genre Fiction

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The Colonel had been gone nearly three weeks and no one knew where he was, or thought it strange that they didn't. It was his habit to go suddenly and return just as suddenly. Peter had his opinion, and felt curious to know if the Colonel would bring back Jake and Mandy Ann besides the child, and had many a hearty laugh by himself as he imagined the consternation of the household when this menagerie was turned in upon them. Naturally his master would let him know when to expect him, he thought, and was greatly surprised one morning when a station hack drove into the yard, and the Colonel entered the house looking years older than when he went away.

With him was a little girl, three years old or more, clinging to his hand as if in fear. Her garments were all coarse and old-fashioned, except the scarlet merino cloak. The hood was drawn over her head, and from it there looked out a pair of eyes, which, had Peter ever heard of the word, he would have said were uncanny, they were so large, and bright, and moved so rapidly from one object to another. She dropped the hood from her head. and began tugging at the ribbons of her cloak, while her lip quivered as if she were about to cry. It came at last, not like anything Peter | | 103 had ever heard, and was more like a howl than a cry, for "Shaky; me wants Shaky."

It was loud, and shrill, and penetrated to all parts of the house, bringing Sally, the cook, Jane, the chambermaid, and Sam, the coachman, all into the hall, where they stood appalled at what they saw.

"Shaky, Shaky," the child wailed on, frightened by the strange faces around her, and as he did not come she threw herself upon the floor, and began to bump her head up and down, her last resort when her paroxysms were at their height.

The Colonel had borne a good deal since leaving Savannah, and had more than once been tempted to turn back and either bring Shaky, or leave the child with him. She had cried for him till she was purple in the face, and the stewardess had struck her on her back to make her catch her breath, and then taken her in her arms, and tried to comfort her. Perhaps it was owing to her color that the child took to her so readily that the Colonel said to her, "Keep her quiet, if you can, and I do not care what I pay you."

After, that the little girl staid mostly with the stewardess, and was comparatively happy. Judy was a great comfort to her, and she kept it hugged to her bosom through the day, and slept with it at night, and when she reached the Crompton House it was in the inside pocket of her cloak. Becoming detached from the pocket as she rolled on the floor it fell at Peter's feet, making him start, it was so unlike anything he had seen in years.

"Great guns!" he exclaimed, spurning it with his foot, and sending it near the child, who snatched it up with a cry of "Judy, Judy, my Judy."

"Who is she, and where did she come from?" the | | 104 cook asked, while Jane tried to soothe the excited child.

"Her name is Eudora Harris," the Colonel said. "Her father is a sneaking scoundrel; her mother was a good woman, and my friend. She is dead, and there is no one to care for her child but myself. I have brought her home to bring up as my own. Jaky is the colored man who took care of her with Mandy Ann, a colored girl. She will cry for her by and by."

As if to prove his words true the child set up a howl for Mandy Ann; "me wants Mandy Ann," while the Colonel continued, "She is to be treated in all respects as a daughter of the house. Get her some decent clothes at once, you women who understand such things. Don't mind expense. Give her a pretty room, and I think you'd better hunt up some young person to look after her. Until the girl comes Jane must sleep in the room with her, and don't bother me unless it is necessary; I feel quite used up, and as if I had been through a thrashing-machine. I am not used to children, and this one is--well, to say the least, very extraordinary."

This was a good deal for the Colonel to say at one time to his servants, who listened in wonder, none of them knowing anything except Peter, who kept his knowledge to himself. And this was all the explanation the Colonel gave, either to his servants, or to the people outside who knew better than to question him, and who never mentioned the child in his presence. Gossip, however, was rife in the neighborhood, and many were the surmises as to the parentage of the little girl who for a time turned the Crompton House upside down, and made it a kind of bedlam when her fits were on, and she was rolling on the floor, and | | 105 bumping her head, with cries for Shaky and Mandy Ann. She was homesick, and cared nothing for the beautiful things they brought her. Against the pretty dresses she fought at first, and then submitted to them, but kept her old one in a corner of her room, and Susie, the girl hired to attend her, sometimes found her there asleep with her head upon it, and Judy held closely in her arms. They bought her a doll-house which was fitted up with everything calculated to please a child, but after inspecting it a while she turned from it with a cry for her "shady" under the palm tree in the clearing. The doll, Mandy Ann, which the Colonel had bought in Savannah, never took the place of Judy, who was her favorite, together with the scarlet cloak, which she would seldom let out of her sight. During the day she kept it round her, saying, "Me's cold," and at night she had it near her bed where she could see it the first thing in the morning.

The Colonel knew the town was full of speculation and surmises, but he did not care. Surmises which went wide of the mark were better than the real truth would have been, and that he could not tell. He had left a large part of his past in Florida, and trusted it would not follow him. He could not leave the little girl, and he meant to do his duty by her, outwardly at least. He had no love for her, and could not manufacture one. He would rather she had never been born; but inasmuch as she was born, and was very much alive, she must be cared for.

There was a private baptism in his library one Sunday afternoon, and she was christened Amy Eudora. Amy was for his mother; Eudora for no one knew whom, except Peter, who thought of the smelly letter, | | 106 and knew that Eudora was for the young mother, dead somewhere in Florida. But he held his tongue, and tried to make up to the little girl her loss of Shaky, for whom she cried for days. Then, as she grew accustomed to her surroundings, she became contented, and her merry chatter filled the house from morning till night. Every one was devoted to her, except the Colonel. He was kind, but never encouraged her advances; never kissed her, never took her in his lap, or allowed her in his library. She called him father, and he answered to the name, while she was Eudora Harris to others. He tried at first to call her Amy, but she stoutly resisted.

"Me's Dory. Shaky and Mandy Ann calls me Dory," she would say, with a stamp of her foot, refusing to answer to any name but Dory, which came at last to be Dora as she grew older.

She learned to read in the new school-house by the south gate of the park, and when she heard that the Colonel built it, she called it hers, and queened it over her companions with an imperiousness worthy of the Colonel himself. When questioned of her old home her answers were vague. There was a river somewhere, and her mother was sick, and she reckoned she had no father but Shaky.

As she grew older, she became very reticent of her past, and, if she remembered it at all, she held her tongue, like Peter. Once, when she was more than usually aggressive, claiming not only the school-house but everything in and around it, she was told by the children that she lived with niggers till she came to Crompton Place, and they guessed her mother was one, and nobody knew anything about her anyway. There was a fierce fight in which Dora | | 107 came off victorious, with a scratch or two on her face and a torn dress. That afternoon the Colonel was confronted by what seemed a little maniac, demanding to know if her mother was black, and if she had lived only with negroes until she came to Crompton.

"No, to both questions, and never let me hear another word on the subject as long as you live," was the Colonel's answer, given with a sternness before which the girl always quailed.

She was afraid of the Colonel, and kept aloof from him as much as possible, rarely seeing him except at meal times, and then saying very little to him and never dreaming how closely he watched her, attributing every pecularity, and she had many, to the Harris taint, of which he had a mortal terror. But however much or little there might have been of the Harris blood in her, the few who knew her found her charming, as she grew from childhood into a beautiful girl of eighteen, apparently forgetful of everything pertaining to her Florida home. The doll-house, with all the expensive toys bought for her, had been banished to a room in the attic, and with them finally went Judy and Mandy Ann. The red cloak she seemed to prize more than all her possessions. It was more in keeping with her surroundings than Judy, and she often wrapped it around her as she sat upon the piazza when the day was cool, and sometimes wore it on her shoulders to breakfast in the morning. Once she asked the Colonel where it came from, and he answered "Savannah," and went on reading his paper with a scowl on his forehead which warned her she was on dangerous ground. He was not fond of questions, and she did not often trouble him with them, but lived her silent life, increasing in beauty | | 108 with every year, and guarded so closely from contact with the outer world that she scarcely had an intimate acquaintance.

It was not the Colonel's wish that she should have any. Indeed, he hardly knew what he did want. He was aristocratic, and exclusive, and wished to make her so, and keep her from contact with the common herd, as he secretly designated the people around him. He knew she was beautiful, with an imperiousness of manner she took from him, and a sweet yielding graciousness she took from her mother. Sometimes a smile, or turn of her head, or kindling in her eyes, would bring the dead woman so vividly to his mind that he would rise suddenly and leave the room, as if a ghost were haunting him. On these occasions he was sterner than usual with Eudora, who chafed under the firm rein held upon her, and longed to be free.

The Colonel had it in his mind to take her to Europe, hoping to secure a desirable marriage for her. He should tell her husband, of course, who she was, knowing that money and position would atone for the Harris blood, and feeling that in this way he would be entirely freed from the page of life which did not now trouble him much. He was still Crompton of Crompton, with his head as high as ever. The Civil War had swept over the land like a whirlwind. Tom Hardy had been among the first to enlist in the Southern army, and been killed in a battle. The Colonel had heard of his death with a pang, and also with a certain feeling of relief, knowing that he was about the only one who possessed a knowledge of his folly, or his whereabouts. There was still Jake, who wrote occasionally, asking for his lill Miss and telling | | 109 of Mandy Ann, whom the war had made free, and who had married Ted, and was living in her own house outside the clearing. Everything was out of the way except Eudora, who, before he had proposed his trip to Europe, took herself from him in a most summary manner. The restraint laid upon her was becoming more than she could bear, and she rebelled against it.

"I shall elope some day--see if I don't," she said to Peter, who still remained in the family, and was her confidant in most things. "I shall say 'yes' to the first man who proposes, and leave this prison for the world, and the grand sights which Adolph says are everywhere. Here I am, cooped up with no young society, and seldom allowed to attend a picnic, or party, or concert, and I do so enjoy the latter, only I often feel as if I could do better than the professionals. Adolph says I can, and he knows."

Adolph Candida was her music teacher, who, alone of the young men in Crompton, had free access to the house. He was a fine fellow as well as teacher, and had done much to develop Dora's taste and love for music, which had strengthened with her years, until her voice was wonderful for its scope and sweetness. Naturally there sprang up between the young people an affection which ripened into love, and Candida was told by Eudora to ask her father's sanction to their marriage. That she could stoop to care for her music teacher the Colonel never dreamed, and was speechless with surprise and anger when asked by the young Italian for her hand. To show him the door was the work of a moment, and then Dora was sent for. She came at once, with a look in her eyes which | | 110 made the Colonel hesitate a little before he told her what he had done, and what he expected her to do.

"If you disobey me in the slightest, you are no longer a daughter of my house," he said, in the cold, hard tone which Dora knew so well, and had feared so much.

But the fear was over now. Something had transformed the timid girl into a woman, with a courage equal to the Colonel's. For a time she stood perfectly still, with her eyes fixed upon the angry man, listening to him until he spoke of her as the daughter of the house; then, with a gesture of her hands, which bade him stop, she exclaimed, "I did not know I was daughter of anything. For fifteen years I have lived here, and though you have been kind to me in your way, you have surrounded yourself with an air of reserve so cold and impregnable that I have never dared ask you who I am, since I was a child, and asked you about my mother. You told me then never to mention that subject again, and I never have. But do you think I have forgotten that I had a mother? I have not. I do forget some things in a strange way. They come in a moment and go, and I cannot bring them back, but the face I think was mother's is not one of them. Of my father I remember nothing. I have been told that when you brought me here you said he was a scoundrel! Are you he? Are you my father?"

The Colonel was white as a sheet, and his lips twitched nervously, as if it were hard for them to frame the word No, which came at last decidedly. Over Dora's face a look of disappointment passed, and her hands grasped the back of a chair in front of her, as if she needed support.

| | 111

"If you are not my father, who and what was my mother?" was her next question, and the Colonel replied, "She was an honest woman. Be satisfied with that."

"I never for a moment thought her dishonest," the girl exclaimed, vehemently. "I remember her as some one seen in a dream--a frail little body, with a sweet face which seldom smiled. There were other faces round us--dusky ones--negroes, weren't they?"

Her eyes compelled the Colonel to bow assent, and she continued, "I thought so, and our home was South; not a grand home like this, but a cabin, I think. Wasn't it a cabin?"

Again the Colonel bowed, and Dora went on, "There came a day when it was full of people, and somebody was in a box, and I sat in Shaky's lap. I have never forgotten him. He was all the father I knew."

The Colonel drew a long breath, and she went on: "He held me up, and bade me kiss the white face in the box. That was my mother?"

Again her eyes made the Colonel bow assent, and she continued, "After that there is a blank, with misty recollections of another box on the table, and a walk across hot sands with Shaky, and then I came here, where you have tried hard to blot all the past from my memory as if it were something of which to be ashamed. But I shall find my mother's family some day, and Shaky, if he is living, and shall know all about it. There was a girl, too--Mandy Ann. I called the doll you gave me for her. She took care of me when Shaky didn't. He is more distinct. He took you to the graves the day you came for me, and I went with you and showed you my play-house under | | 112 the palm tree--the poor little thing, but dearer to me than the best you have ever given me, because it was hedged round with love, even if it were the love of negroes. Things are coming back to me now so vividly, pressing on my brain which feels as if it would burst, and I remember the blacks, and their prayer meetings, and the songs they sang, and their hallelujahs and amens sound in my ears, and I think they always have, and helped me on and up when I have been practising difficult music. When a child at school I was often taunted and mocked for what the children called my negro brogue and talk. We had several battles in which I generally beat, although I was one against a dozen. There is a good deal of fight in me which I must have inherited from my father, who, I suppose, was a Southerner, if you are not he."

The Colonel only glared at her, and she continued, "I have been told, too, that there is a negro twang in my voice, and I am glad of it, and try to imitate the sounds which come to me from a past I so dimly remember, and which I think are echoes from some negro prar meeting. You see I have not forgotten the dialect of my early surroundings, and some day-- I tell you again, I shall find the place and the graves of my people, and know what you have kept from me so carefully."

"Better not. You'll be sorry if you do. Your mother's family were Crackers," the Colonel said. "You would not be proud of the connection, although they were respectable people."

If Dora had ever heard of Crackers she knew very little about them, and cared less. She was greatly excited, and her eyes flashed and glowed with that | | 113 light which Mr. Mason and Peter had noticed years before, and from which the Colonel turned away as from something dangerous.

"My mother was a Cracker? My father was a Mr. Harris--a Cracker, too. I am not your daughter, as I have been weak enough at times to believe, and-- yes, I will confess it--I was weak enough to be proud that I was a Crompton; but that is over now; my father and mother were Crackers. I am a Cracker, and Eudora Harris. I am eighteen, and my own mistress--amenable to the authority of no one. I am glad for that, as it makes me free to do as I please. Good evening."

She bowed and left the room, leaving him stunned that she dared defy him, and half resolved to call her back and tell her the truth. But he didn't, and it was years before he saw her again.

The next morning she was missing. She had gone with Candida--where, he took no pains to inquire. She sent him a New York paper, with a notice of her marriage, and the names of herself and husband in the list of passengers sailing on the Celtic. He put the paper in the fire with the tongs, and after that a great silence fell upon the house, and the Colonel grew more reserved than ever, and more peculiar. He forbade the servants to mention Dora's name, or tell him where she was, if they knew. They didn't know, and many years went by, and to all intents and purposes she was dead to those who had known her as a bright, beautiful girl. Jake, who wrote to inquire for her, was told that she had run away and married, and the Colonel neither knew nor cared where she was, and was not to be troubled with any more letters, which he should not answer. Jake was silenced, and there | | 114 was no link connecting the Colonel with the past, except his memory which lashed him like the stings of scorpions. His hair turned white as snow; there was a stoop between his shoulders, and his fifty-five years might have been sixty-five, he aged so fast, as time went on, and his great house became so intolerable to him that he at last hailed with delight an event which, sad as it was in some respects, brought him something of life and an interest in it.

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