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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 3 chapter 10 >>

Display page layout


The curiosity concerning the stranger at Enterprise had nearly died out when it was roused again to fever heat by the arrival at the clearing of a little girl, whom the young mother baptized with bitter tears, but refused to talk of the father except to say, "It was all right and people would know it was when he came, as he was sure to do."

He didn't come, and the girl's face grew sadder and whiter, and her eyes had in them always an expectant, wistful look, as if waiting for some one or something, which would lift from her the dark cloud under which she was laboring. Jake, who had returned from Richmond, suffered nearly as much as she did. His pride in his family--such as the family was--was great, and his affection for his young mistress unbounded.

"Only tell me whar he is an' I'll done fetch him, or kill him," he said, when in an agony of tears she laid her baby in his lap and said, "Another for you to care for till he comes, as I know he will."

Eudora had said to the stranger that Jake would kill him if anything happened to her, but now at the mention of killing him she shuddered and replied, "No, Jake, not that. You'll know sometime. I can't explain. I done promised more than once. The last | | 45 time was by that grave yonder, when he was sayin' good-by. It was same as an oath. I was to go to school and learn to be a lady, but baby has come, and I can't go now. It will make some differ with him perhaps, an' he'll come for baby's sake. You b'lieve me, Jake?"

"Yes, honey--same as ef 'twas de Lawd himself talkin' to me, an' I'll take keer of de little one till he comes, an' if I sees somebody winkin' or hunchin' de shoulder, I'll--I'll--"

Jake clenched his fist to show what he would do, and hugging the baby to him, continued, "Dis my 'ittle chile till its fader comes; doan' you worry. I'se strong an' kin work, an' Mandy Ann's done got to stir de stumps more'n she has."

He cast a threatening look at Mandy Ann, who had at first been appalled at the advent of the baby, and for a while kept aloof even from Ted, when the "Hatty" was in. Then she rallied and, like Jake, was ready to do battle with any one who hunched their shoulders at Miss Dory. She had two good square fights with Ted on the subject, and two or three more with some of her own class near the clearing, and as she came off victor each time it was thought wise not to provoke her, except as Ted from the safety of the "Hatty's" deck sometimes called to her, when he saw her on the shore with the baby in her arms and asked how little Boston was getting along. Mandy Ann felt that she could kill him, and every one else who spoke slightingly of her charge. She had told Jake over and over again all she could remember of the stranger's visit, and more than she could remember when she saw how eager he was for every detail. She told him of the card taken to her mistress on a | | 46 china plate, of the table with its four candles, and ole Miss's handkerchief for a napkin, and of her waiting just as she had seen it done at Miss Perkins's.

"The gemman was gran' an' tall, an' mighty fine spoken, like all dem quality from de Norf," she said, although in fact he was the first person she had ever seen from the North; but that made no difference with Mandy Ann. "He was a gemman--he had given her a dollar, and he was shoo to come back."

This she said many times to her young mistress, keeping her spirits up, helping her to hope against hope, while the seasons came and went, and letters were sometimes received or sent, first to Tom Hardy and forwarded by him either to the North or to Eudora. There was no lack of money, but this was not what the young girl wanted. Mandy Ann had said she had not much sperrit, and she certainly had not enough to claim her rights, but clung to a morbid fancy of what was her duty, bearing up bravely for a long time, trying to learn, trying to read the books recommended to her in her Northern letters, and sent for by Jake to Palatka, trying to understand what she read, and, most pitiful of all, trying to be a lady, fashioned after her own ideas, and those of Jake and Mandy Ann. Jake told her what he had seen the quality do in Richmond, while Mandy Ann boasted her superior knowledge, because of her three months with Miss Perkins's in Jacksonville, and rehearsed many times the way she had seen young ladies "come into de house, shake han's an' say how d'ye, an' hole' thar kyard cases so" (illustrating with a bit of block), "an' thar parasols so" (taking up granny's cane), "an' set on the aidge of thar char straight up, an' Miss Perkins bowin' an' smilin' an' sayin' how glad | | 47 she was to see 'em, an' den when dey's gone sayin' sometimes, 'I wonder what sent 'em hyar to-day, when it's so powerful hot, an' I wants to take my sester'--dat's her nap, you know, after dinner, what plenty ladies take--an' den you mus' sometimes speak sharp like to Jake an' to me, an' not be so soff spoken, as if we wasn't yer niggers, 'case we are, or I is, an' does a heap o' badness; an' you orto pull my har f'or it."

Confused and bewildered Eudora listened, first to Jake and then to Mandy Ann, but as she had no card case, no parasol, and no ladies called upon her, she could only try to remember the proper thing to do when the time came, if it ever did. But she lost heart at last. She was deserted. There was no need for her to try to be a lady. Her life was slipping away, but for baby there was hope, and many times in her chamber loft, when Mandy Ann thought she was taking her sester, and so far imitating "de quality," she was praying that when she was dead, as she felt she soon would be, her little child might be recognized and taken where she rightfully belonged.

And so the years went on till more than three were gone since the stranger came on the "Hatty," and one morning when she lay again at the wharf, and Mandy Ann came down for something ordered from Palatka, her eyes were swollen with crying, and when Ted began his chaff she answered, "Doan't, Teddy, doan't. I can't fought you now, nor sass you back, 'case Miss Dory is dead, an' Jake's done gone for de minister."

<< chapter 3 chapter 10 >>