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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That day was one of the hottest of the season, and the sun was beating down upon the piazza of the Brock House where the Rev. Charles Mason sat fanning himself with a huge palm leaf, and trying to put together in his mind some points for the sermon he was to preach the next Sunday in the parlor of the hotel to the few guests who came there occasionally during the summer. But it was of no use. With the thermometer at ninety degrees in the shade, and not a breath of air moving, except that made by his fan, points did not come readily, and all he could think of was Dives' thirsting for a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus to cool his parched tongue. "If it was hotter there than it is here I am sorry for him," he thought, wiping his wet face and looking off across the broad lake in the direction of Sanford, from which a rowboat was coming very rapidly, the oarsman bending to his work with a will, which soon brought him to the landing place, near the hotel. Securing his boat, he came up the walk and approaching Mr. Mason accosted him with, "How d'ye, Mas'r Mason. I knows you by sight, and I'se right glad to find you hyar. You see, I'se that tuckered out I'm fit to drap."

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The perspiration was standing in great drops on his face as he sank panting upon a step of the piazza.

"'Scuse me," he said, "but 'pears like I can't stan' another minit, what with bein' up all night with Miss Dory, an' gwine 'crost the lake twiste for nothin', 'case I didn't find him."

By this time Mr. Mason had recognized the negro as one he had seen occasionally around the hotel selling vegetables and eggs, and who he had heard the people say was worth his weight in gold.

"How d'ye, Jake," he said, pleasantly. "I didn't know you at first. Why have you been across the lake twice this morning?"

Jake's face clouded as he drew his big black hand across his eyes.

"Miss Dory done died at sun up," he replied. "You know Miss Dory, in course."

Mr. Mason was obliged to confess his ignorance with regard to Miss Dory, and asked who she was.

Jake looked disgusted. Not to know Miss Dory was something inexcusable.

"Why, she's Miss Dory," he said, "an' ole Miss is her granny. We live up in the palmetto clearing, back in de woods, an' I take keer of 'em."

"You mean you belong to Miss Dora's grandmother?" Mr. Mason asked, while Jake looked more disgusted than ever.

Not to know Miss Dory was bad enough, but not to know who he was was much worse.

"Lor' bless your soul, Mas'r Mason, I don't belong to nobody but myself. I'se done bawn free, I was. But father belonged to ole Miss Lucy, an' when my mother died she took keer of me, an' I've lived with her ever sense, all but two or three times I hired out | | 50 to some swells in Virginny, whar I seen high life. They's mighty kine to me, dem folks was, an' let me learn to read an' write, an' do some figgerin'. I'se most as good a scholar as Miss Dory, an' I tole her some de big words, an' what the quality in Virginny does, when she was tryin' so hard to learn to be a lady. She's dead now, the lam', an' my cuss be on him as killed her."

"Killed! Didn't she die a natural death?" Mr. Mason asked.

"No, sar. She jest pined an' pined for him, an' got de shakes bad, an' died this mornin'," Jake replied, "an' ole Miss done gone clar out of her head. She never was over-bright, an' 'pears like she don't know nothin' now. 'I leave it to you to do,' she said, an I'm doin' on't the best I kin. I seen her laid out decent in her best gownd--that's Miss Dory--an' sent to Palatka for a coffin--a good one, too--an' have been across the lake for Elder Covil to 'tend the burial, 'case she done said, 'Send for him; he knows.' But he ain't thar, an' I'se come for you. It'll be day after to-morrer at one o'clock."

Mr. Mason felt the water rolling down his back in streams as he thought of a hot drive through the Florida sand and woods, but he could not say no, Jake's honest face was so anxious and pleading.

"Yes, I'll come, but how?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll be hyar wid de mule an' de shay. Noon, sharp," Jake replied. "Thankee, Mas'r Mason, thankee. We couldn't bury Miss Dory without a word of pra'r. I kin say de Lawd's, but I want somethin' about de resurrection an' de life what I hearn in Virginny. An' now I mus' go 'long home. Ole Miss'll be wantin' me an' de chile."

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"What child?" Mr. Mason asked, in some surprise.

Jake's face was a study as he hesitated a minute, winking to keep his tears back before he said, "Sartin', thar's a chile. Why shouldn't thar be, but fo' God it's all right. Miss Dory said so, an' Elder Covil knows, only he's done gone Norf or somewhar. It's all right, an' you'll know 'tis the minit you see Miss Dory's face--innocent as a baby's. Good day to you."

He doffed his hat with a kind of grace one would hardly have expected, and walked rapidly away, leaving the Rev. Mr. Mason to think over what he had heard, and wonder that he didn't ask the name of the family he was to visit. "Miss Dory, ole Miss, and Jake," were all he had to guide him, but the last name was sufficient.

"Oh, yes," the landlord said, when questioned. "It's old Mrs. Harris and her grand-daughter out in the palmetto clearing; they're Crackers. The old woman is half demented, the whole family was queer, and the girl the queerest of all--won't talk and keeps her mouth shut as to her marriage, if there was one."

"Who was the man?" Mr. Mason asked, and the landlord replied, "Some Northern cuss she met in Georgia where she was staying a spell with her kin. A high blood, they say. Attracted by her pretty face, I suppose, and then got tired of her, or was too proud to own up. I wasn't landlord then, but I've heard about it. I think he was here once three or four years ago. He came on the 'Hatty' and staid on her--the house was so full. Didn't register, nor anything--nor tell his name to a livin' soul. One or two ast him square, I b'lieve, but he either pretended not to hear 'em, or got out of it somehow. Acted prouder than Lucifer. Walked along the shore and in the woods, | | 52 and went to the clearin'--some said to buy that limb of a Mandy Ann, but more to see Miss Dory. All the time he was on the boat he was so stiff and starched that nobody wanted to tackle him, and that girl--I mean Miss Dory--has kept a close mouth about him, and when her baby was born, and some of the old cats talked she only said, 'It is all right, I'm a good girl,' and I b'lieve she was. But that Northern cuss needs killin'. He sends her money, they say, through some friend in Palatka, who keeps his mouth shut tight, but neither she nor Jake will use a cent of it. They are savin' it to educate the little girl and make a lady of her, if nobody claims her. A lady out of a Cracker! I'd laugh! That Jake is a dandy. He's free, but has stuck to the Harrises because his father belonged to old Mrs. Harris. He is smarter than chain lightnin', if he is a nigger, and knows more than a dozen of some white men. He drives a white mule, and has managed to put a top of sail cloth on an old ramshackle buggy, which he calls a 'shay.' You'll go to the funeral in style."

Mr. Mason made no reply. He was thinking of Dory, and beginning to feel a good deal of interest in her and her story, and anxious to see her, even if she were dead. At precisely twelve o'clock on the day appointed for the funeral Jake drove his white mule and shay to the door of the Brock House. He had on his Sunday clothes, and around his tall hat was a band of black alpaca, the nearest approach to mourning he could get, for crape was out of the question. If possible, it was hotter than on the previous day, and the sail cloth top was not much protection from the sun as they drove along the sandy road, | | 53 over bogs and stumps, palmetto roots and low bridges, and across brooks nearly dried up by the heat. The way seemed interminable to Mr. Mason, for the mule was not very swift-footed, and Jake was too fond of him to touch him with a whip. A pull at the lines, which were bits of rope, and a "Go 'long dar, you lazy ole t'ing, 'fore I takes the hide off'n you" was the most he did to urge the animal forward, and Mr. Mason was beginning to think he might get on faster by walking, when a turn in the road brought the clearing in view.

It had improved some since we first saw it, and was under what the natives called right smart cultivation for such a place. Jake had worked early and late to make it attractive for his young mistress. He had given the log-house a coat of whitewash, and planted more climbing roses than had been there when the man from the North visited it. A rude fence of twisted poles had been built around it, and standing before this fence were three or four ox-carts and a democrat wagon with two mules attached to it. The people who had come in these vehicles were waiting expectantly for Jake and the minister, and the moment they appeared in sight the white portion hurried into the house and seated themselves--some in the few chairs the room contained, some on the table, and some on the long bench Jake had improvised with a board and two boxes, and which threatened every moment to topple over. There were a number of old women with sunbonnets on their heads--two or three higher-toned ones with straw bonnets--a few younger ones with hats, while the men and boys were all in their shirt sleeves. Some of them had come | | 54 miles that hot day to pay their last respects to Miss Dory, who, in the room adjoining where they sat, lay in her coffin, clad, as Jake had said, in her best gown, the white one she had worn with so much pride the day the stranger came. She had never worn it since, but had said to Mandy Ann a few days before she died, "I should like to be buried in it, if you can smarten it up." And Mandy Ann who understood, had done her best at smartening, and when Sonsie and others said it was "yaller as saffern, an' not fittin' for a buryin'," she had washed and ironed it, roughly, it is true, but it was white and clean, and Sonsie was satisfied. Mandy Ann had tried to freshen the satin bows, but gave it up, and put in their place bunches of wild flowers she had gathered herself. With a part of the dollar given her by "the man from the Norf," she had commissioned Ted to buy her a ring in Jacksonville. It had proved too small for any finger, except her little one, and she had seldom worn it. Now, as she dressed her mistress for the last time an idea came to her; she was a well-grown girl of sixteen, and understood many things better than when she was younger. Going to Jake, she said, "Ain't thar somethin' 'bout a ring in that pra'r book you got in Richmon' an' reads on Sundays?"

"Yes, in de weddin' service," Jake replied, and Mandy continued: "Doan' it show dey's married for shoo'!"

"For shoo? Yes. I wish Miss Dory had one," Jake answered.

Mandy Ann nodded. She had learned what she wanted to know, and going to the little paper box where she kept her ring she took it up, looked at it lovingly, and tried it on. She had paid fifty cents | | 55 for it, and Ted had told her the real price was a dollar, but he had got it for less, because the jeweler was selling out. It tarnished rather easily, but she could rub it up. It was her only ornament, and she prized it as much as some ladies prize their diamonds, but she loved her young mistress more than she loved the ring, and her mistress, though dead, should have it. It needed polishing, and she rubbed it until it looked nearly as well as when Ted brought it to her from Jacksonville.

"I wish to de Lawd I knew ef dar was any partic'lar finger," she thought, as she stood by the coffin looking at the calm face of her mistress.

By good luck she selected the right finger, on which the ring slipped easily, then folding the hands one over the other, and putting in them some flowers, which, while they did not hide the ring, covered it partially, so that only a very close observer would be apt to think it was not real, she said, "If you wasn't married with a ring you shall be buried with one, an' it looks right nice on you, it do, an' I hope ole granny Thomas'll be hyar an' see it wid her snaky eyes speerin' 'round. Axed me oncet who I s'posed de baby's fader was, an' I tole her de gemman from de Norf, in course, an' den made up de lie an' tole her dey had a weddin' on de sly in Georgy--kinder runaway, an' his kin was mad an' kep' him to home 'cept oncet when he coned hyar to see her, an' I 'clar for't I doan think she b'lieve a word 'cept that he was hyar. Everybody knowd that. I reckon she will gin in when she see de ring."

Pleased with what she had done, Mandy Ann left the room just as the first instalment of people arrived, and with them old granny Thomas. In the little | | 56 community of Crackers scattered through the neighborhood there were two factions, the larger believing in Eudora, and the smaller not willing to commit themselves until their leader Mrs. Thomas had done so. On the strength of living in a frame house, owning two or three negroes and a democrat wagon, she was a power among them. What she thought some of those less favored than herself thought. When she "gave in" they would, and not before. Up to the present time there had been no signs of "giving in" on the part of the lady, whose shoulders still hunched and whose head shook when Eudora was mentioned. She should go to the funeral, in course, she said. She owed it to ole Miss Harris, and she really had a good deal of respect for the nigger Jake. So she came in her democrat wagon and straw bonnet, and because she was Mrs. Thomas, walked uninvited into the room where the coffin stood, and looked at Eudora.

"I'd forgot she was so purty. It's a good while sense I seen her," she thought, a feeling of pity rising in her heart for the young girl whose face had never looked fairer than it did now with the seal of death upon it. "And s'true's I live she's got a ring on her weddin' finger! Why didn't she never war it afore an' let it be known?" she said to herself, stooping down to inspect the ring, which to her dim old eyes seemed like the real coin. "She wouldn't lie in her coffin, an' I b'lieve she was good after all, an' I've been too hard on her," she continued, waddling to a seat outside, and communicating her change of sentiment to the woman next to her, who told it to the next, until it was pretty generally known that "ole Miss Thomas had gin in, 'case Miss Dory had on her weddin' ring."

Nearly every one else present had "gin in" long | | 57 before, and now that Mrs. Thomas had declared herself, the few doubtful ones followed her lead, and there were only kind, pitying words said of poor Dory, as they waited for the minister to come, and the services to begin.

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