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 blacks were outside the house, and the whites inside, when Jake drove his shay to the door, and the Rev. Mr. Mason alighted, wiping the sweat from his face and looking around with a good deal of curiosity. A mulatto boy came forward to take charge of the mule, and Jake ushered the minister into the room where the coffin stood, and where were the four men he had asked to be bearers.

"I s'pose I'd or'ter of had six," he said in a whisper; "but she's so light, four can tote her easy, an' they's all very 'spectable. No low-downs. I means everything shall be fust-class."

Wrapped in shawls, with her head nodding up and down, old Mrs. Harris sat, more deaf and more like a dried mummy than she had been on the occasion of the stranger's visit. Jake had bought her an ear trumpet, but she seldom used it, unless compelled by Mandy Ann, who now sat near her with the little girl who, at sight of Jake, started to meet him. But, Mandy Ann held her back and whispered, "Can't you done 'have yerself at yer mammy's funeral an' we the only mourners?"

The child only understood that she was to keep quiet, and sat down in her little chair, while Jake motioned to Mr. Mason that he was to see Miss Dory. | | 59 During her illness her hair had fallen out so fast that it had been cut off, and now lay in soft rings around her forehead, giving her more the look of a child than of a girl of twenty, as the plate on her coffin indicated. "Eudora, aged twenty," was all there was on it, and glancing at it Mr. Mason wondered there was no other name. Jake saw the look and whispered. "I wan't gwine to lie an' put on 'Eudora Harris,' for she ain't Eudora Harris, an' I didn't know t'other name for shoo. Ain't she lovely!"

"She is, indeed," Mr. Mason said, feeling the moisture in his eyes, as he looked at the young, innocent face on which there was no trace of guilt.

He was sure of that without Jake's repeated assertion, "Fo' God, it's all right, for she tole me so. Mostly, she'd say nothin'. She'd promised she wouldn't, but jess fo' she died she said agen to me, 'I tole him I'd keep dark till he come for me, but it's all right. Send for Elder Covil 'crost the river. He knows.' I've tole you this afore, I reckon, but my mind is so full I git rattled."

By this time the bent figure sitting in the rocking-chair, near the coffin began to show signs of life and whimper a little.

"'Scuse me," Jake said, pulling a shawl more squarely around her shoulders and straightening her up. "Mas'r Mason, this is ole Miss Lucy. Miss Lucy, this is Mas'r Mason, come to 'tend Miss Dory's funeral. Peart up a little, can't you, and speak to him."

There didn't seem to be much "peart up" in the woman, who began at once to cry. Instantly Mandy Ann started up and wiped her face, and settled her | | 60 cap, and taking the trumpet screamed into it that she was to behave herself and speak to the gemman.

"Dory's dead," she moaned, and subsided into her shawl and cap, with a faint kind of cry.

"Dory's dead," was repeated, in a voice very different from that of the old woman--a child's clear, sweet voice--and turning, Mr. Mason saw a little dark-haired, dark-eyed girl standing by Mandy Ann.

Mr. Mason was fond of children, and stooping down he kissed the child, who drew back and hid behind Jake.

"Me 'fraid," she said, covering her face with her hands, and looking with her bright eyes through her fingers at the stranger.

Something in her eyes attracted and fascinated, and at the same time troubled Mr. Mason, he scarcely knew why. The old grandmother was certainly demented. The landlord had said Eudora and the whole family were queer. Was the child going to be queer, too, and did she show it in her eyes? They were very large and beautiful, and the long, curling lashes, when she closed them, fell on her cheeks like those of her dead mother, whom she resembled. She seemed out of place in her surroundings, but he could not talk to her then. The people in the next room were beginning to get restless, and to talk in low tones of their crops and the weather, and the big alligator caught near the hotel. It was time to begin, and taking the little girl in his arms, Jake motioned to Mr. Mason. In the door between the two rooms was a stand covered with a clean white towel. On it was a Bible, a hymn-book, a cup of water, and two or three flowers in another cup. Mr. Mason did not need the Bible. Jake had asked for the Resurrection | | 61 and the Life, and he had brought his prayer-book, and began the beautiful burial service of the Church, to which the people listened attentively for a while; then they began to get tired, and by the time the long reading was through there were unmistakable signs of discontent among 'them. They had expected something more than reading a chapter. They wanted remarks, with laudations of the deceased. Miss Dory was worthy of them, and because there were none they fancied the minister did not believe it was all right with her, and they resented it. Even old Miss Thomas had "gin in," and thar was the weddin' ring, an' no sermon,--no remarks, and they didn't like it. Another grievance was that no hymn was given out, and there was the hymn-book at hand. They had at least expected "Hark from the tombs," if nothing else, but there was nothing. Singing constituted a large part of their religious worship, and they did not mean to have Miss Dory buried without this attention.

As Mr. Mason finished the services and sat down, he was startled with an outburst of "Shall we meet beyond the river." Everybody joined in the song, negroes and all, their rich, full voices dominating the others, and making Mr. Mason thrill in every nerve as the quaint music filled the house, and went echoing out upon the summer air. When the "Beautiful River" was finished some one outside the door took up the refrain:

"Oh, that will be joyful, joyful, joyful;
Oh, that will be joyful,
When we meet to part no more."
| | 62

This appealed to the blacks, who entered into the singing heart and soul, some of the older ones keeping time with a swinging motion of their bodies, and one old lady in her enthusiasm bringing down her fist upon the doorstep, on which she was sitting, and shouting in a way which warned Jake of danger. He knew the signs, and putting down the little girl, who had fallen asleep in his lap, he went to the old negress, who was beginning to get under full headway, and holding her uplifted arm, said to her:

"Hush, Aunt Judy, hush; this ain't no place to have the pow'. This ain't a pra'r meetin'; tis a 'Piscopal funeral, this is, such as they have in Virginny."

What Judy might have said is uncertain, for there came a diversion in the scene. The child had followed Jake to the door, where she stood wide-eyed and attentive, and when the last words of the hymn ended, she sang in a clear, shrill voice, "Be joyful when we meet to part no more." Her voice was singularly sweet and full, and Mr. Mason said to himself, "She'll be a singer some day, if she is not crazy first." Nothing now could keep old Judy from one more burst, and her "Yes, thank de Lawd, we'll meet to part no mo'," rang out like a clarion, and the religious services were over.

There still remained what was the most interesting part to the audience--taking leave of the corpse--and for a few minutes the sobs, and cries, and ejaculations were bewildering to Mr. Mason, who had never had an experience of this kind. Jake quieted the tumult as soon as possible, reminding the people again that this was a first-class 'Piscopal funeral, such as the quality had in Virginny. The old grandmother was led to the coffin by Mandy Ann, who shook her up | | 63 and told her to look at Miss Dory, but not cry much, if she could help it. She didn't cry at all, but nearly every one did in the adjoining room, where they said to each other, "Ole Miss is takin' leave and don't sense it an atom." The little girl was held up by Jake, who made her kiss her mother.

"Mamma's s'eep," the child said, as she kissed the pale lips which would never smile on her again.

There was a fresh outburst of sobs and tears from the spectators, and then the coffin was closed, and the procession took its way across the hot sands to the little enclosure in the clearing, where other members of the Harris family were buried. Remembering the impatience of the people in the house, Mr. Mason wished to shorten the service at the grave, but Jake said: "No. We'll have the whole figger for Miss Dory." Mr. Mason went the whole figure with uncovered head under the broiling sun, and when he was through he felt as if his brains were baked. The Crackers did not seem to mind the heat at all. They were accustomed to it, and after their return from the grave, stayed round until the white mule and sail-topped shay were brought up for Mr. Mason's return to the hotel.

As Jake was very busy, a young negro boy was sent in his place. Naturally loquacious, he kept up a constant stream of talk, but as he stammered frightfully the most Mr. Mason could understand was that Miss Dory was a dandy, ole Miss 'onery, whatever that might mean, and Jake a big head, who thought he knew everything because he was free and could read.

The next day was Sunday, and Mr. Mason took for the subject of his remarks in the parlor of the hotel the story of Lazarus and Dives, and every time he | | 64 spoke of Dives receiving his good things in life, he thought of the man whom the landlord had designated a "Northern cuss"; and every time he spoke of Lazarus, he thought of poor little Dory and that humble grave in the sands of the palmetto clearing.

It was covered before night with young dwarf palmettoes, which Mandy Ann laid upon it with a thought that they would keep her young mistress cool. All through the day she had restrained her feelings, because Jake told her that was the way to do.

"Seems ef I should bust," she said to herself more than once, and when at last the day was over, and both ole Miss and the little girl were asleep, she stole out to the newly made grave, and lying down upon it among the palmettoes she cried bitterly, "Oh, Miss Dory, Miss Dory, kin you har me? It's Mandy Ann, an' I'm so sorry you're dead, an' sorry I was so bad sometimes. I have tried to be better lately, sense I got growed. Now, hain't I, an' I hain't tole many lies, nor tached a thing sense I took that bill from him. Cuss him, wharever he is! Cuss him to-night, ef he's alive; an' ef his bed is soff' as wool, doan let him sleep for thinkin' of Miss Dory. Doan let him ever know peace of min' till he owns the 'ittle girl; though, dear Lawd, what should we do without her--me an' Jake?"

Mandy Ann was on her knees now, with her hands uplifted, as she prayed for cusses on the man who had wrought such harm to her mistress. When the prayer was finished she fell on her face again and sobbed, "Miss Dory, Miss Dory, I must go in now an' see to 'ittle chile, but I hates to leave you hyar alone in de san'. Does you know you's got on my ring? I gin it to you, an' ole granny Thomas 'gin in' when she | | 65 seed it, an' said you mus' be good. I'se mighty glad I gin it to you. 'Twas all I had to give, an' it will tell 'em whar you've gone that you was good."

There was a dampness in the air that night, and Mandy Ann felt it as she rose from the grave, and brushed bits of palmetto from her dress and hair. But she did not mind it, and as she walked to the house she felt greatly comforted with the thought that she had cussed him, and that Miss Dory was wearing her ring as a sign that she was good, and that "ole granny Thomas had gin in."

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