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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"I 'lowed you had the best right to her because 'twas you that sent the money," he said.

The Colonel neither assented nor dissented, and Jake went on: "Thar is nobody else. Miss Dory never tole nothin'; she was silent as de grave about--him--de fader of de lill chile, I mean. 'It's all right,' she'd say. 'I tole him I wouldn't tell till he came--an' I won't--but, it's all right. Elder Covil knows--send for him.' That's just afore she died."

"And did you send for him? " the Colonel asked with some alarm, and Jake replied: "I went for him an' he wasn't thar--had moved off--an' another gemman, the Rev. Mr. Charles Mason, what I foun' at the hotel, 'tended de buryin' with his pra'r book, 'case I wanted somethin' 'bout de Resurrection an' de Life. 'Twas as fust class a funeral as we could have out hyer. She wore her white gown--the one Mandy Ann says she wore when you war hyer. You 'members it?"

The Colonel nodded, and Jake, thinking he could do nothing better than repeat all the particulars, went on: "She had a nice coffin from Palatka, an' Mandy Ann done fixed her rale nice, wid flowers in her han's, an' on her bosom, an', does you 'member givin' Mandy Ann a dollar when you's here afore? "

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Again the Colonel nodded and Jake went on: "Well, she done bought a ring wid some of it--not rale gold, you know, but looked most like it--an' what do you think Mandy Ann did, as the last thing she could do for Miss Dory?"

Jake was growing excited, and the Colonel nervous, as the negro continued: "It was too small for her, to be shue, but she thought a sight on't, but more of Miss Dory's good name."

There was a great ridge in the Colonel's forehead, between his eyes, as he repeated, "Her good name?"

"Yes, sar," Jake answered. "What could you 'spec when dar's a lill chile, and no fader for shoo, as anybody knows, but me an' Mandy Ann, an' Mas'r Hardy. Naterally they'd talk. But I 'shured 'em 'twas all right, an' knocked down one or two Crackers what grinned when I tole 'em, an' Mandy Ann did a power of fitin'. She's great at it--jess like a cat, an' we got 'em pretty much all under, except a few ole women, who never quite gin in till de last. Ole granny Thomas was de worst, an' de rest follered her; but she gin in when she seen de ring Mandy Ann slipped on Miss Dory's weddin' finger, an' dar wasn't a s'picion on de lam' as she lay in her coffin."

The Colonel's lips moved spasmodically, while Jake continued: "Thar was a right smart of 'em hyar, an' the minister read from de pra'r book jest as I seen 'em in Virginny 'mongst de quality, an' when de blacks set up a singin' so loud that ole Aunt Judy nighly had de pow'--dat's a kind of fit, you know, when dey gits to feelin' like kingdom come--I stopped her. I was boun' to have de funeral fust class. When ole Miss died, I let 'em have dar way, an' ole Aunt Judy had de pow' till her missus, who was hyar, shook her out on't. | | 90 That was ole Miss Thomas, who stood out agin Miss Dory till she seen de ring. She says to me, says she, 'Does you know whar de chile's fader is?' an' says I, 'S'posin' I do?' 'Then sen' for him,' says she. 'Tain't fittin' de chile to stay on hyar.' 'I'm gwine to sen',' says I, an' I did, an' you've done come. Is you gwine to take her? "

Jake's broad chest heaved as he asked this question, to which the Colonel replied, "That is what I came for."

Jake had assumed that he was the child's father, and he did not contradict him, but said, "You call her the child. Has she no name? "

"Yes, Dory; dat's what her mother called her, but to me dar's only one Dory, an' she's dead, an' 'twas handy to say de lill chile or honey. Is you gwine to take her right away?"

"Yes, when the 'Hatty' goes back," the Colonel replied, with a feeling of pity for the negro, whose face was quivering, and whose voice shook as he said, "It's best, I s'pose, but 'twill be mighty lonesome hyar, with the chile gone from de 'shady' whar she plays, an' from de cradle whar I rocks her, an' from dese arms what totes her many a time, when she goes through de clarin' in de woods. You wouldn't be wantin' me an Mandy Ann to go wid you? De chile is wonderfully 'tached to us, an' has some spells only we can manage."

The Colonel shook his head. Jake and Mandy Ann knew too much for him to take them North. The child would soon forget its surroundings. People would stop wondering after a while, and the past would be bridged over, as far as was possible. On the whole the future looked brighter than it had done for | | 91 years, and on this account the Colonel could afford to be very suave and gentle with this poor negro.

"No, Jake," he said, very kindly. "You would not be happy at the North, it is so different from the South. I cannot take you, nor Mandy Ann, but I shall reward you for all you have done for the child, and for her mother."

The last words came slowly, and there was a kind of tremor in the Colonel's voice.

"I 'specs you are right," Jake said meekly; "but it'll be mighty hard, an' what's gwine to become of Mandy Ann? Who does she 'long to, now Miss Dory an' ole Miss is both dead? I 'longs to myself, but what of Mandy Ann?"

Here was a problem the Colonel had not thought of. But his mind worked rapidly and clearly, and he soon reached a decision, but before he could speak of it the child appeared. It had taken a long time to wash and dress her, for the little hands were grimy, and the face very sticky, and a good deal of scrubbing had been necessary, with a good deal of squabbling, too--and the Colonel had heard some of the altercations--the child's voice the louder, as she protested against the soap and water used so freely. Jake had closed one of the doors to shut out the noise, saying as he did so, "She's got a heap of sperrit, but not from de Harrises, dey hadn't an atom."

It did not puzzle the Colonel at all to know where the sperrit came from, and he did not like the child the less because of it. She was in the room now, scrubbed till her face shone, and her hair, which was curly, lay in rings upon her forehead. Mandy Ann had put on her best frock, a white one, stiff with starch, and standing out like a small balloon. The | | 92 Colonel liked her better in the limp, soiled gown, as he had seen her first, but she was clean, and she came to him and put up her hand as Mandy Ann had told her to do. It was a little soft, fat, baby hand, such as the Colonel had never touched in his life, and he took it and held it a moment, while the old malarious feeling crept over him, and he could have sworn that the thermometer, which, when he left the "Hatty " had stood at seventy-five, had fallen to forty degrees. As a quietus during the washing, Mandy Ann had suggested that "mabby de gemman done brung somethin'," and remembering this the little girl at once asked, "Has you done brung me sumptin'? Mandy Ann tole me so."

The Colonel's thermometer dropped lower still at the speech, so decidedly African, and his pride rose up in rebellion, and his heart sank, as in fancy he heard this dialect in his Northern home. But he must bear it, and when, as he did not at once respond to her question, she said, "Has you done brung me sumptin'?" he was glad he had removed the little ivory book from his watch-chain. It was something, and he gave it to her, saying, "This is for you--a little book. Do you know what a book is?"

She was examining the ornament on the back of which was carved a miniature bar of music, with three or four notes. The child had seen written music in a hymn-book, which belonged to her mother, and from which she had often pretended to sing, when she played at a funeral, or prayer meeting, as she sometimes did under the shady. Jake had not spoken of this habit to the Colonel. He was waiting to take him to the graves, and the play-house near them, and he was watching the child as she examined | | 93 the carving. Lifting up her bright eyes to the Colonel, she said, "Moosich--me sing," and a burst of childish song rang through the room--part of a negro melody, and "Me wants to be an angel" alternating in a kind of melody, to which the Colonel listened in wonder.

"Me done sing dood," she said, and her eyes shone and flashed, and her bosom rose and fell, as if she were standing before an audience, sure of success and applause.

Jake did clap his hands when she finished, and said to the Colonel, "She done goes on dat way very often. She's wonderful wid her voice an' eyes. 'Specs she'll make a singer. She's a little quar--dem Harrises--"

Here he stopped suddenly, and asked, "Is you cole?" as he saw the Colonel shiver. He knew the Harrises were quar, and this dark-haired, dark-eyed child singing in a shrill, high-pitched, but very sweet voice, seemed to him uncanny, and he shrank from her as she said, "Me sing some mo'."

Jake now interfered, saying, "No, honey; we're gwine to yer mother's grave."

"Me go, too," the child answered, slipping her hand into the Colonel's and leading the way to a little enclosure where the Harrises were buried.

The Colonel felt quar with that hand holding his so tight, and the child hippy-ty-hopping by his side over the boards Jake had put down for a walk to the graveyard.

"Dis mine. Me play here," the child said, more intent upon her play-house than upon her mother's grave.

The play-house was a simple affair, which Jake | | 94 had constructed. There were two pieces of board for a floor, and a small bench for a table, on which were bits of broken cups and saucers, the slice of bread and molasses the child had left when she went to see the stranger, a rag doll, fashioned from a cob, with a cloth head stuffed with bran, and a book, soiled and worn as from frequent usage. The child made the Colonel look at the doll which she called Judy, "after ole mammy Judy, who came nigh havin' de pow' at de funeral, an' who done made it for her," Jake explained. The book--a child's reader--was next taken up, the little girl saying, "Mamma's book--me read," and opening it she made a pretense of reading something which sounded like "Now I lay me." The Colonel, who had freed his hand from the fingers which had held it so fast, looked inquiringly at Jake, who said, "Miss Dory's book; she done read it a sight, 'case 'twas easier readin' dan dem books from Palatka; an' she could larn somethin' from it, but de long words floored her an' me, too, who tried to help her."

For a moment the Colonel seemed agitated, and taking the book from the child he said, "Can I have it?"

"No, sar!" Jake answered emphatically. "I wouldn't part wid it for de world. It's a part of Miss Dory, an' she tried so hard to read good an' be a lady. Mandy Ann lived a spell wid de quality, an' got some o' dar ways, an' I got some in Virginny, an' we tole 'em to her, an' she done tried till towards de las' she gin it up. ''Taint no use,' she said to me. 'I'm 'scouraged. I can never be a lady. Ef he comes after I'm dead, tell him I tried an' couldn't.' She meant | | 95 the Chile's fader, her husband. Ain't you her husband?"

It was a direct question, and Jake's honest eyes were looking steadily at the Colonel, whose lips were white, and opened and shut two or three times before he answered, "I am nobody's husband, and never shall be. I knew your young mistress, and was interested in her, and shall care for the child. Don't ask me any more questions."

Up to this moment Jake had felt quite softened towards the man he had once thought to kill. But now he wanted to knock him down, but restrained himself with a great effort, and answered, "I axes yer pardon, but I'se allus thought so--an'--an'--I thinks so still."

To this there was no reply, and Jake, who had sent home his shaft, which he knew was making the proud man quiver, spoke next of a monument for Miss Dory, and asked where he'd better get it.

"Where you think best," the Colonel answered. "Only get a good one, and send the bill to me."

"Yes, sar; thank'ee, Mas'r," Jake said, beginning to feel somewhat less like knocking the Colonel down." What shall I put on it?" he asked, and the Colonel replied, "What was on her coffin?"

"Jess 'Eudora, aged twenty.' I didn' know no odder name--las' name, I mean. I was shue 'twan't Harris."

"Put the same on the monument," the Colonel said; "and, Jake, keep the grave up. She was a good girl."

"Fo' de Lawd, I knows dat, an' I thank'ee, Mas'r, for sayin' dem words by de grave what mabby she done har 'em; thank'ee."

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The tears were in Jake's eyes, as he grasped the Colonel's hand and looked into the face which had relaxed from its sternness, and was quivering in every muscle. The proud man was moved, and felt that if he were alone he would have knelt in the hot sand by Eudora's grave, and asked pardon for the wrong he had done her. But Jake was there, and the child looking on with wide-open eyes, and though she did not understand what was said she knew that Jake was crying, and charged it to the stranger--"the bad man, to make Shaky cry--I hates 'oo," she said, beginning to strike at him.

"Hush! honey, hush!" Jake said, while the Colonel began to feel the need of several hot-water bags as he went back to the house where Mandy Ann, remembering the hospitable ways at Miss Perkins's when people called, had set out for him the best the house afforded, including the china plate he remembered so well.

He felt that to eat would choke him, but forced himself to take a sip of coffee and a bit of corn bread. The little girl had remained behind in her play-house, and he was glad of that. She was a restraint upon him. He wanted to talk business, and he did not know how much she would understand. When her great bright eyes were on him he felt nervous as if she were reading his thoughts, and was more himself with her away. He must talk about her and her going with him on the "Hatty," and Jake listened with a swelling heart, and Mandy Ann with her apron over her head to hide her tears. They knew it must be, and tried to suppress their feelings.

"It's like takin' my life," Jake said, "but it's for de best. Miss Dory would say so, but, Mas'r Cromp- | | 97 ton, you'll fotch her back sometime to de ole place. You'll tell her of her mudder, an' me, an' Mandy Ann. You won't let her done forget."

Nothing could be further from the Colonel's intentions than to let the child come back, and everything he could do to make her forget was to be done, but he could not say so to Jake, and with some evasive answer he hurried on to business, and spoke of the house and clearing, which now by right of inheritance belonged to the child. As he assumed her guardianship he should also assume an oversight of her property, and it was his wish that Jake should stay on the place, receiving a certain sum yearly for his services, and having all he could make besides. For anything of his own which he had spent on the clearing he was to be repaid, and all the money Eudora had put by was to be his. Jake felt like a millionaire, and expressed his thanks with choking sobs. Then, glancing at Mandy Ann, he asked as he had asked before, "An' what 'bout Mandy Ann? I 'longs to myself, but who's she 'long to, now ole Miss an' young Miss is dead ?"

"Yes, who's nigger be I? Whar am I gwine?" Mandy Ann cried, jerking her apron from her head.

"In the natural sequence of things you belong to the little girl," the Colonel replied, adding, "I might buy you--"

But he got no further. All of Mandy Ann's animosity, when Ted suggested that the man from the North had come to buy her, and she had begged her mistress to save her from such a fate, had returned, and she exclaimed vehemently, "Fo' de Lawd, not dat ar. Lemme stay hyar. You 'members Ted, de colored boy on de 'Hatty.' We's kep' company, | | 98 off an' on, a year, sometimes quarrelin', and den makin' up. I can't leave Ted."

Her soul was in her eyes, as she begged for herself and Ted, and the Colonel hastened to say, "You did not let me finish. I couldn't buy you, if I would, and if I did I'd set you free. I will see that this is done some time."

"Bress you, Mas'r, for dat ar," Mandy Ann began, but the Colonel stopped her by saying, "You are young to be keeping company."

"I'se 'most as ole as Miss Dory when lill chile was born," was the reply, which silenced the Colonel with regard to her age.

He had quite a liking for Mandy Ann, and meant to do all he could for her and Jake, and after some further conversation it was arranged that she should stay with the latter, the Colonel promising to see that her wages were paid, and saying that she could keep the money for herself. He was certainly acting generously towards the two blacks, who would have been happy but for the parting with the child, which weighed so heavily upon them. There was not much time left, for the "Hatty" sailed early the next morning, and the Colonel must be on board that night.

Great as was their grief it was nothing compared to the antagonism of the child, when she heard she was to go with the Colonel, and leave Jake and Mandy Ann behind. She would not go, she said, and fought like a little tiger when that evening the Colonel came for her, and Mandy Ann tried to dress her for the journey. Under the table, and lounge, and chairs she crawled in her efforts to hide, and finally springing into Jake's lap begged him to keep her, promising to be good and never call him nor Mandy Ann niggers | | 99 again, and nearly breaking Jake's heart with her tears and pretty coaxings. At last worn out with excitement, and feeling that the battle was against her, she sobbed, "Go wid me, Shaky, if I goes."

"I 'spects I'll hev to go part way--say to Savannah--ef you gets her off quiet. Thar's that in her will make her jump inter de river ef we pushes her too far," Jake said, and the Colonel, who was sweating like rain, and did not care for a scene on the "Hatty," finally consented for Jake to accompany them to Savannah, trusting Providence for what might follow.

Thus quieted the child made no resistance when Mandy Ann changed her soiled white dress for one more suitable for the trip, and then began to pack her few belongings. Here the Colonel stopped her. He did not know much about children's clothes, but he felt intuitively that nothing of the child's present wardrobe would ever be worn at Crompton Place. He did not say this in so many words, but Mandy Ann understood him and asked, "Ain't she to carry nothin'?"

"Nothing but what is necessary on the road," the Colonel replied, and an old satchel was filled with a night-dress, a clean apron, a pair of stockings, and Mandy Ann's tears, which fell like rain as she performed her last office for the little girl, who, now that Jaky was going, began to look forward to the trip with childish delight.

Judy was wrapped carefully in paper and put into the satchel, and then she was ready. Mandy Ann went with her to the boat, where, as it was late, scarcely any one was visible except Ted, to whom Mandy Ann intrusted her charge, bidding him 'muse her when he could, and whispering to him the good | | 100 luck which had come to her and Jake through the Colonel's generosity. Then with a terrible wrench in her heart, she took the child in her arms and said, "Doan' you forget me, honey, an' some time you'll be comin' agen. Oh, I can't bar it!" and with a wail which was scarcely like a human cry she dropped the child, and hurrying from the boat ran swiftly up the lane, and was soon out of sight. There were two or three bursts of tears for Mandy Ann, but for the most part the little girl was quiet until Savannah was reached, and she heard Jake was to leave her. Then she showed of what she was capable, and the Colonel looked on aghast, wondering what he should do when Jake was gone. She had played on the way with Judy, whose appearance had provoked a smile from some of the passengers, making the Colonel wonder if there were not something more reputable in looks than Judy, with her features of ink and the sewed-up gash in the side of her neck from which a little bran was still oozing. He didn't know much about dolls, but was sure there must be some in Savannah, and he went on a tour of inspection, and found a gold ring with a small stone in it for Mandy Ann in place of the one buried with poor Dory. This he would give to Jake to take home to the negro girl, he thought, and then continued his search for dolls, finding one which could stand up, and sit down, and was gorgeous in a satin dress, with earrings in its ears. This was more in keeping with his ideas, and he took it to the hotel, hoping he had seen the last of Judy, who, he suggested, should be thrown away. He didn't know children. The little girl was delighted with her new doll, which she handled gingerly, as if afraid to touch it, and which she called Mandy Ann. But she clung | | 101 to Judy just the same, quite to the disgust of the Colonel.

Poor Jake grew thin during the few days they spent in Savannah, and he knew he was nearing the end.

"I must buy her somfin'," he thought, and one morning when he was walking with her past a dry goods store he saw in the window a little scarlet merino cloak, lined with white satin, and looking so pretty that he stopped to look at it, while the little girl jumped up and down, exclaiming, "Oh, the buffitel cloak. Me wants it, Shaky; me wants it."

Going into the store Jake inquired the price, which was so large that his heart sank. It would take nearly all the money he had with him to buy it, but reflecting that the Colonel was paying his bills, and that on his return home he could eat two meals a day, and light ones at that, until he had saved the required sum, he bought the cloak; and, when the final parting came, wrapped it round the little girl, and carrying her to the steamer put her down, and left hurriedly, while she rolled on the floor screaming for Shaky, and bumping her head against a settee. As the boat moved off, Jake stood on the wharf watching it for a long distance, with a feeling that all the brightness of his life had vanished with the little girl, whom the harassed and half-crazed Colonel would have given much to have left with him had it been practicable.

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