- PART II
- CHAPTER I HOWARD CROMPTON TO JACK HARCOURT
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"Crompton House, June--, 18--.
HOWARD CROMPTON TO JACK HARCOURT
"I have bearded the lion in his den and found him a harmless old cove, after all, with many of his fangs extracted. You know, I am the son of his half-brother, who was many years his junior. I fancy the two never agreed very well, and when I wrote, proposing that I should visit Crompton House, I was surprised at the cordial reply, bidding me pack up my traps and come at once. I packed up and came, and, if I know myself, I shall stay. I am the only near relative he has in the world. He has a large estate to dispose of, was never married, and, of course, has no children, unless--
"There must everlastingly be an unless, or a but somewhere, and here it is--a big one in the shape of a woman--a lovely woman, too, if she is nearer forty than twenty. Don't you remember I once told you of a girl whom my uncle brought home from the South, and who ran off with her music teacher, an Italian. Well, she is here--a wreck physically and mentally in one sense; not exactly insane, but with memory so impaired that she can tell nothing of her past, or per- | | 116 haps she does not wish to. She always says, when questioned about it, 'I don't remember, and it makes my head ache to try.'
"It seems her first husband, Candida, took her abroad and gave her every advantage in music, both in Paris and Italy. When he died she married Homer Smith, an American, who was associated with him in some way. After his return to America he got up what was known as the 'Homer Troupe.' He dropped his last name, thinking the Smith Troupe would not sound as well as Homer. His wife was the drawing card. She had a wonderful voice as a girl, they say, with a peculiarly pathetic tone in it, like what you hear in negro concerts, and it was this and her beauty which took with the people. She hated the business, but was compelled to sing by her husband, who, I fancy, was a tyrant and a brute. They starred it in the far West mostly, until her health and mind gave way, and she went raving mad on the stage, I believe. He put her in a private asylum in San Francisco. How long she was there I don't know, and she don't know. She was always a little queer, they say, and people predicted she would be crazy some time. Her husband died suddenly in Santa Barbara. Just before he died he tried to say something, but could only manage to give his physician the Colonel's address, and say, 'Tell him where my wife is.'
"Off started the Colonel, lame, and gouty, and rheumatic as he is, and brought her home, and has set her up as a kind of queen whose slightest wish is to be obeyed. To do her justice she has not many wishes. She is very quiet, talks but little, and seems in a kind of brown study most of the time. Occa- | | 117 sionally she rouses up and asks if we are sure he is dead--the he being her husband--the last one, presumably. When we tell her he is she smiles and says, 'I think I'm glad, for now I shall never have to sing again in public.' Then she says--in a very different tone, 'Baby is dead, too; and my head has ached so hard ever since that I cannot think or remember, only it was sudden and took my life away.'
"She has an old red cloak which at times she wraps around a shawl, and cuddles it as if it were a baby, crooning some negro melody she heard South. There must have been a little child who died, but she is not clear on the subject. Sometimes it is a baby; sometimes a grown girl; sometimes it died in one place; sometimes in another; but always just before she was going to sing, and the room was full of coffins until she sank down, and knew no more. Whether my uncle has taken pains to inquire about the child, I don't know. He does not like children, and is satisfied to have Amy back, and is trying to atone for his former harshness. He calls her Amy, instead of Eudora, because the latter was the name by which she was known in the Homer Troupe, and he saw it flaunted on a handbill advertising the last concert in which she took part.
"Don't think I have heard all this from him. He is tighter than the bark of a tree with regard to his affairs, and I do not think any one in the town knows anything definite about her singing in public, or the asylum; but there is a servant, Peter, who has grown old in the family. He knows everything, and has told me about my uncle bringing the child home, and how she cried for days for Shaky, a colored man, and slept in the red cloak, and kept it around her in the day- | | 118 time because he gave it to her. I have learned that she was never lawfully adopted, and that my uncle has made no will. Still she must be something to him, but certainly not his lawful child, or why his reticence with regard to her. I am the only near relative bearing the Crompton name. I have made myself very necessary to him--am in fact, in a way, a son of the house. He is very much broken, and if he dies without a will--
"Well, all things come to him who waits, and I can afford to wait in such comfortable quarters. Do you catch on, and call me a scamp with your Puritanical notions? Not so fast, old fellow. You have chosen to earn your living delving at the law. I earn mine by being so useful to my uncle that he will not part with me. He has already made me a kind of agent to attend to his business, so that I look upon myself as permanently fixed at Crompton House for as long as I choose to stay. It is a grand old place, with an income of I do not know how many thousands, and if I should ever be fortunate enough to be master, I shall say that for once in his life Howard Crompton was in luck. I want you to come here, Jack, when you have finished visiting your sister. I asked my uncle if I could invite you, and he said, 'Certainly; I like to have young people in the house. It pleases Amy.'
"This is wonderful, as they say he used to keep young people away, almost with lock and key, when; she was young. But now anything which pleases Amy pleases him.
"And now for another matter which involves a girl, Eloise Smith. Who is she, you ask? Well, she is neither high born, I fancy, nor city bred; nor much | | 119 like the girls from Wellesley and Lasell, with whom we used to flirt. She is a country school-ma'am, and is to be graduated this month in the Normal School in Mayville, where you are visiting. What is she to me? Nothing, except this: She has haunted me ever since I heard of her, and I can't get rid of an idea that in some way she is to influence my life. You know I was always given to presentiments and vagaries, and she is the last one. I might not have thought much of her if my uncle were not in a great way on her account. Long ago when they changed the name of the town from Troutburg to Crompton in his honor, he built a school-house on his premises, and gave it to the town. Since then he has felt that he had a right to control it, and say who should teach, and who shouldn't. For a long time the people humored him, and made him school inspector, whose business it was to examine the teachers with regard to their qualifications. With his old time notions, he had some very old-time questions, which with others, he always propounded. As a test of scholarship they were ridiculous; but he was Col. Crompton, and the people shrugged their shoulders and laughed at what they called the Crompton formula. Here are a few of the questions: First, What is logic? Second, Why does the wind usually stop blowing when the sun goes down? I don't know; do you? and we are both Harvarders. The third introduces a man in old Colburn's Arithmetic, driving his sheep or geese to market. The fourth is a scorcher, and has to do with the diameter of a grindstone, after a certain number of inches have been ground from it. Then comes what I call the piຌe de résistance, but which my uncle called 'killing two birds with one stone.' He has a | | 120 fad on writing and spelling, and required his victims to put on paper the following:
"'Mr. Wright has a right
To write the rites of the church.'
"Blamed if I didn't get stuck on that last rite when he gave it to me! If the teachers got safely through with the sheep, or geese, and the grindstone, and Mr. Wright, and the rest of them, he gave them a certificate declaring them qualified to teach a district school. In these days of methods, and analysis, and different ways of looking at things, all that is exploded, and the Crompton people have dropped my uncle, who is furious, and charges it to young blood, and the normal schools which have sprung up, and in which he does not believe. 'No matter how many diplomas a girl may have,' he says, 'proving that she has stood up in a white gown, and read an esay nobody within four feet of the rostrum could hear, or care to hear, if they could, she ought to pass a good solid examination to see if she were rooted and grounded in the fundamentals,' and when he heard that a normal graduate was engaged for District No. 5, he swore a blue streak at the girl, the trustee who hired her, and the attack of gout which keeps him a prisoner in the house, and will prevent his interviewing Miss Smith, as he certainly would if he were able. I tried to quiet him by offering to interview her myself. Think of me in a district school-house, talking to the teacher about the diameter of a grindstone! The absurdity must have struck my uncle. You should have seen the look he gave me over his spectacles, as he said, 'You, who know nothing, except ball games, and boat races, and raising the devil generally, interview a girl with a diploma! You would | | 121 probably end by making love to her, but I won't have it; mind, I won't have it! Remember, you are a Crompton, and no Crompton ever married beneath him!' Here he stopped suddenly, and turned so white that I was alarmed, and asked what ailed him.
"'Nothing,' he said, 'nothing but a twinge. I had an awful one.'
"I suppose he referred to his foot, which was pretty bad that day. After a little, quite to my surprise, he said, 'If you knew anything yourself, you might manage to see if this Smith girl knows anything. Amy can coach you. She is rooted and grounded. She was taught in the old school-house, which I would never have given the town but for her.'
"What he meant I don't know. What I do know is that Amy has told me why the wind stops blowing when the sun goes down, but I'll be hanged if I understand much about the rarefaction of the air Do you? She was very glib with the sheep and the geese, but the grindstone made her head ache, and she gave it up. I think, however, I have all the knowledge necessary to judge whether a girl is rooted and grounded, and now I want to know something about the girl. Manage to see her while you are in Mayville. Attend the commencement exercises. She is sure to read an essay in a white gown. Write me what she is like, and if I am likely to fall in love with her. Come as soon as you can."Always your friend, "HOWARD CROMPTON."
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