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 was interrupted yesterday, and hardly know where to begin again, or what I have written, as Jake was a little mixed and went forward and back at times, showing that his memory was, as he said, leaky, but when he struck the child he was bright as a guinea. 'Lil Chile' and 'Honey Bee' he calls her. He told me of her running into the house to meet the Colonel, with her soiled frock, and her face and hands besmeared with molasses; of her tussle with Mandy Ann, who wanted to wash her face and change her clothes, and of her fine appearance at the last in a white gown, her best, which he had bought and Mandy Ann made not long before, and which the Colonel would not take with him. So they kept it, and Mandy Ann washed and ironed it, and put it away with some sweet herbs, and aired it every year till she was married, when Jake cared for it till Mandy Ann's twins were born,--Alex and Aaron. Then Mandy Ann borrowed it for them to be christened in, one of them one Sunday and one the next, so that both had the honor of wearing it, while Jake was sponsor, 'For,' said he, 'Mandy Ann has gin up them hollerin' meetin's whar white folks done come to see de ole darkies have a kind of powow, as dey use to have befo' de wah. Clar for't if de | | 212 folks from de Norf don't gin de blacks money to sing de ole-time songs an' rock an' weave back an' forth till dey have de pow'. I don't think much of dat ar, jess 'musin' theyselves wid our religion;' and Jake looked his disgust, and continued:

"'Mandy Ann like mighty well to jine 'em, but I hole her back, an' now she's 'Piscopal, ef she's anything,--an' when de girl twins come,--Dory an' Judy,--she borrowed lil chile's gown agin. Dat make fo' times, an' then I shet de gates, an' said, "No mo' gown, an' no mo' twins," an' thar hain't been no mo'.

"'But I'se got a good ways from lil chile, who wan't an atom shy of de Colonel, though he was of her, an' when he took her han' I could almost see him squirm like. I think he tried to be kind, an' he gin her a lil ivory book he had on his watch-chain, but you see he didn't feel it. He didn't care for children, and it seemed as if he wanted to get away from this one. But he couldn't. She was his'n; I'd bet my soul on dat. He had to come after her an' took her, though 'twas 'bout the wust job he ever did, I reckon. She fit like a tiger cat about gwine wid him, an' 's true's you bawn, I don't b'lieve she'd gone ef he hadn't took me wid him to Savannah. I can't tell you, Mas'r Mason, 'bout de partin' thar. 'Twas drefful, an' I kin see her now rollin' on de flo', wid her heels an' han's in de air, an' she a-sayin' she mus' stay wid Shaky. I bought her such a pretty red cloak, all lined wid white silk, an' wrapped her in it, an' took her on to de boat, an' left her thar, she thinkin' I was comin' back, an' the last I seen of her, as the boat moved off, she was jumpin' up an' down, an' stretchin' her arms to me, an' the Cunnel | | 213 holdin' her tight, or I b'lieve she'd sprung overboard. He'd a good time gettin' her home, I reckon. She was the very old Harry when her dander was up,' and the old negro laughed as he thought of what the Colonel must have borne on that journey with his troublesome charge.

"There came a few lines to him, he said, telling of Col. Crompton's safe arrival home, and that the child was well. After a while the war broke out, and communication with the North was cut off. The friend in Palatka, who had returned from Europe and joined the Confederate Army, was killed, and the letter which Jake sent to Col. Crompton when peace was restored was not answered for a long time. At last the Colonel wrote that Eudora had married against his wishes and gone to Europe, and Jake was not to trouble him with any more letters concerning her.

"An' that's all I knows of her,' he said, 'whether she's dead or alive, or whar she is; but if I did know I b'lieve I'd walk afoot to de Norf to see her. She ain't my lil chile Dory no mo', but I allus thinks of her like dat, an' I keeps de cradle she was rocked in by my bed, an' sometimes, when I'se lonesome nights, an' can't sleep for thinkin' of her, I puts my han' out an' jogs it with a feelin' the lil one is thar, an' every day I prays she may come back to me, an' I b'lieve she will. Yes, sar, it comes to me that she will.'

"The tears were running down the old man's face when, on our going to the house, he showed me the cradle close to his bed, a rude, old-fashioned, high-topped thing, such as the poorest families used years ago. There was a pillow, or cushion, in it, and a little patchwork quilt, which, he said, Mandy Ann pieced and made. He showed me, too, a second or | | 214 third school reader, soiled and worn and pencil marked, and showing that it had been much used.

"'This was Miss Dory's,' he said; 'the one she studied de most, tryin' to learn, an' gettin' terribly flustered wid de big words. I can see her now, bendin' over it airly an' late; sometimes wid de chile in her lap till she done tuckered out, an' laid it away with a sithe as if glad to be shet of it. She couldn't larn, an' de Lord took her whar dey don't ask what you knows,--only dis: does you lub de Lord? an' she did, de lamb.'

"Jake was still crying, and I was not far from it as I saw in fancy that poor young girl trying to learn, trying to master the big words and their meaning, in the vain hope of fitting herself for companionship with a man who had deserted her, and who probably never had for her more than a passing fancy, of which he was ashamed and would gladly ignore.

"'I showed him de book,' Jake said, 'an' tole him how she tried to larn, an' I tried to help her all I could, an' then he did have some feelin' an' his eyes got red, but he didn't drap a tear; no, sar, not a drap! He ast me could he have de book, an' I said, "No, sar, not for nothin'. It's mine," an' he said, proud-like, "As you please." He was mighty good to me an' Mandy Ann 'bout money, an' when I writ him she was married, he sent her two hundred dollars, which she 'vested in a house, or Ted would of spent it for fine close an' cigarettes. He must be gettin' ole, as I be, an' they call de town Crompton, after him, 'stid of Troutburg.'

"Remembering your parish, I told him I had a son settled in Crompton, Massachusetts. I hardly | | 215 thought there were two towns of the same name in one State, and I'd inquire if Col. Crompton lived there. His face brightened at once, and when I left him, he hand and said, 'Bress de Lawd for de grain of comfort you done give me. If she is thar I'd walk all de road from Floridy to see her, if I couldn't git thar no other way. Thankee, Mas'r Mason, for comin' to see me. I'se pretty reg'lar at church, an' sets by de do', an' allus gives a nickel for myself an' one for Miss Dory dead an' for Miss Dory livin', an' I makes Mandy Ann 'tend all I can, though she'd rather go whar she says it's livelier. She is mighty good to me,--comes ebery week an' clars up an' scoles me for gittin' so dirty. She's great on a scrub, Mandy Ann is. Muss you go? Well, I'm glad you comed, an' I s'pec's I've tole you some things twiste, 'case of my memory. Good-by.'

"He accompanied me to the door, and shook hands with all the grace of a born gentleman. Then I left him, but have been haunted ever since by a picture of that old negro in his lonely cabin, jogging that empty cradle nights when he cannot sleep, and contrasting him with Col. Crompton, whoever and wherever he may be. Perhaps you can throw some light on the subject. The world is not so very wide that our sins are not pretty sure to find us out, and that some Col. Crompton has been guilty of a great wrong seems certain. Possibly he is one of your parishioners, and you may know something of the second Dory. I shall await your answer with some anxiety.

"Your father, "CHARLES MASON."
| | 216

This was the letter which had sent the Rev. Arthur to call on Mrs. Biggs, with no thought of Eloise in his mind. She was not yet an active factor in the drama which was to be played out .so rapidly. Returning to his boarding place, the rector read his father's letter a second time, and then answered it. A part of what he wrote we give:

"I have just come from an interview with a woman who is credited with knowing the history of the place forty years back, and I have no doubt that Shaky's Col. Crompton is living here in Crompton Place, the richest man in town and largest contributor to the church. There is a lady living with him who people believe is his daughter, although he has never acknowledged her as such. Mrs. Biggs, the woman I interviewed, gave me a most graphic account of the manner of her arrival at Crompton Place, when she was a little girl like the one you describe. She has a lovely face, but is a little twisted in her brain. She did run away with her music teacher, and her name is Amy Eudora. There was no mention made of Harris. They call her Miss Amy. There can't be much doubt of her identity with Jaky's lil chile. Send him on, and Mandy Ann, too,--and the four twins, Alex and Aaron, Judy and Dory. I'll pay half their fare! There's enough of the old Adam in me to make me want to see them confront the proud Colonel, who ignores me for reasons I could not fathom, until I received your letter. Then I suspected that because I am your son he feared that some pages of his life, which he hoped were blotted out by time and the ravages of war, might be revealed. He is an old man, of course, but distinguished-looking still, though much broken with | | 217 rheumatic gout, which keeps him mostly at home. My respects to Shaky, whom I hope before long to hear ringing the bell at Crompton Place. Is that wicked? I suppose so, but I cannot help it.

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