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 day following the rector's call on Mrs. Biggs was Sunday, and the morning was wet and misty, with a thick, white fog which crept up from the sea and hid from view objects at any distance away.

"This is nearly as bad as London," Howard said to Jack when, after breakfast, they stood looking out upon the sodden grass and drooping flowers in the park. "Have you a mind to go to church?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "Not I; it's too damp. Are you going?"

Howard had not thought of doing so until that moment, when an idea came suddenly into his mind, and he answered, "I think so,--yes. Some one ought to represent the Crompton pew. It is out of the question for my uncle to go, and he would not if he could. He has taken a violent prejudice against the new rector, for no reason I can think of. He is a good fellow,--the rector, I mean,--and not too straight-laced to smoke a cigar, and he knows a fine horse when he sees one, and preaches splendid sermons. I think I shall go and encourage him."

He did not urge Jack to accompany him, nor would Jack have done so if he had. There was an idea in his mind, as well as in Howard's, which he intended to carry out, and half an hour after Howard | | 219 started for church, he, too, left the house and walked slowly through the park in the direction of Mrs. Biggs's.

"I don't know as it is just the thing to call on Sunday," he thought, hesitating a little as he came in sight of the house, "but it seems an age since I saw her. I'll just step to the door and inquire how she is."

His knock was not answered at first, but when he repeated it he heard from the parlor what sounded like--" The key is under the mat," in a voice he knew did not belong to Mrs. Biggs. That good woman was in church. Tim had gone to the choir in St. John's, and Eloise was alone. Ruby Ann had been to see her the night before with her massage and rubber band, both of which had proved so successful that Eloise was feeling greatly encouraged, and the outlook was not quite so forlorn as when she first landed at Mrs. Biggs's, helpless and homesick and half crazed with pain. Her ankle was improving fast, although she could not walk; but she had hopes of taking her place in school within a week or ten days. Mrs. Biggs had wondered why the young men from Crompton Place did not call on Saturday, and Eloise had felt a little disappointed when the day had passed and she did not see them.

"'Tain't noways likely they'll come to-day. Folks know my principles, and that I don't b'lieve in Sunday visiting," she said as she tidied up the room before starting for church. "Nobody'll come, unless it is Ruby Ann with her massage, that's no more good than a cat's foot; so I'll just give the parlor a lick and a promise till to-morrow, and 'fise you I'd be comfortable in that wrapper."

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But Eloise insisted upon the white dressing jacket with pink ribbons, in which Mrs. Biggs said she looked "like a picter," regretting that the young men could not see her.

"If it wasn't for desiccating the Sabbath I wish them high bucks would call," she added, as she gave a final whisk to the duster and went to prepare for church. "I'm goin' to lock the door and put the key under the mat, so nobody can get in if they want to. I might lose it if I carried it to meetin'. I did once, and had to clamber inter the butry winder," was her last remark as she left the house; and Eloise heard the click of the key and knew she was locked in and alone.

She was not afraid, but began to imagine what she could do in case of a fire, or if any one were to come knocking at the door. "Sit still and not answer," she was thinking when Jack came rapidly up the walk. She saw his shadow as he passed the window, and her heart gave a great bound, for she knew who was "desiccating" the Sabbath by calling upon her. The first knock she did not answer, but when the second came, louder and more imperative than the first, she called out, "The key is under the mat," regretting her temerity in an instant, and trembling as she thought, "What if I am doing something improper to admit him, and Mrs. Biggs should disapprove!"

The thought sent the blood to her cheeks, which were scarlet as Jack came in, eager and delighted to find her alone.

"Locked up like a prisoner," he said, as he took her hand, which he held longer than was at all neces- | | 221 sary, while he looked into her eyes, where the gladness at seeing him again was showing so plainly.

When he last saw her she was arrayed in Mrs. Biggs's spotted calico, and he was quick to note the change. He had thought her lovely before; she was beautiful now, with the brightness in her eyes and the color coming and going so rapidly on her cheeks. Drawing a chair close to her, he sat down just where he could look at her as he talked, and could watch the varying expression on her face. Once he laid his hand on the arm of her chair, but withdrew it when he saw her troubled look, as if she feared he was getting too familiar. He asked her about her sprain, and was greatly interested, or seemed to be, in the massage and rubber band which were helping her so much. Then he spoke of Ruby Ann, the biggest woman he ever saw, he believed, and just the one for a school-teacher. He was past the school-house the day before, he said. It seemed they had half a day on Saturday and half a day on Wednesday. It was the boys' recess, and he never heard such a hullaballoo as they were making. A tall, lanky boy seemed to be the leader, whom the others followed.

"That must be Tom Walker, the one who makes all the trouble, and whom Mr. Bills and Mrs. Biggs think I can't manage," Eloise said, with a little gasp, such as she always felt when she thought of Tom, who, Tim had reported, was boasting of what he meant to do with the lame schoolmarm when she came.

Jack detected the trouble in her voice, and asked who Tom Walker was. It did not take long for Eloise to tell all she knew, while Jack listened thoughtfully, resolving to seek out Tom, and by | | 222 thrashing, or threatening, or hiring, turn him from any plan he might have against this little girl, who seemed to him far too young and dainty to be thrown upon the mercy of the rabble he had seen by the school-house with Tom Walker at their head.

"Don't worry about Tom. Big bullies like him are always cowards. You'll get along all right," he said encouragingly, with a growing desire to take the helpless girl in his arms and carry her away from Tom Walker and Mr. Bills and Mrs. Biggs, and the whole of her surroundings, which she did not seem at all to fit.

He wanted to entertain her, and told her of an excursion on the water he had taken the previous day with Howard Crompton,--the last of the season, he said, and very enjoyable. lie wished she had been there. Then he spoke of the Colonel, laughing at his peculiarities, and asking if she had ever heard of the Crompton "Formula." She said she had from Ruby Ann, and was glad she was not to be subjected to questioning on it, as she knew she should fail in everything except the four rights. She might manage them, but it was not necessary for her to be examined by anybody, since her normal school diploma was a license to teach anywhere in the State.

"Hanged if I think I could manage the rights!" Jack said. "Spelling is not my forte, and Howard, who is great at it, missed the last one."

"How is Mr. Howard?" Eloise asked, and Jack replied, "All right. Has gone to church like a good Christian. I ought to have gone, but I thought I'd come here, as you might be lonely here alone."

It flashed through Eloise's mind to wonder how he knew she was alone, but she made no comment, ex- | | 223 cept to say that the rector, Mr. Arthur Mason, called upon her the day before.

"Did he?" Jack said. "I believe he is a fine fellow. Howard likes him, but for some reason the Colonel does not, and when Howard said he was going to church, and suggested bringing Mr. Mason home to lunch, he growled out something about not liking company on Sunday. He is a queer old cove, and does not seem to care for anybody but Miss Amy. He is devoted to her, and she is a lovely woman, and must once have been brilliant, but she puzzles me greatly. She seems to be rational on every subject except her life in California. If any allusion is made to that she looks dazed at once, and says, 'I can't talk about it. I don't remember.'"

"My father died in California, and my mother is there now," Eloise said sadly.

Jack had not supposed she had a mother. Mrs. Brown, who sat beside him at the commencement exercises in Mayville, had spoken of her as an orphan, and he replied, "I had somehow thought your mother dead."

"No; oh, no! " Eloise answered quickly. "She is not dead; she is--"

She stopped suddenly, and Jack knew by her voice that her mother was a painful subject, and he began at once to speak of something else. He was a good talker, and Eloise a good listener, and neither took any heed to the lapse of time, until there was the sound of wheels before the house. A carriage had stopped to let some one out; then it went on, and Howard Crompton came up the walk and knocked at the door just as Jack had done an hour before.

"Pull the bobbin and come in," Jack called out, | | 224 and, a good deal astonished, Howard walked in, looking unutterable things when he saw Jack there before him, seemingly perfectly at home and perfectly happy, and in very close proximity to Eloise, who wondered what Mrs. Biggs would say if she came and found both the "high bucks" there.

"Hallo!" Jack said, while Howard responded, "Hallo! What brought you here?"

"A wish to see Miss Smith. What brought you?" was Jack's reply, and Howard responded, "A wish to see Miss Smith, of course. You didn't suppose I came to see Mrs. Biggs, did you? Where is the old lady?"

Eloise explained that she had gone to church, and Jack told of the key under the mat, and the talk flowed on; and Eloise could not forbear telling them of Mrs. Biggs's wish not to have the Sabbath "desiccated" by visitors.

"A regular Mrs. Malaprop," Jack said, while Howard suggested that they leave before she came home. "We can put the key under the mat, and she'll never know of the 'desiccation,'" he said.

Jack looked doubtfully at Eloise, who shook her head.

"No," she said, "I shall tell her you have been here. It would be a deception not to."

"As you like. And it's too late now, for here she comes!" Howard said, as Mrs. Biggs passed the window and stooped to find the key.

It was not there. Turning the mat upside down, she failed to discover it. The key was gone!

"For goodness' sake, what can have happened?" they heard her say, as she pushed the door open and entered the room, where the two young men stood, | | 225 one on either side of Eloise, as if to protect her. "Well, if I ain't beat!" the widow exclaimed, dropping into a chair and beginning to untie her bonnet strings as if they choked her. "Yes, I am beat. Hain't you been to meetin'?" she asked rather severely, her eyes falling on Howard, who answered quickly, "Yes, I have, and on my way home called to inquire for Miss Smith, and found this rascal here before me. He had unlocked the door and taken possession. You ought to have him arrested as a burglar, breaking into your house on Sunday."

"I s'pose I or'ter," Mrs. Biggs said, "and I hope none of the neighbors seen you come in. Miss Brown acrost the way is a great gossip, and there hain't a speck of scandal ever been on my house in my life, and I a-boardin' schoolma'ams for fifteen years!"

Mrs. Biggs was inclined to be a little severe on the two young men invading her premises, but Jack was equal to the emergency. She was tugging at her bonnet strings, which were entangled in a knot, into which the cord of her eyeglasses had become twisted.

"I can swear that neither Mrs. Brown, nor any one else was looking from the window when I came in. She was probably at church," Jack said, offering to help her, and finally undoing the knot which had proved too much for her. "There you are," he said, removing the bonnet, and setting her false piece, which had become a little askew, more squarely on her head. "You are all right now, and can blow me up as much as you please. I deserve it," he added, beaming upon her a smile which would have disarmed her of a dozen prejudices.

Jack's ways were wonderful with women, both | | 226 young and old, and Mrs. Biggs felt their influence and laughed, as she said, "I ain't goin' to blow, though I was took aback to see two men here, and I'd like to know how you knew where to find the key."

"I told him," Eloise answered rather shamefacedly.

Mrs. Biggs shot a quick glance at her, and then said, with a meaning nod, "I s'pose I'd of done the same thing when John and me was courtin', and young folks is all alike."

Eloise's face was scarlet, while Jack pretended suddenly to remember the lateness of the hour, and started to leave the room. As he did so his eyes fell upon a table on which a few books were lying.

"You must find these lively," he said, turning them over and reading their titles aloud. "'Pilgrim's Progress,' 'Foxe's Martyrs,' 'Doddridge's Rise and Fall,' 'Memoir of Payson,' all solid and good, but a little heavy, 'United States History,' improving, but tedious,--and,--upon my word, 'The Frozen Pirate'! That is jolly! Have you read it?"

Before Eloise could reply Mrs. Biggs exclaimed, "Of course she hasn't, and I don't know how under the sun it got in here, unless Tim put it here unbeknownst to me. I never read novels, and that is the wust I ever got hold of, and the biggest lie. I told Tim so."

She took it from the table and carried it from the room, followed by the young men, who laughed as they thought how the widow, who never read novels, betrayed the fact that she had read "The Frozen Pirate."

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