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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<< chapter 11 chapter 6 >>

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"I say, Howard," Jack began, when they were out upon the road, "that girl ought to have something besides 'The Frozen Pirate' and ' Foxe's Martyrs' to brighten her up,--books and flowers, and other things. Do you think she'd take them?"

Howard's head was cooler than Jack's, and he replied, "She would resent gifts from us, but would take them from Amy. Anyhow, we can try that dodge."

"By Jove, you are right! We can send her a lot of things with Mrs. Amy's compliments," Jack exclaimed. "Flowers and books and candy, and--"

He did not finish what was in his mind, but the next morning, immediately after breakfast, he pretended that he had an errand in the village, and started off alone, preferring to walk, he said, when Howard suggested the carriage, and also declining Howard's company, which was rather faintly offered. Howard never cared to walk when he could drive, and then he had a plan which he could better carry out with Jack away than with him present. He was more interested in Eloise than he would like to confess to Jack or any one, and he found himself thinking of her constantly and wishing he could do something to make her more comfortable than he was | | 228 sure she could be even in Mrs. Biggs's parlor. He was very fastidious in his tastes, and Mrs. Biggs's parlor was a horror to him, with its black hair-cloth furniture, and especially the rocker in which Eloise sat, and out of which she seemed in danger of slipping every time she bent forward. He had thought of his uncle's sea chair on the occasion of his first call, and now he resolved to send it in Amy's name. Something had warned him that in Eloise's make-up there was a pride equal to his own. She might receive favors from Amy, as she had the hat, and although a chair would seem a good deal perhaps, he would explain it on the ground of Amy's great desire to help some one when he saw her. He'd send it at once, he thought, and he wrote a note, saying,

"Miss Smith: Please accept this sea chair with the compliments of Mrs. Amy, who thinks you will find it more comfortable than the hair-cloth rocker, of which I told her. As she seldom writes to any one, she has made me her amanuensis, and hopes you will excuse her. Yours, very truly, Howard Crompton, for Mrs. Amy."

It was a lie, Howard knew, but that did not trouble him, and calling Sam, he bade him take it with the chair and a bunch of hothouse roses to Miss Smith. Sam took the chair and the note and the roses, and started for Mrs. Biggs's, stopping in the avenue to look at the shrub where Brutus had received the gouge in his shoulder, and stopping again at a point where some bits of glass from the broken window of the carriage were lying. All this took time, so that it was after eleven when he at last reached Mrs. Biggs's gate, and met a drayman coming in an opposite direction with Jack Harcourt on the cart, | | 229 seated in a very handsome wheel chair, and looking supremely happy.

Jack had been very busy all the morning visiting furniture stores and inquiring for wheel chairs, which he found were not very common. Indeed, there were only three in the town, and one of these had been sent from Boston for the approval of Col. Crompton when his rheumatic gout prevented him from walking. Something about it had not suited him, and it had remained with the furniture dealer, who, glad of a purchaser, had offered it to Jack for nearly half the original price. Jack did not care for the cost if the chair was what he wanted. It was upholstered with leather, both the seat and the back, and could be easily propelled from room to room by Eloise herself, while Jack thought it quite likely that he should himself some day take her out for an airing, possibly to the school-house, which he had passed on his way to the village. There was a shorter road through the meadows and woods than the one past the school-house, but Jack took the latter, hoping he might see Tom Walker again, in which case he meant to interview him. Nor was he disappointed, for sauntering in the same direction and chewing gum, with his cap on the back of his head and his hands in his pockets, was a tall, wiry fellow, whom Jack instantly spotted as Tom Walker, the bully, who was to terrorize Eloise.

"Now is my time," Jack thought, hastening his steps and soon overtaking the boy, who, never caring whether he was late or early at school, was taking his time, and stopping occasionally to throw a stone at some bird on the fence or a tree. "Hallo, Tom!" Jack said in his cheery way as he came up | | 230 with the boy, whose ungracious answer was, "How do you know my name is Tom?"

At heart Tom was something of an anarchist, jealous of and disliking people higher in the social scale than he was, and this dislike extended particularly to the young gentlemen from the Crompton House, who had nothing to do but to enjoy themselves. He did not like to be patronized, but there was something in Jack's voice which made him accompany his speech with a laugh, which robbed it of some of its rudeness.

"Oh, I know you, just as, I dare say, you know me, Jack Harcourt, from New York, visiting at present at the Crompton House," was Jack's reply, which mollified Tom at once.

If Jack had called himself Mr. Harcourt Tom would have resented it as airs. But he didn't; he said Jack, putting himself on a par with the boy, who took the gum from his mouth for a moment, looked at it, replaced it, and began to answer Jack's questions, which at first were very far from Eloise. But they struck her at last as they drew near the school-house.

"I'm late, as usual," Tom said, rolling his gum from side to side in his mouth. "I presume I'll catch thunder, but I don't care. I'm not afraid of any schoolmarm I've ever seen, and I mean to carry the new one out on a couple of chips if she tries to boss me."

There was a look on Tom's face which Jack did not like, but he said pleasantly, "No, you won't, when you see how helpless she is, and how she needs a young gentleman like you to stand by her."

"I ain't a gentleman," Tom answered, but his voice was a good deal softened. "I'm just Tom | | 231 Walker, who they lay everything to, and who the boys expect to do all their dirty work for them."

"I see," Jack answered; "you pick off the hot chestnuts. I used to do that when a little shaver, till I got my fingers blistered so badly I decided to let some one else get burned in my place."

"Did you ever cut up at school?" Tom asked, with a growing interest in and respect for Jack, who replied, "Oh, yes, I was pretty bad sometimes, and am ashamed of it when I remember how I annoyed some of my teachers. I have asked pardon of one or two of the ladies when I have chanced to meet them, but I never could have annoyed Miss Smith, nor will you when you know her. You haven't seen her yet?"

"Nope!" Tom answered. "I hear she ain't bigger than my thumb, and awful pretty, Tim Biggs says, and he is threatening to thrash anybody who is mean to her. I'd laugh to see him tackle me!"

"He'll have no occasion to, for I predict you will be the warmest champion Miss Smith has. See if you are not," Jack said, offering his hand to Tom, as they had now reached the school-house.

"He is certainly a good deal of a ruffian," Jack said to himself as he went on his way, while Tom was not quite so sure of the two chips on which he was to carry Eloise out if she tried to boss him. He'd wait and see. That city chap from Crompton Place had certainly been very friendly, and had not treated him as if he was scum; and after taking his seat and telling Ruby Ann, with quite an air when she asked why he was so late, that he had been detained by Mr. Harcourt, who wanted to talk with him, he took from his desk his slate and rubbed out the caricature he | | 232 had drawn the day before of a young girl on crutches trying to get up the steps of the school-house. He was intending to show it to Tim Biggs and make him angry, and to the other scholars and make them laugh, and thus ferment a prejudice against Eloise, for no reason at all except the natural depravity of his nature.

The word "champion" kept sounding in his ears, and he wrote it two or three times on his slate, where the girl on crutches had been. "I always supposed champion belonged to prize-fighters, but Mr. Harcourt didn't mean that kind. He meant I was to stand up for her and behave myself. Well, I'll see what kind of craft she is," he thought.

With this decision Tom took up his lessons, and had never been more studious and well behaved than he was that day.

Meanwhile Jack had gone on his way to the village and bought his chair, with some misgivings as to how Eloise would receive it, even from Mrs. Amy.

"I guess I'd better go with it, and make it right somehow," he thought, getting into the chair and riding along in state, while the people he met looked curiously at him. It was recess again when they reached the school-house, where, as usual, Tom Walker was leading the play. At sight of the dray he stopped suddenly, and then went swiftly forward to the cart, and said to Jack, "Goin' to take her out in that?"

Jack reddened a little, but answered pleasantly, "Perhaps."

"Well, I guess she'll like it better than the chips I told you about. I've thrown 'em away."

A ring from Ruby Ann's bell told the boys their | | 233 recess was over, and with a bow Tom hurried off, while Jack and his chair went on till they reached Mrs. Biggs's door, just as Sam came up with the sea chair. That good woman was washing in her back kitchen, but in response to the drayman's knock she came hurriedly, wiping the soap-suds from her arms as she came, and holding up both hands as she saw the two chairs deposited at the door, while Sam held the note and roses, and Jack stood looking a little shamefaced, as if he hardly knew what to say.

"For the pity sakes and the old Harry, are you moving a furniture store, or what?" she asked.

Jack began to explain that Mrs. Amy thought, or he thought--He could not quite bring himself to lie as glibly as Howard would have done, had he been there, and he stammered on, that he thought Miss Smith would soon be able to get round in a wheel chair, which he hoped she would accept with the compliments of-- He didn't say Mrs. Amy, but Mrs. Biggs understood, and nodded that she did, helping him out by saying it was just like Mrs. Amy, and adding that it looked a good deal like the chair the Colonel had for a spell and then returned to Lowell & Brothers, where she saw it a few days ago in the window.

Jack made no reply, and Mrs. Biggs continued, "I s'pose t'other chair is Mrs. Amy's compliments, too. I'm sure I'm greatly obliged to her, and Miss Smith will be. She is quite peart this morning. Come in and see her."

Jack did not think he would. He'd rather have Mrs. Biggs present his chair, feeling sure that her conscience was of the elastic kind, which would not stop at means if a good end was attained.

| | 234

"Thanks," he replied. "Later in the day I may come in. Good-morning."

He walked away, leaving Mrs. Biggs alone with Sam, who was told to take the chairs into Eloise's room.

"Something from the Crompton House. From Mrs. Amy, they say. It is like her to be sending things where she takes a notion as she has to you," Mrs. Biggs said, while Eloise looked on in astonishment.

She read Howard's note, and her surprise increased as she said, " I ought not to keep them. Col. Crompton would not like it if he knew."

"Yes, you ought. Mrs. Amy does what she likes without consulting the Colonel," Mrs. Biggs rejoined. "It would not do to send them back and upset her, and isn't there a verse somewhere in the Bible about taking what the gods give ye?"

Eloise knew what she meant, and replied, "'Take the good the gods provide,' and they are certainly providing for me bountifully, but I must at least write a note of thanks to Mrs. Amy for her thoughtfulness and kindness."

To this Mrs. Biggs, who felt that she was in league with the young men, also objected.

"Better not," she said. "Better wait till you can go and thank her in person. I'll have Tim wheel you up some day. He'd like nothing better."

To this Eloise finally assented, and at once exchanged the hair-cloth rocker for the sea chair, which she found a great improvement. When Tim came from school he was told of the addition to the furniture in the parlor by his mother, who added, "I smelt a rat at once, and thought it a pity to spoil the | | 235 young men's fun. Mrs. Amy don't know nothin' about them chairs, no more than the man in the moon, and if Miss Smith had much worldly sense she'd know they never came from Mrs. Amy. But she hain't. She's nothin' but a child, and don't dream that both them young men is jest bewitched over her. I don't b'lieve Mr. Howard means earnest, but t'other one does. He's got the best face. I'd trust myself with him anywhere."

Tim laughed at the idea that his mother could not trust herself with anybody, but said nothing. He was Eloise's devoted slave, and offered to wheel her miles if she cared to go; but she was satisfied with a few turns up and down the road, which gave her fresh air and showed her something of the country. The wheel chair was a great success, as well as the sea chair, in which she was sitting when the young men came in the afternoon to call, bringing some books which Mrs. Amy thought would interest her, and a box of candy, which Jack presented in his own person. He could not face her with Mrs. Amy as Howard could, and he felt himself a great impostor as he received her thanks for Mrs. Amy, who, he was sure, had entirely forgotten the girl.

No mention was ever made of her in Amy's presence or the Colonel's. He was not yet over his wrath at the accident to his carriage and horse, which, with strange perversity, he charged to the Normal. Brutus was getting well, but there would always be a scar on his shoulder, where the sharp-pointed shrub had entered the flesh. The carriage had been repaired, the stained cushions had been re-covered, and the Colonel had sworn at the amount of the bill, and said it never would have happened if the trustees had | | 236 hired Ruby Ann in the first place, as they should have done. He knew she now had the school, and felt a kind of grim satisfaction that it was so. She was rooted and grounded, while the other one, as far as he could learn, was a little pink and white doll, with no fundamentals whatever. He had forgotten that Howard was to sound her, and did not dream how often that young man and his friend were at Mrs. Biggs's, not sounding Eloise as to her knowledge, but growing more and more intoxicated with her beauty and sweetness and entire absence of the self-consciousness and airs they were accustomed to find in most young ladies.

But for the non-arrival of the letter she was so anxious to get Eloise would have been comparatively happy, or at least content. Her ankle was gaining rapidly, and she hoped soon to take her place in school, Tim having offered to wheel her there every day and back, and assuring her that, mean as he was, Tom Walker was not mean enough to annoy her in her helpless condition. For some reason Eloise had not now much dread of Tom Walker, and expressed a desire to see him.

"Tell him to call," she said to Tim, who delivered her message rather awkwardly, as if expecting a rebuff.

" Oh, get out," was Tom's reply, "I ain't one of your callin' kind, with cards and things, and she'll see enough of me bimeby."

The words sounded more ungracious than Tom intended. He said he was not the calling kind, but the fact that he had been asked to do so pleased him, and two or three times he walked past Mrs. Biggs's in hopes to see the little lady in whom he was be- | | 237 ginning to feel a good deal of interest. He met Jack occasionally, and always received a bow of recognition and a cheery "How are you, Tom?" until he began to believe himself something more than a loafer and a bully whom every hand was against. He was rather anxious for the little Normal to begin her duties, and she was anxious, too, for funds were low and growing less all the time.

"Wait till the Rummage is over. That is coming next week. You will want to go to that and see the people you have not seen, and your scholars, too. They are sure to be there," Ruby Ann said to her.

Ruby Ann was greatly interested in the Rummage Sale, as she was in anything with which she had to do, and all her spare time from her school duties was given to soliciting articles for it, and arranging for their disposition in the building where the sale was to be held. Eloise was interested because those around her were, and she offered her white apron a second time as the only thing she had to give.

"I guess I'll do it up and flute the ruffles," Mrs. Biggs said. "'Tain't mussy, but a little rinse and starch won't harm it."

She had given it a rinse and starch, and was ironing it when Jack came in, rather unceremoniously, as was his habit now that he came so often. This time he went to the kitchen door, as the other was locked, and found Mrs. Biggs giving the final touches to the apron, which she held up for his inspection.

"Rummage," she said. "Miss Smith's contribution. Ain't it a beauty?"

Jack was not much of a judge of aprons, but something in this dainty little affair interested him, and he wished at once that he knew of some one for whom | | 238 he could buy it. His sister Bell never wore aprons to his knowledge, neither did Mrs. Amy. It was too small for Ruby Ann, and it would never do to give it back to Eloise. But he did not want any money but his own spent for it, and he believed he'd speak to Ruby Ann and have it put aside for him. He could tell her he had a sister, and she could draw her own inference.

"I swan, if I was a little younger, I'd buy it myself," Mrs. Biggs said, holding it up and slipping the straps over her shoulders and her hands into its pockets.

Jack felt relieved when she took it off, gave it another smooth with her iron, and folded it ready for the sale.

I am going to put it in a box," she said, "with a card on it saying it is Miss Smith's contribution, and that she made every stitch herself."

Jack was now resolved that it should be his at any cost. As to its real value he had no idea, and when Mrs. Biggs said it "or'to bring a good price, and probably will seein' whose 'tis," he replied, "I should say so,--four or five dollars at least."

"For the Lord's sake," Mrs. Biggs exclaimed, dropping her flatiron in her surprise. "Four or five dollars! Are you crazy?"

"Do you think it ought to bring more?" Jack asked, and Mrs. Biggs replied, "Was you born yesterday, or when? If it brings a dollar it'll do well. Rummages ain't high priced. Four or five dollars! Well, if I won't give up!"

Jack did not reply, but he was beginning to feel a good deal of interest in the Rummage Sale, and his interest increased when he went in to see Eloise, and | | 239 heard from her that she was going down in the evening, as Ruby Ann said it would be more lively then, with more people present and possibly an auction.

"Tim is to wheel me," she said, "and has promised not to run into any one, or tip me over. I feel half afraid of him, as he does stumble some."

Jack looked at her a moment as she leaned back in her chair, her blue dressing sacque open at the throat showing her white neck.

"Miss Smith," he said, "I shan't stumble. I'll take you. I'd like to. I'll make it right with Tim."

Eloise could not mistake the eagerness in his voice, and her cheeks flushed as she replied, "It is very kind in you and kind in Tim, who perhaps will be glad to be rid of the trouble."

"Of course he will," Jack said quickly, "Day after to-morrow, isn't it? I'll see you again and arrange just when to call for you, and now I must go. I'd forgotten that I was to drive with Howard this morning. Good-by."

He went whistling down the walk, thinking that a Rummage Sale was more interesting than anything which could possibly happen in the country, and that he'd telegraph to his sister to send something for it. As he started on his drive with Howard, he said, "Let's go first to the telegraph office, I want to wire to Bell."

They drove to the office, and in a few minutes there flashed across the wires to New York, "We are going to have a Rummage Sale for the poor. Send a lot of things, old and new, it does not matter which; --only send at once."

"I believe I made a mistake about the object of the sale. I said 'For the poor,' and it's for a public | | 240 library, isn't it?" he said to Howard, who replied, "Seems to me you are getting daft on the Rummage. I don't care for it much. It will be like a Jews' or pawnbroker's bazaar, with mostly old clothes to sell."

"No, sir," Jack answered quickly. "It will not be at all like a pawnbroker's shop. Bell will send a pile of things. I know her, and Miss Smith is to be there in the evening, and it's going to be a great success."

"I see," and Howard laughed immoderately. "It is going to be a great success because Miss Smith is to be there. Is she for sale, and how is she going? Are we to take her in a hand chair, as we carried her that night in the rain?"

"No, sir!" Jack answered, "I am to wheel her and have heaps of fun, while you mope at home."

Howard thought it very doubtful whether he should mope at home. It would be worth something to see Jack wheeling Eloise, and worth a good deal more to see her, as he knew she would look flushed and timid and beautiful, with all the strangers around her. He had not felt much interest in the Rummage. Old clothes were not to his fancy, but he had promised a pair of half-worn boots to Ruby Ann, who had cornered him on the street, and wrung from him not only his boots, but half a dozen or more of the fifty neckties she heard he had strung on a wire around his room, so as to have them handy when he wanted to choose one to wear. Neckties were his weakness, and he never saw one which pleased him without buying it, and his tailor had orders to notify him of the last fashion as it came out. It was quite a wrench to part with any of them, but as some were passée he promised them to Ruby, but told her he hardly thought he should attend the sale. Now, | | 241 however, he changed his mind. Eloise's presence would make a vast difference, and he should go; and he thought of a second pair of boots, and possibly a vest and a few more neckties he might add to the pile which he had heard from Peter was to be sent the next day from the Crompton House to the Rummage.

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