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 12 chapter 6 >>

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Never had District No. 5 been so stirred on the subject of any public entertainment as on the Rummage Sale. It was something entirely new and unique, and the whole neighborhood entered into it with great enthusiasm. Between the little village by the sea, which numbered about two thousand, and the radius known as District No. 5, which could not boast half that number, there was a kind of rivalry, the district claiming that it excelled the village in the quality of its inhabitants, if not in quantity. Its people were mostly well educated and intelligent, and they had Col. Crompton, with his fine house and grounds. He was gouty and rheumatic and past his prime it was true, but he was still a power among them, and they were proud of him and proud of themselves, and delighted that they had been the first to carry out the idea of a Rummage Sale, which had been brought to them by a visitor from western New York, who explained its workings, and gave almost fabulous accounts of the money made by such sales. The village had intended to have one, but District No. 5 was ahead, with the result that many of the villagers joined in, glad to be rid of articles which had been stowed away as useless.

At first it seemed incredible that any one would | | 243 buy clothing which for years had hung in closets, or been packed in trunks away from moths and carpet bugs. But what had been done in other places could be done in District No. 5, and never was a more heterogeneous mass of goods of every description gathered together than was sent to the Rummage rooms the day before the sale, and dumped upon tables and chairs and boxes, until they nearly reached the rather low ceiling. There were old bonnets and hats, and boots and shoes and dresses, and coats and trousers and vests, and draperies and dishes, and stoves and chairs and tables and bedsteads, with books and old magazines and toys.

There was Mrs. Biggs's foot-stove and warming-pan, which had been her mother's, and a brass kettle, which had belonged to her grandmother, and which Mrs. Parker, the lady from western New York, said was the most valuable of all the articles sent. Antiques were sure to sell to relic hunters, and a big price must be put upon them, she told the committee who looked in dismay at the piles of goods as they came pouring in, wondering how they were ever to bring anything like order out of the confusion. They could not have done it without Mrs. Parker and Ruby Ann, the latter of whom had obtained permission to dismiss school for two days, and worked early and late. She had laid siege to the Crompton House, from which most of the others shrank. The Colonel was a rather formidable old fellow to meet, if he was in a mood with twinges in his foot, while Mrs. Amy was scarcely well enough known to the people generally to make them care to interview her.

On the strength of having been to school with her | | 244 and known her since "she was knee high," Mrs. Biggs offered to call upon her, but declined seeing the Colonel, who, she heard, didn't believe in the Rummage. Ruby Ann, however, was selected as the fittest person to see both, and had undertaken the task with her usual assurance and energy. She found Amy a fine subject. The idea of giving always appealed to her, and she began at once to think of what she would send. The dresses she had worn as a concert singer were hateful to her, and she brought them from a closet and spread them upon chairs and tables, while Ruby looked on admiringly and wonderingly, too, as fans and gloves and sashes and ribbons were laid with the dresses, and Amy grew more excited and eager every moment.

"We'll go to the attic now," she said; "my doll house is there."

They climbed the stairs and found the house packed away as it had been for years.

"It may as well be sold and make some child happy," Amy said as she took off its wrappings.

In it was Mandy Ann, the doll the Colonel had bought in Savannah, and Judy, lying on her face in a pile of dust. Amy took her up tenderly, saying, "Do you think anybody will buy her?"

There was a little choke in her voice as she asked the question, for the sight of Judy had stirred memories which often flitted through her weak brain and puzzled her, they were so misty and yet so sweet, like the negro melodies she hummed to herself or sang to an imaginary baby.

"Buy her? I guess they would," Ruby Ann replied, all her blood astir at the thought of the doll house, with Judy and Mandy Ann.

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She knew nothing of their antecedents, or how they were connected with Amy's childhood, but she felt intuitively that almost any price put upon them would be paid because they belonged to Mrs. Amy, and particularly because of the dilapidated appearance of Judy, which was sure to rouse the mirth of the spectators. She was very doubtful as to whether she ought to take the dresses without consulting some one besides Amy, to whom she said, "Are you sure you want to give these away? They are different from anything we shall have, and will seem out of place."

For a moment Amy looked at her with a strange glitter in her eyes, as she said, "I hate them! I have been going to burn them more than once. You don't know what they represent to me. I shall burn them, or tear them, if you don't take them."

She made a motion as if she were going to tear one of the lace flounces, when Ruby Ann stopped her by saying, "Don't, Mrs. Amy,--please don't. I'll take the dresses, of course. I only feared you might be giving too much, with the doll house and Mandy Ann and Judy. I want them, sure."

"Yes," Amy said, her mood changing. "Take them all; but don't try to improve them,--Mandy Ann and Judy, I mean."

There was another choke in her voice as she smoothed Judy's old brown dress, and brushed a bit of bran from her face. There was no danger that Ruby would try to change either Mandy Ann or Judy. They were perfect as they were, and telling Amy when the articles would be sent for, she left her and went to interview the Colonel, anticipating a dif- | | 246 ferent reception from what she had received from Mrs. Amy.

"Better not handle him to-day; he had some awful twinges this morning," Peter said, after she had "picked him clean," as he expressed it, "and scarcely left him a shoe to his foot or a coat to his back."

Ruby knew she could not come again, and in spite of Peter's advice, resolved to beard the lion at once. she found him, with his lame foot on a cushion, and a not very encouraging look on his face. He had liked Ruby ever since she first came to be examined as to her qualifications for a teacher, and he had found her rooted and grounded in the fundamentals, and he had taken sides stoutly for her when the question of normal graduates came up and Eloise had won the day. Ruby Ann's head was level, lie always said, and when she was ushered into his room, he greeted her with as much of a smile as he could command, with his foot aching as it did. But the smile faded when she told him her errand, and said she was sure he would be glad to contribute either in money or clothing to so good a cause as the public library. The Colonel had not been consulted with regard to the library, except to be asked if he didn't think it would be a fine thing for the school and neighborhood generally. He was not very often consulted about anything now. Plans were made without him, and he was only asked to contribute, which he generally did.

Now, however, his back was up, Peter said to Ruby Ann, warning her of what she was to expect. He didn't believe in turning attics and cellars and barns inside out and scattering microbes by the millions. How did any one know what germs were | | 247 lurking in old clothes? He knew a man who died of smallpox, and twenty-five years after his death a coat, which had hung in his closet, was given away, taking the disease with it to three or four people. No, he didn't believe in a Rummage. It was just a fad, got up by those who were always seeking for something new, and he wouldn't give a thing, not even an old stock such as he used to wear, and of which Ruby Ann knew he must have several.

"Who under heavens would buy an old stock, and why?" he asked, and Ruby Ann replied, "Just because it is an old stock and belonged to you."

The "belonged to you" mollified him a little, as it flattered his vanity, but the idea struck him as ridiculous, and he would not give in, and as Ruby Ann grew more and more persistent, telling of the antiques gathered up, and among them Mrs. Biggs's warming-pan and foot-stove and brass kettle,--old Mrs. Baker's quill wheel, and some other old lady's wedding bonnet, he grew furious and swore about the Rummage Sale, and might have sworn at Ruby Ann if she had not discreetly withdrawn and left him to himself and his twinges.

She was rather chagrined over her failure with the Colonel, from whom she had expected so much, but her success with Amy and the other members of the household made amends, and she left tolerably well satisfied with her work. She had not been gone long when Peter was summoned by a sharp ring to his master's room, and found him sitting very erect in his chair, listening intently to sounds overhead, where there was the scurrying of feet mingled with Amy's voice and that of her maid, as box after box was dragged across the floor.

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"Peter!" the Colonel began, "shut the door!"

Peter had shut it and stood with his back against it, as the Colonel went on, "What in thunder is all that racket in the attic? Has the Rummage come up there? It commenced some time ago. Sounded as if they were pulling out trunks, then it stopped, and now they are at it again."

"That's just it. Mrs. Amy and Sarah were looking for something for the sale, and now, I suppose, they are pushing the boxes back. Mrs. Amy is greatly interested. I've never seen her so much like herself since she was a girl," was Peter's reply, whereupon the Colonel consigned the Rummage to perdition, with its old pots and kettles, and Mrs. Biggs's warming-pan and foot-stove and brass kettle, and Granny Baker's quill wheel and Mrs. Allen's wedding bonnet. Who was going to buy such truck? "And Peter," he said, in a lower tone of voice, "what do you think? Ruby Ann actually asked for my trousers! Yes, my trousers! And when I told her I hadn't any but what were shiny at the knees, she said it didn't matter; in fact, the shine would be all the better, showing they had been worn. They'd label 'em 'Col. Crompton's,' and hang them up with the valuables,--meaning Widow Biggs's warming-pan and foot-stove, and Widow Allen's bonnet, and that other old woman's quill wheel, I dare say. Think of it, Peter. My coat and trousers! She asked for a coat, too,--strung on a line with warming-pans and quill wheels and bonnets a hundred years old, and the Lord only knows what else, and labelled 'Col. Crompton.' If it had been anybody but Ruby Ann, I'd turned her from the room. I | | 249 thought she had more sense,--upon my soul, I did! What did she get out of you ?"

"Nothing much but some old clothes and shoes and a boot-jack; she thought a good deal of that," Peter said, and with a sniff of contempt the Colonel replied, "Old clothes and a boot-jack; and what is Mrs. Amy sending? Half the attic, I should think from the noise they make up there."

Hesitating a moment Peter said, "She is giving the fancy gowns she used to wear, with the tops of the waists and bottoms of the sleeves cut off. She says they are hateful to her."

The Colonel guessed what she meant, and replied, "Quite right; Rummage and rag-bags good places for them; but I say, Peter, I won't have them strung up with warming-pans and quill wheels and my trousers. You must stop it. Do you hear?"

"I didn't know your trousers were going," Peter suggested, and the Colonel answered curtly, "Who said they were, you blockhead? They are not going unless Ruby gets them in the night. Upon my soul, she is equal to it. I think I shall put them under my pillow. It is Mrs. Amy's dresses I mean. What else is she going to send?"

"You remember the doll house you bought her when she was a little girl?" Peter said.

"Good thunder, yes! Will she give that away?" the Colonel asked, with something in his tone which was more than surprise.

It hurt him that Amy should be willing to part with the doll house. She must be queerer than usual, and he thought of the Harris blood. Suddenly he remembered Mandy Ann and Judy, and | | 250 asked if she was going to give them to the Rummage.

"She means to. Yes, sir. They go with the doll house, one as mistress, the other as maid. I heard her say so. They are downstairs now," was Peter's reply.

The Colonel's countenance fell, and there was an awful twinge in his foot, but he didn't mind it. His thoughts flew back to the palmetto clearing, where he first saw the little girl and Judy. Then they travelled on to Savannah and the store where he bought Mandy Ann, and so on through the different phases of Amy's childhood, and he was surprised to find how unwilling he was to part with what had been so intimately associated with years which, on the whole, had been happy, although at times a little stormy. And Amy was going to send them to a Rummage Sale!

"I may be a weak old fool, but I won't have them sold down there with quill wheels and warming-pans!" he thought.

But what could he do? They were Amy's, and if she had made up her mind to send them, it would take more than his opposition to prevent it. She was very gentle and yielding as a whole, but behind the gentleness and sweetness he knew there was a spirit he did not like to rouse. He must manage some other way. He had told Ruby he would neither give his clothes nor money to the farce, and he prided himself on never going back on his word. But he didn't tell her he wouldn't buy anything, and his face brightened as he said, very briskly, "Peter!"

"Yes, sir," was the prompt reply.

"Hold your tongue!"

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"Yes, sir," was Peter's still more prompt reply, and his master continued; "I don't care a rap about those dresses, but I won't have Mandy Ann and the nigger baby and the doll house sold. I may be a hard old cur. I s'pose I am, but I have now and then a streak of,--I don't know what,--clinging to the years of Mrs. Amy's childhood. She turned the house upside down. She raised the very old Harry sometimes, but she got into our hearts somehow, didn't she?"

"Yes, a long ways," was Peter's reply, as he waited for what was next to come, and looked curiously at the Colonel, who sat with his eyes closed, clutching the arms of his chair tightly, as if suffering from a fearful twinge.

But if he were, he did not think of it. His mind was again in the palmetto clearing, and he was standing by Dory's grave in the sand, and a little child was holding his hand, and looking at him with eyes which had in them something of the same expression which had once quickened his pulse, and made his heart beat with a thrill he fancied was love, but which had died almost as soon as it was born. As a result of that episode he had Amy, whom he did love, and because he loved her so much, he clung to the mementoes of her babyhood, when she had been a torment and a terror, and still a diversion in his monotonous life.

"Peter!" he said again. "Hold your tongue, but get them somehow. Who is head of this tomfoolery?"

"Ruby Ann is about as big a head as there is, I guess. She and a woman from York State," Peter replied, and the Colonel continued, "Well, I s'pose | | 252 those things will have to go to the sale, if Mrs. Amy says so, but I won't have them mixed with the quill wheels and boot-jacks and Widow Biggs's foot-stove and brass kettle, and I won't have a pack of idiots looking them over and buying them and saying they belonged to the Cromptons. Mandy Ann Crompton and Judy Crompton would sound fine,--both niggers! No, sir! You are to go quietly to Ruby Ann and buy 'em! Do you hear? Buy 'em! You knew Mrs. Amy when she played with 'em. You want 'em, and you'll pay the price, no matter what it is. Lord Harry! I'll bet they'll put a big one on 'em, but no matter. I paid thirty dollars for the doll house and five for Mandy Ann. I don't s'pose Judy cost anything, but the child liked it best, and I believe I'd rather have it than both the others, because--"

He did not say why, but he gripped the arms of his chair tightly, while drops of sweat stood upon his forehead. He was in the clearing again with Dora living, instead of dead, and the moon was shining on her face as she stood in the turn of the road and gave him the promise she had kept so faithfully. Judy belonged to that far-off time, and he'd keep her at any cost. He called himself a sentimental old fool after Peter left him, and wondered why his eyes grew misty and there was a lump in his throat as his thoughts kept going back to the South he wished he had never seen.

"Poor little Dora!" he said to himself; "but for me she might have been alive and married to some respectable-- No, by George!" he added suddenly, with a start which made his foot jump as he recalled the class into which Dora would probably, | | 253 have married if he had not crossed her path. "No, by George, I believe I'd rather she died in her youthful beauty, and was buried by Jake in the sand, than to see her the wife of some lout, and rubbing her gums with snuff."

He was roused from his reverie by wheels crunching on the gravel walk up to a side door, and he heard Sarah's voice and Cindy's, the cook's, and finally Amy's giving directions, and felt sure some one had come for whatever was to go from the Crompton Place to the sale. Ruby had not intended sending so soon when she left the house, but chancing to meet a drayman who had just deposited a load in the salesrooms, she bade him go for whatever was ready, thinking, "I'll strike while the iron is hot, and before Mrs. Amy has time to change her mind."

There was no danger of that, at least as far as the dresses were concerned. Like everything connected with her stage life, they had been to her a kind of nightmare whenever she thought of them, and she was glad to be rid of them. Mandy Ann and Judy did give her a few pangs, and especially the latter, and as she wrapped it in tissue paper she held it for a moment pressed close to her, and began a song she had heard from the negroes as they sat around their light-wood fire after their day's work was done. It was a weird melody which Homer Smith had caught up and revised and modernized, with a change of words in some places, and made her sing, knowing it would bring thunders of applause. She heard the roar now, and saw the audience and the flowers falling around her, and with an expression of disgust she put Judy into Sarah's hands, and said, "Take her | | 254 away, and quick, too. She, or something, brings it back."

Sarah took poor, discarded Judy, tied her in her chair in the old doll house, which was placed on top of the two trunks containing Amy's concert dresses, and then the drayman started up his horse, and the Colonel heard the wheels a second time coming past his window. With a great effort he succeeded in getting upon his well foot, and, dragging the other after him, hobbled on his crutches to the window in time to see the cart as it turned into the avenue. As far as he could see it he watched it as the doll house swung from side to side, and the drayman held it to keep it from falling off.

"I don't see how Amy could have done it," the Colonel said to himself when the dray disappeared from view, and then becoming conscious of the pain in his foot, he dragged himself back to his chair, and ringing for Peter, said to him: "I think I'll lie down a spell,--and, bring me a hot-water bag, I'm pretty cold, and my foot just jumps; and, Peter, go to-day and buy those things as if they were for yourself. You mustn't lie, of course,--but get 'em somehow, and bring them here to this big closet. The chances are when Mrs. Amy comes to her senses she'll want 'em, and raise Ned, as she used to. I'd give a good deal to see her in a tantrum. I'd rather have her that way than passive, as she is now. Will nothing ever rouse her out of her apathy? Curse that Homer Smith!"

He was talking to himself rather than to Peter, who got him on to the lounge, adjusted the cushions, brought a hot-water bag, covered him up, and then left him, saying, "Don't fret, I'll go this afternoon | | 255 and get Judy and Mandy Ann by fair means or foul."

"All right," the Colonel said drowsily. "Fair means or foul, but don't lie, and don't let them think they are for me. You want them, and must get them, fair means or foul. You know where my purse is. Hold your tongue, and go!"

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