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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Order was being brought out of chaos in the Rummage rooms, where twenty ladies were working industriously, sorting, pricing, and marking the multitudinous articles heaped upon the counters. Not only District No. 5, but the village had emptied itself, glad to be rid of the accumulations of years. Nearly every room was occupied, and the committees were showing great skill in assigning things to the different departments. The antiques had a niche by themselves; the quill wheel, the warming-pan, the foot-stove, the brass kettle with Peter's boot-jack, and many more articles of a similar character were placed together. Jack's sister had responded quickly, and a large box had arrived with articles curious and new, which elicited cries of delight from the ladies in charge, who marked them at a ridiculously low price, less even, in some instances, than had been paid for them, and labelled their corner "The New York Store."

Scarcely was this completed when the drayman arrived from Crompton Place with the doll house and the two trunks, the last of which were pounced upon first, as Ruby Ann had reported what was in them. Her description, however, had fallen far short of the reality, and the ladies held their breath, | | 257 as one after another of the beautiful gowns was taken out for exhibition. Few had ever seen anything just like them. Homer Smith had prided himself upon being a connoisseur in ladies' costumes and had directed all of Amy's, taking care that there was no sham about them. Everything was real, from the fabric itself to the lace which trimmed it, and which alone had cost him hundreds of dollars. And now they were at a Rummage Sale, and the managers did not know what to do with them. It was scarcely possible that any one would buy them, and it would be greatly out of place to exhibit them in the dry-goods department with Mrs. Biggs's brown and white spotted gown which she had contributed rather unwillingly, insisting that it should not be sold for less than a dollar. Ruby Ann suggested that they be carefully folded in boxes and laid away by themselves for inspection by any one who had a thought of buying them. If they did not sell, and probably they would not, they were to be returned either to Amy or to the Colonel,--the latter most likely, as Amy had expressed so strong a desire to be rid of them. Her suggestion was acted upon, and the dresses laid aside, and the attention of the managers turned to the doll house and its occupants, Mandy Ann and Judy, the latter of whom was greeted with shrieks of laughter.

Here was something that would sell, but what price to put upon it was a puzzle. No one had any idea of the original cost. Mrs. Biggs, who had joined the working force 'and whose voice was loudest everywhere, suggested ten dollars, with the privilege of falling, but was at once talked down, as low prices were to be the rule for everything, and five was quite | | 258 enough. There were few who would pay that for a mere plaything for their children, so the card upon it was marked five dollars, with the addition that it had once belonged to Mrs. Amy Crompton Smith. It was then placed conspicuously in a window before which a group of eager, excited children gathered, and to which early in the afternoon Peter came leisurely.

The Colonel had asked him several times why he didn't go, and had finally grown so petulant that Peter had started, wondering how much he'd have to pay and what excuse he was to make for wanting it himself. His instructions were not to lie, but get it somehow without using the Colonel's name. Finding Ruby Ann alone, he began, "I say, do you make any sales before the thing opens?"

"Why, yes, we can," Ruby answered. "Several antiques are promised, if not actually sold, your boot-jack with the rest. Could sell another if we had it. Any particular thing you want?"

"Yes, I want that house in the window and the two women in it,--Mandy Ann and Judy. It's marked five dollars. Here's your money," and he laid a crisp five-dollar bill in her hand.

"Why, Peter,--why, Peter," Ruby exclaimed in surprise, with a sense of regret that more had not been asked, and a feeling of wonder as to why Peter wanted it. "Are you buying it for yourself?" she asked, and Peter replied, "Who should I buy it for? I knew Mrs. Amy when she was a little girl and played with it and slept with that nigger baby Judy. I've bought it. It's mine, and I'll take it right away. There's a drayman now, bringing a worn-out cook-stove and an old lounge."

| | 259

"Oh, but, Peter,--please leave it till the sale is over. It draws people to look at it, and then they'll come in," Ruby said, while others of the ladies joined their entreaties with hers.

But Peter was firm. He had bought the doll house and paid for it. It was his, and in spite of the protests of the entire committee which gathered round him like a swarm of bees he took it away, and an hour later it was safely deposited in the Colonel's room without Amy's knowledge. The Colonel was delighted.

"Bring it close up," he said, "but first take off that infernal card that it belonged to 'Mrs. Amy Crompton Smith.' That's the way they'd marked my trousers! Give me Mandy Ann and Judy. I haven't seen them in more than twenty years,--yes, nearer thirty. Upon my soul they wear well, especially the old lady. She was never very handsome, but Amy liked her best," he said, laughing a little as Peter put Judy in his lap.

He did not know that he had ever touched her before, and he held her between his thumb and finger, with something which felt like a swelling in his throat, --not for Judy, nor for Amy, but for poor Dory, thoughts of whom were haunting him these days with a persistency he could not shake off.

"What did you give?" he asked, and Peter replied, "Five dollars,--just what it was marked."

"Five dollars! Heavens and earth!" and Judy fell to the floor, while the Colonel grasped his knees with his hands and sat staring at Peter. "Five dollars! Are you an idiot, and have none of them common sense?" he asked, and Peter replied, "That was the price, and I didn't like to beat them down. | | 260 Ruby Ann isn't easy to tackle, and Mrs. Biggs was there with her gab, if she is my niece, and said I got it dirt cheap."

"Go to thunder with your Ruby Ann and Mrs. Biggs and dirt cheap!" the Colonel roared. "Who said I wanted you to beat 'em down? Why, man, I told you I gave thirty for the house and five for Mandy Ann, and here they have sold the whole caboodle, Judy and all, for five dollars! Five dollars! Do you hear? Five dollars, for what cost thirty-five! I consider they've insulted Mandy Ann and Judy both. Five dollars! I'll be--"

He didn't finish his sentence, for he heard Amy's voice in the hall. She might be coming, and he said hastily to Peter, "Put them in the closet. Don't let her see them, or there'll be the old Harry to pay."

Peter obeyed, but Amy did not come in, and after a moment the Colonel continued, "We will keep them here a while. I dare say she'll never think of them again. She doesn't think much. Do you believe she will ever be any better?"

The Colonel's voice shook as he asked the question, and Peter's shook a little as he replied, "Please God she may. A great shock of some kind might do it."

"Yes, but where is the shock to come from, hedged round as she is from every rough wind or care?" the Colonel said, little thinking with what strides the shock was hastening on, or through what channel it was to come.

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