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 rooms were ready at last, and twenty tired ladies went through them to see that every thing was in its proper place, and then went home with high anticipations of the morrow and what it would bring. It opened most propitiously and was one of those soft, balmy September days, more like early June than autumn. There were brisk sales and crowds of people all day, with the probability of greater crowds and brisker sales in the evening. Jack Harcourt was in and out, watching the sale of what his sister had sent, drinking cups of chocolate every time a pretty girl asked him to do so, and buying toys and picture books and candy, and distributing them among the children gathered around the door and windows. He thought he had looked at everything on sale, but had failed to find the white apron. Where was it? he wondered. He would not ask Ruby Ann or Mrs. Biggs, as that would be giving himself away. It would certainly be there in the evening when he was to bring Eloise in her chair. He had settled that with Tim, who gave up rather unwillingly, but was consoled by being hired as errand boy,--an office he could not have filled had he been hampered with a wheel chair.

The night was glorious, with a moon near its full, | | 262 and a little before seven Jack presented himself at Mrs. Biggs's, finding Eloise ready and alone. Tim was at the rooms, running hither and thither at everybody's beck and call, and his mother was there, running the whole thing,--judging from her manner as she moved among the crowd filling the rooms nearly to suffocation. Eloise had more than once changed her mind about going, as she sat waiting for Jack. She was shy with strangers, and there would be so many there, and she would be so conspicuous in her chair, with Mr. Harcourt in attendance, that she began to doubt the propriety of going.

"If it were Tim who was to take me, I believe I should feel differently," she was thinking, when Jack came in, breezy and excited,--full of the Rummage and anxious to be off.

"You are ready, I see," he said. "That's right. We have no time to lose. And there's no end of fun. I've been there half the day, and drank chocolate, and eaten cake and candy till I never want to see any more. But you will."

He was adjusting her dress and getting the chair in motion as he talked, and Eloise had no time to suggest that she ought not to go, before she found herself out upon the piazza, and Jack, who had locked the door, was putting the key under the mat.

"You see I remember where I found it that time Howard and I desiccated the Sabbath by calling upon you," he said, with a laugh in which Eloise joined.

"Is Mr. Howard going? " she asked, and Jack replied, "He is a kind of lazy fellow, but he'll be there all right;" and the first one they saw distinctly as they drew near the house was Howard, struggling with the crowd.

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Howard had gone down on purpose to see Eloise, and was wondering how with her chair she could ever be gotten through that mass of people, when she appeared at the door, and, with Howard, wondered how she was to get in. She might not have accomplished it if he had not come to the rescue with two boys,--one Tim Biggs, the other a tall, freckled-faced, light-haired fellow whom Jack greeted as Tom, saying, "Can you manage to find a good position for Miss Smith?"

"You bet," came simultaneously from both boys, and immediately four sharp elbows were being thrust into the sides of the people, who moved all they could and made a passage for Eloise and her chair near the middle of the room, and in a comparatively sheltered place where she could see everything without being jostled.

If she could see everything and everybody, so everybody could see her, and for a moment there was a hush in the large room where every eye was turned upon Eloise, who began to feel very uncomfortable, and wish she had not come. She had wondered what she ought to wear, and had decided upon black as always suitable. When she left California her mother had urged her to take a small velvet cape lined with ermine. It was the only expensive article of dress she had, and she was very choice of it, but to-night she wore it about her shoulders, as later the air was inclined to blow up cool and damp from the sea. Just as they reached the house Jack stooped to arrange it, throwing it back on either side so that more of the ermine would show.

"There! You look just like a queen! Ermine is | | 264 very becoming to you," he said, and the people staring at her thought so, too.

Her head was uncovered, and her hair, which waved softly around her forehead, was wound in a flat knot low in her neck, making her look very young, as she sat shrinking from the fire of eyes directed towards her and saw, if she did not hear, the low whispers of the people, many of whom had never seen her before, and were surprised at her extreme youth and beauty. Ruby Ann was at a distance, trying to sell Mrs. Biggs's spotted brown and white wrapper to a scrub woman who was haggling over the price which Mrs. Biggs had insisted should be put upon it. That good woman was busy in the supper-room, or she would have made her way at once to Eloise, who, as she looked over the sea of faces confronting her, saw no one she knew except Howard Crompton, who had been very uncomfortable in the heat and air of the place until she came, and with her fresh, fair young face seemed at once to change the whole atmosphere. Jack, who was not used to much exertion and had found even Eloise's light weight a trifle heavy, especially up the hill near the Rummage house, was sweating at every pore, and fanning himself with a palm leaf he had bought at the entrance.

"By George!" he said to Howard. who was standing by them. "It's hotter than a furnace in here. I believe I'll have to go outside and cool off a minute, if you'll stay and keep guard over Miss Smith."

"Certainly;--with pleasure," Howard said, putting his hand on Eloise's chair and asking if there was anything he could do for her.

She was watching the brown and white spotted | | 265 gown, and to Howard's question she shook her head, while he continued, "Jack says the chocolate is pretty fair. He ought to know.--he has drank six cups. I am going to bring you some."

Before she could protest that she did not care for chocolate, he left her and his place was at once taken by the tall, lank, light-haired boy, whose elbows had done so good execution in forcing a passage for the chair. Tom had been watching her ever since she came in, and making up his mind. He had heard she was pretty, but that did not begin to express his opinion of her, as she sat with the ermine over her shoulders, the soft sheen on her hair, the bright color on her cheeks, and a look in her eyes which fascinated him, boy though he was, as it did many an older man, from Mr. Bills to Jack, and Howard Crompton. If his two chips had not been thrown away he would have thrown them now, and still the feeling in him which people called cussedness was so strong that he could not repress a desire "to see what stuff she was made off."

Taking Howard's vacant place he pushed himself forward until he was nearly in front of her, where he could look into her face. She recognized him as the boy Jack had called Tom, and guessed who he was,--her eyes drooping under his rather bold gaze, and her color coming and going. Tom was not sure what he was going to say to her, and could never understand why he said what he did. He had been told so often by Mr. Bills and others that he needed licking, and so many teachers had licked him, to say nothing of his drunken father, that the idea was in his mind, but as something wholly at variance with this dainty little girl, who at last looked at him fearlessly. | | 266 She knew he was going to speak to her, but was not prepared for his question.

"You are the new schoolmarm, ain't you? Do you think you could lick me?"

Just for an instant Eloise was too much surprised to answer, while the hot blood surged into her face, then left it spotted here and there, making Tom think of pink rose petals with white flecks in them. But she didn't take her eyes from the boy, who was ashamed of himself before she said with a pleasant laugh, "I know I couldn't; and I don't believe I shall ever wish to try. I am the new school-teacher, and you are Mr. Thomas Walker!"

She did not know why she put on the Mr. It came inadvertently, but was the most fortunate thing she could have done. To be called Thomas was gratifying, but the Mr. was quite overpowering and made Tom her ally at once.

"I'm Thomas Walker,--yes," he said. "Miss Patrick has told you about me, I dare say,--and Mr. Bills, and Widder Biggs, and Tim. Oh, I know he's told you a lot what I was goin' to do,--but it's a lie. I have plagued Miss Patrick some, I guess, and she whaled me awful once, but I've reformed. I didn't s'pose you was so little. I could throw you over the house, but I shan't. Say, when are you going to begin? I'm tired of Miss Patrick's everlasting same ways of doing things, and want something new,--something modern, you know."

He was getting very familiar, and Eloise was chatting with him on the most friendly terms, when Howard came back with a cup of chocolate, a part of which was spilled before he reached her. Howard knew who the young blackguard was, and glowered | | 267 at him disapprovingly, but Eloise said, "Mr. Crompton, this is Thomas Walker, one of my biggest scholars that is to be. Some difference in our height, isn't there? but we shall get on famously. I like big boys and taught a lot of them in Mayville."

She smiled up at Tom and gave him her empty cup to take away. He would have stood on his head if she had asked him to, and he hurried off with the cup, meeting Jack, who had cooled himself, bought a pound of candy at one table and some flowers at another, and was making his way back to Eloise. He had also looked round a little for the apron he was going to buy, but could not find it. He'd make another tour of inspection later, he thought, for he meant to have it, if it were still there. Taking his stand on one side of Eloise's chair while Howard stood on the other, the three made a striking tableau at which many looked admiringly, commenting upon the beauty of the young girl,--the kind, good-humored face of Jack, and the haughty bearing of Howard, who, an aristocrat to his finger tips, watched the proceedings with an undisguised look of contempt showing itself in his sarcastic smile and the expression of his eyes.

Eloise was greatly interested and so expressed herself. She had seen the scrub woman haggling with Ruby Ann over the brown and white spotted wrapper, and had seen it laid aside until another customer came, when the same haggling took place with the same result, for Mrs. Biggs, who darted in and out, still clung to the price put upon it and so retarded the sale. The last time Ruby Ann brought it out Howard and Jack both recognized it.

"By Jove! I've half a mind to buy it myself as a | | 268 kind of souvenir," Jack said, but a look of disgust in Eloise's face and a frown on Howard's deterred him, and he kept very quiet for a while, wondering where that apron was and if by any possibility it could have been sold.

The box of articles which Jack's sister had sent from New York had been sold early in the day, and Amy's dresses had not been opened. Nearly everything of any value was gone. Two of Howard's neckties still remained conspicuously near the young men, who watched Tom Walker as he examined them very critically, and they heard the saleswoman say, "They belonged to Mr. Howard Crompton. They say he has dozens of them and all first-class. This suits you admirably,"--and she held up a white satin one with a faint tinge of blue.

Tom took it, disappeared for a few minutes, and when he came back to the chair he was resplendent in his new necktie which he had adjusted in the dressing-room, adding to it a Rhine-stone pin bought at the jewelry counter. Howard's vanity told him he was complimented, and that restrained the laugh which sprang to his 'lips at the incongruity between Tom's dress and the satin necktie bought for a grand occasion in Boston, which Howard had attended a few months before. On his way back to the group to which he felt he belonged Tom had stopped at the candy table and inquired the price of the fanciful boxes, his spirits sinking when told the pounds were fifty cents and the half-pounds twenty-five. Money was not very plenty with Tom, and what he had he earned himself. The necktie had made a heavy draft on him, and twenty cents was all he could find in either pocket.

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"I say, Tim, lend me a nickel. I'll pay it back. I hope to die if I don't," he said to Tim, who was hurrying past him on some errand for his mother.

"I hain't no nickels to lend," was Tim's answer, as he disappeared in the crowd, leaving Tom hovering near the candy table and looking longingly at the only half-pound box left.

"I say," he began, edging up to the girl in charge, "can't you take out a piece or two and let me have it for twenty cents? All the money I have in the world! 'Strue's I live, and I want it awfully for the new schoolmarm over there in the chair with them swells standin' by her."

It was the last half-pound box and the girl was tired.

"Yes, take it," she said, and Tom departed, happier if possible with his candy than with his necktie.

"I bought it for you. It's chocolate. I hope you like it," he said, depositing his gift in Eloise's lap, where Jack's box was lying open and half empty, for Eloise's weakness was candy.

"Oh, thank you, Thomas," she said, beaming upon him a smile which more than repaid him for having spent all his money for her.

She was really very happy and thought a good deal of Rummage Sales. She had the best place in the hall;--a good many people had spoken to her. She had won Tom Walker, body and soul, and she knew that her escorts, Howard and Jack, added éclat to her position. She had scarcely thought of her foot, which at last began to ache a little. She was getting tired and wondered how much longer the sale would last. Jack wondered so, too; not that he was tired. He could have stood all night looking at Eloise and | | 270 seeing the people admire her; but he was rather stout and apt to get very warm in a room where the atmosphere was close as it was here, and he wanted to be out in the fresh air again. He could take his time wheeling Eloise home, and if Mrs. Biggs staid at the rooms, as he heard her say she was going to do "till the last dog was hung," he could stay out in the porch and enjoy the moonlight with Eloise's eyes shining upon him. But where was that apron? Perhaps it hadn't come after all. He'd inquire. But of whom? Mrs. Biggs was in the supper-room. He did not care to go there again, for every time he appeared somebody was sure to get off on him a cup of chocolate or coffee, and he could not drink any more.

Ruby Ann was busy,--her face very red and her eyes very tired, as she tried to sell the most unsalable articles to old women who wanted something for nothing, and quarrelled with the quality and quarrelled with the price. His only recourse was Eloise, and he planned a long time how to approach the subject without mentioning her apron. At last a happy inspiration came to him, and when Howard's attention was diverted another way he bent over her and began.

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