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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"If this isn't a lark I never had one," Howard said to Jack, when they were safely housed and had changed their clothes, not a thread of which was dry.

Jack, whose luggage had not come, and who was obliged to borrow from Howard's wardrobe, looked like an overgrown boy in garments too small for him. But he did not mind it, and with Howard discussed the events of the evening, as they sat over the fire the latter had lighted in his room. Naturally Eloise was the subject of their conversation.

"I wrote you I had a presentiment that she was to come into my life in some way, but I had no idea it was to be this way," Howard said, as he puffed at his cigar and talked of their adventure and Eloise.

That she was very handsome and had pretty little feet went without saying, and that both were sorry for her was equally, of course. Jack was the more so, as his was the more unselfish and sympathetic nature.

"By Jove, didn't she bear the cutting of that boot like a hero, and how is she ever to get to school with that ankle?" he said; "and I think she ought to have a doctor to see if any bones are broken. Suppose you get one in the morning, and tell him not to send his bill to her but to me."

Howard looked up quickly, and Jack went on, "I | | 150 wrote you that Mrs. Brown said she was poor, and I should know it by her boots."

"Her boots!" Howard repeated, and Jack continued, "Yes, wet as they were I noticed they were half-worn, and had been blacked many times. She can't afford to pay many doctor's bills, and I ask you again, how is she to get to school?"

Howard did not know, unless they made another chair and carried her.

"I wouldn't mind it much for the sake of her arm around my neck. I can feel it yet. Can't you?" he said.

Jack could feel it and the little wet hand which once or twice had touched his face, but something in his nature forbade his talking about it. It might have been fun for them, but he knew it was like death to the girl, and that she had shrank from it all, and only submitted because she could not help it. He was very sorry for her, and thought of her the last moment before he fell asleep, and the first moment he awoke with Howard in the room telling him it was after breakfast time, and his uncle, who did not like to be kept waiting, was already in a temper and blowing like a northeaster.

The Colonel, who was suffering from an attack of rheumatic gout, was more irritable than usual. He had not liked having his horses and carriage go out in the rain, and had sat up waiting for the return of his nephew, and when Sam came in, telling what had happened to the carriage and horses, and that he must go back with a lantern to the park gates and see if the new school mistress was alive, he went into a terrible passion, swearing at the weather, and the late train, | | 151 and the school mistress who he seemed to think was the cause of the accident.

"What business had she in the carriage? Why did she come in such a storm? Why didn't she take the 'bus, and if the 'bus wasn't there, why didn't she--?" He didn't know what, and it took all the tact of Peter, who was still in the family and old like his master, to quiet him.

Then next morning his gout was so bad that he was wheeled into the dining-room, where he was fast growing angry at the delay of breakfast, and beginning to swear again when Peter, who knew how to manage him, went for Amy. Nothing quieted the Colonel like a sight of Amy, with her sweet face and gentle ways.

"Please come. It's beginning to sizzle," Peter frequently said to her when a storm was brewing, and Amy always went, and was like oil on the troubled waters.

"What is it?" she now asked, and the Colonel replied, "What is it! I should say, what is it! There's the very old Harry to pay. Brutus has a big hole in his breast, the carriage is smashed, silk cushions all stained with a girl's blue gown, and that girl the school-teacher I didn't want; and she's broken her leg or something when they tipped over, and Howard and his' friend carried her to Widow Biggs's, and the Lord knows what didn't happen!"

Amy had a way of seeming to listen very attentively when the Colonel talked to her, and always smiled her appreciation and approbation of what he said. Just how much she really heard or understood was doubtful. Her mind seemed to run in two channels,--one the present, the other the past,--and | | 152 both were blurred and indistinct,--especially the past. She understood about the young girl, however, and at once expressed her sympathy, and said, "We must do something for her."

To do something for any one in sickness or trouble was her first thought, and many a home had been made glad because of her since she came to Crompton.

"Certainly; do what you like, only don't bring her here," the Colonel replied, his voice and manner softening, as they always did with Amy.

She was a very handsome woman and looked younger than her years. The storm which had swept over her had not impaired her physical beauty, but had touched her mentally in a way very puzzling to those about her, and rather annoying to the Colonel, who was trying to make amends for the harshness which had driven her from his home. Sometimes her quiet, passive manner irritated him, and he felt that he would gladly welcome the old imperiousness with which she had defied him. But it was gone. Something had broken her on the wheel, killing her spirit completely, or smothering it and leaving her a timid, silent woman, who sat for hours with a sad, far-off expression, as if looking into the past and trying to gather up the tangled threads which had in a measure obscured her intellect.

"The Harrises are queer," kept sounding in the Colonel's ears, with a thought that the taint in the Harris blood was working in Amy's veins, intensified by some great shock, or series of shocks.

Once, after he brought her home, he questioned her of her life as a singer, and of the baby, which she occasionally mentioned, but he never repeated the | | 153 experiment. There was a fit of nervous trembling,-- a look of terror in her eyes, and a drawn expression on her face, and for a moment she was like the girl Eudora when roused. Then, putting her hand before her eyes as if to shut out something hateful to her, she said, "Oh, don't ask me to bring up a past I can't remember without such a pain in my head and everywhere, as if I were choking. It was very dreadful,-- with him,--not with Adolf,--he was so kind."

"Did he ever beat you?--or what did the wretch do? Smith, I mean," the Colonel asked, and Amy replied, "Oh, no; it wasn't that. It was a constant grind, grind,--swear, swear,--a breaking of my will, till I had none left. He never struck me but once, and then it was throwing something instead of a blow. It hit me here, and it has ached ever since."

She put her hand to one side of her temple, and went on, "It was the night I heard baby was dead, and I said I could not sing,--but he made me, and I broke down, and I don't know much what happened after till you came. I can't remember."

"Yes, but the baby,--where did it die, and when?" the Colonel asked.

Amy had been getting quiet as she talked, but at the mention of the baby, she began to tremble again, and beat the air with her hands.

"I don't know, I don't know," she said. "He took her away, and she died. It is so black when I try to think how it was, and it goes from me. Wait a bit!" She sat very still a moment, and then in a more natural voice said, "It may come back sometime, and then I will tell you. It makes me worse to talk about it now. It's this way: The inside of my head shakes all over. The doctor said it was like a | | 154 bottle full of something which must settle. I am settling here where everybody speaks so low and kind, but when I am a little clear, with the sediment going down, if you shake up the bottle, it is thick and muddy again, and I can't remember."

"By Jove!" the Colonel said to himself, "that bottle business isn't a bad comparison. She is all shaken up, and I'll let her settle."

He did not question her again of her life with Homer Smith, or of the baby. Both were dead, and he felt that it was just as well that they were. Homer Smith ought to be dead, and as to the baby it would have been very upsetting in the house, and might have been queer, like the Harrises, or worse yet, like its cuss of a father. On the whole, it was better as it was, although he was sorry for Amy, and would do all he could to make her happy, and some time, perhaps, she would remember, and tell him where the baby was buried, and he'd have it brought to Crompton, and put in the Crompton vault. As for Homer Smith, his carcase might rot in the desert of Arizona, or anywhere, for aught he cared. He was very gentle and patient with Amy, and watched the settling of the bottle with a great deal of interest. Sometimes he wondered how much she remembered of her Florida life, if anything, and what effect the mention of Jaky and Mandy Ann would have upon her, and what effect it would have upon her if he took her to the palmetto clearing, and found the negroes, if living. But pride still stood in the way. More than thirty-five years of silence were between him and the past, which to all intents was as dead as poor Dory; and why should he pull aside the dark curtain, and let in the public gaze and gossip. He couldn't | | 155 and he wouldn't All he could do for Amy in other ways he would, and for her sake he controlled himself mightily, becoming, as Peter said, like a turtle dove compared to what he once was, when the slightest crossing of his will roused him into fury.

Harsh, loud tones made Amy shiver, and brought a look into her eyes which the Colonel did not like to see, and with her he was usually very docile, or if roused, the touch of her hand and the expression of her eyes subdued him, as they did now when he told her of his broken carriage and ruined cushions and the young girl for whom Amy at once wished to do something.

"Certainly," he had said; "only don't bring her here," and he was beginning to wonder where Howard was, and to feel irritated at the delay, when the latter came in with Jack, and found a tolerably urbane and courteous host.

Naturally the conversation turned upon the storm and accident, the particulars of which were briefly gone over, while Amy stirred her coffee listlessly and did not seem to listen. She was very lovely, Jack thought, with no sign of her mental disorder, except the peculiar expression of her eyes at times. Her dress was faultless, her manner perfect, her language good, and her smile the sweetest and saddest he had ever seen, and Jack watched her curiously, while the conversation drifted away from Eloise, in whom the Colonel felt no interest. She was a graduate, and probably knew nothing of what he thought essential for a teacher to know. She was not rooted and grounded in the fundamentals. Probably she had never heard of the grindstone, or the sheep, and could not work out the problems if she had. She was super- | | 156 ficial. She belonged to a new generation which had put him and his theories on the shelf. Her blue dress had stained the cushions of his carriage, and there was a puddle of water in the hall where Sam had put down her satchel and hat, which had been found in the driveway near the stable. They had been thrown from the carriage, and lain in the rain all night. The hat was soaked through and through, and the ribbons were limp and faded; but he did not care a rap what became of them, he said to himself, when Howard spoke of them and their condition, saying that bad as they were he presumed she wanted them.

Amy on the contrary was instantly on the alert, and as they passed through the hall from the dining-room, and she saw the poor crushed hat, she said to Jack, "Is it hers?"

"Yes, and I'm afraid it is ruined," Jack answered, taking it in his hand and examining it critically.

"I will fix it." Amy replied, and, carrying it to her room, she tried to bend it into shape and renovate the bows of ribbon.

But it was beyond her skill.

"She can never wear it. I must send her one of mine," she said, selecting a hat which she wore when walking in the park. "You must take it to the young lady at Mrs. Biggs's. What is her name? I don't think I understood; they were all talking together and confused me so," she said to her maid, who had heard of the adventure from Sam, but had not caught the right name.

"It is Louise something. I don't remember what," she replied.

"Louise! That sounds like baby's name, and it makes my head ache to think of it," Amy said sadly, | | 157 going to the window, and looking out at the rain and fog, for the weather had not cleared.

It was a wet morning, and Howard, who liked his ease, shrugged his shoulders when Jack suggested that they should call upon Miss Smith.

"She ought to have her satchel and her hat," Jack said, and Howard replied, "Oh, Amy sent Sarah off with a hat half an hour ago. She would send all her wardrobe if she thought the girl wanted it, and, by George! why didn't she send a pair of boots? She has dozens of them, I dare say," he continued, as he recalled the bits of leather they had cut from Eloise's foot, and left on Mrs. Biggs's floor.

Jack had spoken of her boots, and he readily acceded to Howard's proposition to ask Amy if she had any cast-offs she thought would fit Miss Smith. "They must wear about the same size, the girl is so slight," Howard said as he went to Amy's room, where he found her still standing by the window drumming upon the pane as if fingering a piano and humming softly to herself. She never touched the grand instrument in the drawing-room, and when asked to do so and sing, she answered, "I can't; I can't. It would bring it all back and shake up the bottle. I hate the memory of it when I sang to the crowd and they applauded. I hear them now; it is baby's death knell. I can never sing again as I did then."

And yet she did sing often to herself, but so low that one could scarcely understand her words, except to know they were some negro melody sung evidently as a lullaby to a child. As Howard came up to her he caught the words, " Mother's lil baby," and knew | | 158 it was what she sometimes sang with the red cloak hugged to her bosom.

"Miss Amy," he said, "I wonder if you haven't a pair of half-worn boots for the young lady at Mrs. Biggs's? We had to cut one of hers off, her foot was so swollen."

Amy was interested at once, and ordered Sarah, who had returned from Mrs. Biggs's, to bring out all her boots and slippers, insisting that several pairs be sent for the girl to choose from. Sarah suggested that slippers would be better than boots, as the young lady could not wear the latter in her present condition.

"Yes," Amy said, selecting a pair of white satin slippers, with high French heels and fanciful rosettes. "I wore them the night he told me baby was dead. I've never had them on since. I don't want them. Give them to her. They are hateful to me."

Amy was in a peculiar mood this morning, such as sometimes came upon her and made Peter say she was a chip of the old block, meaning the Colonel, who he never for a moment doubted was her father. Sarah's suggestion that white satin slippers would be out of place made no difference. They must go. She was more stubborn than usual, and Sarah accounted for it by saying in a low tone to Howard, "Certain spells of weather always affect her and send her back to a night when something dreadful must have happened. Probably the baby she talks about died. She's thinking about it now. Better take the slippers. I've heard her talk of them before and threaten to burn them."

"All right," Howard said. "Miss Smith can send them back if she does not want them."

| | 159

The slippers were made into a parcel so small that Howard put them in his pocket and said he was ready. It had stopped raining, and as the young men preferred to walk they set off through the park, laughing over their errand and the phase of excitement in which they found themselves. Jack liked it, and Howard, too, began to like it, or said he should if the girl proved as good-looking by daylight as she had been in the night.

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