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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 6 chapter 6 >>

Display page layout


She had taught the school in District No. 5 summer and winter for five years. She had been a teacher for fifteen years, her first experience dating back to the days when the Colonel was school inspector, and his formula in full swing. She had met all his requirements promptly, knew all about the geese and the grindstone, and the wind, and Mr. Wright, and had a certificate in the Colonel's handwriting, declaring her to be rooted and grounded in the fundamentals, and qualified to teach a district school anywhere. As Mr. Bills had said to Eloise, she was five feet nine inches high and large in proportion, with so much strength and vital force and determination, that the most unruly boy in District No. 5 would hesitate before openly defying her authority. She had conquered Tom Walker, the bully of the school, and after the day when he was made to feel the force there was in her large hand, he had done nothing worse than make faces behind her back and draw caricatures of her on his slate.

As a rule, Ruby Ann was popular with the majority of the people, and there had been some opposition to a change. It was hardly fair, they said to the Colonel, who took so much interest in the school, and who was sure to feel angry and hurt if deprived of | | 179 the privilege of catechising the teachers in the office he had erected for that purpose on his grounds. He had not only built the school-house, but had kept it in repair, and had added a classroom for the older scholars because somebody said it was needed, and had not objected when it was only used for wraps and dinner pails, and balls and clubs in the summer, and in the winter for coal and wood and sleds and skates and other things pertaining to a school of wide-awake girls and boys.

This was the conservative party, but there was another which wanted a change. They had been in a rut long enough, and they laughed at the Colonel's formula, which nearly every child knew by heart. The Colonel was too old to run things,--they must have something up to date, and when the president of Mayville Normal School applied for a situation for Eloise she was accepted, and Ruby Ann went to the wall. She was greatly chagrined and disappointed when she found herself supplanted by a normal graduate, of whom she had not a much higher opinion than the Colonel himself. When she heard of the accident and that her rival was disabled, she was conscious just for a moment of a feeling of exultation, as if Eloise had received her just deserts. She was, however, a kind-hearted, well-principled woman, and soon cast the feeling aside as unworthy of her, and tried to believe she was sorry for the girl, who, she heard, was very young, and had been carried in the darkness and rain to Mrs. Biggs's house in Howard Crompton's arms.

"I would almost be willing to sprain my ankle for the sake of being carried in that way," Ruby thought, and then laughed as she tried to fancy the young | | 180 man bending beneath the weight of her hundred and ninety pounds.

It was at this juncture that Mr. Bills came in asking if she would take Miss Smith's place until she was able to walk. It might be two weeks, and it might be three, and it might be less, he said. Any way, they didn't want a cripple in the school-house for Tom Walker to raise Hail Columby with. Would Ruby Ann swaller her pride and be a substitute?

"It is a good deal to ask me to do after I have been turned out of office," she said, "but I am not one to harbor resentment. Yes, I'll take the school till Miss Smith is able. How does she look? I hear she is very young."

"Well, she's some younger than you, I guess, and looks like a child as she sits down," Mr. Bills replied. "Why, you are big as two of her,--yes, three,--and could throw her over the house."

Ruby's face clouded, and Mr. Bills went on: "She is handsome as blazes, with a mouth which keeps kind of quivering, as if she wanted to cry, or something, and eyes--well, you've got to see 'em to know what they are like. They are just eyes which make an old man like me feel,--I don't know how."

Ruby laughed, but felt a little hurt as she thought of her own small, light-blue eyes and lighter eyebrows, which had never yet made any man, young or old, feel "he didn't know how." She knew she was neither young nor handsome nor attractive, but she had good common sense, and after Mr. Bills was gone she sat down to review the situation, and resolved to accept it gracefully and to call upon Eloise. It would be certainly en regle and Christian-like to do so, she thought, and the next afternoon she presented her- | | 181 self at Mrs. Biggs's door and asked if Miss Smith were able to see any one.

Mrs. Biggs belonged to the radical party which favored a change of teachers. Five years was long enough for one person to teach in the same place, she said, and they wanted somebody modern and younger. She laid a great deal of stress upon that, and on one occasion, when giving her opinion over her gate to a neighbor, had added "smaller and better-looking." Ruby was not a favorite with Mrs. Biggs, whom she had called an inveterate gossip, hunting up everbody's history and age, and making them out two or three years older than they were. She had lived at home and kept Mrs. Biggs out of a boarder five years. She had called Tim a lout, and kept him after school several times when his mother needed him. Consequently Mrs. Biggs's sympathies were all with Eloise, who was young and small and good-looking, and she flouted the idea of having Ruby hired even for a few days.

"It's just a wedge to git her in again," she had said to Tim, with whom she had discussed the matter. "I know Ruby Ann, and she'll jump at the chance, and keep it, too. She can wind Mr. Bills round her fingers. I'd rather have Miss Smith with one laig than Ruby Ann with three. Tom Walker ain't goin' to raise Ned with such a slip of a girl."

"I ruther guess not, when I'm there," Tim said, squaring himself up as if ready to fight a dozen Tom Walkers, when, in fact, he was afraid of one, and usually kept out of his way.

Mrs. Biggs had not expected Ruby Ann to call, and her face wore a vinegary expression when she opened the door to her.

| | 182

"Yes, I s'pose you can see her, but too much company ain't good for sprained ankles," she replied in response to Ruby's inquiry if she could see Miss Smith. "You'll find her in the parlor, but don't stay long. Talkin' 'll create a fever in her laig."

Ruby was accustomed to Mrs. Biggs's vagaries, and did not mind them.

"I'll be very discreet," she said, as she passed on to the parlor, curious to see the girl who had been preferred to herself.

She had heard from Mr. Bills that Eloise "was handsome as blazes," but she was not prepared for the face which looked up at her as she entered the room. Something in the eyes appealed to her as it had to Mr. Bills, and any prejudice she might have had melted away at once, and she began talking to Eloise as familiarly as if she had known her all her life. At first Eloise drew back from the powerfully built woman, who stood tip so tall before her, and whose voice was so strong and masculine, and whose eyes travelled over her so rapidly, taking in every detail of her dress and every feature of her face. Mrs. Biggs's disfiguring cotton gown had been discarded for a loose white jacket, which, with its knots of pink ribbon, was very becoming, and Ruby found herself studying it closely, and wondering if she could make one like it, and how she would look in it. Then she noticed the hands, so small and so white, and felt an irresistible desire to take one of them in her broad palm.

"I do believe I could hold three like them in one of mine," she thought, and sitting down by Eloise's side, she laid her hand on the one resting on the arm of the chair.

| | 183

There was something so friendly and warm and so sympathetic in the touch that Eloise wanted to cry. With a great effort she kept her tears back, but could not prevent one or two from standing on her long lashes, and making her eyes very bright as she answered Ruby's rapid questions with regard to the accident.

"And I hear Mr. Howard Crompton brought you here himself. That was something of an honor, as he seldom goes out of his way for any one," she said, with a keen look of curiosity in her eyes.

"I never thought of the honor," Eloise replied. "I could think of nothing but the pain, which was terrible, and now everything is so dreary and so different from what I hoped. Do you think it will be long before I can walk?"

"No; oh no," Ruby answered cheerily. "Let me see your foot. It is swollen badly," she said, as she replaced the old shawl Mrs. Biggs had thrown across it. "What have you on it? Wormwood and vinegar, I know by the odor. You should have a rubber band, and nothing else. It is cleaner and saves trouble. That's what I used, and was well in no time."

"Have you had a sprained ankle, too?" Eloise asked, and Ruby Ann replied, "Certainly. Nearly every one has at some time in his life. It is as common as the measles."

"I believe it," Eloise rejoined with a laugh. "So many have called to see me, and almost every one had had a sprain,--some as many as three; and each one proposed a different remedy."

"Naturally; but you try the rubber band. I'll | | 184 bring you one, and massage your ankle, and have you well very soon."

These were the first hopeful words Eloise had heard, and her heart warmed towards this great blond woman, who was proving herself a friend, and who began to tell her of the school and her own experience as teacher in District No. 5, which. she said, was the largest and most important district in town, with the oldest scholars both summer and winter. "There are some unruly boys, especially Tom Walker, but I am so big and strong that I conquered him by brute force, and had no trouble after one battle. You will conquer some other way. Tom is very susceptible to good looks,--calls me a hayseed, and a chestnut, and a muff. It will be different with you," and Ruby pressed the hand she was holding. Then she spoke of Col. Crompton, who used to examine the teachers, and before whom she had been five times; usually answering the same questions, especially those contained in the "Formula," and to which Eloise would not be subjected.

"What is the Formula?" Eloise asked, and Ruby told her, while Eloise listened bewildered, and glad that she was to escape an ordeal she could never pass with credit.

It was easy to be confiding with Ruby, and Eloise soon found herself talking freely of her life and school days in Mayville, and the necessity there was for her to teach, and the bitter disappointment it would be to lose the school on which so much depended.

"My father is dead," she said, "and my mother is--" she hesitated, while a deep flush came to her cheeks, "she is an invalid, and there is no one to care | | 185 for her now but me. She is in California, and I may have to go for her, and must have the money."

Just for a moment, when Mr. Bills asked her to take Eloise's place, there had been in Ruby's mind a half-formed hope that she might be wholly reinstated in her old place as a teacher. But it was gone now, and Jack Harcourt himself was not more kindly disposed to the helpless girl than she was.

"You shall not lose the school, nor the time either," she said impulsively. "I am to take it till you are able, and then I shall step out. In the mean time, I shall do all I can for you,--shall enlist Tom Walker on your side, and you will have no trouble."

She arose to go, then sat down again and said, "I hope you will be able to attend our Rummage Sale."

"Rummage Sale!" Eloise repeated, remembering to have heard the word in connection with the slippers Miss Amy had sent her. "I don't think I quite understand."

"Don't you know what a Rummage Sale is?" Ruby Ann asked, explaining what it was, and saying they were to have one in a vacant house not far from Mrs. Biggs's, the proceeds to go for a free library for District No. 5. "I am one of the solicitors," she continued, "but as you are a stranger you may not have anything to contribute."

As Rummage Sales were just beginning to dawn on the public horizon Eloise had never heard of them, but she became interested at once, because Ruby Ann was so enthusiastic, and said, "I have two or three white aprons I made myself. You can have one of them if you think anybody will buy it."

"Buy it!" Ruby repeated, rubbing her hands in ecstasy. "It will bring a big price when they know | | 186 it was yours and you made it. I'll see that it has a conspicuous place. And now I must go and see Mrs. Biggs again about the sale. Good-by, and keep up your courage."

She stooped and kissed Eloise, who heard her next in the kitchen talking to Mrs. Biggs, first of rubber bands and massage, and then of the Rummage Sale. When she was gone Mrs. Biggs came in and sat down and began to give her opinion of the Rummage Sale, and massage and rubber bands, and first the Rummage. A good way to get rid of truck, and Ruby Ann said they took everything. She had a lot of old chairs and a warming pan and footstove, and she s'posed she might give the spotted brown and white calico wrapper which Eloise had worn. It was faded and out of style. Yes, on the whole, she'd give the wrapper. She never liked it very well, she said; and then she spoke of the rubber band Ruby Ann had recommended instead of wormwood and vinegar, and of which she did not approve. What did Ruby Ann know? though, to be sure, she was old enough. How old did Eloise think she was? Eloise had not given her age a thought, but, pressed for an answer, ventured the reply that she might be verging on to thirty.

"Verging on to thirty! More likely verging on to forty," Mrs. Biggs said, with a savage click of the needles with which she was knitting Tim a sock. "I know her age, if she does try to look young and wear a sailor hat, and ride a wheel in a short gown! I'd laugh to see me ridin' a wheel, and there ain't so much difference between us neither. I know, for we went to school together. She was a little girl, to be sure, and sat on the low seat and learnt her a-b-c's. | | 187 I was four or five years older, and sat on a higher seat with Amy Crompton, till the Colonel took her from the district school and kep' her at home with a governess."

Mrs. Biggs was very proud of the acquaintance she had had with Amy Crompton, when the two played together under the trees which shaded the school-house the Colonel had built as expiatory years before, and she continued: "Amy, you know, is the half-cracked lady at the Crompton House who sent the hat and slippers. She's been married twice,--run away the first time. My land! what a stir there was about it, and what a high hoss the Colonel rode. Who her second was nobody knows,--some scamp by the name of Smith,--that's your name, and a good one, too, but about the commonest in the world, I reckon. There's four John Smiths in town, and Joel Smith, who brings my milk, and George Smith I buy aigs of, and forty odd more. They say the Colonel hates the name like pisen. Won't have anybody work for him by that name. Dismissed his milkman because he was a Smith, and between you and I, I b'lieve half his opposition to you was your name. Why, it's like a red rag to a bull."

"I didn't know he was opposed to me personally," Eloise said, and Mrs. Biggs replied, "Of course not; how could he be? He never seen you. It's the normal, and bein' put out of office--he and Ruby Ann. They've run things long enough. They say he did swear offel at the last school meetin' about normals and ingrates and all that,--meanin' they'd forgot all he'd done for 'em; but, my land, you can't b'lieve half you hear. I don't b'lieve nothin', and try to keep a close mouth 'bout what I do b'lieve. I ain't none | | 188 o' your gossips, and won't have folks sayin' the Widder Biggs said so and so."

Here Mrs. Biggs stopped to take breath and answer a rap at the kitchen door, where George Smith was standing with a basket of eggs. Eloise could hear her badgering him because he charged too much and because his hens did not lay larger eggs, and threatening to withdraw her patronage if there was not a change. Then items of the latest news were exchanged, Mrs. Biggs doing her part well for one who never repeated anything and never believed anything. When George Smith was gone she returned to her seat by Eloise and resumed her conversation, which had been interrupted, and which was mostly reminiscent of people and incidents in Crompton, and especially of the Crompton House and its occupants, with a second fling at Ruby Ann.

<< chapter 6 chapter 6 >>