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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"Enterprise, Fla., Sept. --, 18--. "My dear Arthur:

"I was glad to hear that you were so pleasantly situated and liked your parish work. I trust it is cooler there than here in Florida, where the thermometer has registered higher day after day than it has before in years. I rather like it, however, as I am something of a salamander, and this, you know, is not my first experience in Florida. I was here between thirty and forty years ago, before I was married. In fact, I met your mother here at the Brock House, which before the war was frequented by many Southerners, some of whom came in the summer as well as in the winter.

"It was while I was here that an incident occurred which made a strong impression upon my mind, and was recalled to it by your mention of Crompton as the town where you are living. On one of the hottest days of the season I attended a funeral, the saddest, and, in some respects, the most peculiar I ever attended. It was in a log-house some miles from the river, and was that of a young girl, who lay in her coffin with a pathetic look on her face, as if in death she were pleading for some wrong to be righted. I could scarcely keep back my tears when | | 200 I looked at her, and after all these years my eyes grow moist when I recall that funeral in the palmetto clearing, with only Crackers and negroes in attendance, a demented old woman, a dark-eyed little girl, the only relatives, and a free negro, Jake, and Mandy Ann, a slave, belonging to Mrs. Harris, the only real mourners. Mandy Ann attended to the child and old woman, while Jake was master of ceremonies, and more intelligent than many white people I have met. Such a funeral as that was, with the cries and groans and singing of both whites and blacks! One old woman, called Judy, came near having the power, as they call a kind of fit of spiritual exaltation. But Jake shook her up, and told her to behave, as it was a Piscopal funeral and not a pra'r meetin'. Mandy Ann also shook up the old lady, Mrs. Harris, and screamed in her ear through a trumpet, while the little dark-eyed child joined in the refrain of the negroes' song,

"'Oh, it will be joyful
When we meet to part no more.'

"It was ludicrous, but very sad, and Jake's efforts to keep order were pitiful. He called his young mistress Miss Dory, and was most anxious to screen her from the least suspicion of wrong. When I questioned him with regard to the parentage of the little girl, he wrung his hands and answered, 'I do' know for shu', but fo' God it's all right. She tole me so, fo' she died, an' Miss Dory never tole a lie. She said to find Elder Covil, who knew, but he's done gone off Norf, or somewhar.'

"I felt sure it was all right when I saw the girl's | | 201 face. It must have been beautiful in life, and no taint of guilt had ever marred its innocence. There could have been no fault at her door, except concealment, and the reason for that was buried in her grave. I heard of a stranger who visited the clearing three or four years before the funeral. Jake was away, but Mandy Ann was there and full of the 'gemman,' who, I have no doubt, was the girl's husband and a great scamp. I left Florida within a week after that funeral, and have never been here since, until I came to take charge for a time of the church which has been erected here. I should never have known the place, it has changed so since the close of the war and the influx of visitors from the North. The hotel, which has been greatly improved and enlarged, is always full in the season, and it is one of the most popular winter resorts on the river.

"One of my first inquiries was for the negroes Jake and Mandy Ann. The latter is married and lives near the hotel, with as many children, I thought, as the old woman who lived in a shoe, the way they swarmed out when I called to see their mother. She had gone to Jacksonville to see 'ole Miss Perkinses, who was dyin', and had sent for her 'case she done live with her when she was a girl,' one of the pickaninnies said. When I asked for Jake I was told he was still in the palmetto clearing. No one could tell me anything about the little girl who must now, if living, be a woman of nearly forty. Indeed, no one seemed to remember her, so changed are the people since the war. Jake, I was sure, had not forgotten, and a few days ago I went to see him. He is an old man now, and if there is such a thing as an aristocratic negro, he is one; with his face black as ebony, | | 202 his hair white as snow, and his eyes full of intelligence and fire, especially when he talks of Miss Dory and 'de good ole times fo' she went to Georgy and met de Northern cuss.' That is what he calls the man who came for the little girl after the old grandmother died.

"I will tell you the story of his coming as Jake told it to me in the little enclosure where Miss Dory is buried, and where there is a very pretty monument to her memory, with 'Eudora, aged 20,' upon it. He was working in the yard, which was a garden of bloom, and over the grave and around the monument a Marshal Niel had twined itself, its clusters of roses filling the air with perfume. Pushing them a little aside, so that I could see the lettering more distinctly, he said, 'That's what he tole me to put thar, jess "Eudora, aged 20." I've left room for another name when I'm perfectly shu'. I don't want to put no lie on a grave stun, if her name wan't Crompton.'

"'Crompton!' I repeated, thinking of your parish.

"'Yes, Mas'r Mason, fo' God I b'lieve it's Crompton shu'. He coined an' fotched lil chile Dory, the lil girl you seen at the funeral, what seems only yestiddy, one way and in another a big lifetime sense we buried her mother here.'

"'Who is Mr. Crompton, and how did he know about the child?' I asked, and Jake replied, 'He is somebody from the Norf, and he'd sent money to Mas'r Hardy in Palatka for Miss Dory, who put it away for de chile. After she died Mas'r Hardy was gwine to Europe, an' tole me 'twas Col. Crompton, Troutburg, Massachusetts, who sent the money, but he wouldn't say nothin' else, 'cept that Col. Crompton | | 203 had gin him his confidence and he should keep it. I'm shoo that Miss Dory sent letters through Mas'r Hardy to de Colonel, an' he writ to her. Not very offen, though. She'd sen' one to Mas'r Hardy, an' he'd sen' it Norf, an' then she'd wait and wait for de answer, an' when it came you or'to seen her face light up like sun-up on de river in a May mornin'. An' her eyes,--she had wonnerful eyes,--would shine like de stars frosty nights in Virginny. Maybe 'twas mean, but sometimes I watched her readin' de letter, her han's flutterin' as she opened it like a little bird's wings when it's cotched. I think she was allus 'spectin' sumptin' what never comed. The letters was short, but it took her a mighty time to read 'em, 'case you see she wasn't good at readin' writin', an' I 'specs de Colonel's handwrite wasn't very plain. She used to spell out de long words, whisperin' 'em out sometimes, her face changin' till all de brightness was gone, an' it was more like a storm on de river than sun-up. Den she'd fold de letter, an' take up de lil chile an' kiss it, an' say, "I've got you. We'll never part." Den she'd burn de letter. I specs he tole her to, an' she was shoo to mind. Den she'd go at her readin' book agin, or writin', tryin' to larn, but 'twixt you an' I 'twan't,in her, an', no direspec' nuther, de Harrises couldn't larn from books. Dey's quick to 'dapt theirselves to what they seen, an' she didn't see nothin'.

"'Once she said to me when de big words troubled her an' floor'd me, "I can never be a lady dis way. Ef he'd take me whar he is, an' 'mongst his people, I should larn thar ways, but what can I do here wid--" She didn't say "wid Jake an' Mandy Ann an' ole granny, an' de rest of 'em," but she meant it. | | 204 If it hadn't been for the lil chile she could of gone to school. I tole her oncet I'd sen' her an' take care of de lil chile an' ole Miss,--me an' Mandy Ann. The tears come in her eyes as she ast whar I'd git de money, seein' we was layin' up what come from de Norf for de chile. I'd done thought that out lyin' awake nights an' plannin' how to make her a lady. I'se bawn free, you know, an' freedom was sweet to me an' slavery sour, but for Miss Dory I'd do it, an' I said, "I'll sell myself to Mas'r Hardy, or some gemman like him." Thar's plenty wants me, an' would give a big price, an' she should have it all for her schoolin'.

"'You orter have seen her face then. Every part of it movin' to oncet, an' her eyes so bright I could not look at 'em for the quarness thar was in 'em, an' I'll never forget her voice as she said, "That can't be; but, Jakey, you are de noblest man, black or white, I ever seen, an' my best frien', an' I loves you as if you was my brodder."

"'Dem's her very words, an' I would of sole myself for her if I could. But de lam gin up after a while. All de hope an' life went out of her, an' she died' an' you done 'tended her funeral,--you 'members it,--as fust class as I could make it. I tole you sumptin' den, but not all this. It wasn't a fittin' time, but seein' you brings it all back. Mandy Ann an' me said we'd keep lil chile a while, bein' ole Miss was alive, though she was no better than a broomstick dressed in her clothes. She didn't know nothin', not even that Miss Dory was dead, an' kep' askin' whose chile it was,--ef it was Mandy Ann's, an' why it was hyar. It kinder troubled her, I think, it was so active an' noisy, an' sung so much. Used to play | | 205 at pra'r meetin' an' have de pow' powerful, as she had seen de blacks have it when Mandy Ann took her to thar meetin's. Seems ef she liked thar ways better than what I tried to teach her from de Pra'r Book, an' they is rather more livelier for a chile. All de neighbors was interested in her, an' ole Miss Thomas most of all. She's de one what stood out de longest agin Miss Dory, 'case she didn't tell squar what she'd promised not to. But she gin in at de funeral, an' was mighty nice to the lil chile. When ole Miss Lucy died she comed in her democrat wagon, as she did for Miss Dory, an' coaxed lil chile inter her lap, an' said she showed she had good blood, an' or'to be brung up a lady, an' it wasn't fittin' for her to stay whar she was, an' if I knew de fader I mus' write to him.

"'I knew dat as well as she did, an' after consultin' wid Mandy Ann an' prayin' for light, it come dat I must sen' on, an' I did, hopin' he wouldn' come, for to part wid de lil chile was like tearin' my vitals out, an' Mandy Ann's, too. He did come,--a big, gran' man, wid a look which made me glad Miss Dory was in heaven 'stead of livin' wid him. He'd been hyar oncet before. Mebby I tole you, at de funeral. My mind gets leaky, an' I can't 'member exactly, an' so repeats.'

"'I think not,' I said, 'and if you did, I have forgotten, and am willing to hear it again.'

"We were sitting now on a bench close by what Jake said had been the little girl's play-house, which she called her Shady, because it was under a palm tree. "'Yes, he comed,' Jake said, 'two or three weeks after Miss Dory comed home from Georgy, whar she was visitin' her kin. Mandy Ann tole me 'bout | | 206 him,--how he walked an' talked to Miss Dory, till when he went away her face was white as the gown she put on when she hearn he was comin'. You see, Mandy Ann was on de boat wid him, an' tole her. She was all of a twitter, like you've seen de little hungry birds in de nest when dar mudder is comin' wid a worm,--an' she was jess as cold an' slimpsy an' starved when he went away as dem little birds is when de mudder is shot on de wing an' never comes wid de worm. You know what I mean. She s'pected somethin' an' didn't get it.'

"Jake was very eloquent in his illustrations, and I looked admiringly at him as he went on: 'I was in Virginny vallyin' for Mas'r Kane, a fine gemman who gin me big wage, an' I was savin' it up to buy some things for de house, 'case I reckoned how Miss Dory seen somethin' different in Georgy. Her kin was very 'spectable folks, an' she might want some fixin's. Thar was nobody hyar but ole Miss Lucy, who'd had some kind of a spell an' lost most of her sense, an' didn't know more'n a chile. Mandy Ann got somebody to write me that Miss Dory had a beau,--a gran' man, an' I was that pleased that I ast the price of a second-han' pianny, thinkin' mebby she'd want to larn, 'case she sung so nice. Den I never hearn anoder word, 'cept from Miss Dory, till Mas'r Hardy writ Mas'r Kane to sen' me home, 'case I was needed. I s'posed ole Miss Lucy had had another fit, an' started thinkin' all de way up de river how I'd see Miss Dory standin' in de do' wid de smile on her face, an' de light in her eyes, an' her pleasant voice sayin' to me, "How d'ye, Jake, I'se mighty glad to see you." 'Stid o' that she wasn't thar, an' Mandy Ann come clatterin' down de stars, | | 207 an' I hearn a baby cry. In my s'prise I said, "What's dat ar? Has ole Miss got a baby?"

"'Mandy Ann laughed till she cried, den cried without laughin', an' tole me wid her face to de wall, an' I was so shamed I could of hid in de san', an' Mandy Ann, they tole me, did run inter de woods at fust to hide herself. Den she smarted up an' fit for Miss Dory, who said nothin' 'cept, "Wait, it will all be right. I tole him I would wait. I'm a good girl," an' fo' Heaven, I b'lieved her, though some o' de white trash didn't at fust, but they all did at the last. Maybe I'm tirin' you?'

"'No,' I said, 'go on,' and he continued: 'I'se tole you most all dat happened after dat till she died an' you coned to de funeral.

"'When ole miss died, I writ to de Colonel, as I tole you, an' he comed, gran', an' proud, an' stiff, an' I tole him all 'bout Miss Dory same as I have you,-- p'raps not quite so much,--p'raps mo'. I don't remember, 'case as I said my memory is ole an' leaky, and mebby I ain't tellin' it right in course as I tole him. Some was in de house, an' some out hyar, whar I said, "Dis is her grave. She's lyin' under de san', but I'll fix her up in time an' she shall sleep under de roses."

"I tole him everything was done in order, an' how you preached about de Resurrection an' de Life, an' how sweet she look in her coffin, an' Mandy Ann's puttin' her ring on de weddin' finger, an' his mouf trembled like, up and down, an' I b'lieve ef thar had been a tear in his dried-up heart he'd of shed it.

"'Oncet, when he seemed kinder softened, I ast him squar, "Ain't you her husband?"

"'Thar was such a quar look in his eyes,--a starin' | | 208 at me a minit,--an' then he said, "I am nobody's husband, an' never shall be."

"'I b'lieve he lied, an' wanted to knock him down, but wouldn't right thar by her grave. He tole me I was to have all the money Miss Dory had been layin' up, an' he would send me mo' for the stun. I ast what I should put on it, an' he said, "What was on her coffin plate?"

"'"Eudora, aged 20," I tole him. "Put the same on the stun," he said. He tole me I was to stay on de place, an' have all I made. Then thar was Mandy Ann, who 'longed to de lil chile. She was to stay hyar, he said, an' he'd pay her wage which she could keep herself. He'd settle wid de lil chile when de time come, an' set Mandy Ann free. I think he meant it, but he was spar'd de trouble, for de wah comed like a big broom an' swep' slavery away, an' mos' everyting souf wid it, an' Mandy Ann was free any way widout de Colonel.

"'After de chile went away I got to broodin' over Miss Dory's wrongs, till I'se so worked up agin de Colonel, dat when de wah broke out I was minded to 'list, hopin' I'd meet him somewhar in battle an' shoot him. Den I cooled down an' staid home an' raised things an' worked for de poor folks hyar,-- de women, whose husban's an' brudders had gone to de wah. Ted,--dat's de boy on de "Hatty" long ago,--went to de wah wid a great flourish, promisin' Mandy Ann he'd shoot the Colonel shu' ef he got a chance. An' what do you think? At de fust crack of de cannon in de fust battle he seen, he cut an' run, an' kep' on runnin' till he got hyar, beggin' me an' Mandy Ann to hide him, 'case he was a deserter. I held my tongue, an' let Mandy Ann do as she pleased, an' | | 209 she hid him till de Federals come, when he jined them, an' did get hit, but 'twas on de back or shoulder, showin' which way he was runnin'.

"'Den Mandy Ann married him, an' has ten chillenses, an' washes an' scrubs for de Brock House an' everybody, while Ted struts roun' wid a cigar in his mouf, an' says he has neber seen a well day sense de wah,--dat his shoulder pains him powerful at times,--an' he is tryin' to get a pension, an' Mandy Ann is helpin' him. Beats all what women won't do for a man if they love him, no matter how big a skunk he is. Miss Dory died for one, an' Mandy Ann is slavin' herself to deff for one. I'se mighty glad I'se not a woman.'

"Here Jake stopped a moment, presumably to reflect on the waywardness of Miss Dory and Mandy Ann caring for two skunks,--one the Colonel and one Ted, whose last name I did not know till I asked Jake, who replied, 'Hamilton--a right smart name, I'm told, an' 'long'd to de quality. Ole man Hamilton come from de norf somewhar, an' bought Ted's mother, a likely mulatto. Who his fader was I doan know. He's more white dan black, an' is mighty proud of his name,--Hamilton,--'case somebody tole him thar was once a big man, Hamilton, an' when Mandy Ann had twin boys, she was tole to call 'em Alexander an' Aaron,--sumptin',--I doan justly remember what. It makes me think of a chestnut.'

"'Burr,' I suggested, and he replied, 'Yes, sar, dat's it,--Aaron Burr,--anoder big man,--an' dey calls de twins Alex and Aaron. Fine boys, too, wid Mandy Ann's get-up in 'em. Dar's two mo' twins,--little gals; beats all what a woman Mandy Ann is for twins,--an' she calls 'em Judy and Dory,--one for | | 210 young Miss, an' t'other for de rag doll lil chile took norf wid her and called Judy, for an ole woman who has gone to de Canaan she used to sing about--"Oh, I'se boun' for de lan' of Canaan." She was powerful in pra'r, an' at de fust meetin' after de wah, an' she knew she was free, I b'lieve you could of hearn her across de lake to Sanford, she shout "Glory, bress de Lawd!" so loud. But for all she was free, she wouldn't leave ole Miss Thomas. "I likes my mistis, an' I ain't gwine to leave her wid somebody else to comb her har, an' make her corn bread," she said, when dey tried to persuade her to go to Palatky. She staid wid ole Miss, who buried her decent, an' has gone herself to jine her an' Miss Dory in de better land, which seems to me is not far away; an' offen, when I sees de sun go down in a glory of red an' purple an' yaller,--I'se mighty fond of yaller,--I says to myself, "It's dat way dey goes to de udder world, whar, please God, I'll go some day fore berry long,--for I tries to be good.'

"There was a rapt look in Jake's face as he turned it to the west, and I would have given much to know that my future was as assured as his."

Here the first part of Mr. Mason's letter closed abruptly, as a friend came to call, but he added hastily, "To-morrow I'll finish, and tell you about the child who now occupies all Jake's thoughts, praying every day that he may see her again."

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