- PART III
- CHAPTER I THE BEGINNING OF THE END
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THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The Rummage Sale was a great success and netted fully two hundred and fifty dollars, besides quantities of goods of different kinds which were left and given either to the poor or to the Charitable Society in Crompton. The trunks containing Amy's dresses had been sent home without Amy's knowledge, and deposited in the closet with Mandy Ann and Judy, the Colonel swearing at first that he would have nothing pertaining to Homer Smith so near him. The apron sale had been an absorbing topic of conversation, the people wondering what Mr. Harcourt was going to do with his purchase, and if he wouldn't give it back to Eloise. Nothing was further from his thought. He had bought it to keep, and he laid it away in the bottom of his trunk with the handkerchief Eloise had used when he first called upon her.
He was growing more and more in love with her and more unwilling to leave Crompton. He had already staid longer than he had at first intended, but it did not need Howard's urgent invitation for him to prolong his visit. Every day he went to Mrs. Biggs's, and sometimes twice a day, and took Eloise out in her arm-chair for an airing,--once as far as | | 286 to the school-house where Ruby Ann still presided, and where Eloise hoped soon to take up her duties. She was very happy, or would have been if she could have heard from California. Every day she hoped for news, and every day was disappointed, until at last nearly a week after the Rummage a letter came forwarded by her grandmother from Mayville. It was from a physician to whom Eloise had twice written with regard to her mother, and this was his reply:
"I left San Francisco several months ago and have been stopping in several places, and that is why your letters were so long in reaching me. They both came in the same mail, and I wrote to San Francisco to see what I could learn with regard to your mother. It seems that the private asylum of Dr. Haynes was broken up, as there were only three patients when Mrs. Smith left, and it did not pay. Soon after your father died in Santa Barbara, your mother was removed from the asylum by a gentleman whose name I have thus far been unable to learn. I thought it must have been some relative, but if you know nothing of it my theory is wrong. Dr. Haynes went at once with his family to Europe, and is travelling on the continent. His address is, Care of Munroe & Co., Bankers, 7 Rue Scribe, Paris. Write him again, as he must know who took your mother from his care. He may not be in Paris now, but your letter will reach him in time. If there is anything I can do to help you, I will gladly do it. If you were in San Francisco you might find some of the attendants in | | 287 the asylum, who could give you the information you desire."Yours, very truly, "J. P. ALLING, M.D."
It was Ruby who brought the letter one evening two or three days before Eloise expected to make her first appearance in school. Mrs. Biggs and Tim were out and Eloise was alone. Tearing open the envelope, she read it quickly, and then with the bitterest cry Ruby had ever heard, covered her face with her hands and sobbed: "My mother! Oh, my mother!"
"Is she dead?" Ruby asked, and Eloise replied, "Worse than that, perhaps. I don't know where she is. Read what it says."
She gave the letter to Ruby, who read it twice; then, sitting down by Eloise and passing her arm around her, she said, "I don't understand what it means. Was your mother in a lunatic asylum?"
"Oh, don't call it that!" Eloise answered. "It was a private asylum in San Francisco,--very private and select, father said, but I never quite believed her crazy. She was always quiet and sad and peculiar, and hated the business, and so did I."
"What was the business? " Ruby asked, and Eloise answered hesitatingly, as if it were something of which to be ashamed, "She sang in public with a troupe,--his troupe. He made her. She was the star and drew big houses, she was so beautiful and sang so sweetly, without any apparent effort. It was just like a bird, and when she sang the Southern melodies she seemed to be in a trance, seeing things we could not see. It made me cry to hear her. I know many good women are public singers, but mother shrank | | 288 from it, and when they cheered like mad there used to be a frightened look in her eyes, as if she wondered why they were doing it and wanted to hide, and when she got to our rooms she'd tremble and be so cold and cry, while father sometimes scolded and sometimes laughed at her. He tried to make me sing once. I have a fair voice, but I rebelled and said I'd run away before I'd do it. He was very angry, and sent me North to my grandmother, saying I was too great an expense to keep with him unless I would help, and was a hindrance to my mother, who was always so anxious about me. It nearly killed her to part with me. I was all the comfort she had, she said, and she always called me Baby. Father was not kind to her, and it seemed as if he hated me, and was jealous of mother's love for me. When I heard he was dead, I could not feel badly, as I ought, and did not cry. He was a very handsome man, and very nice with people, who thought my mother a most fortunate woman to have so polished and courteous a husband. They should have seen him as I saw him at times, and heard him swear, as I have heard him, and call her names till she was white as a corpse and fainted. I never saw her turn upon him but once. I had asked her why she didn't leave him and go home, if she had any to go to. That was when I was a little girl.
"'I have no home or friends in all the wide world to go to' she said, and then, with a sneer which was maddening, it meant so much, my father said, 'Ask her who her father was and see if she can tell you.'
"I didn't know then what he meant to insinuate, but mother did, and there came a look into her eyes which frightened me, and her voice was not mother's | | 289 at all, as she walked straight up to him and said, 'How dare you insult my mother!'
"She looked like an enraged animal, and my father must have been afraid she would attack him, for he tried to soothe her and succeeded at last in doing so. I think there was some mystery about her father and mother, as she would never talk of them. Once I asked her about them, and she said she hadn't any; and she looked so strange that I never asked her again. I knew she was born South, that her people were poor, and her name Harris, and that is all I know, except that no better or lovelier woman ever lived, and if she is really crazy father made her so, and I cannot feel any love for him, or respect. If I ever had any, and I suppose I must have had, he killed it long ago. The first thing I remember of him in Rome, where I was born, he was practising some music with mother,--playing for her while she sang, and I was standing by him, putting my hands on his arm and trying to hum the tune. With a jerk he said to my nurse, 'Take her away and keep her away.'
"I am wicked, I know, to talk as I am doing, but it seems as if there was a spell over me urging me to say things I never thought of saying. It's a comfort to talk to some one who I know is my friend, and you are so strong every way and have been so good to me."
She laid her head on Ruby's arm like a tired child, and continued, "I wrote to mother very often after I came to Mayville, and she replied, telling me how she missed me, and how she always fixed her eyes on some part of the house, fancying she saw me, and was singing to me, and I used to listen nights and think I heard her grand voice as it rose and fell, and the | | 290 people cheering, and she so beautiful standing there for the crowd to gaze at, and wishing she could get away from it all.
"At last her letters ceased and father wrote that her mind had given way suddenly;--that she was a raving maniac,--dangerous, I think he said,--and I thought of the way she looked at him once when I was a child, and he told me to ask her about her father. He said she was in Dr. Haynes's private asylum, where she had the kindest of care. I think I died many deaths in one when I heard that. I wrote her again and again, and wanted to go to her, but my father forbade it. No one saw her, he said, except her attendant and the physician,--not even himself, as the sight of him threw her into paroxysms. I didn't wonder at that. He sent my letters back, telling me she would not sense them, and they would excite her if she did. Her only chance of recovery was in her being kept perfectly quiet, with nothing to remind her of the past.
"A few months ago he died suddenly in Santa Barbara. One of the troupe wrote to grandma, and, as I told you, I did not cry; I couldn't. I was too anxious about mother, and wrote at once to Dr. Haynes, but received no answer. I waited a while and wrote again, with the same result. Then I remembered Dr. Alling, who had attended me for some slight ailment, and wrote to him, with the result you know. Some one has taken my mother away. Who was it, and where is she? I feel as if I were going mad when I think of the possibilities."
She pressed her hands to her head and rocked to and fro, while Ruby tried to quiet and comfort her.
"I must go to San Francisco and find my mother. | | 291 I would start to-morrow, lame as I am, only I haven't the money, and grandma hasn't it, either," she said. "Father made a great deal of money at times, but he spent it as freely. Always stopped at the best hotels; had a suite of rooms, with our meals served in them; drank the costliest wines, and smoked the most expensive cigars, and bought mother such beautiful dresses. I did not fare so well. Anything was good enough for me after I refused to sing in public, and that was an added source of trouble to my mother. I was always a bone of contention and it was, perhaps, as well in some respects that I was sent away, only mother missed me so. I was so glad to get this school, because it would give me something for my mother, whom I hoped to bring home before long. And now, I don't know where she is, but I must find her. Oh, what shall I do?"
It was not often that Eloise talked of herself and her affairs. At school in Mayville she had been very reticent with regard to her past, and had seldom mentioned either her father or her mother. With Mrs. Biggs she had been equally silent, and, try as she would, the good woman had never been able to learn anything beyond what Eloise had first told her,--that her father was dead and her mother in California;--in a sanitarium, Mrs. Biggs had finally decided, and let the matter drop, thinking she should some time know "if there was anything to know." Ruby Ann had from the first seemed to Eloise like one to be trusted, and she felt a relief in talking to her, and said more than she had at first intended to say.
For a moment Ruby was silent, while Eloise's head lay on her arm and Eloise's hand was holding hers. | | 292 She was thinking of the piano she wanted to buy, the money for which was in the Crompton bank. There was a struggle in her mind, and then she said, "I can loan you the money. I know you will pay it back if you live, and if you don't, no matter. I will not call it a loss if it does you any good."
At first Eloise demurred, longing to accept the generous offer, and fearing that she ought not. But Ruby overcame her scruples.
"Naturally I shall keep your place in school, so I owe you something for the business, don't you see?" she said.
Eloise did not quite see, but she yielded at last, for her need was great.
"I don't think I'd tell Mrs. Biggs all the sad story, unless you want the whole town to know it. Tell her you have had bad news from your mother, and are going to her," Ruby suggested, when at last she said good-night and went out, just as Mrs. Biggs came in.
"Goin' away! Goin' to Californy! Your mother sick! What's the matter, and how under the sun are you goin' alone, limpin' as you do? I knew Ruby Ann would manage to keep the school if she once got it!" were some of Mrs. Biggs's exclamations when told Eloise was to leave her.
Eloise parried her questions very skilfully, saying nothing except that her mother needed her and she was going to her, and Mrs. Biggs left her more mystified than she had ever been in her life, but resolved "to get at the bottom if she lived."
That night Eloise, who was now sleeping in the chamber to which she had first been taken, sat a long time by her window, looking out upon the | | 293 towers and chimneys of Crompton Place, which were visible above the trees in the park, and wondering at the feeling of unrest which possessed her, and her unwillingness to leave.
"If I could only see him once more before I go," she thought, the "him" being Jack, who, with Howard Crompton, was in Worcester, attending a musical festival.
Not to see him was the saddest part of leaving Crompton, and for a moment hot tears rolled down her cheeks,--tears which, if Jack could have seen and known their cause, would have brought him back from Worcester and the prima donna who that night was entrancing a crowded house with her song. Dashing her tears away, Eloise's thoughts reverted to Amy, who had been so kind to her.
"I hoped to thank her in person," she said, "but as that is impossible. I must write her a note for Tim to take in the morning, together with the chairs."
The note was written, and in it a regret expressed that Eloise could not have seen her.
"Maybe when she reads it she will call upon me to-morrow," she thought, as she directed the note, and that night she dreamed that Amy came to her, with a face and voice so like her mother's that she woke with a start and a feeling that she had really seen her mother, as she used to stand before the footlights, while the house rang with thunders of applause.
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