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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For an hour or more Eloise slept on, and then awoke suddenly and saw the scarlet cloak across her foot. At first it was the color which attracted her. Then taking it in her hands she began to examine it, while drops of sweat came out upon her forehead and under her hair. She knew that cloak! She had worn it many and many a time when she was a child. She had seen her mother fold and pack it far more carefully, when they were starting on a starring tour, than she did the fine dresses she wore on the stage.

"It is my mother's, but how came it here?" she thought, as she took it into the kitchen where she heard Mrs. Biggs at her work. "Where did you get my mother's cloak?" she asked.

Mrs. Biggs, who always washed on Saturdays, had just put Tim's shirt through the wringer. Holding it at arm's length with one hand and steadying herself on the side of the tub with the other, she stared blankly at Eloise for a moment, and then said, "Your mother's cloak! Child alive, that's Mrs. Amy's. I've seen her wear it a hundred times when she was a little girl. She has got on a spell of givin' this mornin', and sent it to you by Sarah. She's kep' it well all these years. What ails you?" she continued, as | | 305 Eloise's face grew as white as the clothes in Mrs. Biggs's basket.

Ray after ray of light was penetrating her mind, making her wonder she had not seen it before, and bringing a possibility which made her brain reel for a moment.

"Sit down," Mrs. Biggs continued, "and tell me why you think this is your mother's cloak."

"I know it is," Eloise answered. "I have worn it so many times, and once I tore a long rent in the lining and mother darned it. It is here,--see!"

She showed the place in the silk lining where a tear had been and was mended.

"For the Lord's sake, who be you?" Mrs. Biggs exclaimed, still flourishing Tim's shirt, which she finally dropped back into the tub, and in her excitement came near sitting down in a pail of bluing water instead of a chair.

"I am Eloise Albertina Smith, and my father was Homer Smith, and my mother was Eudora Harris from Florida, and sang in concerts, and lost her mind, and was in a private asylum in San Francisco, and my father died, and a strange man took her out a few months ago. I did not know where she was, and was going to California to find her. I believe your Mrs. Amy is she, and I am going to the Crompton House to inquire!"

"For Heaven's sake!" was Mrs. Biggs's next ejaculation. "Harris was Amy's name before she was called Crompton, and her name is Amy Eudora, too; but I never heard she had a girl."

"Yes, she had, and I am that girl," Eloise said, "and I am going up there now, right off!"

"You can't walk," Mrs. Biggs suggested. "That | | 306 ankle would turn before you got half way there. If you must go,--and I believe I would,--Tim will git a rig from the livery. Here, Tim," she called, as she heard him whistling in the woodshed, "run to Miller's and git a carriage and a span, quick as you can,--a good one, too," she added, as the possibility grew upon her that Eloise might belong to the Cromptons, and if so, ought to go up in style.

It did not take long for Tim to execute his mother's order, and the best turn-out from Miller's stable soon stood before the door.

"I b'lieve I'll go, too. The washin' will keep, and this won't," the widow said, beginning to change her work-dress for a better one.

Eloise was too much excited to care who went with her, and with Mrs. Biggs she was soon driving up the broad avenue under the stately maples to the door of the Crompton House. Peter saw the carriage, and thinking it came from town with callers on Amy, went out to say she could not see them, as she was not feeling well and was lying down.

"But I must see her," Eloise said, alighting first and brushing past him, while he stood open-mouthed with surprise.

"She thinks she is Amy's girl, and, I swan, I begin to think so, too," Mrs. Biggs said, trying to explain and getting things a good deal mixed, and so bewildering the old man that he paid no attention to Eloise, who, with the cloak on her arm, was in the hall and saying to a maid who met her, "Take me to Mrs. Amy."

All her timidity was gone, as she gave the order like one who felt perfectly at home.

"Mrs. Amy is asleep, and I don't like to disturb | | 307 her. She is unusually nervous this morning. Will you see the Colonel instead?" the girl said, awed by Eloise's air of authority.

"My business is with Mrs. Amy, but perhaps I'd better see Col. Crompton first," she replied.

Mrs. Biggs and Peter were in the house by this time, and heard what Eloise was saying.

"Better not," Peter began. "I don't know as you can see him. You stay here. I'll inquire."

He started up the stairs, followed by Eloise, who had no idea of staying behind.

"Wait," he said, motioning her back as he reached the Colonel's door, and saw her close beside him. "Let me go in first."

He left the door ajar and walked into the room where the Colonel was sitting just as he had sat the morning before, when Jake's letter and Eloise's note were brought to him. He had not slept at all during the night, and was in a trembling condition, with a feeling of numbness in his limbs which he did not like.

"Well?" he said sharply, as Peter came in, and he saw by his face that something had happened. "What's up now?"

"Nothing, but Miss Smith, the teacher," Peter replied. "She wants to see you."

"Miss Smith, the normal? Do you mean Eliza Ann? Tell her to go away. I can't see anybody," the Colonel said.

"I'll tell her, but I'm afraid she won't go," Peter replied, starting for the door, through which a little figure came so swiftly as nearly to knock him down, and Eloise, who had forgotten her lameness, stood before the astonished Colonel, her face glowing with | | 308 excitement, and her eyes shining like stars as she confronted him.

Old as he was, the Colonel was not insensible to female beauty, and the rare loveliness of this young girl moved him with something like admiration, and made his voice a little softer as he said, "Are you Eliza Ann Smith? What do you want?"

"I am not Eliza Ann," Eloise answered quickly. "I am Eloise Albertina Smith. My father was Homer Smith; my mother was Eudora Harris, from Florida, a concert singer, till she lost her mind and was put in a private asylum in San Francisco. You took her out, and she is here. You call her Mrs. Amy. She never told me of you. I don't know why. She never talked much of her girlhood. I don't think she was very happy. She sent me this cloak, and that's how I knew she was here. I have worn it many times when a child. I knew it in a moment, and I have come to see her. Where is she?"

This was worse than Jake's letter, and every nerve in the Colonel's body was quivering with excitement, and he felt as if a hundred prickly sensations were chasing each other up and down his arms and legs, and making his tongue thick as he tried to call for Peter. Succeeding at last, he said faintly, "Take this girl away before she kills me."

"I shall not go," Eloise rejoined, "until I see my mother. I tell you she is my mother. Has she never spoken of me?"

"Never," the Colonel answered. "She has talked of a baby who died, and you are not dead."

"No, but I am Baby,--her pet name for me always. Why she should think me dead, I don't know. Send for her, and see if she does not know me."

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She had come close to the trembling old man, and put one of her hands on his cold, clammy one. He didn't shake it off, but looked at her with an expression in his eyes which roused her sympathy.

"I don't mean any harm," she said. "I only want my mother. Send for her, please."

There was a motion of assent toward Peter, who left the room, encountering Mrs. Biggs outside the door. There was too much going on for her not to have a hand in it, and she stood listening and waiting till Amy came down the hall, her white cashmere wrapper trailing softly behind her, and her hair coiled under a pretty invalid cap. She had been roused from a sound sleep, which had cleared her brain somewhat, and when told the Colonel wished to see her, she rose at once and started to go to him, fearing he was worse. He heard her coming, and braced himself up. Eloise heard her, and, with, her head thrown back and her hands clasped together, stood waiting for her. For a moment Amy did not see her, so absorbed was she in the expression of the Colonel, who was watching her intently. When at last she did see her, she started suddenly, while a strange light leaped into her eyes. Then a wild, glad cry of "Baby! Baby!" rang through the room, and was answered by one of "Mother! Mother!" as the two women sprang to each other's arms.

Amy was the first to recover herself. Turning Eloise around and examining her minutely, she said, "I thought you dead. He told me so, and everything has been a blank to me since."

"You see she is my mother!" Eloise said to the Colonel; "and if she is your daughter, you must be my grandfather!"

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If the Colonel had been carved in stone he could not have sat more motionless than he did, giving no sign that he heard.

"No matter! I shall find it all out for myself," Eloise continued, as she turned again to her mother, who was examining the red cloak as if she wondered how it came there.

The mention of "finding it out" affected the Colonel more than anything else had done. Amy had said the same thing to him once. She had not found it out, but this slip of a girl would, he was sure, and with something like a groan he sank back in his chair with a call for Peter.

"Take them away," he said huskily. "I can't bear any more, and,--and,--the girl must stay, if Amy wants her, and bring me a hot-water bag,--two of them,--I was never so cold in my life."

Peter nodded that he understood, and, ringing the bell for Amy's maid, bade her take her mistress to her room, and the young lady, too. "She is Mrs. Amy's daughter," he added.

There was no need to tell this, for Mrs. Biggs had done her duty, and every servant in the house had heard the news and was anxious to see the stranger. Amy was always at her best in her own room, where Sarah left her alone with Eloise, and hastened away to gossip with Mrs. Biggs and Peter. The shock, instead of making Amy worse, had for the time being cleared her brain to some extent, so that she was able to talk quite rationally to Eloise, whose first question was why she had thought her dead. "I was so homesick for you, and cried so much after you went away that he was angry and hard with me,--very hard,--and I said at last if he didn't send for | | 311 you I'd never sing again, and meant it, too," Amy replied. "It was at Los Angeles on a concert night. I must have been pretty bad, and he seemed half afraid of me, and finally told me you were dead, and had been for three weeks, and that he had meant to keep it from me till the season was over. I believed him, and something snapped in my head and let in a pain and noise which have never left it; but they will now I have found you. I went before the footlights once that night, and the stage was full of coffins in which you lay, and I saw the little grave in the New England cemetery where he said you were buried. At last I fainted, and have never sung again. They were very kind to me at Dr. Haynes's, where he came often to see me till I heard he was dead. I was not sorry; he had been so,--so-- I can't explain."

"I know," Eloise said, remembering her father's manner toward this weak, timid woman, who went on: "Then Col. Crompton came and brought me home. I used to live here years ago and called him father, till he said he was not my father. I never told you of him, or that this was once my home, although I described the place to you as something I had seen. If he were not my father I did not want to know who was, and did not want to talk about it, and after I married Mr. Smith it was very dreadful. He hated the Colonel when he found he could not get money from him, and sometimes taunted me with my birth, saying I was a Harris and a Cracker; but the cruelest of all was telling me you were dead. Why did he do it?"

"I think your fretting for me irritated him, and he feared you might never sing again unless he sent for me, and he did not want me," Eloise said. "He never | | 312 wanted me. He was a bad man, and I could not feel sorry when he died."

"You needn't," Amy exclaimed excitedly, and, getting up she began to walk the floor as she continued, "It is time things were cleared up. I am not afraid of him now, although I was when he was living. He broke all the spirit I had, till the sound of his voice when he was angry made me shake. Thank God he was not your father! there has been a lie all the time, and that wore upon me. Your father,--Adolph Candida,--is lying in the Protestant burying-ground in Rome."

Grasping her mother's arm Eloise cried, "Oh, mother, what is this you are saying, and why have I never heard it before?"

Amy had been tolerably clear in her conversation up to this point, but she was getting tired, and it was a long, rambling story she told, with many digressions and much irrelevant matter, but Eloise managed to follow her and get a fairly correct version of the truth. Candida, whom Amy loved devotedly, and with whom she had been very happy, had died after a brief illness when Eloise was an infant. Homer Smith, the handsome American, who had attached himself to the Candidas, was very kind to the young widow, whom he induced to marry him, and to let her little girl take his name.

"I don't know why I did that," Amy said; "only he always made me do what he pleased, and he pretended to love you so much, and he didn't want his friends to know he was my second husband when he came to America. I couldn't understand that, but I yielded, as I did in everything. He seemed to hate the name of Candida, and was jealous of him in his | | 313 grave, and would never let me speak of him. I think he was crazy, and he said I was, and shut me up. He once wrote to Col. Crompton for money and got a dreadful letter, telling him to go to that place where I am afraid he has gone, and saying I was welcome to come home any time, if I would leave the singing master. There was a bad word before the 'singing,' which I can't speak. I meant to go home some time and take you with me. I hated the stage, and the pain got in my head, and I forgot so many things after he said you were dead, but never forgot you, although I didn't talk about you much. I couldn't, for a bunch came in my throat and choked me, and my head seemed to open and shut on the top when I thought of you. Col. Crompton has been very kind to me since I came. I think now he is my father. I asked him once, and he said, No. I believed him then, and accepted in my mind some Mr. Harris, for I knew my mother was a true woman. We will find it all out, you and I."

"Yes," Eloise replied, "and the pain will go away, and you will tell me more of my own father. I know now why I never could feel a daughter's love for the other one. Does grandmother know? She was always kind to me, and I love her."

Amy shook her head, and said, "I think not, but am not sure. It will be clearer by and by. I must sleep now."

When she was tired she always slept, and, adjusting the cushions on the sofa, Eloise made her lie down, and spread over her the little red cloak which had been the means of bringing them together.

"Yes, that's right. Cover me with the dear old | | 314 cloak Jakey gave me," Amy said sleepily. "You'll help me find him."

Eloise didn't know who Jakey was, or what connection he had with the cloak; but she answered promptly, "Yes, I'll help you find him and everything."

Thus reassured, Amy fell asleep, while Eloise sat by her until startled by the entrance of Mrs. Biggs. That worthy woman had been busy telling the servants everything she knew about Eloise since she came to Crompton, and that she had always mistrusted she was somebody out of the common. Then, as Eloise did not appear, and the carriage from Miller's was still waiting at a dollar and a half an hour, it occurred to her that if Eloise should not prove to be somebody out of the common she would have to pay the bill, as she had ordered the turn-out. Going to Amy's room, she walked in unannounced. and asked, "Be you goin' home with me, or goin to stay?"

"I don't know what I am to do," Eloise said, starting to her feet.

Amy decided for her. Mrs. Biggs had roused her, and, hearing what was wanted, she protested so vehemently against Eloise's leaving her even for an hour, that Mrs. Biggs departed without her, thinking to herself as she rode in state behind the fleet horses, "It beats the Dutch what luck some folks have. I've lost my boarder, and Ruby Ann has got the school, just as I knew she would, and mebby I'll have to pay for the rig. I wonder how long I've had it."

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