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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CHAPTER VII
IN THE PALMETTO CLEARING

There were not many guests at the Brock House as the season had not fully opened, and Jack had no trouble to find rooms for the ladies and himself. Amy's was in front, looking upon the St. John's, which here spreads out into Lake Monroe. She had had glimpses of the river from the railway car, but had not seen it as distinctly as now, when she stood by the window with an expression on her face as if she were thinking of the past, before her reason was clouded.

"Oh, the river!--the beautiful river!" she said. "It brings things back,--the boat I went in; not like that," and she pointed to a large, handsome steamboat lying at the wharf. "Not like that. What was its name?"

Jack, who was in the room, and who had read Mr. Mason's letter to his son, suggested, "The 'Hatty'?"

"Yes, the 'Hatty'!" Amy said. "Strange, I remember it when I have forgotten so much. And he was with me,--my father. Wasn't he my father?"

She looked at Eloise, who answered promptly, Yes, he was your father."

"I thought so. He said I was to call him so," Amy went on, more to herself than to Eloise. "I didn't always, he was so cold and proud and hard | | 343 with me, but he was kind at the last, and he is dead, and this is Florida, where the oranges and palm trees grow. They are there,--see!" and she pointed to the right, where a tall palm tree raised its head above an orange grove below.

She was beginning to remember, and Eloise and Jack kept silent while she went on: "And we are here to find my mother and Jakey."

She looked again at Eloise, who answered her: "To find Jakey,--yes; and to-morrow we shall see him. To-night you must rest."

"Yes, rest to-night, and to-morrow go to Jakey," Amy replied, submissive as a little child to whatever Eloise bade her do.

She was very tired, and slept soundly without once waking, and her first question in the morning was, "Is it to-morrow, and are we in Florida?"

"Yes, dearest, we are in Florida, and going to find Jakey," was Eloise's reply, as she kissed her mother's face, and thought how young and fair it was still, with scarcely a line upon it.

Only the eyes and the droop of the mouth showed signs of past suffering, and these were passing away with a renewal of old scenes and memories. Jack had found the Rev. Mr. Mason, who received him cordially.

"I was expecting you," he said. "A telegram from my son told me you were on the way. I have not seen Jake, as it was only yesterday I had the despatch. I have one piece of news, however, for which I am sorry. Elder Covil died in Virginia soon after the war, and nothing can be learned from him."

Jack was greatly disappointed. His hope had | | 344 been to find Elder Covil, if living, or some trace of him, and that was swept away; but he would not tell Eloise. She was all eagerness and excitement, and was ready soon after breakfast for the drive to the palmetto clearing, and Amy seemed almost as excited and eager. Born amid palms and orange trees, and magnolias and negroes, the sight of them brought back the past in a misty kind of way, which was constantly clearing as Eloise helped her to remember. Of Mr. Mason she of course had no recollection, and shrank from him when presented to him. He did not tell her he had buried her mother. He only said he knew Jakey, and was going to take her to him, and they were soon on their way. The road was very different from the one over which he had been driven behind the white mule, and there were marks of improvement everywhere,--gardens and fields and cabins with little negroes swarming around the doors, and these, with the palm trees and the orange trees, helped to revive Amy's memories of the time when she played with the little darkys among the dwarf palmettos and ate oranges in the groves.

In the doorway of one of the small houses a colored woman was standing, looking at the carriage as it passed. Recognizing Mr. Mason, she gave him a hearty "How d'ye, Mas'r Mason?" to which he responded without telling his companions that it was Mandy Ann. He wished Amy to see Jake first.

"Here we are," he said at last. "This is the clearing; this is the house, and there is Jake himself."

He pointed to a negro in the distance, and to a small house,--half log and half frame, for Jake had added to and improved it within a few years.

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"I'se gwine to make it 'spectable, so she won't be 'shamed if she ever comes back to see whar she was bawn," he had thought, and to him it seemed almost palatial, with its addition, which he called a "linter," and which consisted of a large room furnished with a most heterogeneous mass of articles gathered here and there as he could afford them.

Conspicuous in one corner was "lil Dory's cradle," which had been painted red, with a lettering in white on one side of it, "In memory of lil chile Dory." This he had placed in what he called the parlor that morning, after dusting it carefully and putting a fresh pillow case on the scanty pillow where Amy's head had lain. He was thinking of her and wondering he did not hear from the Colonel, when the sound of carriage wheels made him look up and start for his house. Mr. Mason was the first to alight; then Jack; then Eloise; and then Amy, whose senses for a moment left her entirely.

"What is it? Where are we?" she said, pressing her hands to her forehead.

Evidently the place did not impress her, except as something strange.

"Let's go!" she whispered to Eloise. "We've nothing to do here; let's go back to the oranges and palmettos."

"But, mother, Jakey is here!" Eloise replied, her eyes fixed upon the old man to whom Mr. Mason had been explaining, and whose "Bress de Lawd. I feels like havin' de pow', ef I b'lieved in it," she heard distinctly.

Then he came rapidly toward them, and she could see the tears on his black face, which was working nervously.

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"Miss Dory! Miss Dory! 'Tain't you! Oh, de Lawd,--so growed,--so changed! Is it you for shu'?" he said, stretching his hands toward Amy, who drew closer to Eloise.

"Go gently, Jake; gently! Remember her mind is weak," Mr. Mason said.

"Yes, sar. I 'members de Harris's mind mostly was weak. Ole Miss didn't know nuffin', an' Miss Dory was a little quar, an' dis po' chile is like 'em," was Jake's reply, which brought a deep flush to Eloise's face.

She had felt her cheeks burning all the time she had been looking round on her mother's home, wondering what Jack would think of it. At Jake's mention of the Harrises she glanced at him so appealingly, that for answer he put his arm around her and whispered, "Keep up, darling, I see your mother is waking up."

Jake had taken one of her hands, and was looking in her face as if he would find some trace of the "lil chile Dory " who left him years ago. And she was scanning him, not quite as if she knew him, but with a puzzled, uncertain manner, in which there was now no fear.

"Doan' you know me, Miss Dory? I'm Shaky,--ole Shaky,--what use' to play b'ar wid you, an' tote you on his back," he said to her.

"I think I do. Yes. Where's Mandy Ann?" Amy asked.

"She 'members,--she does!" Jake cried, excitedly. "Mandy Ann was de nuss girl what looked after her an' ole Miss." Then to Amy he said, "Mandy Ann's done grow'd like you, an' got chillen as big as you. Twins, four on 'em, as was christened | | 347 in your gown. Come into de house. You'll 'member then. Come inter de gret room, but fust wait a minit. I seen a boy out dar,--Aaron,--one of Mandy Ann's twins, an' I'se gwine to sen' for Mandy Ann.

"Hello, you flat-footed chap!" he called. "Make tracks home the fastest you ever did, an' tell yer mother to come quick, 'case lit Miss Dory's hyar. Run, I say."

The boy Aaron started, and Jake led the way to the door of the "gret room," which he threw open with an air of pride.

"Walk in, gemmen an' ladies, walk in," he said, holding Amy's hand.

They walked in, and he led Amy to a lounge and sat down beside her, close to the red cradle, to which he called her attention.

"Doan' you 'member it, Miss Dory?" he said, giving it a jog. "I use' ter rock yer to sleep wid you kickin' yer heels an' doublin' yer fists, an' callin' me ole fool, an' I singin':

"'Lil chile Dory, Shaky's lil lam',
Mudder's gone to heaven,
Shaky leff behime
To care for lil chile Dory, Shaky's lil lam'.'
Doan' you 'member it, honey,--an' doan' you 'member me? I'm Shaky,--I is."

There was a touching pathos in Jakey's voice as he sang, and it was intensified when he asked, "Doan' you 'member me, honey?"

Both Mr. Mason and Jack turned their heads aside to hide the moisture in their eyes, while Eloise's tears | | 348 fell fast as she watched the strange pair,--the wrinkled old negro and the white-faced woman, in whom a wonderful transformation seemed to be taking place. With the first sound of the weird melody and the words "Lil chile Dory, Shaky's lil lam'," she leaned forward and seemed to be either listening intently or trying to recall something which came and went, and which she threw out her hands to retain. As the singing went on the expression of her face changed from one of painful thought to one of perfect peace and quiet, and when it ceased and Jakey appealed to her memory, she answered him, "Yes, Shaky, I remember." Then to Eloise she said, "The lullaby of my childhood, which has rung in my ears for years. He used to want me to sing a negro melody to the people, and said it made them cry. That's because I wanted to cry, as I do now, and can't. I believe I must have sung it that last night in Los Angeles before everything grew dark."

Moving closer to Jakey she laid her head upon his arm and whispered to him, "Sing it again, Shaky. The tightness across the top of my head is giving way. It has ached so long."

Jake began the song again, his voice more tremulous than before, while Amy's hands tightened on his arm, and her head sank lower on his breast. As he sang he jogged the cradle with one foot, and kept time with the other and a swaying motion of his body, which brought Amy almost across his lap. When she lifted up her head there were tears in her eyes, and they ran at last like rivers down her cheeks, while a storm of hysterical sobs shook her frame and brought Eloise to her.

"Don't cry so," she said. "You frighten me."

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Amy put her aside, and answered, "I must cry; it cools my brain. There are oceans yet to come,--all the pent-up tears of the years--since he told me you were dead. I am so glad to cry."

For some moments she wept on, until Jakey began to soothe her with his "Doan' cry no mo', honey. Summat has done happened you bad, but it's done gone now, an' we're all here,--me an' I do' know her name, but she's you uns, an' Mas'r Mason an' de oder gemman. We're all here, an' de light is breakin'. Doan' you feel it, honey?"

"Yes, I feel it," she said, lifting up her head and wiping away her tears. "The light is breaking; my head is better. This is the old home. How did we get here?"

Her mind was misty still, but Eloise felt a crisis was past; and that in time the films which had clouded her mother's brain would clear away, not wholly, perhaps, for she was a Harris, and "all the Harrises," Jake said, "were quar." She was very quiet now, and listened as they talked, but could recall nothing of her mother or the funeral, which Mr. Mason had attended. She seemed very tired, and at Eloise's suggestion lay down upon the lounge and soon fell asleep, while Jack put question after question to Jake, hoping some light would be thrown upon the mystery they had come to unravel.

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