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 VIII
THE LITTLE HAIR TRUNK

Jake could tell them but little more than he had told Mr. Mason on a former visit. This he repeated with some additions, while Eloise listened, sometimes with indignation at Col. Crompton, and sometimes with shame and a thought as to what Jack would think of it. Her mother's family history was being unrolled before her, and she did not like it. There was proud blood in her veins, and she felt it coming to the surface and rebelling against the family tree of which she was a branch,--the Harrises, the Crackers, and, more than all, the uncertainty as to her mother's legitimacy, which she began to fear must remain an uncertainty. It was not a very desirable ancestry, and she glanced timidly at Jack to see how he was taking it. His face was very placid and unmoved as he questioned Jake of the relatives in Georgia, whom Amy's mother had visited.

"We must find them," he said. "Do you know anything of them? Were they Harrises, or what?"

Jake said they were "Browns an' Crackers; not the real no 'counts. Thar's a difference, an' I'm shu' ole Miss Lucy was fust class, 'case Miss Dory was a lady bawn."

"Are there no papers anywhere to tell us who they were?" Jack asked, and Jake replied, "Thar's papers | | 351 in de little har trunk whar I keeps de writin' book Miss Dory used, an' de 'book she read in to learn, brut dem's no 'count. Some receipts an' bills an' some letters ole Mas'r Harris writ to Miss Lucy 'fo' they was married,--love letters, in course, which I seen Miss Dory tie up wid a white ribbon. I've never opened dem, 'case it didn't seem fittin' like to read what a boy writ to a gal."

"Why, Jake," Jack exclaimed, "don't you see those letters may tell us where Miss Lucy lived in Georgia? and that is probably where Miss Dory visited. Bring us the trunk."

"'Clar for't. I never thought of that," Jake said, rising with alacrity and going into the room where he slept.

Mr. Mason, too, stepped out for a few moments, leaving Eloise alone with Jack. Now was her time, and, going up to him, she said, "Jack, I want to tell you now, you mustn't marry me!"

"Mustn't marry you!" Jack repeated. "Are you crazy?"

"Not yet," Eloise answered with a sob, "but I may be in time, or queer, like all the Harrises,--mother and her mother and 'old Miss.' We are all Harrises, and,--and,--oh, Jack, I know what a Cracker is now; mother is one; I am one, and it is all so dreadful; and mother nobody, perhaps. I can't bear it, and you must not marry me."

"I shall marry you," Jack said, folding her in his arms. "Do you think I care who your family are, or how queer they are? You'll never be queer. I'll shield you so carefully from every care that you can't even spell the word."

He took her hands and made her look at him, | | 352 while he kissed her lips and said, "It is you I want, with all the Harrises and Crackers in Christendom thrown in, if necessary. Are you satisfied?"

He knew she was, and was kissing her again when Jake appeared with the trunk, which he said had held Miss Dory's clothes when she went to Georgia. There was a musty odor about it when he opened it and the few papers inside were yellow with age.

"Dis yer is de reader Miss Dory use' to go over so much," Jake said, handing the book to Eloise, who turned its worn pages reverently, as if touching the hands of the dead girl, who, Jake said, "had rassled with the big words an' de no 'count pieces. She liked de po'try, an' got by heart 'bout de boy on de burnin' deck, but de breakin' waves floo'd her, 'case 'twan't no story like Cassy-by-anker."

He pointed the latter poem out to Eloise, who said, "Will you give me this book?"

Jake hesitated before he replied, "He wanted it, the Colonel, an' I tole him no, but you're different. I'll think about it."

Mr. Mason had returned by this time, and with Jack was looking at the bundle of letters tied with a satin ribbon which Jake said Miss Dory had taken from her white dress, the one he believed she was married in, as it was her bestest. There were four letters and a paper which did not seem to be a letter, and which slipped to the floor at Eloise's feet as Jack untied the ribbon. There was also a small envelope containing a card with "James Crompton" upon it, the one Mandy Ann had carried her mistress on a china plate, and which poor Dora had kept as a souvenir of that visit. With the card were the remains of what must have been a beautiful rose. The | | 353 petals were brown and crumbling to dust, but still gave out a faint perfume, which Eloise detected. While she was looking at these mementos of a past, Jack was running his eyes over the almost illegible directions on the letters, making out "Miss Lucy Brown, Atlanta, Ga."

"That doesn't help us much," he said to Mr. Mason. "Brown is a common name, and the Atlanta before the war was not like the Atlanta of to-day."

"Perhaps something inside will give a cue," Mr. Mason suggested, and Jack opened one of the letters carefully, for it was nearly torn apart.

The spelling was bad and the writing was bad, but it rang true with a young man's love for the girl of his choice, and it seemed to Jack like sacrilege to read it. Very hurriedly he went through the four letters, finding nothing to guide him but "Atlanta," and a few names of people who must have been living in the vicinity.

"Here's another," Eloise said, passing him the paper which she had picked from the floor.

Jack took it, and opening it, glanced at the contents. Then, with a cry of "Eureka!" he began a sort of pirouette, while Eloise and Mr. Mason wondered if he, too, had gone quar, like the Harrises.

"It's the marriage certificate," he said, sobering down at last, and reading aloud that at the Hardy Plantation, Fulton County, Georgia, on December --, 18--, the Rev. John Covil united in marriage James Crompton, of Troutburg, Massachusetts, and Miss Eudora Harris, of Volucia County, Florida.

Upon no one did the finding of this certificate produce so miraculous an effect as upon Jake.

"Fo' de Lawd!" he exclaimed, "I feels as if I mus' | | 354 have de pow',--what I hain't had since I jined de 'Piscopals. To think dat ar was lyin' in thar all dis time, an' I not know it. I 'members now dat Elder Covil comed hyar oncet after the lil chile was bawn, to see Miss Dory, an' I seen him write a paper an' give it to her, an' she put it in her bosom. I axed no questions, but I know now 'twas this. The Cunnel tole her not to tell, an' if she said she wouldn't, she wouldn't. Dat's like de Harrises,--dey's mighty quar, stickin' to dar word till they die like that Cassy-by-anker on de burnin' ship. Glory to God, glory! I mus' shout, I mus' hurrah. Glory!"

He went careering round the room like one mad, knocking over a chair, waking up Amy, and bringing her to the scene of action.

"Bress de Lawd!" he said, taking her by the arm and giving her a whirl, "we've done foun' your mudder's stifficut in de letters whar she put it an' tied 'em wid her weddin' ribbon. Glory 'hollerluyer!"

Amy looked frightened, and when Eloise explained to her she did not seem as much impressed as the others. Her mind had grasped Jake and the old home, and could not then take in much more. Still, in a way she understood, and when Eloise said to her, "Col. Crompton was really your father,--married to your mother,--and you were Amy Crompton, and not Harris," she said, "I am glad, and wish he knew. He used to taunt me with my low birth and call me a Cracker. When are we going home?"

Her mind had reverted at once to Crompton Place, now hers in reality, although she probably did not think of that.

"I am very glad, and congratulate you that | | 355 Crompton Place is your home without a doubt," Jack said to her. Then, turning to Eloise, he continued, in a low tone, "I can't tell you how glad I am for you, provided you don't feel so high and mighty that you want to cast me off."

"Oh, Jack," Eloise replied, "don't talk such nonsense. I am still of the Harris blood and part Cracker, and maybe quar. If you can stand that I think I can stand you."

At this point there was the sound of hurrying feet outside, and a woman's voice was heard saying, "Now, mind your manners, or you'll cotch it." Then four woolly heads were thrust in at the door and with them was Mandy Ann.

"Hyar she comes wid de fo' twins," Jake said, going forward to meet her. "Mandy Ann," he began, "hyar's de lil chile Dory. Miss Amy they done call her. Would you know'd her?"

"Know'd her? I reckon so,--anywhar in de dark. Praise de Lawd, an' now let His servant 'part in peace, 'case my eyes has seen de lil chile oncet mo'," Mandy Ann exclaimed, going up to Amy and putting her hands on her shoulders.

"She's 'peatin' some o' de chant in de Pra'r Book. Mandy Ann is mighty pious, she is," Jake said in a low tone, while Amy drew back a little, and looked timidly at the tall negress calling her lil chile Dory.

"Mandy Ann wasn't so big," she said, turning to the twins, Alex and Aaron, Judy and Dory, who brought the past back more vividly when Mandy Ann was about their size.

A look of inquiry passed from Mandy Ann to Jake, who touched his forehead, while Mandy whispered, "Quar, like ole Miss an' all of 'em. Oh, de pity of | | 356 it! What happened her?" Then to Amy she said, with all the motherhood of her ten children in her voice, "Doan' you 'member me, Mandy Ann, what use' to dress you in de mornin', an' comb yer har, an' wass yer face?"

"Up, instead of down," Amy said quickly, while everybody laughed instead of herself.

"To be shu'," Mandy Ann rejoined. "I reckon I did sometimes wass up 'sted of down. I couldn't help it, 'case you's gen'rally pullin' an' haulin' an' kickin' me to git away, but you 'members me, an' Judy, wid dis kind of face?"

She touched her eyes and nose and mouth to show where Judy's features were marked with ink, and then Amy laughed, and as if the mention of Judy took her back to the vernacular of her childhood, she said, "Oh, yes, I done 'members Judy. Whar is she?"

This lapse of her mother into negro dialect was more dreadful to Eloise than anything which had gone before, but Mr. Mason, who read her concern in her face, said to her, "It's all right, and shows she is taking up the tangled threads."

No one present knew of Judy's sale at the Rummage, and no one could reply to the question, "Whar is she?" Amy forgot it in a moment in her interest in the twins, whom Mandy presented one after another, saying, "I've six mo' grow'd up, some on 'em, an' one is married, 'case I'se old,--I'se fifty--three, an' you's about forty."

To this Amy paid no attention. She was still absorbed with the twins, who, Mandy Ann told her, had worn her white frock at their christening. Mandy Ann had not yet heard of the finding of the | | 357 marriage certificate, and when Jake told her she did not seem greatly surprised.

"I allus knew she was married, without a stifficut," she said. "I b'lieved it the fust time he come befo' lil Miss Dory was bawn."

"Tell me about his coming," Eloise said, and Mandy Ann, who liked nothing better than to talk, began at the beginning, and told every particular of the first visit, when Miss Dora wore the white gown she was married in and buried in, and the rose on her bosom. "And you think this is it?" Eloise asked, holding carefully in a bit of paper the ashes of what had once been a rose.

"I 'clar for't, yes," Mandy said, "I seen her put it somewhar with the card he done gin me. You'se found it?"

Eloise nodded and held fast to the relics of a past which in this way was linking itself to the present. "Tell us of the second time, when he took mother," Eloise suggested, and here Mandy Ann was very eloquent, describing everything in detail, repeating much which Jake had told, telling of the ring,--a real stone, sent her from Savannah, and which she had given her daughter as it was too small for her now. From a drawer in the chamber above she brought a little white dress, stiff with starch and yellow and tender with time, which she said "lil Miss Dory wore when she first saw her father."

This Eloise seized at once, saying, "You will let me have it as something which belonged to mother far back."

Mandy Ann looked doubtful. There would probably be grandchildren, and Jake's scruples might be | | 358 overcome and the white gown do duty again as a christening robe. But Jake spoke up promptly.

"In course it's your'n, an' de book, too, if you wants it, though it's like takin' a piece of de ole times. Strange Miss Dora don't pay no 'tention, but is so wropp'd up in dem twins. 'Specs it seems like when de little darkys use' to play wid her," he continued, looking at Amy, who, if she heard what Mandy Ann was saying, gave no sign, but seemed, as Jake said, "wropp'd up" in the twins.

There was not much more for Mandy Ann to tell of the Colonel, except to speak of the money he had sent to her and Jake, proving that he was not "the wustest man in the world, if she did cuss him kneeling on Miss Dory's grave the night after the burial." She spoke of that and of "ole Miss Thomas, who was the last to gin in," and wouldn't have done it then but for the ring on her finger. At this point Jake, who; thought she had told enough, said to her, "Hole on a spell. Your tongue is like a mill wheel when it starts. Thar's some things you or'to keep to your self. Ole man Crompton is dead, an' God is takin' keer of him. He knows all the good thar was at the last, an' I 'specs thar was a heap."

By this time Amy had tired of the twins, who had fingered her rings and buttons, and stroked her dress and hair, and called her a pretty lady, and asked her on the sly for a nickel. She was getting restless, when Jakey said, "If you'd like to see your mudder's grave, come wid me."

From the house to the enclosure where the Harrises were buried he had made a narrow road, beside which eucalyptus trees and oleanders were growing, | | 359 and along this walk the party followed him to Eudora's grave.

"I can have 'Crompton' put hyar now that I am shu'," Jake said, pointing to the vacant space after Eudora. "I wish dar was room for 'belobed wife of Cunnel Crompton.' I reckons, though, she wasn't 'belobed,' or why was he so dogon mean to her?" he added, kneeling by the grave and picking a dead leaf and bud which his quick eye had detected amid the bloom. "Couldn't you done drap a tear 'case your mother is lyin' here?" he said to Amy, who shook her head.

The dead mother was not as real to her as the living Jake, to whom she said, "As you talk to me I remember something of her, and people making a noise. But it is long ago, and much has happened since. I can't cry. Is it wrong?"

She looked at Eloise, who replied, "No, darling; you have cried enough for one day. Some time we will come here again, and you'll remember more. Let us go."

"What is your plan now?" Mr. Mason asked Jack when, after a half hour spent with Jake, they were driving back to the Brock House.

"I have been thinking," Jack replied, "that I will leave the ladies for a few days at the hotel, while I go to Palatka and Atlanta, and see if anything can be learned of the Browns, or Harrises, or the Hardy plantation, where the marriage took place. I wish to get all the facts I can, although the certificate should be sufficient to establish Mrs. Amy's right to the estate. I don't think she realizes her position as heir to the finest property in Crompton."

She didn't realize it at all, but was very willing to | | 360 stay at the Brock House with Eloise, while Jack went to Palatka and Atlanta to see what he could find. It was not much. Tom Hardy had been killed in the war, and had left no family. This he was told in Palatka. In Atlanta he learned that before the war there had been a plantation near the city owned by a Hardy family, all of whom were dead or had disappeared. There were Browns in plenty in the Directory, and Jack saw them all, but none had any connection with the Harrises. At last he struck an old negress, who had belonged to the Hardys, and who remembered a double wedding at the plantation years before, and who said that an Andrew Jackson Brown, who must have been present, as he was a son of the house, was living in Boston, and was a conductor of a street car. With this information as the result of his search Jack went back to Enterprise, where he found Amy greatly improved in mind and body. Every day Jake and Mandy Ann had been to see her, or with Eloise she had driven to the clearing, where her dormant faculties continued to awaken with the familiar objects of her childhood. Many people and much talking still bewildered her, and her memory was treacherous on many points, but to a stranger who knew nothing of her history she seemed a quiet, sane woman, "not a bit quar," Eloise said to Jack as she welcomed him back. "And I believe she will continue to improve when we get her home, away from the people who talk to her so much and confuse her. When can we go?"

"To-morrow, if you like," Jack said, and the next day they left Enterprise, after bidding an affectionate good-by to Mandy Ann, with whom they left a substantial remembrance of their visit.

| | 361

Amy would have liked to take the twins with her, but Eloise said, " Not yet, mother; wait and see, and perhaps they will all come later."

It was sure that Jakey was to follow them soon and spend as much time with them as he pleased.

"Stay always, if you will. We owe you everything," Eloise said to him, when at parting he stood on the platform with his "God bress you, Mas'r Harcourt an' Miss Amy, an' Miss t'other one," until the train was out of sight.

They made the journey by easy stages, for Amy was worn with excitement, and it was a week after leaving Florida when a telegram was received at the Crompton House saying they would arrive that evening.

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