MARY J. HOLMES
Author of "Maggie Miller," "Dora Drane," "English Orphans," "The Homestead on the Hillside," "Meadowbrook Farm," "Lena Rivers," "Rosamond," "Cousin Maude," "Tempest and Sunshine," "Rector of St. Marks," "Mildred," "The Leighton Homestead," "Miss McDonald"
THE EXAMINING COMMITTEE.
The good people of Devonshire were rather given to quarreling— sometimes about the minister's wife, meek, gentle Mrs. Tiverton, whose manner of housekeeping, and style of dress, did not exactly suit them; sometimes about the minister himself, good, patient Mr. Tiverton, who vainly imagined that if he preached three sermons a week, attended the Wednesday evening prayer-meeting, the Thursday evening sewing society, officiated at every funeral, visited all the sick, and gave to every beggar who called at his door, besides superintending the Sunday school, he was earning his salary of six hundred per year.
Sometimes, and that not rarely, the quarrel crept into the choir, and then, for one whole Sunday, it was all in vain that Mr. Tiverton read the psalm and hymn, casting troubled glances toward the vacant seats of his refractory singers. There was no one to respond, unless it were good old Mr. Hodges, who pitched so high that few could follow him; while Mrs. Captain Simpson—whose daughter, the organist, had been snubbed at the last choir meeting by Mr. Hodges' daughter, the alto singer—rolled up her eyes at her next neighbor, or fanned herself furiously in token of her disgust.
Latterly, however, there had come up a new cause of quarrel, before which every other cause sank into insignificance. Now, though the village of Devonshire could boast but one public schoolhouse, said house being divided into two departments, the upper and lower divisions, there were in the town several district schools; and for the last few years a committee of three had been annually appointed to examine and decide upon the merits of the various candidates for teaching, giving to each, if the decision were favorable, a little slip of paper certifying their qualifications to teach a common school. Strange that over such an office so fierce a feud should have arisen; but when Mr. Tiverton, Squire Lamb and Lawyer Whittemore, in the full conviction that they were doing right, refused a certificate of scholarship to Laura Tisdale, niece of Mrs. Judge Tisdale, and awarded it to one whose earnings in a factory had procured for her a thorough English education, the villagers, to use a vulgar phrase, were at once set by the ears, the aristocracy abusing, and the democracy upholding the dismayed trio, who, as the breeze blew harder, quietly resigned their office, and Devonshire was without a school committee.
In this emergency something must be done, and, as the two belligerent parties could only unite on a stranger, it seemed a matter of special providence that only two months before, young Dr. Holbrook, a native of modern Athens, had rented the pleasant little office on the village common, formerly occupied by old Dr. Carey, now lying in the graveyard by the side of some whose days he had prolonged, and others whose days he had surely shortened. Besides being handsome, and skillful, and quite as familiar with the poor as the rich, the young doctor was descended from the aristocratic line of Boston Holbrooks, facts which tended to make him a favorite with both classes; and, greatly to his surprise, he found himself unanimously elected to the responsible office of sole Inspector of Common Schools in Devonshire. It was in vain that he remonstrated, saying he knew nothing whatever of the qualifications requisite for a teacher; that he could not talk to girls, young ones especially; that he should make a miserable failure, and so forth. The people would not listen. Somebody must examine the teachers and that somebody might as well be Dr. Holbrook as anybody.
"Only be strict with 'em, draw the reins tight, find out to your satisfaction whether a gal knows her P's and Q's before you give her a stifficut. We've had enough of your ignoramuses," said Colonel Lewis, the democratic potentate to whom Dr. Holbrook was expressing his fears that he should not give satisfaction. Then, as a bright idea suggested itself to the old gentleman, he added: "I tell you what, just cut one or two at first; that'll give you a name for being particular, which is just the thing."
Accordingly, with no definite idea as to what was expected of him, except that he was to find out "whether a girl knew her P's and Q's," and was also to "cut one or two of the first candidates," Dr. Holbrook accepted the office, and then awaited rather nervously his initiation. He was not easy in the society of ladies, unless, indeed, the lady stood in need of his professional services, when he lost sight of her at once, and thought only of her disease. His patient once well, however, he became nervously shy and embarrassed, retreating as soon as possible from her presence to the covert of his friendly office, where, with his boots upon the table and his head thrown back in a most comfortable position, he sat one April morning, in happy oblivion of the bevy of girls who must, of course, ere long-invade his sanctum.
"Something for you, sir. The lady will wait for an answer," said his "chore boy," passing to his master a little three-cornered note, and nodding toward the street.
Following the direction indicated, the doctor saw, drawn up near his door, an old-fashioned one-horse wagon, such as is still occasionally seen in New England. A square boxed, dark green wagon, drawn by a sorrel horse, sometimes called by the genuine Yankee "yellow," and driven by a white-haired man, whose silvery locks, falling around his wrinkled face, gave to him a pleasing, patriarchal appearance, which interested the doctor far more than did the flutter of the blue ribbon beside him, even though the bonnet that ribbon tied shaded the face of a young girl. The note was from her, and, tearing it open, the doctor read, in the prettiest of all pretty, girlish handwriting:
Here it was plainly visible that a "D" had been written as if she would have said "Dear." Then, evidently changing her mind, she had with her finger blotted out the "D," and made it into an oddly shaped "S," so that it read simply:
"Dr. Holbrook—Sir: Will you be at leisure to examine me on Monday afternoon, at three o'clock?
"MADELINE A. CLYDE.
"P. S.—For particular reasons I hope you can attend to me as early as Monday. M. A. C."
Dr. Holbrook knew very little of girls, but he thought this note, with its P. S., decidedly girlish. Still he made no comment, either verbal or mental, so flurried was he with knowing that the evil he so much dreaded had come upon him at last. Had it been left to his choice, he would far rather have extracted every one of that maiden's teeth, than to have set himself up before her like some horrid ogre, asking what she knew. But the choice was not his, and, turning to the boy, he said, laconically, "Tell her to come."
Most men would have sought for a glimpse of the face under the bonnet tied with blue, but Dr. Holbrook did not care a picayune whether it were ugly or fair, though it did strike him that the voice was singularly sweet, which, after the boy had delivered his message, said to the old man, "Now, grandpa, we'll go home. I know you must be tired."
Slowly Sorrel trotted down the street, the blue ribbons fluttering in the wind, while one little ungloved hand was seen carefully adjusting about the old man's shoulders the ancient camlet cloak which had done duty for many a year, and was needed on this chill April day. The doctor saw all this, and the impression left upon his mind was, that Candidate No. 1 was probably a nice-ish kind of a girl, and very good to her grandfather. But what should he ask her, and how demean himself toward her? Monday afternoon was frightfully near, he thought, as this was only Saturday; and then, feeling that he must be ready, he brought out from the trunk, where, since his arrival in Devonshire, they had bean quietly lying, books enough to have frightened an older person than poor little Madeline Clyde, riding slowly home with grandpa, and wishing so much that she'd had a glimpse of Dr. Holbrook, so as to know what he was like, and hoping he would give her a chance to repeat some of the many pages of geography and "Parley's History," which she knew by heart. How she would have trembled could she have seen the formidable volumes heaped upon his table and waiting for her. There were French and Latin grammars, "Hamilton's Metaphysics," "Olmstead's Philosophy," "Day's Algebra," "Butler's Analogy," and many others, into which poor Madeline had never so much as looked. Arranging them in a row, and half wishing himself back again to the days when he had studied them, the doctor went out to visit his patients, of which there were so many that Madeline Clyde entirely escaped his mind, nor did she trouble him again until the dreaded Monday came, and the hands of his watch pointed to two.
"One hour more," he said to himself, just as the roll of wheels and a cloud of dust announced the approach of something.
Could it be Sorrel and the square-boxed wagon? Oh, no; far different from grandfather Clyde's turnout was the stylish carriage and the spirited bays dashing down the street, the colored driver reining them suddenly, not before the office door, but just in front of the white cottage in the same yard, the house where Dr. Holbrook boarded, and where, if he ever married in Devonshire, he would most likely bring his wife.
"Guy Remington, the very chap of all others whom I'd rather see, and, as I live, there's Agnes, with Jessie. Who knew she was in these parts?" was the doctor's mental exclamation, as, running his fingers through his hair and making a feint of pulling up the corners of his rather limp collar, he hurried out to the carriage, from which a dashing looking lady of thirty, or thereabouts, was alighting.
"Why, Agnes, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Remington, when did you come?" he asked, offering his hand to the lady, who, coquettishly shaking back from her pretty, dollish face a profusion of light brown curls, gave him the tips of her lavender kids, while she told him she had come to Aikenside the Saturday before; and hearing, from Guy that the lady with whom he boarded was an old friend of hers, she had driven over to call, and brought Jessie with her. "Here, Jessie, speak to the doctor. He was poor dear papa's friend," and a very proper sigh escaped Agnes Remington's lips as she pushed a little curly-haired girl toward Dr. Holbrook.
The lady of the house had spied them by this time, and came running down the walk to meet her rather distinguished visitor, wondering, it may be, to what she was indebted for this call from one who, since her marriage with the supposed wealthy Dr. Remington, had rather cut her former acquaintances. Agnes was delighted to see her, and, as Guy declined entering the cottage just then, the two friends disappeared within the door, while the doctor and Guy repaired to the office, the latter sitting down in the very chair intended for Madeline Clyde. This reminded the doctor of his perplexity, and also brought the comforting thought that Guy, who had never failed him yet, could surely offer some suggestions. But he would not speak of her just now; he had other matters to talk about, and so, jamming his penknife into a pine table covered with similar jams, he said: "Agnes, it seems, has come to Aikenside, notwithstanding she declared she never would, when she found that the whole of the Remington property belonged to your mother, and not your father."
"Oh, yes. She got over her pique as soon as I settled a handsome little income on Jessie, and, in fact, on her too, until she is foolish enough to marry again, when it will cease, of course, as I do not feel it my duty to support any man's wife, unless it be my own, or my father's," was Guy Remington's reply; whereupon the penknife went again into the table, and this time with so much force that the point was broken off; but the doctor did not mind it, and with the jagged end continued to make jagged marks, while he continued: "She'll hardly marry again, though she may. She's young—not over twenty-six—-
"Twenty-eight, if the family Bible does not lie; but she'd never forgive me if she knew I told you that. So let it pass that she's twenty-six. She certainly is not more than three years your senior, a mere nothing, if you wish to make her Mrs. Holbrook;" and Guy's dark eyes scanned curiously the doctor's face, as if seeking there for the secret of his proud young stepmother's anxiety to visit plain Mrs. Conner that afternoon. But the doctor only laughed merrily at the idea of his being father to Guy, his college chum and long-tried friend.
Agnes Remington—reclining languidly in Mrs. Conner's easy-chair, and overwhelming her former friend with descriptions of the gay parties she had attended in Boston, and the fine sights she saw in Europe, whither her gray-haired husband had taken her for a wedding tour— would not have felt particularly flattered, could she have seen that smile, or heard how easily, from talking of her, Dr. Holbrook turned to another theme, to Madeline Clyde, expected now almost every moment. There was a merry laugh on Guy's part, as he listened to the doctor's story, and, when it was finished, he said: "Why, I see nothing so very distasteful in examining a pretty girl, and puzzling her, to see her blush. I half wish I were in your place. I should enjoy the novelty of the thing." "Oh, take it, then; take my place, Guy," the doctor exclaimed, eagerly. "She does not know me from Adam. Here are books, all you will need. You went to a district school once a week when you were staying in the country. You surely have some idea, while I have not the slightest. Will you, Guy?" he persisted more earnestly, as he heard wheels in the street, and was sure old Sorrel had come again.
Guy Remington liked anything savoring of a frolic, but in his mind there were certain conscientious scruples touching the justice of the thing, and so at first he demurred; while the doctor still insisted, until at last he laughingly consented to commence the examination, provided the doctor would sit by, and occasionally come to his aid.
"You must write the certificate, of course," he said, "testifying that she is qualified to teach."
"Yes, certainly, Guy, if she is; but maybe she won't be, and my orders are, to be strict—very strict."
"How did she look?" Guy asked, and the doctor replied: "Saw nothing but her bonnet. Came in a queer old go-giggle of a wagon, such as your country farmers drive. Guess she won't be likely to stir up the bile of either of us, particularly as I am bullet proof, and you have been engaged for years. By the way, when do you cross the sea again for the fair Lucy? Rumor says this summer."
"Rumor is wrong, as usual, then," was Guy's reply, a soft light stealing into his handsome eyes. Then, after a moment, he added: "Miss Atherstone's health is far too delicate for her to incur the risks of a climate like ours. If she were well acclimated, I should be glad, for it is terribly lonely up at Aikenside."
"And do you really think a wife would make it pleasanter?" Dr Holbrook asked, the tone of his voice indicating a little doubt as to a man's being happier for having a helpmate to share his joys and sorrows.
But no such doubts dwelt in the mind of Guy Remington. Eminently fitted for domestic happiness, he looked forward anxiously to the time when sweet Lucy Atherstone, the fair English girl to whom he had become engaged when, four years before, he visited Europe, should be strong enough to bear transplanting to American soil. Twice since his engagement he had visited her, finding her always lovely, gentle, and yielding. Too yielding, it sometimes seemed to him, while occasionally the thought had flashed upon him that she did not possess a very remarkable depth of intellect. But he said to himself, he did not care; he hated strong-minded women, and would far rather his wife should be a little weak than masculine, like his Aunt Margaret, who sometimes wore bloomers, and advocated women's rights. Yes, he greatly preferred Lucy Atherstone, as she was, to a wife like the stately Margaret, or like Agnes, his pretty stepmother, who only thought how she could best attract attention; and as it had never occurred to him that there might be a happy medium, that a woman need not be brainless to be feminine and gentle, he was satisfied with his choice, as well he might be, for a fairer, sweeter flower never bloomed than Lucy Atherstone, his affianced bride. Guy loved to think of Lucy, and as the doctor's remarks brought her to his mind, he went off into a reverie concerning her, becoming so lost in thought that until the doctor's hand was laid upon his shoulder by way of rousing him, he did not see that what his friend had designated as a go-giggle was stopping in front of the office, and that from it a young girl was alighting.
Naturally very polite to females, Guy's first impulse was to go to her assistance, but she did not need it, as was proven by the light spring with which she reached the ground. The white-haired man was with her again, but he evidently did not intend to stop, and a close observer might have detected a shade of sadness and anxiety upon his face as Madeline called cheerily out to him: "Good-by, grandpa. Don't fear for me; I hope you have good luck;" then, as he drove away, she ran a step after him and said; "Don't look so sorry, for if Mr. Remington won't let you have the money, there's my pony, Beauty. I am willing to give him up."
"Never, Maddy. It's all the little fortin' you've got. I'll let the old place go first;" and, chirruping to Sorrel, the old man drove on, while Madeline walked, with a beating heart, to the office door, knocking timidly.
Glancing involuntarily at each other, the young men exchanged meaning smiles, while the doctor whispered softly: "Verdant—that's sure. Wonder if she'll knock at a church."
As Guy sat nearest the door, it was he who held it ajar while Madeline came in, her soft brown eyes glistening with something like a tear, and her cheeks burning with excitement as she took the chair indicated by Guy Remington, who unconsciously found himself master of ceremonies.
Poor little Madeline!
Madge her schoolmates called her, because the name suited her, they said; but Maddy they called her at home, and there was a world of unutterable tenderness in the voices of the old couple, her grandparents, when they said that name, while their dim eyes lighted up with pride and joy when they rested upon the young girl who answered to the name of Maddy. Their only daughter's only child, she had lived with them since her mother's death, for her father was a sea captain, who never returned from his last voyage to China, made two months before she was born. Very lonely and desolate would the home of Grandfather Markham have been without the presence of Madeline, but with her there, the old red farmhouse seemed to the aged couple like a paradise.
Forty years they had lived there, tilling the rather barren soil of the rocky homestead, and, saving the sad night when they heard that Richard Clyde was lost at sea, and the far sadder morning when their daughter died, bitter sorrow had not come to them; and, truly thankful for the blessings so long vouchsafed them, they had retired each night in peace with God and man, and risen each morning to pray. But a change was coming over them. In an evil hour Grandpa Markham had signed a note for a neighbor and friend, who failed to pay, and so it all fell on Mr. Markham, who, to meet the demand, mortgaged his homestead; the recreant neighbor still insisting that long before the mortgage should be due, he certainly would be able himself to meet it. This, however, he had not done, and, after twice begging off a foreclosure, poor old Grandfather Markham found himself at the mercy of a grasping, remorseless man, into whose hands the mortgage had passed. It was vain to hope that Silas Slocum would wait. The money must either be forthcoming, or the red farmhouse be sold, with its few acres of land. Among his neighbors there was not one who had the money to spare, even if they had been willing to do so. And so he must look among strangers.
"If I could only help," Madeline had said one evening when they sat talking over their troubles; "but there's nothing I can do, unless I apply for our school this summer. Mr. Green is committeeman; he likes us, and I don't believe but what he'll let me have it. I mean to go and see;" and, ere the old people had recovered from their astonishment, Madeline had caught her bonnet and shawl, and was flying down the road.
Madeline was a favorite with all, especially with Mr. Green, and as the school would be small that summer, the plan struck him favorably. Her age, however, was an objection, and he must take time to see what others thought of a child like her becoming a schoolmistress. Others thought well of it, and so before the close of the next day it was generally known through Honedale, as the southern part of Devonshire was called, that pretty little Madge Clyde had been engaged as teacher, she receiving three dollars a week, with the understanding that she must board herself. It did not take Madeline long to calculate that twelve times three were thirty-six, more than a tenth of what her grandfather must borrow. It seemed like a little fortune, and blithe as a singing bird she flitted about the house, now stopping a moment to fondle her pet kitten, while she whispered the good news in its very appreciative ear, and then stroking her grandfather's silvery hair, as she said:
"You can tell them that you are sure of paying thirty-six dollars in the fall, and if I do well, maybe they'll hire me longer. I mean to try my very best. I wonder if ever anybody before me taught a school when they were only fourteen and a half. Do I look as young as that?" and for an instant the bright; childish face scanned itself eagerly in the old-fashioned mirror, with the figure of an eagle on the top.
She did look very young, and yet there was something womanly, too, in the expression of the face, something which said that life's realities were already beginning to be understood by her.
"If my hair were not short I should do better. What a pity I cut it the last time; it would have been so long and splendid now," she continued, giving a kind of contemptuous pull at the thick, beautiful brown hair on whose glossy surface there was in certain lights a reddish tinge, which added to its beauty.
"Never mind the hair, Maddy," the old man said, gazing fondly at her with a half sigh as he remembered another brown head, pillowed now beneath the graveyard turf. "Maybe you won't pass muster, and then the hair will make no difference. There's a new committee-man, that Dr. Holbrook, from Boston, and new ones are apt to be mighty strict."
Instantly Maddy's face flushed all over with nervous dread, as she thought: "What if I should fail?" fancying that to do so would be an eternal disgrace. But she should not. She was called by everybody the very best scholar in school, the one whom the teachers always put forward when desirous of showing off, the one whom Mr. Tiverton, and Squire Lamb, and Lawyer Whittemore always noticed so much. Of course she should not fail, though she did dread Dr. Holbrook, wondering much what he would ask her first, and hoping it would be something in arithmetic, provided he did not stumble upon decimals, where she was apt to get bewildered. She had no fears of grammar. She could pick out the most obscure sentence and dissect a double relative with perfect ease; then, as to geography, she could repeat whole pages of that, while in the spelling-book, the foundation of a thorough education, as she had been taught, she had no superiors, and but a very few equals. Still she would be very glad when it was over, and she appointed Monday, both because it was close at hand, and because that was the day her grandfather had set in which to ride to Aikenside, in an adjoining town, and ask its young master for the loan of three hundred dollars.
He could hardly tell why he had thought of applying to Guy Remington for help, unless it were that he once had saved the life of Guy's father, who, as long as he lived, had evinced a great regard for his benefactor, frequently asserting that he meant to do something for him. But the something was never done, the father was dead, and in his strait the old man turned to the son, whom he knew to be very rich, and who he had been told was exceedingly generous.
"How I wish I could go with you clear up to Aikenside! They say it's so beautiful," Madeline had said, as on Saturday evening they sat discussing the expected events of the following Monday. "Mrs. Noah, the housekeeper, had Sarah Jones there once, to sew, and she told me all about it. There are graveled walks, and nice green lawns, and big, tall trees, and flowers—oh! so many!—and marble fountains, with gold fishes in the basin; and statues, big as folks, all over the yard, with two brass lions on the gateposts. But the house is finest of all. There's a drawing-room bigger than a ballroom, with carpets that let your feet sink in so far; pictures and mirrors clear to the floor— think of that, grandpa! a looking-glass so tall that one can see the very bottom of their dress and know just how it hangs. Oh, I do so wish I could have a peep at it! There are two in one room, and the windows are like doors, with lace curtains; but what is queerest of all, the chairs and sofas are covered with real silk, just like that funny, gored gown of grandma's up in the oak chest. Dear me! I wonder if I'll ever live in such a place as Aikenside?"
"No, no, Maddy, no. Be satisfied with the lot where God has put you, and don't be longing after something higher, Our Father in heaven knows just what is best for us; as He didn't see fit to put you up at Aikenside, 'tain't noways likely you'll ever live in the like of it."
"Not unless I should happen to marry a rich man. Poor girls like me have sometimes done that, haven't they?" was Maddy's demure reply.
Grandpa Markham shook his head.
"They have, but it's mostly their ruination; so don't build castles in the air about this Guy Remington."
"Me! Oh, grandpa, I never dreamed of Mr. Guy!" and Madeline blushed half indignantly. "He's too rich, too aristocratic, though Sarah said he didn't act one bit proud, and was so pleasant, the servants all worship him, and Mrs. Noah thinks him good enough for the Queen of England. I shall think so, too, if he lets you have the money. How I wish it was Monday night, so we could know sure!"
"Perhaps we both shall be terribly disappointed," suggested grandpa, but Maddy was more hopeful.
She, at least, would not fail, while what she had heard of Guy Remington, the heir of Aikenside, made her believe that he would accede at once to her grandpa's request.
All that night she was working to pay the debt, giving the money herself into the hands of Guy Remington, whom she had never seen, but who came up in her dreams the tall, handsome-looking man she had so often heard described by Sarah Jones after her return from Aikenside. Even the next day, when, by her grandparent's side, Maddy knelt reverently in the small, time-worn church at Honedale, her thoughts, it must be confessed, were wandering more to the to-morrow and Aikenside, than to the sacred words her lips were uttering. She knew it was wrong, and with a nervous start would try to bring her mind back from decimal fractions to what the minister was saying; but Maddy was mortal, and right in the midst of the Collect, Aikenside and its owner would rise before her, together with the wonder how she and her grandfather would feel one week from that Sabbath day. Would the desired certificate be hers? or would she be disgraced forever and ever by a rejection? Would the mortgage be paid and her grandfather at ease, or would his heart be breaking with the knowing he must leave what had been his home for so many years? Not thus was it with the aged disciple beside her—the good old man, whose white locks swept the large lettered book over which his wrinkled face was bent, as he joined in the responses, or said the prayers whose words had over him so soothing an influence, carrying his thoughts upward to the house not made with hands, which he felt assured would one day be his. Once or twice, it is true, thoughts of losing the dear old red cottage flitted across his mind with a keen, sudden pang, but he put it quickly aside, remembering at the same instant how the Father he loved doeth all things well to such as are His children. Grandpa Markham was old in the Christian course, while Maddy could hardly be said to have commenced as yet, and so to her that April Sunday was long and wearisome. How she did wish she might just look over the geography, by way of refreshing her memory, or see exactly how the rule for extracting the cube root did read, but Maddy forebore, reading only the Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, and the book brought from the Sunday school.
With the earliest dawn, however, she was up, and her grandmother heard her repeating to herself much of what she dreaded Dr. Holbrook might question her upon. Even when bending over the washtub, for there were no servants at the red cottage, a book was arranged before her so that she could study with her eyes, while her small, fat hands and dimpled arms were busy in the suds. Before ten o'clock everything was done, the clothes, white as the snowdrops in the garden beds, were swinging on the line, the kitchen floor was scrubbed, the windows washed, the best room swept, the vegetables cleaned for dinner, and then Maddy's work was finished. "Grandma could do all the rest," she said, and Madeline was free "to put her eyes out over them big books if she liked."
Swiftly flew the hours until it was time to be getting ready, when again the short hair was deplored, as before her looking-glass Madeline brushed and arranged her shining, beautiful locks. Would Dr. Holbrook think of her age? Suppose he should ask it. But no, he wouldn't. If Mr. Green thought her old enough, surely it was not a matter with which the doctor need trouble himself; and, somewhat at ease on that point, Madeline donned her longest frock, and, standing in a chair, tried to discover how much of her pantalets was visible.
"I could see splendidly in Mr. Remington's mirrors," she said to herself, with a half sigh of regret that her lot had not been cast in some such place as Aikenside, instead of there beneath the hill in that wee bit of a cottage, whose rear slanted back until it almost touched the ground. "After all, I guess I'm happier here," she thought. "Everybody likes me, while if I were Mr. Guy's sister and lived at Aikenside, I might be proud and wicked, and—"
She did not finish the sentence, but somehow the story of Dives and Lazarus, read by her grandfather that morning, recurred to her mind, and feeling how much rather she would rest in Abraham's bosom than share the fate of him who once was clothed in purple and fine linen she pinned on her little neat plaid shawl, and, tying the blue ribbons of her coarse straw hat, glanced once more at the formidable cube root, and then hurried down to where her grandfather and old Sorrel wore waiting for her.
"I shall be so happy when I come back, because it will then be over, just like having a tooth out, you know," she said to her grandmother, who bent down for the good-by kiss without which Maddy never left her. "Now, grandpa, drive on; I was to be there at three," and chirruping herself to Sorrel, the impatient Madge went riding from the cottage door, chatting cheerily until the village of Devonshire was reached; then, with a farewell to her grandfather, who never dreamed that the man whom he was seeking was so near, she tripped up the flagging walk, and, as we have seen, soon stood in the presence of not only Dr. Holbrook, but also of Guy Remington.
Poor, poor little Madge!
It was Guy who received her, Guy who pointed to a chair, Guy who seemed perfectly at home, and, naturally enough, she took him for Dr. Holbrook, wondering who the other black-haired man could be, and if he meant to stay in there all the while. It would be very dreadful if he did, and in her agitation and excitement the cube root was in danger of being altogether forgotten. Half guessing the cause of her uneasiness, and feeling more averse than ever to taking part in the matter, the doctor, after a hasty survey of her person, withdrew into the background, and sat where he could not be seen. This brought the short dress into full view, together with the dainty little foot, nervously beating the floor.
"She's very young," he thought; "too young, by far," and Maddy's chances of success were beginning to decline even before a word had been spoken.
How terribly still it was for the time, during which telegraphic communications were silently passing between Guy and the doctor, the latter shaking his dead decidedly, while the former insisted that he should do his duty. Madeline could almost hear the beatings of her heart, and only by counting and recounting the poplar trees growing across the street could she keep back the tears. What was he waiting for, she wondered, and, at last, summoning all her courage, she lifted her great brown eyes to Guy, and said, pleadingly:
"Would you be so kind, sir, as to begin?"
"Yes, certainly," and electrified by that young, bird-like voice, the sweetest save one he had ever heard, Guy knocked down from the pile of books the only one at all appropriate to the occasion, the others being as far beyond what was taught in the district schools as his classical education was beyond Madeline's common one.
Remembering that the teacher of whom he had once been for a week a pupil, in the town of Framingham, had commenced operations by sharpening a lead pencil, so he now sharpened a similar one, determining as far as he could to follow that teacher's example. Maddy counted every fragment as it fell upon the floor, wishing so much that he would commence, and fancying that it would not be half so bad to have him approach her with some one of those terrible dental instruments lying before her, as it was to sit and wait as she was waiting. Had Guy Remington reflected a little, he would never have consented to do the doctor's work; but, unaccustomed to country usages, especially those pertaining to schools and teachers, he did not consider that it mattered which examined that young girl, himself or Dr. Holbrook. Viewing it somewhat in the light of a joke, he rather enjoyed it; and as the Framingham teacher had first asked her pupils their names and ages, so he, when the pencil was sharpened sufficiently, startled Madeline by asking her name.
"Madeline Amelia Clyde," was the meek reply, which Guy quickly recorded.
Now, Guy Remington intended no irreverence; indeed, he could not tell what he did intend, or what it was which prompted his next query:
"Who gave you this name?"
Perhaps he fancied himself a boy again in the Sunday school, and standing before the railing of the altar, where, with others of his age, he had been asked the question propounded to Madeline Clyde, who did not hear the doctor's smothered laugh as he retreated into the adjoining room.
In all her preconceived ideas of this examination, she had never dreamed of being catechised, and with a feeling of terror as she thought of that long answer to the question, "What is thy duty to thy neighbor?" and doubted her ability to repeat it, she said: "My sponsors, in baptism gave me the first name of Madeline Amelia, sir," adding, as she caught and misconstrued the strange gleam in the dark eyes bent upon her, "I am afraid I have forgotten some of the catechism; I did not know it was necessary in order to teach school."
"Certainly, no; I do not think it is. I beg your pardon," were Guy Remington's ejaculatory replies, as he glanced from Madeline to the open door of the adjoining room, where was visible a slate, on which, in huge letters, the amused doctor had written "Blockhead."
There was something in Madeline's quiet, womanly, earnest manner which commanded Guy's respect, or he would have given vent to the laughter which was choking him, and thrown off his disguise. But he could not bear now to undeceive her, and, resolutely turning his back upon the doctor, he sat down by that pile of books and commenced the examination in earnest, asking first her age.
"Going on fifteen," sounded older to Madeline than "Fourteen and a half," so "Going on fifteen" was the reply, to which Guy responded: "That is very young, Miss Clyde."
"Yes, but Mr. Green did not mind. He's the committeeman. He knew how young I was," Madeline said, eagerly, her great brown eyes growing large with the look of fear which came so suddenly into them.
Guy noticed the eyes then, and thought them very bright and handsome for brown, but not so bright or handsome as a certain pair of soft blue orbs he knew, and feeling a thrill of satisfaction that sweet Lucy Atherstone was not obliged to sit there in that doctor's office to be questioned by him or any other man, he said: "Of course, if your employers are satisfied it is nothing to me, only I had associated teaching with women much older than yourself. What is logic, Miss Clyde?"
The abruptness with which he put the question startled Madeline to such a degree that she could not positively tell whether she had ever heard that word before, much less could she recall its meaning, and so she answered frankly, "I don't know."
A girl who did not know what logic was did not know much, in Guy's estimation, but it would not do to stop here, and so he asked her next how many cases there were in Latin!
Maddy felt the hot blood tingling to her very fingertips, the examination had taken a course so widely different from her ideas of what it would probably be. She had never looked inside a Latin grammar, and again her truthful "I don't know, sir," fell on Guy's ear, but this time there was a half despairing tone in the young voice usually so hopeful.
"Perhaps, then, you can conjugate the verb Amo," Guy said, his manner indicating the doubt he was beginning to feel as to her qualifications.
Maddy knew well what "conjugate" meant, but that verb Amo, what could it mean? and had she ever heard it before? Mr. Remington was waiting for her; she must say something, and with a gasp she began: "I amo, thou amoest, he amoes. Plural: We amo, ye or you amo, they amo."
Guy looked at her aghast for a single moment, and then a comical smile broke all over his face, telling poor Maddy plainer than words could have done, that she had made a most ridiculous mistake.
"Oh, sir," she cried, her eyes wearing the look of the frightened hare, "it is not right. I don't know what it means. Tell me, teach me. What is it to amo?"
To most men it would not have seemed a very disagreeable task, teaching young Madeline Clyde "to amo," as she termed it, and some such idea flitted across Guy's mind, as he thought how pretty and bright was the eager face upturned to his, the pure white forehead, suffused with a faint flush, the cheeks a crimson hue, and the pale lips parted slightly as Maddy appealed to him for the definition of "amo."
"It is a Latin verb, and means 'to love'" Guy said, with an emphasis on the last word, which would have made Maddy blush had she been less anxious and frightened.
Thus far she had answered nothing correctly, and, feeling puzzled to know how to proceed, Guy stepped into the adjoining room to consult with the doctor, but he was gone. So returning again to Madeline, Guy resumed the examination by asking her how "minus into minus could produce plus."
Again Maddy was at fault, and her low-spoken "I don't know" sounded like a wail of despair. Did she know anything, Guy wondered, and feeling some curiosity now to ascertain that fact, he plied her with questions philosophical, questions algebraical, and questions geometrical, until in an agony of distress Maddy raised her hands deprecatingly, as if she would ward off any similar questions, and sobbed out:
"Oh, sir, no more. It makes my head so dizzy. They don't teach that in common schools. Ask me something I do know."
Suddenly it occurred to Guy that he had gone entirely wrong, and mentally cursing himself for the blockhead the doctor had called him, he asked, kindly:
"What do they teach? Perhaps you can enlighten me?"
"Geography, arithmetic, grammar, history, and spelling-book," Madeline replied, untying and throwing off her bonnet, in the vain hope that it might bring relief to her poor, giddy head, which throbbed so fearfully that all her ideas seemed for the time to have left her.
This was a natural consequence of the high excitement under which she was laboring, and so, when Guy did ask her concerning the books designated, she answered but little better than before, and Guy was wondering what he should do next, when the doctor's welcome step was heard, and leaving Madeline again, he repaired to the next room to report his ill success.
"She does not seem to know anything. The veriest child ought to do better than she has done. Why, she has scarcely answered half a dozen questions correctly."
This was what poor Maddy heard, though it was spoken in a low whisper; but every word was distinctly understood and burned into her heart's core, drying her tears and hardening her into a block of marble. She knew that Guy had not done her justice, and this helped to increase the torpor stealing over her. Still she did not lose a syllable of what was saying in the back office, and her lip curled scornfully when she heard Guy remark: "I pity her; she is so young, and evidently takes it so hard. Maybe she's as good as they average. Suppose we give her the certificate."
Then Dr. Holbrook spoke, but to poor, dazed Maddy his words were all a riddle. It was nothing to him—who was he that he should be dictating thus? There seemed to be a difference of opinion between the young men, Guy insisting that out of pity she should not be rejected; and the doctor demurring on the ground that he ought to be more strict. As usual, Guy overruled, and seating himself at the table, the doctor was just commencing: "I hereby certify—" while Guy was bending over him, when the latter was startled by a hand laid firmly on his arm, and turning quickly he confronted Madeline Clyde, who, with her short hair pushed from her blue-veined forehead, her face as pale as ashes, save where a round spot of purplish red burned upon her cheeks, and her eyes gleaming like coals of fire, stood before him.
"He need not write that," she said, huskily, pointing to the doctor, "It would be a lie, and I could not take it. You do not think me qualified. I heard you say so. I do not want to be pitied. I do not want a certificate because I am so young, and you think I'll feel badly. I do not want—"
Her voice failed her, her bosom heaved, and the choking sobs came thick and fast, but still she shed no tear, and in her bright, dry eyes there was a look which made both those young men turn away involuntarily. Once Guy tried to excuse her failure, saying she no doubt was frightened. She would probably do better again, and might as well accept the certificate, but Madeline still said no, so decidedly that further remonstrance was useless. She would not take what she had no right to, she said, but if they pleased she would wait there in the back office until her grandfather came back; it would not be long, and she should not trouble them.
Guy brought her the easy-chair from the front room and placed it for her by the window. With a faint smile she thanked him and said: "You are very kind," but the smile hurt Guy cruelly, it was so sad, so full of unintentional reproach, while the eyes she lifted to his looked so grieved and weary that he insensibly murmured to himself: "Poor child!" as he left her, and with the doctor repaired to the house, where Agnes was impatiently waiting for them. Poor, poor little Madge! Let those smile who may at her distress; it was the first keen disappointment she had ever had, and it crushed her as completely as many an older person has been crushed by heavier calamities.
"Disgraced for ever and ever," she kept repeating to herself, as she tried to shake off the horrid nightmare stealing over her. "How can I hold up my head again at home where nobody will understand just how it was; nobody but grandpa and grandma? Oh, grandpa, I can't earn that thirty-six dollars now. I most wish I was dead, and I am—I am dying. Somebody—come—quick!"
There was a heavy fall, and while in Mrs. Conner's parlor Guy Remington and Dr. Holbrook were chatting gayly with Agnes, a childish figure was lying upon the office floor, white, stiff, and insensible.
Little Jessie Remington, tired of sitting still and listening to what her mamma and Mrs. Conner were saying, had strayed off into the garden, and after filling her chubby hands with daffodils and early violets, wended her way to the office, the door of which was partially ajar. Peering curiously in, she saw the crumpled bonnet, with its ribbons of blue, and, attracted by this, advanced into the room, until she came where Madeline was lying. With a feeling that something was wrong, Jessie bent over the prostrate girl, asking if she were asleep, and lifting next the long, fringed lashes drooping on the colorless cheek. The dull, dead expression of the eyes sent a chill through Jessie's frame, and hurrying to the house she cried: "Oh, Brother Guy, somebody's dead in the office, and her bonnet is all jammed!"
Scarcely were the words uttered ere Guy and the doctor both were with Madeline, the former holding her tenderly in his arms, while he smoothed the short hair, thinking even then how soft and luxuriant it was, and how fair was the face which never moved a muscle beneath his scrutiny. The doctor was wholly self-possessed. Maddy had no terrors for him now. She needed his services, and he rendered them willingly, applying restoratives which soon brought back signs of life in the rigid form. With a shiver and a moan Madeline whispered: "Oh, grandma, I'm so tired," and nestled closer to the bosom where she had never dreamed of lying.
By this time both Mrs. Conner and Agnes had come out, asking in much surprise who the stranger could be, and what was the cause of her illness. As if there had been a previous understanding between them, the doctor and Guy were silent with regard to the recent farce enacted there, simply saying it was possible she was in the habit of fainting; many people were. Very daintily, Agnes held up and back the skirt of her rich silk as if fearful that it might come in contact with Madeline's plain delaine; then, as it was not very interesting for her to stand and see the doctor "make so much fuss over a young girl," as she mentally expressed it, she returned to the house, bidding Jessie do the same. But Jessie refused, choosing to stay by Madeline, whom they placed upon the comfortable lounge, which she preferred to being taken to the house, as Guy proposed.
"I'm better now, much better," she said. "Leave me, please. I'd rather be alone."
So they left her, all but Jessie, who, fascinated by the sweet young face, climbed upon the lounge and, laying her curly head caressingly against Madeline's arm, said to her: "Poor girl, you're sick, and I am so sorry. What makes you sick?"
There was genuine sympathy in that little voice, and it opened the pent-up flood beating so furiously, and roused Maddy's heart. With a cry as of sudden pain she clasped the child in her arms and wept out a wild, stormy fit of weeping which did her so much good. Forgetting that Jessie could not understand, and feeling it a relief to tell her grief to some one, she said, in reply to Jessie's oft repeated inquiries as to what was the matter: "I did not get a certificate, and I wanted it so much, for we are poor, and our house is mortgaged, and I was going to help grandpa pay it."
"It's dreadful to be poor!" sighed little Jessie, as her waxen fingers threaded the soft, nut-brown hair resting in her lap, where Maddy had lain her aching head.
Maddy did not know who this beautiful child was, but her sympathy was very sweet, and they talked together as children will, until Mrs. Agnes' voice was heard calling to her little girl that it was time to go.
"I love you, Maddy, and I mean to tell brother about it," Jessie said, as she wound her arms around Madeline's neck and kissed her at parting.
It never occurred to Maddy to ask her name, so stupified she felt, and with a responsive kiss she sent her away. Leaning her head upon the table, she forgot all but her own wretchedness, and so did not see the gayly-dressed, haughty-looking lady who swept past the door, accompanied by Guy and Dr. Holbrook. Neither did she hear, or notice, if she did, the hum of their voices as they talked together for a moment, Agnes asking the doctor very prettily to come up to Aikenside while she was there, and bring his ladylove. Engaged young men like Guy were so stupid, she said, as with a merry laugh she sprang into the carriage; and, bowing gracefully to the doctor, was driven rapidly toward Aikenside.
Rather slowly the doctor returned to the office, and after fidgeting for a time among the powders and phials, summoned courage to ask Madeline how she felt, and if any of the fainting symptoms had returned.
"No, sir," was all the reply she gave him, never lifting up her head, or even thinking which of the two young men it was speaking to her.
There was a call just then for Dr. Holbrook, and leaving his office in charge of Tom, his chore boy, he went away, feeling slightly uncomfortable whenever he thought of the girl to whom he felt that justice had not been done.
"I half wish I had examined her myself," he said. "Of course she was excited, and could not answer; beside, hanged if I don't believe it was all humbug tormenting her with Greek and Latin. Yes; I'll question her when I get back, and if she'll possibly pass, give her the certificate. Poor child; how white she was, and what a queer look there was in those great eyes, when she said: 'I shall not take it.'"
Never in his life before had Dr. Holbrook been as much interested in any female who was not sick as he was in Madeline, and determining to make his call on Mrs. Briggs as brief as possible, he alighted at her gate, and knocked impatiently at her door. He found her pretty sick, while both her children needed a prescription, and so long a time was he detained that his heart misgave him on his homeward route, lest Maddy should be gone, and with her the chance to remedy the wrong he might have done her.
Maddy was gone, and the wheel ruts of the square-boxed wagon were fresh before the door when he came back. Grandpa Markham had returned, and Madeline, who recognized old Sorrel's step, had gathered her shawl around her and gone sadly out to meet him. One look at her face was sufficient.
"You failed, Maddy?" the old man said, fixing about her feet the warm buffalo robe, for the night wind was blowing cool.
"Yes, grandpa, I failed."
They were out of the village and more than a mile on their way home before Madeline found voice to say so much, and they were nearer home by half a mile ere the old man answered back:
"And, Maddy, I failed too."
Mrs. Noah, the housekeeper at Aikenside, was slicing vegetable oysters for the nice little dish intended for her own supper, when the head of Sorrel came around the corner of the building, followed by the square- boxed wagon containing Grandpa Markham, who, bewildered by the beauty and spaciousness of the grounds, and wholly uncertain as to where he ought to stop, had driven over the smooth-graveled road around to the front kitchen door, Mrs. Noah's spacious domain, as sacred as Betsey Trotwood's patch of green.
"In the name of wonder, what codger is that? and what is he doing here?" was Mrs. Noah's exclamation, as she dropped the bit of salsify she was scraping, and hurrying to the door, called out: "I say, you, sir, what made you drive up here, when I've said over and over again, that I wouldn't have wheels tearing up turf and gravel?"
"I—I beg your pardon. I lost my way, I guess, there was so many turnin's, I'm sorry, but a little rain will fetch it right," grandpa said, glancing ruefully at the ruts in the gravel and the marks on the turf.
Mrs. Noah was not at heart an unkind woman, and something in the benignant expression of grandpa's face, or in the apologetic tone of his voice, mollified her somewhat, and without further comment she stood waiting for his next remark. It was a most unfortunate one, for though as free from weakness as most of her sex, Mrs. Noah was terribly sensitive as to her age, and the same census-taker would never venture twice within her precincts. Glancing at her dress, which was this leisure afternoon much smarter than usual, grandpa concluded she could not be a servant; and as she seemed to have a right to say where he should drive and where he should not, the meek old man concluded she was a near relation of Guy—mother, perhaps; but no, Guy's mother was dead, as grandpa well knew, for all Devonshire had heard of the young bride Agnes, who had married Guy's father for money and rank. To have been mistaken for Guy's mother would not have offended Mrs. Noah particularly; but how was she shocked when Grandpa Markham said:
"I come on business with Squire Guy. Are you his gran'marm?" "His gran'marm!" and Mrs. Noah bit off the last syllable spitefully. "Bless you, man, Squire Guy, as you call him, is twenty-five years old."
As Grandpa Markham was rather blind, he failed to see the point, but knew that in some way he had given offense.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am; I was sure you was some kin—maybe an a'nt."
No, she was not even that; but willing enough to let the old man believe her a lady of the Remington order, she did not explain that she was simply the housekeeper, she simply said:
"If it's Mr. Guy you want, I can tell you he is not at home, which will save your getting out."
"Not at home, and I've come so far to see him!" grandpa exclaimed, and in his voice there was so much genuine disappointment that Mrs. Noah rejoined, quite kindly:
"He's gone over to Devonshire with the young lady his stepmother. Perhaps you might tell your business to me; I know all Mr. Guy's affairs."
"If I might come in, ma'am," he answered, meekly, as through the open door he caught glimpses of a cheerful fire. "It's mighty chilly for such as me." He did look cold and blue, Mrs. Noah thought, and she bade him come in, feeling a very little contempt for the old-fashioned camlet cloak in which his feet became entangled, and smiling inwardly at the shrunken, faded pantaloons, betokening poverty.
"As you know all Squire Guy's affairs," grandpa said, when he was seated before the fire, "maybe you could tell whether he would be likely to lend a stranger three hundred dollars, and that stranger me?"
Mrs. Noah stared at him aghast. Was he crazy, or did he mean to insult her master? Evidently neither. He seemed as sane as herself, while no one could associate an insult with him. He did not know anything. That was the solution of his audacity, and pityingly, as she would have addressed a half idiot, Mrs. Noah made him understand how impossible it was for him to think her master would lend to a stranger like him.
"You say he's gone to Devonshire," grandpa said, softly, with a quiver on his lip when she had finished. "I wish I'd knew it; I left my granddarter there to be examined. Mabby I'll meet him going back, and can ask him."
"I tell you it won't be no use. Mr. Guy has no three hundred dollars to throw away," was Mrs. Noah's rather sharp rejoinder.
"Wall, wall, we won't quarrel about it," the old man replied, in his most conciliatory manner, as he turned his head away to hide the starting tear.
Grandfather Markham's heart was very sore, and Mrs. Noah's harshness troubled him. He could not bear to think that she really was cross with him, besides that he wanted something to carry Maddy besides disappointment, so by way of testing Mrs. Noah's amiability and pleasing Maddy, too, he said, as he arose: "I'm an old man, lady, old enough to be your father." Here Mrs. Noah's face grew brighter, and she listened attentively while he continued: "You won't take what I say amiss, I'm sure. I have a little girl at home, a grandchild, who has heard big stories of the fine things at Aikenside. She has a hankerin' after such vanities, and it would please her mightily to have me tell her what I saw up here, so maybe you wouldn't mind lettin' me go into that big room where the silk fixin's are. I'll take off my shoes, if you say so."
"Your shoes won't hurt an atom; come right along," Mrs. Noah replied, now in the best of moods, for, except her cup of green tea with raspberry jam and cream, she enjoyed nothing more than showing their handsome house.
Conducting him through the wide, marbled hall, she ushered him into the drawing-room, where for a time he stood perfectly bewildered. It was his first introduction to rosewood, velvet, and brocatelle, and it seemed to him as if he had suddenly been transported to fairy-land.
"Maddy would like this—it's her nature," he whispered, advancing a step or two, and setting down his feet as softly as if stepping on eggs.
Happening to lift his eyes before one of the long mirrors, he spied himself, wondering much what that "queer-looking chap" was doing there in the midst of so much elegance, and why Mrs. Noah did not turn him out! Then mentally asking forgiveness for this flash of pride, and determined to make amends, he bowed low to the figure in the glass, which bowed as low in return, but did not reply to the very good-natured remark: "How d'ye do—pretty well, to-day?"
There was a familiar look about the round cape of the camlet cloak, and Grandpa Markham's face turned crimson as the truth burst upon him.
"How 'shamed of me Maddy would be," he thought, glancing sidewise at Mrs. Noah, who had witnessed the blunder, and was now looking from the window to hide her laughter.
Grandpa believed she did not see him, and comforted with that assurance, he began to remark upon the mirror, saying "it made it appear as if there was two of you," a remark which Mrs. Noah fully appreciated. He saw the silk chairs, slyly touching one to see if it did feel like the gored, peach-blossom dress worn by his wife forty-two years ago that very spring. Then he tried one of them, examined the rare ornaments, and came near bowing again to the portrait of the first Mrs. Remington, so natural and lifelike it looked standing out from the canvas.
"This will last Maddy a week. I thank you, ma'am. You have added some considerable to the happiness of a young girl, who wouldn't disgrace even such a room as this," he said, as he passed into the hall.
Mrs. Noah received his thanks graciously, and led him to the yard, where Sorrel stood waiting for him.
"Odd, but clever as the day is long," was Mrs. Noah's comment, as, after seeing him safe out of her yard, she went back to her vegetable oysters boiling on the stove.
Driving at a brisk trot through the grounds, Sorrel was soon out upon the highway; and with spirits exhilarated by thoughts of going home, he kept up the trot until, turning a sudden corner, his master saw the carriage from Aikenside approaching at a rapid rate. The driver, Paul, saw him too, but scorning to give half the road to such as Sorrel and the square-boxed wagons, he kept steadily on, while Grandpa Markham, determined to speak with Guy, reined his horse a little nearer, raising his hand in token that the negro should stop. As a natural consequence, the wheels of the two vehicles became interlocked, and as the powerful grays were more than a match for Sorrel, the front wheel of Grandpa Markham's wagon was wrenched off, and the old man precipitated to the ground; which, fortunately for him, was in that locality covered with sand banks, so that he was only stunned for an instant, and thus failed to hear the insolent negro's remark: "Served you right, old cove; might of turned out for gentlemen;" neither did he see the sudden flashing of Guy Remington's eye, as, leaping from his carriage, he seized the astonished African by the collar, and, hurling him from the box, demanded what he meant by serving an old man so shameful a trick and then insulting him.
All apology and regret, the cringing driver tried to make some excuse, but Guy stopped him short, telling him to see how much the wagon was damaged, while he ran to the old man, who had recovered from the first shock and was trying to extricate himself from the folds of his camlet cloak. Nearby was a blacksmith's shop, and thither Guy ordered his driver to take the broken-down wagon with a view to getting it repaired.
"Tell him I want it done at once." he said, authoritatively, as if he well knew his name carried weight with it; then, turning to grandpa, he asked again if he were hurt.
"No, not specially—jolted my old bones some. You are very kind, sir," grandpa replied, brushing the dust from his pantaloons and then involuntarily grasping Guy's arm for support, as his weak knees began to tremble from the effects of excitement and fright.
"That darky shall rue this job," Guy said, savagely, as he gazed pityingly upon the shaky old creature beside him. "I'll discharge him to-morrow."
"No, young man. Don't be rash. He'll never do't again; and sprigs like him think they've a right to make fun of old codgers like me," was grandpa's meek expostulation.
"Do, pray, Guy, how long must we wait here?" Agnes asked, impatiently, leaning back in the carriage and partially drawing her veil over her face as she glanced at Grandpa Markham, but a look from Guy silenced her; and turning again to grandpa, he asked:
"What did you say? You have been to Aikenside to see me?"
"Yes, and I was sorry to miss you. I—I—it makes me feel awkward to tell you, but I wanted to borrow some money, and I didn't know nobody as likely to have it as you. That woman up to your house said she knowed you wouldn't let me have it, 'cause you hadn't it to spare. Mebby you haven't," and grandpa waited anxiously for Guy's reply.
Now, Mrs. Noah had a singular influence over her young master, who was in the habit of consulting her with regard to his affairs, and nothing could have been more unpropitious to the success of grandpa's suit than the knowing she disapproved. Beside this, Guy had only the previous week lost a small amount loaned under similar circumstances. Standing silent for a moment, while he buried and reburied his shining patent leather boots in the hills of sand, he said at last: "Candidly, sir, I don't believe I can accommodate you. I am about to make repairs at Aikenside, and have partially promised to loan money on good security to a Mr. Silas Slocum, who, 'if things work right,' as he expressed it, intends building a mill on some property which has come, or is coming, into his hands."
"That's mine—that's mine, my homestead," gasped grandpa, turning white almost as his hair blowing in the April wind. "There's a stream of water on it, and he says if he forecloses and gets it he shall build a mill, and tear our old house down."
Guy was in a dilemma. He had not asked how much Mr. Markham wanted, and as the latter had not told him, he naturally concluded it a much larger sum than it really was, and did not care just then to lend it.
"I tell you what I'll do," he said, after a little. "I'll drop Slocum a note to-night saying I've changed my mind, and shall not let him have the money. Perhaps, then, he won't be so anxious to foreclose, and will give you time to look among your friends."
Guy laid a little emphasis on that last word, and looking up quickly grandpa was about to say: "I am not so much a stranger as you think. I knew your father well;" but he checked himself with the thought: "No, that will be too much like begging pay for a deed of mercy done years ago." So Guy never suspected that the old man before him had once laid his sire under a debt of gratitude. The more he reflected the less inclined he was to lend the money, and as grandpa was too timid to urge his needs, the result was that when at last the wheel was replaced, and Sorrel again trotting on toward Devonshire, he drew after him a sad, heavy heart, and not once until the village was reached did he hear the cheery chuckle with which his kind master was wont to encourage him.
"Poor Maddy! I dread tellin' her the most, she was so sure," grandpa whispered, as he stopped before the office door, where Maddy waited for him.
But Maddy's disappointment was keener than his own, and so after the sorrowful words, "and I failed, too," he bent himself to comfort the poor child, who, leaning her throbbing head against his shoulder, sobbed bitterly, as in the soft spring twilight they drove back to the low red cottage where grandma waited for them.
It was Farmer Green's new buggy and Farmer Green's bay colt which, three days later than this, stopped before Dr. Holbrook's office. Not the square-boxed wagon, with old Sorrel attached; the former was standing quietly in the chip-yard behind the low red house, while the latter with his nose over the barnyard fence, neighing occasionally, as if he missed the little hands which had daily fed him the oatmeal he liked so much, and which now lay hot and parched and helpless upon the white counterpane Grandma Markham had spun and woven herself. Maddy might have been just as sick as she was if the examination had never occurred, but it was natural for those who loved her to impute it all to the effects of excitement and cruel disappointment, so there was something like indignation mingling with the sorrow gnawing at the hearts of the old couple as they watched by their fever-stricken darling. Farmer Green, too, shared the feeling, and numerous at first were his mental animadversions against that "prig of a Holbrook." But when Maddy grew so bad as not to know him or his wife, he laid aside his prejudices, and suggested to Grandpa Markham that Dr. Holbrook be sent for.
"He's great on fevers," he said, "and is good on curin' sick folks," so, though he would have preferred some one else should have been called, confidence in the young doctor's skill won the day, and grandpa consented.
This, then, was the errand of Farmer Green, and with his usual bluntness, he said to the recreant doctor, who chanced to be at home:
"Wall, you nigh about killed our little Madge t'other day, when you refused the stifficut, and now we want you to cure her."
The doctor looked up in surprise, but Farmer Green soon explained his meaning, making out a most aggravated case, and representing Maddy as wild with delirium.
"Keeps talkin' about the big books, the Latin and the Hebrew, and even the Catechism, as if such like was 'lowed in our school. I s'pose you didn't know no better; but if Maddy dies, you'll have it to answer for, I reckon."
The doctor did not try to excuse himself, but hastily took down the medicines he thought he might need, and stowed them carefully away. He had expected to hear from that examination, but not in this way, and rather nervously he made some inquiries, as to how long she had been ill, and so forth.
Maddy's case lost nothing by Mr. Green's account, and by the time the doctor's horse was ready, and he on his way to the cottage, he had arrived at the conclusion that of all the villainous men outside the walls of the State's prison, he was the most villainous, and Guy Remington next.
What a cozy little chamber it was where Maddy lay, just such a room as a girl like her might be supposed to occupy, and the bachelor doctor felt like treading upon forbidden ground as he entered the room so rife with girlish habits, from the fairy slippers hung on a peg, to the fanciful little workbox made of cones and acorns. Maddy was asleep, and sitting down beside her, he asked that the shawl which had been pinned across the window might be removed so that he could see her, and thus judge better of her condition. They took the shawl away, and the sunlight came streaming in, disclosing to the doctor's view the face never before seen distinctly, or thought about, if seen. It was ghastly pale, save where the hot blood seemed bursting through the cheeks, while the beautiful brown hair was brushed back from the brow where the veins were swollen and full. The lips were slightly apart, and the hot breath came in quick, panting gasps, while occasionally a faint moan escaped them, and once the doctor heard, or thought he heard, the sound of his own name. One little dimpled hand lay upon the bedspread, but the doctor did not touch it. Ordinarily he would have grasped it as readily as if it had been a piece of marble, but the sight of Maddy, lying there so sick, and the fearing he had helped to bring her where she was, awoke to life a curious state of feeling with regard to her, making him almost as nervous as on the day when she appeared before him as candidate No. 1.
"Feel her pulse, doctor; they are faster most than you can count," Grandma Markham whispered; and thus entreated, the doctor took the soft hand in his own, its touch sending through his frame a thrill such as the touch of no other hand had ever sent.
Somehow the act reassured him. All fear of Maddy vanished, leaving behind only an intense desire to help, if possible, the young girl whose fingers seemed to cling around his own as he felt for and found the rapid pulse,
"If she could awaken," he said, laying the hand softly down and placing his other upon her forehead, where the great sweat drops lay.
And, after a time, Maddy did awaken, but in the eyes fixed, for a moment, so intently on him, there was no look of recognition, and the doctor was half glad that it was so. He did not wish her to associate him with her late disastrous disappointment; he would rather she should think of him as some one come to cure her, for cure her he would, he said to himself, as he gazed into her childish face and thought how sad it was for such as she to die. When first he entered the cottage he had been struck with the extreme plainness of the furniture, betokening that wealth had not there an abiding place, but now he forgot everything except the sick girl, who grew more and more restless, talking of him and the Latin verb which meant "to love," she said, and which was not in the grammar.
"Guy was a fool and I was a brute," the doctor muttered, as he folded up the bits of paper whose contents he hoped might do much toward saving Maddy's life.
Then, promising to come again, he rode rapidly away, to visit other patients, who, that afternoon, were in danger of being sadly neglected, so constantly was their young physician's mind dwelling upon the little, low-walled chamber where Maddy Clyde was lying. As night closed in she knew them all, and heard that Dr. Holbrook had been there prescribing for her. Turning her face to the wall, she seemed to be thinking; then, calling her grandmother to her, she whispered: "Did he smooth my hair back and say, 'poor child?'"
Her grandmother hardly thought he did, though she was not in the room all the time, she said. "He had stayed a long while and was greatly interested."
Maddy had a vague remembrance of such an incident, and in her heart forgave the doctor for his rejection, thinking only how handsome he had looked, even while tormenting her with such unheard of questions, and how kind he was to her now. The sight of her grandfather awakened a new train of ideas, and bidding him to sit beside her, she asked if their home must be sold. Maddy was not to be put off with an evasion, and so grandpa told her honestly at last that Slocum would foreclose, but not while she was sick; he had been seen that day by Mr. Green, and had promised so much forbearance.
This was the last rational conversation held with Maddy for many a week, and when next morning the doctor came, there was a look of deep anxiety upon his face as he watched the alarming symptoms of his delirious patient, who talked incessantly, not of the examination now, but of the mortgage and the foreclosure, begging the doctor to see that the house was not sold, to tell them she was earning thirty-six dollars by teaching school, that Beauty should be sold to save their dear old home. All this was strange at first to the doctor, but the rather voluble Mrs. Green, who had come to Grandma Markham's relief, enlightened him, dwelling with a kind of malicious pleasure upon the fact that Maddy's earnings, had she been permitted to get a "stifficut," were to be appropriated toward paying the debt.
If the doctor had hated himself the previous day when he from the red cottage gate, he hated himself doubly now as he went dashing down the road, determined to resign his office of school inspector that very day. And he did.
Summoning around him those who had been most active in electing him, he refused to officiate again, assuring them that if any more candidates came he should either turn them from his door or give them a certificate without asking a question.
"Put anybody you like in my place," he said; "anybody but Guy Remington. Don't for thunder's sake take him."
There was no probability of this, as Guy lived in another town, and could not have officiated had he wished. But the doctor was too much excited to reason upon anything save Madeline Clyde's case. That he perfectly understood; and during the next few weeks his other patients waited many times in vain for his coming, while he sat by Maddy's side watching every change, whether for the worse or better. Even Agnes Remington was totally neglected; and so one day she sent Guy down to Devonshire to say that as Jessie seemed more than usually delicate, she wished the doctor to take her under his charge and visit her at least once a week. The doctor was not at home, but Tom said he expected him every moment. So seating himself in the armchair, Guy waited until he came.
"Well, Hal," he began, jocosely, but the joking words he would have uttered next died on his lips as he noticed the strange look of excitement and anxiety on the doctor's face. "What is it?" he asked. "Are all your patients dead?"
"Guy," and the doctor came closely to him, whispering huskily, "you and I are murderers in the first degree. Yes; and both deserve to be hung. Do you remember that Madeline Clyde whom you insulted with your logic and Latin verbs? She'd set her heart on that certificate. She wanted the money, not for new gowns and fooleries mind, but to help her old grandfather pay his debts. His place is mortgaged. I don't understand it; but he asked some old hunks to lend him the money, and the miserly rascal, whoever he was, refused. I wish I had it. I'd give it to him out and out. But that's nothing to do with the girl—Maddy they call her. The disappointment killed her, and she's dying—is raving crazy—and keeps talking of that confounded examination. I tell you, Guy, my inward parts get terribly mixed up when I hear her talk, and my heart thumps like a trip-hammer. That's the reason I have not been up to Aikenside. I wouldn't leave Maddy so long as there was hope. I did not tell them this morning. I couldn't make that poor couple feel worse than they are feeling; but when I looked at her, tossing from side to side and picking at the bedclothes, I knew it would soon be over—that when I saw her again the poor little arms would be still enough and the bright eyes shut forever. Guy, I couldn't see her die—I don't like to see anybody die, but her, Maddy, of all others—and so I came away. If you stay long enough, you'll hear the bell toll, I reckon. There is none at Honedale Church, which they attend. They are Episcopalians, you see, and so they'll come up here, maybe. I hope I shall be deafer than an adder."
Here the doctor stopped, wholly out of breath, while Guy for a moment sat without speaking a single word. Jessie, in his hearing, had told her mother what the sick girl in the doctor's office had said about being poor and wanting the money for grandpa, while Mrs. Noah had given him a rather exaggerated account of Mr. Markham's visit; but he had not associated the two together until now, when he saw the whole, and almost as much as the doctor himself regretted the part he had had in Maddy's illness and her grandfather's distress.
"Doc," he said, laying his hand on the doctor's arm, "I am that old hunks, the miserly rascal who refused the money. I met the old man going home that day, and he asked me for help. You say the place must be sold. It never shall, never. I'll see to that, and you must save the girl."
"I can't, Guy. I've done all I can, and now, if she lives, it will be wholly owing to the prayers that old saint of a grandfather says for her. I never thought much of these things until I heard him pray; not that she should live anyway, but that if it were right Maddy might not die. Guy, there's something in such a prayer as that. It's more powerful than all my medicine swallowed at one grand gulp."
Guy didn't know very much about praying then, and so he did not respond, but he thought of Lucy Atherstone, whose life was one hymn of prayer and praise, and he wished she could know of Maddy, and join her petitions with those of the grandfather. Starting suddenly from his chair, he exclaimed, "I'm going down there. It will look queerly, too, to go alone. Ah, I have it! I'll drive back to Aikenside for Jessie, who has talked so much of the girl that her lady mother, forgetting that she was once a teacher, is disgusted. Yes, I'll take Jessie with me, but you must order it; you must say it is good for her to ride, and, Hal, give me some medicine for her, just to quiet Agnes, no matter what, provided it's not strychnine."
Contrary to Guy's expectations, Agnes did not refuse to let Jessie go for a ride, particularly as she had no suspicion where he intended taking her, and the little girl was soon seated by her brother's side, chatting merrily of the different things they passed upon the road. But when Guy told her where they were going, and why they were going there, the tears came at once into her eyes, and hiding her face in Guy's lap she sobbed bitterly.
"I did like her so much that day," she said, "and she looked so sorry, too. It's terrible to die!"
Then she plied Guy with questions concerning Maddy's probable future. "Would she go to heaven, sure?" and When Guy answered at random, "Yes," she asked, "How did he know? Had he heard that Maddy was that kind of good which lets folks in heaven? Because, Brother Guy," and the little preacher nestled closely to the young man, fingering his coat buttons as she talked, "because, Brother Guy, folks can be good— that is, not do naughty things—and still God won't love them unless they—I don't know what, I wish I did."
Guy drew her nearer to him, but to that childish yearning for knowledge he could not respond, so he said:
"Who taught you all this, little one?—not your mother, surely."
"No, not mamma, but Miriam, the waiting-maid we left in Boston. She told me about it, and taught me to pray different from mamma. Do you pray, Brother Guy?"
The question startled the young man, who was glad his coachman spoke to him just then, asking if he should drive through Devonshire village, or go direct to Honedale by a shorter route.
They would go to the village, Guy said, hoping that thus the doctor might be persuaded to accompany them. This diverted Jessie's mind, and she said no more of praying; but the first tiny grain was sown, the mustard seed, which should hereafter spring up into a mighty tree, the indirect result of Maddy's disappointment and almost fatal illness. They found the doctor at home and willing to go with them. Indeed, so impatient had he become listening for the first stroke of the bell which was to herald the death he deemed so sure, that he was on the point of mounting his horse and galloping off alone, when Guy's invitation came. It was five miles from Devonshire to Honedale, and when they reached a hill which lay halfway between, they stopped for a few moments to rest the tired horses. Suddenly, as they sat waiting, a sharp, ringing sound fell on their ears, and grasping Guy's knee, the doctor said, "I told you so; Madeline Clyde is dead."
It was the village bell, and its twice three strokes betokened that it tolled for somebody youthful, somebody young, like Maddy Clyde. Jessie wept silently, but there were no tears in the eyes of the young men, as with beating hearts they sat listening to the slow, solemn sounds which came echoing up the hill. There was a pause; the sexton's dirgelike task was done, and now it only remained for him to strike the age, and tell how many years the departed one had numbered.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten;" Jessie counted it aloud, while every stroke fell like a heavy blow upon the hearts of the young men, who a few weeks ago, knew not that such as Maddy Clyde had ever had existence.
How long it seemed before another stroke, and Guy was beginning to hope they'd heard the last, when again the dull, muffled sound came floating on the air, and Dr. Holbrook's black, bearded lip half quivered as he now counted aloud, "one, two, three, four, five."
That was all; there it stopped; and vain were all their listenings to catch another note. Fifteen years, and only fifteen had passed over the form now forever still.
"She was fifteen," Guy whispered, remembering distinctly to have heard that number from Maddy herself.