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   Chapter 1 — THE EXAMINING COMMITTEE.

Aikenside By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 18279

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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:

"Dr. Holbrook."

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 re

ining 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!

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