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   Chapter 3 — THE EXAMINATION.

Aikenside By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 19603

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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 Gu

y 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."

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