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   Chapter 4 — GRANDPA MARKHAM.

Aikenside By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 13810

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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.

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