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   Chapter 5 — THE RESULT.

Aikenside By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 24785

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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 h

e 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.

"I thought they told me fourteen, but of course it's she," the doctor rejoined. "Poor child, I would have given much to have saved her."

Jessie did not talk; only once, when she asked Guy, if it was very far to heaven, and if he supposed Maddy had got there by this time.

"We'll go just the same," said Guy. "I will do what I can for the old man;" and so the carriage drove on, down the hill, across the meadow-land, and past a low-roofed house whose walls inclosed the stiffened form of him for whom the bell had tolled, the boy, fifteen years of age, who had been the patient of another than Dr. Holbrook.

Maddy was not dead, but the paroxysm of restlessness had passed, and she lay now in a heavy sleep so nearly resembling death that they who watched, waited expectantly to see the going out of her last breath. Never before had a carriage like that from Aikenside stopped at that humble cottage, but the neighbors thought it came merely to bring the doctor, whom they welcomed with a glad smile, making a way for him to pass to Maddy's bedside. Guy preferred waiting in the carriage until such time as Grandpa Markham could speak with him, but Jessie went with the doctor into the sick room, startling even the grandmother, and causing her to wonder who the richly-dressed child could be.

"Dying, doctor," said one of the women, affirmatively, not interrogatively; but the doctor shook his head, and holding in one hand his watch he counted the faint pulse beats as with his eye he measured off the minute.

"There are too many here," he said. "She needs the air you are breathing," and in his singular, authoritative way, he cleared the crowded room of the mistaken friends who were unwittingly breathing up Maddy's very life.

All but the grandparents and Jessie; these he suffered to remain, and sitting down by Maddy, watched till the long sleep was ended. Silently and earnestly the aged couple prayed for their darling, asking that if possible she might be spared, and God heard their prayers, lifting, at last, the heavy fog from Maddy's brain, and waking her to life and partial consciousness. It was Jessie who first caught the expression of the opening eyes, and darting forward, she exclaimed, "She's waked up, Dr. Holbrook. She will live."

Wonderingly Maddy looked at her, and then as a confused recollection of where they had met before crossed her mind, she smiled faintly, and said:

"Where am I now? Have I never come home, and is this Dr. Holbrook's office?"

"No, no; it's home, your home, and you are getting well," Jessie cried, bending over the bewildered girl. "Dr. Holbrook has cured you, and Guy is here, and I, and-"

"Hush, you disturb her," the doctor said, gently pulling Jessie away, and himself asking Maddy how she felt.

She did not recognize him. She only had a vague idea that he might be some doctor, but not Dr. Holbrook, sure; not the one who had so puzzled and tortured her on a day which seemed now so far behind. From the white-haired man kneeling by the bedside there was a burst of thanksgiving for the life restored, and then Grandpa Markham tottered from the room, out into the open air, which had never fallen so refreshingly on his tried frame as it fell now, when he first knew that Maddy would live. He did not care for his homestead; that might go, and he still be happy with Maddy left. But He who had marked that true disciple's every sigh, had another good in store, willing it so that both should come together, even as the two disappointments had come hand in hand.

From the soft cushions of his carriage, where he sat reclining, Guy Remington saw the old man as he came out, and alighting at once, he accosted him pleasantly, and then walked with him to the garden, where, on a rustic bench, built for Maddy beneath the cherry trees, Grandpa Markham sat down to rest. From speaking of Madeline it was easy to go back to the day when Guy had first met grandpa, whose application for money he had refused.

"I have thought better of it since," he said, "and am sorry I did not accede to your proposal. One object of my coming here to-day was to say that my purse is at your disposal. You can have as much as you wish, paying me whenever you like, and the house shall not be sold. Slocum, I understand, holds the mortgage. I will see him to-morrow and stop the whole proceeding."

Guy spoke rapidly, determined to make a clean breast of it, but grandpa understood him, and bowing his white head upon his bosom, the big tears dropped like rain upon the turf, while his lips quivered, first with thanks to the Providence who had truly done all things well, and next with thanks to his benefactor.

"Blessings on your head, young man, for making me so happy. You are worthy of your father, and he was the best of men."

"My father-did you know him?" Guy asked, in some surprise, and then the story came out, how, years before, when a city hotel was on fire, and one of its guests in imminent danger from the locality of his room, and his own nervous fear which made him powerless to act, another guest braved fearlessly the hissing flame, and scaling the tottering wall, dragged out to life and liberty one who, until that hour, was to him an utter stranger.

Pushing back his snowy hair, Grandfather Markham showed upon his temple a long, white scar, obtained the night when he periled his own life to save that of another. There was a doubly warm pressure now of the old man's hand, as Guy replied, "I've heard that story from father himself, but the name of his preserver had escaped me. Why didn't you tell me who you were?"

"I thought 'twould look too much like demanding it as a right-too much like begging, and I s'pose I felt too proud. Pride is my besetting sin-the one I pray most against."

Guy looked keenly now at the man whose besetting sin was pride, and as he marked the cheapness of his attire, his pantaloons faded and short, his coat worn threadbare and shabby, his shoes both patched at the toes, his cotton shirt minus a bosom, and then thought of the humble cottage, with its few rocky acres, he wondered of what he could be proud.

Meantime, for Maddy, Dr. Holbrook had prescribed perfect quiet, bidding them darken again the window from which the shade had been removed, and ordering all save the grandmother to leave the room and let the patient sleep, if possible. Even Jessie was not permitted to stay, though Maddy clung to her as to a dear friend. In a few whispered words Jessie had told her name, saying she came from Aikenside, and that her Brother Guy was there, too, outdoors, in the carriage. "He heard how sick you were at Devonshire, this morning, and drove right home for me to come to see you. I told him of you that day in the office, and that's why he brought me, I guess. You'll like Guy. I know all the girls do-he's so good."

Sick and weary as she was, and unable as yet to comprehend the entire meaning of all she heard, Maddy was conscious of a thrill of pride in knowing that Guy Remington, from Aikenside, was interested in her, and had brought his sister to see her. Winding her feeble arms around Jessie's neck, she kissed the soft, warm cheek, and said, "You'll come again, I hope."

"Yes, every day, if mamma will let me. I don't mind it a bit, if you are poor."

"Tut, tut, little tattler!" and Dr. Holbrook, who, unseen by the children, had all the while been standing near, took Jessie by the arm. "What makes you think them poor?"

In the closely-shaded room Maddy could see nothing distinctly, but she heard Jessie's reply: "Because the plastering comes down so low, and Maddy's pillows are so teenty, not much bigger than my dolly's. But I love her; don't you doctor?"

Through the darkness the doctor caught the sudden flash of Maddy's eyes, and something impelled him to lay his cool, broad hand on her forehead, as he replied, "I love all my patients;" then, taking Jessie's arm, he led her out to where Guy was waiting for her.

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