“Only three bars of soap and seventy-five microscopes!” he exclaimed ruefully. “Let’s be layin’ fine stress on the microscopes, Ricks.”
“You do the jawin’, Sandy. I ain’t much on givin’ ’em the talk,” said Ricks. “Chuck a jolly at ’em and keep ’em hangin’ round.”
As dark came on, trade began. The three bars of soap were sold, and a purple necktie. Sandy saw that public taste must be guided in the proper direction. He stepped up on a box and began eloquently to enumerate the diverse uses of microscopes.
At each end of the stand a flaring torch lighted up the scene. The light fell on the careless, laughing faces in front, on Ricks Wilson, black-browed and suspicious, in the rear, and it fell full on Sandy, who stood on high and harangued the crowd. It fell on his broad, straight shoulders and on his shining tumbled hair; but it was not the light of the torch that gave the brightness to his eyes and the flush to his cheek. His head was throbbing, but he felt a curious sense of elation. He felt that he could stand there and talk the rest of his life. He made the crowd listen, he made it laugh, he made it buy. He told stories and sang songs, he coaxed and persuaded, until only a few microscopes were left and the old cigar-box was heavy with silver.
“Step right up and take a look at a fly’s leg! Every one ought to have a microscope in his home. When you get hard up it will make a dime look like a dollar, and a dollar like a five-dollar gold piece. Step right up! I ain’t kiddin’ you. Five cents for two looks, and fifteen for the microscope.”
Suddenly he faltered. At the edge of the crowd he had recognized two faces. They were sensitive slender faces, strangely alike in feature and unlike in expression. The young horseman of the afternoon was impatiently pushing his way through the crowd, while close behind him was a dainty girl with brown eyes slightly lifted at the outer corners, who held back in laughing wonder to watch the scene.
“Ricks,” said Sandy, lowering his voice unsteadily, “is this Kentucky?”
“Yep; we crossed the line to-day.”
“I can’t talk no more,” said Sandy. “You’ll have to be doin’ it. I’m sick.”
It was not only the fever that was burning in his veins, and making him bury his hot head in his hands and wish he had never been born. It was shame and humiliation, and all because of the look on the face of the girl at the edge of the crowd. He sat in the shadow of the big box and fought his fight. The coffee and the excitement no longer kept him up; he was faint, and his breath came short. Above him he heard Ricks’s rasping voice still talking to the few customers who were left. He knew, without glancing up, just how Ricks looked when he said the words; he knew how his teeth pushed his lips back, and how his restless little eyes watched everything at once. A sudden fierce repulsion swept over him for peddling, for Ricks, for himself.