The change from the road to the school-room was not without many a struggle on Sandy’s part. The new life, the new customs, and the strange language, were baffling.
The day after the accident in the road, Mrs. Hollis had sent him to inquire how old Mrs. Nelson was, and he had returned with the astonishing report that she was sixty-one.
“But you didn’t ask her age?” cried Mrs. Hollis, horrified.
Sandy looked perplexed. “I said what ye bid me,” he declared.
Everything he did, in fact, seemed to be wrong; and everything he said, to bring a smile. He confided many a woe to Aunt Melvy as he sat on the kitchen steps in the evenings.
“Hit’s de green rubbin’ off,” she assured him sympathetically. “De same ones dat laugh at you now will be takin’ off dey hats to you some day.”
“Oh, it ain’t the guyin’ I mind,” said Sandy; “it’s me wooden head. Them little shavers that can’t see a hole in a ladder can beat me figurin’.”
“You jus’ keep on axin’ questions,” advised Aunt Melvy. “Dat’s what I always tole Rachael. Rachael’s dat yaller gal up to Mrs. Nelson’s. I done raise her, an’ she ain’t a bit o’count. I use’ ter say, ’You fool nigger, how you ebber gwine learn nothin’ effen you don’t ax questions?’ An’ she’d stick out her mouth an’ say, ’Umph, umph; you don’t ketch me lettin’ de white folks know how much sense I ain’t got.’ Den she’d put on a white dress an’ a white sunbonnet an’ go switchin’ up de street, lookin’ jus’ lak a fly in a glass ob buttermilk.”
“It’s the mixed-up things that bother me,” said Sandy. “Mr. Moseley was telling of us to-day how ye lost a day out of the week when ye went round the world one way, and gained a day when ye went round the other.”
Aunt Melvy paused with the tea-towel in her hand. “Lost a day outen de week? Where’d he say you lost it at?”
Sandy shook his head in perplexity.
“Dat’s plumb foolishness,” said Aunt Melvy, indignantly. “I’se s’prised at Mr. Moseley, I sholy is. Dey sorter gits notions, dem teachers does. When dey tells you stuff lak dat, honey, don’t you pay ’em no mind.”
But Sandy did “pay ’em mind.” He followed Aunt Melvy’s advice about asking questions, and wrestled with each new proposition until he mastered it. It did not take him long, moreover, to distinguish the difference between himself and those about him. The words and phrases that had passed current on the street seemed to ring false here. He watched the judge covertly and took notes.
His progress at the academy was a singular succession of triumphs and failures. His natural quickness, together with an enthusiastic ambition to get on, enabled him soon to take his place among the boys of his own age. But a superabundance of high spirits and an inordinate love of fun caused many a dark entry on the debit side of his school ledger. There were many times when he exasperated the judge to the limit of endurance, for he was reckless and impulsive, charged to the exploding-point with vitality, and ever and always the victim of his last caprice; but when it came to the final issue, and the judge put a question fairly before him, the boy was always on the side of right, even though it proved him guilty.