At first Mrs. Hollis had been strongly opposed to his remaining on the farm, but she soon became silent on the subject. It was a heretofore unknown luxury to have the outside work promptly and efficiently attended to. He possessed “the easy grace that makes a joke of toil”; and when he despatched his various chores and did even more than was required of him, Mrs. Hollis capitulated.
It was something more, however, than his ability and service that won her. The affection of the world, which seemed to eddy around her, as a rule, found an exception in Sandy. His big, exuberant nature made no distinction: he swept over her, sharp edges and all; he teased her, coaxed her, petted her, laughed at her, turned her tirades with a bit of blarney, and in the end won her in spite of herself.
“He’s ketchin’ on,” reported Aunt Melvy, confidently. “I heared him puttin’ on airs in his talk. When dey stops talkin’ nachel, den I knows dey are learnin’ somethin’.”
It was not until three years had passed and Sandy had reached his junior year that his real achievement was put to the test.
After that harrowing experience in the Hollis driveway, he had seen Ruth Nelson but twice. She had spent the winters at boarding-school, and in the summers she traveled with her aunt. She was still the divinity for whom he shaped his end, the compass that always brought him back to the straight course. He looked upon her possible recognition and friendship as a man looks upon his reward in heaven. In the meantime he suffered himself to be consoled by less distant joys.
The greatest spur he had to study was Martha Meech. She thought he was a genius; and while he found it a bit irksome to live up to his reputation, he made an honest effort to deserve it.
One spring afternoon the two were under the apple-trees, with their books before them. The years that had lifted Sandy forward toward vigor and strength and manhood had swept over Martha relentlessly, beating out her frail strength, and leaving her weaker to combat each incoming tide. Her straight, straw-colored hair lay smooth about her delicate face, and in her eyes was the strained look of one who seeks but is destined never to attain.
“Let’s go over the Latin once more,” she was saying patiently, “just to make sure you understand.”
“Devil a bit more!” cried Sandy, jumping up from where he lay in the grass and tossing the book lightly from her hand; “it’s the sin and the shame to keep you poking in books, now the spring is here. Martha, do you mind the sound of the wind in the tree-tops?”
She nodded, and he went on:
“Does it put strange words in your heart that you can’t even think out in your head? If I could be translating the wind and the river, I’d never be minding the Latin again.”
Martha looked at him half timidly.