“You see, my boy,” the judge said one day when they were alone, “I had set my heart on taking you into the office after next year. I had counted on the scholarship to put you through your last year at the academy.”
“It was the fool I was,” cried Sandy, in deep contrition, “but if ye’ll trust me the one time more, may I die in me traces if I ever stir out of them!”
So sincere was his desire to make amends that he asked to read law with the judge in the evenings after his work was done. Nothing could have pleased the judge more; he sat with his back to the lamp and his feet on the window-sill, expounding polemics to his heart’s desire.
Sandy sat in the shadow and whittled. Sometimes he did not listen at all, but when he did, it was with an intensity of attention, an utter absorption in the subject, that carried him straight to the heart of the matter. Meanwhile he was unconsciously receiving a life-imprint of the old judge’s native nobility.
From the first summer Sandy had held a good position at the post-office. His first earnings had gone to a round little surgeon on board the steamship America. But since then his funds had run rather low. What he did not lend he contributed, and the result was a chronic state of bankruptcy.
“You must be careful with your earnings,” the judge warned. “It is not easy to live within an income.”
“Easier within it than without it, sir,” Sandy answered from deep experience.
After the Lexington episode Sandy had shunned Martha somewhat; when he did go to see her, he found she was sick in bed.
“She never was strong,” said Mrs. Meech, sitting limp and disconsolate on the porch. “Mr. Meech and I never thought to keep her this long. The doctor says it’s the beginning of the end. She’s so patient it’s enough to break your heart.”
Sandy went without his dinner that day, and tramped to town and back, in the glare of the noon sun, to get her a basket of fruit. Then he wrote her a letter so full of affection and sympathy that it brought the tears to his own eyes as he wrote. He took the basket with the note and left them at her door, after which he promptly forgot all about her. For his whole purpose in life these days, aside from assisting the government in the distribution of mail and reading a musty old volume of Blackstone, was learning to dance.
In ten days was the opening of the county fair, and Sandy had received an invitation to be present at the fair hop, which was the social excitement of the season. It was to be his introduction into society, and he was determined to acquit himself with credit.
He assiduously practised the two-step in the back room of the post-office when the other clerk was out for lunch; he tried elaborate and ornate bows upon Aunt Melvy, who considered even the mildest “reel chune” a direct communication from the devil. The moment the post-office closed he hastened to Dr. Fenton’s, where Annette was taking him through a course of private lessons.