The judge looked at the suspicious turn of the thick locks around the brim of the stiff hat and smiled.
“Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas,” he quoted. “How many pages of Blackstone to-day?”
Sandy made a wry face and winked at Mrs. Hollis, but she betrayed him.
“He has been primping since sun-up,” she said. “Anybody would think he was going to get married.”
“Sweet good luck if I was!” cried Sandy, gaily.
The judge put down his fork and laid his hand on Sandy’s arm. “You mustn’t neglect the learning, Sandy. You’ve made fine progress, and I’m proud of you. You’ve worked your way this far; I’ll help you to the top if you’ll keep a steady head.”
“That I’ll do,” cried Sandy, grasping his hand. “It’s old Moseley’s promise I have for steady work at the academy. If I can’t climb the ladder, with you at one end and success at the other, then I’m not much of a chicken—I mean I’m not much.”
“Well, you better begin by leaving the girls alone,” said Mrs. Hollis as she moved the sugar out of his reach. “Just let one drive by the gate, and we don’t have any peace until you know who it is.”
“By the way,” said the judge, as he helped himself to a corn-dodger and two kinds of preserves, “I’m sorry to see the friendship that’s sprung up between Annette Fenton and young Nelson. I don’t know what the doctor’s thinking about to let it go on. Nelson is hitting a pretty lively pace for a youngster. He’ll never live to reap his wild oats, though. He came into the world with consumption, and I don’t think he will be long getting out of it. He’s always getting into difficulty. I have had to fine him twice in the past month for gambling. Do you see anything of him, Sandy?”
“No,” said Sandy, biting his lip. His pride had suffered more than once at Carter’s condescension.
“Martha Meech must be worse,” said Mrs. Hollis. “The up-stairs blinds have been closed all day.”
Sandy pushed back the apple-dumpling which Aunt Melvy had made at his special request.
“Perhaps I can be helping them,” he said as he rose from the table.
When he came back he sat for a long time with his head on his hand.
“Is she much worse?” asked Mrs. Hollis.
“Yes,” said Sandy; “and it’s little that I can do, though she’s coughing her life away. It’s a shame—and a shame!” he cried in hot rebellion.
All his vanity of the morning was dispelled by the tragedy taking place next door. He paced back and forth between the two houses, begging to be allowed to help, and proposing all sorts of impossible things.
When inaction became intolerable, he plunged into his law books, at first not comprehending a line, but gradually becoming more and more interested, until at last the whole universe seemed to revolve about a case that was decided in a previous century.
When he rose it was almost dusk, and he came back to the present world with a start. His first thought was of Ruth and the rapturous prospect of seeing her on the morrow; a swift doubt followed as to whether a white tie or a black one was proper; then a sudden fear that he had forgotten how to dance. He jumped to his feet, took a couple of steps—when he remembered Martha.