“I’ve been out to the Meeches’ all afternoon,” said the doctor, wearily, mopping his face with a red-bordered handkerchief.
“Is Martha worse?” asked Sandy, in quick alarm.
“No, she’s better,” said the doctor, gruffly; “she died at four o’clock.”
Some poet has described love as a little glow and a little shiver; to Sandy it was more like a ravaging fire in his heart, which lighted up a world of such unutterable bliss that he cheerfully added fresh fuel to the flames that were consuming him. The one absorbing necessity of his existence was to see Ruth daily, and the amount of strategy, forethought, and subtilty with which he accomplished it argued well for his future ability at the bar.
In the long hours of the night Wisdom urged prudence; she presented all the facts in the case, and convinced him of his folly. But with the dawn he threw discretion to the winds, and rushed valiantly forward, leading a forlorn hope under cover of a little Platonic flag of truce.
With all the fervor and intensity of his nature he tried to fit himself to Ruth’s standards. Every unconscious suggestion that she let fall, through word, or gesture, or expression, he took to heart and profited by. With almost passionate earnestness he sought to be worthy of her. Fighting, climbing, struggling upward, he closed his eyes to the awful depth to which he would fall if his quest were vain.
Meanwhile his cheeks became hollow and he lost his appetite. The judge attributed it to Martha Meech’s death; for Sandy’s genuine grief and his continued kindness to the bereft neighbors confirmed an old suspicion. Mrs. Hollis thought it was malaria, and dosed him accordingly. It was Aunt Melvy who made note of his symptoms and diagnosed his case correctly.
“He’s sparkin’ some gal, Miss Sue; dat’s what ails him,” she said one evening as she knelt on the sitting-room hearth to kindle the first fire of the season. “Dey ain’t but two t’ings onder heaben dat’ll keep a man f’om eatin’. One’s a woman, t’ other is lack ob food.”
Judge Hollis looked over his glasses and smiled.
“Who do you think the lady is, Melvy?”
Aunt Melvy wagged her head knowingly as she held a paper across the fireplace to start the blaze.
“I ain’t gwine tell no tales on Mist’ Sandy. But yer can’t fool dis heah ole nigger. I mind de signs; I knows mo’ ’bout de young folks in dis heah town den dey t’ink I do. Fust t’ing you know, I’m gwine tell on some ob ’em, too. I ‘spect de doctor would put’ near die ef he knowed dat Miss Annette was a-havin’ incandescent meetin’s wif Carter Nelson ‘most ever’ day.”
“Is Sandy after Annette, too?”
“No, sonny, no!” said Aunt Melvy, to whom all men were “sonny” until they died of old age. “Mist’ Sandy he’s aimin’ at high game. He’s fix’ his eyeball on de shore-’nough quality.”