This not only explained nothing but suggested that there might indeed be something to explain. And it was Sandy’s employer after all who resolved his woolen difficulty. She called to him as he would have left me for the path to the kitchen door:
“You bring that right here!”
It was the tone of one born to command, and once was enough. Sandy brought it right there, though going rather too much like a martyr to the stake, I thought; for surely it was not shameful that he should prove inept in the new craft.
Nor was there aught but genial kindness in the lady’s reception of him. Ma Pettengill, arrayed in Sabbath bravery of apparel, as of a debutante at a summer hotel where the rates are exorbitant, instantly laid by her own knitting and questioned him soothingly. It seemed to be a simple difficulty. Sandy had reached the point where a sweater must have a neck, and had forgotten his instructions. Cordially the woman aided him to subtract fourteen from two hundred and sixty-two and then to ascertain that one hundred and twenty-four would be precisely half of the remainder. It was all being done, as I have remarked, with the gentlest considering kindness, with no hint of that bitterness which the neophyte had shown himself to be fearing in the lady. Was she not kindness itself? Was she not, in truth, just a shade too kind? Surely there was a purr to her voice, odd, unwonted; and surely her pupil already cringed under a lash that impended.
Yet this visible strain, it seemed, had not to do with knitted garments. Ma Pettengill praised the knitting of Sandy; praised it to me and praised it to him. Of course her remark that he seemed to be a born knitter and ought to devote his whole time to it might have seemed invidious to a sensitive cowman, yet it was uttered with flawless geniality. But when Sandy, being set right, would have taken his work and retired, as was plainly his eager wish, his mentor said she would knit two of the new short rows herself, just to make sure. And while she knitted these two rows she talked. She knitted them quickly, though the time must have seemed to Sandy much longer than it was.
“Here stands the greatest original humorist in Kulanche County,” said the lady, with no longer a purring note in her voice. She boomed the announcement. Sandy, drooping above her, painfully wore the affectation of counting each stitch of the flashing needles. “And practical jokes—my sakes alive! He can think of the funniest jokes to put up on poor, unsuspecting people! Yes, sir; got a genius for it. And witty! Of course it ain’t just what he says that’s so funny—it’s the noisy way he says it.
“And you wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he’s one of these here financial magnets, too. Oh, yes, indeed! Send him out with a hatful of ten-dollar bills any day and he won’t let one of ’em go for a cent under six dollars, not if buyers is plenty—he’s just that keen and avaricious. That’s his way. Never trained for it, either; just took it up natural.”