Chapter X. Waterloo
 

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.

"Sometimes, do you know, I almost think you are a poet, Sandy; you are always thinking the things the poets write about."

"Do you, now, true?" he asked seriously, dropping down on the grass beside her. Then he laughed. "You'll be having me writing rhymes, now, in a minute."

"Why not?" she urged.

"I must stick to my course," he said. "I'd never be a real one. They work for the work's sake, and I work for the praise. If I win the scholarship, it'll be because you want me to, Martha; if I come to be a lawyer, it's because it's the wish of the judge's heart; and if I win out in the end, it will be for the love of some one--some one who cares more for that than for anything else in the world."

She dropped her eyes, while he watched the flight of a song-bird as it wheeled about overhead. Presently she opened an old portfolio and took from it a little sketch.

"I have been trying to get up courage to show it to you all week," she said, with a deprecatory laugh.

"It's the river," cried Sandy, "just at sundown, when the shadows are slipping away from the bank! Martha, why didn't ye tell me? Are there more?"

He ransacked the portfolio, drawing out sketch after sketch and exclaiming over each. They were crude little efforts, faulty in drawing and in color; but the spirit was there, and Sandy had a vague instinct for the essence of things.

"I believe you're the real kind, Martha. They're crooked a bit, but they've got the feel of the woods in 'em, all right. I can just hear the water going over those stones."

Martha's eyes glowed at the praise. For a year she had reached forward blindly toward some outlet for her cramped, limited existence, and suddenly a way seemed open toward the light.

"I wanted to learn how before I showed you," she said. "I am never going to show them to any one but you and mother and father."

"But you must go somewhere to study," cried Sandy. "It's a great artist you'll be some day."

She shook her head. "It's not for me, Sandy. I'll always be like a little beggar girl that peeps through the fence into a beautiful garden. I know all the wonderful things are there, but I'll never get to them."

"But ye will," cried Sandy, hot with sympathy. "I'll be making money some day, and I'll send ye to the finest master in the country; and you will be getting well and strong, and we'll go--"

Mr. Meech, shuffling up the walk toward them, interrupted. "Studying for the examination, eh? That's right, my boy. The judge tells me that you have a good chance to win the scholarship."

"Did he, now?" said Sandy, with shameless pleasure; "and you, Mr. Meech, do ye think the same?"

"I certainly do," said Mr. Meech. "Anybody that can accomplish the work you do at home, and hold your record at the academy, stands an excellent chance."

Sandy thought so, too, but he tried to be modest. "If it'll be in me, it will come out," he said with suppressed triumph as he swung his books across his shoulder and started home.

Martha's eyes followed him wistfully, and she hoped for a backward look before he turned in at the door. But he was absorbed in sailing a broomstick across Aunt Melvy's pathway, causing her to drop her basket and start after him in hot pursuit.

That evening the judge glanced across the table with great satisfaction at Sandy, who was apparently buried in his Vergil. The boy, after all, was a student; he was justifying the money and time that had been spent upon him; he was proving a credit to his benefactor's judgment and to his knowledge of human nature.

"Would ye mind telling me a word that rhymes with lance?" broke in Sandy after an hour of absorbed concentration.

"Pants," suggested the judge. But he woke up in the night to wonder again what part of Vergil Sandy had been studying.

"How about the scholarship?" he asked the next day of Mr. Moseley, the principal of the academy.

Mr. Moseley pursed his lips and considered the matter ponderously. He regarded it as ill befitting an instructor of youth to dispose of any subject in words of less than three syllables.

"Your protege, Judge Hollis, is an ambiguous proposition. He possesses invention and originality, but he is sadly lacking in sustained concentration."

"But if he studies," persisted the judge, "you think he may win it?"

Mr. Moseley wrinkled his brows and looked as if he were solving a problem in Euclid. "Probably," he admitted; "but there is a most insidious enemy with which he has to contend."

"An enemy?" repeated the judge, anxiously.

"My dear sir," said Mr. Moseley, sinking his voice to husky solemnity, "the boy is stung by the tarantula of athletics!"

It was all too true. The Ambiguous Proposition had found, soon after reaching Clayton, that base-ball was what he had been waiting for all his life. It was what he had been born for, what he had crossed the ocean for, and what he would gladly have died for.

There could have been no surer proof of his growing power of concentration than that he kept a firm grasp on his academy work during these trying days. It was a hand-to-hand fight with the great mass of knowledge that had been accumulating at such a cruel rate during the years he had spent out of school. He was making gallant progress when a catastrophe occurred.

The great ball game of the season, which was to be played in Lexington between the Clayton team and the Lexington nine, was set for June 2. And June 2 was the day which cruel fate--masked as the board of trustees--had set for the academy examinations. Sandy was the only member of the team who attended the academy, and upon him alone rested the full agony of renunciation. His disappointment was so utterly crushing that it affected the whole family.

"Couldn't they postpone the game?" asked the judge.

"It was the second that was the only day the Lexingtons could play," said Sandy, in black despair. "And to think of me sitting in the bloomin' old school-room while Sid Gray loses the game in me place!"

For a week before the great event he lived in retirement. The one topic of conversation in town was the ball game, and he found the strain too great to be borne. The team was to go to Lexington on the noon train with a mighty company of loyal followers. Every boy and girl who could meet the modest expenses was going, save the unfortunate victims of the junior class at the academy. Annette Fenton had even had a dress made in the Clayton colors.

As Sandy went into town on the important day, his heart was like a rock in his breast. There was glorious sunshine everywhere, and a cool little undercurrent of breezes stirred every leaf into a tiny banner of victory. Up in the square, Johnson's colored band was having a final rehearsal, while on the court-house steps the team, glorious in new uniforms, were excitedly discussing the plan of campaign. Little boys shouted, and old boys left their stores to come out and give a bit of advice or encouragement to the waiting warriors. Maidens in crisp lawn dresses and flying ribbons fluttered about in a tremor of anticipation.

Sandy Kilday, with his cap pulled over his eyes, went up Back street. If he could not make the devil get behind him, he at least could get behind the devil. Without a moment's hesitation he would have given ten years of sober middle-age life for that one glorious day of youth on the Lexington diamond, with the victory to be fought for, and the grand stand to be won.

He tried not to keep step with the music--he even tried to think of quadratic equations--as he marched heroically on to the academy. His was the face of a Christian martyr relinquishing life for a good but hopeless cause.

Late that afternoon Judge Hollis left his office and walked around to the academy. He had sympathized fully with Sandy, and wanted, if possible, to find out the result of the examination before going home. The report of the scholarship won would reconcile him to his disappointment.

At the academy gate he met Mr. Moseley, who greeted him with a queer smile. They both asked the same question:

"Where's Sandy?"

As if in answer, there came a mighty shout from the street leading down to the depot. Turning, they saw a cheering, hilarious crowd; bright-flowered hats flashed among college caps, while shrill girlish voices rang out with the manly ones. Carried high in the air on the shoulders of a dozen boys, radiant with praise and success, sat the delinquent Sandy, and the tumult below resolved itself into one mighty cheer:

    "Kilday, Kilday!
    Won the day.
    Hooray!"