Emma was just on her feet when Cassius took it into his head to die. There was a confusion of husbands and wives between Emma and Cassius, but she mourned for him shrilly. What deepened her distress was the fact that in repudiating him his last wife had carried off all his small possessions, and there was no money left to bury him. Now, not to be buried with due and fitting ceremonies and the displayed insignia of some churchly Buryin’ Society, is a calamity and a disgrace. Emma felt that she could never hope to hold up her head again if Cassius had to be buried by town charity.
Peter Champneys hadn’t lived among and liked the colored people all these years for nothing. He looked at big Emma Campbell sitting beside the kitchen table with her head buried in her arms, a prey to woe. Then he went to the bank and drew what remained of his savings. Cassius was gathered to his father’s with all the accustomed trappings, and Emma’s grief was turned to proud joy. But it was another proof of the unbusinesslike mind of Peter Champneys. His small savings were gone; he had to begin all over again.
Decidedly, the purple heights were a long, long way off!
GOOD MORNING, GOOD LUCK!
On a particular Sunday Peter Champneys was making for his favorite haunt, the grass-grown clearing and the solitary and deserted cabin by the River Swamp. It was to him a place not of desolation but of solitude, and usually he fled to it as to a welcome refuge. But to-day his step lagged. The divine discontent of youth, the rebellion aginst the brute force of circumstance, seethed in him headily. Here he was, in the lusty April of his days, and yet life was bitter to his palate, and there was canker at the heart of the rose of Spring. Nothing was right.
The coast country, always beautiful, was at its best, the air sweet with the warm breath of summer. The elder was white with flowers, and in moist places, where the ditches dipped, huge cat-tails swayed to the light wind. Roses rioted in every garden; when one passed the little houses of the negroes every yard was gay with pink crape-myrtle and white and lilac Rose of Sharon trees. All along the worm-fences the vetches and the butterfly-pea trailed their purple; everywhere the horse-nettle showed its lovely milk-white stars, and the orange-red milkweed invited all the butterflies of South Carolina to come and dine at her table. There were swarms of butterflies, cohorts of butterflies, but among all the People of the Sky he missed the Red Admiral.
Peter particularly needed the gallant little sailor’s heartening. It was a bad sign not to meet him this morning; it confirmed his own opinion that he was an unlucky fellow, a chap doomed to remain a nonentity, one fitted for nothing better than scooping out a nickel’s worth of nails, or wrapping up fifty-cent frying-pans!
He walked more and more wearily, as if it tired him to carry so heavy a heart. Life was unkind, nature cruel, fate a trickster. One was caught, as a rat in a trap, “in the fell clutch of circumstance.” What was the use of anything? Why any of us, anyhow?