The boat swung into a side channel to escape a sand-bar. She was in deep water, but very close to the shore, so close that he could see the leaves on the trees quivering and shimmering in the river breeze and the late summer sunlight. Over there, as the crow flies, lay the River Swamp, and Neptune’s gray, deserted cabin. They had been his refuge. No other place, no other woods in all the world could quite take their place, or be like them. And he knew there would be many a day when he must ache with homesick longing for the coast country, for the tide-water, and the jessamines, and the moon above the pines, and the scent of the bay in flower on summer nights. The world was opening her wide spaces. But the Carolina coast was home.
“I wish,” said Peter, and his chin quivered, “I wish there were some one thing that typified you, something of you I could take with me wherever I go. I wish you had a spirit I could see, and know.”
Out from the shore-line, where the earliest golden-rod was just beginning to show that it intended to blossom by and by, and the ironweed was purple, and the wild carrot was white and lacy, and the orange-red milkweed was about ready to close her house for the season, came fluttering with a quick, bold sureness the gallantest craft of all the fairy sail-boats of the sky, hovered for a bright second over the steamer’s rail, and scudded for the other shore.
Peter Champneys straightened his shoulders. Youth and courage and hope flashed into his wistful face, and brightened his eyes that followed the Red Admiral.
It wasn’t a pleasant house, being of a dingy, bilious-yellow complexion, with narrow window eyes, and a mean slit of a doorway for a mouth; not sinister, but common, stupid, and uninteresting. If one should happen to be a house-psychologist, one would know that behind the Nottingham lace curtains looped back with soiled red ribbons, was all the tawdry, horrible junk that clutters such houses, even as mental junk clutters the minds of the people who have to live in them. One knew that the people who dwelt in that house didn’t know how to live, how to think, or how to cook; and that if by any chance a larger life, a real thought, or a bit of good cooking confronted them, they would probably reject it with suspicion.
The elderly gentleman in white linen who made acquaintance with this particular house on a very sultry noon in early August, hesitated before he rang the bell. He glanced over his shoulder at the hot, dusty street where a swarm of hot, dusty children were shrilling and shrieking, or staring at him round-eyed, dived into his pockets, fished up a handful of small change, whistled to insure their greater attention, and flung the coin among them. While they were snatching at the money like a flock of pigeons over a handful of grain, the elderly gentleman rang the bell. He could hear it jangling through the house, but it brought no immediate response. After a decent interval he rang again. This time the door was jerked open, and a girl in a bungalow apron, upon which she was wiping her hands, confronted him. She was a very young girl, a very hot, tired, perspiring, and sullen girl, fresh from a broiling kitchen and a red-hot stove.