“Well, it is a right pretty gown, and I would wear it if I were you,” said Mrs. Carroll.
Shortly after Captain Carroll started upon his search for his missing son, Randolph Anderson, sitting peacefully in his back office, by the riverward window, was rudely interrupted. He was mounting some new specimens. Before him the great tiger cat lay blissfully on his red cushion. He was not asleep, but was purring loudly in what resembled a human day-dream. His claws luxuriously pricked through the velvet of his paws, which were extended in such a way that he might have served as a model for a bas-relief of a cat running a race. Now and then the tip of his tail curled and uncurled with an indescribable effect of sensuousness. The green things in the window-box had grown luxuriantly, and now and then trailing vines tossed up past the window in the infrequent puffs of wind. The afternoon was very warm. The temperature had risen rapidly since noon. Down below the wide window ran the river, unseen except for a subtle, scarcely perceptible glow of the brilliant sunlight upon the water. It was a rather muddy stream, but at certain times it caught the sunlight and tossed it back as from the facets of brown jewels.
The murmur of the river was plainly audible in the room. It was very loud, for the stream’s current was still high with the spring rains. The rustle of the trees which grew on the river-bank was also discernible, and might have been the rustle of the garments of nymphs tossed about their supple limbs by the warm breeze. In fact, a like fancy occurred to Anderson as he sat there mounting his butterflies.
“I don’t wonder those old Greeks had their tales about nymphs closeted in trees,” he thought, for the rustle of the green boughs had suggested the rustle of women’s draperies.
Then he remembered how Charlotte Carroll’s skirts had rustled as she went out of the store that last afternoon when he had spoken to her. There was a soft crispness of ruffling lawns and laces, a most delicate sound, a maidenly sound which had not been unlike the sound of the young leaves of the willows overfolding and interlacing with one another when the soft breeze swelled high. Now and then all the afternoon came a slow, soft wave of warm wind out of the west, and all sounds deepened before it, even the purring song of the cat seemed to increase, and possibly did, from the unconscious assertion of his own voice in the peaceful and somnolent chorus of nature. It was only spring as yet, but the effect was as of a long summer afternoon. Anderson, who was always keenly sensitive to all phases of nature and all atmospheric conditions, was affected by it. He realized himself sunken in drowsy, unspeculative contentment. Even the strange, emotional unrest and effervescence, which had been more or less over him since he had seen Charlotte Carroll, was in abeyance. After all, he was not a passionate man, and he was not very young. The young girl seemed to become merely a part of the gracious harmony which was lulling his soul and his senses to content and peace. He was conscious of wondering what a man could want more than he had, as if he had suspected himself of guilt in that direction.