The flats fascinated the young minister, as they have many another visitor to the Cape, before or since. On cloudy days they lowered with a dull, leaden luster and the weed-grown portions were like the dark squares on a checkerboard, while the deep water beyond the outer bar was steely gray and angry. When the sun shone and the wind blew clear from the northwest the whole expanse flashed into fire and color, sapphire blue, emerald green, topaz yellow, dotted with white shells and ablaze with diamond sparkles where the reflected light leaped from the flint crystals of the wet, coarse sand.
The best time to visit the flats—tide serving, of course—is the early morning at sunrise. Then there is an inspiration in the wide expanse, a snap and tang and joy in the air. Ellery had made up his mind to take a before-breakfast tramp to the outer bar and so arose at five, tucked a borrowed pair of fisherman’s boots beneath his arm, and, without saying anything to his housekeeper, walked down the lawn behind the parsonage, climbed the rail fence, and “cut across lots” to the pine grove on the bluff. There he removed his shoes, put on the boots, wallowed through the mealy yellow sand forming the slope of the bluff, and came out on the white beach and the inner edge of the flats. Then he plashed on, bound out to where the fish weirs stood, like webby fences, in the distance.
It was a wonderful walk on a wonderful day. The minister enjoyed every minute of it. Out here he could forget the petty trials of life, the Didamas and Elkanahs. The wind blew his hat off and dropped it in a shallow channel, but he splashed to the rescue and laughed aloud as he fished it out. It was not much wetter than it had been that night of the rain, when he tried to lend his umbrella and didn’t succeed. This reflection caused him to halt in his walk and look backward toward the shore. The brown roof of the old tavern was blushing red in the first rays of the sun.
A cart, drawn by a plodding horse and with a single individual on its high seat, was moving out from behind the breakwater. Some fisherman driving out his weir, probably.
The sand of the outer bar was dimpled and mottled like watered silk by the action of the waves. It sloped gradually down to meet the miniature breakers that rolled over and slid in ripples along its edge. Ellery wandered up and down, picking up shells and sea clams, and peering through the nets of the nearest weir at the “horsefoot crabs” and squid and flounders imprisoned in the pound. There were a few bluefish there, also, and a small school of mackerel.
The minister had been on the bar a considerable time before he began to think of returning to the shore. He was hungry, but was enjoying himself too well to mind. The flats were all his that morning. Only the cart and its driver were in sight and they were half a mile off. He looked at his watch, sighed, and reluctantly started to walk toward the town; he mustn’t keep Mrs. Coffin’s breakfast waiting too long.