- S/ 19.90
"Really, mother, it doesn't seem as though I could stand it any longer! Life in this place isn't worth living, especially when it's a life of poverty, and what people call 'genteel poverty,' as ours is. Our struggle is for bare existence, and there doesn't seem to be any future to it. If you'd only let me go to New York, I'm sure I could do something there that was worth the doing, but I can't do anything here, and I'd almost rather die than live here any longer!" With this Sumner Rankin flung himself into a chair, and his flushed face was as heavily clouded as though life held nothing of hope or happiness for him.
"Why, my dear boy," exclaimed his mother, standing beside him and smoothing his tumbled brown curls with her cool hands, "what is the matter? I never knew you to speak so bitterly before."
Mrs. Rankin still looked so young and pretty that she might almost be taken for an elder sister of the handsome, seventeen-year-old boy over whom she now bent so tenderly.
To the casual observer the Rankins' home was a very pleasant one. It was a pretty, broad-verandaed cottage nestled in the shadows of a clump of towering cocoanut palms, on the far southern island of Key West. It stood on the outskirts of the town, and so close to the beach that the warm waters of the Mexican Gulf rippling on the coral rocks behind it made a ceaseless melody for its inmates. Jasmine-vines clambered over it, glossy-leaved myrtles, a hedge of night-blooming cereus and other sweet-scented tropical shrubs perfumed the air about it. Through these, looking out from the shaded coolness of the verandas, the eye caught fascinating glimpses of blue waters with white sails constantly passing, and stately men-of-war swinging idly at their moorings. It looked an ideal home; but even in this tropical Eden there was one very large serpent, besides several that were smaller though almost equally annoying. The big one was poverty, and it held the Rankins in its dread embrace as though with no intention of relaxing it.
Mrs. Rankin was the widow of a naval officer who had been stationed at Key West a few years before. He had sent his wife and only child north to escape a dreadful summer of yellow-fever, while he had stayed and died at his post. Shortly before his death Commander Rankin, believing that Key West property was about to increase rapidly in value, had invested all that he had in the little jasmine-clad cottage, expecting to be able to sell it at a handsome profit when his term of service at that station should expire. Thus it was all that remained to his family, and to this haven Mrs. Rankin, sad-eyed and wellnigh broken-hearted, had returned with her boy. The fever had caused real estate to become of so little value that there was no chance of selling the cottage; so they were forced to live in it, and the widow eked out her scanty pension by letting such rooms as she could spare to lodgers. During the pleasant winter season she rarely had difficulty in filling them, but through the long, hot summer months desirable lodgers were few and far between, and the poverty serpent enfolded them closely.
One of the lesser serpents against which the Rankins had to contend was the lack of congenial society; for, with the exception of a few government employés and those whose business compels them to live there, the population of Key West is composed of spongers and wreckers, Cuban and negro cigar-makers. Another was the lack of good schools, and the worst of all was the lack of suitable business openings for Sumner, or "Summer," as his Chinese nurse had called him when he was a baby, and as he had been called ever since on account of his bright face and sunny disposition. He would have loved dearly to go through the Naval Academy and follow the profession that had been his father's, but the Rankins had no political influence, and without that there was no chance. He could not go into a cigar-factory, and though his boyish love of adventure had led him to take several trips on sponging vessels, it was not the business for a gentleman.