Blue Bird Weather by Robert W. Chambers
It was now almost too dark to distinguish objects; duskier and
vaguer became the flat world of marshes, set here and there with
cypress and bounded only by far horizons; and at last land and water
disappeared behind the gathered curtains of the night. There was no
sound from the waste except the wind among the withered reeds and the
furrowing splash of wheel and hoof over the submerged causeway.
The boy who was driving had scarcely spoken since he strapped
Marche's gun cases and valise to the rear of the rickety wagon at the
railroad station. Marche, too, remained silent, preoccupied with his
own reflections. Wrapped in his fur-lined coat, arms folded, he sat
doubled forward, feeling the Southern swamp-chill busy with his bones.
Now and then he was obliged to relight his pipe, but the cold bit at
his fingers, and he hurried to protect himself again with heavy gloves.
The small, rough hands of the boy who was driving were naked, and
finally Marche mentioned it, asking the child if he were not cold.
No, sir, he said, with a colorless brevity that might have been
shyness or merely the dull indifference of the very poor, accustomed to
Don't you feel cold at all? persisted Marche kindly.
I suppose you are hardened to this sort of weather?
By the light of a flaming match, Marche glanced sideways at him as
he drew his pipe into a glow once more, and for an instant the boy's
gray eyes flickered toward his in the flaring light. Then darkness
masked them both again.
Are you Mr. Herold's son? inquired the young man.
Yes, sir, almost sullenly.
How old are you?
You're a big boy, all right. I have never seen your father. He is
at the clubhouse, no doubt.
Yes, sir, scarcely audible.
And you and he live there all alone, I suppose?
Yes, sir. A moment later the boy added jerkily, And my sister,
as though truth had given him a sudden nudge.
Oh, you have a sister, too?
That makes it very jolly for you, I fancy, said Marche pleasantly.
There was no reply to the indirect question.
His pipe had gone out again, and he knocked the ashes from it and
pocketed it. For a while they drove on in silence, then Marche peered
impatiently through the darkness, right and left, in an effort to see;
and gave it up.
You must know this road pretty well to be able to keep it, he
said. As for me, I can't see anything except a dirty little gray star
The horse knows the road.
I'm glad of that. Have you any idea how near we are to the house?
Half a mile. That's Rattler Creek, yonder.
How the dickens can you tell? asked Marche curiously. You can't
see anything in the dark, can you?
I don't know how I can tell, said the boy indifferently.
Marche smiled. A sixth sense, probably. What did you say your name
And you're eleven? You'll be old enough to have a gun very soon,
Jim. How would you like to shoot a real, live wild duck?
I have shot plenty.
Marche laughed. Good for you, Jimmy. What did the gun do to you?
Kick you flat on your back?
The boy said gravely: Father's gun is too big for me. I have to
rest it on the edge of the blind when I fire.
Do you shoot from the blinds?
Marche relapsed into smiling silence. In a few moments he was
thinking of other thingsof this muddy island which had once been the
property of a club consisting of five carefully selected and wealthy
members, and which, through death and resignation, had now reverted to
him. Why he had ever bought in the shares, as one by one the other
members either died or dropped out, he did not exactly know. He didn't
care very much for duck shooting. In five years he had not visited the
club; and why he had come here this year for a week's sport he scarcely
knew, except that he had either to go somewhere for a rest or
ultimately be carried, kicking, into what his slangy doctor called the
So here he was, on a cold February night, and already nearly at his
destination; for now he could make out a light across the marsh, and
from dark and infinite distances the east wind bore the solemn rumor of
the sea, muttering of wrecks and death along the Atlantic sands beyond
the inland sounds.
Well, Jim, he said, I never thought I'd survive this drive, but
here we are, and still alive. Are you frozen solid, you poor boy?
The boy smiled, shyly, in negation, as they drove into the bar of
light from the kitchen window and stopped. Marche got down very
stiffly. The kitchen door opened at the same moment, and a woman's
figure appeared in the lamplighta young girl, slender, bare armed,
drying her fingers as she came down the steps to offer a small,
weather-roughened hand to Marche.
My brother will show you to your room, she said. Supper will be
ready in a few minutes.
So he thanked her and went away with Jim, relieving the boy of the
valise and one gun-case, and presently came to the quarters prepared
for him. The room was rough, with its unceiled walls of yellow pine, a
chair, washstand, bed, and a nail or two for his wardrobe. It had been
the affectation of the wealthy men composing the Foam Island Duck Club
to exist almost primitively when on the business of duck shooting, in
contradistinction to the overfed luxury of other millionaires
inhabiting other more luxuriously appointed shooting-boxes along the
The Foam Island Club went in heavily for simplicity, as far as the
two-story shanty of a clubhouse was concerned; but their island was one
of the most desirable in the entire region, and their live decoys the
most perfectly trained and cared for.
Marche, washing his tingling fingers and visage in icy water, rather
wished, for a moment, that the club had installed modern plumbing; but
delectable odors from the kitchen put him into better humor, and
presently he went off down the creaking and unpainted stairs to warm
himself at a big stove until summoned to the table.
He was summoned in a few moments by the same girl who had greeted
him; and she also waited on him at table, placing before him in turn
his steaming soup, a platter of fried bass and smoking sweet potatoes,
then the inevitable broiled canvas-back duck with rice, and finally
home-made preserveswild grapes, exquisitely fragrant in their thin,
Marche was that kind of a friendly young man who is naturally
gay-hearted and also a little curioussometimes to the verge of
indiscretion. For his curiosity and inquiring interest in his
fellow-men was easily arousedparticularly when they were less
fortunately situated than he in a world where it is a favorite fiction
that all are created equal. He was, in fact, that particular species of
human nuisance known as a humanitarian; but he never dreamed he was a
nuisance, and certainly never meant to be.
Warmth and food and the prospects of to-morrow's shooting, and a
slender, low-voiced young girl, made cheerful his recently frost-nipped
soul, and he was inclined to expand and become talkative there in the
Has the shooting been pretty good? he asked pleasantly, plying
knife and fork in the service of a raging appetite.
It has been.
What do you think of the prospects for to-morrow?
[Illustration: She said gravely: 'I am afraid it will be blue-bird
She said gravely: I am afraid it will be blue-bird weather.
It was a new, but graphic, expression to him; and he often
remembered it afterward, and how quaintly it fell from her lips as she
stood there in the light of the kerosene lamp, slim, self-possessed, in
her faded gingham gown and apron, the shapely middle finger of one
little weather-tanned hand resting on the edge of the cloth.
You are Miss Herold, I suppose? he said, looking up at her with
his pleasant smile.
You are not Southern?
No, she said briefly. And he then remembered that the Hon. Cicero
W. Gilkins, when he was president of the now defunct club, had
installed a Northern man as resident chief game-protector and
superintendent at the Foam Island Club House.
Marche had never even seen Herold; but, through lack of personal
interest, and also because he needed somebody to look out for the
property, he had continued to pay this man Herold his inconsiderable
salary every year, scarcely knowing, himself, why he did not put the
Foam Island shooting on the market and close up the matter for good.
It's been five years since I was here, Miss Herold, he said,
smiling. That was in the old days of the club, when Judge Gilkins and
Colonel Vyse used to come here shooting every season. But you don't
remember them, I fancy.
I remember them.
Really! You must have been quite a child.
I was thirteen.
Oh, then you are eighteen, now, he said humorously.
Her grave, young lips were only slightly responsive to his smile.
You have been here a long time, he said. Do you find it lonely?
Sometimes, she admitted.
What do you do for recreation?
I don't think I know what you mean, Mr. Marche.
I mean for pleasure.
She looked at him out of her clear, gray eyes, then turned her gaze
on the window. But she could not see through it; the pane only
reflected her face darkly; and to her, for a moment, it seemed that way
with her whole pent-up life, here in the Virginia marshesno outlet,
no outlook, and wherever she turned her wistful eyes only her own
imprisoned self to confront her out of the dull obscurity.
I suppose, he said, watching her, that you sometimes go to
Norfolk for a holiday?
Or to Old Point, or Baltimore, perhaps?
She had her under lip between her teeth, now, and was looking so
fixedly at the window that he thought she had not heard him.
He rose from the table, and as she turned to meet his pleasant eyes
he smilingly thanked her for waiting on him.
And now, he said, if you will say to your father that I'd like to
have a little talk with him
Father is ill in bed, she said, in a low voice.
Oh, I'm sorry. I hope it isn't anything serious.
Will he be able to see me to-morrow?
I am afraid not, Mr. Marche. Hehe asked me to say to you that you
might safely transact any business with me. I know all about it, she
said, speaking a little hurriedly. I keep the accounts, and I have
every item and every bill ready for your inspection; and I can tell you
exactly what condition the property is in and what lumber has been cut
and what repairs have been necessary. Whenever you are ready for me, I
will come into the sitting room, she added, because Jim and I have
had our supper.
Very well, he said, smiling, I am ready now, if you are.
So she went away to rinse her hands and lay aside her apron, and in
a few minutes she entered the sitting room. He rose and placed a chair
for her, and she thanked him, flushing a little, and then he resumed
his seat, watching her sorting over the papers in her lap.
Presently she crossed one knee over the other, and one slim,
prettily shaped foot, in its shabby shoe, swung clear of its shadow on
the floor. Then she handed him a sheaf of bills for his inspection,
and, pencil in hand, followed the totals as he read them off aloud.
For half an hour they compared and checked off items, and he found
her accounts accurate to a penny.
Father bought three geese and a gander from Ike Helm, she said.
They were rather expensive, but two were mated, and they call very
well when tied out separated. Do you think it was too expensive? she
added timidly, showing him the bill.
No, he said, smiling. I think it's all right. Mated decoys are
what we need, and you can wing-tip a dozen before you get one that will
talk at the right time.
That is true, she said eagerly. We try our best to keep up the
decoys and have nothing but talkers. Our geese are nearly all right,
and our ducks are good, but our swans are so vexing! They seem
to be such fools, and they usually behave like silly cygnets. You will
While she was speaking, her brother came quietly into the room with
an open book in his hands, and Marche, glancing at it curiously, saw
that it was a Latin grammar.
Where do you go to school, Jim? he asked.
Father teaches me.
Marche, rather astonished at the calibre of his superintendent,
glanced from the boy to his sister in silence. The girl's head remained
steadily lowered over the papers on her knee, but he saw her foot
swinging in nervous rhythm, and he was conscious of her silent
impatience at something or other, perhaps at the interruption in their
[Illustration: 'Well,' he said pleasantly, 'what comes next, Miss
Well, he said pleasantly, what comes next, Miss Herold?
She handed him a list of the decoys. He read it gravely, nodded, and
You may count them for yourself to-morrow, she said.
Not at all. I trust you entirely, he replied laughingly.
Then they went over the remaining matters, the condition of the pine
timber, the repairs to the boats and blinds and stools, items for
snaps, swivels, paint, cement, wire, none of which interested Marche as
much as the silent boy reading his Latin grammar by the smoky lamp
interested him, or the boy's sister bending over the papers on her
knee, pencil poised in her pretty, weather-roughened hand.
I sent the shells from New York by express, he said. Did they
I left two hundred in your room, said the boy, looking up.
Oh, thank you, Jim. And, turning to his sister, who had raised her
head, inquiringly, I suppose somebody will call me at the screech of
dawn, won't they?
Do you know the new law? she asked.
No. I don't like laws, anyway, he said smilingly.
She smiled, too, gathering up her papers preparatory to departure.
Nobody is allowed, she said, to put off from shore until the sun is
above the horizon line. And the wardens are very strict. Then she
rose. Will you excuse me? I have the dishes to do.
The boy laid aside his book and stood up, but his sister said:
Stay and study, Jim. I don't need any help.
And Jim resumed his seat with heightened color. A moment later,
however, he went out to the kitchen.
Look here, Molly, he said, wha'd' you want to give me away for?
He'll think I'm a sissy, helping you do dishes and things.
My dear, my dear! she exclaimed contritely, I didn't think of it.
Please forgive me, Jim. Anyway, you don't really care what this man
thinks about any of us
Yes, I do! Anyway, a fellow doesn't want another fellow to think he
You darling! Forgive me. I wasn't thinking. It was too stupid of
It really was, said the boy, in his sweet, dignified voice, and
I'd been telling him that I'd shot ducks, too.
[Illustration: 'I'm so sorry, Jim.']
His sister caught him around the neck and kissed his blonde head.
I'm so sorry, Jim. He won't think of it again. If he does,
he'll only respect a boy who is so good to his sister. And, she added,
cautioning him with lifted finger, don't talk too much to him, Jim, no
matter how nice and kind he is. I know how lonely you are and how
pleasant it is to talk to a man like Mr. Marche; but remember that
father doesn't wish us to say anything about ourselves or about him, so
we must be careful.
Why doesn't father want us to speak about him or ourselves to Mr.
Marche? asked the boy.
His sister had gone back to her dishes. Now, looking around over her
shoulder, she said seriously, That is father's affair, dear, not
But don't you know why?
Shame on you, Jim! What father cares to tell us he will tell us;
but it's exceedingly bad manners to ask.
Is father really very ill?
I told you that to ask me such things is improper, said the girl,
coloring. He has told us that he does not feel well, and that he
prefers to remain in his room for a few days. That is enough for us,
Yes, said the boy thoughtfully.
Marche, buried under a mountain of bed clothes, dreamed that people
were rapping noisily on his door, and grinned in his dream, meaning to
let them rap until they tired of it. Suddenly a voice sounded through
his defiant slumbers, clear and charming as a golden ray parting thick
clouds. The next moment he found himself awake, bolt upright in the icy
dusk of his room, listening.
Mr. Marche! Won't you please wake up and answer? came the
clear, young voice again.
I beg your pardon! he cried. I'll be down in a minute!
He heard her going away downstairs, and for a few seconds he
squatted there, huddled in coverings to the chin, and eying the
darkness in a sort of despair. The feverish drive of Wall Street, late
suppers, and too much good fellowship had not physically hardened
Marche. He was accustomed to have his bath tempered comfortably for his
particular brand of physique. Breakfast, also, was a most carefully
ordered informality with him.
The bitter chill smote him. Cursing the simple life, he crawled
gingerly out of bed, suffered acutely while hunting for a match,
lighted the kerosene lamp with stiffened fingers, and looked about him,
shivering. Then, with a suppressed anathema, he stepped into his
folding tub and emptied the arctic contents of the water pitcher over
Half an hour later he appeared at the breakfast table, hungrier than
he had been in years. There was nobody there to wait on him, but the
dishes and coffee pot were piping hot, and he madly ate eggs and
razor-back, and drank quantities of coffee, and finally set fire to a
cigarette, feeling younger and happier than he had felt for ages.
Of one thing he was excitedly conscious: that dreadful and
persistent dragging feeling at the nape of his neck had vanished. It
didn't seem possible that it could have disappeared overnight, but it
had, for the present, at least.
He went into the sitting room. Nobody was there, either, so he broke
his sealed shell boxes, filled his case with sixes and fives and double
B's, drew his expensive ducking gun from its case and took a look at
it, buckled the straps of his hip boots to his belt, felt in the
various pockets of his shooting coat to see whether matches, pipe,
tobacco, vaseline, oil, shell extractor, knife, handkerchief, gloves,
were in their proper places; found them so, and, lighting another
cigarette, strolled contentedly around the small and almost bare room,
bestowing a contented and patronizing glance upon each humble article
and decoration as he passed.
Evidently this photograph, in an oval frame of old-time water gilt,
was a portrait of Miss Herold's mother. What a charming face, with its
delicate, high-bred nose and lips! The boy, Jim, had her mouth and
nose, and his sister her eyes, slightly tilted to a slant at the outer
cornersbeautifully shaped eyes, he remembered.
He lingered a moment, then strolled on, viewing with tolerant
indifference the few poor ornaments on the mantel, the chromos of wild
ducks and shore birds, and found himself again by the lamp-lit table
from which he had started his explorations.
On it were Jim's Latin book, a Bible, and several last year's
Idly he turned the flyleaf of the schoolbook. Written there was the
boy's nameJim, from Daddy.
As he was closing the cover a sudden instinct arrested his hand,
and, not knowing exactly why, he reopened the book and read the
inscription again. He read it again, too, with a vague sensation of
familiarity with it, or with the book, or something somehow connected
with it, he could not tell exactly what; but a slightly uncomfortable
feeling remained as he laid aside the book and stood with brows knitted
and eyes absently bent on the stove.
The next moment Jim came in, wearing a faded overcoat which he had
Hello! said Marche, looking up. Are you ready for me, Jim?
What sort of a chance have I?
I'm afraid it is blue-bird weather, said the boy diffidently.
Marche scowled, then smiled. Your sister said it would probably be
that kind of weather. Well, we all have to take a sporting chance with
things in general, don't we, Jim?
Marche picked up his gun case and cartridge box. The boy offered to
take them, but the young man shook his head.
Lead on, old sport! he said cheerily. I'm a beast of more burdens
than you know anything about. How's your father, by the way?
I think father is about the same.
Doesn't he need a doctor?
No, sir, I think not.
What is it, Jim? Fever?
I don't know, said the boy, in a low voice. He led the way, and
Marche followed him out of doors.
A gray light made plain the desolation of the scene, although the
sun had not yet risen. To the south and west the sombre pine woods
stretched away; eastward, a few last year's cornstalks stood, withered
in the clearing, through which a rutted road ran down to the water.
It isn't the finest farming land in the world, is it, Jim? he said
I haven't seen any other land, said the boy quietly.
Don't you remember the Northern country at all?
No, sirexcept Central Park.
Oh, you were New-Yorkers?
Yes, sir. Father and he fell abruptly silent.
They were walking together down the rutted road, and Marche glanced
around at him.
What were you going to say about your father, Jim?
Nothing. Then truth jogged his arm. I mean I was only going to
say that father and mother and all of us lived there.
In New York?
Is youryour mother living?
I think I saw her picture in the sitting room, he said gently.
She must have been everything a mother should be.
Was it long ago, Jim?
When she died?
Yes, very long ago. Six years ago.
Before you came here, then?
After they had walked in silence for a little while, Marche said, I
suppose you have arranged for somebody to take me out?
They emerged from the lane to the shore at the same moment, and
Marche glanced about for the expected bayman.
Oh, there he is! he said, as a figure came from behind a dory and
waded leisurely shoreward through the shallowsa slight figure in hip
boots and wool shooting hood and coat, who came lightly across the
sands to meet him. And, astonished, he looked into the gray eyes of
Father could not take you, she said, without embarrassment, and
Jim isn't quite big enough to manage the swans and geese. Do you mind
my acting as your bayman?
Mind? he repeated. No, of course not. Onlyit seems rather rough
on you. Couldn't you have hired a bayman for me?
I will, if you wish, she said, her cheeks reddening. But, really,
if you'll let me, I am perfectly accustomed to bayman's work.
Do you want to do it?
She said, without self-consciousness, If it is the same to you, Mr.
Marche, I had rather that the bayman's wages came to us.
Certainlyof course, he said hurriedly. Then, smiling: You look
the part. I took you for a young man, at first. Now, tell me how I can
Jim can do that. Still, if you don't mind handling the decoys
Not at all, he said, going up to the fenced inclosures which ran
from a rod or two inland down into the shallow water, making three
separate yards for geese, swans, and ducks.
Jim was already in the duck pen, hustling the several dozen mallard
and black ducks into an inland corral. The indignant birds, quacking a
concerted protest, waddled up from the shore, and, one by one, the boy
seized the suitable ones, and passed them over the fence to Marche. He
handed them to Molly Herold, who waded out to the dory, a duck tucked
under either arm, and slipped them deftly into the decoy-crates forward
The geese were harder to managegreat, sleek, pastel-tinted birds
whose wing blows had the force of a man's fistand they flapped and
struggled and buffeted Jim till his blonde head spun; but at last
Marche and Molly had them crated in the dory.
Then the wild swans' turn camegreat, white creatures with black
beaks and feet; and Molly and Marche were laughing as they struggled to
catch them and carry them aboard.
But at last every decoy was squatting in the crates; the mast had
been stepped, guns laid aboard, luncheon stowed away. Marche set his
shoulder to the stern; the girl sprang aboard, and he followed; the
triangular sail filled, and the boat glided out into the sound,
straight into the glittering lens of the rising sun.
A great winter gull flapped across their bows; in the lee of
Starfish Island, long strings of wild ducks rose like shredded clouds,
and, swarming in the sky, swinging, drifting, sheered eastward, out
toward the unseen Atlantic.
Bluebills and sprigs, said the girl, resting her elbow on the
tiller. There are geese on the shoal, yonder. They've come out from
Currituck. Oh, I'm afraid it's to be blue-bird weather, Mr. Marche.
I'm afraid it is, he assented, smiling. What do you do in that
case, Miss Herold?
Go to sleep in the blind, she admitted, with a faint smile, the
first delicate approach to anything resembling the careless confidence
of camaraderie that had yet come from her.
See the ducks! she said, as bunch after bunch parted from the
water, distantly, yet all around them, and, gathering like clouds of
dusky bees, whirled away through the sky until they seemed like bands
of smoke high drifting. Presently she turned and looked back, signaling
adieu to the shore, where her brother lifted his arm in response, then
turned away inland.
That's a nice boy, said Marche briefly, and glanced up to see in
his sister's face the swift and exquisite transformation that requires
no words as answer.
You seem to like him, said he, laughing.
Molly Herold's gray eyes softened; pride, that had made the love in
them brilliant, faded until they grew almost sombre. Silent, her aloof
gaze remained fixed on the horizon; her lips rested on each other in
sensitive curves. There was no sound save the curling of foam under the
Marche looked elsewhere; then looked at her again. She sat
motionless, gray eyes remote, one little, wind-roughened hand on the
tiller. The steady breeze filled the sail; the dory stood straight away
toward the blinding glory of the sunrise.
Through the unreal golden light, raft after raft of wild ducks rose
and whirled into the east; blue herons flopped across the water; a
silver-headed eagle, low over the waves, winged his way heavily toward
some goal, doggedly intent upon his own business.
Outside Starfish Shoal the girl eased the sheet as the wind
freshened. Far away on Golden Bar thousands of wild geese, which had
been tipping their sterns skyward in plunging quest of nourishment,
resumed a more stately and normal posture, as though at a spoken
command; and the long ranks, swimming, and led by age and wisdom,
slowly moved away into the glittering east.
At last, off the starboard bow, the low, reedy levels of Foam Island
came into view, and in a few minutes more the dory lay in the shallows,
oars, mast, and rag stowed; and the two young people splashed busily
about in their hip boots, carrying guns, ammunition, and food into the
Then Molly Herold, standing on the mud bank, flung, one by one, a
squadron of wooden, painted, canvasback decoys into the water, where
they righted themselves, and presently rode the waves, bobbing and
steering with startling fidelity to the real things.
Then it came the turn of the real things. Marche and Molly, a
struggling bird tucked under each arm, waded out along the lanes of
stools, feeling about under the icy water until their fingers
encountered the wire-cored cords. Then, to the leg rings of each madly
flapping duck and swan and goose they snapped on the leads, and the
tethered birds, released, beat the water into foam and flapped and
splashed and tugged, until, finally reconciled, they began to souse
themselves with great content, and either mounted their stools or swam
calmly about as far as their tethers permitted.
Marche, struggling knee-deep in the water, his arms full of wildly
flapping gander, hailed Molly for instructions.
That's a mated bird! she called out to him. Peg him outside by
So Marche pegged out the furious old gander, whose name was Uncle
Dudley, and in a few minutes that dignified and insulted bird, missing
his spouse, began to talk about it.
Every wifely feeling outraged, his spouse replied loudly from the
extreme end of the inner lane, telling her husband, and every duck,
goose, and swan in the vicinity, what she thought of such an inhuman
Molly laughed, and so did Marche. Duck after duck, goose after
goose, joined indignantly in the conversation. The mallard drakes
twisted their emerald-green heads and began that low, half gurgling,
half quacking conversation in which their mottled brown and gray mates
joined with louder quacks. The geese conversed freely; but the
long-necked swans held their peace, occupied with the problem of
picking to pieces the snaps on their anklets.
Now, said Molly breathlessly, as the last madly protesting bird
had been stooled, let's get into the blind as soon as we can, Mr.
Marche. There may be ducks in Currituck still, and every minute counts
So Marche towed the dory around to the westward and drew it into a
channel where it might lie concealed under the reeds.
When he came across to the blind he found Molly there, seated on the
plank in the cemented pit behind the screen of reeds and rushes, laying
out for him his cartridges.
There they were, in neat rows on the rail, fives, sixes, and a few
of swanshot, ranged in front of him. And his 12-gauge, all ready, save
for the loading, lay across the pit to his right. So he dropped his
booted feet into the wooden tub where a foot-warmer lay, picked up the
gun, slid a pair of sixes into it, laid it beside him, and turned
toward Miss Herold.
The wool collar of her sweater was turned up about her delicately
molded throat and face. The wild-rose color ran riot in her cheeks, and
her eyes, sky tinted now, were wide open under the dark lashes, and the
wind stirred her hair till it rippled bronze and gold under the edge of
her shooting hood. She, too, was perfectly ready. A cheap, heavy, and
rather rusty gun lay beside her; a heap of cheap cartridges before her.
She turned, and, catching Marche's eyes, smiled adorably, with a
slight nod of comradeship. Then, the smile still faintly curving her
lips, she crossed her legs in the pit, and, warming her hands in the
pockets of her coat, leaned back, resting against the rail behind.
You haven't a foot-warmer, he said.
I'm not coldonly my fingersa littlestooling those birds.
They spoke in low voices, under their breath.
He fished from his pocket a flat Japanese hand-warmer, lighted the
paper-cased punk, snapped it shut, and passed it to her. But she
You need it yourself.
No, I'm all right. Please take it.
So she shyly took it, dropped it into her pocket, and rested her
shapely little hand on it. How delightful! she said presently,
shifting it to the other pocket. Don't you really need it, Mr.
No. Does it warm you?
It is delicious. I was a little chilled. She drew out one
bare hand and looked at it thoughtfully. Then, with a little sigh, and
quite unconscious of his gaze, she touched her lips to the
wind-roughened skin, as though in atonement for her maltreatment of
Even as it now was the shape and beauty of the hand held Marche
fascinated; it was so small, yet so firm and strong and competent, so
full of youthful character, such a delicately fashioned little hand,
and so pathetic, somehowthis woman's hand, with its fineness of
texture and undamaged purity under the chapped and cruelly bruised,
She pocketed it again, looking out from under the wind-blown hair
clustering from the edge of her shooting hood. Blue-bird weather, she
said, in her low and very sweet voice. If no birds swing in by ten
o'clock we might as well sleep until four.
Marche leaned forward and scanned the water and sky alternately.
Nothing stirred, save their lazily preening decoys. Uncle Dudley was
still conversing with his wife at intervals; the swans and the cygnets
fed or worried their leash snaps; the ducks paddled, or dozed on the
stools, balanced on one leg.
Far away, on Golden Bar, half a thousand wild geese floated,
feeding; beyond, like snowflakes dotting the water, a few wild swans
drifted. There were ducks, too, off Starfish Island again, but nothing
flying in the blue except a slow hawk or some wandering gull, or now
and then an eaglesometimes a mature bird, in all the splendor of
white head and tail, sometimes a young bird, seemingly larger, and all
gray from crest to shank.
Once an eagle threatened the decoys, and Uncle Dudley swore so
lustily at him, and every duck and goose set up such a clamor, that
Molly Herold picked up her gun for the emergency. But the magnificent
eagle, beating up into the wind with bronze wings aglisten, suddenly
sheered off; and, as he passed, Marche could see his bold head turn
toward the blind where the sun had flashed him its telegraphic warning
on the barrel of Molly's lifted gun.
Fine! he whispered. Splendid! I'm glad you didn't kill him.
I'm glad I didn't have to, she said.
Do you think you could have?
She turned toward him, wondering whether he might be serious; then
smiled as he smiled.
At the same instant, coming apparently from nowhere, four
canvasbacks suddenly appeared over the clamoring decoys, so close in
that, as they came driving by the blind and rose slightly, wings bowed,
Marche could almost see their beady little eyes set in the chestnut red
of the turning heads. Mechanically his gun spoke twice; rap-rap, echoed
Miss Herold's gun, and splash! splash! down whirled two gray-and-red
ducks; then a third, uncertain, slowed down, far out beyond the decoys,
and slanted sideways to the water. The fourth went on.
Duffer that I am, said Marche good-humoredly. That was a clean
double of yours, Miss Herold!clean-cut work.
She said, slightly knitting her straight brows: I should have
crossed two of them and killed the one you missed. I think I'd better
get the boat.
No, I'll go out after that kicker, he said, ashamed of his
Five minutes later he returned with his kicker and her two
ducksgreat, fat, heavy canvasbacks, beautiful in their red, black,
and drab plumage.
What about blue-bird weather, now? he laughed.
But she only smiled and said, I'm very much afraid.
For a long while they sat there, alert behind their wall of rustling
reeds, watching sky and water. False alarms were not infrequent from
their decoys. Sometimes the outbreak of quacking and honking was
occasioned by some wandering gull, sometimes by a circling hawk or some
eagle loitering in mid-heaven on broad and leisurely wings, reluctant
to remain, unwilling to go; sometimes to a pair or two of widgeon or
pintails speeding eastward high in the blue. But the sparkling,
cloudless hours sped away, and no duck or goose or swan invaded the
vicinity. Only one sly old black duck dropped into the reeds far back
on the island; and Marche went after him with serious designs upon his
fraudulent old life.
When the young man returned, twenty minutes later, perfectly
innocent of duck murder, he found the girl curled up in her corner of
the pit, eyes closed, tired little head cradled in the curve of her
left arm. She waked as he slid into the blind, and smiled at him,
pretending not to have been asleep.
Did you get him?
No. He went off at two hundred yards.
Blue-bird weather, she sighed; and again they exchanged smiles. He
noticed that her eyes had somehow become exceedingly blue instead of
the clear gray which he had supposed was their color. And, after her
brief slumber, there seemed to be a sort of dewy freshness about them,
and about her slightly pink cheeks, which, at that time, he had no idea
were at all perilous to him. All he was conscious of was a sensation of
pleasure in looking at her, and a slight surprise in the revelation of
elements in her which, he began to decide, constituted real beauty.
That's a quaint expression'blue-bird weather,' he said. It's a
perfect description of a spring-like day in winter. Is it a local
YesI think so. There's a song about it, along the coastshe
laughed uncertainlya rather foolish song.
What is it?
If I remembershe hesitated, thinking for a moment, then, with a
laugh which he thought a little bashfulit's really too silly to
Please sing it!
Very wellif you wish.
And in a low, pretty, half-laughing voice, she sang:
Quiet sea and quiet sky,
Idle sail and anchored boat,
Just a snowflake gull afloat,
Drifting like a feather
And the gray hawk crying,
And a man's heart sighing
That is blue-bird weather:
And the high hawk crying,
And a maid's heart sighing
Till lass and lover come together,
This is blue-bird weather.
She turned her head and looked steadily out across the waste of
water. I told you it was silly, she said, very calmly.
Blue-bird weather continued. Every day for a week Marche and Molly
Herold put out for Foam Island under summer skies, and with a soft wind
filling the sail; and in all the water-world there was no visible sign
of winter, save the dead reeds on muddy islands and the far and wintry
menace of the Atlantic crashing icily beyond the eastern dunes.
Few ducks and no geese or swans came to the blind. There was nothing
for them to do except to talk together or sit dozing in the sun. And,
imperceptibly, between them the elements of a pretty intimacy unfolded
like spring buds on unfamiliar branches; but what they might develop
into he did not know, and she had not even considered.
She had a quaint capacity for sleeping in the sunshine while he was
away on the island prowling hopefully after black ducks. And one
morning, when he returned to find her asleep at her post, a bunch of
widgeon left the stools right under her nose before he had a chance to
She did not awake. The sun fell warmly upon her, searching the
perfections of the childlike face and throat, gilding the palm of one
little, sun-tanned hand lying, partly open, on her knee. A spring-like
wind stirred a single strand of bright hair; lips slightly parted, she
lay there, face to the sky, and Marche thought that he had never looked
upon anything in all the world more pure and peaceful.
At noon the girl had not awakened. But something in John B. Marche
had. He looked in horrified surprise at the decoys, then looked at
Molly Herold; then he gazed in profound astonishment at Uncle Dudley,
who made a cryptic remark to the wife of his bosom, and then tipped
Marche examined the sky and water so carefully that he did not see
them; then, sideways, and with an increasing sensation of
consternation, he looked again at the sleeping girl.
His was not even a friendly gaze, now; there was more than dawning
alarm in itan irritated curiosity which grew more intense as the
seconds throbbed out, absurdly timed by a most remarkable obligato from
He gazed stonily upon this stranger into whose life he had drifted
only a week before, whose slumbers he felt that he was now
unwarrantedly invading with a mental presumption that scared him; and
yet, as often as he looked elsewhere, he looked back at her again,
confused by the slowly dawning recognition of a fascination which he
was utterly powerless to check or even control.
One thing was already certain; he wanted to know her, to learn from
her own lips intimately about herself, about her thoughts, her desires,
her tastes, her aspirationseven her slightest fancies.
Absorbed, charmed by her quiet breathing, fascinated into
immobility, he sat there gazing at her, trying to reconcile the
steadily strengthening desire to know her with what he already knew of
herof this sleeping stranger, this shabby child of a poor man,
dressed in the boots and shooting coat of that wretchedly poor manhis
own superintendent, a sick man whom he had never even seen.
What manner of man could her father bethis man Heroldto have a
child of this sort, this finely molded, fine-grained, delicate,
exquisitely made girl, lying asleep here in a wind-stirred blind, with
the Creator's own honest sun searching out and making triumphant a
beauty such as his wise and city-worn eyes had never encountered, even
under the mercies of softened candlelight.
An imbecile repetition of speech kept recurring and even stirring
his lips, She'd make them all look like thirty cents. And he colored
painfully at the crudeness of his obsessing thoughts, angrily, after a
moment, shaking them from him.
A cartridge rolled from the shelf and splashed into the pit water;
the girl unclosed her gray eyes, met his gaze, smiled dreamily; then,
flushing a little, sat up straight.
Fifteen widgeon went off when I returned to the blind, he said,
I beg your pardon. I amI am terribly sorry, she
stammered, with a vivid blush of confusion.
But the first smile from her unclosing eyes had already done damage
enough; the blush merely disorganized a little more what was already
chaos in a young man's mind.
Hashas anything else come in to the stools? she asked timidly.
No, he said, relenting.
But he was wrong. Something had come into the blinda
winged, fluttering thing, out of the empyreanand even Uncle Dudley
had not seen or heard it, and never a honk or a quack warned anybody,
or heralded the unseen coming of the winged thing.
Marche sat staring out across the water.
Iam so very sorry, repeated the girl, in a low voice. Are you
offended with me?
He turned and looked at her, and spoke steadily enough: Of course
I'm not. I was glad you had a nap. There has been nothing doingexcept
those stupid widgeonnot a feather stirring.
Then you are not angry with me?
Why, you absurd girl! he said, laughing and stretching out one
hand to her.
Into her face flashed an exquisite smile; daintily she reached out
and dropped her hand into his. They exchanged a friendly shake, still
All the same, she said, it was horrid of me. And I think I
boasted to you about my knowledge of a bayman's duties.
You are all right, he said, a clean shot, a thoroughbred. I ask
no better comrade than you. I never again shall have such a comrade.
ButI am your bayman, not your comrade, she exclaimed, forcing a
little laugh. You'll have better guides than I, Mr. Marche.
Do you reject the equal alliance I offer, Miss Herold?
I? She flushed. It is very kind of you to put it that way. But I
am only your guidebut it is pleasant to have you speak that way.
The way you spoke aboutyour bayman's daughter.
He said, smilingly cool on the surface, but in a chaotic, almost
idiotic inward condition: I've sat here for days, wishing all the
while that I might really know you. Would you care to let me, Miss
Know me? she repeated. I don't think I understand.
Could you and your father and brother regard me as a guestas a
friend visiting the family?
Because, he said, I'm the same kind of a man that you are a girl
and that your brother is a boy. Why, you know it, don't you? I know it.
I knew it as soon as I heard you speak, and when your brother came into
the room that first night with his Latin book, and when I saw your
mother's picture. So I know what your father must be. Am I not right?
She lifted her proud little head and looked at him. We are what you
think us, she said.
Then let us stand in that relation, Miss Herold. Will you?
She looked at him, perplexed, gray eyes clear and thoughtful. Do
you mean that you really want me for a friend? she asked calmly, but
her sensitive lip quivered a little.
Do men make personal friends among their employees? Do they? I ask
because I don't know.
What was your father before he came here? he inquired bluntly.
She looked up, startled, then the color came slowly back to her
cheeks. Isn't that a little impertinent, Mr. Marche?
Good heavens! Yes, of course it is! he exclaimed, turning very
red. Will you forgive me? I didn't mean to be rude or anything like
it! I merely meant that whatever reverses have happened to bring such a
girl as you down into this God-forsaken place have not altered what you
were and what you are. Can you forgive me?
Yes. I'll tell you something. I wanted to be a little more
significant to you than merely a paid guide. So did Jim. Weit is
rather lonely for us. You are the first real man who has come into our
lives in five years. Do you understand, Mr. Marche?
Of course I do.
Are you sure you do? We would like to feel that we could talk to
youJim would. It is pleasant to hear a man from the real world
speaking. Not that the people here are unkind, onlyshe looked up at
him almost wistfullywe are like you, Mr. Marcheand we feel
He did not trust himself to speak, even to look at her, just at the
moment. Not heretofore sentimental, but always impressionable, he was
young enough to understand, wise enough not to misunderstand.
After a while, leaning back in the blind, he began, almost casually,
talking about things in that Northern world which had once been hers,
assuming their common interest in matters purely local, in details, of
metropolitan affairs, in the changing physiognomy of the monstrous
city, its superficial aspects, its complex phases.
Timidly, at first, she ventured a question now and then, and after a
while, as her reserve melted, she asked more boldly, and even offered
her own comments on men and things, so that, for the first time, he had
a glimpse of her mind at workbrief, charming surprises, momentary
views of a young girl's eager intelligence, visions of her sad and
solitary self, more guessed at than revealed in anything she said or
And now they were talking together with free and unfeigned interest
and pleasure, scarcely turning for a glance at the water or sky, save
when old Uncle Dudley made insulting remarks to some slow-drifting gull
or soaring bird of prey.
All the pent-up and natural enthusiasm of years was fairly bubbling
to her lips; all the long-suppressed necessity of speech with one of
her own kind who was not of her own kin.
It seemed as though they conversed and exchanged views on every
topic which concerned heaven and earth, flashing from one subject to
another which had nothing at all to do with anything yet discussed.
Out around them the flat leagues of water turned glassy and calm as
a millpond; the ducks and geese were asleep on their stools; even old
Uncle Dudley stood sentinel, with one leg buried in the downy plumage
of his belly, but his weather eye remained brilliantly open to any stir
in the blue vault above.
[Illustration: They ate their luncheon there together.]
They ate their luncheon there together, he serving her with hot
coffee from the vacuum bottle, she plying him with sandwiches.
And now, to her beauty was added an adorable friendliness and
confidence, free from the slightest taint of self-consciousness or the
least blemish of coquetry. Intelligent, yet modest to the verge of
shyness, eager yet reserved, warm hearted yet charmingly impersonal
with him, he realized that she was finding, with him, only the
happiness of speech with mankind in the abstract. And so she poured out
to him her heart, long stifled in the abyss of her isolation; and,
gazing into his eyes, she was gazing merely toward all that was bright
and happy and youthful and responsive, and he was its symbol, God-sent
from those busy haunts of men which already, to her, had become only
memories of a blessed vision.
And all the while the undercurrent of his own thoughts ran on
unceasingly: What can I do for her? I am falling in lovein love,
surely, hopelessly. What can I do for herfor her brotherher father?
I am falling in lovein lovein love.
The long, still, sunny afternoon slipped away. Gradually the water
turned to pearl, inlaid with gold, then with glowing rose. And now, far
to the north, the first thrilling clangor of wild geese, high in the
blue, came to their ears, and they shrank apart and lay back, staring
upward. Nearer, nearer, came the sky trumpets, answering faintly each
to eachnearer, nearer, till high over the blind swept the misty
wedge; and old Uncle Dudley flapped his wings and stretched his neck,
calling up to his wild comrades of earthly delights unnumbered here
under the shadow of death. And every wild goose answered him, and the
decoys flapped and clamored a siren welcome; but the flying wedge
glided onward through the blue.
They've begun to move, whispered the girl. But, oh, dear! It is
blue-bird weather. Hark! Do you hear the swans? I can hear swans coming
out of the north!
Marche could not yet hear them, but the tethered swans and geese
heard, and a magnificent chorus rose from the water. Then, far away as
fairyland, faintly out of the sky, came a new murmurnot the martial
clangor of wild geese, but something wilder, more exquisitely
unearthlynearer, nearer, enrapturing its weird, celestial beauty. And
now, through the blue, with great, snowy wings slowly beating, the
swans passed over like angels; and like angels passing, hailing each
other as they winged their way, drifting on broad, white pinions, they
called, each to the other in their sweet, unreal voices, gossiping,
garrulous, high in the sky. And far away they floated on until they
became only a silver ribbon undulating against the azure; and even then
Marche could hear the soft tumult of their calling: Heu! Heu! Hiou!
Hiou-oo! until sound and snowy flecks vanished together in mid-heaven.
Again, coming from the far north, the trumpets of the sky squadron
were sounding; they passed, wedge after wedge, sometimes in steady
formation, sometimes like a wavering band of witches, and again in
shifting battalions, sternly officered, passing through intricate
aërial maneuvers, and greeted by Uncle Dudley and the other decoys with
wild beseeching mixed with applause.
Snowy, angelic companies of swans came alternately with the geese;
then a whimpering, whispering flight of wild ducks, water-fowl in
thousands and tens of thousands, rushing onward through the aërial
But none came to the blind. Occasionally a wedge of geese wavered,
irresolute at the frantic persuasions of Uncle Dudley, but their leader
always dragged them back to their course, and the sagging, hesitating
ranks passed on.
Sometimes, in a nearer flight of swans, some long-necked, snowy
creature would bend its head to look curiously down at the tethered
swans on the water, but always they continued on, settling some two
miles south of Foaming Shoals, until there was half a mile of wild
swans afloat there, looking like a long, low bank of snow, touched with
faintest pink by the glow of the westering sun.
Marche, pacing the shabby sitting room after supper, an unlighted
cigarette between his fingers, listened to Jim recite his Latin lesson.
Atque ea qui ad efeminandos animos pertinent important,
repeated the boy; and Marche nodded absently.
Do you understand what that means, Jim?
Not exactly, sir.
Marche explained, then added smilingly: But there is nothing
luxurious to corrupt manhood among the coast marshes down here. Barring
fever and moccasins, Jim, you ought to emerge, some day, into the
larger world equipped for trouble.
I shall go out some day, said the boy.
Marche glanced up at the portrait of the boy's mother in its
pale-gilt oval. Near it, another nail had been driven, and on the faded
wall paper was an oval discoloration, as though another picture had
once hung there.
I wish I might see your father before I go North, said Marche,
half to himself. Isn't he well enough to let me talk to him for a few
I will ask him, said the boy.
Marche paced the ragged carpet until the return of Jimmy.
Father is sorry, and asks you to please excuse him, he said.
Marche had picked up the boy's schoolbook and was looking at the
writing on the flyleaf again. Then he raised his head, eyes narrowing
on the boy as though searching for some elusive memory connected with
himwith his name in the Latin bookperhaps with the writing, which,
somehow, had stirred in him, once more, the same odd and uncomfortable
sensation which he had experienced when he first saw it.
[Illustration: 'Jim,' he said, 'where did you live?']
Jim, he said, where did you live when you lived in New York?
In Eighty-seventh Street.
Do you remember the housethe number?
Was it a private house?
I don't know. It was very tall. We lived on one floor and used an
I see. It was an apartment house.
The boy stood, with blonde head lowered, silently turning over the
leaves of an old magazine.
Marche walked out to the porch; his brows were bent slightly inward,
and he bit the end of his unlighted cigarette until the thing became
useless. Then he flung it away. A few stars watched him above the black
ramparts of the pines; a gentle wind was abroad, bringing inland the
restless voice of the sea.
In Marche's mind a persistent thought was groping in darkness,
vainly striving to touch and awaken memories of things forgotten. What
was it he was trying to remember? What manner of episode, and how
connected with this place, with the boy's book, with the portrait of
his mother in its oval frame? Had he seen that portrait before? Perhaps
he had seen it here, five years ago; yet that could not be, because
Herold had not been here then.
Was it the writing on the flyleaf that had stirred some forgotten
memory? It had seemed to him familiar, somehowyet not like the
handwriting in Herold's business letters to him. Yet it was
Herold's writingJim, from Daddythat was the inscription. And that
inscription had riveted his attention from the first moment he saw it.
Who was Herold? Who was this man whose undoubtable breeding and
personal cultivation had stamped his children with the same
Somehow or other there had been a great fall in the world for hima
terrible tumble from higher estate to land him here in this desolation
of swamp-bound silencehere where only the dark pines broke the vast
sky line, where the only sound was the far rumor of the sea. Sick,
probably with coast fever, poor, dependent, no doubt, on the salary
Marche paid him, isolated from all in the world that made the world
endurable to intelligence, responsible for two growing childrenone
already a womanwhat must be the thoughts of such a man on a night
like this, for instance?
I want to see that man, he kept repeating to himself. I want to
see him; and I'm going to.
Restless, but now always listening for the sound of a light tread
which he had come to know so wellalas!he began to walk to and fro,
with keen glances toward the illuminated kitchen window every time he
passed it. Sometimes his mind was chaotic; sometimes clear. The
emotions which had awakened in him within the week were complex enough
to stagger a more intelligent man. And Marche was not a fool; he was
the typical product of his environmentthe result of school and
college, and a New York business life carried on in keenest competition
with men as remorseless in business as the social code permitted. Also,
he went to church on Sundays, read a Republican newspaper, and belonged
to several unexceptionable clubs.
That was the kind of a man he had been only a week agoa good
fellow in the usual sense among men, acceptable to women, kind hearted,
not too cynical, and every idea in his head modeled upon the opinions
he heard expressed in that limited area wherein he had been born and
That was the kind of a man he had been a week ago. What was he
nowto-nighthere in this waste corner of the world with the light
from a kitchen window blazing on him as though it were the flashing
splendor streaming through the barred portals of paradise? Was it
possible that he, John Benton Marche, could be actually in lovein
love with the daughter of his own game wardenwith a girl who served
him at supper in apron and gingham, who served him further in hip boots
and ragged jacketthis modern Rosalind of the marshes, as fresh and
innocent, as modest and ardent, as she of the Arden glades?
The kitchen door opened, and Molly Herold came down the steps and
straight toward him, unthinkingly, almost instinctively, laying her
hands in his as he met her under the leafless China tree in the yard.
I was longer than usual to-night, she said, trying to soften my
hands with that cold cream you so kindly sent for. She lifted them in
the starlight with a little laugh. They're a trifle better, I think,
she said, but they're always in water, you know, either there, she
glanced around at the kitchen, or yonder with the decoys. But thank
you all the same, she added brightly. Are you going to have another
delightful talk, now?
Do you care to?
Of course. The idea of my not caring to talk to you, she said,
laughing at the absurdity. Shall we go into the sitting room, or walk
in the starlight? There are no snakes out, yet, she assured him,
though if this weather holds, the moccasins will come out.
We'll walk down to the shore, he said.
One moment, then. She turned and sped to the house, reappearing,
after a few minutes, wearing her ragged shooting coat.
Is your father comfortable? he asked.
Yes, thank you.
Do you think he might want you?
No. Jim sleeps next to him, and he is preparing for bed, now. She
smiled. What a darling my brother is, isn't he, Mr. Marche?
He's a fine boy.
They moved on together, down the rutted lane, between dismantled
fences and ragged, leafless hedges. She was lithe and light and sure
footed, but once or twice, as they skirted puddles, he supported her;
and the touch of his hand on her body almost unnerved him. Never had he
dreamed that contact with any woman could so thrill, so exquisitely
shock. And every instant he was falling deeper and deeper in love with
her. He knew itrealized itmade no effort to avoid it, fight it off,
control it. It was only his speech and manner that he held desperately
under bit and curb, letting his heart go to everlasting smash and his
reason run riot. And what on earth would be the end he could not
imagine, for he was leaving for the North in the morning, and he had
not yet told her.
As they came out upon the shore, the dory loomed up, beached, a dark
silhouette against the starlit water. She laid her hands on the stern
and vaulted lightly to her perch, sliding along to make room for
From far away in the sound came the confused murmur of wild fowl
feeding. Except for that, and the ceaseless monotone of the outer sea,
there was no sound, not even the lap of water against the bow.
Marche, who had been leaning forward, head bent as though watching
the water, turned to the girl abruptly. I want to do something
forJim, he said.
The girl looked up at him, not understanding.
Will your father let me?
I don't know what you mean.
I mean that I want to send him to a good schoola good boys'
school in the North.
She caught her breath, was silent for a moment, then, amazed:
Would you do that? Oh, I've wished for itdreamed of it! Buthow
can you? You are so kindso good to usbut how could weaccept?
That's why I want to see your father.
For that! Was it really for that, Mr. Marche?
Yespartly. He swallowed and looked the other way, for the girl's
excited face was very near his own as she bent forward to search his
eyes for the least change of expressionbent nearer as though to
reassure herself that he meant it seriously. For an instant her soft
breath made the night air fragrant; he felt it, faint and fresh on his
cheek, and turned sharply, biting his lips lest he lose all
Could you and your father spare him? he asked carelessly.
Oh, if you only would give him that chance! she cried. Buttell
mehow can we accept such a thing of you? Is it possible?
Would you accept it? he asked, turning toward her.
The question startled her. She looked at him, striving to think
clearly, trying to see this offered miracle through calm, impartial
II would do anythingalmostfor Jim, she said. I'd have no
pride left, if his chances lay in the balance. But menmy fathermay
He said slowly: Suppose I offered the same chance to you?
What! she said crisply.
Suppose I offered you a college finishing, Miss Herold. Would you
She slowly grew scarlet under his gaze. That would be insulting,
she said, in a low voice.
Why, when only kindness is meantas I mean it for Jim?
It is not the same. I am a grown woman capable of caring for
myself. Such an offer, however kindly meant, could only hurt me,
humiliate meandI thought you found me companionable as I am.
Friends do not offer to better each otherin such a way.
I have not offered it to you, Miss Herold.
She looked up, still flushed and brilliant eyed; then her face
changed softly. I know it. I was foolishly sensitive. I know you
couldn't offer such a thing to me. But I wish I knew whether we could
accept for Jim. He is such a darlingso intelligent and perfectly
crazy for an education. I've saved a littlethat's why I wanted you to
hire me for your bayman. You see I don't spend anything on myself, she
added, with a blush.
Marche was fighting hard for self-restraint; he was young and
romantic, and his heart was very full. What I'd like to do, he said,
would be to send Jim to some first-rate school until he is ready for
college. Then I'd like to see him through college, and, if he cared for
it, start him with me in business.
Oh, she cried softly, is it possible! Is therecan any man
really do such heavenly things? Have you any idea what you are saying?
Do you realize what you are doing to mewith every word you utter?
What am I doing toto you? he asked unsteadily.
Making me your slave, she said, in a low voice, thrilling with
generous passion. Even for the thoughteven if father will not
acceptwhat you have said to me to-night has put me in your debt
forever. Trulytruly, I know what friendship is, now.
She clasped her hands tightly and said something else, sweetly
incoherent; and, in the starlight, Marche saw the tears sparkling on
With that he sprang nervously to the shore and began to tramp up and
down the shingle, his mind in a whirl, every sense, common or the
contrary, clamoring for finalityurging him to tell her the
truthtell her that he loved her, that he wanted herher alone, out
of all the world of womenthat it was for love and for her, and for
love of her, that he offered anything, did anything, thought anything
now under the high stars or under the circling sun.
And now, as he tramped savagely to and fro, he realized that he had
begun wrong; that he should have told her he loved her first of all,
and then acted, not promised.
Would she look on his offer scornfully, now? Would she see, in what
he asked of her, a bribe desired for the offer he had made in her
brother's behalf? She did not love him. How could she, in a week? Never
had there been even a hint of sentiment between them. What would she
thinkthis young girl, so tranquilly confident in her friendship for
himwhat would she think of him and his love? He knew there was
nothing mercenary or material in her character; he knew she was young,
sweet tempered, reticent concerning herself, clean hearted, and proud.
How could he come blundering through the boundaries of her friendship
with such an avowal, at a moment's notice?
He returned slowly to the boat and stood looking up at her; and he
saw that she was smiling down at him in the starlight.
Why did you start off so abruptly and tramp up and down? she
He looked up at her. Shall we walk back, now? he said.
She extended her hands to him, and he swung her to the beach. For a
moment he retained her hands; she looked at him, smiling, thrilling
with all that he had said, meeting his eyes frankly and tenderly.
You are like some glorious magic prince to me, she said,
appearing among us here to win our hearts with a word.
Have I won yours with what I have said?
Mine? Oh, don't you know it? Do you thinkeven if it doesn't come
truethat I can ever forget what you have wished to do for Jim?
Still holding her hands, he lifted them, joined her fingers, and
laid his lips to them. She bent her head and caught her breath in
I am going North to-morrow, he said.
For a moment she did not comprehend his words. Then, a trifle dazed,
she looked up at him. To-morrow?
Are you coming back?
Do youfind ita long time?
Her straight brows bent inward a little, the startled gray eyes
became clear and steady. Of course I knew that you must gosome time.
But I had no idea that it would be so soon. Somehow, I have thought of
you as beinghere
Do you care?
Her honest eyes widened. Care? she repeated.
Yes. How greatly do you care?
The straight brows contracted still more as she stood considering
himso close that the fresh and subtle youth of her freshened the
night again with its faint perfume.
Again he touched her hands with his lips, she watching him palely,
out of clear, gray eyes; then, as they turned away together, he
encircled her slender waist with his arm.
That she was conscious of it, and not disturbed by it, was part of
her new mystery to him. Only once, as they walked, when his circling
clasp tightened, did she rest her own hand over his where it held her
body imprisoned. But she said nothing; nor had he spoken when the belt
of pines loomed against the stars once more.
Then, though neither had spoken, they stopped. He turned to face
her, drew her into his arms, and the beating of his heart almost
suffocated him as he looked into her eyes, clear, unshrinking eyes of
gray, with a child's question in their starry depths.
And he answered the question as in a dream: I love you. I want you
for my wife. I want you to love me. You are the first woman I have
cared for. All that you are I wantno more than you are. You, as you
are now, are all that I care for in the world. Life is young for us
both, yet. Let us grow up togetherif you can love me. Can you?
I don't know.
Can you not care for me a little, Molly?
I do. I knownothing aboutlovereal love.
Can you not imagine it, dear?
Iit is what I have imagineda manlike youcoming this
way into my loneliness. I recognize it. I have dreamed that it was like
this. What is it that I should doif this is really to come true?
I wouldif I knew how. I don't know how, she said wistfully. My
heart is so fullalreadyof your goodnessIand then this dream I
have dreamedthat a man like you should come here and say this to
Is it in you to love me?
I'll tryif you'll tell me what to dohow to show itto
He drew her closer, unresisting, and looked deep into her young
eyes, and kissed them, and then her lips, till they grew warmer and her
breath came fragrant and uneven.
Can you love me?
Yes, she whispered.
Are you sure?
For a moment's exquisite silence she rested her flushed face against
his shoulder, then lifted it, averted, and stepped aside, out of the
circle of his arms. Head lowered, she stood there, motionless in the
starlight, arms hanging straight; then, as he came to her, she lifted
her proud little head and laid both her hands in his.
Of those things, she said, that a woman should be to the man she
loves, and say to that man, I am ignorant. Even how to speak to
younowI do not know. It is all a dream to meexcept that, in my
heart, I know that I do love you. But I think that was so from the
beginning, and after you have gone away I should have realized it some
You darling! he whispered. Again she surrendered to him, exquisite
in her ignorance, passive at first, then tremulously responsive. And at
last her head drooped and fell on his shoulder, and he held her for a
little longer, then released her.
Trembling, she crept up the stairway to her room, treading lightly
along the dark entry, dazed, fatigued, with the wonder of it all. Then,
as she laid her hand on the knob of her bedroom door, the door of her
father's room opened abruptly.
Yes, dear, she answered vaguely.
He stood staring at her on the threshold, fully dressed, and she
looked back at him, her eyes slightly confused by the light.
Where have you been? he said.
With Mr. Marche.
To the doryand back.
What did he say to you, child?
She came silently across the threshold and put her arms around his
neck; and the man lost every atom of his color.
What did he say? he repeated harshly.
That he loves me.
It is true, father.
The man held her at arm's length roughly. Good God! he groaned,
how long has this been going on?
Only to-night. What do you mean, father?
[Illustration: 'He tells you that hehe is in love with you?']
He tells you that hehe is in love with you? With you?
repeated Herold unsteadily.
Yes. It is true, too.
You mean he asked you to marry him!
Yes. And I said I would.
You love him!
The man's pallor frightened her silent. Then he dropped her arms,
which he had been clutching, and stood staring at nothing, gnawing at
his colorless lips.
The girl watched him with dawning terror and finally ventured to
speak. Dear, what is the matter? Are you displeased with me? Do you
think that he is not a man I should care for? You don't know him, dear.
You have only to see him, to speak with him, hear his voice, look into
Good God! groaned Herold, closing his sunken eyes. Then, almost
feeling his way out and along the dark passageway, he descended the
Marche, cleaning his gun in the sitting-room, looked up in surprise,
then rose, laying aside stock, fore-end, and barrel, as Herold came
into the room. The next instant, stepping nearer, he stared into
Herold's face in silence. And so they met and confronted each other
after many years.
Are you Herold? said the young man, in a low voice.
That is my namenow.
You have been in my employmentfor five years?
Yes. Judge Gilkins gave me the chance. I could not suppose that the
club would ever become your property.
The younger man's face hardened. But when it did become my
property, why had you the indecency to stay?
Where else could I go?
You had the whole world tooperate in.
Herold's thin face flushed. It was fitter that I should work for
you, he said. I have served you faithfully for five years.
And unfaithfully for ten! Wasn't it enough that Vyse and I let you
go without prosecuting you? Wasn't it enough that we pocketed our loss
for your wife's sake?
He checked himself in a flash of memory, turned, and looked at the
picture on the wall. Now he knew, now he understood why his former
associate's handwriting had seemed familiar after all these years.
And suddenly he remembered that this man was Jim's fatherand the
father of the young girl he was in love with; and the shock drove every
drop of blood out of his heart and cheeks. Ghastly, staring, he stood
confronting Herold; and the latter, leaning heavily, shoulder against
the wall, stared back at him.
I could have gone on working for you, he said, trying to save
enough to make restitutionsome day. I have already saved part
of it. Look at melook at my childrenat the way we live, and you'll
understand how I have saved. But I have saved part of what I
took. I'll give you that much before you gobefore I go, too.
His breath came heavily, unevenly; he cleared his eyes with a
work-stained hand, fashioned for pens and ledgers.
You were abroad when Idid what I did. Vyse was merciless. I told
him I could put it back if he'd give me the chance. But a thief was a
thief to himparticularly when his own pocket was involved. He meant
to send me to prison. The judge held himhe was his father-in-lawand
he was an old man with a wife and children of his own.
Herold was silent for a moment, and his gaze became vague and
remote, then he lifted his head sharply:
A man makes one slip like that and the world damns him forever. And
I tell you, Marche, that I am not dishonest by nature or in my
character. God alone knows why I took those securities, meaning, of
course, to return them, as all the poor, damned fools do mean when they
do what I did. But Vyse made it a condition that I was to leave the
country, and there was no chance of restitution unless I could remain
in New York and do what I knew how to dono chance, Marcheand so
fortune ebbed, and my wife died, and the old judge saw me working on
the water-front in Norfolk one day, and gave me this place. That is
Why did you feign illness? asked Marche, in an altered voice.
You know why.
You thought I'd discharge you?
Marche stepped nearer. Why did you come to me here to-night?
Herold flushed deeply. It was your right to knowand my daughter's
rightbefore she broke her heart.
I see. You naturally suppose that I would scarcely care to marry
the daughter of a He stopped short, and Herold set his teeth.
Say it, he said, and let this end matters for all of us. Except
that I have saved seven thousand dollars towardwhat I took. I will
draw you a check for it now.
He walked steadily to the table, laid out a thin checkbook, and with
his fountain-pen wrote out a check for seven thousand dollars on a
There you are, Marche, he said wearily. I made most of it buying
and selling pine timber in this district. It seemed a little like
expiation, too, working here for you, unknown to you. I won't stay,
now, of course. I'll try to pay back the restlittle by
The way to pay it back, said Marche, is to do the work you are
Herold looked up. How can I?
I could not go back to New York. I have no money to go with, even
if I could find a place for myself again.
Your place is open to you.
Herold stared at him.
Marche repeated the assertion profanely. Damnation, he said, if
you'd talked this way to me five years ago, I'd never have stood in
your way. All I heard of the matter was what Vyse told me. I'm not
associated with him any more; I'll stand for his minding his own
affairs. The thing for you to do, Courtney, is to get into the game
again and clean up what you owe Vyse. Here's seven thousand; you can
borrow the rest from me. And then we'll go into things again and
hustle. It was a good combination, Courtneywe'd have been rich
menexcept for the slip you made. Come on in with me again. Or would
you rather continue to inhabit your own private hell?
Do you know what you are saying, Marche? said the other hoarsely.
Sure, I do. I guess you've done full time for a first offense.
Clean off the slate, Courtney. You and Vyse and I know itnobody
elseGilkins is dead. Come on, man! That boy of yours is a corker! I
love himthat little brother, Jim, of mine; and as forMolly His
voice broke and he turned sharply aside, saying: It's certainly
blue-bird weather, Courtney, and we all might as well go North. Come
out under the stars, and we'll talk it over.
* * * * *
It was almost dawn when they returned. Marche's hand lay lightly on
Courtney's shoulder for a moment, as they parted.
Above, as Courtney stood feeling blindly for his door, Molly's door
swung softly ajar, and the girl came out in her night-dress.
Father, she whispered, is it all right?
All right, thank God, little daughter.
AndI may care for him?
Surelysurely, darling, because he is the finest specimen of
manhood that walks this merciless earth.
I knew it, she whispered gaily. If you'll lend me your wrapper a
moment, I'll go to his door and say good-night to him again.
Her father looked at her, picked up his tattered dressing-gown from
his bed, and wrapped her in it to the chin, then kissed her forehead.
So she trotted away to Marche's door and tapped softly; and when he
came and opened the door, she put her arms around his neck and kissed
Good night, she whispered. I do love you, and I shall pray all
night that I may be everything that you would wish to have me. Good
night, once moredearest of mengood night.