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Blue-Bird Weather Part 1

Blue-Bird Weather.

by Robert W. Chambers.

I

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 discomfort.

"Don't you feel cold at all?" persisted Marche kindly.

"No, sir."

"I suppose you are hardened to this sort of weather?"

"Yes, sir."

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?"

"Eleven."

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

"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 up aloft."

"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 is?"

"Jim."

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

Marche relapsed into smiling silence. In a few moments he was thinking of other things--of 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 "funny house."

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 lamplight--a 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 Chesapeake.

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 preserves--wild grapes, exquisitely fragrant in their thin, golden syrup.

Marche was that kind of a friendly young man who is naturally gay-hearted and also a little curious--sometimes to the verge of indiscretion. For his curiosity and inquiring interest in his fellow-men was easily aroused--particularly 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.

Chapter end

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