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Blue-Bird Weather Part 2

She handed him a list of the decoys. He read it gravely, nodded, and returned it.

"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 arrive?"

"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 washes dishes."

"You darling! Forgive me. I wasn't thinking. It was too stupid of me."

"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 ours."

"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, isn't it?"

"Yes," said the boy thoughtfully.

II

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 himself.

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 corners--beautifully 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 magazines.

Idly he turned the flyleaf of the schoolbook. Written there was the boy's name--"Jim, 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 outgrown.

"Hello!" said Marche, looking up. "Are you ready for me, Jim?"

"Yes, sir."

"What sort of a chance have I?"

Chapter end

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