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Blue-Bird Weather Part 5

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 expression?"

"Yes--I think so. There's a song about it, along the coast"--she laughed uncertainly--"a rather foolish song."

"What is it?"

"If I remember"--she hesitated, thinking for a moment, then, with a laugh which he thought a little bashful--"it's really too silly to repeat!"

"Please sing it!"

"Very well--if 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.

III

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 shoot.

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 upside down.

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 it--an irritated curiosity which grew more intense as the seconds throbbed out, absurdly timed by a most remarkable obligato from his heart.

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 aspirations--even 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 her--of this sleeping stranger, this shabby child of a poor man, dressed in the boots and shooting coat of that wretchedly poor man--his own superintendent, a sick man whom he had never even seen.

What manner of man could her father be--this man Herold--to 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, unsmiling.

"I _beg_ your pardon. I am--I 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.

"Has--has anything else come in to the stools?" she asked timidly.

"No," he said, relenting.

But he was wrong. Something _had_ come into the blind--a winged, fluttering thing, out of the empyrean--and 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.

"I--am 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 doing--except those stupid widgeon--not 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 smiling.

"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."

"But--I 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 guide--but it is pleasant to have you speak that way."

"What way?"

Chapter end

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