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Blue-Bird Weather Part 6

"The way you spoke about--your 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 Herold?"

"Know me?" she repeated. "I don't think I understand."

"Could you and your father and brother regard me as a guest--as a friend visiting the family?"

"Why?"

"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.

"Yes."

"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. We--it 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 you--Jim would. It is pleasant to hear a man from the real world speaking. Not that the people here are unkind, only"--she looked up at him almost wistfully--"we _are_ like you, Mr. Marche--and we feel starved, sometimes."

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 work--brief, 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 left unsaid.

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 love--in love, surely, hopelessly. What can I do for her--for her brother--her father?

I am falling in love--in love--in 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 each--nearer, 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 murmur--not the martial clangor of wild geese, but something wilder, more exquisitely unearthly--nearer, 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 aerial 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 aerial lanes.

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.

IV

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 minutes?"

"I will ask him," said the boy.

Marche paced the ragged carpet until the return of Jimmy.

Chapter end

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