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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XXI A DAY WITH THE DUCKS
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 Erie Landon faced her father across the breakfast table, dimpled chin cupped in her brown hand. It was early morning; a red sun was just lifting above the Point to wipe away the white mists of the channel and the bay. The American yacht which had put into harbor the night before had cleared and was now but a white speck in the distance.  
"She ought to make Cleveland before dark if this breeze holds," the light-house keeper said as he twisted the big cigar which the commodore had given him about in his fingers. "Just what word was it that lawyer chap, Maddoc, wanted us to get to Swanson, at the foot, Erie?"
"Why, he asked us to tell Swanson that he and a friend are coming to his place to stay for a couple of weeks duck-shooting, Daddy," Erie answered.
"Early in October, Mr. Maddoc said."
"Humph! It does beat all what foolish ideas them big guns take. Think of them two comin' all the way from Cleveland here just to shoot ducks. Old man Swanson knows his book, too. He charges them sports awful prices; nine dollars a week each and makes 'em sleep two in a bed at that; and every fall that old ramblin' house of his is chuck kerbang full of shooters."
Landon was much improved in health. He spoke with little effort, the hollows in his cheeks were filling and his eyes were brighter than the girl had seen them for many a day. He gazed longingly down at the cigar, then glancing up to catch his daughter's reproachful look, sighed and laid it on the table.
"I'd love to smoke it," he confessed, "but you needn't worry, Chick. I'm through with tobacco till I'm my real self ag'in. But I feel so darned much better since I quit smokin' I simply want to smoke all the more."
"Poor old Daddy," Erie laughed, coming around to sit on the arm of his chair. "It does seem too bad you can't have your smoke. I'm sure you miss it dreadfully; but you see you are so much stronger and better I—well, I simply won't let you smoke just yet, that's all."
His face had brightened at the sound of her laughter. Now he patted her hand, as his eyes sought the window. Perhaps the old songs would come back even as the laughter had come and surprise him. Perhaps she was forgetting Stanhope. But no, much as he desired that this should be, he knew her too well for that.
With his eyes on the white sail, now a tiny dot on the horizon, his mind went back to that scene of a month ago, when he had told her of Hinter's proposal and of his consent to it. He would never quite forget the look that came into her face.
"I could never marry Hinter," she had said. "I love one man—and to him I shall be true, always."
"But he is blind, child. He has given you up," Landon had reasoned. And with her face aglow she had answered. "He is blind, but he can never give me up, because he loves me."
Reading in the dry, suffering eyes she had turned upon him a purpose stronger than life itself, what could he do but take her in his arms and ask her to forgive him for the old meddler he was? Perhaps he had erred in this. He did not want to think so. But she looked so much like her mother that morning it might be—
He came out of his abstraction with a start and glanced at her, almost guiltily. "Yes, Chick."
"Have you told Mr. Hinter yet?" she asked suddenly.
"Yes," he answered. "I told him that same day. Told him that you said you could never be more to him than what you now are. Why do you ask, Erie?"
"I have wondered why he keeps coming here," she said slowly. "You scarcely need his companionship, now you are busy with your duties. But there," she broke off with a smile, "I have no right to doubt his sincerity; I am sure he has never spoken one word to me that he should not speak and I know he is really fond of you."
Landon knit his shaggy brows. "I don't know, Chick. I'm afraid he still hopes. He has as much as told me so. 'We've been too hasty with her,' he said, 'we must have patience.'"
Erie's face went very white. "He mustn't come here any more," she said quickly. "With your permission I shall tell him so, Daddy."
He was silent for a time. "Just as you like," he said at length. "If his comin' annoys you, dear, you tell him so."
She bent and kissed him. "Best Daddy ever was," she whispered. Then jumping up she ran to the stove and put the kettle on.
"I saw Billy Wilson yesterday when I was out sailing," she called, "and he had the sweetest little girl with him. Her name is Lou Scroggie and I fell in love with her on sight."
"Billy with a girl!" cried Landon in wonder.
"Yes. They were out in Billy's punt, gathering water-lilies, and, oh Daddy, they seemed so happy. I could have hugged them both. Billy told me that he and Maurice Keeler were going shooting ducks this morning and I asked him to come over here for breakfast as usual. The marsh shooting is all over by sunrise, you know."
Her father nodded. "I'll bet a cookie that was Billy's old muzzle loader I heard down in the duck-ponds about daylight," he laughed. "Maybe," he added hopefully, "he'll fetch us a brace of ducks."
"Why, there he is now," she cried, glancing through the window. "Maurice isn't with him, though. I know that old punt as far as I can see it. I must get the potatoes and bacon on; he'll be hungry as a bear."
Landon put on his hat and went down to the beach to welcome their visitor. "Well, Billy," he called as the punt appeared around the bend in the shore, "how many ducks did old Liza-Ann drop out of the sky this mornin'?"
"Two greys and a mallard," Billy answered over his shoulder. "Could'a killed more, but what's the use. They wouldn't keep; weather's too warm."
"Well now, I can't see why a dozen wouldn't keep as well as three," returned the keeper, as he pulled the punt high on shore.
"They would, I s'pose," laughed Billy as he stepped out, followed by Moll, the little spaniel, "but these three don't have to keep long; you see we're goin' to have these fer dinner."
"Are we now?" Landon rubbed his hands and smacked his lips in anticipation. "You're goin' to stay and help clean up on 'em, Billy?"
"Yep, I'll stay. I'm goin' to paint Erie's skiff fer her. I'll slip into the ponds ag'in on my way to the Settlement an' kill enough ducks fer our folks an' the neighbors."
Erie was waving to him from the kitchen door. "Where's Maurice?" she called.
"His Ma wouldn't let him come. Afraid he'd get wet an' go sick ag'in. Gee! that coffee smells good, Erie."
"Go 'long in and tackle it while it's hot," advised Landon. "I'll start in on pluckin' these birds. But first we'll have to let Chick see 'em. Say, Billy, they're nigh as big as tame 'uns!"
Erie clasped her hands in ecstasy at sight of the wild ducks. "Oh, aren't they lovely!" she cried. "Put them in the ice-house, Daddy, until Billy starts for home."
Billy, who had squared away at his breakfast, spoke with his mouth full. "We're goin' to have 'em fer dinner," he informed his hostess.
"But, Billy," she remonstrated, "they'll be expecting you to bring some ducks home, you know."
"Billy says he'll shoot some more this evenin'," spoke up her father, who did not intend to allow anything to interfere with a duck dinner if he could help it.
"These ducks wouldn't keep till I get home," said Billy.
"No," supported Landon, "weather's too warm, you see, Chick. I'll start in on dressin' 'em right now," he chuckled, exchanging winks with Billy.
"You're a pair of plotters," cried Erie, "and being a weak, helpless girl I suppose I'll have to agree with you and submissively roast those birds to suit your taste."
"You'll find onions and savory hangin' to the rafters upstairs," suggested her father as he carried the ducks outside.
Erie sat down opposite to Billy, and watched him while he ate. He smiled across at her. "Your Dad seems a whole lot better," he said.
"Yes, ever so much. He's almost his old self again. He has quit smoking, you see, and he has promised me not to smoke until he is quite well again."
Billy laid down his knife and fork and smiled reminiscently. "I was jest thinkin' of ol' Harry O'Dule," he said, answering the question in her eyes. "He's quit a bad habit, too. He's quit drinkin'; don't touch a drop any more—hasn't fer over a month now."
"Oh isn't that splendid," cried the girl. "He's such a dear old fellow when he's sober. Do you suppose he'll be strong enough to give up drink altogether, Billy?"
"Well, he seems to be in earnest about it. I re'lly don't think he'll drink any more. He says that he's got his tin whistle an' his cat an' don't need whisky. He's changed wonderful, there's no mistake about that. Ma saw him yesterday. He was dressed in his Prince Albert an' plug hat, an' Ma says he was that changed she didn't know him at first."
Erie laughed softly, "I know very well you've had a hand in his reform, Billy," she said.
"Nope," denied Billy, "but I ain't sayin' but that my owls an' snakes might have played a part in it." And he proceeded to relate the deception he had practiced on Harry while the old man was in his cups.
The girl clapped her hands in joy at the story. "And you let him think he had the delirium tremens! Oh, Billy, is there anything you wouldn't do, I wonder?"
Billy shook his head. "I dunno," he replied. "That's a hard question to answer."
Silence fell between them. He knew that she was thinking that last year on the opening morning of the duck season Frank Stanhope had sat at this table with him. She was gazing from the window, far down to where the Point was lost in the Settlement forests. He saw her bosom rise and fall, saw a tear grow up in her eyes and roll unheeded down her cheek.
In boyish sympathy his hand reached out to clasp the slender brown one clenched upon the white cloth. He longed to ask her if what the Settlement was saying—that she was going to marry Hinter—was true. And then as quickly as the thought itself came shame of it. His hand clasped her hand more tightly.
"He went with me to the foot of the Causeway last night, ag'in," he said softly.
She turned and the blood mounted swiftly to her white cheeks. "And did he feel the light again, Billy?" she whispered eagerly.
"He felt the light," said the boy, "an' he sang all the way back home."
"Oh!" she cried and hid her face on her arms.
Billy arose hastily, saying something about helping her father with the ducks and went outside. He found Landon seated on a soap-box behind the boat house, industriously stripping the ducks of their feathers.
"Say," said the man as Billy came up, "you know when ducks put on an extra coverin' of feathers a hard winter is in sight? Well, by gosh, these birds have all put on an extra undershirt. Look," holding the duck in his ............
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