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Published by: aravindpunna on Nov 23, 2013
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The Rules of the Game
Part One
Chapter 1
Late one fall afternoon, in the year 1898, a train paused for a moment before crossing a bridge over a river. From it descended a heavy-set, elderly man. The train immediately proceeded on its way. The heavy-set man looked about him. The river and the bottom-land growths of willow and hardwood were hemmed in, as far as he could see, by low-wooded hills. Only the railroad bridge, the steep embankment of the right-of-way, and a small, painted, windowless structure next the water met his eye as the handiwork of man. The windowless structure was bleak, deserted and obviously locked by a strong padlock and hasp. Nevertheless, the man, throwing on his shoulder a canvas duffle-bag with handles, made his way down the steep railway embankment, across a plank over the ditch, and to the edge of the water. Here he dropped his bag heavily, and looked about him with an air of comical dismay. The man was probably close to sixty years of age, but florid and vigorous. His body was heavy and round; but so were his arms and legs. An otherwise absolutely unprepossessing face was rendered most attractive by a pair of twinkling, humorous blue eyes, set far apart. Iron-gray hair, with a tendency to curl upward at the ends, escaped from under his hat. His movements were slow and large and purposeful. He rattled the padlock on the boathouse, looked at his watch, and sat down on his duffle-bag. The wind blew strong up the river; the baring branches of the willows whipped loose their yellow leaves. A dull, leaden light stole up from the east as the afternoon sun lost its strength. By the end of ten minutes, however, the wind carried with it the creak of rowlocks. A moment later a light, flat duck-boat shot around the bend and drew up at the float. "Well, Orde, you confounded old scallywattamus," remarked the man on the duffle-bag, without moving, "is this your notion of meeting a train?" The oarsman moored his frail craft and stepped to the float. He was about ten years the other's junior, big of frame, tanned of skin, clear of eye, and also purposeful of movement.
 
"This boathouse," he remarked incisively, "is the property of the Maple County Duck Club. Trespassers will be prosecuted. Get off this float." Then they clasped hands and looked at each other. "It's surely like old times to see you again, Welton," Orde broke the momentary silence. "It's been--let's see--fifteen years, hasn't it? How's Minnesota?" "Full of ducks," stated Welton emphatically, "and if you haven't anything but mud hens and hell divers here, I'm going to sue you for getting me here under false pretences. I want ducks." "Well, I'll get the keeper to shoot you some," replied Orde, soothingly, "or you can come out and see me kill 'em if you'll sit quiet and not rock the boat. Climb aboard. It's getting late." Welton threw aboard his duffle-bag, and, with a dexterity marvellous in one apparently so unwieldy, stepped in astern. Orde grinned. "Haven't forgotten how to ride a log, I reckon?" he commented. Welton exploded. "Look here, you little squirt!" he cried, "I'd have you know I'm riding logs yet. I don't suppose you'd know a log if you'd see one, you' soft-handed, degenerate, old riverhog, you! A golf ball's about your size!" "No," said Orde; "a fat old hippopotamus named Welton is about my size--as I'll show you when we land at the Marsh!" Welton grinned. "How's Mrs. Orde and the little boy?" he inquired. "Mrs. Orde is fine and dandy, and the 'little boy,' as you call him, graduated from college last June," Orde replied. "You don't say!" cried Welton, genuinely astounded. "Why, of course, he must have! Can he lick his dad?" "You bet he can--or could if his dad would give him a chance. Why, he's been captain of the football team for two years." "And football's the only game I'd come out of the woods to see," said Welton. "I must have seen him up at Minneapolis when his team licked the stuffing out of
 
our boys; and I remember his name. But I never thought of him as little Bobby--because--well, because I always did remember him as little Bobby." "He's big Bobby, now, all right," said Orde, "and that's one reason I wanted to see you; why I asked you to run over from Chicago next time you came down. Of course, there
are
 ducks, too." "There'd better be!" said Welton grimly. "I want Bob to go into the lumber business, same as his dad was. This congressman game is all right, and I don't see how I can very well get out of it, even if I wanted to. But, Welton, I'm a Riverman, and I always will be. It's in my bones. I want Bob to grow up in the smell of the woods--same as his dad. I've always had that ambition for him. It was the one thing that made me hesitate longest about going to Washington. I looked forward to
Orde & Son
." He was resting on his oars, and the duck-boat drifted silently by the swaying brown reeds. Welton nodded. "I want you to take him and break him in. I'd rather have you than any one I know. You're the only one of the outsiders who stayed by the Big Jam," Orde continued. "Don't try to favour him--that's no favour. If he doesn't make good, fire him. Don't tell any of your people that he's the son of a friend. Let him stand on his own feet. If he's any good we'll work him into the old game. Just give him a job, and keep an eye on him for me, to see how well he does." "Jack, the job's his," said Welton. "But it won't do him much good, because it won't last long. We're cleaned up in Minnesota; and have only an odd two years on some odds and ends we picked up in Wisconsin just to keep us busy." "What are you going to do then?" asked Orde, quietly dipping his oars again. "I'm going to retire and enjoy life." Orde laughed quietly. "Yes, you are!" said he. "You'd have a high old time for a calendar month. Then you'd get uneasy. You'd build you a big house, which would keep you mad for six months more. Then you'd degenerate to buying subscription books, and wheezing around a club and going by the cocktail route. You'd look sweet retiring, now, wouldn't you?" Welton grinned back, a trifle ruefully.

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