The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

High-Water Mark
When the tide was out on the Dedlow Marsh, its extended dreariness was patent. Its
spongy, low-lying surface, sluggish, inky pools, and tortuous sloughs, twisting their slimy
way, eel-like, toward the open bay, were all hard facts. So were the few green tussocks,
with their scant blades, their amphibious flavor and unpleasant dampness. And if you
choose to indulge your fancy--although the flat monotony of the Dedlow Marsh was not
inspiring--the wavy line of scattered drift gave an unpleasant consciousness of the spent
waters, and made the dead certainty of the returning tide a gloomy reflection which no
present sunshine could dissipate. The greener meadowland seemed oppressed with this
idea, and made no positive attempt at vegetation until the work of reclamation should be
complete. In the bitter fruit of the low cranberry bushes one might fancy he detected a
naturally sweet disposition curdled and soured by an injudicious course of too much
regular cold water.
The vocal expression of the Dedlow Marsh was also melancholy and depressing. The
sepulchral boom of the bittern, the shriek of the curlew, the scream of passing brent, the
wrangling of quarrelsome teal, the sharp, querulous protest of the startled crane, and
syllabled complaint of the "killdeer" plover, were beyond the power of written
expression. Nor was the aspect of these mournful fowls at all cheerful and inspiring.
Certainly not the blue heron standing mid-leg deep in the water, obviously catching cold
in a reckless disregard of wet feet and consequences; nor the mournful curlew, the
dejected plover, or the low-spirited snipe, who saw fit to join him in his suicidal
contemplation; nor the impassive kingfisher--an ornithological Marius--reviewing the
desolate expanse; nor the black raven that went to and fro over the face of the marsh
continually, but evidently couldn’t make up his mind whether the waters had subsided,
and felt low-spirited in the reflection that, after all this trouble, he wouldn't be able to
give a definite answer. On the contrary, it was evident at a glance that the dreary expanse
of Dedlow Marsh told unpleasantly on the birds, and that the season of migration was
looked forward to with a feeling of relief and satisfaction by the full-grown, and of
extravagant anticipation by the callow, brood. But if Dedlow Marsh was cheerless at the
slack of the low tide, you should have seen it when the tide was strong and full. When the
damp air blew chilly over the cold, glittering expanse, and came to the faces of those who
looked seaward like another tide; when a steel-like glint marked the low hollows and the
sinuous line of slough; when the great shell-incrusted trunks of fallen trees arose again,
and went forth on their dreary, purposeless wanderings, drifting hither and thither, but
getting no farther toward any goal at the falling tide or the day's decline than the cursed
Hebrew in the legend; when the glossy ducks swung silently, making neither ripple nor
furrow on the shimmering surface; when the fog came in with the tide and shut out the
blue above, even as the green below had been obliterated; when boatmen lost in that fog,
paddling about in a hopeless way, started at what seemed the brushing of mermen's
fingers on the boat's keel, or shrank from the tufts of grass spreading around like the
floating hair of a corpse, and knew by these signs that they were lost upon Dedlow Marsh
and must make a night of it, and a gloomy one at that--then you might know something of
Dedlow Marsh at high water.