The St. Marys County marsh was familiar but different. Both of the men in the goose blind had known this landscape all their lives, had hunted every foot of it, had watched the slow changes of the seasons and the much slower changes of erosion. But the difference today was that one of them would not live to go hunting again and both of them knew it. Cancer had hold of the older man. It had so drawn down his strength that the short walk through the mud from the boat to the blind had cost him great pain and near-exhaustion. Trying not to show the pain had added to the effort. When he reached the blind he had not sat down to rest while the younger man put out the decoys but had stood, as always, making banter about how badly his friend was placing the stool. The younger man, once his student and for many years since his friend, knew better than to suggest that he sit or make any other concession to his illness. Never through the long day would either speak of it directly. The first birds to respond to the decoys were a pair of hooded mergansers that flew straight over the blind although the men didn't bother to hide. The older man swung on them with his worn Parker double but did not shoot because they are fish-eating ducks he does not care for. "Bang," he said softly, and again, "Bang." The younger man, swinging also, ready to back the shot, heard a gun go off and realized it was his own. The mergansers, caught overlapping with their wings cupped to the wind, fell dead on the water. When the birds were brought into the blind the older man merely raised his eyebrows. An hour later a black duck came whipping downwind and was past before either man could react. The older fired twice, although the range was already long. A moment later the younger fired once, and the duck, killed at 60 yards but carried on the wind, fell more than a hundred yards away. "What you got in that cannon?" "Just lucky, I guess." Later another black, churning upwind at 30 yards, flared as the older man shot. The bird was hit but spun away, then folded when the man fired the second barrel. "It's my turn to pick 'em up," he said, making no move to do so. The younger man went and got the bird. "That's four 70-pointers, two limits," the older man said when his friend got back to the blind. "You ready to pack it up?" the younger man asked. "No." He took the four birds several hundred yards into the marsh and concealed them in the grass. While he was gone his friend shot a bufflehead, which he picked up on the way back. "Twenty-five points," he said. Years before, the older man had been arrested for shooting over the limit; he had never done it again until today. It wasn't the prospect of another fine that bothered him but the idea of ever again standing in a courtroom full of people while a judge half his age dressed him down like a naughty schoolboy. He was too proud a man for that. But he no longer was concerned with game wardens or judges or anyone else save his widow-to-be and a few friends. To have asked the younger man whether he was willing to share the risk today would have been an insult. The sun was well up but had taken no chill off the wind when a flight of Canada geese appeared in the distance, flying low and beating hard against the wind toward the Western Shore cornfields. "They'll come right over the blind," the older man said. "They know it lacks two days of the opening of the season." The men crouched and hid their faces. When the birds were over the blind the men rose together with no signal given, coming up smoothly as they had many times before on o birds, straightening the shattered wings and wiping the mud from their breasts. The action was scattered through the rest of the day. From time to time one or the other man would start to say something but would not, but what was not said was said anyway. When they talked they talked of old friends, the younger man of the living and the older of the dead. And then the younger man finally understood that his friend, quivering with pain and fatigue, would stand there until he collapsed or the sun went down before he would yield. So he said what was necessary to bring the last day to an end. "We're losing the tide," he said. "Boat will strand if we don't go." It was a lie, as the older man knew, but it was as true as anything that had ever passed between them.