Bud Faces Facts
From: Cabin Fever
New Year came and passed and won nothing in the way of celebration from the three in Nelson's cabin. Bud's bones ached, his head ached, the flesh on his body ached. He could take no comfort anywhere, under any circumstances. He craved clean white beds and soft-footed attendance and soothing silence and cool drinks—and he could have none of those things. His bedclothes were heavy upon his aching limbs; he had to wait upon his own wants; the fretful crying of Lovin Child or the racking cough of Cash was always in his ears, and as for cool drinks, there was ice water in plenty, to be sure, but nothing else. Fair weather came, and storms, and cold: more storms and cold than fair weather. Neither man ever mentioned taking Lovin Child to Alpine. At first, because it was out of the question; after that, because they did not want to mention it. They frequently declared that Lovin Child was a pest, and there were times when Bud spoke darkly of spankings—which did not materialize. But though they did not mention it, they knew that Lovin Child was something more; something endearing, something humanizing, something they needed to keep them immune from cabin fever.
Some time in February it was that Cash fashioned a crude pair of snowshoes and went to town, returning the next day. He came home loaded with little luxuries for Lovin Child, and with the simpler medicines for other emergencies which they might have to meet, but he did not bring any word of seeking parents. The nearest he came to mentioning the subject was after supper, when the baby was asleep and Bud trying to cut a small pair of overalls from a large piece of blue duck that Cash had brought. The shears were dull, and Lovin Child's little rompers were so patched and shapeless that they were not much of a guide, so Bud was swearing softly while he worked.
"I didn't hear a word said about that kid being lost," Cash volunteered, after he had smoked and watched Bud awhile. "Couldn't have been any one around Alpine, or I'd have heard something about it."
Bud frowned, though it may have been over his tailoring problem.
"Can't tell—the old squaw mighta been telling the truth," he said reluctantly. "I s'pose they do, once in awhile. She said his folks were dead." And he added defiantly, with a quick glance at Cash, "Far as I'm concerned, I'm willing to let it ride that way. The kid's doing all right."
"Yeah. I got some stuff for that rash on his chest. I wouldn't wonder if we been feeding him too heavy on bacon rinds, Bud. They say too much of that kinda thing is bad for kids. Still, he seems to feel all right."
"I'll tell the world he does! He got hold of your old pipe to-day and was suckin' away on it, I don't know how long. Never feazed him, either. If he can stand that, I guess he ain't very delicate."
"Yeah. I laid that pipe aside myself because it was getting so dang strong. Ain't you getting them pants too long in the seat, Bud? They look to me big enough for a ten-year-old."
"I guess you don't realize how that kid's growing!" Bud defended his handiwork "And time I get the seams sewed, and the side lapped over for buttons—"
"Yeah. Where you going to get the buttons? You never sent for any."
"Oh, I'll find buttons. You can donate a couple off some of your clothes, if you want to right bad."
"Who? Me? I ain't got enough now to keep the wind out," Cash protested. "Lemme tell yuh something, Bud. If you cut more saving, you'd have enough cloth there for two pair of pants. You don't need to cut the legs so long as all that. They'll drag on the ground so the poor kid can't walk in 'em without falling all over himself."
"Well, good glory! Who's making these pants? Me, or you?" Bud exploded. "If you think you can do any better job than what I'm doing, go get yourself some cloth and fly at it! Don't think you can come hornin' in on my job, 'cause I'll tell the world right out loud, you can't."
"Yeah—that's right! Go to bellerin' around like a bull buffalo, and wake the kid up! I don't give a cuss how you make'm. Go ahead and have the seat of his pants hangin' down below his knees if you want to!" Cash got up and moved huffily over to the fireplace and sat with his back to Bud.
"Maybe I will, at that," Bud retorted. "You can't come around and grab the job I'm doing." Bud was jabbing a needle eye toward the end of a thread too coarse for it, and it did not improve his temper to have the thread refuse to pass through the eye.
Neither did it please him to find, when all the seams were sewn, that the little overalls failed to look like any garment he had ever seen on a child. When he tried them on Lovin Child, next day, Cash took one look and bolted from the cabin with his hand over his mouth.
When he came back an hour or so later, Lovin Child was wearing his ragged rompers, and Bud was bent over a Weinstock-Lubin mail-order catalogue. He had a sheet of paper half filled with items, and was licking his pencil and looking for more. He looked up and grinned a little, and asked Cash when he was going to town again; and added that he wanted to mail a letter.
"Yeah. Well, the trail's just as good now as it was when I took it," Cash hinted strongly. "When I go to town again, it'll be because I've got to go. And far as I can see, I won't have to go for quite some time."
So Bud rose before daylight the next morning, tied on the makeshift snowshoes Cash had contrived, and made the fifteen-mile trip to Alpine and back before dark. He brought candy for Lovin Child, tended that young gentleman through a siege of indigestion because of the indulgence, and waited impatiently until he was fairly certain that the wardrobe he had ordered had arrived at the post-office. When he had counted off the two days required for a round trip to Sacramento, and had added three days for possible delay in filling the order, he went again, and returned in one of the worst storms of the winter.
But he did not grudge the hardship, for he carried on his back a bulky bundle of clothes for Lovin Child; enough to last the winter through, and some to spare; a woman would have laughed at some of the things he chose: impractical, dainty garments that Bud could not launder properly to save his life. But there were little really truly overalls, in which Lovin Child promptly developed a strut that delighted the men and earned him the title of Old Prospector. And there were little shirts and stockings and nightgowns and a pair of shoes, and a toy or two that failed to interest him at all, after the first inspection.
It began to look as though Bud had deliberately resolved upon carrying a guilty conscience all the rest of his life. He had made absolutely no effort to trace the parents of Lovin Child when he was in town. On the contrary he had avoided all casual conversation, for fear some one might mention the fact that a child had been lost. He had been careful not to buy anything in the town that would lead one to suspect that he had a child concealed upon his premises, and he had even furnished what he called an alibi when he bought the candy, professing to own an inordinately sweet tooth.
Cash cast his eyes over the stock of baby clothes which Bud gleefully unwrapped on his bunk, and pinched out a smile under his beard.
"Well, if the kid stays till he wears out all them clothes, we'll just about have to give him a share in the company," he said drily.
Bud looked up in quick jealousy. "What's mine's his, and I own a half interest in both claims. I guess that'll feed him—if they pan out anything," he retorted. "Come here, Boy, and let's try this suit on. Looks pretty small to me—marked three year, but I reckon they don't grow 'em as husky as you, back where they make all these clothes."
"Yeah. But you ought to put it in writing, Bud. S'pose anything happened to us both—and it might. Mining's always got its risky side, even cutting out sickness, which we've had a big sample of right this winter. Well, the kid oughta have some security in case anything did happen. Now—"
Bud looked thoughtfully down at the fuzzy yellow head that did not come much above his knee.
"Well, how yuh going to do anything like that without giving it away that we've got him? Besides, what name'd we give him in the company? No, sir, Cash, he gets what I've got, and I'll smash any damn man that tries to get it away from him. But we can't get out any legal papers—"
"Yeah. But we can make our wills, can't we? And I don't know where you get the idea, Bud, that you've got the whole say about him. We're pardners, ain't we? Share and share alike. Mines, mules, grub—kids—equal shares goes."
"That's where you're dead wrong. Mines and mules and grub is all right, but when it comes to this old Lovin Man, why—who was it found him, for gosh sake?"
"Aw, git out!" Cash growled. "Don't you reckon I'd have grabbed him off that squaw as quick as you did? I've humored you along, Bud, and let you hog him nights, and feed him and wash his clothes, and I ain't kicked none, have I? But when it comes to prope'ty—"
"You ain't goin' to horn in there, neither. Anyway, we ain't got so darn much the kid'll miss your share, Cash."
"Yeah. All the more reason why he'll need it I don't see how you're going to stop me from willing my share where I please. And when you come down to facts, Bud, why—you want to recollect that I plumb forgot to report that kid, when I was in town. And I ain't a doubt in the world but what his folks would be glad enough—"
"Forget that stuff!" Bud's tone was so sharp that Lovin Child turned clear around to look up curiously into his face. "You know why you never reported him, doggone yuh! You couldn't give him up no easier than I could. And I'll tell the world to its face that if anybody gets this kid now they've pretty near got to fight for him. It ain't right, and it ain't honest. It's stealing to keep him, and I never stole a brass tack in my life before. But he's mine as long as I live and can hang on to him. And that's where I stand. I ain't hidin' behind no kind of alibi. The old squaw did tell me his folks was dead; but if you'd ask me, I'd say she was lying when she said it. Chances are she stole him. I'm sorry for his folks, supposing he's got any. But I ain't sorry enough for 'em to give him up if I can help it. I hope they've got more, and I hope they've gentled down by this time and are used to being without him. Anyway, they can do without him now easier than what I can, because..." Bud did not finish that sentence, except by picking Lovin Child up in his arms and squeezing him as hard as he dared. He laid his face down for a minute on Lovin Child's head, and when he raised it his lashes were wet.
"Say, old-timer, you need a hair cut. Yuh know it?" he said, with a huskiness in his voice, and pulled a tangle playfully. Then his eyes swung round defiantly to Cash. "It's stealing to keep him, but I can't help it. I'd rather die right here in my tracks than give up this little ole kid. And you can take that as it lays, because I mean it."
Cash sat quiet for a minute or two, staring down at the floor. "Yeah. I guess there's two of us in that fix," he observed in his dry way, lifting his eyebrows while he studied a broken place in the side of his overshoe. "All the more reason why we should protect the kid, ain't it? My idea is that we ought to both of us make our wills right here and now. Each of us to name the other for guardeen, in case of accident, and each one picking a name for the kid, and giving him our share in the claims and anything else we may happen to own." He stopped abruptly, his jaw sagging a little at some unpleasant thought.
"I don't know—come to think of it, I can't just leave the kid all my property. I—I've got a kid of my own, and if she's alive—I ain't heard anything of her for fifteen years and more, but if she's alive she'd come in for a share. She's a woman grown by this time. Her mother died when she was a baby. I married the woman I hired to take care of her and the house—like a fool. When we parted, she took the kid with her. She did think a lot of her, I'll say that much for her, and that's all I can say in her favor. I drifted around and lost track of 'em. Old woman, she married again, and I heard that didn't pan out, neither. Anyway, she kept the girl, and gave her the care and schooling that I couldn't give. I was a drifter.
"Well, she can bust the will if I leave her out, yuh see. And if the old woman gets a finger in the pie, it'll be busted, all right. I can write her down for a hundred dollars perviding she don't contest. That'll fix it. And the rest goes to the kid here. But I want him to have the use of my name, understand. Something-or-other Markham Moore ought to suit all hands well enough."
Bud, holding Lovin Child on his knees, frowned a little at first. But when he looked at Cash, and caught the wistfulness in his eyes, he surrendered warm-heartedly.
"A couple of old he-hens like us—we need a chick to look after," he said whimsically. "I guess Markham Moore ought to be good enough for most any kid. And if it ain't, by gosh, we'll make it good enough! If I ain't been all I should be, there's no law against straightening up. Markham Moore goes as it lays—hey, Lovins?" But Lovin Child had gone to sleep over his foster fathers' disposal of his future. His little yellow head was wabbling on his limp neck, and Bud cradled him in his arms and held him so.
"Yeah. But what are we going to call him?" Methodical Cash wanted the whole matter settled at one conference, it seemed.
"Call him? Why, what've we been calling him, the last two months?"
"That," Cash retorted, "depended on what devilment he was into when we called!"
"You said it all, that time. I guess, come to think of it—tell you what, Cash, let's call him what the kid calls himself. That's fair enough. He's got some say in the matter, and if he's satisfied with Lovin, we oughta be. Lovin Markam Moore ain't half bad. Then if he wants to change it when he grows up, he can."
"Yeah. I guess that's as good as anything. I'd hate to see him named Cassius. Well, now's as good a time as any to make them wills, Bud. We oughta have a couple of witnesses, but we can act for each other, and I guess it'll pass. You lay the kid down, and we'll write 'em and have it done with and off our minds. I dunno—I've got a couple of lots in Phoenix I'll leave to the girl. By rights she should have 'em. Lovins, here, 'll have my share in all mining claims; these two I'll name 'specially, because I expect them to develop into paying mines; the Blind Lodge, anyway."
A twinge of jealousy seized Bud. Cash was going ahead a little too confidently in his plans for the kid. He did not want to hurt old Cash's feelings, and of course he needed Cash's assistance if he kept Lovin Child for his own. But Cash needn't think he was going to claim the kid himself.
"All right—put it that way. Only, when you're writing it down, you make it read 'child of Bud Moore' or something like that. You can will him the moon, if you want, and you can have your name sandwiched in between his and mine. But get this, and get it right. He's mine, and if we ever split up, the kid goes with me. I'll tell the world right now that this kid belongs to me, and where I go he goes. You got that?"
"You don't have to beller at the top of your voice, do yuh?" snapped Cash, prying the cork out of the ink bottle with his jackknife. "Here's another pen point. Tie it onto a stick or something and git to work before you git to putting it off."
Leaning over the table facing each other, they wrote steadily for a few minutes. Then Bud began to flag, and finally he stopped and crumpled the sheet of tablet paper into a ball. Cash looked up, lifted his eyebrows irritatedly, and went on with his composition.
Bud sat nibbling the end of his makeshift penholder. The obstacle that had loomed in Cash's way and had constrained him to reveal the closed pages of his life, loomed large in Bud's way also. Lovin Child was a near and a very dear factor in his life—but when it came to sitting down calmly and setting his affairs in order for those who might be left behind, Lovin Child was not the only person he must think of. What of his own man-child? What of Marie?
He looked across at Cash writing steadily in his precise way, duly bequeathing his worldly goods to Lovin; owning, too, his responsibilities in another direction, but still making Lovin Child his chief heir so far as he knew. On the spur of the moment Bud had thought to do the same thing. But could he do it?
He seemed to see his own baby standing wistfully aloof, pushed out of his life that this baby he had no right to keep might have all of his affections, all of his poor estate. And Marie, whose face was always in the back of his memory, a tearful, accusing vision that would not let him be—he saw Marie working in some office, earning the money to feed and clothe their child. And Lovin Child romping up and down the cabin, cuddled and scolded and cared for as best an awkward man may care for a baby—a small, innocent usurper.
Bud dropped his face in his palms and tried to think the thing out coldly, clearly, as Cash had stated his own case. Cash did not know where his own child was, and he did not seem to care greatly. He was glad to salve his conscience with a small bequest, keeping the bulk—if so tenuous a thing as Cash's fortune may be said to have bulk—for this baby they two were hiding away from its lawful parents. Cash could do it; why couldn't be? He raised his head and looked over at Lovin Child, asleep in his new and rumpled little finery. Why did his own baby come between them now, and withhold his hand from doing the same?
Cash finished, glanced curiously across at Bud, looked down at what he had written, and slid the sheet of paper across.
"You sign it, and then if you don't know just how to word yours, you can use this for a pattern. I've read law books enough to know this will get by, all right. It's plain, and it tells what I want, and that's sufficient to hold in court."
Bud read it over apathetically, signed his name as witness, and pushed the paper back.
"That's all right for you," he said heavily. "Your kid is grown up now, and besides, you've got other property to give her. But—it's different with me. I want this baby, and I can't do without him. But I can't give him my share in the claims, Cash. I—there's others that's got to be thought of first."
Next: Lovin Child Strikes It Rich
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