Lovin Child Wriggles In
From: Cabin Fever
On the fourth day Bud's conscience pricked him into making a sort of apology to Cash, under the guise of speaking to Lovin Child, for still keeping the baby in camp.
"I've got a blame good notion to pack you to town to-day, Boy, and try and find out where you belong," he said, while he was feeding him oatmeal mush with sugar and canned milk. "It's pretty cold, though..." He cast a slant-eyed glance at Cash, dourly frying his own hotcakes. "We'll see what it looks like after a while. I sure have got to hunt up your folks soon as I can. Ain't I, old-timer?"
That salved his conscience a little, and freed him of the uneasy conviction that Cash believed him a kidnapper. The weather did the rest. An hour after breakfast, just when Bud was downheartedly thinking he could not much longer put off starting without betraying how hard it was going to be for him to give up the baby, the wind shifted the clouds and herded them down to the Big Mountain and held them there until they began to sift snow down upon the burdened pines.
"Gee, it's going to storm again!" Bud blustered in. "It'll be snowing like all git-out in another hour. I'll tell a cruel world I wouldn't take a dog out such weather as this. Your folks may be worrying about yuh, Boy, but they ain't going to climb my carcass for packing yuh fifteen miles in a snow-storm and letting yuh freeze, maybe. I guess the cabin's big enough to hold yuh another day—what?"
Cash lifted his eyebrows and pinched in his lips under his beard. It did not seem to occur to Bud that one of them could stay in the cabin with the baby while the other carried to Alpine the news of the baby's whereabouts and its safety. Or if it did occur to Bud, he was careful not to consider it a feasible plan. Cash wondered if Bud thought he was pulling the wool over anybody's eyes. Bud did not want to give up that kid, and he was tickled to death because the storm gave him an excuse for keeping it. Cash was cynically amused at Bud's transparency. But the kid was none of his business, and he did not intend to make any suggestions that probably would not be taken anyway. Let Bud pretend he was anxious to give up the baby, if that made him feel any better about it.
That day went merrily to the music of Lovin Child's chuckling laugh and his unintelligible chatter. Bud made the discovery that "Boy" was trying to say Lovin Child when he wanted to be taken and rocked, and declared that he would tell the world the name fit, like a saddle on a duck's back. Lovin Child discovered Cash's pipe, and was caught sucking it before the fireplace and mimicking Cash's meditative pose with a comical exactness that made Bud roar. Even Cash was betrayed into speaking a whole sentence to Bud before he remembered his grudge. Taken altogether, it was a day of fruitful pleasure in spite of the storm outside.
That night the two men sat before the fire and watched the flames and listened to the wind roaring in the pines. On his side of the dead line Bud rocked his hard-muscled, big body back and forth, cradling Lovin Child asleep in his arms. In one tender palm he nested Lovin Child's little bare feet, like two fat, white mice that slept together after a day's scampering.
Bud was thinking, as he always thought nowadays, of Marie and his own boy; yearning, tender thoughts which his clumsy man's tongue would never attempt to speak. Before, he had thought of Marie alone, without the baby; but he had learned much, these last four days. He knew now how closely a baby can creep in and cling, how they can fill the days with joy. He knew how he would miss Lovin Child when the storm cleared and he must take him away. It did not seem right or just that he should give him into the keeping of strangers—and yet he must until the parents could have him back. The black depths of their grief to-night Bud could not bring himself to contemplate. Bad enough to forecast his own desolateness when Lovin Child was no longer romping up and down the dead line, looking where he might find some mischief to get into. Bad enough to know that the cabin would again be a place of silence and gloom and futile resentments over little things, with no happy little man-child to brighten it. He crept into his bunk that night and snuggled the baby up in his arms, a miserable man with no courage left in him for the future.
But the next day it was still storming, and colder than ever. No one would expect him to take a baby out in such weather. So Bud whistled and romped with Lovin Child, and would not worry about what must happen when the storm was past.
All day Cash brooded before the fire, bundled in his mackinaw and sweater. He did not even smoke, and though he seemed to feel the cold abnormally, he did not bring in any wood except in the morning, but let Bud keep the fireplace going with his own generous supply. He did not eat any dinner, and at supper time he went to bed with all the clothes he possessed piled on top of him. By all these signs, Bud knew that Cash had a bad cold.
Bud did not think much about it at first—being of the sturdy type that makes light of a cold. But when Cash began to cough with that hoarse, racking sound that tells the tale of laboring lungs, Bud began to feel guiltily that he ought to do something about it.
He hushed Lovin Child's romping, that night, and would not let him ride a bronk at bedtime. When he was asleep, Bud laid him down and went over to the supply cupboard, which he had been obliged to rearrange with everything except tin cans placed on shelves too high for a two-year-old to reach even when he stood on his tiptoes and grunted. He hunted for the small bottle of turpentine, found it and mixed some with melted bacon grease, and went over to Cash's bunk, hesitating before he crossed the dead line, but crossing nevertheless.
Cash seemed to be asleep, but his breathing sounded harsh and unnatural, and his hand, lying uncovered on the blanket, clenched and unclenched spasmodically. Bud watched him for a minute, holding the cup of grease and turpentine in his hand.
"Say," he began constrainedly, and waited. Cash muttered something and moved his hand irritatedly, without opening his eyes. Bud tried again.
"Say, you better swab your chest with this dope. Can't monkey with a cold, such weather as this."
Cash opened his eyes, gave the log wall a startled look, and swung his glance to Bud. "Yeah—I'm all right," he croaked, and proved his statement wrong by coughing violently.
Bud set down the cup on a box, laid hold of Cash by the shoulders and forced him on his back. With movements roughly gentle he opened Cash's clothing at the throat, exposed his hairy chest, and poured on grease until it ran in a tiny rivulets. He reached in and rubbed the grease vigorously with the palm of his hand, giving particular attention to the surface over the bronchial tubes. When he was satisfied that Cash's skin could absorb no more, he turned him unceremoniously on his face and repeated his ministrations upon Cash's shoulders. Then he rolled him back, buttoned his shirts for him, and tramped heavily back to the table.
"I don't mind seeing a man play the mule when he's well," he grumbled, "but he's got a right to call it a day when he gits down sick. I ain't going to be bothered burying no corpses, in weather like this. I'll tell the world I ain't!"
He went searching on all the shelves for something more that he could give Cash. He found a box of liver pills, a bottle of Jamaica ginger, and some iodine—not an encouraging array for a man fifteen miles of untrodden snow from the nearest human habitation. He took three of the liver pills—judging them by size rather than what might be their composition—and a cup of water to Cash and commanded him to sit up and swallow them. When this was accomplished, Bud felt easier as to his conscience, though he was still anxious over the possibilities in that cough.
Twice in the night he got up to put more wood on the fire and to stand beside Cash's bed and listen to his breathing. Pneumonia, the strong man's deadly foe, was what he feared. In his cow-punching days he had seen men die of it before a doctor could be brought from the far-away town. Had he been alone with Cash, he would have fought his way to town and brought help, but with Lovin Child to care for he could not take the trail.
At daylight Cash woke him by stumbling across the floor to the water bucket. Bud arose then and swore at him for a fool and sent him back to bed, and savagely greased him again with the bacon grease and turpentine. He was cheered a little when Cash cussed back, but he did not like the sound of his voice, for all that, and so threatened mildly to brain him if he got out of bed again without wrapping a blanket or something around him.
Thoroughly awakened by this little exchange of civilities, Bud started a fire in the stove and made coffee for Cash, who drank half a cup quite meekly. He still had that tearing cough, and his voice was no more than a croak; but he seemed no worse than he had been the night before. So on the whole Bud considered the case encouraging, and ate his breakfast an hour or so earlier than usual. Then he went out and chopped wood until he heard Lovin Child chirping inside the cabin like a bug-hunting meadow lark, when he had to hurry in before Lovin Child crawled off the bunk and got into some mischief.
For a man who was wintering in what is called enforced idleness in a snow-bound cabin in the mountains, Bud Moore did not find the next few days hanging heavily on his hands. Far from it.
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