It happened that Cash was just returning to the cabin from the Blind Ledg_laim. He met Bud almost at the doorstep, just as Bud was fumbling with th_atch, trying to open the door without moving Lovin Child in his arms. Cas_ay or may not have been astonished. Certainly he did not betray by more tha_ne quick glance that he was interested in Bud's return or in the mysteriou_urden he bore. He stepped ahead of Bud and opened the door without a word, a_f he always did it just in that way, and went inside.
Bud followed him in silence, stepped across the black line to his own side o_he room and laid Lovin Child carefully down so as not to waken him. H_nbuttoned the coat he had wrapped around him, pulled off the concealing re_ap and stared down at the pale gold, silky hair and the adorable curve of th_oft cheek and the lips with the dimples tricked in at the corners; the lashe_ying like the delicate strokes of an artist's pencil under the closed eyes.
For at least five minutes he stood without moving, his whole face softene_nto a boyish wistfulness. By the stove Cash stood and stared from Bud to th_leeping baby, his bushy eyebrows lifted, his gray eyes a study of incredulou_ewilderment.
Then Bud drew a long breath and seemed about to move away from the bank, an_ash turned abruptly to the stove and lifted a rusty lid and peered into th_old firebox, frowning as though he was expecting to see fire and warmth wher_nly a sprinkle of warm ashes remained. Stubbornness held him mute an_utwardly indifferent. He whittled shavings and started a fire in the coo_tove, filled the teakettle and set it on to boil, got out the side of baco_nd cut three slices, and never once looked toward the bunk. Bud might hav_rought home a winged angel, or a rainbow, or a casket of jewels, and Cas_ould not have permitted himself to show any human interest.
But when Bud went teetering from the cabin on his toes to bring in some pin_ones they had saved for quick kindling, Cash craned his neck toward th_ittle bundle on the bunk. He saw a fat, warm little hand stir with some bab_ream. He listened and heard soft breathing that stopped just short of bein_n infantile snore. He made an errand to his own bunk and from there inspecte_he mystery at closer range. He saw a nose and a little, knobby chin and a bi_f pinkish forehead with the pale yellow of hair above. He leaned and cocke_is head to one aide to see more—but at that moment he heard Bud stamping of_he snow from his feet on the doorstep, and he took two long, noiseles_trides to the dish cupboard and was fumbling there with his back to the bun_hen Bud came tiptoeing in.
Bud started a fire in the fireplace and heaped the dry limbs high. Cash frie_is bacon, made his tea, and set the table for his midday meal. Bud waited fo_he baby to wake, looking at his watch every minute or two, and makin_requent cautious trips to the bunk, peeking and peering to see if the chil_as all right. It seemed unnatural that it should sleep so long in th_aytime. No telling what that squaw had done to it; she might have doped it o_omething. He thought the kid's face looked red, as if it had fever, and h_eached down and touched anxiously the hand that was uncovered. The hand wa_arm—too warm, in Bud's opinion. It would be just his luck if the kid go_ick, he'd have to pack it clear in to Alpine in his arms. Fifteen miles o_hat did not appeal to Bud, whose arms ached after the two-mile trip with tha_olid little body lying at ease in the cradle they made.
His back to that end of the room, Cash sat stiff-necked and stubbornl_peechless, and ate and drank as though he were alone in the cabin. Wheneve_ud's mind left Lovin Child long enough to think about it, he watched Cas_urtively for some sign of yielding, some softening of that grim grudge. I_eemed to him as though Cash was not human, or he would show some signs o_ife when a live baby was brought to camp and laid down right under his nose.
Cash finished and began washing his dishes, keeping his back turned toward Bu_nd Bud's new possession, and trying to make it appear that he did s_nconsciously. He did not fool Bud for a minute. Bud knew that Cash was nearl_ursting with curiosity, and he had occasional fleeting impulses to provok_ash to speech of some sort. Perhaps Cash knew what was in Bud's mind. At an_ate he left the cabin and went out and chopped wood for an hour, furiousl_aining chips into the snow.
When he went in with his arms piled full of cut wood, Bud had the baby sittin_n one corner of the table, and was feeding it bread and gravy as the neares_pproach to baby food he could think of. During occasional interludes in th_teady procession of bits of bread from the plate to the baby's mouth, Lovi_hild would suck a bacon rind which he held firmly grasped in a greasy littl_ist. Now and then Bud would reach into his hip pocket, pull out hi_andkerchief as a make-shift napkin, and would carefully wipe the border o_ravy from the baby's mouth, and stuff the handkerchief back into his pocke_gain.
Both seemed abominably happy and self-satisfied. Lovin Child kicked his heel_gainst the rough table frame and gurgled unintelligible conversation wheneve_e was able to articulate sounds. Bud replied with a rambling monologue tha_mplied a perfect understanding of Lovin Child's talk—and incidentally dole_ut information for Cash's benefit.
Cash cocked an eye at the two as he went by, threw the wood down on his sid_f the hearth, and began to replenish the fire. If he heard, he gave no sig_f understanding or interest.
"I'll bet that old squaw musta half starved yah," Bud addressed the baby whil_e spooned gravy out of a white enamel bowl on to the second slice of bread.
"You're putting away grub like a nigger at a barbecue. I'll tell the world _on't know what woulda happened if I hadn't run across yuh and made her han_uh over."
"Ja—ja—ja—jah!" said Lovin Child, nodding his head and regarding Bud with th_winkle in his eyes.
"And that's where you're dead right, Boy. I sure do wish you'd tell me you_ame; but I reckon that's too much to ask of a little geezer like you. Here.
Help yourself, kid—you ain't in no Injun camp now. You're with white folk_ow."
Cash sat down on the bench he had made for himself, and stared into the fire.
His whole attitude spelled abstraction; nevertheless he missed no little soun_ehind him.
He knew that Bud was talking largely for his benefit, and he knew that her_as the psychological time for breaking the spell of silence between them. Ye_e let the minutes slip past and would not yield. The quarrel had been o_ud's making in the first place. Let Bud do the yielding, make the first ste_oward amity.
But Bud had other things to occupy him just then. Having eaten all his smal_tomach would hold, Lovin Child wanted to get down and explore. Bud had othe_deas, but they did not seem to count for much with Lovin Child, who had a_nsistent way that was scarcely to be combated or ignored.
"But listen here, Boy!" Bud protested, after he had for the third tim_revented Lovin Child from backing off the table. "I was going to take of_hese dirty duds and wash some of the Injun smell off yuh. I'll tell a waitin_orld you need a bath, and your clothes washed."
"Ugh, ugh, ugh," persisted Lovin Child, and pointed to the floor.
So Bud sighed and made a virtue of defeat. "Oh, well, they say it's bad polic_o take a bath right after yuh eat. We'll let it ride awhile, but you sur_ave got to be scrubbed a plenty before you can crawl in with me, old-timer,"
he said, and set him down on the floor.
Lovin Child went immediately about the business that seemed most important. H_ot down on his hands and knees and gravely inspected the broad black line,
hopefully testing it with tongue and with fingers to see if it would yield hi_nything in the way of flavor or stickiness. It did not. It had been ther_ong enough to be thoroughly dry and tasteless. He got up, planted both fee_n it and teetered back and forth, chuckling up at Bud with his eyes squinted.
He teetered so enthusiastically that he sat down unexpectedly and with muc_mphasis. That put him between two impulses, and while they battled he stare_ound-eyed at Bud. But he decided not to cry, and straightway turned himsel_nto a growly bear and went down the line on all fours toward Cash, growling
"Ooooooo!" as fearsomely as his baby throat was capable of growling.
But Cash would not be scared. He refused absolutely to jump up and back off i_ild-eyed terror, crying out "Ooh! Here comes a bear!" the way Marie ha_lways done—the way every one had always done, when Lovin Child got down an_ame at them growling. Cash sat rigid with his face to the fire, and would no_ook.
Lovin Child crawled all around him and growled his terriblest. For som_nexplainable reason it did not work. Cash sat stiff as though he had turne_o some insensate metal. From where he sat watching—curious to see what Cas_ould do—Bud saw him flinch and stiffen as a man does under pain. And becaus_ud had a sore spot in his own heart, Bud felt a quick stab of understandin_nd sympathy. Cash Markham's past could not have been a blank; more likely i_eld too much of sorrow for the salve of speech to lighten its hurt. Ther_ight have been a child… . "Aw, come back here!" Bud commanded Lovin Chil_ruffly.
But Lovin Child was too busy. He had discovered in his circling of Cash, th_anny buckles on Cash's high overshoes. He was investigating them as he ha_nvestigated the line, with fingers and with pink tongue, like a puppy. Fro_he lowest buckle he went on to the top one, where Cash's khaki trousers wer_ucked inside with a deep fold on top. Lovin Child's small forefinger wen_liding up in the mysterious recesses of the fold until they reached the fla_urface of the knee. He looked up farther, studying Cash's set face, sittin_ack on his little heels while he did so. Cash tried to keep on staring int_he fire, but in spite of himself his eyes lowered to meet the upward look.
"Pik-k?" chirped Lovin Child, spreading his fingers over one eye and twinklin_p at Cash with the other.
Cash flinched again, wavered, swallowed twice, and got up so abruptly tha_ovin Child sat down again with a plunk. Cash muttered something in his throa_nd rushed out into the wind and the slow-falling tiny white flakes tha_resaged the storm.
Until the door slammed shut Lovin Child looked after him, scowling, his eyes _laze of resentment. He brought his palms together with a vicious slap, leane_ver, and bumped his forehead deliberately and painfully upon the flat roc_earth, and set up a howl that could have been heard for three city blocks.