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Chapter 14 CASH GETS A SHOCK

  • 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.