New Year came and passed and won nothing in the way of celebration from th_hree in Nelson's cabin. Bud's bones ached, his head ached, the flesh on hi_ody ached. He could take no comfort anywhere, under any circumstances. H_raved clean white beds and soft-footed attendance and soothing silence an_ool drinks—and he could have none of those things. His bedclothes were heav_pon his aching limbs; he had to wait upon his own wants; the fretful cryin_f Lovin Child or the racking cough of Cash was always in his ears, and as fo_ool drinks, there was ice water in plenty, to be sure, but nothing else. Fai_eather came, and storms, and cold: more storms and cold than fair weather.
Neither man ever mentioned taking Lovin Child to Alpine. At first, because i_as 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 time_hen Bud spoke darkly of spankings—which did not materialize. But though the_id not mention it, they knew that Lovin Child was something more; somethin_ndearing, something humanizing, something they needed to keep them immun_rom cabin fever.
Some time in February it was that Cash fashioned a crude pair of snowshoes an_ent to town, returning the next day. He came home loaded with little luxurie_or Lovin Child, and with the simpler medicines for other emergencies whic_hey might have to meet, but he did not bring any word of seeking parents. Th_earest he came to mentioning the subject was after supper, when the baby wa_sleep and Bud trying to cut a small pair of overalls from a large piece o_lue duck that Cash had brought. The shears were dull, and Lovin Child'_ittle rompers were so patched and shapeless that they were not much of _uide, so Bud was swearing softly while he worked.
"I didn't hear a word said about that kid being lost," Cash volunteered, afte_e had smoked and watched Bud awhile. "Couldn't have been any one aroun_lpine, 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 adde_efiantly, with a quick glance at Cash, "Far as I'm concerned, I'm willing t_et 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 w_een feeding him too heavy on bacon rinds, Bud. They say too much of tha_inda 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 wa_uckin' away on it, I don't know how long. Never feazed him, either. If he ca_tand 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 bi_nough 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, i_ou want to right bad."
"Who? Me? I ain't got enough now to keep the wind out," Cash protested. "Lemm_ell yuh something, Bud. If you cut more saving, you'd have enough cloth ther_or 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 fallin_ll over himself."
"Well, good glory! Who's making these pants? Me, or you?" Bud exploded. "I_ou think you can do any better job than what I'm doing, go get yourself som_loth and fly at it! Don't think you can come hornin' in on my job, 'caus_'ll tell the world right out loud, you can't."
"Yeah—that's right! Go to bellerin' around like a bull buffalo, and wake th_id up! I don't give a cuss how you make'm. Go ahead and have the seat of hi_ants hangin' down below his knees if you want to!" Cash got up and move_uffily 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 jo_'m doing." Bud was jabbing a needle eye toward the end of a thread too coars_or it, and it did not improve his temper to have the thread refuse to pas_hrough the eye.
Neither did it please him to find, when all the seams were sewn, that th_ittle 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 bolte_rom the cabin with his hand over his mouth.
When he came back an hour or so later, Lovin Child was wearing his ragge_ompers, and Bud was bent over a Weinstock-Lubin mail-order catalogue. He ha_ sheet of paper half filled with items, and was licking his pencil an_ooking for more. He looked up and grinned a little, and asked Cash when h_as 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," Cas_inted 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 snowshoe_ash had contrived, and made the fifteen-mile trip to Alpine and back befor_ark. He brought candy for Lovin Child, tended that young gentleman through _iege of indigestion because of the indulgence, and waited impatiently unti_e was fairly certain that the wardrobe he had ordered had arrived at th_ost-office. When he had counted off the two days required for a round trip t_acramento, 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 bundl_f clothes for Lovin Child; enough to last the winter through, and some t_pare; 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. Bu_here were little really truly overalls, in which Lovin Child promptl_eveloped a strut that delighted the men and earned him the title of Ol_rospector. And there were little shirts and stockings and nightgowns and _air of shoes, and a toy or two that failed to interest him at all, after th_irst inspection.
It began to look as though Bud had deliberately resolved upon carrying _uilty conscience all the rest of his life. He had made absolutely no effor_o trace the parents of Lovin Child when he was in town. On the contrary h_ad avoided all casual conversation, for fear some one might mention the fac_hat a child had been lost. He had been careful not to buy anything in th_own that would lead one to suspect that he had a child concealed upon hi_remises, and he had even furnished what he called an alibi when he bought th_andy, professing to own an inordinately sweet tooth.
Cash cast his eyes over the stock of baby clothes which Bud gleefull_nwrapped 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 abou_ave 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 interes_n both claims. I guess that'll feed him—if they pan out anything," h_etorted. "Come here, Boy, and let's try this suit on. Looks pretty small t_e—marked three year, but I reckon they don't grow 'em as husky as you, bac_here they make all these clothes."
"Yeah. But you ought to put it in writing, Bud. S'pose anything happened to u_oth—and it might. Mining's always got its risky side, even cutting ou_ickness, which we've had a big sample of right this winter. Well, the ki_ughta have some security in case anything did happen. Now—"
Bud looked thoughtfully down at the fuzzy yellow head that did not come muc_bove his knee.
"Well, how yuh going to do anything like that without giving it away tha_e'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 awa_rom 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 th_dea, 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, bu_hen 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 tha_quaw as quick as you did? I've humored you along, Bud, and let you hog hi_ights, 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 muc_he kid'll miss your share, Cash."
"Yeah. All the more reason why he'll need it I don't see how you're going t_top 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 _as in town. And I ain't a doubt in the world but what his folks would be gla_nough—"
"Forget that stuff!" Bud's tone was so sharp that Lovin Child turned clea_round to look up curiously into his face. "You know why you never reporte_im, doggone yuh! You couldn't give him up no easier than I could. And I'l_ell the world to its face that if anybody gets this kid now they've prett_ear got to fight for him. It ain't right, and it ain't honest. It's stealin_o keep him, and I never stole a brass tack in my life before. But he's min_s long as I live and can hang on to him. And that's where I stand. I ain'_idin' 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 sh_tole him. I'm sorry for his folks, supposing he's got any. But I ain't sorr_nough for 'em to give him up if I can help it. I hope they've got more, and _ope 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 … " Bu_id not finish that sentence, except by picking Lovin Child up in his arms an_queezing him as hard as he dared. He laid his face down for a minute on Lovi_hild'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 huskines_n his voice, and pulled a tangle playfully. Then his eyes swung roun_efiantly to Cash. "It's stealing to keep him, but I can't help it. I'd rathe_ie right here in my tracks than give up this little ole kid. And you can tak_hat as it lays, because I mean it."
Cash sat quiet for a minute or two, staring down at the floor. "Yeah. I gues_here's two of us in that fix," he observed in his dry way, lifting hi_yebrows while he studied a broken place in the side of his overshoe. "All th_ore reason why we should protect the kid, ain't it? My idea is that we ough_o both of us make our wills right here and now. Each of us to name the othe_or 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 t_wn." He stopped abruptly, his jaw sagging a little at some unpleasan_hought.
"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 he_or 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. _arried the woman I hired to take care of her and the house— like a fool. Whe_e parted, she took the kid with her. She did think a lot of her, I'll sa_hat much for her, and that's all I can say in her favor. I drifted around an_ost track of 'em. Old woman, she married again, and I heard that didn't pa_ut, neither. Anyway, she kept the girl, and gave her the care and schoolin_hat 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 woma_ets a finger in the pie, it'll be busted, all right. I can write her down fo_ hundred dollars perviding she don't contest. That'll fix it. And the res_oes 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 h_ooked 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 sai_himsically. "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 _hould be, there's no law against straightening up. Markham Moore goes as i_ays— 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 whol_atter 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 w_alled!"
"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 go_ome say in the matter, and if he's satisfied with Lovin, we oughta be. Lovi_arkam 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 _ouple 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 ou_inds. 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 minin_laims; these two I'll name 'specially, because I expect them to develop int_aying mines; the Blind Lodge, anyway."
A twinge of jealousy seized Bud. Cash was going ahead a little too confidentl_n his plans for the kid. He did not want to hurt old Cash's feelings, and o_ourse he needed Cash's assistance if he kept Lovin Child for his own. Bu_ash 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 i_ead '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 ki_oes with me. I'll tell the world right now that this kid belongs to me, an_here 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 pe_oint. Tie it onto a stick or something and git to work before you git t_utting it off."
Leaning over the table facing each other, they wrote steadily for a fe_inutes. Then Bud began to flag, and finally he stopped and crumpled the shee_f 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 ha_oomed in Cash's way and had constrained him to reveal the closed pages of hi_ife, loomed large in Bud's way also. Lovin Child was a near and a very dea_actor in his life —but when it came to sitting down calmly and setting hi_ffairs in order for those who might be left behind, Lovin Child was not th_nly 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 bequeathin_is worldly goods to Lovin; owning, too, his responsibilities in anothe_irection, but still making Lovin Child his chief heir so far as he knew. O_he spur of the moment Bud had thought to do the same thing. But could he d_t?
He seemed to see his own baby standing wistfully aloof, pushed out of his lif_hat this baby he had no right to keep might have all of his affections, al_f his poor estate. And Marie, whose face was always in the back of hi_emory, a tearful, accusing vision that would not let him be—he saw Mari_orking in some office, earning the money to feed and clothe their child. An_ovin Child romping up and down the cabin, cuddled and scolded and cared fo_s 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 ow_hild was, and he did not seem to care greatly. He was glad to salve hi_onscience with a small bequest, keeping the bulk—if so tenuous a thing a_ash's fortune may be said to have bulk—for this baby they two were hidin_way from its lawful parents. Cash could do it; why couldn't be? He raised hi_ead and looked over at Lovin Child, asleep in his new and rumpled littl_inery. Why did his own baby come between them now, and withhold his hand fro_oing the same?
Cash finished, glanced curiously across at Bud, looked down at what he ha_ritten, and slid the sheet of paper across.
"You sign it, and then if you don't know just how to word yours, you can us_his for a pattern. I've read law books enough to know this will get by, al_ight. It's plain, and it tells what I want, and that's sufficient to hold i_ourt."
Bud read it over apathetically, signed his name as witness, and pushed th_aper back.
"That's all right for you," he said heavily. "Your kid is grown up now, an_esides, you've got other property to give her. But —it's different with me. _ant this baby, and I can't do without him. But I can't give him my share i_he claims, Cash. I —there's others that's got to be thought of first."