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Cabin Fever By B. M. Bower Characters: 12944

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

To begin with, Lovin Child got hold of Cash's tobacco can and was feeding it by small handfuls to the flames, when Bud caught him. He yelled when Bud took it away, and bumped his head on the floor and yelled again, and spatted his hands together and yelled, and threw himself on his back and kicked and yelled; while Bud towered over him and yelled expostulations and reprimands and cajolery that did not cajole.

Cash turned over with a groan, his two palms pressed against his splitting head, and hoarsely commanded the two to shut up that infernal noise. He was a sick man. He was a very sick man, and he had stood the limit.

"Shut up?" Bud shouted above the din of Lovin Child. "Ain't I trying to shut him up, for gosh sake? What d'yuh want me to do?-let him throw all the tobacco you got into the fire? Here, you young imp, quit that, before I spank you! Quick, now-we've had about enough outa you! You lay down there, Cash, and quit your croaking. You'll croak right, if you don't keep covered up. Hey, Boy! My jumpin' yellow-jackets, you'd drown a Klakon till you couldn't hear it ten feet! Cash, you old fool, you shut up, I tell yuh, or I'll come over there and shut you up! I'll tell the world-Boy! Good glory! shut up-p!"

Cash was a sick man, but he had not lost all his resourcefulness. He had stopped Lovin Child once, and thereby he had learned a little of the infantile mind. He had a coyote skin on the foot of his bed, and he raised himself up and reached for it as one reaches for a fire extinguisher. Like a fire extinguisher he aimed it, straight in the middle of the uproar.

Lovin Child, thumping head and heels regularly on the floor and punctuating the thumps with screeches, was extinguished-suddenly, completely silenced by the muffling fur that fell from the sky, so far as he knew. The skin covered him completely. Not a sound came from under it. The stillness was so absolute that Bud was scared, and so was Cash, a little. It was as though Lovin Child, of a demon one instant, was in the next instant snuffed out of existence.

"What yuh done?" Bud ejaculated, rolling wild eyes at Cash. "You-"

The coyote skin rattled a little. A fluff of yellow, a spark of blue, and "Pik-k?" chirped Lovin Child from under the edge, and ducked back again out of sight.

Bud sat down weakly on a box and shook his head slowly from one side to the other. "You've got me going south," he made solemn confession to the wobbling skin-or to what it concealed. "I throw up my hands, I'll tell the world fair." He got up and went over and sat down on his bunk, and rested his hands on his knees, and considered the problem of Lovin Child.

"Here I've got wood to cut and water to bring and grub to cook, and I can't do none of them because I've got to ride herd on you every minute. You've got my goat, kid, and that's the truth. You sure have. Yes, 'Pik-k,' doggone yuh-after me going crazy with yuh, just about, and thinking you're about to blow your radiator cap plumb up through the roof! I'll tell yuh right here and now, this storm has got to let up pretty quick so I can pack you outa here, or else I've got to pen you up somehow, so I can do something besides watch you. Look at the way you scattered them beans, over there by the cupboard! By rights I oughta stand over yuh and make yuh pick every one of 'em up! and who was it drug all the ashes outa the stove, I'd like to know?"

The coyote skin lifted a little and moved off toward the fireplace, growling "Ooo-ooo-ooo!" like a bear-almost. Bud rescued the bear a scant two feet from the flames, and carried fur, baby and all, to the bunk. "My good lord, what's a fellow going to do with yuh?" he groaned in desperation. "Burn yourself up, you would! I can see now why folks keep their kids corralled in high chairs and gocarts all the time. They got to, or they wouldn't have no kids."

Bud certainly was learning a few things that he had come near to skipping altogether in his curriculum of life. Speaking of high chairs, whereof he had thought little enough in his active life, set him seriously to considering ways and means. Weinstock-Lubin had high chairs listed in their catalogue. Very nice high chairs, for one of which Bud would have paid its weight in gold dust (if one may believe his word) if it could have been set down in that cabin at that particular moment. He studied the small cuts of the chairs, holding Lovin Child off the page by main strength the while. Wishing one out of the catalogue and into the room being impracticable, he went after the essential features, thinking to make one that would answer the purpose.

Accustomed as he was to exercising his inventive faculty in overcoming certain obstacles raised by the wilderness in the path of comfort, Bud went to work with what tools he had, and with the material closest to his hand. Crude tools they were, and crude materials-like using a Stilson wrench to adjust a carburetor, he told Lovin Child who tagged him up and down the cabin. An axe, a big jack-knife, a hammer and some nails left over from building their sluice boxes, these were the tools. He took the axe first, and having tied Lovin Child to the leg of his bunk for safety's sake, he went out and cut down four young oaks behind the cabin, lopped off the branches and brought them in for chair legs. He emptied a dynamite box of odds and ends, scrubbed it out and left it to dry while he mounted the four legs, with braces of the green oak and a skeleton frame on top. Then he knocked one end out of the box, padded the edges of the box with burlap, and set Lovin Child in his new high chair.

He was tempted to call Cash's attention to his handiwork, but Cash was too sick to be disturbed, even if the atmosphere between them had been clear enough for easy converse. So he stifled the impulse and addressed himself to Lovin Child, which did just as well.

Things went better after that. Bud could tie the baby in the chair, give him a tin cup and a spoon and a bacon rind, and go out to the woodpile feeling reasonably certain that the house would not be set afire during his absence. He could cook a meal in peace, without fear of stepping on the baby. And Cash could lie as close as he liked to the edge of the bed without running the risk of having his eyes jabbed with Lovin Child's finger, or something slapped unexpectedly in his face.

He needed protection from slight discomforts while he lay there eaten with fever,

hovering so close to pneumonia that Bud believed he really had it and watched over him nights as well as daytimes. The care he gave Cash was not, perhaps, such as the medical profession would have endorsed, but it was faithful and it made for comfort and so aided Nature more than it hindered.

Fair weather came, and days of melting snow. But they served only to increase Bud's activities at the woodpile and in hunting small game close by, while Lovin Child took his nap and Cash was drowsing. Sometimes he would bundle the baby in an extra sweater and take him outside and let him wallow in the snow while Bud cut wood and piled it on the sheltered side of the cabin wall, a reserve supply to draw on in an emergency.

It may have been the wet snow-more likely it was the cabin air filled with germs of cold. Whatever it was, Lovin Child caught cold and coughed croupy all one night, and fretted and would not sleep. Bud anointed him as he had anointed Cash, and rocked him in front of the fire, and met the morning hollow-eyed and haggard. A great fear tore at his heart. Cash read it in his eyes, in the tones of his voice when he crooned soothing fragments of old range songs to the baby, and at daylight Cash managed to dress himself and help; though what assistance he could possibly give was not all clear to him, until he saw Bud's glance rove anxiously toward the cook-stove.

"Hand the kid over here," Cash said huskily. "I can hold him while you get yourself some breakfast."

Bud looked at him stupidly, hesitated, looked down at the flushed little face, and carefully laid him in Cash's outstretched arms. He got up stiffly-he had been sitting there a long time, while the baby slept uneasily-and went on his tiptoes to make a fire in the stove.

He did not wonder at Cash's sudden interest, his abrupt change from moody aloofness to his old partnership in trouble as well as in good fortune. He knew that Cash was not fit for the task, however, and he hurried the coffee to the boiling point that he might the sooner send Cash back to bed. He gulped down a cup of coffee scalding hot, ate a few mouthfuls of bacon and bread, and brought a cup back to Cash.

"What d'yuh think about him?" he whispered, setting the coffee down on a box so that he could take Lovin Child. "Pretty sick kid, don't yuh think?"

"It's the same cold I got," Cash breathed huskily. "Swallows like it's his throat, mostly. What you doing for him?"

"Bacon grease and turpentine," Bud answered him despondently. "I'll have to commence on something else, though-turpentine's played out I used it most all up on you."

"Coal oil's good. And fry up a mess of onions and make a poultice." He put up a shaking hand before his mouth and coughed behind it, stifling the sound all he could.

Lovin Child threw up his hands and whimpered, and Bud went over to him anxiously. "His little hands are awful hot," he muttered. "He's been that way all night."

Cash did not answer. There did not seem anything to say that would do any good. He drank his coffee and eyed the two, lifting his eyebrows now and then at some new thought.

"Looks like you, Bud," he croaked suddenly. "Eyes, expression, mouth-you could pass him off as your own kid, if you wanted to."

"I might, at that," Bud whispered absently. "I've been seeing you in him, though, all along. He lifts his eyebrows same way you do."

"Ain't like me," Cash denied weakly, studying Lovin Child. "Give him here again, and you go fry them onions. I would-if I had the strength to get around."

"Well, you ain't got the strength. You go back to bed, and I'll lay him in with yuh. I guess he'll lay quiet. He likes to be cuddled up close."

In this way was the feud forgotten. Save for the strange habits imposed by sickness and the care of a baby, they dropped back into their old routine, their old relationship. They walked over the dead line heedlessly, forgetting why it came to be there. Cabin fever no longer tormented them with its magnifying of little things. They had no time or thought for trifles; a bigger matter than their own petty prejudices concerned them. They were fighting side by side, with the Old Man of the Scythe-the Old Man who spares not.

Lovin Child was pulling farther and farther away from them. They knew it, they felt it in his hot little hands, they read it in his fever-bright eyes. But never once did they admit it, even to themselves. They dared not weaken their efforts with any admissions of a possible defeat. They just watched, and fought the fever as best they could, and waited, and kept hope alive with fresh efforts.

Cash was tottery weak from his own illness, and he could not speak above a whisper. Yet he directed, and helped soothe the baby with baths and slow strokings of his hot forehead, and watched him while Bud did the work, and worried because he could not do more.

They did not know when Lovin Child took a turn for the better, except that they realized the fever was broken. But his listlessness, the unnatural drooping of his whole body, scared them worse than before. Night and day one or the other watched over him, trying to anticipate every need, every vagrant whim. When he began to grow exacting, they were still worried, though they were too fagged to abase themselves before him as much as they would have liked.

Then Bud was seized with an attack of the grippe before Lovin Child had passed the stage of wanting to be held every waking minute. Which burdened Cash with extra duties long before he was fit.

Christmas came, and they did not know it until the day was half gone, when Cash happened to remember. He went out then and groped in the snow and found a little spruce, hacked it off close to the drift and brought it in, all loaded with frozen snow, to dry before the fire. The kid, he declared, should have a Christmas tree, anyway. He tied a candle to the top, and a rabbit skin to the bottom, and prunes to the tip of the branches, and tried to rouse a little enthusiasm in Lovin Child. But Lovin Child was not interested in the makeshift. He was crying because Bud had told him to keep out of the ashes, and he would not look.

So Cash untied the candle and the fur and the prunes, threw them across the room, and peevishly stuck the tree in the fireplace.

"Remember what you said about the Fourth of July down in Arizona, Bud?" he asked glumly. "Well, this is the same kind of Christmas." Bud merely grunted.

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