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Cabin Fever By B. M. Bower Characters: 12299

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

In Nelson Flat the lupines were like spilled bluing in great, acre-wide blots upon the meadow grass. Between cabin and creek bank a little plot had been spaded and raked smooth, and already the peas and lettuce and radishes were up and growing as if they knew how short would be the season, and meant to take advantage of every minute of the warm days. Here and there certain plants were lifting themselves all awry from where they had been pressed flat by two small feet that had strutted heedlessly down the rows.

The cabin yard was clean, and the two small windows were curtained with cheap, white scrim. All before the door and on the path to the creek small footprints were scattered thick. It was these that Marie pulled up her hired saddle horse to study in hot resentment.

"The big brute!" she gritted, and got off and went to the cabin door, walking straight-backed and every mental and physical fiber of her braced for the coming struggle. She even regretted not having a gun; rather, she wished that she was not more afraid of a gun than of any possible need of one. She felt, at that minute, as though she could shoot Bud Moore with no more compunction that she would feel in swatting a fly.

That the cabin was empty and unlocked only made her blood boil the hotter. She went in and looked around at the crude furnishings and the small personal belongings of those who lived there. She saw the table all set ready for the next meal, with the extremely rustic high-chair that had DYNAMITE painted boldly on the side of the box seat. Fastened to a nail at one side of the box was a belt, evidently kept there for the purpose of strapping a particularly wriggly young person into the chair. That smacked strongly of Lovin Child, sure enough. Marie remembered the various devices by which she had kept him in his go cart.

She went closer and inspected the belt indignantly. Just as she expected-it was Bud's belt; his old belt that she bought for him just after they were married. She supposed that box beside the queer high chair was where he would sit at table and stuff her baby with all kinds of things he shouldn't eat. Where was her baby? A fresh spasm of longing for Lovin Child drove her from the cabin. Find him she would, and that no matter how cunningly Bud had hidden him away.

On a rope stretched between a young cottonwood tree in full leaf and a scaly, red-barked cedar, clothes that had been washed were flapping lazily in the little breeze. Marie stopped and looked at them. A man's shirt and drawers, two towels gray for want of bluing, a little shirt and a nightgown and pair of stockings-and, directly in front of Marie, a small pair of blue overalls trimmed with red bands, the blue showing white fiber where the color had been scrubbed out of the cloth, the two knees flaunting patches sewed with long irregular stitches such as a man would take.

Bud and Lovin Child. As in the cabin, so here she felt the individuality in their belongings. Last night she had been tormented with the fear that there might be a wife as well as a baby boy in Bud's household. Even the evidence of the mail order, that held nothing for a woman and that was written by Bud's hand, could scarcely reassure her. Now she knew beyond all doubt that she had no woman to reckon with, and the knowledge brought relief of a sort.

She went up and touched the little overalls wistfully, laid her cheek against one little patch, ducked under the line, and followed a crooked little path that led up the creek. She forgot all about her horse, which looked after her as long as she was in sight, and then turned and trotted back the way it had come, wondering, no doubt, at the foolish faith this rider had in him.

The path led up along the side of the flat, through tall grass and all the brilliant blossoms of a mountain meadow in June. Great, graceful mountain lilies nodded from little shady tangles in the bushes. Harebells and lupines, wild-pea vines and columbines, tiny, gnome-faced pansies, violets, and the daintier flowering grasses lined the way with odorous loveliness. Birds called happily from the tree tops. Away up next the clouds an eagle sailed serene, alone, a tiny boat breasting the currents of the sky ocean.

Marie's rage cooled a little on that walk. It was so beautiful for Lovin Child, up here in this little valley among the snow-topped mountains; so sheltered. Yesterday's grind in that beehive of a department store seemed more remote than South Africa. Unconsciously her first nervous pace slackened. She found herself taking long breaths of this clean air, sweetened with the scent of growing things. Why couldn't the world be happy, since it was so beautiful? It made her think of those three weeks in Big Basin, and the never-forgettable wonder of their love-hers and Bud's.

She was crying with the pain and the beauty of it when she heard the first high, chirpy notes of a baby-her baby. Lovin Child was picketed to a young cedar near the mouth of the Blind ledge tunnel, and he was throwing rocks at a chipmunk that kept coming toward him in little rushes, hoping with each rush to get a crumb of the bread and butter that Lovin Child had flung down. Lovin Child was squealing and jabbering, with now and then a real word that he had learned from Bud and Cash. Not particularly nice words-"Doggone" was one and several times he called the chipmunk a "sunny-gun." And of course he frequently announced that he would "Tell a worl'" something. His head was bare and shone in the sun like the gold for which Cash and his Daddy Bud were digging, away back in the dark hole. He had on a pair of faded overalls trimmed with red, mates of the ones on the rope line, and he threw rocks impartially with first his right hand and then his left, and sometimes with both at once; which did not greatly distress the chipmunk, who knew Lovin Child of old and had learned how wide the rocks always went of their mark.

Upon this scene Marie came, still crying. She had always been an impulsive young woman, and now she forgot that Lovin Child had not seen her for six months or so, and that baby memori

es are short. She rushed in and snatched him off the ground and kissed him and squeezed him and cried aloud upon her God and her baby, and buried her wet face against his fat little neck.

Cash, trundling a wheelbarrow of ore out to the tunnel's mouth, heard a howl and broke into a run with his load, bursting out into the sunlight with a clatter and upsetting the barrow ten feet short of the regular dumping place. Marie was frantically trying to untie the rope, and was having trouble because Lovin Child was in one of his worst kicking-and-squirming tantrums. Cash rushed in and snatched the child from her.

"Here! What you doing to that kid? You're scaring him to death-and you've got no right!"

"I have got a right! I have too got a right!" Marie was clawing like a wildcat at Cash's grimy hands. "He's my baby! He's mine! You ought to be hung for stealing him away from me. Let go-he's mine, I tell you. Lovin! Lovin Child! Don't you know Marie? Marie's sweet, pitty man, he is! Come to Marie, boy baby!"

"Tell a worl' no, no, no!" yelled Lovin Child, clinging to Cash.

"Aw-come to Marie, sweetheart! Marie's own lovin' little man baby! You let him go, or I'll-I'll kill you. You big brute!"

Cash let go, but it was not because she commanded. He let go and stared hard at Marie, lifting his eyebrows comically as he stepped back, his hand going unconsciously up to smooth his beard.

"Marie?" he repeated stupidly. "Marie?" He reached out and laid a hand compellingly on her shoulder. "Ain't your name Marie Markham, young lady? Don't you know your own dad?"

Marie lifted her face from kissing Lovin Child very much against his will, and stared round-eyed at Cash. She did not say anything.

"You're my Marie, all right You ain't changed so much I can't recognize yuh. I should think you'd remember your own father-but I guess maybe the beard kinda changes my looks. Is this true, that this kid belongs to you?"

Marie gasped. "Why-father? Why-why, father!" She leaned herself and Lovin Child into his arms. "Why, I can't believe it! Why-" She closed her eyes and shivered, going suddenly weak, and relaxed in his arms. "I-I-I can't-"

Cash slid Lovin Child to the ground, where that young gentleman picked himself up indignantly and ran as far as his picket rope would let him, whereupon he turned and screamed "Sunny-gun! sunny-gun!" at the two like an enraged bluejay. Cash did not pay any attention to him. He was busy seeking out a soft, shady spot that was free of rocks, where he might lay Marie down. He leaned over her and fanned her violently with his hat, his lips and his eyebrows working with the complexity of his emotions. Then suddenly he turned and ducked into the tunnel, after Bud.

Bud heard him coming and turned from his work. Cash was not trundling the empty barrow, which in itself was proof enough that something had happened, even if Cash had not been running. Bud dropped his pick and started on a run to meet him.

"What's wrong? Is the kid-?"

"Kid's all right" Cash stopped abruptly, blocking Bud's way. "It's something else. Bud, his mother's come after him. She's out there now-laid out in a faint."

"Lemme go." Bud's voice had a grimness in it that spelled trouble for the lady laid out in a faint "She can be his mother a thousand times-"

"Yeah. Hold on a minute, Bud. You ain't going out there and raise no hell with that poor girl. Lovins belongs to her, and she's going to have him.... Now, just keep your shirt on a second. I've got something more to say. He's her kid, and she wants him back, and she's going to have him back. If you git him away from her, it'll be over my carcass. Now, now, hold on! H-o-l-d on! You're goin' up against Cash Markham now, remember! That girl is my girl! My girl that I ain't seen since she was a kid in short dresses. It's her father you've got to deal with now-her father and the kid's grandfather. You get that? You be reasonable, Bud, and there won't be no trouble at all. But my girl ain't goin' to be robbed of her baby-not whilst I'm around. You get that settled in your mind before you go out there, or-you don't go out whilst I'm here to stop you."

"You go to hell," Bud stated evenly, and thrust Cash aside with one sweep of his arm, and went down the tunnel. Cash, his eyebrows lifted with worry and alarm, was at his heels all the way.

"Now, Bud, be calm!" he adjured as he ran. "Don't go and make a dang fool of yourself! She's my girl, remember. You want to hold on to yourself, Bud, and be reasonable. Don't go and let your temper-"

"Shut your damn mouth!" Bud commanded him savagely, and went on running.

At the tunnel mouth he stopped and blinked, blinded for a moment by the strong sunlight in his face. Cash stumbled and lost ten seconds or so, picking himself up. Behind him Bud heard Cash panting, "Now, Bud, don't go and make-a dang fool-" Bud snorted contemptuously and leaped the dirt pile, landing close to Marie, who was just then raising herself dizzily to an elbow.

"Now, Bud," Cash called tardily when he had caught up with him, "you leave that girl alone! Don't you lay a finger on her! That's my-"

Bud lifted his lips away from Marie's and spoke over his shoulder, his arms tightening in their hold upon Marie's trembling, yielding body.

"Shut up, Cash. She's my wife-now where do you get off at?"

(That, o course, lacked a little of being the exact truth. Lacked a few hours, in fact, because they did not reach Alpine and the railroad until that afternoon, and were not remarried until seven o'clock that evening.)

"No, no, no!" cried Lovin Child from a safe distance. "Tell a worl' no, no!"

"I'll tell the world yes, yes!" Bud retorted ecstatically, lifting his face again. "Come here, you little scallywag, and love your mamma Marie. Cash, you old donkey, don't you get it yet? We've got 'em both for keeps, you and me."

"Yeah-I get it, all right." Cash came and stood awkwardly over them. "I get it-found my girl one minute, and lost her again the next! But I'll tell yeh one thing, Bud Moore. The kid's' goin' to call me grampaw, er I'll know the reason why!"

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