After breakfast fixed up shack—shelves, benches, tools, etc. Cleaned guns. Bud dressed Daddy's back which is much better. Strong gold in test of ledge, I found below creek. Took more specimens to sample. Cora comes in with a little black colt newly born. Proud as a bull pup with two tails. Monte & Pete did not come in so we went by lantern light a mile or so down the wash & found them headed this way & snake them in to drink about 80 gallons of water apiece. Daddy tied up and howling like a demon all the while. Bud took a bath.
Bud got out and got breakfast again. Then started off on Pete to hunt trail that makes short cut 18 miles to Bend. Roofed the kitchen. Bud got back about 1:30, being gone 6 hours. Found trail & two good ledges. Cora & colt came for water. Other burros did not. Brought in specimens from ledge up creek that showed very rich gold in tests. Burros came in at 9:30. Bud got up and tied them up.
Bud gets breakfast. I took Sway & brought in load of wood. Bud went out and found a wash lined with good looking ledges. Hung up white rags on bushes to identify same. Found large ledge of good quartz showing fine in tests about one mile down wash. Bud dressed Daddy's back. Located a claim west of Thompson's. Burros did not come in except Cora & colt. Pete & Monte came separated.
Bud got breakfast & dressed Daddy's back. Very hot day. Stock came in about 2. Tied up Billy Maud & Cora. Bud has had headache. Monte & Pete did not come in. Bud went after them & found them 4 miles away where we killed the Gila monster. Sent 2 samples from big ledge to Tucson for assay. Daddy better.
Up 2.30. Bud left for Bend at 4. Walked down to flat but could not see stock. About 3 Cora & Colt came in for water & Sway & Ed from the south about 5. No Monte. Monte got in about midnight & went past kitchen to creek on run. Got up, found him very nervous & frightened & tied him up.
Bud got back 4 P.M. in gale of wind & sand. Burros did not come in for water. Very hot. Bud brought canned stuff. Rigged gallows for No. 2 shaft also block & tackle & pail for drinking water, also washed clothes. While drying went around in cap undershirt & shoes.
Burros came in during night for water. Hot as nether depths of infernal regions. Went up on hill a mile away. Seamed with veins similar to shaft No. 2 ore. Blew in two faces & got good looking ore seamed with a black incrustation, oxide of something, but what could not determine. Could find neither silver nor copper in it. Monte & Pete came in about 1 & tied them up. Very hot. Hottest day yet, even the breeze scorching. Test of ore showed best yet. One half of solution in tube turning to chloride of gold, 3 tests showing same. Burros except Ed & Cora do not come in days any more. Bud made a gate for kitchen to keep burros out.
The next morning it was that Cash cut the ball of his right thumb open on the sharp edge of a tomato can. He wanted the diary to go on as usual. He had promised, he said, to keep one for the widow who wanted a record of the way the work was carried on, and the progress made. Bud could not see that there had been much progress, except as a matter of miles. Put a speedometer on one of his legs, he told Cash, and he'd bet it would register more mileage chasing after them fool burros than his auto stage could show after a full season. As for working the widow's claim, it was not worth working, from all he could judge of it. And if it were full of gold as the United States treasury, the burros took up all their time so they couldn't do much. Between doggone stock drinking or not drinking and the darn fool diary that had to be kept, Bud opined that they needed an extra hand or two. Bud was peevish, these days. Gila Bend had exasperated him because it was not the town it called itself, but a huddle of adobe huts. He had come away in the sour mood of a thirsty man who finds an alkali spring sparkling deceptively under a rock. Furthermore, the nights had been hot and the mosquitoes a humming torment. And as a last affliction he was called upon to keep the diary going. He did it, faithfully enough but in a fashion of his own.
First he read back a few pages to get the hang of the thing. Then he shook down Cash's fountain pen, that dried quickly in that heat. Then he read another page as a model, and wrote:
Mosquitoes last night was worse than the heat and that was worse than Gila Bend's great white way. Hunted up the burros. Pete and Monte came in and drank. Monte had colic. We fed them and turned them loose but the blamed fools hung around all day and eat up some sour beans I throwed out. Cash was peeved and swore they couldn't have another grain of feed. But Monte come to the shack and watched Cash through a knothole the size of one eye till Cash opened up his heart and the bag. Cash cut his thumb opening tomatoes. The tomatoes wasn't hurt any.
Got breakfast. Bill and harem did not come to water. Cash done the regular hike after them. His thumb don't hurt him for hazing donkeys. Bill and harem come in after Cash left. They must of saw him go. Cash was out four hours and come in mad. Shot a hidrophobia skunk out by the creek. Nothing doing. Too hot.
The sun would blister a mud turtle so he'd holler. Cash put in most of day holding a parasol over his garden patch. Burros did not miss their daily drink. Night brings mosquitoes with their wings singed but their stingers O.K. They must hole up daytimes or they would fry.
Thought I know what heat was. I never did before. Cash took a bath. It was his first. Burros did not come to water. Cash and I tried to sleep on kitchen roof but the darned mosquitoes fed up on us and then played heavenly choir all night.
Cash got back from Bend. Thumb is better and he can have this job any time now. He hustled up a widow that made a couple of mosquito bags to go over our heads. No shape (bags, not widow) but help keep flies and mosquitoes from chewing on us all day and all night. Training for hades. I can stand the heat as well as the old boy with the pitch-fork. Ain't got used to brimstone yet, but I'd trade mosquitoes for sulphur smoke and give some boot. Worried about Cash. He took a bath today again, using water I had packed for mine. Heat must be getting him.
Cash opened up thumb again, trying to brain Pete with rock. Pete got halfway into kitchen and eat biggest part of a pie I made. Cash threw jagged rock, hit Pete in side of jaw. Cut big gash. Swelled now like a punkin. Cash and I tangled over same. I'm going to quit. I have had enough of this darn country. Creek's drying up, and mosquitoes have found way to crawl under bags. Cash wants me to stay till we find good claim, but Cash can go to thunder.
Then Cash's record goes on:
Bud very sick & out of head. Think it is heat, which is terrible. Talked all night about burros, gasoline, & camphor balls which he seemed wanting to buy in gunny sack. No sleep for either. Burros came in for water about daylight. Picketed Monte & Pete as may need doctor if Bud grows worse. Thumb nearly well.
June 27. Bud same, slept most of day. Gave liver pills & made gruel of cornmeal, best could do with present stores. Burros came at about 3 but could not drink owing to bees around water hold. Monte got stung and kicked over water cans & buckets I had salted for burros. Burros put for hills again. No way of driving off bees.
Burros came & drank in night. Cooler breeze, Bud some better & slept. Sway has badly swollen neck. May be rattler bite or perhaps bee. Bud wanted cigarettes but smoked last the day before he took sick. Gave him more liver pills & sponge off with water every hour. Best can do under circumstances. Have not prospected account Bud's sickness.
Very hot all day, breeze like blast from furnace. Burros refuse to leave flat. Bees better, as can't fly well in this wind. Bud worse. High fever & very restless & flighty. Imagines much trouble with automobile, talk very technical & can't make head or tail of it. Monte & Pete did not come in, left soon as turned loose. No feed for them here & figured Bud too sick to travel or stay alone so horses useless at present. Sponged frequently with coolest water can get, seems to give some relief as he is quieter afterwards.
Monte & Pete came in the night & hung around all day. Drove them away from vicinity of shack several times but they returned & moped in shade of house. Terrible hot, strong gusty wind. Bud sat up part of day, slept rest of time. Looks very thin and great hollows under eyes, but chief trouble seems to be, no cigarettes. Shade over radishes & lettice works all right. Watered copiously at daylight & again at dusk. Doing fine. Fixed fence which M & P. broke down while tramping around. Prospected west of ranche. Found enormous ledge of black quartz, looks like sulphur stem during volcanic era but may be iron. Strong gold & heavy precipitate in test, silver test poor but on filtering showed like white of egg in tube (unusual). Clearing iron out showed for gold the highest yet made, being more pronounced with Fenosulphate than $1500 rock have seen. Immense ledge of it & slightest estimate from test at least $10. Did not tell Bud as keeping for surprise when he is able to visit ledge. Very monotonous since Bud has been sick. Bud woke up & said Hell of a Fourth & turned over & went to sleep again with mosquito net over head to keep off flies. Burros came in after dark, all but Cora & Colt, which arrived about midnight. Daddy gone since yesterday morning leaving no trace.
Miserable hot night. Burros trickled in sometime during night. Bud better, managed to walk to big ledge after sundown. Suggests we call it the Burro Lode. His idea of wit, claims we have occupied camp all summer for sake of timing burros when they come to waterhole. Wish to call it Columbia mine for patriotic reasons having found it on Fourth. Will settle it soon so as to put up location. Put in 2 shots & pulpel samples for assay. Rigged windows on shack to keep out bees, nats & flies & mosquitoes. Bud objects because it keeps out air as well. Took them off. Sick folks must be humored. Hot, miserable and sleepless. Bud very restless.
Cool wind makes weather endurable, but bees terrible in kitchen & around water-hole. Flipped a dollar to settle name of big ledge. Bud won tails, Burro lode. Must cultivate my sense of humor so as to see the joke. Bud agrees to stay & help develop claim. Still very weak, puttered around house all day cleaning & baking bread & stewing fruit which brought bees by millions so we could not eat same till after dark when they subsided. Bud got stung twice in kitchen. Very peevish & full of cuss. Says positively must make trip to Bend & get cigarettes tomorrow or will blow up whole outfit. Has already blowed up same several times today with no damage. Burros came in about 5. Monte & Pete later, tied them up with grain. Pete has very bad eye. Bud will ride Monte if not too hot for trip. Still no sign of daddy, think must be dead or stolen though nobody to steal same in country.
Put in 2 shots on Burro Lode & got her down to required depth. Hot. Bud finds old location on widow's claim, upturns all previous calculation & information given me by her. Wrote letter explaining same, which Bud will mail. Bud left 4 P.M. should make Bend by midnight. Much better but still weak Burros came in late & hung around water hole. Put up monument at Burro Lode. Sent off samples to assay at Tucson. Killed rattler near shack, making 16 so far killed.
CHAPTER EIGHT. MANY BARREN MONTHS AND MILES
"Well, here come them darn burros, Cash. Cora's colt ain't with 'em though. Poor little devils—say, Cash, they look like hard sleddin', and that's a fact. I'll tell the world they've got about as much pep as a flat tire."
"Maybe we better grain 'em again." Cash looked up from studying the last assay report of the Burro Lode, and his look was not pleasant. "But it'll cost a good deal, in both time and money. The feed around here is played out."
"Well, when it comes to that—" Bud cast a glum glance at the paper Cash was holding.
"Yeah. Looks like everything's about played out. Promising ledge, too. Like some people, though. Most all its good points is right on the surface. Nothing to back it up."
"She's sure running light, all right. Now," Bud added sardonically, but with the whimsical quirk withal, "if it was like a carburetor, and you could give it a richer mixture—"
"Yeah. What do you make of it, Bud?"
"Well—aw, there comes that durn colt, bringing up the drag. Say Cash, that colt's just about all in. Cora's nothing but a bag of bones, too. They'll never winter—not on this range, they won't."
Cash got up and went to the doorway, looking out over Bud's shoulder at the spiritless donkeys trailing in to water. Beyond them the desert baked in its rim of hot, treeless hills. Above them the sky glared a brassy blue with never a could. Over a low ridge came Monte and Pete, walking with heads drooping. Their hip bones lifted above their ridged paunches, their backbones, peaked sharp above, their withers were lean and pinched looking. In August the desert herbage has lost what little succulence it ever possessed, and the gleanings are scarce worth the walking after.
"They're pretty thin," Cash observed speculatively, as though he was measuring them mentally for some particular need.
"We'd have to grain 'em heavy till we struck better feed. And pack light." Bud answered his thought.
"The question is, where shall we head for, Bud? Have you any particular idea?" Cash looked slightingly down at the assayer's report. "Such as she is, we've done all we can do to the Burro Lode, for a year at least," he said. "The assessment work is all done—or will be when we muck out after that last shot. The claim is filed—I don't know what more we can do right away. Do you?"
"Sure thing," grinned Bud. "We can get outa here and go some place where it's green."
"Yeah." Cash meditated, absently eyeing the burros. "Where it's green." He looked at the near hills, and at the desert, and at the dreary march of the starved animals. "It's a long way to green country," he said.
They looked at the burros.
"They're tough little devils," Bud observed hopefully. "We could take it easy, traveling when it's coolest. And by packing light, and graining the whole bunch—"
"Yeah. We can ease 'em through, I guess. It does seem as though it would be foolish to hang on here any longer." Carefully as he made his tests, Cash weighed the question of their going. "This last report kills any chance of interesting capital to the extent of developing the claim on a large enough scale to make it profitable. It's too long a haul to take the ore out, and it's too spotted to justify any great investment in machinery to handle it on the ground. And," he added with an undernote of fierceness, "it's a terrible place for man or beast to stay in, unless the object to be attained is great enough to justify enduring the hardships."
"You said a mouthful, Cash. Well, can you leave your seven radishes and three hunches of lettuce and pull out—say at daybreak?" Bud turned to him with some eagerness.
Cash grinned sourly. "When it's time to go, seven radishes can't stop me. No, nor a whole row of 'em—if there was a whole row."
"And you watered 'em copiously too," Bud murmured, with the corners of his mouth twitching. "Well, I guess we might as well tie up the livestock. I'm going to give 'em all a feed of rolled oats, Cash. We can get along without, and they've got to have something to put a little heart in 'em. There's a moon to-night—how about starting along about midnight? That would put us in the Bend early in the forenoon to-morrow."
"Suits me," said Cash. "Now I've made up my mind about going, I can't go too soon."
"You're on. Midnight sees us started." Bud went out with ropes to catch and tie up the burros and their two saddle horses. And as he went, for the first time in two months he whistled; a detail which Cash noted with a queer kind of smile.
Midnight and the moon riding high in the purple bowl of sky sprinkled thick with stars; with a little, warm wind stirring the parched weeds as they passed; with the burros shuffling single file along the dim trail which was the short cut through the hills to the Bend, Ed taking the lead, with the camp kitchen wabbling lumpily on his back, Cora bringing up the rear with her skinny colt trying its best to keep up, and with no pack at all; so they started on the long, long journey to the green country.
A silent journey it was for the most part. The moon and the starry bowl of sky had laid their spell upon the desert, and the two men rode wordlessly, filled with vague, unreasoning regret that they must go. Months they had spent with the desert, learning well every little varying mood; cursing it for its blistering heat and its sand storms and its parched thirst and its utter, blank loneliness. Loving it too, without ever dreaming that they loved. To-morrow they would face the future with the past dropping farther and farther behind. To-night it rode with them.
Three months in that little, rough-walled hut had lent it an atmosphere of home, which a man instinctively responds to with a certain clinging affection, however crude may be the shelter he calls his own. Cash secretly regretted the thirsty death of his radishes and lettuce which he had planted and tended with such optimistic care. Bud wondered if Daddy might not stray half-starved into the shack, and find them gone. While they were there, he had agreed with Cash that the dog must be dead. But now he felt uneasily doubtful It would be fierce if Daddy did come back now. He would starve. He never could make the trip to the Bend alone, even if he could track them.
There was, also, the disappointment in the Burro Lode claim. As Bud planned it, the Burro was packing a very light load—far lighter than had seemed possible with that strong indication on the surface. Cash's "enormous black ledge" had shown less and less gold as they went into it, though it still seemed worth while, if they had the capital to develop it further. Wherefore they had done generous assessment work and had recorded their claim and built their monuments to mark its boundaries. It would be safe for a year, and by that time—Quien sabe?
The Thompson claim, too, had not justified any enthusiasm whatever. They had found it, had relocated it, and worked out the assessment for the widow. Cash had her check for all they had earned, and he had declared profanely that he would not give his share of the check for the whole claim.
They would go on prospecting, using the check for a grubstake, That much they had decided without argument. The gambling instinct was wide awake in Bud's nature—and as for Cash, he would hunt gold as long as he could carry pick and pan. They would prospect as long as their money held out. When that was gone, they would get more and go on prospecting. But they would prospect in a green country where wood and water were not so precious as in the desert and where, Cash averred, the chance of striking it rich was just as good; better, because they could kill game and make their grubstake last longer.
Wherefore they waited in Gila Bend for three days, to strengthen the weakened animals with rest and good hay and grain. Then they took again to the trail, traveling as lightly as they could, with food for themselves and grain for the stock to last them until they reached Needles. From there with fresh supplies they pushed on up to Goldfield, found that camp in the throes of labor disputes, and went on to Tonopah.
There they found work for themselves and the burros, packing winter supplies to a mine lying back in the hills. They made money at it, and during the winter they made more. With the opening of spring they outfitted again and took the trail, their goal the high mountains south of Honey Lake. They did not hurry. Wherever the land they traveled through seemed to promise gold, they would stop and prospect. Many a pan of likely looking dirt they washed beside some stream where the burros stopped to drink and feed a little on the grassy banks.
So, late in June, they reached Reno; outfitted and went on again, traveling to the north, to the green country for which they yearned, though now they were fairly in it and would have stopped if any tempting ledge or bar had come in their way. They prospected every gulch that showed any mineral signs at all. It was a carefree kind of life, with just enough of variety to hold Bud's interest to the adventuring. The nomad in him responded easily to this leisurely pilgrimage. There was no stampede anywhere to stir their blood with the thought of quick wealth. There was hope enough, on the other hand, to keep them going. Cash had prospected and trapped for more than fifteen years now, and he preached the doctrine of freedom and the great outdoors.
Of what use was a house and lot—and taxes and trouble with the plumbing? he would chuckle. A tent and blankets and a frying pan and grub; two good legs and wild country to travel; a gold pan and a pick—these things, to Cash, spelled independence and the joy of living. The burros and the two horses were luxuries, he declared. When they once got located on a good claim they would sell off everything but a couple of burros—Sway and Ed, most likely. The others would bring enough for a winter grubstake, and would prolong their freedom and their independence just that much. That is, supposing they did not strike a good claim before then. Cash had learned, he said, to hope high but keep an eye on the grubstake.
Late in August they came upon a mountain village perched beside a swift stream and walled in on three sided by pine-covered mountains. A branch railroad linked the place more or less precariously with civilization, and every day—unless there was a washout somewhere, or a snowslide, or drifts too deep—a train passed over the road. One day it would go up-stream, and the next day it would come back. And the houses stood drawn up in a row alongside the track to watch for these passings.
Miners came in with burros or with horses, packed flour and bacon and tea and coffee across their middles, got drunk, perhaps as a parting ceremony, and went away into the hills. Cash watched them for a day or so; saw the size of their grubstakes, asked few questions and listened to a good deal of small-town gossip, and nodded his head contentedly. There was gold in these hills. Not enough, perhaps, to start a stampede with—but enough to keep wise old hermits burrowing after it.
So one day Bud sold the two horses and one of the saddles, and Cash bought flour and bacon and beans and coffee, and added other things quite as desirable but not so necessary. Then they too went away into the hills.
Fifteen miles from Alpine, as a cannon would shoot; high up in the hills, where a creek flowed down through a saucerlike basin under beetling ledges fringed all around with forest, they came, after much wandering, upon an old log cabin whose dirt roof still held in spite of the snows that heaped upon it through many a winter. The ledge showed the scars of old prospect holes, and in the sand of the creek they found "colors" strong enough to make it seem worth while to stop here—for awhile, at least.
They cleaned out the cabin and took possession of it, and the next time they went to town Cash made cautious inquiries about the place. It was, he learned, an old abandoned claim. Abandoned chiefly because the old miner who had lived there died one day, and left behind him all the marks of having died from starvation, mostly. A cursory examination of his few belongings had revealed much want, but no gold save a little coarse dust in a small bottle.
"About enough to fill a rifle ca'tridge," detailed the teller of the tale. "He'd pecked around that draw for two, three year mebby. Never showed no gold much, for all the time he spent there. Trapped some in winter—coyotes and bobcats and skunks, mostly. Kinda off in the upper story, old Nelson was. I guess he just stayed there because he happened to light there and didn't have gumption enough to git out. Hills is full of old fellers like him. They live off to the'rselves, and peck around and git a pocket now and then that keeps 'm in grub and tobacco. If you want to use the cabin, I guess nobody's goin' to care. Nelson never had any folks, that anybody knows of. Nobody ever bothered about takin' up the claim after he cashed in, either. Didn't seem worth nothin' much. Went back to the gov'ment."
"Trapped, you say. Any game around there now?"
"Oh, shore! Game everywhere in these hills, from weasels up to bear and mountain lion. If you want to trap, that's as good a place as any, I guess."
So Cash and Bud sold the burros and bought traps and more supplies, and two window sashes and a crosscut saw and some wedges and a double-bitted axe, and settled down in Nelson Flat to find what old Dame Fortune had tucked away in this little side pocket and forgotten.
CHAPTER NINE. THE BITE OF MEMORY
The heavy boom of a dynamite blast rolled across the fiat to the hills that flung it back in a tardy echo like a spent ball of sound. A blob of blue smoke curled out of a hole the size of a hogshead in a steep bank overhung with alders. Outside, the wind caught the smoke and carried streamers of it away to play with. A startled bluejay, on a limb high up on the bank, lifted his slaty crest and teetered forward, clinging with his toe nails to the branch while he scolded down at the men who had scared him so. A rattle of clods and small rocks fell from their high flight into the sweet air of a mountain sunset.
"Good execution, that was," Cash remarked, craning his neck toward the hole. "If you're a mind to go on ahead and cook supper, I'll stay and see if we opened up anything. Or you can stay, just as you please."
Dynamite smoke invariably made Bud's head ache splittingly. Cash was not so susceptible. Bud chose the cooking, and went away down the flat, the bluejay screaming insults after him. He was frying bacon when Cash came in, a hatful of broken rock riding in the hollow of his arm.
"Got something pretty good here, Bud—if she don't turn out like that dang Burro Lode ledge. Look here. Best looking quartz we've struck yet. What do you think of it?"
He dumped the rock out on the oilcloth behind the sugar can and directly under the little square window through which the sun was pouring a lavish yellow flood of light before it dropped behind the peak. Bud set the bacon back where it would not burn, and bent over the table to look.
"Gee, but it's heavy!" he cried, picking up a fragment the size of an egg, and balancing it in his hands. "I don't know a lot about gold-bearing quartz, but she looks good to me, all right."
"Yeah. It is good, unless I'm badly mistaken. I'll test some after supper. Old Nelson couldn't have used powder at all, or he'd have uncovered enough of this, I should think, to show the rest what he had. Or maybe he died just when he had started that hole. Seems queer he never struck pay dirt in this flat. Well, let's eat if it's ready, Bud. Then we'll see."
"Seems kinda queer, don't it, Cash, that nobody stepped in and filed on any claims here?" Bud dumped half a kettle of boiled beans into a basin and set it on the table. "Want any prunes to-night, Cash?"
Cash did not want prunes, which was just as well, seeing there were none cooked. He sat down and ate, with his mind and his eyes clinging to the grayish, veined fragments of rock lying on the table beside his plate.
"We'll send some of that down to Sacramento right away," he observed, "and have it assayed. And we won't let out anything about it, Bud—good or bad. I like this flat. I don't want it mucked over with a lot of gold-crazy lunatics."
Bud laughed and reached for the bacon. "We ain't been followed up with stampedes so far," he pointed out. "Burro Lode never caused a ripple in the Bend, you recollect. And I'll tell a sinful world it looked awful good, too."
"Yeah. Well, Arizona's hard to excite. They've had so dang much strenuosity all their lives, and then the climate's against violent effort, either mental or physical. I was calm, perfectly calm when I discovered that big ledge. It is just as well—seeing how it petered out."
"What'll you bet this pans out the same?"
"I never bet. No one but a fool will gamble." Cash pressed his lips together in a way that drove the color from there.
"Oh, yuh don't! Say, you're the king bee of all gamblers. Been prospecting for fifteen years, according to you—and then you've got the nerve to say you don't gamble!"
Cash ignored the charge. He picked up a piece of rock and held it to the fading light. "It looks good," he said again. "Better than that placer ground down by the creek. That's all right, too. We can wash enough gold there to keep us going while we develop this. That is, if this proves as good as it looks."
Bud looked across at him enigmatically. "Well, here's hoping she's worth a million. You go ahead with your tests, Cash. I'll wash the dishes."
"Of course," Cash began to conserve his enthusiasm, "there's nothing so sure as an assay. And it was too dark in the hole to see how much was uncovered. This may be just a freak deposit. There may not be any real vein of it. You can't tell until it's developed further. But it looks good. Awful good."
His makeshift tests confirmed his opinion. Bud started out next day with three different samples for the assayer, and an air castle or two to keep him company. He would like to find himself half owner of a mine worth about a million, he mused. Maybe Marie would wish then that she had thought twice about quitting him just on her mother's say-so. He'd like to go buzzing into San Jose behind the wheel of a car like the one Foster had fooled him into stealing. And meet Marie, and her mother too, and let them get an eyeful. He guessed the old lady would have to swallow what she had said about him being lazy—just because he couldn't run an auto-stage in the winter to Big Basin! What was the matter with the old woman, anyway? Didn't he keep Maria in comfort. Well, he'd like to see her face when he drove along the street in a big new Sussex. She'd wish she had let him and Marie alone. They would have made out all right if they had been let alone. He ought to have taken Marie to some other town, where her mother couldn't nag at her every day about him. Marie wasn't such a bad kid, if she were left alone. They might have been happy—
He tried then to shake himself free of thoughts of her. That was the trouble with him, he brooded morosely. He couldn't let his thoughts ride free, any more. They kept heading straight for Marie. He could not see why she should cling so to his memory; he had not wronged her—unless it was by letting her go without making a bigger fight for their home. Still, she had gone of her own free will. He was the one that had been wronged—why, hadn't they lied about him in court and to the gossipy neighbors? Hadn't they broke him? No. If the mine panned out big as Cash seemed to think was likely, the best thing he could do was steer clear of San Jose. And whether it panned out or not, the best thing he could do was forget that such girl as Marie had ever existed..
Which was all very well, as far as it went. The trouble was that resolving not to think of Marie, calling up all the bitterness he could muster against her memory, did no more toward blotting her image from his mind than did the miles and the months he had put between them.
He reached the town in a dour mood of unrest, spite of the promise of wealth he carried in his pocket. He mailed the package and the letter, and went to a saloon and had a highball. He was not a drinking man—at least, he never had been one, beyond a convivial glass or two with his fellows—but he felt that day the need of a little push toward optimism. In the back part of the room three men were playing freeze-out. Bud went over and stood with his hands in his pockets and watched them, because there was nothing else to do, and because he was still having some trouble with his thoughts. He was lonely, without quite knowing what ailed him. He hungered for friends to hail him with that cordial, "Hello, Bud!" when they saw him coming.
No one in Alpine had said hello, Bud, when he came walking in that day. The postmaster bad given him one measuring glance when he had weighed the package of ore, but he had not spoken except to name the amount of postage required. The bartender had made some remark about the weather, and had smiled with a surface friendliness that did not deceive Bud for a moment. He knew too well that the smile was not for him, but for his patronage.
He watched the game. And when the man opposite him pushed back his chair and, looking up at Bud, asked if he wanted to sit in, Bud went and sat down, buying a dollar's worth of chips as an evidence of his intention to play. His interest in the game was not keen. He played for the feeling it gave him of being one of the bunch, a man among his friends; or if not friends, at least acquaintances. And, such was his varying luck with the cards, he played for an hour or so without having won enough to irritate his companions. Wherefore he rose from the table at supper time calling one young fellow Frank quite naturally. They went to the Alpine House and had supper together, and after that they sat in the office and talked about automobiles for an hour, which gave Bud a comforting sense of having fallen among friends.
Later they strolled over to a picture show which ran films two years behind their first release, and charged fifteen cents for the privilege of watching them. It was the first theater Bud had entered since he left San Jose, and at the last minute he hesitated, tempted to turn back. He hated moving pictures. They always had love scenes somewhere in the story, and love scenes hurt. But Frank had already bought two tickets, and it seemed unfriendly to turn back now. He went inside to the jangling of a player-piano in dire need of a tuner's service, and sat down near the back of the hall with his hat upon his lifted knees which could have used more space between the seats.
While they waited for the program they talked in low tones, a mumble of commonplaces. Bud forgot for the moment his distaste for such places, and let himself slip easily back into the old thought channels, the old habits of relaxation after a day's work was done. He laughed at the one-reel comedy that had for its climax a chase of housemaids, policemen, and outraged fruit vendors after a well-meaning but unfortunate lover. He saw the lover pulled ignominiously out of a duck pond and soused relentlessly into a watering trough, and laughed with Frank and called it some picture.
He eyed a succession of "current events" long since gone stale out where the world moved swifter than here in the mountains, and he felt as though he had come once more into close touch with life. All the dull months he had spent with Cash and the burros dwarfed into a pointless, irrelevant incident of his life. He felt that he ought to be out in the world, doing bigger things than hunting gold that somehow always refused at the last minute to be found. He stirred restlessly. He was free—there was nothing to hold him if he wanted to go. The war—he believed he would go over and take a hand. He could drive an ambulance or a truck—
Current Events, however, came abruptly to an end; and presently Bud's vagrant, half-formed desire for achievement merged into biting recollections. Here was a love drama, three reels of it. At first Bud watched it with only a vague, disquieting sense of familiarity. Then abruptly he recalled too vividly the time and circumstance of his first sight of the picture. It was in San Jose, at the Liberty. He and Marie had been married two days, and were living in that glamorous world of the honeymoon, so poignantly sweet, so marvelous—and so fleeting. He had whispered that the girl looked like her, and she had leaned heavily against his shoulder. In the dusk of lowered lights their hands had groped and found each other, and clung.
The girl did look like Marie. When she turned her head with that little tilt of the chin, when she smiled, she was like Marie. Bud leaned forward, staring, his brows drawn together, breathing the short, quick breaths of emotion focussed upon one object, excluding all else. Once, when Frank moved his body a little in the next seat, Bud's hand went out that way involuntarily. The touch of Frank's rough coat sleeve recalled him brutally, so that he drew away with a wincing movement as though he bad been hurt.
All those months in the desert; all those months of the slow journeying northward; all the fought battles with memory, when he thought that he had won—all gone for nothing, their slow anodyne serving but to sharpen now the bite of merciless remembering. His hand shook upon his knee. Small beads of moisture oozed out upon his forehead. He sat stunned before the amazing revelation of how little time and distance had done to heal his hurt.
He wanted Marie. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted her in the old days, with a tenderness, an impulse to shield her from her own weaknesses, her own mistakes. Then—in those old days—there had been the glamor of mystery that is called romance. That was gone, worn away by the close intimacies of matrimony. He knew her faults, he knew how she looked when she was angry and petulant. He knew how little the real Marie resembled the speciously amiable, altogether attractive Marie who faced a smiling world when she went pleasuring. He knew, but—he wanted her just the same. He wanted to tell her so many things about the burros, and about the desert—things that would make her laugh, and things that would make her blink back the tears. He was homesick for her as he had never been homesick in his life before. The picture flickered on through scene after scene that Bud did not see at all, though he was staring unwinkingly at the screen all the while. The love scenes at the last were poignantly real, but they passed before his eyes unnoticed. Bud's mind was dwelling upon certain love scenes of his own. He was feeling Marie's presence beside him there in the dusk.
"Poor kid—she wasn't so much to blame," he muttered just above his breath, when the screen was swept clean and blank at the end of the last reel.
"Huh? Oh, he was the big mutt, right from the start," Frank replied with the assured air of a connoisseur. "He didn't have the brains of a bluejay, or he'd have known all the time she was strong for him."
"I guess that's right," Bud mumbled, but he did not mean what Frank thought he meant. "Let's go. I want a drink."
Frank was willing enough; too willing, if the truth were known. They went out into the cool starlight, and hurried across the side street that was no more than a dusty roadway, to the saloon where they had spent the afternoon. Bud called for whisky, and helped himself twice from the bottle which the bartender placed between them. He did not speak until the second glass was emptied, and then he turned to Frank with a purple glare in his eyes.
"Let's have a game of pool or something," he suggested.
"There's a good poker game going, back there," vouchsafed the bartender, turning his thumb toward the rear, where half a dozen men were gathered in a close group around a table. "There's some real money in sight, to-night."
"All right, let's go see." Bud turned that way, Frank following like a pet dog at his heels.
At dawn the next morning, Bud got up stiffly from the chair where he had spent the night. His eyeballs showed a network of tiny red veins, swollen with the surge of alcohol in his blood and with the strain of staring all night at the cards. Beneath his eyes were puffy ridges. His cheekbones flamed with the whisky flush. He cashed in a double-handful of chips, stuffed the money he had won into his coat pocket, walked, with that stiff precision of gait by which a drunken man strives to hide his drunkenness, to the bar and had another drink. Frank was at his elbow. Frank was staggering, garrulous, laughing a great deal over very small jokes.
"I'm going to bed," said Bud, his tongue forming the words with a slow carefulness.
"Come over to my shack, Bud—rotten hotel. My bed's clean, anyway." Frank laughed and plucked him by the sleeve.
"All right," Bud consented gravely. "We'll take a bottle along."
CHAPTER TEN. EMOTIONS ARE TRICKY THINGS
A man's mind is a tricky thing—or, speaking more exactly, a man's emotions are tricky things. Love has come rushing to the back of a tip-tilted chin, or the tone of a voice, or the droop of an eyelid. It has fled for cause as slight. Sometimes it runs before resentment for a real or fancied wrong, but then, if you have observed it closely, you will see that quite frequently, when anger grows slow of foot, or dies of slow starvation, love steals back, all unsuspected and unbidden—and mayhap causes much distress by his return. It is like a sudden resurrection of all the loved, long-mourned dead that sleep so serenely in their tended plots. Loved though they were and long mourned, think of the consternation if they all came trooping back to take their old places in life! The old places that have been filled, most of them, by others who are loved as dearly, who would be mourned if they were taken away.
Psychologists will tell us all about the subconscious mind, the hidden loves and hates and longings which we believe are dead and long forgotten. When one of those emotions suddenly comes alive and stands, terribly real and intrusive, between our souls and our everyday lives, the strongest and the best of us may stumble and grope blindly after content, or reparation, or forgetfulness, or whatever seems most likely to give relief.
I am apologizing now for Bud, who had spent a good many months in pushing all thoughts of Marie out of his mind, all hunger for her out of his heart. He had kept away from towns, from women, lest he be reminded too keenly of his matrimonial wreck. He had stayed with Cash and had hunted gold, partly because Cash never seemed conscious of any need of a home or love or wife or children, and therefore never reminded Bud of the home and the wife and the love and the child he had lost out of his own life. Cash seldom mentioned women at all, and when he did it was in a purely general way, as women touched some other subject he was discussing. He never paid any attention to the children they met casually in their travels. He seemed absolutely self-sufficient, interested only in the prospect of finding a paying claim. What he would do with wealth, if so be he attained it, he never seemed to know or care. He never asked Bud any questions about his private affairs, never seemed to care how Bud had lived, or where. And Bud thankfully left his past behind the wall of silence. So he had come to believe that he was almost as emotion-proof as Cash appeared to be, and had let it go at that.
Now here he was, with his heart and his mind full of Marie—after more than a year and a half of forgetting her! Getting drunk and playing poker all night did not help him at all, for when he woke it was from a sweet, intimate dream of her, and it was to a tormenting desire for her, that gnawed at his mind as hunger gnaws at the stomach. Bud could not understand it. Nothing like that had ever happened to him before. By all his simple rules of reckoning he ought to be "over it" by now. He had been, until he saw that picture.
He was so very far from being over his trouble that he was under it; a beaten dog wincing under the blows of memory, stung by the lash of his longing. He groaned, and Frank thought it was the usual "morning after" headache, and laughed ruefully.
"Same here," he said. "I've got one like a barrel, and I didn't punish half the booze you did."
Bud did not say anything, but he reached for the bottle, tilted it and swallowed three times before he stopped.
"Gee!" whispered Frank, a little enviously.
Bud glanced somberly across at Frank, who was sitting by the stove with his jaws between his palms and his hair toweled, regarding his guest speculatively.
"I'm going to get drunk again," Bud announced bluntly. "If you don't want to, you'd better duck. You're too easy led—I saw that last night. You follow anybody's lead that you happen to be with. If you follow my lead to-day, you'll be petrified by night. You better git, and let me go it alone."
Frank laughed uneasily. "Aw, I guess you ain't all that fatal, Bud. Let's go over and have some breakfast—only it'll be dinner."
"You go, if you want to." Bud tilted the bottle again, his eyes half closed while he swallowed. When he had finished, he shuddered violently at the taste of the whisky. He got up, went to the water bucket and drank half a dipper of water. "Good glory! I hate whisky," he grumbled. "Takes a barrel to have any effect on me too." He turned and looked down at Frank with a morose kind of pity. "You go on and get your breakfast, kid. I don't want any. I'll stay here for awhile."
He sat down on the side of the cheap, iron bedstead, and emptied his pockets on the top quilt. He straightened the crumpled bills and counted them, and sorted the silver pieces. All told, he had sixty-three dollars and twenty cents. He sat fingering the money absently, his mind upon other things. Upon Marie and the baby, to be exact. He was fighting the impulse to send Marie the money. She might need it for the kid. If he was sure her mother wouldn't get any of it... A year and a half was quite a while, and fifteen hundred dollars wasn't much to live on these days. She couldn't work, with the baby on her hands...
Frank watched him curiously, his jaws still resting between his two palms, his eyes red-rimmed and swollen, his lips loose and trembling. A dollar alarm clock ticked resonantly, punctuated now and then by the dull clink of silver as Bud lifted a coin and let it drop on the little pile.
"Pretty good luck you had last night," Frank ventured wishfully. "They cleaned me."
Bud straightened his drooping shoulders and scooped the money into his hand. He laughed recklessly, and got up. "We'll try her another whirl, and see if luck'll bring luck. Come on—let's go hunt up some of them marks that got all the dough last night. We'll split, fifty-fifty, and the same with what we win. Huh?"
"You're on, ho—let's go." Bud had gauged him correctly—Frank would follow any one who would lead. He got up and came to the table where Bud was dividing the money into two equal sums, as nearly as he could make change. What was left over—and that was the three dollars and twenty cents—he tossed into the can of tobacco on a shelf.
"We'll let that ride—to sober up on, if we go broke," he grunted. "Come on—let's get action."
Action, of a sort, they proceeded to get. Luck brought luck of the same complexion. They won in fluctuating spells of good cards and judicious teamwork. They did not cheat, though Frank was ready if Bud had led him that way. Frank was ready for anything that Bud suggested. He drank when Bud drank, went from the first saloon to the one farther down and across the street, returned to the first with cheerful alacrity and much meaningless laughter when Bud signified a desire to change. It soothed Bud and irritated him by turns, this ready acquiescence of Frank's. He began to take a malicious delight in testing that acquiescence. He began to try whether he could not find the end of Frank's endurance in staying awake, his capacity for drink, his good nature, his credulity—he ran the scale of Frank's various qualifications, seeking always to establish a well-defined limitation somewhere.
But Frank was utterly, absolutely plastic. He laughed and drank when Bud suggested that they drink. He laughed and played whatever game Bud urged him into. He laughed and agreed with Bud when Bud made statements to test the credulity of anyman. He laughed and said, "Sure. Let's go!" when Bud pined for a change of scene.
On the third day Bud suddenly stopped in the midst of a game of pool which neither was steady enough to play, and gravely inspected the chalked end of his cue.
"That's about enough of this," he said. "We're drunk. We're so drunk we don't know a pocket from a prospect hole. I'm tired of being a hog. I'm going to go get another drink and sober up. And if you're the dog Fido you've been so far, you'll do the same." He leaned heavily upon the table, and regarded Frank with stern, bloodshot blue eyes.
Frank laughed and slid his cue the length of the table. He also leaned a bit heavily. "Sure," he said. "I'm ready, any time you are."
"Some of these days," Bud stated with drunken deliberation, "they'll take and hang you, Frank, for being such an agreeable cuss." He took Frank gravely by the arm and walked him to the bar, paid for two beers with almost his last dollar, and, still holding Frank firmly, walked him out of doors and down the street to Frank's cabin. He pushed him inside and stood looking in upon him with a sour appraisement.
"You are the derndest fool I ever run across—but at that you're a good scout too," he informed Frank. "You sober up now, like I said. You ought to know better 'n to act the way you've been acting. I'm sure ashamed of you, Frank. Adios—I'm going to hit the trail for camp." With that he pulled the door shut and walked away, with that same circumspect exactness in his stride which marks the drunken man as surely as does a stagger.
He remembered what it was that had brought him to town—which is more than most men in his condition would have done. He went to the pest office and inquired for mail, got what proved to be the assayer's report, and went on. He bought half a dozen bananas which did not remind him of that night when he had waited on the Oakland pier for the mysterious Foster, though they might have recalled the incident vividly to mind had he been sober. He had been wooing forgetfulness, and for the time being he had won.
Walking up the steep, winding trail that led to Nelson Flat cleared a little his fogged brain. He began to remember what it was that he had been fighting to forget. Marie's face floated sometimes before him, but the vision was misty and remote, like distant woodland seen through the gray film of a storm. The thought of her filled him with a vague discomfort now when his emotions were dulled by the terrific strain he had wilfully put upon brain and body. Resentment crept into the foreground again. Marie had made him suffer. Marie was to blame for this beastly fit of intoxication. He did not love Marie—he hated her. He did not want to see her, he did not want to think of her. She had done nothing for him but bring him trouble. Marie, forsooth! (Only, Bud put it in a slightly different way.)
Halfway to the flat, he met Cash walking down the slope where the trail seemed tunneled through deep green, so thick stood the young spruce. Cash was swinging his arms in that free stride of the man who has learned how to walk with the least effort. He did not halt when he saw Bud plodding slowly up the trail, but came on steadily, his keen, blue-gray eyes peering sharply from beneath his forward tilted hat brim. He came up to within ten feet of Bud, and stopped.
"Well!" He stood eyeing Bud appraisingly, much as Bud had eyed Frank a couple of hours before. "I was just starting out to see what had become of you," he added, his voice carrying the full weight of reproach that the words only hinted at.
"Well, get an eyeful, if that's what you come for. I'm here—and lookin's cheap." Bud's anger flared at the disapproval he read in Cash's eyes, his voice, the set of his lips.
But Cash did not take the challenge. "Did the report come?" he asked, as though that was the only matter worth discussing.
Bud pulled the letter sullenly from his pocket and gave it to Cash. He stood moodily waiting while Cash opened and read and returned it.
"Yeah. About what I thought—only it runs lighter in gold, with a higher percentage of copper. It'll pay to go on and see what's at bed rock. If the copper holds up to this all along, we'll be figuring on the gold to pay for getting the copper. This is copper country, Bud. Looks like we'd found us a copper mine." He turned and walked on beside Bud. "I dug in to quite a rich streak of sand while you was gone," he volunteered after a silence. "Coarse gold, as high as fifteen cents a pan. I figure we better work that while the weather's good, and run our tunnel in on this other when snow comes."
Bud turned his head and looked at Cash intently for a minute. "I've been drunker'n a fool for three days," he announced solemnly.
"Yeah. You look it," was Cash's dry retort, while he stared straight ahead, up the steep, shadowed trail.
CHAPTER ELEVEN. THE FIRST STAGES
For a month Bud worked and forced himself to cheerfulness, and tried to forget. Sometimes it was easy enough, but there were other times when he must get away by himself and walk and walk, with his rifle over his shoulder as a mild pretense that he was hunting game. But if he brought any back camp it was because the game walked up and waited to be shot; half the time Bud did not know where he was going, much less whether there were deer within ten rods or ten miles.
During those spells of heartsickness he would sit all the evening and smoke and stare at some object which his mind failed to register. Cash would sit and watch him furtively; but Bud was too engrossed with his own misery to notice it. Then, quite unexpectedly, reaction would come and leave Bud in a peace that was more than half a torpid refusal of his mind to worry much over anything.
He worked then, and talked much with Cash, and made plans for the development of their mine. In that month they had come to call it a mine, and they had filed and recorded their claim, and had drawn up an agreement of partnership in it. They would "sit tight" and work on it through the winter, and when spring came they hoped to have something tangible upon which to raise sufficient capital to develop it properly. Or, times when they had done unusually well with their sandbank, they would talk optimistically about washing enough gold out of that claim to develop the other, and keep the title all in their own hands.
Then, one night Bud dreamed again of Marie, and awoke with an insistent craving for the oblivion of drunkenness. He got up and cooked the breakfast, washed the dishes and swept the cabin, and measured out two ounces of gold from what they had saved.
"You're keeping tabs on everything, Cash," he said shortly. "Just charge this up to me. I'm going to town."
Cash looked up at him from under a slanted eye-brow. His lips had a twist of pained disapproval.
"Yeah. I figured you was about due in town," he said resignedly.
"Aw, lay off that told-you-so stuff," Bud growled. "You never figured anything of the kind, and you know it." He pulled his heavy sweater down off a nail and put it on, scowling because the sleeves had to be pulled in place on his arms.
"Too bad you can't wait a day. I figured we'd have a clean-up to-morrow, maybe. She's been running pretty heavy—-"
"Well, go ahead and clean up, then. You can do it alone. Or wait till I get back."
Cash laughed, as a retort cutting, and not because he was amused. Bud swore and went out, slamming the door behind him.
It was exactly five days alter that when he opened it again. Cash was mixing a batch of sour-dough bread into loaves, and he did not say anything at all when Bud came in and stood beside the stove, warming his hands and glowering around the room. He merely looked up, and then went on with his bread making.
Bud was not a pretty sight. Four days and nights of trying to see how much whisky he could drink, and how long he could play poker without going to sleep or going broke, had left their mark on his face and his trembling hands. His eyes were puffy and red, and his cheeks were mottled, and his lips were fevered and had lost any sign of a humorous quirk at the corners. He looked ugly; as if he would like nothing better than an excuse to quarrel with Cash—since Cash was the only person at hand to quarrel with.
But Cash had not knocked around the world for nothing. He had seen men in that mood before, and he had no hankering for trouble which is vastly easier to start than it is to stop. He paid no attention to Bud. He made his loaves, tucked them into the pan and greased the top with bacon grease saved in a tomato can for such use. He set the pan on a shelf behind the stove, covered it with a clean flour sack, opened the stove door, and slid in two sticks.
"She's getting cold," he observed casually. "It'll be winter now before we know it."
Bud grunted, pulled an empty box toward him by the simple expedient of hooking his toes behind the corner, and sat down. He set his elbows on his thighs and buried his face in his hands. His hat dropped off his head and lay crown down beside him. He made a pathetic figure of miserable manhood, of strength mistreated. His fine, brown hair fell in heavy locks down over his fingers that rested on his forehead. Five minutes so, and he lifted his head and glanced around him apathetically. "Gee-man-ee, I've got a headache!" he muttered, dropping his forehead into his spread palms again.
Cash hesitated, derision hiding in the back of his eyes. Then he pushed the dented coffeepot forward on the stove.
"Try a cup of coffee straight," he said unemotionally, "and then lay down. You'll sleep it off in a few hours."
Bud did not look up, or make any move to show that he heard. But presently he rose and went heavily over to his bunk. "I don't want any darn coffee," he growled, and sprawled himself stomach down on the bed, with his face turned from the light.
Cash eyed him coldly, with the corner of his upper lip lifted a little. Whatever weaknesses he possessed, drinking and gambling had no place in the list. Nor had he any patience with those faults in others. Had Bud walked down drunk to Cash's camp, that evening when they first met, he might have received a little food doled out to him grudgingly, but he assuredly would not have slept in Cash's bed that night. That he tolerated drunkenness in Bud now would have been rather surprising to any one who knew Cash well. Perhaps he had a vague understanding of the deeps through which Bud was struggling, and so was constrained to hide his disapproval, hoping that the moral let-down was merely a temporary one.
He finished his strictly utilitarian household labor and went off up the flat to the sluice boxes. Bud had not moved from his first position on the bed, but he did not breathe like a sleeping man. Not at first; after an hour or so he did sleep, heavily and with queer, muddled dreams that had no sequence and left only a disturbed sense of discomfort behind then.
At noon or a little after Cash returned to the cabin, cast a sour look of contempt at the recumbent Bud, and built a fire in the old cookstove. He got his dinner, ate it, and washed his dishes with never a word to Bud, who had wakened and lay with his eyes half open, sluggishly miserable and staring dully at the rough spruce logs of the wall.
Cash put on his cap, looked at Bud and gave a snort, and went off again to his work. Bud lay still for awhile longer, staring dully at the wall. Finally he raised up, swung his feet to the floor, and sat there staring around the little cabin as though he had never before seen it.
"Huh! You'd think, the way he highbrows me, that Cash never done wrong in his life! Tin angel, him—I don't think. Next time, I'll tell a pinheaded world I'll have to bring home a quart or two, and put on a show right!"
Just what he meant by that remained rather obscure, even to Bud. He got up, shut his eyes very tight and then opened them wide to clear his vision, shook himself into his clothes and went over to the stove. Cash had not left the coffeepot on the stove but had, with malicious intent—or so Bud believed—put it away on the shelf so that what coffee remained was stone cold. Bud muttered and threw out the coffee, grounds and all—a bit of bachelor extravagance which only anger could drive him to—and made fresh coffee, and made it strong. He did not want it. He drank it for the work of physical regeneration it would do for him.
He lay down afterwards, and this time he dropped into a more nearly normal sleep, which lasted until Cash returned at dusk After that he lay with his face hidden, awake and thinking. Thinking, for the most part, of how dull and purposeless life was, and wondering why the world was made, or the people in it—since nobody was happy, and few even pretended to be. Did God really make the world, and man, just to play with—for a pastime? Then why bother about feeling ashamed for anything one did that was contrary to God's laws?
Why be puffed up with pride for keeping one or two of them unbroken—like Cash, for instance. Just because Cash never drank or played cards, what right had he to charge the whole atmosphere of the cabin with his contempt and his disapproval of Bud, who chose to do both?
On the other hand, why did he choose a spree as a relief from his particular bunch of ghosts? Trading one misery for another was all you could call it. Doing exactly the things that Marie's mother had predicted he would do, committing the very sins that Marie was always a little afraid he would commit—there must be some sort of twisted revenge in that, he thought, but for the life of him he could not quite see any real, permanent satisfaction in it—especially since Marie and her mother would never get to hear of it.
For that matter, he was not so sure that they would not get to hear. He remembered meeting, just on the first edge of his spree, one Joe De Barr, a cigar salesman whom he had known in San Jose. Joe knew Marie—in fact, Joe had paid her a little attention before Bud came into her life. Joe had been in Alpine between trains, taking orders for goods from the two saloons and the hotel. He had seen Bud drinking. Bud knew perfectly well how much Joe had seen him drinking, and he knew perfectly well that Joe was surprised to the point of amazement—and, Bud suspected, secretly gratified as well. Wherefore Bud had deliberately done what he could do to stimulate and emphasize both the surprise and the gratification. Why is it that most human beings feel a sneaking satisfaction in the downfall of another? Especially another who is, or has been at sometime, a rival in love or in business?
Bud had no delusions concerning Joe De Barr. If Joe should happen to meet Marie, he would manage somehow to let her know that Bud was going to the dogs—on the toboggan—down and out—whatever it suited Joe to declare him. It made Bud sore now to think of Joe standing so smug and so well dressed and so immaculate beside the bar, smiling and twisting the ends of his little brown mustache while he watched Bud make such a consummate fool of himself. At the time, though, Bud had taken a perverse delight in making himself appear more soddenly drunken, more boisterous and reckless than he really was.
Oh, well, what was the odds? Marie couldn't think any worse of him than she already thought. And whatever she thought, their trails had parted, and they would never cross again—not if Bud could help it. Probably Marie would say amen to that. He would like to know how she was getting along—and the baby, too. Though the baby had never seemed quite real to Bud, or as if it were a permanent member of the household. It was a leather-lunged, red-faced, squirming little mite, and in his heart of hearts Bud had not felt as though it belonged to him at all. He had never rocked it, for instance, or carried it in his arms. He had been afraid he might drop it, or squeeze it too hard, or break it somehow with his man's strength. When he thought of Marie he did not necessarily think of the baby, though sometimes he did, wondering vaguely how much it had grown, and if it still hollered for its bottle, all hours of the day and night.
Coming back to Marie and Joe—it was not at all certain that they would meet; or that Joe would mention him, even if they did. A wrecked home is always a touchy subject, so touchy that Joe had never intimated in his few remarks to Bud that there had ever been a Marie, and Bud, drunk as he had been, was still not too drunk to hold back the question that clamored to be spoken.
Whether he admitted it to himself or not, the sober Bud Moore who lay on his bunk nursing a headache and a grouch against the world was ashamed of the drunken Bud Moore who had paraded his drunkenness before the man who knew Marie. He did not want Marie to hear what Joe might tell There was no use, he told himself miserably, in making Marie despise him as well as hate him. There was a difference. She might think him a brute, and she might accuse him of failing to be a kind and loving husband; but she could not, unless Joe told of his spree, say that she had ever heard of his carousing around. That it would be his own fault if she did hear, served only to embitter his mood.
He rolled over and glared at Cash, who had cooked his supper and was sitting down to eat it alone. Cash was looking particularly misanthropic as he bent his head to meet the upward journey of his coffee cup, and his eyes, when they lifted involuntarily with Bud's sudden movement, had still that hard look of bottled-up rancor that had impressed itself upon Bud earlier in the day.
Neither man spoke, or made any sign of friendly recognition. Bud would not have talked to any one in his present state of self-disgust, but for all that Cash's silence rankled. A moment their eyes met and held; then with shifted glances the souls of them drew apart—farther apart than they had ever been, even when they quarreled over Pete, down in Arizona.
When Cash had finished and was filing his pipe, Bud got up and reheated the coffee, and fried more bacon and potatoes, Cash having cooked just enough for himself. Cash smoked and gave no heed, and Bud retorted by eating in silence and in straightway washing his own cup, plate, knife, and fork and wiping clean the side of the table where he always sat. He did not look at Cash, but he felt morbidly that Cash was regarding him with that hateful sneer hidden under his beard. He knew that it was silly to keep that stony silence, but he kept telling himself that if Cash wanted to talk, he had a tongue, and it was not tied. Besides, Cash had registered pretty plainly his intentions and his wishes when he excluded Bud from his supper.
It was a foolish quarrel, but it was that kind of foolish quarrel which is very apt to harden into a lasting one.
CHAPTER TWELVE. MARIE TAKES A DESPERATE CHANCE
Domestic wrecks may be a subject taboo in polite conversation, but Joe De Barr was not excessively polite, and he had, moreover, a very likely hope that Marie would yet choose to regard him with more favor than she had shown in the past. He did not chance to see her at once, but as soon as his work would permit he made it a point to meet her. He went about it with beautiful directness. He made bold to call her up on "long distance" from San Francisco, told her that he would be in San Jose that night, and invited her to a show.
Marie accepted without enthusiasm—and her listlessness was not lost over forty miles of telephone wire. Enough of it seeped to Joe's ears to make him twist his mustache quite furiously when he came out of the telephone booth. If she was still stuck on that fellow Bud, and couldn't see anybody else, it was high time she was told a few things about him. It was queer how a nice girl like Marie would hang on to some cheap guy like Bud Moore. Regular fellows didn't stand any show—unless they played what cards happened to fall their way. Joe, warned by her indifference, set himself very seriously to the problem of playing his cards to the best advantage.
He went into a flower store—disdaining the banked loveliness upon the corners—and bought Marie a dozen great, heavy-headed chrysanthemums, whose color he could not name to save his life, so called them pink and let it go at that. They were not pink, and they were not sweet—Joe held the bunch well away from his protesting olfactory nerves which were not educated to tantalizing odors—but they were more expensive than roses, and he knew that women raved over them. He expected Marie to rave over them, whether she liked them or not.
Fortified by these, groomed and perfumed and as prosperous looking as a tobacco salesman with a generous expense account may be, he went to San Jose on an early evening train that carried a parlor car in which Joe made himself comfortable. He fooled even the sophisticated porter into thinking him a millionaire, wherefore he arrived in a glow of self-esteem, which bred much optimism.
Marie was impressed—at least with his assurance and the chrysanthemums, over which she was sufficiently enthusiastic to satisfy even Joe. Since he had driven to the house in a hired automobile, he presently had the added satisfaction of handing Marie into the tonneau as though she were a queen entering the royal chariot, and of ordering the driver to take them out around the golf links, since it was still very early. Then, settling back with what purported to be a sigh of bliss, he regarded Marie sitting small and still and listless beside him. The glow of the chrysanthemums had already faded. Marie, with all the girlish prettiness she had ever possessed, and with an added charm that was very elusive and hard to analyze, seemed to have lost all of her old animation.
Joe tried the weather, and the small gossip of the film world, and a judiciously expurgated sketch of his life since he had last seen her. Marie answered him whenever his monologue required answer, but she was unresponsive, uninterested—bored. Joe twisted his mustache, eyed her aslant and took the plunge.
"I guess joy-ridin' kinda calls up old times, ay?" he began insidiously. "Maybe I shouldn't have brought you out for a ride; maybe it brings back painful memories, as the song goes."
"Oh, no," said Marie spiritlessly. "I don't see why it should."
"No? Well, that's good to hear you say so, girlie. I was kinda afraid maybe trouble had hit you hard. A sensitive, big-hearted little person like you. But if you've put it all outa your mind, why, that's where you're dead right. Personally, I was glad to see you saw where you'd made a mistake, and backed up. That takes grit and brains. Of course, we all make mistakes—you wasn't to blame—innocent little kid like you—"
"Yes," said Marie, "I guess I made a mistake, all right."
"Sure! But you seen it and backed up. And a good thing you did. Look what he'd of brought you to by now, if you'd stuck!"
Marie tilted back her head and looked up at the tall row of eucalyptus trees feathered against the stars. "What?" she asked uninterestedly.
"Well—I don't want to knock, especially a fellow that's on the toboggan already. But I know a little girl that's aw-fully lucky, and I'm honest enough to say so."
"Why?" asked Marie obligingly. "Why—in particular?"
"Why in particular?" Joe leaned toward her. "Say, you must of heard how Bud's going to the dogs. If you haven't, I don't want—"
"No, I hadn't heard," said Marie, looking up at the Big Dipper so that her profile, dainty and girlish still, was revealed like a cameo to Joe. "Is he? I love to watch the stars, don't you?"
"I love to watch a star," Joe breathed softly. "So you hadn't heard how Bud's turned out to be a regular souse? Honest, didn't you know it?"
"No, I didn't know it," said Marie boredly. "Has he?"
"Well, say! You couldn't tell it from the real thing! Believe me, Bud's some pickled bum, these days. I run across him up in the mountains, a month or so ago. Honest, I was knocked plumb silly—much as I knew about Bud that you never knew, I never thought he'd turn out quite so—" Joe paused, with a perfect imitation of distaste for his subject. "Say, this is great, out here," he murmured, tucking the robe around her with that tender protectiveness which stops just short of being proprietary. "Honest, Marie, do you like it?"
"Why, sure, I like it, Joe." Marie smiled at him in the star-light. "It's great, don't you think? I don't get out very often, any more. I'm working, you know—and evenings and Sundays baby takes up all my time."
"You working? Say, that's a darned shame! Don't Bud send you any money?"
"He left some," said Marie frankly. "But I'm keeping that for baby, when he grows up and needs it. He don't send any."
"Well, say! As long as he's in the State, you can make him dig up. For the kid's support, anyway. Why don't you get after him?"
Marie looked down over the golf links, as the car swung around the long curve at the head of the slope. "I don't know where he is," she said tonelessly. "Where did you see him, Joe?"
Joe's hesitation lasted but long enough for him to give his mustache end a twist. Marie certainly seemed to be well "over it." There could be no harm in telling.
"Well, when I saw him he was at Alpine; that's a little burg up in the edge of the mountains, on the W. P. He didn't look none too prosperous, at that. But he had money—he was playing poker and that kind of thing. And he was drunk as a boiled owl, and getting drunker just as fast as he knew how. Seemed to be kind of a stranger there; at least he didn't throw in with the bunch like a native would. But that was more than a month ago, Marie. He might not be there now. I could write up and find out for you."
Marie settled back against the cushions as though she had already dismissed the subject from her mind.
"Oh, don't bother about it, Joe. I don't suppose he's got any money, anyway. Let's forget him."
"You said it, Marie. Stacked up to me like a guy that's got just enough dough for a good big souse. He ain't hard to forget—is he, girlie?"
Marie laughed assentingly. And if she did not quite attain her old bubbling spirits during the evening, at least she sent Joe back to San Francisco feeling very well satisfied with himself. He must have been satisfied with himself. He must have been satisfied with his wooing also, because he strolled into a jewelry store the next morning and priced several rings which he judged would be perfectly suitable for engagement rings. He might have gone so far as to buy one, if he had been sure of the size and of Marie's preference in stones. Since he lacked detailed information, he decided to wait, but he intimated plainly to the clerk that he would return in a few days.
It was just as well that he did decide to wait, for when he tried again to see Marie he failed altogether. Marie had left town. Her mother, with an acrid tone of resentment, declared that she did not know any more than the man in the moon where Marie had gone, but that she "suspicioned" that some fool had told Marie where Bud was, and that Marie had gone traipsing after him. She had taken the baby along, which was another piece of foolishness which her mother would never have permitted had she been at home when Marie left.
Joe did not take the matter seriously, though he was disappointed at having made a fruitless trip to San Jose. He did not believe that Marie had done anything more than take a vacation from her mother's sharp-tongued rule, and for that he could not blame her, after having listened for fifteen minutes to the lady's monologue upon the subject of selfish, inconsiderate, ungrateful daughters. Remembering Marie's attitude toward Bud, he did not believe that she had gone hunting him.
Yet Marie had done that very thing. True, she had spent a sleepless night fighting the impulse, and a harassed day trying to make up her mind whether to write first, or whether to go and trust to the element of surprise to help plead her cause with Bud; whether to take Lovin Child with her, or leave him with her mother.
She definitely decided to write Bud a short note and ask him if he remembered having had a wife and baby, once upon a time, and if he never wished that he had them still. She wrote the letter, crying a little over it along toward the last, as women will. But it sounded cold-blooded and condemnatory. She wrote another, letting a little of her real self into the lines. But that sounded sentimental and moving-pictury, and she knew how Bud hated cheap sentimentalism.
So she tore them both up and put them in the little heating stove, and lighted a match and set them burning, and watched them until they withered down to gray ash, and then broke up the ashes and scattered them amongst the cinders. Marie, you must know, had learned a good many things, one of which was the unwisdom of whetting the curiosity of a curious woman.
After that she proceeded to pack a suit case for herself and Lovin Child, seizing the opportunity while her mother was visiting a friend in Santa Clara. Once the packing was began, Marie worked with a feverish intensity of purpose and an eagerness that was amazing, considering her usual apathy toward everything in her life as she was living it.
Everything but Lovin Child. Him she loved and gloried in. He was like Bud—so much like him that Marie could not have loved him so much if she had managed to hate Bud as she tried sometimes to hate him. Lovin Child was a husky youngster, and he already had the promise of being as tall and straight-limbed and square-shouldered as his father. Deep in his eyes there lurked always a twinkle, as though he knew a joke that would make you laugh—if only he dared tell it; a quizzical, secretly amused little twinkle, as exactly like Bud's as it was possible for a two-year-old twinkle to be. To go with the twinkle, he had a quirky little smile. And to better the smile, he had the jolliest little chuckle that ever came through a pair of baby lips.
He came trotting up to the suit case which Marie had spread wide open on the bed, stood up on his tippy toes, and peered in. The quirky smile was twitching his lips, and the look he turned toward Marie's back was full of twinkle. He reached into the suit case, clutched a clean handkerchief and blew his nose with solemn precision; put the handkerchief back all crumpled, grabbed a silk stocking and drew it around his neck, and was straining to reach his little red Brownie cap when Marie turned and caught him up in her arms.
"No, no, Lovin Child! Baby mustn't. Marie is going to take her lovin' baby boy to find—" She glanced hastily over her shoulder to make sure there was no one to hear, buried her face in the baby's fat neck and whispered the wonder, "—to find hims daddy Bud! Does Lovin Man want to see hims daddy Bud? I bet he does want! I bet hims daddy Bud will be glad—Now you sit right still, and Marie will get him a cracker, an' then he can watch Marie pack him little shirt, and hims little bunny suit, and hims wooh-wooh, and hims 'tockins—"
It is a pity that Bud could not have seen the two of them in the next hour, wherein Marie flew to her hopeful task of packing her suit case, and Lovin Child was quite as busy pulling things out of it, and getting stepped on, and having to be comforted, and insisting upon having on his bunny suit, and then howling to go before Marie was ready. Bud would have learned enough to ease the ache in his heart—enough to humble him and fill him with an abiding reverence for a love that will live, as Marie's had lived, on bitterness and regret.
Nearly distracted under the lash of her own eagerness and the fear that her mother would return too soon and bully her into giving up her wild plan, Marie, carrying Lovin Child on one arm and lugging the suit case in the other hand, and half running, managed to catch a street car and climb aboard all out of breath and with her hat tilted over one ear. She deposited the baby on the seat beside her, fumbled for a nickel, and asked the conductor pantingly if she would be in time to catch the four-five to the city. It maddened her to watch the bored deliberation of the man as he pulled out his watch and regarded it meditatively.
"You'll catch it—if you're lucky about your transfer," he said, and rang up her fare and went off to the rear platform, just as if it were not a matter of life and death at all. Marie could have shaken him for his indifference; and as for the motorman, she was convinced that he ran as slow as he dared, just to drive her crazy. But even with these two inhuman monsters doing their best to make her miss the train, and with the street car she wanted to transfer to running off and leaving her at the very last minute, and with Lovin Child suddenly discovering that he wanted to be carried, and that he emphatically did not want her to carry the suit case at all, Marie actually reached the depot ahead of the four-five train. Much disheveled and flushed with nervousness and her exertions, she dragged Lovin Child up the steps by one arm, found a seat in the chair car and, a few minutes later, suddenly realized that she was really on her way to an unknown little town in an unknown part of the country, in quest of a man who very likely did not want to be found by her.
Two tears rolled down her cheeks, and were traced to the corners of her mouth by the fat, investigative finger of Lovin Child before Marie could find her handkerchief and wipe them away. Was any one in this world ever so utterly, absolutely miserable? She doubted it. What if she found Bud—drunk, as Joe had described him? Or, worse than that, what if she did not find him at all? She tried not to cry, but it seemed as though she must cry or scream. Fast as she wiped them away, other tears dropped over her eyelids upon her cheeks, and were given the absorbed attention of Lovin Child, who tried to catch each one with his finger. To distract him, she turned him around face to the window.
"See all the—pitty cows," she urged, her lips trembling so much that they would scarcely form the words. And when Lovin Child flattened a finger tip against the window and chuckled, and said "Ee? Ee?"—which was his way of saying see—Marie dropped her face down upon his fuzzy red "bunny" cap, hugged him close to her, and cried, from sheer, nervous reaction.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN. CABIN FEVER IN THE WORST FORM
Bud Moore woke on a certain morning with a distinct and well-defined grouch against the world as he had found it; a grouch quite different from the sullen imp of contrariness that had possessed him lately. He did not know just what had caused the grouch, and he did not care. He did know, however, that he objected to the look of Cash's overshoes that stood pigeon-toed beside Cash's bed on the opposite side of the room, where Bud had not set his foot for three weeks and more. He disliked the audible yawn with which Cash manifested his return from the deathlike unconsciousness of sleep. He disliked the look of Cash's rough coat and sweater and cap, that hung on a nail over Cash's bunk. He disliked the thought of getting up in the cold—and more, the sure knowledge that unless he did get up, and that speedily, Cash would be dressed ahead of him, and starting a fire in the cookstove. Which meant that Cash would be the first to cook and eat his breakfast, and that the warped ethics of their dumb quarrel would demand that Bud pretend to be asleep until Cash had fried his bacon and his hotcakes and had carried them to his end of the oilcloth-covered table.
When, by certain well-known sounds, Bud was sure that Cash was eating, he could, without loss of dignity or without suspicion of making any overtures toward friendliness, get up and dress and cook his own breakfast, and eat it at his own end of the table. Bud wondered how long Cash, the old fool, would sulk like that. Not that he gave a darn—he just wondered, is all. For all he cared, Cash could go on forever cooking his own meals and living on his own side of the shack. Bud certainly would not interrupt him in acting the fool, and if Cash wanted to keep it up till spring, Cash was perfectly welcome to do so. It just showed how ornery a man could be when he was let to go. So far as he was concerned, he would just as soon as not have that dead line painted down the middle of the cabin floor.
Nor did its presence there trouble him in the least. Just this morning, however, the fact of Cash's stubbornness in keeping to his own side of the line irritated Bud. He wanted to get back at the old hound somehow—without giving in an inch in the mute deadlock. Furthermore, he was hungry, and he did not propose to lie there and starve while old Cash pottered around the stove. He'd tell the world he was going to have his own breakfast first, and if Cash didn't want to set in on the cooking, Cash could lie in bed till he was paralyzed, and be darned.
At that moment Cash pushed back the blankets that had been banked to his ears. Simultaneously, Bud swung his feet to the cold floor with a thump designed solely to inform Cash that Bud was getting up. Cash turned over with his back to the room and pulled up the blankets. Bud grinned maliciously and dressed as deliberately as the cold of the cabin would let him. To be sure, there was the disadvantage of having to start his own fire, but that disagreeable task was offset by the pleasure he would get in messing around as long as he could, cooking his breakfast. He even thought of frying potatoes and onions after he cooked his bacon. Potatoes and onions fried together have a lovely tendency to stick to the frying pan, especially if there is not too much grease, and if they are fried very slowly. Cash would have to do some washing and scraping, when it came his turn to cook. Bud knew just about how mad that would make Cash, and he dwelt upon the prospect relishfully.
Bud never wanted potatoes for his breakfast. Coffee, bacon, and hotcakes suited him perfectly. But just for meanness, because he felt mean and he wanted to act mean, he sliced the potatoes and the onions into the frying pan, and, to make his work artistically complete, he let them burn and stick to the pan,—after he had his bacon and hotcakes fried, of course!
He sat down and began to eat. And presently Cash crawled out into the warm room filled with the odor of frying onions, and dressed himself with the detached calm of the chronically sulky individual. Not once did the manner of either man betray any consciousness of the other's presence. Unless some detail of the day's work compelled them to speech, not once for more than three weeks had either seemed conscious of the other.
Cash washed his face and his hands, took the side of bacon, and cut three slices with the precision of long practice. Bud sopped his last hotcake in a pool of syrup and watched him from the corner of his eyes, without turning his head an inch toward Cash. His keenest desire, just then, was to see Cash when he tackled the frying pan.
But Cash disappointed him there. He took a pie tin off the shelf and laid his strips of bacon on it, and set it in the oven; which is a very good way of cooking breakfast bacon, as Bud well knew. Cash then took down the little square baking pan, greased from the last baking of bread, and in that he fried his hot cakes. As if that were not sufficiently exasperating, he gave absolutely no sign of being conscious of the frying pan any more than he was conscious of Bud. He did not overdo it by whistling, or even humming a tune—which would have given Bud an excuse to say something almost as mean as his mood. Abstractedness rode upon Cash's lined brow. Placid meditation shone forth from his keen old blue-gray eyes.
The bacon came from the oven juicy-crisp and curled at the edges and delicately browned. The cakes came out of the baking pan brown and thick and light. Cash sat down at his end of the table, pulled his own can of sugar and his own cup of syrup and his own square of butter toward him; poured his coffee, that he had made in a small lard pail, and began to eat his breakfast exactly as though he was alone in that cabin.
A great resentment filled Bud's soul to bursting, The old hound! Bud believed now that Cash was capable of leaving that frying pan dirty for the rest of the day! A man like that would do anything! If it wasn't for that claim, he'd walk off and forget to come back.
Thinking of that seemed to crystallize into definite purpose what had been muddling his mind with vague impulses to let his mood find expression. He would go to Alpine that day. He would hunt up Frank and see if he couldn't jar him into showing that he had a mind of his own. Twice since that first unexpected spree, he had spent a good deal of time and gold dust and consumed a good deal of bad whisky and beer, in testing the inherent obligingness of Frank. The last attempt had been the cause of the final break between him and Cash. Cash had reminded Bud harshly that they would need that gold to develop their quartz claim, and he had further stated that he wanted no "truck" with a gambler and a drunkard, and that Bud had better straighten up if he wanted to keep friends with Cash.
Bud had retorted that Cash might as well remember that Bud had a half interest in the two claims, and that he would certainly stay with it. Meantime, he would tell the world he was his own boss, and Cash needn't think for a minute that Bud was going to ask permission for what he did or did not do. Cash needn't have any truck with him, either. It suited Bud very well to keep on his own side of the cabin, and he'd thank Cash to mind his own business and not step over the dead line.
Cash had laughed disagreeably and asked Bud what he was going to do—draw a chalk mark, maybe?
Bud, half drunk and unable to use ordinary good sense, had said yes, by thunder, he'd draw a chalk line if he wanted to, and if he did, Cash had better not step over it either, unless he wanted to be kicked back.
Wherefore the broad, black line down the middle of the floor to where the table stood. Obviously, he could not well divide the stove and the teakettle and the frying pan and coffeepot. The line stopped abruptly with a big blob of lampblack mixed with coal oil, just where necessity compelled them both to use the same floor space.
The next day Bud had been ashamed of the performance, but his shame could not override his stubbornness. The black line stared up at him accusingly. Cash, keeping scrupulously upon his own side of it, went coldly about his own affairs and never yielded so much as a glance at Bud. And Bud grew more moody and dissatisfied with himself, but he would not yield, either. Perversely he waited for Cash to apologize for what he had said about gamblers and drunkards, and tried to believe that upon Cash rested all of the blame.
Now he washed his own breakfast dishes, including the frying pan, spread the blankets smooth on his bunk, swept as much of the floor as lay upon his side of the dead line. Because the wind was in the storm quarter and the lowering clouds promised more snow, he carried in three big armfuls of wood and placed them upon his corner of the fireplace, to provide warmth when he returned. Cash would not touch that wood while Bud was gone, and Bud knew it. Cash would freeze first. But there was small chance of that, because a small, silent rivalry had grown from the quarrel; a rivalry to see which kept the best supply of wood, which swept cleanest under his bunk and up to the black line, which washed his dishes cleanest, and kept his shelf in the cupboard the tidiest. Before the fireplace in an evening Cash would put on wood, and when next it was needed, Bud would get up and put on wood. Neither would stoop to stinting or to shirking, neither would give the other an inch of ground for complaint. It was not enlivening to live together that way, but it worked well toward keeping the cabin ship shape.