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Cabin Fever

B. M. Bower

  Produced by Anthony Matonak


  By B. M. Bower






  There is a certain malady of the mind induced by too much of one thing.Just as the body fed too long upon meat becomes a prey to that horriddisease called scurvy, so the mind fed too long upon monotony succumbsto the insidious mental ailment which the West calls "cabin fever."True, it parades under different names, according to circumstances andcaste. You may be afflicted in a palace and call it ennui, and it maydrive you to commit peccadillos and indiscretions of various sorts. Youmay be attacked in a middle-class apartment house, and call it variousnames, and it may drive you to cafe life and affinities and alimony. Youmay have it wherever you are shunted into a backwater of life, and losethe sense of being borne along in the full current of progress. Be surethat it will make you abnormally sensitive to little things; irritablewhere once you were amiable; glum where once you went whistling aboutyour work and your play. It is the crystallizer of character, the acidtest of friendship, the final seal set upon enmity. It will betray yourlittle, hidden weaknesses, cut and polish your undiscovered virtues,reveal you in all your glory or your vileness to your companions inexile--if so be you have any.

  If you would test the soul of a friend, take him into the wildernessand rub elbows with him for five months! One of three things will surelyhappen: You will hate each other afterward with that enlightened hatredwhich is seasoned with contempt; you will emerge with the contempttinged with a pitying toleration, or you will be close, unquestioningfriends to the last six feet of earth--and beyond. All these things willcabin fever do, and more. It has committed murder, many's the time. Ithas driven men crazy. It has warped and distorted character out of allsemblance to its former self. It has sweetened love and killed love.There is an antidote--but I am going to let you find the antidotesomewhere in the story.

  Bud Moore, ex-cow-puncher and now owner of an auto stage that did notrun in the winter, was touched with cabin fever and did not know whatailed him. His stage line ran from San Jose up through Los Gatos andover the Bear Creek road across the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountainsand down to the State Park, which is locally called Big Basin. Forsomething over fifty miles of wonderful scenic travel he charged sixdollars, and usually his big car was loaded to the running boards. Budwas a good driver, and he had a friendly pair of eyes--dark blue andwith a humorous little twinkle deep down in them somewhere--and a humanlittle smiley quirk at the corners of his lips. He did not know it, butthese things helped to fill his car.

  Until gasoline married into the skylark family, Bud did well enough tokeep him contented out of a stock saddle. (You may not know it, butit is harder for an old cow-puncher to find content, now that the freerange is gone into history, than it is for a labor agitator to be happyin a municipal boarding house.)

  Bud did well enough, which was very well indeed. Before the secondseason closed with the first fall rains, he had paid for his big carand got the insurance policy transferred to his name. He walked upFirst Street with his hat pushed back and a cigarette dangling from thequirkiest corner of his mouth, and his hands in his pockets. The glow ofprosperity warmed his manner toward the world. He had a little money inthe bank, he had his big car, he had the good will of a smiling world.He could not walk half a block in any one of three or four towns but hewas hailed with a "Hello, Bud!" in a welcoming tone. More people knewhim than Bud remembered well enough to call by name--which is the finalproof of popularity the world over.

  In that glowing mood he had met and married a girl who went into BigBasin with her mother and camped for three weeks. The girl had takenfrequent trips to Boulder Creek, and twice had gone on to San Jose, andshe had made it a point to ride with the driver because she was crazyabout cars. So she said. Marie had all the effect of being a prettygirl. She habitually wore white middies with blue collar and tie, whichwent well with her clear, pink skin and her hair that just escaped beingred. She knew how to tilt her "beach" hat at the most provocative angle,and she knew just when to let Bud catch a slow, sidelong glance--of thekind that is supposed to set a man's heart to syncopatic behavior. Shedid not do it too often. She did not powder too much, and she had thelatest slang at her pink tongue's tip and was yet moderate in her use ofit.

  Bud did not notice Marie much on the first trip. She was demure, and Budhad a girl in San Jose who had brought him to that interesting stageof dalliance where he wondered if he dared kiss her good night thenext time he called. He was preoccupiedly reviewing theshe-said-and-then-I-said, and trying to make up his mind whether heshould kiss her and take a chance on her displeasure, or whether he hadbetter wait. To him Marie appeared hazily as another camper who helpedfill the car--and his pocket--and was not at all hard to look at. Itwas not until the third trip that Bud thought her beautiful, and wassecretly glad that he had not kissed that San Jose girl.

  You know how these romances develop. Every summer is saturated with themthe world over. But Bud happened to be a simple-souled fellow, and therewas something about Marie--He didn't know what it was. Men never doknow, until it is all over. He only knew that the drive through theshady stretches of woodland grew suddenly to seem like little journeysinto paradise. Sentiment lurked behind every great, mossy tree bole. Newbeauties unfolded in the winding drive up over the mountain crests. Budwas terribly in love with the world in those days.

  There were the evenings he spent in the Basin, sitting beside Mariein the huge campfire circle, made wonderful by the shadowy giants,the redwoods; talking foolishness in undertones while the crowd sangsnatches of songs which no one knew from beginning to end, and that wentvery lumpy in the verses and very much out of harmony in the choruses.Sometimes they would stroll down toward that sweeter music the creekmade, and stand beside one of the enormous trees and watch the glow ofthe fire, and the silhouettes of the people gathered around it.

  In a week they were surreptitiously holding hands. In two weeks theycould scarcely endure the partings when Bud must start back to San Jose,and were taxing their ingenuity to invent new reasons why Marie must goalong. In three weeks they were married, and Marie's mother--a shrewd,shrewish widow--was trying to decide whether she should wash her handsof Marie, or whether it might be well to accept the situation and hopethat Bud would prove himself a rising young man.

  But that was a year in the past. Bud had cabin fever now and did notknow what ailed him, though cause might have been summed up in two meatyphrases: too much idleness, and too much mother-in-law. Also, not enoughcomfort and not enough love.

  In the kitchen of the little green cottage on North Sixth Street whereBud had built the home nest with much nearly-Mission furniture and apiano, Bud was frying his own hotcakes for his ten o'clock breakfast,and was scowling over the task. He did not mind the hour so much, but hedid mortally hate to cook his own breakfast--or any other meal, for thatmatter. In the next room a rocking chair was rocking with a rhythmicsqueak, and a baby was squalling with that sustained volume of soundwhich never fails to fill the
adult listener with amazement. It affectedBud unpleasantly, just as the incessant bawling of a band of weaningcalves used to do. He could not bear the thought of young things goinghungry.

  "For the love of Mike, Marie! Why don't you feed that kid, or dosomething to shut him up?" he exploded suddenly, dribbling pancakebatter over the untidy range.

  The squeak, squawk of the rocker ceased abruptly. "'Cause it isn't timeyet to feed him--that's why. What's burning out there? I'll bet you'vegot the stove all over dough again--" The chair resumed its squeaking,the baby continued uninterrupted its wah-h-hah! wah-h-hah, as though itwas a phonograph that had been wound up with that record on, and no onearound to stop it

  Bud turned his hotcakes with a vicious flop that spattered more batteron the stove. He had been a father only a month or so, but that waslong enough to learn many things about babies which he had never knownbefore. He knew, for instance, that the baby wanted its bottle, and thatMarie was going to make him wait till feeding time by the clock.

  "By heck, I wonder what would happen if that darn clock was to stop!" heexclaimed savagely, when his nerves would bear no more. "You'd let thekid starve to death before you'd let your own brains tell you whatto do! Husky youngster like that--feeding 'im four ounces every fourdays--or some simp rule like that--" He lifted the cakes on to a platethat held two messy-looking fried eggs whose yolks had broken, set theplate on the cluttered table and slid petulantly into a chair and beganto eat. The squeaking chair and the crying baby continued to tormenthim. Furthermore, the cakes were doughy in the middle.

  "For gosh sake, Marie, give that kid his bottle!" Bud exploded again."Use the brains God gave yuh--such as they are! By heck, I'll stickthat darn book in the stove. Ain't yuh got any feelings at all? Why, Iwouldn't let a dog go hungry like that! Don't yuh reckon the kid knowswhen he's hungry? Why, good Lord! I'll take and feed him myself, if youdon't. I'll burn that book--so help me!"

  "Yes, you will--not!" Marie's voice rose shrewishly, riding the highwaves of the baby's incessant outcry against the restrictions uponappetite imposed by enlightened motherhood. "You do, and see what'llhappen! You'd have him howling with colic, that's what you'd do."

  "Well, I'll tell the world he wouldn't holler for grub! You'd go by thebook if it told yuh to stand 'im on his head in the ice chest! By heck,between a woman and a hen turkey, give me the turkey when it comes tosense. They do take care of their young ones--"

  "Aw, forget that! When it comes to sense---"

  Oh, well, why go into details? You all know how these domestic stormsarise, and how love washes overboard when the matrimonial ship begins towallow in the seas of recrimination.

  Bud lost his temper and said a good many things should not have said.Marie flung back angry retorts and reminded Bud of all his sins andslights and shortcomings, and told him many of mamma's pessimisticprophecies concerning him, most of which seemed likely to be fulfilled.Bud fought back, telling Marie how much of a snap she had had since shemarried him, and how he must have looked like ready money to her, andadded that now, by heck, he even had to do his own cooking, as well aslisten to her whining and nagging, and that there wasn't clean corner inthe house, and she'd rather let her own baby go hungry than break a simprule in a darn book got up by a bunch of boobs that didn't know anythingabout kids. Surely to goodness, he finished his heated paragraph, itwouldn't break any woman's back to pour a little warm water on a littlemalted milk, and shake it up.

  He told Marie other things, and in return, Marie informed him that hewas just a big-mouthed, lazy brute, and she could curse the day she evermet him. That was going pretty far. Bud reminded her that she had notdone any cursing at the time, being in his opinion too busy roping himin to support her.

  By that time he had gulped down his coffee, and was into his coat,and looking for his hat. Marie, crying and scolding and rocking thevociferous infant, interrupted herself to tell him that she wanted aten-cent roll of cotton from the drug store, and added that she hopedshe would not have to wait until next Christmas for it, either. Whichbit of sarcasm so inflamed Bud's rage that he swore every step of theway to Santa Clara Avenue, and only stopped then because he happened tomeet a friend who was going down town, and they walked together.

  At the drug store on the corner of Second Street Bud stopped and boughtthe cotton, feeling remorseful for some of the things he had said toMarie, but not enough so to send him back home to tell her he was sorry.He went on, and met another friend before he had taken twenty steps.This friend was thinking of buying a certain second-hand automobile thatwas offered at a very low price, and he wanted Bud to go with him andlook her over. Bud went, glad of the excuse to kill the rest of theforenoon.

  They took the car out and drove to Schutzen Park and back. Bud opinedthat she didn't bark to suit him, and she had a knock in her cylindersthat shouted of carbon. They ran her into the garage shop and went deepinto her vitals, and because she jerked when Bud threw her into second,Bud suspected that her bevel gears had lost a tooth or two, and waseager to find out for sure.

  Bill looked at his watch and suggested that they eat first before theygot all over grease by monkeying with the rear end. So they went to thenearest restaurant and had smothered beefsteak and mashed potato andcoffee and pie, and while they ate they talked of gears and carburetorsand transmission and ignition troubles, all of which alleviatedtemporarily Bud's case of cabin fever and caused him to forget that hewas married and had quarreled with his wife and had heard a good manyunkind things which his mother-in-law had said about him.

  By the time they were back in the garage and had the grease cleaned outof the rear gears so that they could see whether they were really burredor broken, as Bud had suspected, the twinkle was back in his eyes, andthe smiley quirk stayed at the corners of his mouth, and when he was nottalking mechanics with Bill he was whistling. He found much lost motionand four broken teeth, and he was grease to his eyebrows--in otherwords, he was happy.

  When he and Bill finally shed their borrowed overalls and caps, thegarage lights were on, and the lot behind the shop was dusky. Bud satdown on the running board and began to figure what the actual costof the bargain would be when Bill had put it into good mechanicalcondition. New bearings, new bevel gear, new brake, lining, reboredcylinders--they totalled a sum that made Bill gasp.

  By the time Bud had proved each item an absolute necessity, and hadreached the final ejaculation: "Aw, forget it, Bill, and buy yuh aFord!" it was so late that he knew Marie must have given up lookingfor him home to supper. She would have taken it for granted that he hadeaten down town. So, not to disappoint her, Bud did eat down town. ThenBill wanted him to go to a movie, and after a praiseworthy hesitationBud yielded to temptation and went. No use going home now, just whenMarie would be rocking the kid to sleep and wouldn't let him speak abovea whisper, he told his conscience. Might as well wait till they settleddown for the night.