Bud could hear the irritation in Einar’s voice, the barely-concealed rage behind his calm assertion that they would keep on as they had been, and he sensed that it was time to back off, to give the man a little room to think about things, stop pushing so hard for a time--his rest in the cabin had done him a lot of good, but could not, after all, really have begun to erase the effects of the past week of sleeplessness and strain, and Bud knew it--but Susan hadn’t got the message, apparently, and wasn’t giving up.
“This thing you’re talking about doing--bringing a little one into the world up here in the middle of winter--it has been done before, I’m sure, and you can do it…if anyone can do it, it’s you two, but think about it…you know what this place is going to be like in the winter, the feet upon feet of snow that will cover it, the wind and the cold, and if anything goes wrong and you have to move… Einar, I know you don’t want to come out, and there’s really nothing I can say to you to try and change your mind on that I haven’t. already said. I understand that you need to be here. But I want you to know that if it needs to be…Liz, if it needs to be just you and the baby, just come down and stay with me--or in another location, we can find someplace very safe, someplace they’d never dream of looking--until the little one’s born and old enough to hold her own a little better up here, we could do that, and then fly you back up to the basin, the two of you…”
Bud could feel Einar bristle at the suggestion, could feel it from four feet away, though the fugitive was doing an admirable job of maintaining the outward illusion of calm and quiet, and he sincerely hoped Susan would not attempt to expound too much further on the proposal--Einar, he had little doubt, would have responded physically by that point if it had been his suggestion rather than Susan’s; the only thing saving her, far as he could see, was the fact that she was a woman, and was Liz’s friend--and he scrambled to try and think of something he might say to turn the conversation in a different direction before things deteriorated any further, but Liz saved him the trouble.
“No. Oh, no. I’m staying with my husband, and if that means staying up here, then so be it. We’ve lost and found each other way too many times for me to want to volunteer for another one! Either we both stay, or we both go.” She moved closer to Einar on the log, tried to put an arm around his waist but felt that he was incredibly tense, coiled like a spring and not wanting to be touched, so she gave him his space. Figured his foot must be hurting him a great deal that afternoon, in addition to all the other things that were demanding his attention, and she half wished their meeting with Bud and Susan might be at an end so she could talk him back into the cabin for more sleep, but knew they had as of yet resolved little, weren’t finished. Not to mention that sleep appeared to be the furthest thing from Einar’s mind at the moment, eyes wide and staring as he studied the woods behind Bud and Susan, looking like he fully expected someone to appear out there amongst the trees and being--she had no doubt--fully prepared to deal with such an incursion, should it happen. Didn’t happen, though, and after a brief bur rather expectant-seeming pause Susan nodded, rose.
“That’s up to the two of you, or course. We’re just trying to make sure you see all the options, give them some thought--please give them some thought--and see if one of them might be made to work for you. Now. Wasn’t I supposed to be carrying jerky baskets over to the cabin? Better get back to work.” Liz, trying to catch Einar’s eye but seeing him deep in thought, went with her.
For some time Liz and Susan worked together in silence, ferrying baskets from their resting spot beneath the hanging trees to the cabin, where Liz worked with a careful deliberation to hang them from the rafters, placing each one exactly as she had arranged it before their recent departure for the valley and wishing desperately that the silence from outside, where Einar and Bud still sat facing each other, had not been so resounding. Somebody ought to say something, ought break that silence but it went on, Kilgore knowing better than to interrupt the thoughts that no doubt roiled and simmered in there just behind Einar’s very deliberately blank eyes. The man would come out of it when he was ready, would talk, and until then Bud was perfectly content to sit, and to wait. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such for one man or another who he considered to be a friend. Passing not far from them on each jerky-ferrying trip, Liz and Susan did their best to ignore the two men, soon finishing with their task. While in transit between the hanging trees and cabin, Liz had pointed out to Susan several of the plants that they had come to rely on up there to supplement their diet of rabbit, bear and sheep, and Susan listened with pleasure to Liz’s descriptions of the many benefits of the nettles, violets, shepherd’s purse and others that made their homes in the dappled sunlight beneath the scrawny aspens just outside the clearing. Several of those same plants Susan had introduced to Liz during her time up at the house, though the knowledge she had passed along represented only a tiny fraction of what Liz had since acquired through using the plants in her everyday life, and from Einar. Raspberries were one thing that Susan did not see sign of up there, though the terrain certainly seemed conducive to their growth.
“In all your wanderings up here, have you happened upon a little patch or two of wild raspberries?”
“Oh, yes! There’s an entire gully full of then down in the basin. Earlier in the summer I dried what I thought was a huge quantity of the leaves--Einar even helped me harvest them and spread them out for drying--but I’ve been surprised at how quickly they’ve got used up. Getting a little low. I really ought to put up another bundle or two of them before the leaves start turning and falling off…”
“I’m glad you’ve been using the leaves up quickly. You ought to be drinking a good quart or so of that stuff every day when you can. It’ll help when the time comes.”
“Oh, I have been. Been making a whole cook pot full of it most mornings, and Einar occasionally has a little, but I’m drinking most of it. Only now I’m almost out of the dried leaves, so had better be thinking about…”
“Well, no time’s better than the present. I think these guys could use some space, anyway. Let’s go get it done!”
While Liz went into the cabin for a pair of leaf-harvesting baskets (jerky baskets, berry picking baskets, everything had many and multiple uses, around there) Susan stopped briefly by to tell Bud and Einar where they were headed. Neither responded with more than a grunt or a nod, but Susan knew they had heard, and would have spoken up had there been any reason for objection. Leaving together for the basin--Liz was, despite the tension in camp r maybe even partially because if it, actually somewhat looking forward to showing Susan a few of the sights there in the area, the tarn with its impossibly still, sky-reflecting waters, the little patches of stunted shepherd’s purse where she had been gathering and drying leaves for use after the birth…must remember to ask her more about how and when they’re to be used, I know she has the details…and the rock-strewn little gully whose partially shaded steeps had proven such a fruitful refuge for raspberry thickets--they looked back just before entering the timber, saw the two men still sitting across from one another on the meeting-logs, involved in what appeared to be a rather intense and possibly even angry conversation.