While the supper finished cooking, Susan did a small batch of laundry in the largest of the cook pots she had brought, stirring well-used socks in with a bit of soap shaved from the bar she’d brought--intended gift for Liz, who she knew would consider it an incredible luxury, but before giving it, she really did need to do the laundry--before rinsing them in a pot of fresh water, hurrying out through the tunnel to wring them and hanging the clean things above the stove to dry. Taking great care to get the soap set on a small bundle of dry spruce needles so as to prevent any unnecessary softening or melting, she handed it to Liz.
“Brought this for you. I didn’t know if you would have found a way to make soap up here yet, and thought this might come in handy.”
Liz took the soap--pine tar; Susan had thought the smell of it would blend in well with the surroundings--and held it up to her nose, a look of delight on her face. “Yes! It will be very, very handy! We’ve talked about making soap, and of course between the bear fat and all the ashes we produce in the stove, we could get the ingredients together, but it seems that it never has quite worked its way far enough up the list of priorities to actually get done. By the time I use this up though, we will have figured out how to do it, and given a batch a try! You hear that, Einar?”
Which he had not, exactly, having been engaged just then in a rather intense discussion with Bud Kilgore on the best way to splint his leg for easier travel though the snow, but possessing at times the ability to hear the details of more than one conversation at once, he had at least some idea.
“What’s that? Soap?”
“Yes! I want to experiment with making soap.”
“Sure. We’ll do it. Start saving ashes, leach some lye out of them, and we’ll try it.”
On with the supper preparations, then, Susan tending the stir fry and Liz helping by preparing a batch of flat bread with the last of the flour Susan had brought, seasoning the round little loaves with dried wild garlic and cooking them in a tiny bit of bear grease on a hot stone atop the stove. Einar, for his part, helped by entertaining Will so Liz could have her hands to do the cooking, the little fellow full and content after a quick meal but as usual, unwilling to be set down for so much as a minute or two without putting up a rather loud and insistent fuss. Critter certainly knew how to get what he wanted, and Einar supposed that as he got older, he would have to learn that there is a time and place to make such demands, and one for keeping quiet and being happy with what you’ve got, too. But that could all come later. For the moment, it can only be a good thing that the little guy is able to express himself so forcefully when it comes to having his needs met. Means he’s got good, strong instincts I guess, and intends to make sure he gets plenty to eat and whatever else he needs to grow big and strong and even louder than he already is! Which is kinda hard to imagine, I’ve got to admit. That infernal wailing of his is just about enough to take the hide off a full-grown cape buffalo, and when he insists on carrying on with it for what can seem like hours on end…well, just about makes me want to run my head into the wall! Doesn’t seem to affect Liz that way, though. Which is a real good thing. And besides, it seems he can almost always be made a good bit more content if someone’s just willing to pick him up and start walking, so that can be my job, from time to time.
“Too bad,” he spoke softly to the infant, who was wide awake and watching his face with the fascination that comes of discovery, eyesight continually improving and the world gradually revealing itself in all its splendor, “that we don’t have any cape buffalo around here for you to take the hide off of with that voice of yours. Because that’d be a real useful skill, you know? Save us a lot of work when it comes to skinning. Think you could take the hide off an elk? Or bighorn? I bet you could, alright. Gonna have to try that next time we take something, see how it works. Can start with a rabbit, just for practice and to begin perfecting your skill. Got to get the pitch just right if you want it to work, I would think. It’s all about the pitch. You may have just found yourself a job, fella.”
Liz, unbeknownst to Einar, had been listening in, and started laughing when he mentioned the part about the job. “So you’ve got him work already, have you? That sounds like a mighty big job for such a small person, but he certainly seems to have the lung capacity for it, doesn’t he?”
“Well, sure he does! Born on a mountainside of a mama who’s spent the last couple of years at high elevations, he’s bound to have good lungs, good strong blood and pretty soon when he starts moving around a little more, he’ll have a heart to match, and then there’ll be no stopping him. He’ll just be crawling all over the timber, wailing the hides off of rabbits and squirrels and marmots and such, and as soon as he’s up and about on his feet, he’ll be going after larger prey like deer, bobcats, maybe even elk! Be a great hunter before he’s even old enough to wield the little bola and sling I’m gonna make for him, crawling back to the cabin in the evening with supper slung over his back. You’ll see!”
“I certainly hope he isn’t going to be crawling all over the timber all by himself in a few months, but so long as you’re with him, I guess it’s never too early to start passing along some of those skills. Though by then, this thin wail of his will have changed and developed and he probably won’t be using it nearly as often, anyway. Especially when he starts learning to talk, and has some way to communicate with us other than screeching incessantly until he gets whatever it is that he needs or wants.”
“Now that’ll be a good thing! Can’t hardly blame him for using the only means he’s got at his disposal for communicating, now can we? Bet he’ll learn to talk pretty early, don’t you think? Just look at the way he watches me, staring like that. You can be sure he’ll start picking up on things pretty quick, if he keeps up that kind of focus.”
“He is,” Susan jumped in, reaching for the child, “no doubt going to be a tremendously intensely focused individual, just like his father. Now how about you give me a turn with the little guy since I have to leave tomorrow, and you go enjoy some of this supper with Liz and Bud for a little while.”
Somewhat reluctantly--he had really come to treasure his conversations with the tiny person, those great grey serious eyes searching his own--Einar handed over the baby, turned his attention to the meal.