The Cube - Chapter 4 - Continued

***
The walk to the angle house was excruciating with the newlyweds negotiating a series of traction studs and angular garden stones like goats on a steep incline. The father could not support them both simultaneously and elected to support neither. Through an arch in the colonnade of the cloister they emerged into a small garden across which rested a bizarre block house set in the ground tilted on a corner, a partially submerged four-sided diamond clad in cream stucco with teal shutters. So this was what the father called an angle house. A small half-pipe led from the cloister through the garden to a decline down to the door of the house. The father opened the door and led them inside to a narrow landing on which he stood upright with the gravity of the Notches.

The floor turned upward from the landing on either side at a forty-five degree angle to form a “v” shape, creating two floors at perfect right angles to one another, one for the gravity of Arland, the other for Skava. Where the landing stopped the two floors met in a corner at a right angle extending to the far wall. Here in this house people from the great nations could coexist, the floor for one being a wall for the other. Each floor looked like a sparsely furnished bedroom with a sideland bedroom oriented at a right angle taking up a wall. Haysacks lay against the far walls of the respective floors such that a person sleeping on one would perceive the other as sleeping at the top of a bedroom wall. By a window at the far end of the corner from the landing, in the fold of the two rooms, stood an L-shaped table at which an Arlander could break bread with a Skavian, each using one segment of the “L” as a flat surface with their dinner companion using the other, their heads converging in the space above the table at an implied corner of a crude square formed by the two floors underneath and their seated bodies.

The table was empty but for a half-eaten strip of toomoo, a viscous candy flavored with trape. All sorts of odd furniture and bric-a-brac from prior occupants littered the respective floors, dingy felt chairs, a studded leather ottoman, a bookshelf filled with the detritus of other people’s reading lists, a chest of drawers with brass handles depicting suckleworms eating their tails, a clothes rack holding weight suits and outgrown children’s clothing, and a doll house resembling an Arlander field cottage with a removable roof revealing scattered miniatures. Wall hangings depicted various odd scenes such as the Stairway to the Sun in Leri Deri, a kite festival on the floating islands of Lake Looda, and skunks eating carrots. Together the two floors had enough furnishings for a person to live comfortably but unfortunately an occupant of one floor could not easily use the trappings of the other. They would have to share.

“Let me guess,” the father said. “You have no food. I will bring you a basket of fresh angoo.”

Mutt nearly gagged so sick he was of the lavender fruit. But he felt he could not complain and accepted the father’s generosity. From the half-pipe the couple managed to step through the door onto their respective floors on either side of the landing. They took comfort in returning to the flat surfaces of their natural gravity after the confines of half-pipes and traction studs.

“Father,” Ivy said, her face still radiant. “We thank you for you kindness. We would now like some time alone.”

Mutt was livid at the stunt she pulled. After so earnestly offering a farewell by the sign for the Notches she had just tricked him into a vow of eternal union. True, a marriage warrant marked “Tom no surname” and “Cerise no surname” would likely carry little weight in Shivaree but he resented being placed in this situation. Ivy continued to glow even after the father departed making Mutt wonder if she viewed the wedding as real. She shuttered the windows on her side of the angle and instructed him to do the same. Suddenly he realized he was alone in a wedding suite with a blushing bride closing the windows to achieve total privacy. He stepped forward to the corner of the floors and caught Ivy’s eye.

“It was a lovely wedding,” he offered in his most charming voice. “May I deflower you now?”

She looked at him sweetly. “You will have to work much harder for that.” She was completely serious.

Mutt collapsed onto his haysack exhausted. He had expected such an answer but did not regret asking. He was tired of the charade and wanted to end it. Ivy found an infuser and stale trape, an aromatic tea made from ground leaves of the trape tree, which had the distinction of producing not only a tea widely consumed in both nations but also a sickly sweet fruit pod nearly as popular in Arland as the angoo in Skava. She fumbled around with an electric burner on top of a cooling chamber enlisting Mutt’s instructions from his haysack, filled a kettle from a jug of Skavian sidewater, and tossed the infuser inside. She invited him to the L table to share a cup of tea.

“I am sorry to put you on the spot. Thank you for playing along.”

“It was nothing. I commonly wed strangers in angle churches.”

“Am I still a stranger?”

He had been joking but her question was serious.

“Ivy,” he paused. “How did you know my mother was a lawmaker?”

“Did I say that?”

“You were delirious. Right after you fell from the Edge.”

“I don’t remember saying that.”

“It does not matter what you remember. How did you know?”

“What else did I say?” She was alarmed.

“You need to be honest with me.”

“I cannot send you back to Shivaree with my secrets.”

“I would never tell.”

“It’s not that,” she said, fumbling with the handle of her teacup. “There are some things you cannot know.” She could not tell him. He would leave her if he knew about the Oopsah. She drew a deep breath. She could not keep him forever in the dark. She decided to tell him part of the truth.

“Our meeting was not an accident.”

Mutt was stunned.

“I was sent to meet you at the Edge. We knew you would be there.”

He remained speechless.

“The filler?” he asked, finally finding voice, referring to the water station attendant.

“Yes.”

“He is a Skavian spy?”

“No. He is an informant for Arland. We intercepted his message.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Interior. It was a special assignment. I did not normally work for them.”

“Who did you work for?”

She halted.

“Tobor Zranga.”

A chill passed through Mutt’s body. It was a name that struck fear in Arlanders everywhere, a man regarded as the third most powerful in Skava after the Interior Minister and the Great Man himself, and one associated with all the shadowy projects of the regime.

“Dear God,” Mutt whispered. “How did you wind up in his clutches?”

“My parents. They were researchers at the facility under his direction. They thought I could be useful for his investigations. Targets are less likely to suspect an innocent girl.”

Mutt finally found courage to ask the question. “Why were they targeting me?”

“They did not tell me. I was sent only to get your prints. I could not betray you and I wiped them clean.” She knew what they were looking for but was afraid to tell him. He so obviously loved his mother she could not jeopardize the bond.

Mutt’s worldview was shifting. He was suddenly no longer a rural boy from Shivaree. He was a target of international espionage. He felt both important and scared. What possibly could they want from him? Was he safe?

“Was the photo of you?” He did not know why he asked that question at that moment.

“No,” she said. “I have no photos of my early childhood.”

It occurred to Mutt he had no photos either. They were lost in a fire, he was told. A horrific thought crossed his mind and he immediately and completely eradicated it. He needed fixed points in the world to cling to and his life in Shivaree was the most fixed of all. He leaned back on the rear legs of his chair enthralled by this stranger before him. She was escaping absolute evil and he had no doubt she was absolute good. But she was not telling him everything. She knew more about her mission to the Edge and he sensed that her horrors ran far deeper.

In a flash he connected two dots. She used the past tense referring to her parents. He had not noticed at first.

“Who do they think you killed?”

“I would rather not say.”

“Your parents.”

Ivy’s fingers trembled.

“Yes.”
She wanted to shatter the teacup in her hands.

She had not acted like an orphan to Mutt. He had not seen the pain he would expect from himself if Mira and Dox were murdered.

“Did you kill them?”

“I did not kill my parents.”

Mutt found her tone suspicious, as if she were drawing hidden distinctions. He was thoroughly unnerved. He had waded into waters far too deep and was faced with an evil he could not comprehend. Was that evil in the person before him, or was she the victim of that evil? He could not believe she was a bad person, so dramatic was her flight from Harmour, so complete was her trust in him. She was not going to tell him everything and he would have to rely on intuition which told him in the voice of his mother one thing. Protect this girl, for she is an innocent. Mutt had wanted Ivy to spill her secrets but he no longer wished to hear anything. Ignorance had its virtues and he was fearful of stepping into her tortured world. He returned to his haysack where a remarkable transformation took place. All that he just heard was stored away in a cubbyhole far away from the screen of his conscious, and he again was Mutt Ogga from Shivaree stuck on the floor of an angle house in the Notches looking for adventure with an exotic stranger. Ivy could not comprehend his thought processes and feared he was withdrawing from her, that this little taste of her secrets, such a small portion of the infernal whole, would alone drive him away. He did not speak for a half hour while the file clerks in his brain busily stored the information, Ivy seated somberly in her chair at the L table feeling desolate.

The silence was broken by a loud rap at the door. The father, oblivious to the closed shutters and presumed coupling of newlyweds, entered with his baskets of angoos. He handed a basket cultivated to Arland gravity to Ivy, and a basket with Skavian gravity to Mutt. If they were to convert to the gravity of the Notches they each had to eat food from the other’s land. Mutt switched his basket with Ivy assuming the father made a mistake. It had not even occurred to him to eat Skavian food. He was not about to reorient his body so he could be trapped in this place. The father looked at him reproachfully.

“Son, you have the wrong basket.”

Mutt realized his gaffe and switched the baskets back but the father plainly gathered what was going on. He had known already. He would never have interrupted newly wedded bliss had he thought the marriage was real.

“Children,” he said. “You must think carefully about the choices you make, for they will define your future. What circumstance has wrought, your hearts will bless.”

Mutt could not parse the father’s words but Ivy knew exactly what he meant. She was again Mutt’s Hutwoman girlfriend, longing to be courted back to the altar, this time for real. How unnatural was this pairing! She wished they lived in a Hutman village, Mutt was pursuing her, they could explore one another’s personality, passions, dreams, humor, hobbies, quirks, they could grow naturally as a couple, and if a match, let nature take its course, and if not move on. But here they were confined to a small box on the incline of the world expecting this poor boy to convert gravity right now if they really were a couple. Such a decision was too momentous to make so soon. She would lose him and this wonderful potential; this first real chance in her life to be loved, and to express love, would be cut short. It could never be any different.

***

They had been in the angle less than an hour and Mutt was already bored. He pulled a weight suit from the clothes rack and investigated its numerous pockets and buttons and zippers. Weights of the transverse orientations were stored in piles in the corner underneath the table. He carefully pulled out numerous Skavian weights and deposited them into pockets in the suit, trying clumsily to stand on the landing to see if he had achieved balance on the plane of the Notches. Eventually he stood upright, oddly bowed with incredible strain on his ankles. Ivy wondered what in the world he was doing. Was he already preparing a departure? Mutt wondered why she was not suiting up herself. Eventually he asked and she realized he wanted to explore the Notches with her. They would be strolling about this magical land as a couple, and nothing appealed to her more. She followed Mutt’s lead in buttoning and zipping Arland weights into the various compartments of her ill-fitting suit, adjusting it to her body size by tightening various straps. She felt unnaturally constrained in a halter, yanked sideways by transverse gravity until she could stand on the landing.

They opened the door onto the hot Notches sun, for on this strip of land the sun shone more directly than any other place on the planet, almost directly overhead. From the angle they meandered awkwardly onto the open plane, their ankles constantly buckling under the unnatural strain, then passed through the split garden, terraced for trees aligned to both Arland and Skava, and on to the playground, now occupied by a handful of screaming children. They sat on a bench watching the frenzy as Mutt took Ivy’s hand, holding it as though they were an established couple. He did not even think about the gesture so natural it felt to declare himself the other of this attractive woman in a bulky suit. This was his way of assuring no one else would make designs. Ivy still wore her green wedding string but Mutt had immediately discarded his, embarrassed by the loopy yellow bow. Sharing a similar gravity, even if unnaturally imposed by pockets of sidematter, gave their relationship a veneer of normalcy lacking in the transverse world. In the main green they took hold of a rope on the edge of the cubic monument and pulled with all their might to rotate the massive object. They could not run with the rope, their gravity too misaligned even with the suits, but they managed to establish a steady rotation by grabbing and pulling the six ropes as they swung by.

On the far side of the green stood a sprawling clapboard building that resembled a low-hung barn with walls painted in a multicolored tessellation of octagons and squares and the roof in disorderly rainbow streaks. The colors and patterns were discordant, jarring to the eye compared to the subdued tones of Shivaree and gray sameness of Harmour, yet evocative of the paradise of the higher planes. Mutt smelled brat wafting through the open door of the canteen and realized how starved he was for protein. They stepped into a large indoor space filled with bench seating and sofas, a stage for musical performances, vats of wine and mead, rows of bookshelves, a food counter and dessert case, and a large bulletin board with postings of notices from the great nations and the local publishing authority. Mutt approached the counter in his clumsy suit and asked the sloplady what he could do for a brat seeing as he had no money. She asked what he was able to do and he expressed a willingness to do anything, he just really wanted a brat. She ask if he played pointing to an unusual steam-powered contraption containing a keyboard interface wired to various speakers. He said no but if they had a mandolin he would play folk songs from the Hutmen of Arland. The stringed instruments were on loan so the sloplady settled for a promise to perform in the future, dropping a sizeable brat onto a tin plate. Ivy was waiting for him at a bench where he sliced the meat into halves insisting she take one. She could not eat a full half, she declared, for his was the larger body but he would have it no other way. It was his duty to cure her hunger before his. They ate greedily, not realizing how starved they had become over the days with a diet of angoos and the meager bread from the Hutman.

Mutt wandered over to the bulletin board which was filled with exclamation points describing the battle of Bivens Mill. He had forgotten about the looming conflict during their long trek, so disinterested he was in great power politics, but here it was all laid out from the differing perspectives of the two nations. Melding the competing notices he learned that the mighty ballast ships of the Armada sailed unopposed to Bivens Mill and completely destroyed the new hydroelectric plant, killing dozens of workers foolishly remaining on site according to Arland, over a thousand according to Skava. Arland declared its sorrow at the necessity of this hostile act but placed full blame on Muglair for his unwillingness to negotiate a treaty before activating the plant and his reckless depletion of the Silent Sea. Muglair stood before the plaza at the People’s Hall and declared that Arland had bared its fangs for all the world to see, that the order of the world was based not on justice but raw power. Skava sought only fairness in the relations of the great nations and would not resort to violence however belligerent Arland should become. Muglair’s intentions had always been peaceful, as he had so often announced, and Skava as the lesser neighbor would always take the high road. In a message directed to the people of Arland and not their wretched leadership, he reminded them of their noble support of the Hutman cause in the wake of the great repression, how the Arlanders themselves found the fortitude to support justice and end savagery, and how the Arland government had been forced to follow suit, and implored them today to recognize the justice of the Hutman cause just as they had in the past, for there could be no defense of the unequal exploitation of the planet’s resources. He was a peaceful man and would always be peaceful, and Arland should join him in constructive engagement to solve the world’s problems.

To the Skavians Muglair asked all to take the long view, to have faith that justice would prevail, to have patience in their subjugated state just as the Hutmen had always been patient in the face of their Inta overlords. He would now turn his energies to construction of the new Hutman capital in Shamba, a paradise of palaces and halls celebrating the victories of the Hutmen and consecrating their neverending struggle for justice, free of the Inta taint of Leri Deri. He would work within the ten-year plan offered by Arland for managing the water of the Silent Sea but only as a hostage at the muzzle of a gun, the only language Arland could speak. Mutt was moved by Muglair’s words and believed for a moment that Arland was an unjust aggressor before reading an Arland opinion piece pointing out how deliberately Muglair had provoked the attack and declaring that he surely had something up his sleeve. Mutt came away from the board confused about the conflict and reassured that his general disinterest in politics was justified by its inscrutability. He wondered if Ruggin had traveled with the Armada to Bivens Mill. He was not worried about his safety because the one thing both nations agreed upon was that Arland suffered not a single casualty.

***

Back in the angle the couple retired to their respective haysacks. Ivy quickly fell asleep and Mutt could not take his eyes off her sleeping form. He was transfixed by the rhythm of her breathing, the perfection of her curves, the nakedness of her limbs emerging from the sleeve of her dress. He felt almost dirty desiring her so intensely and turned away to face the outer wall, eventually falling asleep. Ivy had not been asleep but witnessed his fixation through an imperceptibly open eye. She felt a rush from his concealed desire, an immense pleasure in being the object of his gaze, as if her place in the world were solidifying. When Mutt awoke Ivy was milling about her side of the angle, rearranging furniture and organizing scattered books on the shelf. She turned to Mutt who was unprepared in his grogginess for her question.

“Who’s Lace?”

“Huh?”

“Lace, who’s Lace?”

Mutt was not alert enough to process such a question. How did she know about Lace?

“Um, an old cat, back in Shivaree, she kicked off a long time ago. Where in the world did you hear that name?”

“Why would you take an old cat to a tank room?”

He knew this was a losing battle. “I have no idea. I guess I was mumbling in my sleep.”

Ivy seemed jealous. Mutt was afraid to tell her about Lace for fear it would seem like cheating. He was also embarrassed to admit reading his sister’s romance novels. He unconsciously scanned the titles in the angle’s bookshelf for any more such novels. When he realized what he was doing he forcibly averted his eyes. On a window sill on his side of the room braced by a wedge was an oddly shaped block of wood, a right triangle with four carved steps along the hypotenuse. He picked it up and saw that each step was lined into eight equal size squares and that the risers were similarly marked, creating an eight-by-eight game board folded into a step pattern. He noted that the block was composed of wood in equal parts from Skava and Arland, giving it the gravity of the Notches. In a container nearby he found light and dark checker pieces, light with the gravity of Skava and dark the gravity of Arland, which he promptly dropped requiring the efforts of both inhabitants to gather up. In the absence of instructions he set about creating his own rules and eventually concocted a game he called siders. The game had to involve jumping, he concluded, because the pieces could not occupy the same squares. A Skavian piece on a step would appear to be on a riser to the Arland player, and pieces of the two gravities could never occupy the same square. The one with the wrong gravity would simply fall down. He decided on a simple rule set where each player had eight pieces on their home step, pieces moved forward one step straight ahead or diagonally with no further steps in a turn, an opponent piece on the riser directly ahead was captured on a forward step move, an opponent piece on the diagonal forward riser was captured on a diagonal step move, and capture was compulsory, with the goal being to get a single piece to the player’s bottom step that could not be captured on the next turn. He invited Ivy to a game letting her move first and although she was thoroughly disinterested she won twice. Mutt decided there was a first-move advantage and he would need to refine the rules.

Ivy had not actually slept when Mutt took his nap and it was now her turn to rest. He was busily at work perfecting his game – how to eliminate that first-move advantage – when he was startled by a cry. Ivy was flailing in her haysack pushing an imagined assailant away screaming “no! no! no! no!” and falling into violent shaking fits. Mutt sat on his chair dumbstruck by the intensity of her terror before deciding he had to wake her. She began writhing as if possessed and he tossed a shoe at her side which promptly fell back into the corner. She bolted upright staring at him, still possessed, and icily said “you” in a vengeful hiss before something snapped and she became herself. Mutt was shocked by the display. Ivy did not know what had happened but her eyes remained panicked as she grasped her knees and buried her head. She was frightened beyond belief and so wanted Mutt to hold her. The loneliness she felt was brutal and she was overcome with anxiety that he would leave her. She did not know how to convey her feelings as he stood on her wall trying to comfort her. She apologized for the scene and tried to calm her frayed nerves lying still on her haysack gazing at the ceiling. These terrors came to her so often in sleep she was afraid to lie in a bed. She felt exposed and vulnerable on all sides and feared that evil beings would take her in her sleep.

The father’s pounding knock echoed throughout the angle. He opened the door, which was not locked, and announced to Cerise she had a visitor. Up the incline from the door Ivy saw a Skavian bounder tethered to a hitching post. She stood up in fright. A man in a starched gray uniform with scarlet sash descended the Skava side of the half-pipe and stepped carefully through the door onto Ivy’s floor. She recognized from insignia that he was from Demographics, one of Zranga’s goons. She remained motionless.

“Are you Ivy Morven?” he asked, staring at her menacingly.

She returned the stare, still trembling from her sleep terror.

“I have a message for you,” he announced.

He retrieved a sealed envelope from his pocket and opened it. He carefully unfolded a piece of paper and held it out so that only she could read it:

You have committed a crime against nature. Celeste cannot be destroyed, and you should not wish to. I am a merciful man, and will let conscience be your captor. You have eternity to reflect. But if any attempt is made to contact Arland, you will die, and so will the boy. I know who he is. TZ

Ivy stood mute, her face ashen. What did the last line mean? The messenger turned to go. A look of horror came over her face.

“Stop!” she shrieked. “Turn around, now!”

The messenger halted and glanced back.

“I do not take orders from you.”
“You will if you value your life.”
Mutt thought she might detonate him through sheer willpower. The messenger appeared tentative, then turned fully to face her.

“I have a message for Tobor.”

He looked at her haughtily.
“If I die,” she paused, looking at Mutt, “or if he dies, Arland will be told. I have made arrangements.”

The messenger stomped the floor, pivoted, and left. Mutt pulled the door behind him. Ivy crumpled to her haysack. She lay perfectly still, in shock, then began sobbing.

“You must hold me, Mutt. You must make me believe somebody cares for me. I am all alone in this world.”

He sat down on the hardwood floor of the corner. She rolled into him as he wrapped his arms around her. She was shaking uncontrollably.

“I have done something horrible.”

He did not know the person he was holding.

“But it was much less horrible than what was done to me.”

What was she talking about? He wanted to ask questions but she was in too much pain. He caressed her shoulder, pulling her closer. She seemed to him now a frail creature, her spark extinguished. Ivy glanced at him as if she wanted to say something, then dropped her head to his chest and remained silent. In the moment their eyes met, he saw again his Hutwoman wife, and she saw her Hutman suitor. He did not care what she had done. It was his duty to protect her. The floor was terribly uncomfortable. He suggested they move their haysacks to meet at the fold. She looked at him suspiciously as if he were trying to manipulate her pain for favors. But his visage was so sincere and her need to be held so intense that she reached across the floor and tugged her haysack into the corner. Mutt pulled his up so that the beds met at right angles with no intervening hardwood. They reclined on the softer bedding and embraced, their bodies wedged into the angle of the house. Ivy pressed her cheek into his chest and rested her palm on his stomach. She loved the feel of his body through his shirt. She turned on her side to lay on him frontally and draped a foot behind his knee for balance. He massaged her back, grabbing her shoulder and pulling her tenderly inward. Ivy was in heaven. She slipped into unconsciousness protected from the monsters of her sleep and dreamed the sweetest dream of all, pure nothingness.

Mutt held her for hours while she slept, unable to fall asleep himself and twitching like a small child. She had snuggled so deeply into his arms he could not bear to extricate himself, so he lay there tinkering with the rules to siders in his head and wondering just what in the world he had gotten himself into. He began to think Reston had the right idea. Find a simpler girl, one not chased by the most powerful men on the planet, and woo her away from unsuspecting parents in a salt mine where the worst that would happen for your transgressions was fifty lashes. But Ivy was an orphan, may very well have murdered her own parents, and knew secrets so terrible that frightening men with scarlet sashes tracked her down on the slope of the world to deliver death threats. He was overwhelmed by the feeling of her body pressed into his, so longing to call her his own, to consummate their love. But the lure of Shivaree was equally intense and he began to suspect he was making a terrible mistake falling for this girl. He would have no choice but to leave and the pain of separation, for himself and even more for her, would be heightened by the tenderness they were now sharing. He needed to withdraw from her emotionally, not get entangled physically, give her the strength to establish a new life on her own in the Notches, do the honorable thing. But he could not conceive of telling her good-bye and the wretched state he would leave her in, all alone in a strange land having lost her only companion. Mutt was torn more completely than husk from the corn, unable to say good-bye to his family and home, yet wrapped around this strange and beautiful creature sleeping peacefully like a small child tucked into his arms. He had never felt more conflicted.

Ivy awoke the happiest in her life. She had never felt secure in another person’s arms, whether a parent’s or a man’s. She had never felt cared for and her heart was defined by a gaping void, a raw and intense need to be loved. Even if Mutt’s tenderness was not lasting it was the closest thing she had ever felt to belonging, to being important to another human being. As her endorphins subsided she fell into a semi-depressed state, recognizing this situation could not last. Mutt asked if she wanted his Arland angoos to convert. He did not want her Skavian fruit because he was not converting. Ivy told him no, she was not going to convert, she was not going to drift away from him in such close quarters, that after he left she would do so. It had been Mutt’s intention, to the extent he had formed one, to stay with her until she could stand on her own, literally, in the Notches, but her refusal to convert put a wrinkle in that plan. He would have to leave her in the angle, he figured. But she looked so pitiful, and his desire for her was so intense, that he put off the plans to an unspecified future day. For now he would comfort her and see what happened. Perhaps she would find other companions and integrate into this community and he could then make a painless getaway. Perhaps she would find another man to love her and take care of her. He found himself recoiling at the thought. If he left for Shivaree with her in the arms of another man he would feel like the biggest idiot since Yarnuk pulled the plug from the tower of goat fat, as was written in the good parts of the Oopsah. What woman in his hometown could compare? The rhubarb girl? Oh heavens no! Shivaree was a concept to him without a face. The only face he could place on his future there was Ivy’s, and the twain would never meet. Yes he was conflicted but he could not bring himself to abandon the home of his youth. He would not reorient, he would leave the Notches, he would return to Shivaree, only not today, and probably not tomorrow. But he had to have a plan and this was it.

Mutt was restless and left for the canteen to finagle a dollop of spoo from the sloplady. The father stopped by the angle to deliver jugs of sidewater and tarpin bread and asked to speak to Ivy in confidence.

“You did not come here to get married, did you,” he stated.

“No, father. He saved me in my hour of need without regard to his own interest.”

“Is that not what you want in a husband?”

“That is exactly what I want.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

Ivy lay alone on her haysack imagining Mutt’s sheltering body snuggled close to hers. What was she waiting for?


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