“He better watch out plenty,” said Billy.
“He’s big bluff,” Trudy was exploring with her hand in Nick’s pocket. “But don’t you kill him. You get plenty trouble.”
“I’d kill him like that,” Nick said. Eddie Gilby lay on the ground with all his chest shot away. Nick put his foot on him proudly.
“I’d scalp him,” he said happily.
“No,” said Trudy. “That’s dirty.”
“I’d scalp him and send it to his mother.”
“His mother dead,” Trudy said. “Don’t you kill him, Nickie. Don’t you kill him for me.”
“After I scalped him I’d throw him to the dogs.”
Billy was very depressed. “He better watch out,” he said gloomily.
“They’d tear him to pieces,” Nick said, pleased with the picture. Then, having scalped that half-breed renegade and standing, watching the dogs tear him, his face unchanging, he fell backward against the tree, held tight around the neck, Trudy holding, choking him, and crying, “No kill him! No kill him! No kill him! No. No. No. Nickie. Nickie. Nickie!”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“No kill him.”
“I got to kill him.”
“He just a big bluff.”
“All right,” Nickie said. “I won’t kill him unless he comes around the house. Let go of me.”
“That’s good,” Trudy said. “You want to do anything now? I feel good now.”
“If Billy goes away.” Nick had killed Eddie Gilby, then pardoned him his life, and he was a man now.
“You go, Billy. You hang around all the time. Go on.”
“Son a bitch,” Billy said. “I get tired this. What we come? Hunt or what?”
“You can take the gun. There’s one shell.”
“All right. I get a big black one all right.”
“I’ll holler,” Nick said.
Then, later, it was a long time after and Billy was still away.
“You think we make a baby?” Trudy folded her brown legs together happily and rubbed against him. Something inside Nick had gone a long way away.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“Make plenty baby what the hell.”
They heard Billy shoot.
“I wonder if he got one.”
“Don’t care,” said Trudy.
Billy came through the trees. He had the gun over his shoulder and he held a black squirrel by the front paws.
“Look,” he said. “Bigger than a cat. You all through?”
“Where’d you get him?”
“Over there. Saw him jump first.”
“Got to go home,” Nick said.
“No,” said Trudy.
“I got to get there for supper.”
“Want to hunt tomorrow?”
“You can have the squirrel.”
“Come out after supper?”
“How you feel?”
“Give me kiss on the face,” said Trudy.
Now, as he rode along the highway in the car and it was getting dark, Nick was all through thinking about his father. The end of the day never made him think of him. The end of the day had always belonged to Nick alone and he never felt right unless he was alone at it. His father came back to him in the fall of the year, or in the early spring when there had been jacksnipe on the prairie, or when he saw shocks of corn, or when he saw a lake; or if he ever saw a horse and buggy, or when he saw, or heard, wild geese, or in a duck blind; remembering the time an eagle dropped through the whirling snow to strike a canvas-covered decoy rising, his wings beating, the talons caught in the canvas. His father was with him, suddenly, in deserted orchards and in new-plowed fields, in thickets, on small hills, or when going through dead grass, whenever splitting wood or hauling water, by grist mills, cider mills and dams and always with open fires. The towns he lived in were not towns his father knew. After he was fifteen he had shared nothing with him.
His father had frost in his beard in cold weather and in hot weather he sweated very much. He liked to work in the sun on the farm because he did not have to and he loved manual work, which Nick did not. Nick loved his father but hated the smell of him and once when he had to wear a suit of his father’s underwear that had gotten too small for his father it made him feel sick and he took it off and put it under two stones in the creek and said that he had lost it. He had told his father how it was when his father had made him put it on but his father had said it was freshly washed. It had been, too. When Nick had asked him to smell of it his father sniffed at it indignantly and said that it was clean and fresh. When Nick came home from fishing without it and said he lost it he was whipped for lying.