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The Valley of the Moon (Book II Chapter5)

2006-08-22 19:14

  Book II Chapter V

  Four eventful things happened in the course of the winter. Bert and Mary got married and rented a cottage in the neighborhood three blocks away. Billy's wages were cut, along with the wages of all the teamsters in Oakland. Billy took up shaving with a safety razor. And, finally, Saxon was proven a false prophet and Sarah a true one.

  Saxon made up her mind, beyond any doubt, ere she confided the news to Billy. At first, while still suspecting, she had felt a frightened sinking of the heart and fear of the unknown and unexperienced. Then had come economic fear, as she contemplated the increased expense entailed. But by the time she had made surety doubly sure, all was swept away before a wave of passionate gladness. Hers and Billy's! The phrase was continually in her mind, and each recurrent thought of it brought an actual physical pleasure-pang to her heart.

  The night she told the news to Billy, he withheld his own news of the wage-cut, and joined with her in welcoming the little one.

  “What'll we do? Go to the theater to celebrate?” he asked, relaxing the pressure of his embrace so that she might speak. “Or suppose we stay in, just you and me, and …… and the three of us?”

  “Stay in,” was her verdict. “I just want you to hold me, and hold me, and hold me.”

  “That's what I wanted, too, only I wasn't sure, after bein' in the house all day, maybe you'd want to go out.”

  There was frost in the air, and Billy brought the Morris chair in by the kitchen stove. She lay cuddled in his arms, her head on his shoulder, his cheek against her hair.

  “We didn't make no mistake in our lightning marriage with only a week's courtin',” he reflected aloud. “Why, Saxon, we've been courtin' ever since just the same. And now . . . my God, Saxon, it's too wonderful to be true. Think of it! Ourn! The three of us! The little rascal! I bet he's goin' to he a boy. An' won't I learn 'm to put up his fists an' take care of himself! An' swimmin' too. If he don't know how to swim by the time he's six……”

  “And if he's a girl?”

  “She's goin' to he a boy,” Billy retorted, joining in the playful misuse of pronouns.

  And both laughed and kissed, and sighed with content. “I'm goin' to turn pincher, now,” he announced, after quite an interval of meditation. “No more drinks with the boys. It's me for the water wagon. And I'm goin' to ease down on smokes. Huh! Don't see why I can't roll my own cigarettes. They're ten times cheaper'n tailor- mades. An' I can grow a beard. The amount of money the barbers get out of a fellow in a year would keep a baby.”

  “Just you let your beard grow, Mister Roberts, and I'll get a divorce,” Saxon threatened. “You're just too handsome and strong with a smooth face. I love your face too much to have it covered up.——Oh, you dear! you dear! Billy, I never knew what happiness was until I came to live with you.”

  “Nor me neither.”

  “And it's always going to be so?”

  “You can just bet,” he assured her.

  “I thought I was going to he happy married,” she went on; “but I never dreamed it would be like this.” She turned her head on his shoulder and kissed his cheek. “Billy, it isn't happiness. It's heaven.”

  And Billy resolutely kept undivulged the cut in wages. Not until two weeks later, when it went into effect, and he poured the diminished sum into her lap, did he break it to her. The next day, Bert and Mary, already a month married, had Sunday dinner with them, and the matter came up for discussion. Bert was particularly pessmistic, and muttered dark hints of an impending strike in the railroad shops.

  “If you'd all shut your traps, it'd be all right,” Mary criticized. “These union agitators get the railroad sore. They give me the cramp, the way they butt in an' stir up trouble. If I was boss I'd cut the wages of any man that listened to them.”

  “Yet you belonged to the laundry workers' union,” Saxon rebuked gently.

  “Because I had to or I wouldn't a-got work. An' much good it ever done me.”

  “But look at Billy,” Bert argued “The teamsters ain't ben sayin' a word, not a peep, an' everything lovely, and then, bang, right in the neck, a ten per cent cut. Oh, hell, what chance have we got? We lose. There's nothin' left for us in this country we've made and our fathers an' mothers before us. We're all shot to pieces. We Can see our finish——we, the old stock, the children of the white people that broke away from England an' licked the tar outa her, that freed the slaves, an' fought the Indians, 'an made the West! Any gink with half an eye can see it comin'.”

  “But what are we going to do about it?” Saxon questioned anxiously.

  “Fight. That's all. The country's in the hands of a gang of robbers. Look at the Southern Pacific. It runs California.”

  “Aw, rats, Bert,” Billy interrupted. “You're takin' through your lid. No railroad can ran the government of California.”

  “You're a bonehead,” Bert sneered. “And some day, when it's too late, you an' all the other boneheads'll realize the fact. Rotten? I tell you it stinks. Why, there ain't a man who wants to go to state legislature but has to make a trip to San Francisco, an' go into the S. P. offices, an' take his hat off, an' humbly ask permission. Why, the governors of California has been railroad governors since before you and I was born. Huh! You can't tell me. We're finished. We're licked to a frazzle. But it'd do my heart good to help string up some of the dirty thieves before I passed out. D'ye know what we are?——we old white stock that fought in the wars, an' broke the land, an' made all this? I'll tell you. We're the last of the Mohegans.”

  “He scares me to death, he's so violent,” Mary said with unconcealed hostility. “If he don't quit shootin' off his mouth he'll get fired from the shops. And then what'll we do? He don't consider me. But I can tell you one thing all right, all right. I'll not go back to the laundry.” She held her right hand up and spoke with the solemnity of an oath. “Not so's you can see it. Never again for yours truly.”

  “Oh, I know what you're drivin' at,” Bert said with asperity. “An' all I can tell you is, livin' or dead, in a job or out, no matter what happens to me, if you will lead that way, you will, an' there's nothin' else to it.”

  “I guess I kept straight before I met you,” she came back with a toss of the head. “And I kept straight after I met you, which is going some if anybody should ask you.”

  Hot words were on Bert's tongue, but Saxon intervened and brought about peace. She was concerned over the outcome of their marriage. Both were highstrung, both were quick and irritable, and their continual clashes did not augur well for their future.

  The safety razor was a great achievement for Saxon. Privily she conferred with a clerk she knew in Pierce's hardware store and made the purchase. On Sunday morning, after breakfast, when Billy was starting to go to the barber shop, she led him into the bedroom, whisked a towel aside, and revealed the razor box, shaving mug, soap, brush, and lather all ready. Billy recoiled, then came back to make curious investigation. He gazed pityingly at the safety razor.

  “Huh! Call that a man's tool!”

  “It'll do the work,” she said. “It does it for thousands of men every day.”

  But Billy shook his head and backed away.

  “You shave three times a week,” she urged. “That's forty-five cents. Call it half a dollar, and there are fifty-two weeks in the year. Twenty-six dollars a year just for shaving. Come on, dear, and try it. Lots of men swear by it.”

  He shook his head mutinously, and the cloudy deeps of his eyes grew more cloudy. She loved that sullen handsomeness that made him look so boyish, and, laughing and kissing him, she forced him into a chair, got off his coat, and unbuttoned shirt and undershirt and turned them in.

  Threatening him with, “If you open your mouth to kick I'll shove it in,” she coated his face with lather.

  “Wait a minute,” she checked him, as he reached desperately for the razor. “I've been watching the barbers from the sidewalk. This is what they do after the lather is on.”

  And thereupon she proceeded to rub the lather in with her fingers.

  “There,” she said, when she had coated his face a second time. “You're ready to begin. Only remember, I'm not always going to do this for you. I'm just breaking you in, you see.”

  With great outward show of rebellion, half genuine, half facetious, he made several tentative scrapes with the razor. He winced violently, and violently exclaimed:

  “Holy jumping Jehosaphat!”

  He examined his face in the glass, and a streak of blood showed in the midst of the lather.

  “Cut!——by a safety razor, by God! Sure, men swear by it. Can't blame 'em. Cut! By a safety!”

  “But wait a second,” Saxon pleaded. “They have to be regulated. The clerk told me. See those little screws. There …… That's it …… turn them around.”

  Again Billy applied the blade to his face. After a couple of scrapes, be looked at himself closely in the mirror, grinned, and went on shaving. With swiftness and dexterity he scraped his face clean of lather. Saxon clapped her hands.

  “Fine,” Billy approved. “Great! Here. Give me your hand. See what a good job it made.”

  He started to rub her hand against his cheek. Saxon jerked away with a little cry of disappointment, then examined him closely.

  “It hasn't shaved at all,” she said.

  “It's a fake, that's what it is. It cuts the hide, but not the hair. Me for the barber.”

  But Saxon was persistent.

  “You haven't given it a fair trial yet. It was regulated too much. Let me try my hand at it. There, that's it, betwixt and between. Now, lather again and try it.”

  This time the unmistakable sand-papery sound of hair-severing could he heard.

  “How is it?” she fluttered anxiously.

  “It gets the——ouch!——hair,” Billy grunted, frowning and making faces. “But it——gee!——say!——ouch!——pulls like Sam Hill.”

  “Stay with it,” she encouraged. “Don't give up the ship, big Injun with a scalplock. Remember what Bert says and be the last of the Mohegans.”

  At the end of fifteen minutes he rinsed his face and dried it, sighing with relief.

  “It's a shave, in a fashion, Saxon, but I can't say I'm stuck on it. It takes out the nerve. I'm as weak as a cat.”

  He groaned with sudden discovery of fresh misfortune.

  “What's the matter now?” she asked.

  “The back of my neck——how can I shave the back of my neck? I'll have to pay a barber to do it.”

  Saxon's consternation was tragic, but it only lasted a moment. She took the brush in her hand.

  “Sit down, Billy.”

  “What?——you?” he demanded indignantly.

  “Yes; me. If any barber is good enough to shave your neck, and then I am, too.”

  Billy moaned and groaned in the abjectness of humility and surrender, and let her have her way.

  “There, and a good job,” she informed him when she had finished. “As easy as falling off a log. And besides, it means twenty-six dollars a year. And you'll buy the crib, the baby buggy, the pinning blankets, and lots and lots of things with it. Now sit still a minute longer.”

  She rinsed and dried the back of his neck and dusted it with talcum powder.

  “You're as sweet as a clean little baby, Billy Boy.”

  The unexpected and lingering impact of her lips on the back of his neck made him writhe with mingled feelings not all unpleasant.

  Two days later, though vowing in the intervening time to have nothing further to do with the instrument of the devil, he permitted Saxon to assist him to a second shave. This time it went easier.

  “It ain't so bad,” he admitted. “I'm gettin' the hang of it. It's all in the regulating. You can shave as close as you want an' no more close than you want. Barbers can't do that. Every once an' awhile they get my face sore.”

  The third shave was an unqualified success, and the culminating bliss was reached when Saxon presented him with a bottle of witch hazel. After that he began active proselyting. He could not wait a visit from Bert, but carried the paraphernalia to the latter's house to demonstrate.

  “We've ben boobs all these years, Bert, runnin' the chances of barber's itch an' everything. Look at this, eh? See her take hold. Smooth as silk. Just as easy…… There! Six minutes by the clock. Can you beat it? When I get my hand in, I can do it in three. It works in the dark. It works under water. You couldn't cut yourself if you tried. And it saves twenty-six dollars a year. Saxon figured it out, and she's a wonder, I tell you.”

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