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The Valley of the Moon (Book I Chapter12)

2006-08-22 19:11

  Book I Chapter XII

  The days flew by for Saxon. She worked on steadily at the laundry, even doing more overtime than usual, and all her free waking hours were devoted to preparations for the great change and to Billy. He had proved himself God's own impetuous lover by insisting on getting married the next day after the proposal, and then by resolutely refusing to compromise on more than a week's delay.

  “Why wait?” he demanded. “We're not gettin' any younger so far as I can notice, an' think of all we lose every day we wait.”

  In the end, he gave in to a month, which was well, for in two weeks he was transferred, with half a dozen other drivers, to work from the big stables of Corberly and Morrison in West Oakland. House-hunting in the other end of town ceased, and on Pine Street, between Fifth and Fourth, and in immediate proximity to the great Southern Pacific railroad yards, Billy and Saxon rented a neat cottage of four small rooms for ten dollars a month.

  “Dog-cheap is what I call it, when I think of the small rooms I've ben soaked for,” was Billy's judgment. “Look at the one I got now, not as big as the smallest here, an' me payin' six dollars a month for it.”

  “But it's furnished,” Saxon remmded him. “You see, that makes a difference.”

  But Billy didn't see.

  “I ain't much of a scholar, Saxon, but I know simple arithmetic; I've soaked my watch when I was hard up, and I can calculate interest. How much do you figure it will cost to furnish the house, carpets on the floor, linoleum on the kitchen, and all?”

  “We can do it nicely for three hundred dollars,” she answered. “I've been thinking it over and I'm sure we can do it for that.”

  “Three hundred,” he muttered, wrinkling his brows with concentration. “Three hundred, say at six per cent.——that'd be six cents on the dollar, sixty cents on ten dollars, six dollars on the hundred, on three hundred eighteen dollars. Say——I'm a bear at multiplyin' by ten. Now divide eighteen by twelve, that'd be a dollar an' a half a month interest.” He stopped, satisfied that he had proved his contention. Then his face quickened with a fresh thought. “Hold on! That ain't all. That'd be the interest on the furniture for four rooms. Divide by four. What's a dollar an' a half divided by four?”

  “Four into fifteen, three times and three to carry,” Saxon recited glibly. “Four into thirty is seven, twenty-eight, two to carry; and two-fourths is one-half. There you are.”

  “Gee! You're the real bear at figures.” He hesitated. “I didn't follow you. How much did you say it was?”

  “Thirty-seven and a half cents.”

  “Ah, ha! Now we'll see how much I've ben gouged for my one room. Ten dollars a month for four rooms is two an' a half for one. Add thirty-seven an' a half cents interest on furniture, an' that makes two dollars an' eighty-seven an' a half cents. Subtract from six dollars ……”

  “Three dollars and twelve and a half cents,” she supplied quickly.

  “There we are! Three dollars an' twelve an' a half cents I'm jiggered out of on the room I'm rentin'. Say! Bein' married is like savin' money, ain't it?”

  “But furniture wears out, Billy.”

  “By golly, I never thought of that. It ought to be figured, too. Anyway, we've got a snap here, and next Saturday afternoon you've gotta get off from the laundry so as we can go an' buy our furniture. I saw Salinger's last night. I give'm fifty down, and the rest installment plan, ten dollars a month. In twenty-five months the furniture's ourn. An' remember, Saxon, you wanta buy everything you want, no matter how much it costs. No scrimpin' on what's for you an' me. Get me?”

  She nodded, with no betrayal on her face of the myriad secret economies that filled her mind. A hint of moisture glistened in her eyes.

  “You're so good to me, Billy,” she murmured, as she came to him and was met inside his arms.

  “So you've gone an' done it,” Mary commented, one morning in the laundry. They had not been at work ten minutes ere her eye had glimpsed the topaz ring on the third finger of Saxon's left hand. “Who's the lucky one? Charley Long or Billy Roberts?”

  “Billy,” was the answer.

  “Huh! Takin' a young boy to raise, eh?”

  Saxon showed that the stab had gone home, and Mary was all contrition.

  “Can't you take a josh? I'm glad to death at the news. Billy's a awful good man, and I'm glad to see you get him. There ain't many like him knockin' 'round, an' they ain't to be had for the askin'. An' you're both lucky. You was just made for each other, an' you'll make him a better wife than any girl I know. when is it to be?”

  Going home from the laundry a few days later, Saxon encountered Charley Long. He blocked the sidewalk, and compelled speech with her.

  “So you're runnin' with a prizefighter,” he sneered. “A blind man can see your finish.”

  For the first time she was unafraid of this big-bodied, black-browed men with the hairy-matted hands and fingers. She held up her left hand.

  “See that? It's something, with all your strength, that you could never put on my finger. Billy Roberts put it on inside a week. He got your number, Charley Long, and at the same time he got me.”

  “Skiddoo for you,” Long retorted. “Twenty-three's your number.”

  “He's not like you,” Saxon went on. “He's a man, every bit of him, a fine, clean man.”

  Long laughed hoarsely.

  “He's got your goat all right.”

  “And yours,” she flashed back.

  “I could tell you things about him. Saxon, straight, he ain't no good. If I was to tell you——”

  “You'd better get out of my way,” she interrupted, “or I'll tell him, and you know what you'll get, you great big bully.”

  Long shuffled uneasily, then reluctantly stepped aside.

  “You're a caution,” he said, half admiiringly.

  “So's Billy Roberts,” she laughed, and continned on her way. After half a dozen steps she stopped. “Say,” she called.

  The big blacksmith turned toward her with eagerness.

  “About a block back,” she said, “I saw a man with hip disease. You might go and beat him up.”

  Of one extravagance Saxon was guilty in the course of the brief engagement period. A full day's wages she spent in the purchase of half a dozen cabinet photographs of herself. Billy had insisted that life was unendurable could he not look upon her semblance the last thing when he went to bed at night and the first thing when he got up in the morning. In return, his photographs, one conventional and one in the stripped fighting costume of the ring, ornamented her looking glass. It was while gazing at the latter that she was reminded of her wonderful mother's tales of the ancient Saxons and sea-foragers of the English coasts. From the chest of drawers that had crossed the plains she drew forth another of her several precious heirloom——a scrap-book of her mother's in which was pasted much of the fugitive newspaper verse of pioneer California days. Also, there were copies of paintings and old wood engravings from the magazines of a generation and more before.

  Saxon ran the pages with familiar fingers and stopped at the picture she was seeking. Between bold headlands of rock and under a gray cloud-blown sky, a dozen boats, long and lean and dark, beaked like monstrous birds, were landing on a foam-whitened beach of sand. The men in the boats, half naked, huge-muscled and fair-haired, wore winged helmets. In their hands were swords and spears, and they were leaping, waist-deep, into the sea-wash and wading ashore. Opposed to them, contesting the landing, were skin-clad savages, unlike Indians, however, who clustered on the beach or waded into the water to their knees. The first blows were being struck, and here and there the bodies of the dead and wounded rolled in the surf. One fair-haired invader lay across the gunwale of a boat, the manner of his death told by the arrow that transfixed his breast. In the air, leaping past him into the water, sword in hand, was Billy. There was no mistaking it. The striking blondness, the face, the eyes, the mouth were the same. The very expression on the face was what had been on Billy's the day of the picnic when he faced the three wild Irishmen.

  Somewhere out of the ruck of those warring races had emerged Billy's ancestors, and hers, was her afterthought, as she closed the book and put it back in the drawer. And some of those ancestors had made this ancient and battered chest of drawers which had crossed the salt ocean and the plains and been pierced by a bullet in the fight with the Indians at Little Meadow. Almost, it seemed, she could visualize the women who had kept their pretties and their family homespun in its drawers——the women of those wandering generations who were grandmothers and greater great grandmothers of her own mother. Well, she sighed, it was a good stock to be born of, a hard-working, hard-fighting stock. She fell to wondering what her life would have been like had she been born a Chinese woman, or an Italian woman like those she saw, head-shawled or bareheaded, squat, ungainly and swarthy, who carried great loads of driftwood on their heads up from tha beach. Then she laughed at her foolishness, remembered Billy and the four-roomed cottage on Pine Street, and went to bed with her mind filled for the hundredth time with the details of the furniture.

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