It was early evening when they got off the car at Seventh and Pine on their way home from Bell's Theater. Billy and Saxon did their little marketing together, then separated at the corner, Saxon to go on to the house and prepare supper, Billy to go and see the boys--the teamsters who had fought on in the strike during his month of retirement.
"Take care of yourself, Billy," she called, as he started off.
"Sure," he answered, turning his face to her over his shoulder.
Her heart leaped at the smile. It was his old, unsullied love-smile which she wanted always to see on his face--for which, armed with her own wisdom and the wisdom of Mercedes, she would wage the utmost woman's war to possess. A thought of this flashed brightly through her brain, and it was with a proud little smile that she remembered all her pretty equipment stored at home in the bureau and the chest of drawers.
Three-quarters of an hour later, supper ready, all but the putting on of the lamb chops at the sound of his step, Saxon waited. She heard the gate click, but instead of his step she heard a curious and confused scraping of many steps. She flew to open the door. Billy stood there, but a different Billy from the one she had parted from so short a time before. A small boy, beside him, held his hat. His face had been fresh-washed, or, rather, drenched, for his shirt and shoulders were wet. His pale hair lay damp and plastered against his forehead, and was darkened by oozing blood. Both arms hung limply by his side. But his face was composed, and he even grinned.
"It's all right," he reassured Saxon. "The joke's on me. Somewhat damaged but still in the ring." He stepped gingerly across the threshold. "--Come on in, you fellows. We're all mutts together."
He was followed in by the boy with his hat, by Bud Strothers and another teamster she knew, and by two strangers. The latter were big, hard-featured, sheepish-faced men, who stared at Saxon as if afraid of her.
"It's all right, Saxon," Billy began, but was interrupted by Bud.
"First thing is to get him on the bed an' cut his clothes off him. Both arms is broke, and here are the ginks that done it."
He indicated the two strangers, who shuffled their feet with embarrassment and looked more sheepish than ever.
Billy sat down on the bed, and while Saxon held the lamp, Bud and the strangers proceeded to cut coat, shirt, and undershirt from him.
"He wouldn't go to the receivin' hospital," Bud said to Saxon.
"Not on your life," Billy concurred. "I had 'em send for Doc Hentley. He'll be here any minute. Them two arms is all I got. They've done pretty well by me, an' I gotta do the same by them.- -No medical students a-learnin' their trade on me."
"But how did it happens" Saxon demanded, looking from Billy to the two strangers, puzzled by the amity that so evidently existed among them all.
"Oh, they're all right," Billy dashed in. "They done it through mistake. They're Frisco teamsters, an' they come over to help us--a lot of 'em."
The two teamsters seemed to cheer up at this, and nodded their heads.
"Yes, missus," one of them rumbled hoarsely. "It's all a mistake, an'... well, the joke's on us."
"The drinks, anyway," Billy grinned.
Not only was Saxon not excited, but she was scarcely perturbed. What had happened was only to be expected.
It was in line with all that Oakland had already done to her and hers, and, besides, Billy was not dangerously hurt. Broken arms and a sore head would heal. She brought chairs and seated everybody.
"Now tell me what happened," she begged. "I'm all at sea, what of you two burleys breaking my husband's arms, then seeing him home and holding a love-fest with him."
"An' you got a right," Bud Strothers assured her. "You see, it happened this way--"
"You shut up, Bud," Billy broke it. "You didn't see anything of it."
Saxon looked to the San Francisco teamsters.
"We'd come over to lend a hand, seein' as the Oakland boys was gettin' some the short end of it," one spoke up, "an' we've sure learned some scabs there's better trades than drivin' team. Well, me an' Jackson here was nosin' around to see what we can see, when your husband comes moseyin' along. When he--"
"Hold on," Jackson interrupted. "get it straight as you go along. We reckon we know the boys by sight. But your husband we ain't never seen around, him bein'. .."
"As you might say, put away for a while," the first teamster took up the tale. "So, when we sees what we thinks is a scab dodgin' away from us an' takin' the shortcut through the alley--"
"The alley back of Campbell's grocery," Billy elucidated.
"Yep, back of the grocery," the first teamster went on; "why, we're sure he's one of them squarehead scabs, hired through Murray an' Ready, makin' a sneak to get into the stables over the back fences."
"We caught one there, Billy an' me," Bud interpolated.
"So we don't waste any time," Jackson said, addressing himself to Saxon. "We've done it before, an' we know how to do 'em up brown an' tie 'em with baby ribbon. So we catch your husband right in the alley."
"I was lookin' for Bud," said Billy. "The boys told me I'd find him somewhere around the other end of the alley. An' the first thing I know, Jackson, here, asks me for a match."
"An' right there's where I get in my fine work," resumed the first teamster.
"What?" asked Saxon.
"That." The man pointed to the wound in Billy's scalp. "I laid 'm out. He went down like a steer, an' got up on his knees dippy, a-gabblin' about somebody standin' on their foot. He didn't know where he was at, you see, clean groggy. An' then we done it."
The man paused, the tale told.
"Broke both his arms with the crowbar," Bud supplemented.
"That's when I come to myself, when the bones broke," Billy corroborated. "An' there was the two of 'em givin' me the ha-ha.
'That'll last you some time,' Jackson was sayin'. An' Anson says,
'I'd like to see you drive horses with them arms.' An' then Jackson says, 'let's give 'm something for luck.' An' with that he fetched me a wallop on the jaw--"
"No," corrected Anson. "That wallop was mine."
"Well, it sent me into dreamland over again," Billy sighed. "An' when I come to, here was Bud an' Anson an' Jackson dousin' me at a water trough. An' then we dodged a reporter an' all come home together."
Bud Strothers held up his fist and indicated freshly abraded skin.
"The reporter-guy just insisted on samplin' it," he said. Then, to Billy: "That's why I cut around Ninth an' caught up with you down on Sixth."
A few minutes later Doctor Hentley arrived, and drove the men from the rooms. They waited till he had finished, to assure themselves of Billy's well being, and then departed. In the kitchen Doctor Hentley washed his hands and gave Saxon final instructions. As he dried himself he sniffed the air and looked toward the stove where a pot was simmering.
"Clams," he said. "Where did you buy them?"
"I didn't buy them," replied Saxon. "I dug them myself."
"Not in the marsh?" he asked with quickened interest.
"Throw them away. Throw them out. They're death and corruption. Typhoid--I've got three cases now, all traced to the clams and the marsh."
When he had gone, Saxon obeyed. Still another mark against Oakland, she reflected--Oakland, the man-trap, that poisoned those it could not starve.
"If it wouldn't drive a man to drink," Billy groaned, when Saxon returned to him. "Did you ever dream such luck? Look at all my fights in the ring, an' never a broken bone, an' here, snap, snap, just like that, two arms smashed."
"Oh, it might be worse," Saxon smiled cheerfully.
"I'd like to know how." It might have been your neck."
"An' a good job. I tell you, Saxon, you gotta show me anything worse."
"I can," she said confidently.
"Well, wouldn't it be worse if you intended staying on in Oakland where it might happen again?"
"I can see myself becomin' a farmer an' plowin' with a pair of pipe-stems like these," he persisted.
"Doctor Hentley says they'll be stronger at the break than ever before. And you know yourself that's true of clean-broken bones. Now you close your eyes and go to sleep. You're all done up, and you need to keep your brain quiet and stop thinking."
He closed his eyes obediently. She slipped a cool hand under the nape of his neck and let it rest.
"That feels good," he murmured. "You're so cool, Saxon. Your hand, and you, all of you. Bein' with you is like comin' out into the cool night after dancin' in a hot room."
After several minutes of quiet, he began to giggle.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Oh, nothin'. I was just thinkin'--thinking of them mutts doin' me up--me, that's done up more scabs than I can remember."
Next morning Billy awoke with his blues dissipated. From the kitchen Saxon heard him painfully wrestling strange vocal acrobatics.
"I got a new song you never heard," he told her when she came in with a cup of coffee. "I only remember the chorus though. It's the old man talkin' to some hobo of a hired man that wants to marry his daughter. Mamie, that Billy Murphy used to run with before he got married, used to sing it. It's a kind of a sobby song. It used to always give Mamie the weeps. Here's the way the chorus goes--an' remember, it's the old man spielin'."
And with great solemnity and excruciating Batting, Billy sang:
"O treat my daughter kind-i-ly; An' say you'll do no harm, An' when I die I'll will to you My little house an' farm-- My horse, my plow, my sheep, my cow, An' all them little chickens in the ga-a-rden.
"It's them little chickens in the garden that gets me," he explained. "That's how I remembered it--from the chickens in the movin' pictures yesterday. An' some day we'll have little chickens in the garden, won't we, old girl?"
"And a daughter, too," Saxon amplified.
"An' I'll be the old geezer sayin' them same words to the hired man," Billy carried the fancy along. "It don't take long to raise a daughter if you ain't in a hurry."
Saxon took her long-neglected ukulele from its case and strummed it into tune.
"And I've a song you never heard, Billy. Tom's always singing it. He's crazy about taking up government land and going farming, only Sarah won't think of it. He sings it something like this:
"We'll have a little farm, A pig, a horse, a cow, And you will drive the wagon, And I will drive the plow."
"Only in this case I guess it's me that'll do the plowin'," Billy approved. "Say, Saxon, sing 'Harvest Days.' That's a farmer's song, too."
After that she feared the coffee was growing cold and compelled Billy to take it. In the helplessness of two broken arms, he had to be fed like a baby, and as she fed him they talked.
"I'll tell you one thing," Billy said, between mouthfuls. "Once we get settled down in the country you'll have that horse you've been wishin' for all your life. An' it'll be all your own, to ride, drive, sell, or do anything you want with."
And, again, he ruminated: "One thing that'll come handy in the country is that I know horses; that's a big start. I can always get a job at that--if it ain't at union wages. An' the other things about farmin' I can learn fast enough.--Say, d'ye remember that day you first told me about wantin' a horse to ride all your life?"
Saxon remembered, and it was only by a severe struggle that she was able to keep the tears from welling into her eyes. She seemed bursting with happiness, and she was remembering many things--all the warm promise of life with Billy that had been hers in the days before hard times. And now the promise was renewed again. Since its fulfillment had not come to them, they were going away to fulfill it for themselves and make the moving pictures come true.
Impelled by a half-feigned fear, she stole away into the kitchen bedroom where Bert had died, to study her face in the bureau mirror. No, she decided; she was little changed. She was still equipped for the battlefield of love. Beautiful she was not. She knew that. But had not Mercedes said that the great women of history who had won men had not been beautiful? And yet, Saxon insisted, as she gazed at her reflection, she was anything but unlovely. She studied her wide gray eyes that were so very gray, that were always alive with light and vivacities, where, in the surface and depths, always swam thoughts unuttered, thoughts that sank down and dissolved to give place to other thoughts. The brows were excellent--she realized that. Slenderly penciled, a little darker than her light brown hair, they just fitted her irregular nose that was feminine but not weak, that if anything was piquant and that picturesquely might be declared impudent.
She could see that her face was slightly thin, that the red of her lips was not quite so red, and that she had lost some of her quick coloring. But all that would come back again. Her mouth was not of the rosebud type she saw in the magazines. She paid particular attention to it. A pleasant mouth it was, a mouth to be joyous with, a mouth for laughter and to make laughter in others. She deliberately experimented with it, smiled till the corners dented deeper. And she knew that when she smiled her smile was provocative of smiles. She laughed with her eyes alone--a trick of hers. She threw back her head and laughed with eyes and mouth together, between her spread lips showing the even rows of strong white teeth.
And she remembered Billy's praise of her teeth, the night at Germanic Hall after he had told Charley Long he was standing on his foot. "Not big, and not little dinky baby's teeth either," Billy had said, ".. . just right, and they fit you." Also, he had said that to look at them made him hungry, and that they were good enough to eat.
She recollected all the compliments he had ever paid her. Beyond all treasures, these were treasures to her--the love phrases, praises, and admirations. He had said her skin was cool--soft as velvet, too, and smooth as silk. She rolled up her sleeve to the shoulder, brushed her cheek with the white skin for a test, with deep scrutiny examined the fineness of its texture. And he had told her that she was sweet; that he hadn't known what it meant when they said a girl was sweet, not until he had known her. And he had told her that her voice was cool, that it gave him the feeling her hand did when it rested on his forehead. Her voice went all through him, he had said, cool and fine, like a wind of coolness. And he had likened it to the first of the sea breeze setting in the afternoon after a scorching hot morning. And, also, when she talked low, that it was round and sweet, like the
'cello in the Macdonough Theater orchestra.
He had called her his Tonic Kid. He had called her a thoroughbred, clean-cut and spirited, all fine nerves and delicate and sensitive. He had liked the way she carried her clothes. She carried them like a dream, had been his way of putting it. They were part of her, just as much as the cool of her voice and skin and the scent of her hair.
And her figure! She got upon a chair and tilted the mirror so that she could see herself from hips to feet. She drew her skirt back and up. The slender ankle was just as slender. The calf had lost none of its delicately mature swell. She studied her hips, her waist, her bosom, her neck, the poise of her head, and sighed contentedly. Billy must be right, and he had said that she was built like a French woman, and that in the matter of lines and form she could give Annette Kellerman cards and spades.
He had said so many things, now that she recalled them all at one time. Her lips! The Sunday he proposed he had said: "I like to watch your lips talking. It's funny, but every move they make looks like a tickly kiss." And afterward, that same day: "You looked good to me from the first moment I spotted you." He had praised her housekeeping. He had said he fed better, lived more comfortably, held up his end with the fellows, and saved money. And she remembered that day when he had crushed her in his arms and declared she was the greatest little bit of a woman that had ever come down the pike.
She ran her eyes over all herself in the mirror again, gathered herself together into a whole, compact and good to look upon--delicious, she knew. Yes, she would do. Magnificent as Billy was in his man way, in her own way she was a match for him. Yes, she had done well by Billy. She deserved much--all he could give her, the best he could give her. But she made no blunder of egotism. Frankly valuing herself, she as frankly valued him. When he was himself, his real self, not harassed by trouble, not pinched by the trap, not maddened by drink, her man-boy and lover, he was well worth all she gave him or could give him.
Saxon gave herself a farewell look. No. She was not dead, any more than was Billy's love dead, than was her love dead. All that was needed was the proper soil, and their love would grow and blossom. And they were turning their backs upon Oakland to go and seek that proper soil.
"Oh, Billy!" she called through the partition, still standing on the chair, one hand tipping the mirror forward and back, so that she was able to run her eyes from the reflection of her ankles and calves to her face, warm with color and roguishly alive.
"Yes?" she heard him answer.
"I'm loving myself," she called back.
"What's the game?" came his puzzled query. "What are you so stuck on yourself for!"
"Because you love me," she answered. "I love every bit of me, Billy, because. .. because. .. well, because you love every bit of me."Next