The Valley of the Moon by Jack London
The first evening after the marriage night Saxon met Billy at the door as he came up the front steps. After their embrace, and as they crossed the parlor hand in hand toward the kitchen, he filled his lungs through his nostrils with audible satisfaction.
"My, but this house smells good, Saxon! It ain't the coffee--I can smell that, too. It's the whole house. It smells ... well, it just smells good to me, that's all."
He washed and dried himself at the sink, while she heated the frying pan on the front hole of the stove with the lid off. As he wiped his hands he watched her keenly, and cried out with approbation as she dropped the steak in the fryin pan.
"Where'd you learn to cook steak on a dry, hot pan? It's the only way, but darn few women seem to know about it."
As she took the cover off a second frying pan and stirred the savory contents with a kitchen knife, he came behind her, passed his arms under her arm-pits with down-drooping hands upon her breasts, and bent his head over her shoulder till cheek touched cheek.
"Um-um-um-m-m! Fried potatoes with onions like mother used to make. Me for them. Don't they smell good, though! Um-um-m-m-m!"
The pressure of his hands relaxed, and his cheek slid caressingly past hers as he started to release her. Then his hands closed down again. She felt his lips on her hair and heard his advertised inhalation of delight.
"Um-um-m-m-m! Don't you smell good--yourself, though! I never understood what they meant when they said a girl was sweet. I know, now. And you're the sweetest I ever knew."
His joy was boundless. When he returned from combing his hair in the bedroom and sat down at the small table opposite her, he paused with knife and fork in hand.
"Say, bein' married is a whole lot more than it's cracked up to be by most married folks. Honest to God, Saxon, we can show 'em a few. We can give 'em cards and spades an' little casino an' win out on big casino and the aces. I've got but one kick comin'."
The instant apprehension in her eyes provoked a chuckle from him.
"An' that is that we didn't get married quick enough. Just think. I've lost a whole week of this."
Her eyes shone with gratitude and happiness, and in her heart she solemnly pledged herself that never in all their married life would it be otherwise.
Supper finished, she cleared the table and began washing the dishes at the sink. When he evinced the intention of wiping them, she caught him by the lapels of the coat and backed him into a chair.
"You'll sit right there, if you know what's good for you. Now be good and mind what I say. Also, you will smoke a cigarette.--No; you're not going to watch me. There's the morning paper beside you. And if you don't hurry to read it, I'll be through these dishes before you've started."
As he smoked and read, she continually glanced across at him from her work. One thing more, she thought--slippers; and then the picture of comfort and content would be complete.
Several minutes later Billy put the paper aside with a sigh.
"It's no use," he complained. "I can't read."
"What's the matter?" she teased. "Eyes weak?"
"Nope. They'ra sore, and there's only one thing to do 'em any good, an' that's lookin' at you."
"All right, then, baby Billy; I'll be through in a jiffy."
When she had washed the dish towel and scalded out the sink, she took off her kitchen apron, came to him, and kissed first one eye and then the other.
"How are they now. Cured?"
"They feel some better already."
She repeated the treatment.
After he had adjudged them well, he ouched and informed her that there was still some hurt in the right eye.
In the course of treating it, she cried out as in pain. Billy was all alarm.
"What is it? What hurt you?"
"My eyes. They're hurting like sixty."
And Billy became physician for a while and she the patient. When the cure was accomplished, she led him into the parlor, where, by the open window, they succeeded in occupying the same Morris chair. It was the most expensive comfort in the house. It had cost seven dollars and a half, and, though it was grander than anything she had dreamed of possessing, the extravagance of it had worried her in a half-guilty way all day.
The salt chill of the air that is the blessing of all the bay cities after the sun goes down crept in about them. They heard the switch engines puffing in the railroad yards, and the rumbling thunder of the Seventh Street local slowing down in its run from the Mole to stop at West Oakland station. From the street came the noise of children playing in the summer night, and from the steps of the house next door the low voices of gossiping housewives.
"Can you beat it?" Billy murmured. "When I think of that six-dollar furnished room of mine, it makes me sick to think what I was missin' all the time. But there's one satisfaction. If I'd changed it sooner I wouldn't a-had you. You see, I didn't know you existed only until a couple of weeks ago."
His hand crept along her bare forearm and up and partly under the elbow-sleeve.
"Your skin's so cool," he said. "It ain't cold; it's cool. It feels good to the hand."
"Pretty soon you'll be calling me your cold-storage baby," she laughed.
"And your voice is cool," he went on. "It gives me the feeling just as your hand does when you rest it on my forehead. It's funny. I can't explain it. But your voice just goes all through me, cool and fine. It's like a wind of coolness--just right. It's like the first of the sea-breeze settin' in in the afternoon after a scorchin' hot morning. An' sometimes, when you talk low, it sounds round and sweet like the 'cello in the Macdonough Theater orchestra. And it never goes high up, or sharp, or squeaky, or scratchy, like some women's voices when they're mad, or fresh, or excited, till they remind me of a bum phonograph record. Why, your voice, it just goes through me till I'm all trembling--like with the everlastin' cool of it. It's it's straight delicious. I guess angels in heaven, if they is any, must have voices like that."
After a few minutes, in which, so inexpreasible was her happiness that she could only pass her hand through his hair and cling to him, he broke out again.
"I'll tell you what you remind me of. Did you ever see a thoroughbred mare, all shinin' in the sun, with hair like satin an' skin so thin an' tender that the least touch of the whip leaves a mark--all fine nerves, an' delicate an' sensitive, that'll kill the toughest bronco when it comes to endurance an' that can strain a tendon in a flash or catch death-of-cold without a blanket for a night? I wanta tell you they ain't many beautifuler sights in this world. An' they're that fine-strung, an' sensitive, an' delicate. You gotta handle 'em right-side up, glass, with care. Well, that's what you remind me of. And I'm goin' to make it my job to see you get handled an' gentled in the same way. You're as different from other women as that kind of a mare is from scrub work-horse mares. You're a thoroughbred. You're clean-cut an' spirited, an' your lines ...
"Say, d'ye know you've got some figure? Well, you have. Talk about Annette Kellerman. You can give her cards and spades. She's Australian, an' you're American, only your figure ain't. You're different. You're nifty--I don't know how to explain it. Other women ain't built like you. You belong in some other country. You're Frenchy, that's what. You're built like a French woman an' more than that--the way you walk, move, stand up or sit down, or don't do anything."
And he, who had never been out of California, or, for that matter, had never slept a night away from his birthtown of Oakland, was right in his judgment. She was a flower of Anglo-Saxon stock, a rarity in the exceptional smallness and fineness of hand and foot and bone and grace of flesh and carriage--some throw-back across the face of time to the foraying Norman-French that had intermingled with the sturdy Saxon breed.
"And in the way you carry your clothes. They belong to you. They seem just as much part of you as the cool of your voice and skin. They're always all right an' couldn't be better. An' you know, a fellow kind of likes to be seen taggin' around with a woman like you, that wears her clothes like a dream, an' hear the other fellows say: 'Who's Bill's new skirt? She's a peach, ain't she? Wouldn't I like to win her, though.' And all that sort of talk."
And Saxon, her cheek pressed to his, knew that she was paid in full for all her midnight sewings and the torturing hours of drowsy stitching when her head nodded with the weariness of the day's toil, while she recreated for herself filched ideas from the dainty garments that had steamed under her passing iron.
"Say, Saxon, I got a new name for you. You're my Tonic Kid. That's what you are, the Tonic Kid."
"And you'll never get tired of me?" she queried.
"Tired? Why we was made for each other."
"Isn't it wonderful, our meeting, Billy? We might never have met. It was just by accident that we did."
"We was born lucky," he proclaimed. "That's a cinch."
"Maybe it was more than luck," she ventured.
"Sure. It just had to be. It was fate. Nothing could a-kept us apart."
They sat on in a silence that was quick with unuttered love, till she felt him slowly draw her more closely and his lips come near to her ear as they whispered: "What do you say we go to bed?"
Many evenings they spent like this, varied with an occasional dance, with trips to the Orpheum and to Bell's Theater, or to the moving picture shows, or to the Friday night band concerts in City Hall Park. Often, on Sunday, she prepared a lunch, and he drove her out into the hills behind Prince and King, whom Billy's employer was still glad to have him exercise.
Each morning Saxon was called by the alarm clock. The first morning he had insisted upon getting up with her and building the fire in the kitchen stove. She gave in the first morning, but after that she laid the fire in the evening, so that all that was required was the touching of a match to it. And in bed she compelled him to remain for a last little doze ere she called him for breakfast. For the first several weeks she prepared his lunch for him. Then, for a week, he came down to dinner. After that he was compelled to take his lunch with him. It depended on how far distant the teaming was done.
"You're not starting right with a man," Mary cautioned. "You wait on him hand and foot. You'll spoil him if you don't watch out. It's him that ought to be waitin' on you."
"He's the bread-winner," Saxon replied. "He works harder than I, and I've got more time than I know what to do with--time to burn. Besides, I want to wait on him because I love to, and because ... well, anyway, I want to."