"Our cattle were all played out," Saxon was saying, "and winter was so near that we couldn't dare try to cross the Great American Desert, so our train stopped in Salt Lake City that winter. The Mormons hadn't got bad yet, and they were good to us."
"You talk as though you were there," Bert commented.
"My mother was," Saxon answered proudly. "She was nine years old that winter."
They were seated around the table in the kitchen of the little Pine Street cottage, making a cold lunch of sandwiches, tamales, and bottled beer. It being Sunday, the four were free from work, and they had come early, to work harder than on any week day, washing walls and windows, scrubbing floors, laying carpets and linoleum, hanging curtains, setting up the stove, putting the kitchen utensils and dishes away, and placing the furniture.
"Go on with the story, Saxon," Mary begged. "I'm just dyin' to hear. And Bert, you just shut up and listen."
"Well, that winter was when Del Hancock showed up. He was Kentucky born, but he'd been in the West for years. He was a scout, like Kit Carson, and he knew him well. Many's a time Kit Carson and he slept under the same blankets. They were together to California and Oregon with General Fremont. Well, Del Hancock was passing on his way through Salt Lake, going I don't know where to raise a company of Rocky Mountain trappers to go after beaver some new place he knew about. Ha was a handsome man. He wore his hair long like in pictures, and had a silk sash around his waist he'd learned to wear in California from the Spanish, and two revolvers in his belt. Any woman 'd fall in love with him first sight. Well, he saw Sadie, who was my mother's oldest sister, and I guess she looked good to him, for he stopped right there in Salt Lake and didn't go a step. He was a great Indian fighter, too, and I heard my Aunt Villa say, when I was a little girl, that he had the blackest, brightest eyes, and that the way he looked was like an eagle. He'd fought duels, too, the way they did in those days, and he wasn't afraid of anything.
"Sadie was a beauty, and she flirted with him and drove him crazy. Maybe she wasn't sure of her own mind, I don't know. But I do know that she didn't give in as easy as I did to Billy. Finally, he couldn't stand it any more. Ha rode up that night on horseback, wild as could be. 'Sadie,' he said, 'if you don't promise to marry me to-morrow, I'll shoot myself to-night right back of the corral.' And he'd have done it, too, and Sadie knew it, and said she would. Didn't they make love fast in those days?"
"Oh, I don't know," Mary sniffed. "A week after you first laid eyes on Billy you was engaged. Did Billy say he was going to shoot himself back of the laundry if you turned him down?"
"I didn't give him a chance," Saxon confessed. "Anyway Del Hancock and Aunt Sadie got married next day. And they were very happy afterward, only she died. And after that he was killed, with General Custer and all the rest, by the Indians. He was an old man by then, but I guess he got his share of Indians before they got him. Men like him always died fighting, and they took their dead with them. I used to know Al Stanley when I was a little girl. He was a gambler, but he was game. A railroad man shot him in the back when he was sitting at a table. That shot killed him, too. He died in about two seconds. But before he died he'd pulled his gun and put three bullets into the man that killed him."
"I don't like fightin'," Mary protested. "It makes me nervous. Bert gives me the willies the way he's always lookin' for trouble. There ain't no sense in it."
"And I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers for a man without fighting spirit," Saxon answered. "why, we wouldn't be here to-day if it wasn't for the fighting spirit of our people before us."
"You've got the real goods of a fighter in Billy," Bert assured her; "a yard long and a yard wide and genuine A Number One, long-fleeced wool. Billy's a Mohegan with a scalp-lock, that's what he is. And when he gets his mad up it's a case of get out from under or something will fall on you--hard."
"Just like that," Mary added.
Billy, who had taken no part in the conversation, got up, glanced into the bedroom off the kitchen, went into the parlor and the bedroom off the parlor, then returned and stood gazing with puzzled brows into the kitchen bedroom.
"What's eatin' you, old man," Bert queried. "You look as though you'd lost something or was markin' a three-way ticket. What you got on your chest? Cough it up."
"Why, I'm just thinkin' where in Sam Hill's the bed an' stuff for the back bedroom."
"There isn't any," Saxon explained. "We didn't order any."
"Then I'll see about it to-morrow."
"What d'ye want another bed for?" asked Bert. "Ain't one bed enough for the two of you?"
"You shut up, Bert!" Mary cried. "Don't get raw."
"Whoa, Mary!" Bert grinned. "Back up. You're in the wrong stall as usual."
"We don't need that room," Saxon was saying to Billy. "And so I didn't plan any furniture. That money went to buy better carpets and a better stove."
Billy came over to her, lifted her from the chair, and seated himself with her on his knees.
"That's right, little girl. I'm glad you did. The best for us every time. And to-morrow night I want you to run up with me to Salinger's an' pick out a good bedroom set an' carpet for that room. And it must be good. Nothin' snide."
"It will cost fifty dollars," she objected.
"That's right," he nodded. "Make it cost fifty dollars and not a cent less. We're goin' to have the best. And what's the good of an empty room? It'd make the house look cheap. Why, I go around now, seein' this little nest just as it grows an' softens, day by day, from the day we paid the cash money down an' nailed the keys. Why, almost every moment I'm drivin' the horses, all day long, I just keep on seein' this nest. And when we're married, I'll go on seein' it. And I want to see it complete. If that room'd he bare-floored an' empty, I'd see nothin' but it and its bare floor all day long. I'd be cheated. The house'd be a lie. Look at them curtains you put up in it, Saxon. That's to make believe to the neighbors that it's furnished. Saxon, them curtains are lyin' about that room, makin' a noise for every one to hear that that room's furnished. Nitsky for us. I'm goin' to see that them curtains tell the truth."
"You might rent it," Bert suggested. "You're close to the railroad yards, and it's only two blocks to a restaurant."
"Not on your life. I ain't marryin' Saxon to take in lodgers. If I can't take care of her, d'ye know what I'll do ? Go down to Long Wharf, say 'Here goes nothin',' an' jump into the bay with a stone tied to my neck. Ain't I right, Saxon?"
It was contrary to her prudent judgment, but it fanned her pride. She threw her arms around her lover's neck, and said, ere she kissed him:
"You're the boss, Billy. What you say goes, and always will go."
"Listen to that!" Bert gibed to Mary. "That's the stuff. Saxon's onto her job."
"I guess we'll talk things over together first before ever I do anything," Billy was saying to Saxon.
"Listen to that," Mary triumphed. "You bet the man that marries me'll have to talk things over first."
"Billy's only givin' her hot air," Bert plagued. "They all do it before they're married."
Mary sniffed contemptuously.
"I'll bet Saxon leads him around by the nose. And I'm goin' to say, loud an' strong, that I'll lead the man around by the nose that marries me."
"Not if you love him," Saxon interposed.
"All the more reason," Mary pursued.
Bert assumed an expression and attitude of mournful dejection.
"Now you see why me an' Mary don't get married," he said. "I'm some big Indian myself, an' I'll be everlastingly jiggerooed if I put up for a wigwam I can't be boss of."
"And I'm no squaw," Mary retaliated, "an' I wouldn't marry a big buck Indian if all the rest of the men in the world was dead."
"Well this big buck Indian ain't asked you yet."
"He knows what he'd get if he did."
"And after that maybe he'll think twice before he does ask you."
Saxon, intent on diverting the conversation into pleasanter channels, clapped her hands as if with sudden recollection.
"Oh! I forgot! I want to show you something." From her purse she drew a slender ring of plain gold and passed it around. "My mother's wedding ring. I've worn it around my neck always, like a locket. I cried for it so in the orphan asylum that the matron gave it back for me to wear. And now, just to think, after next Tuesday I'll be wearing it on my finger. Look, Billy, see the engraving on the inside."
"C to D, 1879," he read.
"Carlton to Daisy--Carlton was my father's first name. And now, Billy, you've got to get it engraved for you and me."
Mary was all eagerness and delight.
"Oh, it's fine," she cried. "W to S, 1907."
Billy considered a moment.
"No, that wouldn't be right, because I'm not giving it to Saxon."
"I'll tell you what," Saxon said. "W and S."
"Nope." Billy shook his head. "S and W, because you come first with me."
"If I come first with you, you come first with us. Billy, dear, I insist on W and S."
"You see," Mary said to Bert. "Having her own way and leading him by the nose already."
Saxon acknowledged the sting.
"Anyway you want, Billy," she surrendered. His arms tightened about her.
"We'll talk it over first, I guess."