Briney took me to see it before he closed the deal, a courtesy I appreciated as married women could not sign contracts in those days; he did not have to consult me. ‘Think you could live here? '
Could I! Running water, a flush toilet, a bathtub, a gas range, gas lamp fixtures, a furnace -‘Briney, it's lovely! But can we afford it? '
‘That's my problem, Mrs S. , not yours. The rent will be paid. In fact you will pay it for me, as my agent, the first of every month. Our landlord, a gentleman named Ebeneezer Scrooge - ‘
"Ebeneezer Scrooge" indeed! '
‘I think that was the name. But there was a streetcar going by; I may have misunderstood. Mr Scrooge will collect in person, the first of every month, except Sundays, in which case he will collect on the Saturday preceding, not the Monday following; he was firm about that. And he wants cash; no cheques. He was firm about that, too. Real cash, silver cartwheels, not banknotes. '
Despite the house's many shortcomings its rent was high. I gasped when Briney told me: twelve dollars a month. ‘Oh, Briney! '
‘Get your feathers down, freckled one. We're going to be in it just one year. If you think you can stand it that long, you won't have to deal with dear Mr Scrooge - his name is O'Hennessy - as I can tie it down for twelve months with a discount of four points. Does that mean anything to you? '
I thought about it. ‘Mortgage money is six per cent today. .. so three points represents the average cost of hiring, the money, since you are paying in advance and they don't own the money until they have earned it, month by month. One point must be because Mr O'Hennessy Scrooge won't have to make twelve trips here to collect his rent. So that comes to one hundred and thirty-eight dollars and twenty four cents. '
‘Flame Top, you continue to amaze me. '
‘But they really ought to give you another point, for administrative overhead. '
‘How is that? '
‘For the bookkeeping they don't have to do because you are paying it all in a lump. That brings it down to one hundred thirty-six eighty. Offer him one hundred and thirty five, Briney. Then settle for one thirty-six. '
My husband looked at me in astonishment. ‘To think I married you for your cooking. Look, I'll stay Nome and have the baby; you go do my job. Mo, where did you learn that? '
‘Tbebes High School. Well, sort of. I worked a while on Father's accounts, then I found a textbook at home that my brother Edward had used, Commercial Arithmetic and Introduction to Bookeeping. We had our school books in common; there were shelves of them in the back hallway. So I didn't take the course but I read the book. But is silly to talk about me doing your job; I don't know beans about mining. Besides I don't want that long streetcar ride down to the west bottoms. '
‘I'm not sure I can have a baby, either. '
I'll do that, sir; I'm looking forward to it. But I would like to ride downtown with you each morning as far as McGee Street. '
‘You are more than welcome, Madam. But why MeGee Street? '
‘Kansas City Business College. I want to spend the next few months, before I get too big, learning to use a typewriter and to take Pitman shorthand. Then, if you ever become ill, dearest man, I could work in an office and support us. .. and if you ever go into business for yourself, I could do your office work. That would save you hiring a girl and maybe get us past that tight spot the books say every new business has. '
Briney said slowly, It was your cooking and one other talent; I remember clearly. Who would have guessed it? '
‘Do you mean I may? '
‘Better figure up what it will cost in tuition and carfare and lunch money -‘
‘I'll pack lunches for both of us. '
‘Tomorrow, Mo. Or the next day. Let's settle this house. '
We took the house, although that skinflint held out for one hundred and thirty-eight dollars. We stayed in it two years and another girl baby, Carol, then moved around the comer on to Mersington and into a slightly larger house (same landlord), where I had my first boy, Brian junior, in 1905. .. and learned what had become of the Howard bonuses.
It was the spring of 1906, a Sunday in May. We often took a streetcar ride on Sundays, to the far end of some line we had never explored before - our two little girls in their Sunday best and Briney and me taking turns holding junior. But this time he had arranged to leave our three with the lady next door, Mrs 0hlschlager, a dear friend who was correcting and extending my German.
We walked up to 27th Street and caught the streetcar heading west; Briney asked for transfers as usual, as on Sundays we might change anywhere, wind up anywhere. This day we rode only ten blocks when Briney pushed the button. ‘It's a lovely day; let's walk the boulevard a while. '
Brian handed me down; we crossed to the south side, headed south on the west side of Benton Boulevard. ‘Sweetheart, would you like to live in this neighbourhood? '
‘I would like it very much and I'm sure we will, in twenty years or so. ‘It's lovely. ' It truly was - every house on a double lot, each house ten or twelve rooms at least, each with its carriage drive and carriage house (barn, to us country jakes). Flower beds, stained-glass fanlights over the doors, all the houses new or perfectly kept up - from the styles I guessed 1900; I seemed to recall building going on here the year we came to KC.
‘Twenty years in a pig's eye, my love; don't be a pessimist. Let's pick out ore and buy it. How about that ore with the Saxon parked at the kerb? '
‘Must I take the Saxon, too? I don't like that door that opens to the rear; a child could fall out. I prefer that phaeton with the matched blacks. '
‘We're not buying horses, just houses. '
‘But, Brian, we can't buy a house on Sunday; the contract would not be legal. '
‘We can, my way. We can shake hands on it; then sign papers on Monday. '
‘Very well, sir. ' Briney loved games. Whatever they were, I went along with them. He was a happy man and he made me happy (in or out of bed).
At the end of the block we crossed over to the east side and continued south. In front of the third house from the corner he stopped us. ‘Mo, I like the looks of this ore. It feels like a happy house. Does it to you? '
It looked much like the houses around it, big and comfortable and handsome - and expensive. Not as inviting as the others, as it seemed to be unoccupied - no porch furniture, blinds drawn. But I agreed with my husband whenever possible. .. and it was no fault of the house that it was unoccupied. If it was.
Tm sure it could be a happy house with the right people in it'
‘Us, for instance? '
‘Us, for instance, ' I agreed.
Brian started up the walk toward the house. ‘I don't think there is anyone at home. Let's see if they left a door unlocked. Or a window. '
‘Peace, woman. '
Willy-nilly, I followed him up the walkway, with a feeling that Mrs Grundy was staring at me from behind curtains all up and down the block (and learned later that she was).
Brian tried the door. ‘Locked. Well, let's fix that' He reached into his pocket, took out a key, unlocked the door, held it open for me.
Breathless and frightened, I went in, then was slightly relieved when bare floors and echoes showed that it was empty. ‘Brian, what is this? Don't tease me, please. '
Tm not teasing, Mo. If this house pleases you. .. it's my long delayed wedding present from the groom to the bride. If it does not please you, I'll sell it'
I broke ore of my roles; I let him see me cry.
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