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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter III
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter III Post by :Pete_Ticali Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :1913

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter III

Saxon, brooding over her problem of retaining Billy's love, of
never staling the freshness of their feeling for each other and
of never descending from the heights which at present they were
treading, felt herself impelled toward Mrs. Higgins. SHE knew;
surely she must know. Had she not hinted knowledge beyond
ordinary women's knowledge?

Several weeks went by, during which Saxon was often with her. But
Mrs. Higgins talked of all other matters, taught Saxon the making
of certain simple laces, and instructed her in the arts of
washing and of marketing. And then, one afternoon, Saxon found
Mrs. Higgins more voluble than usual, with words, clean-uttered,
that rippled and tripped in their haste to escape. Her eyes were
flaming. So flamed her face. Her words were flames. There was a
smell of liquor in the air and Saxon knew that the old woman had
been drinking. Nervous and frightened, at the same time
fascinated, Saxon hemstitched a linen handkerchief intended for
Billy and listened to Mercedes' wild flow of speech.

"Listen, my dear. I shall tell you about the world of men. Do not
be stupid like all your people, who think me foolish and a witch
with the evil eye. Ha! ha! When I think of silly Maggie Donahue
pulling the shawl across her baby's face when we pass each other
on the sidewalk! A witch I have been, 'tis true, but my witchery
was with men. Oh, I am wise, very wise, my dear. I shall tell you
of women's ways with men, and of men's ways with women, the best
of them and the worst of them. Of the brute that is in all men,
of the queerness of them that breaks the hearts of stupid women
who do not understand. And all women are stupid. I am not stupid.
La la, listen.

"I am an old woman. And like a woman, I'll not tell you how old I
am. Yet can I hold men. Yet would I hold men, toothless and a
hundred, my nose touching my chin. Not the young men. They were
mine in my young days. But the old men, as befits my years. And
well for me the power is mine. In all this world I am without kin
or cash. Only have I wisdom and memories--memories that are
ashes, but royal ashes, jeweled ashes. Old women, such as I,
starve and shiver, or accept the pauper's dole and the pauper's
shroud. Not I. I hold my man. True, 'tis only Barry Higgins--old
Barry, heavy, an ox, but a male man, my dear, and queer as all
men are queer. 'Tis true, he has one arm." She shrugged her
shoulders. "A compensation. He cannot beat me, and old bones are
tender when the round flesh thins to strings.

"But when I think of my wild young lovers, princes, mad with the
madness of youth! I have lived. It is enough. I regret nothing.
And with old Barry I have my surety of a bite to eat and a place
by the fire. And why? Because I know men, and shall never lose my
cunning to hold them. 'Tis bitter sweet, the knowledge of them,
more sweet than bitter--men and men and men! Not stupid dolts,
nor fat bourgeois swine of business men, but men of temperament,
of flame and fire; madmen, maybe, but a lawless, royal race of
madmen.

"Little wife-woman, you must learn. Variety! There lies the
magic. 'Tis the golden key. 'Tis the toy that amuses. Without it
in the wife, the man is a Turk; with it, he is her slave, and
faithful. A wife must be many wives. If you would have your
husband's love you must be all women to him. You must be ever
new, with the dew of newness ever sparkling, a flower that never
blooms to the fulness that fades. You must be a garden of
flowers, ever new, ever fresh, ever different. And in your garden
the man must never pluck the last of your posies.

"Listen, little wife-woman. In the garden of love is a snake. It
is the commonplace. Stamp on its head, or it will destroy the
garden. Remember the name. Commonplace. Never be too intimate.
Men only seem gross. Women are more gross than men.--No, do not
argue, little new-wife. You are an infant woman. Women are less
delicate than men. Do I not know? Of their own husbands they will
relate the most intimate love-secrets to other women. Men never
do this of their wives. Explain it. There is only one way. In all
things of love women are less delicate. It is their mistake. It
is the father and the mother of the commonplace, and it is the
commonplace, like a loathsome slug, that beslimes and destroys
love.

"Be delicate, little wife-woman. Never be without your veil,
without many veils. Veil yourself in a thousand veils, all
shimmering and glittering with costly textures and precious
jewels. Never let the last veil be drawn. Against the morrow
array yourself with more veils, ever more veils, veils without
end. Yet the many veils must not seem many. Each veil must seem
the only one between you and your hungry lover who will have
nothing less than all of you. Each time he must seem to get all,
to tear aside the last veil that hides you. He must think so. It
must not be so. Then there will be no satiety, for on the morrow
he will find another last veil that has escaped him.

"Remember, each veil must seem the last and only one. Always you
must seem to abandon all to his arms; always you must reserve
more that on the morrow and on all the morrows you may abandon.
Of such is variety, surprise, so that your man's pursuit will be
everlasting, so that his eyes will look to you for newness, and
not to other women. It was the freshness and the newness' of your
beauty and you, the mystery of you, that won your man. When a man
has plucked and smelled all the sweetness of a flower, he looks
for other flowers. It is his queerness. You must ever remain a
flower almost plucked yet never plucked, stored with vats of
sweet unbroached though ever broached.

"Stupid women, and all are stupid, think the first winning of the
man the final victory. Then they settle down and grow fat, and
state, and dead, and heartbroken. Alas, they are so stupid. But
you, little infant-woman with your first victory, you must make
your love-life an unending chain of victories. Each day you must
win your man again. And when you have won the last victory, when
you can find no more to win, then ends love. Finis is written,
and your man wanders in strange gardens. Remember, love must be
kept insatiable. It must have an appetite knife-edged and never
satisfied. You must feed your lover well, ah, very well, most
well; give, give, yet send him away hungry to come back to you
for more.

Mrs. Higgins stood up suddenly and crossed out of the room. Saxon
had not failed to note the litheness and grace in that lean and
withered body. She watched for Mrs. Higgins' return, and knew
that the litheness and grace had not been imagined.

"Scarcely have I told you the first letter in love's alphabet,"
said Mercedes Higgins, as she reseated herself.

In her hands was a tiny instrument, beautifully grained and
richly brown, which resembled a guitar save that it bore four
strings. She swept them back and forth with rhythmic forefinger
and lifted a voice, thin and mellow, in a fashion of melody that
was strange, and in a foreign tongue, warm-voweled, all-voweled,
and love-exciting. Softly throbbing, voice and strings arose on
sensuous crests of song, died away to whisperings and caresses,
drifted through love-dusks and twilights, or swelled again to
love-cries barbarically imperious in which were woven plaintive
calls and madnesses of invitation and promise. It went through
Saxon until she was as this instrument, swept with passional
strains. It seemed to her a dream, and almost was she dizzy, when
Mercedes Higgins ceased.

"If your man had clasped the last of you, and if all of you were
known to him as an old story, yet, did you sing that one song, as
I have sung it, yet would his arms again go out to you and his
eyes grow warm with the old mad lights. Do you see? Do you
understand, little wife-woman?"

Saxon could only nod, her lips too dry for speech.

"The golden koa, the king of woods," Mercedes was crooning over
the instrument. "The ukulele--that is what the Hawaiians call it,
which means, my dear, the jumping flea. They are golden-fleshed,
the Hawalians, a race of lovers, all in the warm cool of the
tropic night where the trade winds blow."

Again she struck the strings. She sang in another language, which
Saxon deemed must be French. It was a gayly-devilish lilt,
tripping and tickling. Her large eyes at times grew larger and
wilder, and again narrowed in enticement and wickedness. When she
ended, she looked to Saxon for a verdict.

"I don't like that one so well," Saxon said.

Mercedes shrugged her shoulders.

"They all have their worth, little infant-woman with so much to
learn. There are times when men may be won with wine. There are
times when men may be won with the wine of song, so queer they
are. La la, so many ways, so many ways. There are your pretties,
my dear, your dainties. They are magic nets. No fisherman upon
the sea ever tangled fish more successfully than we women with
our flimsies. You are on the right path. I have seen men enmeshed
by a corset cover no prettier, no daintier, than these of yours I
have seen on the line.

"I have called the washing of fine linen an art. But it is not
for itself alone. The greatest of the arts is the conquering of
men. Love is the sum of all the arts, as it is the reason for
their existence. Listen. In all times and ages have been women,
great wise women. They did not need to be beautiful. Greater then
all woman's beauty was their wisdom. Princes end potentates bowed
down before them. Nations battled over them. Empires crashed
because of them. Religions were founded on them. Aphrodite,
Astarte, the worships of the night--listen, infant-woman, of the
great women who conquered worlds of men."

And thereafter Saxon listened, in a maze, to what almost seemed a
wild farrago, save that the strange meaningless phrases were
fraught with dim, mysterious significance. She caught glimmerings
of profounds inexpressible and unthinkable that hinted
connotations lawless and terrible. The woman's speech was a lava
rush, scorching and searing; and Saxon's cheeks, and forehead,
and neck burned with a blush that continuously increased. She
trembled with fear, suffered qualms of nausea, thought sometimes
that she would faint, so madly reeled her brain; yet she could
not tear herself away, sad sat on and on, her sewing forgotten on
her lap, staring with inward sight upon a nightmare vision beyond
all imagining. At last, when it seemed she could endure no more,
and while she was wetting her dry lips to cry out in protest,
Mercedes ceased.

"And here endeth the first lesson," she said quite calmly, then
laughed with a laughter that was tantalizing and tormenting.
"What is the matter? You are not shocked?"

"I am frightened," Saxon quavered huskily, with a half-sob of
nervousness. "You frighten me. I am very foolish, and I know so
little, that I had never dreamed ... THAT."

Mercedes nodded her head comprehendingly.

"It is indeed to be frightened at," she said. "It is solemn; it
is terrible; it is magnificent!"

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Saxon had been clear-eyed all her days, though her field ofvision had been restricted. Clear-eyed, from her childhood dayswith the saloonkeeper Cady and Cady's good-natured but unmoralspouse, she had observed, and, later, generalized much upon sex.She knew the post-nuptial problem of retaining a husband's love,as few wives of any class knew it, just as she knew thepre-nuptial problem of selecting a husband, as few girls of theworking class knew it.She had of herself developed an eminently rational philosophy oflove. Instinctively, and consciously, too, she had made towarddelicacy, and shunned the perils of the habitual and commonplace.Thoroughly aware she was that as
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Despite the fastidiousness of her housekeeping, Saxon, once shehad systematized it, found time and to spare on her hands.Especially during the periods in which her husband carried hislunch and there was no midday meal to prepare, she had a numberof hours each day to herself. Trained for years to the routine offactory and laundry work, she could not abide this unaccustomedidleness. She could not bear to sit and do nothing, while shecould not pay calls on her girlhood friends, for they stillworked in factory and laundry. Nor was she acquainted with thewives of the neighborhood, save for one strange old woman
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