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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVII
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVII Post by :CoachLarry Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :2709

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVII

She slept all night, without stirring, without dreaming, and
awoke naturally and, for the first time in weeks, refreshed. She
felt her old self, as if some depressing weight had been lifted,
or a shadow had been swept away from between her and the sun. Her
head was clear. The seeming iron band that had pressed it so hard
was gone. She was cheerful. She even caught herself humming aloud
as she divided the fish into messes for Mrs. Olsen, Maggie
Donahue, and herself. She enjoyed her gossip with each of them,
and, returning home, plunged joyfully into the task of putting
the neglected house in order. She sang as she worked, and ever as
she sang the magic words of the boy danced and sparkled among the
notes: OAKLAND IS JUST A PLACE TO START FROM.

Everything was clear as print. Her and Billy's problem was as
simple as an arithmetic problem at school: to carpet a room so
many feet long, so many feet wide, to paper a room so many feet
high, so many feet around. She had been sick in her head, she
had had strange lapses, she had been irresponsible. Very well.
All this had been because of her troubles--troubles in which she
had had no hand in the making. Billy's case was hers precisely.
He had behaved strangely because he had been irresponsible. And
all their troubles were the troubles of the trap. Oakland was the
trap. Oakland was a good place to start from.

She reviewed the events of her married life. The strikes and the
hard times had caused everything. If it had not been for the
strike of the shopmen and the fight in her front yard, she would
not have lost her baby. If Billy had not been made desperate by
the idleness and the hopeless fight of the teamsters, he would
not have taken to drinking. If they had not been hard up, they
would not have taken a lodger, and Billy would not be in jail.

Her mind was made up. The city was no place for her and Billy, no
place for love nor for babies. The way out was simple. They would
leave Oakland. It was the stupid that remained and bowed their
heads to fate. But she and Billy were not stupid. They would not
bow their heads. They would go forth and face fate.--Where, she
did not know. But that would come. The world was large. Beyond
the encircling hills, out through the Golden Gate, somewhere they
would find what they desired. The boy had been wrong in one
thing. She was not tied to Oakland, even if she was married. The
world was free to her and Billy as it had been free to the
wandering generations before them. It was only the stupid who had
been left behind everywhere in the race's wandering. The strong
had gone on. Well, she and Billy were strong. They would go on,
over the brown Contra Costa hills or out through the Golden Gate.

The day before Billy's release Saxon completed her meager
preparations to receive him. She was without money, and, except
for her resolve not to offend Billy in that way again, she would
have borrowed ferry fare from Maggie Donahue and journeyed to San
Francisco to sell some of her personal pretties. As it was, with
bread and potatoes and salted sardines in the house, she went out
at the afternoon low tide and dug clams for a chowder. Also, she
gathered a load of driftwood, and it was nine in the evening when
she emerged from the marsh, on her shoulder a bundle of wood and
a short-handled spade, in her free hand the pail of clams. She
sought the darker side of the street at the corner and hurried
across the zone of electric light to avoid detection by the
neighbors. But a woman came toward her, looked sharply and
stopped in front of her. It was Mary.

"My God, Saxon!" she exclaimed. "Is it as bad as this?"

Saxon looked at her old friend curiously, with a swift glance
that sketched all the tragedy. Mary was thinner, though there was
more color in her cheeks--color of which Saxon had her doubts.
Mary's bright eyes were handsomer, larger--too large, too
feverish bright, too restless. She was well dressed--too well
dressed; and she was suffering from nerves. She turned her head
apprehensively to glance into the darkness behind her.

"My God!" Saxon breathed. "And you. .." She shut her lips, then
began anew. "Come along to the house," she said.

"If you're ashamed to be seen with me--" Mary blurted, with one
of her old quick angers.

"No, no," Saxon disclaimed. "It's the driftwood and the clams. I
don't want the neighbors to know. Come along."

"No; I can't, Saxon. I'd like to, but I can't. I've got to catch
the next train to F'risco. I've ben waitin' around. I knocked at
your back door. But the house was dark. Billy's still in, ain't
he?"

"Yes, he gets out to-morrow."

"I read about it in the papers," Mary went on hurriedly, looking
behind her. "I was in Stockton when it happened." She turned upon
Saxon almost savagely. "You don't blame me, do you? I just
couldn't go back to work after bein' married. I was sick of work.
Played out, I guess, an' no good anyway. But if you only knew how
I hated the laundry even before I got married. It's a dirty
world. You don't dream. Saxon, honest to God, you could never
guess a hundredth part of its dirtiness. Oh, I wish I was dead, I
wish I was dead an' out of it all. Listen--no, I can't now.
There's the down train puffin' at Adeline. I'll have to run for
it. Can I come--"

"Aw, get a move on, can't you?" a man's voice interrupted.

Behind her the speaker had partly emerged from the darkness. No
workingman, Saxon could see that--lower in the world scale,
despite his good clothes, than any workingman.

"I'm comin', if you'll only wait a second," Mary placated.

And by her answer and its accents Saxon knew that Mary was afraid
of this man who prowled on the rim of light.

Mary turned to her.

"I got to beat it; good bye," she said, fumbling in the palm of
her glove.

She caught Saxon's free hand, and Saxon felt a small hot coin
pressed into it. She tried to resist, to force it back.

"No, no," Mary pleaded. "For old times. You can do as much for me
some day. I'll see you again. Good bye."

Suddenly, sobbing, she threw her arms around Saxon's waist,
crushing the feathers of her hat against the load of wood as she
pressed her face against Saxon's breast. Then she tore herself
away to arm's length, passionate, queering, and stood gazing at
Saxon.

"Aw, get a hustle, get a hustle," came from the darkness the
peremptory voice of the man.

"Oh, Saxon!" Mary sobbed; and was gone.

In the house, the lamp lighted, Saxon looked at the coin. It was
a five-dollar piece--to her, a fortune. Then she thought of Mary,
and of the man of whom she was afraid. Saxon registered another
black mark against Oakland. Mary was one more destroyed. They
lived only five years, on the average, Saxon had heard somewhere.
She looked at the coin and tossed it into the kitchen sink. When
she cleaned the clams, she heard the coin tinkle down the vent
pipe.

It was the thought of Billy, next morning, that led Saxon to go
under the sink, unscrew the cap to the catchtrap, and rescue the
five-dollar piece. Prisoners were not well fed, she had been
told; and the thought of placing clams and dry bread before
Billy, after thirty days of prison fare, was too appalling for
her to contemplate. She knew how he liked to spread his butter on
thick, how he liked thick, rare steak fried on a dry hot pan, and
how he liked coffee that was coffee and plenty of it.

Not until after nine o'clock did Billy arrive, and she was
dressed in her prettiest house gingham to meet him. She peeped on
him as he came slowly up the front steps, and she would have run
out to him except for a group of neighborhood children who were
staring from across the street. The door opened before him as his
hand reached for the knob, and, inside, he closed it by backing
against it, for his arms were filled with Saxon. No, he had not
had breakfast, nor did he want any now that he had her. He had
only stopped for a shave. He had stood the barber off, and he had
walked all the way from the City Hall because of lack of the
nickel carfare. But he'd like a bath most mighty well, and a
change of clothes. She mustn't come near him until he was clean.

When all this was accomplished, he sat in the kitchen and watched
her cook, noting the driftwood she put in the stove and asking
about it. While she moved about, she told how she had gathered
the wood, how she had managed to live and not be beholden to the
union, and by the time they were seated at the table she was
telling him about her meeting with Mary the night before. She did
not mention the five dollars.

Billy stopped chewing the first mouthful of steak. His expression
frightened her. He spat the meat out on his plate.

"You got the money to buy the meat from her," he accused slowly.
"You had no money, no more tick with the butcher, yet here's
meat. Am I right?"

Saxon could only bend her head.

The terrifying, ageless look had come into his face, the bleak
and passionless glaze into his eyes, which she had first seen on
the day at Weasel Park when he had fought with the three
Irishmen.

"What else did you buy?" he demanded--not roughly, not angrily,
but with the fearful coldness of a rage that words could not
express.

To her surprise, she had grown calm. What did it matter? It was
merely what one must expect, living in Oakland--something to be
left behind when Oakland was a thing behind, a place started
from.

"The coffee," she answered. "And the butter."

He emptied his plate of meat and her plate into the frying pan,
likewise the roll of butter and the slice on the table, and on
top he poured the contents of the coffee canister. All this he
carried into the back yard and dumped in the garbage can. The
coffee pot he emptied into the sink. "How much of the money you
got left?" he next wanted to know.

Saxon had already gone to her purse and taken it out.

"Three dollars and eighty cents," she counted, handing it to him.
"I paid forty-five cents for the steak."

He ran his eye over the money, counted it, and went to the front
door. She heard the door open and close, and knew that the silver
had been flung into the street. When he came back to the kitchen,
Saxon was already serving him fried potatoes on a clean plate.

"Nothin's too good for the Robertses," he said; "but, by God,
that sort of truck is too high for my stomach. It's so high it
stinks."

He glanced at the fried potatoes, the fresh slice of dry bread,
and the glass of water she was placing by his plate.

"It's all right," she smiled, as he hesitated. "There's nothing
left that's tainted."

He shot a swift glance at her face, as if for sarcasm, then
sighed and sat down. Almost immediately he was up again and
holding out his arms to her.

"I'm goin' to eat in a minute, but I want to talk to you first,"
he said, sitting down and holding her closely. "Besides, that
water ain't like coffee. Gettin' cold won't spoil it none. Now,
listen. You're the only one I got in this world. You wasn't
afraid of me an' what I just done, an' I'm glad of that. Now
we'll forget all about Mary. I got charity enough. I'm just as
sorry for her as you. I'd do anything for her. I'd wash her feet
for her like Christ did. I'd let her eat at my table, an' sleep
under my roof. But all that ain't no reason I should touch
anything she's earned. Now forget her. It's you an' me, Saxon,
only you an' me an' to hell with the rest of the world. Nothing
else counts. You won't never have to be afraid of me again.
Whisky an' I don't mix very well, so I'm goin' to cut whisky out.
I've been clean off my nut, an' I ain't treated you altogether
right. But that's all past. It won't never happen again. I'm
goin' to start out fresh.

"Now take this thing. I oughtn't to acted so hasty. But I did. I
oughta talked it over. But I didn't. My damned temper got the
best of me, an' you know I got one. If a fellow can keep his
temper in boxin', why he can keep it in bein' married, too. Only
this got me too sudden-like. It's something I can't stomach, that
I never could stomach. An' you wouldn't want me to any more'n I'd
want you to stomach something you just couldn't."

She sat up straight on his knees and looked at him, afire with an
idea.

"You mean that, Billy?"

"Sure I do."

"Then I'll tell you something I can't stomach any more. I'll die
if I have to."

"Well?" he questioned, after a searching pause.

"It's up to you," she said.

"Then fire away."

"You don't know what you're letting yourself in for," she warned.
"Maybe you'd better back out before it's too late."

He shook his head stubbornly.

"What you don't want to stomach you ain't goin' to stomach. Let
her go."

"First," she commenced, "no more slugging of scabs."

His mouth opened, but he checked the involuntary protest.

"And, second, no more Oakland."

"I don't get that last."

"No more Oakland. No more living in Oakland. I'll die if I have
to. It's pull up stakes and get out."

He digested this slowly.

"Where?" he asked finally.

"Anywhere. Everywhere. Smoke a cigarette and think it over."

He shook his head and studied her.

"You mean that?" he asked at length.

"I do. I want to chuck Oakland just as hard as you wanted to
chuck the beefsteak, the coffee, and the butter."

She could see him brace himself. She could feel him brace his
very body ere he answered.

"All right then, if that's what you want. We'll quit Oakland.
We'll quit it cold. God damn it, anyway, it never done nothin'
for me, an' I guess I'm husky enough to scratch for us both
anywheres. An' now that's settled, just tell me what you got it
in for Oakland for."

And she told him all she had thought out, marshaled all the facts
in her indictment of Oakland, omitting nothing, not even her last
visit to Doctor Hentley's office nor Billy's drinking. He but
drew her closer and proclaimed his resolves anew. The time
passed. The fried potatoes grew cold, and the stove went out.

When a pause came, Billy stood up, still holding her. He glanced
at the fried potatoes.

"Stone cold," he said, then turned to her. "Come on. Put on your
prettiest. We're goin' up town for something to eat an' to
celebrate. I guess we got a celebration comin', seein' as we're
going to pull up stakes an' pull our freight from the old burg.
An' we won't have to walk. I can borrow a dime from the barber,
an' I got enough junk to hock for a blowout."

His junk proved to be several gold medals won in his amateur days
at boxing tournaments. Once up town and in the pawnshop, Uncle
Sam seemed thoroughly versed in the value of the medals, and
Billy jingled a handful of silver in his pocket as they walked
out.

He was as hilarious as a boy, and she joined in his good spirits.
When he stopped at a corner cigar store to buy a sack of Bull
Durham, he changed his mind and bought Imperials.

"Oh, I'm a regular devil," he laughed. "Nothing's too good
to-day--not even tailor-made smokes. An' no chop houses nor Jap
joints for you an' me. It's Barnum's."

They strolled to the restaurant at Seventh and Broadway where
they had had their wedding supper.

"Let's make believed we're not married," Saxon suggested.

"Sure," he agreed, "--an' take a private room so as the waiter'll
have to knock on the door each time he comes in."

Saxon demurred at that.

"It will be too expensive, Billy. You'll have to tip him for the
knocking. We'll take the regular dining room."

"Order anything you want," Billy said largely, when they were
seated. "Here's family porterhouse, a dollar an' a half. What
d'ye say?"

"And hash-browned," she abetted, "and coffee extra special, and
some oysters first--I want to compare them with the rock
oysters."

Billy nodded, and looked up from the bill of fare.

"Here's mussels bordelay. Try an order of them, too, an' see if
they beat your Rock Wall ones."

"Why not?" Saxon cried, her eyes dancing. "The world is ours.
We're just travelers through this town."

"Yep, that's the stuff," Billy muttered absently. He was looking
at the theater column. He lifted his eyes from the paper.
"Matinee at Bell's. We can get reserved seats for a
quarter.--Doggone the luck anyway!"

His exclamation was so aggrieved and violent that it brought
alarm into her eyes.

"If I'd only thought," he regretted, "we could a-gone to the
Forum for grub. That's the swell joint where fellows like Roy
Blanchard hangs out, blowin' the money we sweat for them."

They bought reserved tickets at Bell's Theater; but it was too
early for the performance, and they went down Broadway and into
the Electric Theater to while away the time on a moving picture
show. A cowboy film was run off, and a French comic; then came a
rural drama situated somewhere in the Middle West. It began with
a farm yard scene. The sun blazed down on a corner of a barn and
on a rail fence where the ground lay in the mottled shade of
large trees overhead. There were chickens, ducks, and turkeys,
scratching, waddling, moving about. A big sow, followed by a
roly-poly litter of seven little ones, marched majestically
through the chickens, rooting them out of the way. The hens, in
turn, took it out on the little porkers, pecking them when they
strayed too far from their mother. And over the top rail a horse
looked drowsily on, ever and anon, at mathematically precise
intervals, switching a lazy tail that flashed high lights in the
sunshine.

"It's a warm day and there are flies--can't you just feel it?"
Saxon whispered.

"Sure. An' that horse's tail! It's the most natural ever. Gee! I
bet he knows the trick of clampin' it down over the reins. I
wouldn't wonder if his name was Iron Tail."

A dog ran upon the scene. The mother pig turned tail and with
short ludicrous jumps, followed by her progeny and pursued by the
dog, fled out of the film. A young girl came on, a sunbonnet
hanging down her back, her apron caught up in front and filled
with grain which she threw to the buttering fowls. Pigeons flew
down from the top of the film and joined in the scrambling feast.
The dog returned, wading scarcely noticed among the feathered
creatures, to wag his tail and laugh up at the girl. And, behind,
the horse nodded over the rail and switched on. A young man
entered, his errand immediately known to an audience educated in
moving pictures. But Saxon had no eyes for the love-making, the
pleading forcefulness, the shy reluctance, of man and maid. Ever
her gaze wandered back to the chickens, to the mottled shade
under the trees, to the warm wall of the barn, to the sleepy
horse with its ever recurrent whisk of tail

She drew closer to Billy, and her hand, passed around his arm,
sought his hand.

"Oh, Billy," she sighed. "I'd just die of happiness in a place
like that." And, when the film was ended. "We got lots of time
for Bell's. Let's stay and see that one over again."

They sat through a repetition of the performance, and when the
farm yard scene appeared, the longer Saxon looked at it the more
it affected her. And this time she took in further details. She
saw fields beyond, rolling hills in the background, and a
cloud-flecked sky. She identified some of the chickens,
especially an obstreperous old hen who resented the thrust of the
sow's muzzle, particularly pecked at the little pigs, and laid
about her with a vengeance when the grain fell. Saxon looked back
across the fields to the hills and sky, breathing the
spaciousness of it, the freedom, the content. Tears welled into
her eyes and she wept silently, happily.

"I know a trick that'd fix that old horse if he ever clamped his
tail down on me," Billy whispered

"Now I know where we're going when we leave Oakland," she
informed him.

"Where?"

"There."

He looked at her, and followed her gaze to the screen. "Oh," he
said, and cogitated. "An' why shouldn't we?" he added.

"Oh, Billy, will you?"

Her lips trembled in her eagerness, and her whisper broke and was
almost inaudible "Sure," he said. It was his day of royal
largess.

"What you want is yourn, an' I'll scratch my fingers off for it.
An' I've always had a hankerin' for the country myself. Say! I've
known horses like that to sell for half the price, an' I can sure
cure 'em of the habit."

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII

The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII
It was early evening when they got off the car at Seventh andPine on their way home from Bell's Theater. Billy and Saxon didtheir little marketing together, then separated at the corner,Saxon to go on to the house and prepare supper, Billy to go andsee the boys--the teamsters who had fought on in the strikeduring 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, unsulliedlove-smile which she wanted always to see on his face--for which,armed with her
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI

The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI
Her vague, unreal existence continued. It seemed in some previouslife-time that Billy had gone away, that another life-time wouldhave to come before he returned. She still suffered frominsomnia. Long nights passed in succession, during which shenever closed her eyes. At other times she slept through longstupors, waking stunned and numbed, scarcely able to open herheavy eyes, to move her weary limbs. The pressure of the ironband on her head never relaxed. She was poorly nourished. Nor hadshe a cent of money. She often went a whole day without eating.Once, seventy-two hours elapsed without food passing her lips.She dug clams in the
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