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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII Post by :xerxes12 Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :927

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVIII

It was early evening when they got off the car at Seventh and
Pine on their way home from Bell's Theater. Billy and Saxon did
their little marketing together, then separated at the corner,
Saxon to go on to the house and prepare supper, Billy to go and
see the boys--the teamsters who had fought on in the strike
during 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, unsullied
love-smile which she wanted always to see on his face--for which,
armed with her own wisdom and the wisdom of Mercedes, she would
wage the utmost woman's war to possess. A thought of this flashed
brightly through her brain, and it was with a proud little smile
that she remembered all her pretty equipment stored at home in
the bureau and the chest of drawers.

Three-quarters of an hour later, supper ready, all but the
putting on of the lamb chops at the sound of his step, Saxon
waited. She heard the gate click, but instead of his step she
heard a curious and confused scraping of many steps. She flew to
open the door. Billy stood there, but a different Billy from the
one she had parted from so short a time before. A small boy,
beside him, held his hat. His face had been fresh-washed, or,
rather, drenched, for his shirt and shoulders were wet. His pale
hair lay damp and plastered against his forehead, and was
darkened by oozing blood. Both arms hung limply by his side. But
his face was composed, and he even grinned.

"It's all right," he reassured Saxon. "The joke's on me. Somewhat
damaged but still in the ring." He stepped gingerly across the
threshold. "--Come on in, you fellows. We're all mutts together."

He was followed in by the boy with his hat, by Bud Strothers and
another teamster she knew, and by two strangers. The latter were
big, hard-featured, sheepish-faced men, who stared at Saxon as if
afraid of her.

"It's all right, Saxon," Billy began, but was interrupted by Bud.

"First thing is to get him on the bed an' cut his clothes off
him. Both arms is broke, and here are the ginks that done it."

He indicated the two strangers, who shuffled their feet with
embarrassment and looked more sheepish than ever.

Billy sat down on the bed, and while Saxon held the lamp, Bud and
the strangers proceeded to cut coat, shirt, and undershirt from
him.

"He wouldn't go to the receivin' hospital," Bud said to Saxon.

"Not on your life," Billy concurred. "I had 'em send for Doc
Hentley. He'll be here any minute. Them two arms is all I got.
They've done pretty well by me, an' I gotta do the same by them.-
-No medical students a-learnin' their trade on me."

"But how did it happens" Saxon demanded, looking from Billy to
the two strangers, puzzled by the amity that so evidently existed
among them all.

"Oh, they're all right," Billy dashed in. "They done it through
mistake. They're Frisco teamsters, an' they come over to help
us--a lot of 'em."

The two teamsters seemed to cheer up at this, and nodded their
heads.

"Yes, missus," one of them rumbled hoarsely. "It's all a mistake,
an'... well, the joke's on us."

"The drinks, anyway," Billy grinned.

Not only was Saxon not excited, but she was scarcely perturbed.
What had happened was only to be expected.

It was in line with all that Oakland had already done to her and
hers, and, besides, Billy was not dangerously hurt. Broken arms
and a sore head would heal. She brought chairs and seated
everybody.

"Now tell me what happened," she begged. "I'm all at sea, what of
you two burleys breaking my husband's arms, then seeing him home
and holding a love-fest with him."

"An' you got a right," Bud Strothers assured her. "You see, it
happened this way--"

"You shut up, Bud," Billy broke it. "You didn't see anything of
it."

Saxon looked to the San Francisco teamsters.

"We'd come over to lend a hand, seein' as the Oakland boys was
gettin' some the short end of it," one spoke up, "an' we've sure
learned some scabs there's better trades than drivin' team. Well,
me an' Jackson here was nosin' around to see what we can see,
when your husband comes moseyin' along. When he--"

"Hold on," Jackson interrupted. "get it straight as you go along.
We reckon we know the boys by sight. But your husband we ain't
never seen around, him bein'. .."

"As you might say, put away for a while," the first teamster took
up the tale. "So, when we sees what we thinks is a scab dodgin'
away from us an' takin' the shortcut through the alley--"

"The alley back of Campbell's grocery," Billy elucidated.

"Yep, back of the grocery," the first teamster went on; "why,
we're sure he's one of them squarehead scabs, hired through
Murray an' Ready, makin' a sneak to get into the stables over the
back fences."

"We caught one there, Billy an' me," Bud interpolated.

"So we don't waste any time," Jackson said, addressing himself to
Saxon. "We've done it before, an' we know how to do 'em up brown
an' tie 'em with baby ribbon. So we catch your husband right in
the alley."

"I was lookin' for Bud," said Billy. "The boys told me I'd find
him somewhere around the other end of the alley. An' the first
thing I know, Jackson, here, asks me for a match."

"An' right there's where I get in my fine work," resumed the
first teamster.

"What?" asked Saxon.

"That." The man pointed to the wound in Billy's scalp. "I laid 'm
out. He went down like a steer, an' got up on his knees dippy,
a-gabblin' about somebody standin' on their foot. He didn't know
where he was at, you see, clean groggy. An' then we done it."

The man paused, the tale told.

"Broke both his arms with the crowbar," Bud supplemented.

"That's when I come to myself, when the bones broke," Billy
corroborated. "An' there was the two of 'em givin' me the ha-ha.
'That'll last you some time,' Jackson was sayin'. An' Anson says,
'I'd like to see you drive horses with them arms.' An' then
Jackson says, 'let's give 'm something for luck.' An' with that
he fetched me a wallop on the jaw--"

"No," corrected Anson. "That wallop was mine."

"Well, it sent me into dreamland over again," Billy sighed. "An'
when I come to, here was Bud an' Anson an' Jackson dousin' me at
a water trough. An' then we dodged a reporter an' all come home
together."

Bud Strothers held up his fist and indicated freshly abraded
skin.

"The reporter-guy just insisted on samplin' it," he said. Then,
to Billy: "That's why I cut around Ninth an' caught up with you
down on Sixth."

A few minutes later Doctor Hentley arrived, and drove the men
from the rooms. They waited till he had finished, to assure
themselves of Billy's well being, and then departed. In the
kitchen Doctor Hentley washed his hands and gave Saxon final
instructions. As he dried himself he sniffed the air and looked
toward the stove where a pot was simmering.

"Clams," he said. "Where did you buy them?"

"I didn't buy them," replied Saxon. "I dug them myself."

"Not in the marsh?" he asked with quickened interest.

"Yes."

"Throw them away. Throw them out. They're death and corruption.
Typhoid--I've got three cases now, all traced to the clams and
the marsh."

When he had gone, Saxon obeyed. Still another mark against
Oakland, she reflected--Oakland, the man-trap, that poisoned
those it could not starve.

"If it wouldn't drive a man to drink," Billy groaned, when Saxon
returned to him. "Did you ever dream such luck? Look at all my
fights in the ring, an' never a broken bone, an' here, snap,
snap, just like that, two arms smashed."

"Oh, it might be worse," Saxon smiled cheerfully.

"I'd like to know how." It might have been your neck."

"An' a good job. I tell you, Saxon, you gotta show me anything
worse."

"I can," she said confidently.

"Well?"

"Well, wouldn't it be worse if you intended staying on in Oakland
where it might happen again?"

"I can see myself becomin' a farmer an' plowin' with a pair of
pipe-stems like these," he persisted.

"Doctor Hentley says they'll be stronger at the break than ever
before. And you know yourself that's true of clean-broken bones.
Now you close your eyes and go to sleep. You're all done up, and
you need to keep your brain quiet and stop thinking."

He closed his eyes obediently. She slipped a cool hand under the
nape of his neck and let it rest.

"That feels good," he murmured. "You're so cool, Saxon. Your
hand, and you, all of you. Bein' with you is like comin' out into
the cool night after dancin' in a hot room."

After several minutes of quiet, he began to giggle.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Oh, nothin'. I was just thinkin'--thinking of them mutts doin'
me up--me, that's done up more scabs than I can remember."

Next morning Billy awoke with his blues dissipated. From the
kitchen Saxon heard him painfully wrestling strange vocal
acrobatics.

"I got a new song you never heard," he told her when she came in
with a cup of coffee. "I only remember the chorus though. It's
the old man talkin' to some hobo of a hired man that wants to
marry his daughter. Mamie, that Billy Murphy used to run with
before he got married, used to sing it. It's a kind of a sobby
song. It used to always give Mamie the weeps. Here's the way the
chorus goes--an' remember, it's the old man spielin'."

And with great solemnity and excruciating Batting, Billy sang:

"O treat my daughter kind-i-ly;
An' say you'll do no harm,
An' when I die I'll will to you
My little house an' farm--
My horse, my plow, my sheep, my cow,
An' all them little chickens in the ga-a-rden.

"It's them little chickens in the garden that gets me," he
explained. "That's how I remembered it--from the chickens in the
movin' pictures yesterday. An' some day we'll have little
chickens in the garden, won't we, old girl?"

"And a daughter, too," Saxon amplified.

"An' I'll be the old geezer sayin' them same words to the hired
man," Billy carried the fancy along. "It don't take long to raise
a daughter if you ain't in a hurry."

Saxon took her long-neglected ukulele from its case and strummed
it into tune.

"And I've a song you never heard, Billy. Tom's always singing it.
He's crazy about taking up government land and going farming,
only Sarah won't think of it. He sings it something like this:

"We'll have a little farm,
A pig, a horse, a cow,
And you will drive the wagon,
And I will drive the plow."

"Only in this case I guess it's me that'll do the plowin'," Billy
approved. "Say, Saxon, sing 'Harvest Days.' That's a farmer's
song, too."

After that she feared the coffee was growing cold and compelled
Billy to take it. In the helplessness of two broken arms, he had
to be fed like a baby, and as she fed him they talked.

"I'll tell you one thing," Billy said, between mouthfuls. "Once
we get settled down in the country you'll have that horse you've
been wishin' for all your life. An' it'll be all your own, to
ride, drive, sell, or do anything you want with."

And, again, he ruminated: "One thing that'll come handy in the
country is that I know horses; that's a big start. I can always
get a job at that--if it ain't at union wages. An' the other
things about farmin' I can learn fast enough.--Say, d'ye remember
that day you first told me about wantin' a horse to ride all your
life?"

Saxon remembered, and it was only by a severe struggle that she
was able to keep the tears from welling into her eyes. She seemed
bursting with happiness, and she was remembering many things--all
the warm promise of life with Billy that had been hers in the
days before hard times. And now the promise was renewed again.
Since its fulfillment had not come to them, they were going away
to fulfill it for themselves and make the moving pictures come
true.

Impelled by a half-feigned fear, she stole away into the kitchen
bedroom where Bert had died, to study her face in the bureau
mirror. No, she decided; she was little changed. She was still
equipped for the battlefield of love. Beautiful she was not. She
knew that. But had not Mercedes said that the great women of
history who had won men had not been beautiful? And yet, Saxon
insisted, as she gazed at her reflection, she was anything but
unlovely. She studied her wide gray eyes that were so very gray,
that were always alive with light and vivacities, where, in the
surface and depths, always swam thoughts unuttered, thoughts that
sank down and dissolved to give place to other thoughts. The
brows were excellent--she realized that. Slenderly penciled, a
little darker than her light brown hair, they just fitted her
irregular nose that was feminine but not weak, that if anything
was piquant and that picturesquely might be declared impudent.

She could see that her face was slightly thin, that the red of
her lips was not quite so red, and that she had lost some of her
quick coloring. But all that would come back again. Her mouth was
not of the rosebud type she saw in the magazines. She paid
particular attention to it. A pleasant mouth it was, a mouth to
be joyous with, a mouth for laughter and to make laughter in
others. She deliberately experimented with it, smiled till the
corners dented deeper. And she knew that when she smiled her
smile was provocative of smiles. She laughed with her eyes
alone--a trick of hers. She threw back her head and laughed with
eyes and mouth together, between her spread lips showing the even
rows of strong white teeth.

And she remembered Billy's praise of her teeth, the night at
Germanic Hall after he had told Charley Long he was standing on
his foot. "Not big, and not little dinky baby's teeth either,"
Billy had said, ".. . just right, and they fit you." Also, he had
said that to look at them made him hungry, and that they were
good enough to eat.

She recollected all the compliments he had ever paid her. Beyond
all treasures, these were treasures to her--the love phrases,
praises, and admirations. He had said her skin was cool--soft as
velvet, too, and smooth as silk. She rolled up her sleeve to the
shoulder, brushed her cheek with the white skin for a test, with
deep scrutiny examined the fineness of its texture. And he had
told her that she was sweet; that he hadn't known what it meant
when they said a girl was sweet, not until he had known her. And
he had told her that her voice was cool, that it gave him the
feeling her hand did when it rested on his forehead. Her voice
went all through him, he had said, cool and fine, like a wind of
coolness. And he had likened it to the first of the sea breeze
setting in the afternoon after a scorching hot morning. And,
also, when she talked low, that it was round and sweet, like the
'cello in the Macdonough Theater orchestra.

He had called her his Tonic Kid. He had called her a
thoroughbred, clean-cut and spirited, all fine nerves and
delicate and sensitive. He had liked the way she carried her
clothes. She carried them like a dream, had been his way of
putting it. They were part of her, just as much as the cool of
her voice and skin and the scent of her hair.

And her figure! She got upon a chair and tilted the mirror so
that she could see herself from hips to feet. She drew her skirt
back and up. The slender ankle was just as slender. The calf had
lost none of its delicately mature swell. She studied her hips,
her waist, her bosom, her neck, the poise of her head, and sighed
contentedly. Billy must be right, and he had said that she was
built like a French woman, and that in the matter of lines and
form she could give Annette Kellerman cards and spades.

He had said so many things, now that she recalled them all at one
time. Her lips! The Sunday he proposed he had said: "I like to
watch your lips talking. It's funny, but every move they make
looks like a tickly kiss." And afterward, that same day: "You
looked good to me from the first moment I spotted you." He had
praised her housekeeping. He had said he fed better, lived more
comfortably, held up his end with the fellows, and saved money.
And she remembered that day when he had crushed her in his arms
and declared she was the greatest little bit of a woman that had
ever come down the pike.

She ran her eyes over all herself in the mirror again, gathered
herself together into a whole, compact and good to look
upon--delicious, she knew. Yes, she would do. Magnificent as
Billy was in his man way, in her own way she was a match for him.
Yes, she had done well by Billy. She deserved much--all he could
give her, the best he could give her. But she made no blunder of
egotism. Frankly valuing herself, she as frankly valued him. When
he was himself, his real self, not harassed by trouble, not
pinched by the trap, not maddened by drink, her man-boy and
lover, he was well worth all she gave him or could give him.

Saxon gave herself a farewell look. No. She was not dead, any
more than was Billy's love dead, than was her love dead. All that
was needed was the proper soil, and their love would grow and
blossom. And they were turning their backs upon Oakland to go and
seek that proper soil.

"Oh, Billy!" she called through the partition, still standing on
the chair, one hand tipping the mirror forward and back, so that
she was able to run her eyes from the reflection of her ankles
and calves to her face, warm with color and roguishly alive.

"Yes?" she heard him answer.

"I'm loving myself," she called back.

"What's the game?" came his puzzled query. "What are you so stuck
on yourself for!"

"Because you love me," she answered. "I love every bit of me,
Billy, because. .. because. .. well, because you love every bit
of me."

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Between feeding and caring for Billy, doing the housework, makingplans, and selling her store of pretty needlework, the days flewhappily for Saxon. Billy's consent to sell her pretties had beenhard to get, but at last she succeeded in coaxing it out of him."It's only the ones I haven't used," she urged; "and I can alwaysmake more when we get settled somewhere."What she did not sell, along with the household linen and hersand Billy's spare clothing, she arranged to store with Tom."Go ahead," Billy said. "This is your picnic. What you say goes.You're Robinson Crusoe an' I'm your man Friday. Make up
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She slept all night, without stirring, without dreaming, andawoke naturally and, for the first time in weeks, refreshed. Shefelt her old self, as if some depressing weight had been lifted,or a shadow had been swept away from between her and the sun. Herhead was clear. The seeming iron band that had pressed it so hardwas gone. She was cheerful. She even caught herself humming aloudas she divided the fish into messes for Mrs. Olsen, MaggieDonahue, and herself. She enjoyed her gossip with each of them,and, returning home, plunged joyfully into the task of puttingthe neglected house in order. She sang as
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