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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XIII
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XIII Post by :be_happy Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :761

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XIII

From now on, to Saxon, life seemed bereft of its last reason and
rhyme. It had become senseless, nightmarish. Anything irrational
was possible. There was nothing stable in the anarchic flux of
affairs that swept her on she knew not to what catastrophic end.
Had Billy been dependable, all would still have been well. With
him to cling to she would have faced everything fearlessly. But
he had been whirled away from her in the prevailing madness. So
radical was the change in him that he seemed almost an intruder
in the house. Spiritually he was such an intruder. Another man
looked out of his eyes--a man whose thoughts were of violence and
hatred; a man to whom there was no good in anything, and who had
become an ardent protagonist of the evil that was rampant aud
universal. This man no longer condemned Bert, himself muttering
vaguely of dynamite, end sabotage, and revolution.

Saxon strove to maintain that sweetness and coolness of flesh and
spirit that Billy had praised in the old days. Once, only, she
lost control. He had been in a particularly ugly mood, and a
final harshness and unfairness cut her to the quick.

"Who are you speaking to?" she flamed out at him.

He was speechless and abashed, and could only stare at her face,
which was white with anger.

"Don't you ever speak to me like that again, Billy," she
commanded.

"Aw, can't you put up with a piece of bad temper?" he muttered,
half apologetically, yet half defiantly. "God knows I got enough
to make me cranky."

After he left the house she flung herself on the bed and cried
heart-brokenly. For she, who knew so thoroughly the humility of
love, was a proud woman. Only the proud can be truly humble, as
only the strong may know the fullness of gentleness. But what was
the use, she demanded, of being proud and game, when the only
person in the world who mattered to her lost his own pride and
gameness and fairness and gave her the worse share of their
mutual trouble?

And now, as she had faced alone the deeper, organic hurt of the
loss of her baby, she faced alone another, and, in a way, an even
greater personal trouble. Perhaps she loved Billy none the less,
but her love was changing into something less proud, less
confident, less trusting; it was becoming shot through with
pity--with the pity that is parent to contempt. Her own loyalty
was threatening to weaken, and she shuddered and shrank from the
contempt she could see creeping in.

She struggled to steel herself to face the situation. Forgiveness
stole into her heart, and she knew relief until the thought came
that in the truest, highest love forgiveness should have no
place. And again she cried, and continued her battle. After all,
one thing was incontestable: THIS BILLY WES NOT THE BILLY SHE HAD
LOVED. This Billy was another man, a sick man, and no more to be
held responsible than a fever-patient in the ravings of delirium.
She must be Billy's nurse, without pride, without contempt, with
nothing to forgive. Besides, he was really bearing the brunt of
the fight, was in the thick of it, dizzy with the striking of
blows and the blows he received. If fault there was, it lay
elsewhere, somewhere in the tangled scheme of things that made
men snarl over jobs like dogs over bones.

So Saxon arose and buckled on her armor again for the hardest
fight of all in the world's arena--the woman's fight. She ejected
from her thought all doubting and distrust. She forgave nothing,
for there was nothing requiring forgiveness. She pledged herself
to an absoluteness of belief that her love and Billy's was
unsullied, unperturbed--serere as it had always been, as it would
be when it came back again after the world settled down once more
to rational ways.

That night, when he came home, she proposed, as an emergency
measure, that she should resume her needlework and help keep the
pot boiling until the strike was over, But Billy would hear
nothing of it.

"It's all right," he assured her repeatedly. "They ain't no call
for you to work. I'm goin' to get some money before the week is
out. An' I'll turn it over to you. An' Saturday night we'll go to
the show--a real show, no movin' pictures. Harvey's nigger
minstrels is comin' to town. We'll go Saturday night. I'll have
the money before that, as sure as beans is beans."

Friday evening he did not come home to supper, which Saxon
regretted, for Maggie Donahue had returned a pan of potatoes and
two quarts of flour (borrowed the week before), and it was a
hearty meal that awaited him. Saxon kept the stove going till
nine o'clock, when, despite her reluctance, she went to bed. Her
preference would have been to wait up, but she did not dare,
knowing full well what the effect would be on him did he come
home in liquor.

The clock had just struck one, when she heard the click of the
gate. Slowly, heavily, ominously, she heard him come up the steps
and fumble with his key at the door. He entered the bedroom, and
she heard him sigh as he sat down. She remained quiet, for she
had learned the hypersensitiveness induced by drink and was
fastidiously careful not to hurt him even with the knowledge that
she had lain awake for him. It was not easy. Her hands were
clenched till the nails dented the palms, and her body was rigid
in her passionate effort for control. Never had he come home as
bad as this.

"Saxon," he called thickly. "Saxon."

She stired and yawned.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Won't you strike a light? My fingers is all thumbs."

Without looking at him, she complied; but so violent was the
nervous trembling of her hands that the glass chimney tinkled
against the globe and the match went out.

"I ain't drunk, Saxon," he said in the darkness, a hint of
amusement in his thick voice. "I've only had two or three jolts
... of that sort."

On her second attempt with the lamp she succeeded. When she
turned to look at him she screamed with fright. Though she had
heard his voice and knew him to be Billy, for the instant she did
not recognize him. His face was a face she had never known.
Swollen, bruised, discolored, every feature had been beaten out
of all semblance of familiarity. One eye was entirely closed, the
other showed through a narrow slit of blood-congested flesh. One
ear seemed to have lost most of its skin. The whole face was a
swollen pulp. His right jaw, in particular, was twice the size of
the left. No wonder his speech had been thick, was her thought,
as she regarded the fearfully cut and swollen lips that still
bled. She was sickened by the sight, and her heart went out to
him in a great wave of tenderness. She wanted to put her arms
around him, and cuddle and soothe him; but her practical judgment
bade otherwise.

"You poor, poor boy," she cried. "Tell me what you want me to do
first. I don't know about such things."

"If you could help me get my clothes off," he suggested meekly
and thickly. "I got 'em on before I stiffened up."

"And then hot water--that will be good," she said, as she began
gently drawing his coat sleeve over a puffed and helpless hand.

"I told you they was all thumbs," he grimaced, holding up his
hand and squinting at it with the fraction of sight remaining to
him.

"You sit and wait," she said, "till I start the fire and get the
hot water going. I won't be a minute. Then I'll finish getting
your clothes off."

From the kitchen she could hear him mumbling to himself, and when
she returned he was repeating over and over:

"We needed the money, Saxon. We needed the money."

Drunken he was not, she could see that, and from his babbling she
knew he was partly delirious.

"He was a surprise box," he wandered on, while she proceeded to
undress him; and bit by bit she was able to piece together what
had happened. "He was an unknown from Chicago. They sprang him on
me. The secretary of the Acme Club warned me I'd have my hands
full. An' I'd a-won if I'd been in condition. But fifteen pounds
off without trainin' ain't condition, Then I'd been drinkin'
pretty regular, an' I didn't have my wind."

But Saxon, stripping his undershirt, no longer heard him. As with
his face, she could not recognize his splendidly muscled back.
The white sheath of silken skin was torn and bloody. The
lacerations occurred oftenest in horizontal lines, though there
were perpendicular lines as well.

"How did you get all that?" she asked.

"The ropes. I was up against 'em more times than I like to
remember. Gee! He certainly gave me mine. But I fooled 'm. He
couldn't put me out. I lasted the twenty rounds, an' I wanta tell
you he's got some marks to remember me by. If he ain't got a
couple of knuckles broke in the left hand I'm a geezer.--Here,
feel my head here. Swollen, eh? Sure thing. He hit that more
times than he's wishin' he had right now. But, oh, what a lacin'!
What a lacin'! I never had anything like it before. The Chicago
Terror, they call 'm. I take my hat off to 'm. He's some bear.
But I could a-made 'm take the count if I'd ben in condition an'
had my wind.--Oh! Ouch! Watch out! It's like a boil!"

Fumbling at his waistband, Saxon's hand had come in contact with
a brightly inflamed surface larger than a soup plate

"That's from the kidney blows," Billy explained. "He was a
regular devil at it. 'Most every clench, like clock work, down
he'd chop one on me. It got so sore I was wincin' ... until I got
groggy an' didn't know much of anything. It ain't a knockout
blow, you know, but it's awful wearin' in a long fight. It takes
the starch out of you."

When his knees were bared, Saxon could see the skin across the
knee-caps was broken and gone.

"The skin ain't made to stand a heavy fellow like me on the
knees," he volunteered. "An' the rosin in the canvas cuts like
Sam Hill."

The tears were in Saxon's eyes, and she could have cried over the
manhandled body of her beautiful sick boy.

As she carried his pants across the room to hang them up, a
jingle of money came from them. He called her back, and from the
pocket drew forth a handful of silver.

"We needed the money, we needed the money," he kept muttering, as
he vainly tried to count the coins; and Saxon knew that his mind
was wandering again.

It cut her to the heart, for she could not but remember the harsh
thoughts that had threatened her loyalty during the week past.
After all, Billy, the splendid physical man, was only a boy, her
boy. And he had faced and endured all this terrible punishment
for her, for the house and tha furniture that were their house
and furniture. He said so, now, when he scarcely knew what he
said. He said "WE needed the money." She was not so absent from
his thoughts as she had fancied. Here, down to the naked tie-ribs
of his soul, when he was half unconscious, the thought of her
persisted, was uppermost. We needed the money. WE!

The tears were trickling down her checks as she bent over him,
and it seemed she had never loved him so much as now.

"Here; you count," he said, abandoning the effort and handing the
money to her. "... How much do you make it?"

"Nineteen dollars and thirty-five cents."

"That's right ... the loser's end ... twenty dollars. I had some
drinks, an' treated a couple of the boys, an' then there was
carfare. If I'd a-won, I'd a-got a hundred. That's what I fought
for. It'd a-put us on Easy street for a while. You take it an'
keep it. It's better 'n nothin'."

In bed, he could not sleep because of his pain, and hour by hour
she worked over him, renewing the hot compresses over his
bruises, soothing the lacerations with witch hazel and cold cream
and the tenderest of finger tips. And all the while, with broken
intervals of groaning, he babbled on, living over the fight,
seeking relief in telling her his trouble, voicing regret at loss
of the money, and crying out the hurt to his pride. Far worse
than the sum of his physical hurts was his hurt pride.

"He couldn't put me out, anyway. He had full swing at me in the
times when I was too much in to get my hands up. The crowd was
crazy. I showed 'em some stamina. They was times when he only
rocked me, for I'd evaporated plenty of his steam for him in the
openin' rounds. I don't know how many times he dropped me. things
was gettin' too dreamy ...

"Sometimes, toward the end, I could see three of him in the ring
at once, an' I wouldn't know which to hit an' which to duck ...

"But I fooled 'm. When I couldn't see, or feel, an' when my knees
was shakin an my head goin' like a merry-go-round, I'd fall safe
into clenches just the same. I bet the referee's arms is tired
from draggin' us apart ...

"But what a lacin'! What a lacin'! Say, Saxon ... where are you?
Oh, there, eh? I guess I was dreamin'. But, say, let this be a
lesson to you. I broke my word an' went fightin', an' see what I
got. Look at me, an' take warnin' so you won't make the same
mistake an' go to makin' an' sellin' fancy work again ...

"But I fooled 'em--everybody. At the beginnin' the bettin' was
even. By the sixth round the wise gazabos was offerin' two to one
against me. I was licked from the first drop outa the
box--anybody could see that; but he couldn't put me down for the
count. By the tenth round they was offerin' even that I wouldn't
last the round. At the eleventh they was offerin' I wouldn't last
the fifteenth. An' I lasted the whole twenty. But some
punishment, I want to tell you, some punishment.

"Why, they was four rounds I was in dreamland all the time ...
only I kept on my feet an' fought, or took the count to eight an'
got up, an' stalled an' covered an' whanged away. I don't know
what I done, except I must a-done like that, because I wasn't
there. I don't know a thing from the thirteenth, when he sent me
to the mat on my head, till the eighteenth.

"Where was I? Oh, yes. I opened my eyes, or one eye, because I
had only one that would open. An' there I was, in my corner, with
the towels goin' an' ammonia in my nose an' Bill Murphy with a
chunk of ice at the back of my neck. An' there, across the ring,
I could see the Chicago Terror, an' I had to do some thinkin' to
remember I was fightin' him. It was like I'd been away somewhere
an' just got back. 'What round's this comin'?' I ask Bill. 'The
eighteenth,' says he. 'The hell,' I says. 'What's come of all the
other rounds? The last I was figlitin' in was the thirteenth.'
'You're a wonder,' says Bill. 'You've ben out four rounds, only
nobody knows it except me. I've ben tryin' to get you to quit all
the time.' Just then the gong sounds, an' I can see the Terror
startin' for me. 'Quit,' says Bill, makin' a move to throw in the
towel. 'Not on your life,' I says. 'Drop it, Bill.' But he went
on wantin' me to quit. By that time the Terror had come across to
my corner an' was standin' with his hands down, lookin' at me.
The referee was lookin', too, an' the house was that quiet,
lookin', you could hear a pin drop. An' my head was gettin' some
clearer, but not much.

"'You can't win,' Bill says.

"'Watch me,' says I. An' with that I make a rush for the Terror,
catchin' him unexpeeted. I'm that groggy I can't stand, but I
just keep a-goin', wallopin' the Terror clear across the ring to
his corner, where he slips an' falls, an' I fall on top of 'm.
Say, that crowd goes crazy.

"Where was I?--My head's still goin' round I guess. It's buzzin'
like a swarm of bees."

"You'd just fallen on top of him in his corner," Saxon prompted.

"Oh, yes. Well, no sooner are we on our feet--an' I can't
stand--I rush 'm the same way back across to my corner an' fall
on 'm. That was luck. We got up, an' I'd a-fallen, only I
clenched an' held myself up by him. 'I got your goat,' I says to
him. 'An' now I'm goin' to eat you up.'

"I hadn't his goat, but I was playin' to get a piece of it, an' I
got it, rushin' 'm as soon as the referee drags us apart an'
fetchin' 'm a lucky wallop in the stomach that steadied 'm an'
made him almighty careful. Too almighty careful. He was afraid to
chance a mix with me. He thought I had more fight left in me than
I had. So you see I got that much of his goat anyway.

"An' he couldn't get me. He didn't get me. An' in the twentieth
we stood in the middle of the ring an' exchanged wallops even. Of
course, I'd made a fine showin' for a licked man, but he got the
decision, which was right. But I fooled 'm. He couldn't get me.
An' I fooled the gazabos that was bettin' he would on short
order."

At last, as dawn came on, Billy slept. He groaned and moaned, his
face twisting with pain, his body vainly moving and tossing in
quest of easement.

So this was prizefighting, Saxon thought. It was much worse than
she had dreamed. She had had no idea that such damage could be
wrought with padded gloves. He must never fight again. Street
rioting was preferable. She was wondering how much of his silk
had been lost, when he mumbled and opened his eyes.

"What is it?" she asked, ere it came to her that his eyes were
unseeing and that he was in delirium.

"Saxon! ... Saxon!" he called.

"Yes, Billy. What is it?"

His hand fumbled over the bed where ordinarily it would have
encountered her.

Again he called her, and she cried her presence loudly in his
ear. He sighed with relief and muttered brokenly:

"I had to do it. ... We needed the money."

His eyes closed, and he slept more soundly, though his muttering
continued. She had heard of congestion of the brain, and was
frightened. Then she remembered his telling her of the ice Billy
Murphy had held against his head.

Throwing a shawl over her head, she ran to the Pile Drivers' Home
on Seventh street. The barkeeper had just opened, and was
sweeping out. From the refrigerator he gave her all the ice she
wished to carry, breaking it into convenient pieces for her. Back
in the house, she applied the ice to the base of Billy's brain,
placed hot irons to his feet, and bathed his head with witch
hazel made cold by resting on the ice.

He slept in the darkened room until late afternoon, when, to
Saxon's dismay, he insisted on getting up.

"Gotta make a showin'," he explained. "They ain't goin' to have
the laugh on me."

In torment he was helped by her to dress, and in torment he went
forth from the house so that his world should have ocular
evidence that the beating he had received did not keep him in
bed.

It was another kind of pride, different from a woman's, and Saxon
wondered if it were the less admirable for that.

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In the days that followed Billy's swellings went down and thebruises passed away with surprising rapidity. The quick healingof the lacerations attested the healthiness of his blood. Onlyremained the black eyes, unduly conspicuous on a face as blond ashis. The discoloration was stubborn, persisting half a month, inwhich time happened divers events of importance.Otto Frank's trial had been expeditious. Found guilty by a jurynotable for the business and professional men on it, the deathsentence was passed upon him and he was removed to San Quentinfor execution.The case of Chester Johnson and the fourteen others had takenlonger, but within the same week,
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A gleam of light came, when Billy got a job driving a gradingteam for the contractors of the big bridge then building atNiles. Before he went he made certain that it was a union job.And a union job it was for two days, when the concrete workersthrew down their tools. The contractors, evidently prepared forsuch happening, immediately filled the places of the concrete menwith nonunion Italians. Whereupon the carpenters, structuralironworkers and teamsters walked out; and Billy, lacking trainfare, spent the rest of the day in walking home."I couldn't work as a scab," he concluded his tale."No," Saxon said; "you couldn't work
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