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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI
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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI Post by :ishakms Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :3371

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The Valley Of The Moon - BOOK II - Chapter XVI

Her vague, unreal existence continued. It seemed in some previous
life-time that Billy had gone away, that another life-time would
have to come before he returned. She still suffered from
insomnia. Long nights passed in succession, during which she
never closed her eyes. At other times she slept through long
stupors, waking stunned and numbed, scarcely able to open her
heavy eyes, to move her weary limbs. The pressure of the iron
band on her head never relaxed. She was poorly nourished. Nor had
she 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 marsh, knocked the tiny oysters from the
rocks, and gathered mussels.

And yet, when Bud Strothers came to see how she was getting
along, she convinced him that all was well. One evening after
work, Tom came, and forced two dollars upon her. He was terribly
worried. He would like to help more, but Sarah was expecting
another baby. There had been slack times in his trade because of
the strikes in the other trades. He did not know what the country
was coming to. And it was all so simple. All they had to do was
see things in his way and vote the way he voted. Then everybody
would get a square deal. Christ was a Socialist, he told her.

"Christ died two thousand years ago," Saxon said.

"Well?" Tom queried, not catching her implication.

"Think," she said, "think of all the men and women who died in
those two thousand years, and socialism has not come yet. And in
two thousand years more it may be as far away as ever. Tom, your
socialism never did you any good. It is a dream."

"It wouldn't be if--" he began with a flash of resentment.

"If they believed as you do. Only they don't. You don't succeed
in making them."

"But we are increasing every year," he argued.

"Two thousand years is an awfully long time," she said quietly.

Her brother's tired face saddened as he noted. Then he sighed:

"Well, Saxon, if it's a dream, it is a good dream."

"I don't want to dream," was her reply. "I want things real. I
want them now."

And before her fancy passed the countless generations of the
stupid lowly, the Billys and Saxons, the Berts and Marys, the
Toms and Sarahs. And to what end? The salt vats and the grave.
Mercedes was a hard and wicked woman, but Mercedes was right. The
stupid must always be under the heels of the clever ones. Only
she, Saxon, daughter of Daisy who had written wonderful poems and
of a soldier-father on a roan war-horse, daughter of the strong.
generations who hall won half a world from wild nature and the
savage Indian--no, she was not stupid. It was as if she suffered
false imprisonment. There was some mistake. She would find the
way out.

With the two dollars she bought a sack of flour and half a sack
of potatoes. This relieved the monotony of her clams and mussels.
Like the Italian and Portuguese women, she gathered driftwood and
carried it home, though always she did it with shamed pride,
timing her arrival so that it would be after dark. One day, on
the mud-flat side of the Rock Wall, an Italian fishing boat
hauled up on the sand dredged from the channel. From the top of
the wall Saxon watched the men grouped about the charcoal
brazier, eating crusty Italian bread and a stew of meat and
vegetables, washed down with long draughts of thin red wine. She
envied them their freedom that advertised itself in the
heartiness of their meal, in the tones of their chatter and
laughter, in the very boat itself that was not tied always to one
place and that carried them wherever they willed. Afterward, they
dragged a seine across the mud-flats and up on the sand,
selecting for themselves only the larger kinds of fish. Many
thousands of small fish, like sardines, they left dying on the
sand when they sailed away. Saxon got a sackful of the fish, and
was compelled to make two trips in order to carry them home,
where she salted them down in a wooden washtubs

Her lapses of consciousness continued. The strangest thing she
did while in such condition was on Sandy Beach. There she
discovered herself, one windy afternoon, lying in a hole she had
dug, with sacks for blankets. She had even roofed the hole in
rough fashion by means of drift wood and marsh grass. On top of
the grass she had piled sand.

Another time she came to herself walking across the marshes, a
bundle of driftwood, tied with bale-rope, on her shoulder.
Charley Long was walking beside her. She could see his face in
the starlight. She wondered dully how long he had been talking,
what he had said. Then she was curious to hear what he was
saying. She was not afraid, despite his strength, his wicked
nature, and tho loneliness and darkness of the marsh.

"It's a shame for a girl like you to have to do this," he was
saying, apparently in repetition of what he had already urged.
"Come on an' say the word, Saxon. Come on an' say the word."

Saxon stopped and quietly faced him.

"Listen, Charley Long. Billy's only doing thirty days, and his
time is almost up. When he gets out your life won't be worth a
pinch of salt if I tell him you've been bothering me. Now listen.
If you go right now away from here, and stay away, I won't tell
him. That's all I've got to say."

The big blacksmith stood in scowling indecisions his face
pathetic in its fierce yearning, his hands making unconscious,
clutching contractions.

"Why, you little, small thing," he said desperately, "I could
break you in one hand. I could--why, I could do anything I
wanted. I don't want to hurt you, Saxon. You know that. Just say
the word--"

"I've said the only word I'm going to say."

"God!" he muttered in involuntary admiration. "You ain't afraid.
You ain't afraid."

They faced each other for long silent minutes.

"Why ain't you afraid?" he demanded at last, after peering into
the surrounding darkness as if searching for her hidden allies.

"Because I married a man," Saxon said briefly. "And now you'd
better go."

When he had gone she shifted the load of wood to her other
shoulder and started on, in her breast a quiet thrill of pride in
Billy. Though behind prison bars, still she leaned against his
strength. The mere naming of him was sufficient to drive away a
brute like Charley Long.

On the day that Otto Frank was hanged she remained indoors. The
evening papers published the account. There had been no reprieve.
In Sacramento was a railroad Governor who might reprieve or even
pardon bank-wreckers and grafters, but who dared not lift his
finger for a workingman. All this was the talk of the
neighborhood. It had been Billy's talk. It had been Bert's talk.

The next day Saxon started out the Rock Wall, and the specter of
Otto Frank walked by her side. And with him was a dimmer, mistier
specter that she recognized as Billy. Was he, too, destined to
tread his way to Otto Frank's dark end? Surely so, if the blood
and strike continued. He was a fighter. He felt he was right in
fighting. It was easy to kill a man. Even if he did not intend
it, some time, when he was slugging a scab, the scab would
fracture his skull on a stone curbing or a cement sidewalk. And
then Billy would hang. That was why Otto Frank hanged. He had not
intended to kill Henderson. It was only by accident that
Henderson's skull was fractured. Yet Otto Frank had been hanged
for it just the same.

She wrung her hands and wept loudly as she stumbled among the
windy rocks. The hours passed, and she was lost to herself and
her grief. When she came to she found herself on the far end of
the wall where it jutted into the bay between the Oakland and
Alameda Moles. But she could see no wall. It was the time of the
full moon, and the unusual high tide covered the rocks. She was
knee deep in the water, and about her knees swam scores of big
rock rats, squeaking and fighting, scrambling to climb upon her
out of the flood. She screamed with fright and horror, and kicked
at them. Some dived and swam away under water; others circled
about her warily at a distance; and one big fellow laid his teeth
into her shoe. Him she stepped on and crushed with her free foot.
By this time, though still trembling, she was able coolly to
consider the situation. She waded to a stout stick of driftwood a
few feet away, and with this quickly cleared a space about
herself.

A grinning small boy, in a small, bright-painted and half-decked
skiff, sailed close in to the wall and let go his sheet to spill
the wind. "Want to get aboard?" he called.

"Yes," she answered. "There are thousands of big rats here. I'm
afraid of them."

He nodded, ran close in, spilled the wind from his sail, the
boat's way carrying it gently to her.

"Shove out its bow," he commanded. "That's right. I don't want to
break my centerboard.... An' then jump aboard in the
stern--quick!--alongside of me."

She obeyed, stepping in lightly beside him. He held the tiller up
with his elbow, pulled in on the sheet, and as the sail filled
the boat sprang away over the rippling water.

"You know boats," the boy said approvingly.

He was a slender, almost frail lad, of twelve or thirteen years,
though healthy enough, with sunburned freckled face and large
gray eyes that were clear and wistful.

Despite his possession of the pretty boat, Saxon was quick to
sense that he was one of them, a child of the people.

"First boat I was ever in, except ferryboats," Saxon laughed.

He looked at her keenly. "Well, you take to it like a duck to
water is all I can say about it. Where d'ye want me to land you?"

"Anywhere."

He opened his mouth to speak, gave her another long look,
considered for a space, then asked suddenly: "Got plenty of
time?"

She nodded.

"All day?"

Again she nodded.

"Say--I'll tell you, I'm goin' out on this ebb to Goat Island for
rockcod, an' I'll come in on the flood this evening. I got plenty
of lines an' bait. Want to come along7 We can both fish. And what
you catch you can have."

Saxon hesitated. The freedom and motion of the small boat
appealed to her. Like the ships she had envied, it was outbound.

"Maybe you'll drown me," she parleyed.

The boy threw back his head with pride.

"I guess I've been sailin' many a long day by myself, an' I ain't
drowned yet."

"All right," she consented. "Though remember, I don't know
anything about boats."

"Aw, that's all right.--Now I'm goin' to go about. When I say
'Hard a-lee!' like that, you duck your head so the boom don't hit
you, an' shift over to the other side."

He executed the maneuver, Saxon obeyed, and found herself sitting
beside him on the opposite side of the boat, while the boat
itself, on the other tack, was heading toward Long Wharf where
the coal bunkers were. She was aglow with admiration, the more so
because the mechanics of boat-sailing was to her a complex and
mysterious thing.

"Where did you learn it all?" she inquired.

"Taught myself, just naturally taught myself. I liked it, you
see, an' what a fellow likes he's likeliest to do. This is my
second boat. My first didn't have a centerboard. I bought it for
two dollars an' learned a lot, though it never stopped leaking.
What d 'ye think I paid for this one? It's worth twenty-five
dollars right now. What d 'ye think I paid for it?"

"I give up," Saxon said. "How much?"

"Six dollars. Think of it! A boat like this! Of course I done a
lot of work, an' the sail cost two dollars, the oars one forty,
an' the paint one seventy-five. But just the same eleven dollars
and fifteen cents is a real bargain. It took me a long time
saving for it, though. I carry papers morning and
evening--there's a boy taking my route for me this afternoon--I
give 'm ten cents, an' all the extras he sells is his; and I'd
a-got the boat sooner only I had to pay for my shorthand lessons.
My mother wants me to become a court reporter. They get sometimes
as much as twenty dollars a day. Gee! But I don't want it. It's a
shame to waste the money on the lessons."

"What do you want?" she asked, partly from idleness, and yet with
genuine curiosity; for she felt drawn to this boy in knee pants
who was so confident and at the same time so wistful.

"What do I want?" he repeated after her.

Turning his head slowly, he followed the sky-line, pausing
especially when his eyes rested landward on the brown Contra
Costa hills, and seaward, past Alcatraz, on the Golden Glate. The
wistfulness in his eyes was overwhelming and went to her heart.

"That," he said, sweeping the circle of the world with a wave of
his arm.

"That?" she queried.

He looked at her, perplexed in that he had not made his meaning
clear.

"Don't you ever feel that way?" he asked, bidding for sympathy
with his dream. "Don't you sometimes feel you'd die if you didn't
know what's beyond them hills an' what's beyond the other hills
behind them hills? An' the Golden Gate! There's the Pacific Ocean
beyond, and China, an' Japan, an' India, an'. .. an' all the
coral islands. You can go anywhere out through the Golden
Gate--to Australia, to Africa, to the seal islands, to the North
Pole, to Cape Horn. Why, all them places are just waitin' for me
to come an' see 'em. I've lived in Oakland all my life, but I'm
not going to live in Oakland the rest of my life, not by a long
shot. I'm goin' to get away. .. away. .."

Again, as words failed to express the vastness of his desire, the
wave of his arm swept the circle of the world.

Saxon thrilled with him. She too, save for her earlier childhood,
had lived in Oakland all her life. And it had been a good place
in which to live. .. until now. And now, in all its nightmare
horror, it was a place to get away from, as with her people the
East had been a place to get away from. And why not? The world
tugged at her, and she felt in touch with the lad's desire. Now
that she thought of it, her race had never been given to staying
long in one place. Always it had been on the move. She remembered
back to her mother's tales, and to the wood engraving in her
scrapbook where her half-clad forebears, sword in hand, leaped
from their lean beaked boats to do battle on the blood-drenched
sands of England.

"Did you ever hear about the Anglo-Saxons?" she asked the boy.

"You bet!" His eyes glistened, and he looked at her with new
interest. "I'm an Anglo-Saxon, every inch of me. Look at the
color of my eyes, my skin. I'm awful white where I ain't
sunburned. An' my hair was yellow when I was a baby. My mother
says it'll be dark brown by the time I'm grown up, worse luck.
Just the same, I'm Anglo-Saxon. I am of a fighting race. We ain't
afraid of nothin'. This bay--think I'm afraid of it!" He looked
out over the water with flashing eye of scorn. "Why, I've crossed
it when it was howlin' an' when the scow schooner sailors said I
lied an' that I didn't. Huh! They were only squareheads. Why, we
licked their kind thousands of years ago. We lick everything we
go up against. We've wandered all over the world, licking the
world. On the sea, on the land, it's all the same. Look at Ivory
Nelson, look at Davy Crockett, look at Paul Jones, look at Clive,
an' Kitchener, an' Fremont, an' Kit Carson, an' all of 'em."

Saxon nodded, while he continued, her own eyes shining, and it
came to her what a glory it would be to be the mother of a
man-child like this. Her body ached with the fancied quickening
of unborn life. A good stock, a good stock, she thought to
herself. Then she thought of herself and Billy, healthy shoots of
that same stock, yet condemned to childlessness because of the
trap of the manmade world and the curse of being herded with the
stupid ones.

She came back to the boy.

"My father was a soldier in the Civil War," he was telling her,
"a scout an' a spy. The rebels were going to hang him twice for a
spy. At the battle of Wilson's Creek he ran half a mile with his
captain wounded on his back. He's got a bullet in his leg right
now, just above the knee. It's been there all these years. He let
me feel it once. He was a buffalo hunter and a trapper before the
war. He was sheriff of his county when he was twenty years old.
An' after the war, when he was marshal of Silver City, he cleaned
out the bad men an' gun-fighters. He's been in almost every state
in the Union. He could wrestle any man at the railings in his
day, an' he was bully of the raftsmen of the Susquehanna when he
was only a youngster. His father killed a man in a standup fight
with a blow of his fist when he was sixty years old. An' when he
was seventy-four, his second wife had twins, an' he died when he
was plowing in the field with oxen when he was ninety-nine years
old. He just unyoked the oxen, an' sat down under a tree, an'
died there sitting up. An' my father's just like him. He's pretty
old now, but he ain't afraid of nothing. He's a regular
Anglo-Saxon, you see. He's a special policeman, an' he didn't do
a thing to the strikers in some of the fightin'. He had his face
all cut up with a rock, but he broke his club short off over some
hoodlum's head."

He paused breathlessly and looked at her.

"Gee!" he said. "I'd hate to a-ben that hoodlum."

"My name is Saxon," she said.

"Your name?"

"My first name."

"Gee!" he cried. "You're lucky. Now if mine had been only
Erling--you know, Erling the Bold--or Wolf, or Swen, or Jarl!"

"What is it?" she asked.

"Only John," he admitted sadly. "But I don't let 'em call one
John. Everybody's got to call me Jack. I've scrapped with a dozen
fellows that tried to call me John, or Johnnie--wouldn't that
make you sick?--Johnnie!"

They were now off the coal bunkers of Long Wharf, and the boy put
the skiff about, heading toward San Francisco. They were well out
in the open bay. The west wind had strengthened and was
whitecapping the strong ebb tide. The boat drove merrily along.
When splashes of spray flew aboard, wetting them, Saxon laughed,
and the boy surveyed her with approval. They passed a ferryboat,
and the passengers on the upper deck crowded to one side to watch
them. In the swell of the steamer's wake, the skiff shipped
quarter-full of water. Saxon picked up an empty can and looked at
the boy.

"That's right," he said. "Go ahead an' bale out." And, when she
had finished: "We'll fetch Goat Island next tack. Right there off
the Torpedo Station is where we fish, in fifty feet of water an'
the tide runnin' to beat the band. You're wringing wet, ain't
you? Gee! You're like your name. You're a Saxon, all right. Are
you married?"

Saxon nodded, and the boy frowned.

"What'd you want to do that for, Now you can't wander over the
world like I'm going to. You're tied down. You're anchored for
keeps."

"It's pretty good to be married, though," she smiled.

"Sure, everybody gets married. But that's no reason to be in a
rush about it. Why couldn't you wait a while, like me, I'm goin'
to get married, too, but not until I'm an old man an' have been
everywheres."

Under the lee of Goat Island, Saxon obediently sitting still, he
took in the sail, and, when the boat had drifted to a position to
suit him, he dropped a tiny anchor. He got out the fish lines and
showed Saxon how to bait her hooks with salted minnows. Then they
dropped the lines to bottom, where they vibrated in the swift
tide, and waited for bites.

"They'll bite pretty soon," he encouraged. "I've never failed but
twice to catch a mess here. What d'ye say we eat while we're
waiting?"

Vainly she protested she was not hungry. He shared his lunch with
her with a boy's rigid equity, even to the half of a hard-boiled
egg and the half of a big red apple.

Still the rockcod did not bite. From under the stern-sheets he
drew out a cloth-bound book.

"Free Library," he vouchsafed, as he began to read, with one hand
holding the place while with the other he waited for the tug on
the fishline that would announce rockcod.

Saxon read the title. It was "Afloat in the Forest."

"Listen to this," he said after a few minutes, and he read
several pages descriptive of a great flooded tropical forest
being navigated by boys on a raft.

"Think of that!" he concluded. "That's the Amazon river in flood
time in South America. And the world's full of places like
that--everywhere, most likely, except Oakland. Oakland's just a
place to start from, I guess. Now that's adventure, I want to
tell you. Just think of the luck of them boys! All the same, some
day I'm going to go over the Andes to the headwaters of the
Amazon, all through the rubber country, an' canoe down the Amazon
thousands of miles to its mouth where it's that wide you can't
see one bank from the other an' where you can scoop up perfectly
fresh water out of the ocean a hundred miles from land."

But Saxon was not listening. One pregnant sentence had caught her
fancy. Oakland just a place to start from. She had never viewed
the city in that light. She had accepted it as a place to live
in, as an end in itself. But a place to start from! Why not! Why
not like any railroad station or ferry depot! Certainly, as
things were going, Oakland was not a place to stop in. The boy
was right. It was a place to start from. But to go where? Here
she was halted, and she was driven from the train of thought by a
strong pull and a series of jerks on the line. She began to haul
in, hand under hand, rapidly and deftly, the boy encouraging her,
until hooks, sinker, and a big gasping rockcod tumbled into the
bottom of the boat. The fish was free of the hook, and she baited
afresh and dropped the line over. The boy marked his place and
closed the book.

"They'll be biting soon as fast as we can haul 'em in," he said.

But the rush of fish did not come immediately.

"Did you ever read Captain Mayne Reid?" he asked. "Or Captain
Marryatt? Or Ballantyne?"

She shook her head.

"And you an Anglo-Saxon!" he cried derisively. "Why, there's
stacks of 'em in the Free Library. I have two cards, my mother's
an' mine, an' I draw 'em out all the time, after school, before I
have to carry my papers. I stick the books inside my shirt, in
front, under the suspenders. That holds 'em. One time, deliverin'
papers at Second an' Market--there's an awful tough gang of kids
hang out there--I got into a fight with the leader. He hauled off
to knock my wind out, an' he landed square on a book. You ought
to seen his face. An' then I landed on him. An' then his whole
gang was goin' to jump on me, only a couple of iron-molders
stepped in an' saw fair play. I gave 'em the books to hold."

"Who won?" Saxon asked.

"Nobody," the boy confessed reluctantly. "I think I was lickin'
him, but the molders called it a draw because the policeman on
the beat stopped us when we'd only teen fightin' half an hour.
But you ought to seen the crowd. I bet there was five hundred--"

He broke off abruptly and began hauling in his line. Saxon, too,
was hauling in. And in the next couple of hours they caught
twenty pounds of fish between them.

That night, long after dark, the little, half-decked skiff sailed
up the Oakland Estuary. The wind was fair but light, and the boat
moved slowly, towing a long pile which the boy had picked up
adrift and announced as worth three dollars anywhere for the wood
that was in it. The tide flooded smoothly under the full moon,
and Saxon recognized the points they passed--the Transit slip,
Sandy Beach, the shipyards, the nail works, Market street wharf.
The boy took the skiff in to a dilapidated boat-wharf at the foot
of Castro street, where the scow schooners, laden with sand and
gravel, lay hauled to the shore in a long row. He insisted upon
an equal division of the fish, because Saxon had helped catch
them, though he explained at length the ethics of flotsam to show
her that the pile was wholly his.

At Seventh and Poplar they separated, Saxon walking on alone to
Pine street with her load of fish. Tired though she was from the
long day, she had a strange feeling of well-being, and, after
cleaning the fish, she fell asleep wondering, when good times
came again, if she could persuade Billy to get a boat and go out
with her on Sundays as she had gone out that day.

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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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All that night Saxon lay, unsleeping, without taking off herclothes, and when she arose in the morning and washed her faceand dressed her hair she was aware of a strange numbness, of afeeling of constriction about her head as if it were bound by aheavy band of iron. It seemed like a dull pressure upon herbrain. It was the beginning of an illness that she did not knowas illness. All she knew was that she felt queer. It was notfever. It was not cold. Her bodily health was as it should be,and, when she thought about it, she put her condition
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