The Valley of the Moon by Jack London
Billy could never get over the shock, during that period, of Saxon's appearance. Morning after morning, and evening after evening when he came home from work, he would enter the room where she lay and fight a royal battle to hide his feelings and make a show of cheerfulness and geniality. She looked so small lying there so small and shrunken and weary, and yet so child-like in her smallness. Tenderly, as he sat beside her, he would take up her pale hand and stroke the slim, transparent arm, marveling at the smallness and delicacy of the bones.
One of her first questions, puzzling alike to Billy and Mary, was:
"Did they save little Emil Olsen?"
And when she told them how he had attacked, singlehanded, the whole twenty-four fighting men, Billy's face glowed with appreciation.
"The little cuss!" he said. "That's the kind of a kid to be proud of."
He halted awkwardly, and his very evident fear that he had hurt her touched Saxon. She put her hand out to his.
"Billy," she began; then waited till Mary left the room.
"I never asked before--not that it matters ... now. But I waited for you to tell me. Was it ... ?"
He shook his head.
"No; it was a girl. A perfect little girl. Only ... it was too soon."
She pressed his hand, and almost it was she that sympathized with him in his affliction.
"I never told you, Billy--you were so set on a boy; but I planned, just the same, if it was a girl, to call her Daisy. You remember, that was my mother's name."
He nodded his approbation.
"Say, Saxon, you know I did want a boy like the very dickens ... well, I don't care now. I think I'm set just as hard on a girl, an', well, here's hopin' the next will be called ... you wouldn't mind, would you?"
"If we called it the same name, Daisy?"
"Oh, Billy! I was thinking the very same thing."
Then his face grew stern as he went on.
"Only there ain't goin' to be a next. I didn't know what havin' children was like before. You can't run any more risks like that."
"Hear the big, strong, afraid-man talk!" she jeered, with a wan smile. "You don't know anything about it. How can a man? I am a healthy, natural woman. Everything would have been all right this time if ... if all that fighting hadn't happened. Where did they bury Bert?"
"All the time. And where is Mercedes? She hasn't been in for two days."
"Old Barry's sick. She's with him."
He did not tell her that the old night watchman was dying, two thin walls and half a dozen feet away.
Saxon's lips were trembling, and she began to cry weakly, clinging to Billy's hand with both of hers.
"I--I can't help it," she sobbed. "I'll be all right in a minute ... Our little girl, Billy. Think of it! And I never saw her!"
She was still lying on her bed, when, one evening, Mary saw fit to break out in bitter thanksgiving that she had escaped, and was destined to escape, what Saxon had gone through.
"Aw, what are you talkin' about?" Billy demanded. "You'll get married some time again as sure as beans is beans."
"Not to the best man living," she proclaimed. "And there ain't no call for it. There's too many people in the world now, else why are there two or three men for every job? And, besides, havin' children is too terrible."
Saxon, with a look of patient wisdom in her face that became glorified as she spoke, made answer:
"I ought to know what it means. I've been through it, and I'm still in the thick of it, and I want to say to you right now, out of all the pain and the ache and the sorrow, that it is the most beautiful, wonderful thing in the world."
As Saxon's strength came back to her (and when Doctor Hentley had privily assured Billy that she was sound as a dollar), she herself took up the matter of the industrial tragedy that had taken place before her door. The militia had been called out immediately, Billy informed her, and was encamped then at the foot of Pine street on the waste ground next to the railroad yards. As for the strikers, fifteen of them were in jail. A house to house search had been made in the neighborhood by the police, and in this way nearly the whole fifteen, all wounded, had been captured. It would go hard with them, Billy foreboded gloomily. The newspapers were demanding blood for blood, and all the ministers in Oakland had preached fierce sermons against the strikers. The railroad had filled every place, and it was well known that the striking shopmen not only would never get their old jobs back but were blacklisted in every railroad in the United States. Already they were beginning to scatter. A number had gone to Panama, and four were talking of going to Ecuador to work in the shops of the railroad that ran over the Andes to Quito.
With anxiety keenly concealed, she tried to feel out Billy's opinion on what had happened.
"That shows what Bert's violent methods come to," she said.
He shook his head slowly and gravely.
"They'll hang Chester Johnson, anyway," be answered indirectly. "You know him. You told me you used to dance with him. He was caught red-handed, lyin' on the body of a scab he beat to death. Old Jelly Belly's got three bullet holes in him, but he ain't goin' to die, and he's got Chester's number. They'll hang'm on Jelly Belly's evidence. It was all in the papers. Jelly Belly shot him, too, a-hangin' by the neck on our pickets."
Saxon shuddered. Jelly Belly must be the man with the bald spot and the tobacco-stained whiskers.
"Yes," she said. "I saw it all. It seemed he must have hung there for hours."
"It was all over, from first to last, in five minutes."
"It seemed ages and ages."
"I guess that's the way it seemed to Jelly Belly, stuck on the pickets," Billy smiled grimly. "But he's a hard one to kill. He's been shot an' cut up a dozen different times. But they say now he'll be crippled for life--have to go around on crutches, or in a wheel-chair. That'll stop him from doin' any more dirty work for the railroad. He was one of their top gun-fighters--always up to his ears in the thick of any fightin' that was goin' on. He never was leery of anything on two feet, I'll say that much for'm."
"Where does he live?" Saxon inquired.
"Up on Adeline, near Tenth--fine neighborhood an' fine two-storied house. He must pay thirty dollars a month rent. I guess the railroad paid him pretty well."
"Then he must be married?"
"Yep. I never seen his wife, but he's got one son, Jack, a passenger engineer. I used to know him. He was a nifty boxer, though he never went into the ring. An' he's got another son that's teacher in the high school. His name's Paul. We're about the same age. He was great at baseball. I knew him when we was kids. He pitched me out three times hand-runnin' once, when the Durant played the Cole School."
Saxon sat back in the Morris chair, resting and thinking. The problem was growing more complicated than ever. This elderly, round-bellied, and bald-headed gunfighter, too, had a wife and family. And there was Frank Davis, married barely a year and with a baby boy. Perhaps the scab he shot in the stomach had a wife and children. All seemed to be acquainted, members of a very large family, and yet, because of their particular families, they battered and killed each other. She had seen Chester Johnson kill a scab, and now they were going to hang Chester Johnson, who had married Kittie Brady out of the cannery, and she and Kittie Brady had worked together years before in the paper box factory.
Vainly Saxon waked for Billy to say something that would show he did not countenance the killing of the scabs.
"It was wrong," she ventured finally.
"They killed Bert," he countered. "An' a lot of others. An' Frank Davis. Did you know he was dead? Had his whole lower jaw shot away--died in the ambulance before they could get him to the receiving hospital. There was never so much killin' at one time in Oakland before."
"But it was their fault," she contended. "They began it. It was murder."
Billy did not reply, but she heard him mutter hoarsely. She knew he said "God damn them"; but when she asked, "What?" he made no answer. His eyes were deep with troubled clouds, while the mouth had hardened, and all his face was bleak.
To her it was a heart-stab. Was he, too, like the rest? Would he kill other men who had families, like Bert, and Frank Davis, and Chester Johnson had killed? Was he, too, a wild beast, a dog that would snarl over a bone?
She sighed. Life was a strange puzzle. Perhaps Mercedes Higgins was right in her cruel statement of the terms of existence.
"What of it," Billy laughed harshly, as if in answer to her unuttered questions. "It's dog eat dog, I guess, and it's always ben that way. Take that scrap outside there. They killed each other just like the North an' South did in the Civil War."
"But workingmen can't win that way, Billy. You say yourself that it spoiled their chance of winning."
"I suppose not," he admitted reluctantly. "But what other chance they've got to win I don't see. Look at 'us. We'll be up against it next."
"Not the teamsters?" she cried.
He nodded gloomily.
"The bosses are cuttin' loose all along the line for a high old time. Say they're goin' to beat us to our knees till we come crawlin' back a-beggin' for our jobs. They've bucked up real high an' mighty what of all that killin' the other day. Havin' the troops out is half the fight, along with havin' the preachers an' the papers an' the public behind 'em. They're shootin' off their mouths already about what they're goin' to do. They're sure gunning for trouble. First, they're goin' to hang Chester Johnson an' as many more of the fifteen as they can. They say that flat. The Tribune, an' the Enquirer an' the Times keep sayin' it over an over every day. They're all union-hustin' to beat the band. No more closed shop. To hell with organized labor. Why, the dirty little Intelligencer come out this morning an' said that every union official in Oakland ought to be run outa town or stretched up. Fine, Eh? You bet it's fine.
"Look at us. It ain't a case any more of sympathetic strike for the mill-workers. We got our own troubles. They've fired our four best men--the ones that was always on the conference committees. Did it without cause. They're lookin' for trouble, as I told you, an' they'll get it, too, if they don't watch out. We got our tip from the Frisco Water Front Confederation. With them backin' us we'll go some."
"You mean you'll ... strike?" Saxon asked.
He bent his head.
"But isn't that what they want you to do?--from the way they're acting?"
"What "s the difference?" Billy shrugged his shoulders, then continued. "It's better to strike than to get fired. We beat 'em to it, that's all, an' we catch 'em before they're ready. Don't we know what they're doin'? They're collectin' gradin'-camp drivers an' mule-skinners all up an' down the state. They got forty of 'em, feedin' 'em in a hotel in Stockton right now, an' ready to rush 'em in on us an' hundreds more like 'em. So this Saturday's the last wages I'll likely bring home for some time."
Saxon closed her eyes and thought quietly for five minutes. It was not her way to take things excitedly. The coolness of poise that Billy so admired never deserted her in time of emergency. She realized that she herself was no more than a mote caught up in this tangled, nonunderstandable conflict of many motes.
"We'll have to draw from our savings to pay for this month's rent," she said brightly.
Billy's face fell.
"We ain't got as much in the bank as you think," he confessed. "Bert had to be buried, you know, an I coughed up what the others couldn't raise."
"How much was it?"
"Forty dollars. I was goin' to stand off the butcher an' the rest for a while. They knew I was good pay. But they put it to me straight. They'd been carryin' the shopmen right along an was up against it themselves. An' now with that strike smashed they're pretty much smashed themselves. So I took it all out of the bank. I knew you wouldn't mind. You don't, do you?"
She smiled bravely, and bravely overcame the sinking feeling at her heart.
"It was the only right thing to do, Billy. I would have done it if you were lying sick, and Bert would have done it for you an' me if it had been the other way around."
His face was glowing.
"Gee, Saxon, a fellow can always count on you. You're like my right hand. That's why I say no more babies. If I lose you I'm crippled for life."
"We've got to economize," she mused, nodding her appreciation. "How much is in bank?"
"Just about thirty dollars. You see, I had to pay Martha Skelton an' for the ... a few other little things. An' the union took time by the neck and levied a four dollar emergency assessment on every member just to be ready if the strike was pulled off. But Doc Hentley can wait. He said as much. He's the goods, if anybody should ask you. How'd you like'm?"
"I liked him. But I don't know about doctors. He's the first I ever had--except when I was vaccinated once, and then the city did that."
"Looks like the street car men are goin' out, too. Dan Fallon's come to town. Came all the way from New York. Tried to sneak in on the quiet, but the fellows knew when he left New York, an' kept track of him all the way acrost. They have to. He's Johnny-on-the-Spot whenever street car men are licked into shape. He's won lots of street car strikes for tha bosses. Keeps an army of strike breakers an' ships them all over the country on special trains wherever they're needed. Oakland's never seen labor troubles like she's got and is goin' to get. All hell's goin' to break loose from the looks of it."
"Watch out for yourself, then, Billy. I don't want to lose you either."
"Aw, that's all right. I can take care of myself. An' besides, it ain't as though we was licked. We got a good chance."
"But you'll lose if there is any killing."
"Yep; we gotta keep an eye out against that."
"No gun-fighting or dynamite," he assented. "But a heap of scabs'll get their heads broke. That has to be."
"But you won't do any of that, Billy."
"Not so as any slob can testify before a court to havin' seen me." Then, with a quick shift, he changed the subject. "Old Barry Higgins is dead. I didn't want to tell you till you was outa bed. Buried'm a week ago. An' the old woman's movin' to Frisco. She told me she'd be in to say good-bye. She stuck by you pretty well them first couple of days, an' she showed Martha Shelton a few that made her hair curl. She got Martha's goat from the jump."