The Valley of the Moon by Jack London
"There be hills and valleys, and rich land, and streams of clear water, good wagon roads and a railroad not too far away, plenty of sunshine, and cold enough at night to need blankets, and not only pines but plenty of other kinds of trees, with open spaces to pasture Billy's horses and cattle, and deer and rabbits for him to shoot, and lots and lots of redwood trees, and . . . and . . . well, and no fog," Saxon concluded the description of the farm she and Billy sought.
Mark Hall laughed delightedly.
"And nightingales roosting in all the trees," he cried; "flowers that neither fail nor fade, bees without stings, honey dew every morning, showers of manna betweenwhiles, fountains of youth and quarries of philosopher's stones--why, I know the very place. Let me show you."
She waited while he pored over road-maps of the state. Failing in them, he got out a big atlas, and, though. all the countries of the world were in it, he could not find what he was after.
"Never mind," he said. "Come over to-night and I'll be able to show you."
That evening he led her out on the veranda to the telescope, and she found herself looking through it at the full moon.
"Somewhere up there in some valley you'll find that farm," he teased.
Mrs. Hall looked inquiringly at them as they returned inside.
"I've been showing her a valley in the moon where she expects to go farming," he laughed.
"We started out prepared to go any distance," Saxon said. "And if it's to the moon, I expect we can make it."
"But my dear child, you can't expect to find such a paradise on the earth," Hall continued. "For instance, you can't have redwoods without fog. They go together. The redwoods grow only in the fog belt."
Saxon debated a while.
"Well, we could put up with a little fog," she conceded, "-- almost anything to have redwoods. I don't know what a quarry of philosopher's stones is like, but if it's anything like Mr. Hafier's marble quarry, and there's a railroad handy, I guess we could manage to worry along. And you don't have to go to the moon for honey dew. They scrape it off of the leaves of the bushes up in Nevada County. I know that for a fact, because my father told my-mother about it, and she told me."
A little later in the evening, the subject of farming having remained uppermost, Hall swept off into a diatribe against the "gambler's paradise," which was his epithet for the United States.
"When you think of the glorious chance," he said. "A new country, bounded by the oceans, situated just right in latitude, with the richest land and vastest natural resources of any country in the world, settled by immigrants who had thrown off all the leading strings of the Old World and were in the humor for democracy. There was only one thing to stop them from perfecting the democracy they started, and that thing was greediness.
"They started gobbling everything in sight like a lot of swine, and while they gobbled democracy went to smash. Gobbling became gambling. It was a nation of tin horns. Whenever a man lost his stake, all he had to do was to chase the frontier west a few miles and get another stake. They moved over the face of the land like so many locusts. They destroyed everything--the Indians, the soil, the forests, just as they destroyed the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. Their morality in business and politics was gambler morality. Their laws were gambling laws--how to play the game. Everybody played. Therefore, hurrah for the game. Nobody objected, because nobody was unable to play. As I said, the losers chased the frontier for fresh stakes. The winner of to-day, broke to-morrow, on the day following might be riding his luck to royal flushes on five-card draws.
"So they gobbled and gambled from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they'd swined a whole continent. When they'd finished with the lands and forests and mines, they turned back, gambling for any little stakes they'd overlooked, gambling for franchises and monopolies, using politics to protect their crooked deals and brace games. And democracy gone clean to smash.
"And then was the funniest time of all. The losers couldn't get any more stakes, while the winners went on gambling among themselves. The losers could only stand around with their hands in their pockets and look on. When they got hungry, they went, hat in hand, and begged the successful gamblers for a job. The losers went to work for the winners, and they've been working for them ever since, and democracy side-tracked up Salt Creek. You, Billy Roberts, have never had a hand in the game in your life. That's because your people were among the also-rans. "
"How about yourself?" Billy asked. "I ain't seen you holdin' any hands."
"I don't have to. I don't count. I am a parasite."
"A flea, a woodtick, anything that gets something for nothing. I batten on the mangy hides of the workingmen. I don't have to gamble. I don't have to work. My father left me enough of his winnings.--Oh, don't preen yourself, my boy. Your folks were just as bad as mine. But yours lost, and mine won, and so you plow in my potato patch. "
"I don't see it," Billy contended stoutly. "A man with gumption can win out to-day--"
"On government land?" Hall asked quickly.
Billy swallowed and acknowledged the stab.
"Just the same he can win out," he reiterated.
"Surely--he can win a job from some other fellow? A young husky with a good head like yours can win jobs anywhere. But think of the handicaps on the fellows who lose. How many tramps have you met along the road who could get a job driving four horses for the Carmel Livery Stabler And some of them were as husky as you when they were young. And on top of it all you've got no shout coming. It's a mighty big come-down from gambling for a continent to gambling for a job."
"Just the same--" Billy recommenced.
"Oh, you've got it in your blood," Hall cut him off cavalierly. "And why not? Everybody in this country has been gambling for generations. It was in the air when you were born. You've breathed it all your life. You, who 've never had a white chip in the game, still go on shouting for it and capping for it."
"But what are all of us losers to do?" Saxon inquired.
"Call in the police and stop the game," Hall recommended. "It's crooked."
"Do what your forefathers didn't do," he amplified. "Go ahead and perfect democracy."
She remembered a remark of Mercedes. "A friend of mine says that democracy is an enchantment."
"It is--in a gambling joint. There are a million boys in our public schools right now swallowing the gump of canal boy to President, and millions of worthy citizens who sleep sound every night in the belief that they have a say in running the country."
"You talk like my brother Tom," Saxon said, failing to comprehend. "If we all get into politics and work hard for something better maybe we'll get it after a thousand years or so. But I want it now." She clenched her hands passionately. "I can't wait; I want it now."
"But that is just what I've been telling you, my dear girl. That's what's the trouble with all the losers. They can't wait. They want it now--a stack of chips and a fling at the game. Well, they won't get it now. That's what's the matter with you, chasing a valley in the moon. That's what's the matter with Billy, aching right now for a chance to win ten cents from me at Pedro cussing wind-chewing under his breath."
"Gee! you'd make a good soap-boxer," commented Billy.
"And I'd be a soap-boxer if I didn't have the spending of my father's ill-gotten gains. It's none of my affair. Islet them rot. They'd be just as bad if they were on top. It's all a mess--blind bats, hungry swine, and filthy buzzards--"
Here Mrs. Hall interferred.
"Now, Mark, you stop that, or you'll be getting the blues."
He tossed his mop of hair and laughed with an effort.
"No I won't," he denied. "I'm going to get ten cents from Billy at a game of Pedro. He won't have a look in."
Saxon and Billy flourished in the genial human atmosphere of Carmel. They appreciated in their own estimation. Saxon felt that she was something more than a laundry girl and the wife of a union teamster. She was no longer pent in the narrow working class environment of a Pine street neighborhood. Life had grown opulent. They fared better physically, materially, and spiritually; and all this was reflected in their features, in the carriage of their bodies. She knew Billy had never been handsomer nor in more splendid bodily condition. He swore he had a harem, and that she was his second wife-- twice as beautiful as the first one he had married. And she demurely confessed to him that Mrs. Hall and several others of the matrons had enthusiastically admired her form one day when in for a cold dip in Carmel river. They had got around her, and called her Venus, and made her crouch and assume different poses.
Billy understood the Venus reference; for a marble one, with broken arms, stood in Hall's living room, and the poet had told him the world worshiped it as the perfection of female form.
"I always said you had Annette Kellerman beat a mile," Billy said; and so proud was his air of possession that Saxon blushed and trembled, and hid her hot face against his breast.
The men in the crowd were open in their admiration of Saxon, in an above-board manner. But she made no mistake. She did not lose her head. There was no chance of that, for her love for Billy beat more strongly than ever. Nor was she guilty of over-appraisal. She knew him for what he was, and loved him with open eyes. He had no book learning, no art, like the other men. His grammar was bad; she knew that, just as she knew that he would never mend it. Yet she would not have exchanged him for any of the others, not even for Mark Hall with the princely heart whom she loved much in the same way that she loved his wife.
For that matter, she found in Billy a certain health and rightness, a certain essential integrity, which she prized more highly than all book learning and bank accounts. It was by virtue of this health, and rightness, and integrity, that he had beaten Hall in argument the night the poet was on the pessimistic rampage. Billy had beaten him, not with the weapons of learning, but just by being himself and by speaking out the truth that was in him. Best of all, he had not even known that he had beaten, and had taken the applause as good-natured banter. But Saxon knew, though she could scarcely tell why; and she would always remember how the wife of Shelley had whispered to her afterward with shining eyes: "Oh, Saxon, you must be so happy."
Were Saxon driven to speech to attempt to express what Billy meant to her, she would have done it with the simple word "man." Always he was that to her. Always in glowing splendor, that was his connotation--man. Sometimes, by herself, she would all but weep with joy at recollection of his way of informing some truculent male that he was standing on his foot. "Get off your foot. You're standin' on it." It was Billy! It was magnificently Billy. And it was this Billy who loved her. She knew it. She knew it by the pulse that only a woman knows how to gauge. He loved her less wildly, it was true; but more fondly, more maturely. It was the love that lasted--if only they did not go back to the city where the beautiful things of the spirit perished and the beast bared its fangs.
In the early spring, Mark Hall and his wife went to New York, the two Japanese servants of the bungalow were dismissed, and Saxon and Billy were installed as caretakers. Jim Hazard, too, departed on his yearly visit to Paris; and though Billy missed him, he continued his long swims out through the breakers. Hall's two saddle horses had been left in his charge, and Saxon made herself a pretty cross-saddle riding costume of tawny-brown corduroy that matched the glints in her hair. Billy no longer worked at odd jobs. As extra driver at the stable he earned more than they spent, and, in preference to cash, he taught Saxon to ride, and was out and away with her over the country on all-day trips. A favorite ride was around by the coast to Monterey, where he taught her to swim in the big Del Monte tank. They would come home in the evening across the hills. Also, she took to following him on his early morning hunts, and life seemed one long vacation.
"I'll tell you one thing," he said to Saxon, one day, as they drew their horses to a halt and gazed down into Carmel Valley. "I ain't never going to work steady for another man for wages as long as I live."
"Work isn't everything," she acknowledged.
"I should guess not. Why, look here, Saxon, what'd it mean if I worked teamin' in Oakland for a million dollars a day for a million years and just had to go on stayin' there an' livin' the way we used to? It'd mean work all day, three squares, an' movie' pictures for recreation. Movin' pictures! Huh! We're livin' movie' pictures these days. I'd sooner have one year like what we're havin' here in Carmel and then die, than a thousan' million years like on Pine street."
Saxon had warned the Halls by letter that she and Billy intended starting on their search for the valley in the moon as soon as the first of summer arrived. Fortunately, the poet was put to no inconvenience, for Bideaux, the Iron Man with the basilisk eyes, had abandoned his dreams of priesthood and decided to become an actor. He arrived at Carmel from the Catholic college in time to take charge of the bungalow.
Much to Saxon's gratification, the crowd was loth to see them depart. The owner of the Carmel stable offered to put Billy in charge at ninety dollars a month. Also, he received a similar offer from the stable in Pacific Grove.
"Whither away," the wild Irish playwright hailed them on the station platform at Monterey. He was just returning from New York.
"To a valley in the moon," Saxon answered gaily.
He regarded their business-like packs.
"By George!" he cried. "I'll do it! By George! Let me come along." Then his face fell. "And I've signed the contract," he groaned. "Three acts! Say, you're lucky. And this time of year, too."