Valley Of The Moon

Book 3

Jack London

Chapter 14


In the morning Billy went down town to pay for Hazel and Hattie. It was due to Saxon's impatient desire to see them, that he seemed to take a remarkably long time about so simple a transaction. But she forgave him when he arrived with the two horses hitched to the camping wagon.

"Had to borrow the harness," he said. "Pass Possum up and climb in, an' I'll show you the Double H Outfit, which is some outfit, I'm tellin' you."

Saxon's delight was unbounded and almost speechless as they drove out into the country behind the dappled chestnuts with the cream-colored tails and manes. The seat was upholstered, high-backed, and comfortable; and Billy raved about the wonders of the efficient brake. He trotted the team along the hard county road to show the standard-going in them, and put them up a steep earthroad, almost hub-deep with mud, to prove that the light Belgian sire was not wanting in their make-up.

When Saxon at last lapsed into complete silence, he studied her anxiously, with quick sidelong glances. She sighed and asked:

"When do you think we'll be able to start?"

"Maybe in two weeks . . . or, maybe in two or three months. " He sighed with solemn deliberation. "We're like the Irishman with the trunk an' nothin' to put in it. Here's the wagon, here's the horses, an' nothin' to pull. I know a peach of a shotgun I can get, second-hand, eighteen dollars; but look at the bills we owe. Then there's a new '22 Automatic rifle I want for you. An' a 30-30 I've had my eye on for deer. An' you want a good jointed pole as well as me. An' tackle costs like Sam Hill. An' harness like I want will cost fifty bucks cold. An' the wagon ought to be painted. Then there's pasture ropes, an' nose-bags, an' a harness punch, an' all such things. An' Hazel an' Hattie eatin' their heads off all the time we're waitin'. An' I 'm just itchin' to be started myself."

He stopped abruptly and confusedly.

"Now, Billy, what have you got up your sleeve?--I can see it in your eyes," Saxon demanded and indicted in mixed metaphors.

"Well, Saxon, you see, it's like this. Sandow ain't satisfied. He's madder 'n a hatter. Never got one punch at me. Never had a chance to make a showin', an' he wants a return match. He's blattin' around town that he can lick me with one hand tied behind 'm, an' all that kind of hot air. Which ain't the point. The point is, the fight-fans is wild to see a return-match. They didn't get a run for their money last time. They'll fill the house. The managers has seen me already. That was why I was so long. They's three hundred more waitin' on the tree for me to pick two weeks from last night if you'll say the word. It's just the same as I told you before. He's my meat. He still thinks I 'm a rube, an' that it was a fluke punch."

"But, Billy, you told me long ago that fighting took the silk out of you. That was why you'd quit it and stayed by teaming."

"Not this kind of fightin'," he answered. "I got this one all doped out. I'll let 'm last till about the seventh. Not that it'll be necessary, but just to give the audience a run for its money. Of course, I'll get a lump or two, an' lose some skin. Then I'll time 'm to that glass jaw of his an' drop 'm for the count. An' we'll be all packed up, an' next mornin' we'll pull out. What d'ye say? Aw, come on."

Saturday night, two weeks later, Saxon ran to the door when the gate clicked. Billy looked tired. His hair was wet, his nose swollen, one cheek was puffed, there was skin missing from his ears, and both eyes were slightly bloodshot.

"I 'm darned if that boy didn't fool me," he said, as he placed the roll of gold pieces in her hand and sat down with her on his knees. "He's some boy when he gets extended. Instead of stoppin' 'm at the seventh, he kept me hustlin' till the fourteenth. Then I got 'm the way I said. It's too bad he's got a glass jaw. He's quicker'n I thought, an' he's got a wallop that made me mighty respectful from the second round--an' the prettiest little chop an' come-again I ever saw. But that glass jaw! He kept it in cotton wool till the fourteenth an' then I connected.

"--An', say. I 'm mighty glad it did last fourteen rounds. I still got all my silk. I could see that easy. I wasn't breathin' much, an' every round was fast. An' my legs was like iron. I could a-fought forty rounds. You see, I never said nothin', but I've been suspicious all the time after that beatin' the Chicago Terror gave me."

"Nonsense!--you would have known it long before now," Saxon cried. "Look at all your boxing, and wrestling, and running at Carmel."

"Nope." Billy shok his head with the conviction of utter knowledge. "That's different. It don't take it outa you. You gotta be up against the real thing, fightin' for life, round after round, with a husky you know ain't lost a thread of his silk yet--then, if you don't blow up, if your legs is steady, an' your heart ain't burstin', an' you ain't wobbly at all, an' no signs of queer street in your head--why, then you know you still got all your silk. An' I got it, I got all mine, d'ye hear me, an' I ain't goin' to risk it on no more fights. That's straight. Easy money's hardest in the end. From now on it's horsebuyin' on commish, an' you an' me on the road till we find that valley of the moon."

Next morning, early, they drove out of Ukiah. Possum sat on the seat between them, his rosy mouth agape with excitement. They had originally planned to cross over to the coast from Ukiah, but it was too early in the season for the soft earth-roads to be in shape after the winter rains; so they turned east, for Lake County, their route to extend north through the upper Sacramento Valley and across the mountains into Oregon. Then they would circle west to the coast, where the roads by that time would be in condition, and come down its length to the Golden Gate.

All the land was green and flower-sprinkled, and each tiny valley, as they entered the hills, was a garden.

"Huh!" Billy remarked scornfully to the general landscape. "They say a rollin' stone gathers no moss. Just the same this looks like some outfit we've gathered. Never had so much actual property in my life at one time--an' them was the days when I wasn't rollin'. Hell--even the furniture wasn't ourn. Only the clothes we stood up in, an' some old socks an' things."

Saxon reached out and touched his hand, and he knew that it was a hand that loved his hand.

"I've only one regret," she said. "You've earned it all yourself. I've had nothing to do with it."

"Huh!--you've had everything to do with it. You're like my second in a fight. You keep me happy an' in condition. A man can't fight without a good second to take care of him. Hell, I wouldn't a-ben here if it wasn't for you. You made me pull up stakes an' head out. Why, if it hadn't been for you I'd a-drunk myself dead an' rotten by this time, or had my neck stretched at San Quentin over hittin' some scab too hard or something or other. An' look at me now. Look at that roll of greenbacks"-- he tapped his breast--"to buy the Boss some horses. Why, we're takin' an unendin' vacation, an' makin' a good livin' at the same time. An' one more trade I got--horse-buyin' for Oakland. If I show I've got the savve, an' I have, all the Frisco firms'll be after me to buy for them. An' it's all your fault. You're my Tonic Kid all right, all right, an' if Possum wasn't lookin', I'd--well, who cares if he does look?"

And Billy leaned toward her sidewise and kissed her.

The way grew hard and rocky as they began to climb, but the divide was an easy one, and they soon dropped down the canyon of the Blue Lakes among lush fields of golden poppies. In the bottom of the canyon lay a wandering sheet of water of intensest blue. Ahead, the folds of hills interlaced the distance, with a remote blue mountain rising in the center of the picture.

They asked questions of a handsome, black-eyed man with curly gray hair, who talked to them in a German accent, while a cheery-faced woman smiled down at them out of a trellised high window of the Swiss cottage perched on the bank. Billy watered the horses at a pretty hotel farther on, where the proprietor came out and talked and told him he had built it himself, according to the plans of the black-eyed man with the curly gray hair, who was a San Francisco architect.

"Goin' up, goin' up," Billy chortled, as they drove on through the winding hills past another lake of intensest blue. "D'ye notice the difference in our treatment already between ridin' an' walkin' with packs on our backs? With Hazel an' Hattie an' Saxon an' Possum, an' yours truly, an' this high-toned wagon, folks most likely take us for millionaires out on a lark."

The way widened. Broad, oak-studded pastures with grazing livestock lay on either hand. Then Clear Lake opened before them like an inland sea, flecked with little squalls and flaws of wind from the high mountains on the northern slopes of which still glistened white snow patches.

"I've heard Mrs. Hazard rave about Lake Geneva," Saxon recalled; "but I wonder if it is more beautiful than this."

"That architect fellow called this the California Alps, you remember," Billy confirmed. "An' if I don't mistake, that's Lakeport showin' up ahead. An' all wild country, an' no railroads."

"And no moon valleys here," Saxon criticized. "But it is beautiful, oh, so beautiful."

"Hotter'n hell in the dead of summer, I'll bet," was Billy's opinion. "Nope, the country we're lookin' for lies nearer the coast. Just the same it is beautiful . . . like a picture on the wall. What d'ye say we stop off an' go for a swim this afternoon?"

Ten days later they drove into Williams, in Colusa County, and for the first time again encountered a railroad. Billy was looking for it, for the reason that at the rear of the wagon walked two magnificent work-horses which he had picked up for shipment to Oakland.

"Too hot," was Saxon's verdict, as she gazed across the shimmering level of the vast Sacramento Valley. "No redwoods. No hills. No forests. No manzanita. No madronos. Lonely, and sad--"

"An' like the river islands," Billy interpolated. "Richer in hell, but looks too much like hard work. It'll do for those that's stuck on hard work--God knows, they's nothin' here to induce a fellow to knock off ever for a bit of play. No fishin', no huntin', nothin' but work. I'd work myself, if I had to live here."

North they drove, through days of heat and dust, across the California plains, and everywhere was manifest the "new" farming--great irrigation ditches, dug and being dug, the land threaded by power-lines from the mountains, and many new farmhouses on small holdings newly fenced. The bonanza farms were being broken up. However, many of the great estates remained, five to ten thousand acres in extent, running from the Sacramento bank to the horizon dancing in the heat waves, and studded with great valley oaks.

"It takes rich soil to make trees like those," a ten-acre farmer told them.

They had driven off the road a hundred feet to his tiny barn in order to water Hazel and Hattie. A sturdy young orchard covered most of his ten acres, though a goodly portion was devoted to whitewashed henhouses and wired runways wherein hundreds of chickens were to be seen. He had just begun work on a small frame dwelling.

"I took a vacation when I bought," he explained, "and planted the trees. Then I went back to work an' stayed with it till the place was cleared. Now I 'm here for keeps, an' soon as the house is finished I'll send for the wife. She's not very well, and it will do her good. We've been planning and working for years to get away from- the city." He stopped in order to give a happy sigh. "And now we're free."

The water in the trough was warm from the sun.

"Hold on," the man said. "Don't let them drink that. I'll give it to them cool."

Stepping into a small shed, he turned an electric switch, and a motor the size of a fruit box hummed into action. A five-inch stream of sparkling water splashed into the shallow main ditch of his irrigation system and flowed away across the orchard through many laterals.

"Isn' tit beautiful, eh?--beautiful! beautiful!" the man chanted in an ecstasy. "It's bud and fruit. It's blood and life. Look at it! It makes a gold mine laughable, and a saloon a nightmare. I know. I . . . I used to be a barkeeper. In fact, I've been a barkeeper most of my life. That's how I paid for this place. And I've hated the business all the time. I was a farm boy, and all my life I've been wanting to get back to it. And here I am at last."

He wiped his glasses the better to behold his beloved water, then seized a hoe and strode down the main ditch to open more laterals.

"He's the funniest barkeeper I ever seen," Billy commented. "I took him for a business man of some sort. Must a-ben in some kind of a quiet hotel."

"Don't drive on right away," Saxon requested. "I want to talk with him."

He came back, polishing his glasses, his face beaming, watching the water as if fascinated by it. It required no more exertion on Saxon's part to start him than had been required on his part to start the motor.

"The pioneers settled all this in the early fifties," he said. "The Mexicans never got this far, so it was government land. Everybody got a hundred and sixty acres. And such acres! The stories they tell about how much wheat they got to the acre are almost unbelievable. Then several things happened. The sharpest and steadiest of the pioneers held what they had and added to it from the other fellows. It takes a great many quarter sections to make a bonanza farm. It wasn't long before it was 'most all bonanza farms."

"They were the successful gamblers," Saxon put in, remembering Mark Hall's words.

The man nodded appreciatively and continued.

"The old folks schemed and gathered and added the land into the big holdings, and built the great barns and mansions, and planted the house orchards and flower gardens. The young folks were spoiled by so much wealth and went away to the cities to spend it. And old folks and young united in one thing: in impoverishing the soil. Year after year they scratched it and took out bonanza crops. They put nothing back. All they left was plow-sole and exhausted land. Why, there's big sections they exhausted and left almost desert.

"The bonanza farmers are all gone now, thank the Lord, and here's where we small farmers come into our own. It won't be many years before the whole valley will be farmed in patches like mine. Look at what we're doing! Worked-out land that had ceased to grow wheat, and we turn the water on, treat the soil decently, and see our orchards!

"We've got the water--from the mountains, and from under the ground. I was reading an account the other day. All life depends on food. All food depends on water. It takes a thousand pounds of water to produce one pound of food; ten thousand pounds to produce one pound of meat. How much water do you drink in a year? About a ton. But you eat about two hundred pounds of vegetables and two hundred pounds of meat a year--which means you consume one hundred tons of water in the vegetables and one thousand tons in the meat--which means that it takes eleven hundred and one tons of water each year to keep a small woman like you going."

"Gee!" was all Billy could say.

"You see how population depends upon water," the ax-barkeeper went on. "Well, we've got the water, immense subterranean supplies, and in not many years this valley will be populated as thick as Belgium."

Fascinated by the five-inch stream, sluiced out of the earth and back to the earth by the droning motor, he forgot his discourse and stood and gazed, rapt and unheeding, while his visitors drove on.

"An' him a drink-slinger!" Billy marveled. "He can sure sling the temperance dope if anybody should ask you."

"It's lovely to think about--all that water, and all the happy people that will come here to live--"

"But it ain't the valley of the moon!" Billy laughed.

"No," she responded. "They don't have to irrigate in the valley of the moon, unless for alfalfa and such crops. What we want is the water bubbling naturally from the ground, and crossing the farm in little brooks, and on the boundary a fine big creek--"

"With trout in it!" Billy took her up. "An' willows and trees of all kinds growing along the edges, and here a riffle where you can flip out trout, and there a deep pool where you can swim and high-dive. An' kingfishers, an' rabbits comin' down to drink, an', maybe, a deer."

"And meadowlarks in the pasture," Saxon added. "And mourning doves in the trees. We must have mourning doves--and the big, gray tree-squirrels."

"Gee!--that valley of the moon's goin' to be some valley," Billy meditated, flicking a fly away with his whip from Hattie's side. "Think we'll ever find it?"

Saxon nodded her head with great certitude.

"Just as the Jews found the promised land, and the Mormons Utah, and the Pioneers California. You remember the last advice we got when we left Oakland' ''Tis them that looks that finds.'"