Valley Of The Moon

Book 3

Jack London

Chapter 5


Early on Monday morning, three days later, Saxon and Billy took an electric car to the end of the line, and started a second time for San Juan. Puddles were standing in the road, but the sun shone from a blue sky, and everywhere, on the ground, was a faint hint of budding green. At Benson's Saxon waited while Billy went in to get his six dollars for the three days' plowing.

"Kicked like a steer because I was quittin'," he told her when he came back. "He wouldn't listen at first. Said he'd put me to drivin' in a few days, an' that there wasn't enough good four-horse men to let one go easily."

"And what did you say?"

"Oh, I just told 'm I had to be movin' along. An' when he tried to argue I told 'm my wife was with me, an' she was blamed anxious to get along."

"But so are you, Billy."

"Sure, Pete; but just the same I wasn't as keen as you. Doggone it, I was gettin' to like that plowin'. I'll never be scairt to ask for a job at it again. I've got to where I savvy the burro, an' you bet I can plow against most of 'm right now."

An hour afterward, with a good three miles to their credit, they edged to the side of the road at the sound of an automobile behind them. But the machine did not pass. Benson was alone in it, and he came to a stop alongside.

"Where are you bound?" he inquired of Billy, with a quick, measuring glance at Saxon.

"Monterey--if you're goin' that far," Billy answered with a chuckle.

"I can give you a lift as far as Watsonville. It would take you several days on shank's mare with those loads. Climb in." He addressed Saxon directly. "Do you want to ride in front?"

Saxon glanced to Billy.

"Go on," he approved. "It's fine in front.--This is my wife, Mr. Benson--Mrs. Roberts."

"Oh, ho, so you're the one that took your husband away from me," Benson accused good humoredly, as he tucked the robe around her.

Saxon shouldered the responsibility and became absorbed in watching him start the car.

"I'd be a mighty poor farmer if I owned no more land than you'd plowed before you came to me," Benson, with a twinkling eye, jerked over his shoulder to Billy.

"I'd never had my hands on a plow but once before," Billy confessed. "But a fellow has to learn some time."

"At two dollars a day?"

"If he can get some alfalfa artist to put up for it," Billy met him complacently.

Benson laughed heartily.

"You're a quick learner," he complimented. "I could see that you and plows weren't on speaking acquaintance. But you took hold right. There isn't one man in ten I could hire off the county road that could do as well as you were doing on the third day. But your big asset is that you know horses. It was half a joke when I told you to take the lines that morning. You're a trained horseman and a born horseman as well."

"He's very gentle with horses," Saxon said.

"But there's more than that to it," Benson took her up. "Your husband's got the WAY with him. It's hard to explain. But that's what it is--the WAY. It's an instinct almost. Kindness is necessary. But GRIP is more so. Your husband grips his horses. Take the test I gave him with the four-horse load. It was too complicated and severe. Kindness couldn't have done it. It took grip. I could see it the moment he started. There wasn't any doubt in his mind. There wasn't any doubt in the horses. They got the feel of him. They just knew the thing was going to be done and that it was up to them to do it. They didn't have any fear, but just the same they knew the boss was in the seat. When he took hold of those lines, he took hold of the horses. He gripped them, don't you see. He picked them up and put them where he wanted them, swung them up and down and right and left, made them pull, and slack, and back--and they knew everything was going to come out right. Oh, horses may be stupid, but they're not altogether fools. They know when the proper horseman has hold of them, though how they know it so quickly is beyond me."

Benson paused, half vexed at his volubility, and gazed keenly at Saxon to see if she had followed him. What he saw in her face and eyes satisfied him, and he added, with a short laugh:

"Horseflesh is a hobby of mine. Don't think otherwise because I am running a stink engine. I'd rather be streaking along here behind a pair of fast-steppers. But I'd lose time on them, and, worse than that, I'd be too anxious about them all the time. As for this thing, why, it has no nerves, no delicate joints nor tendons; it's a case of let her rip."

The miles flew past and Saxon was soon deep in talk with her host. Here again, she discerned immediately, was a type of the new farmer. The knowledge she had picked up enabled her to talk to advantage, and when Benson talked she was amazed that she could understand so much. In response to his direct querying, she told him her and Billy's plans, sketching the Oakland life vaguely, and dwelling on their future intentions.

Almost as in a dream, when they passed the nurseries at Morgan Hill, she learned they had come twenty miles, and realized that it was a longer stretch than they had planned to walk that day. And still the machine hummed on, eating up the distance as ever it flashed into view.

"I wondered what so good a man as your husband was doing on the road," Benson told her.

"Yes," she smiled. "He said you said he must be a good man gone wrong."

"But you see, I didn't know about YOU. Now I understand. Though I must say it's extraordinary in these days for a young couple like you to pack your blankets in search of land. And, before I forget it, I want to tell you one thing." He turned to Billy. "I am just telling your wife that there's an all-the-year job waiting for you on my ranch. And there's a tight little cottage of three rooms the two of you can housekeep in. Don't forget."

Among other things Saxon discovered that Benson had gone through the College of Agriculture at the University of California--a branch of learning she had not known existed. He gave her small hope in her search for government land.

"The only government land left," he informed her, "is what is not good enough to take up for one reason or another. If it's good land down there where you're going, then the market is inaccessible. I know no railroads tap in there."

"Wait till we strike Pajaro Valley," he said, when they had passed Gilroy and were booming on toward Sargent's. "I'll show you what can be done with the soil--and not by cow-college graduates but by uneducated foreigners that the high and mighty American has always sneered at. I'll show you. It's one of the most wonderful demonstrations in the state."

At Sargent's he left them in the machine a few minutes while he transacted business.

"Whew! It beats hikin'," Billy said. "The day's young yet and when he drops us we'll be fresh for a few miles on our own. Just the same, when we get settled an' well off, I guess I'll stick by horses. They'll always be good enough for me."

"A machine's only good to get somewhere in a hurry," Saxon agreed. "Of course, if we got very, very rich--"

"Say, Saxon," Billy broke in, suddenly struck with an idea. "I've learned one thing. I ain't afraid any more of not gettin' work in the country. I was at first, but I didn't tell you. Just the same I was dead leery when we pulled out on the San Leandro pike. An' here, already, is two places open--Mrs. Mortimer's an' Benson's; an' steady jobs, too. Yep, a man can get work in the country."

"Ah," Saxon amended, with a proud little smile, "you haven't said it right. Any GOOD man can get work in the country. The big farmers don't hire men out of charity."

"Sure; they ain't in it for their health," he grinned.

"And they jump at you. That's because you are a good man. They can see it with half an eye. Why, Billy, take all the working tramps we've met on the road already. There wasn't one to compare with you. I looked them over. They're all weak--weak in their bodies, weak in their heads, weak both ways."

"Yep, they are a pretty measly bunch," Billy admitted modestly.

"It's the wrong time of the year to see Pajaro Valley," Benson said, when he again sat beside Saxon and Sargent's was a thing of the past. "Just the same, it's worth seeing any time. Think of it--twelve thousand acres of apples! Do you know what they call Pajaro Valley now? New Dalmatia. We're being squeezed out. We Yankees thought we were smart. Well, the Dalmatians came along and showed they were smarter. They were miserable immigrants--poorer than Job's turkey. First, they worked at day's labor in the fruit harvest. Next they began, in a small way, buying the apples on the trees. The more money they made the bigger became their deals. Pretty soon they were renting the orchards on long leases. And now, they are beginning to buy the land. It won't be long before they own the whole valley, and the last American will be gone.

"Oh, our smart Yankees! Why, those first ragged Slavs in their first little deals with us only made something like two and three thousand per cent. profits. And now they're satisfied to make a hundred per cent. It's a calamity if their profits sink to twenty-five or fifty per cent."

"It's like San Leandro," Saxon said. "The original owners of the land are about all gone already. It's intensive cultivation." She liked that phrase. "It isn't a ease of having a lot of acres, but of how much they can get out of one acre."

"Yes, and more than that," Benson answered, nodding his head emphatically. "Lots of them, like Luke Scurich, are in it on a large scale. Several of them are worth a quarter of a million already. I know ten of them who will average one hundred and fifty thousand each. They have a WAY with apples. It's almost a gift. They KNOW trees in much the same way your husband knows horses. Each tree is just as much an individual to them as a horse is to me. They know each tree, its whole history, everything that ever happened to it, its every idiosyncrasy. They have their fingers on its pulse. They can tell if it's feeling as well to-day as it felt yesterday. And if it isn't, they know why and proceed to remedy matters for it. They can look at a tree in bloom and tell how many boxes of apples it will pack, and not only that--they'll know. what the quality and grades of those apples are going to be. Why, they know each individual apple, and they pick it tenderly, with love, never hurting it, and pack it and ship it tenderly and with love, and when it arrives at market, it isn't bruised nor rotten, and it fetches top price.

"Yes, it's more than intensive. These Adriatic Slavs are long-headed in business. Not only can they grow apples, but they can sell apples. No market? What does it matter? Make a market. That's their way, while our kind let the crops rot knee-deep under the trees. Look at Peter Mengol. Every year he goes to England, and he takes a hundred carloads of yellow Newton pippins with him. Why, those Dalmatians are showing Pajaro apples on the South African market right now, and coining money out of it hand over fist."

"What do they do with all the money?" Saxon queried.

"Buy the Americans of Pajaro Valley out, of course, as they are already doing."

"And then?" she questioned.

Benson looked at her quickly.

"Then they'll start buying the Americans out of some other valley. And the Americans will spend the money and by the second generation start rotting in the cities, as you and your husband would have rotted if you hadn't got out."

Saxon could not repress a shudder.--As Mary had rotted, she thought; as Bert and all the rest had rotted; as Tom and all the rest were rotting.

"Oh, it's a great country," Benson was continuing. "But we're not a great people. Kipling is right. We're crowded out and sitting on the stoop. And the worst of it is there's no reason we shouldn't know better. We're teaching it in all our agricultural colleges, experiment stations, and demonstration trains. But the people won't take hold, and the immigrant, who has learned in a hard school, beats them out. Why, after I graduated, and before my father died--he was of the old school and laughed at what he called my theories--I traveled for a couple of years. I wanted to see how the old countries farmed. Oh, I saw.

"We'll soon enter the valley. You bet I saw. First thing, in Japan, the terraced hillsides. Take a hill so steep you couldn't drive a horse up it. No bother to them. They terraced it--a stone wall, and good masonry, six feet high, a level terrace six feet wide; up and up, walls and terraces, the same thing all the way, straight into the air, walls upon walls, terraces upon terraces, until I've seen ten-foot walls built to make three-foot terraces, and twenty-foot walls for four or five feet of soil they could grow things on. And that soil, packed up the mountainsides in baskets on their backs!

"Same thing everywhere I went, in Greece, in Ireland, in Dalmatia--I went there, too. They went around and gathered every bit of soil they could find, gleaned it and even stole it by the shovelful or handful, and carried it up the mountains on their backs and built farms--BUILT them, MADE them, on the naked rock. Why, in France, I've seen hill peasants mining their stream-beds for soil as our fathers mined the streams of California for gold. Only our gold's gone, and the peasants' soil remains, turning over and over, doing something, growing something, all the time. Now, I guess I'll hush."

"My God!" Billy muttered in awe-stricken tones. "Our folks never done that. No wonder they lost out."

"There's the valley now," Benson said. "Look at those trees! Look at those hillsides! That's New Dalmatia. Look at it! An apple paradise! Look at that soil! Look at the way it's worked!"

It was not a large valley that Saxon saw. But everywhere, across the flat-lands and up the low rolling hills, the industry of the Dalmatians was evident. As she looked she listened to Benson.

"Do you know what the old settlers did with this beautiful soil? Planted the flats in grain and pastured cattle on the hills. And now twelve thousand acres of it are in apples. It's a regular show place for the Eastern guests at Del Monte, who run out here in their machines to see the trees in bloom or fruit. Take Matteo Lettunich--he's one of the originals. Entered through Castle Garden and became a dish-washer. When he laid eyes on this valley he knew it was his Klondike. To-day he leases seven hundred acres and owns a hundred and thirty of his own--the finest orchard in the valley, and he packs from forty to fifty thousand boxes of export apples from it every year. And he won't let a soul but a Dalmatian pick a single apple of all those apples. One day, in a banter, I asked him what he'd sell his hundred and thirty acres for. He answered seriously. He told me what it had netted him, year by year, and struck an average. He told me to calculate the principal from that at six per cent. I did. It came to over three thousand dollars an acre."

"What are all the Chinks doin' in the Valley?" Billy asked. "Growin' apples, too?"

Benson shook his head.

"But that's another point where we Americans lose out. There isn't anything wasted in this valley, not a core nor a paring; and it isn't the Americans who do the saving. There are fifty-seven apple-evaporating furnaces, to say nothing of the apple canneries and cider and vinegar factories. And Mr. John Chinaman owns them. They ship fifteen thousand barrels of cider and vinegar each year."

"It was our folks that made this country," Billy reflected. "Fought for it, opened it up, did everything--"

"But develop it," Benson caught him up. "We did our best to destroy it, as we destroyed the soil of New England." He waved his hand, indicating some place beyond the hills. "Salinas lies over that way. If you went through there you'd think you were in Japan. And more than one fat little fruit valley in California has been taken over by the Japanese. Their method is somewhat different from the Dalmatians'. First they drift in fruit picking at day's wages. They give better satisfaction than the American fruit-pickers, too, and the Yankee grower is glad to get them. Next, as they get stronger, they form in Japanese unions and proceed to run the American labor out. Still the fruit-growers are satisfied. The next step is when the Japs won't pick. The American labor is gone. The fruit-grower is helpless. The crop perishes. Then in step the Jap labor bosses. They're the masters already. They contract for the crop. The fruit-growers are at their mercy, you see. Pretty soon the Japs are running the valley. The fruit-growers have become absentee landlords and are busy learning higher standards of living in the cities or making trips to Europe. Remains only one more step. The Japs buy them out. They've got to sell, for the Japs control the labor market and could bankrupt them at will."

"But if this goes on, what is left for us?" asked Saxon.

"What is happening. Those of us who haven't anything rot in the cities. Those of us who have land, sell it and go to the cities. Some become larger capitalists; some go into the professions; the rest spend the money and start rotting when it's gone, and if it lasts their life-time their children do the rotting for them."

Their long ride was soon over, and at parting Benson reminded Billy of the steady job that awaited him any time he gave the word.

"I guess we'll take a peep at that government land first," Billy answered. "Don't know what we'll settle down to, but there's one thing sure we won't tackle."

"What's that?"

"Start in apple-growin' at three thousan' dollars an acre."

Billy and Saxon, their packs upon the* backs, trudged along a hundred yards. He was the first to break silence.

"An' I tell you another thing, Saxon. We'll never be goin' around smellin' out an' swipin' bits of soil an' carryin' it up a hill in a basket. The United States is big yet. I don't care what Benson or any of 'em says, the United States ain't played out. There's millions of acres untouched an' waitin', an' it's up to us to find 'em."

"And I'll tell you one thing," Saxon said. "We're getting an education. Tom was raised on a ranch, yet he doesn't know right now as much about farming conditions as we do. And I'll tell you another thing. The more I think of it, the more it seems we are going to be disappointed about that government land."

"Ain't no use believin' what everybody tells you," he protested.

"Oh, it isn't that. It's what I think. I leave it to you. If this land around here is worth three thousand an acre, why is it that government land, if it's any good, is waiting there, only a short way off, to be taken for the asking."

Billy pondered this for a quarter of a mile, but could come to no conclusion. At last he cleared his throat and remarked:

"Well, we can wait till we see it first, can't we?"

"All right," Saxon agreed. "We'll wait till we see it."