Valley Of The Moon

Book 3

Jack London

Chapter 16


With Possum on the seat beside her, Saxon drove into the town of Roseburg. She drove at a walk. At the back of the wagon were tied two heavy young work-horses. Behind, half a dozen more marched free, and the rear was brought up by Billy, astride a ninth horse. All these he shipped from Roseburg to the West Oakland stables.

It was in the Umpqua Valley that they heard the parable of the white sparrow. The farmer who told it was elderly and flourishing. His farm was a model of orderliness and system. Afterwards, Billy heard neighbors estimate his wealth at a quarter of a million.

"You've heard the story of the farmer and the white sparrow'" he asked Billy, at dinner.

"Never heard of a white sparrow even," Billy answered.

"I must say they're pretty rare," the farmer owned. "But here's the story: Once there was a farmer who wasn't making much of a success. Things just didn't seem to go right, till at last, one day, he heard about the wonderful white sparrow. It seems that the white sparrow comes out only just at daybreak with the first light of dawn, and that it brings all kinds of good luck to the farmer that is fortunate enough to catch it. Next morning our farmer was up at daybreak, and before, looking for it. And, do you know, he sought for it continually, for months and months, and never caught even a glimpse of it." Their host shook his head. "No; he never found it, but he found so many things about the farm needing attention, and which he attended to before breakfast, that before he knew it the farm was prospering, and it wasn't long before the mortgage was paid off and he was starting a bank account."

That afternoon, as they drove along, Billy was plunged in a deep reverie.

"Oh, I got the point all right," he said finally. "An' yet I ain't satisfied. Of course, they wasn't a white sparrow, but by getting up early an' attendin' to things he'd been slack about before--oh, I got it all right. An' yet, Saxon, if that's what a farmer's life means, I don't want to find no moon valley. Life ain't hard work. Daylight to dark, hard at it--might just as well be in the city. What's the difference? A1' the time you've got to yourself is for sleepin', an' when you're sleepin' you're not enjoyin' yourself. An' what's it matter where you sleep, you're deado. Might as well be dead an' done with it as work your head off that way. I'd sooner stick to the road, an' shoot a deer an' catch a trout once in a while, an' lie on my back in the shade, an' laugh with you an' have fun with you, an' . . . an' go swimmin'. An' I 'm a willin' worker, too. But they's all the difference in the world between a decent amount of work an' workin' your head off."

Saxon was in full accord. She looked back on her years of toil and contrasted them with the joyous life she had lived on the road.

"We don't want to be rich," she said. "Let them hunt their white sparrows in the Sacramento islands and the irrigation valleys. When we get up early in the valley of the moon, it will be to hear the birds sing and sing with them. And if we work hard at times, it will be only so that we'll have more time to play. And when you go swimming I 'm going with you. And we'll play so hard that we'll be glad to work for relaxation."

"I 'm gettin' plumb dried out," Billy announced, mopping the sweat from his sunburned forehead. "What d'ye say we head for the coast?"

West they turned, dropping down wild mountain gorges from the height of land of the interior valleys. So fearful was the road, that, on one stretch of seven miles, they passed ten broken-down automobiles. Billy would not force the mares and promptly camped beside a brawling stream from which he whipped two trout at a time. Here, Saxon caught her first big trout. She had been accustomed to landing them up to nine and ten inches, and the screech of the reel when the big one was hooked caused her to cry out in startled surprise. Billy came up the riffle to her and gave counsel. Several minutes later, cheeks flushed and eyes dancing with excitement, Saxon dragged the big fellow carefully from the water's edge into the dry sand. Here it threw the hook out and flopped tremendously until she fell upon it and captured it in her hands.

"Sixteen inches," Billy said, as she held it up proudly for inspection. "--Hey!--what are you goin' to do?"

"Wash off the sand, of course," was her answer.

"Better put it in the basket," he advised, then closed his mouth and grimly watched.

She stooped by the side of the stream and dipped in the splendid fish. It flopped, there was a convulsive movement on her part, and it was gone.

"Oh!" Saxon cried in chagrin.

"Them that finds should hold," quoth Billy.

"I don't care," she replied. "It was a bigger one than you ever caught anyway."

"Oh, I 'm not denyin' you're a peach at fishin'," he drawled. "You caught me, didn't you?"

"I don't know about that," she retorted. "Maybe it was like the man who was arrested for catching trout out of season. His defense was self defense."

Billy pondered, but did not see.

"The trout attacked him," she explained.

Billy grinned. Fifteen minutes later he said:

"You sure handed me a hot one."

The sky was overcast, and, as they drove along the bank of the Coquille River, the fog suddenly enveloped them.

"Whoof!" Billy exhaled joyfully. "Ain't it great! I can feel myself moppin' it up like a dry sponge. I never appreciated fog before."

Saxon held out her arms to receive it, making motions as if she were bathing in the gray mist.

"I never thought I'd grow tired of the sun," she said; "but we've had more than our share the last few weeks."

"Ever since we hit the Sacramento Valley," Billy affirmed. "Too much sun ain't good. I've worked that out. Sunshine is like liquor. Did you ever notice how good you felt when the sun come out after a week of cloudy weather, Well, that sunshine was just like a jolt of whiskey. Had the same effect. Made you feel good all over. Now, when you're swimmin', an' come out an' lay in the sun, how good you feel. That's because you're lappin' up a sun-cocktail. But suppose you lay there in the sand a couple of hours. You don't feel so good. You're so slow-movin' it takes you a long time to dress. You go home draggin' your legs an' feelin' rotten, with all the life sapped outa you. What's that? It's the katzenjammer. You've been soused to the ears in sunshine, like so much whiskey, an' now you're payin' for it. That's straight. That's why fog in the climate is best."

"Then we've been drunk for months, " Saxon said. "And now we're going to sober up."

"You bet. Why, Saxon, I can do two days' work in one in this climate.--Look at the mares. Blame me if they ain't perkin' up already."

Vainly Saxon's eye roved the pine forest in search of her beloved redwoods. They would find them down in California, they were told in the town of Bandon.

"Then we're too far north," said Saxon. "We must go south to find our valley of the moon."

And south they went, along roads that steadily grew worse, through the dairy country of Langlois and through thick pine forests to Port Orford, where Saxon picked jeweled agates on the beach while Billy caught enormous rockcod. No railroads had yet penetrated this wild region, and the way south grew wilder and wilder. At Gold Beach they encountered their old friend, the Rogue River, which they ferried across where it entered the Pacific. Still wilder became the country, still more terrible the road, still farther apart the isolated farms and clearings.

And here were neither Asiatics nor Europeans. The scant population consisted of the original settlers and their descendants. More than one old man or woman Saxon talked with, who could remember the trip across the Plains with the plodding oxen. West they had fared until the Pacific itself had stopped them, and here they had made their clearings, built their rude houses, and settled. In them Farthest West had been reached. Old customs had changed little. There were no railways. No automobile as yet had ventured their perilous roads. Eastward, between them and the populous interior valleys, lay the wilderness of the Coast Range--a game paradise, Billy heard; though he declared that the very road he traveled was game paradise enough for him. Had he not halted the horses, turned the reins over to Saxon, and shot an eight-pronged buck from the wagon-seat?

South of Gold Beach, climbing a narrow road through the virgin forest, they heard from far above the jingle of bells. A hundred yards farther on Billy found a place wide enough to turn out. Here he waited, while the merry bells, descending the mountain, rapidly came near. They heard the grind of brakes, the soft thud of horses' hoofs, once a sharp cry of the driver, and once a woman's laughter.

"Some driver, some driver," Billy muttered. "I take my hat off to 'm whoever he is, hittin' a pace like that on a road like this.--Listen to that! He's got powerful brakes.-- Zocie! That WAS a chuck-hole! Some springs, Saxon, some springs!"

Where the road zigzagged above, they glimpsed through the trees four sorrel horses trotting swiftly, and the flying wheels of a small, tan-painted trap.

At the bend of the road the leaders appeared again, swinging wide on the curve, the wheelers flashed into view, and the light two-seated rig; then the whole affair straightened out and thundered down upon them across a narrow plank-bridge. In the front seat were a man and woman; in the rear seat a Japanese was squeezed in among suit cases, rods, guns, saddles, and a typewriter case, while above him and all about him, fastened most intricately, sprouted a prodigious crop of deer- and elk-horns.

"It's Mr. and Mrs. Hastings," Saxon cried.

"Whoa!" Hastings yelled, putting on the brake and gathering his horses in to a stop alongside. Greetings flew back and forth, in which the Japanese, whom they had last seen on the Roamer at Rio Vista, gave and reeeived his share.

"Different from the Sacramento islands, eh?" Hastings said to Saxon. "Nothing but old American stock in these mountains. And they haven't changed any. As John Fox, Jr., said, they're our contemporary ancestors. Our old folks were just like them."

Mr. and Mrs. Hastings, between them, told of their long drive. They were out two months then, and intended to continue north through Oregon and Washington to the Canadian boundary.

"Then we'll ship our horses and come home by train," concluded Hastings.

"But the way you drive you oughta be a whole lot further along than this," Billy criticized.

"But we keep stopping off everywhere," Mrs. Hastings explained.

"We went in to the Hoopa Reservation," said Mr. Elastings, " and canoed down the Trinity and Klamath Rivers to the ocean. And just now we've come out from two weeks in the real wilds of Curry County."

"You must go in," Hastings advised. "You'll get to Mountain Ranch to-night. And you can turn in from there. No roads, though. You'll have to pack your horses. But it's full of game. I shot five mountain lions and two bear, to say nothing of deer. And there are small herds of elk, too.--No; I didn't shoot any. They're protected. These horns I got from the old hunters. I'll tell you all about it."

And while the men talked, Saxon and Mrs. Hastings were not idle.

"Found your valley of the moon yet?" the writer's wife asked, as they were saying good-by.

Saxon shook her head.

"You will find it if you go far enough; and be sure you go as far as Sonoma Valley and our ranch. Then, if you haven't found it yet, we'll see what we can do."

Three weeks later, with a bigger record of mountain lions and bear than Hastings' to his credit, Billy emerged from Curry County and drove across the line into California. At once Saxon found herself among the redwoods. But they were redwoods unbelievable. Billy stopped the wagon, got out, and paced around one.

"Forty-five feet," he announced. "That's fifteen in diameter. And they're all like it only bigger. No; there's a runt. It's only about nine feet through. An' they're hundreds of feet tall."

"When I die, Billy, you must bury me in a redwood grove," Saxon adjured.

"I ain't goin' to let you die before I do," he assured her. "An' then we'll leave it in our wills for us both to be buried that way."