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The Valley of the Moon (Book III Chapter15)

2006-08-22 19:24

  Book III Chapter XV

  Ever north, through a fat and flourishing rejuvenated land, stopping at the towns of Willows, Red Bluff and Redding, crossing the counties of Colusa, Glenn, Tehama, and Shasta, went the spruce wagon drawn by the dappled chestnuts with cream-colored manes and tails. Billy picked up only three horses for shipment, although he visited many farms; and Saxon talked with the women while he looked over the stock with the men. And Saxon grew the more convinced that the valley she sought lay not there.

  At Redding they crossed the Sacramento on a cable ferry, and made a day's scorching traverse through rol}ing foot-hills and flat tablelands. The heat grew more insupportable, and the trees and shrubs were blasted and dead. Then they came again to the Sacramento, where the great smelters of Kennett explained the destruction of the vegetation.

  They climbed out of the smelting town, where eyrie houses perched insecurely on a precipitous landscape. It was a broad, well-engineered road that took them up a grade miles long and plunged down into the Canyon of the Sacramento. The road, rock-surfaced and easy-graded, hewn out of the canyon wall, grew so narrow that Billy worried for fear of meeting opposite-bound teams. Far below, the river frothed and flowed over pebbly shallows, or broke tumultuously over boulders and cascades, in its race for the great valley they had left behind.

  Sometimes, on the wider stretches of road, Saxon drove and Billy walked to lighten the load. She insisted on taking her turns at walking, and when he breathed the panting mares on the steep, and Saxon stood by their heads caressing them and cheering them, Billy's joy was too deep for any turn of speech as he gazed at his beautiful horses and his glowing girl, trim and colorful in her golden brown corduroy, the brown corduroy calves swelling sweetly under the abbreviated slim skirt. And when her answering look of happiness came to him——a sudden dimness in her straight gray eyes——he was overmastered by the knowledge that he must say something or burst.

  “O. you kid!” he cried.

  And with radiant face she answered, “O, you kid!”

  They camped one night in a deep dent in the canyon, where was snuggled a box-factory village, and where a toothless ancient, gazing with faded eyes at their traveling outfit, asked: “Be you showin'?”

  They passed Castle Crags, mighty-bastioned and glowing red against the palpitating blue sky. They caught their first glimpse of Mt. Shasta, a rose-tinted snow-peak rising, a sunset dream, between and beyond green interlacing walls of canyon——a landmark destined to be with them for many days. At unexpected turns, after mounting some steep grade, Shasta would appear again, still distant, now showing two peaks and glacial fields of shimmering white. Miles and miles and days and days they climbed, with Shasta ever developing new forms and phases in her summer snows.

  “A moving picture in the sky,” said Billy at last.

  “Oh,——it is all so beautiful,” sighed Saxon. “But there are no moon-valleys here.”

  They encountered a plague of butterflies, and for days drove through untold millions of the fluttering beauties that covered the road with uniform velvet-brown. And ever the road seemed to rise under the noses of the snorting mares, filling the air with noiseless flight, drifting down the breeze in clouds of brown and yellow soft-flaked as snow, and piling in mounds against the fences, ever driven to float helplessly on the irrigation ditches along the roadside. Hazel and Hattie soon grew used to them though Possum never ceased being made frantic.

  “Huh!——who ever heard of butterfly-broke horses?” Billy chaffed. “That's worth fifty bucks more on their price.”

  “Wait till you get across the Oregon line into the Rogue River Valley,” they were told. “There's God's Paradise ——climate, scenery, and fruit-farming; fruit ranches that yield two hundred per cent. on a valuation of five hundred dollars an acre.”

  “Gee!” Billy said, when he had driven on out of hearing; “that's too rich for our digestion.”

  And Saxon said, “I don't know about apples in the valley of the moon, but I do know that the yield is ten thousand per cent. of happiness on a valuation of one Billy, one Saxon, a Hazel, a Hattie, and a Possum.”

  Through Siskiyou County and across high mountains, they came to Ashland and Medford and camped beside the wild Rogue River.

  “This is wonderful and glorious,” pronounced Saxon; “but it is not the valley of the moon.”

  “Nope, it ain't the valley of the moon,” agreed Billy, and he said it on the evening of the day he hooked a monster steelhead, standing to his neck in the ice-cold water of the Rogue and fighting for forty minutes, with screaming reel, ere he drew his finny prize to the bank and with the scalp-yell of a Comanche jumped and clutched it by the gills.

  “'Them that looks finds,'” predicted Saxon, as they drew north out of Grant's Pass, and held north across the mountains and fruitful Oregon valleys.

  One day, in camp by the Umpqua River, Billy bent over to begin skinning the first deer he had ever shot. He raised his eyes to Saxon and remarked:

  “If I didn't know California, I guess Oregon'd suit me from the ground up.”

  In the evening, replete with deer meat, resting on his elbow and smoking his after-supper cigarette, he said:

  “Maybe they ain't no valley of the moon. An' if they ain't, what of it? We could keep on this way forever. I don't ask nothing better.”

  “There is a valley of the moon,” Saxon answered soberly. “And we are going to find it. We've got to. Why Billy, it would never do, never to settle down. There would be no little Hazels and little Hatties, nor little . . . Billies——”

  “Nor little Saxons,” Billy interjected.

  “Nor little Possums,” she hurried on, nodding her head and reaching out a caressing hand to where the fox terrier was ecstatically gnawing a deer-rib. A vicious snarl and a wicked snap that barely missed her fingers were her reward.

  “Possum!” she cried in sharp reproof, again extending her hand.

  “Don't, ” Billy warned. “He can't help it, and he's likely to get you next time.”

  Even more compelling was the menacing threat that Possum growled, his jaws close-guarding the bone, eyes blazing insanely, the hair rising stiffly on his neck.

  “It's a good dog that sticks up for its bone,” Billy championed. “I wouldn't care to own one that didn't.”

  “But it's my Possum,” Saxon protested. “And he loves me. Besides, he must love me more than an old bone. And he must mind me.——Here, you, Possum, give me that bone! Give me that bone, sir!”

  Her hand went out gingerly, and the growl rose in volume and key till it culminated in a snap.

  “I tell you it's instinct,” Billy repeated. “He does love you, but he just can't help doin' it. ”

  “He's got a right to defend his bones from strangers but not from his mother,” Saxon argued. “I shall make him give up that bone to me.”

  “Fox terriers is awful highstrung, Saxon. You'll likely get him hysterical.”

  But she was obstinately set in her purpose. She picked up a short stick of firewood.

  “Now, sir, give me that bone.”

  She threatened with the stick, and the dog's growling became ferocious. Again he snapped, then crouched back over his bone. Saxon raised the stick as if to strike him, and he suddenly abandoned the bone, rolled over on his back at her feet, four legs in the air, his ears lying meekly back, his eyes swimming and eloquent with submission and appeal.

  “My God!” Billy breathed in solemn awe. “Look at it!——presenting his solar plexus to you, his vitals an' his life, all defense down, as much as sayin': 'Here I am” Stamp on me. Kick the life outa me. I love you, I am your slave, but I just can't help defendin' my bone. My instinct's stronger'n me. Kill me, but I can't help it.“

  Saxon was melted. Tears were in her eyes as she stooped and gathered the mite of an animal in her arms. Possum was in a frenzy of agitation, whining, trembling, writhing, twisting, licking her face, all for forgiveness.

  “Heart of gold with a rose in his mouth,” Saxon crooned, burying her face in the soft and quivering bundle of sensibilities. “Mother is sorry. She'll never bother you again that way. There, there, little love. See? There's your bone. Take it.”

  She put him down, but he hesitated between her and the bone, patently looking to her for surety of permission, yet continuing to tremble in the terrible struggle between duty and desire that seemed tearing him asunder. Not until she repeated that it was all right and nodded her head consentingly did he go to the bone. And once, a minute later, he raised his head with a sudden startle and gazed inquiringly at her. She nodded and smiled, and Possum, with a happy sigh of satisfaction, dropped his head down to the precious deer-rib.

  “That Mercedes was right when she said men fought over jobs like dogs over bones,” Billy enunciated slowly. “It's instinct. Why, I couldn't no more help reaching my fist to the point of a scab's jaw than could Possum from snappin' at you. They's no explainin' it. What a man has to he has to. The fact that he does a thing shows he had to do it whether he can explain it or not. You remember Hall couldn't explain why he stuck that stick between Timothy McManus's legs in the foot race. What a man has to, he has to. That's all I know about it. I never had no earthly reason to beat up that lodger we had, Jimmy Harmon. He was a good guy, square an' all right. But I just had to, with the strike goin' to smash, an' everything so bitter inside me that I could taste it. I never told you, but I saw 'm once after I got out——when my arms was mendin'. I went down to the roundhouse an' waited for 'm to come in off a run, an' apologized to 'm. Now why did I apologize? I don't know, except for the same reason I punched 'm——I just had to.”

  And so Billy expounded the why of like in terms of realism, in the camp by the Umpqua River, while Possum expounded it, in similar terms of fang and appetite, on the rib of deer.

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