The Moon Men

Chapter IV

Brother General Or-Tis

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE NEXT DAY I set out as usual to peddle goat’s milk. We were permitted to trade in perishable things on other than market days, though we had to make a strict accounting of all such bartering. I usually left Mollie until the last as Jim had a deep, cold well on his place where I liked to quench my thirst after my morning trip; but that day Mollie got her milk fresh and first and early—about half an hour earlier than I was wont to start out.

When I knocked and she bid me enter she looked surprised at first, for just an instant, and then a strange expression came into her eyes—half amusement, half pity—and she rose and went into the kitchen for the milk jar. I saw her wipe the corners of her eyes with the back of one finger; but I did not understand why—not then.

The stranger girl had been in the kitchen helping Mollie and the latter must have told her I was there, for she came right in and greeted me. It was the first good look I had had of her, for candle light is not brilliant at best. If I had been enthralled the evening before there is no word in my limited vocabulary to express the effect she had on me by daylight. She—but it is useless. I cannot describe her!

It took Mollie a long time to find the milk jar—bless her!—though it seemed short enough to me, and while she was finding it the stranger girl and I were getting acquainted. First she asked after father and mother and then she asked our names. When I told her mine she repeated it several times. “Julian 9th,” she said; “Julian 9th!” and then she smiled up at me. “It is a nice name, I like it.”

“And what is your name?” I asked.

“Juana,” she said—she pronounced it Whanna; “Juana St. John.”

“I am glad,” I said, “that you like my name; but I like yours better.” It was a very foolish speech and it made me feel silly; but she did not seem to think it foolish, or if she did she was too nice to let me know it. I have known many girls; but mostly they were homely and stupid. The pretty girls were seldom allowed in the market place—that is, the pretty girls of our class. The Kalkars permitted their girls to go abroad, for they did not care who got them, as long as some one got them; but American fathers and mothers would rather slay their girls than send them to the market place, and the former often was done. The Kalkar girls, even those born of American mothers, were coarse and brutal in appearance—low-browed, vulgar, bovine. No stock can be improved, or even kept to its normal plane, unless high grade males are used.

This girl was so entirely different from any other that I had ever seen that I marvelled that such a glorious creature could exist. I wanted to know all about her. It seemed to me that in some way I had been robbed of my right for many years that she should have lived and breathed and talked and gone her way without my ever knowing it, or her. I wanted to make up for lost time and so I asked her many questions.

She told me that she had been born and raised in the Teivos just west of Chicago, which extended along the Desplaines River and embraced a considerable area of unpopulated country and scattered farms.

“My father’s home is in a district called Oak Park,” she said, “and our house was one of the few that remained from ancient times. It was of solid concrete and stood upon the corner of two roads—once it must have been a very beautiful place, and even time and war have been unable entirely to erase its charm. Three great poplar trees rose to the north of it beside the ruins of what my father said was once a place where motor cars were kept by the long dead owner. To the south of the house were many roses, growing wild and luxuriant, while the concrete walls, from which the plaster had fallen in great patches, were almost entirely concealed by the clinging ivy that reached to the very eaves. “It was my home and so I loved it; but now it is lost to me forever. The Kash Guard and the tax collector came seldom—we were too far from the station and the market place, which lay southwest of us, on Salt Creek. But recently the new Jemadar, Jarth, appointed another commandant and a new tax collector. They did not like the station at Salt Creek and so they sought for a better location and after inspecting the district they chose Oak Park, and my father’s home being the most comfortable and substantial, they ordered him to sell it to the Twenty-Four.

“You know what that means. They appraised it at a high figure—fifty thousand dollars it was, and paid him in paper money. There was nothing to do and so we prepared to move. Whenever they had come to look at the house my mother had hidden me in a little cubby—hole on the landing between the second and third floors, placing a pile of rubbish in front of me, but the day that we were leaving to take a place on the banks of the Desplaines, where father thought that we might live without being disturbed, the new commandant came unexpectedly and saw me.

“‘How old is the girl?’ he asked my mother.

“‘Fifteen,’ she replied sullenly.

“‘You lie, you sow!’ he cried angrily; ‘she is eighteen if she is a day!’

“Father was standing there beside us and when the commandant spoke as he did to mother I saw father go very white and then, without a word, he hurled himself upon the swine and before the Kash Guard who accompanied him could prevent, father had almost killed the commandant with his bare hands.

“You know what happened—I do not need to tell you. They killed my father before my eyes. Then the commandant offered my mother to one of the Kash Guard, but she snatched his bayonet from his belt and ran it through her heart before they could prevent her. I tried to follow her example, but they seized me.

“I was carried to my own bedroom on the second floor of my father’s house and locked there. The commandant said that he would come and see me in the evening and that everything would be all right with me. I knew what he meant and I made up my mind that he would find me dead.

“My heart was breaking for the loss of my father and mother, and yet the desire to live was strong within me. I did not want to die—something urged me to live, and in addition there was the teaching of my father and mother. They were both from Quaker stock and very religious. They educated me to fear God and to do no wrong by thought or violence to another, and yet I had seen my father attempt to kill a man, and I had seen my mother slay herself. My world was all upset. I was almost crazed by grief and fear and uncertainty as to what was right for me to do.

“And then darkness came and I heard someone ascending the stairway. The windows of the second story are too far from the ground for one to risk a leap; but the ivy is old and strong. The commandant was not sufficiently familiar with the place to have taken the ivy into consideration and before the footsteps reached my door I had swung out of the window and, clinging to the ivy, made my way to the ground down the rough and strong old stem.

“That was three days ago. I hid and wandered—I did not know in what direction I went. Once an old woman took me in overnight and fed me and gave me food to carry for the next day. I think that I must have been almost mad, for mostly the happenings of the past three days are only indistinct and jumbled fragments of memory in my mind. And then the hellhounds! Oh, how frightened I was! And then—you!”

I don’t know what there was about the way she said it; but it seemed to me as though it meant a great deal more than she knew herself. Almost like a prayer of thanksgiving, it was, that she had at last found a safe haven of refuge—safe and permanent. Anyway, I liked the idea.

And then Mollie came in, and as I was leaving she asked me if I would come that evening, and Juana cried: “Oh, yes, do!” and I said that I would.

When I had finished delivering the goats’ milk I started for home, and on the way I met old Moses Samuels, the Jew. He made his living, and a scant one it was, by tanning hides. He was a most excellent tanner, but as nearly every one else knew how to tan there was not many customers; but some of the Kalkars used to bring him hides to tan. They knew nothing of how to do any useful thing, for they were descended from a long line of the most ignorant and illiterate people in the moon and the moment they obtained a little power they would not even work at what small trades their fathers once had learned, so that after a generation or two they were able to live only off the labor of others. They created nothing, they produced nothing, they became the most burdensome class of parasites the world ever has endured.

The rich nonproducers of olden times were a blessing to the world by comparison with these, for the former at least had intelligence and imagination—they could direct others and they could transmit to their offspring the qualities of mind that are essential to any culture, progress or happiness that the world ever may hope to attain.

So the Kalkars patronized Samuels for their tanned hides, and if they had paid him for them the old Jew would have waxed rich; but they either did not pay him at all or else mostly in paper money. That did not even burn well, as Samuels used to say.

“Good morning, Julian,” he called as we met. “I shall be needing some hides soon, for the new commander of the Kash Guard has heard of old Samuels and has sent for me and ordered five hides tanned the finest that can be. Have you seen this Or-tis, Julian?” He lowered his voice.

I shook my head negatively.

“Heaven help us!” whispered the old man. “Heaven help us!”

“Is he as bad as that, Moses?” I asked.

The old man wrung his hands. “Bad times are ahead, my son,” he said. “Old Samuels knows his kind. He is not lazy like the last one and he is more cruel and more lustful; but about the hides. I have not paid you for the last—they paid me in paper money; but that I would not offer to a friend in payment for a last year’s bird’s nest. May be that I shall not be able to pay you for these new hides for a long time it depends upon how Or-tis pays me. Sometimes they are liberal—as they can afford to be with the property of others; but if he is a half-breed, as I hear he is, he will hate a Jew, and I shall get nothing. However, if he is pure Kalkar it may be different—the pure Kalkars do not hate a Jew more than they hate other Earthmen, though there is one Jew who hates a Kalkar.”

That night we had our first introduction to Or-tis. He came in person; but I will tell how it all happened. After supper I went over to Jim’s. Juana was standing in the little doorway as I came up the path. She looked rested now and almost happy. The hunted expression had left her eyes and she smiled as I approached. It was almost dusk, for the spring evenings were still short; but the air was balmy, and so we stood on the outside talking.

I recited the little gossip of our district that I had picked up during my day’s work—the Twenty-Four had raised the local tax on farm products—Andrew Wright’s woman had given birth to twins, a boy and a girl; but the girl had died; no need of comment here as most girl babies die—Soor had said that he would tax this district until we all died of starvation—pleasant fellow, Soor—one of the Kash Guard had taken Nellie Levy—Hoffmeyer had said that next winter we would have to pay more for coal—Dennis Corrigan had been sent to the mines for ten years because he had been caught trading at night. It was all alike, this gossip of ours—all sordid, or sad, or tragic; but then life was a tragedy with us.

“How stupid of them to raise the tax on farm products,” remarked Juana; “their fathers stamped out manufactures and commerce and now they will stamp out what little agriculture is left.”

“The sooner they do it the better it will be for the world,” I replied. “When they have starved all the farmers to death they themselves will starve.”

And then, suddenly, she reverted to Dennis Corrigan. “It would have been kinder to have killed him,” she said.

“That is why they did not do so,” I replied.

“Do you ever trade at night?” she asked, and then before I could reply: “Do not tell me. I should not have asked; but I hope that you do not—it is so dangerous; nearly always are they caught.”

I laughed. “Not nearly always,” I said, “or most of us would have been in the mines long since. We could not live otherwise. The accursed income tax is unfair—it has always been unfair, for it falls hardest on those least able to support it.”

“But the mines are so terrible!” she exclaimed, shuddering.

“Yes,” I replied, “the mines are terrible. I would rather die than go there.”

After a while I took Juana over to our house to see my mother. She liked the house very much. My father’s father built it with his own hands. It is constructed of stone taken from the ruins of the old city—stone and brick. Father says that he thinks the bricks are from an old pavement, as we still see patches of these ancient bricks in various localities. Nearly all our houses are of this construction, for timber is scarce. The foundation walls and above the ground for about three feet are of rough stones of various sizes and above this are the bricks. The stones are laid so that some project farther than others and the effect is odd and rather nice. The eaves are low and over—hanging and the roof is thatched. It is a nice house and mother keeps it scrupulously clean within.

We had been talking for perhaps an hour, sitting in our living room—father, mother, Juana, and I—when the door was suddenly thrust open without warning and we looked up to see a man in the uniform of a Kash Guard confronting us. Behind him were others. We all rose and stood in silence. Two entered and took posts on either side of the doorway and then a third came in—a tall, dark man in the uniform of a commander, and we knew at once that it was Or-tis. At his heels were six more.

Or-tis looked at each of us and then, singling out father, he said: “You are Brother Julian 8th.”

Father nodded. Or-tis eyed him for a moment and then his gaze wandered to mother and Juana, and I saw a new expression lessen the fierce scowl that had clouded his face from the moment of his entry. He was a large man; but not of the heavy type which is most common among his class. His nose was thin and rather fine, his eyes cold, gray, and piercing. He was very different from the fat swine that had preceded him—very different and more dangerous; even I could see that. I could see a thin, cruel upper lip and a full and sensuous lower. If the other had been a pig this one was a wolf and he had the nervous restlessness of the wolf—and the vitality to carry out any wolfish designs he might entertain.

This visit to our home was typical of the man. The former commander had never accompanied his men on any excursion of the sort; but the teivos was to see much of Or-tis. He trusted no one—he must see to everything himself and he was not lazy, which was bad for us.

“So you are Brother Julian 8th!” he repeated. “I do not have good reports of you. I have come for two reasons to-night. One is to warn you that the Kash Guard is commanded by a different sort of man from him whom I relieved. I will stand no trifling and no treason. There must be unquestioned loyalty to the Jemadar at Washington—every national and local law will be enforced. Trouble makers and traitors will get short shrift. A manifesto will be read in each market place Saturday—a manifesto that I have just received from Washington. Our great Jemadar has conferred greater powers upon the commanders of the Kash Guard. You will come to me with all your grievances. Where justice miscarries I shall be the court of last resort. The judgment of any court may be appealed to me.

“On the other hand, let wrongdoers beware as under the new law any cause may be tried before a summary military court over which the commander of the Kash Guard must preside.”

We saw what it meant—it didn’t require much intelligence to see the infamy and horror of it. It meant nothing more nor less than that our lives and liberty were in the hands of a single man and that Jarth had struck the greatest blow of all at human happiness in a land where we had thought such a state no longer existed—taken from us the last mocking remnant of our already lost freedom, that he might build for his own aggrandizement a powerful political military machine.

“And,” continued Or-tis, “I have come for another reason—a reason that looks bad for you, Brother Julian; but we shall see what we shall see,” and turning to the men behind him he issued a curt command: “Search the place!” That was all; but I saw, in memory, another man standing in this same living room—a man from beneath whose coat fell an empty sack when he raised an arm.

For an hour, they searched that little three room house. For an hour they tumbled our few belongings over and over; but mostly they searched the living room and especially about the fireplace did they hunt for a hidden nook. A dozen times my heart stood still as I saw them feeling of the stones above the mantel.

We all knew what they sought—all but Juana—and we knew what it would mean if— they found it. Death for father and for me, too, perhaps, and worse for mother and the girl. And to think that Johansen had done this awful thing to curry favor for himself with the new commander! I knew it was he—I knew it as surely as though Or-tis had told me. To curry favor with the commander. I thought that that was the reason then. God, had I but known his real reason!

And while they searched, Or-tis talked with us. Mostly he talked with mother and Juana. I hated the way that he looked at them, especially Juana; but his words were fair enough. He seemed to be trying to get an expression from them of their political ideas—he, who was of the class that had ruthlessly stolen from women the recognition they had won in the twentieth century after ages of slavery and trials, attempting to sound them on their political faiths! They had none—no women have any—they only know that they hate and loathe the oppressors who have hurled them back into virtual slavery. That is their politics; that is their religion. Hate. But then the world is all hate—hate and misery.

Father says that it was not always so; but that once the world was happy—at least, our part of the world; but the people didn’t know when they were well off. They came from all other parts of the world to share our happiness and when they had won it they sought to overthrow it, and when the Kalkars came they helped them.

Well, they searched for an hour and found nothing; but I knew that Or-tis was not satisfied that the thing he sought was not there and toward the end of the search I could see that he was losing patience. He took direct charge at last and then when they had no better success under his direction he became very angry.

“Yankee swine!” he cried suddenly, turning upon father. “You will find that you cannot fool a descendant of the great Jemadar Orthis as you have fooled the others—not for long. I have a nose for traitors—I can smell a Yank farther than most men can see one. Take a warning, take a warning to your kind. It will be death or the mines for every traitor in the teivos.”

He stood then in silence for a moment, glaring at father and then his gaze moved to Juana.

“Who are you, girl?” he demanded. “Where do you live and what do you do that adds to the prosperity of the community?”

“Adds to the prosperity of the community!” It was a phrase often on their lips and it was always directed at us—a meaningless phrase, as there was no prosperity. We supported the Kalkars and that was their idea of prosperity. I suppose ours was to get barely sufficient to sustain life and strength to enable us to continue slaving for them.

“I live with Mollie Sheehan,” replied Juana, “and help her care for the chickens and the little pigs; also I help with the housework.”

“H-m!” ejaculated Or-tis. “Housework! That is good—I shall be needing some one to keep my quarters tidy. How about it, my girl? It will be easy work, and I will pay you well—no pigs or chickens to slave for. Eh?”

“But I love the little pigs and chickens,” she pleaded, “and I am happy with Mollie—I do not wish to change.”

“Do not wish to change, eh?” he mimicked her. She had drawn farther behind me now, as though for protection, and closer—I could feel her body touching mine. “Mollie can doubtless take care of her own pigs and chickens without help. If she has so many she cannot do it alone, then she has too many, and we will see why it is that she is more prosperous than the rest of us—probably she should pay a larger income tax—we shall see.”

“Oh, no!” cried Juana, frightened now on Mollie’s account. “Please, she has only a few, scarcely enough that she and her man may live after the taxes are paid.”

“Then she does not need you to help her,” said Or-tis with finality, a nasty sneer upon his lip. “You will come and work for me, girl!”

And then Juana surprised me—she surprised us all, and particularly Or-tis. Before she had been rather pleading and seemingly a little frightened; but now she drew herself to her full height and with her chin in air looked Or-tis straight in the eye.

“I will not come,” she said, haughtily; “I do not wish to.” That was all.

Or-tis looked surprised; his soldiers, shocked. For a moment no one spoke. I glanced at mother. She was not trembling as I had expected. Her head was up, too, and she was openly looking her scorn of the Kalkar. Father stood as he usually did before them, with his head bowed; but I saw that he was watching Or-tis out of the corners of his eyes and that his fingers were moving as might the fingers of hands fixed upon a hated throat.

“You will come,” said Or-tis, a little red in the face now at this defiance. “There are ways,” and he looked straight at me—and then he turned upon his heel and, followed by his Kash Guard, left the house.

The Moon Men - Contents    |     Chapter V - The Fight on Market Day

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