The Moon is Down

John Steinbeck, 1942

"We want to get along as well as we can.  You see, sir, this is more like a business venture than anything else.  We need the coal mine here and the fishing.  We will try to get along with just as little friction as possible."


By ten forty-five it was all over.  The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war finished.  The invader had prepared for this campaign as carefully as he had for larger ones.  On this Sunday morning the postman and the policeman had gone fishing in the boat of Mr. Corell, the popular storekeeper.  He had lent them his trim sailboat for the day.  The postman and the policeman were several miles at sea when they saw the small, dark transport, loaded with soldiers, go quietly past them.  As officials of the town, this was definitely their business, and these two put about, but of course the battalion was in possession by the time they could make port.  The policeman and the postman could not even get into their own offices in the Town Hall, and when they insisted on their rights they were taken prisoners of war and locked up in the town jail.

The local troops, all twelve of them, had been away, too, on this Sunday morning, for Mr. Correll, the popular storekeeper, had donated lunch, targets, cartridges, and prizes for a shooting competition to take place six miles back in the hills, in a lovely glade Mr. Correll owned.  The local troops, big, loose-hung boys, heard the planes and in the distance saw the parachutes, and they came back to town at double-quick step.  When they arrived, the invader had flanked the road with machine guns.  The loose-hung soldiers, having very little experience in war and none at all in defeat, opened fire with their rifles.  The machine guns clattered for a moment and six of the soldiers became dead riddled bundles and three, half-dead riddled bundles, and three of the soldiers escaped into the hills with their rifles.

By ten-thirty the brass band of the invader was playing beautiful and sentimental music in the town square while the townsmen, their mouths a little open and their eyes astonished, stood about listening to the music and staring at the gray-hemeted men who carried sub-machine guns in their arms.

By ten-thirty-eight the riddled six were buried, the parachutes were in and there was a rapping on the door.  It seemed that some warm light went out of the room and a little grayness took its place.

Doctor Winter looked up at the clock and said, "They are early.  Let them in, Joseph."

Joseph went to the door and opened it.  A soldier stepped in, dressed in a long coat.  He was helmeted and he carried a sub-machine gun over his arm.  He glanced quickly about and then stepped aside.  Behind him an officer stood in the doorway.  The officer's uniform was common and it had rank showing only on the shoulders.

The officer stepped inside and looked at Doctor Winter.  He was rather like an overdrawn picture of an English gentleman.  He had a slouch, his face was red, his nose was long but rather pleasing; he seemed about as unhappy in his uniform as most British general officers are.  He stood in the doorway, staring at Doctor Winter, and he said, "Are you Mayor Orden, sir?"

Doctor  Winter smiled.  "No, no, I am not."

"You are an official, then?"

"No, I am the town doctor and I am a friend of the mayor."

The officer said, "Where is Mayor Orden?"

"Dressing to receive you.  You are the colonel?"

"No, I am not.  I am Captain Bentick."

He bowed and Doctor Winter returned the bow slightly.  Captain Bentick continued, as though a little embarrassed at what he had to say.  "Our military regulations, sir, prescribe that we search for weapons before the commanding officer enters a room.  We mean no disrespect, sir."  And he called over his shoulder, "Sergeant!"

The sergeant moved quickly to Joseph, ran his hands over his pockets, and said, "Nothing, sir."

Captain Bentick said to Doctor Winter, "I hope you will pardon us."  And the sergeant went to Doctor Winter and patted his pockets.  His hands stopped at the inside coat pocket.  He reached quickly in, brought out a little, flat, black leather case, and took it to Captain Bentick.  Captain Bentick opened the case and found there a few simple surgical instruments - two sclpels, some surgical needles, some clamps, a hypodermic needle.  He took the case again and handed it back to Doctor Winter.

Doctor Winter said, "You see, I am a country doctor.  One time I had to perform an appendectomy with a kitchen knife.  I have always carried these with me since then."

Captain Bentick said, "I believe there are some firearms here?"  He opened a little leather book that he carried in his pocket.

Doctor Winter said, "You are thorough."

"Yes, our local man has been working here for some time."

Doctor Winter said, "I don't suppose you  would tell who that man is?"

Bentick said, "His work is all done now.  I don't suppose there would be any harm in telling.  His name is Corell."

And Doctor Winter said in astonishment, "George Corell!  Why that seems impossible!  He's done a lot for this town.  Why, he even gave prizes for the shooting match in the hills this morning."  And as he said it his eyes began to understand what had happened and his mouth closed slowly, and he said, "I see; that is why he gave the shooting match.  Yes, I see.  But George Corell - that sounds impossible!"

The door to the left opened and Mayor Orden came in; he was digging in his right ear with his little finger.  He was dressed in his official morning coat, with his chain of office about his neck.  He had a large, white, spraying mustache and two smaller ones, one over each eye.  He white hair was so recently brushed that only now were the hairs struggling to be free, to stand up again.  He had been Mayor for so long that he was the Idea-Mayor in the town.  Even grown people when they saw the word "mayor," printed or written, saw Mayor Orden in their minds.  He and his office were one.  It had given him dignity and he had given it warmth.

From behind him Madame emerged, small and wrinkled and fierce.  She considered that she had created this man out of whole cloth, had thought him up, and she was sure that she could do a better job if she had it to do again.  Only once or twice in her life had she understood all of him, but the part of him which she knew, she knew intricately and well.  No little appetite or pain, no carelessness or meanness in him escaped her; no thought or dream or longing in him ever reached her.  And yet several times in her life she had seen the stars.

She stepped around the Mayor and she took his hand and pulled and pulled his finger out of his outraged ear and pushed his hand to his side, the way she would take a baby's thumb away from his mouth.

"I don't believe for a moment it hurts as much as you say," she said, and to Doctor Winter, "He won't let me fix his eyebrows."

"It hurts," said Mayor Orden.

"Very well, if you want to look like that there is nothing I can do about it."  She straightened his already straight tie.  "I'm glad you're here, Doctor," she said.  "How many do you think will come?"  And then she looked up and saw Captain Bentick.  "Oh, she said, "the colonel!"

Captain Bentick said, "No ma'am, I'm only preparing for the colonel.  Sergeant!"

The sergeant, who had been turning over pillows, looking behind pictures, came quickly to Mayor Orden and ran his hands over his pockets.

Captain Bentick said, "Excuse him, sir, it's regulations."

He glanced again at the little book in his hand.  "Your excellency, I think you may have firearms here.  Two items, I believe?"

Mayor Orden said, "Firearms?  Guns, you mean, I guess.  Yes, I have a shotgun and a sporting rifle."  He said deprecatingly, "You know, I don't hunt very much anymore.  I always think I am going to, and then the season opens and I don't get out.  I don't take the pleasure in it I used to."

Captain Bentick insisted, "Where are these guns, Your Excellency?"

The Mayor rubbed his cheek and tried to think.  Why, I think -"  He turned to madame.  "Weren't they in the back of that cabinet in the bedroom with the walking sticks?"

Madame said, "Yes, and every stitch of clothing in that cabinet smells of oil.  I wish you'd put them somewhere else."

Captain Bentick said, "Sergeant!" and the sergeant went quickly into thew bedroom.

"It's an unpleasant duty.  I'm sorry," said the captain.

The sergeant came back, carrying a double-barreled shotgun and a rather nice sporting rifle with a shoulder strap.  He leaned them against the side of the entrance door.

Captain Bentick said, "That's all, thank you, Your Excellency.  Thank you, Madame."

He turned and bowed slightly to Doctor Winter.  "Thank you, Doctor.  Colonel Lanser will be here directly.  Good morning!"

And he went out of the front door, followed by the sergeant with the two guns in one hand and trhe submachine gun over his right arm.  Madame said, "For a moment I thought he was the colonel.  He was a rather nice looking young man."

Doctor Winter said sardonically, "No, he was just protecting the colonel."
Madame was thinking, "I wonder how many officers will come?"  And she looked at Joseph and saw that he was shamelessly eavesdropping.  She shook her head at him and frowned and he went back to the little things he had been doing.  He began dusting all over again.

And Madame said, "How many do you think will come?"

Doctor Winter pulled out a chair outrageously and sat down again.  "I don't know," he said.

"Well" - she frowned at Joseph - "we've been talking it over.  Should we offer them tea or a glass of wine?  If we do, I don't know how many there will be, and if we don't, what are we to do?"

Doctor Winter shook his head and smiled.  "I don't know.  It's been so long since we conquered anybody or anybody conquered us.  I don't know what is proper."

Mayor Orden had his finger back in his itching ear.  He said, "Well, I don't think  we should.  I don't think  the people would like it.  I don't want to drink wine with them.  I don't know why."

Madame appealed to the doctor then.  "Didn't people in the old days - the leaders, that is - compliment each other and take a glass of wine?"

Doctor Winter nodded.  "Yes, indeed they did."  He shook his head slowly.  "Maybe that was different.  Kings and princes played at war the way the English played at hunting.  When the fox was dead they gathered at a hunt breakfast.  But Mayor Orden is probably right; the people might not like him to drink wine with the invader."

Madame said, "The people are down listening to the music.  Annie told me.  If they can do that, why can't we keep civilized procedure alive?"

The Mayor looked steadily at her for a moment and his voice was sharp.  "Madame, I think with your permission we will not have wine.  The people are confused now.  They have lived in peace so long that they do not quite believe in war.  They will learn and they will not be confused any more.  They elected me not to be confused.  Six town boys were murdered this morning.  I think we will have no hunt breakfast.  The people do not fight wars for sport."

Madame bowed slightly.  There had been a number of times in her life when her husband had become the Mayor.  She had learned not to confuse the Mayor with her husband.

Mayor Orden looked at his watch and when Joseph came in, carrying a small cup of black coffee, he took it absent-mindedly.  "Thank you," he said, and he sipped it.  "I should be clear," he said apologetically to Doctor Winter.  "I should be - do you know how many men the invader has?"

"Not many," the doctor said.  "I don't think over two hundred and fifty, but with all those little machine guns."

The Mayor sipped his coffee again and made a new start.  "What about the rest of the country?"

The doctor raised his shoulders and dropped them again.

"Was there no resistance anywhere?" the Mayor went on hopelessly.

And again the doctor raised his shoulders.  "I don't know.  The wires are cut or captured.  There is no news."

"And our boys, our soldiers?"

I don't know," said the doctor.

Joseph interrupted. "I heard - that is, Annie heard -"

"What, Joseph?"

"Six men were killed, sir, by the machine guns.  Annie heard three were wounded and captured."

"But there were twelve."

"Annie heard that three escaped."

The Mayor turned sharply.  "Which ones escaped?" he demanded.

"I don't know, sir.  Annie didn't hear."

Madame inspected a table for dust with her finger.  She said, "Joseph, when they come, stay close to your bell.  We might want some little thing.  And put on your other coat, Joseph, the one with the buttons."  She thought for a moment.  "And, Joseph, when you finish what you are told to do, go out of the room.  It makes a bad impression when you just stand around listening.  It's provincial, that's what it is."

"Yes, Madame," Joseph said.

"We won't serve wine, Joseph, but you might have some cigarettes handy in that little silver conserve box.  And don't strike the match to light the colonel's cigarette on your shoe.  Strike it on the matchbox."

"Yes, Madame."

Mayor Orden unbuttoned his coat and took out his watch and looked at it and put it back and buttoned his coat again, one button too high.  Madame went to him and rebuttoned it correctly.

Doctor Winter asked, "What time is it?"

"Five of eleven."

A time mided people," the doctor said.  "They will be on time.  Do you want me to go away?"

Mayor Orden looked startled.  "Go? No - no, stay."  He laughed softly.  "I'm a little afraid," he said apologetically.  "Well, not afraid, but I'm nervous."  And he said helplessly, "We have never been conquered, for a long time -"  He stopped to listen.  In the distance there was a sound of band music, a march.  They all turned in its direction and listened.
Madame said, "Here they come  I hope not too many try to crowd in here at once.  It isn't a very big room."

Doctor Winter said sardonically, "Madame would prefer the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles?"

She pinched her lips and looked about, already placing the conquerors with her mind.  "It is a very small room," she said.

The band music swelled a little and then grew fainter.  There came a gentle tap on the door.

"Now, who can that be?  Joseph, if it is anyone, tell him to come back later.  We are very busy."

The tap came again.  Joseph went to the door and opened it a crak and then a little wider.  A gray figure, helmeted and gantleted, appeared.

"Colonel Lanser's compliments," the head said.  "Colonel Lanser requests an audience with His Excellency."

Joseph opened the door wide.  The helmeted orderly stepped inside and looked quickly about the room and then stood aside.  "Colonel Lanser!"  he announced.

A second helmeted figure walked into the room, and his rank showed only on his shoulders.  Behind him came a rather short man in a black business suit.  The colonel was a middle-aged man, gray and hard and tired-looking.  He had the square shoulders of a soldier, but his eyes lacked the blank look of the ordinary soldier.  The little man beside him was bald and rosy-cheeked, with small black eyes and a sensual mouth.

Colonel Lanser took off his helmet.  With a quick bow, he said, "Your Excellency!"  He bowed to Madame.  "Madame!"  And he said, "Close the door, please, corporal."  Joseph quickly shut the door and stared in small triumph at the soldier.

Lanser looked questioningly at the doctor, and Mayor Orden said, "This is Doctor Winter."

"An official?" the colonel asked.

"A doctor, sir, and I might say, the local historian."

Lanser bowed slightly.  He said,  " Doctor Winter, I do not mean to be impertinent, but there will be a page in your history, perhaps -"

And Doctor Winter smiled.  "Many pages, perhaps."

Colonel Lanser turned slightly toward his companion.  "I think you know Mr. Corell," he said.

The Mayor said, "George Corell?  Of course I know him.  How are you George?"

Doctor Winter cut in sharply.  He said, very formally, "Your Excellency, our friend, George Corell, prepared the town for the invasion.  Our benefactor, George Corell, sent our soldiers into the hills.  Our dinner guest, George Corell, has made a list of every firearm in the town.  Our friend, George Corell!"

Corell said angrily, "I work for what I believe in!  That is an honorable thing."

Orden's mouth hung a little open.  He was bewildered.  He looked helplessly from Winter to Corell.  "This is isn't true, he said.  "George, this isn't true.  You have sat at my table, you have drunk port with me.  Why, you helped me plan the hospital!  This isn't true!"

He was looking very steadily at Corell and Corell was looking belligerently back at him.  There was a long silence.  Then the Mayor's face grew slowly tight and very formal and his whole body was rigid.  He turned to Colonel Lanser and he said, "I do not wish to speak in this gentleman's company."

Corell said, "I have a right to be here!  I am a soldier like the rest.  I simply do not wear a uniform."
The Mayor repeated, "I do not wish to speak in this gentleman's presence."

Colonel Lanser said, "Will you leave us now, Mr. Corell?"

And Corell said, "I have a right to be here!"

Lanser repeated sharply, "Will you leave us now, Mr. Corell?  Do you outrank me?"

"Well no, sir."

Please go, Mr. Corell," said Colonel Lanser.

And Corell looked at the Mayor angrily, and then he turned and went quickly out of the doorway.  Doctor Winter chuckled and said,  "That's good enough for a paragraph in my history."  Colonel Lanser glanced sharply at him but he did not speak.

Now the door opened, and straw-haired, red-eyed Annie put an angry face into the doorway.  "There's soldiers on the back porch, Madame," she said.  "Just standing there."

They won't come in," Colonel Lanser said.  It's only military procedure."

Madame said icily, "Annie, if you have something to say, let Joseph bring the message."

"I didn't know but they'd try to get in," Annie said.  "They smelled the coffee."


"Yes, Madame," and she withdrew.

The colonel said, "May I sit down?"  And he explained, "We have been a long time without sleep."

The Mayor seemed to start out of sleep himself.

"Yes," he said, "of course, sit down!"

The colonel looked at Madame and she seated herself and he settled tiredly into a chair..  Mayor Orden stood, still half-dreaming.

The colonel began, "We want to get along as well as we can.  You see, sir, this is more like a business venture than anything else.  We need the coal mine here and the fishing.  We will try to get along with just as little friction as possible."

The Mayor said, "I have had no news.  What about the rest of the country?"

"All taken," said the colonel.  "It was well planned."

"Was there no resistance anywhere?"

The colonel looked at him compassionately.  "I wish there had not been.  Yes, there was some resistance, but it only caused bloodshed.  We had planned very carefully."

Orden stuck to his point.  "But there was resistance?"

"Yes, but it was foolish to resist.  Just as here, it was destroyed instantly.  It was sad and foolish to resist."
Doctor Winter caught some of the Mayor's anxiousness about the point.  "Yes," he said, "foolish, but they resisted?"

And Colonel Lansser replied, "Only a few and they are gone.  The people as a whole are quiet."

Doctor Winter said, "The people don't know yet what has happened."

"They are discovering, said Lanser.  "They won't be foolish again."  He cleared his throat and his voice became brisk.  "Now, sir, I must get to business.  I'm really very tired, but before I can sleep I must make my arrangements."  He sat forward in his chair.  "I am more engineer than soldier.  This whole thing is more an engineering job than conquest.  The coal must come out of the ground and be shipped.  We have technicians, but the local people will continue to work the mine.  Is that clear?  We do not wish to be harsh."

And Orden said, "Yes, that's clear enough.  But suppose the people do not want to work the mine?"
The colonel said, "I hope they will want to, because they must.  We must have the coal."

"But if they don't?

"They must.  They are an orderly people.  They don't want trouble."  He waited for the Mayor's reply and none came.  "Is that not so, sir?" the colonel asked.

Mayor Orden twisted his chain.  "I don't know, sir.  They are orderly under their own government.  I don't know how they would be under yours.  It is untouched ground, you see.  We have built our government over four hundred years."

The colonel said, "We know that, and so we are going to keep your government.  You will still be the Mayor, you will give the orders, you will penalize and reward.  In that way, they will not give trouble."

Mayor Orden looked at Doctor Winter.  "What are you thinking about?"

"I don't know," said Doctor Winter.  "It would be interesting to see.  I'd expect trouble.  This might be a bitter people."

Mayor Orden said, "I don't know, either."  He turned to the colonel.  "Sir, I am of this people, and yet I don't know what they will do.  Perhaps you know.  Or maybe it would be different from anything you know or we know.  Some people accept appointed leaders and obey them.  But my people have elected me.  They made me and they can unmake me.  Perhaps they will if they think I have gone over to you.  I just don't know."

The colonel said, "You will be doing them a service if you keep them in order."

"A service?"

Yes, a service.  It is your duty to protect them from harm.  They will be in danger if they are rebellious.  We must get the coal, you see.  Our leaders do not tell us how; they order us to get it.  But you have your people to protect.  You must make them do the work and thus keep them safe."

Mayor Orden asked, "But suppose they don't want to be safe?"

"Then you must think for them."

Orden said, a little proudly, "My people don't like to have others think for them.  Maybe they are different from your people.  I am confused, but that I am sure of."

Now Joseph came in quickly and he stood leaning forward, bursting to speak.  Madame said, "What is it, Joseph?  Get the silver box of cigarettes."

"Pardon, Madame," said Joseph.  "Pardon, Your Excellency."

"What do you want?" the Mayor asked.

"It's Annie," he said.  "She's getting angry, sir."

"What is the matter," Madame demanded.

"Annie doesn't like the soldiers on the back porch."

The colonel asked, "Are they causing trouble?"

"They are looking through the door at Annie," said Joseph.  "She hates that."

The colonel said, "They are carrying out orders,  They are doing no harm."

"Well, Annie hates to be stared at, said Joseph.

Madame said, "Joseph, tell Annie to take care."

"Yes, Madame," and Joseph went out.

The colonel's eyes dropped with tiredness.  "There's another thing, Your Excellency," he said.  "Would it be possible for me and my staff to stay here?"

Mayor Orden thought a moment and he said, "It's a small place.  There are larger, more comfortable places."

Then Josep[h came back with the silver box of cigarettes and he opened it and held it in front of the colonel.  When the colonel took one, Joseph ostentatiously lighted it.  The colonel puffed deeply.

"It isn't that," he said.  "We have found that when a staff lives under the roof of the local authority, there is more tranquility."

"You mean," said Orden, the people feel there is collaboration involved."

"Yes, I suppose that is it."

Mayor Orden looked hopelessly at Doctor Winter, and Winter could offer him nothing but a wry smile.  Orden said softly, "Am I permitted to refuse this honor?"

"I'm sorry," the colonel said.  "No.  These are the orders of my leader."

"The people will not like it," Orden said.

"Always the people!  The people are disarmed.  The people have no say."

Mayor Orden shook his head.  "You do not know, sir."

From the doorway came the sound of an angry woman's voice, and a thump and a man's cry.  Joseph came scuttling through the door.  "She's thrown boiling water," Joseph said.  "She's very angry."
There were commands through the door and the clump of feet.  Colonel Lanser got up heavily.  "Have you no control over your servants sir?" he asked.

Mayor Orden smiled.  "Very little," he said.  "She's a good cook when she is happy.  Was anyone hurt?" he asked Joseph.

"The water was boiling, sir."

Colonel Lanser said, "We just want to do our job.  It's an engineering job. You will have to discipline your cook."

"I can't," said Orden.  "She'll quit."

"This is an emergency.  She can't quit."

"Then she'll throw water," said Doctor Winter.

The door opened and a soldier stood in the opening.  "Shall I arrest this woman, sir?"

"Was anyone hurt?" Lanser asked.

"Yes, sir, scalded, and one man bitten.  We are holding her, sir."

Lanser looked helpless, then he said, "Release her and go outside and off the porch."

"Yes, sir," and the door closed behind the soldier.

Lanser said, "I could have her shot; I could lock her up."

"Then we would have no cook," said Orden.

"Look," said the colonel.  "We are interested in getting along with your people."

Madame said, "Excuse me, sir, I will just go and see if the soldiers hurt Annie," and she went out.

Now Lanser stood up.  "I told you I'm very tired, sir.  I must have some sleep.  Please cooperate with us for the good of all."  When Mayor Orden made no reply, "For the good of all," Lanser repeated.  "Will you?"

Orden said, "This is a little town.  I don't know.  The people are confused and so am I."

"But will you try to cooperate?"

 Orden shook his head.  "I don't know.  When the town makes up its mind what it wants to do, I'll probably do that."

"But you are the authority."

Orden smiled.  "You won't believe this, but it is true: authority is in the town.  This means we cannot act as quickly as you can, but when a direction is set, we all act together.  I am confused.  I don't know yet."

Lanser said wearily, "I hope we can get along together.  It will be so much easier for everyone.  I hope we can trust you.  I don't like to think of the means the military will take to keep order."

Mayor Orden was silent.

"I hope we can trust you," Lanser repeated.

Orden put his finger in his ear and wiggled his hand.  "I don't know," he said.

Madame came through the door then.  "Annie is furious," she said.  "She is sitting next door, talking to Christine.  Christine is angry too."

"Christine is even a better cook than Annie," said the Mayor.