The Moon is Down

John Steinbeck, 1942

The patrol talked as they walked, and they talked of things that they longed for - of meat and hot soup and the richness of butter, of the prettiness of girls and of their smiles and of their lips and their eyes.  They talked of these things and sometimes of their hatred of what they were doing and of their loneliness.

The Moon is Down

John Steinbeck, 1942


There was a little street not far from the town square where small peaked roofs and little shops were mixed up together.  The snow was beaten down in the walks and in the street, but it pilled high on the fences and it puffed on the roof peaks.  It drifted against the shuttered windows of the little houses.  And into the yards paths were shoveled.  The dark was dark and cold and no light shone from the windows to attract the bombers.  And no one walked in the streets, for the curfew was strict.  The houses were dark lumps against the snow.  Every little while the patrol of six men walked down the street, peering about, and each man carried a long flashlight.  The hushed tramp of their feet sounded in the street, the squeaks of their boots on the packed snow.  They were muffled figures deep in thick coats; under their helmets were knitted caps which came down over their ears and covered their chins and mouths.  A little snow fell, only a little, like rice.

The patrol talked as they walked, and they talked of things that they longed for - of meat and hot soup and the richness of butter, of the prettiness of girls and of their smiles and of their lips and their eyes.  They talked of these things and sometimes of their hatred of what they were doing and of their loneliness.

A small, peak-roofed house beside the iron shop was shaped like the others and wore its new cap like the others.  No light came from its shuttered windows and its storm doors were tightly closed.  But inside a lamp burned in the small living room and the door to the bedroom was open and the door to the kitchen was open.  An iron stove was against the back wall with a little coal fire burning in it.  It was a warm, poor, comfortable room, the floor covered with worn carpet, the walls papered in warm brown with an old-fashioned fleur-de-lis figure in gold.  And on the back wall were two pictures, one of fish lying dead on a plate of ferns and the other of grouse lying dead on a fir bough.  On the right wall was a picture of Christ walking on the waves toward the despairing fishermen.  Two straight chairs were in the room and a couch covered with a bright blanket.  There was a little round table in the middle of the room, on which stood a kerosene lamp with a round flowered shade on it, and the light in the room was warm and soft.

The inner door, which led to the passage, which in turn led to the storm door, was beside the stove.

In a cushioned old rocking chair beside the table Molly Morden sat alone.  She was unraveling the wool from an old blue sweater and winding the yarn on a ball.  She had quite a large ball of it.   And on the table beside her was her knitting with the needles sticking in it, and a large pair of scissors.  Her glasses lay on the table beside her, for she did not need them for knitting.  She was pretty and young and neat.  Her golden hair was done up on the top of her head and a blue bow was in her hair.  Her hands worked quickly with the raveling.  As she worked, she glanced now and then at the door to the passage.  The wind whistled in the chimney softly, but it was a quiet night, muffled with snow.

Suddenly she stopped her work.  Her hands were still.  She looked toward the door and listened.  The tramping feet of the patrol went by in the street and the sound of their voices could be heard faintly.  The sound faded away.  Molly ripped out new yarn and wound it on the ball.  And again she stopped.  There was a rustle at the door and then three short knocks.  Molly put down her work and went to the door.

"Yes?" she called.

She unlocked the door and opened it and a heavily cloaked figure came in.  It was Annie, the cook, red-eyed and wrapped in mufflers.  She slipped in quickly, as though practiced at getting speedily through doors and getting them closed behind her.  She stood there red-nosed, sniffling and glancing quickly around the room.

Molly said, "Good evening, Annie.  I didn't expect you tonight.  Take your things off and get warm.  It's cold out."

Annie said, "The soldiers brought winter early.  My father always said a war brought bad weather, or bad weather brought a war.  I don't remember which."

"Take off your things and come to the stove."

"I can't," Annie said importantly.  "They're coming."

"Who are coming?" Molly said.

"His Excellency," said Annie, "and the doctor and the two Anders boys."

"Here?" Molly asked.  What for?"

Annie held out her hand and there was a little package in it.  "Take it," she said.  "I stole it from the colonel's plate.  It's meat."

And Molly unwrapped the little cake of meat and put it in her mouth and she spoke around her chewing.  "Did you get some?"

“I’m the cook.  I always get some.”

"When are they coming?"

Annie sniffled.  "The Anders boys are sailing for England.  They've got to.  They're hiding now."

"Are they?" Molly asked.  "What for?"


"Well, it was their brother, Jack, was shot today for wrecking that little car.  The soldiers are looking for the rest of the family.  You know how they do."

"Yes," Molly said, "I know how they do.  Sit down Annie."

"No time," said Annie.  "I've got to get back and tell His Excellency it's all right here."

Molly said, "Did anyone see you come?"

Annie smiled proudly.  "No, I'm awful good at sneaking."

"How will the Mayor get out?"

Annie laughed.  "Joseph is going to be in his bed in case they look in, right in his nightshirt, right next to Madame!"  And she laughed again.  She said, "Joseph better lie pretty quiet."

Molly said, "It's an awful night to be sailing."

"It's better than being shot."

"Yes, so it is.  Why is the Mayor coming here?"

"I don't know.  He wants to talk to the Anders boys.  I've got to go now, but I came to tell you."

Molly said, "How soon are they coming?"

"Oh, maybe half, maybe three-quarters of an hour," Annie said.  "I'll come in first.  Nobody bothers with old cooks."  She started for the door, and she turned midway, and as though accusing Molly of saying the last words she said truculently, "I'm not so old!"  And she slipped out of the door and closed it behind her.

Molly went on knitting for a moment and then she got up and went to the stove and lifted the lid.  The glow of the fire lighted her face.  She stirred the fire and added a few lumps of coal and closed the stove again.  Before she could get to her chair, there was a knocking on the outer door.  She crossed the room and said to herself, "I wonder what she forgot."  She went into the passage and she said, "What do you want?"

A man's voice answered her.  She opened the door and a man's voice said, "I don't mean any harm.  I don't mean any harm."

Molly backed into the room and Lieutenant Tonder followed her in.  Molly said, "Who are you?  What do you want?  You can't come in here.  What do you want?"

Lieutenant was dressed in his great gray overcoat.   He entered the room and took off his helmet and he spoke pleadingly.  "I don't mean any harm  Please let me come in."

Molly said, "What do you want?"

She shut the door behind him and he said, "Miss, I only want to talk, that's all.  I want to hear you talk.  That's all."

Are you forcing yourself on me?" Molly asked.

"No, miss, just let me stay a little while and then I'll go."

"What is it you want?"

Tonder tried to explain.  "Can you understand this - can you believe this?  Just for a little while, can we forget this war?  Just for a little while.  Just for a little while, can't we talk together like people - together?"

Molly looked at him for a long time and then a smile came to her lips.  "You don't know who I am, do you?"

Tonder said, "I've seen you in the town.  I know you're lovely.  I know I want to talk to you."

And Molly still smiled.  She said softly, "You don't know who I am."  She sat in her chair and Tonder stood looking like a child, looking very clumsy.  Molly continued, speaking quietly, "Why you're lonely.  It's as simple as that, isn't it?"

Tonder licked his lips and he spoke eagerly.  "That's it," he said.  "You understand.  I knew you would.  I knew you'd have to."  His words came tumbling out.  "I'm lonely to the point of illness.  I'm lonely in the quiet and the hatred."  And he spoke pleadingly, "Can't we talk, just a little bit?"

Molly picked up her knitting.  She looked quickly at the front door.  "You can stay not more than fifteen minutes.  Sit down a little, Lieutenant."

She looked at the door again.  The house creaked.  Tonder became tense and he said, "Is someone here?"

"No, the snow is heavy on the roof.  I have no man any more to push it down."

Tonder said gently, "Who did it?  Was it something we did?"

And Molly nodded, looking far off.  "Yes."

He sat down.  "I'm sorry."  After a moment he said, "I wish I could do something.  I'll have the snow pushed off the roof."

"No," said Molly, "no."

"Why not?"

Because the people would think I had joined with you.  They would expel me.  I don't want to be expelled."

Tonder said, "Yes, I see how that would be.  You all hate us.  But I would take care of you if you 'll let me."

Now Molly knew she was in control, and her eyes narrowed a little cruelly and she said, "Why do you ask?   You are the conqueror.  Your men don't have to ask.  They take what they want."

"That's not what I want," Tonder said.  "That's not the way I want it."

And Molly laughed, still a little cruelly.  "You want me to like you, don't you Lieutenant?"

He said simply, "Yes," and he raised his head and he said, "You are so beautiful, so warm.  Your hair is bright.  Oh, I've seen no kindness in a woman's face for so long!"

"Do you see any in mine?" she asked.

He looked closely at her.  "I want to."

She dropped her eyes at last.  "You're making love to me, aren't you Lieutenant?"

And he said clumsily, "I want you to like me.  Surely I want you to like me.  Surely I want to see that in your eyes.  I have seen you in the streets.  I have watched you pass by.  I've given orders that you mustn't be molested.  Have you been molested?"

And Molly said quietly, "Thank you, no; I've not been molested."

His words rushed on.  "Why I've even written a poem for you.  Would you like to see my poem?"

And she said sardonically, "Is it a long poem?  You have to go very soon."

He said, No, it's a tiny little poem.  It's a little bit of a poem."  He reached inside his tunic and brought out a folded paper and handed it to her.  She leaned close to the lamp and put on her glasses and she read quietly.

Your eyes in their deep heavens
Possess me and will not depart;
A sea of blue thoughts rushing

And pouring over my heart.

She folded the paper and put it in her lap.  "Did you write this Lieutenant?"


She said a little tauntingly, "To me?"

And Tonder answered uneasily, "Yes."

She looked at him steadily, smiling.  "You didn't write it, Lieutenant, did you?"

He smiled back like a child caught in a lie.  "No."

Molly asked him, "Do you know who did?"

Tonder said, "Yes.  Heine write it.  It's 'Mit deinen blauen Augen."  I've always loved it."  He laughed embarrassedly and Molly laughed with him, and suddenly they were laughing together.  He stopped laughing just as suddenly and a bleakness came into his eyes.  "I haven't laughed like that since forever."  He said, "They told us the people would like us, would admire us.  They do not.  They only hate us."  And then he changed the subject as though he worked against time.  "You are so beautiful.  You are as beautiful as the laughter." 

Molly said, "You are beginning to make love to me Lieutenant.  You must go in a moment."

And Tonder said, "Maybe I want to make love to you.  A man needs love.  A man dies without love.  His insides shrivel and his chest feels like a dry chip.  I'm lonely."

Molly got up from her chair.  She looked nervously at the door and she walked to the stove, and, coming back, her face grew hard and her eyes grew  punishing and she said, "Do you want to go to bed with me, Lieutenant?"

"I didn't say that!  Why do you talk that way?"

Molly said cruelly, "Maybe I'm trying to disgust you.  I was married once.  My husband is dead.  You see, I'm not a virgin."  Her voice was bitter.

Tonder said, "I only want you to like me."

And Molly said, "I know.  You are a civilized man.  You know that love-making is more full and whole and delightful if there is liking, too."

Tonder said, "Don't talk that way!  Please  don't talk that way!"

Molly glanced quickly at the door.  She said, "We are a conquered people, Lieutenant.  You have taken the food away.  I'm hungry.  I'll like you better if you feed me."

Tonder said, "What are you saying?"

"Do I disgust you, Lieutenant?  Maybe I'm trying to.  My price is two sausages."

Tonder said, "You can't talk this way!"

"What about your own girls, Lieutenant, after the last war?  A man could choose among your girls for an egg or a slice of bread.   Do you want me for nothing, Lieutenant?  Is the price too high?"

He said, "You fooled me for a moment.  But you hate me, too, don't you?  I thought maybe you wouldn't."

"No, I don't hate you," she said, "I'm hungry and - I hate you!"

Tonder said, "I'll give you anything you need, but -"

And she interrupted him.  You want to call it something else?  Is that what you mean?"

Tonder said, "I don't know what you mean.  You make it sound full of hatred."

Molly laughed.  She said, "It's not nice to be hungry.  Two sausages, two fine fat sausages can be the most precious things in the world."

"Don't say those things," he said.  "Please don't!"

"Why not.  They're true."

"They aren't true.  This can't be true."

She looked at him for a moment and then she sat down and her eyes fell to her lap and she said, "No, it's not true.  I don't hate you.  I'm lonely, too.  And the snow is heavy on the roof."

Tonder got up and moved near to her.  He took one of her hands in both of his and he said softly, "Please don't hate me.  I'm only a lieutenant.  I didn't ask to come here.  You didn't ask to be my enemy.  I'm only a man, not a conquering man."

Molly's fingers encircled his hand for a moment and she said softly, "I know; yes, I know."

And Tonder said, "We have some little right to life in all this death."

She put her hand to his cheek for a moment and she said, "Yes."

"I'll take care of you," he said.  "We have some right to life in all the killing."  His hand rested on her shoulder.  She suddenly she grew rigid and her eyes were wide and staring as though she saw a vision.  His hand released her and he asked, "What's the matter?  What is it?"  Her eyes stared straight ahead and he repeated, "What is it?"

Molly spoke in a haunted voice.  "I dressed him like a little boy for his first day in school.  And he was afraid.  I buttoned his shirt and tried to comfort him, but he was beyond comfort.  And he was afraid."

Tonder said, "What are you saying."

And Molly seemed to see what she described.  "I don't know why they let him come home.  He was confused.  He didn't know what was happening.  He didn't even kiss me when he went away.  He was afraid, and very brave, like a little boy on his first of school."

Tonder stood up.  "That was your husband."

Molly said, "Yes, my husband.  I went to the Mayor, but he was helpless.  And then he marched away - not very well or steadily - and you took him out and you shot him.  It was more strange than terrible then.  I didn't quite believe it then."

Tonder said, "Your husband!"    
"Yes; and now in the quiet house, I believe it.  Now with the heavy snow on the roof, I believe it.  And in the loneliness before daybreak, in the half-warmed bed, I know it then."

Tonder stood in front of her.  His face was full of misery.  "Good night," he said.  "God keep you.  May I come back?"

And Molly looked at the wall and the memory.  "I don't know," she said.

"I'll come back."

"I don't know."

He looked at her and then he quietly went out of the door, and Molly still stared at the wall.  The door opened silently and Annie came in.  Molly did not even see her.

Annie said disapprovingly, "The door was open."

Molly looked slowly toward her, her eyes still wide open.  "Yes. Oh, yes, Annie."

"The door was open.  There was a man came out.  He looked like a soldier."

And Molly said, "Yes, Annie."

"Was it a soldier."

"Yes, it was a soldier."

And Annie asked suspiciously, "What was he doing here?"

"He came to make love to me."

Annie said, "Miss, what are you doing?  You haven't joined them, have you?  You aren't with them, like that Corell?"

"No, I'm not with them, Annie?"

Annie said, "If the Mayor's here and they come back, it'll be your fault if anything happens; it'll be your fault!"

"He won't come back.  I won't let him come back."

But the suspicion stayed with Annie.  She said, "Shall I tell them to come in now?  Do you say it's safe?"

"Yes, it's safe.  Where are they?"

"They're out behind the fence," said Annie.

"Tell them to come in."

And while Annie went out, Molly got up and smoothed her hair and she shook her head, trying to live again.  There was a little sound in the passage.  Two tall, blond young men entered.  They were dressed in pea-jackets and dark turtle-neck sweaters.  They wore stocking caps perched on their heads.  They were wind-burned and strong and they looked almost like twins, Will Anders and Tom Anders, the fishermen.

"Good evening, Molly.  You've heard?"

"Annie told me.  It's a bad night to go."

Tom said, "It's better than a clear night.  The planes see you on a clear night.  What's the Mayor want, Molly?"

"I don't know.  I heard about your brother.  I'm sorry."

The two were silent and they looked embarrassed.  Tom said, "You know how it is, better than most."

"Yes; yes, I know."

Annie came in the door again and she said in a hoarse whisper, "They're here!"  And Mayor Orden and Doctor Winter came in.  They took off their coats and caps and laid them on the couch.  Orden went to Molly and kissed her on the forehead.

"Good evening, dear."

He turned to Annie.  "Stand in the passage, Annie.  Give us one knock for the patrol, one knock when it's gone, and two for danger.  You can leave the outer door open a crack so you can hear if anyone comes."

Annie said, "Yes, sir."  She went into the passage and shut the door behind her.

Doctor Winter was at the stove, warming his hands.  "We got word you boys were leaving tonight."

"We've got to go," Tom said.

Orden nodded.  "Yes, I know.  We heard you were going to take Mr. Corell with you."

Tom laughed bitterly.  "We though ti would be only right.  We're taking his boat.  We can't leave him around.  It isn't good to see him in the streets."

Orden said sadly, "I wish he had gone away.  It's just a danger to you, taking him."

"It isn't good to see him in the streets," Will echoed his brother.  "It isn't good for the people to see him here."

Winter asked, "Can you take him?  Isn't he cautious at all??

"Oh, yes, he's cautious in a way.  At twelve o'clock, though, he walks to his house usually.  We'll be behind the wall.  I think we can get him through his lower garden to the water.  His boat's tied up there.  We were on her today getting her ready."

Orden repeated, "I wish you didn't have to.  It's just an added danger.  If he makes a noise, the patrol might come."

Tom said, "He won't make a noise, and it's better if he disappears at sea.  Some of the town people might get him and then there would be too much killing.  No, it's better if he goes to sea."

Molly took up her knitting again.  She said, "Will you throw him overboard?"

Will blushed.  "He'll go to sea, ma'am."  He turned to the Mayor.  "You wanted to see us, sir?"

"Why, yes, I want to talk to you.  Doctor Winter and I have tried to think - there's so much talk about justice, injustice, conquest.  Our people are invaded, but I don't think they're conquered."

There was a sharp knock on the door and the room was silent.  Molly's needles stopped, and the Mayor's outstretched hand remained in the air.  Tom, scratching his  ear, left his hand there and stopped scratching.  Everyone in the room was motionless.  Every eye was turned toward the door.  Then, first faintly and then growing louder, there came the tramp of the patrol, the squeak of their boots in the snow, and the sound of their talking as they went by.  They passed the door and their footsteps disappeared in the distance.  There was a second tap on the door.  And in the room the people relaxed.

Orden said, "It must be cold out there for Annie."  He took up his coat from the couch and opened the inner door and handed his coat through.  "Put this around your shoulders, Annie," he said and closed the door.

"I don't know what I'd do without her," he said.  "She gets everywhere, she sees and hears everything."

Tom said, "We should be going pretty soon, sir."

And Winter said, "I wish you'd forget about Mr. Corell."

"We can't.  It isn't good to see him in the streets."  He looked inquiringly at Mayor Orden.

Orden began slowly.  "I want to speak simply.  This is a little town.  Justice and injustice are in terms of little things.  Your brother's shot and Alex Morden's shot.  Revenge against a traitor.  The people are angry and they have no way to fight back.  But it's all in little terms.  It's people against people, not idea against idea."

Winter said, "It's funny for a doctor to think of destruction, but I think all invaded people want to resist.  We are disarmed; our spirits and bodies aren't enough.  The spirit of a disarmed man sinks."

Will Anders asked, "What's all this for, sir?  What do you want of us?"

"We want to fight them and we can't," Orden said.  "They're using hunger on the people now.  Hunger brings weakness.  You boys are sailing for England.  Maybe nobody will listen to you, but tell them from us -from a small town - to give us weapons."

Tom asked, "You want guns?"

Again there was a quick knock on the door and the people froze where they were, and from outside there came the sound of the patrol, but at double step, running.  Will moved quickly toward the door.  The running steps came abreast of the house.  There were muffled orders and the patrol ran by, and there was a second tap at the door.

Molly said, "They must be after somebody.  I wonder who this time."

"We should be going," Tom said uneasily.  "Do you want guns, sir?  Shall we ask for guns?"

"No, tell them how it is.  We are watched.  Any move we make calls for reprisal.  If we could have simple, secret weapons, weapons of stealth, explosives, dynamite to blow up rails, grenades, if possible even poison."  He spoke angrily.  "This is no honorable war.  This is a war of treachery and murder.  Let us use the methods that have been used on us!  Let the British bombers drop their big bombs on the works, but let them also drop us little bombs to use, to hide, to slip under the rails, under tanks.  Then we will be armed, secretly armed.  Let the bombers bring us simple weapons.  We will know how to use them!"

Winter broke in.  "They'll never know where it will strike.  The soldiers, the patrol, will never know which of us is armed."

Tom wiped his forehead.  "If we get through, we'll tell them, sir, but - well, I've heard it said that in England there are still men in power who do not dare to put weapons in the hands of common people."

Orden stared at him.  "Oh, I hadn't thought of that.  Well, we can only see.  If such people still govern England and America, the world is lost, anyway.  Tell them what we say, if they will listen.  We must have help, but if we get it" - his face grew very hard - "if we get it, we will help ourselves."

Winter said, "If they will even give us dynamite to hide, to bury in the ground to be ready against need, then the invader can never rest again, never!  We will blow up his supplies."

The room grew excited.  Molly said fiercely, "Yes, we could fight his rest, then.  We could fight his sleep.  We could fight his nerves and his certainties."

Will asked quietly, "Is that all, sir?"

"Yes."  Orden nodded.  "That's the core of it."

"What if they won't listen?"

"You can only try, as you are trying the sea tonight."

"Is that all, sir?"

The door opened and Annie came quietly in.  Orden went on, "That's all.  If you have to go now, let me send Annie out to see that the way is clear."  He looked up and saw that Annie had come in.  Annie said, "There's a soldier coming up the path.  He looks like the soldier that was here before.  There was a soldier here with Molly before."

The others looked at Molly.  Annie said, "I locked the door."

"What does he want," Molly asked.  "Why does he come back?"

There was a gentle knocking at the outside door.  Orden went to Molly.  "What is this, Molly?  Are you in trouble?"

"No," she said.  "Go out the back way.  You can get out through the back.  Hurry, hurry out!"

The knocking continued on the front door.  A man's voice called softly.  Molly opened the door to the kitchen.  She said, "Hurry, hurry!"

The Mayor stood in front of her.  "Are you in trouble, Molly?  You haven't done anything?"

Annie said coldly, "It looks like the same soldier.  There was a soldier here before."

"Yes," Molly said to the Mayor.  "There was a soldier here before."

The Mayor said, "What did he want?"

"He wanted to make love to me."

"But he didn't?" Orden said.

"No," she said, "he didn't.  Go now, and I'll take care."

Orden said, "Molly, if you're in trouble, let us help you."

"The trouble I'm in no one can help me with," she said.  "Go now," and she pushed them out of the door.

Annie remained behind.  She looked at Molly.  "Miss, what does this soldier want?"

"I don't know what he wants."

"Are you going to tell him anything?"

"No."  Wonderingly, Molly repeated," No."  And then sharply she said, "No Annie, I'm not!"

Annie scowled at her.  "Miss, you'd better not tell him anything!"  And she went out and closed the door behind her.

The tapping continued on the front door and a man's voice could be heard through the door.

Molly went to the center lamp, and her burden was heavy on her.  She looked down at  the lamp.  She looked at the table, and she saw the big scissors lying beside her knitting.  She picked them up wonderingly by the blades.  The blades slipped through her fingers until she held the long shears and she was holding them like a knife, and her eyes were horrified.  She looked down into the lamp and the light flooded up into her face.  Slowly she raised the shears and placed them inside her dress.

The tapping continued on the door.  She heard the voice calling to her.  She leaned over the lamp for a moment and then suddenly she blew out the light.  The room was dark except for a spot of red that came from the coal stove.  She opened the door.  Her voice was strained and sweet.  She called, "I'm coming, Lieutenant, I'm coming!"