While she spoke his memory was busy with the associations she recalled. He saw the deserted flat on the river bank by the Klondike, and he saw the log cabins and warehouses spring up, and all the log structures he had built, and his sawmills working night and day on three shifts.
"Why, dog-gone it, Miss Mason, you're right—in a way. I've built hundreds of houses up there, and I remember I was proud and glad to see them go up. I'm proud now, when I remember them. And there was Ophir—the most God-forsaken moose-pasture of a creek you ever laid eyes on. I made that into the big Ophir. Why, I ran the water in there from the Rinkabilly, eighty miles away. They all said I couldn't, but I did it, and I did it by myself. The dam and the flume cost me four million. But you should have seen that Ophir—power plants, electric lights, and hundreds of men on the pay-roll, working night and day. I guess I do get an inkling of what you mean by making a thing. I made Ophir, and by God, she was a sure hummer—I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to cuss. But that Ophir!—I sure am proud of her now, just as the last time I laid eyes on her."
"And you won something there that was more than mere money," Dede encouraged. "Now do you know what I would do if I had lots of money and simply had to go on playing at business? Take all the southerly and westerly slopes of these bare hills. I'd buy them in and plant eucalyptus on them. I'd do it for the joy of doing it anyway; but suppose I had that gambling twist in me which you talk about, why, I'd do it just the same and make money out of the trees. And there's my other point again. Instead of raising the price of coal without adding an ounce of coal to the market supply, I'd be making thousands and thousands of cords of firewood—making something where nothing was before. And everybody who ever crossed on the ferries would look up at these forested hills and be made glad. Who was made glad by your adding four dollars a ton to Rock Wells?"
It was Daylight's turn to be silent for a time while she waited an answer.
"Would you rather I did things like that?" he asked at last.
"It would be better for the world, and better for you," she answered noncommittally.
All week every one in the office knew that something new and big was afoot in Daylight's mind. Beyond some deals of no importance, he had not been interested in anything for several months. But now he went about in an almost unbroken brown study, made unexpected and lengthy trips across the bay to Oakland, or sat at his desk silent and motionless for hours. He seemed particularly happy with what occupied his mind. At times men came in and conferred with him—and with new faces and differing in type from those that usually came to see him.
On Sunday Dede learned all about it. "I've been thinking a lot of our talk," he began, "and I've got an idea I'd like to give it a flutter. And I've got a proposition to make your hair stand up. It's what you call legitimate, and at the same time it's the gosh-dangdest gamble a man ever went into. How about planting minutes wholesale, and making two minutes grow where one minute grew before? Oh, yes, and planting a few trees, too—say several million of them. You remember the quarry I made believe I was looking at? Well, I'm going to buy it. I'm going to buy these hills, too, clear from here around to Berkeley and down the other way to San Leandro. I own a lot of them already, for that matter. But mum is the word. I'll be buying a long time to come before anything much is guessed about it, and I don't want the market to jump up out of sight. You see that hill over there. It's my hill running clear down its slopes through Piedmont and halfway along those rolling hills into Oakland. And it's nothing to all the things I'm going to buy."
He paused triumphantly. "And all to make two minutes grow where one grew before?" Dede queried, at the same time laughing heartily at his affectation of mystery.
He stared at her fascinated. She had such a frank, boyish way of throwing her head back when she laughed. And her teeth were an unending delight to him. Not small, yet regular and firm, without a blemish, he considered then the healthiest, whitest, prettiest teeth he had ever seen. And for months he had been comparing them with the teeth of every woman he met.
It was not until her laughter was over that he was able to continue.
"The ferry system between Oakland and San Francisco is the worst one-horse concern in the United States. You cross on it every day, six days in the week. That's say, twenty-five days a month, or three hundred a year. Now long does it take you one way? Forty minutes, if you're lucky. I'm going to put you across in twenty minutes. If that ain't making two minutes grow where one grew before, knock off my head with little apples. I'll save you twenty minutes each way. That's forty minutes a day, times three hundred, equals twelve thousand minutes a year, just for you, just for one person. Let's see: that's two hundred whole hours. Suppose I save two hundred hours a year for thousands of other folks,—that's farming some, ain't it?"
Dede could only nod breathlessly. She had caught the contagion of his enthusiasm, though she had no clew as to how this great time-saving was to be accomplished.
"Come on," he said. "Let's ride up that hill, and when I get you out on top where you can see something, I'll talk sense."
A small footpath dropped down to the dry bed of the canon, which they crossed before they began the climb. The slope was steep and covered with matted brush and bushes, through which the horses slipped and lunged. Bob, growing disgusted, turned back suddenly and attempted to pass Mab. The mare was thrust sidewise into the denser bush, where she nearly fell. Recovering, she flung her weight against Bob. Both riders' legs were caught in the consequent squeeze, and, as Bob plunged ahead down hill, Dede was nearly scraped off. Daylight threw his horse on to its haunches and at the same time dragged Dede back into the saddle. Showers of twigs and leaves fell upon them, and predicament followed predicament, until they emerged on the hilltop the worse for wear but happy and excited. Here no trees obstructed the view. The particular hill on which they were, out-jutted from the regular line of the range, so that the sweep of their vision extended over three-quarters of the circle. Below, on the flat land bordering the bay, lay Oakland, and across the bay was San Francisco. Between the two cities they could see the white ferry-boats on the water. Around to their right was Berkeley, and to their left the scattered villages between Oakland and San Leandro. Directly in the foreground was Piedmont, with its desultory dwellings and patches of farming land, and from Piedmont the land rolled down in successive waves upon Oakland.
"Look at it," said Daylight, extending his arm in a sweeping gesture. "A hundred thousand people there, and no reason there shouldn't be half a million. There's the chance to make five people grow where one grows now. Here's the scheme in a nutshell. Why don't more people live in Oakland? No good service with San Francisco, and, besides, Oakland is asleep. It's a whole lot better place to live in than San Francisco. Now, suppose I buy in all the street railways of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, San Leandro, and the rest,—bring them under one head with a competent management? Suppose I cut the time to San Francisco one-half by building a big pier out there almost to Goat Island and establishing a ferry system with modern up-to-date boats? Why, folks will want to live over on this side. Very good. They'll need land on which to build. So, first I buy up the land. But the land's cheap now. Why? Because it's in the country, no electric roads, no quick communication, nobody guessing that the electric roads are coming. I'll build the roads. That will make the land jump up. Then I'll sell the land as fast as the folks will want to buy because of the improved ferry system and transportation facilities.
"You see, I give the value to the land by building the roads. Then I sell the land and get that value back, and after that, there's the roads, all carrying folks back and forth and earning big money. Can't lose. And there's all sorts of millions in it.
"I'm going to get my hands on some of that water front and the tide-lands. Take between where I'm going to build my pier and the old pier. It's shallow water. I can fill and dredge and put in a system of docks that will handle hundreds of ships. San Francisco's water front is congested. No more room for ships. With hundreds of ships loading and unloading on this side right into the freight cars of three big railroads, factories will start up over here instead of crossing to San Francisco. That means factory sites. That means me buying in the factory sites before anybody guesses the cat is going to jump, much less, which way. Factories mean tens of thousands of workingmen and their families. That means more houses and more land, and that means me, for I'll be there to sell them the land. And tens of thousands of families means tens of thousands of nickels every day for my electric cars. The growing population will mean more stores, more banks, more everything. And that'll mean me, for I'll be right there with business property as well as home property. What do you think of it?"
Therefore she could answer, he was off again, his mind's eye filled with this new city of his dream which he builded on the Alameda hills by the gateway to the Orient.
"Do you know—I've been looking it up—the Firth Of Clyde, where all the steel ships are built, isn't half as wide as Oakland Creek down there, where all those old hulks lie? Why ain't it a Firth of Clyde? Because the Oakland City Council spends its time debating about prunes and raisins. What is needed is somebody to see things, and, after that, organization. That's me. I didn't make Ophir for nothing. And once things begin to hum, outside capital will pour in. All I do is start it going. 'Gentlemen,' I say, 'here's all the natural advantages for a great metropolis. God Almighty put them advantages here, and he put me here to see them. Do you want to land your tea and silk from Asia and ship it straight East? Here's the docks for your steamers, and here's the railroads. Do you want factories from which you can ship direct by land or water? Here's the site, and here's the modern, up-to-date city, with the latest improvements for yourselves and your workmen, to live in.'"
"Then there's the water. I'll come pretty close to owning the watershed. Why not the waterworks too? There's two water companies in Oakland now, fighting like cats and dogs and both about broke. What a metropolis needs is a good water system. They can't give it. They're stick-in-the-muds. I'll gobble them up and deliver the right article to the city. There's money there, too—money everywhere. Everything works in with everything else. Each improvement makes the value of everything else pump up. It's people that are behind the value. The bigger the crowd that herds in one place, the more valuable is the real estate. And this is the very place for a crowd to herd. Look at it. Just look at it! You could never find a finer site for a great city. All it needs is the herd, and I'll stampede a couple of hundred thousand people in here inside two years. And what's more it won't be one of these wild cat land booms. It will be legitimate. Twenty years for now there'll be a million people on this side the bay. Another thing is hotels. There isn't a decent one in the town. I'll build a couple of up-to-date ones that'll make them sit up and take notice. I won't care if they don't pay for years. Their effect will more than give me my money back out of the other holdings. And, oh, yes, I'm going to plant eucalyptus, millions of them, on these hills."
"But how are you going to do it?" Dede asked. "You haven't enough money for all that you've planned."
"I've thirty million, and if I need more I can borrow on the land and other things. Interest on mortgages won't anywhere near eat up the increase in land values, and I'll be selling land right along."
In the weeks that followed, Daylight was a busy man. He spent most of his time in Oakland, rarely coming to the office. He planned to move the office to Oakland, but, as he told Dede, the secret preliminary campaign of buying had to be put through first. Sunday by Sunday, now from this hilltop and now from that, they looked down upon the city and its farming suburbs, and he pointed out to her his latest acquisitions. At first it was patches and sections of land here and there; but as the weeks passed it was the unowned portions that became rare, until at last they stood as islands surrounded by Daylight's land.
It meant quick work on a colossal scale, for Oakland and the adjacent country was not slow to feel the tremendous buying. But Daylight had the ready cash, and it had always been his policy to strike quickly. Before the others could get the warning of the boom, he quietly accomplished many things. At the same time that his agents were purchasing corner lots and entire blocks in the heart of the business section and the waste lands for factory sites, Day was rushing franchises through the city council, capturing the two exhausted water companies and the eight or nine independent street railways, and getting his grip on the Oakland Creek and the bay tide-lands for his dock system. The tide-lands had been in litigation for years, and he took the bull by the horns—buying out the private owners and at the same time leasing from the city fathers.
By the time that Oakland was aroused by this unprecedented activity in every direction and was questioning excitedly the meaning of it, Daylight secretly bought the chief Republican newspaper and the chief Democratic organ, and moved boldly into his new offices. Of necessity, they were on a large scale, occupying four floors of the only modern office building in the town—the only building that wouldn't have to be torn down later on, as Daylight put it. There was department after department, a score of them, and hundreds of clerks and stenographers. As he told Dede: "I've got more companies than you can shake a stick at. There's the Alameda & Contra Costa Land Syndicate, the Consolidated Street Railways, the Yerba Buena Ferry Company, the United Water Company, the Piedmont Realty Company, the Fairview and Portola Hotel Company, and half a dozen more that I've got to refer to a notebook to remember. There's the Piedmont Laundry Farm, and Redwood Consolidated Quarries. Starting in with our quarry, I just kept a-going till I got them all. And there's the ship-building company I ain't got a name for yet. Seeing as I had to have ferry-boats, I decided to build them myself. They'll be done by the time the pier is ready for them. Phew! It all sure beats poker. And I've had the fun of gouging the robber gangs as well. The water company bunches are squealing yet. I sure got them where the hair was short. They were just about all in when I came along and finished them off."
"But why do you hate them so?" Dede asked.
"Because they're such cowardly skunks."
"But you play the same game they do."
"Yes; but not in the same way." Daylight regarded her thoughtfully. "When I say cowardly skunks, I mean just that,—cowardly skunks. They set up for a lot of gamblers, and there ain't one in a thousand of them that's got the nerve to be a gambler. They're four-flushers, if you know what that means. They're a lot of little cottontail rabbits making believe they're big rip-snorting timber wolves. They set out to everlastingly eat up some proposition but at the first sign of trouble they turn tail and stampede for the brush. Look how it works. When the big fellows wanted to unload Little Copper, they sent Jakey Fallow into the New York Stock Exchange to yell out: 'I'll buy all or any part of Little Copper at fifty five,' Little Copper being at fifty-four. And in thirty minutes them cottontails—financiers, some folks call them—bid up Little Copper to sixty. And an hour after that, stampeding for the brush, they were throwing Little Copper overboard at forty-five and even forty.
"They're catspaws for the big fellows. Almost as fast as they rob the suckers, the big fellows come along and hold them up. Or else the big fellows use them in order to rob each other. That's the way the Chattanooga Coal and Iron Company was swallowed up by the trust in the last panic. The trust made that panic. It had to break a couple of big banking companies and squeeze half a dozen big fellows, too, and it did it by stampeding the cottontails. The cottontails did the rest all right, and the trust gathered in Chattanooga Coal and Iron. Why, any man, with nerve and savvee, can start them cottontails jumping for the brush. I don't exactly hate them myself, but I haven't any regard for chicken-hearted four-flushers."
For months Daylight was buried in work. The outlay was terrific, and there was nothing coming in. Beyond a general rise in land values, Oakland had not acknowledged his irruption on the financial scene. The city was waiting for him to show what he was going to do, and he lost no time about it. The best skilled brains on the market were hired by him for the different branches of the work. Initial mistakes he had no patience with, and he was determined to start right, as when he engaged Wilkinson, almost doubling his big salary, and brought him out from Chicago to take charge of the street railway organization. Night and day the road gangs toiled on the streets. And night and day the pile-drivers hammered the big piles down into the mud of San Francisco Bay. The pier was to be three miles long, and the Berkeley hills were denuded of whole groves of mature eucalyptus for the piling.
At the same time that his electric roads were building out through the hills, the hay-fields were being surveyed and broken up into city squares, with here and there, according to best modern methods, winding boulevards and strips of park. Broad streets, well graded, were made, with sewers and water-pipes ready laid, and macadamized from his own quarries. Cement sidewalks were also laid, so that all the purchaser had to do was to select his lot and architect and start building. The quick service of Daylight's new electric roads into Oakland made this big district immediately accessible, and long before the ferry system was in operation hundreds of residences were going up.
The profit on this land was enormous. In a day, his onslaught of wealth had turned open farming country into one of the best residential districts of the city.
But this money that flowed in upon him was immediately poured back into his other investments. The need for electric cars was so great that he installed his own shops for building them. And even on the rising land market, he continued to buy choice factory sites and building properties. On the advice of Wilkinson, practically every electric road already in operation was rebuilt. The light, old fashioned rails were torn out and replaced by the heaviest that were manufactured. Corner lots, on the sharp turns of narrow streets, were bought and ruthlessly presented to the city in order to make wide curves for his tracks and high speed for his cars. Then, too, there were the main-line feeders for his ferry system, tapping every portion of Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley, and running fast expresses to the pier end. The same large-scale methods were employed in the water system. Service of the best was needed, if his huge land investment was to succeed. Oakland had to be made into a worth-while city, and that was what he intended to do. In addition to his big hotels, he built amusement parks for the common people, and art galleries and club-house country inns for the more finicky classes. Even before there was any increase in population, a marked increase in street-railway traffic took place. There was nothing fanciful about his schemes. They were sound investments.
"What Oakland wants is a first class theatre," he said, and, after vainly trying to interest local capital, he started the building of the theatre himself; for he alone had vision for the two hundred thousand new people that were coming to the town.
But no matter what pressure was on Daylight, his Sundays he reserved for his riding in the hills. It was not the winter weather, however, that brought these rides with Dede to an end. One Saturday afternoon in the office she told him not to expect to meet her next day, and, when he pressed for an explanation:
"I've sold Mab."
Daylight was speechless for the moment. Her act meant one of so many serious things that he couldn't classify it. It smacked almost of treachery. She might have met with financial disaster.
It might be her way of letting him know she had seen enough of him. Or...
"What's the matter?" he managed to ask.
"I couldn't afford to keep her with hay forty-five dollars a ton," Dede answered.
"Was that your only reason?" he demanded, looking at her steadily; for he remembered her once telling him how she had brought the mare through one winter, five years before, when hay had gone as high as sixty dollars a ton.
"No. My brother's expenses have been higher, as well, and I was driven to the conclusion that since I could not afford both, I'd better let the mare go and keep the brother."
Daylight felt inexpressibly saddened. He was suddenly aware of a great emptiness. What would a Sunday be without Dede? And Sundays without end without her? He drummed perplexedly on the desk with his fingers.
"Who bought her?" he asked. Dede's eyes flashed in the way long since familiar to him when she was angry.
"Don't you dare buy her back for me," she cried. "And don't deny that that was what you had in mind."
"I won't deny it. It was my idea to a tee. But I wouldn't have done it without asking you first, and seeing how you feel about it, I won't even ask you. But you thought a heap of that mare, and it's pretty hard on you to lose her. I'm sure sorry. And I'm sorry, too, that you won't be riding with me tomorrow. I'll be plumb lost. I won't know what to do with myself."
"Neither shall I," Dede confessed mournfully, "except that I shall be able to catch up with my sewing."
"But I haven't any sewing."
Daylight's tone was whimsically plaintive, but secretly he was delighted with her confession of loneliness. It was almost worth the loss of the mare to get that out of her. At any rate, he meant something to her. He was not utterly unliked.
"I wish you would reconsider, Miss Mason," he said softly. "Not alone for the mare's sake, but for my sake. Money don't cut any ice in this. For me to buy that mare wouldn't mean as it does to most men to send a bouquet of flowers or a box of candy to a young lady. And I've never sent you flowers or candy." He observed the warning flash of her eyes, and hurried on to escape refusal. "I'll tell you what we'll do. Suppose I buy the mare and own her myself, and lend her to you when you want to ride. There's nothing wrong in that. Anybody borrows a horse from anybody, you know."
Agin he saw refusal, and headed her off.
"Lots of men take women buggy-riding. There's nothing wrong in that. And the man always furnishes the horse and buggy. Well, now, what's the difference between my taking you buggy-riding and furnishing the horse and buggy, and taking you horse-back-riding and furnishing the horses?"
She shook her head, and declined to answer, at the same time looking at the door as if to intimate that it was time for this unbusinesslike conversation to end. He made one more effort.
"Do you know, Miss Mason, I haven't a friend in the world outside you? I mean a real friend, man or woman, the kind you chum with, you know, and that you're glad to be with and sorry to be away from. Hegan is the nearest man I get to, and he's a million miles away from me. Outside business, we don't hitch. He's got a big library of books, and some crazy kind of culture, and he spends all his off times reading things in French and German and other outlandish lingoes—when he ain't writing plays and poetry. There's nobody I feel chummy with except you, and you know how little we've chummed—once a week, if it didn't rain, on Sunday. I've grown kind of to depend on you. You're a sort of—of—of—"
"A sort of habit," she said with a smile.
"That's about it. And that mare, and you astride of her, coming along the road under the trees or through the sunshine—why, with both you and the mare missing, there won't be anything worth waiting through the week for. If you'd just let me buy her back—"
"No, no; I tell you no." Dede rose impatiently, but her eyes were moist with the memory of her pet. "Please don't mention her to me again. If you think it was easy to part with her, you are mistaken. But I've seen the last of her, and I want to forget her."
Daylight made no answer, and the door closed behind him.
Half an hour later he was conferring with Jones, the erstwhile elevator boy and rabid proletarian whom Daylight long before had grubstaked to literature for a year. The resulting novel had been a failure. Editors and publishers would not look at it, and now Daylight was using the disgruntled author in a little private secret service system he had been compelled to establish for himself. Jones, who affected to be surprised at nothing after his crushing experience with railroad freight rates on firewood and charcoal, betrayed no surprise now when the task was given to him to locate the purchaser of a certain sorrel mare.
"How high shall I pay for her?" he asked.
"Any price. You've got to get her, that's the point. Drive a sharp bargain so as not to excite suspicion, but buy her. Then you deliver her to that address up in Sonoma County. The man's the caretaker on a little ranch I have there. Tell him he's to take whacking good care of her. And after that forget all about it. Don't tell me the name of the man you buy her from. Don't tell me anything about it except that you've got her and delivered her. Savvee?"
But the week had not passed, when Daylight noted the flash in Dede's eyes that boded trouble.
"Something's gone wrong—what is it?" he asked boldly.
"Mab," she said. "The man who bought her has sold her already. If I thought you had anything to do with it—"
"I don't even know who you sold her to," was Daylight's answer. "And what's more, I'm not bothering my head about her. She was your mare, and it's none of my business what you did with her. You haven't got her, that's sure and worse luck. And now, while we're on touchy subjects, I'm going to open another one with you. And you needn't get touchy about it, for it's not really your business at all."
She waited in the pause that followed, eyeing him almost suspiciously.
"It's about that brother of yours. He needs more than you can do for him. Selling that mare of yours won't send him to Germany. And that's what his own doctors say he needs—that crack German specialist who rips a man's bones and muscles into pulp and then molds them all over again. Well, I want to send him to Germany and give that crack a flutter, that's all."
"If it were only possible" she said, half breathlessly, and wholly without anger. "Only it isn't, and you know it isn't. I can't accept money from you—"
"Hold on, now," he interrupted. "Wouldn't you accept a drink of water from one of the Twelve Apostles if you was dying of thirst? Or would you be afraid of his evil intentions"—she made a gesture of dissent "—or of what folks might say about it?"
"But that's different," she began.
"Now look here, Miss Mason. You've got to get some foolish notions out of your head. This money notion is one of the funniest things I've seen. Suppose you was falling over a cliff, wouldn't it be all right for me to reach out and hold you by the arm? Sure it would. But suppose you ended another sort of help—instead of the strength of arm, the strength of my pocket? That would be all and that's what they all say. But why do they say it. Because the robber gangs want all the suckers to be honest and respect money. If the suckers weren't honest and didn't respect money, where would the robbers be? Don't you see? The robbers don't deal in arm-holds; they deal in dollars. Therefore arm-holds are just common and ordinary, while dollars are sacred—so sacred that you didn't let me lend you a hand with a few.
"Or here's another way," he continued, spurred on by her mute protest. "It's all right for me to give the strength of my arm when you're falling over a cliff. But if I take that same strength of arm and use it at pick-and-shovel work for a day and earn two dollars, you won't have anything to do with the two dollars. Yet it's the same old strength of arm in a new form, that's all. Besides, in this proposition it won't be a claim on you. It ain't even a loan to you. It's an arm-hold I'm giving your brother—just the same sort of arm-hold as if he was falling over a cliff. And a nice one you are, to come running out and yell 'Stop!' at me, and let your brother go on over the cliff. What he needs to save his legs is that crack in Germany, and that's the arm-hold I'm offering.
"Wish you could see my rooms. Walls all decorated with horsehair bridles—scores of them—hundreds of them. They're no use to me, and they cost like Sam Scratch. But there's a lot of convicts making them, and I go on buying. Why, I've spent more money in a single night on whiskey than would get the best specialists and pay all the expenses of a dozen cases like your brother's. And remember, you've got nothing to do with this. If your brother wants to look on it as a loan, all right. It's up to him, and you've got to stand out of the way while I pull him back from that cliff."
Still Dede refused, and Daylight's argument took a more painful turn.
"I can only guess that you're standing in your brother's way on account of some mistaken idea in your head that this is my idea of courting. Well, it ain't. You might as well think I'm courting all those convicts I buy bridles from. I haven't asked you to marry me, and if I do I won't come trying to buy you into consenting. And there won't be anything underhand when I come a-asking."
Dede's face was flushed and angry. "If you knew how ridiculous you are, you'd stop," she blurted out. "You can make me more uncomfortable than any man I ever knew. Every little while you give me to understand that you haven't asked me to marry you yet. I'm not waiting to be asked, and I warned you from the first that you had no chance. And yet you hold it over my head that some time, some day, you're going to ask me to marry you. Go ahead and ask me now, and get your answer and get it over and done with."
He looked at her in honest and pondering admiration. "I want you so bad, Miss Mason, that I don't dast to ask you now," he said, with such whimsicality and earnestness as to make her throw her head back in a frank boyish laugh. "Besides, as I told you, I'm green at it. I never went a-courting before, and I don't want to make any mistakes."
"But you're making them all the time," she cried impulsively. "No man ever courted a woman by holding a threatened proposal over her head like a club."
"I won't do it any more," he said humbly. "And anyway, we're off the argument. My straight talk a minute ago still holds. You're standing in your brother's way. No matter what notions you've got in your head, you've got to get out of the way and give him a chance. Will you let me go and see him and talk it over with him? I'll make it a hard and fast business proposition. I'll stake him to get well, that's all, and charge him interest."
She visibly hesitated.
"And just remember one thing, Miss Mason: it's HIS leg, not yours."
Still she refrained from giving her answer, and Daylight went on strengthening his position.
"And remember, I go over to see him alone. He's a man, and I can deal with him better without womenfolks around. I'll go over to-morrow afternoon."
Daylight had been wholly truthful when he told Dede that he had no real friends. On speaking terms with thousands, on fellowship and drinking terms with hundreds, he was a lonely man. He failed to find the one man, or group of several men, with whom he could be really intimate. Cities did not make for comradeship as did the Alaskan trail. Besides, the types of men were different. Scornful and contemptuous of business men on the one hand, on the other his relations with the San Francisco bosses had been more an alliance of expediency than anything else. He had felt more of kinship for the franker brutality of the bosses and their captains, but they had failed to claim any deep respect. They were too prone to crookedness. Bonds were better than men's word in this modern world, and one had to look carefully to the bonds.
In the old Yukon days it had been different. Bonds didn't go. A man said he had so much, and even in a poker game his appeasement was accepted.
Larry Hegan, who rose ably to the largest demands of Daylight's operations and who had few illusions and less hypocrisy, might have proved a chum had it not been for his temperamental twist. Strange genius that he was, a Napoleon of the law, with a power of visioning that far exceeded Daylight's, he had nothing in common with Daylight outside the office. He spent his time with books, a thing Daylight could not abide. Also, he devoted himself to the endless writing of plays which never got beyond manuscript form, and, though Daylight only sensed the secret taint of it, was a confirmed but temperate eater of hasheesh. Hegan lived all his life cloistered with books in a world of agitation. With the out-of-door world he had no understanding nor tolerance. In food and drink he was abstemious as a monk, while exercise was a thing abhorrent. Daylight's friendships, in lieu of anything closer, were drinking friendships and roistering friendships. And with the passing of the Sunday rides with Dede, he fell back more and more upon these for diversion. The cocktail wall of inhibition he reared more assiduously than ever.
The big red motor-car was out more frequently now, while a stable hand was hired to give Bob exercise. In his early San Francisco days, there had been intervals of easement between his deals, but in this present biggest deal of all the strain was unremitting. Not in a month, or two, or three, could his huge land investment be carried to a successful consummation. And so complete and wide-reaching was it that complications and knotty situations constantly arose. Every day brought its problems, and when he had solved them in his masterful way, he left the office in his big car, almost sighing with relief at anticipation of the approaching double Martini. Rarely was he made tipsy. His constitution was too strong for that. Instead, he was that direst of all drinkers, the steady drinker, deliberate and controlled, who averaged a far higher quantity of alcohol than the irregular and violent drinker. For six weeks hard-running he had seen nothing of Dede except in the office, and there he resolutely refrained from making approaches. But by the seventh Sunday his hunger for her overmastered him. It was a stormy day.
A heavy southeast gale was blowing, and squall after squall of rain and wind swept over the city. He could not take his mind off of her, and a persistent picture came to him of her sitting by a window and sewing feminine fripperies of some sort. When the time came for his first pre-luncheon cocktail to be served to him in his rooms, he did not take it.
Filled with a daring determination, he glanced at his note book for Dede's telephone number, and called for the switch.
At first it was her landlady's daughter who was raised, but in a minute he heard the voice he had been hungry to hear.
"I just wanted to tell you that I'm coming out to see you," he said. "I didn't want to break in on you without warning, that was all."
"Has something happened?" came her voice.
"I'll tell you when I get there," he evaded.
He left the red car two blocks away and arrived on foot at the pretty, three-storied, shingled Berkeley house. For an instant only, he was aware of an inward hesitancy, but the next moment he rang the bell. He knew that what he was doing was in direct violation of her wishes, and that he was setting her a difficult task to receive as a Sunday caller the multimillionaire and notorious Elam Harnish of newspaper fame. On the other hand, the one thing he did not expect of her was what he would have termed "silly female capers."
And in this he was not disappointed.
She came herself to the door to receive him and shake hands with him. He hung his mackintosh and hat on the rack in the comfortable square hall and turned to her for direction.
"They are busy in there," she said, indicating the parlor from which came the boisterous voices of young people, and through the open door of which he could see several college youths. "So you will have to come into my rooms."
She led the way through the door opening out of the hall to the right, and, once inside, he stood awkwardly rooted to the floor, gazing about him and at her and all the time trying not to gaze. In his perturbation he failed to hear and see her invitation to a seat. So these were her quarters. The intimacy of it and her making no fuss about it was startling, but it was no more than he would have expected of her. It was almost two rooms in one, the one he was in evidently the sitting-room, and the one he could see into, the bedroom. Beyond an oaken dressing-table, with an orderly litter of combs and brushes and dainty feminine knickknacks, there was no sign of its being used as a bedroom. The broad couch, with a cover of old rose and banked high with cushions, he decided must be the bed, but it was farthest from any experience of a civilized bed he had ever had.
Not that he saw much of detail in that awkward moment of standing. His general impression was one of warmth and comfort and beauty. There were no carpets, and on the hardwood floor he caught a glimpse of several wolf and coyote skins. What captured and perceptibly held his eye for a moment was a Crouched Venus that stood on a Steinway upright against a background of mountain-lion skin on the wall.
But it was Dede herself that smote most sharply upon sense and perception. He had always cherished the idea that she was very much a woman—the lines of her figure, her hair, her eyes, her voice, and birdlike laughing ways had all contributed to this; but here, in her own rooms, clad in some flowing, clinging gown, the emphasis of sex was startling. He had been accustomed to her only in trim tailor suits and shirtwaists, or in riding costume of velvet corduroy, and he was not prepared for this new revelation. She seemed so much softer, so much more pliant, and tender, and lissome. She was a part of this atmosphere of quietude and beauty. She fitted into it just as she had fitted in with the sober office furnishings.
"Won't you sit down?" she repeated.
He felt like an animal long denied food. His hunger for her welled up in him, and he proceeded to "wolf" the dainty morsel before him. Here was no patience, no diplomacy. The straightest, direct way was none too quick for him and, had he known it, the least unsuccessful way he could have chosen.
"Look here," he said, in a voice that shook with passion, "there's one thing I won't do, and that's propose to you in the office. That's why I'm here. Dede Mason, I want you. I just want you."
While he spoke he advanced upon her, his black eyes burning with bright fire, his aroused blood swarthy in his cheek.
So precipitate was he, that she had barely time to cry out her involuntary alarm and to step back, at the same time catching one of his hands as he attempted to gather her into his arms.
In contrast to him, the blood had suddenly left her cheeks. The hand that had warded his off and that still held it, was trembling. She relaxed her fingers, and his arm dropped to his side. She wanted to say something, do something, to pass on from the awkwardness of the situation, but no intelligent thought nor action came into her mind. She was aware only of a desire to laugh. This impulse was party hysterical and partly spontaneous humor—the latter growing from instant to instant. Amazing as the affair was, the ridiculous side of it was not veiled to her. She felt like one who had suffered the terror of the onslaught of a murderous footpad only to find out that it was an innocent pedestrian asking the time.
Daylight was the quicker to achieve action. "Oh, I know I'm a sure enough fool," he said. "I—I guess I'll sit down. Don't be scairt, Miss Mason. I'm not real dangerous."
"I'm not afraid," she answered, with a smile, slipping down herself into a chair, beside which, on the floor, stood a sewing-basket from which, Daylight noted, some white fluffy thing of lace and muslin overflowed. Again she smiled. "Though I confess you did startle me for the moment."
"It's funny," Daylight sighed, almost with regret; "here I am, strong enough to bend you around and tie knots in you. Here I am, used to having my will with man and beast and anything. And here I am sitting in this chair, as weak and helpless as a little lamb. You sure take the starch out of me."
Dede vainly cudgeled her brains in quest of a reply to these remarks. Instead, her thought dwelt insistently upon the significance of his stepping aside, in the middle of a violent proposal, in order to make irrelevant remarks. What struck her was the man's certitude. So little did he doubt that he would have her, that he could afford to pause and generalize upon love and the effects of love.
She noted his hand unconsciously slipping in the familiar way into the side coat pocket where she knew he carried his tobacco and brown papers.
"You may smoke, if you want to," she said. He withdrew his hand with a jerk, as if something in the pocket had stung him.
"No, I wasn't thinking of smoking. I was thinking of you. What's a man to do when he wants a woman but ask her to marry him? That's all that I'm doing. I can't do it in style. I know that. But I can use straight English, and that's good enough for me. I sure want you mighty bad, Miss Mason. You're in my mind 'most all the time, now. And what I want to know is—well, do you want me? That's all."
"I—I wish you hadn't asked," she said softly.
"Mebbe it's best you should know a few things before you give me an answer," he went on, ignoring the fact that the answer had already been given. "I never went after a woman before in my life, all reports to the contrary not withstanding. The stuff you read about me in the papers and books, about me being a lady-killer, is all wrong. There's not an iota of truth in it. I guess I've done more than my share of card-playing and whiskey-drinking, but women I've let alone. There was a woman that killed herself, but I didn't know she wanted me that bad or else I'd have married her—not for love, but to keep her from killing herself. She was the best of the boiling, but I never gave her any encouragement. I'm telling you all this because you've read about it, and I want you to get it straight from me.
"Lady-killer!" he snorted. "Why, Miss Mason, I don't mind telling you that I've sure been scairt of women all my life. You're the first one I've not been afraid of. That's the strange thing about it. I just plumb worship you, and yet I'm not afraid of you. Mebbe it's because you're different from the women I know. You've never chased me. Lady-killer! Why, I've been running away from ladies ever since I can remember, and I guess all that saved me was that I was strong in the wind and that I never fell down and broke a leg or anything.
"I didn't ever want to get married until after I met you, and until a long time after I met you. I cottoned to you from the start; but I never thought it would get as bad as marriage. Why, I can't get to sleep nights, thinking of you and wanting you."
He came to a stop and waited. She had taken the lace and muslin from the basket, possibly to settle her nerves and wits, and was sewing upon it. As she was not looking at him, he devoured her with his eyes. He noted the firm, efficient hands—hands that could control a horse like Bob, that could run a typewriter almost as fast as a man could talk, that could sew on dainty garments, and that, doubtlessly, could play on the piano over there in the corner. Another ultra-feminine detail he noticed—her slippers. They were small and bronze. He had never imagined she had such a small foot. Street shoes and riding boots were all that he had ever seen on her feet, and they had given no advertisement of this. The bronze slippers fascinated him, and to them his eyes repeatedly turned.
A knock came at the door, which she answered. Daylight could not help hearing the conversation. She was wanted at the telephone.
"Tell him to call up again in ten minutes," he heard her say, and the masculine pronoun caused in him a flashing twinge of jealousy. Well, he decided, whoever it was, Burning Daylight would give him a run for his money. The marvel to him was that a girl like Dede hadn't been married long since.
She came back, smiling to him, and resumed her sewing. His eyes wandered from the efficient hands to the bronze slippers and back again, and he swore to himself that there were mighty few stenographers like her in existence. That was because she must have come of pretty good stock, and had a pretty good raising. Nothing else could explain these rooms of hers and the clothes she wore and the way she wore them.
"Those ten minutes are flying," he suggested.
"I can't marry you," she said.
"You don't love me?"
She shook her head.
"Do you like me—the littlest bit?"
This time she nodded, at the same time allowing the smile of amusement to play on her lips. But it was amusement without contempt. The humorous side of a situation rarely appealed in vain to her.
"Well, that's something to go on," he announced. "You've got to make a start to get started. I just liked you at first, and look what it's grown into. You recollect, you said you didn't like my way of life. Well, I've changed it a heap. I ain't gambling like I used to. I've gone into what you called the legitimate, making two minutes grow where one grew before, three hundred thousand folks where only a hundred thousand grew before. And this time next year there'll be two million eucalyptus growing on the hills. Say do you like me more than the littlest bit?"
She raised her eyes from her work and looked at him as she answered:
"I like you a great deal, but—"
He waited a moment for her to complete the sentence, failing which, he went on himself.
"I haven't an exaggerated opinion of myself, so I know I ain't bragging when I say I'll make a pretty good husband. You'd find I was no hand at nagging and fault-finding. I can guess what it must be for a woman like you to be independent. Well, you'd be independent as my wife. No strings on you. You could follow your own sweet will, and nothing would be too good for you. I'd give you everything your heart desired—"
"Except yourself," she interrupted suddenly, almost sharply.
Daylight's astonishment was momentary.
"I don't know about that. I'd be straight and square, and live true. I don't hanker after divided affections."
"I don't mean that," she said. "Instead of giving yourself to your wife, you would give yourself to the three hundred thousand people of Oakland, to your street railways and ferry-routes, to the two million trees on the hills to everything business—and—and to all that that means."
"I'd see that I didn't," he declared stoutly. "I'd be yours to command."
"You think so, but it would turn out differently." She suddenly became nervous. "We must stop this talk. It is too much like attempting to drive a bargain. 'How much will you give?' 'I'll give so much.' 'I want more,' and all that. I like you, but not enough to marry you, and I'll never like you enough to marry you."
"How do you know that?" he demanded.
"Because I like you less and less."
Daylight sat dumfounded. The hurt showed itself plainly in his face.
"Oh, you don't understand," she cried wildly, beginning to lose self-control—"It's not that way I mean. I do like you; the more I've known you the more I've liked you. And at the same time the more I've known you the less would I care to marry you."
This enigmatic utterance completed Daylight's perplexity.
"Don't you see?" she hurried on. "I could have far easier married the Elam Harnish fresh from Klondike, when I first laid eyes on him long ago, than marry you sitting before me now."
He shook his head slowly. "That's one too many for me. The more you know and like a man the less you want to marry him. Familiarity breeds contempt—I guess that's what you mean."
"No, no," she cried, but before she could continue, a knock came on the door.
"The ten minutes is up," Daylight said.
His eyes, quick with observation like an Indian's, darted about the room while she was out. The impression of warmth and comfort and beauty predominated, though he was unable to analyze it; while the simplicity delighted him—expensive simplicity, he decided, and most of it leftovers from the time her father went broke and died. He had never before appreciated a plain hardwood floor with a couple of wolfskins; it sure beat all the carpets in creation. He stared solemnly at a bookcase containing a couple of hundred books. There was mystery. He could not understand what people found so much to write about.
Writing things and reading things were not the same as doing things, and himself primarily a man of action, doing things was alone comprehensible.
His gaze passed on from the Crouched Venus to a little tea-table with all its fragile and exquisite accessories, and to a shining copper kettle and copper chafing-dish. Chafing dishes were not unknown to him, and he wondered if she concocted suppers on this one for some of those University young men he had heard whispers about. One or two water-colors on the wall made him conjecture that she had painted them herself. There were photographs of horses and of old masters, and the trailing purple of a Burial of Christ held him for a time. But ever his gaze returned to that Crouched Venus on the piano. To his homely, frontier-trained mind, it seemed curious that a nice young woman should have such a bold, if not sinful, object on display in her own room. But he reconciled himself to it by an act of faith. Since it was Dede, it must be eminently all right. Evidently such things went along with culture. Larry Hegan had similar casts and photographs in his book-cluttered quarters. But then, Larry Hegan was different. There was that hint of unhealth about him that Daylight invariably sensed in his presence, while Dede, on the contrary, seemed always so robustly wholesome, radiating an atmosphere compounded of the sun and wind and dust of the open road. And yet, if such a clean, healthy woman as she went in for naked women crouching on her piano, it must be all right. Dede made it all right. She could come pretty close to making anything all right. Besides, he didn't understand culture anyway.
She reentered the room, and as she crossed it to her chair, he admired the way she walked, while the bronze slippers were maddening.
"I'd like to ask you several questions," he began immediately "Are you thinking of marrying somebody?"
She laughed merrily and shook her head.
"Do you like anybody else more than you like me?—that man at the 'phone just now, for instance?"
"There isn't anybody else. I don't know anybody I like well enough to marry. For that matter, I don't think I am a marrying woman. Office work seems to spoil one for that."
Daylight ran his eyes over her, from her face to the tip of a bronze slipper, in a way that made the color mantle in her cheeks. At the same time he shook his head sceptically.
"It strikes me that you're the most marryingest woman that ever made a man sit up and take notice. And now another question. You see, I've just got to locate the lay of the land. Is there anybody you like as much as you like me?"
But Dede had herself well in hand.
"That's unfair," she said. "And if you stop and consider, you will find that you are doing the very thing you disclaimed—namely, nagging. I refuse to answer any more of your questions. Let us talk about other things. How is Bob?"
Half an hour later, whirling along through the rain on Telegraph Avenue toward Oakland, Daylight smoked one of his brown-paper cigarettes and reviewed what had taken place. It was not at all bad, was his summing up, though there was much about it that was baffling. There was that liking him the more she knew him and at the same time wanting to marry him less. That was a puzzler.
But the fact that she had refused him carried with it a certain elation. In refusing him she had refused his thirty million dollars. That was going some for a ninety dollar-a-month stenographer who had known better ties. She wasn't after money, that was patent. Every woman he had encountered had seemed willing to swallow him down for the sake of his money. Why, he had doubled his fortune, made fifteen millions, since the day she first came to work for him, and behold, any willingness to marry him she might have possessed had diminished as his money had increased.
"Gosh!" he muttered. "If I clean up a hundred million on this land deal she won't even be on speaking terms with me."
But he could not smile the thing away. It remained to baffle him, that enigmatic statement of hers that she could more easily have married the Elam Harnish fresh from the Klondike than the present Elam Harnish. Well, he concluded, the thing to do was for him to become more like that old-time Daylight who had come down out of the North to try his luck at the bigger game. But that was impossible. He could not set back the flight of time. Wishing wouldn't do it, and there was no other way. He might as well wish himself a boy again.
Another satisfaction he cuddled to himself from their interview. He had heard of stenographers before, who refused their employers, and who invariably quit their positions immediately afterward. But Dede had not even hinted at such a thing. No matter how baffling she was, there was no nonsensical silliness about her. She was level headed. But, also, he had been level-headed and was partly responsible for this. He hadn't taken advantage of her in the office. True, he had twice overstepped the bounds, but he had not followed it up and made a practice of it. She knew she could trust him. But in spite of all this he was confident that most young women would have been silly enough to resign a position with a man they had turned down. And besides, after he had put it to her in the right light, she had not been silly over his sending her brother to Germany.
"Gee!" he concluded, as the car drew up before his hotel. "If I'd only known it as I do now, I'd have popped the question the first day she came to work. According to her say-so, that would have been the proper moment. She likes me more and more, and the more she likes me the less she'd care to marry me! Now what do you think of that? She sure must be fooling."
Once again, on a rainy Sunday, weeks afterward, Daylight proposed to Dede. As on the first time, he restrained himself until his hunger for her overwhelmed him and swept him away in his red automobile to Berkeley. He left the machine several blocks away and proceeded to the house on foot. But Dede was out, the landlady's daughter told him, and added, on second thought, that she was out walking in the hills. Furthermore, the young lady directed him where Dede's walk was most likely to extend.
Daylight obeyed the girl's instructions, and soon the street he followed passed the last house and itself ceased where began the first steep slopes of the open hills. The air was damp with the on-coming of rain, for the storm had not yet burst, though the rising wind proclaimed its imminence. As far as he could see, there was no sign of Dede on the smooth, grassy hills. To the right, dipping down into a hollow and rising again, was a large, full-grown eucalyptus grove. Here all was noise and movement, the lofty, slender trunked trees swaying back and forth in the wind and clashing their branches together. In the squalls, above all the minor noises of creaking and groaning, arose a deep thrumming note as of a mighty harp. Knowing Dede as he did, Daylight was confident that he would find her somewhere in this grove where the storm effects were so pronounced. And find her he did, across the hollow and on the exposed crest of the opposing slope where the gale smote its fiercest blows.
There was something monotonous, though not tiresome, about the way Daylight proposed. Guiltless of diplomacy subterfuge, he was as direct and gusty as the gale itself. He had time neither for greeting nor apology.
"It's the same old thing," he said. "I want you and I've come for you. You've just got to have me, Dede, for the more I think about it the more certain I am that you've got a Sneaking liking for me that's something more than just Ordinary liking. And you don't dast say that it isn't; now dast you?"
He had shaken hands with her at the moment he began speaking, and he had continued to hold her hand. Now, when she did not answer, she felt a light but firmly insistent pressure as of his drawing her to him. Involuntarily, she half-yielded to him, her desire for the moment stronger than her will. Then suddenly she drew herself away, though permitting her hand still to remain in his.
"You sure ain't afraid of me?" he asked, with quick compunction.
"No." She smiled woefully. "Not of you, but of myself."
"You haven't taken my dare," he urged under this encouragement.
"Please, please," she begged. "We can never marry, so don't let us discuss it."
"Then I copper your bet to lose." He was almost gay, now, for success was coming faster than his fondest imagining. She liked him, without a doubt; and without a doubt she liked him well enough to let him hold her hand, well enough to be not repelled by the nearness of him.
She shook her head. "No, it is impossible. You would lose your bet."
For the first time a dark suspicion crossed Daylight's mind—a clew that explained everything.
"Say, you ain't been let in for some one of these secret marriages have you?"
The consternation in his voice and on his face was too much for her, and her laugh rang out, merry and spontaneous as a burst of joy from the throat of a bird.
Daylight knew his answer, and, vexed with himself decided that action was more efficient than speech. So he stepped between her and the wind and drew her so that she stood close in the shelter of him. An unusually stiff squall blew about them and thrummed overhead in the tree-tops and both paused to listen. A shower of flying leaves enveloped them, and hard on the heel of the wind came driving drops of rain. He looked down on her and on her hair wind-blown about her face; and because of her closeness to him and of a fresher and more poignant realization of what she meant to him, he trembled so that she was aware of it in the hand that held hers.
She suddenly leaned against him, bowing her head until it rested lightly upon his breast. And so they stood while another squall, with flying leaves and scattered drops of rain, rattled past. With equal suddenness she lifted her head and looked at him.
"Do you know," she said, "I prayed last night about you. I prayed that you would fail, that you would lose everything everything."
Daylight stared his amazement at this cryptic utterance. "That sure beats me. I always said I got out of my depth with women, and you've got me out of my depth now. Why you want me to lose everything, seeing as you like me—"
"I never said so."
"You didn't dast say you didn't. So, as I was saying: liking me, why you'd want me to go broke is clean beyond my simple understanding. It's right in line with that other puzzler of yours, the more-you-like-me-the-less-you-want-to-marry-me one. Well, you've just got to explain, that's all."
His arms went around her and held her closely, and this time she did not resist. Her head was bowed, and he had not see her face, yet he had a premonition that she was crying. He had learned the virtue of silence, and he waited her will in the matter. Things had come to such a pass that she was bound to tell him something now. Of that he was confident.
"I am not romantic," she began, again looking at him as he spoke.
"It might be better for me if I were. Then I could make a fool of myself and be unhappy for the rest of my life. But my abominable common sense prevents. And that doesn't make me a bit happier, either."
"I'm still out of my depth and swimming feeble," Daylight said, after waiting vainly for her to go on. "You've got to show me, and you ain't shown me yet. Your common sense and praying that I'd go broke is all up in the air to me. Little woman, I just love you mighty hard, and I want you to marry me. That's straight and simple and right off the bat. Will you marry me?"
She shook her head slowly, and then, as she talked, seemed to grow angry, sadly angry; and Daylight knew that this anger was against him.
"Then let me explain, and just as straight and simply as you have asked." She paused, as if casting about for a beginning. "You are honest and straightforward. Do you want me to be honest and straightforward as a woman is not supposed to be?—to tell you things that will hurt you?—to make confessions that ought to shame me? to behave in what many men would think was an unwomanly manner?"
The arm around her shoulder pressed encouragement, but he did not speak.
"I would dearly like to marry you, but I am afraid. I am proud and humble at the same time that a man like you should care for me. But you have too much money. There's where my abominable common sense steps in. Even if we did marry, you could never be my man—my lover and my husband. You would be your money's man. I know I am a foolish woman, but I want my man for myself. You would not be free for me. Your money possesses you, taking your time, your thoughts, your energy, everything, bidding you go here and go there, do this and do that. Don't you see? Perhaps it's pure silliness, but I feel that I can love much, give much—give all, and in return, though I don't want all, I want much—and I want much more than your money would permit you to give me.
"And your money destroys you; it makes you less and less nice. I am not ashamed to say that I love you, because I shall never marry you. And I loved you much when I did not know you at all, when you first came down from Alaska and I first went into the office. You were my hero. You were the Burning Daylight of the gold-diggings, the daring traveler and miner. And you looked it. I don't see how any woman could have looked at you without loving you—then. But you don't look it now.
"Please, please, forgive me for hurting you. You wanted straight talk, and I am giving it to you. All these last years you have been living unnaturally. You, a man of the open, have been cooping yourself up in the cities with all that that means. You are not the same man at all, and your money is destroying you. You are becoming something different, something not so healthy, not so clean, not so nice. Your money and your way of life are doing it. You know it. You haven't the same body now that you had then. You are putting on flesh, and it is not healthy flesh. You are kind and genial with me, I know, but you are not kind and genial to all the world as you were then. You have become harsh and cruel. And I know. Remember, I have studied you six days a week, month after month, year after year; and I know more about the most insignificant parts of you than you know of all of me. The cruelty is not only in your heart and thoughts, but it is there in face. It has put its lines there. I have watched them come and grow. Your money, and the life it compels you to lead have done all this. You are being brutalized and degraded. And this process can only go on and on until you are hopelessly destroyed—"
He attempted to interrupt, but she stopped him, herself breathless and her voice trembling.
"No, no; let me finish utterly. I have done nothing but think, think, think, all these months, ever since you came riding with me, and now that I have begun to speak I am going to speak all that I have in me. I do love you, but I cannot marry you and destroy love. You are growing into a thing that I must in the end despise. You can't help it. More than you can possibly love me, do you love this business game. This business—and it's all perfectly useless, so far as you are concerned—claims all of you. I sometimes think it would be easier to share you equitably with another woman than to share you with this business. I might have half of you, at any rate. But this business would claim, not half of you, but nine-tenths of you, or ninety-nine hundredths.
"Remember, the meaning of marriage to me is not to get a man's money to spend. I want the man. You say you want ME. And suppose I consented, but gave you only one-hundredth part of me. Suppose there was something else in my life that took the other ninety-nine parts, and, furthermore, that ruined my figure, that put pouches under my eyes and crows-feet in the corners, that made me unbeautiful to look upon and that made my spirit unbeautiful. Would you be satisfied with that one-hundredth part of me? Yet that is all you are offering me of yourself. Do you wonder that I won't marry you?—that I can't?"
Daylight waited to see if she were quite done, and she went on again.
"It isn't that I am selfish. After all, love is giving, not receiving. But I see so clearly that all my giving could not do you any good. You are like a sick man. You don't play business like other men. You play it heart and and all of you. No matter what you believed and intended a wife would be only a brief diversion. There is that magnificent Bob, eating his head off in the stable. You would buy me a beautiful mansion and leave me in it to yawn my head off, or cry my eyes out because of my helplessness and inability to save you. This disease of business would be corroding you and marring you all the time. You play it as you have played everything else, as in Alaska you played the life of the trail. Nobody could be permitted to travel as fast and as far as you, to work as hard or endure as much. You hold back nothing; you put all you've got into whatever you are doing."
"Limit is the sky," he grunted grim affirmation.
"But if you would only play the lover-husband that way—"
Her voice faltered and stopped, and a blush showed in her wet cheeks as her eyes fell before his.
"And now I won't say another word," she added. "I've delivered a whole sermon."
She rested now, frankly and fairly, in the shelter of his arms, and both were oblivious to the gale that rushed past them in quicker and stronger blasts. The big downpour of rain had not yet come, but the mist-like squalls were more frequent. Daylight was openly perplexed, and he was still perplexed when he began to speak.
"I'm stumped. I'm up a tree. I'm clean flabbergasted, Miss Mason—or Dede, because I love to call you that name. I'm free to confess there's a mighty big heap in what you say. As I understand it, your conclusion is that you'd marry me if I hadn't a cent and if I wasn't getting fat. No, no; I'm not joking. I acknowledge the corn, and that's just my way of boiling the matter down and summing it up. If I hadn't a cent, and if I was living a healthy life with all the time in the world to love you and be your husband instead of being awash to my back teeth in business and all the rest—why, you'd marry me.
"That's all as clear as print, and you're correcter than I ever guessed before. You've sure opened my eyes a few. But I'm stuck. What can I do? My business has sure roped, thrown, and branded me. I'm tied hand and foot, and I can't get up and meander over green pastures. I'm like the man that got the bear by the tail. I can't let go; and I want you, and I've got to let go to get you.
"I don't know what to do, but something's sure got to happen—I can't lose you. I just can't. And I'm not going to. Why, you're running business a close second right now. Business never kept me awake nights.
"You've left me no argument. I know I'm not the same man that came from Alaska. I couldn't hit the trail with the dogs as I did in them days. I'm soft in my muscles, and my mind's gone hard. I used to respect men. I despise them now. You see, I spent all my life in the open, and I reckon I'm an open-air man. Why, I've got the prettiest little ranch you ever laid eyes on, up in Glen Ellen. That's where I got stuck for that brick-yard. You recollect handling the correspondence. I only laid eyes on the ranch that one time, and I so fell in love with it that I bought it there and then. I just rode around the hills, and was happy as a kid out of school. I'd be a better man living in the country. The city doesn't make me better. You're plumb right there. I know it. But suppose your prayer should be answered and I'd go clean broke and have to work for day's wages?"
She did not answer, though all the body of her seemed to urge consent.
"Suppose I had nothing left but that little ranch, and was satisfied to grow a few chickens and scratch a living somehow—would you marry me then, Dede?"
"Why, we'd be together all the time!" she cried.
"But I'd have to be out ploughing once in a while," he warned, "or driving to town to get the grub."
"But there wouldn't be the office, at any rate, and no man to see, and men to see without end. But it is all foolish and impossible, and we'll have to be starting back now if we're to escape the rain."
Then was the moment, among the trees, where they began the descent of the hill, that Daylight might have drawn her closely to him and kissed her once. But he was too perplexed with the new thoughts she had put into his head to take advantage of the situation. He merely caught her by the arm and helped her over the rougher footing.
"It's darn pretty country up there at Glen Ellen," he said meditatively. "I wish you could see it."
At the edge of the grove he suggested that it might be better for them to part there.
"It's your neighborhood, and folks is liable to talk."
But she insisted that he accompany her as far as the house.
"I can't ask you in," she said, extending her hand at the foot of the steps.
The wind was humming wildly in sharply recurrent gusts, but still the rain held off.
"Do you know," he said, "taking it by and large, it's the happiest day of my life." He took off his hat, and the wind rippled and twisted his black hair as he went on solemnly, "And I'm sure grateful to God, or whoever or whatever is responsible for your being on this earth. For you do like me heaps. It's been my joy to hear you say so to-day. It's—" He left the thought arrested, and his face assumed the familiar whimsical expression as he murmured: "Dede, Dede, we've just got to get married. It's the only way, and trust to luck for it's coming out all right—".
But the tears were threatening to rise in her eyes again, as she shook her head and turned and went up the steps.
When the ferry system began to run, and the time between Oakland and San Francisco was demonstrated to be cut in half, the tide of Daylight's terrific expenditure started to turn. Not that it really did turn, for he promptly went into further investments. Thousands of lots in his residence tracts were sold, and thousands of homes were being built. Factory sites also were selling, and business properties in the heart of Oakland. All this tended to a steady appreciation in value of Daylight's huge holdings. But, as of old, he had his hunch and was riding it. Already he had begun borrowing from the banks. The magnificent profits he made on the land he sold were turned into more land, into more development; and instead of paying off old loans, he contracted new ones. As he had pyramided in Dawson City, he now pyramided in Oakland; but he did it with the knowledge that it was a stable enterprise rather than a risky placer-mining boom.
In a small way, other men were following his lead, buying and selling land and profiting by the improvement work he was doing. But this was to be expected, and the small fortunes they were making at his expense did not irritate him. There was an exception, however. One Simon Dolliver, with money to go in with, and with cunning and courage to back it up, bade fair to become a several times millionaire at Daylight's expense. Dolliver, too, pyramided, playing quickly and accurately, and keeping his money turning over and over. More than once Daylight found him in the way, as he himself had got in the way of the Guggenhammers when they first set their eyes on Ophir Creek.
Work on Daylight's dock system went on apace, yet was one of those enterprises that consumed money dreadfully and that could not be accomplished as quickly as a ferry system. The engineering difficulties were great, the dredging and filling a cyclopean task. The mere item of piling was anything but small. A good average pile, by the time it was delivered on the ground, cost a twenty-dollar gold piece, and these piles were used in unending thousands. All accessible groves of mature eucalyptus were used, and as well, great rafts of pine piles were towed down the coast from Peugeot Sound.
Not content with manufacturing the electricity for his street railways in the old-fashioned way, in power-houses, Daylight organized the Sierra and Salvador Power Company. This immediately assumed large proportions. Crossing the San Joaquin Valley on the way from the mountains, and plunging through the Contra Costa hills, there were many towns, and even a robust city, that could be supplied with power, also with light; and it became a street- and house-lighting project as well. As soon as the purchase of power sites in the Sierras was rushed through, the survey parties were out and building operations begun.
And so it went. There were a thousand maws into which he poured unceasing streams of money. But it was all so sound and legitimate, that Daylight, born gambler that he was, and with his clear, wide vision, could not play softly and safely. It was a big opportunity, and to him there was only one way to play it, and that was the big way. Nor did his one confidential adviser, Larry Hegan, aid him to caution. On the contrary, it was Daylight who was compelled to veto the wilder visions of that able hasheesh dreamer. Not only did Daylight borrow heavily from the banks and trust companies, but on several of his corporations he was compelled to issue stock. He did this grudgingly however, and retained most of his big enterprises of his own. Among the companies in which he reluctantly allowed the investing public to join were the Golden Gate Dock Company, and Recreation Parks Company, the United Water Company, the Uncial Shipbuilding Company, and the Sierra and Salvador Power Company. Nevertheless, between himself and Hegan, he retained the controlling share in each of these enterprises.
His affair with Dede Mason only seemed to languish. While delaying to grapple with the strange problem it presented, his desire for her continued to grow. In his gambling simile, his conclusion was that Luck had dealt him the most remarkable card in the deck, and that for years he had overlooked it. Love was the card, and it beat them all. Love was the king card of trumps, the fifth ace, the joker in a game of tenderfoot poker. It was the card of cards, and play it he would, to the limit, when the opening came. He could not see that opening yet. The present game would have to play to some sort of a conclusion first.
Yet he could not shake from his brain and vision the warm recollection of those bronze slippers, that clinging gown, and all the feminine softness and pliancy of Dede in her pretty Berkeley rooms. Once again, on a rainy Sunday, he telephoned that he was coming. And, as has happened ever since man first looked upon woman and called her good, again he played the blind force of male compulsion against the woman's secret weakness to yield. Not that it was Daylight's way abjectly to beg and entreat. On the contrary, he was masterful in whatever he did, but he had a trick of whimsical wheedling that Dede found harder to resist than the pleas of a suppliant lover. It was not a happy scene in its outcome, for Dede, in the throes of her own desire, desperate with weakness and at the same time with her better judgment hating her weakness cried out:—
"You urge me to try a chance, to marry you now and trust to luck for it to come out right. And life is a gamble say. Very well, let us gamble. Take a coin and toss it in the air. If it comes heads, I'll marry you. If it doesn't, you are forever to leave me alone and never mention marriage again."
A fire of mingled love and the passion of gambling came into Daylight's eyes. Involuntarily his hand started for his pocket for the coin. Then it stopped, and the light in his eyes was troubled.
"Go on," she ordered sharply. "Don't delay, or I may change my mind, and you will lose the chance."
"Little woman." His similes were humorous, but there was no humor in their meaning. His thought was as solemn as his voice. "Little woman, I'd gamble all the way from Creation to the Day of Judgment; I'd gamble a golden harp against another man's halo; I'd toss for pennies on the front steps of the New Jerusalem or set up a faro layout just outside the Pearly Gates; but I'll be everlastingly damned if I'll gamble on love. Love's too big to me to take a chance on. Love's got to be a sure thing, and between you and me it is a sure thing. If the odds was a hundred to one on my winning this flip, just the same, nary a flip."
In the spring of the year the Great Panic came on. The first warning was when the banks began calling in their unprotected loans. Daylight promptly paid the first several of his personal notes that were presented; then he divined that these demands but indicated the way the wind was going to blow, and that one of those terrific financial storms he had heard about was soon to sweep over the United States. How terrific this particular storm was to be he did not anticipate. Nevertheless, he took every precaution in his power, and had no anxiety about his weathering it out.
Money grew tighter. Beginning with the crash of several of the greatest Eastern banking houses, the tightness spread, until every bank in the country was calling in its credits. Daylight was caught, and caught because of the fact that for the first time he had been playing the legitimate business game. In the old days, such a panic, with the accompanying extreme shrinkage of values, would have been a golden harvest time for him. As it was, he watched the gamblers, who had ridden the wave of prosperity and made preparation for the slump, getting out from under and safely scurrying to cover or proceeding to reap a double harvest. Nothing remained for him but to stand fast and hold up.
He saw the situation clearly. When the banks demanded that he pay his loans, he knew that the banks were in sore need of the money. But he was in sorer need. And he knew that the banks did not want his collateral which they held. It would do them no good. In such a tumbling of values was no time to sell. His collateral was good, all of it, eminently sound and worth while; yet it was worthless at such a moment, when the one unceasing cry was money, money, money. Finding him obdurate, the banks demanded more collateral, and as the money pinch tightened they asked for two and even three times as much as had been originally accepted. Sometimes Daylight yielded to these demands, but more often not, and always battling fiercely.
He fought as with clay behind a crumbling wall. All portions of the wall were menaced, and he went around constantly strengthening the weakest parts with clay. This clay was money, and was applied, a sop here and a sop there, as fast as it was needed, but only when it was directly needed. The strength of his position lay in the Yerba Buena Ferry Company, the Consolidated Street Railways, and the United Water Company. Though people were no longer buying residence lots and factory and business sites, they were compelled to ride on his cars and ferry-boats and to consume his water. When all the financial world was clamoring for money and perishing through lack of it, the first of each month many thousands of dollars poured into his coffers from the water-rates, and each day ten thousand dollars, in dime and nickels, came in from his street railways and ferries.
Cash was what was wanted, and had he had the use of all this steady river of cash, all would have been well with him. As it was, he had to fight continually for a portion of it. Improvement work ceased, and only absolutely essential repairs were made. His fiercest fight was with the operating expenses, and this was a fight that never ended. There was never any let-up in his turning the thumb-screws of extended credit and economy. From the big wholesale suppliers down through the salary list to office stationery and postage stamps, he kept the thumb-screws turning. When his superintendents and heads of departments performed prodigies of cutting down, he patted them on the back and demanded more. When they threw down their hands in despair, he showed them how more could be accomplished.
"You are getting eight thousand dollars a year," he told Matthewson. "It's better pay than you ever got in your life before. Your fortune is in the same sack with mine. You've got to stand for some of the strain and risk. You've got personal credit in this town. Use it. Stand off butcher and baker and all the rest. Savvee? You're drawing down something like six hundred and sixty dollars a month. I want that cash. From now on, stand everybody off and draw down a hundred. I'll pay you interest on the rest till this blows over."
Two weeks later, with the pay-roll before them, it was:—
"Matthewson, who's this bookkeeper, Rogers? Your nephew? I thought so. He's pulling down eighty-five a month. After—this let him draw thirty-five. The forty can ride with me at interest."
"Impossible!" Matthewson cried. "He can't make ends meet on his salary as it is, and he has a wife and two kids—"
Daylight was upon him with a mighty oath.
"Can't! Impossible! What in hell do you think I'm running? A home for feeble-minded? Feeding and dressing and wiping the little noses of a lot of idiots that can't take care of themselves? Not on your life. I'm hustling, and now's the time that everybody that works for me has got to hustle. I want no fair-weather birds holding down my office chairs or anything else. This is nasty weather, damn nasty weather, and they've got to buck into it just like me. There are ten thousand men out of work in Oakland right now, and sixty thousand more in San Francisco. Your nephew, and everybody else on your pay-roll, can do as I say right now or quit. Savvee? If any of them get stuck, you go around yourself and guarantee their credit with the butchers and grocers. And you trim down that pay-roll accordingly. I've been carrying a few thousand folks that'll have to carry themselves for a while now, that's all."
"You say this filter's got to be replaced," he told his chief of the water-works. "We'll see about it. Let the people of Oakland drink mud for a change. It'll teach them to appreciate good water. Stop work at once. Get those men off the pay-roll. Cancel all orders for material. The contractors will sue? Let 'em sue and be damned. We'll be busted higher'n a kite or on easy street before they can get judgment."
And to Wilkinson:
"Take off that owl boat. Let the public roar and come home early to its wife. And there's that last car that connects with the 12:45 boat at Twenty-second and Hastings. Cut it out. I can't run it for two or three passengers. Let them take an earlier boat home or walk. This is no time for philanthropy. And you might as well take off a few more cars in the rush hours. Let the strap-hangers pay. It's the strap-hangers that'll keep us from going under."
And to another chief, who broke down under the excessive strain of retrenchment:—
"You say I can't do that and can't do this. I'll just show you a few of the latest patterns in the can-and-can't line. You'll be compelled to resign? All right, if you think so I never saw the man yet that I was hard up for. And when any man thinks I can't get along without him, I just show him the latest pattern in that line of goods and give him his walking-papers."
And so he fought and drove and bullied and even wheedled his way along. It was fight, fight, fight, and no let-up, from the first thing in the morning till nightfall. His private office saw throngs every day. All men came to see him, or were ordered to come. Now it was an optimistic opinion on the panic, a funny story, a serious business talk, or a straight take-it-or-leave-it blow from the shoulder. And there was nobody to relieve him. It was a case of drive, drive, drive, and he alone could do the driving. And this went on day after day, while the whole business world rocked around him and house after house crashed to the ground.
"It's all right, old man," he told Hegan every morning; and it was the same cheerful word that he passed out all day long, except at such times when he was in the thick of fighting to have his will with persons and things.
Eight o'clock saw him at his desk each morning. By ten o'clock, it was into the machine and away for a round of the banks. And usually in the machine with him was the ten thousand and more dollars that had been earned by his ferries and railways the day before. This was for the weakest spot in the financial dike. And with one bank president after another similar scenes were enacted. They were paralyzed with fear, and first of all he played his role of the big vital optimist. Times were improving.
Of course they were. The signs were already in the air. All that anybody had to do was to sit tight a little longer and hold on. That was all. Money was already more active in the East. Look at the trading on Wall Street of the last twenty-four hours.
That was the straw that showed the wind. Hadn't Ryan said so and so? and wasn't it reported that Morgan was preparing to do this and that?
As for himself, weren't the street-railway earnings increasing steadily? In spite of the panic, more and more people were coming to Oakland right along. Movements were already beginning in real estate. He was dickering even then to sell over a thousand of his suburban acres. Of course it was at a sacrifice, but it would ease the strain on all of them and bolster up the faint-hearted. That was the trouble—the faint-hearts. Had there been no faint-hearts there would have been no panic. There was that Eastern syndicate, negotiating with him now to take the majority of the stock in the Sierra and Salvador Power Company off his hands. That showed confidence that better times were at hand.
And if it was not cheery discourse, but prayer and entreaty or show down and fight on the part of the banks, Daylight had to counter in kind. If they could bully, he could bully. If the favor he asked were refused, it became the thing he demanded. And when it came down to raw and naked fighting, with the last veil of sentiment or illusion torn off, he could take their breaths away.
But he knew, also, how and when to give in. When he saw the wall shaking and crumbling irretrievably at a particular place, he patched it up with sops of cash from his three cash-earning companies. If the banks went, he went too. It was a case of their having to hold out. If they smashed and all the collateral they held of his was thrown on the chaotic market, it would be the end. And so it was, as the time passed, that on occasion his red motor-car carried, in addition to the daily cash, the most gilt-edged securities he possessed; namely, the Ferry Company, United Water and Consolidated Railways. But he did this reluctantly, fighting inch by inch.
As he told the president of the Merchants San Antonio who made the plea of carrying so many others:—
"They're small fry. Let them smash. I'm the king pin here. You've got more money to make out of me than them. Of course, you're carrying too much, and you've got to choose, that's all. It's root hog or die for you or them. I'm too strong to smash. You could only embarrass me and get yourself tangled up. Your way out is to let the small fry go, and I'll lend you a hand to do it."
And it was Daylight, also, in this time of financial anarchy, who sized up Simon Dolliver's affairs and lent the hand that sent that rival down in utter failure. The Golden Gate National was the keystone of Dolliver's strength, and to the president of that institution Daylight said:—
"Here I've been lending you a hand, and you now in the last ditch, with Dolliver riding on you and me all the time. It don't go. You hear me, it don't go. Dolliver couldn't cough up eleven dollars to save you. Let him get off and walk, and I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you the railway nickels for four days—that's forty thousand cash. And on the sixth of the month you can count on twenty thousand more from the Water Company." He shrugged his shoulders. "Take it or leave it. Them's my terms."
"It's dog eat dog, and I ain't overlooking any meat that's floating around," Daylight proclaimed that afternoon to Hegan; and Simon Dolliver went the way of the unfortunate in the Great Panic who were caught with plenty of paper and no money.
Daylight's shifts and devices were amazing. Nothing however large or small, passed his keen sight unobserved. The strain he was under was terrific. He no longer ate lunch. The days were too short, and his noon hours and his office were as crowded as at any other time. By the end of the day he was exhausted, and, as never before, he sought relief behind his wall of alcoholic inhibition. Straight to his hotel he was driven, and straight to his rooms he went, where immediately was mixed for him the first of a series of double Martinis. By dinner, his brain was well clouded and the panic forgotten. By bedtime, with the assistance of Scotch whiskey, he was full—not violently nor uproariously full, nor stupefied, but merely well under the influence of a pleasant and mild anesthetic.
Next morning he awoke with parched lips and mouth, and with sensations of heaviness in his head which quickly passed away. By eight o'clock he was at his desk, buckled down to the fight, by ten o'clock on his personal round of the banks, and after that, without a moment's cessation, till nightfall, he was handling the knotty tangles of industry, finance, and human nature that crowded upon him. And with nightfall it was back to the hotel, the double Martinis and the Scotch; and this was his program day after day until the days ran into weeks.