Though Daylight appeared among his fellows hearty voiced, inexhaustible, spilling over with energy and vitality, deep down he was a very weary man. And sometime under the liquor drug, snatches of wisdom came to him far more lucidity than in his sober moments, as, for instance, one night, when he sat on the edge of the bed with one shoe in his hand and meditated on Dede's aphorism to the effect that he could not sleep in more than one bed at a time. Still holding the shoe, he looked at the array of horsehair bridles on the walls. Then, carrying the shoe, he got up and solemnly counted them, journeying into the two adjoining rooms to complete the tale. Then he came back to the bed and gravely addressed his shoe:—
"The little woman's right. Only one bed at a time. One hundred and forty hair bridles, and nothing doing with ary one of them. One bridle at a time! I can't ride one horse at a time. Poor old Bob. I'd better be sending you out to pasture. Thirty million dollars, and a hundred million or nothing in sight, and what have I got to show for it? There's lots of things money can't buy. It can't buy the little woman. It can't buy capacity. What's the good of thirty millions when I ain't got room for more than a quart of cocktails a day? If I had a hundred-quart-cocktail thirst, it'd be different. But one quart—one measly little quart! Here I am, a thirty times over millionaire, slaving harder every day than any dozen men that work for me, and all I get is two meals that don't taste good, one bed, a quart of Martini, and a hundred and forty hair bridles to look at on the wall."
He stared around at the array disconsolately. "Mr. Shoe, I'm sizzled. Good night."
Far worse than the controlled, steady drinker is the solitary drinker, and it was this that Daylight was developing into. He rarely drank sociably any more, but in his own room, by himself. Returning weary from each day's unremitting effort, he drugged himself to sleep, knowing that on the morrow he would rise up with a dry and burning mouth and repeat the program.
But the country did not recover with its wonted elasticity. Money did not become freer, though the casual reader of Daylight's newspapers, as well as of all the other owned and subsidised newspapers in the country, could only have concluded that the money tightness was over and that the panic was past history. All public utterances were cheery and optimistic, but privately many of the utters were in desperate straits. The scenes enacted in the privacy of Daylight's office, and of the meetings of his boards of directors, would have given the lie to the editorials in his newspapers; as, for instance, when he addressed the big stockholders in the Sierra and Salvador Power Company, the United Water Company, and the several other stock companies:—
"You've got to dig. You've got a good thing, but you'll have to sacrifice in order to hold on. There ain't no use spouting hard times explanations. Don't I know the hard times is on? Ain't that what you're here for? As I said before, you've got to dig. I run the majority stock, and it's come to a case of assess. It's that or smash. If ever I start going you won't know what struck you, I'll smash that hard. The small fry can let go, but you big ones can't. This ship won't sink as long as you stay with her. But if you start to leave her, down you'll sure go before you can get to shore. This assessment has got to be met that's all."
The big wholesale supply houses, the caterers for his hotels, and all the crowd that incessantly demanded to be paid, had their hot half-hours with him. He summoned them to his office and displayed his latest patterns of can and can't and will and won't.
"By God, you've got to carry me!" he told them. "If you think this is a pleasant little game of parlor whist and that you can quit and go home whenever you want, you're plumb wrong. Look here, Watkins, you remarked five minutes ago that you wouldn't stand for it. Now let me tell you a few. You're going to stand for it and keep on standin's for it. You're going to continue supplying me and taking my paper until the pinch is over. How you're going to do it is your trouble, not mine. You remember what I did to Klinkner and the Altamont Trust Company? I know the inside of your business better than you do yourself, and if you try to drop me I'll smash you. Even if I'd be going to smash myself, I'd find a minute to turn on you and bring you down with me. It's sink or swim for all of us, and I reckon you'll find it to your interest to keep me on top the puddle."
Perhaps his bitterest fight was with the stockholders of the United Water Company, for it was practically the whole of the gross earnings of this company that he voted to lend to himself and used to bolster up his wide battle front. Yet he never pushed his arbitrary rule too far. Compelling sacrifice from the men whose fortunes were tied up with his, nevertheless when any one of them was driven to the wall and was in dire need, Daylight was there to help him back into the line. Only a strong man could have saved so complicated a situation in such time of stress, and Daylight was that man. He turned and twisted, schemed and devised, bludgeoned and bullied the weaker ones, kept the faint-hearted in the fight, and had no mercy on the deserter.
And in the end, when early summer was on, everything began to mend. Came a day when Daylight did the unprecedented. He left the office an hour earlier than usual, and for the reason that for the first time since the panic there was not an item of work waiting to be done. He dropped into Hegan's private office, before leaving, for a chat, and as he stood up to go, he said:—
"Hegan, we're all hunkadory. We're pulling out of the financial pawnshop in fine shape, and we'll get out without leaving one unredeemed pledge behind. The worst is over, and the end is in sight. Just a tight rein for a couple more weeks, just a bit of a pinch or a flurry or so now and then, and we can let go and spit on our hands."
For once he varied his program. Instead of going directly to his hotel, he started on a round of the bars and cafes, drinking a cocktail here and a cocktail there, and two or three when he encountered men he knew. It was after an hour or so of this that he dropped into the bar of the Parthenon for one last drink before going to dinner. By this time all his being was pleasantly warmed by the alcohol, and he was in the most genial and best of spirits. At the corner of the bar several young men were up to the old trick of resting their elbows and attempting to force each other's hands down. One broad-shouldered young giant never removed his elbow, but put down every hand that came against him. Daylight was interested.
"It's Slosson," the barkeeper told him, in answer to his query. "He's the heavy-hammer thrower at the U.C. Broke all records this year, and the world's record on top of it. He's a husky all right all right."
Daylight nodded and went over to him, placing his own arm in opposition.
"I'd like to go you a flutter, son, on that proposition," he said.
The young man laughed and locked hands with him; and to Daylight's astonishment it was his own hand that was forced down on the bar.
"Hold on," he muttered. "Just one more flutter. I reckon I wasn't just ready that time."
Again the hands locked. It happened quickly. The offensive attack of Daylight's muscles slipped instantly into defense, and, resisting vainly, his hand was forced over and down. Daylight was dazed. It had been no trick. The skill was equal, or, if anything, the superior skill had been his. Strength, sheer strength, had done it. He called for the drinks, and, still dazed and pondering, held up his own arm, and looked at it as at some new strange thing. He did not know this arm. It certainly was not the arm he had carried around with him all the years. The old arm? Why, it would have been play to turn down that young husky's. But this arm—he continued to look at it with such dubious perplexity as to bring a roar of laughter from the young men.
This laughter aroused him. He joined in it at first, and then his face slowly grew grave. He leaned toward the hammer-thrower.
"Son," he said, "let me whisper a secret. Get out of here and quit drinking before you begin."
The young fellow flushed angrily, but Daylight held steadily on.
"You listen to your dad, and let him say a few. I'm a young man myself, only I ain't. Let me tell you, several years ago for me to turn your hand down would have been like committing assault and battery on a kindergarten."
Slosson looked his incredulity, while the others grinned and clustered around Daylight encouragingly.
"Son, I ain't given to preaching. This is the first time I ever come to the penitent form, and you put me there yourself—hard. I've seen a few in my time, and I ain't fastidious so as you can notice it. But let me tell you right not that I'm worth the devil alone knows how many millions, and that I'd sure give it all, right here on the bar, to turn down your hand. Which means I'd give the whole shooting match just to be back where I was before I quit sleeping under the stars and come into the hen-coops of cities to drink cocktails and lift up my feet and ride. Son, that's that's the matter with me, and that's the way I feel about it. The game ain't worth the candle. You just take care of yourself, and roll my advice over once in a while. Good night."
He turned and lurched out of the place, the moral effect of his utterance largely spoiled by the fact that he was so patently full while he uttered it.
Still in a daze, Daylight made to his hotel, accomplished his dinner, and prepared for bed.
"The damned young whippersnapper!" he muttered. "Put my hand down easy as you please. My hand!"
He held up the offending member and regarded it with stupid wonder. The hand that had never been beaten! The hand that had made the Circle City giants wince! And a kid from college, with a laugh on his face, had put it down—twice! Dede was right. He was not the same man. The situation would bear more serious looking into than he had ever given it. But this was not the time. In the morning, after a good sleep, he would give it consideration.
Daylight awoke with the familiar parched mouth and lips and throat, took a long drink of water from the pitcher beside his bed, and gathered up the train of thought where he had left it the night before. He reviewed the easement of the financial strain. Things were mending at last. While the going was still rough, the greatest dangers were already past. As he had told Hegan, a tight rein and careful playing were all that was needed now. Flurries and dangers were bound to come, but not so grave as the ones they had already weathered. He had been hit hard, but he was coming through without broken bones, which was more than Simon Dolliver and many another could say. And not one of his business friends had been ruined. He had compelled them to stay in line to save himself, and they had been saved as well.
His mind moved on to the incident at the corner of the bar of the Parthenon, when the young athlete had turned his hand down. He was no longer stunned by the event, but he was shocked and grieved, as only a strong man can be, at this passing of his strength. And the issue was too clear for him to dodge, even with himself. He knew why his hand had gone down. Not because he was an old man. He was just in the first flush of his prime, and, by rights, it was the hand of the hammer-thrower which should have gone down. Daylight knew that he had taken liberties with himself. He had always looked upon this strength of his as permanent, and here, for years, it had been steadily oozing from him. As he had diagnosed it, he had come in from under the stars to roost in the coops of cities. He had almost forgotten how to walk. He had lifted up his feet and been ridden around in automobiles, cabs and carriages, and electric cars. He had not exercised, and he had dry-rotted his muscles with alcohol.
And was it worth it? What did all his money mean after all? Dede was right. It could buy him no more than one bed at a time, and at the same time it made him the abjectest of slaves. It tied him fast. He was tied by it right now. Even if he so desired, he could not lie abed this very day. His money called him. The office whistle would soon blow, and he must answer it. The early sunshine was streaming through his window—a fine day for a ride in the hills on Bob, with Dede beside him on her Mab. Yet all his millions could not buy him this one day. One of those flurries might come along, and he had to be on the spot to meet it. Thirty millions! And they were powerless to persuade Dede to ride on Mab—Mab, whom he had bought, and who was unused and growing fat on pasture. What were thirty millions when they could not buy a man a ride with the girl he loved? Thirty millions!—that made him come here and go there, that rode upon him like so many millstones, that destroyed him while they grew, that put their foot down and prevented him from winning this girl who worked for ninety dollars a month.
Which was better? he asked himself. All this was Dede's own thought. It was what she had meant when she prayed he would go broke. He held up his offending right arm. It wasn't the same old arm. Of course she could not love that arm and that body as she had loved the strong, clean arm and body of years before. He didn't like that arm and body himself. A young whippersnapper had been able to take liberties with it. It had gone back on him. He sat up suddenly. No, by God, he had gone back on it! He had gone back on himself. He had gone back on Dede. She was right, a thousand times right, and she had sense enough to know it, sense enough to refuse to marry a money slave with a whiskey-rotted carcass.
He got out of bed and looked at himself in the long mirror on the wardrobe door. He wasn't pretty. The old-time lean cheeks were gone. These were heavy, seeming to hang down by their own weight. He looked for the lines of cruelty Dede had spoken of, and he found them, and he found the harshness in the eyes as well, the eyes that were muddy now after all the cocktails of the night before, and of the months and years before. He looked at the clearly defined pouches that showed under his eyes, and they've shocked him. He rolled up the sleeve of his pajamas. No wonder the hammer-thrower had put his hand down. Those weren't muscles. A rising tide of fat had submerged them. He stripped off the pajama coat. Again he was shocked, this time but the bulk of his body. It wasn't pretty. The lean stomach had become a paunch. The ridged muscles of chest and shoulders and abdomen had broken down into rolls of flesh.
He sat down on the bed, and through his mind drifted pictures of his youthful excellence, of the hardships he had endured over other men, of the Indians and dogs he had run off their legs in the heart-breaking days and nights on the Alaskan trail, of the feats of strength that had made him king over a husky race of frontiersmen.
And this was age. Then there drifted across the field of vision of his mind's eye the old man he had encountered at Glen Ellen, corning up the hillside through the fires of sunset, white-headed and white-bearded, eighty-four, in his hand the pail of foaming milk and in his face all the warm glow and content of the passing summer day. That had been age. "Yes siree, eighty-four, and spryer than most," he could hear the old man say. "And I ain't loafed none. I walked across the Plains with an ox-team and fit Injuns in '51, and I was a family man then with seven youngsters."
Next he remembered the old woman of the chaparral, pressing grapes in her mountain clearing; and Ferguson, the little man who had scuttled into the road like a rabbit, the one-time managing editor of a great newspaper, who was content to live in the chaparral along with his spring of mountain water and his hand-reared and manicured fruit trees. Ferguson had solved a problem. A weakling and an alcoholic, he had run away from the doctors and the chicken-coop of a city, and soaked up health like a thirsty sponge. Well, Daylight pondered, if a sick man whom the doctors had given up could develop into a healthy farm laborer, what couldn't a merely stout man like himself do under similar circumstances? He caught a vision of his body with all its youthful excellence returned, and thought of Dede, and sat down suddenly on the bed, startled by the greatness of the idea that had come to him.
He did not sit long. His mind, working in its customary way, like a steel trap, canvassed the idea in all its bearings. It was big—bigger than anything he had faced before. And he faced it squarely, picked it up in his two hands and turned it over and around and looked at it. The simplicity of it delighted him. He chuckled over it, reached his decision, and began to dress. Midway in the dressing he stopped in order to use the telephone.
Dede was the first he called up.
"Don't come to the office this morning," he said. "I'm coming out to see you for a moment." He called up others. He ordered his motor-car. To Jones he gave instructions for the forwarding of Bob and Wolf to Glen Ellen. Hegan he surprised by asking him to look up the deed of the Glen Ellen ranch and make out a new one in Dede Mason's name. "Who?" Hegan demanded. "Dede Mason," Daylight replied imperturbably the 'phone must be indistinct this morning. "D-e-d-e M-a-s o-n. Got it?"
Half an hour later he was flying out to Berkeley. And for the first time the big red car halted directly before the house. Dede offered to receive him in the parlor, but he shook his head and nodded toward her rooms.
"In there," he said. "No other place would suit."
As the door closed, his arms went out and around her. Then he stood with his hands on her shoulders and looking down into her face.
"Dede, if I tell you, flat and straight, that I'm going up to live on that ranch at Glen Ellen, that I ain't taking a cent with me, that I'm going to scratch for every bite I eat, and that I ain't going to play ary a card at the business game again, will you come along with me?"
She gave a glad little cry, and he nestled her in closely. But the next moment she had thrust herself out from him to the old position at arm's length.
"I—I don't understand," she said breathlessly.
"And you ain't answered my proposition, though I guess no answer is necessary. We're just going to get married right away and start. I've sent Bob and Wolf along already. When will you be ready?"
Dede could not forbear to smile. "My, what a hurricane of a man it is. I'm quite blown away. And you haven't explained a word to me."
Daylight smiled responsively.
"Look here, Dede, this is what card-sharps call a show-down. No more philandering and frills and long-distance sparring between you and me. We're just going to talk straight out in meeting—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Now you answer some questions for me, and then I'll answer yours."
He paused. "Well, I've got only one question after all: Do you love me enough to marry me?"
"But—" she began.
"No buts," he broke in sharply. "This is a show-down. When I say marry, I mean what I told you at first, that we'd go up and live on the ranch. Do you love me enough for that?"
She looked at him for a moment, then her lids dropped, and all of her seemed to advertise consent.
"Come on, then, let's start." The muscles of his legs tensed involuntarily as if he were about to lead her to the door. "My auto's waiting outside. There's nothing to delay excepting getting on your hat."
He bent over her. "I reckon it's allowable," he said, as he kissed her.
It was a long embrace, and she was the first to speak.
"You haven't answered my questions. How is this possible? How can you leave your business? Has anything happened?"
"No, nothing's happened yet, but it's going to, blame quick. I've taken your preaching to heart, and I've come to the penitent form. You are my Lord God, and I'm sure going to serve you. The rest can go to thunder. You were sure right. I've been the slave to my money, and since I can't serve two masters I'm letting the money slide. I'd sooner have you than all the money in the world, that's all." Again he held her closely in his arms. "And I've sure got you, Dede. I've sure got you.
"And I want to tell you a few more. I've taken my last drink. You're marrying a whiskey-soak, but your husband won't be that. He's going to grow into another man so quick you won't know him. A couple of months from now, up there in Glen Ellen, you'll wake up some morning and find you've got a perfect stranger in the house with you, and you'll have to get introduced to him all over again. You'll say, 'I'm Mrs. Harnish, who are you?' And I'll say, 'I'm Elam Harnish's younger brother. I've just arrived from Alaska to attend the funeral.' 'What funeral?' you'll say. And I'll say, 'Why, the funeral of that good-for-nothing, gambling, whiskey-drinking Burning Daylight—the man that died of fatty degeneration of the heart from sitting in night and day at the business game 'Yes ma'am,' I'll say, 'he's sure a gone 'coon, but I've come to take his place and make you happy. And now, ma'am, if you'll allow me, I'll just meander down to the pasture and milk the cow while you're getting breakfast.'"
Again he caught her hand and made as if to start with her for the door. When she resisted, he bent and kissed her again and again.
"I'm sure hungry for you, little woman," he murmured "You make thirty millions look like thirty cents."
"Do sit down and be sensible," she urged, her cheeks flushed, the golden light in her eyes burning more golden than he had ever seen it before.
But Daylight was bent on having his way, and when he sat down it was with her beside him and his arm around her.
"'Yes, ma'am,' I'll say, 'Burning Daylight was a pretty good cuss, but it's better that he's gone. He quit rolling up in his rabbit-skins and sleeping in the snow, and went to living in a chicken-coop. He lifted up his legs and quit walking and working, and took to existing on Martini cocktails and Scotch whiskey. He thought he loved you, ma'am, and he did his best, but he loved his cocktails more, and he loved his money more, and himself more, and 'most everything else more than he did you.' And then I'll say, 'Ma'am, you just run your eyes over me and see how different I am. I ain't got a cocktail thirst, and all the money I got is a dollar and forty cents and I've got to buy a new ax, the last one being plumb wore out, and I can love you just about eleven times as much as your first husband did. You see, ma'am, he went all to fat. And there ain't ary ounce of fat on me.' And I'll roll up my sleeve and show you, and say, 'Mrs. Harnish, after having experience with being married to that old fat money-bags, do you-all mind marrying a slim young fellow like me?' And you'll just wipe a tear away for poor old Daylight, and kind of lean toward me with a willing expression in your eye, and then I'll blush maybe some, being a young fellow, and put my arm around you, like that, and then—why, then I'll up and marry my brother's widow, and go out and do the chores while she's cooking a bite to eat."
"But you haven't answered my questions," she reproached him, as she emerged, rosy and radiant, from the embrace that had accompanied the culmination of his narrative.
"Now just what do you want to know?" he asked.
"I want to know how all this is possible? How you are able to leave your business at a time like this? What you meant by saying that something was going to happen quickly? I—" She hesitated and blushed. "I answered your question, you know."
"Let's go and get married," he urged, all the whimsicality of his utterance duplicated in his eyes. "You know I've got to make way for that husky young brother of mine, and I ain't got long to live." She made an impatient moue, and he continued seriously.
"You see, it's like this, Dede. I've been working like forty horses ever since this blamed panic set in, and all the time some of those ideas you'd given me were getting ready to sprout. Well, they sprouted this morning, that's all. I started to get up, expecting to go to the office as usual. But I didn't go to the office. All that sprouting took place there and then. The sun was shining in the window, and I knew it was a fine day in the hills. And I knew I wanted to ride in the hills with you just about thirty million times more than I wanted to go to the office. And I knew all the time it was impossible. And why? Because of the office. The office wouldn't let me. All my money reared right up on its hind legs and got in the way and wouldn't let me. It's a way that blamed money has of getting in the way. You know that yourself.
"And then I made up my mind that I was to the dividing of the ways. One way led to the office. The other way led to Berkeley. And I took the Berkeley road. I'm never going to set foot in the office again. That's all gone, finished, over and done with, and I'm letting it slide clean to smash and then some. My mind's set on this. You see, I've got religion, and it's sure the old-time religion; it's love and you, and it's older than the oldest religion in the world. It's IT, that's what it is—IT, with a capital I-T."
She looked at him with a sudden, startled expression.
"You mean—?" she began.
"I mean just that. I'm wiping the slate clean. I'm letting it all go to smash. When them thirty million dollars stood up to my face and said I couldn't go out with you in the hills to-day, I knew the time had come for me to put my foot down. And I'm putting it down. I've got you, and my strength to work for you, and that little ranch in Sonoma. That's all I want, and that's all I'm going to save out, along with Bob and Wolf, a suit case and a hundred and forty hair bridles. All the rest goes, and good riddance. It's that much junk."
But Dede was insistent.
"Then this—this tremendous loss is all unnecessary?" she asked.
"Just what I haven't been telling you. It IS necessary. If that money thinks it can stand up right to my face and say I can't go riding with you—"
"No, no; be serious," Dede broke in. "I don't mean that, and you know it. What I want to know is, from a standpoint of business, is this failure necessary?"
He shook his head.
"You bet it isn't necessary. That's the point of it. I'm not letting go of it because I'm licked to a standstill by the panic and have got to let go. I'm firing it out when I've licked the panic and am winning, hands down. That just shows how little I think of it. It's you that counts, little woman, and I make my play accordingly."
But she drew away from his sheltering arms.
"You are mad, Elam."
"Call me that again," he murmured ecstatically. "It's sure sweeter than the chink of millions."
All this she ignored.
"It's madness. You don't know what you are doing—"
"Oh, yes, I do," he assured her. "I'm winning the dearest wish of my heart. Why, your little finger is worth more—"
"Do be sensible for a moment."
"I was never more sensible in my lie. I know what I want, and I'm going to get it. I want you and the open air. I want to get my foot off the paving-stones and my ear away from the telephone. I want a little ranch-house in one of the prettiest bits of country God ever made, and I want to do the chores around that ranch-house—milk cows, and chop wood, and curry horses, and plough the ground, and all the rest of it; and I want you there in the ranch-house with me. I'm plumb tired of everything else, and clean wore out. And I'm sure the luckiest man alive, for I've got what money can't buy. I've got you, and thirty millions couldn't buy you, nor three thousand millions, nor thirty cents—"
A knock at the door interrupted him, and he was left to stare delightedly at the Crouched Venus and on around the room at Dede's dainty possessions, while she answered the telephone.
"It is Mr. Hegan," she said, on returning. "He is holding the line. He says it is important."
Daylight shook his head and smiled.
"Please tell Mr. Hegan to hang up. I'm done with the office and I don't want to hear anything about anything."
A minute later she was back again.
"He refuses to hang up. He told me to tell you that Unwin is in the office now, waiting to see you, and Harrison, too. Mr. Hegan said that Grimshaw and Hodgkins are in trouble. That it looks as if they are going to break. And he said something about protection."
It was startling information. Both Unwin and Harrison represented big banking corporations, and Daylight knew that if the house of Grimshaw and Hodgkins went it would precipitate a number of failures and start a flurry of serious dimensions. But Daylight smiled, and shook his head, and mimicked the stereotyped office tone of voice as he said:—
"Miss Mason, you will kindly tell Mr. Hegan that there is nothing doing and to hang up."
"But you can't do this," she pleaded.
"Watch me," he grimly answered.
"Say it again," he cried. "Say it again, and a dozen Grimshaws and Hodgkins can smash!"
He caught her by the hand and drew her to him.
"You let Hegan hang on to that line till he's tired. We can't be wasting a second on him on a day like this. He's only in love with books and things, but I've got a real live woman in my arms that's loving me all the time she's kicking over the traces."
"But I know something of the fight you have been making," Dede contended. "If you stop now, all the work you have done, everything, will be destroyed. You have no right to do it. You can't do it."
Daylight was obdurate. He shook his head and smiled tantalizingly.
"Nothing will be destroyed, Dede, nothing. You don't understand this business game. It's done on paper. Don't you see? Where's the gold I dug out of Klondike? Why, it's in twenty-dollar gold pieces, in gold watches, in wedding rings. No matter what happens to me, the twenty-dollar pieces, the watches, and the wedding rings remain. Suppose I died right now. It wouldn't affect the gold one iota. It's sure the same with this present situation. All I stand for is paper. I've got the paper for thousands of acres of land. All right. Burn up the paper, and burn me along with it. The land remains, don't it? The rain falls on it, the seeds sprout in it, the trees grow out of it, the houses stand on it, the electric cars run over it. It's paper that business is run on. I lose my paper, or I lose my life, it's all the same; it won't alter one grain of sand in all that land, or twist one blade of grass around sideways.
"Nothing is going to be lost—not one pile out of the docks, not one railroad spike, not one ounce of steam out of the gauge of a ferry-boat. The cars will go on running, whether I hold the paper or somebody else holds it. The tide has set toward Oakland. People are beginning to pour in. We're selling building lots again. There is no stopping that tide. No matter what happens to me or the paper, them three hundred thousand folks are coming in the same. And there'll be cars to carry them around, and houses to hold them, and good water for them to drink and electricity to give them light, and all the rest."
By this time Hegan had arrived in an automobile. The honk of it came in through the open window, and they saw, it stop alongside the big red machine. In the car were Unwin and Harrison, while Jones sat with the chauffeur.
"I'll see Hegan," Daylight told Dede. "There's no need for the rest. They can wait in the machine."
"Is he drunk?" Hegan whispered to Dede at the door.
She shook her head and showed him in.
"Good morning, Larry," was Daylight's greeting. "Sit down and rest your feet. You sure seem to be in a flutter."
"I am," the little Irishman snapped back. "Grimshaw and Hodgkins are going to smash if something isn't done quick. Why didn't you come to the office? What are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing," Daylight drawled lazily. "Except let them smash, I guess—"
"I've had no dealings with Grimshaw and Hodgkins. I don't owe them anything. Besides, I'm going to smash myself. Look here, Larry, you know me. You know when I make up my mind I mean it. Well, I've sure made up my mind. I'm tired of the whole game. I'm letting go of it as fast as I can, and a smash is the quickest way to let go."
Hegan stared at his chief, then passed his horror-stricken gaze on to Dede, who nodded in sympathy.
"So let her smash, Larry," Daylight went on. "All you've got to do is to protect yourself and all our friends. Now you listen to me while I tell you what to do. Everything is in good shape to do it. Nobody must get hurt. Everybody that stood by me must come through without damage. All the back wages and salaries must be paid pronto. All the money I've switched away from the water company, the street cars, and the ferries must be switched back. And you won't get hurt yourself none. Every company you got stock in will come through—"
"You are crazy, Daylight!" the little lawyer cried out. "This is all babbling lunacy. What is the matter with you? You haven't been eating a drug or something?"
"I sure have!" Daylight smiled reply. "And I'm now coughing it up. I'm sick of living in a city and playing business—I'm going off to the sunshine, and the country, and the green grass. And Dede, here, is going with me. So you've got the chance to be the first to congratulate me."
"Congratulate the—the devil!" Hegan spluttered. "I'm not going to stand for this sort of foolishness."
"Oh, yes, you are; because if you don't there'll be a bigger smash and some folks will most likely get hurt. You're worth a million or more yourself, now, and if you listen to me you come through with a whole skin. I want to get hurt, and get hurt to the limit. That's what I'm looking for, and there's no man or bunch of men can get between me and what I'm looking for. Savvee, Hegan? Savvee?"
"What have you done to him?" Hegan snarled at Dede.
"Hold on there, Larry." For the first time Daylight's voice was sharp, while all the old lines of cruelty in his face stood forth. "Miss Mason is going to be my wife, and while I don't mind your talking to her all you want, you've got to use a different tone of voice or you'll be heading for a hospital, which will sure be an unexpected sort of smash. And let me tell you one other thing. This-all is my doing. She says I'm crazy, too."
Hegan shook his head in speechless sadness and continued to stare.
"There'll be temporary receiverships, of course," Daylight advised; "but they won't bother none or last long. What you must do immediately is to save everybody—the men that have been letting their wages ride with me, all the creditors, and all the concerns that have stood by. There's the wad of land that New Jersey crowd has been dickering for. They'll take all of a couple of thousand acres and will close now if you give them half a chance. That Fairmount section is the cream of it, and they'll dig up as high as a thousand dollars an acre for a part of it. That'll help out some. That five-hundred acre tract beyond, you'll be lucky if they pay two hundred an acre."
Dede, who had been scarcely listening, seemed abruptly to make up her mind, and stepped forward where she confronted the two men. Her face was pale, but set with determination, so that Daylight, looking at it, was reminded of the day when she first rode Bob.
"Wait," she said. "I want to say something. Elam, if you do this insane thing, I won't marry you. I refuse to marry you."
Hegan, in spite of his misery, gave her a quick, grateful look.
"I'll take my chance on that," Daylight began.
"Wait!" she again interrupted. "And if you don't do this thing, I will marry you."
"Let me get this proposition clear." Daylight spoke with exasperating slowness and deliberation. "As I understand it, if I keep right on at the business game, you'll sure marry me? You'll marry me if I keep on working my head off and drinking Martinis?"
After each question he paused, while she nodded an affirmation.
"And you'll marry me right away?"
He pondered for a moment.
"No, little woman, I won't do it. It won't work, and you know it yourself. I want you—all of you; and to get it I'll have to give you all of myself, and there'll be darn little of myself left over to give if I stay with the business game. Why, Dede, with you on the ranch with me, I'm sure of you—and of myself. I'm sure of you, anyway. You can talk will or won't all you want, but you're sure going to marry me just the same. And now, Larry, you'd better be going. I'll be at the hotel in a little while, and since I'm not going a step into the office again, bring all papers to sign and the rest over to my rooms. And you can get me on the 'phone there any time. This smash is going through. Savvee? I'm quit and done."
He stood up as a sign for Hegan to go. The latter was plainly stunned. He also rose to his feet, but stood looking helplessly around.
"Sheer, downright, absolute insanity," he muttered.
Daylight put his hand on the other's shoulder.
"Buck up, Larry. You're always talking about the wonders of human nature, and here I am giving you another sample of it and you ain't appreciating it. I'm a bigger dreamer than you are, that's all, and I'm sure dreaming what's coming true. It's the biggest, best dream I ever had, and I'm going after it to get it—"
"By losing all you've got," Hegan exploded at him.
"Sure—by losing all I've got that I don't want. But I'm hanging on to them hundred and forty hair bridles just the same. Now you'd better hustle out to Unwin and Harrison and get on down town. I'll be at the hotel, and you can call me up any time."
He turned to Dede as soon as Hegan was gone, and took her by the hand.
"And now, little woman, you needn't come to the office any more. Consider yourself discharged. And remember I was your employer, so you've got to come to me for recommendation, and if you're not real good, I won't give you one. In the meantime, you just rest up and think about what things you want to pack, because we'll just about have to set up housekeeping on your stuff—leastways, the front part of the house."
"But, Elam, I won't, I won't! If you do this mad thing I never will marry you."
She attempted to take her hand away, but he closed on it with a protecting, fatherly clasp.
"Will you be straight and honest? All right, here goes. Which would you sooner have—me and the money, or me and the ranch?"
"But—" she began.
"No buts. Me and the money?"
She did not answer.
"Me and the ranch?"
Still she did not answer, and still he was undisturbed.
"You see, I know your answer, Dede, and there's nothing more to say. Here's where you and I quit and hit the high places for Sonoma. You make up your mind what you want to pack, and I'll have some men out here in a couple of days to do it for you. It will be about the last work anybody else ever does for us. You and I will do the unpacking and the arranging ourselves."
She made a last attempt.
"Elam, won't you be reasonable? There is time to reconsider. I can telephone down and catch Mr. Hegan as soon as he reaches the office—"
"Why, I'm the only reasonable man in the bunch right now," he rejoined. "Look at me—as calm as you please, and as happy as a king, while they're fluttering around like a lot of cranky hens whose heads are liable to be cut off."
"I'd cry, if I thought it would do any good," she threatened.
"In which case I reckon I'd have to hold you in my arms some more and sort of soothe you down," he threatened back. "And now I'm going to go. It's too bad you got rid of Mab. You could have sent her up to the ranch. But see you've got a mare to ride of some sort or other."
As he stood at the top of the steps, leaving, she said:—
"You needn't send those men. There will be no packing, because I am not going to marry you."
"I'm not a bit scared," he answered, and went down the steps.
Three days later, Daylight rode to Berkeley in his red car. It was for the last time, for on the morrow the big machine passed into another's possession. It had been a strenuous three days, for his smash had been the biggest the panic had precipitated in California. The papers had been filled with it, and a great cry of indignation had gone up from the very men who later found that Daylight had fully protected their interests. It was these facts, coming slowly to light, that gave rise to the widely repeated charge that Daylight had gone insane. It was the unanimous conviction among business men that no sane man could possibly behave in such fashion. On the other hand, neither his prolonged steady drinking nor his affair with Dede became public, so the only conclusion attainable was that the wild financier from Alaska had gone lunatic. And Daylight had grinned and confirmed the suspicion by refusing to see the reporters.
He halted the automobile before Dede's door, and met her with his same rushing tactics, enclosing her in his arms before a word could be uttered. Not until afterward, when she had recovered herself from him and got him seated, did he begin to speak.
"I've done it," he announced. "You've seen the newspapers, of course. I'm plumb cleaned out, and I've just called around to find out what day you feel like starting for Glen Ellen. It'll have to be soon, for it's real expensive living in Oakland these days. My board at the hotel is only paid to the end of the week, and I can't afford to stay after that. And beginning with to-morrow I've got to use the street cars, and they sure eat up the nickels."
He paused, and waited, and looked at her. Indecision and trouble showed on her face. Then the smile he knew so well began to grow on her lips and in her eyes, until she threw back her head and laughed in the old forthright boyish way.
"When are those men coming to pack for me?" she asked.
And again she laughed and simulated a vain attempt to escape his bearlike arms.
"Dear Elam," she whispered; "dear Elam." And of herself, for the first time, she kissed him.
She ran her hand caressingly through his hair.
"Your eyes are all gold right now," he said. "I can look in them and tell just how much you love me."
"They have been all gold for you, Elam, for a long time. I think, on our little ranch, they will always be all gold."
"Your hair has gold in it, too, a sort of fiery gold." He turned her face suddenly and held it between his hands and looked long into her eyes. "And your eyes were full of gold only the other day, when you said you wouldn't marry me."
She nodded and laughed.
"You would have your will," she confessed. "But I couldn't be a party to such madness. All that money was yours, not mine. But I was loving you all the time, Elam, for the great big boy you are, breaking the thirty-million toy with which you had grown tired of playing. And when I said no, I knew all the time it was yes. And I am sure that my eyes were golden all the time. I had only one fear, and that was that you would fail to lose everything. Because, dear, I knew I should marry you anyway, and I did so want just you and the ranch and Bob and Wolf and those horse-hair bridles. Shall I tell you a secret? As soon as you left, I telephoned the man to whom I sold Mab."
She hid her face against his breast for an instant, and then looked at him again, gladly radiant.
"You see, Elam, in spite of what my lips said, my mind was made up then. I—I simply had to marry you. But I was praying you would succeed in losing everything. And so I tried to find what had become of Mab. But the man had sold her and did not know what had become of her. You see, I wanted to ride with you over the Glen Ellen hills, on Mab and you on Bob, just as I had ridden with you through the Piedmont hills."
The disclosure of Mab's whereabouts trembled on Daylight's lips, but he forbore.
"I'll promise you a mare that you'll like just as much as Mab," he said.
But Dede shook her head, and on that one point refused to be comforted.
"Now, I've got an idea," Daylight said, hastening to get the conversation on less perilous ground. "We're running away from cities, and you have no kith nor kin, so it don't seem exactly right that we should start off by getting married in a city. So here's the idea: I'll run up to the ranch and get things in shape around the house and give the caretaker his walking-papers. You follow me in a couple of days, coming on the morning train. I'll have the preacher fixed and waiting. And here's another idea. You bring your riding togs in a suit case. And as soon as the ceremony's over, you can go to the hotel and change. Then out you come, and you find me waiting with a couple of horses, and we'll ride over the landscape so as you can see the prettiest parts of the ranch the first thing. And she's sure pretty, that ranch. And now that it's settled, I'll be waiting for you at the morning train day after to-morrow."
Dede blushed as she spoke.
"You are such a hurricane."
"Well, ma'am," he drawled, "I sure hate to burn daylight. And you and I have burned a heap of daylight. We've been scandalously extravagant. We might have been married years ago."
Two days later, Daylight stood waiting outside the little Glen Ellen hotel. The ceremony was over, and he had left Dede to go inside and change into her riding-habit while he brought the horses. He held them now, Bob and Mab, and in the shadow of the watering-trough Wolf lay and looked on. Already two days of ardent California sun had touched with new fires the ancient bronze in Daylight's face. But warmer still was the glow that came into his cheeks and burned in his eyes as he saw Dede coming out the door, riding-whip in hand, clad in the familiar corduroy skirt and leggings of the old Piedmont days. There was warmth and glow in her own face as she answered his gaze and glanced on past him to the horses. Then she saw Mab. But her gaze leaped back to the man.
"Oh, Elam!" she breathed.
It was almost a prayer, but a prayer that included a thousand meanings Daylight strove to feign sheepishness, but his heart was singing too wild a song for mere playfulness. All things had been in the naming of his name—reproach, refined away by gratitude, and all compounded of joy and love.
She stepped forward and caressed the mare, and again turned and looked at the man, and breathed:—
And all that was in her voice was in her eyes, and in them Daylight glimpsed a profundity deeper and wider than any speech or thought—the whole vast inarticulate mystery and wonder of sex and love.
Again he strove for playfulness of speech, but it was too great a moment for even love fractiousness to enter in. Neither spoke. She gathered the reins, and, bending, Daylight received her foot in his hand. She sprang, as he lifted and gained the saddle. The next moment he was mounted and beside her, and, with Wolf sliding along ahead in his typical wolf-trot, they went up the hill that led out of town—two lovers on two chestnut sorrel steeds, riding out and away to honeymoon through the warm summer day. Daylight felt himself drunken as with wine. He was at the topmost pinnacle of life. Higher than this no man could climb nor had ever climbed. It was his day of days, his love-time and his mating-time, and all crowned by this virginal possession of a mate who had said "Oh, Elam," as she had said it, and looked at him out of her soul as she had looked.
They cleared the crest of the hill, and he watched the joy mount in her face as she gazed on the sweet, fresh land. He pointed out the group of heavily wooded knolls across the rolling stretches of ripe grain.
"They're ours," he said. "And they're only a sample of the ranch. Wait till you see the big canon. There are 'coons down there, and back here on the Sonoma there are mink. And deer!—why, that mountain's sure thick with them, and I reckon we can scare up a mountain-lion if we want to real hard. And, say, there's a little meadow—well, I ain't going to tell you another word. You wait and see for yourself."
They turned in at the gate, where the road to the clay-pit crossed the fields, and both sniffed with delight as the warm aroma of the ripe hay rose in their nostrils. As on his first visit, the larks were uttering their rich notes and fluttering up before the horses until the woods and the flower-scattered glades were reached, when the larks gave way to blue jays and woodpeckers.
"We're on our land now," he said, as they left the hayfield behind. "It runs right across country over the roughest parts. Just you wait and see."
As on the first day, he turned aside from the clay-pit and worked through the woods to the left, passing the first spring and jumping the horses over the ruined remnants of the stake-and-rider fence. From here on, Dede was in an unending ecstasy. By the spring that gurgled among the redwoods grew another great wild lily, bearing on its slender stalk the prodigious outburst of white waxen bells. This time he did not dismount, but led the way to the deep canon where the stream had cut a passage among the knolls. He had been at work here, and a steep and slippery horse trail now crossed the creek, so they rode up beyond, through the somber redwood twilight, and, farther on, through a tangled wood of oak and madrono. They came to a small clearing of several acres, where the grain stood waist high.
"Ours," Daylight said.
She bent in her saddle, plucked a stalk of the ripe grain, and nibbled it between her teeth.
"Sweet mountain hay," she cried. "The kind Mab likes."
And throughout the ride she continued to utter cries and ejaculations of surprise and delight.
"And you never told me all this!" she reproached him, as they looked across the little clearing and over the descending slopes of woods to the great curving sweep of Sonoma Valley.
"Come," he said; and they turned and went back through the forest shade, crossed the stream and came to the lily by the spring.
Here, also, where the way led up the tangle of the steep hill, he had cut a rough horse trail. As they forced their way up the zigzags, they caught glimpses out and down through the sea of foliage. Yet always were their farthest glimpses stopped by the closing vistas of green, and, yet always, as they climbed, did the forest roof arch overhead, with only here and there rifts that permitted shattered shafts of sunlight to penetrate. And all about them were ferns, a score of varieties, from the tiny gold-backs and maidenhair to huge brakes six and eight feet tall.
Below them, as they mounted, they glimpsed great gnarled trunks and branches of ancient trees, and above them were similar great gnarled branches.
Dede stopped her horse and sighed with the beauty of it all.
"It is as if we are swimmers," she said, "rising out of a deep pool of green tranquillity. Up above is the sky and the sun, but this is a pool, and we are fathoms deep."
They started their horses, but a dog-tooth violet, shouldering amongst the maidenhair, caught her eye and made her rein in again.
They cleared the crest and emerged from the pool as if into another world, for now they were in the thicket of velvet-trunked young madronos and looking down the open, sun-washed hillside, across the nodding grasses, to the drifts of blue and white nemophilae that carpeted the tiny meadow on either side the tiny stream. Dede clapped her hands.
"It's sure prettier than office furniture," Daylight remarked.
"It sure is," she answered.
And Daylight, who knew his weakness in the use of the particular word sure, knew that she had repeated it deliberately and with love.
They crossed the stream and took the cattle track over the low rocky hill and through the scrub forest of manzanita, till they emerged on the next tiny valley with its meadow-bordered streamlet.
"If we don't run into some quail pretty soon, I'll be surprised some," Daylight said.
And as the words left his lips there was a wild series of explosive thrumming as the old quail arose from all about Wolf, while the young ones scuttled for safety and disappeared miraculously before the spectators' very eyes.
He showed her the hawk's nest he had found in the lightning-shattered top of the redwood, and she discovered a wood-rat's nest which he had not seen before. Next they took the old wood-road and came out on the dozen acres of clearing where the wine grapes grew in the wine-colored volcanic soil. Then they followed the cow-path through more woods and thickets and scattered glades, and dropped down the hillside to where the farm-house, poised on the lip of the big canon, came into view only when they were right upon it.
Dede stood on the wide porch that ran the length of the house while Daylight tied the horses. To Dede it was very quiet. It was the dry, warm, breathless calm of California midday. All the world seemed dozing. From somewhere pigeons were cooing lazily. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Wolf, who had drunk his fill at all the streams along the way, dropped down in the cool shadow of the porch. She heard the footsteps of Daylight returning, and caught her breath with a quick intake. He took her hand in his, and, as he turned the door-knob, felt her hesitate. Then he put his arm around her; the door swung open, and together they passed in.
Many persons, themselves city-bred and city-reared, have fled to the soil and succeeded in winning great happiness. In such cases they have succeeded only by going through a process of savage disillusionment. But with Dede and Daylight it was different. They had both been born on the soil, and they knew its naked simplicities and rawer ways. They were like two persons, after far wandering, who had merely come home again. There was less of the unexpected in their dealings with nature, while theirs was all the delight of reminiscence. What might appear sordid and squalid to the fastidiously reared, was to them eminently wholesome and natural. The commerce of nature was to them no unknown and untried trade. They made fewer mistakes. They already knew, and it was a joy to remember what they had forgotten.
And another thing they learned was that it was easier for one who has gorged at the flesh-pots to content himself with the meagerness of a crust, than for one who has known only the crust.
Not that their life was meagre. It was that they found keener delights and deeper satisfactions in little things. Daylight, who had played the game in its biggest and most fantastic aspects, found that here, on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain, it was still the same old game. Man had still work to perform, forces to combat, obstacles to overcome. When he experimented in a small way at raising a few pigeons for market, he found no less zest in calculating in squabs than formerly when he had calculated in millions. Achievement was no less achievement, while the process of it seemed more rational and received the sanction of his reason.
The domestic cat that had gone wild and that preyed on his pigeons, he found, by the comparative standard, to be of no less paramount menace than a Charles Klinkner in the field of finance, trying to raid him for several millions. The hawks and weasels and 'coons were so many Dowsetts, Lettons, and Guggenhammers that struck at him secretly. The sea of wild vegetation that tossed its surf against the boundaries of all his clearings and that sometimes crept in and flooded in a single week was no mean enemy to contend with and subdue. His fat-soiled vegetable-garden in the nook of hills that failed of its best was a problem of engrossing importance, and when he had solved it by putting in drain-tile, the joy of the achievement was ever with him. He never worked in it and found the soil unpacked and tractable without experiencing the thrill of accomplishment.
There was the matter of the plumbing. He was enabled to purchase the materials through a lucky sale of a number of his hair bridles. The work he did himself, though more than once he was forced to call in Dede to hold tight with a pipe-wrench. And in the end, when the bath-tub and the stationary tubs were installed and in working order, he could scarcely tear himself away from the contemplation of what his hands had wrought. The first evening, missing him, Dede sought and found him, lamp in hand, staring with silent glee at the tubs. He rubbed his hand over their smooth wooden lips and laughed aloud, and was as shamefaced as any boy when she caught him thus secretly exulting in his own prowess.
It was this adventure in wood-working and plumbing that brought about the building of the little workshop, where he slowly gathered a collection of loved tools. And he, who in the old days, out of his millions, could purchase immediately whatever he might desire, learned the new joy of the possession that follows upon rigid economy and desire long delayed. He waited three months before daring the extravagance of a Yankee screw-driver, and his glee in the marvelous little mechanism was so keen that Dede conceived forthright a great idea. For six months she saved her egg-money, which was hers by right of allotment, and on his birthday presented him with a turning-lathe of wonderful simplicity and multifarious efficiencies. And their mutual delight in the tool, which was his, was only equalled by their delight in Mab's first foal, which was Dede's special private property.
It was not until the second summer that Daylight built the huge fireplace that outrivalled Ferguson's across the valley. For all these things took time, and Dede and Daylight were not in a hurry. Theirs was not the mistake of the average city-dweller who flees in ultra-modern innocence to the soil. They did not essay too much. Neither did they have a mortgage to clear, nor did they desire wealth. They wanted little in the way of food, and they had no rent to pay. So they planned unambiguously, reserving their lives for each other and for the compensations of country-dwelling from which the average country-dweller is barred. From Ferguson's example, too, they profited much. Here was a man who asked for but the plainest fare; who ministered to his own simple needs with his own hands; who worked out as a laborer only when he needed money to buy books and magazines; and who saw to it that the major portion of his waking time was for enjoyment. He loved to loaf long afternoons in the shade with his books or to be up with the dawn and away over the hills.
On occasion he accompanied Dede and Daylight on deer hunts through the wild canons and over the rugged steeps of Hood Mountain, though more often Dede and Daylight were out alone. This riding was one of their chief joys. Every wrinkle and crease in the hills they explored, and they came to know every secret spring and hidden dell in the whole surrounding wall of the valley. They learned all the trails and cow-paths; but nothing delighted them more than to essay the roughest and most impossible rides, where they were glad to crouch and crawl along the narrowest deer-runs, Bob and Mab struggling and forcing their way along behind. Back from their rides they brought the seeds and bulbs of wild flowers to plant in favoring nooks on the ranch. Along the foot trail which led down the side of the big canon to the intake of the water-pipe, they established their fernery. It was not a formal affair, and the ferns were left to themselves. Dede and Daylight merely introduced new ones from time to time, changing them from one wild habitat to another. It was the same with the wild lilac, which Daylight had sent to him from Mendocino County. It became part of the wildness of the ranch, and, after being helped for a season, was left to its own devices they used to gather the seeds of the California poppy and scatter them over their own acres, so that the orange-colored blossoms spangled the fields of mountain hay and prospered in flaming drifts in the fence corners and along the edges of the clearings.
Dede, who had a fondness for cattails, established a fringe of them along the meadow stream, where they were left to fight it out with the water-cress. And when the latter was threatened with extinction, Daylight developed one of the shaded springs into his water-cress garden and declared war upon any invading cattail. On her wedding day Dede had discovered a long dog-tooth violet by the zigzag trail above the redwood spring, and here she continued to plant more and more. The open hillside above the tiny meadow became a colony of Mariposa lilies. This was due mainly to her efforts, while Daylight, who rode with a short-handled ax on his saddle-bow, cleared the little manzanita wood on the rocky hill of all its dead and dying and overcrowded weaklings.
They did not labor at these tasks. Nor were they tasks. Merely in passing, they paused, from time to time, and lent a hand to nature. These flowers and shrubs grew of themselves, and their presence was no violation of the natural environment. The man and the woman made no effort to introduce a flower or shrub that did not of its own right belong. Nor did they protect them from their enemies. The horses and the colts and the cows and the calves ran at pasture among them or over them, and flower or shrub had to take its chance. But the beasts were not noticeably destructive, for they were few in number and the ranch was large.
On the other hand, Daylight could have taken in fully a dozen horses to pasture, which would have earned him a dollar and a half per head per month. But this he refused to do, because of the devastation such close pasturing would produce.
Ferguson came over to celebrate the housewarming that followed the achievement of the great stone fireplace. Daylight had ridden across the valley more than once to confer with him about the undertaking, and he was the only other present at the sacred function of lighting the first fire. By removing a partition, Daylight had thrown two rooms into one, and this was the big living-room where Dede's treasures were placed—her books, and paintings and photographs, her piano, the Crouched Venus, the chafing-dish and all its glittering accessories. Already, in addition to her own wild-animal skins, were those of deer and coyote and one mountain-lion which Daylight had killed. The tanning he had done himself, slowly and laboriously, in frontier fashion.
He handed the match to Dede, who struck it and lighted the fire. The crisp manzanita wood crackled as the flames leaped up and assailed the dry bark of the larger logs. Then she leaned in the shelter of her husband's arm, and the three stood and looked in breathless suspense. When Ferguson gave judgment, it was with beaming face and extended hand.
"She draws! By crickey, she draws!" he cried.
He shook Daylight's hand ecstatically, and Daylight shook his with equal fervor, and, bending, kissed Dede on the lips. They were as exultant over the success of their simple handiwork as any great captain at astonishing victory. In Ferguson's eyes was actually a suspicious moisture while the woman pressed even more closely against the man whose achievement it was. He caught her up suddenly in his arms and whirled her away to the piano, crying out: "Come on, Dede! The Gloria! The Gloria!"
And while the flames in the fireplace that worked, the triumphant strains of the Twelfth Mass rolled forth.
Daylight had made no assertion of total abstinence though he had not taken a drink for months after the day he resolved to let his business go to smash. Soon he proved himself strong enough to dare to take a drink without taking a second. On the other hand, with his coming to live in the country, had passed all desire and need for drink. He felt no yearning for it, and even forgot that it existed. Yet he refused to be afraid of it, and in town, on occasion, when invited by the storekeeper, would reply: "All right, son. If my taking a drink will make you happy here goes. Whiskey for mine."
But such a drink began no desire for a second. It made no impression. He was too profoundly strong to be affected by a thimbleful. As he had prophesied to Dede, Burning Daylight, the city financier, had died a quick death on the ranch, and his younger brother, the Daylight from Alaska, had taken his place. The threatened inundation of fat had subsided, and all his old-time Indian leanness and of muscle had returned. So, likewise, did the old slight hollows in his cheeks come back. For him they indicated the pink of physical condition. He became the acknowledged strong man of Sonoma Valley, the heaviest lifter and hardest winded among a husky race of farmer folk. And once a year he celebrated his birthday in the old-fashioned frontier way, challenging all the valley to come up the hill to the ranch and be put on its back. And a fair portion of the valley responded, brought the women-folk and children along, and picnicked for the day.
At first, when in need of ready cash, he had followed Ferguson's example of working at day's labor; but he was not long in gravitating to a form of work that was more stimulating and more satisfying, and that allowed him even more time for Dede and the ranch and the perpetual riding through the hills. Having been challenged by the blacksmith, in a spirit of banter, to attempt the breaking of a certain incorrigible colt, he succeeded so signally as to earn quite a reputation as a horse-breaker. And soon he was able to earn whatever money he desired at this, to him, agreeable work.
A sugar king, whose breeding farm and training stables were at Caliente, three miles away, sent for him in time of need, and, before the year was out, offered him the management of the stables. But Daylight smiled and shook his head. Furthermore, he refused to undertake the breaking of as many animals as were offered. "I'm sure not going to die from overwork," he assured Dede; and he accepted such work only when he had to have money. Later, he fenced off a small run in the pasture, where, from time to time, he took in a limited number of incorrigibles.
"We've got the ranch and each other," he told his wife, "and I'd sooner ride with you to Hood Mountain any day than earn forty dollars. You can't buy sunsets, and loving wives, and cool spring water, and such folderols, with forty dollars; and forty million dollars can't buy back for me one day that I didn't ride with you to Hood Mountain."
His life was eminently wholesome and natural. Early to bed, he slept like an infant and was up with the dawn. Always with something to do, and with a thousand little things that enticed but did not clamor, he was himself never overdone. Nevertheless, there were times when both he and Dede were not above confessing tiredness at bedtime after seventy or eighty miles in the saddle.
Sometimes, when he had accumulated a little money, and when the season favored, they would mount their horses, with saddle-bags behind, and ride away over the wall of the valley and down into the other valleys. When night fell, they put up at the first convenient farm or village, and on the morrow they would ride on, without definite plan, merely continuing to ride on, day after day, until their money gave out and they were compelled to return. On such trips they would be gone anywhere from a week to ten days or two weeks, and once they managed a three weeks' trip.
They even planned ambitiously some day when they were disgracefully prosperous, to ride all the way up to Daylight's boyhood home in Eastern Oregon, stopping on the way at Dede's girlhood home in Siskiyou. And all the joys of anticipation were theirs a thousand times as they contemplated the detailed delights of this grand adventure.
One day, stopping to mail a letter at the Glen Ellen post office, they were hailed by the blacksmith.
"Say, Daylight," he said, "a young fellow named Slosson sends you his regards. He came through in an auto, on the way to Santa Rosa. He wanted to know if you didn't live hereabouts, but the crowd with him was in a hurry. So he sent you his regards and said to tell you he'd taken your advice and was still going on breaking his own record."
Daylight had long since told Dede of the incident.
"Slosson?" he meditated, "Slosson? That must be the hammer-thrower. He put my hand down twice, the young scamp." He turned suddenly to Dede. "Say, it's only twelve miles to Santa Rosa, and the horses are fresh."
She divined what was in his mind, of which his twinkling eyes and sheepish, boyish grin gave sufficient advertisement, and she smiled and nodded acquiescence.
"We'll cut across by Bennett Valley," he said. "It's nearer that way."
There was little difficulty, once in Santa Rosa, of finding Slosson. He and his party had registered at the Oberlin Hotel, and Daylight encountered the young hammer-thrower himself in the office.
"Look here, son," Daylight announced, as soon as he had introduced Dede, "I've come to go you another flutter at that hand game. Here's a likely place."
Slosson smiled and accepted. The two men faced each other, the elbows of their right arms on the counter, the hands clasped. Slosson's hand quickly forced backward and down.
"You're the first man that ever succeeded in doing it," he said. "Let's try it again."
"Sure," Daylight answered. "And don't forget, son, that you're the first man that put mine down. That's why I lit out after you to-day."
Again they clasped hands, and again Slosson's hand went down. He was a broad-shouldered, heavy-muscled young giant, at least half a head taller than Daylight, and he frankly expressed his chagrin and asked for a third trial. This time he steeled himself to the effort, and for a moment the issue was in doubt. With flushed face and set teeth he met the other's strength till his crackling muscles failed him. The air exploded sharply from his tensed lungs, as he relaxed in surrender, and the hand dropped limply down.
"You're too many for me," he confessed. "I only hope you'll keep out of the hammer-throwing game."
Daylight laughed and shook his head.
"We might compromise, and each stay in his own class. You stick to hammer-throwing, and I'll go on turning down hands."
But Slosson refused to accept defeat.
"Say," he called out, as Daylight and Dede, astride their horses, were preparing to depart. "Say—do you mind if I look you up next year? I'd like to tackle you again."
"Sure, son. You're welcome to a flutter any time. Though I give you fair warning that you'll have to go some. You'll have to train up, for I'm ploughing and chopping wood and breaking colts these days."
Now and again, on the way home, Dede could hear her big boy-husband chuckling gleefully. As they halted their horses on the top of the divide out of Bennett Valley, in order to watch the sunset, he ranged alongside and slipped his arm around her waist.
"Little woman," he said, "you're sure responsible for it all. And I leave it to you, if all the money in creation is worth as much as one arm like that when it's got a sweet little woman like this to go around."
For of all his delights in the new life, Dede was his greatest. As he explained to her more than once, he had been afraid of love all his life only in the end to come to find it the greatest thing in the world. Not alone were the two well mated, but in coming to live on the ranch they had selected the best soil in which their love would prosper. In spite of her books and music, there was in her a wholesome simplicity and love of the open and natural, while Daylight, in every fiber of him, was essentially an open-air man.
Of one thing in Dede, Daylight never got over marveling about, and that was her efficient hands—the hands that he had first seen taking down flying shorthand notes and ticking away at the typewriter; the hands that were firm to hold a magnificent brute like Bob, that wonderfully flashed over the keys of the piano, that were unhesitant in household tasks, and that were twin miracles to caress and to run rippling fingers through his hair. But Daylight was not unduly uxorious. He lived his man's life just as she lived her woman's life. There was proper division of labor in the work they individually performed. But the whole was entwined and woven into a fabric of mutual interest and consideration. He was as deeply interested in her cooking and her music as she was in his agricultural adventures in the vegetable garden. And he, who resolutely declined to die of overwork, saw to it that she should likewise escape so dire a risk.
In this connection, using his man's judgment and putting his man's foot down, he refused to allow her to be burdened with the entertaining of guests. For guests they had, especially in the warm, long summers, and usually they were her friends from the city, who were put to camp in tents which they cared for themselves, and where, like true campers, they had also to cook for themselves. Perhaps only in California, where everybody knows camp life, would such a program have been possible. But Daylight's steadfast contention was that his wife should not become cook, waitress, and chambermaid because she did not happen to possess a household of servants. On the other hand, chafing-dish suppers in the big living-room for their camping guests were a common happening, at which times Daylight allotted them their chores and saw that they were performed. For one who stopped only for the night it was different. Likewise it was different with her brother, back from Germany, and again able to sit a horse. On his vacations he became the third in the family, and to him was given the building of the fires, the sweeping, and the washing of the dishes.
Daylight devoted himself to the lightening of Dede's labors, and it was her brother who incited him to utilize the splendid water-power of the ranch that was running to waste. It required Daylight's breaking of extra horses to pay for the materials, and the brother devoted a three weeks' vacation to assisting, and together they installed a Pelting wheel. Besides sawing wood and turning his lathe and grindstone, Daylight connected the power with the churn; but his great triumph was when he put his arm around Dede's waist and led her out to inspect a washing-machine, run by the Pelton wheel, which really worked and really washed clothes.
Dede and Ferguson, between them, after a patient struggle, taught Daylight poetry, so that in the end he might have been often seen, sitting slack in the saddle and dropping down the mountain trails through the sun-flecked woods, chanting aloud Kipling's "Tomlinson," or, when sharpening his ax, singing into the whirling grindstone Henley's "Song of the Sword." Not that he ever became consummately literary in the way his two teachers were. Beyond "Fra Lippo Lippi" and "Caliban and Setebos," he found nothing in Browning, while George Meredith was ever his despair. It was of his own initiative, however, that he invested in a violin, and practised so assiduously that in time he and Dede beguiled many a happy hour playing together after night had fallen.
So all went well with this well-mated pair. Time never dragged. There were always new wonderful mornings and still cool twilights at the end of day; and ever a thousand interests claimed him, and his interests were shared by her. More thoroughly than he knew, had he come to a comprehension of the relativity of things. In this new game he played he found in little things all the intensities of gratification and desire that he had found in the frenzied big things when he was a power and rocked half a continent with the fury of the blows he struck. With head and hand, at risk of life and limb, to bit and break a wild colt and win it to the service of man, was to him no less great an achievement. And this new table on which he played the game was clean. Neither lying, nor cheating, nor hypocrisy was here. The other game had made for decay and death, while this new one made for clean strength and life. And so he was content, with Dede at his side, to watch the procession of the days and seasons from the farm-house perched on the canon-lip; to ride through crisp frosty mornings or under burning summer suns; and to shelter in the big room where blazed the logs in the fireplace he had built, while outside the world shuddered and struggled in the storm-clasp of a southeaster.
Once only Dede asked him if he ever regretted, and his answer was to crush her in his arms and smother her lips with his. His answer, a minute later, took speech.
"Little woman, even if you did cost thirty millions, you are sure the cheapest necessity of life I ever indulged in." And then he added, "Yes, I do have one regret, and a monstrous big one, too. I'd sure like to have the winning of you all over again. I'd like to go sneaking around the Piedmont hills looking for you. I'd like to meander into those rooms of yours at Berkeley for the first time. And there's no use talking, I'm plumb soaking with regret that I can't put my arms around you again that time you leaned your head on my breast and cried in the wind and rain."
But there came the day, one year, in early April, when Dede sat in an easy chair on the porch, sewing on certain small garments, while Daylight read aloud to her. It was in the afternoon, and a bright sun was shining down on a world of new green. Along the irrigation channels of the vegetable garden streams of water were flowing, and now and again Daylight broke off from his reading to run out and change the flow of water. Also, he was teasingly interested in the certain small garments on which Dede worked, while she was radiantly happy over them, though at times, when his tender fun was too insistent, she was rosily confused or affectionately resentful.
From where they sat they could look out over the world. Like the curve of a skirting blade, the Valley of the Moon stretched before them, dotted with farm-houses and varied by pasture-lands, hay-fields, and vineyards. Beyond rose the wall of the valley, every crease and wrinkle of which Dede and Daylight knew, and at one place, where the sun struck squarely, the white dump of the abandoned mine burned like a jewel. In the foreground, in the paddock by the barn, was Mab, full of pretty anxieties for the early spring foal that staggered about her on tottery legs. The air shimmered with heat, and altogether it was a lazy, basking day. Quail whistled to their young from the thicketed hillside behind the house. There was a gentle cooing of pigeons, and from the green depths of the big canon arose the sobbing wood note of a mourning dove. Once, there was a warning chorus from the foraging hens and a wild rush for cover, as a hawk, high in the blue, cast its drifting shadow along the ground.
It was this, perhaps, that aroused old hunting memories in Wolf. At any rate, Dede and Daylight became aware of excitement in the paddock, and saw harmlessly reenacted a grim old tragedy of the Younger World. Curiously eager, velvet-footed and silent as a ghost, sliding and gliding and crouching, the dog that was mere domesticated wolf stalked the enticing bit of young life that Mab had brought so recently into the world. And the mare, her own ancient instincts aroused and quivering, circled ever between the foal and this menace of the wild young days when all her ancestry had known fear of him and his hunting brethren. Once, she whirled and tried to kick him, but usually she strove to strike him with her fore-hoofs, or rushed upon him with open mouth and ears laid back in an effort to crunch his backbone between her teeth. And the wolf-dog, with ears flattened down and crouching, would slide silkily away, only to circle up to the foal from the other side and give cause to the mare for new alarm. Then Daylight, urged on by Dede's solicitude, uttered a low threatening cry; and Wolf, drooping and sagging in all the body of him in token of his instant return to man's allegiance, slunk off behind the barn.
It was a few minutes later that Daylight, breaking off from his reading to change the streams of irrigation, found that the water had ceased flowing. He shouldered a pick and shovel, took a hammer and a pipe-wrench from the tool-house, and returned to Dede on the porch.
"I reckon I'll have to go down and dig the pipe out," he told her. "It's that slide that's threatened all winter. I guess she's come down at last."
"Don't you read ahead, now," he warned, as he passed around the house and took the trail that led down the wall of the canon.
Halfway down the trail, he came upon the slide. It was a small affair, only a few tons of earth and crumbling rock; but, starting from fifty feet above, it had struck the water pipe with force sufficient to break it at a connection. Before proceeding to work, he glanced up the path of the slide, and he glanced with the eye of the earth-trained miner. And he saw what made his eyes startle and cease for the moment from questing farther.
"Hello," he communed aloud, "look who's here."
His glance moved on up the steep broken surface, and across it from side to side. Here and there, in places, small twisted manzanitas were rooted precariously, but in the main, save for weeds and grass, that portion of the canon was bare. There were signs of a surface that had shifted often as the rains poured a flow of rich eroded soil from above over the lip of the canon.
"A true fissure vein, or I never saw one," he proclaimed softly.
And as the old hunting instincts had aroused that day in the wolf-dog, so in him recrudesced all the old hot desire of gold-hunting. Dropping the hammer and pipe-wrench, but retaining pick and shovel, he climbed up the slide to where a vague line of outputting but mostly soil-covered rock could be seen. It was all but indiscernible, but his practised eye had sketched the hidden formation which it signified. Here and there, along this wall of the vein, he attacked the crumbling rock with the pick and shoveled the encumbering soil away. Several times he examined this rock. So soft was some of it that he could break it in his fingers. Shifting a dozen feet higher up, he again attacked with pick and shovel. And this time, when he rubbed the soil from a chunk of rock and looked, he straightened up suddenly, gasping with delight. And then, like a deer at a drinking pool in fear of its enemies, he flung a quick glance around to see if any eye were gazing upon him. He grinned at his own foolishness and returned to his examination of the chunk. A slant of sunlight fell on it, and it was all aglitter with tiny specks of unmistakable free gold.
"From the grass roots down," he muttered in an awestricken voice, as he swung his pick into the yielding surface.
He seemed to undergo a transformation. No quart of cocktails had ever put such a flame in his cheeks nor such a fire in his eyes. As he worked, he was caught up in the old passion that had ruled most of his life. A frenzy seized him that markedly increased from moment to moment. He worked like a madman, till he panted from his exertions and the sweat dripped from his face to the ground. He quested across the face of the slide to the opposite wall of the vein and back again. And, midway, he dug down through the red volcanic earth that had washed from the disintegrating hill above, until he uncovered quartz, rotten quartz, that broke and crumbled in his hands and showed to be alive with free gold.
Sometimes he started small slides of earth that covered up his work and compelled him to dig again. Once, he was swept fifty feet down the canon-side; but he floundered and scrambled up again without pausing for breath. He hit upon quartz that was so rotten that it was almost like clay, and here the gold was richer than ever. It was a veritable treasure chamber. For a hundred feet up and down he traced the walls of the vein. He even climbed over the canon-lip to look along the brow of the hill for signs of the outcrop. But that could wait, and he hurried back to his find.
He toiled on in the same mad haste, until exhaustion and an intolerable ache in his back compelled him to pause. He straightened up with even a richer piece of gold-laden quartz. Stooping, the sweat from his forehead had fallen to the ground. It now ran into his eyes, blinding him. He wiped it from him with the back of his hand and returned to a scrutiny of the gold.
It would run thirty thousand to the ton, fifty thousand, anything—he knew that. And as he gazed upon the yellow lure, and panted for air, and wiped the sweat away, his quick vision leaped and set to work. He saw the spur-track that must run up from the valley and across the upland pastures, and he ran the grades and built the bridge that would span the canon, until it was real before his eyes. Across the canon was the place for the mill, and there he erected it; and he erected, also, the endless chain of buckets, suspended from a cable and operated by gravity, that would carry the ore across the canon to the quartz-crusher. Likewise, the whole mine grew before him and beneath him-tunnels, shafts, and galleries, and hoisting plants. The blasts of the miners were in his ears, and from across the canon he could hear the roar of the stamps. The hand that held the lump of quartz was trembling, and there was a tired, nervous palpitation apparently in the pit of his stomach. It came to him abruptly that what he wanted was a drink—whiskey, cocktails, anything, a drink. And even then, with this new hot yearning for the alcohol upon him, he heard, faint and far, drifting down the green abyss of the canon, Dede's voice, crying:—
"Here, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick! Here, chick, chick, chick!"
He was astounded at the lapse of time. She had left her sewing on the porch and was feeding the chickens preparatory to getting supper. The afternoon was gone. He could not conceive that he had been away that long.
Again came the call: "Here, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick! Here, chick, chick, chick!"
It was the way she always called—first five, and then three. He had long since noticed it. And from these thoughts of her arose other thoughts that caused a great fear slowly to grow in his face. For it seemed to him that he had almost lost her. Not once had he thought of her in those frenzied hours, and for that much, at least, had she truly been lost to him.
He dropped the piece of quartz, slid down the slide, and started up the trail, running heavily. At the edge of the clearing he eased down and almost crept to a point of vantage whence he could peer out, himself unseen. She was feeding the chickens, tossing to them handfuls of grain and laughing at their antics.
The sight of her seemed to relieve the panic fear into which he had been flung, and he turned and ran back down the trail. Again he climbed the slide, but this time he climbed higher, carrying the pick and shovel with him. And again he toiled frenziedly, but this time with a different purpose. He worked artfully, loosing slide after slide of the red soil and sending it streaming down and covering up all he had uncovered, hiding from the light of day the treasure he had discovered. He even went into the woods and scooped armfuls of last year's fallen leaves which he scattered over the slide. But this he gave up as a vain task; and he sent more slides of soil down upon the scene of his labor, until no sign remained of the out-jutting walls of the vein.
Next he repaired the broken pipe, gathered his tools together, and started up the trail. He walked slowly, feeling a great weariness, as of a man who had passed through a frightful crisis.
He put the tools away, took a great drink of the water that again flowed through the pipes, and sat down on the bench by the open kitchen door. Dede was inside, preparing supper, and the sound of her footsteps gave him a vast content.
He breathed the balmy mountain air in great gulps, like a diver fresh-risen from the sea. And, as he drank in the air, he gazed with all his eyes at the clouds and sky and valley, as if he were drinking in that, too, along with the air.
Dede did not know he had come back, and at times he turned his head and stole glances in at her—at her efficient hands, at the bronze of her brown hair that smouldered with fire when she crossed the path of sunshine that streamed through the window, at the promise of her figure that shot through him a pang most strangely sweet and sweetly dear. He heard her approaching the door, and kept his head turned resolutely toward the valley. And next, he thrilled, as he had always thrilled, when he felt the caressing gentleness of her fingers through his hair.
"I didn't know you were back," she said. "Was it serious?"
"Pretty bad, that slide," he answered, still gazing away and thrilling to her touch. "More serious than I reckoned. But I've got the plan. Do you know what I'm going to do?—I'm going to plant eucalyptus all over it. They'll hold it. I'll plant them thick as grass, so that even a hungry rabbit can't squeeze between them; and when they get their roots agoing, nothing in creation will ever move that dirt again."
"Why, is it as bad as that?"
He shook his head.
"Nothing exciting. But I'd sure like to see any blamed old slide get the best of me, that's all. I'm going to seal that slide down so that it'll stay there for a million years. And when the last trump sounds, and Sonoma Mountain and all the other mountains pass into nothingness, that old slide will be still a-standing there, held up by the roots."
He passed his arm around her and pulled her down on his knees.
"Say, little woman, you sure miss a lot by living here on the ranch—music, and theatres, and such things. Don't you ever have a hankering to drop it all and go back?"
So great was his anxiety that he dared not look at her, and when she laughed and shook her head he was aware of a great relief. Also, he noted the undiminished youth that rang through that same old-time boyish laugh of hers.