Burning Daylight by Jack London
Another Sunday man and horse and dog roved the Piedmont hills. And again Daylight and Dede rode together. But this time her surprise at meeting him was tinctured with suspicion; or rather, her surprise was of another order. The previous Sunday had been quite accidental, but his appearing a second time among her favorite haunts hinted of more than the fortuitous. Daylight was made to feel that she suspected him, and he, remembering that he had seen a big rock quarry near Blair Park, stated offhand that he was thinking of buying it. His one-time investment in a brickyard had put the idea into his head--an idea that he decided was a good one, for it enabled him to suggest that she ride along with him to inspect the quarry.
So several hours he spent in her company, in which she was much the same girl as before, natural, unaffected, lighthearted, smiling and laughing, a good fellow, talking horses with unflagging enthusiasm, making friends with the crusty-tempered Wolf, and expressing the desire to ride Bob, whom she declared she was more in love with than ever. At this last Daylight demurred. Bob was full of dangerous tricks, and he wouldn't trust any one on him except his worst enemy.
"You think, because I'm a girl, that I don't know anything about horses," she flashed back. "But I've been thrown off and bucked off enough not to be over-confident. And I'm not a fool. I wouldn't get on a bucking horse. I've learned better. And I'm not afraid of any other kind. And you say yourself that Bob doesn't buck."
"But you've never seen him cutting up didoes," Daylight
"But you must remember I've seen a few others, and I've been on several of them myself. I brought Mab here to electric cars, locomotives, and automobiles. She was a raw range colt when she came to me. Broken to saddle that was all. Besides, I won't hurt your horse."
Against his better judgment, Daylight gave in, and, on an unfrequented stretch of road, changed saddles and bridles.
"Remember, he's greased lightning," he warned, as he helped her to mount.
She nodded, while Bob pricked up his ears to the knowledge that he had a strange rider on his back. The fun came quickly enough--too quickly for Dede, who found herself against Bob's neck as he pivoted around and bolted the other way. Daylight followed on her horse and watched. He saw her check the animal quickly to a standstill, and immediately, with rein across neck and a decisive prod of the left spur, whirl him back the way he had come and almost as swiftly.
"Get ready to give him the quirt on the nose," Daylight called.
But, too quickly for her, Bob whirled again, though this time, by a severe effort, she saved herself from the undignified position against his neck. His bolt was more determined, but she pulled him into a prancing walk, and turned him roughly back with her spurred heel. There was nothing feminine in the way she handled him; her method was imperative and masculine. Had this not been so, Daylight would have expected her to say she had had enough. But that little preliminary exhibition had taught him something of Dede's quality. And if it had not, a glance at her gray eyes, just perceptibly angry with herself, and at her firm-set mouth, would have told him the same thing. Daylight did not suggest anything, while he hung almost gleefully upon her actions in anticipation of what the fractious Bob was going to get. And Bob got it, on his next whirl, or attempt, rather, for he was no more than halfway around when the quirt met him smack on his tender nose. There and then, in his bewilderment, surprise, and pain, his fore feet, just skimming above the road, dropped down.
"Great!" Daylight applauded. "A couple more will fix him. He's too smart not to know when he's beaten."
Again Bob tried. But this time he was barely quarter around when the doubled quirt on his nose compelled him to drop his fore feet to the road. Then, with neither rein nor spur, but by the mere threat of the quirt, she straightened him out.
Dede looked triumphantly at Daylight.
"Let me give him a run?" she asked.
Daylight nodded, and she shot down the road. He watched her out of sight around the bend, and watched till she came into sight returning. She certainly could sit her horse, was his thought, and she was a sure enough hummer. God, she was the wife for a man! Made most of them look pretty slim. And to think of her hammering all week at a typewriter. That was no place for her. She should be a man's wife, taking it easy, with silks and satins and diamonds (his frontier notion of what befitted a wife beloved), and dogs, and horses, and such things--"And we'll see, Mr. Burning Daylight, what you and me can do about it," he murmured to himself! and aloud to her:--
"You'll do, Miss Mason; you'll do. There's nothing too good in horseflesh you don't deserve, a woman who can ride like that. No; stay with him, and we'll jog along to the quarry." He chuckled. "Say, he actually gave just the least mite of a groan that last time you fetched him. Did you hear it? And did you see the way he dropped his feet to the road--just like he'd struck a stone wall. And he's got savvee enough to know from now on that that same stone wall will be always there ready for him to lam into."
When he parted from her that afternoon, at the gate of the road that led to Berkeley, he drew off to the edge of the intervening clump of trees, where, unobserved, he watched her out of sight. Then, turning to ride back into Oakland, a thought came to him that made him grin ruefully as he muttered: "And now it's up to me to make good and buy that blamed quarry. Nothing less than that can give me an excuse for snooping around these hills."
But the quarry was doomed to pass out of his plans for a time, for on the following Sunday he rode alone. No Dede on a chestnut sorrel came across the back-road from Berkeley that day, nor the day a week later. Daylight was beside himself with impatience and apprehension, though in the office he contained himself. He noted no change in her, and strove to let none show in himself. The same old monotonous routine went on, though now it was irritating and maddening. Daylight found a big quarrel on his hands with a world that wouldn't let a man behave toward his stenographer after the way of all men and women. What was the good of owning millions anyway? he demanded one day of the desk-calendar, as she passed out after receiving his dictation.
As the third week drew to a close and another desolate Sunday confronted him, Daylight resolved to speak, office or no office. And as was his nature, he went simply and directly to the point She had finished her work with him, and was gathering her note pad and pencils together to depart, when he said:--
"Oh, one thing more, Miss Mason, and I hope you won't mind my being frank and straight out. You've struck me right along as a sensible-minded girl, and I don't think you'll take offence at what I'm going to say. You know how long you've been in the office--it's years, now, several of them, anyway; and you know I've always been straight and aboveboard with you. I've never what you call--presumed. Because you were in my office I've tried to be more careful than if--if you wasn't in my office--you understand. But just the same, it don't make me any the less human. I'm a lonely sort of a fellow--don't take that as a bid for kindness. What I mean by it is to try and tell you just how much those two rides with you have meant. And now I hope you won't mind my just asking why you haven't been out riding the last two Sundays?"
He came to a stop and waited, feeling very warm and awkward, the perspiration starting in tiny beads on his forehead. She did not speak immediately, and he stepped across the room and raised the window higher.
"I have been riding," she answered; "in other directions."
"But why...?" He failed somehow to complete the question. "Go ahead and be frank with me," he urged. "Just as frank as I am with you. Why didn't you ride in the Piedmont hills? I hunted for you everywhere.
"And that is just why." She smiled, and looked him straight in the eyes for a moment, then dropped her own. "Surely, you understand, Mr. Harnish."
He shook his head glumly.
"I do, and I don't. I ain't used to city ways by a long shot. There's things one mustn't do, which I don't mind as long as I don't want to do them."
"But when you do?" she asked quickly.
"Then I do them." His lips had drawn firmly with this affirmation of will, but the next instant he was amending the statement "That is, I mostly do. But what gets me is the things you mustn't do when they're not wrong and they won't hurt anybody--this riding, for instance."
She played nervously with a pencil for a time, as if debating her reply, while he waited patiently.
"This riding," she began; "it's not what they call the right thing. I leave it to you. You know the world. You are Mr. Harnish, the millionaire-"
"Gambler," he broke in harshly
She nodded acceptance of his term and went on.
"And I'm a stenographer in your office--"
"You're a thousand times better than me--" he attempted to interpolate, but was in turn interrupted.
"It isn't a question of such things. It's a simple and fairly common situation that must be considered. I work for you. And it isn't what you or I might think, but what other persons will think. And you don't need to be told any more about that. You know yourself."
Her cool, matter-of-fact speech belied her--or so Daylight thought, looking at her perturbed feminineness, at the rounded lines of her figure, the breast that deeply rose and fell, and at the color that was now excited in her cheeks.
"I'm sorry I frightened you out of your favorite stamping ground," he said rather aimlessly.
"You didn't frighten me," she retorted, with a touch of fire. "I'm not a silly seminary girl. I've taken care of myself for a long time now, and I've done it without being frightened. We were together two Sundays, and I'm sure I wasn't frightened of Bob, or you. It isn't that. I have no fears of taking care of myself, but the world insists on taking care of one as well. That's the trouble. It's what the world would have to say about me and my employer meeting regularly and riding in the hills on Sundays. It's funny, but it's so. I could ride with one of the clerks without remark, but with you--no."
"But the world don't know and don't need to know," he cried.
"Which makes it worse, in a way, feeling guilty of nothing and yet sneaking around back-roads with all the feeling of doing something wrong. It would be finer and braver for me publicly..."
"To go to lunch with me on a week-day," Daylight said, divining the drift of her uncompleted argument.
"I didn't have that quite in mind, but it will do. I'd prefer doing the brazen thing and having everybody know it, to doing the furtive thing and being found out. Not that I'm asking to be invited to lunch," she added, with a smile; "but I'm sure you understand my position."
"Then why not ride open and aboveboard with me in the hills?" he urged.
She shook her head with what he imagined was just the faintest hint of regret, and he went suddenly and almost maddeningly hungry for her.
"Look here, Miss Mason, I know you don't like this talking over of things in the office. Neither do I. It's part of the whole thing, I guess; a man ain't supposed to talk anything but business with his stenographer. Will you ride with me next Sunday, and we can talk it over thoroughly then and reach some sort of a conclusion. Out in the hills is the place where you can talk something besides business. I guess you've seen enough of me to know I'm pretty square. I-I do honor and respect you, and... and all that, and I .." He was beginning to flounder, and the hand that rested on the desk blotter was visibly trembling. He strove to pull himself together. "I just want to harder than anything ever in my life before. I-I-I can't explain myself, but I do, that's all. Will you?--Just next Sunday? To-morrow?"
Nor did he dream that her low acquiescence was due, as much as anything else, to the beads of sweat on his forehead, his trembling hand, and his all too-evident general distress.