Burning Daylight by Jack London
"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.