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RIDGWAY OF MONTANA
(STORY OF TO-DAY, IN WHICH THE HERO IS ALSO THE VILLAIN)
by WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
AND THAT KINGDOM
"Where you and I through this world's weather
Work, and give praise and thanks together."
WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
1. Two Men and a Woman
2. The Freebooter
3. One to One
4. Fort Salvation
5. Enter Simon Harley
6. On the Snow-trail
7. Back from Arcadia
8. The Honorable Thomas B. Pelton
9. An Evening Call
10. Harley Makes a Proposition
11. Virginia Intervenes
12. Aline Makes a Discovery
13. First Blood
14. A Conspiracy
15. Laska Opens a Door
16. An Explosion in the Taurus
17. The Election
18. Further Developments
19. One Million Dollars
20. A Little Lunch at Alphonse's
21. Harley Scores
22. "Not Guilty"--"Guilty"
23. Aline Turns a Corner
24. A Good Samaritan
25. Friendly Enemies
26. Breaks One and Makes Another Engagement
WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
by WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
CHAPTER 1. TWO MEN AND A WOMAN
"Mr. Ridgway, ma'am."
The young woman who was giving the last touches to the very effective
picture framed in her long looking-glass nodded almost imperceptibly.
She had come to the parting of the ways, and she knew it, with a shrewd
suspicion as to which she would choose. She had asked for a week to
decide, and her heart-searching had told her nothing new. It was
characteristic of Virginia Balfour that she did not attempt to deceive
herself. If she married Waring Ridgway it would be for what she considered
good and sufficient reasons, but love would not be one of them. He was
going to be a great man, for one thing, and probably a very rich one,
which counted, though it would not be a determining factor. This she could
find only in the man himself, in the masterful force that made him what he
was. The sandstings of life did not disturb his confidence in his
victorious star, nor did he let fine-spun moral obligations hamper his
predatory career. He had a genius for success in whatever he undertook,
pushing his way to his end with a shrewd, direct energy that never
faltered. She sometimes wondered whether she, too, like the men he used as
tools, was merely a pawn in his game, and her consent an empty formality
conceded to convention. Perhaps he would marry her even if she did not
want to, she told herself, with the sudden illuminating smile that was one
of her chief charms.
But Ridgway's wary eyes, appraising her mood as she came forward to meet
him, read none of this doubt in her frank greeting. Anything more sure and
exquisite than the cultivation Virginia Balfour breathed he would have
been hard put to it to conceive. That her gown and its accessories seemed
to him merely the extension of a dainty personality was the highest
compliment he could pay her charm, and an entirely unconscious one.
"Have I kept you waiting?" she smiled, giving him her hand.
His answering smile, quite cool and unperturbed, gave the lie to his
words. "For a year, though the almanac called it a week."
"You must have suffered," she told him ironically, with a glance at the
clear color in his good-looking face.
"Repressed emotion," he explained. "May I hope that my suffering has
reached a period?"
They had been sauntering toward a little conservatory at the end of the
large room, but she deflected and brought up at a table on which lay some
books. One of these she picked up and looked at incuriously for a moment
before sweeping them aside. She rested her hands on the table behind her
and leaned back against it, her eyes meeting his fairly.
"You're still of the same mind, are you?" she demanded.
"Oh! very much."
She lifted herself to the table, crossing her feet and dangling them
irresponsibly. "We might as well be comfy while we talk;" and she
indicated, by a nod, a chair.
"Thanks. If you don't mind, I think I'll take it standing."
She did not seem in any hurry to begin, and Ridgway gave evidence of no
desire to hasten her. But presently he said, with a little laugh that
seemed to offer her inclusion in the joke:
"I'm on the anxious seat, you know--waiting to find out whether I'm to be
the happiest man alive."
"You know as much about it as I do." She echoed his laugh ruefully. "I'm
still as much at sea as I was last week. I couldn't tell then, and I can't
"No news is good news, they say."
"I don't want to marry you a bit, but you're a great catch, as you are
very well aware."
"I suppose I am rather a catch," he agreed, the shadow of a smile at the
corners of his mouth.
"It isn't only your money; though, of course, that's a temptation," she
"I'm glad it's not only my money." He could laugh with her about it
because he was shrewd enough to understand that it was not at all his
wealth. Her cool frankness might have frightened away another man. It
merely served to interest Ridgway. For, with all his strength, he was a
vain man, always ready to talk of himself. He spent a good deal of his
spare time interpreting himself to attractive and attracted young women.
Her gaze fastened on the tip of her suede toe, apparently studying it
attentively. "It would be a gratification to my vanity to parade you as
the captive of my bow and spear. You're such a magnificent specimen, such
a berserk in broadcloth. Still. I shan't marry you if I can help it--but,
then, I'm not sure that I can help it. Of course, I disapprove of you
entirely, but you're rather fascinating, you know." Her eye traveled
slowly up to his, appraising the masterful lines of his square figure, the
dominant strength of his close-shut mouth and resolute eyes. "Perhaps
'fascinating' isn't just the word, but I can't help being interested in
you, whether I like you or not. I suppose you always get what you want
very badly?" she flung out by way of question.
"That's what I'm trying to discover"--he smiled.
"There are things to be considered both ways," she said, taking him into
her confidence. "You trample on others. How do I know you wouldn't tread
"That would be one of the risks you would take," he agreed impersonally.
"I shouldn't like that at all. If I married you it would be because as
your wife I should have so many opportunities. I should expect to do
exactly as I please. I shouldn't want you to interfere with me, though I
should want to be able to influence you."
"Nothing could be fairer than that," was his amiably ironical comment.
"You see, I don't know you--not really--and they say all sorts of things
"They don't say I am a quitter, do they?"
She leaned forward, chin in hand and elbow on knee. It was a part of the
accent of her distinction that as a rebel she was both demure and daring.
"I wonder if I might ask you some questions--the intimate kind that people
think but don't say--at least, they don't say them to you."
"It would be a pleasure to me to be put on the witness-stand. I should
probably pick up some interesting side-lights about myself."
"Very well." Her eyes danced with excitement. "You're what they call a
buccaneer of business, aren't you?"
Here were certainly diverting pastimes. "I believe I have been called
that; but, then, I've had the hardest names in the dictionary thrown at me
so often that I can't be sure."
"I suppose you are perfectly unscrupulous in a business way--stop at
nothing to gain your point?"
He took her impudence smilingly.
"'Unscrupulous' isn't the word I use when I explain myself to myself, but
as an unflattered description, such as one my enemies might use to
describe me, I dare say it is fairly accurate."
"I wonder why. Do you dispense with a conscience entirely?"
"Well, you see, Miss Balfour, if I nursed a New England conscience I could
stand up to the attacks of the Consolidated about as long as a dove to a
hawk. I meet fire with fire to avoid being wiped off the map of the mining
world. I play the game. I can't afford to keep a button on my foil when my
She nodded an admission of his point. "And yet there are rules of the game
to be observed, aren't there? The Consolidated people claim you steal
their ore, I believe." Her slanted eyes studied the effect of her daring.
He laughed grimly. "Do they? I claim they steal mine. It's rather
difficult to have an exact regard for mine and thine before the courts
decide which is which."
"And meanwhile, in order to forestall an adverse decision, you are working
extra shifts to get all the ore out of the disputed veins."
"Precisely, just as they are," he admitted dryly. "Then the side that
loses will not be so disappointed, since the value of the veins will be
less. Besides, stealing ore openly doesn't count. It is really a moral
obligation in a fight like this," he explained.
"A moral obligation?"
"Exactly. You can't hit a trust over the head with the decalogue. Modern
business is war. Somebody is bound to get hurt. If I win out it will be
because I put up a better fight than the Consolidated, and cripple it
enough to make it let me alone. I'm looking out for myself, and I don't
pretend to be any better than my neighbors. When you get down to bed-rock
honesty, I've never seen it in business. We're all of us as honest as we
think we can afford to be. I haven't noticed that there is any premium on
it in Mesa. Might makes right. I'll win if I'm strong enough; I'll fail if
I'm not. That's the law of life. I didn't make this strenuous little
world, and I'm not responsible for it. If I play I have to take the rules
the way they are, not the way I should like them to be. I'm not squeamish,
and I'm not a hypocrite. Simon Harley isn't squeamish, either, but he
happens to be a hypocrite. So there you have the difference between us."
The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company set forth his creed
jauntily, without the least consciousness of need for apology for the fact
that it happened to be divorced from morality. Its frank disregard of
ethical considerations startled Miss Balfour without shocking her. She
liked his candor, even though it condemned him. It was really very nice of
him to take her impudence so well. He certainly wasn't a prig, anyway.
"And morality," she suggested tentatively.
"--hasn't a thing to do with success, the parsons to the contrary
notwithstanding. The battle is to the strong."
"Then the Consolidated will beat you finally."
He smiled. "They would if I'd let them; but brains and resource and
finesse all count for power. Granted that they have a hundred dollars to
my one. Still, I have elements of strength they can't even estimate. David
beat Goliath, you know, even though he didn't do it with a big stick."
"So you think morality is for old women?"
"And young women," he amended, smiling.
"And every man is to be a law unto himself?"
"Not quite. Some men aren't big enough to be. Let them stick to the
conventional code. For me, if I make my own laws I don't break them."
"And you're sure that you're on the road to true success?" she asked
"Now, you have heaven in the back of your mind."
"Not exactly," she laughed. "But I didn't expect you to understand."
"Then I won't disappoint you," he said cheerfully.
She came back to the concrete.
"I should like to know whether it is true that you own the courts of Yuba
County and have the decisions of the judges written at your lawyer's
offices in cases between you and the Consolidated."
"If I do," he answered easily, "I am doing just what the Consolidated
would do in case they had been so fortunate as to have won the last
election and seated their judicial candidates. One expects a friendly
leaning from the men one put in office."
"Isn't the judiciary supposed to be the final, incorruptible bulwark of
the nation?" she pretended to want to know.
"I believe it is supposed to be."
"Isn't it rather--loading the dice, to interfere with the courts?"
"I find the dice already loaded. I merely substitute others of my own."
"You don't seem a bit ashamed of yourself."
"I'm ashamed of the Consolidated"--he smiled.
"That's a comfortable position to be able to take." She fixed him for a
moment with her charming frown of interrogation. "You won't mind my asking
these questions? I'm trying to decide whether you are too much of a pirate
for me. Perhaps when I've made up my mind you won't want me," she added.
"Oh, I'll want you!" Then coolly: "Shall we wait till you make up your
mind before announcing the engagement?"
"Don't be too sure," she flashed at him.
"I'm horribly unsure."
"Of course, you're laughing at me, just as you would"--she tilted a sudden
sideways glance at him--"if I asked you WHY you wanted to marry me."
"Oh, if you take me that way----"
She interrupted airily. "I'm trying to make up my mind whether to take you
"You certainly have a direct way of getting at things."
He studied appreciatively her piquant, tilted face; the long, graceful
lines of her slender, perfect figure. "I take it you don't want the
sentimental reason for my wishing to marry you, though I find that amply
justified. But if you want another, you must still look to yourself for
it. My business leads me to appreciate values correctly. When I desire you
to sit at the head of my table, to order my house, my judgment
justifies itself. I have a fancy always for the best. When I can't gratify
it I do without."
"Thank you." She made him a gay little mock curtsy "I had heard you were
no carpet-knight, Mr. Ridgway. But rumor is a lying jade, for I am being
told--am I not?--that in case I don't take pity on you, the lone future of
a celibate stretches drear before you."
Having come to the end of that passage, she tried another. "A young man
told me yesterday you were a fighter. He said he guessed you would stand
the acid. What did he mean?"
Ridgway was an egoist from head to heel. He could voice his own praises by
the hour when necessary, but now he side-stepped her little trap to make
him praise himself at second-hand.
"Better ask him."
"ARE you a fighter, then?"
Had he known her and her whimsies less well, he might have taken her
audacity for innocence.
"One couldn't lie down, you know."
"Of course, you always fight fair," she mocked.
"When a fellow's attacked by a gang of thugs he doesn't pray for
boxing-gloves. He lets fly with a coupling-pin if that's what comes
Her eyes, glinting sparks of mischief, marveled at him with mock
reverence, but she knew in her heart that her mockery was a fraud. She did
admire him; admired him even while she disapproved the magnificent
lawlessness of him.
For Waring Ridgway looked every inch the indomitable fighter he was. He
stood six feet to the line, straight and strong, carrying just sufficient
bulk to temper his restless energy without impairing its power. Nor did
the face offer any shock of disappointment to the promise given by the
splendid figure. Salient-jawed and forceful, set with cool, flinty,
blue-gray eyes, no place for weakness could be found there. One might have
read a moral callousness, a colorblindness in points of rectitude, but
when the last word had been said, its masterful capability, remained the
"Am I out of the witness-box?" he presently asked, still leaning against
the mantel from which he had been watching her impersonally as an
"I think so."
"And the verdict?"
"You know what it ought to be," she accused.
"Fortunately, kisses go by favor, not by, merit."
"You don't even make a pretense of deserving."
"Give me credit for being an honest rogue, at least."
"But a rogue?" she insisted lightly.
"Oh, a question of definitions. I could make a very good case for myself
as an honest man."
"If you thought it worth while?"
"If I didn't happen to want to be square with you"--he smiled.
"You're so fond of me, I suppose, that you couldn't bear to have me think
too well of you."
"You know how fond of you I am."
"Yes, it is a pity about you," she scoffed.
"Believe me, yes," he replied cheerfully.
She drummed with her pink finger-tips on her chin, studying him
meditatively. To do him justice, she had to admit that he did not even
pretend much. He wanted her because she was a step up in the social
ladder, and, in his opinion, the most attractive girl he knew. That he was
not in love with her relieved the situation, as Miss Balfour admitted to
herself in impersonal moods. But there were times when she could have
wished he were. She felt it to be really due her attractions that his
pulses should quicken for her, and in the interests of experience she
would have liked to see how he would make love if he really meant it from
the heart and not the will.
"It's really an awful bother," she sighed.
"Referring to the little problem of your future?"
"Can't make up your mind whether I come in?"
"No." She looked up brightly, with an effect of impulsiveness. "I don't
suppose you want to give me another week?"
"A reprieve! But why? You're going to marry me."
"I suppose so." She laughed. "I wish I could have my cake, and eat it,
"It would be a moral iniquity to encourage such a system of ethics."
"So you won't give me a week?" she sighed. "All sorts of things might have
happened in that week. I shall always believe that the fairy prince would
have come for me."
"Believe that he HAS come," he claimed.
"Oh, I didn't mean a prince of pirates, though there is a triumph in
having tamed a pirate chief to prosaic matrimony. In one way it will be a
pity, too. You won't be half so picturesque. You remember how Stevenson
puts it: 'that marriage takes from a man the capacity for great things,
whether good or bad.'"
"I can stand a good deal of taming."
"Domesticating a pirate ought to be an interesting process," she conceded,
her rare smile flashing. "It should prove a cure for ENNUI, but then I'm
never a victim of that malady."
"Am I being told that I am to be the happiest pirate alive?"
"I expect you are."
His big hand gripped hers till it tingled. She caught his eye on a roving
quest to the door.
"We don't have to do that," she announced hurriedly, with an embarrassed
"I don't do it because I have to," he retorted, kissing her on the lips.
She fell back, protesting. "Under the circumstances--"
The butler, with a card on a tray, interrupted silently. She glanced at
the card, devoutly grateful his impassive majesty's entrance had not been
a moment earlier.
"Show him in here."
"The fairy prince, five minutes too late?" asked Ridgway, when the man had
For answer she handed him the card, yet he thought the pink that flushed
her cheek was something more pronounced than usual. But he was willing to
admit there might be a choice of reasons for that.
"Lyndon Hobart" was the name he read.
"I think the Consolidated is going to have its innings. I should like to
stay, of course, but I fear I must plead a subsequent engagement and leave
the field to the enemy."
Pronouncing "Mr. Hobart" without emphasis, the butler vanished. The
newcomer came forward with the quiet assurance of the born aristocrat. He
was a slender, well-knit man, dressed fastidiously, with clear-cut,
classical features; cool, keen eyes, and a gentle, you-be-damned manner to
his inferiors. Beside him Ridgway bulked too large, too florid. His ease
seemed a little obvious, his prosperity overemphasized. Even his voice,
strong and reliant, lacked the tone of gentle blood that Hobart had
inherited with his nice taste.
When Miss Balfour said: "I think you know each other," the manager of the
Consolidated bowed with stiff formality, but his rival laughed genially
and said: "Oh, yes, I know Mr. Hobart." The geniality was genuine enough,
but through it ran a note of contempt. Hobart read in it a veiled taunt.
To him it seemed to say
"Yes, I have met him, and beaten him at every turn of the road, though he
has been backed by a power with resources a hundred times as great as
In his parting excuses to Miss Balfour, Ridgway's audacity crystallized in
words that Hobart could only regard as a shameless challenge. "I regret
that an appointment with Judge Purcell necessitates my leaving such good
company," he said urbanely.
Purcell was the judge before whom was pending a suit between the
Consolidated and the Mesa Ore-producing Company, to determine the
ownership of the Never Say Die Mine; and it was current report that
Ridgway owned him as absolutely as he did the automobile waiting for him
now at the door.
If Ridgway expected his opponent to pay his flippant gibe the honor of
repartee, he was disappointed. To be sure, Hobart, admirably erect in his
slender grace, was moved to a slight, disdainful smile, but it evidenced
scarcely the appreciation that anybody less impervious to criticism than
Ridgway would have cared to see.
CHAPTER 2. THE FREEBOOTER
When next Virginia Balfour saw Waring Ridgway she was driving her trap
down one of the hit-or-miss streets of Mesa, where derricks, shaft-houses,
and gray slag-dumps shoulder ornate mansions conglomerate of many
unharmonious details of architecture. To Miss Balfour these composites and
their owners would have been joys unalloyed except for the microbe of
society ambition that was infecting the latter, and transforming them from
simple, robust, self-reliant Westerners into a class of servile,
nondescript newly rich, that resembled their unfettered selves as much as
tame bears do the grizzlies of their own Rockies. As she had once
complained smilingly to Hobart, she had not come to the West to study
ragged edges of the social fringe. She might have done that in New York.
Virginia was still a block or two from the court-house on the hill, when
it emptied into the street a concourse of excited men. That this was an
occasion of some sort it was easy to guess, and of what sort she began to
have an inkling, when Ridgway came out, the center of a circle of
congratulating admirers. She was obliged to admit that he accepted their
applause without in the least losing his head. Indeed, he took it as
imperturbably as did Hobart, against whom a wave of the enthusiasm seemed
to be directed in the form of a jeer, when he passed down the steps with
Mott, one of the Consolidated lawyers. Miss Balfour timed her approach to
meet Hobart at a right angle.
"What is it all about?" she asked, after he had reached her side.
"Judge Purcell has just decided the Never Say Die case in favor of Mr.
Ridgway and against the Consolidated."
"Is that a great victory for him?"
"Yes, it's a victory, though, of course, we appeal," admitted Hobart. "But
we can't say we didn't expect it," he added cheerfully.
"Mayn't I give you a lift if you are going down-town?" she said quickly,
for Ridgway, having detached himself from the group, was working toward
her, and she felt an instinctive sympathy for the man who had lost.
Furthermore, she had something she wanted to tell him before he heard it
on the tongue of rumor.
"Since you are so kind;" and he climbed to the place beside her.
"Congratulate me, Miss Balfour," demanded Ridgway, as he shook hands with
her, nodding coolly at her companion. "I'm a million dollars richer than I
was an hour ago. I have met the enemy and he is mine."
Virginia, resenting the bad taste of his jeer at the man who sat beside
her, misunderstood him promptly. "Did you say you had met the enemy and
won his mine?"
He laughed. "You're a good one!"
"Thank you very much for this unsolicited testimonial," she said gravely.
"In the meantime, to avoid a congestion of traffic, we'll be moving, if
you will kindly give me back my front left wheel."
He did not lift his foot from the spoke on which it rested. "My
congratulations," he reminded her.
"I wish you all the joy in your victory that you deserve, and I hope the
supreme court will reaffirm the decision of Judge Purcell, if it is a just
one," was the form in which she acceded to his demand.
She flicked her whip, and Ridgway fell back, laughing. "You've been
subsidized by the Consolidated," he shouted after her.
Hobart watched silently the businesslike directness with which the girl
handled the ribbons. She looked every inch the thoroughbred in her
well-made covert coat and dainty driving gauntlets. The grace of the
alert, slender figure, the perfect poise of the beautiful little tawny
head, proclaimed her distinction no less certainly than the fine modeling
of the mobile face. It was a distinction that stirred the pulse of his
emotion and disarmed his keen, critical sense. Ridgway could study her
with an amused, detached interest, but Hobart's admiration had traveled
past that point. He found it as impossible to define her charm as to evade
it. Her inheritance of blood and her environment should have made her a
finished product of civilization, but her salty breeziness, her nerve,
vivid as a flame at times, disturbed delightfully the poise that held her
when in repose.
When Virginia spoke, it was to ask abruptly: "Is it really his mine?"
"Judge Purcell says so."
"But do YOU think so--down in the bottom of your heart?"
"Wouldn't I naturally be prejudiced?"
"I suppose you would. Everybody in Mesa seems to have taken sides either
with Mr. Ridgway or the Consolidated. Still, you have an option. Is he
what his friends proclaim him--the generous-hearted independent fighting
against trust domination? Or is he merely an audacious ore-thief, as his
enemies say? The truth must be somewhere."
"It seems to lie mostly in point of view here the angle of observation
being determined by interest," he answered.
"And from your angle of observation?"
"He is the most unusual man I ever saw, the most resourceful and the most
competent. He never knows when he is beaten. I suppose that's the reason
he never is beaten finally. We have driven him to the wall a score of
times. My experience with him is that he's most dangerous when one thinks
he must be about hammered out. He always hits back then in the most daring
and unexpected way."
"With a coupling-pin," she suggested with a little reminiscent laugh.
"Metaphorically speaking. He reaches for the first effective weapon to his
"You haven't quite answered my question yet," she reminded him. "Is he
what his friends or what his enemies think him?"
"If you ask me I can only say that I'm one of his enemies."
"But a fair-minded man," she replied quickly.
"Thank you. Then I'll say that perhaps he is neither just what his friends
or his foes think him. One must make allowances for his training and
temperament, and for that quality of bigness in him. 'Mediocre men go
soberly on the highroads, but saints and scoundrels meet in the jails,'"
he smilingly quoted.
"He would make a queer sort of saint," she laughed.
"A typical twentieth century one of a money-mad age."
She liked it in him that he would not use the opportunity she had made to
sneer at his adversary, none the less because she knew that Ridgway might
not have been so scrupulous in his place. That Lyndon Hobart's fastidious
instincts for fair play had stood in the way of his success in the fight
to down Ridgway she had repeatedly heard. Of late, rumors had persisted in
reporting dissatisfaction with his management of the Consolidated at the
great financial center on Broadway which controlled the big copper
company. Simon Harley, the dominating factor in the octopus whose
tentacles reached out in every direction to monopolize the avenues of
wealth, demanded of his subordinates results. Methods were no concern of
his, and failure could not be explained to him. He wanted Ridgway crushed,
and the pulse of the copper production regulated lay the Consolidated.
Instead, he had seen Ridgway rise steadily to power and wealth despite his
efforts to wipe him off the slate. Hobart was perfectly aware that his
head was likely to fall when Harley heard of Purcell's decision in regard
to the Never Say Die.
"He certainly is an amazing man," Virginia mused, her fiancee in mind. "It
would be interesting to discover what he can't do--along utilitarian
lines, I mean. Is he as good a miner underground as he is in the courts?"
she flung out.
"He is the shrewdest investor I know. Time and again he has leased or
bought apparently worthless claims, and made them pay inside of a few
weeks. Take the Taurus as a case in point. He struck rich ore in a
fortnight. Other men had done development work for years and found
"I'm naturally interested in knowing all about him, because I have just
become engaged to him," explained Miss Virginia, as calmly as if her pulse
were not fluttering a hundred to the minute
Virginia was essentially a sportsman. She did not flinch from the guns
when the firing was heavy. It had been remarked of her even as a child
that she liked to get unpleasant things over with as soon as possible,
rather than postpone them. Once, _aetat_ eight, she had marched in to her
mother like a stoic and announced: "I've come to be whipped, momsie,
'cause I broke that horrid little Nellie Vaile's doll. I did it on
purpose, 'cause I was mad at her. I'm glad I broke it, so there!"
Hobart paled slightly beneath his outdoors Western tan, but his eyes met
hers very steadily and fairly. "I wish you happiness, Miss Balfour, from
the bottom of my heart."
She nodded a brisk "Thank you," and directed her attention again to the
"Take him by and large, Mr. Ridgway is the most capable, energetic, and
far-sighted business man I have ever known. He has a bigger grasp of
things than almost any financier in the country. I think you'll find he
will go far," he said, choosing his words with care to say as much for
Waring Ridgway as he honestly could.
"I have always thought so," agreed Virginia.
She had reason for thinking so in that young man's remarkable career. When
Waring Ridgway had first come to Mesa he had been a draftsman for the
Consolidated at five dollars a day. He was just out of Cornell, and his
assets consisted mainly of a supreme confidence in himself and an imposing
presence. He was a born leader, and he flung himself into the raw, turbid
life of the mining town with a readiness that had not a little to do with
his subsequent success.
That success began to take tangible form almost from the first. A small,
independent smelter that had for long been working at a loss was about to
fall into the hands of the Consolidated when Ridgway bought it on promises
to pay, made good by raising money on a flying trip he took to the East.
His father died about this time and left him fifty thousand dollars, with
which he bought the Taurus, a mine in which several adventurous spirits
had dropped small fortunes. He acquired other properties; a lease here, an
interest there. It began to be observed that he bought always with
judgment. He seemed to have the touch of Midas. Where other men had lost
money he made it.
When the officers of the Consolidated woke up to the menace of his
presence, one of their lawyers called on him. The agent of the
Consolidated smiled at his luxurious offices, which looked more like a
woman's boudoir than the business place of a Western miner. But that was
merely part of Ridgway's vanity, and did not in the least interfere with
his predatory instincts. Many people who walked into that parlor to do
business played fly to his spider.
The lawyer had been ready to patronize the upstart who had ventured so
boldly into the territory of the great trust, but one glance at the
clear-cut resolute face of the young man changed his mind.
"I've come to make you an offer for your smelter, Mr. Ridgway," he began.
"We'll take it off your hands at the price it cost you."
"Not for sale, Mr. Bartel."
"Very well. We'll give you ten thousand more than you paid for it."
"You misunderstand me. It is not for sale."
"Oh, come! You bought it to sell to us. What can you do with it?"
"Run it," suggested Ridgway.
"You forget that I own a few properties, and have leases on others. When
the Taurus begins producing, I'll have enough to keep the smelter going."
"When the Taurus begins producing?"--Bartel smiled skeptically. "Didn't
Johnson and Leroy drop fortunes on that expectation?"
"I'll bet five thousand dollars we make a strike within two weeks."
"Chimerical!" pronounced the graybeard as he rose to go, with an air of
finality. "Better sell the smelter while you have the chance."
"Think not," disagreed Ridgway.
At the door the lawyer turned. "Oh, there's another matter! It had slipped
my mind." He spoke with rather elaborate carelessness. "It seems that
there is a little triangle--about ten and four feet across--wedged in
between the Mary K, the Diamond King, and the Marcus Daly. For some reason
we accidentally omitted to file on it. Our chief engineer finds that you
have taken it up, Mr. Ridgway. It is really of no value, but it is in the
heart of our properties, and so it ought to belong to us. Of course, it is
of no use to you. There isn't any possible room to sink a shaft. We'll
take it from you if you like, and even pay you a nominal price. For what
will you sell?"
Ridgway lit a cigar before he answered: "One million dollars."
"What?" screamed Bartel.
"Not a cent less. I call it the Trust Buster. Before I'm through, you'll
find it is worth that to me."
The lawyer reported him demented to the Consolidated officials, who
declared war on him from that day.
They found the young adventurer more than prepared for them. If he had a
Napoleonic sense of big vital factors, he had no less a genius for detail.
He had already picked up an intimate knowledge of the hundreds of veins
and crossveins that traverse the Mesa copper-fields, and he had delved
patiently into the tangled history of the litigation that the defective
mining laws in pioneer days had made possible. When the Consolidated
attempted to harass him by legal process, he countered by instituting a
score of suits against the company within the week. These had to do with
wills, insanity cases, extra lateral rights, mine titles, and land and
water rights. Wherever Ridgway saw room for an entering wedge to dispute
the title of the Consolidated, he drove a new suit home. To say the least,
the trust found it annoying to be enjoined from working its mines, to be
cited for contempt before judges employed in the interests of its
opponent, to be served with restraining orders when clearly within its
rights. But when these adverse legal decisions began to affect vital
issues, the Consolidated looked for reasons why Ridgway should control the
courts. It found them in politics.
For Ridgway was already dominating the politics of Yuba County, displaying
an amazing acumen and a surprising ability as a stumpspeaker. He posed as
a friend of the people, an enemy of the trust. He declared an eight-hour
day for his own miners, and called upon the Consolidated to do the same.
Hobart refused, acting on orders from Broadway, and fifteen thousand
Consolidated miners went to the polls and reelected Ridgway's corrupt
judges, in spite of the fight the Consolidated was making against them.
Meanwhile, Ridgway's colossal audacity made the Consolidated's copper pay
for the litigation with which he was harassing it. In following his
ore-veins, or what he claimed to be his veins, he crossed boldly into the
territory of the enemy. By the law of extra lateral rights, a man is
entitled to mine within the lines of other property than his own, provided
he is following the dip of a vein which has its apex in his claim.
Ridgway's experts were prepared to swear that all the best veins in the
field apexed in his property. Pending decisions of the courts, they
assumed it, tunneling through granite till they tapped the veins of the
Consolidated mines, meanwhile enjoining that company from working the very
ore of which Ridgway was robbing it.
Many times the great trust back of the Consolidated had him close to ruin,
but Ridgway's alert brain and supreme audacity carried him through. From
their mines or from his own he always succeeded in extracting enough ore
to meet his obligations when they fell due. His powerful enemy, as Hobart
had told Miss Balfour, found him most dangerous when it seemed to have him
with his back to the wall. Then unexpectedly would fall some crushing blow
that put the financial kings of Broadway on the defensive long enough for
him to slip out of the corner into which they had driven him. Greatly
daring, he had the successful cavalryman's instinct of risking much to
gain much. A gambler, his enemies characterized him fitly enough. But it
was also true, as Mesa phrased it, that he gambled "with the lid off,"
playing for large stakes, neither asking nor giving quarter.
At the end of five years of desperate fighting, the freebooter was more
strongly entrenched than he had been at any previous time. The railroads,
pledged to give rebates to the Consolidated, had been forced by Ridgway,
under menace of adverse legislation from the men he controlled at the
State-house, to give him secretly a still better rate than the trust. He
owned the county courts, he was supported by the people, and had become a
political dictator, and the financial outlook for him grew brighter every
Such were the conditions when Judge Purcell handed down his Never Say Die
decision. Within an hour Hobart was reading a telegram in cipher from the
Broadway headquarters. It announced the immediate departure for Mesa of
the great leader of the octopus. Simon Harley, the Napoleon of finance,
was coming out to attend personally to the destruction of the buccaneer
who had dared to fire on the trust flag.
Before night some one of his corps of spies in the employ of the enemy
carried the news to Waring Ridgway. He smiled grimly, his bluegray eyes
hardening to the temper of steel. Here at last was a foeman worthy of his
metal; one as lawless, unscrupulous, daring, and far-seeing as himself,
with a hundred times his resources.
CHAPTER 3. ONE TO ONE
The solitary rider stood for a moment in silhouette against the somber
sky-line, his keen eyes searching the lowering clouds.
"Getting its back up for a blizzard," he muttered to himself, as he
touched his pony with the spur.
Dark, heavy billows banked in the west, piling over each other as they
drove forward. Already the advance-guard had swept the sunlight from the
earth, except for a flutter of it that still protested near the horizon.
Scattering snowflakes were flying, and even in a few minutes the
temperature had fallen many degrees.
The rider knew the signs of old. He recognized the sudden stealthy
approach that transformed a sun-drenched, friendly plain into an unknown
arctic waste. Not for nothing had he been last year one of a search-party
to find the bodies of three miners frozen to death not fifty yards from
their own cabin. He understood perfectly what it meant to be caught away
from shelter when the driven white pall wiped out distance and direction;
made long familiar landmarks strange, and numbed the will to a helpless
surrender. The knowledge of it was spur enough to make him ride fast while
he still retained the sense of direction.
But silently, steadily, the storm increased, and he was forced to slacken
his pace. As the blinding snow grew thick, the sound of the wind deadened,
unable to penetrate the dense white wall through which he forced his way.
The world narrowed to a space whose boundaries he could touch with his
extended hands. In this white mystery that wrapped him, nothing was left
but stinging snow, bitter cold, and the silence of the dead.
So he thought one moment, and the next was almost flung by his swerving
horse into a vehicle that blocked the road. Its blurred outlines presently
resolved themselves into an automobile, crouched in the bottom of which
was an inert huddle of humanity.
He shouted, forgetting that no voice could carry through the muffled
scream of the storm. When he got no answer, he guided his horse close to
the machine and reached down to snatch away the rug already heavy with
snow. To his surprise, it was a girl's despairing face that looked up at
him. She tried to rise, but fell back, her muscles too numb to serve.
"Don't leave me," she implored, stretching her, arms toward him.
He reached out and lifted her to his horse. "Are you alone?"
"Yes. He went for help when the machine broke down--before the storm," she
sobbed. He had to put his ear to her mouth to catch the words.
"Come, keep up your heart." There was that in his voice pealed like a
trumpet-call to her courage.
"I'm freezing to death," she moaned.
She was exhausted and benumbed, her lips blue, her flesh gray. It was
plain to him that she had reached the limit of endurance, that she was
ready to sink into the last torpor. He ripped open his overcoat and shook
the snow from it, then gathered her close so that she might get the warmth
of his body. The rugs from the automobile he wrapped round them both.
"Courage!" he cried. "There's a miner's cabin near. Don't give up, child."
But his own courage was of the heart and will, not of the head. He had
small hope of reaching the hut at the entrance of Dead Man's Gulch or, if
he could struggle so far, of finding it in the white swirl that clutched
at them. Near and far are words not coined for a blizzard. He might
stagger past with safety only a dozen feet from him. He might lie down and
die at the very threshold of the door. Or he might wander in an opposite
direction and miss the cabin by a
Yet it was not in the man to give up. He must stagger on till he could no
longer stand. He must fight so long as life was in him. He must crawl
forward, though his forlorn hope had vanished. And he did. When the
worn-out horse slipped down and could not be coaxed to its feet again, he
picked up the bundle of rugs and plowed forward blindly, soul and body
racked, but teeth still set fast with the primal instinct never to give
up. The intense cold of the air, thick with gray sifted ice, searched the
warmth from his body and sapped his vitality. His numbed legs doubled
under him like springs. He was down and up again a dozen times, but always
the call of life drove him on, dragging his helpless burden with him.
That he did find the safety of the cabin in the end was due to no wisdom
on his part. He had followed unconsciously the dip of the ground that led
him into the little draw where it had been built, and by sheer luck
stumbled against it. His strength was gone, but the door gave to his
weight, and he buckled across the threshold like a man helpless with
drink. He dropped to the floor, ready to sink into a stupor, but he shook
sleep from him and dragged himself to his feet. Presently his numb fingers
found a match, a newspaper, and some wood. As soon as he had control over
his hands, he fell to chafing hers. He slipped off her dainty shoes,
pathetically inadequate for such an experience, and rubbed her feet back
to feeling. She had been torpid, but when the blood began to circulate,
she cried out in agony at the pain.
Every inch of her bore the hall-mark of wealth. The ermine-lined
motoring-cloak, the broadcloth cut on simple lines of elegance, the
quality of her lingerie and of the hosiery which incased the wonderfully
small feet, all told of a padded existence from which the cares of life
had been excluded. The satin flesh he massaged, to renew the flow of the
dammed blood, was soft and tender like a babe's. Quite surely she was an
exotic, the last woman in the world fitted for the hardships of this
frontier country. She had none of the deep-breasted vitality of those of
her sex who have fought with grim nature and won. His experience told him
that a very little longer in the storm would have snuffed out the wick of
But he knew, too, that the danger was past. Faint tints of pink were
beginning to warm the cheeks that had been so deathly pallid. Already
crimson lips were offering a vivid contrast to the still, almost colorless
For she was biting the little lips to try and keep back the cries of pain
that returning life wrung from her. Big tears coursed down her cheeks, and
broken sobs caught her breath. She was helpless as an infant before the
searching pain that wracked her
"I can't stand it--I can't stand it," she moaned, and in her distress
stretched out her little hand for relief as a baby might to its mother.
The childlike appeal of the flinching violet eyes in the tortured face
moved him strangely. He was accounted a hard man, not without reason. His
eyes were those of a gambler, cold and vigilant. It was said that he could
follow an undeviating course without relenting at the ruin and misery
wrought upon others by his operations. But the helpless loveliness of this
exquisitely dainty child-woman, the sense of intimacy bred of a common
peril endured, of the strangeness of their environment and of her utter
dependence upon him, carried the man out of himself and away from
He stooped and gathered her into his arms, walking the floor with her and
cheering her as if she had indeed been the child they both for the moment
"You don't know how it hurts," she pleaded between sobs, looking up into
the strong face so close to hers.
"I know it must, dear. But soon it will be better. Every twinge is one
less, and shows that you are getting well. Be brave for just a few minutes
She smiled wanly through her tears. "But I'm not brave. I'm a little
coward--and it does pain so."
"I know--I know. It is dreadful. But just a few minutes now."
"You're good to me," she said presently, simply as a little girl might
have said it.
To neither of them did it seem strange that she should be there in his
arms, her fair head against his shoulder, nor that she should cling
convulsively to him when the fierce pain tingled unbearably. She had
reached out for the nearest help, and he gave of his strength and courage
Presently the prickling of the flowing blood grew less sharp. She began to
grow drowsy with warmth after the fatigue and pain. The big eyes shut,
fluttered open, smiled at him, and again closed. She had fallen asleep
from sheer exhaustion.
He looked down with an odd queer feeling at the small aristocratic face
relaxed upon his ann. The long lashes had drooped to the cheeks and
shuttered the eyes that had met his with such confident appeal, but they
did not hide the dark rings underneath, born of the hardships she had
endured. As he walked the floor with her, he lived once more the terrible
struggle through which they had passed. He saw Death stretching out icy
hands for her, and as his arms unconsciously tightened about the soft
rounded body, his square jaw set and the fighting spark leaped to his
"No, by Heaven," he gave back aloud his defiance.
Troubled dreams pursued her in her sleep. She clung close to him, her arm
creeping round his neck for safety. He was a man not given to fine
scruples, but all the best in him responded to her unconscious trust.
It was so she found herself when she awakened, stiff from her cramped
position. She slipped at once to the floor and sat there drying her lace
skirts, the sweet piquancy of her childish face set out by the leaping
fire-glow that lit and shadowed her delicate coloring. Outside in the gray
darkness raged the death from which he had snatched her by a miracle.
Beyond--a million miles away--the world whose claim had loosened on them
was going through its routine of lies and love, of hypocrisies and
heroisms. But here were just they two, flung back to the primordial type
by the fierce battle for existence that had encompassed them--Adam and Eve
in the garden, one to one, all else forgot, all other ties and obligations
for the moment obliterated. Had they not struggled, heart beating against
heart, with the breath of death icing them, and come out alive? Was their
world not contracted to a space ten feet by twelve, shut in from every
other planet by an illimitable stretch of storm?
"Where should I have been if you had not found me?" she murmured, her
haunting eyes fixed on the flames.
"But I should have found you--no matter where you had been, I should have
The words seemed to leap from him of themselves. He was sure he had not
meant to speak them, to voice so soon the claim that seemed to him so
natural and reasonable.
She considered his words and found delight in acquiescing at once. The
unconscious demand for life, for love, of her starved soul had never been
gratified. But he had come to her through that fearful valley of death,
because he must, because it had always been meant he should.
Her lustrous eyes, big with faith, looked up and met his.
The far, wise voices of the world were storm-deadened. They cried no
warning to these drifting hearts. How should they know in that moment when
their souls reached toward each other that the wisdom of the ages had
decreed their yearning futile?
CHAPTER 4. TORT SALVATION
She must have fallen asleep there, for when she opened her eyes it was
day. Underneath her was a lot of bedding he had found in the cabin, and
tucked about her were the automobile rugs. For a moment her brain, still
sodden with sleep, struggled helplessly with her surroundings. She looked
at the smoky rafters without understanding, and her eyes searched the
cabin wonderingly for her maid. When she remembered, her first thought was
to look for the man. That he had gone, she saw with instinctive terror.
But not without leaving a message. She found his penciled note, weighted
for security by a dollar, at the edge of the hearth.
"Gone on a foraging expedition. Back in an hour, Little Partner," was all
it said. The other man also had promised to be back in an hour, and he had
not come, but the strong chirography of the note, recalling the resolute
strength of this man's face, brought content to her eyes. He had said he
would come back. She rested secure in that pledge.
She went to the window and looked out over the great white wastes that
rose tier on tier to the dull sky-line. She shuddered at the arctic
desolation of the vast snow-fields. The mountains were sheeted with
silence and purity. It seemed to the untaught child-woman that she was
face to face with the Almighty.
Once during the night she had partially awakened to hear the roaring wind
as it buffeted snow-clouds across the range. It had come tearing along the
divide with the black storm in its vanguard, and she had heard fearfully
the shrieks and screams of the battle as it raged up and down the gulches
and sifted into them the deep drifts.
Half-asleep as she was, she had been afraid and had cried out with terror
at this strange wakening; and he had been beside her in an instant.
"It's all right, partner. There's nothing to be afraid of," he had said
cheerfully, taking her little hand in his big warm one.
Her fears had slipped away at once. Nestling down into her rug, she had
smiled sleepily at him and fallen asleep with her cheek on her hand, her
other hand still in his.
While she had been asleep the snow-tides had filled the gulch, had risen
level with the top of the lower pane of the window. Nothing broke the
smoothness of its flow save the one track he had made in breaking a way
out. That he should have tried to find his way through such an untracked
desolation amazed her. He could never do it. No puny human atom could
fight successfully against the barriers nature had dropped so sullenly to
fence them. They were set off from the world by a quarantine of God. There
was something awful to her in the knowledge. It emphasized their
impotence. Yet, this man had set himself to fight the inevitable.
With a little shudder she turned from the window to the cheerless room.
The floor was dirty; unwashed dishes were piled upon the table. Here and
there were scattered muddy boots and overalls, just as their owner, the
prospector, had left them before he had gone to the nearest town to
restock his exhausted supply of provisions. Disorder and dirt filled the
rough cabin, or so it seemed to her fastidious eye.
The inspiration of the housewife seized her. She would surprise him on his
return by opening the door to him upon a house swept and garnished. She
would show him that she could be of some use even in such a primitive
topsy-turvy world as this into which Fate had thrust her willy-nilly.
First, she carried red live coals on a shovel from the fireplace to the
cook-stove, and piled kindling upon them till it lighted. It was a new
experience to her. She knew nothing of housework; had never lit a fire in
her life, except once when she had been one of a camping party. The smoke
choked her before she had the lids back in their places, but despite her
awkwardness, the girl went about her unaccustomed tasks with a light
heart. It was for her new-found hero that she played at housekeeping. For
his commendation she filled the tea-kettle, enveloped herself in a cloud
of dust as she wielded the stub of a broom she discovered, and washed the
greasy dishes after the water was hot. A childish pleasure suffused her.
All her life her least whims had been ministered to; she was reveling in a
first attempt at service. As she moved to and fro with an improvised
dust-rag, sunshine filled her being. From her lips the joy notes fell in
song, shaken from her throat for sheer happiness. This surely was life,
that life from which she had so carefully been hedged all the years of her
As he came down the trail he had broken, with a pack on his back, the man
heard her birdlike carol in the clear frosty air. He emptied his chest in
a deep shout, and she was instantly at the window, waving him a welcome
with her dust-rag.
"I thought you were never coming," she cried from the open door as he came
up the path.
Her eyes were starry in their eagerness. Every sensitive feature was alert
with interest, so that the man thought he had never seen so mobile and
attractive a face.
"Did it seem long?" he asked.
"Oh, weeks and weeks! You must be frozen to an icicle. Come in and get
"I'm as warm as toast," he assured her.
He was glowing with exercise and the sting of the cold, for he had tramped
two miles through drifts from three to five feet deep, battling with them
every step of the way, and carrying with him on the return trip a box of
"With all that snow on you and the pack on your back, it's like Santa
Claus," she cried, clapping her hands.
"Before we're through with the adventure we may think that box a sure
enough gift from Santa," he replied.
After he had put it down, he took off his overcoat on the threshold and
shook the snow from it. Then, with much feet stamping and scattering of
snow, he came in. She fluttered about him, dragging a chair up to the fire
for him, and taking his hat and gloves. It amused and pleased him that she
should be so solicitous, and he surrendered himself to her ministrations.
His quick eye noticed the swept floor and the
evanishment of disorder. "Hello! What's this clean through a fall
house-cleaning? I'm not the only member of the firm that has been working.
Dishes washed, floor swept, bed made, kitchen fire lit. You've certainly
been going some, unless the fairies helped you. Aren't you afraid of
blistering these little hands?" he asked gaily, taking one of them in his
and touching the soft palm gently with the tip of his finger.
"I should preserve those blisters in alcohol to show that I've really been
of some use," she answered, happy in his approval.
"Sho! People are made for different uses. Some are fit only to shovel and
dig. Others are here simply to decorate the world. Hard world. Hard work
is for those who can't give society anything else, but beauty is its own
excuse for being," he told her breezily.
"Now that's the first compliment you have given me," she pouted prettily.
"I can get them in plenty back in the drawing-rooms where I am supposed to
belong. We're to be real comrades here, and compliments are barred."
"I wasn't complimenting you," he maintained. "I was merely stating a
principle of art."
"Then you mustn't make your principles of art personal, sir. But since you
have, I'm going to refute the application of your principle and show how
useful I've been. Now, sir, do you know what provisions we have outside of
those you have just brought?"
He knew exactly, since he had investigated during the night. That they
might possibly have to endure a siege of some weeks, he was quite well
aware, and his first thought, after she had gone to sleep before the fire,
had been to make inventory of such provisions as the prospector had left
in his cabin. A knuckle of ham, part of a sack of flour, some navy beans,
and some tea siftings at the bottom of a tin can; these constituted the
contents of the larder which the miner had gone to replenish. But though
the man knew he assumed ignorance, for he saw that she was bubbling over
with the desire to show her forethought.
"Tell me," he begged of her, and after she had done so, he marveled aloud
over her wisdom in thinking of it.
"Now tell me about your trip," she commanded, setting herself tailor
fashion on the rug to listen.
"There isn't much to tell," he smiled "I should like to make an adventure
of it, but I can't. I just went and came back."
"Oh, you just went and came back, did you?" she scoffed. "That won't do at
all. I want to know all about it. Did you find the machine all right?"
"I found it where we left it, buried in four feet of snow. You needn't be
afraid that anybody will run away with it for a day or two. The pantry was
cached pretty deep itself, but I dug it out."
Her shy glance admired the sturdy lines of his powerful frame. "I am
afraid it must have been a terrible task to get there through the
"Oh, the blizzard is past. You never saw a finer, more bracing morning.
It's a day for the gods," he laughed boyishly.
She could have conceived no Olympian more heroic than he, and certainly
none with so compelling a vitality. "Such a warm, kind light in them!" she
thought of the eyes others had found hard and calculating.
It was lucky that the lunch the automobilists had brought from Avalanche
was ample and as yet untouched. The hotel waiter, who had attended to the
packing of it, had fortunately been used to reckon with outdoor Montana
appetites instead of cloyed New York ones. They unpacked the little hamper
with much gaiety. Everything was frozen solid, and the wine had cracked
"Shipped right through on our private refrigerator-car. That cold-storage
chicken looks the finest that ever happened. What's this rolled up in
tissue-paper? Deviled eggs and ham sandwiches AND caviar, not to speak of
claret frappe. I'm certainly grateful to the gentleman finished in ebony
who helped to provision us for this siege. He'll never know what a tip he
missed by not being here to collect."
"Here's jelly, too, and cake," she said, exploring with him.
"Not to mention peaches and pears. Oh, this is luck of a special brand! I
was expecting to put up at Starvation Camp. Now we may name it Point
"Or Fort Salvation," she suggested shyly. "Because you brought me here to
save my life."
She was such a child, in spite of her charming grown-up airs, that he
played make-believe with a zest that surprised himself when he came to
think of it. She elected him captain of Fort Salvation, with full power of
life and death over the garrison, and he appointed her second in command.
His first general order was to put the garrison on two meals a day.
She clapped her little hands, eyes sparkling with excitement. "Are we
really snow-bound? Must we go on half-rations?"
"It is the part of wisdom, lieutenant," he answered, smiling at her
enthusiasm. "We don't know how long this siege is going to last. If it
should set in to snow, we may be here several days before the relief-party
reaches us." But, though he spoke cheerfully, he was aware of sinister
possibilities in the situation. "Several weeks" would have been nearer his
They ate breakfast at the shelf-table nailed in place underneath the
western window. They made a picnic of it, and her spirits skipped upon the
hilltops. For the first time she ate from tin plates, drank from a tin
cup, and used a tin spoon the worse for rust. What mattered it to her that
the teapot was grimy and the fryingpan black with soot! It was all part of
the wonderful new vista that had suddenly opened before her gaze. She had
awakened into life and already she was dimly realizing that many and
varied experiences lay waiting for her in that untrodden path beyond her
A reconnaissance in the shed behind the house showed him no plethora of
firewood. But here was ax, shovel, and saw, and he asked no more. First he
shoveled out a path along the eaves of the house where she might walk in
sentry fashion to take the deep breaths of clear sharp air he insisted
upon. He made it wide enough so that her skirt would not sweep against the
snow-bank, and trod down the trench till the footing was hard and solid.
Then with ax and saw he climbed the hillside back of the house and set
himself to get as much fuel as he could. The sky was still heavy with
unshed snow, and he knew that with the coming of night the storm would be
Came noon, mid-afternoon, the early dusk of a mountain winter, and found
him still hewing and sawing, still piling load after load in the shed. Now
and again she came out and watched him, laughing at the figure he made as
he would come plunging through the snow with his armful of fuel.
She did not know, as he did, the vital necessity of filling the lean-to
before winter fell upon them in earnest and buried them deep with his
frozen blanket, and she was a little piqued that he should spend the whole
day away from her in such unsocial fashion.
"Let me help," she begged so often that he trod down a path, made boots
for her out of torn gunny-sacks which he tied round her legs, and let her
drag wood to the house on a pine branch which served for a sled. She wore
her gauntlets to protect her tender hands, and thereafter was happy until,
detecting signs of fatigue, he made her go into the house and rest.
As soon as she dared she was back again, making fun of him and the
earnestness with which he worked.
"Robinson Crusoe" was one name she fastened upon him, and she was not
satisfied till she had made him call her "Friday."
Twilight fell austere and sudden upon them with an immediate fall of
temperature that found a thermometer in her blue face.
He recommended the house, but she was of a contrary mood.
"I don't want to," she announced debonairly.
In a stiff military attitude he gave raucous mandate from his throat.
"Commanding officer's orders, lieutenant."
"I think I'm going to mutiny," she informed him, with chin saucily in air.
This would not do at all. The chill wind sweeping down the canon was
searching her insufficient clothing already. He picked her up in his arms
and ran with her toward the house, setting her down in the trench outside
the door. She caught her startled breath and looked at him in shy, dubious
"Really you " she was beginning when he cut her short.
"Commanding officer's orders, lieutenant," came briskly from lips that
showed just a hint of a smile.
At once she clicked her heels together, saluted, and wheeled into the
From the grimy window she watched his broad-shouldered vigor, waving her
hand whenever his face was turned her way. He worked like a Titan,
reveling in the joy of physical labor, but it was long past dark before he
finished and came striding to the hut.
They made a delightful evening of it, living in the land of Never Was. For
one source of her charm lay in the gay, childlike whimsicality o her
imagination. She believed in fairies and heroes with all her heart, which
with her was an organ not located in her brain. The delicious gurgle of
gaiety in her laugh was a new find to him in feminine attractions.
There had been many who thought the career of this pirate of industry
beggared fiction, though, few had found his flinty personality a radiaton
of romance. But this convent-nurtured child had made a discovery in men,
one out of the rut of the tailor-made, convention-bound society youths to
whom her experience for the most part had been limited. She delighted in
his masterful strength, in the confidence of his careless dominance. She
liked to see that look of power in his gray-blue eyes softened to the
droll, half-tender, expression with which he played the game of
make-believe. There were no to-morrows; to-day marked the limit of time
for them. By tacit consent they lived only in the present, shutting out
deliberately from their knowledge of each other, that past which was not
common to both. Even their names were unknown to each other, and both of
them were glad that it was so.
The long winter evening had fallen early, and they dined by candle-light,
considering merrily how much they might with safety eat and yet leave
enough for the to-morrows that lay before them. Afterward they sat before
the fire, in the shadow and shine of the flickering logs, happy and
content in each other's presence. She dreamed, and he, watching her,
dreamed, too. The wild, sweet wonder of life surged through them, touching
their squalid surroundings to the high mystery of things unreal.
The strangeness of it was that he was a man of large and not very
creditable experience of women, yet her deep, limpid eyes, her sweet
voice, the immature piquancy of her movements that was the expression of
her, had stirred his imagination more potently than if he had been the
veriest schoolboy nursing a downy lip. He could not keep his eyes from
this slender, exquisite girl, so dainty and graceful in her mobile
piquancy. Fire and passion were in his heart and soul, restraint and
repression in his speech and manner. For the fire and passion in him were
pure and clean as the winds that sweep the hills.
But for the girl--she was so little mistress of her heart that she had no
prescience of the meaning of this sweet content that filled her. And the
voices that should have warned her were silent, busy behind the purple
hills with lies and love and laughter and tears.
CHAPTER 5. ENTER SIMON HARLEY
The prospector's house in which they had found refuge was perched on the
mountainside just at one edge of the draw. Rough as the girl had thought
it, there was a more pretentious appearance to it than might have been
expected. The cabin was of hewn logs mortared with mud, and care had been
taken to make it warm. The fireplace was a huge affair that ate fuel
voraciously. It was built of stone, which had been gathered from the
The prospect itself showed evidence of having been worked a good deal, and
it was an easy guess for the man who now stood looking into the tunnel
that it belonged to some one of the thousands of miners who spend half
their time earning a grubstake, and the other half dissipating it upon
some hole in the ground which they have duped themselves into believing is
From the tunnel his eye traveled up the face of the white mountain to the
great snow-comb that yawned over the edge of the rock-rim far above. It
had snowed again heavily all night, and now showed symptoms of a thaw. Not
once nor twice, but a dozen times, the man's anxious gaze had swept up to
that great overhanging bank. Snowslides ran every year in this section
with heavy loss to life and property. Given a rising temperature and some
wind, the comb above would gradually settle lower and lower, at last break
off, plunge down the precipitous slope, bringing thousands of tons of rock
and snow with it, and, perhaps, bury them in a Titanic grave of ice. There
had been a good deal of timber cut from the shoulder of the mountain
during the past summer, and this very greatly increased the danger. That
there was a real peril the man looking at it did not attempt to deny to
himself. It would be enough to deny it to her in case she should ever
He had hoped for cold weather, a freeze hard enough to crust the surface
of the snow. Upon this he might have made shift somehow to get her to
Yesler's ranch, eighteen miles away though it was, but he knew this would
not be feasible with the snow in its present condition. It was not certain
that he could make the ranch alone; encumbered with her, success would be
a sheer impossibility. On the other hand, their provisions would not last
long. The outlook was not a cheerful one, from whichever point of view he
took it; yet there was one phase of it he could not regret. The factors
which made the difficulties of the situation made also its delights.
Though they were prisoners in this solitary untrodden caynon, the sentence
was upon both of them. She could look to none other than he for aid; and,
at least, the drifts which kept them in held others out.
Her voice at his shoulder startled him.
"Wherefore this long communion with nature, my captain?" she gaily asked.
"Behold, my, lord's hot cakes are ready for the pan and his servant to
wait upon him." She gave him a demure smiling little curtsy of mock
Never had her distracting charm been more in evidence. He had not seen her
since they parted on the previous night. He had built for himself a cot in
the woodshack, and had contrived a curtain that could be drawn in front of
her bed in the living-room. Thus he could enter in the morning, light the
fires, and start breakfast without disturbing her. She had dressed her
hair, now in a different way, so that it fell in low waves back from the
forehead and was bunched at the nape of her neck. The light swiftness of
her dainty grace, the almost exaggerated carnation of the slightly parted
lips, the glad eagerness that sparked her eyes, brought out effectively
the picturesqueness of her beauty.
His grave eyes rested on her so long that a soft glow mantled her cheeks.
Perhaps her words had been too free, though she had not meant them so. For
the first time some thought of the conventions distressed her. Ought she
to hold herself more in reserve toward him? Must she restrain her natural
impulses to friendliness?
His eyes released her presently, but not before she read in them the
feelings that had softened them as they gazed into hers. They mirrored his
poignant pleasure at the delight of her sweet slenderness so close to him,
his perilous joy at the intimacy fate had thrust upon them. Shyly her lids
fell to the flushed cheeks.
"Breakfast is ready," she added self-consciously, her girlish innocence
startled like a fawn of the forest at the hunter's approach
For whereas she had been blind now she saw in part. Some flash of
clairvoyance had laid bare a glimpse of his heart and her own to her.
Without misunderstanding the perfect respect for her which he felt, she
knew the turbid banked emotions which this dammed. Her heart seemed to
beat in her bosom like an imprisoned dove.
It was his voice, calm and resonant with strength, that brought her to
"And I am ready for it, lieutenant. Right about face. Forward--march!"
After breakfast they went out and tramped together the little path of
hard-trodden snow in front of the house. She broached the prospect of a
rescue or the chances of escape.
"We shall soon be out of food, and, anyhow, we can't stay here all
winter," she suggested with a tremulous little laugh.
"You are naturally very tired of it already," he hazarded.
"It has been the experience of my life. I shall fence it off from all the
days that have passed and all that are to come," she made answer vividly.
Their eyes met, but only for an instant.
"I am glad," he said quietly.
He began, then, to tell her what he must do, but at the first word of it
she broke out in protest.
"No--no--no! We shall stay together. If you go I am going, too."
"I wish you could, but it is not possible. You could never get there. The
snow is too soft and heavy for wading and not firm enough to bear your
"But you will have to wade."
"I am stronger than you, lieutenant."
"I know, but----" She broke down and confessed her terror. "Would you
leave me here-- alone--with all this snow Oh, I couldn't stay--I
"It's the only way," he said steadily. Every fiber in him rebelled at
leaving her here to face peril alone, but his reason overrode the desire
and rebellion that were hot within him. He must think first of her
ultimate safety, and this lay in getting her away from here at the first
Tears splashed down from the big eyes. "I didn't think you would leave me
here alone. With you I don't mind it, but-- Oh, I should die if I stayed
"Only for twenty-four hours. Perhaps less. I shouldn't think of it if it
"Take me with you. I am strong. You don't know how strong I am. I promise
to keep up with you. Please!"
He shook his head. "I would take you with me if I could. You know that.
But it's a man's fight. I shall have to stand up to it hour after hour
till I reach Yesler's ranch. I shall get through, but it would not be
possible for you to make it."
"And if you don't get through?"
He refused to consider that contingency. -"But I shall. You may look to
see me back with help by this time to-morrow morning."
"I'm not afraid with you. But if you go away Oh, I can't stand it. You
don't know--you don't know." She buried her face in her hands.
He had to swallow down his sympathy before he went on. "Yes, I know. But
you must be brave. You must think of every minute as being one nearer to
the time of my return."
"You will think me a dreadful coward, and I am. But I can't help it. I AM
afraid to stay alone. There's nothing in the world but mountains of snow.
They are horrible--like death--
except when you are here."
Her child eyes coaxed him to stay. The mad longing was in him to kiss the
rosy little mouth with the queer alluring droop to its corners. It was a
strange thing how, with that arched twist to her eyebrows and with that
smile which came and went like sunshine in her eyes, she toppled his
lifelong creed. The cardinal tenet of his faith had been a belief in
strength. He had first been drawn to Virginia by reason of her pluck and
her power. Yet this child's very weakness was her fountain of strength.
She cried out with pain, and he counted it an asset of virtue in her. She
acknowledged herself a coward, and his heart went out to her because of
it. The battle assignments of life were not for the soft curves and shy
winsomeness of this dainty lamb.
"You will be brave. I expect you to be brave, lieutenant." Words of love
and comfort were crowding to his brain, but he would not let them out.
"How long will you be gone?" she sobbed.
"I may possibly get back before midnight, but you mustn't begin to expect
me until to-morrow morning, perhaps not till to-morrow afternoon."
"Oh, I couldn't--I couldn't stay here at night alone. Don't go, please.
I'll not get hungry, truly I won't, and to-morrow they will find us."
He rose, his face working. "I MUST go, child. It's the thing to do. I wish
to Heaven it weren't. You must think of yourself as quite safe here. You
ARE safe. Don't make it hard for me to go, dear."
"I AM a coward. But I can't help it. There is so much snow--and the
mountains are so big." She tried valiantly to crush down her sobs. "But
go. I'll--I'll not be afraid."
He buried her little hands in his two big ones and looked deep into her
eyes. "Every minute of the time I am away from you I shall be with you in
spirit. You'll not be alone any minute of the day or night. Whether you
are awake or asleep I shall be with you."
"I'll try to remember that," she answered, smiling up at him but with a
She put him up some lunch while he made his simple preparations. To the
end of the trench she walked with him, neither of them saying a word. The
moment of parting had come.
She looked up at him with a crooked wavering little smile. She wanted to
be brave, but she could not trust herself to say a word.
"Remember, dear. I am not leaving you. My body has gone on an errand. That
Just now she found small comfort in this sophistry, but she did not tell
"I--I'll remember." She gulped down a sob and still smiled through the
mist that filmed her sight.
In his face she could see how much he was moved at her distress. Always a
creature of impulse, one mastered her now, the need to let her weakness
rest on his strength. Her arms slipped quickly round his neck and her head
lay buried on his shoulder. He held her tight, eyes shining, the desire of
her held in leash behind set teeth, the while sobs shook her soft round
body in gusts.
"My lamb--my sweet precious lamb," she heard him murmur in anguish.
From some deep sex trait it comforted her that he suffered. With the
mother instinct she began to regain control of herself that she might help
"It will not be for long," she assured him. "And every step of your way I
shall pray for, your safety," she whispered.
He held her at arm's length while his gaze devoured her, then silently he
wheeled away and plunged waist deep into the drifts. As long as he was in
sight he saw her standing there, waving her handkerchief to him in
encouragement. Her slight, dark figure, outlined against the snow, was the
last thing his eyes fell upon before he turned a corner of the gulch and
dropped downward toward the plains.
But when he was surely gone, after one fearful look at the white sea which
encompassed her, the girl fled to the cabin, slammed the door after her,
and flung herself on the bed to weep out her lonely terror in an ecstasy
of tears. She had spent the first violence of her grief, and was sitting
crouched on the rug before the open fire when the sound of a footstep,
crunching the snow, startled her. The door opened, to let in the man who
had just left her.
"You are back--already," she cried, her tear? stained face lifted toward
"Yes," he smiled' from the doorway. "Come here, little partner."
And when she had obediently joined him her eye followed his finger up the
mountain-trail to a bend round which men and horses were coming.
"It's a relief-party," he said, and caught up his field-glasses to look
them over more certainly. Two men on horseback, leading a third animal,
were breaking a way down the trail, black spots against the background of
white. "I guess Fort Salvation's about to be relieved," he added grimly,
following the party through the glasses.
She touched the back of his hand with a finger. "Are you glad?" she asked
"No, by Heaven!" he cried, lowering his glasses swiftly.
As he looked into her eyes the blood rushed to his brain with a surge. Her
face turned to his unconsciously, and their lips met.
"And I don't even know your name," she murmured.
"Waring Ridgway; and yours?"
"Aline Hope," she said absently. Then a hot Rush ran over the girlish
face. "No, no, I had forgotten. I was married last week."
The gates of paradise, open for two days, clanged to on Ridgway. He stared
out with unseeing eyes into the silent wastes of snow. The roaring in his
ears and the mountainsides that churned before his eyes were reflections
of the blizzard raging within him.
"I'll never forget--never," he heard her falter, and her voice was a
thousand miles away.
From the storm within him he was aroused by a startled cry from the girl
at his side. Her fascinated gaze was fixed on the summit of the ridge
above them. There was a warning crackle. The overhanging comb snapped,
slid slowly down, and broke off. With gathering momentum it descended,
sweeping into its heart rocks, trees, and debris. A terrific roar filled
the air as the great white cloud came tearing down like an express-train.
Ridgway caught her round the waist and flung the girl against the wall of
the cabin, protecting her with his body. The avalanche was upon them,
splitting great trees to kindling-wood in the fury of its rush. The
concussion of the wind shattered every window to fragments, almost tore
the cabin from its foundations. Only the extreme tail of the slide touched
them, yet they were buried deep in flying snow.
He found no great difficulty in digging a way out, and when he lifted her
to the surface she was conscious. Yet she was pale even to the lips and
trembled like an aspen in the summer breeze, clinging to him for support
His cheerful voice rang like a bugle to her shocked brain.
"It's all past. We're safe now, dear--quite safe."
The first of the trail-breakers had dismounted and was plowing his way
hurriedly to the cabin, but neither of them saw him as he came up the
"Are you sure?" She shuddered, her hands still in his. "Wasn't it awful? I
thought--" Her sentence trailed out unfinished.
"Are you unhurt, Aline?" cried the newcomer. And when he saw she was, he
added: "Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good:
for His mercy endureth forever. He saved them for His name's sake, that He
might make His mighty power to be known."
At sound of the voice they turned and saw the man hurrying toward them. He
was tall, gray, and seventy, of massive frame and gaunt, still straight
and vigorous, with the hooked nose and piercing eyes of a hawk. At first
glance he looked always the bird of prey, but at the next as invariably
the wolf, an effect produced by the salient reaching jaw and the glint of
white teeth bared for a lip smile. Just now he was touched to a rare
emotion. His hands trembled and an expression of shaken thankfulness
rested in his face.
Aline, still with Ridgway's strong arms about her, slowly came back to the
inexorable facts of life.
"As soon as we could get through--and thank God in time."
"I would have died, except for--" This brought her immediately to an
introduction, and after she had quietly released herself the man who had
saved her heard himself being formally presented: "Mr. Ridgway, I want you
to meet my husband, Mr. Harley."
Ridgway turned to Simon Harley a face of hammered steel and bowed, putting
his hands deliberately behind his back.
"I've been expecting you at Mesa, Mr. Harley," he said rigidly. "I'll be
glad to have the pleasure of welcoming you there."
The great financier was wondering where he had heard the man's name
before, but he only said gravely: "You have a claim on me I can never
forget, Mr. Ridgway."
Scornfully the other disdained this proffer. "Not at all. You owe me
nothing, Mr. Harley--absolutely nothing. What I have done I have done for
her. It is between her and me."
At this moment the mind of Harley fitted the name Ridgway to its niche in
his brain. So this was the audacious filibuster who had dared to fire on
the trust flag, the man he had come West to ruin and to humble.
"I think you will have to include me, Mr. Ridgway," he said suavely. "What
is done for my wife is done, also, for me."
CHAPTER 6. 0N THE SNOW-TRAIL
Aline had passed into the house, moved by an instinct which shrank from
publicity in the inevitable personal meeting between her and her husband.
Now, Harley, with the cavalier nod of dismissal, which only a
multimillionaire can afford, followed her and closed the door. A
passionate rush of blood swept Ridgway's face. He saw red as he stood
there with eyes burning into that door which had been shut in his face.
The nails of his clenched fingers bit into his palms, and his muscles
gathered themselves tensely. He had been cast aside, barred from the woman
he loved by this septuagenarian, as carelessly as if he had no claim.
And it came home to him that now he had no claim, none before the law and
society. They had walked in Arcadia where shepherds pipe. They had taken
life for granted as do the creatures of the woods, forgetful of the edicts
of a world that had seemed far and remote. But that world had obtruded
itself and shattered their dream. In the person of Simon Harley it had
shut the door which was to separate him and her. Hitherto he had taken
from life what he had wanted, but already he was grappling with the blind
fear of a fate for once too strong for him.
"Well, I'm damned if it isn't Waring Ridgway," called a mellow voice from
across the gulch.
The man named turned, and gradually the set lines of his jaw relaxed.
"I didn't notice it was you, Sam. Better bring the horses across this side
of that fringe of aspens."
The dismounted horseman followed directions and brought the floundering
horses through, and after leaving them in the cleared place where Ridgway
had cut his firewood he strolled leisurely forward to meet the mine-owner.
He was a youngish man, broad of shoulder and slender of waist, a trifle
bowed in the legs from much riding, but with an elastic sufficiency that
promised him the man for an emergency, a pledge which his steady
steel-blue eyes, with the humorous lines about the corners, served to make
more valuable. His apparel suggested the careless efficiency of the
cow-man, from the high-heeled boots into which were thrust his corduroys
to the broad-brimmed white Stetson set on his sunreddened wavy hair. A
man's man, one would vote him at first sight, and subsequent impressions
would not contradict the first.
"Didn't know you were down in this neck of woods, Waring," he said
pleasantly, as they shook hands.
An onlooker might have noticed that both of them gripped hands heartily
and looked each other squarely in the eye.
"I came down on business and got caught in the blizzard on my way back.
Came on her freezing in the machine and brought her here along with me. I
had my eye on that slide. The snow up there didn't look good to me, and
the grub was about out, anyhow, so I was heading for the C B Ranch when I
"Golden luck for her. I knew it was a chance in a million that she was
still alive, but Harley wanted to take it. Say, that old fellow's made of
steel wire. Two of my boys are plugging along a mile or two behind us, but
he stayed right with the game to a finish--and him seventy-three, mind
you, and a New Yorker at that. The old boy rides like he was born in a
saddle," said Sam Yesler with enthusiasm.
"I never said he was a quitter," conceded Ridgway ungraciously.
"You're right he ain't. And say, but he's fond of his wife. Soon as he
struck the ranch the old man butted out again into the blizzard to get
her--slipped out before we knew it. The boys rounded him up wandering
round the big pasture, and none too soon neither. All the time we had to
keep herd on him to keep him from taking another whirl at it. He was like
a crazy man to tackle it, though he must a-known it was suicide. Funny how
a man takes a shine to a woman and thinks the sun rises and sets by her.
Far, as I have been able to make out women are much of a sameness, though
I ain't setting up for a judge. Like as not this woman don't care a hand's
turn for him."
"Why should she? He bought her with his millions, I suppose. What right
has an old man like that with one foot in the grave to pick out a child
and marry her? I tell you, Sam, there's something ghastly about it."
"Oh, well, I reckon when she sold herself she knew what she was getting.
It's about an even thing--six of one and half a dozen of the other. There
must be something rotten about a woman who will do a thing of that sort."
"Wait till you've seen her before passing judgment. And after you have
you'll apologize if you're a white man for thinking such a thing about
her," the miner said hotly.
Yesler looked at his friend in amiable surprise. "I don't reckon we need
to quarrel about Simon Harley's matrimonial affairs, do we?" he laughed.
"Not unless you want to say any harm of that lamb."
A glitter of mischief gleamed from the cattleman's eyes. "Meaning Harley,
"You know who I mean. I tell you she's an angel from heaven, pure as the
"And I tell you that I'll take your word for it without quarreling with
you," was the goodhumored retort. "What's up, anyhow? I never saw you so
touchy before. You're a regular pepper-box."
The rescuers had brought food with them, and the party ate lunch before
starting back. The cow-punchers of the C B had now joined them, both of
them, as well as their horses, very tired with the heavy travel.
"This here Marathon race business through three-foot snow ain't for
invalids like me and Husky," one of them said cheerfully, with his mouth
full of sandwich. "We're also rans, and don't even show for place."
Yet though two of them had, temporarily at least, been rescued from
imminent danger, and success beyond their expectations had met the others,
it was a silent party. A blanket of depression seemed to rest upon it,
which the good stories of Yesler and the genial nonsense of his man,
Chinn, were unable to lift. Three of them, at least, were brooding over
what the morning had brought forth, and trying to realize what it might
mean for them.
"We'd best be going, I expect," said Yesler at last. "We've got a right
heavy bit of work cut out for us, and the horses are through feeding. We
can't get started any too soon for me."
Ridgway nodded silently. He knew that the stockman was dubious, as he
himself was, about being able to make the return trip in safety. The
horses were tired; so, too, were the men who had broken the heavy trail
for so many miles, with the exception of Sam himself, who seemed built of
whipcord and elastic. They would be greatly encumbered by the woman, for
she would certainly give out during the journey. The one point in their
favor was that they could follow a trail which had already been trodden
Simon Harley helped his wife into the boy's saddle on the back of the
animal they had led, but his inexperience had to give way to Yesler's
skill in fitting the stirrups to the proper length for her feet. To
Ridgway, who had held himself aloof during this preparation, the stockman
now turned with a wave of his hand toward his horse
"You ride, Waring."
"No, I'm fresh."
"All right. We'll take turns."
Ridgway led the party across the gulch, following the trail that had been
swept by the slide. The cowboys followed him, next came Harley, his wife,
and in the rear the cattleman. They descended the draw, and presently
dipped over rolling ground to the plain beyond. The procession plowed
steadily forward mile after mile, the pomes floundering through drifts
after the man ahead.
Chinn, who had watched him breasting the soft heavy blanket that lay on
the ground so deep and hemmed them in, turned to his companion.
"On the way coming I told you, Husky, we had the best man in Montana at
our head. We got that beat now to a fare-you-well. We got the two best in
this party, by crickey."
"He's got the guts, all right, but there ain't nothing on two legs can
keep it up much longer," replied the other. "If you want to know, I'm
about all in myself."
"Here, too," grunted the other. "And so's the bronc."
It was not, however, until dusk was beginning to fall that the leader
stopped. Yesler's voice brought him up short in his tracks.
"Hold on, Waring. The lady's down."
Ridgway strode back past the exhausted cowboys and Harley, the latter so
beaten with fatigue that he could scarce cling to the pommel of his
"I saw it coming. She's been done for a long time, but she hung on like a
thoroughbred," explained Yesler from the snow-bank where Aline had fallen.
He had her in his arms and was trying to get at a flask of whisky in his
"All right. I'll take care of her, Sam. You go ahead with your horse and
break trail. I don't like the way this wind is rising. It's wiping out the
path you made when you broke through. How far's the ranch now?"
"Close to five miles."
Both men had lowered their voices almost to a whisper.
"It's going to be a near thing, Sam. Your men are played out. Harley will
never make it without help. From now on every mile will be worse than the
Yesler nodded quietly. "Some one has got to go ahead for help. That's the
"It will have to be you, of course. You know the road best and can get
back quickest. Better take her pony. It's the fittest."
The owner of the C B hesitated an instant before he answered. He was the
last man in the world to desert a comrade that was down, but his common
sense told him his friend had spoken wisely. The only chance for the party
was to get help to it from the ranch.