Part 2 out of 4
"All right. If anybody plays out beside her try to keep him going. If it
comes to a showdown leave him for me to pick up. Don't let him stop the
"Sure. Better leave me that bottle of whisky. So-long."
"You're going to ride, I reckon?"
"Yes. I'll have to."
"Get up on my horse and I'll give her to you. That's right Well, I'll see
And with that the stockman was gone. For long they could see him, plunging
slowly forward through the drifts, getting always smaller and smaller,
till distance and the growing darkness swallowed him.
Presently the girl in Ridgway's arms opened her eyes.
"I heard what you and he said," she told him quietly.
"About what?" he smiled down into the white face that looked up into his.
"You know. About our danger. I'm not afraid, not the least little bit."
"You needn't be. We're coming through, all right. Sam will make it to the
ranch. He's a man in a million."
"I don't mean that. I'm not afraid, anyway, whether we do or not."
"Why?" he asked, his heart beating wildly.
"I don't know, but I'm not," she murmured with drowsy content.
But he knew if she did not. Her fear had passed because he was there,
holding her in his arms, fighting to the last ounce of power in him for
her life. She felt he would never leave her, and that, if it came to the
worst, she would pass from life with him close to her. Again he knew that
wild exultant beat of blood no woman before this one had ever stirred in
Harley was the first to give up. He lurched forward and slipped from the
saddle to the snow, and could not be cursed into rising. The man behind
dismounted, put down his burden, and dragged the old man to his feet.
"Here! This won't do. You've got to stick it out."
"I can't. I've reached my limit." Then testily: "'Are not my days few?
Cease then, and let me alone,'" he added wearily, with his everready tag
The instant the other's hold on him relaxed the old man sank back. Ridgway
dragged him up and cuffed him like a troublesome child. He knew this was
no time for reasoning.
"Are you going to lie down and quit, you old loafer? I tell you the ranch
is only a mile or two. Here, get into the saddle."
By sheer strength the younger man hoisted him into the seat. He was very
tired himself, but the vital sap of youth in him still ran strong in his
blood. For a few yards farther they pushed on before Harley slid down
again and his horse stopped.
Ridgway passed him by, guiding his bronco in a half-circle through the
"I'll send back help for you," he promised.
"It will be too late, but save her--save her," the old man begged.
"I will," called back the other between set teeth.
Chinn was the next to drop out, and after him the one he called Husky.
Both their horses had been abandoned a mile or two back, too exhausted to
continue. Each of them Ridgway urged to stick to the trail and come on as
fast as they could.
He knew the horse he was riding could not much longer keep going with the
double weight, and when at length its strength gave out completely he went
on afoot, carrying her in his arms as on that eventful night when he had
saved her from the blizzard.
It was so the rescue-party found him, still staggering forward with her
like a man in a sleep, flesh and blood and muscles all protestant against
the cruelty of his indomitable will that urged them on in spite of
themselves. In a dream he heard Yesler's cheery voice, gave up his burden
to one of the rescuers, and found himself being lifted to a fresh horse.
From this dream he awakened to find himself before the great fire of the
living-room of the ranch-house, wakened from it only long enough to know
that somebody was undressing him and helping him into bed.
Nature, with her instinct for renewing life, saw to it that Ridgway slept
round the clock. He arose fit for anything. His body, hard as nails,
suffered no reaction from the terrific strain he had put upon it, and he
went down to his breakfast with an appetite ravenous for whatever good
things Yesler's Chinese cook might have prepared for him.
He found his host already at work on a juicy steak.
"Mornin'," nodded that gentleman. "Hope you feel as good as you look."
"I'm all right, barring a little stiffness in my muscles. I'll feel good
as the wheat when I've got outside of the twin steak to that one you
Yesler touched a bell, whereupon a soft-footed Oriental appeared, turned
almond eyes on his proprietor, took orders and padded silently back to his
kingdom--the kitchen. Almost immediately he reappeared with a bowl of
oatmeal and a pitcher of cream.
"Go to it, Waring."
His host waved him the freedom of the diningroom, and Ridgway fell to.
Never before had food tasted so good. He had been too sleepy to cat last
night, but now he made amends. The steak, the muffins, the coffee, were
all beyond praise, and when he came to the buckwheat hot cakes, sandwiched
with butter and drenched with real maple syrup, his satisfied soul rose up
and called Hop Lee blessed. When he had finished, Sam capped the climax by
shoving toward him his case of Havanas.
Ridgway's eyes glistened. "I haven't smoked for days," he explained, and
after the smoke had begun to rise, he added: "Ask what you will, even to
the half of my kingdom, it's yours."
"Or half of the Consolidated's," amended his friend with twinkling eyes.
"Even so, Sam," returned the other equably. "And now, tell me how you
managed to round us all up safely."
"You've heard, then, that we got the whole party in time?"
"Yes, I've been talking with one of your enthusiastic riders that went out
with you after us. He's been flimflammed into believing you the greatest
man in the United States. Tell me how you do it."
"Nick's a good boy, but I reckon he didn't tell you quite all that."
"Didn't he? You should have heard him reel off your praises by the yard. I
got the whole story of how you headed the relief-party after you had
reached the ranch more dead than alive."
"Then, if you've got it, I don't need to tell you. I WAS a bit worried
about the old man. He was pretty far gone when we reached him, but he
pulled through all right. He's still sleeping like a top."
"Is he?" His guest's hard gaze came round to meet his. "And the lady? Do
you know how she stood it?"
"My sister says she was pretty badly played out, but all she needs is
rest. Nell put her in her own bed, and she, too, has been doing nothing
Ridgway smoked out his cigar in silence then tossed it into the fireplace
as he rose briskly.
"I want to talk to Mesa over the phone, Sam."
"Can't do it. The wires are down. This storm played the deuce with them."
"The devil! I'll have to get through myself then."
"Forget business for a day or two, Waring, and take it easy up here,"
counseled his host.
"Can't do it. I have to make arrangements to welcome Simon Harley to Mesa.
The truth is, Sam, that there are several things that won't wait. I've got
to frame them up my way. Can you get me through to the railroad in time to
catch the Limited?"
"I think so. The road has been traveled for two or three days. If you
really must go. I hate to have you streak off like this."
"I'd like to stay, Sam, but I can't. For one thing, there's that
senatorial fight coming on. Now that Harley's on the ground in person,
I'll have to look after my fences pretty close. He's a good fighter, and
he'll be out to win."
"After what you've done for him. Don't you think that will make a
His friend laughed without mirth. "What have I done for him? I left him in
the snow to die, and while a good many thousand other people would bless
me for it, probably he has a different point of view."
"I was thinking of what you did for his wife."
"You've said it exactly. I did it for her, not for him. I'll accept
nothing from Harley on that account. He is outside of the friendship
between her and me, and he can't jimmy his way in."
Yesler shrugged his shoulders. " All right. I'll order a rig hitched for
you and drive you over myself. I want to talk over this senatorial fight
anyhow. The way things look now it's going to be the rottenest session of
the legislature we've ever had. Sometimes I'm sick of being mixed up in
the thing, but I got myself elected to help straighten out things, and I'm
certainly going to try."
"That's right, Sam. With a few good fighters like you we can win out.
Anything to beat the Consolidated."
"Anything to keep our politics decent," corrected the other. "I've got
nothing against the Consolidated, but I won't lie down and let it or any
other private concern hog-tie this State--not if I can help it, anyhow."
Behind wary eyes Ridgway studied him. He was wondering how far this man
would go as his tool. Sam Yesler held a unique position in the State. His
influence was commanding among the sturdy old-time population represented
by the non-mining interests of the smaller towns and open plains. He must
be won at all hazards to lend it in the impending fight against Harley.
The mine-owner knew that no thought of personal gain would move him. He
must be made to feel that it was for the good of the State that the
Consolidated be routed. Ridgway resolved to make him see it that way.
CHAPTER 7. BACK FROM ARCADIA
The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company stepped from the parlor-car
of the Limited at the hour when all wise people are taking life easy after
a good dinner. He did not, however, drive to his club, but took a cab
straight for his rooms, where he had telegraphed Eaton to meet him with the
general superintendent of all his properties and his private secretary,
Smythe. For nearly a week his finger had been off the pulse of the
situation, and he wanted to get in touch again as soon as possible. For in
a struggle as tense as the one between him and the trust, a hundred vital
things might have happened in that time. He might be coming back to
catastrophe and ruin, brought about while he had been a prisoner to love in
that snow-bound cabin.
Prisoner to love he had been and still was, but the business men who met
him at his rooms, fellow adventurers in the forlorn hope he had hitherto
led with such signal success, could have read nothing of this in the
marble, chiseled face of their sagacious general, so indomitable of attack
and insatiate of success. His steel-hard eyes gave no hint of the Arcadia
they had inhabited so eagerly a short twenty-four hours before. The
intoxicating madness he had known was chained deep within him. Once more he
had a grip on himself; was sheathed in a cannonproof plate armor of
selfishness. No more magic nights of starshine, breathing fire and dew; no
more lifted moments of exaltation stinging him to a pulsating wonder at
life's wild delight. He was again the inexorable driver of men, with no
pity for their weaknesses any more than for his own.
The men whom he found waiting for him at his rooms were all young
Westerners picked out by him because he thought them courageous,
unscrupulous and loyal. Like him, they were privateers in the seas of
commerce, and sailed under no flag except the one of insurrection he had
floated. But all of them, though they were associated with him and hoped to
ride to fortune on the wave that carried him there, recognized themselves
as subordinates in the enterprises he undertook. They were merely heads of
departments, and they took orders like trusted clerks with whom the owner
sometimes unbends and advises.
Now he heard their reports, asked an occasional searching question, and
swiftly gave decisions of far-reaching import. It was past midnight before
he had finished with them, and instead of retiring for the sleep he might
have been expected to need, he spent the rest of the night inspecting the
actual workings of the properties he had not seen for six days. Hour after
hour he passed examining the developments, sometimes in the breasts of the
workings and again consulting with engineers and foremen in charge. Light
was breaking in the sky before he stepped from the cage of the Jack Pot and
boarded a street-car for his rooms. Cornishmen and Hungarians and
Americans, going with their dinner-buckets to work, met him and received
each a nod or a word of greeting from this splendidly built young Hermes in
miners' slops, who was to many of them, in their fancy, a deliverer from
the slavery which the Consolidated was ready to force upon them.
Once at his rooms, Ridgway took a cold bath, dressed carefully,
breakfasted, and was ready to plunge into the mass of work which had
accumulated during his absence at the mining camp of Alpine and the
subsequent period while he was snowbound. These his keen, practical mind
grasped and disposed of in crisp sentences. To his private secretary he
rapped out order sharply and decisively.
"Phone Ballard and Dalton I want to see them at once. Tell Murphy I won't
talk with him. What I said before I left was final. Write Cadwallader we
can't do business on the terms he proposes, but add that I'm willing to
continue his Mary Kinney lease. Dictate a letter to Riley's lawyer, telling
him I can't afford to put a premium on incompetence and negligence; that if
his client was injured in the Jack Pot explosion, he has nobody but himself
to blame for it. Otherwise, of course, I should be glad to pension him. Let
me see the letter before you send it. I don't want anything said that will
offend the union. Have two tons of good coal sent up to Riley's house, and
notify his grocer that all bills for the next three months may be charged
to me. And, Smythe, ask Mr. Eaton to step this way."
Stephen Eaton, an alert, clear-eyed young fellow who served as fidus
Achates to Ridgway, and was the secretary and treasurer of the Mesa
Ore-producing Company, took the seat Smythe had vacated. He was
good-looking, after a boyish, undistinguished fashion, but one disposed to
be critical might have voted the chin not quite definite enough. He had
been a clerk of the Consolidated, working for one hundred dollars a month,
when Ridgway picked him out and set his feet in the way of fortune. He had
done this out of personal liking, and, in return, the subordinate was
frankly devoted to his chief.
"Steve, my opinion is that Alpine is a false alarm. Unless I guess wrong,
it is merely a surface proposition and low-grade at that."
"Yes, I know what Miller says. He's wrong. I don't care if he is the
biggest copper expert in the country."
"Then you won't invest?"
"I have invested--bought the whole outfit, lock, stock and barrel."
"But why? What do you want with it if the property is no good?" asked Eaton
Ridgway laughed shortly. "I don't want it, but the Consolidated does. Two
of their experts were up at Alpine last week, and both of them reported
favorably. I've let it leak out to their lawyer, O'Malley, that Miller
thought well of it; in fact, I arranged to let one of their spies steal a
copy of his report to us."
"But when they know you have bought it "
"They won't know till too late. I bought through a dummy. It seemed a pity
not to let then have the property since they wanted it so badly, so this
morning he sold out for me to the Consolidated at a profit of a hundred and
Eaton grinned appreciatively. It was in startling finesse of this sort his
chief excelled, and Stephen was always ready with applause.
"I notice that Hobart slipped out of town last night. That is where he must
have been going. He'll be sick when he learns how you did him."
Ridgway permitted himself an answering smile. "I suppose it will irritate
him a trifle, but that can't be helped. I needed that money to get clear on
that last payment for the Sherman Bell."
"Yes, I was worried about that. Notes have been piling up against us that
must be met. There's the Ransom note, too. It's for a hundred thousand."
"He'll extend it," said the chief confidently.
"He told me he would have to have his money when it came due. I've noticed
he has been pretty close to Mott lately. I expect he has an arrangement
with the Consolidated to push us."
"I'm watching him, Steve. Don't worry about that. He did arrange to sell
the note to Mott, but I stopped that little game."
"For a year I've had all the evidence of that big government timber steal
of his in a safety-deposit vault. Before he sold, I had a few words with
him. He changed his mind and decided he preferred to hold the notes. More,
he is willing to let us have another hundred thousand if we have to have
Eaton's delight bubbled out of him in boyish laughter. "You're a wonder,
Waring. There's nobody like you. Can't any of them touch you--not Harley
himself, by Jove."
"We'll have a chance to find that out soon, Steve."
"Yes, they say he's coming out in person to run the fight against you. I
"It isn't a matter of hoping any longer. He's here," calmly announced his
"Here! On the ground?"
"But--he can't be here without us knowing it."
"I'm telling you that I do know it."
"Have you seen him yourself?" demanded the treasurer incredulously.
"Seen him, talked with him, cursed him and cuffed him," announced Ridgway
with a reminiscent gleam in his eye.
"Er--what's that you say?" gasped the astounded Eaton.
"Merely that I have already met Simon Harley."
"But you said--"
"--that I had cursed and cuffed him. That's all right. I have."
The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company leaned back with his thumbs
in the armholes of his fancy waistcoat and smiled debonairly at his
associate's perplexed amazement.
"Did you say--CUFFED him?"
"That's what I meant to say. I roughed him around quite a bit--manhandled
him in general. But all FOR HIS GOOD, you know."
"For his good?" Eaton's dazed brain tried to conceive the situation of a
billionaire being mauled for his good, and gave it up in despair. If Steve
Eaton worshipped anything, it was wealth. He was a born sycophant, and it
was partly because his naive unstinted admiration had contributed to
satisfy his chief's vanity that the latter had made of him
a confidant. Now he sat dumb before the lese-majeste of laying forcible
hands upon the richest man in the world.
"But, of course, you're only joking," he finally decided.
"You haven't been back twelve hours. Where COULD you have seen him?,"
"Nevertheless I have met him and been properly introduced by his wife."
"Yes, I picked her out of a snow-drift."
"Is this a riddle?"
"If it is, I don't know the answer, Steve. But it is a true one, anyhow,
not made to order merely to astonish you."
"True that you picked Simon Harley's wife out of a snow-drift and kicked
"I didn't say kicked, did I?" inquired the other, judicially. "But I rather
think I did knee him some."
"Of course, I read all about his marriage two weeks ago to Miss Aline Hope.
Did he bring her out here with him for the honeymoon?"
"If he did, I euchred him out of it. She spent it with me alone in a
miner's cabin," the other cried, malevolence riding triumph on his face.
"Whenever you're ready to explain," suggested Eaton helplessly. "You've
piled up too many miracles for me even to begin guessing them."
"You know I was snow-bound, but you did not know my only companion was this
Aline Hope you speak of. I found her in the blizzard, and took her to an
empty cabin near. She and her husband were motoring from Avalanche to Mesa,
and the machine had broken down. Harley had gone for help and left her
there alone when the blizzard came up. Three days later Sam Yesler and the
old man broke trail through from the C B Ranch and rescued us."
It was so strange a story that it came home to Eaton piecemeal.
"Three days--alone with Harley's wife--and he rescued you himself."
"He didn't rescue me any. I could have broken through any time I wanted to
leave her. On the way back his strength gave out, and that was when I
roughed him. I tried to bullyrag him into keeping on, but it was no go. I
left him there, and Sam went back after him with a relief-party."
"You left him! With his wife?"
"No!" cried Ridgway. "Do I look like a man to desert a woman on a
snow-trail? I took her with me."
"Oh!" There was a significant silence before Eaton asked the question in
his mind. "I've seen her pictures in the papers. Does she look like them?"
His chief knew what was behind the question, and he knew, too, that Eaton
might be taken to represent public opinion. The world would cast an eye of
review over his varied and discreditable record with women. It would
imagine the story of those three days of enforced confinement together, and
it would look to the woman in the case for an answer to its suspicions.
That she was young, lovely, and yet had sold herself to an old man for his
millions, would go far in itself to condemn her; and he was aware that
there were many who would accept her very childish innocence as the
sophistication of an artist.
Waring Ridgway put his arms akimbo on the table and leaned across with his
steady eyes fastened on his friend.
"Steve, I'm going to answer that question. I haven't seen any pictures of
her in the papers, but if they show a face as pure and true as the face of
God himself then they are like her. You know me. I've got no apologies or
explanations to make for the life I've led. That's my business. But you're
my friend, and I tell you I would rather be hacked in pieces by Apaches
than soil that child's white soul by a single unclean breath. There mustn't
be any talk. Do you understand? Keep the story out of the newspapers. Don't
let any of our people gossip about it. I have told you because I want you
to know the truth. If any one should speak lightly about this thing stop
him at once. This is the one point on which Simon Harley and I will pull
Any man who joins that child's name with mine loosely will have to leave
this camp--and suddenly."
"It won't be the men--it will be the women that will talk."
"Then garble the story. Change that three days to three hours, Steve.
Anything to stop their foul-clacking tongues!"
"Oh, well! I dare say the story won't get out at all, but if it does I'll
see the gossips get the right version. I suppose Sam Yesler will back it
"Of course. He's a white man. And I don't need to tell you that I'll be a
whole lot obliged to you, Stevie."
"That's all right. Sometimes I'm a white man, too, Waring," laughed Steve.
Ridgway circled the table and put a hand on
the younger man's shoulder affectionately. Steve Eaton was the one of all
his associates for whom he had the closest personal feeling.
"I don't need to be told that, old pal," he said quietly.
CHAPTER 8. THE HONORABLE THOMAS B. PELTON
It was next morning that Steve came into Ridgway's offices with a copy of
the Rocky Mountain Herald in his hands. As soon as the president of the
Mesa Ore-producing Company was through talking with Dalton, the
superintendent of the Taurus, about the best means of getting to the cage a
quantity of ore he was looting from the Consolidated property adjoining,
the treasurer plumped out with his news.
"Seen to-day's paper, Waring? It smokes out Pelton to a finish. They've
moled out some facts we can't get away from."
Ridgway glanced rapidly over the paper. "We'll have to drop Pelton and find
another candidate for the Senate. Sorry, but it can't be helped. They've
got his record down too fine. That affidavit from Quinton puts an end to
"He'll kick like a bay steer."
"His own fault for not covering his tracks better. This exposure doesn't
help us any at best. If we still tried to carry Pelton, we should last
about as long as a snowball in hell."
"Shall I send for him?"
"No. He'll be here as quick as he can cover the ground. Have him shown in
as soon as he comes. And Steve--did Harley arrive on the eight-thirty this
"Yes. He is putting up at the Mesa House. He reserved an entire floor by
wire, so that he has bed-rooms, dining-rooms, parlors, reception-halls and
private offices all together. The place is policed thoroughly, and nobody
can get up without an order."
"I haven't been thinking of going up and shooting him, even though it would
be a blessing to the country," laughed his chief.
"No, but it is possible somebody else might. This town is full of ignorant
foreigners who would hardly think twice of it. If he had asked my advice,
it would have been to stay away from Mesa."
"He wouldn't have taken it," returned Ridgway carelessly. "Whatever else is
true about him, Simon Harley isn't a coward. He would have told you that
not a sparrow falls to the ground without the permission of the distorted
God he worships, and he would have come on the next train."
"Well, it isn't my funeral," contributed Steve airily.
"All the same I'm going to pass his police patrols and pay a visit to the
third floor of the Mesa House."
"You are going to compromise with him?" cried Eaton swiftly.
"Compromise nothing, I'm going to pay a formal social call on Mrs. Harley,
and respectfully hope that she has suffered no ill effects from her
exposure to the cold."
Eaton made no comment, unless to whistle gently were one.
"You think it isn't wise "
"Well, is it?" asked Steve.
"I think so. We'll scotch the lying tongue of rumor by a strict observance
of the conventions. Madam Grundy is padlocked when we reduce the situation
to the absurdity of the common place."
"Perhaps you are right, if it doesn't become too common commonplace."
"I think we may trust Simon Harley to see to that," answered his chief with
a grim smile "Obviously our social relations aren't likely to be very
intimate. Now it's 'Just before the battle mother,' but once the big guns
begin to boor we'll neither of us be in the mood for functions social."
"You've established a sort of claim on him. It wouldn't surprise me if he
would meet you halfway in settling the trouble between you," said Eaton
"I expect he would," agreed Ridgway indifferently as he lit a cigar.
"The trouble is that I won't meet him halfway. I can't afford to be
reasonable, Steve. Just suppose for an instant that I had been reasonable
five years ago when this fight began. They would have bought me out for a
miserable pittance of a hundred and fifty thousand or so. That would have
been a reasonable figure then. You might put it now at five or six
millions, and that would be about right. I don't want their money. I want
power, and I'd rather fight for it than not. Besides, I mean to make what I
have already wrung from them a lever for getting more. I'm going to show
Harley that he has met a man at last he can't either freeze out or bully
out. I'm going to let him and his bunch know I'm on earth and here to stay;
that I can beat them at their own game to a finish."
"Did it ever occur to you, Waring, that it might pay to make this a limited
round contest? You've won on points up to date by a mile, but in a finish
fight endurance counts. Money is the same as endurance here, and that's
where they are long."
Eaton made this suggestion diffidently, for though he was a stockholder and
official of the Mesa Ore-producing Company, he was not used to offering its
head unasked advice. The latter, however, took it without a trace of
"Glad of it, my boy. There's no credit in beating a cripple."
To this jaunty retort Eaton had found no answer when Smythe opened the door
to announce the arrival of the Honorable Thomas B. Pelton, very anxious for
an immediate interview with Mr. Ridgway.
"Show him in," nodded the president, adding in an aside: "You better stay,
Pelton was a rotund oracular individual in silk hat and a Prince Albert
coat of broadcloth. He regarded himself solemnly as a statesman because he
had served two inconspicuous terms in the House at Washington. He was fond
of proclaiming himself a Southern gentleman, part of which statement was
unnecessary and part untrue. Like many from his section, he had a decided
penchant for politics.
"Have you seen the infamous libel in that scurrilous sheet of the gutters
the Herald?" he demanded immediately of Ridgway.
"Which libel? They don't usually stop at one, colonel."
"The one, seh, which slanders my honorable name; which has the scoundrelly
audacity to charge me with introducing the mining extension bill for venal
"Oh! Yes, I've seen that. Rather an unfortunate story to come out just now."
"I shall force a retraction, seh, or I shall demand the satisfaction due a
"Yes, I would, colonel," replied Ridgway, secretly amused at the vain
threats of this bag of wind which had been punctured.
"It's a vile calumny, an audacious and villainous lie."
"What part of it? I've just glanced over it, but the part I read seems to
be true. That's the trouble with it. If it were a lie you could explode
"I shall deny it over my signature."
"Of course. The trouble will be to get people to believe your denial with
Quinton's affidavit staring them in the face. It seems they have got hold
of a letter, too, that you wrote. Deny it, of course, then lie low and give
the public time to forget it."
"Do you mean that I should withdraw from the senatorial race?"
"That's entirely as you please, colonel, but I'm afraid you'll find your
support will slip away from you."
"Do you mean that YOU won't support me, seh?"
Ridgway locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair.
"We've got to face facts, colonel. In the light of this exposure you can't
"But I tell you, by Gad, seh, that I mean to deny it."
"Certainly. I should in your place," agreed the mine-owner coolly. "The
question is, how many people are going to believe you?"
Tiny sweat-beads stood on the forehead of the Arkansan. His manner was
becoming more and more threatening. "You pledged me your support. Are you
going to throw me down, seh?"
"You have thrown yourself down, Pelton. Is it my fault you bungled the
thing and left evidence against you? Am I to blame because you wrote
"Whatever I did was done for you," retorted the cornered man desperately.
"I beg your pardon. It was done for what was in it for you. The arrangement
between us was purely a business one."
The coolness of his even voice maddened the harassed Pelton.
"So I'm to get burnt drawing your chestnuts out of the fire, am I? You're
going to stand back and let my career be sacrificed, are you? By Gad, seh,
I'll show you whether I'll be your catspaw," screamed the congressman.
"Use your common sense, Pelton, and don't shriek like a fish-wife," ordered
Ridgway sharply. "No sane man floats a leaky ship. Go to drydock and patch
up your reputation, and in a few years you'll come out as good as new."
All his unprincipled life Pelton had compromised with honor to gain the
coveted goal he now saw slipping from him. A kind of madness of despair
surged up in him. He took a step threateningly toward the seated man, his
hand slipping back under his coat-tails toward his hip pocket. Acridly his
high voice rang out.
"As a Southern gentleman, seh, I refuse to tolerate the imputations you
cast upon me. I demand an apology here and now, seh."
Ridgway was on his feet and across the room like a flash.
"Don't try to bully ME, you false alarm. Call yourself a Southern
gentleman! You're a shallow scurvy impostor. No more like the real article
than a buzzard is like an eagle. Take your hand from under that coat or
I'll break every bone in your flabby body."
Flabby was the word, morally no less than physically. Pelton quailed under
that gaze which bored into him like a gimlet. The ebbing color in his face
showed he could summon no reserve of courage sufficient to meet it. Slowly
his empty hand came forth.
"Don't get excited, Mr. Ridgway. You have mistaken my purpose, seh. I had
no intention of drawing," he stammered with a pitiable attempt at dignity.
"Liar," retorted his merciless foe, crowding him toward the door.
"I don't care to have anything more to do with you. Our relations are at an
end, seh," quavered Pelton as he vanished into the outer once and beat a
hasty retreat to the elevator.
Ridgway returned to his chair, laughing ruefully. "I couldn't help it,
Steve. He would have it. I suppose I've made one more enemy."
"A nasty one, too. He'll stick at nothing to get even."
"We'll draw his fangs while there is still time. Get a good story in the
Sun to the effect that I quarreled with him as soon as I discovered his
connection with this mining extension bill graft. Have it in this
afternoon's edition, Steve. Better get Brayton to write it."
Steve nodded. "That's a good idea. We may make capital out of it after all.
I'll have an editorial in, too. 'We love him for the enemies he has made.'
How would that do for a heading?"
"Good. And now we'll have to look around for a candidate to put against
Mott. I'm hanged if I know where we'll find one."
Eaton had an inspiration.
"One that will run well, popular enough to catch the public fancy?"
The owner of the name stared at his lieutenant in astonishment, but slowly
the fascination o the idea sank in.
"By Jove! Why not?"
CHAPTER 9. AN EVENING CALL
"Says you're to come right up, Mr. Ridgway," the bell-hop reported, and
after he had pocketed his tip, went sliding off across the polished floor
to answer another call.
The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company turned with a good-humored
smile to the chief clerk.
"You overwork your boys, Johnson. I wasn't through with that one. I'll have
to ask you to send another up to show me the Harley suite."
They passed muster under the eye of the chief detective, and, after the
bell-boy had rung, were admitted to the private parlor where Simon Harley
lay stretched on a lounge with his wife beside him. She had been reading,
evidently aloud and when her visitor was announced rose with her finger
still keeping the place in the closed book.
The gaze she turned on him was of surprise, almost of alarm, so that the
man on the threshold knew he was not expected.
"You received my card?" he asked quickly.
"No. Did you send one?" Then, with a little gesture of half-laughing
irritation: "It must have gone to Mr. Harvey again. He is Mr. Harley's
private secretary, and ever since we arrived it has been a comedy of
errors. The hotel force refuses to differentiate."
"I must ask you to accept my regrets for an unintentional intrusion, Mrs.
Harley. When I was told to come up, I could not guess that my card had gone
The great financier had got to his feet and now came forward with extended
"Nevertheless we are glad to see you, Mr. Ridgway, and to get the
opportunity to express our thanks for all that you have done for us."
The cool fingers of the younger man touched his lightly before they met
those of his wife.
"Yes, we are very glad, indeed, to see you, Mr. Ridgway," she added to her
"I could not feel quite easy in my mind without hearing from your own lips
that you are none the worse for the adventures you have suffered," their
visitor explained after they had found seats.
"Thanks to you, my wife is quite herself again, Mr. Ridgway," Harley
announced from the davenport. "Thanks also to God, who so mercifully
shelters us beneath the shadow of His wing."
But her caller preferred to force from Aline's own lips this affidavit of
health. Even his audacity could not ignore his host entirely, but it gave
him the least consideration possible. To the question which still rested in
his eyes the girl-wife answered shyly.
"Indeed, I am perfectly well. I have done nothing but sleep to-day and
yesterday. Miss Yesler was very good to me. I do not know how I can repay
the great kindness of so many friends," she said with a swift descent of
fluttering lashes to the soft cheeks upon which a faint color began to
"Perhaps they find payment for the service in doing it for you," he suggested.
"Yet, I shall take care not to forget it," Harley said pointedly.
"Indeed!" Ridgway put it with polite insolence, the hostility in his face
"It has pleased Providence to multiply my portion so abundantly that I can
reward those well who serve me."
"At how much do you estimate Mrs. Harley's life?" his rival asked with
In the course of the past two days Aline had made the discovery that her
husband and her rescuer were at swords drawn in a business way. This had
greatly distressed her, and in her innocence she had resolved to bring them
together. How could her inexperience know that she might as well have tried
to induce the lion and the lamb to lie down together peaceably? Now she
tried timidly to drift the conversation from the awkwardness into which
Harley's suggestion of a reward and his opponent's curt retort had
"I hope you did not find upon your return that your business was
disarranged so much as you feared it might be by your absence."
"I found my affairs in very good condition," Ridgway smiled. "But I am glad
to be back in time to welcome to Mesa you--and Mr. Harley."
"It seems so strange a place," the girl ventured, with a hesitation that
showed her anxiety not to offend his local pride. "You see I never before
was in a place where there was no grass and nothing green in sight. And
to-night, when I looked out of the window and saw streams of red-hot fire
running down hills, I thought of Paradise Lost and Dante. I suppose it
doesn't seem at all uncanny to you?"
"At night sometimes I still get that feeling, but I have to cultivate it a
bit," he confessed. "My sober second thought insists that those molten
rivers are merely business, refuse disgorged as lava from the great
"I looked for the sun to-day through the pall of sulphur smoke that hangs
so heavy over the town, but instead I saw a London gas-lamp hanging in the
heavens. Is it always so bad?"
"Not when the drift of the wind is right. In fact, a day like this is quite
"I'm glad of that. I feel more cheerful in the sunshine. I know that's a
bit of the child still left in me. Mr. Harley takes all days alike."
The Wall Street operator was in slippers and house-jacket. His wife, too,
was dressed comfortably in some soft clinging stuff. Their visitor saw that
they had disposed themselves for a quiet uninterrupted evening by the
fireside. The domesticity of it all stirred the envy in him. He did not
want her to be contented and at peace with his enemy. Something deeper than
his vanity cried out in protest against it.
She was still making talk against the gloom of the sulphur fog which seemed
to have crept into the spirit of the room.
"We were reading before you came in, Mr. Ridgway. I suppose you read a good
deal. Mr. Harley likes to have me read aloud to him when he is tired."
An impulse came upon Ridgway to hear her, some such impulse as makes a man
bite on sore tooth even though he knows he must pay later for it.
"Will you not go on with your reading? I should like to hear it. I really
She was a little taken aback, but she looked inquiringly at her husband,
who bowed silently.
"I was just beginning the fifty-ninth psalm. We have been reading the book
through. Mr. Harley finds great comfort in it," she explained.
Her eyes fell to the printed page and her clear, sweet voice took up the
ancient tale of vengeance
"Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up
against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from
"For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me;
not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord. They run and prepare
themselves without my fault: awake to help me, and behold.
"Thou, therefore, O Lord God of Hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit
all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah."
Ridgway glanced across in surprise at the strong old man lying on the
lounge. His hands were locked in front of him, and his gaze rested
peacefully on the fair face of the child reading. His foe's mind swept up
the insatiable cruel years that lay behind this man, and he marveled that
with such a past he could still hold fast to that simple faith of David. He
wondered whether this ruthless spoiler went back to the Old Testament for
the justification of his life, or whether his credo had given the impulse
to his career. One thing he no longer doubted: Simon Harley believed his
Bible implicitly and literally, and not only the New Testament.
"For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips even be taken in
their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak.
"Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them
know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth."
The fresh young girlish voice died away into silence. Harley, apparently
deep in meditation, gazed at the ceiling. His guest felt a surge of
derision at this man who thought he had a compact with God to rule the
world for his benefit.
"I am sure Mr. Harley must enjoy the Psalms a great deal," he said
ironically, but it was in simple faith the young wife answered eagerly:
"He does. He finds so much in them that is applicable to life."
"I can see how he might," agreed the young man.
"Few people take their religion so closely into their every-day lives as he
does," she replied in a low voice, seeing that her husband was lost in
"I am sure you are right."
"He is very greatly misunderstood, Mr. Ridgway. I am sure if people knew
how good he is-- But how can they know when the newspapers are so full of
falsehoods about him? And the magazines are as bad, he says. It seems to be
the fashion to rake up bitter things to say about prominent business men.
You must have noticed it."
"Yes. I believe I have noticed that," he answered with a grim little laugh.
"Don't you think it could be explained to these writers? They can't WANT to
distort the truth. It must be they don't know."
"You must not take the muckrakers too seriously. They make a living
roasting us. A good deal of what they say is true in a way. Personally, I
don't object to it much. It's a part of the penalty of being successful.
That's how I look at it."
"Do they say bad things about you, too?" she asked in open-eyed surprise.
"Occasionally," he smiled. "When they think I'm important enough."
"I don't see how they can," he heard her murmur to herself.
"Oh, most of what they say is true."
"Then I know it can't be very bad," she made haste to answer.
"You had better read it and see."
"I don't understand business at all," she said
"But--sometimes it almost frightens me. Business isn't really like war, is
"A good deal like it. But that need not frighten you. All life is a
battle--sometimes, at least. Success implies fighting."
"And does that in turn imply tragedy--for the loser?"
"Not if one is a good loser. We lose and make another start."
"But if success is a battle, it must be gained at the expense of another."
"Sometimes. But you must look at it in a big way." The secretary of the
trust magnate had come in and was in low-toned conversation with him. The
visitor led her to the nearest window and drew back the curtains so that
they looked down on the lusty life of the turbid young city, at the lights
in the distant smelters and mills, at the great hill opposite, with its
slagdumps, gallows-frames and shaft-houses black against the dim light,
which had yielded its millions and millions of tons of ore for the use of
mankind. "All this had to be fought for. It didn't grow of itself. And
because men fought for it, the place is what it is. Sixty thousand people
live here, fed by the results of the battle. The highest wages in the world
are paid the miners here. They live in rough comfort and plenty, whereas in
the countries they came from they were underpaid and underfed. Is that not
"Yes," she admitted.
"Life for you and for me must be different, thank God. You are in the world
to make for the happiness of those you meet. That is good. But unless I am
to run away from my work, what I do must make some unhappy. I can't help
that if I am to do big things. When you hear people talking of the harm I
do, you will remember what I have told you to-night, and you will think
that a man and his work cannot be judged by isolated fragments."
"Yes," she breathed softly, for she knew that this man was saying good-by
to her and was making his apologia.
"And you will remember that no matter how bitter the fight may grow between
me and Mr. Harley, it has nothing to do with you. We shall still be
friends, though we may never meet again."
"I shall remember that, too," he heard her murmur.
"You have been hoping that Mr. Harley and I would be friends. That is
impossible. He came out here to crush me. For years his subordinates have
tried to do this and failed. I am the only man alive that has ever resisted
him successfully. I don't underestimate his power, which is greater than
any czar or emperor that ever lived, but I don't think he will succeed. I
shall win because I understand the forces against me. He will lose because
he scorns those against him."
"I am sorry. Oh, I am so sorry," she wailed, gently as a breath of summer
wind. For she saw now that the cleavage between them was too wide for a
girl's efforts to bridge.
"That I am going to win?" he smiled gravely.
"That you must be enemies; that he came here to ruin you, since you say he
"You need not be too hard on him for that. By his code I am a freebooter
and a highwayman. Business offers legitimate ways of robbery, and I
transgress them. His ways are not my ways, and mine are not his, but it is
only fair to say that his are the accepted ones."
"I don't understand it at all. You are both good men. I know you are.
Surely you need not be enemies."
But she knew she could hope for no reassurance from the man beside her.
Presently she led him back across the big room to the fireplace near where
her husband lay. His secretary had gone, and he was lying resting on the
lounge. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "Has Mr. Ridgway been
pointing out to you the places of interest?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, dear." The last word came hesitantly after the slightest of pauses.
"He says he must be going now."
The head of the greatest trust on earth got to his feet and smiled
benignantly as he shook hands with the departing guest. "I shall hope to
see you very soon and have a talk regarding business, Mr. Ridgway," he
"Whenever you like, Mr. Harley." To the girl he said merely, "Good night,"
and was gone.
The old man put an arm affectionately across his young wife's shoulder.
"Shall we read another psalm, my dear? Or are you tired?"
She repressed the little shiver that ran through her before she answered
wearily. "I am a little tired. If you don't mind I would like to retire,
He saw her as far as the door of her apartments and left her with her maid
after he had kissed the cold cheek she dutifully turned toward him.
CHAPTER 10. HARLEY MAKES A PROPOSITION
Apparently the head of the great trust intended to lose no time in having
that business talk with Ridgway, which he had graciously promised the
latter. Eaton and his chief were busy over some applications for leases
when Smythe came into the room with a letter
"Messenger-boy brought it; said it was important," he explained.
Ridgway ripped open the envelope, read through the letter swiftly, and
tossed it to Eaton. His eyes had grown hard and narrow
"Write to Mr. Hobart that I am sorry I haven't time to call on Mr. Harley
at the Consolidated offices, as he suggests. Add that I expect to be in my
offices all morning, and shall be glad to make an appointment to talk with
Mr. Harley here, if he thinks he has any business with me that needs a
Smythe's leathery face had as much expression as a blank wall, but Eaton
gasped. The unparalleled audacity of flinging the billionaire's overture
back in his face left him for the moment speechless. He knew that Ridgway
had tempted Providence a hundred times without coming to disaster, but
surely this was going too far. Any reasonable compromise with the great
trust builder would be cause for felicitation. He had confidence in his
chief to any point in reason, but he could not blind himself to the fact
that the wonderful successes he had gained were provisional rather than
final. He likened them to Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah raid, very
successful in irritating, disorganizing and startling the enemy, but with
no serious bearing on the final inevitable result. In the end Harley would
crush his foes if he set in motion the whole machinery of his limitless
resources. That was Eaton's private opinion, and he was very much of the
feeling that this was an opportune time to get in out of the rain.
"Don't you think we had better consider that answer before we send it,
Waring?" he suggested in a low voice.
His chief nodded a dismissal to the secretary before answering.
"I have considered it."
"But--surely it isn't wise to reject his advances before we know what they
"I haven't rejected them. I've simply explained that we are doing business
on equal terms. Even if I meant to compromise, it would pay me to let him
know he doesn't own me."
"He may decide not to offer his proposition."
"It wouldn't worry me if he did."
Eaton knew he must speak now if his protest were to be of any avail. "It
would worry me a good deal. He has shown an inclination to be friendly.
This answer is like a slap in the face."
"Doesn't it look like that to you?"
Ridgway leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtfully at his friend.
"Want to sell out, Steve?"
"Why--what do you mean?" asked the surprised treasurer.
"If you do, I'll pay anything in reason for your stock." He got up and
began to pace the floor with long deliberate strides. "I'm a born gambler,
Steve. It clears my head to take big chances. Give me a good fight on my
hands with the chances against me, and I'm happy. You've got to take the
world by the throat and shake success out of it if you're going to score
heavily. That's how Harley made good years ago. Read the story of his life.
See the chances he took. He throttled combinations a dozen times as strong
as his. Some people say he was an accident. Don't you believe it. Accidents
like him don't happen. He won because he was the
biggest, brainiest, most daring and unscrupulous operator in the field.
That's why I'm going to win--if I do win."
"Yes, if you win."
"Well, that's the chance I take," flung back the other as he swung
buoyantly across the room. "But YOU don't need to take it. If you want, you
can get out now at the top market price. I feel it in my bones I'm going to
win; but if you don't feel it, you'd be a fool to take chances."
Eaton's mercurial temperament responded with a glow.
"No, sir. I'll sit tight. I'm no quitter."
"Good for you, Steve. I knew it. I'll tell you now that I would have hated
like hell to see you leave me. You're the only man I can rely on down to
the ground, twenty-four hours of every day."
The answer was sent, and Eaton's astonishment at his chief's temerity
changed to amazement when the great Harley, pocketing his pride, asked for
an appointment, and appeared at the offices of the Mesa Ore-producing
Company at the time set. That Ridgway, who was busy with one of his
superintendents, should actually keep the most powerful man in the country
waiting in an outer office while he finished his business with Dalton
seemed to him insolence florescent.
"Whom the gods would destroy," he murmured to himself as the only possible
explanation, for the reaction of his enthusiasm was on him.
Nor did his chief's conference with Dalton show any leaning toward
compromise. Ridgway had sent for his engineer to outline a program in
regard to some ore-veins in the Sherman Bell, that had for months been in
litigation between the two big interests at Mesa. Neither party to the suit
had waited for the legal decision, but each of them had put a large force
at work stoping out the ore. Occasional conflicts had occurred when the men
of the opposing factions came in touch, as they frequently did, since crews
were at work below and above each other at every level. But none of these
as yet had been serious.
"Dalton, I was down last night to see that lease of Heyburn's on the
twelfth level of the Taurus. The Consolidated will tap our workings about
noon to-day, just below us. I want you to turn on them the air-drill pipe
as soon as they break through. Have a lot of loose rock there mixed with a
barrel of lime. Let loose the air pressure full on the pile, and give it to
their men straight. Follow them up to the end of their own tunnel when they
retreat, and hold it against them. Get control of the levels above and
below, too. Throw as many men as you can into their workings, and gut them
till there is no ore left."
Dalton had the fighting edge. "You'll stand by me, no matter what happens?"
"Nothing will happen. They're not expecting trouble. But if anything does,
I'll see you through. Eaton is your witness that I ordered it."
"Then it's as good as done, Mr. Ridgway," said Dalton, turning away.
"There may be bloodshed," suggested Eaton dubiously, in a low voice.
Ridgway's laugh had a touch of affectionate contempt. "Don't cross bridges
till you get to them, Steve. Haven't you discovered, man, that the bold
course is always the safe one? It's the quitter that loses out every time.
The strong man gets there; the weak one falls down. It's as invariable as
the law of gravity." He got up and stretched his broad shoulders in a deep
breath. "Now for Mr. Harley. Send him in, Eaton.
That morning Simon Harley had done two things for many years foreign to his
experience: He had gone to meet another man instead of making the man come
to him, and he had waited the other man's pleasure in an outer office. That
he had done so implied a strong motive.
Ridgway waved Harley to a chair without rising to meet him. The eyes of the
two men fastened, wary and unwavering. They might have been jungle beasts
of prey crouching for the attack, so tense was their attention. The man
from Broadway was the first to speak.
"I have called, Mr. Ridgway, to arrange, if possible, a compromise. I need
hardly say this is not my usual method, but the circumstances are extremely
unusual. I rest under so great a personal obligation to you that I am
willing to overlook a certain amount of youthful presumption." His teeth
glittered behind a lip smile, intended to give the right accent to the
paternal reproof. "My personal obligation--"
"What obligation? I left you to die in the snow.',
"You forget what you did for Mrs. Harley."
"You may eliminate that," retorted the younger man curtly. "You are under
no obligations whatever to me."
"That is very generous of you, Mr. Ridgway, but--"
Ridgway met his eyes directly, cutting his sentence as with a knife.
"'Generous' is the last word to use. It is not a question of generosity at
all. What I mean is that the thing I did was done with no reference
whatever to you. It is between me and her alone. I refuse to consider it as
a service to you, as having anything at all to do with you. I told you that
before. I tell you again."
Harley's spirit winced. This bold claim to a bond with his wife that
excluded him, the scornful thrust of his enemy--he was already beginning to
consider him in that light rather than as a victim--had touched the one
point of human weakness in this money-making Juggernaut. He saw himself for
the moment without illusions, an old man and an unlovable one, without near
kith or kin. He was bitterly aware that the child he had married had been
sold to him by her guardian, under fear of imminent ruin, before her
ignorance of the world had given her experience to judge for herself. The
money and the hidden hunger of sentiment he wasted on her brought him only
timid thanks and wan obedience. But for this man, with his hateful,
confident youth, he had seen the warm smile touch her lips and the delicate
color rose her cheeks. Nay, he had seen more her arms around his neck and
her, warm breath on his cheek. They had lived romance, these two, in the
days they had been alone together. They had shared danger and the joys of
that Bohemia of youth from which he was forever excluded. It was his
resolve to wipe out by financial favors--he could ruin the fellow later if
need be--any claims of Ridgway upon her gratitude or her foolish
imagination. He did not want the man's appeal upon her to carry the
similitude of martyrdom as well as heroism.
"Yet, the fact remains that it was a service" --his thin lips smiled. "I
must be the best judge of that, I think. I want to be perfectly frank, Mr.
Ridgway. The Consolidated is an auxiliary enterprise so far as I am
concerned, but I have always made it a rule to look after details when it
became necessary. I came to Montana to crush you. I have always regarded
you as a menace to our legitimate interests, and I had quite determined to
make an end of it. You are a good fighter, and you've been on the ground in
person, which counts for a great deal. But you must know that if I give
myself to it in earnest, you are a ruined man."
The Westerner laughed hardily. "I hear you say it."
"But you don't believe," added the other quietly. "Many men have heard and
not believed. They have KNOWN when it was too late.
"If you don't mind, I'll buy my experience instead of borrowing it,"
Ridgway flung back flippantly.
"One moment, Mr. Ridgway. I have told you my purpose in coming to Montana.
That purpose no longer exists. Circumstances have completely altered my
intentions. The finger of God is in it. He has not brought us together thus
strangely, except to serve some purpose of His own. I think I see that
purpose. 'The stone which the builders refused is become the headstone of
the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes,'" he
"I am convinced that it is a waste of good material to crush you; therefore
I desire to effect a consolidation with you, buy all the other copper
interests of any importance in the country, and put you at the head of the
In spite of himself, Ridgway's face betrayed him. It was a magnificent
opportunity, the thing he had dreamed of as the culmination of a lifetime
of fighting. Nobody knew better than he on how precarious a footing he
stood, on how slight a rock his fortunes might be wrecked. Here was his
chance to enter that charmed, impregnable inner circle of finance that in
effect ruled the nation. That Harley's suave friendliness would bear
watching he did not doubt for a moment, but, once inside, so his vital
youth told him proudly, he would see to it that the billionaire did not
betray him. A week ago he could have asked nothing better than this chance
to bloat himself into a some-day colossus. But now the thing stuck in his
gorge. He understood the implied obligation. Payment for his service to
Aline Harley was to be given, and the ledger
balanced. Well, why not? Had he not spent the night in a chaotic agony of
renunciation? But to renounce voluntarily was one thing, to be bought off
He looked up and met Harley's thin smile, the smile that on Wall Street was
a synonym for rapacity and heartlessness, in the memory of which men had
committed murder and suicide. On the instant there jumped between him and
his ambition the face that had worked magic on him. What a God's pity that
such a lamb should be cast to this ravenous wolf! He felt again her arms
creeping round his neck, the divine trust of her lovely eyes. He had saved
her when this man who called himself her husband had left her to perish in
the storm. He had made her happy, as she had never been in all her starved
life. Had she not promised never to forget, and was there not a deeper
promise in her wistful eyes that the years could not wipe out? She was his
by every right of natural law. By God! he would not sell his freedom of
choice to this white
"I seldom make mistakes in my judgment of men, Mr. Ridgway," the oily voice
ran on. "No small share of such success as it has been given me to attain
has been due to this instinct for
putting my finger on the right man. I am assured that in you I find one
competent for the great work lying before you. The opportunity is waiting;
I furnish it, and you the untiring energy of youth to make the most of the
chance." His wolfish smile bared the tusks for a moment. "I find myself not
so young as I was. The great work I have started is well under way. I must
trust its completion to younger and stronger
hands than mine. I intend to rest, to devote myself to my home, more
directly to such philanthropic and educational work as God has committed to
The Westerner gave him look for look, his eyes burning to get over the
impasse of the expressionless mask no man had ever penetrated. He began
to see why nobody had ever understood Harley. He knew there would be no
rest for that consuming energy this side of the grave. Yet the man talked
as if he believed his own glib lies.
"Consolidated is the watchword of the age; it means elimination of ruinous
competition, and consequent harmony and reduced expense in management. Mr.
Ridgway, may I count you with us? Together we should go far. Do you say
peace or war?"
The younger man rose, leaning forward with his strong, sinewy hands
gripping the table. His face was pale with the repression of a rage that
had been growing intense. "I say war, and without quarter. I don't believe
you can beat me. I defy you to the test. And if you should--even then I had
rather go down fighting you than win at your side."
Simon Harley had counted acceptance a foregone conclusion, but he never
winked a lash at the ringing challenge of his opponent. He met his defiance
with an eye cold and steady as jade.
"As you please, Mr. Ridgway. I wash my hands of your ruin, and when you are
nothing but a broken gambler, you will remember that I offered you the
greatest chance that ever came to a man of your age. You are one of those
men, I see, that would rather be first in hell than second in heaven. So be
it." He rose and buttoned his overcoat.
"Say, rather, that I choose to go to hell my own master and not as the
slave of Simon Harley," retorted the Westerner bitterly.
Ridgway's eyes blazed, but those of the New Yorker were cool and fishy.
"There is no occasion for dramatics," he said, the cruel, passionless smile
at his thin lips. "I make you a business proposition and you decline it.
That is all. I wish you good day."
The other strode past him and flung the door open. He had never before
known such a passion of hatred as raged within him. Throughout his life
Simon Harley had left in his wake wreckage and despair. He was the
best-hated man of his time, execrated by the working classes, despised by
the country at large, and distrusted by his fellow exploiters. Yet, as a
business opponent, Ridgway had always taken him impersonally, had counted
him for a condition rather than an individual. But with the new influence
that had come into his life, reason could not reckon, and when it was
dominant with him, Harley stood embodied as the wolf ready to devour his
For he couldn't get away from her. Wherever he went he carried with him the
picture of her sweet, shy smile, her sudden winsome moments, the deep light
in her violet eyes; and in the background the sinister bared fangs of the
wild beast dogging her patiently, and yet lovingly.
CHAPTER 11. VIRGINIA INTERVENES
James K. Mott, local chief attorney for the Consolidated, was struggling
with a white tie before the glass and crumpling it atrociously.
"This dress-suit habit is the most pernicious I know. It's sapping the
liberties of the American people," he grunted at last in humorous despair.
"Let me, dear."
His wife tied it with neatness and dispatch, and returned to the inspection
of how her skirt hung.
"Mr. Harley asked me to thank you for calling on his wife. He says she gets
lonesome during the day while he is away so much. I was wondering if you
couldn't do something for her so that she could meet some of the ladies of
Mesa. A luncheon, or something of that sort, you know. Have you seen my
"It's on that drawer beside your hat-box. She told me she would rather not.
I suggested it. But I'll tell you what I could do: take Virginia Balfour
round to see her. She's lively and good company, and knows some of the
people Mrs. Harley knows."
"That's a good idea. I want Harley to know that we appreciate his
suggestions, and are ready to do our part. He has shown a disposition to
consult me on a good many things that ought to lie in Hobart's sphere
rather than mine. Something's going to drop. Now, I like Hobart, but I want
to show myself in a receptive mood for advancement when his head falls, as
it certainly will soon."
* * * * * * *
Virginia responded eagerly to Mrs. Mott's suggestion that they call
together on Mrs. Harley at the hotel.
"My dear, you have saved my life. I've been dying of curiosity, and I
haven't been able to find vestige of an excuse to hang my call on. I
couldn't ask Mr. Ridgway to introduce me, could I?"
"No, I don't see that you could," smiled Mrs. Mott, a motherly little woman
with pleasant brown eyes. "I suppose Mr. Ridgway isn't exactly on calling
terms with Mr. Harley's wife, even if he did save her life."
"Oh, Mr. Ridgway isn't the man to let a little thing like a war a
outrance stand in the way of his social duties, especially when those
duties happen to be inclinations, too. I understand he DID call the evening
of their arrival here."
"He didn't!" screamed Mrs. Mott, who happened to possess a voice of the
normal national register. "And what did Mr. Harley say?"
"Ah, that's what one would like to know. My informant deponeth not beyond
the fact unadorned. One may guess there must have been undercurrents of
embarrassment almost as pronounced as if the President were to invite his
Ananias Club to a pink tea. I can imagine Mr. Harley saying: 'Try this
cake, Mr. Ridgway; it isn't poisoned;' and Mr. Ridgway answering: 'Thanks!
After you, my dear Gaston."'
Miss Balfour's anxiety to meet the young woman her fiance had rescued from
the blizzard was not unnatural. Her curiosity was tinged with frank envy,
though jealousy did not enter into it at all. Virginia had come West
explicitly to take the country as she found it, and she had found it,
unfortunately, no more hazardous than little old New York, though certainly
a good deal more diverting to a young woman with democratic proclivities
that still survived the energetic weeding her training had subjected them
She did not quite know what she had expected to find in Mesa. Certainly she
knew that Indians were no longer on the map, and cowboys were kicking up
their last dust before vanishing, but she had supposed that they had left
compensations in their wake. On the principle that adventures are to the
adventurous, her life should have been a whirl of hairbreadth escapes.
But what happened? She took all sorts of chances without anything coming of
it. Her pirate fiance was the nearest approach to an adventure she had
flushed, and this pink-and-white chit of a married schoolgirl had borrowed
him for the most splendid bit of excitement that would happen in a hundred
years. She had been spinning around the country in motor-cars for months
without the sign of a blizzard, but the chit had hit one the first time. It
wasn't fair. That was her blizzard by rights. In spirit, at least, she had
"spoken for it," as she and her brother used to say when they were children
of some coveted treasure not yet available. Virginia was quite sure that if
she had seen Waring Ridgway at the inspired moment when he was plowing
through the drifts with Mrs. Harley in his arms--only, of course, it would
have been she instead of Mrs. Harley, and he would not have been carrying
her so long as she could stand and take it--she would have fallen in love
with him on the spot. And those two days in the cabin on half-ration they
would have put an end forever to her doubts and to that vision of Lyndon
Hobart that persisted in her mind. What luck glace' some people did have!
But Virginia discovered the chit to be rather a different personality than
she had supposed. In truth, she lost her heart to her at once. She could
have stood out against Aline's mere good looks and been the stiffer for
them. She was no MAN, to be moved by the dark hair's dusky glory, the charm
of soft girlish lines, the effect of shy unsophistication that might be
merely the highest art of social experience. But back of the sweet,
trembling mouth that seemed to be asking to be kissed, of the pathetic
appeal for friendliness from the big, deep violet eyes, was a quality of
soul not to be counterfeited. Miss Balfour had furbished up the distant
hauteur of the society manner she had at times used effectively, but she
found herself instead taking the beautiful, forlorn little creature in her
"Oh, my dear; my dear, how glad I am that dreadful blizzard did not hurt you!"
Aline clung to this gracious young queen as if she had known her a
lifetime. "You are so good to me everybody is. You know how Mr. Ridgway
saved me. If it had not been for him I should have died. I didn't care--I
wanted to die in peace, I think--but he wouldn't let me."
"I should think not."
"If you only knew him--perhaps you do."
"A little," confessed Virginia, with a flash of merry eyes at Mrs. Mott.
"He is the bravest man--and the strongest."
"Yes. He is both," agreed his betrothed, with pride.
"His tenderness, his unselfishness, his consideration for others--did you
ever know anybody like him for these things?"
"Never," agreed Virginia, with the mental reservations that usually
accompanied her skeptical smile. She was getting at her fiance from a novel
point of view.
"And so modest, with all his strength and courage.',
"It's almost a fault in him," she murmured.
"The woman that marries him will be blessed among women."
"I count it a great privilege," said Miss Balfour absently, but she pulled
up with a hurried addendum: "To have known him."
"Indeed, yes. If one met more men like him this would be a better world."
"It would certainly be a different world."
It was a relief to Aline to talk, to put into words the external skeleton
facts of the surging current that had engulfed her existence since she had
turned a corner upon this unexpected consciousness of life running strong
and deep. Harley was not a confidant she could have chosen under the most
favorable circumstances, and her instinct told her that in this matter he
was particularly impossible. But to Virginia Balfour--Mrs. Mott had to
leave early to preside over the Mesa Woman's Club, and her friend allowed
herself to be persuaded to stay longer--she did not find it at all hard to
talk. Indeed, she murmured into the sympathetic ear of this astute young
searcher of hearts more than her words alone said, with the result that
Virginia guessed what she herself had not yet quite found out, though her
heart was hovering tremblingly on the brink of discovery.
But Virginia's sympathy for the trouble fate had in store for this helpless
innocent consisted with an alert appreciation of its obvious relation to
herself. What she meant to discover was the attitude toward the situation
of one neither particularly innocent nor helpless. Was he, too, about to be
"caught in the coil of a God's romances," or was he merely playing on the
vibrating strings of an untaught heart?
It was in part to satisfy this craving for knowledge that she wrote Ridgway
a note as soon as she reached home. It said:
MY DEAR RECREANT LAGGARD: If you are not too busy playing Sir Lancelot to
fair dames in distress, or splintering lances with the doughty husbands of
these same ladies, I pray you deign to allow your servant to feast her eyes
upon her lord's face. Hopefully and gratefully yours, VIRGINIA.
P. S.--Have you forgotten, sir, that I have not seen you since that
terrible blizzard and your dreadful imprisonment in Fort Salvation?
P. P. S.--I have seen somebody else, though. She's a dear, and full of your
praises. I hardly blame you.
She thought that ought to bring him soon, and it did.
"I've been busy night and day," he apologized
when they met.
Virginia gave him a broadside demurely.
"I suppose your social duties do take up a good deal of your time."
"My social duties? Oh, I see!" He laughed appreciation of her hit.
Evidently through her visit she knew a good deal more than he had expected.
Since he had nothing to hide from her except his feelings, this did not
displease him. "My duties in that line have been confined to one formal
She sympathized with him elaborately. "Calls of that sort do bore men so.
I'll not forget the first time you called on me."
"Nor I," he came back gallantly.
"I marveled how you came through alive, but I learned then that a man can't
be bored to death."
"I came again nevertheless," he smiled. "And again--and again."
"I am still wondering why."
"'Oh, wad some power the giffie gite us
To see ourselves as others see us!"'
he quoted with a bow.
"Is that a compliment?" she asked dubiously.
"I have never heard it used so before. Anyhow, it is a little hackneyed for
anybody so original as you."
"It was the best I could do offhand."
She changed the subject abruptly. "Has the new campaign of the war begun yet?"
"Well, we're maneuvering for position."
"You've seen him. How does he impress you?"
"The same as he does others. A hard, ruthless fighter. Unless all signs
fail, he is an implacable foe."
"But you are not afraid?"
He smiled. "Do I look frightened?"
"No, you remind me of something a burglar once told me--"
"A burglar--a reformed burglar!" She gave him a saucy flash of her dark
eyes. "Do you think I don't know any lawbreakers except those I have met in
this State? I came across this one in a mission where I used to think I was
doing good. He said it was not the remuneration of the profession that had
attracted him, but the excitement. It was dreadfully frowned down upon and
underpaid. He could earn more at his old trade of a locksmith, but it
seemed to him that every impediment to success was a challenge to him. Poor
man, he relapsed again, and they put him in Sing Sing. I was so interested
in him, too."
"You've had some queer friends in your time," he laughed, but without a
trace of disapproval.
"I have some queer ones yet," she thrust back.
"Let's not talk of them," he cried, in pretended alarm.
Her inextinguishable gaiety brought back the smile he liked. "We'll talk of
SOME ONE else--some one of interest to us both." |
"I am always ready to talk of Miss Virginia Balfour," he said,
She smiled her disdain of his obtuseness in an elaborately long survey of him.
"Well?" he wanted to know.
"That's how you look--very well, indeed. I believe the storm was greatly
exaggerated," she remarked.
"Isn't that rather a good definition for a blizzard--a greatly exaggerated
"You don't look the worse for wear--not the wreck I expected to behold."
"Ah, you should have seen me before I saw you."
"Thank you. I have no doubt you find the sight of my dear face as
refreshing as your favorite cocktail. I suppose that is why it has taken
you three days after your return to reach me and then by special request."
"A pleasure delayed is twice a pleasure anticipation and realization."
Miss Balfour made a different application of his text, her eyes trained on
him with apparent indifference. "I've been enjoying a delayed pleasure
myself. I went to see her this afternoon."
He did not ask whom, but his eyes brightened.
"She's worth a good deal of seeing, don't you think?"
"Oh, I'm in love with her, but it doesn't follow you ought to be."
"Am I?"--he smiled.
"You are either in love or else you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"An interesting thing about you is your point of view. Now, anybody else
would tell me I ought to be ashamed if I am in love."
"I'm not worried about your morals," she scoffed. "It's that poor child I'm
"I think of her a good deal, too."
"Ah! and does she think of you a good deal That's what we must guard against."
"Yes. You see I'm her confidante." She told it him with sparkling eyes, for
the piquancy of it amused her. Not every engaged young woman can hear her
lover's praises sung by the woman whose life he has saved with the proper
amount of romance.
She nodded, laughing at him. "I didn't get a chance to tell her about me."
"I suppose not."
"I think I'll tell her about you, though--just what a ruthless barbarian
His eyes gleamed "I wish you would. I'd like to find out whether she would
believe you. I have tried to tell her myself, but the honest truth is, I
"You haven't any right to let her know you are interested in her." She
interrupted him before he could speak. "Don't trifle with her, Waring.
She's not like other girls."
He met her look gravely. "I wouldn't trifle with her for any reason."
Her quick rejoinder overlapped his sentence. "Then you love her!"
"Is that an alternative?"
"Faith, my lady, you're frank!"
"I'm not mealy-mouthed. You don't think yourself scrupulous, do you?"
"I'm afraid I am not."
"I don't mind so much your being in love with HER, though it's not
flattering to my vanity, but --" She stopped, letting him make the
"Do you think that likely?" he asked, the color flushing his face.
He wondered how much Aline had told this confidante. Certain specific
things he knew she had not revealed, but had she let her guess the
situation between them?
She compromised with her conscience. "I don't know. She is romantic--and
Simon Harley isn't a very fertile field for romance, I suppose."
"You would imply "
"Oh, you have points, and nobody knows them better than Waring Ridgway,"
she told him jauntily. "But you needn't play that role to the address of
Aline Harley. Try ME. I'm immune to romance. Besides, I'm engaged to you,"
she added, laughing at the inconsequence the fact seemed to have for both
"I'm afraid I can't help the situation, for if I've been playing a part, it
has been an unconscious one."
"That's the worst of it. When you star as Waring Ridgway you are most
dangerous. What I want is total abstinence."
"You'd rather I didn't see her at all?"
Virginia dimpled, a gleam of reminiscent laughter in her eyes. "When I was
in Denver last month a Mrs. Smythe--it was Smith before her husband struck
it rich last year--sent out cards for a bridge afternoon. A Mrs. Mahoney
had just come to the metropolis from the wilds of Cripple Creek. Her
husband had struck a gold-mine, too, and Mr. Smythe was under obligations
to him. Anyhow, she was a stranger, and Mrs. Smythe took her in. It was
Mrs. Mahoney's introduction to bridge, and she did not know she was playing
for keeps. When the afternoon was over, Mrs. Smythe hovered about her with
the sweetest sympathy. 'So sorry you had such a horrid run of cards, dear.
Better luck next time.' It took Mrs. Mahoney some time to understand that
her social afternoon had cost one hundred and twenty dollars, but next day
her husband sent a check for one hundred and twenty-two dollars to Mrs.
Smythe. The extra two dollars were for the refreshments, he naively
explained, adding that since his wife was so poor a gambler as hardly to be
able to keep professionals interested, he would not feel offended if Mrs.
Smythe omitted her in future from her social functions."
Ridgway took it with a smile. "Simon Harley brought his one hundred and
twenty-two dollars in person."
"He didn't! When?"
"This morning. He proposed benevolent assimilation as a solution of our
"He offered to consolidate all the copper interests of the country and put
me at the head of the resulting combine."
"If you wouldn't play bridge with Mrs. Harley?"
"And you "
"Declined to pledge myself."
She clapped her hands softly. "Well done, Waring Ridgway! There are times
when you are magnificent, when I could put you on a pedestal, you great
big, unafraid man. But you mustn't play with her, just the same."
"Why mustn't I?"
"For her sake."
He frowned past her into space, his tight-shut jaw standing out saliently.
"You're right, Virginia. I've been thinking so myself. I'll keep off the
grass," he said, at last.
"You're a good fellow," slipped out impulsively.
"Well, I know where there's another," he said. "I ought to think myself a
Virginia lifted quizzical eyebrows. "Ought to! That tastes of duty. Don't
let it come to that. We'll take it off if you like." She touched the
solitaire he had given her.
"Ah, but I don't like"--he smiled.
CHAPTER 12. ALINE MAKES A DISCOVERY
Aline pulled her horse to a walk. "You know Mr. Ridgway pretty well, don't
Miss Balfour gently flicked her divided skirt with a riding-whip,
considering whether she might be said to know him well. "Yes, I think I
do," she ventured.
"Mrs. Mott says you and he are great friends, that you seem very fond of
"Goodness me! I hope I don't seem fond of him. I don't think 'fond' is
exactly the word, anyway, though we are good friends." Quickly, keenly, her
covert glance swept Aline; then, withdrawing her eyes, she flung her little
bomb. "I suppose we may be said to appreciate each other. At any rate, we
Mrs. Harley's pony came to an abrupt halt. "I thought I had dropped my
whip," she explained, in a low voice not quite true.
Virginia, though she executed an elaborate survey of the scenery, could not
help noticing that the color had washed from her friend's face. "I love
this Western country--its big sweep of plains, of low, rolling hills, with
a background of mountains. One can see how it gets into a man's blood so
that the East seems insipid ever afterward," discoursed Miss Balfour.
A question trembled on Aline's blanched lips.
"Say it," permitted Virginia.
"Do you mean that you are engaged to him--that you are going to marry Mr.
Ridgway--without caring for him?"
"I don't mean that at all. I like him immensely."
"But--do you love him?" It was almost a cry--these low words wrung from the
"No fair," warned her friend smilingly.
Aline rode in silence, her stricken face full of trouble. How could she,
from her glass house, throw stones at a loveless marriage? But this was
different from her own case! Nobody was worthy to marry her hero without
giving the best a woman had to give. If she were a girl--a sudden tide of
color swept her face; a wild, delirious tingle of joy flooded her
veins--oh, if she were a girl, what a wealth of love could she give him!
Clarity of vision had come to her in a blinding flash. Untutored of life,
the knowledge of its meaning had struck home of the suddenest. She knew her
heart now that it was too late; knew that she could never be indifferent to
what concerned Waring Ridgway.
Aline caught at the courage behind her childishness, and accomplished her
congratulations "You will be happy, I am sure. He is good."
"Goodness does not impress me as his most outstanding quality," smiled Miss
"No, one never feels it emphasized. He is too He is too free of selfishness
to make much of his goodness. But one can't help feeling it in everything
he does and says."
"Does Mr. Harley agree with you? Does he feel it?"
"I don't think Mr. Harley understands him. I can't help thinking that he is
prejudiced." She was becoming mistress of her voice and color again.
"And you are not?"
"Perhaps I am. In my thought of him he would still be good, even if he had
done all the bad things his enemies accuse him of."
Virginia gave her up. This idealized interpretation of her betrothed was
not the one she had, but for Aline it might be the true one. At least, she
could not disparage him very consistently under the circumstances.
"Isn't there a philosophy current that we find in people what we look for
in them? Perhaps that is why you and Mr. Harley read in Mr. Ridgway men so
diverse as you do. It is not impossible you are both right and both wrong.
Heaven knows, I suppose. At least, we poor mortals fog around enough when
we sit in judgment." And Virginia shrugged the matter from her careless
But Aline seemed to have a difficulty in getting away from the subject.
"And you--what do you read?" she asked timidly.
"Sometimes one thing and sometimes another. To-day I see him as a living
refutation of all the copy-book rules to success. He shatters the maxims
with a touch-and-go manner that is fascinating in its immorality. A
gambler, a plunger, an adventurer, he wins when a careful, honest business
man would fail to a certainty."
Aline was amazed. "You misjudge him. I am sure you do. But if you think
this of him why--"
"Why do I marry him? I have asked myself that a hundred times, my dear. I
wish I knew. I have told you what I see in him to-day; but tomorrow--why,
to-morrow I shall see him an altogether different man. He will be perhaps a
radiating center of altruism, devoted to his friends, a level-headed
protector of the working classes, a patron of the arts in his own
clearminded, unlettered way. But whatever point of view one gets at him, he
spares one dullness. Will you explain to me, my dear, why picturesque
rascality is so much more likable than humdrum virtue?"
Mrs. Harley's eyes blazed. "And you can talk this way of the man you are
going to marry, a man--" She broke off, her voice choked.
Miss Balfour was cool as a custard. "I can, my dear, and without the least
disloyalty. In point of fact, he asked me to tell you the kind of man I
think him. I'm trying to oblige him, you see."
"He asked you--to tell me this about him?" Aline pulled in her pony in
order to read with her astonished eyes the amused ones of her companion.
"Yes. He was afraid you were making too much of his saving you. He thinks
he won't do to set on a pedestal."
"Then I think all the more of him for his modesty."
"Don't invest too heavily on his modesty, my dear. He wouldn't be the man
he is if he owned much of that commodity."
"The man he is?"
"Yes, the man born to win, the man certain of himself no matter what the
odds against him.
He knows he is a man of destiny; knows quite well that there is something
big about him that dwarfs other men. I know it, too. Wherefore I seize my
opportunity. It would be a sin to let a man like that get away from one. I
could never forgive myself," she concluded airily.
"Don't you see any human, lovable things in him?" Aline's voice was an
"He is the staunchest friend conceivable. No trouble is too great for him
to take for one he likes, and where once he gives his trust he does not
take it back. Oh, for all his force, he is intensely human! Take his
vanity, my dear. It soars to heaven."
"If I cared for him I couldn't dissect his qualities as you do."
"That's because you are a triumph of the survival of nature and impulse
over civilization, in spite of its attempts to sap your freshness. For me,
I fear I'm a sophisticated daughter of a critical generation. If I weren't,
I should not hold my judgment so safely in my own keeping, but would
surrender it and my heart."
"There is something about the way you look at him that shocks me. One ought
not to let oneself believe all that seems easy to believe."
"That is your faith, but mine is a different one. You see, I'm a
Unitarian," returned Virginia blithely.
"He will make you love him if you marry him," sighed Aline, coming back to
Virginia nodded eagerly. "In my secret heart that is what I am hoping for,
"Unless there is another man," added Aline, as if alone with her thoughts.
Virginia was irritably aware of a flood of color beating into her cheeks.
"There isn't any other man," she said impatiently.
Yet she thought of Lyndon Hobart. Curiously enough, whenever she conceived
herself as marrying Ridgway, the reflex of her brain carried to her a
picture of Hobart, clean-handed, fine of instinct, with the inherited
inflections of voice and unconscious pride of caste that come from breeding
and not from cultivation. If he were not born to greatness, like his rival,
at least he satisfied her critical judgment of what a gentleman should be;