Part 4 out of 4
Consolidated or the Consolildated the State. With simple, telling force he
faced the insidious growth of the big copper company, showing how every
independent in the State was fighting for his business life against its
encroachments, and was bound to lose unless the opposition was a united
one. Let the independents obtain and keep control of the State politically
and the trust might be curbed; not otherwise. In eternal vigilance and in
union lay safety.
He sat down in silence more impressive than any applause. But after the
silence came a deluge of cheers, the thunder of them sweeping up and down
the long table like a summer storm across a lake.
Presently the flood-gates of talk were unloosed, and the conservatives
began to be heard. Opposition was futile because it was too late, they
claimed. A young Irishman, primed for the occasion, jumped to his feet with
an impassioned harangue that pedestaled Ridgway as the Washington of the
West. He showed how one man, in coalition with the labor-unions, had
succeeded in carrying the State against the big copper company; how he had
elected senators and governors, and legislators and judges. If one man
could so cripple the octopus, what could the best blood of the State,
standing together, not accomplish? He flung Patrick Henry and Robert Emmet
and Daniel Webster at their devoted
heads, demanding liberty or death with the bridled eloquence of his race.
But Ridgway was not such a tyro at the game of politics as to depend upon
speeches for results. His fine hand had been working quietly for months to
bring the malcontents into one camp, shaping every passion to which men are
heir to serve his purpose. As he looked down the table he could read in the
faces before him hatred, revenge, envy, fear, hope, avarice, recklessness,
and even love, as the motives which he must fuse to one common end. His
vanity stood on tiptoe at his superb skill in playing on men's wills. He
knew he could mold these men to work his desire, and the sequel showed he
When the votes were counted at the end of the bitter campaign that
followed, Simon Harley's candidates went down to disastrous defeat all over
the State, though he had spent money with a lavish hand. In Mesa County,
Ridgway had elected every one of his judges and retired to private life
those he could not influence.
Harley's grim lips tightened when the news reached him. "Very well," he
said to Mott "We'll see if these patriots can't be reached through their
stomachs better than their brains. Order every mill and mine and smelter of
the Consolidated closed to-night. Our employees have voted for this man
Ridgway. Let him feed them or let them starve."
"But the cost to you--won't it be enormous?" asked Mott, startled at his
chief's drastic decision.
Harley bared his fangs with a wolfish smile. "We'll make the public pay.
Our store-houses are full of copper. Prices will jump when the supply is
reduced fifty per cent. We'll sell at an advance, and clean up a few
millions out of the shut-down. Meanwhile we'll starve this patriotic State
It came to pass even as Harley had predicted. With the Consolidated mines
closed, copper, jumped up--up--up. The trust could sit still and coin money
without turning a hand, while its employees suffered in the long, bitter
Northern winter. All the troubles usually pursuant on a long strike began
to fall upon the families of the miners.
When a delegation from the miners' union came to discuss the situation with
Harley he met them blandly, with many platitudes of sympathy. He
regretted--he regretted exceedingly--the necessity that had been forced
upon him of closing the mines. He had delayed doing so in the hope that the
situation might be relieved. But it had grown worse, until he had been
forced to close. No, he was afraid he could not promise to reopen this
winter, unless something were done to ameliorate conditions in the court.
Work would begin at once, however, if the legislators would pass a bill
making it optional with any party to a suit to have the case transferred to
another judge in case he believed the bias of the presiding judge would be
prejudicial to an impartial hearing.
Ridgway was flung at once upon the defensive. His allies, the working men,
demanded of him that his legislature pass the bill wanted by Harley, in
order that work might recommence. He evaded their demands by proposing to
arbitrate his difficulties with the Consolidated, by offering to pay into
the union treasury hall a million dollars to help carry its members through
the winter. He argued to the committee that Harley was bluffing, that
within a few weeks the mines and smelters would again be running at their
full capacity; but when the pressure on the legislators he had elected
became so great that he feared they would be swept from their allegiance to
him, he was forced to yield to the clamor.
It was a great victory for Harley. Nobody recognized how great a one more
accurately than Waring Ridgway. The leader of the octopus had dogged him
over the shoulders of the people, had destroyed at a single blow one of his
two principal sources of power. He could no longer rely on the courts to
support him, regardless of justice.
Very well. If he could not play with cogged dice, he was gambler enough to
take the honest chances of the game without flinching. No despair rang in
his voice. The look in his eye was still warm and confident. Mesa
questioned him with glimpses friendly but critical. They found no fear in
his bearing, no hint of doubt in his indomitable assurance.
CHAPTER 22. "NOT GUILTY"--"GUILTY"
Ridgway's answer to the latest move of Simon Harley was to put him on trial
for his life to answer the charge of having plotted and instigated the
death of Vance Edwards. Not without reason, the defense had asked for a
change of venue, alleging the impossibility of securing a fair trial at
Mesa. The courts had granted the request and removed the case to Avalanche.
On the second day of the trial Aline sat beside her husband, a dainty
little figure of fear, shrinking from the observation focused upon her from
all sides. The sight of her forlorn sensitiveness so touched Ridgway's
heart that he telegraphed Virginia Balfour to come and help support her
through the ordeal.
Virginia came, and henceforth two women, both of them young
and unusually attractive, gave countenance to the man being tried for his
life. Not that he needed their support for himself, but for the effect they
might have on the jury. Harley had shrewdly guessed that the white-faced
child he had married, whose pathetic beauty was of so haunting a type, and
whose big eyes were so quick to reflect emotions, would be a valuable asset
to set against the black-clad widow of Vance Edwards.
For its effect upon himself, so far as the trial was concerned, Simon
Harley cared not a whit. He needed no bolstering. The old wrecker carried
an iron face to the ordeal. His leathern heart was as foreign to fear as to
pity. The trial was an unpleasant bore to him, but nothing worse. He had,
of course, cast an anchor of caution to windward by taking care to have the
jury fixed. For even though his array of lawyers was a formidably famous
one, he was no such child as to trust his case to a Western jury on its
merits while the undercurrent of popular opinion was setting so strongly
against him. Nor had he neglected to see that the court-room was packed
with detectives to safeguard him in the event that the sympathy of the
attending miners should at any time become demonstrative against him.
The most irritating feature of the trial to the defendant was the presence
of the little woman in black, whose burning eyes never left for long his
face. He feigned to be unconscious of her regard, but nobody in the
court-room was more sure of that look of enduring, passionate hatred than
its victim. He had made her a widow, and her heart cried for revenge. That
was the story the eyes told dumbly.
From first to last the case was bitterly contested, and always with the
realization among those present--except for that somber figure in black,
whose beady eyes gimleted the defendant--that it was another move in the
fight between the rival copper kings. The district attorney had worked up
his case very carefully, not with much hope of securing a conviction, but
to mass a total of evidence that would condemn the Consolidated
leader-before the world.
To this end, the foreman, Donleavy, had been driven by a process of
sweating to turn State's evidence against his master. His testimony made
things look black for Harley, but when Hobart took the stand, a palpably
unwilling witness, and supported his evidence, the Ridgway adherents were
openly jubilant. The lawyers for the defense made much of the fact that
Hobart had just left the Consolidated service after a disagreement with the
defendant and had been elected to the senate by his enemies, but the
impression made by his moderation and the fine restraint of his manner,
combined with his reputation for scrupulous honesty, was not to be shaken
by the subtle innuendos and blunt aspersions of the legal array he faced.
Nor did the young district attorney content himself with Hobart's
testimony. He put his successor, Mott, on the stand, and gave him a bad
hour while he tried to wring the admission out of him that Harley had
personally ordered the attack on the miners of the Taurus. But for the
almost constant objections of the opposing counsel, which gave him time to
recover himself, the prosecuting attorney would have succeeded.
Ridgway, meeting him by chance after luncheon at the foot of the hotel
elevator--for in a town the size of Avalanche, Waring had found it
necessary to put up at the same hotel as the enemy or take second best, an
alternative not to his fastidious taste--rallied him upon the predicament
in which he had found himself.
"It's pretty hard to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, without making indiscreet admissions about one's friends, isn't it?"
he asked, with his genial smile.
"Did I make any indiscreet admissions?"
"I don't say you did, though you didn't look as if you were enjoying
yourself. I picked up an impression that you had your back to the wall;
seemed to me the jury rather sized it up that way, Mott."
"We'll know what the jury thinks in a few days."
"Shall we?" the other laughed aloud. "Now, I'm wondering whether we shall
know what they really think."
"If you mean that the jury has been tampered with it is your duty to place
your evidence before the court, Mr. Ridgway."
"When I hear the verdict I'll tell you what I think about the jury,"
returned the president of the Ore-producing Company, with easy impudence as
he passed into the elevator.
At the second floor Waring left it and turned toward the ladies' parlor. It
had seemed to him that Aline had looked very tired and frail at the morning
session, and he wanted to see Virginia about arranging to have them take a
long drive into the country that afternoon. He had sent his card up with a
penciled note to the effect that he would wait for her in the parlor.
But when he stepped through the double doorway of the ornate room it was to
become aware of a prior occupant. She was reclining on a divan at the end
of the large public room. Neither lying nor sitting, but propped up among a
dozen pillows with head and limbs inert and the long lashes drooped on the
white cheeks, Aline looked the pathetic figure of a child fallen asleep
from sheer exhaustion after a long strain.
Since he was the man he was, unhampered by any too fine sense of what was
fitting, he could no more help approaching than he could help the
passionate pulse of pity that stirred in his heart at sight of her forlorn
Her eyes opened to find his grave compassion looking down at her. She
showed no surprise at his presence, though she had not previously known of
it. Nor did she move by even so much as the stir of a limb.
"This is wearing you out," he said, after the long silence in which her
gaze was lost helplessly in his. "You must go home--away from it all. You
must forget it, and if it ever crosses your mind think of it as something
with which you have no concern."
"How can I do that--now."
The last word slipped out not of her will, but from an undisciplined heart.
It stood for the whole tangled story of her troubles: the unloved marriage
which had bereft her of her heritage of youth and joy, the love that had
found her too late and was so poignant a fount of distress to her, the web
of untoward circumstance in which she was so inextricably entangled.
"How did you ever come to do it?" he asked roughly, out of the bitter
impulse of his heart.
She knew that the harshness was not for her, as surely as she knew what he
meant by his words.
"I did wrong. I know that now, but I didn't know it then. Though even then
I felt troubled about it. But my guardian said it was best, and I knew so
little. Oh, so very, very little. Why was I not taught things, what every
girl has a right to know--until life teaches me--too late?"
Nothing he could say would comfort her. For the inexorable facts forbade
consolation. She had made shipwreck of her life before the frail raft of
her destiny had well pushed forth from harbor. He would have given much to
have been able to take the sadness out of her great childeyes, but he knew
that not even by the greatness of his desire could he take up her burden.
She must carry it alone or sink under it.
"You must go away from here back to your people. If not now, then as soon
as the trial is over. Make him take you to your friends for a time."
"I have no friends that can help me." She said it in an even little voice
"You have many friends. You have made some here. Virginia is one." He would
not name himself as only a friend, though he had set his iron will to claim
"Yes, Virginia is my friend. She is good to me. But she is going to marry
you, and then you will both forget me."
"I shall never forget you." He cried it in a low, tense voice, his clenched
hands thrust into the pockets of his sack coat.
Her wan smile thanked him. It was the most he would let himself say. Though
her heart craved more, she knew she must make the most of this.
"I came up to see Virginia," he went on, with a change of manner. "I want
her to take you driving this afternoon. Forget about that wretched trial if
you can. Nothing of importance will take place to-day."
He turned at the sound of footsteps, and saw that Miss Balfour had come
into the room.
"I want you to take Mrs. Harley into the fresh sunshine and clear air this
afternoon. I have been telling her to forget this trial. It's a farce,
anyhow. Nothing will come of it. Take her out to the Homes--take and cheer
"Yes, my lord." Virginia curtseyed obediently.
"It will do you good, too."
She shot a mocking little smile at him. "It's very good of you to think of
"Still, I do sometimes."
"Whenever it is convenient," she added.
But with Aline watching them the spirit of badinage in him was overmatched.
He gave it up and asked what kind of a rig he should send round. Virginia
furnished him the necessary specifications, and he turned to go.
As he left the room Simon Harley entered. They met face to face, and after
an instant's pause each drew aside to allow the other to pass. The New
Yorker inclined his head silently and moved forward toward his wife.
Ridgway passed down the corridor and into the elevator.
As the days of the trial passed excitement grew more tense. The lawyers for
the prosecution and the defense made their speeches to a crowded and
enthralled court-room. There was a feverish uncertainty in the air. It
reached a climax when the jury stayed out for eleven hours before coming to
a verdict. From the moment it filed back into the court-room with solemn
faces the dramatic tensity began to foreshadow the tragedy about to be
enacted. The woman Harley had made a widow sat erect and rigid in the seat
where she had been throughout the trial. Her eyes blazed with a hatred that
bordered madness. Ridgway had observed that neither Aline Harley nor
Virginia was present, and a note from the latter had just reached him to
the effect that Aline was ill with the strain of the long trial. Afterward
Ridgway could never thank his pagan gods enough that she was absent.
There was a moment of tense waiting before the judge asked:
"Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"
The foreman rose. "We have, your honor."
A folded note was handed to the judge. He read it slowly, with an
"Is this your verdict, gentlemen of the jury?"
"It is, your honor."
Silence, full and rigid, held the room after the words "Not guilty" had
fallen from the lips of the judge. The stillness was broken by a shock as
of an electric bolt from heaven.
The exploding echoes of a pistol-shot reverberated. Men sprang wildly to
their feet, gazing at each other in the distrust that fear generates. But
one man was beyond being startled by any more earthly sounds. His head fell
forward on the table in front of him, and a thin stream of blood flowed
from his lips. It was Simon Harley, found guilty, sentenced, and executed
by the judge and jury sitting in the outraged, insane heart of the woman he
had made a widow.
Mrs. Edwards had shot him through the head with a revolver she had carried
in her shoppingbag to exact vengeance in the event of a miscarriage of
CHAPTER 23. ALINE TURNS A CORNER
Aline might have been completely prostrated by the news of her husband's
sudden end, coming as it did as the culmination of a week of strain and
horror. That she did not succumb was due, perhaps, to Ridgway's care for
her. When Harley's massive gray head had dropped forward to the table, his
enemy's first thought had been of her. As soon as he knew that death was
sure, he hurried to the hotel.
He sent his card up, and followed it so immediately that he found her
scarcely risen from the divan on which she had been lying in the
receiving-room of her apartments. The sleep was not yet shaken from her
lids, nor was the wrinkled flush smoothed from the soft cheek that had been
next the cushion. Even in his trouble for her he found time to be glad that
Virginia was not at the moment with her. It gave him the sense of another
bond between them that this tragic hour. should belong to him and her
alone--this hour of destiny when their lives swung round a corner beyond
which lay wonderful vistas of kindly sunbeat and dewy starlight stretching
to the horizon's edge of the long adventure.
She checked the rush of glad joy in her heart the sight of him always
brought, and came forward slowly. One glance at his face showed that he had
brought grave news.
"What is it? Why are you here?" she cried tensely.
"To bring you trouble, Aline."
"Trouble!" Her hand went to her heart quickly.
"It is about--Mr. Harley."
She questioned him with wide, startled eyes, words hesitating on her
trembling lips and flying unvoiced.
"Child--little partner--the orders are to be brave." He came forward and
took her hands in his, looking down at her with eyes she thought full of
infinitely kind pity.
"Is it--have they--do you mean the verdict?"
"Yes, the verdict; but not the verdict of which you are thinking."
She turned a quivering face to his. "Tell me. I shall be brave."
He told her the brutal fact as gently as he could, while he watched the
blood ebb from her face. As she swayed he caught her in his arms and
carried her to the divan. When, presently, her eyes fluttered open, it was
to look into his pitiful ones. He was kneeling beside her, and her head was
pillowed on his arm.
"Say it isn't true," she murmured.
"It is true, dear."
She moved her head restlessly, and he took away his arm, rising to draw a
chair close to the lounge. She slipped her two hands under her head,
letting them lie palm to palm on the sofapillow. The violet eyes looked
past him into space. Her tangled thoughts were in a chaos of disorder. Even
though she had known but a few months and loved not at all the grim,
gray-haired man she had called husband, the sense of wretched bereavement,
the nearness of death, was strong on her. He had been kind to her in his
way, and the inevitable closeness of their relationship, repugnant as it
had been to her, made its claims felt. An hour ago he had been standing
here, the strong and virile ruler over thousands. Now he lay stiff and
cold, all his power shorn from him without a second's warning. He had
kissed her good-by, solicitous for her welfare, and it had been he that had
been in need of care rather than she. Two big tears hung on her lids and
splashed to her cheeks. She began to sob, and half-turned on the divan,
burying her face in her hands.
Ridgway let her weep without interruption for a time, knowing that it would
be a relief to her surcharged heart and overwrought nerves. But when her
sobs began to abate she became aware of his hand resting on her shoulder.
She sat up, wiping her eyes, and turned to him a face sodden with grief.
"You are good to me," she said simply.
"If my goodness were only less futile! Heaven knows what I would give to
ward off trouble from you. But I can't, nor can I bear it for you."
"But it is a help to know you would if you could. He--I think he wanted to
ward off grief from me, but he could not, either. I was often lonely and
sad, even though he was kind to me. And now he has gone. I wish I had told
him how much I appreciated his goodness to me."
"Yes, we all feel that when we have lost some one we love. It is natural to
wish we had been better to them and showed them how much we cared. Let me
tell you about my mother. I was thirteen when she died. It was in summer.
She had not been well for a long time. The boys were going fishing that day
and she asked me to stay at home. I had set my heart on going, and I
thought it was only a fancy of hers. She did not insist on my staying, so I
went, but felt uncomfortable all day. When I came back in the evening they
told me she was dead. I felt as if some great icy hand were tightening, on
my heart. Somehow I couldn't break down and cry it out. I went around with
a white, set face and gave no sign. Even at the funeral it was the same.
The neighbors called me hard-hearted and pointed me out to their sons as a
terrible warning. And all the time I was torn with agony."
"You poor boy."
"And one night she came to me in a dream. She did not look as she had just
before she died, but strong and beautiful, with the color in her face she
used to have. She smiled at me and kissed me and rumpled my hair as she
used to do. I knew, then, it was all right. She understood, and I didn't
care whether others did or not. I woke up crying, and after I had had my
grief out I was myself again."
"It was so sweet of her to think to come to you. She must have been loving
you up in heaven and saw you were troubled, and came down just to comfort
you and tell you it was all right," the girl cried with soft sympathy.
"That's how I understood it. Of course, I was only a boy, but somehow I
knew it was more than a dream. I'm not a spiritualist. I don't believe such
things happen, but I know it happened to me," he finished illogically, with
She sighed. "He was always so thoughtful of me, too. I do wish I had--could
She broke off without finishing, but he understood.
"You must not blame yourself for that. He would be the first to tell you
so. He took you for what you could give him, and these last days were the
best he had known for many years."
"He was so good to me. Oh, you don't know how good."
"It was a great pleasure to him to be good to you, the greatest pleasure he
She looked up as he spoke, and saw shining deep in his eyes the spirit that
had taught him to read so well the impulse of another lover, and, seeing
it, she dropped her eyes quickly in order not to see what was there. With
him it had been only an instant's uncontrollable surge of ecstasy. He meant
to wait. Every instinct of the decent thing told him not to take advantage
of her weakness, her need of love to rest upon in her trouble, her
transparent care for him and confidence in him so childlike in its
entirety. For convention he did not care a turn of his hand, but he would
do nothing that might shock her self-respect when she came to think of it
later. Sternly he brought himself back to realities.
"Shall I see Mr. Mott for you and send him here? It would be better that he
should make the arrangements than I."
"If you please. I shall not see you again before I go, then?" Her lips
trembled as she asked the question.
"I shall come down to the hotel again and see you before you go. And now
good-by. Be brave, and don't reproach yourself. Remember that he would not
The door opened, and Virginia came in, flushed with rapid walking. She had
heard the news on the street and had hurried back to the hotel.
Her eyes asked of Ridgway: "Does she know?" and he answered in the
affirmative. Straight to Aline she went and wrapped her in her arms, the
latent mothering instinct that is in every woman aroused and dormant.
"Oh, my dear, my dear," she cried softly.
Ridgway slipped quietly from the room and left them together.
CHAPTER 24. A GOOD SAMARITAN
Yesler, still moving slowly with a walking stick by reason of his green
wound, left the street-car and made his way up Forest Road to the house
which bore the number 792. In the remote past there had been some spasmodic
attempt to cultivate grass and raise some shade-trees along the sidewalks,
but this had long since been given up as abortive. An air of decay hung
over the street, the unmistakable suggestion of better days. This was writ
large over the house in front of which Yesler stopped. The gate hung on one
hinge, boards were missing from the walk, and a dilapidated shutter, which
had once been green, swayed in the breeze.
A woman of about thirty, dark and pretty but poorly dressed, came to the
door in answer to his ring. Two little children, a boy and a girl, with
their mother's shy long-lashed Southern eyes of brown, clung to her skirts
and gazed at the stranger.
"This is where Mr. Pelton lives, is it not?" he asked.
"Is he at home?"
"May I see him?"
"I'm sorry to hear it. Too sick to be seen? If not, I should like very much
to see him. I have business with him."
The young woman looked at him a little defiantly and a little suspiciously.
"Are you a reporter?"
Sam smiled. "No, ma'am."
"Does he owe you money" He could see the underlying blood dye her dusky
cheeks when she asked the question desperately, as it seemed to him with a
kind of brazen shame to which custom had inured her. She had somehow the
air of some gentle little creature of the forests defending her young.
"Not a cent, ma'am. I don't want to do him any harm."
"I didn't hear your name."
"I haven't mentioned it," he admitted, with the sunny smile that was a
letter of recommendation in itself. "Fact is I'd rather not tell it till he
From an adjoining room a querulous voice broke into their conversation.
"Who is it, Norma?"
"A gentleman to see you, Tom."
"Who is it?" more sharply.
"It is I, Mr. Pelton. I came to have a talk with you." Yesler pushed
forward into the dingy sitting-room with the pertinacity of a bookagent. "I
heard you were not well, and I came to find out if I can do anything for
The stout man lying on the lounge grew pale before the blood reacted in a
purple flush. His very bulk emphasized the shabbiness of the stained and
almost buttonless Prince Albert coat he wore, the dinginess of the little
room he seemed to dwarf.
"Leave my house, seh. You have ruined this family, and you come to gloat on
your handiwork. Take a good look, and then go, Mr. Yesler. You see my wife
in cotton rags doing her own work. Is it enough, seh?"
The slim little woman stepped across the room and took her place beside her
husband. Her eyes flashed fire at the man she held responsible for the fall
of her husband. Yesler's generous heart applauded the loyalty which was
proof against both disgrace and poverty. For in the past month both of
these had fallen heavily upon her. Tom Pelton had always lived well, and
during the past few years he had speculated in ventures far beyond his
means. Losses had pursued him, and he had looked to the senatorship to
recoup himself and to stand off the creditors pressing hard for payment.
Instead he had been exposed, disgraced, and finally disbarred for attempted
bribery. Like a horde of hungry rats his creditors had pounced upon the
discredited man and wrested from him the remnants of his mortgaged
property. He had been forced to move into a mere cottage and was a man
without a future. For the only profession at which he had skill enough to
make a living was the one from which he had been cast as unfit to practise
it. The ready sympathy of the cattleman had gone out to the politician who
was down and out. He had heard the situation discussed enough to guess
pretty close to the facts, and he could not let himself rest until he had
made some effort to help the man whom his exposure had ruined, or, rather,
had hastened to ruin, for that result had been for years approaching.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Pelton. If I've injured you I want to make it right."
"Make it right!" The former congressman got up with an oath. "Make it
right! Can you give me back my reputation, my future? Can you take away the
shame that has come upon my wife, and that my children will have to bear in
the years to come? Can you give us back our home, our comfort, our peace of
"No, I can't do this, but I can help you to do it all," the cattleman made
He offered no defense, though he knew perfectly well none was needed. He
had no responsibility in the calamity that had befallen this family.
Pelton's wrong-doing had come home to those he loved, and he could rightly
blame nobody but himself. However much he might arraign those who had been
the agents of his fall, he knew in his heart that the fault had been his
Norma Pelton, tensely self-repressed, spoke now. "How can you do this, sir?"
"I can't do it so long as you hold me for an enemy, ma'am. I'm ready to cry
quits with your husband and try a new deal. If I injured him he tried to
even things up. Well, let's say things are squared and start fresh. I've
got a business proposition to make if you're willing to listen to it."
"What sort of a proposition?"
"I'm running about twenty-five thousand sheep up in the hills. I've just
bought a ranch with a comfortable ranch-house on it for a kind of central
point. My winter feeding will all be done from it as a chief place of
distribution. Same with the shearing and shipping. I want a good man to put
in charge of my sheep as head manager, and I would be willing to pay a
proper salary. There ain't any reason why this shouldn't work into a
partnership if he makes good. With wool jumping, as it's going to do in the
next four years, the right kind of man can make himself independent for
life. My idea is to increase my holdings right along, and let my manager in
as a partner as soon as he shows he is worth it. Now that ranch-house is a
decent place. There's a pretty good school, ma'am, for the children. The
folks round that neighborhood may not have any frills, but--"
"Are you offering Tom the place as manager?" she demanded, in amazement.
"That was my idea, ma'am. It's not what you been used to, o' course, but if
you're looking for a change I thought I'd speak of it," he said
She looked at him in a dumb surprise. She, too, in her heart knew that this
man was blameless. He had done his duty, and had nearly lost his life for
it at the hands of her husband. Now, he had come to lift them out of the
hideous nightmare into which they had fallen. He had come to offer them
peace and quiet and plenty in exchange for the future of poverty and shame
and despair which menaced them. They were to escape into God's great hills,
away from the averted looks and whispering tongues and the temptations to
drown his trouble that so constantly beset the father of her children.
Despite his faults she still loved Tom Pelton; he was a kind and loving
husband and father. Out on the range there still waited a future for him.
When she thought of it a lump rose in her throat for very happiness. She,
who had been like a rock beside him in his trouble, broke down now and
buried her head in her husband's coat.
"Don't you, honey--now, don't you cry." The big man had lost all his
pomposity, and was comforting his sweetheart as simply as a boy. "It's all
been my fault. I've been doing wrong for years--trying to pull myself out
of the mire by my bootstraps. By Gad, you're a man, Sam Yesler, that's what
you are. If I don't turn ovah a new leaf I'd ought to be shot. We'll make a
fresh start, sweetheart. Dash me, I'm nothing but a dashed baby." And with
that the overwrought man broke down, too.
Yesler, moved a good deal himself, maintained the burden of the
"That's all settled, then. Tell you I'm right glad to get a competent man
to put in charge. Things have been running at loose ends, because I haven't
the time to look after them. This takes a big load off my mind. You better
arrange to go up there with me as soon as you have time, Pelton, and look
the ground over. You'll want to make some changes if you mean to take your
family up there. Better to spend a few hundreds and have things the way you
want them for Mrs. Pelton than to move in with things not up to the mark.
Of course, I'll put the house in the shape you want it. But we can talk of
that after we look it over."
In his embarrassment he looked so much the boy, so much the culprit caught
stealing apples and up for sentence, that Norma Pelton's gratitude took
courage. She came across to him and held out both hands, the shimmer of
tears still in the soft brown eyes.
"You've given us more than life, Mr. Yesler. You can't ever know what you
have done for us. Some things are worse than death to some people. I don't
mean poverty, but--other things. We can begin again far away from this
tainted air that has poisoned us. I know it isn't good form to be saying
this. One shouldn't have feelings in public. But I don't care. I think of
the children--and Tom. I didn't expect ever to be happy again, but we
shall. I feel it."
She broke down again and dabbed at her eyes with her kerchief. Sam, very
much embarrassed but not at all displeased at this display of feeling,
patted her dark hair and encouraged her to composure.
"There. It's all right, now, ma'am. Sure you'll be happy. Any mother that's
got kids like these--"
He caught up the little girl in his arms by way of diverting attention from
This gave a new notion to the impulsive little woman.
"I want you to kiss them both. Come here, Kennie. This is Mr. Yesler, and
he is the best man you've ever seen. I want you to remember that he has
been our best friend."
"Oh, sho, ma'am!" protested the overwhelmed cattleman, kissing both the
Pelton laughed. He felt a trifle hysterical himself. "If she thinks it
she'll say it when she feels that way. I'm right surprised she don't kiss
"I will," announced Norma promptly, with a pretty little tide of color.
She turned toward him, and Yesler, laughing, met the red lips of the new
friend he had made.
"Now, you've got just grounds for shooting me," he said gaily, and
instantly regretted his infelicitous remark
For both husband and wife fell grave at his words. It was Pelton that
"I've been taught a lesson, Mr. Yesler. I'm never going to pack a gun again
as long as I live, unless I'm hunting or something of that sort, and I'm
never going to drink another drop of liquor. It's all right for some men,
but it isn't right for me."
"Glad to hear it. I never did believe in the hip-pocket habit. I've lived
here twenty years, and I never found it necessary except on special
occasions. When it comes to whisky, I reckon we'd all be better without
Yesler made his escape at the earliest opportunity and left them alone
together. He lunched at the club, attended to some correspondence he had,
and about 3:30 drifted down the street toward the post-office. He had
expectations of meeting a young woman who often passed about that time on
her way home from school duties.
It was, however, another young woman whose bow he met in front of Mesa's
largest department store.
"Good afternoon, Miss Balfour."
She nodded greeting and cast eyes of derision on him.
"I've been hearing about you. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Yes, ma'am. What for in particular? There are so many things."
"You're a fine Christian, aren't you?" she scoffed.
"I ain't much of a one. That's a fact," he admitted. "What is it this
"No, it isn't poker. Worse than that. You've been setting a deplorable
example to the young."
"To young ladies--like Miss Virginia?" he wanted to know.
"No, to young Christians. I don't know what our good deacons will say about
it." She illuminated her severity with a flashing smile. "Don't you know
that the sins of the fathers are to descend upon their children even to the
third and fourth generation? Don't you know that when a man does wrong he
must die punished, and his children and his wife, of course, and that the
proper thing to do is to stand back and thank Heaven we haven't been vile
"Now, don't you begin on that, Miss Virginia," he warned.
"And after the man had disgraced himself and shot you, after all
respectable people had given him an extra kick to let him know he must stay
down and had then turned their backs upon him. I'm not surprised that
"Where did you get hold of this fairy-tale?" he plucked up courage to demand.
"From Norma Pelton. She told me everything, the whole story from beginning
"It's right funny you should be calling on her, and you a respectable young
lady--unless you went to deliver that extra kick you was mentioning," he
She dropped her raillery. "It was splendid. I meant to ask Mr. Ridgway to
do something for them, but this is so much better. It takes them away from
the place of his disgrace and away from temptation. Oh, I don't wonder
Norma kissed you."
"She told you that, too, did she?"
"Yes. I should have done it, too, in her place."
He glanced round placidly. "It's a right public place here, but--"
"Don't be afraid. I'm not going to." And before she disappeared within the
portals of the department store she gave him one last thrust. "It's not so
public up in the library. Perhaps if you happen to be going that way "
She left her communication a fragment, but he thought it worth acting upon.
Among the library shelves he found Laska deep in a new volume on domestic
"This ain't any kind of day to be fooling away your time on cook-books.
Come out into the sun and live," he invited.
They walked past the gallows-frames and the slag-dumps and the shaft-houses
into the brown hills beyond the point where green copper streaks showed and
spurred the greed of man. It was a day of spring sunshine, the good old
earth astir with her annual recreation. The roadside was busy with this
serious affair of living. Ants and crawling things moved to and fro about
their business. Squirrels raced across the road and stood up at a safe
distance to gaze at these intruders. Birds flashed back and forth, hurried
little carpenters busy with the specifications for their new nests. Eager
palpitating life was the key-note of the universe.
"Virginia told me about the Peltons," Laska said, after a pause.
"It's spreading almost as fast as if it were a secret," he smiled. "I'm
expecting to find it in the paper when we get back."
"I'm so glad you did it."
"Well, you're to blame."
"I!" She looked at him in surprise.
"Partly. You told me how things were going with them. That seemed to put it
up to me to give Pelton a chance."
"I certainly didn't mean it that way. I had no right to ask you to do
anything about it."
"Mebbe it was the facts put it up to me. Anyhow, I felt responsible."
"Mr. Roper once told me that you always feel responsible when you hear
anybody is in trouble," the young woman answered.
"Roper's a goat. Nobody ever pays any attention to him."
Presently they diverged from the road and sat down on a great flat rock
which dropped out from the hillside like a park seat. For he was still far
from strong and needed frequent rests. Their talk was desultory, for they
had reached that stage of friendship at which it is not necessary to bridge
silence with idle small talk. Here, by some whim of fate, the word was
spoken. He knew he loved her, but he had not meant to say it yet.
But when her steady gray eyes came back to his after a long stillness, the
meeting brought him a strange feeling that forced his hand.
"I love you, Laska. Will you be my wife?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, Sam," she answered directly. That was all. It was settled with a
word. There in the sunshine he kissed her and sealed the compact, and
afterward, when the sun was low among the hill spurs, they went back
happily to take up again the work that awaited them.
CHAPTER 25. FRIENDLY ENEMIES
Ridgway had promised Aline that he would see her soon, and when he found
himself in New York he called at the big house on Fifth Avenue, which had
for so long been identified as the home of Simon Harley. It bore his
impress stamped on it. Its austerity suggested the Puritan rather than the
classic conception of simplicity. The immense rooms were as chill as
dungeons, and the forlorn little figure in black, lost in the loneliness of
their bleakness, wandered to and fro among her retinue of servants like a
butterfly beating its wings against a pane of glass.
With both hands extended she ran forward to meet her guest.
"I'm so glad, so glad, so glad to see you."
The joy-note in her voice was irrepressible. She had been alone for weeks
with the conventional gloom that made an obsession of the shadow of death
which enveloped the house. All voices and footsteps had been subdued to
harmonize with the grief of the mistress of this mausoleum. Now she heard
the sharp tread of this man unafraid, and saw the alert vitality of his
confident bearing. It was like a breath of the hills to a parched traveler.
"I told you I would come."
"Yes. I've been looking for you every day. I've checked each one off on my
calendar. It's been three weeks and five days since I saw you."
"I thought it was a year," he laughed, and the sound of his uncurbed voice
rang strangely in this room given to murmurs.
"Tell me about everything. How is Virginia, and Mrs. Mott, and Mr. Yesler?
And is he really engaged to that sweet little school-teacher? And how does
Mr. Hobart like being senator?"
"Not more than a dozen questions permitted at a time. Begin again, please."
"First, then, when did you reach the city?"
He consulted his watch. "Just two hours and twenty-seven minutes ago."
"And how long are you going to stay?"
"For one thing, on whether you treat me well," he smiled.
"Oh, I'll treat you well. I never was so glad to see a real live somebody
in my life. It's been pretty bad here." She gave a dreary little smile as
she glanced around at the funereal air of the place. "Do you know, I don't
think we think of death in the right way? Or, maybe, I'm a heathen and
haven't the proper feelings."
She had sat down on one of the stiff divans, and Ridgway found a place
"Suppose you tell me about it," he suggested.
"I know I must be wrong, and you'll be shocked when you hear."
"I can't help feeling that the living have rights, too," she began
dubiously. "If they would let me alone I could be sorry in my own way, but
I don't see why I have to make a parade of grief. It seems to--to cheapen
one's feelings, you know."
He nodded. "Just as if you had to measure your friendship for the dead with
a yardstick of Mother Grundy. It's a hideous imposition laid on us by
custom, one of Ibsen's ghosts."
"It's so good to hear you say that. And do you think I may begin to be
"I think it would be allowable to start with one smile a day, say, and
gradually increase the dose," he jested. "In the course of a week, if it
seems to agree with you, try a laugh."
She made the experiment without waiting the week, amused at his whimsical
way of putting it. Nevertheless, the sound of her own laughter gave her a
"You came on business, I suppose?" she said presently.
"Yes. I came to raise a million dollars for some improvements I want to make."
"Let me lend it to you," she proposed eagerly.
"That would be a good one. I'm going to use it to fight the Consolidated.
Since you are now its chief stockholder you would be letting me have money
with which to fight you."
"I shouldn't care about that. I hope you beat me."
"You're my enemy now. That's not the way to talk." His eyes twinkled merrily.
"Am I your enemy? Let's be friendly enemies, then. And there's something I
want to talk to you about. Before he died Mr. Harley told me he had made
you an offer. I didn't understand the details, but you were to be in charge
of all the copper-mines in the country. Wasn't that it?"
"Something of that sort. I declined the proposition."
"I want you to take it now and manage everything for me. I don't know Mr.
Harley's associates, but I can trust you. You can arrange it any way you
like, but I want to feel that you have the responsibility."
He saw again that vision of power--all the copper interests of the country
pooled, with himself at the head of the combination. He knew it would not
be so easy to arrange as she thought, for, though she had inherited
Harley's wealth, she had not taken over his prestige and force. There would
be other candidates for leadership. But if he managed her campaign Aline's
great wealth must turn the scale in their favor.
"You must think this over again. You must talk it over with your advisers
before we come to a decision," he said gravely.
"I've told Mr. Jarmyn. He says the idea is utterly impossible. But we'll
show him, won't we? It's my money and my stock, not his. I don't see why he
should dictate. He's always 'My dear ladying' me. I won't have it," she
The fighting gleam was in Ridgway's eyes now. "So Mr. Jannyn thinks it is
impossible, does he?"
"That's what he said. He thinks you wouldn't do at all."
"If you really mean it we'll show him about that."
She shook hands with him on it.
"You're very good to me," she said, so naively that he could not keep back
"Most people would say I was very good to myself. What you offer me is a
thing I might have fought for all my life and never won."
"Then I'm glad if it pleases you. That's enough about business. Now, we'll
talk about something important."
He could think of only one thing more important to him than this, but it
appeared she meant plans to see as much as possible of him while he was in
"I suppose you have any number of other friends here that will want you?"
"They can't have me if this friend wants me," he answered, with that deep
glow in his eyes she recognized from of old; and before she could summon
her reserves of defense he asked: "Do you want me, Aline?"
His meaning came to her with a kind of sweet shame. "No, no, no--not yet,"
"Dear," he answered, taking her little hand in his big one, "only this now:
that I can't help wanting to be near you to comfort you, because I love
you. For everything else, I am content to wait."
"And I love you," the girl-widow answered, a flush dyeing her cheeks. "But
I ought not to tell you yet, ought I?"
There was that in her radiant tear-dewed eyes that stirred the deepest
stores of tenderness in the man. His finer instincts, vandal and pagan
though he was, responded to it.
"It is right that you should tell me, since it is true, but it is right,
too, that we should wait."
"It is sweet to know that you love me. There are so many things I don't
understand. You must help me. You are so strong and so sure, and I am so
"You dear innocent, so strong in your weakness," he murmured to himself.
"You must be a guide to me and a teacher."
"And you a conscience to me," he smiled, not without amusement at the thought.
She took it seriously. "But I'm afraid I can't. You know so much better
than I do what is right."
"I'm quite a paragon of virtue," he confessed.
"You're so sure of everything. You took it for granted that I loved you.
Why were you so sure?"
"I was just as sure as you were that I cared for you. Confess."
She whispered it. "Yes, I knew it, but when you did not come I thought,
perhaps You see, I'm not strong or clever. I can't help you as Virginia
could." She stopped, the color washing from her face. "I had forgotten. You
have no right to love me--nor I you," she faltered.
"Girl o'mine, we have every right in the world. Love is never wrong unless
it is a theft or a robbery. There is nothing between me and Virginia that
is not artificial and conventional, no tie that ought not to be broken,
none that should ever of right have existed. Love has the right of way
before mere convention a hundredfold."
"Ah! If I were sure."
"But I was to be a teacher to you and a judge for you."
"And I was to be a conscience to you."
"But on this I am quite clear. I can be a conscience to myself. However,
there is no hurry. Time's a great solvent."
"And we can go on loving each other in the meantime."
He lifted her little pink fingers and kissed them. "Yes, we can do that all
CHAPTER 26. BREAKS ONE AND MAKES ANOTHER ENGAGEMENT
Miss Balfour's glass made her irritably aware of cheeks unduly flushed and
eyes unusually bright. Since she prided herself on being sufficient for the
emergencies of life, she cast about in her mind to determine which of the
interviews that lay before her was responsible for her excitement. It was,
to be sure, an unusual experience for a young woman to be told that her
fiance would be unable to marry her, owing to a subsequent engagement, but
she looked forward to it with keen anticipation, and would not have missed
it for the world. Since she pushed the thought of the other interview into
the background of her mind and refused to contemplate it at all, she did
not see how that could lend any impetus to her pulse.
But though she was pleasantly excited as she swept into the reception-room,
Ridgway was unable to detect the fact in her cool little nod and frank,
careless handshake. Indeed, she looked so entirely mistress of herself, so
much the perfectly gowned exquisite, that he began to dread anew the task
he had set himself. It is not a pleasant thing under the most favorable
circumstances to beg off from marrying a young woman one has engaged
oneself to, and Ridgway did not find it easier because the young woman
looked every inch a queen, and was so manifestly far from suspecting the
object of his call.
"I haven't had a chance to congratulate you personally yes," she said,
after they had drifted to chairs. "I've been immensely proud of you."
"I got your note. It was good of you to write as soon as you heard."
She swept him with one of her smile-lit side glances. "Though, of course,
in a way, I was felicitating myself when I congratulated you."
She laughed with velvet maliciousness. "Oh, well, I'm dragged into the
orbit of your greatness, am I not? As the wife of the president of the
Greater Consolidated Copper Company--the immense combine that takes in
practically all the larger copper properties in the country--I should come
in for a share of reflected glory, you know."
Ridgway bit his lip and took a deep breath, but before he had found words
she was off again. She had no intention of letting him descent from the
"How did you do it? By what magic did you bring it about? Of course, I've
read the newspapers' accounts, seen your features and your history
butchered in a dozen Sunday horrors, and thanked Heaven no enterprising
reporter guessed enough to use me as copy. Every paper I have picked up for
weeks has been full of you and the story of how you took Wall Street by the
throat. But I suspect they were all guesses, merely superficial rumors
except as to the main facts. What I want to know is the inside story--the
lever by means of which you pried open the door leading to the inner circle
of financial magnates. You have often told me how tightly barred that door
is. What was the open-sesame you used as a countersign to make the keeper
of the gate unbolt?
He thought he saw his chance. "The countersign was 'Aline Harley,'" he
said, and looked her straight in the face. He wished he could find some way
of telling her without making him feel so like a cad.
She clapped her hands. "I thought so. She backed you with that uncounted
fortune her husband left her. Is that it?"
That is it exactly. She gave me a free hand, and the immense fortune she
inherited from Harley put me in a position to force recognition from the
leaders. After that it was only a question of time till I had convinced
them my plan was good." He threw back his shoulders and tried to take the
fence again. "Would you like to know why Mrs. Harley put her fortune at my
"I suppose because she is interested in us and our little affair. Doesn't
all the world love a lover?" she asked, with a disarming candor.
"She had a better reason," he said, meeting her eyes gravely.
"You must tell me it--but not just yet. I have something to tell you
first." She held out her little clenched hand. "Here is something that
belongs to you. Can you open it?"
He straightened her fingers one by one, and took from her palm the
engagement-ring he had given her. Instantly he looked up, doubt and relief
sweeping his face.
"Am I to understand that you terminate our engagement?"
"May I ask why?"
"I couldn't bring myself to it, Waring. I honestly tried, but I couldn't do
"When did you find this out?"
"I began to find it out the first day of our engagement. I couldn't make it
seem right. I've been in a process of learning it ever since. It wouldn't
be fair to you for me to marry you."
"You're a brick, Virginia!" he cried jubilantly.
"No, I'm not. That is a minor reason. The really important one is that it
wouldn't be fair to me."
"No, it would not," he admitted, with an air of candor.
"Because, you see, I happen to care for another man," she purred.
His vanity leaped up fully armed. "Another man! Who?"
"That's my secret," she answered, smiling at his chagrin.
"I said mine. At any rate, if three knew, it wouldn't be a secret," was her
"Do you think you have been quite fair to me, Virginia?" he asked, with
"I think so," she answered, and touched him with the riposte: "I'm ready
now to have you tell me when you expect to marry Aline Harley."
His dignity collapsed like a pricked bladder. "How did you know?" he
demanded, in astonishment.
"Oh well, I have eyes."
"But I didn't know--I thought--"
"Oh, you thought! You are a pair of children at the game," this
thousand-year-old young woman scoffed. "I have known for months that you
worshiped each other."
"If you mean to imply " he began severely.
"Hit somebody of your size, Warry," she interrupted cheerfully, as to an
infant. "If you suppose I am so guileless as not to know that you were
coming here this afternoon to tell me you were regretfully compelled to
give me up on account of a more important engagement, then you
conspicuously fail to guess right. I read it in your note."
He gave up attempting to reprove her. It did not seem feasible under the
circumstances. Instead, he held out the hand of peace, and she took it with
a laugh of gay camaraderie.
"Well," he smiled, "it seems possible that we may both soon be subjects for
congratulation. That just shows how things work around right. We never
would have suited each other, you know."
"I'm quite sure we shouldn't," agreed Virginia promptly. "But I don't think
I'll trouble you to congratulate me till you see me wearing another
"We'll hope for the best," he said cheerfully. "If it is the man I think,
he is a better man than I am."
"Yes, he is," she nodded, without the least hesitation.
"I hope you will be happy with him."
"I'm likely to be happy without him."
"Not unless he is a fool."
"Or prefers another lady, as you do."
She settled herself back in the low easy chair, with her hands clasped
behind her head.
"And now I'd like to know why you prefer her to me," she demanded saucily.
"Do you think her handsomer?"
He looked her over from the rippling brown hair to the trim suede shoes.
"No," he smiled; "they don't make them handsomer."
"Of a better disposition?"
"I like yours, too."
"I find her so, saving your presence." "Please justify yourself in detail."
He shook his head, still smiling. "My justification is not to be itemized.
It lies deeper--in destiny, or fate, or whatever one calls it."
"I see." She offered Markham's verses as an explanation:
"Perhaps we are led and our loves are fated,
And our steps are counted one by one;
Perhaps we shall meet and our souls be mated, After the burnt-out sun."
"I like that. Who did you say wrote it?"
The immobile butler, as once before, presented a card for her inspection.
Ridgway, with recollections of the previous occasion, ventured to murmur
again: "The fairy prince."
Virginia blushed to her hair, and this time did not offer the card for his
"Shall I congratulate him?" he wanted to know.
The imperious blood came to her cheeks on the instant. The sudden storm in
her eyes warned him better than words.
"I'll be good," he murmured, as Lyndon Hobart came into the room.
His goodness took the form of a speedy departure. She followed him to the
door for a parting fling at him.
"In your automobile you may reach a telegraph-office in about five minutes.
With luck you may be engaged inside of an hour."
"You have the advantage of me by fifty-five minutes," he flung back.
"You ought to thank me on your knees for having saved you a wretched scene
this afternoon," was the best she could say to cover her discomfiture.
"I do. I do. My thanks are taking the form of leaving you with the prince."
"That's very crude, sir--and I'm not sure it isn't impertinent."
Miss Balfour was blushing when she returned to Hobart. He mistook the
reason, and she could not very well explain that her blushes were due to
the last wordless retort of the retiring "old love," whose hand had gone up
in a ridiculous bless-you-my-children attitude just before he left her.
Their conversation started stiffly. He had come, he explained, to say
good-by. He was leaving the State to go to Washington prior to the opening
of the session.
This gave her a chance to congratulate him upon his election. "I haven't
had an opportunity before. You've been so busy, of course, preparing to
save the country, that your time must have been very fully occupied."
He did not show his surprise at this interpretation of the fact that he had
quietly desisted from his attentions to her, but accepted it as the correct
explanation, since she had chosen to offer it.
Miss Balfour expressed regret that he was going, though she did not suppose
she would see any less of him than she had during the past two months. He
did not take advantage of her little flings to make the talk less formal,
and Virginia, provoked at his aloofness, offered no more chances. Things
went very badly, indeed, for ten minutes, at the end of which time Hobart
rose to go. Virginia was miserably aware of being
wretched despite the cool hauteur of her seeming indifference. But he was
too good a sportsman to go without letting her know he held no grudge.
"I hope you will be very happy with Mr. Ridgway. Believe me, there is
nobody whose happiness I would so rejoice at as yours."
"Thank you," she smiled coolly, and her heart raced. "May I hope that your
good wishes still obtain even though I must seek my happiness apart from
He held her for an instant's grave, astonished questioning, before which
her eyes fell. Her thoughts side-tracked swiftly to long for and to dread
what was coming.
"Am I being told--you must pardon me if I have misunderstood your
meaning--that you are no longer engaged to Mr. Ridgway?"
She made obvious the absence of the solitaire she had worn.
Before the long scrutiny of his steady gaze: her eyes at last fell.
"If you don't mind, I'll postpone going just yet," he said quietly.
Her racing heart assured her fearfully, delightfully, that she did not mind
"I have no time and no compass to take my bearings. You will pardon me if
what I say seems presumptuous?"
Silence, which is not always golden, oppressed her. Why could she not make
light talk as she had been wont to do with Waring Ridgway?
"But if I ask too much, I shall not be hurt if you deny me," he continued.
"For how long has your engagement with Mr. Ridgway been broken, may I ask?"
"Between fifteen and twenty minutes."
"A lovers' quarrel, perhaps!" he hazarded gently.
"On the contrary, quite final and irrevocable Mr. Ridgway and I have never
been lovers. She was not sure whether this last was mean as a confession
or a justification.
"Not lovers?" He waited for her to explain Her proud eyes faced him. "We
became engaged for other reasons. I thought that did not matter. But I find
my other reasons were not sufficient. To-day I terminated the engagement.
But it is only fair to say that Mr. Ridgway had come here for that purpose.
I merely anticipated him." Her self-contempt would not let her abate one
jot of the humiliating truth. She flayed herself with a whip of scorn quite
lost on Hobart.
A wave of surging hope was flushing his heart, but he held himself well in
"I must be presumptuous still," he said. "I must find out if you broke the
engagement because you care for another man?"
She tried to meet his shining eyes and could not. "You have no right to ask
"Perhaps not till I have asked something else. I wonder if I should have
any chance if I were to tell you that I love you?"
Her glance swept him shyly with a delicious little laugh. "You never can
tell till you try."