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´╗┐Title: Ridgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain)
Author: Raine, William MacLeod, 1871-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ridgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain)" ***

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RIDGWAY OF MONTANA

(STORY OF TO-DAY, IN WHICH THE HERO IS ALSO THE VILLAIN)


by

WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE



To JEAN

AND THAT KINGDOM

  "Where you and I through this world's weather
  Work, and give praise and thanks together."



CONTENTS

   1. Two Men and a Woman
   2. The Freebooter
   3. One to One
   4. Fort Salvation
   5. Enter Simon Harley
   6. On the Snow-trail
   7. Back from Arcadia
   8. The Honorable Thomas B. Pelton
   9. An Evening Call
  10. Harley Makes a Proposition
  11. Virginia Intervenes
  12. Aline Makes a Discovery
  13. First Blood
  14. A Conspiracy
  15. Laska Opens a Door
  16. An Explosion in the Taurus
  17. The Election
  18. Further Developments
  19. One Million Dollars
  20. A Little Lunch at Alphonse's
  21. Harley Scores
  22. "Not Guilty"--"Guilty"
  23. Aline Turns a Corner
  24. A Good Samaritan
  25. Friendly Enemies
  26. Breaks One and Makes Another Engagement



CHAPTER 1. TWO MEN AND A WOMAN

"Mr. Ridgway, ma'am."

The young woman who was giving the last touches to the very effective
picture framed in her long looking-glass nodded almost imperceptibly.

She had come to the parting of the ways, and she knew it, with a shrewd
suspicion as to which she would choose. She had asked for a week to
decide, and her heart-searching had told her nothing new. It was
characteristic of Virginia Balfour that she did not attempt to deceive
herself. If she married Waring Ridgway it would be for what she
considered good and sufficient reasons, but love would not be one of
them. He was going to be a great man, for one thing, and probably a
very rich one, which counted, though it would not be a determining
factor. This she could find only in the man himself, in the masterful
force that made him what he was. The sandstings of life did not disturb
his confidence in his victorious star, nor did he let fine-spun moral
obligations hamper his predatory career. He had a genius for success in
whatever he undertook, pushing his way to his end with a shrewd, direct
energy that never faltered. She sometimes wondered whether she, too,
like the men he used as tools, was merely a pawn in his game, and her
consent an empty formality conceded to convention. Perhaps he would
marry her even if she did not want to, she told herself, with the
sudden illuminating smile that was one of her chief charms.

But Ridgway's wary eyes, appraising her mood as she came forward to
meet him, read none of this doubt in her frank greeting. Anything more
sure and exquisite than the cultivation Virginia Balfour breathed he
would have been hard put to it to conceive. That her gown and its
accessories seemed to him merely the extension of a dainty personality
was the highest compliment he could pay her charm, and an entirely
unconscious one.

"Have I kept you waiting?" she smiled, giving him her hand.

His answering smile, quite cool and unperturbed, gave the lie to his
words. "For a year, though the almanac called it a week."

"You must have suffered," she told him ironically, with a glance at the
clear color in his good-looking face.

"Repressed emotion," he explained. "May I hope that my suffering has
reached a period?"

They had been sauntering toward a little conservatory at the end of the
large room, but she deflected and brought up at a table on which lay
some books. One of these she picked up and looked at incuriously for a
moment before sweeping them aside. She rested her hands on the table
behind her and leaned back against it, her eyes meeting his fairly.

"You're still of the same mind, are you?" she demanded.

"Oh! very much."

She lifted herself to the table, crossing her feet and dangling them
irresponsibly. "We might as well be comfy while we talk;" and she
indicated, by a nod, a chair.

"Thanks. If you don't mind, I think I'll take it standing."

She did not seem in any hurry to begin, and Ridgway gave evidence of no
desire to hasten her. But presently he said, with a little laugh that
seemed to offer her inclusion in the joke:

"I'm on the anxious seat, you know--waiting to find out whether I'm to
be the happiest man alive."

"You know as much about it as I do." She echoed his laugh ruefully.
"I'm still as much at sea as I was last week. I couldn't tell then, and
I can't now."

"No news is good news, they say."

"I don't want to marry you a bit, but you're a great catch, as you are
very well aware."

"I suppose I am rather a catch," he agreed, the shadow of a smile at
the corners of his mouth.

"It isn't only your money; though, of course, that's a temptation," she
admitted audaciously.

"I'm glad it's not only my money." He could laugh with her about it
because he was shrewd enough to understand that it was not at all his
wealth. Her cool frankness might have frightened away another man. It
merely served to interest Ridgway. For, with all his strength, he was a
vain man, always ready to talk of himself. He spent a good deal of his
spare time interpreting himself to attractive and attracted young women.

Her gaze fastened on the tip of her suede toe, apparently studying it
attentively. "It would be a gratification to my vanity to parade you as
the captive of my bow and spear. You're such a magnificent specimen,
such a berserk in broadcloth. Still. I shan't marry you if I can help
it--but, then, I'm not sure that I can help it. Of course, I disapprove
of you entirely, but you're rather fascinating, you know." Her eye
traveled slowly up to his, appraising the masterful lines of his square
figure, the dominant strength of his close-shut mouth and resolute
eyes. "Perhaps 'fascinating' isn't just the word, but I can't help
being interested in you, whether I like you or not. I suppose you
always get what you want very badly?" she flung out by way of question.

"That's what I'm trying to discover"--he smiled.

"There are things to be considered both ways," she said, taking him
into her confidence. "You trample on others. How do I know you wouldn't
tread on me?"

"That would be one of the risks you would take," he agreed impersonally.

"I shouldn't like that at all. If I married you it would be because as
your wife I should have so many opportunities. I should expect to do
exactly as I please. I shouldn't want you to interfere with me, though
I should want to be able to influence you."

"Nothing could be fairer than that," was his amiably ironical comment.

"You see, I don't know you--not really--and they say all sorts of
things about you."

"They don't say I am a quitter, do they?"

She leaned forward, chin in hand and elbow on knee. It was a part of
the accent of her distinction that as a rebel she was both demure and
daring. "I wonder if I might ask you some questions--the intimate kind
that people think but don't say--at least, they don't say them to you."

"It would be a pleasure to me to be put on the witness-stand. I should
probably pick up some interesting side-lights about myself."

"Very well." Her eyes danced with excitement. "You're what they call a
buccaneer of business, aren't you?"

Here were certainly diverting pastimes. "I believe I have been called
that; but, then, I've had the hardest names in the dictionary thrown at
me so often that I can't be sure."

"I suppose you are perfectly unscrupulous in a business way--stop at
nothing to gain your point?"

He took her impudence smilingly.

"'Unscrupulous' isn't the word I use when I explain myself to myself,
but as an unflattered description, such as one my enemies might use to
describe me, I dare say it is fairly accurate."

"I wonder why. Do you dispense with a conscience entirely?"

"Well, you see, Miss Balfour, if I nursed a New England conscience I
could stand up to the attacks of the Consolidated about as long as a
dove to a hawk. I meet fire with fire to avoid being wiped off the map
of the mining world. I play the game. I can't afford to keep a button
on my foil when my opponent doesn't."

She nodded an admission of his point. "And yet there are rules of the
game to be observed, aren't there? The Consolidated people claim you
steal their ore, I believe." Her slanted eyes studied the effect of her
daring.

He laughed grimly. "Do they? I claim they steal mine. It's rather
difficult to have an exact regard for mine and thine before the courts
decide which is which."

"And meanwhile, in order to forestall an adverse decision, you are
working extra shifts to get all the ore out of the disputed veins."

"Precisely, just as they are," he admitted dryly. "Then the side that
loses will not be so disappointed, since the value of the veins will be
less. Besides, stealing ore openly doesn't count. It is really a moral
obligation in a fight like this," he explained.

"A moral obligation?"

"Exactly. You can't hit a trust over the head with the decalogue.
Modern business is war. Somebody is bound to get hurt. If I win out it
will be because I put up a better fight than the Consolidated, and
cripple it enough to make it let me alone. I'm looking out for myself,
and I don't pretend to be any better than my neighbors. When you get
down to bed-rock honesty, I've never seen it in business. We're all of
us as honest as we think we can afford to be. I haven't noticed that
there is any premium on it in Mesa. Might makes right. I'll win if I'm
strong enough; I'll fail if I'm not. That's the law of life. I didn't
make this strenuous little world, and I'm not responsible for it. If I
play I have to take the rules the way they are, not the way I should
like them to be. I'm not squeamish, and I'm not a hypocrite. Simon
Harley isn't squeamish, either, but he happens to be a hypocrite. So
there you have the difference between us."

The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company set forth his creed
jauntily, without the least consciousness of need for apology for the
fact that it happened to be divorced from morality. Its frank disregard
of ethical considerations startled Miss Balfour without shocking her.
She liked his candor, even though it condemned him. It was really very
nice of him to take her impudence so well. He certainly wasn't a prig,
anyway.

"And morality," she suggested tentatively.

"--hasn't a thing to do with success, the parsons to the contrary
notwithstanding. The battle is to the strong."

"Then the Consolidated will beat you finally."

He smiled. "They would if I'd let them; but brains and resource and
finesse all count for power. Granted that they have a hundred dollars
to my one. Still, I have elements of strength they can't even estimate.
David beat Goliath, you know, even though he didn't do it with a big
stick."

"So you think morality is for old women?"

"And young women," he amended, smiling.

"And every man is to be a law unto himself?"

"Not quite. Some men aren't big enough to be. Let them stick to the
conventional code. For me, if I make my own laws I don't break them."

"And you're sure that you're on the road to true success?" she asked
lightly.

"Now, you have heaven in the back of your mind."

"Not exactly," she laughed. "But I didn't expect you to understand."

"Then I won't disappoint you," he said cheerfully.

She came back to the concrete.

"I should like to know whether it is true that you own the courts of
Yuba County and have the decisions of the judges written at your
lawyer's offices in cases between you and the Consolidated."

"If I do," he answered easily, "I am doing just what the Consolidated
would do in case they had been so fortunate as to have won the last
election and seated their judicial candidates. One expects a friendly
leaning from the men one put in office."

"Isn't the judiciary supposed to be the final, incorruptible bulwark of
the nation?" she pretended to want to know.

"I believe it is supposed to be."

"Isn't it rather--loading the dice, to interfere with the courts?"

"I find the dice already loaded. I merely substitute others of my own."

"You don't seem a bit ashamed of yourself."

"I'm ashamed of the Consolidated"--he smiled.

"That's a comfortable position to be able to take." She fixed him for a
moment with her charming frown of interrogation. "You won't mind my
asking these questions? I'm trying to decide whether you are too much
of a pirate for me. Perhaps when I've made up my mind you won't want
me," she added.

"Oh, I'll want you!" Then coolly: "Shall we wait till you make up your
mind before announcing the engagement?"

"Don't be too sure," she flashed at him.

"I'm horribly unsure."

"Of course, you're laughing at me, just as you would"--she tilted a
sudden sideways glance at him--"if I asked you WHY you wanted to marry
me."

"Oh, if you take me that way----"

She interrupted airily. "I'm trying to make up my mind whether to take
you at all."

"You certainly have a direct way of getting at things."

He studied appreciatively her piquant, tilted face; the long, graceful
lines of her slender, perfect figure. "I take it you don't want the
sentimental reason for my wishing to marry you, though I find that
amply justified. But if you want another, you must still look to
yourself for it. My business leads me to appreciate values correctly.
When I desire you to sit at the head of my table, to order my house, my
judgment justifies itself. I have a fancy always for the best. When I
can't gratify it I do without."

"Thank you." She made him a gay little mock curtsy "I had heard you
were no carpet-knight, Mr. Ridgway. But rumor is a lying jade, for I am
being told--am I not?--that in case I don't take pity on you, the lone
future of a celibate stretches drear before you."

"Oh, certainly."

Having come to the end of that passage, she tried another. "A young man
told me yesterday you were a fighter. He said he guessed you would
stand the acid. What did he mean?"

Ridgway was an egoist from head to heel. He could voice his own praises
by the hour when necessary, but now he side-stepped her little trap to
make him praise himself at second-hand.

"Better ask him."

"ARE you a fighter, then?"

Had he known her and her whimsies less well, he might have taken her
audacity for innocence.

"One couldn't lie down, you know."

"Of course, you always fight fair," she mocked.

"When a fellow's attacked by a gang of thugs he doesn't pray for
boxing-gloves. He lets fly with a coupling-pin if that's what comes
handy."

Her eyes, glinting sparks of mischief, marveled at him with mock
reverence, but she knew in her heart that her mockery was a fraud. She
did admire him; admired him even while she disapproved the magnificent
lawlessness of him.

For Waring Ridgway looked every inch the indomitable fighter he was. He
stood six feet to the line, straight and strong, carrying just
sufficient bulk to temper his restless energy without impairing its
power. Nor did the face offer any shock of disappointment to the
promise given by the splendid figure. Salient-jawed and forceful, set
with cool, flinty, blue-gray eyes, no place for weakness could be found
there. One might have read a moral callousness, a colorblindness in
points of rectitude, but when the last word had been said, its
masterful capability, remained the outstanding impression.

"Am I out of the witness-box?" he presently asked, still leaning
against the mantel from which he had been watching her impersonally as
an intellectual entertainment.

"I think so."

"And the verdict?"

"You know what it ought to be," she accused.

"Fortunately, kisses go by favor, not by, merit."

"You don't even make a pretense of deserving."

"Give me credit for being an honest rogue, at least."

"But a rogue?" she insisted lightly.

"Oh, a question of definitions. I could make a very good case for
myself as an honest man."

"If you thought it worth while?"

"If I didn't happen to want to be square with you"--he smiled.

"You're so fond of me, I suppose, that you couldn't bear to have me
think too well of you."

"You know how fond of you I am."

"Yes, it is a pity about you," she scoffed.

"Believe me, yes," he replied cheerfully.

She drummed with her pink finger-tips on her chin, studying him
meditatively. To do him justice, she had to admit that he did not even
pretend much. He wanted her because she was a step up in the social
ladder, and, in his opinion, the most attractive girl he knew. That he
was not in love with her relieved the situation, as Miss Balfour
admitted to herself in impersonal moods. But there were times when she
could have wished he were. She felt it to be really due her attractions
that his pulses should quicken for her, and in the interests of
experience she would have liked to see how he would make love if he
really meant it from the heart and not the will.

"It's really an awful bother," she sighed.

"Referring to the little problem of your future?"

"Yes."

"Can't make up your mind whether I come in?"

"No." She looked up brightly, with an effect of impulsiveness. "I don't
suppose you want to give me another week?"

"A reprieve! But why? You're going to marry me."

"I suppose so." She laughed. "I wish I could have my cake, and eat it,
too."

"It would be a moral iniquity to encourage such a system of ethics."

"So you won't give me a week?" she sighed. "All sorts of things might
have happened in that week. I shall always believe that the fairy
prince would have come for me."

"Believe that he HAS come," he claimed.

"Oh, I didn't mean a prince of pirates, though there is a triumph in
having tamed a pirate chief to prosaic matrimony. In one way it will be
a pity, too. You won't be half so picturesque. You remember how
Stevenson puts it: 'that marriage takes from a man the capacity for
great things, whether good or bad.'"

"I can stand a good deal of taming."

"Domesticating a pirate ought to be an interesting process," she
conceded, her rare smile flashing. "It should prove a cure for ENNUI,
but then I'm never a victim of that malady."

"Am I being told that I am to be the happiest pirate alive?"

"I expect you are."

His big hand gripped hers till it tingled. She caught his eye on a
roving quest to the door.

"We don't have to do that," she announced hurriedly, with an
embarrassed flush.

"I don't do it because I have to," he retorted, kissing her on the lips.

She fell back, protesting. "Under the circumstances--"

The butler, with a card on a tray, interrupted silently. She glanced at
the card, devoutly grateful his impassive majesty's entrance had not
been a moment earlier.

"Show him in here."

"The fairy prince, five minutes too late?" asked Ridgway, when the man
had gone.

For answer she handed him the card, yet he thought the pink that
flushed her cheek was something more pronounced than usual. But he was
willing to admit there might be a choice of reasons for that.

"Lyndon Hobart" was the name he read.

"I think the Consolidated is going to have its innings. I should like
to stay, of course, but I fear I must plead a subsequent engagement and
leave the field to the enemy."

Pronouncing "Mr. Hobart" without emphasis, the butler vanished. The
newcomer came forward with the quiet assurance of the born aristocrat.
He was a slender, well-knit man, dressed fastidiously, with clear-cut,
classical features; cool, keen eyes, and a gentle, you-be-damned manner
to his inferiors. Beside him Ridgway bulked too large, too florid. His
ease seemed a little obvious, his prosperity overemphasized. Even his
voice, strong and reliant, lacked the tone of gentle blood that Hobart
had inherited with his nice taste.

When Miss Balfour said: "I think you know each other," the manager of
the Consolidated bowed with stiff formality, but his rival laughed
genially and said: "Oh, yes, I know Mr. Hobart." The geniality was
genuine enough, but through it ran a note of contempt. Hobart read in
it a veiled taunt. To him it seemed to say:

"Yes, I have met him, and beaten him at every turn of the road, though
he has been backed by a power with resources a hundred times as great
as mine."

In his parting excuses to Miss Balfour, Ridgway's audacity crystallized
in words that Hobart could only regard as a shameless challenge. "I
regret that an appointment with Judge Purcell necessitates my leaving
such good company," he said urbanely.

Purcell was the judge before whom was pending a suit between the
Consolidated and the Mesa Ore-producing Company, to determine the
ownership of the Never Say Die Mine; and it was current report that
Ridgway owned him as absolutely as he did the automobile waiting for
him now at the door.

If Ridgway expected his opponent to pay his flippant gibe the honor of
repartee, he was disappointed. To be sure, Hobart, admirably erect in
his slender grace, was moved to a slight, disdainful smile, but it
evidenced scarcely the appreciation that anybody less impervious to
criticism than Ridgway would have cared to see.



CHAPTER 2. THE FREEBOOTER

When next Virginia Balfour saw Waring Ridgway she was driving her trap
down one of the hit-or-miss streets of Mesa, where derricks,
shaft-houses, and gray slag-dumps shoulder ornate mansions conglomerate
of many unharmonious details of architecture. To Miss Balfour these
composites and their owners would have been joys unalloyed except for
the microbe of society ambition that was infecting the latter, and
transforming them from simple, robust, self-reliant Westerners into a
class of servile, nondescript newly rich, that resembled their
unfettered selves as much as tame bears do the grizzlies of their own
Rockies. As she had once complained smilingly to Hobart, she had not
come to the West to study ragged edges of the social fringe. She might
have done that in New York.

Virginia was still a block or two from the court-house on the hill,
when it emptied into the street a concourse of excited men. That this
was an occasion of some sort it was easy to guess, and of what sort she
began to have an inkling, when Ridgway came out, the center of a circle
of congratulating admirers. She was obliged to admit that he accepted
their applause without in the least losing his head. Indeed, he took it
as imperturbably as did Hobart, against whom a wave of the enthusiasm
seemed to be directed in the form of a jeer, when he passed down the
steps with Mott, one of the Consolidated lawyers. Miss Balfour timed
her approach to meet Hobart at a right angle.

"What is it all about?" she asked, after he had reached her side.

"Judge Purcell has just decided the Never Say Die case in favor of Mr.
Ridgway and against the Consolidated."

"Is that a great victory for him?"

"Yes, it's a victory, though, of course, we appeal," admitted Hobart.
"But we can't say we didn't expect it," he added cheerfully.

"Mayn't I give you a lift if you are going down-town?" she said
quickly, for Ridgway, having detached himself from the group, was
working toward her, and she felt an instinctive sympathy for the man
who had lost. Furthermore, she had something she wanted to tell him
before he heard it on the tongue of rumor.

"Since you are so kind;" and he climbed to the place beside her.

"Congratulate me, Miss Balfour," demanded Ridgway, as he shook hands
with her, nodding coolly at her companion. "I'm a million dollars
richer than I was an hour ago. I have met the enemy and he is mine."

Virginia, resenting the bad taste of his jeer at the man who sat beside
her, misunderstood him promptly. "Did you say you had met the enemy and
won his mine?"

He laughed. "You're a good one!"

"Thank you very much for this unsolicited testimonial," she said
gravely. "In the meantime, to avoid a congestion of traffic, we'll be
moving, if you will kindly give me back my front left wheel."

He did not lift his foot from the spoke on which it rested. "My
congratulations," he reminded her.

"I wish you all the joy in your victory that you deserve, and I hope
the supreme court will reaffirm the decision of Judge Purcell, if it is
a just one," was the form in which she acceded to his demand.

She flicked her whip, and Ridgway fell back, laughing. "You've been
subsidized by the Consolidated," he shouted after her.

Hobart watched silently the businesslike directness with which the girl
handled the ribbons. She looked every inch the thoroughbred in her
well-made covert coat and dainty driving gauntlets. The grace of the
alert, slender figure, the perfect poise of the beautiful little tawny
head, proclaimed her distinction no less certainly than the fine
modeling of the mobile face. It was a distinction that stirred the
pulse of his emotion and disarmed his keen, critical sense. Ridgway
could study her with an amused, detached interest, but Hobart's
admiration had traveled past that point. He found it as impossible to
define her charm as to evade it. Her inheritance of blood and her
environment should have made her a finished product of civilization,
but her salty breeziness, her nerve, vivid as a flame at times,
disturbed delightfully the poise that held her when in repose.

When Virginia spoke, it was to ask abruptly: "Is it really his mine?"

"Judge Purcell says so."

"But do YOU think so--down in the bottom of your heart?"

"Wouldn't I naturally be prejudiced?"

"I suppose you would. Everybody in Mesa seems to have taken sides
either with Mr. Ridgway or the Consolidated. Still, you have an option.
Is he what his friends proclaim him--the generous-hearted independent
fighting against trust domination? Or is he merely an audacious
ore-thief, as his enemies say? The truth must be somewhere."

"It seems to lie mostly in point of view here the angle of observation
being determined by interest," he answered.

"And from your angle of observation?"

"He is the most unusual man I ever saw, the most resourceful and the
most competent. He never knows when he is beaten. I suppose that's the
reason he never is beaten finally. We have driven him to the wall a
score of times. My experience with him is that he's most dangerous when
one thinks he must be about hammered out. He always hits back then in
the most daring and unexpected way."

"With a coupling-pin," she suggested with a little reminiscent laugh.

"Metaphorically speaking. He reaches for the first effective weapon to
his hand."

"You haven't quite answered my question yet," she reminded him. "Is he
what his friends or what his enemies think him?"

"If you ask me I can only say that I'm one of his enemies."

"But a fair-minded man," she replied quickly.

"Thank you. Then I'll say that perhaps he is neither just what his
friends or his foes think him. One must make allowances for his
training and temperament, and for that quality of bigness in him.
'Mediocre men go soberly on the highroads, but saints and scoundrels
meet in the jails,'" he smilingly quoted.

"He would make a queer sort of saint," she laughed.

"A typical twentieth century one of a money-mad age."

She liked it in him that he would not use the opportunity she had made
to sneer at his adversary, none the less because she knew that Ridgway
might not have been so scrupulous in his place. That Lyndon Hobart's
fastidious instincts for fair play had stood in the way of his success
in the fight to down Ridgway she had repeatedly heard. Of late, rumors
had persisted in reporting dissatisfaction with his management of the
Consolidated at the great financial center on Broadway which controlled
the big copper company. Simon Harley, the dominating factor in the
octopus whose tentacles reached out in every direction to monopolize
the avenues of wealth, demanded of his subordinates results. Methods
were no concern of his, and failure could not be explained to him. He
wanted Ridgway crushed, and the pulse of the copper production
regulated lay the Consolidated. Instead, he had seen Ridgway rise
steadily to power and wealth despite his efforts to wipe him off the
slate. Hobart was perfectly aware that his head was likely to fall when
Harley heard of Purcell's decision in regard to the Never Say Die.

"He certainly is an amazing man," Virginia mused, her fiancee in mind.
"It would be interesting to discover what he can't do--along
utilitarian lines, I mean. Is he as good a miner underground as he is
in the courts?" she flung out.

"He is the shrewdest investor I know. Time and again he has leased or
bought apparently worthless claims, and made them pay inside of a few
weeks. Take the Taurus as a case in point. He struck rich ore in a
fortnight. Other men had done development work for years and found
nothing."

"I'm naturally interested in knowing all about him, because I have just
become engaged to him," explained Miss Virginia, as calmly as if her
pulse were not fluttering a hundred to the minute.

Virginia was essentially a sportsman. She did not flinch from the guns
when the firing was heavy. It had been remarked of her even as a child
that she liked to get unpleasant things over with as soon as possible,
rather than postpone them. Once, _aetat_ eight, she had marched in to
her mother like a stoic and announced: "I've come to be whipped,
momsie, 'cause I broke that horrid little Nellie Vaile's doll. I did it
on purpose, 'cause I was mad at her. I'm glad I broke it, so there!"

Hobart paled slightly beneath his outdoors Western tan, but his eyes
met hers very steadily and fairly. "I wish you happiness, Miss Balfour,
from the bottom of my heart."

She nodded a brisk "Thank you," and directed her attention again to the
horses.

"Take him by and large, Mr. Ridgway is the most capable, energetic, and
far-sighted business man I have ever known. He has a bigger grasp of
things than almost any financier in the country. I think you'll find he
will go far," he said, choosing his words with care to say as much for
Waring Ridgway as he honestly could.

"I have always thought so," agreed Virginia.

She had reason for thinking so in that young man's remarkable career.
When Waring Ridgway had first come to Mesa he had been a draftsman for
the Consolidated at five dollars a day. He was just out of Cornell, and
his assets consisted mainly of a supreme confidence in himself and an
imposing presence. He was a born leader, and he flung himself into the
raw, turbid life of the mining town with a readiness that had not a
little to do with his subsequent success.

That success began to take tangible form almost from the first. A
small, independent smelter that had for long been working at a loss was
about to fall into the hands of the Consolidated when Ridgway bought it
on promises to pay, made good by raising money on a flying trip he took
to the East. His father died about this time and left him fifty
thousand dollars, with which he bought the Taurus, a mine in which
several adventurous spirits had dropped small fortunes. He acquired
other properties; a lease here, an interest there. It began to be
observed that he bought always with judgment. He seemed to have the
touch of Midas. Where other men had lost money he made it.

When the officers of the Consolidated woke up to the menace of his
presence, one of their lawyers called on him. The agent of the
Consolidated smiled at his luxurious offices, which looked more like a
woman's boudoir than the business place of a Western miner. But that
was merely part of Ridgway's vanity, and did not in the least interfere
with his predatory instincts. Many people who walked into that parlor
to do business played fly to his spider.

The lawyer had been ready to patronize the upstart who had ventured so
boldly into the territory of the great trust, but one glance at the
clear-cut resolute face of the young man changed his mind.

"I've come to make you an offer for your smelter, Mr. Ridgway," he
began. "We'll take it off your hands at the price it cost you."

"Not for sale, Mr. Bartel."

"Very well. We'll give you ten thousand more than you paid for it."

"You misunderstand me. It is not for sale."

"Oh, come! You bought it to sell to us. What can you do with it?"

"Run it," suggested Ridgway.

"Without ore?"

"You forget that I own a few properties, and have leases on others.
When the Taurus begins producing, I'll have enough to keep the smelter
going."

"When the Taurus begins producing?"--Bartel smiled skeptically. "Didn't
Johnson and Leroy drop fortunes on that expectation?"

"I'll bet five thousand dollars we make a strike within two weeks."

"Chimerical!" pronounced the graybeard as he rose to go, with an air of
finality. "Better sell the smelter while you have the chance."

"Think not," disagreed Ridgway.

At the door the lawyer turned. "Oh, there's another matter! It had
slipped my mind." He spoke with rather elaborate carelessness. "It
seems that there is a little triangle--about ten and four feet
across--wedged in between the Mary K, the Diamond King, and the Marcus
Daly. For some reason we accidentally omitted to file on it. Our chief
engineer finds that you have taken it up, Mr. Ridgway. It is really of
no value, but it is in the heart of our properties, and so it ought to
belong to us. Of course, it is of no use to you. There isn't any
possible room to sink a shaft. We'll take it from you if you like, and
even pay you a nominal price. For what will you sell?"

Ridgway lit a cigar before he answered: "One million dollars."

"What?" screamed Bartel.

"Not a cent less. I call it the Trust Buster. Before I'm through,
you'll find it is worth that to me."

The lawyer reported him demented to the Consolidated officials, who
declared war on him from that day.

They found the young adventurer more than prepared for them. If he had
a Napoleonic sense of big vital factors, he had no less a genius for
detail. He had already picked up an intimate knowledge of the hundreds
of veins and crossveins that traverse the Mesa copper-fields, and he
had delved patiently into the tangled history of the litigation that
the defective mining laws in pioneer days had made possible. When the
Consolidated attempted to harass him by legal process, he countered by
instituting a score of suits against the company within the week. These
had to do with wills, insanity cases, extra lateral rights, mine
titles, and land and water rights. Wherever Ridgway saw room for an
entering wedge to dispute the title of the Consolidated, he drove a new
suit home. To say the least, the trust found it annoying to be enjoined
from working its mines, to be cited for contempt before judges employed
in the interests of its opponent, to be served with restraining orders
when clearly within its rights. But when these adverse legal decisions
began to affect vital issues, the Consolidated looked for reasons why
Ridgway should control the courts. It found them in politics.

For Ridgway was already dominating the politics of Yuba County,
displaying an amazing acumen and a surprising ability as a
stumpspeaker. He posed as a friend of the people, an enemy of the
trust. He declared an eight-hour day for his own miners, and called
upon the Consolidated to do the same. Hobart refused, acting on orders
from Broadway, and fifteen thousand Consolidated miners went to the
polls and reelected Ridgway's corrupt judges, in spite of the fight the
Consolidated was making against them.

Meanwhile, Ridgway's colossal audacity made the Consolidated's copper
pay for the litigation with which he was harassing it. In following his
ore-veins, or what he claimed to be his veins, he crossed boldly into
the territory of the enemy. By the law of extra lateral rights, a man
is entitled to mine within the lines of other property than his own,
provided he is following the dip of a vein which has its apex in his
claim. Ridgway's experts were prepared to swear that all the best veins
in the field apexed in his property. Pending decisions of the courts,
they assumed it, tunneling through granite till they tapped the veins
of the Consolidated mines, meanwhile enjoining that company from
working the very ore of which Ridgway was robbing it.

Many times the great trust back of the Consolidated had him close to
ruin, but Ridgway's alert brain and supreme audacity carried him
through. From their mines or from his own he always succeeded in
extracting enough ore to meet his obligations when they fell due. His
powerful enemy, as Hobart had told Miss Balfour, found him most
dangerous when it seemed to have him with his back to the wall. Then
unexpectedly would fall some crushing blow that put the financial kings
of Broadway on the defensive long enough for him to slip out of the
corner into which they had driven him. Greatly daring, he had the
successful cavalryman's instinct of risking much to gain much. A
gambler, his enemies characterized him fitly enough. But it was also
true, as Mesa phrased it, that he gambled "with the lid off," playing
for large stakes, neither asking nor giving quarter.

At the end of five years of desperate fighting, the freebooter was more
strongly entrenched than he had been at any previous time. The
railroads, pledged to give rebates to the Consolidated, had been forced
by Ridgway, under menace of adverse legislation from the men he
controlled at the State-house, to give him secretly a still better rate
than the trust. He owned the county courts, he was supported by the
people, and had become a political dictator, and the financial outlook
for him grew brighter every day.

Such were the conditions when Judge Purcell handed down his Never Say
Die decision. Within an hour Hobart was reading a telegram in cipher
from the Broadway headquarters. It announced the immediate departure
for Mesa of the great leader of the octopus. Simon Harley, the Napoleon
of finance, was coming out to attend personally to the destruction of
the buccaneer who had dared to fire on the trust flag.

Before night some one of his corps of spies in the employ of the enemy
carried the news to Waring Ridgway. He smiled grimly, his bluegray eyes
hardening to the temper of steel. Here at last was a foeman worthy of
his metal; one as lawless, unscrupulous, daring, and far-seeing as
himself, with a hundred times his resources.



CHAPTER 3. ONE TO ONE

The solitary rider stood for a moment in silhouette against the somber
sky-line, his keen eyes searching the lowering clouds.

"Getting its back up for a blizzard," he muttered to himself, as he
touched his pony with the spur.

Dark, heavy billows banked in the west, piling over each other as they
drove forward. Already the advance-guard had swept the sunlight from
the earth, except for a flutter of it that still protested near the
horizon. Scattering snowflakes were flying, and even in a few minutes
the temperature had fallen many degrees.

The rider knew the signs of old. He recognized the sudden stealthy
approach that transformed a sun-drenched, friendly plain into an
unknown arctic waste. Not for nothing had he been last year one of a
search-party to find the bodies of three miners frozen to death not
fifty yards from their own cabin. He understood perfectly what it meant
to be caught away from shelter when the driven white pall wiped out
distance and direction; made long familiar landmarks strange, and
numbed the will to a helpless surrender. The knowledge of it was spur
enough to make him ride fast while he still retained the sense of
direction.

But silently, steadily, the storm increased, and he was forced to
slacken his pace. As the blinding snow grew thick, the sound of the
wind deadened, unable to penetrate the dense white wall through which
he forced his way. The world narrowed to a space whose boundaries he
could touch with his extended hands. In this white mystery that wrapped
him, nothing was left but stinging snow, bitter cold, and the silence
of the dead.

So he thought one moment, and the next was almost flung by his swerving
horse into a vehicle that blocked the road. Its blurred outlines
presently resolved themselves into an automobile, crouched in the
bottom of which was an inert huddle of humanity.

He shouted, forgetting that no voice could carry through the muffled
scream of the storm. When he got no answer, he guided his horse close
to the machine and reached down to snatch away the rug already heavy
with snow. To his surprise, it was a girl's despairing face that looked
up at him. She tried to rise, but fell back, her muscles too numb to
serve.

"Don't leave me," she implored, stretching her, arms toward him.

He reached out and lifted her to his horse. "Are you alone?"

"Yes. He went for help when the machine broke down--before the storm,"
she sobbed. He had to put his ear to her mouth to catch the words.

"Come, keep up your heart." There was that in his voice pealed like a
trumpet-call to her courage.

"I'm freezing to death," she moaned.

She was exhausted and benumbed, her lips blue, her flesh gray. It was
plain to him that she had reached the limit of endurance, that she was
ready to sink into the last torpor. He ripped open his overcoat and
shook the snow from it, then gathered her close so that she might get
the warmth of his body. The rugs from the automobile he wrapped round
them both.

"Courage!" he cried. "There's a miner's cabin near. Don't give up,
child."

But his own courage was of the heart and will, not of the head. He had
small hope of reaching the hut at the entrance of Dead Man's Gulch or,
if he could struggle so far, of finding it in the white swirl that
clutched at them. Near and  far are words not coined for a blizzard. He
might stagger past with safety only a dozen feet from him. He might lie
down and die at the very threshold of the door. Or he might wander in
an opposite direction and miss the cabin by a mile.

Yet it was not in the man to give up. He must stagger on till he could
no longer stand. He must fight so long as life was in him. He must
crawl forward, though his forlorn hope had vanished. And he did. When
the worn-out horse slipped down and could not be coaxed to its feet
again, he picked up the bundle of rugs and plowed forward blindly, soul
and body racked, but teeth still set fast with the primal instinct
never to give up. The intense cold of the air, thick with gray sifted
ice, searched the warmth from his body and sapped his vitality. His
numbed legs doubled under him like springs. He was down and up again a
dozen times, but always the call of life drove him on, dragging his
helpless burden with him.

That he did find the safety of the cabin in the end was due to no
wisdom on his part. He had followed unconsciously the dip of the ground
that led him into the little draw where it had been built, and by sheer
luck stumbled against it. His strength was gone, but the door gave to
his weight, and he buckled across the threshold like a man helpless
with drink. He dropped to the floor, ready to sink into a stupor, but
he shook sleep from him and dragged himself to his feet. Presently his
numb fingers found a match, a newspaper, and some wood. As soon as he
had control over his hands, he fell to chafing hers. He slipped off her
dainty shoes, pathetically inadequate for such an experience, and
rubbed her feet back to feeling. She had been torpid, but when the
blood began to circulate, she cried out in agony at the pain.

Every inch of her bore the hall-mark of wealth. The ermine-lined
motoring-cloak, the broadcloth cut on simple lines of elegance, the
quality of her lingerie and of the hosiery which incased the
wonderfully small feet, all told of a padded existence from which the
cares of life had been excluded. The satin flesh he massaged, to renew
the flow of the dammed blood, was soft and tender like a babe's. Quite
surely she was an exotic, the last woman in the world fitted for the
hardships of this frontier country. She had none of the deep-breasted
vitality of those of her sex who have fought with grim nature and won.
His experience told him that a very little longer in the storm would
have snuffed out the wick of her life.

But he knew, too, that the danger was past. Faint tints of pink were
beginning to warm the cheeks that had been so deathly pallid. Already
crimson lips were offering a vivid contrast to the still, almost
colorless face.

For she was biting the little lips to try and keep back the cries of
pain that returning life wrung from her. Big tears coursed down her
cheeks, and broken sobs caught her breath. She was helpless as an
infant before the searching pain that wracked her.

"I can't stand it--I can't stand it," she moaned, and in her  distress
stretched out her little hand for relief as a baby might to its mother.

The childlike appeal of the flinching violet eyes in the tortured face
moved him strangely. He was accounted a hard man, not without reason.
His eyes were those of a gambler, cold and vigilant. It was said that
he could follow an undeviating course without relenting at the ruin and
misery wrought upon others by his operations. But the helpless
loveliness of this exquisitely dainty child-woman, the sense of
intimacy bred of a common peril endured, of the strangeness of their
environment and of her utter dependence upon him, carried the man out
of himself and away from conventions.

He stooped and gathered her into his arms, walking the floor with her
and cheering her as if she had indeed been the child they both for the
moment conceived her.

"You don't know how it hurts," she pleaded between sobs, looking up
into the strong face so close to hers.

"I know it must, dear. But soon it will be better. Every twinge is one
less, and shows that you are getting well. Be brave for just a few
minutes more now."

She smiled wanly through her tears. "But I'm not brave. I'm a little
coward--and it does pain so."

"I know--I know. It is dreadful. But just a few minutes now."

"You're good to me," she said presently, simply as a little girl might
have said it.

To neither of them did it seem strange that she should be there in his
arms, her fair head against his shoulder, nor that she should cling
convulsively to him when the fierce pain tingled unbearably. She had
reached out for the nearest help, and he gave of his strength and
courage abundantly.

Presently the prickling of the flowing blood grew less sharp. She began
to grow drowsy with warmth after the fatigue and pain. The big eyes
shut, fluttered open, smiled at him, and again closed. She had fallen
asleep from sheer exhaustion.

He looked down with an odd queer feeling at the small aristocratic face
relaxed upon his ann. The long lashes had drooped to the cheeks and
shuttered the eyes that had met his with such confident appeal, but
they did not hide the dark rings underneath, born of the hardships she
had endured. As he walked the floor with her, he lived once more the
terrible struggle through which they had passed. He saw Death
stretching out icy hands for her, and as his arms unconsciously
tightened about the soft rounded body, his square jaw set and the
fighting spark leaped to his eyes.

"No, by Heaven," he gave back aloud his defiance.

Troubled dreams pursued her in her sleep. She clung close to him, her
arm creeping round his neck for safety. He was a man not given to fine
scruples, but all the best in him responded to her unconscious trust.

It was so she found herself when she awakened, stiff from her cramped
position. She slipped at once to the floor and sat there drying her
lace skirts, the sweet piquancy of her childish face set out by the
leaping fire-glow that lit and shadowed her delicate coloring. Outside
in the gray darkness raged the death from which he had snatched her by
a miracle. Beyond--a million miles away--the world whose claim had
loosened on them was going through its routine of lies and love, of
hypocrisies and heroisms. But here were just they two, flung back to
the primordial type by the fierce battle for existence that had
encompassed them--Adam and Eve in the garden, one to one, all else
forgot, all other ties and obligations for the moment obliterated. Had
they not struggled, heart beating against heart, with the breath of
death icing them, and come out alive? Was their world not contracted to
a space ten feet by twelve, shut in from every other planet by an
illimitable stretch of storm?

"Where should I have been if you had not found me?" she murmured, her
haunting eyes fixed on the flames.

"But I should have found you--no matter where you had been, I should
have found you."

The words seemed to leap from him of themselves. He was sure he had not
meant to speak them, to voice so soon the claim that seemed to him so
natural and reasonable.

She considered his words and found delight in acquiescing at once. The
unconscious demand for life, for love, of her starved soul had never
been gratified. But he had come to her through that fearful valley of
death, because he must, because it had always been meant he should.

Her lustrous eyes, big with faith, looked up and met his.

The far, wise voices of the world were storm-deadened. They cried no
warning to these drifting hearts. How should they know in that moment
when their souls reached toward each other that the wisdom of the ages
had decreed their yearning futile?



CHAPTER 4. FORT SALVATION

She must have fallen asleep there, for when she opened her eyes it was
day. Underneath her was a lot of bedding he had found in the cabin, and
tucked about her were the automobile rugs. For a moment her brain,
still sodden with sleep, struggled helplessly with her surroundings.
She looked at the smoky rafters without understanding, and her eyes
searched the cabin wonderingly for her maid. When she remembered, her
first thought was to look for the man. That he had gone, she saw with
instinctive terror.

But not without leaving a message. She found his penciled note,
weighted for security by a dollar, at the edge of the hearth.

"Gone on a foraging expedition. Back in an hour, Little Partner," was
all it said. The other man also had promised to be back in an hour, and
he had not come, but the strong chirography of the note, recalling the
resolute strength of this man's face, brought content to her eyes. He
had said he would come back. She rested secure in that pledge.

She went to the window and looked out over the great white wastes that
rose tier on tier to the dull sky-line. She shuddered at the arctic
desolation of the vast snow-fields. The mountains were sheeted with
silence and purity. It seemed to the untaught child-woman that she was
face to face with the Almighty.

Once during the night she had partially awakened to hear the roaring
wind as it buffeted snow-clouds across the range. It had come tearing
along the divide with the black storm in its vanguard, and she had
heard fearfully the shrieks and screams of the battle as it raged up
and down the gulches and sifted into them the deep drifts.

Half-asleep as she was, she had been afraid and had cried out with
terror at this strange wakening; and he had been beside her in an
instant.

"It's all right, partner. There's nothing to be afraid of," he had said
cheerfully, taking her little hand in his big warm one.

Her fears had slipped away at once. Nestling down into her rug, she had
smiled sleepily at him and fallen asleep with her cheek on her hand,
her other hand still in his.

While she had been asleep the snow-tides had filled the gulch, had
risen level with the top of the lower pane of the window. Nothing broke
the smoothness of its flow save the one track he had made in breaking a
way out. That he should have tried to find his way through such an
untracked desolation amazed her. He could never do it. No puny human
atom could fight successfully against the barriers nature had dropped
so sullenly to fence them. They were set off from the world by a
quarantine of God. There was something awful to her in the knowledge.
It emphasized their impotence. Yet, this man had set himself to fight
the inevitable.

With a little shudder she turned from the window to the cheerless room.
The floor was dirty; unwashed dishes were piled upon the table. Here
and there were scattered muddy boots and overalls, just as their owner,
the prospector, had left them before he had gone to the nearest town to
restock his exhausted supply of provisions. Disorder and dirt filled
the rough cabin, or so it seemed to her fastidious eye.

The inspiration of the housewife seized her. She would surprise him on
his return by opening the door to him upon a house swept and garnished.
She would show him that she could be of some use even in such a
primitive topsy-turvy world as this into which Fate had thrust her
willy-nilly.

First, she carried red live coals on a shovel from the fireplace to the
cook-stove, and piled kindling upon them till it lighted. It was a new
experience to her. She knew nothing of housework; had never lit a fire
in her life, except once when she had been one of a camping party. The
smoke choked her before she had the lids back in their places, but
despite her awkwardness, the girl went about her unaccustomed tasks
with a light heart. It was for her new-found hero that she played at
housekeeping. For his commendation she filled the tea-kettle, enveloped
herself in a cloud of dust as she wielded the stub of a broom she
discovered, and washed the greasy dishes after the water was hot. A
childish pleasure suffused her. All her life her least whims had been
ministered to; she was reveling in a first attempt at service. As she
moved to and fro with an improvised dust-rag, sunshine filled her
being. From her lips the joy notes fell in song, shaken from her throat
for sheer happiness. This surely was life, that life from which she had
so carefully been hedged all the years of her young existence.

As he came down the trail he had broken, with a pack on his back, the
man heard her birdlike carol in the clear frosty air. He emptied his
chest in a deep shout, and she was instantly at the window, waving him
a welcome with her dust-rag.

"I thought you were never coming," she cried from the open door as he
came up the path.

Her eyes were starry in their eagerness. Every sensitive feature was
alert with interest, so that the man thought he had never seen so
mobile and attractive a face.

"Did it seem long?" he asked.

"Oh, weeks and weeks! You must be frozen to an icicle. Come in and get
warm."

"I'm as warm as toast," he assured her.

He was glowing with exercise and the sting of the cold, for he had
tramped two miles through drifts from three to five feet deep, battling
with them every step of the way, and carrying with him on the return
trip a box of provisions.

"With all that snow on you and the pack on your back, it's like Santa
Claus," she cried, clapping her hands.

"Before we're through with the adventure we may think that box a sure
enough gift from Santa," he replied.

After he had put it down, he took off his overcoat on the threshold and
shook the snow from it. Then, with much feet stamping and scattering of
snow, he came in. She fluttered about him, dragging a chair up to the
fire for him, and taking his hat and gloves. It amused and pleased him
that she should be so solicitous, and he surrendered himself to her
ministrations.

His quick eye noticed the swept floor and the evanishment of disorder.
"Hello! What's this clean through a fall house-cleaning? I'm not the
only member of the firm that has been working. Dishes washed, floor
swept, bed made, kitchen fire lit. You've certainly been going some,
unless the fairies helped you. Aren't you afraid of blistering these
little hands?" he asked gaily, taking one of them in his and touching
the soft palm gently with the tip of his finger.

"I should preserve those blisters in alcohol to show that I've really
been of some use," she answered, happy in his approval.

"Sho! People are made for different uses. Some are fit only to shovel
and dig. Others are here simply to decorate the world. Hard world. Hard
work is for those who can't give society anything else, but beauty is
its own excuse for being," he told her breezily.

"Now that's the first compliment you have given me," she pouted
prettily. "I can get them in plenty back in the drawing-rooms where I
am supposed to belong. We're to be real comrades here, and compliments
are barred."

"I wasn't complimenting you," he maintained. "I was merely stating a
principle of art."

"Then you mustn't make your principles of art personal, sir. But since
you have, I'm going to refute the application of your principle and
show how useful I've been. Now, sir, do you know what provisions we
have outside of those you have just brought?"

He knew exactly, since he had investigated during the night. That they
might possibly have to endure a siege of some weeks, he was quite well
aware, and his first thought, after she had gone to sleep before the
fire, had been to make inventory of such provisions as the prospector
had left in his cabin. A knuckle of ham, part of a sack of flour, some
navy beans, and some tea siftings at the bottom of a tin can; these
constituted the contents of the larder which the miner had gone to
replenish. But though the man knew he assumed ignorance, for he saw
that she was bubbling over with the desire to show her forethought.

"Tell me," he begged of her, and after she had done so, he marveled
aloud over her wisdom in thinking of it.

"Now tell me about your trip," she commanded, setting herself tailor
fashion on the rug to listen.

"There isn't much to tell," he smiled "I should like to make an
adventure of it, but I can't. I just went and came back."

"Oh, you just went and came back, did you?" she scoffed. "That won't do
at all. I want to know all about it. Did you find the machine all
right?"

"I found it where we left it, buried in four feet of snow. You needn't
be afraid that anybody will run away with it for a day or two. The
pantry was cached pretty deep itself, but I dug it out."

Her shy glance admired the sturdy lines of his powerful frame. "I am
afraid it must have been a terrible task to get there through the
blizzard."

"Oh, the blizzard is past. You never saw a finer, more bracing morning.
It's a day for the gods," he laughed boyishly.

She could have conceived no Olympian more heroic than he, and certainly
none with so compelling a vitality. "Such a warm, kind light in them!"
she thought of the eyes others had found hard and calculating.

It was lucky that the lunch the automobilists had brought from
Avalanche was ample and as yet untouched. The hotel waiter, who had
attended to the packing of it, had fortunately been used to reckon with
outdoor Montana appetites instead of cloyed New York ones. They
unpacked the little hamper with much gaiety. Everything was frozen
solid, and the wine had cracked its bottle.

"Shipped right through on our private refrigerator-car. That
cold-storage chicken looks the finest that ever happened. What's this
rolled up in tissue-paper? Deviled eggs and ham sandwiches AND caviar,
not to speak of claret frappe. I'm certainly grateful to the gentleman
finished in ebony who helped to provision us for this siege. He'll
never know what a tip he missed by not being here to collect."

"Here's jelly, too, and cake," she said, exploring with him.

"Not to mention peaches and pears. Oh, this is luck of a special brand!
I was expecting to put up at Starvation Camp. Now we may name it Point
Plenty."

"Or Fort Salvation," she suggested shyly. "Because you brought me here
to save my life."

She was such a child, in spite of her charming grown-up airs, that he
played make-believe with a zest that surprised himself when he came to
think of it. She elected him captain of Fort Salvation, with full power
of life and death over the garrison, and he appointed her second in
command. His first general order was to put the garrison on two meals a
day.

She clapped her little hands, eyes sparkling with excitement. "Are we
really snow-bound? Must we go on half-rations?"

"It is the part of wisdom, lieutenant," he answered, smiling at her
enthusiasm. "We don't know how long this siege is going to last. If it
should set in to snow, we may be here several days before the
relief-party reaches us." But, though he spoke cheerfully, he was aware
of sinister possibilities in the situation. "Several weeks" would have
been nearer his real guess.

They ate breakfast at the shelf-table nailed in place underneath the
western window. They made a picnic of it, and her spirits skipped upon
the hilltops. For the first time she ate from tin plates, drank from a
tin cup, and used a tin spoon the worse for rust. What mattered it to
her that the teapot was grimy and the fryingpan black with soot! It was
all part of the wonderful new vista that had suddenly opened before her
gaze. She had awakened into life and already she was dimly realizing
that many and varied experiences lay waiting for her in that untrodden
path beyond her cloistered world.

A reconnaissance in the shed behind the house showed him no plethora of
firewood. But here was ax, shovel, and saw, and he asked no more. First
he shoveled out a path along the eaves of the house where she might
walk in sentry fashion to take the deep breaths of clear sharp air he
insisted upon. He made it wide enough so that her skirt would not sweep
against the snow-bank, and trod down the trench till the footing was
hard and solid. Then with ax and saw he climbed the hillside back of
the house and set himself to get as much fuel as he could. The sky was
still heavy with unshed snow, and he knew that with the coming of night
the storm would be renewed.

Came noon, mid-afternoon, the early dusk of a mountain winter, and
found him still hewing and sawing, still piling load after load in the
shed. Now and again she came out and watched him, laughing at the
figure he made as he would come plunging through the snow with his
armful of fuel.

She did not know, as he did, the vital necessity of filling the lean-to
before winter fell upon them in earnest and buried them deep with his
frozen blanket, and she was a little piqued that he should spend the
whole day away from her in such unsocial fashion.

"Let me help," she begged so often that he trod down a path, made boots
for her out of torn gunny-sacks which he tied round her legs, and let
her drag wood to the house on a pine branch which served for a sled.
She wore her gauntlets to protect her tender hands, and thereafter was
happy until, detecting signs of fatigue, he made her go into the house
and rest.

As soon as she dared she was back again, making fun of him and the
earnestness with which he worked.

"Robinson Crusoe" was one name she fastened upon him, and she was not
satisfied till she had made him call her "Friday."

Twilight fell austere and sudden upon them with an immediate fall of
temperature that found a thermometer in her blue face.

He recommended the house, but she was of a contrary mood.

"I don't want to," she announced debonairly.

In a stiff military attitude he gave raucous mandate from his throat.

"Commanding officer's orders, lieutenant."

"I think I'm going to mutiny," she informed him, with chin saucily in
air.

This would not do at all. The chill wind sweeping down the canon was
searching her insufficient clothing already. He picked her up in his
arms and ran with her toward the house, setting her down in the trench
outside the door. She caught her startled breath and looked at him in
shy, dubious amazement.

"Really you" she was beginning when he cut her short.

"Commanding officer's orders, lieutenant," came briskly from lips that
showed just a hint of a smile.

At once she clicked her heels together, saluted, and wheeled into the
cabin.

From the grimy window she watched his broad-shouldered vigor, waving
her hand whenever his face was turned her way. He worked like a Titan,
reveling in the joy of physical labor, but it was long past dark before
he finished and came striding to the hut.

They made a delightful evening of it, living in the land of Never Was.
For one source of her charm lay in the gay, childlike whimsicality of
her imagination. She believed in fairies and heroes with all her heart,
which with her was an organ not located in her brain. The delicious
gurgle of gaiety in her laugh was a new find to him in feminine
attractions.

There had been many who thought the career of this pirate of industry
beggared fiction, though, few had found his flinty personality a
radiaton of romance. But this convent-nurtured child had made a
discovery in men, one out of the rut of the tailor-made,
convention-bound society youths to whom her experience for the most
part had been limited. She delighted in his masterful strength, in the
confidence of his careless dominance. She liked to see that look of
power in his gray-blue eyes softened to the droll, half-tender,
expression with which he played the game of make-believe. There were no
to-morrows; to-day marked the limit of time for them. By tacit consent
they lived only in the present, shutting out deliberately from their
knowledge of each other, that past which was not common to both. Even
their names were unknown to each other, and both of them were glad that
it was so.

The long winter evening had fallen early, and they dined by
candle-light, considering merrily how much they might with safety eat
and yet leave enough for the to-morrows that lay before them. Afterward
they sat before the fire, in the shadow and shine of the flickering
logs, happy and content in each other's presence. She dreamed, and he,
watching her, dreamed, too. The wild, sweet wonder of life surged
through them, touching their squalid surroundings to the high mystery
of things unreal.

The strangeness of it was that he was a man of large and not very
creditable experience of women, yet her deep, limpid eyes, her sweet
voice, the immature piquancy of her movements that was the expression
of her, had stirred his imagination more potently than if he had been
the veriest schoolboy nursing a downy lip. He could not keep his eyes
from this slender, exquisite girl, so dainty and graceful in her mobile
piquancy. Fire and passion were in his heart and soul, restraint and
repression in his speech and manner. For the fire and passion in him
were pure and clean as the winds that sweep the hills.

But for the girl--she was so little mistress of her heart that she had
no prescience of the meaning of this sweet content that filled her. And
the voices that should have warned her were silent, busy behind the
purple hills with lies and love and laughter and tears.



CHAPTER 5. ENTER SIMON HARLEY

The prospector's house in which they had found refuge was perched on
the mountainside just at one edge of the draw. Rough as the girl had
thought it, there was a more pretentious appearance to it than might
have been expected. The cabin was of hewn logs mortared with mud, and
care had been taken to make it warm. The fireplace was a huge affair
that ate fuel voraciously. It was built of stone, which had been
gathered from the immediate hillside.

The prospect itself showed evidence of having been worked a good deal,
and it was an easy guess for the man who now stood looking into the
tunnel that it belonged to some one of the thousands of miners who
spend half their time earning a grubstake, and the other half
dissipating it upon some hole in the ground which they have duped
themselves into believing is a mine.

From the tunnel his eye traveled up the face of the white mountain to
the great snow-comb that yawned over the edge of the rock-rim far
above. It had snowed again heavily all night, and now showed symptoms
of a thaw. Not once nor twice, but a dozen times, the man's anxious
gaze had swept up to that great overhanging bank. Snowslides ran every
year in this section with heavy loss to life and property. Given a
rising temperature and some wind, the comb above would gradually settle
lower and lower, at last break off, plunge down the precipitous slope,
bringing thousands of tons of rock and snow with it, and, perhaps, bury
them in a Titanic grave of ice. There had been a good deal of timber
cut from the shoulder of the mountain during the past summer, and this
very greatly increased the danger. That there was a real peril the man
looking at it did not attempt to deny to himself. It would be enough to
deny it to her in case she should ever suspect.

He had hoped for cold weather, a freeze hard enough to crust the
surface of the snow. Upon this he might have made shift somehow to get
her to Yesler's ranch, eighteen miles away though it was, but he knew
this would not be feasible with the snow in its present condition. It
was not certain that he could make the ranch alone; encumbered with
her, success would be a sheer impossibility. On the other hand, their
provisions would not last long. The outlook was not a cheerful one,
from whichever point of view he took it; yet there was one phase of it
he could not regret. The factors which made the difficulties of the
situation made also its delights. Though they were prisoners in this
solitary untrodden canyon, the sentence was upon both of them. She
could look to none other than he for aid; and, at least, the drifts
which kept them in held others out.

Her voice at his shoulder startled him.

"Wherefore this long communion with nature, my captain?" she gaily
asked. "Behold, my lord's hot cakes are ready for the pan and his
servant to wait upon him." She gave him a demure smiling little curtsy
of mock deference.

Never had her distracting charm been more in evidence. He had not seen
her since they parted on the previous night. He had built for himself a
cot in the woodshack, and had contrived a curtain that could be drawn
in front of her bed in the living-room. Thus he could enter in the
morning, light the fires, and start breakfast without disturbing her.
She had dressed her hair, now in a different way, so that it fell in
low waves back from the forehead and was bunched at the nape of her
neck. The light swiftness of her dainty grace, the almost exaggerated
carnation of the slightly parted lips, the glad eagerness that sparked
her eyes, brought out effectively the picturesqueness of her beauty.

His grave eyes rested on her so long that a soft glow mantled her
cheeks. Perhaps her words had been too free, though she had not meant
them so. For the first time some thought of the conventions distressed
her. Ought she to hold herself more in reserve toward him? Must she
restrain her natural impulses to friendliness?

His eyes released her presently, but not before she read in them the
feelings that had softened them as they gazed into hers. They mirrored
his poignant pleasure at the delight of her sweet slenderness so close
to him, his perilous joy at the intimacy fate had thrust upon them.
Shyly her lids fell to the flushed cheeks.

"Breakfast is ready," she added self-consciously, her girlish innocence
startled like a fawn of the forest at the hunter's approach.

For whereas she had been blind now she saw in part. Some flash of
clairvoyance had laid bare a glimpse of his heart and her own to her.
Without misunderstanding the perfect respect for her which he felt, she
knew the turbid banked emotions which this dammed. Her heart seemed to
beat in her bosom like an imprisoned dove.

It was his voice, calm and resonant with strength, that brought her to
earth again.

"And I am ready for it, lieutenant. Right about face. Forward--march!"


After breakfast they went out and tramped together the little path of
hard-trodden snow in front of the house. She broached the prospect of a
rescue or the chances of escape.

"We shall soon be out of food, and, anyhow, we can't stay here all
winter," she suggested with a tremulous little laugh.

"You are naturally very tired of it already," he hazarded.

"It has been the experience of my life. I shall fence it off from all
the days that have passed and all that are to come," she made answer
vividly.

Their eyes met, but only for an instant.

"I am glad," he said quietly.

He began, then, to tell her what he must do, but at the first word of
it she broke out in protest.

"No--no--no! We shall stay together. If you go I am going, too."

"I wish you could, but it is not possible. You could never get there.
The snow is too soft and heavy for wading and not firm enough to bear
your weight."

"But you will have to wade."

"I am stronger than you, lieutenant."

"I know, but----" She broke down and confessed her terror. "Would you
leave me here--alone--with all this snow Oh, I couldn't stay--I
couldn't."

"It's the only way," he said steadily. Every fiber in him rebelled at
leaving her here to face peril alone, but his reason overrode the
desire and rebellion that were hot within him. He must think first of
her ultimate safety, and this lay in getting her away from here at the
first chance.

Tears splashed down from the big eyes. "I didn't think you would leave
me here alone. With you I don't mind it, but-- Oh, I should die if I
stayed alone."

"Only for twenty-four hours. Perhaps less. I shouldn't think of it if
it weren't necessary."

"Take me with you. I am strong. You don't know how strong I am. I
promise to keep up with you. Please!"

He shook his head. "I would take you with me if I could. You know that.
But it's a man's fight. I shall have to stand up to it hour after hour
till I reach Yesler's ranch. I shall get through, but it would not be
possible for you to make it."

"And if you don't get through?"

He refused to consider that contingency. "But I shall. You may look to
see me back with help by this time to-morrow morning."

"I'm not afraid with you. But if you go away Oh, I can't stand it. You
don't know--you don't know." She buried her face in her hands.

He had to swallow down his sympathy before he went on. "Yes, I know.
But you must be brave. You must think of every minute as being one
nearer to the time of my return."

"You will think me a dreadful coward, and I am. But I can't help it. I
AM afraid to stay alone. There's nothing in the world but mountains of
snow. They are horrible--like death--except when you are here."

Her child eyes coaxed him to stay. The mad longing was in him to kiss
the rosy little mouth with the queer alluring droop to its corners. It
was a strange thing how, with that arched twist to her eyebrows and
with that smile which came and went like sunshine in her eyes, she
toppled his lifelong creed. The cardinal tenet of his faith had been a
belief in strength. He had first been drawn to Virginia by reason of
her pluck and her power. Yet this child's very weakness was her
fountain of strength. She cried out with pain, and he counted it an
asset of virtue in her. She acknowledged herself a coward, and his
heart went out to her because of it. The battle assignments of life
were not for the soft curves and shy winsomeness of this dainty lamb.

"You will be brave. I expect you to be brave, lieutenant." Words of
love and comfort were crowding to his brain, but he would not let them
out.

"How long will you be gone?" she sobbed.

"I may possibly get back before midnight, but you mustn't begin to
expect me until to-morrow morning, perhaps not till to-morrow
afternoon."

"Oh, I couldn't--I couldn't stay here at night alone. Don't go, please.
I'll not get hungry, truly I won't, and to-morrow they will find us."

He rose, his face working. "I MUST go, child. It's the thing to do. I
wish to Heaven it weren't. You must think of yourself as quite safe
here. You ARE safe. Don't make it hard for me to go, dear."

"I AM a coward. But I can't help it. There is so much snow--and the
mountains are so big." She tried valiantly to crush down her sobs. "But
go. I'll--I'll not be afraid."

He buried her little hands in his two big ones and looked deep into her
eyes. "Every minute of the time I am away from you I shall be with you
in spirit. You'll not be alone any minute of the day or night. Whether
you are awake or asleep I shall be with you."

"I'll try to remember that," she answered, smiling up at him but with a
trembling lip.

She put him up some lunch while he made his simple preparations. To the
end of the trench she walked with him, neither of them saying a word.
The moment of parting had come.

She looked up at him with a crooked wavering little smile. She wanted
to be brave, but she could not trust herself to say a word.

"Remember, dear. I am not leaving you. My body has gone on an errand.
That is all."

Just now she found small comfort in this sophistry, but she did not
tell him so.

"I--I'll remember." She gulped down a sob and still smiled through the
mist that filmed her sight.

In his face she could see how much he was moved at her distress. Always
a creature of impulse, one mastered her now, the need to let her
weakness rest on his strength. Her arms slipped quickly round his neck
and her head lay buried on his shoulder. He held her tight, eyes
shining, the desire of her held in leash behind set teeth, the while
sobs shook her soft round body in gusts.

"My lamb--my sweet precious lamb," she heard him murmur in anguish.

From some deep sex trait it comforted her that he suffered. With the
mother instinct she began to regain control of herself that she might
help him.

"It will not be for long," she assured him. "And every step of your way
I shall pray for, your safety," she whispered.

He held her at arm's length while his gaze devoured her, then silently
he wheeled away and plunged waist deep into the drifts. As long as he
was in sight he saw her standing there, waving her handkerchief to him
in encouragement. Her slight, dark figure, outlined against the snow,
was the last thing his eyes fell upon before he turned a corner of the
gulch and dropped downward toward the plains.

But when he was surely gone, after one fearful look at the white sea
which encompassed her, the girl fled to the cabin, slammed the door
after her, and flung herself on the bed to weep out her lonely terror
in an ecstasy of tears. She had spent the first violence of her grief,
and was sitting crouched on the rug before the open fire when the sound
of a footstep, crunching the snow, startled her. The door opened, to
let in the man who had just left her.

"You are back--already," she cried, her tear? stained face lifted
toward him.

"Yes," he smiled' from the doorway. "Come here, little partner."

And when she had obediently joined him her eye followed his finger up
the mountain-trail to a bend round which men and horses were coming.

"It's a relief-party," he said, and caught up his field-glasses to look
them over more certainly. Two men on horseback, leading a third animal,
were breaking a way down the trail, black spots against the background
of white. "I guess Fort Salvation's about to be relieved," he added
grimly, following the party through the glasses.

She touched the back of his hand with a finger. "Are you glad?" she
asked softly.

"No, by Heaven!" he cried, lowering his glasses swiftly.

As he looked into her eyes the blood rushed to his brain with a surge.
Her face turned to his unconsciously, and their lips met.

"And I don't even know your name," she murmured.

"Waring Ridgway; and yours?"

"Aline Hope," she said absently. Then a hot Rush ran over the girlish
face. "No, no, I had forgotten. I was married last week."

The gates of paradise, open for two days, clanged to on Ridgway. He
stared out with unseeing eyes into the silent wastes of snow. The
roaring in his ears and the mountainsides that churned before his eyes
were reflections of the blizzard raging within him.

"I'll never forget--never," he heard her falter, and her voice was a
thousand miles away.

From the storm within him he was aroused by a startled cry from the
girl at his side. Her fascinated gaze was fixed on the summit of the
ridge above them. There was a warning crackle. The overhanging comb
snapped, slid slowly down, and broke off. With gathering momentum it
descended, sweeping into its heart rocks, trees, and debris. A terrific
roar filled the air as the great white cloud came tearing down like an
express-train.

Ridgway caught her round the waist and flung the girl against the wall
of the cabin, protecting her with his body. The avalanche was upon
them, splitting great trees to kindling-wood in the fury of its rush.
The concussion of the wind shattered every window to fragments, almost
tore the cabin from its foundations. Only the extreme tail of the slide
touched them, yet they were buried deep in flying snow.

He found no great difficulty in digging a way out, and when he lifted
her to the surface she was conscious. Yet she was pale even to the lips
and trembled like an aspen in the summer breeze, clinging to him for
support helplessly.

His cheerful voice rang like a bugle to her shocked brain.

"It's all past. We're safe now, dear--quite safe."

The first of the trail-breakers had dismounted and was plowing his way
hurriedly to the cabin, but neither of them saw him as he came up the
slope.

"Are you sure?" She shuddered, her hands still in his. "Wasn't it
awful? I thought--" Her sentence trailed out unfinished.

"Are you unhurt, Aline?" cried the newcomer. And when he saw she was,
he added: "Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is
good: for His mercy endureth forever. He saved them for His name's
sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known."

At sound of the voice they turned and saw the man hurrying toward them.
He was tall, gray, and seventy, of massive frame and gaunt, still
straight and vigorous, with the hooked nose and piercing eyes of a
hawk. At first glance he looked always the bird of prey, but at the
next as invariably the wolf, an effect produced by the salient reaching
jaw and the glint of white teeth bared for a lip smile. Just now he was
touched to a rare emotion. His hands trembled and an expression of
shaken thankfulness rested in his face.

Aline, still with Ridgway's strong arms about her, slowly came back to
the inexorable facts of life.

"You--here?"

"As soon as we could get through--and thank God in time."

"I would have died, except for--" This brought her immediately to an
introduction, and after she had quietly released herself the man who
had saved her heard himself being formally presented: "Mr. Ridgway, I
want you to meet my husband, Mr. Harley."

Ridgway turned to Simon Harley a face of hammered steel and bowed,
putting his hands deliberately behind his back.

"I've been expecting you at Mesa, Mr. Harley," he said rigidly. "I'll
be glad to have the pleasure of welcoming you there."

The great financier was wondering where he had heard the man's name
before, but he only said gravely: "You have a claim on me I can never
forget, Mr. Ridgway."

Scornfully the other disdained this proffer. "Not at all. You owe me
nothing, Mr. Harley--absolutely nothing. What I have done I have done
for her. It is between her and me."

At this moment the mind of Harley fitted the name Ridgway to its niche
in his brain. So this was the audacious filibuster who had dared to
fire on the trust flag, the man he had come West to ruin and to humble.


"I think you will have to include me, Mr. Ridgway," he said suavely.
"What is done for my wife is done, also, for me."



CHAPTER 6. ON THE SNOW-TRAIL

Aline had passed into the house, moved by an instinct which shrank from
publicity in the inevitable personal meeting between her and her
husband. Now, Harley, with the cavalier nod of dismissal, which only a
multimillionaire can afford, followed her and closed the door. A
passionate rush of blood swept Ridgway's face. He saw red as he stood
there with eyes burning into that door which had been shut in his face.
The nails of his clenched fingers bit into his palms, and his muscles
gathered themselves tensely. He had been cast aside, barred from the
woman he loved by this septuagenarian, as carelessly as if he had no
claim.

And it came home to him that now he had no claim, none before the law
and society. They had walked in Arcadia where shepherds pipe. They had
taken life for granted as do the creatures of the woods, forgetful of
the edicts of a world that had seemed far and remote. But that world
had obtruded itself and shattered their dream. In the person of Simon
Harley it had shut the door which was to separate him and her. Hitherto
he had taken from life what he had wanted, but already he was grappling
with the blind fear of a fate for once too strong for him.

"Well, I'm damned if it isn't Waring Ridgway," called a mellow voice
from across the gulch.

The man named turned, and gradually the set lines of his jaw relaxed.

"I didn't notice it was you, Sam. Better bring the horses across this
side of that fringe of aspens."

The dismounted horseman followed directions and brought the floundering
horses through, and after leaving them in the cleared place where
Ridgway had cut his firewood he strolled leisurely forward to meet the
mine-owner. He was a youngish man, broad of shoulder and slender of
waist, a trifle bowed in the legs from much riding, but with an elastic
sufficiency that promised him the man for an emergency, a pledge which
his steady steel-blue eyes, with the humorous lines about the corners,
served to make more valuable. His apparel suggested the careless
efficiency of the cow-man, from the high-heeled boots into which were
thrust his corduroys to the broad-brimmed white Stetson set on his
sunreddened wavy hair. A man's man, one would vote him at first sight,
and subsequent impressions would not contradict the first.

"Didn't know you were down in this neck of woods, Waring," he said
pleasantly, as they shook hands.

An onlooker might have noticed that both of them gripped hands heartily
and looked each other squarely in the eye.

"I came down on business and got caught in the blizzard on my way back.
Came on her freezing in the machine and brought her here along with me.
I had my eye on that slide. The snow up there didn't look good to me,
and the grub was about out, anyhow, so I was heading for the C B Ranch
when I sighted you."

"Golden luck for her. I knew it was a chance in a million that she was
still alive, but Harley wanted to take it. Say, that old fellow's made
of steel wire. Two of my boys are plugging along a mile or two behind
us, but he stayed right with the game to a finish--and him
seventy-three, mind you, and a New Yorker at that. The old boy rides
like he was born in a saddle," said Sam Yesler with enthusiasm.

"I never said he was a quitter," conceded Ridgway ungraciously.

"You're right he ain't. And say, but he's fond of his wife. Soon as he
struck the ranch the old man butted out again into the blizzard to get
her--slipped out before we knew it. The boys rounded him up wandering
round the big pasture, and none too soon neither. All the time we had
to keep herd on him to keep him from taking another whirl at it. He was
like a crazy man to tackle it, though he must a-known it was suicide.
Funny how a man takes a shine to a woman and thinks the sun rises and
sets by her. Far, as I have been able to make out women are much of a
sameness, though I ain't setting up for a judge. Like as not this woman
don't care a hand's turn for him."

"Why should she? He bought her with his millions, I suppose. What right
has an old man like that with one foot in the grave to pick out a child
and marry her? I tell you, Sam, there's something ghastly about it."

"Oh, well, I reckon when she sold herself she knew what she was
getting. It's about an even thing--six of one and half a dozen of the
other. There must be something rotten about a woman who will do a thing
of that sort."

"Wait till you've seen her before passing judgment. And after you have
you'll apologize if you're a white man for thinking such a thing about
her," the miner said hotly.

Yesler looked at his friend in amiable surprise. "I don't reckon we
need to quarrel about Simon Harley's matrimonial affairs, do we?" he
laughed.

"Not unless you want to say any harm of that lamb."

A glitter of mischief gleamed from the cattleman's eyes. "Meaning
Harley, Waring?"

"You know who I mean. I tell you she's an angel from heaven, pure as
the driven snow."

"And I tell you that I'll take your word for it without quarreling with
you," was the goodhumored retort. "What's up, anyhow? I never saw you
so touchy before. You're a regular pepper-box."

The rescuers had brought food with them, and the party ate lunch before
starting back. The cow-punchers of the C B had now joined them, both of
them, as well as their horses, very tired with the heavy travel.

"This here Marathon race business through three-foot snow ain't for
invalids like me and Husky," one of them said cheerfully, with his
mouth full of sandwich. "We're also rans, and don't even show for
place."

Yet though two of them had, temporarily at least, been rescued from
imminent danger, and success beyond their expectations had met the
others, it was a silent party. A blanket of depression seemed to rest
upon it, which the good stories of Yesler and the genial nonsense of
his man, Chinn, were unable to lift. Three of them, at least, were
brooding over what the morning had brought forth, and trying to realize
what it might mean for them.

"We'd best be going, I expect," said Yesler at last. "We've got a right
heavy bit of work cut out for us, and the horses are through feeding.
We can't get started any too soon for me."

Ridgway nodded silently. He knew that the stockman was dubious, as he
himself was, about being able to make the return trip in safety. The
horses were tired; so, too, were the men who had broken the heavy trail
for so many miles, with the exception of Sam himself, who seemed built
of whipcord and elastic. They would be greatly encumbered by the woman,
for she would certainly give out during the journey. The one point in
their favor was that they could follow a trail which had already been
trodden down.

Simon Harley helped his wife into the boy's saddle on the back of the
animal they had led, but his inexperience had to give way to Yesler's
skill in fitting the stirrups to the proper length for her feet. To
Ridgway, who had held himself aloof during this preparation, the
stockman now turned with a wave of his hand toward his horse.

"You ride, Waring."

"No, I'm fresh."

"All right. We'll take turns."

Ridgway led the party across the gulch, following the trail that had
been swept by the slide. The cowboys followed him, next came Harley,
his wife, and in the rear the cattleman. They descended the draw, and
presently dipped over rolling ground to the plain beyond. The
procession plowed steadily forward mile after mile, the pomes
floundering through drifts after the man ahead.

Chinn, who had watched him breasting the soft heavy blanket that lay on
the ground so deep and hemmed them in, turned to his companion.

"On the way coming I told you, Husky, we had the best man in Montana at
our head. We got that beat now to a fare-you-well. We got the two best
in this party, by crickey."

"He's got the guts, all right, but there ain't nothing on two legs can
keep it up much longer," replied the other. "If you want to know, I'm
about all in myself."

"Here, too," grunted the other. "And so's the bronc."

It was not, however, until dusk was beginning to fall that the leader
stopped. Yesler's voice brought him up short in his tracks.

"Hold on, Waring. The lady's down."

Ridgway strode back past the exhausted cowboys and Harley, the latter
so beaten with fatigue that he could scarce cling to the pommel of his
saddle.

"I saw it coming. She's been done for a long time, but she hung on like
a thoroughbred," explained Yesler from the snow-bank where Aline had
fallen.

He had her in his arms and was trying to get at a flask of whisky in
his hip-pocket.

"All right. I'll take care of her, Sam. You go ahead with your horse
and break trail. I don't like the way this wind is rising. It's wiping
out the path you made when you broke through. How far's the ranch now?"


"Close to five miles."

Both men had lowered their voices almost to a whisper.

"It's going to be a near thing, Sam. Your men are played out. Harley
will never make it without help. From now on every mile will be worse
than the last."

Yesler nodded quietly. "Some one has got to go ahead for help. That's
the only way."

"It will have to be you, of course. You know the road best and can get
back quickest. Better take her pony. It's the fittest."

The owner of the C B hesitated an instant before he answered. He was
the last man in the world to desert a comrade that was down, but his
common sense told him his friend had spoken wisely. The only chance for
the party was to get help to it from the ranch.

"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 whole outfit."

"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 you later."

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 him.

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 of Scripture.

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
snow.

"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 have."

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 eat
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
but sleep."

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
difference, Waring?"

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."

"Miller says--"

"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 in surprise.

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 fifty thousand."

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."

"How?"

"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 it."

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 hope not."

"It isn't a matter of hoping any longer. He's here," calmly announced
his leader.

"Here! On the ground?"

"Yes."

"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."

"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 him around?"

"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 together. 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 up."

"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 his chances."

"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 morning?"

"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 thoughtfully.

"I expect he would," agreed Ridgway indifferently as he lit a cigar.

"Well, then?"

"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 resentment.

"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, Steve."

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 reasons, seh."

"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 Southern gentleman.

"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 it."

"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 be elected."

"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
incriminating letters?"

"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.

"I do?"

"One that will run well, popular enough to catch the public fancy?"

"Yes."

"Who, then?"

"Waring Ridgway."

The owner of the name stared at his lieutenant in astonishment, but
slowly the fascination of 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 amiss."

The great financier had got to his feet and now came forward with
extended hand.

"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 husband's welcome.

"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 glow.

"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 scarcely veiled.

"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
quiet impudence.

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 blundered it.

"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 smelters."

"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 unusual."

"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 should."

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 bloody men.

"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 thought.

"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 it?"

"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 good?"

"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 did."

"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 said.

"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, please."

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 personal interview."

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 are."

"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."

"Is it?"

"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 quoted unctiously. "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 resulting
combination."

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 another.

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 haired robber!

"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 my hands."

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 ewe lamb.

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 hat-brush anywhere?"

"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 to.

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 arms.

"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.

V.


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 call."

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 what?"

"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,
misunderstanding promptly.

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 storm?"

"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 thinking of."

"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."

"Is it?"

"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.

"Really?"

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 you are."

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 funk it."

"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?"

"With you--yes."

"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
inference.

"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 of them.

"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
troubles."

"Just how?"

"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?"

"Exactly."

"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 lucky dog."

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 you?"

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 each other."

"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 are engaged."

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 tortured heart.

"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 Balfour.

"No, one never feels it emphasized. 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 shoulders.

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
accusation.

"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 her obsession.

Virginia nodded eagerly. "In my secret heart that is what I am hoping
for, my dear."

"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; and she was quite sure that the
potential capacity lay in her to care a good deal more for him than for
anybody else she had met. Since it was not on the cards, as Miss
Virginia had shuffled the pack, that she should marry primarily for
reasons sentimental, this annoyed her in her sophisticated hours.

But in the hours when she was a mere girl when she was not so
confidently the heir of all the feminine wisdom of the ages, her
annoyance took another form. She had told Lyndon Hobart of her
engagement because it was the honest thing to do; because she supposed
she ought to discourage any hopes he might be entertaining. But it did
not follow that he need have let these hopes be extinguished so
summarily. She could have wished his scrupulous regard for the proper
thing had not had the effect of taking him so completely out of her
external life, while leaving him more insistently than ever the subject
of her inner contemplation.

Virginia's conscience was of the twentieth century and American, though
she was a good deal more honest with herself than most of her sex in
the same social circle. Also she was straightforward with her neighbors
so far as she could reasonably be. But she was not a Puritan in the
least, though she held herself to a more rigid account than she did her
friends. She judged her betrothed as little as she could, but this was
not to be entirely avoided, since she expected her life to become
merged so largely in his. There were hours when she felt she must
escape the blighting influence of his lawlessness. There were others
when it seemed to her magnificent.

Except for the occasional jangle of a bit or the ring of a horse's shoe
on a stone, there was silence which lasted many minutes. Each was busy
with her thoughts, and the narrowness of the trail, which here made
them go in single file, served as an excuse against talk.

"Perhaps we had better turn back," suggested Virginia, after the path
had descended to a gulch and merged itself in a wagon-road. "We shall
have no more than time to get home and dress for dinner."

Aline turned her pony townward, and they rode at a walk side by side.

"Do you know much about the difficulty between Mr. Harley and Mr.
Ridgway? I mean about the mines--the Sherman Bell, I think they called
it?"

"I know something about the trouble in a general way. Both the
Consolidated and Mr. Ridgway's company claim certain veins. That is
true of several mines, I have been told."

"I don't know anything about business. Mr. Harley does not tell me
anything about his. To day I was sitting in the open window, and two
men stopped beneath it. They thought there would be trouble in this
mine--that men would be hurt. I could not make it all out, but that was
part of it. I sent for Mr. Harley and made him tell me what he knew. It
would be dreadful if anything like that happened."

"Don't worry your head about it, my dear. Things are always threatening
and never happening. It seems to be a part of the game of business to
bluff, as they call it."

"I wish it weren't," sighed the girl-wife.

Virginia observed that she looked both sad and weary. She had started
on her ride like a prisoner released from his dungeon, happy in the
sunshine, the swift motion, the sting of the wind in her face. There
had been a sparkle in her eye and a ring of gaiety in her laugh. Into
her cheeks a faint color had glowed, so that the contrast of their
clear pallor with the vivid scarlet of the little lips had been less
pronounced than usual. But now she was listless and distraite, the
girlish abandon all stricken out of her. It needed no clairvoyant to
see that her heart was heavy and that she was longing for the moment
when she could be alone with her pain.

Her friend had learned what she wanted to know, and the knowledge of it
troubled her. She would have given a good deal to have been able to
lift this sorrow from the girl riding beside her. For she was aware
that Aline Harley might as well have reached for the moon as that
toward which her untutored heart yearned. She had come to life late and
traveled in it but a little way. Yet the tragedy of it was about to
engulf her. No lifeboat was in sight. She must sink or swim alone.
Virginia's unspoiled heart went out to her with a rush of pity and
sympathy. Almost the very words that Waring Ridgway had used came to
her lips.

"You poor lamb! You poor, forsaken lamb!"

But she spoke instead with laughter and lightness, seeing nothing of
the girl's distress, at least, until after they separated at the door
of the hotel.



CHAPTER 13. FIRST BLOOD

After Ridgway's cavalier refusal to negotiate a peace treaty, Simon
Harley and his body-guard walked back to the offices of the
Consolidated, where they arrived at the same time as the news of the
enemy's first blow since the declaration of renewed war.

Hobart was at his desk with his ear to the telephone receiver when the
great financier came into the inner office of the manager.

"Yes. When? Driven out, you say? Yes--yes. Anybody hurt? Followed our
men through into our tunnel? No, don't do anything till you hear from
me. Send Rhys up at once. Let me know any further developments that
occur."

Hobart hung up the receiver and turned on his swivel-chair toward his
chief. "Another outrage, sir, at the hands of Ridgway. It is in regard
to those veins in the Copper King that he claims. Dalton, his
superintendent of the Taurus, drove a tunnel across our lateral lines
and began working them, though their own judge has not yet rendered a
decision in their favor. Of course, I put a large force in them at
once. To-day we tapped their workings at the twelfth level. Our
foreman, Miles, has just telephoned me that Dalton turned the air
pressure on our men, blew out their candles, and flung a mixture of
lime and rocks at them. Several of the men are hurt, though none badly.
It seems that Dalton has thrown a force into our tunnels and is holding
the entrances against us at the point where the eleventh, twelfth, and
thirteenth levels touch the cage. It means that he will work those
veins, and probably others that are acknowledged to be ours, unless we
drive them out, which would probably be a difficult matter."

Harley listened patiently, eyes glittering and clean-shaven lips
pressed tightly against his teeth. "What do you propose to do?"

"I haven't decided yet. If we could get any justice from the courts, an
injunction."

"Can't be got from Purcell. Don't waste time considering it. Fight it
out yourself. Find his weakest spot, then strike hard and suddenly."
Harley's low metallic voice was crisp and commanding.

"His weakest spot?"

"Exactly. Has he no mines upon which we can retaliate?"

"There is the Taurus. It lies against the Copper King end to end. He
drove a tunnel into some of our workings last winter. That would give a
passageway to send our men through, if we decide to do so. Then there
is his New York. Its workings connect with those of the Jim Hill."

"Good! Send as many men through as is necessary to capture and hold
both mines. Get control of the entire workings of them both, and begin
taking ore out at once. Station armed guards at every point where it is
necessary, and as many as are necessary. Use ten thousand men, if you
need that many. But don't fail. We'll give Ridgway a dose of his own
medicine, and teach him that for every pound of our ore he steals we'll
take ten."

"He'll get an injunction from the courts."

"Let him get forty. I'll show him that his robber courts will not save
him. Anyhow, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Hobart, almost swept from his moorings by the fiery energy of his
chief, braced himself to withstand the current.

"I shall have to think about that. We can't fight lawlessness with
lawlessness except for selfpreservation."

"Think! You do nothing but think, Mr. Hobart. You are here to act,"
came the scornful retort; "And what is this but self-preservation."

"I am willing to recapture our workings in the Copper King. I'll lead
the attack in person, sir. But as to a retaliatory attack--the facts
will not justify a capture of his property because he has seized ours."

"Wrong, sir. This is no time for half-way measures. I have resolved to
crush this freebooter; since he has purchased your venal courts, then
by the only means left us--force."

Hobart rose from his seat, very pale and erect. His eyes met those of
the great man unflinchingly. "You realize that this may mean murder,
Mr. Harley? That a clash cannot possibly be avoided if you pursue this
course?"

"I realize that it is self-preservation," came the cold retort. "There
is no law here, none, at least, that gives us justice. We are back to
savagery, dragged back by the madness of this ruffian. It is his
choice, not mine. Let him abide by it."

"Your intention to follow this course is irrevocable?"

"Absolutely."

"In that case, I must regretfully offer my resignation as manager of
the Consolidated."

"It is accepted, Mr. Hobart. I can't have men working under me that are
not loyal, body and soul, to the hand that feeds them. No man can serve
two masters, Mr. Hobart."

"That is why I resign, Mr. Harley. You give me the devil's work to do.
I have done enough of it. By Heaven, I will be a free man hereafter."
The disgust and dissatisfaction that had been pent within him for many
a month broke forth hot from the lips of this self-repressed man. "It
is all wrong on both sides. Two wrongs do not make a right. The system
of espionage we employ over everybody both on his side and ours, the
tyrannical use we make of our power, the corruption we foster in
politics, our secret bargains with railroads, our evasions of law as to
taxes, and in every other way that suits us: it is all wrong--all
wrong. I'll be a party to it no longer. You see to what it
leads--murder and anarchy. I'll be a poor man if I must, but I'll be a
free and honest one at least."

"You are talking wickedly and wildly, Mr. Hobart. You are criticizing
God when you criticize the business conditions he has put into the
world. I did not know that you were a socialist, but what you have just
said explains your course," the old man reproved sadly and
sanctimonious.

"I am not a socialist, Mr. Harley, but you and your methods have made
thousands upon thousands of them in this country during the past ten
years."

"We shall not discuss that, Mr. Hobart, nor, indeed, is any discussion
necessary. Frankly, I am greatly disappointed in you. I have for some
time been dissatisfied with your management, but I did not, of course,
know you held these anarchistic views. I want, however, to be perfectly
just. You are a very good business man indeed, careful and thorough.
That you have not a bold enough grasp of mind for the place you hold is
due, perhaps, to these dangerous ideas that have unsettled you. Your
salary will be continued for six months. Is that satisfactory?"

"No, sir. I could not be willing to accept it longer than to-day. And
when you say bold enough, why not be plain and say unscrupulous
enough?" amended the younger man.

"As you like. I don't juggle with words. The point is, you don't
succeed. This adventurer, Ridgway, scores continually against you. He
has beaten you clear down the line from start to finish. Is that not
true?"

"Because he does not hesitate to stoop to anything,   because--"

"Precisely. You have given the very reason why he must be fought in the
same spirit. Business ethics would be as futile against him as chivalry
in dealing with a jungle-tiger."

"You would then have had me stoop to any petty meanness to win, no
matter how contemptible?"

The New Yorker waved him aside with a patient, benignant gesture. "I
don't care for excuses. I ask of my subordinates success. You do not
get it for me. I must find a man who can."

Hobart bowed with fine dignity. The touch of disdain in his slight
smile marked his sense of the difference between them. He was again his
composed rigid self.

"Can you arrange to allow my resignation to take effect as soon as
possible? I should prefer to have my connection with the company
severed before any action is taken against these mines."

"At once--to-day. Your resignation may be published in the Herald this
afternoon, and you will then be acquitted of whatever may follow."

"Thank you." Hobart hesitated an instant before he said: "There is a
point that I have already mentioned to you which, with your permission,
I must again advert to. The temper of the miners has been very bitter
since you refused to agree to Mr. Ridgway's proposal for an eight-hour
day. I would urge upon you to take greater precautions against a
personal attack. You have many lawless men among your employees. They
are foreigners for the most part, unused to self-restraint. It is only
right you should know they execrate your name."

The great man smiled blandly. "Popularity is nothing to me. I have
neither sought it nor desired it. Given a great work to do, with the
Divine help I have done it, irrespective of public clamor. For many
years I have lived in the midst of alarms, Mr. Hobart. I am not
foolhardy. What precautions I can reasonably take I do. For the rest,
my confidence is in an all-wise Providence. It is written that not even
a sparrow falls without His decree. In that promise I put my trust. If
I am to be cut off it can only be by His will. 'The Lord gave, and the
Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' Such, I pray,
may be the humble and grateful spirit with which I submit myself to His
will."

The retiring manager urged the point no further. "If you have decided
upon my successor and he is on the ground I shall be glad to give the
afternoon to running over with him the affairs of the office. It would
be well for him to retain for a time my private secretary and
stenographer."

"Mr. Mott will succeed you. He will no doubt be glad to have your
assistance in helping him fall into the routine of the office, Mr.
Hobart."

Harley sent for Mott at once and told him of his promotion. The two men
were closeted together for hours, while trusted messengers went and
came incessantly to and from the mines. Hobart knew, of course, that
plans were in progress to arm such of the Consolidated men as could be
trusted, and that arrangements were being made to rush the Taurus and
the New York. Everything was being done as secretly as possible, but
Hobart's experience of Ridgway made it obvious to him that this
excessive activity could not pass without notice. His spies, like those
of the trust, swarmed everywhere.

It was not till mid-afternoon of the next day that Mott found time to
join him and run over with him the details of such unfinished business
as the office had taken up. The retiring manager was courtesy itself,
nor did he feel any bitterness against his successor. Nevertheless, he
came to the end of office hours with great relief. The day had been a
very hard one, and it left him with a longing for solitude and the wide
silent spaces of the open hills. He struck out in the direction which
promised him the quickest opportunity to leave the town behind him. A
good walker, he covered the miles rapidly, and under the physical
satisfaction of the tramp the brain knots unraveled and smoothed
themselves out. It was better so--better to live his own life than the
one into which he was being ground by the inexorable facts of his
environment. He was a young man and ambitious, but his hopes were not
selfish. At bottom he was an idealist, though a practical one. He had
had to shut his eyes to many things which he deplored, had been driven
to compromises which he despised. Essentially clean-handed, the soul of
him had begun to wither at the contact of that which he saw about him
and was so large a part of.

"I am not fit for it. That is the truth. Mott has no imagination, and
property rights are the most sacred thing on earth to him. He will do
better at it than I," he told himself, as he walked forward bareheaded
into the great sunset glow that filled the saddle between two purple
hills in front of him.

As he swung round a bend in the road a voice, clear and sweet, came to
him through the light filtered air.

"Laska!"

A young woman on horseback was before him. Her pony stood across the
road, and she looked up a trail which ran down into it. The lifted
poise of the head brought out its fine lines and the distinction with
which it was set upon the well-molded throat column. Apparently she was
calling to some companion on the trail who had not yet emerged into
view.

At sound of his footsteps the rider's head turned.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Hobart," she said quietly, as coolly as if her
heart had not suddenly begun to beat strangely fast.

"Good afternoon, Miss Balfour."

Each of them was acutely conscious of the barrier between them. Since
the day when she had told him of her engagement they had not met, even
casually, and this their first sight of each other was not without
embarrassment.

"We have been to Lone Pine Cone," she said rather hurriedly, to bridge
an impending silence.

He met this obvious statement with another as brilliant.

"I walked out from town. My horse is a little lame."

But there was something she wanted to say to him, and the time for
saying it, before the arrival of her companion, was short. She would
not waste it in commonplaces.

"I don't usually read the papers very closely, but this morning I read
both the Herald and the Sun. Did you get my note?"

"Your note? No."

"I sent it by mail. I wanted you to know that your friends are proud of
you. We know why you resigned. It is easy to read between the lines."

"Thank you," he said simply. "I knew you would know."

"Even the Sun recognizes that it was because you are too good a man for
the place."

"Praise from the Sun has rarely shone my way," he said, with a touch of
irony, for that paper was controlled by the Ridgway interest. "In its
approval I am happy."

Her impulsive sympathy for this man whom she so greatly liked would not
accept the rebuff imposed by this reticence. She stripped the gauntlet
from her hand and offered it in congratulation.

He took it in his, a slight flush in his face.

"I have done nothing worthy of praise. One cannot ask less of a man
than that he remain independent and honest. I couldn't do that and stay
with the Consolidated, or, so it seemed to me. So I resigned. That is
all there is to it."

"It is enough. I don't know another man would have done it, would have
had the courage to do it after his feet were set so securely in the way
of success. The trouble with Americans is that they want too much
success. They want it at too big a price."

"I'm not likely ever to have too much of it," he laughed sardonically.

"Success in life and success in living aren't the same thing. It is
because you have discovered this that you have sacrificed the less for
the greater." She smiled, and added: "I didn't mean that to sound as
preachy as it does."

"I'm afraid you make too much of a small thing. My squeamishness has
probably made me the laughing-stock of Mesa."

"If so, that is to the discredit of Mesa," she insisted stanchly. "But
I don't think so. A great many people who couldn't have done it
themselves will think more of you for having done it."

Another pony, which had been slithering down the steep trail in the
midst of a small rock slide, now brought its rider safely to a halt in
the road. Virginia introduced them, and Hobart, remembered that he had
heard Miss Balfour speak of a young woman whom she had met on the way
out, a Miss Laska Lowe, who was coming to Mesa to teach domestic
science in the public schools. There was something about the young
teacher's looks that he liked, though she was of a very different type
than Virginia. Not at all pretty in any accepted sense, she yet had a
charm born of the vital honesty in her. She looked directly at one out
of sincere gray eyes, wide-awake and fearless. As it happened, her
friend had been telling her about Hobart, and she was interested in him
from the first. For she was of that minority which lives not by bread
alone, and she felt a glow of pride in the man who could do what the
Sun had given this man credit for editorially.

They talked at haphazard for a few minutes before the young women
cantered away. As Hobart trudged homeward he knew that in the eyes of
these two women, at least, he had not been a fool.



CHAPTER 14. A CONSPIRACY

Tucked away in an obscure corner of the same issue of the papers which
announced the resignation of Lyndon Hobart as manager of the
Consolidated properties, and the appointment of James K. Mott as his
temporary successor, were little one-stick paragraphs regarding
explosions, which had occurred the night before in tunnels of the
Taurus and the New York. The general public paid little attention to
these, but those on the inside knew that Ridgway had scored again. His
spies had carried the news to him of the projected capture of these two
properties by the enemy. Instead of attempting to defend them by force,
he had set off charges of giant powder which had brought down the tunnel
roofs and effectually blocked the entrances from the Consolidated mines
adjoining.

With the indefatigable patience which characterized him, Harley set
about having the passages cleared of the rock and timber with which
they were filled. Before he had succeeded in doing this his enemy
struck another telling blow. From Judge Purcell he secured an
injunction against the Consolidated from working its mines, the Diamond
King, the Mary K, and the Marcus Daly, on the absurd contention that
the principal ore-vein of the Marcus Daly apexed on the tin, triangle
wedged in between these three great mines, and called by Ridgway the
Trust Buster. Though there was not room enough upon this fragment to
sink a shaft, it was large enough to found this claim of a vein
widening as it descended until it crossed into the territory of each of
these properties. Though Harley could ignore court injunctions which
erected only under-ground territory, he was forced to respect this one,
since it could not be violated except in the eyes of the whole country.
The three mines closed down, and several thousand workmen were thrown
out of employment. These were immediately reemployed by Ridgway and set
to work both in his own and the Consolidated's territory.

Within a week a dozen new suits were instituted against the
Consolidated by its enemy. He harassed it by contempt proceedings, by
applications for receiverships, and by other ingenious devices, which
greatly tormented the New York operator. For the first time in his life
the courts, which Harley had used to much advantage in his battles to
maintain and extend the trusts he controlled, could not be used even to
get scant justice.

Meanwhile both leaders were turning their attention to the political
situation. The legislators were beginning to gather for the coming
session, and already the city was full of rumors about corruption. For
both the Consolidated and its enemy were making every effort to secure
enough votes to win the election of a friendly United States senator.
The man chosen would have the distribution of the federal patronage of
the State. This meant the control of the most influential local
politicians of the party in power at Washington as well as their
followers, an almost vital factor for success in a State where
political corruption had so interwoven itself into the business life of
the community.

The hotel lobbies were filled with politicians gathered from every
county in the State. Big bronzed cattlemen brushed shoulders with
budding lawyers from country towns and ward bosses from the larger
cities. The bars were working overtime, and the steady movement of
figures in the corridors lasted all day and most of the night. Here and
there were collected groups, laughing and talking about the old
frontier days, or commenting in lowered tones on some phase of the
feverish excitement that was already beginning to be apparent.
Elevators shot up and down, subtracting and adding to the kaleidoscope
of human life in the rotundas. Bellboys hurried to and fro with
messages and cocktails. The ring of the telephone-bell cut occasionally
into the deep hum of many voices. All was confusion, keen interest,
expectancy.

For it was known that Simon Harley had sent for $300,000 in cold cash
to secure the election of his candidate, Roger D. Warner, a lawyer who
had all his life been close to corporate interests. It was known, too,
that Waring Ridgway had gathered together every element in the State
that opposed the domination of the Consolidated, to fight their man to
a finish. Bets for large sums were offered and taken as to the result,
heavy odds being given in favor of the big copper trust's candidate.
For throughout the State at large the Consolidated influence was very
great indeed. It owned forest lands and railroads and mines. It
controlled local transportation largely. Nearly one-half the working
men in the State were in its employ. Into every town and village the
ramifications of its political organization extended. The feeling
against it was very bitter, but this was usually expressed in whispers.
For it was in a position to ruin almost any business man upon whom it
fastened a grudge, and to make wealthy any upon whom it chose to cast
its favors.

Nevertheless, there were some not so sure that the Consolidated would
succeed in electing its man. Since Ridgway had announced himself as a
candidate there had been signs of defection on the part of some of
those expected to vote for Warner. He had skillfully wielded together
in opposition to the trust all the elements of the State that were
hostile to it; and already the word was being passed that he had not
come to the campaign without a barrel of his own.

The balloting for United States senator was not to begin until the
eighth day of the session, but the opening week was full of a tense and
suppressed excitement. It was known that agents of both sides were
moving to and fro among the representatives and State senators,
offering fabulous prices for their votes and the votes of any others
they might be able to control. Men who had come to the capital
confident in their strength and integrity now looked at their neighbors
furtively and guiltily. Day by day the legislators were being debauched
to serve the interest of the factions which were fighting for control
of the State. Night after night secret meetings were being held in
out-of-the-way places to seduce those who clung desperately to their
honesty or held out for a bigger price. Bribery was in the air,
rampant, unashamed. Thousand-dollar bills were as common as ten-dollar
notes in ordinary times.

Sam Yesler, commenting on the situation to his friend Jack Roper, a
fellow member of the legislature who had been a cattleman from the time
he had given up driving a stage thirty years before, shook his head
dejectedly over his blue points.

"I tell you, Jack, a man has to be bed-rocked in honesty or he's gone.
Think of it. A country lawyer comes here who has never seen five
thousand dollars in a lump sum, and they shove fifteen thousand at him
for his vote. He is poor, ambitious, struggling along from hand to
mouth. I reckon we ain't in a position to judge that poor devil of a
harassed fellow. Mebbe he's always been on the square, came here to do
what was right, we'll say, but he sees corruption all round him. How
can he help getting a warped notion of things? He sees his friends and
his neighbors falling by the wayside. By God, it's got to the point in
this legislature that an honest man's an object of obloquy."

"That's right," agreed Roper. "Easy enough for us to be square. We got
good ranches back of us and can spend the winter playing poker at the
Mesa Club if we feel like it. But if we stood where Billy George and
Garner and Roberts and Munz do, I ain't so damn sure my virtue would
stand the strain. Can you reach that salt, Sam?"

"Billy George has got a sick wife, and he's been wanting to send her
back to her folks in the East, but he couldn't afford it. The doctors
figured she ought to stay a year, and Billy would have to hire a woman
to take care of his kids. I said to him: 'Hell, Billy, what's a friend
for?' And I shoves a check at him. He wouldn't look at it; said he
didn't know whether he could ever pay it, and he had not come down to
charity yet."

"Billy's a white man. That's what makes me sick. Right on top of all
his bad luck he comes here and sees that everybody is getting a big
roll. He thinks of that white-faced wife of his dragging herself round
among the kids and dying by inches for lack of what money can buy her.
I tell you I don't blame him. It's the fellows putting the temptation
up to him that ought to be strung up."

"I see that hound Pelton's mighty active in it. He's got it in for
Ridgway since Waring threw him down, and he's plugging night and day
for Warner. Stays pretty well tanked up. Hopper tells me he's been
making threats to kill Waring on sight."

"I heard that and told Waring. He laughed and said he hoped he would
live till Pelton killed him. I like Waring. He's got the guts, as his
miners say. But he's away off on this fight. He's using money right and
left just as Harley is."

Yesler nodded. "The whole town's corrupted. It takes bribery for
granted. Men meet on the street and ask what the price of votes is this
morning. Everybody feels prosperous."

"I heard that a chambermaid at the Quartzite Hotel found seven thousand
dollars in big bills pinned to the bottom of a mattress in Garner's
room yesterday. He didn't dare bank it, of course."

"Poor devil! He's another man that would like to be honest, but with
the whole place impregnated with bribery he couldn't stand the
pressure. But after this is all over he'll go home to his wife and his
neighbors with the canker of this thing at his heart until he dies. I
tell you, Jack, I'm for stopping it if we can."

"How?"

"There's one way. I've been approached indirectly by Pelton, to deliver
our vote to the Consolidated. Suppose we arrange to do it, get
evidence, and make a public exposure."

They were alone in a private dining-room of a restaurant, but Yesler's
voice had fallen almost to a whisper. With his steady gray eyes he
looked across at the man who had ridden the range with him fifteen
years ago when he had not had a sou to bless himself with.

Roper tugged at his long drooping mustache and gazed at his friend.
"It's a large order, Sam, a devilish large order. Do you reckon we
could deliver?"

"I think so. There are six of us that will stand pat at any cost. If we
play our cards right and keep mum the surprise of it is bound to shake
votes loose when we spring the bomb. The whole point is whether we can
take advantage of that surprise to elect a decent man. I don't say it
can be done, but there's a chance of it."

The old stage-driver laughed softly. "We'll be damned good and plenty
by both sides."

"Of course. It won't be a pleasant thing to do, but then it isn't
exactly pleasant to sit quiet and let these factions use the State as a
pawn in their game of grab."

"I'm with you, Sam. Go to it, my boy, and I'll back you to the limit."

"We had better not talk it over here. Come to my room after dinner and
bring Landor and James with you. I'll have Reedy and Keller there. I'll
mention casually that it's a big game of poker, and I'll have cards and
drinks sent up. You want to remember we can't be too careful. If it
leaks out we lose."

"I'm a clam, Sam. Do you want I should speak of it to Landor and James?"

"Better wait till we get together."

"What about Ward? He's always been with us."

"He talks too much. We can take him in at the last minute if we like."

"That would be better. I ain't so sure about Reedy, either. He's
straight as a string, of course; not a crooked hair in his head. But
when he gets to drinking he's likely to let things out."

"You're right. We'll leave him out, too, until the last minute. There's
another thing I've thought of. Ridgway can't win. At least I don't see
how he can control more than twenty five votes. Suppose at the very
last moment we make a deal with him and with the Democrats to pool our
votes on some square man. With Waring it's anything to beat the
Consolidated. He'll jump at the chance if he's sure he is out of the
running himself. Those of the Democrats that Harley can't buy will be
glad to beat his man. I don't say it can be done, Jack. All I say is
that it is worth a trial."

"You bet."

They met that night in Yesler's rooms round a card-table. The hands
were dealt for form's sake, since there were spies everywhere, and it
was necessary to ring for cigars and refreshments occasionally to avoid
suspicion. They were all cattlemen, large or small, big outdoors
sunburned men, who rode the range in the spring and fall with their
punchers and asked no odds of any man.

Until long past midnight they talked the details over, and when they
separated in the small hours it was with a well-defined plan to save
the State from its impending disgrace if the thing could be done.



CHAPTER 15. LASKA OPENS A DOOR

The first ballots for a United States senator taken by the legislature
in joint session failed to disclose the alignment of some of the
doubtful members. The Democratic minority of twenty-eight votes were
cast for Springer, the senator whose place would be taken by whoever
should win in the contest now on. Warner received forty-four, Ridgway
twenty-six, eight went to Pascom, a former governor whom the cattlemen
were supporting, and the remaining three were scattered. Each day one
ballot was taken, and for a week there was a slight sifting down of the
complimentary votes until at the end of it the count stood:

  Warner    45
  Ridgway   28
  Springer  28
  Pascom     8

Warner still lacked ten votes of an election, but It was pretty
thoroughly understood that several of the Democratic minority were
waiting only long enough for a colorable excuse to switch to him. All
kinds of rumors were in the air as to how many of these there were. The
Consolidated leaders boldly claimed that they had only to give the word
to force the election of their candidate on any ballot. Yesler did not
believe this claim could be justified, since Pelton and Harley were
already negotiating with him for the delivery of the votes belonging to
the cattlemen's contingent.

He had held off for some time with hints that it would take a lot of
money to swing the votes of such men as Roper and Landor, but he had
finally come to an agreement that the eight votes should be given to
Warner for a consideration of $300,000. This was to be paid to Yesler
in the presence of the other seven members on the night before the
election, and was to be held in escrow by him and Roper until the pact
was fulfilled, the money to be kept in a safety deposit vault with a
key in possession of each of the two.

On the third day of the session, before the voting had begun, Stephen
Eaton, who was a State senator from Mesa, moved that a committee be
appointed to investigate the rumors of bribery that were so common. The
motion caught the Consolidated leaders napping, for this was the last
man they had expected to propose such a course, and it went through
with little opposition, as a similar motion did in the House at the
same time. The lieutenant-governor and the speaker of the House were
both opposed to Warner, and the joint committee had on it the names of
no Consolidated men. The idea of such a committee had originated with
Ridgway, and had been merely a bluff to show that he at least was
willing that the world should know the whole story of the election. Nor
had this committee held even formal meetings before word reached Eaton
through Yesler that if it would appoint a conference in some very
private place, evidence would be submitted implicating agents of the
Warner forces in attempts at bribery.

It was close to eleven o'clock when Sam Yesler stepped quietly from a
side door of his hotel and slipped into the street. He understood
perfectly that in following the course he did, he was taking his life
in his hands. The exposure of the bribery traffic would blast forever
the reputations of many men who had hitherto held a high place in the
community, and he knew the temper of some of them well enough to be
aware that an explosion was probable. Spies had been dogging him ever
since the legislature convened. Within an hour one of them would be
flying to Pelton with the news that he was at a meeting of the
committee, and all the thugs of the other side would be turned loose on
his heels. As he walked briskly through the streets toward the place
appointed, his hand lay on the hilt of a revolver in the outside pocket
of his overcoat. He was a man who would neither seek trouble nor let it
overwhelm him. If his life were attempted, he meant to defend it to the
last.

He followed side streets purposely, and his footsteps echoed along the
deserted road. He knew he was being dogged, for once, when he glanced
back, he caught sight of a skulking figure edging along close to a
wall. The sight of the spy stirred his blood. Grimly he laughed to
himself. They might murder him for what he was doing, but not in time
to save the exposure which would be brought to light on the morrow.

The committee met at a road-house near the outskirts of the city, but
only long enough to hear Yesler's facts and to appoint another meeting
for three hours later at the offices of Eaton. For the committee had
come here for secrecy, and they knew that it would be only a short time
before Pelton's heelers would be down upon them in force. It was agreed
they should divide and slip quietly back to town, wait until everything
was quiet and convene again. Meanwhile Eaton would make arrangements to
see that his offices would be sufficiently guarded for protection
against any attack.

Yesler walked back to town and was within a couple of blocks of his
hotel when he glimpsed two figures crouching against the fence of the
alley. He stopped in his tracks, watched them intently an instant, and
was startled by a whistle from the rear. He knew at once his retreat,
too, was cut off, and without hesitation vaulted the fence in front of
a big gray stone house he was passing. A revolver flashed from the
alley, and he laughed with a strange kind of delight. His thought was
to escape round the house, but trellis work barred the way, and he
could not open the gate.

"Trapped, by Jove," he told himself coolly as a bullet struck the
trellis close to his head.

He turned back, ran up the steps of the porch and found momentary
safety in the darkness of its heavy vines. But this he knew could not
last. Running figures were converging toward him at a focal point. He
could hear oaths and cries. Some one was throwing aimless shots from a
revolver at the porch.

He heard a window go up in the second story and a woman's frightened
voice ask. "What is it?  Who is there?"

"Let me in. I'm ambushed by thugs," he called back.

"There he is--in the doorway," a voice cried out of the night, and it
was followed by a spatter of bullets about him.

He fired at a man leaping the fence. The fellow tumbled back with a
kind of scream.

"God! I'm hit."

He could hear steps coming down the stairway and fingers fumbling at
the key of the door. His attackers were gathering for a rush, and he
wondered whether the rescue was to be too late. They came together, the
opening door and the forward pour of huddled figures. He stepped back
into the hall.

There was a raucous curse, a shot, and Yesler had slammed the door
shut. He was alone in the darkness with his rescuer.

"We must get out of here. They're firing through the door," he said,
and "Yes" came faintly back to him from across the hall.

"Do you know where the switch is?" he asked, wondering whether she was
going to be such an idiot as to faint at this inopportune moment.

His answer came in a flood of light, and showed him a young woman
crouched on the hall-rack a dozen feet from the switch. She was very
white, and there was a little stain of crimson on the white lace of her
sleeve.

A voice from the landing above demanded quickly, "Who are you, sir?"
and after he had looked up', cried in surprise, "Mr. Yesler."

"Miss Balfour," he replied. "I'll explain later. I'm afraid the lady
has been hit by a bullet."

He was already beside his rescuer. She looked at him with a trace of a
tired smile and said:

"In my arm."

After which she fainted. He picked up the young woman, carried her to
the stairs, and mounted them.

"This way," said Virginia, leading him into a bedroom, the door of
which was open.

He observed with surprise that she, too, was dressed in evening
clothes, and rightly surmised that they had just come back from some
social function.

"Is it serious?" asked Virginia, when he had laid his burden on the bed.

She was already clipping with a pair of scissors the sleeve from round
the wound.

"It ought not to be," he said after he had examined it. "The bullet has
scorched along the fleshy part of the forearm. We must telephone for a
doctor at once."

She did so, then found water and cotton for bandages, and helped him
make a temporary dressing. The patient recovered consciousness under
the touch of the cold water, and asked: what was the matter.

"You have been hurt a little, but not badly I think. Don't you
remember? You came down and opened the door to let me in."

"They were shooting at you. What for?" she wanted to know.

He smiled. "Don't worry about that. It's all over with. I'm sorry you
were hurt in saving me," said Yesler gently.

"Did I save you?" The gray eyes showed a gleam of pleasure.

"You certainly did."

"This is Mr. Yesler, Laska. Mr. Yesler--Miss Lowe. I think you have
never met."

"Never before to-night," he said, pinning the bandage in place round
the plump arm. "There. That's all just now, ma'am. Did I hurt you very
much?"

The young woman felt oddly exhilarated. "Not much. I'll forgive you if
you'll tell me all about the affair. Why did they want to hurt you?"

His big heart felt very tender toward this girl who had been wounded
for him, but he showed it only by a smiling deference.

"You're right persistent, ma'am. You hadn't ought to be bothering your
head about any such thing, but if you feel that way I'll be glad to
tell you."

He did. While they sat there and waited for the coming of the doctor,
he told her the whole story of his attempt to stop the corruption that
was eating like a canker at the life of the State. He was a plain man,
not in the least eloquent, and he told his story without any sense that
he had played any unusual part. In fact, he was ashamed that he had
been forced to assume a role which necessitated a kind of treachery to
those who thought they had bought him.

Laska Lowe's eyes shone with the delight his tale inspired in her. She
lived largely in the land of ideals, and this fight against wrong moved
her mightily. She could feel for him none of the shame which he felt
for himself at being mixed up in so bad a business. He was playing a
man's part, had chosen it at risk of his life. That was enough. In
every fiber of her, she was glad that good fortune had given her the
chance to bear a part of the battle. In her inmost heart she was even
glad that to the day of her death she must bear the scar that would
remind her she had suffered in so good a cause.

Virginia, for once obliterating herself, perceived how greatly taken
they were with each other. At bottom, nearly every woman is a
match-maker. This one was no exception. She liked both this man and
this woman, and her fancy had already begun to follow her hopes. Never
before had Laska appeared to show much interest in any of the opposite
sex with whom her friend had seen her. Now she was all enthusiasm, had
forgotten completely the pain of her wound in the spirit's glow.

  "She loved me for the danger I had pass'd,
  And I loved her that she did pity them.
  This only is the witchcraft I have us'd.'"

Virginia quoted softly to herself, her eyes on the young woman so
finely unconscious of the emotion that thrilled her.

Not until the clock in the hall below struck two did Yesler remember
his appointment in the Ridgway Building. The doctor had come and was
about to go. He suggested that if Yesler felt it would be safe for him
to go, they might walk across to the hotel together.

"And leave us alone." Laska could have bitten her tongue after the
words were out.

Virginia explained. "The Leighs are out of the city to-night, and it
happens that even the servants are gone. I asked Miss Lowe to stay with
me all night, but, of course, she feels feverish and nervous after this
excitement. Couldn't you send a man to watch the rest of the night out
in the house?"

"Why don't you stay, Mr. Yesler?" the doctor suggested. "You could
sleep here, no doubt."

"You might have your meeting here. It is neutral ground. I can phone to
Mr. Ridgway," proposed Virginia in a low voice to Yesler.

"Doesn't that seem to imply that I'm afraid to leave?" laughed Yesler.

"It implies that we are afraid to have you. Laska would worry both on
your account and our own. I think you owe it to her to stay."

"Oh, if that's the way it strikes you," he agreed. "Fact is, I don't
quite like to leave you anyhow. We'll take Leigh's study. I don't think
we shall disturb you at all."

"I'm sure you won't--and before you go, you'll let us know what you
have decided to do."

"We shall not be through before morning. You'll be asleep by then," he
made answer.

"No, I couldn't sleep till I know all about it."

"Nor I," agreed Laska. "I want to know all about everything."

"My dear young lady, you are to take the sleeping-powders and get a
good rest," the doctor demurred. "All about everything is too large an
order for your good just now."

Virginia nodded in a businesslike way. "Yes, you're to go to sleep,
Laska, and when you waken I'll tell you all about it."

"That would be better," smiled Yesler, and Virginia thought it
significant that her friend made no further protest.

Gray streaks began to show in the sky before Yesler tapped on the door
of Virginia's room. She had discarded the rather elaborate evening gown
he had last seen her in, and was wearing some soft fabric which hung
from the shoulders in straight lines, and defined the figure while
lending the effect of a loose and flowing drapery.

"How is your patient?" he asked.

"She has dropped into a good sleep," the girl whispered. "I am sure we
don't need to worry about her at all."

"Nevertheless, it's a luxury I'm going to permit myself for a day or
two," he smiled. "I don't have my life saved by a young lady very
often."

"I'm sure you will enjoy worrying about her," she laughed.

He got back at her promptly. "There's somebody down-stairs worrying
about you. He wants to know if there is anything he can do for you, and
suggests inviting himself for breakfast in order to make sure."

"Mr. Ridgway?"

"How did you guess it first crack? Mr. Ridgway it is."

She considered a moment. "Yes, tell him to stay. Molly will be back in
time to make breakfast, and I want to talk to him. Now tell me what you
did."

"We did Mr. Warner. At least I hope so," he chuckled.

"I'm so glad. And who is to be senator? Is it Waring?"

"No. It wouldn't have been possible to elect him even if we had wanted
to."

"And you didn't want to," she flashed.

"No, we didn't," he admitted frankly. "We couldn't afford to have it
generally understood that this was merely a partisan fight on the
Consolidated, and that we were pulling Waring's chestnuts out of the
fire for him."

He did not add, though he might have, that Ridgway was tarred with the
same brush as the enemy in this matter.

"Then who is it to be?"

"That's a secret. I can't tell even you that. But we have agreed on a
man. Waring is to withdraw and throw his influence for him. The
Democratic minority will swing in line for him, and we'll do the rest.
That's the plan. It may not go through, however."

"I don't see who it can be that you all unite on. Of course, it isn't
Mr. Pelton?"

"I should hope not."

"Or Mr. Samuel Yesler?"

"You've used up all the guesses allowed you. If you want to know, why
don't you attend the joint session to-day? It ought to be highly
interesting."

"I shall," she announced promptly. "And I'll bring Laska with me."

"She won't be able to come."

"I think she will. It's only a scratch."

"I don't like to think how much worse it might have been."

"Then don't think of it. Tell Waring I'll be down presently."

He went down-stairs again, and Miss Balfour returned to the room.

"Was that Mr. Yesler?" quietly asked a voice from the bed.

"Yes, dear. He has gone back to the hotel. He asked about you, of
course."

"He is very kind."

"It was thoughtful, since you only saved his life," admitted the
ironical Miss Balfour.

"Wasn't it fortunate that we were up?"

"Very fortunate for him that you were."

Virginia crossed the room to the bed and kissed her friend with some
subtle significance too elusive for words. Laska appeared, however to
appreciate it. At least, she blushed.



CHAPTER 16. AN EXPLOSION IN THE TAURUS

The change of the relationship between Ridgway and his betrothed,
brought about by the advent of a third person into his life, showed
itself in the manner of their greeting. She had always been chary of
lovers' demonstrations, but until his return from Alpine he had been
wont to exact his privilege in spite of her reluctance. Now he was
content with the hand she offered him.

"You've had a strenuous night of it," he said, after a glance at the
rather wan face she offered the new day.

"Yes, we have--and for that matter, I suppose you have, too."

Man of iron that he was, he looked fresh as morning dew. With his usual
lack of self-consciousness, he had appropriated Leigh's private bath,
and was glowing from contact with ice-cold water and a crash towel.

"We've been making history," he agreed. "How's your friend?"

"She has no fever at all. It was only a scratch. She will be down to
breakfast in a minute."

"Good. She must be a thoroughbred to come running down into the bullets
for a stranger she has never seen."

"She is. You'll like Laska."

"I'm glad she saved Sam from being made a colander. I can't help liking
him, though he doesn't approve of me very much."

"I suppose not."

"He is friendly, too." Ridgway laughed as he recalled their battle over
who should be the nominee. "But his conscience rules him. It's a free
and liberal conscience, generally speaking--nothing Puritan about it,
but a distinctive product of the West. Yet, he would not have me for
senator at any price."

"Why?"

"Didn't think I was fit to represent the people; said if I went in, it
would be to use the office for my personal profit."

"Wasn't he right?"

"More or less. If I were elected, I would build up my machine, of
course, but I would see the people got a show, too."

She nodded agreement. "I don't think you would make a bad senator."

"I would be a live wire, anyhow. Sam had other objections to me. He
thought I had been using too much money in this campaign."

"And have you?" she asked, curious to see how he would defend himself.

"Yes. I had to if I were going to stand any chance. It wasn't from
choice. I didn't really want to be senator. I can't afford to give the
time to it, but I couldn't afford to let Harley name the man either. I
was between the devil and the deep sea."

"Then, really, Mr. Yesler came to your rescue."

"That's about it, though he didn't intend it that way."

"And who is to be the senator?"

He gave her a cynical smile. "Warner."

"But I thought--why, surely he--" The surprise of his cool announcement
took her breath away.

"No, he isn't the man our combination decided on, but the trouble is
that our combination is going to fall through. Sam's an optimist, but
you'll see I'm right. There are too many conflicting elements of us in
one boat. We can't lose three votes and win, and it's a safe bet we
lose them. The Consolidated must know by this time what we have been
about all night. They're busy now sapping at our weak links. Our only
chance is to win on the first vote, and I am very sure we won't be able
to do it."

"Oh, I hope you are not right." A young woman was standing in the
doorway, her arm in a sling. She had come in time to hear his prophesy,
and in the disappointment of it had forgotten that he was a stranger.

Virginia remedied this, and they went in to breakfast. Laska was full
of interest, and poured out eager questions at Ridgway. It was not for
several minutes that Virginia recollected to ask again who was the man
they had decided upon.

Her betrothed found some inner source of pleasure that brought out a
sardonic smile. "He's a slap in the face at both Harley and me."

"I can't think who--is he honest?"

"As the day."

"And capable?"

"Oh, yes. He's competent enough."

"Presentable?"

"Yes. He'll do the State credit, or rather he would if he were going to
be elected."

"Then I give it up."

He was leaning forward to tell, when the sharp buzz of the electric
door-bell, continued and sustained, diverted the attention of all of
them.

Ridgway put down his napkin. "Probably some one to see me."

He had risen to his feet when the maid opened the door of the
dining-room.

"A gentleman to see Mr. Ridgway. He says it is very important."

From the dining-room they could hear the murmur of quick voices, and
soon Ridgway returned. He was a transformed man. His eyes were hard as
diamonds, and there was the bulldog look of the fighter about his mouth
and chin.

"What is it, Waring?" cried Virginia.

"Trouble in the mines. An hour ago Harley's men rushed the Taurus and
the New York, and drove my men out. One of my shift-foremen and two of
his drillers were killed by an explosion set off by Mike Donleavy, a
foreman in the Copper King."

"Did they mean to kill them?" asked the girl whitely.

"I suppose not. But they took the chance. It's murder just the same--by
Jove, it's a club with which to beat the legislators into line."

He stopped, his brain busy solving the problem as to how he might best
turn this development to his own advantage. Part of his equipment was
his ability to decide swiftly and surely issues as they came to him.
Now he strode to the telephone and began massing his forces.

"Main 234--Yes--Yes--This the Sun?--Give me Brayton--Hello, Brayton.
Get out a special edition at once charging Harley with murder. Run the
word as a red headline clear across the page. Show that Vance Edwards
and the other boys were killed while on duty by an attack ordered by
Harley. Point out that this is the logical result of his course. Don't
mince words. Give it him right from the shoulder. Rush it, and be sure
a copy of the paper is on the desk of every legislator before the
session opens this morning. Have a reliable man there to see that every
man gets one. Scatter the paper broadcast among the miners, too. This
is important."

He hung up the receiver, took it down again, and called up Eaton.

"Hello! This you, Steve? Send for Trelawney and Straus right away. Get
them to call a mass meeting of the unions for ten o'clock at the
courthouse square. Have dodgers printed and distributed announcing it.
Shut down all our mines so that the men can come. I want Straus and
Trelawney and two or three of the other prominent labor leaders to
denounce Harley and lay the responsibility for this thing right at his
door. I'll be up there and outline what they had better say."

He turned briskly round to the young women, his eyes shining with a
hard bright light. "I'm sorry, but I have got to cut out breakfast this
morning. Business is piling up on me too fast. If you'll excuse me,
I'll go now."

"What are you going to do?" asked Virginia.

"I haven't time to tell you now. Just watch my smoke," he laughed
without mirth.

No sooner did the news of the tragedy reach Simon Harley than he knew
the mistake of his subordinates would be a costly one. The foreman,
Donleavy, who had directed the attack on the Taurus, had to be brought
from the shafthouse under the protection of a score of Pinkerton
detectives to safeguard him from the swift vengeance of the miners, who
needed but a word to fling themselves against the cordon of police.
Harley himself kept his apartments, the hotel being heavily patrolled
by guards on the lookout for suspicious characters. The current of
public opinion, never in his favor, now ran swiftly against him, and
threats were made openly by the infuriated miners to kill him on sight.

The members of the unions came to the massmeeting reading the story of
the tragedy as the Sun colored the affair. They stayed sullenly to
listen to red-hot speeches against the leader of the trust, and
gradually the wrath which was simmering in them began to boil. Ridgway,
always with a keen sense of the psychological moment, descended the
court-house steps just as this fury was at its height. There were
instant cries for a speech from him so persistent that he yielded,
though apparently with reluctance. His fine presence and strong deep
voice soon gave him the ears of all that dense throng. He was far out
of the ordinary as a public speaker, and within a few minutes he had
his audience with him. He deprecated any violence; spoke strongly for
letting the law take its course; and dropped a suggestion that they
send a committee to the State-house to urge that Harley's candidate be
defeated for the senatorship.

Like wild-fire this hint spread. Here was something tangible they could
do that was still within the law. Harley had set his mind on electing
Warner. They would go up there in a body and defeat his plans. Marshals
and leaders of companies were appointed. They fell into ranks by fours,
nearly ten thousand of them all told. The big clock in the court-house
was striking twelve when they began their march to the Statehouse.



CHAPTER 17. THE ELECTION

At the very moment that the tramp of twenty thousand feet turned toward
the State-house, the report of the bribery investigating committee was
being read to the legislature met in joint session. The committee
reported that it had examined seven witnesses, Yesler, Roper, Landor,
James, Reedy, Kellor, and Ward, and that each of then had testified
that former Congressman Pelton or others had approached him on behalf
of Warner; that an agreement had been made by which the eight votes
being cast for Bascom would be give to Warner in consideration of
$300,000 in cash, to be held in escrow by Yesler, and that the
committee now had the said package, supposed to contain the bills for
that amount, in its possession, and was prepared to turn it over to the
legislature for examination.

Except for the clerk's voice, as he read the report, a dead silence lay
tensely over the crowded hall. Men dared not look at their neighbors,
scarce dared breathe, for the terror that hung heavy on their hearts.
Scores were there who expected their guilt to be blazoned forth for all
the world to read. They waited whitely as the monotonous voice of the
clerk went from paragraph to paragraph, and when at last he sat down,
having named only the bribers and not the receivers of bribes, a long
deep sigh of relief swept the house. Fear still racked them, but for
the moment they were safe. Furtively their glances began to go from one
to another of their neighbors and ask for how long safety would endure.

One could have heard the rustle of a leaf as the chairman of the
committee stepped forward and laid on the desk of the presiding officer
the incriminating parcel. It seemed an age while the chief clerk opened
it, counted the bills, and announced that one hundred thousand dollars
was the sum contained within.

Stephen Eaton then rose in his seat and presented quietly his
resolution, that since the evidence submitted was sufficient to convict
of bribery, the judge of the district court of the County of Mesa be
requested to call a special session of the grand jury to investigate
the report. It was not until Sam Yesler rose to speak upon that report
that the pent-up storm broke loose.

He stood there in the careless garb of the cattleman, a strong
clean-cut figure as one would see in a day's ride, facing with
unflinching steel-blue eyes the tempest of human passion he had evoked.
The babel of voices rose and fell and rose again before he could find a
chance to make himself heard. In the gallery two quietly dressed young,
women, one of them with her arm in a sling, leaned forward breathlessly
and waited. Laska's eyes glowed with deep fire. She was living her hour
of hours, and the man who stood with such quiet courage the focus of
that roar of rage was the hero of it.

"You call me Judas, and I ask you what Christ I have betrayed. You call
me traitor, but traitor to what? Like you, I am under oath to receive
no compensation for my services here other than that allowed by law. To
that oath I have been true. Have you?

"For many weeks we have been living in a carnival of bribery, in a
debauched hysteria of money-madness. The souls of men have been sifted
as by fire. We have all been part and parcel of a man-hunt, an eager,
furious, persistent hunt that has relaxed neither night nor day. The
lure of gold has been before us every waking hour, and has pursued us
into our dreams. The temptation has been ever-present. To some it has
been irresistible, to some maddening, to others, thank God! it has but
proved their strength. Our hopes, our fears, our loves, our hates:
these seducers of honor have pandered to them all. Our debts and our
business, our families and our friendships, have all been used to hound
us. To-day I put the stigma for this shame where it belongs--upon Simon
Harley, head of the Consolidated and a score of other trusts, and upon
Waring Ridgway, head of the Mesa Ore-producing Company. These are the
debauchers of our commonwealth's fair name, and you, alas! the
traffickers who hope to live upon its virtue. I call upon you to-day to
pass this resolution and to elect a man to the United States senate who
shall owe no allegiance to any power except the people, or to receive
forever the brand of public condemnation. Are you free men? Or do you
wear the collar of the Consolidated, the yoke of Waring Ridgway? The
vote which you will cast to-day is an answer that shall go flying to
the farthest corner of your world, an answer you can never hope to
change so long as you live."

He sat down in a dead silence. Again men drew counsel from their fears.
The resolution passed unanimously, for none dared vote against it lest
he brand himself as bought and sold.

It was in this moment, while the hearts of the guilty were like water,
that there came from the lawn outside the roar of a multitude of
voices. Swiftly the word passed that ten thousand miners had come to see
that Warner was not elected. That they were in a dangerous frame of
mind, all knew. It was a passionate undisciplined mob and to thwart
them would have been to invite a riot.

Under these circumstances the joint assembly proceeded to ballot for a
senator. The first name called was that of Adams. He was an old
cattleman and a Democrat.

"Before voting, I want to resign my plate a few moments to Mr. Landor,
of Kit Carson County," he said.

Landor was recognized, a big broad-shouldered plainsman with a leathery
face as honest as the sun. He was known and liked by everybody, even by
those opposed to him.

"I'm going to make a speech," he announced with the broad smile that
showed a flash of white teeth. "I reckon it'll be the first I ever made
here, and I promise it will be the last, boys. But I won't keep you
long, either. You all know how things have been going; how men have
been moving in and out and buying men here like as if they were cattle
on the hoof. You've seen it, and I've seen it. But we didn't have the
nerve to say it should stop. One man did. He's the biggest man in this
big State to-day, and it ain't been five minutes since I heard you
hollar your lungs out cursing him. You know who I mean--Sam Yesler."

He waited till the renewed storm of cheers and hisses had died away.

"It don't do him any harm for you to hollar at him, boys--not a mite. I
want to say to you that he's a man. He saw our old friends falling by
the wayside and some of you poor weaklings selling yourselves for
dollars. Because he is an honest, game man, he set out to straighten
things up. I want to tell you that my hat's off to Sam Yesler.

"But that ain't what I rose for. I'm going to name for the United
States senate a clean man, one who doesn't wear either the Harley or
the Ridgway brand. He's as straight as a string, not a crooked hair in
his head, and every manjack of you knows it. I'm going to name a
man"--he stopped an instant to smile genially around upon the circle of
uplifted faces--"who isn't any friend of either one faction or another,
a man who has just had independence enough to quit a big job because it
wasn't on the square. That man's name is Lyndon Hobart. If you want to
do yourselves proud, gentlemen, you'll certainly elect him."

If it was a sensation he had wanted to create, he had it. The Warner
forces were taken with dumb surprise. But many of them were already
swiftly thinking it would be the best way out of a bad business. He
would be conservative, as fair to the Consolidated as to the enemy.
More, just now his election would appeal to the angry mob howling
outside the building, for they could ask nothing more than the election
of the man who had resigned rather than order the attack on the Taurus,
which had resulted in the death of some of their number.

Hoyle, of the Democrats, seconded the nomination, as also did Eaton, in
a speech wherein he defended the course of Ridgway and withdrew his
name.

Within a few minutes of the time that Eaton sat down, the roll had been
called and Hobart elected by a vote of seventy-three to twenty-four,
the others refusing to cast a ballot.

The two young women, sitting together in the front row of the gallery,
were glowing with triumphant happiness. Virginia was still clapping her
hands when a voice behind her suggested that the circumstances did not
warrant her being so happy over the result. She turned, to see Waring
Ridgway smiling down at her.

"But I can't help being pleased. Wasn't Mr. Yesler magnificent?"

"Sam was all right, though he might have eased up a bit when he pitched
into me."

"He had to do that to be fair. Everybody knows you and he are friends.
I think it was fine of him not to let that make any difference in his
telling the truth."

"Oh, I knew it would please you," her betrothed laughed. "What do you
say to going out to lunch with me? I'll get Sam, too, if I can."

The young women consulted eyes and agreed very readily. Both of them
enjoyed being so near to the heart of things.

"If Mr. Yesler will lunch with the debaucher of the commonwealth, we
shall be very happy to join the party," said Virginia demurely.

Ridgway led them down to the floor of the House. Through the dense
throng they made their way slowly toward him, Ridgway clearing a path
with his broad shoulders.

Suddenly they heard him call sharply, "Look out, Sam."

The explosion of a revolver followed sharply his words. Ridgway dived
through the press, tossing men to right and left of him as a steamyacht
does the waves. Through the open lane he left in his wake, the young
women caught the meaning of the turmoil: the crumpled figure was Yesler
swaying into the arms of his friend, Roper, the furious drink-flushed
face of Pelton and the menace of the weapon poised for a second shot,
the swift impact of Waring's body, and the blow which sent the next
bullet crashing into the chandelier overhead. All this they glimpsed
momentarily before the press closed in on the tragic scene and cut off
their view.



CHAPTER 18. FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS

While Harley had been in no way responsible for Pelton's murderous
attack upon Yesler, public opinion held him to account. The Pinkertons
who had, up till this time, been employed at the mines, were now moved
to the hotel to be ready for an emergency. A special train was held in
readiness to take the New Yorker out of the State in the event that the
stockman should die. Meanwhile, the harassing attacks of Ridgway
continued. Through another judge than Purcell, the absurd injunction
against working the Diamond King, the Mary K, and the Marcus Daly had
been dissolved, but even this advantage had been neutralized by the
necessity of giving back to the enemy the Taurus and the New York, of
which he had just possessed himself. All his life he had kept a
wheather-eye upon the impulsive and fickle public. There were times
when its feeling could be abused with impunity, and other times when
this must be respected. Reluctantly, Harley gave the word for the
withdrawal of his men from the territory gained. Ridgway pushed his
advantage home and secured an injunction, not only against the working,
but against the inspection of the Copper King and the Jim Hill. The
result of the Consolidated move had been in effect to turn over,
temporarily, its two rich mines to be looted by the pirate, and to make
him very much stronger than before with his allies, the unions. By his
own imprudence, Harley had made a bad situation worse, and delivered
himself, with his hands tied, into the power of the enemy.

In the days of turmoil that followed, Waring Ridgway's telling blows
scored once and again. The morning after the explosion, he started a
relief fund in his paper, the Sun, for the families of the dead miners,
contributing two thousand dollars himself. He also insisted that the
Consolidated pay damages to the bereaved families to the extent of
twenty thousand dollars for each man killed. The town rang with his
praises. Mesa had always been proud of his success; had liked the
democratic spirit of him that led him to mix on apparently equal terms
with his working men, and had backed him in his opposition to the trust
because his plucky and unscrupulous fight had been, in a measure, its
fight. But now it idolized him. He was the buffer between it and the
trust, fighting the battles of labor against the great octopus of
Broadway, and beating it to a standstill. He was the Moses destined to
lead the working man out of the Egypt of his discontent. Had he not
maintained the standard of wages and forced the Consolidated to do the
same? Had he not declared an eight-hour day, and was not the trust
almost ready to do this also, forced by the impetus his example had
given the unions? So Ridgway's agents whispered, and the union leaders,
whom he had bought, took up the burden of their tale and preached it
both in private talk and in their speeches.

In an attempt to stem the rising tide of denunciation that was
spreading from Mesa to the country at large, Harley announced an eight
hour day and an immense banquet to all the Consolidated employees in
celebration of the occasion. Ten thousand men sat down to the long
tables, but when one of the speakers injudiciously mentioned the name
of Ridgway, there was steady cheering for ten minutes. It was quite
plain that the miners gave him the credit for having forced the
Consolidated to the eight-hour day.

The verdict of the coroner's jury was that Vance Edwards and the other
deceased miners had come to their death at the hands of the foreman,
Michael Donleavy, at the instigation of Simon Harley. True bills were
at once drawn up by the prosecuting attorney of Mesa County, an
official elected by Ridgway, charging Harley and Donleavy with
conspiracy, resulting in the murder of Vance Edwards. The billionaire
furnished bail for himself and foreman, treating the indictments merely
as part of the attacks of the enemy.

The tragedy in the Taurus brought to the surface a bitterness that had
hitherto not been apparent in the contest between the rival copper
interests. The lines of division became more sharply drawn, and every
business man in Mesa was forced to declare himself on one side or the
other. Harley scattered detectives broadcast and imported five hundred
Pinkertons to meet any emergency that might arise. The spies of the
Consolidated were everywhere, gathering evidence against the Mesa
Ore-producing Company, its conduct of the senatorial campaign, its
judges, and its supporters Criminal indictments flew back and forth
thick as snowflakes in a Christmas storm.

It began to be noticed that an occasional foreman, superintendent, or
mining engineer was slipping from the employ of Ridgway to that of the
trust, carrying secrets and evidence that would be invaluable later in
the courts. Everywhere the money of the Consolidated, scattered
lavishly where it would do the most good, attempted to sap the loyalty
of the followers of the other candidates. Even Eaton was approached
with the offer of a bribe.

But Ridgway's potent personality had built up an esprit de corps not
easily to be broken. The adventurers gathered to his side were, for the
most part, bound to him by ties personal in their nature. They were
financial fillibusters, pledged to stand or fall together, with an
interest in their predatory leader's success that was not entirely
measurable in dollars and cents. Nor was that leader the man to allow
the organization he had builded with such care to become disintegrated
while he slept. His alert eye and cheery smile were everywhere,
instilling confidence in such as faltered, and dread in those
contemplating defection.

He harassed his rival with an audacity that was almost devilish in its
unexpected ingenuity. For the first time in his life Simon Harley, the
town back on the defensive by a combination of circumstances engineered
by a master brain, knew what it was to be checkmated. He had not the
least doubt of ultimate victory, but the tentative success of the
brazen young adventurer, were gall and wormwood to his soul. He had
made money his god, had always believed it would buy anything worth
while except life, but this Western buccaneer had taught him it could
not purchase the love of a woman nor the immediate defeat of a man so
well armed as Waring Ridgway. In truth, though Harley stuck at nothing,
his success in accomplishing the destruction of this thorn in his side
was no more appreciable than had been that of Hobart. The Westerner
held his own and more, the while he robbed the great trust of its ore
under cover of the courts.

In the flush of success, Ridgway, through his lieutenant, Eaton, came
to Judge Purcell asking that a receiver be appointed for the
Consolidated Supply Company, a subsidiary branch of the trust, on the
ground that its affairs were not being properly administered. The
Supply Company had paid dividends ranging from fifteen to twenty-five
per cent for many years, but Ridgway exercised his right as a
stockholder to ask for a receivership. In point of fact, he owned, in
the name of Eaton, only one-tenth of one per cent of the stock, but it
was enough to serve. For Purcell was a bigoted old Missourian, as
courageous and obstinate as perfect health and ignorance could make
him. He was quite innocent of any legal knowledge, his own rule of law
being to hit a Consolidated head whenever he saw one. Lawyers might
argue themselves black in the face without affecting his serenity or
his justice.

Purcell granted the application, as well as a restraining order against
the payment of dividends until further notice, and appointed Eaton
receiver over the protests of the Consolidated lawyers.

Ridgway and Eaton left the court-room together, jubilant over their
success. They dined at a restaurant, and spent the evening at the
ore-producing company's offices, discussing ways and means. When they
had finished, his chief followed Eaton to the doors, an arm thrown
affectionately round his shoulder.

"Steve, we're going to make a big killing. I was never so sure of
anything in my life as that we shall beat Simon Harley at his own game.
We're bound to win. We've got to win."

"I wish I were as sure as you."

"It's hard pounding does it, my boy. We'll drive him out of the Montana
copper-fields yet. We'll show him there is one little corner of the U.
S. where Simon Harley's orders don't go as the last word."

"He has a hundred dollars to your one."

"And I have youth and mining experience and the inside track, as well
as stancher friends than he ever dreamed of," laughed Ridgway, clapping
the other on the back. "Well, good night, Steve. Pleasant dreams, old
man."

The boyish secretary shook hands warmly. "You're a MAN, chief. If
anybody can pull us through it will be you."

Triumphant confidence rang in the other's answering laugh. "You bet I
can, Steve."



CHAPTER 19. ONE MILLION DOLLARS

Eaton, standing on the street curb at the corner of the Ridgway
Building, lit a cigar while he hesitated between his rooms and the
club. He decided for the latter, and was just turning up the hill, when
a hand covered his mouth and an arm was flung around his neck in a
stranglehold. He felt himself lifted like a child, and presently
discovered that he was being whirled along the street in a closed
carriage.

"You needn't be alarmed, Mr. Eaton. We're not going to injure you in
the least," a low voice explained in his ear. "If you'll give me your
word not to cry out, I'll release your throat."

Eaton nodded a promise, and, when he could find his voice, demanded:
"Where are you taking me?"

"You'll see in a minute, sir. It's all right."

The carriage turned into an alley and stopped. Eaton was led to a
ladder that hung suspended from the fire-escape, and was bidden to
mount. He did so, following his guide to the second story, and being in
turn followed by the other man. He was taken along a corridor and into
the first of a suite of rooms opening into it. He knew he was in the
Mesa House, and suspected at once that he was in the apartments of
Simon Harley.

His suspicion ripened to conviction when his captors led him through
two more rooms, into one fitted as an office. The billionaire sat at a
desk, busy over some legal papers he was reading, but he rose at once
and came forward with hand extended to meet Eaton. The young man took
his hand mechanically.

"Glad to have the pleasure of talking with, you, Mr. Eaton. You must
accept my apologies for my methods of securing a meeting. They are
rather primitive, but since you declined to call and see me, I can hold
only you to blame." An acid smile touched his lips for a moment, though
his eyes were expressionless as a wall. "Mr. Eaton, I have brought you
here in this way to have a confidential talk with you, in order that it
might not in any way reflect upon you in case we do not come to an
arrangement satisfactory to both of us. Your friends cannot justly
blame you for this conference, since you could not avoid it. Mr. Eaton,
take a chair."

The wills of the two men flashed into each other's eyes like rapiers.
The weaker man knew what was before him and braced himself to meet it.
He would not sit down. He would not discuss anything. So he told
himself once and again to hold himself steady against the impulse to
give way to those imperious eyes behind which was the impassive,
compelling will.

"Sit down, Mr. Eaton."

"I'll stand, Mr. Harley."

"SIT DOWN."

The cold jade eyes were not to be denied. Eaton's gaze fell sullenly,
and he slid into a chair.

"I'll discuss no business except in the presence of Mr. Ridgway," he
said doggedly, falling back to his second line of defenses.

"To the contrary, my business is with you and not with Mr. Ridgway."

"I know of no business you can have with me."

"Wherefore I have brought you here to acquaint you with it."

The young man lifted his head reluctantly and waited. If he had been
willing to confess it to himself, he feared greatly this ruthless
spoiler who had built up the greatest fortune in the world from
thousands of wrecked lives. He felt himself choking, just as if those
skeleton fingers had been at his throat, but he promised himself never
to yield.

The fathomless, dominant gaze caught and held his eyes. "Mr. Eaton, I
came here to crush Ridgway. I am going to stay here till I do. I'm
going to wipe him from the map of Montana--ruin him so utterly that he
can never recover. It has been my painful duty to do this with a
hundred men as strong and as confident as he is. After undertaking such
an enterprise, I have never faltered and never relented. The men I have
ruined were ruined beyond hope of recovery. None of them have ever
struggled to their feet again. I intend to make Waring Ridgway a
pauper."

Stephen Eaton could have conceived nothing more merciless than this
man's callous pronouncement, than the calm certainty of his
unemphasized words. He started to reply, but Harley took the words out
of his mouth.

"Don't make a mistake. Don't tie to the paltry successes he has gained.
I have not really begun to fight yet."

The young man had nothing to say. His heart was water. He accepted
Harley's words as true, for he had told himself the same thing a
hundred times. Why had Ridgway rejected the overtures of this colossus
of finance? It had been the sheerest folly born of madness to suppose
that anybody could stand against him.

"For Ridgway, the die is cast," the iron voice went on. "He is doomed
beyond hope. But there is still a chance for you. What do you consider
your interest in the Mesa Ore-producing Company worth, Mr. Eaton?"

The sudden question caught Eaton with the force of a surprise. "About
three hundred thousand dollars," he heard himself say; and it seemed to
him that his voice was speaking the words without his volition.

"I'm going to buy you out for twice that sum. Furthermore, I'm going to
take care of your future--going to see that you have a chance to rise."

The waverer's will was in flux, but the loyalty in him still protested.
"I can't desert my chief, Mr. Harley."

"Do you call it desertion to leave a raging madman in a sinking boat
after you have urged him to seek the safety of another ship?"

"He made me what I am."

"And I will make you ten times what you are. With Ridgway you have no
chance to be anything but a subordinate. He is the Mesa Ore-producing
Company, and you are merely a cipher. I offer your individuality a
chance. I believe in you, and know you to be a strong man." No ironic
smile touched Harley's face at this statement. "You need a chance, and
I offer it to you. For your own sake take it."

Every grievance Eaton had ever felt against his chief came trooping to
his mind. He was domineering. He did ride rough-shod over his allies'
opinions and follow the course he had himself mapped out. All the glory
of the victory he absorbed as his due. In the popular opinion, Eaton
was as a farthing-candle to a great electric search-light in comparison
with Ridgway.

"He trusts me," the tempted man urged weakly. He was slipping, and he
knew it, even while he assured himself he would never betray his chief.

"He would sell you out to-morrow if it paid him. And what is he but a
robber? Every dollar of his holdings is stolen from me. I ask only
restitution of you--and I propose to buy at twice, nay at three times,
the value of your stolen property. You owe that freebooter no loyalty."

"I can't do it. I can't do it."

"You shall do it." Harley dominated him as bullying schoolmaster does a
cringing boy under the lash.

"I can't do it," the young man repeated, all his weak will flung into
the denial.

"Would you choose ruin?"

"Perhaps. I don't know," he faltered miserable.

"It's merely a business proposition, young man. The stock you have to
sell is valuable to-day. Reject my offer, and a month from now it will
be quoted on the market at half its present figure, and go begging at
that. It will be absolutely worthless before I finish. You are not
selling out Ridgway. He is a ruined man, anyway. But you--I am going to
save you in spite of yourself. I am going to shake you from that
robber's clutches."

Eaton got to his feet, pallid and limp as a rag. "Don't tempt me," he
cried hoarsely. "I tell you I can't do it, sir."

Harley's cold eye did not release him for an instant. "One million
dollars and an assured future, or--absolute, utter ruin, complete and
final."

"He would murder me--and he ought to," groaned the writhing victim.

"No fear of that. I'll put you where he can't reach you. Just sign your
name to this paper, Mr. Eaton."

"I didn't agree. I didn't say I would."

"Sign here. Or, wait one moment, till I get witnesses." Harley touched
a bell, and his secretary appeared in the doorway. "Ask Mr. Mott and
young Jarvis to step this way."

Harley held out the pen toward Eaton, looking steadily at him. In a
strong man the human eye is a sword among weapons. Eaton quailed. The
fingers of the unhappy wretch went out mechanically for the pen. He was
sweating terror and remorse, but the essential weakness of the man
could not stand out unbacked against the masterful force of this man's
imperious will. He wrote his name in the places directed, and flung
down the pen like a child in a rage.

"Now get me out of Montana before Ridgway knows," he cried brokenly.

"You may leave to-morrow night, Mr. Eaton. You'll only have to appear
in court once personally. We'll arrange it quietly for to-morrow
afternoon. Ridgway won't know until it is done and you are gone."



CHAPTER 20. A LITTLE LUNCH AT APHONSE'S

It chanced that Ridgway, through the swinging door of a department
store, caught a glimpse of Miss Balfour as he was striding along the
street. He bethought him that it was the hour of luncheon, and that she
was no end better company than the revamped noon edition of the morning
paper. Wherefore he wheeled into the store and interrupted her
inspection of gloves.

"I know the bulliest little French restaurant tucked away in a side
street just three blocks from here. The happiness disseminated in this
world by that chef's salads will some day carry him past St. Peter with
no questions asked."

"You believe in salvation by works?" she parried, while she considered
his invitation.

"So will you after a trial of Alphonse's salad."

"Am I to understand that I am being invited to a theological discussion
of a heavenly salad concocted by Father Alphonse?"

"That is about the specifications."

"Then I accept. For a week my conscience has condemned me for excess of
frivolity. You offer me a chance to expiate without discomfort. That is
my idea of heaven. I have always believed it a place where one pastures
in rich meadows of pleasure, with penalties and consciences all
excluded from its domains."

"You should start a church," he laughed. "It would have a great
following--especially if you could operate your heaven this side of the
Styx."

She found his restaurant all he had claimed, and more. The little
corner of old Paris set her eyes shining. The fittings were Parisian to
the least detail. Even the waiter spoke no English.

"But I don't see how they make it pay. How did he happen to come here?
Are there enough people that appreciate this kind of thing in Mesa to
support it?"

He smiled at her enthusiasm. "Hardly. The place has a scarce dozen of
regular patrons. Hobart comes here a good deal. So does Eaton. But it
doesn't pay financially. You see, I know because I happen to own it. I
used to eat at Alphonse's restaurant in Paris. So I sent for him. It
doesn't follow that one has to be less a slave to the artificial
comforts of a supercivilized world because one lives at Mesa."

"I see it doesn't. You are certainly a wonderful man."

"Name anything you like. I'll warrant Alphonse can make good if it is
not outside of his national cuisine," he boasted.

She did not try his capacity to the limit, but the oysters, the salad,
the chicken soup were delicious, with the ultimate perfection that
comes only out of Gaul.

They made a delightfully gay and intimate hour of it, and were still
lingering over their demi-tasse when Yesler's name was mentioned.

"Isn't it splendid that he's doing so well?" cried the girl with
enthusiasm. "The doctor says that if the bullet had gone a fraction of
an inch lower, he would have died. Most men would have died anyhow,
they say. It was his clean outdoor life and magnificent constitution
that saved him."

"That's what pulled him through," he nodded. "It would have done his
heart good to see how many friends he had. His recovery was a
continuous performance ovation. It would have been a poorer world for a
lot of people if Sam Yesler had crossed the divide."

"Yes. It would have been a very much poorer one for several I know."

He glanced shrewdly at her. "I've learned to look for a particular
application when you wear that particularly sapient air of mystery."

Her laugh admitted his hit. "Well, I was thinking of Laska. I begin to
think HER fair prince has come."

"Meaning Yesler?"

"Yes. She hasn't found it out herself yet. She only knows she is
tremendously interested."

"He's a prince all right, though he isn't quite a fairy. The woman that
gets him will be lucky.

"The man that gets Laska will be more than lucky," she protested
loyally.

"I dare say," he agreed carelessly. "But, then, good women are not so
rare as good men. There are still enough of them left to save the
world. But when it comes to men like Sam--well, it would take a
Diogenes to find another."

"I don't see how even Mr. Pelton, angry as he was, dared shoot him."

"He had been drinking hard for a week. That will explain anything when
you add it to his temperament. I never liked the fellow."

"I suppose that is why you saved his life when the miners took him and
were going to lynch him?"

"I would not have lifted a hand for him. That's the bald truth. But I
couldn't let the boys spoil the moral effect of their victory by so
gross a mistake. It would have been playing right into Harley's hands."

"Can a man get over being drunk in five minutes? I never saw anybody
more sober than Mr. Pelton when the mob were crying for vengeance and
you were fighting them back."

"A great shock will sober a man. Pelton is an errant coward, and he had
pretty good reason to think he had come to the end of the passage. The
boys weren't playing. They meant business."

"They would not have listened to another man in the world except you,"
she told him proudly.

"It was really Sam they listened to--when he sent out the message
asking them to let the law have its way."

"No, I think it was the way you handled the message. You're a wizard at
a speech, you know."

"Thanks."

He glanced up, for Alphonse was waiting at his elbow.

"You're wanted on the telephone, monsieur."

"You can't get away from business even for an hour, can you?" she
rallied. "My heaven wouldn't suit you at all, unless I smuggled in a
trust for you to fight."

"I expect it is Eaton," he explained. "Steve phoned down to the office
that he isn't feeling well to-day. I asked him to have me called up
here. If he isn't better, I'm going to drop round and see him."

But when she caught sight of his face as he returned she knew it was
serious.

"What's the matter? Is it Mr. Eaton? Is he very ill?" she cried.

His face was set like broken ice refrozen. "Yes, it's Eaton. They
say--but it can't be true!"

She had never seen him so moved. "What is it, Waring?"

"The boy has sold me out. He is at the courthouse now, undoing my
work--the Judas!"

The angry blood swept imperiously into her cheeks. "Don't waste any
more time with me, Waring. Go--go and save yourself from the traitor.
Perhaps it is not too late yet."

He flung her a grateful look. "You're true blue, Virginia. Come! I'll
leave you at the store as we pass."

The defection of Eaton bit his chief to the quick. The force of the
blow itself was heavy--how heavy he could not tell till he could take
stock of the situation. He could see that he would be thrown out of
court in the matter of the Consolidated Supply Company receivership,
since Eaton's stock would now be in the hands of the enemy. But what
was of more importance was the fact that Eaton's interest in the Mesa
Ore-producing Company now belonged to Harley, who could work any amount
of mischief with it as a lever for litigation.

The effect, too, of the man's desertion upon the morale of the M. O. P.
forces must be considered and counteracted, if possible. He fancied he
could see his subordinates looking shiftyeyed at each other and
wondering who would slip away next.

If it had been anybody but Steve! He would as soon have distrusted his
right hand as Steve Eaton. Why, he had made the man, had picked him out
when he was a mere clerk, and tied him to himself by a hundred favors.
Up on the Snake River he had saved Steve's life once when he was
drowning. The boy had always been as close to him as a brother. That
Steve should turn traitor was not conceivable. He knew all his intimate
plans, stood second to himself in the company. Oh, it was a numbing
blow! Ridgway's sense of personal loss and outrage almost obliterated
for the moment his appreciation of the business loss.

The motion to revoke the receivership of the Supply Company was being
argued when Ridgway entered the court-room. Within a few minutes the
news had spread like wild-fire that Eaton was lined up with the
Consolidated, and already the paltry dozen of loafers in the court-room
had swelled into hundreds, all of them eager for any sensation that
might develop.

Ridgway's broad shoulders flung aside the crowd and opened a way to the
vacant chair waiting for him. One of his lawyers had the floor and was
flaying Eaton with a vitriolic tongue, the while men craned forward all
over the room to get a glimpse of the traitor's face.

Eaton sat beside Mott, dry-lipped and pallid, his set eyes staring
vacantly into space. Once or twice he flung a furtive glance about him.
His stripped and naked soul was enduring a foretaste of the Judgment
Day. The whip of scorn with which the lawyer lashed him cut into his
shrinking sensibilities, and left him a welter of raw and livid wales.
Good God! why had he not known it would be like this? He was paying for
his treachery and usury, and it was being burnt into him that as the
years passed he must continue to pay in self-contempt and the distrust
of his fellows.

The case had come to a hearing before Judge Hughes, who was not one of
Ridgway's creatures. That on its merits it would be decided in favor of
the Consolidated was a foregone conclusion. It was after the judge had
rendered the expected decision that the dramatic moment of the day came
to gratify the seasoned court frequenters.

Eaton, trying to slip as quietly as possible from the room, came face
to face with his former chief. For an interminable instant the man he
had betrayed, blocking the way squarely, held the trembling wretch in
the blaze of his scorn. Ridgway's contemptuous eyes sifted to the
ingrate's soul until it shriveled. Then he stood disdainfully to one
side so that the man might not touch him as he passed.

Some one in the back of the room broke the tense silence and hissed:
"The damned Judas!" Instantly echoes of "Judas! Judas!" filled the
room, and pursued Eaton to his cab. It would be many years before he
could recall without scalding shame that moment when the finger of
public scorn was pointed at him in execration.



CHAPTER 21. HARLEY SCORES

What Harley had sought in the subornation of Eaton had been as much the
moral effect of his defection as the tangible results themselves. If he
could shake the confidence of the city and State in the freebooter's
victorious star, he would have done a good day's work. He wanted the
impression to spread that Ridgway's success had passed its meridian.

Nor did he fail of his purpose by more than a hair's breadth. The talk
of the street saw the beginning of the end. The common voice ran: "It's
'God help Ridgway' now. He's down and out."

But Waring Ridgway was never more dangerous than in apparent defeat. If
he were hit hard by Eaton's treachery, no sign of it was apparent in
the jaunty insouciance of his manner. Those having business with him
expected to find him depressed and worried, but instead met a man the
embodiment of vigorous and confident activity. If the subject were
broached, he was ready to laugh with them at Eaton's folly in deserting
at the hour when victory was assured.

It was fortunate for Ridgway that the county elections came on early in
the spring and gave him a chance to show that his power was still
intact. He arranged to meet at once the political malcontents of the
State who were banded together against the growing influence of the
Consolidated. He had a few days before called together representative
men from all parts of the State to discuss a program of action against
the enemy, and Ridgway gave a dinner for them at the Quartzite, the
evening of Eaton's defection.

He was at the critical moment when any obvious irresolution would have
been fatal. His allies were ready to concede his defeat if he would let
them. But he radiated such an assured atmosphere of power, such an
unconquerable current of vigor, that they could not escape his own
conviction of unassailability. He was at his genial, indomitable best,
the magnetic charm of fellowship putting into eclipse the selfishness
of the man. He had been known to boast of his political exploits, of
how he had been the Warwick that had made and unmade governors and
United States senators; but the fraternal "we" to-night replaced his
usual first person singular.

The business interests of the Consolidated were supreme all over the
State. That corporation owned forests and mills and railroads and
mines. It ran sheep and cattle-ranches as well as stores and
manufactories. Most of the newspapers in the State were dominated by
it. Of a population of two hundred and fifty thousand, it controlled
more than half directly by the simple means of filling dinner-pails.
That so powerful a corporation, greedy for power and wealth, should
create a strong but scattered hostility in the course of its growth,
became inevitable. This enmity Ridgway proposed to consolidate into a
political organization, with opposition to the trust as its cohesive
principle, that should hold the balance of power in the State.

When he rose to explain his object in calling them together, Ridgway's
clear, strong presentment of the situation, backed by his splendid bulk
and powerful personality, always bold and dramatic, shocked dormant
antagonisms to activity as a live current does sluggish inertia. For he
had eminently the gift of moving speech. The issue was a simple one, he
pointed out. Reduced to ultimates, the question was whether the State
should control the Consolidated or the Consolidated 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 was right.

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 into submission."

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 weariness.

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 of despair.

"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 no more.

"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 her up."

"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 me."

"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
inscrutable face.

"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 justice.



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 a smile.

She sighed. "He was always so thoughtful of me, too. I do wish I
had--could have been--more--"

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 knew."

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 wish it."

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.

"Yes, sir."

"Is he at home?"

"Yes, sir."

"May I see him?"

"He's sick."

"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 sees me."

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 you."

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 mind?"

"No, I can't do this, but I can help you to do it all," the cattleman
made answer quietly.

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 own.

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
diffidently.

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
conversation cheerfully.

"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 himself.

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."

"Yes, mama."

"Oh, sho, ma'am!" protested the overwhelmed cattleman, kissing both the
children, nevertheless.

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 you, too."

"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
answered them.

"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 it."

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
time--poker?"

"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 sinners?"

"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 you're ashamed."

"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 to end."

"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 grinned.

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 science.

"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?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"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
beside her.

"Suppose you tell me about it," he suggested.

"I know I must be wrong, and you'll be shocked when you hear."

"Very likely."

"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
happy again?"

"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 little shock.

"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 pouted.

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 his smile.

"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 the city.

"I suppose you have any number of other friends here that will want
you?" she said.

"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," she cried.

"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 helpless."

"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 the time."



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 yet," 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."

"You mean?"

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 rack yet.

"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 command?"

"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?"

She nodded.

"May I ask why?"

"I couldn't bring myself to it, Waring. I honestly tried, but I
couldn't do it."

"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.

"And his?"

"I said mine. At any rate, if three knew, it wouldn't be a secret," was
her quick retort.

"Do you think you have been quite fair to me, Virginia?" he asked, with
gloomy dignity.

"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 solitaire."

"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."

"More intellectual?"

"No."

"Of a better disposition?"

"I like yours, too."

"More charming?"

"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 disapproval.

"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 Mr. Ridgway?"

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 at all.

"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 meant 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 hand.

"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 that."

"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."





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