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Produced by Mary Starr. HTML version by Al Haines.









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


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