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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


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Online LibraryWilliam MacLeod RaineRidgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain) → online text (page 12 of 15)