William MacLeod Raine.

Ridgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain) online

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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

"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.


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

"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

"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

"Oh, my dear, my dear," she cried softly.

Ridgway slipped quietly from the room and left them together.


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,

"I can't do it so long as you hold me for an enemy, ma'am. I'm ready to
cry quits with your husband and try a new deal. If I injured him he
tried to even things up. Well, let's say things are squared and start
fresh. I've got a business proposition to make if you're willing to
listen to it."

"What sort of a proposition?"

"I'm running about twenty-five thousand sheep up in the hills. I've
just bought a ranch with a comfortable ranch-house on it for a kind of
central point. My winter feeding will all be done from it as a chief
place of distribution. Same with the shearing and shipping. I want a
good man to put in charge of my sheep as head manager, and I would be
willing to pay a proper salary. There ain't any reason why this
shouldn't work into a partnership if he makes good. With wool jumping,
as it's going to do in the next four years, the right kind of man can
make himself independent for life. My idea is to increase my holdings
right along, and let my manager in as a partner as soon as he shows he
is worth it. Now that ranch-house is a decent place. There's a pretty
good school, ma'am, for the children. The folks round that neighborhood
may not have any frills, but - "

"Are you offering Tom the place as manager?" she demanded, in amazement.

"That was my idea, ma'am. It's not what you been used to, o' course,
but if you're looking for a change I thought I'd speak of it," he said

She looked at him in a dumb surprise. She, too, in her heart knew that
this man was blameless. He had done his duty, and had nearly lost his
life for it at the hands of her husband. Now, he had come to lift them
out of the hideous nightmare into which they had fallen. He had come to
offer them peace and quiet and plenty in exchange for the future of
poverty and shame and despair which menaced them. They were to escape
into God's great hills, away from the averted looks and whispering
tongues and the temptations to drown his trouble that so constantly
beset the father of her children. Despite his faults she still loved
Tom Pelton; he was a kind and loving husband and father. Out on the
range there still waited a future for him. When she thought of it a
lump rose in her throat for very happiness. She, who had been like a
rock beside him in his trouble, broke down now and buried her head in
her husband's coat.

"Don't you, honey - now, don't you cry." The big man had lost all his
pomposity, and was comforting his sweetheart as simply as a boy. "It's
all been my fault. I've been doing wrong for years - trying to pull
myself out of the mire by my bootstraps. By Gad, you're a man, Sam
Yesler, that's what you are. If I don't turn ovah a new leaf I'd ought
to be shot. We'll make a fresh start, sweetheart. Dash me, I'm nothing
but a dashed baby." And with that the overwrought man broke down, too.

Yesler, moved a good deal himself, maintained the burden of the
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

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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 13 of 15)