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William MacLeod Raine.

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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


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