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William MacLeod Raine.

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modeling of the mobile face. It was a distinction that stirred the
pulse of his emotion and disarmed his keen, critical sense. Ridgway
could study her with an amused, detached interest, but Hobart's
admiration had traveled past that point. He found it as impossible to
define her charm as to evade it. Her inheritance of blood and her
environment should have made her a finished product of civilization,
but her salty breeziness, her nerve, vivid as a flame at times,
disturbed delightfully the poise that held her when in repose.

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

"Judge Purcell says so."

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

"Wouldn't I naturally be prejudiced?"

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

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

"And from your angle of observation?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have always thought so," agreed Virginia.

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

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

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

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

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

"Not for sale, Mr. Bartel."

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

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

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

"Run it," suggested Ridgway.

"Without ore?"

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

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

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

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

"Think not," disagreed Ridgway.

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

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

"What?" screamed Bartel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 3. ONE TO ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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 2 of 15)