Copyright
William MacLeod Raine.

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

. (page 5 of 15)
Online LibraryWilliam MacLeod RaineRidgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain) → online text (page 5 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"Or half of the Consolidated's," amended his friend with twinkling eyes.

"Even so, Sam," returned the other equably. "And now, tell me how you
managed to round us all up safely."

"You've heard, then, that we got the whole party in time?"

"Yes, I've been talking with one of your enthusiastic riders that went
out with you after us. He's been flimflammed into believing you the
greatest man in the United States. Tell me how you do it."

"Nick's a good boy, but I reckon he didn't tell you quite all that."

"Didn't he? You should have heard him reel off your praises by the
yard. I got the whole story of how you headed the relief-party after
you had reached the ranch more dead than alive."

"Then, if you've got it, I don't need to tell you. I WAS a bit worried
about the old man. He was pretty far gone when we reached him, but he
pulled through all right. He's still sleeping like a top."

"Is he?" His guest's hard gaze came round to meet his. "And the lady?
Do you know how she stood it?"

"My sister says she was pretty badly played out, but all she needs is
rest. Nell put her in her own bed, and she, too, has been doing nothing
but sleep."

Ridgway smoked out his cigar in silence then tossed it into the
fireplace as he rose briskly.

"I want to talk to Mesa over the phone, Sam."

"Can't do it. The wires are down. This storm played the deuce with
them."

"The devil! I'll have to get through myself then."

"Forget business for a day or two, Waring, and take it easy up here,"
counseled his host.

"Can't do it. I have to make arrangements to welcome Simon Harley to
Mesa. The truth is, Sam, that there are several things that won't wait.
I've got to frame them up my way. Can you get me through to the
railroad in time to catch the Limited?"

"I think so. The road has been traveled for two or three days. If you
really must go. I hate to have you streak off like this."

"I'd like to stay, Sam, but I can't. For one thing, there's that
senatorial fight coming on. Now that Harley's on the ground in person,
I'll have to look after my fences pretty close. He's a good fighter,
and he'll be out to win."

"After what you've done for him. Don't you think that will make a
difference, Waring?"

His friend laughed without mirth. "What have I done for him? I left him
in the snow to die, and while a good many thousand other people would
bless me for it, probably he has a different point of view."

"I was thinking of what you did for his wife."

"You've said it exactly. I did it for her, not for him. I'll accept
nothing from Harley on that account. He is outside of the friendship
between her and me, and he can't jimmy his way in."

Yesler shrugged his shoulders. "All right. I'll order a rig hitched for
you and drive you over myself. I want to talk over this senatorial
fight anyhow. The way things look now it's going to be the rottenest
session of the legislature we've ever had. Sometimes I'm sick of being
mixed up in the thing, but I got myself elected to help straighten out
things, and I'm certainly going to try."

"That's right, Sam. With a few good fighters like you we can win out.
Anything to beat the Consolidated."

"Anything to keep our politics decent," corrected the other. "I've got
nothing against the Consolidated, but I won't lie down and let it or
any other private concern hog-tie this State - not if I can help it,
anyhow."

Behind wary eyes Ridgway studied him. He was wondering how far this man
would go as his tool. Sam Yesler held a unique position in the State.
His influence was commanding among the sturdy old-time population
represented by the non-mining interests of the smaller towns and open
plains. He must be won at all hazards to lend it in the impending fight
against Harley. The mine-owner knew that no thought of personal gain
would move him. He must be made to feel that it was for the good of the
State that the Consolidated be routed. Ridgway resolved to make him see
it that way.



CHAPTER 7. BACK FROM ARCADIA

The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company stepped from the
parlor-car of the Limited at the hour when all wise people are taking
life easy after a good dinner. He did not, however, drive to his club,
but took a cab straight for his rooms, where he had telegraphed Eaton
to meet him with the general superintendent of all his properties and
his private secretary, Smythe. For nearly a week his finger had been
off the pulse of the situation, and he wanted to get in touch again as
soon as possible. For in a struggle as tense as the one between him and
the trust, a hundred vital things might have happened in that time. He
might be coming back to catastrophe and ruin, brought about while he
had been a prisoner to love in that snow-bound cabin.

Prisoner to love he had been and still was, but the business men who
met him at his rooms, fellow adventurers in the forlorn hope he had
hitherto led with such signal success, could have read nothing of this
in the marble, chiseled face of their sagacious general, so indomitable
of attack and insatiate of success. His steel-hard eyes gave no hint of
the Arcadia they had inhabited so eagerly a short twenty-four hours
before. The intoxicating madness he had known was chained deep within
him. Once more he had a grip on himself; was sheathed in a cannonproof
plate armor of selfishness. No more magic nights of starshine,
breathing fire and dew; no more lifted moments of exaltation stinging
him to a pulsating wonder at life's wild delight. He was again the
inexorable driver of men, with no pity for their weaknesses any more
than for his own.

The men whom he found waiting for him at his rooms were all young
Westerners picked out by him because he thought them courageous,
unscrupulous and loyal. Like him, they were privateers in the seas of
commerce, and sailed under no flag except the one of insurrection he
had floated. But all of them, though they were associated with him and
hoped to ride to fortune on the wave that carried him there, recognized
themselves as subordinates in the enterprises he undertook. They were
merely heads of departments, and they took orders like trusted clerks
with whom the owner sometimes unbends and advises.

Now he heard their reports, asked an occasional searching question, and
swiftly gave decisions of far-reaching import. It was past midnight
before he had finished with them, and instead of retiring for the sleep
he might have been expected to need, he spent the rest of the night
inspecting the actual workings of the properties he had not seen for
six days. Hour after hour he passed examining the developments,
sometimes in the breasts of the workings and again consulting with
engineers and foremen in charge. Light was breaking in the sky before
he stepped from the cage of the Jack Pot and boarded a street-car for
his rooms. Cornishmen and Hungarians and Americans, going with their
dinner-buckets to work, met him and received each a nod or a word of
greeting from this splendidly built young Hermes in miners' slops, who
was to many of them, in their fancy, a deliverer from the slavery which
the Consolidated was ready to force upon them.

Once at his rooms, Ridgway took a cold bath, dressed carefully,
breakfasted, and was ready to plunge into the mass of work which had
accumulated during his absence at the mining camp of Alpine and the
subsequent period while he was snowbound. These his keen, practical
mind grasped and disposed of in crisp sentences. To his private
secretary he rapped out order sharply and decisively.

"Phone Ballard and Dalton I want to see them at once. Tell Murphy I
won't talk with him. What I said before I left was final. Write
Cadwallader we can't do business on the terms he proposes, but add that
I'm willing to continue his Mary Kinney lease. Dictate a letter to
Riley's lawyer, telling him I can't afford to put a premium on
incompetence and negligence; that if his client was injured in the Jack
Pot explosion, he has nobody but himself to blame for it. Otherwise, of
course, I should be glad to pension him. Let me see the letter before
you send it. I don't want anything said that will offend the union.
Have two tons of good coal sent up to Riley's house, and notify his
grocer that all bills for the next three months may be charged to me.
And, Smythe, ask Mr. Eaton to step this way."

Stephen Eaton, an alert, clear-eyed young fellow who served as fidus
Achates to Ridgway, and was the secretary and treasurer of the Mesa
Ore-producing Company, took the seat Smythe had vacated. He was
good-looking, after a boyish, undistinguished fashion, but one disposed
to be critical might have voted the chin not quite definite enough. He
had been a clerk of the Consolidated, working for one hundred dollars a
month, when Ridgway picked him out and set his feet in the way of
fortune. He had done this out of personal liking, and, in return, the
subordinate was frankly devoted to his chief.

"Steve, my opinion is that Alpine is a false alarm. Unless I guess
wrong, it is merely a surface proposition and low-grade at that."

"Miller says - "

"Yes, I know what Miller says. He's wrong. I don't care if he is the
biggest copper expert in the country."

"Then you won't invest?"

"I have invested - bought the whole outfit, lock, stock and barrel."

"But why? What do you want with it if the property is no good?" asked
Eaton in surprise.

Ridgway laughed shortly. "I don't want it, but the Consolidated does.
Two of their experts were up at Alpine last week, and both of them
reported favorably. I've let it leak out to their lawyer, O'Malley,
that Miller thought well of it; in fact, I arranged to let one of their
spies steal a copy of his report to us."

"But when they know you have bought it?"

"They won't know till too late. I bought through a dummy. It seemed a
pity not to let then have the property since they wanted it so badly,
so this morning he sold out for me to the Consolidated at a profit of a
hundred and fifty thousand."

Eaton grinned appreciatively. It was in startling finesse of this sort
his chief excelled, and Stephen was always ready with applause.

"I notice that Hobart slipped out of town last night. That is where he
must have been going. He'll be sick when he learns how you did him."

Ridgway permitted himself an answering smile. "I suppose it will
irritate him a trifle, but that can't be helped. I needed that money to
get clear on that last payment for the Sherman Bell."

"Yes, I was worried about that. Notes have been piling up against us
that must be met. There's the Ransom note, too. It's for a hundred
thousand."

"He'll extend it," said the chief confidently.

"He told me he would have to have his money when it came due. I've
noticed he has been pretty close to Mott lately. I expect he has an
arrangement with the Consolidated to push us."

"I'm watching him, Steve. Don't worry about that. He did arrange to
sell the note to Mott, but I stopped that little game."

"How?"

"For a year I've had all the evidence of that big government timber
steal of his in a safety-deposit vault. Before he sold, I had a few
words with him. He changed his mind and decided he preferred to hold
the notes. More, he is willing to let us have another hundred thousand
if we have to have it."

Eaton's delight bubbled out of him in boyish laughter. "You're a
wonder, Waring. There's nobody like you. Can't any of them touch
you - not Harley himself, by Jove."

"We'll have a chance to find that out soon, Steve."

"Yes, they say he's coming out in person to run the fight against you.
I hope not."

"It isn't a matter of hoping any longer. He's here," calmly announced
his leader.

"Here! On the ground?"

"Yes."

"But - he can't be here without us knowing it."

"I'm telling you that I do know it."

"Have you seen him yourself?" demanded the treasurer incredulously.

"Seen him, talked with him, cursed him and cuffed him," announced
Ridgway with a reminiscent gleam in his eye.

"Er - what's that you say?" gasped the astounded Eaton.

"Merely that I have already met Simon Harley."

"But you said - "

" - that I had cursed and cuffed him. That's all right. I have."

The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company leaned back with his
thumbs in the armholes of his fancy waistcoat and smiled debonairly at
his associate's perplexed amazement.

"Did you say - CUFFED him?"

"That's what I meant to say. I roughed him around quite a
bit - manhandled him in general. But all FOR HIS GOOD, you know."

"For his good?" Eaton's dazed brain tried to conceive the situation of
a billionaire being mauled for his good, and gave it up in despair. If
Steve Eaton worshipped anything, it was wealth. He was a born
sycophant, and it was partly because his naive unstinted admiration had
contributed to satisfy his chief's vanity that the latter had made of
him a confidant. Now he sat dumb before the lese-majeste of laying
forcible hands upon the richest man in the world.

"But, of course, you're only joking," he finally decided.

"You haven't been back twelve hours. Where COULD you have seen him?"

"Nevertheless I have met him and been properly introduced by his wife."

"His wife?"

"Yes, I picked her out of a snow-drift."

"Is this a riddle?"

"If it is, I don't know the answer, Steve. But it is a true one,
anyhow, not made to order merely to astonish you."

"True that you picked Simon Harley's wife out of a snow-drift and
kicked him around?"

"I didn't say kicked, did I?" inquired the other, judicially. "But I
rather think I did knee him some."

"Of course, I read all about his marriage two weeks ago to Miss Aline
Hope. Did he bring her out here with him for the honeymoon?"

"If he did, I euchred him out of it. She spent it with me alone in a
miner's cabin," the other cried, malevolence riding triumph on his face.

"Whenever you're ready to explain," suggested Eaton helplessly. "You've
piled up too many miracles for me even to begin guessing them."

"You know I was snow-bound, but you did not know my only companion was
this Aline Hope you speak of. I found her in the blizzard, and took her
to an empty cabin near. She and her husband were motoring from
Avalanche to Mesa, and the machine had broken down. Harley had gone for
help and left her there alone when the blizzard came up. Three days
later Sam Yesler and the old man broke trail through from the C B Ranch
and rescued us."

It was so strange a story that it came home to Eaton piecemeal.

"Three days - alone with Harley's wife - and he rescued you himself."

"He didn't rescue me any. I could have broken through any time I wanted
to leave her. On the way back his strength gave out, and that was when
I roughed him. I tried to bullyrag him into keeping on, but it was no
go. I left him there, and Sam went back after him with a relief-party."

"You left him! With his wife?"

"No!" cried Ridgway. "Do I look like a man to desert a woman on a
snow-trail? I took her with me."

"Oh!" There was a significant silence before Eaton asked the question
in his mind. "I've seen her pictures in the papers. Does she look like
them?"

His chief knew what was behind the question, and he knew, too, that
Eaton might be taken to represent public opinion. The world would cast
an eye of review over his varied and discreditable record with women.
It would imagine the story of those three days of enforced confinement
together, and it would look to the woman in the case for an answer to
its suspicions. That she was young, lovely, and yet had sold herself to
an old man for his millions, would go far in itself to condemn her; and
he was aware that there were many who would accept her very childish
innocence as the sophistication of an artist.

Waring Ridgway put his arms akimbo on the table and leaned across with
his steady eyes fastened on his friend.

"Steve, I'm going to answer that question. I haven't seen any pictures
of her in the papers, but if they show a face as pure and true as the
face of God himself then they are like her. You know me. I've got no
apologies or explanations to make for the life I've led. That's my
business. But you're my friend, and I tell you I would rather be hacked
in pieces by Apaches than soil that child's white soul by a single
unclean breath. There mustn't be any talk. Do you understand? Keep the
story out of the newspapers. Don't let any of our people gossip about
it. I have told you because I want you to know the truth. If any one
should speak lightly about this thing stop him at once. This is the one
point on which Simon Harley and I will pull together. Any man who joins
that child's name with mine loosely will have to leave this camp - and
suddenly."

"It won't be the men - it will be the women that will talk."

"Then garble the story. Change that three days to three hours, Steve.
Anything to stop their foul-clacking tongues!"

"Oh, well! I dare say the story won't get out at all, but if it does
I'll see the gossips get the right version. I suppose Sam Yesler will
back it up."

"Of course. He's a white man. And I don't need to tell you that I'll be
a whole lot obliged to you, Stevie."

"That's all right. Sometimes I'm a white man, too, Waring," laughed
Steve. Ridgway circled the table and put a hand on the younger man's
shoulder affectionately. Steve Eaton was the one of all his associates
for whom he had the closest personal feeling.

"I don't need to be told that, old pal," he said quietly.



CHAPTER 8. THE HONORABLE THOMAS B. PELTON

It was next morning that Steve came into Ridgway's offices with a copy
of the Rocky Mountain Herald in his hands. As soon as the president of
the Mesa Ore-producing Company was through talking with Dalton, the
superintendent of the Taurus, about the best means of getting to the
cage a quantity of ore he was looting from the Consolidated property
adjoining, the treasurer plumped out with his news.

"Seen to-day's paper, Waring? It smokes out Pelton to a finish. They've
moled out some facts we can't get away from."

Ridgway glanced rapidly over the paper. "We'll have to drop Pelton and
find another candidate for the Senate. Sorry, but it can't be helped.
They've got his record down too fine. That affidavit from Quinton puts
an end to his chances."

"He'll kick like a bay steer."

"His own fault for not covering his tracks better. This exposure
doesn't help us any at best. If we still tried to carry Pelton, we
should last about as long as a snowball in hell."

"Shall I send for him?"

"No. He'll be here as quick as he can cover the ground. Have him shown
in as soon as he comes. And Steve - did Harley arrive on the
eight-thirty this morning?"

"Yes. He is putting up at the Mesa House. He reserved an entire floor
by wire, so that he has bed-rooms, dining-rooms, parlors,
reception-halls and private offices all together. The place is policed
thoroughly, and nobody can get up without an order."

"I haven't been thinking of going up and shooting him, even though it
would be a blessing to the country," laughed his chief.

"No, but it is possible somebody else might. This town is full of
ignorant foreigners who would hardly think twice of it. If he had asked
my advice, it would have been to stay away from Mesa."

"He wouldn't have taken it," returned Ridgway carelessly. "Whatever
else is true about him, Simon Harley isn't a coward. He would have told
you that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the permission of
the distorted God he worships, and he would have come on the next
train."

"Well, it isn't my funeral," contributed Steve airily.

"All the same I'm going to pass his police patrols and pay a visit to
the third floor of the Mesa House."

"You are going to compromise with him?" cried Eaton swiftly.

"Compromise nothing, I'm going to pay a formal social call on Mrs.
Harley, and respectfully hope that she has suffered no ill effects from
her exposure to the cold."

Eaton made no comment, unless to whistle gently were one.

"You think it isn't wise?"

"Well, is it?" asked Steve.

"I think so. We'll scotch the lying tongue of rumor by a strict
observance of the conventions. Madam Grundy is padlocked when we reduce
the situation to the absurdity of the common place."

"Perhaps you are right, if it doesn't become too common commonplace."

"I think we may trust Simon Harley to see to that," answered his chief
with a grim smile "Obviously our social relations aren't likely to be
very intimate. Now it's 'Just before the battle mother,' but once the
big guns begin to boor we'll neither of us be in the mood for functions
social."

"You've established a sort of claim on him. It wouldn't surprise me if
he would meet you halfway in settling the trouble between you," said
Eaton thoughtfully.

"I expect he would," agreed Ridgway indifferently as he lit a cigar.

"Well, then?"

"The trouble is that I won't meet him halfway. I can't afford to be
reasonable, Steve. Just suppose for an instant that I had been
reasonable five years ago when this fight began. They would have bought
me out for a miserable pittance of a hundred and fifty thousand or so.
That would have been a reasonable figure then. You might put it now at
five or six millions, and that would be about right. I don't want their
money. I want power, and I'd rather fight for it than not. Besides, I
mean to make what I have already wrung from them a lever for getting
more. I'm going to show Harley that he has met a man at last he can't
either freeze out or bully out. I'm going to let him and his bunch know
I'm on earth and here to stay; that I can beat them at their own game
to a finish."

"Did it ever occur to you, Waring, that it might pay to make this a
limited round contest? You've won on points up to date by a mile, but
in a finish fight endurance counts. Money is the same as endurance
here, and that's where they are long."

Eaton made this suggestion diffidently, for though he was a stockholder
and official of the Mesa Ore-producing Company, he was not used to
offering its head unasked advice. The latter, however, took it without
a trace of resentment.

"Glad of it, my boy. There's no credit in beating a cripple."

To this jaunty retort Eaton had found no answer when Smythe opened the
door to announce the arrival of the Honorable Thomas B. Pelton, very
anxious for an immediate interview with Mr. Ridgway.

"Show him in," nodded the president, adding in an aside: "You better
stay, Steve."

Pelton was a rotund oracular individual in silk hat and a Prince Albert
coat of broadcloth. He regarded himself solemnly as a statesman because
he had served two inconspicuous terms in the House at Washington. He
was fond of proclaiming himself a Southern gentleman, part of which
statement was unnecessary and part untrue. Like many from his section,
he had a decided penchant for politics.

"Have you seen the infamous libel in that scurrilous sheet of the
gutters the Herald?" he demanded immediately of Ridgway.

"Which libel? They don't usually stop at one, colonel."

"The one, seh, which slanders my honorable name; which has the
scoundrelly audacity to charge me with introducing the mining extension
bill for venal reasons, seh."

"Oh! Yes, I've seen that. Rather an unfortunate story to come out just
now."

"I shall force a retraction, seh, or I shall demand the satisfaction
due a Southern gentleman.

"Yes, I would, colonel," replied Ridgway, secretly amused at the vain
threats of this bag of wind which had been punctured.

"It's a vile calumny, an audacious and villainous lie."

"What part of it? I've just glanced over it, but the part I read seems
to be true. That's the trouble with it. If it were a lie you could
explode it."

"I shall deny it over my signature."

"Of course. The trouble will be to get people to believe your denial
with Quinton's affidavit staring them in the face. It seems they have
got hold of a letter, too, that you wrote. Deny it, of course, then lie
low and give the public time to forget it."

"Do you mean that I should withdraw from the senatorial race?"

"That's entirely as you please, colonel, but I'm afraid you'll find
your support will slip away from you."

"Do you mean that YOU won't support me, seh?"

Ridgway locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair.
"We've got to face facts, colonel. In the light of this exposure you
can't be elected."

"But I tell you, by Gad, seh, that I mean to deny it."

"Certainly. I should in your place," agreed the mine-owner coolly. "The
question is, how many people are going to believe you?"


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryWilliam MacLeod RaineRidgway of Montana (Story of To-Day, in Which the Hero Is Also the Villain) → online text (page 5 of 15)