William MacLeod Raine.

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the two men fastened, wary and unwavering. They might have been jungle
beasts of prey crouching for the attack, so tense was their attention.
The man from Broadway was the first to speak.

"I have called, Mr. Ridgway, to arrange, if possible, a compromise. I
need hardly say this is not my usual method, but the circumstances are
extremely unusual. I rest under so great a personal obligation to you
that I am willing to overlook a certain amount of youthful
presumption." His teeth glittered behind a lip smile, intended to give
the right accent to the paternal reproof. "My personal obligation - "

"What obligation? I left you to die in the snow.',

"You forget what you did for Mrs. Harley."

"You may eliminate that," retorted the younger man curtly. "You are
under no obligations whatever to me."

"That is very generous of you, Mr. Ridgway, but - "

Ridgway met his eyes directly, cutting his sentence as with a knife.
"'Generous' is the last word to use. It is not a question of generosity
at all. What I mean is that the thing I did was done with no reference
whatever to you. It is between me and her alone. I refuse to consider
it as a service to you, as having anything at all to do with you. I
told you that before. I tell you again."

Harley's spirit winced. This bold claim to a bond with his wife that
excluded him, the scornful thrust of his enemy - he was already
beginning to consider him in that light rather than as a victim - had
touched the one point of human weakness in this money-making
Juggernaut. He saw himself for the moment without illusions, an old man
and an unlovable one, without near kith or kin. He was bitterly aware
that the child he had married had been sold to him by her guardian,
under fear of imminent ruin, before her ignorance of the world had
given her experience to judge for herself. The money and the hidden
hunger of sentiment he wasted on her brought him only timid thanks and
wan obedience. But for this man, with his hateful, confident youth, he
had seen the warm smile touch her lips and the delicate color rose her
cheeks. Nay, he had seen more her arms around his neck and her, warm
breath on his cheek. They had lived romance, these two, in the days
they had been alone together. They had shared danger and the joys of
that Bohemia of youth from which he was forever excluded. It was his
resolve to wipe out by financial favors - he could ruin the fellow later
if need be - any claims of Ridgway upon her gratitude or her foolish
imagination. He did not want the man's appeal upon her to carry the
similitude of martyrdom as well as heroism.

"Yet, the fact remains that it was a service" - his thin lips smiled. "I
must be the best judge of that, I think. I want to be perfectly frank,
Mr. Ridgway. The Consolidated is an auxiliary enterprise so far as I am
concerned, but I have always made it a rule to look after details when
it became necessary. I came to Montana to crush you. I have always
regarded you as a menace to our legitimate interests, and I had quite
determined to make an end of it. You are a good fighter, and you've
been on the ground in person, which counts for a great deal. But you
must know that if I give myself to it in earnest, you are a ruined man."

The Westerner laughed hardily. "I hear you say it."

"But you don't believe," added the other quietly. "Many men have heard
and not believed. They have KNOWN when it was too late.

"If you don't mind, I'll buy my experience instead of borrowing it,"
Ridgway flung back flippantly.

"One moment, Mr. Ridgway. I have told you my purpose in coming to
Montana. That purpose no longer exists. Circumstances have completely
altered my intentions. The finger of God is in it. He has not brought
us together thus strangely, except to serve some purpose of His own. I
think I see that purpose. 'The stone which the builders refused is
become the headstone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is
marvelous in our eyes,'" he quoted unctiously. "I am convinced that it
is a waste of good material to crush you; therefore I desire to effect
a consolidation with you, buy all the other copper interests of any
importance in the country, and put you at the head of the resulting

In spite of himself, Ridgway's face betrayed him. It was a magnificent
opportunity, the thing he had dreamed of as the culmination of a
lifetime of fighting. Nobody knew better than he on how precarious a
footing he stood, on how slight a rock his fortunes might be wrecked.
Here was his chance to enter that charmed, impregnable inner circle of
finance that in effect ruled the nation. That Harley's suave
friendliness would bear watching he did not doubt for a moment, but,
once inside, so his vital youth told him proudly, he would see to it
that the billionaire did not betray him. A week ago he could have asked
nothing better than this chance to bloat himself into a some-day
colossus. But now the thing stuck in his gorge. He understood the
implied obligation. Payment for his service to Aline Harley was to be
given, and the ledger balanced. Well, why not? Had he not spent the
night in a chaotic agony of renunciation? But to renounce voluntarily
was one thing, to be bought off another.

He looked up and met Harley's thin smile, the smile that on Wall Street
was a synonym for rapacity and heartlessness, in the memory of which
men had committed murder and suicide. On the instant there jumped
between him and his ambition the face that had worked magic on him.
What a God's pity that such a lamb should be cast to this ravenous
wolf! He felt again her arms creeping round his neck, the divine trust
of her lovely eyes. He had saved her when this man who called himself
her husband had left her to perish in the storm. He had made her happy,
as she had never been in all her starved life. Had she not promised
never to forget, and was there not a deeper promise in her wistful eyes
that the years could not wipe out? She was his by every right of
natural law. By God! he would not sell his freedom of choice to this
white haired robber!

"I seldom make mistakes in my judgment of men, Mr. Ridgway," the oily
voice ran on. "No small share of such success as it has been given me
to attain has been due to this instinct for putting my finger on the
right man. I am assured that in you I find one competent for the great
work lying before you. The opportunity is waiting; I furnish it, and
you the untiring energy of youth to make the most of the chance." His
wolfish smile bared the tusks for a moment. "I find myself not so young
as I was. The great work I have started is well under way. I must trust
its completion to younger and stronger hands than mine. I intend to
rest, to devote myself to my home, more directly to such philanthropic
and educational work as God has committed to my hands."

The Westerner gave him look for look, his eyes burning to get over the
impasse of the expressionless mask no man had ever penetrated. He began
to see why nobody had ever understood Harley. He knew there would be no
rest for that consuming energy this side of the grave. Yet the man
talked as if he believed his own glib lies.

"Consolidated is the watchword of the age; it means elimination of
ruinous competition, and consequent harmony and reduced expense in
management. Mr. Ridgway, may I count you with us? Together we should go
far. Do you say peace or war?"

The younger man rose, leaning forward with his strong, sinewy hands
gripping the table. His face was pale with the repression of a rage
that had been growing intense. "I say war, and without quarter. I don't
believe you can beat me. I defy you to the test. And if you
should - even then I had rather go down fighting you than win at your

Simon Harley had counted acceptance a foregone conclusion, but he never
winked a lash at the ringing challenge of his opponent. He met his
defiance with an eye cold and steady as jade.

"As you please, Mr. Ridgway. I wash my hands of your ruin, and when you
are nothing but a broken gambler, you will remember that I offered you
the greatest chance that ever came to a man of your age. You are one of
those men, I see, that would rather be first in hell than second in
heaven. So be it." He rose and buttoned his overcoat.

"Say, rather, that I choose to go to hell my own master and not as the
slave of Simon Harley," retorted the Westerner bitterly.

Ridgway's eyes blazed, but those of the New Yorker were cool and fishy.

"There is no occasion for dramatics," he said, the cruel, passionless
smile at his thin lips. "I make you a business proposition and you
decline it. That is all. I wish you good day."

The other strode past him and flung the door open. He had never before
known such a passion of hatred as raged within him. Throughout his life
Simon Harley had left in his wake wreckage and despair. He was the
best-hated man of his time, execrated by the working classes, despised
by the country at large, and distrusted by his fellow exploiters. Yet,
as a business opponent, Ridgway had always taken him impersonally, had
counted him for a condition rather than an individual. But with the new
influence that had come into his life, reason could not reckon, and
when it was dominant with him, Harley stood embodied as the wolf ready
to devour his ewe lamb.

For he couldn't get away from her. Wherever he went he carried with him
the picture of her sweet, shy smile, her sudden winsome moments, the
deep light in her violet eyes; and in the background the sinister bared
fangs of the wild beast dogging her patiently, and yet lovingly.


James K. Mott, local chief attorney for the Consolidated, was
struggling with a white tie before the glass and crumpling it

"This dress-suit habit is the most pernicious I know. It's sapping the
liberties of the American people," he grunted at last in humorous

"Let me, dear."

His wife tied it with neatness and dispatch, and returned to the
inspection of how her skirt hung.

"Mr. Harley asked me to thank you for calling on his wife. He says she
gets lonesome during the day while he is away so much. I was wondering
if you couldn't do something for her so that she could meet some of the
ladies of Mesa. A luncheon, or something of that sort, you know. Have
you seen my hat-brush anywhere?"

"It's on that drawer beside your hat-box. She told me she would rather
not. I suggested it. But I'll tell you what I could do: take Virginia
Balfour round to see her. She's lively and good company, and knows some
of the people Mrs. Harley knows."

"That's a good idea. I want Harley to know that we appreciate his
suggestions, and are ready to do our part. He has shown a disposition
to consult me on a good many things that ought to lie in Hobart's
sphere rather than mine. Something's going to drop. Now, I like Hobart,
but I want to show myself in a receptive mood for advancement when his
head falls, as it certainly will soon."

* * * * *

Virginia responded eagerly to Mrs. Mott's suggestion that they call
together on Mrs. Harley at the hotel.

"My dear, you have saved my life. I've been dying of curiosity, and I
haven't been able to find vestige of an excuse to hang my call on. I
couldn't ask Mr. Ridgway to introduce me, could I?"

"No, I don't see that you could," smiled Mrs. Mott, a motherly little
woman with pleasant brown eyes. "I suppose Mr. Ridgway isn't exactly on
calling terms with Mr. Harley's wife, even if he did save her life."

"Oh, Mr. Ridgway isn't the man to let a little thing like a war a
outrance stand in the way of his social duties, especially when those
duties happen to be inclinations, too. I understand he DID call the
evening of their arrival here."

"He didn't!" screamed Mrs. Mott, who happened to possess a voice of the
normal national register. "And what did Mr. Harley say?"

"Ah, that's what one would like to know. My informant deponeth not
beyond the fact unadorned. One may guess there must have been
undercurrents of embarrassment almost as pronounced as if the President
were to invite his Ananias Club to a pink tea. I can imagine Mr. Harley
saying: 'Try this cake, Mr. Ridgway; it isn't poisoned;' and Mr.
Ridgway answering: 'Thanks! After you, my dear Gaston."'

Miss Balfour's anxiety to meet the young woman her fiance had rescued
from the blizzard was not unnatural. Her curiosity was tinged with
frank envy, though jealousy did not enter into it at all. Virginia had
come West explicitly to take the country as she found it, and she had
found it, unfortunately, no more hazardous than little old New York,
though certainly a good deal more diverting to a young woman with
democratic proclivities that still survived the energetic weeding her
training had subjected them to.

She did not quite know what she had expected to find in Mesa. Certainly
she knew that Indians were no longer on the map, and cowboys were
kicking up their last dust before vanishing, but she had supposed that
they had left compensations in their wake. On the principle that
adventures are to the adventurous, her life should have been a whirl of
hairbreadth escapes.

But what happened? She took all sorts of chances without anything
coming of it. Her pirate fiance was the nearest approach to an
adventure she had flushed, and this pink-and-white chit of a married
schoolgirl had borrowed him for the most splendid bit of excitement
that would happen in a hundred years. She had been spinning around the
country in motor-cars for months without the sign of a blizzard, but
the chit had hit one the first time. It wasn't fair. That was her
blizzard by rights. In spirit, at least, she had "spoken for it," as
she and her brother used to say when they were children of some coveted
treasure not yet available. Virginia was quite sure that if she had
seen Waring Ridgway at the inspired moment when he was plowing through
the drifts with Mrs. Harley in his arms - only, of course, it would have
been she instead of Mrs. Harley, and he would not have been carrying
her so long as she could stand and take it - she would have fallen in
love with him on the spot. And those two days in the cabin on
half-ration they would have put an end forever to her doubts and to
that vision of Lyndon Hobart that persisted in her mind. What luck
glace' some people did have!

But Virginia discovered the chit to be rather a different personality
than she had supposed. In truth, she lost her heart to her at once. She
could have stood out against Aline's mere good looks and been the
stiffer for them. She was no MAN, to be moved by the dark hair's dusky
glory, the charm of soft girlish lines, the effect of shy
unsophistication that might be merely the highest art of social
experience. But back of the sweet, trembling mouth that seemed to be
asking to be kissed, of the pathetic appeal for friendliness from the
big, deep violet eyes, was a quality of soul not to be counterfeited.
Miss Balfour had furbished up the distant hauteur of the society manner
she had at times used effectively, but she found herself instead taking
the beautiful, forlorn little creature in her arms.

"Oh, my dear; my dear, how glad I am that dreadful blizzard did not
hurt you!"

Aline clung to this gracious young queen as if she had known her a
lifetime. "You are so good to me everybody is. You know how Mr. Ridgway
saved me. If it had not been for him I should have died. I didn't
care - I wanted to die in peace, I think - but he wouldn't let me."

"I should think not."

"If you only knew him - perhaps you do."

"A little," confessed Virginia, with a flash of merry eyes at Mrs. Mott.

"He is the bravest man - and the strongest."

"Yes. He is both," agreed his betrothed, with pride.

"His tenderness, his unselfishness, his consideration for others - did
you ever know anybody like him for these things?"

"Never," agreed Virginia, with the mental reservations that usually
accompanied her skeptical smile. She was getting at her fiance from a
novel point of view.

"And so modest, with all his strength and courage.',

"It's almost a fault in him," she murmured.

"The woman that marries him will be blessed among women."

"I count it a great privilege," said Miss Balfour absently, but she
pulled up with a hurried addendum: "To have known him."

"Indeed, yes. If one met more men like him this would be a better

"It would certainly be a different world."

It was a relief to Aline to talk, to put into words the external
skeleton facts of the surging current that had engulfed her existence
since she had turned a corner upon this unexpected consciousness of
life running strong and deep. Harley was not a confidant she could have
chosen under the most favorable circumstances, and her instinct told
her that in this matter he was particularly impossible. But to Virginia
Balfour - Mrs. Mott had to leave early to preside over the Mesa Woman's
Club, and her friend allowed herself to be persuaded to stay
longer - she did not find it at all hard to talk. Indeed, she murmured
into the sympathetic ear of this astute young searcher of hearts more
than her words alone said, with the result that Virginia guessed what
she herself had not yet quite found out, though her heart was hovering
tremblingly on the brink of discovery.

But Virginia's sympathy for the trouble fate had in store for this
helpless innocent consisted with an alert appreciation of its obvious
relation to herself. What she meant to discover was the attitude toward
the situation of one neither particularly innocent nor helpless. Was
he, too, about to be "caught in the coil of a God's romances," or was
he merely playing on the vibrating strings of an untaught heart?

It was in part to satisfy this craving for knowledge that she wrote
Ridgway a note as soon as she reached home. It said:

MY DEAR RECREANT LAGGARD: If you are not too busy playing Sir Lancelot
to fair dames in distress, or splintering lances with the doughty
husbands of these same ladies, I pray you deign to allow your servant
to feast her eyes upon her lord's face. Hopefully and gratefully yours,

P. S. - Have you forgotten, sir, that I have not seen you since that
terrible blizzard and your dreadful imprisonment in Fort Salvation?

P. P. S. - I have seen somebody else, though. She's a dear, and full of
your praises. I hardly blame you.


She thought that ought to bring him soon, and it did.

"I've been busy night and day," he apologized when they met.

Virginia gave him a broadside demurely.

"I suppose your social duties do take up a good deal of your time."

"My social duties? Oh, I see!" He laughed appreciation of her hit.
Evidently through her visit she knew a good deal more than he had
expected. Since he had nothing to hide from her except his feelings,
this did not displease him. "My duties in that line have been confined
to one formal call."

She sympathized with him elaborately. "Calls of that sort do bore men
so. I'll not forget the first time you called on me."

"Nor I," he came back gallantly.

"I marveled how you came through alive, but I learned then that a man
can't be bored to death."

"I came again nevertheless," he smiled. "And again - and again."

"I am still wondering why."

"'Oh, wad some power the giffie gite us
To see ourselves as others see us!"'

he quoted with a bow.

"Is that a compliment?" she asked dubiously.

"I have never heard it used so before. Anyhow, it is a little hackneyed
for anybody so original as you."

"It was the best I could do offhand."

She changed the subject abruptly. "Has the new campaign of the war
begun yet?"

"Well, we're maneuvering for position."

"You've seen him. How does he impress you?"

"The same as he does others. A hard, ruthless fighter. Unless all signs
fail, he is an implacable foe."

"But you are not afraid?"

He smiled. "Do I look frightened?"

"No, you remind me of something a burglar once told me - "

"A what?"

"A burglar - a reformed burglar!" She gave him a saucy flash of her dark
eyes. "Do you think I don't know any lawbreakers except those I have
met in this State? I came across this one in a mission where I used to
think I was doing good. He said it was not the remuneration of the
profession that had attracted him, but the excitement. It was
dreadfully frowned down upon and underpaid. He could earn more at his
old trade of a locksmith, but it seemed to him that every impediment to
success was a challenge to him. Poor man, he relapsed again, and they
put him in Sing Sing. I was so interested in him, too."

"You've had some queer friends in your time," he laughed, but without a
trace of disapproval.

"I have some queer ones yet," she thrust back.

"Let's not talk of them," he cried, in pretended alarm.

Her inextinguishable gaiety brought back the smile he liked. "We'll
talk of SOME ONE else - some one of interest to us both."

"I am always ready to talk of Miss Virginia Balfour," he said,
misunderstanding promptly.

She smiled her disdain of his obtuseness in an elaborately long survey
of him.

"Well?" he wanted to know.

"That's how you look - very well, indeed. I believe the storm was
greatly exaggerated," she remarked.

"Isn't that rather a good definition for a blizzard - a greatly
exaggerated storm?"

"You don't look the worse for wear - not the wreck I expected to behold."

"Ah, you should have seen me before I saw you."

"Thank you. I have no doubt you find the sight of my dear face as
refreshing as your favorite cocktail. I suppose that is why it has
taken you three days after your return to reach me and then by special

"A pleasure delayed is twice a pleasure anticipation and realization."

Miss Balfour made a different application of his text, her eyes trained
on him with apparent indifference. "I've been enjoying a delayed
pleasure myself. I went to see her this afternoon."

He did not ask whom, but his eyes brightened.

"She's worth a good deal of seeing, don't you think?"

"Oh, I'm in love with her, but it doesn't follow you ought to be."

"Am I?" - he smiled.

"You are either in love or else you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

"An interesting thing about you is your point of view. Now, anybody
else would tell me I ought to be ashamed if I am in love."

"I'm not worried about your morals," she scoffed. "It's that poor child
I'm thinking of."

"I think of her a good deal, too."

"Ah! and does she think of you a good deal That's what we must guard

"Is it?"

"Yes. You see I'm her confidante." She told it him with sparkling eyes,
for the piquancy of it amused her. Not every engaged young woman can
hear her lover's praises sung by the woman whose life he has saved with
the proper amount of romance.


She nodded, laughing at him. "I didn't get a chance to tell her about

"I suppose not."

"I think I'll tell her about you, though - just what a ruthless
barbarian you are."

His eyes gleamed "I wish you would. I'd like to find out whether she
would believe you. I have tried to tell her myself, but the honest
truth is, I funk it."

"You haven't any right to let her know you are interested in her." She
interrupted him before he could speak. "Don't trifle with her, Waring.
She's not like other girls."

He met her look gravely. "I wouldn't trifle with her for any reason."

Her quick rejoinder overlapped his sentence. "Then you love her!"

"Is that an alternative?"

"With you - yes."

"Faith, my lady, you're frank!"

"I'm not mealy-mouthed. You don't think yourself scrupulous, do you?"

"I'm afraid I am not."

"I don't mind so much your being in love with HER, though it's not
flattering to my vanity, but - " She stopped, letting him make the

"Do you think that likely?" he asked, the color flushing his face.

He wondered how much Aline had told this confidante. Certain specific
things he knew she had not revealed, but had she let her guess the
situation between them?

She compromised with her conscience. "I don't know. She is
romantic - and Simon Harley isn't a very fertile field for romance, I

"You would imply?"

"Oh, you have points, and nobody knows them better than Waring
Ridgway," she told him jauntily. "But you needn't play that role to the
address of Aline Harley. Try ME. I'm immune to romance. Besides, I'm
engaged to you," she added, laughing at the inconsequence the fact
seemed to have for both of them.

"I'm afraid I can't help the situation, for if I've been playing a

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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 7 of 15)