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the New York. Everything was being done as secretly as possible, but
Hobart's experience of Ridgway made it obvious to him that this
excessive activity could not pass without notice. His spies, like those
of the trust, swarmed everywhere.

It was not till mid-afternoon of the next day that Mott found time to
join him and run over with him the details of such unfinished business
as the office had taken up. The retiring manager was courtesy itself,
nor did he feel any bitterness against his successor. Nevertheless, he
came to the end of office hours with great relief. The day had been a
very hard one, and it left him with a longing for solitude and the wide
silent spaces of the open hills. He struck out in the direction which
promised him the quickest opportunity to leave the town behind him. A
good walker, he covered the miles rapidly, and under the physical
satisfaction of the tramp the brain knots unraveled and smoothed
themselves out. It was better so - better to live his own life than the
one into which he was being ground by the inexorable facts of his
environment. He was a young man and ambitious, but his hopes were not
selfish. At bottom he was an idealist, though a practical one. He had
had to shut his eyes to many things which he deplored, had been driven
to compromises which he despised. Essentially clean-handed, the soul of
him had begun to wither at the contact of that which he saw about him
and was so large a part of.

"I am not fit for it. That is the truth. Mott has no imagination, and
property rights are the most sacred thing on earth to him. He will do
better at it than I," he told himself, as he walked forward bareheaded
into the great sunset glow that filled the saddle between two purple
hills in front of him.

As he swung round a bend in the road a voice, clear and sweet, came to
him through the light filtered air.

"Laska!"

A young woman on horseback was before him. Her pony stood across the
road, and she looked up a trail which ran down into it. The lifted
poise of the head brought out its fine lines and the distinction with
which it was set upon the well-molded throat column. Apparently she was
calling to some companion on the trail who had not yet emerged into
view.

At sound of his footsteps the rider's head turned.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Hobart," she said quietly, as coolly as if her
heart had not suddenly begun to beat strangely fast.

"Good afternoon, Miss Balfour."

Each of them was acutely conscious of the barrier between them. Since
the day when she had told him of her engagement they had not met, even
casually, and this their first sight of each other was not without
embarrassment.

"We have been to Lone Pine Cone," she said rather hurriedly, to bridge
an impending silence.

He met this obvious statement with another as brilliant.

"I walked out from town. My horse is a little lame."

But there was something she wanted to say to him, and the time for
saying it, before the arrival of her companion, was short. She would
not waste it in commonplaces.

"I don't usually read the papers very closely, but this morning I read
both the Herald and the Sun. Did you get my note?"

"Your note? No."

"I sent it by mail. I wanted you to know that your friends are proud of
you. We know why you resigned. It is easy to read between the lines."

"Thank you," he said simply. "I knew you would know."

"Even the Sun recognizes that it was because you are too good a man for
the place."

"Praise from the Sun has rarely shone my way," he said, with a touch of
irony, for that paper was controlled by the Ridgway interest. "In its
approval I am happy."

Her impulsive sympathy for this man whom she so greatly liked would not
accept the rebuff imposed by this reticence. She stripped the gauntlet
from her hand and offered it in congratulation.

He took it in his, a slight flush in his face.

"I have done nothing worthy of praise. One cannot ask less of a man
than that he remain independent and honest. I couldn't do that and stay
with the Consolidated, or, so it seemed to me. So I resigned. That is
all there is to it."

"It is enough. I don't know another man would have done it, would have
had the courage to do it after his feet were set so securely in the way
of success. The trouble with Americans is that they want too much
success. They want it at too big a price."

"I'm not likely ever to have too much of it," he laughed sardonically.

"Success in life and success in living aren't the same thing. It is
because you have discovered this that you have sacrificed the less for
the greater." She smiled, and added: "I didn't mean that to sound as
preachy as it does."

"I'm afraid you make too much of a small thing. My squeamishness has
probably made me the laughing-stock of Mesa."

"If so, that is to the discredit of Mesa," she insisted stanchly. "But
I don't think so. A great many people who couldn't have done it
themselves will think more of you for having done it."

Another pony, which had been slithering down the steep trail in the
midst of a small rock slide, now brought its rider safely to a halt in
the road. Virginia introduced them, and Hobart, remembered that he had
heard Miss Balfour speak of a young woman whom she had met on the way
out, a Miss Laska Lowe, who was coming to Mesa to teach domestic
science in the public schools. There was something about the young
teacher's looks that he liked, though she was of a very different type
than Virginia. Not at all pretty in any accepted sense, she yet had a
charm born of the vital honesty in her. She looked directly at one out
of sincere gray eyes, wide-awake and fearless. As it happened, her
friend had been telling her about Hobart, and she was interested in him
from the first. For she was of that minority which lives not by bread
alone, and she felt a glow of pride in the man who could do what the
Sun had given this man credit for editorially.

They talked at haphazard for a few minutes before the young women
cantered away. As Hobart trudged homeward he knew that in the eyes of
these two women, at least, he had not been a fool.



CHAPTER 14. A CONSPIRACY

Tucked away in an obscure corner of the same issue of the papers which
announced the resignation of Lyndon Hobart as manager of the
Consolidated properties, and the appointment of James K. Mott as his
temporary successor, were little one-stick paragraphs regarding
explosions, which had occurred the night before in tunnels of the
Taurus and the New York. The general public paid little attention to
these, but those on the inside knew that Ridgway had scored again. His
spies had carried the news to him of the projected capture of these two
properties by the enemy. Instead of attempting to defend them by force,
he had set off charges of giant powder which had brought down the tunnel
roofs and effectually blocked the entrances from the Consolidated mines
adjoining.

With the indefatigable patience which characterized him, Harley set
about having the passages cleared of the rock and timber with which
they were filled. Before he had succeeded in doing this his enemy
struck another telling blow. From Judge Purcell he secured an
injunction against the Consolidated from working its mines, the Diamond
King, the Mary K, and the Marcus Daly, on the absurd contention that
the principal ore-vein of the Marcus Daly apexed on the tin, triangle
wedged in between these three great mines, and called by Ridgway the
Trust Buster. Though there was not room enough upon this fragment to
sink a shaft, it was large enough to found this claim of a vein
widening as it descended until it crossed into the territory of each of
these properties. Though Harley could ignore court injunctions which
erected only under-ground territory, he was forced to respect this one,
since it could not be violated except in the eyes of the whole country.
The three mines closed down, and several thousand workmen were thrown
out of employment. These were immediately reemployed by Ridgway and set
to work both in his own and the Consolidated's territory.

Within a week a dozen new suits were instituted against the
Consolidated by its enemy. He harassed it by contempt proceedings, by
applications for receiverships, and by other ingenious devices, which
greatly tormented the New York operator. For the first time in his life
the courts, which Harley had used to much advantage in his battles to
maintain and extend the trusts he controlled, could not be used even to
get scant justice.

Meanwhile both leaders were turning their attention to the political
situation. The legislators were beginning to gather for the coming
session, and already the city was full of rumors about corruption. For
both the Consolidated and its enemy were making every effort to secure
enough votes to win the election of a friendly United States senator.
The man chosen would have the distribution of the federal patronage of
the State. This meant the control of the most influential local
politicians of the party in power at Washington as well as their
followers, an almost vital factor for success in a State where
political corruption had so interwoven itself into the business life of
the community.

The hotel lobbies were filled with politicians gathered from every
county in the State. Big bronzed cattlemen brushed shoulders with
budding lawyers from country towns and ward bosses from the larger
cities. The bars were working overtime, and the steady movement of
figures in the corridors lasted all day and most of the night. Here and
there were collected groups, laughing and talking about the old
frontier days, or commenting in lowered tones on some phase of the
feverish excitement that was already beginning to be apparent.
Elevators shot up and down, subtracting and adding to the kaleidoscope
of human life in the rotundas. Bellboys hurried to and fro with
messages and cocktails. The ring of the telephone-bell cut occasionally
into the deep hum of many voices. All was confusion, keen interest,
expectancy.

For it was known that Simon Harley had sent for $300,000 in cold cash
to secure the election of his candidate, Roger D. Warner, a lawyer who
had all his life been close to corporate interests. It was known, too,
that Waring Ridgway had gathered together every element in the State
that opposed the domination of the Consolidated, to fight their man to
a finish. Bets for large sums were offered and taken as to the result,
heavy odds being given in favor of the big copper trust's candidate.
For throughout the State at large the Consolidated influence was very
great indeed. It owned forest lands and railroads and mines. It
controlled local transportation largely. Nearly one-half the working
men in the State were in its employ. Into every town and village the
ramifications of its political organization extended. The feeling
against it was very bitter, but this was usually expressed in whispers.
For it was in a position to ruin almost any business man upon whom it
fastened a grudge, and to make wealthy any upon whom it chose to cast
its favors.

Nevertheless, there were some not so sure that the Consolidated would
succeed in electing its man. Since Ridgway had announced himself as a
candidate there had been signs of defection on the part of some of
those expected to vote for Warner. He had skillfully wielded together
in opposition to the trust all the elements of the State that were
hostile to it; and already the word was being passed that he had not
come to the campaign without a barrel of his own.

The balloting for United States senator was not to begin until the
eighth day of the session, but the opening week was full of a tense and
suppressed excitement. It was known that agents of both sides were
moving to and fro among the representatives and State senators,
offering fabulous prices for their votes and the votes of any others
they might be able to control. Men who had come to the capital
confident in their strength and integrity now looked at their neighbors
furtively and guiltily. Day by day the legislators were being debauched
to serve the interest of the factions which were fighting for control
of the State. Night after night secret meetings were being held in
out-of-the-way places to seduce those who clung desperately to their
honesty or held out for a bigger price. Bribery was in the air,
rampant, unashamed. Thousand-dollar bills were as common as ten-dollar
notes in ordinary times.

Sam Yesler, commenting on the situation to his friend Jack Roper, a
fellow member of the legislature who had been a cattleman from the time
he had given up driving a stage thirty years before, shook his head
dejectedly over his blue points.

"I tell you, Jack, a man has to be bed-rocked in honesty or he's gone.
Think of it. A country lawyer comes here who has never seen five
thousand dollars in a lump sum, and they shove fifteen thousand at him
for his vote. He is poor, ambitious, struggling along from hand to
mouth. I reckon we ain't in a position to judge that poor devil of a
harassed fellow. Mebbe he's always been on the square, came here to do
what was right, we'll say, but he sees corruption all round him. How
can he help getting a warped notion of things? He sees his friends and
his neighbors falling by the wayside. By God, it's got to the point in
this legislature that an honest man's an object of obloquy."

"That's right," agreed Roper. "Easy enough for us to be square. We got
good ranches back of us and can spend the winter playing poker at the
Mesa Club if we feel like it. But if we stood where Billy George and
Garner and Roberts and Munz do, I ain't so damn sure my virtue would
stand the strain. Can you reach that salt, Sam?"

"Billy George has got a sick wife, and he's been wanting to send her
back to her folks in the East, but he couldn't afford it. The doctors
figured she ought to stay a year, and Billy would have to hire a woman
to take care of his kids. I said to him: 'Hell, Billy, what's a friend
for?' And I shoves a check at him. He wouldn't look at it; said he
didn't know whether he could ever pay it, and he had not come down to
charity yet."

"Billy's a white man. That's what makes me sick. Right on top of all
his bad luck he comes here and sees that everybody is getting a big
roll. He thinks of that white-faced wife of his dragging herself round
among the kids and dying by inches for lack of what money can buy her.
I tell you I don't blame him. It's the fellows putting the temptation
up to him that ought to be strung up."

"I see that hound Pelton's mighty active in it. He's got it in for
Ridgway since Waring threw him down, and he's plugging night and day
for Warner. Stays pretty well tanked up. Hopper tells me he's been
making threats to kill Waring on sight."

"I heard that and told Waring. He laughed and said he hoped he would
live till Pelton killed him. I like Waring. He's got the guts, as his
miners say. But he's away off on this fight. He's using money right and
left just as Harley is."

Yesler nodded. "The whole town's corrupted. It takes bribery for
granted. Men meet on the street and ask what the price of votes is this
morning. Everybody feels prosperous."

"I heard that a chambermaid at the Quartzite Hotel found seven thousand
dollars in big bills pinned to the bottom of a mattress in Garner's
room yesterday. He didn't dare bank it, of course."

"Poor devil! He's another man that would like to be honest, but with
the whole place impregnated with bribery he couldn't stand the
pressure. But after this is all over he'll go home to his wife and his
neighbors with the canker of this thing at his heart until he dies. I
tell you, Jack, I'm for stopping it if we can."

"How?"

"There's one way. I've been approached indirectly by Pelton, to deliver
our vote to the Consolidated. Suppose we arrange to do it, get
evidence, and make a public exposure."

They were alone in a private dining-room of a restaurant, but Yesler's
voice had fallen almost to a whisper. With his steady gray eyes he
looked across at the man who had ridden the range with him fifteen
years ago when he had not had a sou to bless himself with.

Roper tugged at his long drooping mustache and gazed at his friend.
"It's a large order, Sam, a devilish large order. Do you reckon we
could deliver?"

"I think so. There are six of us that will stand pat at any cost. If we
play our cards right and keep mum the surprise of it is bound to shake
votes loose when we spring the bomb. The whole point is whether we can
take advantage of that surprise to elect a decent man. I don't say it
can be done, but there's a chance of it."

The old stage-driver laughed softly. "We'll be damned good and plenty
by both sides."

"Of course. It won't be a pleasant thing to do, but then it isn't
exactly pleasant to sit quiet and let these factions use the State as a
pawn in their game of grab."

"I'm with you, Sam. Go to it, my boy, and I'll back you to the limit."

"We had better not talk it over here. Come to my room after dinner and
bring Landor and James with you. I'll have Reedy and Keller there. I'll
mention casually that it's a big game of poker, and I'll have cards and
drinks sent up. You want to remember we can't be too careful. If it
leaks out we lose."

"I'm a clam, Sam. Do you want I should speak of it to Landor and James?"

"Better wait till we get together."

"What about Ward? He's always been with us."

"He talks too much. We can take him in at the last minute if we like."

"That would be better. I ain't so sure about Reedy, either. He's
straight as a string, of course; not a crooked hair in his head. But
when he gets to drinking he's likely to let things out."

"You're right. We'll leave him out, too, until the last minute. There's
another thing I've thought of. Ridgway can't win. At least I don't see
how he can control more than twenty five votes. Suppose at the very
last moment we make a deal with him and with the Democrats to pool our
votes on some square man. With Waring it's anything to beat the
Consolidated. He'll jump at the chance if he's sure he is out of the
running himself. Those of the Democrats that Harley can't buy will be
glad to beat his man. I don't say it can be done, Jack. All I say is
that it is worth a trial."

"You bet."

They met that night in Yesler's rooms round a card-table. The hands
were dealt for form's sake, since there were spies everywhere, and it
was necessary to ring for cigars and refreshments occasionally to avoid
suspicion. They were all cattlemen, large or small, big outdoors
sunburned men, who rode the range in the spring and fall with their
punchers and asked no odds of any man.

Until long past midnight they talked the details over, and when they
separated in the small hours it was with a well-defined plan to save
the State from its impending disgrace if the thing could be done.



CHAPTER 15. LASKA OPENS A DOOR

The first ballots for a United States senator taken by the legislature
in joint session failed to disclose the alignment of some of the
doubtful members. The Democratic minority of twenty-eight votes were
cast for Springer, the senator whose place would be taken by whoever
should win in the contest now on. Warner received forty-four, Ridgway
twenty-six, eight went to Pascom, a former governor whom the cattlemen
were supporting, and the remaining three were scattered. Each day one
ballot was taken, and for a week there was a slight sifting down of the
complimentary votes until at the end of it the count stood:

Warner 45
Ridgway 28
Springer 28
Pascom 8

Warner still lacked ten votes of an election, but It was pretty
thoroughly understood that several of the Democratic minority were
waiting only long enough for a colorable excuse to switch to him. All
kinds of rumors were in the air as to how many of these there were. The
Consolidated leaders boldly claimed that they had only to give the word
to force the election of their candidate on any ballot. Yesler did not
believe this claim could be justified, since Pelton and Harley were
already negotiating with him for the delivery of the votes belonging to
the cattlemen's contingent.

He had held off for some time with hints that it would take a lot of
money to swing the votes of such men as Roper and Landor, but he had
finally come to an agreement that the eight votes should be given to
Warner for a consideration of $300,000. This was to be paid to Yesler
in the presence of the other seven members on the night before the
election, and was to be held in escrow by him and Roper until the pact
was fulfilled, the money to be kept in a safety deposit vault with a
key in possession of each of the two.

On the third day of the session, before the voting had begun, Stephen
Eaton, who was a State senator from Mesa, moved that a committee be
appointed to investigate the rumors of bribery that were so common. The
motion caught the Consolidated leaders napping, for this was the last
man they had expected to propose such a course, and it went through
with little opposition, as a similar motion did in the House at the
same time. The lieutenant-governor and the speaker of the House were
both opposed to Warner, and the joint committee had on it the names of
no Consolidated men. The idea of such a committee had originated with
Ridgway, and had been merely a bluff to show that he at least was
willing that the world should know the whole story of the election. Nor
had this committee held even formal meetings before word reached Eaton
through Yesler that if it would appoint a conference in some very
private place, evidence would be submitted implicating agents of the
Warner forces in attempts at bribery.

It was close to eleven o'clock when Sam Yesler stepped quietly from a
side door of his hotel and slipped into the street. He understood
perfectly that in following the course he did, he was taking his life
in his hands. The exposure of the bribery traffic would blast forever
the reputations of many men who had hitherto held a high place in the
community, and he knew the temper of some of them well enough to be
aware that an explosion was probable. Spies had been dogging him ever
since the legislature convened. Within an hour one of them would be
flying to Pelton with the news that he was at a meeting of the
committee, and all the thugs of the other side would be turned loose on
his heels. As he walked briskly through the streets toward the place
appointed, his hand lay on the hilt of a revolver in the outside pocket
of his overcoat. He was a man who would neither seek trouble nor let it
overwhelm him. If his life were attempted, he meant to defend it to the
last.

He followed side streets purposely, and his footsteps echoed along the
deserted road. He knew he was being dogged, for once, when he glanced
back, he caught sight of a skulking figure edging along close to a
wall. The sight of the spy stirred his blood. Grimly he laughed to
himself. They might murder him for what he was doing, but not in time
to save the exposure which would be brought to light on the morrow.

The committee met at a road-house near the outskirts of the city, but
only long enough to hear Yesler's facts and to appoint another meeting
for three hours later at the offices of Eaton. For the committee had
come here for secrecy, and they knew that it would be only a short time
before Pelton's heelers would be down upon them in force. It was agreed
they should divide and slip quietly back to town, wait until everything
was quiet and convene again. Meanwhile Eaton would make arrangements to
see that his offices would be sufficiently guarded for protection
against any attack.

Yesler walked back to town and was within a couple of blocks of his
hotel when he glimpsed two figures crouching against the fence of the
alley. He stopped in his tracks, watched them intently an instant, and
was startled by a whistle from the rear. He knew at once his retreat,
too, was cut off, and without hesitation vaulted the fence in front of
a big gray stone house he was passing. A revolver flashed from the
alley, and he laughed with a strange kind of delight. His thought was
to escape round the house, but trellis work barred the way, and he
could not open the gate.

"Trapped, by Jove," he told himself coolly as a bullet struck the
trellis close to his head.

He turned back, ran up the steps of the porch and found momentary
safety in the darkness of its heavy vines. But this he knew could not
last. Running figures were converging toward him at a focal point. He


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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 9 of 15)