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0n The Snow-trail

From: Ridgway Of Montana

Aline had passed into the house, moved by an instinct which shrank from
publicity in the inevitable personal meeting between her and her husband.
Now, Harley, with the cavalier nod of dismissal, which only a
multimillionaire can afford, followed her and closed the door. A
passionate rush of blood swept Ridgway's face. He saw red as he stood
there with eyes burning into that door which had been shut in his face.
The nails of his clenched fingers bit into his palms, and his muscles
gathered themselves tensely. He had been cast aside, barred from the woman
he loved by this septuagenarian, as carelessly as if he had no claim.

And it came home to him that now he had no claim, none before the law and
society. They had walked in Arcadia where shepherds pipe. They had taken
life for granted as do the creatures of the woods, forgetful of the edicts
of a world that had seemed far and remote. But that world had obtruded
itself and shattered their dream. In the person of Simon Harley it had
shut the door which was to separate him and her. Hitherto he had taken
from life what he had wanted, but already he was grappling with the blind
fear of a fate for once too strong for him.

"Well, I'm damned if it isn't Waring Ridgway," called a mellow voice from
across the gulch.

The man named turned, and gradually the set lines of his jaw relaxed.

"I didn't notice it was you, Sam. Better bring the horses across this side
of that fringe of aspens."

The dismounted horseman followed directions and brought the floundering
horses through, and after leaving them in the cleared place where Ridgway
had cut his firewood he strolled leisurely forward to meet the mine-owner.
He was a youngish man, broad of shoulder and slender of waist, a trifle
bowed in the legs from much riding, but with an elastic sufficiency that
promised him the man for an emergency, a pledge which his steady
steel-blue eyes, with the humorous lines about the corners, served to make
more valuable. His apparel suggested the careless efficiency of the
cow-man, from the high-heeled boots into which were thrust his corduroys
to the broad-brimmed white Stetson set on his sunreddened wavy hair. A
man's man, one would vote him at first sight, and subsequent impressions
would not contradict the first.

"Didn't know you were down in this neck of woods, Waring," he said
pleasantly, as they shook hands.

An onlooker might have noticed that both of them gripped hands heartily
and looked each other squarely in the eye.

"I came down on business and got caught in the blizzard on my way back.
Came on her freezing in the machine and brought her here along with me. I
had my eye on that slide. The snow up there didn't look good to me, and
the grub was about out, anyhow, so I was heading for the C B Ranch when I
sighted you."

"Golden luck for her. I knew it was a chance in a million that she was
still alive, but Harley wanted to take it. Say, that old fellow's made of
steel wire. Two of my boys are plugging along a mile or two behind us, but
he stayed right with the game to a finish--and him seventy-three, mind
you, and a New Yorker at that. The old boy rides like he was born in a
saddle," said Sam Yesler with enthusiasm.

"I never said he was a quitter," conceded Ridgway ungraciously.

"You're right he ain't. And say, but he's fond of his wife. Soon as he
struck the ranch the old man butted out again into the blizzard to get
her--slipped out before we knew it. The boys rounded him up wandering
round the big pasture, and none too soon neither. All the time we had to
keep herd on him to keep him from taking another whirl at it. He was like
a crazy man to tackle it, though he must a-known it was suicide. Funny how
a man takes a shine to a woman and thinks the sun rises and sets by her.
Far, as I have been able to make out women are much of a sameness, though
I ain't setting up for a judge. Like as not this woman don't care a hand's
turn for him."

"Why should she? He bought her with his millions, I suppose. What right
has an old man like that with one foot in the grave to pick out a child
and marry her? I tell you, Sam, there's something ghastly about it."

"Oh, well, I reckon when she sold herself she knew what she was getting.
It's about an even thing--six of one and half a dozen of the other. There
must be something rotten about a woman who will do a thing of that sort."

"Wait till you've seen her before passing judgment. And after you have
you'll apologize if you're a white man for thinking such a thing about
her," the miner said hotly.

Yesler looked at his friend in amiable surprise. "I don't reckon we need
to quarrel about Simon Harley's matrimonial affairs, do we?" he laughed.

"Not unless you want to say any harm of that lamb."

A glitter of mischief gleamed from the cattleman's eyes. "Meaning Harley,

"You know who I mean. I tell you she's an angel from heaven, pure as the
driven snow."

"And I tell you that I'll take your word for it without quarreling with
you," was the goodhumored retort. "What's up, anyhow? I never saw you so
touchy before. You're a regular pepper-box."

The rescuers had brought food with them, and the party ate lunch before
starting back. The cow-punchers of the C B had now joined them, both of
them, as well as their horses, very tired with the heavy travel.

"This here Marathon race business through three-foot snow ain't for
invalids like me and Husky," one of them said cheerfully, with his mouth
full of sandwich. "We're also rans, and don't even show for place."

Yet though two of them had, temporarily at least, been rescued from
imminent danger, and success beyond their expectations had met the others,
it was a silent party. A blanket of depression seemed to rest upon it,
which the good stories of Yesler and the genial nonsense of his man,
Chinn, were unable to lift. Three of them, at least, were brooding over
what the morning had brought forth, and trying to realize what it might
mean for them.

"We'd best be going, I expect," said Yesler at last. "We've got a right
heavy bit of work cut out for us, and the horses are through feeding. We
can't get started any too soon for me."

Ridgway nodded silently. He knew that the stockman was dubious, as he
himself was, about being able to make the return trip in safety. The
horses were tired; so, too, were the men who had broken the heavy trail
for so many miles, with the exception of Sam himself, who seemed built of
whipcord and elastic. They would be greatly encumbered by the woman, for
she would certainly give out during the journey. The one point in their
favor was that they could follow a trail which had already been trodden

Simon Harley helped his wife into the boy's saddle on the back of the
animal they had led, but his inexperience had to give way to Yesler's
skill in fitting the stirrups to the proper length for her feet. To
Ridgway, who had held himself aloof during this preparation, the stockman
now turned with a wave of his hand toward his horse

"You ride, Waring."

"No, I'm fresh."

"All right. We'll take turns."

Ridgway led the party across the gulch, following the trail that had been
swept by the slide. The cowboys followed him, next came Harley, his wife,
and in the rear the cattleman. They descended the draw, and presently
dipped over rolling ground to the plain beyond. The procession plowed
steadily forward mile after mile, the pomes floundering through drifts
after the man ahead.

Chinn, who had watched him breasting the soft heavy blanket that lay on
the ground so deep and hemmed them in, turned to his companion.

"On the way coming I told you, Husky, we had the best man in Montana at
our head. We got that beat now to a fare-you-well. We got the two best in
this party, by crickey."

"He's got the guts, all right, but there ain't nothing on two legs can
keep it up much longer," replied the other. "If you want to know, I'm
about all in myself."

"Here, too," grunted the other. "And so's the bronc."

It was not, however, until dusk was beginning to fall that the leader
stopped. Yesler's voice brought him up short in his tracks.

"Hold on, Waring. The lady's down."

Ridgway strode back past the exhausted cowboys and Harley, the latter so
beaten with fatigue that he could scarce cling to the pommel of his

"I saw it coming. She's been done for a long time, but she hung on like a
thoroughbred," explained Yesler from the snow-bank where Aline had fallen.

He had her in his arms and was trying to get at a flask of whisky in his

"All right. I'll take care of her, Sam. You go ahead with your horse and
break trail. I don't like the way this wind is rising. It's wiping out the
path you made when you broke through. How far's the ranch now?"

"Close to five miles."

Both men had lowered their voices almost to a whisper.

"It's going to be a near thing, Sam. Your men are played out. Harley will
never make it without help. From now on every mile will be worse than the

Yesler nodded quietly. "Some one has got to go ahead for help. That's the
only way."

"It will have to be you, of course. You know the road best and can get
back quickest. Better take her pony. It's the fittest."

The owner of the C B hesitated an instant before he answered. He was the
last man in the world to desert a comrade that was down, but his common
sense told him his friend had spoken wisely. The only chance for the party
was to get help to it from the ranch.

"All right. If anybody plays out beside her try to keep him going. If it
comes to a showdown leave him for me to pick up. Don't let him stop the
whole outfit."

"Sure. Better leave me that bottle of whisky. So-long."

"You're going to ride, I reckon?"

"Yes. I'll have to."

"Get up on my horse and I'll give her to you. That's right Well, I'll see
you later."

And with that the stockman was gone. For long they could see him, plunging
slowly forward through the drifts, getting always smaller and smaller,
till distance and the growing darkness swallowed him.

Presently the girl in Ridgway's arms opened her eyes.

"I heard what you and he said," she told him quietly.

"About what?" he smiled down into the white face that looked up into his.

"You know. About our danger. I'm not afraid, not the least little bit."

"You needn't be. We're coming through, all right. Sam will make it to the
ranch. He's a man in a million."

"I don't mean that. I'm not afraid, anyway, whether we do or not."

"Why?" he asked, his heart beating wildly.

"I don't know, but I'm not," she murmured with drowsy content.

But he knew if she did not. Her fear had passed because he was there,
holding her in his arms, fighting to the last ounce of power in him for
her life. She felt he would never leave her, and that, if it came to the
worst, she would pass from life with him close to her. Again he knew that
wild exultant beat of blood no woman before this one had ever stirred in

Harley was the first to give up. He lurched forward and slipped from the
saddle to the snow, and could not be cursed into rising. The man behind
dismounted, put down his burden, and dragged the old man to his feet.

"Here! This won't do. You've got to stick it out."

"I can't. I've reached my limit." Then testily: "'Are not my days few?
Cease then, and let me alone,'" he added wearily, with his everready tag
of Scripture.

The instant the other's hold on him relaxed the old man sank back. Ridgway
dragged him up and cuffed him like a troublesome child. He knew this was
no time for reasoning.

"Are you going to lie down and quit, you old loafer? I tell you the ranch
is only a mile or two. Here, get into the saddle."

By sheer strength the younger man hoisted him into the seat. He was very
tired himself, but the vital sap of youth in him still ran strong in his
blood. For a few yards farther they pushed on before Harley slid down
again and his horse stopped.

Ridgway passed him by, guiding his bronco in a half-circle through the

"I'll send back help for you," he promised.

"It will be too late, but save her--save her," the old man begged.

"I will," called back the other between set teeth.

Chinn was the next to drop out, and after him the one he called Husky.
Both their horses had been abandoned a mile or two back, too exhausted to
continue. Each of them Ridgway urged to stick to the trail and come on as
fast as they could.

He knew the horse he was riding could not much longer keep going with the
double weight, and when at length its strength gave out completely he went
on afoot, carrying her in his arms as on that eventful night when he had
saved her from the blizzard.

It was so the rescue-party found him, still staggering forward with her
like a man in a sleep, flesh and blood and muscles all protestant against
the cruelty of his indomitable will that urged them on in spite of
themselves. In a dream he heard Yesler's cheery voice, gave up his burden
to one of the rescuers, and found himself being lifted to a fresh horse.
From this dream he awakened to find himself before the great fire of the
living-room of the ranch-house, wakened from it only long enough to know
that somebody was undressing him and helping him into bed.

Nature, with her instinct for renewing life, saw to it that Ridgway slept
round the clock. He arose fit for anything. His body, hard as nails,
suffered no reaction from the terrific strain he had put upon it, and he
went down to his breakfast with an appetite ravenous for whatever good
things Yesler's Chinese cook might have prepared for him.

He found his host already at work on a juicy steak.

"Mornin'," nodded that gentleman. "Hope you feel as good as you look."

"I'm all right, barring a little stiffness in my muscles. I'll feel good
as the wheat when I've got outside of the twin steak to that one you

Yesler touched a bell, whereupon a soft-footed Oriental appeared, turned
almond eyes on his proprietor, took orders and padded silently back to his
kingdom--the kitchen. Almost immediately he reappeared with a bowl of
oatmeal and a pitcher of cream.

"Go to it, Waring."

His host waved him the freedom of the diningroom, and Ridgway fell to.
Never before had food tasted so good. He had been too sleepy to cat last
night, but now he made amends. The steak, the muffins, the coffee, were
all beyond praise, and when he came to the buckwheat hot cakes, sandwiched
with butter and drenched with real maple syrup, his satisfied soul rose up
and called Hop Lee blessed. When he had finished, Sam capped the climax by
shoving toward him his case of Havanas.

Ridgway's eyes glistened. "I haven't smoked for days," he explained, and
after the smoke had begun to rise, he added: "Ask what you will, even to
the half of my kingdom, it's yours."

"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.

Next: Back From Arcadia

Previous: Enter Simon Harley

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