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Back From Arcadia








From: Ridgway Of Montana

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.





Next: The Honorable Thomas B Pelton

Previous: 0n The Snow-trail



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