Enter Simon Harley
From: Ridgway Of Montana
The prospector's house in which they had found refuge was perched on the
mountainside just at one edge of the draw. Rough as the girl had thought
it, there was a more pretentious appearance to it than might have been
expected. The cabin was of hewn logs mortared with mud, and care had been
taken to make it warm. The fireplace was a huge affair that ate fuel
voraciously. It was built of stone, which had been gathered from the
The prospect itself showed evidence of having been worked a good deal, and
it was an easy guess for the man who now stood looking into the tunnel
that it belonged to some one of the thousands of miners who spend half
their time earning a grubstake, and the other half dissipating it upon
some hole in the ground which they have duped themselves into believing is
From the tunnel his eye traveled up the face of the white mountain to the
great snow-comb that yawned over the edge of the rock-rim far above. It
had snowed again heavily all night, and now showed symptoms of a thaw. Not
once nor twice, but a dozen times, the man's anxious gaze had swept up to
that great overhanging bank. Snowslides ran every year in this section
with heavy loss to life and property. Given a rising temperature and some
wind, the comb above would gradually settle lower and lower, at last break
off, plunge down the precipitous slope, bringing thousands of tons of rock
and snow with it, and, perhaps, bury them in a Titanic grave of ice. There
had been a good deal of timber cut from the shoulder of the mountain
during the past summer, and this very greatly increased the danger. That
there was a real peril the man looking at it did not attempt to deny to
himself. It would be enough to deny it to her in case she should ever
He had hoped for cold weather, a freeze hard enough to crust the surface
of the snow. Upon this he might have made shift somehow to get her to
Yesler's ranch, eighteen miles away though it was, but he knew this would
not be feasible with the snow in its present condition. It was not certain
that he could make the ranch alone; encumbered with her, success would be
a sheer impossibility. On the other hand, their provisions would not last
long. The outlook was not a cheerful one, from whichever point of view he
took it; yet there was one phase of it he could not regret. The factors
which made the difficulties of the situation made also its delights.
Though they were prisoners in this solitary untrodden caynon, the sentence
was upon both of them. She could look to none other than he for aid; and,
at least, the drifts which kept them in held others out.
Her voice at his shoulder startled him.
"Wherefore this long communion with nature, my captain?" she gaily asked.
"Behold, my, lord's hot cakes are ready for the pan and his servant to
wait upon him." She gave him a demure smiling little curtsy of mock
Never had her distracting charm been more in evidence. He had not seen her
since they parted on the previous night. He had built for himself a cot in
the woodshack, and had contrived a curtain that could be drawn in front of
her bed in the living-room. Thus he could enter in the morning, light the
fires, and start breakfast without disturbing her. She had dressed her
hair, now in a different way, so that it fell in low waves back from the
forehead and was bunched at the nape of her neck. The light swiftness of
her dainty grace, the almost exaggerated carnation of the slightly parted
lips, the glad eagerness that sparked her eyes, brought out effectively
the picturesqueness of her beauty.
His grave eyes rested on her so long that a soft glow mantled her cheeks.
Perhaps her words had been too free, though she had not meant them so. For
the first time some thought of the conventions distressed her. Ought she
to hold herself more in reserve toward him? Must she restrain her natural
impulses to friendliness?
His eyes released her presently, but not before she read in them the
feelings that had softened them as they gazed into hers. They mirrored his
poignant pleasure at the delight of her sweet slenderness so close to him,
his perilous joy at the intimacy fate had thrust upon them. Shyly her lids
fell to the flushed cheeks.
"Breakfast is ready," she added self-consciously, her girlish innocence
startled like a fawn of the forest at the hunter's approach
For whereas she had been blind now she saw in part. Some flash of
clairvoyance had laid bare a glimpse of his heart and her own to her.
Without misunderstanding the perfect respect for her which he felt, she
knew the turbid banked emotions which this dammed. Her heart seemed to
beat in her bosom like an imprisoned dove.
It was his voice, calm and resonant with strength, that brought her to
"And I am ready for it, lieutenant. Right about face. Forward--march!"
After breakfast they went out and tramped together the little path of
hard-trodden snow in front of the house. She broached the prospect of a
rescue or the chances of escape.
"We shall soon be out of food, and, anyhow, we can't stay here all
winter," she suggested with a tremulous little laugh.
"You are naturally very tired of it already," he hazarded.
"It has been the experience of my life. I shall fence it off from all the
days that have passed and all that are to come," she made answer vividly.
Their eyes met, but only for an instant.
"I am glad," he said quietly.
He began, then, to tell her what he must do, but at the first word of it
she broke out in protest.
"No--no--no! We shall stay together. If you go I am going, too."
"I wish you could, but it is not possible. You could never get there. The
snow is too soft and heavy for wading and not firm enough to bear your
"But you will have to wade."
"I am stronger than you, lieutenant."
"I know, but----" She broke down and confessed her terror. "Would you
leave me here-- alone--with all this snow Oh, I couldn't stay--I
"It's the only way," he said steadily. Every fiber in him rebelled at
leaving her here to face peril alone, but his reason overrode the desire
and rebellion that were hot within him. He must think first of her
ultimate safety, and this lay in getting her away from here at the first
Tears splashed down from the big eyes. "I didn't think you would leave me
here alone. With you I don't mind it, but-- Oh, I should die if I stayed
"Only for twenty-four hours. Perhaps less. I shouldn't think of it if it
"Take me with you. I am strong. You don't know how strong I am. I promise
to keep up with you. Please!"
He shook his head. "I would take you with me if I could. You know that.
But it's a man's fight. I shall have to stand up to it hour after hour
till I reach Yesler's ranch. I shall get through, but it would not be
possible for you to make it."
"And if you don't get through?"
He refused to consider that contingency. -"But I shall. You may look to
see me back with help by this time to-morrow morning."
"I'm not afraid with you. But if you go away Oh, I can't stand it. You
don't know--you don't know." She buried her face in her hands.
He had to swallow down his sympathy before he went on. "Yes, I know. But
you must be brave. You must think of every minute as being one nearer to
the time of my return."
"You will think me a dreadful coward, and I am. But I can't help it. I AM
afraid to stay alone. There's nothing in the world but mountains of snow.
They are horrible--like death--
except when you are here."
Her child eyes coaxed him to stay. The mad longing was in him to kiss the
rosy little mouth with the queer alluring droop to its corners. It was a
strange thing how, with that arched twist to her eyebrows and with that
smile which came and went like sunshine in her eyes, she toppled his
lifelong creed. The cardinal tenet of his faith had been a belief in
strength. He had first been drawn to Virginia by reason of her pluck and
her power. Yet this child's very weakness was her fountain of strength.
She cried out with pain, and he counted it an asset of virtue in her. She
acknowledged herself a coward, and his heart went out to her because of
it. The battle assignments of life were not for the soft curves and shy
winsomeness of this dainty lamb.
"You will be brave. I expect you to be brave, lieutenant." Words of love
and comfort were crowding to his brain, but he would not let them out.
"How long will you be gone?" she sobbed.
"I may possibly get back before midnight, but you mustn't begin to expect
me until to-morrow morning, perhaps not till to-morrow afternoon."
"Oh, I couldn't--I couldn't stay here at night alone. Don't go, please.
I'll not get hungry, truly I won't, and to-morrow they will find us."
He rose, his face working. "I MUST go, child. It's the thing to do. I wish
to Heaven it weren't. You must think of yourself as quite safe here. You
ARE safe. Don't make it hard for me to go, dear."
"I AM a coward. But I can't help it. There is so much snow--and the
mountains are so big." She tried valiantly to crush down her sobs. "But
go. I'll--I'll not be afraid."
He buried her little hands in his two big ones and looked deep into her
eyes. "Every minute of the time I am away from you I shall be with you in
spirit. You'll not be alone any minute of the day or night. Whether you
are awake or asleep I shall be with you."
"I'll try to remember that," she answered, smiling up at him but with a
She put him up some lunch while he made his simple preparations. To the
end of the trench she walked with him, neither of them saying a word. The
moment of parting had come.
She looked up at him with a crooked wavering little smile. She wanted to
be brave, but she could not trust herself to say a word.
"Remember, dear. I am not leaving you. My body has gone on an errand. That
Just now she found small comfort in this sophistry, but she did not tell
"I--I'll remember." She gulped down a sob and still smiled through the
mist that filmed her sight.
In his face she could see how much he was moved at her distress. Always a
creature of impulse, one mastered her now, the need to let her weakness
rest on his strength. Her arms slipped quickly round his neck and her head
lay buried on his shoulder. He held her tight, eyes shining, the desire of
her held in leash behind set teeth, the while sobs shook her soft round
body in gusts.
"My lamb--my sweet precious lamb," she heard him murmur in anguish.
From some deep sex trait it comforted her that he suffered. With the
mother instinct she began to regain control of herself that she might help
"It will not be for long," she assured him. "And every step of your way I
shall pray for, your safety," she whispered.
He held her at arm's length while his gaze devoured her, then silently he
wheeled away and plunged waist deep into the drifts. As long as he was in
sight he saw her standing there, waving her handkerchief to him in
encouragement. Her slight, dark figure, outlined against the snow, was the
last thing his eyes fell upon before he turned a corner of the gulch and
dropped downward toward the plains.
But when he was surely gone, after one fearful look at the white sea which
encompassed her, the girl fled to the cabin, slammed the door after her,
and flung herself on the bed to weep out her lonely terror in an ecstasy
of tears. She had spent the first violence of her grief, and was sitting
crouched on the rug before the open fire when the sound of a footstep,
crunching the snow, startled her. The door opened, to let in the man who
had just left her.
"You are back--already," she cried, her tear? stained face lifted toward
"Yes," he smiled' from the doorway. "Come here, little partner."
And when she had obediently joined him her eye followed his finger up the
mountain-trail to a bend round which men and horses were coming.
"It's a relief-party," he said, and caught up his field-glasses to look
them over more certainly. Two men on horseback, leading a third animal,
were breaking a way down the trail, black spots against the background of
white. "I guess Fort Salvation's about to be relieved," he added grimly,
following the party through the glasses.
She touched the back of his hand with a finger. "Are you glad?" she asked
"No, by Heaven!" he cried, lowering his glasses swiftly.
As he looked into her eyes the blood rushed to his brain with a surge. Her
face turned to his unconsciously, and their lips met.
"And I don't even know your name," she murmured.
"Waring Ridgway; and yours?"
"Aline Hope," she said absently. Then a hot Rush ran over the girlish
face. "No, no, I had forgotten. I was married last week."
The gates of paradise, open for two days, clanged to on Ridgway. He stared
out with unseeing eyes into the silent wastes of snow. The roaring in his
ears and the mountainsides that churned before his eyes were reflections
of the blizzard raging within him.
"I'll never forget--never," he heard her falter, and her voice was a
thousand miles away.
From the storm within him he was aroused by a startled cry from the girl
at his side. Her fascinated gaze was fixed on the summit of the ridge
above them. There was a warning crackle. The overhanging comb snapped,
slid slowly down, and broke off. With gathering momentum it descended,
sweeping into its heart rocks, trees, and debris. A terrific roar filled
the air as the great white cloud came tearing down like an express-train.
Ridgway caught her round the waist and flung the girl against the wall of
the cabin, protecting her with his body. The avalanche was upon them,
splitting great trees to kindling-wood in the fury of its rush. The
concussion of the wind shattered every window to fragments, almost tore
the cabin from its foundations. Only the extreme tail of the slide touched
them, yet they were buried deep in flying snow.
He found no great difficulty in digging a way out, and when he lifted her
to the surface she was conscious. Yet she was pale even to the lips and
trembled like an aspen in the summer breeze, clinging to him for support
His cheerful voice rang like a bugle to her shocked brain.
"It's all past. We're safe now, dear--quite safe."
The first of the trail-breakers had dismounted and was plowing his way
hurriedly to the cabin, but neither of them saw him as he came up the
"Are you sure?" She shuddered, her hands still in his. "Wasn't it awful? I
thought--" Her sentence trailed out unfinished.
"Are you unhurt, Aline?" cried the newcomer. And when he saw she was, he
added: "Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good:
for His mercy endureth forever. He saved them for His name's sake, that He
might make His mighty power to be known."
At sound of the voice they turned and saw the man hurrying toward them. He
was tall, gray, and seventy, of massive frame and gaunt, still straight
and vigorous, with the hooked nose and piercing eyes of a hawk. At first
glance he looked always the bird of prey, but at the next as invariably
the wolf, an effect produced by the salient reaching jaw and the glint of
white teeth bared for a lip smile. Just now he was touched to a rare
emotion. His hands trembled and an expression of shaken thankfulness
rested in his face.
Aline, still with Ridgway's strong arms about her, slowly came back to the
inexorable facts of life.
"As soon as we could get through--and thank God in time."
"I would have died, except for--" This brought her immediately to an
introduction, and after she had quietly released herself the man who had
saved her heard himself being formally presented: "Mr. Ridgway, I want you
to meet my husband, Mr. Harley."
Ridgway turned to Simon Harley a face of hammered steel and bowed, putting
his hands deliberately behind his back.
"I've been expecting you at Mesa, Mr. Harley," he said rigidly. "I'll be
glad to have the pleasure of welcoming you there."
The great financier was wondering where he had heard the man's name
before, but he only said gravely: "You have a claim on me I can never
forget, Mr. Ridgway."
Scornfully the other disdained this proffer. "Not at all. You owe me
nothing, Mr. Harley--absolutely nothing. What I have done I have done for
her. It is between her and me."
At this moment the mind of Harley fitted the name Ridgway to its niche in
his brain. So this was the audacious filibuster who had dared to fire on
the trust flag, the man he had come West to ruin and to humble.
"I think you will have to include me, Mr. Ridgway," he said suavely. "What
is done for my wife is done, also, for me."
Next: 0n The Snow-trail
Previous: Tort Salvation