On the road leading north from Manchester, in eastern Kentucky, to Booneville, twenty miles away, stood, in 1862, a wooden plantation house of a somewhat better quality than most of the dwellings in that region. The house was destroyed by ... Read more of The Spook House at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Harley Makes A Proposition








From: Ridgway Of Montana

Apparently the head of the great trust intended to lose no time in having
that business talk with Ridgway, which he had graciously promised the
latter. Eaton and his chief were busy over some applications for leases
when Smythe came into the room with a letter

"Messenger-boy brought it; said it was important," he explained.

Ridgway ripped open the envelope, read through the letter swiftly, and
tossed it to Eaton. His eyes had grown hard and narrow

"Write to Mr. Hobart that I am sorry I haven't time to call on Mr. Harley
at the Consolidated offices, as he suggests. Add that I expect to be in my
offices all morning, and shall be glad to make an appointment to talk with
Mr. Harley here, if he thinks he has any business with me that needs a
personal interview."

Smythe's leathery face had as much expression as a blank wall, but Eaton
gasped. The unparalleled audacity of flinging the billionaire's overture
back in his face left him for the moment speechless. He knew that Ridgway
had tempted Providence a hundred times without coming to disaster, but
surely this was going too far. Any reasonable compromise with the great
trust builder would be cause for felicitation. He had confidence in his
chief to any point in reason, but he could not blind himself to the fact
that the wonderful successes he had gained were provisional rather than
final. He likened them to Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah raid, very
successful in irritating, disorganizing and startling the enemy, but with
no serious bearing on the final inevitable result. In the end Harley would
crush his foes if he set in motion the whole machinery of his limitless
resources. That was Eaton's private opinion, and he was very much of the
feeling that this was an opportune time to get in out of the rain.

"Don't you think we had better consider that answer before we send it,
Waring?" he suggested in a low voice.

His chief nodded a dismissal to the secretary before answering.

"I have considered it."

"But--surely it isn't wise to reject his advances before we know what they
are."

"I haven't rejected them. I've simply explained that we are doing business
on equal terms. Even if I meant to compromise, it would pay me to let him
know he doesn't own me."

"He may decide not to offer his proposition."

"It wouldn't worry me if he did."

Eaton knew he must speak now if his protest were to be of any avail. "It
would worry me a good deal. He has shown an inclination to be friendly.
This answer is like a slap in the face."

"Is it?"

"Doesn't it look like that to you?"

Ridgway leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtfully at his friend.
"Want to sell out, Steve?"

"Why--what do you mean?" asked the surprised treasurer.

"If you do, I'll pay anything in reason for your stock." He got up and
began to pace the floor with long deliberate strides. "I'm a born gambler,
Steve. It clears my head to take big chances. Give me a good fight on my
hands with the chances against me, and I'm happy. You've got to take the
world by the throat and shake success out of it if you're going to score
heavily. That's how Harley made good years ago. Read the story of his life.
See the chances he took. He throttled combinations a dozen times as strong
as his. Some people say he was an accident. Don't you believe it. Accidents
like him don't happen. He won because he was the
biggest, brainiest, most daring and unscrupulous operator in the field.
That's why I'm going to win--if I do win."

"Yes, if you win."

"Well, that's the chance I take," flung back the other as he swung
buoyantly across the room. "But YOU don't need to take it. If you want, you
can get out now at the top market price. I feel it in my bones I'm going to
win; but if you don't feel it, you'd be a fool to take chances."

Eaton's mercurial temperament responded with a glow.

"No, sir. I'll sit tight. I'm no quitter."

"Good for you, Steve. I knew it. I'll tell you now that I would have hated
like hell to see you leave me. You're the only man I can rely on down to
the ground, twenty-four hours of every day."

The answer was sent, and Eaton's astonishment at his chief's temerity
changed to amazement when the great Harley, pocketing his pride, asked for
an appointment, and appeared at the offices of the Mesa Ore-producing
Company at the time set. That Ridgway, who was busy with one of his
superintendents, should actually keep the most powerful man in the country
waiting in an outer office while he finished his business with Dalton
seemed to him insolence florescent.

"Whom the gods would destroy," he murmured to himself as the only possible
explanation, for the reaction of his enthusiasm was on him.

Nor did his chief's conference with Dalton show any leaning toward
compromise. Ridgway had sent for his engineer to outline a program in
regard to some ore-veins in the Sherman Bell, that had for months been in
litigation between the two big interests at Mesa. Neither party to the suit
had waited for the legal decision, but each of them had put a large force
at work stoping out the ore. Occasional conflicts had occurred when the men
of the opposing factions came in touch, as they frequently did, since crews
were at work below and above each other at every level. But none of these
as yet had been serious.

"Dalton, I was down last night to see that lease of Heyburn's on the
twelfth level of the Taurus. The Consolidated will tap our workings about
noon to-day, just below us. I want you to turn on them the air-drill pipe
as soon as they break through. Have a lot of loose rock there mixed with a
barrel of lime. Let loose the air pressure full on the pile, and give it to
their men straight. Follow them up to the end of their own tunnel when they
retreat, and hold it against them. Get control of the levels above and
below, too. Throw as many men as you can into their workings, and gut them
till there is no ore left."

Dalton had the fighting edge. "You'll stand by me, no matter what happens?"

"Nothing will happen. They're not expecting trouble. But if anything does,
I'll see you through. Eaton is your witness that I ordered it."

"Then it's as good as done, Mr. Ridgway," said Dalton, turning away.

"There may be bloodshed," suggested Eaton dubiously, in a low voice.

Ridgway's laugh had a touch of affectionate contempt. "Don't cross bridges
till you get to them, Steve. Haven't you discovered, man, that the bold
course is always the safe one? It's the quitter that loses out every time.
The strong man gets there; the weak one falls down. It's as invariable as
the law of gravity." He got up and stretched his broad shoulders in a deep
breath. "Now for Mr. Harley. Send him in, Eaton.

That morning Simon Harley had done two things for many years foreign to his
experience: He had gone to meet another man instead of making the man come
to him, and he had waited the other man's pleasure in an outer office. That
he had done so implied a strong motive.

Ridgway waved Harley to a chair without rising to meet him. The eyes of 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
combination."

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 side."

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.





Next: Virginia Intervenes

Previous: An Evening Call



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 430