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One Million Dollars








From: Ridgway Of Montana

Eaton, standing on the street curb at the corner of the Ridgway Building,
lit a cigar while he hesitated between his rooms and the club. He decided
for the latter, and was just turning up the hill, when a hand covered his
mouth and an arm was flung around his neck in a stranglehold. He felt
himself lifted like a child, and presently discovered that he was being
whirled along the street in a closed carriage.

"You needn't be alarmed, Mr. Eaton. We're not going to injure you in the
least," a low voice explained in his ear. "If you'll give me your word not
to cry out, I'll release your throat."

Eaton nodded a promise, and, when he could find his voice, demanded: "Where
are you taking me?"

"You'll see in a minute, sir. It's all right."

The carriage turned into an alley and stopped. Eaton was led to a ladder
that hung suspended from the fire-escape, and was bidden to mount. He did
so, following his guide to the second story, and being in turn followed by
the other man. He was taken along a corridor and into the first of a suite
of rooms opening into it. He knew he was in the Mesa House, and suspected
at once that he was in the apartments of Simon Harley.

His suspicion ripened to conviction when his captors led him through two
more rooms, into one fitted as an office. The billionaire sat at a desk,
busy over some legal papers he was reading, but he rose at once and came
forward with hand extended to meet Eaton. The young man took his hand
mechanically.

"Glad to have the pleasure of talking with, you, Mr. Eaton. You must accept
my apologies for my methods of securing a meeting. They are rather
primitive, but since you declined to call and see me, I can hold only you
to blame." An acid smile touched his lips for a moment, though his eyes
were expressionless as a wall. "Mr. Eaton, I have brought you here in this
way to have a confidential talk with you, in order that it might not in any
way reflect upon you in case we do not come to an arrangement satisfactory
to both of us. Your friends cannot justly blame you for this conference,
since you could not avoid it. Mr. Eaton, take a chair."

The wills of the two men flashed into each other's eyes like rapiers. The
weaker man knew that was before him and braced himself to meet it. He would
not sit down. He would not discuss anything. So he told himself once and
again to hold himself steady against the impulse to give way to those
imperious eyes behind which was the impassive, compelling will.

"Sit down, Mr. Eaton."

"I'll stand, Mr. Harley."

"SIT DOWN."

The cold jade eyes were not to be denied. Eaton's gaze fell sullenly, and
he slid into a chair.

"I'll discuss no business except in the presence of Mr. Ridgway," he said
doggedly, falling back to his second line of defenses.

"To the contrary, my business is with you and not with Mr. Ridgway."

"I know of no business you can have with me."

"Wherefore I have brought you here to acquaint you with it."

The young man lifted his head reluctantly and waited. If he had been
willing to confess it to himself, he feared greatly this ruthless spoiler
who had built up the greatest fortune in the world from thousands of
wrecked lives. He felt himself choking, just as if those skeleton fingers
had been at his throat. but he promised himself ever to yield.

The fathomless, dominant gaze caught and held his eyes. "Mr. Eaton, I came
here to crush Ridgway. I am going to stay here till I do. I'm going to wipe
him from the map of Montana-- ruin him so utterly that he can never
recover. It has been my painful duty to do this with a hundred men as
strong and as confident as he is. After undertaking such an enterprise, I
have never faltered and never relented. The men I have ruined were ruined
beyond hope of recovery. None of them have ever struggled to their feet
again. I intend to make Waring Ridgway a pauper."

Stephen Eaton could have conceived nothing more merciless than this man's
callous pronouncement, than the calm certainty of his unemphasized words.
He started to reply, but Harley took the words out of his mouth.

"Don't make a mistake. Don't tie to the paltry successes he has gained. I
have not really begun to fight yet."

The young man had nothing to say. His heart was water. He accepted Harley's
words as true, for he had told himself the same thing a hundred times. Why
had Ridgway rejected the overtures of this colossus of finance? It had been
the sheerest folly born of madness to suppose that anybody could stand
against him.

"For Ridgway, the die is cast," the iron voice went on. "He is doomed
beyond hope. But there is still a chance for you. What do you consider your
interest in the Mesa Ore-producing Company worth, Mr. Eaton?"

The sudden question caught Eaton with the force of a surprise. "About three
hundred thousand dollars," he heard himself say; and it seemed to him that
his voice was speaking the words without his volition.

"I'm going to buy you out for twice that sum. Furthermore, I'm going to
take care of your future--going to see that you have a chance to rise."

The waverer's will was in flux, but the loyalty in him still protested. "I
can't desert my chief, Mr. Harley."

"Do you call it desertion to leave a raging madman in a sinking boat after
you have urged him to seek the safety of another ship?"

"He made me what I am."

"And I will make you ten times what you are. With Ridgway you have no
chance to be anything but a subordinate. He is the Mesa Ore-producing
Company, and you are merely a cipher. I offer your individuality a chance.
I believe in you, and know you to be a strong man." No ironic smile touched
Harley's face at this statement. "You need a chance, and I offer it to you.
For your own sake take it."

Every grievance Eaton had ever felt against his chief came trooping to his
mind. He was domineering. He did ride rough-shod over his allies' opinions
and follow the course he had himself mapped out. All the glory of the
victory he absorbed as his due. In the popular opinion, Eaton was as a
farthing-candle to a great electric search-light in comparison with
Ridgway.

"He trusts me," the tempted man urged weakly. He was slipping, and he knew
it, even while he assured himself he would never betray his chief.

"He would sell you out to-morrow if it paid him. And what is he but a
robber? Every dollar of his holdings is stolen from me. I ask only
restitution of you--and I propose to buy at twice, nay at three times, the
value of your stolen property. You owe that freebooter no loyalty."

"I can't do it. I can't do it."

"You shall do it." Harley dominated him as bullying schoolmaster does a
cringing boy under the lash.

"I can't do it," the young man repeated, all his weak will flung into the
denial.

"Would you choose ruin?"

"Perhaps. I don't know," he faltered miserable.

"It's merely a business proposition, young man. The stock you have to sell
is valuable to-day. Reject my offer, and a month from now it will be quoted
on the market at half its present figure, and go begging at that. It will
be absolutely worthless before I finish. You are not selling out Ridgway.
He is a ruined man, anyway. But you--I am going to save you in spite of
yourself. I am going to shake you from that robber's clutches."

Eaton got to his feet, pallid and limp as a rag. "Don't tempt me," he cried
hoarsely. "I tell you I can't do it, sir."

Harley's cold eye did not release him for an instant. "One million dollars
and an assured future, or--absolute, utter ruin, complete and final."

"He would murder me--and he ought to," groaned the writhing victim.

"No fear of that. I'll put you where he can't reach you. Just sign your
name to this paper, Mr. Eaton."

"I didn't agree. I didn't say I would."

"Sign here. Or, wait one moment, till I get witnesses." Harley touched a
bell, and his secretary appeared in the doorway. "Ask Mr. Mott and young
Jarvis to step this way."

Harley held out the pen toward Eaton, looking steadily at him. In a strong
man the human eye is a sword among weapons. Eaton quailed. The fingers of
the unhappy wretch went out mechanically for the pen. He was sweating
terror and remorse, but the essential weakness of the man could not stand
out unbacked against the masterful force of this man's imperious will. He
wrote his name in the places directed, and flung down the pen like a child
in a rage.

"Now get me out of Montana before Ridgway knows," he cried brokenly.

"You may leave to-morrow night, Mr. Eaton. You'll only have to appear in
court once personally. We'll arrange it quietly for to-morrow afternoon.
Ridgway won't know until it is done and you are gone."





Next: A Little Lunch At Aphonse's

Previous: Further Developments



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