The Freebooter

: Ridgway Of Montana

When next Virginia Balfour saw Waring Ridgway she was driving her trap

down one of the hit-or-miss streets of Mesa, where derricks, shaft-houses,

and gray slag-dumps shoulder ornate mansions conglomerate of many

unharmonious details of architecture. To Miss Balfour these composites and

their owners would have been joys unalloyed except for the microbe of

society ambition that was infecting the latter, and transforming them from
simple, robust, self-reliant Westerners into a class of servile,

nondescript newly rich, that resembled their unfettered selves as much as

tame bears do the grizzlies of their own Rockies. As she had once

complained smilingly to Hobart, she had not come to the West to study

ragged edges of the social fringe. She might have done that in New York.

Virginia was still a block or two from the court-house on the hill, when

it emptied into the street a concourse of excited men. That this was an

occasion of some sort it was easy to guess, and of what sort she began to

have an inkling, when Ridgway came out, the center of a circle of

congratulating admirers. She was obliged to admit that he accepted their

applause without in the least losing his head. Indeed, he took it as

imperturbably as did Hobart, against whom a wave of the enthusiasm seemed

to be directed in the form of a jeer, when he passed down the steps with

Mott, one of the Consolidated lawyers. Miss Balfour timed her approach to

meet Hobart at a right angle.

"What is it all about?" she asked, after he had reached her side.

"Judge Purcell has just decided the Never Say Die case in favor of Mr.

Ridgway and against the Consolidated."

"Is that a great victory for him?"

"Yes, it's a victory, though, of course, we appeal," admitted Hobart. "But

we can't say we didn't expect it," he added cheerfully.

"Mayn't I give you a lift if you are going down-town?" she said quickly,

for Ridgway, having detached himself from the group, was working toward

her, and she felt an instinctive sympathy for the man who had lost.

Furthermore, she had something she wanted to tell him before he heard it

on the tongue of rumor.

"Since you are so kind;" and he climbed to the place beside her.

"Congratulate me, Miss Balfour," demanded Ridgway, as he shook hands with

her, nodding coolly at her companion. "I'm a million dollars richer than I

was an hour ago. I have met the enemy and he is mine."

Virginia, resenting the bad taste of his jeer at the man who sat beside

her, misunderstood him promptly. "Did you say you had met the enemy and

won his mine?"

He laughed. "You're a good one!"

"Thank you very much for this unsolicited testimonial," she said gravely.

"In the meantime, to avoid a congestion of traffic, we'll be moving, if

you will kindly give me back my front left wheel."

He did not lift his foot from the spoke on which it rested. "My

congratulations," he reminded her.

"I wish you all the joy in your victory that you deserve, and I hope the

supreme court will reaffirm the decision of Judge Purcell, if it is a just

one," was the form in which she acceded to his demand.

She flicked her whip, and Ridgway fell back, laughing. "You've been

subsidized by the Consolidated," he shouted after her.

Hobart watched silently the businesslike directness with which the girl

handled the ribbons. She looked every inch the thoroughbred in her

well-made covert coat and dainty driving gauntlets. The grace of the

alert, slender figure, the perfect poise of the beautiful little tawny

head, proclaimed her distinction no less certainly than the fine modeling

of the mobile face. It was a distinction that stirred the pulse of his

emotion and disarmed his keen, critical sense. Ridgway could study her

with an amused, detached interest, but Hobart's admiration had traveled

past that point. He found it as impossible to define her charm as to evade

it. Her inheritance of blood and her environment should have made her a

finished product of civilization, but her salty breeziness, her nerve,

vivid as a flame at times, disturbed delightfully the poise that held her

when in repose.

When Virginia spoke, it was to ask abruptly: "Is it really his mine?"

"Judge Purcell says so."

"But do YOU think so--down in the bottom of your heart?"

"Wouldn't I naturally be prejudiced?"

"I suppose you would. Everybody in Mesa seems to have taken sides either

with Mr. Ridgway or the Consolidated. Still, you have an option. Is he

what his friends proclaim him--the generous-hearted independent fighting

against trust domination? Or is he merely an audacious ore-thief, as his

enemies say? The truth must be somewhere."

"It seems to lie mostly in point of view here the angle of observation

being determined by interest," he answered.

"And from your angle of observation?"

"He is the most unusual man I ever saw, the most resourceful and the most

competent. He never knows when he is beaten. I suppose that's the reason

he never is beaten finally. We have driven him to the wall a score of

times. My experience with him is that he's most dangerous when one thinks

he must be about hammered out. He always hits back then in the most daring

and unexpected way."

"With a coupling-pin," she suggested with a little reminiscent laugh.

"Metaphorically speaking. He reaches for the first effective weapon to his


"You haven't quite answered my question yet," she reminded him. "Is he

what his friends or what his enemies think him?"

"If you ask me I can only say that I'm one of his enemies."

"But a fair-minded man," she replied quickly.

"Thank you. Then I'll say that perhaps he is neither just what his friends

or his foes think him. One must make allowances for his training and

temperament, and for that quality of bigness in him. 'Mediocre men go

soberly on the highroads, but saints and scoundrels meet in the jails,'"

he smilingly quoted.

"He would make a queer sort of saint," she laughed.

"A typical twentieth century one of a money-mad age."

She liked it in him that he would not use the opportunity she had made to

sneer at his adversary, none the less because she knew that Ridgway might

not have been so scrupulous in his place. That Lyndon Hobart's fastidious

instincts for fair play had stood in the way of his success in the fight

to down Ridgway she had repeatedly heard. Of late, rumors had persisted in

reporting dissatisfaction with his management of the Consolidated at the

great financial center on Broadway which controlled the big copper

company. Simon Harley, the dominating factor in the octopus whose

tentacles reached out in every direction to monopolize the avenues of

wealth, demanded of his subordinates results. Methods were no concern of

his, and failure could not be explained to him. He wanted Ridgway crushed,

and the pulse of the copper production regulated lay the Consolidated.

Instead, he had seen Ridgway rise steadily to power and wealth despite his

efforts to wipe him off the slate. Hobart was perfectly aware that his

head was likely to fall when Harley heard of Purcell's decision in regard

to the Never Say Die.

"He certainly is an amazing man," Virginia mused, her fiancee in mind. "It

would be interesting to discover what he can't do--along utilitarian

lines, I mean. Is he as good a miner underground as he is in the courts?"

she flung out.

"He is the shrewdest investor I know. Time and again he has leased or

bought apparently worthless claims, and made them pay inside of a few

weeks. Take the Taurus as a case in point. He struck rich ore in a

fortnight. Other men had done development work for years and found


"I'm naturally interested in knowing all about him, because I have just

become engaged to him," explained Miss Virginia, as calmly as if her pulse

were not fluttering a hundred to the minute

Virginia was essentially a sportsman. She did not flinch from the guns

when the firing was heavy. It had been remarked of her even as a child

that she liked to get unpleasant things over with as soon as possible,

rather than postpone them. Once, aetat eight, she had marched in to her

mother like a stoic and announced: "I've come to be whipped, momsie,

'cause I broke that horrid little Nellie Vaile's doll. I did it on

purpose, 'cause I was mad at her. I'm glad I broke it, so there!"

Hobart paled slightly beneath his outdoors Western tan, but his eyes met

hers very steadily and fairly. "I wish you happiness, Miss Balfour, from

the bottom of my heart."

She nodded a brisk "Thank you," and directed her attention again to the


"Take him by and large, Mr. Ridgway is the most capable, energetic, and

far-sighted business man I have ever known. He has a bigger grasp of

things than almost any financier in the country. I think you'll find he

will go far," he said, choosing his words with care to say as much for

Waring Ridgway as he honestly could.

"I have always thought so," agreed Virginia.

She had reason for thinking so in that young man's remarkable career. When

Waring Ridgway had first come to Mesa he had been a draftsman for the

Consolidated at five dollars a day. He was just out of Cornell, and his

assets consisted mainly of a supreme confidence in himself and an imposing

presence. He was a born leader, and he flung himself into the raw, turbid

life of the mining town with a readiness that had not a little to do with

his subsequent success.

That success began to take tangible form almost from the first. A small,

independent smelter that had for long been working at a loss was about to

fall into the hands of the Consolidated when Ridgway bought it on promises

to pay, made good by raising money on a flying trip he took to the East.

His father died about this time and left him fifty thousand dollars, with

which he bought the Taurus, a mine in which several adventurous spirits

had dropped small fortunes. He acquired other properties; a lease here, an

interest there. It began to be observed that he bought always with

judgment. He seemed to have the touch of Midas. Where other men had lost

money he made it.

When the officers of the Consolidated woke up to the menace of his

presence, one of their lawyers called on him. The agent of the

Consolidated smiled at his luxurious offices, which looked more like a

woman's boudoir than the business place of a Western miner. But that was

merely part of Ridgway's vanity, and did not in the least interfere with

his predatory instincts. Many people who walked into that parlor to do

business played fly to his spider.

The lawyer had been ready to patronize the upstart who had ventured so

boldly into the territory of the great trust, but one glance at the

clear-cut resolute face of the young man changed his mind.

"I've come to make you an offer for your smelter, Mr. Ridgway," he began.

"We'll take it off your hands at the price it cost you."

"Not for sale, Mr. Bartel."

"Very well. We'll give you ten thousand more than you paid for it."

"You misunderstand me. It is not for sale."

"Oh, come! You bought it to sell to us. What can you do with it?"

"Run it," suggested Ridgway.

"Without ore?"

"You forget that I own a few properties, and have leases on others. When

the Taurus begins producing, I'll have enough to keep the smelter going."

"When the Taurus begins producing?"--Bartel smiled skeptically. "Didn't

Johnson and Leroy drop fortunes on that expectation?"

"I'll bet five thousand dollars we make a strike within two weeks."

"Chimerical!" pronounced the graybeard as he rose to go, with an air of

finality. "Better sell the smelter while you have the chance."

"Think not," disagreed Ridgway.

At the door the lawyer turned. "Oh, there's another matter! It had slipped

my mind." He spoke with rather elaborate carelessness. "It seems that

there is a little triangle--about ten and four feet across--wedged in

between the Mary K, the Diamond King, and the Marcus Daly. For some reason

we accidentally omitted to file on it. Our chief engineer finds that you

have taken it up, Mr. Ridgway. It is really of no value, but it is in the

heart of our properties, and so it ought to belong to us. Of course, it is

of no use to you. There isn't any possible room to sink a shaft. We'll

take it from you if you like, and even pay you a nominal price. For what

will you sell?"

Ridgway lit a cigar before he answered: "One million dollars."

"What?" screamed Bartel.

"Not a cent less. I call it the Trust Buster. Before I'm through, you'll

find it is worth that to me."

The lawyer reported him demented to the Consolidated officials, who

declared war on him from that day.

They found the young adventurer more than prepared for them. If he had a

Napoleonic sense of big vital factors, he had no less a genius for detail.

He had already picked up an intimate knowledge of the hundreds of veins

and crossveins that traverse the Mesa copper-fields, and he had delved

patiently into the tangled history of the litigation that the defective

mining laws in pioneer days had made possible. When the Consolidated

attempted to harass him by legal process, he countered by instituting a

score of suits against the company within the week. These had to do with

wills, insanity cases, extra lateral rights, mine titles, and land and

water rights. Wherever Ridgway saw room for an entering wedge to dispute

the title of the Consolidated, he drove a new suit home. To say the least,

the trust found it annoying to be enjoined from working its mines, to be

cited for contempt before judges employed in the interests of its

opponent, to be served with restraining orders when clearly within its

rights. But when these adverse legal decisions began to affect vital

issues, the Consolidated looked for reasons why Ridgway should control the

courts. It found them in politics.

For Ridgway was already dominating the politics of Yuba County, displaying

an amazing acumen and a surprising ability as a stumpspeaker. He posed as

a friend of the people, an enemy of the trust. He declared an eight-hour

day for his own miners, and called upon the Consolidated to do the same.

Hobart refused, acting on orders from Broadway, and fifteen thousand

Consolidated miners went to the polls and reelected Ridgway's corrupt

judges, in spite of the fight the Consolidated was making against them.

Meanwhile, Ridgway's colossal audacity made the Consolidated's copper pay

for the litigation with which he was harassing it. In following his

ore-veins, or what he claimed to be his veins, he crossed boldly into the

territory of the enemy. By the law of extra lateral rights, a man is

entitled to mine within the lines of other property than his own, provided

he is following the dip of a vein which has its apex in his claim.

Ridgway's experts were prepared to swear that all the best veins in the

field apexed in his property. Pending decisions of the courts, they

assumed it, tunneling through granite till they tapped the veins of the

Consolidated mines, meanwhile enjoining that company from working the very

ore of which Ridgway was robbing it.

Many times the great trust back of the Consolidated had him close to ruin,

but Ridgway's alert brain and supreme audacity carried him through. From

their mines or from his own he always succeeded in extracting enough ore

to meet his obligations when they fell due. His powerful enemy, as Hobart

had told Miss Balfour, found him most dangerous when it seemed to have him

with his back to the wall. Then unexpectedly would fall some crushing blow

that put the financial kings of Broadway on the defensive long enough for

him to slip out of the corner into which they had driven him. Greatly

daring, he had the successful cavalryman's instinct of risking much to

gain much. A gambler, his enemies characterized him fitly enough. But it

was also true, as Mesa phrased it, that he gambled "with the lid off,"

playing for large stakes, neither asking nor giving quarter.

At the end of five years of desperate fighting, the freebooter was more

strongly entrenched than he had been at any previous time. The railroads,

pledged to give rebates to the Consolidated, had been forced by Ridgway,

under menace of adverse legislation from the men he controlled at the

State-house, to give him secretly a still better rate than the trust. He

owned the county courts, he was supported by the people, and had become a

political dictator, and the financial outlook for him grew brighter every


Such were the conditions when Judge Purcell handed down his Never Say Die

decision. Within an hour Hobart was reading a telegram in cipher from the

Broadway headquarters. It announced the immediate departure for Mesa of

the great leader of the octopus. Simon Harley, the Napoleon of finance,

was coming out to attend personally to the destruction of the buccaneer

who had dared to fire on the trust flag.

Before night some one of his corps of spies in the employ of the enemy

carried the news to Waring Ridgway. He smiled grimly, his bluegray eyes

hardening to the temper of steel. Here at last was a foeman worthy of his

metal; one as lawless, unscrupulous, daring, and far-seeing as himself,

with a hundred times his resources.