Chapter 13. First Blood
 

After Ridgway's cavalier refusal to negotiate a peace treaty, Simon Harley and his body-guard walked back to the offices of the Consolidated, where they arrived at the same time as the news of the enemy's first blow since the declaration of renewed war.

Hobart was at his desk with his ear to the telephone receiver when the great financier came into the inner office of the manager.

"Yes. When? Driven out, you say? Yes--yes. Anybody hurt? Followed our men through into our tunnel? No, don't do anything till you hear from me. Send Rhys up at once. Let me know any further developments that occur."

Hobart hung up the receiver and turned on his swivel-chair toward his chief. "Another outrage, sir, at the hands of Ridgway. It is in regard to those veins in the Copper King that he claims. Dalton, his superintendent of the Taurus, drove a tunnel across our lateral lines and began working them, though their own judge has not yet rendered a decision in their favor.

Of course, I put a large force in them at once. To-day we tapped their workings at the twelfth level. Our foreman, Miles, has just telephoned me that Dalton turned the air pressure on our men, blew out their candles, and flung a mixture of lime and rocks at them. Several of the men are hurt, though none badly. It seems that Dalton has thrown a force into our tunnels and is holding the entrances against us at the point where the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth levels touch the cage. It means that he will work those veins, and probably others that are acknowledged to be ours, unless we drive them out, which would probably be a difficult matter."

Harley listened patiently, eyes glittering and clean-shaven lips pressed tightly against his teeth. "What do you propose to do?"

"I haven't decided yet. If we could get any justice from the courts, an injunction "

"Can't be got from Purcell. Don't waste time considering it. Fight it out yourself. Find his weakest spot, then strike hard and suddenly." Harley's low metallic voice was crisp and commanding.

"His weakest spot?"

"Exactly. Has he no mines upon which we can retaliate?"

"There is the Taurus. It lies against the Copper King end to end. He drove a tunnel into some of our workings last winter. That would give a passageway to send our men through, if we decide to do so. Then there is his New York. Its workings connect with those of the Jim Hill."

"Good! Send as many men through as is necessary to capture and hold both mines. Get control of the entire workings of them both, and begin taking ore out at once. Station armed guards at every point where it is necessary, and as many as are necessary. Use ten thousand men, if you need that many. But don't fail. We'll give Ridgway a dose of his own medicine, and teach him that for every pound of our ore he steals we'll take ten."

"He'll get an injunction from the courts."

"Let him get forty. I'll show him that his robber courts will not save him. Anyhow, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Hobart, almost swept from his moorings by the fiery energy of his chief, braced himself to withstand the current.

"I shall have to think about that. We can't fight lawlessness with lawlessness except for selfpreservation."

"Think! You do nothing but think, Mr. Hobart. You are here to act," came the scornful retort; "And what is this but self-preservation."

"I am willing to recapture our workings in the Copper King. I'll lead the attack in person, sir. But as to a retaliatory attack--the facts will not justify a capture of his property because he has seized ours."

"Wrong, sir. This is no time for half-way measures. I have resolved to crush this freebooter; since he has purchased your venal courts, then by the only means left us--force."

Hobart rose from his seat, very pale and erect. His eyes met those of the great man unflinchingly. "You realize that this may mean murder, Mr. Harley? That a clash cannot possibly be avoided if you pursue this course?"

"I realize that it is self-preservation," came the cold retort. "There is no law here, none, at least, that gives us justice. We are back to savagery, dragged back by the madness of this ruffian. It is his choice, not mine. Let him abide by it."

"Your intention to follow this course is irrevocable?"

"Absolutely."

"In that case, I must regretfully offer my resignation as manager of the Consolidated."

"It is accepted, Mr. Hobart. I can't have men working under me that are not loyal, body and soul, to the hand that feeds them. No man can serve two masters, Mr. Hobart."

"That is why I resign, Mr. Harley. You give me the devil's work to do. I have done enough of it. By Heaven, I will be a free man hereafter." The disgust and dissatisfaction that had been pent within him for many a month broke forth hot from the lips of this self-repressed man. "It is all wrong on both sides. Two wrongs do not make a right. The system of espionage we employ over everybody both on his side and ours, the tyrannical use we make of our power, the corruption we foster in politics, our secret bargains with railroads, our evasions of law as to taxes, and in every other way that suits us: it is all wrong--all wrong. I'll be a party to it no longer. You see to what it leads--murder and anarchy. I'll be a poor man if I must, but I'll be a free and honest one at least."

"You are talking wickedly and wildly, Mr. Hobart. You are criticizing God when you criticize the business conditions he has put into the world. I did not know that you were a socialist, but what you have just said explains your course," the old man reproved sadly and sanctimonious.

"I am not a socialist, Mr. Harley, but you and your methods have made thousands upon thousands of them in this country during the past ten years."

"We shall not discuss that, Mr. Hobart, nor, indeed, is any discussion necessary. Frankly, I am greatly disappointed in you. I have for some time been dissatisfied with your management, but I did not, of course, know you held these anarchistic views. I want, however, to be perfectly just. You are a very good business man indeed, careful and thorough. That you have not a bold enough grasp of mind for the place you hold is due, perhaps, to these dangerous ideas that have unsettled you. Your salary will be continued for six months. Is that satisfactory?"

"No, sir. I could not be willing to accept it longer than to-day. And when you say bold enough, why not be plain and say unscrupulous enough?" amended the younger man.

"As you like. I don't juggle with words. The point is, you don't succeed. This adventurer, Ridgway, scores continually against you. He has beaten you clear down the line from start to finish. Is that not true?"

"Because he does not hesitate to stoop to anything, because--"

"Precisely. You have given the very reason why he must be fought in the same spirit. Business ethics would be as futile against him as chivalry in dealing with a jungle-tiger."

"You would then have had me stoop to any petty meanness to win, no matter how contemptible?"

The New Yorker waved him aside with a patient, benignant gesture. "I don't care for excuses. I ask of my subordinates success. You do not get it for me. I must find a man who can."

Hobart bowed with fine dignity. The touch of disdain in his slight smile marked his sense of the difference between them. He was again his composed rigid self.

"Can you arrange to allow my resignation to take effect as soon as possible? I should prefer to have my connection with the company severed before any action is taken against these mines."

"At once--to-day. Your resignation may be published in the Herald this afternoon, and you will then be acquitted of whatever may follow."

"Thank you." Hobart hesitated an instant before he said: "There is a point that I have already mentioned to you which, with your permission, I must again advert to. The temper of the miners has been very bitter since you refused to agree to Mr. Ridgway's proposal for an eight-hour day. I would urge upon you to take greater precautions against a personal attack. You have many lawless men among your employees. They are foreigners for the most part, unused to self-restraint. It is only right you should know they execrate your name."

The great man smiled blandly. "Popularity is nothing to me. I have neither sought it nor desired it. Given a great work to do, with the Divine help I have done it, irrespective of public clamor. For many years I have lived in the midst of alarms, Mr. Hobart. I am not foolhardy. What precautions I can reasonably take I do. For the rest, my confidence is in an all-wise Providence. It is written that not even a sparrow falls without His decree. In that promise I put my trust. If I am to be cut off it can only be by His will. 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' Such, I pray, may be the humble and grateful spirit with which I submit myself to His will."

The retiring manager urged the point no further. "If you have decided upon my successor and he is on the ground I shall be glad to give the afternoon to running over with him the affairs of the office. It would be well for him to retain for a time my private secretary and stenographer."

"Mr. Mott will succeed you. He will no doubt be glad to have your assistance in helping him fall into the routine of the office, Mr. Hobart."

Harley sent for Mott at once and told him of his promotion. The two men were closeted together for hours, while trusted messengers went and came incessantly to and from the mines. Hobart knew, of course, that plans were in progress to arm such of the Consolidated men as could be trusted, and that arrangements were being made to rush the Taurus and the New York. Everything was being done as secretly as possible, but Hobart's experience of Ridgway made it obvious to him that this excessive activity could not pass without notice. His spies, like those of the trust, swarmed everywhere.

It was not till mid-afternoon of the next day that Mott found time to join him and run over with him the details of such unfinished business as the office had taken up. The retiring manager was courtesy itself, nor did he feel any bitterness against his successor. Nevertheless, he came to the end of office hours with great relief. The day had been a very hard one, and it left him with a longing for solitude and the wide silent spaces of the open hills. He struck out in the direction which promised him the quickest opportunity to leave the town behind him. A good walker, he covered the miles rapidly, and under the physical satisfaction of the tramp the brain knots unraveled and smoothed themselves out. It was better so--better to live his own life than the one into which he was being ground by the inexorable facts of his environment. He was a young man and ambitious, but his hopes were not selfish. At bottom he was an idealist, though a practical one. He had had to shut his eyes to many things which he deplored, had been driven to compromises which he despised. Essentially clean-handed, the soul of him had begun to wither at the contact of that which he saw about him and was so large a part of.

"I am not fit for it. That is the truth. Mott has no imagination, and property rights are the most sacred thing on earth to him. He will do better at it than I," he told himself, as he walked forward bareheaded into the great sunset glow that filled the saddle between two purple hills in front of him.

As he swung round a bend in the road a voice, clear and sweet. came to him through the light filtered air.

"Laska!"

young woman on horseback was before him. Her pony stood across the road, and she looked up a trail which ran down into it. The lifted poise of the head brought out its fine lines and the distinction with which it was set upon the well-molded throat column. Apparently she was calling to some companion on the trail who had not yet emerged into view.

At sound of his footsteps the rider's head turned.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Hobart," she said quietly, as coolly as if her heart had not suddenly begun to beat strangely fast.

"Good afternoon, Miss Balfour."

Each of them was acutely conscious of the barrier between them. Since the day when she had told him of her engagement they had not met, even casually, and this their first sight of each other was not without embarrassment.

"We have been to Lone Pine Cone," she said rather hurriedly, to bridge an impending silence.

He met this obvious statement with another as brilliant.

"I walked out from town. My horse is a little lame."

But there was something she wanted to say to him, and the time for saying it, before the arrival of her companion, was short. She would not waste it in commonplaces.

"I don't usually read the papers very closely, but this morning I read both the Herald and the Sun. Did you get my note?"

"Your note? No."

"I sent it by mail. I wanted you to know that your friends are proud of you. We know why you resigned. It is easy to read between the lines."

"Thank you," he said simply. "I knew you would know."

"Even the Sun recognizes that it was because you are too good a man for the place."

"Praise from the Sun has rarely shone my way," he said, with a touch of irony, for that paper was controlled by the Ridgway interest. "In its approval I am happy."

Her impulsive sympathy for this man whom she so greatly liked would not accept the rebuff imposed by this reticence. She stripped the gauntlet from her hand and offered it in congratulation.

He took it in his, a slight flush in his face.

"I have done nothing worthy of praise. One cannot ask less of a man than that he remain independent and honest. I couldn't do that and stay with the Consolidated, or, so it seemed to me. So I resigned. That is all there is to it."

"It is enough. I don't know another man would have done it, would have had the courage to do it after his feet were set so securely in the way of success. The trouble with Americans is that they want too much success. They want it at too big a price."

"I'm not likely ever to have too much of it," he laughed sardonically.

"Success in life and success in living aren't the same thing. It is because you have discovered this that you have sacrificed the less for the greater." She smiled, and added: "I didn't mean that to sound as preachy as it does."

"I'm afraid you make too much of a small thing. My squeamishness has probably made me the laughing-stock of Mesa."

"If so, that is to the discredit of Mesa," she insisted stanchly. "But I don't think so. A great many people who couldn't have done it themselves will think more of you for having done it."

Another pony, which had been slithering down the steep trail in the midst of a small rock slide, now brought its rider safely to a halt in the road. Virginia introduced them, and Hobart, remembered that he had heard Miss Balfour speak of a young woman whom she had met on the way out, a Miss Laska Lowe, who was coming to Mesa to teach domestic science in the public schools. There was something about the young teacher's looks that he liked, though she was of a very different type than Virginia. Not at all pretty in any accepted sense, she yet had a charm born of the vital honesty in her. She looked directly at one out of sincere gray eyes, wide-awake and fearless. As it happened, her friend had been telling her about Hobart, and she was interested in him from the first. For she was of that minority which lives not by bread alone, and she felt a glow of pride in the man who could do what the Sun had given this man credit for editorially.

They talked at haphazard for a few minutes before the young women cantered away. As Hobart trudged homeward he knew that in the eyes of these two women, at least, he had not been a fool.