Ridgway of Montana by William MacLeod Raine
Chapter 14. A Conspiracy
Tucked away in an obscure corner of the same issue of the papers which announced the resignation of Lyndon Hobart as manager of the Consolidated properties, and the appointment of James K. Mott as his temporary successor, were little one-stick paragraphs regarding explosions, which had occurred the night before in tunnels of the Taurus and the New York. The general public paid little attention to these, but those on the inside knew that Ridgway had scored again. His spies had carried the news to him of the projected capture of these two properties by the enemy. Instead of attempting to defend them by force, he had set of charges of giant powder which had brought down the tunnel roofs and effectually blocked the entrances from the Consolidated mines adjoining.
With the indefatigable patience which characterized him, Harley set about having the passages cleared of the rock and timber with which they were filled. Before he had succeeded in doing this his enemy struck another telling blow. From Judge Purcell he secured an injunction against the Consolidated from working its mines, the Diamond King, the Mary K, and the Marcus Daly, on the absurd contention that the principal ore-vein of the Marcus Daly apexed on the tin, triangle wedged in between these three great mines, and called by Ridgway the Trust Buster. Though there was not room enough upon this fragment to sink a shaft, it was large enough to found this claim of a vein widening as it descended until it crossed into the territory of each of these properties. Though Harley could ignore court injunctions which erected only under-ground territory, he was forced to respect this one, since it could not be violated except in the eyes of the whole country. The three mines closed down, and several thousand workmen were thrown out of employment. These were immediately reemployed by Ridgway and set to work both in his own and the Consolidated's territory.
Within a week a dozen new suits were instituted against the Consolidated by its enemy. He harassed it by contempt proceedings, by applications for receiverships, and by other ingenious devices, which greatly tormented the New York operator. For the first time in his life the courts, which Harley had used to much advantage in his battles to maintain and extend the trusts he controlled, could not be used even to get scant justice.
Meanwhile both leaders were turning their attention to the political situation. The legislators were beginning to gather for the coming session, and already the city was full of rumors about corruption. For both the Consolidated and its enemy were making every effort to secure enough votes to win the election of a friendly United States senator. The man chosen would have the distribution of the federal patronage of the State. This meant the control of the most influential local politicians of the party in power at Washington as well as their followers, an almost vital factor for success in a State where political corruption had so interwoven itself into the business life of the community.
The hotel lobbies were filled with politicians gathered from every county in the State. Big bronzed cattlemen brushed shoulders with budding lawyers from country towns and ward bosses from the larger cities. The bars were working overtime, and the steady movement of figures in the corridors lasted all day and most of the night. Here and there were collected groups, laughing and talking about the old frontier days, or commenting in lowered tones on some phase of the feverish excitement that was already beginning to be apparent. Elevators shot up and down, subtracting and adding to the kaleidoscope of human life in the rotundas. Bellboys hurried to and fro with messages and cocktails. The ring of the telephone-bell cut occasionally into the deep hum of many voices. All was confusion, keen interest, expectancy.
For it was known that Simon Harley had sent for $300,000 in cold cash to secure the election of his candidate, Roger D. Warner, a lawyer who had all his life been close to corporate interests. It was known, too, that Waring Ridgway had gathered together every element in the State that opposed the domination of the Consolidated, to fight their man to a finish. Bets for large sums were offered and taken as to the result, heavy odds being given in favor of the big copper trust's candidate. For throughout the State at large the Consolidated influence was very great indeed. It owned forest lands and railroads and mines. It controlled local transportation largely. Nearly one-half the working men in the State were in its employ. Into every town and village the ramifications of its political organization extended. The feeling against it was very bitter, but this was usually expressed in whispers. For it was in a position to ruin almost any business man upon whom it fastened a grudge, and to make wealthy any upon whom it chose to cast its favors.
Nevertheless, there were some not so sure that the Consolidated would succeed in electing its man. Since Ridgway had announced himself as a candidate there had been signs of defection on the part of some of those expected to vote for Warner. He had skillfully wielded together in opposition to the trust all the elements of the State that were hostile to it; and already the word was being passed that he had not come to the campaign without a barrel of his own.
The balloting for United States senator was not to begin until the eighth day of the session, but the opening week was full of a tense and suppressed excitement. It was known that agents of both sides were moving to and fro among the representatives and State senators, offering fabulous prices for their votes and the votes of any others they might be able to control. Men who had come to the capital confident in their strength and integrity now looked at their neighbors furtively and guiltily. Day by day the legislators were being debauched to serve the interest of the factions which were fighting for control of the State. Night after night secret meetings were being held in out-of-the-way places to seduce those who clung desperately to their honesty or held out for a bigger price. Bribery was in the air, rampant, unashamed. Thousand-dollar bills were as common as ten-dollar notes in ordinary times.
Sam Yesler, commenting on the situation to his friend Jack Roper, a fellow member of the legislature who had been a cattleman from the time he had given up driving a stage thirty years before, shook his head dejectedly over his blue points.
"I tell you, Jack, a man has to be bed-rocked in honesty or he's gone. Think of it. A country lawyer comes here who has never seen five thousand dollars in a lump sum, and they shove fifteen thousand at him for his vote. He is poor, ambitious, struggling along from hand to mouth. I reckon we ain't in a position to judge that poor devil of a harassed fellow. Mebbe he's always been on the square, came here to do what was right, we'll say, but he sees corruption all round him. How can he help getting a warped notion of things? He sees his friends and his neighbors falling by the wayside. By God, it's got to the point in this legislature that an honest man's an object of obloquy."
"That's right," agreed Roper. "Easy enough for us to be square. We got good ranches back of us and can spend the winter playing poker at the Mesa Club if we feel like it. But if we stood where Billy George and Garner and Roberts and Munz do, I ain't so damn sure my virtue would stand the strain. Can you reach that salt, Sam?"
"Billy George has got a sick wife, and he's been wanting to send her back to her folks in the East, but he couldn't afford it. The doctors figured she ought to stay a year, and Billy would have to hire a woman to take care of his kids. I said to him: 'Hell, Billy, what's a friend for?' And I shoves a check at him. He wouldn't look at it; said he didn't know whether he could ever pay it, and he had not come down to charity yet."
"Billy's a white man. That's what makes me sick. Right on top of all his bad luck he comes here and sees that everybody is getting a big roll. He thinks of that white-faced wife of his dragging herself round among the kids and dying by inches for lack of what money can buy her. I tell you I don't blame him. It's the fellows putting the temptation up to him that ought to be strung up."
"I see that hound Pelton's mighty active in it. He's got it in for Ridgway since Waring threw him down, and he's plugging night and day for Warner. Stays pretty well tanked up. Hopper tells me he's been making threats to kill Waring on sight."
"I heard that and told Waring. He laughed and said he hoped he would live till Pelton killed him. I like Waring. He's got the guts, as his miners say. But he's away off on this fight. He's using money right and left just as Harley is."
Yesler nodded. "The whole town's corrupted. It takes bribery for granted. Men meet on the street and ask what the price of votes is this morning. Everybody feels prosperous."
"I heard that a chambermaid at the Quartzite Hotel found seven thousand dollars in big bills pinned to the bottom of a mattress in Garner's room yesterday. He didn't dare bank it, of course."
"Poor devil! He's another man that would like to be honest, but with the whole place impregnated with bribery he couldn't stand the pressure. But after this is all over he'll go home to his wife and his neighbors with the canker of this thing at his heart until he dies. I tell you, Jack, I'm for stopping it if we can."
"There's one way. I've been approached indirectly by Pelton, to deliver our vote to the Consolidated. Suppose we arrange to do it, get evidence, and make a public exposure."
They were alone in a private dining-room of a restaurant, but Yesler's voice had fallen almost to a whisper. With his steady gray eyes he looked across at the man who had ridden the range with him fifteen years ago when he had not had a sou to bless himself with.
Roper tugged at his long drooping mustache and gazed at his friend. "It's a large order, Sam, a devilish large order. Do you reckon we could deliver?"
"I think so. There are six of us that will stand pat at any cost. If we play our cards right and keep mum the surprise of it is bound to shake votes loose when we spring the bomb. The whole point is whether we can take advantage of that surprise to elect a decent man. I don't say it can be done, but there's a chance of it."
The old stage-driver laughed softly. "We'll be damned good and plenty by both sides."
"Of course. It won't be a pleasant thing to do, but then it isn't exactly pleasant to sit quiet and let these factions use the State as a pawn in their game of grab."
"I'm with you, Sam. Go to it, my boy, and I'll back you to the limit."
"We had better not talk it over here. Come to my room after dinner and bring Landor and James with you. I'll have Reedy and Keller there. I'll mention casually that it's a big game of poker, and I'll have cards and drinks sent up. You want to remember we can't be too careful. If it leaks out we lose."
"I'm a clam, Sam. Do you want I should speak of it to Landor and James?"
"Better wait till we get together."
"What about Ward? He's always been with us."
"He talks too much. We can take him in at the last minute if we like."
"That would be better. I ain't so sure about Reedy, either. He's straight as a string, of course; not a crooked hair in his head. But when he gets to drinking he's likely to let things out."
"You're right. We'll leave him out, too, until the last minute. There's another thing I've thought of. Ridgway can't win. At least I don't see how he can control more than twenty five votes. Suppose at the very last moment we make a deal with him and with the Democrats to pool our votes on some square man. With Waring it's anything to beat the Consolidated. He'll jump at the chance if he's sure he is out of the running himself. Those of the Democrats that Harley can't buy will be glad to beat his man. I don't say it can be done, Jack. All I say is that it is worth a trial."
They met that night in Yesler's rooms round a card-table. The hands were dealt for form's sake, since there were spies everywhere, and it was necessary to ring for cigars and refreshments occasionally to avoid suspicion. They were all cattlemen, large or small, big outdoors sunburned men, who rode the range in the spring and fall with their punchers and asked no odds of any man.
Until long past midnight they talked the details over, and when they separated in the small hours it was with a well-defined plan to save the State from its impending disgrace if the thing could be done.