Ridgway of Montana by William MacLeod Raine
Chapter 16. An Explosion in the Taurus
The change of the relationship between Ridgway and his betrothed, brought about by the advent of a third person into his life, showed itself in the manner of their greeting. She had always been chary of lovers' demonstrations, but until his return from Alpine he had been wont to exact his privilege in spite of her reluctance. Now he was content with the hand she offered him.
"You've had a strenuous night of it," he said, after a glance at the rather wan face she offered the new day.
"Yes, we have--and for that matter, I suppose you have, too."
Man of iron that he was, he looked fresh as morning dew. With his usual lack of self-consciousness, he had appropriated Leigh's private bath, and was glowing from contact with ice-cold water and a crash towel.
"We've been making history," he agreed. "How's your friend?"
"She has no fever at all. It was only a scratch. She will be down to breakfast in a minute."
"Good. She must be a thoroughbred to come running down into the bullets for a stranger she has never seen."
"She is. You'll like Laska."
"I'm glad she saved Sam from being made a colander. I can't help liking him, though he doesn't approve of me very much."
"I suppose not."
"He is friendly, too." Ridgway laughed as he recalled their battle over who should be the nominee. "But his conscience rules him. It's a free and liberal conscience, generally speaking--nothing Puritan about it, but a distinctive product of the West. Yet, he would not have me for senator at any price."
"Didn't think I was fit to represent the people; said if I went in, it would be to use the office for my personal profit."
"Wasn't he right?"
"More or less. If I were elected, I would build up my machine, of course, but I would see the people got a show, too."
She nodded agreement. "I don't think you would make a bad senator."
"I would be a live wire, anyhow. Sam had other objections to me. He thought I had been using too much money in this campaign."
"And have you?" she asked, curious to see how he would defend himself.
"Yes. I had to if I were going to stand any chance. It wasn't from choice. I didn't really want to be senator. I can't afford to give the time to it, but I couldn't afford to let Harley name the man either. I was between the devil and the deep sea."
"Then, really, Mr. Yesler came to your rescue."
"That's about it, though he didn't intend it that way."
"And who is to be the senator?"
He gave her a cynical smile. "Warner."
"But I thought--why, surely he--" The surprise of his cool announcement took her breath away.
"No, he isn't the man our combination decided on, but the trouble is that our combination is going to fall through. Sam's an optimist, but you'll see I'm right. There are too many conflicting elements of us in one boat. We can't lose three votes and win, and it's a safe bet we lose them. The Consolidated must know by this time what we have been about all night. They're busy now sapping at our weak links. Our only chance is to win on the first vote, and I am very sure we won't be able to do it."
"0h, I hope you are not right." A young woman was standing in the doorway, her arm in a sling. She had come in time to hear his prophesy, and in the disappointment of it had forgotten that he was a stranger.
Virginia remedied this, and they went in to breakfast. Laska was full of interest, and poured out eager questions at Ridgway. It was not for several minutes that Virginia recollected to ask again who was the man they had decided upon.
Her betrothed found some inner source of pleasure that brought out a sardonic smile. "He's a slap in the face at both Harley and me."
"I can't think who--is he honest?"
"As the day."
"Oh, yes. He's competent enough."
"Yes. He'll do the State credit, or rather he would if he were going to be elected."
"Then I give it up."
He was leaning forward to tell, when the sharp buzz of the electric door-bell, continued and sustained, diverted the attention of all of them.
Ridgway put down his napkin. "Probably some one to see me."
He had risen to his feet when the maid opened the door of the dining-room.
"A gentleman to see Mr. Ridgway. He says it is very important."
From the dining-room they could hear the murmur of quick voices, and soon Ridgway returned. He was a transformed man. His eyes were hard as diamonds, and there was the bulldog look of the fighter about his mouth and chin.
"What is it, Waring?" cried Virginia.
"Trouble in the mines. An hour ago Harley's men rushed the Taurus and the New York, and drove my men out. One of my shift-foremen and two of his drillers were killed by an explosion set off by Mike Donleavy, a foreman in the Copper King."
"Did they mean to kill them?" asked the girl whitely.
"I suppose not. But they took the chance. It's murder just the same--by Jove, it's a club with which to beat the legislators into line."
He stopped, his brain busy solving the problem as to how he might best turn this development to his own advantage. Part of his equipment was his ability to decide swiftly and surely issues as they came to him. Now he strode to the telephone and began massing his forces.
"Main 234--Yes--Yes--This the Sun?--
Give me Brayton--Hello, Brayton. Get out a special edition at once charging Harley with murder. Run the word as a red headline clear across the page. Show that Vance Edwards and the other boys were killed while on duty by an attack ordered by Harley. Point out that this is the logical result of his course. Don't mince words. Give it him right from the shoulder. Rush it, and be sure a copy of the paper is on the desk of every legislator before the session opens this morning. Have a reliable man there to see that every man gets one. Scatter the paper broadcast among the miners, too. This is important."
He hung up the receiver, took it down again, and called up Eaton.
"Hello! This you, Steve? Send for Trelawney and Straus right away. Get them to call a mass meeting of the unions for ten o'clock at the courthouse square. Have dodgers printed and distributed announcing it. Shut down all our mines so that the men can come. I want Straus and Trelawney and two or three of the other prominent labor leaders to denounce Harley and lay the responsibility for this thing right at his door. I'll be up there and outline what they had better say."
He turned briskly round to the young women, his eyes shining with a hard bright light. "I'm sorry, but I have got to cut out breakfast this morning. Business is piling up on me too fast. If you'll excuse me, I'll go now."
"What are you going to do?" asked Virginia.
"I haven't time to tell you now. Just watch my smoke," he laughed without mirth.
No sooner did the news of the tragedy reach Simon Harley than he knew the mistake of his subordinates would be a costly one. The foreman, Donleavy, who had directed the attack on the Taurus, had to be brought from the shafthouse under the protection of a score of Pinkerton detectives to safeguard him from the swift vengeance of the miners, who needed but a word to fling themselves against the cordon of police. Harley himself kept his apartments, the hotel being heavily patrolled by guards on the lookout for suspicious characters. The current of public opinion, never in his favor, now ran swiftly against him, and threats were made openly by the infuriated miners to kill him on sight.
The members of the unions came to the massmeeting reading the story of the tragedy as the Sun colored the affair. They stayed sullenly to listen to red-hot speeches against the leader of the trust, and gradually the wrath which was simmering in them began to boil. Ridgway, always with a keen sense of the psychological moment, descended the court-house steps just as this fury was at its height. There were instant cries for a speech from him so persistent that he yielded, though apparently with reluctance. His fine presence and strong deep voice soon gave him the ears of all that dense throng. He was far out of the ordinary as a public speaker, and within a few minutes he had his audience with him. He deprecated any violence; spoke strongly for letting the law take its course; and dropped a suggestion that they send a committee to the State-house to urge that Harley's candidate be defeated for the senatorship.
Like wild-fire this hint spread. Here was something tangible they could do that was still within the law. Harley had set his mind on electing Warner. They would go up there in a body and defeat his plans. Marshals and leaders of companies were appointed. They fell into ranks by fours, nearly ten thousand of them all told. The big clock in the court-house was striking twelve when they began their march to the Statehouse.