Ridgway of Montana by William MacLeod Raine
Chapter 17. The Election
At the very moment that the tramp of twenty thousand feet turned toward the State-house, the report of the bribery investigating committee was being read to the legislature met in joint session. The committee reported that it had examined seven witnesses, Yesler, Roper, Landor, James, Reedy, Kellor, and Ward, and that each of then had testified that former Congressman Pelton or others had approached him on behalf of Warner; that an agreement had been made by which the eight votes being cast for Bascom would be give to Warner in consideration of $300,000 in cash, to be held in escrow by Yesler, and that the committee now had the said package, supposed to contain the bills for that amount, in its possession, and was prepared to turn it over to the legislature for examination.
Except for the clerk's voice, as he read the report, a dead silence lay tensely over the crowded hall. Men dared not look at their neighbors, scarce dared breathe, for the terror that hung heavy on their hearts. Scores were there who expected their guilt to be blazoned forth for all the world to read. They waited whitely as the monotonous voice of the clerk went from paragraph to paragraph, and when at last he sat down, having named only the bribers and not the receivers of bribes, a long deep sigh of relief swept the house. Fear still racked them, but for the moment they were safe. Furtively their glances began to go from one to another of their neighbors and ask for how long safety would endure.
One could have heard the rustle of a leaf as the chairman of the committee stepped forward and laid on the desk of the presiding officer the incriminating parcel. It seemed an age while the chief clerk opened it, counted the bills, and announced that one hundred thousand dollars was the sum contained within.
Stephen Eaton then rose in his seat and presented quietly his resolution, that since the evidence submitted was sufficient to convict of bribery, the judge of the district court of the County of Mesa be requested to call a special session of the grand jury to investigate the report. It was not until Sam Yesler rose to speak upon that report that the pent-up storm broke loose.
He stood there in the careless garb of the cattleman, a strong clean-cut figure as one would see in a day's ride, facing with unflinching steel-blue eyes the tempest of human passion he had evoked. The babel of voices rose and fell and rose again before he could find a chance to make himself heard. In the gallery two quietly dressed young, women, one of them with her arm in a sling, leaned forward breathlessly and waited Laska's eyes glowed with deep fire. She was living her hour of hours, and the man who stood with such quiet courage the focus of that roar of rage was the hero of it.
"You call me Judas, and I ask you what Christ I have betrayed. You call me traitor, but traitor to what? Like you, I am under oath to receive no compensation for my services here other than that allowed by law. To that oath I have been true. Have you?
"For many weeks we have been living in a carnival of bribery, in a debauched hysteria of money-madness. The souls of men have been sifted as by fire. We have all been part and parcel of a man-hunt, an eager, furious, persistent hunt that has relaxed neither night nor day. The lure of gold has been before us every waking hour, and has pursued us into our dreams. The temptation has been ever-present. To some it has been irresistible, to some maddening, to others, thank God! it has but proved their strength. Our hopes, our fears, our loves, our hates: these seducers of honor have pandered to them all. Our debts and our business, our families and our friendships, have all been used to hound us. To-day I put the stigma for this shame where it belongs--upon Simon Harley, head of the Consolidated and a score of other trusts, and upon Waring Ridgway, head of the Mesa Ore-producing Company. These are the debauchers of our commonwealth's fair name, and you, alas! the traffickers who hope to live upon its virtue. I call upon you to-day to pass this resolution and to elect a man to the United States senate who shall owe no allegiance to any power except the people, or to receive forever the brand of public condemnation. Are you free men? Or do you wear the collar of the Consolidated, the yoke of Waring Ridgway? The vote which you will cast to-day is an answer that shall go flying to the farthest corner of your world, an answer you can never hope to change so long as you live."
He sat down in a dead silence. Again men drew counsel from their fears. The resolution passed unanimously, for none dared vote against it lest he brand himself as bought and sold.
It was in this moment, while the hearts of the guilty were like water, that there came from the lawn outside the roar of a multitude of voices. Swiftly the word passed that ten thousand miner had come to see that Warner was not elected. That they were in a dangerous frame of mind, all knew. It was a passionate undisciplined mob and to thwart them would have been to invite a riot.
Under these circumstances the joint assembly proceeded to ballot for a senator. The first name called was that of Adams. He was an old cattleman and a Democrat.
"Before voting, I want to resign my plate a few moments to Mr. Landor, of Kit Carson County," he said.
Landor was recognized, a big broad-shouldered plainsman with a leathery face as honest as the sun. He was known and liked by everybody, even by those opposed to him.
"I'm going to make a speech," he announced with the broad smile that showed a flash of white teeth. "I reckon it'll be the first I ever made here, and I promise it will be the last, boys. But I won't keep you long, either. You all know how things have been going; how men have been moving in and out and buying men here like as if they were cattle on the hoof. You've seen it, and I've seen it. But we didn't have the nerve to say it should stop. One man did. He's the biggest man in this big State to-day, and it ain't been five minutes since I heard you hollar your lungs out cursing him. You know who I mean--Sam Yesler."
He waited till the renewed storm of cheers and hisses had died away.
"It don't do him any harm for you to hollar at him, boys--not a mite. I want to say to you that he's a man. He saw our old friends falling by the wayside and some of you poor weaklings selling yourselves for dollars. Because he is an honest, game man, he set out to straighten things up. I want to tell you that my hat's off to Sam Yesler.
"But that ain't what I rose for. I'm going to name for the United States senate a clean man, one who doesn't wear either the Harley or the Ridgway brand. He's as straight as a string, not a crooked hair in his head, and every manjack of you knows it. I'm going to name a man"--he stopped an instant to smile genially around upon the circle of uplifted faces--"who isn't any friend of either one faction or another, a man who has just had independence enough to quit a big job because it wasn't on the square. That man's name is Lyndon Hobart. If you want to do yourselves proud, gentlemen, you'll certainly elect him."
If it was a sensation he had wanted to create, he had it. The Warner forces were taken with dumb surprise. But many of them were already swiftly thinking it would be the best way out of a bad business. He would be conservative, as fair to the Consolidated as to the enemy. More, just now his election would appeal to the angry mob howling outside the building, for they could ask nothing more than the election of the man who had resigned rather than order the attack on the Taurus, which had resulted in the death of some of their number.
Hoyle, of the Democrats, seconded the nomination, as also did Eaton, in a speech wherein he defended the course of Ridgway and withdrew his name.
Within a few minutes of the time that Eaton sat down, the roll had been called and Hobart elected by a vote of seventy-three to twenty-four, the others refusing to cast a ballot.
The two young women, sitting together in the front row of the gallery, were glowing with triumphant happiness. Virginia was still clapping her hands when a voice behind her suggested that the circumstances did not warrant her being so happy over the result. She turned, to see Waring Ridgway smiling down at her.
"But I can't help being pleased. Wasn't Mr. Yesler magnificent?"
"Sam was all right, though he might have eased up a bit when he pitched into me."
"He had to do that to be fair. Everybody knows you and he are friends. I think it was fine of him not to let that make any difference in his telling the truth."
"Oh, I knew it would please you," her betrothed laughed. "What do you say to going out to lunch with me? I'll get Sam, too, if I can."
The young women consulted eyes and agreed very readily. Both of them enjoyed being so near to the heart of things.
"If Mr. Yesler will lunch with the debaucher of the commonwealth, we shall be very happy to join the party," said Virginia demurely.
Ridgway led them down to the floor of the House. Through the dense throng they made their way slowly toward him, Ridgway clearing a path with his broad shoulders.
Suddenly they heard him call sharply, "Look out, Sam."
The explosion of a revolver followed sharply his words. Ridgway dived through the press, tossing men to right and left of him as a steamyacht does the waves. Through the open lane he left in his wake, the young women caught the meaning of the turmoil: the crumpled figure was Yesler swaying into the arms of his friend, Roper, the furious drink-flushed face of Pelton and the menace of the weapon poised for a second shot, the swift impact of Waring's body, and the blow which sent the next bullet crashing into the chandelier overhead. All this they glimpsed momentarily before the press closed in on the tragic scene and cut off their view.