Ridgway of Montana by William MacLeod Raine
Chapter 21. Harley Scores
What Harley had sought in the subornation of Eaton had been as much the moral effect of his defection as the tangible results themselves. If he could shake the confidence of the city and State in the freebooter's victorious star, he would have done a good day's work. He wanted the impression to spread that Ridgway's success had passed its meridian.
Nor did he fail of his purpose by more than a hair's breadth. The talk of the street saw the beginning of the end. The common voice ran: "It's 'God help Ridgway' now. He's down and out."
But Waring Ridgway was never more dangerous than in apparent defeat. If he were hit hard by Eaton's treachery, no sign of it was apparent in the jaunty insouciance of his manner. Those having business with him expected to find him depressed and worried, but instead met a man the embodiment of vigorous and confident activity. If the subject were broached, he was ready to laugh with them at Eaton's folly in deserting at the hour when victory was assured.
It was fortunate for Ridgway that the county elections came on early in the spring and gave him a chance to show that his power was still intact. He arranged to meet at once the political malcontents of the State who were banded together against the growing influence of the Consolidated. He had a few days before called together representative men from all parts of the State to discuss a program of action against the enemy, and Ridgway gave a dinner for them at the Quartzite, the evening of Eaton's defection.
He was at the critical moment when any obvious irresolution would have been fatal. His allies were ready to concede his defeat if he would let them. But he radiated such an assured atmosphere of power, such an unconquerable current of vigor, that they could not escape his own conviction of unassailability. He was at his genial, indomitable best, the magnetic charm of fellowship putting into eclipse the selfishness of the man. He had been known to boast of his political exploits, of how he had been the Warwick that had made and unmade governors and United States senators; but the fraternal "we" to-night replaced his usual first person singular.
The business interests of the Consolidated were supreme all over the State. That corporation owned forests and mills and railroads and mines. It ran sheep and cattle-ranches as well as stores and manufactories. Most of the newspapers in the State were dominated by it. Of a population of two hundred and fifty thousand, it controlled more than half directly by the simple means of filling dinner-pails. That so powerful a corporation, greedy for power and wealth, should create a strong but scattered hostility in the course of its growth, became inevitable. This enmity Ridgway proposed to consolidate into a political organization, with opposition to the trust as its cohesive principle, that should hold the balance of power in the State.
When he rose to explain his object in calling them together, Ridgway's clear, strong presentment of the situation, backed by his splendid bulk and powerful personality, always bold and dramatic, shocked dormant antagonisms to activity as a live current does sluggish inertia. For he had eminently the gift of moving speech. The issue was a simple one, he pointed out. Reduced to ultimates, the question was whether the State should control the Consolidated or the Consolildated the State. With simple, telling force he faced the insidious growth of the big copper company, showing how every independent in the State was fighting for his business life against its encroachments, and was bound to lose unless the opposition was a united one. Let the independents obtain and keep control of the State politically and the trust might be curbed; not otherwise. In eternal vigilance and in union lay safety.
He sat down in silence more impressive than any applause. But after the silence came a deluge of cheers, the thunder of them sweeping up and down the long table like a summer storm across a lake.
Presently the flood-gates of talk were unloosed, and the conservatives began to be heard. Opposition was futile because it was too late, they claimed. A young Irishman, primed for the occasion, jumped to his feet with an impassioned harangue that pedestaled Ridgway as the Washington of the West. He showed how one man, in coalition with the labor-unions, had succeeded in carrying the State against the big copper company; how he had elected senators and governors, and legislators and judges. If one man could so cripple the octopus, what could the best blood of the State, standing together, not accomplish? He flung Patrick Henry and Robert Emmet and Daniel Webster at their devoted heads, demanding liberty or death with the bridled eloquence of his race.
But Ridgway was not such a tyro at the game of politics as to depend upon speeches for results. His fine hand had been working quietly for months to bring the malcontents into one camp, shaping every passion to which men are heir to serve his purpose. As he looked down the table he could read in the faces before him hatred, revenge, envy, fear, hope, avarice, recklessness, and even love, as the motives which he must fuse to one common end. His vanity stood on tiptoe at his superb skill in playing on men's wills. He knew he could mold these men to work his desire, and the sequel showed he was right.
When the votes were counted at the end of the bitter campaign that followed, Simon Harley's candidates went down to disastrous defeat all over the State, though he had spent money with a lavish hand. In Mesa County, Ridgway had elected every one of his judges and retired to private life those he could not influence.
Harley's grim lips tightened when the news reached him. "Very well," he said to Mott "We'll see if these patriots can't be reached through their stomachs better than their brains. Order every mill and mine and smelter of the Consolidated closed to-night. Our employees have voted for this man Ridgway. Let him feed them or let them starve."
"But the cost to you--won't it be enormous?" asked Mott, startled at his chief's drastic decision.
Harley bared his fangs with a wolfish smile. "We'll make the public pay. Our store-houses are full of copper. Prices will jump when the supply is reduced fifty per cent. We'll sell at an advance, and clean up a few millions out of the shut-down. Meanwhile we'll starve this patriotic State into submission."
It came to pass even as Harley had predicted. With the Consolidated mines closed, copper, jumped up--up--up. The trust could sit still and coin money without turning a hand, while its employees suffered in the long, bitter Northern winter. All the troubles usually pursuant on a long strike began to fall upon the families of the miners.
When a delegation from the miners' union came to discuss the situation with Harley he met them blandly, with many platitudes of sympathy. He regretted--he regretted exceedingly--the necessity that had been forced upon him of closing the mines. He had delayed doing so in the hope that the situation might be relieved. But it had grown worse, until he had been forced to close. No, he was afraid he could not promise to reopen this winter, unless something were done to ameliorate conditions in the court. Work would begin at once, however, if the legislators would pass a bill making it optional with any party to a suit to have the case transferred to another judge in case he believed the bias of the presiding judge would be prejudicial to an impartial hearing.
Ridgway was flung at once upon the defensive. His allies, the working men, demanded of him that his legislature pass the bill wanted by Harley, in order that work might recommence. He evaded their demands by proposing to arbitrate his difficulties with the Consolidated, by offering to pay into the union treasury hall a million dollars to help carry its members through the winter. He argued to the committee that Harley was bluffing, that within a few weeks the mines and smelters would again be running at their full capacity; but when the pressure on the legislators he had elected became so great that he feared they would be swept from their allegiance to him, he was forced to yield to the clamor.
It was a great victory for Harley. Nobody recognized how great a one more accurately than Waring Ridgway. The leader of the octopus had dogged him over the shoulders of the people, had destroyed at a single blow one of his two principal sources of power. He could no longer rely on the courts to support him, regardless of justice.
Very well. If he could not play with cogged dice, he was gambler enough to take the honest chances of the game without flinching. No despair rang in his voice. The look in his eye was still warm and confident. Mesa questioned him with glimpses friendly but critical. They found no fear in his bearing, no hint of doubt in his indomitable assurance.