Chapter 8. The Honorable Thomas B. Pelton
 

It was next morning that Steve came into Ridgway's offices with a copy of the Rocky Mountain Herald in his hands. As soon as the president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company was through talking with Dalton, the superintendent of the Taurus, about the best means of getting to the cage a quantity of ore he was looting from the Consolidated property adjoining, the treasurer plumped out with his news.

"Seen to-day's paper, Waring? It smokes out Pelton to a finish. They've moled out some facts we can't get away from."

Ridgway glanced rapidly over the paper. "We'll have to drop Pelton and find another candidate for the Senate. Sorry, but it can't be helped. They've got his record down too fine. That affidavit from Quinton puts an end to his chances."

"He'll kick like a bay steer."

"His own fault for not covering his tracks better. This exposure doesn't help us any at best. If we still tried to carry Pelton, we should last about as long as a snowball in hell."

"Shall I send for him?"

"No. He'll be here as quick as he can cover the ground. Have him shown in as soon as he comes. And Steve--did Harley arrive on the eight-thirty this morning?"

"Yes. He is putting up at the Mesa House. He reserved an entire floor by wire, so that he has bed-rooms, dining-rooms, parlors, reception-halls and private offices all together. The place is policed thoroughly, and nobody can get up without an order."

"I haven't been thinking of going up and shooting him, even though it would be a blessing to the country," laughed his chief.

"No, but it is possible somebody else might. This town is full of ignorant foreigners who would hardly think twice of it. If he had asked my advice, it would have been to stay away from Mesa."

"He wouldn't have taken it," returned Ridgway carelessly. "Whatever else is true about him, Simon Harley isn't a coward. He would have told you that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the permission of the distorted God he worships, and he would have come on the next train."

"Well, it isn't my funeral," contributed Steve airily.

"All the same I'm going to pass his police patrols and pay a visit to the third floor of the Mesa House."

"You are going to compromise with him?" cried Eaton swiftly.

"Compromise nothing, I'm going to pay a formal social call on Mrs. Harley, and respectfully hope that she has suffered no ill effects from her exposure to the cold."

Eaton made no comment, unless to whistle gently were one.

"You think it isn't wise "

"Well, is it?" asked Steve.

"I think so. We'll scotch the lying tongue of rumor by a strict observance of the conventions. Madam Grundy is padlocked when we reduce the situation to the absurdity of the common place."

"Perhaps you are right, if it doesn't become too common commonplace."

"I think we may trust Simon Harley to see to that," answered his chief with a grim smile "Obviously our social relations aren't likely to be very intimate. Now it's 'Just before the battle mother,' but once the big guns begin to boor we'll neither of us be in the mood for functions social."

"You've established a sort of claim on him. It wouldn't surprise me if he would meet you halfway in settling the trouble between you," said Eaton thoughtfully.

"I expect he would," agreed Ridgway indifferently as he lit a cigar.

"Well, then?"

"The trouble is that I won't meet him halfway. I can't afford to be reasonable, Steve. Just suppose for an instant that I had been reasonable five years ago when this fight began. They would have bought me out for a miserable pittance of a hundred and fifty thousand or so. That would have been a reasonable figure then. You might put it now at five or six millions, and that would be about right. I don't want their money. I want power, and I'd rather fight for it than not. Besides, I mean to make what I have already wrung from them a lever for getting more. I'm going to show Harley that he has met a man at last he can't either freeze out or bully out. I'm going to let him and his bunch know I'm on earth and here to stay; that I can beat them at their own game to a finish."

"Did it ever occur to you, Waring, that it might pay to make this a limited round contest? You've won on points up to date by a mile, but in a finish fight endurance counts. Money is the same as endurance here, and that's where they are long."

Eaton made this suggestion diffidently, for though he was a stockholder and official of the Mesa Ore-producing Company, he was not used to offering its head unasked advice. The latter, however, took it without a trace of resentment.

"Glad of it, my boy. There's no credit in beating a cripple."

To this jaunty retort Eaton had found no answer when Smythe opened the door to announce the arrival of the Honorable Thomas B. Pelton, very anxious for an immediate interview with Mr. Ridgway.

"Show him in," nodded the president, adding in an aside: "You better stay, Steve."

Pelton was a rotund oracular individual in silk hat and a Prince Albert coat of broadcloth. He regarded himself solemnly as a statesman because he had served two inconspicuous terms in the House at Washington. He was fond of proclaiming himself a Southern gentleman, part of which statement was unnecessary and part untrue. Like many from his section, he had a decided penchant for politics.

"Have you seen the infamous libel in that scurrilous sheet of the gutters the Herald?" he demanded immediately of Ridgway.

"Which libel? They don't usually stop at one, colonel."

"The one, seh, which slanders my honorable name; which has the scoundrelly audacity to charge me with introducing the mining extension bill for venal reasons, seh."

"Oh! Yes, I've seen that. Rather an unfortunate story to come out just now."

"I shall force a retraction, seh, or I shall demand the satisfaction due a Southern gentleman.

"Yes, I would, colonel," replied Ridgway, secretly amused at the vain threats of this bag of wind which had been punctured.

"It's a vile calumny, an audacious and villainous lie."

"What part of it? I've just glanced over it, but the part I read seems to be true. That's the trouble with it. If it were a lie you could explode it."

"I shall deny it over my signature."

"Of course. The trouble will be to get people to believe your denial with Quinton's affidavit staring them in the face. It seems they have got hold of a letter, too, that you wrote. Deny it, of course, then lie low and give the public time to forget it."

"Do you mean that I should withdraw from the senatorial race?"

"That's entirely as you please, colonel, but I'm afraid you'll find your support will slip away from you."

"Do you mean that you won't support me, seh?"

Ridgway locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. "We've got to face facts, colonel. In the light of this exposure you can't be elected."

"But I tell you, by Gad, seh, that I mean to deny it."

"Certainly. I should in your place," agreed the mine-owner coolly. "The question is, how many people are going to believe you?"

Tiny sweat-beads stood on the forehead of the Arkansan. His manner was becoming more and more threatening. "You pledged me your support. Are you going to throw me down, seh?"

"You have thrown yourself down, Pelton. Is it my fault you bungled the thing and left evidence against you? Am I to blame because you wrote incriminating letters?"

"Whatever I did was done for you," retorted the cornered man desperately.

"I beg your pardon. It was done for what was in it for you. The arrangement between us was purely a business one."

The coolness of his even voice maddened the harassed Pelton.

"So I'm to get burnt drawing your chestnuts out of the fire, am I? You're going to stand back and let my career be sacrificed, are you? By Gad, seh, I'll show you whether I'll be your catspaw," screamed the congressman.

"Use your common sense, Pelton, and don't shriek like a fish-wife," ordered Ridgway sharply. "No sane man floats a leaky ship. Go to drydock and patch up your reputation, and in a few years you'll come out as good as new."

All his unprincipled life Pelton had compromised with honor to gain the coveted goal he now saw slipping from him. A kind of madness of despair surged up in him. He took a step threateningly toward the seated man, his hand slipping back under his coat-tails toward his hip pocket. Acridly his high voice rang out.

"As a Southern gentleman, seh, I refuse to tolerate the imputations you cast upon me. I demand an apology here and now, seh."

Ridgway was on his feet and across the room like a flash.

"Don't try to bully me, you false alarm. Call yourself a Southern gentleman! You're a shallow scurvy impostor. No more like the real article than a buzzard is like an eagle. Take your hand from under that coat or I'll break every bone in your flabby body."

Flabby was the word, morally no less than physically. Pelton quailed under that gaze which bored into him like a gimlet. The ebbing color in his face showed he could summon no reserve of courage sufficient to meet it. Slowly his empty hand came forth.

"Don't get excited, Mr. Ridgway. You have mistaken my purpose, seh. I had no intention of drawing," he stammered with a pitiable attempt at dignity.

"Liar," retorted his merciless foe, crowding him toward the door.

"I don't care to have anything more to do with you. Our relations are at an end, seh," quavered Pelton as he vanished into the outer once and beat a hasty retreat to the elevator.

Ridgway returned to his chair, laughing ruefully. "I couldn't help it, Steve. He would have it. I suppose I've made one more enemy."

"A nasty one, too. He'll stick at nothing to get even."

"We'll draw his fangs while there is still time. Get a good story in the Sun to the effect that I quarreled with him as soon as I discovered his connection with this mining extension bill graft. Have it in this afternoon's edition, Steve. Better get Brayton to write it."

Steve nodded. "That's a good idea. We may make capital out of it after all. I'll have an editorial in, too. 'We love him for the enemies he has made.' How would that do for a heading?"

"Good. And now we'll have to look around for a candidate to put against Mott. I'm hanged if I know where we'll find one."

Eaton had an inspiration.

"I do?"

"One that will run well, popular enough to catch the public fancy?"

"Yes."

"Who, then?"

"Waring Ridgway."

The owner of the name stared at his lieutenant in astonishment, but slowly the fascination o the idea sank in.

"By Jove! Why not?"