Ridgway of Montana by William MacLeod Raine
Chapter 9. An Evening Call
"Says you're to come right up, Mr. Ridgway," the bell-hop reported, and after he had pocketed his tip, went sliding off across the polished floor to answer another call.
The president of the Mesa Ore-producing Company turned with a good-humored smile to the chief clerk.
"You overwork your boys, Johnson. I wasn't through with that one. I'll have to ask you to send another up to show me the Harley suite."
They passed muster under the eye of the chief detective, and, after the bell-boy had rung, were admitted to the private parlor where Simon Harley lay stretched on a lounge with his wife beside him. She had been reading, evidently aloud and when her visitor was announced rose with her finger still keeping the place in the closed book.
The gaze she turned on him was of surprise, almost of alarm, so that the man on the threshold knew he was not expected.
"You received my card?" he asked quickly.
"No. Did you send one?" Then, with a little gesture of half-laughing irritation: "It must have gone to Mr. Harvey again. He is Mr. Harley's private secretary, and ever since we arrived it has been a comedy of errors. The hotel force refuses to differentiate."
"I must ask you to accept my regrets for an unintentional intrusion, Mrs. Harley. When I was told to come up, I could not guess that my card had gone amiss."
The great financier had got to his feet and now came forward with extended hand.
"Nevertheless we are glad to see you, Mr. Ridgway, and to get the opportunity to express our thanks for all that you have done for us."
The cool fingers of the younger man touched his lightly before they met those of his wife.
"Yes, we are very glad, indeed, to see you, Mr. Ridgway," she added to her husband's welcome.
"I could not feel quite easy in my mind without hearing from your own lips that you are none the worse for the adventures you have suffered," their visitor explained after they had found seats.
"Thanks to you, my wife is quite herself again, Mr. Ridgway," Harley announced from the davenport. "Thanks also to God, who so mercifully shelters us beneath the shadow of His wing."
But her caller preferred to force from Aline's own lips this affidavit of health. Even his audacity could not ignore his host entirely, but it gave him the least consideration possible. To the question which still rested in his eyes the girl-wife answered shyly.
"Indeed, I am perfectly well. I have done nothing but sleep to-day and yesterday. Miss Yesler was very good to me. I do not know how I can repay the great kindness of so many friends," she said with a swift descent of fluttering lashes to the soft cheeks upon which a faint color began to glow.
"Perhaps they find payment for the service in doing it for you," he suggested.
"Yet, I shall take care not to forget it," Harley said pointedly.
"Indeed!" Ridgway put it with polite insolence, the hostility in his face scarcely veiled.
"It has pleased Providence to multiply my portion so abundantly that I can reward those well who serve me."
"At how much do you estimate Mrs. Harley's life?" his rival asked with quiet impudence.
In the course of the past two days Aline had made the discovery that her husband and her rescuer were at swords drawn in a business way. This had greatly distressed her, and in her innocence she had resolved to bring them together. How could her inexperience know that she might as well have tried to induce the lion and the lamb to lie down together peaceably? Now she tried timidly to drift the conversation from the awkwardness into which Harley's suggestion of a reward and his opponent's curt retort had blundered it.
"I hope you did not find upon your return that your business was disarranged so much as you feared it might be by your absence."
"I found my affairs in very good condition," Ridgway smiled. "But I am glad to be back in time to welcome to Mesa you--and Mr. Harley."
"It seems so strange a place," the girl ventured, with a hesitation that showed her anxiety not to offend his local pride. "You see I never before was in a place where there was no grass and nothing green in sight. And to-night, when I looked out of the window and saw streams of red-hot fire running down hills, I thought of Paradise Lost and Dante. I suppose it doesn't seem at all uncanny to you?"
"At night sometimes I still get that feeling, but I have to cultivate it a bit," he confessed. "My sober second thought insists that those molten rivers are merely business, refuse disgorged as lava from the great smelters."
"I looked for the sun to-day through the pall of sulphur smoke that hangs so heavy over the town, but instead I saw a London gas-lamp hanging in the heavens. Is it always so bad?"
"Not when the drift of the wind is right. In fact, a day like this is quite unusual."
"I'm glad of that. I feel more cheerful in the sunshine. I know that's a bit of the child still left in me. Mr. Harley takes all days alike."
The Wall Street operator was in slippers and house-jacket. His wife, too, was dressed comfortably in some soft clinging stuff. Their visitor saw that they had disposed themselves for a quiet uninterrupted evening by the fireside. The domesticity of it all stirred the envy in him. He did not want her to be contented and at peace with his enemy. Something deeper than his vanity cried out in protest against it.
She was still making talk against the gloom of the sulphur fog which seemed to have crept into the spirit of the room.
"We were reading before you came in, Mr. Ridgway. I suppose you read a good deal. Mr. Harley likes to have me read aloud to him when he is tired."
An impulse came upon Ridgway to hear her, some such impulse as makes a man bite on sore tooth even though he knows he must pay later for it.
"Will you not go on with your reading? I should like to hear it. I really should."
She was a little taken aback, but she looked inquiringly at her husband, who bowed silently.
"I was just beginning the fifty-ninth psalm. We have been reading the book through. Mr. Harley finds great comfort in it," she explained.
Her eyes fell to the printed page and her clear, sweet voice took up the ancient tale of vengeance
"Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men.
"For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord. They run and prepare themselves without my fault: awake to help me, and behold.
"Thou, therefore, O Lord God of Hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah."
Ridgway glanced across in surprise at the strong old man lying on the lounge. His hands were locked in front of him, and his gaze rested peacefully on the fair face of the child reading. His foe's mind swept up the insatiable cruel years that lay behind this man, and he marveled that with such a past he could still hold fast to that simple faith of David. He wondered whether this ruthless spoiler went back to the Old Testament for the justification of his life, or whether his credo had given the impulse to his career. One thing he no longer doubted: Simon Harley believed his Bible implicitly and literally, and not only the New Testament.
"For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips even be taken in their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak.
"Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth."
The fresh young girlish voice died away into silence. Harley, apparently deep in meditation, gazed at the ceiling. His guest felt a surge of derision at this man who thought he had a compact with God to rule the world for his benefit.
"I am sure Mr. Harley must enjoy the Psalms a great deal," he said ironically, but it was in simple faith the young wife answered eagerly:
"He does. He finds so much in them that is applicable to life."
"I can see how he might," agreed the young man.
"Few people take their religion so closely into their every-day lives as he does," she replied in a low voice, seeing that her husband was lost in thought.
"I am sure you are right."
"He is very greatly misunderstood, Mr. Ridgway. I am sure if people knew how good he is-- But how can they know when the newspapers are so full of falsehoods about him? And the magazines are as bad, he says. It seems to be the fashion to rake up bitter things to say about prominent business men. You must have noticed it."
"Yes. I believe I have noticed that," he answered with a grim little laugh.
"Don't you think it could be explained to these writers? They can't want to distort the truth. It must be they don't know."
"You must not take the muckrakers too seriously. They make a living roasting us. A good deal of what they say is true in a way. Personally, I don't object to it much. It's a part of the penalty of being successful. That's how I look at it."
"Do they say bad things about you, too?" she asked in open-eyed surprise.
"Occasionally," he smiled. "When they think I'm important enough."
"I don't see how they can," he heard her murmur to herself.
"Oh, most of what they say is true."
"Then I know it can't be very bad," she made haste to answer.
"You had better read it and see."
"I don't understand business at all," she said
"But--sometimes it almost frightens me. Business isn't really like war, is it?"
"A good deal like it. But that need not frighten you. All life is a battle--sometimes, at least. Success implies fighting."
"And does that in turn imply tragedy--for the loser?"
"Not if one is a good loser. We lose and make another start."
"But if success is a battle, it must be gained at the expense of another."
"Sometimes. But you must look at it in a big way." The secretary of the trust magnate had come in and was in low-toned conversation with him. The visitor led her to the nearest window and drew back the curtains so that they looked down on the lusty life of the turbid young city, at the lights in the distant smelters and mills, at the great hill opposite, with its slagdumps, gallows-frames and shaft-houses black against the dim light, which had yielded its millions and millions of tons of ore for the use of mankind. "All this had to be fought for. It didn't grow of itself. And because men fought for it, the place is what it is. Sixty thousand people live here, fed by the results of the battle. The highest wages in the world are paid the miners here. They live in rough comfort and plenty, whereas in the countries they came from they were underpaid and underfed. Is that not good?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"Life for you and for me must be different, thank God. You are in the world to make for the happiness of those you meet. That is good. But unless I am to run away from my work, what I do must make some unhappy. I can't help that if I am to do big things. When you hear people talking of the harm I do, you will remember what I have told you to-night, and you will think that a man and his work cannot be judged by isolated fragments."
"Yes," she breathed softly, for she knew that this man was saying good-by to her and was making his apologia.
"And you will remember that no matter how bitter the fight may grow between me and Mr. Harley, it has nothing to do with you. We shall still be friends, though we may never meet again."
"I shall remember that, too," he heard her murmur.
"You have been hoping that Mr. Harley and I would be friends. That is impossible. He came out here to crush me. For years his subordinates have tried to do this and failed. I am the only man alive that has ever resisted him successfully. I don't underestimate his power, which is greater than any czar or emperor that ever lived, but I don't think he will succeed. I shall win because I understand the forces against me. He will lose because he scorns those against him."
"I am sorry. Oh, I am so sorry," she wailed, gently as a breath of summer wind. For she saw now that the cleavage between them was too wide for a girl's efforts to bridge.
"That I am going to win?" he smiled gravely.
"That you must be enemies; that he came here to ruin you, since you say he did."
"You need not be too hard on him for that. By his code I am a freebooter and a highwayman. Business offers legitimate ways of robbery, and I transgress them. His ways are not my ways, and mine are not his, but it is only fair to say that his are the accepted ones."
"I don't understand it at all. You are both good men. I know you are. Surely you need not be enemies."
But she knew she could hope for no reassurance from the man beside her.
Presently she led him back across the big room to the fireplace near where her husband lay. His secretary had gone, and he was lying resting on the lounge. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "Has Mr. Ridgway been pointing out to you the places of interest?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, dear." The last word came hesitantly after the slightest of pauses. "He says he must be going now."
The head of the greatest trust on earth got to his feet and smiled benignantly as he shook hands with the departing guest. "I shall hope to see you very soon and have a talk regarding business, Mr. Ridgway," he said.
"Whenever you like, Mr. Harley." To the girl he said merely, "Good night," and was gone.
The old man put an arm affectionately across his young wife's shoulder.
"Shall we read another psalm, my dear? Or are you tired?"
She repressed the little shiver that ran through her before she answered wearily. "I am a little tired. If you don't mind I would like to retire, please."
He saw her as far as the door of her apartments and left her with her maid after he had kissed the cold cheek she dutifully turned toward him.