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- RIDGWAY OF MONTANA - 1/37 -


RIDGWAY OF MONTANA

(STORY OF TO-DAY, IN WHICH THE HERO IS ALSO THE VILLAIN)

by WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

To JEAN

AND THAT KINGDOM

"Where you and I through this world's weather Work, and give praise and thanks together."

WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE CONTENTS

1. Two Men and a Woman 2. The Freebooter 3. One to One 4. Fort Salvation 5. Enter Simon Harley 6. On the Snow-trail 7. Back from Arcadia 8. The Honorable Thomas B. Pelton 9. An Evening Call 10. Harley Makes a Proposition 11. Virginia Intervenes 12. Aline Makes a Discovery 13. First Blood 14. A Conspiracy 15. Laska Opens a Door 16. An Explosion in the Taurus 17. The Election 18. Further Developments 19. One Million Dollars 20. A Little Lunch at Alphonse's 21. Harley Scores 22. "Not Guilty"--"Guilty" 23. Aline Turns a Corner 24. A Good Samaritan 25. Friendly Enemies 26. Breaks One and Makes Another Engagement

WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

by WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

CHAPTER 1. TWO MEN AND A WOMAN

"Mr. Ridgway, ma'am."

The young woman who was giving the last touches to the very effective picture framed in her long looking-glass nodded almost imperceptibly.

She had come to the parting of the ways, and she knew it, with a shrewd suspicion as to which she would choose. She had asked for a week to decide, and her heart-searching had told her nothing new. It was characteristic of Virginia Balfour that she did not attempt to deceive herself. If she married Waring Ridgway it would be for what she considered good and sufficient reasons, but love would not be one of them. He was going to be a great man, for one thing, and probably a very rich one, which counted, though it would not be a determining factor. This she could find only in the man himself, in the masterful force that made him what he was. The sandstings of life did not disturb his confidence in his victorious star, nor did he let fine-spun moral obligations hamper his predatory career. He had a genius for success in whatever he undertook, pushing his way to his end with a shrewd, direct energy that never faltered. She sometimes wondered whether she, too, like the men he used as tools, was merely a pawn in his game, and her consent an empty formality conceded to convention. Perhaps he would marry her even if she did not want to, she told herself, with the sudden illuminating smile that was one of her chief charms.

But Ridgway's wary eyes, appraising her mood as she came forward to meet him, read none of this doubt in her frank greeting. Anything more sure and exquisite than the cultivation Virginia Balfour breathed he would have been hard put to it to conceive. That her gown and its accessories seemed to him merely the extension of a dainty personality was the highest compliment he could pay her charm, and an entirely unconscious one.

"Have I kept you waiting?" she smiled, giving him her hand.

His answering smile, quite cool and unperturbed, gave the lie to his words. "For a year, though the almanac called it a week."

"You must have suffered," she told him ironically, with a glance at the clear color in his good-looking face.

"Repressed emotion," he explained. "May I hope that my suffering has reached a period?"

They had been sauntering toward a little conservatory at the end of the large room, but she deflected and brought up at a table on which lay some books. One of these she picked up and looked at incuriously for a moment before sweeping them aside. She rested her hands on the table behind her and leaned back against it, her eyes meeting his fairly.

"You're still of the same mind, are you?" she demanded.

"Oh! very much."

She lifted herself to the table, crossing her feet and dangling them irresponsibly. "We might as well be comfy while we talk;" and she indicated, by a nod, a chair.

"Thanks. If you don't mind, I think I'll take it standing."

She did not seem in any hurry to begin, and Ridgway gave evidence of no desire to hasten her. But presently he said, with a little laugh that seemed to offer her inclusion in the joke:

"I'm on the anxious seat, you know--waiting to find out whether I'm to be the happiest man alive."

"You know as much about it as I do." She echoed his laugh ruefully. "I'm still as much at sea as I was last week. I couldn't tell then, and I can't now."

"No news is good news, they say."

"I don't want to marry you a bit, but you're a great catch, as you are very well aware."

"I suppose I am rather a catch," he agreed, the shadow of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

"It isn't only your money; though, of course, that's a temptation," she admitted audaciously.

"I'm glad it's not only my money." He could laugh with her about it because he was shrewd enough to understand that it was not at all his wealth. Her cool frankness might have frightened away another man. It merely served to interest Ridgway. For, with all his strength, he was a vain man, always ready to talk of himself. He spent a good deal of his spare time interpreting himself to attractive and attracted young women.

Her gaze fastened on the tip of her suede toe, apparently studying it attentively. "It would be a gratification to my vanity to parade you as the captive of my bow and spear. You're such a magnificent specimen, such a berserk in broadcloth. Still. I shan't marry you if I can help it--but, then, I'm not sure that I can help it. Of course, I disapprove of you entirely, but you're rather fascinating, you know." Her eye traveled slowly up to his, appraising the masterful lines of his square figure, the dominant strength of his close-shut mouth and resolute eyes. "Perhaps 'fascinating' isn't just the word, but I can't help being interested in you, whether I like you or not. I suppose you always get what you want very badly?" she flung out by way of question.

"That's what I'm trying to discover"--he smiled.

"There are things to be considered both ways," she said, taking him into her confidence. "You trample on others. How do I know you wouldn't tread on me?"

"That would be one of the risks you would take," he agreed impersonally.

"I shouldn't like that at all. If I married you it would be because as your wife I should have so many opportunities. I should expect to do exactly as I please. I shouldn't want you to interfere with me, though I should want to be able to influence you."

"Nothing could be fairer than that," was his amiably ironical comment.

"You see, I don't know you--not really--and they say all sorts of things about you."

"They don't say I am a quitter, do they?"

She leaned forward, chin in hand and elbow on knee. It was a part of the accent of her distinction that as a rebel she was both demure and daring. "I wonder if I might ask you some questions--the intimate kind that people think but don't say--at least, they don't say them to you."

"It would be a pleasure to me to be put on the witness-stand. I should probably pick up some interesting side-lights about myself."

"Very well." Her eyes danced with excitement. "You're what they call a buccaneer of business, aren't you?"

Here were certainly diverting pastimes. "I believe I have been called that; but, then, I've had the hardest names in the dictionary thrown at me so often that I can't be sure."

"I suppose you are perfectly unscrupulous in a business way--stop at nothing to gain your point?"

He took her impudence smilingly.


RIDGWAY OF MONTANA - 1/37

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