By Upton Sinclair
To Jack London
"I am," said Reggie Mann, "quite beside myself to meet this Lucy Dupree."
"Who told you about her?" asked Allan Montague.
"Ollie's been telling everybody about her," said Reggie. "It sounds really wonderful. But I fear he must have exaggerated."
"People seem to develop a tendency to exaggeration," said Montague, "when they talk about Lucy."
"I am in quite a state about her," said Reggie.
Allan Montague looked at him and smiled. There were no visible signs of agitation about Reggie. He had come to take Alice to church, and he was exquisitely groomed and perfumed, and wore a wonderful scarlet orchid in his buttonhole. Montague, lounging back in a big leather chair and watching him, smiled to himself at the thought that Reggie regarded Lucy as a new kind of flower, with which he might parade down the Avenue and attract attention.
"Is she large or small?" asked Reggie.
"She is about your size," said Montague,—which was very small indeed.
Alice entered at this moment in a new spring costume. Reggie sprang to his feet, and greeted her with his inevitable effusiveness.
When he asked, "Do you know her, too?"
"Who? Lucy?" asked Alice. "I went to school with her."
"Judge Dupree's plantation was next to ours," said Montague. "We all grew up together."
"There was hardly a day that I did not see her until she was married," said Alice. "She was married at seventeen, you know—to a man much older than herself."
"We have never seen her since that," added the other. "She has lived in New Orleans."
"And only twenty-two now," exclaimed Reggie. "All the wisdom of a widow and the graces of an ingenue!" And he raised his hands with a gesture of admiration.
"Has she got money?" he asked.
"She had enough for New Orleans," was the reply. "I don't know about New York."
"Ah well," he said meditatively, "there's plenty of money lying about."
He took Alice away to her devotions, leaving Montague to the memories which the mention of Lucy Dupree awakened.
Allan Montague had been in love with Lucy a half a dozen times in his life; it had begun when she was a babe in arms, and continued intermittently until her marriage. Lucy was a beauty of the creole type, with raven-black hair and gorgeous colouring; and Allan carried with him everywhere the face of joy, with the quick, mobile features across which tears and laughter chased like April showers across the sky.
Lucy was a tiny creature, as he had said, but she was a well-spring of abounding energy. She had been the life of a lonely household from the first hour, and all who came near her yielded to her spell. Allan remembered one occasion when he had entered the house and seen the grave and venerable chief justice of the State down upon his hands and knees, with Lucy on his back.
She was a born actress, everybody said. When she was no more than four, she would lie in bed when she should have been asleep, and tell herself tragic stories to make her weep. Before long she had discovered several chests full of the clothes which her mother had worn in the days when she was a belle of the old plantation society; and then Lucy would have tableaus and theatricals, and would astonish all beholders in the role of an Oriental princess or a Queen of the Night.
Her mother had died when she was very young, and she had grown up with only her father for a companion. Judge Dupree was one of the rich men of the neighbourhood, and he lavished everything upon his daughter; but people had said that Lucy would suffer for the lack of a woman's care, and the prophecy had been tragically fulfilled. There had come a man, much older than herself, but with a glamour of romance about him; and the wonder of love had suddenly revealed itself to Lucy, and swept her away as no emotion had ever done before.
One day she disappeared, and Montague had never seen her again. He knew that she had gone to New Orleans to live, and he heard rumours that she was very unhappy, that her husband was a spendthrift and a rake. Scarcely a year after her marriage Montague heard the story of his death by an accident while driving.
He had heard no more until a short time after his coming to New York, when the home papers had reported the death of Judge Dupree. And then a week or so ago had come a letter from Lucy, to his brother, Oliver Montague, saying that she was coming to New York, perhaps to live permanently, and asking him to meet her and to engage accommodations for her in some hotel.
Montague wondered what she would be like when he saw her again. He wondered what five years of suffering and experience would have done for her; whether it would have weakened her enthusiasm and dried up her springs of joy. Lucy grown serious was something that was difficult for him to imagine.
And then again would come a mood of doubt, when he distrusted the thrill which the memory of her brought. Would she be able to maintain her spell in competition with what life had brought him since?
His revery was broken by Oliver, who came in to ask him if he wished to go to meet her. "Those Southern trains are always several hours late," he said. "I told my man to go over and 'phone me."
"You are to have her in charge," said Montague; "you had better see her first. Tell her I will come in the evening." And so he went to the great apartment hotel—the same to which Oliver had originally introduced him. And there was Lucy.
She was just the same. He could see it in an instant; there was the same joyfulness, the same eagerness; there was the same beauty, which had made men's hearts leap up. There was not a line of care upon her features—she was like a perfect flower come to its fulness.
She came to him with both her hands outstretched. "Allan!" she cried, "Allan! I am so glad to see you!" And she caught his hands in hers and stood and gazed at him. "My, how big you have grown, and how serious! Isn't he splendid, Ollie?"
Oliver stood by, watching. He smiled drily. "He is a trifle too epic for me," he said.
"Oh, my, how wonderful it seems to see you!" she exclaimed. "It makes me think of fifty things at once. We must sit down and have a long talk. It will take me all night to ask you all the questions I have to."
Lucy was in mourning for her father, but she had contrived to make her costume serve as a frame for her beauty. She seemed like a flaming ruby against a background of black velvet. "Tell me how you have been," she rushed on. "And what has happened to you up here? How is your mother?"
"Just the same," said Montague; "she wants you to come around to-morrow morning."
"I will," said Lucy,—"the first thing, before I go anywhere. And Mammy Lucy! How is Mammy Lucy?"
"She is well," he replied. "She's beside herself to see you."
"Tell her I am coming!" said she. "I would rather see Mammy Lucy than the Brooklyn Bridge!"
She led him to a seat, placed herself opposite him, devouring him with her eyes. "It makes me seem like a girl again to see you," she said.
"Do you count yourself aged?" asked Montague, laughing.
"Oh, I feel old," said Lucy, with a sudden look of fear,—"you have no idea, Allan. But I don't want anybody to know about it!" And then she cried, eagerly, "Do you remember the swing in the orchard? And do you remember the pool where the big alligator lived? And the persimmons? And Old Joe?"
Allan Montague remembered all these things; in the course of the half hour that followed he remembered pretty nearly all the exciting adventures which he and Oliver and Lucy had had since Lucy was old enough to walk. And he told her the latest news about all their neighbours, and about all the servants whom she remembered. He told her also about his father's death, and how the house had been burned, and how they had sold the plantation and come North.
"And how are you doing, Allan?" she asked.
"I am practising law," he said. "I'm not making a fortune, but I'm managing to pay my bills. That is more than some other people do in this city."
"I should imagine it," said Lucy. "With all that row of shops on Fifth Avenue! Oh, I know I shall spend all that I own in the first week. And this hotel—why, it's perfectly frightful."
"Oliver has told you the prices, has he?" said Montague, with a laugh.
"He has taken my breath away," said Lucy. "How am I ever to manage such things?"
"You will have to settle that with him," said Montague. "He has taken charge, and he doesn't want me to interfere."
"But I want your advice," said Lucy. "You are a business man, and Ollie never was anything but a boy."
"Ollie has learned a good deal since he has been in New York," the other responded.
"I can tell you my side of the case very quickly," he went on after a moment's pause. "He brought me here, and persuaded me that this was how I ought to live if I wanted to get into Society. I tried it for a while, but I found that I did not like the things I had to do, and so I quit. You will find us in an apartment a couple of blocks farther from Fifth Avenue, and we only pay about one-tenth as much for it. And now, whether you follow me or Ollie depends upon whether you want to get into Society."
Lucy wrinkled her brows in thought. "I didn't come to New York to bury myself in a boarding-house," she said. "I do want to meet people."
"Well," said Montague, "Oliver knows a lot of them, and he will introduce you. Perhaps you will like them—I don't know. I am sure you won't have any difficulty in making them like you."
"Thank you, sir," said Lucy. "You are as ingenuous as ever!"
"I don't want to say anything to spoil your pleasure," said the other. "You will find out about matters for yourself. But I feel like telling you this—don't you be too ingenuous. You can't trust people quite so freely here as you did at home."
"Thank you," said Lucy. "Ollie has already been lecturing me. I had no idea it was such a serious matter to come to New York. I told him that widows were commonly supposed to know how to take care of themselves."
"I had a rather bad time of it myself, getting adjusted to things," said Montague, smiling. "So you must make allowances for my forebodings."
"I've told Lucy a little about it," put in Oliver, drily.
"He told me a most fascinating love story!" said Lucy, gazing at him with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "I shall certainly look out for the dazzling Mrs. Winnie."
"You may meet her to-morrow night," put in Oliver. "You are invited to dinner at Mrs. Billy Alden's."
"I have read about Mrs. Billy in the newspapers," said Lucy. "But I never expected to meet her. How in the world has Oliver managed to jump so into the midst of things?"
Oliver undertook to explain; and Montague sat by, smiling to himself over his brother's carefully expurgated account of his own social career. Oliver had evidently laid his plans to take charge of Lucy, and to escort her to a high seat upon the platform of Society.
"But tell me, all this will cost so much money!" Lucy protested. "And I don't want to have to marry one of these terrible millionaires."
She turned to Montague abruptly. "Have you got an office somewhere down town?" she asked. "And may I come to-morrow, and see you, and get you to be my business adviser? Old Mr. Holmes is dead, you know. He used to be father's lawyer, and he knew all about my affairs. He never thought it worth while to explain anything to me, so now I don't know very well what I have or what I can do."
"I will do all I can to help you," Montague answered.
"And you must be very severe with me," Lucy continued, "and not let me spend too much money, or make any blunders. That was the way Mr. Holmes used to do, and since he is dead, I have positively been afraid to trust myself about."
"If I am to play that part for you," said Montague, laughing, "I am afraid we'll very soon clash with my brother."
Montague had very little confidence in his ability to fill the part. As he watched Lucy, he had a sense of tragedy impending. He knew enough to feel sure that Lucy was not rich, according to New York standards of wealth; and he felt that the lure of the city was already upon her. She was dazzled by the vision of automobiles and shops and hotels and theatres, and all the wonders which these held out to her. She had come with all her generous enthusiasms; and she was hungry with a terrible hunger for life.
Montague had been through the mill, and he saw ahead so clearly that it was impossible for him not to try to guide her, and to save her from the worst of her mistakes. Hence arose a strange relationship between them; from the beginning Lucy made him her confidant, and told him all her troubles. To be sure, she never took his advice; she would say, with her pretty laugh, that she did not want him to keep her out of trouble, but only to sympathise with her afterwards. And Montague followed her; he told himself again and again that there was no excuse for Lucy; but all the while he was making excuses.
She went over the next morning to see Oliver's mother, and Mammy Lucy, who had been named after her grandmother. Then in the afternoon she went shopping with Alice—declaring that it was impossible for her to appear anywhere in New York until she had made herself "respectable." And then in the evening Montague called for her, and took her to Mrs. Billy Alden's Fifth Avenue palace.
On the way he beguiled the time by telling her about the terrible Mrs. Billy and her terrible tongue; and about the war between the great lady and her relatives, the Wallings. "You must not be surprised," he said, "if she pins you in a corner and asks all about you. Mrs. Billy is a privileged character, and the conventions do not apply to her."
Montague had come to take the Alden magnificence as a matter of course by this time, but he felt Lucy thrill with excitement at the vision of the Doge's palace, with its black marble carvings and its lackeys in scarlet and gold. Then came Mrs. Billy herself, resplendent in dark purple brocade, with a few ropes of pearls flung about her neck. She was almost tall enough to look over the top of Lucy's head, and she stood away a little so as to look at her comfortably.
"I tried to have Mrs. Winnie here for you," she said to Montague, as she placed him at her right hand. "But she was not able to come, so you will have to make out with me."
"Have you many more beauties like that down in Mississippi?" she asked, when they were seated. "If so, I don't see why you came up here."
"You like her, do you?" he asked.
"I like her looks," said Mrs. Billy. "Has she got any sense? It is quite impossible to believe that she's a widow. She needs someone to take care of her just the same."
"I will recommend her to your favour," said Montague. "I have been telling her about you."
"What have you told her?" asked Mrs. Billy, serenely,—"that I win too much money at bridge, and drink Scotch at dinner?" Then, seeing Montague blush furiously, she laughed. "I know it is true. I have caught you thinking it half a dozen times."
And she reached out for the decanter which the butler had just placed in front of her, and proceeded to help herself to her opening glass.
Montague told her all about Lucy; and, in the meantime, he watched the latter, who sat near the centre of the table, talking with Stanley Ryder. Montague had played bridge with this man once or twice at Mrs. Winnie's, and he thought to himself that Lucy could hardly have met a man who would embody in himself more of the fascinations of the Metropolis. Ryder was president of the Gotham Trust Company, an institution whose magnificent marble front was one of the sights of Fifth Avenue. He was a man a trifle under fifty, tall and distinguished-looking, with an iron-grey mustache, and the manners of a diplomat. He was not only a banker, he was also a man of culture; he had run away to sea in his youth, and he had travelled in every country of the world. He was also a bit of an author, in an amateur way, and if there was any book which he had not dipped into, it was not a book of which one would be apt to hear in Society. He could talk upon any subject, and a hostess who could secure Stanley Ryder for one of her dinner-parties generally counted upon a success. "He doesn't go out much, these busy days," said Mrs. Billy. "But I told him about your friend."
Now and then the conversation at the table would become general, and Montague noticed that it was always Ryder who led. His flashes of wit shot back and forth across the table; and those who matched themselves against him seldom failed to come off the worse. It was an unscrupulous kind of wit, dazzling and dangerous. Ryder was the type of man one met now and then in Society, who had adopted radical ideas for the sake of being distinguished. It was a fine thing for a man who had made a brilliant success in a certain social environment to shatter in his conversation all the ideals and conventions of that environment, and thus to reveal how little he really cared for the success which he had won.
It was very entertaining at a dinner-party; but Montague thought to himself with a smile how far was Stanley Ryder from the type of person one imagined as the head of an enormous and flourishing bank. When they had adjourned to the drawing-room, he capped the climax of the incongruity by going to the piano and playing a movement from some terrible Russian suite.
Afterwards Montague saw him stroll off to the conservatory with Lucy Dupree. There were two people too many for bridge, and that was a good excuse; but none the less Montague felt restless during the hours that he sat at table and let Mrs. Billy win his money.
After the ordeal was over and the party had broken up, he found his friend sitting by the side of the fountain in Mrs. Billy's conservatory, gazing fixedly in front of her, while Ryder at her side was talking.
"You met an interesting man," he said, when they had got settled in the carriage.
"One of the most extraordinary men I ever met," said Lucy, quickly. "I wish that you would tell me about him. Do you know him well?"
"I have heard him talk some, and I know him in a business way."
"Is he so very rich?" she asked.
"He has a few millions," said he. "And I suppose he is turning them over very rapidly. People say that he is a daring speculator."
"A speculator!" exclaimed Lucy. "Why, I thought that he was the president of a bank!"
"When you have been in New York awhile," said Montague, with a smile, "you will realise that there is nothing incompatible in the two."
Lucy was silent, a little staggered at the remark. "I am told," Montague added, with a smile, "that even Ryder's wife won't keep her money in the Gotham Trust."
Montague had not anticipated the effect of this remark. Lucy gave a sudden start. "His wife!" she exclaimed.
"Why, yes," said Montague. "Didn't you know that he was married?"
"No," said Lucy, in a low voice. "I did not."
There was a long silence. Finally she asked, "Why was not his wife invited to the dinner?"
"They seldom go out together," said Montague.
"Have they separated?" she asked.
"There is a new and fashionable kind of separation," was the answer. "They live in opposite sides of a large mansion, and meet on formal occasions."
"What sort of a woman is she?" asked Lucy,
"I don't know anything about her," he replied.
There was a silence again. Finally Montague said, "There is no cause to be sorry for him, you understand."
And Lucy touched his hand lightly with hers.
"That's all right, Allan," she said. "Don't worry. I am not apt to make the same mistake twice."
It seemed to Montague that there was nothing to be said after that.
Lucy wanted to come down to Montague's office to talk business with him; but he would not put her to that trouble, and called the next morning at her apartment before he went down town. She showed him all her papers; her father's will, with a list of his property, and also the accounts of Mr. Holmes, and the rent-roll of her properties in New Orleans. As Montague had anticipated, Lucy's affairs had not been well managed, and he had many matters to look into and many questions to ask. There were a number of mortgages on real estate and buildings, and, on the other hand, some of Lucy's own properties were mortgaged, a state of affairs which she was not able to explain. There were stocks in several industrial companies, of which Montague knew but little. Last and most important of all, there was a block of five thousand shares in the Northern Mississippi Railroad.
"You know all about that, at any rate," said Lucy. "Have you sold your own holdings yet?"
"No," said Montague. "Father wished me to keep the agreement as long as the others did."
"I am free to sell mine, am I not?" asked Lucy.
"I should certainly advise you to sell it," said Montague. "But I am afraid it will not be easy to find a purchaser."
The Northern Mississippi was a railroad with which Montague had grown up, so to speak; there was never a time in his recollection when the two families had not talked about it. It ran from Atkin to Opala, a distance of about fifty miles, connecting at the latter point with one of the main lines of the State. It was an enterprise which Judge Dupree had planned, as a means of opening up a section of country in the future of which he had faith.
It had been undertaken at a time when distrust of Wall Street was very keen in that neighbourhood; and Judge Dupree had raised a couple of million dollars among his own friends and neighbours, adding another half-million of his own, with a gentlemen's agreement among all of them that the road would not ask favours of Northern capitalists, and that its stock should never be listed on the Exchanges. The first president had been an uncle of Lucy's, and the present holder of the office was an old friend of the family's.
But the sectional pride which had raised the capital could not furnish the traffic. The towns which Judge Dupree had imagined did not materialise, and the little railroad did not keep pace with the progress of the time. For the last decade or so its properties had been depreciating and its earnings falling off, and it had been several years since Montague had drawn any dividends upon the fifty thousand dollars' worth of stock for which his father had paid par value.
He was reminded, as he talked about all this with Lucy, of a project which had been mooted some ten or twelve years ago, to extend the line from Atkin so as to connect with the plant of the Mississippi Steel Company, and give that concern a direct outlet toward the west. The Mississippi Steel Company had one of the half dozen largest plate and rail mills in the country, and the idea of directing even a small portion of its enormous freight was one which had incessantly tantalised the minds of the directors of the Northern Mississippi.
They had gone so far as to conduct a survey, and to make a careful estimate of the cost of the proposed extension. Montague knew about this, because it had chanced that he, together with Lucy's brother, who was now in California, had spent part of his vacation on a hunting trip, during which they had camped near the surveying party. The proposed line had to find its way through the Talula swamps, and here was where the uncertainty of the project came in. There were a dozen routes proposed, and Montague remembered how he had sat by the campfire one evening, and got into conversation with one of the younger men of the party, and listened to his grumbling about the blundering of the survey. It was his opinion that the head-surveyor was incompetent, that he was obstinately rejecting the best routes in favour of others which were almost impossible.
Montague had taken this gossip to his father, but he did not know whether his father had ever looked into the matter. He only knew that when the project for the proposed extension had been brought up at a stockholders' meeting, the cost of the work was found so great that it was impossible to raise the money. A proposal to go to the Mississippi Steel Company was voted down, because Mississippi Steel was in the hands of Wall Street men; and neither Judge Dupree nor General Montague had realised at that time the hopelessness of the plight of the little railroad.
All these matters were brought up in the conversation between Lucy and Montague. There was no reason, he assured her, why they should still hold on to their stock; if, by the proposed extension, or by any other plan, new capitalists could make a success of the company, it would be well to make some combination with them. or, better yet, to sell out entirely. Montague promised that he would take the matter in hand and see what he could do.
His first thought, as he went down town, was of Jim Hegan. "Come and see me sometime," Hegan had said, and Montague had never accepted the invitation. The Northern Mississippi would, of course, be a mere bagatelle to a man like Hegan, but who could tell what new plans he might be able to fit it into? Montague knew by the rumours in the street that the great financier had sold out all his holdings in two or three of his most important ventures.
He went at once to Hegan's office, in the building of one of the great insurance companies downtown. He made his way through corridors of marble to a gate of massively ornamented bronze, behind which stood a huge guardian in uniform, also massively ornamented. Montague generally passed for a big man, but this personage made him feel like an office-boy.
"Is Mr. Hegan in?" he asked.
"Do you call by appointment?" was the response.
"Not precisely," said Montague, producing a card. "Will you kindly send this to Mr. Hegan?"
"Do you know Mr. Hegan personally?" the man demanded.
"I do," Montague answered.
The other had made no sign, as far as Montague could make out, but at this moment a dapper young secretary made his appearance from the doors behind the gate. "Would you kindly state the business upon which you wish to see Mr. Hegan?" he said.
"I wish to see Mr. Hegan personally," Montague answered, with just a trifle of asperity, "If you will kindly take in this card, it will be sufficient."
He submitted with what grace he could to a swift inspection at the secretary's hands, wondering, in the meantime, if his new spring overcoat was sufficiently up-to-date to entitle him, in the secretary's judgment, to be a friend of the great man within. Finally the man disappeared with the card, and half a minute later came back, smiling effusively. He ushered Montague into a huge office with leather-cushioned chairs large enough to hold several people each, and too large for any one person to be comfortable in. There was a map of the continent upon the wall, across which Jim Hegan's railroads stretched like scarlet ribbons. There were also heads of bison and reindeer, which Hegan had shot himself.
Montague had to wait only a minute or two, and then he was escorted through a chain of rooms, and came at last to the magnate's inner sanctum. This was plain, with an elaborate and studied plainness, and Jim Hegan sat in front of a flat mahogany desk which had not a scrap of paper anywhere upon it.
He rose as the other came in, stretching out his huge form. "How do you do, Mr. Montague?" he said, and shook hands. Then he sat down in his chair, and settled back until his head rested on the back, and bent his great beetling brows, and gazed at his visitor.
The last time that Montague had met Hegan they had talked about horses, and about old days in Texas; but Montague was wise enough to realise that this had been in the evening. "I have come on a matter of business, Mr. Hegan," he said. "So I will be as brief as possible."
"A course of action which I do my best to pardon," was the smiling reply.
"I want to propose to you to interest yourself in the affairs of the Northern Mississippi Railroad," said the other.
"The Northern Mississippi?" said Hegan, knitting his brows. "I have never heard of it."
"I don't imagine that many people have," the other answered, and went on to tell the story of the line.
"I have five hundred shares of the stock myself," he said, "but it has been in my family for a long time, and I am perfectly satisfied to let it stay there. I am not making this proposition on my own account, but for a client who has a block of five thousand shares. I have here the annual reports of the road for several years, and some other information about its condition. My idea was that you might care to take the road, and make the proposed extension to the works of the Mississippi Steel Company."
"Mississippi Steel!" exclaimed Hegan. He had evidently heard of that.
"How long ago did you say it was that this plan was looked into?" he asked. And Montague told him the story of the survey, and what he himself had heard about it.
"That sounds curious," said Hegan, and bent his brows, evidently in deep thought. "I will look into the matter," he said, finally. "I have no plans of my own that would take me into that neighbourhood, but it may be possible that I can think of someone who would be interested. Have you any idea what your client wants for the thousand shares?"
"My client has put the matter into my hands," he answered. "The matter was only broached to me this morning, and I shall have to look further into the condition of the road. I should advise her to accept a fair offer—say seventy-five per cent of the par value of the stock."
"We can talk about that later," said Hegan, "if I can find the man for you." And Montague shook hands with him and left.
He stopped in on his way home in the evening to tell Lucy about the result of his interview. "We shall hear from him soon," he said. "I don't imagine that Hegan is a man who takes long to make up his mind."
"My prayers will be with him," said Lucy, with a laugh. Then she added, "I suppose I shall see you Friday night at Mr. Harvey's."
"I shan't come out until Saturday afternoon," said he. "I am very busy these days, working on a case. But I try to find time to get down to Siegfried Harvey's; I seem to get along with him."
"They tell me he goes in for horses," said Lucy.
"He has a splendid stable," he answered.
"It was good of Ollie to bring him round," said she. "I have certainly jumped into the midst of things. What do you think I'm going to do to-morrow?"
"I have no idea," he said.
"I have been invited to see Mr. Waterman's art gallery."
"Dan Waterman's!" he exclaimed. "How did that happen?"
"Mrs. Alden's brother asked me. He knows him, and got me the invitation. Wouldn't you like to go?"
"I shall be busy in court all day to-morrow," said Montague. "But I'd like to see the collection. I understand it's a wonderful affair,—the old man has spent all his spare time at it. You hear fabulous estimates of what it's cost him—four or five millions at the least."
"But why in the world does he hide it in a studio way up the Hudson?" cried Lucy.
The other shrugged his shoulders. "Just a whim," he said. "He didn't collect it for other people's pleasure."
"Well, so long as he lets me see it, I can't complain," said Lucy. "There are so many things to see in this city, I am sure I shall be busy for a year."
"You will get tired before you have seen half of them," he answered. "Everybody does."
"Do you know Mr. Waterman?" she asked.
"I have never met him," he said. "I have seen him a couple of times." And Montague went on to tell her of the occasion in the Millonaires' Club, when he had seen the Croesus of Wall Street surrounded by an attending throng of "little millionaires."
"I hope I shan't meet him," said Lucy. "I know I should be frightened to death."
"They say he can be charming when he wants to," replied Montague. "The ladies are fond of him."
On Saturday afternoon, when Montague went down to Harvey's Long Island home, his brother met him at the ferry.
"Allan," he began, immediately, "did you know that Lucy had come down here with Stanley Ryder?"
"Heavens, no!" exclaimed Montague. "Is Ryder down here?"
"He got Harvey to invite him," Oliver replied. "And I know it was for no reason in the world but to be with Lucy. He took her out in his automobile."
Montague was dumfounded.
"She never hinted it to me," he said.
"By God!" exclaimed Oliver, "I wonder if that fellow is going after Lucy!"
Montague stood for some time, lost in sombre thought. "I don't think it will do him much good," he said. "Lucy knows too much."
"Lucy has never met a man like Stanley Ryder!" declared the other. "He has spent all his life hunting women, and she is no match for him at all."
"What do you know about him?" asked Montague.
"What don't I know about him!" exclaimed the other. "He was in love with Betty Wyman once."
"Oh, my Lord!" exclaimed Montague.
"Yes," said Oliver, "and she told me all about it. He has as many tricks as a conjurer. He has read a lot of New Thought stuff, and he talks about his yearning soul, and every woman he meets is his affinity. And then again, he is a free thinker, and he discourses about liberty and the rights of women. He takes all the moralities and shuffles them up, until you'd think the noblest role a woman could play is that of a married man's mistress."
Montague could not forbear to smile. "I have known you to shuffle the moralities now and then yourself, Ollie," he said.
"Yes, that's all right," replied the other. "But this is Lucy. And somebody's got to talk to her about Stanley Ryder."
"I will do it," Montague answered.
He found Lucy in a cosy corner of the library when he came down to dinner. She was full of all the wonderful things that she had seen in Dan Waterman's art gallery. "And Allan," she exclaimed, "what do you think, I met him!"
"You don't mean it!" said he.
"He was there the whole afternoon!" declared Lucy. "And he never did a thing but be nice to me!"
"Then you didn't find him so terrible as you expected," said Montague.
"He was perfectly charming," said Lucy. "He showed me his whole collection and told me the history of the different paintings, and stories about how he got them. I never had such an experience in my life."
"He can be an interesting man when he chooses," Montague responded.
"He is marvellous!" said she. "You look at that lean figure, and the wizened-up old hawk's face, with the white hair all round it, and you'd think that he was in his dotage. But when he talks—I don't wonder men obey him!"
"They obey him!" said Montague. "No mistake about that! There is not a man in Wall Street who could live for twenty-four hours if old Dan Waterman went after him in earnest."
"How in the world does he do it?" asked Lucy. "Is he so enormously rich?"
"It is not the money he owns," said Montague; "it's what he controls. He is master of the banks; and no man can take a step in Wall Street without his knowing it if he wants to. And he can break a man's credit; he can have all his loans called. He can swing the market so as to break a man. And then, think of his power in Washington! He uses the Treasury as if it were one of his branch offices."
"It seems frightful," said Lucy. "And that old man—over eighty! I'm glad that I met him, at any rate."
She paused, seeing Stanley Ryder in the doorway. He was evidently looking for her. He took her in to dinner; and every now and then, when Montague stole a glance at her, he saw that Ryder was monopolising her attention.
After dinner they adjourned to the music-room, and Ryder played a couple of Chopin's Nocturnes. He never took his eyes from Lucy's face while he was playing. "I declare," remarked Betty Wyman in Montague's hearing, "the way Stanley Ryder makes love at the piano is positively indecent."
Montague dodged several invitations to play cards, and deliberately placed himself at Lucy's side for the evening. And when at last Stanley Ryder had gone away in disgust to the smoking-room, he turned to her and said, "Lucy, you must let me speak to you about this."
"I don't mind your speaking to me, Allan," she said; with a feeble attempt at a smile,
"But you must pay attention to me," he protested. "You really don't know the sort of man you are dealing with, or what people think about him."
She sat in silence, biting her lip nervously, while Montague told her, as plainly as he could, what Ryder's reputation was. All that she could answer was, "He is such an interesting man!"
"There are many interesting men," said he, "but you will never meet them if you get people talking about you like this."
Lucy clasped her hands together.
"Allan," she exclaimed, "I did my best to persuade him not to come out here. And you are right. I will do what you say—I will have nothing to do with him, honestly. You shall see! It's his own fault that he came, and he can find somebody else to entertain him while he's here."
"I wish that you would tell him plainly, Lucy," said Montague. "Never mind if he gets angry. Make him understand you—once for all."
"I will—I will!" she declared.
And Montague judged that she carried out her promise quickly, for the rest of the evening Ryder gave to entertaining the company. About midnight Montague chanced to look into the library, and he saw the president of the Gotham Trust in the midst of a group which was excitedly discussing divorce. "Marriage is a sin for which the church refuses absolution!" he heard Stanley Ryder exclaiming.
A few days after these incidents, Montague was waiting for a friend who was to come to dinner at his hotel. He was sitting in the lobby reading a paper, and he noticed an elderly gentleman with a grey goatee and rather florid complexion who passed down the corridor before him. A minute or two later he happened to glance up, and he caught this gentleman's eye.
The latter started, and a look of amazement came over his face. He came forward, saying, "I beg pardon, but is not this Allan Montague?"
"It is," said Montague, looking at him in perplexity.
"You don't remember me, do you?" said the other.
"I must confess that I do not," was the answer.
"I am Colonel Cole."
But Montague only knitted his brows in greater perplexity. "Colonel Cole?" he repeated.
"You were too young to remember me," the other said. "I have been at your house a dozen times. I was in your father's brigade."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Montague. "I beg your pardon."
"Don't mention it, don't mention it," said the other, taking a seat beside him. "It was really extraordinary that I should recall you. And how is your brother? Is he in New York?"
"He is," said Montague.
"And your mother? She is still living, I trust?"
"Oh, yes," said he. "She is in this hotel."
"It is really an extraordinary pleasure!" exclaimed the other. "I did not think I knew a soul in New York."
"You are visiting here?" asked Montague.
"From the West," said the Colonel.
"It is curious how things follow out," he continued, after a pause. "I was thinking about your father only this very day. I had a proposal from someone who wanted to buy some stock that I have—in the Northern Mississippi Railroad."
Montague gave a start. "You don't mean it!" he said.
"Yes," said the other. "Your father persuaded me to take some of the stock, away back in the old days. And I have had it ever since. I had forgotten all about it."
Montague smiled. "When you have disposed of yours," he said, "you might refer your party to me. I know of some more that is for sale."
"I have no doubt," said the Colonel. "But I fancy it won't fetch much now. I don't remember receiving any dividends."
There was a pause. "It is a curious coincidence," said the other. "I, too, have been thinking about the railroad. My friend, Mrs. Taylor, has just come up from New Orleans. She used to be Lucy Dupree."
The Colonel strove to recall. "Dupree?" he said.
"Judge Dupree's daughter," said Montague. "His brother, John Dupree, was the first president of the road."
"Oh, yes," said the Colonel. "Of course, of course! I remember the Judge now. Your father told me he had taken quite a lot of the stock."
"Yes, he was the prime mover in the enterprise."
"And who was that other gentleman?" said the Colonel, racking his brains. "The one who used to be so much in his house, and was so much interested in him—"
"You mean Mr. Lee Gordon?" said Montague.
"Yes, I think that was the name," the other replied.
"He was my father's cousin," said Montague. "He put so much money into the road that the family has been poor ever since."
"It was an unfortunate venture," said the Colonel. "It is too bad some of our big capitalists don't take it up and do something with it."
"That was my idea," said Montague. "I have broached it to one."
"Indeed?" said the Colonel. "Possibly that is where my offer came from. Who was it?"
"It was Jim Hegan," said Montague.
"Oh!" said the Colonel. "But of course," he added, "Hegan would do his negotiating through an agent."
"Let me give you my card," said the Colonel, after a pause. "It is possible that I may be able to interest someone in the matter myself. I have friends who believe in the future of the South. How many shares do you suppose you could get me, and what do you suppose they would cost?"
Montague got out a pencil and paper, and proceeded to recall as well as he could the location of the various holdings of Northern Mississippi. He and his new acquaintance became quite engrossed in the subject, and they talked it out from many points of view. By the time that Montague's friend arrived, the Colonel was in possession of all the facts, and he promised that he would write in a very few days.
And then, after dinner, Montague went upstairs and joined his mother. "I met an old friend of father's this evening," he said.
"Who was it?" she asked.
"Colonel Cole," he said, and Mrs. Montague looked blank.
"Colonel Cole?" she repeated.
"Yes, that was the name," said Montague. "Here is his card," and he took it out. "Henry W. Cole, Seattle, Washington," it read.
"But I never heard of him," said Mrs. Montague.
"Never heard of him!" exclaimed Montague. "Why, he has been at the house a dozen times, and he knew father and Cousin Lee and Judge Dupree and everyone."
But Mrs. Montague only shook her head. "He may have been at the house," she said, "but I am sure that I was never introduced to him."
Montague thought that it was strange, but he would never have given further thought to the matter, had it not been for something which occurred the next morning. He went to the office rather early, on account of important work which he had to get ready. He was the first to arrive, and he found the scrub-woman who cleaned the office just taking her departure.
It had never occurred to Montague before that such a person existed; and he turned in some surprise when she spoke to him.
"I beg pardon, sir," she said. "But there is something I have to tell you."
"What is it?" said he.
"There is someone trying to find out about you," said the woman.
"What do you mean?" he asked, in perplexity.
"Begging your pardon, sir," said the woman, "but there was a man came here this morning, very early, and he offered me money, sir, and he wanted me to save him all the papers that I took out of your scrap basket, sir."
Montague caught his breath. "Papers out of my scrap basket!" he gasped.
"Yes, sir," said the woman. "It is done now and then, sir,—we learn of such things, you know. And we are poor women,—they don't pay us very well. But you are a gentleman, sir, and I told him I would have nothing to do with it."
"What sort of a looking man was he?" Montague demanded.
"He was a dark chap, sir," said the other, "a sort of Jew like. He will maybe come back again."
Montague took out his purse and gave the woman a bill; and she stammered her thanks and went off with her pail and broom.
He shut the door and went and sat down at his desk, and stared in front of him, gasping, "My God!"
Then suddenly he struck his knee with an exclamation of rage. "I told him everything that I knew! Everything! He hardly had to ask me a question!"
But then again, wonder drowned every other emotion in him. "What in the world can he have wanted to know? And who sent him? What can it mean?"
He went back over his talk with the old gentleman from Seattle, trying to recall exactly what he had told, and what use the other could have made of the information. But he could not think very steadily, for his mind kept jumping back to the thought of Jim Hegan.
There could be but one explanation of all this. Jim Hegan had set detectives upon him! Nobody else knew anything about the Northern Mississippi Railroad, or wanted to know about it.
Jim Hegan! And Montague had met him socially at an entertainment—at Mrs. de Graffenried's! He had met him as one gentleman meets another, had shaken hands with him, had gone and talked with him freely and frankly! And then Hegan had sent a detective to worm his secrets from him, and had even tried to get at the contents of his trash basket!
There was only one resort that Montague could think of, in a case so perplexing. He sat down and wrote a note to his friend Major Venable, at the Millionaires' Club, saying that he was coming there to dinner, and would like to have the Major's company. And two or three hours later, when sufficient time had elapsed for the Major to have had his shave and his coffee and his morning newspaper, he rang for a messenger and sent the note.
The Major's reply was prompt. He had no engagement, and his stores of information and advice were at Montague's service. But his gout was bad, and his temper atrocious, and Montague must be warned in advance that his doctors permitted him neither mushrooms nor meat.
It always seemed to Montague that it could not be possible for a human face to wear a brighter shade of purple than the Major's; yet every time he met him, it seemed to him that the purple was a shade brighter. And it spread farther with every step the Major took. He growled and grumbled, and swore tremendous oaths under his breath, and the way the headwaiter and all his assistants scurried about the dining-room of the Club was a joy to the beholder.
Montague waited until the old gentleman had obtained his usual dry Martini, and until he had solved the problem of satisfying his appetite and his doctor. And then he told of his extraordinary experience.
"I felt sure that you could explain it, if anybody could," said he.
"But what is there to explain?" asked the other. "It simply means that Jim Hegan is interested in your railroad. What more could you want?"
"But he sent a detective after me!" gasped Montague.
"But that's all right," said the Major. "It is done every day. There are a half dozen big agencies that do nothing else. You are lucky if he hasn't had your telephone tapped, and read your telegrams and mail before you saw them."
Montague stared at him aghast. "A man like Jim Hegan!" he exclaimed. "And to a friend."
"A friend?" said the Major. "Pshaw! A man doesn't do business with friends. And, besides, Jim Hegan probably never knew anything about it. He turned the whole matter over to some subordinate, and told him to look it up, and he'll never give another thought to it until the facts are laid upon his desk. Some one of his men set to work, and he was a little clumsy about it—that's all."
"But why did he want to know about all my family affairs?"
"Why, he wanted to know how you were situated," said the other—"how badly you wanted to sell the stock. So when he came to do business with you, he'd have you where he wanted you, and he'd probably get fifty per cent off the price because of it. You'll be lucky if he doesn't have a few loans called on you at your bank."
The Major sat watching Montague, smiling at his naivete. "Where did you say this road was?" he asked. "In Mississippi?"
"Yes," said Montague.
"I was wondering about it," said the other. "It is not likely that it's Jim Hegan at all. I don't believe anybody could get him to take an interest in Southern railroads. He has probably mentioned it to someone else. What's your road good for, anyway?"
"We had a plan to extend it," said Montague.
"It would take but one or two millions to carry it to the main works of the Mississippi Steel Company."
The Major gave a start. "The Mississippi Steel Company!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," said Montague.
"Oh, my God!" cried the other.
"What is the matter?"
"Why in the world did you take a matter like that to Jim Hegan?" demanded Major Venable.
"I took it to him because I knew him," said Montague.
"But one doesn't take things to people because one knows them," said the Major. "One takes them to the right people. If Jim Hegan could have his way, he would wipe the Mississippi Steel Company off the map of the United States."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you know," said the Major, "that Mississippi Steel is the chief competitor of the Trust? And old Dan Waterman organised the Steel Trust, and watches it all the time."
"But what's that got to do with Hegan?"
"Simply that Jim Hegan works with Waterman in everything."
Montague stared in dismay. "I see," he said.
"Of course!" said the Major. "My dear fellow, why don't you come to me before you do things like that? You should have gone to the Mississippi Steel people; and you should have gone quietly, and to the men at the top. For all you can tell, you may have a really big proposition that's been overlooked in the shuffle. What was that you said about the survey?"
And Montague told in detail the story of the aborted plan for an extension, and of his hunting trip, and what he had learned on it.
"Of course," said the Major, "you are in the heart of the thing right now. The Steel people balked your plan."
"How do you mean?" asked the other.
"They bought up the survey. And they've probably controlled your railroad ever since, and kept it down."
"But that's impossible! They've had nothing to do with it."
"Bah!" said the Major. "How could you know?"
"I know the president," said Montague. "He's an old friend of the family's."
"Yes," was the reply. "But suppose they have a mortgage on his business?"
"But why not buy the road and be done with it?" added Montague, in perplexity.
The other laughed. "I am reminded of a famous saying of Wyman's,—'Why should I buy stock when I can buy directors?'"
"It's those same people who are watching you now," he continued, after a pause. "Probably they think it is some move of the other side, and they are trying to run the thing down."
"Who owns the Mississippi Steel Company?" asked Montague.
"I don't know," said the Major. "I fancy that Wyman must have come into it somehow. Didn't you notice in the papers the other day that the contracts for furnishing rails for all his three transcontinental railroads had gone to the Mississippi Steel Company?"
"Sure enough!" exclaimed Montague.
"You see!" said the Major, with a chuckle. "You have jumped right into the middle of the frog pond, and the Lord only knows what a ruction you have stirred up! Just think of the situation for a moment. The Steel Trust is over-capitalised two hundred per cent. Because of the tariff it is able to sell its product at home for fifty per cent more than it charges abroad; and even so, it has to keep cutting its dividends! Its common stock is down to ten. It is cutting expenses on every hand, and of course it's turning out a rotten product. And now along comes Wyman, the one man in Wall Street who dares to shake his fist at old Dan Waterman; and he gives the newspapers all the facts about the bad steel rails that are causing smash-ups on his roads; and he turns all his contracts over to the Mississippi Steel Company, which is under-selling the Trust. The company is swamped with orders, and its plants are running day and night. And then along comes a guileless young fool with a little dinky railroad which he wants to run into the Company's back door-yard; and he takes the proposition to Jim Hegan!"
The Major arrived at his climax in a state of suppressed emotion, which culminated in a chuckle, which shook his rubicund visage and brought a series of twitches to his aching toe. As for Montague, he was duly humbled.
"What would you do now?" he asked, after a pause.
"I don't see that there's anything to do," said the Major, "except to hold on tight to your stock. Perhaps if you go on talking out loud about your extension, some of the Steel people will buy you out at your own price."
"I gave them a scare, anyhow," said Montague, laughing.
"I can wager one thing," said the other. "There has been a fine shaking up in somebody's office down town! There's a man who comes here every night, who's probably heard of it. That's Will Roberts."
And the Major looked about the dining-room. "Here he comes now," he said.
At the farther end of the room there had entered a tall, dark-haired man, with a keen expression and a brisk step. "Roberts the Silent," said the Major. "Let's have a try at him." And as the man passed near, he hailed him. "Hello! Roberts, where are you going? Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Allan Montague."
The man looked at Montague. "Good evening, sir," he said. "How are you, Venable?"
"Couldn't be worse, thank you," said the Major. "How are things with you on the Street?"
"Dull, very dull," said Roberts, as he passed on. "Matters look bad, I'm afraid. Too many people making money rapidly."
The Major chuckled. "A fine sentiment," he said, when Roberts had passed out of hearing—"from a man who has made sixty millions in the last ten years!"
"It did not appear that he had ever heard of me," said Montague.
"Oh, trust him for that!" said the Major. "He might have been planning to have your throat cut to-night, but you wouldn't have seen him turn an eyelid. He is that sort; he's made of steel himself, I believe."
He paused, and then went on, in a reminiscent mood, "You've read of the great strike, I suppose? It was Roberts put that job through. He made himself the worst-hated man in the country—Gad! how the newspapers and the politicians used to rage at him! But he stood his ground—he would win that strike or die in the attempt. And he very nearly did both, you know. An Anarchist came to his office and shot him twice; but he got the fellow down and nearly choked the life out of him, and he ran the strike on his sick-bed, and two weeks later he was back in his office again."
And now the Major's store-rooms of gossip were unlocked. He told Montague about the kings of Steel, and about the men they had hated and the women they had loved, and about the inmost affairs and secrets of their lives. William H. Roberts had begun his career in the service of the great iron-master, whose deadly rival he had afterwards become; and now he lived but to dispute that rival's claims to glory. Let the rival build a library, Roberts would build two. Let the rival put up a great office building, Roberts would buy all the land about it, and put up half a dozen, and completely shut out its light. And day and night "Roberts the Silent" was plotting and planning, and some day he would be the master of the Steel Trust, and his rival would be nowhere.
"They are lively chaps, the Steel crowd," said the Major, chuckling. "You will have to keep your eyes open when you do business with them."
"What would you advise me to do?" asked the other, smiling. "Set detectives after them?"
"Why not?" asked the Major, seriously. "Why not find out who sent that Colonel Cole to see you? And find out how badly he needs your little railroad, and make him pay for it accordingly."
"That is not QUITE in my line," said Montague.
"It's time you were learning," said the Major. "I can start you. I know a detective whom you can trust.—At any rate," he added cautiously, "I don't know that he's ever played me false."
Montague sat for a while in thought. "You said something about their getting after one's telephone," he observed. "Did you really mean that?"
"Of course," said the other.
"Do you mean to tell me that they could find out what goes over my 'phone?"
"I mean to tell you," was the reply, "that for two hundred and fifty dollars, I can get you a stenographic report of every word that you say over your 'phone for twenty-four hours, and of every word that anybody says to you."
"That sounds incredible!" said Montague. "Who does it?"
"Wire tappers. It's dangerous work, but the pay is big. I have a friend who once upon a time was putting through a deal in which the telephone company was interested, and they transferred his wire to another branch, and he finished up his business before the other side got on to the trick. To this day you'll notice that his telephone is 'Spring,' though every other 'phone in the neighbourhood is 'John.'"
"And mail, too?" asked Montague.
"Mail!" echoed the Major. "What's easier than that? You can hold up a man's mail for twenty-four hours and take a photograph of every letter. You can do the same with every letter that he mails, unless he is very careful. He can be followed, you understand, and every time he drops a letter, a blue or yellow envelope is dropped on top—for a signal to the post-office people."
"But then, so many persons would have to know about that!"
"Nothing of the kind. That's a regular branch of the post-office work. There are Secret Service men who are watching criminals that way all the time. And what could be easier than to pay one of them, and to have your enemy listed with the suspects?"
The Major smiled in amusement. It always gave him delight to witness Montague's consternation over his pictures of the city's corruption.
"There are things even stranger than that," he said. "I can introduce you to a man who's in this room now, who was fighting the Ship-building swindle, and he got hold of a lot of important papers, and he took them to his office, and sat by while his clerks made thirty-two copies of them. And he put the originals and thirty-one of the copies in thirty-two different safe-deposit vaults in the city, and took the other copy to his home in a valise. And that night burglars broke in, and the valise was missing. The next day he wrote to the people he was fighting, 'I was going to send you a copy of the papers which have come into my possession, but as you already have a copy, I will simply proceed to outline my proposition.' And that was all. They settled for a million or two."
The Major paused a moment and looked across the dining-room. "There goes Dick Sanderson," he said, pointing to a dapper young man with a handsome, smooth-shaven face. "He represents the New Jersey Southern Railroad. And one day another lawyer who met him at dinner remarked, 'I am going to bring a stockholders' suit against your road to-morrow.' He went on to outline the case, which was a big one. Sanderson said nothing, but he went out and telephoned to their agent in Trenton, and the next morning a bill went through both houses of the Legislature providing a statute of limitations that outlawed the case. The man who was the victim of that trick is now the Governor of New York State, and if you ever meet him, you can ask him about it."
There was a pause for a while; then suddenly the Major remarked, "Oh, by the way, this beautiful widow you have brought up from Mississippi—Mrs. Taylor—is that the name?"
"That's it," said Montague.
"I hear that Stanley Ryder has taken quite a fancy to her," said the other.
A grave look came upon Montague's face. "I am sorry, indeed, that you have heard it," he said.
"Why," said the other, "that's all right. He will give her a good time."
"Lucy is new to New York," said Montague. "I don't think she quite realises the sort of man that Ryder is."
The Major thought for a moment, then suddenly began to laugh. "It might be just as well for her to be careful," he said. "I happened to think of it—they say that Mrs. Stanley is getting ready to free herself from the matrimonial bond; and if your fascinating widow doesn't want to get into the newspapers, she had better be a little careful with her favours."
Two or three days after this Montague met Jim Hegan at a directors' meeting. He watched him closely, but Hegan gave no sign of constraint. He was courteous and serene as ever. "By the way, Mr. Montague," he said, "I mentioned that railroad matter to a friend who is interested. You may hear from him in a few days."
"I am obliged to you," said the other, and that was all.
The next day was Sunday, and Montague came to take Lucy to church, and told her of this remark. He did not tell her about the episode with Colonel Cole, for he thought there was ho use disturbing her.
She, for her part, had other matters to talk about. "By the way, Allan," she said, "I presume you know that the coaching parade is to-morrow."
"Yes," said he.
"Mr. Ryder has offered me a seat on his coach," said Lucy.—"I suppose you are going to be angry with me," she added quickly, seeing his frown.
"You said you would go?" he asked.
"Yes," said Lucy. "I did not think it would be any harm. It is such a public matter—"
"A public matter!" exclaimed Montague. "I should think so! To sit up on top of a coach for the crowds to stare at, and for thirty or forty newspaper reporters to take snap-shots of! And to have yourself blazoned as the fascinating young widow from Mississippi who was one of Stanley Ryder's party, and then to have all Society looking at the picture and winking and making remarks about it!"
"You take such a cynical view of everything," protested Lucy. "How can people help it if the crowds will stare, and if the newspapers will take pictures? Surely one cannot give up the pleasure of going for a drive—"
"Oh, pshaw, Lucy!" said Montague. "You have too much sense to talk like that. If you want to drive, go ahead and drive. But when a lot of people get together and pay ten or twenty thousand dollars apiece for fancy coaches and horses, and then appoint a day and send out notice to the whole city, and dress themselves up in fancy costumes and go out and make a public parade of themselves, they have no right to talk about driving for pleasure."
"Well," said she, dubiously, "it's nice to be noticed."
"It is for those who like it," said he; "and if a woman chooses to set out on a publicity campaign, and run a press bureau, and make herself a public character, why, that's her privilege. But for heaven's sake let her drop the sickly pretence that she is only driving beautiful horses, or listening to music, or entertaining her friends. I suppose a Society woman has as much right to advertise her personality as a politician or a manufacturer of pills; all I object to is the sham of it, the everlasting twaddle about her love of privacy. Take Mrs. Winnie Duval, for instance. You would think to hear her that her one ideal in life was to be a simple shepherdess and to raise flowers; but, as a matter of fact, she keeps a scrap-album, and if a week passes that the newspapers do not have some paragraphs about her doings, she begins to get restless."
Lucy broke into a laugh. "I was at Mrs. Robbie Walling's last night," she said. "She was talking about the crowds at the opera, and she said she was going to withdraw to some place where she wouldn't have to see such mobs of ugly people."
"Yes," said he. "But you can't tell me anything about Mrs. Robbie Walling. I have been there. There's nothing that lady does from the time she opens her eyes in the morning until the time she goes to bed the next morning that she would ever care to do if it were not for the mobs of ugly people looking on."
—"You seem to be going everywhere," said Montague, after a pause.
"Oh, I guess I'm a success," said Lucy. "I am certainly having a gorgeous time. I never saw so many beautiful houses or such dazzling costumes in my life."
"It's very fine," said Montague. "But take it slowly and make it last. When one has got used to it, the life seems rather dull and grey."
"I am invited to the Wymans' to-night," said Lucy,—"to play bridge. Fancy giving a bridge party on Sunday night!"
Montague shrugged his shoulders. "Cosi fan tutti," he said.
"What do you make of Betty Wyman?" asked the other.
"She is having a good time," said he. "I don't think she has much conscience about it."
"Is she very much in love with Ollie?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said. "I can't make them out. It doesn't seem to trouble them very much."
This was after church while they were strolling down the Avenue, gazing at the procession of new spring costumes.—"Who is that stately creature you just bowed to?" inquired Lucy.
"That?" said Montague. "That is Miss Hegan—Jim Hegan's daughter."
"Oh!" said Lucy. "I remember—Betty Wyman told me about her."
"Nothing very good, I imagine," said Montague, with a smile.
"It was interesting," said Lucy. "Fancy having a father with a hundred millions, and talking about going in for settlement work!"
"Well," he answered, "I told you one could get tired of the splurge."
Lucy looked at him quizzically. "I should think that kind of a girl would rather appeal to you," she said.
"I would like to know her very much," said he, "but she didn't seem to like me."
"Not like you!" cried the other. "Why, how perfectly outrageous!"
"It was not her fault," said Montague, smiling; "I am afraid I got myself a bad reputation."
"Oh, you mean about Mrs. Winnie!" exclaimed Lucy.
"Yes," said he, "that's it."
"I wish you would tell me about it," said she.
"There is nothing much to tell. Mrs. Winnie proceeded to take me up and make a social success of me, and I was fool enough to come when she invited me. Then the first thing I knew, all the gossips were wagging their tongues."
"That didn't do you any harm, did it?" asked Lucy.
"Not particularly," said he, shrugging his shoulders. "Only here is a woman whom I would have liked to know, and I don't know her. That's all."
Lucy gave him a sly glance. "You need a sister," she said, smiling. "Somebody to fight for you!"
* * *
According to Jim Hegan's prediction, it was not long before Montague received an offer. It came from a firm of lawyers of whom he had never heard. "We understand," ran the letter, "that you have a block of five thousand shares of the stock of the Northern Mississippi Railroad. We have a client on whose behalf we are authorised to offer you fifty thousand dollars cash for these shares. Will you kindly consult with your client, and advise us at your earliest convenience?"
He called up Lucy on the 'phone and told her that the offer had come.
"How much?" she asked eagerly.
"It is not satisfactory," he said. "But I would rather not discuss the matter over the 'phone. How can I arrange to see you?"
"Can't you send me up the letter by a messenger?" she asked.
"I could," said Montague, "but I would like to talk with you about it; and also I have that mortgage, and the other papers for you to sign. There are some things to be explained about these, also. Couldn't you come to my office this morning?"
"I would, Allan," she said, "but I have just made a most important engagement, and I don't know what to do about it."
"Couldn't it be postponed?" he asked.
"No," she said. "It's an invitation to join a party on Mr. Waterman's new yacht."
"The Brunnhilde!" exclaimed Montague. "You don't say so!"
"Yes, and I hate to miss it," said she.
"How long shall you be gone?" he asked.
"I shall be back sometime this evening," she answered. "We are going up the Sound. The yacht has just been put into commission, you know."
"Where is she lying?"
"Off the Battery. I am to be on board in an hour, and I was just about to start. Couldn't you possibly meet me there?"
"Yes," said Montague. "I will come over. I suppose they will wait a few minutes."
"I am half dying to know about the offer," said Lucy.
Montague had a couple of callers, which delayed him somewhat; finally he jumped into a cab and drove to the Battery.
Here, in the neighbourhood of Castle Garden, was a sheltered place popularly known as the "Millionaires' Basin," being the favourite anchorage of the private yachts of the "Wall Street flotilla." At this time of the year most of the great men had already moved out to their country places, and those of them who lived on the Hudson or up the Sound would come to their offices in vessels of every size, from racing motor-boats to huge private steamships. They would have their breakfasts served on board, and would have their secretaries and their mail.
Many of these yachts were floating palaces of incredible magnificence; one, upon which Montague had been a guest, had a glass-domed library extending entirely around its upper deck. This one was the property of the Lester Todds, and the main purpose it served was to carry them upon their various hunting trips; its equipment included such luxuries as a French laundry, a model dairy and poultry-yard, an ice-machine and a shooting-gallery.
And here lay the Brunnhilde, the wonderful new toy of old Waterman. Montague knew all about her, for she had just been completed that spring, and not a newspaper in the Metropolis but had had her picture, and full particulars about her cost. Waterman had purchased her from the King of Belgium, who had thought she was everything the soul of a monarch could desire. Great had been his consternation when he learned that the new owner had given orders to strip her down to the bare steel hull and refit and refurnish her. The saloon was now done with Louis Quinze decorations, said the newspapers. Its walls were panelled in satinwood and inlaid walnut, and under foot were velvet carpets twelve feet wide and woven without seam. Its closets were automatically lighted, and opened at the touch of a button; even the drawers of its bureaus were upon ball-bearings. The owner's private bedroom measured the entire width of the vessel, twenty-eight feet, and opened upon a Roman bath of white marble.
Such was the Brunnhilde, Montague looked about him for one of the yacht's launches, but he could not find any, so he hailed a boatman and had himself rowed out. A man in uniform met him at the steps. "Is Mrs. Taylor on board?" he asked.
"She is," the other answered. "Is this Mr. Montague? She left word for you."
Montague had begun to ascend; but a half a second later he stopped short in consternation.
Through one of the portholes of the vessel he heard distinctly a muffled cry,—
And he recognised the voice. It was Lucy's!
Montague hesitated only an instant. He sprang up to the deck. "Where is Mrs. Taylor?" he cried.
"She went below, sir," said the man, hesitating; but Montague sprang past him and down the companionway.
At the foot of the stairs he found himself in a broad entrance-hall, lighted by a glass dome above. He sprang toward a door which opened in the direction of the cry he had heard, and shouted aloud, "Lucy! Lucy!" He heard her answer beyond the doorway, and he seized the knob and tried it. The door was locked.
"Open the door!" he shouted.
There was no sound. "Open the door!" he called again, "or I'll break it down."
Suiting his action to the word, he flung his weight upon it. The barrier cracked; and then suddenly he heard a man's voice. "All right. Wait."
Someone fumbled at the knob; and Montague stood crouching and watching breathlessly, prepared for anything. The door opened, and he found himself confronted by Dan Waterman.
Montague recoiled a step in consternation; and the other strode out, and without a word went past him down the hall. There was just time enough for Montague to receive one look—of the most furious rage that he had ever seen upon a human face.
He rushed into the room. Lucy was standing at the farther end, leaning upon a table to support herself. Her clothing was in disarray, and her hair was falling about her ears; her face was flushed, and she was panting in great agitation.
"Lucy!" he gasped, running to her. She caught at his arm to steady herself.
"What is the matter?" he cried. She turned her face away, making not a sound.
For a minute or so he stood staring at her. Then she whispered, "Quick! let us go from here!"
And with a sudden movement of her hands, she swept her hair back from her forehead, and straightened her clothing, and started to the door, leaning upon her friend.
They went up to the deck, where the officer was still standing in perplexity.
"Mrs. Taylor wishes to go ashore," said Montague. "Will you get us a boat?"
"The launch will be back in a few minutes, sir—" the man began.
"We wish to go at once," said Montague. "Will you let us have one of those rowboats? Otherwise I shall hail that tug."
The man hesitated but a moment. Montague's voice was determined, and so he turned and gave orders to lower a small boat.
In the meantime, Lucy stood, breathing heavily, and gazing about her nervously. When at last they had left the yacht, he heard her sigh with relief.
They sat in silence until she had stepped upon the landing. Then she said, "Get me a cab, Allan."
He led her to the street and hailed a vehicle. When they were seated, Lucy sank back with a gasp. "Please don't ask me to talk, Allan," she said. And she made not another sound during the long drive to the hotel.
* * *
"Is there anything I can do for you?" he said, after he had seen her safely to her apartment.
"No," she answered. "I am all right. Wait for me."
She retired to her dressing-room, and when she came back, all traces of her excitement had been removed. Then she seated herself in a chair opposite Montague and gazed at him.
"Allan," she began, "I have been trying to think. What can I do to that man?"
"I am sure I don't know," he answered.
"Why, I can hardly believe that this is New York," she gasped. "I feel as though I had got back into the Middle Ages!"
"You forget, Lucy," he replied, "that I don't know what happened."
Again she fell silent. They sat staring at each other, and then suddenly she leaned back in her chair and began to laugh. Once she had started, burst after burst of merriment swept over her. "I try to stay angry, Allan!" she gasped. "It seems as if I ought to. But, honestly, it was perfectly absurd!"
"I am sure you'd much better laugh than cry," said he.
"I will tell you about it, Allan," the girl went on. "I know I shall have to tell somebody, or I shall simply explode. You will have to advise me about it, for I was never more bewildered in my life."
"Go ahead," said he. "Begin at the beginning."
"I told you how I met Waterman at his art gallery," said Lucy. "Mr. David Alden took me, and the old man was so polite, and so dignified—why, I never had the slightest idea! And then he wrote me a little note—in his own hand, mind you—inviting me to be one of a party for the first trip of the Brunnhilde. Of course, I thought it was all right. I told you I was going, you know, and you didn't have any objections either.
"I went down there, and the launch met me and took me on board, and a steward took me down into that room and left me, and a second later the old man himself came in. And he shut the door behind him and locked it!
"How do you do, Mrs. Taylor?' he said, and before I had a chance even to open my mouth and reply, he came to me and calmly put his arms around me.
"You can fancy my feelings. I was simply paralysed!
"Mr. Waterman?' I gasped.
"I didn't hear what he said; I was almost dazed with anger and fright. I remember I cried several times, 'Let me go!' but he paid not the slightest attention to me. He just held me tight in his arms.
"Finally I got myself together, a little. I didn't want to bite and scratch like a kitchen-wench. I tried to speak calmly.
"'Mr. Waterman,' I said, 'I want you to release me.'
"'I love you,' he said.
"'But I don't love you,' I protested. I remember thinking even then how absurd it sounded. I can't think of anything that wouldn't have sounded absurd in such a situation.
"'You will learn to love me,' he said. 'Many women have.'
"'I am not that sort of a woman,' I said. 'I tell you, you have made a mistake. Let me go.'
"'I want you,' he said. 'And when I want a thing, I get it. I never take any refusal—understand that. You don't realise the situation. It will be no disgrace to you. Women think it an honour to have me love them. Think what I can do for you. You can have anything you want. You can go anywhere you wish. I will never stint you.'
"I remember his going on like that for some time. And fancy, there I was! I might as well have been in the grip of a bear. You would not think it, you know, but he is terribly strong. I could not move. I could hardly think. I was suffocated, and all the time I could feel his breath on my face, and he was glaring into my eyes like some terrible wild beast.
"'Mr. Waterman,' I protested, 'I am not used to being treated in this way.'
"'I know, I know,' he said. 'If you were, I should not want you. But I am different from other men. Think of it—think of all that I have on my hands. I have no time to make love to women. But I love you. I loved you the minute I saw you. Is not that enough? What more can you ask?'
"'You have brought me here under false pretences,' I cried. 'You have taken cowardly advantage of me. If you have a spark of decency in you, you should be ashamed of yourself.'
"'Tut, tut,' he said, 'don't talk that kind of nonsense. You know the world. You are no spring chicken.'—Yes, he did, Allan—I remember that very phrase. And it made me so furious—you can't imagine! I tried to get away again, but the more I struggled, the more it seemed to enrage him. I was positively terrified. You know, I don't believe there was another person on board that yacht except his servants.
"'Mr. Waterman,' I cried, 'I tell you to take your hands off me. If you don't, I will make a disturbance. I will scream.'
"'It won't do you any good,' he said savagely.
"'But what do you want me to do?" I protested.
"'I want you to love me,' he said.
"And then I began to struggle again. I shouted once or twice,—I am not sure,—and then he clapped his hand over my mouth. Then I began to fight for my life. I really believe I would have scratched the old creature's eyes out if he had not heard you out in the hall. When you called my name, he dropped me and sprang back. I never saw such furious hatred on a man's countenance in my life.
"When I answered you, I tried to run to the door, but he stood in my way.
"'I will follow you!' he whispered. 'Do you understand me? I will never give you up!'
"And then you flung yourself against the door, and he turned and opened it and went out."
* * *
Lucy had turned scarlet over the recalling of the scene, and she was breathing quickly in her agitation. Montague sat staring in front of him, without a sound.
"Did you ever hear of anything like that in your life before?" she asked.
"Yes," said he, gravely, "I am sorry to say that I have heard of it several times. I have heard of things even worse."
"But what am I to do?" she cried. "Surely a man can't behave like that with impunity."
Montague said nothing.
"He is a monster!" cried Lucy. "I ought to have him put in jail."
Montague shook his head. "You couldn't do that," he said.
"I couldn't!" exclaimed the other. "Why not?"
"You couldn't prove it," said Montague.
"It would be your word against his, and they would take his every time. You can't go and have Dan Waterman arrested as you could any ordinary man. And think of the notoriety it would mean!"
"I would like to expose him," protested Lucy. "It would serve him right!"
"It would not do him the least harm in the world," said Montague. "I can speak quite positively there, for I have seen it tried. You couldn't get a newspaper in New York to publish that story. All that you could do would be to have yourself blazoned as an adventuress."
Lucy was staring, with clenched hands. "Why, I might as well be living in Turkey," she cried.
"Very nearly," said he. "There's an old man in this town who has spent his lifetime lending money and hoarding it; he has something like eighty or a hundred millions now, I believe, and once every six months or so you will read in the newspapers that some woman has made an attempt to blackmail him. That is because he does to every pretty girl who comes into his office just exactly what old Waterman did to you; and those who are arrested for blackmail are simply the ones who are so unwise as to make a disturbance."
"You see, Lucy," continued Montague, after a pause, "you must realise the situation. This man is a god in New York. He controls all the avenues of wealth; he can make or break any person he chooses. It is really the truth—I believe he could ruin any man in the city whom he chose to set out after. He can have anything that he wants done, so far as the police are concerned. It is simply a matter of paying them. And he is accustomed to rule in everything; his lightest whim is law. If he wants a thing, he buys it, and that is his attitude toward women. He is used to being treated as a master; women seek him, and vie for his favour. If you had been able to hold it, you might have had a million-dollar palace on Riverside Drive, or a cottage with a million-dollar pier at Newport. You might have had carte blanche at all the shops, and all the yachting trips and private trains that you wanted. That is all that other women want, and he could not understand what more you could want." Montague paused.
"Is that the way he spends his money?" Lucy asked.
"He buys everything he takes a fancy to," said Montague. "They say he spends five thousand dollars a day. One of the stories they tell in the clubs is that he loved the wife of a physician, and he gave a million dollars to found a hospital, and one of the conditions of the endowment was that this physician should go abroad for three years and study all the hospitals of Europe."
Lucy sat buried in thought. "Allan," she asked suddenly, "what do you suppose he meant by saying he would follow me? What could he do?"
"I don't know," said Allan, "it is something which we shall have to think over very carefully."
"He made a remark to me that I thought was very strange," she said. "I just happened to recall it. He said, 'You have no money. You cannot keep up the pace in New York. What you own is worth nothing.' Do you suppose, Allan, that he can know anything about my affairs?"
Montague was staring at her in consternation. "Lucy!" he exclaimed.
"What is it?" she cried.
"Nothing," he said; and he added to himself, "No, it is absurd. It could not be." The idea that it could have been Dan Waterman who had set the detectives to follow him seemed too grotesque for consideration. "It was nothing but a chance shot," he said to Lucy, "but you must be careful. He is a dangerous man."
"And I am powerless to punish him!" whispered Lucy, after a pause.
"It seems to me," said Montague, "that you are very well out of it. You will know better next time; and as for punishing him, I fancy that Nature will attend to that. He is getting old, you know; and they say he is morose and wretched."
"But, Allan!" protested Lucy. "I can't help thinking what would have happened to me if you had not come on board! I can't help thinking about other women who must have been caught in such a trap. Why, Allan, I would have been equally helpless—no matter what he had done!"
"I am afraid so," said he, gravely. "Many a woman has discovered it, I imagine. I understand how you feel, but what can you do about it? You can't punish men like Waterman. You can't punish them for anything they do, whether it is monopolising a necessity of life and starving thousands of people to death, or whether it is an attack upon a defenceless woman. There are rich men in this city who make it their diversion to answer advertisements and decoy young girls. A stenographer in my office told me that she had had over twenty positions in one year, and that she had left every one because some man in the office had approached her."
He paused for a moment. "You see," he added, "I have been finding out these things. You thought I was unreasonable, but I know what your dangers are. You are a stranger here; you have no friends and no influence, and so you will always be the one to suffer. I don't mean merely in a case like this, where it comes to the police and the newspapers; I mean in social matters—where it is a question of your reputation, of the interpretation which people will place upon your actions. They have their wealth and their prestige and their privileges, and they stand at bay. They are perfectly willing to give a stranger a good time, if the stranger has a pretty face and a lively wit to entertain them; but when you come to trespass, or to threaten their power, then you find out how they can hate you, and how mercilessly they will slander and ruin you!"
Lucy's adventure had so taken up the attention of them both that they had forgotten all about the matter of the stock. Afterwards, however, Montague mentioned it, and Lucy exclaimed indignantly at the smallness of the offer.