Alice was up early the next morning to go to church with Harry Curtiss, but Montague, who had really come to rest, was later in arising. Afterwards he took a stroll through the streets, watching the people. He was met by Mrs. De Graffenried, who, after her usual fashion, invited him to come round to lunch. He went, and met about forty other persons who had been invited in the same casual way, including his brother Ollie--and to his great consternation, Ollie's friend, Mr. Gamble!
Gamble was clad in a spotless yachting costume, which produced a most comical effect upon his expansive person. He greeted Montague with his usual effusiveness. "How do you do, Mr. Montague--how do you do?" he said. "I've been hearing about you since I met you last."
"In what way?" asked Montague.
"I understand that you have gone with the Mississippi Steel Company," said Gamble.
"After a fashion," the other assented.
"You want to be careful--you are dealing with a smooth crowd! Smoother even than the men in the Trust, I fancy." And the little man added, with a twinkle in his eye: "I'm accustomed to say there are two kinds of rascals in the oil business; there are the rascals who found they could rely upon each other, and they are in the Trust; and there are the rascals the devil himself couldn't rely upon, and they're the independents. I ought to know what I'm talking about, because I was an independent myself."
Mr. Gamble chuckled gleefully over this witticism, which was evidently one which he relied upon for the making of conversation. "How do you do, Captain?" he said, to a man who was passing. "Mr. Montague, let me introduce my friend Captain Gill."
Montague turned and faced a tall and dignified-looking naval officer. "Captain Henry Gill, of the Allegheny."
"How do you, Mr. Montague?" said the Captain.
"Oliver Montague's brother," added Gamble, by way of further introduction. And then, espying someone else coming whom he knew, he waddled off down the room, leaving Montague in conversation with the officer.
Captain Gill was in command of one of the half-dozen vessels which the government obligingly sent to assist in maintaining the gaieties of the Newport season. He was an excellent dancer, and a favourite with the ladies, and an old crony of Mrs. De Graffenried's. "Have you known Mr. Gamble long?" he asked, by way of making conversation.
"I met him once before," said Montague. "My brother knows him."
"Ollie seems to be a great favourite of his," said the Captain. "Queer chap."
Montague assented readily.
"I met him in Brooklyn," continued the other, seeming to feel that acquaintance with Gamble called for explanation. "He was quite chummy with the officers at the Navy Yard. Retired millionaires don't often fall in their way."
"I should imagine not," said Montague, smiling. "But I was surprised to meet him here."
"You'd meet him in heaven," said the other, with a laugh, "if he made up his mind that he wanted to go there. He is a good-natured personage; but I can tell you that anyone who thinks that Gamble doesn't know what he's about will make a sad mistake."
Montague thought of this remark at lunch, where he sat at table on the opposite side to Gamble. Next to him sat Vivie Fatten, who made the little man the victim of her raillery. It was not particularly delicate wit, but Gamble was tough, and took it all with a cheerful grin.
He was a mystery which Montague could not solve. To be sure he was rich, and spent his money like water; but then there was no scarcity of money in this crowd. Montague found himself wondering whether he was there because Mrs. De Graffenried and her friends liked to have somebody they could snub and wipe their feet upon. His eye ran down the row of people sitting at the table, and the contrast between them and Gamble was an amusing one. Mrs. De Graffenried was fond of the society of young people, and most of her guests were of the second or even the third generation. The man from Pittsburg seemed to be the only one there who had made his own money, and who bore the impress of the money struggle upon him. Montague smiled at the thought. He seemed the very incarnation of the spirit of oil; he was gross and unpleasant, while in the others the oil had been refined to a delicate perfume. Yet somehow he seemed the most human person there. No doubt he was crudely egotistical; and yet, if he was interested in himself, he was also interested in other people, while among Mrs. De Graffenried's intimates it was a sign of vulgarity to be interested in anything.
He seemed to have taken quite a fancy to Montague, for reasons best known to himself. He came up to him again, after the luncheon. "This is the first time you've been here, Oliver tells me," said he.
Montague assented, and the other added: "You'd better come and let me show you the town. I have my car here."
Montague had no engagement, and no excuse handy. "It's very good of you--" he began.
"All right," said Gamble. "Come on."
And he took him out and seated him in his huge red touring-car, which had a seat expressly built for its owner, not too deep, and very low, so that his fat little legs would reach the floor.
Gamble settled back in the cushions with a sigh. "Rum sort of a place this, ain't it?" said he.
"It's interesting for a short visit," said Montague.
"You can count me out of it," said the other. "I like to spend my summers in a place where I can take my coat off. And I prefer beer to champagne in hot weather, anyhow."
Montague did not reply.
"Such an ungodly lot of snobs a fellow does meet!" remarked his host, cheerily. "They have a fine time making fun of me--it amuses them, and I don't mind. Sometimes it does make you mad, though; you feel you'd like to make them swallow you, anyway. But then you think, What's the use of going after something you don't want, just because other people say you can't have it?"
It was on Montague's lips to ask, "Then why do you come here?" But he forbore.
The car sped on down the stately driveway, and his companion proceeded to point out the mansions and the people, and to discuss them in his own peculiar style.
"See that yellow brick house in there," said he. "That belongs to Allis, the railroad man. He used to live in Pittsburg, and I remember him thirty years ago, when he had one carriage for his three babies, and pushed them himself, by thunder. He was glad to borrow money from me then, but now he looks the other way when I go by.
"Allis used to be in the steel business six or eight years ago," Gamble continued, reminiscently. "Then he sold out--it was the real beginning of the forming of the Steel Trust. Did you ever hear that story?"
"Not that I know of," said Montague.
"Well," said the other, "if you are going to match yourself against the Steel crowd, it's a good idea to know about them. Did you ever meet Jim Stagg?"
"The Wall Street plunger?" asked Montague. "He's a mere name to me."
"His last exploit was to pull off a prize fight in one of the swell hotels in New York, and one nigger punched the other through a plate-glass mirror. Stagg comes from the wild West, you know, and he's wild as they make 'em--my God, I could tell you some stories about him that'd make your hair stand up! Perhaps you remember some time ago he raided Tennessee Southern in the market and captured it; and old Waterman testified that he took it away from him because he didn't consider he was a fit man to own it. As a matter of fact, that was just pure bluff, for Waterman uses him in little jobs like that all the time.--Well, six or eight years ago, Stagg owned a big steel plant out West; and there was a mill in Indiana, belonging to Allis, that interfered with their business. One time Stagg and some of his crowd had been on a spree for several days, and late one night they got to talking about Allis. 'Let's buy the----out,' said Stagg, so they ordered a special and a load of champagne, and away they went to the city in Indiana. They got to Allis's house about four o'clock in the morning, and they rang the bell and banged on the door, and after a while the butler came, half awake.
"'Is Allis in?' asked Stagg, and before the fellow could answer, the whole crowd pushed into the hall, and Stagg stood at the foot of the stairs and roared--he's got a voice like a bull, you know--'Allis, Allis, come down here!'
"Allis came to the head of the stairs in his nightshirt, half frightened to death.
"'Allis, we want to buy your steel plant,' said Stagg.
"'Buy my steel plant!' gasped Allis.
"'Sure, buy it outright! Spot cash! We'll pay you five hundred thousand for it.'
"'But it cost me over twelve hundred thousand,' said Allis.
"'Well, then, we'll pay you twelve hundred thousand,' said Stagg--'God damn you, we'll pay you fifteen hundred thousand!'
"'My plant isn't for sale,' said Allis.
"'We'll pay you two million!' shouted Stagg.
"'It isn't for sale, I tell you.'
"'We'll pay you two million and a half! Come on down here!'
"'Do you mean that?' gasped Allis. He could hardly credit his ears.
"'Come downstairs and I'll write you a check!' said Stagg. And so they hauled him down, and they bought his mill. Then they opened some more champagne, and Allis began to get good-natured, too.
"'There's only one thing the matter with my mill,' said he, 'and that's Jones's mill over in Harristown. The railroads give him rebates, and he undersells me.'
"'Well, damn his soul,' said Stagg, 'we'll have his mill, too.'
"And so they bundled into their special again, and about six o'clock in the morning they got to Harristown, and they bought another mill. And that started them, you know. They'd never had such fun in their lives before. It seems that Stagg had just cleaned up ten or twelve millions on a big Wall Street plunge, and they blew in every dollar, buying steel mills--and paying two or three prices for every one, of course."
Gamble paused and chuckled to himself. "What I'm telling you is the story that Stagg told me," said he. "And of course you've got to make allowances. He said he had no idea of what Dan Waterman had been planning, but I fancy that was a lie. Harrison of Pittsburg had been threatening to build a railroad of his own, and take away his business from Waterman's roads, and so there was nothing for Waterman to do but buy him out at three times what his mills were worth. He took the mills that Stagg had bought at the same time. Stagg had paid two or three prices, and Waterman paid him a couple of prices more, and then he passed them on to the American people for a couple of prices more than that."
Gamble paused. "That's where they get these fortunes," he added, waving his fat little hand. "Sometimes it makes a fellow laugh to think of it. Every concern they bought was overcapitalised to begin with; I doubt if two hundred million dollars' worth of honest dollars was ever put into the Steel Trust properties, and they capitalised it at a billion, and now they've raised it to a billion and a half! The men who pulled it off made hundreds of millions, and the poor public that bought the common stock saw it go down to six! They gave old Harrison a four-hundred-million-dollar mortgage on the property, and he sits back and grins, and wonders why a man can't die poor!"
Gamble's car was opposite one of the clubs. Suddenly he signalled his chauffeur to stop.
"Hello, Billy!" he called; and a young naval officer who was walking down the steps turned and came toward him.
"What have you been doing with yourself?" said Gamble. "Mr. Montague, my friend Lieutenant Long, of the Engineers. Where are you going, Billy?"
"Nowhere in particular," said the officer.
"Get in," said Gamble, pointing to the vacant seat between them. "I am showing Mr. Montague the town."
The other climbed in, and they went on. "The Lieutenant has just come up from Brooklyn," he continued. "Lively times we had in Brooklyn, didn't we, Billy? Tell me what you have been doing lately."
"I'm working hard," said the Lieutenant--"studying."
"Studying here in Newport?" laughed Gamble.
"That's easy enough when you belong to the Engineers," said the other. "We are working-men, and they don't want us at their balls."
"By the way, Gamble," he added, after a moment, "I was looking for you. I want you to help me."
"Me?" said Gamble.
"Yes," said the other. "I have just had notice from the Department that I am one of a board of five that has been appointed to draw up specifications for machine oil for the Navy."
"What can I do about it?" asked Gamble.
"I want you to help me draw them up."
"But I don't know anything about machine oil."
"You cannot possibly know less than I do," said the Lieutenant. "Surely, if you have been in the oil business, you can give me some sort of an idea about machine oil."
Gamble thought for a minute. "I might try," he said. "But would it be the proper thing for me to do? Of course, I'm out of the business myself; but I have friends who might bid for the contract."
"Well, your friends can take their chances with the rest," said the Lieutenant. "I am a friend, too, hang it. And how in the world am I to find out anything about oil?"
Gamble was silent again. "Well, I'll do what I can for you," he said, finally. "I'll write out what I know about the qualities of good oil, and you can use it as you think best."
"All right," said the Lieutenant, with relief.
"But you'll have to agree to say nothing about it," said Gamble. "It's a delicate matter, you understand."
"You may trust me for that," said the other, laughing. So the subject was dropped, and they went on with their ride.
Half an hour later Gamble set Montague down, at General Prentice's door, and he bade them farewell and went in.
The General was coming down the stairs. "Hello, Allan," he said. "Where have you been?"
"Seeing the place a little," said Montague.
"Come into the drawing-room," said the General. "There's a man in there you ought to know.
"One of the brainiest newspaper men in Wall Street," he added, as he went across the hall,--"the financial man of the Express."
Montague entered the room and was introduced to a powerfully built and rather handsome young fellow, who had not so long ago been centre-rush upon a famous football team. "Well, Bates," said the General, "what are you after now?"
"I'm trying to get the inside story of the failure of Grant and Ward," said Bates. "I supposed you'd know about it, if anyone did."
"I know about it," said the General, "but the circumstances are such that I'm not free to tell--at least, not for publication. I'll tell you privately, if you want to know."
"No," said Bates, "I'd rather you didn't do that; I can find it out somehow."
"Did you come all the way to Newport to see me?" asked the General.
"Oh, no, not entirely," said Bates. "I'm to get an interview with Wyman about the new bond issue of his road. What do you think of the market, General?"
"Things look bad to me," said Prentice. "It's a good time to reef sail."
Then Bates turned to Montague. "I think I passed you a while ago in the street," he said pleasantly. "You were with James Gamble, weren't you?"
"Yes," said Montague. "Do you know him?"
"Bates knows everybody," put in the General; "that's his specialty."
"I happen to know Gamble particularly well," said Bates. "I have a brother in his office in Pittsburg. What in the world do you suppose he is doing in Newport?"
"Just seeing the world, so he told me," said Montague. "He has nothing to do since his company sold out."
"Sold out!" echoed Bates. "What do you mean?"
"Why, the Trust has bought him out," said Montague.
The other stared at him. "What makes you think that?" he asked.
"He told me so himself," was the answer.
"Oh!" laughed the other. "Then it's just some dodge that he's up to!"
"You think he hasn't sold?"
"I don't think it, I know it," said Bates. "At any rate, he hadn't sold three days ago. I had a letter from my brother saying that they were expecting to land a big oil contract with the government that would put them on Easy Street for the next five years!"
Montague said no more. But he did some thinking. Experience had sharpened his wits, and by this time he knew a clew when he met it. A while later, when Bates had gone and his brother had come in with Alice, he got Oliver off in a corner and demanded, "How much are you to get out of that oil contract?"
The other stared at him in consternation. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "Did he tell you about it?"
"He told me some things," said Montague, "and I guessed the rest."
Oliver was watching him anxiously. "See here, Allan," he said, "you'll keep quiet about it!"
"I imagine I will," said the other. "It's none of my business, that I can see."
Then suddenly Oliver broke into a smile of amusement. "Say, Allan!" he exclaimed. "He's a clever dog, isn't he!"
"Very clever," admitted the other.
"He's been after that thing for six months, you know--and just as smooth and quiet! It's about the slickest game I ever heard of!"
"But how could he know what officers were to make out those specifications?"
"Oh, that's easy," said the other. "That was the beginning of the whole thing. They got a tip that the contract was to be let, and they had no trouble in finding out the names of the officers. That kind of thing is common, you know; the bureaus in Washington are rotten."
"I see," said Montague.
"Gamble's company is in a bad way," Oliver continued. "The Trust just about had it in a corner. But Gamble saw this chance, and he staked everything on it."
"But what's his idea?" asked the other. "What good will it do him to write the specifications?"
"There are five officers," said Oliver, "and he's been laying siege to every one of them. So now they are all his intimate friends, and every one of them has come to him for help! So there will go into Washington five sets of specifications, all different, but each containing one essential point. You see, Gamble's company has a peculiar kind of oil; it contains some ingredient or other--he told me the name, but I don't remember it now. It doesn't make it any better oil, and it doesn't make it any worse; but it's different from any other oil in the world. And now, don't you see--whatever other requirements are specified, this one quality will surely appear; and there will be only one company in the world that can bid. Of course they will name their own figure, and get a five-year contract."
"I see," said Montague, drily. "It's a beautiful scheme. And how much do you get out of it?"
"He paid me ten thousand at the start," said Oliver; "and I am to get five per cent of the first year's contract, whatever that may be. Gamble says his bid won't be less than half a million, so you see it was worth while!"
And Oliver chuckled to himself. "He's going home to-morrow," he added. "So my job is done. I'll probably never see him again--until his four prize daughters get ready for the market!"