Montague brought a couple of chairs, and the two seated themselves at the window for a long wait.
"How did you learn about this conference?" asked Montague.
"Be careful," whispered the other in his ear. "We mustn't make a noise, because Rodney will need quiet to hear them."
Montague saw that the cord was jerking again. Bates spelled out the letters one by one.
"W-a-t-e-r-m-a-n. D-u-v-a-l. He's telling us who's there. David Ward. Hegan. Prentice."
"Prentice!" whispered Montague. "Why, he's up in the Adirondacks!"
"He came down on a special train to-day," whispered the other. "Ward telegraphed him--I think that's where we got our tip. Henry Patterson. He's the real head of the Oil Trust now. Bascom of the Empire Bank. He's Waterman's man."
"You can imagine from that list that there's something big going on," Bates muttered; and he spelled the names of several other bankers, heads of the most important institutions in Wall Street.
"Talking about Stewart," spelled out Rodney.
"That's ancient history," muttered Bates. "He's a dead one."
"P-r-i-c-e," spelled Rodney.
"Price!" exclaimed Montague.
"Yes," said the other. "I saw him down in the lobby. I rather thought he'd come."
"But to a conference with Waterman!" exclaimed Montague.
"That's all right," said Bates. "Why not?"
"But they are deadly enemies!"
"Oh," said the other, "you don't want to let yourself believe things like that."
"What do you mean?" protested Montague. "Do you suppose they're not enemies?"
"I certainly do suppose it," said Bates.
"But, man! I can give you positive facts that prove they are."
"For every fact that you bring," laughed the other, "I can bring half a dozen to show you they are not."
"But that is perfectly absurd!" began Montague.
"Hush," said Bates, and he waited while the string jerked.
"I-c-e," spelled Rodney.
"That's Cummings--another dead one," said Bates. "My Lord, but they did him up brown!"
"Who did it?" asked Montague.
"Waterman," answered the other. "The Steamship Trust was competing with his New England railroads, and now it's in the hands of a receiver. Before long you'll hear that he's gathered it in."
"Then you think this last smash-up was planned?" said he.
"Planned! My Heavens, man, it was the greatest gobbling up of the little fish that I have ever known since I've been in Wall Street!"
"And it was Waterman?"
"With the Oil Trust. They were after young Stewart. You see, he beat them out in Montana, and they had to buy him off for ten million dollars. But he was fool enough to come to New York and go in for banking; and now they've got his banks, and a good part of his ten millions as well!"
"It takes a man's breath away," said Montague.
"Just save your breath-you'll need it to-night," said Bates, drily.
The other sat in thought for a moment. "We were talking about Price," he whispered. "Do you mean John S. Price?"
"There is only one Price that I know of," was the reply.
"And you don't believe that he and Waterman are enemies?"
"I mean that Price is simply one of Waterman's agents in every big thing he does."
"But, man! Doesn't he own the Mississippi Steel Company?"
"He owns it for Waterman," said Bates.
"But that is impossible," cried Montague. "Isn't Waterman interested in the Steel Trust? And isn't Mississippi Steel its chief competitor?"
"It is supposed to be," said the other. "But that is simply a bluff to fool the public. There has been no real competition between them ever since four years ago, when Price raided the stock and captured it for Waterman."
Montague was staring at his friend, almost speechless with amazement.
"Mr. Bates," he said, "it happens that I was very recently connected with Price and the Mississippi Steel Company in a very intimate way; and I know most positively that what you say is not true."
"It's very hard to answer a statement like that," Bates responded. "I'd have to know just what your facts are. But they'd have to be very convincing indeed to make an impression upon me, for I ran that story down pretty thoroughly. I got it straight from the inside, and I got all the details of it. I nailed Price down, right in his own office. The only trouble was that my people wouldn't print the facts."
It was some time before Montague spoke again. He was groping around in his own mind, trying to grasp the significance of what Bates had said.
"But Price was fighting Waterman!" he whispered. "The whole crowd were fighting him! That was the whole purpose of what they were doing. It had no sense otherwise."
"But are you sure?" asked the other. "Think it over. Suppose they were only pretending to fight."
There was a silence again.
"Mind you," Bates added, "I am only speaking about Price himself. I don't know about any people he may have been with. He may have been deceiving them--he may have been leading them into a trap--"
And suddenly Montague clutched the arms of his chair. He sat staring ahead of him, struck dumb by the thought which the other's words had brought to him. "My God," he gasped; and again, and yet again, "My God!"
It seemed to unroll before him, in vista after vista. Price deceiving Ryder! leading him into that Northern Mississippi deal; getting him to lend money upon the stock of the Mississippi Steel Company; promising, perhaps, to support the stock in the market, and helping to smash it instead! Twisting Ryder around his finger, crushing him--and why? And why?
Montague's thoughts stopped still. It was as if he had found himself suddenly confronted by a bottomless abyss. He shrank back from it. He could not face the thought in his own mind. Waterman! It was Dan Waterman! It was something which he had planned! It was the vengeance that he had threatened! He had been all this time plotting it, setting his nets about Ryder's feet!
It was an idea so wild and so horrible that Montague fought it off. He pushed it away from him, again and again. No, no, it could not be!
And yet, why not? He had always felt certain in his own mind that that detective had come from Waterman. The old man had set to work to find out about Lucy and her affairs, the first time that he had ever laid eyes on her. And then suddenly Montague saw the face of volcanic fury that had flashed past him on board the _Brünnhilde_. "You will hear from me again," the old man had said; and now, all these months of silence--and at last he heard!
Why not? Why not? Montague kept asking himself. After all, what did he know about the Mississippi Steel Company? What had he ever seen to prove that it was actually competing with the Trust? What had he even heard, except what Stanley Ryder had told him; and what more likely than that Ryder was simply repeating what Price had said?
Montague had forgotten all about his present situation in the rush of thoughts which had come to him. The cord had been jerking again, and had spelled out the names of several more of the masters of the city who had arrived; but he had not heard their names. "What object would there be," he asked, "in keeping the fact a secret--I mean that Price was Waterman's agent?"
"Object!" exclaimed Bates. "Good Heavens, and with the public half crazy about monopolies, and the President making such a fight! If it were known that the Steel Trust had gathered in its last big competitor, you can't tell what the Government might do!"
"I see," said Montague. "And how long has this been?"
"Four years," was the reply; "all they're waiting for is some occasion like this, when they can put the Company in a hole, and pose as benefactors in taking it over."
"I see," said Montague, again.
"Listen," said Bates, and leaned out of the window. He could catch faintly the sounds of a deep voice in the consultation room.
"W-a-t-e-r-m-a-n," spelled Rodney.
"I guess business has begun," whispered Bates.
"Situation intolerable," spelled Rodney. "End wildcat banking."
"That means end of opposition to me," was the other's comment.
"Duval assents," continued Rodney.
The two in the window were on edge by this time. It was tantalising to have to wait several minutes, and then get only such snatches.
"But they'll get past the speech-making pretty soon," whispered Bates; and indeed they did.
The next two words which the cord spelled out made Montague sit up and clutch the arms of his chair again.
"Ah!" whispered Bates. Montague made not a sound.
"Ryder misusing," spelled the cord.
Bates seized his companion by the arm, and leaned close to him. "By the Lord!" he whispered breathlessly, "I wonder if they're going to smash the Gotham Trust!"
"Refuse clearing," spelled Rodney; and Montague felt Bates's hand trembling. "They refuse to clear for Ryder!" he panted.
Montague was beyond all speech; he sat as if turned to stone.
"To-morrow morning," spelled the cord.
Bates could hardly keep still for his excitement.
"Do you catch what that means?" he whispered. "The Clearing-house is to throw out the Gotham Trust!"
"Why, they'll wreck it!" panted the other.
"My God, my God, they're mad!" cried Bates. "Don't they realise what they'll do? There'll be a panic such as New York has never seen before! It will bring down every bank in the city! The Gotham Trust! Think of it!--the Gotham Trust!"
"Prentice objects," came Rodney's next message.
"Objects!" exclaimed Bates, striking his knee in repressed excitement. "I should think he might object. If the Gotham Trust goes down, the Trust Company of the Republic won't live for twenty-four hours."
"Afraid," spelled the cord. "Patterson angry."
"Much he has to lose," muttered Bates.
Montague started up and began to pace the room. "Oh, this is horrible, horrible!" he exclaimed.
Through all the images of the destruction and suffering which Bates's words brought up before him, his thoughts flew back to a pale and sad-faced little woman, sitting alone in an apartment up on the Riverside. It was to her that it all came back; it was for her that this terrible drama was being enacted. Montague could picture the grim, hawk-faced old man, sitting at the head of the council board, and laying down the law to the masters of the Metropolis. And this man's thoughts, too, went back to Lucy--his and Montague's alone, of all those who took part in the struggle!
"Waterman protect Prentice," spelled Rodney. "Insist turn out Ryder. Withdraw funds."
"There's no doubt of it," whispered Bates; "they can finish him if they choose. But oh, my Lord, what will happen in New York to-morrow!'
"Ward protect legitimate banks," was the next message.
"The little whelp!" sneered Bates. "By legitimate banks he means those that back his syndicates. A lot of protecting he will do!"
But then the newspaper man in Bates rose to the surface. "Oh, what a story," he whispered, clenching his hands, and pounding his knees. "Oh, what a story!"
Montague carried away but a faint recollection of the rest of Rodney's communications; he was too much overwhelmed by his own thoughts. Bates, however, continued to spell out the words; and he caught the statement that General Prentice, who was a director in the Gotham Trust, was to vote against any plan to close the doors of that institution. While they were after it, they were going to finish it.
Also he caught the sentence, "Panic useful, curb President!" And he heard Bates's excited exclamations over that. "Did you catch that?" he cried. "That's Waterman! Oh, the nerve of it! We are in at the making of history to-night, Mr. Montague."
Perhaps half an hour later, Montague, standing beside Bates, saw his hand jerked violently several times.
"That means pull up!" cried he. "Quick!"
And he seized the rope. "Put your weight on it," he whispered. "It will hold."
They proceeded to haul. Rodney helped them by catching hold of the cornice of the window and lifting himself. Then there was a moment of great straining, during which Montague held his breath; after which the weight grew lighter again. Rodney had got his knees upon the cornice.
A few moments later his fingers appeared, clutching the edge of the sill. He swung himself up, and Montague and Bates grasped him under the arms, and fairly jerked him into the room.
He staggered to his feet; and there was a moment's pause, while all three caught their breath. Then Rodney leaped at Bates, and grasped him by the shoulders. "Old man!" he cried. "We landed them! We landed them!"
"We landed them!" laughed the other in exultation.
"Oh, what a scoop!" shouted Rodney. "There was never one like it."
The two were like schoolboys in their glee. They hugged each other, and laughed and danced about. But it was not long before they became serious again. Montague turned on the lights, and pulled down the window; and Rodney stood there, with his clothing dishevelled and his face ablaze with excitement, and talked to them.
"Oh, you can't imagine that scene!" he said. "It makes my hair stand on end to think of it. Just fancy--I was not more than twenty feet from Dan Waterman, and most of the time he seemed to be glaring right at me. I hardly dared wink, for fear he'd notice; and I thought every instant he would jump up and run to the window. But there he sat, and pounded on the table, and glared about at those fellows, and laid down the law to them."
"I've heard him talk," said Bates. "I know how it is."
"Why, he fairly knocked them over!" said the other. "You could have heard a pin drop when he got through. Oh, it was a mad thing to see!"
"I've hardly been able to get my breath," said Bates. "I can't believe it."
"They have no idea what it will mean," said Montague.
"They know," said Rodney; "but they don't care. They've smelt blood. That's about the size of it--they were like a lot of hounds on the trail. You should have seen Waterman, with that lean, hungry face of his. 'The time has come,' said he. 'There's no one here but has known that sooner or later this work had to be done. We must crush them, once and for all time!' And you should have seen him turn on Prentice, when he ventured a word."
"Prentice doesn't like it, then?" asked Montague.
"I should think he wouldn't!" put in Bates.
"Waterman said he'd protect him," said Rodney. "But he must place himself absolutely in their hands. It seems that the Trust Company of the Republic has a million dollars with the Gotham Trust, and that's to be withdrawn."
"Imagine it!" gasped Bates.
"And wait!" exclaimed the other; "then they got on to politics. I would have given one arm if I could have got a photograph of Dan Waterman at that moment--just to spread it before the American people and ask them what they thought of it! David Ward had made the remark that 'A little trouble mightn't have a bad effect just now.' And Waterman brought down his fist on the table. 'This country needs a lesson,' he cried. 'There's been too much abuse of responsible men, and there's been too much wild talk in high places. If the people get a little taste of hard times, they'll have something else to think about besides abusing those who have made the prosperity of the country; and it seems to me, gentlemen, that we have it in our power to put an end to this campaign of radicalism.'"
"Think of it, think of it!" gasped Bates. "The old devil!"
"And then Duval chimed in, with a laugh, 'To put it in a nutshell, gentlemen, we are going to smash Ryder and scare the President!'"
"Was the conference over?" asked Bates, after a moment's pause.
"All but the hand-shakes," said the other. "I didn't dare to stay while they were moving about."
And Bates started suddenly to his feet. "Come!" he said. "We haven't any time to waste. Our work isn't done yet, by a long sight."
He proceeded to untie the rope and coil it up. Rodney took the blanket and put it on the bed, covering it with the spread, so as to conceal the holes which had been worn by the rope. He wound up the ball of cord, and dropped it into the bag with the rest of the stuff. Bates took his hat and coat and started for the door.
"You will excuse us, Mr. Montague," he said. "You can understand that this story will need a lot of work."
"I understand," said Montague.
"We'll try to thank you by and by," added the other. "Come around after the paper goes to press, and we'll have a celebration."