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.