Montague had taken a couple of days to think over Lucy's last request. It was a difficult commission; but he made up his mind at last that he would make the attempt. He went up to Ryder's home and presented his card.
"Mr. Ryder is very much occupied, sir--" began the butler, apologetically.
"This is important," said Montague. "Take him the card, please." He waited in the palatial entrance-hall, decorated with ceilings which had been imported intact from old Italian palaces.
At last the butler returned. "Mr. Ryder says will you please see him upstairs, sir?"
Montague entered the elevator, and was taken to Ryder's private apartments. In the midst of the drawing-room was a great library table, covered with a mass of papers; and in a chair in front of it sat Ryder.
Montague had never seen such dreadful suffering upon a human countenance. The exquisite man of fashion had grown old in a week.
"Mr. Ryder," he began, when they were alone, "I received a letter from Mrs. Taylor, asking me to come to see you."
"I know," said Ryder. "It was like her; and it is very good of you."
"If there is any way that I can be of assistance," the other began.
But Ryder shook his head. "No," he said; "there is nothing."
"If I could give you my help in straightening out your own affairs--"
"They are beyond all help," said Ryder. "I have nothing to begin on--I have not a dollar in the world."
"That is hardly possible," objected Montague.
"It is literally true!" he exclaimed. "I have tried every plan--I have been over the thing and over it, until I am almost out of my mind." And he glanced about him at the confusion of papers, and leaned his forehead in his hands in despair.
"Perhaps if a fresh mind were to take it up," suggested Montague. "It is difficult to see how a man of your resources could be left without anything--"
"Everything I have is mortgaged," said the other. "I have been borrowing money right and left. I was counting on profits--I was counting on increases in value. And now see--everything is wiped out! There is not value enough left in anything to cover the loans."
"But surely, Mr. Ryder, this slump is merely temporary. Values must be restored--"
"It will be years, it will be years! And in the meantime I shall be forced to sell. They have wiped me out--they have destroyed me! I have not even money to live on."
Montague sat for a few moments in thought. "Mrs. Taylor wrote me that Waterman--" he began.
"I know, I know!" cried the other. "He had to tell her something, to get what he wanted."
Montague said nothing.
"And suppose he does what he promised?" continued the other. "He has done it before--but am I to be one of Dan Waterman's lackeys?"
There was a silence. "Like John Lawrence," continued Ryder, in a low voice. "Have you heard of Lawrence? He was a banker--one of the oldest in the city. And Waterman gave him an order, and he defied him. Then he broke him; took away every dollar he owned. And the man came to him on his knees. 'I've taught you who is your master,' said Waterman. 'Now here's your money.' And now Lawrence fawns on him, and he's got rich and fat. But all his bank exists for is to lend money when Waterman is floating a merger, and call it in when he is buying."
Montague could think of nothing to reply to that.
"Mr. Ryder," he began at last, "I cannot be of much use to you now, because I haven't the facts. All I can tell you is that I am at your disposal. I will give you my best efforts, if you will let me. That is all I can say."
And Ryder looked up, the light shining on his white, wan face. "Thank you, Mr. Montague," he said. "It is very good of you. It is a help, at least, to hear a word of sympathy. I--I will let you know--"
"All right," said Montague, rising. He put out his hand, and Ryder took it tremblingly. "Thank you," he said again.
And the other turned and went out. He went down the great staircase by himself. At the foot he passed the butler, carrying a tray with some coffee.
He stopped the man. "Mr. Ryder ought not to be left alone," he said. "He should have his physician."
"Yes, sir," began the other, and then stopped short. From the floor above a pistol shot rang out and echoed through the house.
"Oh, my God!" gasped the butler, staggering backward.
He half dropped and half set the tray upon a chair, and ran wildly up the steps. Montague stood for a moment or two as if turned to stone. He saw another servant run out of the dining-room and up the stairs. Then, with a sudden impulse, he turned and went to the door.
"I can be of no use," he thought to himself; "I should only drag Lucy's name into it." And he opened the door, and went quietly down the steps.
In the newspapers the next morning he read that Stanley Ryder had shot himself in the body, and was dying.
And that same morning the newspapers in Denver, Colorado, told of the suicide of a mysterious woman, a stranger, who had gone to a room in one of the hotels and taken poison. She was very beautiful; it was surmised that she must be an actress. But she had left not a scrap of paper or a clew of any sort by which she could be identified. The newspapers printed her photograph; but Montague did not see the Denver newspapers, and so to the day of his death he never knew what had been the fate of Lucy Dupree.
The panic was stopped, but the business of the country lay in ruins. For a week its financial heart had ceased to beat, and through all the arteries of commerce, and every smallest capillary, there was stagnation. Hundreds of firms had failed, and the mills and factories by the thousands were closing down. There were millions of men out of work. Throughout the summer the railroads had been congested with traffic, and now there were a quarter of a million freight cars laid by. Everywhere were poverty and suffering; it was as if a gigantic tidal wave of distress had started from the Metropolis and rolled over the continent. Even the oceans had not stopped it; it had gone on to England and Germany--it had been felt even in South America and Japan.
One day, while Montague was still trembling with the pain of his experience, he was walking up the Avenue, and he met Laura Hegan coming from a shop to her carriage.
"Mr. Montague," she exclaimed, and stopped with a frank smile of greeting. "How are you?"
"I am well," he answered.
"I suppose," she added, "you have been very busy these terrible days."
"I have been more busy observing than doing," he replied.
"And how is Alice?"
"She is well. I suppose you have heard that she is engaged."
"Yes," said Miss Hegan. "Harry told me the first thing. I was perfectly delighted."
"Are you going up town?" she added. "Get in and drive with me."
He entered the carriage, and they joined the procession up the Avenue. They talked for a few minutes, then suddenly Miss Hegan said, "Won't you and Alice come to dinner with us some evening this week?"
Montague did not answer for a moment.
"Father is home now," Miss Hegan continued. "We should like so much to have you."
He sat staring in front of him. "No," he said at last, in a low voice. "I would rather not come."
His manner, even more than his words, struck his companion. She glanced at him in surprise.
"Why?" she began, and stopped. There was a silence.
"Miss Hegan," he said at last, "I might make conventional excuses. I might say that I have engagements; that I am very busy. Ordinarily one does not find it worth while to tell the truth in this social world of ours. But somehow I feel impelled to deal frankly with you."
He did not look at her. Her eyes were fixed upon him in wonder. "What is it?" she asked.
And he replied, "I would rather not meet your father again."
"Why! Has anything happened between you and father?" she exclaimed in dismay.
"No," he answered; "I have not seen your father since I had lunch with you in Newport."
"Then what is it?"
He paused a moment. "Miss Hegan," he began, "I have had a painful experience in this panic. I have lived through it in a very dreadful way. I cannot get over it--I cannot get the images of suffering out of my mind. It is a very real and a very awful thing to me--this wrecking of the lives of tens of thousands of people. And so I am hardly fitted for the amenities of social life just at present."
"But my father!" gasped she. "What has he to do with it?"
"Your father," he answered, "is one of the men who were responsible for that panic. He helped to make it; and he profited by it."
She started forward, clenching her hands and staring at him wildly. "Mr. Montague!" she exclaimed.
He did not reply.
There was a long pause. He could hear her breath coming quickly.
"Are you sure?" she whispered.
"Quite sure," said he.
Again there was silence.
"I do not know very much about my father's affairs," she began, at last. "I cannot reply to what you say. It is very dreadful."
"Please understand me, Miss Hegan," said he. "I have no right to force such thoughts upon you; and perhaps I have made a mistake--"
"I should have preferred that you should tell me the truth," she said quickly.
"I believed that you would," he answered. "That was why I spoke."
"Was what he did so very dreadful?" asked the girl, in a low voice.
"I would prefer not to answer," said he. "I cannot judge your father. I am simply trying to protect myself. I'm afraid of the grip of this world upon me. I have followed the careers of so many men, one after another. They come into it, and it lays hold of them, and before they know it, they become corrupt. What I have seen here in the Metropolis has filled me with dismay, almost with terror. Every fibre of me cries out against it; and I mean to fight it--to fight it all my life. And so I do not care to make terms with it socially. When I have seen a man doing what I believe to be a dreadful wrong, I cannot go to his home, and shake his hand, and smile, and exchange the commonplaces of life with him."
It was a long time before Miss Hegan replied. Her voice was trembling.
"Mr. Montague," she said, "you must not think that I have not been troubled by these things. But what can one do? What is the remedy?"
"I do not know," he answered. "I wish that I did know. I can only tell you this, that I do not intend to rest until I have found out."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
He replied: "I am going into politics. I am going to try to teach the people."