IN spite of his doubts, Montague returned to his old home, and put through the programme as agreed. Just as he had anticipated, he found that he was received as a conquering hero by the holders of the Northern Mississippi stock. He talked with old Mr. Lee, his cousin, and two or three others of his old friends, and he had no difficulty in obtaining their pledges for the new ticket. They were all interested, and eager about the future of the road.
He did not have to concern himself with the new charter. Davenant drew up the bill, and he wrote that a nephew of Senator Harmon's would be able to put it through without attracting any attention. All that Montague knew was that the bill passed, and was signed by the Governor.
And then came the day of the stockholders' meeting. He attended it, presenting proxies for the stock of Ryder and Price, and nominated his ticket, greatly to the consternation of Mr. Carter, the president of the road, who had been a lifelong friend of his family's. The new board of directors was elected by the votes of nearly three-fourths of the stock, and the new stock issue was voted by the same majority. As none of the former stockholders cared to take the new stock, Montague subscribed for the whole issue in the name of Ryder and Price, and presented a certified check for the necessary deposit.
The news of these events, of course, created great excitement in the neighbourhood; also it did not pass unobserved in New York. Northern Mississippi was quoted for the first time on the "curb," and there was quite a little trading; the stock went up nearly ten points in one day.
Montague received this information in a letter from Harry Curtiss. "You must be prepared to withstand the flatteries of the Steel crowd," he wrote. "They will be after you before long."
Montague judged that he would not mind facing the "Steel crowd"; but he was much troubled by an interview which he had to go through with on the day after the meeting. Old Mr. Carter came to see him, and gave him a feeble hand to shake, and sat and gazed at him with a pitiful look of unhappiness.
"Allan," he said, "I have been president of the Northern Mississippi for fifteen years, and I have served the road faithfully and devotedly. And now--I want you to tell me--what does this mean? Am I--"
Montague could not remember a time when Mr. Carter had not been a visitor at his father's home, and it was painful to see him in his helplessness. But there was nothing that could be done about it; he set his lips together.
"I am very sorry, Mr. Garter," he said; "but I am not at liberty to say a word to you about the plans of my clients."
"Am I to understand, then, that I am to be turned out of my position? I am to have no consideration for all that I have done? Surely--"
"I am very sorry," Montague said again, firmly,--"but the circumstances at the present time are such that I must ask you to excuse me from discussing the matter in any way."
A day or two later Montague received a telegram from Price, instructing him to go to Riverton, where the works of the Mississippi Steel Company were located, and to meet Mr. Andrews, the president of the Company. Montague had been to Riverton several times in his youth, and he remembered the huge mills, which were one of the sights of the State. But he was not prepared for the enormous development which had since taken place. The Mississippi Steel Company had now two huge Bessemer converters, in which a volcano of molten flame roared all day and night. It had bought up the whole western side of the town, and cleared away half a hundred ramshackle dwellings; and here were long rows of coke-ovens, and two huge rail-mills, and a plate-mill from which arose sounds like the crashing of the day of doom. Everywhere loomed rows of towering chimneys, and pillars of rolling black smoke. Little miniature railroad tracks ran crisscross about the yards, and engines came puffing and clanking, carrying blazing white ingots which the eye could not bear to face.
Opposite to the entrance of the stockaded yards, the Company had put up a new office building, and upon the top floor of this were the president's rooms.
"Mr. Andrews will be in on the two o'clock train," said his secretary, who was evidently expecting the visitor. "Will you wait in his office?"
"I think I should like to see the works, if you can arrange it for me," said Montague. And so he was provided with a pass and an attendant, and made a tour of the yards.
It was interesting to Montague to see the actual property of the Mississippi Steel Company. Sitting in comfortable offices in Wall Street and exchanging pieces of paper, one had a tendency to lose sight of the fact that he was dealing in material things and disposing of the destinies of living people. But Montague was now to build and operate a railroad--to purchase real cars and handle real iron and steel; and the thought was in his mind that at every step of what he did he wished to keep this reality in mind.
It was a July day, with not a cloud in the sky, and an almost tropical sun blazed down upon the works. The sheds and railroad tracks shimmered in the heat, and it seemed as if the cinders upon which one trod had been newly poured from a fire. In the rooms where the furnaces blazed, Montague could not penetrate at all; he could only stand in the doorway, shading his eyes from the glare. In each of these infernos toiled hundreds of grimy, smoke-stained men, stripped to the waist and streaming with perspiration.
He gazed down the long rows of the blast furnaces, great caverns through the cracks of which the molten steel shone like lightning. Here the men who worked had to have buckets of water poured over them continually, and they drank several gallons of beer each day. He went through the rail-mills, where the flaming white ingots were caught by huge rollers, and tossed about like pancakes, and flattened and squeezed, emerging at the other end in the shape of tortured red snakes of amazing length. At the far end of the mill one could see them laid out in long rows to cool; and as Montague stood and watched them, the thought came to him that these were some of the rails which Wyman had ordered, and which had been the cause of such dismay in the camp of the Steel Trust!
Then he went on to the plate-mill, where giant hammers resounded, and steel plates of several inches' thickness were chopped and sliced like pieces of cheese. Here the spectator stared about him in bewilderment and clung to his guide for safety; huge travelling cranes groaned overhead, and infernal engines made deafening clatter upon every side. It was a source of never ending wonder that men should be able to work in such confusion, with no sense of danger and no consciousness of all the uproar.
Montague's eye roamed from place to place; then suddenly it was arrested by a sight even unusually startling. Across on the other side of the mill was a steel shaft, which turned one of the largest of the rollers. It was high up in the air, and revolving with unimaginable speed, and Montague saw a man with an oil-can in his hand rest the top of a ladder upon this shaft, and proceed to climb up.
He touched his guide upon the arm and pointed. "Isn't that dangerous?" he shouted.
"It's against orders," said the man. "But they will do it."
And even while the words of a reply were upon his lips, something happened which turned the sound into a scream of horror. Montague stood with his hand still pointing, his whole body turned to stone. Instantaneously, as if by the act of a magician, the man upon the ladder had disappeared; and instead there was a hazy mist about the shaft, and the ladder tumbling to the ground.
No one else in the mill appeared to have noticed it. Montague's guide leaped forward, dodging a white-hot plate upon its journey to the roller, and rushed down the room to where the engineer was standing by his machinery. For a period which could not have been less than a minute, Montague stood staring at the horrible sight; and then slowly he saw what had been a mist beginning to define itself as the body of a man whirling about the shaft.
Then, as the machinery moved more slowly yet, and the din in the mill subsided, he saw several men raise the ladder again to the shaft and climb up. When the revolving had stopped entirely, they proceeded to cut the body loose; but Montague did not wait to see that. He was white and sick, and he turned and went outside.
He went away to another part of the yards and sat down in the shade of one of the buildings, and told himself that that was the way of life. All the while the din of the mills continued without interruption. A while later he saw four men go past, carrying a stretcher covered with a sheet. It dropped blood at every step, but Montague noticed that the men who passed it gave it no more than a casual glance. When he passed the plate-mill again, he saw that it was busy as ever; and when he went out at the front gate, he saw a man who had been pointed out to him as the foreman of the mill, engaged in picking another labourer from the group which was standing about.
He returned to the president's office, and found that Mr. Andrews had just arrived. A breeze was blowing through the office, but Andrews, who was stout, was sitting in his chair with his coat and vest off, vigorously wielding a palmleaf fan.
"How do you do, Mr. Montague?" he said. "Did you ever know such heat? Sit down--you look done up."
"I have just seen an accident in the mills," said Montague.
"Oh!" said the other. "Too bad. But one finds that steel can't be made without accidents. We had a blast-furnace explosion the other day, and killed eight. They are mostly foreigners, though--'hunkies,' they call them."
Then Andrews pressed a button, summoning his secretary.
"Will you please bring those plans?" he said; and to Montague's surprise he proceeded to spread before him a complete copy of the old reports of the Northern Mississippi survey, together with the surveyor's original drawings.
"Did Mr. Carter let you have them?" Montague asked; and the other smiled a dry smile.
"We have them," he said. "And now the thing for you to do is to have your own surveyors go over the ground. I imagine that when you get their reports, the proposition will look very different."
These were the instructions which came in a letter from Price the next day; and with the help of Andrews Montague made the necessary arrangements, and the next night he left for New York.
He arrived upon a Friday afternoon. He found that Alice had departed for her visit to the Prentices', and that Oliver was in Newport, also. There was an invitation from Mrs. Prentice to him to join them; as Price was away, he concluded that he would treat himself to a rest, and accordingly took an early train on Saturday morning.
Montague's initiation into Society had taken place in the winter-time, and he had yet to witness its vacation activities. When Society's belles and dames had completed a season's round of dinner-parties and dances, they were more or less near to nervous prostration, and Newport was the place which they had selected to retire to and recuperate. It was an old-fashioned New England town, not far from the entrance to Long Island Sound, and from a village with several grocery shops and a tavern, it had been converted by a magic touch of Society into the most famous and expensive resort in the world. Estates had been sold there for as much as a dollar a square foot, and it was nothing uncommon to pay ten thousand a month for a "cottage."
The tradition of vacation and of the country was preserved in such terms as "cottage." You would be invited to a "lawn-party," and you would find a blaze of illumination, and potted plants enough to fill a score of green-houses, and costumes and jewelled splendour suggesting the Field of the Cloth of Gold. You would be invited to a "picnic" at Gooseberry Point, and when you went there, you would find gorgeous canopies spread overhead, and velvet carpets under foot, and scores of liveried lackeys in attendance, and every luxury one would have expected in a Fifth Avenue mansion. You would take a cab to drive to this "picnic," and it would cost you five dollars; yet you must on no account go without a cab. Even if the destination was just around the corner, a stranger would commit a breach of the proprieties if he were to approach the house on foot.
Coming to Newport as Montague did, directly from the Mississippi Steel Mills, produced the strangest possible effect upon him. He had seen the social splurge in the Metropolis, and had heard the fabulous prices that people had paid for things. But these thousands and millions had seemed mere abstractions. Now suddenly they had become personified--he had seen where they came from, where all the luxury and splendour were produced! And with every glance that he cast at the magnificence about him, he thought of the men who were toiling in the blinding heat of the blast-furnaces.
Here was the palace of the Wymans, upon the laying out of the grounds of which a half million dollars had been spent; the stone wall which surrounded it was famous upon two continents, because it had cost a hundred thousand dollars. And it was to make steel rails for the Wymans that the slaves of the mills were toiling!
Here was the palace of the Eldridge Devons, with a greenhouse which had cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and which merely supplied the daily needs of its owners. Here was the famous tulip tree, which had been dug up and brought a distance of fifty miles, at a cost of a thousand dollars. And Montague had seen in the making the steel for one of the great hotels of the Eldridge Devons!
And here was the Walling establishment, the "three-million-dollar palace on a desert," as Mrs. Billy Alden had described it. Montague had read of the famous mantel in its entrance hall, made from Pompeiian marble, and costing seventy-five thousand dollars. And the Wallings were the railroad kings who transported Mississippi Steel!
And from that his thoughts roamed on to the slaves of other mills, to the men and women and little children shut up to toil in shops and factories and mines for these people who flaunted their luxury about him. They had come here from every part of the country, with their millions drawn from every kind of labour. Here was the great white marble palace of the Johnsons--the ceilings, floors, and walls of its state apartments had all been made in France; its fences and gates, even its locks and hinges, had been made from special designs by famous artists. The Johnsons were lords of railroads and coal, and ruled the state of West Virginia with a terrible hand. The courts and the legislature were but branches of old Johnson's office, and Montague knew of mining villages which were owned outright by the Company, and were like stockaded forts; the wretched toilers could not buy so much as a pint of milk outside of the Company store, and even the country doctor could not enter the gates without a pass.
And beyond that was the home of the Warfields, whose fortune came from great department stores, in which young girls worked for two dollars and a half a week, and eked out their existence by prostitution. And this was the summer that Warfield's youngest daughter was launched, and for her debutante dance they built a ballroom which cost thirty thousand dollars--and was torn down the day afterwards!
And beyond this, upon the cliffs, was the castle of the Mayers, whose fortunes came from coal.--Montague thought of the young man who had invented the device for the automatic weighing of coal as it was loaded upon steam-ships. Major Venable had hinted to him that the reason the Coal Trust would not consider it, was because they were selling short weight; and since then he had investigated the story, and learned that this was true, and that it was old Mayer himself who had devised the system. And here was his palace, and here were his sons and daughters--among the most haughty and exclusive of Society's entertainers!
So you might drive down the streets and point out the mansions and call the roll of the owners--kings of oil and steel and railroads and mines! Here everything was beauty and splendour. Here were velvet lawns and gardens of rare flowers, and dancing and feasting and merriment. It seemed very far from the sordid strife of commerce, from poverty and toil and death. But Montague carried with him the sight that he had seen in the plate-mill, the misty blur about the whirling shaft, and the shrouded form upon the stretcher, dripping blood.
* * *
He was so fortunate as to meet Alice and her friends upon the street, and he drove with them to the bathing beach which Society had purchased and maintained for its own exclusive use. The first person he saw here was Reggie Mann, who came and took possession of Alice. Reggie would not swim himself, because he did not care to exhibit his spindle legs; he was watching with disapproving eye the antics of Harry Percy, his dearest rival. Percy was a man about forty years of age, a cotillion-leader by profession; and he caused keen delight to the spectators upon the beach by wearing a monocle in the water.
They had lunch at the Casino, and then went for a sail in the Prentices' new racing yacht. It was estimated just at this time that there was thirty millions' worth of steam and sailing pleasure-craft in Newport harbour, and the bay was a wonderful sight that afternoon.
They came back rather early, however, as Alice had an engagement for a drive at six o'clock, and it was necessary for her to change her costume before she went. It was necessary to change it again before dinner, which was at eight o'clock; and Montague learned upon inquiry that it was customary to make five or six such changes during the day. The great ladies of Society were adepts in this art, and prided themselves upon the perfect system which enabled them to accomplish it.
All of Montague's New York acquaintances were here in their splendour: Miss Yvette Simpkins, with her forty trunks of new Paris costumes; Mrs. Billy Alden, who had just launched an aristocratic and exclusive bridge-club for ladies; Mrs. Winnie Duval, who had created a sensation by the rumour of her intention to introduce the simple life at Newport; and Mrs. Vivie Patton, whose husband had committed suicide as the only means of separating her from her Count.
It chanced to be the evening of Mrs. Landis's long-expected dinner-dance. When you went to the Landis mansion, you drove directly into the building, which had a court so large that a coach and four could drive around it. The entire ground floor was occupied by what were said to be the most elaborately equipped stables in the world. Your horses vanished magically through sliding doors at one side, and your carriage at the other side, and in front of you was the entrance to the private apartments, with liveried flunkies standing in state.
There were five tables at this dinner, each seating ten persons. There was a huge floral umbrella for the centrepiece, and an elaborate colour effect in flowers. During the dance, screens were put up concealing this end of the ballroom, and when they were removed sometime after midnight, the tables were found set for the supper, with an entirely new scenic effect.
They danced until broad daylight; Montague was told of parties at which the guests had adjourned in the morning to play tennis. All these people would be up by nine or ten o'clock the next day, and he would see them in the shops and at the bathing beach before noon. And this was Society's idea of "resting" from the labours of the winter season!
After the supper Montague was taken in charge by Mrs. Caroline Smythe, the lady who had once introduced him to her cats and dogs. Mrs. Smythe had become greatly interested in Mrs. Winnie's anti-vivisection crusade, and told him all about it while they strolled out upon the loggia of the Landis palace, and stood and watched the sunrise over the bay.
"Do you see that road back of us?" said Mrs. Smythe. "That is the one the Landises have just succeeded in closing. I suppose you've heard the story."
"No," said Montague, "I haven't heard it."
"It's the joke of Newport," said the lady. "They had to buy up the town council to do it. There was a sight-seers' bus that used to drive up that road every day, and the driver would rein up his horses and stand up and point with his whip.
"'This, ladies and gentlemen,' he'd say, 'is the home of the Landises, and just beyond there is the home of the Joneses. Once upon a time Mr. Smith had a wife and got tired of her, and Mr. Jones had a wife and got tired of her; so they both got divorces and exchanged, and now Mrs. Smith is living in Mr. Jones's house, and Mrs. Jones is living in Mr. Smith's. Giddap!'"
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