Another month passed by. Montague was buried in his work, and he caught but faint echoes of the storm that rumbled in the financial world. It was a thing which he thought of with wonder in future times--that he should have had so little idea of what was coming. He seemed to himself like some peasant who digs with bent head in a field, while armies are marshalling for battle all around him; and who is startled suddenly by the crash of conflict, and the bursting of shells about his head.
There came another great convulsion of the stock market. Stewart, the young Lochinvar out of the West, made an attempt to corner copper. One heard wild rumours in relation to the crash which followed. Some said that a traitor had sold out the pool; others, that there had been a quarrel among the conspirators. However that might be, copper broke, and once more there were howling mobs on the curb, and a shudder throughout the financial district. Then suddenly, like a thunderbolt, came tidings that a conference of the big bankers had decreed that the young Lochinvar should be forced out of his New York banks. There were rumours that other banks were involved, and that there were to be more conferences. Then a couple of days later came the news that all the banks of Cummings the Ice King were in trouble, and that he too had been forced from the field.
Montague had never seen anything like the excitement in Wall Street. Everyone he met had a new set of rumours, wilder than the last. It was as if a great rift in the earth had suddenly opened before the eyes of the banking community. But Montague was at an important crisis in a suit which he had taken up against the Tobacco Trust; and he had no idea that he was in any way concerned in what was taking place. The newspapers were all making desperate efforts to allay the anxiety--they said that all the trouble was over, that Dan Waterman had come to the rescue of the imperilled institutions. And Montague believed what he read, and went his way.
Three or four days after the crisis had developed, he had an engagement to dine with his friend Harvey. Montague was tired after a long day in court, and as no one else was coming, and he did not intend to dress, he walked up town from his office to Harvey's hotel, a place of entertainment much frequented by Society people. Harvey rented an entire floor, and had had it redecorated especially to suit his taste.
"How do you do, Mr. Montague?" said the clerk, when he went to the desk. "Mr. Harvey left a note for you."
Montague opened the envelope, and read a hurried scrawl to the effect that Harvey had just got word that a bank of which he was a director was in trouble, and that he would have to attend a meeting that evening. He had telephoned both to Montague's office and to his hotel, without being able to find him.
Montague turned away. He had no place to go, for his own family was out of town; consequently he strolled into the dining-room and ate by himself. Afterwards he came out into the lobby, and bought several evening papers, and stood glancing over the head-lines.
Suddenly a man strode in at the door, and he looked up. It was Winton Duval, the banker; Montague had never seen him since the time when they had parted in Mrs. Winnie's drawing-room. He did not see Montague, but strode past, his brows knit in thought, and entered one of the elevators.
A moment later Montague heard a voice at his side. "How do you do, Mr. Montague?"
He turned. It was Mr. Lyon, the manager of the hotel, whom Siegfried Harvey had once introduced to him. "Have you come to attend the conference?" said he.
"Conference?" said Montague. "No."
"There's a big meeting of the bankers here to-night," remarked the other. "It's not supposed to be known, so don't mention it.--How do you do, Mr. Ward?" he added, to a man who went past. "That's David Ward."
"Ah," said Montague. Ward was known in the Street by the nickname of Waterman's "office-boy." He was a high-salaried office-boy--Waterman paid him a hundred thousand a year to manage one of the big insurance companies for him.
"So he's here, is he?" said Montague.
"Waterman is here himself," said Lyon. "He came in by the side entrance. It's something especially secret, I gather--they've rented eight rooms upstairs, all connecting. Waterman will go in at one end, and Duval at the other, and so the reporters won't know they're together!"
"So that's the way they work it!" said Montague, with a smile.
"I've been looking for some of the newspaper men," Lyon added. "But they don't seem to have caught on."
He strolled away, and Montague stood watching the people in the lobby. He saw Jim Hegan come and enter the elevator, in company with an elderly man whom he recognised as Bascom, the president of the Empire Bank, Waterman's own institution. He saw two other men whom he knew as leading bankers of the System; and then, as he glanced toward the desk, he saw a tall, broad-shouldered man, who had been talking to the clerk, turn around, and reveal himself as his friend Bates, of the Express.
"Humph!" thought Montague. "The newspaper men are 'on,' after all."
He saw Bates's glance sweep the lobby and rest upon him. Montague made a movement of greeting with his hand, but Bates did not reply. Instead, he strolled toward him, went by without looking at him, and, as he passed, whispered in a low, quick voice, "Please come into the writing-room!"
Montague stood for a moment, wondering; then he followed. Bates went to a corner of the room and seated himself. Montague joined him.
The reporter darted a quick glance about, then began hastily: "Excuse me, Mr. Montague, I didn't want anyone to see us talking. I want to ask you to do me a favour."
"What is it?"
"I'm running down a story. It is something very important. I can't explain it to you now, but I want to get a certain room in this hotel. You have an opportunity to do me the service of a lifetime. I'll explain it to you as soon as we are alone."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Montague.
"I want to rent room four hundred and seven," said Bates. "If I can't get four hundred and seven, I want five hundred and seven, or six hundred and seven. I daren't ask for it myself, because the clerk knows me. But he'll let you have it."
"But how shall I ask for it?" said Montague.
"Just ask," said Bates; "it will be all right."
Montague looked at him. He could see that his friend was labouring under great excitement.
"Please! please!" he whispered, putting his hand on Montague's arm. And Montague said, "All right."
He got up and strolled into the lobby again, and went to the desk.
"Good evening, Mr. Montague," said the clerk. "Mr. Harvey hasn't returned."
"I know it," said Montague. "I would like to get a room for the evening. I would like to be near a friend. Could I get a room on the fourth floor?"
"Fourth?" said the clerk, and turned to look at his schedule on the wall. "Whereabouts--front or back?"
"Have you four hundred and five?" asked Montague.
"Four hundred and five? No, that's rented. We have four hundred and one--four hundred and six, on the other side of the hall--four hundred and seven--"
"I'll take four hundred and seven," said Montague.
"Four dollars a day," said the clerk, as he took down the key.
Not having any baggage, Montague paid in advance, and followed the boy to the elevator. Bates followed him, and another man, a little wiry chap, carrying a dress-suit case, also entered with them, and got out at the fourth floor.
The boy opened the door, and the three men entered the room. The boy turned on the light, and proceeded to lower the shades and the windows, and to do enough fixing to earn his tip. Then he went out, closing the door behind him; and Bates sank upon the bed and put his hands to his forehead and gasped, "Oh, my God."
The young man who accompanied him had set down his suit-case, and he now sat down on one of the chairs, and proceeded to lean back and laugh hilariously.
Montague stood staring from one to the other.
"My God, my God!" said Bates, again. "I hope I may never go through with a job like this---I believe my hair will be grey before morning!"
"You forget that you haven't told me yet what's the matter," said Montague.
"Sure enough," said Bates.
And suddenly he sat up and stared at him.
"Mr. Montague," he exclaimed, "don't go back on us! You've no idea how I've been working--and it will be the biggest scoop of a lifetime. Promise me that you won't give us away!"
"I cannot promise you," said Montague, laughing in spite of himself, "until you tell me what it is."
"I'm afraid you are not going to like it," said Bates. "It was a mean trick to play on you, but I was desperate. I didn't dare take the risk myself, and Rodney wasn't dressed for the occasion."
"You haven't introduced your friend," said Montague.
"Oh, excuse me," said Bates. "Mr. Rodney, one of our office-men."
"And now tell me about it," said Montague, taking a seat.
"It's the conference," said Bates. "We got a tip about it an hour or so ago. They meet in the room underneath us."
"What of it?" asked Montague.
"We want to find out what's going on," said Bates.
"Through the window. We've got a rope here." And Bates pointed toward the suitcase.
Montague stared at him, dumfounded. "A rope!" he gasped. "You are going to let him down from the window?"
"Sure thing," said Bates; "it's a rear window, and quite safe."
"But for Heaven's sake, man!" gasped the other, "suppose the rope breaks?"
"Oh, it won't break," was the reply; "we've got the right sort of rope."
"But how will you ever get him up again?" Montague exclaimed.
"That's all right," said Bates; "he can climb up, or else we can let him down to the ground. We've got rope enough."
"But suppose he loses his grip! Suppose--"
"That's all right," said Bates, easily. "You leave that to Rodney. He's nimble--he began life as a steeple-jack. That's why I picked him."
Rodney grinned. "I'll take my chances," he said.
Montague gazed from one to the other, unable to think of another word to say.
"Tell me, Mr. Bates," he asked finally, "do you often do this in your profession?"
"I've done it once before," was the reply. "I wanted some photographs in a murder case. I've often tried back windows, and fire-escapes, and such things. I used to be a police reporter, you know, and I learned bad habits."
"But," said Montague, "suppose you were caught?"
"Oh, pshaw!" said he. "The office would soon fix that up. The police never bother a newspaper man."
There was a pause. "Mr. Montague," said Bates, earnestly, "I know this is a tough proposition--but think what it means. We get word about this conference. Waterman is here--and Duval--think of that! Dan Waterman and the Oil Trust getting together! The managing editor sent for me himself, and he said, 'Bates, get that story.' And what am I to do? There's about as much chance of my finding out what goes on in that conference--"
He stopped. "Think of what it may mean, Mr. Montague," he cried. "They will decide on to-morrow's moves! It may turn the stock market upside down. Think of what you could do with the information!"
"No," said Montague, shaking his head; "don't go at me that way."
Bates was gazing at him. "I beg your pardon," he said; "but then maybe you have interests of your own; or your friends--surely this situation--"
"No, not that either," said Montague, smiling; and Bates broke into a laugh.
"Well, then," he said, "just for the sport of it! Just to fool them!"
"That's more like it," said Montague.
"Of course, it's your room," said Bates. "You can stop us, if you insist. But you needn't stay if you don't want to. We'll take all the risk; and you may be sure that if we were caught, the hotel would suppress it. You can trust me to clear your name--"
"I'll stay," said Montague. "I'll see it through."
Bates jumped up and stretched out his hand. "Good!" he cried. "Put it there!"
In the meantime, Rodney pounced upon the dress-suit case, and opened it, taking out a coil of wire rope, very light and flexible, and a short piece of board. He proceeded to make a loop with the rope, and in this he fixed the board for a seat. He then took the blankets from the bed and folded them. He took out a pair of heavy calfskin gloves, which he tossed to Bates, and a ball of twine, one end of which he tied about his wrist. He tossed the ball on the floor, and then turned out the lights in the room, raised the shade of the window, and placed the bundle of blankets upon the sill.
"All ready," he said.
Bates put on the gloves and seized the rope, and Rodney adjusted the seat under his thighs. "You hold the blankets, if you will be so good, Mr. Montague, and keep them in place, if you can."
And Bates uncoiled some of the rope, and passed it over the top of the large bureau which stood beside the window. He brought the rope down to the middle of the body of the bureau, so that by this means he could diminish the pull of Rodney's weight.
"Steady now," said the latter; and he climbed over the sill, and, holding on with his hands, gradually put his weight against the rope.
"Now! All ready," he whispered.
Bates grasped the line, and, bracing his knees against the bureau, paid the rope out inch by inch. Montague held the blankets in place in the corner, and Rodney's shoulders and head gradually disappeared below the sill. He was still holding on with his hands, however.
"All right," he whispered, and let go, and slowly the rope slid past.
Montague's heart was beating fast with excitement, but Bates was calm and businesslike. After he had let out several turns of the rope, he stopped and whispered, "Look out now."
Montague leaned over the sill. He could see a stream of light from the window below him. Rodney was standing upon the cornice at the top of the window.
"Lower," said Montague, as he drew in his head, and once more Bates paid out.
"Now," he whispered, and Montague looked again. Rodney had cleverly pushed himself by the corner of the cornice, and kept himself at one side of the window, so that he would not be visible from the inside of the room. He made a frantic signal with his hand, and Montague drew back and whispered, "Lower!"
The next time he looked out, Rodney was standing upon the sill of the window, leaning to one side.
"Now, make fast," muttered Bates. And while he held the rope, Montague took it and wound it again around the bureau, and then carried it over and made it fast to the leg of the bath-tub.
"I guess that will hold all right," said Bates; and he went to the window and picked up the ball of cord, the other end of which was tied around Rodney's wrist.
"This is for signals," he said. "Morse telegraph."
"Good heavens!" gasped Montague. "You didn't leave much to chance."
"Couldn't afford to," said Bates. "Keep still!"
Montague saw that the hand which held the cord was being jerked.
"W-i-n-d-o-w o-p-e-n," said Bates; and added, "By the Lord! we've got them!"
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