It was a week before Montague saw Lucy again. She came in to lunch with Alice one day, when he happened to be home early.
"I went to dinner at Mrs. Frank Landis's last night," she said. "And who do you think was there--your friend, Mrs. Winnie Duval."
"Indeed," said Montague.
"I had quite a long talk with her," said she. "I liked her very much."
"She is easy to like," he replied. "What did you talk about?"
"Oh, everything in the world but one thing," said Lucy, mischievously.
"What do you mean?" asked Montague.
"You, you goose," she answered. "Mrs. Winnie knew that I was your friend, and I had a feeling that every word she was saying was a message to you."
"Well, and what did she have to say to me?" he asked, smiling.
"She wants you to understand that she is cheerful, and not pining away because of you," was the answer. "She told me about all the things that she was interested in."
"Did she tell you about the Babubanana?"
"The what?" exclaimed Lucy.
"Why, when I saw her last," said Montague, "she was turning into a Hindoo, and her talk was all about Swamis, and Gnanis, and so on."
"No, she didn't mention them," said Lucy.
"Well, probably she has given it up, then," said he. "What is it now?"
"She has gone in for anti-vivisection."
"Yes," said the other; "didn't you see in the papers that she had been elected an honorary vice-president of some society or other, and had contributed several thousand dollars?"
"One cannot keep track of Mrs. Winnie in the newspapers," said Montague.
"Well," she continued, "she has heard some dreadful stories about how surgeons maltreat poor cats and dogs, and she would insist on telling me all about it. It was the most shocking dinner-table conversation imaginable."
"She certainly is a magnificent-looking creature," said Lucy, after a pause. "I don't wonder the men fall in love with her. She had her hair done up with some kind of a band across the front, and I declare she might have been an Egyptian princess."
"She has many roles," said Montague.
"Is it really true," asked the other, "that she paid fifty thousand dollars for a bath-tub?"
"She says she did," he answered. "The newspapers say it, too, so I suppose it is true. I know Duval told me with his own lips that she cost him a million dollars a year; but then that may have been because he was angry."
"Is he so rich as all that?" asked Lucy.
"I don't know how rich he is personally," said Montague. "I know he is one of the most powerful men in New York. They call him the 'System's' banker."
"I have heard Mr. Ryder speak of him," said she.
"Not very favourably, I imagine," said he, with a smile.
"No," said she, "they had some kind of a quarrel. What was the matter?"
"I don't know anything about it," was the answer. "But Ryder is a free lance, and a new man, and Duval works with the big men who don't like to have trespassers about."
Lucy was silent for a minute; her brows were knit in thought. "Is it really true that Mr. Ryder's position is so unstable? I thought the Gotham Trust Company was one of the largest institutions in the country. What are those huge figures that you see in their advertisements,--seventy millions--eighty millions--what is it?"
"Something like that," said Montague.
"And is not that true?" she asked.
"Yes, I guess that's true," he said. "I don't know anything about Ryder's affairs, you know--I simply hear the gossip. Everyone says he is playing a bold game. You take my advice, and keep your money somewhere else. You have to be doubly careful because you have enemies."
"Enemies?" asked Lucy, in perplexity.
"Have you forgotten what Waterman said to you?" Montague asked.
"You don't mean to tell me," cried she, "that you think that Waterman would interfere with Mr. Ryder on my account."
"It sounds incredible, I know," said Montague, "but such things have happened before this. If anyone knew the inside stories of the battles that have shaken Wall Street, he would find that many of them had some such beginning."
Montague said this casually, and with nothing in particular in mind. He was not watching his friend closely, and he did not see the effect which his words had produced upon her. He led the conversation into other channels; and he had entirely forgotten the matter the next day, when he received a telephone call from Lucy.
It had been a week since he had written to Smith and Hanson, the lawyers, in regard to the sale of her stock. "Allan," she asked, "no letter from those people yet?"
"Nothing at all," he answered.
"I was talking about it with a friend this morning, and he made a suggestion that I thought was important. Don't you think it might be well to find out whom they are representing?"
"What good would that do?" asked Montague.
"It might help us to get an idea of the prospects," said she. "I fancy they know who wants to sell the stock, and we ought to know who is thinking of buying it. Suppose you write them that you don't care to negotiate with agents."
"But I am in no position to do that," said Montague. "I have already set the people a figure, and they have not replied. We should only weaken our position by writing again. It would be much better to try to interest someone else."
"But I would like to know very much who made that offer," Lucy insisted. "I have heard rumours about the stock, and I really would like to know."
She reiterated this statement several times, and seemed to be very keen about it; Montague wondered a little who had been talking to her, and what she had heard. But warned by what the Major had told him, he did not ask these questions over the 'phone. He answered, finally, "I think you are making a mistake, but I will do what you wish."
So he sat down and wrote a note to Messrs. Smith and Hanson, and said that he would like to have a consultation with a member of their firm. He sent this note by messenger, and an hour or so later a wiry little person, with a much-wrinkled face and a shrewd look in his eyes, came into his office and introduced himself as Mr. Hanson.
"I have been talking with my client about the matter of the Northern Mississippi stock," said Montague. "You know, perhaps, that this road was organised under somewhat unusual circumstances; most of the stockholders were personal friends of our family. For this reason my client would prefer not to deal with an agent, if it can possibly be arranged. I wish to find out whether your client would consent to deal directly with the owner of the stock."
Montague finished what he had to say, although while he was speaking he noticed that Mr. Hanson was staring at him with very evident astonishment. Before he finished, this had changed to a slight sneer.
"What kind of a trick is this you are trying to play on me?" the man demanded.
Montague was too much taken aback to be angry. He simply stared. "I don't understand you," he said.
"You don't, eh?" said the other, laughing in his face. "Well, it seems I know more than you think I do."
"What do you mean?" asked Montague.
"Your client no longer has the stock that you are talking about," said the other.
Montague caught his breath. "No longer has the stock!" he gasped.
"Of course not," said Hanson. "She sold it three days ago." Then, unable to deny himself the satisfaction, he added, "She sold it to Stanley Ryder. And if you want to know any more about it, she sold it for a hundred and sixty thousand dollars, and he gave her a six months' note for a hundred and forty thousand."
Montague was utterly dumfounded. He could do nothing but stare.
It was evident to the other man that his emotion was genuine, and he smiled sarcastically. "Evidently, Mr. Montague," he said, "you have been permitting your client to take advantage of you."
Montague caught himself together, and bowed politely. "I owe you an apology, Mr. Hanson," he said, in a low voice. "I can only assure you that I was entirely helpless in the matter."
Then he rose and bade the man good morning.
When the door of his office was closed, he caught at the chair by his desk to steady himself, and stood staring in front of him. "To Stanley Ryder!" he gasped.
He turned to the 'phone, and called up his friend.
"Lucy," he said, "is it true that you have sold that stock?"
He heard her give a gasp. "Answer me!" he cried.
"Allan," she began, "you are going to be angry with me--"
"Please answer me!" he cried again. "Have you sold that stock?"
"Yes, Allan," she said, "I didn't mean--"
"I don't care to discuss the matter on the telephone," he said. "I will stop in to see you this afternoon on my way home. Please be in, because it is important." And then he hung up the receiver.
He called at the time he had set, and Lucy was waiting for him. She looked pale, and very much distressed. She sat in a chair, and neither arose to greet him nor spoke to him, but simply gazed into his face.
It was a very sombre face. "This thing has given me a great deal of pain," said Montague; "and I don't want to prolong it any more than necessary. I have thought the matter over, and my mind is made up, so there need be no discussion. It will not be possible for me to have anything further to do with your affairs."
Lucy gave a gasp: "Oh, Allan!"
He had a valise containing all her papers. "I have brought everything up to date," he said. "There are all the accounts, and the correspondence. Anyone will be able to find exactly how things stand."
"Allan," she said, "this is really cruel."
"I am very sorry," he answered, "but there is nothing else that I can do."
"But did I not have a right to sell that stock to Stanley Ryder?" she cried.
"You had a perfect right to sell it to anyone you pleased," he said. "But you had no right to ask me to take charge of your affairs, and then to keep me in the dark about what you had done."
"But, Allan," she protested, "I only sold it three days ago."
"I know that perfectly well," he said; "but the moment you made up your mind to sell it, it was your business to tell me. That, however, is not the point. You tried to use me as a cat's-paw to pull chestnuts out of the fire for Stanley Ryder."
He saw her wince under the words. "Is it not true?" he demanded. "Was it not he who told you to have me try to get that information?"
"Yes, Allan, of course it was he," said Lucy. "But don't you see my plight? I am not a business woman, and I did not realise--"
"You realised that you were not dealing frankly with me," he said. "That is all that I care about, and that is why I am not willing to continue to represent you. Stanley Ryder has bought your stock, and Stanley Ryder will have to be your adviser in the future."
He had not meant to discuss the matter with her any further, but he saw how profoundly he had hurt her, and the old bond between them held him still.
"Can't you understand what you did to me, Lucy?" he exclaimed. "Imagine my position, talking to Mr. Hanson, I knowing nothing and he knowing everything. He knew what you had been paid, and he even knew that you had taken a note."
Lucy stared at Montague with wide-open eyes. "Allan!" she gasped.
"You see what it means," he said. "I told you that you could not keep your doings secret. Now it will only be a matter of a few days before everybody who knows will be whispering that you have permitted Stanley Ryder to do this for you."
There was a long silence. Lucy sat staring before her. Then suddenly she faced Montague.
"Allan!" she cried. "Surely--you understand!"
She burst out violently, "I had a right to sell that stock! Ryder needed it. He is going to organise a syndicate, and develop the property. It was a simple matter of business."
"I have no doubt of it, Lucy," said Montague, in a low voice, "but how will you persuade the world of that? I told you what would happen if you permitted yourself to be intimate with a man like Stanley Ryder. You will find out too late what it means. Certainly that incident with Waterman ought to have opened your eyes to what people are saying."
Lucy gave a start, and gazed at him with horror in her eyes. "Allan!" she panted.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Do you mean to tell me that happened to me because Stanley Ryder is my friend?"
"Of course I do," said he. "Waterman had heard the gossip, and he thought that if Ryder was a rich man, he was a ten-times-richer man."
Montague could see the colour mount swiftly over Lucy's throat and face. She stood twisting her hands together nervously. "Oh, Allan!" she said. "That is monstrous!"
"It is not of my making. It is the way the world is. I found it out myself, and I tried to point it out to you."
"But it is horrible!" she cried. "I will not believe it. I will not yield to such things. I will not be coward enough to give up a friend for such a motive!"
"I know the feeling," said Montague. "I'd stand by you, if it were another man than Stanley Ryder. But I know him better than you, I believe."
"You don't, Allan, you can't!" she protested. "I tell you he is a good man! He is a man nobody understands--"
Montague shrugged his shoulders. "It is possible," he said. "I have heard that before. Many men are better than the things they do in this world; at any rate, they like to persuade themselves that they are. But you have no right to wreck your life out of pity for Ryder. He has made his own reputation, and if he had any real care for you, he would not ask you to sacrifice yourself to it."
"He did not ask me to," said Lucy. "What I have done, I have done of my own free will. I believe in him, and I will not believe the horrible things that you tell me."
"Very well," said Montague, "then you will have to go your own way."
He spoke calmly, though really his heart was wrung with grief. He knew exactly the sort of conversation by which Stanley Ryder had brought Lucy to this state of mind. He could have shattered the beautiful image of himself which Ryder had conjured up; but he could not bear to do it. Perhaps it was an instinct which guided him--he knew that Lucy was in love with the man, and that no facts that anyone could bring would make any difference to her. All he could say was, "You will have to find out for yourself."
And then, with one more look at her pitiful face of misery, he turned and went away, without even touching her hand.