A week or two had passed, when one day Oliver called his brother on the 'phone. "Have you or Alice any engagement this evening?" he asked. "I want to bring a friend around to dinner."
"Who is it?" inquired Montague.
"Nobody you have heard of," said Oliver. "But I want you to meet him. You will think he's rather queer, but I will explain to you afterwards. Tell Alice to take my word for him."
Montague delivered the message, and at seven o'clock they went downstairs. In the reception room they met Oliver and his friend, and it was all that Montague could do to repress a look of consternation.
The name of the personage was Mr. Gamble. He was a little man, a trifle over five feet high, and so fat that one wondered how he could get about alone; his chin and neck were a series of rolls of fat. His face was round like a full moon, and out of it looked two little eyes like those of a pig. It was only after studying them for a while that one discovered that they twinkled shrewdly.
Mr. Gamble was altogether the vulgarest-looking personage that Alice Montague had ever met. He put out a fat little hand to her, and she touched it gingerly, and then gazed at Oliver and his brother in helpless dismay.
"Good evening. Good evening," he began volubly. "I am charmed to meet you. Mr. Montague, I have heard so much about you from your brother that I feel as if we were old friends."
There was a moment's pause. "Shall we go into the dining-room?" asked Montague.
He did not much relish the stares which would follow them, but he could see no way out of the difficulty. They went into the room and seated themselves, Montague wondering in a flash whether Mr. Gamble's arms would be long enough to reach to the table in front of him.
"A warm evening," he said, puffing slightly. "I have been on the train all day."
"Mr. Gamble comes from Pittsburg," interposed Oliver.
"Indeed?" said Montague, striving to make conversation. "Are you in business there?"
"No, I am out of business," said Mr. Gamble, with a smile. "Made my pile, so to speak, and got out. I want to see the world a bit before I get too old."
The waiter came to take their orders; in the meantime Montague darted an indignant glance at his brother, who sat and smiled serenely. Then Montague caught Alice's eye, and he could almost hear her saying to him, "What in the world am I going to talk about?"
But it proved not very difficult to talk with the gentleman from Pittsburg. He appeared to know all the gossip of the Metropolis, and he cheerfully supplied the topics of conversation. He had been to Palm Beach and Hot Springs during the winter, and told about what he had seen there; he was going to Newport in the summer, and he talked about the prospects there. If he had the slightest suspicion of the fact that all his conversation was not supremely interesting to Montague and his cousin, he gave no hint of it.
After he had disposed of the elaborate dinner which Oliver ordered, Mr. Gamble proposed that they visit one of the theatres. He had a box all ready, it seemed, and Oliver accepted for Alice before Montague could say a word for her. He spoke for himself, however,--he had important work to do, and must be excused.
He went upstairs and shook off his annoyance and plunged into his work. Sometime after midnight, when he had finished, he went out for a breath of fresh air, and as he returned he found Oliver and his friend standing in the lobby of the hotel.
"How do you do, Mr. Montague?" said Gamble. "Glad to see you again."
"Alice has just gone upstairs," said Oliver. "We were going to sit in the cafe awhile. Will you join us?"
"Yes, do," said Mr. Gamble, cordially.
Montague went because he wanted to have a talk with Oliver before he went to bed that night.
"Do you know Dick Ingham?" asked Mr. Gamble, as they seated themselves at a table.
"The Steel man, you mean?" asked Montague. "No, I never met him."
"We were talking about him," said the other. "Poor chap--it really was hard luck, you know. It wasn't his fault. Did you ever hear the true story?"
"No," said Montague, but he knew to what the other referred. Ingham was one of the "Steel crowd," as they were called, and he had been president of the Trust until a scandal had forced his resignation.
"He is an old friend of mine," said Gamble; "he told me all about it. It began in Paris--some newspaper woman tried to blackmail him, and he had her put in jail for three months. And when she got out again, then the papers at home began to get stories about poor Ingham's cutting up. And the public went wild, and they made him resign--just imagine it!"
Gamble chuckled so violently that he was seized by a coughing spell, and had to signal for a glass of water.
"They've got a new scandal on their hands now," said Oliver.
"They're a lively crowd, the Steel fellows," laughed the other. "They want to make Davidson resign, too, but he'll fight them. He knows too much! You should hear his story!"
"I imagine it's not a very savoury one," said Montague, for lack of something to say.
"It's too bad," said the other, earnestly. "I have talked to them sometimes, but it don't do any good. I remember Davidson one night: 'Jim,' says he, 'a fellow gets a whole lot of money, and he buys him everything he wants, until at last he buys a woman, and then his trouble begins. If you're buying pictures, there's an end to it--you get your walls covered sooner or later. But you never can satisfy a woman.'" And Mr. Gamble shook his head. "Too bad, too bad," he repeated.
"Were you in the steel business yourself?" asked Montague, politely.
"No, no, oil was my line. I've been fighting the Trust, and last year they bought me out, and now I'm seeing the world."
Mr. Gamble relapsed into thought again. "I never went in for that sort of thing myself," he said meditatively; "I am a married man, I am, and one woman is enough for me."
"Is your family in New York?" asked Montague, in an effort to change the subject.
"No, no, they live in Pittsburg," was the answer. "I've got four daughters--all in college. They're stunning girls, I tell you--I'd like you to meet them, Mr. Montague."
"I should be pleased," said Montague, writhing inwardly. But a few minutes later, to his immense relief, Mr. Gamble arose, and bade him good night.
Montague saw him clamber laboriously into his automobile, and then he turned to his brother.
"Oliver," he asked, "what in the devil does this mean?"
"What mean?" asked Oliver, innocently.
"That man," exclaimed the other.
"Why, I thought you would like to meet him," said Oliver; "he is an interesting chap."
"I am in no mood for fooling," said his brother, angrily. "Why in the world should you insult Alice by introducing such a man to her?"
"Why, you are talking nonsense!" exclaimed Oliver; "he knows the best people--"
"Where did you meet him?" asked Montague.
"Mrs. Landis introduced him to me first. She met him through a cousin of hers, a naval officer. He has been living in Brooklyn this winter. He knows all the navy people."
"What is it, anyway?" demanded Montague, impatiently. "Is it some business affair that you are interested in?"
"No, no," said Oliver, smiling cheerfully--"purely social. He wants to be introduced about, you know."
"Are you going to put him into Society, by any chance?" asked the other, sarcastically.
"You are warm, as the children say," laughed his brother.
Montague stared at him. "Oliver, you don't mean it," he said. "That fellow in Society!"
"Sure," said Oliver, "if he wants to. Why not?"
"But his wife and his daughters!" exclaimed the other.
"Oh, that's not it--the family stays in Pittsburg. It's only himself this time. All the same," Oliver added, after a pause, "I'd like to wager you that if you were to meet Jim Gamble's four prize daughters, you'd find it hard to tell them from the real thing. They've been to a swell boarding-school, and they've had everything that money can buy them. My God, but I'm tired of hearing about their accomplishments!"
"But do you mean to tell me," the other protested, "that your friends will stand for a man like that?"
"Some of them will. He's got barrels of money, you know. And he understands the situation perfectly--he won't make many mistakes."
"But what in the world does he want?"
"Leave that to him."
"And you," demanded Montague; "you are getting money for this?"
Oliver smiled a long and inscrutable smile. "You don't imagine that I'm in love with him, I trust. I thought you'd be interested to see the game, that's why I introduced him."
"That's all very well," said the other. "But you have no right to inflict such a man upon Alice."
"Oh, stuff!" said Oliver. "She'll meet him at Newport this summer, anyway. How could I introduce him anywhere else, if I wasn't willing to introduce him here? He won't hurt Alice. He gave her a good time this evening, and I wager she'll like him before he gets through. He's really a good-natured chap; the chief trouble with him is that he gets confidential."
Montague relapsed into silence, and Oliver changed the subject. "It seems too bad about Lucy," he said. "Is there nothing we can do about it?"
"Nothing," said the other.
"She is simply ruining herself," said Oliver. "I've been trying to get Reggie Mann to have her introduced to Mrs. Devon, but he says he wouldn't dare to take the risk."
"No, I presume not," said Montague.
"It's a shame," said Oliver. "I thought Mrs. Billy Alden would ask her to Newport this summer, but now I don't believe she'll have a thing to do with her. Lucy will find she knows nobody except Stanley Ryder and his crowd. She has simply thrown herself away."
Montague shrugged his shoulders. "That's Lucy's way," he said.
"I suppose she'll have a good time," added the other. "Ryder is generous, at any rate."
"I hope so," said Montague.
"They say he's making barrels of money," said Oliver; then he added, longingly, "My God, I wish I had a trust company to play with!"
"Why a trust company particularly?" asked the other.
"It's the easiest graft that's going," said Oliver. "It's some dodge or other by which they evade the banking laws, and the money comes rolling in in floods. You've noticed their advertisements, I suppose?"
"I have noticed them," said Montague.
"He is adding something over a million a month, I hear."
"It sounds very attractive," said the other; and added, drily, "I suppose Ryder feels as if he owned it all."
"He might just as well own it," was the reply. "If I were going into Wall Street to make money, I'd rather have the control of fifty millions than the absolute ownership of ten."
"By the way," Oliver remarked after a moment, "the Prentices have asked Alice up to Newport. Alice seems to be quite taken with that young chap, Curtiss."
"He comes around a good deal," said Montague. "He seems a very decent fellow."
"No doubt," said the other. "But he hasn't enough money to take care of a girl like Alice."
"Well," he replied, "that's a question for Alice to consider."