And sure enough, the next morning's mail brought the money, in the shape of a cashier's cheque from one of the big banks. Montague deposited it to his own account, and felt that the city was his!
And so he flung himself into the work. He went to his office every day, and he shut himself up in his own rooms in the evening. Mrs. Winnie was in despair because he would not come and learn bridge, and Mrs. Vivie Patton sought him in vain for a week-end party. He could not exactly say that while the others slept he was toiling upward in the night, for the others did not sleep in the night; but he could say that while they were feasting and dancing, he was delving into insurance law. Oliver argued in vain to make him realize that he could not live for ever upon one client; and that it was as important for a lawyer to be a social light as to win his first big case. Montague was so absorbed that he even failed to be thrilled when one morning he opened an invitation envelope, and read the fateful legend: "Mrs. Devon requests the honour of your company"—telling him that he had "passed" on that critical examination morning, and that he was definitely and irrevocably in Society!
Montague was now a capitalist, and therefore a keeper of the gates of opportunity. It seemed as though the seekers for admission must have had some occult way of finding it out; almost immediately they began to lay siege to him.
About a week after his cheque arrived, Major Thorne, whom he had met the first evening at the Loyal Legion, called him up and asked to see him; and he came to Montague's room that evening, and after chatting awhile about old times, proceeded to unfold a business proposition. It seemed that the Major had a grandson, a young mechanical engineer, who had been labouring for a couple of years at a very important invention, a device for loading coal upon steamships and weighing it automatically in the process. It was a very complicated problem, needless to say, but it had been solved successfully, and patents had been applied for, and a working model constructed. But it had proved unexpectedly difficult to interest the officials of the great steamship companies in the device. There was no doubt about the practicability of the machine, or the economies it would effect; but the officials raised trivial objections, and caused delays, and offered prices that were ridiculously inadequate. So the young inventor had conceived the idea of organizing a company to manufacture the machines, and rent them upon a royalty. "I didn't know whether you would have any money," said Major Thorne, "—but I thought you might be in touch with others who could be got to look into the matter. There is a fortune in it for those who take it up."
Montague was interested, and he looked over the plans and descriptions which his friend had brought, and said that he would see the working model, and talk the proposition over with others. And so the Major took his departure.
The first person Montague spoke to about it was Oliver, with whom he chanced to be lunching, at the latter's club. This was the "All Night" club, a meeting-place of fast young Society men and millionaire Bohemians, who made a practice of going to bed at daylight, and had taken for their motto the words of Tennyson—"For men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever." It was not a proper club for his brother to join, Oliver considered; Montague's "game" was the heavy respectable, and the person to put him up was General Prentice. But he was permitted to lunch there with his brother to chaperon him—and also Reggie Mann, who happened in, fresh from talking over the itinerary of the foreign prince with Mrs. Ridgley-Clieveden, and bringing a diverting account of how Mrs. R.-C. had had a fisticuffs with her maid.
Montague mentioned the invention casually, and with no idea that his brother would have an opinion one way or the other. But Oliver had quite a vigorous opinion: "Good God, Allan, you aren't going to let yourself be persuaded into a thing like that!"
"But what do you know about it?" asked the other. "It may be a tremendous thing."
"Of course!" cried Oliver. "But what can you tell about it? You'll be like a child in other people's hands, and they'll be certain to rob you. And why in the world do you want to take risks when you don't have to?"
"I have to put my money somewhere," said Montague.
"His first fee is burning a hole in his pocket!" put in Reggie Mann, with a chuckle. "Turn it over to me, Mr. Montague; and let me spend it in a gorgeous entertainment for Alice; and the prestige of it will bring you more cases than you can handle in a lifetime!"
"He had much better spend it all for soda water than buy a lot of coal chutes with it," said Oliver: "Wait awhile, and let me find you some place to put your money, and you'll see that you don't have to take any risks."
"I had no idea of taking it up until I'd made certain of it," replied the other. "And those whose judgment I took would, of course, go in also."
The younger man thought for a moment. "You are going to dine with Major Venable to-night, aren't you?" he asked; and when the other answered in the affirmative, he continued, "Very well, then, ask him. The Major's been a capitalist for forty years, and if you can get him to take it up, why, you'll know you're safe."
Major Venable had taken quite a fancy to Montague—perhaps the old gentleman liked to have somebody to gossip with, to whom all his anecdotes were new. He had seconded Montague's name at the "Millionaires'," where he lived, and had asked him there to make the acquaintance of some of the other members. Before Montague parted with his brother, he promised that he would talk the matter over with the Major.
The Millionaires' was the show club of the city, the one which the ineffably rich had set apart for themselves. It was up by the park, in a magnificent white marble palace which had cost a million dollars. Montague felt that he had never really known the Major until he saw him here. The Major was excellent at all times and places, but in this club he became an edition de luxe of himself. He made his headquarters here, keeping his suite of rooms all the year round; and the atmosphere and surroundings of the place seemed to be a part of him.
Montague thought that the Major's face grew redder every day, and the purple veins in it purpler; or was it that the old gentleman's shirt bosom gleamed more brightly in the glare of the lights? The Major met him in the stately entrance hall, fifty feet square and all of Numidian marble, with a ceiling of gold, and a great bronze stairway leading to the gallery above. He apologized for his velvet slippers and for his hobbling walk—he was getting his accursed gout again. But he limped around and introduced his friend to the other millionaires—and then told scandal about them behind their backs.
The Major was the very type of a blue-blooded old aristocrat; he was all noblesse oblige to those within the magic circle of his intimacy—but alas for those outside it! Montague had never heard anyone bully servants as the Major did. "Here you!" he would cry, when something went wrong at the table. "Don't you know any better than to bring me a dish like that? Go and send me somebody who knows how to set a table!" And, strange to say, the servants all acknowledged his perfect right to bully them, and flew with terrified alacrity to do his bidding. Montague noticed that the whole staff of the club leaped into activity whenever the Major appeared; and when he was seated at the table, he led off in this fashion—"Now I want two dry Martinis. And I want them at once—do you understand me? Don't stop to get me any butter plates or finger-bowls—I want two cock-tails, just as quick as you can carry them!"
Dinner was an important event to Major Venable—the most important in life. The younger man humbly declined to make any suggestions, and sat and watched while his friend did all the ordering. They had some very small oysters, and an onion soup, and a grouse and asparagus, with some wine from the Major's own private store, and then a romaine salad. Concerning each one of these courses, the Major gave special injunctions, and throughout his conversation he scattered comments upon them: "This is good thick soup—lots of nourishment in onion soup. Have the rest of this?—I think the Burgundy is too cold. Sixty-five is as cold as Burgundy ought ever to be. I don't mind sherry as low as sixty.—They always cook a bird too much—Robbie Walling's chef is the only person I know who never makes a mistake with game."
All this, of course, was between comments upon the assembled millionaires. There was Hawkins, the corporation lawyer; a shrewd fellow, cold as a corpse. He was named for an ambassadorship—a very efficient man. Used to be old Wyman's confidential adviser and buy aldermen for him.—And the man at table with him was Harrison, publisher of the Star; administration newspaper, sound and conservative. Harrison was training for a cabinet position. He was a nice little man, and would make a fine splurge in Washington.—And that tall man coming in was Clarke, the steel magnate; and over there was Adams, a big lawyer also—prominent reformer—civic righteousness and all that sort of stuff. Represented the Oil Trust secretly, and went down to Trenton to argue against some reform measure, and took along fifty thousand dollars in bills in his valise. "A friend of mine got wind of what he was doing, and taxed him with it," said the Major, and laughed gleefully over the great lawyer's reply—"How did I know but I might have to pay for my own lunch?"—And the fat man with him—that was Jimmie Featherstone, the chap who had inherited a big estate. "Poor Jimmie's going all to pieces," the Major declared. "Goes down town to board meetings now and then—they tell a hair-raising story about him and old Dan Waterman. He had got up and started a long argument, when Waterman broke in, 'But at the earlier meeting you argued directly to the contrary, Mr. Featherstone!' 'Did I?' said Jimmie, looking bewildered. 'I wonder why I did that?' 'Well, Mr. Featherstone, since you ask me, I'll tell you,' said old Dan—he's savage as a wild boar, you know, and won't be delayed at meetings. 'The reason is that the last time you were drunker than you are now. If you would adopt a uniform standard of intoxication for the directors' meetings of this road, it would expedite matters considerably.'"
They had got as far as the romaine salad. The waiter came with a bowl of dressing—and at the sight of it, the old gentleman forgot Jimmie Featherstone. "Why are you bringing me that stuff?" he cried. "I don't want that! Take it away and get me some vinegar and oil."
The waiter fled in dismay, while the Major went on growling under his breath. Then from behind him came a voice: "What's the matter with you this evening, Venable? You're peevish!"
The Major looked up. "Hello, you old cormorant," said he. "How do you do these days?"
The old cormorant replied that he did very well. He was a pudgy little man, with a pursed-up, wrinkled face. "My friend Mr. Montague—Mr. Symmes," said the Major.
"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Montague," said Mr. Symmes, peering over his spectacles.
"And what are you doing with yourself these days?" asked the Major.
The other smiled genially. "Nothing much," said he. "Seducing my friends' wives, as usual."
"And who's the latest?"
"Read the newspapers, and you'll find out," laughed Symmes. "I'm told I'm being shadowed."
He passed on down the room, chuckling to himself; and the Major said, "That's Maltby Symmes. Have you heard of him?"
"No," said Montague.
"He gets into the papers a good deal. He was up in supplementary proceedings the other day—couldn't pay his liquor bill."
"A member of the Millionaires'?" laughed Montague.
"Yes, the papers made quite a joke out of it," said the other. "But you see he's run through a couple of fortunes; the last was his mother's—eleven millions, I believe. He's been a pretty lively old boy in his time."
The vinegar and oil had now arrived, and the Major set to work to dress the salad. This was quite a ceremony, and Montague took it with amused interest. The Major first gathered all the necessary articles together, and looked them all over and grumbled at them. Then he mixed the vinegar and the pepper and salt, a tablespoonful at a time, and poured it over the salad. Then very slowly and carefully the oil had to be poured on, the salad being poked and turned about so that it would be all absorbed. Perhaps it was because he was so busy narrating the escapades of Maltby Symmes that the old gentleman kneaded it about so long; all the time fussing over it like a hen-partridge with her chicks, and interrupting himself every sentence or two: "It was Lenore, the opera star, and he gave her about two hundred thousand dollars' worth of railroad shares. (Really, you know, romaine ought not to be served in a bowl at all, but in a square, flat dish, so that one could keep the ends quite dry.) And when they quarrelled, she found the old scamp had fooled her—the shares had never been transferred. (One is not supposed to use a fork at all, you know.) But she sued him, and he settled with her for about half the value. (If this dressing were done properly, there ought not to be any oil in the bottom of the dish at all.)"
This last remark meant that the process had reached its climax—that the long, crisp leaves were receiving their final affectionate overturnings. While the waiter stood at respectful attention, two or three pieces at a time were laid carefully upon the little silver plate intended for Montague. "And now," said the triumphant host, "try it! If it's good, it ought to be neither sweet nor bitter, but just right."—And he watched anxiously while Montague tasted it, saying, "If it's the least bit bitter, say so; and we'll send it out. I've told them about it often enough before."
But it was not bitter, and so the Major proceeded to help himself, after which the waiter whisked the bowl away. "I'm told that salad is the one vegetable we have from the Romans," said the old boy, as he munched at the crisp green leaves. "It's mentioned by Horace, you know.—As I was saying, all this was in Symmes's early days. But since his son's been grown up, he's married another chorus-girl."
After the salad the Major had another cocktail. In the beginning Montague had noticed that his hands shook and his eyes were watery; but now, after these copious libations, he was vigorous, and, if possible, more full of anecdotes than ever. Montague thought that it would be a good time to broach his inquiry, and so when the coffee had been served, he asked, "Have you any objections to talking business after dinner?"
"Not with you," said the Major. "Why? What is it?"
And then Montague told him about his friend's proposition, and described the invention. The other listened attentively to the end; and then, after a pause, Montague asked him, "What do you think of it?"
"The invention's no good," said the Major, promptly.
"How do you know?" asked the other.
"Because, if it had been, the companies would have taken it long ago, without paying him a cent."
"But he has it patented," said Montague.
"Patented hell!" replied the other. "What's a patent to lawyers of concerns of that size? They'd have taken it and had it in use from Maine to Texas; and when he sued, they'd have tied the case up in so many technicalities and quibbles that he couldn't have got to the end of it in ten years—and he'd have been ruined ten times over in the process."
"Is that really done?" asked Montague.
"Done!" exclaimed the Major. "It's done so often you might say it's the only thing that's done.—The people are probably trying to take you in with a fake."
"That couldn't possibly be so," responded the other. "The man is a friend—"
"I've found it an excellent rule never to do business with friends," said the Major, grimly.
"But listen," said Montague; and he argued long enough to convince his companion that that could not be the true explanation. Then the Major sat for a minute or two and pondered; and suddenly he exclaimed, "I have it! I see why they won't touch it!"
"What is it?"
"It's the coal companies! They're giving the steamships short weight, and they don't want the coal weighed truly!"
"But there's no sense in that," said Montague. "It's the steamship companies that won't take the machine."
"Yes," said the Major; "naturally, their officers are sharing the graft." And he laughed heartily at Montague's look of perplexity.
"Do you know anything about the business?" Montague asked.
"Nothing whatever," said the Major. "I am like the German who shut himself up in his inner consciousness and deduced the shape of an elephant from first principles. I know the game of big business from A to Z, and I'm telling you that if the invention is good and the companies won't take it, that's the reason; and I'll lay you a wager that if you were to make an investigation, some such thing as that is what you'd find! Last winter I went South on a steamer, and when we got near port, I saw them dumping a ton or two of good food overboard; and I made inquiries, and learned that one of the officials of the company ran a farm, and furnished the stuff—and the orders were to get rid of so much every trip!"
Montague's jaw had fallen. "What could Major Thorne do against such a combination?" he asked.
"I don't know," said the Major, shrugging his shoulders. "It's a case to take to a lawyer—one who knows the ropes. Hawkins over there would know what to tell you. I should imagine the thing he'd advise would be to call a strike of the men who handle the coal, and tie up the companies and bring them to terms."
"You're joking now!" exclaimed the other.
"Not at all," said the Major, laughing again. "It's done all the time. There's a building trust in this city, and the way it put all its rivals out of business was by having strikes called on their jobs."
"But how could it do that?"
"Easiest thing in the world. A labour leader is a man with a great deal of power, and a very small salary to live on. And even if he won't sell out—there are other ways. I could introduce you to a man right in this room who had a big strike on at an inconvenient time, and he had the president of the union trapped in a hotel with a woman, and the poor fellow gave in and called off the strike."'
"I should think the strikers might sometimes get out of hand," said Montague.
"Sometimes they do," smiled the other. "There is a regular procedure for that case. Then you hire detectives and start violence, and call out the militia and put the strike leaders into jail."
Montague could think of nothing to say to that. The programme seemed to be complete.
"You see," the Major continued, earnestly, "I'm advising you as a friend, and I'm taking the point of view of a man who has money in his pocket. I've had some there always, but I've had to work hard to keep it there. All my life I've been surrounded by people who wanted to do me good; and the way they wanted to do it was to exchange my real money for pieces of paper which they'd had printed with fancy scroll-work and eagles and flags. Of course, if you want to look at the thing from the other side, why, then the invention is most ingenious, and trade is booming just now, and this is a great country, and merit is all you need in it—and everything else is just as it ought to be. It makes all the difference in the world, you know, whether a man is buying a horse or selling him!"
Montague had observed with perplexity that such incendiary talk as this was one of the characteristics of people in these lofty altitudes. It was one of the liberties accorded to their station. Editors and bishops and statesmen and all the rest of their retainers had to believe in the respectabilities, even in the privacy of their clubs—the people's ears were getting terribly sharp these days! But among the real giants of business you might have thought yourself in a society of revolutionists; they would tear up the mountain tops and hurl them at each other. When one of these old war-horses once got started, he would tell tales of deviltry to appall the soul of the hardiest muck-rake man. It was always the other fellow, of course; but then, if you pinned your man down, and if he thought that he could trust you—he would acknowledge that he had sometimes fought the enemy with the enemy's own weapons!
But of course one must understand that all this radicalism was for conversational purposes only. The Major, for instance, never had the slightest idea of doing anything about all the evils of which he told; when it came to action, he proposed to do just what he had done all his life—to sit tight on his own little pile. And the Millionaires' was an excellent place to learn to do it!
"See that old money-bags over there in the corner," said the Major. "He's a man you want to fix in your mind—old Henry S. Grimes. Have you heard of him?"
"Vaguely," said the other.
"He's Laura Hegan's uncle. She'll have his money also some day—but Lord, how he does hold on to it meantime! It's quite tragic, if you come to know him—he's frightened at his own shadow. He goes in for slum tenements, and I guess he evicts more people in a month than you could crowd into this building!"
Montague looked at the solitary figure at the table, a man with a wizened-up little face like a weasel's, and a big napkin tied around his neck. "That's so as to save his shirt-front for to-morrow," the Major explained. "He's really only about sixty, but you'd think he was eighty. Three times every day he sits here and eats a bowl of graham crackers and milk, and then goes out and sits rigid in an arm-chair for an hour. That's the regimen his doctors have put him on—angels and ministers of grace defend us!"
The old gentleman paused, and a chuckle shook his scarlet jowls. "Only think!" he said—"they tried to do that to me! But no, sir—when Bob Venable has to eat graham crackers and milk, he'll put in arsenic instead of sugar! That's the way with many a one of these rich fellows, though—you picture him living in Capuan luxury, when, as a matter of fact, he's a man with a torpid liver and a weak stomach, who is put to bed at ten o'clock with a hot-water bag and a flannel night-cap!"
The two had got up and were strolling toward the smoking-room; when suddenly at one side a door opened, and a group of men came out. At the head of them was an extraordinary figure, a big powerful body with a grim face. "Hello!" said the Major. "All the big bugs are here to-night. There must be a governors' meeting."
"Who is that?" asked his companion; and he answered, "That? Why, that's Dan Waterman."
Dan Waterman! Montague stared harder than ever, and now he identified the face with the pictures he had seen. Waterman, the Colossus of finance, the Croesus of copper and gold! How many trusts had Waterman organized! And how many puns had been made upon that name of his!
"Who are the other men?" Montague asked.
"Oh, they're just little millionaires," was the reply.
The "little millionaires" were following as a kind of body-guard; one of them, who was short and pudgy, was half running, to keep up with Waterman's heavy stride. When they came to the coat-room, they crowded the attendants away, and one helped the great man on with his coat, and another held his hat, and another his stick, and two others tried to talk to him. And Waterman stolidly buttoned his coat, and then seized his hat and stick, and without a word to anyone, bolted through the door.
It was one of the funniest sights that Montague had ever seen in his life, and he laughed all the way into the smoking-room. And, when Major Venable had settled himself in a big chair and bitten off the end of a cigar and lighted it, what floodgates of reminiscence were opened!
For Dan Waterman was one of the Major's own generation, and he knew all his life and his habits. Just as Montague had seen him there, so he had been always; swift, imperious, terrible, trampling over all opposition; the most powerful men in the city quailed before the glare of his eyes. In the old days Wall Street had reeled in the shock of the conflicts between him and his most powerful rival.
And the Major went on to tell about Waterman's rival, and his life. He had been the city's traction-king, old Wyman had been made by him. He was the prince among political financiers; he had ruled the Democratic party in state and nation. He would give a quarter of a million at a time to the boss of Tammany Hall, and spend a million in a single campaign; on "dough-day," when the district leaders came to get the election funds, there would be a table forty feet long completely covered with hundred-dollar bills. He would have been the richest man in America, save that he spent his money as fast as he got it. He had had the most famous racing-stable in America; and a house on Fifth Avenue that was said to be the finest Italian palace in the world. Over three millions had been spent in decorating it; all the ceilings had been brought intact from palaces abroad, which he had bought and demolished! The Major told a story to show how such a man lost all sense of the value of money; he had once been sitting at lunch with him, when the editor of one of his newspapers had come in and remarked, "I told you we would need eight thousand dollars, and the check you send is for ten." "I know it," was the smiling answer—"but somehow I thought eight seemed harder to write than ten!"
"Old Waterman's quite a spender, too, when it comes to that," the Major went on. "He told me once that it cost him five thousand dollars a day for his ordinary expenses. And that doesn't include a million-dollar yacht, nor even the expenses of it.
"And think of another man I know of who spent a million dollars for a granite pier, so that he could land and see his mistress!—It's a fact, as sure as God made me! She was a well-known society woman, but she was poor, and he didn't dare to make her rich for fear of the scandal. So she had to live in a miserable fifty-thousand-dollar villa; and when other people's children would sneer at her children because they lived in a fifty-thousand-dollar villa, the answer would be, 'But you haven't got any pier!' And if you don't believe that—"
But here suddenly the Major turned, and observed a boy who had brought him some cigars, and who was now standing near by, pretending to straighten out some newspapers upon the table. "Here, sir!" cried the Major, "what do you mean—listening to what I'm saying! Out of the room with you now, you rascal!"
Another week-end came, and with it an invitation from the Lester Todds to visit them at their country place in New Jersey. Montague was buried in his books, but his brother routed him out with strenuous protests. His case be damned—was he going to ruin his career for one case? At all hazards, he must meet people—"people who counted." And the Todds were such, a big money crowd, and a power in the insurance world; if Montague were going to be an insurance lawyer, he could not possibly decline their invitation. Freddie Vandam would be a guest—and Montague smiled at the tidings that Betty Wyman would be there also. He had observed that his brother's week-end visits always happened at places where Betty was, and where Betty's granddaddy was not.
So Montague's man packed his grips, and Alice's maid her trunks; and they rode with a private-car party to a remote Jersey suburb, and were whirled in an auto up a broad shell road to a palace upon the top of a mountain. Here lived the haughty Lester Todds, and scattered about on the neighbouring hills, a set of the ultra-wealthy who had withdrawn to this seclusion. They were exceedingly "classy"; they affected to regard all the Society of the city with scorn, and had their own all-the-year-round diversions—an open-air horse show in summer, and in the fall fox-hunting in fancy uniforms.
The Lester Todds themselves were ardent pursuers of all varieties of game, and in various clubs and private preserves they followed the seasons, from Florida and North Carolina to Ontario, with occasional side trips to Norway, and New Brunswick, and British Columbia. Here at home they had a whole mountain of virgin forest, carefully preserved; and in the Renaissance palace at the summit-which they carelessly referred to as a "lodge"—you would find such articles de vertu as a ten-thousand-dollar table with a set of two-thousand-dollar chairs, and quite ordinary-looking rugs at ten and twenty thousand dollars each.—All these prices you might ascertain without any difficulty at all, because there were many newspaper articles describing the house to be read in an album in the hall. On Saturday afternoons Mrs. Todd welcomed the neighbours in a pastel grey reception-gown, the front of which contained a peacock embroidered in silk, with jewels in every feather, and a diamond solitaire for an eye; and in the evening there was a dance, and she appeared in a gown with several hundred diamonds sewn upon it, and received her guests upon a rug set with jewels to match.
All together, Montague judged this the "fastest" set he had yet encountered; they ate more and drank more and intrigued more openly. He had been slowly acquiring the special lingo of Society, but these people had so much more slang that he felt all lost again. A young lady who was gossiping to him about those present remarked that a certain youth was a "spasm"; and then, seeing the look of perplexity upon his face, she laughed, "I don't believe you know what I mean!" Montague replied that he had ventured to infer that she did not like him.
And then there was Mrs. Harper, who came from Chicago by way of London. Ten years ago Mrs. Harper had overwhelmed New York with the millions brought from her great department-store; and had then moved on, sighing for new worlds to conquer. When she had left Chicago, her grammar had been unexceptionable; but since she had been in England, she said "you ain't" and dropped all her g's; and when Montague brought down a bird at long range, she exclaimed, condescendingly, "Why, you're quite a dab at it!" He sat in the front seat of an automobile, and heard the great lady behind him referring to the sturdy Jersey farmers, whose ancestors had fought the British and Hessians all over the state, as "your peasantry."
It was an extraordinary privilege to have Mrs. Harper for a guest; "at home" she moved about in state recalling that of Queen Victoria, with flags and bunting on the way, and crowds of school children cheering. She kept up half a dozen establishments, and had a hundred thousand acres of game preserves in Scotland. She made a speciality of collecting jewels which had belonged to the romantic and picturesque queens of history. She appeared at the dance in a breastplate of diamonds covering the entire front of her bodice, so that she was literally clothed in light; and with her was her English friend, Mrs. Percy, who had accompanied her in her triumph through the courts and camps of Europe, and displayed a famous lorgnette-chain, containing one specimen of every rare and beautiful jewel known. Mrs. Percy wore a gown of cloth of gold tissue, covered with a fortune in Venetian lace, and made a tremendous sensation—until the rumour spread that it was a rehash of the costume which Mrs. Harper had worn at the Duchess of London's ball. The Chicago lady herself never by any chance appeared in the same costume twice.
Alice had a grand time at the Todds'; all the men fell in love with her—one in particular, a young chap named Fayette, quite threw himself at her feet. He was wealthy, but unfortunately he had made his money by eloping with a rich girl (who was one of the present party), and so, from a practical point of view, his attentions were not desirable for Alice.
Montague was left with the task of finding these things out for himself, for his brother devoted himself exclusively to Betty Wyman. The way these two disappeared between meals was a jest of the whole company; so that when they were on their way home, Montague felt called upon to make paternal inquiries.
"We're as much engaged as we dare to be," Oliver answered him.
"And when do you expect to marry her?"
"God knows," said he, "I don't. The old man wouldn't give her a cent."
"And you couldn't support her?"
"I? Good heavens, Allan—do you suppose Betty would consent to be poor?"
"Have you asked her?" inquired Montague.
"I don't want to ask her, thank you! I've not the least desire to live in a hovel with a girl who's been brought up in a palace."
"Then what do you expect to do?"
"Well, Betty has a rich aunt in a lunatic asylum. And then I'm making money, you know—and the old boy will have to relent in the end. And we're having a very good time in the meanwhile, you know."
"You can't be very much in love," said Montague—to which his brother replied cheerfully that they were as much in love as they felt like being.
This was on the train Monday morning. Oliver observed that his brother relapsed into a brown study, and remarked, "I suppose you're going back now to bury yourself in your books. You've got to give me one evening this week for a dinner that's important."
"Where's that?" asked the other.
"Oh, it's a long story," said Oliver. "I'll explain it to you some time. But first we must have an understanding about next week, also—I suppose you've not overlooked the fact that it's Christmas week. And you won't be permitted to do any work then."
"But that's impossible!" exclaimed the other.
"Nothing else is possible," said Oliver, firmly. "I've made an engagement for you with the Eldridge Devons up the Hudson—"
"For the whole week?"
"The whole week. And it'll be the most important thing you've done. Mrs. Winnie's going to take us all in her car, and you will make no end of indispensable acquaintances."
"Oliver, I don't see how in the world I can do it!" the other protested in dismay, and went on for several minutes arguing and explaining what he had to do. But Oliver contented himself with the assurance that where there's a will, there's a way. One could not refuse an invitation to spend Christmas with the Eldridge Devons!
And sure enough, there was a way. Mr. Hasbrook had mentioned to him that he had had considerable work done upon the case, and would have the papers sent round. And when Montague reached his office that morning, he found them there. There was a package of several thousand pages; and upon examining them, he found to his utter consternation that they contained a complete bill of complaint, with all the necessary references and citations, and a preliminary draught of a brief—in short, a complete and thoroughgoing preparation of his case. There could not have been less than ten or fifteen thousand dollars' worth of work in the papers; and Montague sat quite aghast, turning over the neatly typewritten sheets. He could indeed afford to attend Christmas house parties, if all his clients were to treat him like this!
He felt a little piqued about it—for he had noted some of these points for himself, and felt a little proud about them. Apparently he was to be nothing but a figure-head in the case! And he turned to the phone and called up Mr. Hasbrook, and asked him what he expected him to do with these papers. There was the whole case here; and was he simply to take them as they stood?
No one could have replied more considerately than did Mr. Hasbrook. The papers were for Montague's benefit—he would do exactly as he pleased with them. He might use them as they stood, or reject them altogether, or make them the basis for his own work—anything that appealed to his judgment would be satisfactory. And so Montague turned about and wrote an acceptance to the formal invitation which had come from the Eldridge Devons.
Later on in the day Oliver called up, and said that he was to go out to dinner the following evening, and that he would call for him at eight. "It's with the Jack Evanses," Oliver added. "Do you know them?"
Montague had heard the name, as that of the president of a chain of Western railroads. "Do you mean him?" he asked.
"Yes," said the other. "They're a rum crowd, but there's money in it. I'll call early and explain it to you."
But it was explained sooner than that. During the next afternoon Montague had a caller—none other than Mrs. Winnie Duval. Some one had left Mrs. Winnie some more money, it appeared; and there was a lot of red tape attached to it, which she wanted the new lawyer to attend to. Also, she said, she hoped that he would charge her a lot of money by way of encouraging himself. It was a mere bagatelle of a hundred thousand or so, from some forgotten aunt in the West.
The business was soon disposed of, and then Mrs. Winnie asked Montague if he had any place to go to for dinner that evening: which was the occasion of his mentioning the Jack Evanses. "O dear me!" said Mrs. Winnie, with a laugh. "Is Ollie going to take you there? What a funny time you'll have!"
"Do you know them?" asked the other.
"Heavens, no!" was the answer. "Nobody knows them; but everybody knows about them. My husband meets old Evans in business, of course, and thinks he's a good sort. But the family—dear me!"
"How much of it is there?"
"Why, there's the old lady, and two grown daughters and a son. The son's a fine chap, they say—the old man took him in hand and put him at work in the shops. But I suppose he thought that daughters were too much of a proposition for him, and so he sent them to a fancy school—and, I tell you, they're the most highly polished human specimens that ever you encountered!"
It sounded entertaining. "But what does Oliver want with them?" asked Montague, wonderingly.
"It isn't that he wants them—they want him. They're cumbers, you know—perfectly frantic. They've come to town to get into Society."
"Then you mean that they pay Oliver?" asked Montague.
"I don't know that," said the other, with a laugh. "You'll have to ask Ollie. They've a number of the little brothers of the rich hanging round them, picking up whatever plunder's in sight."
A look of pain crossed Montague's face; and she saw it, and put out her hand with a sudden gesture. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "I've offended you!"
"No," said he, "it's not that exactly—I wouldn't be offended. But I'm worried about my brother."
"How do you mean?"
"He gets a lot of money somehow, and I don't know what it means."
The woman sat for a few moments in silence, watching him. "Didn't he have any when he came here?" she asked.
"Not very much," said he.
"Because," she went on, "if he didn't, he certainly managed it very cleverly—we all thought he had."
Again there was a pause; then suddenly Mrs. Winnie said: "Do you know, you feel differently about money from the way we do in New York. Do you realize it?"
"I'm not sure," said he. "How do you mean?"
"You look at it in an old-fashioned sort of way—a person has to earn it—it's a sign of something he's done. It came to me just now, all in a flash—we don't feel that way about money. We haven't any of us earned ours; we've just got it. And it never occurs to us to expect other people to earn it—all we want to know is if they have it."
Montague did not tell his companion how very profound a remark he considered that; he was afraid it would not be delicate to agree with her. He had heard a story of a negro occupant of the "mourners' bench," who was voluble in confession of his sins, but took exception to the fervour with which the congregation said "Amen!"
"The Evanses used to be a lot funnier than they are now," continued Mrs. Winnie, after a while. "When they came here last year, they were really frightful. They had an English chap for social secretary—a younger son of some broken-down old family. My brother knew a man who had been one of their intimates in the West, and he said it was perfectly excruciating—this fellow used to sit at the table and give orders to the whole crowd: 'Your ice-cream fork should be at your right hand, Miss Mary.—One never asks for more soup, Master Robert.—And Miss Anna, always move your soup-spoon from you—that's better!'"
"I fancy I shall feel sorry for them," said Montague.
"Oh, you needn't," said the other, promptly. "They'll get what they want."
"Do you think so?"
"Why, certainly they will. They've got the money; and they've been abroad—they're learning the game. And they'll keep at it until they succeed—what else is there for them to do? And then my husband says that old Evans is making himself a power here in the East; so that pretty soon they won't dare offend him."
"Does that count?" asked the man.
"Well, I guess it counts!" laughed Mrs. Winnie. "It has of late." And she went on to tell him of the Society leader who had dared to offend the daughters of a great magnate, and how the magnate had retaliated by turning the woman's husband out of his high office. That was often the way in the business world; the struggles were supposed to be affairs of men, but oftener than not the moving power was a woman's intrigue. You would see a great upheaval in Wall Street, and it would be two of the big men quarrelling over a mistress; you would see some man rush suddenly into a high office—and that would be because his wife had sold herself to advance him.
Mrs. Winnie took him up town in her auto, and he dressed for dinner; and then came Oliver, and his brother asked, "Are you trying to put the Evanses into Society?"
"Who's been telling you about them?" asked the other.
"Mrs. Winnie," said Montague.
"What did she tell you?"
Montague went over her recital, which his brother apparently found satisfactory. "It's not as serious as that," he said, answering the earlier question. "I help them a little now and then."
"What do you do?"
"Oh, advise them, mostly—tell them where to go and what to wear. When they first came to New York, they were dressed like paraquets, you know. And"—here Oliver broke into a laugh—"I refrain from making jokes about them. And when I hear other people abusing them, I point out that they are sure to land in the end, and will be dangerous enemies. I've got one or two wedges started for them."
"And do they pay you for doing it?"
"You'd call it paying me, I suppose," replied the other. "The old man carries a few shares of stock for me now and then."
"Carries a few shares?" echoed Montague, and Oliver explained the procedure. This was one of the customs which had grown up in a community where people did not have to earn their money. The recipient of the favour put up nothing and took no risks; but the other person was supposed to buy some stock for him, and then, when the stock went up, he would send a cheque for the "profits." Many a man who would have resented a direct offer of money, would assent pleasantly when a powerful friend offered to "carry a hundred shares for him." This was the way one offered a tip in the big world; it was useful in the case of newspaper men, whose good opinion of a stock was desired, or of politicians and legislators, whose votes might help its fortunes. When one expected to get into Society, one must be prepared to strew such tips about him.
"Of course," added Oliver, "what the family would really like me to do is to get the Robbie Wallings to take them up. I suppose I could get round half a million of them if I could manage that."
To all of which Montague replied, "I see."
A great light had dawned upon him. So that was the way it was managed! That was why one paid thirty thousand a year for one's apartments, and thirty thousand more for a girl's clothes! No wonder it was better to spend Christmas week at the Eldridge Devons than to labour at one's law books!
"One more question," Montague went on. "Why are you introducing me to them?"
"Well," his brother answered, "it won't hurt you; you'll find it amusing. You see, they'd heard I had a brother; and they asked me to bring you. I couldn't keep you hidden for ever, could I?"
All this was while they were driving up town. The Evanses' place was on Riverside Drive; and when Montague got out of the cab and saw it looming up in the semi-darkness, he emitted an exclamation of wonder. It was as big as a jail!
"Oh, yes, they've got room enough," said Oliver, with a laugh. "I put this deal through for them—it's the old Lamson palace, you know."
They had the room; and likewise they had all the trappings of snobbery—Montague took that fact in at a glance. There were knee-breeches and scarlet facings and gold braid—marble balconies and fireplaces and fountains—French masters and real Flemish tapestry. The staircase of their palace was a winding one, and there was a white velvet carpet which had been specially woven for it, and had to be changed frequently; at the top of it was a white cashmere rug which had a pedigree of six centuries—and so on.
And then came the family: this tall, raw-boned, gigantic man, with weather-tanned face and straggling grey moustache—this was Jack Evans; and Mrs. Evans, short and pudgy, but with a kindly face, and not too many diamonds; and the Misses Evans,—stately and slender and perfectly arrayed. "Why, they're all right!" was the thought that came to Montague.
They were all right until they opened their mouths. When they spoke, you discovered that Evans was a miner, and that his wife had been cook on a ranch; also that Anne and Mary had harsh voices, and that they never by any chance said or did anything natural.
They were escorted into the stately dining-room—Henri II., with a historic mantel taken from the palace of Fontainebleau, and four great allegorical paintings of Morning, Evening, Noon, and Midnight upon the walls. There were no other guests—the table, set for six, seemed like a toy in the vast apartment. And in a sudden flash—with a start of almost terror—Montague realized what it must mean not to be in Society. To have all this splendour, and nobody to share it! To have Henri II. dining-rooms and Louis XVI. parlours and Louis XIV. libraries—and see them all empty! To have no one to drive with or talk with, no one to visit or play cards with—to go to the theatre and the opera and have no one to speak to! Worse than that, to be stared at and smiled at! To live in this huge palace, and know that all the horde of servants, underneath their cringing deference, were sneering at you! To face that—to live in the presence of it day after day! And then, outside of your home, the ever widening circles of ridicule and contempt—Society, with all its hangers-on and parasites, its imitators and admirers!
And some one had defied all that—some one had taken up the sword and gone forth to beat down that opposition! Montague looked at this little family of four, and wondered which of them was the driving force in this most desperate emprise!
He arrived at it by a process of elimination. It could not be Evans himself. One saw that the old man was quite hopeless socially; nothing could change his big hairy hands or his lean scrawny neck, or his irresistible impulse to slide down in his chair and cross his long legs in front of him. The face and the talk of Jack Evans brought irresistibly to mind the mountain trail and the prospector's pack-mule, the smoke of camp-fires and the odour of bacon and beans. Seventeen long years the man had tramped in deserts and mountain wildernesses, and Nature had graven her impress deep into his body and soul.
He was very shy at this dinner; but Montague came to know him well in the course of time. And after he had come to realize that Montague was not one of the grafters, he opened up his heart. Evans had held on to his mine when he had found it, and he had downed the rivals who had tried to take it away from him, and he had bought the railroads who had tried to crush him—and now he had come to Wall Street to fight the men who had tried to ruin his railroads. But through it all, he had kept the heart of a woman, and the sight of real distress was unbearable to him. He was the sort of man to keep a roll of ten-thousand-dollar bills in his pistol pocket, and to give one away if he thought he could do it without offence. And, on the other hand, men told how once when he had seen a porter insult a woman passenger on his line, he jumped up and pulled the bell-cord, and had the man put out on the roadside at midnight, thirty miles from the nearest town!
No, it was the women folks, he said to Montague, with his grim laugh. It didn't trouble him at all to be called a "noovoo rich"; and when he felt like dancing a shakedown, he could take a run out to God's country. But the women folks had got the bee in their bonnet. The old man added sadly that one of the disadvantages of striking it rich was that it left the women folks with nothing to do.
Nor was it Mrs. Evans, either. "Sarey," as she was called by the head of the house, sat next to Montague at dinner; and he discovered that with the very least encouragement, the good lady was willing to become homelike and comfortable. Montague gave the occasion, because he was a stranger, and volunteered the opinion that New York was a shamelessly extravagant place, and hard to get along in; and Mrs. Evans took up the subject and revealed herself as a good-natured and kindly personage, who had wistful yearnings for mush and molasses, and flap-jacks, and bread fried in bacon-grease, and similar sensible things, while her chef was compelling her to eat pate de foie gras in aspic, and milk-fed guinea-chicks, and biscuits glacees Tortoni. Of course she did not say that at dinner,—she made a game effort to play her part,—with the result of at least one diverting experience for Montague.
Mrs. Evans was telling him what a dreadful place she considered the city for young men; and how she feared to bring her boy here. "The men here have no morals at all," said she, and added earnestly, "I've come to the conclusion that Eastern men are naturally amphibious!"
Then, as Montague knitted his brows and looked perplexed, she added, "Don't you think so?" And he replied, with as little delay as possible, that he had never really thought of it before.
It was not until a couple of hours later that the light dawned upon him, in the course of a conversation with Miss Anne. "We met Lady Stonebridge at luncheon to-day," said that young person. "Do you know her?"
"No," said Montague, who had never heard of her.
"I think those aristocratic English women use the most abominable slang," continued Anne. "Have you noticed it?"
"Yes, I have," he said.
"And so utterly cynical! Do you know, Lady Stonebridge quite shocked mother—she told her she didn't believe in marriage at all, and that she thought all men were naturally polygamous!"
Later on, Montague came to know "Mrs. Sarey"; and one afternoon, sitting in her Petit Trianon drawing-room, he asked her abruptly, "Why in the world do you want to get into Society?" And the poor lady caught her breath, and tried to be indignant; and then, seeing that he was in earnest, and that she was cornered, broke down and confessed. "It isn't me," she said, "it's the gals." (For along with the surrender went a reversion to natural speech.) "It's Mary, and more particularly Anne."
They talked it over confidentially—which was a great relief to Mrs. Sarey's soul, for she was cruelly lonely. So far as she was concerned, it was not because she wanted Society, but because Society didn't want her. She flashed up in sudden anger, and clenched her fists, declaring that Jack Evans was as good a man as walked the streets of New York—and they would acknowledge it before he got through with them, too! After that she intended to settle down at home and be comfortable, and mend her husband's socks.
She went on to tell him what a hard road was the path of glory. There were hundreds of people ready to know them—but oh, such a riffraff! They might fill up their home with the hangers-on and the yellow, but no, they could wait. They had learned a lot since they set out. One very aristocratic lady had invited them to dinner, and their hopes had been high—but alas, while they were sitting by the fireplace, some one admired a thirty-thousand-dollar emerald ring which Mrs. Evans had on her finger, and she had taken it off and passed it about among the company, and somewhere it had vanished completely! And another person had invited Mary to a bridge-party, and though she had played hardly at all, her hostess had quietly informed her that she had lost a thousand dollars. And the great Lady Stonebridge had actually sent for her and told her that she could introduce her in some of the very best circles, if only she was willing to lose always! Mrs. Evans had possessed a very homely Irish name before she was married; and Lady Stonebridge had got five thousand dollars from her to use some great influence she possessed in the Royal College of Heralds, and prove that she was descended directly from the noble old family of Magennis, who had been the lords of Iveagh, way back in the fourteenth century. And now Oliver had told them that this imposing charter would not help them in the least!
In the process of elimination, there were the Misses Evans left. Montague's friends made many jests when they heard that he had met them—asking him if he meant to settle down. Major Venable went so far as to assure him that there was not the least doubt that either of the girls would take him in a second. Montague laughed, and answered that Mary was not so bad—she had a sweet face and was good-natured; but also, she was two years younger than Anne; and he could not get over the thought that two more years might make another Anne of her.
For it was Anne who was the driving force of the family! Anne who had planned the great campaign, and selected the Lamson palace, and pried the family loose from the primeval rocks of Nevada! She was cold as an iceberg, tireless, pitiless to others as to herself; for seventeen years her father had wandered and dug among the mountains; and for seventeen years, if need be, she would dig beneath the walls of the fortress of Society!
After Montague had had his heart to heart talk with the mother, Miss Anne Evans became very haughty toward him; whereby he knew that the old lady had told about it, and that the daughter resented his presumption. But to Oliver she laid bare her soul, and Oliver would come and tell his brother about it: how she plotted and planned and studied, and brought new schemes to him every week. She had some of the real people bought over to secret sympathy with her; if there was some especial favour which she asked for, she would set to work with the good-natured old man, and the person would have some important money service done him. She had the people of Society all marked—she was learning all their weaknesses, and the underground passages of their lives, and working patiently to find the key to her problem—some one family which was socially impregnable, but whose finances were in such a shape that they would receive the proposition to take up the Evanses, and definitely put them in. Montague used to look back upon all this with wonder and amusement—from those days in the not far distant future, when the papers had cable descriptions of the gowns of the Duchess of Arden, nee Evans, who was the bright particular star of the London social season!
Montague had written a reluctant letter to Major Thorne, telling him that he had been unable to interest anyone in his proposition, and that he was not in position to undertake it himself. Then, according to his brother's injunction, he left his money in the bank, and waited. There would be "something doing" soon, said Oliver.
And as they drove home from the Evanses', Oliver served notice upon him that this event might be expected any day. He was very mysterious about it, and would answer none of his brother's questions—except to say that it had nothing to do with the people they had just visited.
"I suppose," Montague remarked, "you have not failed to realize that Evans might play you false."
And the other laughed, echoing the words, "Might do it!" Then he went on to tell the tale of the great railroad builder of the West, whose daughter had been married, with elaborate festivities; and some of the young men present, thinking to find him in a sentimental mood, had asked him for his views about the market. He advised them to buy the stock of his road; and they formed a pool and bought, and as fast as they bought, he sold—until the little venture cost the boys a total of seven million and a half!
"No, no," Oliver added. "I have never put up a dollar for anything of Evans's, and I never shall.—They are simply a side issue, anyway," he added carelessly.
A couple of mornings later, while Montague was at breakfast, his brother called him up and said that he was coming round, and would go down town with him. Montague knew at once that that meant something serious, for he had never before known his brother to be awake so early.
They took a cab; and then Oliver explained. The moment had arrived—the time to take the plunge, and come up with a fortune. He could not tell much about it, for it was a matter upon which he stood pledged to absolute secrecy. There were but four people in the country who knew about it. It was the chance of a lifetime—and in four or five hours it would be gone. Three times before it had come to Oliver, and each time he had multiplied his capital several times; that he had not made millions was simply because he did not have enough money. His brother must take his word for this and simply put himself into his hands.
"What is it you want me to do?" asked Montague, gravely.
"I want you to take every dollar you have, or that you can lay your hands on this morning, and turn it over to me to buy stocks with."
"To buy on margin, you mean?"
"Of course I mean that," said Oliver. Then, as he saw his brother frown, he added, "Understand me, I have absolutely certain information as to how a certain stock will behave to-day."
"The best judges of a stock often make mistakes in such matters," said Montague.
"It is not a question of any person's judgment," was the reply. "It is a question of knowledge. The stock is to be MADE to behave so."
"But how can you know that the person who intends to make it behave may not be lying to you?"
"My information does not come from that person, but from a person who has no such interest—who, on the contrary, is in on the deal with me, and gains only as I gain."
"Then, in other words," said Montague, "your information is stolen?"
"Everything in Wall Street is stolen," was Oliver's concise reply.
There was a long silence, while the cab rolled swiftly on its way. "Well?" Oliver asked at last.
"I can imagine," said Montague, "how a man might intend to move a certain stock, and think that he had the power, and yet find that he was mistaken. There are so many forces, so many chances to be considered—it seems to me you must be taking a risk."
Oliver laughed. "You talk like a child," was his reply. "Suppose that I were in absolute control of a corporation, and that I chose to run it for purposes of market manipulation, don't you think I might come pretty near knowing what its stock was going to do?"
"Yes," said Montague, slowly, "if such a thing as that were conceivable."
"If it were conceivable!" laughed his brother. "And now suppose that I had a confidential man—a secretary, we'll say—and I paid him twenty thousand a year, and he saw chances to make a hundred thousand in an hour—don't you think he might conceivably try it?"
"Yes," said Montague, "he might. But where do you come in?"
"Well, if the man were going to do anything worth while, he'd need capital, would he not? And he'd hardly dare to look for any money in the Street, where a thousand eyes would be watching him. What more natural than to look out for some person who is in Society and has the ear of private parties with plenty of cash?"
And Montague sat in deep thought. "I see," he said slowly; "I see!" Then, fixing his eyes upon Oliver, he exclaimed, earnestly, "One thing more!"
"Don't ask me any more," protested the other. "I told you I was pledged—"
"You must tell me this," said Montague. "Does Bobbie Walling know about it?"
"He does not," was the reply. But Montague had known his brother long and intimately, and he could read things in his eyes. He knew that that was a lie. He had solved the mystery at last!
Montague knew that he had come to a parting of the ways. He did not like this kind of thing—he had not come to New York to be a stock-gambler. But what a difficult thing it would be to say so; and how unfair it was to be confronted with such an issue, and compelled to decide in a few minutes in a cab!
He had put himself in his brother's hands, and now he was under obligations to him, which he could not pay off. Oliver had paid all his expenses; he was doing everything for him. He had made all his difficulties his own, and all in frankness and perfect trust—upon the assumption that his brother would play the game with him. And now, at the critical moment, he was to face about, and say; "I do not like the game. I do not approve of your life!" Such a painful thing it is to have a higher moral code than one's friends!
If he refused, he saw that he would have to face a complete break; he could not go on living in the world to which he had been introduced. Fifty thousand had seemed an enormous fee, yet even a week or two had sufficed for it to come to seem inadequate. He would have to have many such fees, if they were to go on living at their present rate; and if Alice were to have a social career, and entertain her friends. And to ask Alice to give up now, and retire, would be even harder than to face his brother here in the cab.
Then came the temptation. Life was a battle, and this was the way it was being fought. If he rejected the opportunity, others would seize it; in fact, by refusing, he would be handing it to them. This great man, whoever he might be, who was manipulating stocks for his own convenience—could anyone in his senses reject a chance to wrench from him some part of his spoils? Montague saw the impulse of refusal dying away within him.
"Well?" asked his brother, finally.
"Oliver," said the other, "don't you think that I ought to know more about it, so that I can judge?"
"You could not judge, even if I told you all," said Oliver. "It would take you a long time to become familiar with the circumstances, as I am. You must take my word; I know it is certain and safe."
Then suddenly he unbuttoned his coat, and took out some papers, and handed his brother a telegram. It was dated Chicago, and read, "Guest is expected immediately.—HENRY." "That means, 'Buy Transcontinental this morning,'" said Oliver.
"I see," said the other. "Then the man is in Chicago?"
"No," was the reply. "That is his wife. He wires to her."
"—How much money have you?" asked Oliver, after a pause.
"I've most of the fifty thousand," the other answered, "and about thirty thousand we brought with us."
"How much can you put your hands on?"
"Why, I could get all of it; but part of the money is mother's, and I would not touch that."
The younger man was about to remonstrate, but Montague stopped him, "I will put up the fifty thousand I have earned," he said. "I dare not risk any more."
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. "As you please," he said. "You may never have another such chance in your life."
He dropped the subject, or at least he probably tried to. Within a few minutes, however, he was back at it again, with the result that by the time they reached the banking-district, Montague had agreed to draw sixty thousand.
They stopped at his bank. "It isn't open yet,—" said Oliver, "but the paying teller will oblige you. Tell him you want it before the Exchange opens."
Montague went in and got his money, in six new, crisp, ten-thousand-dollar bills. He buttoned them up in his inmost pocket, wondering a little, incidentally, at the magnificence of the place, and at the swift routine manner in which the clerk took in and paid out such sums as this. Then they drove to Oliver's bank, and he drew a hundred and twenty thousand; and then he paid off the cab, and they strolled down Broadway into Wall Street. It lacked a quarter of an hour of the time of the opening of the Exchange; and a stream of prosperous-looking men were pouring in from all the cars and ferries to their offices.
"Where are your brokers?" Montague inquired.
"I don't have any brokers—at least not for a matter such as this," said Oliver. And he stopped in front of one of the big buildings. "In there," he said, "are the offices of Hammond and Streeter—second floor to your left. Go there and ask for a member of the firm, and introduce yourself under an assumed name—"
"What!" gasped Montague.
"Of course, man—you would not dream of giving your own name! What difference will that make?"
"I never thought of doing such a thing," said the other.
"Well, think of it now."
But Montague shook his head. "I would not do that," he said.
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. "All right," he said; "tell him you don't care to give your name. They're a little shady—they'll take your money."
"Suppose they won't?" asked the other.
"Then wait outside for me, and I'll take you somewhere else."
"What shall I buy?"
"Ten thousand shares of Transcontinental Common at the opening price; and tell them to buy on the scale up, and to raise the stop; also to take your orders to sell over the 'phone. Then wait there until I come for you."
Montague set his teeth together and obeyed orders. Inside the door marked Hammond and Streeter a pleasant-faced young man advanced to meet him, and led him to a grey-haired and affable gentleman, Mr. Streeter. And Montague introduced himself as a stranger in town, from the South, and wishing to buy some stock. Mr. Streeter led him into an inner office and seated himself at a desk and drew some papers in front of him. "Your name, please?" he asked.
"I don't care to give my name," replied the other. And Mr. Streeter put down his pen.
"Not give your name?" he said.
"No," said Montague quietly.
"Why?"—said Mr. Streeter—"I don't understand—"
"I am a stranger in town," said Montague, "and not accustomed to dealing in stocks. I should prefer to remain unknown."
The man eyed him sharply. "Where do you come from?" he asked.
"From Mississippi," was the reply.
"And have you a residence in New York?"
"At a hotel," said Montague.
"You have to give some name," said the other.
"Any will do," said Montague. "John Smith, if you like."
"We never do anything like this," said the broker.
"We require that our customers be introduced. There are rules of the Exchange—there are rules—"
"I am sorry," said Montague; "this would be a cash transaction."
"How many shares do you want to buy?"
"Ten thousand," was the reply.
Mr. Streeter became more serious. "That is a large order," he said.
Montague said nothing.
"What do you wish to buy?" was the next question.
"Transcontinental Common," he replied.
"Well," said the other, after another pause-,-"we will try to accommodate you. But you will have to consider it—er—"
"Strictly confidential," said Montague.
So Mr. Streeter made out the papers, and Montague, looking them over, discovered that they called for one hundred thousand dollars.
"That is a mistake," he said. "I have only sixty thousand."
"Oh," said the other, "we shall certainly have to charge you a ten per cent, margin."
Montague was not prepared for this contingency; but he did some mental arithmetic. "What is the present price of the stock?" he asked.
"Fifty-nine and five-eighths," was the reply.
"Then sixty thousand dollars is more than ten per cent, of the market price," said Montague.
"Yes," said Mr. Streeter. "But in dealing with a stranger we shall certainly have to put a 'stop loss' order at four points above, and that would leave you only two points of safety—surely not enough."
"I see," said Montague—and he had a sudden appalling realization of the wild game which his brother had planned for him.
"Whereas," Mr. Streeter continued, persuasively, "if you put up ten per cent., you will have six points."
"Very well," said the other promptly. "Then please buy me six thousand shares."
So they closed the deal, and the papers were signed, and Mr. Streeter took the six new, crisp ten-thousand-dollar bills.
Then he escorted him to the outer office, remarking pleasantly on the way, "I hope you're well advised. We're inclined to be bearish upon Transcontinental ourselves—the situation looks rather squally."
These words were not worth the breath it took to say them; but Montague was not aware of this, and felt a painful start within. But he answered, carelessly, that one must take his chance, and sat down in one of the customer's chairs. Hammond and Streeter's was like a little lecture-hall, with rows of seats and a big blackboard in front, with the initials of the most important stocks in columns, and yesterday's closing prices above, on little green cards. At one side was a ticker, with two attendants awaiting the opening click.
In the seats were twenty or thirty men, old and young; most of them regular habitues, victims of the fever of the Street. Montague watched them, catching snatches of their whispered conversation, with its intricate and disagreeable slang. He felt intensely humiliated and uncomfortable—for he had got the fever of the Street into his own veins, and he could not conquer it. There were nasty shivers running up and down his spine, and his hands were cold.
He stared at the little figures, fascinated; they stood for some vast and tremendous force outside, which could not be controlled or even comprehended,—some merciless, annihilating force, like the lightning or the tornado. And he had put himself at the mercy of it; it might do its will with him! "Tr. C. 59 5/8" read the little pasteboard; and he had only six points of safety. If at any time in the day that figure should be changed to read "53 5/8"—then every dollar of Montague's sixty thousand would be gone for ever! The great fee that he had worked so hard for and rejoiced so greatly over—that would be all gone, and a slice out of his inheritance besides!
A boy put into his hand a little four-page paper—one of the countless news-sheets which different houses and interests distributed free for advertising or other purposes; and a heading "Transcontinental" caught his eye, among the paragraphs in the Day's Events. He read: "The directors' meeting of the Transcontinental R.R. will be held at noon. It is confidently predicted that the quarterly dividend will be passed, as it has been for the last three quarters. There is great dissatisfaction among the stock-holders. The stock has been decidedly weak, with no apparent inside support; it fell off three points just before closing yesterday, upon the news of further proceedings by Western state officials, and widely credited rumours of dissensions among the directors, with renewed opposition to the control of the Hopkins interests."
Ten o'clock came and went, and the ticker began its long journey. There was intense activity in Transcontinental, many thousands of shares changing hands, and the price swaying back and forth. When Oliver came in, in half an hour, it stood at 59 3/8.
"That's all right," said he. "Our time will not come till afternoon."
"But suppose we are wiped out before afternoon?" said the other.
"That is impossible," answered Oliver. "There will be big buying all the morning."
They sat for a while, nervous and restless. Then, by way of breaking the monotony, Oliver suggested that his brother might like to see the "Street." They went around the corner to Broad Street. Here at the head stood the Sub-treasury building, with all the gold of the government inside, and a Gatling gun in the tower. The public did not know it was there, but the financial men knew it, and it seemed as if they had huddled all their offices and banks and safe-deposit vaults under its shelter. Here, far underground, were hidden the two hundred millions of securities of the Oil Trust—in a huge six-hundred-ton steel vault, with a door so delicately poised that a finger could swing it on its hinges. And opposite to this was the white Grecian building of the Stock Exchange. Down the street were throngs of men within a roped arena, pushing, shouting, jostling; this was "the curb," where one could buy or sell small blocks of stock, and all the wild-cat mining and oil stocks which were not listed by the Exchange. Rain or shine, these men were always here; and in the windows of the neighbouring buildings stood others shouting quotations to them through megaphones, or signalling in deaf and dumb language. Some of these brokers wore coloured hats, so that they could be distinguished; some had offices far off, where men sat all day with strong glasses trained upon them. Everywhere was the atmosphere of speculation—the restless, feverish eyes; the quick, nervous gestures; the haggard, care-worn faces. For in this game every man was pitted against every other man; and the dice were loaded so that nine out of every ten were doomed in advance to ruin and defeat. They procured passes to the visitors' gallery of the Exchange. From here one looked down into a room one or two hundred feet square, its floor covered with a snowstorm of torn pieces of paper, and its air a babel of shouts and cries. Here were gathered perhaps two thousand men and boys; some were lounging and talking, but most were crowded about the various trading-posts, pushing, climbing over each other, leaping up, waving their hands and calling aloud. A "seat" in this exchange was worth about ninety-five thousand dollars, and so no one of these men was poor; but yet they came, day after day, to play their parts in this sordid arena, "seeking in sorrow for each other's joy": inventing a thousand petty tricks to outwit and deceive each other; rejoicing in a thousand petty triumphs; and spending their lives, like the waves upon the shore, a very symbol of human futility. Now and then a sudden impulse would seize them, and they would become like howling demons, surging about one spot, shrieking, gasping, clawing each other's clothing to pieces; and the spectator shuddered, seeing them as the victims of some strange and dreadful enchantment, which bound them to struggle and torment each other until they were worn out and grey.
But one felt these things only dimly, when he had put all his fortune into Transcontinental Common. For then he had sold his own soul to the enchanter, and the spell was upon him, and he hoped and feared and agonized with the struggling throng. Montague had no need to ask which was his "post"; for a mob of a hundred men were packed about it, with little whirls and eddies here and there on the outside. "Something doing to-day all right," said a man in his ear.
It was interesting to watch; but there was one difficulty—there were no quotations provided for the spectators. So the sight of this activity merely set them on edge with anxiety—something must be happening to their stock! Even Oliver was visibly nervous—after all, in the surest cases, the game was a dangerous one; there might be a big failure, or an assassination, or an earthquake! They rushed out and made for the nearest broker's office, where a glance at the board showed them Transcontinental at 60. They drew a long breath, and sat down again to wait.
That was about half-past eleven. At a quarter to twelve the stock went up an eighth, and then a quarter, and then another eighth. The two gripped their hands in excitement. Had the time come?
Apparently it had. A minute later the stock leaped to 61, on large buying. Then it went three-eighths more. A buzz of excitement ran through the office, and the old-timers sat up in their seats. The stock went another quarter.
Montague heard a man behind him say to his neighbour, "What does it mean?"
"God knows," was the answer; but Oliver whispered in his brother's ear, "I know what it means. The insiders are buying."
Somebody was buying, and buying furiously. The ticker seemed to set all other business aside and give its attention to the trading in Transcontinental. It was like a base-ball game, when one side begins to pile up runs, and the man in the coacher's box chants exultantly, and the dullest spectator is stirred—since no man can be indifferent to success. And as the stock went higher and higher, a little wave of excitement mounted with it, a murmur running through the room, and a thrill passing from person to person. Some watched, wondering if it would last, and if they had not better take on a little; then another point would be scored, and they would wish they had done it, and hesitate whether to do it now. But to others, like the Montagues, who "had some," it was victory, glorious and thrilling; their pulses leaped faster with every new change of the figures; and between times they reckoned up their gains, and hung between hope and dread for the new gains which were on the way, but not yet in sight.
There was little lull, and the boys who tended the board had a chance to rest. The stock was above 66; at which price, owing to the device of "pyramiding." Montague was on "velvet," to use the picturesque phrase of the Street. His earnings amounted to sixty thousand dollars, and even if the stock were to fall and he were to be sold out, he would lose nothing.
He wished to sell and realize his profits; but his brother gripped him fast by the arm. "No! no!" he said. "It hasn't really come yet!"
Some went out to lunch—to a restaurant where they could have a telephone on their table, so as to keep in touch with events. But the Montagues had no care about eating; they sat picturing the directors in session, and speculating upon a score of various eventualities. Things might yet go wrong, and all their profits would vanish like early snow-flakes—and all their capital with them. Oliver shook like a leaf, but he would not stir. "Stay game!" he whispered.
He took out his watch, and glanced at it. It was after two o'clock. "It may go over till to-morrow!" he muttered.—But then suddenly came the storm.
The ticker recorded a rise in the price of Transcontinental of a point and a half, upon a purchase of five thousand shares; and then half a point for two thousand more. After that it never stopped. It went a point at a time; it went ten points in about fifteen minutes. And babel broke loose in the office, and in several thousand other offices in the street, and spread to others all over the world. Montague had got up, and was moving here and there, because the tension was unendurable; and at the door of an inner office he heard some one at the telephone exclaiming, "For the love of God, can't you find out what's the matter?"—A moment later a man rushed in, breathless and wild-eyed, and his voice rang through the office, "The directors have declared a quarterly dividend of three per cent, and an extra dividend of two!"
And Oliver caught his brother by the arm and started for the door with him. "Get to your broker's," he said. "And if the stock has stopped moving, sell; and sell in any case before the close." And then he dashed away to his own headquarters.
At about half after three o'clock, Oliver came into Hammond and Streeter's, breathless, and with his hair and clothing dishevelled. He was half beside himself with exultation; and Montague was scarcely less wrought up—in fact he felt quite limp after the strain he had been through.
"What price did you get?" his brother inquired; and he answered, "An average of 78 3/8." There had been another sharp rise at the end, and he had sold all his stock without checking the advance.
"I got five-eighths," said Oliver. "O ye gods!"
There were some unhappy "shorts" in the office; Mr. Streeter was one of them. It was bitterness and gall to them to see the radiant faces of the two lucky ones; but the two did not even see this. They went out, half dancing, and had a drink or two to steady their nerves.
They would not actually get their money until the morrow; but Montague figured a profit of a trifle under a quarter of a million for himself. Of this about twenty thousand would go to make up the share of his unknown informant; the balance he considered would be an ample reward for his six hours' work that day.
His brother had won more than twice as much. But as they drove up home, talking over it in awe-stricken whispers, and pledging themselves to absolute secrecy, Oliver suddenly clenched his fist and struck his knee.
"By God!" he exclaimed. "If I hadn't been a fool and tried to save an extra margin, I could have had a million!"
After such a victory one felt in a mood for Christmas festivities,—for music and dancing and all beautiful and happy things.
Such a thing, for instance, as Mrs. Winnie, when she came to meet him; clad in her best automobile coat, a thing of purest snowy ermine, so truly gorgeous that wherever she went, people turned and stared and caught their breath. Mrs. Winnie was a picture of joyful health, with a glow in her rich complexion, and a sparkle in her black eyes.
She sat in her big touring-car—in which one could afford to wear ermine. It was a little private self-moving hotel; in the limousine were seats for six persons, with revolving easy chairs, and berths for sleeping, and a writing-desk and a wash-stand, and a beautiful electric chandelier to light it at night. Its trimmings were of South American mahogany, and its upholstering of Spanish and Morocco leathers; it had a telephone with which one spoke to the driver; an ice-box and a lunch hamper—in fact, one might have spent an hour discovering new gimcracks in this magic automobile. It had been made especially for Mrs. Winnie a couple of years ago, and the newspapers said it had cost thirty thousand dollars; it had then been quite a novelty, but now "everybody" was getting them. In this car one might sit at ease, and laugh and chat, and travel at the rate of an express train; and with never a jar or a quiver, nor the faintest sound of any sort.
The streets of the city sped by them as if by enchantment. They went through the park, and out Riverside Drive, and up the river-road which runs out of Broadway all the way to Albany. It was a macadamized avenue, lined with beautiful and stately homes. As one went farther yet, he came to the great country estates-a whole district of hundreds of square miles given up to them. There were forests and lakes and streams; there were gardens and greenhouses filled with rare plants and flowers, and parks with deer browsing, and peacocks and lyre-birds strutting about. The road wound in and out among hills, the surfaces of which would be one unbroken lawn; and upon the highest points stood palaces of every conceivable style and shape.
One might find these great domains anywhere around the city, at a distance of from thirty to sixty miles; there were two or three hundred of them, and incredible were the sums of money which had been spent upon their decoration. One saw an artificial lake of ten thousand acres, made upon land which had cost several hundred dollars an acre; one saw gardens with ten thousand rose-bushes, and a quarter of a million dollars' worth of lilies from Japan; there was one estate in which had been planted a million dollars' worth of rare trees, imported from all over the world. Some rich men, who had nothing else to amuse them, would make their estates over and over again, changing the view about their homes as one changes the scenery in a play. Over in New Jersey the Hegans were building a castle upon a mountain-top, and had built a special railroad simply to carry the materials. Here, also, was the estate of the tobacco king, upon which three million dollars had been spent before the plans of the mansion had even been drawn; there were artificial lakes and streams, and fantastic bridges and statuary, and scores of little model plantations and estates, according to the whim of the owner. And here in the Pocantico Hills was the estate of the oil king, about four square miles, with thirty miles of model driveways; many car-loads of rare plants had been imported for its gardens, and it took six hundred men to keep it in order. There was a golf course, a little miniature Alps, upon which the richest man in the world pursued his lost health, with armed guards and detectives patrolling the place all day, and a tower with a search-light, whereby at night he could flood the grounds with light by pressing a button.
In one of these places lived the heir of the great house of Devon. His cousin dwelt in Europe, saying that America was not a fit place for a gentleman to live in. Each of them owned a hundred million dollars' worth of New York real estate, and drew their tribute of rents from the toil of the swarming millions of the city. And always, according to the policy of the family, they bought new real estate. They were directors of the great railroads tributary to the city, and in touch with the political machines, and in every other way in position to know what was under way: if a new subway were built to set the swarming millions free, the millions would find the land all taken up, and apartment-houses newly built for them—and the Devons were the owners. They had a score of the city's greatest hotels—and also slum tenements, and brothels and dives in the Tenderloin. They did not even have to know what they owned; they did not have to know anything, or do anything—they lived in their palaces, at home or abroad, and in their offices in the city the great rent-gathering machine ground on.
Eldridge Devon's occupation was playing with his country-place and his automobiles. He had recently sold all his horses, and turned his stables into a garage equipped with a score or so of cars; he was always getting a new one, and discussing its merits. As to Hudson Cliff, the estate, he had conceived the brilliant idea of establishing a gentleman's country-place which should be self-supporting—that is to say, which should furnish the luxuries and necessities of its owner's table for no more than it would have cost to buy them. Considering the prices usually paid, this was no astonishing feat, but Devon took a child's delight in it; he showed Montague his greenhouses, filled with rare flowers and fruits, and his model dairy, with marble stables and nickel plumbing, and attendants in white uniforms and rubber gloves. He was a short and very stout gentleman with red cheeks, and his conversation was not brilliant.
To Hudson Cliff came many of Montague's earlier acquaintances, and others whom he had not met before. They amused themselves in all the ways with which-he had become familiar at house-parties; likewise on Christmas Eve there were festivities for the children, and on Christmas night a costume ball, very beautiful and stately. Many came from New York to attend this, and others from the neighbourhood; and in returning calls, Montague saw others of these hill-top mansions.
Also, and most important of all, they played bridge—as they had played at every function which he had attended so far. Here Mrs. Winnie, who had rather taken him up, and threatened to supplant Oliver as his social guide and chaperon, insisted that no more excuses would be accepted; and so for two mornings he sat with her in one of the sun-parlours, and diligently put his mind upon the game. As he proved an apt pupil, he was then advised that he might take a trial plunge.
And so Montague came into touch with a new social phenomenon; perhaps on the whole the most significant and soul-disturbing phenomenon which Society had exhibited to him. He had just had the experience of getting a great deal of money without earning it, and was fresh from the disagreeable memories of it—the trembling and suspense, the burning lustful greed, the terrible nerve-devouring excitement. He had hoped that he would not soon have to go through such an experience again-and here was the prospect of an endless dalliance with it!
For that was the meaning of bridge; it was a penalty which people were paying for getting their money without earning it. The disease got into their blood, and they could no longer live without the excitement of gain and the hope of gain. So after their labours were over, when they were supposed to be resting and enjoying themselves, they would get together and torment themselves with an imitation struggle, mimicking the grim and dreadful gamble of business. Down in the Street, Oliver had pointed out to his brother a celebrated "plunger," who had sometimes won six or eight millions in a single day; and that man would play at stocks all morning, and "play the ponies" in the afternoon, and then spend the evening in a millionaires' gambling-house. And so it was with the bridge fiends.