“But, man! Doesn't he own the Mississippi Steel Company?”

“He owns it for Waterman,” said Bates.

“But that is impossible,” cried Montague. “Isn't Waterman interested in the Steel Trust? And isn't Mississippi Steel its chief competitor?”

“It is supposed to be,” said the other. “But that is simply a bluff to fool the public. There has been no real competition between them ever since four years ago, when Price raided the stock and captured it for Waterman.”

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Montague was staring at his friend, almost speechless with amazement.

“Mr. Bates,” he said, “it happens that I was very recently connected with Price and the Mississippi Steel Company in a very intimate way; and I know most positively that what you say is not true.”

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“It's very hard to answer a statement like that,” Bates responded. “I'd have to know just what your facts are. But they'd have to be very convincing indeed to make an impression upon me, for I ran that story down pretty thoroughly. I got it straight from the inside, and I got all the details of it. I nailed Price down, right in his own office. The only trouble was that my people wouldn't print the facts.”

It was some time before Montague spoke again. He was groping around in his own mind, trying to grasp the significance of what Bates had said.

“But Price was fighting Waterman!” he whispered. “The whole crowd were fighting him! That was the whole purpose of what they were doing. It had no sense otherwise.”

“But are you sure?” asked the other. “Think it over. Suppose they were only pretending to fight.”

There was a silence again.

“Mind you,” Bates added, “I am only speaking about Price himself. I don't know about any people he may have been with. He may have been deceiving them—he may have been leading them into a trap—”

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And suddenly Montague clutched the arms of his chair. He sat staring ahead of him, struck dumb by the thought which the other's words had brought to him. “My God,” he gasped; and again, and yet again, “My God!”

It seemed to unroll before him, in vista after vista. Price deceiving Ryder! leading him into that Northern Mississippi deal; getting him to lend money upon the stock of the Mississippi Steel Company; promising, perhaps, to support the stock in the market, and helping to smash it instead! Twisting Ryder around his finger, crushing him—and why? And why?

Montague's thoughts stopped still. It was as if he had found himself suddenly confronted by a bottomless abyss. He shrank back from it. He could not face the thought in his own mind. Waterman! It was Dan Waterman! It was something which he had planned! It was the vengeance that he had threatened! He had been all this time plotting it, setting his nets about Ryder's feet!

It was an idea so wild and so horrible that Montague fought it off. He pushed it away from him, again and again. No, no, it could not be!