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“Allan,” he said, “I have been president of the Northern Mississippi for fifteen years, and I have served the road faithfully and devotedly. And now—I want you to tell me—what does this mean? Am I—”

Montague could not remember a time when Mr. Carter had not been a visitor at his father's home, and it was painful to see him in his helplessness. But there was nothing that could be done about it; he set his lips together.

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“I am very sorry, Mr. Garter,” he said; “but I am not at liberty to say a word to you about the plans of my clients.”

“Am I to understand, then, that I am to be turned out of my position? I am to have no consideration for all that I have done? Surely—”

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“I am very sorry,” Montague said again, firmly,—“but the circumstances at the present time are such that I must ask you to excuse me from discussing the matter in any way.”

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A day or two later Montague received a telegram from Price, instructing him to go to Riverton, where the works of the Mississippi Steel Company were located, and to meet Mr. Andrews, the president of the Company. Montague had been to Riverton several times in his youth, and he remembered the huge mills, which were one of the sights of the State. But he was not prepared for the enormous development which had since taken place. The Mississippi Steel Company had now two huge Bessemer converters, in which a volcano of molten flame roared all day and night. It had bought up the whole western side of the town, and cleared away half a hundred ramshackle dwellings; and here were long rows of coke-ovens, and two huge rail-mills, and a plate-mill from which arose sounds like the crashing of the day of doom. Everywhere loomed rows of towering chimneys, and pillars of rolling black smoke. Little miniature railroad tracks ran crisscross about the yards, and engines came puffing and clanking, carrying blazing white ingots which the eye could not bear to face.

Opposite to the entrance of the stockaded yards, the Company had put up a new office building, and upon the top floor of this were the president's rooms.

“Mr. Andrews will be in on the two o'clock train,” said his secretary, who was evidently expecting the visitor. “Will you wait in his office?”

“I think I should like to see the works, if you can arrange it for me,” said Montague. And so he was provided with a pass and an attendant, and made a tour of the yards.

It was interesting to Montague to see the actual property of the Mississippi Steel Company. Sitting in comfortable offices in Wall Street and exchanging pieces of paper, one had a tendency to lose sight of the fact that he was dealing in material things and disposing of the destinies of living people. But Montague was now to build and operate a railroad—to purchase real cars and handle real iron and steel; and the thought was in his mind that at every step of what he did he wished to keep this reality in mind.

It was a July day, with not a cloud in the sky, and an almost tropical sun blazed down upon the works. The sheds and railroad tracks shimmered in the heat, and it seemed as if the cinders upon which one trod had been newly poured from a fire. In the rooms where the furnaces blazed, Montague could not penetrate at all; he could only stand in the doorway, shading his eyes from the glare. In each of these infernos toiled hundreds of grimy, smoke-stained men, stripped to the waist and streaming with perspiration.

He gazed down the long rows of the blast furnaces, great caverns through the cracks of which the molten steel shone like lightning. Here the men who worked had to have buckets of water poured over them continually, and they drank several gallons of beer each day. He went through the rail-mills, where the flaming white ingots were caught by huge rollers, and tossed about like pancakes, and flattened and squeezed, emerging at the other end in the shape of tortured red snakes of amazing length. At the far end of the mill one could see them laid out in long rows to cool; and as Montague stood and watched them, the thought came to him that these were some of the rails which Wyman had ordered, and which had been the cause of such dismay in the camp of the Steel Trust!

Then he went on to the plate-mill, where giant hammers resounded, and steel plates of several inches' thickness were chopped and sliced like pieces of cheese. Here the spectator stared about him in bewilderment and clung to his guide for safety; huge travelling cranes groaned overhead, and infernal engines made deafening clatter upon every side. It was a source of never ending wonder that men should be able to work in such confusion, with no sense of danger and no consciousness of all the uproar.

Montague's eye roamed from place to place; then suddenly it was arrested by a sight even unusually startling. Across on the other side of the mill was a steel shaft, which turned one of the largest of the rollers. It was high up in the air, and revolving with unimaginable speed, and Montague saw a man with an oil-can in his hand rest the top of a ladder upon this shaft, and proceed to climb up.

He touched his guide upon the arm and pointed. “Isn't that dangerous?” he shouted.