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“It takes a man's breath away,” said Montague.

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“Just save your breath-you'll need it to-night,” said Bates, drily.

The other sat in thought for a moment. “We were talking about Price,” he whispered. “Do you mean John S. Price?”

“There is only one Price that I know of,” was the reply.

“And you don't believe that he and Waterman are enemies?”

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“I mean that Price is simply one of Waterman's agents in every big thing he does.”

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

“He owns it for Waterman,” said Bates.

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“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.”

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.”

“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—”

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!”