“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.

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“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.”

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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!

And yet, why not? He had always felt certain in his own mind that that detective had come from Waterman. The old man had set to work to find out about Lucy and her affairs, the first time that he had ever laid eyes on her. And then suddenly Montague saw the face of volcanic fury that had flashed past him on board the Brünnhilde. “You will hear from me again,” the old man had said; and now, all these months of silence—and at last he heard!

Why not? Why not? Montague kept asking himself. After all, what did he know about the Mississippi Steel Company? What had he ever seen to prove that it was actually competing with the Trust? What had he even heard, except what Stanley Ryder had told him; and what more likely than that Ryder was simply repeating what Price had said?

Montague had forgotten all about his present situation in the rush of thoughts which had come to him. The cord had been jerking again, and had spelled out the names of several more of the masters of the city who had arrived; but he had not heard their names. “What object would there be,” he asked, “in keeping the fact a secret—I mean that Price was Waterman's agent?”

“Object!” exclaimed Bates. “Good Heavens, and with the public half crazy about monopolies, and the President making such a fight! If it were known that the Steel Trust had gathered in its last big competitor, you can't tell what the Government might do!”

“I see,” said Montague. “And how long has this been?”

“Four years,” was the reply; “all they're waiting for is some occasion like this, when they can put the Company in a hole, and pose as benefactors in taking it over.”

“I see,” said Montague, again.