Montague meditated for a while over his friend's picture. “Somehow or other,” he said, “it doesn't sound much like the president of a hundred-million-dollar corporation.”

“That's all right,” said Mrs. Billy, “but Price will be at his desk bright and early the next morning, and every man in the office will be there, too. And if you think he won't have his wits about him, just you try to fool him on some deal, and see. Let me tell you a little that I know about the fight he has made with the Mississippi Steel Company.” And she went on to tell. The upshot of her telling was that Montague borrowed the use of her desk and wrote a note to Stanley Ryder. “From my inquiries about John S. Price, I gather that he makes steel. With the understanding that I am to make a railroad and carry his steel, I have concluded to accept your proposition, subject, of course, to a satisfactory arrangement as to terms.”

THE next morning Montague had an interview with John S. Price in his Wall Street office, and was retained as counsel in connection with the new reorganisation. He accepted the offer, and in the afternoon he called by appointment at the law-offices of William E. Davenant.

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The first person Montague met there was Harry Curtiss, who greeted him with eagerness. “I was pleased to death when I heard that you were in on this deal,” said he; “we shall have some work to do together.”

About the table in the consultation room of Davenant's offices were seated Ryder and Price, and Montague and Curtiss, and, finally, William E. Davenant. Davenant was one of the half-dozen highest-paid corporation lawyers in the Metropolis. He was a tall, lean man, whose clothing hung upon him like rags upon a scare-crow. One of his shoulders was a trifle higher than the other, and his long neck invariably hung forward, so that his thin, nervous face seemed always to be peering about. One had a sense of a pair of keen eyes, behind which a restless brain was constantly plotting. Some people rated Davenant as earning a quarter of a million a year, and it was his boast that no one who made money according to plans which he approved had ever been made to give any of it up.

In curious contrast was the figure of Price, who looked like a well-dressed pugilist. He was verging on stoutness, and his face was round, but underneath the superfluous flesh one could see the jaw of a man of iron will. It was easy to believe that Price had fought his way through life. He spoke sharply and to the point, and he laid bare the subject with a few quick strokes, as of a surgeon's knife.

The first question was as to Montague's errand in the South. There was no need of buying more stock of the road, for if they got the new stock they would have control, and that was all they needed. Montague was to see those holders of the stock whom he knew personally, and to represent to them that he had succeeded in interesting some Northern capitalists in the road, and that they would undertake the improvements on condition that their board of directors should be elected. Price produced a list of the new directors. They consisted of Montague and Curtiss and Ryder and himself; a cousin of the latter's, and two other men, who, as he phrased it, were “accustomed to help me in that way.” That left two places to be filled by Montague from among the influential holders of the stock. “That always pleases,” said Price, succinctly, “and at the same time we shall have an absolute majority.”

There was to be voted an issue of a million dollars' worth of bonds, which the Gotham Trust Company would take; also a new issue of twenty thousand shares of stock, which was to be offered pro rata to the present stock-holders at fifty cents on the dollar. Montague was to state that his clients would take any which these stockholders did not want. He was to use every effort to keep the plan secret, and would make no attempt to obtain the stock-holders' list of the road. The reason for this came out a little later, when the subject of the old-time survey was broached.

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“I must take steps to get hold of those plans,” said Price. “In this, as well as everything else, we proceed upon the assumption that the present administration of the road is crooked.”

The next matter to be considered was the charter. “When I get a charter for a railroad,” said Price, “I get one that lets me do anything from building a toothpick factory to running flying-machines. But the fools who drew the charter of the Northern Mississippi got permission to build a railroad from Atkin to Opala. So we have to proceed to get an extension. While you are down there, Mr. Montague, you will see the job through with the Legislature.”

Montague thought for a moment. “I don't believe that I have much influence with the Legislature,” he began.

“That's all right,” said Price, grimly. “We'll furnish the influence.”

Here spoke Davenant. “It seems to me,” he said, “that we can just as well arrange this matter without mentioning the Northern Mississippi Railroad at all. If the Steel people get wind of this, we are liable to have all sorts of trouble; the Governor is their man, as you know. The thing to do is to pass a blanket bill, providing that any public-service corporation whose charter antedates a certain period may extend its line within certain limits and under certain conditions, and so on. I think that I can draw a bill that will go through before anybody has an idea what it's about.”

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“Very good,” said Price. “Do it that way.”