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“I am sorry for that,” said Montague. His voice was hard, and there was a grim look upon his face. He fixed his eyes upon Ryder. “Nevertheless,” he said, “it will be necessary for you to take the stock.”

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“I am sorry to have to say it,” said Ryder, “but this seems to me impertinent.”

“The total number of shares,” said Montague, “is thirty-five hundred, and the price of them is one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars.”

The two gazed at each other. Ryder saw the look in Montague's eyes, and he did not repeat his sneer.

“May I ask,” he inquired, in a low voice, “what reason you have to believe that I will comply with this extraordinary request?”

“I have a very good reason, as I believe you will perceive,” said Montague. “You and Mr. Price have purchased this railroad, and you wish to plunder it. That is your privilege—apparently it is the custom here in Wall Street to play tricks upon the investing public. But you cannot play them upon me, because I know too much.”

“May I know what you propose to do?” asked Ryder.

“You certainly may,” said the other. “I propose to fight. Until you have purchased my stock and the stock of my friends, I shall remain a director in the railroad, and also a candidate for the position of president. I shall make a contest at the next directors' meeting, and if I fail in my purpose there, I shall carry the fight before the public. I flatter myself that my reputation will count for something in my old home; you will not be able to carry matters with quite the same high hand in Mississippi as you are accustomed to in New York. Also, I shall fight you in the courts. I don't happen to know just what is the law in regard to the plundering of a public-service corporation by its own directors, but I shall be very much surprised if I cannot find some ground upon which to put a stop to it. Also, as you know, I am in possession of facts regarding the means whereby you got your new privileges from the State Legislature—”

Ryder was glaring at him in rage. “Mr. Montague,” he cried, “this is blackmail!”

“You may call it that if you please,” said the other. “I shall not be afraid to face the charge, if you should see fit to bring it in the courts.”

Ryder started to reply, then caught his breath and gasped. When he spoke again, he had mastered himself. “It seems to me a most extraordinary thing,” he said. “Surely, Mr. Montague, you cannot feel at liberty to make public what you learned from Mr. Price and myself while you were acting as our confidential adviser! Surely you cannot have forgotten the pledge of secrecy which you gave me here in this office!”

“I have not forgotten it,” answered Montague. “And I have considered the matter with the greatest care. I consider that it is you who have violated a pledge. I believe that your violation was a deliberate one—that you had intended it from the very beginning. You assured me that you wished an honest administration of the road. I don't believe that you ever did wish it; I believe that you had no thought whatever except to use me as your tool to secure the control of the railroad, without buying out the remaining stockholders. Having accomplished that purpose, you are perfectly willing to have me retire. In fact, I have made up my mind that you never intended that I should be president—I have all along been suspicious about it. But I can assure you that you have struck the wrong man; you cannot play with me in any such manner. I have no idea whatever of retiring from the railroad and permitting you and Mr. Price to exploit it, and to deprive me of the value of my holdings—”

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Montague was going on, but the other interrupted him quickly. “I recognise the justice of what you say there, Mr. Montague,” said he. “So far as your own shares are concerned, you are entitled to be bought out. I am sure that that is a fair basis—”

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“On the contrary,” said Montague, “it's a basis the suggestion of which I take as an insult. I have been the means of placing other people at your mercy. My reputation and my promises were used for that purpose, and to whatever I am entitled, they are entitled equally. There can be no possible settlement except the one which I have offered you.”

Ryder could think of nothing more to say. He sat staring at the other. And Montague, who had no desire to prolong the interview, arose abruptly.