If The Limited's growth is not enough to excite many financial analysts who a few years ago had dismissed the company as too small and specialized, the rise in the price of its stock has heightened financial interest in the company.

According to Forbes magazine, the price of The Limited's stock has risen by more than 1,400 percent since 1980, making it the most appreciated stock in the country. If an investor had bought 100 shares of The Limited stock on Feb. 1, 1980, he or she would have paid $850. On Feb. 1, 1985, the stock -- which has split two-for-one twice -- sold for $32 a share, making the initial investment worth $12,800. Today, The Limited's stock is selling at about $38 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Perhaps an even greater reason why Wall Street is paying more attention than ever before to The Limited is Chairman Leslie H. Wexner's brash and surprising move last year to take over the nation's sixth-largest retailing chain, Carter Hawley Hale. As the owner and operator of Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, The Broadway and several other department store chains, Carter Hawley had sales last year that were three times as high as The Limited's.

After a bitter fight, Wexner lost his $1.1 billion bid to take over the chain -- but only after Carter Hawley obtained the aid of General Cinema Corp. by giving the company control over 39 percent of its stock.

Wexner has not given up, however. In January -- eight months after the battle -- The Limited filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeking all of Carter Hawley's internal documents relating to The Limited's offer.

What's more, Wexner is keeping very close tabs on Carter Hawley; he not only knows all of its latest financial figures -- citing them by heart -- but he also can list all of the high-ranking executives who left the firm in recent months.

"Our attitude about Carter Hawley Hale is that we're not letting go," Wexner said during a recent interview. "Although our primary thrust is to develop expertise in specialty retailing for women, Carter Hawley Hale represents just another strategy which says we can be opportunistic. . . .

"Carter Hawley Hale has had a very poor record. Here's a company that over a period of 10 to 15 years essentially has not made money," Wexner said. "To us, that's a great opportunity. We think we are good retailers and good retail managers. With hard work, we believe we could at least get [Carter Hawley] to industry average."

Although it is clear that Wexner has not given up on Carter Hawley, he declines to reveal what -- or when -- his next step will be, saying only, "If it is meant to be, it will be." And if not, he adds, "There are other fish to fry."