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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER XXIV THE TRUTH ABOUT RAIN BLUFF
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 Dinner was a solemn function the next evening. Andrew, who had been shooting with Wannop and Olcott all day, was quietly thoughtful, and the rest of the party felt a sense of constraint1. Conversation dragged; once or twice it nearly died away and Leonard prevented an awkward pause by his polished wit. Between whiles, however, Wannop jested bravely and Hilda seconded him, occasionally at Robert's and Leonard's expense. The others talked without much point when they could think of anything to say; but, preoccupied2 as they were, it was a relief to all when they dispersed3 for half an hour before meeting Andrew in the library. He spent the interval4 in his smoking-room, thinking hard, but he looked up when Hilda came in and sat down on the lounge beside him.  
"Feeling very bad, old boy?" she said.
"I have spent more cheerful moments," Andrew replied.
Hilda nodded.
"It must be trying—the pause before the battle! But you'll shake off the sinking feeling when you get into action. Don't let them bully5 you, Andrew. They can look very wise, but there's none of them you need be afraid of, unless it's Leonard. Antony, of course, will back you all he can."
"Thanks for the encouragement; but I'm not sure you have any right to talk about these things.[Pg 246]"
"Oh, don't be silly! Can't you realize that I've grown up? And if I hadn't as much sense as Robert and Mrs. Fenwood, I'd feel very sorry for myself. But we had better be practical—I suppose you see what you ought to do?"
"No," Andrew admitted, "not as clearly as I could wish."
"Then what troubles the others is that they can't think for themselves. They must have a lead, as Leonard knows, and he has cleverly given them one. So far, they have followed him docilely6; now you must make them follow you."
"Can you tell me how it should be done?"
"I'll admit that it's easier to sketch7 out a general plan than to fit in the details; but that's your business," said Hilda. Then her tone changed and grew tinged8 with haughtiness9. "First of all, remember that you're fighting for Allinson's! I'm glad the others are nearly as proud of the name as we are. It's unthinkable that Leonard should drag it down and sell it for what he can gain. You stand for what we hold precious; you must beat him."
"I'll try," Andrew promised soberly; and Hilda kissed him and went hastily from the room.
Andrew remained for a few minutes, feeling cheered. Geraldine, Ethel, and now Hilda had urged him on. They thought he was right, and it looked as if all had some confidence in his ability. He was not sure that it was well founded, for he knew his limitations, the worst of which was ignorance. Still, he must try not to discredit10 his supporters, and his task could not be shirked. He went to the library, where his relatives were waiting, and gravely asked them to be seated. Though two pillar lamps were lighted, the large room[Pg 247] was shadowy. A silver stand with candles burning occupied the middle of the great oak table round which the party gathered, flinging a clear illumination on their faces.
Andrew took the head of the table, and there was something the others had not expected in his quiet manner. He did not look as if he had come to make excuses or ask their forbearance. Leonard, sitting opposite, eyed him sharply; Florence and Gertrude did not seem at ease. Mrs. Fenwood and Robert Allinson were heavily serious; Wannop waited with amused expectancy11.
"I asked you to meet me here because you all have a large interest in Allinson's and the Rain Bluff12 mine," Andrew began. "I thought it fit that you should hear why I have made some changes in our Canadian plans."
"It would be better not to confuse Allinson's with the mine," Leonard interposed. "The Rain Bluff is, of course, an independent company."
"No," said Andrew sternly; "in a very real sense that is not correct. The two must stand together. The Rain Bluff shares were largely taken up by the family and our customers. The mine cannot prove a failure without discrediting13 the firm which launched and tacitly guaranteed it. A pledge given by Allinson's must be redeemed14."
"That is obvious," Robert solemnly agreed.
"Andrew is begging the question in speaking of the mine as being guaranteed by the firm," Leonard persisted. "The shares were offered to the public on the inducements stated in the prospectus16."
"They were subscribed17 for because it was an Allinson venture; but we'll leave that point for a while. I feel[Pg 248] justified18 in asking your attention as Rain Bluff shareholders20—though I have learned that Leonard has lately reduced his holding."
Several of the others showed surprise and Leonard looked disconcerted, but Wannop broke into a deep chuckle21.
"I felt tempted22 to do the same, after what I learned at the Lake of Shadows," he remarked. "However, when I'd had a few words with Andrew I decided23 to hold on. Though he's carrying a good bit of my money, I felt he was worth backing."
"Well," said Andrew, "I was sent out to look into Canadian matters, and I have done so. The discoveries I made are by no means reassuring24."
He paused with a dry smile, and his listeners felt uncomfortable. He had not been sent out to investigate the mining operations, but to keep him out of harm. Leonard was conscious that he had made a mistake; Andrew had developed unsuspected capabilities25.
"A large proportion of the company's work is done by contract, and I found that newly arrived immigrants, ignorant of their rights, were mainly employed. They were badly fed, though in Canada the rudest laborers26 are given a generous diet, worse housed, paid less than standard wages, and cheated of part of their due. It is not by such means that Allinson's should make money."
"It is not," Robert firmly declared.
He was the last ally Andrew had looked for; but Robert had been thinking to some purpose. Leonard had deceived him about Mrs. Olcott; he had been led into conduct which savored27 of cruelty and which he regretted. Leonard having played false in one matter, might do so in another. Robert's faith in him had[Pg 249] been rudely shaken and he felt that the man must be watched.
"After all, we are not responsible for the evils Andrew mentions," Mrs. Fenwood broke in. "It must be the contractor28's fault."
"Responsibility," said Robert, "cannot be shuffled29 off, though what one may call the impersonal30 nature of a public company seems to make it easier. The money is yours and you expect to draw the dividends31. It is a pernicious idea that one may make a profit by investing in a company whose business is harmful, and go free from blame. I may say that I was once urged to apply for shares in a new brewery32 a little before they were put on the market, and I felt that I had done right in declining, though they went to a handsome premium33 shortly afterward34."
The tone in which he concluded suggested keen regret, and Wannop laughed.
"Andrew is probably mistaken in what he alleges," Leonard said.
"I'll give you a few figures." Andrew read from a notebook particulars of the wages paid by Mappin as compared with other contractors35. "I have seen the rest of the things; there can be no doubt about them. I presume Leonard was ignorant of the contractor's character and the methods he employs."
Andrew stopped, having scored a point. Leonard could not profess36 a knowledge of Mappin's doings, although to admit his ignorance of them was to acknowledge his antagonist's superiority.
"It seems that I have been somewhat mistaken about the man," he said.
"Now that you have been informed, you cannot feel that we ought still to entrust37 our work to him?"
[Pg 250]Wannop gave Andrew an approving smile, recognizing that he had taken a very judicious38 line. Leonard must respect the opinions of the others, and he knew that they would not sanction anything flagrantly unjust and discreditable.
"No," he conceded; "not in a general way. At the same time, sudden and severe changes should be avoided. The man is carrying out his duties efficiently39 and economically."
"I think not," said Andrew. "I'll have to tax your patience with some more figures. They show that we could do the work cheaper without wronging anybody we employ."
Opening his notebook, he supported his claim, and there was a brief silence when he had finished. Then Florence broke in angrily.
"As a shareholder19 in my own right, I am entitled to speak. Leonard was satisfied with the arrangements, and you all know his long experience and business ability. It's absurd that Andrew should presume to question what Leonard has done. His judgment40 cannot be as good."
"That is obvious," Mrs. Fenwood said.
Andrew realized that his relatives' prejudices had still to be reckoned with. In their eyes he was a rash beginner, liable to be misled.
"I spent some time on the spot, investigating things," he reminded them. "You have heard our contractor's charges, and I have given you the cost of cutting rock and supplying props41 at regulation wages. Is Leo............
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