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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER 30 THE EVE OF BATTLE
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 It was evening when the big liner which had left Montreal at daybreak steamed slowly past the ramparts of Quebec, the roar of her whistle echoing among the rocks. The tide which had floated her across the shoals of Lake St. Peter was running low, the great river was unruffled, and Andrew leaned on her saloon-deck rails, watching the city open up as she swung inshore with the slack stream. Behind the wharves1 and warehouses2 at the waterside old buildings and loftier modern ones, stores, banks and churches, rose in picturesque3 confusion, tier above tier, to the heights girdled by Dufferin Avenue, and the huge Frontenac Hotel. It struck him as a beautiful city, viewed from the river, but it bore an exotic stamp. In spite of the sooty smoke of the locomotives and the rattle4 of steamboat winches, it had a stronger resemblance to the old romantic towns of France than the business centers of essentially5 modern Canada.  
A feeble scream answered the sonorous6 whistle, and the engines stopped for a few minutes as a tug7 steamed out from the wharf8. She brought a dozen passengers besides a number of mailbags, and when she cast off the screw throbbed9 again and the liner forged ahead. It was with mixed feelings that Andrew watched the city drop behind and the white thread of Montmorency Falls disappear behind a long green island. Be[Pg 316]yond it the river widened, the shores were falling back, and dusk was creeping across the oily water. Open sea was still far away, but Andrew felt that he had parted from Canada, and though he was going home with his work successfully done, the thought filled him with wistful regret. In spite of many hardships and difficulties, he had been happy in the northern wilds, and happier with Geraldine by the Lake of Shadows. He meant to come back when he had finished his fight for Allinson's and he thrilled as he wondered how Geraldine would welcome him. She had given him a gracious farewell and her sincere good wishes; but she had with gentle firmness prevented his making any direct appeal. This he determined10 should not be the same again. When he returned she should hear him out; but there was still much to be done before he could prove his right to claim her, for the possibility of ignominious11 failure confronted him.
Before the next few weeks had passed he might be beaten and discredited—jeered at as a rash fool who, undertaking13 a task beyond his powers, had brought disaster upon those he meant to benefit and wrecked14 an honored firm. But apart from such considerations, he knew that he had turned his back upon the strenuous15 life of the wilderness16. Even if he returned to the lode17 for a month or two, he would travel by well-marked roads, surrounded by some degree of civilized18 comfort. There would be no more of the zest19 of the unknown trail; the charm of the lonely North would be broken by the crash of machinery20 and the voices of busy men.
The dinner bugle21 broke his reverie, and when he was leaving the saloon a steward22 gave him a letter the tender had brought. Recognizing Carnally's writ[Pg 317]ing, he opened it eagerly in a quiet corner of the smoking-room, and as he read it he felt a faint envy of his comrade who was using pick and powder in the wilds. This, however, gave place to more practical considerations. Carnally related the jumpers' defeat, which he described as Mappin's last attempt to trouble them. The claims, he said, were safe from any fresh attack, and there was a marked improvement in the ore as they opened up the lode. He thought Andrew could devote himself to his English business with undisturbed confidence.
Andrew realized that the latter would need all his attention, and during the short voyage he had little to say to his fellow-passengers. Revolving23 schemes in his mind, he found weak points in all of them, for it was a serious problem he had to attack. He could see several ways of regulating the Rain Bluff24 Company's affairs, if Leonard would agree, and he could bring charges against his brother-in-law which would cost him his relatives' support; but this course was not admissible. Leonard must be deprived of all control over Allinson's but it must be done without suspicion being cast upon the integrity of the firm. That would be difficult. Then Florence's position required thought. Andrew wished the unraveling of the matter had been left to somebody else with more tact25 and acuteness, but it was his duty and he must do the best he could.
On landing he traveled straight to London, and after taking a room at a hotel went on foot to the Allinson offices. It was a sultry day with rain at intervals26; the streets were miry, and smoke thickened the listless air. As he walked eastward27 along the Strand28 the roar of traffic jarred on his ears and he noticed the streaky grime on the wet buildings; but it was the intent, pallid[Pg 318] faces of the passers-by that impressed him most when he approached the city. Some were pinched and hungrily eager, some were gross and fleshy, but the steady, direct frankness of the Canadian glance was missing, and there was a more marked difference in the movements of Andrew's city countrymen. All were in a hurry, bolting into and out of dingy29 offices, but they had not the free virile30 grace of the men who followed the lonely Canadian trails. Nor had they, so far as their expressions hinted, the optimistic cheerfulness that is common in the West.
Though he was glad to be at home, Andrew was sensible of a faint depression. The people he saw about him were those he would henceforward work among; he must change the drill and canoe paddle for the pen, and breathe the close air of offices instead of the fragrance31 of the pines. Had the option been his, he would have turned away from the city; but, as the head of Allinson's, he was not free to choose. Doggedly32, as when he had followed the frozen trail on a morsel33 of food, he held on eastward past the Law Courts.
At the office he learned that Leonard was away at a German health resort, but would be back in a few days, and that Florence was staying at Ghyllside. Andrew was sorry for Florence and felt guilty when he thought of her. Though she had always taken her husband's view and refused to consider him a person of any importance, she was his eldest34 sister. Had she been less prejudiced, she might have helped him to come to some understanding with Leonard which would have prevented a direct conflict, but he feared he could look only for opposition35 and bitterness. Next he learned that the Rain Bluff shareholders36' meeting, which he had suggested, had been fixed37 for an unexpectedly[Pg 319] early date. He surmised38 that Leonard, having his plans ready, meant to get them adopted before his own were prepared.
Summoning Sharpe, the elderly chief accountant who had served his father, Andrew spent some hours with him, mastering so far as possible the state of the firm's affairs. With a few exceptions, they were prospering39; there was no doubt that, in a sense, Leonard had done his work well. In particular, the returns from foreign ventures were excellent, and though Sharpe could not tell him precisely41 how the profits had been made, Andrew with wider knowledge on some points could guess. He feared that a full explanation would not redound42 to the honor of the firm. He knew of lands to which Allinson's money had been sent, where the high interest was wrung43 out of subject races with fiendish cruelty.
At last, when the electric lights were burning in the lavishly-decorated office, Sharpe closed his books.
"I think that is all I can tell you, Mr. Allinson," he said. "On the whole, I venture to believe you must find our position eminently44 satisfactory. The one weak point, if I may say so, is the Rain Bluff mine. You will have seen that the shares are quoted down."
"I've noticed it. What's the reason? The directors wouldn't let any information that might have a depressing effect leak out."
"There has been some selling," Sharpe answered with a shrug45. "It's possible that things have been kept too close. A little encouraging news given to the press now and then goes a long way, but silence tends to uneasiness." He hesitated. "I suppose I must not ask about the Company's prospects46 until you have met the Board?"
[Pg 320]"You have been investing?"
Sharpe admitted it.
"I bought in the open market, with no favor shown. The firm has treated me liberally, but I may have to make room for a younger man by and by, and I had two boys to start. One at law, the other as surgeon; but they are only beginning to stand on their own feet, and it was a drain. What was left went into the Rain Bluff. I felt I was safe in a venture organized by us."
He looked at Andrew eagerly, but for a few moments the latter mused47. It was, he thought, such men as this old servant, patient, highly trained toilers, who would have been hardest hit by the failure of the mine. When he answered, his expression was unusually grave.
"I think I can say that you have no cause for anxiety."
"Thank you," said Sharpe. "Your assurance is a great relief. I wonder whether I may mention that you have your father's manner; it ............
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