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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER 31 ALLINSON'S MAKES GOOD
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 It was with a strange sense of detachment that Andrew attended the first meeting of the shareholders1 in the Rain Bluff4 mine. He had thought of the event with great anxiety, made numerous plans and abandoned them, and now he had come, in a sense, unprepared, determined6 to submit two general propositions and let the shareholders decide for themselves. Ignorant of the usual mode of procedure at such meetings, he had consulted nobody better informed, and realized that he might be ruled out of order or shouted down; but he was sensible of a coolness that somewhat surprised him.  
The room hired for the occasion was large and handsome, with a floor of inlaid hardwood, frescoed7 walls and lofty roof. It had something of the look of a chapel8. At one end a group of well-groomed frock-coated directors were seated at a fine oak table, with the Company's secretary behind an array of books and papers. All that the eye rested on suggested stable prosperity, for Leonard knew the effect that imposing9 surroundings had on the small provincial10 investor11. It would be difficult for inexperienced and unorganized malcontents to disregard the air of severe formality which he meant to cast over the proceedings12.
Andrew missed nothing as he entered. To face a crisis had a steadying effect on him, and his manner was very tranquil13 as he walked up the long room.
[Pg 329]Carefully scanning the assembled shareholders, he surmised14 from their dress and appearance that a number of them were people of small means from country towns. There were a few women, who looked nervous, as if they felt themselves out of place. He was surprised to see Gertrude and Mrs. Fenwood; and then as his glance roved farther he caught sight of Wannop, who gave him an encouraging grin. Robert Allinson was nearby, looking unusually grave; but Murray caught Andrew's eye and smiled. On the whole, he was glad that he had made no attempt to win over his relatives since his return: it was better that they should judge and vote like the rest of the shareholders. Then as he took his place he looked at his fellow-directors, whom he had not seen since his futile15 interviews. They wore an air of staid formality, and he suspected that before the meeting was finished they would regard him as a traitor16 to his class; but that did not matter. He had given them their opportunity and they would not seize it. Leonard, dressed with fastidious taste, looked, as usual, suave17 and well-bred, but the quick glance he gave Andrew seemed to hint at anxiety.
He made a short speech, calculated to reassure18, but containing very little definite information. His audience listened in an apathetic19 manner, and it struck Andrew that a curious, matter-of-fact dullness characterized the proceedings. Leonard stated that the business of the meeting was to adopt the report and elect new members of the Board in place of those who retired20, though they were, he added, eligible21 for re-election. Then there was a discordant22 note, for a short man in badly cut clothes, with spectacles and upstanding red hair, rose in the body of the hall.
"I take it that our chairman has made an error," he[Pg 330] said. "Our business is to consider the report; not necessarily to adopt it."
"That is correct," said Leonard, smiling. "We invite your best consideration. I will now ask the secretary to read the document."
The secretary did so in a monotonous24 voice, as if it were a matter which must be got through with out of respect to custom, and Andrew felt that it would be a bold shareholder2 who ventured to disturb the tranquillity25 of the meeting. Moreover, he recognized the cleverness of the report. It said a good deal that was not to the point and avoided every loophole for adverse26 criticism. There was only one weak spot—no dividend27 was declared, though it was hinted that a satisfactory profit might be anticipated when the Company's property had been further developed.
Somebody proposed that it be adopted, a seconder appeared; and then, while Andrew felt that his time to speak had come, the short man with the red hair got up again.
"I move as an amendment28 that the report be held over until we are supplied with more details," he said. "What I want to know is—why there is no dividend, and when we may expect one?"
One or two of the directors looked supercilious29, the others amused, and Leonard smiled indulgently. He was used to dealing30 with objectors.
"The question," he explained, "is complicated, but I think we have answered it already. I may add that it is unreasonable31 to expect a dividend on the first year's operations. Preliminary expenses are large, and a mine is not like a factory. The ground must, so to speak, be cleared before you can get to work. Headings must[Pg 331] be driven and timbered, pumps and machines of various kinds have to be put up."
"Were you ever in a mine?" the red-haired man interrupted amid some laughter.
"I hardly think that is to the point," Leonard answered lightly. "Though I must admit that I have not been down a shaft32, I have a knowledge of the commercial side of the subject, which is all that concerns me."
"So I thought!" exclaimed the other. "You can't know much about your work unless you have put up pitprops and used the pick. Now the chairman of a mining company ought——"
He was interrupted by cries of "Sit down!" and some ironical33 encouragement, and Leonard frowned. It might be dangerous to allow the meeting to get out of hand, and this troublesome fellow was giving Andrew, of whom he was half afraid, his opportunity.
"May I inquire whether the gentleman is a practical miner himself?" one of the directors interposed.
"I was, when I was young. Now I keep a shop and deal with pitmen. But I came here expecting to be told about a dividend. I put three hundred pounds into the Company, because lawyer Jesmond said one could rely on anything that was started by Allinson's. The money wasn't easily saved, but there was no opening in my business—what with the co-operatives cutting into a small man's trade——"
"That's enough!" said somebody; and there was a shout of "Don't waste our time!" But the shopkeeper sturdily stood his ground.
"I'm not here for myself alone," he resumed. "I came up, by excursion, to speak for other people in our town. Jesmond did their business, and he said——"
[Pg 332]There was loud interruption. The meeting was getting unruly, but Wannop's voice broke through the uproar34:
"Go on, man!"
"I mean to," replied the speaker calmly. "What's more, I have signed proxies35 in my pocket to be filled up as I think fit."
"It's doubtful how far that's in order," the secretary objected.
"Let him fill them up by all means!" exclaimed a stockjobber ironically. "If all his friends gave him proxies, they wouldn't count for much! There are individual holders3 present whose votes——"
He broke off at a touch from a neighbor, and Andrew cast a keen glance at the quieter portion of the audience. It was composed of city men who seemed inclined to support the directors. They were, perhaps, not satisfied with the report, for several had been whispering together; but Andrew thought they would prefer to avoid a disturbance36 and disclosures that might injure the Company. If the meeting could be got through safely, they could afterward37 sell out at once and cut their loss. Andrew's sympathies, however, were strongly with such investors38 as the determined shopkeeper. He could imagine the patient drudgery39 and careful frugality40 which had enabled them to buy their shares.
"I must ask the gentleman to find a seconder for his motion," Leonard broke in.
There was a pause and the shopkeeper looked eagerly round the hall, where he seemed to have no friends. Then Andrew got up and quietly faced the assembly.
"I second the amendment," he said.
A murmur41 of astonishment42 greeted the speech.
"A director!" exclaimed somebody, and a whisper[Pg 333] ran through the hall. "Mr. Allinson—the company's agent in Canada!"
Deep silence followed, and Andrew saw that every eye was fixed43 on him. He was acting44 against all precedent—opposing his colleagues on the Board, who were, in a manner, entitled to his support.
"I suppose I'm taking an unusual line in offering the gentleman who has been speaking information which the chairman has refused him," he said. "He asked when he might expect a dividend. The answer is—never, unless a radical45 change is made in the Company's policy."
The plain words made a sensation, and after an impressive pause an uproar began.
"What about the prospectus46 with your name on it?"
"What changes would you make?"
"Keep quiet and let him speak!"
"No, it's a case of collusion; there's some trick in it!"
The meeting raged confusedly until Leonard got up. He looked shaken by the storm of indignation.
"Order, gentlemen! There is a motion before you."
"The amendment first!" somebody shouted.
"The amendment," said Leonard. "A show of hands will serve. 'That the report be held over, pending47 the furnishing of further details.'"
The audience appeared to be unanimous as the hands went up, and Leonard sought to turn the matter to his advantage.
"Carried," he said. "We will now adjourn48 the meeting until the information which is asked for can be supplied."
"That," Andrew stated firmly, "is not needful. I can give now an accurate outline of the Company's position."
[Pg 334]The secretary protested that this was informal and one of the directors requested Leonard to rule it out of order; but the meeting had got beyond the chairman's control. There were poor men present who thought they had lost their all, as well as rich men who believed they had been deceived, and Leonard's words were greeted with angry clamor.
Murray jumped to his feet.
"I suggest that we hear Mr. A............
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