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When John Kenyon entered his office, he thought the clerk looked at him askance. He imagined that innocent employee had been reading the article in the Financial Field; but the truth is, John was hardly in a frame of mind to form a correct opinion on what other people were doing. Everybody he met in the street, it seemed to him, was discussing the article in the Financial Field.
He asked if anybody had been in that morning, and was told there had been no callers. Then he passed into the directors' room, closed the door behind him, sat down on a chair, and leaned his head on his hands with his elbows on the table. In this position Wentworth found him some time later, and when John looked up his face was haggard and aged.
'Ah, I see you have read it.'
'Do you think Longworth is at the bottom of that article?'
John shook his head.
'Oh no,' he said; 'he had nothing whatever to do with it.'
'How do you know?'
Kenyon related exactly what had passed between the oily young man of the Financial Field and himself in that very room. While this recital was going on, Wentworth walked up and down, expressing his opinion now and then, in remarks that were short and pithy, but hardly fit for publication. When the story was told he turned to Kenyon.
'Well,' he said, 'there is nothing for it but to sue the paper for libel.'
'What good will that do?'
'What good will it do? Do you mean to say that you intend to sit here under such an imputation as they have cast upon you, and do nothing? What good will it do? It will do all the good in the world.'
'We cannot form our company and sue the paper at the same time. All our energies will have to be directed towards the matter we have in hand.'
'But, my dear John, don't you see the effect of that article? How can we form our company if such a lie remains unchallenged? Nobody will look at our proposals. Everyone will say, "What have you done about the article that appeared in the Financial Field?" If we say we have done nothing, then, of course, the natural inference is that we are a pair of swindlers, and that our scheme is a fraud.'
'I have always thought,' said John, 'that the capitalization is too high.'
'Really, I believe you think that article is not so unfair, after all. John, I'm astonished at you!'
'But if we do commence a libel suit, it cannot be finished before our option has expired. If we tell people that we have begun a suit against the Financial Field for libel, they will merely say they prefer to wait and hear what the result of the case is. By that time our chances of forming a company will be gone.'
'There is a certain amount of truth in that; nevertheless, I do not see how we are to go on with our company unless suit for libel is at least begun.'
Before John could reply there was a knock at the door, and the clerk entered with a letter in his hand which had just come in. Kenyon tore it open, read it, and then tossed it across the table to Wentworth. Wentworth saw the name of their firm of solicitors at the top of the letter-paper. Then he read:
'You have doubtless seen the article in the Financial Field of this morning, referring to the Canadian Mica Mining Company. We should be pleased to know what action you intend to take in the matter. We may say that, in justice to our reputation, we can no longer represent your company unless a suit is brought against the paper which contains the article.
Wentworth laughed with a certain bitterness.
'Well,' he said, 'if it has come to such a pass that Hawk fears for his reputation, the sooner we begin a libel suit against the paper the better!'
'Perhaps,' said John, with a look of agony on his face, 'you will tell me where the money is to come from. The moment we get into the Law Courts money will simply flow like water, and doubtless the Financial Field has plenty of it. It will add to their reputation, and they will make a boast that they are fighting the battle of the investor in London. Everything is grist that comes to their mill. Meanwhile, we shall be paying out money, or we shall be at a tremendous disadvantage, and the result of it all will probably be a disagreement of the jury and practical ruin for us. You see, I have no witnesses.'
'Yes, but what about the mine? How can we go on without vindicating ourselves?'
Before anything further could be said, young Mr. Longworth came in, looking as cool, calm, and unruffled as if there were no such things in the world as financial newspapers.
'Discussing it, I see,' were his first words.
'Yes,' said Wentworth; 'I am very glad you have come. We have a little difference of opinion in the matter of that article. Kenyon here is averse to suing that paper for libel; I am in favour of prosecuting it. Now, what do you say?'
'My dear fellow,' replied Longworth, 'I am delighted to be able to agree with Mr. Kenyon for once. Sue them! Why, of course not. That is just what they want.'
'But,' said Wentworth, 'if we do not, who is going to look at our mine?'
'Exactly the same number of people as would look at it before the article appeared.'
'Don't you think it will have any effect?'
'Not the slightest.'
'But look at this letter from your own lawyers on the subject.' Wentworth handed Longworth the letter from Hawk. Longworth adjusted his glass and read it carefully through.
'By Jove!' he said with a laugh, 'I call that good; I call that distinctly good. I had no idea old Hawk was such a humorist! His reputation indeed; well, that beats me! All that Hawk wants is another suit on his hands. I wish you would let me keep this letter. I will have some fun with my friend Hawk over it.'
'You are welcome to the letter, so far as I am concerned,' said Wentworth; 'but do you mean to say, Mr. Longworth, that we have to sit here calmly under this imputation and do nothing?'
'I mean to say nothing of the kind; but I don't propose to play into their hands by suing them--at least, I should not if it were my case instead of Kenyon's.'
'What would you do?'
'I would let them sue me if they wanted to. Of course, their canvasser called to see you, didn't he, Kenyon?'
'Yes, he did.'
'He told you that he had a certain amount of space to sell for a certain sum in cash?'
'And, if you did not buy that space, this certain article would appear; whereas, if you did, an article of quite a different complexion would be printed?'
'You seem to know all about it,' said Kenyon suspiciously.
'Of course I do, my dear boy! Everybody knows all about it. That's the way those papers make their money. I think myself, as a general rule, it is cheaper to buy them off. I believe my uncle always does that when he has anything special on hand, and doesn't want to be bothered with outside issues. But we haven't done so in this instance, and this is the result. It can be easily remedied yet, mind you, if you like. All that you have to do is to pay his price, and there will be an equally lengthy article saying that, from outside information received with regard to the Canadian Mining Company, he regrets very much that the former article was an entire mistake, and that there is no more secure investment in England than this particular mine. But now, when he has come out with his editorial, I think it isn't worth while to have any further dealings with him. Anything he can say now will not matter. He has done all the harm he can. But I would at once put the boot on the other foot. I would write down all the circumstances just as they happened--give the name of the young man who called upon you, tell exactly the price he demanded for his silence, and I will have that printed in an opposition paper to-morrow. Then it will be our friend the Financial Field's turn to squirm! He will say it is all a lie, of course, but nobody will believe him, and we can tell him, from the opposition paper, that if it is a lie he is perfectly at liberty to sue us for libel. Let him begin the suit if he wants to do so. Let him defend his reputation. Sue him for libel! I know a game worth two of that. Could you get out the statement before the meeting this afternoon?'
Kenyon, who had been looking, for the first time in his life, gratefully at Longworth, said he could.
'Very well; just set it down in your own words as plainly as possible, and give date, hour, and full particulars. Sign your name to it, and I will take it when I come to the meeting this afternoon. It would not be a bad plan to read it to those who are here. There is nothing like fighting the devil with fire. Fight a paper with another paper. Nothing new, I suppose?'
'No,' said Kenyon; 'nothing new except what we are discussing.'
'Well, don't let that trouble you. Do as I say, and we will begin an interesting controversy. People like a fight, and it will attract attention to the mine. Good-bye. I shall see you this afternoon.'
He left both Kenyon and Wentworth in a much happier frame of mind than that in which he had found them.
'I say, Kenyon,' said Wentworth, 'that fellow is a trump. His advice has cleared the air wonderfully. I believe his plan is the best, after all, and, as you say, we have no money for an expensive lawsuit. I shall leave you now to get on with your work, and will return at three o'clock.'
At that hour John had his statement finished. The first man to arrive was Longworth, who read the article with approval, merely suggesting a change here and there, which was duly made. Then he put the communication into an envelope, and sent it to the editor of the opposition paper. Wentworth came in next, then Melville, then Mr. King. After this they all adjourned to the directors' room, and in a few minutes the others were present.
'Now,' said Longworth, 'as we are all here, I do not see any necessity for delay. You have probably read the article that appeared in this morning's Financial Field. Mr. Kenyon has written a statement in relation to that, which gives the full particulars of the inside of a very disreputable piece of business. It was merely an attempt at blackmailing which failed. I intended to have had the statement read to you, but we thought it best to get it off as quickly as possible, and it will appear to-morrow in the Financial Eagle, where, I hope, you will all read it. Now, Mr. Kenyon, perhaps you will tell us something about the mine.'
Kenyon, like many men of worth and not of words, was a very poor speaker. He seemed confused, and was often a little obscure in his remarks, but he was listened to with great attention by those present. He was helped here and there by a judicious question from young Longworth, and when he sat down the impression was not so bad as might have been expected. After a moment's silence, it was Mr. King who spoke.
'As I take it,' he said, 'all we wish to know is this: Is the mine what it is represented to be? Is the mineral the best for the use Mr. Kenyon has indicated? Is there a sufficient quantity of that mineral in the mountain he speaks of to make it worth while to organize this company? It seems to me that this can only be answered by some practical man going out there and seeing the mine for himself. Mr. Melville is, I understand, a practical man. If he has the time to spare, I would propose that he should go to America, see this mine, and report.'
Another person asked when the option on the mine ran out. This was answered by Longworth, who said that the person who went over and reported on the mine could cable the word 'Right' or 'Wrong'; then there would be time to act in London in getting up the list of subscribers.
'I suppose,' said another, 'that in case of delay there would be no trouble in renewing the option for a month or two?'
To this Kenyon replied that he did not know. The owners might put a higher price on the property, or the mine might be producing more mica than it had been heretofore, and they perhaps might not be inclined to sell. He thought that things should be arranged so that there would be no necessity of asking for an extension of the option, and to this they all agreed.
Melville then said he had no objection to taking a trip to Canada. It was merely a question of the amount of the mineral in sight, and he thought he could determine that as well as anybody else. And so the matter was about to be settled, when Longworth rose, and said that he was perfectly willing to go to Canada himself, in company with Mr. Melville; that he would pay all his own expenses, and give them the benefit of his opinion as well. This was received with applause, and the meeting terminated. Longworth shook hands with Kenyon and Wentworth.
'We will sail by the first steamer,' he said, 'and, as I may not see you again, you might write me a letter of introduction to Mr. Von Brent, and tell him that I am acting for you in this affair. That will make matters smooth in getting an extension of the option, if it should be necessary.'
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