Chapter XXVIII.
 

One day when Kenyon entered the office, the clerk said to him:

'That young gentleman has been here twice to see you. He said it was very important, sir.'

'What young gentleman?'

'The gentleman--here is his card--who belongs to the Financial Field, sir.'

'Did he leave any message?'

'Yes, sir; he said he would call again at three o'clock.'

'Very good,' said Kenyon; and he began composing his address to the proposed subscribers.

At three o'clock the smooth, oily person from the Financial Field put in an appearance.

'Ah, Mr. Kenyon,' he said, 'I am glad to meet you. I called in twice, but had not the good fortune to find you in. Can I see you in private for a moment?'

'Yes,' answered Kenyon. 'Come into the directors' room;' and into the directors room they went, Kenyon closing the door behind them.

'Now,' said the representative of the Financial Field, 'I have brought you a proof of the editorial we propose using, which I am desired by the proprietor to show you, so that it may be free, if possible, from any error. We are very anxious to have things correct in the Financial Field;' and with this he handed to John a long slip of paper with a column of printed matter upon it.

The article was headed, 'The Canadian Mica Mining Company, Limited.' It went on to show what the mine had been, what it had done, and what chances there were for investors getting a good return for their money by buying the shares. John read it through carefully.

'That is a very handsome article,' he said; 'and it is without an error, so far as I can see.'

'I am glad you think so,' replied the young gentleman, folding up the proof and putting it in his inside pocket. 'Now, as I said before, although I am not the advertising canvasser of the Financial Field, I thought I would see you with reference to an advertisement for the paper.'

'Well, you know, we have not had a meeting of the proposed stockholders yet, and therefore are not in a position to give any advertisements regarding the mine. I have no doubt advertisements will be given, and, of course, your paper will be remembered among the rest.'

'Ah,' said the young man, 'that is hardly satisfactory to us. We have a vacant half-page for Monday, the very best position in the paper, which the proprietor thought you would like to secure.'

'As I said a moment ago, we are not in a position to secure it. It is premature to talk of advertising at the present state of affairs.'

'I think, you know, it will be to your interest to take the half-page. The price is three hundred pounds, and besides that amount we should like to have some shares in the company.'

'Do you mean three hundred pounds for one insertion of the advertisement?'

'Yes.'

'Doesn't that strike you as being a trifle exorbitant? Your paper has a comparatively limited circulation, and they do not ask us such a price even in the large dailies.'

'Ah, my dear sir, the large dailies are quite different. They have a tremendous circulation, it is true, but it is not the kind of circulation we have. No other paper circulates so largely among investors as the Financial Field. It is read by exactly the class of people you desire to reach, and I may say that, except through the Financial Field, you cannot get at some of the best men in the City.'

'Well, admitting all that, as I have said once or twice, we are not yet in a position to give an advertisement.'

'Then, I am very sorry to say that we cannot, on Monday, publish the article I have shown you.'

'Very well; I cannot help it. You are not compelled to print it unless you wish. I am not sure, either, that publishing the article on Monday would do us any good. It would be premature, as I say. We are not yet ready to court publicity until we have had our first meeting of proposed stockholders.'

'When is your first meeting of stockholders?'

'On Monday, at three o'clock.'

'Very well, we could put that announcement in another column, and I am sure you would find the attendance at your meeting would be very largely and substantially increased.'

'Possibly; but I decline to do anything till after the meeting.'

'I think you would find it pay you extremely well to take that half-page.'

'I am not questioning the fact at all. I am merely saying what I have said to everyone else, that we are not ready to consider advertising.'

'I am sorry we cannot come to an arrangement, Mr. Kenyon--very sorry indeed;' and, saying this, he took another proof-sheet out of his pocket, which he handed to Kenyon. 'If we cannot come to an understanding, the manager has determined to print this, instead of the article I showed you. Would you kindly glance over it, because we should like to have it as correct as possible.'

Kenyon opened his eyes, and unfolded the paper. The heading was the same, but he had read only a sentence or two when he found that the mica-mine was one of the greatest swindles ever attempted on poor old innocent financial London!

'Do you mean to say,' cried John, looking up at him, with his anger kindling, 'that if I do not bribe you to the extent of three hundred pounds, besides giving you an unknown quantity of stock, you will publish this libel?'

'I do not say it is a libel,' said the young man smoothly; 'that would be a matter for the courts to decide. You might sue us for libel, if you thought we had treated you badly. I may say that has been tried several times, but with indifferent success.'

'But do you mean to tell me that you intend to publish this article if I do not pay you the three hundred pounds?'

'Yes; putting it crudely, that is exactly what I do mean.'

Kenyon rose in his wrath and flung open the door.

'I must ask you to leave this place, and leave it at once. If you ever put in an appearance here again while I am in the office, I will call a policeman and have you turned out!'

'My dear sir,' expostulated the other suavely, 'it is merely a matter of business. If you find it impossible to deal with us, there is no harm done. If our paper has no influence, we cannot possibly injure you. That, of course, is entirely for you to judge. If, any time between now and Sunday night, you conclude to act otherwise, a wire to our office will hold things over until we have had an opportunity of coming to an arrangement with you. If not, this article will be published on Monday morning. I wish you a very good afternoon, sir.'

John said nothing, but watched his visitor out on the pavement, and then returned to the making of his report.

On Monday morning, as he came in by train, his eye caught a flaming poster on one of the bill-boards at the station. It was headed Financial Field, and the next line, in heavy black letters, was, 'The Mica Mining Swindle,' Kenyon called a newsboy to him and bought a copy of the paper. There, in leaded type, was the article before him. It seemed, somehow, much more important on the printed page than it had looked in the proof.

As he read it, he noticed an air of truthful sincerity about the editorial that had escaped him during the brief glance he had given it on Friday. It went on to say that the Austrian Mining Company had sunk a good deal of money in the mine, and that it had never paid a penny of dividends; that they merely kept on at a constant loss to themselves in the hope of being able to swindle some confiding investors--but that even their designs were as nothing compared to the barefaced rascality contemplated by John Kenyon. He caught his breath as he saw his own name in print. It was a shock for which he was not prepared, as he had not noticed it in the proof. Then he read on. It seemed that this man, Kenyon, had secured the mine at something like ten thousand pounds, and was trying to palm it off on the unfortunate British public at the enormous increase of two hundred thousand pounds; but this nefarious attempt would doubtless be frustrated so long as there were papers of the integrity of the Financial Field, to take the risk and expense of making such an exposure as was here set forth.

The article possessed a singular fascination for Kenyon. He read and re-read it in a dazed way, as if the statement referred to some other person, and he could not help feeling sorry for that person.

He still had the paper in his hand as he walked up the street, and he felt numbed and dazed as if someone had struck him a blow. He was nearly run over in crossing one of the thoroughfares, and heard an outburst of profanity directed at him from a cab-driver and a man on a bus; but he heeded them not, walking through the crowd as if under a spell.

He passed the door of his own gorgeous office, and walked some distance up the street before he realized what he had done. Then he turned back again, and, just at the doorstep, paused with a pang at his heart.

'I wonder if Edith Longworth will read that article,' he said to himself.