Chapter XXIV

All this time Keith was busy every minute of the day. The water-lot matter was absorbing all his attention. Through skilful and secret agents Neil had acquired a great deal of scrip issued by the city for various public works and services which the holders had not yet exchanged for the new bonds. These he turned over to Keith. Very quietly, by prearrangement, the latter sued and obtained judgments. When all this had been fully accomplished--and not before then--the veil of secrecy was rent. Rowlee's paper advertised a forthcoming sale of water lots to satisfy the judgments.

Then followed, for Keith, an anxious period of three days. But at the end of that time the commissioners issued a signed warning that the titles conveyed by this sale would not be considered legal. On seeing this, Keith at once rushed around to Neil's office.

"Here it is," he announced jubilantly. "They held off so long that I began to be afraid they did not intend to play our game for us. But it's all right."

The matter was widely discussed; but next morning placards, bearing the text of the commissioners' warning, were posted on every blank wall in town and distributed as dodgers. These were attributed by the public to zeal on the part of those officials; but the commissioners knew nothing about it.

"Some anonymous friend of the city must have done it," Hooper told his friends, and added, "We are delighted!"

The unknown friend was Malcolm Neil himself.

This warning had its effect. As Keith had predicted, nobody cared to put good money into what was officially and authoritatively announced as a bad title. At the sheriff's sale there were no bona fide bidders except the secret agents of Malcolm Neil. The sheriff's titles--such as they were-- went for a song. Immediately the ostensible purchasers were personally warned by the commission; but they seemed satisfied.

So matters rested until, a little later, the commissioners inserted in all the papers the customary legal advertisements setting forth a sale by them, under the State law, of these same water lots to satisfy the interest and fill the sinking fund for the bonds. The next morning appeared a statement signed by all the ostensible purchasers under the sheriff's sale. This stated dearly and succinctly the intention to contest any titles given by the commissioners, even to the highest courts. This was marked advt, to indicate the newspaper's neutrality in the matter. Rowlee commented on the situation editorially, He took the righteous and indignant attitude, expressing extreme journalistic horror that such a hold-up should be possible in a modern, civilized community, hurling editorial contempt on the dastardly robbers who were thus intending to shake down the innocent purchasers, etc. In fact, he laid it on thick, But he managed to insinuate a doubt. Between the lines the least astute reader could read Rowlee's belief that perhaps these first purchasers might have a case, iniquitous but legal. He hammered away at this for a week. By the end of that time he had, by the most effective, indirect methods--purporting all the time to be attacking the signers of the warning--succeeded in instilling into the public mind a substantial distrust of the stability of the titles to be conveyed at the commissioners' sale. Malcolm Neil complimented him highly at their final and secret interview.

Again Keith's predictions were fulfilled to the letter. Nobody wanted to buy a lawsuit. There were a few bidders, it is true, but they were faint hearted. Another set of Malcolm's secret agents bid all the lots in at a nominal figure. That very afternoon they all met in Neil's stuffy little back office. Keith had the deeds prepared. All that was necessary was to affix the signatures. The purchasers under both sales conveyed their rights to Neil and Keith. The latter now possessed uncontested and incontestable title.