'Ah!' thought the secretary, 'I was expecting that.'
The chairman went on, undisturbed. But several shareholders now rose, and the same speaker said testily: "We might as well go home. If the chairman's got no voice, can't somebody read for him?"
The chairman took a sip of water, and resumed. Almost all in the last six rows were now on their feet, and amid a hubbub of murmurs the chairman held out to the secretary the slips of his speech, and fell heavily back into his chair.
The secretary re-read from the beginning; and as each sentence fell from his tongue, he thought: 'How good that is!' 'That's very clear!' 'A neat touch!' 'This is getting them.' It seemed to him a pity they could not know it was all his composition. When at last he came to the Pillin sale he paused for a second.
"I come now to the measure of policy to which I made allusion at the beginning of my speech. Your Board has decided to expand your enterprise by purchasing the entire fleet of Pillin & Co., Ltd. By this transaction we become the owners of the four steamships Smyrna, Damascus, Tyre, and Sidon, vessels in prime condition with a total freight-carrying capacity of fifteen thousand tons, at the low inclusive price of sixty thousand pounds. Gentlemen, de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!"--it was the chairman's phrase, his bit of the speech, and the secretary did it more than justice. "Times are bad, but your Board is emphatically of the opinion that they are touching bottom; and this, in their view, is the psychological moment for a forward stroke. They confidently recommend your adoption of their policy and the ratification of this purchase, which they believe will, in the not far distant future, substantially increase the profits of the Company." The secretary sat down with reluctance. The speech should have continued with a number of appealing sentences which he had carefully prepared, but the chairman had cut them out with the simple comment: "They ought to be glad of the chance." It was, in his view, an error.
The director who had combed his beard now rose--a man of presence, who might be trusted to say nothing long and suavely. While he was speaking the secretary was busy noting whence opposition was likely to come. The majority were sitting owl-like-a good sign; but some dozen were studying their copies of the report, and three at least were making notes--Westgate, for, instance, who wanted to get on the Board, and was sure to make himself unpleasant--the time-honoured method of vinegar; and Batterson, who also desired to come on, and might be trusted to support the Board--the time-honoured method of oil; while, if one knew anything of human nature, the fellow who had complained that he might as well go home would have something uncomfortable to say. The director finished his remarks, combed his beard with his fingers, and sat down.
A momentary pause ensued. Then Messieurs Westgate and Batterson rose together. Seeing the chairman nod towards the latter, the secretary thought: 'Mistake! He should have humoured Westgate by giving him precedence.' But that was the worst of the old man, he had no notion of the suaviter in modo! Mr. Batterson thus unchained--would like, if he might be so allowed, to congratulate the Board on having piloted their ship so smoothly through the troublous waters of the past year. With their worthy chairman still at the helm, he had no doubt that in spite of the still low--he would not say falling- barometer, and the-er-unseasonable climacteric, they might rely on weathering the--er--he would not say storm. He would confess that the present dividend of four per cent. was not one which satisfied every aspiration (Hear, hear!), but speaking for himself, and he hoped for others--and here Mr. Batterson looked round--he recognised that in all the circumstances it was as much as they had the right-- er--to expect. But following the bold but to his mind prudent development which the Board proposed to make, he thought that they might reasonably, if not sanguinely, anticipate a more golden future. ("No, no!") A shareholder said, 'No, no!' That might seem to indicate a certain lack of confidence in the special proposal before the meeting. ("Yes!") From that lack of confidence he would like at once to dissociate himself. Their chairman, a man of foresight and acumen, and valour proved on many a field and--er--sea, would not have committed himself to this policy without good reason. In his opinion they were in safe hands, and he was glad to register his support of the measure proposed. The chairman had well said in his speech: 'de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!' Shareholders would agree with him that there could be no better motto for Englishmen. Ahem!
Mr. Batterson sat down. And Mr. Westgate rose: He wanted--he said-- to know more, much more, about this proposition, which to his mind was of a very dubious wisdom.... 'Ah!' thought the secretary, 'I told the old boy he must tell them more'.... To whom, for instance, had the proposal first been made? To him!--the chairman said. Good! But why were Pillins selling, if freights were to go up, as they were told?