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“At this meeting,” said Ryder, “we shall propose a ticket of our own for the new board of directors. We are in hopes that as our proposition will be in the interest of every stockholder, this ticket will be elected. We believe that the road needs a new policy, and a new management entirely; if a majority of the stockholders can be brought to our point of view, we shall take control, and put in a new president.”

Ryder paused for a moment, to let this information sink into his auditor's mind; then, fixing his gaze upon him narrowly, he continued: “What I wished to see you about, Mr. Montague, was to make you a proposal to assist us in putting through this project. We should like you, in the first place, to act as our representative, in consultation with our regular attorneys. We should like you to interview privately the stockholders of the road, and explain to them our projects, and vouch for our good intentions. If you can see your way to undertake this work for us, we should be glad to place you upon the proposed board of directors; and as soon as we have matters in our hands, we should ask you to become president of the road.”

Montague gave an inward start; but practice had taught him to keep from letting his surprise manifest itself very much. He sat for a minute in thought.

“Mr. Ryder,” he said, “I am a little surprised at such a proposition from you, seeing that you know so little about me—”

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“I know more than you suppose, Mr. Montague,” said the other, with a smile. “You may rest assured that I have not broached such a matter to you without making inquiries, and satisfying myself that you were the proper person.”

“It is very pleasant to be told that,” said Montague. “But I must remind you, also, that I am not a railroad man, and have had no experience whatever in such matters—”

“It is not necessary that you should be a railroad man,” was the answer. “One can hire talent of that kind at market prices. What we wish is a man of careful and conservative temper, and, above all, a man of thorough-going honesty; someone who will be capable of winning the confidence of the stockholders, and of keeping it. It seemed to us that you possessed these qualifications. Also, of course, you have the advantage of being familiar with the neighbourhood, and of knowing thoroughly the local conditions.”

Montague thought for a while longer. “The offer is a very flattering one,” he said, “and I need hardly tell you that it interests me. But before I could properly consider the matter, there is one thing I should have to know—that is, who are the members of this syndicate.”

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“Why would it be necessary to know that?” asked the other.

“Because I am to lend my reputation to their project, and I should have to know the character of the men that I was dealing with.” Montague was gazing straight into the other's eyes.

“You will understand, of course,” replied Ryder, “that in a matter of this sort it is necessary to proceed with caution. We cannot afford to talk about what we are going to do. We have enemies who will do what they can to check us at every step.”

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“Whatever you tell me will, of course, be confidential,” said Montague.

“I understand that perfectly well,” was the reply. “But I wished first to get some idea of your attitude toward the project—whether or not you would be at liberty to take up this work and to devote yourself to it.”

“I can see no reason why I should not,” Montague answered.

“It seems to me,” said Ryder, “that the proposition can be judged largely upon its own merits. It is a proposition to put through an important public improvement; a road which is in a broken-down and practically bankrupt condition is to be taken up, and thoroughly reorganised, and put upon its feet. It is to have a vigorous and honest administration, a new and adequate equipment, and a new source of traffic. The business of the Mississippi Steel Company, as you doubtless know, is growing with extraordinary rapidity. All this, it seems to me, is a work about the advisability of which there can be no question.”

“That is very true,” said Montague, “and I will meet the persons who are interested and talk out matters with them; and if their plans are such as I can approve, I should be very glad to join with them, and to do everything in my power to make a success of the enterprise. As you doubtless know, I have five hundred shares of the stock myself, and I should be glad to become a member of the syndicate.”