“We’ll subsidize over here, right enough,” said Lorne.
“That’s the idea—that’s the prevailing idea, just now. But lots of people think different—more than you’d imagine. I was talking to old man Milburn just now—he’s dead against it. ‘Government has no business,’ he said, ’to apply the taxes in the interests of any company. It oughtn’t to know how to spell “subsidy.” If the trade was there it would get itself carried,’ he said.”
“Well, that surprises me,” said Lorne.
“Surprised me, too. But I was on the spot with him; just thought of it in time. ‘Well, now, Mr Milburn,’ I said, ’you’ve changed your mind. Thought that was a thing you Conservatives never did,’ I said. ‘We don’t—I haven’t,’ he said. ‘What d’ye mean? Twenty-five years ago,’ I said, ’when you were considering whether you’d start the Milburn Boiler Works here or in Hamilton, Hamilton offered you a free site, and Elgin offered you a free site and a dam for your water power. You took the biggest subsidy an’ came here,’ I said.”
Lorne laughed: “What did he say to that?”
“Hadn’t a word. ‘I guess it’s up to me,’ he said. Then he turned round and came back. ’Hold on, Williams; he said. ’You know so much already about my boiler works, it wouldn’t be much trouble for you to write out an account of them from the beginning, would it? Working in the last quarter of a century of the town’s progress, you know, and all that. Come round to the office tomorrow, and I’ll give you some pointers.’ And he fixed up a two-column ad right away. He was afraid I’d round on him, I suppose, if I caught him saying anything more about the immorality of subsidies.”
“He won’t say anything more.”
“Probably not. Milburn hasn’t got much of a political conscience, but he’s got a sense of what’s silly. Well, now, I expect you want all the time there is.”
Mr Williams removed himself from the edge of the table, which was strewn with maps and bluebooks, printed official, and typewritten demi-official papers.
“Give ’em a notion of those Assiniboian wheat acres, my boy, and the ranch country we’ve got; tell ’em about the future of quick passage and cold storage. Get ’em a little ashamed to have made so many fortunes for Yankee beef combines; persuade ’em the cheapest market has a funny way of getting the dearest price in the end. Give it ’em, Lorne, hot and cold and fricasseed. The Express will back you up.”
He slapped his young friend’s shoulder, who seemed occupied with matters that prevented his at once feeling the value of this assurance. “Bye-bye,” said Mr Williams. “See you again before you start.”
“Oh, of course!” Lorne replied. “I’ll—I’ll come round. By the way, Williams, Mr Milburn didn’t say anything— anything about me in connection with this business? Didn’t mention, I suppose, what he thought about my going?”
“Not a word, my boy! He was away up in abstract principles; he generally is. Bye-bye.”