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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Profiteers - Chapter 13
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The Profiteers - Chapter 13 Post by :solidbank Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1630

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The Profiteers - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

Peter Phipps, sitting in his private office, might have served as the very prototype of a genial, shrewd and successful business man. The apartment was plainly and handsomely furnished. Although, only a few yards away, was a private exchange and an operator who controlled many private wires, a single telephone only stood upon his desk. The documents which cumbered it were arranged in methodical little heaps. His manager stood by his side, with a long slip of paper in his hand. The two men had been studying it together.

"A very excellently prepared document, Harrison," his employer declared graciously, as he leaned back in his chair with the tips of his fingers pressed together. "Capitally prepared and very lucid. A good many million bushels, that. We are creeping up, Harrison--creeping up."

Mr. Harrison bowed in recognition of his master's words of commendation. He was a worn-looking, negative person, with a waxlike complexion, a furtive manner, and a marvellous head for the figures with which he juggled.

"The totals are enormous, sir," he admitted, "and you may take it that they are absolutely correct. They represent our holdings as revised after the receipt of this morning's mail. I should like to point out, too, sir, that they have increased out of all proportion to outside shipments, during the last four days."

Phipps touched the _Times with his forefinger.

"Did you notice, Harrison," he asked, "that our shares touched a hundred and eighty last night on the street?"

"I was advised of it, sir," was the quiet reply.

"My fellow directors and I," Phipps continued, "are highly gratified with the services of our staff during this period of stress. You might let them know that in the counting house. We shall shortly take some opportunity of showing our appreciation."

"You are very kind indeed, sir," the manager acknowledged, without change of countenance. "I am sorry to have to report that Mr. Roberts wishes to leave us."

"Roberts? One of our best buyers!" Phipps exclaimed. "Dear me, how's that? Can't we meet him, Harrison? Is it a matter of salary?"

"I am afraid not, sir."

"What then?"

"Mr. Roberts has leanings towards socialism, sir. He seems to think that the energies of our company tend to increase the distress which exists in the north."

The great man leaned back in his chair.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "What on earth has that to do with Roberts? He isn't the conscience of the firm. He draws a matter of a thousand a year for doing as he is told."

"I tried to argue with him on those lines, sir," Harrison replied. "I am sorry to say I found him obdurate."

"He can be replaced, I suppose?" Phipps shrugged his shoulders.

"With some difficulty, sir," Harrison felt compelled to admit. "There is, as I dare say you are aware, sir, a certain feeling against us in the various Exchanges. The best men are warned against accepting employment with us."

"We pay higher salaries than any one else in the trade."

"The business methods of the company towards its employees," the manager acknowledged, "have always been excellent. Still, there is a feeling."

The chairman of the B. & I. sighed.

"We will pursue the subject later, Harrison," he said. "In the meantime, promote some one else on the staff, if necessary. Do your best to fill Roberts' place adequately."

"Very good, sir."

Dredlinton lounged into the office a few minutes later. Phipps welcomed him without any particular enthusiasm, but promptly dismissed the typist to whom he had been dictating.

"It happens that you are just the man I want to see," he declared. "Sit down."

Dredlinton sank a little wearily into an easy-chair, after a glance of disappointment at the retreating figure.

"Can't think why you always have such damned ugly girls about you, Phipps," he yawned. "Gives me the creeps to look at them."

Peter Phipps smiled as he drew a box of cigars from his desk.

"Then I will tell you the reason, my friend," he said. "For pleasure there is no one who appreciates beauty more than I do. For business I have a similar passion for efficiency. The two are never confused in my mind."

"Regular paragon, aren't you!" Dredlinton murmured. "Why did you want to see me, by the by?"

"What happened last night?" Phipps asked a little abruptly.

"I obeyed orders," Dredlinton told him. "I told her ladyship that I should be home to dinner and probably bring some friends. I was a little late but she waited."

Phipps smiled maliciously.

"She didn't dine with Wingate, then, or go to the theatre?"

"She did not," Dredlinton replied. "I put the kibosh on it, according to orders."

Peter Phipps pushed the cigars across the desk towards his companion.

"Try one of these before you enter upon the labours of the day," he invited, "and just see what you think of these figures."

Dredlinton glanced at the papers carelessly at first and then with genuine interest. They were certainly sufficiently surprising to rouse him for a moment from his apathy.

"Marvellous!" he exclaimed.

"Marvellous indeed," his Chief assented. "Now listen to me, Dredlinton. Why are you sitting there, looking like a whipped dog? Why can't you wear a more cheerful face? If it's Farnham's cheque you are worrying about, here it is," he added, drawing an oblong slip of paper from the pigeonhole of his desk, tearing it in two, and throwing it into the waste-paper basket. "A year ago, you told me that the one thing in the world you needed was money. Well, aren't you getting it? You have only to run straight with us here, and to work in my interests in another quarter that you know of, and your fortune is made. Cheer up and look as though you realised it."

Dredlinton crossed and uncrossed his legs nervously. His eyes were bloodshot and his eyelids puffy. Notwithstanding careful grooming, he had the air of a man running fast to seed.

"I am nervous this morning, Phipps," he confided. "Had a bad night. Every one I've come across, too, lately, seems to be cursing the B. & I."

"Let them curse," was the equable reply. "We can afford to hear a few harsh words when we are making money on such a scale."

"Yes, but how long is it going to last?" Dredlinton asked fretfully. "Did you see the questions that were asked in the House yesterday?"

Phipps leaned back in his chair and laughed quietly.

"Questions? Yes! Who cares about them? Believe me, Dredlinton, our Government has one golden rule. It never interferes with private enterprise. I don't know whether you realise it, but since the war there is more elasticity about trading methods than there was before. The worst that could happen to us might be that they appointed a commission to investigate our business methods. Well, they'd find it uncommonly hard to get at the bottom of them, and by the time they were in a position to make a report, the whole thing would be over."

"It's making us damned unpopular," Dredlinton grumbled.

"For the moment," the other agreed, "but remember this. There was never such a thing as an unpopular millionaire known in history, so long as he chose to spend his money."

Dredlinton drew a letter from his pocket and handed it across the table.

"Read that," he invited. "It's the fifth I've had within the last two days."

Phipps glanced at the beginning and the end, and threw it carelessly back.

"Pooh! A threatening letter!" he exclaimed. "Why, I had a dozen of those this morning. My secretary is making a scrapbook of them."

"That one of mine seems pretty definite, doesn't it?" Dredlinton remarked nervously.

"Some of mine were uncommonly plain-spoken," Phipps acknowledged, "but what's the odds? You're not a coward, Dredlinton; neither am I. Neither is Skinflint Martin, nor Stanley. Chuck letters like that on the fire, as they have, and keep cheerful. The streets of London are the safest place in the world. No cable from your friend in New York yet?"

"Not a word," Dredlinton answered. "I expected it last night. You haven't forgotten that Wingate's due here this morning--that is, if he keeps his appointment?"

"Forgotten it? Not likely!" Phipps replied. "I was going to talk to you about that. We must have those shares. The fact of it is the Universal Line has played us false, the only shipping company which has. They promised to advise us of all proposed wheat cargoes, and they haven't kept their word. If my information is correct, and I expect confirmation of it at any moment in the cable I arranged to have sent to you, they have eleven steamers being loaded this very week. It's a last effort on the part of the Liverpool ring to break us."

"What'll happen if Wingate won't sell?" Dredlinton enquired.

"I never face disagreeable possibilities before the necessity arrives," was the calm reply. "Wingate is certain to sell. He won't have an idea why we want to buy, and I shall give him twenty thousand pounds profit."

"You'll find him a difficult customer," Dredlinton declared. "As you know, he hates us like poison."

"He may do that," Phipps acknowledged. "I've given him cause to in my life, and hope to again. But after all, he's a shrewd fellow. He's made money on the Stock Exchange this last week, and he's had the sense not to run up against us. He's not likely to refuse a clear twenty thousand pounds' profit on some shares he's not particularly interested in."

Dredlinton knocked the ash from his cigar. He leaned over towards his companion.

"Look here, Phipps," he said, "you can never reckon exactly on what a fellow like Wingate will do or what he won't do. It is just possible I may be able to help in this matter."

"Good man!" the other exclaimed. "How?"

Dredlinton hesitated for a moment. There was a particularly ugly smile upon his lips.

"Let us put it in this way," he said. "Supposing you fail altogether with Wingate?"

"Well?"

"Supposing you then pass him on to me and I succeed in getting him to sell the shares? What about it?"

"It will be worth a thousand pounds to you," Phipps declared.

"Two!"

Phipps shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't bargain," he said, "but two let it be--that is, of course, on condition that I have previously failed."

Dredlinton's dull eyes glittered. The slight contraction of his lips did nothing to improve his appearance.

"I shall do my best," he promised.

There was a knock at the door. A clerk from outside presented himself. As he held the door for a moment ajar, a wave of tangled sounds swept into the room,--the metallic clash of a score of typewriters, the shouting and bargaining of eager customers, the tinkle of telephones in the long series of cubicles.

"Mr. Wingate is here to see you, sir," the young man announced.

"You can show him in," Peter Phipps directed.

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CHAPTER XII"Throw your coat down anywhere, Miss Baldwin," Wingate invited, as he ushered that young lady into his rooms soon after eleven o'clock on the following evening. "Now what can I give you? There are some sandwiches here--ham and pate-de-foie-gras, I think. Whisky and soda or some hock?" "A pate sandwich and some plain soda water, please," Sarah replied, taking off the long motoring coat which concealed her evening clothes. "I have been fined for everything except disorderly driving--daren't risk that. Thanks!" she went on. "What ripping sandwiches! And quite a good play, wasn't it?" "I am glad you enjoyed it."
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