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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Profiteers - Chapter 3
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The Profiteers - Chapter 3 Post by :solidbank Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1629

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The Profiteers - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

There was a little flutter of excitement in the offices of Messrs. Kendrick, Stone, Morgan and Company when, at a few minutes after eleven the following morning, Wingate descended from a taxicab, pushed open the swing doors of the large general office and enquired for Mr. Kendrick. Without a moment's delay he was shown into Roger Kendrick's private room, but the little thrill caused by his entrance did not at once pass away. It was like the visit of a general to Divisional Headquarters. Action of some sort seemed to be in the air. Ideas of big dealings already loomed large in the minds of the little army of clerks. Telephones were handled longingly. Those of the firm who were members of the Stock Exchange abandoned any work of a distracting nature and held themselves ready for a prompt rush across the street.

Even Roger Kendrick, as he shook hands with his client, was conscious of a little thrill of expectation. Wingate was a man who brought with him almost a conscious sense of power. Carefully, but not overcarefully dressed, muscular, with a frame like steel, eyes keen and bright, carrying himself like a man who knows himself and his value, John Wingate would have appeared a formidable adversary in any game in which he chose to take a hand. Whatever his present intentions were, however, he seemed in no hurry to declare himself. The two men spoke for a few minutes on outside subjects. Wingate referred to the garden party of the afternoon before, led the conversation with some skill around to the subject of Josephine Dredlinton, and listened to what the other man had to say.

"Every one is sorry for Lady Dredlinton," Kendrick pronounced. "Why she married Dredlinton is one of the mysteries of the world. I suppose it was the fatal mistake so many good women make--the reformer's passion. Dredlinton's rotten to the core, though. No one could reform him, could even influence him to good to any extent. He's such a wrong 'un, to tell you the truth, that I'm surprised Phipps put him on the Board. His name is long past doing any one any good."

"Lady Dredlinton did not strike me as having altogether the air of an unhappy woman," Wingate observed tentatively.

Kendrick shrugged his shoulders.

"No fundamentally good woman is ever unhappy," he said, "or rather ever shows it. She is face to face all the time with the necessity of making the best of things for the sake of other people. Lady Dredlinton carries herself bravely, but the people who know her best never cease to feel sorry for her."

"You have those figures I sent you a wireless for?" Wingate asked, a little abruptly.

"I have them here," Kendrick replied, producing a little roll of papers from a drawer. "They want a little digesting, even by a man with a head for figures like yours. In some respects, these fellows seem to have had the most amazing luck. Unless we come to an understanding with Russia within the next month, of which there doesn't seem to me to be the slightest prospect, we shall get no wheat from there for at least another year."

"And the harvests all over eastern Europe were shocking," Wingate said, half to himself.

"It doesn't seem to me," Kendrick pointed out, "that more than driblets can be expected from anywhere, except, of course, the greatest source of all, Canada and the United States."

"You've no indication of the Government's attitude, I suppose?" Wingate asked.

"I don't suppose they have one," Kendrick answered, "upon that or any other subject. Of course, if all the wheat that's being stored in the country under the auspices of the B. & I. stood in their own name, the matter would appear in a different light, but they've been infernally clever with all these subsidiary companies. They own a majority of shares in each, without a doubt, but they conduct their transactions as though they were absolutely independent concerns."

Wingate studied the figures in the document he was holding for some minutes in thoughtful silence. The telephone rang at Kendrick's elbow. He picked up the receiver and listened.

"That Kendrick?" a voice enquired.

"Speaking," Kendrick answered.

"This is Peter Phipps, from right away opposite. Say, I am told that John Wingate of New York is a client of yours."

Kendrick passed across the spare receiver to Wingate and paused for a moment whilst the latter held it to his ear.

"He is," Kendrick admitted.

"Well, I am given to understand that he is coming into the City to do business," Phipps continued. "If he is in any way disposed to be a seller, we are buyers of wheat for autumn delivery at market price, perhaps even a shade over."

"Any quantity?" Kendrick enquired.

"A hundred thousand--anything up to a million bushels, if Mr. Wingate feels like coming in big. Anyway, we're ready to talk business. Will you put it up to your client?"

"I will."

"Shall you be seeing him soon?"

"This morning, probably."

"Thought you might," the voice at the other end of the telephone observed, "as I saw him step into your office half an hour ago. Give him my compliments and say I hope we may make a deal together."

"Certainly," Kendrick promised. "Good morning."

The two men laid down their receivers. Kendrick's eyes twinkled.

"Well, that fellow's a sport, anyway," he declared.

"I suppose in one sense of the word he is," Wingate admitted. "So he wants me to sell him wheat, eh? It looks a good thing at these prices, Kendrick, doesn't it, and a normal harvest coming along on the other side?"

"That's for you to say," was the cautious reply. "These big deals in commodities which have to be delivered on a certain date always seem to me a little out of the sphere of legitimate gambling."

"At the same time," Wingate remarked, "the price of wheat to-day is scandalous. If the B. & I. forced it up any higher, I should think that the Government must intervene."

"I shouldn't reckon upon it."

"Naturally! I shouldn't enter into a gamble, taking that as a certainty. At the same time, I want to view the matter in all its bearings. I can't conceive any private firm being allowed to boost up the price of wheat to such an extent for purposes of speculation."

"It would be devilish difficult," Kendrick pointed out, "to trace the whole thing to the B. & I."

Wingate took a cigarette from the open box upon the office table, lit it and smoked for a moment thoughtfully.

"Kendrick," he said, "I am a good friend and a good enemy; Peter Phipps is my enemy. We should probably shake hands if we met, we might even sit down at the same table, but we know the truth. Each of us in his heart desires nothing in the world so much as the ruin of the other."

"What was the start of this feeling?" Kendrick asked.

"A woman," Wingate replied shortly, "and that's all there is to be said about it, Kendrick. I shall hate Peter Phipps as long as I live, for the sake of the girl he ruined, and he will hate me because of the thrashing I gave him. Ever noticed the scar on his right cheek, Kendrick?"

"Often," the stockbroker replied. "He told me it was done in a saloon fight out in the Far West."

"I did it in the Far East," Wingate declared grimly, "as far east, at least, as the drawing-room of his Fifth Avenue house. He'll never lose that scar. He'll never lose his hatred of the man who gave it to him.--So he wants me to sell him wheat!"

"It's a pretty dangerous thing to introduce feelings of this sort into business," Kendrick remarked.

"You're right," Wingate admitted. "It makes one careful. I'm not selling any wheat to-day, Kendrick."

"It will be a disappointment to the office," the other remarked. "Personally, I'm glad."

"Oh, I'll keep your office busy," Wingate promised. "I'm not coming into the City for nothing, I can assure you. There are five commissions for you," he went on, drawing a sheet of paper from the rack and writing on it rapidly. "That will keep your office busy for a time. I'll give you a cheque for fifty thousand pounds. Don't ring me up unless you want more margin. Closing time prices are all I'm interested in, and I can get those on the tape anywhere."

The stockbroker's eyes glistened as he looked through the list.

"You're a good judge, Wingate," he said. "You'll make money on most of these."

"I expect I shall," Wingate acknowledged. "Anyhow, it will keep you people busy and serve as a sort of visiting card here for me until--"

"Until what?" Kendrick asked, breaking a short pause.

"Until I can make up my mind how to deal with those fellows across the way. On paper it still looks a good thing to sell them wheat, you know. Peter Phipps has something up his sleeve for me, though. I've got to try and find out what it is."

"You'll excuse me for a moment?" Kendrick begged. "I'm only a human being, and I can't hold a couple of million pounds' worth of business in my hand and not set it going. I'll be back directly."

"Don't hurry on my account," Wingate replied. "I'm going to use your telephone, if I may."

"Of course! You have a private line there. The others will be all buzzing away in a minute. I'll send Jenkins and Poore along to the House. What about lunch?"

"To-morrow, one o'clock at the Milan," Wingate appointed. "I'm busy to-day."

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