E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 3 out of 4
"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
Phipps glanced at the beginning and the end, and threw it
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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.
Phipps received his visitor with a genial smile and outstretched hand.
"Delighted to see you, Mr. Wingate," he said heartily. "Take a chair,
please. I do not know whether you smoke in the mornings, but these
Cabanas," he added, opening the box, "are extraordinarily mild and I
think quite pleasant."
Wingate refused both the chair and the cigars and appeared not to notice
the outstretched hand.
"You will forgive my reminding you, Mr. Phipps," he remarked drily, "that
my visit this morning is not one of good-will. I should not be here at
all except for Lord Dredlinton's assurance that the business on which you
desired to see me has nothing whatever to do with the British and
"Nothing in the world, Mr. Wingate," was the prompt declaration. "We
would very much rather receive you here as a friend, but we will, if you
choose, respect your prejudices and come to the point at once."
"In one moment."
"You have something to say first?"
"I have," Wingate replied gravely. "I should not willingly have sought
you out. I do not, as a matter of fact, consider that any director of the
British and Imperial Granaries deserves even a word of warning. But since
I am here, I am going to offer it."
"Of warning?" Dredlinton muttered, glancing up nervously.
"Precisely," Wingate assented. "You, Mr. Phipps, and Lord Dredlinton,
and your fellow directors, have inaugurated and are carrying on a
business, or enterprise, whichever you choose to call it, founded upon
an utterly immoral and brutal basis. Your operations in the course of a
few months have raised to a ridiculous price the staple food of the
poorer classes, at a time when distress and suffering are already
amongst them. I have spent a considerable portion of my time since I
arrived in England studying this matter, and this is the conclusion at
which I have arrived."
"My dear Mr. Wingate, one moment," Phipps intervened. "The magnitude of
our operations in wheat has been immensely exaggerated. We are not
abnormally large holders. There are a dozen firms in the market, buying."
"Those dozen firms," was the swift reply, "are agents of yours."
"That is a statement which you cannot possibly substantiate," Phipps
declared irritably. "It is simply Stock Exchange gossip."
"For once, then," Wingate went on, "Stock Exchange gossip is the truth."
"My dear Mr. Wingate," Phipps expostulated, "if you will discuss this
matter, I beg that you will do so as a business man and not as a
sentimentalist. Yon know perfectly well that as long as the principles of
barter exist, there must be a loser and a gainer."
"The ordinary principles of barter," Wingate contended, "do not apply to
material from which the people's food is made. I speak to you as man to
man. You have started an enterprise of which I and others declare
ourselves the avowed enemies. I am here to warn you, both of you," he
added, including Lord Dredlinton with a sweep of his hand, "directors of
the British and Imperial Granaries, that unless you release and compel
your agents to release such stocks of wheat as will bring bread down to a
reasonable price, you stand in personal danger. Is that clear enough?"
"Clear enough," Dredlinton muttered, "but what the mischief does it
"You threaten us?" Phipps asked calmly.
"I do indeed," Wingate assented. "I threaten you. I threaten you. Peter
Phipps, you, Lord Dredlinton, and I threaten your absent directors. I
came over here prepared for something in the nature of a financial duel.
I came prepared to match my millions and my brain against yours. I find
no inducement to do so. The struggle is uninspiring. My efforts would
only prolong it. Quicker means must be found to deal with you."
"You are misled as to your facts, Mr. Wingate," Phipps expostulated. "I
can assure you that we are conducting a perfectly legitimate undertaking.
We have kept all the time well within the law."
"You may be within the law of the moment," was the stern reply, "but
morally you are worse than the most outrageous bucket-shop keepers of
Wall Street. Legislation may be slow and Parliament hampered by
precedent, but the people have never wanted champions when they have a
righteous cause. I tell you that you cannot carry this thing through.
Better disgorge your profits and sell while you have a chance."
Dredlinton tapped a cigarette against his desk and lit it.
"My dear fellow," he said, "you really ought to go into Parliament. Such
eloquence is rather wasted in a City office."
"I rather imagined that it would be," Wingate assented. "At the same
time, I warned you that if I came I should speak my mind."
Phipps did his best for peace. This was his enemy with whom he was now
face to face, but the final issue was not yet. He spoke suavely and
"Come, come," he said, "Wingate, you have changed since you and I fought
our battles in New York and Chicago. To-day you seem to be representing
a very worthy but misguided class of the community--the sentimentalists.
They are invariably trying to alter by legislation conditions which are
automatic. It is true that our operations over here may temporarily make
bread dearer, but on the other hand we may be facing the other way within
a month. We may be sellers of wheat, and the loaf then will be cheaper
than it ever has been. I am an Englishman, and it is not my desire to add
to the sufferings of my fellow countrymen."
"You don't care a damn about any one's sufferings," Wingate retorted, "so
long as you can make money out of them."
Phipps for once looked a little taken aback.
"My dear sir," he protested, "your trans-Atlantic bluntness is somewhat
disconcerting. However, you must admit that we have heard you patiently.
Let us now, if you are willing, discuss for a minute or two the real
object of your visit."
"I have delivered my warning," Wingate remarked. "I am only sorry that
you will not take me more seriously. I am now at your service."
"In plain words, then, I want to purchase your holding in the Universal
Steamship Company, a holding amounting, I believe, to one million, two
hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
Wingate effectually concealed a genuine surprise.
"You seem remarkably well informed as to my investments," he observed.
"Not as to your investments generally," Phipps replied, "but as to your
holding of Universal stock. In this stock it is my desire to secure a
Phipps hesitated for a moment. Then he replied with much apparent
"I could invent a dozen reasons. I prefer to tell you the truth and to
base my offer upon existing conditions."
"The truth will be very interesting," Wingate murmured, with a note of
faint sarcasm in his tone.
"Here are my cards, then, laid upon the table," Phipps continued,
rapping the place in front of him with the back of his hand. "An Asiatic
Power has offered me an immense commission if I can arrange the sale to
them of the Atlantic fleet of the Universal Line."
"For what purpose?"
"Trading purposes between Japan and China," Phipps explained. "The
quickest way of bringing about the sale and earning my commission is for
me to acquire a controlling interest in the company. I have already a
certain number of shares. The possession of yours will give me control.
The shares to-day stand at a dollar and an eighth. That would make your
holding, Mr. Wingate, worth, say, one million, four hundred thousand
dollars. I am going to offer you a premium on the top of that, say one
million, six hundred thousand dollars at today's rate of exchange."
"For trading purposes between Japan and China," Wingate reflected.
"That is the scheme," Phipps assented.
Wingate indulged in a few moments' reflection. He had no particular
interest in the Universal Steamship Company--a company trading between
San Francisco and Japan--and from all that he could remember of their
position and prospects, the price was a generous one. Nevertheless, he
was conscious of a curious disinclination to part with his shares. The
very fact that he knew he was being watched with a certain amount of
anxiety stiffened his impulse to retain them.
"A very fair offer, Mr. Phipps, I have no doubt," he said at last. "On
the other hand, I am not a seller."
"Not a seller? Not at a quarter premium?"
"Nor a half," Wingate replied, "nor, as a matter of fact, a hundred per
cent. premium. You see, I don't trust you, Phipps. You may have told me
the truth. You may not. I shall hold my shares for the present."
"Mr. Wingate," Phipps exclaimed incredulously, "you astonish me!"
"Very likely," was the unconcerned reply. "I won't say that I may not
change my mind a little later on, if you are still a buyer. Before I did
anything, however, I should have a few enquiries to make. If this
concludes our business, Mr. Phipps--"
Dredlinton waved a nervous hand towards him.
"One moment, please," he begged, "I have just a few words to say to
The latter glanced at the clock.
"I hope you will say them as quickly as possible," he enjoined. "I have a
Dredlinton leaned over Phipps' chair. There was a sinister meaning in
his hoarse whisper.
"Leave me alone with him for a moment," he suggested. "Perhaps I may be
able to earn that two thousand pounds."
Phipps rose at once from his chair and made his way towards the door.
"Lord Dredlinton wishes to have a word with you, Mr. Wingate," he said.
"I shall be on the premises, in case by any fortunate chance you should
decide to change your mind."
Dredlinton sank into Phipps' vacated chair and leaned back with his hands
in his trousers pockets. He had the air of a man fortified by a certain
amount of bravado,--stimulated by some evil purpose.
"So you don't want to sell those shares, Mr. Wingate?"
"I have decided not to," was the calm reply.
"Any particular reason?"
"None," Wingate acknowledged, "except that I am not very anxious to have
any business relations with Mr. Phipps."
"And for the sake of that prejudice," Dredlinton observed, "you can
afford to refuse such a profit as he offered you?"
"I have other reasons for not wishing to sell," Wingate declared. "I have
a very high opinion of Mr. Phipps' judgment as a business man. If the
shares are worth so much as that to him, they are probably worth the same
amount for me to keep."
Lord Dredlinton shook his head.
"Quite a fallacy, Wingate," he pronounced. "Phipps, as a matter of fact,
is offering you considerably more than the shares are worth, because with
their help he means to bring off a big thing."
"If he relies upon my shares," was the indifferent reply, "I am afraid
the big thing won't come off."
"You won't sell, then?"
Lord Dredlinton glanced for a moment at his finger nails. He seemed
wrapped in abstract thought.
"I wonder if I could induce you to change your mind," he said.
"I am quite sure that you could not."
"Still, I am going to try. You are a great admirer of my wife, I believe,
Wingate frowned slightly.
"I prefer not to discuss Lady Dredlinton with you," he said curtly.
"Still, you won't mind going so far as to say that you are an admirer of
hers?" the latter persisted.
"You are probably her confidant in the unfortunate differences which have
arisen between us?"
"If I were, I should not consider it my business to inform you."
"Your sympathy is without doubt on her side?"
Wingate changed his attitude.
"Look here," he said, "this subject is not of my choosing. I should have
preferred to avoid it. Since you press me, however, I haven't the
faintest hesitation in saying that I look upon your wife as one of the
sweetest and best women I ever knew, married, unfortunately, to a person
utterly unworthy of her."
Dredlinton started in his place. A little streak of colour flushed up
to his eyes.
"What the devil do you mean by that?"
"Look here," Wingate expostulated, "you can't threaten me, Dredlinton.
You asked for what you got. Why not save time and explain why you have
dragged your wife's name into this business?"
Dredlinton, in his peculiar way, was angry. His speech was a little
broken, his eyes glittered.
"Explain? My God, I will! You are one of those damned frauds, Wingate,
who pose as a purist and don't hesitate to make capital out of the
harmless differences which sometimes arise between husband and wife. You
sympathise with Lady Dredlinton, eh?"
"I should sympathise with any woman who was your wife," Wingate assured
him, his own temper rising.
Dredlinton leaned a little forward. He spoke with a vicious
"You sympathise with her to such an extent that you lure her to your
rooms at midnight and send her back when you've--"
Dredlinton's courage oozed out before he had finished his speech. Wingate
had swung around towards his companion, and there was something
terrifying in his attitude.
"You scoundrel!" he exclaimed.
Dredlinton drew a little farther back and kept his finger upon the bell.
"Look here," he said viciously, "you may as well drop those heroics. I am
not talking at random. My wife was seen in your arms, in your rooms at
the Milan Court, with her dressing case on the table, last night, by
little Flossie Lane, your latest conquest in the musical comedy world.
She spent the night at the Milan."
"It's a lie!" Wingate declared, with cold fury. "How the devil could
Flossie Lane see anything of the sort? She was nowhere near my rooms."
"Oh, yes, she was!" Dredlinton assured him. "She just looked in--one look
was quite enough. Didn't you hear the door slam?"
"My God!" Wingate muttered, with a sudden instinct of recollection.
"Perhaps you wonder why she came?" the other continued. "I will tell
you. I followed my wife to the Milan--I thought it might be worth while.
I saw her enter the lift and come up to your room. While I was hesitating
as to what to do, I met Flossie. Devilish clever idea of mine! I
determined to kill two birds with one stone. I told her you'd been
enquiring for her--that you were alone in your rooms and would like to
see her. She went up like a two-year-old. Jove, you ought to have seen
her face when she came down!"
"You cad!" Wingate exclaimed. "Your wife simply came to beg my
intervention with the management to secure her a room in the--"
"Chuck it!" Dredlinton interrupted. "You're a man of the world. You know
very well that I can get a divorce, and I'm going to have it--if I want
it. I am meeting Flossie Lane at midday at my solicitor's. What have you
got to say about that?"
"That if you keep your word it will be a very happy release for your
wife," Wingate replied drily.
Dredlinton leaned across the desk. There was an almost satyrlike grin
upon his face.
"You are a fool," he said. "My wife wants to get rid of me--you and
she have talked that over, I have no doubt--but not this way. She is a
proud woman, Wingate. The one desire of her life is to be free, but
you can take this from me--if I bring my suit and gain my decree on
the evidence I shall put before the court---don't forget Flossie Lane,
will you?--she'll never raise her head again. That is what I am going
to do, unless--"
"Unless what?" Wingate demanded.
"Unless you sell those shares to Peter Phipps."
Wingate was silent for a few moments. He studied his companion
"Dredlinton," he said at last, "I did you an injustice."
"I am glad that you are beginning to appreciate the fact," the other
replied, with some dignity. "I welcome your confession."
"I looked upon you," Wingate continued, "as only an ordinary, weak sort
of scoundrel. I find you one of the filthiest blackguards who ever
crawled upon the earth."
Dredlinton scowled for a moment and then laughed in a hard, unnatural
sort of way.
"I can't lose my temper with you, Wingate--upon my word, I can't. You are
so delightfully crude and refreshing. Your style, however, is a little
more suited to your own country, don't you think--the Far West and that
sort of thing. Shall I draft a little agreement that you will sell the
shares to Phipps? Just a line or two will be sufficient."
Wingate made no reply. He walked across to the frosted window and gazed
out of the upper panes up to the sky. Presently he returned.
"Where is your wife?" he asked.
"She telephoned from the Milan this morning, discovered that the young
lady to whom she had such unfounded objections had left, and returned in
a taxi just before I started for the office."
"Supposing I sell these shares?"
"Then," Dredlinton promised, "I shall endeavour to forget the incident
of last night. Further than that, I might indeed be tempted, if it
were made worth my while, to provide my wife with a more honourable
mode of escape."
"You're wonderful," Wingate declared, nodding his head quickly. "What are
you going to get for blackmailing me into selling those shares?"
"Two thousand pounds."
"Get along and earn it, then."
Dredlinton wrote in silence for several moments. Then he read the
document over to himself.
"'I, John Wingate--all my shares in the Universal Steamship Company, and
accept herewith as a deposit.' There, Mr. Wingate, I think you will find
that correct. Phipps shall write you a cheque Immediately."
He touched the bell. Phipps entered almost at the same moment.
"I am pleased to tell you," Dredlinton announced, "that I have induced
Mr. Wingate to see reason. He will sell the shares."
"My congratulations!" Phipps ventured, with a broad smile. "Mr. Wingate
has made a most wise and acceptable decision."
"Will you make out a cheque for ten thousand pounds as a deposit?"
Dredlinton continued. "Mr. Wingate will then sign the agreement I have
drawn up on the lines of the memorandum you left on the desk."
"With pleasure," was the brisk reply.
Wingate took up a pen, glanced through the agreement, and was on the
point of signing his name when a startled exclamation from the man by his
side caused him to glance up. The door had been opened. Harrison was
standing there, looking a little worried. His tone was almost apologetic.
"The Countess of Dredlinton," he announced.
The arrival of Josephine affected very differently the three men, to whom
her coming was equally surprising. Her husband, after an exclamation
which savoured of profanity, stared at her with a doubtful and malicious
frown upon his forehead. With Wingate she exchanged one swift glance of
mutual understanding. Phipps, after his first start of surprise, welcomed
her with the utmost respect and cordiality.
"My dear Lady Dredlinton," he declared, "this is charming of you! I had
really given up hoping that you would ever honour us with your presence."
"You can chuck all that, Phipps," Dredlinton interrupted curtly. "My wife
hasn't come here to bandy civilities. What do you want, madam?" he
demanded, moving a step nearer to her.
She held a slip of paper in her hand and unfolded it before their eyes.
"My husband," she said, "has justly surmised that I have not come here in
any spirit of friendliness, I have come to let Mr. Wingate know the
contents of this cable, which arrived soon after my husband left the
house this morning. The message was in code, but, as Mr. Wingate's name
appeared, I have taken the trouble to transcribe it."
"That's more than you could do, my lady," Dredlinton snarled.
"I can assure you that you are mistaken," was the calm reply. "You forget
that you were not quite yourself last night, and that you left the B. &
I. code book on the study table. Please listen, Mr. Wingate."
All the apparent good humour had faded from Phipps' face. He struck the
table with his fist.
"Dredlinton," he insisted, "you must use your authority. That message is
a private one. It must not be read."
Wingate moved to Josephine's side.
"Must not?" he repeated under his breath.
"It is a private message from a correspondent in New York, who is a
personal friend of Lord Dredlinton's," Phipps declared. "It is of no
concern to any one except ourselves. Dredlinton, you must make your wife
"Understand?" Dredlinton broke in. "Give me that message, madam."
He snatched at it. Wingate leaned over and swung him on one side. For a
single moment Phipps, too, seemed about to attempt force. Then, with an
ugly little laugh, he recovered himself.
"My dear Lady Dredlinton, let me reason with you," he begged. "On this
occasion Mr. Wingate is in opposition to our interests, your husband's
and mine. You cannot--"
"Let Lady Dredlinton read the cable," Wingate interposed.
It was done before any further interference was possible. Wingate stood
at her side, grim and threatening. The words had left her lips before
either of the other men could shout her down.
"It is a night message from New York," she said. "Listen: 'Confirm eleven
steamers Universal Line withdrawn Japan trade loading secretly huge wheat
cargo for Liverpool. Confirm John Wingate, Milan Court, holds controlling
influence. Advise buy his shares any price.'"
There was a moment's intense silence. Dredlinton opened his lips and
closed them again. Phipps was exhibiting remarkable self-control. His
tone, as he addressed Wingate, was grave but almost natural.
"Under these circumstances, do you wish to repudiate your bargain?" he
asked. "We must at least know where we are."
Wingate turned to Josephine.
"The matter," he decided, "is not in my hands. Lady Dredlinton," he went
on, "the person who opened the door of my sitting room last night was
Miss Flossie Lane, a musical comedy actress sent there by your husband,
who had followed you to the Milan. Your husband imagines that because you
were in my apartments at such an unusual hour, he has cause for a
divorce. That I do not believe, but, to save proceedings which might be
distasteful to you, I was prepared to sell Mr. Phipps my shares in the
Universal Line, imagining it to be an ordinary business transaction. The
cable which you have just read has revealed the true reason why Phipps
desires to acquire those shares. The arrival of that wheat will force
down prices, for a time, at any rate. It may even drive this accursed
company into seeking some other field of speculation. What shall I do?"
She smiled at him over her husband's head. She did not hesitate even for
a second. Her tone was proud and insistent.
"You must of course keep your shares," she declared. "As regards the
other matter, my husband can do as he thinks well."
Wingate's eyes flashed his thanks. He drew a little sigh of relief
and deliberately tore in halves the agreement which he had been
holding. Dredlinton leaned over the desk, snatched at the telephone
receiver, threw himself into his chair, and, glared first at Wingate
and then at his wife.
"My God, then," he exclaimed furiously, "I'll keep my word!--Mayfair
67.--I'll drag you through the dust, my lady," he went on. "You shall be
the heroine of one of those squalid divorce cases you've spoken of so
scornfully. You shall crawl through life a divorcee, made an honest woman
through the generosity of an American adventurer!--67, Mayfair, I said."
Phipps shook his head sorrowfully.
"My friend," he said, "this is useless bluster. Put down the telephone.
Let us talk the matter out squarely. Your methods are a little too
"Go to hell!" Dredlinton shouted. "You are too much out for compromises,
Phipps. There are times when one must strike.--Exchange! I say, Exchange!
Why the devil can't you give me Mayfair 67?--What's that?--An urgent
call?--Well, go on, then. Out with it.--Who's speaking? Mr. Stanley Rees'
servant?--Yes, yes! I'm Lord Dredlinton. Get on with it."
There was a moment of intense silence. Dredlinton was listening,
indifferently at first, then as though spellbound, his lips a little
parted, his cheeks colourless, his eyes filled with a strange terror.
Presently he laid down the receiver, although he failed to replace it. He
turned very slowly around, and his eyes, still filled with a haunting
fear, sought Wingate's.
"Stanley has disappeared!" he gasped. "He had one of those letters last
night. It lies on his table now, his servant says. There was a noise in
his room at four o'clock this morning. When they called him---he had
gone! No one has seen or heard of him since!"
"Stanley disappeared?" Phipps repeated in a dazed tone.
"There's been foul play!" Dredlinton cried hoarsely. "His servant is
sure of it!"
Wingate picked up his hat and stick and moved towards the door. From the
threshold he looked back, waiting whilst Josephine joined him.
"Youth," he said calmly, "must be served. Stanley Rees was, I believe,
the youngest director on the Board of the British and Imperial Granaries.
Now, if you like, Mr. Phipps, I'll come on to your market. I'm a seller
of a hundred thousand bushels of wheat at to-day's price."
"Go to hell!" Phipps shouted, his face black with rage.
Roger Kendrick was in and disengaged when Wingate called upon him, a few
minutes later. He welcomed his visitor cordially.
"That was a pretty good list you gave me the other day, Wingate," he
remarked, "You've made money. You're making it still."
"Good!" Wingate commented, with a nod of satisfaction. "I dare say I
shall need it all. Close up everything, Kendrick."
"The devil! One or two of your things are going strong, you know."
"Take profits and close up," Wingate directed. "I've another
commission for you."
"One moment, then."
Kendrick hurried into the outer office and gave some brief instructions.
His client picked up the tape and studied it until his return.
"How are things in the House?" Wingate enquired, as he resumed his seat.
"Uneasy," Kendrick replied. "B. & I.'s are the chief feature. They
show signs of weakness, owing to the questions in the House of
Commons last night."
"I'm a bear on B. & I.'s," Wingate declared. "What are they to-day?"
"They opened at five and a quarter. Half-an-hour ago they were being
offered at five and an eighth."
"Very well," Wingate replied, "sell."
"No limit. Simply sell."
The broker was a little startled.
"Do you know anything?" he asked.
"Nothing definite. I've been studying their methods for some time. What
they've been trying to do practically is to corner wheat. No one has ever
succeeded in doing it yet. I don't think they will. My belief is that
they are coming to the end of their tether, and there is still a large
shipment of wheat which will be afloat next week."
Kendrick answered an enquiry through the telephone and leaned back in
"Wingate," he said, "I'm not sure that I actually agree with you about
the B. & I. They have a wonderful system of subsidiary companies, and
their holdings of wheat throughout the country are enormous,--all bought,
mind you, at much below to-day's price. If they were to realise to-day,
they'd realise an enormous profit. Personally, it seems to me that
they've made their money and they can realise practically when they like.
The price of wheat can't slump sufficiently to put them in Queer Street."
"The price of wheat is coming down, though, and coming down within the
next ten days," Wingate pronounced.
Kendrick stretched out his hand towards the cigarettes and passed the box
across to his friend.
"Why do you think so?" he asked bluntly. "According to accounts, the
harvests all over the world are disastrous. There is less wheat being
shipped here than ever before in the world's history. I can conceive that
we may have reached the top, and that the price may decline a few points
from now onwards, but even that would make very little difference. I
can't see the slightest chance of any material fall in wheat."
"I can," Wingate replied. "Don't worry, Ken. No need to dash into the
business like a Chicago booster. Just go at it quietly but
unwaveringly. I suppose a good many of the B. & I. commissions are
still open, and there's bound to be a little buying elsewhere, but I'm
a seller of wheat, too, wherever there's any business doing. Wheat's
coming down; so are the B. & I. shares. I'm not giving you verbal
orders. Here's your warrant."
He drew a sheet of note paper towards him and wrote a few lines upon it.
Kendrick blotted and laid a paper weight upon it.
"That's one of the biggest things I've ever taken on for a client,
Wingate," he said. "You won't mind if I venture upon one last word?"
"Not I," was the cheerful reply. "Go right ahead."
"You're sure that Phipps hasn't drawn you into this? He's a perfect devil
for cunning, that man, and he's simply been waiting for your coming. I
think it was the disappointment of his life when you first came down to
the City and left him alone. You've shown wonderful restraint, old chap.
You're sure you haven't been goaded into this?"
"Don't you worry about me, Ken," he begged. "Of course, in a manner of
speaking, this is a duel between Phipps and myself, and if you were to
ask my advice which to back, I don't know that I should care to take the
responsibility of giving it. At the same time, I'm out to break Phipps
and I rather think this time I'm going to do it.--Come along to the
Milan, later on, and lunch. Lady Amesbury and Sarah Baldwin and a few
others are coming."
"Lady Dredlinton, by any chance?" Kendrick asked.
"Lady Dredlinton, certainly."
"I'll turn up soon after one. And, Wingate."
"Don't think I'm a croaker, but I know Peter Phipps. There isn't a man on
this earth I'd fear more as an enemy. He's unscrupulous, untrustworthy,
and an unflinching hater. You and he are hard up against one another, I
know, and I suppose you realise that your growing friendship with
Josephine Dredlinton is simply hell for him."
"I imagine you know that his attentions to her have been entirely
unwelcome," Wingate said calmly.
"I will answer for it that she has never encouraged him for a moment,"
Kendrick assented, "yet Phipps is one of those men who never take 'no'
for an answer, who simply don't know what it is to despair of a thing.
I've been watching that menage for the last twelve months, and I've
watched Peter Phipps fighting his grim battle. I think I was one of the
party when he first met her. Since then, though the fellow has any amount
of tact, his pursuit of her must have been a persecution. He put
Dredlinton on the Board of the B. & I., solely to buy his way into the
household. He sent him home one day in a new car--a present to his wife.
She has never ridden in it and she made her husband return it."
"I know," Wingate muttered. "I've heard a little of this, and seen it,
"Well, there you are," Kendrick concluded. "You know Phipps. You know
what it must seem like to him to have another man step in, just as he may
have been flattering himself that he was gaining ground. He hated you
before. He'd give his soul, if he had one to break you now."
"He'll do what he can, Ken," said Wingate, with a smile, as he left the
office, "but you may take it that the odds are a trifle on us.--Not later
than one-thirty, then."
"There is no doubt," he remarked a moment later, as he stepped into his
car, where Josephine was waiting for him, "that we are at war."
She laughed quietly. The excitement of those last few minutes in the
offices of the British and Imperial Granaries had acted like a stimulant.
She had lost entirely her tense and depressed air. The colour of her eyes
was newly discovered in the light that played there.
"You couldn't have fired the first shot in more dramatic fashion," she
declared. "Even Mr. Phipps lost his nerve for a moment, and I thought
that Henry was going to collapse altogether. I wonder what they are
"Ringing up Scotland Yard, or on their way there, I should think,"
She shivered for a moment.
"You are not afraid of the police, are you?" she asked.
"I don't think we need be," he replied cheerfully, "unless we have bad
luck. Of course, I have had professional advice as to all the details.
The thing has been thought out step by step, almost scientifically. Slate
is a marvellous fellow, and I think he has gathered up every loose end.
Makes one realise how easy crime would be if one went into it unflurried
and with a clear conscience.--Tell me, by the by, was it by accident that
you opened that cable this morning?"
"Not entirely," she confessed. "I was in the library this morning talking
to Grant, my new butler."
"Satisfactory, I trust?" Wingate murmured.
"A paragon," she replied, with a little gleam in her eyes. "Well, on
Henry's desk was the rough draft of a cable, torn into pieces, and on one
of them, larger than the rest, I couldn't help seeing your name. It
looked as though Henry had been sending a cable in which you were somehow
concerned. While I was there, the reply came, so I decided to open and
decode it. Directly I realised what it was about, I brought it straight
to the office, hoping to catch you there."
"You are a most amazing woman," he declared.
She leaned a little towards him.
"And you are a most likable man," she murmured.
Wingate's luncheon party had been arranged for some days, and was being
given, in fact, at the suggestion of Lady Amesbury herself.
"I am a perfectly shameless person," she declared, as she took her seat
by Wingate's side at the round table in the middle of the restaurant. "I
invited myself to this party. I always do. The last three times our dear
host has been over to England, as soon as I have enquired after his
health and his business, and whether the right woman has turned up yet, I
ask him when he's going to take me to lunch at the Milan. I do love
lunching in a restaurant," she confided to Kendrick, who sat at her other
side, "and nearly all my friends prefer their stodgy dining rooms."
"Have you heard the news, aunt?" Sarah asked across the table.
"About that silly little Mrs. Liddiard Green, do you mean, and Jack
Fulton? I hear they were seen in Paris together last week."
"Pooh! Who cares about Mrs. Liddiard Green!" Sarah scoffed. "I mean the
news about Jimmy. The dear boy's gone into the City."
"God bless my soul!" Lady Amesbury exclaimed. "How much has he got to
"He isn't going to lose anything," Sarah replied. "Mr. Maurice White has
taken him into his office, and he's going to have a commission on the
business he does. This is his first morning. He must be busy or he'd have
been here before now. Jimmy's never late for meals."
"Hm!" Lady Amesbury grunted. "I expect he has to stay and mind the office
while Mr. White gets his lunch."
"Considering," Sarah rejoined with dignity, "that there are seventeen
other clerks, besides office boys and typists, and Jimmy has a room to
himself, that doesn't seem likely. I expect he's doing a big deal for
somebody or other."
"Thank God it isn't me!" her aunt declared. "I love Jimmy--every one
does--but he wasn't born for business."
"We shall see," Sarah observed. "My own opinion of Jimmy is that his
mental gifts are generally underrated."
"You're not prejudiced, by any chance, are you?" Kendrick asked,
"That is my dispassionate opinion," Sarah pronounced, "and I don't want
any peevish remarks from you, Roger Kendrick. You're jealous because you
let Mr. White get in ahead of you and secure Jimmy. It was only three
days ago that we agreed he should go into the City. He was perfectly
sweet about it, too. He was playing for the M.C.C. to-morrow, and polo at
Ranelagh on Saturday."
"Is he giving them both up?" Kendrick enquired.
"He's giving up the cricket, of course, unless he finds that it happens
to be a slack day in the City," Sarah replied. "As for the polo, well, no
one works on Saturday afternoon, do they?"
"How is my friend, Mr. Peter Phipps?" Lady Amesbury demanded. "The big
man who looked like a professional millionaire? Is he making a man of
that bad husband of yours, Josephine?"
"They spend a good deal of time together," Josephine replied. "I don't
think he'll ever succeed in making a business man out of Henry, though,
any more than Mr. White will out of Jimmy."
A familiar form approached the table. Sarah welcomed him with a wave of
her hand. The Honourable Jimmy greeted Lady Amesbury and his host,
nodded to every one else, and took the vacant place which had been left
for him. He seemed fatigued.
"Can I have a cocktail, Mr. Wingate?" he begged, summoning a waiter. "A
double Martini, please. Big things doing in the City," he confided.
"Have you had to work very hard, dear?" Sarah asked sympathetically.
"Absolutely feverish rush ever since I got there," he declared. "Don't
know how long my nerves will stand it. Telephones ringing, men rushing
out of the office without their hats, and bumping into you without saying
'by your leave' or 'beg your pardon,' or any little civility of that
sort, and good old Maurice, with his hair standing up on end, shouting
into two telephones at the same time, and dictating a letter to one of
the peachiest little bits of fluff I've seen outside the front rows for I
don't know how long."
"Jimmy," Sarah said sternly, "I'm not sure that the City is going to suit
you. You don't have to dictate letters to her, do you?"
"No such luck," Jimmy sighed. "She is the Chief's own particular
property. Does a thousand words a minute and knits a jumper at the
"Whom do you dictate your letters to?" Sarah demanded.
"To tell you the truth," Jimmy answered, falling on his cocktail, "I
haven't had any to write yet."
"What has your work been?" Lady Amesbury asked.
"Kind of superintending," the young man explained, "looking on at
everything--getting the hang of it, you know."
"Are the other men there nice?" Sarah enquired.
"Well, we don't seem to have had much time for conversation yet," Jimmy
replied, attacking his caviar like a man anxious to make up for lost
time. "I heard one chap tell another that I'd come to give tone to the
establishment, which seemed to me a pleasant and friendly way of
looking at it."
"You didn't have any commissions yourself?" Sarah went on.
"Well, not exactly," Jimmy confessed. "About half an hour before I
left, a lunatic with perspiration streaming down his face, and no hat,
threw himself into my room. 'I'll buy B. & I.'s,' he shouted. 'I'll buy
B. & I.'s!'"
"What did you do?" Wingate enquired with interest.
"I told him I hadn't got any," was the injured reply. "He went cut like a
streak of damp lightning. I heard him kicking up an awful hullaballoo in
the next office."
"Jimmy," Sarah said reproachfully, "that might have been your first
client. You ought to have made a business of finding him some B. & I.'s."
"There might have been some in a drawer or somewhere," Lady Amesbury
"Distinct lack of enterprise," Kendrick put in. "You should have thrown
yourself on the telephone and asked me if I'd got a few."
"Never thought of it," Jimmy confessed. "Live and learn. First day and
all that sort of thing, you know. I tell you what," he went on, "all the
excitement and that gives you an appetite for your food."
The manager of the restaurant, on his way through the room, recognised
Wingate and came to pay his respects.
"Did you hear about the little trouble over in the Court, Mr. Wingate?"
"No, I haven't heard anything," Wingate replied.
They all leaned a little forward. The manager included them in his
"The young gentleman you probably know, Mr. Wingate," he said,--"has the
suite just underneath yours--Mr. Stanley Rees, his name is--disappeared
"Disappeared?" Lady Amesbury repeated.
"Stanley Rees?" Kendrick exclaimed.
The manager nodded.
"A very pleasant young gentleman," he continued, "wealthy, too. He is a
nephew of Mr. Peter Phipps, Chairman of the Directors of the British and
Imperial Granaries. It seems he dressed for dinner, came down to the bar
to have a cocktail, leaving his coat and hat and scarf up in his room,
and telling his valet that he would return for them in ten minutes. He
hasn't been seen or heard of since."
"Sounds like the 'Arabian Nights,'" Jimmy declared. "Probably found he
was a bit late for his grub and went on without his coat and hat."
"What about not coming back all night, sir?" the manager asked.
"Lads will be lads," Jimmy answered sententiously.
The manager showed an entire lack of sympathy with his attitude.
"Mr. Stanley Rees," he said, "is a remarkably well-conducted, quiet
young gentleman, very popular here amongst the domestics, and noted for
keeping very early hours. He was engaged to dine out at Hampstead with
some friends, who telephoned for him several times during the evening.
He was also supping here with a gentleman who arrived and waited an
hour for him."
"Was he in good health?" Wingate enquired casually.
"Excellent, I should say, sir," the manager replied. "He was a young
gentleman who took remarkably good care of himself."
"I know the sort," Jimmy said complacently, watching his glass being
filled. "A whisky and soda when the doctor orders it, and ginger ale with
The manager was called away. Kendrick had become thoughtful.
"Queer thing," he remarked, "that young Rees should have disappeared just
as the B. & I. have become a feature on 'Change. He was Phipps'
right-hand man in financial matters."
"Disappearances in London seem a little out of date," Wingate remarked,
as he scrutinised the dish which the _maitre d'hotel_ had brought for his
inspection. "The missing person generally turns up and curses the
scaremongers.--Lady Amesbury, this Maryland chicken is one of our
favourite New York dishes. Kendrick, have some more wine. Wilshaw, your
appetite has soon flagged."
"All the same," Kendrick mused, "it's a dashed queer thing about
After his guests had departed, Wingate had a few minutes alone with
"I hate letting you go back to that house," he admitted.
She laughed softly.
"Why, my dear," she said, "think how necessary it is. For the first time,
in my life I am absolutely looking forward to it. I never thought that I
should live to associate romance with that ugly, brown-stone building."
"If there's the slightest hitch, you'll let me hear, won't you?" he
begged. "The telephone is on to my room, and anything that happens
unforeseen--remember this, Josephine--is a complete surprise to you.
Everything is arranged so that you are not implicated in any way."
"Pooh!" she scoffed. "Nothing will happen. You are invincible, John. You
will conquer with these men as you have with poor me."
"You have no regrets?" he asked, as they moved through the hall on
the way out.
"I regret nothing," she answered fervently. "I never shall."
Wingate, after several strenuous hours spent in Slate's office,
returned to his rooms late that night, to find Peter Phipps awaiting
him. There was something vaguely threatening about the bulky figure of
the man standing gloomily upon the hearth rug, all the spurious good
nature gone from his face, his brows knitted, his cheeks hanging a
little and unusually pale. Wingate paused on the threshold of the room
and his hand crept into his pocket. Phipps seemed to notice the gesture
and shook his head.
"Nothing quite so crude, Wingate," he said. "I know an enemy when I see
one, but I wasn't thinking of getting rid of you that way."
"I have found it necessary," Wingate remarked slowly, "to be prepared for
all sorts of tricks when I am up against anybody as conscienceless as
you. I don't want you here, Phipps. I didn't ask you to come and see me.
I've nothing to discuss with you."
"There are times," Phipps replied, "when the issue which cannot be
fought out to the end with arms can be joined in the council chamber. I
have come to know your terms."
Wingate shook his head.
"I don't understand. It is too soon for this sort of thing. You are not
"I am tired," his visitor muttered. "May I sit down?"
"You are an unwelcome guest," Wingate replied coldly, "but sit if you
will. Then say what you have to say and go."
Phipps sank into an easy-chair. It was obvious that he was telling the
truth so far as regarded his fatigue. He seemed to have aged ten years.
"I have been down below in Stanley's rooms," he explained, "been through
his papers. It's true what the inspector fellow reports. There isn't a
scrap of evidence of any complication in his life. There isn't a shadow
of doubt in my mind as to the cause of his disappearance."
"Indeed!" Wingate murmured.
"It's a villainous plot, engineered by you!" Phipps continued, his
voice shaking. "I'm fond of the boy. That's why I've come to you. Name
Wingate indulged in a curious bout of silence. He took a pipe from a
rack, filled it leisurely with tobacco, lit it and smoked for several
moments. Then he turned towards his unwelcome companion.
"I am debarred by a promise made to myself," he said coldly, "from
offering you any form of hospitality. If you wish to smoke, I shall not
Phipps shook his head.
"I have not smoked all the evening," he confessed, "I cannot. You are
right when you say that we are not beaten, but I like to look ahead. I
want to know your terms."
"You are anxious about your nephew?"
"And why do you connect me with his disappearance?"
Phipps gave a little weary gesture.
"I am so sick of words," he said.
"We will argue the matter, then," conceded Wingate, "from your point of
view. Supposing that your nephew has been abducted and is held at the
present moment as a hostage. It would be, without doubt, by some person
or persons who resented the brutality, the dishonesty, the foul
commercial methods of the company with which he was connected. An
amendment of those methods might produce his release."
"And that amendment?"
Wingate picked up a newspaper and glanced at it, pulled a heavy gold
pencil from his chain and made a few calculations.
"Your operations in wheat," he said, "have brought the loaf which should
cost the working man a matter of sevenpence up to two shillings. You seem
to have dabbled in a good many other products, too, the price of which
you have forced up into the clouds,--just those products which are
necessary to the working man. But we will leave those alone, if you were
to sell wheat at forty-five per cent less than to-day's price, I should
think it extremely likely that Stanley Rees would be able to dine with
you to-morrow night."
"You are talking like a madman," Phipps declared. "It would mean ruin."
"How sad!" Wingate murmured. "All the same, I do not think that you will
see your nephew again until you have sold wheat."
"You admit that you are responsible, then?" Phipps growled.
"I admit nothing of the sort. I am simply speculating as to the possible
cause of his disappearance. If I had anything to do with it, those would
be my terms. To-morrow they might be the same; perhaps the next day.
But," he went on, with a sudden almost fierce break in his voice, "the
day after would probably be too late. There are a great many hungry
people in the north. There are a great many who are starving. There is
one in London who is beginning to feel the pangs."
"You are ill-treating him!" Phipps cried passionately. "I shall go to
Scotland Yard myself! I shall tell them what you have said. I shall
"My dear fellow," Wingate scoffed, "you have done that already. You have
induced those very excellent upholders of English law and liberty to set
a plain-clothes man to following me about. I can assure you that he has
had a very pleasant and a very busy evening."
Phipps rose to his feet.
"Wingate," he exclaimed, "curse you!"
"A very natural sentiment. I hope that you may repeat it a good many
times before the end comes."
"You are a conspirator--a criminal!" Phipps continued, his voice shaking
with excitement. "You are breaking the laws of the country. I shall see
that you are in gaol before the week is out!"
"A good deal of what you say is true," Wingate admitted, "with the
possible exception of the latter part. Believe me, Peter Phipps, you are
a great deal more likely to see the inside of a prison than I am. You
will be a poor man presently and poor men of your type are desperate."
Phipps remained perfectly silent for several moments.
"Wingate, you are a hard enemy," he said at last. "Will you treat?"
"I have named the price."
"You are a fool!" Phipps almost shouted. "Do you know," he went on,
striking the table with his clenched fist, "that what you suggest would
cost five million pounds?"
"You and your friends can stand it," was the unruffled reply. "If not,
your brokers can share the loss."
"That means you make a bankrupt of me?" Phipps demanded hoarsely.
"Why not?" Wingate replied. "It's been a long duel between us, Phipps,
and I mean this to be the final bout."
Phipps moved his position a little uneasily. He was keeping himself under
control, but the veins were standing out upon his forehead, his frame
seemed tense with passion.
"Tell me, Wingate, is it still the girl?"
Wingate looked across at him. His face and tone were alike relentless,
his eyes shone like points of steel.
"You did ill to remind me of that, Phipps," he said. "However, I will
answer your question. It is still the girl."
"She was nothing to you," Phipps muttered sullenly.
"One can't make your class of reptile understand these things," Wingate
declared scornfully. "She came to me in New York with a letter from her
father, my old tutor, who had died out in the Adirondacks without a
shilling in the world. He sent the girl to me and asked me to put her in
the way of earning her own living. It was a sacred charge, that, and I
accepted it willingly. The only trouble was that I was leaving for Europe
the next day. I put a thousand dollars in the bank for her, found her a
comfortable home with respectable people, and then considered in what
office I could place her during my absence. I had the misfortune to meet
you that morning. Time was short. Every one knew that your office was
conducted on sound business lines. I told you her story and you took her.
I hadn't an idea that a man alive could be such a villain as you turned
out to be."
"You'd be a fine fellow, Wingate," Phipps said, with a touch of his old
cynicism, "if you weren't always sheering off towards the melodramatic.
The girl wanted to see life, she attracted me, and I showed it to her.
I'd have done the right thing by her if she hadn't behaved like an
"The girl's death lies at your door, and you know it," Wingate replied.
"It has taken me a good many years to pay my debt to the dead. I did my
best to kill you, but without a weapon you were a hard man to shake the
last spark of life out of.--There, I am tired of this. I have let you
talk. I have answered your useless questions. Be so good as to leave me."
The shadow of impending disaster seemed to have found its way into
Phipps' bones. He seemed to have lost alike his courage and his dignity.
"Look here," he said, "the rest of the things which lie between us we can
fight out, but I want my nephew. What will his return cost me in hard
cash between you and me?"
"The cost of bringing wheat down to its normal figure," Wingate answered.
"I couldn't do it if I would," Phipps argued. "There's Skinflint
Martin--he won't part with a bushel. I'm not alone in this. Come, I have
my cheque book in my pocket. You can fight the B. & I. to the death, if
you will--commercially, politically, anyhow--but I want my nephew."
Wingate threw open the door.
"There was a girl once," he reminded him, "my ward, who drowned herself.
To hell with your nephew, Phipps!"
Passion for a moment made once more a man of Phipps. His eyes blazed.
"And to hell with you!--Hypocrite!--Adulterer!" he shouted.
Wingate's fist missed the point of his adversary's chin by less than a
thought. Phipps went staggering back through the open door into the
corridor and stood leaning against the wall, half dazed, his hand to his
cheek. Wingate looked at him contemptuously for a moment, every nerve in
his body aching for the fight. Then he remembered.
"Get home to your kennel, Phipps," he ordered.
Then he slammed the door and locked it.
"Another strange face," Sarah remarked, looking after the butler who had
just brought in the coffee. "I thought you were one of those women,
Josephine, who always kept their servants."
"I do, as a rule," was the quiet reply, "only sometimes Henry
intervenes. If there is one thing that the modern servant dislikes, it
is sarcasm, and sarcasm is Henry's favourite weapon when he wants to be
really disagreeable. Generally speaking, I think a servant would rather
be sworn at."
"You seem to have made a clean sweep this time."
Josephine stirred her coffee thoughtfully.
"Henry has been having one of his bad weeks," she said. "He has been
absolutely impossible to every one. He threatened to give every servant
in the house notice, the other day, because his bell wasn't answered, so
I took him at his word. We've no one left except the cook, and she
declined to go. She has been with us ever since we were married. All the
same, I wouldn't have had any one but you and Jimmy to dinner to-night.
I wasn't at all sure how things would turn out. Besides, it isn't every
one I'd care to ask into this dungeon of a room."
"I was wondering why we were here, Josephine," Sarah remarked, looking
around her. "It used to be one of your hospital rooms, surely?"
"The other rooms want turning out, dear. I knew you wouldn't mind."
There are women as well as men who have learnt the art of a sociable
silence. Josephine and Sarah finished their cigarettes and their coffee
in a condition of reflective ease. Then Sarah stood up and straightened
her hair in front of the mirror.
"Josephine," she announced, "I am going to marry Jimmy."
"You have really made up your minds at last, then?" her hostess enquired,
"My dear," Sarah declared, "we've come to the conclusion that we
can't afford to remain single any longer. We are both spending far
too much money."
"I am sure I wish you luck," Josephine said earnestly. "I am very fond
"He is rather a dear."
"I wonder how you'll like settling down. It will be a very different
life for you."
"Of course," Sarah admitted with a sigh, "I hate giving up my
profession, but there is a sort of monotony about it when Jimmy insists
upon being my only fare."
"Is this the reason why Jimmy is making his great debut as a man of
affairs?" Josephine asked.
"Not exactly," Sarah replied. "As a matter of fact, that was rather a
bluff. His mother is so afraid of his starting in some business where
they'll get him to put some money in, that she has agreed to allow him a
couple of thousand a year until he comes in for his property, on
condition that he clears out of the City altogether."
"That seems quite decent of her. Where are you going to live?"
"In the bailiff's cottage on the Longmere estate, which will come to
Jimmy some day. Jimmy is going to take an interest in farming. So long as
it isn't his own farm, his mother thinks that won't hurt."
Josephine laughed softly.
"A bright old lady, his mother, I should think."
"Well, she has had the good sense to realise at last that I am the only
person likely to keep Jimmy out of mischief. He is such a booby
sometimes, and yet, somehow or other, you know, Josephine, I've never
wanted to marry anybody else. I don't understand why, but there it is."
"That's the right feeling, dear, so long as you're sure," Josephine
Sarah rose suddenly to her feet, crossed the little space between them,
and crouched on the floor by her friend's chair.
"You've been such a brick to me, dear," she declared, looking up at her
fondly, "and I feel a perfect beast being so happy all the time."
Josephine let her fingers rest on the strands of soft, wavy hair.
"Don't be absurd, Sarah," she remonstrated. "Besides, things haven't been
quite so bad with me lately."
"You look different, somehow," her guest admitted, "as though you were
taking a little more interest in life. I've seen quite a wonderful light
in your eyes, now and then."
"It isn't ridiculous, and I'm delighted about it," Sarah went on. "You
must know, dear, that I am not quite an idiot, and I am too fond of you
not to notice any change."
"There is just one thing which does make a real change in a woman's
life," Josephine declared, her voice trembling for a moment, "and that is
when she finds that it really makes a difference to some one whether
she's miserable or not."
Sarah nodded appreciatively.
"I know you think I am only a shallow, outrageous little flirt sometimes,
Josephine," she said, "but I am not. I do know what you mean. Only I
don't think you help yourself to as much happiness from that knowledge as
you ought to, as you have a right to."
"What do you mean?" Josephine demanded half fearfully.
"Just what I say. I think he is simply splendid, and if any one cared for
me as much as he does for you, I'd--"
She stopped short and looked towards the door. Jimmy was peering in, and
behind him Lord Dredlinton.
"Eh? what's that, Sarah?" the former demanded. "You'd what?"
Sarah rose to her feet and resumed her place in her chair.
"I was trying to pull Josephine down from the clouds," she remarked.
Lord Dredlinton smiled across at her. There was an unpleasant
significance in his tone, as he answered, "Oh, it can be done, my dear
young lady." He paused and looked at her disagreeably, "but I am not
sure that you are the right person to do it."
The shadow had fallen once more upon Josephine's face. She had become
cold and indifferent. She ignored her husband's words. Lord Dredlinton
was looking around him in disgust.
"What on earth are we in this mausoleum for?" he demanded.
"Domestic reasons," Josephine answered, with her finger upon the bell.
"Have you men had your coffee?"
"We had it in the dining room," Jimmy assured her.
"I can't think why you hurried so," Sarah grumbled. "How dared you only
stay away a quarter of an hour, Jimmy! You know I love to have a gossip
"Couldn't stick being parted from you any longer, my dear," the young man
Sarah made a grimace.
"To be perfectly candid," Lord Dredlinton intervened, throwing away his
cigar and lighting a cigarette, "I am afraid it was my fault that we
came in so soon. Poor sort of host, eh, Jimmy? Fact is, I'm nervous
to-night. Every damned newspaper I've picked up seems to be launching
thunderbolts at the B. & I. And now this is the third day and there's
no news of Stanley."
"Every one seems to know about his disappearance," Jimmy remarked. "They
were all talking about it at the club to-day."
"What do they say?" Lord Dredlinton asked eagerly. "They all leave off
talking about it when I am round."
"Blooming mystery," the young man pronounced. "That's the conclusion
every one seems to arrive at. A chap I know, whose chauffeur pals up with
Rees' valet, told me that he's been having heaps of threatening letters
from fellows who'd got the knock over the B. & I. He seemed to think
they'd done him in."
Dredlinton shivered nervously.
"It's perfectly abominable," he declared. "Here we are supposed to have
the finest police system in the world, and yet a man can disappear from
his rooms in the very centre of London, and no one has even a clue as to
what has become of him."
"Looks bad," Jimmy acknowledged.
"I don't understand much about business affairs," Sarah remarked, "but
the B. & I. case does seem to be a remarkably unpopular undertaking."
Dredlinton kicked a footstool out of his way, frowning angrily.
"The B. & I. is only an ordinary business concern," he insisted. "We
have a right to make money if we are clever enough to do it. We speculate
in lots of other things besides wheat, and we have our losses to face as
well as our profits. I believe that fellow Wingate is at the bottom of
all this agitation. Just like those confounded Americans. Why can't they
mind their own business!"
"It isn't very long," Josephine remarked drily, "since we were rather
glad that America didn't mind her own business."
"Bosh!" her husband scoffed. "If English people are to be bullied and
their liberty interfered with in this manner, we might as well have lost
the war and become a German Colony."
"Don't agree with you, sir," Jimmy declared, with most unusual
seriousness. "I don't like the way you are talking, and I'm dead off the
B. & I. myself. I'd cut my connection with it, if I were you. Been
looking for trouble for a long time--and, great Scot, I believe they're
going to get it!"
"Damned rubbish!" Lord Dredlinton muttered angrily.
"Heavens! Jimmy's in earnest!" Sarah exclaimed, rising. "I am sure it's
time we went. We are overdue at his mother's, and one of my cylinders
is missing. Come on, Jimmy.--Good-by, Josephine dear! You'll forgive
us if we hurry off? I did tell you we had to go directly after dinner,
"You did, dear," Josephine assented, walking towards the door with her
friend. "Come in and see me again soon."
There was the sound of voices in the hall. Lord Dredlinton started
"That's the fellow from Scotland Yard, I hope," he said. "Promised to
come round to-night. Perhaps they've news of Stanley."
The door was thrown open, and the new butler ushered in a tall, thin man
dressed in morning clothes of somewhat severe cut.
"Inspector Shields, my lord," he announced.
Lord Dredlinton's impatience was almost feverish. One would have imagined
that Stanley Rees had been one of his dearest friends, instead of a young
man whom he rather disliked.
"Come in. Inspector," he invited. "Come in. Glad to see you. Any news?"
"None whatever, my lord," was the laconic reply.
Dredlinton's face fell. He looked at his visitor, speechless for a
moment. The inspector gravely saluted Josephine and accepted the chair to
which she waved him.
"Upon my word," Dredlinton declared, "this is most unsatisfactory! Most
"I was afraid that you might find it so," the inspector assented.
Josephine turned in her chair and contemplated the latter with some
interest. He was quietly dressed in well-cut but unobtrusive clothes. His
long, narrow face had features of sensibility. His hair was grizzled a
little at the temples. His composure seemed part of the man, passive and
"Isn't a disappearance of this sort rather unusual?" she enquired.
"Most unusual, your ladyship," the man admitted. "I scarcely remember a
"'Unusual' seems to me a mild word!" Dredlinton exclaimed angrily. "Here
is a well-known young man, with friends in every circle of life and
engagements at every hour, a partner in an important commercial
undertaking, who is absolutely removed from his rooms in one of the
best-known hotels in London, and at the end of three days the police are
powerless to find out what has become of him!"
"Up to the present, my lord," the inspector confessed, "we certainly
have no clue."
"But, dash it all, you must have some idea as to what has become of him?"
his questioner insisted. "Young men don't disappear through the windows
of the Milan Bar, do they?"
"If you assure us, my lord, that we may rule out any idea of a voluntary
"Voluntary disappearance be damned!" Dredlinton interrupted. "Don't let
me hear any more of such rubbish! I can assure you that such a
supposition is absolutely out of the question."
"Then in that case, my lord, I may put it to you that Mr. Rees'
disappearance is due to the action of no ordinary criminal or
blackmailer, but is part of a much more deeply laid scheme."
"Exactly what do you mean?" was the almost fierce demand.
"It appears that Mr. Rees," the inspector went on, speaking with some
emphasis, "is connected with an undertaking which during the last few
weeks has provoked a wave of anger and disgust throughout the country."
"Are you referring to the British and Imperial Granaries, Limited?" his
"That, I believe, is the name of the company."
Lord Dredlinton's anxiety visibly increased. He was standing underneath
the suspended globe of the electric light, his fingers nervously pulling
to pieces the cigarette which he had been smoking. There was a look of
fear in his weak eyes. Josephine surveyed him thoughtfully. The coward in
him had flared up, and there was no room for any other characteristic.
Fear was written in his face, trembled in his tone, betrayed itself in
"But, dash it all," he expostulated, "there are other directors! I am one
myself. Don't you see how serious this all is? If Rees can be spirited
away and no one be able to lift up a finger to help him, what about the
rest of us?"
"It was in my mind to warn your lordship," Shields observed.
Dredlinton's fear merged into fury,--a blind and nerveless passion.
"But this is outrageous!" he exclaimed, striking the table with his fist.
"Do you mean to say that you can come here to me from Scotland Yard--to
me, a peer of England, living in the heart of London--and tell me that a
friend and a business connection of mine has been kidnapped and
practically warn me against the same fate? What on earth do we pay our
police for? What sort of a country are we living in? Are you all
"We remain what we are, notwithstanding your lordship's opinion," the
inspector answered, with a shade of sarcasm in his level tone. "I may add
that I am not the only one engaged in this Investigation, and I can only
do my duty according to the best of my ability."
"You've done nothing--nothing at all!" Dredlinton protested angrily.
"Added to that, you actually come here and warn me that I, too, may be
the victim of a plot, against the ringleaders of which you seem to be
helpless. The British and Imperial Granaries is a perfectly legitimate
company doing a perfectly legitimate business. We're not out for our
health--who is in the City? If we can make money out of wheat, it's our
business and nobody else's."
The inspector was a little weary, but he continued without any sign of
"I know nothing about the British and Imperial Granaries, my lord," he
said. "My time is too fully occupied to take any interest in outside
affairs. In the course of time," he went on, "we shall inevitably get to
the bottom of this very cleverly engineered conspiracy. Crime of every
sort is detected sooner or later, except in the case, say, of a
single-handed murder, or an offence of that nature. In the present
instance, there is evidence that a very large number of persons were
concerned, and detection finally becomes, therefore, a certainty. In the
meantime, however, I thought it as well to pass you a word of warning."
"Warning, indeed!" Dredlinton muttered. "I won't move out of the house
without a bodyguard. If any one dares to interfere with me, I'll--I'll
shoot them! What happens to a man, Inspector, if he shoots another in
"It depends upon the circumstances, my lord," was the cautious reply.
"The law in England requires self-defence to be very clearly
Dredlinton moved to the sideboard, poured himself out a liqueur and
drank it off.
"Will you take something. Inspector?" he asked, turning around.
"I thank your lordship, no!"
Dredlinton thrust his hands into his pockets and returned to his seat.
"I don't want to lose my temper," he said,--"I am perfectly cool, as you
see, Inspector---but put yourself in my position now. Don't you think
it's enough to make a man furious to have an official from Scotland Yard
come into his house here in the heart of London and warn him that he is
in danger of being kidnapped?"
"I don't think that I went quite so far as that," the inspector objected,
"nor do I in any way suggest that, sooner or later, the people who are
responsible for Mr. Rees' disappearance will not be brought to justice.
But I considered it my duty to point out to you that the directors of
your company appear to have excited a feeling throughout the whole of
England, which might well bring you enemies wholly unconnected with the
ordinary criminal classes. That is where our difficulty lies."
Lord Dredlinton had the air of a man argued into reasonableness.
"I see, Inspector. I quite understand," he declared. "But listen to me. I
shall throw myself upon your protection. In Mr. Rees' absence, it is of
vital importance, during the next few days, that nothing should happen to
Mr. Phipps, Mr. Martin or myself. You must have us all shadowed. You must
see that I am not lost sight of for a moment. Here is a little earnest of
what is to come," he went on, drawing out his pocketbook and passing a
folded note over towards his visitor, "and remember, Mr. Phipps has
offered five hundred pounds for the discovery of the person who is
responsible for his nephew's disappearance."
Shields made no movement towards the money. He shook his head gently.
"I shall be glad to take the reward, my lord, if I am fortunate enough to
earn it," he said, rising to his feet. "Until then I do not require
payment for my services."
Dredlinton replaced the note in his pocket.
"Just as you like, of course, Inspector. I only meant it as a little
incentive. And I want you to remember this--do rub it into your Chief--I
have already called to see him twice, and it doesn't seem to me that the
authorities are looking upon our position seriously enough. We have a
right to the utmost protection the law can give us, and further, I must
insist upon it that every effort is made to discover Mr. Rees before it
is too late."
The butler stood on the threshold. He had entered in response to Lord
Dredlinton's ring, with the perfect silence and promptitude of the best
of his class. His master stared at him for a moment uneasily. The man's
appearance, grave and respectable though he was, seemed to have
"Show the inspector out," he directed. "Good night, Mr. Shields."
The man bowed to Josephine.
"Good night, my lord!"
Dredlinton stared at the closed door. Then he turned around with a little
gesture of anger.
"Every damned thing that happens, nowadays, seems designed to irritate
me!" he exclaimed. "That man Shields is nothing but a poopstick!"
"I differ from you entirely," Josephine declared. "I thought that he
seemed a very intelligent person, with unusual powers of self-restraint."
"Shows what your judgment is worth! I can't think what Scotland Yard are
about, to put the greatest lout they have in the service on to an
important business like this. And what the mischief are we always
changing servants for? There were two new men at dinner, and that butler
of yours gives me the creeps. What on earth has become of Jacob?"
"You told Jacob yourself to go to hell, a few days ago," Josephine
reminded him. "You can scarcely expect any self-respecting butler to
stand your continual abuse."
"Or a self-respecting wife, eh?" he sneered.
Josephine regarded him coldly.
"One's servants," she remarked, "have an advantage. Jacob has found a
"Precisely what you'd like to do yourself, eh?"
"Precisely what I intend to do before long."
"Well, then, why don't you do it?" he demanded brutally. "You think that
everything I said the other day was bluff, eh, and that Stanley Rees'
disappearance has driven everything else out of my head? Well, you're
wrong, madam. As soon as this infernal business is done with, I am going
to pay a visit to my lawyers."
"For once," she said, with a faint smile, "you will take my good wishes
"You mean," he exclaimed, moving from his place and standing before her
with his hands in his pockets, "that you want to get rid of me, eh?"
She met his scowling gaze fearlessly.
"Of course I do. I don't think that any woman could have lived with you
as long as I have and not want to get rid of you. On the other hand, as
you know--as in your heart you know perfectly well," she went on, "I have
remained a faithful wife to you, and it is not my intention to have you
take advantage of a situation for which you were entirely responsible.
You will have to remember, Henry, that the reason for my leaving your
house in the middle of the night will scarcely help your case."
Dredlinton stood and glared at his wife, his eyes narrowing, his mean
little mouth curled.
"Josephine," he cried, "I don't care a damn about your leaving my house,
then or at any time, but the more I think of it, the stranger it seems to
me that this friend of yours, Wingate, should come to the office and
threaten me for my connection with the B. & I., and at the moment of
leaving offer to sell wheat. I am getting a little suspicious about your
friend, my lady. I have given them the tip at Scotland Yard and I only
hope they take advantage of it."
"Why single out Mr. Wingate?" she asked, "He certainly is not alone in
his antipathy to your company."
"Don't I know that?" Dredlinton exclaimed angrily. "Don't I get a dozen
threatening letters a day? Men take me on one side and reason with me in
the club. I had a Cabinet Minister at the office this afternoon. I begin
to get the cold shoulder wherever I turn, but, damn it all, don't you
understand that we must have money?"
Josephine regarded him with a cold lack of sympathy in her face.
"I understand that you have had about a hundred thousand pounds of mine,"
"Like your generosity, my dear, to remind me of it," he sneered. "To you
it seems, I suppose, a great deal of money. To me--well, I am not sure
that it was fair compensation for what I have never had."
"What you have never had, you never deserved, Henry."
He flung himself towards the door.
"Josephine," he said, looking back, "do you know you are one of the few
women in the world I can't even talk to? You freeze me up every time I
try. I wonder whether the man who is so anxious to stand in my shoes--"
She was suddenly erect, her eyes flaming. He shuffled out and slammed the
door after him with a little nervous laugh.
Josephine was herself again within a few moments of her husband's
departure. She stood perfectly still for some time, as though listening
to his departing footsteps. Then she crossed the room and pressed the
bell twice. Once more she listened. The change in her expression was
wonderful. She was expectant, eager, thrilled with the contemplation of
some imminent happening. Her vigil came suddenly to an end, as the door
was opened and closed again a little abruptly. It was no servant who had
obeyed her summons; it was Wingate who entered, unannounced and alone.
"Everything goes well?" he asked, as he advanced rapidly into the room.
"Good! Where is your husband now?"
"Gone to his den to have a drink, I expect," she replied. "He is in a
terrible state of nerves already."
"I am afraid he will be worse before we've done with him," Wingate
remarked a little grimly. "Josephine, just one moment!"
She was in his arms and forgetfulness enfolded them. He felt the soft
cling of her body, the warm sweetness of her lips. It was she who
"I am terrified of Henry coming back," she admitted, as she moved
reluctantly away. "He is in one of his most hateful moods to-night.
Better than anything in the world he would love to make a scene."
"He shall have all the opportunity he wants presently," Wingate observed.
The door was opened with the soft abruptness of one who has approached it
noiselessly by design. Dredlinton stood upon the threshold, blinking a
little as he gazed into the room. He recognized Wingate with a start of
"Wingate?" he exclaimed. "Why the mischief didn't any one tell me you
"Mr. Wingate called to see me," Josephine replied.
There was an ugly curl upon Dredlinton's lips. He opened his mouth and
closed it again. Then his truculent attitude suddenly vanished without
the slightest warning. He became an entirely altered person.
"Look here, Wingate," he confessed, "on thinking it over, I believe I've
been making rather an idiot of myself. Josephine," he went on, turning to
his wife, "be so kind as to leave us alone for a short time."
He opened the door. Josephine hesitated for a moment, then, in response
to a barely noticeable gesture from Wingate, she left the room. Her
husband closed the door carefully behind her. His attitude, as he turned
once more towards the other man, was distinctly conciliatory.
"Wingate," he invited, "sit down, won't you, and smoke a cigar with me.
Let us have a reasonable chat together, I am perfectly convinced that
there is nothing for us to quarrel about."
"Since when have you come to that conclusion, Lord Dredlinton?" Wingate
asked, without abandoning his somewhat uncompromising attitude.
"Since our interview at the office."
"You mean when you tried to blackmail me into selling my shipping
"'Blackmail' is not a word to be used between gentlemen," he protested.
"Look here, can't you behave like a decent fellow--an ordinary human
being, you know? You are not exactly my sort, but I am sure you're a man
of honour, I haven't any objection to your friendship with my wife--none
in the world."
"The sentiments which I entertain for your wife, Lord Dredlinton,"
Wingate declared, "are not sentiments of friendship."
Dredlinton paused in the act of lighting a cigar.
"What's that?" he exclaimed. "You mean that, after all, you've humbugged
me, both of you?"
"Not in the way you seem to imagine. This much, however, is true, and it
is just as well that you should know it. I love your wife and I intend to
take her from you, in her time and mine."
Dredlinton lit his cigar and threw himself back into his chair.
"Well, you don't mince matters," he muttered.
"I see no reason why I should," was the calm reply.
"After all," Dredlinton observed, with a cynical turn of the lips, "I see
no reason why I should object. Josephine's been no wife of mine for
years. Perhaps you have a fancy for your love affairs wrapped up in a
little ice frosting."
Wingate's eyes flashed.
"That'll do," he advised, with ominous calm.
"We will not discuss your wife."
Dredlinton shrugged his shoulders.
"As you will. Assist me, then, in my office of host. What or whom shall
we discuss? Choose your own subject."
"The disappearance of Stanley Rees, if you like," was the
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