The Profiteers - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Profiteers ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A novel of crime and conscience by Edward Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), the self-styled „prince of storytellers.” „The Profiteers” was written about the stock market post-World War I and pre-1929 crash. The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to „build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe. Like all stories of empire building, the rise of Bechtel presents a complex and riveting narrative. In The Profiteers, Sally Denton, exposes Bechtel’s secret world and one of the biggest business and political stories of our time.

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Liczba stron: 276

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER I

The Marchioness of Amesbury was giving a garden party in the spacious but somewhat urban grounds of her mansion in Kensington. Perhaps because it was the first affair of its sort of the season, and perhaps, also, because Cecilia Amesbury had the knack of making friends in every walk of life, it was remarkably well attended. Two stockbrokers, Roger Kendrick and his friend Maurice White, who had escaped from the City a little earlier than usual, and had shared a taxicab up west, congratulated themselves upon having found a quiet and shady seat where iced drinks were procurable and the crush was not so great.

“Anything doing in your market to-day?” Kendrick asked his younger associate.

White made a little grimace.

“B. & I., B. & I., all the time,” he grumbled. “I’m sick of the name of the damned things. And to tell you the truth, Ken, when a client asks for my advice about them, I don’t know what to say.”

Kendrick contemplated the tips of his patent boots. He was a well-looking, well-turned-out and well-to-do representative of the occupation which he, his father and grandfather had followed,–ten years older, perhaps, than his companion, but remarkably well-preserved. He had made money and kept it.

“They say that Rockefeller’s at the back of them,” he remarked.

“They may say what they like but who’s to prove it?” his young companion argued. “They must have enormous backing, of course, but until they declare it, I’m not pushing the business. Look at the Board on their merits, Ken.”

Roger Kendrick nodded. Every one on the Stock Exchange was interested in B. & I.’s, and he settled himself down comfortably to hear what his companion had to say on the matter.

“There’s old Dreadnought Phipps,” White continued. “Peter Phipps, to give him his right name. Well, has ever a man who aspires to be considered a financial giant had such a career? He was broken on the New York Stock Exchange, went to Montreal and made a million or so, back to New York, where he got in with the copper lot and no doubt made real money. Then he went for that wheat corner in Chicago. He got out of that with another fortune, though they say he sold his fellow directors. Now he turns up here, chairman of the B. & I., who must have bought fifty million pounds’ worth of wheat already this year. Well, unless he’s considerably out of his depth, he must have some one else’s money to play with besides his own.”

“Let me see, who are the other directors?” Kendrick enquired.

“Well, there’s young Stanley Rees, Phipps’ nephew, who came in for three hundred thousand pounds a few years ago,” Maurice White answered; “old skinflint Martin, who may be worth half a million but certainly not more; and Dredlinton. Dredlinton’s rabbit, of course. He hasn’t got a bob. There’s money enough amongst the rest for any ordinary business undertaking, if only one could understand what the mischief they were up to. They can’t corner wheat in this country.”

“I wonder,” Kendrick murmured. “The harvests last year were bad all over the world, you know, and this year, except in the States and Canada, they will be worse. With another fifty million it might be done.”

“But they’re taking deliveries,” White pointed out. “They have granaries all over the kingdom, subsidiary companies to do the dirty work of refusing to sell. Already they say that three quarters of the wheat of the country is in their hands, and mind you, they sell nothing. The price goes up and up, just the same as the price of their shares has risen. They buy but they never sell. Some of the big banks must be helping, of course, but I know one or two–one in particular––who decline to handle any business from them at all.”

“I should say their greatest risk was Government interference,” Kendrick observed. “Gambling in foodstuffs ought to be forbidden.”

“It would take our Government a year to make up their minds what to do,” White scoffed, “and by that time these fellows would have sold out and be on to something else.”

“Well, it’s too hot for shop,” Kendrick yawned. “I think I shall cut work on Friday and have a long week-end at Sandwich.”

“I have a good mind to do the same,” his companion declared. “And as to B. & I.’s there’s money to be made out of them one way or the other, but I shall advise my clients not to touch them.–Hullo, we’re discovered! Here’s Sarah.”

The young lady in question, escorted by a pink-complexioned, somewhat bored-looking young man, who cheered up at the sight of the iced drinks, greeted the two friends with a smile. She was attired in the smartest of garden-party frocks, her brown eyes were clear and attractive, her complexion freckled but pleasant, her mouth humorous, a suggestion which was further carried out by her slightly retroussé nose. She seemed to bring with her an agreeable atmosphere of wholesome things.

“You shall advise your clients not to touch what?” she enquired. “Are there any tips going?”

Kendrick shook his head.

“You stick to the tips your clients slip into your hand, my dear young lady,” he advised, “and don’t dabble in what you don’t understand. The Stock Exchange is a den of thieves, and Maurice here and I are two of the worst examples.”

Miss Sarah Baldwin made a little grimace.

“My clients are such a mean lot,” she complained. “Now that they have got over the novelty of being driven in a taxicab by a woman, they are positively stingy. Even Jimmy here only gave me a sovereign for picking him up at St. James’ Street, waiting twenty minutes at his tailor’s, and bringing him on here. What is it that you’re going to advise your clients to leave alone, please, Mr. White?”

“British and Imperial Granaries.”

The young man–the Honourable James Wilshaw–suddenly dropped his eyeglass and assumed an anxious expression.

“I say, what’s wrong with them, White?” he demanded. “They’re large holders of wheat, and wheat’s going up all the time.”

“Wheat’s going up because they’re buying,” was the dry comment. “Directly they leave off it will drop, and when it begins to drop, look out for a slump in B. & I.’s.”

The young man relapsed into a seat by Sarah’s side and swung an immaculately trousered leg.

“But look here, Maurice, my boy, why should they leave off buying, eh?” he enquired.

“Because,” the other explained, “there is a little more wheat in the world than the B. & I. have money for.”

“I can give you a further reason,” Kendrick intervened, “for leaving B. & I.’s severely alone. There is at the present moment on his way to this country––if he is not already here, by the by–one of the shrewdest and finest speculators in the world, who is coming over on purpose to do what up to now our own men seem to have funked–fight the B. & I. tooth and nail.”

“Who’s that, Ken?” Maurice White asked with interest. “Why haven’t I heard about him before?”

“Because,” Kendrick replied, “he wrote and told me that he was coming and marked his letter ‘Private,’ so I thought that I had better keep it to myself. His boat was due in Liverpool several days ago, though, so I suppose that any one who is interested knows all about his coming by this time.”

“But his name?” Sarah demanded. “Why don’t you tell us his name and all about him? I love American millionaires who do things in Wall Street and fight with billions. If he’s really nice, he may take me off your hands, Jimmy.”

“I’d like to see him try,” that young man growled, with unexpected fierceness.

“Well, his name is John Philip Wingate,” Kendrick told them. “He started life, I believe, as a journalist. Then he inherited a fortune and made another one on Wall Street, where I imagine he came across Dreadnought Phipps. What happened I don’t exactly know,” he went on ruminatively. “Phipps couldn’t have squeezed him, or we should have heard about it, but somehow or other the two got at loggerheads, for it’s common knowledge amongst their business connections–I don’t know that they have any friends–that Wingate has sworn to break Phipps. There will be quite a commotion in the City when it gets about that Wingate is here or on his way over.”

“It’s almost like a romance,” Sarah declared, as she took the ice which her cavalier had brought her and settled down once more in her chair. “Tell me more about Mr. Wingate, please. Mr. Phipps I know, of course, and he doesn’t seem in the least terrifying. Is Mr. Wingate like that or is he a dourer type?”

“John Wingate,” Kendrick said reflectively, “is a much younger man than Phipps––I should say that he wasn’t more than thirty-five–and much better-looking. I must say that in a struggle I shouldn’t know which to back. Wingate has sentiment and Phipps has none; conscience of which Phipps hasn’t a shred, and a sense of honour with which Phipps was certainly never troubled. These points are all against him in a market duel, but on the other hand he has a bigger outlook than Phipps, he has nerves of steel and the grit of a hero. Did I tell you, by the by, that he went into the war as a private and came out a brigadier?”

“Splendid!” Sarah murmured. “Now tell us where Peter Phipps comes in?”

“Well,” Kendrick continued, “Phipps attracts sympathy because of his lavish hospitality and apparent generosity, whilst Wingate is a man of many reserves and has few friends, either on this side or the other. Then Phipps, I should say, is the wealthier man, and in this present deal, at any rate, he has marvellous support, so that financially he must tower over Wingate. Then, too, I think he understands the tricks of the market better over here, and he has a very dangerous confederate in Skinflint Martin. What that old blackguard doesn’t know of chicanery and crooked dealing, the devil himself couldn’t make use of. If he’s put his own money into B. & I., I should say that Phipps can’t be broken. My advice to Wingate, at any rate, when we meet, will be to stand by for a time.”

The sound of approaching voices warned them that their seclusion was on the point of being broken into. Their hostess, an elderly lady of great social gifts and immense volubility, appeared, having for her escort a tall, well-groomed man of youthful middle-age, with the square jaw and humorous gleam in his grey eyes of the best trans-Atlantic type. Lady Amesbury beamed upon them all.

“Just the people I was looking for!” she exclaimed. “I want you all to know my great friend, Mr. Wingate from New York.”

Every one was glad to meet Wingate, and Kendrick and he exchanged the greetings of old friends.

“Now you have found some one whom you can talk to, my dear John,” his hostess declared. “I shall consider you off my hands for the afternoon. Come and dine with me next Sunday night, and don’t lose your heart to Sarah Baldwin. She’s a capricious little minx, and, besides, she’s engaged to Jimmy there, though heaven knows whether they’ll ever get married.–There! I knew it! My own particular Bishop being lured into conversation with Hilda Sutton, who’s just become a freethinker and can’t talk of anything else. It will spoil the dear man’s afternoon if she gets really started.–Good-by, all of you. Take care of Mr. Wingate.”

She hurried off, and the newcomer seated himself between Kendrick and Sarah.

“We’ve just been hearing all about you, Mr. Wingate,” Sarah began, “but I must say you’re the last person we expected to see here. We imagined you dashing in a great motor-car from Liverpool to your office in the City, dictating letters, speaking into the telephone, and doing all sorts of violent things. I don’t believe Mr. Kendrick told us the truth about you at all.”

Wingate smiled good-humouredly.

“Tell me what Kendrick has been saying, and I will let you know whether it is the truth or not,” he promised.

“Well, he has just given us a thrilling picture of you,” she went on, “coming over here armed cap-a-pie to do battle for the romance of money. Already we were picturing to ourselves poor Dreadnought Phipps, the first of your victims, seeking for an asylum in the Stock Exchange Almshouses; and the other desperado–what was his name? Skinflint Martin?–on his knees before you while you read him a moral lecture on the evils of speculation.”

Wingate’s eyes twinkled.

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