“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 Imperial Granaries.”
“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.”