Chapter XLI
 

Cappy Ricks called up J. O. Heyfuss and in a few terse sentences told that individual where to head in.

"Now, then--" he began, facing round on Redell once more.

Again Redell's index finger tapped Cappy's knee. Dramatically he pronounced a single word:

"Wheat!"

"Wheat?"

"Wheat!"

"What kind of wheat?" In his amazement Cappy was rather helpless.

"Number One white Australian wheat."

"You jibbering jackdaw! Wheat? Don't you know blamed well that wheat is one of the commodities Australia never exports to these United States? Why? Because we don't need her doggoned wheat! We grow all the wheat we need and a lot more we don't need; we export that, and it's just as fine wheat as you'll find anywhere. Moreover, any time our crop is a failure, our next-door neighbor, Canada, is Johnny-on-the-spot, ready to make prompt delivery. So what in thunder are you talking about?"

For answer J. Augustus Redell drew from his pocket that morning's paper and pointed to the headline of a front-page story. Cappy adjusted his spectacles and read: Bakers Announce Six-Cent Loaf!

"Hum-m-m!" said Cappy.

"You bet! And it's a smaller loaf, by the way. Doesn't that argue that there is something doing in wheat, when the price of bread goes to six cents for a half portion?"

"Well, there might be something in that, Gus. Crack along and tell me some more."

"Until the identity of the real culprits is fixed, Cappy, we must blame the war in Europe for the six-cent loaf; likewise for the fifteen-dollar shoe that formerly cost our wives six or seven; for the eleven pounds of sugar for a dollar, when twenty to twenty-two pounds was the standard in the good old days. Europe is too busy fighting to pay much attention to farming; the wheat farmers of Canada are somewhere in France instead of being at home 'tending to business; and it has been up to Uncle Sam and the Argentine Republic to feed the world, you might say. Naturally speculators have seized upon this condition to shoot the price of wheat to the skies, and in desperation the millers have been casting about to buy cheaper wheat. Investigation discloses the fact that Australia has an enormous quantity of wheat on hand; some of it is the surplus of the 1915 crop. Of course she has exported all she could to England; but, at that, she has been handicapped."

"How?"

"Because when a ship sails from Liverpool with goods for Australia, it is a rare case when that same ship promptly loads with Australian goods and puts back to Liverpool. She takes a cargo of coal, say, from Newcastle up to Manila; a general cargo from Manila to Seattle or San Francisco; thence to a West Coast port with a general cargo; thence to New York with nitrate; thence to Europe with foodstuffs or munitions. Australia hasn't had the tonnage to export her wheat and it's been piling up on her. Now they've simply got to sell something to get some ready money."

"This is perfectly re-markable!"

Redell took a document from his pocket and gravely handed it to Cappy, who examined it and discovered the same to be a charter party, consummated the day before between the West Coast Trading Company, owners of the barkentine Mazeppa, and Messrs. Ford & Carter, a well known export and import firm whose principal business was done in grain. Cappy read the charter party carefully and even verified the signatures, with which he was familiar. The vessel was to carry a cargo of wheat from Melbourne to San Francisco at a freight rate that fairly shrieked the word "Dividend."

"Re-markable!" Cappy declared. "Preposterous!"

"Seeing is believing. Call up Ford & Carter, and they'll jump over themselves to give you a cargo of wheat for your Mindoro."

"Im-possible!"

"Well, I'm telling you. Why, it stands to reason, Cappy! Canada and the United States are so much nearer Europe than is Australia that it has been cheaper to use our wheat, and the result is we've been cleaned out; and the newspapers are filled with dismal stories of the sufferings of the poor due to the increased price of bread."

"Come to think of it, Gus, there has been a lot of that stuff in the papers lately. But, of course, when a fellow's stomach is full and he isn't in danger of being attached for debt, he never thinks of the less fortunate brother. Yes, Gus, I dare say the demand for our wheat now exceeds the visible supply."

"Is it any wonder, then, that this condition of affairs should come to the attention of the Australian exporters? Just because Australian wheat has never been shipped into the United States is no reason why it shouldn't be shipped--particularly when the price of flour goes up daily. Why, we pay two and a half dollars for the fifty-pound sack of flour that formerly cost us a dollar and a quarter! Eggs are up to seventy cents a dozen--by jingo, Cappy, what's going to become of us?"

"God knows!" Cappy answered dismally.

Redell had him hypnotized. Already Cappy could see the gates of the poorhouse opening to receive them all. Redell's voice brought him back to a realization of his peril.

"You'll find, Cappy Ricks, that for months to come every sailing vessel that carries lumber to Australia from the Pacific Coast will come back with a cargo of wheat while these war prices are maintained."

"Great Jumping Jehoshaphat! How'd you get next to all this, Gus?"

"The early bird gets the worm, and success comes to the man who creates his own opportunities. I thought it all up out of my own head, Cappy, and then tried it out on Ford & Carter. It knocked 'em cold for a minute; but that was only because the proposition was so unusual. When I explained the situation to them, however, and gave them time to digest it, both offered to take me out to luncheon. You can see for yourself they've chartered our Mazeppa at a fancy freight rate."

Cappy licked his lips.

"The Mindoro is sound, tight and seaworthy," he murmured. "She could carry wheat."

"Come on in, Cappy. The water's fine!"

"I'll do it! Gus, you're a mighty good fellow, if I do say it that shouldn't. I have five windjammers en route to Australia this minute, and, by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, if I can get wheat charters for all of them on the return trip I'll accept, if it costs me money. Gus, something has got to be done about this high cost of living or we'll all go to hell together. There comes a time in a man's life when he must put aside the sordid question of 'How much is there in it for me?' and ask himself: 'How much can I put in it for the other fellow?' Gus, it's our Christian duty to furnish tonnage to import this wheat. We should, as patriotic citizens, make it our business to boom Australian wheat in the United States and give these doggoned pirates that gamble in the foodstuffs of the country a run for their money. Food prices should be regulated by this Government. The Chicago Pit should be abolished by legislative enactment--"

"Well, they won't do it this year, Cappy," Redell interrupted dryly. "Still, it occurred to me that I saw an opening where two high-minded philanthropists--to wit, Alden P. Ricks and J. Augustus Redell--might strike a blow for freedom and at the same time give these wheat speculators a kick where it will do them the most good. When one cannot annihilate his enemy the next best thing is to take some money away from him; and you and I, Cappy Ricks, can take a young fortune away from these fellows, while at the same time depressing the price of wheat and doing our fellow countrymen a favor. Are you prepared to volunteer under my banner? If so, hold up your right hand."

Cappy held up his right hand.

"Out with it, Gus," he ordered; "out with it! This is most interesting."

"Ah! You're interested now, are you? Well, bearing in mind the fact that your specialty is lumber and ships, I will give you an opportunity to withdraw before it is too late. Besides, it occurs to me that I have already done enough for you today."

"Don't be greedy, Gus. Remember there is an exception to every rule. Besides, I'm getting old and--er--ahem!--hell's bells, boy, I've got to have my fling every once in a while. Come now, Gus! Out with it! I believe your proposition embodied the coupling of both our names in the betting, did it not?"

"It did, Cappy. Still, come to think of it, I really ought not to come in here and tempt you into speculating--"

"How much money do you want?" Cappy shrilled impatiently. "Cut out this infernal drivel and get down to business. Unfold your proposition; and if it looks to me like a winner I'll take a flyer with you if it's the last act of my sinful life."

"On your own head be it, Cappy. Here goes! However, before laying my plan before you, perfect frankness compels me to state that my visit to you was not born of an overweening desire to do you a kindness or make money for you. Philanthropy is not my long suit--in business hours; and my interest in you today is purely a selfish one."

"Go on; go on, boy! Am I a child in arms?"

"I have made a ball, Cappy," Redell continued, "and I want you to fire it. I have a splendid prescription to make a clean-up in December wheat--"

"Give me your prescription."

"Well, sir, my prescription lacks one small ingredient to make it a standard household remedy. You can supply that ingredient--to wit, cash of the present standard of weight and fineness. Every spare dollar that Live Wire Luiz and I can get our hands on is working overtime in the legitimate business of the West Coast Trading Company; every loose asset with a hockable value has been hocked, and we dare not strain our credit with our banker by borrowing money with which to speculate. If I apply for a sizable loan, without putting up collateral, he'll ask me what I want to do with the money--and if I answer truthfully he'll throw Luiz and me and our account out of his bank. And I never was a very successful liar. Therefore, in consideration of the valuable information I can furnish, I suggest that you carry me for a quarter of a million bushels of December wheat."

"How much will that cost me?" Cappy queried warily.

"We'll operate on margin. I think a margin of ten cents a bushel will do the trick; of course, if wheat should go up a point you'll be asked to come through with more money. However, I have a sneaking notion that a well-known heavyweight like you can place his order with any of the local brokers without having to put up a single cent; at the most they might ask you for five thousand or ten thousand dollars. But they know you're good for any engagement you may make; they'd be tickled to death to have your promissory note. I suggest that you get in touch with a sound brokerage house in this city--one that is a member of the New York Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade--and sell, for my account, two hundred and fifty thousand bushels of December wheat at the market."

"What'll I do for myself?"

"Go as far as you like. You know your own limitations. I'm desirous of selling a quarter of a million bushels at the market; and, as I am furnishing the plans and specifications for this raid, I suggest that you sell at least a quarter of a million yourself."

"Funny business!" Cappy murmured. "Selling a quarter of a million bushels of wheat you do not own and never will! Hum-m-m! Ahem! Harumph-h-h! Then what?"

He bent his head and gazed very severely at Mr. Redell over the rims of his spectacles. For reply Mr. Redell took from his pocket thirteen sheaves of paper and handed them to Cappy, who investigated and discovered them to be thirteen forty-eight-hour options on thirteen sailing vessels bound to Australian ports with lumber, and not as yet provided with a return cargo to the United States.

"By to-morrow morning I shall have exercised those options and closed for thirteen cargoes of wheat," Redell explained. "You have five vessels bound to Australia also. Give me an option on them for their return cargo and that will make eighteen."

"Yes, yes. Then what?"

"I will charter all of the eighteen to Ford grain of it, in order to protect themselves against a falling market."

"Naturally. And the market is--"

"December wheat closed in the Chicago Pit yesterday at $1.89 1/2, and the market has been very stiff for quite a while. The bulls are right on the job."

"Will not the advent of all this Australian wheat depress the market?" Cappy shrilled excitedly.

"Not unless the bears happen to find it out, Cappy," Redell retorted gently. "It is our job to bring the matter to their attention, for it so happens that Alden P. Ricks and J. Augustus Redell are the only two people in the United States who happen to know about it. Ford bulls will get panicky; the bears will take heart of hope, and with Number One white Australian wheat they'll beat the brains out of the market and in all probability kick it down to $1.85, at which figure we promptly buy as much wheat as we have previously sold. Thus we cover our shorts, and the difference between $1.89 1/2 and $1.85, less brokerage and interest--if any--will be, roughly speaking, four cents. Four cents on a quarter of a million bushels is ten thousand dollars--not a great deal, truly, in these days of swollen fortunes, but, nevertheless, a nice piece of velvet--eh, Cappy, you sporty boy?"

"It isn't so much the money we make," Cappy replied sagely. "It's the fun we have making it, my boy; the joy of putting over a winner. The instant a man begins to love money for money's sake he's a knave and a fool. Kill him! But--er--ahem--as you say, my dear young friend, ten thousand each is not to be--er--sneezed at."

"Then you're coming in on the deal?"

"I should tell a man!"

After the fashion of the West they shook hands on it and went to luncheon at the Commercial Club.