When Sir Murray St Clair rang suggesting that they meet at the club for lunch, Elliott Price knew he had to accept. There was something in Biggle’s voice, a reticent foreboding not common in a simple invitation.
Sir Murray and Price were both members of ‘McDouall’, an exclusive Gentleman’s club in the city. The club, founded in 1863 following the successful North-South crossing of Australia by the taciturn Scotsman John McDouall Stuart, had never involved itself in the tedious work of exploration, contrary to what the name might suggest. McDouall’s was a club for “old money”; the squattocracy and a few friends with shared ‘traditional’ values and an eagerness to toast the Queen at six each evening.
McDouall’s was the perfect place for a discreet meeting between men, and Sir Murray had managed to commandeer a corner table in the Trophy Room to ensure their privacy. Elliott Price started with the soup and Sir Murray the oysters. With passing reference to the sins of insider trading, Sir Murray scooped an oyster out of its shell, held it up tantalisingly on his fork and then slipped it into his mouth.
“If, as a result of the downturn in the property market say, a company found itself unable to satisfy its creditors, let alone the depositors,” Sir Murray suggested, “Well then…” Sir Murray lunged at another oyster.
“So, hypothetically speaking of course,” Elliott Price added as the oyster was dispatched.
“Of course. Got to keep everything about board, old boy,” Sir Murray agreed.
Price continued, “Said company might then suddenly find that it has to suspend all trading?”
“Exactly.” Sir Murray replied as he tapped the side of his nose.
The thought that Regal Mortgage might be in danger of going belly-up had caught Elliott Price by surprise for there had been none of the usual warning signs or back-of-the-hand tittle-tattle about pending disaster. If nothing else, Sir Murray St Clair knew how to run a tight ship with few leaks.
“A most educative story Sir Murray,” Elliott said with a smile as St Clair dropped another oyster in his mouth. St Clair’s expression quickly changed to one of extreme distress.
“Come on old chap,” Elliott said reassuringly, surprised at what he perceived to be an old fashioned concern by Sir Murray over the fate of his shareholders and depositors. “A rescue bid is not completely out of the question; A white knight, the Government perhaps?”
“I think this one’s bad. Yes, I’m sure it is,” Sir Murray said putting the napkin to his face. “Excuse me!” He turned to the ice bucket, extracted the bottle of Moet and spat out the oyster. After spitting into the bucket several more times, he dropped a napkin over it and gestured for the waiter to take it away.
With the bottle still in hand, Sir Murray’s composure quickly returned. “Here let me top you up old boy,” he offered as he lent forward and filled Elliott Price’s glass. Sir Murray then filled his own glass and took a sip.
“Ah, that’s better. Dreadful taste! Now, what were you saying about a rescue?” Sir Murray asked.
“It’s possible,” Elliott said cautiously, before taking a sip of champagne and adding with a smile. “Allowing banks to fail is quite out of fashion with Governments these days. Money to be made in bad times as well as good, as you know Sir Murray. Are many depositors likely to be affected?”
“Thousands of the greedy little urchins,” St Clair replied, his spirits returning. “Bound to make my life miserable,” he added as he picked up the menu. “What do you think? The lamb, I hear it is first rate today”.
Sir Murray St Clair passed the menu to his dining companion. Elliott Price no longer felt hungry.
In the next episode, “Invitation Regatta”, Jane and Ruth are confined to janitor duties and unable to compete, but they do catch the attention of a couple of young men from another rowing club.