A Millionaire of Yesterday

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 4


Trent moved forward and greeted the newcomer awkwardly. "You're Captain Francis," he said. "We've been waiting for you."

The statement appeared to annoy the Explorer. He looked nervously at the two men and about the hut.

"I don't know how the devil you got to hear of my coming, or what you want with me," he answered brusquely. "Are you both English?"

Trent assented, waving his hand towards his companion in introductory fashion.

"That's my pal, Monty," he said. "We're both English right enough."

Monty raised a flushed face and gazed with bloodshot eyes at the man who was surveying him so calmly. Then he gave a little gurgling cry and turned away. Captain Francis started and moved a step towards him. There was a puzzled look in his face - as though he were making an effort to recall something familiar.

"What is the matter with him?" he asked Trent.

"Drink!"

"Then why the devil don't you see that he doesn't get too much?" the newcomer said sharply. "Don't you know what it means in this climate? Why, he's on the high-road to a fever now. Who on this earth is it he reminds me of?"

Trent laughed shortly.

"There's never a man in Buckomari - no, nor in all Africa - could keep Monty from the drink," he said. "Live with him for a month and try it. It wouldn't suit you - I don't think."

He glanced disdainfully at the smooth face and careful dress of their visitor, who bore the inspection with a kindly return of contempt.

"I've no desire to try," he said; "but he reminds me very strongly of some one I knew in England. What do you call him - Monty?"

Trent nodded.

"Never heard any other name," he said.

"Have you ever heard him speak of England?" Francis asked.

Trent hesitated. What was this newcomer to him that he should give away his pal? Less than nothing! He hated the fellow already, with a rough, sensitive man's contempt of a bearing and manners far above his own.

"Never. He don't talk."

Captain Francis moved a step towards the huddled-up figure breathing heavily upon the floor, but Trent, leaning over, stopped him.

"Let him be," he said gruffly. "I know enough of him to be sure that he needs no one prying and ferreting into his affairs. Besides, it isn't safe for us to be dawdling about here. How many soldiers have you brought with you?"

"Two hundred," Captain Francis answered shortly.

Trent whistled.

"We're all right for a bit, then," he said; "but it's a pretty sort of a picnic you're on, eh?"

"Never mind my business," Captain Francis answered curtly; "what about yours? Why have you been hanging about here for me?"

"I'll show you," Trent answered, taking a paper from his knapsack. "You see, it's like this. There are two places near this show where I've found gold. No use blowing about it down at Buckomari - the fellows there haven't the nerve of a kitten. This cursed climate has sapped it all out of them, I reckon. Monty and I clubbed together and bought presents for his Majesty, the boss here, and Monty wrote out this little document - sort of concession to us to sink mines and work them, you see. The old buffer signed it like winking, directly he spotted the rum, but we ain't quite happy about it; you see, it ain't to be supposed that he's got a conscience, and there's only us saw him put his mark there. We'll have to raise money to work the thing upon this, and maybe there'll be difficulties. So what we thought was this. Here's an English officer coining; let's get him to witness it, and then if the King don't go on the square, why, it's a Government matter."

Captain Francis lit a cigarette and smoked thoughtfully for a moment or two.

"I don't quite see," he said, "why we should risk a row for the sake of you two."

Trent snorted.

"Look here," he said; "I suppose you know your business. You don't want me to tell you that a decent excuse for having a row with this old Johnny is about the best thing that could happen to you. He's a bit too near the borders of civilisation to be a decent savage. Sooner or later some one will have to take him under their protection. If you don't do it, the French will. They're hanging round now looking out for an opportunity. Listen!

Both men moved instinctively towards the open part of the hut and looked across towards the village. Up from the little open space in front of the King's dwelling-house leaped a hissing bright flame; they had kindled a fire, and black forms of men, stark naked and wounding themselves with spears, danced around it and made the air hideous with discordant cries. The King himself, too drunk to stand, squatted upon the ground with an empty bottle by his side. A breath of wind brought a strong, noxious odour to the two men who stood watching. Captain Francis puffed hard at his cigarette.

"Ugh!" he muttered; "beastly!"

"You may take my word for it," Trent said gruffly, "that if your two hundred soldiers weren't camped in the bush yonder, you and I and poor Monty would be making sport for them to-night. Now come. Do you think a quarrel with that crew is a serious thing to risk?"

"In the interests of civilisation," Captain Francis answered, with a smile, "I think not."

"I don't care how you put it," Trent answered shortly. "You soldiers all prate of the interests of civilisation. Of course it's all rot. You want the land - you want to rule, to plant a flag, and be called a patriot."

Captain Francis laughed. "And you, my superior friend," he said, glancing at Trent, gaunt, ragged, not too clean, and back at Monty - " you want gold - honestly if you can get it, if not - well, it is not too wise to ask. Your partnership is a little mysterious, isn't it - with a man like that? Out of your magnificent morality I trust that he may get his share."

Trent flushed a brick - red. An angry answer trembled upon his lips, but Oom Sam, white and with his little fat body quivering with fear, came hurrying up to them in the broad track of the moonlight.

"King he angry," he called out to them breathlessly. "Him mad drunk angry. He say white men all go away, or he fire bush and use the poisoned arrow. Me off! Got bearers waiting."

"If you go before we've finished," Trent said, "I'll not pay you a penny. Please yourself."

The little fat man trembled - partly with rage, partly with fear.

"You stay any longer," he said, "and King him send after you and kill on way home. White English soldiers go Buckomari with you?"

Trent shook his head.

"Going the other way," he said, "down to Wana Hill."

Oom Sam shook his head vigorously.

"Now you mind," he said; "I tell you, King send after you. Him blind mad."

Oom Sam scuttled away. Captain Francis looked thoughtful. "That little fat chap may be right," he remarked. "If I were you I'd get out of this sharp. You see, I'm going the other way. I can't help you."

Trent set his teeth.

"I've spent a good few years trying to put a bit together, and this is the first chance I've had," he said; "I'm going to have you back me as a British subject on that concession. We'll go down into the village now if you're ready."

"I'll get an escort," Francis said. "Best to impress 'em a bit, I think. Half a minute."

He stepped back into the hut and looked steadfastly at the man who was still lying doubled up upon the floor. Was it his fancy, or had those eyes closed swiftly at his turning - was it by accident, too, that Monty, with a little groan, changed his position at that moment, so that his face was in the shadow? Captain Francis was puzzled.

"It's like him," he said to himself softly; "but after all the thing's too improbable!"

He turned away with a shade upon his face and followed Trent out into the moonlight. The screeching from the village below grew louder and more hideous every minute.