A Millionaire of Yesterday

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 31


A special train from Southampton had just steamed into Waterloo with the passengers from the Royal Mail steamer Ophir. Little groups of sunburnt men were greeting old friends upon the platform, surrounded by piles of luggage, canvas trunks and steamer chairs. The demand for hansoms was brisk, cab after cab heavily loaded was rolling out of the yard. There were grizzled men and men of fair complexion, men in white helmets and puggarees, and men in silk hats. All sorts were represented there, from the successful diamond digger who was spasmodically embracing a lady in black jet of distinctly Jewish proclivities, to a sporting lord who had been killing lions. For a few minutes the platforms were given over altogether to a sort of pleasurable confusion, a vivid scene, full of colour and human interest. Then the people thinned away, and, very nearly last of all, a wizened-looking, grey-headed man, carrying a black bag and a parcel, left the platform with hesitating footsteps and turned towards the bridge. He was followed almost immediately by Hiram Da Souza, who, curiously enough, seemed to have been on the platform when the train came in and to have been much interested in this shabby, lonely old man, who carried himself like a waif stranded in an unknown land. Da Souza was gorgeous in frock coat and silk hat, a carnation in his buttonhole, a diamond in his black satin tie, yet he was not altogether happy. This little man hobbling along in front represented fate to him. On the platform at Waterloo he had heard him timidly ask a bystander the way to the offices of the Bekwando Land and Gold Exploration Company, Limited. If ever he got there, what would be the price of Bekwando shares on the morrow?

On the bridge Da Souza saw him accost a policeman, and brushing close by, heard him ask the same question. The man shook his head, but pointed eastwards.

"I can't say exactly, sir, but somewhere in the City, for certain," he answered. "I should make for the Bank of England, a penny 'bus along that way will take you - and ask again there."

The old man nodded his thanks and stepped along Da Souza felt that his time had come. He accosted him with an urbane smile.

"Excuse me," he said, "but I think I heard you ask for the offices of the Bekwando Land Company."

The old man looked up eagerly. "If you can direct me there, sir," he said, "I shall be greatly obliged."

"I can do so," Da Souza said, falling into step, "and will with pleasure. I am going that way myself. I hope," he continued in a tone of kindly concern, "that you are not a shareholder in the Company."

The old man dropped his bag with a clatter upon the pavement, and his lips moved for a moment without any speech coming from them. Da Souza picked up the bag and devoutly hoped that none of his City friends were in the way.

"I don't exactly know about being a shareholder," the old man said nervously, "but I've certainly something to do with it. I am, or should have been, joint vendor. The Company is wealthy, is it not?"

Da Souza changed the bag into his other hand and thrust his arm through his companion's.

" You haven't seen the papers lately, have you?"

"No! I've just landed - to-day - from Africa!"

"Then I'm sorry to say there's some bad news for you," Da Souza said. "The Bekwando Land and Gold Company has gone into liquidation - smashed up altogether. They say that all the directors and the vendor will be arrested. It seems to have been a gigantic swindle."

Monty had become a dead weight upon his arm. They were in the Strand now, and he pushed open the swing-door of a public-house, and made his way into the private bar. When Monty opened his eyes he was on a cushioned seat, and before him was a tumbler of brandy half empty. He stared round him wildly. His lips were moist and the old craving was hot upon him. What did it mean? After all he had broken his vow, then! Had he not sworn to touch nothing until he had found his little girl and his fortune? yet the fire of spirits was in his veins and the craving was tearing him to pieces. Then he remembered! There was no fortune, no little girl! His dreams were all shattered, the last effort of his life had been in vain. He caught hold of the tumbler with fingers that shook as though an ague were upon him, lifted it to his lips and drank. Then there came the old blankness, and he saw nothing but what seemed to him the face of a satyr - dark and evil - mocking him through the shadows which had surely fallen now for ever. Da Souza lifted him up and conveyed him carefully to a four-wheel cab.

* * * * *

An hour afterwards Da Souza, with a grin of content upon his unshapely mouth, exchanged his frock coat for a gaudy smoking-jacket, and, with a freshly-lit cigar in his mouth, took up the letters which had arrived by the evening post. Seeing amongst them one with an African stamp he tore it open hastily, and read: -

"MY DEAR HIRAM, - You was in luck now or never, if you really want to stop that half -witted creature from doing mischief in London. I sometimes think, my brother, that you would do better to give me even more of your confidence. You are a very clever man, but you do keep yourself so secret. If I too were not clever, how would I know to send you this news, how would I know that it will make you glad? But there, you will go your way. I know it!

"Now for the news! Monty, as I cabled (I send the bill) has gone secretly to London. Since Scarlett Trent found our Hausa friend and the rum flask, there have been no means of getting liquor to him, so I suppose he has very near regained his senses, anyhow he shipped off very cunning, not even Missionary Walsh knowing, but he made a very big mistake, the news of which I send to you knowing it will be good. Hiram, he stole the money to pay for his passage from the missionary's cash-box! All one day he stood under a tree looking out to sea, and a steamer from Capetown called, and when he heard the whistle and saw the surf boats he seemed to wake up. He walked up and down restlessly for a long time, muttering to himself. Mrs. Walsh came out to him and he was still staring at the steamer. She told him to come in out of the sun, which was very hot, but he shook his head. 'She's calling me,' he kept on saying, 'calling me!' She heard him in the room where the money was and then saw no more of him. But others saw him running to the shore, and he paid to be taken out to the steamer. They wouldn't take him on at first, because he hadn't secured a passage, but he laid down and wouldn't move. So, as he had the money, they took him, and when I heard I cabled to you. But what harm can he do, for you are his master? He is a thief and you know it. Surely you can do with him what you will.

"Trent was here yesterday and heard for the first time of his flight. How he took it I cannot tell you, for I was not the one to tell him, but this I know for a fact. He cabled to Capetown offering 100 pounds if the Star Line steamer leaving to-morrow would call for him here. Hiram, he is a great man, this Trent. I hate him, for he has spoilt much trade for me, and he treats me as though I were the dirt under his feet, but never a man before who has set foot upon the Coast could have done what he has done. Without soldiers he has beaten the Bekwando natives, and made them even work for him. He has stirred the whole place here into a state of fever! A thousand men are working upon his road and sinking shafts upon the Bekwando hills. Gold is already coming down, nuggets of it, and he is opening a depot to buy all the mahogany and ivory in the country. He spends money like water, he never rests, what he says must be done is done! The authorities are afraid of him, but day by day they become more civil! The Agent here called him once an adventurer, and threatened him with arrest for his fighting with the Bekwandos. Now they go to him cap in hand, for they know that he will be a great power in this country. And Hiram, my brother, you have not given me your trust though I speak to you so openly, but here is the advice of a brother, for blood is blood, and I would have you make monies. Don't you put yourself against Trent. Be on his side, for his is the winning side. I don't know what you got in your head about that poor scarecrow Monty, but I tell you, Hiram, Trent is the man to back right through. He has the knack of success, and he is a genius. My! he's a great man, and he's a king out here. You be on his side, Hiram, and you're all right.

"Now goodbye, but send me the money for the cable when you write, and remember - Monty is a thief and Trent is the man to back, which reminds me that Trent repaid to Missionary Walsh all the money which Monty took, which it seems was left with Walsh by him for Monty's keep. But Monty does not know that, so you have the string to make him dance. "Which comes from your brother "SAMUEL.

"P.S. - Do not forget the small account for disbursements."

Da Souza folded up the letter, and a look of peace shone in his face. Presently he climbed the stairs to a little back-room and noiselessly unlocked the door. Monty, with pale face and bloodshot eyes, was walking up and down, mumbling to himself. He addressed Da Souza eagerly.

"I think I will go away now," he said. "I am very much obliged to you for looking after me."

Da Souza gazed at him with well-affected gravity. "One moment first," he said, "didn't I understand you that you had just come from Africa?"

Monty nodded.

"The Gold Coast?"

Monty nodded again, but with less confidence.

"By any chance - were you called Monty there?"

Monty turned ghastly pale. Surely his last sin had not found him out. He was silent, but there was no need for speech. Da Souza motioned him to sit down.

"I am very sorry," he said, "of course it's true. The police have been here."

"The police!" Monty moaned.

Da Souza nodded. Benevolence was so rare a part for him to play, that he rather enjoyed it.

"Don't be scared," he said. "Yes, your description is out, and you are wanted for stealing a few pounds from a man named Walsh. Never mind. I won't give you up. You shall lie snug here for a few days!"

Monty fell on his knees. "You won't let any one know that I am here!" he pleaded.

"Not I," Da Souza answered fervently.

Monty rose to his feet, his face full of dumb misery.

"Now," he muttered, "I shall never see her - never - never - never!"

There was a bottle half full of spirits upon the table and a tumbler as yet unused. A gleam flashed in his eyes. He filled the tumbler and raised it to his lips. Da Souza watched him curiously with the benevolent smile still upon his face.