A Millionaire of Yesterday

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 34


"And now," she said, rising, "you really must take me to Lady Tresham! They will think that I am lost."

"Are you still at your rooms?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Yes, only I'm having them spring-cleaned for a few days. I am staying at Tresham House."

"May I come and see you there?"

The man's quiet pertinacity kindled a sort of indignation in her. The sudden weakness in her defences was unbearable.

"I think not," she answered shortly. "You don't know Lady Tresham, and they might not approve. Lady Tresham is rather old-fashioned."

"Oh, Lady Tresham is all right," he answered. "I suppose I shall see you to-night if you are staying there. They have asked me to dinner!"

She was taken aback and showed it. Again he had the advantage. He did not tell her that on his return he had found scores of invitations from people he had never heard of before.

"You are by way of going into society, then," she answered insolently.

"I don't think I've made any particular efforts," he answered.

"Money," she murmured, "is an everlasting force!"

"The people of your world," be answered, with a flash of contempt, "are the people who find it so."

She was silent then, and Trent was far from being discouraged by her momentary irritability. He was crossing the lawn now by her side, carrying himself well, with a new confidence in his air and bearing which she did not fail to take note of. The sunlight, the music, and the pleasant air of excitement were all in his veins. He was full of the strong joy of living. And then, in the midst of it all, came a dull, crashing blow. It was as though all his castles in the air had come toppling about his ears, the blue sky had turned to stony grey and the sweet waltz music had become a dirge. Always a keen watcher of men's faces, he had glanced for a second time at a gaunt, sallow man who wore a loose check suit and a grey Homburg hat. The eyes of the two men met. Then the blood had turned to ice in Trent's veins and the ground had heaved beneath his feet. It was the one terrible chance which Fate had held against him, and she had played the card.

Considering the nature and suddenness of the blow which had fallen upon him, Trent's recovery was marvellous. The two men had come face to face upon the short turf, involuntarily each had come to a standstill. Ernestine looked from one to the other a little bewildered.

"I should like a word with you, Trent," Captain Francis said quietly.

Trent nodded.

"In five minutes," he said, "I will return here - on the other side of the band-stand, say."

Francis nodded and stood aside. Trent and Ernestine continued their progress towards the stand.

"Your friend," Ernestine remarked, " seemed to come upon you like a modern Banquo!"

Trent, who did not understand the allusion, was for once discreet.

"He is a man with whom I had dealings abroad," he said, "I did not expect him to turn up here."

"In West Africa?" she asked quickly.

Trent smiled enigmatically.

"There are many foreign countries besides Africa," he said, "and I've been in most of them. This is box No. 13, then. I shall see you this evening."

She nodded, and Trent was free again. He did not make his way at once to the band-stand. Instead he entered the small refreshment-room at the base of the building and called for a glass of brandy. He drank it slowly, his eyes fixed upon the long row of bottles ranged upon the shelf opposite to him, he himself carried back upon a long wave of thoughts to a little West African station where the moist heat rose in fever mists and where an endless stream of men passed backward and forward to their tasks with wan, weary faces and slowly dragging limbs. What a cursed chance which had brought him once more face to face with the one weak spot in his life, the one chapter which, had he the power, he would most willingly seal for ever! From outside came the ringing of a bell, the hoarse shouting of many voices in the ring, through the open door a vision of fluttering waves of colour, lace parasols and picture hats, little trills of feminine laughter, the soft rustling of muslins and silks. A few moments ago it had all seemed so delightful to him - and now there lay a hideous blot upon the day.

It seemed to him when he left the little bar that he had been there for hours, as a matter of fact barely five minutes had passed since he had left Ernestine. He stood for a moment on the edge of the walk, dazzled by the sunlight, then he stepped on to the grass and made his way through the throng. The air was full of soft, gay music, and the skirts and flounces of the women brushed against him at every step. Laughter and excitement were the order of the day. Trent, with his suddenly pallid face and unseeing eyes, seemed a little out of place in such a scene of pleasure. Francis, who was smoking a cigar, looked up as he approached and made room for him upon the seat.

"I did not expect to see you in England quite so soon, Captain Francis," Trent said.

"I did not expect," Francis answered, "ever to be in England again. I am told that my recovery was a miracle. I am also told that I owe my Life to you!"

Trent shrugged his shoulders.

"I would have done as much for any of my people," he said, "and you don't owe me any thanks. To be frank with you, I hoped you'd die."

"You could easily have made sure of it," Francis answered.

"It wasn't my way," Trent answered shortly. "Now what do you want with me?"

Francis turned towards him with a curious mixture of expressions in his face.

"Look here," he said, "I want to believe in you! You saved my life and I'm not over-anxious to do you a mischief. But you must tell me what you have done with Vill - Monty."

"Don't you know where he is?" Trent asked quickly.

"I? Certainly not! How should I?"

"Perhaps not," Trent said, "but here's the truth. When I got back to Attra Monty had disappeared - ran away to England, and as yet I've heard never a word of him. I'd meant to do the square thing by him and bring him back myself. Instead of that he gave us all the slip, but unless he's a lot different to what he was last time I saw him, he's not fit to be about alone."

"I heard that he had left," Francis said, "from Mr. Walsh."

"He either came quite alone," Trent said, "in which case it is odd that nothing has been heard of him, or Da Souza has got hold of him."

"Oom Sam's brother?"

Trent nodded.

"And his interest?" Francis asked.

"Well, he is a large shareholder in the Company," Trent said. "Of course he could upset us all if he liked. I should say that Da Souza would try all he could to keep him in the background until he had disposed of his shares."

"And how does your stock hold?"

"I don't know," Trent said. "I only landed yesterday. I'm pretty certain though that there's no market for the whole of Da Souza's holding."

"He has a large interest, then?"

"A very large one," Trent answered drily.

"I should like," Francis said, "to understand this matter properly. As a matter of fact I suppose that Monty is entitled to half the purchase-money you received for the Company.

Trent assented.

"It isn't that I grudge him that," he said, "although, with the other financial enterprises I have gone into, I don't know how I should raise half a million of money to pay him off. But don't you see my sale of the charter to the Company is itself, Monty being alive, an illegal act. The title will be wrong, and the whole affair might drift into Chancery, just when a vigorous policy is required to make the venture a success. If Monty were here and in his right mind, I think we could come to terms, but, when I saw him last at any rate, he was quite incapable, and he might become a tool to anything. The Bears might get hold of him and ruin us all. In short, it's a beastly mess!"

Francis looked at him keenly.

"What do you expect me to do?" he asked.

"I have no right to expect anything," Trent said. "However, I saved your life and you may consider yourself therefore under some obligation to me. I will tell you then what I would have you do. In the first place, I know no more where he is than you do. He may be in England or he may not. I shall go to Da Souza, who probably knows. You can come with me if you like. I don't want to rob the man of a penny. He shall have all he is entitled to - only I do want to arrange terms with him quietly, and not have the thing talked about. It's as much for the others' sake as my own. The men who came into my Syndicate trusted me, and I don't want them left."

Francis took a little silver case from his pocket, lit a cigarette, and smoked for a moment or two thoughtfully.

"It is possible," he said at last, "that you are an honest man. On the other hand you must admit that the balance of probability from my point of view is on the other side. Let us travel backwards a little way - to my first meeting with you. I witnessed the granting of this concession to you by the King of Bekwando. According to its wording you were virtually Monty's heir, and Monty was lying drunk, in a climate where strong waters and death walk hand-in-hand. You leave him in the bush, proclaim his death, and take sole possession. I find him alive, do the best I can for him, and here the first act ends. Then what afterwards? I hear of you as an empire-maker and a millionaire. Nevertheless, Monty was alive and you knew he was alive, but when I reach Attra he has been spirited away! I want to know where! You say you don't know. It may be true, but it doesn't sound like it."

Trent's under-lip was twitching, a sure sign of the tempest within, but he kept himself under restraint and said never a word.

Francis continued, "Now I do not wish to be your enemy, Scarlett Trent, or to do you an ill turn, but this is my word to you. Produce Monty within a week and open reasonable negotiations for treating him fairly, and I will keep silent. But if you can't produce him at the end of that time I must go to his relations and lay all these things before them."

Trent rose slowly to his feet.

"Give me your address," he said, "I will do what I can."

Francis tore a leaf from his pocket-book and wrote a few words upon it.

"That will find me at any time," he said. "One moment, Trent. When I saw you first you were with - a lady."

"Well!"

"I have been away from England so long," Francis continued slowly, "that my memory has suffered. Yet that lady's face was somehow familiar. May I ask her name?"

"Miss Ernestine Wendermott," Trent answered slowly.

Francis threw away his cigarette and lit another.

"Thank you," he said.