A Millionaire of Yesterday

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 40


A little earlier than usual next morning Trent was at his office in the City, prepared for the worst, and in less than half an hour he found himself face to face with one of those crises known to most great financiers at some time or other during their lives. His credit was not actually assailed, but it was suspended. The general public did not understand the situation, even those who were in a measure behind the scenes found it hard to believe that the attack upon the Bekwando Gold and Land shares was purely a personal one. For it was Da Souza who had fired the train, who had flung his large holding of shares upon the market, and, finding them promptly taken up, had gone about with many pious exclamations of thankfulness and sinister remarks. Many smaller holders followed suit, and yet never for a moment did the market waver. Gradually it leaked out that Scarlett Trent was the buyer, and public interest leaped up at once. Would Trent be able to face settling-day without putting his vast holdings upon the market? If so the bulls were going to have the worst knock they had had for years - and yet - and yet - the murmur went round from friend to friend - " Sell your Bekwandos."

At midday there came an urgent message from Trent's bankers, and as he read it he cursed. It was short but eloquent.

"DEAR SIR, - We notice that your account to-day stands 119,000 pounds overdrawn, against which we hold as collateral security shares in the Bekwando Land Company to the value of 150,000 pounds. As we have received certain very disquieting information concerning the value of these shares, we must ask you to adjust the account before closing hours to-day, or we shall be compelled to place the shares upon the market. "Yours truly, "A. SINCLAIR, General Manager."

Trent tore the letter into atoms, but he never quailed. Telegraph and telephone worked his will, he saw all callers, a cigar in his mouth and flower in his buttonhole, perfectly at his ease, sanguine and confident. A few minutes before closing time he strolled into the bank and no one noticed a great bead of perspiration which stood out upon his forehead. He made out a credit slip for 119,000 pounds, and, passing it across the counter with a roll of notes and cheques, asked for his shares.

They sent for the manager. Trent was ushered with much ceremony into his private room. The manager was flushed and nervous.

"I am afraid you must have misunderstood my note, Mr. Trent," he stammered. But Trent, remembering all that he had gone through to raise the money, stopped him short.

"This is not a friendly call, Mr. Sinclair," he said, "but simply a matter of business. I wish to clear my account with you to the last halfpenny, and I will take my shares away with me. I have paid in the amount I owe. Let one of your clerks make out the interest account."

The manager rang the bell for the key of the security safe. He opened it and took out the shares with fingers which trembled a good deal.

"Did I understand you, Mr. Trent, that you desired to absolutely close the account?" he asked.

"Most decidedly," Trent answered.

"We shall be very sorry to lose you."

"The sorrow will be all on your side, then," Trent answered grimly. "You have done your best to ruin me, you and that blackguard Da Souza, who brought me here. If you had succeeded in lumping those shares upon the market to-day or to-morrow, you know very well what the result would have been. I don't know whose game you have been playing, but I can guess!"

"I can assure you, Mr. Trent," the manager declared in his suavest and most professional manner, "that you are acting under a complete misapprehension. I will admit that our notice was a little short. Suppose we withdraw it altogether, eh? I am quite satisfied. We will put back the shares in the safe and you shall keep your money."

"No, I'm d - d if you do!" Trent answered bluntly. "You've had your money and I'll have the shares. I don't leave this bank without them, and I'll be shot if ever I enter it again."

So Trent, with his back against the wall and not a friend to help him, faced for twenty-four hours the most powerful bull syndicate which had ever been formed against a single Company. Inquiries as to his right of title had poured in upon him, and to all of them he had returned the most absolute and final assurances. Yet he knew when closing-time came, that he had exhausted every farthing he possessed in the world - it seemed hopeless to imagine that he could survive another day. But with the morning came a booming cable from Bekwando. There had been a great find of gold before ever a shaft had been sunk; an expert, from whom as yet nothing had been heard, wired an excited and wonderful report. Then the men who had held on to their Bekwandos rustled their morning papers and walked smiling to their offices. Prices leaped up. Trent's directors ceased to worry him and wired invitations to luncheon at the West End. The bulls were the sport of everybody. When closing-time came Trent had made 100,000 pounds, and was looked upon everywhere as one of the rocks of finance.

Only then he began to realise what the strain had been to him. His hard, impassive look had never altered, he had been seen everywhere in his accustomed City haunts, his hat a little better brushed than usual, his clothes a little more carefully put on, his buttonhole more obvious and his laugh readier. No one guessed the agony through which he had passed, no one knew that he had spent the night at a little inn twelve miles away, to which he had walked after nine o'clock at night. He had not a single confidant, even his cashier had no idea whence came the large sums of money which he had paid away right and left. But when it was all over he left the City, and, leaning back in the corner of his little brougham, was driven away to Pont Street. Here he locked himself in his room, took off his coat and threw himself upon a sofa with a big cigar between his teeth.

"If you let any one in to see me, Miles," he told the footman, "I'll kick you out of the house." So, though the bell rang often, he remained alone. But as he lay there with half-closed eyes living again through the tortures of the last few hours, he heard a voice that startled him. It was surely hers - already! He sprang up and opened the door. Ernestine and Captain Francis were in the hall.

He motioned them to follow him into the room. Ernestine was flushed and her eyes were very bright. She threw up her veil and faced him haughtily. "Where is he?" she asked. "I know everything. I insist upon seeing him at once."

"That," he said coolly, "will depend upon whether he is fit to see you!"

He rang the bell.

"Tell Miss Fullagher to step this way a moment," he ordered.

"He is in this house, then," she cried. He took no notice. In a moment a young woman dressed in the uniform of one of the principal hospitals entered.

"Miss Fullagher," he asked, "how is the patient?"

"We've had a lot of trouble with him, sir," she said significantly. "He was terrible all last night, and he's very weak this morning. Is this the young lady, sir?"

"This is the young lady who I told you would want to see him when you thought it advisable."

The nurse looked doubtful. "Sir Henry is upstairs, sir," she said. "I had better ask his advice."

Trent nodded and she withdrew. The three were left alone, Ernestine and Francis remained apart as though by design. Trent was silent.

She returned in a moment or two.

"Sir Henry has not quite finished his examination, sir," she announced. "The young lady can come up in half an hour."

Again they were left alone. Then Trent crossed the room and stood between them and the door.

"Before you see your father, Miss Wendermott," he said, "I have an explanation to make to you!"