A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Trent was awakened next morning by the sound of carriage wheels in the drive below. He rang his bell at once. After a few moments' delay it was answered by one of his two men-servants.
"Whose carriage is that in the drive?" he asked. "It is a fly for Mr. Da Souza, sir."
"What! has he gone?" Trent exclaimed.
"Yes, sir, he and Mrs. Da Souza and the young lady."
"And Miss Montressor and her friend?"
"They shared the fly, sir. The luggage all went down in one of the carts."
Trent laughed outright, half scornfully, half in amusement.
"Listen, Mason," he said, as the sound of wheels died away. "If any of those people come back again they are not to be admitted - do you hear? if they bring their luggage you are not to take it in. If they come themselves you are not to allow them to enter the house. You understand that?"
"Very good! Now prepare my bath at once, and tell the cook, breakfast in half an hour. Let her know that I am hungry. Breakfast for one, mind! Those fools who have just left will get a morning paper at the station and they may come back. Be on the look-out for them and let the other servants know. Better have the lodge gate locked."
"Very good, sir."
The man who had been lamenting the loss of an easy situation and possibly even a month's wages, hastened to spread more reassuring news in the lower regions. It was a practical joke of the governor's - very likely a ruse to get rid of guests who had certainly been behaving as though the Lodge was their permanent home. There was a chorus of thanksgiving. Groves, the butler, who read the money articles in the Standard every morning with solemn interest and who was suspected of investments, announced that from what he could make out the governor must have landed a tidy little lump yesterday. Whereupon the cook set to work to prepare a breakfast worthy of the occasion.
Trent had awakened with a keen sense of anticipated pleasure. A new and delightful interest had entered into his life. It is true that, at times, it needed all his strength of mind to keep his thoughts from wandering back into that unprofitable and most distasteful past - in the middle of the night even, he had woke up suddenly with an old man's cry in his ears - or was it the whispering of the night-wind in the tall elms? But he was not of an imaginative nature. He felt himself strong enough to set his heel wholly upon all those memories. If he had not erred on the side of generosity, he had at least played the game fairly. Monty, if he had lived, could only have been a disappointment and a humiliation. The picture was hers - of that he had no doubt! Even then he was not sure that Monty was her father. In any case she would never know. He recognised no obligation on his part to broach the subject. The man had done his best to cut himself altogether adrift from his former life. His reasons doubtless had been sufficient. It was not necessary to pry into them - it might even be unkindness. The picture, which no man save himself had ever seen, was the only possible link between the past and the present - between Scarlett Trent and his drunken old partner, starved and fever-stricken, making their desperate effort for wealth in unknown Africa, and the millionaire of to-day. The picture remained his dearest possession - but, save his own, no other eyes had ever beheld it.
He dressed with more care than usual, and much less satisfaction. He was a man who rather prided himself upon neglecting his appearance, and, so far as the cut and pattern of his clothes went, he usually suggested the artisan out for a holiday. To-day for the first time he regarded his toilet with critical and disparaging eyes. He found the pattern of his tweed suit too large, and the colour too pronounced, his collars were old-fashioned and his ties hideous. It was altogether a new experience with him, this self-dissatisfaction and sensitiveness to criticism, which at any other time he would have regarded with a sort of insolent indifference. He remembered his walk westward yesterday with a shudder, as though indeed it had been a sort of nightmare, and wondered whether she too had regarded him with the eyes of those loungers on the pavement - whether she too was one of those who looked for a man to conform to the one arbitrary and universal type. Finally he tied his necktie with a curse, and went down to breakfast with little of his good-humour left.
The fresh air sweeping in through the long, open windows, the glancing sunlight and the sense of freedom, for which the absence of his guests was certainly responsible, soon restored his spirits. Blest with an excellent morning appetite - the delightful heritage of a clean life - he enjoyed his breakfast and thoroughly appreciated his cook's efforts. If he needed a sauce, Fate bestowed one upon him, for he was scarcely midway through his meal before a loud ringing at the lodge gates proved the accuracy of his conjectures. Mr. Da Souza had purchased a morning paper at the junction, and their host's perfidy had become apparent. Obviously they had decided to treat the whole matter as a practical joke and to brave it out, for outside the gates in an open fly were the whole party. They had returned, only to find that according to Trent's orders the gates were closed upon them.
Trent moved his seat to where he could have a better view, and continued his breakfast. The party in the cab looked hot, and tumbled, and cross. Da Souza was on his feet arguing with the lodge-keeper - the women seemed to be listening anxiously. Trent turned to the servant who was waiting upon him.
"Send word down," he directed, "that I will see Mr. Da Souza alone. No one else is to be allowed to enter. Pass me the toast before you go."
Da Souza entered presently, apologetic and abject, prepared at the same time to extenuate and deny. Trent continued his breakfast coolly.
"My dear friend!" Da Souza exclaimed, depositing his silk hat upon the table, "it is a very excellent joke of yours. You see, we have entered into the spirit of it - oh yes, we have done so indeed! We have taken a little drive before breakfast, but we have returned. You knew, of course, that we would not dream of leaving you in such a manner. Do you not think, my dear friend, that the joke was carried now far enough? The ladies are hungry; will you send word to the lodge-keeper that he may open the gate?"
Trent helped himself to coffee, and leaned back in his chair, stirring it thoughtfully.
"You are right, Da Souza," he said. "It is an excellent joke. The cream of it is too that I am in earnest; neither you nor any of those ladies whom I see out there will sit at my table again."
"You are not in earnest! You do not mean it!"
"I can assure you," Trent replied grinning, "that I do!"
"But do you mean," Da Souza spluttered, "that we are to go like this - to be turned out - the laughing-stock of your servants, after we have come back too, all the way? - oh, it is nonsense! It's not to be endured!"
"You can go to the devil!" Trent answered coolly. "There is not one of you whom I care a fig to see again. You thought that I was ruined, and you scudded like rats from a sinking ship. Well, I found you out, and a jolly good thing too. All I have to say is now, be off, and the quicker the better!"
Then Da Souza cringed no longer, and there shot from his black eyes the venomous twinkle of the serpent whose fangs are out. He leaned over the table, and dropped his voice.
"I speak," he said, "for my wife, my daughter, and myself, and I assure you that we decline to go!"