A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Scarlett Trent spent the first part of the morning, to which he had been looking forward so eagerly, alone in his study with locked door to keep out all intruders. He had come face to face with the first serious check in his career, and it had been dealt him too by the one man whom, of all his associates, he disliked and despised. In the half-open drawer by his side was the barrel of a loaded revolver. He drew it out, laid it on the table before him, and regarded it with moody, fascinated eyes. If only it could be safely done, if only for one moment he could find himself face to face with Da Souza in Bekwando village, where human life was cheap and the slaying of a man an incident scarcely worth noting in the day's events! The thing was easy enough there - here it was too risky. He thrust the weapon back into the drawer with a sigh of regret, just as Da Souza himself appeared upon the scene.
"You sent for me, Trent," the latter remarked timidly. "I am quite ready to answer any more questions."
"Answer this one, then," was the gruff reply. "In Buckomari village before we left for England I was robbed of a letter. I don't think I need ask you who was the thief."
"Really, Trent - I - "
"Don't irritate me; I'm in an ill humour for anything of that sort. You stole it! I can see why now! Have you got it still?"
The Jew shrugged his shoulders.
"Hand it over."
Da Souza drew a large folding case from his pocket and after searching through it for several moments produced an envelope. The handwriting was shaky and irregular, and so faint that even in the strong, sweet light of the morning sunshine Trent had difficulty in reading it. He tore it open and drew out a half-sheet of coarse paper. It was a message from the man who for long he had counted dead.
"MY DEAR TRENT,-I have been drinking as usual! Some men see snakes, but I have seen death leering at me from the dark corners of this vile hut, and death is an evil thing to look at when one's life has been evil as mine has been. Never mind! I have sown and I must reap! But, my friend, a last word with you. I have a notion, and more than a notion, that I shall never pass back alive through these pestilential swamps. If you should arrive, as you doubtless will, here is a charge which I lay upon you. That agreement of ours is scarcely a fair one, is it, Trent? When I signed it, I wasn't quite myself. Never mind! I'll trust to you to do what's fair. If the thing turns out a great success, put some sort of a share at any rate to my credit and let my daughter have it. You will find her address from Messrs. Harris and Culsom, Solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields. You need only ask them for Monty's daughter and show them this letter. They will understand. I believe you to be a just man, Scarlett Trent, although I know you to be a hard one. Do then as I ask.
Da Souza had left the room quietly. Trent read the letter through twice and locked it up in his desk. Then he rose and lit a pipe, knocking out the ashes carefully and filling the bowl with dark but fragrant tobacco. Presently he rang the bell.
"Tell Mr. Da Souza I wish to see him here at once," he told the servant, and, though the message was a trifle peremptory from a host to his guest, Da Souza promptly appeared, suave and cheerful.
"Shut the door," Trent said shortly.
Da Souza obeyed with unabashed amiability. Trent watched him with something like disgust. Da Souza returning caught the look, and felt compelled to protest.
"My dear Trent," he said, "I do not like the way you address me, or your manners towards me. You speak as though I were a servant. I do not like it all, and it is not fair. I am your guest, am I not?"
"You are my guest by your own invitation," Trent answered roughly, "and if you don't like my manners you can turn out. I may have to endure you in the house till I have made up my mind how to get rid of you, but I want as little of your company as possible. Do you hear?"
Da Souza did hear it, and the worm turned. He sat down in the most comfortable easy-chair, and addressed Trent directly.
"My friend," he said, "you are out of temper, and that is a bad thing. Now listen to me! You are in my power. I have only to go into the City to-morrow and breathe here and there a word about a certain old gentleman who shall be nameless, and you would be a ruined man in something less than an hour; added to this, my friend, you would most certainly be arrested for conspiracy and fraud. That Syndicate of yours was a very smart stroke of business, no doubt, and it was clever of you to keep me in ignorance of it, but as things have turned out now, that will be your condemnation. They will say, why did you keep me in ignorance of this move, and the answer - why, it is very clear! I knew you were selling what was not yours to sell!"
"I kept you away," Trent said scornfully, "because I was dealing with men who would not have touched the thing if they had known that you were in it!"
"Who will believe it?" Da Souza asked, with a sneer. "They will say that it is but one more of the fairy tales of this wonderful Mr. Scarlett Trent."
The breath came through Trent's lips with a little hiss and his eyes were flashing with a dull fire. But Da Souza held his ground. He had nerved himself up to this and he meant going through with it.
"You think I dare not breathe a word for my own sake," he continued. "There is reason in that, but I have other monies. I am rich enough without my sixth share of that Bekwando Land and Mining Company which you and the Syndicate are going to bring out! But then, I am not a fool! I have no wish to throw away money. Now I propose to you therefore a friendly settlement. My daughter Julie is very charming. You admire her, I am sure. You shall marry her, and then we will all be one family. Our interests will be the same, and you may be sure that I shall look after them. Come! Is that not a friendly offer?"
For several minutes Trent smoked furiously, but he did not speak. At the end of that time he took the revolver once more from the drawer of his writing-table and fingered it.
"Da Souza," he said, "if I had you just for five minutes at Bekwando we would talk together of black-mail, you and I, we would talk of marrying your daughter. We would talk then to some purpose - you hound! Get out of the room as fast as your legs will carry you. This revolver is loaded, and I'm not quite master of myself."
Da Souza made off with amazing celerity. Trent drew a short, quick breath. There was a great deal of the wild beast left in him still. At that moment the desire to kill was hot in his blood. His eyes glared as he walked up and down the room. The years of civilisation seemed to have become as nothing. The veneer of the City speculator had fallen away. He was once more as he had been in those wilder days when men made their own laws, and a man's hold upon life was a slighter thing than his thirst for gold. As such, he found the atmosphere of the little room choking him, he drew open the French windows of his little study and strode out into the perfumed and sunlit morning. As such, he found himself face to face unexpectedly and without warning with the girl whom he had discovered sketching in the shrubbery the day before.