A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
"Mr. Scarlett Trent, the Gold King, left for Africa on Thursday last on the Dunottar Castle, to pay a brief visit to his wonderful possessions there before the great Bekwando Mining and Exploration Company is offered to the public. Mr. Trent is already a millionaire, and should he succeed in floating the Company on the basis of the Prospectus, he will be a multi-millionaire, and certainly one of the richest of Englishmen. During his absence workmen are to be kept going night and day at his wonderful palace in Park Lane, which he hopes to find ready for occupation on his return. Mr. Trent's long list of financial successes are too well known to be given here, but who will grudge wealth to a man who is capable of spending it in such a lordly fashion? We wish Mr. Trent a safe voyage and a speedy return."
The paper slipped from his fingers and he looked thoughtfully out seaward. It was only one paragraph of many, and the tone of all was the same. Ernestine' s words had come true - he was already a man of note. A few months had changed his life in the most amazing way - when he looked back upon it now it was with a sense of unreality - surely all these things which had happened were part of a chimerical dream. It was barely possible for him to believe that it was he, Scarlett Trent, who had developed day by day into what he was at that moment. For the man was changed in a hundred ways. His grey flannel clothes was cut by the Saville Row tailor of the moment, his hands and hair, his manner of speech and carriage were all altered. He recalled the men he had met, the clubs he had joined, his stud of horses at Newmarket, the country-houses at which he had visited. His most clear impression of the whole thing was how easy everything had been made for him. His oddness of speech, his gaucheries, his ignorances and nervousness had all been so lightly treated that they had been brushed away almost insensibly. He had been able to do so little that was wrong - his mistakes were ignored or admired as originality, and yet in some delicate way the right thing had been made clear to him. Ernestine had stood by his side, always laughing at this swift fulfilment of her prophecy, always encouraging him, always enigmatic. Yet at the thought of her a vague sense of trouble crept into his heart. He took a worn photograph from his pocket and looked at it long and searchingly, and when he put it away he sighed. It made no difference of course, but he would rather have found her like that, the child with sweet, trustful eyes and a laughing mouth. Was there no life at all, then, outside this little vortex into which at her bidding he had plunged? Would she never have been content with anything else? He looked across the placid, blue sea to where the sun gleamed like silver on a white sail, and sighed again. He must make himself what she would have him. There was no life for him without her.
The captain came up for his morning chat and some of the passengers, who eyed him with obvious respect, lingered for a moment about his chair on their promenade. Trent lit a cigar and presently began to stroll up and down himself. The salt sea-air was a wonderful tonic to him after the nervous life of the last few months. He found his spirits rapidly rising. This voyage had been undertaken in obedience to a sudden but overpowering impulse. It had come to him one night that he must know for himself how much truth there was in Da Souza's story. He could not live with the thought that a thunderbolt was ever in the skies, that at any moment his life might lie wrecked about him. He was going out by one steamer and back by the next, the impending issue of his great Company afforded all the excuse that was necessary. If Da Souza's story was true - well, there were many things which might be done, short of a complete disclosure. Monty might be satisfied, if plenty of money were forthcoming, to abandon his partnership and release the situation from its otherwise endless complications. Trent smoked his cigar placidly and, taking off his cap bared his head to the sweeping sea-wind, which seemed laden with life and buoyancy. Suddenly as he swung round by the companion-way he found himself confronted by a newcomer who came staggering out from the gangway. There was a moment's recoil and a sharp exclamation. Trent stood quite still and a heavy frown darkened his face.
"Da Souza!" he exclaimed. "How on earth came you on board?"
Da Souza's face was yellower than ever and he wore an ulster buttoned up to his chin. Yet there was a flash of malice in his eyes as he answered -
"I came by late tender at Southampton," he said.
"It cost me a special from London and the agents told me I couldn't do it, but here I am, you see!"
"And a poor-looking object you are," Trent said contemptuously. "If you've life enough in you to talk, be so good as to tell me what the devil you mean by following me like this!"
"I came," Da Souza answered, "in both our interests - chiefly in my own!"
"I can believe that," Trent answered shortly, "now speak up. Tell me what you want."
Da Souza groaned and sank down upon a vacant deck-chair.
"I will sit down," he said, "I am not well! The sea disagrees with me horribly. Well, well, you want to know why I came here! I can answer that question by another. What are you doing here? Why are you going to Africa?"
"I am going," Trent said, "to see how much truth there was in that story you told me. I am going to see old Monty if he is alive."
Da Souza groaned.
"It is cruel madness," he said, "and you are such an obstinate man! Oh dear! oh dear!"
"I prefer," Trent said, "a crisis now, to ruin in the future. Besides, I have the remnants of a conscience."
"You will ruin yourself, and you will ruin me," Da Souza moaned. "How am I to have a quarter share if Monty is to come in for half, and how are you to repay him all that you would owe on a partnership account? You couldn't do it, Trent. I've heard of your four-in-hand, and your yacht, and your racers, and that beautiful house in Park Lane. I tell you that to part with half your fortune would ruin you, and the Bekwando Company could never be floated."
"I don't anticipate parting with half," Trent said coolly. "Monty hasn't long to live - and he ought not to be hard to make terms with."
Da Souza beat his hands upon the handles of his deck-chair.
"But why go near him at all? He thinks that you are dead. He has no idea that you are in England. Why should he know? Why do you risk ruin like this?"
"There are three reasons," Trent answered. "First, he may find his way to England and upset the applecart; secondly, I've only the shreds of a conscience, but I can't leave a man whom I'm robbing of a fortune in a state of semi-slavery, as I daresay he is, and the third reason is perhaps the strongest of all; but I'm not going to tell it you."
Da Souza blinked his little eyes and looked up with a cunning smile.
"Your first reason," he said, "is a poor sort of one. Do you suppose I don't have him looked after a bit? - no chance of his getting hack to England, I can tell you. As for the second, he's only half-witted, and if he was better off he wouldn't know it."
"Even if I gave way to you in this," Trent answered, "the third reason is strong enough."
Da Souza's face was gloomy. "I know it's no use trying to move you," he said, "but you're on a silly, dangerous, wild goose-chase."
"And what about yourself?" Trent asked. "I imagine you have some other purpose in taking this voyage than just to argue with me."
"I am going to see," Da Souza said, "that you do as little mischief as possible."
Trent walked the length of the deck and back. "Da Souza," he said, stopping in front of him, "you're a fool to take this voyage. You know me well enough to be perfectly assured that nothing you could say would ever influence me. There's more behind it. You've a game of your own to play over there. Now listen ! If I catch you interfering with me in any way, we shall meet on more equal terms than when you laughed at my revolver at Walton Lodge! I never was over-scrupulous in those old days, Da Souza, you know that, and I have a fancy that when I find myself on African soil again I may find something of the old man in me yet. So look out, my friend, I've no mind to he trifled with, and, mark me - if harm comes to that old man, it will be your life for his, as I'm a living man. You were afraid of me once, Da Souza. I haven't changed so much as you may think, and the Gold Coast isn't exactly the centre of civilisation. There ! I've said my say. The less I see of you now till we land, the better I shall be pleased."
He walked away and was challenged by the Doctor to a game of shuffleboard. Da Souza remained in his chair, his eyes blinking as though with the sun, and his hands gripping nervously the sides of his chair.