A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
"You are very smart, Ernestine," he said, looking her admiringly.
"One must be smart at Ascot," she answered, "or stay away."
"I've just heard some news," he continued.
"Who do you think is here?"
She glanced at him sideways under her lace parasol. "Every one I should think."
"Including," he said, "Mr. Scarlett Trent!" She grew a shade paler, and leaned for a moment against the rail of the paddock in which they were lounging.
"I thought," she said, "that the Mazetta Castle was not due till to-day."
"She touched at Plymouth in the night, and he had a special train up. He has some horses running, you know."
"I suppose," she remarked, "that he is more of a celebrity than ever now!"
"Much more," he answered. "If he chooses he will be the lion of the season! By the by, you had nothing of interest from Fred?"
She shook her head impatiently.
"Nothing but praises! According to Fred, he's a hero!"
"I hate him," Davenant said sulkily.
"And so," she answered softly, "do I! Do you see him coming, Cecil?"
"In good company too," the young man laughed bitterly.
A little group of men, before whom every one fell back respectfully, were strolling through the paddock towards the horses. Amongst them was Royalty, and amongst them also was Scarlett Trent. But when he saw the girl in the white foulard smile at him from the paling he forgot etiquette and everything else. He walked straight across to her with that keen, bright light in his eyes which Fred had described so well in his letter.
"I am very fortunate," he said, taking the delicately gloved hand into his fingers, "to find you so soon. I have only been in England a few hours."
She answered him slowly, subjecting him the while to a somewhat close examination. His face was more sunburnt than ever she had seen a man's, but there was a wonderful force and strength in his features, which seemed to have become refined instead of coarsened by the privations through which he had passed. His hand, as she had felt, was as hard as iron, and it was not without reluctance that she felt compelled to take note of his correct attire and easy bearing. After all he must be possessed of a wonderful measure of adaptability.
"You have become famous," she said. "Do you know that you are going to be made a lion?"
"I suppose the papers have been talking a lot of rot," he answered bluntly. "I've had a fairly rough time, and I'm glad to tell you this, Miss Wendermott - I don't believe I'd ever have succeeded but for your nephew Fred. He's the pluckiest boy I ever knew."
"I am very pleased to hear it," she answered. "He's a dear boy!"
"He's a brick," Trent answered. "We've been in some queer scrapes together - I've lots of messages for you! By the by, are you alone?"
"For the moment," she answered; "Mr. Davenant left me as you came up. I'm with my cousin, Lady Tresham. She's on the lawn somewhere."
He looked down the paddock and back to her.
"Walk with me a little way," he said, "and I will show you Iris before she starts."
"You!" she exclaimed.
He pointed to the card. It was surely an accident that she had not noticed it before. Mr. Trent's Iris was amongst the entries for the Gold Cup.
"Why, Iris is the favourite!"
"So they tell me! I've been rather lucky haven't I, for a beginner? I found a good trainer, and I had second call on Cannon, who's riding him. If you care to back him for a trifle, I think you'll be all right, although the odds are nothing to speak of."
She was walking by his side now towards the quieter end of the paddock.
"I hear you have been to Torquay," he said, looking at her critically, "it seems to have agreed with you. You are looking well!"
She returned his glance with slightly uplifted eyebrows, intending to convey by that and her silence a rebuke to his boldness. He was blandly unconscious, however, of her intent, being occupied just then in returning the greetings of passers-by. She bit her lip and looked straight ahead.
"After all," he said, "unless you are very keen on seeing Iris, I think we'd better give it up. There are too many people around her already."
"Just as you like," she answered, "only it seems a shame that you shouldn't look over your own horse before the race if you want to. Would you like to try alone?"
"Certainly not," he answered. "I shall see plenty of her later. Are you fond of horses?"
"Go to many race-meetings?"
"Whenever I get the chance! - I always come here."
"It is a great sight," he said thoughtfully, looking around him. "Are you here just for the pleasure of it, or are you going to write about it?"
"I'm going to write about some of the dresses," she said. "I'm afraid no one would read my racing notes."
"I hope you'll mention your own," he said coolly. "It's' quite the prettiest here."
She scarcely knew whether to be amused or offended.
"You are a very downright person, Mr. Trent," she said.
"You don't expect me to have acquired manners yet, do you?" he answered drily.
"You have acquired a great many things," she said, "with surprising facility. Why not manners?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"No doubt they will come, but I shall want a lot of polishing. I wonder - "
"Whether any one will ever think it worth while to undertake the task."
She raised her eyes and looked him full in the face. She had made up her mind exactly what to express - and she failed altogether to do it. There was a fire and a strength in the clear, grey eyes fixed so earnestly upon hers which disconcerted her altogether. She was desperately angry with herself and desperately uneasy.
"You have the power," she said with slight coldness, "to buy most things. By the by, I was thinking only just now, how sad it was that your partner did not live. He shared the work with you, didn't he? It seems such hard lines that he could not have shared the reward!"
He showed no sign of emotion such as she had expected, and for which she had been narrowly watching him. Only he grew at once more serious, and he led her a little further still from the crush of people. It was the luncheon interval, and though the next race was the most important of the day, the stream of promenaders had thinned off a little.
"It is strange," he said, "that you should have spoken to me of my partner. I have been thinking about him a good deal lately."
"In what way?"
"Well, first of all, I am not sure that our agreement was altogether a fair one," he said. "He had a daughter and I am very anxious to find her! I feel that she is entitled to a certain number of shares in the Company, and I want her to accept them."
"Have you tried to find her?" she asked.
He looked steadily at her for a moment, but her parasol had dropped a little upon his side and he could not see her face.
"Yes, I have tried," he said slowly, "and I have suffered a great disappointment. She knows quite well that I am searching for her, and she prefers to remain undiscovered."
"That sounds strange," she remarked, with her eyes fixed upon the distant Surrey hills. "Do you know her reason?"
"I am afraid," he said deliberately, "that there can be only one. It's a miserable thing to believe of any woman, and I'd be glad - "
He hesitated. She kept her eyes turned away from him, but her manner denoted impatience.
"Over on this side," he continued, "it seems that Monty was a gentleman in his day, and his people were - well, of your order! There was an Earl I believe in the family, and no doubt they are highly respectable. He went wrong once, and of course they never gave him another chance. It isn't their way - that sort of people! I'll admit he was pretty low down when I came across him, but I reckon that was the fault of those who sent him adrift - and after all there was good in him even then. I am going to tell you something now, Miss Wendermott, which I've often wanted to - that is, if you're interested enough to care to hear it!"
All the time she was asking herself how much he knew. She motioned him to proceed.
"Monty had few things left in the world worth possessing, but there was one which he had never parted with, which he carried with him always. It was the picture of his little girl, as she had been when his trouble happened."
He stooped a little as though to see over the white rails, but she was too adroit. Her face remained hidden from him by that little cloud of white lace.
"It is an odd thing about that picture," he went on slowly, "but he showed it to me once or twice, and I too got very fond of it! It was just a little girl's face, very bright and very winsome, and over there we were lonely, and it got to mean a good deal to both of us. And one night Monty would gamble - it was one of his faults, poor chap - and he had nothing left but his picture, and I played him for it - and won!"
"Brute!" she murmured in an odd, choked tone.
"Sounds so, doesn't it? But I wanted that picture. Afterwards came our terrible journey back to the Coast, when I carried the poor old chap on my back day by day, and stood over him at night potting those black beasts when they crept up too close - for they were on our track all the time. I wouldn't tell you the whole story of those days, Miss Wendermott for it would keep you awake at night; but I've a fancy for telling you this. I'd like you to believe it, for it's gospel truth. I didn't leave him until I felt absolutely and actually certain that he couldn't live an hour. He was passing into unconsciousness, and a crowd of those natives were close upon our heels. So I left him and took the picture with me - and I think since then that it has meant almost as much to me as ever it had been to him."
"That," she remarked, "sounds a little far-fetched - not to say impossible."
"Some day," he answered boldly, "I shall speak to you of this again, and I shall try to convince you that it is truth!"
He could not see her face, but he knew very well in some occult manner that she had parted with some at least of her usual composure. As a matter of fact she was nervous and ill-at-ease.
"You have not yet told me," she said abruptly, "what you imagine can be this girl's reasons for remaining unknown."
"I can only guess them," he said gravely; "I can only suppose that she is ashamed of her father and declines to meet any one connected with him. It is very wrong and very narrow of her. If I could talk to her for ten minutes and tell her how the poor old chap used to dream about her and kiss her picture, I can't think but she'd be sorry."
"Try and think," she said, looking still away from him, "that she must have another reason. You say that you liked her picture! Try and be generous in your thoughts of her for its sake."
"I will try," he answered, "especially - "
"Especially - because the picture makes me think - sometimes - of you!"