A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Trent, on leaving the hotel, turned for almost the first time in his life westwards. For years the narrow alleys, the thronged streets, the great buildings of the City had known him day by day, almost hour by hour. Its roar and clamour, the strife of tongues and keen measuring of wits had been the salt of his life. Steadily, sturdily, almost insolently, he had thrust his way through to the front ranks. In many respects those were singular and unusual elements which had gone to the making of his success. His had not been the victory of honied falsehoods, of suave deceit, of gentle but legalised robbery. He had been a hard worker, a daring speculator with nerves of iron, and courage which would have glorified a nobler cause. Nor had his been the methods of good fellowship, the sharing of "good turns," the camaraderie of finance. The men with whom he had had large dealings he had treated as enemies rather than friends, ever watching them covertly with close but unslackening vigilance. And now, for the present at any rate it was all over. There had come a pause in his life. His back was to the City and his face was set towards an unknown world. Half unconsciously he had undertaken a little voyage of exploration.
From the Strand he crossed Trafalgar Square into Pall Mall, and up the Haymarket into Piccadilly. He was very soon aware that he had wandered into a world whose ways were not his ways and with whom he had no kinship. Yet he set himself sedulously to observe them, conscious that what he saw represented a very large side of life. From the first he was aware of a certain difference in himself and his ways. The careless glance of a lounger on the pavement of Pall Mall filled him with a sudden anger. The man was wearing gloves, an article of dress which Trent ignored, and smoking a cigarette, which he loathed. Trent was carelessly dressed in a tweed suit and red tie, his critic wore a silk hat and frock coat, patent-leather boots, and a dark tie of invisible pattern. Yet Trent knew that he was a type of that class which would look upon him as an outsider, and a black sheep, until he had bought his standing. They would expect him to conform to their type, to learn to speak their jargon, to think with their puny brains and to see with their short-sighted eyes. At the "Criterion" he turned in and had a drink, and, bolder for the wine which he had swallowed at a gulp, he told himself that he would do nothing of the sort. He would not alter a jot. They must take him as he was, or leave him. He suffered his thoughts to dwell for a moment upon his wealth, on the years which had gone to the winning of it, on a certain nameless day, the memory of which even now sent sometimes the blood running colder through his veins, on the weaker men who had gone under that he might prosper. Now that it was his, he wanted the best possible value for it; it was the natural desire of the man to be uppermost in the bargain. The delights of the world behind, it seemed to him that he had already drained. The crushing of his rivals, the homage of his less successful competitors, the grosser pleasures of wine, the music-halls, and the unlimited spending of money amongst people whom he despised had long since palled upon him. He had a keen, strong desire to escape once and for ever from his surroundings. He lounged along, smoking a large cigar, keen-eyed and observant, laying up for himself a store of impressions, unconsciously irritated at every step by a sense of ostracism, of being in some indefinable manner without kinship and wholly apart from this world, in which it seemed natural now that he should find some place. He gazed at the great houses without respect or envy, at the men with a fierce contempt, at the women with a sore feeling that if by chance he should be brought into contact with any of them they would regard him as a sort of wild animal, to be hurnoured or avoided purely as a matter of self-interest. The very brightness and brilliancy of their toilettes, the rustling of their dresses, the trim elegance and daintiness which he was able to appreciate without being able to understand, only served to deepen his consciousness of the gulf which lay between him and them. They were of a world to which, even if he were permitted to enter it, he could not possibly belong. He returned such glances as fell upon him with fierce insolence; he was indeed somewhat of a strange figure in his ill-fitting and inappropriate clothes amongst a gathering of smart people. A lady looking at him through raised lorgnettes turned and whispered something with a smile to her companion - once before he had heard an audible titter from a little group of loiterers. He returned the glance with a lightning-like look of diabolical fierceness, and, turning round, stood upon the curbstone and called a hansom.
A sense of depression swept over him as he was driven through the crowded streets towards Waterloo. The half-scornful, half-earnest prophecy, to which he had listened years ago in a squalid African hut, flashed into his mind. For the first time he began to have dim apprehensions as to his future. All his life he had been a toiler, and joy had been with him in the fierce combat which he had waged day by day. He had fought his battle and he had won - where were the fruits of his victory? A puny, miserable little creature like Dickenson could prate of happiness and turn a shining face to the future - Dickenson who lived upon a pittance, who depended upon the whim of his employer, and who confessed to ambitions which were surely pitiable. Trent lit a fresh cigar and smiled; things would surely come right with him - they must. What Dickenson could gain was surely his by right a thousand times over.
He took the train for Walton, travelling first class, and treated with much deference by the officials on the line. As he alighted and passed through the booking-hall into the station-yard a voice hailed him. He looked up sharply. A carriage and pair of horses was waiting, and inside a young woman with a very smart hat and a profusion of yellow hair.
"Come on, General," she cried. "I've done a skip and driven down to meet you. Such jokes when they miss me. The old lady will be as sick as they make 'em. Can't we have a drive round for an hour, eh?"
Her voice was high-pitched and penetrating. Listening to it Trent unconsciously compared it with the voices of the women of that other world into which he had wandered earlier in the afternoon. He turned a frowning face towards her.
"You might have spared yourself the trouble," he said shortly. "I didn't order a carriage to meet me and I don't want one. I am going to walk home."
She tossed her head.
"What a beastly temper you're in!" she remarked. "I'm not particular about driving. Do you want to walk alone?"
"Exactly!" he answered. "I do!"
She leaned back in the carriage with heightened colour.
"Well, there's one thing about me," she said acidly. "I never go where I ain't wanted."
Trent shrugged his shoulders and turned to the coachman.
"Drive home, Gregg," he said. "I'm walking."
The man touched his hat, the carriage drove off, and Trent, with a grim smile upon his lips, walked along the dusty road. Soon he paused before a little white gate marked private, and, unlocking it with a key which he took from his pocket, passed through a little plantation into a large park-like field. He took off his hat and fanned himself thoughtfully as he walked. The one taste which his long and absorbing struggle with the giants of Capel Court had never weakened was his love for the country. He lifted his head to taste the breeze which came sweeping across from the Surrey Downs, keenly relishing the fragrance of the new-mown hay and the faint odour of pines from the distant dark-crested hill. As he came up the field towards the house he looked with pleasure upon the great bed of gorgeous-coloured rhododendrons which bordered his lawn, the dark cedars which drooped over the smooth shaven grass, and the faint flush of colour from the rose-gardens beyond. The house itself was small, but picturesque. It was a grey stone building of two stories only, and from where he was seemed completely embowered in flowers and creepers. In a way, he thought, he would be sorry to leave it. It had been a pleasant summer-house for him, although of course it was no fit dwelling-house for a millionaire. He must look out for something at once now - a country house and estate. All these things would come as a matter of course.
He opened another gate and passed into an inner plantation of pines and shrubs which bordered the grounds. A winding path led through it, and, coming round a bend, he stopped short with a little exclamation. A girl was standing with her back to him rapidly sketching upon a little block which she had in her left hand.
"Hullo!" he remarked, "another guest! and who brought you down, young lady, eh?"
She turned slowly round and looked at him in cold surprise. Trent knew at once that he had made a mistake. She was plainly dressed in white linen and a cool muslin blouse, but there was something about her, unmistakable even to Trent, which placed her very far apart indeed from any woman likely to have become his unbidden guest. He knew at once that she was one of that class with whom he had never had any association. She was the first lady whom he had ever addressed, and he could have bitten out his tongues when he remembered the form of his doing so.
"I beg your pardon, miss," he said confusedly, "my mistake! You see, your back was turned to me."
She nodded and smiled graciously.
"If you are Mr. Scarlett Trent," she said, "it is I who should apologise, for I am a flagrant trespasser. You must let me explain."