A Millionaire of Yesterday by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The girl had moved a step towards him as she spoke, and a gleam of sunlight which had found its way into the grove flashed for a moment on the. stray little curls of her brown-gold hair and across her face. Her lips were parted in a delightful smile; she was very pretty, and inclined to be apologetic. But Scarlett Trent had seen nothing save that first glance when the sun had touched her face with fire. A strong man at all times, and more than commonly self-masterful, he felt himself now as helpless as a child. A sudden pallor had whitened his face to the lips, there were strange singings in his ears, and a mist before his eyes. It was she! There was no possibility of any mistake. It was the girl for whose picture he had gambled in the hut at Bekwando - Monty's baby-girl, of whom he had babbled even in death. He leaned against a tree, stricken dumb, and she was frightened. "You are ill," she cried. "I'm so sorry. Let me run to the house and fetch some one!"
He had strength enough to stop her. A few deep breaths and he was himself again, shaken and with a heart beating like a steam-engine, but able at least to talk intelligently.
"I'm sorry - didn't mean to frighten you," he said. "It's the heat. I get an attack like this sometimes. Yes, I'm Mr. Trent. I don't know what you're doing here, but you're welcome."
"How nice of you to say so!" she answered brightly. "But then perhaps you'll change your mind when you know what I have been doing."
He laughed shortly.
"Nothing terrible, I should say. "Looks as though you've been making a picture of my house; I don't mind that."
She dived in her pocket and produced a card-case.
"I'll make full confession," she said frankly. "I'm a journalist."
"A what!" he repeated feebly.
"A journalist. I'm on the Hour. This isn't my work as a rule; but the man who should have come is ill, and his junior can't sketch, so they sent me! Don't look as though I were a ghost, please. Haven't you ever heard of a girl journalist before?"
"Never," he answered emphatically. "I didn't know that ladies did such things!"
She laughed gaily but softly; and Trent understood then what was meant by the music of a woman's voice.
"Oh, it's not at all an uncommon thing," she answered him. "You won't mind my interviewing you, will you?"
"Doing what?" he asked blankly.
"Interviewing you! That's what I've come for, you know; and we want a little sketch of your house for the paper. I know you don't like it. I hear you've been awfully rude to poor little Morrison of the Post; but I'll be very careful what I say, and very quick."
He stood looking at her, a dazed and bewildered man. From the trim little hat, with its white band and jaunty bunch of cornflowers, to the well-shaped patent shoes, she was neatly and daintily dressed. A journalist! He gazed once more into her face, at the brown eyes watching him now a little anxiously, the mouth with the humorous twitch at the corner of her lips. The little wisps of hair flashed again in the sunlight. It was she! He had found her.
She took his silence for hesitation, and continued a little anxiously.
"I really won't ask you many questions, and it would do me quite a lot of good to get an interview with you. Of course I oughtn't to have begun this sketch without permission. If you mind that, I'll give it up."
He found his tongue awkwardly, but vigorously.
"You can sketch just as long as ever you please, and make what use of it you like," he said. "It's only a bit of a place though!"
"How nice of you! And the interview?"
"I'll tell you whatever you want to know," he said quietly.
She could scarcely believe in her good fortune, especially when she remembered the description of the man which one of the staff had given. He was gruff, vulgar, ill-tempered; the chief ought to be kicked for letting her go near him! This was what she had been told. She laughed softly to herself.
"It is very good indeed of you, Mr. Trent," she said earnestly. "I was quite nervous about coming, for I had no idea that you would be so kind. Shall I finish my sketch first, and then perhaps you will be able to spare me a few minutes for the interview?"
"Just as you like," he answered. "May I look at it?"
"Certainly," she answered, holding out the block; "but it isn't half finished yet."
"Will it take long?"
"About an hour, I think."
"You are very clever," he said, with a little sigh.
She laughed outright.
"People are calling you the cleverest man in London to-day," she said.
"Pshaw! It isn't the cleverness that counts for anything that makes money."
Then he set his teeth hard together and swore vigorously but silently. She had become suddenly interested in her work. A shrill burst of laughter from the lawn in front had rung sharply out, startling them both. A young woman with fluffy hair and in a pale blue dinner-dress was dancing to an unseen audience. Trent's eyes flashed with anger, and his cheeks burned. The dance was a music-hall one, and the gestures were not refined. Before he could stop himself an oath had broken from his lips. After that he dared not even glance at the girl by his side.
"I'm very sorry," he muttered. "I'll stop that right away."
"You mustn't disturb your friends on my account," she said quietly. She did not look up, but Trent felt keenly the alteration in her manner.
"They're not my friends," he exclaimed passionately "I'll clear them out neck and crop."
She looked up for a moment, surprised at his sudden vehemence. There was no doubt about his being in earnest. She continued her work without looking at him, but her tone when she spoke was more friendly.
"This will take me a little longer than I thought to finish properly," she said. "I wonder might I come down early to-morrow morning? What time do you leave for the City?"
"Not until afternoon, at any rate," he said. "Come to-morrow, certainly - whenever you like. You needn't be afraid of that rabble. I'll see you don't have to go near them."
"You must please not make any difference or alter your arrangements on my account," she said. "I am quite used to meeting all sorts of people in my profession, and I don't object to it in the least. Won't you go now? I think that that was your dinner-bell."
He hesitated, obviously embarrassed but determined. "There is one question," he said, "which I should very much like to ask you. It will sound impertinent. I don't mean it so. I can't explain exactly why I want to know, but I have a reason."
"Ask it by all means," she said. "I'll promise that I'll answer it if I can."
"You say that you are - a journalist. Have you taken it up for a pastime, or - to earn money?"
"To earn money by all means," she answered, laughing. "I like the work, but I shouldn't care for it half so much if I didn't make my living at it. Did you think that I was an amateur?"
"I didn't know," he answered slowly. "Thank you. You will come to-morrow?"
"Of course! Good evening."
Trent lifted his hat, and turned away unwillingly towards the house, full of a sense that something wonderful had happened to him. He was absent-minded, but he stopped to pat a little dog whose attentions he usually ignored, and he picked a creamy-white rose as he crossed the lawn and wondered why it should remind him of her.