Part 1 out of 5
A MILLIONAIRE OF YESTERDAY by E. Phillips Oppenheim
"Filth," grunted Trent - "ugh! I tell you what it is, my venerable
friend - I have seen some dirty cabins in the west of Ireland and
some vile holes in East London. I've been in some places which I
can't think of even now without feeling sick. I'm not a particular
chap, wasn't brought up to it - no, nor squeamish either, but this
is a bit thicker than anything I've ever knocked up against. If
Francis doesn't hurry we'll have to chuck it! We shall never stand
it out, Monty!"
The older man, gaunt, blear-eyed, ragged, turned over on his side.
His appearance was little short of repulsive. His voice when he
spoke was, curiously enough, the voice of a gentleman, thick and a
trifle rough though it sounded.
"My young friend," he said, "I agree with you - in effect - most
heartily. The place is filthy, the surroundings are repulsive, not
to add degrading. The society is - er - not congenial - I allude
of course to our hosts - and the attentions of these unwashed, and
I am afraid I must say unclothed, ladies of dusky complexion is to
say the least of it embarrassing."
"Dusky complexion!" Trent interrupted scornfully, "they're coal
Monty nodded his head with solemn emphasis. "I will go so far as
to admit that you are right," he acknowledged. "They are as black
as sin! But, my friend Trent, I want you to consider this: If the
nature of our surroundings is offensive to you, think what it must
be to me. I may, I presume, between ourselves, allude to you as
one of the people. Refinement and luxury have never come in your
way, far less have they become indispensable to you. You were, I
believe, educated at a Board School, I was at Eton. Afterwards you
were apprenticed to a harness-maker, I - but no matter! Let us
summarise the situation."
"If that means cutting it short, for Heaven's sake do so," Trent
grumbled. "You'll talk yourself into a fever if you don't mind.
Let's know what you're driving at."
"Talking," the elder man remarked with a slight shrug of his
shoulders, "will never have a prejudicial effect upon my health.
To men of your - pardon me - scanty education the expression of
ideas in speech is doubtless a labour. To me, on the other hand,
it is at once a pleasure and a relief. What I was about to
observe is this: I belong by birth to what are called, I believe,
the classes, you to the masses. I have inherited instincts which
have been refined and cultivated, perhaps over-cultivated by
breeding and associations - you are troubled with nothing of the
sort. Therefore if these surroundings, this discomfort, not to
mention the appalling overtures of our lady friends, are distressing
to you, why, consider how much more so they must be to me!"
Trent smiled very faintly, but he said nothing. He was sitting
cross-legged with his back against one of the poles which supported
the open hut, with his eyes fixed upon the cloud of mist hanging
over a distant swamp. A great yellow moon had stolen over the low
range of stony hills - the mist was curling away in little wreaths
of gold. Trent was watching it, but if you had asked him he would
have told you that he was wondering when the alligators came out
to feed, and how near the village they ventured. Looking at his
hard, square face and keen, black eyes no one would surely have
credited him with any less material thoughts.
"Furthermore," the man whom Trent had addressed as Monty continued,
"there arises the question of danger and physical suitability to
the situation. Contrast our two cases, my dear young friend. I am
twenty-five years older than you, I have a weak heart, a ridiculous
muscle, and the stamina of a rabbit. My fighting days are over. I
can shoot straight, but shooting would only serve us here until our
cartridges were gone - when the rush came a child could knock me
over. You, on the contrary, have the constitution of an ox, the
muscles of a bull, and the wind of an ostrich. You are, if you will
pardon my saying so, a magnificent specimen of the animal man. In
the event of trouble you would not hesitate to admit that your
chances of escape would be at least double mine. Trent lit a match
under pretence of lighting his pipe - in reality because only a few
feet away he had seen a pair of bright eyes gleaming at them through
a low shrub. A little native boy scuttled away - as black as night,
woolly-headed, and shiny; he had crept up unknown to look with
fearful eyes upon the wonderful white strangers. Trent threw a lump
of earth at him and laughed as he dodged it.
"Well, go ahead, Monty," he said. "Let's hear what you're driving
at. What a gab you've got to be sure!"
Monty waved his hand - a magnificent and silencing gesture.
"I have alluded to these matters," he continued, "merely in order
to show you that the greater share of danger and discomfort in
this expedition falls to my lot. Having reminded you of this,
Trent, I refer to the concluding sentence of your last speech. The
words indicated, as I understood them, some doubt of our ability to
see this thing through."
He paused, peering over to where Trent was sitting with grim,
immovable face, listening with little show of interest. He drew a
long, deep breath and moved over nearer to the doorway. His manner
was suddenly changed.
"Scarlett Trent," he cried, "Scarlett Trent, listen to me! You are
young and I am old! To you this may be one adventure amongst many
- it is my last. I've craved for such a chance as this ever since
I set foot in this cursed land. It's come late enough, too late
almost for me, but I'm going through with it while there's breath
in my body. Swear to me now that you will not back out! Do you
hear, Trent? Swear!"
Trent looked curiously at his companion, vastly interested in this
sudden outburst, in the firmness of his tone and the tightening of
the weak mouth. After all, then, the old chap had some grit in him.
To Trent, who had known him for years as a broken-down hanger-on of
the settlement at Buckomari, a drunkard, gambler, a creature to all
appearance hopelessly gone under, this look and this almost
passionate appeal were like a revelation. He stretched out his
great hand and patted his companion on the back - a proceeding which
obviously caused him much discomfort.
"Bravo, old cockie!" he said. "Didn't imagine you'd got the grit.
You know I'm not the chap to be let down easy. We'll go through
with it, then, and take all chances! It's my game right along.
Every copper I've got went to pay the bearers here and to buy the
kickshaws and rum for old What's-his-name, and I'm not anxious to
start again as a pauper. We'll stay here till we get our
concessions, or till they bury us, then! It's a go!"
Monty - no one at Buckomari had ever known of any other name for
him - stretched out a long hand, with delicate tapering fingers,
and let it rest for a moment gingerly in the thick, brown palm of
his companion. Then he glanced stealthily over his shoulder and
his eyes gleamed.
"I think, if you will allow me, Trent, I will just moisten my lips
- no more - with some of that excellent brandy."
Trent caught his arm and held it firmly.
"No, you don't," he said, shaking his head. "That's the last
bottle, and we've got the journey back. We'll keep that, in case
A struggle went on in the face of the man whose hot breath fell
upon Trent's cheek. It was the usual thing - the disappointment
of the baffled drunkard - a little more terrible in his case perhaps
because of the remnants of refinement still to be traced in his
well-shaped features. His weak eyes for once were eloquent, but
with the eloquence of cupidity and unwholesome craving, his lean
cheeks twitched and his hands shook.
"Just a drop, Trent!" he pleaded. "I'm not feeling well, indeed
I'm not! The odours here are so foul. A liqueur-glassful will do
me all the good in the world."
"You won't get it, Monty, so it's no use whining," Trent said
bluntly. "I've given way to you too much already. Buck up, man!
We're on the threshold of fortune and we need all our wits about us."
"Of fortune - fortune!" Monty's head dropped upon his chest, his
nostrils dilated, he seemed to fall into a state of stupor. Trent
watched him half curiously, half contemptuously.
"You're terribly keen on money-making for an old 'un," he remarked,
after a somewhat lengthy pause. "What do you want to do with it?"
"To do with it!" The old man raised his head. "To do with it!"
The gleam of reawakened desire lit up his face. He sat for a
moment thinking. Then he laughed softly.
"I will tell you, Master Scarlett Trent," he said, "I will tell you
why I crave for wealth. You are a young and an ignorant man.
Amongst other things you do not know what money will buy. You have
your coarse pleasures I do not doubt, which seem sweet to you!
Beyond them - what? A tasteless and barbaric display, a vulgar
generosity, an ignorant and purposeless prodigality. Bah! How
different it is with those who know! There are many things, my
young friend, which I learned in my younger days, and amongst them
was the knowledge of how to spend money. How to spend it, you
understand! It is an art, believe me! I mastered it, and, until
the end came, it was magnificent. In London and Paris to-day to
have wealth and to know how to spend it is to be the equal of
princes! The salons of the beautiful fly open before you, great
men will clamour for your friendship, all the sweetest triumphs
which love and sport can offer are yours. You stalk amongst a
world of pygmies a veritable giant, the adored of women, the envied
of men! You may be old - it matters not; ugly - you will be fooled
into reckoning yourself an Adonis. Nobility is great, art is great,
genius is great, but the key to the pleasure storehouse of the world
is a key of gold - of gold!"
He broke off with a little gasp. He held his throat and looked
imploringly towards the bottle. Trent shook his head stonily.
There was something pitiful in the man's talk, in that odd mixture
of bitter cynicism and passionate earnestness, but there was also
something fascinating. As regards the brandy, however, Trent was
"Not a drop," he declared. "What a fool you are to want it, Monty!
You're a wreck already. You want to pull through, don't you? Leave
the filthy stuff alone. You'll not live a month to enjoy your coin
if we get it!"
"Live!" Monty straightened himself out. A tremor went through all
"Live!" he repeated, with fierce contempt; "you are making the
common mistake of the whole ignorant herd. You are measuring life
by its length, when its depth alone is of any import. I want no
more than a year or two at the most, and I promise you, Mr. Scarlett
Trent, my most estimable young companion, that, during that year, I
will live more than you in your whole lifetime. I will drink deep
of pleasures which you know nothing of, I will be steeped in joys
which you will never reach more nearly than the man who watches a
change in the skies or a sunset across the ocean! To you, with
boundless wealth, there will be depths of happiness which you will
never probe, joys which, if you have the wit to see them at all,
will be no more than a mirage to you."
Trent laughed outright, easily and with real mirth. Yet in his
heart were sown already the seeds of a secret dread. There was a
ring of passionate truth in Monty's words. He believed what he was
saying. Perhaps he was right. The man's inborn hatred of a second
or inferior place in anything stung him. Were there to be any
niches after all in the temple of happiness to which he could never
climb? He looked back rapidly, looked down the avenue of a squalid
and unlovely life, saw himself the child of drink-sodden and brutal
parents, remembered the Board School with its unlovely surroundings,
his struggles at a dreary trade, his running away and the fierce
draughts of delight which the joy and freedom of the sea had brought
to him on the morning when he had crept on deck, a stowaway, to be
lashed with every rope-end and to do the dirty work of every one.
Then the slavery at a Belgian settlement, the job on a steamer
trading along the Congo, the life at Buckomari, and lastly this bold
enterprise in which the savings of years were invested. It was a
life which called aloud for fortune some day or other to make a
little atonement. The old man was dreaming. Wealth would bring
him, uneducated though he was, happiness enough and to spare.
A footstep fell softly upon the turf outside. Trent sprang at once
into an attitude of rigid attention. His revolver, which for four
days had been at full cock by his side, stole out and covered the
approaching shadow stealing gradually nearer and nearer. The old
man saw nothing, for he slept, worn out with excitement and
A fat, unwholesome - looking creature, half native, half Belgian,
waddled across the open space towards the hut in which the two
strangers had been housed. He was followed at a little distance by
two sturdy natives bearing a steaming pot which they carried on a
pole between them. Trent set down his revolver and rose to his feet.
"What news, Oom Sam?" he asked. "Has the English officer been heard
of? He must be close up now."
"No news," the little man grunted. "The King, he send some of his
own supper to the white men. 'They got what they want,' he say.
'They start work mine soon as like, but they go away from here.'
He not like them about the place! See!"
"Oh, that be blowed!" Trent muttered. "What's this in the pot? It
don't smell bad."
"Rabbit," the interpreter answered tersely. "Very good. Part
King's own supper. White men very favoured."
Trent bent over the pot which the two men had set upon the ground.
He took a fork from his belt and dug it in.
"Very big bones for a rabbit, Sam," he remarked doubtfully.
Sam looked away. "Very big rabbits round here," he remarked. "Best
keep pot. Send men away."
Trent nodded, and the men withdrew.
"Stew all right," Sam whispered confidentially. "You eat him. No
fear. But you got to go. King beginning get angry. He say white
men not to stay. They got what he promised, now they go. I know
King - know this people well! You get away quick. He think you
want be King here! You got the papers - all you want, eh?"
"Not quite, Sam," Trent answered. "There's an Englishman, Captain
Francis, on his way here up the Coast, going on to Walgetta Fort.
He must be here to-morrow. I want him to see the King's signature.
If he's a witness these niggers can never back out of the concession.
They're slippery devils. Another chap may come on with more rum and
they'll forget us and give him the right to work the mines too. See!"
"I see," Sam answered; "but him not safe to wait. You believe me.
I know these tam niggers. They take two days get drunk, then get
devils, four - raving mad. They drunk now. Kill any one to-morrow
- perhaps you. Kill you certain to-morrow night. You listen now!"
Trent stood up in the shadow of the overhanging roof. Every now
and then came a wild, shrill cry from the lower end of the village.
Some one was beating a frightful, cracked drum which they had got
from a trader. The tumult was certainly increasing. Trent swore
softly, and then looked irresolutely over his shoulder to where
Monty was sleeping.
"If the worst comes we shall never get away quickly," he muttered.
"That old carcase can scarcely drag himself along."
Sam looked at him with cunning eyes.
"He not fit only die," he said softly. "He very old, very sick man,
you leave him here! I see to him."
Trent turned away in sick disgust.
"We'll be off to-morrow, Sam," he said shortly. "I say! I'm
beastly hungry. What's in that pot?"
Sam spread out the palms of his hands.
"He all right, I see him cooked," he declared. "He two rabbits and
Trent took out a plate and helped himself.
"All right," he said. "Be off now. We'll go to-morrow before these
towsly-headed beauties are awake."
Sam nodded and waddled off. Trent threw a biscuit and hit his
companion on the cheek.
"Here, wake up, Monty!" he exclaimed. "Supper's come from the royal
kitchen. Bring your plate and tuck in!"
Monty struggled to his feet and came meekly towards where the pot
stood simmering upon the ground.
"I'm not hungry, Trent," he said, "but I am very thirsty, very
thirsty indeed. My throat is all parched. I am most uncomfortable.
Really I think your behaviour with regard to the brandy is most
unkind and ungenerous; I shall be ill, I know I shall. Won't you - "
"No, I won't," Trent interrupted. "Now shut up all that rot and
"I have no appetite, thank you," Monty answered, with sulky dignity.
"Eat something, and don't be a silly ass!" Trent insisted. "We've
a hard journey before us, and you'll need all the strength in your
carcase to land in Buckomari again. Here, you've dropped some of
your precious rubbish."
Trent stooped forward and picked up what seemed to him at first to
be a piece of cardboard from the ground. He was about to fling it
to its owner, when he saw that it was a photograph. It was the
likeness of a girl, a very young girl apparently, for her hair was
still down her back and her dress was scarcely of the orthodox
length. It was not particularly well taken, but Trent had never
seen anything like it before. The lips were slightly parted, the
deep eyes were brimming with laughter, the pose was full of grace,
even though the girl's figure was angular. Trent had seen as much
as this, when he felt the smart of a sudden blow upon the cheek,
the picture was snatched from his hand, and Monty - his face
convulsed with anger - glowered fiercely upon him.
"You infernal young blackguard! You impertinent meddling blockhead!
How dare you presume to look at that photograph! How dare you, sir!
How dare you!"
Trent was too thoroughly astonished to resent either the blow or
the fierce words. He looked up into his aggressor's face in blank
"I only looked at it," he muttered. "It was lying on the floor."
"Looked at it! You looked at it! Like your confounded impertinence,
sir! Who are you to look at her! If ever I catch you prying into
my concerns again, I'll shoot you - by Heaven I will!"
Trent laughed sullenly, and, having finished eating, lit his pipe.
"Your concerns are of no interest to me," he said shortly; "keep
'em to yourself - and look here, old 'un, keep your hands off me!
I ain't a safe man to hit let me tell you. Now sit down and cool
off! I don't want any more of your tantrums."
Then there was a long silence between the two men. Monty sat where
Trent had been earlier in the night at the front of the open hut,
his eyes fixed upon the ever-rising moon, his face devoid of
intelligence, his eyes dim. The fire of the last few minutes had
speedily burnt out. His half-soddened brain refused to answer to
the sudden spasm of memory which had awakened a spark of the former
man. If he had thoughts at all, they hung around that brandy bottle.
The calm beauty of the African night could weave no spell upon him.
A few feet behind, Trent, by the light of the moon, was practising
tricks with a pack of greasy cards. By and by a spark of
intelligence found its way into Monty's brain. He turned round
"Trent," he said, "this is slow! Let us have a friendly game - you
"Come on, then," he said. "Single Poker or Euchre, eh?"
"I do not mind," Monty replied affably. "Just which you prefer."
"Single Poker, then," Trent said.
"And the stakes?"
"We've nothing left to play for," Trent answered gloomily, "except
Monty made a wry face. "Poker for love, my dear Trent," he said,
"between you and me, would lack all the charm of excitement. It
would be, in fact, monotonous! Let us exercise our ingenuity.
There must be something still of value in our possession.
He relapsed into an affectation of thoughtfulness. Trent watched
him curiously. He knew quite well that his partner was dissembling,
but he scarcely saw to what end. Monty's eyes, moving round the
grass-bound hut, stopped at Trent's knapsack which hung from the
central pole. He uttered a little exclamation.
"I have it," he declared. "The very thing."
"You are pleased to set an altogether fictitious value upon
half bottle of brandy we have left," he said. "Now I tell you what
I will do. In a few months we shall both be rich men. I will play
you for my I 0 U, for fifty pounds, fifty sovereigns, Trent,
against half the contents of that bottle. Come, that is a fair
offer, is it not? How we shall laugh at this in a year or two!
Fifty pounds against a tumblerful - positively there is no more
- a tumblerful of brandy."
He was watching Trent's face all the time, but the younger man gave
no sign. When he had finished, Trent took up the cards, which he
had shuffled for Poker, and dealt them out for Patience. Monty's
eyes were dim with disappointment.
"What!" he cried. "You don't agree! Did you understand me? Fifty
pounds, Trent! Why, you must be mad!"
"Oh, shut up!' Trent growled. "I don't want your money, and the
brandy's poison to you! Go to sleep!"
Monty crept a little nearer to his partner and laid his hand upon
his arm. His shirt fell open, showing the cords of his throat
swollen and twitching. His voice was half a sob.
"Trent, you are a young man - not old like me. You don't understand
my constitution. Brandy is a necessity to me! I've lived on it so
long that I shall die if you keep it from me. Remember, it's a
whole day since I tasted a drop! Now I'll make it a hundred. What
do you say to that? One hundred!"
Trent paused in his game, and looked steadfastly into the eager face
thrust close to his. Then he shrugged his shoulders and gathered up
"You're the silliest fool I ever knew," he said bluntly, "but I
suppose you'll worry me into a fever if you don't have your own way."
"You agree?" Monty shrieked. Trent nodded and dealt the cards.
"It must be a show after the draw," he said. "We can't bet, for
we've nothing to raise the stakes with!"
Monty was breathing hard and his fingers trembled, as though the
ague of the swamps was already upon him. He took up his cards one
by one, and as he snatched up the last he groaned. Not a pair!
"Four cards," he whispered hoarsely. Trent dealt them out, looked
at his own hand, and, keeping a pair of queens, took three more
cards. He failed to improve, and threw them upon the floor. With
frantic eagerness Monty grovelled down to see them - then with a
shriek of triumph he threw down a pair of aces.
"Mine!" he said. "I kept an ace and drew another. Give me the
Trent rose up, measured the contents of the bottle with his
forefinger, and poured out half the contents into a horn mug. Monty
stood trembling by.
"Mind," Trent said, "you are a fool to drink it and I am a fool to
let you! You risk your life and mine. Sam has been up and swears
we must clear out to-morrow. What sort of form do you think you'll
be in to walk sixty miles through the swamps and bush, with perhaps
a score of these devils at our heels? Come now, old 'un, be
The veins on the old man's forehead stood out like whipcord.
"I won it," he cried. "Give it me! Give it me, I say."
Trent made no further protest. He walked back to where he had been
lying and recommenced his Patience. Monty drank off the contents
of the tumbler in two long, delicious gulps! Then he flung the horn
upon the floor and laughed aloud.
"That's better," he cried, "that's better! What an ass you are,
Trent! To imagine that a drain like that would have any effect at
all, save to put life into a man! Bah! what do you know about it?"
Trent did not raise his head. He went on with his solitary game
and, to all appearance, paid no heed to his companion's words.
Monty was not in the humour to be ignored. He flung himself on
the ground opposite to his companion.
"What a slow-blooded sort of creature you are, Trent!" he said.
"Don't you ever drink, don't you ever take life a little more
"Not when I am carrying my life in my hands," Trent answered grimly.
"I get drunk sometimes - when there's nothing on and the blues come
- never at a time like this though."
"It is pleasant to hear," the old man remarked, stretching out his
limbs, "that you do occasionally relax. In your present frame of
mind - you will not be offended I trust - you are just a little
heavy as a companion. Never mind. In a year's time I will be
teaching you how to dine - to drink champagne, to - by the way,
Trent, have you ever tasted champagne?"
"Never," Trent answered gruffly "Don't know that I want to either."
Monty was compassionate. "My young friend," he said, "I would give
my soul to have our future before us, to have your youth and never
to have tasted champagne. Phew! the memory of it is delicious!"
"Why don't you go to bed?" Trent said. "You'll need all your
Monty waved his hand with serene contempt.
"I am a man of humours, my dear friend," he said, "and to-night
my humour is to talk and to be merry. What is it the philosophers
tell us? - that the sweetest joys of life are the joys of
anticipation. Here we are, then, on the eve of our triumph - let
us talk, plan, be happy. Bah! how thirsty it makes one! Come,
Trent, what stake will you have me set up against that other
tumblerful of brandy."
"No stake that you can offer," Trent answered shortly. "That drop
of brandy may stand between us and death. Pluck up your courage,
man, and forget for a bit that there is such a thing as drink."
Monty frowned and looked stealthily across towards the bottle.
"That's all very well, my friend," he said, "but kindly remember
that you are young, and well, and strong. I am old, and an invalid.
I need support. Don't be hard on me, Trent. Say fifty again.
"No, nor fifty hundred," Trent answered shortly. "I don't want your
money. Don't be such a fool, or you'll never live to enjoy it."
Monty shuffled on to his feet, and walked aimlessly about the hut.
Once or twice as he passed the place where the bottle rested, he
hesitated; at last he paused, his eyes lit up, he stretched out his
hand stealthily. But before he could possess himself of it Trent's
hand was upon his collar.
"You poor fool!" he said; "leave it alone can't you? You want to
poison yourself I know. Well, you can do as you jolly well like
when you are out of this - not before."
Monty's eyes flashed evil fires, but his tone remained persuasive.
"Trent," he said, "be reasonable. Look at me! I ask you now
whether I am not better for that last drop. I tell you that it
is food and wine to me. I need it to brace me up for to-morrow.
Now listen! Name your own stake! Set it up against that single
glass! I am not a mean man, Trent. Shall we say one hundred and
Trent looked at him half scornfully, half deprecatingly.
"You are only wasting your breath, Monty," he said. "I couldn't
touch money won in such a way, and I want to get you out of this
alive. There's fever in the air all around us, and if either of
us got a touch of it that drop of brandy might stand between us
and death. Don't worry me like a spoilt child. Roll yourself up
and get to sleep! I'll keep watch."
"I will be reasonable," Monty whined. "I will go to sleep, my
friend, and worry you no more when I have had just one sip of that
brandy! It is the finest medicine in the world for me! It will
keep the fever off. You do not want money you say! Come, is
there anything in this world which I possess, or may possess,
which you will set against that three inches of brown liquid?"
Trent was on the point of an angry negative. Suddenly he stopped
- hesitated - and said nothing Monty's face lit up with sudden
"Come," he cried, "there is something I see! You're the right sort,
Trent. Don't be afraid to speak out. It's yours, man, if you win
it. Speak up!"
"I will stake that brandy," Trent answered, "against the picture
you let fall from your pocket an hour ago."
For a moment Monty stood as though dazed. Then the excitement which
had shone in his face slowly subsided. He stood quite silent,
muttering softly to himself, his eyes fixed upon Trent.
"Her picture! My little girl's picture! Trent, you're joking,
"Am I?" Trent answered nonchalantly. "Perhaps so! Anyhow those
are my terms! You can play or not as you like! I don't care."
A red spot burned in Monty's cheeks, and a sudden passion shook him.
He threw himself upon Trent and would have struck him but that he
was as a child in the younger man's grasp. Trent held him at a
distance easily and without effort.
"There's nothing for you to make a fuss about," he said gruffly.
"I answered a plain question, that's all. I don't want to play at
all. I should most likely lose, and you're much better without the
Monty was foaming with passion and baffled desire. "You beast!" he
cried, "you low, ill-bred cur! How dared you look at her picture!
How dare you make me such an offer ! Let me go, I say! Let me go!"
But Trent did not immediately relax his grasp. It was evidently not
safe to let him go. His fit of anger bordered upon hysterics.
Presently he grew calmer but more maudlin. Trent at last released
him, and, thrusting the bottle of brandy into his coat-pocket,
returned to his game of Patience. Monty lay on the ground watching
him with red, shifty eyes.
"Trent," he whimpered. But Trent did not answer him.
"Trent, you needn't have been so beastly rough. My arm is black
and blue and I am sore all over."
But Trent remained silent. Monty crept a little nearer. He was
beginning to feel a very injured person.
"Trent," he said, "I'm sorry we've had words. Perhaps I said more
than I ought to have done. I did not mean to call you names. I
"Granted," Trent said tersely, bending over his game.
"You see, Trent," he went on, "you're not a family man, are you?
If you were, you would understand. I've been down in the mire for
years, an utter scoundrel, a poor, weak, broken-down creature. But
I've always kept that picture! It's my little girl! She doesn't
know I'm alive, never will know, but it's all I have to remind me
of her, and I couldn't part with it, could I?"
"You'd be a blackguard if you did," Trent answered curtly.
Monty's face brightened.
"I was sure," he declared, "that upon reflection you would think so.
I was sure of it. I have always found you very fair, Trent, and
very reasonable. Now shall we say two hundred?"
"You seem very anxious for a game," Trent remarked. "Listen, I
will play you for any amount you like, my I 0 U against your I 0 U.
Are you agreeable?"
Monty shook his head. "I don't want your money, Trent," he said.
"You know that I want that brandy. I will leave it to you to name
the stake I am to set up against it."
"As regards that," Trent answered shortly, "I've named the stake;
I'll not consider any other."
Monty's face once more grew black with anger.
"You are a beast, Trent - a bully!" he exclaimed passionately; "I'll
not part with it!"
"I hope you won't," Trent answered. "I've told you what I should
think of you if you did."
Monty moved a little nearer to the opening of the hut. He drew the
photograph hesitatingly from his pocket, and looked at it by the
moonlight. His eyes filled with maudlin tears. He raised it to
his lips and kissed it.
"My little girl," he whispered. "My little daughter." Trent had
re-lit his pipe and started a fresh game of Patience. Monty,
standing in the opening, began to mutter to himself.
"I am sure to win - Trent is always unlucky at cards - such a
little risk, and the brandy - ah!"
He sucked in his lips for a moment with a slight gurgling sound.
He looked over his shoulder, and his face grew haggard with longing.
His eyes sought Trent's, but Trent was smoking stolidly and looking
at the cards spread out before him, as a chess-player at his pieces.
"Such a very small risk," Monty whispered softly to himself. "I
need the brandy too. I cannot sleep without it! Trent!"
Trent made no answer. He did not wish to hear. Already he had
repented. He was not a man of keen susceptibility, but he was a
trifle ashamed of himself. At that moment he was tempted to draw
the cork, and empty the brandy out upon the ground.
"Trent! Do you hear, Trent?"
He could no longer ignore the hoarse, plaintive cry. He looked
unwillingly up. Monty was standing over him with white, twitching
face and bloodshot eyes.
"Deal the cards," he muttered simply, and sat down.
Trent hesitated. Monty misunderstood him and slowly drew the
photograph from his pocket and laid it face downwards upon the
table. Trent bit his lip and frowned.
"Rather a foolish game this," he said. "Let's call it off, eh?
You shall have - well, a thimbleful of the brandy and go to bed.
I'll sit up, I'm not tired."
But Monty swore a very profane and a very ugly oath.
"I'll have the lot," he muttered. "Every drop; every d - d drop!
Ay, and I'll keep the picture. You see, my friend, you see; deal
Then Trent, who had more faults than most men, but who hated bad
language, looked at the back of the photograph, and, shuddering,
hesitated no longer. He shuffled the cards and handed them to
"Your deal," he said laconically. "Same as before I suppose?"
Monty nodded, for his tongue was hot and his mouth dry, and speech
was not an easy thing. But he dealt the cards, one by one with
jealous care, and when he had finished he snatched upon his own,
and looked at each with sickly disappointment.
"How many?" Trent asked, holding out the pack. Monty hesitated,
half made up his mind to throw away three cards, then put one upon
the table. Finally, with a little whine, he laid three down with
trembling fingers and snatched at the three which Trent handed him.
His face lit up, a scarlet flush burned in his cheek. It was
evident that the draw had improved his hand.
Trent took his own cards up, looked at them nonchalantly, and helped
himself to one card. Monty could restrain himself no longer. He
threw his hand upon the ground.
"Three's," he cried in fierce triumph, "three of a kind - nines!"
Trent laid his own cards calmly down.
"A full hand," he said, "kings up."
Monty gave a little gasp and then a moan. His eyes were fixed with
a fascinating glare upon those five cards which Trent had so calmly
laid down. Trent took up the photograph, thrust it carefully into
his pocket without looking at it, and rose to his feet.
"Look here, Monty," he said, "you shall have the brandy; you've no
right to it, and you're best without it by long chalks. But there,
you shall have your own way."
Monty rose to his feet and balanced himself against the post.
"Never mind - about the brandy," he faltered. "Give me back the
Trent shrugged his shoulders. "Why?" he asked coolly. "Full hand
beats three, don't it? It was my win and my stake."
"Then - then take that!" But the blow never touched Trent. He
thrust out his hand and held his assailant away at arm's length.
Monty burst into tears.
"You don't want it," he moaned; "what's my little girl to you? You
never saw her, and you never will see her in your life."
"She is nothing to me of course," Trent answered. "A moment or so
ago her picture was worth less to you than a quarter of a bottle of
"I was mad," Monty moaned. "She was my own little daughter, God
"I never heard you speak of her before," Trent remarked.
There was a moment's silence. Then Monty crept out between the
posts into the soft darkness, and his voice seemed to come from a
"I have never told you about her," he said, "because she is not the
sort of woman who is spoken of at all to such men as you. I am no
more worthy to be her father than you are to touch the hem of her
skirt. There was a time, Trent, many, many years ago, when I was
proud to think that she was my daughter, my own flesh and blood.
When I began to go down - it was different. Down and down and lower
still! Then she ceased to be my daughter! After all it is best. I
am not fit to carry her picture. You keep it. Trent - you keep it
- and give me the brandy."
He staggered up on to his feet and crept back into the hut. His
hands were outstretched, claw-like and bony, his eyes were fierce
as a wild cat's. But Trent stood between him and the brandy bottle.
"Look here," he said, "you shall have the picture back - curse you!
But listen. If I were you and had wife, or daughter, or sweetheart
like this " - he touched the photograph almost reverently - "why,
I'd go through fire and water but I'd keep myself decent; ain't you
a silly old fool, now? We've made our piles, you can go back and
take her a fortune, give her jewels and pretty dresses, and all the
fal-de-lals that women love. You'll never do it if you muddle
yourself up with that stuff. Pull yourself together, old 'un.
Chuck the drink till we've seen this thing through at any rate!"
"You don't know my little girl," Monty muttered. "How should you?
She'd care little for money or gewgaws, but she'd break her heart
to see her old father - come to this - broken down - worthless
- a hopeless, miserable wretch. It's too late. Trent, I'll have
just a glass I think. It will do me good. I have been fretting,
Trent, you see how pale I am."
He staggered towards the bottle. Trent watched him, interfering no
longer. With a little chuckle of content he seized upon it and,
too fearful of interference from Trent to wait for a glass, raised
it to his lips. There was a gurgling in his throat - a little spasm
as he choked, and released his lips for a moment. Then the bottle
slid from his nerveless fingers to the floor, and the liquor oozed
away in a little brown stream; even Trent dropped his pack of cards
and sprang up startled. For bending down under the sloping roof
was a European, to all appearance an Englishman, in linen clothes
and white hat. It was the man for whom they had waited.
Trent moved forward and greeted the newcomer awkwardly. "You're
Captain Francis," he said. "We've been waiting for you."
The statement appeared to annoy the Explorer. He looked nervously
at the two men and about the hut.
"I don't know how the devil you got to hear of my coming, or what
you want with me," he answered brusquely. "Are you both English?"
Trent assented, waving his hand towards his companion in
"That's my pal, Monty," he said. "We're both English right enough."
Monty raised a flushed face and gazed with bloodshot eyes at the
man who was surveying him so calmly. Then he gave a little gurgling
cry and turned away. Captain Francis started and moved a step
towards him. There was a puzzled look in his face - as though he
were making an effort to recall something familiar.
"What is the matter with him?" he asked Trent.
"Then why the devil don't you see that he doesn't get too much?"
the newcomer said sharply. "Don't you know what it means in this
climate? Why, he's on the high-road to a fever now. Who on this
earth is it he reminds me of?"
Trent laughed shortly.
"There's never a man in Buckomari - no, nor in all Africa - could
keep Monty from the drink," he said. "Live with him for a month
and try it. It wouldn't suit you - I don't think."
He glanced disdainfully at the smooth face and careful dress of
their visitor, who bore the inspection with a kindly return of
"I've no desire to try," he said; "but he reminds me very strongly
of some one I knew in England. What do you call him - Monty?"
"Never heard any other name," he said.
"Have you ever heard him speak of England?" Francis asked.
Trent hesitated. What was this newcomer to him that he should give
away his pal? Less than nothing! He hated the fellow already, with
a rough, sensitive man's contempt of a bearing and manners far above
"Never. He don't talk."
Captain Francis moved a step towards the huddled-up figure breathing
heavily upon the floor, but Trent, leaning over, stopped him.
"Let him be," he said gruffly. "I know enough of him to be sure
that he needs no one prying and ferreting into his affairs. Besides,
it isn't safe for us to be dawdling about here. How many soldiers
have you brought with you?"
"Two hundred," Captain Francis answered shortly.
"We're all right for a bit, then," he said; "but it's a pretty sort
of a picnic you're on, eh?"
"Never mind my business," Captain Francis answered curtly; "what
about yours? Why have you been hanging about here for me?"
"I'll show you," Trent answered, taking a paper from his knapsack.
"You see, it's like this. There are two places near this show where
I've found gold. No use blowing about it down at Buckomari - the
fellows there haven't the nerve of a kitten. This cursed climate
has sapped it all out of them, I reckon. Monty and I clubbed
together and bought presents for his Majesty, the boss here, and
Monty wrote out this little document - sort of concession to us to
sink mines and work them, you see. The old buffer signed it like
winking, directly he spotted the rum, but we ain't quite happy about
it; you see, it ain't to be supposed that he's got a conscience,
and there's only us saw him put his mark there. We'll have to raise
money to work the thing upon this, and maybe there'll be difficulties.
So what we thought was this. Here's an English officer coining;
let's get him to witness it, and then if the King don't go on the
square, why, it's a Government matter."
Captain Francis lit a cigarette and smoked thoughtfully for a moment
"I don't quite see," he said, "why we should risk a row for the sake
of you two."
"Look here," he said; "I suppose you know your business. You don't
want me to tell you that a decent excuse for having a row with this
old Johnny is about the best thing that could happen to you. He's
a bit too near the borders of civilisation to be a decent savage.
Sooner or later some one will have to take him under their protection.
If you don't do it, the French will. They're hanging round now
looking out for an opportunity. Listen!
Both men moved instinctively towards the open part of the hut and
looked across towards the village. Up from the little open space
in front of the King's dwelling-house leaped a hissing bright flame;
they had kindled a fire, and black forms of men, stark naked and
wounding themselves with spears, danced around it and made the air
hideous with discordant cries. The King himself, too drunk to stand,
squatted upon the ground with an empty bottle by his side. A breath
of wind brought a strong, noxious odour to the two men who stood
watching. Captain Francis puffed hard at his cigarette.
"Ugh!" he muttered; "beastly!"
"You may take my word for it," Trent said gruffly, "that if your two
hundred soldiers weren't camped in the bush yonder, you and I and
poor Monty would be making sport for them to-night. Now come. Do
you think a quarrel with that crew is a serious thing to risk?"
"In the interests of civilisation," Captain Francis answered, with
a smile, "I think not."
"I don't care how you put it," Trent answered shortly. "You soldiers
all prate of the interests of civilisation. Of course it's all rot.
You want the land - you want to rule, to plant a flag, and be called
Captain Francis laughed. "And you, my superior friend," he said,
glancing at Trent, gaunt, ragged, not too clean, and back at Monty
- " you want gold - honestly if you can get it, if not - well, it
is not too wise to ask. Your partnership is a little mysterious,
isn't it - with a man like that? Out of your magnificent morality
I trust that he may get his share."
Trent flushed a brick - red. An angry answer trembled upon his
lips, but Oom Sam, white and with his little fat body quivering with
fear, came hurrying up to them in the broad track of the moonlight.
"King he angry," he called out to them breathlessly. "Him mad drunk
angry. He say white men all go away, or he fire bush and use the
poisoned arrow. Me off! Got bearers waiting."
"If you go before we've finished," Trent said, "I'll not pay you a
penny. Please yourself."
The little fat man trembled - partly with rage, partly with fear.
"You stay any longer," he said, "and King him send after you and
kill on way home. White English soldiers go Buckomari with you?"
Trent shook his head.
"Going the other way," he said, "down to Wana Hill."
Oom Sam shook his head vigorously.
"Now you mind," he said; "I tell you, King send after you. Him
Oom Sam scuttled away. Captain Francis looked thoughtful. "That
little fat chap may be right," he remarked. "If I were you I'd get
out of this sharp. You see, I'm going the other way. I can't help
Trent set his teeth.
"I've spent a good few years trying to put a bit together, and this
is the first chance I've had," he said; "I'm going to have you back
me as a British subject on that concession. We'll go down into the
village now if you're ready."
"I'll get an escort," Francis said. "Best to impress 'em a bit, I
think. Half a minute."
He stepped back into the hut and looked steadfastly at the man who
was still lying doubled up upon the floor. Was it his fancy, or
had those eyes closed swiftly at his turning - was it by accident,
too, that Monty, with a little groan, changed his position at that
moment, so that his face was in the shadow? Captain Francis was
"It's like him," he said to himself softly; "but after all the
thing's too improbable!"
He turned away with a shade upon his face and followed Trent out
into the moonlight. The screeching from the village below grew
louder and more hideous every minute.
The howls became a roar, blind passion was changed into purposeful
fury. Who were these white men to march so boldly into the presence
of the King without even the formality of sending an envoy ahead?
For the King of Bekwando, drunk or sober, was a stickler for
etiquette. It pleased him to keep white men waiting. For days
sometimes a visitor was kept waiting his pleasure, not altogether
certain either as to his ultimate fate, for there were ugly stories
as to those who had journeyed to Bekwando and never been seen or
heard of since. Those were the sort of visitors with whom his ebon
Majesty loved to dally until they became pale with fright or furious
with anger and impatience; but men like this white captain, who had
brought him no presents, who came in overwhelming force and demanded
a passage through his country as a matter of right were his special
detestation. On his arrival he had simply marched into the place
at the head of his columns of Hausas without ceremony, almost as a
master, into the very presence of the King. Now he had come again
with one of those other miscreants who at least had knelt before him
and brought rum and many other presents. A slow, burning, sullen
wrath was kindled in the King's heart as the three men drew near.
His people, half-mad with excitement and debauch, needed only a cry
from him to have closed like magic round these insolent intruders.
His thick lips were parted, his breath came hot and fierce whilst he
hesitated. But away outside the clearing was that little army of
Hausas, clean-limbed, faithful, well drilled and armed. He choked
down his wrath. There were grim stories about those who had yielded
to the luxury of slaying these white men - stories of villages razed
to the ground and destroyed, of a King himself who had been shot, of
vengeance very swift and very merciless. He closed his mouth with
a snap and sat up with drunken dignity. Oom Sam, in fear and
trembling, moved to his side.
"What they want?" the King asked.
Oom Sam spread out the document which Trent had handed him upon a
tree-stump, and explained. His Majesty nodded more affably. The
document reminded him of the pleasant fact that there were three
casks of rum to come to him every year. Besides, he rather liked
scratching his royal mark upon the smooth, white paper. He was
quite willing to repeat the performance, and took up the pen which
Sam handed him readily.
"Him white man just come," Oom Sam explained; "want see you do this."
His Majesty was flattered, and, with the air of one to whom the
signing of treaties and concessions is an everyday affair, affixed
a thick, black cross upon the spot indicated.
"That all right?" he asked Oom Sam.
Oom Sam bowed to the ground.
"Him want to know," he said, jerking his head towards Captain
Francis, "whether you know what means?"
His forefinger wandered aimlessly down the document. His Majesty's
reply was prompt and cheerful.
"Three barrels of rum a year."
Sam explained further. "There will be white men come digging," he
said; "white men with engines that blow, making holes under the
ground and cutting trees."
The King was interested. "Where?" he asked.
Oom Sam pointed westward through the bush.
"Down by creek-side."
The King was thoughtful "Rum come all right?" he asked.
Oom Sam pointed to the papers.
"Say so there," he declared. "All quite plain."
The King grinned. It was not regal, but he certainly did it. If
white men come too near they must be shot - carefully and from
ambush. He leaned back with the air of desiring the conference to
cease. Oom Sam turned to Captain Francis.
"King him quite satisfied," he declared. "Him all explained before
- he agree."
The King suddenly woke up again. He clutched Sam by the arm, and
whispered in his ear. This time it was Sam who grinned.
"King, him say him signed paper twice," he explained. "Him want
four barrels of rum now."
Trent laughed harshly.
"He shall swim in it, Sam," he said; "he shall float down to hell
Oom Sam explained to the King that, owing to the sentiments of
affection and admiration with which the white men regarded him,
the three barrels should be made into four, whereupon his Majesty
bluntly pronounced the audience at an end and waddled off into his
The two Englishmen walked slowly back to the hut. Between them
there had sprung up from the first moment a strong and mutual
antipathy. The blunt savagery of Trent, his apparently heartless
treatment of his weaker partner, and his avowed unscrupulousness,
offended the newcomer much in the same manner as in many ways he
himself was obnoxious to Trent. His immaculate fatigue-uniform,
his calm superciliousness, his obvious air of belonging to a
superior class, were galling to Trent beyond measure. He himself
felt the difference - he realised his ignorance, his unkempt and
uncared-for appearance. Perhaps, as the two men walked side by
side, some faint foreshadowing of the future showed to Trent another
and a larger world where they two would once more walk side by side,
the outward differences between them lessened, the smouldering
irritation of the present leaping up into the red-hot flame of
hatred. Perhaps it was just as well for John Francis that the man
who walked so sullenly by his side had not the eyes of a seer, for
it was a wild country and Trent himself had drunk deep of its
lawlessness. A little accident with a knife, a carelessly handled
revolver, and the man who was destined to stand more than once in
his way would pass out of his life for ever. But in those days
Trent knew nothing of what was to come - which was just as well
for John Francis.
* * * * *
Monty was sitting up when they reached the hut, but at the sight
of Trent's companion he cowered back and affected sleepiness. This
time, however, Francis was not to be denied. He walked to Monty's
side, and stood looking down upon him.
"I think," he said gently, "that we have met before."
"A mistake," Monty declared. "Never saw you in my life. Just off
But Francis had seen the trembling of the man's lips, and his
nervously shaking hands.
"There is nothing to fear," he said; "I wanted to speak to you as
"Don't know you; don't want to speak to you," Monty declared.
Francis stooped down and whispered a name in the ear of the sullen
man. Trent leaned forward, but he could not hear it - only he too
saw the shudder and caught the little cry which broke from the white
lips of his partner.
Monty sat up, white, despairing, with strained, set face and
"Look here," he said, "I may be what you say, and I may not. It's
no business of yours. Do you hear? Now be off and leave me alone!
Such as I am, I am. I won't be interfered with. But - " Monty's
voice became a shriek.
"Leave me alone!" he cried. "I have no name I tell you, no past,
no future. Let me alone, or by Heaven I'll shoot you!"
Francis shrugged his shoulders, and turned away with a sigh.
"A word with you outside," he said to Trent - and Trent followed
him out into the night. The moon was paling - in the east there
was a faint shimmer of dawn. A breeze was rustling in the trees.
The two men stood face to face.
"Look here, sir," Francis said, "I notice that this concession of
yours is granted to you and your partner jointly whilst alive and
to the survivor, in case of the death of either of you."
"What then?" Trent asked fiercely.
"This! It's a beastly unfair arrangement, but I suppose it's too
late to upset it. Your partner is half sodden with drink now. You
know what that means in this climate. You've the wit to keep sober
enough yourself. You're a strong man, and he is weak. You must take
care of him. You can if you will."
"Anything else?" Trent asked roughly.
The officer looked his man up and down.
"We're in a pretty rough country," he said, "and a man gets into
the habit of having his own way here. But listen to me! If
anything happens to your partner here or in Buckomari, you'll have
me to reckon with. I shall not forget. We are bound to meet!
Trent turned his back upon him in a fit of passion which choked
down all speech. Captain Francis lit a cigarette and walked across
towards his camp.
A sky like flame, and an atmosphere of sulphur. No breath of air,
not a single ruffle in the great, drooping leaves of the African
trees and dense, prickly shrubs. All around the dank, nauseous
odour of poison flowers, the ceaseless dripping of poisonous
moisture. From the face of the man who stood erect, unvanquished
as yet in the struggle for life, the fierce sweat poured like rain
- his older companion had sunk to the ground and the spasms of an
ugly death were twitching at his whitening lips.
"I'm done, Trent," he gasped faintly. "Fight your way on alone.
You've a chance yet. The way's getting a bit easier - I fancy we're
on the right track and we've given those black devils the slip!
Nurse your strength! You've a chance! Let me be. It's no use
carrying a dead man." Gaunt and wild, with the cold fear of death
before him also, the younger man broke out into a fit of cursing.
"May they rot in the blackest corner of hell, Oom Sam and those
miserable vermin!" he shouted. "A path all the way, the fever
season over, the swamps dry! Oh! when I think of Sam's smooth
jargon I would give my chance of life, such as it is, to have him
here for one moment. To think that beast must live and we
"Prop me up against this tree, Trent - and listen," Monty whispered.
"Don't fritter away the little strength you have left."
Trent did as he was told. He had no particular affection for his
partner and the prospect of his death scarcely troubled him. Yet
for twenty miles and more, through fetid swamps and poisoned jungles,
he had carried him over his shoulder, fighting fiercely for the
lives of both of them, while there remained any chance whatever of
escape. Now he knew that it was in vain, he regretted only his
wasted efforts - he had no sentimental regrets in leaving him. It
was his own life he wanted - his own life he meant to fight for.
"I wouldn't swear at Oom Sam too hard," Monty continued. "Remember
for the last two days he was doing all he could to get us out of the
place. It was those fetish fellows who worked the mischief and he
- certainly - warned us all he could. He took us safely to Bekwando
and he worked the oracle with the King!"
"Yes, and afterwards sneaked off with Francis," Trent broke in
bitterly, "and took every bearer with him - after we'd paid them for
the return journey too. Sent us out here to be trapped and butchered
like rats. If we'd only had a guide we should have been at Buckomari
"He was right about the gold," Monty faltered. It's there for the
picking up. If only we could have got back we were rich for life.
If you escape - you need never do another stroke of work as long as
Trent stood upright, wiped the dank sweat from his forehead and
gazed around him fiercely, and upwards at that lurid little patch
of blue sky.
"If I escape!" he muttered. "I'll get out of this if I die walking.
"I'm sorry you're done, Monty," he continued slowly. "Say the word
and I'll have one more spell at carrying you! You're not a heavy
weight and I'm rested now!"
But Monty, in whose veins was the chill of death and who sought only
for rest, shook his head.
"It shakes me too much," he said, "and it's only a waste of strength.
You get on, Trent, and don't you bother about me. You've done your
duty by your partner and a bit more. You might leave me the small
revolver in case those howling savages come up - and Trent!"
"The picture - just for a moment. I'd like to have one look at her!"
Trent drew it out from his pocket - awkwardly - and with a little
shame at the care which had prompted him to wrap it so tenderly in
the oilskin sheet. Monty shaded his face with his hands, and the
picture stole up to his lips. Trent stood a little apart and hated
himself for this last piece of inhumanity. He pretended to be
listening for the stealthy approach of their enemies. In reality
he was struggling with the feeling which prompted him to leave this
picture with the dying man.
"I suppose you'd best have it," he said sullenly at last.
But Monty shook his head feebly and held out the picture.
Trent took it with an odd sense of shame which puzzled him. He was
not often subject to anything of the sort.
"It belongs to you, Trent. I lost it on the square, and it's the
only social law I've never broken - to pay my gambling debts.
There's one word more!"
"It's about that clause in our agreement. I never thought it was
quite fair, you know, Trent!"
"The clause which - at my death - makes you sole owner of the whole
concession. You see - the odds were scarcely even, were they? It
wasn't likely anything would happen to you!"
"I planned the thing," Trent said, "and I saw it through! You did
nothing but find a bit of brass. It was only square that the odds
should be in my favour. Besides, you agreed. You signed the thing."
"But I wasn't quite well at the time," Monty faltered. "I didn't
quite understand. No, Trent, it's not quite fair. I did a bit of
the work at least, and I'm paying for it with my life!"
"What's it matter to you now?" Trent said, with unintentional
brutality. "You can't take it with you."
Monty raised himself a little. His eyes, lit with feverish fire,
were fastened upon the other man.
"There's my little girl!" he said hoarsely. "I'd like to leave her
something. If the thing turns out big, Trent, you can spare a small
share. There's a letter here! It's to my lawyers. They'll tell
you all about her."
Trent held out his hands for the letter.
"All right," he said, with sullen ungraciousness. "I'll promise
something. I won't say how much! We'll see."
"Trent, you'll keep your word," Monty begged. "I'd like her to
know that I thought of her."
"Oh, very well," Trent declared, thrusting the letter into his
pocket. "It's a bit outside our agreement, you know, but I'll see
to it anyhow. Anything else?"
Monty fell back speechless. There was a sudden change in his face.
Trent, who had seen men die before, let go his hand and turned away
without any visible emotion. Then he drew himself straight, and
set his teeth hard together.
"I'm going to get out of this," he said to himself slowly and with
fierce emphasis. "I'm not for dying and I won't die!"
He stumbled on a few steps, a little black snake crept out of its
bed of mud, and looked at him with yellow eyes protruding from its
upraised head. He kicked it savagely away - a crumpled, shapeless
mass. It was a piece of brutality typical of the man. Ahead he
fancied that the air was clearer - the fetid mists less choking - in
the deep night-silence a few hours back he had fancied that he had
heard the faint thunder of the sea. If this were indeed so, it
would be but a short distance now to the end of his journey. With
dull, glazed eyes and clenched hands, he reeled on. A sort of
stupor had laid hold of him, but through it all his brain was
working, and he kept steadily to a fixed course. Was it the sea
in his ears, he wondered, that long, monotonous rolling of sound,
and there were lights before his eyes - the lights of Buckomari, or
the lights of death!
They found him an hour or two later unconscious, but alive, on the
outskirts of the village.
Three days later two men were seated face to face in a long wooden
house, the largest and most important in Buckomari village.
Smoking a corn-cob pipe and showing in his face but few marks of
the terrible days through which he had passed was Scarlett Trent
- opposite to him was Hiram Da Souza, the capitalist of the region.
The Jew - of Da Souza's nationality it was impossible to have any
doubt - was coarse and large of his type, he wore soiled linen
clothes and was smoking a black cigar. On the little finger of each
hand, thickly encrusted with dirt, was a diamond ring, on his thick,
protruding lips a complacent smile. The concession, already soiled
and dog-eared, was spread out before them.
It was Da Souza who did most of the talking. Trent indeed had the
appearance of a man only indirectly interested in the proceedings.
"You see, my dear sir," Da Souza was saying, "this little concession
of yours is, after all, a very risky business. These niggers have
absolutely no sense honour. Do I not know it - alas - to my cost?"
Trent listened in contemptuous silence. Da Souza had made a fortune
trading fiery rum on the Congo and had probably done more to debauch
the niggers he spoke of so bitterly than any man in Africa.
"The Bekwando people have a bad name - very bad name. As for any
sense of commercial honour - my dear Trent, one might as well expect
diamonds to spring up like mushrooms under our feet."
"The document," Trent said, "is signed by the King and witnessed by
Captain Francis, who is Agent-General out here, or something of the
sort, for the English Government. It was no gift and don't you
think it, but a piece of hard bartering. Forty bearers carried our
presents to Bekwando and it took us three months to get through.
There is enough in it to make us both millionaires.
"Then why," Da Souza asked, looking up with twinkling eyes, "do you
want to sell me a share in it?"
"Because I haven't a darned cent to bless myself with," Trent
answered curtly. "I've got to have ready money. I've never had my
fist on five thousand pounds before - no, nor five thousand pence,
but, as I'm a living man, let me have my start and I'll hold my own
with you all."
Da Souza threw himself back m his chair with uplifted hands.
"But my dear friend," he cried, "my dear young friend, you were not
thinking - do not say that you were thinking of asking such a sum
as five thousand pounds for this little piece of paper!"
The amazement, half sorrowful, half reproachful, on the man's face
was perfectly done. But Trent only snorted.
"That piece of paper, as you call it, cost us the hard savings of
years, it cost us weeks and months in the bush and amongst the
swamps - it cost a man's life, not to mention the niggers we lost.
Come, I'm not here to play skittles. Are you on for a deal or not?
If you're doubtful about it I've another market. Say the word and
we'll drink and part, but if you want to do business, here are my
terms. Five thousand for a sixth share!"
"Sixth share," the Jew screamed, "sixth share?"
"The thing's worth a million at least," he said. "A sixth share
is a great fortune. Don't waste any time turning up the whites of
your eyes at me. I've named my terms and I shan't budge from them.
You can lay your bottom dollar on that."
Da Souza took up the document and glanced it through once more.
"The concession," he remarked, "is granted to Scarlett Trent and to
one Monty jointly. Who is this Monty, and what has he to say to it?"
Trent set his teeth hard, and he never blenched.
"He was my partner, but he died in the swamps, poor chap. We had
horrible weather coming back. It pretty near finished me."
Trent did not mention the fact that for four days and nights they
were hiding in holes and up trees from the natives whom the King
of Bekwando had sent after them, that their bearers had fled away,
and that they had been compelled to leave the track and make their
way through an unknown part of the bush.
"But your partner's share," the Jew asked. "What of that?"
"It belongs to me," Trent answered shortly. "We fixed it so before
we started. We neither of us took much stock in our relations. If
I had died, Monty would have taken the lot. It was a fair deal.
You'll find it there!"
The Jew nodded.
"And your partner?" he said. "You saw him die! There is no doubt
"He is as dead," he said, "as Julius Caesar."
"If I offered you - " Da Souza began.
"If you offered me four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine
pounds," Trent interrupted roughly, "I would tell you to go to glory."
Da Souza sighed. It was a hard man to deal with - this.
"Very well," he said, "if I give way, if I agree to your terms, you
will be willing to make over this sixth share to me, both on your
own account and on account of your late partner?"
"You're right, mate," Trent assented. "Plank down the brass, and
it's a deal."
"I will give you four thousand pounds for a quarter share," Da
Trent knocked the ashes from his pipe and stood up.
"Here, don't waste any more of my time," he said. "Stand out of
the way, I'm off."
Da Souza kept his hands upon the concession.
"My dear friend," he said, "you are so violent. You are so abrupt.
Now listen. I will give you five thousand for a quarter share. It
is half my fortune."
"Give me the concession," Trent said. "I'm off."
"For a fifth," Da Souza cried.
Trent moved to the door without speech. Da Souza groaned.
"You will ruin me," he said, "I know it. Come then, five thousand
for a sixth share. It is throwing money away."
"If you think so, you'd better not part," Trent said, still
lingering in the doorway. "Just as you say. I don't care."
For a full minuteDa Souza hesitated. He had an immense belief in
the richness of the country set out in the concession; he knew
probably more about it than Trent himself. But five thousand pounds
was a great deal of money and there was always the chance that the
Government might not back the concession holders in case of trouble.
He hesitated so long that Trent was actually disappearing before he
had made up his mind.
"Come back, Mr. Trent," he called out. "I have decided. I accept.
I join with you."
Trent slowly returned. His manner showed no exultation.
"You have the money here?" he asked.
Da Souza laid down a heap of notes and gold upon the table. Trent
counted them carefully and thrust them into his pocket. Then he
took up a pen and wrote his name at the foot of the assignment which
the Jew had prepared.
"Have a drink?" he asked.
Da Souza shook his head.
"The less we drink in this country," he said, "the better. I guess
out here, spirits come next to poison. I'll smoke with you, if you
have a cigar handy."
Trent drew a handful of cigars from his pocket. "They're beastly,"
he said, "but it's a beastly country. I'll be glad to turn my back
"There is a good deal,"Da Souza said, "which we must now talk
"To-morrow," Trent said curtly. "No more now! I haven't got over
my miserable journey yet. I'm going to try and get some sleep."
He swung out into the heavy darkness. The air was thick with
unwholesome odours rising from the lake-like swamp beyond the
drooping circle of trees. He walked a little way towards the sea,
and sat down upon a log. A faint land-breeze was blowing, a
melancholy soughing came from the edge of the forest only a few
hundred yards back, sullen, black, impenetrable. He turned his
face inland unwillingly, with a superstitious little thrill of
fear. Was it a coyote calling, or had he indeed heard the moan
of a dying man, somewhere back amongst that dark, gloomy jungle?
He scoffed at himself! Was he becoming as a girl, weak and timid?
Yet a moment later he closed his eyes, and pressed his hands tightly
over his hot eyeballs. He was a man of little imaginative force,
yet the white face of a dying man seemed suddenly to have floated
up out of the darkness, to have come to him like a will-o'-the-wisp
from the swamp, and the hollow, lifeless eyes seemed ever to be
seeking his, mournful and eloquent with dull reproach. Trent rose
to his feet with an oath and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He
was trembling, and he cursed himself heartily.
"Another fool's hour like this," he muttered, "and the fever will
have me. Come out of the shadows, you white-faced, skulking reptile,
you - bah! what a blithering fool I am! There is no one there!
How could there be any one?"
He listened intently. From afar off came the faint moaning of the
wind in the forest and the night sounds of restless animals. Nearer
there was no one - nothing stirred. He laughed out loud and moved
away to spend his last night in his little wooden home. On the
threshold he paused, and faced once more that black, mysterious line
"Well, I've done with you now," he cried, a note of coarse exultation
in his tone. "I've gambled for my life and I've won. To-morrow I'll
begin to spend the stakes."
In a handsomely appointed room of one of the largest hotels in
London a man was sitting at the head of a table strewn with
blotting-paper and writing materials of every description. Half a
dozen chairs had been carelessly pushed back, there were empty
champagne bottles upon the sideboard, the air was faintly odorous
of tobacco smoke - blue wreaths were still curling upwards towards
the frescoed ceiling. Yet the gathering had not been altogether a
festive one. There were sheets of paper still lying about covered
with figures, a brass-bound ledger lay open at the further end of
the table, In the background a young man, slim, pale, ill-dressed
in sober black, was filling a large tin box with documents and
It had been a meeting of giants. Men whose names were great in
the world of finance had occupied those elaborately decorated
leather chairs. There had been cynicism, criticism, and finally
enthusiasm. For the man who remained it had been a triumph. He
had appeared to do but little in the way of persuasion. His
manners had been brusque, and his words had been few. Yet he
remained the master of the situation. He had gained a victory not
only financial but moral, over men whose experience and knowledge
were far greater than his. He was no City magnate, nor had he
ever received any training in those arts and practices which go
to the making of one. For his earlier life had been spent in a
wilder country where the gambling was for life and not merely for
gold. It was Scarlett Trent who sat there in thoughtful and
absorbed silence. He was leaning a little back in a comfortably
upholstered chair, with his eyes fixed on a certain empty spot
upon the table. The few inches of polished mahogany seemed to him
- empty of all significance in themselves - to be reflecting in
some mysterious manner certain scenes in his life which were now
very rarely brought back to him. The event of to-day he knew to
be the culmination of a success as rapid as it had been surprising.
He was a millionaire. This deal to-day, in which he had held his
own against the shrewdest and most astute men of the great city,
had more than doubled his already large fortune. A few years ago
he had landed in England friendless and unknown, to-day he had
stepped out from even amongst the chosen few and had planted his
feet in the higher lands whither the faces of all men are turned.
With a grim smile upon his lips, he recalled one by one the various
enterprises into which he had entered, the courage with which he
had forced them through, the solid strength with which he had thrust
weaker men to the wall and had risen a little higher towards his
goal upon the wreck of their fortunes. Where other men had failed
he had succeeded. To-day the triumph was his alone. He was a
millionaire - one of the princes of the world!
The young man, who had filled his box and also a black bag, was
ready to go. He ventured most respectfully to break in upon the
reflections of his employer.
"Is there anything more for me to do, sir?"
Trent woke from his day-dream into the present. He looked around
the room and saw that no papers had been omitted. Then he glanced
keenly into his clerk's face.
"Nothing more," he said. "You can go."
It was significant of the man that, notwithstanding his hour of
triumph, he did not depart in the slightest degree from the cold
gruffness of his tone. The little speech which his clerk had
prepared seemed to stick in his throat.
"I trust, sir, that you will forgive - that you will pardon the
liberty, if I presume to congratulate you upon such a magnificent
stroke of business!"
Scarlett Trent faced him coldly. "What do you know about it?" he
asked. "What concern is it of yours, young man, eh?"
The clerk sighed, and became a little confused. He had indulged
in some wistful hopes that for once his master might have relaxed,
that an opportune word of congratulation might awaken some spark of
generosity in the man who had just added a fortune to his great
store. He had a girl-wife from whose cheeks the roses were slowly
fading, and very soon would come a time when a bank-note, even the
smallest, would be a priceless gift. It was for her sake he had
spoken. He saw now that he had made a mistake.
"I am very sorry, sir," he said humbly. "Of course I know that
these men have paid an immense sum for their shares in the Bekwando
Syndicate. At the same time it is not my business, and I am sorry
that I spoke."
"It is not your business at any time to remember what I receive for
properties," Scarlett Trent said roughly. "Haven't I told you that
before? What did I say when you came to me? You were to hear
nothing and see nothing outside your duties! Speak up, man! Don't
stand there like a jay!"
The clerk was pale, and there was an odd sensation in his throat.
But he thought of his girl-wife and he pulled himself together.
"You are quite right, sir," he said. "To any one else I should
never have mentioned it. But we were alone, and I thought that the
circumstances might make it excusable."
His employer grunted in an ominous manner.
"When I say forget, I mean forget," he declared. "I don't want to
be reminded by you of my own business. D'ye think I don't know it?"
"I am very sure that you do, sir," the clerk answered humbly. "I
quite see that my allusion was an error."
Scarlett Trent had turned round in his chair, and was eying the
pale, nervous figure with a certain hard disapproval.
"That's a beastly coat you've got on, Dickenson," he said. "Why
don't you get a new one?"
"I am standing in a strong light, sir," the young man answered,
with a new fear at his heart. "It wants brushing, too. I will
endeavour to get a new one - very shortly."
His employer grunted again.
"What's your salary?" he asked.
"Two pounds fifteen shillings a week, sir."
"And you mean to say that you can't dress respectably on that? What
do you do with your money, eh? How do you spend it? Drink and
music-halls, I suppose!"
The young man was able at last to find some spark of dignity. A
pink spot burned upon his cheeks.
"I do not attend music-halls, sir, nor have I touched wine or
spirits for years. I - I have a wife to keep, and perhaps - I
am expecting - "
He stopped abruptly. How could he mention that other matter which,
for all its anxieties, still possessed for him a sort of quickening
joy in the face of that brutal stare. He did not conclude his
sentence, the momentary light died out of his pale commonplace
features. He hung his head and was silent.
"A wife," Scarlett Trent repeated with contempt, "and all the rest
of it of course. Oh, what poor donkeys you young men are! Here
are you, with your way to make in the world, with your foot scarcely
upon the bottom rung of the ladder, grubbing along on a few bob a
week, and you choose to go and chuck away every chance you ever might
have for a moment's folly. A poor, pretty face I suppose. A
moonlight walk on a Bank Holiday, a little maudlin sentiment, and
over you throw all your chances in life. No wonder the herd is
so great, and the leaders so few," he added, with a sneer.
The young man raised his head. Once more the pink spot was burning.
Yet how hard to be dignified with the man from whom comes one's
"You are mistaken, sir," he said. "I am quite happy and quite
Scarlett Trent laughed scornfully.
"Then you don't look it," he exclaimed.
"I may not, sir," the young man continued, with a desperate courage,
"but I am. After all happiness is spelt with different letters for
all of us. You have denied yourself - worked hard, carried many
burdens and run great risks to become a millionaire. I too have
denied myself, have worked and struggled to make a home for the
girl I cared for. You have succeeded and you are happy. I can hold
Edith's - I beg your pardon, my wife's hand in mine and I am happy.
I have no ambition to be a millionaire. I was very ambitious to
win my wife."
Scarlett Trent looked at him for a moment open mouthed and open-eyed.
Then he laughed outright and a chill load fell from the heart of
the man who for a moment had forgotten himself. The laugh was
scornful perhaps, but it was not angry.
"Well, you've shut me up," he declared. "You seem a poor sort of
a creature to me, but if you're content, it's no business of mine.
Here buy yourself an overcoat, and drink a glass of wine. I'm off!"
He rose from his seat and threw a bank-note over the table. The
clerk opened it and handed it back with a little start.
"I am much obliged to you, sir," he said humbly, "but you have made
a mistake. This note is for fifty pounds."
Trent glanced at it and held out his hand. Then he paused.
"Never mind," he said, with a short laugh, "I meant to give you a
fiver, but it don't make much odds. Only see that you buy some new
The clerk half closed his eyes and steadied himself by grasping the
back of a chair. There was a lump in his throat in earnest now.
"You - you mean it, sir?" he gasped. "I - I'm afraid I can't thank
"Don't try, unless you want me to take it back," Trent said,
strolling to the sideboard. "Lord, how those City chaps can guzzle!
Not a drop of champagne left. Two unopened bottles though! Here,
stick 'em in your bag and take 'em to the missis, young man. I
paid for the lot, so there's no use leaving any. Now clear out as
quick as you can. I'm off!"
"You will allow me, sir - "
Scarlett Trent closed the door with a slam and disappeared. The
young man passed him a few moments later as he stood on the steps
of the hotel lighting a cigar. He paused again, intent on
stammering out some words of thanks. Trent turned his back upon
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,
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