Part 4 out of 5
life. The start was made with only a dozen Kru boys, Trent himself,
stripped to the shirt, labouring amongst them spade in hand. In a
week the fishing boats were deserted, every one was working on the
road. The labour was immense, but the wages were magnificent. Real
progress was made and the boy's calculations were faultless. Trent
used the cable freely.
"Have dismissed Cathcart for incompetence - road started - progress
magnificent," he wired one week, and shortly afterwards a message
came back - "Cathcart cables resigned - scheme impossible - shares
dropping - wire reply."
Trent clenched his fist, and his language made the boy, who had
never heard him violent, look up in surprise. Then he put on his
coat and walked out to the cable station.
"Cathcart lies. I dismissed him for cowardice and incompetence.
The road is being made and I pledge my word that it will be finished
in six months. Let our friends sell no shares."
Then Trent went back and, hard as he had worked before, he surpassed
it all now. Far and wide he sent ever with the same inquiry - for
labour and stores. He spent money like water, but he spent from a
bottomless purse. Day after day Kru boys, natives and Europeans
down on their luck, came creeping in. Far away across the rolling
plain the straight belt of flint-laid road-bed stretched to the
horizon, one gang in advance cutting turf, another beating in the
small stones. The boy grew thin and bronzed, Trent and he toiled
as though their lives hung upon the work. So they went on till the
foremost gang came close to the forests, beyond which lay the
village of Bekwando.
Then began the period of the greatest anxiety, for Trent and the
boy and a handful of the others knew what would have sent half of
the natives flying from their work if a whisper had got abroad. A
few soldiers were drafted down from the Fort, arms were given out
to all those who could be trusted to use them and by night men
watched by the great red fires which flared along the path of their
labours. Trent and the boy took it by turns to watch, their
revolvers loaded by their side, and their eyes ever turned towards
that dark line of forest whence came nothing but the singing of
night birds and the calling of wild animals. Yet Trent would have
no caution relaxed, the more they progressed. the more vigilant
the watch they kept. At last came signs of the men of Bekwando.
In the small hours of the morning a burning spear came hurtling
through the darkness and fell with a hiss and a quiver in the ground,
only a few feet from where Trent and the boy lay. Trent stamped on
it hastily and gave no alarm. But the boy stole round with a
whispered warning to those who could be trusted to fight.
Yet no attack came on that night or the next; on the third Trent
and the boy sat talking and the latter frankly owned that he was
"It's not that I'm afraid," he said, smiling. "You know it isn't
that! But all day long I've had the same feeling - we're being
watched! I'm perfectly certain that the beggars are skulking round
the borders of the forest there. Before morning we shall hear
"If they mean to fight," Trent said, "the sooner they come out the
better. I'd send a messenger to the King only I'm afraid they'd
kill him. Oom Sam won't come! I've sent for him twice."
The boy was looking backwards and forwards along the long line of
"Trent," he said suddenly, "you're a wonderful man. Honestly, this
road is a marvellous feat for untrained labour and with such rotten
odds and ends of machinery. I don't know what experience you'd had
"None," Trent interjected.
"Then it's wonderful!"
Trent smiled upon the boy with such a smile as few people had ever
seen upon his lips.
"There's a bit of credit to you, Davenant," he said. "I'd never
have been able to figure out the levelling alone. Whether I go
down or not, this shall be a good step up on the ladder for you."
The boy laughed.
"I've enjoyed it more than anything else in my life," he said.
"Fancy the difference between this and life in a London office.
It's been magnificent! I never dreamed what life was like before."
Trent looked thoughtfully into the red embers. "You had the mail
to-day," the boy continued. How were things in London?"
"Not so bad," Trent answered. "Cathcart has been doing all the
harm he can, but it hasn't made a lot of difference. My cables have
been published and our letters will be in print by now, and the
photographs you took of the work. That was a splendid idea!"
"And the shares?"
"Down a bit - not much. Da Souza seems to be selling out carefully
a few at a time, and my brokers are buying most of them. Pound
shares are nineteen shillings to-day. They'll be between three and
four pounds, a week after I get back."
"And when shall you go?" the boy asked.
"Directly I get a man out here I can trust and things are fixed with
his Majesty the King of Bekwando! We'll both go then, and you shall
spend a week or two with me in London."
The boy laughed.
"What a time we'll have!" he cried. "Say, do you know your way
Trent shook his head.
"I'm afraid not," he said. "You'll have to be my guide."
"Right you are," was the cheerful answer. "I'll take you to Jimmy's,
and the Empire, and down the river, and to a match at Lord's, and
to Henley if we're in time, and I'll take you to see my aunt!
You'll like her."
"I'll expect to," he said. "Is she anything like you?"
"Much cleverer," the boy said, "but we've been great chums all our
life. She's the cleverest woman ever knew, earns lots of money
writing for newspapers.
"Here, you've dropped your cigar, Trent."
Trent groped for it on the ground with shaking fingers.
"Writes for newspapers?" he repeated slowly. I wonder - her name
isn't Davenant, is it?"
The boy shook his head.
"No, she's my mother's cousin really - only I call her Aunty, we
always got on so. She isn't really much older than me, her name is
Wendermott - Ernestine Wendermott. Ernestine's a pretty name, don't
Trent rose to his feet, muttering something about a sound in the
forest. He stood with his back to the boy looking steadily at the
dark line of outlying scrub, seeing in reality nothing, yet keenly
anxious that the red light of the dancing flames should not fall
upon his face. The boy leaned on his elbow and looked in the same
direction. He was puzzled by a fugitive something which he had
seen in Trent's face.
Afterwards Trent liked sometimes to think that it was the sound of
her name which had saved them all. For, whereas his gaze had been
idle at first, it became suddenly fixed and keen. He stooped down
and whispered something to the boy. The word was passed along the
line of sleeping men and one by one they dropped back into the
deep-cut trench. The red fire danced and crackled - only a few
yards outside the flame-lit space came the dark forms of men
creeping through the rough grass like snakes.
The attack was a fiasco, the fighting was all over in ten minutes.
A hundred years ago the men of Bekwando, who went naked and knew no
drink more subtle than palm wine had one virtue - bravery. But
civilisation pressing upon their frontiers had brought Oom Sam
greedy for ivory and gold, and Oom Sam had bought rum and strong
waters. The nerve of the savage had gone, and his muscle had become
a flaccid thing. When they had risen from the long grass with a
horrid yell and had rushed in upon the hated intruders with couched
spears only to be met by a blinding fire of Lee-Metford and revolver
bullets their bravery vanished like breath from the face of a
looking-glass. They hesitated, and a rain of bullets wrought
terrible havoc amongst their ranks. On every side the fighting-men
of Bekwando went down like ninepins - about half a dozen only sprang
forward for a hand-to-hand fight, the remainder, with shrieks of
despair, fled back to the shelter of the forest, and not one of
them again ever showed a bold front to the white man. Trent, for
a moment or two, was busy, for a burly savage, who had marked him
out by the light of the gleaming flames, had sprung upon him spear
in hand, and behind him came others. The first one dodged Trent's
bullet and was upon him, when the boy shot him through the cheek
and he went rolling over into the fire, with a death-cry which
rang through the camp high above the din of fighting, another
behind him Trent shot himself, but the third was upon him before
he could draw his revolver and the two rolled over struggling
fiercely, at too close quarters for weapons, yet with the thirst
for blood fiercely kindled in both of them. For a moment Trent
had the worst of it - a blow fell upon his forehead (the scar of
which he never lost) and the wooden club was brandished in the air
for a second and more deadly stroke. But at that moment Trent
leaped up, dashed his unloaded revolver full in the man's face and,
while he staggered with the shock, a soldier from behind shot him
through the heart. Trent saw him go staggering backwards and then
himself sank down, giddy with the blow he had received. Afterwards
he knew that he must have fainted, for when he opened his eyes the
sun was up and the men were strolling about looking at the dead
savages who lay thick in the grass. Trent sat up and called for
"Any one hurt?" he asked the boy who brought him some. The boy
grinned, but shook his head.
"Plenty savages killed," he said, "no white man or Kru boy."
"Where's Mr. Davenant," Trent asked suddenly.
The boy looked round and shook his head.
"No seen Mr. Dav'nant," he said. "Him fight well though! Him not
Trent stood up with a sickening fear at his heart. He knew very
well that if the boy was about and unhurt he would have been at his
side. Up and down the camp he strode in vain. At last one of the
Kru boys thought he remembered seeing a great savage bounding away
with some one on his back. He had thought that it was one of their
wounded - it might have been the boy. Trent, with a sickening sense
of horror, realised the truth. The boy had been taken prisoner.
Even then he preserved his self-control to a marvellous degree.
First of all he gave directions for the day's work - then he called
for volunteers to accompany him to the village. There was no great
enthusiasm. To fight in trenches against a foe who had no cover nor
any firearms was rather a different thing from bearding them in their
own lair. Nevertheless, about twenty men came forward, including a
guide, and Trent was satisfied.
They started directly after breakfast and for five hours fought
their way through dense undergrowth and shrubs with never a sign of
a path, though here and there were footsteps and broken boughs. By
noon some of the party were exhausted and lagged behind, an hour
later a long line of exhausted stragglers were following Trent and
the native guide. Yet to all their petitions for a rest Trent was
adamant. Every minute's delay might lessen the chance of saving
the boy, even now they might have begun their horrible tortures.
The thought inspired him with fresh vigour. He plunged on with
long, reckless strides which soon placed a widening gap between him
and the rest of the party.
By degrees he began to recollect his whereabouts. The way grew
less difficult - occasionally there were signs of a path. Every
moment the soft, damp heat grew more intense and clammy. Every
time he touched his forehead he found it dripping. But of these
things he recked very little, for every step now brought him
nearer to the end of his journey. Faintly, through the midday
silence he could hear the clanging of copper instruments and the
weird mourning cry of the defeated natives. A few more steps and
he was almost within sight of them. He slackened his pace and
approached more stealthily until only a little screen of bushes
separated him from the village and, peering through them, he saw
a sight which made his blood run cold within him.
They had the boy! He was there, in that fantastic circle bound
hand and foot, but so far as he could see, at present unhurt. His
face was turned to Trent, white and a little scared, but his lips
were close-set and he uttered no sound. By his side stood a man
with a native knife dancing around and singing - all through the
place were sounds of wailing and lamentation, and in front of his
hut the King was lying, with an empty bottle by his side, drunk
and motionless. Trent's anger grew fiercer as he watched. Was
this a people to stand in his way, to claim the protection and
sympathy of foreign governments against their own bond, that they
might keep their land for misuse and their bodies for debauchery?
He looked backwards and listened. As yet there was no sign of any
of his followers and there was no telling how long these antics
were to continue. Trent looked to his revolver and set his teeth.
There must be no risk of evil happening to the boy. He walked
boldly out into the little space and called to them in a loud voice.
There was a wild chorus of fear. The women fled to the huts - the
men ran like rats to shelter. But the executioner of Bekwando, who
was a fetish man and holy, stood his ground and pointed his knife
at Trent. Two others, seeing him firm, also remained. The moment
"Cut those bonds!" Trent ordered, pointing to the boy.
The fetish man waved his hands and drew a step nearer to Trent, his
knife outstretched. The other two backed him up. Already a spear
Trent's revolver flashed out in the sunlight.
"Cut that cord!" he ordered again.
The fetish man poised his knife. Trent hesitated no longer, but
shot him deliberately through the heart. He jumped into the air
and fell forward upon his face with a death-cry which seemed to
find an echo from every hut and from behind every tree of Bekwando.
It was like the knell of their last hope, for had he not told them
that he was fetish, that his body was proof against those wicked
fires and that if the white men came, he himself would slay them!
And now he was dead! The last barrier of their superstitious hope
was broken down. Even the drunken King sat up and made strange
Trent stooped down and, picking up the knife, cut the bonds which
had bound the boy. He staggered up to his feet with a weak, little
"I knew you'd find me," he said. "Did I look awfully frightened?"
Trent patted him on the shoulder. "If I hadn't been in time," he
said, "I'd have shot every man here and burned their huts over
their heads. Pick up the knife, old chap, quick. I think those
fellows mean mischief."
The two warriors who had stood by the priest were approaching, but
when they came within a few yards of Trent's revolver they dropped
on their knees. It was their token of submission. Trent nodded,
and a moment afterwards the reason for their non-resistance was
made evident. The remainder of the expedition came filing into the
Trent lit a cigar and sat down on a block of wood to consider what
further was best to be done. In the meantime the natives were
bringing yams to the white men with timid gestures. After a brief
rest Trent called them to follow him. He walked across to the
dwelling of the fetish man and tore down the curtain of dried grass
which hung before the opening. Even then it was so dark inside that
they had to light a torch before they could see the walls, and the
stench was horrible.
A little chorus of murmurs escaped the lips of the Europeans as the
interior became revealed to them. Opposite the door was a life-size
and hideous effigy of a grinning god, made of wood and painted in
many colours. By its side were other more horrible images and a row
of human skulls hung from the roof. The hand of a white man,
blackened with age, was stuck to the wall by a spear-head, the stench
and filth of the whole place were pestilential. Yet outside a number
of women and several of the men were on their knees hoping still
against hope for aid from their ancient gods. There was a cry of
horror when Trent unceremoniously kicked over the nearest idol
- a yell of panic when the boy, with a gleam of mischief in his
eyes, threw out amongst them a worm-eaten, hideous effigy and with
a hearty kick stove in its hollow side. It lay there bald and ugly
in the streaming sunshine, a block of misshapen wood ill-painted in
flaring daubs, the thing which they had worshipped in gloom and
secret, they and a generation before them - all the mystery of its
shrouded existence, the terrible fetish words of the dead priest,
the reverence which an all-powerful and inherited superstition had
kept alive within them, came into their minds as they stood there
trembling, and then fled away to be out of the reach of the empty,
staring eyes - out of reach of the vengeance which must surely
fall from the skies upon these white savages. So they watched, the
women beating their bosoms and uttering strange cries, the men
stolid but scared. Trent and the boy came out coughing, and
half-stupefied with the rank odour, and a little murmur went up
from them. It was a device of the gods - a sort of madness with
which they were afflicted. But soon their murmurs turned again
into lamentation when they saw what was to come. Men were running
backwards and forwards, piling up dried wood and branches against
the idol-house, a single spark and the thing was done. A tongue of
flame leaped up, a thick column of smoke stole straight up in the
breathless air. Amazed, the people stood and saw the home of
dreadful mystery, whence came the sentence of life and death, the
voice of the King-maker, the omens of war and fortune, enveloped in
flames, already a ruined and shapeless mass. Trent stood and
watched it, smoking fiercely and felt himself a civiliser. But the
boy seemed to feel some of the pathos of the moment and he looked
curiously at the little crowd of wailing natives.
"And the people?" he asked.
"They are going to help me make my road," Trent said firmly. "I am
going to teach them to work!"
MY DEAR AUNT ERNIE, - At last I have a chance of sending you a
letter - and, this time at any rate, you won't have to complain
about my sending you no news. I'll promise you that, before I
begin, and you needn't get scared either, because it's all good.
I've been awfully lucky, and all because that fellow Cathcart
turned out such a funk and a bounder. It's the oddest thing in
the world too, that old Cis should have written me to pick up all
the news I could about Scarlett Trent and send it to you. Why,
he's within a few feet of me at this moment, and I've been seeing
him continually ever since I came here. But there, I'll try and
begin at the beginning.
"You know Cathcart got the post of Consulting Surveyor and Engineer
to the Bekwando Syndicate, and he was head man at our London place.
Well, they sent me from Capetown to be junior to him, and a jolly
good move for me too. I never did see anything in Cathcart! He's
a lazy sort of chap, hates work, and I guess he only got the job
because his uncle had got a lot of shares in the business. It seems
he never wanted to come, hates any place except London, which
accounts for a good deal.
"All the time when we were waiting, he wasn't a bit keen and kept
on rotting about the good times he might have been having in London,
and what a fearful country we were stranded in, till he almost gave
me the blues, and if there hadn't been some jolly good shooting and
a few nice chaps up at the Fort, I should have been miserable. As
it was, I left him to himself a good deal, and he didn't like that
either. I think Attra was a jolly place, and the landing in surf
boats was no end of fun. Cathcart got beastly wet, and you should
have seen what a stew he was in because he'd put on a beautiful
white suit and it got spoilt. Well, things weren't very lively at
Attra at first, I'm bound to admit. No one seemed to know much
about the Bekwando Land Company, and the country that way was very
rough. However, we got sent out at last, and Cathcart, he simply
scoffed at the whole thing from the first. There was no proper
labour, not half enough machinery, and none of the right sort - and
the gradients and country between Bekwando and the sea were awful.
Cathcart made a few reports and we did nothing but kick our heels
about until HE came. You'll see I've written that in big letters,
and I tell you if ever a man deserved to have his name written
in capitals Scarlett Trent does, and the oddest part of it is he
knows you, and he was awfully decent to me all the time.
"Well, out he went prospecting, before he'd been in the country
twenty-four hours, and he came back quite cheerful. Then he spoke
to Cathcart about starting work, and Cathcart was a perfect beast.
He as good as told him that he'd come out under false pretences,
that the whole affair was a swindle and that the road could not be
made. Trent didn't hesitate, I can tell you. There were no
arguments or promises with him. He chucked Cathcart on the spot,
turned him out of the place, and swore he'd make the road himself.
I asked if I might stop, and I think he was glad, anyhow we've been
ever such pals ever since, and I never expect to have such a time
again as long as I live! But do you know, Auntie, we've about made
that road. When I see what we've done, sometimes I can't believe
it. I only wish some of the bigwigs who've never been out of an
office could see it. I know I'll hate to come away.
"You'd never believe the time we had - leaving out the fighting,
which I am coming to by and by. We were beastly short of all sorts
of machinery and our labour was awful. We had scarcely any at
first, but Trent found 'em somehow, Kru boys and native Zulus
and broken-down Europeans - any one who could hold a pick. More
came every day, and we simply cut our way through the country. I
think I was pretty useful, for you see I was the only chap there
who knew even a bit about engineering or practical surveying, and
I'd sit up all night lots of times working the thing out. We had
a missionary came over the first Sunday, and wanted to preach, but
Trent stopped him. 'We've got to work here,' he said, 'and Sunday
or no Sunday I can't let my men stop to listen to you in the cool
of the day. If you want to preach, come and take a pick now, and
preach when they're resting,' and he did and worked well too, and
afterwards when we had to knock off, he preached, and Trent took
the chair and made 'em all listen. Well, when we got a bit inland
we had the natives to deal with, and if you ask me I believe that's
one reason Cathcart hated the whole thing so. He's a beastly coward
I think, and he told me once he'd never let off a revolver in his
life. Well, they tried to surprise us one night, but Trent was up
himself watching, and I tell you we did give 'em beans. Great,
ugly-looking, black chaps they were. Aunt Ernie, I shall never
forget how I felt when I saw them come creeping through the long,
rough grass with their beastly spears all poised ready to throw.
And now for my own special adventure. Won't you shiver when you
read this! I was taken prisoner by one of those chaps, carried off
to their beastly village and very nearly murdered by a chap who
seemed to be a cross between an executioner and a high-priest, and
who kept dancing round me, singing a lot of rot and pointing a knife
at me. You see, I was right on the outside of the fighting and I
got a knock on the head with the butt-end of a spear, and was a bit
silly for a moment, and a great chap, who'd seen me near Trent and
guessed I was somebody, picked me up as though I'd been a baby and
carried me off. Of course I kicked up no end of a row as soon as
I came to, but what with the firing and the screeching no one heard
me, and Trent said it was half an hour before he missed me and an
hour before they started in pursuit. Anyhow, there I was, about
morning-time when you were thinking of having your cup of tea,
trussed up like a fowl in the middle of the village, and all the
natives, beastly creatures, promenading round me and making faces
and bawling out things - oh, it was beastly I can tell you! Then
just as they seemed to have made up their mind to kill me, up
strode Scarlett Trent alone, if you please, and he walked up to
the whole lot of 'em as bold as brass. He'd got a long way ahead
of the rest and thought they meant mischief, so he wouldn't wait for
the others but faced a hundred of them with a revolver in his hand,
and I can tell you things were lively then. I'd never be able to
describe the next few minutes - one man Trent knocked down with his
fist, and you could hear his skull crack, then he shot the chap who
had been threatening me, and cut my bonds, and then they tried to
resist us, and I thought it was all over. They were horribly afraid
of Trent though, and while they were closing round us the others
came up and the natives chucked it at once. They used to be a very
brave race, but since they were able to get rum for their timber
and ivory, they're a lazy and drunken lot. Well, I must tell you
what Trent did then. He went to the priest's house where the gods
were kept - such a beastly hole - and he burned the place before
the eyes of all the natives. I believe they thought every moment
that we should be struck dead, and they stood round in a ring,
making an awful row, but they never dared interfere. He burnt the
place to the ground, and then what do you think he did? From the
King downward he made every Jack one of them come and work on his
road. You'll never believe it, but it's perfectly true. They
looked upon him as their conqueror, and they came like lambs when
he ordered it. They think they're slaves you know, and don't
understand their pay, but they get it every week and same as all
the other labourers - and oh, Aunt Ernie, you should see the King
work with a pickaxe! He is fat and so clumsy and so furiously
angry, but he's too scared of Trent to do anything but obey orders,
and there he works hour after hour, groaning, and the perspiration
rolls off him as though he were in a Turkish bath. I could go on
telling you odd things that happen here for hours, but I must finish
soon as the chap is starting with the mail. I am enjoying it. It
is something like life I can tell you, and aren't I lucky? Trent
made me take Cathcart's place. I am getting 800 pounds a year, and
only fancy it, he says he'll see that the directors make me a
special grant. Everything looks very different here now, and I do
hope the Company will be a success. There's whole heaps of mining
machinery landed and waiting for the road to be finished to go up,
and people seem to be streaming into the place. I wonder what
Cathcart will say when he knows that the road is as good as done,
and that I've got his job!
"Chap called for mail. Goodbye.
"Ever your affectionate
"Trent is a brick."
Ernestine read the letter slowly, line by line, word by word. To
tell the truth it was absorbingly interesting to her. Already
there had come rumours of the daring and blunt, resistless force
with which this new-made millionaire had confronted a gigantic task.
His terse communications had found their way into the Press, and in
them and in the boy's letter she seemed to discover something
Caesaric. That night it was more than usually difficult for her to
settle down to her own work. She read her nephew's letter more than
once and continually she found her thoughts slipping away - traveling
across the ocean to a tropical strip of country, where a
heterogeneous crowd of men were toiling and digging under a blazing
sun. And, continually too, she seemed to see a man's face looking
steadily over the sea to her, as he stood upright for a moment and
rested from his toil. She was very fond of the boy - but the face
was not his!
A special train from Southampton had just steamed into Waterloo
with the passengers from the Royal Mail steamer Ophir. Little
groups of sunburnt men were greeting old friends upon the platform,
surrounded by piles of luggage, canvas trunks and steamer chairs.
The demand for hansoms was brisk, cab after cab heavily loaded was
rolling out of the yard. There were grizzled men and men of fair
complexion, men in white helmets and puggarees, and men in silk
hats. All sorts were represented there, from the successful diamond
digger who was spasmodically embracing a lady in black jet of
distinctly Jewish proclivities, to a sporting lord who had been
killing lions. For a few minutes the platforms were given over
altogether to a sort of pleasurable confusion, a vivid scene, full
of colour and human interest. Then the people thinned away, and,
very nearly last of all, a wizened-looking, grey-headed man,
carrying a black bag and a parcel, left the platform with hesitating
footsteps and turned towards the bridge. He was followed almost
immediately by Hiram Da Souza, who, curiously enough, seemed to have
been on the platform when the train came in and to have been much
interested in this shabby, lonely old man, who carried himself like
a waif stranded in an unknown land. Da Souza was gorgeous in frock
coat and silk hat, a carnation in his buttonhole, a diamond in his
black satin tie, yet he was not altogether happy. This little man
hobbling along in front represented fate to him. On the platform at
Waterloo he had heard him timidly ask a bystander the way to the
offices of the Bekwando Land and Gold Exploration Company, Limited.
If ever he got there, what would be the price of Bekwando shares on
On the bridge Da Souza saw him accost a policeman, and brushing
close by, heard him ask the same question. The man shook his head,
but pointed eastwards.
"I can't say exactly, sir, but somewhere in the City, for certain,"
he answered. "I should make for the Bank of England, a penny 'bus
along that way will take you - and ask again there."
The old man nodded his thanks and stepped along Da Souza felt that
his time had come. He accosted him with an urbane smile.
"Excuse me," he said, "but I think I heard you ask for the offices
of the Bekwando Land Company."
The old man looked up eagerly. "If you can direct me there, sir,"
he said, "I shall be greatly obliged."
"I can do so," Da Souza said, falling into step, "and will with
pleasure. I am going that way myself. I hope," he continued in a
tone of kindly concern, "that you are not a shareholder in the
The old man dropped his bag with a clatter upon the pavement, and
his lips moved for a moment without any speech coming from them.
Da Souza picked up the bag and devoutly hoped that none of his City
friends were in the way.
"I don't exactly know about being a shareholder," the old man said
nervously, "but I've certainly something to do with it. I am, or
should have been, joint vendor. The Company is wealthy, is it not?"
Da Souza changed the bag into his other hand and thrust his arm
through his companion's.
" You haven't seen the papers lately, have you?"
"No! I've just landed - to-day - from Africa!"
"Then I'm sorry to say there's some bad news for you," Da Souza
said. "The Bekwando Land and Gold Company has gone into liquidation
- smashed up altogether. They say that all the directors and the
vendor will be arrested. It seems to have been a gigantic swindle."
Monty had become a dead weight upon his arm. They were in the
Strand now, and he pushed open the swing-door of a public-house,
and made his way into the private bar. When Monty opened his eyes
he was on a cushioned seat, and before him was a tumbler of brandy
half empty. He stared round him wildly. His lips were moist and
the old craving was hot upon him. What did it mean? After all he
had broken his vow, then! Had he not sworn to touch nothing until
he had found his little girl and his fortune? yet the fire of
spirits was in his veins and the craving was tearing him to pieces.
Then he remembered! There was no fortune, no little girl! His
dreams were all shattered, the last effort of his life had been in
vain. He caught hold of the tumbler with fingers that shook as
though an ague were upon him, lifted it to his lips and drank.
Then there came the old blankness, and he saw nothing but what
seemed to him the face of a satyr - dark and evil - mocking him
through the shadows which had surely fallen now for ever. Da Souza
lifted him up and conveyed him carefully to a four-wheel cab.
* * * * *
An hour afterwards Da Souza, with a grin of content upon his
unshapely mouth, exchanged his frock coat for a gaudy smoking-jacket,
and, with a freshly-lit cigar in his mouth, took up the letters
which had arrived by the evening post. Seeing amongst them one with
an African stamp he tore it open hastily, and read: -
"MY DEAR HIRAM, - You was in luck now or never, if you really want
to stop that half -witted creature from doing mischief in London.
I sometimes think, my brother, that you would do better to give me
even more of your confidence. You are a very clever man, but you
do keep yourself so secret. If I too were not clever, how would I
know to send you this news, how would I know that it will make you
glad? But there, you will go your way. I know it!
"Now for the news! Monty, as I cabled (I send the bill) has gone
secretly to London. Since Scarlett Trent found our Hausa friend
and the rum flask, there have been no means of getting liquor to
him, so I suppose he has very near regained his senses, anyhow he
shipped off very cunning, not even Missionary Walsh knowing, but
he made a very big mistake, the news of which I send to you knowing
it will be good. Hiram, he stole the money to pay for his passage
from the missionary's cash-box! All one day he stood under a tree
looking out to sea, and a steamer from Capetown called, and when he
heard the whistle and saw the surf boats he seemed to wake up. He
walked up and down restlessly for a long time, muttering to himself.
Mrs. Walsh came out to him and he was still staring at the steamer.
She told him to come in out of the sun, which was very hot, but he
shook his head. 'She's calling me,' he kept on saying, 'calling
me!' She heard him in the room where the money was and then saw no
more of him. But others saw him running to the shore, and he paid
to be taken out to the steamer. They wouldn't take him on at first,
because he hadn't secured a passage, but he laid down and wouldn't
move. So, as he had the money, they took him, and when I heard I
cabled to you. But what harm can he do, for you are his master?
He is a thief and you know it. Surely you can do with him what you
"Trent was here yesterday and heard for the first time of his flight.
How he took it I cannot tell you, for I was not the one to tell him,
but this I know for a fact. He cabled to Capetown offering 100 pounds
if the Star Line steamer leaving to-morrow would call for him here.
Hiram, he is a great man, this Trent. I hate him, for he has spoilt
much trade for me, and he treats me as though I were the dirt under
his feet, but never a man before who has set foot upon the Coast
could have done what he has done. Without soldiers he has beaten
the Bekwando natives, and made them even work for him. He has
stirred the whole place here into a state of fever! A thousand men
are working upon his road and sinking shafts upon the Bekwando hills.
Gold is already coming down, nuggets of it, and he is opening a
depot to buy all the mahogany and ivory in the country. He spends
money like water, he never rests, what he says must be done is done!
The authorities are afraid of him, but day by day they become more
civil! The Agent here called him once an adventurer, and threatened
him with arrest for his fighting with the Bekwandos. Now they go
to him cap in hand, for they know that he will be a great power in
this country. And Hiram, my brother, you have not given me your
trust though I speak to you so openly, but here is the advice of a
brother, for blood is blood, and I would have you make monies.
Don't you put yourself against Trent. Be on his side, for his is
the winning side. I don't know what you got in your head about that
poor scarecrow Monty, but I tell you, Hiram, Trent is the man to
back right through. He has the knack of success, and he is a genius.
My! he's a great man, and he's a king out here. You be on his side,
Hiram, and you're all right.
"Now goodbye, but send me the money for the cable when you write,
and remember - Monty is a thief and Trent is the man to back, which
reminds me that Trent repaid to Missionary Walsh all the money which
Monty took, which it seems was left with Walsh by him for Monty's
keep. But Monty does not know that, so you have the string to make
"Which comes from your brother
"P.S. - Do not forget the small account for disbursements."
Da Souza folded up the letter, and a look of peace shone in his face.
Presently he climbed the stairs to a little back-room and noiselessly
unlocked the door. Monty, with pale face and bloodshot eyes, was
walking up and down, mumbling to himself. He addressed Da Souza
"I think I will go away now," he said. "I am very much obliged to
you for looking after me."
Da Souza gazed at him with well-affected gravity. "One moment
first," he said, "didn't I understand you that you had just come
"The Gold Coast?"
Monty nodded again, but with less confidence.
"By any chance - were you called Monty there?"
Monty turned ghastly pale. Surely his last sin had not found him
out. He was silent, but there was no need for speech. Da Souza
motioned him to sit down.
"I am very sorry," he said, "of course it's true. The police have
"The police!" Monty moaned.
Da Souza nodded. Benevolence was so rare a part for him to play,
that he rather enjoyed it.
"Don't be scared," he said. "Yes, your description is out, and you
are wanted for stealing a few pounds from a man named Walsh. Never
mind. I won't give you up. You shall lie snug here for a few days!"
Monty fell on his knees. "You won't let any one know that I am
here!" he pleaded.
"Not I," Da Souza answered fervently.
Monty rose to his feet, his face full of dumb misery.
"Now," he muttered, "I shall never see her - never - never - never!"
There was a bottle half full of spirits upon the table and a tumbler
as yet unused. A gleam flashed in his eyes. He filled the tumbler
and raised it to his lips. Da Souza watched him curiously with the
benevolent smile still upon his face.
"You are very smart, Ernestine," he said, looking her admiringly.
"One must be smart at Ascot," she answered, "or stay away."
"I've just heard some news," he continued.
"Who do you think is here?"
She glanced at him sideways under her lace parasol. "Every one I
"Including," he said, "Mr. Scarlett Trent!" She grew a shade paler,
and leaned for a moment against the rail of the paddock in which
they were lounging.
"I thought," she said, "that the Mazetta Castle was not due till
"She touched at Plymouth in the night, and he had a special train
up. He has some horses running, you know."
"I suppose," she remarked, "that he is more of a celebrity than
"Much more," he answered. "If he chooses he will be the lion of
the season! By the by, you had nothing of interest from Fred?"
She shook her head impatiently.
"Nothing but praises! According to Fred, he's a hero!"
"I hate him," Davenant said sulkily.
"And so," she answered softly, "do I! Do you see him coming, Cecil?"
"In good company too," the young man laughed bitterly.
A little group of men, before whom every one fell back respectfully,
were strolling through the paddock towards the horses. Amongst
them was Royalty, and amongst them also was Scarlett Trent. But
when he saw the girl in the white foulard smile at him from the
paling he forgot etiquette and everything else. He walked straight
across to her with that keen, bright light in his eyes which Fred
had described so well in his letter.
"I am very fortunate," he said, taking the delicately gloved hand
into his fingers, "to find you so soon. I have only been in England
a few hours."
She answered him slowly, subjecting him the while to a somewhat
close examination. His face was more sunburnt than ever she had
seen a man's, but there was a wonderful force and strength in his
features, which seemed to have become refined instead of coarsened
by the privations through which he had passed. His hand, as she
had felt, was as hard as iron, and it was not without reluctance
that she felt compelled to take note of his correct attire and easy
bearing. After all he must be possessed of a wonderful measure of
"You have become famous," she said. "Do you know that you are
going to be made a lion?"
"I suppose the papers have been talking a lot of rot," he answered
bluntly. "I've had a fairly rough time, and I'm glad to tell you
this, Miss Wendermott - I don't believe I'd ever have succeeded but
for your nephew Fred. He's the pluckiest boy I ever knew."
"I am very pleased to hear it," she answered. "He's a dear boy!"
"He's a brick," Trent answered. "We've been in some queer scrapes
together - I've lots of messages for you! By the by, are you alone?"
"For the moment," she answered; "Mr. Davenant left me as you came
up. I'm with my cousin, Lady Tresham. She's on the lawn somewhere."
He looked down the paddock and back to her.
"Walk with me a little way," he said, "and I will show you Iris
before she starts."
"You!" she exclaimed.
He pointed to the card. It was surely an accident that she had not
noticed it before. Mr. Trent's Iris was amongst the entries for the
"Why, Iris is the favourite!"
"So they tell me! I've been rather lucky haven't I, for a beginner?
I found a good trainer, and I had second call on Cannon, who's
riding him. If you care to back him for a trifle, I think you'll be
all right, although the odds are nothing to speak of."
She was walking by his side now towards the quieter end of the
"I hear you have been to Torquay," he said, looking at her
critically, "it seems to have agreed with you. You are looking
She returned his glance with slightly uplifted eyebrows, intending
to convey by that and her silence a rebuke to his boldness. He was
blandly unconscious, however, of her intent, being occupied just
then in returning the greetings of passers-by. She bit her lip
and looked straight ahead.
"After all," he said, "unless you are very keen on seeing Iris, I
think we'd better give it up. There are too many people around her
"Just as you like," she answered, "only it seems a shame that you
shouldn't look over your own horse before the race if you want to.
Would you like to try alone?"
"Certainly not," he answered. "I shall see plenty of her later.
Are you fond of horses?"
"Go to many race-meetings?"
"Whenever I get the chance! - I always come here."
"It is a great sight," he said thoughtfully, looking around him.
"Are you here just for the pleasure of it, or are you going to write
"I'm going to write about some of the dresses," she said. "I'm
afraid no one would read my racing notes."
"I hope you'll mention your own," he said coolly. "It's' quite the
She scarcely knew whether to be amused or offended.
"You are a very downright person, Mr. Trent," she said.
"You don't expect me to have acquired manners yet, do you?" he
"You have acquired a great many things," she said, "with surprising
facility. Why not manners?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"No doubt they will come, but I shall want a lot of polishing. I
wonder - "
"Whether any one will ever think it worth while to undertake the
She raised her eyes and looked him full in the face. She had made
up her mind exactly what to express - and she failed altogether to
do it. There was a fire and a strength in the clear, grey eyes
fixed so earnestly upon hers which disconcerted her altogether.
She was desperately angry with herself and desperately uneasy.
"You have the power," she said with slight coldness, "to buy most
things. By the by, I was thinking only just now, how sad it was
that your partner did not live. He shared the work with you, didn't
he? It seems such hard lines that he could not have shared the
He showed no sign of emotion such as she had expected, and for which
she had been narrowly watching him. Only he grew at once more
serious, and he led her a little further still from the crush of
people. It was the luncheon interval, and though the next race
was the most important of the day, the stream of promenaders had
thinned off a little.
"It is strange," he said, "that you should have spoken to me of my
partner. I have been thinking about him a good deal lately."
"In what way?"
"Well, first of all, I am not sure that our agreement was altogether
a fair one," he said. "He had a daughter and I am very anxious to
find her! I feel that she is entitled to a certain number of shares
in the Company, and I want her to accept them."
"Have you tried to find her?" she asked.
He looked steadily at her for a moment, but her parasol had dropped
a little upon his side and he could not see her face.
"Yes, I have tried," he said slowly, "and I have suffered a great
disappointment. She knows quite well that I am searching for her,
and she prefers to remain undiscovered."
"That sounds strange," she remarked, with her eyes fixed upon the
distant Surrey hills. "Do you know her reason?"
"I am afraid," he said deliberately, "that there can be only one.
It's a miserable thing to believe of any woman, and I'd be glad - "
He hesitated. She kept her eyes turned away from him, but her
manner denoted impatience.
"Over on this side," he continued, "it seems that Monty was a
gentleman in his day, and his people were - well, of your order!
There was an Earl I believe in the family, and no doubt they are
highly respectable. He went wrong once, and of course they never
gave him another chance. It isn't their way - that sort of people!
I'll admit he was pretty low down when I came across him, but I
reckon that was the fault of those who sent him adrift - and after
all there was good in him even then. I am going to tell you
something now, Miss Wendermott, which I've often wanted to - that
is, if you're interested enough to care to hear it!"
All the time she was asking herself how much he knew. She motioned
him to proceed.
"Monty had few things left in the world worth possessing, but there
was one which he had never parted with, which he carried with him
always. It was the picture of his little girl, as she had been when
his trouble happened."
He stooped a little as though to see over the white rails, but she
was too adroit. Her face remained hidden from him by that little
cloud of white lace.
"It is an odd thing about that picture," he went on slowly, "but he
showed it to me once or twice, and I too got very fond of it! It
was just a little girl's face, very bright and very winsome, and
over there we were lonely, and it got to mean a good deal to both
of us. And one night Monty would gamble - it was one of his faults,
poor chap - and he had nothing left but his picture, and I played
him for it - and won!"
"Brute!" she murmured in an odd, choked tone.
"Sounds so, doesn't it? But I wanted that picture. Afterwards
came our terrible journey back to the Coast, when I carried the poor
old chap on my back day by day, and stood over him at night potting
those black beasts when they crept up too close - for they were on
our track all the time. I wouldn't tell you the whole story of
those days, Miss Wendermott for it would keep you awake at night;
but I've a fancy for telling you this. I'd like you to believe it,
for it's gospel truth. I didn't leave him until I felt absolutely
and actually certain that he couldn't live an hour. He was passing
into unconsciousness, and a crowd of those natives were close upon
our heels. So I left him and took the picture with me - and I
think since then that it has meant almost as much to me as ever it
had been to him."
"That," she remarked, "sounds a little far-fetched - not to say
"Some day," he answered boldly, "I shall speak to you of this again,
and I shall try to convince you that it is truth!"
He could not see her face, but he knew very well in some occult
manner that she had parted with some at least of her usual composure.
As a matter of fact she was nervous and ill-at-ease.
"You have not yet told me," she said abruptly, "what you imagine
can be this girl's reasons for remaining unknown."
"I can only guess them," he said gravely; "I can only suppose that
she is ashamed of her father and declines to meet any one connected
with him. It is very wrong and very narrow of her. If I could talk
to her for ten minutes and tell her how the poor old chap used to
dream about her and kiss her picture, I can't think but she'd be
"Try and think," she said, looking still away from him, "that she
must have another reason. You say that you liked her picture! Try
and be generous in your thoughts of her for its sake."
"I will try," he answered, "especially - "
"Especially - because the picture makes me think - sometimes - of
Trent had done many brave things in his life, but he had never been
conscious of such a distinct thrill of nervousness as he experienced
during those few minutes' silence. Ernestine, for her part, was
curiously exercised in her mind. He had shaken her faith in his
guilt - he had admitted her to his point of view. She judged
herself from his standpoint, and the result was unpleasant. She
had a sudden impulse to tell him the truth, to reveal her identity,
tell him her reasons for concealment. Perhaps her suspicions had
been hasty. Then the personal note in his last speech had produced
a serious effect on her, and all the time she felt that her silence
was emboldening him, as indeed it was.
"The first time I saw you," he went on, "the likeness struck me.
I felt as though I were meeting some one whom I had known all my
She laughed a little uneasily. "And you found yourself instead the
victim of an interviewer! What a drop from the romantic to the
"There has never been any drop at all," he answered firmly, "and
you have always seemed to me the same as that picture - something
quite precious and apart from my life. It's been a poor sort of
thing perhaps. I came from the people, I never had any education,
I was as rough as most men of my sort, and I have done many things
which I would sooner cut off my right hand than do again. But that
was when I lived in the darkness. It was before you came."
"Mr. Trent, will you take me back to Lady Tresham, please?"
"In a moment," he answered gravely. "Don't think that I am going
to be too rash. I know the time hasn't come yet. I am not going
to say any more. Only I want you to know this. The whole success
of my life is as nothing compared with the hope of one day - "
"I will not hear another word," she interrupted hastily, and
underneath her white veil he could see a scarlet spot of colour in
her cheeks; in her speech, too, there was a certain tremulousness.
"If you will not come with me I must find Lady Tresham alone."
They turned round, but as they neared the middle of the paddock
progress became almost impossible. The bell had rung for the
principal race of the day and the numbers were going up. The
paddock was crowded with others beside loiterers, looking the
horses over and stolidly pushing their way through the little groups
to the front rank. From Tattersall's came the roar of clamorous
voices. All around were evidences of that excitement which always
precedes a great race.
"I think," he said, "that we had better watch the race from these
railings. Your gown will be spoilt in the crowd if we try to get
out of the paddock, and you probably wouldn't get anywhere in time
to see it."
She acquiesced silently, recognising that, although he had not
alluded to it in words, he had no intention of saying anything
further at present. Trent, who had been looking forward to the next
few minutes with all the eagerness of a man who, for the first time
in his life, runs the favourite in a great race, smiled as he
realised how very content he was to stay where nothing could be seen
until the final struggle was over. They took up their places side
by side and leaned over the railing.
"Have you much money on Iris?" she asked.
"A thousand both ways," he answered. "I don't plunge, but as I
backed her very early I got 10 to 1 and 7 to 2. Listen! They're
There was a roar from across the course, followed by a moment's
breathless silence. The clamour of voices from Tattersall's subsided,
and in its place rose the buzz of excitement from the stands, the
murmur of many voices gradually growing in volume. Far away down
the straight Ernestine and Trent, leaning over the rail, could see
the little coloured specks come dancing into sight. The roar of
voices once more beat upon the air.
"Nero the Second wins!"
"The favourite's done!"
"Nero the Second for a monkey!"
"Nero the Second romps in!"
"Iris! Iris! Iris wins!"
It was evident from the last shout and the gathering storm of
excitement that, after all, it was to be a race They were well in
sight now; Nero the Second and Iris, racing neck-and-neck, drawing
rapidly away from the others. The air shook with the sound of hoarse
and fiercely excited voices.
"Nero the Second wins!"
Neck-and-neck they passed the post. So it seemed at least to
Ernestine and many others, but Trent shook his head and looked at
her with a smile.
"Iris was beaten by a short neck," he said. "Good thing you didn't
back her. That's a fine horse of the Prince's, though!"
"I'm so sorry," she cried. "Are you sure?"
He nodded and pointed to the numbers which were going up. She
flashed a sudden look upon him which more than compensated him for
his defeat. At least he had earned her respect that day, as a man
who knew how to accept defeat gracefully. They walked slowly up
the paddock and stood on the edge of the crowd, whilst a great
person went out to meet his horse amidst a storm of cheering. It
chanced that he caught sight of Trent on the way, and, pausing for
a moment, he held out his hand.
"Your horse made a magnificent fight for it, Mr. Trent," he said.
"I'm afraid I only got the verdict by a fluke. Another time may
you be the fortunate one!"
Trent answered him simply, but without awkwardness. Then his horse
came in and he held out his hand to the crestfallen jockey, whilst
with his left he patted Iris's head.
"Never mind, Dick," he said cheerfully, "you rode a fine race and
the best horse won. Better luck next time."
Several people approached Trent, but he turned away at once to
"You will let me take you to Lady Tresham now," he said.
"If you please," she answered quietly.
They left the paddock by the underground way. When they emerged
upon the lawn the band was playing and crowds of people were
strolling about under the trees.
"The boxes," Trent suggested, "must be very hot now!"
He turned down a side-walk away from the stand towards an empty seat
under an elm-tree, and, after a moment's scarcely perceptible
hesitation, she followed his lead. He laughed softly to himself.
If this was defeat, what in the world was better?
"This is your first Ascot, is it not?" she asked.
"And your first defeat?"
"I suppose it is," he admitted cheerfully. "I rather expected to
"You must be very disappointed, I am afraid."
"I have lost," he said thoughtfully, "a gold cup. I have
gained - "
She half rose and shook out her skirts as though about to leave him.
He stopped short and found another conclusion to his sentence.
A faint smile parted her lips. She resumed her seat.
"I am glad to find you," she said, "so much of a philosopher. Now
talk to me for a few minutes about what you have been doing in Africa."
He obeyed her, and very soon she forgot the well dressed crowd of
men and women by whom they were surrounded, the light hum of gay
conversation, the band which was playing the fashionable air of
the moment. She saw instead the long line of men of many races,
stripped to the waist and toiling as though for their lives under
a tropical sun, she saw the great brown water-jars passed down the
line, men fainting beneath the burning sun and their places taken
by others. She heard the shrill whistle of alarm, the beaten drum;
she saw the spade exchanged for the rifle, and the long line of
toilers disappear behind the natural earthwork which their labours
had created. She saw black forms rise stealthily from the long,
rank grass, a flight of quivering spears, the horrid battle-cry of
the natives rang in her ears. The whole drama of the man's great
past rose up before her eyes, made a living and real thing by his
simple but vigorous language. That he effaced himself from it went
for nothing; she saw him there perhaps more clearly than anything
else, the central and domineering figure, a man of brains and nerve
who, with his life in his hands, faced with equal immovability a
herculean task and the chances of death. Certain phrases in Fred's
letter had sunk deep into her mind, they were recalled very vividly
by the presence of the man himself, telling his own story. She sat
in the sunlight with the music in her ears, listening to his abrupt,
vivid speech, and a fear came to her which blanched her cheeks and
caught at her throat. The hand which held her dainty parasol of
lace shook, and an indescribable thrill ran through her veins. She
could no more think of this man as a clodhopper, a coarse upstart
without manners or imagination. In many ways he fell short of all
the usual standards by which the men of her class were judged, yet
she suddenly realised that he possessed a touch of that quality
which lifted him at once far over their heads, The man had genius.
Without education or culture he had yet achieved greatness. By his
side the men who were passing about on the lawn became suddenly
puppets. Form and style, manners and easy speech became suddenly
stripped of their significance to her. The man at her side had none
of these things, yet he was of a greater world. She felt her enmity
towards him suddenly weakened. Only her pride now could help her.
She called upon it fiercely. He was the man whom she had
deliberately believed to be guilty of her father's death, the man
whom she had set herself to entrap. She brushed all those other
thoughts away and banished firmly that dangerous kindness of manner
into which she had been drifting.
And he, on his part, felt a glow of keen pleasure When he realised
how the events of the day had gone in his favour. If not yet of
her world, he knew now that his becoming so would be hereafter
purely a matter of time. He looked up through the green leaves at
the blue sky, bedappled with white, fleecy clouds, and wondered
whether she guessed that his appearance here, his ownership of Iris,
the studious care with which he had placed himself in the hands of
a Seville Row tailor were all for her sake. It was true that she
had condescended to Bohemianism, that be had first met her as a
journalist, working for her living in a plain serge suit and a straw
hat. But he felt sure that this had been to a certain extent a whim
with her. He stole a sidelong glance at her - she was the
personification of daintiness from the black patent shoes showing
beneath the flouncing of her skirt, to the white hat with its
clusters of roses. Her foulard gown was as simple as genius could
make it, and she wore no ornaments, save a fine clasp to her
waistband of dull gold, quaintly fashioned, and the fine gold chain
around her neck, from which hung her racing-glasses. She was to him
the very type of everything aristocratic. It might be, as she had
told him, that she chose to work for her living, but he knew as
though by inspiration that her people and connections were of that
world to which he could never belong, save on sufferance. He meant
to belong to it, for her sake - to win her! He admitted the
presumption, but then it would be presumption of any man to lift
his eyes to her. He estimated his chances with common sense; he was
not a man disposed to undervalue himself. He knew the power of his
wealth and his advantage over the crowd of young men who were her
equals by birth. For he had met some of them, had inquired into
their lives, listened to their jargon, and had come in a faint sort
of way to understand them. It had been an encouragement to him.
After all it was only serious work, life lived out face to face with
the great realities of existence which could make a man. In a dim
way he realised that there were few in her own class likely to
satisfy Ernestine. He even dared to tell himself that those things
which rendered him chiefly unfit for her, the acquired vulgarities
of his rougher life, were things which he could put away; that a
time would come when he would take his place confidently in her
world, and that the end would be success. And all the while from
out of the blue sky Fate was forging a thunderbolt to launch against
"And now," she said, rising, "you really must take me to Lady
Tresham! They will think that I am lost."
"Are you still at your rooms?" he asked.
"Yes, only I'm having them spring-cleaned for a few days. I am
staying at Tresham House."
"May I come and see you there?"
The man's quiet pertinacity kindled a sort of indignation in her.
The sudden weakness in her defences was unbearable.
"I think not," she answered shortly. "You don't know Lady Tresham,
and they might not approve. Lady Tresham is rather old-fashioned."
"Oh, Lady Tresham is all right," he answered. "I suppose I shall
see you to-night if you are staying there. They have asked me to
She was taken aback and showed it. Again he had the advantage. He
did not tell her that on his return he had found scores of
invitations from people he had never heard of before.
"You are by way of going into society, then," she answered insolently.
"I don't think I've made any particular efforts," he answered.
"Money," she murmured, "is an everlasting force!"
"The people of your world," be answered, with a flash of contempt,
"are the people who find it so."
She was silent then, and Trent was far from being discouraged by
her momentary irritability. He was crossing the lawn now by her
side, carrying himself well, with a new confidence in his air and
bearing which she did not fail to take note of. The sunlight, the
music, and the pleasant air of excitement were all in his veins.
He was full of the strong joy of living. And then, in the midst of
it all, came a dull, crashing blow. It was as though all his
castles in the air had come toppling about his ears, the blue sky
had turned to stony grey and the sweet waltz music had become a
dirge. Always a keen watcher of men's faces, he had glanced for a
second time at a gaunt, sallow man who wore a loose check suit and
a grey Homburg hat. The eyes of the two men met. Then the blood
had turned to ice in Trent's veins and the ground had heaved beneath
his feet. It was the one terrible chance which Fate had held
against him, and she had played the card.
Considering the nature and suddenness of the blow which had fallen
upon him, Trent's recovery was marvellous. The two men had come
face to face upon the short turf, involuntarily each had come to a
standstill. Ernestine looked from one to the other a little
"I should like a word with you, Trent," Captain Francis said quietly.
"In five minutes," he said, "I will return here - on the other side
of the band-stand, say."
Francis nodded and stood aside. Trent and Ernestine continued their
progress towards the stand.
"Your friend," Ernestine remarked, " seemed to come upon you like
a modern Banquo!"
Trent, who did not understand the allusion, was for once discreet.
"He is a man with whom I had dealings abroad," he said, "I did not
expect him to turn up here."
"In West Africa?" she asked quickly.
Trent smiled enigmatically.
"There are many foreign countries besides Africa," he said, "and
I've been in most of them. This is box No. 13, then. I shall see
you this evening."
She nodded, and Trent was free again. He did not make his way at
once to the band-stand. Instead he entered the small
refreshment-room at the base of the building and called for a glass
of brandy. He drank it slowly, his eyes fixed upon the long row of
bottles ranged upon the shelf opposite to him, he himself carried
back upon a long wave of thoughts to a little West African station
where the moist heat rose in fever mists and where an endless stream
of men passed backward and forward to their tasks with wan, weary
faces and slowly dragging limbs. What a cursed chance which had
brought him once more face to face with the one weak spot in his life,
the one chapter which, had he the power, he would most willingly seal
for ever! From outside came the ringing of a bell, the hoarse
shouting of many voices in the ring, through the open door a vision
of fluttering waves of colour, lace parasols and picture hats, little
trills of feminine laughter, the soft rustling of muslins and silks.
A few moments ago it had all seemed so delightful to him - and now
there lay a hideous blot upon the day.
It seemed to him when he left the little bar that he had been there
for hours, as a matter of fact barely five minutes had passed since
he had left Ernestine. He stood for a moment on the edge of the walk,
dazzled by the sunlight, then he stepped on to the grass and made
his way through the throng. The air was full of soft, gay music,
and the skirts and flounces of the women brushed against him at every
step. Laughter and excitement were the order of the day. Trent,
with his suddenly pallid face and unseeing eyes, seemed a little out
of place in such a scene of pleasure. Francis, who was smoking a
cigar, looked up as he approached and made room for him upon the seat.
"I did not expect to see you in England quite so soon, Captain
Francis," Trent said.
"I did not expect," Francis answered, "ever to be in England again.
I am told that my recovery was a miracle. I am also told that I owe
my Life to you!"
Trent shrugged his shoulders.
"I would have done as much for any of my people," he said, "and you
don't owe me any thanks. To be frank with you, I hoped you'd die."
"You could easily have made sure of it," Francis answered.
"It wasn't my way," Trent answered shortly. "Now what do you want
Francis turned towards him with a curious mixture of expressions
in his face.
"Look here," he said, "I want to believe in you! You saved my life
and I'm not over-anxious to do you a mischief. But you must tell
me what you have done with Vill - Monty."
"Don't you know where he is?" Trent asked quickly.
"I? Certainly not! How should I?"
"Perhaps not," Trent said, "but here's the truth. When I got back
to Attra Monty had disappeared - ran away to England, and as yet
I've heard never a word of him. I'd meant to do the square thing
by him and bring him back myself. Instead of that he gave us all
the slip, but unless he's a lot different to what he was last time
I saw him, he's not fit to be about alone."
"I heard that he had left," Francis said, "from Mr. Walsh."
"He either came quite alone," Trent said, "in which case it is odd
that nothing has been heard of him, or Da Souza has got hold of him."
"Oom Sam's brother?"
"And his interest?" Francis asked.
"Well, he is a large shareholder in the Company," Trent said. "Of
course he could upset us all if he liked. I should say that Da
Souza would try all he could to keep him in the background until he
had disposed of his shares."
"And how does your stock hold?"
"I don't know," Trent said. "I only landed yesterday. I'm pretty
certain though that there's no market for the whole of Da Souza's
"He has a large interest, then?"
"A very large one," Trent answered drily.
"I should like," Francis said, "to understand this matter properly.
As a matter of fact I suppose that Monty is entitled to half the
purchase-money you received for the Company.
"It isn't that I grudge him that," he said, "although, with the
other financial enterprises I have gone into, I don't know how I
should raise half a million of money to pay him off. But don't
you see my sale of the charter to the Company is itself, Monty being
alive, an illegal act. The title will be wrong, and the whole
affair might drift into Chancery, just when a vigorous policy is
required to make the venture a success. If Monty were here and in
his right mind, I think we could come to terms, but, when I saw him
last at any rate, he was quite incapable, and he might become a tool
to anything. The Bears might get hold of him and ruin us all. In
short, it's a beastly mess!"
Francis looked at him keenly.
"What do you expect me to do?" he asked.
"I have no right to expect anything," Trent said. "However, I saved
your life and you may consider yourself therefore under some
obligation to me. I will tell you then what I would have you do.
In the first place, I know no more where he is than you do. He may
be in England or he may not. I shall go to Da Souza, who probably
knows. You can come with me if you like. I don't want to rob the
man of a penny. He shall have all he is entitled to - only I do
want to arrange terms with him quietly, and not have the thing
talked about. It's as much for the others' sake as my own. The
men who came into my Syndicate trusted me, and I don't want them
Francis took a little silver case from his pocket, lit a cigarette,
and smoked for a moment or two thoughtfully.
"It is possible," he said at last, "that you are an honest man.
On the other hand you must admit that the balance of probability
from my point of view is on the other side. Let us travel backwards
a little way - to my first meeting with you. I witnessed the
granting of this concession to you by the King of Bekwando.
According to its wording you were virtually Monty's heir, and Monty
was lying drunk, in a climate where strong waters and death walk
hand-in-hand. You leave him in the bush, proclaim his death, and
take sole possession. I find him alive, do the best I can for him,
and here the first act ends. Then what afterwards? I hear of you
as an empire-maker and a millionaire. Nevertheless, Monty was
alive and you knew he was alive, but when I reach Attra he has been
spirited away! I want to know where! You say you don't know. It
may be true, but it doesn't sound like it."
Trent's under-lip was twitching, a sure sign of the tempest within,
but he kept himself under restraint and said never a word.
Francis continued, "Now I do not wish to be your enemy, Scarlett
Trent, or to do you an ill turn, but this is my word to you.
Produce Monty within a week and open reasonable negotiations for
treating him fairly, and I will keep silent. But if you can't
produce him at the end of that time I must go to his relations
and lay all these things before them."
Trent rose slowly to his feet.
"Give me your address," he said, "I will do what I can."
Francis tore a leaf from his pocket-book and wrote a few words upon
"That will find me at any time," he said. "One moment, Trent. When
I saw you first you were with - a lady."
"I have been away from England so long," Francis continued slowly,
"that my memory has suffered. Yet that lady's face was somehow
familiar. May I ask her name?"
"Miss Ernestine Wendermott," Trent answered slowly.
Francis threw away his cigarette and lit another.
"Thank you," he said.
Da Souza's office was neither furnished nor located with the idea
of impressing casual visitors. It was in a back-street off an
alley, and although within a stone's throw of Lothbury its immediate
surroundings were not exhilarating. A blank wall faced it, a
green-grocer's shop shared with a wonderful, cellar-like public-house
the honour of its more immediate environment. Trent, whose first
visit it was, looked about him with surprise mingled with some
He pushed open the swing door and found himself face to face with
Da Souza's one clerk - a youth of unkempt appearance, shabbily but
flashily dressed, with sallow complexion and eyes set close together.
He was engaged at that particular moment in polishing a large
diamond pin upon the sleeve of his coat, which operation he suspended
to gaze with much astonishment at this unlocked-for visitor. Trent
had come straight from Ascot, straight indeed from his interview
with Francis, and was still wearing his racing-glasses.
"I wish to see Mr. Da Souza," Trent said. "Is he in?"
"I believe so, sir," the boy answered. "What name?"
"Trent! Mr. Scarlett Trent!"
The door of an inner office opened, and Da Souza, sleek and curled,
presented himself. He showed all his white teeth in the smile
with which he welcomed his visitor. The light of battle was in his
small, keen eyes, in his cringing bow, his mock humility.
"I am most honoured, Mr. Trent, sir," he declared. "Welcome back
to England. When did you return?"
"Yesterday," Trent said shortly.
"And you have come," Da Souza continued, "fresh from the triumphs
of the race-course. It is so, I trust?"
"I have come straight from Ascot," Trent replied, "but my horse was
beaten if that is what you mean. I did not come here to talk about
racing though. I want a word with you in private."
"With much pleasure, sir," Da Souza answered, throwing open with a
little flourish the door of his sanctum. "Will you step in? This
way! The chair is dusty. Permit me!"
Trent threw a swift glance around the room in which he found himself.
It was barely furnished, and a window, thick with dust, looked out
on the dingy back-wall of a bank or some public building. The floor
was uncovered, the walls were hung with yellow maps of gold-mines all
in the West African district. Da Souza himself, spick and span, with
glossy boots and a flower in his buttonhole, was certainly the least
shabby thing in the room.
"You know very well," Trent said, "what I have come about. Of course
you'll pretend you don't, so to save time I'll tell you. What have
you done with Monty?"
Da Souza spread outwards the palms of his hands. He spoke with
"Monty! always Monty! What do I want with him? It is you who
should look after him, not I."
Trent turned quietly round and locked the door. Da Souza would have
called out, but a paroxysm of fear had seized him. His fat, white
face was pallid, and his knees were shaking. Trent's hand fell upon
his shoulder, and Da Souza felt as though the claws of a trap had
"If you call out I'll throttle you," Trent said. "Now listen.
Francis is in England and, unless Monty is produced, will tell the
whole story. I shall do the best I can for all of us, but I'm not
going to have Monty done to death. Come, let's have the truth."
Da Souza was grey now with a fear greater even than a physical one.
He had been so near wealth. Was he to lose everything?
"Mr. Trent," he whispered, "my dear friend, have reason. Monty, I
tell you, is only half alive, he hangs on, but it is a mere thread
of life. Leave it all to me! To-morrow he shall be dead! - oh,
quite naturally. There shall be no risk! Trent, Trent!"
His cry ended in a gurgle, for Trent's hand was on his throat.
"Listen, you miserable hound," he whispered. "Take me to him this
moment, or I'll shake the life out of you. Did you ever know me
go back from my word?"
Da Souza took up his hat with an ugly oath and yielded. The two
men left the office together.
* * * * *
The two women sat in silence, waiting for some repetition of the
sound. This time there was certainly no possibility of any mistake.
>From the room above their heads came the feeble, quavering sobbing
of an old man. Julie threw down her book and sprang up.
"Mother, I cannot bear it any longer," she cried. "I know where
the key is, and I am going into that room"
Mrs. Da Souza's portly frame quivered with excitement.
"My child," she pleaded, "don't Julie, do remember! Your father
will know, and then - oh, I shall be frightened to death!"
"It is nothing to do with you, mother," the girl said, "I am going."
Mrs. Da Souza produced a capacious pocket-handkerchief, reeking with
scent, and dabbed her eyes with it. From the days when she too had
been like Julie, slim and pretty, she had been every hour in dread
of her husband. Long ago her spirit had been broken and her
independence subdued. To her friend and confidants no word save of
pride and love for her husband had ever passed her lips, yet now as
she watched her daughter she was conscious of a wild, passionate
wish that her fate at least might be a different one. And while
she mopped her eyes and looked backward, Julie disappeared.
Even Julie, as she ascended the stairs with the key of the locked
room in her hand, was conscious of unusual tremors. If her position
with regard to her father was not the absolute condition of serfdom
into which her mother had been ground down, she was at least afraid
of him, and she remembered the strict commands he had laid upon them
all. The room was not to be open save by himself. All cries and
entreaties were to be disregarded, every one was to behave as though
that room did not exist. They had borne it already for days, the
heart-stirring moans, the faint, despairing cries of the prisoner,
and she could bear it no longer. She had a tender little heart, and
from the first it had been moved by the appearance of the pitiful
old man, leaning so heavily upon her father's arm, as they had come
up the garden walk together. She made up her mind to satisfy
herself at least that his isolation was of his own choice. So she
went boldly up the stairs and thrust the key into the lock. A
moment's hesitation, then she threw it open.
Her first impulse, when she had looked into the face of the man who
stumbled up in fear at her entrance, was to then and there abandon
her enterprise - for Monty just then was not a pleasant sight to
look upon. The room was foul with the odour of spirits and tobacco
smoke. Monty himself was unkempt and unwashed, his eyes were
bloodshot, and he had fallen half across the table with the gesture
of a drunken man. At the sight of him her pity died away. After
all, then, the sobbing they had heard was the maudlin crying of a
drunken man. Yet he was very old, and there was something about
the childish, breathless fear with which he was regarding her which
made her hesitate. She lingered instead, and finding him
tongue-tied, spoke to him.
"We heard you talking to yourself downstairs," she said, "and we
were afraid that you might be in pain."
"Ah," he muttered, "That is all, then! There is no one behind you
- no one who wants me!"
"There is no one in the house," she assured him, "save my mother
He drew a little breath which ended in a sob. "You see," he said
vaguely, "I sit up here hour by hour, and I think that I fancy
things. Only a little while ago I fancied that I heard Mr. Walsh's
voice, and he wanted the mission-box, the wooden box with the cross,
you know. I keep on thinking I hear him. Stupid, isn't it?"
He smiled weakly, and his bony fingers stole round the tumbler
which stood by his side. She shook her head at him smiling, and
crossed over to him. She was not afraid any more.
"I wouldn't drink if I were you," she said, "it can't be good for
you, I'm sure!"
"Good," he answered slowly, "it's poison - rank poison."
"If I were you," she said, "I would put all this stuff away and go
for a nice walk. It would do you much more good."
He shook his head.
"I daren't," he whispered. "They're looking for me now. I must
hide - hide all the time!"
"Who are looking for you?" she asked.
"Don't you know? Mr. Walsh and his wife! They have come over
"Didn't you know," he muttered," that I am a thief?"
She shook her head.
"No, I certainly didn't. I'm very sorry!"
He nodded his head vigorously a great many times.
"Won't you tell me about it?" she asked. "Was it anything very bad?"
"I don't know," he said. "It's so hard to remember! It is
something like this! I seem to have lived for such a long time, and
when I look back I can remember things that happened a very long
time ago, but then there seems a gap, and everything is all misty,
and it makes my head ache dreadfully to try and remember," he moaned.
"Then don't try," she said kindly. "I'll read to you for a little
time if you like, and you shall sit quite quiet."
He seemed not to have heard her. He continued presently -
"Once before I died, it was all I wanted. Just to have heard her
speak, to have seen my little girl grown into a woman, and the sea
was always there, and Oom Sam would always come with that cursed
rum. Then one day came Trent and talked of money and spoke of
England, and when he went away it rang for ever in my ears, and at
night I heard her calling for me across the sea. So I stole out,
and the great steamer was lying there with red fires at her funnel,
and I was mad. She was crying for me across the sea, so I took
She patted his hand gently. There was a lump in her throat, and
her eyes were wet.
"Was it your daughter you wanted so much to see?" she asked softly.
"My daughter! My little girl," he answered! "And I heard her
calling to me with her mother's voice across the sea. So I took
"No one would blame you very much for that, I am sure," she said
cheerfully. "You are frightening yourself needlessly. I will
speak to Father, and he shall help you."
He held up his hand.
"He is hiding me," he whispered. "It is through him I knew that
they were after me. I don't mind for myself, but she might get
to know, and I have brought disgrace enough upon her. Listen!"
There were footsteps upon the stairs. He clung to her in an agony
"They are coming!" he cried. "Hide me! Oh, hide me!"
But she too was almost equally terrified, for she had recognised
her father's tread. The door was thrown open and De Souza entered,
followed by Scarlett Trent.
The old man and the girl were equally terrified, both without cause.
Da Souza forgot for a moment to be angry at his daughter's
disobedience; and was quick to see that her presence there was all
to his advantage. Monty, as white as death, was stricken dumb to
see Trent. He sank back gasping into a chair. Trent came up to
him with outstretched hands and with a look of keen pity in his
"Monty, old chap," he said, "what on earth are you scared at? Don't
you know I'm glad to see you! Didn't I come to Attra to get you back
to England? Shake hands, partner. I've got lots of money for you
and good news."
Monty's hand was limp and cold, his eyes were glazed and
expressionless. Trent looked at the half-empty bottle by his side
and turned savagely to Da Souza.
"You blackguard!" he said in a low tone, "you wanted to kill him,
did you? Don't you know that to shut him up here and ply him with
brandy is as much murder as though you stood with a knife at his
"He goes mad without something to drink," Da Souza muttered.
"He'll go mad fast enough with a bottle of brandy within reach, and
you know it," Trent answered fiercely. "I am going to take him away
Da Souza was no longer cringing. He shrugged his shoulders and
thrust his fat little hands into his trousers pockets.
"Very well," he said darkly, "you go your own way. You won't take
my advice. I've been a City man all my life, and I know a thing or
two. You bring Monty to the general meeting of the Bekwando Company
and explain his position, and I tell you, you'll have the whole
market toppling about your ears. No concern of mine, of course. I
have got rid of a few of my shares, and I'll work a few more off
before the crash. But what about you? What about Scarlett Trent,
"I can afford to lose a bit," Trent answered quietly, "I'm not
Da Souza laughed a little hysterically.
"You think you're a financial genius, I suppose," he said, "because
you've brought a few things off. Why, you don't know the A B C of
the thing. I tell you this, my friend. A Company like the Bekwando
Company is very much like a woman's reputation, drop a hint or two,
start just a bit of talk, and I tell you the flames'11 soon do the
Trent turned his back upon him.
"Monty," he said, "you aren't afraid to come with me?"
Monty looked at him, perplexed and troubled.
"You've nothing to be afraid of," Trent continued. "As to the money
at Mr. Walsh's house, I settled that all up with him before I left
Attra. It belonged to you really, for I'd left more than that for
"There is no one, then," Monty asked in a slow, painful whisper,
"who will put me in prison?"
"I give you my word, Monty," Trent declared, "that there is not a
single soul who has any idea of the sort."
"You see, it isn't that I mind," Monty continued in a low, quivering
voice, "but there's my little girl! My real name might come out,
and I wouldn't have her know what I've been for anything."
"She shall not know," Trent said, "I'll promise you'll be perfectly
safe with me."
Monty rose up weakly. His knees were shaking, and he was in a
pitiful state. He cast a sidelong glance at the brandy bottle by
his side, and his hand stole out towards it. But Trent stopped him
gently but firmly.
"Not now, Monty," he said, "you've had enough of that!"
The man's hand dropped to his side. He looked into Trent's face,
and the years seemed to fade away into a mist.
"You were always a hard man, Scarlett Trent," he said. "You were
always hard on me!"
"Maybe so," Trent answered, "yet you'd have died in D.T. before now
but for me! I kept you from it as far as I could. I'm going to
keep you from it now!"
Monty turned a woebegone face around the little room.
"I don't know," he said; "I'm comfortable here, and I'm too old,
Trent, to live your life. I'd begin again, Trent, I would indeed,
if I were ten years younger. It's too late now! I couldn't live
a day without something to keep up my strength!"
"He's quite right, Trent," Da Souza put in hastily. "He's too old
to start afresh now. He's comfortable here and well looked after;
make him an allowance, or give him a good lump sum in lieu of all
claims. I'll draw it out; you'll sign it, won't you, Monty? Be
reasonable, Trent! It's the best course for all of us!"
But Trent shook his head. "I have made up my mind," he said. "He
must come with me. Monty, there is the little girl!
"Too late," Monty moaned; "look at me!"
"But if you could leave her a fortune, make her magnificent presents?"
Monty wavered then. His dull eyes shone once more!
"If I could do that," he murmured.
"I pledge my word that you shall," Trent answered. Monty rose up.
"I am ready," he said simply. "Let us start at once."
Da Souza planted himself in front of them.
"You defy me!" he said. "You will not trust him with me or take my
advice. Very well, my friend! Now listen! You want to ruin me!
Well, if I go, the Bekwando Company shall go too, you understand!
Ruin for me shall mean ruin for Mr. Scarlett Trent - ah, ruin and
disgrace. It shall mean imprisonment if I can bring it about, and
I have friends! Don't you know that you are guilty of fraud? You
sold what wasn't yours and put the money in your pocket! You left
your partner to rot in a fever swamp, or to be done to death by
those filthy blacks. The law will call that swindling! You will
find yourself in the dock, my friend, in the prisoners' dock, I say!
Come, how do you like that, Mr. Scarlett Trent? If you leave this
room with him, you are a ruined man. I shall see to it."
Trent swung him out of the way - a single contemptuous turn of the
wrist, and Da Souza reeled against the mantelpiece. He held out
his hand to Monty and they left the room together.
>From a conversational point of view," Lady Tresham remarked, "our
guest to-night seems scarcely likely to distinguish himself."
Ernestine looked over her fan across the drawing-room.
"I have never seen such an alteration in a man," she said, "in so
short a time. This morning he amazed me. He knew the right people
and did the right things - carried himself too like a man who is
sure of himself. To-night he is simply a booby."
"Perhaps it is his evening clothes," Lady Tresham remarked, "they
take some getting used to, I believe."
"This morning," Ernestine said, "he had passed that stage altogether.
This is, I suppose, a relapse! Such a nuisance for you!"
Lady Tresham rose and smiled sweetly at the man who was taking her
"Well, he is to be your charge, so I hope you may find him more
amusing than he looks," she answered.
It was an early dinner, to be followed by a visit to a popular
theatre. A few hours ago Trent was looking forward to his evening
with the keenest pleasure - now he was dazed - he could not readjust
his point of view to the new conditions. He knew very well that it