Part 5 out of 5
was his wealth, and his wealth only, which had brought him as an
equal amongst these people, all, so far as education and social
breeding was concerned, of so entirely a different sphere. He
looked around the table. What would they say if they knew? He
would be thrust out as an interloper. Opposite to him was a Peer
who was even then engaged in threading the meshes of the Bankruptcy
Court, what did they care for that? - not a whit! He was of their
order though he was a beggar. But as regards himself, he was
fully conscious of the difference. The measure of his wealth was
the measure of his standing amongst them. Without it he would be
thrust forth - he could make no claim to association with them.
The thought filled him with a slow, bitter anger. He sent away
his soup untasted, and he could not find heart to speak to the girl
who had been the will-o'-the-wisp leading him into this evil plight.
Presently she addressed him.
He turned round and looked at her.
"Is it necessary for me to remind you, I wonder," she said, "that
it is usual to address a few remarks - quite as a matter of form,
you know - to the woman whom you bring in to dinner?"
He eyed her dispassionately.
"I am not used to making conversation," he said. "Is there anything
in the world which I could talk about likely to interest you?"
She took a salted almond from a silver dish by his side and smiled
sweetly upon him. "Dear me!" she said, "how fierce! Don't attempt
it if you feel like that, please! What have you been doing since I
saw you last? - losing your money or your temper, or both?"
He looked at her with a curiously grim smile.
"If I lost the former," he said, "I should very soon cease to be a
person of interest, or of any account at all, amongst your friends."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You do not strike one," she remarked, "as the sort of person likely
to lose a fortune on the race-course."
"You are quite right," he answered, "I think that I won money. A
couple of thousand at least."
"Two thousand pounds!" She actually sighed, and lost her appetite
for the oyster patty with which she had been trifling. Trent looked
around the table.
"At the same time," he continued in a lower key, "I'll make a
confession to you, Miss Wendermott, I wouldn't care to make to any
one else here. I've been pretty lucky as you know, made money fast
- piled it up in fact. To-day, for the first time, I have come
face to face with the possibility of a reverse."
"Is this a new character?" she murmured. "Are you becoming
"It is no ordinary reverse," he said slowly. "It is collapse
"0 - oh!"
She looked at him attentively. Her own heart was beating. If he
had not been engrossed by his care lest any one might over-hear
their conversation, he would have been astonished at the change in
"You are talking in enigmas surely," she said. "Nothing of that
sort could possibly happen to you. They tell me that the Bekwando
Land shares are priceless, and that you must make millions."
"This afternoon," he said, raising his glass to his lips and
draining it, "I think that I must have dozed upon the lawn at Ascot.
I sat there for some time, back amongst the trees, and I think that
I must have fallen to sleep. There was a whisper in my ears and I
saw myself stripped of everything. How was it? I forget now! A
concession repudiated, a bank failure, a big slump - what does it
matter? The money was gone, and I was simply myself again, Scarlett
Trent, a labourer, penniless and of no account."
"It must have been an odd sensation," she said thoughtfully.
"I will tell you what it made me realise," be said. "I am drifting
into a dangerous position. I am linking myself to a little world
to whom, personally, I am as nothing and less than nothing. I am
tolerated for my belongings! If by any chance I were to lose these,
what would become of me?"
"You are a man," she said, looking at him earnestly; "you have the
nerve and wits of a man, what you have done before you might do
"In the meantime I should be ostracised."
"By a good many people, no doubt."
He held his peace for a time, and ate and drank what was set before
him. He was conscious that his was scarcely a dinner-table manner.
He was too eager, too deeply in earnest. People opposite were
looking at them, Ernestine talked to her vis-a-vis. It was some
time before he spoke again, when he did he took up the thread of
their conversation where he had left it.
"By the majority, of course," he said. "I have wondered sometimes
whether there might be any one who would be different."
"I should be sorry," she said demurely.
"Sorry, yes; so would the tradespeople who had had my money and the
men who call themselves my friends and forget that they are my
"You are cynical."
"I cannot help it," he answered. "It is my dream. To-day, you
know, I have stood face to face with evil things."
"Do you know," she said, "I should never have called you a dreamer,
a man likely to fancy things. I wonder if anything has really
happened to make you talk like this?"
He flashed a quick glance at her underneath his heavy brows.
Nothing in her face betrayed any more than the most ordinary
interest in what he was saying. Yet somehow, from that moment, he
had uneasy doubts concerning her, whether there might be by any
chance some reason for the tolerance and the interest with which
she had regarded him from the first. The mere suspicion of it was
a shock to him. He relapsed once more into a state of nervous
silence. Ernestine yawned, and her hostess threw more than one
pitying glance towards her.
Afterwards the whole party adjourned to the theatre, altogether in
an informal manner. Some of the guests had carriages waiting,
others went down in hansoms. Ernestine was rather late in coming
downstairs and found Trent waiting for her in the hall. She was
wearing a wonderful black satin opera cloak with pale green lining,
her maid had touched up her hair and wound a string of pearls around
her neck. He watched her as she came slowly down the stairs,
buttoning her gloves, and looking at him with eyebrows faintly
raised to see him waiting there alone. After all, what folly! Was
it likely that wealth, however great, could ever make him of her
world, could ever bring him in reality one degree nearer to her?
That night he had lost all confidence. He told himself that it was
the rankest presumption to even think of her.
"The others," he said, "have gone on. Lady Tresham left word that
I was to take you."
She glanced at the old-fashioned clock which stood in the corner
of the hall.
"How ridiculous to have hurried so!" she said. One might surely be
comfortable here instead of waiting at the theatre."
She walked towards the door with him. His own little night-brougham
was waiting there, and she stepped into it.
"I am surprised at Lady Tresham," she said, smiling. "I really
don't think that I am at all properly chaperoned. This comes, I
suppose, from having acquired a character for independence."
Her gown seemed to fill the carriage - a little sea of frothy lace
and muslin. He hesitated on the pavement.
"Shall I ride outside?" he suggested. "I don't want to crush you."
She gathered up her skirt at once and made room for him. He
directed the driver and stepped in beside her.
"I hope," she said, "that your cigarette restored your spirits.
You are not going to be as dull all the evening as you were at
dinner, are you?"
He sighed a little wistfully. "I'd like to talk to you," he said
simply, "but somehow to-night... you know it was much easier when
you were a journalist from the 'Hour'."
"Well, that is what I am now," she said, laughing. "Only I can't
get away from all my old friends at once. The day after to-morrow
I shall be back at work."
"Do you mean it?" he asked incredulously.
"Of course I do! You don't suppose I find this sort of thing
particularly amusing, do you? Hasn't it ever occurred to you that
there must be a terrible sameness about people who have been
brought up amongst exactly the same surroundings and taught to
regard life from exactly the same point of view?"
"But you belong to them - you have their instincts."
"I may belong to them in some ways, but you know that I am a
revolted daughter. Haven't I proved it? Haven't I gone out into
the world, to the horror of all my relatives, for the sole purpose
of getting a firmer grip of life? And yet, do you know, Mr. Trent,
I believe that to-night you have forgotten that. You have
remembered my present character only, and, in despair of interesting
a fashionable young lady, you have not talked to me at all, and I
have been very dull."
"It is quite true," he assented. "All around us they were talking
of things of which I knew nothing, and you were one of them."
"How foolish! You could have talked to me about Fred and the
road-making in Africa and I should have been more interested than
in anything they could have said to me."
They were passing a brilliantly-lit corner, and the light flashed
upon his strong, set face with its heavy eyebrows and firm lips.
He leaned back and laughed hoarsely. Was it her fancy, she wondered,
or did he seem not wholly at his ease.
"Haven't I told you a good deal? I should have thought that Fred
and I between us had told you all about Africa that you would care
She shook her head. What she said next sounded to him, in a certain
"There is a good deal left for you to tell me," she said. "Some
day I shall hope to know everything."
He met her gaze without flinching.
"Some day," he said, "I hope you will."
The carriage drew up at the theatre and he handed her out - a little
awkwardly perhaps, but without absolute clumsiness. They found all
the rest of the party already in their seats and the curtain about
to go up. They took the two end stalls, Trent on the outside. One
chair only, next to him, remained unoccupied.
"You people haven't hurried," Lady Tresham remarked, leaning forward.
"We are in time at any rate," Ernestine answered, letting her cloak
fall upon the back of the stall.
The curtain was rung up and the play began. It was a modern society
drama, full of all the most up-to-date fashionable jargon and
topical illusions. Trent grew more and more bewildered at every
moment. Suddenly, towards the end of the first act, a fine dramatic
situation leaped out like a tongue of fire. The interest of the
whole audience, up to then only mildly amused, became suddenly
intense. Trent sat forward in his seat. Ernestine ceased to fan
herself. The man and the woman stood face to face - the light
badinage which had been passing between them suddenly ended - the
man, with his sin stripped bare, mercilessly exposed, the woman,
his accuser, passionately eloquent, pouring out her scorn upon a
mute victim. The audience knew what the woman in the play did
not know, that it was for love of her that the man had sinned, to
save her from a terrible danger which had hovered very near her
life. The curtain fell, the woman leaving the room with a final
taunt flung over her shoulder, the man seated at a table looking
steadfastly into the fire with fixed, unseeing eyes. The audience
drew a little breath and then applauded; the orchestra struck up
and a buzz of conversation began.
It was then that Ernestine first noticed how absorbed the man at
her side had become. His hands were gripping the arms of the stall,
his eyes were fixed upon the spot somewhere behind the curtain where
this sudden little drama had been played out, as though indeed they
could pierce the heavy upholstery and see beyond into the room where
the very air seemed quivering still with the vehemence of the woman's
outpoured scorn. Ernestine spoke to him at last, the sound of her
voice brought him back with a start to the present.
"You like it?"
"The latter part," he answered. "What a sudden change! At first I
thought it rubbish, afterwards it was wonderful!"
"Hubert is a fine actor," she remarked, fanning herself. "It was
his first opportunity in the play, and he certainly took advantage
He turned deliberately round in his seat towards her, and she was
struck with the forceful eagerness of his dark, set face.
"The man," he whispered hoarsely, "sinned for the love of the woman.
Was he right? Would a woman forgive a man who deceived her for her
own sake - when she knew?"
Ernestine held up her programme and studied it deeply.
"I cannot tell," she said, "it depends."
Trent drew a little breath and turned away. A quiet voice from his
other side whispered in his ear - "The woman would forgive if she
cared for the man."
* * * * *
Trent turned sharply and the light died out of his voice. Surely
it was an evil omen, this man's coming; for it was Captain Francis
who had taken the vacant seat and who was watching his astonishment
with a somewhat saturnine smile.
"Rather a stupid play, isn't it? By the by, Trent, I wish you would
ask Miss Wendermott's permission to present me. I met her young
cousin out at Attra."
Ernestine heard and leaned forward smiling. Trent did as he was
asked, with set teeth and an ill grace. From then, until the
curtain went up for the next act, he had only to sit still and
Afterwards the play scarcely fulfilled the promise of its
commencement. At the third act Trent had lost all interest in it.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He drew a card from his pocket
and, scribbling a word or two on it, passed it along to Lady
Tresham. She leaned forward and smiled approval upon him.
Trent reached for his hat and whispered in Ernestine's ear.
"You are all coming to supper with me at the 'Milan,'" he said;
"I am going on now to see about it."
She smiled upon him, evidently pleased.
"What a charming idea! But do you mean all of us?"
He found his carriage outside without much difficulty and drove
quickly round to the Milan Restaurant. The director looked doubtful.
"A table for eighteen, sir! It is quite too late to arrange it,
except in a private room."
"The ladies prefer the large room," Trent answered decidedly, "and
you must arrange it somehow. I'll give you carte blanche as to what
you serve, but it must be of the best."
The man bowed. This must be a millionaire, for the restaurant was
"And the name, sir?"
"Scarlett Trent - you may not know me, but Lady Tresham, Lord
Colliston, and the Earl of Howton are amongst my guests."
The man saw no more difficulties. The name of Scarlett Trent was
the name which impressed him. The English aristocrat he had but
little respect for, but a millionaire was certainly next to the gods.
"We must arrange the table crossways, sir, at the end of the room,"
he said. "And about the flowers?"
"The best, and as many as you can get," Trent answered shortly. "I
have a 1OO pound note with me. I shall not grumble if I get little
change out of it, but I want value for the money."
"You shall have it, sir! " the man answered significantly - and he
kept his word.
Trent reached the theatre only as the people were streaming out.
In the lobby he came face to face with Ernestine and Francis. They
were talking together earnestly, but ceased directly they saw him.
"I have been telling Captain Francis," Ernestine said, "of your
"I hope that Captain Francis will join us," Trent said coldly.
Francis stepped behind for a moment to light a cigarette.
"I shall be delighted," he answered.
* * * * *
The supper party was one of those absolute and complete successes
which rarely fall to the lot of even the most carefully thought out
of social functions. Every one of Lady Tresham's guests had
accepted the hurried invitation, every one seemed in good spirits,
and delighted at the opportunity of unrestrained conversation after
several hours at the theatre. The supper itself, absolutely the
best of its kind, from the caviare and plovers' eggs to the
marvellous ices, and served in one of the handsomest rooms in London,
was really beyond criticism. To Trent it seemed almost like a dream,
as he leaned back in his chair and looked down at the little party
- the women with their bare shoulders and jewels, bathed in the soft
glow of the rose-shaded electric lights, the piles of beautiful pink
and white flowers, the gleaming silver, and the wine which frothed
in their glasses. The music of the violins on the balcony blended
with the soft, gay voices of the women. Ernestine was by his side,
every one was good-humoured and enjoying his hospitality. Only one
face at the table was a reminder of the instability of his fortunes
- a face he had grown to hate during the last few hours with a
passionate, concentrated hatred. Yet the man was of the same race
as these people, his connections were known to many of them, he was
making new friends and reviving old ties every moment. During a
brief lull in the conversation his clear, soft voice suddenly
reached Trent's ears. He was telling a story.
"Africa," he was saying, "is a country of surprises. Attra seems
to be a city of hopeless exile for all white people. Last time I
was there I used to notice every day a very old man making a
pretence of working in a kitchen garden attached to a little white
mission-house - a Basle Society depot. He always seemed to be
leaning on his spade, always gazing out seawards in the same intent,
fascinated way. Some one told me his history at last. He was an
Englishman of good position who had got into trouble in his younger
days and served a term of years in prison. When he came out, sooner
than disgrace his family further, he published a false account of
his death and sailed under a disguised name for Africa. There he
has lived ever since, growing older and sinking lower, often near
fortune but always missing it, a slave to bad habits, weak and
dissolute if you like, but ever keeping up his voluntary sacrifice,
ever with that unconquerable longing for one last glimpse of his
own country and his own people. I saw him, not many months ago,
still there, still with his eyes turned seawards and with the same
wistful droop of the head. Somehow I can't help thinking that that
old man was also a hero."
The tinkling of glasses and the sort murmuring of whispered
conversation had ceased during Francis' story. Every one was a
little affected - the soft throbbing of the violins upon the balcony
was almost a relief. Then there was a little murmur of sympathetic
remarks - but amongst it all Trent sat at the head of the table
with white, set face but with red fire before his eyes. This man
had played him false. He dared not look at Ernestine - only he knew
that her eyes were wet with tears and that her bosom was heaving.
The spirits of men and women who sup are mercurial things, and it
was a gay leave-taking half an hour or so later in the little
Moorish room at the head of the staircase. But Ernestine left her
host without even appearing to see his outstretched hand, and he
let her go without a word. Only when Francis would have followed
her Trent laid a heavy hand upon his shoulder.
"I must have a word with you, Francis," he said.
"I will come back," he said. "I must see Miss Wendermott into her
But Trent's hand remained there, a grip of iron from which there was
no escaping. He said nothing, but Francis knew his man and had no
idea of making a scene. So he remained till the last had gone and
a tall, black servant had brought their coats from the cloak-room.
"You will come with me please," Trent said, "I have a few words to
say to you."
Francis shrugged his shoulders and obeyed.
Scarcely a word passed between the two men until they found
themselves in the smoking-room of Trent's house. A servant
noiselessly arranged decanters and cigars upon the sideboard, and,
in response to an impatient movement of Trent's, withdrew. Francis
lit a cigarette. Trent, contrary to his custom, did not smoke. He
walked to the door and softly locked it. Then he returned and stood
looking down at his companion.
"Francis," he said, "you have been my enemy since the day I saw you
first in Bekwando village."
Scarcely that," Francis objected. "I have distrusted you since then
if you like."
"Call it what you like," Trent answered. "Only to-night you have
served me a scurvy trick. You were a guest at my table and you gave
me not the slightest warning. On the contrary, this morning you
offered me a week's respite."
"The story I told," Francis answered, "could have had no significance
"I don't know whether you are trying to deceive me or not," Trent
said, "only if you do not know, let me tell you - Miss Wendermott
is that old man's daughter!"
The man's start was real. There was no doubt about that. "And
"She knew that he had been in Africa, but she believed that he had
died there. What she believes at this moment I cannot tell. Your
story evidently moved her. She will probably try to find out from
you the truth."
"She has asked me to call upon her to-morrow."
"Exactly. Now, forgive my troubling you with personal details, but
you've got to understand. I mean Miss Wendermott to be my wife."
Francis sat up in his chair genuinely surprised. Something like a
scowl was on his dark, sallow face.
"Your wife !' he exclaimed, "aren't you joking, Trent?"
"I am not," Trent answered sharply. "From the moment I saw her that
has been my fixed intention. Every one thinks of me as simply a
speculator with the money fever in my veins. Perhaps that was true
once. It isn't now! I must be rich to give her the position she
deserves. That's all I care for money."'
"I am very much interested," Francis said slowly, "to hear of your
intentions. Hasn't it occurred to you, however, that your
behaviour toward Miss Wendermott's father will take a great deal of
"If there is no interference," Trent said, "I can do it. There is
mystery on her part too, for I offered a large reward and news of
him through my solicitor, and she actually refused to reply. She
has refused any money accruing to her through her father, or to be
brought into contact with any one who could tell her about him."
"The fact," Francis remarked drily, "is scarcely to her credit.
Monty may have been disreputable enough, I've no doubt he was; but
his going away and staying there all these years was a piece of
"Monty has been hardly used in some ways," Trent said. "I've done
my best by him, though."
"That," Francis said coldly, "is a matter of opinion."
"I know very well," Trent answered, "what yours is. You are welcome
to it. You can blackguard me all round London if you like in a week
- but I want a week's grace."
"Why should I grant it you?"
Trent shrugged his shoulders.
"I won't threaten," he said, "and I won't offer to bribe you, but
I've got to have that week's grace. We're both men, Francis, who've
been accustomed to our own way, I think. I want to know on what
terms you'll grant it me."
Francis knocked the ash off his cigarette and rose slowly to his
"You want to know," he repeated meditatively, "on what terms I'll
hold my tongue for a week. Well, here's my answer! On no terms
"You don't mean that," Trent said quietly.
"We shall see," Francis answered grimly. "I'll be frank with you,
Trent. When we came in here you called me your enemy. Well, in
a sense you were right. I distrusted and disliked you from the
moment I first met you in Bekwando village with poor old Monty for
a partner, and read the agreement you had drawn up and the clause
about the death of either making the survivor sole legatee. In a
regular fever swamp Monty was drinking poison like water - and you
were watching. That may have seemed all right to you. To me it
was very much like murder. It was my mistrust of you which made me
send men after you both through the bush, and, sure enough, they
found poor Monty abandoned, left to die while you had hastened off
to claim your booty. After that I had adventures enough of my own
for a bit and I lost sight of you until I came across you and your
gang road-making, and I am bound to admit that you saved my life.
That's neither here nor there. I asked about Monty and you told me
some plausible tale. I went to the place you spoke of - to find
him of course spirited away. We have met again in England, Scarlett
Trent, and I have asked once more for Monty. Once more I am met
with evasions. This morning I granted you a week - now I take back
my word. I am going to make public what I know to-morrow morning."
"Since this morning, then," Trent said, "your ill-will toward me
"Quite true," Francis answered. "We are playing with the cards upon
the table, so I will be frank with you. What you told me about your
intentions towards Miss Wendermott makes me determined to strike at
"You yourself, I fancy," Trent said quietly, "admired her?"
"More than any woman I have ever met," Francis answered promptly,
"and I consider your attitude towards her grossly presumptuous."
Trent stood quite still for a moment - then he unlocked the door.
"You had better go, Francis," he said quietly. "I have a defence
prepared but I will reserve it. And listen, when I locked that
door it was with a purpose. I had no mind to let you leave as you
are leaving. Never mind. You can go - only be quick."
Francis paused upon the threshold. "You understand," he said
"I understand," Trent answered.
* * * * *
An hour passed, and Trent still remained in the chair before his
writing-table, his head upon his hand, his eyes fixed upon vacancy.
Afterwards he always thought of that hour as one of the bitterest
of his life. A strong and self-reliant man, he had all his life
ignored companionship, had been well content to live without friends,
self-contained and self-sufficient. To-night the spectre of a great
loneliness sat silently by his side! His heart was sore, his pride
had been bitterly touched, the desire and the whole fabric of his
life was in imminent and serious danger.
The man who had left him was an enemy and a prejudiced man, but
Trent knew that he was honest. He was the first human being to
whom he had ever betrayed the solitary ambition of his life, and
his scornful words seemed still to bite the air. If - he was right!
Why not? Trent looked with keen, merciless eyes through his past,
and saw never a thing there to make him glad. He had started life
a workman, with a few ambitions' all of a material nature - he had
lived the life of a cold, scheming money-getter, absolutely selfish,
negatively moral, doing little evil perhaps, but less good. There
was nothing in his life to make him worthy of a woman's love, most
surely there was nothing which could ever make it possible that such
a woman as Ernestine Wendermott should ever care for him. All the
wealth of Africa could never make him anything different from what
he was. And yet, as he sat and realised this, he knew that he was
writing down his life a failure. For, beside his desire for her,
there were no other things he cared for in life. Already he was
weary of financial warfare - the City life had palled upon him. He
looked around the magnificent room in the mansion which his agents
had bought and furnished for him. He looked at the pile of letters
waiting for him upon his desk, little square envelopes many of them,
but all telling the same tale, all tributes to his great success,
and the mockery of it all smote hard upon the walls of his fortitude.
Lower and lower his head drooped until it was buried in his folded
arms - and the hour which followed he always reckoned the bitterest
of his life.
A little earlier than usual next morning Trent was at his office in
the City, prepared for the worst, and in less than half an hour he
found himself face to face with one of those crises known to most
great financiers at some time or other during their lives. His
credit was not actually assailed, but it was suspended. The general
public did not understand the situation, even those who were in a
measure behind the scenes found it hard to believe that the attack
upon the Bekwando Gold and Land shares was purely a personal one.
For it was Da Souza who had fired the train, who had flung his large
holding of shares upon the market, and, finding them promptly taken
up, had gone about with many pious exclamations of thankfulness and
sinister remarks. Many smaller holders followed suit, and yet never
for a moment did the market waver. Gradually it leaked out that
Scarlett Trent was the buyer, and public interest leaped up at once.
Would Trent be able to face settling-day without putting his vast
holdings upon the market? If so the bulls were going to have the
worst knock they had had for years - and yet - and yet - the murmur
went round from friend to friend - " Sell your Bekwandos."
At midday there came an urgent message from Trent's bankers, and
as he read it he cursed. It was short but eloquent.
"DEAR SIR, - We notice that your account to-day stands 119,000
pounds overdrawn, against which we hold as collateral security shares
in the Bekwando Land Company to the value of 150,000 pounds. As we
have received certain very disquieting information concerning the
value of these shares, we must ask you to adjust the account before
closing hours to-day, or we shall be compelled to place the shares
upon the market.
"A. SINCLAIR, General Manager."
Trent tore the letter into atoms, but he never quailed. Telegraph
and telephone worked his will, he saw all callers, a cigar in his
mouth and flower in his buttonhole, perfectly at his ease, sanguine
and confident. A few minutes before closing time he strolled into
the bank and no one noticed a great bead of perspiration which stood
out upon his forehead. He made out a credit slip for 119,000 pounds,
and, passing it across the counter with a roll of notes and cheques,
asked for his shares.
They sent for the manager. Trent was ushered with much ceremony
into his private room. The manager was flushed and nervous.
"I am afraid you must have misunderstood my note, Mr. Trent," he
stammered. But Trent, remembering all that he had gone through to
raise the money, stopped him short.
"This is not a friendly call, Mr. Sinclair," he said, "but simply
a matter of business. I wish to clear my account with you to the
last halfpenny, and I will take my shares away with me. I have
paid in the amount I owe. Let one of your clerks make out the
The manager rang the bell for the key of the security safe. He
opened it and took out the shares with fingers which trembled a
"Did I understand you, Mr. Trent, that you desired to absolutely
close the account?" he asked.
"Most decidedly," Trent answered.
"We shall be very sorry to lose you."
"The sorrow will be all on your side, then," Trent answered grimly.
"You have done your best to ruin me, you and that blackguard Da
Souza, who brought me here. If you had succeeded in lumping those
shares upon the market to-day or to-morrow, you know very well what
the result would have been. I don't know whose game you have been
playing, but I can guess!"
"I can assure you, Mr. Trent," the manager declared in his suavest
and most professional manner, "that you are acting under a complete
misapprehension. I will admit that our notice was a little short.
Suppose we withdraw it altogether, eh? I am quite satisfied. We
will put back the shares in the safe and you shall keep your money."
"No, I'm d - d if you do!" Trent answered bluntly. "You've had your
money and I'll have the shares. I don't leave this bank without
them, and I'll be shot if ever I enter it again."
So Trent, with his back against the wall and not a friend to help
him, faced for twenty-four hours the most powerful bull syndicate
which had ever been formed against a single Company. Inquiries as
to his right of title had poured in upon him, and to all of them
he had returned the most absolute and final assurances. Yet he knew
when closing-time came, that he had exhausted every farthing he
possessed in the world - it seemed hopeless to imagine that he could
survive another day. But with the morning came a booming cable from
Bekwando. There had been a great find of gold before ever a shaft
had been sunk; an expert, from whom as yet nothing had been heard,
wired an excited and wonderful report. Then the men who had held
on to their Bekwandos rustled their morning papers and walked
smiling to their offices. Prices leaped up. Trent's directors
ceased to worry him and wired invitations to luncheon at the West
End. The bulls were the sport of everybody. When closing-time came
Trent had made 100,000 pounds, and was looked upon everywhere as one
of the rocks of finance.
Only then he began to realise what the strain had been to him. His
hard, impassive look had never altered, he had been seen everywhere
in his accustomed City haunts, his hat a little better brushed than
usual, his clothes a little more carefully put on, his buttonhole
more obvious and his laugh readier. No one guessed the agony through
which he had passed, no one knew that he had spent the night at a
little inn twelve miles away, to which he had walked after nine
o'clock at night. He had not a single confidant, even his cashier
had no idea whence came the large sums of money which he had paid
away right and left. But when it was all over he left the City,
and, leaning back in the corner of his little brougham, was driven
away to Pont Street. Here he locked himself in his room, took off
his coat and threw himself upon a sofa with a big cigar between
"If you let any one in to see me, Miles," he told the footman, "I'll
kick you out of the house." So, though the bell rang often, he
remained alone. But as he lay there with half-closed eyes living
again through the tortures of the last few hours, he heard a voice
that startled him. It was surely hers - already! He sprang up and
opened the door. Ernestine and Captain Francis were in the hall.
He motioned them to follow him into the room. Ernestine was flushed
and her eyes were very bright. She threw up her veil and faced him
haughtily. "Where is he?" she asked. "I know everything. I insist
upon seeing him at once."
"That," he said coolly, "will depend upon whether he is fit to see
He rang the bell.
"Tell Miss Fullagher to step this way a moment," he ordered.
"He is in this house, then," she cried. He took no notice. In a
moment a young woman dressed in the uniform of one of the principal
"Miss Fullagher," he asked, "how is the patient?"
"We've had a lot of trouble with him, sir," she said significantly.
"He was terrible all last night, and he's very weak this morning.
Is this the young lady, sir?"
"This is the young lady who I told you would want to see him when
you thought it advisable."
The nurse looked doubtful. "Sir Henry is upstairs, sir," she said.
"I had better ask his advice."
Trent nodded and she withdrew. The three were left alone, Ernestine
and Francis remained apart as though by design. Trent was silent.
She returned in a moment or two.
"Sir Henry has not quite finished his examination, sir," she
announced. "The young lady can come up in half an hour."
Again they were left alone. Then Trent crossed the room and stood
between them and the door.
"Before you see your father, Miss Wendermott," he said, "I have an
explanation to make to you!"
He looked at him calmly, but in her set, white face he seemed to
read already his sentence!
"Do you think it worth while, Mr. Trent? There is so much, as you
put it, to be explained, that the task, even to a man of your
versatility, seems hopeless!"
"I shall not trouble you long," he said. "At least one man's word
should be as good as another's - and you have listened to what my
enemy " - he motioned towards Francis - " has to say."
Francis shrugged his shoulders.
"I can assure you," he interrupted, "that I have no feeling of
enmity towards you in the slightest. My opinion you know. I have
never troubled to conceal it. But I deny that I am prejudiced
by any personal feeling."
Trent ignored his speech.
"What I have to say to you," he continued addressing Ernestine, "I
want to say before you see your father. I won't take up your time.
I won't waste words. I take you back ten years to when I met him
at Attra and we became partners in a certain enterprise. Your
father at that time was a harmless wreck of a man who was fast
killing himself with brandy. He had some money, I had none. With
it we bought the necessary outfit and presents for my enterprise
and started for Bekwando. The whole of the work fell to my share,
and with great trouble I succeeded in obtaining the concessions we
were working for. Your father spent all his time drinking, and
playing cards, when I would play with him. The agreement as to the
sharing of the profits was drawn up, it is true, by me, but at that
time he made no word of complaint. I had no relations, he described
himself as cut off wholly from his. It was here Francis first came
on the scene. He found your father half drunk, and when he read
the agreement it was plain what he thought. He thought that I was
letting your father kill himself that the whole thing might be mine.
He has probably told you so. I deny it. I did all I could to keep
"On our homeward way your father was ill and our bearers deserted
us. We were pursued by the natives, who repented their concession,
and I had to fight them more than once, half a dozen strong, with
your father unconscious at my feet. It is true that I left him in
the bush, but it was at his bidding and I believed him dying. It
was my only chance and I took it. I escaped and reached Attra.
Then, to raise money to reach England, I had to borrow from a man
named Da Souza, and afterwards, in London, to start the Company, I
had to make him my partner in the profits of the concession. One
day I quarrelled with him - it was just at the time I met you - and
then, for the first time, I heard of your father's being alive. I
went out to Africa to bring him back and Da Souza followed me in
abject fear, for as my partner he lost half if your father's claim
was good. I found your father infirm and only half sane. I did
all I could for him whilst I worked in the interior, and meant to
bring him back to England with me when I came. unfortunately he
recovered a little and suddenly seized upon the idea of visiting
England. He left before me and fell into the hands of Da Souza,
who had the best possible reasons in the world for keeping him in
the background. I rescued him from them in time to save him from
death and brought him to my own house, sent for doctors and nurses,
and, when he was fit for you to see, I should have sent for you.
I did not, I'll admit, make any public declaration of his existence,
for the simple reason that it would have crippled our Company, and
there are the interests of the shareholders to be considered, but
I executed and signed a deed of partnership days ago which makes
him an equal sharer in every penny I possess. Now this is the
truth, Miss Wendermott, and if it is not a story I am particularly
proud of, I don't very well see what else I could have done. It
is my story and it is a true one. Will you believe it or will you
take his word against mine?"
She would have spoken, but Francis held up his hand.
"My story," he said coolly, "has been told behind your back. It is
only fair to repeat it to your face. I have told Miss Wendermott
this - that I met you first in the village of Bekwando with a
concession in your hand made out to you and her father jointly,
with the curious proviso that in the event of the death of one
the other was his heir. I pointed out to Miss Wendermott that you
were in the prime of life and in magnificent condition, while her
father was already on the threshold of the grave and drinking
himself into a fever in a squalid hut in a village of swamps. I
told her that I suspected foul play, that I followed you both and
found her father left to the tender mercies of the savages,
deserted by you in the bush. I told her that many months afterwards
he disappeared, simultaneously with your arrival in the country,
that a day or two ago you swore to me you had no idea where he was.
That has been my story, Trent, let Miss Wendermott choose between
"I am content," Trent cried fiercely. "Your story is true enough,
but it is cunningly linked together. You have done your worst.
For ever afterwards he was glad of that single look of reproach
which seemed to escape her unwittingly as her eyes met his. But
she turned away and his heart was like a stone.
"You have deceived me, Mr. Trent. I am very sorry, and very
"And you," he cried passionately, "are you yourself so blameless?
Were you altogether deceived by your relations, or had you never a
suspicion that your father might still be alive? You had my message
through Mr. Cuthbert; I met you day by day after you knew that I
had been your father's partner, and never once did you give yourself
away! Were you tarred with the same brush as those canting snobs
who doomed a poor old man to a living death? Doesn't it look like
it? What am I to think of you?"
"Your judgment, Mr. Trent," she answered quietly, "is of no
importance to me! It does not interest me in any way. But I will
tell you this. If I did not disclose myself, it was because I
distrusted you. I wanted to know the truth, and I set myself to
find it out."
"Your friendship was a lie, then!" he cried, with flashing eyes.
"To you I was nothing but a suspected man to be spied upon and
She faltered and did not answer him. Outside the nurse was knocking
at the door. Trent waved them away with an imperious gesture.
"Be off," he cried, "both of you! You can do your worst! I thank
Heaven that I am not of your class, whose men have flints for
hearts and whose women can lie like angels."
They left him alone, and Trent, with a groan, plucked from his heart
the one strong, sweet hope which had changed his life so wonderfully.
Upstairs, Monty was sobbing, with his little girl's arms about him.
With the darkness had come a wind from the sea, and the boy crept
outside in his flannels and planter's hat and threw himself down in
a cane chair with a little murmur of relief. Below him burned the
white lights of the town, a little noisier than usual to-night, for
out in the bay a steamer was lying-to, and there had been a few
passengers and cargo to land. The boy had had a hard day's work,
or he would have been in the town himself to watch for arrivals and
wait for the mail. He closed his eyes, half asleep, for the sun
had been hot and the murmurs of the sea below was almost like a
lullaby. As he lay there a man's voice from the path reached him.
He sprang up, listening intently. It must have been fancy - and
yet! He leaned over the wooden balcony. The figure of a man
loomed out through the darkness, came nearer, became distinct. Fred
recognised him with a glad shout.
"Trent!" he cried. "Scarlett Trent, by all that's amazing!"
Trent held out his hand quickly. Somehow the glad young voice,
quivering with excitement, touched his heart in an unexpected and
unusual manner. It was pleasant to be welcomed like this - to feel
that one person in the world at least was glad of his coming. For
Trent was a sorely stricken man and the flavour of life had gone
from him. Many a time he had looked over the steamer's side during
that long, lonely voyage and gazed almost wishfully into the sea,
in whose embrace was rest. It seemed to him that he had been a
gambler playing for great stakes, and the turn of the wheel had
gone against him.
They stood with hands locked together, the boy breathless with
surprise. Then he saw that something was wrong.
"What is it, Trent?" he asked quickly. "Have we gone smash after
all, or have you been ill?"
Trent shook his head and smiled gravely.
"Neither," he said. "The Company is booming, I believe. Civilised
ways didn't agree with me, I'm afraid. That's all! I've come back
to have a month or two's hard work - the best physic in the world."
"I am delighted to see you," Fred said heartily. "Everything's going
A1 here, and they've built me this little bungalow, only got in it
last week - stunning, isn't it? But - just fancy your being here
again so soon! Are your traps coming up?"
"I haven't many," Trent answered. "They're on the way. Have you
got room for me?"
"Room for you!" the boy repeated scornfully. "Why, I'm all alone
here. It's the only thing against the place, being a bit lonely.
Room for you! I should think there is! Here, Dick! Dinner at
once, and some wine!"
Trent was taken to see his room, the boy talking all the time, and
later on dinner was served and the boy did the honours, chaffing
and talking lightly. But later on when they sat outside, smoking
furiously to keep off the mosquitoes and watching the fireflies dart
in and out amongst the trees, the boy was silent. Then he leaned
over and laid his hand on Trent's arm.
"Tell me all about it - do," he begged.
Trent was startled, touched, and suddenly filled with a desire for
sympathy such as he had never before in his life experienced. He
hesitated, but it was only for a moment.
"I never thought to tell any one," he said slowly, "I think I'd
And he did. He told his whole story. He did not spare himself.
He spoke of the days of his earlier partnership with Monty, and he
admitted the apparent brutality of his treatment of him on more
than one occasion. He spoke of Ernestine too - of his strange fancy
for the photograph of Monty's little girl, a fancy which later on
when he met her became almost immediately the dominant passion of
his life. Then he spoke of the coming of Francis, of the awakening
of Ernestine's suspicions, and of that desperate moment when he
risked everything on her faith in him - and lost. There was little
else to tell and afterwards there was a silence. But presently the
boy's hand fell upon his arm almost caressingly and he leaned over
through the darkness.
"Women are such idiots," the boy declared, with all the vigour and
certainty of long experience. "If only Aunt Ernestine had known
you half as well as I do, she would have been quite content to have
trusted you and to have believed that what you did was for the best.
But I say, Trent, you ought to have waited for it. After she had
seen her father and talked with him she must have understood you
better. I shall write to her."
But Trent shook his head.
"No," he said sternly, "it is too late now. That moment taught me
all I wanted to know. It was her love I wanted, Fred, and - that
- no use hoping for that, or she would have trusted me. After all
I was half a madman ever to have expected it - a rough, coarse chap
like me, with only a smattering of polite ways! It was madness!
Some day I shall get over it! We'll chuck work for a bit, soon,
Fred, and go for some lions. That'll give us something to think
about at any rate."
But the lions which Trent might have shot lived in peace, for on
the morrow he was restless and ill, and within a week the deadly
fever of the place had him in its clutches. The boy nursed him
and the German doctor came up from Attra and, when he learnt who
his patient was, took up his quarters in the place. But for all
his care and the boy's nursing things went badly with Scarlett
To him ended for a while all measure of days - time became one long
night, full of strange, tormenting flashes of thought, passing like
red fire before his burning eyes. Sometimes it was Monty crying to
him from the bush, sometimes the yelling of those savages at Bekwando
seemed to fill the air, sometimes Ernestine was there, listening to
his passionate pleading with cold, set face, In the dead of night he
saw her and the still silence was broken by his hoarse, passionate
cries, which they strove in vain to check. And when at last he lay
white and still with exhaustion, the doctor looked at the boy and
softly shook his head. He had very little hope.
Trent grew worse. In those rare flashes of semi-consciousness which
sometimes come to the fever-stricken, he reckoned himself a dying
man and contemplated the end of all things without enthusiasm and
without regret. The one and only failure of his life had eaten like
canker into his heart. It was death he craved for in the hot,
burning nights, and death came and sat, a grisly shadow, at his
pillow. The doctor and the boy did their best, but it was not they
who saved him.
There came a night when he raved, and the sound of a woman's name
rang out from the open windows of the little bungalow, rang out
through the drawn mosquito netting amongst the palm-trees, across
the surf-topped sea to the great steamer which lay in the bay.
Perhaps she heard it - perhaps after all it was a fancy. Only, in
the midst of his fever, a hand as soft as velvet and as cool as the
night sea-wind touched his forehead, and a voice sounded in his ears
so sweetly that the blood burned no longer in his veins, so sweetly
that he lay back upon his pillow like a man under the influence of
a strong narcotic and slept. Then the doctor smiled and the boy
"I came," she said softly, "because it was the only atonement I
could make. I ought to have trusted you. Do you know, even my
father told me that."
"I have made mistakes," he said, "and of course behaved badly to
"Now that everything has been explained," she said, "I scarcely see
what else you could have done. At least you saved him from Da Souza
when his death would have made you a freer man. He is looking
forward to seeing you, you must make haste and get strong."
"For his sake," he murmured.
She leaned over and caressed him lightly. "For mine, dear."