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A Millionaire of Yesterday by Oppenheim

Produced by An Anonymous Project Gutenberg Volunteer

A MILLIONAIRE OF YESTERDAY

By E. Phillips Oppenheim

CHAPTER I

"Filth," grunted Trent--"ugh! I tell you what it is, my venerable friend--I have seen some dirty cabins in the west of Ireland and some vile holes in East London. I've been in some places which I can't think of even now without feeling sick. I'm not a particular chap, wasn't brought up to it--no, nor squeamish either, but this is a bit thicker than anything I've ever knocked up against. If Francis doesn't hurry we'll have to chuck it! We shall never stand it out, Monty!"

The older man, gaunt, blear-eyed, ragged, turned over on his side. His appearance was little short of repulsive. His voice when he spoke was, curiously enough, the voice of a gentleman, thick and a trifle rough though it sounded.

"My young friend," he said, "I agree with you--in effect--most heartily. The place is filthy, the surroundings are repulsive, not to add degrading. The society is--er--not congenial--I allude of course to our hosts--and the attentions of these unwashed, and I am afraid I must say unclothed, ladies of dusky complexion is to say the least of it embarrassing."

"Dusky complexion!" Trent interrupted scornfully, "they're coal black!"

Monty nodded his head with solemn emphasis. "I will go so far as to admit that you are right," he acknowledged. "They are as black as sin! But, my friend Trent, I want you to consider this: If the nature of our surroundings is offensive to you, think what it must be to me. I may, I presume, between ourselves, allude to you as one of the people. Refinement and luxury have never come in your way, far less have they become indispensable to you. You were, I believe, educated at a Board School, I was at Eton. Afterwards you were apprenticed to a harness-maker, I--but no matter! Let us summarise the situation."

"If that means cutting it short, for Heaven's sake do so," Trent grumbled. "You'll talk yourself into a fever if you don't mind. Let's know what you're driving at."

"Talking," the elder man remarked with a slight shrug of his shoulders, "will never have a prejudicial effect upon my health. To men of your--pardon me--scanty education the expression of ideas in speech is doubtless a labour. To me, on the other hand, it is at once a pleasure and a relief. What I was about to observe is this: I belong by birth to what are called, I believe, the classes, you to the masses. I have inherited instincts which have been refined and cultivated, perhaps over-cultivated by breeding and associations--you are troubled with nothing of the sort. Therefore if these surroundings, this discomfort, not to mention the appalling overtures of our lady friends, are distressing to you, why, consider how much more so they must be to me!"

Trent smiled very faintly, but he said nothing. He was sitting cross-legged with his back against one of the poles which supported the open hut, with his eyes fixed upon the cloud of mist hanging over a distant swamp. A great yellow moon had stolen over the low range of stony hills--the mist was curling away in little wreaths of gold. Trent was watching it, but if you had asked him he would have told you that he was wondering when the alligators came out to feed, and how near the village they ventured. Looking at his hard, square face and keen, black eyes no one would surely have credited him with any less material thoughts.


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