For a moment Monty stood as though dazed. Then the excitement which had shone in his face slowly subsided. He stood quite silent, muttering softly to himself, his eyes fixed upon Trent.
"Her picture! My little girl's picture! Trent, you're joking, you're mad!"
"Am I?" Trent answered nonchalantly. "Perhaps so! Anyhow those are my terms! You can play or not as you like! I don't care."
A red spot burned in Monty's cheeks, and a sudden passion shook him. He threw himself upon Trent and would have struck him but that he was as a child in the younger man's grasp. Trent held him at a distance easily and without effort.
"There's nothing for you to make a fuss about," he said gruffly. "I answered a plain question, that's all. I don't want to play at all. I should most likely lose, and you're much better without the brandy."
Monty was foaming with passion and baffled desire. "You beast!" he cried, "you low, ill-bred cur! How dared you look at her picture! How dare you make me such an offer ! Let me go, I say! Let me go!"
But Trent did not immediately relax his grasp. It was evidently not safe to let him go. His fit of anger bordered upon hysterics. Presently he grew calmer but more maudlin. Trent at last released him, and, thrusting the bottle of brandy into his coat-pocket, returned to his game of Patience. Monty lay on the ground watching him with red, shifty eyes.
"Trent," he whimpered. But Trent did not answer him.
"Trent, you needn't have been so beastly rough. My arm is black and blue and I am sore all over."
But Trent remained silent. Monty crept a little nearer. He was beginning to feel a very injured person.
"Trent," he said, "I'm sorry we've had words. Perhaps I said more than I ought to have done. I did not mean to call you names. I apologise."
"Granted," Trent said tersely, bending over his game.
"You see, Trent," he went on, "you're not a family man, are you? If you were, you would understand. I've been down in the mire for years, an utter scoundrel, a poor, weak, broken-down creature. But I've always kept that picture! It's my little girl! She doesn't know I'm alive, never will know, but it's all I have to remind me of her, and I couldn't part with it, could I?"
"You'd be a blackguard if you did," Trent answered curtly.
Monty's face brightened.
"I was sure," he declared, "that upon reflection you would think so. I was sure of it. I have always found you very fair, Trent, and very reasonable. Now shall we say two hundred?"
"You seem very anxious for a game," Trent remarked. "Listen, I will play you for any amount you like, my I 0 U against your I 0 U. Are you agreeable?"
Monty shook his head. "I don't want your money, Trent," he said. "You know that I want that brandy. I will leave it to you to name the stake I am to set up against it."
"As regards that," Trent answered shortly, "I've named the stake; I'll not consider any other."
Monty's face once more grew black with anger.
"You are a beast, Trent - a bully!" he exclaimed passionately; "I'll not part with it!"
"I hope you won't," Trent answered. "I've told you what I should think of you if you did."
Monty moved a little nearer to the opening of the hut. He drew the photograph hesitatingly from his pocket, and looked at it by the moonlight. His eyes filled with maudlin tears. He raised it to his lips and kissed it.
"My little girl," he whispered. "My little daughter." Trent had re-lit his pipe and started a fresh game of Patience. Monty, standing in the opening, began to mutter to himself.
"I am sure to win - Trent is always unlucky at cards - such a little risk, and the brandy - ah!"
He sucked in his lips for a moment with a slight gurgling sound. He looked over his shoulder, and his face grew haggard with longing. His eyes sought Trent's, but Trent was smoking stolidly and looking at the cards spread out before him, as a chess-player at his pieces.
"Such a very small risk," Monty whispered softly to himself. "I need the brandy too. I cannot sleep without it! Trent!"
Trent made no answer. He did not wish to hear. Already he had repented. He was not a man of keen susceptibility, but he was a trifle ashamed of himself. At that moment he was tempted to draw the cork, and empty the brandy out upon the ground.
"Trent! Do you hear, Trent?"
He could no longer ignore the hoarse, plaintive cry. He looked unwillingly up. Monty was standing over him with white, twitching face and bloodshot eyes.
"Deal the cards," he muttered simply, and sat down.
Trent hesitated. Monty misunderstood him and slowly drew the photograph from his pocket and laid it face downwards upon the table. Trent bit his lip and frowned.
"Rather a foolish game this," he said. "Let's call it off, eh? You shall have - well, a thimbleful of the brandy and go to bed. I'll sit up, I'm not tired."
But Monty swore a very profane and a very ugly oath.
"I'll have the lot," he muttered. "Every drop; every d - d drop! Ay, and I'll keep the picture. You see, my friend, you see; deal the cards."
Then Trent, who had more faults than most men, but who hated bad language, looked at the back of the photograph, and, shuddering, hesitated no longer. He shuffled the cards and handed them to Monty.
"Your deal," he said laconically. "Same as before I suppose?"
Monty nodded, for his tongue was hot and his mouth dry, and speech was not an easy thing. But he dealt the cards, one by one with jealous care, and when he had finished he snatched upon his own, and looked at each with sickly disappointment.
"How many?" Trent asked, holding out the pack. Monty hesitated, half made up his mind to throw away three cards, then put one upon the table. Finally, with a little whine, he laid three down with trembling fingers and snatched at the three which Trent handed him. His face lit up, a scarlet flush burned in his cheek. It was evident that the draw had improved his hand.
Trent took his own cards up, looked at them nonchalantly, and helped himself to one card. Monty could restrain himself no longer. He threw his hand upon the ground.
"Three's," he cried in fierce triumph, "three of a kind - nines!"
Trent laid his own cards calmly down.
"A full hand," he said, "kings up."
Monty gave a little gasp and then a moan. His eyes were fixed with a fascinating glare upon those five cards which Trent had so calmly laid down. Trent took up the photograph, thrust it carefully into his pocket without looking at it, and rose to his feet.
"Look here, Monty," he said, "you shall have the brandy; you've no right to it, and you're best without it by long chalks. But there, you shall have your own way."
Monty rose to his feet and balanced himself against the post.
"Never mind - about the brandy," he faltered. "Give me back the photograph."
Trent shrugged his shoulders. "Why?" he asked coolly. "Full hand beats three, don't it? It was my win and my stake."
"Then - then take that!" But the blow never touched Trent. He thrust out his hand and held his assailant away at arm's length.
Monty burst into tears.
"You don't want it," he moaned; "what's my little girl to you? You never saw her, and you never will see her in your life."
"She is nothing to me of course," Trent answered. "A moment or so ago her picture was worth less to you than a quarter of a bottle of brandy."
"I was mad," Monty moaned. "She was my own little daughter, God help her!"
"I never heard you speak of her before," Trent remarked.
There was a moment's silence. Then Monty crept out between the posts into the soft darkness, and his voice seemed to come from a great distance.
"I have never told you about her," he said, "because she is not the sort of woman who is spoken of at all to such men as you. I am no more worthy to be her father than you are to touch the hem of her skirt. There was a time, Trent, many, many years ago, when I was proud to think that she was my daughter, my own flesh and blood. When I began to go down - it was different. Down and down and lower still! Then she ceased to be my daughter! After all it is best. I am not fit to carry her picture. You keep it. Trent - you keep it
- and give me the brandy."
He staggered up on to his feet and crept back into the hut. His hands were outstretched, claw-like and bony, his eyes were fierce as a wild cat's. But Trent stood between him and the brandy bottle.
"Look here," he said, "you shall have the picture back - curse you! But listen. If I were you and had wife, or daughter, or sweetheart like this " - he touched the photograph almost reverently - "why, I'd go through fire and water but I'd keep myself decent; ain't you a silly old fool, now? We've made our piles, you can go back and take her a fortune, give her jewels and pretty dresses, and all the fal-de-lals that women love. You'll never do it if you muddle yourself up with that stuff. Pull yourself together, old 'un. Chuck the drink till we've seen this thing through at any rate!"
"You don't know my little girl," Monty muttered. "How should you? She'd care little for money or gewgaws, but she'd break her heart to see her old father - come to this - broken down - worthless
- a hopeless, miserable wretch. It's too late. Trent, I'll have just a glass I think. It will do me good. I have been fretting, Trent, you see how pale I am."
He staggered towards the bottle. Trent watched him, interfering no longer. With a little chuckle of content he seized upon it and, too fearful of interference from Trent to wait for a glass, raised it to his lips. There was a gurgling in his throat - a little spasm as he choked, and released his lips for a moment. Then the bottle slid from his nerveless fingers to the floor, and the liquor oozed away in a little brown stream; even Trent dropped his pack of cards and sprang up startled. For bending down under the sloping roof was a European, to all appearance an Englishman, in linen clothes and white hat. It was the man for whom they had waited.Next