« PreviousContinue »
you about him. He may be a very poor devil indeed."
Ricardo shook his head slightly. The Schombergian theory of Heyst had become in him a profound conviction, which he had absorbed as naturally as a sponge takes up water. His patron's doubts were a wanton denying of what was self-evident; but Ricardo's voice remained as before, a soft purring with a snarling undertone.
"I am sup-prised at you, sir! It's the very way them tame ones—the common 'yporcrits of the world —get on. When it comes to plunder drifting under one's very nose, there's not one of them that would keep his hands off. (And I don't blame them. It's the way they do it that sets my back up. Just look at the story of how he got rid of that pal of his! Send a man home to croak of a cold on the chest—that's one of your tame tricks. And d'you mean to say, sir, that a man that's up to it wouldn't bag whatever he could lay his hands on in his 'yporcritical way? What was all that coal business? Tame citizen dodge; 'yporcrisy—nothing else. No, no, sir! The thing is to 'extract it from him as neatly as possible. That's the job; and it isn't so simple as it looks. I reckon you have looked at it all round, sir, before you took up the notion of this trip."
"No." Mr. Jones was hardly audible, staring far away from his couch, "I didn't think about it much. I was bored."
"Ay, that you were—bad. I was feeling pretty desperate that afternoon when that bearded softy of a landlord got talking to me about this fellow here. Quite accidentally, it was. Well, sir, here we are after a mighty narrow squeak. I feel all limp yet; but never mind—his swag will pay for the lot!"
"He's all alone here," remarked Mr. Jones in a hollow murmur.
"Ye-es, in a way. Yes, alone enough. Yes, you may say he is."
"There's that Chinaman, though."
"Ay, there's the Chink," assented Ricardo rather absentmindedly.
He was debating in his mind the advisability of making a clean breast of his knowledge of the girl's existence. Finally he concluded he wouldn't. The enterprise was difficult enough without complicating it with an upset to the sensibilities of the gentleman with whom he had the honour of being associated. Let the discovery come of itself, he thought, and then he could swear that he had known nothing of that offensive presence.
He did not need to lie. He had only to hold his tongue.
"Yes," he muttered reflectively, "there's that Chink, certainly."
At bottom, he felt a certain ambiguous respect for his governor's exaggerated dislike of women, as if that horror of feminine presence were a sort of depraved morality; but still morality, since he counted it as an advantage. It prevented many undesirable complications. He did not pretend to understand it. He did not even try to investigate this idiosyncrasy of his chief. All he knew was that he himself was differently inclined, and that it did not make him any happier or safer. He did not know how it would have acted if he had been knocking about the world on his own. Luckily he was a subordinate, not a wageslave but a follower—which was a restraint. Yes! The other sort of disposition simplified matters in general; it wasn't to be gainsaid. But it was clear that it could also complicate them—as in this most important and in Ricardo's view, already sufficiently delicate case. And the worst of it was that one could not tell exactly in what precise manner it would act.
It was unnatural, he thought somewhat peevishly. How was one to reckon up the unnatural? There were no rules for that. The faithful henchman of plain Mr. Jones, foreseeing many difficulties of a material order, decided to keep the girl out of the governor's knowledge; out of his sight, too, for as long a time as it could be managed. That, alas, seemed to be at most a matter of a few hours; whereas Ricardo feared that to get the affair properly going would take some days. Once well started, he was not afraid of his gentleman failing him. As is often the case with lawless natures, Ricardo's faith in any given individual was of a simple, unquestioning character. For man must have some support in life.
Cross-legged, his head drooping a little and perfectly still, he might have been meditating in a bonzelike attitude upon the sacred syllable "Om." It was a striking illustration of the untruth of appearances, for his contempt for the world was of a severely practical kind. There was nothing oriental about Ricardo but the amazing quietness of his pose. Mr. Jones was also very quiet. He had let his head sink on the rolled-up rug, and lay stretched out on his side with his back to the light. In that position the shadows gathered in the cavities of his eyes made them look perfectly empty. When he spoke, his ghostly voice had only to travel a few inches straight into Ricardo's left ear. ?*
"Why don't you say something, now that you've got me awake?"
"I wonder if you were sleeping as sound as you are trying to make out, sir," said the unmoved Ricardo.
"I wonder," repeated Mr. Jones. "At any rate, I was resting quietly."
"Come, sir!" Ricardo's whisper was alarmed. "You don't mean to say you're going to be bored?"
"Quite right!" The secretary was very much relieved. "There's no occasion to be, I can tell you, sir," he whispered earnestly. "Anything but that! If I didn't say anything for a bit, it ain't because there isn't plenty to talk about. Ay, more than enough."
"What's the matter with you?" breathed out his patron. "Are you going to turn pessimist?"
"Me turn? No, sir! I ain't of those that turn. You may call me hard names, if you like, but you know very well that I ain't a croaker." Ricardo changed his tone. "If I said nothing for a while, it was because I was meditating over the Chink, sir."
"You were? Waste of time, my Martin. A Chinaman is unfathomable."
Ricardo admitted that this might be 50. Anyhow, a Chink was neither here nor there, as a general thing, unfathomable as he might be; but a Swedish baron wasn't—couldn't be! The woods were full of such barons.
"I don't know that he is so tame," was Mr. Jones's Remark, in a sepulchral undertone.
"How do you mean, sir? He ain't a rabbit, of course. You couldn't hypnotise him, as I saw you do to more than one Dago, and other kinds of tame citizens, when it came to the point of holding them down to a game."
"Don't you reckon on that," murmured plain Mr. Jones seriously.
"No, sir, I don't; though you have a wonderful power of the eye. It's a fact."
"I have a wonderful patience," remarked Mr. Jones, drilv.
A dim smile flitted over the lips of the faithful Ricardo, who never raised his head.
"I don't want to try you too much, sir; but this is like no other job we ever turned our minds to."
"Perhaps not. At any rate let us think so."
A weariness with the monotony of life was reflected in the tone of this qualified assent. It jarred on the nerves of the sanguine Ricardo.
"Let us think of the way to go to work," he retorted a little impatiently. "He's a deep one. Just look at the way he treated that chum of his. Did you ever hear of anything so low? And the artfulness of the beast—the dirty, tame artfulness!"
"Don't you start moralising, Martin," said Mr. Jones warningly. "As far as I can make out the