« PreviousContinue »
niggers watching operations. But are you certain this is a canoe?'
“ 'It may be a drift-log,' I said; 'but I thought you had better have a look with your own eyes. You may make it out better than I can.'
“His eyes weren't anything as good as mine. But he says:
“Certainly. Certainly. You did quite right.
"And it's a fact I had seen some drift-logs at sunset. I saw what they were then and didn't trouble my head about them, forgot all about it till that very moment. Nothing strange in seeing drift-logs off a coast like that; and I'm hanged if the skipper didn't make one out in the wake of the moon. Strange. what a little thing a man's life hangs on sometimes—a single word! Here you are, sitting unsuspicious before me, and you may let out something unbeknown to you that would settle your hash. Not that I have any ill-feeling. I have no feelings. If the skipper had said, 'Oh, bosh!' and had turned his back on me, he would not have gone three steps towards his bed; but he stood there and stared. And now the job was to get him off the deck when he was no longer wanted there.
“We are just trying to make out if that object there is a canoe or a log,' says he to Mr. Jones.
“Mr. Jones had come up, lounging as carelessly as when he went below. While the skipper was jawing about boats and drifting logs, I asked by signs, from behind, if I hadn't better knock him on the head and drop him quietly overboard. The night was slipping by, and we had to go. It couldn't be put off till next night no more. No. No more. And do you know why?”
Schomberg made a slight negative sign with his head. This direct appeal annoyed him, jarred on the
induced quietude of a great talker forced into the part of a listener and sunk in it as a man sinks into slumber. Mr. Ricardo struck a note of scorn.
“Don't know why? Can't you guess? No? Because the boss had got hold of the skipper's cash-box by then. See?"
“A COMMON thief!”
Schomberg bit his tongue just too late, and woke up completely as he saw Ricardo retract his lips in a cat-like grin; but the companion of “plain Mr. Jones” didn't alter his comfortable, gossiping attitude.
“Garn! What if he did want to see his money back, like any tame shopkeeper, hash-seller, gin-slinger, or ink-spewer does? Fancy a mud-turtle like you trying to pass an opinion on a gentleman! A gentleman isn't to be sized up so easily. Even I ain't up to it sometimes. For instance, that night, all he did was to waggle his finger at me. The skipper stops his silly chatter, surprised.
“Eh? What's the matter?' asks he.
“The matter! It was his reprieve-that's what was the matter.
“'Oh, nothing, nothing,' says my gentleman. 'You are perfectly right. A log-nothing but a log.'
“Ha, ha! Reprieve, I call it, because if the skipper had gone on with his silly argument much longer he would have had to be knocked out of the way. I could hardly hold myself in on account of the precious minutes. However, his guardian angel put it into his head to shut up and go back to his bed. I was ramping mad about the lost time.
“ 'Why didn't you let me give him one on his silly coconut, sir?' I asks.
“'No ferocity, no ferocity,' he says, raising his finger at me as calm as you please.
“You can't tell how a gentleman takes that sort of thing. They don't lose their temper. It's bad form. You'll never see him lose his temper—not for anybody to see, anyhow. Ferocity ain't good form, either that much I've learned by this time, and more, too. I've had that schooling that you couldn't tell by my face if I meant to rip you up the next minute as of course I could do in less than a jiffy. I have a knife up the leg of my trousers.”
“You haven't!” exclaimed Schomberg incredulously.
Mr. Ricardo was as quick as lightning in changing his lounging, idle attitude for a stooping position, and exhibiting the weapon with one jerk at the left leg of his trousers. Schomberg had just a view of it, strapped to a very hairy limb, when Mr. Ricardo, jumping up, stamped his foot to get the trouser-leg down, and resumed his careless pose with one elbow on the table.
“It's a more handy way to carry a tool than you would think,” he went on, gazing abstractedly into Schomberg's wide-open eyes. “Suppose some little difference comes up during a game. Well, you stoop to pick up a dropped card, and when you come upthere you are ready to strike, or with the thing up your sleeve ready to throw. Or you just dodge under the table when there's some shooting coming. You wouldn't believe the damage a fellow with a knife under the table can do to ill-conditioned skunks that want to raise trouble, before they begin to understand what the screaming's about, and make a bolt—those that can, that is."
The roses of Schomberg's cheek at the root of his chestnut beard faded perceptibly. Ricardo chuckled faintly.
“But no ferocity-no ferocity! A gentleman knows. What's the good of getting yourself into a state? And
no shirking necessity, either. No gentleman ever shirks. What I learn I don't forget. Why! We gambled on the plains, with a damn lot of cattlemen in ranches; played fair, mind—and then had to fight for our winnings afterwards as often as not. We've gambled on the hills and in the valleys and on the seashore, and out of sight of land-mostly fair. Generally it's good enough. We began in Nicaragua first, after we left that schooner and her fool errand. There were one hundred and twenty-seven sovereigns and some Mexican dollars in that skipper's cash-box. Hardly enough to knock a man on the head for from behind, I must confess; but that the skipper had a narrow escape, the governor himself could not deny afterwards."
“‘Do you want me to understand, sir, that you mind there being one life more or less on this earth?' I asked him, a few hours after we got away.
“'Certainly not,' says he.
““There's a proper way of doing things. You'll have to learn to be correct. There's also unnecessary exertion. That must be avoided, too-if only for the look of the thing.' A gentleman's way of putting things to you,—and no mistake!
“At sunrise we got into a creek, to lie hidden in case the treasure-hunt party had a mind to take a spell hunting for us. And dash me if they didn't! We saw the schooner away out, running to leeward, with ten pairs of binoculars sweeping the sea, no doubt, on all sides. I advised the governor to give her time to beat back again before we made a start. So we stayed up that creek something like ten days, as snug as can be. On the seventh day we had to kill a man, though-the brother of this Pedro here. They were alligator-hunters, right enough. We got our lodgings in their hut. Neither the