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as far as this house on his way home. Why should he turn up here if not for that? You ask anybody.”
“Ask, indeed!” returned the other. “Catch me asking at large about a man I mean to drop on! Such jobs must be done on the quiet-or not at all.”
The peculiar intonation of the last phrase touched the nape of Schomberg's neck with a chill. He cleared his throat slightly and looked away as though he had heard something indelicate. Then, with a jump as it were:
“Of course he didn't tell me. Is it likely? But haven't I got eyes? Haven't I got my common sense to tell me? I can see through people. By the same token, he called on the Tesmans. Why did he call on the Tesmans two days running, eh? You don't know? You can't tell?”
He waited complacently till Ricardo had finished swearing quite openly at him for a confounded chatterer, and then went on:
“A fellow doesn't go to a counting-house in business hours for a chat about the weather, two days running. Then why? To close his account with them one day, and to get his money out the next! Clear, what?”
Ricardo, with his trick of looking one way and moving another, approached Schomberg slowly.
“To get his money?” he purred.
“Gewiss,” snapped Schomberg with impatient superiority. “What else? That is, only the money he had with the Tesmans. What he has buried or put away on the island, devil only knows. When you think of the lot of hard cash that passed through that man's hands, for wages and stores and all that—and he's just a cunning thief, I tell you.” Ricardo's hard stare discomposed the hotel-keeper, and he added in an embarrassed tone: “I mean a common, sneaking thief-no account
at all. And he calls himself a Swedish baron, too! Tfui!”
"He's a baron, is he? That foreign nobility ain't much,” commented Mr. Ricardo seriously. “And then what? He hung about here."
“Yes, he hung about,” said Schomberg, making a wry mouth. “He-hung about. That's it. Hung
His voice died out. Curiosity was depicted in Ricardo's countenance.
“Just like that; for nothing? And then turned about and went back to that island again?”
“And went back to that island again,” Schomberg echoed lifelessly, fixing his gaze on the floor.
“What's the matter with you?” asked Ricardo with genuine surprise. "What is it?"
Schomberg, without looking up, made an impatient gesture. His face was crimson, and he kept it lowered. Ricardo went back to the point.
“Well, but how do you account for it? What was his reason? What did he go back to the island for?"
“Honeymoon!” spat out Schomberg viciously.
Perfectly still, his eyes downcast, he suddenly, with no preliminary stir, hit the table with his fist a blow which caused the utterly unprepared Ricardo to leap aside. And only then did Schomberg look up with a dull, resentful expression.
Ricardo stared hard for a moment, spun on his heel, walked to the end of the room, came back smartly and muttered a profound “Ay! Ay!” above Schomberg's rigid head. That the hotel-keeper was capable of a great moral effort was proved by a gradual return of his severe, Lieutenant-of-the-Reserve manner.
“Ay, ay!” repeated Ricardo more deliberately than before, and as if after a further survey of the circumstances. “I wish I hadn't asked you, or that
told me a lie. It don't suit me to know that there's a woman mixed up in this affair. What's she like? It's the girl you
“Leave off!” muttered Schomberg, utterly pitiful behind his stiff military front.
“Ay, ay!” Ricardo ejaculated for the third time, more and more enlightened and perplexed. “Can't bear to talk about it-so bad as that? And yet I would bet she isn't a miracle to look at."
Schomberg made a gesture as if he didn't know, as if he didn't care. Then he squared his shoulders and frowned at vacancy.
“Swedish baron-h’m!” Ricardo continued meditatively. “I believe the governor would think that business worth looking up, quite, if I put it to him properly. The governor likes a duel, if you will call it so; but I don't know a man that can stand up to him on the square. Have you ever seen a cat play with a mouse? It's a pretty sight.”
Ricardo, with his voluptuously gleaming eyes and the coy expression, looked so much like a cat that Schomberg would have felt all the alarm of a mouse if other feelings had not had complete possession of his breast.
"There are no lies between you and me,” he said, more steadily than he thought he could speak.
"What's the good now? He funks women. In that Mexican pueblo where we lay grounded on our beefbones, so to speak, I used to go to dances of an evening. The girls there would ask me if the English caballero in the posada was a monk in disguise, or if he had taken a vow to the sanctissima madre not to speak to a woman or whether You can imagine what fairly free-spoken girls will ask when they come to the point of not caring what they say; and it used to vex me. Yes, the governor funks facing women."
“One woman?” interjected Schomberg in guttural tones.
“One may be more awkward to deal with than two, or two hundred, for that matter. In a place that's full of women you needn't look at them unless you like; but if you go into a room where there is only one woman, young or old, pretty or ugly, you have got to face her. And, unless you are after her, then—the governor is right enough-she's in the way.”
“Why notice them?” muttered Schomberg. “What can they do?"
“Make a noise, if nothing else," opined Mr. Ricardo curtly, with the distaste of a man whose path is a path of silence; for indeed, nothing is more odious than a noise when one is engaged in a weighty and absorbing card game. “Noise, noise, my friend,” he went on forcibly; "confounded screeching about something or other, and I like it no more than the governor does. But with the governor there's something else besides. He can't stand them at all."
He paused to reflect on this psychological phe nomenon, and as no philosopher was at hand to tell him that there is no strong sentiment without some terror, as there is no real religion without a little fetichism, he emitted his own conclusion, which surely could not go to the root of the matter.
“I'm hanged if I don't think they are to him what liquor is to me. Brandy-pah!”
He made a disgusted face, and produced a genuine shudder. Schomberg listened to him in wonder. It looked as if the very scoundrelism of that—that Swede would protect him; the spoil of his iniquity standing between the thief and the retribution.
“That's so, old buck.” Ricardo broke the silence after contemplating Schomberg's mute dejection with
a sort of sympathy. “I don't think this trick will work.”
“But that's silly," whispered the man deprived of the vengeance which he had seemed already to hold in his hand, by a mysterious and exasperating idiosyncrasy.
“Don't you set yourself to judge a gentleman.' Ricardo without anger administered a moody rebuke. “Even I can't understand the governor thoroughly. And I am an Englishman and his follower. No; I don't think I care to put it before him, sick as I am of staying here.'
Ricardo could not be more sick of staying than Schomberg was of seeing him stay. Schomberg believed so firmly in the reality of Heyst as created by his own power of false inferences, of his hate, of his love of scandal, that he could not contain a stifled cry of conviction as sincere as most of our convictions, the disguised servants of our passions, can appear at a supreme moment.
“It would have been like going to pick up a nugget of a thousand pounds, or two or three times as much, for all I know. No trouble, no-"
“The petticoat's the trouble,” Ricardo struck in.
He had resumed his noiseless, feline, oblique prowling, in which an observer would have detected a new character of excitement, such as a wild animal of the cat species, anxious to make a spring, might betray. Schomberg saw nothing. It would probably have cheered his drooping spirits; but in a general way he preferred not to look at Ricardo. Ricardo, however, with one of his slanting, gliding, restless glances, observed the bitter smile on Schomberg's bearded lips—the unmistakable smile of ruined hopes.
“You are a pretty unforgiving sort of chap,” he said,