« PreviousContinue »
to his secret trouble, he was at a loss what to say. He found nothing else but the remark:
“I suppose you are fond of cards."
“What would you expect?" asked Ricardo in a simple, philosophical tone. “Is it likely I should not be?” Then, with sudden fire: "Fond of cards? Ay, passionately!”
The effect of this outburst was augmented by the quiet lowering of the eyelids, by a reserved pause as though this had been a confession of another kind of love. Schomberg cudgelled his brains for a new topic, but he could not find one. His usual scandalous gossip would not serve this turn. That desperado did not know any one anywhere within a thousand miles. Schomberg was almost compelled to keep to the subject.
“I suppose you've always been so—from your early youth.
Ricardo's eyes remained cast down. His fingers toyed absently with the pack on the table.
"I don't know that it was so early. I first got in the way of it playing for tobacco—in forecastles of ships, you know—common sailor games. We used to spend whole watches below at it, round a chest, under a slush lamp. We would hardly spare the time to get a bite of salt horse-neither eat nor sleep. We could hardly stand when the watches were mustered on deck. Talk of gambling !" He dropped the reminiscent tone to add the information, “I was bred to the sea from a boy, you know.”
Schomberg had fallen into a reverie, but without losing the sense of impending calamity. The next words he heard
"I got on all right at sea, too. Worked up to be mate. I was mate of a schooner-a yacht, you might call hera special good berth too, in the Gulf of Mexico, a soft job that you don't run across more than once in a lifetime. Yes, I was mate of her when I left the sea to follow him..'
Ricardo tossed up his chin to indicate the room above; from which Schomberg, his wits painfully aroused by this reminder of Mr. Jones's existence, concluded that the latter had withdrawn into his bedroom. Ricardo, observing him from under lowered eyelids, went on:
"It so happened that we were shipmates.'
"He's no more Mr. Jones than you are,” he said with obvious pride. "He a sailor! That just shows your ignorance. But there! A foreigner can't be expected to know any better. I am an Englishman, and I know a gentleman at sight. I should know one drunk, in the gutter, in jail, under the gallows. There's a something—it isn't exactly the appearance, it's a—no use me trying to tell you. You ain't an Englishman; and if you were, you wouldn't need to be told.”
An unsuspected stream of loquacity had broken its dam somewhere deep within the man, had diluted his fiery blood and softened his pitiless fibre. Schomberg experienced mingled relief and apprehension, as if suddenly an enormous savage cat had begun to wind itself about his legs in inexplicable friendliness. No prudent man under such circumstances would dare to stir. Schomberg didn't stir. Ricardo assumed an easy attitude, with an elbow on the table. Schomberg squared his shoulders afresh.
“I was employed, in that there yacht-schooner, whatever you call it—by ten gentlemen at once. That surprises you, eh? Yes, yes, ten. Leastwise there were nine of them gents good enough in their way, and one downright gentleman, and that was ..
Ricardo gave another upward jerk of his chin as much as to say: He! The only one.
“And no mistake," he went on. "I spotted him from the first day. How? Why? Ay, you may ask. Hadn't
seen that many gentlemen in my life. Well, somehow I did. If you were an Englishman, you would
“What was your yacht?" Schomberg interrupted as impatiently as he dared; for this harping on nationality jarred on his already tried nerves. “What was the game?"
“You have a headpiece on you! Game! ’Xactly. That's what it was the sort of silliness gentlemen will get up among themselves to play at adventure. A treasurehunting expedition. Each of them put down so much money, you understand, to buy the schooner. Their agent in the city engaged me and the skipper. The greatest secrecy and all that. I reckon he had a twinkle in his eye all the time and no mistake. But that wasn't our business. Let them bust their money as they like. The pity of it was that so little of it came our way. Just fair pay and no more. And damn any pay, much or little, anyhow -that's what I say !"
He blinked his eyes greenishly in the dim light. The heat seemed to have stilled everything in the world but his voice. He swore at large, abundantly, in snarling undertones, it was impossible to say why; then calmed down as inexplicably and went on, as a sailor yarns.
“At first there were only nine of them adventurous sparks; then, just a day or two before the sailing date, he turned up. Heard of it somehow, somewhere—I would say from some woman, if I didn't know him as I do. He would give any woman a ten-mile berth. He can't stand them. Or maybe in a flash bar. Or maybe in one of them grand clubs in Pall Mall. Anyway the agent netted him in all right-cash down, and only about four and twenty hours for him to get ready; but he didn't miss his ship. Not he! You might have called it a pierhead jump—for a gentleman. I saw him come along Know the West India Docks, eh?"
Schomberg did not know the West India Docks
Ricardo looked at him pensively for a while, and then continued, as if such ignorance had to be disregarded.
“Our tug was already alongside Two loafers were carrying his dunnage behind him. I told the dockmen at our moorings to keep all fast for a minute. The gangway was down already; but he made nothing of it. Up he jumps, one leap, swings his long legs over the rail, and there he is on board. They pass up his swell dunnage, and he puts his hand in his trousers pocket and throws all his small change on the wharf for them chaps to pick up. They were still promenading that wharf on all fours when we cast off. It was only then that he looked at me quietly, you know; in a slow way. He wasn't so thin then as he is now; but I noticed he wasn't so young as he looked-not by a long chalk. He seemed to touch me inside somewhere. I went away pretty quick from there; I was wanted forward anyhow. I wasn't frightened. What should I be frightened for? I only felt touched on the very spot. But Jee-miny, if anybody had told me we should be partners before the year was out—well, I would have
He swore a variety of strange oaths, some common, others quaintly horrible to Schomberg's ears, and all mere innocent exclamations of wonder at the shifts and changes of human fortune. Schomberg moved slightly in his chair. But the admirer and partner of "plain Mr. Jones" seemed to have forgotten Schomberg's existence for the moment. The stream of ingenuous blasphemysome of it in bad Spanish—had run dry, and Martin Ricardo, connoisseur in gentlemen, sat dumb with a stony gaze as if still marvelling inwardly at the amazing elections, conjunctions and associations of events which influence man's pilgrimage on this earth.
At last Schomberg spoke tentatively:
"And so the—the gentleman, up there, talked you over into leaving a good berth ?”
"Talked me over! Didn't need to talk me over. He just beckoned to me, and that was enough. By that time we were in the Gulf of Mexico. One night we were lying at anchor, close to a dry sandbank-to this day I am not sure where it was—off the Colombian coast or thereabouts. We were to start digging the next morning, and all hands had turned in early, expecting a hard day with the shovels. Up he comes, and in his quiet, tired way of speaking—you can tell a gentleman by that as much as by anything else almost—up he comes behind me and says, just like that into my ear, in a manner: 'Well, and what do you think of our treasure hunt now?'
"I didn't even turn my head; 'xactly as I stood, I remained, and I spoke no louder than himself:
“ 'If you want to know, sir, it's nothing but just damned tomfoolery.'
"We had, of course, been having short talks together at one time or another during the passage. I dare say he had read me like a book. There ain't much to me, except that I have never been tame, even when walking the pavement and cracking jokes and standing drinks to chums—ay, and to strangers, too. I would watch them lifting their elbows at my expense, or splitting their sides at my fun—I can be funny when I like, you bet !"
A pause for self-complacent contemplation of his own fun and generosity checked the flow of Ricardo's speech. Schomberg was concerned to keep within bounds the enlargement of his eyes, which he seemed to feel growing bigger in his head.
“Yes, yes,” he whispered hastily.
"I would watch them and think: 'You boys don't know who I am. If you did! With girls, too. Once I was courting a girl. I used to kiss her behind the ear and say to myself: 'If you only knew who's kissing you, my dear, you would scream and bolt !' Ha! ha! Not that