« PreviousContinue »
plantain leaf, puts his hand behind his back, as if to help himself to rise from the ground, snatches his revolver from under his jacket, and plugs a bullet plumb centre into Mr. Antonio's chest. See what it is to have to do with a gentleman. No confounded fuss, and things done out of hand. But he might have tipped me a wink or something. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Scared ain’t in it! I didn't even know who had fired. Everything had been so still just before that the bang of the shot seemed the loudest noise I had ever heard. The honourable Antonio pitches forward—they always do, towards the shot; you must have noticed that yourself—yes, he pitches for ward on to the embers, and all that lot of hair on his face and head flashes up like a pinch of gunpowder, Greasy, I expect; always scraping the fat off them allic gators' hides—” “Look here,” exclaimed Schomberg violently, as if trying to burst some invisible bonds, “do you mean to say that all this happened?” “No,” said Ricardo coolly. “I am making it all up as I go along, just to help you through the hottest part of the afternoon. So down he pitches, his nose on the red embers, and up jumps our handsome Pedro and I at the same time, like two Jacks-in-the-box. He starts to bolt away, with his head over his shoulder, and I, hardly knowing what I was doing, spring on his back. I had the sense to get my hands round his neck at once, and it's about all I could do to lock my fingers tight under his jaw. You saw the beauty's neck, didn't you? Hard as iron, too. Down we both went. Seeing this the governor puts his revolver in his pocket. “‘Tie his legs together, sir, I yell. “I’m trying to strangle him.’ “There was a lot of their fibre-lines lying about. I gave him a last squeeze and then got up.
“‘I might have shot you, says the governor, quite concerned. “‘But you are glad to have saved a cartridge, sir, I tell him. “My jump did save it. It wouldn’t have done to let him get away in the dark like that, and have the beauty dodging around in the bushes, perhaps, with the rusty flint-lock gun they had. The governor owned up that the jump was the correct thing. “‘But he isn't dead, says he, bending over him. “Might as well hope to strangle an ox. We made haste to tie his elbows back, and then, before he came to himself, we dragged him to a small tree, sat him up, and bound him to it, not by the waist but by the neck—some twenty turns of small line round his throat and the trunk, finished off with a reef-knot under his ear. Next thing we did was to attend to the honourable Antonio, who was making a great smell frizzling his face on the red coals. We pushed and rolled him into the creek, and left the rest to the alligators. “I was tired. That little scrap took it out of me something awful. The governor hadn't turned a hair. That's where a gentleman has the pull of you. He don’t get excited. No gentleman does—or hardly ever. I fell asleep all of a sudden and left him smoking by the fire I had made up, his railway rug round his legs, as calm as if he were sitting in a first-class carriage. We hardly spoke ten words to each other after it was over, and from that day to this we have never talked of the business. I wouldn’t have known he remembered it if he hadn’t alluded to it when talking with you the other day—you know, with regard to Pedro. “It surprised you, didn’t it? That's why I am giving you this yarn of how he came to be with us, like a sort of dog—dashed sight more useful, though. You know how he can trot around with trays? Well, he could bring down an ox with his fist, at a word from the boss, just as cleverly. And fond of the governor ! Oh, my word! More than any dog is of any man.” Schomberg squared his chest. “Oh, and that's one of the things I wanted to mention to Mr. Jones,” he said. “It’s unpleasant to have that fellow round the house so early. He sits on the stairs at the back for hours before he is needed here, and frightens people so that the service suffers. The Chinamen—” Ricardo nodded and raised his hand. “When I first saw him he was fit to frighten a grizzly bear, let alone a Chinaman. He's become civilised now to what he once was. Well, that morning, first thing on opening my eyes, I saw him sitting there, tied up by the neck to the tree. He was blinking. We spent the day watching the sea, and we actually made out the schooner working to windward, which showed that she had given us up. Good! When the sun rose again, I took a squint at our Pedro. He wasn’t blinking. He was rolling his eyes, all white one minute and black the next, and his tongue was hanging out a yard. Being tied up short by the neck like this would daunt the arch devil himself—in time—in time, mind! I don't know but that even a real gentleman would find it difficult to keep a stiff lip to the end. Presently we went to work getting our boat ready. I was busying myself setting up the mast, when the governor passes the remark: “‘I think he wants to say something.’ “I had heard a sort of croaking going on for some. time, only I wouldn't take any notice; but then I got out of the boat and went up to him, with some water. His eyes were red—red and black and half out of his head. He drank all the water I gave him, but he hadn’t much to say for himself. I walked back to the governor. “‘He asks for a bullet in his head before we go, I said. I wasn't at all pleased.
“‘Oh, that's out of the question altogether,’ says the governor. “He was right there. Only four shots left, and ninety miles of wild coast to put behind us before coming to the first place where you could expect to buy revolver cartridges. “‘Anyhow, I tells him, he wants to be killed some way or other, as a favour.” “And then I go on setting the boat's mast. I didn't care much for the notion of butchering a man bound hand and foot and fastened by the neck besides. I had a knife then—the honourable Antonio's knife; and that knife is this knife.” Ricardo gave his leg a resounding slap. “First spoil in my new life,” he went on with harsh joviality. “The dodge of carrying it down there I learned later. I carried it stuck in my belt that day. No, I hadn't much stomach for the job; but when you work with a gentleman of the real right sort you may depend on your feelings being seen through your skin. Says the governor suddenly: “‘It may even be looked upon as his right'—you hear a gentleman speaking there?—but what do you think of taking him with us in the boat?' “And the governor starts arguing that the beggar would be useful in working our way along the coast. We could get rid of him before coming to the first place that was a little civilised. I didn't want much talking over. Out I scrambled from the boat. “‘Ay, but will he be manageable, sir?' “‘Oh, yes. He's daunted. Go on, cut him loose—I take the responsibility.’ “‘Right you are, sir.’ “He sees me come along smartly with his brother's knife in my hand—I wasn’t thinking how it looked from his side f the fence, you know—and jiminy, it nearly killed him! He stared like a crazed bullock and began to swear and twitch all over, something amazing. I was so surprised that I stopped to look at him. The drops were pouring over his eyebrows, down his beard, off his nose— and he gurgled. Then it struck me that he couldn't see what was in my mind. By favour or by right he didn't like to die when it came to it; not in that way, anyhow. When I stepped round to get at the lashing, he let out a sort of soft bellow. Thought I was going to stick him from behind, I guess. I cut all the turns with one slash, and he went over on his side, flop, and started kicking with his tied legs. Laugh! I don't know what there was so funny about it, but I fairly shouted. What between my laughing and his wriggling, I had a job in cutting him free. As soon as he could feel his limbs he makes for the bank, where the governor was standing, crawls up to him on his hands and knees, and embraces his legs. Gratitude, eh? You could see that being allowed to live suited that chap down to the ground. The governor gets his legs away from him gently and just mutters to me:
“‘Let’s be off. Get him into the boat.”
“It was not difficult,” continued Ricardo, after eyeing Schomberg fixedly for a moment. “He was ready enough to get into the boat, and—here he is. He would let himself be chopped into small pieces—with a smile, mind; with a smile!—for the governor. I don’t know about him doing that much for me; but pretty near, pretty near. I did the tying up and the untying, but he could see who was the boss. And then he knows a gentleman. A dog knows a gentleman—any dog. It's only some foreigners that don't know; and nothing can teach them, either.”
“And you mean to say,” asked Schomberg, disregarding what might have been annoying for himself in the emphasis of the final remark, “you mean to say that you left steady employment at good wages for a life like this?”