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underground, unless there's a very good reason for it.”
“A very good reason, eh?” “Yes, sir. What do you think a fellow is-a mole?”
From his experience, Ricardo declared that man was not a burrowing beast. Even the misers very seldom buried their hoard, unless for exceptional reasons. In the given situation of a man alone on an island, the company of a Chink was a very good reason. Drawers would not be safe, nor boxes, either, from a prying, slant-eyed Chink. No, sir; unless a safe—a proper office safe. But the safe was there in the room.
“Is there a safe in this room? I didn't notice it," whispered Mr. Jones.
That was because the thing was painted white, like the walls of the room; and besides, it was tucked away in the shadows of a corner. Mr. Jones had been too tired to observe anything on his first coming ashore; but Ricardo had very soon spotted the characteristic form. He only wished he could believe that the plunder of treachery, duplicity, and all the moral abominations of Heyst had been there. But no; the blamed thing was open.
“It might have been there at one time or another," he commented gloomily, “but it isn't there now.”
“The man did not elect to live in this house," remarked Mr. Jones. “And by the by, what could he have meant by speaking of circumstances which prevented him lodging us in the other bungalow? You remember what he said, Martin? Sounded cryptic.
Martin, who remembered and understood the phrase as directly motived by the existence of the girl, waited a little before saying:
“Some of his artfulness, sir; and not the worst of it either. That manner of his to us, this asking no ques
tions, is some more of his artfulness. A man's bound to be curious, and he is; yet he goes on as if he didn't care. He does care or else what was he doing up with a cigar in the middle of the night, doing a think? I don't like it!”
“He may be outside, observing the light here, and saying the very same thing to himself of our own wakefulness,” gravely suggested Ricardo's governor.
“He may be, sir; but this is too important to be talked over in the dark. And the light is all right. It can be accounted for. There's a light in this bungalow in the middle of the night because why, because you are not well. Not well, sir—that's what's the matter; and you will have to act up to it."
This consideration had suddenly occurred to the faithful henchman, in the light of a felicitous expedient to keep his governor and the girl apart as long as possible. Mr. Jones received the suggestion without the slightest stir, even in the deep sockets of his eyes, where a steady, faint gleam was the only thing telling of life and attention in his attenuated body. But Ricardo, as soon as he had enunciated his happy thought, perceived in it other possibilities more to the point and of greater practical advantage.
“With your looks, sir, it will be easy enough,” he went on evenly, as if no silence had intervened, always respectful, but frank, with perfect simplicity of purpose. “All you've got to do is just to lie down quietly. I noticed him looking sort of surprised at you on the wharf, sir.”
At these words, a naïve tribute to the aspect of his physique, even more suggestive of the grave than of the sick-bed, a fold appeared on that side of the governor's face which was exposed to the dim light-a deep, shadowy, semicircular fold from the side of the nose to
bottom of the chin-a silent smile. By a side glance. Ricardo had noted this play of feature. He smiled, too, appreciative, encouraged.
“And you as hard as nails all the time,” he went on. “Hang me if anybody would believe you aren't sick, if I were to swear myself black in the face! Give us a day or two to look into matters and size up that ’yporcrit.”
Ricardo's eyes remained fixed on his crossed shins. The chief, in his lifeless accents, approved.
"Perhaps it would be a good idea." “The Chink, he's nothing. He can be made quiet
One of Ricardo's hands, reposing palm upwards on his folded legs, made a swift thrusting gesture, repeated by the enormous darting shadow of an arm very low on the wall. It broke the spell of perfect stillness in the room. The secretary eyed moodily the wall from which the shadow had gone. Anybody could be made quiet, he pointed out. It was not anything that the Chink could do; no, it was the effect that his company must have produced on the conduct of the doomed man. A man! What was a man? A Swedish baron could be ripped up, or else holed by a shot, as easily as any other creature; but that was exactly what was to be avoided, till one knew where he had hidden his plunder.
“I shouldn't think it would be some sort of hole in his bungalow,” argued Ricardo with real anxiety.
No. A house can be burnt-set on fire accidentally, or on purpose, while a man's sleep. Under the house or in some crack, cranny, or crevice? Something told him it wasn't that. The anguish of mental effort contracted Ricardo's brow. The skin of his head seemed to move in this travail of vain and tormenting suppositions.
“What did you think a fellow is, sir—a baby?” he
said, in answer to Mr. Jones's objections. “I am trying to find out what I would do myself. He wouldn't be likely to be cleverer than I am.
“And what do you know about yourself?”
Mr. Jones seemed to watch his follower's perplexities with amusement concealed in a death-like composure.
Ricardo disregarded the question. The material vision of the spoil absorbed all his faculties. A great vision! He seemed to see it. A few small canvas bags tied up with thin cord, their distended rotundity showing the inside pressure of the disk-like forms of coins gold, solid, heavy, eminently portable. Perhaps steel cash-boxes with a chased design on the covers; or perhaps a black and brass box with a handle on the top, and full of goodness knows what. Bank notes? Why not? The fellow had been going home; so it was surely something worth going home with.
“And he may have put it anywhere outside anywhere!” cried Ricardo in a deadened voice. “In the forest
That was it! A temporary darkness replaced the dim light of the room. The darkness of the forest at night, and in it the gleam of a lantern, by which a figure is digging at the foot of a tree-trunk. As likely as not, another figure holding that lantern-ha, feminine! The girl!
The prudent Ricardo stifled a picturesque and profane exclamation, partly joy, partly dismay. Had the girl been trusted or mistrusted by that man? Whatever it was, it was bound to be wholly! With women there could be no half-measures. He could not imagine a fellow half-trusting a woman in that intimate relation to himself, and in those particular circumstances of conquest and loneliness where no confidences could appear dangerous since, apparently, there could be no one she
could give him away to. Moreover in nine cases out of ten, the woman would be trusted. But, trusted or mistrusted, was her presence a favourable or unfavourable condition of the problem? That was the question!
The temptation to consult his chief, to talk over the weighty fact and get his opinion on it, was great indeed. Ricardo resisted it; but the agony of his solitary mental conflict was extremely sharp. A woman in a problem is an incalculable quantity, even if you have something to go upon in forming your guess. How much more so when you haven't even once caught sight of her.
Swift as were his mental processes, he felt that a longer silence was inadvisable. He hastened to speak:
“And do you see us, sir, you and I, with a couple of spades having to tackle this whole confounded island?”
He allowed himself a slight movement of the arm. The shadow enlarged it into a sweeping gesture.
“This seems rather discouraging, Martin,” murmured the unmoved governor.
“We mustn't be discouraged—that's all,” retorted his henchman. “And after what we had to go through in that boat too! Why it would be
He couldn't find the qualifying words. Very calm, faithful, and yet astute, he expressed his new-born hopes darkly.
"Something's sure to turn up to give us a hint; only this job can't be rushed. You may depend on me to pick up the least little bit of a hint; but you, sir—you've got to play him very gently. For the rest you can trust me.
“Yes; but I ask myself what you are trusting to.”
"Our luck," said the faithful Ricardo. "Don't