« PreviousContinue »
pockets full of cash. I wonder you take so much trouble and risk for so little money.” Schomberg's argument was met by Mr. Jones's statement that one must do something to kill time. Killing time was not forbidden. For the rest, being in a communicative mood, Mr. Jones said languidly and in a voice indifferent, as if issuing from a tomb, that he depended on himself, as if the world were still one great, wild jungle without law. Martin was something like that, too— for reasons of his own. All these statements Ricardo confirmed by short, inhuman grins. Schomberg lowered his eyes, for the sight of these two men intimidated him; but he was losing patience. “Of course, I could see at once that you were two desperate characters—something like what you say. But what would you think if I told you that I am pretty near as desperate as you two gentlemen? ‘Here's that Schomberg has an easy time running his hotel, people think; and yet it seems to me I would just as soon let you rip me open and burn the whole show as not. There!” A low whistle was heard. It came from Ricardo, and was derisive. Schomberg, breathing heavily, looked on the floor. He was really desperate. Mr. Jones remained languidly sceptical. “Tut, tut! You have a tolerable business. You are perfectly tame; you ” He paused, then added in a tone of disgust: “You have a wife.” Schomberg tapped the floor angrily with his foot and uttered an indistinct, laughing curse. “What do you mean by flinging that damned trouble at my head?” he cried. “I wish you would carry her off with you somewhere to the devil! I wouldn't run after you.” The unexpected outburst affected Mr. Jones strangely. He had a horrified recoil, chair and all, as if Schomberg had thrust a wriggling viper in his face. “What's this infernal nonsense?” he muttered thickly. “What do you mean? How dare you?” Ricardo chuckled audibly. “I tell you I am desperate,” Schomberg repeated. “I am as desperate as any man ever was. I don't care a hang what happens to me!” “Well, then”—Mr. Jones began to speak with a quietly threatening effect, as if the common words of daily use had some other deadly meaning to his mind—“well, then, why should you make yourself ridiculously disagreeable to us? If you don't care, as you say, you might just as well let us have the key of that music-shed of yours for a quiet game; a modest bank—a dozen candles or so. It would be greatly appreciated by your clients, as far as I can judge from the way they betted on a game of écarté I had with that fair, baby-faced man—what's his name? They just yearn for a modest bank. And I am afraid Martin here would take it badly if you objected; but of course you won't. Think of the calls for drinks!” Schomberg, raising his eyes at last, met the gleams in two dark caverns under Mr. Jones's devilish eyebrows, directed upon him impenetrably. He shuddered as if horrors worse than murder had been lurking there, and said, nodding towards Ricardo: “I dare say he wouldn't think twice about sticking me, if he had you at his back! I wish I had sunk my launch, and gone to the bottom myself in her, before I boarded the steamer you came by. Ah, well, I've been already living in hell for weeks, so you don't make much difference. I’ll let you have the concert-room—and hang the consequences. But what about the boy on late duty? If he sees cards and actual money passing, he will be sure ... to blab, and it will be all over the town in no time.” A ghastly smile stirred the lips of Mr. Jones.
“Ah, I see you want to make a success of it. Very good. That's the way to get on. Don't let it disturb you. You chase all the Chinamen to bed early, and we'll get Pedro here every evening. He isn't the conventional waiter's cut, but he will do to run to and fro with the tray, while you sit here from nine to eleven serving out drinks and gathering the money.” “There will be three of them now,” thought the unlucky Schomberg. But Pedro, at any rate, was just a simple, straightforward brute, if a murderous one. There was no mystery about him, nothing uncanny, no suggestion of a stealthy, deliberate wild-cat turned into a man, or of an insolent spectre on leave from Hades, endowed with skin and bones and a subtle power of terror. Pedro with his fangs, his tangled beard and queer stare of his little bear's eyes was, by comparison, delightfully natural. Besides, Schomberg could no longer help himself. “That will do very well,” he assented mournfully. “But mind, gentlemen, if you had turned up here only three months ago—ay, less than three months ago—you would have found somebody very different from what I am now to talk to you. It's true. What do you think of that?” “I scarcely know what to think. I should think it was a lie. You were probably as tame three months ago as you are now. You were born tame, like most people in the world.” Mr. Jones got up spectrally, and Ricardo imitated him with a snarl and a stretch. Schomberg, in a brown study, went on, as if to himself: “There has been an orchestra here—eighteen women.” Mr. Jones let out an exclamation of dismay, and looked about as if the walls around him and the whole house had been infected with plague. Then he became very angry, and swore violently at Schomberg for daring to bring up such subjects. The hotel-keeper was too much surprised to get up. He gazed from his chair at Mr. Jones's anger, which had nothing spectral in it, but was not the more comprehensible for that. “What's the matter?” he stammered out. “What subject? Didn't you hear me say it was an orchestra? There's nothing wrong in that. Well, there was a girl amongst them—” Schomberg's eyes went stony; he clasped his hands in front of his breast with such force that his knuckles came out white. “Such a girl! Tame, am I? I would have kicked everything to pieces about me for her. And she, of course. . . . I am in the prime of life. . . . Then a fellow bewitched her—a vagabond, a false, lying, swindling, underhand, stick-at-nothing brute. Ah!” His entwined fingers cracked as he tore his hands apart, flung out his arms, and leaned his forehead on them in a passion of fury. The other two looked at his shaking back —the attenuated Mr. Jones with mingled scorn and a sort of fear, Ricardo with the expression of a cat which sees a piece of fish in the pantry out of reach. Schomberg flung himself backwards. He was dry-eyed, but he gulped as if swallowing sobs. “No wonder you can do with me what you like. You have no idea—just let me tell you of my trouble—” “I don’t want to know anything of your beastly trouble,” said Mr. Jones, in his most lifelessly positive voice. He stretched forth an arresting hand, and, as Schomberg remained open-mouthed, he walked out of the billiardroom in all the uncanniness of his thin shanks. Ricardo followed at his leader's heels; but he showed his teeth to Schomberg over his shoulder.
FROM that evening dated those mysterious but significant phenomena in Schomberg's establishment which attracted Captain Davidson's casual notice when he dropped in, placid yet astute, in order to return Mrs. Schomberg's Indian shawl. And, strangely enough, they lasted some considerable time. It argued either honesty and bad luck or extraordinary restraint on the part of “plain Mr. Jones and Co.” in their discreet operations with cards.
It was a curious and impressive sight, the inside of Schomberg's concert-hall, encumbered at one end by a great stack of chairs piled up on and about the musicians’ platform, and lighted at the other by two dozen candles disposed about a long trestle table covered with green cloth. In the middle, Mr. Jones, a starved spectre turned into a banker, faced Ricardo, a rather nasty, slow-moving cat turned into a croupier. By contrast, the other faces round that table, anything between twenty and thirty, must have looked like collected samples of intensely artless, helpless humanity—pathetic in their innocent watch for the small turns of luck which indeed might have been serious enough for them. They had no notice to spare for the hairy Pedro, carrying a tray with the clumsiness of a creature caught in the woods and taught to walk on its hind legs.
As to Schomberg, he kept out of the way. He remained in the billiard-room, serving out drinks to the unspeakable Pedro with an air of not seeing the growling monster, of not knowing where the drinks went, of ignoring that there was such a thing as a music-room over there under the