« PreviousContinue »
“A COMMON thief l’’ Schomberg bit his tongue just too late, and woke up completely as he saw Ricardo retract his lips in a cat-like grin; but the companion of “plain Mr. Jones” didn't alter his comfortable, gossiping attitude. “Garn! What if he did want to see his money back, like any tame shopkeeper, hash-seller, gin-slinger, or ink-spewer does? Fancy a mud-turtle like you trying to pass an opinion on a gentleman | A gentleman isn’t to be sized up so easily. Even I ain’t up to it sometimes. For instance, that night, all he did was to waggle his finger at me. The skipper stops his silly chatter, surprised. “‘Eh? What's the matter?’ asks he. “The matter! It was his reprieve—that's what was the matter. “‘Oh, nothing, nothing, says my gentleman. “You are perfectly right. A log—nothing but a log.’ “Ha, ha! Reprieve, I call it, because if the skipper had gone on with his silly argument much longer he would have had to be knocked out of the way. I could hardly hold myself in on account of the precious minutes. However, his guardian angel put it into his head to shut up and go back to his bed. I was ramping mad about the lost time. “‘Why didn't you let me give him one on his silly coconut, sir? I asks. “‘No ferocity, no ferocity, he says, raising his finger at me as calm as you please. “You can’t tell how a gentleman takes that sort of thing. They don't lose their temper. It's bad form. You'll never see him lose his temper—not for anybody to see, anyhow. Ferocity ain’t good form, either—that much I’ve learned by this time, and more, too. I’ve had that schooling that you couldn't tell by my face if I meant to rip you up the next minute—as of course I could do in less than a jiffy. I have a knife up the leg of my trousers.” “You haven't!” exclaimed Schomberg incredulously. Mr. Ricardo was as quick as lightning in changing his lounging, idle attitude for a stooping position, and exhibiting the weapon with one jerk at the left leg of his trousers. Schomberg had just a view of it, strapped to a very hairy limb, when Mr. Ricardo, jumping up, stamped his foot to get the trouser-leg down, and resumed his careless pose with one elbow on the table. “It's a more handy way to carry a tool than you would think,” he went on, gazing abstractedly into Schomberg's wide-open eyes. “Suppose some little difference comes up during a game. Well, you stoop to pick up a dropped card, and when you come up—there you are ready to strike, or with the thing up your sleeve ready to throw. Or you just dodge under the table when there's some shooting coming. You wouldn’t believe the damage a fellow with a knife under the table can do to illconditioned skunks that want to raise trouble, before they begin to understand what the screaming's about, and make a bolt—those that can, that is.” The roses of Schomberg's cheek at the root of his chestnut beard faded perceptibly. Ricardo chuckled faintly. “But no ferocity—no ferocity! A gentleman knows. What's the good of getting yourself into a state? And no shirking necessity, either. No gentleman ever shirks. What I learn I don't forget. Why! We gambled on the plains, with a damn lot of cattlemen in ranches; played fair, mind—and then had to fight for our winnings afterwards as often as not. We've gambled on the hills and in the valleys and on the sea-shore, and out of sight of land—mostly fair. Generally it's good enough. We began in Nicaragua first, after we left that schooner and her fool errand. There were one hundred and twenty-seven sovereigns and some Mexican dollars in that skipper's cash-box. Hardly enough to knock a man on the head for from behind, I must confess; but that the skipper had a narrow escape, the governor himself could not deny afterwards.” “‘Do you want me to understand, sir, that you mind there being one life more or less on this earth? I asked him, a few hours after we got away. “‘Certainly not,’ says he. “‘Well, then, why did you stop me?’ “‘There's a proper way of doing things. You'll have to learn to be correct. There's also unnecessary exertion. That must be avoided, too—if only for the look of the thing. A gentleman's way of putting things to you,and no mistake! “At sunrise we got into a creek, to lie hidden in case the treasure-hunt party had a mind to take a spell hunting for us. And dash me if they didn't! We saw the schooner away out, running to leeward, with ten pairs of binoculars sweeping the sea, no doubt, on all sides. I advised the governor to give her time to beat back again before we made a start. So we stayed up that creek something like ten days, as snug as can be. On the seventh day we had to kill a man, though—the brother of this Pedro here. They were alligator-hunters, right enough. We got our lodgings in their hut. Neither the boss nor I could habla Español—speak Spanish, you know—much then. Dry bank, nice shade, jolly hammocks, fresh fish, good game, everything lovely. The governor chucked them a few dollars to begin with; but it was like boarding with a pair of savage apes, anyhow. By and by we noticed them talking a lot together. They had twigged the cashbox, and the leather portmanteaus, and my bag—a jolly lot of plunder to look at. They must have been saying to each other: “‘No one's ever likely to come looking for these two fellows, who seem to have fallen from the moon. Let's cut their throats.” “Why, of course! Clear as daylight. I didn't need to spy one of them sharpening a devilish long knife behind some bushes, while glancing right and left with his wild eyes, to know what was in the wind. Pedro was standing by, trying the edge of another long knife. They thought we were away on our look-out at the mouth of the river, as was usual with us during the day. Not that we expected to see much of the schooner, but it was just as well to make certain, if possible; and then it was cooler out of the woods, in the breeze. Well, the governor was there right enough, lying comfortable on a rug, where he could watch the offing, but I had gone back to the hut to get a chew of tobacco out of my bag. I had not broken myself of the habit then, and I couldn't be happy unless I had a lump as big as a baby's fist in my cheek.” At the cannibalistic comparison, Schomberg muttered a faint sickly “don’t.” Ricardo hitched himself up in his seat and glanced down his outstretched legs complacently. “I am tolerably light on my feet, as a general thing,” he went on. “Dash me if I don't think I could drop a pinch of salt on a sparrow's tail, if I tried. Anyhow, they didn't hear me. I watched them two brown, hairy brutes not ten yards off. All they had on was white linen drawers rolled up on their thighs. Not a word they said to each other. Antonio was down on his thick hams, busy rubbing the knife on a flat stone; Pedro was leaning against a small tree and passing his thumb along the edge of his blade. I got away quieter than a mouse, you bet.
“I didn’t say anything to the boss then. He was leaning on his elbow on his rug, and didn't seem to want to be spoken to. He's like that—sometimes that familiar you might think he would eat out of your hand, and at others he would snub you sharper than a devil—but always quiet. Perfect gentleman, I tell you. I didn't bother him then; but I wasn't likely to forget them two fellows, so business-like with their knives. At that time we had only one revolver between us two—the governor's sixshooter, but loaded only in five chambers; and we had no more cartridges. He had left the box behind in a drawer in his cabin. Awkward! I had nothing but an old clasp-knife—no good at all for anything serious. “In the evening we four sat round a bit of fire outside the sleeping-shed, eating broiled fish off plantain leaves, with roast yams for bread—the usual thing. The governor and I were on one side, and these two beauties, crosslegged on the other, grunting a word or two to each other now and then, hardly human speech at all, and their eyes down, fast on the ground. For the last three days we couldn’t get them to look us in the face. Presently I began to talk to the boss quietly, just as I am talking to you now, careless like, and I told him all I had observed. He goes on picking up pieces of fish and putting them into his mouth as calm as anything. It's a pleasure to have anything to do with a gentleman. Never looked across at them once. “‘And now, says I, yawning on purpose, “we’ve got to stand watch at night, turn about, and keep our eyes skinned all day, too, and mind we don't get jumped upon suddenly.’ “‘It’s perfectly intolerable, says the governor. “And you with no weapon of any sort!’ “‘I mean to stick pretty close to you, sir, from this on, if you don't mind, says I. “He just nods the least bit, wipes his fingers on the