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“Confound you !" Mr. Jones's calm whisper crept into his ear. "Come to the point."
Obedient, the secretary shook off his thoughtfulness. There was a similarity of mind between these two_one the outcast of his vices, the other inspired by a spirit of scornful defiance, the aggressiveness of a beast of prey looking upon all the tame creatures of the earth as its natural victims. Both were astute enough, however, and both were aware that they had plunged into this adventure without a sufficient scrutiny of detail. The figure of a lonely man far from all assistance had loomed up largely, fascinating and defenceless in the middle of the sea, filling the whole field of their vision. There had not seemed to be any need for thinking. As Schomberg had been saying: “Three to one.
But it did not look so simple now in the face of that solitude which was like an armour for this man. The feeling voiced by the henchman in his own way—“We don't seem much forwarder now we are here”—was acknowledged by the silence of the patron. It was easy enough to rip a fellow up or drill a hole in him, whether he was alone or not, Ricardo reflected in low, confidential tones, but
“He isn't alone,” Mr. Jones said faintly, in his attitude of a man composed for sleep. “Don't forget that Chinaman.” Ricardo started slightly.
"Oh, ay—the Chink!"
Ricardo had been on the point of confessing about the girl; but no! He wanted his governor to be unperturbed and steady. Vague thoughts, which he hardly dared to look in the face, were stirring in his brain in connection with that girl. She couldn't be much account, he thought. She could be frightened. And there were also other possibilities. The Chink, however, could be considered openly.
“What I was thinking about it, sir," he went on earnestly, “is this—here we've got a man. He's nothing: If
he won't be good, he can be made quiet. That's easy. But then there's his plunder. He doesn't carry it in his pocket.”
"I hope not," breathed Mr. Jones.
"Same here. It's too big, we know; but if he were alone, he would not feel worried about it overmuch-I mean the safety of the pieces. He would just put the lot into any box or drawer that was handy.”
“Yes, sir. He would keep it 'inder his eye, as it were. Why not? It is natural. A fellow doesn't put his swag 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, 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 Ir. 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 questions, 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 any time.”
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.
Nó. A house can be burnt-set on fire accidentally, or on purpose, while a man's asleep. 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.