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Reluctant she turned away, and only in the doorway asked:
"I think I shall smoke a cheroot on the verandah. I don't feel sleepy for the moment." "Well, don't be long."
He made no answer. She saw him standing there, very still, with a frown on his brow, and slowly dropped the curtain.
Heyst did really light a cheroot before going out again on the verandah. He glanced up from under the low eaves, to see by the stars how the night went on. It was going very slowly. Why it should have irked him he did not know; for he had nothing to expect from the dawn; but everything round him had become unreasonable, unsettled, and vaguely urgent, laying him under an obligation, but giving him no line of action. He felt contemptuously irritated with the situation. The outer world had broken upon him; and he did not know what wrong he had done to bring this on himself, any more than he knew what he had done to provoke the horrible calumny about his treatment of poor Morrison. For he could not forget this. It had reached the ears of one who needed to have the most perfect confidence in the rectitude of his conduct.
"And she only half disbelieves it," he thought, with hopeless humiliation.
This moral stab in the back seemed to have taken some of his strength from him, as a physical wound would have done. He had no desire to do anything—neither to bring Wang to terms in the matter of the revolver nor to find out from the strangers who they were, and how their predicament had come about. He flung his glowing cigar away into the night. But Samburan was no longer a solitude wherein he could indulge in all his moods. The fiery parabolic trail the cast-out stump traced in the air was seen from another verandah at a distance of some twenty yards. It was noted as a symptom of importance by an observer with his faculties greedy for signs, and in a state of alertness tense enough almost to hear the grass grow.
The observer was Martin Ricardo. To him life was not a matter of passive renunciation, but of a particularly active warfare. He was not mistrustful of it, he was not disgusted with it, still less was he inclined to be suspicious of its disenchantments; but he was vividly aware that it held many possibilities of failure. Though very far from being a pessimist, he was not a man of foolish illusions. He did not like failure; not only because of its unpleasant and dangerous consequences, but also because of its damaging effect upon his own appreciation of Martin Ricardo. And this was a special job, of his own contriving, and of considerable novelty. It was not, so to speak, in his usual line of business—except, perhaps, from a moral standpoint, about which he was not likely to trouble his head. For these reasons Martin Ricardo was unable to sleep.
Mr. Jones, after repeated shivering fits, and after drinking much hot tea, had apparently fallen into deep slumber. He had very peremptorily discouraged attempts at conversation on the part of his faithful follower. Ricardo listened to his regular breathing. It was all very well for the governor. He looked upon it as a sort of sport. A gentleman naturally would. But this ticklish and important job had to be pulled off at all costs, both for honour and for safety. Ricardo rose quietly, and made his way on the verandah. He could not lie still. He wanted to go out for air; and he had a feeling that by the force of his eagerness even the darkness and the silence could be made to yield something to his eyes and ears.
He noted the stars, and stepped back again into the dense darkness. He resisted the growing impulse to go out and steal toward the other bungalow. It would have been madness to start prowling in the dark on unknown ground. And for what end? Unless to relieve the oppression. Immobility lay on his limbs like a leaden garment. And yet he was unwilling to give up. He persisted in his objectless vigil. The man of the island was keeping quiet.
It was at that moment that Ricardo's eyes caught the vanishing red trail of light made by the cigar—a startling revelation of the man's wakefulness. He could not suppress a low "Hallo!" and began to sidle along towards the door, with his shoulders rubbing the wall. For all he knew, the man might have been out in front by this time, observing the verandah. As a matter of fact, after flinging away the cheroot, Heyst had gone indoors with the feeling of a man who gives up an unprofitable occupation. But Ricardo fancied he could hear faint footfalls on the open ground, and dodged quickly into the room. There he drew breath, and meditated for a while. His next step was to feel for the matches on the tall desk, and to light the candle. He had to communicate to his governor views and reflections of such importance that it was absolutely necessary for him to watch their effect on the very countenance of the hearer. At first he had thought that these matters could have waited till daylight, but Heyst's wakefulness, disclosed in that startling way, made him feel suddenly certain that there could be no sleep for him that night.
He said as much to his governor. When the little dagger-like flame had done its best to dispel the darkness, Mr. Jones was to be seen reposing on a camp bedstead, in a distant part of the room. A railway rug concealed his spare form up to his very head, which rested on the other railway rug rolled up for a pillow. Ricardo plumped himself down cross-legged on the floor, very close to the low bedstead; so that Mr. Jones—who perhaps had not been so very prn
foundly asleep—on opening his eyes found them conveniently levelled at the face of his secretary.
"Eh? What is it you say? No sleep for you to-night? But why can't you let me sleep? Confound your fussinessl"
"Because that there fellow can't sleep—that's why. Dash me if he hasn't been doing a think just now! What business has he to think in the middle of the night?"
"How do you know?"
"He was out, sir—up in the middle of the night. My own eyes saw it."
"But how do you know that he was up to think?" inquired Mr. Jones. "It might have been anything—toothache, for instance. And you may have dreamed it for all I know. Didn't you try to sleep?"
"No, sir. I didn't even try to go to sleep."
Ricardo informed his patron of his vigil on the verandah, and of the revelation which put an end to it. He concluded that a man up with a cigar in the middle of the night must be doing a think.
Mr. Jones raised himself on his elbow. This sign of interest comforted his faithful henchman.
"Seems to me it's time we did a little think ourselves," added Ricardo, with more assurance. Long as they had been together the moods of his governor were still a source of anxiety to his simple soul.
"You are always making a fuss," remarked Mr. Jones, in a tolerant tone.
"Ay, but not for nothing, am I? You can't say that, sir. Mine may not be a gentleman's way of looking round a thing, but it isn't a fool's way, either. You've admitted that much yourself at odd times."
Ricardo was growing warmly argumentative. Mr. Jones interrupted him without heat.
"You haven't roused me to talk about yourself, I presume."
"No, sir." Ricardo remained silent for a minute, with the tip of his tongue caught between his teeth. "I don't think I could tell you anything about myself that you don't know," he continued. There was a sort of amused satisfaction in his tone which changed completely as he went on. "It's that man,over there, that's got to be talked over. I don't like him!"
He failed to observe the flicker of a ghastly smile on his governor's lips.
"Don't you?" murmured Mr. Jones, whose face, as he reclined on his elbow, was on a level with the top of his follower's head.
"No, sir," said Ricardo emphatically. The candle from the other side of the room threw his monstrous black shadow on the wall. "He—I don't know how to say it—he isn't hearty-like."
Mr. Jones agreed languidly in his own manner:
"He seems to be a very self-possessed man."
"Ay, that's it. Self—" Ricardo choked with indignation. "I would soon let out some of his self-possession through a hole between his ribs, if this weren't a special job!"
Mr. Jones had been making his own reflections, for he asked:
"Do you think he is suspicious?"
"I don't see very well what he can be suspicious of," pondered Ricardo. "Yet there he was, doing a think. And what could be the object of it? What made him get out of his bed in the middle of the night? 'Tain't fleas, surely."
"Bad conscience, perhaps," suggested Mr. Jones jocularly.
His faithful secretary suffered from irritation, and did not see the joke. In a fretful tone he declared that there was no such thing as conscience. There was such a thing as funk; but there was nothing to make that fellow funky in any special way. He admitted, however, that the man might have been uneasy at the arrival of strangers, because of all that plunder of his put away somewhere.
Ricardo glanced here and there, as if he were afraid of being overheard by the heavy shadows cast by the dim light all over the room. His patron, very quiet, spoke in a calm whisper:
"And perhaps that hotel-keeper has been lying to you about him. He may be a very poor devil indeed."
Ricardo shook his head slightly. The Schombergian theory of Heyst had become in him a profound conviction,