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"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.
No. 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 disc-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 girll
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 halfmeasures. 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 say a word against that. It might spoil the run of it."
"You are a superstitious beggar. No, I won't say anything against it."
"That's right, sir. Don't you even think lightly of it. Luck's not to be played with."
"Yes, luck's a delicate thing," assented Mr. Jones in a dreamy whisper.
A short silence ensued, which Ricardo ended in a discreet and tentative voice.
"Talking of luck, I suppose he could be made to take a hand with you, sir—two-handed picket or ekarty, you being seedy and keeping indoors—just to pass the time. For all we know, he may be one of them hot ones once they start"
"Is it likely?" came coldly from the principal. "Considering what we know of his history—say with his partner."
"True, sir. He's a cold-blooded beast; a cold-blooded, inhuman—"
"And I'll tell you another thing that isn't likely. He would not be likely to let himself be stripped bare. We haven't to do with a young fool that can be led on by chaff or flattery, and in the end simply over-awed. This is a calculating man."
Ricardo recognised that clearly. What he had in his mind was something on a small scale, just to keep the enemy busy while he, Ricardo, had time to nose around a bit.
"You could even lose a little money to him, sir," he suggested.
Ricardo was thoughtful for a moment.
"He strikes me, too, as the sort of man to start prancing when one didn't expect it. What do you think, sir? Is he a man that would prance? That is, if something startled him. More likely to prance than to run—what?"
The answer came at once, because Mr. Jones understood the peculiar idiom of his faithful follower.
"Oh, without doubt! Without doubt!"
"It does me good to hear that you think so. He's a prancing beast, and so we mustn't startle him—not till I have located the stuff. Afterwards—"
Ricardo paused, sinister in the stillness of his pose. Suddenly he got up with a swift movement and gazed down at his chief in moody abstraction. Mr. Jones did not stir.
"There's one thing that's worrying me," began Ricardo in a subdued voice.
"Only one?" was the faint comment from the motionless body on the bedstead.
"I mean more than all the others put together."
"That's grave news."
"Ay, grave enough. It's this—how do you feel in yourself, sir? Are you likely to get bored? I know them fits come on you suddenly; but surely you can tell—"
"Martin, you are an ass."
The moody face of the secretary brightened up.
"Really, sir? Well, I am quite content to be on these terms—I mean as long as you don't get bored. It wouldn't do, sir."
For coolness, Ricardo had thrown open his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. He moved stealthily across the room, bare-footed, towards the candle, the shadow of his head and shoulders growing bigger behind him on the opposite wall, to which the face of "plain Mr. Jones" was turned. With a feline movement, Ricardo glanced over his shoulder at the thin back of the spectre reposing on the bed, and then blew out the candle.
"In fact, I am rather amused, Martin," Mr. Jones said in the dark.
He heard the sound of a slapped thigh and the jubilant exclamation of his henchman:
"Good! That's the way to talk, sir!"
Ricahdo advanced prudently by short darts from one treetrunk to another, more in the manner of a squirrel than a cat. The sun had risen some time before. Already the sparkle of open sea was encroaching rapidly on the dark, cool, early-morning blue of Diamond Bay; but the deep dusk lingered yet under the mighty pillars of the forest, between which the secretary dodged.
He was watching Number One's bungalow with an animal-like patience, if with a very human complexity of purpose. This was the second morning of such watching. The first one had not been rewarded by success. Well, strictly speaking, there was no hurry.
The sun, swinging above the ridge all at once, inundated with light the space of burnt grass in front of Ricardo and the face of the bungalow, on which his eyes were fixed, leaving only the one dark spot of the doorway. To his right, to his left, and behind him, splashes of gold appeared in the deep shade of the forest, thinning the gloom under the ragged roof of leaves.
This was not a very favourable circumstance for Ricardo's purpose. He did not wish to be detected in his patient occupation. For what he was watching for was a sight of the girl—that girl! Just a glimpse across the burnt patch to see what she was like. He had excellent eyes, and the distance was not so great. He would be able to distinguish her face