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"The man in the moon, eh?” suggested Ricardo, in a jeering murmur.
Schomberg shook his head.
"It would be nearly as safe to rook him as if he were the man in the moon. You go and try. It isn't so very far.”
He reflected. These men were thieves and murderers as well as gamblers. Their fitness for purposes of vengeance was appallingly complete. But he preferred not to think of it in detail. He put it to himself summarily that he would be paying Heyst out and would, at the same time, relieve himself of these men's oppression. He had only to let loose his natural gift for talking scandalously about his fellow creatures. And in this case his great practice in it was assisted by hate, which, like love, has an eloquence of its own. With the utmost ease he portrayed for Ricardo, now seriously attentive, a Heyst fattened by years of private and public rapines, the murderer of Morrison, the swindler of many shareholders, a wonderful mixture of craft and impudence, of deep purposes and simple wiles, of mystery and futility. In this exercise of his natural function Schomberg revived, the colour coming back to his face, loquacious, florid, eager, his manliness set off by the military bearing.
“That's the exact story. He was seen hanging about this part of the world for years, spying into everybody's business; but I am the only one who has seen through him from the first-contemptible, double-faced, stick-at-nothing, dangerous fellow.”
"Dangerous, is he?"
Schomberg came to himself at the sound of Ricardo's voice.
“Well, you know what I mean,” he said uneasily. “A lying, circumventing, soft-spoken, polite, stuck-up rascal. Nothing open about him.”
Mr. Ricardo had slipped off the table, and was prowling about the room in an oblique, noiseless manner. He flashed a grin at Schomberg in passing, and a snarling:
“Well, what more dangerous do you want?" argued Schomberg. “He's in no way a fighting man, I believe,” he added negligently.
"And you say he has been living alone there?".
“Like the man in the moon,” answered Schomberg readily. “There's no one that cares a rap what becomes of him. He has been lying low, you understand, after bagging all that plunder.”
"Plunder, eh? Why didn't he go home with it?" inquired Ricardo.
The henchman of "plain Mr. Jones” was beginning to think that this was something worth looking into. And he was pursuing truth in the manner of men of sounder morality and purer intentions than his own; that is he pursued it in the light of his own experience and prejudices. For facts, whatever their origin (and God only knows where they come from), can be only tested by our own particular suspicions. Ricardo was suspicious all round. Schomberg, such is the tonic power of recovered self-esteem, Schomberg retorted fearlessly:
“Go home? Why don't you go home? To hear
your talk, you must have made a pretty considerable pile going round winning people's money. You ought to be ready by this time.”
Ricardo stopped to look at Schomberg with surprise.
“You think yourself very clever, don't you?” he said.
Schomberg just then was so conscious of being clever that the snarling irony left him unmoved. There was positively a smile in his noble Teutonic beard, the first smile for weeks. He was in a felicitous vein.
"How do you know that he wasn't thinking of going home? As a matter of fact, he was on his way home.”
“And how do I know that you are not amusing yourself by spinning out a blamed fairy tale?” interrupted Ricardo roughly. “I wonder at myself listening to the silly rot!”
Schomberg received this turn of temper unmoved. He did not require to be very subtly observant to notice that he had managed to arouse some sort of feeling, perhaps of greed, in Ricardo's breast.
“You won't believe me? Well! You can ask anybody that comes here if that—that Swede hadn't got as far as this house on his way home. Why should he turn up here if not for that? You ask anybody.”
“Ask, indeed!” returned the other. “Catch me asking at large about a man I mean to drop on! Such jobs must be done on the quiet-or not at all.”
The peculiar intonation of the last phrase touched the nape of Schomberg's neck with a chill. He
cleared his throat slightly and looked away as though he had heard something indelicate. Then, with a jump as it were!
“Of course he didn't tell me. Is it likely? But haven't I got eyes? Haven't I got my common sense to tell me? I can see through people. By the same token, he called on the Tesmans. Why did he call on the Tesmans two days running, eh? You don't know? You can't tell?”
He waited complacently till Ricardo had finished swearing quite openly at him for a confounded chatterer, and then went on!
"A fellow doesn't go to a counting-house in business hours for a chat about the weather, two days running. Then why? To close his account with them one day, and to get his money out the next! Clear, what?”
Ricardo, with his trick of looking one way and moving another, approached Schomberg slowly.
“To get his money?” he purred.
“Gewiss," snapped Schomberg with impatient superiority. “What else? That is, only the money he had with the Tesmans. What he has buried or put away on the island, devil only knows. When you think of the lot of hard cash that passed through that man's hands, for wages and stores and all thatand he's just a cunning thief, I tell you.” Ricardo's hard stare discomposed the hotel-keeper, and he added in an embarrassed tone: “I mean a common, sneaking thief-no account at all. And he calls himself a Swedish baron, too! Tfui!”
"He's a baron, is he? That foreign nobility ain't much,” commented Mr. Ricardo seriously. “And then what? He hung about here.”
"Yes, he hung about,” said Schomberg, making a wry mouth. “He-hung about. That's it. Hung,”
His voice died out. Curiosity was depicted in Ricardo's countenance.
"Just like that; for nothing? And then turned about and went back to that island again?”
"And went back to that island again," Schomberg echoed lifelessly, fixing his gaze on the floor.
"What's the matter with you?” asked Ricardo with genuine surprise. "What is it?"
Schomberg, without looking up, made an impatient gesture. His face was crimson, and he kept it lowered. Ricardo went back to the point.
"Well, but how do you account for it? What was his reason? What did he go back to the island for?”
“Honeymoon!” spat out Schomberg viciously.
Perfectly still, his eyes downcast, he suddenly, with no preliminary stir, hit the table with his fist a blow which caused the utterly unprepared Ricardo to leap aside. And only then did Schomberg look up with a dull, resentful expression.
Ricardo stared hard for a moment, spun on his heel, walked to the end of the room, came back smartly and muttered a profound “Ay! Ay!” above Schomberg's rigid head. That the hotel-keeper was capable of a great moral effort was proved by a gradual return of his severe, Lieutenant-of-the-Reserve manner.
“Ay, ay!” repeated Ricardo more deliberately