« PreviousContinue »
thing a woman will consent to discover in a man whom she loves, or on whom she simply depends, is want of courage. And, timid in her corner,
she ventured to say pressingly:
“Be careful, Wilhelm! Remember the knives and revolvers in their trunks.”
In guise of thanks for that anxious reminder, he swore horribly in the direction of her shrinking person. In her scanty night-dress, and barefooted, she recalled a mediæval penitent being reproved for her sins in blasphemous terms. Those lethal weapons were always present to Schomberg's mind. Personally, he had never seen them. His part, ten days after his guest's arrival, had been to lounge in manly, careless attitudes on the veranda-keeping watch —while Mrs. Schomberg, provided with a bunch of assorted keys, her discoloured teeth chattering and her globular eyes absolutely idiotic with fright, was "going through” the luggage of these strange clients. Her terrible Wilhelm had insisted on it.
"I'll be on the look-out, I tell you," he said. "I shall give you a whistle when I see them coming back. You couldn't whistle. And if he were to catch you at it, and chuck you out by the scruff of the neck, it wouldn't hurt you much; but he won't touch a
Not he! He has told me so. Affected beast. I must find out something about their little
game, and so there's an end of it. Go in! Go now! Quick march!”
It had been an awful job; but she did go in, because she was much more afraid of Schomberg than of any possible consequences of the act. Her greatest concern was lest no key of the bunch he had provided her with should fit the locks. It would have been such a disappointment for Wilhelm. However, the trunks, she found, had been left open; but her investigation did not last long. frightened of firearms, and generally of all weapons, not from personal cowardice, but as some women are, almost superstitiously, from an abstract horror of violence and murder. She was out again on the veranda long before Wilhelm had any occasion for a warning whistle. The instinctive, motiveless fear being the most difficult to overcome, nothing could induce her to return to her investigations, neither threatening growls nor ferocious hisses, nor yet a poke or two in the ribs.
"Stupid female!" muttered the hotel-keeper, perturbed by the notion of that armoury in one of his bedrooms. This was from no abstract sentiment; with him it was constitutional. “Get out of my sight!” he snarled. “Go and dress yourself for the table d'hôte.”
Left to himself, Schomberg had meditated. What
the devil did this mean? His thinking processes were sluggish and spasmodic; but suddenly the truth came to him.
“By heavens, they are desperadoes!” he thought.
Just then he beheld “plain Mr. Jones” and his secretary with the ambiguous name of Ricardo entering the grounds of the hotel. They had been down to the port on some business, and now were returning; Mr. Jones lank, spare, opening his long legs with angular regularity like a pair of compasses, the other stepping out briskly by his side. Conviction entered Schomberg's heart. They were two desperadoes—no doubt about it. But as his funk was merely a general sensation, he managed to put on his most severe Officer-of-the-Reserve manner, long before they had closed in with him.
"Good morning, gentlemen."
Being answered with derisive civility, he became confirmed in his sudden conviction of their desperate character. The way Mr. Jones turned his hollow eyes on one, like an incurious spectre, and the way the other, when addressed, suddenly retracted his lips and exhibited his teeth without looking round—here was evidence enough to settle that point. Desperadoes! They passed through the billiard-room, inscrutably mysterious, to the back of the house, to join their violated trunks.
“Tiffin bell will ring in five minutes, gentlemen," Schomberg called after them, exaggerating the deep manliness of his tone.
He had managed to upset himself very much. He expected to see them come back infuriated and, begin to bully him with an odious lack of restraint. Desperadoes! However they didn't; they had not noticed anything unusual about their trunks and Schomberg recovered his composure and said to himself that he must get rid of this deadly incubus as soon as practicable. They couldn't possibly want to stay very long; this was not the town—the colony —for desperate characters. He shrank from action. He dreaded any kind of disturbance—“fracas," he called it-in his hotel. Such things were not good for business. Of course, sometimes one had to have a "fracas"; but it had been a comparatively trifling task to seize the frail Zangiacomo—whose bones were no larger than a chicken's—round the ribs, lift him up bodily, dash him to the ground, and fall on him. It had been easy. The wretched, hook-nosed creature lay without movement, buried under its purple beard.
Suddenly, remembering the occasion of that "fracas," Schomberg groaned with the pain as of a hot coal under his breastbone, and gave himself up to desolation. 's Ah, if he only had that girl with him
he would have been masterful and resolute and fearless—fight twenty desperadoes—care for nobody on earth! Whereas the possession of Mrs. Schomberg was no incitement to a display of manly virtues. Instead of caring for no one, he felt that he cared for nothing. Life was a hollow sham; he wasn't going to risk a shot through his lungs or his liver in order to preserve its integrity. It had no savourdamn it!
In his state of moral decomposition, Schomberg, master as he was of the art of hotel-keeping, and careful of giving no occasion for criticism to the powers regulating that branch of human activities, let things take their course; though he saw very well where that course was tending. It began first with a game or two after dinner-for the drinks, apparently—with some lingering customer, at one of the little tables ranged against the walls of the billiard-room. Schomberg detected the meaning of it at once. That's what it was! This was what they were! And, moving about restlessly (at that time his morose silent period had set in), he cast sidelong looks at the game; but he said nothing. It was not worth while having a row with men who were so overbearing. Even when money appeared in connection with these postprandial games, into which more and more people were being drawn, he still refrained