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Then there was his contemptuous silence. Mr. Jones never addressed himself to Schomberg with any general remarks, never opened his lips to him unless to say "Good morning" —two simple words which, uttered by that man, seemed a mockery of a threatening character. And, lastly, it was not a frank physical fear he inspired—for, as to that, even a cornered rat will fight—but a superstitious, shrinking awe, something like an invincible repugnance to seek speech with a wicked ghost. That it was a daylight ghost, surprisingly angular in his attitudes, and for the most part spread out on three chairs, did not make it any easier. Daylight only made him a more weird, a more disturbing and unlawful apparition. Strangely enough, in the evening, when he came out of his mute supineness, this unearthly side of him was less obtrusive. At the gaming-table, when actually handling the cards, it was probably sunk quite out of sight; but Schomberg, having made up his mind in ostrich-like fashion to ignore what was going on, never entered the desecrated music
He had never seen Mr. Jones in the exercise of his vocation or perhaps it was only his trade.
“I will speak to him to-night,” Schomberg said to himself, while he drank his morning tea, in pajamas, on the veranda, before the rising sun had topped the trees of the compound, and while the un
dried dew still lay silvery on the grass, sparkled on the blossoms of the central flower-bed, and darkened the yellow gravel of the drive. “That's what I'll do. I won't keep out of sight to-night. I shall come out and catch him as he goes to bed carrying the cashbox.”
After all, what was the fellow but a common desperado ? Murderous ? Oh, yes; murderous enough, perhaps—and the muscles of Schomberg's stomach had a quivering contraction under his airy attire.
But even a common desperado would think twice, or, more likely, a hundred times, before openly murdering an inoffensive citizen in a civilised, European-ruled town. He jerked his shoulders. Of course! He shuddered again, and paddled back to his room to dress himself. His mind was made up, and he would think no more about it; but still he had his doubts. They grew and unfolded themselves with the progress of the day, as some plants do. At times they made him perspire more than usual, and they did away with the possibility of his afternoon siesta. After turning over on his couch more than a dozen times, he gave up this mockery of repose, got up, and went downstairs.
It was between three and four o'clock, the hour of profound peace. The very flowers seemed to doze on their stalks set with sleepy leaves. Not even the
air stirred, for the sea-breeze was not due till later. The servants were out of sight, catching naps in the shade somewhere behind the house. Mrs. Schomberg, in a dim up-stair room with closed jalousies, was elaborating those two long pendant ringlets which were such a feature of her hair-dressing for her afternoon duties. At that time no customers
troubled the repose of the establishment. Wandering about his premises in profound solitude, Schomberg recoiled at the door of the billiard-room, as if he had seen a snake in his path. All alone with the billiards, the bare little tables, and a lot of untenanted chairs, Mr. Secretary Ricardo sat near the wall, performing with lightning rapidity something that looked like tricks with his own personal pack of cards, which he always carried about in his pocket. Schomberg would have backed out quietly if Ricardo had not turned his head. Having been seen, the hotel-keeper elected to walk in as the lesser risk of the two. The consciousness of his inwardly abject attitude toward these men caused him always to throw his chest out and assume a severe expression. Ricardo watched his approach, clasping the pack of cards in both hands.
“You want something, perhaps ?" suggested Schomberg in his Lieutenant-of-the-Reserve voice.
Ricardo shook his head in silence and looked ex
pectant. With him Schomberg exchanged at least twenty words every day. He was infinitely more communicative than his patron. At times he looked very much like an ordinary human being of his class; and he seemed to be in an amiable mood at that moment. Suddenly spreading some ten cards face downward in the form of a fan, he thrust them toward Schomberg.
“Come, man, take one quick !"
Schomberg was so surprised that he took one hurriedly, after a very perceptible start. of Martin Ricardo gleamed phosphorescent in the half-light of the room screened from the heat and glare of the tropics.
"That's a king of hearts you've got," he chuckled, showing his teeth in a quick flash.
Schomberg, after looking at the card, admitted that it was, and laid it down on the table.
“I can make you take any card I like nine times out of ten,” exulted the secretary, with a strange curl of his lips and a green flicker in his raised eyes.
Schomberg looked down at him dumbly. For a few seconds neither of them stirred; then Ricardo lowered his glance, and, opening his fingers, let the whole pack fall on the table. Schomberg sat down. He sat down because of the faintness in his legs, and for no other reason. His mouth was dry. Having
sat down, he felt that he must speak. He squared his shoulders in parade style.
“You are pretty good at that sort of thing," he said.
"Practice makes perfect," replied the secretary.
His precarious amiability made it impossible for Schomberg to get away. Thus, from his very timidity, the hotel-keeper found himself engaged in a conversation the thought of which had filled him with apprehension. It must be said, in justice to Schomberg, that he concealed his funk very creditably. The habit of throwing out his chest and speaking in a severe voice stood him in good stead. With him, too, practice made perfect; and he would probably have kept it up to the end, to the very last moment, to the ultimate instant of breaking strain which would leave him grovelling on the floor. To add to his secret trouble, he was at a loss what to say. He found nothing else but the remark:
“I suppose you are fond of cards."
“What would you expect ?” asked Ricardo in a simple, philosophical tone. "Is it likely I should not be ?” Then, with sudden fire: "Fond of cards ? Ay, passionately!"
The effect of this outburst was augmented by the quiet lowering of the eyelids, by a reserved pause as though this had been a confession of another kind of