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counter. His footsteps echoed loudly on the floor of polished boards. He took down a bottle labelled Sirop de Groseille. The little sounds he made, the clink of glass, the gurgling of the liquid, the pop of the soda-water cork had a preternatural sharpness. He came back carrying a pink and glistening tumbler. Mr. Ricardo had followed his movements with oblique, coyly expectant yellow eyes, like a cat watching the preparation of a saucer of milk; and the satisfied sound after he had drunk might have been a slightly modified form of purring, very soft and deep in his throat. It affected Schomberg unpleasantly as another example of something inhuman in those men wherein lay the difficulty of dealing with them. A spectre, a cat, an ape—there was a pretty association for a mere man to remonstrate with, he reflected with an inward shudder; for Schomberg had been overpowered, as it were, by his imagination, and his reason could not react against that fanciful view of his guests.
And it was not only their
appearance. The morals of Mr. Ricardo seemed to him to be pretty much the morals of a cat. Too much. What sort of argument could a mere man offer to a... or to a spectre, either! What the morals of a spectre could be, Schomberg had no idea. Something dreadful, no doubt. Compassion certainly had no place in them. As to the apewell, everybody knew what an ape was. It had no morals. Nothing could be more hopeless.
Outwardly, however, having picked up the cigar which he had laid aside to get the drink, with his thick fingers, one of them ornamented by a gold ring, Schomberg smoked with moody composure. Facing him, Ricardo blinked slowly for a time, then closed his eyes altogether, with the placidity of the domestic cat dozing on the hearth-rug. In another moment he opened them very wide, and seemed surprised to see Schomberg there.
“You're having a very slack time to-day, aren't you ?” he observed. “But then this whole town is confoundedly slack, anyhow; and I've never faced such a slack party at a table before. Come eleven o'clock, they begin to talk of breaking up. What's the matter with them ? Want to go to bed so early, or what?"
“I reckon you don't lose a fortune by their wanting to go to bed," said Schomberg, with sombre
"No," admitted Ricardo, with a grin that stretched his thin mouth from ear to ear, giving a sudden glimpse of his white teeth. “Only, you see, when I once start, I would play for nuts, for parched peas,
any rubbish. I would play them for their souls. But these Dutchmen aren't any good. They never seem to get warmed up properly, win or lose. I've tried them both ways, too. Hang them for a beggarly, bloodless lot of animated cucumbers!"
"And if anything out of the way was to happen, they would be just as cool in locking you and your gentleman up,” Schomberg snarled unpleasantly.
"Indeed!” said Ricardo slowly, taking Schomberg's measure with his eyes. “And what about
"You talk mighty big," burst out the hotelkeeper. "You talk of ranging all over the world, and taking fortune by the scruff of the neck, but here you stick at this miserable business!"
"It isn't much of a lay—that's a fact," admitted Ricardo unexpectedly.
Schomberg was red in the face with audacity.
“That's how it looks. Can't call it anything else.” Ricardo seemed to be in an accommodating mood. “I should be ashamed of it myself, only you see the governor is subject to fits~"
"Fits! ” Schomberg cried out, but in a low tone. “You don't say so!” He exulted inwardly, as if this disclosure had in some way diminished the difficulty of the situation. “Fits! That's a serious thing, isn't it ? You ought to take him to the civil hospital—a lovely place."
Ricardo nodded slightly, with a faint grin.
“Serious enough. Regular fits of laziness, I call them. Now and then he lays down on me like this, and there's no moving him. If you think I like it, you're a long way out. Generally speaking, I can talk him over. I know how to deal with a gentleman. I am no daily-bread slave. But when he has said, ‘Martin, I am bored,' then look out! There's nothing to do but to shut up, confound it!”
Schomberg, very much cast down, had listened open-mouthed.
“What's the cause of it ?” he asked. “Why is he like this? I don't understand.”
“I think I do,” said Ricardo. “A gentleman, you know, is not such a simple person as you or I; and not so easy to manage, either. If only I had something to lever him out with!”
"What do you mean, to lever him out with ?” muttered Schomberg hopelessly.
Ricardo was impatient with this denseness.
“Don't you understand English ? Look here! I couldn't make this billiard table move an inch if I talked to it from now till the end of days—could I ? Well, the governor is like that, too, when the fits are on him. He's bored. Nothing's worth while, nothing's good enough, that's mere sense. But if I saw a capstan bar lying about here, I would soon manage
to shift that billiard table of yours a good many inches. And that's all there is to it.”
He rose noiselessly, stretched himself, supple and stealthy, with curious sideways movements of his head and unexpected elongations of his thick body, glanced out of the corners of his eyes in the direction of the door, and finally leaned back against the table, folding his arms on his breast comfortably, in a completely human attitude.
"That's another thing you can tell a gentleman by—his freakishness. A gentleman ain't accountable to nobody, any more than a tramp on the roads. He ain't got to keep time. The governor got like
] this once in a one-horse Mexican pueblo on the uplands, away from everywhere. He lay all day long in a dark room
“Drunk ?" This word escaped Schomberg by inadvertence, at which he became frightened. But the devoted secretary seemed to find it natural.
“No, that never comes on together with this kind of fit. He just lay there full length on a mat, while a ragged, bare-legged boy that he had picked up in the street sat in the patio, between two oleanders near the open door of his room, strumming on a guitar and singing tristes to him from morning to night. You know tristes—twang, twang, twang, aouh, hoo! Chroo, yah!”