« PreviousContinue »
THREE weeks later, after putting his cash-box away in the safe which filled with its iron bulk a comer of their bedroom, Schomberg turned toward his wife, but without looking at her exactly, and said:
"I must get rid of these two. It won't dol"
Mrs. Schomberg had entertained that very opinion from the first; but she had been broken years ago into keeping her opinions to herself. Sitting in her night attire in the light of a single candle, she was careful not to make a sound, knowing from experience that her very assent would be resented. With her eyes she followed the figure of Schomberg, clad in his sleeping suit, and moving restlessly about the room.
He never looked her way, for the reason that Mrs. Schomberg, in her night attire, looked the most unattractive object in existence—miserable, insignifi' cant, faded, crushed, old. And the contrast with the feminine form he had ever in his mind's eye made his wife's appearance painful to his esthetic sense.
Schomberg walked about swearing and fuming for the purpose of screwing his courage up to the sticking point.
"Hang me if I ought not go now, at once, this minute, into his bedroom, and tell him to be off—him and that secretary of his—early in the morning. I don't mind a round game of cards, hut to make a decoy of my table d'hote—my blood boils' He came here because some lying rascal in Manila told him I kept a table d'hote."
He said these things, not for Mrs. Schomberg's information, but simply thinking aloud, and trying to work his fury up to a point where it would give him courage enough to face "plain Mr. Jones."
"Impudent, overbearing, swindling sharper," ht went on. "I have a good mind to—"
He was beside himself in his lurid, heavy, Teutonic manner, so unlike the picturesque, lively rage of the Latin races; and though his eyes strayed about irresolutely, yet his swollen, angry features awakened in the miserable woman over whom he had been tyrannising for years a fear for his precious carcass, since the poor creature had nothing else but that to hold on to in the world. She knew him well; but she did not know him altogether. The last 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, Wilhelml 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 medieval penitent being reproved for her sin 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 guests' arrival, had been to lounge in manly, careless attitudes on the veranda—on the 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 woman. 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. She was 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'hote."
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 the funk which he expert enced 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 curiously 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 billiardroom, 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. 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