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the skipper. The greatest secrecy, and all that. I reckon he had a twinkle in his eye all the time—and no mistake. But that wasn't our business. Let them bust their money as they like. The pity of it was that so little of it came our way. Just fair pay, and no more. And damn any pay, much or little, anyhow—that's what I say!"
He blinked his eyes greenishly in the dim light. The heat seemed to have stilled everything in the world but his voice. He swore at large, abundantly, in snarling undertones,- it was impossible to say why; then calmed down as inexplicably and went on, as a sailor yarns.
"At first there were only nine of them adventurous sparks; then, just a day or two before the sailing date, he turned up. Heard of it somehow, somewhere—I would say from some woman, if I didn't know him as I do. He would give any woman a ten-mile berth. He can't stand them. Or maybe in a flash bar. Or maybe in one of them grand clubs in Pall Mall. Anyway, the agent netted him in all right—cash down, and only about four and twenty hours for him to get ready; but he didn't miss his ship. Not he! You might have called it a pier-head jump—for a gentleman. I saw him come along. Know the West India Docks, eh?"
Schomberg did not know the West India Docks. Ricardo looked at him pensively for a while, and then continued, as if such ignorance had to be disregarded.
"Our tug was already alongside. Two loafers were carrying his dunnage behind him. I told the dockmen at our moorings to keep all fast for a minute. The gangway was down already; but he made nothing of it. Up he jumps, one leap, swings his long legs over the rail, and there he is on board. They pass up his swell dunnage, and he puts his hand in his trousers pocket and throws all his small change on the wharf for them chaps to pick up. They were still promenading that wharf on all fours when we cast off. It was only then that he looked at me—quietly, you know; in a slow way. He wasn't so thin then as he is now; but I noticed he wasn't so young as he looked —not by a long chalk. He seemed to touch me inside somewhere. I went away pretty quick from there; I was wanted forward, anyhow. I wasn't frightened. What should I be frightened for? I only felt touched —on the very spot. But Jee-miny, if anybody had told me we should be partners before the year was out—well, I would have—"
He swore a variety of strange oaths, some common, others quaintly horrible to Schomberg's ears, and all mere innocent exclamations of wonder at the shifts and changes of human fortune. Schomberg moved slightly in his chair. But the admirer and partner of "plain Mr. Jones" seemed to have forgotten Schomberg's existence for the moment. The stream of ingenuous blasphemy—some of it in bad Spanish —had run dry, and Martin Ricardo, connoisseur in gentlemen, sat dumb with a stony gaze as if still marvelling inwardly at the amazing elections, conjunctions and associations of events which influence man's pilgrimage on this earth.
At last Schomberg spoke tentatively:
"And so the—the gentleman, up there, talked you over into leaving a good berth?" Ricardo started.
"Talked me over! Didn't need to talk me over. He just beckoned to me, and that was enough. By that time we were in the Gulf of Mexico. One night we were lying at anchor, close to a dry sandbank—to this day I am not sure where it was—off the Colombian coast or thereabouts. We were to start digging the next morning, and all hands had turned in early, expecting a hard day with the shovels. Up he comes, and in his quiet, tired way of speaking—you can tell a gentleman by that as much as by anything else almost—up he comes behind me and says, just like that into my ear, in a manner: 'Well, and what do you think of our treasure hunt now?'
"I didn't even turn my head; 'xactly as I stood, I remained, and I spoke no louder than himself:
"'If you want to know, sir, it's nothing but just damned tomfoolery.'
"We had, of course, been having short talks together at one time or another during the passage. I dare say he had read me like a book. There ain't much to me, except that I have never been tame, even when walking the pavement and cracking jokes and standing drinks to chums—ay, and to strangers, too. I would watch them lifting their elbows at my expense, or splitting their sides at my fun—I can be funny when I like, you bet!"
A pause for self-complacent contemplation of his own fun and generosity checked the flow of Ricardo's speech. Schomberg was concerned to keep within bounds the enlargement of his eyes, which he seemed to feel growing bigger in his head.
"Yes, yes," he whispered hastily.
"I would watch them and think: 'You boys don't know who I am. If you did—!' With girls, too. Once I was courting a girl. I used to kiss her behind the ear and say to myself: 'If you only knew who's kissing you, my dear, you would scream and bolt!' Ha, ha! Not that I wanted to do them any harm; but I felt the power in myself. Now, here we sit, friendly like, and that's all right. You aren't in my way. But I am not friendly to you. I just don't care. Some men do say that; but I really don't. You are no more to me one way or another than that fly there. Just so, I'd squash you or leave you alone. I don't care what I do."
If real force of character consists in overcoming our sudden weaknesses, Schomberg displayed plenty of that quality. At the mention of the fly, he reenforced the severe dignity of his attitude as one inflates a collapsing toy balloon with a great effort of breath. The easy-going, relaxed attitude of Ricardo was really appalling.
"That's so," he went on. "I am that sort of fellow. You wouldn't think it, would you? No. You have to be told. So I am telling you, and I dare say you only half believe it. But you can't say to yourself that I am drunk, stare at me as you may. I haven't had anything stronger than a glass of iced water all day. Takes a real gentleman to see through a fellow. Oh, yes—he spotted me. I told you we had a few talks at sea about one thing or another. And I used to watch him down the skylight, playing cards in the cuddy with the others. They had to pass the time away somehow. By the same token he caught me at it once, and it was then that I told him I was fond of cards—and generally lucky in gambling, too. Yes, he had sized me up. Why not? A gentleman's just like any other man—and something more."
It flashed through Schomberg's mind that these two were indeed well matched in their enormous dissimilarity, identical souls in different disguises.
"Says he to me"—Ricardo started again in a gossiping manner—" 'I'm packed up. It's about time to go, Martin.'
"It was the first time he called me Martin. Says
"'Is that it, sir?'
"'You didn't think I was after that sort of treasure, did you? I wanted to clear out from home quietly. It's a pretty expensive way of getting a passage across, but it has served my turn.'
"I let him know very soon that I was game for anything, from pitch and toss to wilful murder, in his company.
"'Wilful murder?' says he in his quiet way. *What the deuce is that? What are you talking about? People do get killed sometimes when they get in one's way, but that's self-defence—you understand?'
"I told him I did. And then I said I would run below for a minute, to ram a few of my things into a