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"The petticoat's the trouble," Ricardo struck in.
He had resumed his noiseless, feline, oblique prowling, in which an observer would have detected a new character of excitement, such as a wild animal of the cat species, anxious to make a spring, might betray. Schomberg saw nothing. It would probably have cheered his drooping spirits; but in a general way he preferred not to look at Ricardo. Ricardo, however, with one of his slanting, gliding, restless glances, observed the bitter smile on Schomberg's bearded lips— the unmistakable smile of ruined hopes.
"You are a pretty unforgiving sort of chap," he said, stopping for a moment with an air of interest. "Hang me if I ever saw anybody look so disappointed! I bet you would send black plague to that island if you only knew how—eh, what? Plague too good for them? Ha, ha, ha!"
He bent down to stare at Schomberg who sat unstirring with stony eyes and set features, and apparently deaf to the rasping derision of that laughter so close to his red fleshy ear.
"Black plague too good for them, ha, ha!" Ricardo pressed the point on the tormented hotelkeeper. Schomberg kept his eyes down obstinately.
"I don't wish any harm to the girl," muttered Schomberg.
"But she did bolt from you? A fair bilk? Come!"
"Devil only knows what that villainous Swede had done to her—what he promised her, how he frightened her. She couldn't have cared for him, I know." Schomberg's vanity clung to the belief in some atrocious, extraordinary means of seduction employed by Heyst. "Look how he bewitched that poor Morrison," he murmured.
"Ah, Morrison—got all his money, what?"
"Yes—and his life."
"Terrible fellow, that Swedish baron! How is one to get at him?"
"Three against one! Are you shy? Do you want me to give you a letter of introduction?"
"You ought to look at yourself in a glass," Ricardo said quietly. "Dash me if you don't get a stroke of some kind presently. And this is the fellow who says women can do nothing! That one will do for you, unless you manage to forget her."
"I wish I could," Schomberg admitted earnestly. "And it's all the doing of that Swede. I don't get enough sleep, Mr. Ricardo. And then, to finish me off, you gentlemen turn up ... as if I hadn't enough worry."
"That's done you good," suggested the Secretary with ironic seriousness. "Takes your mind off that silly trouble. At your age too."
He checked himself, as if in pity, and changing his tone:
"I would really like to oblige you while doing a stroke of business at the same time," said the Secretary.
"A good stroke," insisted Schomberg, as if it were mechanically. In his simplicity he was not able to give up the idea which had entered his head. An idea must be driven out by another idea and with Schomberg, ideas were rare and therefore tenacious. "Minted gold," he murmured with a sort of anguish.
Such an expressive combination of words was not without effect on Ricardo. Both these men were amenable to the influence of verbal suggestions. The Secretary of "plain Mr. Jones" sighed and murmured:
"Yes. But how is one to get at it?"
"Being three to one," said Schomberg, "I suppose you could get it for the asking."
"One would think the fellow lived next door," Ricardo growled impatiently. "Hang it all, can't you understand a plain question? I have asked you the way."
Schomberg seemed to revive.
The torpor of deceived hopes underlying his superficial changes of mood had been pricked by these words, which seemed pointed with purpose.
"The way is over the water, of course," said the hotel-keeper. "For people like you, three days in a good, big boat is nothing. It's no more than a little outing, a bit of a change. At this season the Java Sea is a pond. I have an excellent, safe boat—a ship's life-boat—carry thirty, let alone three, and a child could handle her. You wouldn't get a wet face at this time of the year. You might call it a pleasuretrip."
"And yet, having this boat, you didn't go after her yourself—or after him? Well, you are a fine fellow for a disappointed lover."
Schomberg gave a start at the suggestion.
"I am not three men," he said sulkily, as the shortest answer of the several he could have given.
"Oh, I know your sort," Ricardo let fall negligently. "You are like most people—or perhaps just a little more peaceable than the rest of the buying and selling gang that bosses this rotten show. Well, well, you respectable citizen," he went on, "let us go thoroughly into the matter."
When Schomberg had been made to understand that Mr. Jones's henchman was ready to discuss, in his own words, "this boat of yours, with courses and distances," and such concrete matters of no good augury to that villainous Swede, he recovered his soldierly bearing, squared his shoulders, and asked in his military manner:
"You wish, then, to proceed with the business?"
Ricardo nodded. He had a great mind to, he said. A gentleman had to be humoured as much as possible; but he must be managed, too, on occasions, for his own good. And it was the business of the right sort of "follower" to know the proper time and the proper methods of that delicate part of his duty. Having exposed this theory Ricardo proceeded to the application.
"I've never actually lied to him," he said, "and I ain't going to now. I shall just say nothing about the girl. He will have to get over thr shock the best he can. Hang it all! Too much humouring won't do here."
"Funny thing," Schomberg observed crisply.
"Is it? Ay, you wouldn't mind taking a woman by the throat in some dark corner and nobody by, I bet!"
Ricardo's dreadful, vicious, cat-like readiness to get his claws out at any moment startled Schomberg as usual. But it was provoking too.
"And you?" he defended himself. "Don't you want me to believe you are up to anything?"
"I, my boy? Oh, yes. I am not that gentleman; neither are you. Take 'em by the throat or chuck 'em under the chin is all one to me—almost," affirmed Ricardo, with something obscurely ironical in his complacency. "Now, as to this business. A three days' jaunt in a good boat isn't a thing to frighten people like us. You are right, so far; but there are other details."
Schomberg was ready enough to enter into details. He explained that he had a small plantation, with a fairly habitable hut on it, on Madura. He proposed that his guests should start from town in his boat, as if going for an excursion to that rural spot. The custom-house people on the quay were used to see his boat go off on such trips.
From Madura, after some repose and on a convenient day, Mr. Jones and party would make the real start. It would all be plain sailing. Schomberg undertook to provision the boat. The greatest hardship the voyagers need apprehend would be a mild shower of rain. At that season of the year there were no serious thunder-storms.
Schomberg's heart began to thump as he saw himself nearing his vengeance. His speech was thick but persuasive.