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The viciousness of his spectral face was indescribable. Heyst, who had moved a little, was surprised by the disclosure.
"It was not my intention," he said.
"Pray remain seated," Mr. Jones insisted in a languid voice, but with a very determined glitter in his black eye-caverns.
"If you were more observant," said Heyst with dispassionate contempt, "you would have known before I had been five minutes in the room that I had no weapon of any sort on me."
"Possibly; but pray keep your hands still. They are very well where they are. This is too big an affair for me to take any risks."
"Big? Too big?" Heyst repeated with genuine surprise. "Good Heavens! Whatever you. are looking for, there's very little of it here—very little of anything."
"You would naturally say so, but that's not what we have heard," retorted Mr. Jones quickly, with a grin so ghastly that it was impossible to think it voluntary.
Heyst's face had grown very gloomy. He knitted his brows.
"What have you heard?" he asked.
"A lot, Mr. Heyst—a lot," affirmed Mr. Jones. He was trying to recover his manner of languid superiority. "We have heard, for instance, of a certain Mr. Morrison, once your partner."
Heyst could not repress a slight movement.
"Aha!" said Mr. Jones, with a sort of ghostly glee pn his face.
The muffled thunder resembled the echo of a distant cannonade below the horizon, and the two men seemed to be listening to it in sullen silence.
"This diabolical calumny will end in actually and literally taking my life from me," thought Heyst.
Then, suddenly, he laughed. Portentously spectral, Mr. Jones listened to the sound.
"Laugh as much as you please," he said. "I, who have been hounded out from society by a lot of highly moral souls, can't see anything funny in that story. But here we are, and you will now have to pay for your fun, Mr. Heyst."
"You have heard a lot of ugly lies," observed Heyst. "Take my word for it."
"You would say so, of course—very natural. As a matter of fact, I haven't heard very much. Strictly speaking, it was Martin. He collects information, and so on. You don't suppose I would talk to that Schomberg animal more than I could help? It was Martin whom he took into his confidence."
"The stupidity of that creature is so great that it becomes formidable," Heyst said, as if speaking to himself.
Involuntarily, his mind turned to the girl, wandering in the forest, alone and terrified. Would he ever see her again? At that thought he nearly lost his self-possession. But the idea that if she followed his instructions those men were not likely to waste time looking for her, steadied him a little. They did not know that the island had any inhabitants; and he himself once disposed of they would be too anxious to get away to waste time hunting for a vanished girl.
All this passed through Heyst's head in a flash, as men think in moments of danger. He looked speculatively at Mr. Jones, who, of course, had never for a moment taken his eyes from his intended victim. And the conviction came to Heyst that this outlaw from the higher spheres was an absolutely hard and pitiless scoundrel.
Mr. Jones's voice made him start.
"It would be useless, for instance, to tell me that your Chinaman has run off with your money. A man living alone with a Chinaman on an island takes care to conceal property of that kind so well that the devil himself—"
"Certainly," Heyst muttered.
Again, with his left hand, Mr. Jones mopped his frontal bone, his stalk-like neck, his razor jaws, his fleshless chin. Again his voice faltered and his aspect became still more gruesomely malevolent, as of a wicked and pitiless corpse.
"I see what you mean," he cried, "but you mustn't put too much trust in your ingenuity. You don't strike me as a very ingenious person, Mr, Heyst. Neither am I. My talents lie another way. But Martin—"
"Who is now engaged in rifling my desk," interjected Heyst.
"I don't think so. What I was going to say is that Martin is much cleverer than a Chinaman. Do you believe in racial superiority, Mr. Heyst? I do, firmly. Martin is great at ferreting out such secrets as yours, for instance."
"Secrets like mine!" repeated Heyst bitterly. "Well, I wish him joy of all he can ferret out!"
That's very kind of you," remarked Mr. Jones. He was beginning to be anxious for Martin's return. Of iron nerve at the gaming-table, fearless in a sudden affray, he found that this rather special kind of work was telling on his nerves. "Keep still as you are!" he cried sharply.
"I've told you I am not armed," said Heyst, folding his arms on his breast.
"I am really inclined to believe that you are not," admitted Mr. Jones seriously. "Strange!" he mused aloud, the caverns of his eyes turned upon Heyst. Then briskly: "But my object is to keep you in this room. Don't provoke me, by some unguarded movement, to smash your knee or do something definite of that sort." He passed his tongue over his lips, which were dry and black, while his forehead glistened with moisture. "I don't know if it wouldn't be better to do it at once!"
"He who deliberates is lost," said Heyst with grave mockery.
Mr. Jones disregarded the remark. He had the air of communing with himself.
"Physically I am no match for you," he said slowly, his black gaze fixed upon the man sitting on the end of the bed. "You could spring—"
"Are you trying to frighten yourself?" asked Heyst abruptly. "You don't seem to have quite enough pluck for your business. Why don't you do it at once?"
Mr. Jones, taking violent offence, snorted like a savage skeleton.
"Strange as it may seem to you, it is because of my origin, my breeding, my traditions, my early associations, and such-like trifles. Not everybody can divest himself of the prejudices of a gentleman as easily as you have done, Mr. Heyst. But don't worry about my pluck. If you were to- make a clean spring at me, you would receive in mid air. so to speak, something that would make you perfectly harmless by the time you landed. No, don't misapprehend us, Mr. Heyst. We are—er—adequate bandits; and we are after the fruit of your labours as a—er—successful swindler. It's the way of the world—gorge and disgorge!"
He inclined wearily his head on his left shoulder. His vitality seemed exhausted. Even his sunken eyelids dropped a little within the bony sockets. Only his thin, waspish, beautifully pencilled eyebrows, drawn together a little, suggested the will and the power to sting—something vicious, unconquerable, and deadly.
"Fruits! Swindler!" repeated Heyst, without heat, almost without contempt. "You are giving yourself no end of trouble, you and your faithful henchman, to crack an empty nut. There are no fruits here, as you imagine. There are a few sovereigns, which you may have if you like; and since you have called yourself a bandit—"
"Yaasl" drawled Mr. Jones. "That, rather than a swindler. Open warfare at least!"
"Very good! Only let me tell you that there were