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Moreover in nine cases out of ten, the woman would be trusted. But, trusted or mistrusted, was her presence a favourable or unfavourable condition of the problem? That was the question!
The temptation to consult his chief, to talk over the weighty fact and get his opinion on it, was great indeed. Ricardo resisted it; but the agony of his solitary mental conflict was extremely sharp. A woman in a problem is an incalculable quantity, even if you have something to go upon in forming your guess. How much more so when you haven't even once caught sight of her.
Swift as were his mental processes, he felt that a longer silence was inadvisable. He hastened to speak:
“And do you see us, sir, you and I, with a couple of spades having to tackle this whole confounded island ?”
He allowed himself a slight movement of the arm. The shadow enlarged it into a sweeping gesture.
“This seems rather discouraging, Martin,” murmured the unmoved governor.
"We mustn't be discouraged—that's all,” retorted his henchman. "And after what we had to go through in that boat too! Why it would be —"
He couldn't find the qualifying words. Very calm, faithful, and yet astute, he expressed his new-born hopes darkly.
“Something's sure to turn up to give us a hint; only this job can't be rushed. You may depend on me to pick up the least little bit of a hint; but you, sir—you've got to play him very gently. For the rest you can trust me.”
“Yes; but I ask myself what you are trusting to.”
"Our luck," said the faithful Ricardo. "Don't say a word against that. It might spoil the run of it.”
"You are a superstitious beggar. No, I won't say anything against it.”
“That's right, sir. Don't you even think lightly of it. Luck's not to be played with.”
“Yes, luck's a delicate thing," assented Mr. Jones in a dreamy whisper.
A short silence ensued, which Ricardo ended in a dis. creet and tentative voice.
“Talking of luck, I suppose he could be made to take a hand with you, sir—two-handed picket or ekarty, you being seedy and keeping indoors—just to pass the time. For all we know, he may be one of them hot ones once they start
"Is it likely ?” came coldly from the principal. “Considering what we know of his history—say with his part
“True, sir. He's a cold-blooded beast; a cold-blooded, inhuman
“And I'll tell you another thing that isn't likely. He would not be likely to let himself be stripped bare. We haven't to do with a young fool that can be led on by chaff or flattery, and in the end simply over-awed. This is a calculating man."
Ricardo recognised that clearly. What he had in his mind was something on a small scale, just to keep the enemy busy while he, Ricardo, had time to nose around
"You could even lose a little money to him, sir,” he suggested.
“He strikes me, too, as the sort of man to start prancing when one didn't expect it. What do you think, sir? Is he a man that would prance? That is, if something startled him. More likely to prance than to run—what?"
The answer came at once, because Mr. Jones understood the peculiar idiom of his faithful follower.
"Oh, without doubt! Without doubt!" "It does me good to hear that you think so. He's a
prancing beast, and so we mustn't startle him—not till I have located the stuff. Afterwards
Ricardo paused, sinister in the stillness of his pose. Suddenly he got up with a swift movement and gazed down at his chief in moody abstraction. Mr. Jones did not stir.
"There's one thing that's worrying me," began Ricardo in a subdued voice.
“Only one?” was the faint comment from the motionless body on the bedstead.
“I mean more than all the others put together.” “That's
news.” “Ay, grave enough. It's this—how do you feel in yourself, sir? Are you likely to get bored? I know them fits come on you suddenly; but surely you can tell
“Martin, you are an ass.”
“Really, sir? Well, I am quite content to be on these terms—I mean as long as you don't get bored. It wouldn't do, sir."
For coolness, Ricardo had thrown open his shirt and rolled up
his sleeves. He moved stealthily across the room, bare-footed, towards the candle, the shadow of his head and shoulders growing bigger behind him on the opposite wall, to which the face of plain Mr. Jones was turned. With a feline movement, Ricardo glanced over his shoulder at the thin back of the spectre reposing on the bed, and then blew out the candle.
“In fact, I am rather amused, Martin,” Mr. Jones said in the dark.
He heard the sound of a slapped thigh and the jubilant exclamation of his henchman:
"Good! That's the way to talk, sir!"