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a landlord got talking to me about this fellow here. Quite accidentally, it was. Well, sir, here we are after a mighty narrow squeak. I feel all limp yet; but never mind—his swag will pay for the lot!"
"He's all alone here," remarked Mr. Jones in a hollow murmur.
"Ye-es, in a way. Yes, alone enough. Yes, you may say he is."
"There's that Chinaman, though."
"Ay, there's the Chink," assented Ricardo rather absentmindedly.
He was debating in his mind the advisability of making a clean breast of his knowledge of the girl's existence. Finally he concluded he wouldn't. The enterprise was difficult enough without complicating it with an upset to the sensibilities of the gentleman with whom he had the honour of being associated. Let the discovery come of itself, he thought, and then he could swear that he had known nothing of that offensive presence.
He did not need to lie. He had only to hold his tongue.
"Yes," he muttered reflectively, "there's that Chink, certainly."
At bottom, he felt a certain ambiguous respect for his governor's exaggerated dislike of women, as if that horror of feminine presence were a sort of depraved morality; but still morality, since he counted it as an advantage. It prevented many undesirable complications. He did not pretend to understand it. He did not even try to investigate this idiosyncrasy of his chief. All he knew was that he himself was differently inclined, and that it did not make him any happier or safer. He did not know how it would have acted if he had been knocking about the world on his own. Luckily he was a subordinate, not a wageslave but a follower—which was a restraint. Yes! The other sort of disposition simplified matters in general; it wasn't to be gainsaid. But it was clear that it could also complicate them—as in this most important and in Ricardo's view, already sufficiently delicate case. And the worst of it was that one could not tell exactly in what precise manner it would act.
It was unnatural, he thought somewhat peevishly. How was one to reckon up the unnatural? There were no rules for that. The faithful henchman of plain Mr. Jones, foreseeing many difficulties of a material order, decided to keep the girl out of the governor's knowledge; out of his sight, too, for as long a time as it could be managed. That, alas, seemed to be at most a matter of a few hours; whereas Ricardo feared that to get the affair properly going would take some days. Once well started, he was not afraid of his gentleman failing him. As is often the case with lawless natures, Ricardo's faith in any given individual was of a simple, unquestioning character. For man must have some support in life.
Cross-legged, his head drooping a little and perfectly still, he might have been meditating in a bonzelike attitude upon the sacred syllable "Om." It was a striking illustration of the untruth of appearances, for his contempt for the world was of a severely practical kind. There was nothing oriental about Ricardo but the amazing quietness of his pose. Mr. Jones was also very quiet. He had let his head sink on the rolled-up rug, and lay stretched out on his side with his back to the light. In that position the shadows gathered in the cavities of his eyes made them look perfectly empty. When he spoke, his ghostly voice had only to travel a few inches straight into Ricardo's left ear.
"Why don't you say something, now that you've got me awake?"
"I wonder if you were sleeping as sound as you are trying to make out, sir," said the unmoved Ricardo.
"I wonder," repeated Mr. Jones. "At any rate, I was resting quietly."
"Come, sir!" Ricardo's whisper was alarmed. "You don't mean to say you're going to be bored?"
"Quite right!" The secretary was very much relieved. "There's no occasion to be, I can tell you, sir," he whispered earnestly. "Anything but that! If I didn't say anything for a bit, it ain't because there isn't plenty to talk about. Ay, more than enough."
"What's the matter with you?" breathed out his patron. "Are you going to turn pessimist?"
"Me turn? No, sir! I ain't of those that turn. You may call me hard names, if you like, but you know very well that I ain't a croaker." Ricardo changed his tone. "If I said nothing for a while, it was because I was meditating over the Chink, sir."
"You were? Waste of time, my Martin. A Chinaman is unfathomable."
Ricardo admitted that this might be so. Anyhow, a Chink was neither here nor there, as a general thing, unfathomable as he might be; but a Swedish baron wasn't—couldn't be! The woods were full of such barons.
"I don't know that he is so tame," was Mr. Jones's remark, in a sepulchral undertone.
"How do you mean, sir? He ain't a rabbit, of course. You couldn't hypnotise him, as I saw you do to more than one Dago, and other kinds of tame citizens, when it came to the point of holding them down to a game."
"Don't you reckon on that," murmured plain Mr. Jones seriously.
"No, sir, I don't; though you have a wonderful power of the eye. It's a fact."
"I have a wonderful patience," remarked Mr. Jones, drily.
A dim smile flitted over the lips of the faithful Ricardo, who never raised his head.
"I don't want to try you too much, sir; but this is like no other job we ever turned our minds to."
"Perhaps not. At any rate let us think so."
A weariness with the monotony of life was reflected in the tone of this qualified assent. It jarred on the nerves of the sanguine Ricardo.
"Let us think of the way to go to work," he retorted a little impatiently. "He's a deep one. Jdst look at the way he treated that chum of his. Did you ever hear of anything so low? And the artfulness of the beast—the dirty, tame artfulness!"
"Don't you start moralising, Martin," said Mr. Jones warningly. "As far as I can make out the story that German hotel-keeper told you, it seems to show a certain amount of character; and independence from common feelings which is not usual. It's very remarkable, if true."
"Ay, ay! Very remarkable. It's mighty low down, all the same," muttered Ricardo obstinately. "I must say I am glad to think he will be paid off for it in a way that'll surprise him!"
The tip of his tongue appeared lively for an instant, as if trying for the taste of that ferocious retribution on his compressed lips. For Ricardo was sincere in his indignation before the elementary principle of loyalty to a chum violated in cold blood, slowly, in a patient duplicity of years. There are standards in villainy as in virtue and the act as he pictured it to himself acquired an additional horror from the slow pace of that treachery so atrocious and so tame. But he understood too the educated judgment of his governor, a gentleman looking on all this with the privileged detachment of a cultivated mind, of an elevated personality.
"Ay, he's deep—he's artful," he mumbled between his sharp teeth.
"Confound you!" Mr. Jones's calm whisper crept into his ear. "Come to the point."
Obedient, the secretary shook off his thoughtfulness. There was a similarity of mind between these two—one the outcast of his vices, the other inspired by a spirit of scornful defiance, the aggressiveness of a beast of prey looking upon all the tame creatures of the earth as its natural victims. Both were astute enough, however, and both were aware that they had