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Chapter 6


As luck would have it, Ricardo was lounging alone on the veranda of the
former counting-house. He scented some new development at once, and ran
down to meet the trotting, bear-like figure. The deep, growling noises
it made, though they had only a very remote resemblance to the Spanish
language, or indeed to any sort of human speech, were from long
practice quite intelligible to Mr. Jones's secretary. Ricardo was rather
surprised. He had imagined that the girl would continue to keep out of
sight. That line apparently was given up. He did not mistrust her. How
could he? Indeed, he could not think of her existence calmly.

He tried to keep her image out of his mind so that he should be able
to use its powers with some approach to that coolness which the complex
nature of the situation demanded from him, both for his own sake and as
the faithful follower of plain Mr. Jones, gentleman.

He collected his wits and thought. This was a change of policy, probably
on the part of Heyst. If so, what could it mean? A deep fellow! Unless
it was her doing; in which case--h'm--all right. Must be. She would
know what she was doing. Before him Pedro, lifting his feet alternately,
swayed to and fro sideways--his usual attitude of expectation. His
little red eyes, lost in the mass of hair, were motionless. Ricardo
stared into them with calculated contempt and said in a rough, angry
voice:

"Woman! Of course there is. We know that without you!" He gave the tame
monster a push. "Git! Vamos! Waddle! Get back and cook the dinner. Which
way did they go, then?"

Pedro extended a huge, hairy forearm to show the direction, and went off
on his bandy legs. Advancing a few steps, Ricardo was just in time to
see, above some bushes, two white helmets moving side by side in the
clearing. They disappeared. Now that he had managed to keep Pedro from
informing the governor that there was a woman on the island, he could
indulge in speculation as to the movements of these people. His attitude
towards Mr. Jones had undergone a spiritual change, of which he himself
was not yet fully aware.

That morning, before tiffin, after his escape from the Heyst bungalow,
completed in such an inspiring way by the recovery of the slipper,
Ricardo had made his way to their allotted house, reeling as he ran,
his head in a whirl. He was wildly excited by visions of inconceivable
promise. He waited to compose himself before he dared to meet the
governor. On entering the room, he found Mr. Jones sitting on the camp
bedstead like a tailor on his board, cross-legged, his long back against
the wall.

"I say, sir. You aren't going to tell me you are bored?"

"Bored! No! Where the devil have you been all this time?"

"Observing--watching--nosing around. What else? I knew you had company.
Have you talked freely, sir?"

"Yes, I have," muttered Mr. Jones.

"Not downright plain, sir?"

"No. I wished you had been here. You loaf all the morning, and now you
come in out of breath. What's the matter?"

"I haven't been wasting my time out there," said Ricardo. "Nothing's the
matter. I--I--might have hurried a bit." He was in truth still panting;
only it was not with running, but with the tumult of thoughts and
sensations long repressed, which had been set free by the adventure of
the morning. He was almost distracted by them now. He forgot himself in
the maze of possibilities threatening and inspiring. "And so you had a
long talk?" he said, to gain time.

"Confound you! The sun hasn't affected your head, has it? Why are you
staring at me like a basilisk?"

"Beg pardon, sir. Wasn't aware I stared," Ricardo apologized
good-humouredly. "The sun might well affect a thicker skull than mine.
It blazes. Phew! What do you think a fellow is, sir--a salamander?"

"You ought to have been here," observed Mr. Jones.

"Did the beast give any signs of wanting to prance?" asked Ricardo
quickly, with absolutely genuine anxiety. "It wouldn't do, sir. You must
play him easy for at least a couple of days, sir. I have a plan. I have
a notion that I can find out a lot in a couple of days."

"You have? In what way?"

"Why, by watching," Ricardo answered slowly.

Mr Jones grunted.

"Nothing new, that. Watch, eh? Why not pray a little, too?"

"Ha, ha, ha! That's a good one," burst out the secretary, fixing Mr.
Jones with mirthless eyes.

The latter dropped the subject indolently.

"Oh, you may be certain of at least two days," he said.

Ricardo recovered himself. His eyes gleamed voluptuously.

"We'll pull this off yet--clean--whole--right through, if you will only
trust me, sir."

"I am trusting you right enough," said Mr. Jones. "It's your interest,
too."

And, indeed, Ricardo was truthful enough in his statement. He did
absolutely believe in success now. But he couldn't tell his governor
that he had intelligences in the enemy's camp. It wouldn't do to tell
him of the girl. Devil only knew what he would do if he learned there
was a woman about. And how could he begin to tell of it? He couldn't
confess his sudden escapade.

"We'll pull it off, sir," he said, with perfectly acted cheerfulness.
He experienced gusts of awful joy expanding in his heart and hot like a
fanned flame.

"We must," pronounced Mr. Jones. "This thing, Martin, is not like our
other tries. I have a peculiar feeling about this. It's a different
thing. It's a sort of test."

Ricardo was impressed by the governor's manner; for the first time a
hint of passion could be detected in him. But also a word he used, the
word "test," had struck him as particularly significant somehow. It was
the last word uttered during that morning's conversation. Immediately
afterwards Ricardo went out of the room. It was impossible for him to
keep still. An elation in which an extraordinary softness mingled with
savage triumph would not allow it. It prevented his thinking, also.
He walked up and down the veranda far into the afternoon, eyeing the
bungalow at every turn. It gave no sign of being inhabited. Once or
twice he stopped dead short and looked down at his left slipper. Each
time he chuckled audibly. His restlessness kept on increasing till at
last it frightened him. He caught hold of the balustrade of the veranda
and stood still, smiling not at his thought but at the strong sense of
life within him. He abandoned himself to it carelessly, even recklessly.
He cared for no one, friend or enemy. At that moment Mr. Jones called
him by name from within. A shadow fell on the secretary's face.

"Here, sir," he answered; but it was a moment before he could make up
his mind to go in.

He found the governor on his feet. Mr. Jones was tired of lying down
when there was no necessity for it. His slender form, gliding about the
room, came to a standstill.

"I've been thinking, Martin, of something you suggested. At the time it
did not strike me as practical; but on reflection it seems to me that
to propose a game is as good a way as any to let him understand that the
time has come to disgorge. It's less--how should I say?--vulgar. He will
know what it means. It's not a bad form to give to the business--which
in itself is crude, Martin, crude."

"Want to spare his feelings?" jeered the secretary in such a bitter tone
that Mr. Jones was really surprised.

"Why, it was your own notion, confound you!"

"Who says it wasn't?" retorted Ricardo sulkily. "But I am fairly sick of
this crawling. No! No! Get the exact bearings of his swag and then a rip
up. That's plenty good enough for him."

His passions being thoroughly aroused, a thirst for blood was allied in
him with a thirst for tenderness--yes, tenderness. A sort of anxious,
melting sensation pervaded and softened his heart when he thought of
that girl--one of his own sort. And at the same time jealousy started
gnawing at his breast as the image of Heyst intruded itself on his
fierce anticipation of bliss.

"The crudeness of your ferocity is positively gross, Martin," Mr. Jones
said disdainfully. "You don't even understand my purpose. I mean to
have some sport out of him. Just try to imagine the atmosphere of the
game--the fellow handling the cards--the agonizing mockery of it! Oh,
I shall appreciate this greatly. Yes, let him lose his money instead of
being forced to hand it over. You, of course, would shoot him at once,
but I shall enjoy the refinement and the jest of it. He's a man of the
best society. I've been hounded out of my sphere by people very much
like that fellow. How enraged and humiliated he will be! I promise
myself some exquisite moments while watching his play."

"Ay, and suppose he suddenly starts prancing. He may not appreciate the
fun."

"I mean you to be present," Mr. Jones remarked calmly.

"Well, as long as I am free to plug him or rip him up whenever I think
the time has come, you are welcome to your bit of sport, sir. I shan't
spoil it."

Joseph Conrad