Ricardo's eyes remained fixed on his crossed shins. The chief, in his lifeless accents, approved.
"Perhaps it would be a good idea."
"The Chink, he's nothing. He can be made quiet any time."
One of Ricardo's hands, reposing palm upwards on his folded legs, made a swift thrusting gesture, repeated by the enormous darting shadow of an arm very low on the wall. It broke the spell of perfect stillness in the room. The secretary eyed moodily the wall from which the shadow had gone. Anybody could be made quiet, he pointed out. It was not anything that the Chink could do; no, it was the effect that his company must have produced on the conduct of the doomed man. A man! What was a man? A Swedish baron could be ripped up, or else holed by a shot, as easily as any other creature; but that was exactly what was to be avoided, till one knew where he had hidden his plunder.
"I shouldn't think it would be some sort of hole in his bungalow," argued Ricardo with real anxiety.
No. A house can be burnt — set on fire accidentally, or on purpose, while a man's asleep. Under the house — or in some crack, cranny, or crevice? Something told him it wasn't that. The anguish of mental effort contracted Ricardo's brow. The skin of his head seemed to move in this travail of vain and tormenting suppositions.
"What did you think a fellow is, sir — a baby?" he said, in answer to Mr. Jones's objections. "I am trying to find out what I would do myself. He wouldn't be likely to be cleverer than I am."
"And what do you know about yourself?"
Mr Jones seemed to watch his follower's perplexities with amusement concealed in a death-like composure.
Ricardo disregarded the question. The material vision of the spoil absorbed all his faculties. A great vision! He seemed to see it. A few small canvas bags tied up with thin cord, their distended rotundity showing the inside pressure of the disk-like forms of coins — gold, solid, heavy, eminently portable. Perhaps steel cash-boxes with a chased design, on the covers; or perhaps a black and brass box with a handle on the top, and full of goodness knows what. Bank notes? Why not? The fellow had been going home; so it was surely something worth going home with.
"And he may have put it anywhere outside — anywhere!" cried Ricardo in a deadened voice, "in the forest — "
That was it! A temporary darkness replaced the dim light of the room. The darkness of the forest at night and in it the gleam of a lantern, by which a figure is digging at the foot of a tree-trunk. As likely as not, another figure holding that lantern — ha, feminine! The girl!
The prudent Ricardo stifled a picturesque and profane exclamation, partly joy, partly dismay. Had the girl been trusted or mistrusted by that man? Whatever it was, it was bound to be wholly! With women there could be no half-measures. He could not imagine a fellow half-trusting a woman in that intimate relation to himself, and in those particular circumstances of conquest and loneliness where no confidences could appear dangerous since, apparently, there could be no one she could give him away to. 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 discreet and tentative voice.