"Talking of luck, I suppose he could be made to take a hand with you, sir — two-handed picket or ekkarty, 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 partner."
"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 overawed. This is a calculating man."
Ricardo recognized 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 a bit.
"You could even lose a little money to him, sir," he suggested.
Ricardo was thoughtful for a moment.
"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 grave 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."
The moody face of the secretary brightened up.
"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!"