"I dislike violence and ferocity of every sort as much as you do," Mr. Jones declared, looking very languid as he leaned against the wall, but speaking fairly loud. "You can ask my Martin if it is not so. This, Mr. Heyst, is a soft age. It is also an age without prejudices. I've heard that you are free from them yourself. You mustn't be shocked if I tell you plainly that we are after your money — or I am, if you prefer to make me alone responsible. Pedro, of course, knows no more of it than any other animal would. Ricardo is of the faithful-retainer class — absolutely identified with all my ideas, wishes, and even whims!"
Mr Jones pulled his left hand out of his pocket, got a handkerchief out of another, and began to wipe the perspiration from his forehead, neck, and chin. The excitement from which he suffered made his breathing visible. In his long dressing-gown he had the air of a convalescent invalid who had imprudently overtaxed his strength. Heyst, broad-shouldered, robust, watched the operation from the end of the camp bedstead, very calm, his hands on his knees.
"And by the by," he asked, "where is he now, that henchman of yours? Breaking into my desk?"
"That would be crude. Still, crudeness is one of life's conditions." There was the slightest flavour of banter in the tone of Ricardo's governor. "Conceivable, but unlikely. Martin is a little crude; but you are not, Mr. Heyst. To tell you the truth, I don't know precisely where he is. He has been a little mysterious of late; but he has my confidence. No, don't get up, Mr. Heyst!"
The viciousness of his spectral face was indescribable. Heyst, who had moved a little, was surprised by the disclosure.
"It was not my intention," he said.
"Pray remain seated," Mr. Jones insisted in a languid voice, but with a very determined glitter in his black eye-caverns.
"If you were more observant," said Heyst with dispassionate contempt, "you would have known before I had been five minutes in the room that I had no weapon of any sort on me."
"Possibly; but pray keep your hands still. They are very well where they are. This is too big an affair for me to take any risks."
"Big? Too big?" Heyst repeated with genuine surprise. "Good Heavens! Whatever you are looking for, there's very little of it here — very little of anything."
"You would naturally say so, but that's not what we have heard," retorted Mr. Jones quickly, with a grin so ghastly that it was impossible to think it voluntary.
Heyst's face had grown very gloomy. He knitted his brows.
"What have you heard?" he asked.
"A lot, Mr. Heyst — a lot," affirmed Mr. Jones. He was vying to recover his manner of languid superiority. "We have heard, for instance, of a certain Mr. Morrison, once your partner."
Heyst could not repress a slight movement.
"Aha!" said Mr. Jones, with a sort of ghostly glee on his face.
The muffled thunder resembled the echo of a distant cannonade below the horizon, and the two men seemed to be listening to it in sullen silence.
"This diabolical calumny will end in actually and literally taking my life from me," thought Heyst.
Then, suddenly, he laughed. Portentously spectral, Mr. Jones frowned at the sound.
"Laugh as much as you please," he said. "I, who have been hounded out from society by a lot of highly moral souls, can't see anything funny in that story. But here we are, and you will now have to pay for your fun, Mr. Heyst."
"You have heard a lot of ugly lies," observed Heyst. "Take my word for it!"
"You would say so, of course — very natural. As a matter of fact I haven't heard very much. Strictly speaking, it was Martin. He collects information, and so on. You don't suppose I would talk to that Schomberg animal more than I could help? It was Martin whom he took into his confidence."
"The stupidity of that creature is so great that it becomes formidable," Heyst said, as if speaking to himself.
Involuntarily, his mind turned to the girl, wandering in the forest, alone and terrified. Would he ever see her again? At that thought he nearly lost his self-possession. But the idea that if she followed his instructions those men were not likely to find her steadied him a little. They did not know that the island had any inhabitants; and he himself once disposed of, they would be too anxious to get away to waste time hunting for a vanished girl.
All this passed through Heyst's mind in a flash, as men think in moments of danger. He looked speculatively at Mr. Jones, who, of course, had never for a moment taken his eyes from his intended victim. And, the conviction came to Heyst that this outlaw from the higher spheres was an absolutely hard and pitiless scoundrel.
Mr Jones's voice made him start.
"It would be useless, for instance, to tell me that your Chinaman has run off with your money. A man living alone with a Chinaman on an island takes care to conceal property of that kind so well that the devil himself — "
"Certainly," Heyst muttered.