Herbert smiled at him.
“I’m not suggesting such a course. In asking a man of your character and attainments to investigate, I was prompted by the desire to get a reliable report.”
Singleton did not know what to make of this; so far as his experience went, gentlemen who paid for an opinion on the property they meant to dispose of did not want an unfavorable one.
“The rubber’s scattered and grows in awkward places,” he explained.
“Precisely.” Herbert glanced at the paper. “You mentioned something of the kind. But what about planting and systematic cultivation?”
“Soil and climate are eminently suitable.”
“I gather that there’s a difficulty in the way of obtaining native labor?”
Singleton broke into a grim smile.
“It’s a serious one. The natives consider strangers as their lawful prey, and they lately managed to give a strong punitive expedition a good deal of trouble. In fact, as they’re in a rather restless mood, the authorities were very dubious about letting me go inland, and in spite of the care I took, they got two of my colored carriers. Shot them with little poisoned arrows.”
“Ah!” ejaculated Herbert. “Poisoned arrows? That should have a deterrent effect.”
“Singularly so. A slight prick is enough to wipe you out within an hour. It’s merciful the time is so short.”
“That,” said Herbert, “was not quite what I meant. I was thinking of the effect upon the gentlemen who wish to launch this company.”
“The risk isn’t attached to their end of the business,” Singleton dryly pointed out.
Herbert did not answer. While he sat, with knitted brows, turning over some of the papers in front of him. Singleton looked about. Hitherto his life had been spent in comfortless and shabby English lodgings, in the sour steam of tropic swamps, and in galvanized iron factories that were filled all day with an intolerable heat. As a result of this, his host’s library impressed him. It was spacious and furnished in excellent taste; a shaded silver lamp stood on the table, diffusing a restricted light that made the room look larger; a clear wood fire burned in the grate. The effect of all he saw was tranquilizing; and the house as a whole, inhabited, as it was, by two charming, cultured women, struck him as a delightful place of rest. He wondered with longing whether he would have an opportunity for coming back to it.
Then his host looked up.
“Have you any strong objections to recasting this report?” he asked. “Don’t mistake me. I’m not asking you to color things in any way; I want simple facts. After what you have told me, I can’t consider the prospects of our working the concessions very favorable.”
Singleton was surprised; Lansing’s attitude was puzzling, considering that he had suggested the flotation of the projected company.