Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- The People Of The Mist - 20/80 -
white and venerable-looking, and his person obese. His black eyes were small, cunning, cold, and bright, and they had the peculiarity of avoiding the face of any person with whom he chanced to be in conversation, at least when that person was looking his way. Their glance passed over him, under him, round him, anywhere but at him.
As his sobriquet suggested, the colouring of Pereira's flesh was yellow, and the loose skin hung in huge wrinkles upon his cheeks. His mouth was large and coarse, and his fat hands twitched and grasped continually, as though with a desire of clutching money. For the rest he was gorgeously dressed, and, like his companions, somewhat in liquor.
Such was the outward appearance of Pereira, the fountain-head of the slave-trade on this part of the coast, who was believed in his day to be the very worst man in Africa, a pre-eminence to which few can hope to attain. Until his face had been seen, stamped as it was with the traces of long and unmentionable wickedness, few honest men could guess to what depths humanity can sink. Some indeed have declared that to see him was to understand the Evil One and all his works.
A CHOICE LOT
At the moment of Leonard's and Otter's introduction to his society, the Yellow Devil was about to make a speech, and all eyes were fixed on him so intently that none saw or heard the pair approach.
"Now, my friends, make a path, if you please," said Leonard in a loud voice and speaking in Portuguese. "I wish to pay my respects to your chief."
A dozen men wheeled round at once.
"Who are you?" they cried, seeing a stranger.
"If you will be so kind as to let me pass, I shall be most happy to explain," Leonard answered, pushing his way through the throng.
"Who is that?" cried Pereira in coarse, thick tones. "Bring him here."
"There, you hear him--let us through, friends," said Leonard, "let us through!"
Thus adjured the throng opened a path, and Leonard and Otter passed down it, many suspicious eyes scanning them as they went.
"A greeting to you, senor," said Leonard when they had emerged in front of the verandah.
"Curse your greeting! Who in Satan's name are you?"
"A humble member of your honourable profession," said Leonard coolly, "come to pay his respects and do a little business."
"Are you? You don't look it. You look like an Englishman. And who is that abortion, pray?" and he pointed to Otter. "I believe that you are spies, and, by the Saints, if you are, I am the man to deal with you!"
"This is a likely story," said Leonard laughing, "that one man and a black dog should venture into the headquarters of gentlemen like you, not being of the cloth. But I think there is a noble gentleman among you--I mean the Senor Xavier--who can vouch for me. Did he not send a note to Captain Pierre, whose dhow lies in the harbour yonder, hailing from Madagascar? Well, Captain Pierre has the honour of accepting his invitation and arrives here, not without difficulty. Now he begins to think that he would have done better to stick to his ship."
"That is all right, Pereira," said Xavier, a huge Portuguese with a dash of negro blood and a villainous countenance, the same man whom they had followed through the gate. "I sent a note to the Senor. I told you of it."
"Then I wish you had left it alone," snarled Pereira for an answer. "I don't like your friend's looks. He might be the captain of an English man-of-war rigged up in our dress."
At the words "English man-of-war" a murmur of fear and anger went through the assembly. Some of those present had experience of these hated vessels and their bigoted crews, who loved not this honest commerce, and to all they were names of ill-omen. Things looked serious, and Leonard saw that he must do something, and quickly. So he lost his temper, or pretended to do so.
"Curse you all for a pack of suspicious curs!" he said; "I tell you that my dhow lies yonder. I am half an Englishman and half a Creole, and as good a man as any of you. Now look here, Dom Pereira, if you, or any of your crew, dare to doubt my word, just step out, and I will ram this down your lying throat;" and placing his hand on the hilt of his sabre, he took a pace forward and scowled.
The effect was instantaneous. Pereira turned a little pale beneath his yellow skin, for like most cruel men he was a great coward.
"Put up your pig-sticker," he said; "I see you are one of the right sort. I only wanted to try you. As you know, we must be careful in our business. Come and shake hands, brother, and be welcome. I trust you now, and old Antonio never does things by halves."
"Perhaps you had better try him a little further," said a young man who was standing near Pereira, as Leonard prepared to accept the invitation; "send for a slave and let us have the old test--there is none better."
Pereira hesitated and Leonard's blood turned cold.
"Look here, young man," he said more furiously than before, "I have cut the throats of more men than you have whipped, but if you want a test, I will give you one. Come down, my young cockerel, come down; there is plenty of light for comb-snipping."
The man turned white with rage, but stood a moment contemplating Leonard's athletic form and keen eyes. Apparently he found that in them which gave him pause, for instead of springing at him, he burst into a volume of threats and filthy abuse.
How the matter would have ended it is difficult to say, but at this juncture Pereira thought it well to interfere, and vigorously.
"Peace!" he thundered in his great voice, his white hair bristling with rage. "I have welcomed this man, and he is welcome. Is my word to be set aside by a drunken young brawler like you? Shut your ugly mouth or, by the Saints, I will have you clapped in irons."
The slave-driver obeyed; perhaps he was not sorry for an excuse to escape the quarrel. At any rate with a scowl at Leonard he dropped back and was silent.
Harmony being thus restored, Pereira proceeded with the business of the evening. First, however, he called Leonard to him, shook him by the hand, and bade a slave-girl bring him drink. Then he addressed the company thus:
"My lambs, my dear companions, my true and trusted friends, this is a sad moment for me, your old leader, for I stand here to bid you good- bye. To-morrow the Nest will know the Yellow Devil no more, and you must find another captain. Alas! I grow old, I am no longer up to the work, and trade is not what it was, thanks to those infernal Englishmen and their cruisers, which prowl up and down our waters, seeking to rob honest men of the fruits of their enterprise. For nearly fifty years I have been connected with the business, and I think that the natives of these parts will remember me--not angrily, oh! no, but as a benefactor. For have not some twenty thousand of their young people passed through my hands, rescued by me from the curse of barbarism and sent to learn the blessings of civilisation and the arts of peace in the homes of kind and indulgent masters?
"Sometimes, not often, but now and again, there has been bloodshed in the course of our little expeditions. I regret it. But what will you? These people are so obstinate that they cannot see how well it is for them to come under my wing. And if they try to injure us in our good work, why, we must fight. We all know the bitterness of ingratitude, but we have to put up with it. It is a trial sent to us from Heaven, my lambs, always remember that. So I retire with such modest gains as I have won by a life of labour--indeed, they have gone before me, lest some of you might be put in the way of temptation--to spend the evening of my day in peace and prayer.
"And now there is one more little thing. As it chanced during our last journey, the daughter of an accursed Englishman fell into our hands. I took her and brought her here, and as her guardian I have asked you to meet me to-night, that I may choose her a husband, as it is my duty to do. I cannot keep her myself, for among the settled people near Mozambique, where I am going to live, her presence might lead to awkward questions. So I will be generous and pass her on to another.
"But to whom shall I give this prize, this pearl, this sweet and lovely maid? Among so many worthy gentlemen how can I set one above the others and declare him most deserving of the girl? I cannot, so I must leave it to chance, for I know that Heaven will choose better than I. Therefore to him who is ready to make the largest present to me I will give this maid, to comfort him with her love; to make a present, mind you, not to pay a price. Still, perhaps, it will be best that the amount of the donation should be ascertained in the usual way, by bidding--in ounces of gold, if you please!
"One condition more, there shall be nothing irregular in this matter, my friends. The Church shall have its say in it, and he whom I select must wed the maid, here, before us all. Have we not a priest at hand, and shall we find no work for him? Now, my children, time draws on. Ho! you, bring out the English girl."
This speech was not delivered quite so continuously as it is printed here. On the contrary, it was subject to many interruptions, mostly of an ironical nature, the allusions to "a present" to be given for the girl and to the proposed marriage ceremony being received with screams of ribald laughter.
Now the noise died away, for every eye watched for the appearance of Juanna.
In a few moments a figure clad in white and guarded by several men was seen advancing from the direction of the arms-house. This figure came on through the moonlight with a swift agile step, looking neither to the right nor to the left, till it arrived in front of the verandah and halted. Then it was that Leonard first saw Juanna Rodd. She was very tall and slight, her dark hair was twisted into a single knot at
Previous Page Next Page
1 10 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 30 40 50 60 70 80
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything