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- The People Of The Mist - 21/80 -

the back of her shapely head, her features were small, her face fair in colouring and somewhat rounded in form. So much he saw at a glance, but it was not until she looked up and round her that Leonard discovered the girl's peculiar glory, the glory of her eyes. Then and in that light he was unable to distinguish their colour, a difficult task at any time, for they varied from grey to blue according to the shadows which fell upon them, but he could see that they were wide and splendid, fearless and yet soft. For the rest she was clad in an Arab robe richly worked, and wore sandals upon her feet.

Juanna stopped in front of the verandah and searched it with her eyes. Presently they ceased their searching and she spoke in a clear, sweet voice.

"What do you want with me now, Dom Antonio Pereira?" she said.

"My dove," he answered in his coarse, mocking tones, "do not be angry with your slave. I promised you, my dove, that I would find a husband for you, and now all these gallant gentlemen are gathered for the choice. It is your marriage-hour, my dove."

"Dom Antonio Pereira," the girl answered, "for the last time I plead to you. I am helpless here among you, and I have done you no injury: let me go unharmed, I pray of you."

"Let you go unharmed? Why, who would hurt you, my dove?" answered the satyr. "Yes, that is what I mean to do. I will let you go to a husband."

"I shall never go to any husband of your choosing, Dom Antonio," Juanna said again in a low and steady voice. "Be assured of that, all of you. I have no fear of you, for God will help me in my need. And now, as I have pleaded to you for the last time, so for the last time I warn you, Dom Antonio, and your wicked companions also. Go on with this iniquity if you will, but a judgment awaits you. Death from Heaven above is near to you, you murderer, and after death, vengeance."

Thus she spoke, not loud indeed, but with conviction, a power, and a dignity of mien that carried terror to the hearts of the most hardened villains there. It was at the conclusion of her speech that her eyes first met those of Leonard Outram. He was bending forward to listen, and in his grief and anger he had forgotten to preserve the truculent expression which it was his part to wear. Once more Leonard's face was the face of an English gentleman, noble and open, if somewhat stern.

Their eyes met, and there was that in his which caused Juanna to pause. She looked at him swiftly as though she would read his very soul, and in answer he put all his will and heart's desire into his gaze, the will and the desire that she should know him to be her friend. They had never met before, she did not even dream of his existence, and there was little in Leonard's outward appearance to distinguish him from the ruffians by whom he was surrounded. Yet her quick sense, sharpened by despair, read what was written in his eyes, and read it aright. From that moment Juanna felt that she was not alone among these wolves, that there was one person at least who would save her if he could.

In an instant she had searched his face and dropped her eyes again, fearing lest she should awake suspicion. Then came a pause, for the minds of men were disturbed; she had aroused some remnant of conscience in them, she had called to life a lively terror of vengeance to come, of vengeance very near at hand. All were affected more or less, but chiefly was he affected to whom she had addressed her words. The Yellow Devil sank back into the chair from which he had risen to speak, a wonderful chair made of ebony inlaid with ivory, and string-seated, with a footstool attached to it. Superstitious dread took hold of him, and he shivered visibly.

The scene was one which Leonard never forgot. Above the bright moon shone in the heavens, before him were rank upon rank of evil faces, each marked with some new emotion, and standing alone in their midst was the beautiful girl, proud in the depth of her shame, defiant even in the power of foes gathered to destroy her.

For a while the wind had dropped and the silence was deep, so deep was it that Leonard could hear the mew of a kitten which had crept from the verandah, and was rubbing itself against Juanna's feet. She heard it also, and, stooping, lifted the little creature and held it to her breast.

"Let her go!" said a voice from the crowd. "She is a witch and will bring ill-luck upon us."

At the sound Pereira seemed to awake. With a hideous oath he flung himself from the chair and waddled down the steps towards his victim.

"Curse you, you slut!" he said, "do you think to frighten men with your threats? Let God help you if He can. The Yellow Devil is god here. You are as much in my power as this brute," and he snatched the kitten from her arms and dashed it to the ground. "You see, God does not help the kitten, and He will not help you. Here, let men see what they are going to buy," and gripping the breast of her white robe he rent it open.

With one hand Juanna gathered up the torn dress, and with the other she began to do something to her hair. An agony of fear took hold of Leonard. He knew the story of the poison which she carried: was she about to use it?

Once again their eyes met, and there was warning in his glance. Juanna loosed her hair indeed, and let it fall about her shoulders, covering her rent robe to the waist, but she did no more. Only after this Leonard saw that she kept her right hand closed, and knew that her death was hidden within it. Then she spoke once more to Pereira.

"In your last hour may you remember these two deeds!" she said, pointing to the writhing kitten and to her torn dress.

Now slaves drew near to do their master's bidding, but that audience would not suffer this.

"Leave her alone," they said; "we can see that the girl is fair and perfect."

Then the slaves hung back, nor did Pereira repeat his commands.

Returning to the verandah, he stood by the chair, and, taking an empty glass in his hand by way of an auctioneer's hammer, he began:

"Gentlemen, I am going to offer you a very choice lot, so choice that it makes up all the sale. The lot is a white girl, half English and half Portuguese by blood. She is well educated and devout; as to her docility I can say nothing, that will be for her husband to attend to. Of her beauty I need not speak; you can all see it yourselves. Look at that figure, that hair, those eyes; have any of you known their equal?

"Well, this lot will be sold to him among you who is inclined to make me the largest present in compensation; yes, he may take her this very hour, and my blessing with her. But there are conditions: he whom I approve must be lawfully married to the girl by the priest Francisco here," and turning he pointed to a small melancholy-looking man, with a womanish face and dark blue eyes, who stood in the background, clothed in a somewhat tattered priest's robe. "Then I shall have done my duty by her. One more thing, gentlemen: we are not going to waste time in little bids; the upset price will be thirty ounces."

"Silver?" said a voice.

"Silver? No, of course not. Do you think you are bidding for a nigger girl, fool? Gold, man, gold! Thirty ounces of gold, and payment to be made on the nail."

There was a groan of disappointment, and one ruffian cried out:

"What are we poor fellows to do? Thirty ounces for a beginning! Where is our chance?"

"What are you to do? Why, work hard at your profession, and grow rich, of course! Do you suppose that these prizes are for the poor? Now then, the fair is open. Who bids for the white girl Juanna? Thirty ounces is offered. What advance, what advance?"

"Thirty-five," said a wizened little man with a hectic cough, who looked fitter for a burial than a bridal.

"Forty!" cried another, a pure-bred Arab of stately appearance and saturnine expression, who wished to add to his harem.

"Forty-five," answered the wizened man.

Then the Arab bid fifty, and for a while it seemed that these two alone were competitors. When the bids had reached seventy ounces the Arab muttered "Allah!" and gave up. He preferred to wait for the houris.

"Knock her down," said the wizened man, "she is mine."

"Hold on a bit, my little friend," said the great Portugee, Xavier, who had passed the water-gate before Leonard and his companions. "I am going to begin now. Seventy-five."

"Eighty," said the little man.

"Eighty-five," answered Xavier.

"Ninety," screamed the other.

"Ninety-five," said Xavier.

"A hundred," yelled the small man, snapping his fingers.

"A hundred and five," replied Xavier, triumphantly capping his bid.

Then with a curse his antagonist gave up also, and the mob shouted, thinking that Xavier had won.

"Knock her down, Pereira," said Xavier in his turn, as he surveyed his prize with affected nonchalance.

"Wait a moment," put in Leonard, speaking for the first time. "I am going to begin now. A hundred and ten."

The multitude shouted again, the contest was growing exciting. Xavier glared at Leonard and bit his fingers with rage. He was very near his limit of possible expenditure.

"Now then," cried Pereira, licking his lips for joy, since the price had already run twenty ounces higher than he expected, "Now then,

The People Of The Mist - 21/80

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