Chapter 2 - Harris And Negoro
The day after that on which Dick Sand and his companions had established their last halt in the forest, two men met together about three miles from there, as it had been previously arranged between them.
These two men were Harris and Negoro; and we are going to see now what chance had brought together, on the coast of Angola, the Portuguese come from New Zealand, and the American, whom the business of trader obliged to often traverse this province of Western Africa.
Harris and Negoro were seated at the foot of an enormous banyan, on the steep bank of an impetuous stream, which ran between a double hedge of papyrus.
The conversation commenced, for the Portuguese and the American had just met, and at first they dwelt on the deeds which had been accomplished during these last hours.
"And so, Harris," said Negoro, "you have not been able to draw this little troop of Captain Sand, as they call this novice of fifteen years, any farther into Angola?"
"No, comrade," replied Harris; "and it is even astonishing that I have succeeded in leading him a hundred miles at least from the coast. Several days ago my young friend, Dick Sand, looked at me with an anxious air, his suspicions gradually changed into certainties - and faith - "
"Another hundred miles, Harris, and those people would be still more surely in our hands! However, they must not escape us!"
"Ah! How could they?" replied Harris, shrugging his shoulders. "I repeat it, Negoro, there was only time to part company with them. Ten times have I read in my young friend's eyes that he was tempted to send a ball into my breast, and I have too bad a stomach to digest those prunes which weigh a dozen to the pound."
"Good!" returned Negoro; "I also have an account to settle with this novice."
"And you shall settle it at your ease, with interest, comrade. As to me, during the first three days of the journey I succeeded very well in making him take this province for the Desert of Atacama, which I visited formerly. But the child claimed his caoutchoucs and his humming-birds. The mother demanded her quinquinas. The cousin was crazy to find cocuyos. Faith, I was at the end of my imagination, and after with great difficulty making them swallow ostriches for giraffes - a god-send, indeed, Negoro! - I no longer knew what to invent. Besides, I well saw that my young friend no longer accepted my explanations. Then we fell on elephants' prints. The hippopotami were added to the party. And you know, Negoro, hippopotami and elephants in America are like honest men in the penitentiaries of Benguela. Finally, to finish me, there was the old black, who must find forks and chains at the foot of a tree. Slaves had freed themselves from them to flee. At the same moment the lion roared, starting the company, and it is not easy to pass off that roaring for the mewing of an inoffensive cat. I then had only time to spring on my horse and make my way here."
"I understand," replied Negoro. "Nevertheless, I would wish to hold them a hundred miles further in the province."'
"One does what he can, comrade," replied Harris. "As to you, who followed our caravan from the coast, you have done well to keep your distance. They felt you were there. There is a certain Dingo that does not seem to love you. What have you done to that animal?"
"Nothing," replied Negoro; "but before long it will receive a ball in the head."
"As you would have received one from Dick Sand, if you had shown ever so little of your person within two hundred feet of his gun. Ah! how well he fires, my young friend; and, between you and me, I am obliged to admit that he is, in his way, a fine boy."
"No matter how fine he is, Harris, he will pay dear for his insolence," replied Negoro, whose countenance expressed implacable cruelty.
"Good," murmured Harris, "my comrade remains just the same as I have always known him! Voyages have not injured him!"
Then, after a moment's silence: "Ah, there, Negoro," continued he, "when I met you so fortunately there below, at the scene of the shipwreck, at the mouth of the Longa, you only had time to recommend those honest people to me, while begging me to lead them as far as possible across this pretended Bolivia. You have not told me what you have been doing these two years! Two years, comrade, in our chance existence, is a long time. One fine day, after having taken charge of a caravan of slaves on old Alvez's account - whose very humble agents we are - you left Cassange, and have not been heard of since! I have thought that you had some disagreement with the English cruiser, and that you were hung!"
"I came very near it, Harris."
"That will come, Negoro."
"What would you have?" replied Harris, with an indifference quite philosophical; "it is one of the chances of the trade! We do not carry on the slave-trade on the coast of Africa without running the risk of dying elsewhere than in our beds! So, you have been taken?"
"By the English?"
"No! By the Portuguese."
"Before or after having delivered your cargo?" asked Harris.
"After - ," replied Negoro, who had hesitated a little about replying. "These Portuguese now make difficulties. They want no more slavery, though they have used it so long to their profit. I was denounced - watched. They took me - "
"And condemned - "
"Me to finish my days in the penitentiary of St. Paul de Loanda."
"A thousand devils!" exclaimed Harris. "That is an unhealthy place for men accustomed, like us, to live in the open air. As to me, perhaps I should prefer being hung."
"One does not escape from the gallows," replied Negoro; "but from prison - "
"You were able to make your escape?"
"Yes, Harris. Only fifteen days after being put in prison. I was able to hide myself at the bottom of the hold of an English steamer, sailing for Auckland, of New Zealand. A barrel of water and a case of conserves, between which I had intruded, furnished me with food and drink during the whole passage. Oh! I suffered terribly, from not being willing to show myself when we were at sea. But, if I had been imprudent enough to do it, I would have been confined again at the bottom of the hold, and, voluntarily or not, the torture would be the same. Besides, on my arrival at Auckland, they would have returned me again to the English authorities, and finally brought me back to the penitentiary of Loanda, or, perhaps, hung me, as you said. That was why I preferred to travel incognito."
"And without paying your passage!" exclaimed Harris, laughing. "Ah! that is not considerate, comrade, to be fed and carried gratis!"
"Yes," returned Negoro, "but thirty days' passage at the bottom of the hold - "
"At last that was over, Negoro. You set out for New Zealand, in the land of the Maoris. But you have returned. Was the return made under the same circumstances?"
"Not so, Harris. You may well believe that, over there, I had only one idea - to return to Angola and take up my trade of slave-trader again."
"Yes," replied Harris, "one loves his trade - from habit."
"For eighteen months - "
Having pronounced those last words, Negoro stopped suddenly. He seized his companion's arm, and listened.
"Harris," said he, lowering his voice, "was there not a trembling in that papyrus bush?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Harris, seizing his gun, always ready to fire.
Negoro and he stood up, looked around them, and listened with the greatest attention.
"There is nothing there," said Harris. "It is this brook, swelled by the storm, which runs more noisily. For two years, comrade, you have been unaccustomed to the noises of the forest, but you will get used to them again. Continue, then, the narration of your adventures. When I understand the past, we shall talk of the future."
Negoro and Harris sat down again at the foot of the banyan. The Portuguese continued, in these terms:
"For eighteen months I vegetated in Auckland. When the steamer arrived there I was able to leave it without being seen; but not a piastre, not a dollar in my pocket! In order to live I had to follow all trades - "
"Even the trade of an honest man, Negoro?"
"As you say, Harris."
"Now, I was always waiting for an opportunity, which was long coming, when the 'Pilgrim,' a whaler, arrived at the port of Auckland."
"That vessel which went ashore on the coast of Angola?"
"Even the same, Harris, and on which Mrs. Weldon, her child, and her cousin were going to take passage. Now, as an old sailor, having even been second on board a slave ship, I was not out of my element in taking service on a ship. I then presented myself to the 'Pilgrim's' captain, but the crew was made up. Very fortunately for me, the schooner's cook had deserted. Now, he is no sailor who does not know how to cook. I offered myself as head cook. For want of a better, I was accepted. A few days after, the 'Pilgrim' had lost sight of the land of New Zealand."
"But," asked Harris, "according to what my young friend has told me, the 'Pilgrim' did not set sail at all for the coast of Africa. How then has she arrived here?"
"Dick Sand ought not to be able to understand it yet, and perhaps he will never understand it," replied Negoro; "but I am going to explain to you what has passed, Harris, and you will be able to tell it again to your young friend, if it pleases you to do so."
"How, then?" replied Harris. "Speak, comrade, speak!"
"The 'Pilgrim,'" continued Negoro, "as on the way to Valparaiso. When I went on board, I only intended to go to Chili. It was always a good half of the way between New Zealand and Angola, and I was drawing nearer Africa's coast by several thousand miles. But it so happened that only three weeks after leaving Auckland, Captain Hull, who commanded the 'Pilgrim,' disappeared with all his crew, while chasing a whale. On that day, then, only two sailors remained on board - the novice and the cook, Negoro."
"And you took command of the ship?" asked Harris.
"I had that idea at first, but I saw that they distrusted me. There were live strong blacks on board, free men. I would not have been the master, and, on reflection, I remained what I was at the departure - the 'Pilgrim's' cook."
"Then it was chance that led this ship to the coast of Africa?"
"No, Harris," replied Negoro; "there has been no chance in all this adventure except meeting you, in one of your journeys, just on that part of the coast where the 'Pilgrim' was wrecked. But as to coming in sight of Angola, it was by my will, my secret will, that that was done. Your young friend, still much of a novice in navigation, could only tell his position by means of the log and the compass. Well, one day, the log went to the bottom. One night the compass was made false, and the 'Pilgrim,' driven by a violent tempest, took the wrong route. The length of the voyage, inexplicable to Dick Sand, would be the same to the most experienced seaman. Without the novice knowing or even suspecting it, Cape Horn was doubled, but I, Harris, I recognized it in the midst of the fogs. Then, thanks to me, the needle in the compass took its true direction again, and the ship, blown to the northeast by that frightful hurricane, has just been cast on the coast of Africa, just on this land of Angola which I wished to reach."
"And even at that moment, Negoro," replied Harris, "chance had led me there to receive you, and guide those honest people to the interior. They believed themselves - they could only believe themselves in America. It was easy for me to make them take this province for lower Bolivia, to which it has really some resemblance."
"Yes, they believed it, as your young friend believed they had made the Isle of Paques, when they passed in sight of Tristan d'Acunha."
"Anybody would be deceived by it, Negoro."
"I know it, Harris, and I even counted on profiting by that error. Finally, behold Mrs. Weldon and her companions one hundred miles in the interior of this Africa, where I wanted to bring them!"
"But," replied Harris, "they know now where they are."
"Ah! what matter at present!" cried Negoro.
"And what will you do with them?" asked Harris.
"What will I do with them?" replied Negoro. "Before telling you, Harris, give me news of our master, the slave-trader, Alvez, whom I have not seen for two years."
"Oh, the old rascal is remarkably well," replied Harris, "and he will be enchanted to see you again."
"Is he at the Bihe market?" asked Negoro.
"No, comrade, he has been at his establishment at Kazounde for a year."
"And business is lively?"
"Yes, a thousand devils!" exclaimed Harris, "although the slave trade becomes more and more difficult, at least on this coast. The Portuguese authorities on one side, and the English cruisers on the other, limit exportations. There are few places, except in the environs of Mossamedes, to the south of Angola, that the shipping of blacks can now be made with any chance of success. So, at this time, the pens are filled with slaves, waiting for the ships which ought to carry them to Spanish colonies. As to passing them by Benguela, or St. Paul de Loanda, that is not possible. The governors no longer understand reason, no more do the chiefs (title given to the Portuguese governors of secondary establishments). We must, then, return to the factories of the interior. This is what old Alvez intends to do. He will go from the Nyangwe and Tanganyika side to change his stuffs for ivory and slaves. Business is always profitable with upper Egypt and the Mozambique coast, which furnishes all Madagascar. But I fear the time will come when the trade can be no longer carried on. The English are making great progress in the interior of Africa. The missionaries advance and work against us. That Livingstone, curse him, after exploring the lake region, is going, they say, to travel toward Angola. Then they speak of a Lieutenant Cameron, who proposes to cross the continent from east to west. They also fear that the American, Stanley, wishes to do as much. All these visits will end by damaging our operations, Negoro, and if we care for our own interests, not one of those visitors will return to relate in Europe what he has had the indiscretion to come to see in Africa."
Would not one say, to hear them, the rascals, that they were speaking like honest merchants whose affairs were momentarily cramped by a commercial crisis? Who would believe that, instead of sacks of coffee or casks of sugar, they were talking of human beings to export like merchandise? These traders have no other idea of right or wrong. The moral sense is entirely lacking in them, and if they had any, how quickly they would lose it among the frightful atrocities of the African slave trade.
But where Harris was right, was when he said that civilization was gradually penetrating those savage countries in the wake of those hardy travelers, whose names are indissoluble linked to the discoveries of Equatorial Africa. At the head, David Livingstone, after him, Grant, Speke, Burton, Cameron, Stanley, those heroes will leave imperishable names as benefactors of humanity.
When their conversation reached that point, Harris knew what the last two years of Negoro's life had been. The trader Alvez's old agent, the escaped prisoner from the Loanda penitentiary, reappeared the same as Harris had always known him, that is, ready to do anything. But what plan Negoro intended to take in regard to the shipwrecked from the "Pilgrim," Harris did not yet know. He asked his accomplice about it.
"And now," said he, "what are you going to do with those people?"
"I shall make two parties of them," replied Negoro, like a man whose plan had been long formed, "those whom I shall sell as slaves, and those whom - - "
The Portuguese did not finish, but his ferocious physiognomy spoke plainly enough.
"Which will you sell?" asked Harris.
"Those blacks who accompany Mrs. Weldon," replied Negoro. "Old Tom is not perhaps of much value, but the others are four strong fellows, who will bring a high price in the Kazounde market."
"I well believe it, Negoro," replied Harris. "Four negroes, well made, accustomed to work, have very little resemblance to those brutes which come to us from the interior. Certainly, you will sell them at a high price. Slaves, born in America, and exported to the markets of Angola; that is rare merchandise! But," added the American, "you have not told me if there was any money on board the 'Pilgrim.'"
"Oh! a few hundred dollars only, which I have succeeded in saving. Fortunately, I count on certain returns."
"Which, then, comrade?" asked Harris, with curiosity.
"Nothing!" replied Negoro, who appeared to regret having spoken more than he intended.
"It now remains to take possession of all that high-priced merchandise," said Harris.
"Is it, then, so difficult?" asked Negoro.
"No, comrade. Ten miles from here, on the Coanza, a caravan of slaves is encamped, conducted by the Arab, Ibn Hamis. He only awaits my return to take the road for Kazounde. There are more native soldiers there than are needed to capture Dick Sand and his companions. It will be sufficient for my young friend to conceive the idea of going to the Coanza."
"But will he get that idea?" asked Negoro.
"Surely," replied Harris, "because he is intelligent, and cannot suspect the danger that awaits him. Dick Sand would not think of returning to the coast by the way we have followed together. He would be lost among these immense forests. He will seek, then, I am sure, to reach one of the rivers that flow toward the coast, so as to descend it on a raft. He has no other plan to take, and I know he will take it."
"Yes, perhaps so," replied Negoro, who was reflecting.
"It is not 'perhaps so,' it is 'assuredly so,' that must be said," continued Harris. "Do you see, Negoro? It is as if I had appointed a rendezvous with my young friend on the banks of the Coanza."
"Well, then," replied Negoro, "let us go. I know Dick Sand. He will not delay an hour, and we must get before him."
"Let us start, comrade."
Harris and Negoro both stood up, when the noise that had before attracted the Portuguese's attention was renewed. It was a trembling of the stems between the high papyrus.
Negoro stopped, and seized Harris's hand.
Suddenly a low barking was heard. A dog appeared at the foot of the bank, with its mouth open, ready to spring.
"Dingo!" cried Harris.
"Ah! this time it shall not escape me!" replied Negoro.
Dingo was going to jump upon him, when Negoro, seizing Harris's gun, quickly put it to his shoulder and fired.
A long howl of pain replied to the detonation, and Dingo disappeared between the double row of bushes that bordered the brook.
Negoro descended at once to the bottom of the bank.
Drops of blood stained some of the papyrus stems, and a long red track was left on the pebbles of the brook.
"At last that cursed animal is paid off!" exclaimed Negoro.
Harris had been present at this whole scene without saying a word.
"Ah now, Negoro," said he, "that dog had a particular grudge against you."
"It seemed so, Harris, but it will have a grudge against me no longer!"
"And why did it detest you so much, comrade?"
"Oh! an old affair to settle between it and me."
"An old affair?" replied Harris.
Negoro said no more about it, and Harris concluded that the Portuguese had been silent on some past adventure, but he did not insist on knowing it.
A few moments later, both, descending the course of the brook, went toward the Coanza, across the forest.