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Across Unknown South America by Landor

X positively refused to remain there


I

gave him some tobacco, a quantity of which I carried for my men. Without a word of acknowledgment he seized it, and, with paper my men gave him, proceeded to make himself a cigarette.

"I am tired of this life," said he, as he rolled the tobacco. "I am a slave. I owe my master 1 conto 200 milreis (L80). He sold me this rifle, and some cartridges, and I cannot repay him. I am rotting away with fever. I am dying of starvation, I am going mad in this place.... I have no more food, and have been unable for three days to catch fish. Do not let me die here. Take me with you. I will give you my rifle, this ring"--a cheap ring which he proceeded to take from his finger--"I shall work hard and require no pay if you will save me from death."

I told him that he had better consider his position seriously before doing anything rash. We should not be leaving until the next morning.

The man, whom we shall call X, as I do not wish to divulge his real name, sat up the entire night talking to my men. His excitement was great--at least, judging by the loudness of his voice. During those long sleepless hours--with all of them shouting at the top of their voices it was impossible to sleep--I overheard the entire history of his life. What a life! I prayed my stars that X would change his mind and decide to stay where he was, for though I needed extra men badly I feared that his company would not

be a welcome addition to our party, bad as it was. Like all men who have lived much in seclusion, he possessed marvellous vitality and magnetism. My men were simply hypnotised by the remarkable tales of his deeds, or rather misdeeds.

Long before we were ready to start, X went to seat himself in the canoe to make sure we should not leave him behind. When I asked him to reconsider once more what he was doing, which was not fair to his master, no matter how bad he may have been, X positively refused to remain there.

"If you do not want me to come," he said with determination, "you will have to fling me into the water and keep my head under until I am drowned."

That was rather a trying dilemma. Much as I disapprove of slavery, I did not like the idea of taking matters into my own hands and freeing other people's slaves; yet it was impossible to refuse assistance to a suffering man when he asked for it. In any case I had no wish to be responsible for his death.

"X," I said to him, "you have quite made up your mind to go with us?"

"Yes."

"Will you promise faithfully that you will work and give no trouble?"

"May my old father and mother be struck by lightning this moment if I shall give you trouble!" was his reply.


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