Mok’s repertoire of songs could not be expected to be large. In fact, he only knew one musical composition, and that was an African hymn which Cheditafa had taught him. This he now proceeded to execute. He threw back his head, as some of the others had done, and emitted a succession of grunts, groans, yelps, barks, squeaks, yells, and rattles which utterly electrified the audience. Then, as if his breath filled his whole body, and quivering and shaking like an angry squirrel when it chatters and barks, Mok sang louder and more wildly, until the audience, unable to restrain themselves, burst into laughter, and applauded with canes, sticks, and fists. But Mok kept on. He had never imagined he could sing so well. There was only one person in that brasserie who did not applaud the African hymn, but no one paid so much attention to it as this man, who had entered the Black Cat just as Mok had begun.
He was a person of medium size, with a heavy mustache, and a face darkened by a beard of several days’ growth. He was rather roughly dressed, and wore a soft felt hat. He was a Rackbird.
This man had formerly belonged to the band of desperadoes which had been swept away by a sudden flood on the coast of Peru. He had accompanied his comrades on the last marauding expedition previous to that remarkable accident, but he had not returned with them. He had devised a little scheme of his own, which had detained him longer than he had expected, and he was not ready to go back with them. It would have been difficult for him to reach the camp by himself, and, after what he had done, he did not very much desire to go, there as he would probably have been shot as a deserter; for Captain Raminez was a savage fellow, and more than willing to punish transgressions against his orders. This deserter, Banker by name, was an American, who had been a gold-digger, a gambler, a rough, and a dead shot in California, and he was very well able to take care of himself in any part of the world.
He had made his way up to Panama, and had stayed there as long as it was safe for him to do so, and had eventually reached Paris. He did not like this city half so well as he liked London, but in the latter city he happened to be wanted, and he was not wanted in Paris. It was generally the case that he stayed where he was not wanted.
Of course, Banker knew nothing of the destruction of his band, and the fact that he had not heard from them since he left them gave him not the slightest regret. But what did astonish him beyond bounds was to sit at a table in the Black Cat, in Paris, and see before him, dressed like the valet of a Spanish grandee, a coal-black negro who had once been his especial and particular slave and drudge, a fellow whom he had kicked and beaten and sworn at, and whom he no doubt would have shot had he stayed much longer with his lawless companions, the Rackbirds. There was no mistaking this black man. He well remembered his face, and even the tones of his voice. He had never heard him sing, but he had heard him howl, and it seemed almost impossible that he should meet him in Paris. And yet, he was sure that the man who was bellowing and bawling to the delight of the guests of the Black Cat was one of the African wretches who had been entrapped and enslaved by the Rackbirds.