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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 10/11 -
herself, then creeping between two bits of jutting rock at her right, immediately stood at the entrance to a cave, hidden completely from the river and from the banks above. At the entrance, for which she felt, she paused and said aloud: "Is there any one here?" Something clicked far within the cave. It sounded like a rifle. Then stealthy steps were heard, and a voice said:
"You are Carbourd?"
"As you see, mademoiselle."
"You escaped safely then from the rifle-shot? Where is the soldier?"
"He fell into the river. He was drowned."
"You are telling me truth?"
"Yes, he stumbled in and sank--on my soul!"
"You did not try to save him?"
"He lied and got me six months in irons once; he called down on my back one hundred and fifty lashes, a year ago; he had me kept on bread and water, and degraded to the fourth class, where I could never hear from my wife and children--never write to them. I lost one eye in the quarries because he made me stand too near a lighted fuse--"
"Poor man, poor man!" she said. "You found the food I left here?"
"Yes, God bless you! And my wife and children will bless you too, if I see France again."
"You know where the boat is?"
"I know, mademoiselle."
"When you reach Point Assumption you will find horses there to take you across the Brocken Path. M. Laflamme knows. I hope that you will both escape; that you will be happy in France with your wife and children."
"You will not come here again?"
"No. If M. Laflamme should not arrive, and you should go alone, leave one pair of oars; then I shall know. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, mademoiselle. A thousand times I will pray for you. Ah, mon Dieu! take care!--you are on the edge of the great tomb."
She stood perfectly still. At her feet was a dark excavation where was the skeleton of Ovi the King. This was the hidden burial-place of the modern Hiawatha of these savage islands, unknown even to the natives themselves, and kept secret with a half-superstitious reverence by this girl, who had discovered it a few months before.
"I had forgotten," she said. "Please take my hand and set me right at the entrance."
"Your hand, mademoiselle? Mine is so--! It is not dark."
"I am blind now."
"Blind--blind! Oh, the pitiful thing! Since when, mademoiselle?"
"Since the soldier fired on you-the shock. . . . "
The convict knelt at her feet. "Ah, mademoiselle, you are a good angel. I shall die of grief. To think--for such as me!"
"You will live to love your wife and children. This is the will of God with me. Am I in the path now? Ah, thank you."
"But, M. Laflamme--this will be a great sorrow to him."
Twice she seemed about to speak, but nothing came save good-bye. Then she crept cautiously away among the bushes and along the narrow path, the eyes of the convict following her. She had done a deed which, she understood, the world would blame her for if it knew, would call culpable or foolishly heroic; but she smiled, because she understood also that she had done that which her own conscience and heart approved, and she was content.
At this time Laflamme was stealing watchfully through the tropical scrub, where hanging vines tore his hands, and the sickening perfume of jungle flowers overcame him more than the hard journey which he had undergone during the past twelve hours.
Several times he had been within voice of his pursuers, and once a Kanaka scout passed close to him. He had had nothing to eat, he had had no sleep, he suffered from a wound in his neck caused by the broken protruding branch of a tree; but he had courage, and he was struggling for liberty--a tolerably sweet thing when one has it not. He found the Cave at last, and with far greater ease than Carbourd had done, because he knew the ground better, and his instinct was keener. His greeting to Carbourd was nonchalantly cordial:
"Well, you see, comrade, King Ovi's Cave is a reality."
"I saw the boat. The horses? What do you know?"
"They will be at Point Assumption to-night."
"Then we go to-night. We shall have to run the chances of rifles along the shore at a range something short, but we have done that before, at the Barricades, eh, Carbourd?"
"At the Barricades. It is a pity that we cannot take Citizen Louise Michel with us."
"Her time will come."
"She has no children crying and starving at home like--"
"Like yours, Carbourd, like yours. Well, I am starving here. Give me something to eat. . . . Ah, that is good--excellent! What more can we want but freedom! Till the darkness of tyranny be overpast--overpast, eh?"
This speech brought another weighty matter to Carbourd's mind. He said:
"I do not wish to distress you, but--"
"Now, Carbourd, what is the matter? Faugh! this place smells musty. What's that--a tomb? Speak out, Citizen Carbourd."
"It is this: Mademoiselle Wyndham is blind." Carbourd told the story with a great anxiety in his words.
"The poor mademoiselle--is it so? A thousand pities! So kind, so young, so beautiful. Ah, I am distressed, and I finished her portrait yesterday! Yes, I remember her eyes looked too bright, and then again too dull: but I thought that it was excitement, and so--that!"
Laflamme's regret was real enough up to a certain point, but, in sincerity and value, it was chasms below that of Hugh Tryon, who, even now, was getting two horses ready to give the Frenchmen their chance.
After a pause Laflamme said: "She will not come here again, Carbourd? No? Ah, well, perhaps it is better so; but I should have liked to speak my thanks to her."
That night Marie sat by the window of the sitting-room, with the light burning, and Angers asleep in a chair beside her--sat till long after midnight, in the thought that Laflamme, if he had reached the Cave, would, perhaps, dare something to see her and bid her good-bye. She would of course have told him not to come, but he was chivalrous, and then her blindness would touch him. Yet as the hours went by the thought came: was he, was he so chivalrous? was he altogether true? . . . He did not come. The next morning Angers took her to where the boat had been, but it was gone, and no oars were left behind. So, both had sought escape in it.
She went to the Cave. She took Angers with her now. Upon the wall a paper was found. It was a note from M. Laflamme. She asked Angers to give it to her without reading it. She put it in her pocket and kept it there until she should see Hugh Tryon. He should read it to her. She said to herself as she felt the letter in her pocket: "He loved me. It was the least that I could do. I am so glad." Yet she was not altogether glad either, and disturbing thoughts crossed the parallels of her pleasure.
The Governor and Madame Solde first brought news of the complete escape of the prisoners. The two had fled through the hills by the Brocken Path, and though pursued after crossing, had reached the coast, and were taken aboard the Parroquet, which sailed away towards Australia. It is probable that Marie's visitors had their suspicions regarding the escape, but they said nothing, and did not make her uncomfortable. Just now they were most concerned for her bitter misfortune. Madame Solde said to her: "My poor Marie--does it feel so dreadful, so dark?"
"No, madame, it is not so bad. There are so many things which one does not wish to see, and one is spared the pain."
"But you will see again. When you go to England, to great physicians there."
"Then I should have three lives, madame: when I could see, when sight died, and when sight was born again. How wise I should be!"
They left her sadly, and after a time she heard footsteps that she knew. She came forward and greeted Tryon.
"Ah," she said, "all's well with them, I know; and you were so good."
"They are safe upon the seas," he gently replied, and he kissed her hand.
"Now you will read this letter for me. M. Laflamme left it behind in the Cave."
With a pang he took it, and read thus:
DEAR FRIEND,--My grief for your misfortune is inexpressible. If it were possible I should say so in person, but there is danger, and we must fly at once. You shall hear from me in full gratitude when I am in safety. I owe you so many thanks, as I give you so much of devotion. But there is the future for all. Mademoiselle, I kiss your hand.
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