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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 6/11 -
"No, Marie. How droll you are! The hill is not cloudy; even at this distance one can see something glisten beside the grove of pines."
"I know. It is the White Rock, where King Ovi died."
"Marie, turn your face to me. Your eyes are full of tears. Your heart is tender. Your tears are for the prisoner who has escaped--the hunted in the chase."
She shuddered a little and added, "Wherever he is, that long dark finger on the Hill of Pains will find him out--the remorseless Semaphore."
"No, madame, I am selfish; I weep for myself. Tell me truly, as--as if I were your own child--was there no cloud, no sudden darkness, out there, as we looked towards the Hill of Pains."
"Then--then--madame, I suppose it was my tears that blinded me for the moment."
"No doubt it was your tears."
But each said in her heart that it was not tears; each said: "Let not this thing come, O God!" Presently, with a caress, the elder woman left the room; but the girl remained to watch that gloomy thing upon the Hill of Pains.
As she stood there, with her fingers clasped upon a letter she had drawn from her pocket, a voice from among the palms outside floated towards her.
"He escaped last night; the Semaphore shows that they have got upon his track. I suppose they'll try to converge upon him before he gets to Pascal River. Once there he might have a chance of escape; but he'll need a lot of luck, poor devil!"
Marie's fingers tightened on the letter.
Then another voice replied, and it brought a flush to the cheek of the girl, a hint of trouble to her eyes. It said: "Is Miss Wyndham here still?"
"Yes, still here. My wife will be distressed when she leaves us."
"She will not care to go, I should think. The Hotel du Gouverneur spoils us for all other places in New Caledonia."
"You are too kind, monsieur; I fear that those who think as you are not many. After all, I am little more here than a gaoler--merely a gaoler, M. Tryon."
"Yet, the Commandant of a military station and the Governor of a Colony."
"The station is a penitentiary; the colony for liberes, ticket-of-leave men, and outcast Paris; with a sprinkling of gentlemen and officers dying of boredom. No, my friend, we French are not colonists. We emigrate, we do not colonise. This is no colony. We do no good here."
"You forget the nickel mines."
"Quarries for the convicts and for political prisoners of the lowest class."
"Ah, there I crave your pardon. You are a planter, but you are English. M. Wyndham is a planter and an owner of mines, but he is English. The man who has done best financially in New Caledonia is an Englishman. You, and a few others like you, French and English, are the only colony I have. I do not rule you; you help me to rule."
"By being on the side of justice and public morality; by dining with me, though all too seldom; by giving me a quiet hour now and then beneath your vines and fig-trees; and so making this uniform less burdensome to carry. No, no, monsieur, I know you are about to say something very gracious: but no, you shall pay your compliments to the ladies."
As they journeyed to the morning-room Hugh Tryon said: "Does M. Laflamme still come to paint Miss Wyndham?"
"Yes; but it ends to-morrow, and then no more of that. Prisoners are prisoners, and though Laflamme is agreeable that makes it the more difficult."
"Why should he be treated so well, as a first-class prisoner, and others of the Commune be so degraded here--as Mayer, for instance?"
"It is but a question of degree. He was an artist and something of a dramatist; he was not at the Place Vendome at a certain critical moment; he was not at Montmartre at a particular terrible time; he was not a high officer like Mayer; he was young, with the face of a patriot. Well, they sent Mayer to the galleys at Toulon first; then, among the worst of the prisoners here--he was too bold, too full of speech; he had not Laflamme's gift of silence, of pathos. Mayer works coarsely, severely here; Laflamme grows his vegetables, idles about Ducos, swings in his hammock, and appears at inspections the picture of docility. One day he sent to me the picture of my wife framed in gold--here it is. Is it not charming? The size of a franc-piece and so perfect! You know the soft hearts of women."
"You mean that Madame Solde--"
"She persuaded me to let him come here to paint my portrait. He has done so, and now he paints Marie Wyndham. But--"
"But these things have their dangers."
"Have their dangers," Hugh Tryon musingly repeated, and then added under his breath almost, "Escape or--"
"Or something else," the Governor rather sharply interrupted; and then, as they were entering the room, gaily continued: "Ah, here we come, mademoiselle, to pay--"
"To pay your surplus of compliments, monsieur le Gouverneur. I could not help but hear something of what you said," responded Marie, and gave her hand to Tryon.
"I leave you to mademoiselle's tender mercies, monsieur," said the Governor. "Au revoir!"
When he had gone, Hugh said: "You are gay today."
"Indeed, no, I am sad."
"Wherefore sad? Is nickel proving a drug? Or sugar a failure? Don't tell me that your father says sugar is falling." He glanced at the letter, which she unconsciously held in her hand.
She saw his look, smoothed the letter a little nervously between her palms, and put it into her pocket, saying: "No, my father has not said that sugar is falling--but come here, will you?" and she motioned towards the open window. When there, she said slowly, "That is what makes me sad and sorry," and she pointed to the Semaphore upon the Hill of Pains.
"You are too tender-hearted," he remarked. "A convict has escaped; he will be caught perhaps--perhaps not; and things will go on as before."
"Will go on as before. That is, the 'martinet' worse than the 'knout de Russe'; the 'poucettes', the 'crapaudine' on neck and ankles and wrists; all, all as bad as the 'Pater Noster' of the Inquisition, as Mayer said the other day in the face of Charpentier, the Commandant of the penitentiary. How pleasant also to think of the Boulevard de Guillotine! I tell you it is brutal, horrible. Think of what prisoners have to suffer here, whose only crime is that they were of the Commune; that they were just a little madder than other Frenchmen."
"Pardon me if I say that as brutal things were done by the English in Tasmania."
"Think of two hundred and sixty strokes of the 'cat.'"
"You concern yourself too much about these things, I fear."
"I only think that death would be easier than the life of half of the convicts here."
"They themselves would prefer it, perhaps."
"Tell me, who is the convict that has escaped?" she feverishly asked. "Is it a political prisoner?"
"You would not know him. He was one of the Commune who escaped shooting in the Place de la Concorde. Carbourd, I think, was his name."
"Carbourd, Carbourd," she repeated, and turned her head away towards the Semaphore.
Her earnestness aroused in Tryon a sudden flame of sympathy which had its origin, as he well knew, in three years of growing love. This love leaped up now determinedly--perhaps unwisely; but what should a blunt soul like Hugh Tryon know regarding the best or worst time to seek a woman's heart? He came close to her now and said: "If you are so kind in thought for a convict, I dare hope that you would be more kind to me."
"Be kind to you," she repeated, as if not understanding what he said, nor the look in his eyes.
"For I am a prisoner, too."
"A prisoner?" she rejoined a little tremulously, and coldly.
"In your hands, Marie." His eyes laid bare his heart.
"Oh!" she replied, in a half-troubled, half-indignant tone, for she was out of touch with the occasion of his suit, and every woman has in her mind the time when she should and when she should not be wooed. "Oh, why aren't you plain with me? I hate enigmas."
"Why do I not speak plainly? Because, because, Marie, it is possible for a man to be a coward in his speech"--he touched her fingers--"when he loves." She quickly drew her hand from his. "Oh, can't we be friends without that?"
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