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A Friend Of The Commune
by [?]

“See, madame–there, on the Hill of Pains, the long finger of the Semaphore! One more prisoner has escaped–one more.”

“One more, Marie. It is the life here that on the Hill, this here below; and yet the sun is bright, the cockatoos are laughing in the palms, and you hear my linnet singing.”

“It turns so slowly. Now it points across the Winter Valley. Ah!”

“Yes, across the Winter Valley, where the deep woods are, and beyond to the Pascal River.”

“Towards my home. How dim the light is now! I can only see It–like a long dark finger yonder.”

“No, my dear, there is bright sunshine still; there is no cloud at all: but It is like a finger; it is quivering now, as though it were not sure.”

“Thank God, if it be not sure! But the hill is cloudy, as I said.”

“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.”

“None, dear.”

“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.”

“The plantations?”

“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.”