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A Pagan Of The South
by [?]

When Blake Shorland stepped from the steamer Belle Sauvage upon the quay at Noumea, he proceeded, with the alertness of the trained newspaper correspondent, to take his bearings. So this was New Caledonia, the home of outcast, criminal France, the recent refuge of Communist exiles, of Rochefort, Louise Michel, Felix Rastoul, and the rest! Over there to the left was Ile Nou, the convict prison; on the hill was the Governor’s residence; below, the Government establishments with their red-tiled roofs; and hidden away in a luxuriance of tropical vegetation lay the houses of the citizens. He stroked his black moustache thoughtfully for a moment, and put his hand to his pocket to see that his letters of introduction from the French Consul at Sydney to Governor Rapont and his journalistic credentials were there. Then he remembered the advice of the captain of the Belle Sauvage as to the best hotel, and started towards it. He had not been shown the way, but his instincts directed him. He knew where it ought to be, according to the outlines of the place.

It proved to be where he thought, and, having engaged rooms, sent for his luggage, and refreshed himself, he set out to explore the town. His prudent mind told him that he ought to proceed at once to Governor Rapont and present his letters of commendation, for he was in a country where feeling was running high against English interference with the deportation of French convicts to New Caledonia, and the intention of France to annex the New Hebrides. But he knew also that so soon as these letters were presented, his freedom of action would be restricted, either by a courtesy which would be so constant as to become surveillance, or by an injunction having no such gloss. He had come to study French government in New Caledonia, to gauge the extent of the menace that the convict question bore towards Australia, and to tell his tale to Australia, and to such other countries as would listen. The task was not pleasant, and it had its dangers, too, of a certain kind. But Shorland had had difficulty and peril often in his life, and he borrowed no trouble. Proceeding along the Rue de l’Alma, and listening to the babble of French voices round him, he suddenly paused abstractedly, and said to himself “Somehow it brings back Paris to me, and that last night there, when I bade Freeman good-bye. Poor old boy, I’m glad better days are coming for him. Sure to be better, if he marries Clare. Why didn’t he do it seven years ago, and save all that other horrible business?”

Then he moved on, noticing that he was the object of remark, but as it was daytime, and in the street he felt himself safe. Glancing up at a doorway he saw a familiar Paris name–Cafe Voisin. This was interesting. It was in the Cafe Voisin that he had touched a farewell glass with Luke Freeman, the one bosom friend of his life. He entered this Cafe Voisin with the thought of how vague would be the society which he would meet in such a reproduction of a famous Parisian haunt. He thought of a Cafe chantant at Port Said, and said to himself, “It can’t be worse than that.” He was right then. The world had no shambles of ghastly frivolity and debauchery like those of Port Said.

The Cafe Voisin had many visitors, and Shorland saw at a glance who they were–liberes, or ticket-of-leave men, a drunken soldier or two, and a few of that class who with an army are called camp-followers, in an English town roughs, in a French convict settlement recidivistes. He felt at once that he had entered upon a trying experience; but he also felt that the luck would be with him, as it had been with him so many times these late years. He sat down at a small table, and called to a haggard waitress near to bring him a cup of coffee. He then saw that there was another woman in the room. Leaning with her elbows on the bar and her chin in her hands, she fixed her eyes on him as he opened and made a pretence of reading La Nouvelle Caledonie. Looking up, he met her eyes again; there was hatred in them if ever he saw it, or what might be called constitutional diablerie. He felt that this woman, whoever she was, had power of a curious kind; too much power for her to be altogether vile, too physically healthy to be of that class to which the girl who handed him his coffee belonged. There was not a sign of gaudiness about her; not a ring, a necklace, or a bracelet. Her dress was of cotton, faintly pink and perfectly clean; her hair was brown, and waving away loosely from her forehead. But her eyes–was there a touch of insanity there? Perhaps because they were rather deeply set, though large, and because they seemed to glow in the shadows made by the brows, the strange intensity was deepened. But Shorland could not get rid of the feeling of active malevolence in them. The mouth was neither small nor sensuous, the chin was strong without being coarse, the figure was not suggestive. The hands–confound the woman’s eyes! Why could he not get rid of the feeling they gave him? She suddenly turned her head, not moving her chin from her hands, however, or altering her position, and said something to a man at her elbow–rather the wreck of a man, one who bore tokens of having been some time a gallant of the town, now only a disreputable citizen of a far from reputable French colony.