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Rope’s End
by [?]

As he picked his teeth, Colonel Petithomme Laguerre turned his eyes to the right, peering idly into the shadows of a tamarind-tree, the branches of which overtopped the hut. Suspended from one of these was an inert shape, mottled with yellow patches where the moonbeams filtered through the leaves. It stirred, swayed, turned slowly, resolving itself into the figure of an old man. He was hanging by the wrists to a rawhide rope; his toes were lightly touching the earth.

“So! Now that Monsieur Rameau has had time to think, perhaps he will speak,” said the colonel.

A sigh, it was scarcely a groan, answered.

“Miser that you are!” impatiently exclaimed the colonel. “Your money can do you no good now. Is it not better to part with it easily than to rot in a government prison? You understand, the jails are full; many mulattoes like you will be shot to make room.”

“There is no–money,” faintly came the voice of the prisoner. “My neighbors will tell you that I am poor.”

Both men spoke in the creole patois of the island.

“Not much, perhaps, but a little, eh? Just a little, let us say.”

“Why should I lie? There is none.”

“Bah! It seems you are stubborn. Congo, bring the boy!” Laguerre spoke gruffly.

A man emerged from the shadows at the base of the tree and slouched forward. He was a negro soldier, and, with musket and machete, shuffled past the corner of the hut in the direction of the other houses, pausing as the colonel said:

“But wait! There is a girl, too, I believe.”

“Yes, monsieur. The wife of Floreal.”

“Good! Bring them both.”

Some moments later imploring voices rose, a shrill entreaty in a woman’s tones, then Congo and another tirailleur appeared; driving ahead of them a youth and a girl. The prisoners’ arms were bound behind them, and although the girl was weeping, the boy said little. He stepped forward into the candle-light and stared defiantly at the blue-and-gold officer.

Floreal Rameau was a slim mulatto, perhaps twenty years old; his lips were thin and sensitive, his nose prominent, his eyes brilliant and fearless. They gleamed now with all the vindictiveness of a serpent, until that hanging figure in the shadows just outside turned slowly and a straying moonbeam lit the face of his father; then a new expression leaped into them. Floreal’s chin fell, he swayed uncertainly upon his legs.

“Monsieur–what is this?” he said, faintly.

The girl cowered at his back.

“Your father persists in lying,” explained Laguerre.

“What do you–wish him to say?”

“A little thing. His money can be of no further use to him.”

“Money?” Floreal voiced the word vacantly. He turned to his wife, saying, “Monsieur le Colonel asks for money. We have none.”

The girl nodded, her lips moved, but no sound issued; she also was staring, horror-stricken, into the shadows of the tamarind-tree. Her arms, bound as they were, threw the outlines of her ripe young bosom into prominent relief and showed her to be round and supple; she was lighter in color even than Floreal. A little scar just below her left eye stood out, dull brown, upon her yellow cheek.

Laguerre now saw her plainly for the first time, and shook off his indolence. He swung his legs from the hammock and sat up. Something in the intensity of his regard brought her gaze away from the figure of Papa Rameau. She saw a large, thick-necked, full-bodied black, of bold and brutal feature, whose determined eyes had become bloodshot from staring through dust and sun. He wore a mustache, and a little pointed woolly patch beneath his lower lip. Involuntarily the girl recoiled.

“Um-m! So!” The barefoot colonel rose and, stepping forward, took her face in his harsh palm, turning it up for scrutiny. His roving glance appraised her fully. “Your name is–“


“To be sure. Well then, my little Pierrine, you will tell me about this, eh?”

“I know nothing,” she stammered. “Floreal speaks the truth, monsieur. What does it mean–all this? We are good people; we harm nobody. Every one here was happy until the–blacks rose. Then there was fighting and–this morning you came. It was terrible! Mamma Cleomelie is dead–the soldiers shot her. Why do you hang Papa Julien?”