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Rope’s End
by [?]

Floreal broke in, hysterically: “Yes, monsieur, he is an old man. Punish me if you will, but my father–he is old. See! He is barely alive. These riches you speak about are imaginary. We have fields, cattle, a schooner; take them for the Republic, but, monsieur, my father has injured no one.”

Petithomme Laguerre reseated himself in the hammock and swung himself idly, his bare soles scuffing the hard earthen floor; he continued to eye Pierrine.

Now that young Rameau had brought himself to beg, he fell to his knees and went on: “I swear to you that we are not traitors. Never have we spoken against the government. We are ‘colored,’ yes, but the black people love us. They loved Cleomelie, my mother, whom the soldiers shot. That was murder. Monsieur–she would have harmed nobody. She was only frightened.” The suppliant’s shoulders were heaving, his voice was choked by emotion. “She is unburied. I appeal to your kind heart to let us go and bury her. We will be your servants for life. You wish money. Good! We will find it for you. I will work, I will steal, I will kill for this money you wish–I swear it. But old Julien, he is dying there on the rope–“

Floreal raised his tortured eyes to the black face above him, then his babbling tongue fell silent and he rose, interposing his body between Pierrine and the colonel. It was evident that the latter had heard nothing whatever of the appeal, for he was still staring at the girl.

Floreal strained until the rawhide thongs cut into his wrists, his bare, yellow toes gripping the hard earth like the claws of a cat until he seemed about to spring. Once he turned his head, curiously, fearfully, toward his young wife, then his blazing glance swung back to his captor.

The silence roused Laguerre finally, and he rose. “Speak the truth,” he commanded, roughly, “otherwise you shall see your father dance a bamboula while my soldiers drum on his ribs with the cocomacaque.”

“He is feeble; his bones are brittle,” said the son, thickly.

“As for you, my little Pierrine, you will come to my house; then, if these wicked men refuse to speak, perhaps you and I will reach an understanding.” Laguerre grinned evilly.

“Monsieur–!” With a furious curse Floreal flung himself in the path of the black man; the wife retreated in speechless dismay.

Petithomme thrust young Rameau aside, crying, angrily: “You wish to live, eh? Well, then, the truth. Otherwise–“

“But–she? Pierrine?” panted Floreal, with a twist of his head in her direction.

“I may allow her to go free. Who can tell?” He led the girl out across the moonlit clearing and to the largest house in the group. He reappeared, making the door fast behind him, and returned, stretching himself in the hammock once more.

“Now, Congo,” he ordered, “let us see who will speak first.” Taking a pipe from his pocket, he filled it with the rank native tobacco and lighted it. The tirailleur he had addressed selected a four-foot club of the jointed cocomacaque wood, such as is used by the local police, and with it smote the suspended figure heavily. Old Julien groaned, his son cried out. The brutality proceeded with deliberation, the body of old Julien swung drunkenly, spinning, swaying, writhing in the moonlight.

Floreal shrank away. Retreating until his back was against the table, he clutched its edge with his numb fingers for support. He was young, he had seen little of the ferocious cruelty which characterized his countrymen; this was the first uprising against his color that he had witnessed. Every blow, which seemed directed at his own body, made him suffer until he became almost as senseless as the figure of his father.

His groping fingers finally touched the candle at his back; it was burning low, and the blaze bit at them. With the pain there came a thought, wild, fantastic; he shifted his position slightly until the flame licked at his bonds. Colonel Laguerre was in the shadow now, watching the torture with approval. Maximilien, the other soldier, rested unmoved upon his rifle. Floreal leaned backward, and shut his teeth; an agony ran through his veins. The odor of burning flesh rose faintly to his nostrils.