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As published in The Sydney Mail, Australia, 3 March 1926

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MARGARET was singing in the new trade-house that overlooked the white thunderbolts of surf. The natives of Rosary Island called her tamamalu (singing bird). What they called her father, Dan Jevons, does not matter, since his money was good and his skin white.

The lagoons and reefs of Rosary Island brought wealth to the tight-fisted Dan. His weather-board trade-house was packed with fabric from Manchester and Sydney. The kinky-haired natives gaped longingly at the tiers of tobacco piled on the high shelves, at the turkey-red twill and gay shawls that Margaret handled so deftly when the chiefs brought their women to trade.

The slim-waisted girls of Rosary brought coral and copra to the store, laughing and pushing each other in the doorway, decking their hair with scarlet blossoms before the little cracked mirror inside. Although numbers of nickel-plated scissors and knives had a trick of disappearing before her eyes, Margaret rarely scolded these light-fingered daughters of headmen. For every yard of pilfered dress goods, Margaret was sure to receive presents of handsome mats, seed pearls, or plumes from the heron hatcheries. A few books for the schooners' captains decorated Margaret's shelves. Once a month these trade-blown adventurers dropped in for a pow-wow with Dan Jevons. Accounts were squared, and the habits of some shiftless copra-maker discussed.

"The missions have sp'iled 'em, Dan," was the dark lament of the latest visitor, Hake Jamieson, from Sud. Est. "I remember when Rosary was sendin' eighty barrels of oil a month to Sydney. Now it's like squeezing blood outa bananas to git ten barrels for a schooner's hold.

"It's discipline they want, not prayers."


"It's discipline they want, not prayers."

"The discipline of a Bully Hayes," Margaret interrupted from her counter at the end of the trade-room. "When the chiefs sulked and kept back the copra Hayes used to fire the villages and carry off the boys and women to the Fiji plantations. That was a great help to struggling traders!" she added scornfully. "The mission's job is to doctor the sick and feed the native children in time of famine."

Margaret retired to her white walled room on the beach side of the trade-house. She was eighteen, and tall as a young bamboo. She loved the cool, deep-shadowed verandah, the wonderful nights when the moon sailed like a giant breadfruit over the glittering spike-crested palms.

THE wind had gone down with the sun. Margaret placed a reading-lamp on a table beside the hammock on the verandah. All along the beach the surf was breaking in flakes of white. From the trade-room there came the high-pitched, complaining voice of Hake Jamieson as he tumbled one piece of trade calico after another across the board. The sound of her father's slippered feet reached her when he pattered in and out after his missing box of cigars.

"Why, it's the talk of the islands, Dan," Hake went on, while the sound of a match striking told Margaret that the cigars had arrived. "That lad, Gif Arliss, Dan. Lived at Pentecost. You ain't forgotten him?"

"Me? I'll never forget that kid," Dan assured him, coughing away some smoke. "Did all I could to wake up the consuls. But that crowd at Noumea was too strong for us. They hid the lad in the nickel mines, gave him a number, and told the deputation of white traders to saw wood when they demanded Arliss's release."

Silence followed. Margaret put aside her book. Her heart ceased to beat as she listened. Gifford Arliss! Three years before, a party of French surveillants from Īle Nou had come upon Gifford Arliss fishing from his lugger within a prescribed shell area off St. Jean's reef. The lugger and Gifford, aged eighteen, had been towed into Noumea to be dealt with by the Marine Tribunal. Later young Arliss appeared before the Procurator of Justice, but official anger had been fanned by the recent raising of valuable shell from the Government preserves by the unauthorised visitors. The Procurator's verdict was never made public, but it was known that Arliss would never again repeat his poaching exploits within the sacred waters of the Administration.

Margaret had known Arliss, the leggy, sea-browned young diver of Pentecost Island. He sold shell to her father, spent the proceeds generally on the thankless native children of the mission house. To scare Margaret he had often fallen from a schooner's topsails into the shark-infested water. But, though Arliss had always proved too nimble for the swift-moving man- eaters, he had somehow failed in his perilous enterprise off St. Jean's reef.

The sound of Hake moving about the trade-room again roused Margaret from her brooding. Her father's voice was quite distinct on the hot night air.

"There's nobody listening, Hake. The two servants are away. There's only Margo on the other side of the house."

"It's discipline they want, not prayers."

Hake's peering shadow receded from the window of the trade- room. The clink of a gin bottle against a glass was followed by the creaking of a chair as he subsided among the cushions.

"It's this, Dan. Three days ago I crossed the Bulari Passage, outside Noumea Harbour. The fort gun was barking the news that some poor devil had made his getaway. Seein' that there was seventy evasions a month among the eight thousand prisoners scattered over the islands, the old fort gun works a lot of overtime," Hake rumbled from his chair. "Coming into Rosary this morning," he went on hoarsely, "I passed that old schooner Auk, out from Invercargill and loaded for Batavia. Old Jim Petrie was on the bridge. You remember he was Arliss's father's partner, back in the 'eighties. Old Jim Petrie. When I came up to the wind Jim leans over the rail to yell out that Gif Arliss had got away on a raft of sticks from the island of hell. Better still, a schooner had picked the lad up without asking any silly questions."

Margaret inhaled a deep breath of the fragrant night. Her young body remained still as death in the silk tasselled hammock. Arliss had beaten them at last! There was a flash of tears on her cheek. Hake's voice boomed again after what seemed an interminable silence.

"Well, Dan, it's fine weather for the young coconuts, and time I was movin'. I'll get this tide, and bring you some letters next trip. Good night, an' don't forget to save me a dozen cases of the old square-face. The beetle's pretty bad in the north," he added, stepping from the verandah to the beach. "Plenty beetle means no dam copra, no oil."

His voice died away in rumbling protests as he stumbled towards his schooner alongside the jetty. An hour later his foretop light was winking over the star-blazed horizon.

MARGARET sat up in the hammock and listened. The dusky head of Naura, daughter of the headman Goa, was peering at her from the creeper lined trellis. Naura belonged to the Loyalty Islands, and was a constant visitor to the trade-house. But never before had she ventured to call after dark.

"Why do you come here, Naura?" Margaret questioned gently. The girl's sharp breathing filled her with uneasiness. Not for the love of nickel-plated scissors or the lust of enamelled hairpins had Naura stolen to the white girl's side.

Leaning through the flower-covered trellis, she spoke ten vowel-filled words in the vernacular and was gone, leaving only a faint tinkle of wrist ornaments on the stifling night air.

Margaret was beyond crying out or calling the shamble-footed father within the trade-room. She lay very still in the hammock, repealing to herself the unbelievable message flung to her by the terrified Naura.

Ages seemed to pass before her father shuffled to his room and to bed. She watched the lamp go out. Stepping uncertainly from the verandah, she turned towards a palm-screened promontory at the north side of the island.

SHE had dreamed of a vessel bearing Gifford Arliss beyond the reach of Procurator Generals and their decrees. It had comforted her to know that friendly hands had reached for the unlucky boy, that someone had bridged the lonely seas and carried him back to life.

Rosary Island was surrounded by a necklace of emerald-dotted atolls. Here and there a channel cut through the necklace in gleaming shears of foam. It was a nest of islands and sleeping forests. Outside this belt of reefs and lagoons a twenty-foot surf raved and spouted eternally.

Margaret was too young to feel the unutterable loneliness that afflicted older people. She saw only the immeasurable beauty and wonder of these tiny island kingdoms, the white-crested reefs and shoulders of coral that peeped like sheeted virgins from the mirrors of a hundred lagoons.

The moon was high in the glowing void of the Pacific. Beaches and atolls seemed to blaze in the crystal clearness of the tropic midnight. The tide played about her feet like shawls of silver. Slowly she moved from shoal to shoal, turning at times in the direction of the trade-house at every fresh sound in her wake. In the shelter of a coral bank she came upon it with dramatic suddenness. It was the crouched-up figure of a half-naked youth, arms outstretched, a coloured rag bound about his head. Bare of foot, his scanty canvas rags seemed to have been torn from his body by the force of the wind and sea.

Margaret had never forgotten the slender poise of Arliss's active figure, his bare, shapely feet, the very lines of his chin and mouth. All fear left her as she stooped beside him, her warm fingers clasping his pulse. She had seen dead men and boys thrown up on this reef, boys who had often retained the terror of the reef-walls in their wide-staring eyes.

Skillfully she massaged his heart region, drawing back his arms from time to time to fill his lungs with life-giving air. His body was warm and flexible as a live panther's. He stirred suddenly, sat up with a gasp of surprise. The dream mists in his eyes cleared at the sight of Margaret.

There followed a silence, a long silence that often comes between children after years of separation.

"Hake Jamieson's story was a lie," Margaret said, without stirring. "He said a schooner had picked you up from the raft, and that you were on your way to Batavia."

He was guilty of a grin as he pulled the twist of coloured rag from his brow.

"The scheme went wrong," he said with difficulty, his eyes exploring Margaret's troubled face. "The schooner had waited for days outside Noumea Harbour to pick me up when I slipped down the Dumbea Passage, She came to me hand-over-fist the moment my bundle of sticks was sighted They pulled me aboard, and the skipper sent someone below to get me a suit of clothes. The crew handed me cigarettes. I was free, they said. Only the devil or a tidal wave could send me back to Noumea."

Margaret blanched. "And?" she prompted desperately.

"The gunboat Gambelta was reported off Pentecost," he told her with a shrug. "That was enough for my schooner friends. With a rich cargo of furs aboard they were not taking risk of being caught and taken to Noumea, charged with aiding a prisoner's escape. The skipper said he was mighty sorry. All he could do was to run the schooner close in to Rosary at dark and drop me near the beach. There was no doubt about the dropping," he added, rubbing his reef-scarred shoulders and arms.

"There is no security here," Margaret cried bitterly. "Only fools and desperate men come to Rosary. The French guard-boats know every shoal and channel."

He stood up in the shadow of the reef to stretch his water- cramped limbs. There were tiny blood-bruises on his brow where the waves had pounded him on the shoals.

"I will not bring calamity on your house Margaret," he told her steadily. "Please don't stay here a minute longer. I'll find a canoe somewhere on the beach. Maybe I'll take some finding once I'm clear of Rosary."

"You wouldn't go ten miles in a native canoe, Gifford," she prophesied sharply. Her young nerves were on edge now. "Come to the house; there's plenty of shadow if you keep close to the reef. The guard-boat will be here at sunrise. Let's think of a way to safety."

"YOU don't get enough sleep, Margo," Dan complained next morning at breakfast. "What took you so early, to the mission house?" he demanded over his cup of black coffee.

Margaret ate some dry toast before answering. There was a strange brightness in her eyes, a feverish uncertainty in her movements.

"Another sister has come to the mission house to help old Teresa with the children. She is coming here early this morning. I've asked her to stay a day or two, Daddy. I hope you don't mind?"

Dan Jevons had raised a hard-boiled egg on his fork and sprinkled it with pepper and mustard, as was his custom after a few extra glasses of gin overnight. It stayed in the air while he glared at his daughter.

"A sister of the mission coming here!" he exploded, dropping the egg and snapping the chair back in his effort to recover it.

"Heligoland! That's pretty thick, Margo," he objected sulkily.

"She won't interfere with you at all, Dad," Margaret assured him sweetly. "I'm giving her the box-room at the end of the passage, She's from the Convent of St. Joseph of Cluny. The poor thing has been worked to death. I'll see that she gets her meals separate. I think we owe the mission something, Daddy. The natives are better for being able to read and write."

Dan subsided into a sullen silence. It was a year since he had visited the mission house on the limestone bluff. Some consolation lay in the fact that these sisters kept to themselves.

"All right, Margo," he said at last, his manner softening at the recollection of the timely help the mission had rendered him in the early days. "Give her a couple of cases of biscuits and a dozen jars of that German magnesia for the kids. Tell her she can stay as long as she likes."

Old Dan rose from the table and shuffled out to the blazing verandah. Beyond the distant reefs the sea stretched like the floor of a cloud under the hot windless sky. He was due for a visit to Linbara, the chief at Luluku Island, fifteen miles due north. Linbara had promised him first pick of a cargo of sandalwood and trade coral the canoes had brought in from Espiritu Santo.

After her father had gone Margaret tidied up the litter in the trade-room, and then settled herself to audit the three hundred native accounts entered into the big brown ledger on the desk. The voices of the children singing in the distant school-room reached her. From the open window where she sat she observed a sudden commotion among the swarms of sooty-winged terns squalling above the fees.


A forty-foot launch, flying the tricouleur, swept into the channel and settled under the high bank out of view of the trade-house. Margaret remained poring over the ledger until the strain of waiting, fretted her swift-racing; thoughts. Passing to the verandah she saw a solitary figure striding slowly across the beach towards the house. He wore an old military cape; his eyes were almost hidden by a long-peaked cap. In the distance he resembled a giant spider in uniform; the aggressive elbows and jutting sword-point completed the illusion of moving tentacles and claws. It was Chagrat, agent of the Marine Tribunal at Noumea.

Margaret's glance was fixed on the flapping cape, the bony elbows of the man whose name was linked with the detection of unbelievable crimes and conspiracies. Once he paused to scan the recent tide marks across the long sweep of flesh-white sands. The beady eyes beneath the shining peak of the cap seemed to read and explore the scraps of broken coral at his feel. Finally his birdlike face turned to the trade-house. Margaret stood in the doorway, where the white blaze from the sea struck her shrinking eyes. She was conscious of the halting shadow, realised that the boot of Chagrat, the infallible agent of the Procurator-General, was resting on the step of the verandah.

He bowed low.

"It is the daughter of my good friend Jevons who greets me," he murmured.

Margaret shrank away. All the blood had drained from her cheeks. It was as though an octopus had come out of the sea to claim her acquaintance. "M'f!" He sniffed like a starved cat before her.

"I have been on a hunt after my children," he mumbled with a slit grin. He jerked a thumb to the burning skyline. "Some of the strong birds try to bend their cage, Ma'm'selle. They go mad and flap loose for a leetle while. Would you believe me, they are so clever they can split a banknote; some have the brains to manipulate great schemes, forge letters of credit, practice in medicine. Yet, Ma'm'selle, they will trust their lives out there on a few lashings of firewood to see the world again. They have no sense of circumference," he added, stepping to the verandah.

Margaret held herself in the doorway, a frozen feeling clutching at her nerves.

"What does m'sieur demand?" she inquired steadily.

He bowed again. "An hour's rest, Ma'm'selle, in the cool shelter of your house. I am no longer young. In an hour I shall return to the island to report the success of my mission."

Margaret's clear eyes answered the subtle challenge in his hawk-like thrust. "Pray come in and rest awhile, M'sieur," she invited gently. "Let us hear about your success."

CHAGRAT, the man-hunter, settled his sprawling limbs in a rattan chair near an open window. A sudden hush had fallen over the island. The low, murmuring voices in the taro fields had died away. The news had gone forth that the agent of the Procurator General was among those nosing the air like a hound at fault.

"M'sieur would enjoy some light refreshment?" Margaret found courage to say.

"Give me a cigarette."

He gestured towards a small platinum box on the shelf near his head. With a steady hand Margaret held the box before him, while the sabre-like nose brooded over its half-empty condition. He seemed to be listening to the sounds about the house. Slowly, very slowly, he took out a cigarette and lit it.

"Dieu! It is a good one!" he murmured with gusto as the first gulp of Picadura filled his lungs. "Listen, Ma'm'selle. I have caught more birds with my bails of tobacco than would fill a big ship. 'Cre tonnerre! Men die for it.

"Five nights gone, Ma'm'selle, two convicts from the Collective put to sea on sticks from pandanus leaves. The mat of leaves served for a sail, a paddle of wood for a helm. They lay flat on this crazy scuttle, and when they unstepped the leetle mast they could not be seen for a mile away.

"Ma'm'selle, I went after them. It is my work. Sacre bleu! Do not the planters and people of the islands complain that our cutthroats and forgers are allowed to overrun the villages, steal boats, threaten women and natives?

"I found these two, the one from the slums of Argenteuil, the other a garotter from Marseilles. Their scuttle had struck the reefs in a place where there was no food, no water. A skeleton island; a boneyard of dead reefs."

The agent of the Procurator sat up in the rattan chair and batted his lashless eyelids. "They were asleep in the graveyard of ships, Ma'm'selle, the garotte and the man from Argenteuil. Tigers the sea had shaken from her bosom."

Margaret covered her face. The slit grin expanded on Chagrat's lips.

"Myself, Ma'm'selle, I am all for peace and honourable settlements. They were sleeping soundly after their tussle with the sea. I had not the heart to waken them. They were hungry, thirsty, Ma'm'selle; they had no tobacco. It is not a fact that the agents of the Procurator are devils; I crept among the rocks and placed a cigarette tin where it would catch their eyes on waking. It was a big tin, but it contained but one cigarette, Ma'm'selle."

"One?" Margaret echoed bleakly. Chagrat twined his long legs in blissful appreciation of the thought. "One only, Ma'm'selle. I returned to where my good comrades sat waiting my orders. I told them there was no need to hurry those two poor fellows on the reef. They had a right to an hour's freedom.

"Myself and comrades in the big launch we opened what was left of our wine; we ate a leetle, and lay down to sleep. At the break of day, Ma'm'selle, we heard savage noises, grunts on the reef above us. Never shall I forget those howls! Up and down and across the rocks they fought, fist and knife and claw. Caged devils! The rocks ran red with their tearing fingers, their blows and stabs. Now the garotter had the tin; then the other, with a lump of coral, smashed in the hairy face of the garotter, raised the tin, and himself fell in a heap, Ma'm'selle."

Chagrat rose, and approached the platinum box of cigarettes thoughtfully, sifted them with Epicurean fingers, as one recalling the scramble on the reef for possession of the solitary fag.

"We buried them in the coral, Ma'm'selle, those two who had sworn to face death and misery together. We made a cross out of their steering oar, left them to the reefs and the birds. Allons!"

Chagrat turned very slowly to the white-lipped girl, the platinum box of cigarettes in his band.

"You do not smoke, Ma'm'selle?" he questioned carelessly.

"No, M'sieur."

"Your father, I know, indulges in the big fat Manila cheroots." The agent of the Procurator-General raised his head and turned towards the passage on their right, "Someone in the house is smoking these," he challenged unexpectedly, rapping the lid of the box with his knuckle. "I did not know you had friends in the house!"

Margaret strove to keep her head and feet. It would have been easy to say that Niko or Wauan, the kitchen servants, were indulging in cigarettes. But the frozen fear in her warned that he would not believe it. No trader in the Islands supplied native helps with expensive cigarettes.

CHAGRAT fell back into the rattan chair. A moment ago it looked as though he were about to depart.

"Ma'm'selle does not answer," he complained with growing austerity. "I do not come here to rip your roof or threaten your life. I am but the poor servant the Administration. So—I repeat, Ma'm'selle, you have an unknown friend in this house. Who? What name?"

His fist hit the table like a sledge. Margaret stood firm.

"It is Sister Angela, from the Convent of St. Joseph of Cluny. She is resting here for a few days, M'sieur."

Chagrat appeared impressed by Margaret's statement. A soft chuckle escaped him. "Ma'm'selle, you have put me in possession of a secret. It is a great joke! Sister Angela!"

A spasm of mirth seized him. Here was a sister inhaling and fuming like a soldier of the legion! It was too much! He seemed to settle in his chair, his mind at rest, while Margaret placed a cool lemon drink on the little table beside him. He sipped and smoked in silence, grinning occasionally at the thought of Sister Angela and the cigarettes.

Lots of people had tried to make Chagrat smile, to lift the bleak, barbed look from his face. Margaret had accomplished the feat. He wriggled and gasped in the rattan chair.

"You are kind, Ma'm'selle," he confessed, sipping his drink. "It is years since Chagrat laughed."

With some ostentation he drew a birthday book from his pocket, handed it to the amazed Margaret.

"Your autograph, Ma'm'selle," he begged. "People say that Chagrat of the island has no hobby. In that leetle book you will find the signature of the Directress of the Order of St. Gregory. There are many others. Your leetle signature, then, for remembrance, Ma'm'selle."

Margaret, signed with trembling fingers, returned the book with a wan smile. Chagrat nodded his thanks.

"I will go now," he stated, rising slowly. In the doorway he wheeled with startling suddenness, the autograph book held out.

"Idiot that I am! Why do I overlook the sweet sister from the Convent of St. Joseph of Cluny? Who am I to make distinctions with the fair ladies?"

Margaret hesitated.

"What does M'sieur require?" she begged in a scarce audible voice.

He leered at her with broken teeth. "The reverent autograph of our little sister in there, Ma'm'selle." He waggled a finger towards the shut door at the end of the passage on his right.

With her mind grown crystal clear under his fierce mental thrusts, she took the book and slipped down the passage. Opening the door of the room, she stepped in and very gently secured the little bolt under the lock as she closed the door behind her.

"Those cigarettes did it," she said in a choking whisper to a long figure stretched on a camp bed under a heavily-curtained window. The figure straightened with a yawn, sat up, tossing aside the nun's hood and veil Margaret had brought earlier in the morning.

"Monsieur Chagrat, from the island, begs your autograph, Sister Angela," Margaret prompted in a louder voice. "I know you are tired after your long journey. But—here is the book, sister."

Gifford Arliss drew away from the proffered book as though its presence poisoned the air.

"I can't touch it," he assured her in an under-breath. "The cover and leaves have been chemically prepared. He wants my finger-prints! When you return this book he can tell by his magnifying, glass whether I am in this room or not. He will only have to compare the marks with the enlarged photographs he's carrying in his pocket."

Margaret remained like an image of death beside the camp-bed. Then, taking her fountain pen, she wrote in a disguised hand the name of Sister Angela on the page next her own. She was careful to smudge the thick signature slightly in the blotting. With her trembling hand on the door, she addressed the figure of Arliss near the bed.

"You are very kind, Sister Angela, to oblige monsieur of the island. I am sorry to have interfered with your repose."

Arliss's murmured reply was cut short as Margaret opened the door. The lank figure of Chagrat in the passage barred her way.

"Comedienne!" He snatched the book from her hand. "I do not treasure forgeries." His long body projected itself into the room; the grin of the satisfied craftsman touched his lips as he contemplated Arliss.

"Matricule Number 3391, you will return with me to the Collective. Attend!" He turned with a scowl to Margaret standing in the passage. "You came near to beating me at my own game."

A dozen steps, carried the little group to the sun-blazed, verandah. A silver whistle flashed in Chagrat's fingers. Margaret met Arliss's lightening eyes, the question that sparkled in them. She shook her head.

A blow might have put this old sleuth out of commission for awhile. It was certain that his followers waiting in the launch would pick up Arliss before he could leave the island.

The end was here—the end of two years patient planning in the nickel mines of Noumea. There could never be another breakaway.

Two shrill calls came from the silver whistle. A sharp silence followed. Margaret put out her hand to the sun-tanned boy with the shut mouth and fugitive eyes.

"Good-bye, Giff. I wish Dad had been here. I didn't want to see you shot like a rabbit, or I'd have let you scrap it out with this—"

"Imp of destiny, Ma'm'selle," Chagrat snarled as he again sounded the whistle. The slowness of the guards in responding to his call was a matter to be dealt with later. The low thunder of seas breaking on the outer reefs filled the silence. Whirling across the verandah, he stared at the flagstaff inside the Mission House palisade. A yellow flag was flapping at half-mast, the official symbol of bubonic plague or confluent smallpox in the immediate vicinity.

The pink flesh under Chagrat's drum-tight jaws grew livid. It was as though a bullet had struck him between the eyes. He had seen the black scourge sweep over islands in a night, leaving only the sea-birds to watch the dead and dying. The silver whistle fell from his slack fingers. No need to tell him that his launch and guards had blown away at the first flutter of the yellow signal.

"You did not tell me!" he almost screamed in Margaret's face.

"I did not know," she informed him quietly. "The sickness comes and goes, M'sieur."

Chagrat scanned the distant channels in the frantic hope of sighting a passing vessel. His lungs gasped for a breath of the far south. He was not afraid of death, but this rotting pestilence from the yellow north? It ran faster than a wolf!

Margaret walked to the end of the verandah and took up a pair of glasses from the table. A single peep revealed a strange sight within the coral-paved yard of the Mission House. A native child of seven was squatting at the foot of the flagpole, the halyard twisted in its brown fingers as it hauled the symbol of death higher and higher in the slowly rising wind.

And just here Margaret observed the generous outline of Sister Teresa dash suddenly from the school entrance to the flag-hauling brat across the yard. Sister Teresa's cane fell with a whack on the meddlesome fingers. Margaret read the lip movement of the sister as she scolded the mischievous pupil.

"Child, who gave thee the flag?"

The culprit pointed to an oak chest within the vestibule of the church, explaining with alacrity that the visiting padre had shown the children how to hoist the Union Jack. This pretty yellow flag had been found at the bottom of the box. Margaret recognised the little fellow as Bambas, the brother of Naura.

The agent almost tore the glasses out of her hand. One peep at Sister Teresa and the little flag-puller was enough. His rage was not unmixed with relief.

"Fume of death! But I would make that infant smell rope for a week of Sundays. Cholera and plague flags!"

Peals of sudden laughter came from Margaret, laughter that stung the agent to his nerve-roots. He whirled on her angrily.

"Ma'm'selle, this is no time for school-girl fits," he reprimanded.

Margaret sank into a chair as one enjoying the effects of a priceless bit of comedy.

"Many apologies, M'sieur." She indicated the silent Arliss merrily. "Your prisoner will take back a fine story to the island; he will say how a child with a string and flag scattered the sacred guard of the Collective! Be sure the Procurator- General will enjoy the story over his wine. And how those poor fellows in the cobalt pits will treasure it."

"Name of a name! What was there to do?" the agent flung back.

"Run away," Margaret answered sweetly.

Chagrat rubbed his bristled chin reflectively. This laughing- eyed girl was right; Noumea would never forget the story. His picked guards from the Algerian depot had bolted like rats at the fluttering of a flag. Parbleu! It was the end of Chagrat's unsullied prestige among the hidebound officials of the Administration! The agent continued rubbing his chin.

Margaret sighed.

"But the brave M'sieur did not run away," she intimated consolingly. "With the flag of death hanging from the signal halyards at Rosary Island, he pursued the missing Matricule, Number 3391, tracked him to the forests, where he found him dead of the scourge. The very gallant M'sieur Chagrat stayed to bury the unfortunate man before returning to Noumea."

Margaret stood up, her beautiful eyes swimming.

"That is the story the Commandant and the Procurator-General will hear. It is the story that will live forever and ever. And not for all the wine of Burgundy would I be in the shoes of the runaway crew when the honoured Chagrat submits his report to the Tribunal!"

Chagrat stared at the sun and the reefs. He looked away from Margaret and the slim boy standing beside her. How those fellows had left him. He tightened his belt, while his brows buckled in thought.

It was Arliss who broke the tense silence.

"I am ready, M'sieur," he stated with humility.

Wrath blazed in the agent's eyes.

"Soul of the Pit! How can you return with me?" he bellowed. "There would be no stopping your mouth."

"M'sieu may depend—"

"Nothing!" Chagrat snarled back, his mind now fully alive to the fact that, his reputation would never survive the story of the flag-pulling infant and the runaway guard. The tale would never perish. He signed to Margaret.

"There is no boat for my return to Noumea," he rasped. "What?"

"There is a serviceable launch in the shed, M'sieur. It will carry you to Marchand Island, where the good traders will lend you something bigger to complete your journey."

Chagrat gained the boat-house hurriedly.

With Arliss's aid the launch was run down the skid into the channel. The motor was in good condition. Margaret slipped a bottle of cognac near the helm as Chagrat leaped aboard. For one blinding instant he met her glance, paused to note the flash of tears on her young cheek.

"Stand away!" he roared to Arliss. "You can never return to the island. You are dead, for did I not bury you in the forest? Plague!"

THE yellow flag was still flying when the launch sped seaward despite Sister Teresa's efforts to untangle the halyards. Chagrat saluted it with his sword in token of the fact that it was flying when he left the island.

"Sapristi!" he growled, buttoning his cape against, the wind. "It was my poor mother who said that the young birds always beat the old."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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