“They call me Korong,” Felix answered, all tremulous, feeling himself now on the very verge of solving this profound mystery.
“And mademoiselle as well?” the Frenchman exclaimed, in a tone of dismay.
“And mademoiselle as well,” Felix replied. “At least, so I make out. We are both Korong. I have many times heard the natives call us so.”
His new acquaintance seized his hand with every appearance of genuine alarm and regret. “My poor friend,” he exclaimed, with a horrified face, “this is terrible, terrible! Tu-Kila-Kila is a very hard man. What can we do to save your life and mademoiselle’s! We are powerless! Powerless! I have only that much to say. I condole with you! I commiserate you!”
“Why, what does Korong mean?” Felix asked, with blanched lips. “Is it then something so very terrible?”
“Terrible! Ah, terrible!” the Frenchman answered, holding up his hands in horror and alarm. “I hardly know how we can avert your fate. Step within my poor hut, or under the shade of my Tree of Liberty here, and I will tell you all the little I know about it.”
THE SECRET OF KORONG.
“You have lived here long?” Felix asked, with tremulous interest, as he took a seat on the bench under the big tree, toward which his new host politely motioned him. “You know the people well, and all their superstitions?”
“Helas, yes, monsieur,” the Frenchman answered, with a sigh of regret. “Eighteen years have I spent altogether in this beast of a Pacific; nine as a convict in New Caledonia, and nine more as a god here; and, believe me, I hardly know which is the harder post. Yours is the first White face I have ever seen since my arrival in this cursed island.”
“And how did you come here?” Felix asked, half breathless, for the very magnitude of the stake at issue—no less a stake than Muriel’s life—made him hesitate to put point-blank the question he had most at heart for the moment.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman answered, trying to cover his rags with his native cape, “that explains itself easily. I was a medical student in Paris in the days of the Commune. Ah! that beloved Paris—how far away it seems now from Boupari! Like all other students I was advanced—Republican, Socialist—what you will—a political enthusiast. When the events took place—the events of ’70—I espoused with all my heart the cause of the people. You know the rest. The bourgeoisie conquered. I was taken red-handed, as the Versaillais said—my pistol in my grasp—an open revolutionist. They tried me by court-martial—br’r’r—no delay—guilty, M. le President—hard labor to perpetuity. They sent me with that brave Louise Michel and so many other good comrades of the cause to New Caledonia. There, nine years of convict life was more than enough for me. One day I found a canoe on the shore—a little Kanaka canoe—you