Melanie went to her brief case and dug out the papers. She spread them out over her desk, moving the ink bottle to one side along with various papers and pens. She flattened each one out carefully and placed them one next to the other so that they covered the entire table.
“This,” she said, pointing to the third page, “I think relate to the land where the shelter is. I wish I could ask Maurice, but I daren’t. They are old, dating to long before we came to Noumea, so it might be that they are in this bundle only as proof that the land belongs to somebody Greg knew. They are copies, I’m pretty certain of that. Not the originals. In my opinion they are included because the shelter had – or has – some significance and Greg wanted to draw attention to it.”
“Do you understand what it says?” asked Mat, peering at the papers Melanie pointed to.
“Well – yes, inasmuch as I can read French, though a lot of it is old legal jargon that doesn’t make sense to me. The thing is that they refer to Cadastral sections of land – and we have nothing to relate those cadastral figures to – there is no actual address, you see. The owner appears to be a native – there are loads of names here – dating back years and years – all of them odd, native names that I wouldn’t care to try to repeat.”
“And the Ile des Chevres?”
“In some ways that is the only part that is absolutely clear to me. Blip. I realize it sounds as though a child composed this, but that was his word for my sea-sickness. He used to get impatient with me – oh, you’re not going to have one of your blips are you ? That kind of thing. That means he meant me to go in a boat over to Ile des Chevres. That is clear. He has drawn the boat – Bill G Gruff – Billy Goat Gruff – goat island. That is also clear.”
“Yes, I’d agree with all that,” said Mat, “but we found the palm trees and the carvings. I think that was all there was.”
“We barely looked!”
“OK – we’ll go back and look further. His directions to Mont Rouge are clear too. Obscure enough for only you to understand though – so he was afraid of something or somebody. He didn’t want that person or thing to know that you were aware of … whatever.”
“Mmmmm. It’s all a bit obtuse. And then there are these – “ Melanie pointed to some symbols drawn in one corner. “Looks like Greek lettering – he would have had no idea about Greek lettering … ”
Mat glanced over to where she pointed. They had both poured over all the papers several times. Suddenly Mat drew in his breath sharply.
“Hey – no, it’s not … look!” Mat picked up a pen and a bit of paper and copied the symbols out, then did so again, reversing them. “Turn them around – mirror them, if you like – and it spells POUM. That’s the name of the furthermost point on the northern coast here, isn’t it?”
“Why yes – so it is. Clever you, Mat!”
“So, we must put that on our list of things to do,” he said. “How long would it take to drive up there?”
“Goodness – no idea – ages. It seems to be connected to the words tap, food and eye, too.”
“How d’you say those in French?”
“Un robinet, de la nourriture, un oiel.”
“Does that mean anything to you?”
Mat hired a different boat for their trip to the Ile des Chevres. Equally incongruously, it was named La Petite Fleur – the little flower – and again, Melanie was careful to not make their departure too obvious to anybody who may be watching. Neither she nor Mat had seen the native girl for several days but they had both learned that it seemed that as soon as they felt she had given up following them, she re-appeared.
“She seems to go away for several days at a time,” said Mat, “and to be honest, I couldn’t swear it is always the same girl, anyway.”
“What about that man over there – is he watching us ?” Melanie indicated with a jerk of her head an elderly native standing to one side of a small house. He wore a lava-lava and claquettes and he leant on a colourful walking stick, painted cheerfully with bright floral patterns in blue and yellow. He had substantial scars on both cheeks and over his nose.
“Dunno – maybe. Hard to tell. People do look at each other. It may be nothing.”
La Petite Fleur burst in to life amid petrol fumes and splutterings of the worn-out little outboard motor. She lurched forwards, making Melanie grip on tight while Mat steered through the blue waters, his left hand on the tiller, smiling slightly with his face turned in to the sun, eyes half closed against the wind and the bright light.
He is such a kind boy, thought Melanie, watching him. He avoided direct sunlight because his skin was so fair, and she could see bright red burns on his feet where his long light-weight cotton trousers ended and the sandals began. He tended to wear T-shirts, as all the young people seemed to, but today had on an open-necked island shirt with bright sunsets and tropical flora printed on it. The hair on his fore arms was almost white from bleaching in the sun, and that part of his skin, more accustomed to the light, had tanned lightly to a pale golden pink.
He grinned over at her.
“My sister will be over shortly,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“What’s her name?”
“And your other sister?”
Looking at Mat, young and so earnest, Melanie thought it was nearing the time to finish the search. She had no wish to traipse up to Poum and felt that she had wasted enough time and spent enough money on her little “detective”. Certainly, she reflected, it would be fascinating to know what this was all about – but Mat had hit the nail on the head when he had said that they had their own lives, she would go to France with Maurice, he would leave for Australia – probably meet some pretty girl and marry within a few years. He’d make a smashing dad. He’d been great company, but it was nearing time to call it a day. Suddenly she didn’t want to find out anyway – what the hell, she said to herself – what difference would it make to anybody or anything? It may well be that Greg was trying to tell me something important – but he is dead now, and life must move on.
“Maurice will be back within a week or so,” she said aloud.
“His mother died or something …?”
“Yes. He had to return to France to see his brother, deal with stuff.”
“Tough time for him.”
“Melanie – can I ask – why is it you don’t want to discuss any of this with your husband? It seems to me he should be the first person to talk to.”
“Oh, I know – I’ve often thought that – I don’t know – I suppose because in some ways it isn’t really all that important – I don’t want to bother him with it.”
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are on Amazon and Kindle or can be ordered from most book shops and libraries. Catherine Broughton blogs extensively about her world-wide travels and these can be found, along with her sketches from around the world, on http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk