Maurice du Chazand was attracted, in his own dispassionate way, to the English woman, Melanie Hodges. He had heard that she was separated from her husband – also English, it appeared – probably for a native woman – some of these natives were very lovely – but he kept his distance for unless she was seriously separated and getting a divorce there was no point in becoming involved. He was, albeit in a passive sort of way, on the look-out for a wife. He had done six years in Africa, two in the Gilbert Islands and now had three years’ work in Noumea. After that his wish was to retire early – he would be forty-four next year – to his vineyards in the Medoc, preferably with a wife. Back in his little town of Lesparre he assumed Francine le Grand was still waiting and hoping he would marry her – and if the worst came to the worst, he would – ( but he had never really fancied those huge child-bearing hips or her jam-making mother) – for she would make a good faithful wife who would doubtless produce a couple of children, who was of good local stock (her father was Monsieur le Maire) and whom he had known since school days. In the meantime if he could meet a pretty young woman like Melanie Hodges, that would be so much better. He took it all very seriously. He most certainly didn’t want to grow old alone and – even though old age was still a long way off – all this needed careful consideration.
I am accustomed, he wrote to his brother, to an active social life, to an international entourage, to not only mixing with people from all over the world and all walks of life but also with all sorts of tastes and aspirations. I dread the thought of settling down with a woman who has no conversation and who knows nothing beyond cooking and coffee mornings. I would not be happy. Our dear Francine le Grand is most charming, very kind, but I would rather find something a little more exotic – or at least a little different.
You write, his brother replied, almost as though you are choosing a new car!
This was a coincidence for du Chazan had just had a car shipped over from France. It had cost him a small fortune for it was a new Citroen, pale beige in colour with good cream-coloured leather upholstery. It was smooth and stream-lined and after all those years in the Congo, where he drove only landrovers, and sometimes pretty rough ones at that, made a more than welcome change. On arrival in Noumea he had been disappointed to find that most cars on the island were imported from Australia, usually Holdens or sometimes big old American cars. Not that he was a car man, he told himself, but it was most satisfying to seat himself in the comfortable Citroen with its hydraulic suspension and clean lines.
So du Chazan watched the Hodges woman discreetly. He didn’t mind about the little boy – he was of no particular interest and seemed healthy and intelligent. Du Chazan made a few casual and polite enquiries here and there from the other employees of the Commission. The Hodges woman had been abandoned, which was better than an agreed separation for it put her in the “right” somehow, and there was a rumour that another child was involved, not hers.
Sitting with his coffee on the Commission verandah, du Chazan often saw Melanie flit back and forth out of Hurst’s office. Fairly small (which suited him for he was not a big man) with long dark hair back-combed in to a chignon as was the fashion, she had pretty legs and occasionally he could glimpse a centimetre or two of lace petticoat under the full starched skirt. Something about her attracted him more than any other available woman in Noumea – and there were not many – and du Chazan settled back patiently to await the outcome.
His wait was brought to an abrupt end when the Hodges man was killed.
French Sand is a novel set in the South Pacific in the 1960s.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are on Kindle and Amazon, or can be ordered from most big book stores and libraries. More about Catherine Broughton, to include her sketches and stories from all over the world, on http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk