Towards the end come three convicts, chained together. They wear the brownish striped homespun, and do not look evil. They seem to be laughing together, not at all in distress. The two young soldiers who guard them, and who have guns, look nervous. So the convicts go forward to the steerage, past our cabins.
At last the soldiers are straightened up, and turned on board. There almost at once they start making a tent: drawing a huge tarpaulin over a cross rope in the mid-deck below us, between the first and second class regions. The great tarpaulin is pulled down well on either side and fastened down, and it makes a big[Pg 308] dark tent. The soldiers creep in and place their bundles.
And now it is the soldiers who fascinate the q-b. She hangs over the bar above, and peers in. The soldiers arrange themselves in two rows. They will sleep with their heads on their bundles on either side of the tent, the two rows of feet coming together inwards. But first they must eat, for it is eight o’clock and more.
Out come their suppers: a whole roast fowl, hunks of kid, legs of lamb, huge breads. The fowl is dismembered with a jack-knife in a twinkling, and shared. Everything among the soldiers is shared. There they sit in their pent-house with its open ends, crowded together and happy, chewing with all their might and clapping one another on the shoulder lovingly, and taking swigs at the wine bottles. We envy them their good food.
At last all are on board—the omnibus has driven up from town and gone back. A last young lout dashes up in a carriage and scuffles aboard. The crew begins to run about. The quay-porters have trotted on board with the last bales and packages—all is stowed safely. The steamer hoots and hoots. Two men and a girl kiss their friends all round and get off the ship. The night re-echoes the steamer’s hoots. The sheds[Pg 309] have gone all dark. Far off the town twinkles very sparsely. All is night-deserted. And so the gangway is hauled up, and the rope hawsers quickly wound in. We are drifting away from the quay side. The few watchers wave their white handkerchiefs, standing diminutive and forlorn on the dark little quay, in the heart of the dark, deserted harbour. One woman cries and waves and weeps. A man makes exaggerated flag-wagging signals with his white handky, and feels important. We drift—and the engines begin to beat. We are moving in the land-locked harbour.
Everybody watches. The commander and the crew shout orders. And so, very slowly, and without any fuss at all, like a man wheeling a barrow out of a yard gate, we throb very slowly out of the harbour, past one point, then past another, away from the encircling hills, away from the great lump of Tavolara which is to southward, away from the outreaching land to the north, and over the edge of the open sea.Share It