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a wooden shack

somnus

a wooden shack [ x 0 ]

Two days' steam southward from the Seychelles, and midway between the island of Mahé and Diégo-Suarez, on the north coast of Madagascar, lies the islet of Saint Pierre, whence comes much of the guano with which we fertilise our flower-beds and gardens, and those giant sea-turtles whose shells supply our women-folk with fans, combs, and brooches. Here, on this half a square mile of sun-baked rock in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Scotch manager of the syndicate which works the guano deposits lives the whole year round, during half of which time he sees no human face, [Pg 258] during the other half having the company of a few score blacks who are brought over from Mahé under contract to gather the rich deposits of guano. His only shelter
, his only companions the clouds of clamorous sea-fowl, his only fresh food turtles and fish, his only communication with the world two times a year when the workers come and go, I expected to find him unshaven and slovenly, the most exiled of all exiles, the loneliest of the lonely. I made up a bundle of two-months-old newspapers and pictured the pleasure it would give him to learn the news of that big, busy, teeming world which lay over there beyond the rim of the Indian Ocean. I imagined that he would cling to my arm and beg piteously for news from home, and I thought it quite possible that he might weep on my shoulder. But when a crew of blacks had taken me through the booming surf in a tiny native dugout, and I and my bundle of newspapers had been hauled up an overhanging cliff at the end of a rope, I found the poor exile whose lonely lot I had come to cheer immaculate in white linen and pipe-clayed shoes and wholly contented with the shade of a green palm, the murmur of a turquoise sea, a book of Robert Burns's verses, and the contents of a large black bottle.

When De Lesseps, that lean Frenchman with the vision of a prophet and the energy of a Parisian, drove his spade through the sands of Suez and thereby shortened the sea-road from Europe to the East by five thousand miles, he gave France her revenge on Saint Helena. [Pg 259] Ever since Clive won England her Indian empire, this obscure rock in the South Atlantic had been a prosperous half-way house on the road to the Farther East, its lonely islanders driving a roaring trade with the winged fleets of war and commerce that stopped there long enough to replenish their larders and refill their casks. But when the completion of the Canal altered the trade routes of the world, the tedious Cape journey was abandoned, the South Atlantic was deserted, and Saint Helena was ruined. By the genius of one of her sons, France had settled her score with that grim island, whose name still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Frenchmen the scene of a violent and murderous attack..

He who would see the prison place of the great Emperor for himself must be rich in time and patience, for the vessels that earn their government subsidy by grudgingly dropping anchor for a few hours in Jamestown's open roadstead are only indifferently good and very far between. Scarcely larger than the island of Nantucket—or Staten Island, if that conveys more meaning; almost midway between the fever-haunted coasts of Angola and Brazil; sixteen days' steam from Southampton Water and seven from Table Bay; its rockbound coasts as precipitous and forbidding as the walls of the Grand Canyon; and with a population less than that of many of New York's down-town office buildings, Saint Helena possesses one attraction, nevertheless, which more than repaid me for the long and arduous journey. That attraction is a mean and lonely cottage, set on a bleak and barren hill. To stand within [Pg 260] the walls of that wretched dwelling and to stare out across the wastes of ocean from that wind-swept hilltop, I travelled twenty thousand miles, for on that distant stage was played the last act of the mightiest tragedy of modern times.
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