Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/50

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been placed on board, when, previous to my taking leave of the officers and their families, I was called to the door by a visitor—one of my convicts. He stood barefooted and uncovered, his warped, reddish-brown hat held in his left hand behind him, his coarse shirt of dirty cotton cloth hung, in the customary fashion, outside his coarse trousers, and these were rolled half-way up his bare, brown legs. He laid his right forearm across his forehead like a timid child, and when asked, "And what is it, Feliciano?" he said: "My patron, pardon me, eh? but it is all I have. Here are some squashes I have brought for your lordship to take back to the world with you," and he pointed with his leather hat toward six enormous squashes that lay upon the floor of the veranda, and which he had brought during the night from a distant part of the island. My embarrassment may be realized in some degree when I say that I knew that, excepting only the clothes he wore, these six squashes were the sum total of that poor fellow's earthly possessions. I knew, too, how serious an offense it would be to decline his present, so there was nothing to be done but to accept it and take his squashes "back to the world" with me. If the matter had ended here, it would have caused me no serious inconvenience; but, before the steamer sailed, a whole wagon-load of squashes had accumulated on the floor of the veranda, and all of them had to be accepted and taken away.

When the time for my embarkation had arrived, the officers of the station accompanied me to the beach, where they bade me farewell in that affectionate and touching manner so characteristic of Brazilian gentlemen. After these had withdrawn, there came about me seven men with rough clothing—what there was of it—rough, hard hands, and hard faces. They stood uncovered, and, without speaking a word, one after another held out to me a thick, horny right hand. One of them then stooped and took me on his back, and, wading out to the great raft, left me to be transferred to the steamer. That afternoon I saw this lofty, beautiful, but sin-cursed Fernando sink slowly into the ocean; and the last sight I had of it was when, as the sun went down, it touched with crimson and gold a cloud-banner that streamed away like a pennant from the summit of its majestic peak.[1]

  1. In view of what I have said of the moral condition of the convicts confined on this island, it is but just that I should add that in the year following my visit, that is, in 1877 the Imperial Government of Brazil appointed a commission for the purpose of elaborating a prison system for the country. The President of the Province of Pernambuco held out to the Legislative Assembly of that province the hope that Fernando de Noronha would not be overlooked by this commission. Said he, "The grave social, economic, and moral questions here involved will be settled." It is to be hoped, too, that the transfer of this penal colony from the Department of War to that of Justice will also be conducive to a better prison system.