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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/45

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35
THE CONVICT-ISLAND OF BRAZIL.

story of this peculiar craft, and it was then drawn in near the shore by means of the cable. When we struck bottom I was taken on the wet, slippery, naked back of a convict, who waded ashore and deposited me on the dry beach. Everybody and everything landed from the raft, I was escorted by a man who took me in charge, and whom I afterward found to be a convict directed by the commandant to look after all persons and all things landing, and escorted up the very steep hill, through the well-paved streets of the village, to the house of the commandant, closely followed by the newly arrived convicts under guard.

The commandant I found to be a very aged man, an officer in the regular Brazilian army. His thin gray hair was cut close to his angular head, and his mustache was white with age and yellow with tobacco-smoke. He received me indifferently for a Brazilian, for, though he placed the island itself and everything and everybody on it at my orders, in true Brazilian style, I could see that there was a coolness beneath his politeness. I afterward found that this was due to a suspicion that I had been sent here by the Government upon some secret mission. This impression removed, he became heartily kind to me, and did all in his power to aid me in my work. He gave me a room in the official residence, the seat of honor at his bountifully served table, and a motley crew of convicts for servants, while the slender resources of the island were in reality placed at my disposal.

At the house of the commandant certain ones of the convicts were admitted freely and treated with more or less indulgence. The chief amusement of the officers of the garrison and their wives was to assemble during the evening around the big table in the reception-room in the official residence, and there to play kino. On such occasions (and this game was played every evening during my stay save two) there were from one to five privileged convicts standing about the room as lookers-on, and some of them were even invited to take, and did take, part in the game. At meal-time they frequently dropped into the dining-room, and gently encouraged the old governor to scold them while at his meal. Some of them, being ready conversationalists, were permitted to talk freely, and were even asked, before the meal was over, to take places at the great dining-table; and, though they always sat below the wine, were generally given some sweetmeats or a cup of coffee at the end of the meal.

Among the convicts thus specially privileged about the house was a tall, handsome Italian, apparently a man of education. He spoke, besides his native language, Spanish, German, some English, and Portuguese almost perfectly. I asked his story of the son of the commandant, who also told me the personal history of many of these men, and learned that he had killed five persons in less