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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/49

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39
THE CONVICT-ISLAND OF BRAZIL.

a lonely, desolate, and forbidding place. A phrase in common use among the inhabitants of that island expresses better than anything else could the general feeling of the prisoners in regard to their isolation and separation from all that is interesting and attractive to them on earth. For them, and in their minds, the earth is divided into two parts, one of which—that inhabited by themselves—is known as Fernando, the other part is known and usually spoken of as "the world." This term was in constant use, and I frequently heard among them such expressions as these: "When I was in the world," "This came from the world."

It is often asked whether there was not great danger in trusting one's self with men so many of whom were known to be desperate characters. This question can not be answered for every one at the same time, because whether there would be danger would depend almost entirely upon how one conducted himself. The commandant was so solicitous regarding my personal safety, when I first began my work on the island, that he wished to send an escort of soldiers with me in order to secure me against possible danger, and it was with difficulty that I persuaded him to allow me to dispense with such cumbersome attendance.

When working in parts of the island remote from the village I sometimes found it necessary to pass the night in the huts of the convicts. At such times I was never treated otherwise than with respect by them, and I never had the least reason to feel disturbed about my personal security. One day, when alone in my room in the house of the commandant, a tall mulatto came to the door and handed me a begging letter, written in very poor Portuguese. In this letter he called himself my "afflicted fellow-countryman." Addressing him in English, I found that he had been an American sailor, and was here for murder. As he seemed eager to be in my service, I employed him; but, when I informed the commandant of the arrangement, he endeavored to dissuade me from having him about me, assuring me that he was the most unconscionable, incorrigible criminal in the entire settlement. In spite of these protests, I took my "fellow-countryman" with me, and for three days his services gave entire satisfaction. At the end of that time he was discharged for the only impoliteness shown me during my stay upon the island.

Abandoned and unscrupulous as so many of the convicts were, I found them susceptible to the ameliorating influences of fair wages and reasonable treatment—a susceptibility due to some extent, perhaps, to the general absence of considerate treatment in their present lives—and when I left Fernando some of those whom I had employed manifested their good-will toward me in a way of their own. On the morning upon which the steamer was to sail for Pernambuco, my collections and baggage had all, as I thought.