Two Migrants Down Under
Man was born in Africa and migration spread humans all over. The earth belongs to nobody and migrating is natural to Man. In 20th Century Europe the war caused general ruin. Overseas White Powers welcomed European escapees; many settled in Sydney.
Two Migrants Down Under
Fernando García Izquierdo
For nearly four years now that part of the continent known as “Mittle Europa” had been castigated, by some mysterious evil force, with fights, deaths and ruin, and all the time things had been going from bad to worse: the shelling by the artillery, the tramping of the infantry and then, the most awful invention of all, the so-called carpet-bombing from the air, an English invention.
Many towns and cities had simply been wiped out. And, still more terrible than destruction, killing! the continual slaughter of the innocent. And the resulting refugees: many people were still treading on the ruins, alone or little groups, like ghosts floating about, whispering one to another in the ear. A monstrous Leviathan spitting out death and doing other fearful things that plunged previously proud people into real misery. Towns and cities all was devastation!
A paroxism of human madness and the wind blowing ashes and sparks this way that way, everywhere. And the resulting dark cloud shrouding like a painted veil all our universe. Hurrah!!! Weapons with a sharper edge, innovation!
The city that had suffered most was the ancient capital of a Germanic Kingdom of the Barbaric North, transformed now into a hundred square miles of wrinkled steel and fallen walls, broken glass, precious stones and broken bricks flowing onto a land of gravel and cinders, empty spaces, debris, human cadavers and phantoms hand-in-hand in quest probably of some new achievement, reform. Some precious object, idea to be found profitable: commercial value!
Who knows? Come, come! Rascal thieves. Here is gold. Something the Good God’s decided will be left? Weariness! Ambiental gloom it is also called… that leads to tears of the heart. The heart of woman is better. The tears more abundant. More in love.
How many have lost in this war everything? Poor Silwia, for instance, stalking an earth which was so concrete, so limited, four years ago: and now? big big earth, which has nothing to offer. Not any more. All has been thoroughly ruined, destroyed, her man has been killed. I now roam the earth.
… so many! they were called displaced persons, migrants, refugees or reffos. No longer a home, a family or a fatherland as she used to call her place of birth. All had been sent out of existence, swallowed up now by the war, and those left amongst the inhabitants of the region were still wondering. “What has happened? A sweet and subdued comforting magic (not simply intelligence) was needed to understand, reactivate or set in motion all those still alive.
… those wandering about old Mittel Europa were certain that the world had gone mad. They shook their heads and whispered to one another, and rarely settled to form a group. It was the force of inertia that kept them going, perhaps together. They stuck together for a while for a special purpose, then the wind scattered them. Men, women and children coming from the north, or coming from the south, and some times from the west, but particularly they came from the east. They were escapees from communism!
The advancing armies that, with the partisan guerillas, were actually liberating the people in all those parts where fascism had reigned supreme, were depicted, by a hidden force paid by the profiteers as “advancing communism”,
Manuel Diez was a man of twenty-four who had come to those parts from the south. He had been a student at Salamanca when the second world war began in northern Europe with the seizure by the Nazis of Poland; then came the defeat of France by the same enemy and the crowning of the right-wing Government of Marshal Philippe Pétain that same year.
One night, in Salamanca, coming out into a dark narrow street from a rather populous one, where he had been on the spree for an hour or two with some university pals, he was unlucky to be caught by the infamous “esquadras de la muerte” that roamed the streets in search of young men whom they forcefully enlisted in the Division Azul, an army corps which Spain sent to fight Russian communism. And they did enlist him, and to Russia he was sent.
By January, 1943, when the Red Army inflicted upon the German III Reich the
heaviest defeat a warring power could withstand, at the Battle of Stalingrad, Miguel Diez found himself alone, in the woods, on the defeated side, and he ran away for his life, not exactly knowing where he was going. He crossed the woods, sierras and mountains and landed upon an immense steppe, another forest, and he reached one night the bank of a fairly big river full of big berthed vessels and, by the banks, many broken rowing boats. No other sign of life.
Only from time to time did he see like a ghost manning the oars of a small boat, which made him think that he could do the same. So he went down and stole a rowing boat for himself, from amongst the trees and brambles on the bank, and crossed the river to what he thought must be a German city, perhaps the capital of an empire. He felt that purely by instinct. And more when he set his foot on it.
… this was the result of having been a warrior. Real life. Destruction was quite known to him. For hours he traversed now on his feet (like a lost phantom but stamping his army boots on the destroyed city of Dresden, result of carpet bombing.) It was desolation. Ruin swooping at a still bigger ruin, perhaps with unexploded bombs lying under the debris, hidden in a last embrace with Death. Buildings levelled to the ground, the single wall of what must have been a tall cathedral, pillars, the white columns of a fallen atrio, a single window to look through, stones falling down: broken bricks and glass, chunks of rose marble, the rests of some church or temple of another denomination, barracks and palaces of white marble or opaline construction, all in ruins. Some big pieces of some old historical chunk, a piece of rose marble now, crystal from old banquets, broken mirrors from ancient times, stained windows, the coloured face of an angel. Smashed constructions of past generations.
… he was still among the ruins near the river when he saw, floating bright like a magic cloud in the darkness a pretty blue-eyed angel, who talked to him so beautifully! Brightness and strange complete silence.
… this silence surrounding what must have been imposing landscape, now stones, ruinous avenues without life, was in an instant transformed into celestial music. “What are you doing?” she said in broken German, her gleaming blue eyes fixed on his. In the midst of the desolation that was heavenly glory.
… he felt like hiding himself. For the fact was that, for a soldier, he was doing something dishonorable. He had just got rid of his blue uniform of the Spanish Division and put on some clothes stolen from a corpse lying among the debris. “Where d’ye come from?” he asked, buttoning his tailor-cut trousers. She did not answer, but he saw her divine form approaching. ”And you?” she asked in turn. “From the south far away,” he answered. “My husband was taken by the Kommandatura to the war, but we aren’t German. He is dead,” she muttered.
Coming down the hill, where they had spent the night, silently holding hands, they proceeded along obliterated avenues, roads and alleyways, and came upon what might have been the town centre, for here the ruins all seemed to be of good ancient things like palaces, archbishoprics, opera-houses and ruined whorehouses of great standing. They passed all those testimonies of ancient grandeur without talking, bending down in reverent awe, and sat down at the end upon a big boulder on a broad broken road crossing an extensive flat territory with a copse here and there, a shiny big moon on a dark-blue sky.
Miguel still wore the army haversack buckled on his back. They came across an old cabin, where he called for help, and the silent proprietor let them pass there the night. And he did live in Silwia’s isolated village, near a big forest of silver-birches alternating with chestnuts and oaks. It was divination, helping the villagers during the harvest, performing other tasks like farming, husbandry, rebuilding old buildings that had fallen in decay, and on Sundays the young went for a swim and a wash to the nearby lake. One day, however he thought he needed more. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores” (was being said.) He was convinced that he must go, and did go away one autumn morning, in the first hours, leaving the bed of love actually at four, by the clock of the village; a few moments later he was traversing Nojewo. He heard noises, voices; he saw wax-candles lighting up in some windows. “When she wakes up,” he thinks,
“will she weep?” and walks along worrying a lot because it has begun to rain. He accelerates the march, his army boots clanking on the paving stones, then, as he enters the path that leads to the woods, squelching through the mud; the small path that traverses the silver-birch forest full of death leaves.
Only once does he think of Silwia, left behind in the village: when he sees the lake where they swam naked and each soaped the other’s body talking and laughing. There was not the slightest company for him in the forest, unless there was a hare, a squirrel or something similar. Everybody knew, however, that all those forests of Eastern Europe were full of escapees, crossing streams and running between the trees, who only had to say, on arrival, “I CHOSE FREEDOM”, and they would become famous writers.
It had stopped raining when he came to the other side of the woods. He got on the road and saw he was on the right track, accompanying a crew of escapees. Like them he turned round to look. Miguel saw the immense beautiful green primeval forest he had just traversed, the rising sun, so gloriously illuminating the earth, over the top of the trees, and wondered, then turned round and followed the others.
A newly built liner of the famous P. & O. Company, that would take him down the Atlantic to the Cape, then the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean and finally the Pacific, being the final destination the city of Sydney. The liner was approaching with a thousand displaced persons. Migrants, from the teeming shores, now devastated by unending wars! Welcome to White Australia.
Suddenly the engines of the liner stopped, and the anxious immigrants came out upon the decks. It was a most delightful early summer afternoon in the Southern Continent. A sun, the colour of a very beautiful orange, was seen on the horizon. Overhead thousands of silky-white seagulls surrounded the ship. Of a sudden someone shouted, “the pilot boat”, very loudly; and contentedly everybody, “the pilot boat.” They were seeing for the first time Australia, Down Under. Nobody would come to put them on a list. The earth is all one, it belongs to no one, It is on the contrary “Man who belongs to the earth.”
A motor-launch had been approaching and was now fastened onto one side of the ship. Two men were seen climbing up a rope-ladder, and entering the boat. And the liner was once more moving towards the entrance to the Bay. An infinitely long stretch of land from north to south, or right to left. Cliffs and caves and long beaches in the distance, green forests or lawn or parks, clusters of houses. The migrants on the several decks became most excited, many yachts and other pleasure craft had come out to welcome the newcomers and were surrounding the vessel, now going between two rocky promontories, the terribly splashing masses of frothing water. Now inside the bay. Again some cliffs, hilly greens and residences, the houses of wealthy existence, isolated mansions with big gardens, no doubt inhabited by multimillionaires, followed by dwellings no doubt of ordinary people. The City full of lights and motor traffic, a dozen or so tall buildings and, approaching in the middle, the black Harbour Bridge of thousands of iron girders put together, spanning the two sides of the harbour. Night was drawing in when the liner passed under this bridge and the migrants saw that Sydney Bay went on and on, they talked of Parramatta River and the Bush, they saw a thousand bays and other arms of water entering coves and big and little bays.
They entered one of these, Darling Bay, full of activity at that hour, yellow lights all the time lighting up, shades and shadows all the time, the little lights innumerable, here and there with so many ports and wharves and jetties full of wonderful men and women working, the wealth of nations. And not only the big ships and liners,the wharves and warehouses, dozens of boats as well moving, police launches crossing from one to the other side, small and medium-sized bridges, the overpassing roads full of cars, lorries and double-decker buses; and Miguel Diez could now read, there where the couple of smoky tugs were dragging the big liner, the words PYRMONT 13.
A new life had started for the Spaniard. Upon arrival he was sent to a big Camp for new settlers, in North Sydney. He crossed the harbour every morning by ferry, to the City, and returned by bus, moving this time across the Harbour Bridge. In the afternoon he walked all the way from the camp down some suburban streets, almost without pedestrians and always the beautiful blue sky overhead, perceiving more and more, with every step, the proximity of the sea.
Promenading on the waterfront, he saw the pleasure-boats berthed in a cove, and on the other side, a hundred different stands and small shops. Walking on absentmindedly, a wildly-running toddler unexpectedly ran into him, and he saw that a very young couple were looking at him. They lived with him in the camp.
… they came from North London with their respective parents, who had met on the liner. The pair of youngsters made love upon the ship, wherever they could find a place at night, and were caught, and their “governors” took them forcefully before the ship’s captain, who made them husband and wife. They had ever since lived in the migrant camp, the boy engaged in the army as a soldier.
On Sunday Miguel Diez took a bus going east, to a beach that had been recommended to him (by one of the lodgers of long standing in the Camp) as the best on the north coast of the harbour. Indeed, it was superb: a promenade overlooking extremely fine sands, and the calm blue sea. It is, within Port Jackson, the harbour, a very small bay which lies at the entrance of a long broad arm of sea called Middle Harbour.
There, after lying on a white towel on the sands, resting his head on his haversack for about half an hour, he stood up and cautiously entered the sea, feeling unexpectedly a sensation of coldness as the water reached his thighs. He stopped undecided and, someone passing, rubbing his shoulder quite powerfully, he turned round and was confronted by the most ravishing green-eyed young woman imaginable. He had the time to notice she also had a pretty suntanned body, wearing a one-piece swimsuit with shiny green stripes.
She dived bravely into a coming wave, bending her body majestically like a dolphin, her sword-like legs in the air until the whole vision disappeared, only to reappear ten yards ahead; and that was all; he saw her coming out of the water, tossing her head as she took off her cap, displaying her splendorous brown hair, the most beautiful smile on her mouth; but not for him.
Swimming himself towards a coming wave he comes to think the girl is simply an apparition, a vision from heaven and not a real person. He has anyhow, as he walks up the beach, an abundant array of beautiful female flesh in bikinis sunbaking on large colourful towels: poor hungry fellow, on Balmoral Beach. Only they are unattainable objects of pleasure.
He opens his haversack and puts on his spectacles in order to better see the incomparable spectacle of wealth and beauty so intimately linked.
Not even a straw hat or jockey’s cap had he thought of bringing in this trip to the beach. While other beachcomers seem to have found protection from the sun under their beach-umbrellas, he (whose skin has not known the sun for months and years, suffers: a lady comfortably installed next to him under her big beach-umbrella, after some hesitation, addresses herself to him.
“I see, sir,” (she glances at his shoulder) “that you are a new arrival. Allow me, sir, you’d better look out! This is not the sun we’ve over there: I’m Russian, my dear sir.” She had a blond head of hair, under the straw hat, and her voluminous body was overflowing in a colourful swimsuit. “This morning I saw you swimming with the surf, sir. You shouldn’t have done that. A shark net’s specifically provided for our safety. Ooh! Hoo!” waving at a coming man “Piotr!!”
Miguel glanced toward the net, inside which perhaps a thousand swimmers were competing for the freedom of having a bathe; and saw the large Russian husband approaching. He thanked the lady and, courteously taking his leave, plodding up the sands, he strode along the promenade and sat under a gum tree to read a book, eating a hot steak-and-kidney pie and drinking a Coca-Cola.
In the evening he takes the same bus, back to Neutral Bay. He climbs up to the upper floor and like a child dashes to occupy a vacant seat on the front row, for sightseeing. And what might not have been his surprise when he saw, actually touching him, the very person he has fallen in love with this morning, the green-eyed angel he saw diving into a sea which (now he knows) was infested with the most voracious sharks. She did not turn her face, those delicious green eyes to him, but their arms were still touching. Time passes and he still lacks courage to open his mouth, bewildered and confused. He was actually paralysed with fear and did not even have the sense of noting in his mind the name of the stop where she got off the double-decker bus.
A week after that failed encounter in the bus, Miguel Diez had already found employement in a bank in town. So he had better forget about the green-eyed apparition altogether; for his place of employment was on the ground floor of
Caltex House, Kent Street, which was the highest building above the City.
A teller in a branch of the Bank of New South Wales, first bank of Australia, he earned sufficiently to live in a decent hotel nearby; but he began, all the same, to look for cheaper accomodation. Not many more days had passed by in this manner, when he found it.
Having gone out sightseeing during the lunch-hour, the third day of employment, into a region he got to know as “the Rocks, munching slowy the greasy contents of a packet of fish-and-chips, he passed the entrance of a “Girls’ High School” as the very girls were pouring out, all pretty, chatting, giggling and laughing, dressed in their mauve uniforms, patent-leather footwear and yellow stockings and hat; he threw the packet away and followed one of them. He thus went up the Argyle Steps, and into Lower Fort Street: a quite surprising vision then appeared to him: in a set of two or three ancient little lanes, with hardly anyone walking on them. The pretty blond girl from the High School had by now disappeared. He did not know then that he had entered the scarcely populated region where the sailors and soldiers of “the small flotilla” first arrived in Australia in 1788 built “the First Garrison” and began the conquest of the continent.
He met a young man who was bent over a rusty old car, intent, as he thought, in converting it into a multiplicity of spare parts; for the fellow had laid a large oil-cloth on the pavement, at the entrance of a small cottage; and on the cloth about a dozen or two of vehicle spare-parts.
“What do you think ye’are doing?” he asked, pointing to the pavement full of tools and spare parts and pots of grease and other things.
The other, a chap of nineteen or twenty, replied with some grunt, without stopping his work, and Miguel sat on a flight of steps opposite the road, drinking a Coca-Cola (which he had bought with his fish), watching. There followed a friendly conversation with the big boy, who said he was a student.
He also showed him where he could rent a room; for Miguel had told him he was looking for accommodation. Whereupon the boy, whose name was Johnny, left all his implements and materials as they stood, occupying the ground (motorcar-chassis and spare-parts) and led him to “the Murphys”, a couple of New Australians, as Miguel was; only they had arrivied in the new country from the British Iisles and sixteen years earlier.
He had an air of ashtonisment, Miguel had, when, having Johnny plied the knocker and the door opened: a lady appeared on the landing, inside. A landing of limited dimensions, and so much like sinking between square timber-walls that the new-arrival thought he had engaged upon a journey to the earth.
Every doubt was resolved in his mind when he saw he had arrived at the flat proper down a sort of gangway and was now in a drawing room with a view to the City, where he was alone with Connie and Joe Murphy. The man had already opened.a bottle of porter as a sign of hospitality, but Miguel Diez said he could not stay, that he worked in a bank nearby. He introduced himself, saying he accepted the offered room and would come back in the evening.
That, for Miguel Diez, was marvellous: accommodation in a house hanging on the Rocks! The glorious view of a golden sun rising in the east, perhaps almost every morning, refreshed by glimpses of the big blue bay, as he was having his breakfast at seven, old Sydney town down below, crowds of Sydneysiders at his feet. Indeed, gazing from his room in the mornings, as he got up and got ready to go to the bank, the streets of the old city down below, the deep blue harbour on the left, on the right the City and its financial power of which he was to learn a lot later on, the big houses, commercial establishments, the immensity of an urban conglomerate of more than a million inhabitants. It was magical.
But specially the sun, high upon the sky, so far away, and yet so near, the ocean beaches.
On Saturday he had his breakfast in The Australian Hotel, a big old pub down below, the first public house ever built in the continent, which he saw from his window. Afterwards he sauntered along for a while, past Circular Quay, Phillip Street, the lawns and gardens of the Domain, and up the stone steps into the public library:he wanted to read the story of Australia from its very origin. The Dreamtime of the Aborigines, the land and its people.
One day he learned that the State was offering free evening lessons to newly- arrived immigrants in a scheme by the Immigration Department, regarding the English language and “Australiana” generally; and he at once joined it. The lessons were given in the evening at a Public School in the nearby suburb of Surry Hills.
What would not be his surprise, on entering the classroom the first day, when he saw that the teacher was non other but the green-eyed beauty that had attracted his attention on the sands of Balmoral Beach and later met in the bus, that first Sunday he spent in the new country. She had turned to look.
… those shining green eyes, that now met his own! they made no sign of recognittion. He sighed, left his briefcase on the floor, at his feet, and took a seat. Being this his first day, and himself being dependant on buses and schedules, he had arrived when the lesson had already begun.
… the pretty teacher went on with her lesson, tossing her long brown hair as she turned round to glance at a book in her hand which she obviously had been reading before his entry in the room. As for himself, the feeling now was one of content and doubt of himself. No recollection of his face in her mind!
A very blond young man asked something, and she answered. “You’re right, Ivan, migrants, as we are, were they, the first inhabitants.of this continent.”
One by one all the pupils said something. He counted ten who were sitting around a large circular table in a room on the second floor of a public school.
At night, in his bed Miguel thought of the pretty green-eyed teacher. He now knew her name, Anna Gardi. She had come with her mother from Trieste, before the war, on a ship belonging to a well-known Italian Line. She was twelve when they arrived and was now a naturalised Australian, with an English degree obtained at Sydney University.
The next time he went to Crown Street, the teacher was standing by the table, engaged in conversation with a handsome couple of Latvian immigrants, who were interested in knowing about that thing, transportation.
“The transfer of convicts from the British Isles to New South Wales,” she answered, “also to Van Diemen’s Land, the present Tasmania, a subject in which I am interested. I wrote my thesis at university on it.”
A young boy of seventeen or eighteen, called Mietic, who had escaped from one of the concentration camps of Poland, asked to be read a story. “Please, Anna,” he said vehemently, “about convicts, like the other day.”
“I’ll read to you something one of this days. In the meantime, say, have you learned by heart,” she asked, those Australian idioms I gave you?”
The teacher did fulfill her promise about a story. One evening, on which he fell on one of his particularly bad moods, Miguel Diez was just arriving at the Crown Street Public School when he saw pretty Anna Gardi arriving a few feet before him, in animated conversation. They separated at the school’s entrance and Miguel Diez deliberately slowed his pace, not to enter the classroom with her. At the start she read something, and she looked worried at the Spaniard.
“Listen to me,” she said, “you wanted me to talk about the transportation of convicts, one of the subject we were discussing last Monday. Well, you already know that this was in the past a land of explorers, drovers, diggers and adventurers of all kinds: the first Europeans to settle, however, were British soldiers and the wretched refuse of London’s teeming gaols.” She passed over a number of pages, and went on: “I’m reading from a book by Percy R. Stevenson, about some convicts that escaped one day, long ago, from the most terrible penitentiary in Tasmania… Now, here it is: ‘There is a legend spread around the cottages and terrace-houses of these hills, Surry Hills, that tells of four shadowy figures appearing of a sudden, on a moonless night, upon the scrubland extending all the way from the cliffs overlooking the ocean to these then forested hills. Nobody inhabited these parts at that time, save a dozen recently freed men, who never mixed with one another, or anyone; each one in his own little log-cabin, cultivating his own land, observing all alone at night, each one from his tiny single window, and then, a solitary trail through the trees, of a Saturday, to the pub, there to drink beer in a corner.”
Next Saturday, at the Mitchell Library, Miguel, after some reasearch in the archives, came upon a very old book about convicts by a Frankie O’Clooney, himself triple-descendant from people transported in the nineteenth century. And Miguel Diez was convinced that O’Clooney was writing about the same runaways from Tasmania mentioned in the book which the teacher had read in the classroom. Here, the names were given as Bill Swallow, Philip Murray, Jimmy O’Bryant and Leslie Ferguson.’ He made note of all the details, and in his mind the idea was born of writing a novel. In Salamanca he had once begun a manuscript in the Castilian language. This would be in English.
He was coming out of the classroom one evening, thinking of tellling Anna about his literary endeavours, when he found she was walking just next to him. He said “Hello!” and she responded with her usual courtesy, giving him a nice smile. He offered her his left arm, for she was wearing high-heeled shoes, and they descended the stairs and went out into the street arm-in-arm.
It had begun to drizzle when they reached the next corner and she entered the bus-shelter with him, for they were engaged in an interesting conversation about books and transportation, and he took the opportunity of telling her all about being a writer and his great hopes for the future.
It was with great regret that he saw the bus arriving on time and Anna Gardi saying good-night and leaving him. From his seat by the window he caught sight of the teacher turning into Albion Street, striding along, quite contentedly, balancing her large briefcase and entering a sidestreet. “Probably a man is waiting for her at home,” he thought.
And it became usual with them to go together downstreet in the evening after the lessons, often with other students. One evening Anna and Miguel, alone, entered the shelter in a rush and laughing, for after a spell of good weather, there had come just then an intense sudden shower.
He bought a second-hand Holden, (“The Australian car”) and drove it about on the Saturday to check, hitting the Cahill Expressway and alI the way east.
In reality he only had one idea in mind: he wanted to see Anna; if he caught sight of the young woman by chance, driving in the streets of Surry Hills.
He reached Fitzroy Street all right, and stayed there driving up and down in the hope she might appear. He pulled the Holden up in a corner, and stalked about trying to read the names on the brassplates. He was lucky. ANNA GARDI, he read; and next minute he banged the knocker at the door of a nice property on whose veranda he had climbed up. The door opened , and Anna was there, facing him, smiling radiantly, as she was wont to do.
He stammered, explaining awkwardly that he had borrowed two books from the lending library and wanted to show them to her. They were on the pure “Australiana” subject which was the matter discussed at school in the evenings.
“They are about transportation,” he said. He knew the subject interested her.
It was one of the torrid days of January and Anna, not unnaturally, was very lightly attired in a loose flowing gown, down to the knees with a silk cord around the waist. Her leg showed when she moved, and she was lovely (he did not remember to have seen her pretty body so thoroughly suntanned.)
Later on, he tried to justify himself (When she talked of preparing a meal). He invited her to lunch at an Italian restaurant in town, but she said she had planned to go for a swim in the afternoon and suggested a restaurant in Clovelly instead: he too could go for a swin, if he had his swimming trunks with him.
In the end, each drove separately to the beach, and after lunch, one of them did her hour of sports, and the other drove his new second-hand car back to town. But he had learned the way to her abode and knew now how to visit her of a Sunday, say.
With the afternoon well advanced, the temperature in the small, semidetached property went down. The two were resting on deck-chairs in the garden. There was a Gramophone record-player in between these. The music they were listening to was by Aram Khatchaturian. Miguel was admiring the exotic beauty of a blackhaired young dancer (on the record cover) with a sword in her hand, and there was the background of a forested range of mountains. “Plenty of trees,” he commented, “have you been in Armenia?”
And Anna murmured some words absentmindly, without answering the question.
“Have you been disappointed, darling?” he asked, looking at her suntanned legs.
“Why should I? No, my beloved Mike. I loved every minute of it.”
Strangely enough, her reply, nearly embarrassed him, who sought to change the subject of conversation, bringing it back to the record cover. “I’ve told you how these here hills were full of trees, long ago. Giant euchalyps, and acacia, oaktrees, even some big red cypress,” she paused. “All gone with that vicious ringbarking, these hundred years.”
“Hundred years? Darling, you exaggerate.” He was looking at a sort of table nearby, which had been made out of the trunk of a big tree, obviously alive until recently. “This one,” he went on, pointing at the table, “seems to have survived until recently. Who cut it?”
“Dino did, when he built the barbecue. He liked to bring his friends of a Saturday. All Italian… worked with him; then, went on the spree. A good cook.”
Miguel received this piece of news with surprise. “Who is Dino?” he asked.
“My ex-husband,” she replied.
It was a surprise which should not have been, for he knew her maiden name was Frankievich (not Gardi): she had come from Trieste with her mother, but was born in the northernmost part of Yugoslavia. There was a long pause.
“Thought I’d told you, ,” she said in the end, awkwardly.
Afterwards, already in bed, gently touching his left shoulder, she asked, “Mike, is anything wrong, love?” “Nothing,” he answered, and for long time (actually, until the following weekend) he persisted in his muteness.
One Sunday, they packed a hamper with some food and the ice-box with drinks, and drove down to the coast, parked the car in a place called “the overhanging”, and climbed down to a tiny solitary beach, the beginning of long narrow gulf where they swam quite contentedly, stopping now and then for a kiss without seeing where they were going and finally decided to turn back.
They had come to that place, Tamarama bay, for a special purpose which had to do with the book he was writing about those convicts of Van Diemen’s Land.
… in an old book she had borrowed from the local library, it was written that the runaways (of whom Anna had already spoken during her lessons before Miguel began his novel), five runaways from the Hobart Penitenciary sailed north on a stolen boat, amid storms and winds of gale force, until they came unexpectedly to the craggy coasts of New South Wales, exhausted and with one of them ill.
… by then the boat was a complete wreck without mast and having lost part of the sails. They climbed that very cliff and then proceeded along the scrubland to try and reach the forested hills, then Sydney Town and disappear.
… they met nobody on their march to freedom, save half a dozen freed convicts, each watching the darkness from his window in a tiny solitary wooden cabin, oh! new man of property. Some of the trees fell through ring-barking long before.
… no one would have felt less interested in meeting the five escapees from Hobart than these ex-convicts on the hills, lest an army patrol passed and something happened that caused them them all to be reconvicted worse.
“We are now,”said Anna, as they were painfully climbing to the Overhang, “doing what the runaways did so many years ago.”
“Well,yes, ” Miguel answered, “except that they didn’t have this path with hardwood steps, offered to them by a County Council that did not exist, my love”.
As he lifted the latch at the gate very early in the morning of the Saturday that followed, he noticed that the front door (of which he already possessed a key) was open. He did not know why, but he approached the veranda full of apprehension. The air smelt of tobacco. He pressed in his hand a stack of recently written pages of the novel, which he wanted Anna to peruse, in case there was a word badly employed or a misused English idiom.
“Oo-hoo!” he heard her calling from the bedroom.
She was in her pyjamas, her pretty green eyes glowing, her light brown hair falling to her shoulders. At once, he sank on his knees and embraced and kissed her, his lips touching the soft warm fabric. She responded to his kisses pressing his shoulders amorously; but then, seeing the typewritten-pages on the floor, she bent to pick them up, and in a moment they were sitting on the carpet, leaning on the unmade bed, working on the novel, which so much interested him, when of a sudden he heard a noise in the house and, quite alarmed, he jumped up and ran to the corridor, a now hysterical Anna following him.
There was a man in the kitchen, whom she introduced perfunctorily as “Dino”. No reason was given for his presence in the house at that hour. Anna moved about without adding another word. Miguel was paralysed with surprise or more certainly hatred. The man was rather dark and rough looking, all the time drawing at his American cigarette, passing from time to time the palm of his right hand over the side of his blue-black hair. Anna seemed to have gone.
In a minute Miguel passed into the back garden and walked down to the shed that served to Anna as secluded reading room and library. There he picked up the manuscriprt of his novel, to which he added the newly edited pages, placed the lot into a big briefcase and turned to go, when he saw her outside in the garden, peering in through the small closed window, on her face a sign of great tragedy. Without thinking twice, he stepped out of the shed and bounced away along the cement path that divided the lawn in two, reentered the house and disappeared. She went after him and caught him in the lounge, going away.
“No,” she cried, catching the lapel of his jacket, “you must hear me, at least that. It is nothing, really. Please let me explain!” She broke into desperate weeping. It was the first time she spoke after Dino’s brief appearance in the kitchen.
He rejected her embrace, turned round and left the house. Entering his Holden in the street he stayed a minute on the driving seat, without starting the engine; then, as he did a U-turn to take the direction of the City, he chanced to see himself in the rear mirror. “Is that my face,” he thought, “that monster, those bespectacled eyes without spirit?” And on his cheeks he perceived unwonted tears.
He hardly went out of his room those days, unless to go to the bank. That naturally, never it was said of him that he did not work. All in the Caltex House branch of the New South Wales Bank liked him. If only he had liked finance and accounting as he loved poetry, the entire world would have admired him.
He was glad he had chosen to live in the district of the Rocks, overlooking the old historical part of the city. That seemed to give him inspiration, gazing upon those features, in the silence of the advanced night. For hours he watched the stars: the new constellation of the Southern Cross; and others that paraded upside down, like succumbing to a sense of vertigo.
Down below there was the pub where he had his main meal at night, with his pals; for he had a set of Aussies and New Australian friends, when he went on the spree with Joe Murphy, his landlord. The Irishman had been in Spain, fighting for democacy in the International Brigades until September 1938.
He saw from his watch-tower one of the ancient thoroughfares of Sydney, where the British Conquerors built, among other things, the public house called “Australia Hotel”, which still had the same name, the exact first construction. The rocks rose high and craggy on the cliff over the other side of what was now a street, just as in the days of settlement, or conquest. Now, this set of lanes and the two-or-three storied houses, parallel to the dozen little white cottages perched on the rocks, like phantoms looming high upon the Old City, were for him real history. And that was what he liked, as a novelist.
Then, Sydney Town was that, only that . Thousands of white people lived here. Nowhere else. It was left now for the poor. Joe Murphy was a wharfie and a communist. Strange to say, there were many commies around there. Most of Joe’s mates are. They call him Paddy. Murphy is forty eight.
When Miguel Diez gets tired, he thinks of Anna, hoping he doesn’t know what.
… the gleaming lights of the City, neon ads floating red and green in the murky air. When he gives up writing altogether, thinking nobody will bet on a losing horse, he still looks out of window. Down below the latest double-decker at twelve, leaving towards George Street and the suburbs… he is quite disturbed. “No, no!” He wants to forget, tries to count. How many late stragglers in the bus.
… the runaway convicts (he’s gone back to writing), knowing that beyond those trees was salvation, stuck to the original plan. Sydney Town full of people of all kinds. Who was going to discover them among a hundred thousand ciitizens of the Empire. They would separate, of course, each one for himself.
… for Young Jimmy things got more complicated. A big lad who needed his nourishment; and as they penetrated the woods, he became weaker and lost his machete and did not know what he was doing, bumping into bigger trunks, all giant trees; and still worse, they were coming down a sort of ravine.
... a big lizard somehow crossed their path. The lad jumped upon it like a wild feline and caught it. Ferguson, the Scott, rubbing two sticks set fire to a pile of dry sticks and eucalypt leaves. Roasted lizard for some poor famished runaways was a perfect banquet. Everyone knows that beggars are not choosers.
… to go thirsty was even worse, oh! what a damned dry country this bloody Australia. Nothing but the most severe conditions for survival. But on the third day, God is great, there was a perfect deluge. A hundred rivulets crawling under the undergrowth of ferns and leaves. On their knees they nearly drowned.
Miguel Diez resurrected in the story the idea of a convict called Thomas Barker, “the sixth one,” as he said. A runaway, like the others, from the Recherche Bay penal settlement, transported from London (there is evidence of this) of May 1831, at the same time as James O’Bryant, with whom he became good friends. Diez already knew, having read it at the Mitchell Library, that said Barker had been an honourable officer of the Royal Navy who had fallen into disgrace, a gentleman whose name in fact appears in the Civil Register of the coastal town of Maldon. His parents had belonged to the merchant class, and had sent Tom to a good school: at sixteen he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and at eighteen he is found in India, the Jewel of the Empire, fighting for the Crown. Two years in Asia changed him for life. Those were years of battling against the tribal people in the mountainous regions of the north. He took part in the massacres committed while pacifying the Crown’s most rebelious subjects. Later on, coming south to Calcutta loaded with gold and other treasures after so many lucrative expeditions, he was recommended by his commander, Colonel Newcome, of the Salisbury Batallion, for promotion. Thomas R. Barker’s future was thus assured. Now a lieutenant, he went riding up the mountains again, and saw new crimes, in the Third Royal Battalion of Bengali Lancers, with the help of Indian potentates. He would never forget how the native people were pacified and their land conquered to satisfy the greed of both the local maharajahs and the colonisers. The Governor, a member of the corrupt English aristocracy, was the most important man in India, respected by all the maharajahs, adored by their maharanis, as well as by the great financiers, English and Indian. In the end the man became a loyal subject, who deposited all the money he was earning in the Bombay branch of the Bundelcund Bank, with registered office in London.
Lieutenant Thomas Barker only returned to England when his fleet of six ships was ordered back home, to be flung anew into wars and colonial fights. A voyage to the North American colonies was now being prepared to help the merchant navy, the lucrative slave trade from Africa to America being quite flourishing. Eventually the fleet berthed at Liverpool, where he met a very pretty girl he fell in love with. Tom was then a very handsome tall man of twenty-four, blond like a viking and with a suntanned face.
Joan MacNally was as pure a specimen of Irish beauty as one could wish to see; long blue-black hair, perfectly white skin and a full red mouth. But her most beautiful trait were those eyes of a brilliant blue, like a cloudless sky in a summer morning. Lieutenant Barker saw her at a dinner party given by a rich local merchant, where a dozen King’s officers from the fleet had been invited as special guests. The following day he wrote to her father demanding her hand, explaining he was in the Royal Navy and trying to show in writing the intensity of his passion for Joan. The next time the fleet arrived in Liverpool Thomas and Joan were married, the wedding being celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral. As the newly wedded descended the carpeted flight of marble steps, from the altar down to the equally carpeted central aisle, twenty naval officers, members of the bridegroom’s detachment, ten on each side in full uniform, instantly drew twenty shiny swords out of their scabbards, and lifted them up in the air, thus forming an artificial tunnel inside which the happy newly-wedded walked all the way to the entrance, a shower of confetti falling upon the two lovers, Tom in full uniform passionately pressing Joan to him, oh! such great beauty, in a long white robe studded with little stones like diamonds. There was a flush on her cheek on account of her timidity, for she was only eighteen, and everybody was looking at her: and the music. She loved her Tom and felt so very happy!
They had a happy married life: two years residing in Liverpool; where the fleet was temporarily based making regular voyages to North America, the merchant navy bringing from the colonies the cotton that was always needed to keep busy the many mills now operating in Manchester, Preston and all Lancashire.
Afterwards the Royal Navy made different arrangements, and Thomas Barker, through the influence of Lord Tiltontin of Liverpool, was commissioned to occupy a post in the Admiralty, London, where the happy family moved to. Two little children had been born in the meantime, Eliza and Danny.
But those were troubled years with wars on the Continent, and British sailors and soldiers were greatly required in order to defend Britain from her enemies, the more so as industry and commerce had greatly prospered and now Britain depended on free trade, and freedom of the sea, for exporting its industrial products. Because of this, the imperial army and navy found the way of making war everywhere. At the siege of the coastal city of Szczecin, Tom Barker was knocked down by a piece of shrapnel that wounded his knee, and he lay, stretched out in the mire, for an hour or more. He was lucky that a sailor of his own ship found him; for his wound, though slight, was getting infected and giving him great pain. The man, called Swallow, was a Cockney from eastern London, a few years his senior, extremely nice and funny to the point of cheering him up. Less tall than Tom, the man, a corporal, was very strong and dragged him down to the beach, to embark him on their boat.
Soldiers and sailors who had been engaged by the thousand in the heat of the continental wars, not so long ago, were seen in the streets of big English cities, fending for themselves, haggard-looking, arms despondently hanging down, stooping for a rest, trudging along in the streets of the capital. There were rumours that an economic recovery was at hand; which never came. Barker came from a fairly well-to-do family and had made some aristocratic acquaintances in his day. Nothing helped.
… in the grate, as he entered, he first saw two iron pots boiling, some potatoes in one, and in the other there must be some fish, from the smell. The fire was the only light in the room, wherein the couple had shoved most of their things.
… he saw the silhouette of his adored Joan, a long black dress, a kerchief tied under her chin. He stepped forward, kissed his wife and burst out crying. And they cried together. By their side, on a mattress on the floor were the two children.
… In his mind, he went back to the days when he was an officer in the Royal Navy and a man of property. All was light and brilliancy then: poor Tom! darkness all around. Through the closed window the snow falling so white.
Long, irregular rows of wooden sheds and wagons full of fruit and vegetables. Men were selling beef, pork and fish. As well as poultry and sausages and other for him precious merchandise. Carts and barrows full of produce, bread, oats, wheat, pickled cabbage, bacon and other commodities.
… Tom had been ambling along streets and alleyways for a while, alone in the midst of the crowd. On the street-corner a little boy was seen sweeping the mud away to allow fine ladies and gentlemen to cross from pavement to pavement without dirtying their footwear and expensive gowns held upwards by delicate feminine fingers: a coin slipping into the little guy’s hand, and a smile of recognition on his dirty face. ‘Taa, your Honr!’
… the capital of an empire where the sun never sets. And he wandering in the streets at night alone: an occasional straggler. Trying to find something to take home for Joan and the children who probably haven’t eaten all day.
… it was very cold. The nobles, bankers, industrialists and their wives were dining. Legions of lackeys running about carrying big wax-candles alight. And in hidden corners -oh, gosh! The porcelaine chamber-pots full of piss.
… it is the hour when Tom gathers other living matter rotting on the ground: some greens he can see quite clearly, shining in the moonlight, some still edible potatoes, lettuce leaves, a rotten orange still full of vitamins. He stoops low, stretches his long arm, catches the prize and slips it in his roughcloth sack. He rests a minute, listening to the chiming bells of Saint Clement’s nearby.
…The sound has the effect of cheering him for the time being. “Well done, my faithful! Well done!” It is God talking to an Englishman who yesterday was making sure there would exist the freedom of the seas the Crown demanded in order to be sure that “Britannia rules the waves.”
‘Heavens above!’ he hears a cry at the same time as he feels a friendly touch on the shoulder. ‘Goodness gracious me! Lieutenant, what’s happened to you?’
Tom turns his gaze round, and tears flow suddenly down his hollow ckeeks, as he shouts: ‘Bill Swallow! Oh, so many years! Time does wear wings, my God! How do you do, dear friend?’ For he has recognised the man who saved him from dying in the mire during the terrible siege of Szczecin, on the Continent.
They enter a tavern in St. Giles, where there is more filth and squalid misery than in any other part of the mighty city of London. A big smoky hall, the old building falling in decay, full of people in rags. The place is also full of rotten wine, or beer: alcohol. Drunken men aplenty with some malcontent women. Wagoners taking a one-day rest, with a girl in a corner. Tom and Bill sit with the others at a long thick oak-table each one with a tumbler, on a bench, sharing a bottle of liquor, chatting. ‘What have you been doing, Bill my boy, all these years since we stopped waging war?’ Tom asks, cheering up.
… and Bill Swallow, after emptying a tumbler full of brandy-and-water, started telling his sad story from the beginning, when he was a boy. He had finished quite succesfully his apprenticeship with a master cabinet-maker, at the age of nineteen, and was working on his own in the East End, when he met the nicest girl in the world, Gladys whom in due course he married and they had a child. One day, a battalion of red-coated soldiers press-ganged him into the navy.
… and two years he spent in the war. When he came back, once peace was restored, dear Gladys was the mother of three kids. And what was he to do? ‘You tell me Lieutenant Barker, what was a man to do, run after her with a kitchen hatchet and kill her? No, lieutenant, but accept the girl and three kids.’
It was not until the two ex-mariners had shuffled for a while through the streets that Swallow, lowering his voice, suggested. ‘Lieutenant, let’s unite our efforts.
… a partnership.’ The ex-sailor now revealed to the ex-officer a plan that had been maturing in his mind since their encounter in Covent Garden. They had to unite forces, would work at night. “My word,” he whispered, “sure a good profit.”
They shook hands on it, and the partnership thus constituted started operating with great success, for it was a cold moonless night when former Royal Navy officer led the other, an expert in burglary, to a yard where he had been employed. They jumped the wall, got into the depots and took good stuff: cables, anchors and other things. Bill had borrowed a wagon from a friend (trafficking in stolen goods) which they had left hidden in a wood not far away.
… three nights they repeated the operation quite successfully, giving themselves a long rest between each successive raid. They sold the stolen material, through that friend of Bills, to good professionals and made a good profit. But on the fourth night they were caught by the guards and thrown into jail. They were judged and condemned to be transported for life to Australia. They could not even say goodbye to their respective families.
Like in a flash, one day when he felt depressed and needed the help of a woman, he picked the ‘phone and rang.
“Hello! Anna?” ‘Yes, who’s calling?’ I heard at the other end of the line. “It’s me. Miguel.” Silence. Nothing but a sob, then a cry: ‘Who?’ and a moan. “Anna!!” ‘Oh, is it you… you?’ a sigh followed by confused sounds. ‘Mi… Miiigu…’ And he thought “Oh, gosh! She’s weeping. What have I done?” ‘Miiii… oh my… Miguel! Is it you, you…?’ and renewed sobs. “Anna! darling, my darling!” And she replying only with sobs. “Anna, are you there?” he cried in despair. Renewed weeping “Oh, darling, please, say something,” he cried with apprehension. “Anna, have I done wrong? should I not have called? If there is another man?” And the same silence, except sobs. “Anna, dear,” he implored, “tell me, if… if and I’ll hang up.” ‘Oh,no! Oh Miguel, my only love! what have you done to me. Why did you not let me tell you, that day? It is true… I love no other man… I never have.’ “Anna, my adorable! In the name of all that is dear and sacred, please, my pretty angel, let me… I want you, I love you, I adore you.” ‘Me too, I want you, Miguel. That day... you didn’t stop to listen. It was a mistake, he just wanted to pick up some tools and be gone.’ She spoke this time with a tinge of bitterness in her voice (he thought.) “Anna, please, my love, forgive me, tell me I can visit you.” And then, overflowing: “Ah! My dear Miguel, I’ve been longing to hear from you. Come when you want, please… quickly.’
They spent a fortnight in the north of the State, a place called Dora Creek, in a wooden cabin which belonged to Joe and Connie Murphy, a place where the two again made love and wrote their book together and lived in paradise, swimming naked in the river and driving the Holden to a hamlet by the coast and surfed with the rollers, played volley-ball and ate and wrote in a pub.
… the clipper then entered the Indian Ocean, a region of great turbulence, and went through a tropical storm. Some of the convicts, who had been sailors in the past, were brought out of the holds to help, among them Barker, Swallow and O’Bryant. They rejoiced, though they were risking the lashes, they knew.
… on arrival at Hobart Town, on the twenty-ninth of October, 1829, the convicts were solemnly received on the wharf by Governor Arthur in person, who addressed them in formation, under a pale sun, with a batallion of the King’s Soldiers. Tom Barker and Jimmy O’Bryant were listening in the first row.
“I’ll read his speech to you, dear Anna,” Miguel said, getting hold of a book:
‘Men who are sober, industrious and steady may reasonably expect a ticket-of-leave, employment in the police and ultimately emancipation and freedom. On the other hand, he whose misconduct or habits of drunkenness involves him in wickedness and ruin can expect little else than assignment to hard labour on the roads or in the forest, a hundred lashes, the treadmill, confinement to a dark dungeon and, last, the gallows.’
… ‘the convicts’ encampment was very cold during the winter,” Anna was at the typewriter. “Bill Swallow and Tom Barker chose well the moment. All wore big coats, made of kangaroo skin, usual that part of the year. One night the four men - for they had got a very strong Scotsman, Leslie Ferguson, to join them, and Tom had suggested they should take the young chap, Jimmy O’Bryant -, slipped out of one of the barracks and ran to the rocks, where the forest reached the sea. To their great surprise, they found a fifth man had been following them: they thought he was a spy. ‘No, don’t fear me,’ the man shouted. ‘It’s only Philip Murray,’ said Tom ‘I know him. A thorough-bred Englishman from Belfast this Philip was, who had been convicted for fraud. They took him and soon found they had done well to accept that aristocrat. Having served in the kitchen of the camp, he had come out with a sack full of food rations and a hatchet. The five runaways went along the coastline towards Hobart Port.
… four hours previously the original four had all bolted separately, and had gathered in a pre-arranged spot, where they were preparing for the next step when they had the surprise of a new one.’
“Halt! Halt!” Anna complained. “I feel things are getting all in a meddle. No one’s going to understand. Were they five or six, the runaways?” she asked.
“Look, Anna darling, don’t let’s quarrel, now you get the manuscript; I’ll type.”
… the five runaways entered the wharves at Hobart Town when dawn was rising, and they hid for eight hours among the cordage, tackle, rigging and other maritime material abundant in the port. They all knew that there was very severe punishment for convicts who tried to evade. It was known that some even died in the port under the whip when they were caught.
… all the same, they knew the guards in winter forgot to watch at times, and slept in their sentry boxes instead. One of the guards, hearing something, came out to see. He was going to give the alert, when Ferguson, a giant of corpulent strength, caught him round the neck from behind and strangled him.
… at once the bolters took possession of a one-mast boat, a small brigantine. At least two of the runaways were excellent sailors, a third had served some years, as a boy in the Royal Navy. Other guards appeared at the last moment on the jetty and sent a shower of bullets after the stolen vessel, which splashed harmlessly in the water, though some bullets came very close to them.
… the escapees knew there would be an order of capture sent by the military to all the towns and garrisons of the colony. So, as soon as they could, they veered north-east towards New Zealand. Swallow knew there were in some gulfs and coves of the South Island, Nantucket whalers, who every year established their camps for the season. They would ask no questions.
… by midnight the runaways had got a very big start, and the wind was indeed leading them towards New Zealand. Every man was at his post, each one doing exactly what was expected of him. ‘For all intents and purposes,’ Barker, the captain, said, ‘our boat has gone away, now and forever, from the claws of the Royal Navy.’ The escapees were delighted, embracing one another, when the wind unexpectedly changed and the weather turned to storm. In another moment the wind became of gale force. And gigantic masses of water kept flying up and coming down on the poop of the ship. The sea swept Philip Murray away. Jimmy O’Bryant gave the alert. Ferguson was just about to jump into the turbulent waters and swim after the disappeared man, when Barker stopped him, grabbing him by his arm. ‘Nothing doing, Leslie,’ he howled above the roaring wind. Swallow came to help Tom. The strength of the gale increased and the boat, which had first veered to the right, along with the Tasman Sea currents, then veered left towards the Colony of New South Wales.
… but there was still hope. Someone said what everyone thought. ‘Hope we can go through yet and reach one of the South Sea islands and live with friendly natives over there.’ ‘Let’s do it!’ ‘Hurrah!! We’ll get the girls and the good life. But the wind had definitely changed and was directing them towards the New South Wales littoral. The poor wretches saw land approaching. It was dawning. There was a bay, a sandy beach, with some places full of rocks.
… for a time the poor men saw the coast coming nearer, slowly then at great speed. By chance their crippled boat was sent away from the rocks onto the sands. They saw the rollers were turning into still more fearful breakers, splashing and roaring: They were actually flying. A terrible thump was heard.
… Tom Barker had managed to steer the boat, which all saw flying above the immense mass of water, actually diving upon the sand away from the rocks, the wreckage having split into two and the five men found themselves in the middle of the beach, wet and in tatters. They were surrounded by shells and driftwood.
… of them, only four would reach the safety of the scrubland above the cliff, for as they plodded up the beach they came upon an unsurmountable barrier which they tried to climb, nevertheless, there being no other way. Like a mountain bear each used his hands and nails, clinging to projecting stones or a small tree.
… then, sudenly, a hideous howl rent the air. One of them, as he was trying to hold on to a projecting rock, this gave way on him, and down went man and rock. The others could do nothing but hear the ugly cry and see the comrade’s body extended on the sand among shells, stones, trees drifted in by the storm.
… those that made it to the top found in the distance a cluster of tiny wooden cabins, and got nervous. They were inhabited each by a solitary man, a freed convict, standing behind a tiny single window, spying in the night. There was nothing thess ex-convicts could fear more that the arrival of escapees, less a military patrol happened to pass by and all were reconvicted to Norfolk Island.
… having penetrated about five hundred feet, inside the forest, the only four survivors after the successful evasion, dropped down exhausted among brambles and leaves, and fell asleep, holding each one his machete.
… the forest had thick undergrowth, primeval giant fern and spiky bushes. It was hot and sultry, their clothes, already torn by the storm at sea, were now reduced to tatters.
… the following morning, they advanced among the trees, machete in hand, until they could not go any further, the big eucalypts now growing so close together that they had to stop to reconsider. Besides, what was left of the rations, brought out by Murray, had gone to the winds during the gales. In the forest they found little to eat in the way of fruits from the trees or other vegetation.
… during the whole day they went on using their machetes. Tom Barker was soon left behind; for after the death of Jimmy O’Bryant he became pessimistic and would not talk; if a man could devour his mate, himself could no longer have faith in mankind. He sat down on a round boulder, which he made as comfortable as he could, with leaves and briar, and sat straight up, lifting his machete high in the air, as corresponds to an Englishman, navy oficer, a former Noble of the British Empire. Then he prepared himself, got out a pencil which he had always carried with him, and a piece of cardboard from his haversack and began to write.
… he knew he was dying. “Dear Joan, my beloved, (he wrote) to you and to Eliza and Danny my eternal love. In a hour or two, your faithful Tom will have ceased to exist, thousands of miles away from you. Having known and adored you, my angel, at least one thing I can say, I have known what is felicity: those happy years together. What else should I require? Having lived with you has been sufficient to say now that I have lived. I know what happiness means. Thank you, my darlinng for every moment of our married life, I adore you, Tom.”
He folded the piece of paper and placed it in his shirt pocket near his heart, and lay down on the leaves and briar. As he closed his eyes, he felt sure it would be seen when his corpse was found, and would be sent to London.
“Anna, let me read to you. No, not from the Stevenson book, another one
… Three days he kept trudging on through the forest, at times moving fast, other times very slowly, then not at all, and always sad, but not in despair, for he had already accepted death, though in his mind he rebelled against that evil force he would have liked to see defeated before he passed away.
… half-resting his back against the trunk of a eucalypt, bending his head forward, he clutched with two hands his brows and set up such a shriek that all the living matter around him appeared to comprehend that it was the howl of suffering mankind, perpetuual human misery. All atremble: “Bill! William Swallow! If you arrive, make humanity change, get rid of the evildoer!”
… and that vision of their wedding, and in the coach through the streets of Liverpool and later on, carrying her in his arms, a most lovely bride in white, her long black hair flowing down, her smiling blue eyes. She was afraid. ‘Please be gentle,’ she murmurred in his arms, and somehow she laughed with happiness.
… ‘Oh, Joan, my Joan, my purest love!’ he called and the trees around him seemed to become more menacing. She was just twenty-one, he had her in his embrace, in their bed of love. ‘Please my Tom, be gentle, do not hurt me, I’m so afraid’ she pleaded. … ‘Oh, Joan! Please, I love you so!’
The light of day was entering through an oblong window situated very near the ceiling. A rich fanfare of music and life was passing by, to celebrate no doubt their union. They were living in a new mansion. Oh, happiness, happiness!
… “Oh, Tom! musicians and athletes and clowns and horse-riders! It must be a famous circus passing by in the street.” “Announcing, my pretty Joan, something graceful and beautiful and very much what you deserve, my blue-eyed angel, my adorable one!”
Miguel sent the manuscript to London, where a mainstream publisher accepted the novel, “Runaway Convicts”. Within nine months it became a bestseller, and they celebrated the success at “THE CLUB”, a trendy nightclub in King’s Cross, where they dined and wined and chatted with a young married couple from the country who were celebrating the first anniversary of their wedding: so young indeed these two Ausies were that they at times acted like two children; when they danced the four together, exchanging couples and the women lifting their colourful skirts, and kissing and laughing all the time. Anna had to drive the Jaguar back home, at Dover Heights, the district of wealthy abundance where they had purchased their new house on the cliff looking over the ocean.
“Darling, Mike,” said Anna as they were undressing to go to bed, “I thought you had said that real art in literature was the transmission of some feeling from the writer’s inner being. You spoke of this being an impression from real life.”
“Of course, my darling,” Miguel answered with a kiss. “You understood all right, the characters must be real, real life. And so is “Runaways Convicts.”
“Then, sweety,” she said, with the shade of a sneer, “why, you know very well, you told me once. You have wholly created one of them, at least one, that Thomas Barker of Maldon is entirely invented.”
Miguel approached a pretty very intelligent Anna Diez, and sat with her on the bed. “Hi, my intellectual beauty!” he said with a kiss. “You must know, dear one, that you’ve to supply the reading public with their own stuff. I wouldn’t have been accepted if I’d presented real sublime art. The publisher knows that well.”