The ship was nearly certain to stop at the buoy; and I wanted to learn how to take an oar, so here was a chance with a vengeance! L- steered, and we three pulled - a broiling pull it was about half way across to Palikandro - still we did come in, pulling an uncommon good stroke, and I had learned to hang on my oar. L- had pressed me to let him take my place; but though I was very tired at the end of the first quarter of an hour, and then every successive half hour, I would not give in. I nearly paid dear for my obstinacy, however; for in the evening I had alternate fits of shivering and burning.'
The next extracts, and I am sorry to say the last, are from Fleeming's letters of 1860, when he was back at Bona and Spartivento and for the first time at the head of an expedition. Unhappily these letters are not only the last, but the series is quite imperfect; and this is the more to be lamented as he had now begun to use a pen more skilfully, and in the following notes there is at times a touch of real distinction in the manner.
'Cagliari: October 5, 1860.
'All Tuesday I spent examining what was on board the ELBA, and trying to start the repairs of the Spartivento land line, which has been entirely neglected, and no wonder, for no one has been paid for three months, no, not even the poor guards who have to keep themselves, their horses and their families, on their pay. Wednesday morning, I started for Spartivento and got there in time to try a good many experiments. Spartivento looks more wild and savage than ever, but is not without a strange deadly beauty: the hills covered with bushes of a metallic green with coppery patches of soil in between; the valleys filled with dry salt mud and a little stagnant water; where that very morning the deer had drunk, where herons, curlews, and other fowl abound, and where, alas! malaria is breeding with this rain. (No fear for those who do not sleep on shore.) A little iron hut had been placed there since 1858; but the windows had been carried off, the door broken down, the roof pierced all over. In it, we sat to make experiments; and how it recalled Birkenhead! There was Thomson, there was my testing board, the strings of gutta-percha; Harry P- even, battering with the batteries; but where was my darling Annie? Whilst I sat feet in sand, with Harry alone inside the hut -mats, coats, and wood to darken the window - the others visited the murderous old friar, who is of the order of Scaloppi, and for whom I brought a letter from his superior, ordering him to pay us attention; but he was away from home, gone to Cagliari in a boat with the produce of the farm belonging to his convent. Then they visited the tower of Chia, but could not get in because the door is thirty feet off the ground; so they came back and pitched a magnificent tent which I brought from the BAHIANA a long time ago - and where they will live (if I mistake not) in preference to the friar's, or the owl- and bat-haunted tower. MM. T- and S- will be left there: T-, an intelligent, hard-working Frenchman, with whom I am well pleased; he can speak English and Italian well, and has been two years at Genoa. S- is a French German with a face like an ancient Gaul, who has been sergeant-major in the French line and who is, I see, a great, big, muscular FAINEANT. We left the tent pitched and some stores in charge of a guide, and ran back to Cagliari.
'Certainly, being at the head of things is pleasanter than being subordinate. We all agree very well; and I have made the testing office into a kind of private room where I can come and write to you undisturbed, surrounded by my dear, bright brass things which all of them remind me of our nights at Birkenhead. Then I can work here, too, and try lots of experiments; you know how I like that! and now and then I read - Shakespeare principally. Thank you so much for making me bring him: I think I must get a pocket edition of Hamlet and Henry the Fifth, so as never to be without them.
'Cagliari: October 7.