“Sorry, Mr. Britt. St. Helena’s the nearest land, and that’s where we’re going.”
“Yes, sir. The women and children …”
“The children can come with us. We’ve got the bigger boat, and they’ll be safer here. You’ll have to keep the women and wounded you’ve already got, though.”
“We haven’t much space, sir …”
“I can see that, man. Neither have we. Needs must, you know. So long as you can keep your sails up and make a steady few miles a day you’ll be fine. Try to keep up with us for as long as you can. Anything else?”
“Well, sir, the rudder’s not too good, and we seem to have sprung a few leaks already, and the water supply …”
“Good God, man, you’ll have to make do. We’ll all have to make do. We’ve got to go. The wind’s getting up. We’ll speak again …”
All through this conversation between Captain Rogerson (brisk, brusque, brown-bearded, impatient) and Mr. Britt (short, clean-shaven, with a harried, clerk-like face), leaning over the gunwales of their respective boats, a constant traffic of people and goods has been going on. Children have been lifted over into the Captain’s boat – with a certain amount of crying and protest, muted by cold and tiredness – and a few adults have moved to take their places. Water casks have gone to and fro, along with canvas, tools, and various other necessities of the voyage. Britt’s face says all we need to know about how desperate a venture this is; but the Captain is determined to be off just as soon as minimum provision has been made.
There is some half-hearted waving as the larger boat sails off, mainly from the children, but the sailors and few able-bodied men: Angus, Tiny and the others, including an old Lascar, are too busy rigging a mast to turn around.
• Scene [The Speech (Saturday 7/11, c. 9.30 a.m.)]
The other boat is still visible, cutting along in the water. We can hear the creak of the wind in the rigging, and the people are grouped as comfortably as they can be: Bob Ironside has been laid down flat in the sternsheets of the boat, Miss Taggart, a stewardess, in the bows. All the others are crowded around them.