Three weeks later at Rochefort, Napo¬leon surrendered himself to Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon, handing him a letter for the prince regent of Great Britain. It asked for asylum: “I have finished my political career, and I come, like Themistocles,to sit at the hearth of the British people. I put myself under the protection of . . . Your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, con-stant and generous of my enemies.” The British government had another plan.
HE ROYAL MAIL SHIP St. He¬lena sounded her whistle and slipped away from the dock in Cape Town, South Africa. The 30 or so passengers waved to a handful of well-wishers below; crewmen coiled the lines; the island song came over the loudspeakers: My heart is drifting southward, to my home down in the sea; to the isle of St. Helena, where my loved one waits for me.
The tiny island-47 square miles—lies 1,200 miles from Africa, 2,000 miles from South America, and is even more isolated to¬day than in Napoleon’s time. In his day, sail¬ing ships regularly resupplied there; today only the R.M. S. St. Helena, a converted Canadian coaster, provides a regular link with the outside world. The ship plies every month or so from Avonmouth, England, to Cape Town and back.
She was a smart ship for her size and trade. At night the officers wore “Red Sea rig”: black trousers, cummerbund, crisp white shirt open at the collar, rank displayed on the shoulders.
The passengers included a young Ameri¬can Mormon who had come to microfilm the island’s genealogical records, a retired po¬lice superintendent from Rhodesia (“Don’t you dare mention that other name, I’ll punch you!”), an elegant Englishwoman of mature years who excelled at whist (“Queen Mum,” the others would soon call her), a re¬tired British officer (“Major Michael”—he wore the tie of the Royal Artillery and, when anyone said anything amusing, would allow the monocle in his left eye to pop out and fall the length of its black cord), a chief justice, the new governor and his lady.
We were five days at sea. We saw flying fish, a spouting whale, but no other ships.
IN THE FIFTH MORNING the steward’s knock came before dawn. I stuck my head out the
porthole and saw St. Helena: Steep-sided, black against the dark blue sky, it stood like a fortress or a prison. How Napoleon’s heart must have sunk.