Mansfield's Short Stories
The Picton boat was due to leave at half-past eleven. It was a beautiful night, mild, starry,
only when they got out of the cab and started to walk down the Old Wharf that jutted out
into the harbour, a faint wind blowing off the water ruffled under Fenella's hat, and she
put up her hand to keep it on. It was dark on the Old Wharf, very dark; the wool sheds,
the cattle trucks, the cranes standing up so high, the little squat railway engine, all seemed
carved out of solid darkness. Here and there on a rounded wood- pile, that was like the
stalk of a huge black mushroom, there hung a lantern, but it seemed afraid to unfurl its
timid, quivering light in all that blackness; it burned softly, as if for itself.
Fenella's father pushed on with quick, nervous strides. Beside him her grandma bustled
along in her crackling black ulster; they went so fast that she had now and again to give
an undignified little skip to keep up with them. As well as her luggage strapped into a
neat sausage, Fenella carried clasped to her her grandma's umbrella, and the handle,
which was a swan's head, kept giving her shoulder a sharp little peck as if it too wanted
her to hurry...Men, their caps pulled down, their collars turned up, swung by; a few
women all muffled scurried along; and one tiny boy, only his little black arms and legs
showing out of a white woolly shawl, was jerked along angrily between his father and
mother; he looked like a baby fly that had fallen into the cream.
Then suddenly, so suddenly that Fenella and her grandma both leapt, there sounded from
behind the largest wool shed, that had a trail of smoke hanging over it, "Mia-oo-oo-O-O!"
"First whistle," said her father briefly, and at that moment they came in sight of the
Picton boat. Lying beside the dark wharf, all strung, all beaded with round golden lights,
the Picton boat looked as if she was more ready to sail among stars than out into the cold
sea. People pressed along the gangway. First went her grandma, then her father, then
Fenella. There was a high step down on to the deck, and an old sailor in a jersey standing
by gave her his dry, hard hand. They were there; they stepped out of the way of the
hurrying people, and standing under a little iron stairway that led to the upper deck they
began to say good-bye.
"There, mother, there's your luggage!" said Fenella's father, giving grandma another
"Thank you, Frank."
"And you've got your cabin tickets safe?"
"And your other tickets?"
Grandma felt for them inside her glove and showed him the tips.