The only sign of commercial activity within the harbour, visible from th_each of the Great Isabel, is the square blunt end of the wooden jetty whic_he Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (the O.S.N. of familiar speech) ha_hrown over the shallow part of the bay soon after they had resolved to mak_f Sulaco one of their ports of call for the Republic of Costaguana. The Stat_ossesses several harbours on its long seaboard, but except Cayta, a_mportant place, all are either small and inconvenient inlets in an iron-boun_oast—like Esmeralda, for instance, sixty miles to the south—or else mere ope_oadsteads exposed to the winds and fretted by the surf.
Perhaps the very atmospheric conditions which had kept away the merchan_leets of bygone ages induced the O.S.N. Company to violate the sanctuary o_eace sheltering the calm existence of Sulaco. The variable airs sportin_ightly with the vast semicircle of waters within the head of Azuera could no_affle the steam power of their excellent fleet. Year after year the blac_ulls of their ships had gone up and down the coast, in and out, past Azuera,
past the Isabels, past Punta Mala—disregarding everything but the tyranny o_ime. Their names, the names of all mythology, became the household words of _oast that had never been ruled by the gods of Olympus. The Juno was know_nly for her comfortable cabins amidships, the Saturn for the geniality of he_aptain and the painted and gilt luxuriousness of her saloon, whereas th_anymede was fitted out mainly for cattle transport, and to be avoided b_oastwise passengers. The humblest Indian in the obscurest village on th_oast was familiar with the Cerberus, a little black puffer without charm o_iving accommodation to speak of, whose mission was to creep inshore along th_ooded beaches close to mighty ugly rocks, stopping obligingly before ever_luster of huts to collect produce, down to three-pound parcels of indiarubbe_ound in a wrapper of dry grass.
And as they seldom failed to account for the smallest package, rarely lost _ullock, and had never drowned a single passenger, the name of the O.S.N.
stood very high for trustworthiness. People declared that under the Company'_are their lives and property were safer on the water than in their own house_n shore.
The O.S.N.'s superintendent in Sulaco for the whole Costaguana section of th_ervice was very proud of his Company's standing. He resumed it in a sayin_hich was very often on his lips, "We never make mistakes." To the Company'_fficers it took the form of a severe injunction, "We must make no mistakes.
I'll have no mistakes here, no matter what Smith may do at his end."
Smith, on whom he had never set eyes in his life, was the other superintenden_f the service, quartered some fifteen hundred miles away from Sulaco. "Don'_alk to me of your Smith."
Then, calming down suddenly, he would dismiss the subject with studie_egligence.
"Smith knows no more of this continent than a baby."
"Our excellent Senor Mitchell" for the business and official world of Sulaco;
"Fussy Joe" for the commanders of the Company's ships, Captain Joseph Mitchel_rided himself on his profound knowledge of men and things in th_ountry—cosas de Costaguana. Amongst these last he accounted as mos_nfavourable to the orderly working of his Company the frequent changes o_overnment brought about by revolutions of the military type.
The political atmosphere of the Republic was generally stormy in these days.
The fugitive patriots of the defeated party had the knack of turning up agai_n the coast with half a steamer's load of small arms and ammunition. Suc_esourcefulness Captain Mitchell considered as perfectly wonderful in view o_heir utter destitution at the time of flight. He had observed that "the_ever seemed to have enough change about them to pay for their passage ticke_ut of the country." And he could speak with knowledge; for on a memorabl_ccasion he had been called upon to save the life of a dictator, together wit_he lives of a few Sulaco officials—the political chief, the director of th_ustoms, and the head of police—belonging to an overturned government. Poo_enor Ribiera (such was the dictator's name) had come pelting eighty mile_ver mountain tracks after the lost battle of Socorro, in the hope of out-
distancing the fatal news—which, of course, he could not manage to do on _ame mule. The animal, moreover, expired under him at the end of the Alameda,
where the military band plays sometimes in the evenings between th_evolutions. "Sir," Captain Mitchell would pursue with portentous gravity,
"the ill-timed end of that mule attracted attention to the unfortunate rider.
His features were recognized by several deserters from the Dictatorial arm_mongst the rascally mob already engaged in smashing the windows of th_ntendencia."
Early on the morning of that day the local authorities of Sulaco had fled fo_efuge to the O.S.N. Company's offices, a strong building near the shore en_f the jetty, leaving the town to the mercies of a revolutionary rabble; an_s the Dictator was execrated by the populace on account of the sever_ecruitment law his necessities had compelled him to enforce during th_truggle, he stood a good chance of being torn to pieces. Providentially,
Nostromo—invaluable fellow—with some Italian workmen, imported to work upo_he National Central Railway, was at hand, and managed to snatch him away—fo_he time at least. Ultimately, Captain Mitchell succeeded in taking everybod_ff in his own gig to one of the Company's steamers—it was the Minerva—jus_hen, as luck would have it, entering the harbour.
He had to lower these gentlemen at the end of a rope out of a hole in the wal_t the back, while the mob which, pouring out of the town, had spread itsel_ll along the shore, howled and foamed at the foot of the building in front.
He had to hurry them then the whole length of the jetty; it had been _esperate dash, neck or nothing—and again it was Nostromo, a fellow in _housand, who, at the head, this time, of the Company's body of lightermen,
held the jetty against the rushes of the rabble, thus giving the fugitive_ime to reach the gig lying ready for them at the other end with the Company'_lag at the stern. Sticks, stones, shots flew; knives, too, were thrown.
Captain Mitchell exhibited willingly the long cicatrice of a cut over his lef_ar and temple, made by a razor-blade fastened to a stick—a weapon, h_xplained, very much in favour with the "worst kind of nigger out here."
Captain Mitchell was a thick, elderly man, wearing high, pointed collars an_hort side-whiskers, partial to white waistcoats, and really ver_ommunicative under his air of pompous reserve.
"These gentlemen," he would say, staring with great solemnity, "had to ru_ike rabbits, sir. I ran like a rabbit myself. Certain forms of deat_re—er—distasteful to a—a—er—respectable man. They would have pounded me t_eath, too. A crazy mob, sir, does not discriminate. Under providence we owe_ur preservation to my Capataz de Cargadores, as they called him in the town,
a man who, when I discovered his value, sir, was just the bos'n of an Italia_hip, a big Genoese ship, one of the few European ships that ever came t_ulaco with a general cargo before the building of the National Central. H_eft her on account of some very respectable friends he made here, his ow_ountrymen, but also, I suppose, to better himself. Sir, I am a pretty goo_udge of character. I engaged him to be the foreman of our lightermen, an_aretaker of our jetty. That's all that he was. But without him Senor Ribier_ould have been a dead man. This Nostromo, sir, a man absolutely abov_eproach, became the terror of all the thieves in the town. We were infested,
infested, overrun, sir, here at that time by ladrones and matreros, thieve_nd murderers from the whole province. On this occasion they had been flockin_nto Sulaco for a week past. They had scented the end, sir. Fifty per cent. o_hat murdering mob were professional bandits from the Campo, sir, but ther_asn't one that hadn't heard of Nostromo. As to the town leperos, sir, th_ight of his black whiskers and white teeth was enough for them. They quaile_efore him, sir. That's what the force of character will do for you."
It could very well be said that it was Nostromo alone who saved the lives o_hese gentlemen. Captain Mitchell, on his part, never left them till he ha_een them collapse, panting, terrified, and exasperated, but safe, on th_uxuriant velvet sofas in the first-class saloon of the Minerva. To the ver_ast he had been careful to address the ex-Dictator as "Your Excellency."
"Sir, I could do no other. The man was down—ghastly, livid, one mass o_cratches."
The Minerva never let go her anchor that call. The superintendent ordered he_ut of the harbour at once. No cargo could be landed, of course, and th_assengers for Sulaco naturally refused to go ashore. They could hear th_iring and see plainly the fight going on at the edge of the water. Th_epulsed mob devoted its energies to an attack upon the Custom House, _reary, unfinished-looking structure with many windows two hundred yards awa_rom the O.S.N. Offices, and the only other building near the harbour. Captai_itchell, after directing the commander of the Minerva to land "thes_entlemen" in the first port of call outside Costaguana, went back in his gi_o see what could be done for the protection of the Company's property. Tha_nd the property of the railway were preserved by the European residents; tha_s, by Captain Mitchell himself and the staff of engineers building the road,
aided by the Italian and Basque workmen who rallied faithfully round thei_nglish chiefs. The Company's lightermen, too, natives of the Republic,
behaved very well under their Capataz. An outcast lot of very mixed blood,
mainly negroes, everlastingly at feud with the other customers of low gro_hops in the town, they embraced with delight this opportunity to settle thei_ersonal scores under such favourable auspices. There was not one of them tha_ad not, at some time or other, looked with terror at Nostromo's revolve_oked very close at his face, or been otherwise daunted by Nostromo'_esolution. He was "much of a man," their Capataz was, they said, too scornfu_n his temper ever to utter abuse, a tireless taskmaster, and the more to b_eared because of his aloofness. And behold! there he was that day, at thei_ead, condescending to make jocular remarks to this man or the other.
Such leadership was inspiriting, and in truth all the harm the mob managed t_chieve was to set fire to one—only one—stack of railway-sleepers, which,
being creosoted, burned well. The main attack on the railway yards, on th_.S.N. Offices, and especially on the Custom House, whose strong room, it wa_ell known, contained a large treasure in silver ingots, failed completely.
Even the little hotel kept by old Giorgio, standing alone halfway between th_arbour and the town, escaped looting and destruction, not by a miracle, bu_ecause with the safes in view they had neglected it at first, and afterward_ound no leisure to stop. Nostromo, with his Cargadores, was pressing them to_ard then.