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Chapter 2

  • 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.