It might have been said that there he was only protecting his own. From th_irst he had been admitted to live in the intimacy of the family of the hotel-
keeper who was a countryman of his. Old Giorgio Viola, a Genoese with a shagg_hite leonine head—often called simply "the Garibaldino" (as Mohammedans ar_alled after their prophet)—was, to use Captain Mitchell's own words, the
"respectable married friend" by whose advice Nostromo had left his ship to tr_or a run of shore luck in Costaguana.
The old man, full of scorn for the populace, as your austere republican s_ften is, had disregarded the preliminary sounds of trouble. He went on tha_ay as usual pottering about the "casa" in his slippers, muttering angrily t_imself his contempt of the non-political nature of the riot, and shruggin_is shoulders. In the end he was taken unawares by the out-rush of the rabble.
It was too late then to remove his family, and, indeed, where could he hav_un to with the portly Signora Teresa and two little girls on that grea_lain? So, barricading every opening, the old man sat down sternly in th_iddle of the darkened cafe with an old shot-gun on his knees. His wife sat o_nother chair by his side, muttering pious invocations to all the saints o_he calendar.
The old republican did not believe in saints, or in prayers, or in what h_alled "priest's religion." Liberty and Garibaldi were his divinities; but h_olerated "superstition" in women, preserving in these matters a lofty an_ilent attitude.
His two girls, the eldest fourteen, and the other two years younger, crouche_n the sanded floor, on each side of the Signora Teresa, with their heads o_heir mother's lap, both scared, but each in her own way, the dark-haire_inda indignant and angry, the fair Giselle, the younger, bewildered an_esigned. The Patrona removed her arms, which embraced her daughters, for _oment to cross herself and wring her hands hurriedly. She moaned a littl_ouder.
"Oh! Gian' Battista, why art thou not here? Oh! why art thou not here?"
She was not then invoking the saint himself, but calling upon Nostromo, whos_atron he was. And Giorgio, motionless on the chair by her side, would b_rovoked by these reproachful and distracted appeals.
"Peace, woman! Where's the sense of it? There's his duty," he murmured in th_ark; and she would retort, panting—
"Eh! I have no patience. Duty! What of the woman who has been like a mother t_im? I bent my knee to him this morning; don't you go out, Gian' Battista—sto_n the house, Battistino—look at those two little innocent children!"
Mrs. Viola was an Italian, too, a native of Spezzia, and though considerabl_ounger than her husband, already middle-aged. She had a handsome face, whos_omplexion had turned yellow because the climate of Sulaco did not suit her a_ll. Her voice was a rich contralto. When, with her arms folded tight unde_er ample bosom, she scolded the squat, thick-legged China girls handlin_inen, plucking fowls, pounding corn in wooden mortars amongst the mu_utbuildings at the back of the house, she could bring out such a_mpassioned, vibrating, sepulchral note that the chained watch-dog bolted int_is kennel with a great rattle. Luis, a cinnamon-coloured mulatto with _prouting moustache and thick, dark lips, would stop sweeping the cafe with _room of palm-leaves to let a gentle shudder run down his spine. Hi_anguishing almond eyes would remain closed for a long time.
This was the staff of the Casa Viola, but all these people had fled early tha_orning at the first sounds of the riot, preferring to hide on the plai_ather than trust themselves in the house; a preference for which they were i_o way to blame, since, whether true or not, it was generally believed in th_own that the Garibaldino had some money buried under the clay floor of th_itchen. The dog, an irritable, shaggy brute, barked violently and whine_laintively in turns at the back, running in and out of his kennel as rage o_ear prompted him.
Bursts of great shouting rose and died away, like wild gusts of wind on th_lain round the barricaded house; the fitful popping of shots grew loude_bove the yelling. Sometimes there were intervals of unaccountable stillnes_utside, and nothing could have been more gaily peaceful than the narro_right lines of sunlight from the cracks in the shutters, ruled straigh_cross the cafe over the disarranged chairs and tables to the wall opposite.
Old Giorgio had chosen that bare, whitewashed room for a retreat. It had onl_ne window, and its only door swung out upon the track of thick dust fenced b_loe hedges between the harbour and the town, where clumsy carts used to crea_long behind slow yokes of oxen guided by boys on horseback.
In a pause of stillness Giorgio cocked his gun. The ominous sound wrung a lo_oan from the rigid figure of the woman sitting by his side. A sudden outbrea_f defiant yelling quite near the house sank all at once to a confused murmu_f growls. Somebody ran along; the loud catching of his breath was heard fo_n instant passing the door; there were hoarse mutters and footsteps near th_all; a shoulder rubbed against the shutter, effacing the bright lines o_unshine pencilled across the whole breadth of the room. Signora Teresa's arm_hrown about the kneeling forms of her daughters embraced them closer with _onvulsive pressure.
The mob, driven away from the Custom House, had broken up into several bands,
retreating across the plain in the direction of the town. The subdued crash o_rregular volleys fired in the distance was answered by faint yells far away.
In the intervals the single shots rang feebly, and the low, long, whit_uilding blinded in every window seemed to be the centre of a turmoil widenin_n a great circle about its closed-up silence. But the cautious movements an_hispers of a routed party seeking a momentary shelter behind the wall mad_he darkness of the room, striped by threads of quiet sunlight, alight wit_vil, stealthy sounds. The Violas had them in their ears as though invisibl_hosts hovering about their chairs had consulted in mutters as to th_dvisability of setting fire to this foreigner's casa.
It was trying to the nerves. Old Viola had risen slowly, gun in hand,
irresolute, for he did not see how he could prevent them. Already voices coul_e heard talking at the back. Signora Teresa was beside herself with terror.
"Ah! the traitor! the traitor!" she mumbled, almost inaudibly. "Now we ar_oing to be burnt; and I bent my knee to him. No! he must run at the heels o_is English."
She seemed to think that Nostromo's mere presence in the house would have mad_t perfectly safe. So far, she, too, was under the spell of that reputatio_he Capataz de Cargadores had made for himself by the waterside, along th_ailway line, with the English and with the populace of Sulaco. To his face,
and even against her husband, she invariably affected to laugh it to scorn,
sometimes good-naturedly, more often with a curious bitterness. But then wome_re unreasonable in their opinions, as Giorgio used to remark calmly o_itting occasions. On this occasion, with his gun held at ready before him, h_tooped down to his wife's head, and, keeping his eyes steadfastly on th_arricaded door, he breathed out into her ear that Nostromo would have bee_owerless to help. What could two men shut up in a house do against twenty o_ore bent upon setting fire to the roof? Gian' Battista was thinking of th_asa all the time, he was sure.
"He think of the casa! He!" gasped Signora Viola, crazily. She struck he_reast with her open hands. "I know him. He thinks of nobody but himself."
A discharge of firearms near by made her throw her head back and close he_yes. Old Giorgio set his teeth hard under his white moustache, and his eye_egan to roll fiercely. Several bullets struck the end of the wall together;
pieces of plaster could be heard falling outside; a voice screamed "Here the_ome!" and after a moment of uneasy silence there was a rush of running fee_long the front.
Then the tension of old Giorgio's attitude relaxed, and a smile o_ontemptuous relief came upon his lips of an old fighter with a leonine face.
These were not a people striving for justice, but thieves. Even to defend hi_ife against them was a sort of degradation for a man who had been one o_aribaldi's immortal thousand in the conquest of Sicily. He had an immens_corn for this outbreak of scoundrels and leperos, who did not know th_eaning of the word "liberty."
He grounded his old gun, and, turning his head, glanced at the coloure_ithograph of Garibaldi in a black frame on the white wall; a thread of stron_unshine cut it perpendicularly. His eyes, accustomed to the luminou_wilight, made out the high colouring of the face, the red of the shirt, th_utlines of the square shoulders, the black patch of the Bersagliere hat wit_ock's feathers curling over the crown. An immortal hero! This was you_iberty; it gave you not only life, but immortality as well!
For that one man his fanaticism had suffered no diminution. In the moment o_elief from the apprehension of the greatest danger, perhaps, his family ha_een exposed to in all their wanderings, he had turned to the picture of hi_ld chief, first and only, then laid his hand on his wife's shoulder.
The children kneeling on the floor had not moved. Signora Teresa opened he_yes a little, as though he had awakened her from a very deep and dreamles_lumber. Before he had time in his deliberate way to say a reassuring word sh_umped up, with the children clinging to her, one on each side, gasped fo_reath, and let out a hoarse shriek.
It was simultaneous with the bang of a violent blow struck on the outside o_he shutter. They could hear suddenly the snorting of a horse, the restiv_ramping of hoofs on the narrow, hard path in front of the house; the toe of _oot struck at the shutter again; a spur jingled at every blow, and an excite_oice shouted, "Hola! hola, in there!"