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Chapter 6

  • The declining sun had shifted the shadows from west to east amongst the house_f the town. It had shifted them upon the whole extent of the immense Campo,
  • with the white walls of its haciendas on the knolls dominating the gree_istances; with its grass-thatched ranches crouching in the folds of ground b_he banks of streams; with the dark islands of clustered trees on a clear se_f grass, and the precipitous range of the Cordillera, immense and motionless,
  • emerging from the billows of the lower forests like the barren coast of a lan_f giants. The sunset rays striking the snow-slope of Higuerota from afar gav_t an air of rosy youth, while the serrated mass of distant peaks remaine_lack, as if calcined in the fiery radiance. The undulating surface of th_orests seemed powdered with pale gold dust; and away there, beyond Rincon,
  • hidden from the town by two wooded spurs, the rocks of the San Tome gorge,
  • with the flat wall of the mountain itself crowned by gigantic ferns, took o_arm tones of brown and yellow, with red rusty streaks, and the dark gree_lumps of bushes rooted in crevices. From the plain the stamp sheds and th_ouses of the mine appeared dark and small, high up, like the nests of bird_lustered on the ledges of a cliff. The zigzag paths resembled faint tracing_cratched on the wall of a cyclopean blockhouse. To the two serenos of th_ine on patrol duty, strolling, carbine in hand, and watchful eyes, in th_hade of the trees lining the stream near the bridge, Don Pepe, descending th_ath from the upper plateau, appeared no bigger than a large beetle.
  • With his air of aimless, insect-like going to and fro upon the face of th_ock, Don Pepe's figure kept on descending steadily, and, when near th_ottom, sank at last behind the roofs of store-houses, forges, and workshops.
  • For a time the pair of serenos strolled back and forth before the bridge, o_hich they had stopped a horseman holding a large white envelope in his hand.
  • Then Don Pepe, emerging in the village street from amongst the houses, not _tone's throw from the frontier bridge, approached, striding in wide dar_rousers tucked into boots, a white linen jacket, sabre at his side, an_evolver at his belt. In this disturbed time nothing could find the Seno_obernador with his boots off, as the saying is.
  • At a slight nod from one of the serenos, the man, a messenger from the town,
  • dismounted, and crossed the bridge, leading his horse by the bridle.
  • Don Pepe received the letter from his other hand, slapped his left side an_is hips in succession, feeling for his spectacle case. After settling th_eavy silvermounted affair astride his nose, and adjusting it carefully behin_is ears, he opened the envelope, holding it up at about a foot in front o_is eyes. The paper he pulled out contained some three lines of writing. H_ooked at them for a long time. His grey moustache moved slightly up and down,
  • and the wrinkles, radiating at the corners of his eyes, ran together. H_odded serenely. "Bueno," he said. "There is no answer."
  • Then, in his quiet, kindly way, he engaged in a cautious conversation with th_an, who was willing to talk cheerily, as if something lucky had happened t_im recently. He had seen from a distance Sotillo's infantry camped along th_hore of the harbour on each side of the Custom House. They had done no damag_o the buildings. The foreigners of the railway remained shut up within th_ards. They were no longer anxious to shoot poor people. He cursed th_oreigners; then he reported Montero's entry and the rumours of the town. Th_oor were going to be made rich now. That was very good. More he did not know,
  • and, breaking into propitiatory smiles, he intimated that he was hungry an_hirsty. The old major directed him to go to the alcalde of the first village.
  • The man rode off, and Don Pepe, striding slowly in the direction of a littl_ooden belfry, looked over a hedge into a little garden, and saw Father Roma_itting in a white hammock slung between two orange trees in front of th_resbytery.
  • An enormous tamarind shaded with its dark foliage the whole white framehouse.
  • A young Indian girl with long hair, big eyes, and small hands and feet,
  • carried out a wooden chair, while a thin old woman, crabbed and vigilant,
  • watched her all the time from the verandah.
  • Don Pepe sat down in the chair and lighted a cigar; the priest drew in a_mmense quantity of snuff out of the hollow of his palm. On his reddish-brow_ace, worn, hollowed as if crumbled, the eyes, fresh and candid, sparkled lik_wo black diamonds.
  • Don Pepe, in a mild and humorous voice, informed Father Roman that Pedrit_ontero, by the hand of Senor Fuentes, had asked him on what terms he woul_urrender the mine in proper working order to a legally constituted commissio_f patriotic citizens, escorted by a small military force. The priest cast hi_yes up to heaven. However, Don Pepe continued, the mozo who brought th_etter said that Don Carlos Gould was alive, and so far unmolested.
  • Father Roman expressed in a few words his thankfulness at hearing of the Seno_dministrador's safety.
  • The hour of oration had gone by in the silvery ringing of a bell in the littl_elfry. The belt of forest closing the entrance of the valley stood like _creen between the low sun and the street of the village. At the other end o_he rocky gorge, between the walls of basalt and granite, a forest-cla_ountain, hiding all the range from the San Tome dwellers, rose steeply,
  • lighted up and leafy to the very top. Three small rosy clouds hung motionles_verhead in the great depth of blue. Knots of people sat in the street betwee_he wattled huts. Before the casa of the alcalde, the foremen of the night-
  • shift, already assembled to lead their men, squatted on the ground in a circl_f leather skull-caps, and, bowing their bronze backs, were passing round th_ourd of mate. The mozo from the town, having fastened his horse to a woode_ost before the door, was telling them the news of Sulaco as the blackene_ourd of the decoction passed from hand to hand. The grave alcalde himself, i_ white waistcloth and a flowered chintz gown with sleeves, open wide upon hi_aked stout person with an effect of a gaudy bathing robe, stood by, wearing _ough beaver hat at the back of his head, and grasping a tall staff with _ilver knob in his hand. These insignia of his dignity had been conferred upo_im by the Administration of the mine, the fountain of honour, of prosperity,
  • and peace. He had been one of the first immigrants into this valley; his son_nd sons-in-law worked within the mountain which seemed with its treasures t_our down the thundering ore shoots of the upper mesa, the gifts of well-
  • being, security, and justice upon the toilers. He listened to the news fro_he town with curiosity and indifference, as if concerning another world tha_is own. And it was true that they appeared to him so. In a very few years th_ense of belonging to a powerful organization had been developed in thes_arassed, half-wild Indians. They were proud of, and attached to, the mine. I_ad secured their confidence and belief. They invested it with a protectin_nd invincible virtue as though it were a fetish made by their own hands, fo_hey were ignorant, and in other respects did not differ appreciably from th_est of mankind which puts infinite trust in its own creations. It neve_ntered the alcalde's head that the mine could fail in its protection an_orce. Politics were good enough for the people of the town and the Campo. Hi_ellow, round face, with wide nostrils, and motionless in expression,
  • resembled a fierce full moon. He listened to the excited vapourings of th_ozo without misgivings, without surprise, without any active sentimen_hatever.
  • Padre Roman sat dejectedly balancing himself, his feet just touching th_round, his hands gripping the edge of the hammock. With less confidence, bu_s ignorant as his flock, he asked the major what did he think was going t_appen now.
  • Don Pepe, bolt upright in the chair, folded his hands peacefully on the hil_f his sword, standing perpendicular between his thighs, and answered that h_id not know. The mine could be defended against any force likely to be sen_o take possession. On the other hand, from the arid character of the valley,
  • when the regular supplies from the Campo had been cut off, the population o_he three villages could be starved into submission. Don Pepe exposed thes_ontingencies with serenity to Father Roman, who, as an old campaigner, wa_ble to understand the reasoning of a military man. They talked wit_implicity and directness. Father Roman was saddened at the idea of his floc_eing scattered or else enslaved. He had no illusions as to their fate, no_rom penetration, but from long experience of political atrocities, whic_eemed to him fatal and unavoidable in the life of a State. The working of th_sual public institutions presented itself to him most distinctly as a serie_f calamities overtaking private individuals and flowing logically from eac_ther through hate, revenge, folly, and rapacity, as though they had been par_f a divine dispensation. Father Roman's clear-sightedness was served by a_ninformed intelligence; but his heart, preserving its tenderness amongs_cenes of carnage, spoliation, and violence, abhorred these calamities th_ore as his association with the victims was closer. He entertained toward_he Indians of the valley feelings of paternal scorn. He had been marrying,
  • baptizing, confessing, absolving, and burying the workers of the San Tome min_ith dignity and unction for five years or more; and he believed in th_acredness of these ministrations, which made them his own in a spiritua_ense. They were dear to his sacerdotal supremacy. Mrs. Gould's earnes_nterest in the concerns of these people enhanced their importance in th_riest's eyes, because it really augmented his own. When talking over with he_he innumerable Marias and Brigidas of the villages, he felt his own humanit_xpand. Padre Roman was incapable of fanaticism to an almost reprehensibl_egree. The English senora was evidently a heretic; but at the same time sh_eemed to him wonderful and angelic. Whenever that confused state of hi_eelings occurred to him, while strolling, for instance, his breviary unde_is arm, in the wide shade of the tamarind, he would stop short to inhale wit_ strong snuffling noise a large quantity of snuff, and shake his hea_rofoundly. At the thought of what might befall the illustrious senor_resently, he became gradually overcome with dismay. He voiced it in a_gitated murmur. Even Don Pepe lost his serenity for a moment. He leane_orward stiffly.
  • "Listen, Padre. The very fact that those thieving macaques in Sulaco ar_rying to find out the price of my honour proves that Senor Don Carlos and al_n the Casa Gould are safe. As to my honour, that also is safe, as every man,
  • woman, and child knows. But the negro Liberals who have snatched the town b_urprise do not know that. Bueno. Let them sit and wait. While they wait the_an do no harm."
  • And he regained his composure. He regained it easily, because whateve_appened his honour of an old officer of Paez was safe. He had promise_harles Gould that at the approach of an armed force he would defend the gorg_ust long enough to give himself time to destroy scientifically the whol_lant, buildings, and workshops of the mine with heavy charges of dynamite;
  • block with ruins the main tunnel, break down the pathways, blow up the dam o_he water-power, shatter the famous Gould Concession into fragments, flyin_ky high out of a horrified world. The mine had got hold of Charles Gould wit_ grip as deadly as ever it had laid upon his father. But this extrem_esolution had seemed to Don Pepe the most natural thing in the world. Hi_easures had been taken with judgment. Everything was prepared with a carefu_ompleteness. And Don Pepe folded his hands pacifically on his sword hilt, an_odded at the priest. In his excitement, Father Roman had flung snuff i_andfuls at his face, and, all besmeared with tobacco, round-eyed, and besid_imself, had got out of the hammock to walk about, uttering exclamations.
  • Don Pepe stroked his grey and pendant moustache, whose fine ends hung fa_elow the clean-cut line of his jaw, and spoke with a conscious pride in hi_eputation.
  • "So, Padre, I don't know what will happen. But I know that as long as I a_ere Don Carlos can speak to that macaque, Pedrito Montero, and threaten th_estruction of the mine with perfect assurance that he will be take_eriously. For people know me."
  • He began to turn the cigar in his lips a little nervously, and went on—
  • "But that is talk—good for the politicos. I am a military man. I do not kno_hat may happen. But I know what ought to be done—the mine should march upo_he town with guns, axes, knives tied up to sticks—por Dios. That is wha_hould be done. Only—"
  • His folded hands twitched on the hilt. The cigar turned faster in the corne_f his lips.
  • "And who should lead but I? Unfortunately—observe—I have given my word o_onour to Don Carlos not to let the mine fall into the hands of these thieves.
  • In war—you know this, Padre—the fate of battles is uncertain, and whom could _eave here to act for me in case of defeat? The explosives are ready. But i_ould require a man of high honour, of intelligence, of judgment, of courage,
  • to carry out the prepared destruction. Somebody I can trust with my honour a_ can trust myself. Another old officer of Paez, for instance. Or—or—perhap_ne of Paez's old chaplains would do."
  • He got up, long, lank, upright, hard, with his martial moustache and the bon_tructure of his face, from which the glance of the sunken eyes seemed t_ransfix the priest, who stood still, an empty wooden snuff-box held upsid_own in his hand, and glared back, speechless, at the governor of the mine.