Part 5 out of 10
to us, 'that I dared not risk the rolling-stock in the interior,
as there had been attempts to wreck trains all along the line
several times. I did that for your sake, Gould,' said the chief
engineer. 'The answer to this was, in the words of my
subordinate, "The filthy brute on my bed said, 'Suppose I were to
have you shot?'" To which my subordinate, who, it appears, was
himself operating, remarked that it would not bring the cars up.
Upon that, the other, yawning, said, "Never mind, there is no
lack of horses on the Campo." And, turning over, went to sleep on
"This is why, my dear girl, I am a fugitive to-night. The last
wire from railhead says that Pedro Montero and his men left at
daybreak, after feeding on asado beef all night. They took all
the horses; they will find more on the road; they'll be here in
less than thirty hours, and thus Sulaco is no place either for me
or the great store of silver belonging to the Gould Concession.
"But that is not the worst. The garrison of Esmeralda has gone
over to the victorious party. We have heard this by means of the
telegraphist of the Cable Company, who came to the Casa Gould in
the early morning with the news. In fact, it was so early that
the day had not yet quite broken over Sulaco. His colleague in
Esmeralda had called him up to say that the garrison, after
shooting some of their officers, had taken possession of a
Government steamer laid up in the harbour. It is really a heavy
blow for me. I thought I could depend on every man in this
province. It was a mistake. It was a Monterist Revolution in
Esmeralda, just such as was attempted in Sulaco, only that that
one came off. The telegraphist was signalling to Bernhardt all
the time, and his last transmitted words were, 'They are bursting
in the door, and taking possession of the cable office. You are
cut off. Can do no more.'
"But, as a matter of fact, he managed somehow to escape the
vigilance of his captors, who had tried to stop the communication
with the outer world. He did manage it. How it was done I don't
know, but a few hours afterwards he called up Sulaco again, and
what he said was, 'The insurgent army has taken possession of the
Government transport in the bay and are filling her with troops,
with the intention of going round the coast to Sulaco. Therefore
look out for yourselves. They will be ready to start in a few
hours, and may be upon you before daybreak.'
"This is all he could say. They drove him away from his
instrument this time for good, because Bernhardt has been calling
up Esmeralda ever since without getting an answer."
After setting these words down in the pocket-book which he was
filling up for the benefit of his sister, Decoud lifted his head
to listen. But there were no sounds, neither in the room nor in
the house, except the drip of the water from the filter into the
vast earthenware jar under the wooden stand. And outside the
house there was a great silence. Decoud lowered his head again
over the pocket-book.
"I am not running away, you understand," he wrote on. "I am
simply going away with that great treasure of silver which must
be saved at all costs. Pedro Montero from the Campo and the
revolted garrison of Esmeralda from the sea are converging upon
it. That it is there lying ready for them is only an accident.
The real objective is the San Tome mine itself, as you may well
imagine; otherwise the Occidental Province would have been, no
doubt, left alone for many weeks, to be gathered at leisure into
the arms of the victorious party. Don Carlos Gould will have
enough to do to save his mine, with its organization and its
people; this 'Imperium in Imperio,' this wealth-producing thing,
to which his sentimentalism attaches a strange idea of justice.
He holds to it as some men hold to the idea of love or revenge.
Unless I am much mistaken in the man, it must remain inviolate or
perish by an act of his will alone. A passion has crept into his
cold and idealistic life. A passion which I can only comprehend
intellectually. A passion that is not like the passions we know,
we men of another blood. But it is as dangerous as any of ours.
"His wife has understood it, too. That is why she is such a good
ally of mine. She seizes upon all my suggestions with a sure
instinct that in the end they make for the safety of the Gould
Concession. And he defers to her because he trusts her perhaps,
but I fancy rather as if he wished to make up for some subtle
wrong, for that sentimental unfaithfulness which surrenders her
happiness, her life, to the seduction of an idea. The little
woman has discovered that he lives for the mine rather than for
her. But let them be. To each his fate, shaped by passion or
sentiment. The principal thing is that she has backed up my
advice to get the silver out of the town, out of the country, at
once, at any cost, at any risk. Don Carlos' mission is to
preserve unstained the fair fame of his mine; Mrs. Gould's
mission is to save him from the effects of that cold and
overmastering passion, which she dreads more than if it were an
infatuation for another woman. Nostromo's mission is to save the
silver. The plan is to load it into the largest of the Company's
lighters, and send it across the gulf to a small port out of
Costaguana territory just on the other side the Azuera, where the
first northbound steamer will get orders to pick it up. The
waters here are calm. We shall slip away into the darkness of the
gulf before the Esmeralda rebels arrive; and by the time the day
breaks over the ocean we shall be out of sight, invisible, hidden
by Azuera, which itself looks from the Sulaco shore like a faint
blue cloud on the horizon.
"The incorruptible Capataz de Cargadores is the man for that
work; and I, the man with a passion, but without a mission, I go
with him to return--to play my part in the farce to the end, and,
if successful, to receive my reward, which no one but Antonia can
"I shall not see her again now before I depart. I left her, as I
have said, by Don Jose's bedside. The street was dark, the houses
shut up, and I walked out of the town in the night. Not a single
street-lamp had been lit for two days, and the archway of the
gate was only a mass of darkness in the vague form of a tower, in
which I heard low, dismal groans, that seemed to answer the
murmurs of a man's voice.
"I recognized something impassive and careless in its tone,
characteristic of that Genoese sailor who, like me, has come
casually here to be drawn into the events for which his
scepticism as well as mine seems to entertain a sort of passive
contempt. The only thing he seems to care for, as far as I have
been able to discover, is to be well spoken of. An ambition fit
for noble souls, but also a profitable one for an exceptionally
intelligent scoundrel. Yes. His very words, 'To be well spoken
of. Si, senor.' He does not seem to make any difference between
speaking and thinking. Is it sheer naiveness or the practical
point of view, I wonder? Exceptional individualities always
interest me, because they are true to the general formula
expressing the moral state of humanity.
"He joined me on the harbour road after I had passed them under
the dark archway without stopping. It was a woman in trouble he
had been talking to. Through discretion I kept silent while he
walked by my side. After a time he began to talk himself. It was
not what I expected. It was only an old woman, an old lace-maker,
in search of her son, one of the street-sweepers employed by the
municipality. Friends had come the day before at daybreak to the
door of their hovel calling him out. He had gone with them, and
she had not seen him since; so she had left the food she had been
preparing half-cooked on the extinct embers and had crawled out
as far as the harbour, where she had heard that some town mozos
had been killed on the morning of the riot. One of the Cargadores
guarding the Custom House had brought out a lantern, and had
helped her to look at the few dead left lying about there. Now
she was creeping back, having failed in her search. So she sat
down on the stone seat under the arch, moaning, because she was
very tired. The Capataz had questioned her, and after hearing her
broken and groaning tale had advised her to go and look amongst
the wounded in the patio of the Casa Gould. He had also given her
a quarter dollar, he mentioned carelessly."
"'Why did you do that?' I asked. 'Do you know her?'
"'No, senor. I don't suppose I have ever seen her before. How
should I? She has not probably been out in the streets for years.
She is one of those old women that you find in this country at
the back of huts, crouching over fireplaces, with a stick on the
ground by their side, and almost too feeble to drive away the
stray dogs from their cooking-pots. Caramba! I could tell by her
voice that death had forgotten her. But, old or young, they like
money, and will speak well of the man who gives it to them.' He
laughed a little. 'Senor, you should have felt the clutch of her
paw as I put the piece in her palm.' He paused. 'My last, too,'
"I made no comment. He's known for his liberality and his bad
luck at the game of monte, which keeps him as poor as when he
first came here.
"'I suppose, Don Martin,' he began, in a thoughtful, speculative
tone, 'that the Senor Administrador of San Tome will reward me
some day if I save his silver?'
"I said that it could not be otherwise, surely. He walked on,
muttering to himself. 'Si, si, without doubt, without doubt; and,
look you, Senor Martin, what it is to be well spoken of! There is
not another man that could have been even thought of for such a
thing. I shall get something great for it some day. And let it
come soon,' he mumbled. 'Time passes in this country as quick as
"This, soeur cherie, is my companion in the great escape for the
sake of the great cause. He is more naive than shrewd, more
masterful than crafty, more generous with his personality than
the people who make use of him are with their money. At least,
that is what he thinks himself with more pride than sentiment. I
am glad I have made friends with him. As a companion he acquires
more importance than he ever had as a sort of minor genius in his
way--as an original Italian sailor whom I allowed to come in in
the small hours and talk familiarly to the editor of the Porvenir
while the paper was going through the press. And it is curious to
have met a man for whom the value of life seems to consist in
"I am waiting for him here now. On arriving at the posada kept by
Viola we found the children alone down below, and the old Genoese
shouted to his countryman to go and fetch the doctor. Otherwise
we would have gone on to the wharf, where it appears Captain
Mitchell with some volunteer Europeans and a few picked
Cargadores are loading the lighter with the silver that must be
saved from Montero's clutches in order to be used for Montero's
defeat. Nostromo galloped furiously back towards the town. He has
been long gone already. This delay gives me time to talk to you.
By the time this pocket-book reaches your hands much will have
happened. But now it is a pause under the hovering wing of death
in this silent house buried in the black night, with this dying
woman, the two children crouching without a sound, and that old
man whom I can hear through the thickness of the wall passing up
and down with a light rubbing noise no louder than a mouse. And
I, the only other with them, don't really know whether to count
myself with the living or with the dead. 'Quien sabe?' as the
people here are prone to say in answer to every question. But no!
feeling for you is certainly not dead, and the whole thing, the
house, the dark night, the silent children in this dim room, my
very presence here--all this is life, must be life, since it is
so much like a dream."
With the writing of the last line there came upon Decoud a moment
of sudden and complete oblivion. He swayed over the table as if
struck by a bullet. The next moment he sat up, confused, with the
idea that he had heard his pencil roll on the floor. The low door
of the cafe, wide open, was filled with the glare of a torch in
which was visible half of a horse, switching its tail against the
leg of a rider with a long iron spur strapped to the naked heel.
The two girls were gone, and Nostromo, standing in the middle of
the room, looked at him from under the round brim of the sombrero
low down over his brow.
"I have brought that sour-faced English doctor in Senora Gould's
carriage," said Nostromo. "I doubt if, with all his wisdom, he
can save the Padrona this time. They have sent for the children.
A bad sign that."
He sat down on the end of a bench. "She wants to give them her
blessing, I suppose."
Dazedly Decoud observed that he must have fallen sound asleep,
and Nostromo said, with a vague smile, that he had looked in at
the window and had seen him lying still across the table with his
head on his arms. The English senora had also come in the
carriage, and went upstairs at once with the doctor. She had told
him not to wake up Don Martin yet; but when they sent for the
children he had come into the cafe.
The half of the horse with its half of the rider swung round
outside the door; the torch of tow and resin in the iron basket
which was carried on a stick at the saddle-bow flared right into
the room for a moment, and Mrs. Gould entered hastily with a
very white, tired face. The hood of her dark, blue cloak had
fallen back. Both men rose.
"Teresa wants to see you, Nostromo," she said. The Capataz did
not move. Decoud, with his back to the table, began to button up
"The silver, Mrs. Gould, the silver," he murmured in English.
"Don't forget that the Esmeralda garrison have got a steamer.
They may appear at any moment at the harbour entrance."
"The doctor says there is no hope," Mrs. Gould spoke rapidly,
also in English. "I shall take you down to the wharf in my
carriage and then come back to fetch away the girls." She changed
swiftly into Spanish to address Nostromo. "Why are you wasting
time? Old Giorgio's wife wishes to see you."
"I am going to her, senora," muttered the Capataz. Dr. Monygham
now showed himself, bringing back the children. To Mrs. Gould's
inquiring glance he only shook his head and went outside at once,
followed by Nostromo.
The horse of the torch-bearer, motionless, hung his head low, and
the rider had dropped the reins to light a cigarette. The glare
of the torch played on the front of the house crossed by the big
black letters of its inscription in which only the word ITALIA
was lighted fully. The patch of wavering glare reached as far as
Mrs. Gould's carriage waiting on the road, with the yellow-faced,
portly Ignacio apparently dozing on the box. By his side Basilio,
dark and skinny, held a Winchester carbine in front of him, with
both hands, and peered fearfully into the darkness. Nostromo
touched lightly the doctor's shoulder.
"Is she really dying, senor doctor?"
"Yes," said the doctor, with a strange twitch of his scarred
cheek. "And why she wants to see you I cannot imagine."
"She has been like that before," suggested Nostromo, looking
"Well, Capataz, I can assure you she will never be like that
again," snarled Dr. Monygham. "You may go to her or stay away.
There is very little to be got from talking to the dying. But she
told Dona Emilia in my hearing that she has been like a mother to
you ever since you first set foot ashore here."
"Si! And she never had a good word to say for me to anybody. It
is more as if she could not forgive me for being alive, and such
a man, too, as she would have liked her son to be."
"Maybe!" exclaimed a mournful deep voice near them. "Women have
their own ways of tormenting themselves." Giorgio Viola had come
out of the house. He threw a heavy black shadow in the
torchlight, and the glare fell on his big face, on the great
bushy head of white hair. He motioned the Capataz indoors with
his extended arm.
Dr. Monygham, after busying himself with a little medicament box
of polished wood on the seat of the landau, turned to old Giorgio
and thrust into his big, trembling hand one of the
glass-stoppered bottles out of the case.
"Give her a spoonful of this now and then, in water," he said.
"It will make her easier."
"And there is nothing more for her?" asked the old man,
"No. Not on earth," said the doctor, with his back to him,
clicking the lock of the medicine case.
Nostromo slowly crossed the large kitchen, all dark but for the
glow of a heap of charcoal under the heavy mantel of the
cooking-range, where water was boiling in an iron pot with a loud
bubbling sound. Between the two walls of a narrow staircase a
bright light streamed from the sick-room above; and the
magnificent Capataz de Cargadores stepping noiselessly in soft
leather sandals, bushy whiskered, his muscular neck and bronzed
chest bare in the open check shirt, resembled a Mediterranean
sailor just come ashore from some wine or fruit-laden felucca. At
the top he paused, broad shouldered, narrow hipped and supple,
looking at the large bed, like a white couch of state, with a
profusion of snowy linen, amongst which the Padrona sat unpropped
and bowed, her handsome, black-browed face bent over her chest. A
mass of raven hair with only a few white threads in it covered
her shoulders; one thick strand fallen forward half veiled her
cheek. Perfectly motionless in that pose, expressing physical
anxiety and unrest, she turned her eyes alone towards Nostromo.
The Capataz had a red sash wound many times round his waist, and
a heavy silver ring on the forefinger of the hand he raised to
give a twist to his moustache.
"Their revolutions, their revolutions," gasped Senora Teresa.
"Look, Gian' Battista, it has killed me at last!"
Nostromo said nothing, and the sick woman with an upward glance
insisted. "Look, this one has killed me, while you were away
fighting for what did not concern you, foolish man."
"Why talk like this?" mumbled the Capataz between his teeth.
"Will you never believe in my good sense? It concerns me to keep
on being what I am: every day alike."
"You never change, indeed," she said, bitterly. "Always thinking
of yourself and taking your pay out in fine words from those who
care nothing for you."
There was between them an intimacy of antagonism as close in its
way as the intimacy of accord and affection. He had not walked
along the way of Teresa's expectations. It was she who had
encouraged him to leave his ship, in the hope of securing a
friend and defender for the girls. The wife of old Giorgio was
aware of her precarious health, and was haunted by the fear of
her aged husband's loneliness and the unprotected state of the
children. She had wanted to annex that apparently quiet and
steady young man, affectionate and pliable, an orphan from his
tenderest age, as he had told her, with no ties in Italy except
an uncle, owner and master of a felucca, from whose ill-usage he
had run away before he was fourteen. He had seemed to her
courageous, a hard worker, determined to make his way in the
world. From gratitude and the ties of habit he would become like
a son to herself and Giorgio; and then, who knows, when Linda had
grown up. . . . Ten years' difference between husband and wife
was not so much. Her own great man was nearly twenty years older
than herself. Gian' Battista was an attractive young fellow,
besides; attractive to men, women, and children, just by that
profound quietness of personality which, like a serene twilight,
rendered more seductive the promise of his vigorous form and the
resolution of his conduct.
Old Giorgio, in profound ignorance of his wife's views and hopes,
had a great regard for his young countryman. "A man ought not to
be tame," he used to tell her, quoting the Spanish proverb in
defence of the splendid Capataz. She was growing jealous of his
success. He was escaping from her, she feared. She was practical,
and he seemed to her to be an absurd spendthrift of these
qualities which made him so valuable. He got too little for them.
He scattered them with both hands amongst too many people, she
thought. He laid no money by. She railed at his poverty, his
exploits, his adventures, his loves and his reputation; but in
her heart she had never given him up, as though, indeed, he had
been her son.
Even now, ill as she was, ill enough to feel the chill, black
breath of the approaching end, she had wished to see him. It was
like putting out her benumbed hand to regain her hold. But she
had presumed too much on her strength. She could not command her
thoughts; they had become dim, like her vision. The words
faltered on her lips, and only the paramount anxiety and desire
of her life seemed to be too strong for death.
The Capataz said, "I have heard these things many times. You are
unjust, but it does not hurt me. Only now you do not seem to have
much strength to talk, and I have but little time to listen. I am
engaged in a work of very great moment."
She made an effort to ask him whether it was true that he had
found time to go and fetch a doctor for her. Nostromo nodded
She was pleased: it relieved her sufferings to know that the man
had condescended to do so much for those who really wanted his
help. It was a proof of his friendship. Her voice become
"I want a priest more than a doctor," she said, pathetically. She
did not move her head; only her eyes ran into the corners to
watch the Capataz standing by the side of her bed. "Would you go
to fetch a priest for me now? Think! A dying woman asks you!"
Nostromo shook his head resolutely. He did not believe in priests
in their sacerdotal character. A doctor was an efficacious
person; but a priest, as priest, was nothing, incapable of doing
either good or harm. Nostromo did not even dislike the sight of
them as old Giorgio did. The utter uselessness of the errand was
what struck him most.
"Padrona," he said, "you have been like this before, and got
better after a few days. I have given you already the very last
moments I can spare. Ask Senora Gould to send you one."
He was feeling uneasy at the impiety of this refusal. The
Padrona believed in priests, and confessed herself to them. But
all women did that. It could not be of much consequence. And yet
his heart felt oppressed for a moment--at the thought what
absolution would mean to her if she believed in it only ever so
little. No matter. It was quite true that he had given her
already the very last moment he could spare.
"You refuse to go?" she gasped. "Ah! you are always yourself,
"Listen to reason, Padrona," he said. "I am needed to save the
silver of the mine. Do you hear? A greater treasure than the one
which they say is guarded by ghosts and devils on Azuera. It is
true. I am resolved to make this the most desperate affair I was
ever engaged on in my whole life."
She felt a despairing indignation. The supreme test had failed.
Standing above her, Nostromo did not see the distorted features
of her face, distorted by a paroxysm of pain and anger. Only she
began to tremble all over. Her bowed head shook. The broad
"Then God, perhaps, will have mercy upon me! But do you look to
it, man, that you get something for yourself out of it, besides
the remorse that shall overtake you some day."
She laughed feebly. "Get riches at least for once, you
indispensable, admired Gian' Battista, to whom the peace of a
dying woman is less than the praise of people who have given you
a silly name--and nothing besides--in exchange for your soul and
The Capataz de Cargadores swore to himself under his breath.
"Leave my soul alone, Padrona, and I shall know how to take care
of my body. Where is the harm of people having need of me? What
are you envying me that I have robbed you and the children of?
Those very people you are throwing in my teeth have done more for
old Giorgio than they ever thought of doing for me."
He struck his breast with his open palm; his voice had remained
low though he had spoken in a forcible tone. He twisted his
moustaches one after another, and his eyes wandered a little
about the room.
"Is it my fault that I am the only man for their purposes? What
angry nonsense are you talking, mother? Would you rather have me
timid and foolish, selling water-melons on the market-place or
rowing a boat for passengers along the harbour, like a soft
Neapolitan without courage or reputation? Would you have a young
man live like a monk? I do not believe it. Would you want a monk
for your eldest girl? Let her grow. What are you afraid of? You
have been angry with me for everything I did for years; ever
since you first spoke to me, in secret from old Giorgio, about
your Linda. Husband to one and brother to the other, did you say?
Well, why not! I like the little ones, and a man must marry some
time. But ever since that time you have been making little of me
to everyone. Why? Did you think you could put a collar and chain
on me as if I were one of the watch-dogs they keep over there in
the railway yards? Look here, Padrona, I am the same man who came
ashore one evening and sat down in the thatched ranche you lived
in at that time on the other side of the town and told you all
about himself. You were not unjust to me then. What has happened
since? I am no longer an insignificant youth. A good name,
Giorgio says, is a treasure, Padrona."
"They have turned your head with their praises," gasped the sick
woman. "They have been paying you with words. Your folly shall
betray you into poverty, misery, starvation. The very leperos
shall laugh at you--the great Capataz."
Nostromo stood for a time as if struck dumb. She never looked at
him. A self-confident, mirthless smile passed quickly from his
lips, and then he backed away. His disregarded figure sank down
beyond the doorway. He descended the stairs backwards, with the
usual sense of having been somehow baffled by this woman's
disparagement of this reputation he had obtained and desired to
Downstairs in the big kitchen a candle was burning, surrounded by
the shadows of the walls, of the ceiling, but no ruddy glare
filled the open square of the outer door. The carriage with Mrs.
Gould and Don Martin, preceded by the horseman bearing the torch,
had gone on to the jetty. Dr. Monygham, who had remained, sat on
the corner of a hard wood table near the candlestick, his seamed,
shaven face inclined sideways, his arms crossed on his breast,
his lips pursed up, and his prominent eyes glaring stonily upon
the floor of black earth. Near the overhanging mantel of the
fireplace, where the pot of water was still boiling violently,
old Giorgio held his chin in his hand, one foot advanced, as if
arrested by a sudden thought.
"Adios, viejo," said Nostromo, feeling the handle of his revolver
in the belt and loosening his knife in its sheath. He picked up a
blue poncho lined with red from the table, and put it over his
head. "Adios, look after the things in my sleeping-room, and if
you hear from me no more, give up the box to Paquita. There is
not much of value there, except my new serape from Mexico, and a
few silver buttons on my best jacket. No matter! The things
will look well enough on the next lover she gets, and the man
need not be afraid I shall linger on earth after I am dead, like
those Gringos that haunt the Azuera."
Dr. Monygham twisted his lips into a bitter smile. After old
Giorgio, with an almost imperceptible nod and without a word, had
gone up the narrow stairs, he said--
"Why, Capataz! I thought you could never fail in anything."
Nostromo, glancing contemptuously at the doctor, lingered in the
doorway rolling a cigarette, then struck a match, and, after
lighting it, held the burning piece of wood above his head till
the flame nearly touched his fingers.
"No wind!" he muttered to himself. "Look here, senor--do you know
the nature of my undertaking?"
Dr. Monygham nodded sourly.
"It is as if I were taking up a curse upon me, senor doctor. A
man with a treasure on this coast will have every knife raised
against him in every place upon the shore. You see that, senor
doctor? I shall float along with a spell upon my life till I meet
somewhere the north-bound steamer of the Company, and then indeed
they will talk about the Capataz of the Sulaco Cargadores from
one end of America to another."
Dr. Monygham laughed his short, throaty laugh. Nostromo turned
round in the doorway.
"But if your worship can find any other man ready and fit for
such business I will stand back. I am not exactly tired of my
life, though I am so poor that I can carry all I have with myself
on my horse's back."
"You gamble too much, and never say 'no' to a pretty face,
Capataz," said Dr. Monygham, with sly simplicity. "That's not
the way to make a fortune. But nobody that I know ever suspected
you of being poor. I hope you have made a good bargain in case
you come back safe from this adventure."
"What bargain would your worship have made?" asked Nostromo,
blowing the smoke out of his lips through the doorway.
Dr. Monygham listened up the staircase for a moment before he
answered, with another of his short, abrupt laughs--
"Illustrious Capataz, for taking the curse of death upon my back,
as you call it, nothing else but the whole treasure would do."
Nostromo vanished out of the doorway with a grunt of discontent
at this jeering answer. Dr. Monygham heard him gallop away.
Nostromo rode furiously in the dark. There were lights in the
buildings of the O.S.N. Company near the wharf, but before he got
there he met the Gould carriage. The horseman preceded it with
the torch, whose light showed the white mules trotting, the
portly Ignacio driving, and Basilio with the carbine on the box.
From the dark body of the landau Mrs. Gould's voice cried, "They
are waiting for you, Capataz!" She was returning, chilly and
excited, with Decoud's pocket-book still held in her hand. He
had confided it to her to send to his sister. "Perhaps my last
words to her," he had said, pressing Mrs. Gould's hand.
The Capataz never checked his speed. At the head of the wharf
vague figures with rifles leapt to the head of his horse; others
closed upon him--cargadores of the company posted by Captain
Mitchell on the watch. At a word from him they fell back with
subservient murmurs, recognizing his voice. At the other end of
the jetty, near a cargo crane, in a dark group with glowing
cigars, his name was pronounced in a tone of relief. Most of the
Europeans in Sulaco were there, rallied round Charles Gould, as
if the silver of the mine had been the emblem of a common cause,
the symbol of the supreme importance of material interests. They
had loaded it into the lighter with their own hands. Nostromo
recognized Don Carlos Gould, a thin, tall shape standing a little
apart and silent, to whom another tall shape, the
engineer-in-chief, said aloud, "If it must be lost, it is a
million times better that it should go to the bottom of the sea."
Martin Decoud called out from the lighter, "Au revoir, messieurs,
till we clasp hands again over the new-born Occidental Republic."
Only a subdued murmur responded to his clear, ringing tones; and
then it seemed to him that the wharf was floating away into the
night; but it was Nostromo, who was already pushing against a
pile with one of the heavy sweeps. Decoud did not move; the
effect was that of being launched into space. After a splash or
two there was not a sound but the thud of Nostromo's feet leaping
about the boat. He hoisted the big sail; a breath of wind fanned
Decoud's cheek. Everything had vanished but the light of the
lantern Captain Mitchell had hoisted upon the post at the end of
the jetty to guide Nostromo out of the harbour.
The two men, unable to see each other, kept silent till the
lighter, slipping before the fitful breeze, passed out between
almost invisible headlands into the still deeper darkness of the
gulf. For a time the lantern on the jetty shone after them. The
wind failed, then fanned up again, but so faintly that the big,
half-decked boat slipped along with no more noise than if she had
been suspended in the air.
"We are out in the gulf now," said the calm voice of Nostromo. A
moment after he added, "Senor Mitchell has lowered the light."
"Yes," said Decoud; "nobody can find us now."
A great recrudescence of obscurity embraced the boat. The sea in
the gulf was as black as the clouds above. Nostromo, after
striking a couple of matches to get a glimpse of the boat-compass
he had with him in the lighter, steered by the feel of the wind
on his cheek.
It was a new experience for Decoud, this mysteriousness of the
great waters spread out strangely smooth, as if their
restlessness had been crushed by the weight of that dense night.
The Placido was sleeping profoundly under its black poncho.
The main thing now for success was to get away from the coast and
gain the middle of the gulf before day broke. The Isabels were
somewhere at hand. "On your left as you look forward, senor,"
said Nostromo, suddenly. When his voice ceased, the enormous
stillness, without light or sound, seemed to affect Decoud's
senses like a powerful drug. He didn't even know at times whether
he were asleep or awake. Like a man lost in slumber, he heard
nothing, he saw nothing. Even his hand held before his face did
not exist for his eyes. The change from the agitation, the
passions and the dangers, from the sights and sounds of the
shore, was so complete that it would have resembled death had it
not been for the survival of his thoughts. In this foretaste of
eternal peace they floated vivid and light, like unearthly clear
dreams of earthly things that may haunt the souls freed by death
from the misty atmosphere of regrets and hopes. Decoud shook
himself, shuddered a bit, though the air that drifted past him
was warm. He had the strangest sensation of his soul having just
returned into his body from the circumambient darkness in which
land, sea, sky, the mountains, and the rocks were as if they had
Nostromo's voice was speaking, though he, at the tiller, was also
as if he were not. "Have you been asleep, Don Martin? Caramba! If
it were possible I would think that I, too, have dozed off. I
have a strange notion somehow of having dreamt that there was a
sound of blubbering, a sound a sorrowing man could make,
somewhere near this boat. Something between a sigh and a sob."
"Strange!" muttered Decoud, stretched upon the pile of treasure
boxes covered by many tarpaulins. "Could it be that there is
another boat near us in the gulf? We could not see it, you know."
Nostromo laughed a little at the absurdity of the idea. They
dismissed it from their minds. The solitude could almost be felt.
And when the breeze ceased, the blackness seemed to weigh upon
Decoud like a stone.
"This is overpowering," he muttered. "Do we move at all,
"Not so fast as a crawling beetle tangled in the grass," answered
Nostromo, and his voice seemed deadened by the thick veil of
obscurity that felt warm and hopeless all about them. There were
long periods when he made no sound, invisible and inaudible as if
he had mysteriously stepped out of the lighter.
In the featureless night Nostromo was not even certain which way
the lighter headed after the wind had completely died out. He
peered for the islands. There was not a hint of them to be seen,
as if they had sunk to the bottom of the gulf. He threw himself
down by the side of Decoud at last, and whispered into his ear
that if daylight caught them near the Sulaco shore through want
of wind, it would be possible to sweep the lighter behind the
cliff at the high end of the Great Isabel, where she would lie
concealed. Decoud was surprised at the grimness of his anxiety.
To him the removal of the treasure was a political move. It was
necessary for several reasons that it should not fall into the
hands of Montero, but here was a man who took another view of
this enterprise. The Caballeros over there did not seem to have
the slightest idea of what they had given him to do. Nostromo, as
if affected by the gloom around, seemed nervously resentful.
Decoud was surprised. The Capataz, indifferent to those dangers
that seemed obvious to his companion, allowed himself to become
scornfully exasperated by the deadly nature of the trust put, as
a matter of course, into his hands. It was more dangerous,
Nostromo said, with a laugh and a curse, than sending a man to
get the treasure that people said was guarded by devils and
ghosts in the deep ravines of Azuera. "Senor," he said, "we must
catch the steamer at sea. We must keep out in the open looking
for her till we have eaten and drunk all that has been put on
board here. And if we miss her by some mischance, we must keep
away from the land till we grow weak, and perhaps mad, and die,
and drift dead, until one or another of the steamers of the
Compania comes upon the boat with the two dead men who have saved
the treasure. That, senor, is the only way to save it; for, don't
you see? for us to come to the land anywhere in a hundred miles
along this coast with this silver in our possession is to run the
naked breast against the point of a knife. This thing has been
given to me like a deadly disease. If men discover it I am dead,
and you, too, senor, since you would come with me. There is
enough silver to make a whole province rich, let alone a seaboard
pueblo inhabited by thieves and vagabonds. Senor, they would
think that heaven itself sent these riches into their hands, and
would cut our throats without hesitation. I would trust no fair
words from the best man around the shores of this wild gulf.
Reflect that, even by giving up the treasure at the first demand,
we would not be able to save our lives. Do you understand this,
or must I explain?"
"No, you needn't explain," said Decoud, a little listlessly. "I
can see it well enough myself, that the possession of this
treasure is very much like a deadly disease for men situated as
we are. But it had to be removed from Sulaco, and you were the
man for the task."
"I was; but I cannot believe," said Nostromo, "that its loss
would have impoverished Don Carlos Gould very much. There is more
wealth in the mountain. I have heard it rolling down the shoots
on quiet nights when I used to ride to Rincon to see a certain
girl, after my work at the harbour was done. For years the rich
rocks have been pouring down with a noise like thunder, and the
miners say that there is enough at the heart of the mountain to
thunder on for years and years to come. And yet, the day before
yesterday, we have been fighting to save it from the mob, and
to-night I am sent out with it into this darkness, where there is
no wind to get away with; as if it were the last lot of silver on
earth to get bread for the hungry with. Ha! ha! Well, I am going
to make it the most famous and desperate affair of my life--wind
or no wind. It shall be talked about when the little children are
grown up and the grown men are old. Aha! the Monterists must not
get hold of it, I am told, whatever happens to Nostromo the
Capataz; and they shall not have it, I tell you, since it has
been tied for safety round Nostromo's neck."
"I see it," murmured Decoud. He saw, indeed, that his companion
had his own peculiar view of this enterprise.
Nostromo interrupted his reflections upon the way men's qualities
are made use of, without any fundamental knowledge of their
nature, by the proposal they should slip the long oars out and
sweep the lighter in the direction of the Isabels. It wouldn't do
for daylight to reveal the treasure floating within a mile or so
of the harbour entrance. The denser the darkness generally, the
smarter were the puffs of wind on which he had reckoned to make
his way; but tonight the gulf, under its poncho of clouds,
remained breathless, as if dead rather than asleep.
Don Martin's soft hands suffered cruelly, tugging at the thick
handle of the enormous oar. He stuck to it manfully, setting his
teeth. He, too, was in the toils of an imaginative existence, and
that strange work of pulling a lighter seemed to belong naturally
to the inception of a new state, acquired an ideal meaning from
his love for Antonia. For all their efforts, the heavily laden
lighter hardly moved. Nostromo could be heard swearing to himself
between the regular splashes of the sweeps. "We are making a
crooked path," he muttered to himself. "I wish I could see the
In his unskilfulness Don Martin over-exerted himself. Now and
then a sort of muscular faintness would run from the tips of his
aching fingers through every fibre of his body, and pass off in a
flush of heat. He had fought, talked, suffered mentally and
physically, exerting his mind and body for the last forty-eight
hours without intermission. He had had no rest, very little food,
no pause in the stress of his thoughts and his feelings. Even his
love for Antonia, whence he drew his strength and his
inspiration, had reached the point of tragic tension during their
hurried interview by Don Jose's bedside. And now, suddenly, he
was thrown out of all this into a dark gulf, whose very gloom,
silence, and breathless peace added a torment to the necessity
for physical exertion. He imagined the lighter sinking to the
bottom with an extraordinary shudder of delight. "I am on the
verge of delirium," he thought. He mastered the trembling of all
his limbs, of his breast, the inward trembling of all his body
exhausted of its nervous force.
"Shall we rest, Capataz?" he proposed in a careless tone. "There
are many hours of night yet before us."
"True. It is but a mile or so, I suppose. Rest your arms, senor,
if that is what you mean. You will find no other sort of rest, I
can promise you, since you let yourself be bound to this treasure
whose loss would make no poor man poorer. No, senor; there is no
rest till we find a north-bound steamer, or else some ship finds
us drifting about stretched out dead upon the Englishman's
silver. Or rather--no; por Dios! I shall cut down the gunwale
with the axe right to the water's edge before thirst and hunger
rob me of my strength. By all the saints and devils I shall let
the sea have the treasure rather than give it up to any stranger.
Since it was the good pleasure of the Caballeros to send me off
on such an errand, they shall learn I am just the man they take
Decoud lay on the silver boxes panting. All his active sensations
and feelings from as far back as he could remember seemed to him
the maddest of dreams. Even his passionate devotion to Antonia
into which he had worked himself up out of the depths of his
scepticism had lost all appearance of reality. For a moment he
was the prey of an extremely languid but not unpleasant
"I am sure they didn't mean you to take such a desperate view of
this affair," he said.
"What was it, then? A joke?" snarled the man, who on the
pay-sheets of the O.S.N. Company's establishment in Sulaco was
described as "Foreman of the wharf" against the figure of his
wages. "Was it for a joke they woke me up from my sleep after two
days of street fighting to make me stake my life upon a bad card?
Everybody knows, too, that I am not a lucky gambler."
"Yes, everybody knows of your good luck with women, Capataz,"
Decoud propitiated his companion in a weary drawl.
"Look here, senor," Nostromo went on. "I never even remonstrated
about this affair. Directly I heard what was wanted I saw what a
desperate affair it must be, and I made up my mind to see it out.
Every minute was of importance. I had to wait for you first.
Then, when we arrived at the Italia Una, old Giorgio shouted to
me to go for the English doctor. Later on, that poor dying woman
wanted to see me, as you know. Senor, I was reluctant to go. I
felt already this cursed silver growing heavy upon my back, and I
was afraid that, knowing herself to be dying, she would ask me to
ride off again for a priest. Father Corbelan, who is fearless,
would have come at a word; but Father Corbelan is far away, safe
with the band of Hernandez, and the populace, that would have
liked to tear him to pieces, are much incensed against the
priests. Not a single fat padre would have consented to put his
head out of his hiding-place to-night to save a Christian soul,
except, perhaps, under my protection. That was in her mind. I
pretended I did not believe she was going to die. Senor, I
refused to fetch a priest for a dying woman . . ."
Decoud was heard to stir.
"You did, Capataz!" he exclaimed. His tone changed. "Well, you
know--it was rather fine."
"You do not believe in priests, Don Martin? Neither do I. What
was the use of wasting time? But she--she believes in them. The
thing sticks in my throat. She may be dead already, and here we
are floating helpless with no wind at all. Curse on all
superstition. She died thinking I deprived her of Paradise, I
suppose. It shall be the most desperate affair of my life."
Decoud remained lost in reflection. He tried to analyze the
sensations awaked by what he had been told. The voice of the
Capataz was heard again:
"Now, Don Martin, let us take up the sweeps and try to find the
Isabels. It is either that or sinking the lighter if the day
overtakes us. We must not forget that the steamer from Esmeralda
with the soldiers may be coming along. We will pull straight on
now. I have discovered a bit of a candle here, and we must take
the risk of a small light to make a course by the boat compass.
There is not enough wind to blow it out--may the curse of Heaven
fall upon this blind gulf!"
A small flame appeared burning quite straight. It showed
fragmentarily the stout ribs and planking in the hollow, empty
part of the lighter. Decoud could see Nostromo standing up to
pull. He saw him as high as the red sash on his waist, with a
gleam of a white-handled revolver and the wooden haft of a long
knife protruding on his left side. Decoud nerved himself for the
effort of rowing. Certainly there was not enough wind to blow the
candle out, but its flame swayed a little to the slow movement of
the heavy boat. It was so big that with their utmost efforts they
could not move it quicker than about a mile an hour. This was
sufficient, however, to sweep them amongst the Isabels long
before daylight came. There was a good six hours of darkness
before them, and the distance from the harbour to the Great
Isabel did not exceed two miles. Decoud put this heavy toil to
the account of the Capataz's impatience. Sometimes they paused,
and then strained their ears to hear the boat from Esmeralda. In
this perfect quietness a steamer moving would have been heard
from far off. As to seeing anything it was out of the question.
They could not see each other. Even the lighter's sail, which
remained set, was invisible. Very often they rested.
"Caramba!" said Nostromo, suddenly, during one of those intervals
when they lolled idly against the heavy handles of the sweeps.
"What is it? Are you distressed, Don Martin?"
Decoud assured him that he was not distressed in the least.
Nostromo for a time kept perfectly still, and then in a whisper
invited Martin to come aft.
With his lips touching Decoud's ear he declared his belief that
there was somebody else besides themselves upon the lighter.
Twice now he had heard the sound of stifled sobbing.
"Senor," he whispered with awed wonder, "I am certain that there
is somebody weeping in this lighter."
Decoud had heard nothing. He expressed his incredulity. However,
it was easy to ascertain the truth of the matter.
"It is most amazing," muttered Nostromo. "Could anybody have
concealed himself on board while the lighter was lying alongside
"And you say it was like sobbing?" asked Decoud, lowering his
voice, too. "If he is weeping, whoever he is he cannot be very
Clambering over the precious pile in the middle, they crouched
low on the foreside of the mast and groped under the half-deck.
Right forward, in the narrowest part, their hands came upon the
limbs of a man, who remained as silent as death. Too startled
themselves to make a sound, they dragged him aft by one arm and
the collar of his coat. He was limp--lifeless.
The light of the bit of candle fell upon a round, hook-nosed face
with black moustaches and little side-whiskers. He was extremely
dirty. A greasy growth of beard was sprouting on the shaven parts
of the cheeks. The thick lips were slightly parted, but the eyes
remained closed. Decoud, to his immense astonishment, recognized
Senor Hirsch, the hide merchant from Esmeralda. Nostromo, too,
had recognized him. And they gazed at each other across the body,
lying with its naked feet higher than its head, in an absurd
pretence of sleep, faintness, or death.
FOR a moment, before this extraordinary find, they forgot their
own concerns and sensations. Senor Hirsch's sensations as he lay
there must have been those of extreme terror. For a long time he
refused to give a sign of life, till at last Decoud's
objurgations, and, perhaps more, Nostromo's impatient suggestion
that he should be thrown overboard, as he seemed to be dead,
induced him to raise one eyelid first, and then the other.
It appeared that he had never found a safe opportunity to leave
Sulaco. He lodged with Anzani, the universal storekeeper, on the
Plaza Mayor. But when the riot broke out he had made his escape
from his host's house before daylight, and in such a hurry that
he had forgotten to put on his shoes. He had run out impulsively
in his socks, and with his hat in his hand, into the garden of
Anzani's house. Fear gave him the necessary agility to climb over
several low walls, and afterwards he blundered into the overgrown
cloisters of the ruined Franciscan convent in one of the
by-streets. He forced himself into the midst of matted bushes
with the recklessness of desperation, and this accounted for his
scratched body and his torn clothing. He lay hidden there all
day, his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth with all the
intensity of thirst engendered by heat and fear. Three times
different bands of men invaded the place with shouts and
imprecations, looking for Father Corbelan; but towards the
evening, still lying on his face in the bushes, he thought he
would die from the fear of silence. He was not very clear as to
what had induced him to leave the place, but evidently he had got
out and slunk successfully out of town along the deserted back
lanes. He wandered in the darkness near the railway, so maddened
by apprehension that he dared not even approach the fires of the
pickets of Italian workmen guarding the line. He had a vague idea
evidently of finding refuge in the railway yards, but the dogs
rushed upon him, barking; men began to shout; a shot was fired at
random. He fled away from the gates. By the merest accident, as
it happened, he took the direction of the O.S.N. Company's
offices. Twice he stumbled upon the bodies of men killed during
the day. But everything living frightened him much more. He
crouched, crept, crawled, made dashes, guided by a sort of animal
instinct, keeping away from every light and from every sound of
voices. His idea was to throw himself at the feet of Captain
Mitchell and beg for shelter in the Company's offices. It was all
dark there as he approached on his hands and knees, but suddenly
someone on guard challenged loudly, "Quien vive?" There were more
dead men lying about, and he flattened himself down at once by
the side of a cold corpse. He heard a voice saying, "Here is one
of those wounded rascals crawling about. Shall I go and finish
him?" And another voice objected that it was not safe to go out
without a lantern upon such an errand; perhaps it was only some
negro Liberal looking for a chance to stick a knife into the
stomach of an honest man. Hirsch didn't stay to hear any more,
but crawling away to the end of the wharf, hid himself amongst a
lot of empty casks. After a while some people came along,
talking, and with glowing cigarettes. He did not stop to ask
himself whether they would be likely to do him any harm, but
bolted incontinently along the jetty, saw a lighter lying moored
at the end, and threw himself into it. In his desire to find
cover he crept right forward under the half-deck, and he had
remained there more dead than alive, suffering agonies of hunger
and thirst, and almost fainting with terror, when he heard
numerous footsteps and the voices of the Europeans who came in a
body escorting the wagonload of treasure, pushed along the rails
by a squad of Cargadores. He understood perfectly what was being
done from the talk, but did not disclose his presence from the
fear that he would not be allowed to remain. His only idea at
the time, overpowering and masterful, was to get away from this
terrible Sulaco. And now he regretted it very much. He had heard
Nostromo talk to Decoud, and wished himself back on shore. He
did not desire to be involved in any desperate affair--in a
situation where one could not run away. The involuntary groans of
his anguished spirit had betrayed him to the sharp ears of the
They had propped him up in a sitting posture against the side of
the lighter, and he went on with the moaning account of his
adventures till his voice broke, his head fell forward. "Water,"
he whispered, with difficulty. Decoud held one of the cans to
his lips. He revived after an extraordinarily short time, and
scrambled up to his feet wildly. Nostromo, in an angry and
threatening voice, ordered him forward. Hirsch was one of those
men whom fear lashes like a whip, and he must have had an
appalling idea of the Capataz's ferocity. He displayed an
extraordinary agility in disappearing forward into the darkness.
They heard him getting over the tarpaulin; then there was the
sound of a heavy fall, followed by a weary sigh. Afterwards all
was still in the fore-part of the lighter, as though he had
killed himself in his headlong tumble. Nostromo shouted in a
"Lie still there! Do not move a limb. If I hear as much as a loud
breath from you I shall come over there and put a bullet through
The mere presence of a coward, however passive, brings an element
of treachery into a dangerous situation. Nostromo's nervous
impatience passed into gloomy thoughtfulness. Decoud, in an
undertone, as if speaking to himself, remarked that, after all,
this bizarre event made no great difference. He could not
conceive what harm the man could do. At most he would be in the
way, like an inanimate and useless object--like a block of wood,
"I would think twice before getting rid of a piece of wood," said
Nostromo, calmly. "Something may happen unexpectedly where you
could make use of it. But in an affair like ours a man like this
ought to be thrown overboard. Even if he were as brave as a lion
we would not want him here. We are not running away for our
lives. Senor, there is no harm in a brave man trying to save
himself with ingenuity and courage; but you have heard his tale,
Don Martin. His being here is a miracle of fear--" Nostromo
paused. "There is no room for fear in this lighter," he added
through his teeth.
Decoud had no answer to make. It was not a position for argument,
for a display of scruples or feelings. There were a thousand
ways in which a panic-stricken man could make himself dangerous.
It was evident that Hirsch could not be spoken to, reasoned with,
or persuaded into a rational line of conduct. The story of his
own escape demonstrated that clearly enough. Decoud thought that
it was a thousand pities the wretch had not died of fright.
Nature, who had made him what he was, seemed to have calculated
cruelly how much he could bear in the way of atrocious anguish
without actually expiring. Some compassion was due to so much
terror. Decoud, though imaginative enough for sympathy, resolved
not to interfere with any action that Nostromo would take. But
Nostromo did nothing. And the fate of Senor Hirsch remained
suspended in the darkness of the gulf at the mercy of events
which could not be foreseen.
The Capataz, extending his hand, put out the candle suddenly. It
was to Decoud as if his companion had destroyed, by a single
touch, the world of affairs, of loves, of revolution, where his
complacent superiority analyzed fearlessly all motives and all
passions, including his own.
He gasped a little. Decoud was affected by the novelty of his
position. Intellectually self-confident, he suffered from being
deprived of the only weapon he could use with effect. No
intelligence could penetrate the darkness of the Placid Gulf.
There remained only one thing he was certain of, and that was the
overweening vanity of his companion. It was direct,
uncomplicated, naive, and effectual. Decoud, who had been making
use of him, had tried to understand his man thoroughly. He had
discovered a complete singleness of motive behind the varied
manifestations of a consistent character. This was why the man
remained so astonishingly simple in the jealous greatness of his
conceit. And now there was a complication. It was evident that he
resented having been given a task in which there were so many
chances of failure. "I wonder," thought Decoud, "how he would
behave if I were not here."
He heard Nostromo mutter again, "No! there is no room for fear on
this lighter. Courage itself does not seem good enough. I have a
good eye and a steady hand; no man can say he ever saw me tired
or uncertain what to do; but por Dios, Don Martin, I have been
sent out into this black calm on a business where neither a good
eye, nor a steady hand, nor judgment are any use. . . ." He swore
a string of oaths in Spanish and Italian under his breath.
"Nothing but sheer desperation will do for this affair."
These words were in strange contrast to the prevailing peace--to
this almost solid stillness of the gulf. A shower fell with an
abrupt whispering sound all round the boat, and Decoud took off
his hat, and, letting his head get wet, felt greatly refreshed.
Presently a steady little draught of air caressed his cheek. The
lighter began to move, but the shower distanced it. The drops
ceased to fall upon his head and hands, the whispering died out
in the distance. Nostromo emitted a grunt of satisfaction, and
grasping the tiller, chirruped softly, as sailors do, to
encourage the wind. Never for the last three days had Decoud felt
less the need for what the Capataz would call desperation.
"I fancy I hear another shower on the water," he observed in a
tone of quiet content. "I hope it will catch us up."
Nostromo ceased chirruping at once. "You hear another shower?" he
said, doubtfully. A sort of thinning of the darkness seemed to
have taken place, and Decoud could see now the outline of his
companion's figure, and even the sail came out of the night like
a square block of dense snow.
The sound which Decoud had detected came along the water harshly.
Nostromo recognized that noise partaking of a hiss and a rustle
which spreads out on all sides of a steamer making her way
through a smooth water on a quiet night. It could be nothing else
but the captured transport with troops from Esmeralda. She
carried no lights. The noise of her steaming, growing louder
every minute, would stop at times altogether, and then begin
again abruptly, and sound startlingly nearer; as if that
invisible vessel, whose position could not be precisely guessed,
were making straight for the lighter. Meantime, that last kept on
sailing slowly and noiselessly before a breeze so faint that it
was only by leaning over the side and feeling the water slip
through his fingers that Decoud convinced himself they were
moving at all. His drowsy feeling had departed. He was glad to
know that the lighter was moving. After so much stillness the
noise of the steamer seemed uproarious and distracting. There was
a weirdness in not being able to see her. Suddenly all was still.
She had stopped, but so close to them that the steam, blowing
off, sent its rumbling vibration right over their heads.
"They are trying to make out where they are," said Decoud in a
whisper. Again he leaned over and put his fingers into the water.
"We are moving quite smartly," he informed Nostromo.
"We seem to be crossing her bows," said the Capataz in a cautious
tone. "But this is a blind game with death. Moving on is of no
use. We mustn't be seen or heard."
His whisper was hoarse with excitement. Of all his face there was
nothing visible but a gleam of white eyeballs. His fingers
gripped Decoud's shoulder. "That is the only way to save this
treasure from this steamer full of soldiers. Any other would
have carried lights. But you observe there is not a gleam to
show us where she is."
Decoud stood as if paralyzed; only his thoughts were wildly
active. In the space of a second he remembered the desolate
glance of Antonia as he left her at the bedside of her father in
the gloomy house of Avellanos, with shuttered windows, but all
the doors standing open, and deserted by all the servants except
an old negro at the gate. He remembered the Casa Gould on his
last visit, the arguments, the tones of his voice, the
impenetrable attitude of Charles, Mrs. Gould's face so blanched
with anxiety and fatigue that her eyes seemed to have changed
colour, appearing nearly black by contrast. Even whole sentences
of the proclamation which he meant to make Barrios issue from his
headquarters at Cayta as soon as he got there passed through his
mind; the very germ of the new State, the Separationist
proclamation which he had tried before he left to read hurriedly
to Don Jose, stretched out on his bed under the fixed gaze of his
daughter. God knows whether the old statesman had understood it;
he was unable to speak, but he had certainly lifted his arm off
the coverlet; his hand had moved as if to make the sign of the
cross in the air, a gesture of blessing, of consent. Decoud had
that very draft in his pocket, written in pencil on several loose
sheets of paper, with the heavily-printed heading,
"Administration of the San Tome Silver Mine. Sulaco. Republic of
Costaguana." He had written it furiously, snatching page after
page on Charles Gould's table. Mrs. Gould had looked several
times over his shoulder as he wrote; but the Senor Administrador,
standing straddle-legged, would not even glance at it when it was
finished. He had waved it away firmly. It must have been scorn,
and not caution, since he never made a remark about the use of
the Administration's paper for such a compromising document. And
that showed his disdain, the true English disdain of common
prudence, as if everything outside the range of their own
thoughts and feelings were unworthy of serious recognition.
Decoud had the time in a second or two to become furiously angry
with Charles Gould, and even resentful against Mrs. Gould, in
whose care, tacitly it is true, he had left the safety of
Antonia. Better perish a thousand times than owe your
preservation to such people, he exclaimed mentally. The grip of
Nostromo's fingers never removed from his shoulder, tightening
fiercely, recalled him to himself.
"The darkness is our friend," the Capataz murmured into his ear.
"I am going to lower the sail, and trust our escape to this black
gulf. No eyes could make us out lying silent with a naked mast. I
will do it now, before this steamer closes still more upon us.
The faint creak of a block would betray us and the San Tome
treasure into the hands of those thieves."
He moved about as warily as a cat. Decoud heard no sound; and it
was only by the disappearance of the square blotch of darkness
that he knew the yard had come down, lowered as carefully as if
it had been made of glass. Next moment he heard Nostromo's quiet
breathing by his side.
"You had better not move at all from where you are, Don Martin,"
advised the Capataz, earnestly. "You might stumble or displace
something which would make a noise. The sweeps and the punting
poles are lying about. Move not for your life. Por Dios, Don
Martin," he went on in a keen but friendly whisper, "I am so
desperate that if I didn't know your worship to be a man of
courage, capable of standing stock still whatever happens, I
would drive my knife into your heart."
A deathlike stillness surrounded the lighter. It was difficult to
believe that there was near a steamer full of men with many pairs
of eyes peering from her bridge for some hint of land in the
night. Her steam had ceased blowing off, and she remained stopped
too far off apparently for any other sound to reach the lighter.
"Perhaps you would, Capataz," Decoud began in a whisper.
"However, you need not trouble. There are other things than the
fear of your knife to keep my heart steady. It shall not betray
you. Only, have you forgotten--"
"I spoke to you openly as to a man as desperate as myself,"
explained the Capataz. "The silver must be saved from the
Monterists. I told Captain Mitchell three times that I preferred
to go alone. I told Don Carlos Gould, too. It was in the Casa
Gould. They had sent for me. The ladies were there; and when I
tried to explain why I did not wish to have you with me, they
promised me, both of them, great rewards for your safety. A
strange way to talk to a man you are sending out to an almost
certain death. Those gentlefolk do not seem to have sense enough
to understand what they are giving one to do. I told them I could
do nothing for you. You would have been safer with the bandit
Hernandez. It would have been possible to ride out of the town
with no greater risk than a chance shot sent after you in the
dark. But it was as if they had been deaf. I had to promise I
would wait for you under the harbour gate. I did wait. And now
because you are a brave man you are as safe as the silver.
Neither more nor less."
At that moment, as if by way of comment upon Nostromo's words,
the invisible steamer went ahead at half speed only, as could be
judged by the leisurely beat of her propeller. The sound shifted
its place markedly, but without coming nearer. It even grew a
little more distant right abeam of the lighter, and then ceased
"They are trying for a sight of the Isabels," muttered Nostromo,
"in order to make for the harbour in a straight line and seize
the Custom House with the treasure in it. Have you ever seen the
Commandant of Esmeralda, Sotillo? A handsome fellow, with a soft
voice. When I first came here I used to see him in the Calle
talking to the senoritas at the windows of the houses, and
showing his white teeth all the time. But one of my Cargadores,
who had been a soldier, told me that he had once ordered a man to
be flayed alive in the remote Campo, where he was sent recruiting
amongst the people of the Estancias. It has never entered his
head that the Compania had a man capable of baffling his game."
The murmuring loquacity of the Capataz disturbed Decoud like a
hint of weakness. And yet, talkative resolution may be as genuine
as grim silence.
"Sotillo is not baffled so far," he said. "Have you forgotten
that crazy man forward?"
Nostromo had not forgotten Senor Hirsch. He reproached himself
bitterly for not having visited the lighter carefully before
leaving the wharf. He reproached himself for not having stabbed
and flung Hirsch overboard at the very moment of discovery
without even looking at his face. That would have been consistent
with the desperate character of the affair. Whatever happened,
Sotillo was already baffled. Even if that wretch, now as silent
as death, did anything to betray the nearness of the lighter,
Sotillo--if Sotillo it was in command of the troops on
board--would be still baffled of his plunder.
"I have an axe in my hand," Nostromo whispered, wrathfully, "that
in three strokes would cut through the side down to the water's
edge. Moreover, each lighter has a plug in the stern, and I know
exactly where it is. I feel it under the sole of my foot."
Decoud recognized the ring of genuine determination in the
nervous murmurs, the vindictive excitement of the famous Capataz.
Before the steamer, guided by a shriek or two (for there could be
no more than that, Nostromo said, gnashing his teeth audibly),
could find the lighter there would be plenty of time to sink this
treasure tied up round his neck.
The last words he hissed into Decoud's ear. Decoud said nothing.
He was perfectly convinced. The usual characteristic quietness
of the man was gone. It was not equal to the situation as he
conceived it. Something deeper, something unsuspected by
everyone, had come to the surface. Decoud, with careful
movements, slipped off his overcoat and divested himself of his
boots; he did not consider himself bound in honour to sink with
the treasure. His object was to get down to Barrios, in Cayta, as
the Capataz knew very well; and he, too, meant, in his own way,
to put into that attempt all the desperation of which he was
capable. Nostromo muttered, "True, true! You are a politician,
senor. Rejoin the army, and start another revolution." He
pointed out, however, that there was a little boat belonging to
every lighter fit to carry two men, if not more. Theirs was
Of that Decoud had not been aware. Of course, it was too dark to
see, and it was only when Nostromo put his hand upon its painter
fastened to a cleat in the stern that he experienced a full
measure of relief. The prospect of finding himself in the water
and swimming, overwhelmed by ignorance and darkness, probably in
a circle, till he sank from exhaustion, was revolting. The barren
and cruel futility of such an end intimidated his affectation of
careless pessimism. In comparison to it, the chance of being left
floating in a boat, exposed to thirst, hunger, discovery,
imprisonment, execution, presented itself with an aspect of
amenity worth securing even at the cost of some self-contempt. He
did not accept Nostromo's proposal that he should get into the
boat at once. "Something sudden may overwhelm us, senor," the
Capataz remarked promising faithfully, at the same time, to let
go the painter at the moment when the necessity became manifest.
But Decoud assured him lightly that he did not mean to take to
the boat till the very last moment, and that then he meant the
Capataz to come along, too. The darkness of the gulf was no
longer for him the end of all things. It was part of a living
world since, pervading it, failure and death could be felt at
your elbow. And at the same time it was a shelter. He exulted in
its impenetrable obscurity. "Like a wall, like a wall," he
muttered to himself.
The only thing which checked his confidence was the thought of
Senor Hirsch. Not to have bound and gagged him seemed to Decoud
now the height of improvident folly. As long as the miserable
creature had the power to raise a yell he was a constant danger.
His abject terror was mute now, but there was no saying from what
cause it might suddenly find vent in shrieks.
This very madness of fear which both Decoud and Nostromo had seen
in the wild and irrational glances, and in the continuous
twitchings of his mouth, protected Senor Hirsch from the cruel
necessities of this desperate affair. The moment of silencing him
for ever had passed. As Nostromo remarked, in answer to Decoud's
regrets, it was too late! It could not be done without noise,
especially in the ignorance of the man's exact position. Wherever
he had elected to crouch and tremble, it was too hazardous to go
near him. He would begin probably to yell for mercy. It was much
better to leave him quite alone since he was keeping so still.
But to trust to his silence became every moment a greater strain
upon Decoud's composure.
"I wish, Capataz, you had not let the right moment pass," he
"What! To silence him for ever? I thought it good to hear first
how he came to be here. It was too strange. Who could imagine
that it was all an accident? Afterwards, senor, when I saw you
giving him water to drink, I could not do it. Not after I had
seen you holding up the can to his lips as though he were your
brother. Senor, that sort of necessity must not be thought of too
long. And yet it would have been no cruelty to take away from him
his wretched life. It is nothing but fear. Your compassion saved
him then, Don Martin, and now it is too late. It couldn't be done
In the steamer they were keeping a perfect silence, and the
stillness was so profound that Decoud felt as if the slightest
sound conceivable must travel unchecked and audible to the end of
the world. What if Hirsch coughed or sneezed? To feel himself at
the mercy of such an idiotic contingency was too exasperating to
be looked upon with irony. Nostromo, too, seemed to be getting
restless. Was it possible, he asked himself, that the steamer,
finding the night too dark altogether, intended to remain stopped
where she was till daylight? He began to think that this, after
all, was the real danger. He was afraid that the darkness, which
was his protection, would, in the end, cause his undoing.
Sotillo, as Nostromo had surmised, was in command on board the
transport. The events of the last forty-eight hours in Sulaco
were not known to him; neither was he aware that the telegraphist
in Esmeralda had managed to warn his colleague in Sulaco. Like a
good many officers of the troops garrisoning the province,
Sotillo had been influenced in his adoption of the Ribierist
cause by the belief that it had the enormous wealth of the Gould
Concession on its side. He had been one of the frequenters of the
Casa Gould, where he had aired his Blanco convictions and his
ardour for reform before Don Jose Avellanos, casting frank,
honest glances towards Mrs. Gould and Antonia the while. He was
known to belong to a good family persecuted and impoverished
during the tyranny of Guzman Bento. The opinions he expressed
appeared eminently natural and proper in a man of his parentage
and antecedents. And he was not a deceiver; it was perfectly
natural for him to express elevated sentiments while his whole
faculties were taken up with what seemed then a solid and
practical notion--the notion that the husband of Antonia
Avellanos would be, naturally, the intimate friend of the Gould
Concession. He even pointed this out to Anzani once, when
negotiating the sixth or seventh small loan in the gloomy, damp
apartment with enormous iron bars, behind the principal shop in
the whole row under the Arcades. He hinted to the universal
shopkeeper at the excellent terms he was on with the emancipated
senorita, who was like a sister to the Englishwoman. He would
advance one leg and put his arms akimbo, posing for Anzani's
inspection, and fixing him with a haughty stare.
"Look, miserable shopkeeper! How can a man like me fail with any
woman, let alone an emancipated girl living in scandalous
freedom?" he seemed to say.
His manner in the Casa Gould was, of course, very
different--devoid of all truculence, and even slightly mournful.
Like most of his countrymen, he was carried away by the sound of
fine words, especially if uttered by himself. He had no
convictions of any sort upon anything except as to the
irresistible power of his personal advantages. But that was so
firm that even Decoud's appearance in Sulaco, and his intimacy
with the Goulds and the Avellanos, did not disquiet him. On the
contrary, he tried to make friends with that rich Costaguanero
from Europe in the hope of borrowing a large sum by-and-by. The
only guiding motive of his life was to get money for the
satisfaction of his expensive tastes, which he indulged
recklessly, having no self-control. He imagined himself a master
of intrigue, but his corruption was as simple as an animal
instinct. At times, in solitude, he had his moments of ferocity,
and also on such occasions as, for instance, when alone in a room
with Anzani trying to get a loan.
He had talked himself into the command of the Esmeralda garrison.
That small seaport had its importance as the station of the main
submarine cable connecting the Occidental Provinces with the
outer world, and the junction with it of the Sulaco branch. Don
Jose Avellanos proposed him, and Barrios, with a rude and jeering
guffaw, had said, "Oh, let Sotillo go. He is a very good man to
keep guard over the cable, and the ladies of Esmeralda ought to
have their turn." Barrios, an indubitably brave man, had no great
opinion of Sotillo.
It was through the Esmeralda cable alone that the San Tome mine
could be kept in constant touch with the great financier, whose
tacit approval made the strength of the Ribierist movement. This
movement had its adversaries even there. Sotillo governed
Esmeralda with repressive severity till the adverse course of
events upon the distant theatre of civil war forced upon him the
reflection that, after all, the great silver mine was fated to
become the spoil of the victors. But caution was necessary. He
began by assuming a dark and mysterious attitude towards the
faithful Ribierist municipality of Esmeralda. Later on, the
information that the commandant was holding assemblies of
officers in the dead of night (which had leaked out somehow)
caused those gentlemen to neglect their civil duties altogether,
and remain shut up in their houses. Suddenly one day all the
letters from Sulaco by the overland courier were carried off by a
file of soldiers from the post office to the Commandancia,
without disguise, concealment, or apology. Sotillo had heard
through Cayta of the final defeat of Ribiera.
This was the first open sign of the change in his convictions.
Presently notorious democrats, who had been living till then in
constant fear of arrest, leg irons, and even floggings, could be
observed going in and out at the great door of the Commandancia,
where the horses of the orderlies doze under their heavy saddles,
while the men, in ragged uniforms and pointed straw hats, lounge
on a bench, with their naked feet stuck out beyond the strip of
shade; and a sentry, in a red baize coat with holes at the
elbows, stands at the top of the steps glaring haughtily at the
common people, who uncover their heads to him as they pass.
Sotillo's ideas did not soar above the care for his personal
safety and the chance of plundering the town in his charge, but
he feared that such a late adhesion would earn but scant
gratitude from the victors. He had believed just a little too
long in the power of the San Tome mine. The seized correspondence
had confirmed his previous information of a large amount of
silver ingots lying in the Sulaco Custom House. To gain
possession of it would be a clear Monterist move; a sort of
service that would have to be rewarded. With the silver in his
hands he could make terms for himself and his soldiers. He was
aware neither of the riots, nor of the President's escape to
Sulaco and the close pursuit led by Montero's brother, the
guerrillero. The game seemed in his own hands. The initial moves
were the seizure of the cable telegraph office and the securing
of the Government steamer lying in the narrow creek which is the
harbour of Esmeralda. The last was effected without difficulty by
a company of soldiers swarming with a rush over the gangways as
she lay alongside the quay; but the lieutenant charged with the
duty of arresting the telegraphist halted on the way before the
only cafe in Esmeralda, where he distributed some brandy to his
men, and refreshed himself at the expense of the owner, a known
Ribierist. The whole party became intoxicated, and proceeded on
their mission up the street yelling and firing random shots at
the windows. This little festivity, which might have turned out
dangerous to the telegraphist's life, enabled him in the end to
send his warning to Sulaco. The lieutenant, staggering upstairs
with a drawn sabre, was before long kissing him on both cheeks in
one of those swift changes of mood peculiar to a state of
drunkenness. He clasped the telegraphist close round the neck,
assuring him that all the officers of the Esmeralda garrison were
going to be made colonels, while tears of happiness streamed down
his sodden face. Thus it came about that the town major, coming
along later, found the whole party sleeping on the stairs and in
passages, and the telegraphist (who scorned this chance of
escape) very busy clicking the key of the transmitter. The major
led him away bareheaded, with his hands tied behind his back, but
concealed the truth from Sotillo, who remained in ignorance of
the warning despatched to Sulaco.
The colonel was not the man to let any sort of darkness stand in
the way of the planned surprise. It appeared to him a dead
certainty; his heart was set upon his object with an
ungovernable, childlike impatience. Ever since the steamer had
rounded Punta Mala, to enter the deeper shadow of the gulf, he
had remained on the bridge in a group of officers as excited as
himself. Distracted between the coaxings and menaces of Sotillo
and his Staff, the miserable commander of the steamer kept her
moving with as much prudence as they would let him exercise. Some
of them had been drinking heavily, no doubt; but the prospect of
laying hands on so much wealth made them absurdly foolhardy, and,
at the same time, extremely anxious. The old major of the
battalion, a stupid, suspicious man, who had never been afloat in
his life, distinguished himself by putting out suddenly the
binnacle light, the only one allowed on board for the necessities
of navigation. He could not understand of what use it could be
for finding the way. To the vehement protestations of the ship's
captain, he stamped his foot and tapped the handle of his sword.
"Aha! I have unmasked you," he cried, triumphantly. "You are
tearing your hair from despair at my acuteness. Am I a child to
believe that a light in that brass box can show you where the
harbour is? I am an old soldier, I am. I can smell a traitor a
league off. You wanted that gleam to betray our approach to your
friend the Englishman. A thing like that show you the way! What a
miserable lie! Que picardia! You Sulaco people are all in the
pay of those foreigners. You deserve to be run through the body
with my sword." Other officers, crowding round, tried to calm his
indignation, repeating persuasively, "No, no! This is an
appliance of the mariners, major. This is no treachery." The
captain of the transport flung himself face downwards on the
bridge, and refused to rise. "Put an end to me at once," he
repeated in a stifled voice. Sotillo had to interfere.
The uproar and confusion on the bridge became so great that the
helmsman fled from the wheel. He took refuge in the engine-room,
and alarmed the engineers, who, disregarding the threats of the
soldiers set on guard over them, stopped the engines, protesting
that they would rather be shot than run the risk of being drowned
This was the first time Nostromo and Decoud heard the steamer
stop. After order had been restored, and the binnacle lamp
relighted, she went ahead again, passing wide of the lighter in
her search for the Isabels. The group could not be made out, and,
at the pitiful entreaties of the captain, Sotillo allowed the
engines to be stopped again to wait for one of those periodical
lightenings of darkness caused by the shifting of the cloud
canopy spread above the waters of the gulf.
Sotillo, on the bridge, muttered from time to time angrily to the
captain. The other, in an apologetic and cringing tone, begged su
merced the colonel to take into consideration the limitations put
upon human faculties by the darkness of the night. Sotillo
swelled with rage and impatience. It was the chance of a
"If your eyes are of no more use to you than this, I shall have
them put out," he yelled.
The captain of the steamer made no answer, for just then the mass
of the Great Isabel loomed up darkly after a passing shower, then
vanished, as if swept away by a wave of greater obscurity
preceding another downpour. This was enough for him. In the
voice of a man come back to life again, he informed Sotillo that
in an hour he would be alongside the Sulaco wharf. The ship was
put then full speed on the course, and a great bustle of
preparation for landing arose among the soldiers on her deck.
It was heard distinctly by Decoud and Nostromo. The Capataz
understood its meaning. They had made out the Isabels, and were
going on now in a straight line for Sulaco. He judged that they
would pass close; but believed that lying still like this, with
the sail lowered, the lighter could not be seen. "No, not even if
they rubbed sides with us," he muttered.
The rain began to fall again; first like a wet mist, then with a
heavier touch, thickening into a smart, perpendicular downpour;
and the hiss and thump of the approaching steamer was coming
extremely near. Decoud, with his eyes full of water, and lowered
head, asked himself how long it would be before she drew past,
when unexpectedly he felt a lurch. An inrush of foam broke
swishing over the stern, simultaneously with a crack of timbers
and a staggering shock. He had the impression of an angry hand
laying hold of the lighter and dragging it along to destruction.
The shock, of course, had knocked him down, and he found himself
rolling in a lot of water at the bottom of the lighter. A violent
churning went on alongside; a strange and amazed voice cried out
something above him in the night. He heard a piercing shriek for
help from Senor Hirsch. He kept his teeth hard set all the time.
It was a collision!
The steamer had struck the lighter obliquely, heeling her over
till she was half swamped, starting some of her timbers, and
swinging her head parallel to her own course with the force of
the blow. The shock of it on board of her was hardly perceptible.
All the violence of that collision was, as usual, felt only on
board the smaller craft. Even Nostromo himself thought that this
was perhaps the end of his desperate adventure. He, too, had
been flung away from the long tiller, which took charge in the
lurch. Next moment the steamer would have passed on, leaving the
lighter to sink or swim after having shouldered her thus out of
her way, and without even getting a glimpse of her form, had it
not been that, being deeply laden with stores and the great
number of people on board, her anchor was low enough to hook
itself into one of the wire shrouds of the lighter's mast. For
the space of two or three gasping breaths that new rope held
against the sudden strain. It was this that gave Decoud the
sensation of the snatching pull, dragging the lighter away to
destruction. The cause of it, of course, was inexplicable to
him. The whole thing was so sudden that he had no time to think.
But all his sensations were perfectly clear; he had kept complete
possession of himself; in fact, he was even pleasantly aware of
that calmness at the very moment of being pitched head first over
the transom, to struggle on his back in a lot of water. Senor
Hirsch's shriek he had heard and recognized while he was
regaining his feet, always with that mysterious sensation of
being dragged headlong through the darkness. Not a word, not a
cry escaped him; he had no time to see anything; and following
upon the despairing screams for help, the dragging motion ceased
so suddenly that he staggered forward with open arms and fell
against the pile of the treasure boxes. He clung to them
instinctively, in the vague apprehension of being flung about
again; and immediately he heard another lot of shrieks for help,
prolonged and despairing, not near him at all, but unaccountably
in the distance, away from the lighter altogether, as if some
spirit in the night were mocking at Senor Hirsch's terror and
Then all was still--as still as when you wake up in your bed in a
dark room from a bizarre and agitated dream. The lighter rocked
slightly; the rain was still falling. Two groping hands took hold
of his bruised sides from behind, and the Capataz's voice
whispered, in his ear, "Silence, for your life! Silence! The
steamer has stopped."
Decoud listened. The gulf was dumb. He felt the water nearly up
to his knees. "Are we sinking?" he asked in a faint breath.
"I don't know," Nostromo breathed back to him. "Senor, make not
the slightest sound."
Hirsch, when ordered forward by Nostromo, had not returned into
his first hiding-place. He had fallen near the mast, and had no
strength to rise; moreover, he feared to move. He had given
himself up for dead, but not on any rational grounds. It was
simply a cruel and terrifying feeling. Whenever he tried to think
what would become of him his teeth would start chattering
violently. He was too absorbed in the utter misery of his fear to
take notice of anything.
Though he was stifling under the lighter's sail which Nostromo
had unwittingly lowered on top of him, he did not even dare to
put out his head till the very moment of the steamer striking.
Then, indeed, he leaped right out, spurred on to new miracles of
bodily vigour by this new shape of danger. The inrush of water
when the lighter heeled over unsealed his lips. His shriek,
"Save me!" was the first distinct warning of the collision for
the people on board the steamer. Next moment the wire shroud
parted, and the released anchor swept over the lighter's
forecastle. It came against the breast of Senor Hirsch, who
simply seized hold of it, without in the least knowing what it
was, but curling his arms and legs upon the part above the fluke
with an invincible, unreasonable tenacity. The lighter yawed off
wide, and the steamer, moving on, carried him away, clinging
hard, and shouting for help. It was some time, however, after the
steamer had stopped that his position was discovered. His
sustained yelping for help seemed to come from somebody swimming
in the water. At last a couple of men went over the bows and
hauled him on board. He was carried straight off to Sotillo on
the bridge. His examination confirmed the impression that some
craft had been run over and sunk, but it was impracticable on
such a dark night to look for the positive proof of floating
wreckage. Sotillo was more anxious than ever now to enter the
harbour without loss of time; the idea that he had destroyed the
principal object of his expedition was too intolerable to be
accepted. This feeling made the story he had heard appear the
more incredible. Senor Hirsch, after being beaten a little for
telling lies, was thrust into the chartroom. But he was beaten
only a little. His tale had taken the heart out of Sotillo's
Staff, though they all repeated round their chief, "Impossible!
impossible!" with the exception of the old major, who triumphed
"I told you; I told you," he mumbled. "I could smell some
treachery, some diableria a league off."
Meantime, the steamer had kept on her way towards Sulaco, where
only the truth of that matter could be ascertained. Decoud and
Nostromo heard the loud churning of her propeller diminish and
die out; and then, with no useless words, busied themselves in
making for the Isabels. The last shower had brought with it a
gentle but steady breeze. The danger was not over yet, and there
was no time for talk. The lighter was leaking like a sieve. They
splashed in the water at every step. The Capataz put into
Decoud's hands the handle of the pump which was fitted at the
side aft, and at once, without question or remark, Decoud began
to pump in utter forgetfulness of every desire but that of
keeping the treasure afloat. Nostromo hoisted the sail, flew back
to the tiller, pulled at the sheet like mad. The short flare of a
match (they had been kept dry in a tight tin box, though the man
himself was completely wet), disclosed to the toiling Decoud the
eagerness of his face, bent low over the box of the compass, and
the attentive stare of his eyes. He knew now where he was, and he
hoped to run the sinking lighter ashore in the shallow cove where
the high, cliff-like end of the Great Isabel is divided in two
equal parts by a deep and overgrown ravine.
Decoud pumped without intermission. Nostromo steered without
relaxing for a second the intense, peering effort of his stare.
Each of them was as if utterly alone with his task. It did not
occur to them to speak. There was nothing in common between them
but the knowledge that the damaged lighter must be slowly but
surely sinking. In that knowledge, which was like the crucial
test of their desires, they seemed to have become completely
estranged, as if they had discovered in the very shock of the
collision that the loss of the lighter would not mean the same
thing to them both. This common danger brought their differences
in aim, in view, in character, and in position, into absolute
prominence in the private vision of each. There was no bond of
conviction, of common idea; they were merely two adventurers
pursuing each his own adventure, involved in the same imminence
of deadly peril. Therefore they had nothing to say to each other.
But this peril, this only incontrovertible truth in which they
shared, seemed to act as an inspiration to their mental and
There was certainly something almost miraculous in the way the
Capataz made the cove with nothing but the shadowy hint of the
island's shape and the vague gleam of a small sandy strip for a
guide. Where the ravine opens between the cliffs, and a slender,
shallow rivulet meanders out of the bushes to lose itself in the
sea, the lighter was run ashore; and the two men, with a
taciturn, undaunted energy, began to discharge her precious
freight, carrying each ox-hide box up the bed of the rivulet
beyond the bushes to a hollow place which the caving in of the
soil had made below the roots of a large tree. Its big smooth
trunk leaned like a falling column far over the trickle of water
running amongst the loose stones.
A couple of years before Nostromo had spent a whole Sunday, all
alone, exploring the island. He explained this to Decoud after
their task was done, and they sat, weary in every limb, with
their legs hanging down the low bank, and their backs against the
tree, like a pair of blind men aware of each other and their
surroundings by some indefinable sixth sense.
"Yes," Nostromo repeated, "I never forget a place I have
carefully looked at once." He spoke slowly, almost lazily, as if
there had been a whole leisurely life before him, instead of the
scanty two hours before daylight. The existence of the treasure,
barely concealed in this improbable spot, laid a burden of
secrecy upon every contemplated step, upon every intention and
plan of future conduct. He felt the partial failure of this
desperate affair entrusted to the great reputation he had known
how to make for himself. However, it was also a partial success.
His vanity was half appeased. His nervous irritation had
"You never know what may be of use," he pursued with his usual
quietness of tone and manner. "I spent a whole miserable Sunday
in exploring this crumb of land."
"A misanthropic sort of occupation," muttered Decoud, viciously.
"You had no money, I suppose, to gamble with, and to fling about
amongst the girls in your usual haunts, Capataz."
"e vero!" exclaimed the Capataz, surprised into the use of his
native tongue by so much perspicacity. "I had not! Therefore I
did not want to go amongst those beggarly people accustomed to my
generosity. It is looked for from the Capataz of the Cargadores,
who are the rich men, and, as it were, the Caballeros amongst the
common people. I don't care for cards but as a pastime; and as to
those girls that boast of having opened their doors to my knock,
you know I wouldn't look at any one of them twice except for what
the people would say. They are queer, the good people of Sulaco,
and I have got much useful information simply by listening
patiently to the talk of the women that everybody believed I was
in love with. Poor Teresa could never understand that. On that
particular Sunday, senor, she scolded so that I went out of the
house swearing that I would never darken their door again unless
to fetch away my hammock and my chest of clothes. Senor, there
is nothing more exasperating than to hear a woman you respect
rail against your good reputation when you have not a single
brass coin in your pocket. I untied one of the small boats and
pulled myself out of the harbour with nothing but three cigars in
my pocket to help me spend the day on this island. But the water
of this rivulet you hear under your feet is cool and sweet and
good, senor, both before and after a smoke." He was silent for a
while, then added reflectively, "That was the first Sunday after
I brought down the white-whiskered English rico all the way down
the mountains from the Paramo on the top of the Entrada Pass--and
in the coach, too! No coach had gone up or down that mountain
road within the memory of man, senor, till I brought this one
down in charge of fifty peons working like one man with ropes,
pickaxes, and poles under my direction. That was the rich
Englishman who, as people say, pays for the making of this
railway. He was very pleased with me. But my wages were not due
till the end of the month."
He slid down the bank suddenly. Decoud heard the splash of his
feet in the brook and followed his footsteps down the ravine. His
form was lost among the bushes till he had reached the strip of
sand under the cliff. As often happens in the gulf when the
showers during the first part of the night had been frequent and
heavy, the darkness had thinned considerably towards the morning
though there were no signs of daylight as yet.
The cargo-lighter, relieved of its precious burden, rocked
feebly, half-afloat, with her fore-foot on the sand. A long rope
stretched away like a black cotton thread across the strip of
white beach to the grapnel Nostromo had carried ashore and hooked
to the stem of a tree-like shrub in the very opening of the
There was nothing for Decoud but to remain on the island. He
received from Nostromo's hands whatever food the foresight of
Captain Mitchell had put on board the lighter and deposited it
temporarily in the little dinghy which on their arrival they had
hauled up out of sight amongst the bushes. It was to be left with
him. The island was to be a hiding-place, not a prison; he could
pull out to a passing ship. The O.S.N. Company's mail boats
passed close to the islands when going into Sulaco from the
north. But the Minerva, carrying off the ex-president, had taken
the news up north of the disturbances in Sulaco. It was possible
that the next steamer down would get instructions to miss the
port altogether since the town, as far as the Minerva's officers
knew, was for the time being in the hands of the rabble. This
would mean that there would be no steamer for a month, as far as
the mail service went; but Decoud had to take his chance of that.
The island was his only shelter from the proscription hanging
over his head. The Capataz was, of course, going back. The
unloaded lighter leaked much less, and he thought that she would
keep afloat as far as the harbour.
He passed to Decoud, standing knee-deep alongside, one of the two
spades which belonged to the equipment of each lighter for use
when ballasting ships. By working with it carefully as soon as
there was daylight enough to see, Decoud could loosen a mass of
earth and stones overhanging the cavity in which they had
deposited the treasure, so that it would look as if it had fallen
naturally. It would cover up not only the cavity, but even all
traces of their work, the footsteps, the displaced stones, and
even the broken bushes.
"Besides, who would think of looking either for you or the
treasure here?" Nostromo continued, as if he could not tear
himself away from the spot. "Nobody is ever likely to come here.
What could any man want with this piece of earth as long as there
is room for his feet on the mainland! The people in this country
are not curious. There are even no fishermen here to intrude upon
your worship. All the fishing that is done in the gulf goes on
near Zapiga, over there. Senor, if you are forced to leave this
island before anything can be arranged for you, do not try to
make for Zapiga. It is a settlement of thieves and matreros,
where they would cut your throat promptly for the sake of your
gold watch and chain. And, senor, think twice before confiding in
any one whatever; even in the officers of the Company's steamers,
if you ever get on board one. Honesty alone is not enough for
security. You must look to discretion and prudence in a man. And
always remember, senor, before you open your lips for a
confidence, that this treasure may be left safely here for
hundreds of years. Time is on its side, senor. And silver is an
incorruptible metal that can be trusted to keep its value for
ever. . . . An incorruptible metal," he repeated, as if the idea
had given him a profound pleasure.
"As some men are said to be," Decoud pronounced, inscrutably,
while the Capataz, who busied himself in baling out the lighter
with a wooden bucket, went on throwing the water over the side
with a regular splash. Decoud, incorrigible in his scepticism,
reflected, not cynically, but with general satisfaction, that
this man was made incorruptible by his enormous vanity, that
finest form of egoism which can take on the aspect of every
Nostromo ceased baling, and, as if struck with a sudden thought,
dropped the bucket with a clatter into the lighter.
"Have you any message?" he asked in a lowered voice. "Remember, I
shall be asked questions."
"You must find the hopeful words that ought to be spoken to the
people in town. I trust for that your intelligence and your
experience, Capataz. You understand?"
"Si, senor. . . . For the ladies."
"Yes, yes," said Decoud, hastily. "Your wonderful reputation will
make them attach great value to your words; therefore be careful
what you say. I am looking forward," he continued, feeling the
fatal touch of contempt for himself to which his complex nature
was subject, "I am looking forward to a glorious and successful
ending to my mission. Do you hear, Capataz? Use the words
glorious and successful when you speak to the senorita. Your own
mission is accomplished gloriously and successfully. You have
indubitably saved the silver of the mine. Not only this silver,
but probably all the silver that shall ever come out of it."
Nostromo detected the ironic tone. "I dare say, Senor Don
Martin," he said, moodily. "There are very few things that I am
not equal to. Ask the foreign signori. I, a man of the people,
who cannot always understand what you mean. But as to this lot
which I must leave here, let me tell you that I would believe it
in greater safety if you had not been with me at all."
An exclamation escaped Decoud, and a short pause followed. "Shall
I go back with you to Sulaco?" he asked in an angry tone.
"Shall I strike you dead with my knife where you stand?" retorted
Nostromo, contemptuously. "It would be the same thing as taking
you to Sulaco. Come, senor. Your reputation is in your politics,
and mine is bound up with the fate of this silver. Do you wonder
I wish there had been no other man to share my knowledge? I
wanted no one with me, senor."
"You could not have kept the lighter afloat without me," Decoud
almost shouted. "You would have gone to the bottom with her."
"Yes," uttered Nostromo, slowly; "alone."
Here was a man, Decoud reflected, that seemed as though he would
have preferred to die rather than deface the perfect form of his
egoism. Such a man was safe. In silence he helped the Capataz to
get the grapnel on board. Nostromo cleared the shelving shore
with one push of the heavy oar, and Decoud found himself solitary
on the beach like a man in a dream. A sudden desire to hear a
human voice once more seized upon his heart. The lighter was
hardly distinguishable from the black water upon which she
"What do you think has become of Hirsch?" he shouted.
"Knocked overboard and drowned," cried Nostromo's voice
confidently out of the black wastes of sky and sea around the
islet. "Keep close in the ravine, senor. I shall try to come out
to you in a night or two."
A slight swishing rustle showed that Nostromo was setting the
sail. It filled all at once with a sound as of a single loud
drum-tap. Decoud went back to the ravine. Nostromo, at the
tiller, looked back from time to time at the vanishing mass of
the Great Isabel, which, little by little, merged into the
uniform texture of the night. At last, when he turned his head
again, he saw nothing but a smooth darkness, like a solid wall.
Then he, too, experienced that feeling of solitude which had
weighed heavily on Decoud after the lighter had slipped off the
shore. But while the man on the island was oppressed by a bizarre
sense of unreality affecting the very ground upon which he
walked, the mind of the Capataz of the Cargadores turned alertly
to the problem of future conduct. Nostromo's faculties, working
on parallel lines, enabled him to steer straight, to keep a
look-out for Hermosa, near which he had to pass, and to try to
imagine what would happen tomorrow in Sulaco. To-morrow, or, as a
matter of fact, to-day, since the dawn was not very far, Sotillo
would find out in what way the treasure had gone. A gang of
Cargadores had been employed in loading it into a railway truck
from the Custom House store-rooms, and running the truck on to
the wharf. There would be arrests made, and certainly before noon
Sotillo would know in what manner the silver had left Sulaco, and
who it was that took it out.
Nostromo's intention had been to sail right into the harbour; but
at this thought by a sudden touch of the tiller he threw the
lighter into the wind and checked her rapid way. His
re-appearance with the very boat would raise suspicions, would
cause surmises, would absolutely put Sotillo on the track. He
himself would be arrested; and once in the Calabozo there was no
saying what they would do to him to make him speak. He trusted
himself, but he stood up to look round. Near by, Hermosa showed
low its white surface as flat as a table, with the slight run of
the sea raised by the breeze washing over its edges noisily. The
lighter must be sunk at once.
He allowed her to drift with her sail aback. There was already a
good deal of water in her. He allowed her to drift towards the