Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


WHEN General Barrios stopped to address Mrs. Gould, Antonia
raised negligently her hand holding an open fan, as if to shade
from the sun her head, wrapped in a light lace shawl. The clear
gleam of her blue eyes gliding behind the black fringe of
eyelashes paused for a moment upon her father, then travelled
further to the figure of a young man of thirty at most, of medium
height, rather thick-set, wearing a light overcoat. Bearing down
with the open palm of his hand upon the knob of a flexible cane,
he had been looking on from a distance; but directly he saw
himself noticed, he approached quietly and put his elbow over the
door of the landau.

The shirt collar, cut low in the neck, the big bow of his cravat,
the style of his clothing, from the round hat to the varnished
shoes, suggested an idea of French elegance; but otherwise he was
the very type of a fair Spanish creole. The fluffy moustache and
the short, curly, golden beard did not conceal his lips, rosy,
fresh, almost pouting in expression. His full, round face was of
that warm, healthy creole white which is never tanned by its
native sunshine. Martin Decoud was seldom exposed to the
Costaguana sun under which he was born. His people had been long
settled in Paris, where he had studied law, had dabbled in
literature, had hoped now and then in moments of exaltation to
become a poet like that other foreigner of Spanish blood, Jose
Maria Heredia. In other moments he had, to pass the time,
condescended to write articles on European affairs for the
Semenario, the principal newspaper in Sta. Marta, which printed
them under the heading "From our special correspondent," though
the authorship was an open secret. Everybody in Costaguana, where
the tale of compatriots in Europe is jealously kept, knew that it
was "the son Decoud," a talented young man, supposed to be moving
in the higher spheres of Society. As a matter of fact, he was an
idle boulevardier, in touch with some smart journalists, made
free of a few newspaper offices, and welcomed in the pleasure
haunts of pressmen. This life, whose dreary superficiality is
covered by the glitter of universal blague, like the stupid
clowning of a harlequin by the spangles of a motley costume,
induced in him a Frenchified--but most
un-French--cosmopolitanism, in reality a mere barren
indifferentism posing as intellectual superiority. Of his own
country he used to say to his French associates: "Imagine an
atmosphere of opera-bouffe in which all the comic business of
stage statesmen, brigands, etc., etc., all their farcical
stealing, intriguing, and stabbing is done in dead earnest. It is
screamingly funny, the blood flows all the time, and the actors
believe themselves to be influencing the fate of the universe. Of
course, government in general, any government anywhere, is a
thing of exquisite comicality to a discerning mind; but really we
Spanish-Americans do overstep the bounds. No man of ordinary
intelligence can take part in the intrigues of une farce macabre.
However, these Ribierists, of whom we hear so much just now, are
really trying in their own comical way to make the country
habitable, and even to pay some of its debts. My friends, you had
better write up Senor Ribiera all you can in kindness to your own
bondholders. Really, if what I am told in my letters is true,
there is some chance for them at last."

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