Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


PERHAPS it was in the exercise of his calling that he had come to
see the troops depart. The Porvenir of the day after next would
no doubt relate the event, but its editor, leaning his side
against the landau, seemed to look at nothing. The front rank of
the company of infantry drawn up three deep across the shore end
of the jetty when pressed too close would bring their bayonets to
the charge ferociously, with an awful rattle; and then the crowd
of spectators swayed back bodily, even under the noses of the big
white mules. Notwithstanding the great multitude there was only a
low, muttering noise; the dust hung in a brown haze, in which the
horsemen, wedged in the throng here and there, towered from the
hips upwards, gazing all one way over the heads. Almost every one
of them had mounted a friend, who steadied himself with both
hands grasping his shoulders from behind; and the rims of their
hats touching, made like one disc sustaining the cones of two
pointed crowns with a double face underneath. A hoarse mozo would
bawl out something to an acquaintance in the ranks, or a woman
would shriek suddenly the word Adios! followed by the Christian
name of a man.

General Barrios, in a shabby blue tunic and white peg-top
trousers falling upon strange red boots, kept his head uncovered
and stooped slightly, propping himself up with a thick stick. No!
He had earned enough military glory to satiate any man, he
insisted to Mrs. Gould, trying at the same time to put an air of
gallantry into his attitude. A few jetty hairs hung sparsely from
his upper lip, he had a salient nose, a thin, long jaw, and a
black silk patch over one eye. His other eye, small and deep-set,
twinkled erratically in all directions, aimlessly affable. The
few European spectators, all men, who had naturally drifted into
the neighbourhood of the Gould carriage, betrayed by the
solemnity of their faces their impression that the general must
have had too much punch (Swedish punch, imported in bottles by
Anzani) at the Amarilla Club before he had started with his Staff
on a furious ride to the harbour. But Mrs. Gould bent forward,
self-possessed, and declared her conviction that still more glory
awaited the general in the near future.

"Senora!" he remonstrated, with great feeling, "in the name of
God, reflect! How can there be any glory for a man like me in
overcoming that bald-headed embustero with the dyed moustaches?"

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