Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


THE only sign of commercial activity within the harbour, visible
from the beach of the Great Isabel, is the square blunt end of
the wooden jetty which the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (the
O.S.N. of familiar speech) had thrown over the shallow part of
the bay soon after they had resolved to make of Sulaco one of
their ports of call for the Republic of Costaguana. The State
possesses several harbours on its long seaboard, but except
Cayta, an important place, all are either small and inconvenient
inlets in an iron-bound coast--like Esmeralda, for instance,
sixty miles to the south--or else mere open roadsteads exposed to
the winds and fretted by the surf.

Perhaps the very atmospheric conditions which had kept away the
merchant fleets of bygone ages induced the O.S.N. Company to
violate the sanctuary of peace sheltering the calm existence of
Sulaco. The variable airs sporting lightly with the vast
semicircle of waters within the head of Azuera could not baffle
the steam power of their excellent fleet. Year after year the
black hulls of their ships had gone up and down the coast, in and
out, past Azuera, past the Isabels, past Punta Mala--disregarding
everything but the tyranny of time. Their names, the names of all
mythology, became the household words of a coast that had never
been ruled by the gods of Olympus. The Juno was known only for
her comfortable cabins amidships, the Saturn for the geniality of
her captain and the painted and gilt luxuriousness of her saloon,
whereas the Ganymede was fitted out mainly for cattle transport,
and to be avoided by coastwise passengers. The humblest Indian in
the obscurest village on the coast was familiar with the
Cerberus, a little black puffer without charm or living
accommodation to speak of, whose mission was to creep inshore
along the wooded beaches close to mighty ugly rocks, stopping
obligingly before every cluster of huts to collect produce, down
to three-pound parcels of indiarubber bound in a wrapper of dry

And as they seldom failed to account for the smallest package,
rarely lost a bullock, and had never drowned a single passenger,
the name of the O.S.N. stood very high for trustworthiness.
People declared that under the Company's care their lives and
property were safer on the water than in their own houses on

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