Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


CAPTAIN MITCHELL, pacing the wharf, was asking himself the same
question. There was always the doubt whether the warning of the
Esmeralda telegraphist--a fragmentary and interrupted
message--had been properly understood. However, the good man had
made up his mind not to go to bed till daylight, if even then. He
imagined himself to have rendered an enormous service to Charles
Gould. When he thought of the saved silver he rubbed his hands
together with satisfaction. In his simple way he was proud at
being a party to this extremely clever expedient. It was he who
had given it a practical shape by suggesting the possibility of
intercepting at sea the north-bound steamer. And it was
advantageous to his Company, too, which would have lost a
valuable freight if the treasure had been left ashore to be
confiscated. The pleasure of disappointing the Monterists was
also very great. Authoritative by temperament and the long habit
of command, Captain Mitchell was no democrat. He even went so
far as to profess a contempt for parliamentarism itself. "His
Excellency Don Vincente Ribiera," he used to say, "whom I and
that fellow of mine, Nostromo, had the honour, sir, and the
pleasure of saving from a cruel death, deferred too much to his
Congress. It was a mistake--a distinct mistake, sir."

The guileless old seaman superintending the O.S.N. service
imagined that the last three days had exhausted every startling
surprise the political life of Costaguana could offer. He used to
confess afterwards that the events which followed surpassed his
imagination. To begin with, Sulaco (because of the seizure of the
cables and the disorganization of the steam service) remained for
a whole fortnight cut off from the rest of the world like a
besieged city.

"One would not have believed it possible; but so it was, sir. A
full fortnight."

The account of the extraordinary things that happened during that
time, and the powerful emotions he experienced, acquired a comic
impressiveness from the pompous manner of his personal narrative.
He opened it always by assuring his hearer that he was "in the
thick of things from first to last." Then he would begin by
describing the getting away of the silver, and his natural
anxiety lest "his fellow" in charge of the lighter should make
some mistake. Apart from the loss of so much precious metal, the
life of Senor Martin Decoud, an agreeable, wealthy, and
well-informed young gentleman, would have been jeopardized
through his falling into the hands of his political enemies.
Captain Mitchell also admitted that in his solitary vigil on the
wharf he had felt a certain measure of concern for the future of
the whole country.

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