Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


AFTER landing from his swim Nostromo had scrambled up, all
dripping, into the main quadrangle of the old fort; and there,
amongst ruined bits of walls and rotting remnants of roofs and
sheds, he had slept the day through. He had slept in the shadow
of the mountains, in the white blaze of noon, in the stillness
and solitude of that overgrown piece of land between the oval of
the harbour and the spacious semi-circle of the gulf. He lay as
if dead. A rey-zamuro, appearing like a tiny black speck in the
blue, stooped, circling prudently with a stealthiness of flight
startling in a bird of that great size. The shadow of his
pearly-white body, of his black-tipped wings, fell on the grass
no more silently than he alighted himself on a hillock of rubbish
within three yards of that man, lying as still as a corpse. The
bird stretched his bare neck, craned his bald head, loathsome in
the brilliance of varied colouring, with an air of voracious
anxiety towards the promising stillness of that prostrate body.
Then, sinking his head deeply into his soft plumage, he settled
himself to wait. The first thing upon which Nostromo's eyes fell
on waking was this patient watcher for the signs of death and
corruption. When the man got up the vulture hopped away in great,
side-long, fluttering jumps. He lingered for a while, morose and
reluctant, before he rose, circling noiselessly with a sinister
droop of beak and claws.

Long after he had vanished, Nostromo, lifting his eyes up to the
sky, muttered, "I am not dead yet."

The Capataz of the Sulaco Cargadores had lived in splendour and
publicity up to the very moment, as it were, when he took charge
of the lighter containing the treasure of silver ingots.

The last act he had performed in Sulaco was in complete harmony
with his vanity, and as such perfectly genuine. He had given his
last dollar to an old woman moaning with the grief and fatigue of
a dismal search under the arch of the ancient gate. Performed in
obscurity and without witnesses, it had still the characteristics
of splendour and publicity, and was in strict keeping with his
reputation. But this awakening in solitude, except for the
watchful vulture, amongst the ruins of the fort, had no such
characteristics. His first confused feeling was exactly
this--that it was not in keeping. It was more like the end of
things. The necessity of living concealed somehow, for God knows
how long, which assailed him on his return to consciousness, made
everything that had gone before for years appear vain and
foolish, like a flattering dream come suddenly to an end.

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