Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


NOSTROMO had been growing rich very slowly. It was an effect of
his prudence. He could command himself even when thrown off his
balance. And to become the slave of a treasure with full
self-knowledge is an occurrence rare and mentally disturbing. But
it was also in a great part because of the difficulty of
converting it into a form in which it could become available. The
mere act of getting it away from the island piecemeal, little by
little, was surrounded by difficulties, by the dangers of
imminent detection. He had to visit the Great Isabel in secret,
between his voyages along the coast, which were the ostensible
source of his fortune. The crew of his own schooner were to be
feared as if they had been spies upon their dreaded captain. He
did not dare stay too long in port. When his coaster was
unloaded, he hurried away on another trip, for he feared arousing
suspicion even by a day's delay. Sometimes during a week's stay,
or more, he could only manage one visit to the treasure. And that
was all. A couple of ingots. He suffered through his fears as
much as through his prudence. To do things by stealth humiliated
him. And he suffered most from the concentration of his thought
upon the treasure.

A transgression, a crime, entering a man's existence, eats it up
like a malignant growth, consumes it like a fever. Nostromo had
lost his peace; the genuineness of all his qualities was
destroyed. He felt it himself, and often cursed the silver of San
Tome. His courage, his magnificence, his leisure, his work,
everything was as before, only everything was a sham. But the
treasure was real. He clung to it with a more tenacious, mental
grip. But he hated the feel of the ingots. Sometimes, after
putting away a couple of them in his cabin--the fruit of a secret
night expedition to the Great Isabel--he would look fixedly at
his fingers, as if surprised they had left no stain on his skin.

He had found means of disposing of the silver bars in distant
ports. The necessity to go far afield made his coasting voyages
long, and caused his visits to the Viola household to be rare and
far between. He was fated to have his wife from there. He had
said so once to Giorgio himself. But the Garibaldino had put the
subject aside with a majestic wave of his hand, clutching a
smouldering black briar-root pipe. There was plenty of time; he
was not the man to force his girls upon anybody.

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