Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
by Joseph Conrad
Part Third: The Lighthouse
AT ABOUT that time, in
the Intendencia of Sulaco, Charles Gould was assuring Pedrito Montero, who
had sent a request for his presence there, that he would never let the mine
pass out of his hands for the profit of a Government who had robbed him of
it. The Gould Concession could not be resumed. His father had not desired
it. The son would never surrender it. He would never surrender it alive. And
once dead, where was the power capable of resuscitating such an enterprise
in all its vigour and wealth out of the ashes and ruin of destruction? There
was no such power in the country. And where was the skill and capital abroad
that would condescend to touch such an ill-omened corpse? Charles Gould
talked in the impassive tone which had for many years served to conceal his
anger and contempt. He suffered. He was disgusted with what he had to say.
It was too much like heroics. In him the strictly practical instinct was in
profound discord with the almost mystic view he took of his right. The Gould
Concession was symbolic of abstract justice. Let the heavens fall. But since
the San Tome mine had developed into world-wide fame his threat had enough
force and effectiveness to reach the rudimentary intelligence of Pedro
Montero, wrapped up as it was in the futilities of historical anecdotes. The
Gould Concession was a serious asset in the country's finance, and, what was
more, in the private budgets of many officials as well. It was traditional.
It was known. It was said. It was credible. Every Minister of Interior drew
a salary from the San Tome mine. It was natural. And Pedrito intended to be
Minister of the Interior and President of the Council in his brother's
Government. The Duc de Morny had occupied those high posts during the Second
French Empire with conspicuous advantage to himself.
A table, a chair, a wooden bedstead had been procured for His Excellency,
who, after a short siesta, rendered absolutely necessary by the labours and
the pomps of his entry into Sulaco, had been getting hold of the
administrative machine by making appointments, giving orders, and signing
proclamations. Alone with Charles Gould in the audience room, His Excellency
managed with his well-known skill to conceal his annoyance and
consternation. He had begun at first to talk loftily of confiscation, but
the want of all proper feeling and mobility in the Senor Administrador's
features ended by affecting adversely his power of masterful expression.
Charles Gould had repeated: "The Government can certainly bring about
the destruction of the San Tome mine if it likes; but without me it can do
nothing else." It was an alarming pronouncement, and well calculated to
hurt the sensibilities of a politician whose mind is bent upon the spoils of
victory. And Charles Gould said also that the destruction of the San Tome
mine would cause the ruin of other undertakings, the withdrawal of European
capital, the withholding, most probably, of the last instalment of the
foreign loan. That stony fiend of a man said all these things (which were
accessible to His Excellency's intelligence) in a coldblooded manner which
made one shudder.
A long course of reading historical works, light and gossipy in tone,
carried out in garrets of Parisian hotels, sprawling on an untidy bed, to
the neglect of his duties, menial or otherwise, had affected the manners of
Pedro Montero. Had he seen around him the splendour of the old Intendencia,
the magnificent hangings, the gilt furniture ranged along the walls; had he
stood upon a dais on a noble square of red carpet, he would have probably
been very dangerous from a sense of success and elevation. But in this
sacked and devastated residence, with the three pieces of common furniture
huddled up in the middle of the vast apartment, Pedrito's imagination was
subdued by a feeling of insecurity and impermanence. That feeling and the
firm attitude of Charles Gould who had not once, so far, pronounced the word
"Excellency," diminished him in his own eyes. He assumed the tone
of an enlightened man of the world, and begged Charles Gould to dismiss from
his mind every cause for alarm. He was now conversing, he reminded him, with
the brother of the master of the country, charged with a reorganizing
mission. The trusted brother of the master of the country, he repeated.
Nothing was further from the thoughts of that wise and patriotic hero than
ideas of destruction. "I entreat you, Don Carlos, not to give way to
your anti-democratic prejudices," he cried, in a burst of condescending
Pedrito Montero surprised one at first sight by the vast development of his
bald forehead, a shiny yellow expanse between the crinkly coal-black tufts
of hair without any lustre, the engaging form of his mouth, and an
unexpectedly cultivated voice. But his eyes, very glistening as if freshly
painted on each side of his hooked nose, had a round, hopeless, birdlike
stare when opened fully. Now, however, he narrowed them agreeably, throwing
his square chin up and speaking with closed teeth slightly through the nose,
with what he imagined to be the manner of a grand seigneur.
In that attitude, he declared suddenly that the highest expression of
democracy was Caesarism: the imperial rule based upon the direct popular
vote. Caesarism was conservative. It was strong. It recognized the
legitimate needs of democracy which requires orders, titles, and
distinctions. They would be showered upon deserving men. Caesarism was
peace. It was progressive. It secured the prosperity of a country. Pedrito
Montero was carried away. Look at what the Second Empire had done for
France. It was a regime which delighted to honour men of Don Carlos's stamp.
The Second Empire fell, but that was because its chief was devoid of that
military genius which had raised General Montero to the pinnacle of fame and
glory. Pedrito elevated his hand jerkily to help the idea of pinnacle, of
fame. "We shall have many talks yet. We shall understand each other
thoroughly, Don Carlos!" he cried in a tone of fellowship.
Republicanism had done its work. Imperial democracy was the power of the
future. Pedrito, the guerrillero, showing his hand, lowered his voice
forcibly. A man singled out by his fellow-citizens for the honourable
nickname of El Rey de Sulaco could not but receive a full recognition from
an imperial democracy as a great captain of industry and a person of weighty
counsel, whose popular designation would be soon replaced by a more solid
title. "Eh, Don Carlos? No! What do you say? Conde de Sulaco--Eh?--or
marquis . . ."
He ceased. The air was cool on the Plaza, where a patrol of cavalry rode
round and round without penetrating into the streets, which resounded with
shouts and the strumming of guitars issuing from the open doors of pulperias.
The orders were not to interfere with the enjoyments of the people. And
above the roofs, next to the perpendicular lines of the cathedral towers the
snowy curve of Higuerota blocked a large space of darkening blue sky before
the windows of the Intendencia. After a time Pedrito Montero, thrusting his
hand in the bosom of his coat, bowed his head with slow dignity. The
audience was over.
Charles Gould on going out passed his hand over his forehead as if to
disperse the mists of an oppressive dream, whose grotesque extravagance
leaves behind a subtle sense of bodily danger and intellectual decay. In the
passages and on the staircases of the old palace Montero's troopers lounged
about insolently, smoking and making way for no one; the clanking of sabres
and spurs resounded all over the building. Three silent groups of civilians
in severe black waited in the main gallery, formal and helpless, a little
huddled up, each keeping apart from the others, as if in the exercise of a
public duty they had been overcome by a desire to shun the notice of every
eye. These were the deputations waiting for their audience. The one from the
Provincial Assembly, more restless and uneasy in its corporate expression,
was overtopped by the big face of Don Juste Lopez, soft and white, with
prominent eyelids and wreathed in impenetrable solemnity as if in a dense
cloud. The President of the Provincial Assembly, coming bravely to save the
last shred of parliamentary institutions (on the English model), averted his
eyes from the Administrador of the San Tome mine as a dignified rebuke of
his little faith in that only saving principle.
The mournful severity of that reproof did not affect Charles Gould, but he
was sensible to the glances of the others directed upon him without
reproach, as if only to read their own fate upon his face. All of them had
talked, shouted, and declaimed in the great sala of the Casa Gould. The
feeling of compassion for those men, struck with a strange impotence in the
toils of moral degradation, did not induce him to make a sign. He suffered
from his fellowship in evil with them too much. He crossed the Plaza
unmolested. The Amarilla Club was full of festive ragamuffins. Their frowsy
heads protruded from every window, and from within came drunken shouts, the
thumping of feet, and the twanging of harps. Broken bottles strewed the
pavement below. Charles Gould found the doctor still in his house.
Dr. Monygham came away from the crack in the shutter through which he had
been watching the street.
"Ah! You are back at last!" he said in a tone of relief. "I
have been telling Mrs. Gould that you were perfectly safe, but I was not by
any means certain that the fellow would have let you go."
"Neither was I," confessed Charles Gould, laying his hat on the
"You will have to take action."
The silence of Charles Gould seemed to admit that this was the only course.
This was as far as Charles Gould was accustomed to go towards expressing his
"I hope you did not warn Montero of what you mean to do," the
doctor said, anxiously.
"I tried to make him see that the existence of the mine was bound up
with my personal safety," continued Charles Gould, looking away from
the doctor, and fixing his eyes upon the water-colour sketch upon the wall.
"He believed you?" the doctor asked, eagerly.
"God knows!" said Charles Gould. "I owed it to my wife to say
that much. He is well enough informed. He knows that I have Don Pepe there.
Fuentes must have told him. They know that the old major is perfectly
capable of blowing up the San Tome mine without hesitation or compunction.
Had it not been for that I don't think I'd have left the Intendencia a free
man. He would blow everything up from loyalty and from hate--from hate of
these Liberals, as they call themselves. Liberals! The words one knows so
well have a nightmarish meaning in this country. Liberty, democracy,
patriotism, government--all of them have a flavour of folly and murder.
Haven't they, doctor? . . . I alone can restrain Don Pepe. If they were
to--to do away with me, nothing could prevent him."
"They will try to tamper with him," the doctor suggested,
"It is very possible," Charles Gould said very low, as if speaking
to himself, and still gazing at the sketch of the San Tome gorge upon the
wall. "Yes, I expect they will try that." Charles Gould looked for
the first time at the doctor. "It would give me time," he added.
"Exactly," said Dr. Monygham, suppressing his excitement.
"Especially if Don Pepe behaves diplomatically. Why shouldn't he give
them some hope of success? Eh? Otherwise you wouldn't gain so much time.
Couldn't he be instructed to--"
Charles Gould, looking at the doctor steadily, shook his head, but the
doctor continued with a certain amount of fire--
"Yes, to enter into negotiations for the surrender of the mine. It is a
good notion. You would mature your plan. Of course, I don't ask what it is.
I don't want to know. I would refuse to listen to you if you tried to tell
me. I am not fit for confidences."
"What nonsense!" muttered Charles Gould, with displeasure.
He disapproved of the doctor's sensitiveness about that far-off episode of
his life. So much memory shocked Charles Gould. It was like morbidness. And
again he shook his head. He refused to tamper with the open rectitude of Don
Pepe's conduct, both from taste and from policy. Instructions would have to
be either verbal or in writing. In either case they ran the risk of being
intercepted. It was by no means certain that a messenger could reach the
mine; and, besides, there was no one to send. It was on the tip of Charles's
tongue to say that only the late Capataz de Cargadores could have been
employed with some chance of success and the certitude of discretion. But he
did not say that. He pointed out to the doctor that it would have been bad
policy. Directly Don Pepe let it be supposed that he could be bought over,
the Administrador's personal safety and the safety of his friends would
become endangered. For there would be then no reason for moderation. The
incorruptibility of Don Pepe was the essential and restraining fact. The
doctor hung his head and admitted that in a way it was so.
He couldn't deny to himself that the reasoning was sound enough. Don Pepe's
usefulness consisted in his unstained character. As to his own usefulness,
he reflected bitterly it was also his own character. He declared to Charles
Gould that he had the means of keeping Sotillo from joining his forces with
Montero, at least for the present.
"If you had had all this silver here," the doctor said, "or
even if it had been known to be at the mine, you could have bribed Sotillo
to throw off his recent Monterism. You could have induced him either to go
away in his steamer or even to join you."
"Certainly not that last," Charles Gould declared, firmly.
"What could one do with a man like that, afterwards--tell me, doctor?
The silver is gone, and I am glad of it. It would have been an immediate and
strong temptation. The scramble for that visible plunder would have
precipitated a disastrous ending. I would have had to defend it, too. I am
glad we've removed it--even if it is lost. It would have been a danger and a
"Perhaps he is right," the doctor, an hour later, said hurriedly
to Mrs. Gould, whom he met in the corridor. "The thing is done, and the
shadow of the treasure may do just as well as the substance. Let me try to
serve you to the whole extent of my evil reputation. I am off now to play my
game of betrayal with Sotillo, and keep him off the town."
She put out both her hands impulsively. "Dr. Monygham, you are running
a terrible risk," she whispered, averting from his face her eyes, full
of tears, for a short glance at the door of her husband's room. She pressed
both his hands, and the doctor stood as if rooted to the spot, looking down
at her, and trying to twist his lips into a smile.
"Oh, I know you will defend my memory," he uttered at last, and
ran tottering down the stairs across the patio, and out of the house. In the
street he kept up. a great pace with his smart hobbling walk, a case of
instruments under his arm. He was known for being loco. Nobody interfered
with him. From under the seaward gate, across the dusty, arid plain,
interspersed with low bushes, he saw, more than a mile away, the ugly
enormity of the Custom House, and the two or three other buildings which at
that time constituted the seaport of Sulaco. Far away to the south groves of
palm trees edged the curve of the harbour shore. The distant peaks of the
Cordillera had lost their identity of clearcut shapes in the steadily
deepening blue of the eastern sky. The doctor walked briskly. A darkling
shadow seemed to fall upon him from the zenith. The sun had set. For a time
the snows of Higuerota continued to glow with the reflected glory of the
west. The doctor, holding a straight course for the Custom House, appeared
lonely, hopping amongst the dark bushes like a tall bird with a broken wing.
Tints of purple, gold, and crimson were mirrored in the clear water of the
harbour. A long tongue of land, straight as a wall, with the grass-grown
ruins of the fort making a sort of rounded green mound, plainly visible from
the inner shore, closed its circuit; while beyond the Placid Gulf repeated
those splendours of colouring on a greater scale and with a more sombre
magnificence. The great mass of cloud filling the head of the gulf had long
red smears amongst its convoluted folds of grey and black, as of a floating
mantle stained with blood. The three Isabels, overshadowed and clear cut in
a great smoothness confounding the sea and sky, appeared suspended,
purple-black, in the air. The little wavelets seemed to be tossing tiny red
sparks upon the sandy beaches. The glassy bands of water along the horizon
gave out a fiery red glow, as if fire and water had been mingled together in
the vast bed of the ocean.
At last the conflagration of sea and sky, lying embraced and still in a
flaming contact upon the edge of the world, went out. The red sparks in the
water vanished together with the stains of blood in the black mantle draping
the sombre head of the Placid Gulf; a sudden breeze sprang up and died out
after rustling heavily the growth of bushes on the ruined earthwork of the
fort. Nostromo woke up from a fourteen hours' sleep, and arose full length
from his lair in the long grass. He stood knee deep amongst the whispering
undulations of the green blades with the lost air of a man just born into
the world. Handsome, robust, and supple, he threw back his head, flung his
arms open, and stretched himself with a slow twist of the waist and a
leisurely growling yawn of white teeth, as natural and free from evil in the
moment of waking as a magnificent and unconscious wild beast. Then, in the
suddenly steadied glance fixed upon nothing from under a thoughtful frown,
appeared the man.