Nostromo: a Tale of the Seaboard, by Joseph Conrad

Chapter Thirteen

ON THE day Mrs. Gould was going, in Dr. Monygham’s words, to “give a tertulia,” Captain Fidanza went down the side of his schooner lying in Sulaco harbour, calm, unbending, deliberate in the way he sat down in his dinghy and took up his sculls. He was later than usual. The afternoon was well advanced before he landed on the beach of the Great Isabel, and with a steady pace climbed the slope of the island.

From a distance he made out Giselle sitting in a chair tilted back against the end of the house, under the window of the girl’s room. She had her embroidery in her hands, and held it well up to her eyes. The tranquillity of that girlish figure exasperated the feeling of perpetual struggle and strife he carried in his breast. He became angry. It seemed to him that she ought to hear the clanking of his fetters — his silver fetters, from afar. And while ashore that day, he had met the doctor with the evil eye, who had looked at him very hard.

The raising of her eyes mollified him. They smiled in their flower-like freshness straight upon his heart. Then she frowned. It was a warning to be cautious. He stopped some distance away, and in a loud, indifferent tone, said —

“Good day, Giselle. Is Linda up yet?”

“Yes. She is in the big room with father.”

He approached then, and, looking through the window into the bedroom for fear of being detected by Linda returning there for some reason, he said, moving only his lips —

“You love me?”

“More than my life.” She went on with her embroidery under his contemplating gaze and continued to speak, looking at her work, “Or I could not live. I could not, Giovanni. For this life is like death. Oh, Giovanni, I shall perish if you do not take me away.”

He smiled carelessly. “I will come to the window when it’s dark,” he said.

“No, don’t, Giovanni. Not-to-night. Linda and father have been talking together for a long time today.”

“What about?”

“Ramirez, I fancy I heard. I do not know. I am afraid. I am always afraid. It is like dying a thousand times a day. Your love is to me like your treasure to you. It is there, but I can never get enough of it.”

He looked at her very still. She was beautiful. His desire had grown within him. He had two masters now. But she was incapable of sustained emotion. She was sincere in what she said, but she slept placidly at night. When she saw him she flamed up always. Then only an increased taciturnity marked the change in her. She was afraid of betraying herself. She was afraid of pain, of bodily harm, of sharp words, of facing anger, and witnessing violence. For her soul was light and tender with a pagan sincerity in its impulses. She murmured —

“Give up the palazzo, Giovanni, and the vineyard on the hills, for which we are starving our love.”

She ceased, seeing Linda standing silent at the corner of the house.

Nostromo turned to his affianced wife with a greeting, and was amazed at her sunken eyes, at her hollow cheeks, at the air of illness and anguish in her face.

“Have you been ill?” he asked, trying to put some concern into this question.

Her black eyes blazed at him. “Am I thinner?” she asked.

“Yes — perhaps — a little.”

“And older?”

“Every day counts — for all of us.”

“I shall go grey, I fear, before the ring is on my finger,” she said, slowly, keeping her gaze fastened upon him.

She waited for what he would say, rolling down her turned-up sleeves.

“No fear of that,” he said, absently.

She turned away as if it had been something final, and busied herself with household cares while Nostromo talked with her father. Conversation with the old Garibaldino was not easy. Age had left his faculties unimpaired, only they seemed to have withdrawn somewhere deep within him. His answers were slow in coming, with an effect of august gravity. But that day he was more animated, quicker; there seemed to be more life in the old lion. He was uneasy for the integrity of his honour. He believed Sidoni’s warning as to Ramirez’s designs upon his younger daughter. And he did not trust her. She was flighty. He said nothing of his cares to “Son Gian’ Battista.” It was a touch of senile vanity. He wanted to show that he was equal yet to the task of guarding alone the honour of his house.

Nostromo went away early. As soon as he had disappeared, walking towards the beach, Linda stepped over the threshold and, with a haggard smile, sat down by the side of her father.

Ever since that Sunday, when the infatuated and desperate Ramirez had waited for her on the wharf, she had no doubts whatever. The jealous ravings of that man were no revelation. They had only fixed with precision, as with a nail driven into her heart, that sense of unreality and deception which, instead of bliss and security, she had found in her intercourse with her promised husband. She had passed on, pouring indignation and scorn upon Ramirez; but, that Sunday, she nearly died of wretchedness and shame, lying on the carved and lettered stone of Teresa’s grave, subscribed for by the engine-drivers and the fitters of the railway workshops, in sign of their respect for the hero of Italian Unity. Old Viola had not been able to carry out his desire of burying his wife in the sea; and Linda wept upon the stone.

The gratuitous outrage appalled her. If he wished to break her heart — well and good. Everything was permitted to Gian’ Battista. But why trample upon the pieces; why seek to humiliate her spirit? Aha! He could not break that. She dried her tears. And Giselle! Giselle! The little one that, ever since she could toddle, had always clung to her skirt for protection. What duplicity! But she could not help it probably. When there was a man in the case the poor featherheaded wretch could not help herself.

Linda had a good share of the Viola stoicism. She resolved to say nothing. But woman-like she put passion into her stoicism. Giselle’s short answers, prompted by fearful caution, drove her beside herself by their curtness that resembled disdain. One day she flung herself upon the chair in which her indolent sister was lying and impressed the mark of her teeth at the base of the whitest neck in Sulaco. Giselle cried out. But she had her share of the Viola heroism. Ready to faint with terror, she only said, in a lazy voice, “Madre de Dios! Are you going to eat me alive, Linda?” And this outburst passed off leaving no trace upon the situation. “She knows nothing. She cannot know any thing,” reflected Giselle. “Perhaps it is not true. It cannot be true,” Linda tried to persuade herself.

But when she saw Captain Fidanza for the first time after her meeting with the distracted Ramirez, the certitude of her misfortune returned. She watched him from the doorway go away to his boat, asking herself stoically, “Will they meet to-night?” She made up her mind not to leave the tower for a second. When he had disappeared she came out and sat down by her father.

The venerable Garibaldino felt, in his own words, “a young man yet.” In one way or another a good deal of talk about Ramirez had reached him of late; and his contempt and dislike of that man who obviously was not what his son would have been, had made him restless. He slept very little now; but for several nights past instead of reading — or only sitting, with Mrs. Gould’s silver spectacles on his nose, before the open Bible, he had been prowling actively all about the island with his old gun, on watch over his honour.

Linda, laying her thin brown hand on his knee, tried to soothe his excitement. Ramirez was not in Sulaco. Nobody knew where he was. He was gone. His talk of what he would do meant nothing.

“No,” the old man interrupted. “But son Gian’ Battista told me — quite of himself — that the cowardly esclavo was drinking and gambling with the rascals of Zapiga, over there on the north side of the gulf. He may get some of the worst scoundrels of that scoundrelly town of negroes to help him in his attempt upon the little one. . . . But I am not so old. No!”

She argued earnestly against the probability of any attempt being made; and at last the old man fell silent, chewing his white moustache. Women had their obstinate notions which must be humoured — his poor wife was like that, and Linda resembled her mother. It was not seemly for a man to argue. “May be. May be,” he mumbled.

She was by no means easy in her mind. She loved Nostromo. She turned her eyes upon Giselle, sitting at a distance, with something of maternal tenderness, and the jealous anguish of a rival outraged in her defeat. Then she rose and walked over to her.

“Listen — you,” she said, roughly.

The invincible candour of the gaze, raised up all violet and dew, excited her rage and admiration. She had beautiful eyes — the Chica — this vile thing of white flesh and black deception. She did not know whether she wanted to tear them out with shouts of vengeance or cover up their mysterious and shameless innocence with kisses of pity and love. And suddenly they became empty, gazing blankly at her, except for a little fear not quite buried deep enough with all the other emotions in Giselle’s heart.

Linda said, “Ramirez is boasting in town that he will carry you off from the island.”

“What folly!” answered the other, and in a perversity born of long restraint, she added: “He is not the man,” in a jesting tone with a trembling audacity.

“No?” said Linda, through her clenched teeth. “Is he not? Well, then, look to it; because father has been walking about with a loaded gun at night.”

“It is not good for him. You must tell him not to, Linda. He will not listen to me.”

“I shall say nothing — never any more — to anybody,” cried Linda, passionately.

This could not last, thought Giselle. Giovanni must take her away soon — the very next time he came. She would not suffer these terrors for ever so much silver. To speak with her sister made her ill. But she was not uneasy at her father’s watchfulness. She had begged Nostromo not to come to the window that night. He had promised to keep away for this once. And she did not know, could not guess or imagine, that he had another reason for coming on the island.

Linda had gone straight to the tower. It was time to light up. She unlocked the little door, and went heavily up the spiral staircase, carrying her love for the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores like an ever-increasing load of shameful fetters. No; she could not throw it off. No; let Heaven dispose of these two. And moving about the lantern, filled with twilight and the sheen of the moon, with careful movements she lighted the lamp. Then her arms fell along her body.

“And with our mother looking on,” she murmured. “My own sister — the Chica!”

The whole refracting apparatus, with its brass fittings and rings of prisms, glittered and sparkled like a domeshaped shrine of diamonds, containing not a lamp, but some sacred flame, dominating the sea. And Linda, the keeper, in black, with a pale face, drooped low in a wooden chair, alone with her jealousy, far above the shames and passions of the earth. A strange, dragging pain as if somebody were pulling her about brutally by her dark hair with bronze glints, made her put her hands up to her temples. They would meet. They would meet. And she knew where, too. At the window. The sweat of torture fell in drops on her cheeks, while the moonlight in the offing closed as if with a colossal bar of silver the entrance of the Placid Gulf — the sombre cavern of clouds and stillness in the surf-fretted seaboard.

Linda Viola stood up suddenly with a finger on her lip. He loved neither her nor her sister. The whole thing seemed so objectless as to frighten her, and also give her some hope. Why did he not carry her off? What prevented him? He was incomprehensible. What were they waiting for? For what end were these two lying and deceiving? Not for the ends of their love. There was no such thing. The hope of regaining him for herself made her break her vow of not leaving the tower that night. She must talk at once to her father, who was wise, and would understand. She ran down the spiral stairs. At the moment of opening the door at the bottom she heard the sound of the first shot ever fired on the Great Isabel.

She felt a shock, as though the bullet had struck her breast. She ran on without pausing. The cottage was dark. She cried at the door, “Giselle! Giselle!” then dashed round the corner and screamed her sister’s name at the open window, without getting an answer; but as she was rushing, distracted, round the house, Giselle came out of the door, and darted past her, running silently, her hair loose, and her eyes staring straight ahead. She seemed to skim along the grass as if on tiptoe, and vanished.

Linda walked on slowly, with her arms stretched out before her. All was still on the island; she did not know where she was going. The tree under which Martin Decoud spent his last days, beholding life like a succession of senseless images, threw a large blotch of black shade upon the grass. Suddenly she saw her father, standing quietly all alone in the moonlight.

The Garibaldino — big, erect, with his snow-white hair and beard — had a monumental repose in his immobility, leaning upon a rifle. She put her hand upon his arm lightly. He never stirred.

“What have you done?” she asked, in her ordinary voice.

“I have shot Ramirez — infame!” he answered, with his eyes directed to where the shade was blackest. “Like a thief he came, and like a thief he fell. The child had to be protected.”

He did not offer to move an inch, to advance a single step. He stood there, rugged and unstirring, like a statue of an old man guarding the honour of his house. Linda removed her trembling hand from his arm, firm and steady like an arm of stone, and, without a word, entered the blackness of the shade. She saw a stir of formless shapes on the ground, and stopped short. A murmur of despair and tears grew louder to her strained hearing.

“I entreated you not to come to-night. Oh, my Giovanni! And you promised. Oh! Why — why did you come, Giovanni?”

It was her sister’s voice. It broke on a heartrending sob. And the voice of the resourceful Capataz de Cargadores, master and slave of the San Tome treasure, who had been caught unawares by old Giorgio while stealing across the open towards the ravine to get some more silver, answered careless and cool, but sounding startlingly weak from the ground.

“It seemed as though I could not live through the night without seeing thee once more — my star, my little flower.”

* * * * *

The brilliant tertulia was just over, the last guests had departed, and the Senor Administrador had gone to his room already, when Dr. Monygham, who had been expected in the evening but had not turned up, arrived driving along the wood-block pavement under the electric-lamps of the deserted Calle de la Constitucion, and found the great gateway of the Casa still open.

He limped in, stumped up the stairs, and found the fat and sleek Basilio on the point of turning off the lights in the sala. The prosperous majordomo remained open-mouthed at this late invasion.

“Don’t put out the lights,” commanded the doctor. “I want to see the senora.”

“The senora is in the Senor Adminstrador’s cancillaria,” said Basilio, in an unctuous voice. “The Senor Administrador starts for the mountain in an hour. There is some trouble with the workmen to be feared, it appears. A shameless people without reason and decency. And idle, senor. Idle.”

“You are shamelessly lazy and imbecile yourself,” said the doctor, with that faculty for exasperation which made him so generally beloved. “Don’t put the lights out.”

Basilio retired with dignity. Dr. Monygham, waiting in the brilliantly lighted sala, heard presently a door close at the further end of the house. A jingle of spurs died out. The Senor Administrador was off to the mountain.

With a measured swish of her long train, flashing with jewels and the shimmer of silk, her delicate head bowed as if under the weight of a mass of fair hair, in which the silver threads were lost, the “first lady of Sulaco,” as Captain Mitchell used to describe her, moved along the lighted corredor, wealthy beyond great dreams of wealth, considered, loved, respected, honoured, and as solitary as any human being had ever been, perhaps, on this earth.

The doctor’s “Mrs. Gould! One minute!” stopped her with a start at the door of the lighted and empty sala. From the similarity of mood and circumstance, the sight of the doctor, standing there all alone amongst the groups of furniture, recalled to her emotional memory her unexpected meeting with Martin Decoud; she seemed to hear in the silence the voice of that man, dead miserably so many years ago, pronounce the words, “Antonia left her fan here.” But it was the doctor’s voice that spoke, a little altered by his excitement. She remarked his shining eyes.

“Mrs. Gould, you are wanted. Do you know what has happened? You remember what I told you yesterday about Nostromo. Well, it seems that a lancha, a decked boat, coming from Zapiga, with four negroes in her, passing close to the Great Isabel, was hailed from the cliff by a woman’s voice — Linda’s, as a matter of fact — commanding them (it’s a moonlight night) to go round to the beach and take up a wounded man to the town. The patron (from whom I’ve heard all this), of course, did so at once. He told me that when they got round to the low side of the Great Isabel, they found Linda Viola waiting for them. They followed her: she led them under a tree not far from the cottage. There they found Nostromo lying on the ground with his head in the younger girl’s lap, and father Viola standing some distance off leaning on his gun. Under Linda’s direction they got a table out of the cottage for a stretcher, after breaking off the legs. They are here, Mrs. Gould. I mean Nostromo and — and Giselle. The negroes brought him in to the first-aid hospital near the harbour. He made the attendant send for me. But it was not me he wanted to see — it was you, Mrs. Gould! It was you.”

“Me?” whispered Mrs. Gould, shrinking a little.

“Yes, you!” the doctor burst out. “He begged me — his enemy, as he thinks — to bring you to him at once. It seems he has something to say to you alone.”

“Impossible!” murmured Mrs. Gould.

“He said to me, ‘Remind her that I have done something to keep a roof over her head.’ . . . Mrs. Gould,” the doctor pursued, in the greatest excitement. “Do you remember the silver? The silver in the lighter — that was lost?”

Mrs. Gould remembered. But she did not say she hated the mere mention of that silver. Frankness personified, she remembered with an exaggerated horror that for the first and last time of her life she had concealed the truth from her husband about that very silver. She had been corrupted by her fears at that time, and she had never forgiven herself. Moreover, that silver, which would never have come down if her husband had been made acquainted with the news brought by Decoud, had been in a roundabout way nearly the cause of Dr. Monygham’s death. And these things appeared to her very dreadful.

“Was it lost, though?” the doctor exclaimed. “I’ve always felt that there was a mystery about our Nostromo ever since. I do believe he wants now, at the point of death ——”

“The point of death?” repeated Mrs. Gould.

“Yes. Yes. . . . He wants perhaps to tell you something concerning that silver which ——”

“Oh, no! No!” exclaimed Mrs. Gould, in a low voice. “Isn’t it lost and done with? Isn’t there enough treasure without it to make everybody in the world miserable?”

The doctor remained still, in a submissive, disappointed silence. At last he ventured, very low —

“And there is that Viola girl, Giselle. What are we to do? It looks as though father and sister had ——”

Mrs. Gould admitted that she felt in duty bound to do her best for these girls.

“I have a volante here,” the doctor said. “If you don’t mind getting into that ——”

He waited, all impatience, till Mrs. Gould reappeared, having thrown over her dress a grey cloak with a deep hood.

It was thus that, cloaked and monastically hooded over her evening costume, this woman, full of endurance and compassion, stood by the side of the bed on which the splendid Capataz de Cargadores lay stretched out motionless on his back. The whiteness of sheets and pillows gave a sombre and energetic relief to his bronzed. face, to the dark, nervous hands, so good on a tiller, upon a bridle and on a trigger, lying open and idle upon a white coverlet.

“She is innocent,” the Capataz was saying in a deep and level voice, as though afraid that a louder word would break the slender hold his spirit still kept upon his body. “She is innocent. It is I alone. But no matter. For these things I would answer to no man or woman alive.”

He paused. Mrs. Gould’s face, very white within the shadow of the hood, bent over him with an invincible and dreary sadness. And the low sobs of Giselle Viola, kneeling at the end of the bed, her gold hair with coppery gleams loose and scattered over the Capataz’s feet, hardly troubled the silence of the room.

“Ha! Old Giorgio — the guardian of thine honour! Fancy the Vecchio coming upon me so light of foot, so steady of aim. I myself could have done no better. But the price of a charge of powder might have been saved. The honour was safe . . . . Senora, she would have followed to the end of the world Nostromo the thief. . . . I have said the word. The spell is broken!”

A low moan from the girl made him cast his eyes down.

“I cannot see her. . . . No matter,” he went on, with the shadow of the old magnificent carelessness in his voice. “One kiss is enough, if there is no time for more. An airy soul, senora! Bright and warm, like sunshine — soon clouded, and soon serene. They would crush it there between them. Senora, cast on her the eye of your compassion, as famed from one end of the land to the other as the courage and daring of the man who speaks to you. She will console herself in time. And even Ramirez is not a bad fellow. I am not angry. No! It is not Ramirez who overcame the Capataz of the Sulaco Cargadores.” He paused, made an effort, and in louder voice, a little wildly, declared —

“I die betrayed — betrayed by ——”

But he did not say by whom or by what he was dying betrayed.

“She would not have betrayed me,” he began again, opening his eyes very wide. “She was faithful. We were going very far — very soon. I could have torn myself away from that accursed treasure for her. For that child I would have left boxes and boxes of it — full. And Decoud took four. Four ingots. Why? Picardia! To betray me? How could I give back the treasure with four ingots missing? They would have said I had purloined them. The doctor would have said that. Alas! it holds me yet!”

Mrs. Gould bent low, fascinated — cold with apprehension.

“What became of Don Martin on that night, Nostromo?”

“Who knows? I wondered what would become of me. Now I know. Death was to come upon me unawares. He went away! He betrayed me. And you think I have killed him! You are all alike, you fine people. The silver has killed me. It has held me. It holds me yet. Nobody knows where it is. But you are the wife of Don Carlos, who put it into my hands and said, ‘Save it on your life.’ And when I returned, and you all thought it was lost, what do I hear? ‘It was nothing of importance. Let it go. Up, Nostromo, the faithful, and ride away to save us, for dear life!’”

“Nostromo!” Mrs. Gould whispered, bending very low. “I, too, have hated the idea of that silver from the bottom of my heart.”

“Marvellous! — that one of you should hate the wealth that you know so well how to take from the hands of the poor. The world rests upon the poor, as old Giorgio says. You have been always good to the poor. But there is something accursed in wealth. Senora, shall I tell you where the treasure is? To you alone. . . . Shining! Incorruptible!”

A pained, involuntary reluctance lingered in his tone, in his eyes, plain to the woman with the genius of sympathetic intuition. She averted her glance from the miserable subjection of the dying man, appalled, wishing to hear no more of the silver.

“No, Capataz,” she said. “No one misses it now. Let it be lost for ever.”

After hearing these words, Nostromo closed his eyes, uttered no word, made no movement. Outside the door of the sick-room Dr. Monygham, excited to the highest pitch, his eyes shining with eagerness, came up to the two women.

“Now, Mrs. Gould,” he said, almost brutally in his impatience, “tell me, was I right? There is a mystery. You have got the word of it, have you not? He told you ——”

“He told me nothing,” said Mrs. Gould, steadily.

The light of his temperamental enmity to Nostromo went out of Dr. Monygham’s eyes. He stepped back submissively. He did not believe Mrs. Gould. But her word was law. He accepted her denial like an inexplicable fatality affirming the victory of Nostromo’s genius over his own. Even before that woman, whom he loved with secret devotion, he had been defeated by the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores, the man who had lived his own life on the assumption of unbroken fidelity, rectitude, and courage!

“Pray send at once somebody for my carriage,” spoke Mrs. Gould from within her hood. Then, turning to Giselle Viola, “Come nearer me, child; come closer. We will wait here.”

Giselle Viola, heartbroken and childlike, her face veiled in her falling hair, crept up to her side. Mrs. Gould slipped her hand through the arm of the unworthy daughter of old Viola, the immaculate republican, the hero without a stain. Slowly, gradually, as a withered flower droops, the head of the girl, who would have followed a thief to the end of the world, rested on the shoulder of Dona Emilia, the first lady of Sulaco, the wife of the Senor Administrador of the San Tome mine. And Mrs. Gould, feeling her suppressed sobbing, nervous and excited, had the first and only moment of bitterness in her life. It was worthy of Dr. Monygham himself.

“Console yourself, child. Very soon he would have forgotten you for his treasure.”

“Senora, he loved me. He loved me,” Giselle whispered, despairingly. “He loved me as no one had ever been loved before.”

“I have been loved, too,” Mrs. Gould said in a severe tone.

Giselle clung to her convulsively. “Oh, senora, but you shall live adored to the end of your life,” she sobbed out.

Mrs. Gould kept an unbroken silence till the carriage arrived. She helped in the half-fainting girl. After the doctor had shut the door of the landau, she leaned over to him.

“You can do nothing?” she whispered.

“No, Mrs. Gould. Moreover, he won’t let us touch him. It does not matter. I just had one look. . . . Useless.”

But he promised to see old Viola and the other girl that very night. He could get the police-boat to take him off to the island. He remained in the street, looking after the landau rolling away slowly behind the white mules.

The rumour of some accident — an accident to Captain Fidanza — had been spreading along the new quays with their rows of lamps and the dark shapes of towering cranes. A knot of night prowlers — the poorest of the poor — hung about the door of the first-aid hospital, whispering in the moonlight of the empty street.

There was no one with the wounded man but the pale photographer, small, frail, bloodthirsty, the hater of capitalists, perched on a high stool near the head of the bed with his knees up and his chin in his hands. He had been fetched by a comrade who, working late on the wharf, had heard from a negro belonging to a lancha, that Captain Fidanza had been brought ashore mortally wounded.

“Have you any dispositions to make, comrade?” he asked, anxiously. “Do not forget that we want money for our work. The rich must be fought with their own weapons.”

Nostromo made no answer. The other did not insist, remaining huddled up on the stool, shock-headed, wildly hairy, like a hunchbacked monkey. Then, after a long silence —

“Comrade Fidanza,” he began, solemnly, “you have refused all aid from that doctor. Is he really a dangerous enemy of the people?”

In the dimly lit room Nostromo rolled his head slowly on the pillow and opened his eyes, directing at the weird figure perched by his bedside a glance of enigmatic and profound inquiry. Then his head rolled back, his eyelids fell, and the Capataz de Cargadores died without a word or moan after an hour of immobility, broken by short shudders testifying to the most atrocious sufferings.

Dr. Monygham, going out in the police-galley to the islands, beheld the glitter of the moon upon the gulf and the high black shape of the Great Isabel sending a shaft of light afar, from under the canopy of clouds.

“Pull easy,” he said, wondering what he would find there. He tried to imagine Linda and her father, and discovered a strange reluctance within himself. “Pull easy,” he repeated.

* * * * * *

From the moment he fired at the thief of his honour, Giorgio Viola had not stirred from the spot. He stood, his old gun grounded, his hand grasping the barrel near the muzzle. After the lancha carrying off Nostromo for ever from her had left the shore, Linda, coming up, stopped before him. He did not seem to be aware of her presence, but when, losing her forced calmness, she cried out —

“Do you know whom you have killed?” he answered —

“Ramirez the vagabond.”

White, and staring insanely at her father, Linda laughed in his face. After a time he joined her faintly in a deep-toned and distant echo of her peals. Then she stopped, and the old man spoke as if startled —

“He cried out in son Gian’ Battista’s voice.”

The gun fell from his opened hand, but the arm remained extended for a moment as if still supported. Linda seized it roughly.

“You are too old to understand. Come into the house.”

He let her lead him. On the threshold he stumbled heavily, nearly coming to the ground together with his daughter. His excitement, his activity of the last few days, had been like the flare of a dying lamp. He caught at the back of his chair.

“In son Gian’ Battista’s voice,” he repeated in a severe tone. “I heard him — Ramirez — the miserable ——”

Linda helped him into the chair, and, bending low, hissed into his ear —

“You have killed Gian’ Battista.”

The old man smiled under his thick moustache. Women had strange fancies.

“Where is the child?” he asked, surprised at the penetrating chilliness of the air and the unwonted dimness of the lamp by which he used to sit up half the night with the open Bible before him.

Linda hesitated a moment, then averted her eyes.

“She is asleep,” she said. “We shall talk of her tomorrow.”

She could not bear to look at him. He filled her with terror and with an almost unbearable feeling of pity. She had observed the change that came over him. He would never understand what he had done; and even to her the whole thing remained incomprehensible. He said with difficulty —

“Give me the book.”

Linda laid on the table the closed volume in its worn leather cover, the Bible given him ages ago by an Englishman in Palermo.

“The child had to be protected,” he said, in a strange, mournful voice.

Behind his chair Linda wrung her hands, crying without noise. Suddenly she started for the door. He heard her move.

“Where are you going? “he asked.

“To the light,” she answered, turning round to look at him balefully.

“The light! Si — duty.”

Very upright, white-haired, leonine, heroic in his absorbed quietness, he felt in the pocket of his red shirt for the spectacles given him by Dona Emilia. He put them on. After a long period of immobility he opened the book, and from on high looked through the glasses at the small print in double columns. A rigid, stern expression settled upon his features with a slight frown, as if in response to some gloomy thought or unpleasant sensation. But he never detached his eyes from the book while he swayed forward, gently, gradually, till his snow-white head rested upon the open pages. A wooden clock ticked methodically on the white-washed wall, and growing slowly cold the Garibaldino lay alone, rugged, undecayed, like an old oak uprooted by a treacherous gust of wind.

The light of the Great Isabel burned unfailing above the lost treasure of the San Tome mine. Into the bluish sheen of a night without stars the lantern sent out a yellow beam towards the far horizon. Like a black speck upon the shining panes, Linda, crouching in the outer gallery, rested her head on the rail. The moon, drooping in the western board, looked at her radiantly.

Below, at the foot of the cliff, the regular splash of oars from a passing boat ceased, and Dr. Monygham stood up in the stern sheets.

“Linda!” he shouted, throwing back his head. “Linda!”

Linda stood up. She had recognized the voice.

“Is he dead?” she cried, bending over.

“Yes, my poor girl. I am coming round,” the doctor answered from below. “Pull to the beach,” he said to the rowers.

Linda’s black figure detached itself upright on the light of the lantern with her arms raised above her head as though she were going to throw herself over.

“It is I who loved you,” she whispered, with a face as set and white as marble in the moonlight. “I! Only I! She will forget thee, killed miserably for her pretty face. I cannot understand. I cannot understand. But I shall never forget thee. Never!”

She stood silent and still, collecting her strength to throw all her fidelity, her pain, bewilderment, and despair into one great cry.

“Never! Gian’ Battista!”

Dr. Monygham, pulling round in the police-galley, heard the name pass over his head. It was another of Nostromo’s triumphs, the greatest, the most enviable, the most sinister of all. In that true cry of undying passion that seemed to ring aloud from Punta Mala to Azuera and away to the bright line of the horizon, overhung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of solid silver, the genius of the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores dominated the dark gulf containing his conquests of treasure and love.

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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/conrad/joseph/c75n/chapter29.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06