Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

2. CHAPTER TWO (continued)

The Minerva never let go her anchor that call. The superintendent
ordered her out of the harbour at once. No cargo could be
landed, of course, and the passengers for Sulaco naturally
refused to go ashore. They could hear the firing and see plainly
the fight going on at the edge of the water. The repulsed mob
devoted its energies to an attack upon the Custom House, a
dreary, unfinished-looking structure with many windows two
hundred yards away from the O.S.N. Offices, and the only other
building near the harbour. Captain Mitchell, after directing the
commander of the Minerva to land "these gentlemen" in the first
port of call outside Costaguana, went back in his gig to see what
could be done for the protection of the Company's property. That
and the property of the railway were preserved by the European
residents; that is, by Captain Mitchell himself and the staff of
engineers building the road, aided by the Italian and Basque
workmen who rallied faithfully round their English chiefs. The
Company's lightermen, too, natives of the Republic, behaved very
well under their Capataz. An outcast lot of very mixed blood,
mainly negroes, everlastingly at feud with the other customers of
low grog shops in the town, they embraced with delight this
opportunity to settle their personal scores under such favourable
auspices. There was not one of them that had not, at some time or
other, looked with terror at Nostromo's revolver poked very close
at his face, or been otherwise daunted by Nostromo's resolution.
He was "much of a man," their Capataz was, they said, too
scornful in his temper ever to utter abuse, a tireless
taskmaster, and the more to be feared because of his aloofness.
And behold! there he was that day, at their head, condescending
to make jocular remarks to this man or the other.

Such leadership was inspiriting, and in truth all the harm the
mob managed to achieve was to set fire to one--only one--stack
of railway-sleepers, which, being creosoted, burned well. The
main attack on the railway yards, on the O.S.N. Offices, and
especially on the Custom House, whose strong room, it was well
known, contained a large treasure in silver ingots, failed
completely. Even the little hotel kept by old Giorgio, standing
alone halfway between the harbour and the town, escaped looting
and destruction, not by a miracle, but because with the safes in
view they had neglected it at first, and afterwards found no
leisure to stop. Nostromo, with his Cargadores, was pressing them
too hard then.

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