Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

3. CHAPTER THREE (continued)

"Peace, woman! Where's the sense of it? There's his duty," he
murmured in the dark; and she would retort, panting--

"Eh! I have no patience. Duty! What of the woman who has been
like a mother to him? I bent my knee to him this morning; don't
you go out, Gian' Battista--stop in the house, Battistino--look
at those two little innocent children!"

Mrs. Viola was an Italian, too, a native of Spezzia, and though
considerably younger than her husband, already middle-aged. She
had a handsome face, whose complexion had turned yellow because
the climate of Sulaco did not suit her at all. Her voice was a
rich contralto. When, with her arms folded tight under her ample
bosom, she scolded the squat, thick-legged China girls handling
linen, plucking fowls, pounding corn in wooden mortars amongst
the mud outbuildings at the back of the house, she could bring
out such an impassioned, vibrating, sepulchral note that the
chained watch-dog bolted into his kennel with a great rattle.
Luis, a cinnamon-coloured mulatto with a sprouting moustache and
thick, dark lips, would stop sweeping the cafe with a broom of
palm-leaves to let a gentle shudder run down his spine. His
languishing almond eyes would remain closed for a long time.

This was the staff of the Casa Viola, but all these people had
fled early that morning at the first sounds of the riot,
preferring to hide on the plain rather than trust themselves in
the house; a preference for which they were in no way to blame,
since, whether true or not, it was generally believed in the town
that the Garibaldino had some money buried under the clay floor
of the kitchen. The dog, an irritable, shaggy brute, barked
violently and whined plaintively in turns at the back, running in
and out of his kennel as rage or fear prompted him.

Bursts of great shouting rose and died away, like wild gusts of
wind on the plain round the barricaded house; the fitful popping
of shots grew louder above the yelling. Sometimes there were
intervals of unaccountable stillness outside, and nothing could
have been more gaily peaceful than the narrow bright lines of
sunlight from the cracks in the shutters, ruled straight across
the cafe over the disarranged chairs and tables to the wall
opposite. Old Giorgio had chosen that bare, whitewashed room for
a retreat. It had only one window, and its only door swung out
upon the track of thick dust fenced by aloe hedges between the
harbour and the town, where clumsy carts used to creak along
behind slow yokes of oxen guided by boys on horseback.

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