THE only sign of commercial activity within the harbour, visible from the beach of
the Great Isabel, is the square blunt end of the wooden jetty which the Oceanic
Steam Navigation Company (the O.S.N. of familiar speech) had thrown over the
shallow part of the bay soon after they had resolved to make of Sulaco one of
their ports of call for the Republic of Costaguana. The State possesses several
harbours on its long seaboard, but except Cayta, an important place, all are
either small and inconvenient inlets in an iron-bound coast--like Esmeralda, for
instance, sixty miles to the south--or else mere open roadsteads exposed to the
winds and fretted by the surf.
Perhaps the very atmospheric conditions which had kept away the merchant
fleets of bygone ages induced the O.S.N. Company to violate the sanctuary of
peace sheltering the calm existence of Sulaco. The variable airs sporting lightly
with the vast semicircle of waters within the head of Azuera could not baffle the
steam power of their excellent fleet. Year after year the black hulls of their ships
had gone up and down the coast, in and out, past Azuera, past the Isabels, past
Punta Mala--disregarding everything but the tyranny of time. Their names, the
names of all mythology, became the household words of a coast that had never
been ruled by the gods of Olympus. The Juno was known only for her
comfortable cabins amidships, the Saturn for the geniality of her captain and the
painted and gilt luxuriousness of her saloon, whereas the Ganymede was fitted
out mainly for cattle transport, and to be avoided by coastwise passengers. The
humblest Indian in the obscurest village on the coast was familiar with the
Cerberus, a little black puffer without charm or living accommodation to speak of,
whose mission was to creep inshore along the wooded beaches close to mighty
ugly rocks, stopping obligingly before every cluster of huts to collect produce,
down to three-pound parcels of indiarubber bound in a wrapper of dry grass.
And as they seldom failed to account for the smallest package, rarely lost a
bullock, and had never drowned a single passenger, the name of the O.S.N.
stood very high for trustworthiness. People declared that under the Company's
care their lives and property were safer on the water than in their own houses on
The O.S.N.'s superintendent in Sulaco for the whole Costaguana section of the
service was very proud of his Company's standing. He resumed it in a saying
which was very often on his lips, "We never make mistakes." To the Company's
officers it took the form of a severe injunction, "We must make no mistakes. I'll
have no mistakes here, no matter what Smith may do at his end."
Smith, on whom he had never set eyes in his life, was the other superintendent
of the service, quartered some fifteen hundred miles away from Sulaco. "Don't
talk to me of your Smith."
Then, calming down suddenly, he would dismiss the subject with studied
"Smith knows no more of this continent than a baby."
"Our excellent Senor Mitchell" for the business and official world of Sulaco;
"Fussy Joe" for the commanders of the Company's ships, Captain Joseph