CAPTAIN MITCHELL, pacing the wharf, was asking himself the same question.
There was always the doubt whether the warning of the Esmeralda telegraphist--
a fragmentary and interrupted message--had been properly understood.
However, the good man had made up his mind not to go to bed till daylight, if
even then. He imagined himself to have rendered an enormous service to
Charles Gould. When he thought of the saved silver he rubbed his hands
together with satisfaction. In his simple way he was proud at being a party to this
extremely clever expedient. It was he who had given it a practical shape by
suggesting the possibility of intercepting at sea the north-bound steamer. And it
was advantageous to his Company, too, which would have lost a valuable freight
if the treasure had been left ashore to be confiscated. The pleasure of
disappointing the Monterists was also very great. Authoritative by temperament
and the long habit of command, Captain Mitchell was no democrat. He even went
so far as to profess a contempt for parliamentarism itself. "His Excellency Don
Vincente Ribiera," he used to say, "whom I and that fellow of mine, Nostromo,
had the honour, sir, and the pleasure of saving from a cruel death, deferred too
much to his Congress. It was a mistake--a distinct mistake, sir."
The guileless old seaman superintending the O.S.N. service imagined that the
last three days had exhausted every startling surprise the political life of
Costaguana could offer. He used to confess afterwards that the events which
followed surpassed his imagination. To begin with, Sulaco (because of the
seizure of the cables and the disorganization of the steam service) remained for
a whole fortnight cut off from the rest of the world like a besieged city.
"One would not have believed it possible; but so it was, sir. A full fortnight."
The account of the extraordinary things that happened during that time, and the
powerful emotions he experienced, acquired a comic impressiveness from the
pompous manner of his personal narrative. He opened it always by assuring his
hearer that he was "in the thick of things from first to last." Then he would begin
by describing the getting away of the silver, and his natural anxiety lest "his
fellow" in charge of the lighter should make some mistake. Apart from the loss of
so much precious metal, the life of Senor Martin Decoud, an agreeable, wealthy,
and well-informed young gentleman, would have been jeopardized through his
falling into the hands of his political enemies. Captain Mitchell also admitted that
in his solitary vigil on the wharf he had felt a certain measure of concern for the
future of the whole country.
"A feeling, sir," he explained, "perfectly comprehensible in a man properly
grateful for the many kindnesses received from the best families of merchants
and other native gentlemen of independent means, who, barely saved by us from
the excesses of the mob, seemed, to my mind's eye, destined to become the
prey in person and fortune of the native soldiery, which, as is well known, behave
with regrettable barbarity to the inhabitants during their civil commotions. And
then, sir, there were the Goulds, for both of whom, man and wife, I could not but
entertain the warmest feelings deserved by their hospitality and kindness. I felt,