AFTER landing from his swim Nostromo had scrambled up, all dripping, into the
main quadrangle of the old fort; and there, amongst ruined bits of walls and
rotting remnants of roofs and sheds, he had slept the day through. He had slept
in the shadow of the mountains, in the white blaze of noon, in the stillness and
solitude of that overgrown piece of land between the oval of the harbour and the
spacious semi-circle of the gulf. He lay as if dead. A rey-zamuro, appearing like a
tiny black speck in the blue, stooped, circling prudently with a stealthiness of
flight startling in a bird of that great size. The shadow of his pearly-white body, of
his black-tipped wings, fell on the grass no more silently than he alighted himself
on a hillock of rubbish within three yards of that man, lying as still as a corpse.
The bird stretched his bare neck, craned his bald head, loathsome in the
brilliance of varied colouring, with an air of voracious anxiety towards the
promising stillness of that prostrate body. Then, sinking his head deeply into his
soft plumage, he settled himself to wait. The first thing upon which Nostromo's
eyes fell on waking was this patient watcher for the signs of death and corruption.
When the man got up the vulture hopped away in great, side-long, fluttering
jumps. He lingered for a while, morose and reluctant, before he rose, circling
noiselessly with a sinister droop of beak and claws.
Long after he had vanished, Nostromo, lifting his eyes up to the sky, muttered, "I
am not dead yet."
The Capataz of the Sulaco Cargadores had lived in splendour and publicity up to
the very moment, as it were, when he took charge of the lighter containing the
treasure of silver ingots.
The last act he had performed in Sulaco was in complete harmony with his
vanity, and as such perfectly genuine. He had given his last dollar to an old
woman moaning with the grief and fatigue of a dismal search under the arch of
the ancient gate. Performed in obscurity and without witnesses, it had still the
characteristics of splendour and publicity, and was in strict keeping with his
reputation. But this awakening in solitude, except for the watchful vulture,
amongst the ruins of the fort, had no such characteristics. His first confused
feeling was exactly this--that it was not in keeping. It was more like the end of
things. The necessity of living concealed somehow, for God knows how long,
which assailed him on his return to consciousness, made everything that had
gone before for years appear vain and foolish, like a flattering dream come
suddenly to an end.
He climbed the crumbling slope of the rampart, and, putting aside the bushes,
looked upon the harbour. He saw a couple of ships at anchor upon the sheet of
water reflecting the last gleams of light, and Sotillo's steamer moored to the jetty.
And behind the pale long front of the Custom House, there appeared the extent
of the town like a grove of thick timber on the plain with a gateway in front, and
the cupolas, towers, and miradors rising above the trees, all dark, as if
surrendered already to the night. The thought that it was no longer open to him to
ride through the streets, recognized by everyone, great and little, as he used to