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Chapter I.5
IN THIS way only was the power of the local authorities vindicated amongst the
great body of strong-limbed foreigners who dug the earth, blasted the rocks,
drove the engines for the "progressive and patriotic undertaking." In these very
words eighteen months before the Excellentissimo Senor don Vincente Ribiera,
the Dictator of Costaguana, had described the National Central Railway in his
great speech at the turning of the first sod.
He had come on purpose to Sulaco, and there was a one-o'clock dinner-party, a
convite offered by the O.S.N. Company on board the Juno after the function on
shore. Captain Mitchell had himself steered the cargo lighter, all draped with
flags, which, in tow of the Juno's steam launch, took the Excellentissimo from the
jetty to the ship. Everybody of note in Sulaco had been invited--the one or two
foreign merchants, all the representatives of the old Spanish families then in
town, the great owners of estates on the plain, grave, courteous, simple men,
caballeros of pure descent, with small hands and feet, conservative, hospitable,
and kind. The Occidental Province was their stronghold; their Blanco party had
triumphed now; it was their President-Dictator, a Blanco of the Blancos, who sat
smiling urbanely between the representatives of two friendly foreign powers.
They had come with him from Sta. Marta to countenance by their presence the
enterprise in which the capital of their countries was engaged. The only lady of
that company was Mrs. Gould, the wife of Don Carlos, the administrator of the
San Tome silver mine. The ladies of Sulaco were not advanced enough to take
part in the public life to that extent. They had come out strongly at the great ball
at the Intendencia the evening before, but Mrs. Gould alone had appeared, a
bright spot in the group of black coats behind the President-Dictator, on the
crimson cloth-covered stage erected under a shady tree on the shore of the
harbour, where the ceremony of turning the first sod had taken place. She had
come off in the cargo lighter, full of notabilities, sitting under the flutter of gay
flags, in the place of honour by the side of Captain Mitchell, who steered, and her
clear dress gave the only truly festive note to the sombre gathering in the long,
gorgeous saloon of the Juno.
The head of the chairman of the railway board (from London), handsome and
pale in a silvery mist of white hair and clipped beard, hovered near her shoulder
attentive, smiling, and fatigued. The journey from London to Sta. Marta in mail
boats and the special carriages of the Sta. Marta coast-line (the only railway so
far) had been tolerable--even pleasant--quite tolerable. But the trip over the
mountains to Sulaco was another sort of experience, in an old diligencia over
impassable roads skirting awful precipices.
"We have been upset twice in one day on the brink of very deep ravines," he was
telling Mrs. Gould in an undertone. "And when we arrived here at last I don't
know what we should have done without your hospitality. What an out-of-the-way
place Sulaco is!--and for a harbour, too! Astonishing!"