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Chapter I.8
THOSE of us whom business or curiosity took to Sulaco in these years before
the first advent of the railway can remember the steadying effect of the San
Tome mine upon the life of that remote province. The outward appearances had
not changed then as they have changed since, as I am told, with cable cars
running along the streets of the Constitution, and carriage roads far into the
country, to Rincon and other villages, where the foreign merchants and the Ricos
generally have their modern villas, and a vast railway goods yard by the harbour,
which has a quay-side, a long range of warehouses, and quite serious, organized
labour troubles of its own.
Nobody had ever heard of labour troubles then. The Cargadores of the port
formed, indeed, an unruly brotherhood of all sorts of scum, with a patron saint of
their own. They went on strike regularly (every bull-fight day), a form of trouble
that even Nostromo at the height of his prestige could never cope with efficiently;
but the morning after each fiesta, before the Indian market-women had opened
their mat parasols on the plaza, when the snows of Higuerota gleamed pale over
the town on a yet black sky, the appearance of a phantom-like horseman
mounted on a silver-grey mare solved the problem of labour without fail. His
steed paced the lanes of the slums and the weed-grown enclosures within the
old ramparts, between the black, lightless cluster of huts, like cow-byres, like
dog-kennels. The horseman hammered with the butt of a heavy revolver at the
doors of low pulperias, of obscene lean-to sheds sloping against the tumble-
down piece of a noble wall, at the wooden sides of dwellings so flimsy that the
sound of snores and sleepy mutters within could be heard in the pauses of the
thundering clatter of his blows. He called out men's names menacingly from the
saddle, once, twice. The drowsy answers--grumpy, conciliating, savage, jocular,
or deprecating--came out into the silent darkness in which the horseman sat still,
and presently a dark figure would flit out coughing in the still air. Sometimes a
low-toned woman cried through the window-hole softly, "He's coming directly,
senor," and the horseman waited silent on a motionless horse. But if perchance
he had to dismount, then, after a while, from the door of that hovel or of that
pulperia, with a ferocious scuffle and stifled imprecations, a cargador would fly
out head first and hands abroad, to sprawl under the forelegs of the silver-grey
mare, who only pricked forward her sharp little ears. She was used to that work;
and the man, picking himself up, would walk away hastily from Nostromo's
revolver, reeling a little along the street and snarling low curses. At sunrise
Captain Mitchell, coming out anxiously in his night attire on to the wooden
balcony running the whole length of the O.S.N. Company's lonely building by the
shore, would see the lighters already under way, figures moving busily about the
cargo cranes, perhaps hear the invaluable Nostromo, now dismounted and in the
checked shirt and red sash of a Mediterranean sailor, bawling orders from the
end of the jetty in a stentorian voice. A fellow in a thousand!
The material apparatus of perfected civilization which obliterates the individuality
of old towns under the stereotyped conveniences of modern life had not intruded