Chapter 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 two 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!'

`Ah, but we are very proud of it. It used to be historically important. The highest ecclesiastical court, for two viceroyalties, sat here in the olden time,' she instructed him with animation.

`I am impressed. I didn't mean to be disparaging. You seem very patriotic.'

`The place is lovable, if only by its situation. Perhaps you don't know what an old resident I am.'

`How old, I wonder,' he murmured, looking at her with a slight smile. Mrs Gould's appearance was made youthful by the mobile intelligence of her face. `We can't give you your ecclesiastical court back again; but you shall have more steamers, a railway, a telegraph-cable--a future in the great world which is worth infinitely more than any amount of ecclesiastical past. You shall be brought in touch with something greater than two viceroyalties. But I had no notion that a place on a sea-coast could remain so isolated from the world. If it had been a thousand miles inland now--most remarkable! Has anything ever happened here for a hundred years before today?'

While he talked in a slow, humorous tone, she kept her little smile. Agreeing ironically, she assured him that certainly not--nothing ever happened in Sulaco. Even the revolutions, of which there had been two in her time, had respected the repose of the place. Their course ran in the more populous southern

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.