Distracted between doubts and hopes, dismayed by the sound of bells pealin_ut the arrival of Pedrito Montero, Sotillo had spent the morning in battlin_ith his thoughts; a contest to which he was unequal, from the vacuity of hi_ind and the violence of his passions. Disappointment, greed, anger, and fea_ade a tumult, in the colonel's breast louder than the din of bells in th_own. Nothing he had planned had come to pass. Neither Sulaco nor the silve_f the mine had fallen into his hands. He had performed no military exploit t_ecure his position, and had obtained no enormous booty to make off with.
Pedrito Montero, either as friend or foe, filled him with dread. The sound o_ells maddened him.
Imagining at first that he might be attacked at once, he had made hi_attalion stand to arms on the shore. He walked to and fro all the length o_he room, stopping sometimes to gnaw the finger-tips of his right hand with _urid sideways glare fixed on the floor; then, with a sullen, repelling glanc_ll round, he would resume his tramping in savage aloofness. His hat, horsewhip, sword, and revolver were lying on the table. His officers, crowdin_he window giving the view of the town gate, disputed amongst themselves th_se of his field-glass bought last year on long credit from Anzani. It passe_rom hand to hand, and the possessor for the time being was besieged b_nxious inquiries.
"There is nothing; there is nothing to see!" he would repeat impatiently.
There was nothing. And when the picket in the bushes near the Casa Viola ha_een ordered to fall back upon the main body, no stir of life appeared on th_tretch of dusty and arid land between the town and the waters of the port.
But late in the afternoon a horseman issuing from the gate was made out ridin_p fearlessly. It was an emissary from Senor Fuentes. Being all alone he wa_llowed to come on. Dismounting at the great door he greeted the silen_ystanders with cheery impudence, and begged to be taken up at once to the
"muy valliente" colonel.
Senor Fuentes, on entering upon his functions of Gefe Politico, had turned hi_iplomatic abilities to getting hold of the harbour as well as of the mine.
The man he pitched upon to negotiate with Sotillo was a Notary Public, who_he revolution had found languishing in the common jail on a charge of forgin_ocuments. Liberated by the mob along with the other "victims of Blanc_yranny," he had hastened to offer his services to the new Government.
He set out determined to display much zeal and eloquence in trying to induc_otillo to come into town alone for a conference with Pedrito Montero. Nothin_as further from the colonel's intentions. The mere fleeting idea of trustin_imself into the famous Pedrito's hands had made him feel unwell severa_imes. It was out of the question—it was madness. And to put himself in ope_ostility was madness, too. It would render impossible a systematic search fo_hat treasure, for that wealth of silver which he seemed to feel somewher_bout, to scent somewhere near.
But where? Where? Heavens! Where? Oh! why had he allowed that doctor to go!
Imbecile that he was. But no! It was the only right course, he reflecte_istractedly, while the messenger waited downstairs chatting agreeably to th_fficers. It was in that scoundrelly doctor's true interest to return wit_ositive information. But what if anything stopped him? A general prohibitio_o leave the town, for instance! There would be patrols!
The colonel, seizing his head in his hands, turned in his tracks as if struc_ith vertigo. A flash of craven inspiration suggested to him an expedient no_nknown to European statesmen when they wish to delay a difficult negotiation.
Booted and spurred, he scrambled into the hammock with undignified haste. Hi_andsome face had turned yellow with the strain of weighty cares. The ridge o_is shapely nose had grown sharp; the audacious nostrils appeared mean an_inched. The velvety, caressing glance of his fine eyes seemed dead, and eve_ecomposed; for these almond-shaped, languishing orbs had becom_nappropriately bloodshot with much sinister sleeplessness. He addressed th_urprised envoy of Senor Fuentes in a deadened, exhausted voice. It cam_athetically feeble from under a pile of ponchos, which buried his elegan_erson right up to the black moustaches, uncurled, pendant, in sign of bodil_rostration and mental incapacity. Fever, fever—a heavy fever had overtake_he "muy valliente" colonel. A wavering wildness of expression, caused by th_assing spasms of a slight colic which had declared itself suddenly, and th_attling teeth of repressed panic, had a genuineness which impressed th_nvoy. It was a cold fit. The colonel explained that he was unable to think, to listen, to speak. With an appearance of superhuman effort the colone_asped out that he was not in a state to return a suitable reply or to execut_ny of his Excellency's orders. But to-morrow! To-morrow! Ah! to-morrow! Le_is Excellency Don Pedro be without uneasiness. The brave Esmeralda Regimen_eld the harbour, held—And closing his eyes, he rolled his aching head like _alf-delirious invalid under the inquisitive stare of the envoy, who wa_bliged to bend down over the hammock in order to catch the painful and broke_ccents. Meantime, Colonel Sotillo trusted that his Excellency's humanit_ould permit the doctor, the English doctor, to come out of town with his cas_f foreign remedies to attend upon him. He begged anxiously his worship th_aballero now present for the grace of looking in as he passed the Casa Gould, and informing the English doctor, who was probably there, that his service_ere immediately required by Colonel Sotillo, lying ill of fever in the Custo_ouse. Immediately. Most urgently required. Awaited with extreme impatience. _housand thanks. He closed his eyes wearily and would not open them again, lying perfectly still, deaf, dumb, insensible, overcome, vanquished, crushed, annihilated by the fell disease.
But as soon as the other had shut after him the door of the landing, th_olonel leaped out with a fling of both feet in an avalanche of woolle_overings. His spurs having become entangled in a perfect welter of ponchos h_early pitched on his head, and did not recover his balance till the middle o_he room. Concealed behind the half-closed jalousies he listened to what wen_n below.
The envoy had already mounted, and turning to the morose officers occupyin_he great doorway, took off his hat formally.
"Caballeros," he said, in a very loud tone, "allow me to recommend you to tak_reat care of your colonel. It has done me much honour and gratification t_ave seen you all, a fine body of men exercising the soldierly virtue o_atience in this exposed situation, where there is much sun, and no water t_peak of, while a town full of wine and feminine charms is ready to embrac_ou for the brave men you are. Caballeros, I have the honour to salute you.
There will be much dancing to-night in Sulaco. Good-bye!"
But he reined in his horse and inclined his head sideways on seeing the ol_ajor step out, very tall and meagre, in a straight narrow coat coming down t_is ankles as it were the casing of the regimental colours rolled round thei_taff.
The intelligent old warrior, after enunciating in a dogmatic tone the genera_roposition that the "world was full of traitors," went on pronouncin_eliberately a panegyric upon Sotillo. He ascribed to him with leisurel_mphasis every virtue under heaven, summing it all up in an absur_olloquialism current amongst the lower class of Occidentals (especially abou_smeralda). "And," he concluded, with a sudden rise in the voice, "a man o_any teeth—'hombre de muchos dientes.' Si, senor. As to us," he pursued, portentous and impressive, "your worship is beholding the finest body o_fficers in the Republic, men unequalled for valour and sagacity, 'y hombre_e muchos dientes.'"
"What? All of them?" inquired the disreputable envoy of Senor Fuentes, with _aint, derisive smile.
"Todos. Si, senor," the major affirmed, gravely, with conviction. "Men of man_eeth."
The other wheeled his horse to face the portal resembling the high gate of _ismal barn. He raised himself in his stirrups, extended one arm. He was _acetious scoundrel, entertaining for these stupid Occidentals a feeling o_reat scorn natural in a native from the central provinces. The folly o_smeraldians especially aroused his amused contempt. He began an oration upo_edro Montero, keeping a solemn countenance. He flourished his hand as i_ntroducing him to their notice. And when he saw every face set, all the eye_ixed upon his lips, he began to shout a sort of catalogue of perfections:
"Generous, valorous, affable, profound"—(he snatched off his ha_nthusiastically)—"a statesman, an invincible chief of partisans—" He droppe_is voice startlingly to a deep, hollow note—"and a dentist."
He was off instantly at a smart walk; the rigid straddle of his legs, th_urned-out feet, the stiff back, the rakish slant of the sombrero above th_quare, motionless set of the shoulders expressing an infinite, awe-inspirin_mpudence.
Upstairs, behind the jalousies, Sotillo did not move for a long time. Th_udacity of the fellow appalled him. What were his officers saying below? The_ere saying nothing. Complete silence. He quaked. It was not thus that he ha_magined himself at that stage of the expedition. He had seen himsel_riumphant, unquestioned, appeased, the idol of the soldiers, weighing i_ecret complacency the agreeable alternatives of power and wealth open to hi_hoice. Alas! How different! Distracted, restless, supine, burning with fury, or frozen with terror, he felt a dread as fathomless as the sea creep upon hi_rom every side. That rogue of a doctor had to come out with his information.
That was clear. It would be of no use to him—alone. He could do nothing wit_t. Malediction! The doctor would never come out. He was probably under arres_lready, shut up together with Don Carlos. He laughed aloud insanely. Ha! ha!
ha! ha! It was Pedrito Montero who would get the information. Ha! ha! ha!
ha!—and the silver. Ha!
All at once, in the midst of the laugh, he became motionless and silent as i_urned into stone. He too, had a prisoner. A prisoner who must, must know th_eal truth. He would have to be made to speak. And Sotillo, who all that tim_ad not quite forgotten Hirsch, felt an inexplicable reluctance at the notio_f proceeding to extremities.
He felt a reluctance—part of that unfathomable dread that crept on all side_pon him. He remembered reluctantly, too, the dilated eyes of the hid_erchant, his contortions, his loud sobs and protestations. It was no_ompassion or even mere nervous sensibility. The fact was that though Sotill_id never for a moment believe his story—he could not believe it; nobody coul_elieve such nonsense—yet those accents of despairing truth impressed hi_isagreeably. They made him feel sick. And he suspected also that the ma_ight have gone mad with fear. A lunatic is a hopeless subject. Bah! _retence. Nothing but a pretence. He would know how to deal with that.
He was working himself up to the right pitch of ferocity. His fine eye_quinted slightly; he clapped his hands; a bare-footed orderly appeare_oiselessly, a corporal, with his bayonet hanging on his thigh and a stick i_is hand.
The colonel gave his orders, and presently the miserable Hirsch, pushed in b_everal soldiers, found him frowning awfully in a broad armchair, hat on head, knees wide apart, arms akimbo, masterful, imposing, irresistible, haughty, sublime, terrible.
Hirsch, with his arms tied behind his back, had been bundled violently int_ne of the smaller rooms. For many hours he remained apparently forgotten, stretched lifelessly on the floor. From that solitude, full of despair an_error, he was torn out brutally, with kicks and blows, passive, sunk i_ebetude. He listened to threats and admonitions, and afterwards made hi_sual answers to questions, with his chin sunk on his breast, his hands tie_ehind his back, swaying a little in front of Sotillo, and never looking up.
When he was forced to hold up his head, by means of a bayonet-point proddin_im under the chin, his eyes had a vacant, trance-like stare, and drops o_erspiration as big as peas were seen hailing down the dirt, bruises, an_cratches of his white face. Then they stopped suddenly.
Sotillo looked at him in silence. "Will you depart from your obstinacy, yo_ogue?" he asked. Already a rope, whose one end was fastened to Senor Hirsch'_rists, had been thrown over a beam, and three soldiers held the other end, waiting. He made no answer. His heavy lower lip hung stupidly. Sotillo made _ign. Hirsch was jerked up off his feet, and a yell of despair and agony burs_ut in the room, filled the passage of the great buildings, rent the ai_utside, caused every soldier of the camp along the shore to look up at th_indows, started some of the officers in the hall babbling excitedly, wit_hining eyes; others, setting their lips, looked gloomily at the floor.
Sotillo, followed by the soldiers, had left the room. The sentry on th_anding presented arms. Hirsch went on screaming all alone behind the half- closed jalousies while the sunshine, reflected from the water of the harbour, made an ever-running ripple of light high up on the wall. He screamed wit_plifted eyebrows and a wide-open mouth—incredibly wide, black, enormous, ful_f teeth—comical.
In the still burning air of the windless afternoon he made the waves of hi_gony travel as far as the O. S. N. Company's offices. Captain Mitchell on th_alcony, trying to make out what went on generally, had heard him faintly bu_istinctly, and the feeble and appalling sound lingered in his ears after h_ad retreated indoors with blanched cheeks. He had been driven off the balcon_everal times during that afternoon.
Sotillo, irritable, moody, walked restlessly about, held consultations wit_is officers, gave contradictory orders in this shrill clamour pervading th_hole empty edifice. Sometimes there would be long and awful silences. Severa_imes he had entered the torture-chamber where his sword, horsewhip, revolver, and field-glass were lying on the table, to ask with forced calmness, "Wil_ou speak the truth now? No? I can wait." But he could not afford to wait muc_onger. That was just it. Every time he went in and came out with a slam o_he door, the sentry on the landing presented arms, and got in return a black, venomous, unsteady glance, which, in reality, saw nothing at all, being merel_he reflection of the soul within—a soul of gloomy hatred, irresolution, avarice, and fury.
The sun had set when he went in once more. A soldier carried in two lighte_andles and slunk out, shutting the door without noise.
"Speak, thou Jewish child of the devil! The silver! The silver, I say! Wher_s it? Where have you foreign rogues hidden it? Confess or—"
A slight quiver passed up the taut rope from the racked limbs, but the body o_enor Hirsch, enterprising business man from Esmeralda, hung under the heav_eam perpendicular and silent, facing the colonel awfully. The inflow of th_ight air, cooled by the snows of the Sierra, spread gradually a deliciou_reshness through the close heat of the room.
Sotillo had seized the riding-whip, and stood with his arm lifted up. For _ord, for one little word, he felt he would have knelt, cringed, grovelled o_he floor before the drowsy, conscious stare of those fixed eyeballs startin_ut of the grimy, dishevelled head that drooped very still with its mout_losed askew. The colonel ground his teeth with rage and struck. The rop_ibrated leisurely to the blow, like the long string of a pendulum startin_rom a rest. But no swinging motion was imparted to the body of Senor Hirsch, the well-known hide merchant on the coast. With a convulsive effort of th_wisted arms it leaped up a few inches, curling upon itself like a fish on th_nd of a line. Senor Hirsch's head was flung back on his straining throat; hi_hin trembled. For a moment the rattle of his chattering teeth pervaded th_ast, shadowy room, where the candles made a patch of light round the tw_lames burning side by side. And as Sotillo, staying his raised hand, waite_or him to speak, with the sudden flash of a grin and a straining forward o_he wrenched shoulders, he spat violently into his face.
The uplifted whip fell, and the colonel sprang back with a low cry of dismay, as if aspersed by a jet of deadly venom. Quick as thought he snatched up hi_evolver, and fired twice. The report and the concussion of the shots seeme_o throw him at once from ungovernable rage into idiotic stupor. He stood wit_rooping jaw and stony eyes. What had he done, Sangre de Dios! What had h_one? He was basely appalled at his impulsive act, sealing for ever these lip_rom which so much was to be extorted. What could he say? How could h_xplain? Ideas of headlong flight somewhere, anywhere, passed through hi_ind; even the craven and absurd notion of hiding under the table occurred t_is cowardice. It was too late; his officers had rushed in tumultuously, in _reat clatter of scabbards, clamouring, with astonishment and wonder. Bu_ince they did not immediately proceed to plunge their swords into his breast, the brazen side of his character asserted itself. Passing the sleeve of hi_niform over his face he pulled himself together, His truculent glance turne_lowly here and there, checked the noise where it fell; and the stiff body o_he late Senor Hirsch, merchant, after swaying imperceptibly, made a hal_urn, and came to a rest in the midst of awed murmurs and uneasy shuffling.
A voice remarked loudly, "Behold a man who will never speak again." An_nother, from the back row of faces, timid and pressing, cried out—
"Why did you kill him, mi colonel?"
"Because he has confessed everything," answered Sotillo, with the hardihood o_esperation. He felt himself cornered. He brazened it out on the strength o_is reputation with very fair success. His hearers thought him very capable o_uch an act. They were disposed to believe his flattering tale. There is n_redulity so eager and blind as the credulity of covetousness, which, in it_niversal extent, measures the moral misery and the intellectual destitutio_f mankind. Ah! he had confessed everything, this fractious Jew, this bribon.
Good! Then he was no longer wanted. A sudden dense guffaw was heard from th_enior captain—a big-headed man, with little round eyes and monstrously fa_heeks which never moved. The old major, tall and fantastically ragged like _carecrow, walked round the body of the late Senor Hirsch, muttering t_imself with ineffable complacency that like this there was no need to guar_gainst any future treacheries of that scoundrel. The others stared, shiftin_rom foot to foot, and whispering short remarks to each other.
Sotillo buckled on his sword and gave curt, peremptory orders to hasten th_etirement decided upon in the afternoon. Sinister, impressive, his sombrer_ulled right down upon his eyebrows, he marched first through the door in suc_isorder of mind that he forgot utterly to provide for Dr. Monygham's possibl_eturn. As the officers trooped out after him, one or two looked back hastil_t the late Senor Hirsch, merchant from Esmeralda, left swinging rigidly a_est, alone with the two burning candles. In the emptiness of the room th_urly shadow of head and shoulders on the wall had an air of life.
Below, the troops fell in silently and moved off by companies without drum o_rumpet. The old scarecrow major commanded the rearguard; but the party h_eft behind with orders to fire the Custom House (and "burn the carcass of th_reacherous Jew where it hung") failed somehow in their haste to set th_taircase properly alight. The body of the late Senor Hirsch dwelt alone for _ime in the dismal solitude of the unfinished building, resounding weirdl_ith sudden slams and clicks of doors and latches, with rustling scurries o_orn papers, and the tremulous sighs that at each gust of wind passed unde_he high roof. The light of the two candles burning before the perpendicula_nd breathless immobility of the late Senor Hirsch threw a gleam afar ove_and and water, like a signal in the night. He remained to startle Nostromo b_is presence, and to puzzle Dr. Monygham by the mystery of his atrocious end.
"But why shot?" the doctor again asked himself, audibly. This time he wa_nswered by a dry laugh from Nostromo.
"You seem much concerned at a very natural thing, senor doctor. I wonder why?
It is very likely that before long we shall all get shot one after another, i_ot by Sotillo, then by Pedrito, or Fuentes, or Gamacho. And we may even ge_he estrapade, too, or worse—quien sabe?—with your pretty tale of the silve_ou put into Sotillo's head."
"It was in his head already," the doctor protested. "I only—"
"Yes. And you only nailed it there so that the devil himself—"
"That is precisely what I meant to do," caught up the doctor.
"That is what you meant to do. Bueno. It is as I say. You are a dangerou_an."
Their voices, which without rising had been growing quarrelsome, cease_uddenly. The late Senor Hirsch, erect and shadowy against the stars, seeme_o be waiting attentive, in impartial silence.
But Dr. Monygham had no mind to quarrel with Nostromo. At this supremel_ritical point of Sulaco's fortunes it was borne upon him at last that thi_an was really indispensable, more indispensable than ever the infatuation o_aptain Mitchell, his proud discoverer, could conceive; far beyond wha_ecoud's best dry raillery about "my illustrious friend, the unique Capataz d_argadores," had ever intended. The fellow was unique. He was not "one in _housand." He was absolutely the only one. The doctor surrendered. There wa_omething in the genius of that Genoese seaman which dominated the destinie_f great enterprises and of many people, the fortunes of Charles Gould, th_ate of an admirable woman. At this last thought the doctor had to clear hi_hroat before he could speak.
In a completely changed tone he pointed out to the Capataz that, to begi_ith, he personally ran no great risk. As far as everybody knew he was dead.
It was an enormous advantage. He had only to keep out of sight in the Cas_iola, where the old Garibaldino was known to be alone—with his dead wife. Th_ervants had all run away. No one would think of searching for him there, o_nywhere else on earth, for that matter.
"That would be very true," Nostromo spoke up, bitterly, "if I had not me_ou."
For a time the doctor kept silent. "Do you mean to say that you think I ma_ive you away?" he asked in an unsteady voice. "Why? Why should I do that?"
"What do I know? Why not? To gain a day perhaps. It would take Sotillo a da_o give me the estrapade, and try some other things perhaps, before he puts _ullet through my heart—as he did to that poor wretch here. Why not?"
The doctor swallowed with difficulty. His throat had gone dry in a moment. I_as not from indignation. The doctor, pathetically enough, believed that h_ad forfeited the right to be indignant with any one—for anything. It wa_imple dread. Had the fellow heard his story by some chance? If so, there wa_n end of his usefulness in that direction. The indispensable man escaped hi_nfluence, because of that indelible blot which made him fit for dirty work. _eeling as of sickness came upon the doctor. He would have given anything t_now, but he dared not clear up the point. The fanaticism of his devotion, fe_n the sense of his abasement, hardened his heart in sadness and scorn.
"Why not, indeed?" he reechoed, sardonically. "Then the safe thing for you i_o kill me on the spot. I would defend myself. But you may just as well know _m going about unarmed."
"Por Dios!" said the Capataz, passionately. "You fine people are all alike.
All dangerous. All betrayers of the poor who are your dogs."
"You do not understand," began the doctor, slowly.
"I understand you all!" cried the other with a violent movement, as shadowy t_he doctor's eyes as the persistent immobility of the late Senor Hirsch. "_oor man amongst you has got to look after himself. I say that you do not car_or those that serve you. Look at me! After all these years, suddenly, here _ind myself like one of these curs that bark outside the walls—without _ennel or a dry bone for my teeth. Caramba!" But he relented with _ontemptuous fairness. "Of course," he went on, quietly, "I do not suppos_hat you would hasten to give me up to Sotillo, for example. It is not that.
It is that I am nothing! Suddenly—" He swung his arm downwards. "Nothing t_ny one," he repeated.
The doctor breathed freely. "Listen, Capataz," he said, stretching out his ar_lmost affectionately towards Nostromo's shoulder. "I am going to tell you _ery simple thing. You are safe because you are needed. I would not give yo_way for any conceivable reason, because I want you."
In the dark Nostromo bit his lip. He had heard enough of that. He knew wha_hat meant. No more of that for him. But he had to look after himself now, h_hought. And he thought, too, that it would not be prudent to part in ange_rom his companion. The doctor, admitted to be a great healer, had, amongs_he populace of Sulaco, the reputation of being an evil sort of man. It wa_ased solidly on his personal appearance, which was strange, and on his roug_ronic manner—proofs visible, sensible, and incontrovertible of the doctor'_alevolent disposition. And Nostromo was of the people. So he only grunte_ncredulously.
"You, to speak plainly, are the only man," the doctor pursued. "It is in you_ower to save this town and … everybody from the destructive rapacity of me_ho—"
"No, senor," said Nostromo, sullenly. "It is not in my power to get th_reasure back for you to give up to Sotillo, or Pedrito, or Gamacho. What do _now?"
"Nobody expects the impossible," was the answer.
"You have said it yourself—nobody," muttered Nostromo, in a gloomy, threatening tone.
But Dr. Monygham, full of hope, disregarded the enigmatic words and th_hreatening tone. To their eyes, accustomed to obscurity, the late Seno_irsch, growing more distinct, seemed to have come nearer. And the docto_owered his voice in exposing his scheme as though afraid of being overheard.
He was taking the indispensable man into his fullest confidence. Its implie_lattery and suggestion of great risks came with a familiar sound to th_apataz. His mind, floating in irresolution and discontent, recognized it wit_itterness. He understood well that the doctor was anxious to save the Sa_ome mine from annihilation. He would be nothing without it. It was hi_nterest. Just as it had been the interest of Senor Decoud, of the Blancos, and of the Europeans to get his Cargadores on their side. His thought becam_rrested upon Decoud. What would happen to him?
Nostromo's prolonged silence made the doctor uneasy. He pointed out, quit_nnecessarily, that though for the present he was safe, he could not liv_oncealed for ever. The choice was between accepting the mission to Barrios, with all its dangers and difficulties, and leaving Sulaco by stealth, ingloriously, in poverty.
"None of your friends could reward you and protect you just now, Capataz. No_ven Don Carlos himself."
"I would have none of your protection and none of your rewards. I only wish _ould trust your courage and your sense. When I return in triumph, as you say, with Barrios, I may find you all destroyed. You have the knife at your throa_ow."
It was the doctor's turn to remain silent in the contemplation of horribl_ontingencies.
"Well, we would trust your courage and your sense. And you, too, have a knif_t your throat."
"Ah! And whom am I to thank for that? What are your politics and your mines t_e—your silver and your constitutions—your Don Carlos this, and Don Jos_hat—"
"I don't know," burst out the exasperated doctor. "There are innocent peopl_n danger whose little finger is worth more than you or I and all th_ibierists together. I don't know. You should have asked yourself before yo_llowed Decoud to lead you into all this. It was your place to think like _an; but if you did not think then, try to act like a man now. Did you imagin_ecoud cared very much for what would happen to you?"
"No more than you care for what will happen to me," muttered the other.
"No; I care for what will happen to you as little as I care for what wil_appen to myself."
"And all this because you are such a devoted Ribierist?" Nostromo said in a_ncredulous tone.
"All this because I am such a devoted Ribierist," repeated Dr. Monygham, grimly.
Again Nostromo, gazing abstractedly at the body of the late Senor Hirsch, remained silent, thinking that the doctor was a dangerous person in more tha_ne sense. It was impossible to trust him.
"Do you speak in the name of Don Carlos?" he asked at last.
"Yes. I do," the doctor said, loudly, without hesitation. "He must com_orward now. He must," he added in a mutter, which Nostromo did not catch.
"What did you say, senor?"
The doctor started. "I say that you must be true to yourself, Capataz. I_ould be worse than folly to fail now."
"True to myself," repeated Nostromo. "How do you know that I would not be tru_o myself if I told you to go to the devil with your propositions?"
"I do not know. Maybe you would," the doctor said, with a roughness of ton_ntended to hide the sinking of his heart and the faltering of his voice. "Al_ know is, that you had better get away from here. Some of Sotillo's men ma_urn up here looking for me."
He slipped off the table, listening intently. The Capataz, too, stood up.
"Suppose I went to Cayta, what would you do meantime?" he asked.
"I would go to Sotillo directly you had left—in the way I am thinking of."
"A very good way—if only that engineer-in-chief consents. Remind him, senor, that I looked after the old rich Englishman who pays for the railway, and tha_ saved the lives of some of his people that time when a gang of thieves cam_rom the south to wreck one of his pay-trains. It was I who discovered it al_t the risk of my life, by pretending to enter into their plans. Just as yo_re doing with Sotillo."
"Yes. Yes, of course. But I can offer him better arguments," the doctor said, hastily. "Leave it to me."
"Ah, yes! True. I am nothing."
"Not at all. You are everything."
They moved a few paces towards the door. Behind them the late Senor Hirsc_reserved the immobility of a disregarded man.
"That will be all right. I know what to say to the engineer," pursued th_octor, in a low tone. "My difficulty will be with Sotillo."
And Dr. Monygham stopped short in the doorway as if intimidated by th_ifficulty. He had made the sacrifice of his life. He considered this _itting opportunity. But he did not want to throw his life away too soon. I_is quality of betrayer of Don Carlos' confidence, he would have ultimately t_ndicate the hiding-place of the treasure. That would be the end of hi_eception, and the end of himself as well, at the hands of the infuriate_olonel. He wanted to delay him to the very last moment; and he had bee_acking his brains to invent some place of concealment at once plausible an_ifficult of access.
He imparted his trouble to Nostromo, and concluded—
"Do you know what, Capataz? I think that when the time comes and som_nformation must be given, I shall indicate the Great Isabel. That is the bes_lace I can think of. What is the matter?"
A low exclamation had escaped Nostromo. The doctor waited, surprised, an_fter a moment of profound silence, heard a thick voice stammer out, "Utte_olly," and stop with a gasp.
"Ah! You do not see it," began Nostromo, scathingly, gathering scorn as h_ent on. "Three men in half an hour would see that no ground had bee_isturbed anywhere on that island. Do you think that such a treasure can b_uried without leaving traces of the work—eh! senor doctor? Why! you would no_ain half a day more before having your throat cut by Sotillo. The Isabel!
What stupidity! What miserable invention! Ah! you are all alike, you fine me_f intelligence. All you are fit for is to betray men of the people int_ndertaking deadly risks for objects that you are not even sure about. If i_omes off you get the benefit. If not, then it does not matter. He is only _og. Ah! Madre de Dios, I would—" He shook his fists above his head.
The doctor was overwhelmed at first by this fierce, hissing vehemence.
"Well! It seems to me on your own showing that the men of the people are n_ean fools, too," he said, sullenly. "No, but come. You are so clever. Hav_ou a better place?"
Nostromo had calmed down as quickly as he had flared up.
"I am clever enough for that," he said, quietly, almost with indifference.
"You want to tell him of a hiding-place big enough to take days i_ansacking—a place where a treasure of silver ingots can be buried withou_eaving a sign on the surface."
"And close at hand," the doctor put in.
"Just so, senor. Tell him it is sunk."
"This has the merit of being the truth," the doctor said, contemptuously. "H_ill not believe it."
"You tell him that it is sunk where he may hope to lay his hands on it, and h_ill believe you quick enough. Tell him it has been sunk in the harbour i_rder to be recovered afterwards by divers. Tell him you found out that I ha_rders from Don Carlos Gould to lower the cases quietly overboard somewhere i_ line between the end of the jetty and the entrance. The depth is not to_reat there. He has no divers, but he has a ship, boats, ropes, chains, sailors—of a sort. Let him fish for the silver. Let him set his fools to dra_ackwards and forwards and crossways while he sits and watches till his eye_rop out of his head."
"Really, this is an admirable idea," muttered the doctor.
"Si. You tell him that, and see whether he will not believe you! He will spen_ays in rage and torment—and still he will believe. He will have no though_or anything else. He will not give up till he is driven off—why, he may eve_orget to kill you. He will neither eat nor sleep. He—"
"The very thing! The very thing!" the doctor repeated in an excited whisper.
"Capataz, I begin to believe that you are a great genius in your way."
Nostromo had paused; then began again in a changed tone, sombre, speaking t_imself as though he had forgotten the doctor's existence.
"There is something in a treasure that fastens upon a man's mind. He will pra_nd blaspheme and still persevere, and will curse the day he ever heard of it, and will let his last hour come upon him unawares, still believing that h_issed it only by a foot. He will see it every time he closes his eyes. H_ill never forget it till he is dead—and even then——Doctor, did you ever hea_f the miserable gringos on Azuera, that cannot die? Ha! ha! Sailors lik_yself. There is no getting away from a treasure that once fastens upon you_ind."
"You are a devil of a man, Capataz. It is the most plausible thing."
Nostromo pressed his arm.
"It will be worse for him than thirst at sea or hunger in a town full o_eople. Do you know what that is? He shall suffer greater torments than h_nflicted upon that terrified wretch who had no invention. None! none! No_ike me. I could have told Sotillo a deadly tale for very little pain."
He laughed wildly and turned in the doorway towards the body of the late Seno_irsch, an opaque long blotch in the semi-transparent obscurity of the roo_etween the two tall parallelograms of the windows full of stars.
"You man of fear!" he cried. "You shall be avenged by me—Nostromo. Out of m_ay, doctor! Stand aside—or, by the suffering soul of a woman dead withou_onfession, I will strangle you with my two hands."
He bounded downwards into the black, smoky hall. With a grunt of astonishment, Dr. Monygham threw himself recklessly into the pursuit. At the bottom of th_harred stairs he had a fall, pitching forward on his face with a force tha_ould have stunned a spirit less intent upon a task of love and devotion. H_as up in a moment, jarred, shaken, with a queer impression of the terrestria_lobe having been flung at his head in the dark. But it wanted more than tha_o stop Dr. Monygham's body, possessed by the exaltation of self-sacrifice; _easonable exaltation, determined not to lose whatever advantage chance pu_nto its way. He ran with headlong, tottering swiftness, his arms going like _indmill in his effort to keep his balance on his crippled feet. He lost hi_at; the tails of his open gaberdine flew behind him. He had no mind to los_ight of the indispensable man. But it was a long time, and a long way fro_he Custom House, before he managed to seize his arm from behind, roughly, ou_f breath.
"Stop! Are you mad?"
Already Nostromo was walking slowly, his head dropping, as if checked in hi_ace by the weariness of irresolution.
"What is that to you? Ah! I forgot you want me for something. Always. Siempr_ostromo."
"What do you mean by talking of strangling me?" panted the doctor.
"What do I mean? I mean that the king of the devils himself has sent you ou_f this town of cowards and talkers to meet me to-night of all the nights o_y life."
Under the starry sky the Albergo d'ltalia Una emerged, black and low, breakin_he dark level of the plain. Nostromo stopped altogether.
"The priests say he is a tempter, do they not?" he added, through his clenche_eeth.
"My good man, you drivel. The devil has nothing to do with this. Neither ha_he town, which you may call by what name you please. But Don Carlos Gould i_either a coward nor an empty talker. You will admit that?" He waited. "Well?"
"Could I see Don Carlos?"
"Great heavens! No! Why? What for?" exclaimed the doctor in agitation. "I tel_ou it is madness. I will not let you go into the town for anything."
"You must not!" hissed the doctor, fiercely, almost beside himself with th_ear of the man doing away with his usefulness for an imbecile whim of som_ort. "I tell you you shall not. I would rather——"
He stopped at loss for words, feeling fagged out, powerless, holding on t_ostromo's sleeve, absolutely for support after his run.
"I am betrayed!" muttered the Capataz to himself; and the doctor, wh_verheard the last word, made an effort to speak calmly.
"That is exactly what would happen to you. You would be betrayed."
He thought with a sickening dread that the man was so well known that he coul_ot escape recognition. The house of the Senor Administrador was beset b_pies, no doubt. And even the very servants of the casa were not to b_rusted. "Reflect, Capataz," he said, impressively… . "What are you laughin_t?"
"I am laughing to think that if somebody that did not approve of my presenc_n town, for instance—you understand, senor doctor—if somebody were to give m_p to Pedrito, it would not be beyond my power to make friends even with him.
It is true. What do you think of that?"
"You are a man of infinite resource, Capataz," said Dr. Monygham, dismally. "_ecognize that. But the town is full of talk about you; and those fe_argadores that are not in hiding with the railway people have been shouting
'Viva Montero' on the Plaza all day."
"My poor Cargadores!" muttered Nostromo. "Betrayed! Betrayed!"
"I understand that on the wharf you were pretty free in laying about you wit_ stick amongst your poor Cargadores," the doctor said in a grim tone, whic_howed that he was recovering from his exertions. "Make no mistake. Pedrito i_urious at Senor Ribiera's rescue, and at having lost the pleasure of shootin_ecoud. Already there are rumours in the town of the treasure having bee_pirited away. To have missed that does not please Pedrito either; but let m_ell you that if you had all that silver in your hand for ransom it would no_ave you."
Turning swiftly, and catching the doctor by the shoulders, Nostromo thrust hi_ace close to his.
"Maladetta! You follow me speaking of the treasure. You have sworn my ruin.
You were the last man who looked upon me before I went out with it. And Sidon_he engine-driver says you have an evil eye."
"He ought to know. I saved his broken leg for him last year," the doctor said, stoically. He felt on his shoulders the weight of these hands famed amongs_he populace for snapping thick ropes and bending horseshoes. "And to you _ffer the best means of saving yourself—let me go—and of retrieving your grea_eputation. You boasted of making the Capataz de Cargadores famous from on_nd of America to the other about this wretched silver. But I bring you _etter opportunity—let me go, hombre!"
Nostromo released him abruptly, and the doctor feared that the indispensabl_an would run off again. But he did not. He walked on slowly. The docto_obbled by his side till, within a stone's throw from the Casa Viola, Nostrom_topped again.
Silent in inhospitable darkness, the Casa Viola seemed to have changed it_ature; his home appeared to repel him with an air of hopeless and inimica_ystery. The doctor said—
"You will be safe there. Go in, Capataz."
"How can I go in?" Nostromo seemed to ask himself in a low, inward tone. "Sh_annot unsay what she said, and I cannot undo what I have done."
"I tell you it is all right. Viola is all alone in there. I looked in as _ame out of the town. You will be perfectly safe in that house till you leav_t to make your name famous on the Campo. I am going now to arrange for you_eparture with the engineer-in-chief, and I shall bring you news here lon_efore daybreak."
Dr. Monygham, disregarding, or perhaps fearing to penetrate the meaning o_ostromo's silence, clapped him lightly on the shoulder, and starting off wit_is smart, lame walk, vanished utterly at the third or fourth hop in th_irection of the railway track. Arrested between the two wooden posts fo_eople to fasten their horses to, Nostromo did not move, as if he, too, ha_een planted solidly in the ground. At the end of half an hour he lifted hi_ead to the deep baying of the dogs at the railway yards, which had burst ou_uddenly, tumultuous and deadened as if coming from under the plain. That lam_octor with the evil eye had got there pretty fast.
Step by step Nostromo approached the Albergo d'Italia Una, which he had neve_nown so lightless, so silent, before. The door, all black in the pale wall, stood open as he had left it twenty-four hours before, when he had nothing t_ide from the world. He remained before it, irresolute, like a fugitive, lik_ man betrayed. Poverty, misery, starvation! Where had he heard these words?
The anger of a dying woman had prophesied that fate for his folly. It looke_s if it would come true very quickly. And the leperos would laugh—she ha_aid. Yes, they would laugh if they knew that the Capataz de Cargadores was a_he mercy of the mad doctor whom they could remember, only a few years ago, buying cooked food from a stall on the Plaza for a copper coin—like one o_hemselves.
At that moment the notion of seeking Captain Mitchell passed through his mind.
He glanced in the direction of the jetty and saw a small gleam of light in th_.S.N. Company's building. The thought of lighted windows was not attractive.
Two lighted windows had decoyed him into the empty Custom House, only to fal_nto the clutches of that doctor. No! He would not go near lighted window_gain on that night. Captain Mitchell was there. And what could he be told?
That doctor would worm it all out of him as if he were a child.
On the threshold he called out "Giorgio!" in an undertone. Nobody answered. H_tepped in. "Ola! viejo! Are you there? … " In the impenetrable darkness hi_ead swam with the illusion that the obscurity of the kitchen was as vast a_he Placid Gulf, and that the floor dipped forward like a sinking lighter.
"Ola! viejo!" he repeated, falteringly, swaying where he stood. His hand, extended to steady himself, fell upon the table. Moving a step forward, h_hifted it, and felt a box of matches under his fingers. He fancied he ha_eard a quiet sigh. He listened for a moment, holding his breath; then, wit_rembling hands, tried to strike a light.
The tiny piece of wood flamed up quite blindingly at the end of his fingers, raised above his blinking eyes. A concentrated glare fell upon the leonin_hite head of old Giorgio against the black fire-place—showed him leanin_orward in a chair in staring immobility, surrounded, overhung, by grea_asses of shadow, his legs crossed, his cheek in his hand, an empty pipe i_he corner of his mouth. It seemed hours before he attempted to turn his face; at the very moment the match went out, and he disappeared, overwhelmed by th_hadows, as if the walls and roof of the desolate house had collapsed upon hi_hite head in ghostly silence.
Nostromo heard him stir and utter dispassionately the words—
"It may have been a vision."
"No," he said, softly. "It is no vision, old man."
A strong chest voice asked in the dark—
"Is that you I hear, Giovann' Battista?"
"Si, viejo. Steady. Not so loud."
After his release by Sotillo, Giorgio Viola, attended to the very door by th_ood-natured engineer-in-chief, had reentered his house, which he had bee_ade to leave almost at the very moment of his wife's death. All was still.
The lamp above was burning. He nearly called out to her by name; and th_hought that no call from him would ever again evoke the answer of her voice, made him drop heavily into the chair with a loud groan, wrung out by the pai_s of a keen blade piercing his breast.
The rest of the night he made no sound. The darkness turned to grey, and o_he colourless, clear, glassy dawn the jagged sierra stood out flat an_paque, as if cut out of paper.
The enthusiastic and severe soul of Giorgio Viola, sailor, champion o_ppressed humanity, enemy of kings, and, by the grace of Mrs. Gould, hotel- keeper of the Sulaco harbour, had descended into the open abyss of desolatio_mongst the shattered vestiges of his past. He remembered his wooing betwee_wo campaigns, a single short week in the season of gathering olives. Nothin_pproached the grave passion of that time but the deep, passionate sense o_is bereavement. He discovered all the extent of his dependence upon th_ilenced voice of that woman. It was her voice that he missed. Abstracted, busy, lost in inward contemplation, he seldom looked at his wife in thos_ater years. The thought of his girls was a matter of concern, not o_onsolation. It was her voice that he would miss. And he remembered the othe_hild—the little boy who died at sea. Ah! a man would have been something t_ean upon. And, alas! even Gian' Battista—he of whom, and of Linda, his wif_ad spoken to him so anxiously before she dropped off into her last sleep o_arth, he on whom she had called aloud to save the children, just before sh_ied—even he was dead!
And the old man, bent forward, his head in his hand, sat through the day i_mmobility and solitude. He never heard the brazen roar of the bells in town.
When it ceased the earthenware filter in the corner of the kitchen kept on it_wift musical drip, drip into the great porous jar below.
Towards sunset he got up, and with slow movements disappeared up the narro_taircase. His bulk filled it; and the rubbing of his shoulders made a smal_oise as of a mouse running behind the plaster of a wall. While he remained u_here the house was as dumb as a grave. Then, with the same faint rubbin_oise, he descended. He had to catch at the chairs and tables to regain hi_eat. He seized his pipe off the high mantel of the fire-place—but made n_ttempt to reach the tobacco—thrust it empty into the corner of his mouth, an_at down again in the same staring pose. The sun of Pedrito's entry int_ulaco, the last sun of Senor Hirsch's life, the first of Decoud's solitude o_he Great Isabel, passed over the Albergo d'ltalia Una on its way to the west.
The tinkling drip, drip of the filter had ceased, the lamp upstairs had burn_tself out, and the night beset Giorgio Viola and his dead wife with it_bscurity and silence that seemed invincible till the Capataz de Cargadores, returning from the dead, put them to flight with the splutter and flare of _atch.
"Si, viejo. It is me. Wait."
Nostromo, after barricading the door and closing the shutters carefully, groped upon a shelf for a candle, and lit it.
Old Viola had risen. He followed with his eyes in the dark the sounds made b_ostromo. The light disclosed him standing without support, as if the mer_resence of that man who was loyal, brave, incorruptible, who was all his so_ould have been, were enough for the support of his decaying strength.
He extended his hand grasping the briar-wood pipe, whose bowl was charred o_he edge, and knitted his bushy eyebrows heavily at the light.
"You have returned," he said, with shaky dignity. "Ah! Very well! I——"
He broke off. Nostromo, leaning back against the table, his arms folded on hi_reast, nodded at him slightly.
"You thought I was drowned! No! The best dog of the rich, of the aristocrats, of these fine men who can only talk and betray the people, is not dead yet."
The Garibaldino, motionless, seemed to drink in the sound of the well-know_oice. His head moved slightly once as if in sign of approval; but Nostrom_aw clearly that the old man understood nothing of the words. There was no on_o understand; no one he could take into the confidence of Decoud's fate, o_is own, into the secret of the silver. That doctor was an enemy of th_eople—a tempter… .
Old Giorgio's heavy frame shook from head to foot with the effort to overcom_is emotion at the sight of that man, who had shared the intimacies of hi_omestic life as though he had been a grown-up son.
"She believed you would return," he said, solemnly.
Nostromo raised his head.
"She was a wise woman. How could I fail to come back——?"
He finished the thought mentally: "Since she has prophesied for me an end o_overty, misery, and starvation." These words of Teresa's anger, from th_ircumstances in which they had been uttered, like the cry of a soul prevente_rom making its peace with God, stirred the obscure superstition of persona_ortune from which even the greatest genius amongst men of adventure an_ction is seldom free. They reigned over Nostromo's mind with the force of _otent malediction. And what a curse it was that which her words had laid upo_im! He had been orphaned so young that he could remember no other woman who_e called mother. Henceforth there would be no enterprise in which he woul_ot fail. The spell was working already. Death itself would elude him now… .
He said violently—
"Come, viejo! Get me something to eat. I am hungry! Sangre de Dios! Th_mptiness of my belly makes me lightheaded."
With his chin dropped again upon his bare breast above his folded arms, barefooted, watching from under a gloomy brow the movements of old Viol_oraging amongst the cupboards, he seemed as if indeed fallen under a curse—_uined and sinister Capataz.
Old Viola walked out of a dark corner, and, without a word, emptied upon th_able out of his hollowed palms a few dry crusts of bread and half a ra_nion.
While the Capataz began to devour this beggar's fare, taking up with stony- eyed voracity piece after piece lying by his side, the Garibaldino went off, and squatting down in another corner filled an earthenware mug with red win_ut of a wicker-covered demijohn. With a familiar gesture, as when servin_ustomers in the cafe, he had thrust his pipe between his teeth to have hi_ands free.
The Capataz drank greedily. A slight flush deepened the bronze of his cheek.
Before him, Viola, with a turn of his white and massive head towards th_taircase, took his empty pipe out of his mouth, and pronounced slowly—
"After the shot was fired down here, which killed her as surely as if th_ullet had struck her oppressed heart, she called upon you to save th_hildren. Upon you, Gian' Battista."
The Capataz looked up.
"Did she do that, Padrone? To save the children! They are with the Englis_enora, their rich benefactress. Hey! old man of the people. Thy benefactress… ."
"I am old," muttered Giorgio Viola. "An Englishwoman was allowed to give a be_o Garibaldi lying wounded in prison. The greatest man that ever lived. A ma_f the people, too—a sailor. I may let another keep a roof over my head. Si … I am old. I may let her. Life lasts too long sometimes."
"And she herself may not have a roof over her head before many days are out, unless I … What do you say? Am I to keep a roof over her head? Am I to try—an_ave all the Blancos together with her?"
"You shall do it," said old Viola in a strong voice. "You shall do it as m_on would have… ."
"Thy son, viejo! … . There never has been a man like thy son. Ha, I must try… . But what if it were only a part of the curse to lure me on? … And so sh_alled upon me to save—and then——?"
"She spoke no more." The heroic follower of Garibaldi, at the thought of th_ternal stillness and silence fallen upon the shrouded form stretched out o_he bed upstairs, averted his face and raised his hand to his furrowed brow.
"She was dead before I could seize her hands," he stammered out, pitifully.
Before the wide eyes of the Capataz, staring at the doorway of the dar_taircase, floated the shape of the Great Isabel, like a strange ship i_istress, freighted with enormous wealth and the solitary life of a man. I_as impossible for him to do anything. He could only hold his tongue, sinc_here was no one to trust. The treasure would be lost, probably—unless Decoud… . And his thought came abruptly to an end. He perceived that he could no_magine in the least what Decoud was likely to do.
Old Viola had not stirred. And the motionless Capataz dropped his long, sof_yelashes, which gave to the upper part of his fierce, black-whiskered face _ouch of feminine ingenuousness. The silence had lasted for a long time.