Chapter 3

Directly they were alone, the colonel's severe official manner changed. He rose and approached the doctor. His eyes shone with rapacity and hope; he became confidential. `The silver might have been indeed put on board the lighter, but it was not conceivable that it should have been taken out to sea.' The doctor, watching every word, nodded slightly, smoking with apparent relish the cigar which Sotillo had offered him as a sign of his friendly intentions. The doctor's manner of cold detachment from the rest of the Europeans led Sotillo on, till, from conjecture to conjecture, he arrived at hinting that in his opinion this was a put-up job on the part of Charles Gould, in order to get hold of that immense treasure all to himself. The doctor, observant and self-possessed, muttered, `He is very capable of that.'

Here Captain Mitchell exclaimed with amazement, amusement, and indignation, `You said that of Charles Gould!' Disgust, and even some suspicion, crept into his tone, for to him, too, as to other Europeans, there appeared to be something dubious about the doctor's personality.

`What on earth made you say that to this watch-stealing scoundrel?' he asked. `What's the object of an infernal lie of that sort? That confounded pickpocket was quite capable of believing you.'

He snorted. For a time the doctor remained silent in the dark.

`Yes, that is exactly what I did say,' he uttered at last, in a tone which would have made it clear enough to a third party that the pause was not of a reluctant but of a reflective character. Captain Mitchell thought that he had never heard anything so brazenly impudent in his life.

`Well, well!' he muttered to himself, but he had not the heart to voice his thoughts. They were swept away by others full of astonishment and regret. A heavy sense of discomfiture crushed him: the loss of the silver, the death of Nostromo, which was really quite a blow to his sensibilities, because he had become attached to his Capataz as people get attached to their inferiors from love of ease and almost unconscious gratitude. And when he thought of Decoud being drowned, too, his sensibility was almost overcome by this miserable end. What a heavy blow for that poor young woman! Captain Mitchell did not belong to the species of crabbed old bachelors; on the contrary, he liked to see young men paying attentions to young women. It seemed to him a natural and proper thing. Proper especially. As to sailors, it was different; it was not their place to marry, he maintained, but it was on moral grounds as a matter of self-denial, for, he explained, life on board ship is not fit for a woman even at best, and if you leave her on shore, first of all it is not fair, and next she either suffers from it or doesn't care a bit, which, in both cases, is bad. He couldn't have told what upset him most -- Charles Gould's immense material loss, the death of Nostromo, which was a heavy loss to himself, or the idea of that beautiful and accomplished young woman being plunged into mourning.

`Yes,' the doctor, who had been apparently reflecting some more, began again, `he believed me right enough. I thought he would have hugged me, "Si, si," he said, "he will write to that partner of his, the rich americano in San Francisco, that it is all lost. Why not? There is enough to share with many people."'

`But this is perfectly imbecile!' cried Captain Mitchell.

The doctor remarked that Sotillo was imbecile, and that his imbecility was ingenious enough to lead him completely astray. He had helped him only but a little way.

`I mentioned,' the doctor said, `in a sort of casual way, that treasure is generally buried in the earth rather than being set afloat upon the sea. At this my Sotillo slapped his forehead. "Por Dios, yes," he said; "they must have buried it on the shores of this harbour somewhere before they sailed out."'

`Heavens and earth!' muttered Captain Mitchell, `I should not have believed that anybody could be ass enough--' He paused, then went on mournfully: `But what's the good of all this? It would have been a clever enough lie if the lighter had been still afloat. It would have kept that inconceivable idiot perhaps from sending out the steamer to cruise in the gulf. That was the danger that worried me no end.' Captain Mitchell sighed profoundly.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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