Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1100
Tomás Vargas’s Buried Gold
‘‘The Gold of Tomás Vargas’’ takes place in the fictional town of Agua Santa, in an unnamed South American country. The story begins with a short history of how the region’s people used to bury their gold and silver but stopped this practice when they began to put their money and trust in banks and new paper money. Unfortunately, the paper money loses its value in the long run and as a result, many people lose their savings. Tomás Vargas, however, never trusted the new banks and continued to bury his gold nuggets.
While he is rich from this buried gold, he shares none of it with his wife or children who sometimes have to rely on the kindness of others for food, clothes, and schooling. In addition, Vargas borrows money and does not pay it back, gets drunk often, commits adultery, and abuses his family. As a result, he is universally disliked by the town. The only person who is able to calm down Vargas is Riad Halabí, a Turkish storekeeper. Meanwhile, Vargas’s wife, Antonia Sierra, a nearly toothless mulatto woman, has become prematurely aged from the many births, miscarriages, beatings, and childrearing duties she has had to endure during her marriage to Vargas. Because Vargas refuses to pay for anything or dip into his buried gold, she also works as a cook to help support the family.
The Arrival of Concha Díaz
One day, Concha Díaz, a young, pregnant girl, comes to town. Halabí is the first to see her and although she is distraught and can hardly speak, she manages to tell him that she needs to see Vargas. Halabí sends for Vargas who is at the tavern, and when Vargas arrives, Halabí admonishes him for adultery with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter and says that the townspeople are not going to let him get away with it this time. Halabí offers to let Concha stay in his house until the baby is born, but Concha insists on staying with Vargas.
The Conflict between Concha and Antonia
When Antonia Sierra comes home from work and finds her husband’s concubine, she snaps. Although she has suffered silently in the marriage to Vargas, this latest transgression by her husband is the last straw and she flies into a blind rage that lasts for a week. She finally calms down, and other people try to get her to see that Vargas is to blame, not Concha, but Antonia is unconvinced. She silently curses Concha, who avoids Antonia, and refuses to feed Vargas, a task that now falls onto Concha. The townspeople fear that Antonia will kill Concha from jealousy.
A Friendship Develops
However, against her better judgment, Antonia ends up pitying Concha when the girl’s pregnancy becomes complicated and almost kills her. Antonia appeals to Halabí, who takes Concha to the hospital for some medicine. Antonia begins to treat the girl like a daughter and her anger and pity turn into protectiveness. In return, Concha begins to pitch in more around the house, cleaning and cooking when she has the energy to do so. When Concha’s baby is ready to be born, she has to go back to the hospital for a cesarean section. Upon their return, Antonia helps Concha display the baby, beaming like a grandmother. The baby is named after Halabí, who pays for all of the hospital expenses. Vargas had acted like he was drunk so that he did not have to dig up his gold and pay for the baby.
Although Antonia lets him get away with this, she fights back when Vargas tries to sleep with Concha—who has not fully healed from the baby’s birth—finally finding the strength necessary to stand up to her husband. All of Agua Santa hears how Antonia has stood up to Vargas, and his reputation as a womanizer is tarnished. He tries to appear in control of the two women when he is bragging in public, but everybody knows that he has been whipped, and they will no longer listen to him.
Tomás Becomes Addicted to Gambling
With his reputation shattered and his wife and concubine alienating him, Vargas turns to gambling, something that his greed and fear of losing money had prevented him from doing in the past. In Agua Santa, the one sin the townspeople will not forgive is defaulting on gambling debts, and Vargas’s biggest fear is to lose his buried gold. However, as his luck at cards leads to bigger and bigger bets, he begins to get cocky and tries to regain his lost pride through gambling wins.
One day, the Lieutenant, another unscrupulous character who the townspeople do not like, challenges Vargas to a game of cards. The Lieutenant loses two hundred pesos, and Vargas brags about his win for two days until the Lieutenant demands another game. This time, the bet is one thousand pesos, the largest bet ever in Agua Santa. The Lieutenant posts the title to his house as his collateral, while Vargas pledges his famous buried gold.
The whole town, minus Antonia and Concha, shows up to watch the gambling match and Halabí serves as a judge to make sure the game is fair. Vargas loses, and the Lieutenant demands that he dig up his gold. Although he is very distraught, even Vargas knows better than to not pay up. The Lieutenant, Halabí, and the rest of the town follow Vargas to his hidden gold but it is gone; somebody has stolen it. The Lieutenant is enraged and kicks Vargas repeatedly until Halabí breaks up the two men.
Vargas becomes very ill and feverish and everybody assumes he will die of grief over his stolen gold. More than a week later, he is well enough to go out and finally ventures his way to the tavern. He does not return that night and his mutilated body is found in the ravine where his gold used to be buried—presumably, he has been murdered by the Lieutenant. His burial is handled without ceremony and nobody mourns him.
On the Road to Prosperity
Shortly thereafter, Antonia and Concha start to buy livestock and clothes for the family. Later that year, they repair their house, build an addition, and start a cookery business, producing meals that they deliver to the jail, school, and post office. Although it appears to be true that the women had stolen Vargas’s buried gold, none of the townspeople objects to the women’s sudden fortune.
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