Those who came running to learn the cause of the hubbub turned away sick and pallid, for the paved yard was a shambles. Pancho Cueto called upon the slaves to help him, but they slunk back to their quarters, dumb with terror and dismay.
All that night people from the town below came and went and the quinta resounded to sobs and lamentations, but of all the relatives of the dead and wounded, Dona Isabel took her bereavement hardest. Strange to say, she could not be comforted. She wept, she screamed, she tore her hair, tasting the full nauseousness of the cup her own avarice had prepared. Now, when it was too late, she realized that she had overreached herself, having caused the death of the only two who knew the secret of the treasure. She remembered, also, Sebastian’s statement that even the deeds of patent for the land were hidden with the rest, where ten thousand men in ten thousand years could never find them.
Impressed by her manifestations of grief, Esteban’s friends reasoned that the widow must have loved her husband dearly. They told one another they had wronged her.
Age and easy living had caused Don Mario de Castano, the sugar merchant, to take on weight. He had, in truth, become so fat that he waddled like a penguin when he walked; and when he rode, the springs of his French victoria gave up in despair. They glued themselves together, face to face, and Don Mario felt every rut and every rock in the road. Nor was the merchant any less heavy in mind than in body, for he was both very rich and very serious, and nothing is more ponderous than a rich, fat man who takes his riches and his fatness seriously. In disposition Don Mario was practical and unromantic; he boasted that he had never had an illusion, never an interest outside of his business. And yet, on the day this story opens, this prosaic personage, in spite of his bulging waistband and his taut neckband, in spite of his short breath and his prickly heat, was in a very whirl of pleasurable excitement. Don Mario, in fact, suffered the greatest of all illusions: he was in love, and he believed himself beloved. The object of his adoration was little Rosa Varona, the daughter of his one-time friend Esteban. At thought of her the planter glowed with ardor—at any rate he took it to be ardor, although it might have been the fever from that summer rash which so afflicted him— and his heart fluttered in a way dangerous to one of his apoplectic tendencies. To be sure, he had met Rosa only twice since her return from her Yankee school, but twice had been enough; with prompt decision he had resolved to do her the honor of making her his wife.
Now, with a person of Don Mario’s importance, to decide for himself is to decide for others, and inasmuch as he knew that Dona Isabel, Rosa’s stepmother, was notoriously mercenary and had not done at all well since her husband’s death, it did not occur to him to doubt that his suit would prosper. It was, in fact, to make terms with her that he rode forth in the heat of this particular afternoon.