The Spanish Main is rich in tales of treasure-trove, for when the Antilles were most affluent they were least secure, and men were put to strange shifts to protect their fortunes. Certain hoards, like jewels of tragic history, in time assumed a sort of evil personality, not infrequently exercising a dire influence over the lives of those who chanced to fall under their spells. It was as if the money were accursed, for certainly the seekers often came to evil. Of such a character was the Varona treasure. Don Esteban himself was neither better nor worse than other men of his time, and although part of the money he hid was wrung from the toil of slaves and the traffic in their bodies, much of it was clean enough, and in time the earth purified it all. Since his acts made so deep an impress, and since the treasure he left played so big a part in the destinies of those who came after him, it is well that some account of these matters should be given.
The story, please remember, is an old one; it has been often told, and in the telling and retelling it is but natural that a certain glamour, a certain tropical extravagance, should attach to it, therefore you should make allowance for some exaggeration, some accretions due to the lapse of time. In the main, however, it is well authenticated and runs parallel to fact.
Dona Rosa Varona lived barely long enough to learn that she had given birth to twins. Don Esteban, whom people knew as a grim man, took the blow of his sudden bereavement as became one of his strong fiber. Leaving the priest upon his knees and the doctor busied with the babies, he strode through the house and out into the sunset, followed by the wails of the slave women. From the negro quarters came the sound of other and even louder lamentations, for Dona Rosa had been well loved and the news of her passing had spread quickly.
Don Esteban was at heart a selfish man, and now, therefore, he felt a sullen, fierce resentment mingled with his grief. What trick was this? he asked himself. What had he done to merit such misfortune? Had he not made rich gifts to the Church? Had he not gone on foot to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrate with a splendid votive offering—a pair of eardrops, a necklace, and a crucifix, all of diamonds that quivered in the sunlight like drops of purest water? Had he not knelt and prayed for his wife’s safe delivery and then hung his gifts upon the sacred