On the whole, Pancho Cueto’s plans had worked smoothly. After denouncing the Varona twins as traitors he had managed to have himself appointed trustee for the crown, for all their properties, consummation for which he had worked from the moment he read that letter of Esteban’s on the morning after Dona Isabel’s death. To be sure, the overseer had acquired title, of a sort, to the plantation by paying the taxes over a period of years, but it was the quinta itself which he desired, the Quinta de Esteban with its hidden gold. That there was a treasure Cueto had never doubted, and, once the place was his to do with as he chose, he began his search.
Cueto was a tireless, thorough-going man, therefore he did not set about his explorations in the haphazard manner of Dona Isabel. Commencing at the lower edge of the grounds, he ripped them up with a series of deep trenches and cross-cuts. It was a task that required the labor of many men for several weeks, and when it was finished there was scarcely a growing thing left upon the place. Only a few of the larger trees remained. Cueto was disappointed at finding nothing, but he was not discouraged. Next he tore down the old slave barracoons and the outbuildings, after which he completely wrecked the residence itself. He pulled it apart bit by bit, brick by brick. He even dug up its foundations, but without the reward of so much as a single peseta. Finally, when the villa was but a heap of rubbish and the grounds a scar upon the slope of La Cumbre, he desisted, baffled, incredulous, while all Matanzas laughed at him. Having sacrificed his choicest residence, he retired in chagrin to the plantation of La Joya.
But Cueto was now a man with a grievance. He burned with rage, and his contempt for the boy and girl he had wronged soured into hatred. Such time as he did not spend in racking his brain to explain the disappearance of the dead Esteban’s riches, he devoted to cursing the living Esteban and his sister, who, it seemed to him, were somehow to blame for his wrecked hopes.
In time he began to realize also that so long as they lived they would jeopardize his tenure of their property. Public feeling, at present, was high; there was intense bitterness against all rebels; but the war would end some day. What then? Cueto asked himself. Sympathy was ever on the side of the weak and oppressed. There would come a day of reckoning.
As if to swell his discomfiture and strengthen his fears, out from the hills at the head of the Yumuri issued rumors of a little band of guerrilleros, under the leadership of a beardless boy—a band of blacks who were making the upper valley unsafe for Spanish scouting parties.
Cursing the name of Varona, Pancho Cueto armed himself. He did not venture far alone, and, like Dona Isabel before him, he began to have bad dreams at night.
One day a field of Cueto’s cane was burned, and his laborers reported seeing Esteban and some negroes riding into the wood. The overseer took horse within the hour and rode pell-mell to Matanzas. In the city at this time was a certain Colonel Cobo, in command of Spanish Volunteers, those execrable convict troops from the Isle of Pines whose atrocities had already marked them as wolves rather than men, and to him Pancho went with his story.