It was only natural under such conditions that Dona Isabel should learn to dislike her stepchildren—Esteban had told her frankly that they would inherit whatever fortune he possessed. The thought that, after all, she might never share in the treasure for which she had sacrificed her youth and beauty was like to drive the woman mad, and, as may be imagined, she found ways to vent her spite upon the twins. She widened her hatred so as to include old Sebastian and his daughter, and even went so far as to persecute Evangelina’s sweetheart, a slave named Asensio.
It had not taken Dona Isabel long to guess the reason of Sebastian’s many privileges, and one of her first efforts had been to win the old man’s confidence. It was in vain, however, that she flattered and cajoled, or stormed and threatened; Sebastian withstood her as a towering ceiba withstands the summer heat and the winter hurricane.
His firmness made her vindictive, and so in time she laid a scheme to estrange him from his master.
Dona Isabel was crafty. She began to complain about Evangelina, but it was only after many months that she ventured to suggest to her husband that he sell the girl. Esteban, of course, refused point-blank; he was too fond of Sebastian’s daughter, he declared, to think of such a thing.
“So, that is it,” sneered Dona Isabel. “Well, she is young and shapely and handsome, as wenches go. I rather suspected you were fond of her—”
With difficulty Esteban restrained an oath. “You mistake my meaning,” he said, stiffly. “Sebastian has served me faithfully, and Evangelina plays with my children. She is good to them; she is more of a mother to them than you have ever been.”
“Is that why you dress her like a lady? Bah! A likely story!” Isabel tossed her fine, dark head. “I’m not blind; I see what goes on about me. This will make a pretty scandal among your friends— she as black as the pit, and you—”
“Woman!” shouted the planter, “you have a sting like a scorpion.”
“I won’t have that wench in my house,” Isabel flared out at him.
Goaded to fury by his wife’s senseless accusation, Esteban cried: “Your house? By what license do you call it yours?”
“Am I not married to you?”
“Damnation! Yes—as a leech is married to its victim. You suck my blood.”
“Your blood!” The woman laughed shrilly. “You have no blood; your veins run vinegar. You are a miser.”
“Miser! Miser! I grow sick of the word. It is all you find to taunt me with. Confess that you married me for my money,” he roared.
“Of course I did! Do you think a woman of my beauty would marry you for anything else? But a fine bargain I made!”
“Wife or vampire, I intend to rule this house, and I refuse to be shamed by a thick-lipped African. Her airs tell her story. She is insolent to me, but—I sha’n’t endure it. She laughs at me. Well, your friends shall laugh at you.”