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- The Heart's Secret - 1/35 -


THE HEART'S SECRET:

OR, THE FORTUNES OF A SOLDIER.

BY LIEUTENANT MURRAY.

BOSTON:

1852.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE.--The following Novellette was originally published in the PICTORIAL DRAWING-ROOM COMPANION, and is but a specimen of the many deeply entertaining Tales, and gems of literary merit, which grace the columns of that elegant and highly popular journal. The COMPANION embodies a corps of contributors of rare literary excellence, and is regarded as the ne plus ultra, by its scores of thousands of readers.

PREFACE.

THE locale of the following story is that gem of the American Archipelago; the Island of Cuba, whose lone star, now merged in the sea, is destined yet to sparkle in liberty's hemisphere, and radiate the light of republicanism. Poetry cannot outdo the fairy-like loveliness of this tropical clime, and only those who have partaken of the aromatic sweetness of its fields and shores can fully realize the delight that may be shared in these low latitudes. A brief residence upon the island afforded the author the subject-matter for the following pages, and he has been assiduous in his efforts to adhere strictly to geographical facts and the truthful belongings of the island. Trusting that this may prove equally popular with the author's other numerous tales and novelettes, he has the pleasure of signing himself,

Very cordially,

THE PUBLIC's HUMBLE SERVANT.

DEDICATED TO THE READERS OF GLEASON'S PICTORIAL DRAWING-ROOM COMPANION, FOR WHICH JOURNAL THESE PAGES WERE ORIGINALLY WRITTEN, BY THEIR VERY HUMBLE SERVANT, LIEUTENANT MURRAY.

THE HEART'S SECRET.

CHAPTER I.

THE ACCIDENT.

THE soft twilight of the tropics, that loves to linger over the low latitudes, after the departure of the long summer's day, was breathing in zephyrs of aromatic sweetness over the shores and plains of the beautiful Queen of the Antilles. The noise and bustle of the day had given place to the quiet and gentle influences of the hour; the slave had laid by his implements of labor, and now stood at ease, while the sunburnt overseers had put off the air of vigilance that they had worn all day, and sat or lounged lazily with their cigars.

Here and there strolled a Montaro from the country, who, having disposed of his load of fruit, of produce and fowls, was now preparing to return once more inland, looking, with his long Toledo blade and heavy spurs, more like a bandit than an honest husbandman. The evening gun had long since boomed over the waters of the land-locked harbor from the grim, walls of Moro Castle, the guard had been relieved at the governor's palace and the city walls, and now the steady martial tread to the tap of the drum rang along the streets of Havana, as the guard once more sought their barracks in the Plaza des Armes.

The pretty senoritas sat at their grated windows, nearly on a level with the street, and chatted through the bars, not unlike prisoners, to those gallants who paused to address them. And now a steady line of pedestrians turned their way to the garden that fronts the governor's palace, where they might listen to the music of the band, nightly poured forth here to rich and poor.

At this peculiar hour there was a small party walking in the broad and very private walk that skirts the seaward side of the city, nearly opposite the Moro, and known as the Plato. It is the only hour in which a lady can appear outside the walls of her dwelling on foot in this queer and picturesque capital, and then only in the Plaza, opposite to the palace, or in some secluded and private walk like the Plato. Such is Creole and Spanish etiquette.

The party referred to consisted of a fine looking old Spanish don, a lady who seemed to be his daughter, a little boy of some twelve or thirteen years, who might perhaps be the lady's brother, and a couple of gentlemen in undress military attire, yet bearing sufficient tokens of rank to show them to be high in command. The party was a gay though small one, and the lady seemed to be as lively and talkative as the two gentlemen could desire, while they, on their part, appeared most devoted to every syllable and gesture.

There was a slight air of hauteur in the lady's bearing; she seemed to half disdain the homage that was so freely tendered to her, and though she laughed loud and clear, there was a careless, not to say heartless, accent in her tones, that betrayed her indifference to the devoted attentions of her companions. Apparently too much accustomed to this treatment to be disheartened by it, the two gentlemen bore themselves most courteously, and continued as devoted as ever to the fair creature by their side.

The boy of whom we have spoken was a noble child, frank and manly in his bearing, and evidently deeply interested in the maritime scene before him. Now he paused to watch the throng of craft of every nation that lay at anchor in the harbor, or which were moored; after the fashion here, with their stems to the quay, and now his fine blue eye wandered off over the swift running waters of the Gulf Stream, watching for a moment the long, heavy swoop of some distant seafowl, or the white sail of some clipper craft bound up the Gulf to New Orleans, or down the narrow channel through the Caribbean Sea to some South American port. The old don seemed in the meantime to regard the boy with an earnest pride, and scarcely heeded at all the bright sallies of wit that his daughter was so freely and merrily bestowing upon her two assiduous admirers.

"Yonder brigantine must be a slaver," said the boy, pointing to a rakish craft that seemed to be struggling against the current to the southward.

"Most like, most like; but what does she on this side? the southern shore is her ground, and the Isle of Pines is a hundred leagues from here," said the old don.

"She has lost her reckoning, probably," said the boy, "and made the first land to the north. Lucky she didn't fall in with those Florida wreckers, for though the Americans don't carry on the African trade nowadays, they know what to do with a cargo if it gets once hard and fast on the reefs."

"What know you of these matters?" asked the old don, turning a curious eye on the boy.

"O, I hear them talk of these things, and you know I saw a cargo 'run' on the south side only last month," continued the boy. "There were three hundred or more filed off from that felucca, two by two, to the shore."

"It is a slaver," said one of the officers, "a little out of her latitude, that's all."

"A beautiful craft," said the lady, earnestly; "can it be a slaver, and so beautiful."

"They are clipper-built, all of them," said the old don. "Launched in Baltimore, United States."

Senorita Gonzales was the daughter of the proud old don of the same name, who was of the party on the Plato at the time we describe. The father was one of the richest as well as noblest in rank of all the residents of the island, being of the old Castilian stock, who had come from Spain many years before, and after holding high office, both civil and military, under the crown, had at last retired with a princely fortune, and devoted himself to the education of his daughter and son, both of whom we have already introduced to the reader.

The daughter, beautiful, intelligent, and witty to a most extraordinary degree, had absolutely broken the hearts of half the men of rank on the island; for though yet scarcely twenty years of age, Senorita Isabella was a confirmed coquette. It was her passion to command and enjoy a devotion, but as to ever having in the least degree cherished or known what it was to love, the lady was entirely void of the charge; she had never known the tenderness of reciprocal affection, nor did it seem to those who knew her best, that the man was born who could win her confidence.

Men's hearts had been Isabella Gonzales's toys and playthings ever since the hour that she first had realized her power over them. And yet she was far from being heartless in reality. She was most sensitive, and at times thoughtful and serious; but this was in her closet, and when alone. Those who thought that the sunshine of that


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