THE HEART'S SECRET:
OR, THE FORTUNES OF A SOLDIER.
BY LIEUTENANT MURRAY.
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.
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,
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.
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 face was never clouded, were mistaken. She hardly received the respect that was due to her better understanding and naturally strong points of character, because she hid them mainly behind an exterior of captivating mirthfulness and never ceasing smiles.
The cool refreshing sea breeze that swept in from the water was most delicious, after the scorching heat of a summer's day in the West Indies, and the party paused as they breathed in of its freshness, leaning upon the parapet of the walk, over which they looked down upon the glancing waves of the bay far beneath them. The moon was stealing slowly but steadily up from behind the lofty tower of Moro Castle, casting a dash of silvery light athwart its dark batteries and grim walls, and silvering a long wake across the now silent harbor, making its rippling waters of golden and silver hues, and casting, where the Moro tower was between it and the water, a long, deep shadow to seaward.
Even the gay and apparently thoughtless Senorita Isabella was struck with delight at the view now presented to her gaze, and for a moment she paused in silence to drink in of the spirit-stirring beauty of the scene.
"How beautiful it is," whispered the boy, who was close by her side.
"Beautiful, very beautiful," echoed Isabella, again becoming silent.
No one who has not breathed the soft air of the south at an hour such as we have described, can well realize the tender influence that it exercises upon a susceptible disposition. The whole party gazed for some minutes in silence, apparently charmed by the scene. There was a hallowing and chastening influence in the very air, and the gay coquette was softened into the tender woman. A tear even glistened in Ruez's, her brother's eyes; but he was a thoughtful and delicate-souled child, and would be affected thus much more quickly than his sister.
The eldest of the two gentlemen who were in attendance upon Don Gonzales and his family, was Count Anguera, lieutenant-governor of the island; and his companion, a fine military figure, apparently some years the count's junior, was General Harero of the royal infantry, quartered at the governor's palace. Such was the party that promenaded on the parapet of the Plato.
As we have intimated, the two gentlemen were evidently striving to please Isabella, and to win from her some encouraging smile or other token that might indicate a preference for their attentions. Admiration even from the high source that now tendered it was no new thing to her, and with just sufficient archness to puzzle them, she waived and replied to their conversation with most provoking indifference, lavishing a vast deal more kindness and attention upon a noble wolf-hound that crouched close to her feet, his big clear eye bent ever upon his mistress's face with a degree of intelligence that would have formed a theme for a painter. It was a noble creature, and no wonder the lady evinced so much regard for the hound, who ever and anon walked close to her.
"You love the hound?" suggested General Harero, stooping to smooth its glossy coat.
"He is to be envied, then, upon my soul, lady. How could he, with no powers of utterance, have done that for himself, which we poor gallants so fail in doing?"
"And what may that be?" asked Isabella, archly tossing her head.
"Win thy love," half whispered the officer, drawing closer to her side.
The answer was lost, if indeed Isabella intended one, by the father's calling the attention of the party to some object on the Regla shore, opposite the city, looming up in the dim light.
Ruez had mounted the parapet, and with his feet carelessly dangling on the other side, sat gazing off upon the sea, now straining his eye to make out the rig of some dark hull in the distance, and now following back the moon's glittering wake until it met the shore. At this moment the hound, leaving his mistress's side, put his fore paws upon the top of the parapet and his nose into one of the boy's hands, causing him to turn round suddenly to see what it was that touched him; in doing which he lost his balance, and with a faint cry fell from the parapet far down to the water below. Each of the gentlemen at once sprang upon the stone work and looked over where the boy had fallen, but it would have been madness for any one, however good a swimmer; and as they realized this and their helpless situation, they stood for a moment dumb with consternation.
At that moment a plunge was heard in the water from the edge of the quay far below the parapet, and a dark form was traced making its way through the water with that strong bold stroke that shows the effort of a confident and powerful swimmer.
"Thank God some one has seen his fall from below, and they will rescue him," said Don Gonzales, springing swiftly down the Plato steps, followed by Isabella and the officers, and seeking the street that led to the quay below.
"O hasten, father, hasten!" exclaimed Isabella, impatiently.
"Nay, Isabella, my old limbs totter with fear for dear Ruez," was the hasty reply of the old don, as he hurried forward with his daughter.
"Dear, dear Ruez," exclaimed Isabella, hysterically.
Dashing by the guard stationed on the quay, who presented arms as his superiors passed, they reached its end in time to see, through the now dim twilight, the efforts of some one in the water supporting the half insensible boy with one arm, while with the other he was struggling with almost superhuman effort against the steady set of the tide to seaward. Already were a couple of seamen lowering a quarter-boat from an American barque, near by, but the rope had fouled in the blocks, and they could not loose it. A couple of infantry soldiers had also come up to the spot, and having secured a rope were about to attempt some assistance to the swimmer.
"Heave the line," shouted one of the seamen. "Give me the bight of it, and I'll swim out to him."
"Stand by for it," said the soldier, coiling it in his hand and then throwing it towards the barque. But the coil fell short of the mark, and another minute's delay occurred.
In the meantime he who held the boy, though evidently a man of cool judgment, powerful frame, and steady purpose, yet now breathed so heavily in his earnest struggle with the swift tide, that his panting might be distinctly heard on the quay. He was evidently conscious of the efforts now making for his succor and that of the boy, but he uttered no words, still bending every nerve and faculty towards the stemming of the current tint sets into the harbor from the Gulf Stream.
The hound had been running back and forth on the top of the parapet, half preparing every moment for a spring, and then deterred by the immense distance which presented itself between the animal and the water, it would run back and forth again with a most piteous howling cry; but at this moment it came bounding down the street to the quay, as though it at last realized the proper spot from which to make the attempt, and with a leap that seemed to carry it nearly a rod into the waters, it swam easily to the boy's side.
An exclamation of joy escaped from both Don Gonzales and Isabella, for they knew the hound to have saved a life before, and now prized his sagacity highly.
As the hound swung round easily beside the struggling forms, the swimmer placed the boy's arm about the animal's neck, while the noble creature, with almost human reason, instead of struggling fiercely at being thus entirely buried in the water, save the mere point of his nose, worked as steadily and as calmly as though he was merely following his young master on shore. The momentary relief was of the utmost importance to the swimmer, who being thus partially relieved of Ruez's weight, once more struck out boldly for the quay. But the boy had now lost all consciousness, and his arm slipped away from the hound's neck, and he rolled heavily over, carrying down the swimmer and himself for a moment, below the surface of the water.
"Holy mother! they are both drowned!" almost screamed Isabella.
"Lost! lost!" groaned Don Gonzales, with uplifted hands and tottering form.
"No! no!" exclaimed General Harero, "not yet, not yet." He had jumped on board the barque, and had cut the davit ropes with his sword, and thus succeeded in launching the boat with himself and the two seamen in it.
At this moment the swimmer rose once more slowly with his burthen to the surface; but his efforts were so faintly made now, that he barely floated, and yet with a nervous vigor he kept the boy still far above himself. And now it was that the noble instinct of the hound stood his young master in such importance, and led him to seize with his teeth the boy's clothes, while the swimmer once more fairly gained his self-possession, and the boat with General Harero and the seamen came alongside. In a moment more the boy with his preserver and the dog were safe in the boat, which was rowed at once to the quay.
A shout of satisfaction rang out from twenty voices that had witnessed the scene.
Isabella, the moment they were safely in the boat, fainted, while Count Anguera ran for a volante for conveyance home. The swimmer soon regained his strength, and when the boat reached the quay, he lifted the boy from it himself. It was a most striking picture that presented itself to the eye at that moment on the quay, in the dim twilight that was so struggling with the moon's brighter rays.
The father, embracing the reviving boy, looked the gratitude he could not find words to express, while a calm, satisfied smile ornamented the handsome features of the soldier who had saved Ruez's life at such imminent risk. The coat which he had hastily thrown upon the quay when he leaped into the water, showed him to bear the rank of lieutenant of infantry, and by the number, he belonged to General Harero's own division.
The child was placed with his sister and father in a volante, and borne away from the spot with all speed, that the necessary care and attention might be afforded to him which they could only expect in their own home.
In the meantime a peculiar satisfaction mantled the brow and features of the young officer who had thus signally served Don Gonzales and his child. His fine military figure stood erect and commanding in style while he gazed after the volante that contained the party named, nor did he move for some moments, seeming to be exercised by some peculiar spell; still gazing in the direction in which the volante had disappeared, until General Harero, his superior, having at length arranged his own attire, after the hasty efforts which he had made, came by, and touching him lightly on the arm, said:
"Lieutenant, you seem to be dreaming; has the bath affected your brain?"
"Not at all, general," replied the young officer, hastening to put on his coat once more; "I have indeed forgotten myself for a single moment."
"Know you the family whom you have thus served?" asked the general.
"I do; that is, I know their name, general, but nothing further."
"He's a clever man, and will remember your services," said the general, carelessly, as he walked up the quay and received the salute of the sentinel on duty.
Some strange feeling appeared to be working in the breast of the young officer who had just performed the gallant deed we have recorded, for he seemed even now to be quite lost to all outward realization, and was evidently engaged in most agreeable communion with himself mentally. He too now walked up the quay, also, receiving the salute of the sentinel, and not forgetting either, as did the superior officer, to touch his cap in acknowledgement, a sign that an observant man would have marked in the character of both; and one, too, which was not lost on the humble private, whose duty it was to stand at his post until the middle watch of the night. A long and weary duty is that of a sentinel on the quay at night.
THE BELLE AND THE SOLDIER.
WHOEVER has been in Havana, that strange and peculiar city, whose every association and belonging seem to bring to mind the period of centuries gone by, whose time-worn and moss-covered cathedrals appear to stand as grim records of the past, whose noble palaces and residences of the rich give token of the fact of its great wealth and extraordinary resources—whoever, we say, has been in this capital of Cuba, has of course visited its well-known and far-famed Tacon Paseo. It is here, just outside the city walls, in a beautiful tract of land, laid out in tempting walks, ornamented with the fragrant flowers of the tropics, and with statues and fountains innumerable, that the beauty and fashion of the town resort each afternoon to drive in their volantes, and to meet and greet each other.
It was on the afternoon subsequent to that of the accident recorded in the preceding chapter, that a young officer, off duty, might be seen partially reclining upon one of the broad seats that here and there line the foot-path of the circular drive in the Paseo. He possessed a fine manly figure, and was perhaps of twenty-four or five years of age, and clothed in the plain undress uniform of the Spanish army. His features were of that national and handsome cast that is peculiar to the full-blooded Castilian, and the pure olive of his complexion contrasted finely with a moustache and imperial as black as the dark flowing hair that fell from beneath his foraging cap. At the moment when we introduce him he was playing with a small, light walking-stick, with which he thrashed his boots most immoderately; but his thoughts were busy enough in another quarter, as any one might conjecture even at a single glance.
Suddenly his whole manner changed; he rose quickly to his feet, and lifting his cap gracefully, he saluted and acknowledged the particular notice of a lady who bent partially forward from a richly mounted volante drawn by as richly it caparisoned horse, and driven by as richly dressed a calesaro. The manner of the young officer from that moment was the very antipodes of what it had been a few moments before. A change seemed to have come over the spirit of his dream. His fine military figure became erect and dignified, and a slight indication of satisfied pride was just visible in the fine lines of his expressive lips. As he passed on his way, after a momentary pause, he met General Harero, who stiffly acknowledged his military salute, with anything but kindness expressed in the stern lines of his forbidding countenance. He even took some pains to scowl upon the young soldier as they passed each other.
But what cared Lieutenant Bezan for his frowns? Had not the belle of the city, the beautiful, the peerless, the famed Senorita Isabella Gonzales just publicly saluted him?-that glorious being whose transcendent beauty had been the theme of every tongue, and whose loveliness had enslaved him from the first moment he had looked upon her-just two years previous, when he first came from Spain. Had not this high-born and proud lady publicly saluted him? Him, a poor lieutenant of infantry, who had never dared to lift his eyes to meet her own before, however deep and ardently he might have worshipped her in secret. What cared the young officer that his commander had seen fit thus to frown upon him? True, he realized the power of military discipline, and particularly of the Spanish army; but he forgot all else now, in the fact that Isabella Gonzales had publicly saluted him in the paths of the Paseo.
Possessed of a highly chivalrous disposition, Lieutenant Bezan had few confidants among his regiment, who, notwithstanding this, loved him as well as brothers might love. He seemed decidedly to prefer solitude and his books to the social gatherings, or the clubs formed by his brother officers, or indeed to join them in any of their ordinary sports or pastimes.
Of a very good family at home, he had the misfortune to have been born a younger brother, and after being thoroughly educated at the best schools of Madrid, he was frankly told by his father that he must seek his fortune, and for the future rely solely upon himself. There was but one field open to him, at least so it seemed to him, and that was the army. Two years before the opening of our story he had enlisted as a third lieutenant of infantry, and had been at once ordered to the West Indies with his entire regiment. Here promotion for more than one gallant act closely followed him, until at the time we introduce him to the reader as first lieutenant. Being of a naturally cheerful and exceedingly happy disposition, he took life like a philosopher, and knew little of care or sorrow until the time when he first saw Senorita Isabella Gonzales-an occasion that planted a hopeless passion in his breast.
From the moment of their first meeting, though entirely unnoticed by her, he felt that he loved her, deeply, tenderly loved her; and yet at the same time he fully realized how immeasurably she was beyond his sphere, and consequently hopes. He saw the first officials of the island at her very feet, watching for one glance of encouragement or kindness from those dark and lustrous eyes of jet; in short, he saw her ever the centre of an admiring circle of the rich and proud. It is perhaps strange, but nevertheless true, that with all these discouraging and disheartening circumstances, Lieutenant Bezan did not lose all hope. He loved her, lowly and obscure though he was, with all his heart, and used to whisper to himself that love like his need not despair, for he felt how truly and honestly his heart warmed and his pulses beat for her.
Nearly two entire years had his devoted heart lived on thus, if not once gratified by a glance from her eye, still hoping that devotion like his would one day be rewarded. What prophets of the future are youth and love! Distant as the star of his destiny appeared from him, he yet still toiled on, hoped on, in his often weary round of duty, sustained by the one sentiment of tender love and devotedness to one who knew him not.
At the time of the fearful accident when Ruez Gonzales came so near losing his life from the fall he suffered off the parapet of the Plato, Lieutenant Bezan was officer of the night, his rounds having fortunately brought him to the quay at the most opportune moment. He knew not who it was that had fallen into the water, but guided by a native spirit of daring and humanity, he had thrown off his coat and cap and leaped in after him.
The feelings of pleasure and secret joy experienced by the young officer, when after landing from the boat he learned by a single glance who it was he had so fortunately saved, may be better imagined than described, when his love for the boy's sister is remembered. And when, as we have related, the proud Senorita Isabella publicly saluted him before a hundred eyes in the Paseo, he felt a joy of mind, a brightness of heart, that words could not express.
His figure and face were such that once seen their manly beauty and noble outline could not be easily forgotten; and there were few ladies in the city, whose station and rank would permit them to associate with one bearing only a lieutenant's commission, who would not have been proud of his notice and homage. He could not be ignorant of his personal recommendations, and yet the young officer sought no female society-his heart it knew but one idol, and he could bow to but one throne of love.
Whether by accident or purposely, the lady herself only knew, but when the volante, in the circular drive of the Paseo, again came opposite to the spot where Lieutenant Bezan was, the Senorita Isabella dropped her fan upon the carriage-road. As the young officer sprang to pick it up and return it, she bade the calesaro to halt. Her father, Don Gonzales, was by her side, and the lieutenant presented the fan in the most respectful manner, being rewarded by a glance from the lady that thrilled to his very soul. Don Gonzales exclaimed:
"By our lady, but this is the young officer, Isabella, who yesternight so promptly and gallantly saved the life of our dear Ruez."
"It is indeed he, father," said the beauty, with much interest.
"Lieutenant Bezan, the general told us, I believe," continued the father.
"That was the name, father."
"And is this Lieutenant Bezan?" asked Don Gonzales, addressing the officer.
"At your service," replied he, bowing respectfully.
"Senor," continued the father, most earnestly, and extending at the same time his hand to the blushing soldier, "permit me and my daughter to thank you sincerely for the extraordinary service you rendered to us and our dear Ruez last evening."
"Senor, the pleasure of having served you richly compensated for any personal inconvenience or risk I may have experienced," answered Lieutenant Bezan; saying which, he bowed low and looked once into the lovely eyes of the beautiful Senorita Isabella, when at a word to the calesaro, the volante again passed on in the circular drive.
But the young officer had not been unwatched during the brief moments of conversation that had passed between him and the occupants of the vehicle. Scarcely had he left the side of the volante, when he once more met General Harero, who seemed this time to take some pains to confront him, as he remarked:
"What business may Lieutenant Bezan have with Don Gonzales and his fair daughter, that he stops their volante in the public walks of the Paseo?"
"The lady dropped her fan, general, and I picked it up and returned it to her," was the gentlemanly and submissive reply of the young officer.
"Dropped her fan," repeated the general, sneeringly, as he gazed at the lieutenant.
"Yes, general, and I returned it."
"Indeed," said the commanding officers, with a decided emphasis.
"Could I have done less, general?" asked Lieutenant Bezan.
"It matters not, though you seem to be ever on hand to do the lady and her father some service, sir. Perhaps you would relish another cold bath," he continued, with most cutting sarcasm. "Who introduced you, sir, to these people?"
"No one, sir. It was chance that brought us together. You will remember the scene on the quay."
"Before that time I had never exchanged one word with them."
"And on this you presume to establish an acquaintance?"
"By no means, sir. The lady recognized me, and I was proud to return the polite salute with which she greeted me."
"Would you have me do otherwise, sir?"
"I would have you avoid this family of Gonzales altogether."
"I trust, general, that I have not exceeded my duty either to the father or daughter, though by the tone of your remarks I seem to have incurred your disapprobation," replied Lieutenant Bezan, firmly but respectfully.
"It would be more becoming in an officer of your rank," continued the superior, "to be nearer his quarters, than to spend his hours off duty in so conspicuous and public a place as the Tacon Paseo. I shall see that such orders are issued for the future as shall keep those attached to my division within the city walls."
"Whatever duty is prescribed by my superiors I shall most cheerfully and promptly respond to, General Harero," replied the young officer, as he respectfully saluted his general, and turning, he sought the city gates on the way to his barracks.
"Stay, Lieutenant Bezan," said the general, somewhat nervously.
"General," repeated the officer, with the prompt military salute, as he awaited orders.
"You may go, sir," continued the superior, biting his lips with vexation. "Another time will answer my purpose quite as well, perhaps better. You may retire, I say."
"Yes, general," answered the soldier, respectfully, and once more turned away.
Lieutenant Bezan was too well aware of General Harero's intimacy at the house of Don Gonzales, not to understand the meaning of the rebuke and exhibition of bitterness on the part of his superior towards him. The general, although he possessed a fine commanding figure, yet was endowed with no such personal advantages to recommend him to a lady's eye as did the young officer who had thus provoked him, and he could not relish the idea that one who had already rendered such signal services to the Senorita Isabella and her father, even though he was so very far below himself in rank, should become too intimate with the family. It would be unfair towards Lieutenant Bezan to suppose that he did not possess sufficient judgment of human nature and discernment to see all this.
He could not but regret that he had incurred the ill will of his general, though it was unjustly entertained, for he knew only too well how rigorous was the service in which he was engaged, and that a superior officer possessed almost absolute power over those placed in his command, in the Spanish army, even unto the sentence of death. He had too often been the unwilling spectator, and even at times the innocent agent of scenes that were revolting to his better feelings, which emanated solely from this arbitrary power vested in heartless and incompetent individuals by means of their military rank. Musing thus upon the singular state of his affairs, and the events of the last two days, so important to his feelings, now recalling the bewitching glances of the peerless Isabella Gonzales, and now ruminating upon the ill will of General Harero, he strolled into the city, and reaching La Dominica's, he threw himself upon a lounge near the marble fountain, and calling for a glass of agrass, he sipped the cool and grateful beverage, and wiled away the hour until the evening parade.
Though Don Gonzales duly appreciated the great service that Lieutenant Bezan had done him, at such imminent personal hazard, too, yet he would no more have introduced him into his family on terms of a visiting acquaintance in consequence thereof, than he would have boldly broken down any other strict rule and principle of his aristocratic nature; and yet he was not ungrateful; far from it, as Lieutenant Bezan had reason to know, for he applied his great influence at once to the governor-general in the young officer's behalf. The favor he demanded of Tacon, then governor and commander-in-chief, was the promotion to a captaincy of him who had so vitally served the interests of his house.
Tacon was one of the wisest and best governors that Cuba ever had, as ready to reward merit as he was to signally punish trickery or crime of any sort, and when the case was fairly laid before him, by reference to the rolls of his military secretary, he discovered that Lieutenant Bezan had already been promoted twice for distinguished merit, and replied to Don Gonzales that, as this was the case, and the young soldier was found to be so deserving, he should cheerfully comply with his request as it regarded his early promotion in his company. Thus it was, that scarcely ten days subsequent to the meeting in the Paseo, which we have described, Lieutenant Bezan was regularly gazetted as captain of infantry, by honorable promotion and approval of the governor-general.
The character of Tacon was one of a curious description. He was prompt, candid, and business-like in all things, and the manner of his promoting Lieutenant Bezan was a striking witness of these very qualities. The young officer being summoned by an orderly to his presence, was thus questioned:
"You are Lieutenant Lorenzo Bezan?"
"Yes, your excellency."
"Of the sixth infantry?"
"Of company eight?"
"Of company eight, excellency."
"Your commander is General Harero?"
"You were on the quay night before last, were you not?"
"Excellency, I was."
"And leaped into the water to save a boy's life who had fallen there?"
"I did, excellency."
"You were successful."
"Excellency, I was."
"You were promoted eleven months since in compliment for duty."
"Captain Bezan, here is a new commission for you."
"Excellency you are only too kind to an humble soldier."
A calm, proud inclination of the head on the part of the governor-general, indicated that the audience was over, and the young officer returned, knowing well the character of the commander-in-chief. Not a little elated, Lorenzo Bezan felt that he was richly repaid for the risk he had run by this promotion alone; but there was a source of gratification to him far beyond that of having changed his title to captain. He had served and been noticed by Isabella Gonzales, and it is doubtful if he could have met with any good fortune that would have equalled this, in his eye; it was the scheme of his life-the realization of his sleeping and waking dreams.
This good fortune, as pleasant to him as it was unexpected, was attributed by the young officer to the right source, and was in reality enhanced and valued from that very fact.
"A bumper," exclaimed his brother officers, that day at the mess-table, when all were met. "A bumper to Captain Lorenzo Bezan. May he never draw his sword without cause; never sheathe it without honor!"
"But what's the secret of Bezan's good fortune?" asked one.
"His luck, to be sure-born under a lucky star."
"Not exactly luck, alone, but his own intrepidity and manliness," replied a fellow-officer. "Haven't you heard of his saving the life of young Gonzales, who fell into the bay from the parapet of the Plato?"
"Not in detail. If you know about the affair, recite it," said another.
Leaving the mess, as did Captain Bezan at this juncture, we will follow the thread of our story in another chapter, and relating to other scenes.
A SUDDEN INTRODUCTION.
IT was again night in the capital; the narrow streets were brilliantly lighted from the store windows, but the crowd were no longer there. The heat of the long summer day had wearied the endurance of master and slave; and thousands had already sought that early repose which is so essential to the dwellers in the tropics. Stillness reigned over the drowsy city, save that the soft music which the governor-general's hand discourses nightly in the Plaza, stole sweetly over the scene, until every air seemed heavy with its tender influence and melody. Now it swelled forth in the martial tones of a military band, and now its cadence was low and gentle as a fairy whisper, reverberating to the ear from the opposite shore of Regla, and the frowning walls of the Cabanas behind the Moro, and now swelling away inland among the coffee fields and sugar plantations.
The long twilight was gone; but still the deep streak of golden skirting in the western horizon lent a softened hue to the scene, not so bright to the eye, and yet more golden far than moonlight: "Leaving on craggy hills and running streams A softness like the atmosphere of dreams."
At this favorite hour the Senorita Isabella Gonzales and her young brother, Ruez, attended only by the wolf hound, who seemed to be almost their inseparable companion, were once again strolling in the cool and retired walk of the Plato. The lady moved with all the peculiar grace so natural to the Spanish women, and yet through all, a keen observer might have seen the lurking effects of pride and power, a consciousness of her own extraordinary beauty, and the control it gave her over the hearts of those of the other sex with whom she associated. Alas! that such a trait should have become a second nature to one with so heavenly a form and face. Perhaps it was owing to the want of the judicious management of a mother, of timely and kindly advice, that Isabella had grown up thus; certainly it seemed hard, very hard, to attribute it to her heart, her natural promptings, for at times she evinced such traits of womanly delicacy and tenderness, that those who knew her best forgot her coquetry.
Her brother was a gentle and beautiful boy. A tender spirit of melancholy seemed ever uppermost in his heart and face, and it had been thus with him since he had known his first early grief-the loss of his mother-some four or five years before the present period of our story. Isabella, though she was not wanting in natural tenderness and affection, had yet outgrown the loss of her parent; but the more sensitive spirit of the boy had not yet recovered from the shock it had thus received. The father even feared that he never would regain his happy buoyancy, as he looked upon his pale and almost transparent features, while the boy mused thoughtfully to himself sometimes for the hour together, if left alone and undisturbed.
"Ruez, dear, we've not been on the Plato since that fearful night," said Senorita Isabella, as she rested her hand gently upon the boy's shoulder.
"It was a fearful night, sister," said the boy recalling the associations with a shudder.
"And yet how clear and beautiful it seemed just before that terrible accident."
"I remember," said the boy.
"And the slaver in the distance, with her soft white sails and treacherous business."
"And the sparkling moon upon the bay."
"It was very beautiful; and we have a night now almost its equal."
"Did you notice how stoutly that Lieutenant Bezan swam with me?"
"Yes, brother. You forget, though, that he is Captain Bezan now," she added.
"Father told me so," said the boy. "How fearfully the tide ran, and the current set against us! He held me way up above the water, while he was quite under it himself," continued Ruez. "I was sure he would drown; didn't it seem so to you, sister?"
"It did, it did; the deed was most gallantly done," said Isabella, as she stooped down and kissed her brother; "and you will never be so careless again, Ruez?"
"No, sister. I shall be more. careful, but I should like to see that Captain Bezan again. I have never seen him since that night, and his barracks are within pistol shot from here."
"Hark! what was that?" asked Isabella, starting at some unusual noise.
"I heard nothing," said the boy.
"There it is again," she continued, nervously, looking around.
"Down, Carlo, down," said the boy, sharply to the hound, as it sprang at the same time from a crouching posture, and uttered a deep, angry growl, peculiar to its species.
But the animal seemed too much aroused to be so easily pacified with words, and with heavy bounds sprang towards the seaward end of the Plato, over the parapet of which, where it joined a lofty stone wall that made a portion of the stone barracks of the army, a man leaped to the ground. The hound suddenly crouched, the moment it fairly reached the figure of the new coiner, and instead of the hostile attitude, it had so lately he assumed, now placed its fore paws upon the breast of the person, and wagged its tail with evident tokens of pleasure at the meeting.
"That is a very strange way to enter the Plato," said Isabella, to her brother, drawing nearer to his side as she spoke. "I wonder who it can be?"
"Some friend of Carlo's, for he never behaves in that way to strangers," said the boy.
"So it would seem; but here he comes, be he whom he may."
"By our lady!" said the boy, earnestly, with a flash of spirit and color across his usually quiet and pale face. "Sister, it is Captain Bezan!"
"Captain Bezan, I believe," said Isabella, courtesying coolly to his respectful bow.
"The same, lady."
"You have chosen a singular mode of introduction, sir," said the Senorita Isabella Gonzales, somewhat severely, as she drew herself up with an air of cold reserve.
"It is true, lady, I have done a seemingly rash action; but if you will please to pause for one moment, you will at once realize that it was the only mode of introduction of which a poor soldier like myself could have availed himself."
"Our hall doors are always open," replied Isabella Gonzales.
"To the high born and proud, I grant you, lady, but not to such as I am."
"Then, sir," continued the lady, quickly, "if custom and propriety forbid you to meet me through the ordinary channels of society, do you not see the impropriety of such an attempt to see me as that which you have but just now made?"
"Lady, I can see nothing, hear nothing but my unconquerable love!"
"Love, sir!" repeated the lady, with a curl of her proud but beautiful lip.
"Ay, love, Isabella Gonzales. For years I have loved you in secret. Too humble to become known to you, or to attract your eye, even, I have yet nursed that love, like the better angel of my nature; have dreamed of it nightly; have prayed for the object of it nightly; have watched the starry heavens, and begged for some noble inspiration that would make me more worthy of thy affection; I have read nothing that I did not couple in some tender way with thee; have nursed no hope of ambition or fame that was not the nearer to raise me to thee, and over the midnight lamp have bent in earnestness year after year, that I might gain those jewels of the mind that in intelligence, at least, would place me by thy side. At last fortune befriended me, and I was able by a mischance to him, thy brother, to serve thee. Perhaps even then it might have ended, and my respect would still have curbed the promptings of my passion, had you not so kindly noticed me on the Paseo. O, how wildly did my heart beat at that gentle, kind and thoughtful recognition of the poor soldier, and no less quickly beats that heart, when you listen thus to me, and hear me tell how deeply I love."
"Audacity!" said Isabella Gonzales, really not a little aroused at the plainness of his speech. "How dare you, sir, to address such language to me?"
"Love dares do anything but dishonor the being that it loves. A year, lady, a month ago, how hopeless was my love-how far off in the blue ether was the star I worshipped. Little did I then think that I should now stand so near to you-should thus pour out of the fullness of my enslaved and devoted heart, ay, thus look into those glorious eyes."
"Sir, you are impertinent!" said Isabella, shrinking from the ardor of his expression.
"Nay, lady," said the young officer, profoundly humble, "it is impossible for such love as mine to lead to impertinence to one whom I little less than worship."
"Leave me, sir!"
"Yes, Isabella Gonzales, if you will repeat those words calmly; if you will deliberately bid me, who have so often prayed for, so hoped for such a moment as this, to go, I will go."
"But, sir, you will compromise me by this protracted conversation."
"Heaven forbid. But for you I would risk all things-life, reputation, all that is valuable to me in life; yet perhaps I am forgetful, perhaps a thoughtless."
"What strange power and music there is in his voice," whispered Isabella, to herself.
Completely puzzled by his deep respect, his gallant and noble bearing, the memory of his late noble conduct in saving Ruez's life, Isabella hardly knew what to say, and she stood thus half confused, trotting her pretty foot upon the path of the Plato with a vexed air. At last, as if struggling to break the spell that seemed to be hanging over them, she said:
"How could one like you, sir, ever dare to entertain such feelings towards me? the audaciousness of your language almost strikes me dumb."
"Lady," said the young soldier, respectfully, "the sincerity of my passion has been its only self-sustaining power. I felt that love like mine could not be in vain. I was sure that such affection was never planted in my breast to bloom and blossom simply for disappointment. I could not think that this was so."
"I am out of all patience with his impertinence," said Isabella Gonzales, to herself, pettishly. "I don't know what to say to him."
"Sir, you must leave this place at once," she said, at last, after a brief pause.
"I shall do so, lady, at your bidding; but only to pray and hope for the next meeting between us, when you may perhaps better know the poor soldier's heart."
"Farewell, sir," said Isabella.
"Farewell, Isabella Gonzales."
"Are you going so soon?" asked Ruez, now approaching them from a short distance in the rear, where he had been playing with the hound.
"Yes, Ruez," said the soldier, kindly. "You are quite recovered, I trust, from the effects of that cold bath taken off the parapet yonder."
"O yes, I am quite recovered now."
"It was a high leap for one of your age."
"It was indeed," said the boy, with a shudder at the remembrance.
"And, O, sir, I have not thanked you for that gallant deed," said Isabella Gonzales, extending her hand incontinently to Captain Bezan, in the enthusiasm of the moment, influenced by the sincerity of her feelings, his noble and manly bearing, and the kind and touching words he had uttered to Ruez.
It would be difficult for us to describe her as she appeared at that moment in the soldier's eye. How lovely she seemed to him, when dropping all reserve for the moment, not only her tongue, but her eloquent eyes spoke from the tenderness of her woman's heart. A sacred vision would have impressed him no more than did the loveliness of her presence at that moment.
Bending instinctively at this demonstration of gentle courtesy on her part, he pressed her hand most respectfully to his lips, and, as if feeling that he had gone almost too far, with a gallant wave of the hand he suddenly disappeared from whence he had so lately come, over the seaward side of the parapet towards the army barracks.
Isabella gazed after him with a puzzled look for a while, then said half to herself and in a pettish and vexed tone of voice:
"I did not mean that he should kiss my hand. I'm sure I did not; and why did I give it to him? How thoughtless. I declare I have never met so monstrously impudent a person in the entire course of my life. Very strange. Here's General Harero, Don Romonez, and Felix Gavardo, have been paying me court this half year and more, and either of them would give half his fortune for a kiss of this hand, and yet neither has dared to even tell me that they love me, though I know it so well. But here is this young soldier, this new captain of infantry, why he sees me but half a minute before he declares himself, and so boldly, too! I protest it was a real insult. I'll tell Don Gonzales, and I'll have the fellow dishonored and his commission taken from him, I will. I'm half ready to cry with vexation. Yes, I'll have Captain Bezan cashiered, and that directly, I will."
"No you wont, sister," said Ruez, looking up calmly into her face as he spoke.
"Yes I will, brother."
"Still I say no," continued the boy, gently, and caressing her hand the while.
"And why not, Ruez?" asked Isabella, stooping and kissing his handsome forehead, as the boy looked up so lovingly in her face.
"Because he saved my life, sister," replied Ruez, smiling.
"True, he did save your life, Ruez," murmured the beautiful girl, thoughtfully; an act that we can never repay; but it was most presuming for him to enter the Plato thus, and to—to—"
"Kiss your hand, sister," suggested the boy, smiling in a knowing way.
"Yes, it was quite shocking for him to be so familiar, Ruez."
"But, sister, I can hardly ever help kissing you when you look kind to me, and I am sure you looked very kind at Captain Bezan."
"Did I!" half mused Isabella, biting the handle of her Creole fan.
"Yes; and how handsome this Captain Bezan is, sister," continued the boy, pretending to be engaged with the hound, whom he patted while he looked sideways at Isabella.
"Do you think him so handsome?" still half mused Isabella, in reply to her brother's remarks, while her eye rested upon the ground.
"I know it," said the boy, with spirit. "Don Miguel, General Harero, or the lieutenant-general, are none of them half so good looking," he continued, referring to some of her suitors.
"Well, he is handsome, brother, that's true enough, and brave I know, or he would never have leaped into the water to save your life. But I'll never forgive him, I'm sure of that, Ruez," she said, in a most decided tone of voice.
"Yes you will, sister."
"No, I will not, and you will vex me if you say so again," she added, pettishly.
"Come, Carlo, come," said Ruez, calling to the hound, as he followed close upon his sister's footsteps towards the entrance of Don Gonzales's house on the Plato.
The truth was, Isabella Gonzales, the proud beauty, was pleased; perhaps her vanity was partly enlisted also, while she remembered the frankness of the humble soldier who had poured out his devotions at her feet in such simple yet earnest strains as to carry conviction with every word to the lady's heart. Image, even from the most lowly, is not without its charm to beauty, and the proud girl mused over the late scene thoughtfully, ay, far more thoughtfully than she had ever done before, on the offer of the richest and proudest cavalier.
She had never loved; she knew not what the passion meant, as applied to the opposite sex. Universal homage had been her share ever since she could remember; and if Isabella Gonzales was not a confirmed coquette, she was certainly very near being one. The light in which she regarded the advances of Captain Bezan, even puzzled herself; the phase of his case and the manner of his avowal were so far without precedent, that its novelty engaged her. She still felt vexed at the young soldier's assurance, but yet all unconsciously found herself endeavoring to invent any number of excuses for the conduct he had exhibited!
"It is true, as he said," she remarked, half aloud to herself, "that it was the only way in which he could meet me on terms of sufficient equality for conversation. Perhaps I should have done the same, if I were a high-spirited youth, and really loved!"
As for Lorenzo Bezan, he quietly sought his quarters, as happy as a king. Had he not been successful beyond any reasonable hope? Had he not told his love? ay, had he not kissed the hand of her he loved, at last, almost by her own consent? Had not the clouds in the horizon of his love greatly thinned in numbers? He was no moody lover. Not one to die for love, but to live for it rather, and to pursue the object of his affection and regard with such untiring and devoted service as to deserve, if not to win, success. At least this was his resolve. Now and then the great difference between their relative stations would lead him to pause and consider the subject; but then with some pleasant sally to himself he would walk on again, firmly resolved in his own mind to overcome all things for her whom he loved, or at least to strive to do so.
This was all very well in thought, but in practice the young soldier will not perhaps find this so easy a matter. Patience and perseverance are excellent qualities, but they are not certain criteria of success. Lorenzo Bezan had aimed his arrow high, but it was that little blind fellow, Cupid, that shot the bow. He was not to blame for it-of course not.
"Ha! Bezan, whence come you with so bright a face?" asked a brother officer, as he entered his quarters in the barracks of the Plaza des Armes.
"From wooing a fair and most beautiful maid," said the soldier, most honestly; though perhaps he told the truth as being the thing least likely to be believed by the other.
"Fie, fie, Bezan. You in love, man? A soldier to marry? By our lady, what folly! Don't you remember the proverb? 'Men dream in courtship, but in wedlock wake.'"
"May I wake in that state with her I love ere a twelvemonth," said Lorenzo Bezan, smiling at his comrade's sally and earnestness.
"Are you serious, captain?" asked the other, now trying to half believe him.
"Never more so in my life, I assure you," was the reply.
"And who is the lady, pray? Come, relieve your conscience, and confess."
"Ah, there I am silent; her name is not for vulgar ears," said the young soldier, smiling, and with really too much respect to refer lightly to Isabella Gonzales.
IT was one of those beautiful but almost oppressively hot afternoons that so ripen the fruits, and so try the patience of the inhabitants of the tropics, that we would have the patient reader follow us on the main road between Alquezar and Guiness. It is as level as a parlor floor, and the tall foliage, mostly composed of the lofty palm, renders the route shaded and agreeable. Every vegetable and plant are so peculiarly significant of the low latitudes, that we must pause for a moment to notice them.
The tall, stately palm, the king of the tropical forest, with its tufted head, like a bunch of ostrich feathers, bending its majestic form here and there over the verdant and luxuriant undergrowth, the mahogany tree, the stout lignumvit, the banana, the fragrant and beautiful orange and lemon, and the long, impregnable hedge of the dagger aloe, all go to show us that we are in the sunny clime of the tropics.
The fragrance, too, of the atmosphere! How soft to the senses! This gentle zephyr that only ruffles the white blossoms of the lime hedges, is off yonder coffee plantation that lies now like a field of clear snow, in its fragrant milk-white blossoms; and what a bewitching mingling of heliotrope and wild honeysuckle is combined in the air! how the gaudy plumed parrot pauses on his perch beneath the branches of the plantain tree, to inhale the sweets of the hour; while the chirps of the pedoreva and indigo birds are mingled in vocal praise that fortune has cast their lot in so lovely a clime. O, believe us, you should see and feel the belongings of this beautiful isle, to appreciate how nearly it approaches to your early ideas of fairy land.
But, alas! how often do man's coarser disposition and baser nature belie the soft and beautiful characteristics of nature about him; how often, how very often, is the still, heavenly influence that reigns in fragrant flowers and bubbling streams, marred and desecrated by the harshness and violence engendered by human passions!
In the midst of such a scene as we have described, at the moment to which we refer, there was a fearful struggle being enacted between a small party of Montaros, or inland robbers, and the occupants and outriders of a volante, which had just been attacked on the road. The traces that attached the horse to the vehicle had been cut, and the postilion lay senseless upon the ground from a sword wound in their head, while the four outriders were contending with thrice their number of robbers, who were armed with pistols and Toledo blades. It was a sharp hand to hand fight, and their steel rang to the quick strokes.
In the volante was the person of a lady, but so closely enshrouded by a voluminous rebosa, or Spanish shawl, as hardly to leave any of her figure exposed, her face being hid from fright at the scene being enacted about her. At her side stood the figure of a tall, stately man, whose hat had been knocked over his head in the struggle, and whose white hairs gave token of his age. Two of the robbers, who had received the contents of his two pistols, lay dead by the side of the volante, and having now only his sword left, he stood thus, as if determined to protect her by his side, even at the cost of his life.
The robbers had at last quite overmatched the four outriders, and having bound the only one of them that had sufficient life left to make him dangerous to them, they turned their steps once more towards the volante. There were in all some thirteen of them, but three already lay dead in the road, and the other ten, who had some sharp wounds distributed among them, now standing together, seemed to be querying whether they should not revenge the death of their comrades by killing both the occupants of the volante, or whether they should pursue their first purpose of only robbing them of what valuables they possessed.
Fierce oaths were reiterated, and angry words exchanged between one and another of the robbers, as to the matter they were hastily discussing, while the old gentleman remained firm, grasping the hilt of his well-tempered sword, and showing to his enemies, by the stern, deep resolve they read in his eye, that they had not yet conquered him. Fortunately their pistols had all been discharged, or they might have shot the brave old man without coming to closer quarters, but now they looked with some dread upon the glittering blade he held so firmly!
That which has required some time and space for us to describe, was, however, the work of but a very few moments of time, and the robbers, having evidently made up their minds to take the lives of the two persons now in the vehicle, divided themselves into two parties and approached the volante at the same moment on opposite sides.
"Come on, ye fiends in human shape," said the old man, flourishing his sword with a skill and strength that showed he was no stranger to its use, and that there was danger in him. "Come on, ye shall find that a good blade in an old man's hands is no plaything!"
They listened for a moment: yes, that half-score of villains held back in dismay at the noble appearance of the old man, and the flashing fire of his eye.
"Ha! do you falter, ye villains? do you fear a good sword with right to back it?"
But hark! what sound is that which startles the Montaros in the midst of their villany, and makes them look into each other's faces with such consternation and fear? It is a very unfrequented spot-who can be near? Scarcely had the sound fallen on their ears, before three horsemen in the undress uniform of the Spanish infantry, dashed up to the spot at full speed, while one of them, who seemed to be the leader of the party, leaped from his horse, and before the others could follow his example, was engaged in a desperate hand to hand conflict with the robbers. Twice he discharged his pistols with fatal effect, and now he was fighting sword and sword with a stout, burly Montaro, who was approaching that side of the volante where the lady sat, still half concealed by the ample folds of her rebosa, though the approach of assistance had led her to venture so far as to partially uncover her face, and to observe the scene about her.
The headlong attack, so opportunely made by the fresh horsemen, was too much for treble their number to withstand, more especially as the leader of them had met with such signal success at the outset-having shot two, and mortally wounded a third. In this critical state of affairs, the remaining banditti concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and made the best of their time and remaining strength to beat a hasty retreat, leaving the old gentleman and his companion with their three deliverers, quite safe in the middle of the road.
"By our lady, sir, 'twas a gallant act. There were ten of those rascals, and but three of you," said the old gentleman, stepping out of the volante and arranging his ruffled dress.
"Ten, senor? a soldier would make nothing of a score of such scapegraces as those," replied the officer (for such it was now apparent he was), as he wiped the gore from his reeking blade with a broad, green leaf from the roadside, and placed it in the scabbard.
One of the soldiers who had accompanied the officer had now cut the thongs that bound the surviving outrider, who was one of the family attaches of the old gentleman, and who now busied himself about the vehicle, at one moment attending to the lady's wants, and now to harnessing the horse once more.
Removing his cap, and wiping the reeking perspiration from his brow, the young officer now approached the volante and said to the lady:
"I trust, madame, that you have received no further injury by this unfortunate encounter than must needs occur to you from fright."
As he spoke thus, the lady turned quickly from looking towards the old gentleman, who was now on the other side of the vehicle, and after a moment exclaimed:
"Is it possible, Captain Bezan, that we are indebted to you for this most opportune deliverance from what seemed to be certain destruction?"
"Isabella Gonzales!" exclaimed the young officer, with unfeigned surprise.
"You did not know us, then?" she asked, quickly, in reply.
"Not I, indeed, or else I should sooner have spoken to you."
"You thus risked your life, then, for strangers?" she continued.
"You were the weakest party, were attacked by robbers; it only required a glance to realize that, and to attack them and release you was the next most natural thing in the world," replied the soldier, still wiping the perspiration from his forehead and temples.
"Father!" exclaimed Isabella, with undisguised pleasure, "this is Captain Bezan!"
"Captain Bezan?" repeated the old don, as surprised as his daughter had been.
"At your service," replied the soldier, bowing respectfully to Don Gonzales.
"Why, sir," said the old man, "what possible chance could have brought you so fortunately to our rescue here, a dozen leagues from the city?"
"I was returning with these two companions of my company from a business trip to the south side of the island, where we had been sent with despatches from Tacon to the governor of the department."
"No, matter, what chance has brought you here, at all events we owe our lives to you, sir," said Don Gonzales, extending his hand cordially to the young officer.
After some necessary delay, under the peculiar circumstances, the horses were finally arranged so as to permit of proceeding forward on the road. The bodies of the servants were disposed of, and all was ready for a start, when Isabella Gonzales turned to her father and pressing his arm said:
"Father, how pale he looks!"
"Who, my child!"
"There, see how very pale!" said Isabella, rising up from her seat.
"Who do you speak of, Isabella?"
"Captain Bezan, father; see, there he stands beside his horse."
"He does look fatigued; he has worked hard with those villains," said the old man.
"Why don't he mount? The rest have done so, and we are ready," continued the old man, anxiously.
At that moment one of the horsemen, better understanding the case than either Isabella Gonzales or her father, left his well-trained animal in the road, and hastened to his officer's side. It required but a glance for him to see that his captain was too weak to mount.
Directing the outrider, who had now mounted one of the horses attached to the volante, and acted as postilion, to drive towards him whom his companion was partially supporting, Don Gonzales asked most anxiously:
"Captain Bezan, you are ill, I fear; are you much hurt?"
"A mere trifle, Don Gonzales; drive on, sir, and I will follow you in a moment."
"He is bleeding from his left arm and side, father," said Isabella, anxiously.
"You are wounded-I fear severely, Captain Bezan," said the father.
"A mere scratch, sir, in the arm, from one of the unlucky thrusts of those Montaros," he replied, assuming an indifference that his pale face belied.
"Ah! father, what can be done for him?" said Isabella, quickly.
"I am unharmed," said the grateful old man, "and can sit a horse all day long, if need be. Here, captain, take my seat in the volante, and Isabella, whom you have served at such heavy cost to yourself, shall act the nurse for you until we get to town again."
Perhaps nothing, save such a proposition as this, could possibly have aroused and sustained the wounded officer; but after gently refusing for a while to rob Don Gonzales of his seat in the volante, he was forced to accept it even by the earnest request of Isabella herself, who seemed to tremble lest he was mortally wounded in their behalf.
Little did Don Gonzales know, at that time, what a flame he was feeding in the young officer's breast. He was too intently engaged in his own mind with the startling scenes through which he had just passed, and was exercised with too much gratitude towards Captain Bezan for his deliverance, to observe or realize any peculiarity of appearance in any other respect, or to question the propriety of placing him so intimately by the side of his lovely child. Isabella had never told her father, or indeed any one, of the circumstance of her having met Captain Bezan on the Plato. But the reader, who is aware of the scene referred to, can easily imagine with what feelings the soldier took his seat by her side, and secretly watched the anxious and assiduous glances that she gave his wounded arm and side, as well as the kind looks she bestowed upon his pallid face.
"I fear I annoy you," said the soldier, realizing his proximity to her on the seat.
"No, no, by no means. I pray you rest your arm here," said Isabella Gonzales, as she offered her rebosa supported in part by her own person!
"You are too kind-far too kind to me," said the wounded officer, faintly; for he was now really very weak from loss of blood and the pain of his wounds.
"Speak not, I beseech of you, but strive to keep your courage up till we can gain the aid of some experienced surgeon," she said, supporting him tenderly.
Thus the party drove on towards the city, by easy stages, where they arrived in safety, and left Captain Bezan to pursue his way to his barracks, which he did, not, however, until he had, like a faithful courier, reported to the governor-general the safe result of his mission to the south of the island.
The story of the gallant rescue was the theme of the hour for a period in Havana, but attacks from robbers on the road, under Tacon's governorship, were too common an occurrence to create any great wonder or curiosity among the inhabitants of the city. But Captain Bezan had got wounds that would make him remember the encounter for life, and now lay in a raging fever at his quarters in the infantry barracks of the Plaza des Armes.
THE WOUNDED SOLDIER.
THE fervor and heat of the mid-day atmosphere had been intense, but a most delightfully refreshing sea breeze had sprung up at last, and after fanning its way across the Gulf Stream, was dallying now with the palms and orange trees that so gracefully surrounded the marble statue of Ferdinand, in the midst of the Plaza, and ruffling the marble basin of water that bubbles forth from the graceful basin at its base. Light puffs of it, too, found their way into the invitingly open windows of the governor's palace, into an apartment which was improved by General Harero. Often pausing at the window to breathe in of the delightful atmosphere for a moment, he would again resume his irregular walk and seemingly absorbed in a dreamy frame of mind, quite unconscious of the outward world about him. At last he spoke, though only communing with himself, yet quite aloud:
"Strange, very strange, that this Captain Bezan should seem to stand so much in my way. Curse his luck, the old don and his daughter feel under infinite obligations to him already, and well they may, as to the matter of that. If it was not for the girl's extraordinary stock of pride, we should have her falling in love with this young gallant directly, and there would be an end to all my hopes and fancies. He's low enough, now, however, so my valet just told me, and ten to one, if his physician knows his case, as he pretends, he'll make a die of it. He is a gallant fellow, that's a fact, and brave as he is gallant. I may as well own the fact that's what makes me hate him so! But he should not have crossed my path, and served to blight my hopes, there's the rub. I like the man well enough as a soldier, hang it. I'd like half the army to be just like him-they'd be invincible; but he has crossed my interest, ay, my love; and if he does get up again and crosses me with Isabella Gonzales, why then-well, no matter, there are ways enough to remove the obstacle from my path.
"By the way," he continued, after crossing and re-crossing the room a few times, "what a riddle this Isabella Gonzales is; I wonder if she has got any heart at all. Here am I, who have gone scathless through the courts of beauty these many years, actually caught-surprised at last; for I do love the girl; and yet how archly she teazes me! Sometimes I think within myself that I am about to win the goal, when drop goes the curtain, and she's as far away as ever. How queenly she looks, nevertheless. I had much rather be refused by such a woman, to my own mortification, than to succeed with almost any other, if only for the pleasure of looking into those eyes, and reading in silent language her poetical and ethereal beauty-I might be happy but for this fellow, this Captain Bezan; he troubles me. Though there's no danger of her loving him, yet he seems to stand in my way, and to divert her fancy. Thank Heaven, she's too proud to love one so humble."
Thus musing and talking aloud to himself, General Harero walked back and forth, and back and forth again in his apartment, until his orderly brought him the evening report of his division. A far different scene was presented on the other side of the great square, in the centre of which stands the shrubbery and fountain of the Plaza. Let the reader follow us now inside the massive stone walls of the Spanish barracks, to a dimly lighted room, where lay a wounded soldier upon his bed. The apartment gave token in its furniture of a very peculiar combination of literary and military taste. There were foils, long and short swords, pistols, hand pikes, flags, military boots and spurs; but there were also Shakspeare, Milton, the illustrated edition of Cervantes's Don Quixote, and a voluminous history of Spain, with various other prose and poetic volumes, in different languages. A guitar also lay carelessly in one corner, and a rich but faded bouquet of flowers filled a porcelain vase.
At the foot of the bed where the wounded soldier lay, stood a boy with a quivering lip and swimming eye, as he heard the sick man moan in his uneasy sleep. Close by the head of the bed sat an assistant-surgeon of the regiment, watching what evidently seemed to be the turning point as to the sufferer's chance for life or death. As the boy and the surgeon watched him thus, gradually the opiate just administered began to affect him, and he seemed at last to fall into the deep and quiet sleep that is generally indicated by a low, regular and uninterrupted respiration.
The boy had not only watched the wounded man, but had seemed also to half read the surgeon's thoughts, from time to time, and now marked the gleam of satisfaction upon his face as the medicine produced the desired effect upon the system of his patient.
"How do you think Captain Bezan is, to-day?" whispered the boy, anxiously, as the surgeon's followed him noiselessly from the sick-room to the corridor without.
"Very low, master Ruez, very low indeed; it is the most critical period of his sickness; but he has gone finely into that last nap, thanks to the medicine, and if he will but continue under its influence thus for a few hours, we may look for an abatement of this burning thirst and fever, and then—"
"What, sir?" said the boy, eagerly, "what then?"
"Why, he may get over those wounds, but it's a severe case, and would be little less than a miracle. I've seen sicker men live, and I've seen those who seemed less sick die."
"Alas! then there is no way yet of deciding upon his case," said the boy.
"None, Master Ruez; but we'll hope for the best; that is all that can be done."
Ruez Gonzales walked out of the barracks and by the guard with a sad countenance, and whistling for Carlo, who had crouched by the parapet until his young master should come out, he turned his steps up the Calla de Mercaderes to his home. Ruez sought his sister's apartment, and throwing himself upon a lounge, seemed moody and unhappy. As he reclined thus, Isabella regarded him intently, as though she would read his thoughts without asking for them. There seemed to be some reason why she did not speak to him sooner, but at last she asked:
"Well, Ruez, how is Captain Bezan, to-day? have you been to the barracks to inquire?" She said this in an assumed tone of indifference, but it was only assumed.
"How is he?" repeated Ruez, after turning a quick glance of his soft blue eyes upon his sister's face, as though he would read her very soul. Isabella felt his keen glance, and almost blushed.
"Yes, brother, pray, how is Captain Bezan, to-day? do you not know?"
"His life hangs by a mere thread," continued the boy, sadly, resuming again his former position. "The surgeon told me that his recovery was very doubtful."
"Did he tell you that, Ruez?"
"Not those words, sister, but that which was equivalent to it, however."
"He is worse, then, much worse?" she continued, in a hasty tone of voice.
"Not worse, sister," replied Ruez. "I did not say that he was worse, but the fever rages still, and unless that abates within a few hours, death must follow."
Isabella Gonzales sat herself down at an open balcony and looked off on the distant country in silence, so long, that Ruez and the hound both fell asleep, and knew not that she at last left her seat. The warmth and enervating influence of the atmosphere almost requires one to indulge in a siesta daily, in these low latitudes and sunny regions of the earth.
"He is dying, then," said Isabella Gonzales, to herself, after having sought the silence and solitude of her own chamber, "dying and alone, far from any kindred voice or hand, or even friend, save those among his brothers in arms. And yet how much do we owe to him! He has saved all our lives-Ruez's first, and then both father's and mine; and in this last act of daring gallantry and bravery, he received his death wound. Alas! how fearful it seems to me, this strange picture. Would I could see and thank him once more-take from him any little commission that he might desire in his last moments to transmit to his distant home-for a sister, mother, or brother. Would that I could smooth his pillow and bathe his fevered brow; I know he loves me, and these attentions would be so grateful to him-so delightful to me. But alas! it would be considered a disgrace for me to visit him."
Let the reader distinctly understand the feelings that actuated the heart of the lovely girl. The idea of loving the wounded soldier had never entered the proud but now humbled Isabella's thoughts. Could such a thought have been by any means suggested to her, she would have spurned it at once; but it was the woman's sympathy that she felt for one who would have doubtless sacrificed his life for her and hers; it was a simple act of justice she would have performed; and the pearly tear that now wet her cheek, was that of sympathy, and of sympathy alone. Beautiful trait, how glorious thou art in all; but how doubly glorious in woman; because in her nature thou art most natural, and there thou findest the congenial associations necessary for thy full conception.
General Harero had judged Isabella Gonzales well when he said that there was no danger of her loving Lorenzo Bezan-she had too much pride!
But let us look once more into the sick room we so lately left, where the wounded soldier lies suffering from his wounds. A volante has just stopped at the barracks' doors, and a girl, whose dress betokens her to be a servant, steps out, and telling her errand to the corporal of the guard, is permitted to pass the sentinel, and is conducted to the sick man's room. She brings some cooling draughts for his parched lips, and fragrant waters with which to battle his fevered temples and burning forehead.
"Who sends these welcome gifts to Captain Bezan?" asked the assistant-surgeon.
"My lady, sir."
"And who is your lady, my good girl, if you please?" he asked.
"The Senorita Isabella Gonzales, sir," was the modest reply of the maid.
"Ah, yes; her brother has been here this afternoon, I remember," said the surgeon; "the sick man fell asleep then, and has not since awakened."
"Heaven grant the sleep may refresh him and restore his strength," said the girl.
"Amen, say I to that," continued the surgeon, "and amen says every man in the regiment."
"Is he so popular as that?" asked the girl, innocently.
"Popular, why he's the pet of the entire division. He's the best swordsman, best scholar, best-in short we could better lose half the other officers than Captain Bezan."
"Do you think him any better than he was this morning?"
"The sleep is favorable, highly favorable," replied the surgeon, approaching the bedside; "but in my judgment of the case, it must entirely depend upon the state in which he wakes."
"Is there fear of waking him, do you think?" asked the girl, in a whisper, as she drew nearer to the bed, and looked upon the high, pale forehead and remarkably handsome features of the young soldier. Though the few days of confinement which he had suffered, and the acute pain he had endured by them, had hollowed his checks, yet he was handsome still.
"No," replied the surgeon, to her question; "he will sleep quite long enough from the opiate, quite as long as I wish; and if he should wake even now, it would not be too soon."
"How very slightly he breathes," continued the girl, observantly.
"Very; but it is a relief to see him breathe in that way," replied the surgeon.
"Stay, did he not murmur something, then?" asked the maid.
"Possibly," replied the surgeon. "He has talked constantly during his delirium. Pray, my good girl, does he know your mistress very well?"
"I think not," was the reply. "But why do you ask that?"
"Because he seems constantly to dream and talk about her night and day. Indeed she is all he has spoken of since the height of his fever was upon him."
"Indeed!" said the girl, musing at the surgeon's words abstractedly.
"Have you not heard your mistress speak of him at all?"
"Yes, that is, he once did the family some important service. Do you say that he talked of Senorita Isabella in the hours of his delirium?"
"Yes, and in looking into his dressing-case, a few days since, to find some lint for his wounds, I discovered this," said tire surgeon, showing the girl a miniature, painted on ivory with great skill and beauty. "I think it must be a likeness of the Senorita Isabella," continued the surgeon, "though I have never seen her to know her but once."
"It is indeed meant for her," said the girl, eagerly scanning the soft and delicate picture, which represented the Senorita Isabella Gonzales as sitting at an open window and gazing forth on the soft, dreamy atmosphere of a tropical sunset.
"You think it is like her?"
"Well, I was sure that it was meant for the lady when I first saw it."
"May I bathe his temples with this Florida water?" asked the girl, as she observed the sick man to move slightly and to moan.
"Yes, it will have a tendency to rouse him gently, and it is now time for him to wake."
The girl smoothed back the dark locks from the soldier's brow, and with her hands bathed his marble-like forehead and temples as gently as she might have done had he been an infant. The stimulating influence of the delicate spirits she was using was most delightful to the senses of the sick man, and a soft smile for a moment breathed his lips, as half awake and half dreaming, he returned thanks for the kindness, mingled with Isabella's name.
The girl bent over his couch to hear the words, and the surgeon saw a tear drop upon the sick man's hand from the girl's eyes as she stood there! In a moment more the soldier seemed to arouse, and uttered a long deep sigh, as though relieved from some heavy weight that had long been oppressing him, both mentally and physically. He soon opened his eyes, and looked languidly about him, as if striving to recall his situation, and what had prostrated him thus.
The girl stepped immediately back from the bedside, as she observed these tokens, and droping the rebosa that had been heretofore confined, veil-like to the crown of her head, and partially screened her features, but she showed most unmistakable signs of delight, as she read in the soldier's eyes that reason had once more returned to her throne, and that Lorenzo Bezan was once more rational.
"How beautiful!" uttered the surgeon, half aloud, as he stood gazing at the girl. "If the mistress be as lovely as the maid, no wonder Captain Bezan has talked of her in his delirium!"
"Step hither, step hither, he is awake!" whispered the girl to the surgeon.
"And his reason too has returned," said the professional man, as soon as his eyes rested on the wounded soldier's face. "There is hope now!"
"Thank Heaven for its infinite mercy!" said the girl, with an earnest though tremulous voice, as she gathered her rebosa about her face and prepared to depart.
"He will recover now?" she asked, once more, as she turned towards the surgeon.
"With care and good nursing we may hope so," was the reply of the attendant, who still looked earnestly into the face of the inquirer as he spoke.
"My lady knew not the pecuniary condition of Captain Bezan at this time, and desired that this purse might be devoted to his convenience and comfort; but she also desires that this may not be known to him. May I trust to you, sir, in this little matter?"
"It will give me great pleasure to keep the secret, and to improve the purse solely for the sick man's individual benefit," was the reply.
"Thank you, sir; I see you are indeed his friend," she answered, as she bowed low and withdrew.
Scarcely had the door closed after the visitor, before the surgeon, turning hastily once more to the miniature he had shown, examined it in various lights, now carefully within a part shaded by the hand, and now as a whole, and now near to, and then at a distance.
"I more than suspected it," he exclaimed, with emphasis; "and now I know it; that lady was Senorita Isabella Gonzales, the belle of Havana!"
And so indeed it was. Unable longer to restrain her desire to see him who had so infinitely served the interests of herself and her father's house, the proud girl had smothered every adverse prompting in her bosom, and donning her dressing-maid's attire, had thus dressed in humble costume, stepped into a volante, and ordering the calesaro to drive to the infantry barracks, where she knew the sick man was, had entered as we have seen, under pretext of bringing necessities from her pretended mistress to the wounded soldier. Her scheme had succeeded infinitely well, nor would she have betrayed herself to even the surgeon's observant eye, had it not been for that single tear!
"What angel was that?" whispered the sick man, to his attendant, who now approached his bedside to administer some cooling draught to his parched lips.
"You have been dreaming, my dear fellow," said the discreet surgeon, cautiously, "and are already much better; keep as quiet as possible, and we will soon have you out again. Here, captain, drink of this fruit water, it will refresh you."
Too weak to argue or even to talk at all, the sick man drank as he was desired, and half closed his eyes again, as if he thought by thus doing he might once more bring back the sweet vision which had just gladdened his feeble senses.
Like a true-hearted fellow as he was, the surgeon resolved not to reveal the lady's secret to any one-not even to his patient; for he saw that this was her earnest desire, and she had confided in part to him her errand there. But those who saw the surgeon in the after part of that day, marked that he bore a depressed and thoughtful countenance.
Isabella Gonzales had filled his vision, and very nearly his heart, also, by her exquisite loveliness and beauty!
THE Tacon Theatre is one of the largest in the world, and is situated in the Paseo, just outside the city walls. You enter the parquet and first row of boxes from the level of the street, and above this are four ranges of boxes, besides seats in the parquet for six hundred persons. The gildings are elaborate and beautiful, and the frescoes are done by the first Italian artists; the whole being brilliantly lighted by an immense chandelier in the centre, and lesser ones pendant from the half moon of boxes, and supplied with gas. It is a superb establishment, and when it is filled with the beauty and fashion of the city, it is a brilliant sight indeed.
It is nearly a month subsequent to the scene that closed the last chapter of our story, that we would carry the reader with us within the brilliantly lighted walls of the Tacon Theatre. How lively and gay is the prospect that presents itself to the eye-the glittering jewelry and diamonds of the fair senor's and senoritas, casting back the brilliant light, and rivalled in lustre by the sparkle of a thousand eyes of jet. The gilded and jewelled fans rustle audibly (what would a Spanish or Creole lady do without a fan?)-the orchestra dashes off in a gay and thrilling overture, intermingled by the voices, here and there, of merry groups of the audience, while the stately figures of the soldiers on duty are seen, with their many-colored dresses and caps, amid the throng and at the rear of the boxes.
In a centre box of the first tier sits Senorita Isabella Gonzales, with her father, brother, General Harero, and a party of friends. All eyes are turned towards the peerless beauty-those of the ladies with envy at her extraordinary charms of person, and those of the young cavaliers and gentlemen with undisguised admiration at the picture of loveliness which met their eyes. Isabella herself sat with an easy and graceful air of unconsciousness, bowing low to the meaningless compliments and remarks of General Harero, and now smiling at some pleasantry of Ruez who was close to her side, and now again regarding for a moment the tall, manly figure of an officer near the proscenium box, who was on duty there, and evidently the officer of the evening. This may sound odd to a republican, but no assembly, no matter how unimportant, is permitted, except under the immediate eye and supervision of the military.
"There is Captain Bezan," said Ruez, with undisguised pleasure, pointing towards the proscenium box where the young officer stood.
"Yes, I see him, Ruez," replied Isabella, "and it is the first time he has been out on duty, I think, since his dangerous and protracted illness."
"I know it is the first time," said the boy, "and I don't think he's hardly able to be out now. How very pale he is looking, Isabella."
"Do you think he's very pale, Ruez?" she asked, turning towards the soldier, whose arm and sword were now outstretched, indicating some movement to a file of soldiers on the other side.
"He's too ill, I should think, to be out in the night air."
"One would certainly think so," answered Isabella.
"His company was ordered out to-night," said Ruez, "and though the surgeon told him to remain in, he said he must be with his command."
"You seem to know his business almost as well as himself, Master Ruez," said General Harero, who had overheard the remarks relating to Captain Bezan.
"The captain and I are great friends, famous friends," replied Ruez, instantly. "He's a noble fellow, and just my idea of what a soldier should be. Don't you think him a fine soldier, General Harero?" asked the boy, most frankly.
"Humph!" ejaculated the general, "why, yes, he's good enough for aught I know, professionally. Not quite rough and tough enough for a thorough bred one, I think," was the reply of his superior, who was plainly watching Isabella Gonzales's eyes while he spoke to the boy, and who was anything but pleased to see how often she glanced at Captain Bezan.
"I don't know what you may mean by rough and tough, general," said Ruez, with evident feeling evinced in his voice; "but I know, very well, that Captain Bezan is as brave as a lion, and I don't believe there is a man in your service who can swim with such weight as he can do."
"May be not," replied the general, with assumed indifference.
"Then why say that he's not rough and tough? that means something," continued the boy, with not a little pertinacity in defence of his new friend.
"There's some difference, let me tell you, Master Ruez, between facing an enemy with blazing gunpowder before your eyes, and merely swimming a while in cold water."
"The very wounds that came so near proving fatal to Captain Bezan, prove that he can fight, general, as well as swim," said Ruez, rather smartly, in reply, while Isabella Gonzales glanced at her brother with evident tokens of satisfaction in her face.
"You are enthusiastic in your friend's behalf," said General Harero, coldly.
"And well I may be, since I not only owe him my own life, but that of my dear sister and father," continued Ruez, quite equal to the general's remark in any instance.
"Certainly, you are right, Master Ruez," said General Harero, biting his lips, as he saw that Isabella was regarding him with more than ordinary attention.
In the meantime Lorenzo Bezan remained, as in duty bound, at his post, while many an admiring eye was resting upon his fine figure and martial bearing. He was quite unconscious of being the subject of such particular remark and criticism within the bearing of her he so nearly worshipped-the beautiful Isabella Gonzales. Though his heart was with her every moment, and his thoughts were never off the box, even where she sat, yet it was only now and then that he permitted himself to turn his eyes, as though by accident, towards Don Gonzales and his daughter. He seemed to feel that General Harero was particularly regarding him, and he strove to be less thoughtful of Isabella, and if possible, more observant of his regular duty. It is the duty of the officer of the night for the occasion, to fill the post during the performance, where the young officer now stood, as it commanded a view of the entire house, and was the point, where, by an order from him, he could at once summon a much larger force under arms than that which under ordinary circumstances was required. Each division of the guard was set from this point, therefore Captain Bezan, as was his custom, remained here during the performance.
"It must be very tedious to stay thus standing just there," remarked Ruez, pointing to Captain Bezan, and speaking to Isabella.
"I should think so," was the reply of his sister, who had often turned that way, to the no small annoyance of the observant General Harero.
"A soldier's duty," replied the general, "should content him with his post."
It was nearly the middle of the evening's entertainment, when turning his eyes towards the box occupied by Don Gonzales and his party, Captain Bezan caught the eye of Isabella Gonzales, and at the same time observed distinctly the peculiar wave of the fan, with which a Spanish lady invites in a friendly manner the approach of a friend of the opposite sex. He could not be mistaken, and yet was it possible that the belle of all that proud assemblage deigned openly to notice and compliment him thus in public? Impelled by the ardor of his love, and the hope that he had rightly construed the signal, he approached the box from the rear, and stepping to its back, gave some indication to one of his orderlies sufficiently loud in tone to cause Isabella and her father to turn their heads, as they at once recognized the voice of the young officer.
"Ah! Captain Bezan," said Don Gonzales, heartily, as he caught the young officer's eye, "glad to see you once more with epaulets on-upon my soul I am."
"Thank you, sir," said the soldier, first saluting in due form his superior, and then bowing low and gracefully to Isabella Gonzales, who honored him with a gracious smile.
"You are looking comparatively well, captain," said Don Gonzales, kindly.
"O yes, sir, I am as well as ever, now," replied the officer, cheerfully.
Ruez Gonzales loved Lorenzo Bezan like a brother; first, because he had so materially served him at imminent peril of his own life, and secondly, because he saw in him just such traits of character as attracted his young heart, and aroused it to a spirit of emulation. With the privilege of boyhood, therefore, he sprang over the seats, half upsetting General Harero to get at the young officer's side, which, having accomplished, he seized his hand familiarly. General Harero frowned at this familiarity, and his face grew doubly dark and frowning, as he saw now how closely Isabella was observing the young officer all the while.
"I trust you find yourself quite recovered, captain, from your severe illness," said Isabella, reaching by her father, as she addressed Lorenzo Bezan kindly.
"I am quite recovered, lady; better, if possible, than before," he replied, respectfully. "Master Ruez has been a constant nurse to me, thoughtful and kind," he continued, as he looked down upon the boy's handsome features with real affection lighting up his own pale face.
Ruez only drew the closer to his side at these words, while his father, Don Gonzales, watched both the soldier and his boy with much interest for a moment, then turning to General Harero, he made some earnest and complimentary remark, evidently referring to Captain Bezan, though uttered in a low tone of voice, which seemed to increase the cloud on the general's brow.
But the young soldier was too much interested in gazing upon the lovely features of Isabella, to notice this; he seemed almost entranced by the tender vision of beauty that was before him. At the same moment some slight disturbance occurred in a distant part of the extensive building, which afforded a chance for General Harero to turn quickly to the young soldier, and in a sharp tone say:
"Your duty calls you hence, sir!"
For it moment the blood mantled to the officer's face at the tone of this remark, but suppressing his feelings, whatever they might be, with a respectful acknowledgement of the order, Lorenzo Bezan hastened to the quarter from whence the noise had come, and by at simple direction obviated their trouble immediately. But he remembered the bitter and insulting air of his superior, and it cut him to the quick, the more keenly too as having been given in the presence of Isabella Gonzales.
As he returned from this trifling duty, he necessarily again passed the box where were Don Gonzales, amid his party, and seeing Ruez standing there awaiting his return, he again paused for a moment to exchange at word with the boy, and once more received a pleasant greeting from Isabella and her father. At this but reasonable conduct, General Harero seemed nettled and angry beyond all control, and turning once more towards Lorenzo Bezan, with a face black with suppressed rage, said:
"It strikes me, sir, that Captain Bezan would consult his own interest, and be best performing his ordinary duty by maintaining his post at the proscenium!"
"I proposed to return there immediately, General Harero, and stopped here but for one moment," said the young officer, with a burning cheek, at the intended insult.
"Shall I put my words in the form of an order?" continued General Harero, seeing that Bezan paused to assist Ruez once more over the seats to his position in the box.