The Parlour Serpent by Caroline Lee Hentz

Mrs. Wentworth and Miss Hart entered the breakfast-room together, the latter speaking earnestly and in a low confidential tone to the other, whose countenance was slightly discomposed.

"There is nothing that provokes me so much as to hear such remarks," said Miss Hart, "I have no patience to listen to them. Indeed, I think they are made as much to wound my feelings as anything else, for they all know the great affection I have for you."

"But you do not say what the remarks were, that gave you so much pain," answered Mrs. Wentworth. "I would much prefer that you would tell me plainly, than speak in such vague hints. You will not make me angry, for I am entirely indifferent to the opinion of the world."

Now there was not a woman in the world more sensitively alive to censure than Mrs. Wentworth, and in proportion to her sensitiveness, was her anxiety to know the observations of others.

"If you had overheard Miss Bentley and Miss Wheeler talking of you last night as I did," continued Miss Hart, "you would not have believed your own ears. They said they thought it was ridiculous in you to make such a nun of yourself, because Captain Wentworth was absent, and to dress so plain and look so moping. One of them said, you did not dare to visit or receive visiters while he was away, for that you were as much afraid of him as if you were his slave, and that he had made you promise not to stir out of the house, or to invite any company while he was gone."

"Ridiculous!—nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Wentworth, "there never was such an absurd idea. Captain Wentworth never imposed such a restraint upon me, though I know he  would rather I would live retired, when he cannot attend me himself in the gay world. It is not despotism, but affection, that prompts the wish, and I am sure I feel no pleasure in dressing, shining, and mingling in society, when he is exposed to danger, and perhaps death, on the far deep sea."

"I know all that, my dear Mrs. Wentworth," replied Miss Hart, insinuatingly, "and so I told them; but how little can a heartless and censorious world judge of the feelings of the refined and the sensitive! It seems to be a general impression that you fear your husband more than you love him, and that this fear keeps you in a kind of bondage to his will. If I were you, I would invite a large party and make it as brilliant as possible, and be myself as gay as possible, and then that will be giving the lie at once to their innuendoes."

"It is so mortifying to have such reports in circulation," said Mrs. Wentworth, her colour becoming more and more heightened and her voice more tremulous. "I don't care what they say at all, and yet I am half resolved to follow your advice, if it were only to vex them. I will do it, and let them know that I am not afraid to be mistress of my own house while its master is absent."

"That is exactly the right spirit," answered the delighted Miss Hart; "I am glad you take it in that way. I was afraid your feelings would be wounded, and that is the reason I was so unwilling to tell you."

But though Mrs. Wentworth boasted of her spirit and her indifference, her feelings were deeply wounded, and she sat at the breakfast-table, cutting her toast into the most minute pieces, without tasting any, while Miss Hart was regaling herself with an unimpaired appetite, and luxuriating in fancy on the delightful party, she had so skilfully brought into promised existence, at least. She had no idea of spending the time of her visit to Mrs. Wentworth, in dullness and seclusion, sympathizing in the anxieties of a fond and timid wife, and listening to a detail of domestic plans and enjoyments. She knew the weak side of her character, and mingling the gall she extracted from others, with the honey of her own flattery, and building her influence on their ruined reputations, imagined it firm and secure on such a crumbling foundation. It is unnecessary to dwell on the genealogy of Miss Hart. She was well known as Miss Hart, and yet it would be very difficult for anybody to tell precisely who Miss Hart was. She was a general visiter; one of those young ladies who are always ready to fill  up any sudden vacuum made in a family—a kind of bird of passage, who, having no abiding place of her own, went fluttering about, generally resting where she could find the softest and most comfortable nest. She was what was called excellent company, always had something new and interesting to say about everybody; then she knew so many secrets, and had the art of exciting a person's curiosity so keenly, and making them dissatisfied with everybody but herself, it would be impossible to follow all the windings, or discover all the nooks and corners of her remarkable character. It was astonishing to see the influence she acquired over the minds of those with whom she associated, male as well as female. She was a showy, well-dressing, attractive-looking girl, with a great deal of manner, a large, piercing, dark eye, and an uncommonly sweet and persuasive tone of voice. Mrs. Wentworth became acquainted with her a very short time before Captain Wentworth's departure, and esteemed it a most delightful privilege to have such a pleasing companion to charm away the lingering hours of his absence. Acting upon the suggestions of her friend, and following up the determination she had so much applauded, she opened her doors to visiters, and appeared in society with a gay dress and smiling countenance.

"What a change there is in Mrs. Wentworth!" observed Miss Bentley to Miss Hart, as they met one morning at the house of a mutual friend. "I never saw any one so transformed in my life. She looks and dresses like the most complete flirt I ever saw; I suspect Captain Wentworth has very good reason to watch her as he does."

Miss Hart shrugged her shoulders and smiled significantly, but did not say anything.

"It must be a very pleasant alteration to you," continued Miss Bentley, "the house seems to be frequented by gentlemen from morning till night. I suppose you have the grace to appropriate their visits to yourself."

"I have nothing to say about myself," answered Miss Hart, "and I do not wish to speak of Mrs. Wentworth otherwise than kindly. You know she is excessively kind to me, and it would be ungrateful in me to condemn her conduct. To be sure I must have my own thoughts on the subject. She is certainly very imprudent, and too fond of admiration. But I would not have you repeat what I have said, for the world, for being in the family it would have such weight.  Be very careful what you say, and above all, don't mention my name."

Miss Bentley was very careful to repeat the remarks to every one she saw, with as many additions of her own as she pleased, and the unutterable language of the smile and the shrug was added too, to give force to the comments. Mrs. Wentworth, in the mean while, unconscious of the serpent she was nursing in her bosom, suffered herself to be borne along on the current on which she had thoughtlessly embarked, without the power to arrest her progress, or turn back into the quiet channel she had quitted. The arrival of her brother, a gay and handsome young man, gave additional animation to her household, and company flowed in still more continuously. Henry More, the brother of Mrs. Wentworth, was the favourite of every circle in which he moved. With an uncommon flow of spirits, a ready and graceful wit, a fluent and flattering tongue, he mingled in society unaffected by its contrasts, unwounded by its asperities, and unruffled by its contentions. He seemed to revel in the happy consciousness of being able to impart pleasure to all, and was equally willing to receive it. He was delighted to find a fine-looking, amiable girl, an inmate of his sister's dwelling, and immediately addressing her in his accustomed strain of sportive gallantry, found that she not only lent a willing ear, but was well skilled in the same language. Though Miss Hart was still young, she had outlived the romance and credulity of youth. She had a precocious experience and wisdom in the ways of this world. She had seen the affections of many a young man, with a disposition open and ingenuous as Henry's, won through the medium of their vanity, by women, too, who could not boast of attractions equal to her own. She believed that juxtaposition could work miracles, and as long as they were the inmates of the same house, participating in the same pleasures, engaged in the same pursuits, and often perusing the same book, she feared no rival. She rejoiced, too, in the close-drawing socialities of the winter fireside, and delighted when a friendly storm compelled them to find all their enjoyment within their own little circle. Mrs. Wentworth, who had once been cheerful and serene in clouds as well as sunshine, was now subject to fits of despondency and silence. It was only when excited by company, that her eyes were lighted up with animation, and her lips with smiles. She dreaded the reproaches of her husband on his return, for acting so contrary to his wishes, and when she  heard the night-gust sweep by her windows, and thought of him exposed to the warring elements, perhaps even then clinging to the drifting wreck, or floating in a watery grave, and recollected the scenes of levity and folly in which she was now constantly acting a part, merely to avoid the censures of the very people she detested and despised, she sighed and wept, and wished she had followed her bosom counsellor, rather than the suggestions of the friend in whom she still confided, and on whose affection she relied with unwavering trust. It was strange, she could hear Miss Hart ridicule others, and join in the laugh; she could sit quietly and see her breathe the subtle venom of slander over the fairest characters, till they blackened and became polluted under her touch, and yet she felt herself as secure as if she were placed on the summit of Mont Blanc, in a region of inaccessible purity and splendour. So blinding is the influence of self-love, pampered by flattery, strengthened by indulgence, and unrestrained by religious principle.

One evening, and it chanced to be the evening of the Sabbath day, Henry sat unusually silent, and Miss Hart thought that his eyes were fixed upon her face with a very deep and peculiar expression—"No," he suddenly exclaimed, "I never saw such a countenance in my life."

"What do you see so remarkable in it?" asked she, laughing, delighted at what she supposed a spontaneous burst of admiration.

"I don't know; I can no more describe it, than one of those soft, fleecy clouds that roll melting away from the face of the moon. But it haunts me like a dream."

Miss Hart modestly cast down her eyes, then turned them towards the moon, which at that moment gleamed with pallid lustre through the window.

"Your imagination is so glowing," replied she, "that it invests, like the moonlight, every object with its own mellow and beautiful tints."

"Jane," continued he, without noticing the compliment to his imagination, and turning to his sister, who was reading intently, "Jane, you must have noticed her—you were at the same church."

"Noticed her!" repeated Miss Hart to herself, in utter dismay; "who can he mean?"

"Noticed who?" said Mrs. Wentworth, laying down her book, "I have not heard a syllable you have been saying."

"Why, that young lady dressed in black, with such a sweet, modest, celestial expression of face. She sat at the right hand of the pulpit, with another lady in mourning, who was very tall and pale."

"What coloured hair and eyes had she?" asked his sister.

"I could no more tell the colour of her eyes, than I could paint yon twinkling star, or her hair either. I only know that they shed a kind of glory over her countenance, and mantled her brow with the softest and most exquisite shades."

"I declare, Henry," cried Mrs. Wentworth, "you are the most extravagant being I ever knew. I don't know whether you are in jest or earnest."

"Oh! you may be sure he is in earnest," said Miss Hart. "I know whom he means very well. It is Miss Carroll. Lois Carroll, the grand-daughter of old Mr. Carroll, the former minister of —— church. The old lady with whom she sat is her aunt. They live somewhere in the suburbs of the city—but never go anywhere except to church. They say she is the most complete little methodist in the world."

"What do you mean by a methodist?" asked Henry abruptly—"an enthusiast?"

"One who never goes to the theatre, never attends the ballroom, thinks it a sin to laugh, and goes about among poor people to give them doctor's stuff, and read the Bible."

"Well," answered Henry, "I see nothing very appalling in this description. If ever I marry, I have no very great desire that my wife should frequent the theatre or the ballroom. She might admire artificial graces at the one and exhibit them in the other, but the loveliest traits of her sex must fade and wither in the heated atmosphere of both. And I am sure it is a divine office to go about ministering to the wants of the poor and healing the sick. As to the last item, I may not be a proper judge, but I do think a beautiful woman reading the Bible to the afflicted and dying, must be the most angelic object in the universe."

"Why, brother," said Mrs. Wentworth, "what a strange compound you are! Such a rattle-brain as you, moralizing like a second Johnson!"

"I may be a wild rattle-brain, and sport like a thousand others in the waves of fashion, but there is something here, Jane," answered he, laying his hand half seriously, half sportively on his breast, "that tells me that I was created for immortality; that, spendthrift of time, I am still bound for  eternity. I have often pictured the future, in my musing hours, and imagined a woman's gentle hand was guiding me in the path that leads to heaven."

Mrs. Wentworth looked at her brother in astonishment. There was something in the solemnity of his expressions that alarmed her, coming from one so gay and apparently thoughtless. Miss Hart was alarmed too, but from a different cause. She thought it time to aim her shaft, and she knew in what course to direct it.

"This Miss Carroll," said she, "whom you admire so much, has lately lost her lover, to whom she was devotedly attached. He was her cousin, and they had been brought up together from childhood, and betrothed from that period. She nursed him during a long sickness, day and night, and many thought she would follow him to the grave, her grief was so great."

"Her lover!" exclaimed Henry, in a mock tragedy tone. "Then it is all over with me—I never would accept the second place in any maiden's heart, even if I could be enshrined there in heaven's crystal. Give me the rose before the sunbeams have exhaled the dew of the morning, or it wears no charms for me."

Miss Hart and Mrs. Wentworth laughed, rallied Henry upon his heroics, and the beautiful stranger was mentioned no more. Miss Hart congratulated herself upon the master stroke by which she had dispelled his enchantment, if indeed it existed at all. She had often heard Henry declare his resolution never to marry a woman who had acknowledged a previous affection, and she seized upon a vague report of Miss Carroll's being in mourning for a cousin who had recently died, and to whom she thought she might possibly be betrothed, and presented it as a positive truth. Finding that Henry's ideas of female perfection were very different from what she had imagined, she was not sorry when an opportunity offered of displaying those domestic virtues, which he so much extolled. One night, when Mrs. Wentworth was prepared to attend a private ball, she expressed her wish to remain at home, declaring that she was weary of dissipation, and preferred reading and meditation. She expected Henry would steal away from the party, and join her in the course of the evening, but her real motive was a violent toothache, which she concealed that she might have the credit of a voluntary act. After Mrs. Wentworth's departure, she bound a handkerchief round her aching jaw, and having found relief from some powerful anodyne, she  reclined back on the sofa and fell at last into a deep sleep. The candles burned dim from their long, unsnuffed wicks, and threw a very dubious light through the spacious apartment. She was awakened by a tall, dark figure, bending over her, with outspread arms, as if about to embrace her, and starting up, her first thought was that it was Henry, who had stolen on her solitude, and was about to declare the love she had no doubt he secretly cherished for her. But the figure drew back, with a sudden recoil, when she rose, and uttered her name in a tone of disappointment.

"Captain Wentworth," exclaimed she, "is it you?"

"I beg your pardon," said he, extending his hand cordially towards her, "I thought for a moment it was my wife, my Jane, Mrs. Wentworth—where is she? Is she well? Why do I not see her here?"

"Oh! Captain Wentworth, she had no expectation of your coming so soon. She is perfectly well. She is gone to a quadrille party, and will probably not be at home for several hours—I will send for her directly."

"No, Miss Hart," said he, in a cold and altered voice, "no, I would not shorten her evening's amusement. A quadrille party—I thought she had no taste for such pleasures."

"She seems to enjoy them very much," replied Miss Hart, "and it is very natural she should. She is young and handsome, and very much admired, and in your absence she found her own home comparatively dull."

The captain rose, and walked the room with a sailor's manly stride. His brows were knit, his lips compressed, and his cheek flushed. She saw the iron of jealousy was entering his soul, and she went on mercilessly deepening the wound she had made.

"You will be delighted when you see Mrs. Wentworth—she looks so blooming and lovely. You have reason to be quite proud of your wife—she is the belle of every party and ball-room. I think it is well that you have returned." This she added, with an arch, innocent smile, though she knew every word she uttered penetrated like a dagger, where he was most vulnerable. "How thoughtless I am!" she exclaimed; "you must be weary and hungry—I will order your supper."

"No, no," said he, "I have no appetite—I will not trouble you. Don't disturb yourself on my account—I will amuse myself with a book till she returns."

He sat down and took up a book, but his eyes were fixed  moodily on the carpet, and his hands trembled as he unconsciously turned the leaves. Miss Hart suffered occasional agony from her tooth, the more as she had taken off the disfiguring bandage, but she would not retire, anticipating with a kind of savage delight, the unpleasant scene that would ensue on Mrs. Wentworth's return. The clock struck twelve before the carriage stopped at the door. Mrs. Wentworth came lightly into the room, unaccompanied by her brother, her cloak falling from her shoulders, her head uncovered, most fashionably and elegantly dressed. She did not see her husband when she first entered, and throwing her cloak on a chair, exclaimed, "Oh! Miss Hart, I'm so sorry you were not there, we had such a delightful party—the pleasantest of the whole season." Her eye at this moment fell upon her husband, who had risen upon her entrance, but stood back in the shade, without making one step to meet her. With a scream of surprise, joy, and perhaps terror too, she rushed towards him, and threw her arms around him. He suffered her clinging arms to remain round his neck for a moment while he remained as passive as the rock on the seabeat shore when the white foam wreathes and curls over its surface, then drawing back, he looked her steadfastly in the face, with a glance that made her own to quail, and her lip and cheek blanch. She looked down upon her jewelled neck and airy robes, and wished herself clothed in sackcloth and ashes. She began to stammer forth some excuse for her absence, something about his unexpected return, but the sentence died on her lips. The very blood seemed to congeal in her heart, under the influence of his freezing glance.

"Don't say anything, Jane," said he, sternly. "It is better as it is—I had deluded myself with the idea, that in all my dangers and hardships, to which I have exposed myself chiefly for your sake, I had a fond and faithful wife, who pined at my absence and yearned for my return. I was not aware of the new character you had assumed. No," continued he impetuously, entirely forgetful of the presence of Miss Hart "I was not prepared for a welcome like this. I expected to have met a wife—not a flirt, a belle, a vain, false-hearted, deceitful woman." Thus saying, he suddenly left the room, closing the door with a force that made every article of the furniture tremble. Mrs. Wentworth, bursting into hysterical sobs, was about to rush after him, but Miss Hart held her back—"Don't be a fool," said she; "he'll get over it directly-you've  done nothing at which he ought to be angry; I had no idea he was such a tyrant."

"He was always kind to me before," sobbed Mrs. Wentworth. "He thinks my heart is weaned from him. Now, I wish I had disregarded the sneer of the world! It can never repay me for the loss of his love."

"My dear Mrs. Wentworth," said Miss Hart, putting her arms soothingly round her, "I feel for you deeply, but I hope you will not reproach yourself unnecessarily, or suffer your husband to suppose you condemn your own conduct. If you do, he will tyrannize over you, through life—what possible harm could there be in your going to a private party with your own brother, when you did not look for his return? You have taken no more liberty than every married lady in the city would have done, and a husband who really loved his wife, would be pleased and gratified that she should be an object of attention and admiration to others. Come, dry up your tears, and exert the pride and spirit every woman of delicacy and sense should exercise on such occasions."

Mrs. Wentworth listened, and the natural pride and waywardness of the human heart strengthening the counsels of her treacherous companion, her sorrow and contrition became merged in resentment. She resolved to return coldness for coldness and scorn for scorn, to seek no reconciliation, nor even to grant it, until he humbly sued for her forgiveness. The husband and wife met at the breakfast-table without speaking. Henry was unusually taciturn, and the whole burthen of keeping up the conversation rested on Miss Hart, who endeavoured to entertain and enliven the whole. Captain Wentworth, who had all the frankness and politeness of a sailor, unbent his stern brow when he addressed her, and it was in so kind a voice, that the tears started into his wife's eyes at the sound. He had no words, no glance for her, from whom he had been parted so long, and whom he had once loved so tenderly. Henry, who had been absorbed in his own reflections, and who had not been present at their first meeting, now noticed the silence of his sister, and the gloom of her husband, and looking from one to the other, first in astonishment, and then in mirth, he exclaimed, "Well, I believe I shall remain a bachelor, if this is a specimen of a matrimonial meeting. Jane looks as if she were doing penance for the sins of her whole life, and Captain Wentworth as if he were about to give a broadside's thunder. What has happened?  Miss Hart resembles a beam of sunshine between two clouds."

Had Henry been aware of the real state of things, he would never have indulged his mirth at the expense of his sister's feelings. He had no suspicion that the clouds to which he alluded, arose from estrangement from each other, and when Mrs. Wentworth burst into tears and left the table, and Captain Wentworth set back his chair so suddenly as to upset the teaboard and produce a terrible crash among the china, the smile forsook his lips, and, turning to the captain in rather an authoritative manner, he demanded an explanation.

"Ask your sister," answered the captain, "and she may give it—as for me, sir, my feelings are not to be made a subject of unfeeling merriment. They have been already too keenly tortured, and should at least be sacred from your jest. But one thing let me tell you, sir, if you had had more regard to your sister's reputation, than to have escorted her to scenes of folly and corruption during her husband's absence, you might perhaps have spared me the misery I now endure."

"Do you threaten me, Captain Wentworth?" said Henry, advancing nearer to him with a flushed brow and raised tone. Miss Hart here interposed, and begged and entreated, and laid her hand on Henry's arm, and looked softly and imploringly at Captain Wentworth, who snatched up his hat and left the room, leaving Henry angry, distressed, and bewildered. Miss Hart explained the whole as the most causeless and ridiculous jealousy, which would soon pass away and was not worth noticing, and urged him to treat the matter as unworthy of indignation. She feared she had carried matters a little too far; she had no wish that they should fight, and Henry, perhaps, fall a victim to excited passions. She was anxious to allay the storm she had raised, and she succeeded in preventing the outbreakings of wrath, but she could not restore the happiness she had destroyed, the domestic peace she had disturbed, the love and confidence she had so wantonly invaded. Nor did she desire it. Incapable herself of feeling happiness from the evil passions that reigned in her bosom, she looked upon the bliss of others as a personal injury to herself; and where the flowers were fairest and the hopes the brightest, she loved to trample and shed her blasting influence. As the serpent goes trailing its dark length through the long grasses and sweet blossoms that veil its path, silent and deadly, she glided amid the sacred shades of domestic life, darting in ambush her  venomed sting, and winding her coil in the very bosoms that warmed and caressed her. She now flitted about, describing what she called the best and most ridiculous scene imaginable; and the names of Captain Wentworth and his wife were bandied from lip to lip, one speaking of him as a tyrant, a bear, a domestic tiger—another of her as a heartless devotee of fashion, or a contemner of the laws of God and man. Most truly has it been said in holy writ, that the tongue of the slanderer is set on fire of hell, nor can the waters of the multitudinous sea quench its baleful flames. One evening Henry was returning at a late hour from the country, and passing a mansion in the outskirts of the city, whose shaded walls and modest situation called up ideas of domestic comfort and retirement; he thought it might be the residence of Miss Carroll, for, notwithstanding Miss Hart's damper, he had not forgotten her. He passed the house very slowly, gazing at one illuminated window, over which a white muslin curtain softly floated, and wishing he could catch another glimpse of a countenance that haunted him, as he said, like a dream. All was still, and he passed on, through a narrow alley that shortened his way. At the end of the alley was a small, low dwelling, where a light still glimmered, and the door being partially open, he heard groans and wailing sounds, indicating distress within. He approached the door, thinking he might render relief or assistance, and stood at the threshold, gazing on the unexpected scene presented to his view. On a low seat, not far from the door, sat a young lady, in a loose white robe, thrown around her in evident haste and disorder, her hair partly knotted up behind and partly falling in golden waves on her shoulders, holding in her lap a child of about three years old, from whose bandaged head the blood slowly oozed and dripped down on her snowy dress—one hand was placed tenderly under the wounded head, the other gently wiped away the stains from its bloody brow. A woman, whose emaciated features and sunken eyes spoke the ravages of consumption, sat leaning against the wall, gazing with a ghastly expression on the little sufferer, whose pains she had no power to relieve, and a little boy about ten years of age stood near her, weeping bitterly. Here was a scene of poverty, and sickness, and distress that baffled description, and in the midst appeared the outlines of that fair figure, like a descended angel of mercy, sent down to console the sorrows of humanity.

"This was a dreadful accident," said the young lady,  "dreadful," raising her head as she spoke, and shading back her hair, revealing at the same time the heavenly countenance which had once before beamed on Henry's gaze. It was Lois Carroll, true to the character Miss Hart had sarcastically given her, a ministering spirit of compassion and benevolence.

"She will die," said the poor mother, "she'll never get over such a blow as that. She fell with such force, and struck her head on such a dangerous part too. Well, why should I wish her to live, when I must leave her behind so soon?"

"The doctor said there was some hope," answered the fair Lois, in a sweet, soothing voice, "and if it is God's will that she should recover, you ought to bless Him for it, and trust Him who feedeth the young ravens when they cry to Him for food. Lie down and compose yourself to rest. I will remain here through the night, and nurse the poor little patient. If she is kept very quiet, I think she will be better in the morning."

"How kind, how good you are!" said the mother, wiping the tear from her wasted cheek, "what should I do without you? But I never can think of your sitting up the whole night for us."

"And why not for you?" asked Lois, earnestly. "Can I ever repay your kindness to poor Charles, when he was sick, and you sat up, night after night, and refused to leave him? And now, when you are sick and helpless, would you deprive me of the opportunity of doing for you, what you have done for one so dear to me?"

A pang shot through Henry's heart. This poor Charles must have been the lover for whom she mourned, and at the mention of his name, he felt as if wakening from a dream. The love that bound the living to the dead, was a bond his hand would never attempt to loosen, and turning away with a sigh, he thought it would be sacrilege to linger there longer. Still he looked back to catch one more glimpse of a face where all the beatitudes dwelt. He had beheld the daughters of beauty, with all the charms of nature aided by the fascinations of art and fashion, but never had he witnessed anything so lovely as this young girl, in her simplicity, purity, and gentleness, unconscious that any eye was upon her, but the poor widow's and weeping orphan's. He had seen a fair belle in ill-humour for an hour, because a slight accident had soiled a new dress, or defaced a new ornament, but Lois sat in her  blood-spotted robes, regardless of the stains, intent only on the object of her tenderness, and that a miserable child.

"Surely," thought he, as he pursued his way homeward, "there must be a divine influence operating on the heart, when a character like this is formed. Even were her affections free and not wedded to the dead, I should no more dare to love such a being, so spiritual, so holy, so little of the earth, earthy, than one of those pure spirits that live in the realms of ether. I! what has my life hitherto been? Nothing but a tissue of recklessness, folly, and madness. I have been trying to quench the heaven-born spark within me, but it still burns, and will continue to burn, while the throne of the Everlasting endures."

Henry felt more, reflected more that night, than he had done for five years before. He rose in the morning with a fixed resolve, to make that night an era in his existence. During the day the poor widow's heart was made to "sing for joy," for a supply was received from an unknown hand, so bounteous and unlooked for, she welcomed it as a gift from heaven. And so it was, for heaven inspired and also blessed the act.

Miss Hart began to be uneasy at Henry's deportment, and she had no reason to think she advanced in his good graces, and she had a vague fear of that Lois Carroll, whom she trusted she had robbed of all power to fascinate his imagination.

"By the way," said she to him, one day, as if struck by a sudden thought, "have you seen that pretty Miss Carroll since the evening you were speaking of her?"

"Yes," answered Henry, colouring very high, "I have met her several times—why do you ask?"

"No matter," said she, petrified at this information; "I saw a lady yesterday, who knows her intimately, and her conversation reminded me of ours on the same subject."

"What does the lady say of her character?" asked Henry.

"What every one else does, who knows her—that she is the greatest hypocrite that ever breathed. Perfectly selfish, self-righteous, and uncharitable. She says, notwithstanding her sweet countenance, she has a very bad temper, and that no one is willing to live in the same house with her."

"You told me formerly," said Henry, "that she was over charitable and kind, constantly engaged in labours of love."

"Oh, yes!" answered she, with perfect self-possession; "there is no end to the parade she makes about her good works, as she calls them, but it is for ostentation, and to obtain the reputation of a saint, that she does them."

"But," said Henry, very warmly, "supposing she exercised this same heavenly charity when she believed no eye beheld her, but the poor whom she relieved, and the sick whom she healed, and the God whom she adores; would you call that ostentation?"

"Oh, my dear Mr. More," cried Miss Hart, with a musical laugh, "you do not know half the arts of the sex. There is a young minister and young physician too, in the neighbourhood, who know all her secret movements, and hear her praises from morning till night—they say they are both in love with her, but as her cousin hasn't been dead long, she thinks it proper to be very demure—I must say frankly and honestly, I have no faith in these female Tartuffes."

"Nor I neither," added Henry, with so peculiar a manner, that Miss Hart started and looked inquisitively at him, with her dark, dilated eyes. She feared she had hazarded too much, and immediately observed,

"Perhaps, in my abhorrence of duplicity and hypocrisy, I run into the opposite extreme, and express my sentiments too openly. You think me severe, but I can have no possible motive to depreciate Miss Carroll, but as she herself stretches every one on the bed of Procrustes, I feel at liberty to speak my opinion of her character, not mine only, but that of the whole world."

Henry made some evasive reply, and turned the conversation to another topic, leaving Miss Hart lost in a labyrinth of conjecture, as to the impression she had made on his mind—where and when had he met Lois Carroll, and why was he so reserved upon a theme, upon which he had once been so eloquent?

She sat for half an hour after Henry left her, pondering on these things, and looking at one figure in the carpet, as if her eyes grew upon the spot, when her thoughts were turned into another channel by the entrance of Captain Wentworth.

She believed that she stood very high in his favour, for he was extremely polite to her, and showed her so much deference and attention, that she had no doubt that if Mrs. Wentworth were out of the way, he would be at no loss whom to choose  as a successor. Her prospects with Henry grew more and more dubious—she thought, upon the whole, the captain the finer-looking and most agreeable man of the two. There was no knowing but he might separate from his wife, and as they seemed divorced in heart, she thought it would be much better than to remain together so cold and distant to each other. There was nothing she feared so much as a reconciliation; and as long as she could prevent Mrs. Wentworth from manifesting any symptoms of submission and sorrow, she was sure her husband's pride would be unyielding. She had a scheme on hand at present, which would promote her own gratification, and widen the breach between them.

There was a celebrated actor in the city, whom she was very desirous of seeing, and of whom Captain Wentworth had a particular dislike; he disliked the theatre and everything connected with it, and Miss Hart had vainly endeavoured to persuade Mrs. Wentworth to go with her brother, in open defiance of her husband. Henry manifested no disposition himself, and never would understand the oblique hints she gave him; she was determined to make a bold attack upon the captain himself.

"Captain Wentworth," said she, carelessly looking over the morning paper, "don't you mean to take Mrs. Wentworth to see this superb actor? she is dying to see him, and yet does not like to ask you."

"She's at perfect liberty to go as often as she pleases," replied the captain coldly—"I've no wish to control her inclinations."

"But she will not go, of course, unless you accompany her," replied Miss Hart, "not even with her brother."

"Did she commission you to make this request?"

"Not precisely; but knowing her wishes, I could not forbear doing it, even at the risk of your displeasure."

"If her heart is in such scenes, there can be no possible gratification to confine her body within the precincts of home."

The captain walked several times up and down the room, as was his custom when agitated, then abruptly asked Miss Hart if she wished to go herself.

She wished it, she said, merely to avoid singularity, as everybody else went; but had it not been for Mrs. Wentworth, she would never have mentioned it.

The captain declared that if she had the slightest desire,  it was a command to him, and the tickets were accordingly purchased.

Late in the afternoon, Captain Wentworth sat in the dining-room, reading. As the sun drew near the horizon, and the light grew fainter, he sat down in a recess by a window, and the curtain falling down, completely concealed him. In this position he remained while the twilight darkened around him, and no longer able to read, he gave himself up to those dark and gloomy reflections which had lately filled his mind. He thought of the hours when, tossed upon the foaming billows, he had turned in heart towards his home,

"And she, the dim and melancholy star,

Whose ray of beauty reached him from afar,"

rose upon the clouds of memory, with soft and gilding lustre. Now he was safely anchored in the haven of his hopes and wishes, but his soul was drifted by storms, wilder than any that swept the boisterous seas. The very effort of preserving outward calmness, only made the tempest fiercer within. This new instance of his wife's unconquerable levity and heartlessness, filled him with despair. He believed her too much demoralized by vanity and love of pleasure, ever to return to her duty and allegiance as a wife.

While indulging these bitter feelings, Miss Hart and Mrs. Wentworth entered the dining-room, unaware of his presence. Miss Hart, as usual, was speaking in an earnest, confidential tone, as if she feared some one was listening to her counsels.

"I beg, I entreat," said she, "that you would rally your spirits, and not let the world see that you are cast down by his ill treatment. All the fashionable people will be there tonight, and you must remember that many eyes will be upon you; and pray don't wear that horrid unbecoming dress, it makes a perfect fright of you, muffling you up to the chin."

"It is no matter," replied Mrs. Wentworth, despondingly, "I don't care how I look—the only eyes I ever really wished to charm, now turn from me in disgust; I'm weary of acting the part of a hypocrite, of smiling and chattering, and talking nonsense, when I feel as if my heart were breaking. Oh! that I had not weakly yielded my better reason to that fear of the world's censure, which has been the ruin of my happiness."

"I would never suffer my happiness to be affected one way or  the other," cried Miss Hart, "by a man who showed so little tenderness or delicacy towards me. I wonder your affection is not chilled, nay utterly destroyed by his harshness and despotism."

"Oh! you little know the strength or depth of a woman's love, if you deem it so soon uprooted. My heart yearns to be admitted once more into the foldings of his—a hundred times have I been tempted to throw myself into his arms, implore his forgiveness, and entreat him to commence a new life of confidence and love."

Miss Hart began to laugh at this romantic speech, but the laugh froze on her lips when she saw the window-curtains suddenly part, and Captain Wentworth rushing forward, clasp his astonished wife in his arms, exclaiming "Jane, dear Jane, that life is begun!" He could not utter another word.

When, after a few moments of intense emotion, he raised his head, tears which were no stain upon his manhood, were glistening on his dark cheek. Miss Hart looked on with feelings similar to those which we may suppose animate the spirits of darkness, when they witness the restoration of man to the forfeited favour of his Maker. There was wormwood and bitterness in her heart, but her undaunted spirit still saw a way of extrication from all her difficulties.

"Really, Captain Wentworth," exclaimed she, laughing violently, "the next time you hide yourself behind a curtain, you must draw your boots under; I saw the cloven foot peeping out, and spoke of you as I did, just to see what Mrs. Wentworth would say, and I thought very likely it would have a happy result—I am sure this is a finer scene than any we shall see at the theatre."

"That you have deceived me, Miss Hart," answered the captain, "I acknowledge to my shame, but my eyes are now opened. My situation was accidental; no, I should say providential, for I have made discoveries, for which I can never be sufficiently grateful. Jane, I have been harsh and unjustly suspicious, I know, and richly deserve all I have suffered; but from the first hour of my return, this treacherous friend of yours, discovering the weakness of my character, has fanned the flame of jealousy, and fed the fires that were consuming me. I despise myself for being her dupe."

"Oh! Miss Hart," cried Mrs. Wentworth, "how could you be so cruel? you whom I so trusted, and thought my best and truest friend!"

"I have said nothing but the truth to either," cried Miss Hart boldly, seeing all subterfuge was now vain, "and you had better profit by it. Everybody has a weak side, and if they leave it unguarded and open to the attacks of the enemy, they have no one to blame but themselves. I never made you jealous, Captain Wentworth, nor your wife credulous; and, as I leave you wiser than I found you, I think you both ought to be very much obliged to me."

Thus saying, with an unblushing countenance, she left the apartment, and recollecting the next morning that a certain lady had given her a most pressing invitation to visit her, she departed, and no one said "God bless her."

Henry, who had seen full as much as he desired of her, hardly knew which rejoiced him more, her departure or his sister's happiness. Indeed the last seemed the consequence of the first, for never was there such a transformation in a household. There was blue sky for stormy clouds—spring gales for chill east winds—love and joy for distrust and sorrow.

Henry had seen the physician and minister whom Miss Hart had mentioned as the lovers of Lois Carroll. The young physician happened to be a bald, broad-faced man, with a long nose, which turned up at the end, as if looking at his forehead, and the young minister, a man whose hair was frosted with the snow of sixty winters, and on whose evangelical countenance disease had written deeper lines than those of age. Charles, too, the lover-cousin, proved to be an only brother, whose lingering hours of disease she had soothed with a Christian sister's holy ministration. Henry became a frequent, and, as he had reason to believe, a welcome visiter, at the house. He found Lois skilled in all the graceful accomplishments of her sex—her mind was enriched with oriental and classical literature, her memory stored with the brightest and purest gems of genius and taste; yet, like the wise men of the East, who brought their gold and frankincense and myrrh to the manger of the babe of Bethlehem, she laid these precious offerings in lowliness of spirit, at the feet of her Redeemer. All at once, Henry perceived a cloud come over the confidence in which he was established there. The good aunt was cold and distant; Lois, though still gentle and kind, was silent and reserved, and he thought he caught her melting blue eyes fixed upon him more than once with a sad and pitying expression.

"What has occurred?" asked he with the frankness so  peculiar to him—when for a moment he was left alone with her "I am no longer a welcome guest."

"Forgive us," answered Lois, her face mantling with earnest blushes, "if we feel constrained to deny ourselves the pleasure we have derived from your society. As long as we believed you the friend of religion, though not her acknowledged votary, our hearts acknowledged a sympathy with yours, and indulged a hope that you would ere long go goal for goal with us for the same immortal prize. But an infidel, Mr. More! Oh! my soul!" continued she, clasping her hands fervently together, and looking upward, "come not thou into his secret!"

"An infidel!" cried Henry, "and do you believe me such, and condemn me as such, unheard, without granting me an opportunity of vindication?"

"We would not have admitted the belief from an authority less respectable. The intelligence came from one who had been an inmate of your family, and expressed for you the warmest friendship. We were told that you ridicule our faith, make the Bible a scorn and mockery, and expose us as individuals to contempt and derision."

"It must have been that serpent of a Miss Hart!" exclaimed Henry, trembling with passion; "that scorpion, that fiend in woman's form, whose path may be traced by the slime and the poison she leaves behind! The lips which could brand you, Lois, as a hypocrite, would not leave my name unblackened. My sister received her into her household, and her domestic happiness came near being the wreck of her malignant arts—I could give you any proof you may ask of her falsehood and turpitude."

"I ask none," cried Lois, with an irradiated countenance, "I believe your assurance, and rejoice in it. I cannot describe the pain, the grief I felt that one so kind to others, could be so cruel to himself."

Lois, in the godly simplicity of her heart, knew not of the warmth with which she spoke, or of the vivid expression that lighted up her eyes. Henry thought if ever there was a moment when he could dare to address her as a being born to love, and to be loved with human tenderness, it was the present. He began with faltering lips, but in the intensity of his feelings he soon forgot everything, but the object for which he was pleading, with an ardour and a vehemence that made the unsophisticated Lois tremble. She trembled and wept  Her heart melted before his impassioned declaration, but she feared to yield immediately to its dictates.

Their course of life had hitherto been so different, their early associations, their pursuits and habits—she dreaded lest he should mistake the fervour of his attachment for her, for the warmth of religious sentiment, and that the temptations of the world would resume their influence over his heart. "Let us still be friends," said she, smiling through her tears, "till time has more fully unfolded our characters to each other. We are as yet but acquaintances of a day, as it were, and if we hope to pass an eternity together, we should pause a little before we become fellow-travellers in our pilgrimage. The love of a Christian," continued she, a holy enthusiasm illuminating her face, "cannot be limited to the transient union of this world—it soars far, far beyond it, illimitable as space, and everlasting as the soul's existence." Henry felt, while listening to this burst of hallowed feeling, that to possess the love of Lois Carroll here, without a hope of reunion beyond the grave, would be a dark and cheerless destiny, compared to the glorious hopes that now animated his being.

It was about two years after this, Miss Hart took passage in the stage, and started for the habitation of some obscure relative who lived in a distant town. She had gone from family to family, indulging her odious propensity, flattering the present, and slandering the absent, till, her character becoming fully known, all doors were closed against her, and she was compelled to seek a home, among kindred she was ashamed to acknowledge. "Whose beautiful country-seats are those?" asked a fellow-passenger, pointing to two elegant mansions, that stood side by side as if claiming consanguinity with each other. "The first belongs to Captain Wentworth, and the other to Mr. Henry More, his brother-in-law," answered Miss Hart, putting her head from the window, as they passed—"you must have heard of them." "No," said the stranger; "is there anything remarkable connected with them?" "Nothing," replied she, with one of her significant shrugs, "only the captain is one of your dark Spanish Knights, who lock up their wives, and fight everybody who looks at them; and his lady likes every other gentleman better than her husband—and they could not agree, and the whole city were talking about them, so he took her into the country, and makes her fast and pray, and do penance for her sins. The other gentleman, Mr. More, married a low, ignorant girl, who had never been accustomed  to good society; so, being ashamed to introduce her among his friends, he immured himself in the country also. They say he is so wretched in his choice, he has turned a fanatic, and there is some danger of his losing his reason." At this moment one of the horses took fright, and springing from the road, the stage was upset, with a terrible crash. Miss Hart, whose head was projecting from the window, was the only one who was seriously injured. She was dreadfully bruised and mangled, and carried insensible into Captain Wentworth's house. The stranger, whose curiosity was excited by the description he had just heard, and seeing the inhabitants of both dwellings were gathering together in consequence of the accident, assisted in carrying her, and lingered as long as he could find a reasonable excuse for doing so. "I believe that young woman's jaw is broken," said he, when he rejoined his fellow-passengers; "and it is a judgment upon her—I know there is not a word of truth in what she has been saying. If ever domestic happiness, as well as benevolence, dwelt on earth, I verily believe it is in those two families."

It was long before Miss Hart recovered her consciousness, and when she did, and endeavoured to speak, she felt such an excruciating pain in her jaw, as prevented her utterance. It seemed a remarkable instance of the retribution of Providence, that she should be afflicted in the very part which she had made an instrument of so much evil to others. Her jawbone was indeed broken, and there she lay, writhing in agony, incapable of speech, indebted to the beings she hated because she had injured, for the cares that prolonged her miserable existence. She could not speak, but she could see and hear, and her senses seemed sharpened by the bondage of her tongue. Mrs. Wentworth, and Lois too, hovered round her, with gentle steps and pitying looks, and the tenderest alleviations; and for this she might have been prepared. But when, through the shades of evening, she heard the deep voice of the once haughty and ungovernable Captain Wentworth, breathing forth humble and heartfelt prayers, while his wife knelt meek and lowly by his side, when she heard the gay and gallant Henry More, reading with reverence God's holy word, and joining with Lois in hymns to the Redeemer's praise, she rolled her eyes in wild amazement, and her dark spirit was troubled within her. "There seems a reality in this," thought she. "The worldling become the saint, and the lion transformed into the lamb! How happy they look, while I—poor, wretched, mangled  creature that I am!" Paroxysms of agony followed these reflections, for which there seemed no mitigation.

She lingered for a long time speechless and in great suffering, but at length recovered with a frightful distortion in the lower part of the face. When she first beheld herself in a mirror, the shock was so great as to produce delirium, and when that subsided, a gloom and despair succeeded, from which they vainly endeavoured to rouse her by the soothings of sympathy and the consolations of religion. She felt that, like Cain, she must carry about an indelible brand upon her face, and cried like him, in bitterness of spirit, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." It was intolerable to her to look upon the fair, serene countenances of Mrs. Wentworth and Lois, and to see too the eyes of their husbands follow them with such love and delight, and then to draw the contrast between them and her own disfigured beauty and desolate lot. She expressed a wish to be sent to her relatives, and the wish was not opposed. She received from them a grudging welcome, for they had felt her sting, and feared that serpent tongue of slander, whose ancestral venom is derived from the arch reptile that lurked in the bowers of Eden.

Woe to the slanderer!—To use the language of the wise man, "her end is bitter as wormwood, and sharp as a two-edged sword—Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on hell!"