A Rainy Evening by
Caroline Lee Hentz
A pleasant little group was gathered round Uncle Ned's
domestic hearth. He sat on one side of the fire-place, opposite
Aunt Mary, who, with her book in her hand, watched the
children seated at the table, some reading, others sewing, all
occupied, but one, a child "of larger growth," a young lady,
who, being a guest of the family, was suffered to indulge in
the pleasure of idleness without reproof.
"Oh! I love a rainy evening," said little Ann, looking up
from her book, and meeting her mother's smiling glance, "it
is so nice to sit by a good fire and hear the rain pattering
against the windows. Only I pity the poor people who have
no house to cover them, to keep off the rain and the cold."
"And I love a rainy evening, too," cried George, a boy of
about twelve. "I can study so much better. My thoughts
stay at home, and don't keep rambling out after the bright
moon and stars. My heart feels warmer, and I really believe
I love everybody better than I do when the weather is fair."
Uncle Ned smiled, and gave the boy an approving pat on
the shoulder. Every one smiled but the young lady, who
with a languid, discontented air, now played with a pair of scissors,
now turned over the leaves of a book, then, with an ill-suppressed
yawn, leaned idly on her elbow, and looked into
"And what do you think of a rainy evening, Elizabeth?"
asked Uncle Ned. "I should like to hear your opinion also."
"I think it over dull and uninteresting, indeed," answered
she. "I always feel so stupid, I can hardly keep myself awake—one
cannot go abroad, or hope to see company at home; and
one gets so tired of seeing the same faces all the time. I cannot
imagine what George and Ann see to admire so much in a
disagreeable rainy evening like this."
"Supposing I tell you a story, to enliven you?" said Uncle
"Oh! yes, father, please tell us a story," exclaimed the
Little Ann was perched upon his knee as if by magic, and
even Elizabeth moved her chair, as if excited to some degree
of interest. George still held his book in his hand, but his
bright eyes, sparkling with unusual animation, were riveted
upon his uncle's face.
"I am going to tell you a story about a rainy evening,"
said Uncle Ned.
"Oh! that will be so pretty!" cried Ann, clapping her
hands; but Elizabeth's countenance fell below zero. It was
an ominous annunciation.
"Yes," continued Uncle Ned, "a rainy evening. But
though clouds darker than those which now mantle the sky
were lowering abroad, and the rain fell heavier and faster, the
rainbow of my life was drawn most beautifully on those dark
clouds, and its fair colours still shine most lovely on the sight.
It is no longer, however, the bow of promise, but the realization
of my fondest dreams."
George saw his uncle cast an expressive glance towards the
handsome matron in the opposite corner, whose colour perceptibly
heightened, and he could not forbear exclaiming—
"Ah! Aunt Mary is blushing. I understand uncle's metaphor.
She is his rainbow, and he thinks life one long rainy
"Not exactly so. I mean your last conclusion. But don't
interrupt me, my boy, and you shall hear a lesson, which,
young as you are, I trust you will never forget. When I was
a young man I was thought quite handsome—"
"Pa is as pretty as he can be, now," interrupted little Ann,
passing her hand fondly over his manly cheek.
Uncle Ned was not displeased with the compliment, for he
pressed her closer to him, while he continued—
"Well, when I was young I was of a gay spirit, and a great
favourite in society. The young ladies liked me for a partner
in the dance, at the chess-board, or the evening walk, and I
had reason to think several of them would have made no objection
to take me as a partner for life. Among all my young
acquaintances, there was no one whose companionship was so
pleasing as that of a maiden whose name was Mary. Now,
there are a great many Marys in the world, so you must not
take it for granted I mean your mother or aunt. At any rate,
you must not look so significant till I have finished my story.
Mary was a sweet and lovely girl—with a current of cheerfulness
running through her disposition that made music as it
flowed. It was an under current, however, always gentle, and
kept within its legitimate channel; never overflowing into
boisterous mirth or unmeaning levity. She was the only
daughter of her mother, and she a widow. Mrs. Carlton,
such was her mother's name, was in lowly circumstances, and
Mary had none of the appliances of wealth and fashion to
decorate her person, or gild her home. A very modest competency
was all her portion, and she wished for nothing more.
I have seen her, in a simple white dress, without a single ornament,
unless it was a natural rose, transcend all the gaudy
belles, who sought by the attractions of dress to win the admiration
of the multitude. But, alas! for poor human nature.
One of these dashing belles so fascinated my attention, that
the gentle Mary was for a while forgotten. Theresa Vane was,
indeed, a rare piece of mortal mechanism. Her figure was
the perfection of beauty, and she moved as if strung upon
wires, so elastic and springing were her gestures. I never
saw such lustrous hair—it was perfectly black, and shone like
burnished steel; and then such ringlets! How they waved
and rippled down her beautiful neck! She dressed with the
most exquisite taste, delicacy, and neatness, and whatever she
wore assumed a peculiar grace and fitness, as if art loved to
adorn what nature made so fair. But what charmed me most
was, the sunshiny smile that was always waiting to light up
her countenance. To be sure, she sometimes laughed a little
too loud, but then her laugh was so musical, and her teeth so
white, it was impossible to believe her guilty of rudeness, or
want of grace. Often, when I saw her in the social circle, so
brilliant and smiling, the life and charm of everything around
her, I thought how happy the constant companionship of such
a being would make me—what brightness she would impart
to the fireside of home—what light, what joy, to the darkest
scenes of existence!"
"Oh! uncle," interrupted George, laughing, "if I were
Aunt Mary, I would not let you praise any other lady so
warmly. You are so taken up with her beauty, you have forgotten
all about the rainy evening."
Aunt Mary smiled, but it is more than probable that George
really touched one of the hidden springs of her woman's heart,
for she looked down, and said nothing.
"Don't be impatient," said Uncle Ned, "and you shall not
be cheated out of your story. I began it for Elizabeth's sake,
rather than yours, and I see she is wide awake. She thinks
I was by this time more than half in love with Theresa Vane,
and she thinks more than half right. There had been a great
many parties of pleasure, riding parties, sailing parties, and
talking parties; and summer slipped by, almost unconsciously.
At length the autumnal equinox approached, and gathering
clouds, north-eastern gales, and drizzling rains, succeeded to
the soft breezes, mellow skies, and glowing sunsets, peculiar
to that beautiful season. For two or three days I was confined
within doors by the continuous rains, and I am sorry to
confess it, but the blue devils actually got complete possession
of me—one strided upon my nose, another danced on the top
of my head, one pinched my ear, and another turned somersets
on my chin. You laugh, little Nanny; but they are terrible
creatures, these blue gentlemen, and I could not endure them
any longer. So the third rainy evening, I put on my overcoat,
buttoned it up to my chin, and taking my umbrella in
my hand, set out in the direction of Mrs. Vane's. 'Here,'
thought I, as my fingers pressed the latch, 'I shall find the
moonlight smile, that will illumine the darkness of my night—the
dull vapours will disperse before her radiant glance, and
this interminable equinoctial storm be transformed into a mere
vernal shower, melting away in sunbeams in her presence.'
My gentle knock not being apparently heard, I stepped into
the ante-room, set down my umbrella, took off my drenched
overcoat, arranged my hair in the most graceful manner, and,
claiming a privilege to which, perhaps, I had no legitimate
right, opened the door of the family sitting-room, and found
myself in the presence of the beautiful Theresa—"
Here Uncle Ned made a provoking pause.
"Pray, go on." "How was she dressed?" "And was
she glad to see you?" assailed him on every side.
"How was she dressed?" repeated he. "I am not very
well skilled in the technicalities of a lady's wardrobe, but I
can give you the general impression of her personal appearance.
In the first place, there was a jumping up and an off-hand
sliding step towards an opposite door, as I entered; but
a disobliging chair was in the way, and I was making my
lowest bow, before she found an opportunity of disappearing.
Confused and mortified, she scarcely returned my salutation,
while Mrs. Vane offered me a chair, and expressed, in somewhat
dubious terms, their gratification at such an unexpected
pleasure. I have no doubt Theresa wished me at the bottom
of the Frozen Ocean, if I might judge by the freezing glances
she shot at me through her long lashes. She sat uneasily in
her chair, trying to conceal her slipshod shoes, and furtively
arranging her dress about the shoulders and waist. It was a
most rebellious subject, for the body and skirt were at open
warfare, refusing to have any communion with each other.
Where was the graceful shape I had so much admired? In vain I
sought its exquisite outlines in the folds of that loose, slovenly
robe. Where were those glistening ringlets and burnished
locks that had so lately rivalled the tresses of Medusa? Her
hair was put in tangled bunches behind her ears, and tucked up
behind in a kind of Gordian knot, which would have required
the sword of an Alexander to untie. Her frock was a soiled
and dingy silk, with trimmings of sallow blonde, and a faded
fancy handkerchief was thrown over one shoulder.
"'You have caught me completely en déshabille,' said she,
recovering partially from her embarrassment; 'but the evening
was so rainy, and no one but mother and myself, I never
dreamed of such an exhibition of gallantry as this.'
"She could not disguise her vexation, with all her efforts to
conceal it, and Mrs. Vane evidently shared her daughter's
chagrin. I was wicked enough to enjoy their confusion, and
never appeared more at my ease, or played the agreeable with
more signal success. I was disenchanted at once, and my
mind revelled in its recovered freedom. My goddess had
fallen from the pedestal on which my imagination had enthroned
her, despoiled of the beautiful drapery which had
imparted to her such ideal loveliness. I knew that I was a
favourite in the family, for I was wealthy and independent,
and perhaps of all Theresa's admirers what the world would
call the best match. I maliciously asked her to play on the
piano, but she made a thousand excuses, studiously keeping
back the true reason, her disordered attire. I asked her to
play a game of chess, but 'she had a headache; she was too
stupid; she never could do anything on a rainy evening.'
"At length I took my leave, inwardly blessing the moving
spirit which had led me abroad that night, that the spell which
had so long enthralled my senses might be broken. Theresa
called up one of her lambent smiles as I bade her adieu.
"'Never call again on a rainy evening,' said she, sportively;
'I am always so wretchedly dull. I believe I was born
to live among the sunbeams, the moonlight, and the stars.
Clouds will never do for me.'
"'Amen,' I silently responded, as I closed the door. While
I was putting on my coat, I overheard, without the smallest
intention of listening, a passionate exclamation from Theresa.
"'Good heavens, mother! was there ever anything so unlucky?
I never thought of seeing my neighbour's dog to-night.
If I have not been completely caught!'
"'I hope you will mind my advice next time,' replied her
mother, in a grieved tone. 'I told you not to sit down in
that slovenly dress. I have no doubt you have lost him for
"Here I made good my retreat, not wishing to enter the
penetralia of family secrets.
"The rain still continued unabated, but my social feelings
were very far from being damped. I had the curiosity to make
another experiment. The evening was not very far advanced,
and as I turned from Mrs. Vane's fashionable mansion, I saw
a modest light glimmering in the distance, and I hailed it as
the shipwrecked mariner hails the star that guides him o'er
ocean's foam to the home he has left behind. Though I was
gay and young, and a passionate admirer of beauty, I had very
exalted ideas of domestic felicity. I knew that there was
many a rainy day in life, and I thought the companion who
was born alone for sunbeams and moonlight, would not aid me
to dissipate their gloom. I had, moreover, a shrewd suspicion
that the daughter who thought it a sufficient excuse for
shameful personal neglect, that there was no one present but
her mother, would, as a wife, be equally regardless of a husband's
presence. While I pursued these reflections, my feet
involuntarily drew nearer and more near to the light, which
had been the lodestone of my opening manhood. I had continued
to meet Mary in the gay circles I frequented, but I had
lately become almost a stranger to her home. 'Shall I be a
welcome guest?' said I to myself, as I crossed the threshold.
'Shall I find her en déshabille, likewise, and discover that
feminine beauty and grace are incompatible with a rainy evening?'
I heard a sweet voice reading aloud as I opened the
door, and I knew it was the voice which was once music to my
ears. Mary rose at my entrance, laying her book quietly on
the table, and greeted me with a modest grace and self-possession
peculiar to herself. She looked surprised, a little embarrassed,
but very far from being displeased. She made no
allusion to my estrangement or neglect; expressed no astonishment
at my untimely visit, nor once hinted that, being alone
with her mother, and not anticipating visiters, she thought it
unnecessary to wear the habiliments of a lady. Never, in my
life, had I seen her look so lovely. Her dress was perfectly
plain, but every fold was arranged by the hand of the Graces.
Her dark-brown hair, which had a natural wave in it, now
uncurled by the dampness, was put back in smooth ringlets
from her brow, revealing a face which did not consider its
beauty wasted because a mother's eye alone rested on its bloom.
A beautiful cluster of autumnal roses, placed in a glass vase
on the table, perfumed the apartment, and a bright blaze on
the hearth diffused a spirit of cheerfulness around, while it
relieved the atmosphere of its excessive moisture. Mrs. Carlton
was an invalid, and suffered also from an inflammation of
the eyes. Mary had been reading aloud to her from her favourite
book. What do you think it was? It was a very old-fashioned
one, indeed. No other than the Bible. And Mary was
not ashamed to have such a fashionable young gentleman as I
then was to see what her occupation had been. What a contrast
to the scene I had just quitted! How I loathed myself
for the infatuation which had led me to prefer the artificial
graces of a belle to this pure child of nature! I drew my
chair to the table, and entreated that they would not look upon
me as a stranger, but as a friend, anxious to be restored to the
forfeited privileges of an old acquaintance. I was understood
in a moment, and, without a single reproach, was admitted
again to confidence and familiarity. The hours I had wasted
with Theresa seemed a kind of mesmeric slumber, a blank in
my existence, or, at least, a feverish dream. 'What do you
think of a rainy evening, Mary?' asked I, before I left her.
"'I love it of all things,' replied she, with animation.
'There is something so home-drawing, so heart-knitting, in its
influence. The dependencies which bind us to the world seem
withdrawn; and, retiring within ourselves, we learn more of
the deep mysteries of our own being.'
"Mary's soul beamed from her eye as it turned, with a transient
obliquity, towards heaven. She paused, as if fearful of
unsealing the fountains of her heart. I said that Mrs. Carlton
was an invalid, and consequently retired early to her chamber;
but I lingered till a late hour, nor did I go till I had
made a full confession of my folly, repentance, and awakened
love; and, as Mary did not shut the door in my face, you may
imagine she was not sorely displeased."
"Ah! I know who Mary was. I knew all the time," exclaimed
George, looking archly at Aunt Mary. A bright tear,
which at that moment fell into her lap, showed that though a
silent, she was no uninterested auditor.
"You haven't done, father?" said little Ann, in a disappointed
tone; "I thought you were going to tell a story. You
have been talking about yourself all the time."
"I have been something of an egotist, to be sure, my little
girl, but I wanted to show my dear young friend here how
much might depend upon a rainy evening. Life is not made
all of sunshine. The happiest and most prosperous must have
their seasons of gloom and darkness, and woe be to those from
whose souls no rays of brightness emanate to gild those darkened
hours. I bless the God of the rain as well as the sunshine.
I can read His mercy and His love as well in the
tempest, whose wings obscure the visible glories of His creation,
as in the splendour of the rising sun, or the soft dews
that descend after his setting radiance. I began with a metaphor.
I said a rainbow was drawn on the clouds that lowered
on that eventful day, and that it still continued to shine with
undiminished beauty. Woman, my children, was sent by God
to be the rainbow of man's darker destiny. From the glowing
red, emblematic of that love which warms and gladdens his
existence, to the violet melting into the blue of heaven, symbolical
of the faith which links him to a purer world, her
blending virtues, mingling with each other in beautiful harmony,
are a token of God's mercy here, and an earnest of
future blessings in those regions where no rainy evenings ever
come to obscure the brightness of eternal day."