The Fatal Cosmetic by
Caroline Lee Hentz
Charles Brown sat with Mr. Hall in a corner of the
room, apart from the rest of the company. Mr. Hall was a
stranger, Charles the familiar acquaintance of all present. The
former evidently retained his seat out of politeness to the latter
for his eyes wandered continually to the other side of the
room, where a group of young ladies was gathered round a
piano, so closely as to conceal the musician to whom they
were apparently listening. The voice that accompanied the
instrument was weak and irregular, and the high tones excessively
shrill and disagreeable, yet the performer continued her
songs with unwearied patience, thinking the young gentlemen
were turned into the very stones that Orpheus changed into
breathing things, to remain insensible to her minstrelsy.
There was one fair, blue-eyed girl, with a very sweet countenance,
who stood behind her chair and cast many a mirthful
glance towards Charles, while she urged the songstress to continue
at every pause, as if she were spell-bound by the melody.
Charles laughed, and kept time with his foot, but Mr. Hall bit
his lips, and a frown passed over his handsome and serious
countenance. "What a wretched state of society!" exclaimed
he, "that admits, nay, even demands such insincerity. Look
at the ingenuous countenance of that young girl—would you
not expect from her sincerity and truth? Yet, with what
practical falsehood she encourages her companion in her odious
"Take care," answered Charles, "you must not be too severe.
That young lady is a very particular friend of mine, and a very
charming girl. She has remarkably popular manners, and if
she is guilty of a few little innocent deceptions, such, for instance,
as the present, I see no possible harm in them to herself,
and they certainly give great pleasure to others. She
makes Miss Lewis very happy, by her apparent admiration,
and I do not see that she injures any one else."
Mr. Hall sighed.
"I fear," said he, "I am becoming a misanthropist. I find
I have very peculiar views, such as set me apart and isolate
me from my fellow beings. I cannot enjoy an artificial state
of society. I consider truth as the corner stone of the great
social fabric, and where this is wanting, I am constantly looking
for ruin and desolation. The person deficient in this virtue,
however fair and fascinating, is no more to me than the whited
sepulchre and painted wall."
"You have, indeed, peculiar views," answered Charles,
colouring with a vexation he was too polite to express in any
other way; "and if you look upon the necessary dissimulations
practised in society as falsehoods, and brand them as such,
I can only say, that you have created a standard of morality
more exalted and pure than human nature can ever reach."
"I cannot claim the merit of creating a standard, which
the divine Moralist gave to man, when he marked out his
duties from the sacred mount, in characters so clear and deep,
that the very blind might see and the cold ear of deafness
Mr. Hall spoke with warmth. The eyes of the company
were directed towards him. He was disconcerted and remained
silent. Miss Lewis rose from the piano, and drew towards
"I am getting terribly tired of the piano," said she. "I
don't think it suits my voice at all. I am going to take lessons
on the guitar and the harp—one has so much more scope with
them; and then they are much more graceful instruments."
"You are perfectly right," replied Miss Ellis, the young
lady with the ingenuous countenance, "I have no doubt you
would excel on either, and your singing would be much better
appreciated. Don't you think so, Margaret?" added she, turning
to a young lady, who had hitherto been silent, and apparently
"You know I do not," answered she, who was so abruptly
addressed, in a perfectly quiet manner, and fixing her eyes
serenely on her face; "I should be sorry to induce Miss Lewis
to do anything disadvantageous to herself, and consequently
painful to her friends."
"Really, Miss Howard," cried Miss Lewis, bridling, and
tossing her head with a disdainful air, "you need not be so
afraid of my giving you so much pain—I will not intrude my
singing upon your delicate and refined ears."
Mr. Hall made a movement forward, attracted by the uncommon
sincerity of Miss Howard's remark.
"There," whispered Charles, "is a girl after your own heart—Margaret
Howard will speak the truth, however unpalatable
it may be, and see what wry faces poor Miss Lewis makes in
trying not to swallow it—I am sure Mary Ellis's flattery is a
thousand times kinder and more amiable."
Mr. Hall did not answer. His eyes were perusing the face
of her, whose lips had just given such honourable testimony
to a virtue so rarely respected by the world of fashion. A
decent boldness lighted up the clear hazel eyes that did not
seem to be unconscious of the dark and penetrating glances at
that moment resting upon them. She was dressed with remarkable
simplicity. No decoration in colour relieved the
spotless whiteness of her attire. Her hair of pale, yet shining
brown, was plainly parted over a brow somewhat too lofty for
mere feminine beauty, but white and smooth as Parian marble.
Her features, altogether, bore more resemblance to a Pallas
than a Venus. They were calm and pure, but somewhat cold
and passionless—and under that pale, transparent skin, there
seemed no under current, ebbing and flowing with the crimson
tide of the heart. Her figure, veiled to the throat, was of fine,
though not very slender proportions. There was evidently no
artificial compression about the waist, no binding ligatures to
prevent the elastic motions of the limbs, the pliable and graceful
movements of nature.
"She has a fine face—a very handsome face," repeated
Charles, responding to what Mr. Hall looked, for as yet he
had uttered nothing; "but to me, it is an uninteresting one.
She is not generally liked—respected, it is true, but feared—and
fear is a feeling which few young ladies would wish to
inspire. It is a dangerous thing to live above the world—at
least, for a woman."
Charles availed himself of the earliest opportunity of introducing
his friend to Miss Howard, glad to be liberated for a
while from the close companionship of a man who made him
feel strangely uncomfortable with regard to himself, and well
pleased with the opportunity of conversing with his favourite,
"I feel quite vexed with Margaret," said this thoughtless
girl, "for spoiling my compliment to Miss Lewis. I would
give one of my little fingers to catch her for once in a white
"Ask her if she does not think herself handsome," said
Charles; "no woman ever acknowledged that truth, though
none be more firmly believed."
He little expected she would act upon his suggestion, but
Mary was too much delighted at the thought of seeing the uncompromising
Margaret guilty of a prevarication, to suffer it
to pass unheeded.
"Margaret," cried she, approaching her, unawed by the
proximity of the majestic stranger—"Mr. Brown says you
will deny that you think yourself handsome. Tell me the
truth—don't you believe yourself very handsome?"
"I will tell you the truth, Mary," replied Margaret, blushing
so brightly, as to give an actual radiance to her face, "that
is, if I speak at all. But I would rather decline giving any
opinion of myself."
"Ah! Margaret," persisted Miss Ellis, "I have heard you
say that to conceal the truth, when it was required of us, unless
some moral duty were involved, was equivalent to a falsehood.
Bear witness, Charles, here is one subject on which
even Margaret Howard dares not speak the truth."
"You are mistaken," replied Miss Howard; "since you
force me to speak, by attacking my principles, I am very willing
to say, I do think myself handsome; but not so conspicuously
as to allow me to claim a superiority over my sex, or to
justify so singular and unnecessary a question."
All laughed—even the grave Mr. Hall smiled at the frankness
of the avowal—all but Miss Lewis, who, turning up her
eyes and raising her hands, exclaimed, "Really, Miss Howard's
modesty is equal to her politeness. I thought she despised
"The gifts of God are never to be despised," answered Miss
Howard, mildly. "If he has graced the outer temple, we
should only be more careful to keep the indwelling spirit
She drew back, as if pained by the observation she had excited;
and the deep and modest colour gradually faded from
her cheek. Mr. Hall had not been an uninterested listener.
He was a sad and disappointed man. He had been the victim
of a woman's perfidy and falsehood—and was consequently
distrustful of the whole sex; and his health had suffered from
the corrosion of his feelings, and he had been compelled to
seek, in a milder clime, a balm which time alone could yield.
He had been absent several years, and was just returned to his
native country, but not to the scene of his former residence.
The wound was healed, but the hardness of the scar remained.
One greater and purer than the Genius of the Arabian
Tale, had placed in his breast a mirror, whose lustre would
be instantaneously dimmed by the breath of falsehood or dissimulation.
It was in this mirror he saw reflected the actions
of his fellow beings, and it pained him to see its bright surface
so constantly sullied. Never, since the hour he was so fatally
deceived, had he been in the presence of woman, without a
melancholy conviction that she was incapable of standing the
test of this bosom talisman. Here, however, was one, whose
lips cast no cloud upon its lustre. He witnessed the marvellous
spectacle of a young, beautiful, and accomplished woman,
surrounded by the artifices and embellishments of fashionable
life, speaking the truth, in all simplicity and godly sincerity, as
commanded by the holy men of old. There was something in
the sight that renovated and refreshed his blighted feelings.
The dew falling on the parched herbage, prepares it for the
influence of a kinder ray. Even so the voice of Margaret
Howard, gentle in itself and persuasive, advocating the cause
he most venerated, operated this night on the heart of Mr.
For many weeks the same party frequently met at the dwelling
of Mrs. Astor. This lady was a professed patroness and
admirer of genius and the fine arts. To be a fine painter, a
fine singer, a fine writer, a traveller, or a foreigner, was a direct
passport to her favour. To be distinguished in any manner in
society was sufficient, provided it was not "bad eminence"
which was attained by the individual. She admired Mr. Hall
for the stately gloom of his mien, his dark and foreign air, his
peculiar and high-wrought sentiments. She sought an intimacy
with Margaret Howard, for it was a distinction to be her friend,
and, moreover, she had an exquisite taste and skill in drawing
and painting. Mary Ellis was a particular favourite of hers,
because her own favourite cousin Charles Brown thought her
the most fascinating young lady of his acquaintance. Mrs.
Astor's house was elegantly furnished, and her rooms were
adorned with rare and beautiful specimens of painting and
statuary. She had one apartment which she called her Gallery
of Fine Arts, and every new guest was duly ushered into this
sanctuary, and called upon to look and admire the glowing
canvas and the breathing marble. A magnificent pier-glass
was placed on one side of the hall, so as to reflect and multiply
these classic beauties. It had been purchased in Europe, and
was remarkable for its thickness, brilliancy, and fidelity of reflection.
It was a favourite piece of furniture of Mrs. Astor's,
and all her servants were warned to be particularly careful,
whenever they dusted its surface. As this glass is of some
importance in the story, it deserves a minute description. Mrs.
Astor thought the only thing necessary to complete the furnishing
of the gallery, were transparencies for the windows.
Miss Howard, upon hearing the remark, immediately offered
to supply the deficiency, an offer at once eagerly accepted, and
Mrs. Astor insisted that her painting apparatus should be placed
in the very room, that she might receive all the inspiration to
be derived from the mute yet eloquent relics of genius, that
there solicited the gaze. Nothing could be more delightful
than the progress of the work. Margaret was an enthusiast
in the art, and her kindling cheek always attested the triumph
of her creating hand. Mrs. Astor was in a constant state of
excitement, till the whole was completed, and it was no light
task, as four were required, and the windows were of an extra
size. Almost every day saw the fair artist seated at her easel,
with the same group gathered round her. Mary Ellis admired
everything so indiscriminately, it was impossible to attach
much value to her praise; but Mr. Hall criticised as well as
admired, and as he had the painter's eye, and the poet's tongue,
Margaret felt the value of his suggestions, and the interest
they added to her employment. Above all things, she felt
their truth. She saw that he never flattered, that he dared to
blame, and when he did commend, she was conscious the
tribute was deserved. Margaret was not one of those beings,
who cannot do but one thing at a time. She could talk and
listen, while her hands were applying the brush or arranging
the colours, and look up too from the canvas, with a glance
that showed how entirely she participated in what was passing
"I wonder you are not tired to death of that everlasting
easel," said Mary Ellis to Margaret, who grew every day more
interested in her task. "I could not endure such confinement."
"Death and everlasting are solemn words to be so lightly
used, my dear Mary," answered Margaret, whose religious ear
was always pained by levity on sacred themes.
"I would not be as serious as you are, for a thousand
worlds," replied Mary, laughing; "I really believe you think
it a sin to smile. Give me the roses of life, let who will take
the thorns. I am going now to gather some, if I can, and
leave you and Mr. Hall to enjoy all the briers you can find."
She left the room gayly singing, sure to be immediately followed
by Charles, and Mr. Hall was left sole companion of the
artist. Mary had associated their names together, for the purpose
of disturbing the self-possession of Margaret, and she
certainly succeeded in her object. Had Mr. Hall perceived
her heightened colour, his vanity might have drawn a flattering
inference; but he was standing behind her easel, and his
eyes were fixed on the beautiful personification of Faith, Hope,
and Charity—those three immortal graces—she was delineating,
as kneeling and embracing, with upturned eyes and celestial
wings. It was a lovely group—the last of the transparencies,
and Margaret lavished on it some of the finest touches
of her genius. Mary had repeated a hundred times that it
was finished, that another stroke of the pencil would ruin it,
and Mrs. Astor declared it perfect, and more than perfect, but
still Margaret lingered at the frame, believing every tint should
be the last. Every lover of the arts knows the fascination
attending the successful exercise and development of their
genius—of seeing bright and warm imaginings assume a colouring
and form, and giving to others a transcript of the mind's
glorious creations; but every artist does not know what deeper
charm may be added by the conversation and companionship
of such a being as Mr. Hall. He was what might be called
a fascinating man, notwithstanding the occasional gloom and
general seriousness of his manners. For, when flashes of
sensibility lighted up that gloom, and intellect, excited and
brought fully into action, illumined that seriousness—it was
like moonlight shining on some ruined castle, beauty and
grandeur meeting together and exalting each other, from the
effect of contrast. Then there was a deep vein of piety pervading
all his sentiments and expressions. The comparison of
the ruined castle is imperfect. The moonbeams falling on
some lofty cathedral, with its pillared dome and "long-drawn
aisles," is a better similitude, for devotion hallowed and elevated
every faculty of his soul. Margaret, who had lived in a world
of her own, surrounded by a purer atmosphere, lonely and
somewhat unapproachable, felt as if she were no longer solitary,
for here was one who thought and sympathized with her; one,
too, who seemed sanctified and set apart from others, by a kind
of mysterious sorrow, which the instinct of woman told her
had its source in the heart.
"I believe I am too serious, as Mary says," cried Margaret,
first breaking the silence; "but it seems to me the thoughtless
alone can be gay. I am young in years, but I began to reflect
early, and from the moment I took in the mystery of life and
all its awful dependencies, I ceased to be mirthful. I am doomed
to pay a constant penalty for the singularity of my feelings:
like the priestess of the ancient temples, I am accused of uttering
dark sayings of old, and casting the shadows of the future
over the joys of the present."
Margaret seldom alluded to herself, but Mary's accusation
about the thorns and briers had touched her, where perhaps
alone she was vulnerable; and in the frankness of her nature,
she uttered what was paramount in her thoughts.
"Happy they who are taught by reflection, not experience,
to look seriously, though not sadly on the world," said Mr.
Hall, earnestly; "who mourn from philanthropy over its folly
and falsehood, not because that falsehood and folly have
blighted their dearest hopes, nay, cut them off, root and branch,
Margaret was agitated, and for a moment the pencil wavered
in her hand. She knew Mr. Hall must have been unhappy—that
he was still suffering from corroding remembrances—and
often had she wished to pierce through the mystery that hung
over his past life; but now, when he himself alluded to it, she
shrunk from an explanation. He seemed himself to regret
the warmth of his expressions, and to wish to efface the impression
they had made, for his attention became riveted on
the picture, which he declared wanted only one thing to make
it perfect—"And what was that?"—"Truth encircling the
trio with her golden band."
"It may yet be done," cried Margaret; and, with great animation
and skill, she sketched the outline suggested.
It is delightful to have one's own favourite sentiments and
feelings embodied by another, and that too with a graceful
readiness and apparent pleasure, that shows a congeniality of
thought and taste. Mr. Hall was not insensible to this charm
in Margaret Howard. He esteemed, revered, admired, he
wished that he dared to love her. But all charming and true
as she seemed, she was still a woman, and he might be again
deceived. It would be a terrible thing to embark his happiness
once more on the waves which had once overwhelmed it; and
find himself again a shipwrecked mariner, cast upon the cruel
desert of existence. The feelings which Margaret inspired
were so different from the stormy passions which had reigned
over him, it is no wonder he was unconscious of their strength
and believed himself still his own master.
"Bless me," said Mary, who, entering soon after, banished,
as she said, Mr. Hall from her presence, for he retired; "if
you have not added another figure to the group. I have a
great mind to blot Faith, Hope, and Charity, as well as Truth
from existence," and playfully catching hold of the frame, she
pretended to sweep her arm over their faces.
"Oh! Mary, beware!" exclaimed Margaret; but the warning
came too late. The easel tottered and fell instantaneously
against the magnificent glass, upon which Mrs. Astor set such
an immense value, and broke it into a thousand pieces. Mary
looked aghast, and Margaret turned pale as she lifted her
picture from amid the ruins.
"It is not spoiled," said she; "but the glass!"
"Oh! the glass!" cried Mary, looking the image of despair;
"what shall I do? What will Mrs. Astor say? She will
never forgive me!"
"She cannot be so vindictive!" replied Margaret; "but it
is indeed an unfortunate accident, and one for which I feel
"Do not tell her how it happened," cried Mary, shrinking
with moral cowardice from the revealing of the truth. "I
cannot brave her displeasure!—Charles, too, will be angry
with me, and I cannot bear that. Oh! pray, dearest Margaret,
pray do not tell her that it was I who did it—you know it
would be so natural for the easel to fall without any rash hand
to push it. Promise me, Margaret."
Margaret turned her clear, rebuking eye upon the speaker
with a mingled feeling of indignation and pity.
"I will not expose you, Mary," said she, calmly; and, withdrawing
herself from the rapturous embrace, in which Mary
expressed her gratitude, she began to pick up the fragments
of the mirror, while Mary, unwilling to look on the wreck she
had made, flew out to regain her composure. It happened that
Mr. Hall passed the window while Margaret was thus occupied;
and he paused a moment to watch her, for in spite of
himself, he felt a deep and increasing interest in every action
of Margaret's. Margaret saw his shadow as it lingered, but
she continued her employment. He did not doubt that she
had caused the accident, for he had left her alone, a few moments
before, and he was not conscious that any one had entered
since his departure. Though he regretted any circumstance
which might give pain to her, he anticipated a pleasure in
seeing the openness and readiness with which she would avow
herself the aggressor, and blame herself for her carelessness.
Margaret found herself in a very unpleasant situation. She
had promised not to betray the cowardly Mary, and she knew
that whatever blame would be attached to the act, would rest
upon herself. But were Mrs. Astor to question her upon the
subject, she could not deviate from the truth, by acknowledging
a fault she had never committed. She felt an unspeakable
contempt for Mary's weakness, for, had she been in her place,
she would have acknowledged the part she had acted, unhesitatingly,
secure of the indulgence of friendship and benevolence.
"Better to leave the circumstance to speak for itself,"
said Margaret to herself, "and of course the burden will rest
upon me." She sighed as she thought of the happy hours she
had passed, by the side of that mirror, and how often she had
seen it reflect the speaking countenance of Mr. Hall, that
tablet of "unutterable thoughts," and then thinking how his
hopes seemed shattered like that frail glass, and his memories
of sorrow multiplied, she came to the conclusion that all earthly
hopes were vain and all earthly memories fraught with sadness.
Never had Margaret moralized so deeply as in the long solitary
walk she stole that evening, to escape the evil of being
drawn into the tacit sanction of a falsehood. Like many
others, with equally pure intentions, in trying to avoid one
misfortune she incurred a greater.
Mrs. Astor was very much grieved and astonished when
she discovered her loss. With all her efforts to veil her feelings,
Mary saw she was displeased with Margaret, and would
probably never value as they deserved, the beautiful transparencies
on which she had so faithfully laboured.
"I would not have cared if any other article had been broken,"
said Mrs. Astor, whose weak point Mary well knew;
"but this can never be replaced. I do not so much value the
cost, great as it was, but it was perfectly unique. I never
saw another like it."
Mary's conscience smote her, for suffering another to bear
the imputation she herself deserved. A sudden plan occurred
to her. She had concealed the truth, she was now determined
to save her friend, even at the cost of a lie.
"I do not believe Margaret broke it," said she. "I saw
Dinah, your little black girl in the room, just before Margaret
left it, and you know how often you have punished her for
putting her hands on forbidden articles. You know if Margaret
had done it, she would have acknowledged it, at once."
"True," exclaimed Mrs. Astor; "how stupid I have been!"
and glad to find a channel in which her anger could flow, unchecked
by the restraints of politeness, she rung the bell and
summoned the unconscious Dinah.
In vain she protested her innocence. She was black, and
it was considered a matter of course that she would lie. Mrs.
Astor took her arm in silence, and led her from the room, in
spite of her prayers and protestations. We should be sorry
to reveal the secrets of the prison-house, but from the cries
that issued through the shut door, and from a certain whizzing
sound in the air, one might judge of the nature of the punishment
inflicted on the innocent victim of unmerited wrath.
Mary closed her ears. Every sound pierced her heart. Something
told her those shrieks would rise up in judgment against
her at the last day. "Oh! how," thought she, "if I fear the
rebuke of my fellow-creature for an unintentional offence,
how can I ever appear before my Creator, with the blackness
of falsehood and the hardness of cruelty on my soul?" She
wished she had had the courage to have acted right in the first
place, but now it was too late. Charles would despise her,
and that very day he had told her that he loved her better
than all the world beside. She tried, too, to soothe her conscience,
by reflecting that Dinah would have been whipped for
something else, and that as it was a common event to her, it
was, after all, a matter of no great consequence. Mrs. Astor,
having found a legitimate vent for her displeasure, chased the
cloud from her brow, and greeted Margaret with a smile, on
her return, slightly alluding to the accident, evidently trying
to rise superior to the event. Margaret was surprised and
pleased. She expressed her own regret, but as she imputed
to herself no blame, Mrs. Astor was confirmed in the justice
of her verdict. Margaret knew not what had passed in her
absence, for Mrs. Astor was too refined to bring her domestic
troubles before her guests. Mary, who was the only one
necessarily initiated, was too deeply implicated to repeat it,
and the subject was dismissed. But the impression remained
on one mind, painful and ineffaceable.
Mr. Hall marked Margaret's conscious blush on her entrance,
he had heard the cries and sobs of poor Dinah, and was not
ignorant of the cause. He believed Margaret was aware of
the fact—she, the true offender. A pang, keen as cold steel
can create, shot through his heart at this conviction. He had
thought her so pure, so true, so holy, the very incarnation of
his worshipped virtue—and now, to sacrifice her principles for
such a bauble—a bit of frail glass. He could not remain in
her presence, but, complaining of a headache, suddenly retired,
but not before he had cast a glance on Margaret, so cold and
freezing, it seemed to congeal her very soul.
"He believes me cowardly and false," thought she, for she
divined what was passing in his mind; and if ever she was
tempted to be so, it was in the hope of reinstating herself in
his esteem. She had given her promise to Mary, however,
and it was not to be broken. Mary, whose feelings were as
evanescent as her principles were weak, soon forgot the whole
affair in the preparations of her approaching marriage with
Charles, an event which absorbed all her thoughts, as it involved
all her hopes of happiness.
Margaret finished her task, but the charm which had gilded
the occupation was fled. Mr. Hall seldom called, and when
he did, he wore all his original reserve. Margaret felt she
had not deserved this alienation, and tried to cheer herself
with the conviction of her own integrity; but her spirits were
occasionally dejected, and the figure of Truth, which had such
a beaming outline, assumed the aspect of utter despondency.
Dissatisfied with her work, she at last swept her brush over
the design, and mingling Truth with the dark shades of the
back ground, gave up her office as an artist, declaring her
sketches completed. Mrs. Astor was enraptured with the
whole, and said she intended to reserve them for the night of
Mary's wedding, when they would burst upon the sight, in one
grand coup d'œil, in the full blaze of chandeliers, bridal
lamps, and nuptial ornaments. Margaret was to officiate as
one of the bridemaids, but she gave a reluctant consent. She
could not esteem Mary, and she shrunk from her flattery and
caresses with an instinctive loathing. She had once set her
foot on a flowery bank, that edged a beautiful stream. The
turf trembled and gave way, for it was hollow below, and
Margaret narrowly escaped death. She often shuddered at
the recollection. With similar emotions she turned from Mary
Ellis's smiles and graces. There was beauty and bloom on the
surface, but hollowness and perhaps ruin beneath.
A short time before the important day, a slight efflorescence
appeared on the fair cheek and neck of Mary. She was in
despair, lest her loveliness should be marred, when she most
of all wished to shine. It increased instead of diminishing,
and she resolved to have recourse to any remedy, that would
remove the disfiguring eruption. She recollected having seen
a violent erysipelas cured immediately by a solution of corrosive
sublimate; and without consulting any one, she sent Dinah
to the apothecary to purchase some, charging her to tell no one
whose errand she was bearing, for she was not willing to confess
her occasion for such a cosmetic. Dinah told the apothecary
her mistress sent her, and it was given without questioning
or hesitation. Her only confidant was Margaret, who shared
her chamber and toilet, and who warned her to be exceedingly
cautious in the use of an article so poisonous; and Mary promised
with her usual heedlessness, without dreaming of any
evil consequences. The eruption disappeared—Mary looked
fairer than ever, and, clad in her bridal paraphernalia of white
satin, white roses, and blonde lace, was pronounced the most
beautiful bride of the season. Mr. Hall was present, though
he had refused to take any part in the ceremony. He could
not, without singularity, decline the invitation and, notwithstanding
the blow his confidence in Margaret's character had
received, he still found the spot where she was, enchanted
ground, and he lingered near, unwilling to break at once the
only charm that still bound him to society. After the short
but solemn rite, that made the young and thoughtless, one by
indissoluble ties, and the rush of congratulation took place,
Margaret was forced by the pressure close to Mr. Hall's side.
He involuntarily offered his arm as a protection, and a thrill
of irrepressible happiness pervaded his heart, at this unexpected
and unsought proximity. He forgot his coldness—the broken
glass, everything but the feeling of the present moment.
Margaret was determined to avail herself of the tide of returning
confidence. Her just womanly modesty and pride prevented
her seeking an explanation and reconciliation, but she
knew without breaking her promise to Mary, she could not
justify herself in Mr. Hall's opinion, if even the opportunity
offered. She was to depart in the morning, with the new-married
pair, who were going to take an excursion of pleasure,
so fashionable after the wedding ceremony. She might never
see him again. He had looked pale, his face was now flushed
high with excited feeling.
"You have wronged me, Mr. Hall," said she, blushing, but
without hesitation; "if you think I have been capable of
wilful deception or concealment. The mirror was not broken
by me, though I know you thought me guilty, and afraid or
ashamed to avow the truth. I would not say so much to
justify myself, if I did not think you would believe me, and
if I did not value the esteem of one who sacrifices even friendship
at the shrine of truth."
She smiled, for she saw she was believed, and there was
such a glow of pleasure irradiating Mr. Hall's countenance, it
was like the breaking and gushing forth of sunbeams. There
are few faces, on which a smile has such a magic effect as on
Margaret's. Her smile was never forced. It was the inspiration
of truth, and all the light of her soul shone through it.
Perhaps neither ever experienced an hour of deeper happiness
than that which followed this simple explanation. Margaret
felt a springtide of hope and joy swelling in her heart, for there
was a deference, a tenderness in Mr. Hall's manner she had
never seen before. He seemed entirely to have forgotten the
presence of others, when a name uttered by one near, arrested
"That is Mrs. St. Henry," observed a lady, stretching
eagerly forward. "She arrived in town this morning, and
had letters of introduction to Mrs. Astor. She was the beauty
of ——, before her marriage, and is still the leader of fashion
Margaret felt her companion start, as if a ball had penetrated
him, and looking up, she saw his altered glance, fixed on the
lady, who had just entered, with a dashing escort, and was
advancing towards the centre of the room. She was dressed
in the extremity of the reigning mode—her arms and neck
entirely uncovered, and their dazzling whiteness, thus lavishly
displayed, might have mocked the polish and purity of alabaster.
Her brilliant black eyes flashed on either side, with
the freedom of conscious beauty, and disdain of the homage it
inspired. She moved with the air of a queen, attended by her
vassals, directly forward, when suddenly her proud step faltered,
her cheek and lips became wan, and uttering a sudden ejaculation,
she stood for a moment perfectly still. She was opposite
Mr. Hall, whose eye, fixed upon hers, seemed to have the
effect of fascination. Though darkened by the burning sun
of a tropical clime, and faded from the untimely blighting of
the heart, that face could never be forgotten. It told her of
perjury, remorse, sorrow—yes, of sorrow, for in spite of the
splendour that surrounded her, this glittering beauty was
wretched. She had sacrificed herself at the shrine of Mammon,
and had learned too late the horror of such ties, unsanctified
by affection. Appreciating but too well the value of the
love she had forsaken, goaded by remorse for her conduct to
him, whom she believed wasting away in a foreign land—she
flew from one scene of dissipation to another, seeking in the
admiration of the world an equivalent for her lost happiness.
The unexpected apparition of her lover was as startling and
appalling as if she had met an inhabitant of another world.
She tried to rally herself and to pass on, but the effort was in
vain—sight, strength, and recollection forsook her.
"Mrs. St. Henry has fainted! Mrs. St. Henry has fainted!"—was
now echoed from mouth to mouth. A lady's fainting,
whether in church, ball-room, or assembly, always creates a
great sensation; but when that lady happens to be the centre
of attraction and admiration, when every eye that has a loop-hole
to peep through is gazing on her brilliant features, to behold
her suddenly fall, as if smitten by the angel of death,
pallid and moveless—the effect is inconceivably heightened.
When, too, as in the present instance, a sad, romantic-looking
stranger rushes forward to support her, the interest of the
scene admits of no increase. At least Margaret felt so, as
she saw the beautiful Mrs. St. Henry borne in the arms of Mr.
Hall through the crowd, that fell back as he passed, into an
adjoining apartment, speedily followed by Mrs. Astor, all
wonder and excitement, and many others all curiosity and expectation,
to witness the termination of the scene. Mr. Hall
drew back, while the usual appliances were administered for
her resuscitation. He heeded not the scrutinizing glances bent
upon him. His thoughts were rolled within himself, and
"The soul of other days came rushing in."
The lava that had hardened over the ruin it created, melted
anew, and the greenness and fragrance of new-born hopes were
lost under the burning tide. When Mrs. St. Henry opened
her eyes, she looked round her in wild alarm; then shading her
brow with her hand, her glance rested where Mr. Hall stood,
pale and abstracted, with folded arms, leaning against the
wall—"I thought so," said she, in a low voice, "I thought
so;"—then covered her eyes and remained silent. Mr. Hall,
the moment he heard the sound of her voice and was assured
of her recovery, precipitately retired, leaving behind him
matter of deep speculation. Margaret was sitting in a window
of the drawing-room, through which he passed. She was alone,
for even the bride was forgotten in the excitement of the past
scene. He paused—he felt an explanation was due to her,
but that it was impossible to make it. He was softened by
the sad and sympathizing expression of her countenance, and
seated himself a moment by her side.
"I have been painfully awakened from a dream of bliss,"
said he, "which I was foolish enough to imagine might yet be
realized. But the heart rudely shattered as mine has been,
must never hope to be healed. I cannot command myself
sufficiently to say more, only let me make one assurance, that
whatever misery has been and may yet be my doom, guilt has
no share in my wretchedness—I cannot refuse myself the
consolation of your esteem."
Margaret made no reply—she could not. Had her existence
depended on the utterance of one word, she could not
have commanded it. She extended her hand, however, in
token of that friendship she believed was hereafter to be the
only bond that was to unite them. Long after Mr. Hall was
gone, she sat in the same attitude, pale and immovable as a
statue; but who can tell the changes and conflicts of her spirit,
in that brief period?
Mrs. St. Henry was too ill to be removed, and Mrs. Astor
was unbounded in her attentions. She could hardly regret a
circumstance which forced so interesting and distinguished a
personage upon the acceptance of her hospitality. Margaret
remained with her during the greater part of the night, apprehensive
of a renewal of the fainting fits, to which she acknowledged
she was constitutionally subject. Margaret watched
her as she lay, her face scarcely to be distinguished from the
sheet, it was so exquisitely fair, were it not for the shading of
the dark locks, that fell unbound over the pillow, still heavy
with the moisture with which they had been saturated; and, as
she contemplated her marvellous loveliness, she wondered not
at the influence she exercised over the destiny of another.
Mr. Hall had once spoken of himself as being the victim of
falsehood. Could she have been false—and loving him, how
could she have married another? If she had voluntarily
broken her troth, why such an agitation at his sight? and if
she were worthy of his love, why such a glaring display of her
person, such manifest courting of the free gaze of admiration?
These, and a thousand similar interrogations, did Margaret
make to herself during the vigils of the night, but they found
no answer. Towards morning, the lady slept; but Margaret
was incapable of sleep, and her wakeful eyes caught the first
gray tint of the dawn, and marked it deepening and kindling,
till the east was robed with flame, the morning livery of the
skies. All was bustle till the bridal party was on their way.
Mrs. St. Henry still slept, under the influence of an opiate,
and Margaret saw her no more. Farewells were exchanged,
kind wishes breathed, and the travellers commenced their
journey. Margaret's thoughts wandered from Mrs. St. Henry
to Mr. Hall, and back again, till they were weary of wandering
and would gladly have found rest; but the waters had not
subsided, there was no green spot where the dove of peace
could fold her drooping wings. Charles and Mary were too
much occupied by each other to notice her silence; and it was
not till they paused in their journey, she was recalled to existing
realities. Mary regretted something she had left behind—a
sudden recollection came over Margaret.
"Oh! Mary," said she, "I hope you have been cautious,
and not left any of that dangerous medicine, where mischief
could result from it. I intended to remind you of it before
"Certainly—to be sure I took especial care of it, I have it
with me in my trunk," replied Mary, but her conscience gave
her a remorseful twinge as she uttered the white lie, for she
had forgotten it, and where she had left it, she could not remember.
As Margaret had given her several warnings, she
was ashamed to acknowledge her negligence, and took refuge
in the shelter she had too often successfully sought. Had she
anticipated the fatal consequences of her oblivion, her bridal
felicity would have been converted into agony and despair.
She had left the paper containing the powder, yet undissolved,
on the mantelpiece of her chamber. The chambermaid who
arranged the room after her departure, seeing it and supposing
it to be medicine, put it in the box which Mrs. Astor devoted
to that department, in the midst of calomel, salts, antimony,
&c. It was folded in brown paper, like the rest, and there
was no label to indicate its deadly qualities. Mrs. St. Henry
continued the guest of Mrs. Astor, for her indisposition assumed
a more serious aspect, and it was impossible to remove
her. She appeared feverish and restless, and a physician was
called in to prescribe for her, greatly in opposition to her wishes.
She could not bear to acknowledge herself ill. It was the heat
of the room that had oppressed her—a transient cold, which
would soon pass away—she would not long trespass on Mrs.
Astor's hospitality. The doctor was not much skilled in
diseases of the heart, though he ranked high in his profession.
His grand panacea for almost all diseases was calomel, which
he recommended to his patient, as the most efficient and
speediest remedy. She received the prescription with a very
ill grace, declaring she had never tasted of any in her life,
and had a horror of all medicines. Mrs. Astor said she had
an apothecary's shop at command in her closet, and that she
kept doses constantly prepared for her own use. After the
doctor's departure, Mrs. St. Henry seemed much dejected, and
her eyes had an anxious, inquiring expression as they turned
on Mrs. Astor.
"You say," said she to her, in a low tone, "that friends
have been kind in their inquiries for me? Most of them are
strangers, and yet I thank them."
"Mr. Hall has called more than once," replied Mrs. Astor,
"he, I believe, is well known to you."
"He is indeed," said Mrs. St. Henry—"I wish I could
see him—but it cannot be; no, it would not answer."
Mrs. Astor longed to ask the nature of their former acquaintance,
but a conviction that the question would be painful, restrained
the expression of her curiosity.
"Would you not like to send for some of your friends?"
inquired Mrs. Astor—"your husband? My servants shall
be at your disposal."
"You are very kind," answered Mrs. St. Henry, quickly—"but
it is not necessary—my husband is too infirm to travel,
and believing me well, he will suffer no anxiety on my account—I
think I shall be quite well, after taking your sovereign
medicine. Give it me now, if you please, while I am in a
vein of compliance."
She turned, with so lovely a smile, and extended her hand
with so much grace, Mrs. Astor stood a moment, thinking what
a beautiful picture she would make; then taking the lamp
in her hand, she opened her closet, and took down the medicine
casket. It happened that the first paper she touched was
that which Mary had left, and which the servant had mingled
with the others.
"Here is one already prepared," cried she—"I always keep
them ready, the exact number of grains usually given, as we
often want it suddenly and at night."
She mixed the fatal powder with some delicious jelly, and
holding it to the lips of her patient, said with a cheering
smile—"Come, it has no disagreeable taste at all."
Mrs. St. Henry gave a nervous shudder, but took it, unconscious
of its deadly properties; and Mrs. Astor, praising her
resolution, seated herself in an easy chair by the bedside, and
began to read. She became deeply interested in her book,
though she occasionally glanced towards her patient to see if
she slept. She had placed the lamp so that its light would
not shine on the bed, and the most perfect quietness reigned
in the apartment. How long this tranquillity lasted it is impossible
to tell, for she was so absorbed in her book, time
passed unheeded. At length Mrs. St. Henry began to moan,
and toss her arms over the covering, as if in sudden pain.
Mrs. Astor leaned over her, and took her hand. It was hot
and burning, her cheek had a scarlet flush on it, and when
she opened her eyes they had a wild and alarming expression.
"Water," she exclaimed, leaning on her elbow, and shading
back her hair hurriedly from her brow—"Give me water, for
I die of thirst."
"I dare not," said Mrs. Astor, terrified by her manner—"anything
but that to quench your thirst."
She continued still more frantically to call for water, till
Mrs. Astor, excessively alarmed, sent for the doctor, and called
in other attendants. As he was in the neighbourhood, he
came immediately. He looked aghast at the situation of his
patient, for she was in a paroxysm of agony at his entrance,
and his experienced eye took in the danger of the case.
"What have you given her, madam?" said he, turning to Mrs
Astor, with a countenance that made her tremble.
"What have you given me?" exclaimed Mrs. St. Henry,
grasping her wrist with frenzied strength—"You have killed
me—it was poison—I feel it in my heart and in my brain!"
Mrs. Astor uttered a scream, and snatched up the paper
which had fallen on the carpet.
"Look at it, doctor—it was calomel, just as you prescribed—what
else could it be!"
The doctor examined the paper—there was a little powder
still sticking to it.
"Good heavens, doctor," cried Mrs. Astor, "what makes
you look so?—what is it?—what was it?"
"Where did you get this?" said he, sternly.
"At the apothecary's—I took it from that chest—examine
The doctor turned away with a groan, and approached his
beautiful patient, now gasping and convulsed. He applied
the most powerful antidotes, but without effect.
"I am dying," she cried, "I am dying—I am poisoned—but
oh, doctor, save me—save me—let me see him, if I must
die—let me see him again;" and she held out her hands imploringly
to Mrs. Astor, who was in a state little short of distraction.
"Only tell me, if you mean Mr. Hall."
"Who should I mean but Augustus?" she cried. "Perhaps
in death he may forgive me."
The doctor made a motion that her request should be complied
with, and a messenger was despatched.
What an awful scene was presented, when he entered that
chamber of death! Was that the idol of his young heart, the
morning star of his manhood; she, who lay livid, writhing and
raving there? Her long, dark hair hung in dishevelled masses
over her neck and arms, her large black eyes were fearfully
dilated, and full of that unutterable agony which makes the
spirit quail before the might of human suffering. Cold sweat-drops
gleamed on her marble brow, and her hands were damp
with that dew which no morning sunbeam can ever exhale.
"Almighty Father!" exclaimed Mr. Hall, "what a sight
The sound of that voice had the power to check the ravings
of delirium. She shrieked, and stretched out her arms towards
him, who sunk kneeling by the bedside, covering his face with
his hands, to shut out the appalling spectacle.
"Forgive me," she cried, in hollow and altered accents—"Augustus,
you are terribly avenged—I loved you, even when
I left you for another. Oh! pray for me to that great and
dreadful God, who is consuming me, to have mercy on me
He did pray, but it was in spirit, his lips could not articulate;
but his uplifted hands and streaming eyes called down
pardon and peace on the dying penitent. The reason, that
had flashed out for a moment, rekindled by memory and passion,
was now gone for ever. All the rest was but the striving
of mortal pain, the rending asunder of body and soul. In
a short time all was over, and the living were left to read one
of the most tremendous lessons on the vanity of beauty, and
the frailty of life, mortality could offer in all its gloomy
"This is no place for you, now," said the doctor, taking
Mr. Hall's arm, and drawing him into another apartment,
where, secure from intrusion, he could be alone with God and
his own heart. There was another duty to perform—to investigate
the mystery that involved this horrible tragedy. The
apothecary was summoned, who, after recovering from his first
consternation, recollected that a short time before, he had sold
a quantity of corrosive sublimate to a little black girl, according
to her mistress's orders. The servants were called for
examination, and Dinah was pointed out as the culprit—Dinah,
the imputed destroyer of the mirror, whose terror was now
deemed the result of conscious guilt. Mrs. Astor vehemently
protested she had never sent her, that it was the blackest falsehood;
and Dinah, though she told the whole truth, how Mary
had forbid her telling it was for her, and she merely used her
mistress's name on that account, gained no belief. The chambermaid,
who had found the paper and put it in the chest,
withheld her testimony, fearing she might be implicated in the
guilt. Everything tended to deepen the evidence against Dinah.
The affair of the broken looking-glass was revived. She had
been heard to say, after her memorable flagellation, that she
wished her mistress was dead, that she would kill her if she
could; and many other expressions, the result of a smarting
back and a wounded spirit, were brought up against her. It
was a piteous thing to see the fright, and hear the pleadings
of the wretched girl: "Oh! don't send me to jail—don't hang
me—send for Miss Mary," she repeated, wringing her hands,
and rolling her eyes like a poor animal whom the hunters have
at bay. But to jail she was sent—for who could doubt her
crime, or pity her after witnessing its terrific consequences?—a
damp, dreary prison-house, where, seated on a pallet of straw,
she was left to brood day after day over her accumulated
wrongs, hopeless of sympathy or redress. Let those who consider
a white lie a venial offence, who look upon deception as
necessary to the happiness and harmony of society, reflect on
the consequences of Mary Ellis's moral delinquency, and
tremble at the view. She had not done more than a thousand
others have done, and are daily doing; and yet what was the
result? The soul of the lovely, the erring, and the unprepared
had been sent shuddering into eternity, a household made
wretched, the innocent condemned, a neighbourhood thrown
into consternation and gloom. Had Mary confessed her negligence
to Margaret, instead of telling an unnecessary and untempted
falsehood, a warning message could have then been
easily sent back, and the wide-spread ruin prevented. There
is no such thing as a white lie; they are all black as the
blackest shades of midnight; and no fuller on earth can whiten
When Mrs. Astor had recovered from the shock of these
events in a sufficient degree, she wrote to Mary a detailed
account, begging her and Margaret to return immediately, and
cheer the home which now seemed so desolate. The letter
was long in reaching her, for the travellers were taking a devious
course, and could leave behind them no precise directions.
Mary was in one of her gayest, brightest humours, when she
received the epistle. She was putting on some new ornaments,
which Charles had presented to her, and he was looking over
her shoulder at the fair image reflected in the glass, whose
brow was lighted up with the triumph of conscious beauty.
"I look shockingly ugly to-day," said she, with a smile that
belied her words.
"You tell stories with such a grace," replied her flattering
husband, "I am afraid we shall be in love with falsehood."
"A letter from our dear Mrs. Astor; open it, Charles, while
I clasp this bracelet; and read it aloud, then Margaret and I
both can hear it."
Before Charles had read one page, Mary sunk down at his
feet, rending the air with hysterical screams. Her husband,
who was totally unaware of the terrible agency she had had in
the affair, raised her in indescribable alarm. Her own wild
expressions, however, revealed the truth, which Margaret's
shivering lips confirmed.
"Oh! had you told me but the truth," cried Margaret, raising
her prayerful eyes and joined hands to heaven—"how
simple, how easy it had been—Charles, Charles," added she,
with startling energy, "praise not this rash, misguided girl,
for the grace with which she lies—I will not recall the word.
By the worth of your own soul and hers, teach her, that as
there is a God above, he requires truth in the inward heart."
Charles trembled at the solemnity of the adjuration; and
conscience told him, that all the agonies his wife suffered,
and all the remorse which was yet to be her portion, were just.
Margaret sought the solitude of her chamber, and there, on
her knees, she endeavoured to find calmness. The image of
Mr. Hall, mourning over the death-bed of her once so madly
loved, the witness of her expiring throes, the receiver of her
last repentant sigh rose, between her and her Creator. Then,
that radiant face, that matchless form, which had so lately
excited a pang of envy, even in her pure heart, now blasted
by consuming poison, and mouldering in the cold grave; how
awful was the thought, and how fearful the retribution! She,
whose vain heart had by falsehood endangered the very existence
of another, was the victim of the very vice that had
blackened her own spirit. Yes! there is retribution even in
Mary returned, but how changed from the gay and blooming
bride! Her cheek was pale, and her eye heavy. She
hastened to repair the only wrong now capable of any remedy.
The prison doors of poor Dinah were thrown open, and
her innocence declared: but could the long and lonely days
and nights spent in that weary, gloomy abode be blotted
out? Could the pangs of cold, shuddering fear, the dream of
the gallows, the rope, the hangman's grasp round the gurgling
throat, the dark coffin seat, the scoffing multitude, be forgotten?
No!—Dinah's spirit was broken, for though her skin was
black, there was sensibility and delicacy too beneath her ebon
colouring. Could Mary bring back the gladness that once pervaded
the dwelling of Mrs. Astor? Everything there was
changed. The room in which Mrs. St. Henry died was closed,
for it was haunted by too terrible remembrances. Bitterly
did Mary mourn over the grave of her victim; but she could
not recall her by her tears. No remorse could open the gates
of the tomb, or reclothe with beauty and bloom the ruins of
Margaret, the true, the pure-hearted and upright Margaret,
was not destined, like Mary, to gather the thorns and briers
of existence. Long did the fragrance of her roses last, for she
had not plucked them with too rash a hand. She and Mr.
Hall again met. The moral sympathy that had drawn them
together, was not weakened by the tragic event that had intervened;
it had rather strengthened through suffering and sorrow.
Mr. Hall could never forget the death scene of Laura
St. Henry. The love expressed for him at a moment when
all earthly dissimulation was over had inexpressibly affected
him. Her unparalleled sufferings seemed an expiation for her
broken faith. It was at her grave that he and Margaret first
met after their sad separation, when the falling shades of
evening deepened the solemnity of the scene. Sorrow, sympathy,
devotion, and truth, form a holy groundwork for love;
and when once the temple is raised on such a foundation, the
winds and waves may beat against it in vain. Mr. Hall found
by his own experience, that the bruised heart can be healed,
for Margaret's hand poured oil and balm on its wounds. He
could repose on her faith as firmly as on the rock which ages
have planted. He knew that she loved him, and felt it due
to her happiness as well as his own, to ask her to be the companion
of his pilgrimage. If they looked back upon the clouds
that had darkened their morning, it was without self-reproach,
and remembrance gradually lost its sting. Who will say she
was not happier than Mary, who carried in her bosom, through
life, that which "biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an