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 screeching!"

"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 hear."

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 the fire.

"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 unobserved.

"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, Mary Ellis.

"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 lie."

"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 beauty."

"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 pure."

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. Hall.

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 around her.

"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, for ever."

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 particularly responsible."

"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 his attention.

"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 and taste."

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 our departure."

"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 it, pray."

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 is this!"

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 hereafter."

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 annals.

"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 them.

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 this world.

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 life.

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 adder?"