The Bosom Serpent by
Caroline Lee Hentz
"I have something to tell you, Rosamond," said Cecil
Dormer, taking Rosamond Clifford on his knee and seating
himself in a corner of her mother's sofa—"Don't you want to
hear a story to-night?"
"Is it a sure enough story?" asked Rosamond, "or a fairy
tale, like the Arabian Nights Entertainment?"
"Every word of it truth," answered Cecil—"though some
portions of it may 'freeze your young blood.' It is of a little
girl, about your own age, and a woman who I verily believe
is Lucifer himself, dressed in woman's clothes."
"You have excited my curiosity," said Mrs. Clifford closing
her book, and taking a seat on the sofa—"for as every story
must have a hero, I suspect you are the hero of your own."
"Please tell it," cried Rosamond, with the impatience of a
petted child—"I want to hear about the little girl."
"Well," said Cecil, "you recollect how bright and beautiful
the moon shone last night, and how peaceful and lovely everything
looked. As I was returning to my lodgings, rather
later than usual, I passed through a lane, which shortened the
distance, though the walk itself was rough and unpleasant. As
I was indulging in my old habit of building castles by the moonlight,
I heard the most piercing shrieks issuing from a low
building to which I was directly opposite. There must be
murder going on, thought I, and like the giant, I imagined I
could 'smell the blood of an Englishman.' I rushed to the
door, almost shook it from its hinges in opening it, and found
myself in the narrow, dark passage—but, guided by the cries,
I soon reached another door, which I opened with as little
ceremony, and what do you think I saw?"
"Were they killing the poor little girl?" cried Rosamond,
drawing a long breath, her eyes growing larger and darker.
"You shall hear. In the centre of the room, there was a
large, iron-framed woman, with her right hand extended,
brandishing a leathern thong over the head of a pale, shrinking
girl, whom she grasped with her left hand, and from whose
bare shoulders the blood was oozing through grooves that
thong had cut. You may well start and shudder, for a more
hideous spectacle never met the eye. She was just in the act
of inflicting another lash, when I arrested her arm with a force
which must have made it ache to the marrow of the bones, and
caused her involuntarily to loosen her hold of her victim, who
fell exhausted to the floor. The woman turned on me, with
the fury of a wolf interrupted in its bloody banquet."
"Did she look like the picture of the wolf in little Red
Riding Hood?" asked Rosamond.
"Yes, a most striking resemblance. Her cap was blown
back to the crown of her head by the barbarous exercise in
which she had been engaged, her tongue actually protruded
from her mouth, in the impotence of her rage, and her hard,
dull-coloured eyes glowed like red-hot stones in their deep
"'What do you want?' cried she, in a voice between a
growl and a scream—'and who are you, and what is your
business? You had better take care, or I'll make your back
smart, in spite of your fine coat.'
"I could not help smiling at the idea of being whipped by
a woman, but I answered as sternly as possible—'I want
humanity, for I am a man. My business is to snatch this
child from your clutches, and to give you up to the city
authorities for disturbing the public peace.'
"'It is her fault, not mine,' replied she, a little intimidated
by my threat—'she always screams and hollows when I whip
her, as if I were murdering her, if I but scratch her skin. I
gave her a task to do, and told her if she did not do it I would
whip her—a good-for-nothing, lazy thing!—mope, mope from
morning to night, nothing but mope and fret, while I'm
drudging like a slave. I'm not going to support her any
longer, if I have to turn her out of doors. She thinks
because her mother happened to die here, I must give her a
home, forsooth, and she do nothing to pay for it, the ungrateful
"Oh! don't tell any more about that horrid old woman,"
interrupted Rosamond—"I want to hear about the little girl.
What did she do?"
"Why, she wept and sobbed, and said she did all she could,
but that she was sick and weak, and she wished she was in
the grave, by her poor mother's side, for there was nobody in
the world to take care of her, and she knew not what would
become of her. I told her impulsively that I would see she
was taken care of, and if that vile woman but lifted her
finger against her once more, she should rue it to her heart's
"There, Cecil, you have made a rhyme, so you must wish
before you speak again," said Rosamond, laughing.
"Well, I wish that poor, desolate child had a home like
this, and a mother like Mrs. Clifford, and a companion like
Rosamond—or I wish that I had a kind mother and sister, to
whose care I could intrust her, or a sweet gentle wife—and it
is the first time in my life I ever breathed that wish—who
would be willing to protect and cherish her for my sake."
"Is she a pretty child?" interrogated Mrs. Clifford, feelings
best known to herself prompting the question.
"Yes!" repeated Rosamond, eagerly, stealing a look in the
glass at her own bright eyes, fair complexion, and curling locks—"is
she pretty, and was she dressed nice?"
"No!" answered Cecil, "the only emotion she could excite
is that of the deepest pity. She is thin to emaciation, sallow
to cadaverousness, and her eyes occupy the greatest portion of
her face, they look so large and hollow and wild. She might
sit for a miniature representation of famine, disease, or woe.
There is something about her, however, that speaks of gentle
blood and early gentle breeding. Her name at least is
aristocratic, and bespeaks a French extraction—Eugenia St.
Rosamond was delighted with the name, and wondered how
she could help being pretty with such a beautiful name.
"Poor child!" said Mrs. Clifford, "it is a pity she is not
handsome, it would add so much to the romance of the adventure."
"She is helpless and oppressed," cried Cecil warmly, "and
if she had the beauty of a cherub her claims would not plead
more eloquently than they do in my heart. I should think I
were guilty of murder, if I left her in the hands of that virago.
It is true I put a douceur in her hand, terrifying her at the
same time with the threatenings of the law, but this will only
purchase the child's security for a short time. I made a vow
to myself, when she clung to me convulsively, as I attempted
to leave her, that I would place her in some situation where
she could find kindness and protection, till fitting arrangements
can be made for her education."
"You are indeed romantic," said Mrs. Clifford, seriously,
"and know not what you may entail upon yourself."
"I am sorry if you think me so," said Cecil, with a look
of mortification and disappointment—"I see I have as usual
drawn too hasty conclusions. You have been so very kind to
me, so kind as to make me forget in your household the
absence of domestic ties. I dared to hope you would assist me
in my design, and perhaps receive for a little while, under your
own roof, this neglected child of orphanage and want. I have
no other friend of whom I could ask a similar favour, and if I
find I am presuming too much on you, I believe I must try to
fall in love and get married, so that I can take my protegée to
a home of my own."
Mrs. Clifford had not the most distant idea of permitting
him to do so preposterous a thing, for she had long since appropriated
him to Rosamond, whom as a child he now petted
and caressed, and whom, if he continued as he now was, fancy
free, as a woman he must inevitably love. When he first
mentioned the girl, and expressed such a strong interest in
her behalf, she began to tremble in anticipation, fearing a
future rival in her views; but the lean, sallow face, half eyes
and half bone, just delineated, tranquillized her fears, and as
her fears subsided, her pity strengthened. And Rosamond,
though too young to enter into her mother's speculations, felt
her sympathy increased tenfold since she had learned that
nature had gone hand in hand with fortune, and been equally
niggard of her boons. She was unfortunately an only child,
and accustomed to be an object of exclusive attention in the
household, from her idolizing mother down to the lowest
menial. The guests too easily understood the way to Mrs.
Clifford's heart, and as Rosamond was pretty and sprightly,
they derived amusement from her little airs and graces. But
what flattered her vanity and elated her pride more than anything
else, Cecil Dormer, so distinguished for wealth and
accomplishments, so courted and admired, seemed to prefer her
company to the society of grown ladies, who had often declared
themselves jealous of her, and threatened, when she was a few
years older, to shut her up in some convent or cell. Thus imperceptibly
acquiring an exaggerated idea of her own consequence,
and believing the love and admiration of all her inalienable
right, had Cecil represented the orphan Eugenia as beautiful
and charming, it is more than probable she would have regarded
her as a dreaded encroacher on boundaries which nature had
prescribed and fortune guarded—but for the ugly Eugenia all
her sympathies were enlisted, and she pleaded her mother so
warmly to bring her there directly, and take her away from that
dreadful woman for good and all, that Cecil was delighted
with her sensibility and benevolence, and rejoiced in such a
The next morning Mrs. Clifford accompanied Dormer to
Mrs. Grundy's, the woman of the leathern thong, of whom
she requested the history of Eugenia. Mrs. Grundy was sullen,
and but little disposed to be communicative. She declared
she knew nothing about her mother, only that she came there
as a boarder, with barely sufficient to pay the expenses of her
lodgings; that she fell sick soon after, and died, leaving the
little girl on her hands, with nothing in the world but a grand
name for her support. She expressed no gratitude or pleasure
at the prospect of being released from the burthen under
which she groaned, but grumbled about her own hard lot, insinuating
that idleness and ingratitude were always sure to be
rewarded. Eugenia's appearance was a living commentary on
the truth of Dormer's story. Her neck and shoulders were
streaked with swollen and livid lines, and her large, blood-shot
eyes spoke of repressed and unutterable anguish. When told
of the new home to which she was to be transferred, that she
was to be placed by Dormer under the protection of Mrs. Clifford,
and that if she were a good girl, and merited such advantages,
she should be sent to school, and be fitted for a
respectable station in society—she stood like one bewildered,
as if awaking from a dream. Then, after taking in the truth
of her position, she turned towards Dormer with wonderful
quickness and even grace of motion, and clasping her hands
together, attempted to speak, but burst into a passionate fit of
"There!" cried Mrs. Grundy, "you see what an ungrateful
cretur she is. Do what you will for her, she does nothing but
cry. Well, all I hope, you'll not be sick of your bargain, and
be imposing her on me, before the week comes round again.
But I give you warning, when once she gets out of my doors,
she never darkens them a second time."
Dormer cast upon her a withering look, but, disdaining to
reply to mere vulgarity and insolence, he took the hand of
the sobbing child, and motioning to Mrs. Clifford, they left
the room, while Mrs. Grundy's voice, keeping up a deep
thorough bass, followed them till the door of the carriage was
closed and the rumbling of the wheels drowned accents which
certainly "by distance were made more sweet."
Eugenia had not been an hour under the roof of Mrs. Clifford,
before a complete transformation was effected, by the
supervising care of the proud and busy Rosamond. Her waiting-maid
was put in active employment, in combing, brushing,
and perfuming Eugenia's neglected hair, her wardrobe was ransacked
to supply her fitting apparel, her mother's medicine chest
was opened to furnish a healing liniment for her lacerated
neck, which was afterwards covered by a neat muslin apron.
"Now look at yourself in the glass," said Rosamond, leading
her to a large mirror, which reflected the figure at full length;
"don't you look nice?"
Eugenia cast one glance, then turned away with a deep
sigh. The contrast of her own tawny visage and meagre
limbs with the fair, bright, round, joyous face and glowing
lineaments of Rosamond, was too painful; but Rosamond
loved to linger where a comparison so favourable to herself
could be drawn, and her kind feelings to Eugenia rose in proportion
to the self-complacency of which she was the cause.
It was a happy little circle which met that evening around
Mrs. Clifford's table. Mrs. Clifford was happy in the new
claim she had acquired over Cecil Dormer, and the probable
influence it might exert on her future plans. Rosamond was
happy in enacting the character of Lady Bountiful, and being
praised by Cecil Dormer; and Cecil himself was happy in the
consciousness of having performed a benevolent action.
Eugenia's spirits had been so crushed by sorrow and unkindness,
it seemed as if their elastic principle were destroyed.
She was gentle, but passive, and appeared oppressed by the
strangeness of her situation. Yet, as she expressed no vulgar
amazement at the elegancies that surrounded her, and had
evidently been taught the courtesies of society, Mrs. Clifford
became convinced that Dormer was right in his belief that
she was of gentle blood, and the fear that Rosamond's manners
might be injured by contact with an unpolished plebeian
subsided. When Eugenia was somewhat accustomed to her
new situation, Mrs. Clifford questioned her minutely with
regard to her parentage and the peculiar circumstances of her
mother's death. She gathered from her broken and timid
answers, that her father was wealthy, and that the first years
of her life were passed in affluence; that as she grew older
her mother seemed unhappy and her father stern and gloomy,
why she could not tell; that one night, during her father's
absence, her mother had left her home, accompanied by herself
and one servant girl, and taken passage in a steamboat for
that city. They boarded in obscure lodgings, never went
abroad, or received visiters at home. Her mother grew paler
and sadder. At length the servant girl, who seemed greatly
attached to them, died. Then she described her mother as
being much distressed for money to pay her board, being
obliged to part with her watch and jewels, and when these
resources failed, thankful to obtain sewing from her landlady,
or, through her, from others. As they became more wretched
and helpless, they were compelled to go from house to house,
where her mother could find employment, till she was taken
sick at Mrs. Grundy's, and never lifted her head again from
the pillow so grudgingly supplied. A diamond ring, the most
valued and carefully preserved of all her jewels, procured for
her the sad privilege of dying there. Over her consequent
sufferings Eugenia only wept, and on this subject Mrs. Clifford
had no curiosity.
It was about six years after these events, that Cecil Dormer
again was seated on the sofa in Mrs. Clifford's drawing-room,
but Rosamond no longer sat upon his knee. The rosy-cheeked
child, with short curling hair, short frock, and ruffled pantalettes,
had disappeared, and, in her stead, a maiden with
longer and more closely fitting robes, smoother and darker
hair, and cheeks of paler and more mutable roses. Cecil was
unchanged in face, but there was that in his air and manner
which spoke a higher degree of elegance and fashion, and a
deeper acquaintance with the world. He had passed several
years at Paris. Rosamond had been in the mean time at a
distant boarding-school, where Eugenia still remained.
"What are you going to do with Eugenia," asked Mrs.
Clifford, "when she returns? Will you not find a young
female protegée rather an embarrassing appendage to a bachelor's
"I have just been thinking of the same thing," replied
Cecil. "I believe I must still encroach on your kindness as
I was wont to do in former days, and request you to receive
her under your protection, till some permanent arrangement
can be made for her home."
"That permanent arrangement must be your own marriage,
I should presume," said Mrs. Clifford; "and indeed, Cecil,
I wonder that with your fortune and rare endowments, you
do not think seriously of assuming the responsibility of a
"What! the sensible Benedict a married man?" cried
Cecil, with a theatrical start. "I shall lose all my consequence
in society—I shall dwindle down into complete insignificance.
No—I am not quite old enough to be married yet. I must act,
too, as protector and elder brother to Rosamond, on her entrance
into the world, an office which I promised to perform, when I
dandled her a child in my arms."
"I am sure Rosamond would not wish to interfere with
your personal arrangements," replied Mrs. Clifford, in a tone
of pique—she was vexed and astonished at Cecil's coldness
and indifference. She could not imagine the stoicism which
could resist the influence of Rosamond's blooming beauty. She
had looked forward to their meeting, after an absence of years,
as the moment which should realize her long-cherished hopes,
and nothing could be more provoking than the nonchalance
of Cecil, unless it was the warm interest he manifested in
everything respecting Eugenia.
"No, indeed," said Rosamond, laughing, "I willingly relinquish
every claim on your protection, for Eugenia's sake.
Perhaps some one else will take pity on my forlorn condition,
and volunteer as my champion." Rosamond laughed, but
her voice was unsteady, and a bright blush suffused her
Cecil noticed the vibration of her voice, and the sudden
crimson rushing even to her temples. Her emotion surprised—interested
him—was it possible, his marriage was an event
capable of awakening such visible agitation? He looked at her
more intently. Sensibility had added wonderful charms to
her features. His vanity was flattered. He had been much
admired in the world, and the language of adulation was
familiar to his ear. But here was a young girl, in all the
freshness and purity of life's vernal season, incapable of artifice,
unpractised in the blandishments of society, one too whom
he had known and loved as a beautiful child, and caressed
with the familiarity of a brother, who was paying him an involuntary
homage, as unexpected as it was fascinating. It was
surprising what a long train of images swept over his mind,
rapid and dazzling as lightning, called up by that deep maiden
blush. How delightful it would be to secure the possession
of a heart which had never yet known the pulsations of passion,
whose master chords were waiting the magic of his touch to
respond the deep music of feeling and love! How happy
Eugenia would be in the constant companionship of her
juvenile benefactress, her schoolmate and friend! Mrs. Clifford,
too, had always shown him the tenderness of a mother,
and was so interested in his future establishment. Strange,
what slight circumstances sometimes decide the most solemn,
the most important events of life! The opportune blush of
Rosamond sealed her own destiny, and that of Cecil Dormer.
In less than one month the "sensible Benedict" was indeed a
married man, the husband of the young and happy Rosamond.
Seldom indeed was there a prouder and happier bride—ambition,
pride, vanity, love—all were gratified, and could she
have purchased the lease of immortality on earth, she would
have asked no other heaven. But, even in the fulness of
love's silver honeymoon, a dark cloud rose. The mother, who
had lived but for her, and who was basking in the blaze of her
daughter's prosperity, without one thought beyond it, was
stricken by a sudden and fatal disease, and Rosamond's bridal
paraphernalia was changed to the garments of mourning. It
was her first felt misfortune, for her father died in her infancy;
and the blow was terrible. At any other time it would have
been so, but now this sudden and startling proof of mortality,
in the morn of her wedded felicity, was chill and awful.
Still there was a consolation in the sympathy of Cecil, that
disarmed sorrow of its keenest pang, and there were moments,
when she felt it even a joy to weep, since her tears were shed
on the bosom of a husband so passionately loved. The arrival
of Eugenia, a few weeks after this melancholy event, turned
her feelings into a new channel. Cecil had often asked of her
a description of Eugenia, whose letters, breathing so eloquently
of gratitude and affection, and so indicative of enthusiasm and
refinement of character, had been a source of pleasure and
pride to him. "If her person has improved only half as much
as her mind," he would say, "she cannot be ugly." Rosamond,
who had been her daily associate, was hardly sensible of the
gradual transformation that was going on in her external appearance.
The strength of her first impression remained, and
whenever she thought of Eugenia, she remembered her as she
stood, pale and hollow-eyed, by her side, before the mirror,
which gave back the blooming image of her own juvenile
beauty. Still, though she felt her immeasurable superiority
to this poor, dependent girl, she was agitated at her coming,
and regretted the commanding claims she had on her husband's
kindness and protection.
"Can this indeed be Eugenia?" exclaimed Cecil, in a tone
of delighted surprise, when, unbonneted and unshawled, she
stood before him, tearful, smiling, and agitated. "Rosamond,
are we not deceived? Tell me, can this indeed be our
"It is indeed that Eugenia whom your bounty has cherished,
the child whom you"—Eugenia paused in unconquerable emotion,
and clasped her hands together with characteristic fervour
and grace. Cecil was deeply affected. He recollected the
little girl whose emaciated features told a tale of such unutterable
woe, whose shoulders were furrowed with bleeding
streaks, whose cries of agony had pierced the silence of his
evening walk. He contrasted the image drawn on his remembrance,
with the figure of exquisite symmetry, the face moulded
into the softness of feminine loveliness, the eyes of such rare
beauty and lustre, that they actually illuminated her whole
countenance. His heart swelled with the consciousness of
rewarded benevolence, it softened into tenderness towards every
human being, and overflowed with a love for Rosamond, such
as he had never felt before. So true it is that the exercise of
every kind and generous affection increases the soul's capacities
for loving, instead of draining and impoverishing them. "You
must henceforth be sisters," said he, taking a hand of each,
and seating himself between them. "I need not tell you to
love each other as such. I am sure that injunction is unnecessary.
But there is one task I must impose upon you, Rosamond.
You must teach Eugenia to look upon me as a brother,
a friend, not as a benefactor, for I feel repaid a thousand times
over, for all I have done for her, in the happiness of this
moment. Let the idea of obligation be banished for ever, and
we can be the happiest trio in the universe, bound together by
a threefold and indissoluble cord."
"My mother!" ejaculated Rosamond, and drawing away
her hand from her husband, she covered her face and wept.
He reproached himself for his transient oblivion of her sorrow,
and in endeavouring to soothe it, Eugenia was for a while
forgotten. But he little dreamed of the fountain of Rosamond's
tears. It would have been difficult for herself to have analyzed
the strange feelings struggling within her. The bosom
serpent, of whose existence she had been previously unconscious,
then wound its first cold coil in her heart, and instead of
shuddering at its entrance, and closing its portals on the deadly
guest, she allowed it to wind itself in its deepest foldings,
where its hissings and writhings were no less terrible, because
unheard and unseen. Rosamond from earliest childhood had
been the object of exclusive devotion from those she loved.
She had never known a sharer in her mother's love, for unhappily
she was an only child. The undivided fondness of her
husband had hitherto been all that her exacting heart required.
Now, she must admit an acknowledged sharer of his thoughts
and affections, not as an occasional visiter, but as an constant
inmate, an inseparable companion. The hallowed privacy of
the domestic altar was destroyed, for the foot of the stranger
had desecrated it. She could no longer appropriate to herself
every look and smile of him, whose glances and smiles she believed
her own inalienable right. If she walked abroad,
another beside herself, must henceforth lean upon his arm.
If she remained at home, another must also be seated at his
side. And this invasion of her most precious immunities, was
not to be endured for a short season, for weeks or months,
but years, perhaps for life. These new and evil anticipations
swept darkly across the troubled surface of Rosamond's mind,
as she gazed on the varying countenance of Eugenia, and
wondered she had never thought her handsome before. The
gratitude and sensibility that beamed from her eyes whenever
they turned on her benefactor, seemed to her diseased imagination
the harbingers of a warmer emotion, and the constitutional
ardour and frankness of her expressions were indicative
of the most dangerous of characters. It was well for Rosamond
that the recent death of her mother was a legitimate excuse
for her pensiveness and gloom, as the incipient stage of the
malady that was beginning to steal into her soul must otherwise
have been perceived. Cecil, frank, confident, and unsuspecting,
never dreamed that every attention bestowed on
Eugenia was considered as a robbery to herself. Eugenia,
warm-hearted, impulsive, and grateful, as little imagined that
the overflowings of her gratitude were construed into feelings
she would have blushed to have cherished. Cecil was passionately
fond of music. Since her mother's death, Rosamond
could not be prevailed upon to touch the keys of the instrument,
and he was too kind to urge upon her a task repugnant
to her feelings. But when Eugenia discovered that she possessed
an accomplishment capable of imparting pleasure to him
who had given her the means of acquiring it, she was never
weary of exercising it. She sang too with rare sweetness and
power, and never refused to sing the songs that Cecil loved
to hear. Rosamond could not sing. She had never mourned
over this deficiency before, but now she could not bear to think
that another should impart a pleasure to her husband, she had
not the means of bestowing. She forgot that she had selfishly
denied to gratify his taste, in the way she had the power of
doing, because it would have interrupted the indulgence of her
filial grief. Another thing deeply wounded Rosamond's feelings:
always accustomed to being waited upon by others, to
have all her wishes anticipated, she never thought of showing
her love by those active manifestations which most men love
to receive. She would have laid down her life for her husband,
if the sacrifice were required, but she never thought of
offering him a glass of water with her own hand, because it
was the office of the servants to supply his recurring wants.
Never till she saw these attentions bestowed by another who
was not a menial, did she imagine that affection could give an
added relish, even to a cup of cold water, when offered to the
thirsty lip. One warm, sultry day, Cecil entered after a long
walk, and throwing himself on a sofa exclaimed, "Give me
some drink, Titania—for I faint—even as a sick girl." Rosamond
smiled at his theatrical assumption of Cæsar's dignity,
and reaching out her hand, rang the bell. Eugenia flew out
of the room, and returned long before a servant could answer
the summons, with a glass of water, and bending one knee to
the ground, with sportive grace she offered it to his acceptance.
"Eugenia!" cried Rosamond, colouring very high, "we
have no lack of servants. I am sure there is no necessity of
your assuming such a trouble."
"Oh! but it is such a pleasure!" exclaimed Eugenia,
springing up, and placing the empty glass on the sideboard.
"It is all I can do. You would not deprive me of the privilege
if you knew how dearly I prize it."
Had Cecil observed the heightened colour of Rosamond, he
might have conjectured that all was not right in her bosom,
but she sat in the shadow of a curtain, and her emotion was
unperceived. A few evenings afterwards, they were walking
together, when they met a woman bustling through the streets,
with her arm a-kimbo, and an air of boldness and defiance,
that spoke the determined Amazon. Eugenia clung closely
to Cecil's arm as she approached, and turned deadly pale;
she recognised in those stony eyes and iron features the dreaded
Mrs. Grundy, the tyrant of her desolate childhood, and she
felt as if the thong were again descending on her quivering
flesh, and the iron again entering into her soul. Such a rush
of painful recollections came over her, she was obliged to lean
against a railing for support, while Cecil, who saw what was
the cause of her agitation, gave a stern glance at the woman,
who had stopped, and was gazing in her face with an undaunted
"Heyday!" cried she, "who's this? 'Tisn't Giny, sure
enough? I never should have thought of such a thing, if it
hadn't been for the gentleman. Well! can't you speak to a
body, now you have got to be such a fine lady? This is all the
gratitude one gets in the world."
"Gratitude!" repeated Cecil, "how dare you talk of
gratitude to her, before me? Pass on and leave her, and be
thankful that your sex shields you a second time from my
"Well you needn't bristle up so, sir," cried she, with a sneer.
"I'm not going to kill her. I suppose you've got married to
her by this time. But you'd better look sharp, lest she gets
into a rambling way, as her mother did before her." With a
malignant laugh the virago passed on, delighted to find that
she had drawn quite a crowd to the spot where Eugenia still
leaned, incapable of motion, and Rosamond stood, pale as a
statue, brooding over the words of the woman, as if, like a Delphian
priestess, she had uttered the oracles of fate.
"Why should she imagine her to be his wife," whispered
the bosom serpent, subtle as its arch prototype in the bowers
of Eden, "if she had not witnessed in him evidences of tenderness,
such as a husband only should bestow? That random
sentence spoke volumes, and justifies thy fearful suspicions.
Alas for thee, Rosamond! The young blossoms of thy happiness
are blighted in the sweet springtime of their bloom. There
is no more greenness or fragrance for thee—better that thou
hadst died, and been laid by thy mother's side, than live to
experience the bitter pangs of deceived confidence and unrequited
Cecil, unconscious of the secret enemy that was operating
so powerfully against him in the breast of Rosamond, wondered
at her coldness to Eugenia; a coldness which became every
day more apparent, and was even assuming the character of
dislike. It seemed so natural in one so young and affectionate
as Rosamond, to wind her affections round a being of corresponding
youth and sensibility, so foreign to her gentle nature
to treat one entirely dependent on her kindness, with such
reserve and distrust—he wondered, regretted, and at length
remonstrated. Eugenia had just anticipated a servant's movements
in bringing him a book from the library, which he
expressed a desire to see, and he had taken it from her hand
with a smile of acknowledgment, when the instantaneous
change in the countenance of Rosamond arrested his attention.
It was so chilling, so inexplicable, he dropped the book to the
ground in his confusion, which Eugenia, with her usual graceful
readiness, again lifted and laid upon his knee. In raising
her face from her bending position, she encountered the glance
of Rosamond, which seemed to have upon her the momentary
effect of fascination. She stood as if rooted to the spot,
gazing steadfastly on her, then with a cheek as hueless as
ashes, turned and precipitately left the apartment. Cecil and
Rosamond looked at each other without speaking. Never had
they exchanged such a look before. "Good heavens!" he
exclaimed, rising and walking two or three times across the
apartment, with a resounding tread. "Good heavens! what
a transformation! I must know the cause of it. Tell me,
Rosamond, and tell me truly and unreservedly, what means
your mysterious and unkind behaviour to one who never can
have offended you? What has Eugenia done to forfeit your
affection as a friend, your consideration as a guest, your respect
to the claims of your husband's adopted sister?"
"It were far better to subject your own heart and conscience
to this stern inquisition, than mine, Cecil," replied Rosamond
bitterly. "Had you informed me sooner of the length and
breadth of my duties, I might have fulfilled them better.
I did not know, when Eugenia was received into our household,
how overwhelming were her claims. I did not know
that I was expected to exalt her happiness on the ruins of my
"Rosamond! Rosamond!" interrupted Cecil, vehemently—"Beware
what you say—beware lest you strike a deathblow
to our wedded love. I can bear anything in the world
but suspicion. Every feeling of my heart has been laid bare
before you. There is not a thought that is not as open to your
scrutiny as the heavens in the blaze of noonday. How unworthy
of yourself, how disgraceful to me, how wounding to Eugenia,
this unjustifiable conduct!"
Every chord of Rosamond's heart quivered with agony at
this burst of indignant feeling from lips which had never
before addressed her but in mild and persuasive tones. Had
the wealth of worlds been laid at her feet, she would have
given it to recall the last words she had uttered. Still, in the
midst of her remorse and horror, she felt the overmastering
influence of her imagined wrongs, and that influence triumphed
over the suggestions of reason and the admonitions of prudence.
"It is ungenerous—it is unmanly," she cried, "to force
me into the confession of sentiments which you blame me for
declaring—I had said nothing, done nothing—yet you arraign
me before the bar of inexorable justice, as the champion of the
injured Eugenia. If the sincerity of my countenance offends
you, it is my misfortune, not my fault. I cannot smile on the
boldness I condemn, or the arts I despise."
"Boldness! arts!" repeated Cecil. "If there was ever an
unaffected, impulsive child of nature, it is she whom you so
deeply wrong; but you wrong yourself far more. You let
yourself down from the high station where I had enthroned
you, and paid you a homage scarcely inferior to an angel of
light. You make me an alien from your bosom, and nourish
there a serpent which will wind you deeper and deeper in its
envenomed folds, till your heart-strings are crushed beneath its
"I am indeed most wretched," exclaimed Rosamond; "and
if I have made myself so, I deserve pity rather than upbraiding.
Cecil, you never could have loved me, or you would not
so lightly cast me from you."
Cecil, who had snatched up his hat, and laid his hand on
the latch of the door, turned at the altered tone of her voice.
Tears, which she vainly endeavoured to hide, gushed from her
eyes, and stole down her colourless cheeks.
"Rosamond," said he, in a softened tone, approaching her
as he spoke, "if you believe what you last uttered, turn away
from me, and let us henceforth be strangers to each other;—but
if your heart belies their meaning, if you can restore me
the confidence you have withdrawn, and which is my just due,
if you are willing to rely unwaveringly on my integrity, my
honour, and my love, come to my arms once more, and they
shall shelter you through life with unabated tenderness and
Poor, foolish Rosamond! she had wrought herself up to a
state bordering on despair, and the revulsion of her feelings
was so great that she almost fainted in the arms that opened
to enfold her. Her folly, her madness, her injustice and
selfishness stared her so fearfully in the face, she was appalled
and self-condemned. Like the base Judean, she had been
about to throw away from her "a gem richer than all its tribe,"
a gem of whose priceless worth she had never till this moment
been fully conscious. She made the most solemn resolutions
for the future, invoking upon herself the most awful penalties
if she ever again yielded to a passion so degrading. But passion
once admitted is not so easily dispossessed of its hold.
Every self-relying effort is but a flaxen withe bound round the
slumbering giant, broken in the first grasp of temptation.
Jealousy is that demon, whose name is Legion, which flies
from the rebuking voice of Omnipotence alone. Rosamond
did not say, "If God give me strength, I will triumph over
my indwelling enemy." She said, "The tempter shall seek
me in vain—I am strong, and I defy its power." Rosamond
was once more happy, but she had planted a thorn in the
bosom of another, sharp, deep, and rankling. No after kindness
could obliterate the remembrance of that involuntary,
piercing glance. It was but the sheathing of a weapon.
Eugenia felt that the cold steel was still lurking in the scabbard,
ready to flash forth at the bidding of passion. A few
evenings after the scene just described, when she had been
playing and singing some of Cecil's favourite songs, at the
magnanimous request of Rosamond, she turned suddenly to
Cecil and said—
"I think I overheard a friend of yours say to you the other
day, that I might make my fortune on the stage. Now,"
added she, blushing, "I do not wish to go upon the stage, but if
my musical talents could give me distinction there, they might
be made useful in the domestic circle. I have been told of a
lady who wishes an instructress for her daughters. Suffer me
to offer myself for the situation. If through your bounty I am
possessed of accomplishments which may be subservient to
myself or others, is it not my duty to exercise them? I should
have done this sooner—I have been too long an idler."
"No, no, Eugenia," said Rosamond, warmly, every good
and generous feeling of her heart in full and energetic operation—"we
can never sanction such a proposition. Is not this
your home as well as mine? Are you not our sister? Remember
the threefold cord that never was to be broken." She
pressed Eugenia's hand in both her own, and continued, in a
trembling voice—"If I have ever seemed cold or unkind, forgive
me, Eugenia, for I believe I am a strange, fitful being. You
found me a sad mourner over the grave of my mother, with
weakened nerves and morbid sensibilities. My mind is getting
a healthier tone. Remain with us—we shall be happier by
Completely overcome by this unexpected and candid avowal,
Eugenia threw her arms round Rosamond's neck, and exclaimed—"I
shall be the happiest being in the world, if you indeed
love me. I have no one else in the world to love but you and
Cecil felt as if he could have prostrated himself at Rosamond's
feet, and thanked her for her noble and generous conduct.
He had waited in trembling eagerness for her reply.
It was more than he expected. It was all he wished or required.
"Be but true to yourself, my beloved Rosamond," said he,
when he was alone with her, "and you can never be unjust
to me. Continue in the path you have now marked out, and
you shall be repaid not only with my warmest love, but with
my respect, my admiration, and my gratitude."
Thus encouraged, Rosamond felt new life flowing in her
veins. Though she could not sing according to scientific
rules, her buoyant spirit burst forth in warbling notes, as she
moved about her household duties, with light, bounding steps,
rejoicing in the consciousness of recovered reason. Week
after week glided away, without any circumstance arising to
remind them of the past. Indeed all seemed to have forgotten
that anything had ever disturbed their domestic peace.
"Oh! what beautiful flowers!" exclaimed Rosamond, as,
riding with her husband, on a lovely autumnal evening, they
passed a public garden, ornamented with the last flowers of
the season. "I wish I had some of them. There are the
emblems of love, constancy, and devotion. If I had them now,
I would bind them on my heart, in remembrance of this enchanting
"You shall have them speedily, dear Rosamond," replied he,
"even if, like the gallant knight who named the sweet flower
Forget-me-not, I sacrifice my life to purchase them."
Rosamond little thought those flowers, sought with such
childish earnestness, and promised with such sportive gallantry,
were destined to be so fatal to her newly acquired serenity.
As soon as they reached home, Cecil returned to seek the
flowers which Rosamond desired, and selecting the most beautiful
the garden afforded, brought them with as much enthusiasm
of feeling as if it were the bridegroom's first gift. When he
entered the room Eugenia was alone, Rosamond being still engaged
in changing her riding apparel.
"Oh! what an exquisitely beautiful nosegay," cried Eugenia,
involuntarily stretching out her hand—"how rich, how
"Yes! I knew you would admire them," he replied—"I
brought them expressly for——" Rosamond, he was just
going to add, when he was suddenly called out, leaving the
flowers in the hand of Eugenia, and the unfinished sentence
in her ear. Not knowing anything of their appropriation,
Eugenia believed the bouquet a gift to herself, and she
stood turning them to the light in every direction, gazing on
their rainbow hues with sparkling eyes, when Rosamond entered
the apartment, with a cheek glowing like the roses before
"See what beautiful flowers your husband has just given
me," cried Eugenia—"he must have been endowed with second
sight, for I was just yearning after such a bouquet."
Had Rosamond beheld the leaves of the Bohon-Upas, instead
of the blossoms she loved, she could not have experienced a
more sickening sensation. She had begged for those flowers—she
had pointed out their emblematic beauties—had promised
to bind them to her heart, and yet they were wantonly
bestowed on another, as if in defiance of her former wretchedness.
She grew dizzy from the rapidity of the thoughts that
whirled through her brain, and leaning against the mantelpiece,
pressed her hand upon her head.
"You are ill, dear Rosamond," cried Eugenia, springing
towards her—"lean on me—you are pale and faint."
Rosamond recoiled from her touch, as if a viper were
crawling over her. She had lost the power of self-control, and
the passion that was threatening to suffocate her, found vent
"Leave me," cried she, "if you would not drive me mad.
You have destroyed the peace of my whole life. You have
stolen like a serpent into my domestic bower, and robbed me
of the affections of a once doting husband. Take them openly,
if you will, and triumph in the possession of your ill-gotten
"Rosamond!" uttered a deep, low voice behind her. She
started, turned, and beheld her husband standing on the
threshold of the door, pale, dark and stern as the judge who
pronounces the doom of the transgressor. Eugenia, who had
dropped the flowers at the commencement of Rosamond's
indignant accusation, with a wild, bewildered countenance,
which kindled as she proceeded, now met her scorching
glance, with eyes that literally flashed fire. Her temple veins
swelled, her lip quivered, every feature was eloquent with
"Rosamond," said she, "you have banished me for ever.
You have cruelly, wantonly, causelessly insulted me." She
walked rapidly to the door, where Cecil yet stood, and glided
by him before he could intercept her passage. Then suddenly
returning, she snatched his hand, and pressed it to her forehead
and to her lips.
"My benefactor, brother, friend!" cried she, "may Heaven
for ever bless thee, even as thou hast blessed me!"
"Stay, Eugenia, stay!" he exclaimed, endeavouring to detain
her—but it was too late. He heard her footsteps on the stairs,
and the door of her chamber hastily close, and he knew he
could not follow her.
"Rash, infatuated girl!" cried he, turning to Rosamond,
"what have you done? At a moment too when my whole
heart was overflowing with tenderness and love towards you.
Remember, if you banish Eugenia from the shelter of my roof,
I am bound by every tie of honour and humanity still to protect
and cherish her."
"I know it well," replied Rosamond; "I remember too
that it was to give a home to Eugenia you first consented to
bind yourself by marriage vows. That home may still be hers.
I am calm now, Cecil—you see I can speak calmly. The certainty
of a misfortune gives the spirit and the power of endurance.
Those flowers are trifles in themselves, but they
contain a world of meaning."
"These worthless flowers!" exclaimed Cecil, trampling
them under his feet till their bright leaves lay a soiled and
undistinguishable mass—"and have these raised the whirlwind
of jealous passion? These fading playthings, left for a moment
in another's keeping, accidentally left, to be immediately
"You gave them to her—with her own lips she told me—rapture
sparkling in her eyes."
"It was all a misunderstanding—an innocent mistake. Oh,
Rosamond! for a trifle like this you could forget all my faith
and affection, every feeling which should be sacred in your
eyes—forget your woman's gentleness, and utter words which
seem branded in my heart and brain in burning and indelible
characters. I dare not go on. I shall say what I may bitterly
repent. I wish you no punishment greater than your own
Rosamond listened to his retreating footsteps, she heard
the outer door heavily close, and the sound fell on her ear
like the first fall of the damp clods on the coffin, the signal of
mortal separation. She remained pale as a statue, gazing on
the withering flowers, counting the quick beatings of her lonely
heart, believing herself doomed to a widowhood more cruel
than that the grave creates. Cecil's simple explanation,
stamped with the dignity of truth, had roused her from the
delirium of passion, and seeing her conduct in its true light,
she shuddered at the review. Her head ached to agony—one
moment she shivered with cold, the next the blood in her veins
seemed changed to molten lead. "I feel very strangely,"
thought she—"perhaps I am going to die, and when I am
dead, he will pity and forgive me." She had barely strength
to seek her own chamber, where, throwing herself on the bed,
she lay till the shades of night darkened around her, conscious
of but one wish, that her bed might prove her grave, and
Cecil, melted by her early fate, might shed one tear of forgiveness
over the icy lips that never more could open to offend.
The bell rang for supper—she heeded not the summons. A
servant came to tell her that Mr. Dormer was below. Her
heart bounded, but she remained immovable. Again the
"Shall I make tea for Mr. Dormer?" she asked. "Miss
Eugenia is gone out."
Rosamond started up, and leaned on her elbow. "Gone!"
repeated she, wildly—"when? where?"
"I don't know, ma'am," replied the girl; "she put on her
bonnet and shawl an hour ago and went out through the back
"Does Mr. Dormer know it?" asked Rosamond faintly.
"I don't know, ma'am—he has just come in," was the reply.—"I
saw him reading a note he found on the table in the
hall, and he seemed mightily flustered."
There was an insolent curiosity in the countenance of the
girl, who had hitherto been respectful and submissive. She
placed the lamp near the bedside and left the room; and
almost simultaneously, Cecil entered, with an open note in his
hand, which he threw upon the bed without speaking. She
seized it mechanically, and attempted to read it, but the letters
seemed to move and emit electric sparks, flashing on her
aching eyeballs. It was with difficulty that she deciphered
the following lines, written evidently with a trembling
"Farewell, kindest, noblest, and best of friends! May the
happiness which I have unconsciously blighted, revive in my
absence. I go, sustained by the strength of a virtuous resolution,
not the excitement of indignant passion. The influence
of your bounty remains, and will furnish me an adequate
support. Seek not, I pray you, to find the place of my abode.
The Heaven in which I trust will protect me. Farewell—deluded,
but still beloved Rosamond! Your injustice shall
be forgotten, your benefits remembered for ever."
Rosamond dropped the letter, cast one glance towards her
husband, who stood with folded arms, pale and immovable, at
the foot of the bed, then sinking back upon her pillow, a mist
came over her eyes, and all was darkness.
When she again recovered the consciousness of her existence,
she found herself in a darkened chamber, the curtains
of her bed closely drawn, saving a small aperture, through
which she could perceive a neat, matronly figure, moving with
soft, careful steps, and occasionally glancing anxiously towards
the bed. She attempted to raise herself on her elbow, but she
had not strength to lift her head from the pillow; she could
scarcely carry her feeble hand to her forehead, to put back the
moist hair which fell heavily over her brow.
"How weak I am!" said she faintly. "How long have I
"Be composed," said the stranger, approaching her gently,
"and do not speak. You have been very ill. Everything
depends on your keeping perfectly quiet."
Rosamond began to tremble violently as she gazed up in
the stranger's face. Why was she committed to her charge?
Was she forsaken by him whom awakening memory brought
before her as an injured and perhaps avenging husband?
"Where is he?" cried she, in a voice so low, the woman
bent her ear to her lips, to hear.
"The doctor?" replied she. "Oh, he will soon be here.
He said if you waked, no one must come near you, and you
must not be allowed to speak one word. It might cost you
Rosamond tried to gasp out her husband's name, but her
parched lips were incapable of further articulation. Her eyes
closed from exhaustion, and the nurse, supposing she slept,
drew the curtains closer, and moved on tiptoe to the window.
At length the door slowly opened, and the footstep of a man
entered the room. Rosamond knew it was not her husband's
step, and such a cold feeling fell on her heart, she thought it
the precursor of death. She heard a whispered conversation
which set every nerve throbbing with agony. Then the curtains
were withdrawn, and she felt a stranger's hand counting
the pulsations of her chilled veins. "I am forsaken," thought
she, "even in my dying hour. Oh God! it is just." Again
the chamber was still, and she must have fallen into a deep
slumber, for when she again opened her eyes, she saw a lamp
glimmering through the curtains, and the shadow of her nurse
reflected in them, seated at a table, reading. She was reading
aloud, though in a low voice, as if fearful of disturbing the
slumbers she was watching. Rosamond caught the sound,
"I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." She repeated it
to herself, and it gave her an awful sensation. The commanding
claims of her Maker upon her affections, for the first
time rose before her in all their height, depth, power, and
majesty. "A jealous God!" How tremendous, how appalling
the idea. If she, a poor worm of the dust, was so severe and
uncompromising in her demands upon a fellow being, what
terrible exactions might a neglected Deity make from the creature
he had formed for his glory? She remembered the command
from which that fearful sentence was extracted. She
had broken it, trampled it under her feet. She had bowed
down in adoration to an earthly idol, and robbed her God, her
jealous God, of the homage due to his august name. The
light that poured in upon her conscience was like the blazing
of a torch through a dark mine. She had felt before the
madness of her bosom passion, she now felt its sin and its
sacrilege. "I am forsaken," again repeated she to herself,
"but I had first forsaken thee, O my God! Thou art drawing
me home unto thee." Tears gathering thick and fast,
fell down her pale cheeks, till the pillow they pressed was wet
as with rain-drops. She wept long, and without one effort
to restrain the gushing forth of her melting heart, when
exhausted nature once more sought relief in sleep. Her first
consciousness, on awakening, was of a soft hand laid gently on
her brow, a warm breath stealing over her cheek, and a trembling
lip gently pressed upon her own. Had she awakened in
the abodes of the blest, in the midst of the hierarchy of heaven,
she could hardly have experienced a deeper rapture than that
which flooded her breast. Slowly, as if fearing to banish by the
act the image drawn on her now glowing heart, she lifted her
eyes, and met the eyes of her husband looking down upon her,
no longer stern and upbraiding, but softened into woman's
tenderness. The next moment he was kneeling by the bedside,
his face buried in the covering, which shook from the
strong emotion it concealed.
When Rosamond learned that Cecil, instead of having left
her to her bitter consequences of her rashness, in just and unappeasable
resentment, had never left her in her unconsciousness,
and since her restoration to reason had hovered near the
threshold of her chamber day and night, forbidden to enter,
lest his presence should produce an agitation fatal to a frame
apparently trembling on the brink of the grave, she again reproached
herself for believing he could have been capable of
such unrelenting cruelty. When she was assured too that
Eugenia was safe under the protection of an early friend,
whom she had most unexpectedly encountered, and only
waited a passport from the physician, to come to her bedside,
her soul swelled with gratitude that found no language but
"I have sinned against Heaven and thee, my husband!"
exclaimed Rosamond, from the depth of a penitent and chastened
spirit—"I am no more worthy to be called thy wife."
"We have both erred, my beloved Rosamond; we have lived
too much for the world and ourselves, regardless of higher
and holier relations. Never, till I feared to lose thee for
ever, did I feel the drawings of that mighty chain which links
us inseparably to Him who created us. Let us both commence
life anew—awakened to our responsibilities as Christians, and,
profiting by the sad experience of the past, let us lay the
foundations of our happiness too deep and broad for the storms
of passion to overthrow. Let us build it on the Rock of
And who was the friend whom Eugenia had so providentially
discovered? When she left the dwelling of Cecil Dormer,
to seek the lady who wished for an instructress for her
daughters, one of the first persons who crossed her path was
the terrific Mrs. Grundy. This woman, whose hatred for her
seemed implacable as the injuries she had inflicted were deep,
seeing her alone and in evident disorder of mind, began to
revile and threaten her. A stranger, observing the terror and
loathing with which a young and attractive-looking girl shrunk
from a coarse and masculine woman, paused and offered his
protection. The remarkable resemblance which Eugenia
bore to her ill-fated mother led to a discovery as unexpected
as it was interesting. The melancholy stranger was no other
than her own father, who believed his wife and child had
perished in their flight, having heard of the destruction of
the boat in which they fled. Thus mysteriously had Providence
transmuted into a blessing, what seemed the greatest misfortune
of her life.
The history of Mr. St. Clair and his unfortunate wife,
which he subsequently related to Cecil and Rosamond, was
fraught with the most intense interest. Like Rosamond, he
had cherished a bosom serpent, remorseless as death, "cruel as
the grave;" but he had not, like her, found, before it was too
late, an antidote for its deadly venom.