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 sockets."

"'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 hussy!'"

"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 core."

"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. Clair."

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 juvenile coadjutor.

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 weeping.

"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 establishment?"

"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 household."

"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 cheek.

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 Eugenia?"

"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 stare.

"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 indignation."

"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 love."

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 own."

"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 coils."

"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 undivided devotion."

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 and 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 my benefactor."

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 ride."

"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 fragrant!"

"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 her.

"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 in language.

"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 treasure."

"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 scorn.

"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 reclaimed!"

"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 reflections."

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 servant came.

"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 gate."

"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 hand:—

"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 slept?"

"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 your life."

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 prayer.

"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 Ages."

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.