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בס"ד

Poetry and Fiction by Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)

The Fatal Cosmetic

 

mystery novella by Rebekah Hyneman,
Philadelphia, 1853

Originally serialized in MASONIC MIRROR AND KEYSTONE, 1853

CHAPTER 1

Many, if not all, of my readers have heard of the "Bath of Blood", a story told of a lady of high rank, who flourished in the olden time, very long ago; but few imagine that deeds almost as dark as hers were perpetuated in this enlightened nineteenth century, and here in our very midst. I shall proceed to relate the story, partly in accordance with my own taste, and partly as it fell from the lips of the narrator, an actor in the fearful drama, and almost a victim to the insatiable vanity and cold-blooded cruelty of one of her own sex.

Sometime during the year 1815, shortly after peace was proclaimed between this country and Great Britain, the fashionable portion of Philadelphians perceived a new star, in the person of Madame Martigny, a French lady of great wealth and rare beauty. Her superb menage, her beauty, her accomplishments, and, above all, the enchanting fascination of her manners, were the theme of conversation among all those who were fortunate enough to get the entree to her magnificent establishment. She brought letters of introduction from some of the highest nobility of France to several families of distinction here, and, consequently, became the lion of the day.

Among her numerous retinue was a young girl, of whom Madame seemed very fond, and who was never suffered to leave her side, unless accompanied by her waiting-woman, Annette. Every one wondered at Madame's fondness for the girl, for she was really very plain, and so shy and taciturn, that few of the brilliant coterie found at Madame Martigny's ever heard her voice. She was remarkably slender, and of a complexion so perfectly cadaverous, that one fairly shuddered at first beholding her, so green and corpse-like was her hue. She had large,strange-looking eyes, too-- eyes that made one feel as if a being of another world were looking into the depths of one's heart, and penetrating its hidden mysteries. Altogether, she reminded some of the gay throng of the skeleton placed by the Egyptians at their feasts, so like an inmate of the grave she appeared at those splendid entertainments.

At length it was announced to her gay visitors, that "Mademoiselle Eugenie" was ill; and in a few days that she was dead! No one cared for the pale, sickly girl; but her death caused them some little inconvenience, inasmuch as it deprived them for a time of the agreeable company of Madame Martigny.

As for Madame, she was perfectly inconsolable. Her grief was terrible to behold. She wept, she raved, and continued to lament the lost Eugenie, in terms of the most lavish affection. She was an angel, a seraph, the light and life of her kinswoman's heart. That poor heart! It would break, it would perish, without its beloved Eugenie! "Ah, Mon Dieu!" she would exclaim, "this world is no longer a world to me. My poor Eugenie! Your distracted Victorine will lie down beside you in the cold grave; she has no comfort here!" Her grief, at first, touched her friends, and called forth their sympathy; but fashionable indifference soon froze over their warmer feelings, and they grew tired of hearing the lamentations of their fair friend.

"Eugenie," they would say, "was not your daughter; you own she was not closely related to you. If you wish only for a companion, seek another to supply her place; such grief is impious."

"Ah, where shall I find one like my poor Eugenie? She had not her equal on earth, the sainted child. But I must supply her place. My great, loving heart cannot exist alone. I must have some one to love."

Many of Madame's male friends would gladly have supplied the place of the poor girl, and even entreated her to take compassion on them; but she was deaf to their prayers. She was faithful to the memory of her dear Paul! She would never marry again: never! but spoke continually of her great loving heart, that must have some one to love. And so in time Madame found one to supply the place of the lost Eugenie.

Those who looked on the fresh, ruddy-faced girl who was found to fill the vacuum in Madame's great heart could hardly forbear smiling, as they contrasted her with the one whose place she filled. She was a hale country girl, fresh and ruddy as a milkmaid; for Madame insisted on having a healthy pet this time.-- She would not lavish her affection again on such a frail, perishable flower as Eugenie.

Hannah was all that she could wish. She was docile and amiable to a fault, and readily complied with all that Madame asked. And, for a while, her guests heard nothing but Hannah's praises in the mouth of her benefactress; for she was really a benefactress to the poor girl, who had, since the loss of her parents, been the unwelcome recipient of a penurious relative, who subjected her to the most cruel treatment. No wonder she felt grateful to Madame Martigny, who treated her so differently; whose affection for her seemed to increase daily; and who lavished on her every luxury that wealth could purchase. But after a while, and to the astonishment of everyone, Hannah's health began visibly to decline. Her rosy cheek lost its freshness, her eye its brightness, and her free, bounding step its elasticity.

Madame became alarmed. Her darling Hannah pined for her country air; she could not linger another hour in the heated city, and forthwith the household was broken up, and they traveled until a suitable place was obtained for Madame; and then she devoted herself day and night, she assured her friends, to her beloved Hannah. But days and weeks passed, and Hannah grew weaker and weaker; and to the questions of her visitors, Madame Martigny would reply by a copious shower of tears.

Her angelic friend, she feared, was about to leave her. Her physician, whom she had brought from Paris with her, and in whose skill she placed unbounded confidence, assured her that Hannah was dying of a broken heart. She had been crossed in love!

"Ah! quell malheur! My soul must be tortured by losing this inestimable treasure! I cannot survive it; I shall assuredly die, too." But Hannah died; and Madame Martigny lived to lament her, as she had lamented Eugenie.

"Oh, my friend, am I not the most unfortunate wretch in existence?" she exclaimed, throwing herself on the bosom of Mrs. Seymour. "Was ever grief like mine, deprived as I am of an adored husband? Oh! My treasured Paul! Lonely and childless, I take to my heart the poor hapless orphan, on whom I may bestow my great affection, and, oh! Mon Dieu! They are torn from my arms; they perish before my eyes! Tell me, my friend, am I not truly unfortunate?"

"You were wrong, my dear friend," said Mrs. Seymour, "in taking a girl from her fresh mountain air into the heat of a crowded city. Depend upon it, Hannah pined for her pure country air, in spite of the luxuries by which she was surrounded. If you wish to supply her place, take one accustomed to city life."

"Ah, who can supply the place of my docile Hannah? Never; no, never will I pour out my heart on another! It would kill me to lose another, as I have lost my two pet lambs! So not ask such a thing of me; I cannot consent to love again."

"I am truly sorry to hear you say so," replied her companion, "for at this very moment I have one in view, whom I had hoped you would adopt."

"It is impossible," said Madame; "but who is this young girl of whom you speak? Although oppressed with grief, and inconsolable for the loss of my beloved child, yet, if I can benefit one whom my dear Madame Seymour recommends, I shall be happy."

"Thanks, my kind friend," said Mrs. S., "I appreciate your truly noble heart. The girl of whom I spoke is one of a family lately afflicted by a heavy calamity. There are four sisters, recently made orphans by an accident which at once deprived them of both parents. A truly estimable family, left to the mercies of the cold world, without a protector."

"Your recital of those hapless children interests me most painfully, my dear friend," replied the Frenchwoman. "I cannot rest until I see these interesting protgs of yours. It may serve to divert my thoughts from my severe affliction, to visit them. We will drive there immediately, if you are willing. I shall feel better, I know, after having seen them. Poor children! They too, have grief."

They drove to the house of the orphans, and Mrs. Seymour was charmed beyond measure, when Madame Martigny signified her intention of adopting not only one of the lovely girls, but all four! They were too loving, too amiable, to be separated; she would share her fortune equally among them; they should be her constant companions-- her daughters; and she would be to them a mother. Ah! That dear mother! She shed tears as she spoke of her, and looked on the calm, sweet face that seemed to smile on her, as she promised to take these helpless children to her bosom.

The kind, generous, noble Madame Martigny! How those young, artless girls loved her; and how proud Mrs. Seymour felt, when she reflected on her noble conduct, and blamed herself for having at one time thought her frivolous and heartless! Dear, dear, Madame Martigny, what an angel she was!

Chapter Two

I shall now continue the narrative in Mrs. G.'s own words.

"We were delighted with the change presented to us, you may be sure, lifted, as it were from the lowest depths of poverty, (for our parents left barely sufficient property to cover the debts,) to a position so high and enviable. We soon removed from the small and poorly furnished house in which we had resided, to the large, well-ordered, and magnificent establishment of our benefactress. I wondered why my sisters wept, as we seated ourselves that night in our splendidly furnished chambers; to me it seemed like the enchantment of a fairy palace. I was not too young to understand the nature of the loss we had to recently sustained, but I had grown weary of the dull monotony of our gloomy home, and my childish and somewhat gorgeous fancy, reveled with delight in my new, luxurious home. The apartments fitted up expressly for our use, were beautiful in the extreme, and contained many things of whose use were entirely ignorant, so simple hitherto had been our tastes and habits."

There was but one drawback to my happiness. Madame Martini insisted on separating me from Clara, the eldest of my sisters, and who had always, since the death of our mother, held me in her arms all night.

I could not sleep with thinking of it, and thinking too, that Madame, amid all her kindness showed a little cruelty in separating us. I cried until the richly laced pillow was wet with my tears, for, although I loved my other sisters, I could not reconcile myself to the idea of losing my dear Clara. But Madame, had taken a peculiar fancy to her, above all the rest of us, and insisted on her occupying a room adjoining her own.

I fancied after awhile, that Clara did not like the arrangement any better than I did, although she said nothing; but her eyes no longer beamed with the same brightness, and I thought she grew thinner and paler. However, as our mother, (as she entreated us to call her) never kept us apart during the day, we tried to be as cheerful, and as much together as possible. In this way several months passed, and every morning I ran to Clara's room to kiss her, and bid her good morning, and sometimes to creep in beside her and lie for an hour or so, in her arms, and tell her how much I loved her. And all this while, I could not help thinking that her face was altered, and that she looked thin and old. At first she laughed at me, and called me a little fidget, and declared that nothing ailed her, but that she could not so soon divest herself of all thoughts of the past, and that might make her look gloomy and full; but she was well, she assured me, and would, in time, be the same Clara again. I was quite young them; the youngest of the family; and possessed of a remarkable bright, sunny disposition; but I often caught myself crying bitterly, and without any apparent cause; for our kind second mother nobly fulfilled her promise. We wanted for nothing that wealth could purchase, and were treated with uniform kindness; we had teachers to instruct us in all the refinements of a polished education, but were never overtasked, and our time and money were equally at our own disposal; still in spite of all, I became unhappy, as the novelty of my situation wore off, and I became accustomed to the splendor by which I was surrounded.

At length even Madame Martigny became aware of a change in my dear Clara, and consulted doctor Roche, her family physician, on the subject. This doctor Roche was an inmate of her house; she had brought him with her from Paris, and placed great confidence in his skill and ability as a physician. I had no right to doubt his skill; I had never tested it; but I absolutely loathed the man, and shrunk into the smallest space, whenever he entered a room in which I was.

Children are pretty good physiognomists; and there was a certain something in the face of doctor Roche, that caused an involuntary shudder throughout my frame, when I saw him. Well, Clara grew daily worse in spite of Madame's attentions and the doctor's skill. I saw it, although they tried to make me think otherwise, and I entreated Madame, with tears, to let me lie with her again, but she chid me for my unkindness, in supposing that she was not properly attended to, by herself and the doctor. I was quieted, but not convinced; and was compelled to submit, although sorely against my will; and had to content myself with visiting my sweet Clara, whenever I had leisure from my studies.

In the meanwhile, Julia, the next in age to Clara, had been seen and admired by a young gentleman who visited the house, and who asked her hand in marriage. But Madame Martigny had made us all promise never to marry. On that condition her wealth was to be divided between us; consequently, she gave him a decided refusal. But Julie whose character differed essentially from that of Clara, one night made her escape from the house and was married. This was a sad blow to Clara, who had now begun to look forward to another world, and who had hoped that Julie, would at some future day, supply her place; for much as she loved Madame, there was a want of religious and moral training, in her system of education, which Clara, early impressed by the teachings of a pious mother, had sought to remedy. She wept bitterly at the thought of leaving Harriet and myself in such a whirlpool of fashionable folly, and one morning, when I ran in, as usual to kiss her, I found Madame and the doctor, and several servants around the bed, some of them weeping. Madame alone appeared unmoved, as she stood, giving directions to the servants, or speaking in a low tone to the doctor. When her eye rested on me, she hastily advanced and taking me by the land led, or rather forced, me from the room. It was weeks before I recovered from the shock of Clara's death. And all the blandishments of Madame failed to remove from my mind, an impression that she had been unfairly dealt with. Madame told me that on that night she was awakened by a noise in Clara's room, and on entering it, she found her considerable worse than she had been; that she hastily summoned the doctor, but in a few minutes all was over. She only spoke twice, and each time to entreat Madame's especial care for Lizzie. I had always been her favorite, and even in death she remembered me.

Madame Martigny desired to separate us, as she had formerly separated me from Clara, by giving to Harriet the room lately occupied by our dear sister, but I so vehemently insisted on sharing her bed, that she at length consented to humor me, and we both took possession of the room adjoining hers.

Chapter 3

Was it nightmare that haunted me that night? Or had some strange unnatural scene occurred there in which the hated doctor and Madame had been the chief actors? I puzzled my brain to connect the incidents of the dream, if dream it was, but in vain. Detached fragments floated before me, but like the enchanted face on the water, before a single feature was fully displayed, it vanished. I even asked Madame whether I had dreamed it, or if she and the doctor had been in our room during the night, and I was startled to observe the change that came over her beautiful face as I looked at her; but she instantly recovered her self possession, and taking my hand she laid her tapered, jeweled finger on my wrist. She shook her head, and sighed, as she released my hand, "You are far from well, Lizzie," she observed, in her sweet low voice, that always sounded like faint music. "Doctor Roche must prescribe a soothing draught, and you must positively sleep again in your own chamber. It is the association of painful ideas connected with that room that has caused these strange fancies."

That night, in spite of my tears, entreaties, and even threats, I was compelled to occupy my own room. Not that night alone, but for long months, for almost a year. I grew cold and distant towards Madame, and threatened to go to Julie if she persisted in her cruel plan, but was cajoled from day to day, and promised that it should soon end. After a while, Madame, for reasons known only to herself, changed her place of residence and took up her abode in a neighboring city, in which she created as profound a sensation as she had done in Philadelphia. And there, contrary to my expectations, but much to my satisfaction, I was allowed to occupy the same room with Harriet. I have forgotten to say, that my sister's health began about this time, to decline; it was on that account, Madame said, she had removed to another place, but I could not see how her health was to be benefited by going from one city to another, and a more crowded one. However, I was happy in being allowed to occupy the same room again with my sister, and asked, for the time, nothing more. The horrible phantasmagoria did not return to disturb me again; and every night after we had retired, Madame brought, in her own delicate hands, a sleeping draught, pleasant to the taste, and of a nature so powerful that we slept almost as soon as our heads touched the pillow. She always insisted on our drinking it before she left the room, for fear we might have troubled dreams if we neglected it, she said; and we always complied with her request. But one night, just as Harriet had drank off hers, while I was unrobing, Madame was called from the room, and I, in my haste to get the pleasant potion, upset the cup, and spilled the greater part of the contents. I was just draining the cup as she re-entered the room to ascertain whether I had taken it, and satisfied with seeing the cup in my hands, she withdrew.

I was soon asleep, or rather in that half-dreamy state, in which the actual is being fast merged in the ideal, when familiar objects become distorted, finally indistinct, when my attention was partially attracted by the sound of an opening door. I say partially, for although not asleep, I was not rightly awake; and the objects before me appeared rather like the faint outlines, the airy figures in a dream, than real flesh and blood; but it was in all respects the same horrible vision that had so frightened me before; I saw it through my half-closed eyelids, and heard their low whisperings as I then heard them. I must have fainted at the sight, for I remember nothing more, and when I awoke, the morning was shining through the rich drapery at my windows, and Harriet was already up and dressed. She had complained some time before, of a dizziness in her head, and Madame advised bleeding, as a remedy, consequently the doctor had taken a few ounces from her arm, and bandaged it carefully up, but she frequently observed how long her arm was in becoming healed. And wondered at the freshness of the wound, but the doctor assured her he had known persons whose arms had retained the freshness of a recent puncture, for months; it was nothing uncommon. Heretofore I had paid but little attention to the circumstance, but I now determined to keep my own counsel, and say nothing until I made further discoveries.

In those days, you are aware, phlebotomy was much practiced by regular physicians, and I had attached no importance to the fact that Clara's arms were always bandaged, for she was bled several times in my presence; in fact it was resorted to in those days, for almost every symptom of disease, and was universally practiced. But I had seen enough to awaken my suspicion, and was determined to take particular notice of all that transpired. That night I managed to elude Madame's vigilance and when her back was turned toward me, I hastily emptied the potion into a toilet cup and replaced the other on the night stand before her, as if I had drank its contents. As soon as she retired I poured the liquid into a large vial I had prepared for the purpose, and retired. I lay awake a long time listening to the regular breathing of Harriet, and wondering whether I had not dreamed an ugly dream the previous night-- for daylight began to peep in the room before I closed my eyes, and no one entered. The next night, and the next passed in the same way; for, although nothing had occurred to confirm my suspicions, I still felt that it was a duty I owed not only to myself, but to others, to watch. Consequently, I took an unusually long siesta every afternoon in order to keep awake during the night.

You may believe that I took an unusual interest in the affair, when I tell you that I took the vial, of which I have spoken, to a chemist in order to have its contents analyzed, but had, as yet no time to ascertain what the result was. In face I began to think, Madame grew suspicious of me, and always objected to my leaving home unless accompanied by herself or Annette. However, that may have been only my fancy. Still I determined not to relax my vigilance, and it was rewarded.

I had lain awake for some time, anxiously listening for some sound from Madame's room, when I saw the door slowly and cautiously opened, and Madame, attired in her robe-de-chambre, entered, followed by the doctor. I instantly closed my eyes, so that I could only see through the lashes, and watched the movements of our nocturnal visitors. I fancied that both of them wore a sort of mask, which concealed their features, as I could not clearly identify either of them, and that they moved with a cat-like tread over the rich carpet. She advanced, and passed the light several times before Harriet's eyes, and passing to my side, evidently for the same purpose, I was fain to close my own, and tremblingly await the issue.

I tried to breathe regularly, but my heart palpitated to violently, that I was afraid it would betray me. As she turned from me, I recommenced my scrutiny. I could only partially see them, but I felt confident that I was right in my former conjectures, and the click of the lancet convinced me still further; but I had not courage to confront them; besides, I had some curiosity to know what they wanted with human blood, and so constrained myself to appear unobservant, in order to discover it.

Presently I heard them leave the room, and now my curiosity prevailed over my fears, and I determined to watch them. Rising noiselessly, I approached the door, which, as on the former occasion, had not been closed, and became witness to a scene so novel and unnatural, that, had I not been a spectator, I would have doubted. The doctor bore the bowl, which I knew contained blood, to a dark carpet, spread above the rich Brussels, and placed it in the centre. He then assisted Madame to unrobe, and loosened the mask she wore.

"Why did you not take the little one tonight?" he asked, in French.

"Because she is so nervous yet; another time for her," she answered, and plunging her hands into the basin, she literally bathed her neck, face and arms in the unnatural bath. She even plunged her face in the bowl, as if she reveled in it, and occasionally uttered exclamations of pleasure. I shall never forget her appearance, as she raised her head. Her hair, which had been drawn up from her face, and fastened on the top of her head, and which was remarkably beautiful, suddenly became loosened, and fell in a mass of snake-like ringlets over her neck and shoulders, dabbling in the blood. The doctor, who seemed to watch her with a fiendish pleasure, drew up the raven curls in his hand, while she hastened to wash off the marks of her guilt. But as she stood up for that purpose, dripping with blood, and with that mass of hair, black as midnight, held like a pall above her head, her eyes caught sight of me.

"Voila!" she exclaimed, standing motionless with fright, and pointing at me with outstretched arm.

In an instant all was darkness, utter darkness; and it was only by a faint footfall on the thick carpet, and the slightest rustling of a dress, I knew they were there. I remember nothing distinctly, that occurred afterwards. I fancied that a cold hand grasped mine, as I sank on the floor, and that I was being carried to my bed, but bore no distinct recollection of anything. I only know that when I awoke, I was lying on a hard bed, in a humble apartment, and Harriet seated near me, pale and emaciated, and with an air of anxiety on her sweet face I had never before noticed.-- She approached, and kissed me, but told me to lie quietly and ask no questions. Presently I heard voices in an adjoining room, and Harriet went to the door, and whispered to some one; and soon after Julie and her husband entered, and then Mrs. Seymour came; but I was for a long time forbidden to ask any questions, and compelled to remain in ignorance of our real situation.

When I recovered, I learned from Harriet that Madame, on the morning succeeding the events I have described, suddenly took stage for a distant town, leaving the doctor to superintend the removal or disposal of the furniture; and that he, Harriet observed, had frequently given me a liquid during the day, which, he said, would tranquilize me. It must have been a powerful narcotic, for I slept like dead, and whenever I gave indication of returning consciousness, he would repeat the dose. None but the most powerful constitution could have withstood its effects, and for a long time I hovered between life and death.

Upon the departure of Madame, I had been removed to one of the servants' rooms, in order that the furniture could be disposed of; and there I lay when I awoke. Mystery shrouded the future course of the guilty couple, for my protracted illness gave them sufficient time to make good their retreat to Europe. My story created great surprise, but few could credit it; they looked upon it as the coinage of a diseased brain, and fancied that Madame had grown weary of her playthings, and abandoned us to our fate.

It was not until many years after, than Annette, who had accompanied her mistress to France, returned to this country to hunt up a delinquent husband; and meeting me by chance, corroborated by story.

She said Madame was obliged to leave Paris in consequence of a rumor of her guilt getting abroad, which caused her to be shunned by the fashionable world, from whom, however, she managed to obtain letters of introduction to persons of high standing in America. The doctor, Annette said, was no other than a former footman of Madame's, whom she had raised to the title of physician when she came here, in order that her irregular conduct would not so readily be noticed, and to whom she was blindly attached.

Harriet's health declined, until she sunk into a premature grave, and yet, owing to our ignorance of the proper means of obtaining redress, the guilty authors of her death escaped punishment. We started inquiries, it is true, but our means were too limited to enable us to prosecute them properly, and so they escaped the punishment due to their crimes.

"My story may sound like a fiction to you," said Mrs. G., "but it is a horrid reality to me, who witnessed the slow unwinding of the silver cord that bound those beloved objects to existence."