A story that has two sides.
No one would have fancied, for an instant, that the eyes peering so gloomily in the glowing mass in the grate were wearing their natural expression, or that the curves at the corners of the rose bud mouth usually bore so perseveringly downward.
One might not have considered a flash of anger or an old fashioned pout so unreasonable remembering the many grievances of pretty women, but the distrust buried in among the long, silken bashes, and the quiver on the lips, were evidences of a trouble whose roots grew very deep into the heart, and formed a singular contrast to the luxurious surroundings of the occupant of the easy chair by the fire.
At all events, it was a comfortable place in which to indulge sorrow or discontent, this crimson cushioned fauteuil, with wide, loving arms, which held so daintily the petite form arrayed in the most becoming of white cashmere dressing robes.
And the robe not hastily thrown on for a make-believe toilette, either, for, at the opening, where the rose-colored linings relieved the dead white of the cambric, glimpses of a delicate embroidery were seen, and where the black satin slipper was elevated to reach the zephyr worked footstool, rich masses of applique, fresh from the hands of the
There was none of the carelessness of grief by outward forms, either, in the arrangement of this little boud for, the rosewood stand her elbow, on which lay the pearl inlaid work-box and gilded books in blue and scarlet bindings; the velvet carpet, gay as white and crimson roses could make it, the heavy curtains that shut out the glare of a New Orleans run and deadened the harsh sounds from the busy streets, the cabinet piano, open and strewn with music, the mirrors and pictures; and the glad coal fire, flashing from wall to ceiling, brightening the pictures, dashing over the mirrors, dancing on the golden frames, sinking into the curtains, and ever and anon peeping into the eyes that the long lashes were trying to hide from it, made up as consoling a prospect for a January day as one could desire.
But these little agreements, which would have made the room so enchanting to a heart at rest, and whose arrangements, a short time before, must have been presided over by a loving hand, would seem to have lost their charm.
The English coal in the grate crackled, and sparkled, and spluttered, and sung; and the bright blaze sunk quietly down as if spell-bound by the eyes, and then, with a sudden rush, started anew in its search after secrets in the dark corners, and up the rich silken folds of the curtains, and through the long lashes, into the blue eyes, over which the black brows were growing every instant more stormy.
And still the lady eat and pondered, and gloomed over some grief whose teeth were very close on to her heartstrings.
She had visitors that morning, for the chairs were standing awry round the rug, and a stray parasol lay on the console, forgotten by the hand that laid it there to smooth a curler adjust a braid.
If a visitor had heart to inspect the face of the one, or improve the set of the other after the morning's conversation, it was more than her luckless hostess could have done.
But we will avail ourselves of a privilege conceded to no other human being, over this particular spot of earth, and ‘"roll back the wheels of time"’ to the precise epoch when three ladies sat so cozily by the aforementioned fire.
‘"Yes,"’ said a bright-haired damsel, to the dark-browed of the fauteuil, in continuation of some astounding intelligence, ‘"they say she is as beautiful as a lover's dream, and though he is so perfectly devoted, he has never once been seen in public with her."’
‘"I do not consider that so very mysterious,"’ returned the lady.
‘"A thousand trifling causes may prevent, but I do think it strange the gentleman should be named Lyle, and a lawyer on Camp street, for I know of no Lyle there but my husband."’
‘"I do not think either strange,"’ said the third lady of the party, a plain, straightforward, practical-looking person.
‘"If one is so disposed, the veriest trifle may be converted into matter for suspicion or mystery.--It is an every-day occurrence, which Julia, with her large organs of marvelousness and credulity, is weaving into a most mystical web for somebody's discomfort.
The only reliable part of the story is, that an old tumble-down House has been vacant for some time, and finally the bill ‘"for rent" ’ is removed from the door, and the carpenters and painters put it in habitable condition.
Then, some very handsome furniture finds its way in, and a nice-looking old lady and a beautiful girl follow; soon a handsome young man, very distingue, calls on them.
Being strangers in the city, perhaps, he is their only visitor.
But now, the mystery begins.
The neighbors opposite remark that it is at the same hour every morning that the gentleman calls; but he never, by any accident, is seen on the street with her.--This excites their speculation and inquiry, and they ascertain his name to be Lyle, and that he is a lawyer on Camp street; and it comes to Julia's ears, who is wrap in astonishment that there should be two Lyles, both lawyers, with offices on the same street, and she cannot rest until she comes to inflict her bewilderment on you. For my part I do not believe the man's name is Lyle, or that he is a lawyer, or lives on Camp street, or that there is a man in the case. "’
‘"I do not see how you can say that,"’ replied the other, ‘"when you, yourself, heard Mrs. Weldon, who lives just opposite, say that he called every morning at eleven o'clock and remained till one, and that on Sunday he only stopped a few minutes, and the young lady went to church alone.
You know Mrs. Weldon described his appearance, and even the color of his cost, which I cannot now remember; but Matilda affects to set herself so high above gossip that she has fallen into a state of perfect skepticism, and is so much afraid she may be accused of believing the moon is made of green cheese, she has actually got to thinking there is no moon at sit."’
‘"This proves, then,"’ said Matilda, who noticed the shadow growing deeper on the brow of her hostess, and half guessed the cause, ‘"that I am not lunatic enough to believe the stories hatched by the crazy imaginations of moon-worshippers.
I let the shine in on reason, and try to they are. But we an undue proportion of our time this morning; you remember we were not to sit a minute beyond twelve."’
In a most uncomfortable frame of mind did her two visitors leave her. The plain common sense of the one being powerless to undo the mischief created by the gossiping imagination of the other, who never dreamed how deeply the poisoned arrows had struck.
At length a bright idea comes to her — how easy the solution of this mystery!
Is there yet time?
The slender minute-hand of the little boudoir clock on the mantel pointed to the half hour after noon. She would yet be early enough to reach his office and confront him on his arrival from his clandestine visit to the hidden beauty.
As fast as her trembling hands permitted, was the robe do chambre changed for the plain but elegantly-fitting silk, which pretty little Mrs. Lyle clasped round her pretty little form, hiding both carefully within the folds of a long, black cloak; and gathered, gloved, and bonneted, and closely veiled, eschewing city cars, for the excitement of her mind spurned the quiet, easy motion over the rails, she flow rather than walked down — street, into Prytania, until she arrived at No.--Camp.
The office boy was gaping at the door, and the solitary clerk was at his work at the desk.--Mr. Lyle was not there.
‘"My husband is not in, Mr. Jones?"’
‘"Mr. Lyle is scarcely ever in at this hour,"’ said Jones, wondering at the unusual excitement of his employer's pretty who; and as there were no babies to be ailing, he saddled the matter on the usual pack-horse for offences in the manage --the servants — and laid down his pen to give unimpeded sympathy.
But there was no call on him. The dark brows lowered over the eyes, and the lips were clamped, as if by the sudden clasping of a spring lock.
She buried herself, hoops, cloak, and all, in the great, faded, red morocco chair, and resumed the old employment of trying to read her fate in the blazing coals.
The clerk cleared his throat, settled himself more squarely in his chair, and was at a loss to know whether etiquette required him to copy the example of his visitor, or go on with his work.
He was ready for either, but not being able to make up his mind he steered a middle course, re- arranged each separate article on his desk, and stirred the fire; and then gazed earnestly up and down the street.
The seconds grew into minutes, then the loud tones of the city clock struck one.
The little jewelled Geneva, at the lady's side, was drawn forth for a comparison, and silently replaced; and she sunk again into the motionless quiet which Jones, being a married man and secretly poetical, likened in his own mind to the moment's pause that nature takes to summon her whole strength for the storm.
He knew all about it, and rubbed his hands quietly, and cleared his throat again, but so significantly, that had not Mrs. Lyle been thus pre-occupied, she might have read a lesson.
When the watch was next consulted a quarter of an hour had passed, and simultaneously was heard a quick step at the door.
With the majesty of a wronged Medea, she rose to meet the traitor, and with one blasting flash of her eyes to pour into his heart her full knowledge of his crime — and found herself face to face with her husband's new law student!
its Conrey is it!"’ thought Jones, his elation taking a new turn; and Conrey paused on the door-sill, the look of gladness leaving his eyes, and a troubled bewilderment creeping therein.
But Mrs. Lyle brushed past him, unheeding the respectful bow unconsciously given in deprecation of the anger he saw but could not understand; and the fluttering of her ribbons disappeared round the corner of the street.
‘"What's in the wind now?"’ exclaimed Conrey.
Jones only shook his head mysteriously.
She was his employer's wife, and he had a wife--two potent reasons for being silent.--And the way she dashed out of the office set him to thinking it wasn't Conrey after all. Any way, it was none of his business, and he took up his pen and re-arranged his disordered papers.
In the meantime, hasty steps were bearing Mrs. Lyle to Carondelet street. Rather high up, until Carondelet was lost in something else, lived Mrs. Weldon, and ‘"just opposite"’ was the pretty cause of all the morning's mischief.
Mrs. Lyle hailed the omnibus.
The sleek, soft, gentle motion of the cars would have added to the torture she was enduring; but the tearing-apart of-soul-and-body jolting of the omnibus just suited her. It seemed the outward manifestation of the demon, whose indwelling was riddling her heart-strings.
It was a most imprudent step, this, making herself so conspicuous by calling on a stranger with inquiries about her own husband, and showing her mistrust and suspicious to the world.
But it was impossible to reason now. Her happiness was at stake, and why should she be deterred from satisfying her own mind by fear of what the world might say?
If he could thus deceive and wrong her, the world would soon know more of it. So the omnibus, instead of allaying the fever of her mind, but aggravated it. Perhaps the city cars might have acted as a sedative.
Be it as it may, by the time she pulled the check-string, every nerve was writhing with jealousy.
She knew where Mrs. Weldon lived, and before she rang the bell made long and strict examination of the house ‘"just opposite."’ There was nothing suspicious about it; a respectable old house, newly repaired.
The parlor blinds were open, as it was on the shady side of the street, and the white, linen shades lowered, as was usual.
The little yard in front was newly dug and planted with roses and evergreens, and the palings were fresh and white.
There seemed nothing to be gleaned from an outside survey.
She rang the bell, and asked for Mrs. Weldon.
The maid showed her into the parlor, and there Mrs. Weldon met her. An amiable, comfortable looking woman, with seemingly little to do, and not a great deal to think about.
But she did feel some curiosity to know the name of her pretty visitor and her business, and waited with some impatience to be enlightened.
‘"Mrs. Weldon, I believe."’ Mrs. Weldon bowed.
‘"I have called on you, madam, about a little matter on which you can give me some information.
Will you forgive me troubling you, but can you tell me the name of the family who has lately moved in the house opposite?"’
Mrs. W.'s whole face was illuminated by the three magical words, ‘"I knew it !"’ You could read them as plain as your child's lesson in the primer.
But it would not do to seem to know too much, and she rubbed them out as quickly as possible.
‘"The family — opposite?--Really, madam--hem !--in these rented houses (Mrs. Weldon lived in her own house) people come and go so rapidly — I believe a new family has moved in across the way."’
This was worse than the soft, gentle rock-a by of the city cars.
‘"Will you be kind enough, Mrs. Weldon, to tell me who they are, if you happen to know? "’ And the voice quavered with excitement.
Mrs. Weldon's was a quiet, unsusceptible soul, but the spark was struck that answered back.
A shade of feeling crept in her eyes, and he voice had a touch of interest in its tones as she replied readily and truly with all she knew:
‘"And that so little, madam,"’ I fear you will be disappointed.
A fortnight ago the family for whom you inquire moved there — a lady and her daughter, I think, from the country.
Their servant tells mine they are named Crawford.
No one in the neighborhood has known them before, and no one visits them but a gentleman whom I have heard called Lyle.
In fact, I know his name is Lyle, for I have seen the same gentleman quietly seated, as if at home, in an office in Camp street, with the name of R. H. Lyle on the plate by the door.
The servant also tells mine that he is a lawyer, and engaged to be married to Miss Crawford."
‘"Engaged to be married to Miss Crawford!"’ exclaimed the lady, after all her efforts to restrain it, bursting into an overpowering rage.
‘"R. H. Lyle is my husband, and I will see who it is he has engaged to marry!"’ And before the out stretched hand could stay her, she was at the hail door.
‘"For mercy's sake do not go in there,"’ stuttered Mrs. Weldon, as suits for slander and libels desired before her eyes, and holding Mrs. Lyle's clock with an iron grip.
‘"Listen to reason for a few moments, do. You will spoil everything if you act so hasty. "’
‘"Hasty!"’ exclaimed Mrs. Lyle, ‘"and my husband making love to another woman, and I never finding it out but by the merest accident!
Hasty! It is too late to talk about haste!"’
‘"But, my dear Mrs. Lyle, listen to me only for a moment.
It be all a mistake, and then think of the trouble you would be bringing upon yourself — and me — and everybody.-- your haste won't mend see if my experience events, look upon me as a friend and be guided by me until you can reflect what better to do."’
And Mrs. Lyle suffered herself to be led again to the parlor and coaxed into forbearance.
Mrs. Weldon, a gossiping but kindhearted woman, in a fever of virtuous indignation at the faithless husband who ‘"dared to play his tricks before her very eyes,"’ was proportionally distressed at the pain she had unwittingly given the pretty little wife, and thought in her soul no punishment would be too bad for him.
At length Mrs. Weldon exacted a promise from Mrs. Lyle that she would go quietly home, meet her husband as if nothing had occurred, cultivate a fit of tooth-ache, or anything that would keep her silent, and the next day at noon, together, they would burst upon the lovers, and the injured wife should confront her husband in the very presence of his victim, (for both were charitable enough to absolve the young girl from all participation in a crime,) and then bid him an everlasting farewell.
The jolting of the omnibus did not interfere with the equilibrium of her nerves on her return.
She was calm, because prepared.--There was nothing more to learn, and she had only to act.
On reaching home she found her husband had not yet arrived.
But it wanted only a few minutes to the dinner hour, and he was momentarily expected.
All her excitement had passed away, but there was a cold concentration in the eye, and a firm pressure of the lips, that did not promise well for a husband's enjoyment that evening.
She heard the hall door shut and his eager step on the stairs, but there was no relenting in her heart and no change in her face; she was too much aggrieved to be moved either way by his presence; but she remembered the advice of her new friend, to avoid all opportunities for an explanation; and when he entered her dressing-room he found her enveloped in shawls on the couch and her head buried in the cushions.
‘"What is it, love?"’ asked the unsuspecting husband, as he bent down to press the usual kiss on the rosy lips.
They were very hard and cold; no answering softness to his touch.
‘"You are not sick, surely, my darling?
Jones tells me you were at the office this morning.--Do you not know I am in the court room till two?
What did you want?" ’
She couldn't tell him then, her tooth ached so badly; and she thought if she could only get to sleep she would be better; that was all she needed, a little sleep; and he would have to take his dinner alone.
‘"Poor darling, how she suffers!
Of course you shall not be disturbed.
Is there nothing you would like from the table?"’
‘"Shan't I have you a cup of tea made, en, or bring you a glass of wine?"’
‘"Nothing — nothing.
All I need is a few minutes' sleep."’
He was too loving to resent, even in thought, the impatience in her tones, but adjusted her pillow, tucked the shawl around her feet, darkened the room, and stole quietly down to his solitary meal — a little saddened that Adele should be suffering, and a little worried that he should have to eat his dinner without her bright face smiling and dimpling on him from over the soup.
Mr.Lyle and Mrs. Lyle were still in the fresh days of the honey moon, though they had been two years married; but there had been no baby to pet, and they continued to pet each other.
They had their little tempests occasionally — teapot commotions — blowing over without any damage — and now and then the matrimonial sky was rather cloudy; but this was on account of the warmth of the love atmosphere, and the few flashes engendered found in their affection a safe insulator.
Nothing more serious than a kiss could brush away had ever come to disturb their happiness, and Mr. Lyle ate his dinner and drank his wine, and thought how terribly he should miss Adele if anything were to happen; was sorry that it was the evening for drill, and if he found Adele still suffering when he went up stairs, rather thought he should write an excuse.
When he had peeled an orange and prepared it as she liked it best, he drank his coffee and stole quietly to her room to persuade her to eat the sugared fruit.
But she was sleeping soundly, and he rolled a table to the side of the couch, put the plate just where she should see it at waking, wrote her a little note to say how sorry he was to leave her, imprinted a kiss on the sweet ‘"Adole"’ superscribed thereon, in place of the lips he wouldn't disturb her by touching, and tipped cautiously down stairs.
Adele half rose to listen to the departing footsteps — her eyes glittering with suppressed impatience as she waited to hear the closing of the door, and this had hardly ceased vibrating through the long hall when she had thrown off the shawls, bounded from the couch and pitched the note in the fire.
The orange followed, and finding no other work for her hands to do, she shook her little fist, clenched like a vice, in the direction she supposed her husband to be.
‘"Who has not proved how feebly words essay"’ to fix other things than what Byron thought so difficult; and if the English language had not contained such words as monster, wretch, poor little Mrs. Lyle would have been sorely pressed to find a use for her tongue at this crisis.
But she managed thus, though in a limited manner, to exercise it, but was spared any further effort by the entrance of the waiter with a card.
‘"Mr. Conrey, madam.
He has written something on the card for you, he said."’
by Mrs. Mary Stanford.
‘"Say to Mr. Conrey I shall be ready in a moment,"’ and the second time that day her toilet was made with trembling hands. But this was a different affair. No amount of mental annoyance can make a fashionable woman indifferent to the effects of a first visit. It is that one thing, beyond all others, for which a recherche toilet is demanded, and no one understood better how this was to be accomplished than Mrs. Lyle. Like the boy in Harper with the cravat, she ‘"had given her whole mind to it,"’ and was perfect in it. A prettier being could scarcely be found in New Orleans than the little lady who lightly laid her white-gloved hand in young Conrey's as she stepped into the carriage. Her brow was as smooth as if no Etna raged within her bosom, and the rose-bud lips showed no canker at the heart. How gaily she chattered as the carriage rolled over the stones, and how she discoursed learnedly about the war, and States rights policy, and battle-fields, and wondered what news the next dispatches would bring; and never a word to say her heart was breaking. When the carriage stopped, and she looked out, she — what? She brushed her eyes as if the long lashes had thrown a glamor over them — and then she looked across the way. Then she peered closely at the white palings, the freshly planted yard, the white linen shades at the windows, and then took an inquisitive survey of the gentleman beside her. ‘"Mr. Conrey, who is it? Did you not tell me"’-- ‘"That I wished you to call on Mrs. Crawford and her daughter, and you promised to do so."’ ‘"And the daughter?"’ ‘"You are cruel to force the confession, but Miss Crawford said 'yes,' when I asked her a very significant question a week ago."’ ‘"But why did you not go to church with her on Sunday? And why do you never appear in public with her?"’ ‘"Go to church with her on Sunday! Appear with her in public! Mrs. Lyle! What do you — what can you mean? I did not go to church with her, because I had promised Jones to do some copying for him while he went out with his wife; and if I have not been on the street with her, it has been purely accidental, and because, I suppose, it was pleasanter to sit with her in the house. But, in the name of all that is curious, how did you become aware of this?"’ ‘"Never mind — it doesn't matter,"’ said Mrs. Lyle. Nor did it. This was the other side of the story, which had flashed through her mind as soon as she recognized the locale. What a dance she felt herself to be, not to have understood it all before. And, smiling and graceful, she sprang from the carriage, while Conrey followed, exceedingly puzzled at the singular interrogatories to which he had been subjected, and among all the queer things he had known a woman do, thinking this the queerest. But he opened the gate and handed her up the steps to the little porch, where the door was instantly opened, showing they were surely expected, and where the first glance showed them a beautiful girl with her work basket, and an elderly lady with her knitting, seated in a copy, home-like way, round a cheerful fire. It is not necessary to explain for what use this knitting work was designed, this January, 1862. Nothing every seen inside these walls before could exceed the suavity of the lovely visitor. So fascinating was she that the fair Emma had scarcely time to notice the mysterious wonderment that stole at intervals over the face of her betrothed, and how he watched that of his beautiful companion, as if he expected to find there the solution of a problem. But nothing was to be seen, only the brightest of eyes and rosiest of smiles, and the face clear in daylight. Mrs. Lyle was a charming woman always, and exceedingly popular in society, but this evening she was resistible; and in right of being Conrey's dearest friend insisted on the mother and daughter spending the evening with her. She would not dare to meet her husband, who had gone off feeling wretchedly about her indisposition unless she carried home so fair an excuse. Good Mrs. Crawford, who thought her coming out very imprudent, when her husband fancied her sick in bed, concluded it might be as well to give him something else to think of and consented. Mrs. Lyle had a double motive in wishing for company that evening. She had not made up her mind what explanation to give Conrey in regard to the questions, and therefore didn't care about being alone with him and never having been able to keep a secret, she was afraid, unless she had a safety valve for her excitement until she could quiet down, her husband might find out that other side of the story. She was a sensible woman, knew human nature by instinct, and had always thought as good a way as any other to keep her husband straight, was never to let him suspect it could possibly enter her head he could go wrong. She never reminded him that other women were as beautiful as herself, by being jealous of them, and no matter what twinges she may occasionally have felt, she let them wear themselves out in silence. When they reached C — street the gas was lighted, and the evening was already in; and when the carriage reached the door, her husband was on the steps, waiting for her. She could see by the faint light that his face wore an anxious expression; but it faded directly when she met him, with eyes and cheeks as bright and fresh as health and a cool January wind could make them. He had been afraid she might bring on a worse attack of toothache, and thought she was running unnecessary risk, thus exposing herself to oblige young Conrey. But he saw in a moment the visit had done her good, and was prepared to make the acquaintance of his student's friends with the most hospitable feelings. How charming Mrs. Lyle made herself and her boudoir to her visitors that evening — and how gracefully she presided at the nine o'clock tea. ‘"Something substantial,"’ her husband asked for, ‘"to make up for a slim dinner,"’ and the broiled oysters, cold duck, light cakes, and hot coffee, were unexceptionable — so was the music after supper — the wit and repartee. The fair Emma smiled, and blushed, and listened, and thought surely nothing so fascinating was ever seen as the beautiful Mrs. Lyle. Conrey always knew she was charming, but somehow it would come across his mind how she had looked at him in the office that day. Mrs. Crawford worked and listened, dreamy and contented, and gave all the attention possible from the sock she had on hand; though at intervals, as she musingly measured the heel on her fore finger, her fancy would wander off to the young soldier to whose lot that sock would fall, and whose mother might never see her boy again; and the tear that dimmed her eye was half in sympathy with the unknown mother and half in thank fulness to God, as she looked at her smiling daughter, that such great agony had been spared her.--She had no son to pour out his young life on the battle- field. If any one could equal Mrs. Lyle in agreeability, it was her husband; and at twelve o'clock, when the visitors said ‘"good night,"’ it was difficult to say which had been most charmed, they or their hosts. And when the latter were left alone, Mr. Lyle, in the exuberance of his satisfaction, took his little wife in his arms and kissed her to his heart's content, declaring, between each kiss, that he certainly was the happiest fellow on earth; and never to his dying day, I hope, will he know how near he was, that same night, to being the most miserable.