Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"I hope there is no coolness between you and Maria," said Mrs. Appleton to her young friend, Louisa Graham, one evening at a social party. "I have not seen you together once tonight; and just now she passed without speaking, or even looking at you."
"Oh, as to that," replied Louisa, tossing her head with an air of contempt and affected indifference, "she's got into a peeve about something; dear knows what, for I don't."
"I am really sorry to hear you say so," remarked Mrs. Appleton. "Maria is a warm-hearted girl, and a sincere friend. Why do you not go to her, and inquire the cause of this change in her manner?"
"Me! No, indeed. I never humor anyone who gets into a peeve and goes pouting about in that manner."
"But is it right for you to act so? A word of inquiry or explanation might restore all in a moment."
"Right or wrong, I never did and never will humor the whims of such kind of people. No, no. Let her pout it out! That's the way to cure such people."
"I don't think so, Louisa. She is unhappy from some real or imaginary cause. That cause it is no doubt in your power to remove."
"But she has no right to imagine causes of offence; and I don't choose to have people act as she is now acting towards me from mere imaginary causes. No; let her pout it out, I say. It will teach her a good lesson."
Louisa spoke with indignant warmth.
"Were you never mistaken?" asked Mrs. Appleton, in a grave tone.
"Of course, I've been mistaken many a time."
"Very well. Have you never been mistaken in reference to another's action towards you?"
"I presume so."
"And have not such mistakes sometimes given you pain?"
"I cannot recall any instances just at this moment, but I have no doubt they have."
"Very well. Just imagine yourself in Maria's position; would you not think it kind in anyone to step forward and remove you of an error that was stealing away your peace of mind?"
"Yes, but, Mrs. Appleton, I don't know anything about the cause of Maria's strange conduct. She may see that in my character or disposition to which she is altogether uncongenial, and may have made up her mind not to keep my company any longer. Or she may feel herself, all at once, above me. And I'm not the one, I can tell you, to cringe to any living mortal. I am as good as she is, or any one else!"
"Gently, gently, Louisa! Don't fall into the very fault you condemn in Maria; that of imagining a sentiment to be entertained by another which she does not hold, and then growing indignant over the idea and at the person supposed to hold it."
"I can't see clearly the force of what you say, Mrs. Appleton; and therefore I must come back to what I remarked a little while ago: She must pout it out."
"You are wrong, Louisa," her friend replied, "and I cannot let you rest in that wrong, if it is in my power to correct it. Perhaps, by relating a circumstance that occurred with myself a few years ago, I may be able to make an impression on your mind. I had, and still have, an esteemed friend, amiable and sincere, but extremely sensitive. She is too apt to make mistakes about other people's estimation of her, which, I often told her, is a decided fault of character. That she has only to be conscious of the integrity of her character, and then she will be truly estimated. Well, this friend would sometimes imagine that I treated her coolly, or indifferently, or thrust at her feelings--when I felt towards her all the while a very warm affection. The consequence would be, that she would assume a cold or offended exterior. But I never said to myself, 'Let her pout it out.' I knew that she was mistaken, and that she was really suffering under her mistake; and I would always go to her, and kindly inquire the cause of her changed manner. The result was, of course, an immediate restoration of good feeling, often accompanied by a confession of regret at having injured me by imagining that I entertained unkind sentiments when I did not. On one occasion I noticed a kind of reserve in her manner; but thinking there might be some circumstances known only to herself, that gave her trouble, I did not seem to observe it. On the next morning I was exceedingly pained and surprised to receive a note from her, in something like the following language--
"The fact is, Mrs. Appleton, I cannot and will not bear any longer your manner towards me. You seem to think that I have no feelings. And besides, you assume an air of superiority and patronage that is exceedingly annoying. Last night your manner was insufferable. As I have just said, I cannot and will not bear such an assumption on your part. And now let me say, that I wish, hereafter, to be considered by you as a stranger. As such I shall treat you. Do not attempt to answer this, do not attempt to see me, for I wish for no humiliating explanations.'
"Now what would you have done in such a case, Louisa?"
"I would have taken her at her word, of course," was the prompt reply; "did not you?"
"Oh, no; that would not have been right."
"I must confess, Mrs. Appleton, that your ideas of right, and mine, are very different. This lady told you expressly that she did not wish to hold any further fellowship with you."
"Exactly. But, then, she would not have said so, had she not been deceived by an erroneous idea. Knowing this, it became my duty to endeavor to remove the false impression."
"I must confess, Mrs. Appleton, that I cannot see it in the same light. I don't believe that we are called upon to humor the whims of everyone. It does such people, as you speak of, good to be let alone, and let them pout it out. If you notice them, it makes them ten times as bad."
"A broad assertion like that you have just made needs proof, Louisa. I, for one, do not believe that it is true. If an individual, under a false impression, is let alone to 'pout it out,' the mere pouting, as you call it, does not bring a conviction that the cause of unpleasant feeling is altogether imaginary. The ebullition will subside in time, and the subject of it may seem to forget the cause; but to do so, is next to impossible where the false impression is not removed. Now let me tell you what I did in reference to the friend I have just mentioned."
"Well, what did you do?"
"After the acute pain of mind which was caused by her note had subsided, I began to examine, as far as I could recollect them, all my words and actions towards her on the previous evening. In one or two things, I thought I could perceive that which to one of her sensitive disposition might appear in a wrong light. I remembered, too, that in her domestic relations there were some circumstances of a painful character, and I knew that these weighed heavily upon her mind, often depressing her spirits very much. One of these circumstances, though perfectly beyond her control, was extremely humiliating to a high-minded and somewhat proud-spirited woman. All these things I turned over in my mind, and instead of allowing myself to feel incensed against her for the unkind note she had written to me--I endeavored to find excuses for her, and to palliate her fault all that I could. What troubled me most, was the almost insurmountable barrier that she had thrown between us. 'Do not attempt to answer this; do not attempt to see me;' were strong positions; and my pride rose up, and forbade me to break through them. But pride could not stand before the awakening of better feelings. 'I must see her. I will see her!' I said.
"This resolution taken, I determined that I would not call upon her until towards evening, thus giving her time for reflection. The hour at length came in which I had made up my mind to perform a most painful duty, and I dressed myself for the trying visit. When I pulled the bell, on pausing at her door, I was externally calm, but internally agitated.
"'Tell Mrs. Buck that a friend wishes to speak to her,' said I to the servant who showed me into the parlor. I did not feel at liberty to ask her not to mention my name; but I emphasized the word 'friend,' in hopes that she would understand my meaning. But she either did not or would not, for in a few minutes she returned and said, in a confused and hesitating voice,
"'Mrs. Buck says that she does not wish to see you.'"
"And you left the house on the instant?" Louisa said, in an indignant tone.
"No, I did not," was Mrs. Appleton's calm reply.
"Not after such an insult! Pardon me--but I would call it a breach of politeness for anyone to remain in the house of another under such circumstances."
"But, Louisa, you must remember that there are exceptions to every general rule; and also, that the same act may be good or bad, according to the end which the actor has in view. If I had proposed to myself any mere sinister and selfish end in remaining in the house of my friend after such an unkind and to me, at the time, cruel repulse--I would have acted wrong; but my end was to benefit my friend--to remove in her of a most painful mistake, which I could only do by meeting her, and letting her ears take in the tones of my voice, that she might thus judge of my sincerity."
Louisa did not reply, and Mrs. Appleton continued--
"'Tell Mrs. Buck,' said I to the servant, 'that I am very anxious to see her, and that she must not refuse me an interview.' In a few minutes she returned with the positive refusal of Mrs. Buck to see me. There was one thing that I did not want to do--one thing that I hesitated to do, and that was to force myself upon my estranged friend by intruding upon her, even in her own chamber, where she had retired to be secure from my importunity. But I looked to the end I had in view. 'Is not the end a good one?' I said, as I mused over the unpleasant position in which I found myself. 'Will not even Mrs. Buck thank me for the act after she shall have perceived her error?' Thus I argued with myself, and finally made up my mind that I would compel an interview by entering my friend's chamber, even though she had twice refused to see me.
"As I resolved to do, so I acted. Once fully convinced that the act was right, I compelled myself to do it, without once hesitating or looking back. My low knock at her chamber-door was unanswered. I paused but a few moments before opening it. There stood my friend, with a pale yet firm countenance, and as I advanced she looked me steadily in the face with a cold, repulsive expression.
"'Mrs. Buck,' said I, extending my hand and forcing a smile, while the tears came to my eyes, and my voice trembled--'if I had been guilty of the feelings with which you have charged me, I would not have thus sought you, in spite of all your repulses. Let me now declare to you, in the earnestness of a sincere heart, that I am innocent of all you allege against me. I have always regarded you as one of my choicest friends. I have always endeavored to prefer you before myself, instead of setting myself above you. You have, therefore, accused me wrongfully, but I do most heartily forgive you. Will you not then forgive me for an imaginary fault?'
"For a few moments after I commenced speaking, she continued to look at me with the same cold, repulsive stare, not condescending to touch the hand that I still extended. But she saw that I was sincere; she felt that I was sincere, and this melted her down. As I ceased speaking, she started forward with a quick, convulsed movement, and throwing her arms around me, hid her face in my bosom and wept aloud. It was some time before the tumult of her feelings subsided.
"'Can you indeed forgive me?' she at length said; 'my strange, blind, wayward folly?'
"'Let us be friends as we were, Mrs. Buck,' I replied, 'and let this hour be forgotten, or only remembered as a seal to our friendship.'
"From that day, Louisa, there has been no jarring string in our friendly fellowship. Mrs. Buck really felt aggrieved; she thought that she perceived in my conduct all that she had alleged, and it wounded her to the quick. But the earnest sincerity with which I sought her out and persisted in seeing her, convinced her that she had altogether misunderstood the import of my manner, which, under the peculiar state of her feelings, put on a false appearance."
"Well, Mrs. Appleton," Louisa said with a deep inspiration, she ceased speaking, "I cannot say that I think you did wrong: indeed, I feel that you were right; but I cannot act from such unselfish motives; it is not in me."
"But you can compel yourself to do right, Louisa, even where there is no genuine good impulse prompting to correct actions. It is by our thus compelling ourselves, and struggling against the activity of a wrong motive, that a right one is formed. If I had consulted only my feelings, and had allowed only offended self-love to speak, I would never have persevered in seeing my friend; to this day there would have been a wide gulf between us."
"Still, it seems to me that we ought not, as a general thing, to humor people in these idle whims; it only confirms them in habits of mind which make them sources of perpetual annoyance to their friends. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, I desire to be freed from acquaintances of this description; I do not wish my peace ever and always interfered with in such an unpleasant way."
"We should not," Mrs. Appleton replied, "consider only ourselves in these, or indeed in any matters pertaining to social fellowship, but should endeavor sometimes to look away from what is most pleasant and gratifying to ourselves--and study to make others happy. You know that the appearance which true politeness puts on, is that of preferring others to ourselves. We offer them the best seats, or the most eligible positions; or present them with the choicest viands at the table. We introduce subjects of conversation that we think will interest others more than ourselves, and deny ourselves in various ways--that others may be obliged and gratified. Now, the question is, are these mere idle and unmeaning forms? Or is it right that we should feel as we act? If they are unmeaning forms--then are the courtesies of social fellowship a series of acts most grossly hypocritical. If not so, then it is right that we should prefer others to ourselves; and it is right for us, when we find that a friend is under a painful mistake--even if to approach her may cause some sacrifice of our feelings--for us to go to that friend and remove the error from her. Do you not think so, Louisa?"
"I certainly cannot gainsay your position, Mrs. Appleton; but still I feel altogether disinclined to make any overtures to Maria."
"Why so, Louisa?"
"Because I can imagine no cause for her present strange conduct, and therefore see no way of approaching--"
The individual about whom they had been conversing passed near them at this moment, and caused Mrs. Appleton and Louisa to remember that they were prolonging their conversation to too great an extent for a social party.
"We will talk about this again," Mrs. Appleton said, rising and passing to the side of Maria.
"You do not seem cheerful tonight, Maria; or am I mistaken in my observation of your face?" Mrs. Appleton said in a pleasant tone.
"I was not aware that there was anything in my manner that indicated the condition of mind to which you allude," the young lady replied, with a smile.
"There seemed to me such an indication, but perhaps it was only an appearance."
"Perhaps so," said Maria, with something of abstraction in her manner. A silence, embarrassing in some degree to both parties, followed, which was broken by an allusion of Mrs. Appleton's to Louisa Graham.
To this, Maria made no answer.
"Louisa is a girl of kind feelings," remarked Mrs. Appleton.
"She is so esteemed," Maria replied, somewhat coldly.
"Do you not think so, Maria?"
"Why should I think otherwise?"
"I am sure I cannot tell; but I thought there was something in your manner which seemed to indicate a different sentiment."
To this the young lady made no reply, and Mrs. Appleton did not feel at liberty to press the subject, more particularly as she wished to induce Louisa, if she could possibly do so, to sacrifice her feelings and go to Maria with an inquiry as to the cause of her changed manner. She now observed closely the manner of Maria, and saw that she studiously avoided coming into contact with Louisa. Thus the evening passed away, and the two young ladies retired without having once spoken to each other.
Unlike too many of us under similar circumstances, Mrs. Appleton did not say within herself, "This is none of my business. If they have fallen out, let them make it up again." Or, "If she chooses to get the 'pouts' for nothing, let her pout it out." But she thought seriously about devising some plan to bring about explanations and a good understanding again between two who had no just cause for not regarding each other as friends. It would have been an easy matter to have gone to Maria and to have asked the cause of her changed manner towards Louisa, and thus have brought about a reconciliation; but she was desirous to correct a fault in both, and therefore resolved, if possible, to induce the latter to go to the former. With this object in view, she called upon Louisa early on the next morning.
"I was sorry to see," she said, after a brief conversation on general topics, "that there was no movement on the part of either yourself or Maria to bring about a mutual good understanding."
"I am sure, Mrs. Appleton, that I haven't anything to do in the matter," was Louisa's answer. "I have done nothing willfully to wound or offend Maria, and therefore have no apologies to make. If she sees in my character anything so exceedingly offensive as to cause her thus to recede from me--then I am sure that I do not wish her to have any kind of fellowship with me."
"That is altogether out of the question, Louisa. Maria has seen nothing real in you at which to be offended; it is an imaginary something that has blinded her mind."
"In that case, Mrs. Appleton, I must say, as I said at first--Let her pout it out. I have no patience with anyone who acts so foolishly."
"You must pardon my importunity, Louisa," her persevering friend replied. "I am conscious that the position you have taken is a wrong one, and I cannot but hope that I shall be able to make you see it."
"I don't know, Mrs. Appleton; none are so blind, it is said, as those who will not see," Louisa replied, with a meaning smile.
"So you are conscious of an unwillingness to see the truth if opposed to your present feelings," said Mrs. Appleton, smiling in return; "I have some hope of you now."
"Do you think so?"
"Oh, yes; the better principles of your mind are becoming more active, and I now feel certain that you will think of Maria as unhappy from some erroneous idea which it is in your power to remove."
"But her unkind and ungenerous conduct towards me--"
"Don't think of that, Louisa; think only if it is not in your power again to restore peace to her mind; again to cause her eyes to brighten and her lips to smile when you meet her. It is in your power--I know that it is. Do not, then, let me beg of you, abuse that power, and allow one heart to be oppressed when a word from you can remove the burden that weighs it down."
To this appeal, Laura remained silent for a few moments, and then looking up, said, "What would you have me do, Mrs. Appleton?"
"Nothing but what you see to be clearly right. Do not act simply from my persuasion. I urge you as I do, that you may perceive it to be a duty to go to Maria and try to remove from her of an error that is producing unhappiness."
"Then how do you think I ought to act?"
"It seems to me that you should go to Maria, and ask her, with that sincerity and frankness that she could not mistake, the cause of her changed manner; and that you should, at the same time, say that you were altogether unconscious of having said or done anything to wound or offend her."
"I will do it, Mrs. Appleton," said Louisa, after musing for a few moments.
"But does it seem to you right that you should do so?"
"It does when I lose sight of my pride."
"I am glad that you have thus separated your own feelings from the matter; that is the true way to view every subject that has regard to our actions towards others. Go, then, to your estranged friend on this mission of peace, and I know that the result will be pleasant to both of you."
"I am fully convinced that it is right for me to do so; and more, I am fully resolved to do what I see to be right."
About an hour after the closing of this interview, Louisa called at the house of her friend. It was some minutes after she had sent up her name before Maria descended to the parlor to meet her. As she came in, she smiled a faint welcome, extending at the same time her hand in a cold formal manner. Louisa was chilled at this, for her feelings were quick; but she suppressed every weakness with an effort, and said, as she still held the offered hand within her own--
"There must be something wrong, Maria, or you would never treat me so coldly. As I am altogether unconscious of having said or done anything to wound your feelings, or injure you in any way--I have felt constrained to come and see you, and ask if in anything I have unconsciously done you an injury."
There was a pause of some moments, during which Maria was evidently endeavoring to quiet her thoughts and feelings, so as to give a coherent and rational response to what had been said; but this she was unable to do.
"I am a weak and foolish girl, Louisa," she at length said, as the moisture suffused her eyes; "and now I am conscious that I have wronged you. Let us forget the past, and again be friends as we were."
"I am still your friend, Maria, and still wish to remain your friend; but in order that, hereafter, there may be no further breach of this friendship, would it not be well for you to tell me, frankly, in what manner I have wounded your feelings?"
"Perhaps so; but still I would rather not tell the cause; it involves a subject upon which I do not wish to speak. Be satisfied, then, Louisa, that I am fully convinced that you did not mean to wound me. Let this (kissing her tenderly) assure you that my old feelings have all returned. But do not press me upon a point that I shrink from even thinking about."
There was something so serious, almost solemn in the manner of the young lady, that Louisa felt that it would be wrong to urge her upon the subject. But their reconciliation was complete.
So much interest did Mrs. Appleton feel in the matter, that she called in, during the afternoon of the same day, to see Louisa.
"Well, it's all made up!" was almost the first word uttered as Mrs. Appleton came in.
"I am truly glad to hear it," replied that lady.
"And I am glad to be able to say so; but there is one thing that I do not like: I could not prevail upon her to tell me the cause of her coldness towards me."
"I am sorry for that, because, not knowing what has given offence, you are all the time liable again to trespass on feelings that you desire not to wound."
"So I feel about it; but the subject seemed so painful to her that I did not press it."
"When did you first notice a change in her manner?"
"About a week ago, when we were spending an evening at Mrs. Trueman's."
"Cannot you remember something which you then said that might have wounded her?"
"No, I believe not. I have tried several times to recall what I then said, but I can think of nothing but a light jest which I passed upon her about her certainly coming of a crazy family."
"Surely you did not say that, Louisa!"
"Yes, I did. And I am sure that I thought no harm of it. We were conversing gayly, and she was uttering some of her peculiar, and often strange sentiments, when I made the thoughtless and innocent remark I have alluded to. No one replied, and there was a momentary silence that seemed to me strange. From that time, her manner changed. But I have never believed that my playful remark was the cause. I think her a girl of too much good sense for that."
"Have you never heard that her father was for many years in the hospital, and at last died there a raving maniac?" asked Mrs. Appleton with a serious countenance.
"Never!" was the positive answer.
"It is true that such was his miserable end, Louisa."
"Then it is all explained. Oh, how deeply I must have wounded her!"
"Deeply, no doubt. But it cannot be helped. The wound, I trust, is now nearly healed." Then, after a pause, Mrs. Appleton resumed:
"Let this lesson never be forgotten, my young friend. Suppose you had followed your own impulses, and let Maria 'pout it out,' as you said; how much would both she and yourself have suffered--she, under the feeling that you had wantonly insulted and wounded her; and you, in estranged friendship, and under the imputation, unknown to yourself, of having most grossly violated the very first principles of humanity. Let the lesson, then, sink deeply into your heart. Never again permit anyone to grow cold towards you suddenly, without inquiring the cause. It is due to yourself and your friends."
"I shall never forget the lesson, Mrs. Appleton," was Louisa's emphatic response.