Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Jones
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Did you see that?" said Mrs. Jones to her friend Mrs. Lion, with whom she was walking.
"Why, that Mrs. Todd didn't speak to me."
"No. I thought she spoke to you as well as to me."
"Indeed, she didn't."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure? Can't I believe my own eyes? She nodded and spoke to you, but she didn't as much as look at me."
"What in the world can be the reason, Mrs. Jones?"
"You certainly must be mistaken. Mrs. Todd would not refuse to speak to one of her old friends in the street."
"Humph! I don't know; she's rather strange, sometimes. She's miffed at something, I suppose, and means to cut my acquaintance. But let her. I shall not distress myself about it; she isn't all the world."
"Have you done anything likely to offend her?" asked Mrs. Lyon.
"Me?" returned her companion. "No, not that I am aware of; but certain people are always on the lookout for something or other wrong, and Mrs. Todd is just one of that kind."
"I never thought so, Mrs. Jones."
"She is, then. I know her very well."
"I'm sorry," said Mrs. Lyon, evincing a good deal of concern. "Hadn't you better go to her in a plain, straight-forward way, and ask the reason of her conduct? This would make all clear in a moment."
"Go to her, Mrs. Lyon," exclaimed Mrs. Jones, with ill-concealed indignation.
"No, indeed, that I will not. Do you think I would demean myself so much?"
"I am not sure that by so doing you would demean yourself, as you say. There is, clearly, some mistake, and such a course would correct all false impressions. But it was only a suggestion, thrown out for your consideration."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Lyon," replied Mrs. Jones, with warmth. "You never find me cringing to people, and begging to know why they are pleased to cut my acquaintance. I feel quite as good as anybody, and consider myself of just as much consequence as the proudest and best. Mrs. Todd needn't think I care for her acquaintance; I never valued it a pin!"
Notwithstanding Mrs. Jones's perfect indifference toward Mrs. Todd, she continued to talk about her, pretty much after this fashion, growing more excited all the while, during the next half hour, at the close of which time the ladies parted company.
When Mrs. Jones met her husband at the dinner-table, she related what had happened during the morning. Mr. Jones was disposed to treat the matter lightly, but his wife soon satisfied him that the thing was no joke.
"What can be Mrs. Todd's reason for such conduct?" he asked, with a serious air. "I can't tell, for my life."
"She must have heard some false report about you."
"It's as likely as not; but what can it be?"
"Something serious, to cause her to take so decided a stand as she seems to have done."
Mr. Jones looked grave, and spoke in a grave tone of voice. This made matters worse. Mrs. Jones's first idea was that Mrs. Todd had heard something that she might have said about her, and that wounded pride had caused her to do as she had done; but her husband's remark suggested other thoughts. It was possible that reports were in circulation calculated to injure her social standing, and that Mrs. Todd's conduct toward her was not the result of any private pique.
"It is certainly strange and unaccountable," she said, in reply to her husband's last remark, speaking in a thoughtful tone.
"Would it not be the fairest and best way for you to go and ask for an explanation?"
"No, I can't do that," replied Mrs. Jones, quickly. "I am willing to bear undeserved contempt and unjust censure, but I will never humble myself to anyone."
For the rest of the day, Mrs. Jones' thoughts all flowed in one channel. A hundred reasons for Mrs. Todd's strange conduct were imagined, but none seemed long satisfactory. At last, she remembered having spoken pretty freely about the lady to a certain individual who was not remarkable for his discretion.
"That's it," she said, rising from her chair, and walking nervously across the floor of her chamber, backward and forward, for two or three times, while a burning glow suffused her cheek. "Isn't it too bad that words spoken in confidence should have been repeated! I don't wonder that she is offended!"
This idea was retained for a time, and then abandoned for some other that seemed more plausible. For the next two weeks, Mrs. Jones was very unhappy. She did not meet Mrs. Todd during that period, but she saw a number of her friends, to whom either she or Mrs. Lyon had communicated the fact already stated. All declared the conduct of Mrs. Todd to be unaccountable; but several, among themselves, had shrewd suspicions of the real cause. Conversations on the subject, like the following, were held--
"I can tell you what I think about it, Mrs. Santerre. You know, Mrs. Jones is pretty free with her tongue!"
"You've heard her talk about Mrs. Todd?"
"I don't remember, now."
"I have, often; she doesn't spare her, sometimes. You know, yourself, that Mrs. Todd has strange ways of her own."
"She is not perfect, certainly."
"Not by a great deal; and Mrs. Jones has not hesitated to say so. There is not the least doubt in my mind, that Mrs. Todd has heard something."
"Perhaps so; but she is very foolish to take any notice of it."
"So I think; but you know that she is touchy."
In some instances, the conversation assumed a grave form--
"Do you know what has struck me, in this matter of Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Todd?" says one scandal-loving personage to another, whose taste ran parallel with her own.
"No. What is it?" eagerly asks the auditor.
"I will tell you; but you mustn't speak of it, for your life."
"Never fear me."
The communication was made in a deep whisper.
"Oh me!" exclaims the recipient of the secret. "It surely cannot be so!"
"There is not the least doubt of it. I had it from a source that cannot be doubted."
"How in the world did you hear it?"
"In a way not dreamed of by Mrs. Jones."
"No doubt, Mrs. Todd has heard the same."
"Not the least in the world. But don't you think her to blame in refusing to keep Mrs. Jones' company, or even to speak to her?"
"Certainly I do. It happened a long time ago, and no doubt poor Mrs. Jones has suffered enough on account of it. Indeed, I don't think she ought to be blamed in the matter at all; it was her misfortune, not her fault."
"So I think. In fact, I believe she is just as worthy of respect and kindness as Mrs. Todd."
"No doubt of it in the world; and from me she shall always receive it."
"And from me also."
In this way the circle spread, so that before two weeks had elapsed, there were no less than twenty different notions held about Mrs. Todd's behavior to Mrs. Jones. Some talked very seriously about cutting the acquaintance of Mrs. Jones also, while others took her side and threatened to give up the acquaintance of Mrs. Todd.
Thus matters stood, when a mutual friend, who wished to do honor to some visitors from a neighboring city, sent out invitations for a party. Before these invitations were despatched, it was seriously debated whether it would do to invite both Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Todd, considering how matters stood between them. The decision was in favor of letting them take care of their own difficulties.
"If I thought Mrs. Todd would be there--I am sure I wouldn't go," said Mrs. Jones, on receiving her card of invitation.
"I hardly think that would be acting wisely," replied her husband. "You are not conscious of having wronged Mrs. Todd. Why, then, should you shun her?"
"But it is so unpleasant to meet a person with whom you have been long intimate, who refuses to speak to you."
"No doubt it is. Still we ought not to go out of our way to shun that person. Let us, while we do not attempt to interfere with the liberties of others, be free ourselves. Were I in your place, I would not move an inch to keep out of her way."
"I have not your firmness. I wish I had. It was only yesterday that I crossed the street to keep from meeting her face to face."
"You were wrong."
"I can't help it; it is my weakness. Three times already have I put myself about to avoid her; and if I could frame any good excuse for staying away from this party, I certainly would do so. I would give anything for a good sick-headache on next Tuesday."
"I am really ashamed of you, Ellen. I thought you more of a woman," said Mr. Jones.
The night of the party at length came around. During the whole day preceding it, Mrs. Jones could think of nothing but the unpleasant feelings she would have upon meeting with Mrs. Todd, and her "heart was in her mouth" all the time. She wished a dozen times that it would rain. But her wishes availed nothing; not a cloud was to be seen in the clear blue firmament from morning until evening.
"Oh, if I only had some good excuse for staying at home!" she said over and over again; but no good excuse offered.
Mr. Jones saw that his wife was in a very unhappy state of mind, and tried his best to cheer her, but with little good effect.
"It is no use to talk to me, I can't help it," she replied to his remonstrance, in a husky voice. "I am neither a stock nor a stone."
"There's Mrs. Jones," said one friend to another, on seeing the lady they named enter Mrs. Watkin's well-filled parlors.
"Where is Mrs. Todd?" asked the lady addressed.
"Sure enough! where is she?" replied the other. "Oh, there she is, in the other room. I wonder why it is that she does not speak to Mrs. Jones."
"No one knows."
"It's very strange."
"I'll tell you what I've heard."
"That she's jealous of Mrs. Jones."
"I don't believe a word of it."
"Nor I. I only told you what I had heard."
"There must be some other reason."
"And doubtless is."
Meantime, Mrs. Jones found a seat in a corner, where she ensconced herself, with the determination of keeping her place during the evening, that she might avoid the unpleasantness of coming in contact with Mrs. Todd. All this was, of course, very weak in Mrs. Jones. But she had no independent strength of character, it must be owned.
"Poor Mrs. Jones! How cut down she looks," remarked a lady who knew all about the trouble that existed. "I really feel sorry for her."
"She takes it a great deal too much to heart," was the reply. "Mrs. Todd might refuse to speak to me a dozen times, if she liked. It wouldn't break my heart. But where is she?"
"In the other room, as mirthful and lively as ever I saw her. See, there she is."
"Yes, I see her. Hark! You can hear her laugh to here. I must confess I don't like it. I don't believe she has any heart. She must know that Mrs. Jones is hurt at what she has done."
"Of course she does, and her manner is meant to insult her."
Seeing the disturbed and depressed state of Mrs. Jones's mind, two or three of her friends held a consultation on the subject, and finally agreed that they would ask Mrs. Todd, who seemed purposely to avoid Mrs. Jones, why she acted towards her as she did. But before they could find an opportunity of so doing, a messenger came to say that one of Mrs. Todd's children had been taken suddenly ill. The lady withdrew immediately.
Mrs. Jones, breathed more freely on learning that Mrs. Todd had gone home. Soon after, she emerged from her place in the corner, and mingled with the company during the rest of the evening.
Mrs. Todd, on arriving at home, found one of her children quite sick; but it proved to be nothing serious. On the following morning, the little fellow was quite well again.
On that same morning, three ladies, personal friends of Mrs. Todd, met by appointment, and entered into grave consultation. They had undertaken to find out the cause of offence that had occurred, of so serious a character as to lead Mrs. Todd to adopt so rigid a course towards Mrs. Jones, and, if possible, to reconcile matters.
"The sickness of her child will be a good excuse for us to call upon her," said one. "If he is better, we can introduce the matter judiciously."
"I wonder how she will take it?" suggested another.
"Kindly, I hope," remarked the third.
"Suppose she does not?"
"We have done our duty."
"True. And that consciousness ought to be enough for us."
"She is a very proud woman, and my fear is that, having taken an open and decided stand, will yield to neither argument nor persuasion. Last night she overacted her part. While she carefully avoided coming in contact with Mrs. Jones, she was often near her, and on such occasions talked and laughed louder than at any other time. I thought, once or twice, that there was something of malice exhibited in her conduct."
To this, one of the three assented. But the other thought differently. After some further discussion, and an ineffectual attempt to decide which of them should open the matter to Mrs. Todd, the ladies sallied forth on their errand of peace. They found Mrs. Todd at home, who received them in her usual agreeable manner.
"How is your little boy?" was the first question, after the first salutations were over.
"Much better than he was last night, I thank you. Indeed, he is quite as well as usual."
"What was the matter with him, Mrs. Todd?"
"It is hard to tell. I found him with a high fever, when I got home. But it subsided in the course of an hour. Children often have such attacks. They will be quite sick one hour--and apparently well the next."
"I am very glad to hear that it is nothing serious," said one of the ladies. "I was afraid it might have been croup, or something as bad."
There was a pause.
"It seemed a little unfortunate," remarked one of the visitors, "for it deprived you of an evening's enjoyment."
"Yes, it does appear so, but no doubt it is all right. I suppose you had a very pleasant time?"
"Oh, yes. Delightful!"
"I hadn't seen half my friends, when I was summoned away. Was Mrs. Williams there?"
"And Mrs. Gray?"
"And Mrs. Elder?"
"I didn't see either of them."
"Not a word about Mrs. Jones," thought the ladies.
A light running conversation, something after this style, was kept up, with occasional pauses, for half an hour, when one of the visitors determined to come to the point.
"Mrs. Todd--a-hem!" she said in one of the pauses that always take place in uninteresting conversation.
The lady's tone of voice had so changed from what it was a few moments before, that Mrs. Todd looked up at her with surprise. No less changed was the lady's countenance. Mrs. Todd was mystified. But she was not long in doubt.
"A-hem! Mrs. Todd, we have come to--to--as friends--mutual friends--to ask you--"
The lady's voice broke down; but two or three "a-hems!" partially restored it, and she went on. "To ask why you refused to--to--speak to Mrs. Jones?"
"Why I refused to speak to Mrs. Jones?" said Mrs. Todd, her cheek flushing.
"Yes. Mrs. Jones is very much hurt about it, and says she cannot imagine the reason. It has made her very unhappy. As mutual friends, we have thought it our duty to try and reconcile matters. It is on this errand that we have called this morning. Mrs. Jones says she met you for the last time about two weeks ago, and that you refused to speak to her. May we ask the reason."
"You may, certainly," was calmly replied.
Expectation was now on tiptoe.
"What, then, was the reason?"
"I did not see her."
"What? Didn't you refuse to speak to her?"
"Never in my life. I esteem Mrs. Jones too highly. If I passed her, as you say, without speaking, it was because I did not see her!"
In less than half an hour, Mrs. Todd was at the house of Mrs. Jones. What passed between the ladies, need not be told.