"Your coldness hurt Mrs. Lincoln," said one lady to another.
"I'm sorry," answered the lady to whom the remark was addressed; but the admission of a regret was not made with any feeling.
"Why do you treat her with such a distant reserve, Mrs. Arnold? I've noticed this a number of times. She's an excellent lady. We all like her exceedingly."
The eyes of Mrs. Arnold fell to the floor, and her face became grave.
"I wonder that you do not fancy Mrs. Lincoln. She's a lovely character—so intelligent, so refined, and with such a sweet spirit towards every one. The fault must be in yourself, if there is any natural repulsion."
It was an intimate friend who spoke, and the closing sentence was uttered with a smile.
"In that you may be right," said Mrs. Arnold, half smiling in return.
"Then there is a felt repulsion ?"
"I call that singular. To me it seems that you were born for friends. Your tastes and sympathies run in the same direction; and you are interested in the same general subjects. I am sure, if you knew each other as well as I know you both, you would become closely knit together in friendship. I must get you into a nearer relation to Mrs. Lincoln."
"I would prefer remaining at my present distance," replied Mrs. Arnold.
"Why ? There must be a reason for this."
"I don't like her."
"Mrs. Arnold! I'm surprised to hear you speak so decidedly. Mrs. Lincoln admires you; I've heard her say so, often; and wants to know you more intimately than she now does."
"That she never will, I'm thinking!"
Mrs. Arnold's brows began to gather darkly.
"What's the matter? What do you know about Mrs. Lincoln, that sets her beyond the limit of your friendly acquaintance?"
"The truth is," said Mrs. Arnold, "I've got an old grudge against her. There was a time when it would not gratify her social pride to call me her friend—and she treated me accordingly. She was a woman when I was a child."
Mrs. Arnold had paused, for she was conscious that her cheeks were burning—that her voice was losing its steadiness of tone.
"Perhaps I had as well keep silent," she said. " The subject is not a pleasant one."
"Go on, now. You have excited my curiosity. I would like to know exactly how you stand with Mrs. Lincoln."
"There may be pride and weakness in the case," returned Mrs. Arnold. "But no matter. Thus it stands: I was a quick, intelligent child, but very sensitive. Mrs. Lincoln visited my mother, and I often met her in the parlor, when company was present. She was a beautiful talker, and it was one of my greatest pleasures to sit and listen. I was really fascinated with her ; and I thought her the loveliest lady I had ever seen. One day when she was at our house, I sat listening to the conversation that was passing between her and some other friend of my mother's, drinking in, I apprehend, a great deal more than was imagined, and drinking it in with delight. My mother had left the room for some purpose. While she was absent, Mrs. Lincoln, in speaking of prevalent human weaknesses, quoted a couplet from Pope:
' The love of Praise, howe'er conceal'd by art,
Rules, more or less, and glows in every Heart.'
"How I had read largely in Pope, and held in memory a great many of his terse maxims. Every word of this couplet was familiar, and my ear instantly detected one wrong word in the quotation. In my childish ardor and artlessness I said, looking into Mrs. Lincoln's face:
" 'It is reigns, ma'am.'
"Her eyes turned, flashing on me, in an instant, and with an angry face, she said:
"'You've forgotten yourself, Miss Pert! Children should be seen, not heard.'
"She never saw or heard me in the parlor again. I went out, with hot cheeks and heart full of pain and bitterness. I was sensitive to a fault, and this rebuke—so unjustly given—hurt me to a degree that few would imagine. I never mentioned it to my mother; nor, indeed, to any living soul before this time; and it is over twenty years since the slight occurrence. My pride was deeply wounded. She had said these cruel words before two or three other ladies in whose good opinion I wished to stand well; and as a child I could not look them in the face again. From how much pleasure and instruction was I shut out from that time. Before, I had been anxious to meet my mother's intelligent friends; now, I kept myself out of sight as much, as possible, when we had company, for either Mrs. Lincoln, or some one of the ladies who had been present when she rebuked me, was almost sure to be of the number.
"It has so happened, that, since I became a woman, Mrs. Lincoln and I have, until recently, moved in different circles. I grew up, out of her observation, and married. It is more than probable that she has entirely forgotten the incident which burnt itself into my childish memory—may not even now remember me as the daughter of her old friend. But, I have not forgotten, and can never forget. Grown people fail to remember, in their treatment of children, that girls and boys have memories, and that girls and boys, in a few years, become men and women.
"And now, my friend, you have the secret of my repugnance to Mrs. Lincoln. She pushed me , away from her once; but she will never have a second opportunity."
"The child's resentments should not accompany, into after life, the child's memory," said the friend, as Mrs. Arnold ceased. "Mrs. Lincoln spoke from a sudden sense of wounded pride, and no doubt repented, in the next calm moment. Your mature reason, your observation, and your acquired self-knowledge, should put you right in this matter. It was not the best side of her nature that presented itself then, but her worst side perhaps. I have my worst side, and show it, sometimes, to other people; and it is just the same with you. But, neither of us would like this worst side to govern common estimation. No—no, my friend. You are wrong in letting that old grudge, as you call it, remain.
" Forgive and forget! Why, the world would be lonely,
The garden a Wilderness left to deform,
If the flowers but remembered the chilling winds only,
And the fields gave no vendure for fear of the storm."
"I shall let her go her way through the world," replied Mrs. Arnold, coldly. "It is wide enough for us both. That I have not sought to harm her, you will see in the fact that I have never spoken of this before ; and I have done so now under a kind of compulsion. But, I can never feel pleasant in her company, and shall, therefore, keep her at a distance."
A few days after this conversation, the lady friend who had talked with Mrs. Arnold was sitting in company with Mrs. Lincoln. Conversation passed from theme to theme, when, at what seemed a fitting moment, the lady said:
"Do you remember this incident, of years ago ? You made a quotation from a well known poet, and a little girl corrected you in a single word."
A flash of interest went over the face of Mrs. Lincoln.
"Yes, I remember it very well."
"And what you said to her?”
"I do; and as one of the regretted things of my life. She was a dear little girl; sweet tempered and intelligent—but, a trifle forward, and apt to put in a word now and then, in so mature a way, that innocence' on her part sometimes seemed like forwardness. Yes; I remember her correction, and that I lost temper, and called her Miss Pert, and I don't know what else. I was sorry and ashamed the next moment. That she felt it keenly I know, for, always after that, she was so cold and distant, that I could hardly ever get a word with her. But that was more than twenty years ago. Her mother died while she was still young, and she then passed from my observation. How came you to know of this ?"
"I had the story from her own lips."
"Only a few days since."
"And she has carried the memory of that hasty rebuke rankling in her heart ever since?"
There was a tone of sadness in the voice of Mrs. Lincoln.
"Ever since," said the lady. "It hurt her sensitive pride to a degree that made forgetfulness impossible; and it hurts her still."
"Ah! if we could so recall our hasty words, as to take away their power to do harm, what a blessed thing it would be ? But an impulse once given, cannot die. If it moves to good, happy are they who set it in motion—if to evil, alas! alas ! I set an evil impulse in motion, and it is hurting still. But where is she ? I must bring her, if possible, into a better state of mind."
"You have met Mrs. Arnold."
"Mrs. Arnold! Can it be possible! Surely she is not the daughter of my old friend Mrs. "Willis. She is not the little Emily I have thought of so many times, and always with a troubled memory in my heart."
"The same," was answered.
"And in all these years she has not forgotten nor forgiven my fault. I must have wounded her sorely."
"You did. Hers seems to be one of those proudly sensitive natures, into which all impressions go deeply. I asked her why she kept herself at such a distance from you. But she avoided a direct answer, at the same time intimating a state of repulsion. I pressed for the reason, and. she gave it rather reluctantly, averring, at the same time that she had never opened her lips on the subject in all her life before—not even to her mother."
"Extraordinary! I could not have believed that an impression, made on a child's mind, would remain in such distinctiveness and force through so many years. What a lesson it is!"
"I wish it were possible for you to get near her, Mrs. Lincoln, and let her feel how kind a heart you have. She has admirable qualities. And I am sure that if this barrier were removed, you would be fast friends."
"Oh, it must be removed," said Mrs. Lincoln. "Now that I know of its existence, I will have no peace until it is level with the earth. It was my hands that builded it, and my hands shall take down every stone of separation."
"There is a lady in the parlor," said a servant, coming to the door of Mrs. Arnold's room. "And here is her card, ma'am."
Mrs. Arnold took the card, and read the name of Mrs. Lincoln. She stood, for some time, irresolute. It was on her lips to say— "Ask her to excuse me. I am engaged." But she was not engaged. And, moreover, since her communication to the friend who had spoken so favorably of Mrs. Lincoln, she had felt less satisfied with herself. It did seem like a vindictive spirit thus to cherish ill-will through so many years.
"Say that I will be down in a few minutes."
It cost her an effort to utter this; but it was said; the meeting must take place. She sat in quite a disturbed state for some tune, before venturing to go down stairs. Then with what self-possession she could assume, she went to meet the woman who, twenty years ago, wounded her so deeply that the pain had not yet died out of her consciousness.
The two ladies stood face to face, and hand in hand. The name of Mrs. Arnold had been spoken warmly; that of Mrs. Lincoln with an almost repellent coldness. There were a few moments' silence. Mrs. Lincoln said—
"Your mother was my best friend. I loved her as a sister. Will you not, for her sake, forgive the cruel words that hurt pride sent thoughtlessly from my lips—words repented of almost as soon as spoken, and regretted many, many times?"
The voice of Mrs. Lincoln trembled with the deep feeling that was in her heart.
"Oh, if I had dreamed of their power to hurt so deeply, I would have sought, years ago, to repair the wrong."
This was unexpected. There was no time to reconstruct the barrier which Mrs. Lincoln had suddenly thrown down. No time to gather up the broken chain of ill-will and unite the links. The tender and true in Mrs. Arnold's heart responded. She was softened to tears. Her mother's name had touched her like a talisman. "My best friend; I loved her as a sister." These words disarmed her.
"Let the past be forgotten !" she answered, resolutely, as she closed her hand tightly on the hand that was clasping hers.
"Forgotten and forgiven both, my dear Mrs. Arnold, so that we may be friends in the true acceptation of the word. My heart, even without recognizing in you the child of an old friend, has been drawing .toward you steadily. It perceived in you something congenial. And now, may I not receive from your lips a kiss of forgiveness?"
Mrs. Arnold bent toward her.
"Let it be genuine," said Mrs. Lincoln.
And it was. In that kiss the old pain of wounded pride was extinguished. How long it had rankled!
A single hasty ill-spoken word, what years of bitterness may it not give to some weak heart! We fling out hard sentences, in the heat of sudden anger, that may hurt like hammer-strokes ; and, in most cases, forget that such blows were given. But they have made memory, against us, retentive by pain.
"Long Afterwards" by T. S. Arthur from Sowing the Wind