TRIFLES

Timothy Shay Arthur


Truly has the poet said that, "Trifles swell the sum of human happiness and woe." Our highest and holiest aspirations, our purest and warmest affections are frequently called forth by what in itself may be deemed of trivial importance. The fragrant breath of a flower, the passing song of the merry milk-maid, a soothing word from one we love will often change the whole current of our thoughts and feelings, and, by carrying us back to the days of childhood, or bringing to our remembrance some innocent and happy state which steals over us like a long-forgotten dream, will dissipate the clouds of sorrow, and even the still deeper shadows of falsity and evil.

How many of the great events of life have their origin in trifles; how many deep, heart-felt sorrows spring from neglect of what seemed to us a duty of little or no account something that could be done or left undone as we pleased!

Alas! this is a dangerous doctrine. Let us endeavor to impress upon the minds of our children, that no duty is trifling; that nothing which can in any way affect the comfort and happiness of others is unimportant.

The happiness of domestic life, particularly of married life, depends almost wholly upon strict attention to trifles. Between those who are united by the sacred tie of marriage, nothing should be deemed trivial. A word, a glance, a smile, a gentle touch all speak volumes; and the human heart is so constituted that there is no joy so great, no sorrow so intense that it may not be increased or mitigated by these trifling acts of sympathy from one we love.

Nearly three months had elapsed since the papers had duly announced to the public that Mary, daughter of Theodore Melville, had become the bride of Arthur Hartwell; and the young couple had returned from a short bridal tour, and were now quietly settled in a pleasant little spot which was endeared to Arthur by having been the home of his youthful days. He had been left an orphan at an early age, and the property had passed into the hands of strangers, but he continued to cherish a strong attachment for the "old place," as he termed it, and he heard with joy, some few months before his marriage, that it was for sale; and without even waiting to consult his intended bride, he purchased it for their future home.

This was a sad disappointment to Mary, for she had fixed her affections upon a pretty romantic little cottage, half hidden by trees and shrubbery, which was situated within two minutes walk from her father's house; and which, owing to the death of the owner, was offered for sale upon very favorable terms. In her eyes, it possessed every advantage, and as she mentally compared it with the old-fashioned dwelling of which Arthur had become the possessor, she secretly conceived a strong prejudice against the spot where the duties and pleasures of the new sphere which she was about to enter, were to commence; particularly as it was five miles distant from her parents, and not very near to any of her early friends.

Some faint attempts were made to induce Arthur to endeavor to get released from his bargain, and to become the purchaser of the pretty cottage but in vain. He was delighted to have become the owner of what appeared to him one of the loveliest spots on the earth, and assured Mary that the house was vastly superior to any cottage, advancing so many good reasons for this assertion, and describing in such glowing terms, the beauty of the surrounding scenery, and the happiness they would enjoy, that she could not help sympathizing with him, although her dislike to her future home remained unabated.

The first few weeks of her residence there passed pleasantly enough, however. All was new and delightful. The grounds about the house, although little cultivated, were beautiful in the wild luxuriance of nature; the trees were loaded with rich autumnal fruits; and even the old-fashioned mansion, now that it was newly painted, and the interior fitted up in modern style, assumed a more favorable aspect. It was a leisure time with Arthur, and he was ever ready to accompany Mary to her father's; so that she became quite reconciled to the distance, and even thought it rather an advantage, as it was such a pleasant little ride.

But as the season advanced, Arthur became more engrossed with business. The rides to her family became less frequent, and Mary, accustomed to the society of her mother and sister, often passed lonely days in her new home, and her dislike to it in some degree returned. Her affection for her husband, however, prevented the expression of these feelings, and she endeavoved to forget her loneliness, in attention to household duties, reading, and music; but these resources would sometimes fail.

It was one of those bright afternoons in the latter part of autumn, when the sun shines forth with almost summer-like warmth, and the heart is gladdened with the departing beauty of nature. Mary was seated alone in her pleasant parlor, with her books and her work by her side.

"How I wish Arthur would return early!" she said, aloud, as she gazed from their open window. "It will be such a lovely evening. We could have an early tea, and ride over to father's and return by moonlight; it would be delightful;" and filled with this idea, she really expected her husband, although it still was two hours before the usual time of his return; and laying aside her work, began to make some preparations for the evening meal. She was interrupted by a call from an old friend who lived nearly two miles distant, and, intending to pass the afternoon at Mr. Melville's, had called to request Mary to accompany her.

The young wife was in considerable perplexity. She had a great desire to go to her father's, but she was unwilling to have Arthur return home and find her absent; and moreover, she felt a strong impression that he would himself enjoy the ride in the evening, and would, perhaps, be disappointed if she were not at home to go with him. So, with many thanks the invitation was declined, the visitor departed, and Mary returned with a light heart to the employment which the visit had interrupted.

Janet, the assistant in the kitchen, entered into the feelings of her mistress, and hastened to assist her with cheerful alacrity, declaring that she knew "Mr. Hartwell would be home directly it was just the evening for a ride," etc. etc. This ebullition of her feelings being partly caused by sympathy with the wishes of her young mistress, and partly by her own desire to have the house to herself for the reception of some particular friends, who had promised to favor her with their company that evening.

But alas! the hopes of both mistress and maid were destined to be disappointed. The usual time for Arthur's return passed by, and still he did not appear, and it was not until the deepening twilight had almost given place to the deeper shadows of evening, that Mary heard his well known step, and springing from the sofa where she had thrown herself after a weary hour of watching, she flew to the door to greet him.

"Oh, Arthur!" she exclaimed, forgetful that he was quite ignorant of all that had been passing in her mind for the last few hours, "how could you stay at work so late? I have waited for you so long, and watched so anxiously. It is quite too late for us to go now."

"Go where, Mary?" was the surprised reply. "I did not recollect that we were to go anywhere this evening. I know I am rather late home, but business must be attended to. I meant to have told you not to expect me at the usual hour."

This was too bad. To think that she had refused Mrs. Elmore's kind invitation, and had passed the time in gazing anxiously from the window when she might have enjoyed the society of father, mother, and all the dear ones at home; and now to find that Arthur actually knew that he would not return till late, and might have saved her this disappointment it was really very hard; and Mary turned away to hide the starting tears, as she replied,

"You might have remembered to have told me that you would not be home till dark, Arthur, and then I could have gone with Mrs. Elmore. She called to ask me to ride over to father's with her, but I would not go, because I felt so sure that you would come home early and take me to ride yourself this pleasant evening."

"You had no reason to expect it," said Arthur, rather curtly, for he felt irritated at the implied reproach of Mary's words and manner, and for the first time since their marriage, the husband and wife seated themselves at the table with unkind feelings busy in their hearts. Mary remained quite silent, while Arthur vented his irritation by giving the table an impatient jerk, exclaiming,

"I really wish Janet could learn to set a table straight! I believe her eyes are crooked."

This was an unfortunate speech, for Mary, in her desire to expedite Janet's preparations for tea, had herself arranged the table; at another time she would have made a laughing reply, but just now she did not feel like joking, and the remark only increased the weight at her heart.

These grievances may seem very trifling, and indeed they are so; but our subject is trifles, and if the reader will examine his own heart, he will find that even little troubles sometimes produce a state which even the addition of a feather's weight renders insupportable.

Thus it was with Mary. She made an ineffectual attempt to eat, but the food seemed to choke her; and rising abruptly, she seated herself at the piano and commenced a lively tune in order to hide her real feelings.

There was nothing strange in this. Arthur frequently asked her to play to him when be felt disposed to remain at the table longer than she did, and he had often said that he liked the ancient custom of having music at meals; but this evening, music had lost its charm; the lively tune was not in unison with his state of feeling, and he hastily finished his supper and left the room. This was another trial, and the ready tears gushed from Mary's eyes as she left the piano, and summoning Janet to remove the tea things, she bade her tell Mr. Hartwell when he came in, that she had a bad headache and had gone to her own room.

Arthur returned from his short walk in less than half an hour, quite restored to good humor by the soothing effects of the lovely evening, and somewhat ashamed that he had been disturbed by so trifling a cause.

"Perhaps Mary would like to take a walk," he said, to himself, as he entered the house. "It is not too late for that, and tomorrow I will endeavor to take the wished-for ride."

He was disappointed when Janet delivered the message, and going upstairs opened the door of their bedroom; but Mary's eyes were closed, and fearful of disturbing her, he quietly returned to the parlor and endeavored to amuse himself with a book until his usual hour of going to rest.

The next morning all seemed as usual; for sleep has a renovating power on the mind as well as the body, and in little troubles as well as in great.

Husband and wife spoke affectionately to each other, and secretly wondered how such trifles could have disturbed them; but no allusion was made to the subject, for the very reason that the unpleasant feeling which had arisen between them had sprung from so trifling a cause. The trouble could scarcely be defined, and therefore they judged it better to say nothing about it. In some cases this is well, but, generally, it is better to speak openly even of little difficulties; especially those which may arise in the first part of married-life, as this frankness enables husband and wife to gain an insight into all those trifling peculiarities of character which each may possess, and on attention to which, much of their future happiness may depend.

Weeks and months passed on, and, apparently, all was going happily with our young friends. Mary had become more accustomed to passing some hours of each day alone, and her solitude was frequently enlivened by a visit from her mother, sister, or some young friend of her school-girl days. Arthur still appeared devotedly attached to her, and she certainly returned his affection most sincerely and yet both felt that there was a change. It could scarcely be defined, and no cause could be assigned for it. They would have indignantly rejected the idea, that they loved each other less than formerly, but there was certainly less sympathy between them; they were not so closely united in every thought and feeling as they once had been. No unkind words had passed on either side, at least none which could really be regarded as such, for the trifles which had gradually produced this feeling of separation were almost too insignificant to call forth absolute unkindness; yet still they did their work slowly but surely.

Mary was the petted child of indulgent parents. Arthur had early lost both father and mother, and his childhood had passed with but little of the congenial effects of female influence. He had spent most of his time at a school for boys, where, although his intellect was well cultivated, and his morals strictly attended to there was little done to call forth those warm affections of which every young heart is susceptible. And as he grew to manhood, although his principles were excellent, and his feelings warm and tender, there was a lack of that kindliness and gentleness of manner, and above all, of that peculiar faculty of adapting himself to the needs of a female heart, which would not have existed had he been blessed with the care of a mother, or the affectionate sympathy of a sister.

His acquaintance with Mary before their marriage had been of short duration, and these traits in his character had passed unobserved during the excitement of feeling which generally marks the days of courtship. But as this state passed away, and his usual habits returned Mary's sensitive heart was often wounded by trifling inattentions, although never by willful neglect. Arthur was fond of study, and in his leisure hours he would sometimes become so entirely absorbed in some favorite author, that even Mary's presence was forgotten, and the evening passed away without any effort on his part to cheer her evidently drooping spirits. Not that he was really selfish: it was mere thoughtlessness, and ignorance of those attentions which a woman's heart demands. If Mary had requested him to lay aside his graver studies and read aloud in some work interesting to her, or pass an hour in cheerful conversation, or listening to music he would have complied without hesitation, and, indeed, with pleasure; but she remained silent, secretly yearning for little acts of kindness, which never entered the mind of her husband.

Another peculiarity which gave the young wife much pain, was that Arthur never or very rarely uttered words of commendation or approval. If anything was wrong he noticed it at once, and requested a change; but if right he never praised. This is a common error, and it is a great one. Approval from those we love is as refreshing to the human heart as the dew to the fading flower; and to at woman's heart, it is essential. Without it all kindly affections wither away; the softest, most delicate feelings become blunted and hard; the heart no longer beats with warm, generous emotions it is cold, palsied, and dead.

Even in the most trifling details of domestic life, approval is encouraging and sweet. The weary wife and mother who has passed through a day of innumerable little vexations and difficulties, is cheered by the pleasant smile with which her husband takes his seat at the tea and feels new life as she listens to his commendations of some favorite dish which she has placed before him.

True, it is but a trifle but it speaks to the heart.

We will give our readers a short specimen of the habit to which we allude. Breakfast was on the table, and a part of the hot cakes and smoking ham had been duly transferred to Arthur's plate. He ate sparingly, and his looks plainly showed that something was wrong. Presently he said "Mary, dear, I think you must look a little more strictly after Janet. She grows very careless; this bread is decidedly sour, the ham is half cooked, and worse than all, breakfast is ten minutes too late."

Mary's quiet reply, that she would "endeavor to have it right another time," was quite satisfactory; pleasant remarks followed, and Arthur left home with a cheerful good morning.

Another breakfast time arrived. Mary's own personal attention had secured sweet bread, and she had risen half an hour earlier than usual to insure that all was done properly and in season.

Punctually the well prepared dishes were placed upon the table, again Arthur's plate was well filled, and, to do him justice, its contents were eaten with keen relish; but no look or word of approval was given to show that he understood and appreciated the effort which had been made to meet his wishes.

All was right and therefore there was nothing to say. To some, this might have been satisfactory, but not to Mary. She longed for a word or smile, to show that she had given pleasure.

But it is not to be supposed that all these petty causes of complaint were on one side. Arthur often felt grieved and somewhat irritated by Mary's altered manner or moody silence, showing that he had offended in ways unknown to himself; and there were also times when her ridicule of his somewhat uncultivated taste grated harshly on his feelings. Her continued dislike to the "dear old place" was another source of regret; and before the first year of married life had expired, feelings had sometimes been busy in both their hearts, which they would have shuddered to have confessed even to themselves.

Winter and spring had passed away, and summer was again present with its birds and flowers. Mary was in her garden one lovely afternoon arranging some favorite plants, when her attention was attracted to a small cart laden with some strange old-fashioned looking furniture, which had stopped at their gate. She at first supposed that the driver wished to inquire the way, but to her surprise, he carefully lifted a large easy-chair, covered with leather and thickly studded with brass nails, from the wagon, and brought it toward the house, bowing respectfully as he approached her, and inquiring where she wished to have it put.

"There is some mistake," said Mary; "these things are not for us."

"Mr. Hartwell sent them here, ma'am," was the reply; "and here is a bit of a note for your ladyship."

Mary received the offered slip of paper, and hastily read the following lines

"You will be pleased, dear Mary, to find that I have at length discovered the purchaser of my mother's easy-chair, and the old clock which formerly stood in our family sitting-room, and have bought them of him for a moderate price. They are valuable to me as mementos of my boyish days, and you will value them for my sake."

But Mary had a great dislike to old clocks, and leather-bottomed chairs, and she was little disposed to value them even for Arthur's sake. She, however, directed the man where to place them, and returned to the employment which he had interrupted. Arthur's business demanded his attention until a late hour that evening, and he had said when he left home that he would take tea in the city. Mary retired to rest before his return, and nothing was said concerning the old furniture until the following morning.

Indeed, it seemed so perfectly worthless to Mary, that the recollection of it had passed from her mind; but it was recalled by the sudden inquiry of her husband as he finished dressing and prepared to go downstairs.

"Oh, Mary, dear, where did you have the old chair and clock placed? Was I not fortunate to find them?"

"Very," replied Mary, with forced interest; "although I hardly know what you will do with them. I had them put in the shed for the present."

"In the shed!" exclaimed Arthur; "but you are right, Mary, they need a little rubbing off; please to let Janet attend to them this morning, and I will show you the very places where they used to stand in the parlor. How delighted I shall be to see the old clock in its accustomed corner, and to seat myself in the very chair where I have so often sat with my dear mother!"

Mary uttered an involuntary, exclamation of horror.

"Why, Arthur, you do not really intend to place those hideous old things in our parlor?"

"Certainly I do. I see nothing hideous in them. They are worth all our fashionable furniture put together. What is your objection to them, Mary?"

"I have every objection to them," was her almost indignant reply. "They would form the most ludicrous contrast to the rest of our furniture."

"I see nothing ludicrous or improper in putting them in their old places," said Arthur, warmly. "They are dear to me as having belonged to my parents and I cannot see why you should wish to deny me the pleasure of having them where I can enjoy the recollections which they recall."

"Put them in the garret, or in your own little room where you keep your books, if you like," answered Mary; "but if you have any regard to my feelings you will keep them out of my sight. I think the sacrifice which I make in living in this old-fashioned place is enough, without requiring me to ornament my parlor with furniture which was in use before I was born. However, I do not expect much consideration for my opinions and tastes;" and, overpowered with a mixed feeling of indignation and regret for the warmth with which she had spoken, Mary burst into tears.

"You have certainly showed little regard for my feelings," was Arthur's irritated reply; "and perhaps, I may also say with truth, what your words imply; I have little reason to expect regard and consideration;" and hastily leaving the room, he was on his way to his office before Mary had composed herself sufficiently to descend to the breakfast room.

"Has Mr. Hartwell breakfasted?" she inquired, with surprise, as she saw the solitary cup and plate which Janet had placed for her.

"He took no breakfast, ma'am. I think he was in great haste to reach the office."

"He has a great deal to attend to, just now," replied her mistress, unwilling that Janet should suspect the truth; but as soon as the girl left the room, her excited feelings again found vent in tears.

Bitterly did she regret what had passed. It was the first time that harsh words had been uttered by either, and they seemed to have lifted the veil which had long been drawn over thoughts and feelings which had tended to dissimilarity and separation.

The year passed in rapid review before her, and she felt that there was a great and fearful change, the cause of which she could not define, for she had no distinct charges to bring against Arthur, and as yet, she attached little blame to herself. The unkind manner in which she had spoken that morning, was indeed regretted; but this seemed the only error. It was certainly unreasonable in Arthur to expect her to yield willingly to such strange whims.

But he no longer loved her she was sure of this; and proof after proof of his inattention to her wishes, and neglect of her feelings, came to her mind until she was almost overwhelmed with the view of her own misery, which imagination thus placed before her.

And this was the anniversary of their marriage! One short year before, and they had exchanged those mutual vows which then appeared unchangeable. How soon happiness had fled! And to think that this climax of their troubles should happen upon this very day, which ought to have been consecrated to tender remembrances! This was the hardest thought of all; but probably, Arthur did not even remember the day. As these and similar thoughts passed through Mary's mind, her tears redoubled, and fearful that Janet would surprise her in this situation, she rose hastily to go to her own room. In doing this, her eye suddenly rested upon a small parcel addressed to herself, which lay upon her little work-table, and taking it in her hand, she passed quickly up the stairs, just in time to avoid the scrutinizing eye of Janet, who, shrewdly suspecting that something was wrong, had resolved to be uncommonly attentive to her young mistress, in the hope of discovering the cause of the trouble.

Mary locked the door of her own room, and observing that the address on the package was in Arthur's handwriting, she hastily tore off the envelope, discovering a beautiful edition of a volume of poems for which she had expressed a wish unheeded and unheard, as she deemed it some days before. Her own name and that of her husband were written upon the blank leaf, and the date showed that it was designed as a gift for this very day; a proof that he remembered the anniversary which she had supposed so entirely forgotten.

It was but a trifling thing one of those pleasant little patches of blue sky which we sometimes see when the remainder of the heavens is covered with clouds but it produced an entire change of feeling. A flood of gentle and tender emotions filled the heart of the young wife; the faults of her husband now appeared to her as nothing while his many virtues stood out in bold relief. She, alone, had been to blame in the little difficulties which had sprung up between them, for a playful remonstrance on her part would, no doubt, have dispelled the coldness of manner which had sometimes troubled her, and induced him to pay those little attentions which her heart craved. He had always, in every important matter, been very, very kind to her, and how often she had opposed his wishes and laughed at his opinions!

But it was not yet too late; she would regain the place in his affections which she still feared she had forfeited; and with the childish, impulsive eagerness which marked her character, Mary hastened to the shed, and summoning Janet to her assistance, was soon busily at work on the old furniture, which, an hour ago, she had so much despised. The old clock-case soon shone with an unequaled polish, and the chair seemed to have renewed its youth. But where should they be placed? for Arthur had left the house without designating the spot where they had formerly stood.

"It would be so delightful to have them just where he wished, before he comes home!" thought Mary, and it was with real joy that she turned to receive the greeting of a worthy old lady, who was one of the nearest neighbors, and having lived on the same place for the last forty years, had undoubtedly been well acquainted with the old chair and clock, and could tell the very place where they ought to stand.

This proved to be the case. The lady was quite delighted to meet such old friends, and assisted Mary in arranging them with the utmost pleasure.

"There, dear," she exclaimed, when all was completed, "that is exactly right. It seems to me I can almost see my old friend, Mrs. Hartwell, in her favorite chair, with her pretty little boy, your husband, by her side. Poor child! it was such a sad loss to him when she died; I am glad he has found such a good wife; it is not everyone who thinks so much of their husband's feelings as you do, my dear."

Mary blushed a little at this somewhat ill-deserved praise, but thanked her worthy visitor, for her kindness, and exerted herself so successfully to make her long call agreeable, that the good lady went home with the firm impression that "Arthur Hartwell had got one of the best wives in the country."

The hours seemed long until the usual time for Arthur's arrival; and with almost trembling eagerness, Mary heard his step in the entry. Her tremulous but pleasant "good evening," met with rather a cold return, but she was prepared for this, and was not discouraged. Tea was on the table, and they sat down. Arthur's taste had been scrupulously consulted, and the effort to please did not, as was too often the case, pass unnoticed.

From a desire to break the somewhat awkward silence, or from some other motive, he praised each favorite dish, and declared he had seldom eaten so good a supper.

Rising from table, they proceeded as usual to the parlor; and now Mary was amply rewarded for the sacrifice of her own taste, if sacrifice it could be called by the surprise and pleasure visible in her husband's countenance as he looked around, and by the affectionate kiss which he imprinted upon her cheek.

"And you will forgive my hasty words, will you not?" Mary whispered softly as he bent his head to hers.

"They will never again be remembered," was the reply; "and I have also much to ask your forgiveness for, Mary, for I have thought much and deeply, today, dearest, and I find that I have been very deficient in many of the most essential qualities of a husband. But let us sit down together in this old chair, which with me is so strongly associated with the memory of my dear mother; and we will review the past year a little, and you will let me peep into your heart, and give me a clearer insight into its feelings and needs."

A long and free conversation followed, in which the husband and wife gained more real knowledge of each other's characters than they had obtained in the whole of their previous acquaintance. All coldness and doubt was dispelled, and they felt that they loved more tenderly and truly than ever before.

"And now, dearest, we will sum up the lesson which we are to remember," said Arthur, playfully, as the lateness of the hour reminded them that the evening had passed unheeded away. "I am to think more of trifles, and you are . . . "

"To think less" added Mary, smilingly. "Let us see who will remember their lesson the best!"