“Isn’t Aunt Sue the dearest person you ever saw!” exclaimed Helen Fairmont as she and her visitor sank into a garden seat in the beautiful grounds surrounding Mrs. Armour’s lovely home. “Nothing ever seems to be too much trouble for her, if she can make others happy.”
“Yes,” answered Mary Sutton, “I just felt like giving her a good hug when she told you her plan. It is really just for me that she is going to let you give the picnic here.”
“Just for that very reason. It will be simply fine. Oh, she is so sweet! You see, two weeks ago, when you wrote that finally you could arrange to visit me for the summer, I was so full of the good news that I couldn’t get to Aunt Sue’s quickly enough to tell her about it—somehow one always wants to tell Aunt Sue about things—and she said she used to go to school with your mother, and was very fond of her, and she was all ready to like you, too, and that just the very minute you reached here, we were both to come over—I mean you and I were.”
“Oh, dear,” laughed Mary, “I think you’d better stop and take a good long breath, and get the we’s and you’s straightened.”
“I don’t care,” Helen went chattering on. “You know what I mean, just what we’ve done. We, you and I—is that right?—were to come to her house and choose what kind of entertainment we wanted her to give, so you might meet my friends.”
“Who thought of the garden picnic?” inquired Mary, her face all animation. Then, not waiting for Helen’s answer, she said, enthusiastically, “Isn’t this a beautiful spot in which to have a picnic?”
The girls stopped talking long enough to look about at the pride of Mrs. Armour’s heart, the lovely grounds round her home. They surrounded a fine old house of colonial type, for which they made a pretty setting. A double row of dignified and ancient elms flanked a pathway leading from the gate. The lawn on each side of the walk made one think of the answer the English gardener gave to the inquiry as to the cause of the velvety beauty of England’s lawns. “Why, sir,” said he, “we sows ’em, and we mows ’em, and we mows ’em, and we sows ’em.” Mrs. Armour’s lawn had the appearance of having undergone a like experience. At the back and sides of the house was a variety of shrubs and bushes whose blossoms in the spring made the place indescribably sweet. Mrs. Armour boasted that there were forty kinds of bushes, but her husband laughingly said that he had never been able to count more than thirty-nine and a half—“for you certainly couldn’t call that Japanese dwarf a whole one!”
June roses ran riot in season. Later, more cultivated varieties, blooming regularly through the summer, took their part in providing fragrance. Sweet, old-fashioned garden plants and more valuable products, procured at much trouble and expense, helped to make a bower that might have satisfied even more fastidious eyes than those which reveled in them now.
Mrs. Armour’s great delight was in using her garden, and she had given Helen the privilege of inviting all her young friends to picnic there the following Thursday evening.
“And, oh, Mary, you just can’t imagine how pretty it is here with the Chinese lanterns swung from tree to tree, and the dainty tables scattered round!” Helen could scarcely contain herself.
Mary laughed merrily. She was equally delighted but naturally she took everything in a more quiet manner. Smiling at Helen’s exuberance of spirit, she asked, “What was it your aunt said about the sandwiches?”
“She wants to help us make them, and she was telling me she’d like me to cut them a little more carefully than I did the last time I helped her. You’d never think Aunt Sue has a hobby, would you?”
“No, I don’t think I should.”
“Well, she has. She’s the most particular old darling about little things that you ever saw. Now those sandwiches I made I will admit were not cut very evenly, but, dear me! they tasted good enough. Tom Canton ate six. I told her so, but she said they should have looked good, too.”
“Well, what’s her hobby?”
“I just told you. It’s trifles. She says life is made of them, and trifles with the rough edges polished off make beautiful lives. And she loves to quote such things as, ‘Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.’ She says trifles decide almost everything for us, and shape our characters. She says it is interesting to study how most big things grow from little ones.
“Helen, I think she’s right.” Mary’s dark, thoughtful eyes looked into her friend’s.
“Oh, I don’t! It isn’t trifles, trifles that decide things and make the real difference. It is the big things. For instance, it is brother Tom’s education in the school of technology that placed him in the responsible position we are all so proud of him for obtaining.”
“Yes, but I heard him say himself that he just happened, by mistake, to leave one of his scribbled figures on your uncle’s desk, and your uncle, picking it up by mistake, too, said that a boy who could do that should have a chance at the right training.”
“Why, that’s a fact, Mary mine,” said Helen, in surprise. “I never thought of it in that way. Well, I won’t agree that it happens so often. For example”—glancing about for an idea, she caught sight of a young man, a former schoolmate, passing just in front of the Armour home—“for example, I don’t suppose it was a trifle that made Alson Jarvis turn out the kind of individual he has become lately. He used to be a fine boy, but I am afraid he is getting dissipated. He doesn’t go with our crowd much now. I guess he is not invited the way he used to be before he began going with those South Town boys.”
“I wish I could prove to you my side of the argument. Let’s try your Aunt Sue’s idea of studying how the big things come from little ones. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find the cause of this one case? I would not be one bit surprised if it were just some little thing which was the pivot that turned him.”
“All right,” agreed Helen. “I don’t believe your theory, but it would be fun, as you say, to try it. Will”—Will was her brother—“insists Al’s not so black as he has been painted lately. We will get Will to find out for us if he can.”
Then the talk drifted to the more absorbing subject of sandwiches and cakes.
At dinnertime the two girls confided to the accommodating Will their desire to find what had changed Al.
“Trying to pry into private closets, regardless of the kind of welcome their enclosed skeletons may accord you, are you?” said Will, banteringly.
Mary, not accustomed to his teasing, blushed, wondering if she had really been guilty of an indelicate presumption, but Helen spoke up quickly in their defense:
“Now, Will you know perfectly well it is not any such thing. As a pledge of our good faith—does that sound nice and lawyer-like?” Will was studying law, and Helen, too, liked to tease occasionally—“I do affirm that if you will do that for us, I will do something nice for him, on your account.”
“Then I certainly will. It is what I have been trying to convince you for a month that you ought to do.”
The girls told him why it was they were so anxious to know more of Alson’s private affairs.
“I would like to prove that your Aunt Sue and I are right, you know,” said Mary.
“Well,” said Will, turning to his sister’s guest, “don’t let them prejudice you against Al. He is off the track just now, I know. The girls are not having much to do with him, but I have seen worse than he is.” Will went off whistling. The next day he was ready with his report.
“Girls,” he began, “Mary wins in the argument about trifles, and as a result I am feeling pretty mean about the business. I guess I am the trifle in the case.”
Both girls laughed as they glanced at his six feet of length, and his great, broad shoulders.
“Oh, it is no laughing matter,” he said, good-naturedly. “This is the way it happened: Washington’s birthday, you know, everything in town was closed, and I thought, as Al was living in a boarding-house, I would better ask mother if I might bring him home the night before, and have him spend the day here with us; we were going to have a kind of celebration anyway, you know. So about seven o’clock that evening, just before I started for the travel lecture, I ran up to mother’s room. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her if she would not include Al in the number of her guests, when I noticed that she looked pretty blue. I know she whisked away a tear so I should not get sight of it. I pretended I didn’t see it but I said, ‘Got some troubles, little Mother?’ ”
Helen knew in just what a hearty, cheerful way he said it.
“ ‘Not very many, dear,’ she said; but I didn’t feel like bothering her about anything then, and decided it would do just as well to bring Al home the following Saturday night and keep him over Sunday.”
Will looked dubious.
“But it didn’t do,” he continued. “Having nothing to keep him busy that holiday, Al went off with a crowd he had always before refused to join—a pretty rowdy set, I am afraid. The man who had half promised him the position he had been slaving for during the past year happened to see him with those people, and the very next day he informed Al very curtly that, after due consideration, he found he had no place for him. Alson guessed why, and now he feels reckless, and says he might as well have the game as the name, might as well be really bad since he has to suffer anyway. He talked in a desperate sort of way this morning when he told me about it. Somehow I feel responsible for the whole thing, because I hesitated about asking mother.”
Will looked thoughtfully across at the girls, whose faces expressed real sympathy.
Suddenly Helen exclaimed, “The night before Washington’s birthday, you say?”
“Mother was nearly crying alone in her room?”
“About seven o’clock?”
“Yes. Is this a cross-examination?”
“Then,” said Helen, sitting upright and paying no attention to her brother’s question, “it’s all my fault.”
“Bridget was out that evening, and I had to stay home from the lecture to put away the dinner things, and I said I did not see why I always had to do such disagreeable things. I did not see why all our relations were rich, and why we had to be always scrimping and missing everything. Of course I repented in a little while and apologized. It made mother feel pretty bad, I knew, but I did not think she minded it as much as that, though.”
“It was a pretty serious mix-up all around, wasn’t it, sister?” Will spoke consolingly, but he looked worried.
“Well,” came Mary’s soothing tones, “you must not take all the blame, for probably there were a great many more ‘little nothings’ that had something to do with it. Al must take his share, too.”
“Yes, perhaps,” said Will; “but we have to take the blame that belongs to us.”
Helen was aghast at the enormous result of her few minutes’ irritability. Such outbursts were not common with her. There was a catch in her voice as she said, “Poor Al!”
Mary went directly to the heart of the matter. “It is done,” she said. “It is somebody’s fault, of course, but what is to be done first to rectify it?”
“I don’t know, I am sure,” Helen answered, musingly. “I have not had a thought of anything but the garden picnic for the last two days, and I don’t seem to have any idea but picnic in my head.”
“Oh, good!” exclaimed Mary. The joy of the discoverer shone in her eyes. “The picnic! That is just the thing. Ask him, of course.”
Alson Jarvis had hidden the hurts of his schoolmates’ recent slights under a nonchalant manner. Each one, while it cut deeply, seemed to aggravate him to greater willfulness. Well-bred as he was, took no real pleasure in the sports of the company of which he had made a part since the loss of the position he so desired, and for which he had worked so faithfully. He felt himself disgraced and barred from the old associates; so, from pure discouragement, he continued with the new.
Helen Fairmont’s note of invitation came as a surprise. It ran:
I am inviting, for Aunt Sue, a number of my friends to meet Miss Mary Sutton, my guest from Amosville. We are to have a garden picnic Thursday evening. I think you will enjoy meeting Miss Sutton, as she has the same love for golf you have, and I have already told her of the scores you made last summer.
He read it with pleasure. Then the accumulated unkindnesses of his old friends came before him. A spirit of resentment took hold of him. No, they had shown how little they cared for him. Why should he go among them again? There was plenty of other company he could enter. But why had she asked him if she did not want him? Oh, well, they were all alike anyway! Even if she had not already done so, Helen would pass him by sooner or later, like so many of the others. But Will Fairmont had stuck to him. Maybe he had got his sister to pity him. Al winced at the thought. “I am getting contemptible. Will Fairmont would not do that. Oh, well, I might as well be done with them all right now!” His eyes flashed defiantly. Then he caught sight of the little note.
“Friendly enough,” he said. “Sounds as honest and sincere as her brother.” Then he added: “I might give her the benefit of the doubt, I suppose. Yes, I will go, if for no other reason than that she is Will’s sister.”
He went. And he enjoyed himself thoroughly thanks partially to Mrs. Armour’s knowledge of human nature. Where others saw only weakness, she found smarting hurts. She felt that he was on dangerous ground, that he was ashamed of himself, and that his self-assurance and self-respect needed propping, and she immediately proceeded to prop them.
Helen’s grief over her own unsuspected part in his career resulted in an especial effort to make the picnic a pleasure and success for him. With that kindly compliance which is more common in those about us than we sometimes think, the other young people accepted the idea of Alson’s being one of them again, and he found himself, before the termination of the evening, on almost his old footing with them.
“Wasn’t it a success all round?” said Mary that night. “I congratulate you, Helen, on your ability to extend real hospitality. It was just lovely.”
“They did seem to have a good time, didn’t they? Al Jarvis was on my conscience all the evening. Do you think he enjoyed himself?”
“Yes, I do, Helen.”
“After what I did it was such a little return to make.”
Simultaneously the girls laughed.
“Trifles again! They keep bobbing up, don’t they? I suppose this is one of those of little consequence.”
“ ‘Time will tell,’ ” sententiously quoted Mary.
Time did tell. Years afterward two successful lawyers sat in an office, one congratulating the other on his brilliant speech of the day.
“It might never have been, Will,” said Alson Jarvis, “if your aunt hadn’t somehow, without a single definite word on the subject, shown me the broken road down which I had about decided to travel through. It was at a party she had in her grounds one night long ago for your sister and Mary Sutton. Do you remember it?”
Did he? Will’s heart glowed with pleasure and gratitude as he thought of the great result of Mary’s little suggestion about inviting Al. How unlike this was the outcome of that miserable trifle which had played so important a part in the lawyer’s experience.