Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Anne spent a sleepless night after Suzanne’s special delivery letter came, but in the morning her mind was made up. She must go to Boston at once. She must get there before the evening of September first when the Anaconda was to sail – with Suzanne and that professor who had made her believe that companionate marriage was the only kind in which one could keep the individual soul “free and inviolate.”
The letter had said:
Mother, this is the only time in my life it has ever been hard for me to write to you. You have always been so understanding I could feel sure you would know what I meant even if I didn’t know how to say it. But I can’t feel sure that I can make you understand what I must tell you now. But I want to make you understand, Mother, for I don’t want to hurt you and Daddy.
I have told you something about Hugo – Prof. Loring, the exchange professor who has been teaching here the last quarter. I wish you knew him, Mother. He is wonderful! He sees life in such a big, broad way – not in the petty, personal way most of us look at it. He realizes how important it is for the growth of the individual for one to rise above the restraints of the little conventions and traditions that choke and smother most lives, and keep them from reaching the heights they might attain.
If you could only hear him talk, you would thrill to the new outlook he gives to life, as I do. He has made me want to be true to my highest possibilities. He has made me determined to keep my soul and my life free and he has helped me find the strength to meet the consequences of my convictions.
Mother, I am going to Europe with Hugo. We have been drawn to each other since the first time we met. We have discovered that we are soul mates; that we can stimulate and each help the other in the career that will bring our fullest development. He will bring me in contact with the great artists of the old world, and I will have opportunities I have never dreamed of.
That is just what you want for me, isn’t it? You and father have worked and sacrificed to give me this year in Boston, and I do appreciate it. Without it I never would have known what my possibilities are. I would never have found Hugo nor the courage to be a free soul.
This is the part that I am afraid will hurt you and Dad. We are not going to be married in the ordinary way. That would cheapen a love like ours. It would bind and hamper our freedom. Our love is our marriage bond. We don’t need any other, and if we imposed one upon ourselves, it would destroy some of the beauty of our complete trust in each other. Ours will be the most sacred of all ties because it will be free.
We will sail on the Anaconda, September the first at 10 o’clock in the evening. I am sending this airmail, special delivery, hoping to receive your blessing before I go. You will try to understand, won’t you Mother, and help Dad to see that it is all right.
I love you all and I don’t want to make you unhappy, but I must be true to myself – and to Hugo.
Give me your blessing mother, and tell me it is all right.
All right! Those words had taken the form of a great chasm into which Suzanne was about to fall. Anne had paced her room trying to decide what to do.
She couldn’t explain a thing like that in a telegram to peter. If she merely wired for him to come home, what good could that do? If she waited for him to come, it would be too late to do anything.
But how she needed Peter. She needed the strength and the calmness he always commanded in times of crises.
Her mind went back across the years since they first discovered Suzanne’s gift. How they had planned and saved to give her her chance! And it had led to this.
Why did life play such queer pranks on people?
At times during the long night, Anne would feel hysteria coming upon her. she couldn’t endure the thought of her little girl three thousand miles away on the brink of this ruin. Then she would force herself into calm thinking. She must decide what was best to do.
She composed telegrams and feverish letters. But she tore them up. There seemed to be only one thing to do. That was to try to reach her girl before it was too late; to see her and talk to her, to make her comprehend what she was doing.
As soon as it was morning, Anne began making her preparations. She called Jim Harker, the manager of the store, and told him that she must have some money, that Suzanne – was not well and she must go to Boston. She phoned for a reservation on the train and arranged for her ticket. She packed her traveling bag. She made out a schedule for each of the children – things for which they must be responsible.
When Gloria and Quint came down, surprised at being called earlier than usual, she made the same explanation that she had to Jim, “Suzanne isn’t well. I am going to Boston.”
“And she seemed so happy in her last letter,” exclaimed Gloria, “raving about her French professor. What’s the matter?”
“I hope it isn’t as serious as it seems,” Anne answered evasively.
Although most of Anne’s mind was employed with her anxiety about Suzanne, there was a little corner of it still worrying about Quint. Would he have added temptations with her and his father both away? Would his bed be empty at three or four o’clock in the morning? Anne sometimes thought that the joys of parenthood were pitifully outweighed by the anxieties and worries. At other times, however, she was sure that the pride and satisfaction derived from an outstanding accomplishment of some member of the family, or the happiness of the every-day companionships within the home walls was greater than anything else in the world.
When she was ready to start to the station, Quint, who was to take her in the car was being hurried so they would have time to call at Jim Harker’s for the money. “I really should have asked Jim to have a little more,” Anne said. “One never knows what unexpected expenses may arise on a trip like this.”
Quint hesitated a moment in the hall, then said, “Wait a minute” and dashed up stairs. When he came down he handed a worn purse to his mother.
“Maybe this will help if you get in a tight place. There’s seventeen dollars and a half in there.” Then noting the quick look of alarm that leaped to Anne’s eyes, his face colored and he explained awkwardly. “It’s all right, Mom. I earned it – nights. Judge Thomas got us boys the job of watching old lady Doak’s place. I nearly always had my shift from eight to nine so I thought I wouldn’t even tell you till I had enough to buy – maybe something nice for your birthday.” Anne’s heart was pounding with relief and tenderness.
“You say you nearly always watched from eight to nine. Was it later, sometimes?”
“Gosh, once Tom was sick and his mother came to the store to see if I’d take his shift – from two to four. I thought sure you’d hear me and I’d have to explain.”
Anne’s arm went around the boy and she wiped her eyes.
“You don’t care, do you, Mom? What’s the matter?”
“I’m just happy, that’s all, son. This money will make me feel safe. If I don’t need it you shall have it back.”
When she bade Quint goodbye at the station she said, “If you should have to take a late shift at Mrs. Doak’s while I’m gone, I believe you had better explain to Gloria.”
As the train speeded Anne across the continent, she tried to maintain an appearance of composure. The first night she slept from sheer exhaustion. But the next day she was in a fever of anxiety. During the night there had been a delay of four hours due to a cloud burst somewhere ahead. Her train was scheduled to reach Boston shortly after noon on September the first. Now it would be five o’clock. What if there should be more delays?
And on the morning of the last day her fear was realized. The train ground to a stop where there was no sign of a station, and after a half hour’s wait, the conductor came through and explained that there had been a collision on the track a few miles farther on and they would have to wait for the track to be cleared.
Although part of the previously lost time had been made up, Anne was frantic with anxiety.
The minutes dragged into an hour; then into another. Finally she sought the conductor. “I must get to Boston before ten o’clock. It’s most urgent,” she said. “Isn’t there some way I could go on?”
“Not that I know of, lady. There’s an airport about fifty miles back. But if we wired for a taxi to take you there, you would likely have used more time than we’ll have to wait here.” He promised to telegraph again to see how much longer they would be.
Anne tried to hold on to herself, but she kept wondering what she would do if she did not get there until after the boat had sailed. She wondered, too, what she would do if Suzanne defied her; if that terrible man scoffed at her and carried her girl away before her very eyes. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare.
At last the train moved again. as the distance shortened, Anne tried to determine just what she should do, what she should say when she stood face to face with her girl. She couldn’t treat Suzanne as a child. She must not antagonize. What should she do?
At last she gave up trying to plan. Maybe God would help her when the moment came.
She dreaded the professor. He must have some unusual power to have swept a girl like Suzanne off her feet. She had always been so steady and sensible. Too sensible, Anne sometimes thought, to get as much pleasure from life as Gloria would get.
The train pulled in at the Boston Station at 8:39. Anne was slightly bewildered by the strangeness of the place, but she put aside her feeling of timidity and incompetence and found a taxi. As she gave the address to the driver, a new fear clutched her. They might have gone already to the boat. Perhaps even yet she would continue this mad race and arrive at the dock only to see the ship sailing away.
When she reached the boarding house and asked if Miss Suzanne Brent was in, she was informed that she was leaving in a very short time to sail for Europe.
“I’m her mother,” Anne explained, and she was led to the stairway and directed to Suzanne’s room.
She paused at the door. One hand was gripping her purse and small traveling bag. The other she pressed against her pounding heart.
From within came the sound of voices: a man’s voice and Suzanne’s clear laugh.
“God please tell me how to do it,” she breathed as she knocked at the door. “Help me save my girl!”
The door opened and she stood looking into the questioning eyes of a tall, handsome stranger.