Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
For a moment Anne stood speechless looking into the questioning eyes of Hugo Loring. His form almost filled the door, but soon she caught sight of Suzanne before a mirror, slender and distinctive in a white suit, fastening a bunch of orchids at her waist. For an instant the mother felt complete isolation from that beautiful creature with soft waves of brown hair, flushed excited face, and an air of self sufficiency. Suzanne seemed as strange to her as did the man who confronted her. All this passed in a flash before Anne’s mind. then she knew that the man was speaking.
“Did you want something?” She detected annoyance in his cool grey eyes.
“Yes,” Anne’s voice sounded unfamiliar, “I want to see my daughter.”
Suzanne whirled from the mirror and brushed past the man with a quick, glad cry, ”Mother!” The next instant Anne’s purse and bag clattered to the floor and her child was sobbing in her arms.
Presently the cool, deep voice of the man who had retrieved the luggage and set it inside the room, said: “Hadn’t you better come into the room. People are wondering at the commotion.”
Suzanne pulled Anne inside. “I can’t believe it’s really true, Mother. Last night I kept dreaming and dreaming about you and it seems that this must be just a part of my dream. This is Hugo. Forgive me, darling, for being so upset. But you know how I felt about going without seeing Mother – and now I won’t have to. I just can’t believe it’s true.” Anne detected a plea in the girl’s eyes for him to understand and forgive her emotion.
“I had to come when I got your letter.”
“Suzanne was just telling me that she’d written you of our plans.” Loring was clearly trying to conceal his irritation. He walked to the other side of the room and began to adjust a strap on a suit case. Then he looked at his watch.
“Our boat sails shortly after ten. We were just ready to leave. Would you like – I suppose you would like to go to the dock with us. It is now a quarter after nine.”
Anne’s brain had been whirling in a bewildering maze, but now it cleared like a flash. She looked steadily into the man’s cool grey eyes. “I have come three thousand miles to see my daughter. I ask you to give me fifteen minutes with her – alone.”
He flushed. A determined glint shot into his expression.
“Is that necessary? Suzanne has explained to you the importance of what she is doing to her future development and happiness. You haven’t come, I hope, to try to interfere with our plans.”
“Her happiness is all that I want,” Anne said. “Will you let me talk to her – alone?”
“Why, of course he will,” said Suzanne. “What do you think Hugo is, a kidnapper? Paul Hennig is going to take us to the boat. You could wait downstairs with him a few minutes, darling.”
Loring picked up the suit case and another bag and left the room, turning at the door to say, “It can only be a few moments. Boats leave on schedule.”
Anne closed the door. Could she do it? She must!
“Oh, Mother, it’s wonderful of you to come. I felt that I just couldn’t go without seeing you. I wanted to know that you understood.”
“Suzanne, I came because I do understand much better than you do what this thing you are planning would mean. I couldn’t let you step off into a chasm without trying to snatch you back.”
“But, mother darling, it’s really all right. We love each other and our love is as sacred – as yours and Dad’s.”
“If you love each other, why can’t you be married? When people love each other, they want to marry.”
“That’s the old fashioned idea – of binding together by vows and promises to someone else. We want to keep our love beautiful and sacred by keeping it free. The individual is –”
“Tell me, Suzanne, would you be as happy today if your father and I had ignored the tradition of marriage? Doesn’t it matter to you that we’ve given you an honorable name to face the world with? Doesn’t it matter that we’ve stayed together because of that marriage ceremony, when sometimes without it perhaps the hard places in life might have driven us apart? Even if you are blind now to what such a step as you want to take would ultimately mean to yourselves, can’t you see what it would mean to your children?”
“But, Mother, nothing in the world is so important as the freedom of individual personality. If – if – we have children, they would respect us – for the courage it takes – to – be true to – to – our convictions.”
“Would you respect me more if I had brought you and your brothers and sisters into the world without a name or any definite family ties, just because I had some far-fetched idea about personal freedom; if your father had been one man and Morris and Gloria’s maybe another? Where would family life, where would society and civilization be, if the world had gone like that? Such individual freedom would end in individual disintegration. We can’t be our best selves and reach these highest possibilities you talk about without recognizing our responsibility to others – to those who love us, to society. Can’t you see that, my girl? Can’t you see it?”
“O, Mother – I don’t know how to talk to you when you look so white and worried – when you talk to me like that. But it is all right. It’s just the new generation demanding to live its own life. Times are different from what they used to be. Parents can’t live their children’s lives for them.”
“No one knows that so well as parents themselves. But they can and should try to help keep their children from shattering their lives. Do you think I rushed to you for anything else than that I want you to be happy? You say times are different. Yes, some things are different, but my dear, the fundamental things never change – the necessity for self respect, the necessity of feeling responsibility for others, the soundness of the ideals that have crystallized out of the experience of the human race.”
Suzanne’s face was troubled. Her soul was torn between two powerful emotions.
“But Hugo – he explains it all – so simply. If there were only time – ”
The door opened, and Loring, watch in hand, entered. Anne’s heart fell. There was no denying the magnetism of the man’s personality. She felt blundering and inadequate in the sophistication of his mere presence.
“We have barely time to catch the boat. Hennig will bring you back, Mrs. Brent, and take you wherever you wish to go.”
Anne wanted to pour out all her pent up resentment upon this suave, sleek man who had poisoned her child’s mind; but she managed to control herself and answered quietly, “No, thanks, I will not go to the boat. If Suzanne is going with you, I must go home at once – and tell her father and brother and sisters what – ”
“I’m sorry. Come, darling, we haven’t a moment to spare.” He crossed the room and adjusted the white fur which had fallen from Suzanne’s shoulders.
The girl stood rigid, looking from the man to her mother. The atmosphere of the room seemed throbbing with the drama of the situation.
“Come on, dear, you can write to your mother when you get on the boat.” He would have drawn her toward the door, but she pulled away from him and rushed to her mother.
“No. I am going home with Mother. I love you, Hugo, but I can’t go and leave my mother looking like that. I don’t know what is right and what is wrong, but I can’t go.”
“Then you haven’t the courage to live your own life? to demand your own happiness? Won’t you come?”
“Not now, Hugo. Things are all mixed up. I can’t go.”
“Then I’ll say good bye,” and he left the room.
Anne steadied herself from the feeling of faintness that swept over her and caught Suzanne in her arms.
Most of the night they talked. Suzanne had had an offer of a position as art teacher in a mid-western private school. Her teachers thought the experience would be wonderful before she went on with her course.
Much as Anne wanted to take her home, she advised her to take the position. Perhaps in the quietness of Layton Suzanne would find it too hard to adjust and would repent her decision and resent her mother’s interference, Anne told herself. The girl must be busy and interested.
So the next day Anne started home and Suzanne made preparations for her new work. Suzanne’s goodbye was comforting to the mother. The girl looked white and stricken. Anne knew that her love had been genuine and that she was suffering, but she said, “I’m so glad you came, Mother; I’m beginning to see already what a terrible thing I was about to do.”
When Anne reached home, she found general confusion. Quint was calcimining the kitchen. Gloria was washing windows in the dining room. The twins were having a swimming party with the neighborhood children in the old vegetable cellar they had filled with water.
“Why, what on earth are you doing?” she asked as she came into the house. “What’s going on?”
“Dad sent a telegram that he was bringing six men home for dinner tonight. The men who have something to do with that business he went to see about, I suppose,” Gloria explained. “We know how you always clean house when company is coming, so we thought we’d better. But just everything has gone wrong. We’re so glad you’ve come. how is Suzanne?”
“She’s better,” Anne said, surveying the disorder. “Six men – dinner tonight? And it is now fifteen minutes to eleven.”
Anne went to her room to change her dress.