Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
To Anne it wasn’t clear from what the children said nor from Peter’s telegram just who the men were who were coming home with him. When he had left home nearly a month before, Peter had intended to complete the business arrangements of a merger of a number of general merchandise stores in the western part of the state which plan was supposed to work out to the marked advantage of each store. It was a scheme he had been interested in for years. The telegram, however, was from Draton in the northern part of the state. Peter had vaguely hinted in his last letter that if the merger went over as he was sure it was going to this time, he had another business idea which was even better.
Anne used to become discouraged over these numerous schemes Peter was always trying out with so few successes. She had thought many times that if he could settle down to making the most of the business his father had left him they would be much farther ahead than with all his efforts at bigger things which frequently cost them dearly. But she had learned that Peter couldn’t be happy unless he was planning something new, something he thought would benefit not only himself but others, so she had tried to cease worrying about it. The store, managed by Jim Harker, with one or the other of the children to help, gave them a fair living, with her careful management.
There was no time, she told herself as she busied herself with the job of bringing order out of the chaos she found the home in, to speculate as to what Peter’s new venture might be.
“Whatever made you start a wholesale house-cleaning at a time like this?” she asked Gloria.
“That’s what I tried to find out,” Quint volunteered. “She got Jim to let both of us off from the store and then went at it, tearing everything upside-down. It’s been bad enough finding enough to eat around here since you left without the house all tore up.”
Gloria was looking at her mother in surprise and her answer to Anne’s question was a startling revelation.
“Why, Mother, ever since I can remember, whenever we’ve known important company was coming, you’ve cleaned the house – no matter if we’ve just got through cleaning the week before. I can remember once Suzanne said – it was the time the Tomilsons were coming from California – that it seemed funny how you always thought the house looked so terrible if anybody was coming – as if the family wasn’t as good as company. I knew you’d clean if you were here, so I thought we had to. Of course we didn’t count on old Cherry getting that potato in her throat yesterday just after Quint got started on the calcimining and taking his whole evening. Nor we didn’t know the twins were going to try their pet trick of hiding and making us think they were drowned or something and having us hunt them for hours. It has been awful.
“I thought a little while ago I’d have to have Quint stand out by the road and hail Dad before he got home and tell him to take the company to the hotel. I’ve decided that if I ever get married, I’m never going to clean house.”
Anne smiled at the way her own weakness was catching up with her. She believed she had learned a lesson. It had never occurred to her that she really did have an obsession for cleaning whenever she was going to have company. And to make the children feel that things must be better for strangers than for themselves, well, she hadn’t thought of that, either.
“Well, we’ll soon have things in order. It looks a lot worse at this stage than it really is,” she said cheerfully: “Quint, you run over and see if Lon Avery won’t come and finish the calcimining. He can do it so much more quickly than you can, and we will soon have to be getting some parts of the dinner going. Run on around by Lannings and get a quart of ice cream. You children can stop and have a little lunch, then you’ll both feel more like working.” She sent Gloria to do the work upstairs and she herself set about to bring order out of chaos.
By five o’clock the house began to assume a natural appearance and Anne could talk to the children without breaking off to give directions concerning the work.
“Have Morris or Phyllis been over?” she asked as she rolled pie crusts while Quint was peeling potatoes and Gloria was setting the table. She couldn’t help wondering how her advice to Phyllis was working out.
“Morris was here yesterday,” Gloria told her. “He was surprised about you being gone, and he acted awful nervous or something. He kept walking around and snapping his fingers and asking if we didn’t know when you’d be back. He said Phyllis and Junior were in Castle Junction with her aunt.”
“Is there any other news?” Anne asked.
“Have you told her how many letters you’ve had from Hal Gillmore?” asked Quint.
“Who is Hal Gillmore?” asked Anne, wondering if he might be another traveling salesman to worry over.
“You remember Ethel Gillmore who came home with Suzanne last Christmas. He is Ethel’s brother. They stopped on their way to the Grand Canyon. Ethel thought maybe Suzanne was home. We were just having lunch so we invited them to stay and –”
“That was about the only decent lunch we had while you were gone,” Quint complained,”and of course I had to say I didn’t care for about everything there was on the table so there’d be enough for that pretty Gillmore boy. Gloria’d kick me under the table every time anything was passed to me.”
“Well, you know how he eats if there isn’t much of anything,” defended Gloria.
“Well, after lunch they invited us to go to a show. It was Sunday afternoon and we weren’t working.”
“And Glory shook her head at me so I’d say I didn’t want to go,” put in Quint.
“Hal asked if he could write, and I told him if he wanted to so –”
“She comes home twice every day to see if there’s a letter.”
“I do not,” Gloria protested. “But Quint isn’t telling the news about some of his pals, I notice.”
Anne looked at the boy, but a grim look had come into his eyes and he didn’t say anything. “They were pretending to help Judge Thomas guard old Lady Doak’s place from grape and melon thieves. While they were doing that they stole one of her calves and sold it and now they’re going to send them to jail.”
“I’m sorry,” Anne said, “Which of the boys was it?” She must be very careful, she realized, not to lose the ground she had gained towards Quint’s confidence. He still was silent, but Gloria said, “Well, they don’t know who all was mixed in it, but they’ve got Tad Lawler and Bing Houseman and they’re trying to make them tell which others were in on it. The Judge had a whole bunch of the wildest kids in town, they say, taking turns guarding. He thought he was reforming them, and that’s the way it worked out. So far, Tad and Bing haven’t told on the others, but I guess they’ll make them tell.”
“Make tattle-tales out of them,” said Quint, red-faced and with a touch of bitterness. Anne tried to quell the old torturing question that sprang to her mind, Could Quint be one of the boys?
What a terrible thing it is, she mused, to have confidence in a loved one broken. Once shattered, trust is hard to be rebuilt.
When Quint called from the front porch a little after six that Daddy and the men were coming, Anne was ready for them. She was still wondering what the coming of this delegation might mean. She hoped it wasn’t an enterprise that would involve money. Already she was going to have difficulty making up for Phyllis’s music lessons and her trip to Boston before the end of the year.
She wished she could feel more enthusiasm about Peter’s ventures. Once her own wise mother had told her that it wasn’t her business to try to make Peter over, but to help him to make the most of himself as he was. “Most wives,” the old lady had said, “forget that they are helpmates. That means helping their mates, first by doing their own jobs well, and next by helping their mates to do theirs.”
Anne had thought a great deal about that little sermon. She had set up for herself certain definite standards which she thought would help her to be a real helpmate to Peter.
When he came in with his guests and had introduced them to Anne, he said casually, “These men have come to look over a new real estate proposition I have in mind.” Anne’s outward response gave no indication of the misgiving she felt. With two new schemes in hand at the same time, she wondered how far Peter might be carried into the realm of the impracticable – the impossible.
During the dinner, although one or two of the men made an effort to keep the conversation general enough that Anne might be included, most of the time was spent discussing the proposed new real estate venture. She could not, however, obtain a clear enough idea to justify a judgment on its merits.
When they were through eating, Peter said, “I’ll have to take these gentlemen out to look over the situation before their train leaves. I thought you might bring Suzanne home. Our daughter,” he explained to his guests, “is studying art in Boston and really making quite a name for herself. The Missus has just been out to see her.”
Anne was thankful she did not have to break the tragic news she had feared.
It was nearly dark before Peter returned. Anne was sitting on the east porch with a basket of darning she had been working at. As he came up the walk she thought how handsome he was growing in his middle years. His form had lost the lankiness of youth and the greying hair at his temples, and his short mustache gave him a look of distinction. He looked like a man to do big things. Anne felt ashamed at the way she had always doubted his ability. Perhaps he had felt her half-hearted support. Perhaps if she had been a hundred percent helpmate he might have succeeded sometimes when he had failed.
“I’m sorry, Mother, that I couldn’t talk this plan over with you before taking definite action with these men, but I had to work at it while I had a chance to see them. Really, Anne, this is a wonderful proposition. At last it looks as though I’ll be able to do some of the things for you I’ve always wanted to do. If this goes over as it should, you won’t have to work like a slave, nor worry over every cent you spend. We can do things for the children – big things that will help them to be somebody without the grind we’ve always had.”
Anne watched Peter as he went on with the details of the new scheme, and thought how magnificent he was when under the spell of these great enthusiasms.
She wished she could keep from wondering if this new scheme was dependent upon the yet untried merger, and if there were any mortgages on the home or the store involved. Peter knew how she felt about mortgaging the property that gave them their living. Surely he would not take a chance on losing their home or the store. And yet the talk at the table had seemed to imply an outlay of capital.
Finally Peter said, “I had to put a mortgage on the house and the store – just for a few months. You won’t mind that, will you? In less than six months it can all be cleared and we can be doing the things we’ve always wanted to do. You don’t mind, do you?”
Anne felt tears in her eyes burning to be shed. But she forced them back and put her arms around Peter’s neck.
“I love you, Peter,” was all she said.