Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Peter’s admission that he had mortgaged the home and the store to raise capital for his new real estate venture troubled Anne. She agreed that if the store merger went over in the way they expected, that they would be able to clear the mortgage before it was due. But there were always many uncertainties in any venture. Besides, she learned later that one of the most important store managers had not yet signed the agreement. Peter seemed absolutely sure that it was merely a slight technical question delaying the man, but Anne feared this might be some loophole which would spell ruin to the entire scheme.
Peter was so full of enthusiasm, however, that she tried to hide her own misgivings and share his rosy outlook for their future. Whenever she was tempted to chide him for not waiting until one plan had entirely matured before rushing into another, or to suggest the calamity that would befall them if anything should go awry with the scheme, she checked herself with the thought that such was what a mere wife would do while she held herself to be more than a mere wife to Peter; she was his helpmate and that term to her mind included the finest type of loyalty and devotion, and courage to stand by and to do the best her wisdom could dictate in any circumstances.
She was certain that criticism and doubt would not help in the present situation. Such an attitude would impair Peter’s efficiency and perhaps bring about failure when success might be possible.
The many other things demanding Anne’s attention during this time helped to keep her from thinking too much about the new venture.
A few days after her return from Boston, Morris came one morning. She knew immediately that he was terribly upset.
“Mother, I’ve come to talk with you. Could – could we go someplace where we – won’t be disturbed. I’d rather even Dad didn’t know – about my trouble – right now at least. You know how straight-laced he is about some things. Can we go into your room?”
Very early in her married life Anne had determined to try to make a sort of little sanctuary of her room. She had impressed upon the family that when she was closeted there with one of the children, the others were not to disturb. She had also made it a practice to try to rest in the quiet of that room a few moments every day. It was there she faced her problems and found through meditation and prayer the courage to go on when things seemed unusually difficult.
“What is it, son?” she asked, taking the low rocker beside the window and motioning Morris to the settee at the foot of her bed.
He hesitated, but Anne decided not to help him with the confession she feared he was going to make. She was inwardly saying that customary little prayer with which she faced the crises of her loved ones: “Dear Lord, give me wisdom. Help me to help my boy.”
Finally without looking at her Morris asked, “Mother, it isn’t right for a man and a woman to live together when they do not love each other, is it?”
She did not answer for a little time, then she said, “Well, I should say that depends upon the circumstances.”
“Why, how could it ever be right? Love should be the thing that holds a man and a woman together. Isn’t that true?”
“Yes, I agree with that; love and respect and mutual interest.”
“Mother, I – I don’t love Phyllis. I can see now that you and Dad were right when you tried to get me to wait. I remember you said that we were not mature enough to know what we wanted. That one or both of u s might change so much during the next few years that we would be living in different worlds. I know now what you meant. I’ve grown. Phyllis is living in the same little superficial mental world she was in at seventeen. We are a thousand miles apart.”
Anne sat gazing at a butterfly swaying on the trumpet vine outside the window. Finally Morris continued, “And besides, she left home. She’s been gone for weeks now and hasn’t written a line – just left a note when she went telling me she was going to visit her aunt. That’s desertion – grounds for divorce.”
“Is that all – all you have to tell me?” asked Anne’s quiet voice.
“That’s enough, isn’t it? We’re not compatible. She has left home. I want a divorce.”
“Is the fact that you have progressed into a different intellectual world her only reason – for her leaving home?”
Morris got up and moved restlessly about the room.
“I see that you’re heard about Marian, so I won’t have to tell you. Phyllis is jealous of her. She was jealous before I ever found out that – I cared. Mother, Marian Welling is wonderful. She has vision and understanding. I could reach – the top with her to inspire me. Mother, I want her.”
“Have you thought of Junior?”
“Good Lord, yes. that’s the thing that makes it hard. I’m crazy about that little shaver, and even if Phyl isn’t very capable as a wife – I don’t suppose the law – ”
“No. Phyllis is a wonderful little mother. No law on earth would take her baby from her.”
“Well, I at least could see him all the time – and have him part of the time.”
“Would that be fair to him? If you are anything like your father, Morris, the minute Junior was born you began planning the kind of life you wanted him to have. Nothing, you feel, is too good or too wonderful for your son. Your father knew you were going to college the day you were born, though he didn’t know where the money was coming from to buy you a cradle.”
“Lots of people do get divorces and the kids get along. I’d still do everything I’ve planned for Junior.”
“But how? You’ve heard statistics about child delinquency and broken homes. Doesn’t the fact that you mean almost everything to that little boy mean anything to you?”
“Of course it does,” Morris answered miserably. “That’s what makes it seem rotten. But I’ve a right to think of myself, too. I have a right to happiness, haven’t I?”
“Sometimes,” Anne answered slowly, “things we do condition the kinds of happiness we have a right to.”
“Mother, you want me to go on living with Phyllis when I don’t love her? When I love another woman? Do you call that being decent?”
“I wonder if it isn’t as decent as breaking the heart of the girl you chose to be the mother of your son, and handicapping that son’s future.”
“I believe if you knew Marian you would understand what her companionship and inspiration would mean in helping me realize the best that is in me. Then you wouldn’t preach; you’d help me.”
“I didn’t mean to preach. I thought I was just raising a few of the questions involved.” Then with a sudden thought she added, “Why not let me meet Marian? She knows, does she, how you feel, that you love her – and are hoping to get a divorce?”
“No. I’m not that big a scoundrel yet. I think she knows that I love her. But I’ve got to get out of the other first before I could tell a girl like her. And until we do separate, I’ve got to be decent with Phyllis – even though she has accused me of almost everything.”
Anne gave a little sigh of relief. Morris did have some of his father’s fine sense of honor – even in a time of emotional stress. She spoke calmly.
“Why don’t you bring Marian over to spend a week-end with us? I’d like to know her. Come next Saturday – if Phyllis is still away. Marian is working for Randall’s, isn’t she?”
“Yes. She has the new department in interior decorating. Her office is next to mine. I’ll do it, Mom – I’ll bring her over. If you get to know her, I know you’ll help me find a way out. Oh, but I have to go to look at a site for Lawrence Badger’s new home Saturday.” Then after a few seconds thought, he added, “I’ll tell you; Marian can come out Saturday afternoon and I’ll come that night or Sunday morning. That will give you a chance to get acquainted before I get here. You’re a peach, Mom. I’ve never brought a hard problem to you yet that you didn’t help me solve it.”
After Morris had gone Anne sat for some time by the window. She was thinking that Morris had never brought her quite such a problem as this to solve.
When she arose, she went to the telephone and called Phyllis.
“I was wondering if you wouldn’t come down for the week-end, Phyllis. I am going to have a group of friends in Saturday afternoon, and I’d like to have you sing for them. I saw Mr. Driggs yesterday, and he told me that you are doing exceptionally well with your music. Can’t you come this afternoon? Never mind about your dress. There’s a pretty blue one in the store that I was telling Gloria only this morning would just match your eyes. I was planning to get it for your birthday. We’ll get it now instead. All right, dear. On the six. I’ll be looking for you.”
Next Anne called Gloria at the store.
“Bring that blue dress we were looking at this morning home when you come tonight. I want it for Phyllis. Yes, charge it. She’s coming down for the weekend, and I’m planning to have a little party and have her sing. Yes. Yes, I like the yellow one best for you anyway.”
Phyllis and Junior arrived at 6 o’clock. Phyllis was outwardly cheerful, but Anne could read wretchedness in her eyes. She wanted to find out how she felt, so she followed her upstairs when she went to put Junior to bed in Morris’s old room.
“I’ve done just as you told me,” Phyllis said with a touch of bitterness. “I haven’t written a word. But neither has he. It’s likely just what he wanted, for me to go away – so he can have a clear hand with her. I can’t stand it! To think – she may be – right there – in the house with him.”
Anne’s heart ached for the girl and she felt a terrible responsibility in the part she was taking in the affair. She tried, however, to keep her voice casual when she spoke.
“Phyllis, you naturally imagine all sorts of things. But you ought to know Morris well enough to know that even if what you imagine were true, even if he wanted a divorce, he would go about it in a less despicable way than you suggest. How have you got along with your music?”
“I love it,” said Phyllis, her face suddenly lighting. “When I’m taking my lesson or practicing – I almost forget.”
“That is what you have needed – some interest of your own. You’ve been too interested in Morris and Junior and not enough in yourself. Now, if you’ll keep on with your music and do a lot of reading, you’ll have something interesting to think and talk about and – I’m sure Morris will be more interested in you than when you were giving every thought to him. Men are queer that way. They don’t want to be too sure – even of the things they love.”
“If – If I only thought he loved me – I could do anything.”
“Morris is yours – to fight for – and to try to hold, or if what you think is true, to win back. You have advantages over this other woman. You were Morris’ childhood sweetheart; you are the mother of his son.”
“But that girl is smart and educated and interested in the things he is. She inspires him to do big things in his work. I’m in a different class.”
“Phyllis, I don’t know this other girl, but I do know that since Morris was a little boy, he has thought you were the prettiest girl in the world. A pretty face counts a lot with men – even when they are older than Morris. Since the baby was born you’ve had to neglect yourself. Now you must begin taking care of your hair and skin again. Tomorrow I want you to go down and have a facial at Miss Newman’s and a permanent. And I want you to come in my room when Junior is asleep and see that pretty new birthday dress that just matches your eyes. I want you to look nice when you sing for my friends tomorrow.”
Anne kept her own counsel about Marian’s coming. She hadn’t even told Peter anything about the little drama that was being enacted about their own hearthstone. She feared, as Morris had suggested, that his sense of right was too rigid to find patience with her method.
At two o’clock on Saturday Anne’s guests began to arrive. Gloria and Phyllis were busy assisting her in receiving. Phyllis was lovely in the blue dress, and the sadness in her great blue eyes made her singularly appealing. Anne could readily see that a young man might fall desperately in love with such a face and such a form and think that nothing else could matter.
The party was a kensington, so for a time the ladies sewed and chatted. Anne was conscious of a nervous excitement as she watched for the coming of Marian Welling. Morris had said she would be in on the three fifteen train, so at three thirty Anne announced Phyllis’ first song. Horace Daniels, a young music teacher for the high school, accompanied her.
She had scarcely started to sing when a taxi stopped at the gate and a tall, fair girl started up the walk. Anne went to the porch to meet Marian Welling.