Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Anne’s first look into the finely modeled, intellectual face of Marian Welling gave her a little twinge. What a daughter-in-law the girl would have been! Her deep brown eyes with little warm pools of gold were full of understanding and tenderness; her smile was sweet and friendly. Anne felt the pull of the girl’s personality even before she heard her low, cultivated voice.
But she never once lost her sense of loyalty to Phyllis. She knew that no matter how Marian Welling had to be hurt, no matter how Morris had to be hurt, no matter how she herself would have liked to have things different, she would go through with her plan to save Morris’s home, to save the future well-being of little Junior.
“I feel that I know you already,” Anne said in greeting. “Morris has always been a great one to share his friends with us. Before he was married he used to bring them home often. We’re so glad you could come.”
“It was sweet of you to ask me,” the girl replied.
“I’m having a few friends this afternoon for a kensington. We just started a little program, so I’m going to take you around through the back.” She led the way up the back stairs to Gloria’s room.
As they passed the room where the twins and Junior were playing, Anne opened the door. “I must try to put the breaks on some of this noise,” she said, “or my program downstairs will have too much competition.”
Junior scrambled from Jan’s back and rushed to Anne.
“Grammy, can we find Daddy’s old banjo up in the attic?”
“After a while, darling. But you must all stay in here or else go out to the sandpile and stay a while, until Grammy’s company has gone.”
“What a beautiful child,” Marian exclaimed as Anne closed the door. “I never saw such eyes.” Then after a little pause, “Is – is he Morris’s baby?”
“Yes. He has his mother’s eyes and sunny disposition. Of course we all adore him – the first grandbaby.”
A few moments later when Anne and Marian went down to the living room, Phyllis was beginning her second song. They stood in the doorway until she had finished, then Anne found a seat for Marian. “If you don’t mind we’ll go on with our program, then I’ll make you acquainted with the ladies.” She felt nervous about what she was doing. She must have a few words with Phyllis – alone. So she announced that Betty Wheeler of the high school dramatic department would read a one-act play, and beckoned for Phyllis.
She led the way into her own room and closed the door.
“You look lovely, Phyllis, in that new dress, and you sang beautifully. I am proud of you.”
“Thanks! I owe it all to you. I was so afraid I couldn’t sing before all those ladies, but when I got started I loved it.”
“You must sing for people oftener.” She paused a moment, then taking Phyllis’s hands she asked, “Did you notice the girl who came in with me as you were beginning your second song?”
“The stately blonde?”
“Phyllis, that is Marian Welling.”
The girl went white and sank to the settee at the foot of Anne’s bed.
“What is she doing here?” she demanded with anger and resentment in her voice.
“I invited her, dear. Phyllis, you know that I want yours and Morris’s happiness just as much as you do.”
“Do you want me to give him up to her? That is what will make him happy.” Tears were welling up in the big blue eyes, and there was a note of suspicion and resentment in the voice.
“I want to help you and Morris find your old love – for the sake of both of you – and especially for Junior’s sake.”
“Then why did you invite that woman here? I’m afraid of her. I hate her. I’m going back to Auntie’s.”
“Phyllis, can’t you trust me? You told me that I’m the only mother you ever had. Now, I want you to take your mother’s advice and face this crisis as I know it is in you to do it. I want you to meet this girl and treat her just as graciously as you know how. Forget that you think she is anything except an old school friend of Morris’s whom you want to please because you know it would please him. Will you do that, Phyllis?”
After a moment’s struggle the girl answered a bit hesitantly, “If you think I should.”
“And tomorrow,” Anne went on, “when Morris comes, I want you still to carry on your part of the wife being gracious to the husband’s friend.”
While Gloria and Ella Warner whom Anne had had come in to help were serving refreshments, Anne presented Marian to her guests. When she came to Phyllis she said:
“I believe you haven’t even met Phyllis, Morris’s wife.” The two looked at each other a few seconds in silence. Anne could feel the tenseness of the situation. It was Marian who recovered her poise first, revealing, Anne told herself, that she was a genuine thoroughbred. In that lay the mother’s assurance that her plan would be successful.
Marian held out her hand.
“Your music was lovely,” she said simply. “I’m particularly fond of that last little song from Carrie Jacobs Bond.”
“Thanks,” Phyllis answered. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Anne understood the emotions back of the girl’s quiet manner and she immediately led Marian on to another group, remarking,
“We think Phyllis has a beautiful voice, but she’s been so busy and tired since Junior came, that naturally she hasn’t cultivated it as we hope to have her.”
“She herself is as lovely as her voice,” Marian said slowly.
“Yes, we think so. Morris used to declare she was the only pretty girl in town. They were married so young that she has missed many opportunities. I sometimes think that Morris forgets that while he was finishing college, she was at home giving him that precious baby, and that because of that she didn’t get the same type of development he did. But she’s a wonderful little mother.” They stopped before a group of women sitting in the sun parlor; Anne presented Marian, and found her a seat with them.
The surprised expression on the faces of several of her guests when she mentioned Marian’s name had told Anne that Morris’s infatuation for the girl was no secret even in Shannon.
That night at dinner, Peter talked enthusiastically to Marian, as he always did to strangers, of the plans he was projecting.
“This new real estate and building scheme will mean new growth to this community. I’ll soon have Morris working on the plans for the buildings we’re going to construct out on the bench. It will be a great break for him – a real future, such as I always dreamed of for him. And you – why, there’ll be a splendid opportunity for you, too, Miss Welling – landscape gardening and interior decorating will be very essential parts of this model section we are going to build. How would that suit you? I’ll mention your name to the board at our next meeting, before some of the other men recommend someone else. You and Morris could go right on working together as you are now.”
Anne noted the suffering in Phyllis’s eyes. She was sorry she had kept this whole unfortunate situation from Peter. Sometimes hew as such a dear old blunderer. Marian was confused for an instant, then she said quietly.
“That is very kind of you, Mr. Brent. It would be a wonderful opportunity, but I – I – have about made up my mind to go back to my former position. It is being held open for me if I should want to return – and it would be nearer my home and mother.” Anne breathed a little prayer of thanks.
A few moments after this Morris, who had said he wouldn’t be able to come until the next day, came into the room. Junior was the first to see him, and clambering down from his improvised high chair, sending the unabridged dictionary under the table, he cried, “There’s my Daddy!” and rushed to Morris’s arms.
Anne arose, wondering what would happen now.
“You are just in time, Morris,” she said calmly. Phyllis arose also and went into the kitchen, her face white and suffering. “Come on into the kitchen and help Phyllis warm up some of this food.” After a word of greeting to the others, he followed her.
“It was nice you could come today,” Anne went on, trying to keep her voice casual. “I sent for Phyllis and the baby to come and spend the weekend. I’ve hardly seen them this summer.” Phyllis was standing by the window, her hands toying with the ruffle on a white organdy apron she wore over the new blue dress. Junior was urging his Daddy to come and sit by him at the table.
“Phyllis, I’ll fix the food if you’ll go in and shift the people a little and set a place for Morris.” Without a word or a look at her husband, Phyllis left the room.
“Mother, how could you?” Morris asked reproachfully.
Ignoring his question Anne lifted a platter of meat and a plate of rolls from the oven and turned to the dining room.
“Come on and get your dinner, Morris,” she said as if everything was perfectly normal.
The meal was finished without much visible restraint, though Anne knew that it was an ordeal for Morris and the two women. When it was over, she led the way into the living room, leaving Ella to clear up the dishes.
Junior took possession of his father, so the constraint between Morris and Phyllis was not evident to the members of the family other than Anne. For a little while the twins and Junior were the center of attention, but finally Anne asked Phyllis to sing the songs she had sung in the afternoon, for Peter and Morris.
Phyllis looked at her imploringly, but Anne found the music for Gloria and led Phyllis to the piano.
While she sang, Morris sat turning the pages of a picture book with Junior, but Anne noticed that he glanced once or twice toward Phyllis, whose emotion added to the beauty of her face and voice.
Peter applauded loudly when the songs were ended and asked, “Why haven’t we been hearing this music before, little girl? Does Morris think he has a monopoly on your voice as well as your time? I had no idea we had such talent in the family, did you, Mother?”
Anne smiled and answered, “We’ve always known that Phyllis could sing, but now we must hear her often.”
Peter asked Marian if she didn’t play or sing, and she answered that the only instrument she played was the typewriter.
Presently Peter launched into a discussion of his business with Morris, outlining the plans for the new building project the recently organized real estate company was contemplating.
“There’s going to be a wonderful future for you when we get underway,” he explained. “You must come down to the office and go over the plans. I’ve been trying to induce Miss Welling to throw her lot with us, too. You two working together should make a great team.”
Anne deftly turned the conversation into another channel, asking Marian if she had read Pearl Buck’s latest novel, and turning to Phyllis occasionally to refresh her own memory as to names or incidents as they talked of the book.
Again Anne saw Morris looking covertly and with surprise at his wife. Phyllis had never been in the habit of reading anything except the popular current magazines.
A little after eight Marian said, “I must catch that next train, Mrs. Brent. If I may please call a taxi –”
“O, but we were expecting you to stay over the weekend,” Anne protested. “Didn’t Morris make that clear?”
“Indeed he did, and I thank you. I should love to stay, but Mr. Wallace asked me to work on some plans for one of his patrons tomorrow and I mustn’t disappoint him. It has been delightful to meet you all. The nice things Morris led me to think about his family are more than true.” Her glance swept the entire group, including Phyllis and Junior. “Now, I’ll call a taxi and then run upstairs if I may, and powder my nose.”
“If you must go,” Anne said with decision, “Morris and Phyllis will drive you to the station.”
When Anne held Marian’s hand as they said goodbye, she felt sure there was a little hurt but very much of understanding back of the friendly brown eyes. Again she thought to herself what a wonderful daughter-in-law the girl would have been, and she gave a little wistful sigh, as she bent and kissed the girl’s smooth cheek.
“You’re a wonderful mother,” Marian said in a low voice. “You’re sweet and good – and wise.” Anne swallowed a lump in her throat and pressed the hand she was holding.
Morris and Phyllis did not return for several hours. When they did come, Anne knew that Phyllis had been crying, but there was happiness again in her eyes.
Later, as Morris stood at the foot of the stairs waiting for Phyllis to bring a glass of water to take up for Junior, he said hastily and awkwardly to Anne who was passing toward her own room, “Mom, I’m asking you to forget that stuff I was talking the other day. I can see that you are right. I’ve got to think about others – besides myself. That little rooster upstairs – Gosh, I couldn’t do anything to hurt him. And Phyl is – a peach, isn’t she?”