Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
As the weeks passed after Peter’s signing the contract with the delegation concerned with the new real estate company, Anne discovered no waning in his enthusiasm. He worked incessantly, and she did everything she could to relieve him of worries and responsibilities, and to make home cheerful and restful when he was there. That, she had long since decided was part of a helpmate’s job. Even if a wife couldn’t understand all the details of her husband’s work, even if she could not become enthusiastic about his plans, even if she sometimes doubted his judgment and ability, she owed him loyalty and support.
A few times Anne had asked about the merger of the general merchandise businesses which was supposed to increase their profits so remarkably, and always Peter assured her that though the actual completion of the transaction had not been effected because of some technicality to be seen to, there was nothing to worry about. One of the stores hadn’t sent in the necessary papers, but he was sure things were going to come out all right.
Anne had so many other things to occupy her attention, that she had little time to worry over Peter’s work.
There was Quint’s determination not to go to school to cope with. He had taken a dislike to the principal of the junior high school in their district when the man had refused to allow the group of boys who had been implicated in the stealing episode of the late summer to register until they had been reprimanded before the entire student body and had publicly given their word for good behavior.
The boys refused to comply with this demand and there was a great conflict between the parents of the boys and the school board, the board upholding the principal.
Though Quint had not been with the boys at the time of the misdemeanor, they had been his friends and he had an exaggerated sense of loyalty. He stubbornly insisted that he would not go to school under such a principal. Finally Anne arranged for him to attend the high school in the other part of town, the principal of which was a scout leader and one who understood adolescent boys.
She had no sooner settled this problem than the twins came down with scarlet fever. Though the case was light, she was quarantined with them for six weeks, trying to direct the running of the house, as she put it, “by remote control.”
They were planning to send Gloria to college for the winter quarter, and there was much to do in getting her clothes ready.
Anne tried also to keep in close touch with Morris and Phyllis, doing many little things to keep Phyllis’s interest alive in a correspondence course in literature she had persuaded her to register for, and making opportunities for her to sing before various organizations.
Every week there were letters to write to Suzanne, and materials to send which she wanted to use in her work. Suzanne never mentioned the experience she had had with the professor from Europe in her letters, and Anne couldn’t help wondering if she was as happy and contented in her new work as her letters indicated.
Every day was full to the brim for Anne. She often thought that of all the careers in life none could give greater diversity, or greater responsibility, than the job of being a helpmate to a man and a mother to a family of children of as varied personalities as hers.
One afternoon as she sat ripping up a dress she was going to fix over for Gloria, she heard Peter’s step on the porch. She knew by its lagging hesitancy that something was wrong. Putting her work down, she met him at the door. His face was grey and he looked old and stooped. All his buoyancy of the past weeks had disappeared. He carried a long envelope in his hands.
“Why, Peter, what is it?” Anne asked in alarm.
He came on into the living room and sank heavily into a chair before answering.
“It’s the merger. There was a little technical loophole and Cramer, over on the west side of the county, has taken that to break up the entire plan. He has been lukewarm all the time, but we thought he’d come through. He’s not only smashed our plans, but he’s got the merchants on the west side to join a similar concern in the other part of the state.” Peter dropped his head into his hands and sat in abject wretchedness.
“But you mustn’t take it like that, dear,” Anne consoled. “Surely it isn’t bad enough to make you look so ill.”
“Bad enough!” Peter laughed bitterly. “Anne, it’s a bad as it could be. You know –t hose mortgages on the house, and the store – Anne, it means – we’re ruined!”
For an instant Anne went cold. She felt an impulse to say, “O, why did you ever do such a thing? You know we decided never to risk the store or the home. I knew this wild scheme was like all your others.” But she restrained the impulse. As she stood looking down at Peter, all her maternal instinct was drawn out by his suffering. She crossed to him quickly and sat on the arm of his chair.
“Don’t look like that, Peter. Things can’t be as bad as you imagine. You mustn’t give up to discouragement.”
“The trouble is that I didn’t give up long ago and admit that I was a failure. I should have settled down into a little groove of mediocrity where I belong. It has been a disease with me all my life, thinking I was capable of big things. I’m of small calibre and haven’t been willing to admit it. I have gone on and on after repeated failures planning things beyond my power to carry out, dragging you through failure after failure and constant hardship and privation.
“If you had married Lem Parker or Hal Stayner, see where you would be – in a palace in Washington, or on a big estate in California, without any of the worries I’ve brought to you. I feel like –” Anne put her hand gently over his mouth.
“Peter, I’m exactly where I want to be. I didn’t marry Lem Parker or Hal Stayner because I wanted to be your wife, I wanted to be the mother of your children – I wanted to be your helpmate. It will be twenty-five years next month since we were married. I’ve never regretted for one moment, Peter, that I married you. We’ve had some hard places, of course. But that’s life. Life is like a piece of tapestry, or a painting, with lights and shadows making up the design. The picture could not be as beautiful if it were all light and brightness. And we’ve had a lot of happiness, Peter, and we’re going to have a lot more.”
“But how much more our lives might have been if one – even one of the schemes or patents I’ve squandered time and money on had proved worthwhile. They’ve all been failures.”
“We might have had more money, but I’m not sure our lives would have been any better or happier for that. We’ve had a liberal share of the good things of life. And it isn’t as if some of those wonderful ideas of yours may not yet materialize into the things you have dreamed. It is to men like you, Peter, men with vision, men who are always dreaming of things to make the world a more comfortable and better place to live in, that the world owes its civilization.”
They sat in silence a few moments. Then Peter, with a deep sigh, drew Anne from the arm of the chair over onto his knees.
“It is to women like you, Anne, that men owe everything in their lives that is really worth while. Yet it has been because I have always wanted to make life easier for you that I have tried to do things beyond my power. I have always felt that in spite of past failures I could succeed.”
“And you can, Peter. You will accomplish at least some of the things you have dreamed.”
“You always give me new hope. Perhaps you shouldn’t. If you condemned my failures, and scolded and nagged – Oh, no, that wouldn’t solve the problem, for them I shouldn’t want even to try – anything.”
“Let’s not worry, Peter. We’ll go on as before, and I’m sure things will not be as bad as your looks indicated when you came in.”
“I’m afraid you don’t understand how bad they are. With this merger going to the other part of the state, our business will drop; our credit will consequently suffer. We’ll have to live on even less than we’ve been doing, even if we don’t put another cent into this real estate project – And what we have already put in means – with those mortgages which now we shall not be able to lift – why, Anne, it means giving up the store – losing this home. How can we go on as before?” The old beaten look returned to his face.
“Peter, we’re going to take this – standing. Worrying isn’t going to help. I feel sure that something will develop to help solve our problem. You say we’ll have to live on less. Let’s begin right now. Come on out into the garden where I saw a few late onions this morning. We’ll have bread and milk and onions for supper as we used to on the Greymore ranch – twenty-five years ago – ‘when we used to be so happy and so poor.’” Laughing, Anne pulled him to his feet and they went out to find the onions.
In November Anne received a letter from Suzanne which both surprised and comforted her. She had often wondered how much of the cheerfulness and content her letters suggested were actual. This one assured her of the things she had hoped. Suzanne wrote that she was in love with the violin teacher of the school where she taught. He was a young widower with a little girl three years old who was born a few days before her mother’s death. One part of the letter said:
“I wish you could see little Marjory. Horace says he is jealous of her. She is an adorable child and she loves me as much as I do her. O, Mother, thanks again and again for saving me from the foolish thing I was about to do three months ago. What if you hadn’t come! What if I had never met Horace and Marjory – What if –
“Oh, but it’s foolish to brood over tragedies that didn’t happen, isn’t it? It’s better to enjoy the present blessedness.
“Mother, what I am trying to get around to is that Horace wants me to marry him, and may I bring him and Marjory home for Thanksgiving – You know that is your silver wedding day, and I’m arranging to have a few days extra holidays so I can come home – then if you and Daddy approve, Horace and I will be married at Christmas time. I hope we’ll be as happy as you and Daddy have been. I hope I can be as wonderful a wife and mother as you are!”
Anne folded the letter with misted eyes and with a little prayer that her girl’s life might be much more successful and worthwhile than her own.
About the middle of November, Morris came in one afternoon and told Anne that his company was sending him to Washington to an architects’ convention. He was to read a paper he had given at a district convention a few months before.
“But the thing I really came over for, Mom,” he said after he had broken the good news, “was to talk to you about Dad. Is it true that he mortgaged the store and the home to get money for that real estate venture, and that now the merger has failed to materialize he won’t be able to pay the mortgages?”
“I suppose, Morris, that things stand about that way.”
“Gosh! I couldn’t believe it when I heard some men over in Shannon talking the other day. They said those fellows who were in with him on the real estate scheme were going to capitalize on his idea and leave him in the lurch. They’re leaving this smaller project and are preparing to put the idea over in a big way down in Tennessee. That merger idea was his, too, and now the other side of the state will get the benefit of it, and Dad who thought it out will lose everything he has. Why is it, Mother, that he can’t make his ideas work to his own advantage?”
“He isn’t a practical man, Morris. He’s a dreamer. He’s terribly discouraged now. He feels that he’s a failure, and in spite of all I can do, he broods a good deal of late. He worries because the rest of us will have to give up things. I used to resent his spending so much time and money and energy on these inventions and schemes that have meant so much to him all his life, and I worried because we didn’t get farther ahead in a financial way. But I have come to see things differently. Instead of feeling that your father is a failure, I regard him as a great man, whether we ourselves ever reap anything from his inventions or not. The individual isn’t so important in the big scheme of things. If he’s benefitting people in the western part of the state, or in Tennessee, that’s a great and fine contribution to the world, and he shouldn’t think he is a failure.”
“But you may be turned out of your home. You may be living on charity. It isn’t right. Something’s got to be done.”
A sudden light came into Anne’s eyes.
“Morris, did you say this convention you are going to is in Washington? Maybe you can do something to save your father from his ‘slough of despond.’ Haven’t you been reading lately of the practical use that is being made of conditioned air – in homes and schools and trains? I’ve read several articles on the subject.”
“Sure. That’s one of the latest things in civic improvement.”
“Come in here, Morris.” Anne’s voice shook with excitement. “I want to show you something.” She led the way to a little desk in her room and took out a roll of papers.