Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
The thing that had troubled Anne most when she had learned about their financial condition had been that they could not send Gloria to college as they had planned. Although they had met financial reverses frequently in their twenty-five years of married life, when Morris and Suzanne were through high school they had managed to allow them to go on with more specialized training. It seemed a dreadful thing not to be able to find a way to bring her dreams for all the children into realities.
It didn’t matter how much she and Peter had to sacrifice, if they could only do the things they wanted to for the children. Their future lay in the accomplishments of the children. Gloria had been looking forward for years to going away to college, and now that her friendship with young Hal Gillmore was becoming more firmly established through their frequent letters, she was more eager than ever to go to the State University where he was a sophomore.
But finally Anne was forced to tell her that their plans would at least have to be postponed. The way Gloria took the disappointment made the mother realize that the little girl of a few years ago was a woman. Only for a moment had Gloria’s chin quivered and her eyes blurred. then she had smiled bravely and said:
“It is all right, mother. There are still lots of things I can learn at the store – if I can keep my job there. And I need to learn so many things that you can teach me, too – about cooking and sewing – things that I – may need sometime more than what I’d get at college.”
“It means a lot to me, darling, to have you so sweet about this,” Anne said huskily. “And you are to remember that we’re not giving up our plans – we’re just postponing them.”
Quint had seemed the greatest problem of all the children, because Anne felt that she never could get near him as she did to the others. Once she had said to Peter, “When I want to talk to Quint about something special or personal, I feel as if he rushes inside himself and closes the door and pulls down the blinds.”
But the boy was responding to his new school environment in a way that thrilled the mother. The principal of the East Side Junior High, perhaps flattered that the Brents had gained special permission from the board to place the boy under his supervision, was taking a special interest in him and was discovering things about Quint his parents had never known.
“That boy is a born naturalist,” he told Anne a few weeks after school commenced. “Have you noticed the kind of pictures he’s always taking with his kodak? He has some of the finest studies of bird and insect life I have ever seen. I had him up talking to the class the other day about the habits of the meadow lark. I’m surprised at the amount of firsthand information the youngster has. At first he was so shy about confessing his knowledge I hardly knew how to get it out of him. He seemed to think that being interested in butterflies and beetles was something to be ashamed of until I told him some stories about a few of the great naturalists of the world and showed what passions they had for such things.”
Anne knew that this information about the boy’s interests was going to be a valuable key for her future use when Quint went inside himself and closed the doors and pulled down the blinds.
Peter’s despondency over the approaching financial catastrophe became more marked as the weeks went by and there seemed no possible way of averting the trouble. Anne tried repeatedly to give him the assurance and old faith he had lost. He had been so sure that the plans he had set going were sound that he had signed papers which promised to pay the money he had borrowed in three months. The time would be up the first of December. The prospects looked gloomier every day, since business had slumped to the point that he would scarcely be able to pay the interest, let alone the principle. And he knew that Sandy McGregor, from whom he had borrowed the money, would hold to the original agreement with the persistence of a Shylock.
One afternoon a few days before Thanksgiving, Peter came home earlier than usual. Anne knew immediately that he had some new worry. During their years together Anne had learned to read Peter’s moods in his face as if it were an open book.
“I went to see McGregor this afternoon,” he said. “I thought I might be able to persuade him to give me six months or a year, and if he did – something might turn up to save us. But of course it was useless. Everybody knows he’s as hard as flint.”
“Never mind, Peter. Why, even if we have to give up both the home and the store we can get along. We still have that little place out on the east bench. We can go there. You know Suzanne is planning for Gloria to come and stay with her after she is married to help take care of little Marjory, and she can do some work in the college there. I’m sure Principal Morgan will take Quint for the rest of the year and let him take care of his furnace and mount and label specimens for his room and board. He was talking to me just the other day about the long distance the boy has to go, and said he wished we would lend Quint to him.
“Why, there would be only you and I and the twins and the little house would do nicely. It would seem almost as if we were starting life over again out there where we lived when Morris and Suzanne were little, and we wouldn’t starve, for I have the basement full of canned fruits and vegetables and meats. Why, Peter, it would be wonderful to have such a change – to get away from everything and have a nice rest. You’ve worked too hard and had too much to worry about the last year or so. It would do you good.”
“Good! It would be the end. Down and out at forty-eight. Why, a man should be in his prime at that age.”
“And so would you be after a few months of rest and relaxation; why, by next spring you’ll be ready to start all over.”
“You’re a stoic, Anne,” Peter said appreciatively. “The way you always take what comes on the chin, makes me want more than ever to amount to something.”
Anne went ahead with preparations for Thanksgiving as though there were no such thing as financial ruin looming ahead. She was, of course, also making special preparations because Suzanne and her fiance were coming, and because it was her’s and Peter’s silver wedding day.
Phyllis was coming with Junior and they hoped Morris would be back from his trip to Washington. Gloria announced that Hal Fillmore would be another guest for the day. His mother was visiting a sister in Arizona and since she would not be home, Hal had written that he would like to spend the day with Gloria.
Anne could see that Peter was trying to keep up a cheerful front for her sake, but she knew that he was utterly disheartened. The feeling of incompetence and futility had taken complete possession of him. She dreaded to think what might happen if something didn’t change his mental attitude. She hoped that seeing Suzanne and meeting Horace Marshall, his prospective son-in-law, would break his apathy. Then, too, she had another source of hope and expectancy which she communicated to no one.
Suzanne came the day before thanksgiving. To Anne she seemed the loveliest creature in the world. Her love and happiness had added a new beauty to her naturally sweet face. She fairly glowed. Anne recalled the sophistication her life in the Boston art colony and her association with the European professor had given her. Contrasted to that, she now seemed a softened and glorified being, and Anne thanked God over and over that he had given her the courage and resourcefulness to make that dramatic dash across the continent to rescue her child from youthful folly.
Little Marjory found her way immediately to the hearts of the whole Brent family. Jan and Jean were in perpetual dispute as to whose turn it was to do things for her. Even Quint brought down his books of pictures and boxes of specimens to amuse her.
And as for Horace Marshall, Anne confided to Peter that if she herself had been given the privilege of choosing their son-in-law, she couldn’t have done a better job than Suzanne had done.
Phyllis and Junior came early on thanksgiving morning, and Gloria met the 11:20 train for Hal Fillmore.
Anne planned to have the thanksgiving dinner in the evening, hoping that Morris might arrive in time for it. But a little before noon, a telegram from him came, congratulating his parents on their silver wedding anniversary. Anne was distinctly disappointed.
All during the day neighbors and friends dropped in or telephoned their felicitations. Letters and cards came by special delivery mail. An air of festivity pervaded the household to the extent that, for a time at least, even Peter seemed to be lifted from his apathy and showed something of his old buoyancy.
But when they sat down to the table at six o’clock, perhaps the very bounty of the dinner spread before them made Peter remember what was actually facing them, and his old haunted look returned. Anne was trying to think of something which might dispel his gloom, when the door opened and Morris came into the room. There was a chorus of greetings and he was directed to the place at the table Anne had insisted on having set for him.
“I can’t eat,” he said, “until I have performed a little ceremony.” He went and stood beside his father’s chair.
“This is a silver wedding day. I’m sure everyone here is mighty thankful that Peter and Anne Brent were married twenty-five years ago. Now just to make the occasion seem a bit more silvery, I have the pleasure of handing herewith a check for $17,000 to Peter and Anne Brent.”
Peter gazed with startled eyes at the slip of paper Morris was holding before him. Anne’s heart was beating wildly. Her mouth felt suddenly dry.
“This check,” continued Morris, “is from the National Heating company and is a payment, a part payment, by that company for the use of an idea on conditioned air worked out and patented by Peter Brent several years ago, and recently used by that company.” Morris laid the check beside his father’s plate.
Anne watched Peter’s face as he gradually comprehended the meaning of Morris’ words. She had been so afraid that the effort to prove and establish Peter’s right would prove too intricate a problem. She herself was overwhelmed. When light began to shine in Peter’s eyes, he picked up the check and studied it, his hands shaking as they held the slip of paper.
“Why – this – this can’t be true. Seventeen thousand dollars – enough to – save us. I – I can’t believe it. And – that patent – why, I never expected to hear anything from it.”
“And you probably never would have,” said Morris, “if Mom hadn’t believed in it sufficiently to save all your papers and prints and correspondence with the Bureau of Patents, which made it possible to establish your right and to get this much of a settlement from the company without much red tape.”
When the house was still that night and Anne thought that everybody was asleep but herself, Peter suddenly spoke from the darkness.
“Helpmate! that’s the right name for you, Anne. I would be a poor stick to admit that I’m licked with a woman like you pulling for me. I can make good.”
“Of course you can. You have made good, even if that check were barred.” She reached up and caressed his cheek with her hand. “It is a great thing to be a wife and a mother, Peter, to be a helpmate to one’s family. I was just lying here thinking how good, how wonderful life is.”