The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
The long Wyoming winter which Helen had once dreaded sped rapidly away, especially after she had become engaged to Dan. They had made up their minds to be married late in May just after school was out. Dan was going to Omaha to buy some thoroughbred sheep at that time and they decided that they could make a honeymoon out of the trip as well. Helen would have loved to have been married at home but the trip was an expensive one and they needed their “cash on hand” for the beginnings of a home. The trip to California could come later.
“Are you quite sure that you don’t want to go home first, honey?” Dan had asked her for perhaps the tenth time one evening.
“Quite sure,” Helen answered. “I can use the money to much better advantage for linens and such. I’m going to have everything nice even if I do live on a ranch. Do you want me to go?” she added teasingly.
Dan looked down at her with his dark eyes very serious as he answered, “I just want you to be very sure about all this, my dear, and I thought that if you went home first you would know that you weren’t making any mistakes. Besides,” he added in lighter mood, “where do you think you are going to buy a lot of fancy linens – in Bevers General Store or from the mail order catalogue?”
“Neither one,” she answered laughingly. “I’ll buy them in Omaha. I’ll shop for towels and tablecloths while you shop for lambs.”
Helen herself wondered occasionally if she were really afraid to go home for fear it might make her want to change her mind about her marriage. At times a faint dread entered her heart when she thought of spending the rest of her life out in this country where there were so few of the more sophisticated gaieties of life: no concerts, no shows except the movies, no large stores in which to buy modish dresses, not even a library.
When she was with Dan, however, all doubts vanished. He was so strong, so genuine and so handsome, even if he did lack the veneer the city sometimes gives. Above all, he was devoted to her and she loved him so much that the pleasures of city life paled into insignificance beside that love.
She had written home and had her mother send her a pretty blue crepe dress to be married in. “Married in blue, always be true,” she quoted gaily as she tried it on and went down to show it for Mrs. Riley’s admiration.
“That looks just grand, dearie,” was Mrs. Riley’s comment, “especially with your yellow hair, but I did sort of hope that you’d have a white dress and a veil.”
“Well, every girl dreams of being married in a white satin dress and veil, I suppose, said Helen, “but I thought being away from home and all – I’d rather not.”
“I guess you’re right,” answered Mrs. Riley with a sigh, “but we never had a wedding in the house before and I would have liked to have it right fancy. Anyway, I’m going to cook you a nice weddin’ dinner and have a bride and groom on the table like I read about in the papers.”
“That will be lovely of you,” said Helen, giving Mrs. Riley a hearty hug, “and you can dress up the bride for the table as much as you like.”
The wedding took place at Mrs. Riley’s on a morning late in May. It was still like early spring in Wyoming and Helen was sure that there had never been a more beautiful morning upon the earth, that the ground had never worn a more delicate covering of green and that never had more fragrant breezes played about.
Mrs. Riley had yearned to invite a crowd and make a gala affair of it but Helen had insisted that the guests be limited to Dan’s family and her two fellow teachers. She had heard something of the pranks which the young people of the town thought appropriate for weddings and she was determined that the sacredness of her own should not be marred.
In one last attempt to preserve the time honored traditions of marriage, Mrs. Riley had tried to persuade Helen that she should stay in her own room and not see the bridegroom until the minute before the ceremony, but as soon as she heard Dan’s step on the porch Helen flew downstairs and let him in herself.
Dan was apparently almost speechless, either from joy or excitement, but he managed to say as he handed her a huge cardboard box, “Here’s something for a bride.”
Helen opened it eagerly and uttered a cry of joy as she lifted up a lovely bouquet of roses. “Oh, Dan!” she gasped, “how gorgeous! How in the world did you do it?”
“I just took some of those fellows at their word that advertise they’ll send flowers by wire and by George, they did,” he answered, visibly filled with pride, and then added softly, “I was determined that my bride should have flowers.”
“Your bride has everything,” said Helen as she lifted her face for his kiss.
Late that evening they boarded the train at Junction City for Omaha. Dan’s younger brother had driven them out in his car from Medford after Mrs. Riley’s elaborate wedding “dinner” was over.
Helen settled back in her seat and smiled dreamily as they drew away from the station. She thought of the time, such a few months away when she had last stood on the little board platform in front of the station. The whole course of her existence had been changed int hat time and she was starting out upon the greatest adventure she would ever know during her life. “It’s up to me,” she thought, lifting her head unconsciously. “I can make a success of it, if I try.”
“Do I have anything that would buy those thoughts?” asked Dan, reaching for the small hand that now held a slender gold band beside the engagement ring.
“I was just thinking what a remarkable prophet old Billy is,” she said in mock seriousness.
“Old Billy?” he asked, puzzled.
“Yes. You know, he brought me out to Medford in his truck when I first came to Wyoming and he assured me then that I would marry one of the boys and settle down in the valley.”
“Nice fellow, Billy,” said Dan complacently. “I’ll buy him a present in Omaha.”
Helen and Dan found much besides a present for Billy to buy in Omaha. In fact, Dan complained that their honeymoon was being turned into a regular shopping spree and that they would have to move out into the hallway of the hotel if Helen didn’t stop bringing home stuff from the stores.
Helen only laughed and brought forth more new things to show him. She hadn’t realized how she had hungered to walk up and down the aisles of a real store. Besides, she was buying for her own home and what bride doesn’t thrill to the joyous tasks of choosing those first new things?
“This will make a pretty gay dress, won’t it, old lady?” asked Dan as he held up a piece of bright flowered cretonne.
“Dress, you goose!” laughed Helen. “That is for curtains, and so is this, and this,” picking out dainty pieces of figured scrim.
“Isn’t all this rather fancy for an old ranch house?” asked Dan rather dubiously.
“All the more reason for trying to brighten it up,” answered Helen gaily.
“I get kind of scared when I think of taking you out to that old Livingston ranch to live,” said Dan, still serious, “but it was absolutely the only thing I could get.”
“I know. Don’t you worry about it. We’ll make it do nicely for the time being,” and Helen gave his arm an encouraging pat.
“And what might these be?” asked Dan, picking up some bits of embroidered linen.
“Guest towels for the bathroom, of course. Aren’t they pretty?”
“They’re pretty, all right,” admitted Dan, “but there isn’t any bathroom.”
Helen’s gay spirits were momentarily dampened, but she soon brightened and said as she folded up the towels, “Well, then, we’ll hang them in the kitchen or save them until we do get a bathroom. There’ll be one some day, won’t there?”
“There’ll be everything some day for the sweetest girl in the world,” he whispered as he held her close.
The happy week came to a close all too soon and Helen packed “the fruits of her school teaching” as she called her purchases, and she and Dan celebrated their last evening in town by going to the best theatre they could find.
The next morning Helen found herself on the train, all alone, bound for home. It had been necessary for Dan to go on the train that carried the sheep so that he could take care of them and Helen had chided him laughingly for leaving her to spend the last half of her honeymoon by herself.
She found the flat plains of Nebraska wholly uninteresting and instead of looking at them she fell to daydreaming about her future home. She smiled when she thought of Dan’s misgivings about her. Her own family, too, had been rather skeptical and had urged her “to wait until fall, at least, and think things over.” That, of course, was only because they didn’t know Dan, she thought complacently. When they met him they would understand that she couldn’t possibly have helped falling in love with him. And she would show them all that her marriage could be just as successful as that of the most comfortably situated bride in California.
At Junction City Helen left the train and went to an hotel to wait for Dan whose train was arriving some hours later. When he finally came he urged Helen to take the “mail” car and go on to Medford ahead of him, but she stoutly refused to finish her honeymoon out alone and insisted that she be allowed to come along with Dan.
“All right, Bo-Peep,” he finally agreed, “but you will find that riding with a truckload of sheep is not the quickest or the most pleasant way of getting through this canyon.”
After the first twenty miles she was very much inclined to agree with Dan. The truck lurched and swung. The driver’s seat was too high up for her to sit comfortably and there was no top to protect her from the sun.
Because of frequent storms in the mountains the roads never completely dried up, and more than once, when they jolted over a deep rut or hole in the road, she was afraid that she and the sheep were going to land in a pile at the bottom of the canyon but through some kind fate the worst never happened and they came into Medford just as dusk was falling.
“I’d better take time out to stop in at the store and get a few groceries, honey,” said Dan, as they drove into town. “There’s not a thing out to the ranch to eat. Want to come in with me?”
“No, thank you,” answered Helen. “Just pick up anything so that we can hurry along home.” The thoughts of buying groceries rather appalled her when she realized her lack of experience along that line. She wanted a little time to get her bearings before she started in, especially if Jo Bevers happened to be in the store. He had never quite forgiven her for choosing Dan in preference to himself and always made an attempt to strut his superiority.
Dan came out presently with a well-filled box which he placed at her feet and then climbed into the truck and drove on.
The ranch which Dan had started to buy was about five miles out of town. There was a four room frame house built precisely like a cardboard box with an utter lack of imagination. Helen had been out there only once and had disliked almost everything about the place, including the furniture, but she had promised herself that she would soon have everything different. She would paint every foot of it herself, if need be, and brighten it up with new curtains and cushions. In time she would have new furniture and even a new home, eventually. Dan had said so himself.
It was dark when they reached the ranch house and Helen was thoroughly chilled from riding out in the open for so many hours. She walked numbly into the house after Dan who was carrying the box of groceries. He set them down on the kitchen table and lighted the gas lamps.
“I’ll get some kindlings and you can make a fire and get some supper while I take care of the sheep,” said Dan. “These thoroughbreds have to be handled just so, you know.”
Helen didn’t know and she didn’t care. She was decidedly weary of sheep mixed in with a honeymoon. She was also cold and hungry, however, so she found an apron and set about making a fire in the kitchen range.
Her months of struggling with the little black heater in her room at Mrs. Riley’s did not seem to be of any particular help now. The range was balky and smoked no matter what draughts she opened or closed. She finally left the fire to burn or smoke as it chose and began pulling things out of the box to see what would be the most easily prepared for supper.
There were eggs – that would be simple – and a piece of bacon. Why in the world wasn’t it sliced? She found a knife that proved to be none too sharp and cut the bacon into thick jagged slices. She put it into a pan to fry over the still indifferent fire and started to set the table.
Her own dishes had not arrived yet and there were only a few ugly, badly cracked ones left in the cupboard. There was no table cloth, so Helen washed off the dust of many weeks from the table as best she could before setting it.
The bacon and eggs were ready long before Dan came in again, so Helen sat down by the fire to get warm. She had never imagined that a June night could be so cold even in Wyoming. She looked around the kitchen. It was dirty and cheerless in the light of the gas lamp. Tears filled her eyes which were not caused entirely by the smoking stove.