The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
Helen could scarcely wait to get Danny to the seashore the next day. They went to town first and purchased bathing suits and the necessary implements for digging in the sand. When Helen had finally settled herself under a large umbrella and turned Danny loose to play in the golden sands under the bright sun, she uttered a sigh of deep satisfaction.
This was the day she had longed for for Danny ever since that terrible time last winter when pneumonia had gripped the little body and she had fought so valiantly for his life. He would grow brown and sturdy again out here in the ocean breezes. She began building air castles for him. Danny should have an education – the best that could be had. He should grow up fine and strong both mentally and physically.
The child came up to her and started to pat and build in the sand. “What are you building, Sonny?” she asked.
“A house,” he answered briefly, absorbed in his work.
“Isn’t that funny?” she mused. “I was building a house, too.”
“Let’s see it,” said Danny, looking about.
“You can’t see my house,” said Helen with whimsical smile. “Mine was an air castle.”
Danny looked mystified for a moment and then turned back to his work. “You can see mine,” he announced with an air of superiority. “It’s for you and me and Daddy.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” said Helen. “Daddy and I will like a new home. We have been planning on one for a long time. What would you like to be when you grow up, Danny?” she asked, still wandering about in her air castle.
“A ductor,” promptly replied the boy.
“Oh, a doctor – like Dr. Ward,” said Helen enthusiastically. “I think that will be splendid.”
“No,” drawled Danny in mild disgust. “A ductor like we saw on the train.”
Helen laughed and gathered him close to her. “You funny little fellow,” she chuckled, burying her face in his chubby neck. But Danny was not to be so easily diverted from his labors and he squirmed free from her embrace. Helen looked after him rather wistfully as he went back to his sand-building and a faint yearning entered her heart. Babies grew up so quickly. If it were only possible to keep them close to one always.
That same evening her father and mother took her to a concert. Helen couldn’t remember having been so thrilled and excited in years. She looked eagerly about, before the concert began at the beautifully decorated hall and the smartly dressed people. Everyone seemed to have such an air of taking the whole thing for granted that Helen longed to shake someone and exclaim, “How dare you be so unconcerned about all this? How do you know that it won’t be the last good music you will hear for five years?”
She sat through the program as one entranced and stood up with a deep sigh of regret when the final number was over. Her father, who had sensed her keen enjoyment, looked at her with a sympathetic smile and said, “We’ll have a lot of these before you go back, my dear.” Helen answered him with a look of gratitude.
On the way home he said, “We have a new gadget up to the house that you will be interested in. It’s called a radio. We have only a pair of earphones but they are beginning to put them out now with loud speakers so that a whole room full of people can hear the program. Now something like that ought to go over big out on a ranch.”
“I’ve heard about them,” answered Helen. “Do you think we would be able to get anything out where we live? So far away from a station, I mean.”
“And a powerful enough set would be expensive, of course,” thought Helen. Nevertheless, it would bear investigating and she determined to look into the matter very thoroughly before she went back.
She entered at once into an exciting round of gaiety. True to his word, her father took her to a number of good concerts. Her former friends arranged a number of parties in her honor and there were extensive shopping trips into Los Angeles.
Returning late one afternoon from one of the latter, she was sitting gazing dreamily out of the window when someone stopped in the aisle beside her and exclaimed, “Well, bless my soul, if it isn’t the prodigal daughter.”
Helen looked up quickly at the speaker and then held out her hand with a delighted smile as she said, “Why, Wayne Kent. I’m so glad to see you. Sit down, won’t you?” removing her parcels from the seat.
Wayne promptly dropped into the seat. “sure,” he agreed, “I’ll be glad to give you a chance to explain.”
“Explain what?” asked Helen, rather bewildered.
“Explain why you didn’t come back. You promised to, you know.”
Helen glanced at him out of the corner of her eye to see if she could tell whether or not he was serious and decided that at any rate, it was advisable to pretend that he wasn’t, so she answered lightly. “But I have come back.”
“So I see,” he nodded. “About five years too late.”
Helen had no answer for that one so she decided to change the subject. “What are you doing now?” she asked pleasantly.
“Selling real estate. And maybe you don’t think California is the place to sell it,” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “Why, Madam, we have the best climate in the world, twelve months of sunshine, ocean breezes, oranges and roses growing in your back yard. After you have once seen it you would never dream of living in – in – ”
“Wyoming,” supplied Helen, smiling her amusement. “And speaking of climate, you don’t even know the meaning of the word. You should see one of our winters. Then you’d really have something to talk about.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” conceded Wayne, “but I’ll be satisfied merely to talk about it.”
“Perhaps you are wise,” said Helen. “It takes a brave heart and staunch to live through a Wyoming winter.”
“Lady – you win,” answered Wayne in mock seriousness. “And now tell me about yourself.”
“There’s nothing much to tell,” said Helen cheerfully. “I taught school for a year, married and have a husky youngster three years old. We live on a small ranch and hope some day to live on a big one. Now, what have you been doing?”
“Nothing very exciting. I finished college by some good fortune, went to work – and here I am.”
“And haven’t married,” Helen finished in her own mind. She felt a slight feeling of satisfaction for which she was immediately ashamed. Why in the world should she care whether Wayne married or not? They had been only casual high school sweethearts and any feeling that she might have thought she entertained for him had faded very much into insignificance when she fell in love with Dan.
Wayne really should marry, she thought, glancing back at him. He was such a fine, wholesome lad and, with his merry laugh and his twinkling blue eyes, would make an agreeable companion for some lucky girl. Yes, there was no doubt in her mind but that the girl Wayne married would be a lucky one.
“We have a new model home open for inspection,” said Wayne, as they neared the station. “Would you like to see it?”
“Of course,” answered Helen promptly. “What woman doesn’t like to see a new home, even if it is someone else’s – but I really should be getting back to my boy. I’ve imposed him upon mother all day.”
“Imposed!” scoffed Wayne. “Now you know she adores having a grandson around to spoil.”
“I’m afraid you’re right,” laughed Helen. “In fact, the entire family spoils him in a most frightful manner.”
“Then you’ll come,” said Wayne with an air of finality. “Besides, it’s still early and you can get home in plenty of time to help set the dinner table.” He picked up her parcels and walked over to where his car was parked after they had left the train.
Helen had a vague feeling that she was not doing exactly the conventional thing to be going with Wayne, but she found herself in his car before she had come to any very definite conclusion about the matter, so she said nothing more about it.
In a few moments they stopped in front of a charming colonial home finished in white stucco and adorned with quaint green shutters. “There you are, lady,” said Wayne with an airy wave of the hand. “Every inch of it entirely modern, just $8,000 with a mere $1,000 down and the rest in easy payments that you would never miss.”
“It sounds most attractive,” agreed Helen, entering into his mood, “but I’m afraid I can’t take it today.”
“I was sure you would like it,” Wayne went blandly on with his sales talk, “but the outside only tells half the story. Just wait until you see the interior.” He jumped down and came around to assist Helen from the car.
She was not sure whether she was glad or sorry that she had agreed “to look the place over” as she wandered from one beautifully furnished room to another. She kept thinking, “What a nice, sunny room that would be in which Danny might play. How I would love that cozy fireplace on a winter evening. A pale green bathroom! It would be sheer joy to keep it clean.” It was the kitchen, however, that brought forth her most profound admiration. It was finished in a deep cream color with touches of delft blue and looked as if it would be utterly disdainful of dirt or soot. There was a sparkling new electric range, a closet where all brooms and mops would be kept discreetly out of sight. There were various contrivances for making housework light, some of which Helen had never seen or heard of before. Her eyes grew misty and her mind filled with a picture of an old-fashioned kitchen finished in rather rough woodwork painted by a novice and dominated by an ugly black range and a wooden washstand.
She followed Wayne out into the back yard – a lovely garden spot entirely enclosed by a high stucco wall. “Now here is the best part of the whole layout,” said Wayne proudly. “A yard where the children can play in the sunshine all the year around. A place to hang the wash away from prying eyes of neighbors or to eat your supper on a warm evening. Now, what more can you possibly ask?”
“Not one thing,” answered Helen fervently. “After we have sold the little ranch and bought a big ranch, we’ll sell the big ranch and come here and buy this house. Will you save it for me?”
“I’ll be glad to,” said Wayne gallantly as they walked back to the parked car. As they drove toward home Helen noticed Nina on a street corner being helped into an automobile by a young man Helen had never seen before. Wayne also saw them and asked, “Does Nina see much of Cary Hughes?”
“I don’t believe so,” answered Helen. “At least, he has never been in the house that I know of. Why?”
“Nothing in particular, except that he isn’t quite the sort of a fellow for a fine youngster like Nina to be running around with. I thought that Wendell Baker was calling up to your house pretty regular.”
“He is,” agreed Helen, “although I don’t believe he gets all the encouragement he would like from Nina. You know how it is,” she laughed, “the boy who has been around all the time doesn’t have quite the allure that a stranger does.”
“Yes, I know,” said Wayne quietly.
Helen blushed. She had not intended the remark to be at all personal or to apply in the least to her own case.
“Just what do you know about this Hughes?” she asked again. “If Nina is seeing very much of him and he isn’t the sort of man she ought to be going around with, we ought to know about it.”
“I know that he isn’t good company for Nina. You can depend on that much,” answered Wayne, “but don’t worry about it until you know you have some cause. Here, evidently, is where I lose my passenger,” as he drew up to her home. “I’d like to take you to see the folks some day before you go back.”
“I’d love to go,” answered Helen, who had very pleasant memories of Wayne’s mother and sisters, “and thank you for an enjoyable afternoon.”
Nina did not come home at all to dinner, and Helen was becoming genuinely worried about her until she walked up to the house shortly before dark. Helen was sitting out on the front porch and Nina dropped into a rocking chair beside her.
“Did you have a nice time?” asked the younger girl in a tone that Helen instinctively felt to be a wary one.
“Yes, very,” she answered. “I met Wayne Kent on the interurban coming in from Los Angeles and he took em to see a model home that his company is showing. What did you do?” she finished, trying to make her tone sound casual.
“Went for a drive along the ocean and out to the “Silver Slipper” for dinner. By the way,” she added carelessly, “you needn’t tell father that I wasn’t with Wendell this evening. He gets all upset if a stranger crosses his path and it isn’t good for his digestion.”
“Nina!” exclaimed Helen. “that’s a very flippant way to speak of father. Have you any reason to think he would disapprove of your seeing this particular man?”
Nina paused for a moment before she spoke, and then said hesitatingly, “Well, yes.”
“Then why not drop him?”
“Because I like a little excitement now and then and an occasional drive with Cary Hughes isn’t going to wreck anyone’s life.” Nina tossed her head as if to clinch the statement.
“Don’t be too sure,” said Helen seriously. “An occasional dinner and drive may lead to something worse.”
“Oh, forget it,” said Nina sharply, rising to go into the house. As she opened the door she stopped long enough to fling back at Helen, “As far as that goes, it doesn’t look too well for you to be riding around with your old beau.”