The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
Helen was very much hurt by the attitude which Nina assumed toward her after their conversation on the porch. Everything about her visit had been so happy up until this point that she could not bear to have it marred by unpleasantness now. In the presence of the rest of the family, Nina remained the same, but there was no more running into Helen’s room late of an evening for whispered confidences, nor would she accompany Helen and Danny on their expeditions to the ocean front.
Worse than this, however, was Helen’s concern for her younger sister. She felt that Nina must be taking the affair with Cary Hughes very seriously indeed to allow it to affect their relations like this.
She had made careful inquiries about the man and had learned that while there was nothing very definitely bad about him, he was known as a spendthrift and certainly he was not the type for her pretty golden-haired sister to fall in love with. She felt that she simply could not go back to Wyoming until the affair had been satisfactorily settled.
She thought more than once of going to her father and mother about it but was afraid that they might reprimand Nina too severely and cause more harm than good. She wished she could interest Nina more in Wendell Baker who was a splendid lad in every way, but she knew that the surest way to throw Nina into Cary Hughes’s arms would be to openly attempt to further Wendell’s cause.
Helen finally persuaded Nina to go shopping with her and Danny one day on the plea that she could not manage both her parcels and the boy alone. she was sure that Nina had agreed to go only because she could think of no good excuse not to go but was happy anyway to have an opportunity to draw Nina closer to her again, if possible.
Danny found the dog, which he had promised to take back to his Daddy for a present, and insisted that his mother buy it at once. It was white and woolly with large floppy ears and a most enticing red flannel tongue. Danny would not allow it out of his arms even long enough for the sales girl to wrap it up and beamed ecstatically upon his newly acquired treasure.
When they had finished shopping, Helen suggested that they stop somewhere for lunch and they had just settled themselves cozily and given their order when a deep masculine voice said, “May I join this charming group?” Looking up, she saw the smiling face of Cary Hughes.
Nina flung her a glance at once both startled and challenging, but Helen said pleasantly, “To be sure, we’ll be glad to have you.”
She meant what she said. Although she had previously been introduced to Cary she had seen him only for a few brief moments and she was glad to have an opportunity to study the man a little more carefully and to decide, if she could, just how much Nina was in love with him. he was exactly the type, she thought ruefully, to catch the fancy of an unsophisticated young girl. Dark haired and handsome, carefully dressed and with the easy, debonair manner of “a man about town.”
Helen chatted with him during lunch while Nina contented herself by saying something only occasionally but making up for it by wearing such a thrillingly happy look that Helen became more deeply concerned thane ver. When they were through Cary offered to drive them home and Helen accepted. She could readily see that if she could once more gain Nina’s confidence she would have a far better chance of influencing her in the right direction than if the present coolness continued to exist.
When they arrived home Nina caught Danny up and kissed him and Helen knew that this was her way of expressing her pleasure for the attitude she had taken toward Cary that afternoon. She stood at the stairway looking up, after Nina had run lightly up to change her clothes and thought with an inward sigh, “Poor little sister – I hope she doesn’t get hurt too much.”
There was a letter from Dan on the tray in the hall which she picked up and was about to read when her mother came in and said, “Mr. winters is in there and would like to talk with you.”
Helen thrust the letter into her pocket and walked into the living room which her mother had indicated by a nod of the head. She was somewhat surprised that her former High School principal had called to see her but supposed it was a friendly visit such as a number of her former friends and acquaintances had made.
“This is so kind of you,” she said, going toward him with a smile.
“Not at all, not at all,” he beamed, as he took her outstretched hand. “In fact this is a visit of both pleasure and business.”
“Business?” repeated Helen, opening her eyes wide.
“Yes. May I ask if you were planning on extending your visit here much longer?”
Helen instinctively clutched the letter within her pocket. She had been away from home for two months now and while Dan insisted that she stay until she was “good and ready” to come home, she knew that he was desperately lonely for her and the boy and would welcome them back most heartily at any time. She felt that she dared not go, however, until Nina’s affair was settled one way or another.
She finally answered, “Why – I really don’t know just how much longer I shall be here.”
“I don’t mean to be inquisitive,” continued Mr. Winters. “The fact of the matter is that school is starting in another couple of weeks and our music teacher has suddenly married and gone away. They will do it, you know,” he smiled.
“At least the fortunate ones will,” Helen answered.
“To be sure. Now, the point that I am driving at is that I would like you to take the work for a short time until I can look around and find another teacher. that is, of course, if you are going to stay that long.”
“I – you’ll have to give me a day or so to think it over,” said Helen, quite bewildered. “I really had intended to leave before then but it is possible that I could arrange to stay.”
“I can wait for a few days, but I shall have to know as soon as possible in order that I can look around for someone else in case you do not feel inclined to take it,” and Mr. Winters bid her goodbye and left.
Helen ran upstairs with her thoughts in a turmoil. What an opportunity it really was if she felt that she could conscientiously take advantage of it. several more weeks of the bright sunshine for Danny, a chance to help put Nina into the right path and a way to earn enough money to buy a radio. The latter idea had become almost an obsession with her since she had seen the new models with their loud speakers. No longer need she be cut off from all the beautiful music that her soul had so hungered for. Her little isolated home in the valley would not hold nearly so much loneliness for her if she could enjoy this bond with the outside world.
She drew Dan’s letter from her pocket and read it through twice. “The lambs don’t know how to act,” he had written, “without the little fellow to chase them around and I feel still more lost than the lambs do, but don’t come home until you have had your stay out.”
Helen folded up the letter and thrust it back into the envelope. That was exactly what she would do – have her stay out. She would never be satisfied if she went back regretting the lost opportunity. To teach music in a school had been the dream of her life. She had hoped for just such a position before she went away to Wyoming, but it had neve4r materialized. What a difference there would have been in her life if it had! Then she would never have met Dan. There would have been no long winters in Wyoming to look forward to, for perhaps the rest of her life and there would have been no Danny. She caught her breath at the very thoughts of it. No, not for all the music in the world would she have had it different.
She felt that there was no reason why she should not take advantage of the present situation, however, and she went promptly downstairs and phoned her decision to Mr. Winters while her resolve was still high.
Her father and mother were delighted that she was planning a more extended visit than they had hoped for at first but Nina said very little. Helen rather thought that Nina would have been just as pleased to have seen her safely on the road home, in spite of their recent partial reconciliation.
During the next few weeks she worked feverishly to prepare herself for her work. Even though she expected it to last but a short while, she was anxious to do her very best to give the music department of the school a flying start for the year. She dug out her old books on the theory of teaching and procured some new ones. She went over the work as thoroughly as she could with Mr. Winters until he laughingly declared that if she turned out to be too good they wouldn’t bother about finding a permanent teacher at all.
She had seen Wayne Kent only at intervals since the day he had shown her the model home. They had met once or twice at parties and occasionally he had waved to her from his car as he passed her on the street. she thought that he had probably forgotten about his invitation to take her to visit his people until he called her on the telephone one day to announce that it was his birthday and he was taking her home to his birthday party.
Helen was delighted and dressed very carefully for the party in a fluffy, thin white dress. She was very fond of Wayne’s mother and two sisters and was anxious that they shouldn’t find her too much changed from the time she used to go there to parties during her school days.
She was rather surprised when she arrived at the house to find that she was the only guest outside of the family. “I thought you said that this was a party,” she whispered to Wayne.
“It is,” he answered, nodding his head for emphasis. “Just wait until you see the cake. Cake and ice cream always make a party, don’t they?”
“I suppose so,” Helen agreed. After all, why quibble about the size of the crowd. As long as Wayne’s entire family was present there could scarcely be any impropriety about her dining with him. She reflected that she would probably never have thought anything about the matter if it hadn’t been for Nina’s outburst on the porch the night after she had first seen Wayne.
In spite of her slight twinge of conscience, Helen enjoyed the dinner as she had not done for “ages.” She never sat down to a perfectly appointed table, such as the one before her now, that she did not think of her poor little dinner party given shortly after her marriage when her brave attempt to have things nice had frozen her guests into silence.
They chatted afterward until late in the evening and when Helen suggested that she must be going home Wayne naturally took her out to his car.
“Have you forgotten where I live?” she asked as he started off in the opposite direction from her home.
“No exactly. I’m going to show you the ocean by moonlight.”
“Thank you, but I’ve seen it before,” she answered lightly.
“Perhaps. But you’ll have to admit that you can’t see the ocean too many times by moonlight.”
Helen felt that it would only make the matter absurd if she argued about it, so she decided to have a look at the moonlit ocean and get home as quickly as possible. It was not easy to look “quickly” at the ocean bathed in the silver moonlight. It was a sight that was always breathtaking no matter how many times before one had gazed upon its loveliness. They sat in silence for a few minutes until Wayne broke the spell by saying, “I’m awfully glad that you aren’t going back.”
“Oh, but I am going back,” said Helen quickly. “I’m only taking the school for a few weeks.”
Wayne shook his head. “You may think you are, but you won’t. Do you remember those fellows who stopped on an island when they were coming home from the Trojan war and lingered to feed on lotus, whatever that might be? Well, they meant to go back home too, but they couldn’t break away. You’ll find that California gets you just like that.”
“Nonsense,” said Helen with a short laugh. “My husband and my home are in Wyoming and I will certainly go back. I left California once and I can do so again.”
Wayne only shrugged his shoulders and looked most provokingly unconvinced.
“You shall see,” said Helen definitely ending the argument.
Nevertheless, she was vaguely troubled after Wayne had driven her to her home and wished that he had left the story of the lotus eaters back in the fifth grade where he had learned it.